I know that there are a great many of you who have packed hundreds, thousands even, of “school lunches” for your kids. I, however, have packed exactly 17 of them to date. And until today, they were all duds.
I was new to this whole lunch thing, and I wanted to shine. I consulted with him on his choices each morning, put his favorite foods into his favorite snack bags, tucked those bags lovingly into his bright green lunch box. I put an ice cube in with the water in his froggy water bottle and arranged it next to a carefully rolled cloth napkin. Perhaps I even RErolled the napkin, once, maybe.
These lunches, my friends, were my own personal visions of motherhood done right, of care and nurture and love. Love that he would feel come lunch time, even though I was a whole half a mile away, up the hill at home.
While he was spending his mornings playing with his friends, splashing and swinging and singing and sandboxing, and having the time of his life, surely – surely! – while he was doing this he would work up an appetite for these delicacies. Delicacies he himself had selected. Delicacies that I had packaged not with preservatives or BPA or hydrogenated-syruped-who-knows-what, but with gobs and gobs of love. LOVE! (And perhaps a touch of anxiety about being away from him for a whole four hour stretch, alongside a wee smidge of pride about his abiding love for vegetables).
And of course I don’t need to tell you the next part. But I will. Every day, when I picked him up at 1:00 from summer camp, he had eaten exactly … nothing. Nothing. NOTHING. Not one, single, little thing! Four sunshine-filled hours of exploration, excitement, and childhood joy, all fueled on a single piece of peanut-butter toast he’d eaten a full six hours earlier.
So, those were really fun rides home.
I turned to a cookbook I cannot seem to get enough of, and to a mom who has probably packed a bazillion lunches. (Although perhaps her kids don’t always eat them either? She certainly knows the value of the car snack - a lesson I learned in spades this summer!).
Alana’s cracker recipes have solved parenting food dilemmas for me in the past, and I am thrilled to tell you that the magic has worked again. I made the cheese crackers from her wonderful book, altering the recipe just slightly based on two things: what I had on hand, and the hope that a little whole grain flour would go a long way in filling up my hungry three year old come lunch time.
I’m happy to report that I picked him up today and he had eaten! Not the carefully wrapped peach slices, not the almond butter and honey on homemade bread, not even the trail mix that he mixed up himself. But the crackers … the crackers he ate every last one of!
And that, as I probably don’t need to tell you, made for a much more enjoyable ride home.
Now tell me – what do you tuck into your kids’ lunch boxes? What do you take for lunch yourself? What do you see other people having for lunch and find yourself coveting? Is there anything you remember loving (or hating) from your own childhood brown bags?
Cheese Crackers (or … Cheese Quackers, if you have a duck cutter handy)
Adapted very slightly from The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying and Start Making by Alana Chernila
No one ever put cheese crackers in my lunch, and to be honest crackers are not really even much my thing. But J man loves these, and as long as he will eat them, I will make them. Because come lunch time – when he is on his own to choose – I like knowing that there is something he will eat that has a little nutrition packed in – and nothing yucky, like additives or a ton of sugar, hiding under the cheese. It helps that these crackers are crisp and cheesy, a little buttery, flavorful and tasty without being overwhelmingly so. In other words – the perfect cheese cracker.
And the cheese flecks sort of give each duck it’s own little personality. Quack quack.
3 tablespoons unsalted cold butter, cut into 1 inch cubes
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 teaspoon honey mustard (or 1 teaspoon dry mustard powder, if you have it)
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups (6 ounces) grated cheese (I used half parmesan and half white cheddar, with great results)
2 teaspoons white vinegar, mixed into 3/4 cup cold water, and chilled with 1 ice cube
Combine butter, flours, mustard and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer. Mix on low with paddle attachment about 30 seconds, until the mixture is crumbly and the butter just starting to combine with the flour. Add the cheese, and mix again on low for about 15 seconds.
Add six tablespoons of the vinegar-water mixture to the dough in the bowl, and mix on medium speed for 20-30 seconds. Continue to add liquid 1 tablespoon at a time until the dough comes together around the paddle (took me 3 more tablespoons, or 9 total, to get the dough where I wanted it). Then mix for 30 more seconds. Mound dough into a ball, wrap in cling wrap, and refrigerate for at least two hours.
Preheat oven to 325 F. Remove dough from refrigerator 15 minutes before you plan to make crackers. Line two baking sheets with parchment (Alana greases them with butter rather than parchmenting them, but I was being lazy and didn’t want the clean up).
Turn the slightly warmed dough out onto a floured counter, press into a disc, and roll out to about 1/8 inch thick (the crackers puff slightly when they cook, so 1/8 inch is really ideal if you want thin crisp crackers). I cut them out with duck cookie cutters (see above re: visions of motherhood) but squares would be fine too. Scraps rerolled and re-cut very easily. I made the last few bits into little twisty “cheese twigs” that were baked alongside the ducks and were a big hit with the guys.
Bake at 325 F for 30 minutes, or until slightly golden. Turn off the oven, but leave the trays in for at least one hour as it cools, so that the crackers can crisp up.
Makes ~ 50 smallish duck crackers. I am keeping them in the freezer and packing them straight into the lunch box, and they are being eaten – but Alana suggests re-crisping them in a 375 F oven if you freeze them, and I am sure she is right about that.
Psst – If you’re thinking now about kids lunches, and the challenging work of school lunch reform – then check out The Lunch Tray. Lots of good reading over there!