Friday, September 9, 2011

Lunchbox Challenged

Paleo Parents is having a Paleo Lunchbox Challenge.

Unfortunately, as homeschoolers, we are inherently Lunchbox Challenged, and not in a way that is conducive to this particular contest. We don't even own lunchboxes.

This is a normal lunch for us:

Scrambled egg with bacon, leftover Shrimp, Sausage, and Summer Squash casserole, and water.

Gratuitous baby picture

Not exactly practical eating after sitting around in a lunchbox for half a day, right?

So, we decided to make a more travel-appropriate lunch.

When I told the kids we were going to make lunchboxes, LemurBoy took it literally, and went out to saw a piece of wood to make a box. This particular plan was perhaps a bit overambitious, but, after some drama at the idea of not creating a permanent lunchbox, they happily settled down with cardboard boxes.

I'm pretty sure LB re-invented the Bento all on his own

With the kids' input, we decided to try to make sandwiches, baked pumpkin, roasted pumpkin seeds, and carrot sticks.

We've been reading The Little House Cookbook. Given the prominence of grains in the diet of the time, this may seem an odd choice for us, but it's full of traditional food recipes, including lots of garden produce, wild game, food preservation, and all that other good stuff. Some of the grainy recipes can be adapted to grain-free alternatives, but there's plenty that require little or no adaptation. It's all set in a kid-appealing context (the Little House series) with plenty of good historical food and lifestyle info.

The cookbook

Since we have little pumpkins coming ripe in the garden, we decided to use those for a Little House-style recipe. We actually used (roughly, anyways) the Hubbard Squash recipe, as it was more appropriate to what we wanted to do than the actual pumpkin recipes, and read about how both pumpkins and other squashes were grown and used.

Little pumpkins (Jack-Be-Little variety, I believe) on the vine

The green beans were also from our garden.

Preheat oven to 350F. Cut tops off pumpkins (or other winter squash) as you would for jack-o-lantern, or just slice them in half. Unless you specifically want to preserve the cute pumpkin shape, cutting them down the middle is going to be much easier. De-seed. I saved the seeds for roasting. Rub inside of pumpkin with an heat-appropriate fat (recipe suggests butter. I used bacon grease), and spice as desired. For these, I used a mixture of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and a touch of salt, so they'd be like pumpkin pies. You could probably drizzle a little maple syrup or other sweetener to make them more dessert like. A more savory spice mix works well, too. Put the pumpkins skin-side down in a baking tray, and fill the tray about 1/2 inch full of water. Bake until soft enough to poke with a fork - 1.5-2 hours.

For roasted pumpkin seeds, clean pulpy bits from seeds (this is time consuming and irritating). Lightly coat with oil, spice and salt as desired (I used a random mix including garlic powder, paprika, onion powder, and other stuff that I'm not sure of), and spread in a single layer on a baking tray. Bake at 350 until golden brown, or about 20-30 minutes.

Next time I make them, I'll plan ahead more and soak them in salt water for 24 hours first. This reduces the phytic acid, an anti-nutrient. Also, it makes them salty.

I've been experimenting with coconut flour lately. Coconut flour is made from defatted coconut (if the fat is there, it turns into coconut butter intead of flour), and is rather expensive. Making coconut milk from shredded coconut results in lots of coconut pulp... or defatted coconut. So now I'm drying the pulp and blendering it up into flour, and I've been trying various recipes to see if it seems to perform the same as store-bought coconut flour (which I've never bought). I've made cookies and pancakes with good success, so we decided to try some sandwich bread.

This (or minor variations thereof) is the most common pure coconut flour recipe. I cut it in half, replaced most of the oil with pear puree (both primarily for cost reasons), and didn't include added sweetener.

Waiting for the bread to bake.

It came out very flat. I'm not certain our baking powder, which well over a year old and not particularly well-stored, is still active. So I ended up chopping the loaf into three sections, then in half length-wise, sub style, rather than doing more traditional sandwich slices.

While everything cooked (I did everything in the oven at once, just for varying lengths of time), LB cut up carrot sticks, and made himself some deviled eggs, too.

LB cutting carrot sticks

I fried up some thinly sliced steak that had been marinating in the fridge, and used that in LB and my sandwiches. LG declared she didn't want meat - she wanted a carrot sandwich. So that's what she had.

I also hard boiled some eggs, since we were out.

The results:

LG's finished lunch - Carrot sandwich on coconut bread (mostly eaten), green beans, hard boiled egg, baked pumpkin, roasted pumpkin seeds.

LB's lunch - Coconut bread sandwich with steak strips, deviled eggs, baked pumpkin, carrot sticks and green beans, roasted pumpkin seeds.


Once again, a gratuitous baby eating vegetables shot

The bread ended up tasting very eggy (which was also my experience when making muffins). I have a feeling I have to use a larger quantity of the homemade flour than I would of store-bought. The cookies I made the other day turned out very cookie-like, and not particularly eggy, but in that case I kept adding flour until the dough held together.

The kids liked it, regardless.

The pumpkin was not a huge hit with the older kids. Honestly, one of them turned out amazing - sweet and full of pumpkiny flavor, but the other three were kind of bland. Not horrible, and they probably would have been very good with some butter and maple syrup, but not nearly so tasty as the other one.

Unfortunately, many squashes don't seem to play well with me and the baby's digestive systems. Most unfortunate, since we're the ones who like them!

Everyone loved the pumpkin seeds. We had some seeds from other squash mixed in there too, and those turned out just as good. We'll be saving up our squash seeds from now on to make bigger batches.


This is not a lunch you can throw together the morning of. It took hours to get everything together - some time could be cut from that with more experience (not fumbling with the bread recipe, cutting the pumpkins in a simpler way), but much was unavoidable baking time. However, most of it could be made in quantity in advance and most of the individual recipes weren't all that time consuming (requiring more baking time than actual prep time). The pumpkin, while good warm, would be best for a lunchbox if cooked ahead of time and chilled. These would be very simple to prep and throw in the oven while something else was cooking. The pumpkin seeds keep for a while if stored properly, so it would be easy to make a big batch once and dole them out appropriately. I don't know how well the bread keeps, and therefore I don't know whether it would be practical to make a big batch at once.

As a bonus, here's an actual "lunch" that got taken to work:

An actual "lunch" box (thermos, rather) - Leftover Mock Split Pea Soup with a sliced hard boiled egg, some pumpkin chunks, and (not visible) chunks of sausage. Also not pictured - a jar of coffee with coconut milk.

I work a 12+ hour night shift one night a week, at least half of which is moderately active, so I have to have a midnight meal. I generally stick leftovers in a thermos, as in the above photo.

On my day shifts, I usually take a salad with lots of stuff on it, and often some nuts, fruit, or the like. Sometimes leftovers that can be kept in the thermos or don't require reheating. Maybe I'll photograph that, too.

1 comment:

  1. What a fantastic lunch and a great day for homeschoolin' kids!