Cookbook review written & photographed by Stay-At-Home-Chef
For some reason I always find it difficult to get back into the swing of things after the winter break, especially when it comes to packing school lunches. The initial excitement and lunchbox creativity that heralded the arrival of September has completely worn off and I find myself searching for inspiration. Luckily this year I knew just where to turn!
Good Food to Go (published by Random House, $19.95 USD) is one of those books that you will turn to again and again when searching for new, healthy lunch ideas for your kids. Visually it comes across as quite unassuming, but don’t let the lack of book ‘bling’ deter you from adding it to your cookbook collection. Just look at my copy – completely littered with sticky notes and folded over page corners.
When it comes to packing kids’ lunches, there are a lot more pressures compared to when I was a child. For example; healthy homemade food, BPA free environmentally friendly containers, everything must be nut-free, oh and yeah your kids have to actually like the food. Talk about a tall order for busy parents!
Good Food to Go contains great advice on how to get your kids more involved in packing their own lunches, effectively utilize leftovers, helpful meal planners to prevent getting into a lunch rut, and a great list of pantry essentials. I love the sidebars littered throughout the book that include lots of interesting nutritional facts/information, food preparation tips, and suggested ingredient variations and substitutions. The information is well researched by authors with years of training and experience in nutrition and pediatrics.
The book is divided into the following sections: Getting Started, Vegetables & Fruit, Sandwiches, Picnic-Style Lunches & Snacks, Soups, Super Salads, Encore Performances (leftovers), Baked Good & Desserts, and After-School Snacks. I must admit that I found the index to be quite frustrating to navigate, as it is structured around themes so when searching for a particular recipe it was often difficult to find. Also, Good Food to Go closely follows Canada’s Food Guide, so be prepared to have that particular agenda promoted throughout the literature. That being said, if you happen to follow a vegetarian/gluten-free/dairy-free lifestyle it is easy to make the necessary adjustments.
The authors argue that the fast paced culture of North American family life in combination with easy access to cheap, processed food continues to result in poor eating habits and a steady increase in health related concerns such as child obesity.
I couldn’t agree more.
As we continue to work extended hours and cram even more extracurricular activities into our children’s already over scheduled lives, it can become difficult to find the time to prepare healthy home cooked meals.
Scary stuff. Perhaps that’s why the thing I love most about this book is that it provides readers with practical, affordable, and easy strategies for packing nutritious lunches within the confines of our already busy schedules and tight budgets.
I have come to rely heavily on this book as a source of inspiration when it comes to food for my kids. All of the recipes I have tried so far have turned out wonderfully, and as I prepare to return to the world of full-time work I know I will reach for this book often.
RATING: 4.5 out of 5 (easy to prepare, great treat)
THE TEST: My kids adore cinnamon bread, so when I saw this recipe and realized I happened to have all ingredients on hand I knew it had to be made. My four year-old and I strapped on our aprons, rolled up our sleeves and got to work.
This is a great recipe to make with your little helpers, as it is straightforward and quick (plus kids love swirling the cinnamon mixture!) Butter and sugar are creamed together along with the remaining wet ingredients (eggs, sour cream and vanilla). A mix of all-purpose and whole wheat flours are added along with baking powder, baking soda and salt. Half of the batter is spread in the pan, then the cinnamon mix is sprinkled overtop, after which the remaining batter is poured on top and everything is swirled together (we used a chopstick as our implement of choice) before baking in the oven for approximately 45 minutes.
THE RESULTS: The only downside I would say with this near perfect recipe is that the texture of the bread was a bit too crumbly for my liking, but the results are well worth the extra crumbs. The kids went nuts over this lunchbox treat, and since the initial recipe test we have made this Cinnamon Loaf half a dozen times. It’s a great snack for the kids, but I would have no problem serving this loaf as part of a brunch menu for grownups. The crispy brown exterior and lovely moist interior kept me coming back for more, while the cinnamon swirl was not overly sweet.
Fruit Filled Jell-O Fingers
RATING: 5 out of 5 (never going back to store bought Jell-O!)
THE TEST: As a kid I absolutely loved Jell-O (hands up if your mom made lime green jello with shredded carrots?!) As a mother I have been reluctant to expose my kids to the vast amounts of sugar and food colouring contained within commercially produced Jell-O, but the thought never occurred to me that I could make my own from scratch and as a result better control what goes into this fun treat.
The recipe for Fruit Filled Jell-O Fingers is ridiculously simple, and allows for a wide variety of flavour options. For this particular test, I opted to use white grape juice with fresh raspberries and blueberries scattered over top, but I have since tried strawberry juice with fresh strawberry and kiwi slices, as well as pomegranate juice with blackberries. Our favourite is definitely the white grape with raspberries and blueberries, as the clear colour makes the berries really pop. I also found that the strawberries and kiwis held too much liquid which affected the solidification of the Jell-O.
NOTE: I have not tried this recipe using agar agar or any other gelatin alternatives, so if you have experimented with other options I would love to hear from you!
THE RESULTS: The kids and I had a blast using cookie cutters to make fun shapes with the Jell-O, and my eldest daughter was the most popular grade one student the day she brought them to school as part of her lunch. But not only did this recipe make me feel like mom of the year, it tasted really…really good!
No added sugar. No food dye. Plenty of fun!
Toasted Whole Wheat Pita Chips & Homemade Hummus
For a copy of the recipe for Homemade Hummus, please click here
RATING: 5 out of 5 (perfectly seasoned, completely addictive)
THE TEST: All too often I seem to reach for premade hummus out of convenience, but this recipe test was a good reminder that it truly is easy (and doesn’t take long) to whip up a homemade batch of this middle eastern spread.
Chickpeas, lemon juice, tahini, garlic and cumin are blended together and that’s pretty much it folks. If you have never made hummus I strongly recommend giving it a try, and if (like me) you have forgotten how satisfying it is to make…consider this a reminder from your friendly neighbourhood food blogger.
The recipe for Toasted Whole Wheat Pita Chips comes from Bradshaw and Mutch’s previous book; The Good Food Book for Families. They recommend heating the pitas is the microwave for 30 seconds in order to make them more pliable and easier to split in half which is probably a good tip, but because we only seemed to use our microwave to reheat cold coffee our machine has since been relegated to the garage in the name of counter space.
Once you have the pita split and sliced into quarters, an aromatic mix of olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper is brushed over each triangle before browning off in the oven.
NOTE: I must have been heavy handed with the olive oil mix because I ended up needing to make a second batch in order to ‘adequately’ cover all of my pita.
THE RESULTS: The kids have historically not been fans of hummus, a staunch position they didn’t relinquish after this particular recipe test. But they went nuts over the pita chips – I’m talking full on waterworks when the last few chips were devoured!
The hummus was very tasty and classic in terms of the flavouring (have you noticed the variety of hummus available these days?) and the pita chips were perfectly crisp and garlicky. Both of these would make great lunchbox additions. If you’re lucky enough to have leftovers!