Summer lunches for kids, part two
“There’s never anything to eat in this house!”
The above comment was made by all three of my kids at various points, and it never failed to irritate and befuddle me. Nothing to eat? Seriously? We had a pantry full of food, as well as multiple refrigerators and freezers. They all had basic cooking knowledge at an early age and were capable of such things as scrambling an egg, peeling a banana, composing a cheese sandwich, or making Bugs on a Toilet Seat (cored apple rounds spread with peanut butter and sprinkled with raisins). I was less befuddled, but even more irritated when I realized what they actually meant was that there were no snack foods of the kind abounding in their friends’ homes: sodas and Kool-Aid, chips and cheese doodles, boxes of cookies, Twinkies, Hostess cupcakes, microwaveable items to nuke such as Hot Pockets, Pizza Rolls and on and on.
Tough beans, kids! I might not have been able to limit their junk food consumption elsewhere, but I sure could at home. Actually, these days it seems to be getting better. Parents are increasingly eschewing the processed stuff. It has to be said, though: Junk foods may be virtually nutrition-free and filled with harmful amounts of sugar, preservatives and other chemicals, but they sure are convenient.
So, yes, it does take more work to provide kids with nutritious lunches and snacks. But it doesn’t necessarily take lots more. Have free snacks (things not requiring adult permission) available: bowls of juicy cherries, grapes or other seasonal fruit on the kitchen counter or table; containers of melon chunks and/or crudités in the fridge. The recipes below make quantities sufficient for multiple lunches.
Once again, I can’t stress enough the benefit of involving kids in making their own snacks and meals. Even a very young child can cut melon chunks with a table knife or sprinkle cheese onto pizza muffins. As they grow older, the confidence they’ve gained in simple tasks hopefully will lead to them being able to fend for themselves in the kitchen. Just make sure they’ve internalized the Clean-Up-Your-Own Mess rule!
I developed the concept for these muffins in my catering days. They are a riff on mini-cheesecakes, something I created to offer a savory (aka not sweet) breakfast pastry alongside the usual sugary options. Children also like my original bacon-and-cheddar and ham-and-Swiss versions, but the idea of a pizza (or taco) muffin is especially appealing to kids.
Note: If purchasing commercial tomato sauce, choose one that doesn’t contain added sugar.
- Approximately 2/3 c. cracker crumbs or 12 round, whole-grain crackers that will fit in the bottom of the muffin cups
- Olive oil cooking spray
- 2 eggs
- 2 c. ricotta cheese or cottage cheese puréed in a blender or food processor
- 1/2 c. grated Parmesan, Pecorino Romano and/or similar-type cheese, either singly or in combination
- 1 tsp. dried oregano or Italian mixed herbs or pizza seasoning
- 1 T. minced fresh herbs such as oregano, basil or rosemary, singly or in combination
- 1/2 tsp. minced garlic or garlic powder, or to taste, optional
- 1/2 to 3/4 c. already cooked-and-diced pizza toppings such as onions, peppers, mushrooms,
- Italian sausage, pepperoni, etc. either singly or in combination, optional
- Salt to taste, optional
- 12 ½-inch thick plum tomato slices or other tomatoes small enough to fit the muffin cups, seeded and drained on paper towels for a few minutes
- Approximately 3/4 c. tomato sauce such as pizza sauce or marinara
- Shredded mozzarella cheese
Preheat the oven to 350 F.
Place 12 foil cupcake liners in muffin tins. Spray lightly with the olive oil cooking spray. Scatter a thin layer of cracker crumbs or place a cracker in the bottom of each liner.
In a large bowl, beat the eggs until combined. Stir in the ricotta, grated cheese(s), herbs, garlic and pizza toppings, if using. Taste the mixture to see if it needs salt, although the cheeses’ saltiness will probably make additional salt unnecessary.
Divide the mixture between the foil-lined muffin cups. If using fresh tomatoes, gently press a slice onto the top of each. If using tomato sauce, spread a thin layer of it on top, being sure to not mix it into the cheese mixture.
Top with the grated mozzarella, about a tablespoon per muffin. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the cheese mixture is just set.
The pizza muffins can be eaten warm, at room temperature or cold. If rewarming in a microwave, be sure to remove the foil liners. The muffins will keep, covered and refrigerated, for about 5 days.
Substitute crushed tortilla chips for the cracker crumbs, taco seasoning or chili powder for the dried Italian herbs and salsa for the tomato sauce. Use a tablespoon of chopped cilantro for a fresh herb. Top with grated Mexican-style cheese.
Bacon-and-Cheddar or Ham-and-Swiss Muffins
Make the cheese filling using only ricotta or puréed cottage cheese. Add 1/2 - 3/4 cup crumbled, cooked bacon or chopped ham. Top with shredded cheddar or Swiss cheese.
My family loves this cold Chinese noodle dish almost too much; it’s become a summer staple that’s perfect for picnics or camping. It refrigerates well, so a batch provides several lunches over the course of a week or so. It hails from Szechwan, a region known for its spicy-hot preparations, including this one. But if your kids (and/or adults) aren’t up for some heat, the chili oil or chili garlic sauce can be reduced or eliminated altogether.
Sesame peanut noodles
- 1 lb. Chinese egg noodles or linguini
- 1/4 c. toasted sesame seeds
- 1/4 c. smooth natural peanut butter
- 6 T. sesame oil
- 3 T. soy sauce
- 1 – 2 T. Chinese chili oil or Thai chili garlic sauce or to taste, optional
- 4 T. seasoned rice wine vinegar (aka sushi vinegar)
- 1 T. sugar
- Fresh cilantro for garnish
Combine half the sesame seeds, the peanut butter, half the sesame oil, the soy sauce, chili oil, rice wine vinegar and sugar in a large mixing bowl and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Cook the noodles in a large quantity of boiling, salted water just until al dente. Fresh will take only a couple of minutes; the dried ones will take longer. Drain and immediately toss with the remaining sesame oil, then add to the bowl and toss to combine well. Let cool to room temperature. Garnish with the remaining sesame seeds and cilantro.
Serves 6-8 or more.
Kids especially like drumsticks. (Well, who doesn’t, except vegetarians?) They’re easy to hold onto and easy to eat. If your children like Asian food they’ll love these teriyaki drumsticks. And, of course, there are many other options: BBQ, other marinades and, of course, Szechwan au naturel. If you’re grilling over the weekend, why not grill some drumsticks to have on hand for weekday lunches?
Teriyaki marinated chicken drumsticks
- 1–2 lbs. chicken drumsticks
- ½ c. soy sauce, preferably Kikkoman
- 1 T. brown sugar or honey
- 1 tsp. grated ginger or ginger juice
- 2 T. peanut oil or 1 T. peanut oil and 1 T. sesame oil
- 1 tsp. minced garlic
Combine the marinade ingredients in a resealable plastic bag. Seal the bag and squish the contents around until the brown sugar or honey has dissolved. Add the chicken and squeeze out as much air as possible. Let stand for 30 minutes. Drain the drumsticks and either grill over hot coals or bake in a 350 F oven in a single layer until cooked through. It should take approximately 20 minutes, but can vary depending on the size of the drumsticks. The marinade also works well with other chicken parts, beef, pork, shrimp, tofu or eggplant in kebabs or larger pieces.
Contact Julianne Glatz at email@example.com.