September 17

Shaking the Brown Bag Blues with Lunchbox ‘Sushi’

4  comments

When our boys were kids in school, I spent my early mornings every Monday through Friday of the school year, toiling on the lunch sack assembly line. It’s a lonely and often thankless task to try to plan something that is not only nourishing and healthy for your kids, but something they’ll actually eat. In my experience, admittedly only an “n” of 3, the first directive is decidedly easier to manage than the second.

Actually for one year, it was an “n” of 4, since during our oldest son’s senior year in high school, one of his classmates moved in with us for the year. His step-dad had been transferred to another state and his mother and younger siblings moved when the house sold, which happened to be at the very start of his senior year. Nobody wants to move in his senior year and start anew, if he can avoid it, so when our son came home the first week of school and asked if his friend could live with us for a year, we were more than happy to have him.

That year, in particular, the lunch sack assembly line grew, since this young man was a big guy, number one, and a big eater, number two. I dealt out an entire loaf of low-carb (light) bread every morning to make the requisite number of sandwiches for 4 hungry boys.

Would that during my tenure on the lunch line, there had been the variety of raw materials available now. For instance, low carb tortillas would have enabled me to make an endless variety of wraps and even lunch box “sushi” rolls for variety.

When you’re confronted with the empty brown sack or lunchbox, you long for something to break the monotony, even if your kids could content themselves with a plain ham sandwich, a bag of trail mix, and an orange every day of the year. For those of you currently packing a lunch every day for your kids, here are a few ideas:

Lunchbox PBJF ‘Sushi’ Roll
1 large low carb tortilla
2 tablespoons natural peanut butter
2 tablespoons low-sugar apricot or grape jam
8 fresh raspberries

1. Lay the tortilla flat and spread the peanut butter evenly to within about 1″ of the edge.
2. Spread the jam evenly over the peanut butter
3. Lay the raspberries single file down the side of the tortilla closest to you, about 2″ from the edge.
4. Carefully fold the near edge of the tortilla over the row of raspberries, going all the way over them, then tightly roll the “roll” across the remaining width of the tortilla.
5. Cut the “roll” into about 6 or 8 pieces, wrap it securely in plastic, Press’n’seal, or put into a reusable snap lid plastic Glad or Ziplok container.

This ‘roll’ is another of those stealth nutrition ideas that in this case sneaks fresh raspberries into their PBJ. You could also use blackberries or pieces of strawberries.

Lunchbox Chicken Caprese ‘Sushi’ Roll
1 low carb tortilla
1 cooked chicken tender (grilled, olive oil, salt, pepper, the night before and refrigerated)
1 large fresh butter lettuce leaf (or 2 smaller ones)
3 thin slices smoked mozzarella cheese (or provolone)
1 tablespoon diced tomato
3 large fresh basil leaves (optional)
1 tablespoon olive oil vinaigrette (homemade or your choice)

1. Lay the tortilla flat and lay the lettuce leaves in the center.
2. Drizzle half the vinaigrette on the lettuce leaves.
3. Arrange the cheese slices to cover most of the lettuce.
4. Place the chicken tender on the side of the tortilla closest to you, about 2″ from the edge. (Lay the basil leaves down the length of the chicken, if you’re using them.)
5. Sprinkle the diced tomato in a line just inside the chicken tender, from end to end and distribute the remaining dressing over the chicken tender and tomatoes.
6. Starting from the edge closest to you, roll the tortilla up and over the chicken tender and tomato line, then tightly continue to roll the ‘roll’ across the width of the tortilla.
7. Cut the ‘roll’ into 6 or 8 pieces of ‘sushi’ and wrap in plastic, Press’n’seal, or put into a reusable Glad or Ziplok storage box.
Although this roll doesn’t have any mayo in it, it does have chicken and for that reason, you should be sure to include a cool pak in the lunch sack or box for safety’s sake.

As the weather gets colder, you might want to beef up their lunchfare with a thermos of chili or chowder, too. You’ll find recipes for these and other hearty soups (as well as other kid friendly and nutritional stealth food ideas) in the companion cookbook to our PBS television show, The Low Carb CookwoRx Cookbook.

I have to say, as much as I complained about the daily grind of packing lunches, I sort of miss it. While you’re in the throes of the routine of school years, it seems as if the day will never come that you don’t start your morning by packing lunches. But, time passes very quickly really and the day does come and suddenly, it seems, your kids have kids of their own.

So, thought for the day: Enjoy your kids. Enjoy their lessons, practices, homework, last minute projects, scout trips, school plays, and yes, even packing that brown bag. Just be sure to put something good for them in it!


