PREPARING HEALTHY FAMILY MEALS FOR WORK, SCHOOL AND TRAVEL
Whether or not you have mastered the art of wise traditional cooking, preparing meals for the family on the go adds another dimension to eating well. And while the thought of packing foods for trips, school and work may seem daunting, it need not be as difficult as it seems. All it takes is a little creativity and forethought!
THINKING OUTSIDE THE PROVERBIAL BOX
Most families’ go-to solution for meals away include pre-packaged foods such as “Lunchables,” bologna and cheese on white (or “whole wheat”) bread, sugary so-called “healthy” snacks like flavored yogurt or jello cups, and chips. None of these is truly nutritious or satisfying, and yet even many die-hard healthy-eating fans still rely on them. What a shame, for all the hard work and dedication at family breakfast, dinner and weekend meal times seems to be diminished in the face of these convenient, fake foods. But what to do?
If we really want to promote health among our families and ourselves, we simply must make the added effort to provide healthy, wholesome, and tasty foods even when it seems inconvenient or difficult to do so. I have personally seen what good food does for my own family, as well as what happens when even a small, but regular, part of their diet is made up of modern processed foods. Two of our children react with emotional issues, another with weakened health, teens with acne. This is not good!
So instead of resigning ourselves to having no choice but the standard fare when away from home, let’s find better alternatives!
PROTEIN DOESN’T HAVE TO COME FROM A BOX
We all know the sorry state of our modern CAFO-produced meats and the implications surrounding the consumption of such. Our school cafeterias are filled with not only these, but harmful soy products as well. And while organic, pasture-raised meats may seem expensive, they do not have to be out of reach for most.
In a previous article, I recommended many products from the “club” stores such as Costco. This is a good starting place for finding acceptable alternatives as they all carry a variety of more natural luncheon meat products, and organic cheeses to go with them. Thus, sandwiches on either homemade, whole-grain artisan or sourdough breads, or a purchased sprouted bread (such as Manna Organics brand), are an easy choice.
But for those who cannot, or choose not, to eat bread, these same meats and cheeses can be rolled up as a lettuce wrap (with a dollop of homemade mayo or salad dressing) to make a sandwich. This is what I provide nearly every day for my husband, who cannot eat any grains at this time. His favorite choices for meat usually include prosciutto or salamis, which he enjoys wrapped around a lovely hunk of brie.
I also often cook whole chickens or roasts of pork or beef. These are then sliced thinly for either sandwiches or hearty boxed lunches, accompanied by vegetables, cheeses and ferments.
In the past I have also enjoyed making pemmican, jerky, and naturally-cured cuts of meat. There are now several such products on the market from sources such as Epic, Grassland, US Wellness, and others (see the Foundation’s Shopping Guide for resources). These prepackaged varieties are super convenient, though somewhat pricey. Making your own is much less expensive and quite easy (see sidebar).
An old-fashioned and practical way of preserving and transporting meats is to cover them with a generous layer of fat. Duck confit is a classic example of this, but it may be prepared with less expensive chicken or turkey as well. You can pull all the tender meat off the bones after making broth, chop the meat very finely, season with salt, pepper and herbs, put it into a ramakin or crock, and pour duck fat, goose fat or lard over the meat to cover it completely. Kept in the fridge, the confit will last many months.
We have made our own cooked loose sausage meat, covered it with lard or bacon fat, and then carried it in a lunch box with no fear of rancidity. Use high-quality, pastured ground meat for this, and scrape away the excess fat before biting in.
Another delicious and easy protein, which contains loads of good fat and fat-soluble vitamins A and D, is pâté. We love to eat it by the spoonful as a snack, or slathered on a thin slice of sourdough bread as a sandwich.
Our family relies quite heavily on a variety of cheeses for protein in addition to meats, some of which are purchased at grocery or club stores, and others direct from local farms. Cheeses keep well in lunch boxes or while traveling. Slice and eat on good-quality crackers, or just eat small chunks of cheese with crispy nuts and dried fruit.
THE INCREDIBLE, EDIBLE EGG
And who can forget the lowly egg? Eggs are such a simple solution for protein and flavor, hard or soft-boiled eggs being the most easily transportable, delicious, nutritious protein available!
I often boil a dozen or more eggs at a time (adding a pinch of baking soda to the water makes them incredibly easy to peel). These can then be turned into egg salad (more eggs in the homemade mayo!), deviled eggs, or simply eaten on their own with a pinch of salt. Again, toss in a chunk of raw cheese and you’ve plenty of protein, high-quality fat, and rich nutrients for a meal!
HOT SOUPS FOR THE ROAD
A good thermos is an obvious necessity if you want to provide a hearty, hot meal for lunch time. When traveling as a family, we find that an extra-large thermos does the job. I fill ours with homemade soup made from the ever-simmering stock on our stove top. Often I scoop from this pot into a smaller pan and poach our eggs in the rich broth along with ghee, garlic, turmeric, ginger and tamari. The addition of coconut milk adds a delicious richness as well. This is a favorite breakfast-on-the-go for several in our household and also doubles as lunch at times for a hungry husband!
