Thursday, March 24, 2016

Lunch Box under 30 minutes, Busy Mom's Survival Guide..

As E entered primary school, he spends long hour in school everyday from 7am to after 3pm (that's a good 8 hours!). After observing and trying out at what the school's cafeteria offers (not the healthiest kind of food choice, unfortunately), I decided to make him healthy lunchboxes so he will be fueled with good food and better nutrition to meet the daily challenges.

Here are the lunchboxes I've been packing for the little siblings for the past weeks. UpdatedYou may check out lunchbox idea here!


Noodles, Pasta & Rices

Being a working mom who reaches home after 8pm daily, making fresh food daily is really quite a challenge (I've no helper at home neither). So I have constantly explored methods or tricks that work for me and make this sustainable in the long run. 

I'm sharing the tricks and tips that allowed me to have those meals prepared within 15-30 minutes. As much as possible I use real food over processed food (one reason why I hardly used sausages or luncheon meat in my cooking), less salt, less sugar and no MSG used.

Note: the lunchbox I prepared are nothing fancy and pretty like most Japanese bento, don't set high expectation :) My priority is to be practical, delicious, nutrition, and must take no more than 30 min! After all E has all grown up now that he doesn't need his "happy meal" to lure him into eating anymore. Lol.

Here's my survival guide.

1. Pre-prepare the meat in single serving size

I clean and cut the chicken / meat to cube or slices or minced (when they are fresh from market), keep them into individual pack of 1 serving size each & freeze them in the chiller. The night before cooking, I'll move one packet to refrigerator section, by the next morning I just have to marinate them and use them for cooking right away. They are ideal to be used for making nuggets, making meatball, stir fry or making soup.

2. Multitask. Maximize usage of your utensil

When I boil the meatballs / fish balls and vegetables in the wok, I use the heat to steam the white rice that was cooked the previous night. This makes it super fast, and I will just close the lid and get myself changed, the food is ready when I'm done. ;) 

3. Prepare all ingredients the night before
After the kids had gone to bed, I'll then wash and cut the veggies, soak to soften the noodles / spaghetti the night before then store them in air tight containers in the fridge. This drastically shorten the cooking time the next morning - generally only takes me 15 min.

These were the BPA container I used to store baby food when they were little, how convenient. :)

4. Sandwich is the fastest when you have absolutely no time.
I have prepared a variety of sandwiches for the duo - Eggs, ham, tuna, cucumber, cheese, grilled chicken breast (leftover), all these can be ready in like 5 minutes. Coupled them with some healthy sides and you have quite a complete and awesome meal!

Some of the sandwiches I've made for the kiddos...

5. Prepare healthy snacks that can be added to lunchbox. 
Cereal bars, mixed nuts, crackers, cookies & fruits that can be served whole (grapes, blueberries, strawberries, banana, cherry tomatoes). All these add some variety of colors & nutrition to the lunchbox.

Somehow my duo have pretty good appetite so having extra snacks allow them to fill the tummies instantly, conveniently instead of eating junks. ;-)

6. Use an Insulated Bag to store all food in one bag, nothing goes missing!
The food container, drink packets, foldable fork & spoon are all kept in the same bag, and the insulated functions allow the food to keep warm and stay spill proof at the same time. You can easily find them from Daiso for RM5.30, or just get one from the departmental stores.

This also takes the weight away from E's already heavy school bag...

Some of the insulated bags I used. Fuel  is one of my favorite brands, especially the foldable forks and spoons, been using them for 5 years and counting. 

7. Use a good flask to keep the food fresh & warm
I have tried putting fried noodles directly into the container and it turned sour by afternoon (effort wasted!), tried some plastic flask too and only keep warm for about an hour or so. Finally I dug out the Thermos  food flask which I used to store baby porridge when they were little. Still good as new!

I rinse the Thermos with hot water before using, then keep the soup / rice / fried noodle/porridge in there, it can keep warm up to noon time (6-8hours) without problem.

* reminder: must train little ones to handle hot liquid with flask with care.

8. Keep small containers for titbits
I used normal BPA free lunchboxes that comes with standard 1 or 2 compartment, so having some small containers allow the flexibility of having the cut fruits, veggie or snacks arranged neatly instead of having everything mixed up. Best of all, these are things I can prepare the night before.

Most of these items are available from Daiso, except the Fuel foldable fork & spoon which we bought during our trip in Australia. You can find this brand in most major departmental stores nowadays. Those silicon cupcake holders are meant for baking but well, find them ideal for storage too.


9. Last but not least, plan the weekend grocery list.
I do my grocery shopping once a week, this ensure I have supplies for cooking variety for the kiddos throughout the week and any leftovers are used up for weekends cooking. What I usually have on the list...

Note: I have free supply of fresh herbs from my garden, so I can just toss in some fresh herbs when cooking for natural flavoring.

That's all folks...

Hope this helps all the busy moms or dads or grannies or caretakers out there. There's no secret really, but just need pre-planning and determination to provide the kiddos good food. 

However, on days I'm busy or tired I would take a day off from cooking and inform E to purchase food at the school cafeteria. I think it's important to stay flexible and don't be so hard on ourselves. :-)

Thanks for reading. Do feel free to send your questions or suggestions, I shall attempt my best to respond. If you like this post and think it would be useful for your friends, colleagues, family or simply anyone you know, feel free to share it, like my Facebook page   and shout about it ok? ;-)

Many have concerns if the food can stay warm for such long hours without turning bad, I too had the same concern. So what I've practiced is that for all the new recipe I attempted, I'll cook extra and bring to office in a separate flask, so I know if the food taste and smell alright or not.