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  1. Dear Dr. Eades,

    I’m wondering a bit about the peanuts in the first recipe since peanut oil is widely reported to be atherogenic. I’m curious to know your thoughts about this.

    Thanks,

    Rob

    COMMENT from MD EADES: I eat them, and don’t worry too much about it. After all, one isn’t talking about only eating peanuts. And remember that large studies have also shown that eating peanuts (and other nuts) 4 or 5 times a week actually reduces cardiovascular risk, so take your pick. I think the weight of evidence at this point is that they’re good for hearts, not the revers. (They also rank among the most common nutritional allergens, so there are quite a few folks out there who wouldn’t be able to eat that one for allergic reasons, too.) For anyone concerned about using peanuts, just substitute almond butter or macadamia butter, if you prefer and can tolerate those. Either would be just yummy.

  2. I must admit I find the American habit of mixing peanut butter and jam/jelly difficult to even contemplate!;) – but each to their own.

    I did want to comment on the “low-sugar” jam though. Here (Australia) low sugar or “no added sugar” jams tend to be sweetened with fruit juice concentrate – in other words fructose! (yes I guess there is a loophole in the labelling laws which suggests only sucrose is “sugar”) I hope that isn’t the case where you are.

    COMMENT from MD EADES: Yes, to each his own. Back in the days before we had our brain transplants and understood the detriment of the carbohydrate on human metabolism (albeit long long long ago) when our kids were very young, we used to mix up a sandwich concoction that Mike’s mother had made for him when he was a kid: peanut butter, jelly, karo syrup, and butter. Mixed until smooth and smeared on a couple of slices of bread for a PBJKB sandwich. Sounds awful, and indeed from a health perspective IS awful. But tasty? Well, now, that’s another story. Like honey on pizza…wicked good, but bad for you. As to the low sugar jam, you have to read labels here, too. This one, made by Smuckers, is Splenda (sucralose) sweetened, but others are just as you point out, sweetened with grape or apple juice concentrate, which, of course, might just as well be sugar. Well almost.

  3. My mom made us peanut butter and bacon sandwiches which I adored.

    The chicken version sounds like an answer to my hubby’s lunchbox dilemma of needing something filling but not too heavy so we will give those a try.

    BTW, if I have a question about a Cookworx recipe, is it best to use the contact on the site or may I ask it here? Thanks.

    COMMENT from MDEADES: The PB and B sounds yummy, although, I might still like a PB&J and B, since I love no-sugar jelly or jam plus bacon on low carb buttered toast. It would be a lot the same.

    Re cookworx questions, you can ask it either place, but it’s probably better to ask it through cookworx, since that avenue is the most direct to get questions that require recipe revision or correction done most easily.

  4. The problem with a lot of schools now, is that they have lists on the door before you even bring your lunch inside. One closest to us reads:

    No nuts of any kind
    No fish (except tuna)

    I’ve known people who were sensitive even to strawberries, and, in one of our other buildings, there is a woman who cannot tolerate even the essence of oranges. Makes packing lunches for some rather difficult, to be sure.

    COMMENT from MDEADES: True allergy that can involve anaphylaxis (allergy taken to a lethal extreme, involving generalized swelling of face, hands, eyes, and, most importantly, the airways, which can close the breathing passages and cause suffocation unless promptly treated) has to be taken seriously. In a matter of minutes, without medical intervention in the form of on-site epinephrine injection (adrenalin) someone with serious true allergy, exposed to the allergen by inhalation (breathing), injection (such as a bee sting), or ingestion (eating) can be dead. However, that aside, a lot of people who don’t have such an extreme form of allergy will opine that they they’re sickened by even the tiniest whiff of some odor. That may indeed be true, but since any substance can potentially be allergenic to somebody, at some point we have to draw a line and say that the burden of protection should be on the individual who knows or believes that he/she has this allergy, not to society at large. If a person has true anaphylaxis to, say, orange essence or peanuts or strawberries or aspirin, it would be (IMHO) incumbent upon that person to carry one or more epi-Pens on their person at all times and to instruct responsible people in their immediate environment at work or school on how to use them if needed. If something is to be mandated (which I abhor the whole idea of mandating, anyway) why not mandate stocking a supply of fresh epi-Pens and teaching the faculty or employees how to use them in the event that someone has a documented problem. To me, this is a more sensible idea than banning every known substance that might cause someone an allergic problem. Taken to the extreme, we’ll all be drinking nothing but reverse osmosis water at work or school.

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