An easy way of providing hot soup or stew without carrying the liquid concoction is to place dried vegetable chunks, herbs, parboiled rice and reduced stock (either consommé or actually dehydrated stock, which is much easier) into a steel or glass container. Hot water is added to this, stirred, and allowed to sit for five minutes (when on the road hot water is always available from a convenience store coffee machine or can be carried in a thermos). Dried meat can also be added, which makes for a very hearty and easily transportable meal.
DON’T FORGET THE RAW DAIRY
Raw dairy is not so difficult to transport, particularly with a thermos or insulated lunch pack. I often send creamy, raw milk in pint-sized jars, with a freezer pack in a lunch bag. For kids heading off to school a raw yogurt smoothie made with frozen berries, a little vanilla and touch of honey, and raw egg yolk provide plenty of satisfying protein and fat, as well as good taste. A small container can also be filled with raw-milk yogurt for a mid-morning snack.
LET THEM EAT CAKE!
Every kid loves dessert, and dessert need not be complicated. Of course, whole fruit is simple, but why not brighten your family’s day by providing delicious, nutritious cookies or a slice of cake in their lunch box? Homemade jello is a favorite with my family, while my husband likes cheesecake with organic cream cheese, honey and a date-nut crust. Any of these are easy to carry in the proper container (with freezer packs for the jello or cheesecake), or wrapped in waxed paper.
I hope that with these ideas you will be encouraged to provide your family, and yourself, with better nutrition, energy, and flavor for your school, work, and traveling days!
Note: There are many options available for suitable containers to send your family off with healthy foods. Check for stainless steel and glass thermos bottles, insulated lunch bags, hard plastic and glass containers, etc., on Amazon (through WAPF’s affiliate link to benefit the Foundation), and at discounted retailers such as Marshalls and Home Goods.
HEALTHY PROTEIN AND SNACK IDEAS FROM THE STORE
(See our Shopping Guide for recommended brands)
Pemmican or jerky (without MSG or natural flavors)
Exo bars (without cocoa, bran or natural flavors)
Fruit leather (without sugar or additives)
Plain whole yogurt (add your own fruit)
Popcorn (without partially hydrogenated vegetable oils)
Organic potato chips (in lard or coconut oil)
Pork rinds (plain)
Organic plantain chips
Coconut chips (without sugar)
Organic apple sauce cups (without additives)
Sardines or smoked herring (in water or olive oil)
Whole milk cheese
DATE NUT SNACK BALLS
1 1/2 cups crispy nuts
3 cups dates
1 tablespoon organic peanut butter
1/2 cup shredded, unsweetened coconut
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
A yummy snack for the lunch box!
In a food processor pulse the crispy nuts until crumbly. Add dates and pulse until finely crumbled. Add peanut butter, then remaining ingredients. Pulse. Form into balls, about 1 1/2 inches. Store in a sealed container at room temperature. Enjoy!
GELATIN FRUIT SNACKS
2 cups organic fruit juice, no sugar added (I like Ceres brand)
1 cup puréed frozen fruit (we like cherries)
1/2 cup organic gelatin
1/4 cup raw honey
Add some fun to the kids’ day!
Sprinkle the gelatin over the surface of the fruit juice in a medium-sized, heavy-bottomed sauce pan; let soften for 5 minutes. Slowly warm the solution over medium low heat, whisking to incorporate the gelatin until melted. Remove from heat and add honey and puréed fruit, blending well. Pour into silicone molds or a flat-bottomed dish and chill, refrigerated, until set. For added benefit, add Radiance C to the solution before molding, whisking in thoroughly along with the honey.
SIMPLE SALT-CURED BEEF OR PORK
1 pound Celtic, Himalayan, or Real Salt
1/2 pound Sucanat, Rapadura, Muscavado or Coconut Sugar
3-5 pounds beef round roast or pork loin, weighed accurately
1 tablespoon cracked peppercorns
3-5 cloves garlic, smashed
3 crushed bay leaves
1 tablespoon rosemary, thyme, and/or sage leaves
This is a delicious alternative to lunch meat!
Combine the salt, sugar and optional seasonings. Choose a glass container large enough to hold the meat while small enough to be a close fit. Place enough cure into the container to coat the meat thickly and thoroughly, working into all sides. Seal tightly and refrigerate for seven days, pouring off the resulting liquid daily. If necessary, rub in more cure to keep the meat coated.
Check for firmness. Meat should firm up between 7-21 days, depending on thickness of meat. A 3-pound hunk of meat will shrink and cure for about 14 days, longer for thicker pieces, but weigh the meat. When it has reduced in weight by 35 percent, it is sufficiently cured.
Meat thus cured will keep, covered, in a cool, dark place for months. Slice thinly for sandwiches, chop into small pieces for stews, hash and other dishes, or slice off as desired for eating out of hand.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Winter 2016.