Lunch time

cheese crackersI 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.

cheese crackers

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.

cheese crackers

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.

cheese crackers

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!

16 thoughts on “Lunch time

  1. I love the sound of this cracker recipe – so simple, so few ingredients, and those ducks are so cute! No kids but, I think they might be good for my lunch! As for what I like to pack or take – anything that can be eaten quickly and keep me full. I find that dinner leftovers are the usual lunch suspects, with lots of brown rice and plain yogurt to supplement. I do try and eat a fresh fruit or vegetable with each lunch – it can be so easy to go “brown” with the breads and things. We have an office fruit bowl so, in a pinch, I stop there. But I try to have either a crunchy veg with dip, or a crunchy fruit. Post-lunch crunch makes my teeth feel clean. :-)

    • Hi Molly – J man says the ducks are “friendly” and I think that is just it – but cute is good too. Let me know if you try them in your lunch!

      I think “post-lunch crunch makes my teeth feel clean” should be a motto. Maybe mine :)

  2. Ugh! School lunches. Double ugh! I always try to remember what my children’s doctor said to me when they were younger and even picker than they are now: “It’s your job to to put healthy food in front of them. It’s their job to eat it. You do your job and eventually they’ll figure out how to do theirs.”

    My kids did three weeks of camps this summer, but other than that I have been absolutely reveling in the lack of lunch packing. It really can become a chore. I’m trying to wrap my brain around having to start again in a short three weeks. I’ll bet I could also find some inspiration in The Homemade Pantry, too. Great suggestion.

    My daughter is the tougher of my two when it comes to lunches. My son can happily eat the same thing day after day so once I figure out what he likes, I’m good for a while. But herself almost never makes it through a whole week on the same thing. And she doesn’t like sandwiches. But some of our success stories are yogurt, hummus and carrot sticks, and cheese and crackers. Might have to try your crackers out on her.

    I found some nifty little bpa-free fruit containers that have their own little mini freezer packs that snap into the cover. Seems to keep fruit a lot more appealing to my kids.

    • My kids love dips … I will have to keep the hummus in mind. I have these nifty little stainless steel containers with lids, which seem to work well … or at least the food still looks great when it arrives home!! Ha. I try not to think too much about the next eighteen years or so of lunch making. One day at a time! The crackers are working for now – would love to hear if you try them on your daughter! :)

  3. Growing up my mom always put a personalized note in my lunch each day that would always make me feel special. Sometimes she would draw cute pictures or tape a snack sized piece of candy to the paper which was always exciting since she was not a fan of me eating junk food and sweets. At my job now I am one of the few people at my office who brown bags it every day. Most people eat those awful frozen meals or go out to eat but I am trying to work on my waistline and eat healthier in general. I like Jacobs fancy snack bags and I am a fan of easylunchboxes.com since they have compartments for a main item and then smaller compartments for fruits, veggies or perhaps those cute crackers you made. The crackers look yummy and I might have to give them a try!!

    • I can remember brown bagging it around the table in the conference room with all you InteliLadies back in the day … glad to hear that you have kept the tradition in your new job, state, life! I secretly look forward to putting notes in J’s lunchbox some day … right now the only words he can really read are his name plus “Zoo” and “Map” and a few others that wouldn’t make much sense … Maybe I should teach him to recognize I Love You or something! Then he would feel the love even if he didn’t eat :) Also, I think you should tell your mom you liked those notes … given my experience with lunch making to date, I suspect she would be thrilled to hear that you remember, and appreciated her efforts!

      • Is there any word you can’t add “Inteli” to the beginning of?! :) InteliLunch was always a good time and I will be sure to tell my mom I loved her notes. A friend of mine in Vegas said that she draws her kids little comics and puts in their lunch (I would not be that artistic) but thought that was a great idea for her younger ones. It sounds like you are making some tasty lunches for J and I am sure he will come around and realize he has the best lunch at school!

  4. Good old peanut butter and jam on whole wheat accompanied by a milk box goes a long way as long as your kids’ schools/camps have a liberal policy. Unfortunately one of my darling children doesn’t like PB nor does he eat sandwiches (I think it’s genetic from the paternal side). So he usually has one of those lunch boxes that is filled with random items like a snack pack explosion. It drives me a little nuts but I take solace in that he is a big boy (90th+ percentiles) so clearly he is not failing to thrive at this point ;)

    • paternal genetics in his case might indicate that cheerios are in order … we can’t have PB at our nursery school, but “sun butter” (because it comes from a seed rather than a nut) is on the approved list … J still towers over everyone, so I’m not worried so much about his growing … just about his crankiness when I pick him up ;)

  5. Adorable! I too am loving The Homemade Pantry! Those crackers are on my short list of things to try! Happy back-to-school days!

  6. Not excited about packing school lunches in a few weeks. This will be the first year that I have to pack two lunches a day (or three if I’m packing mine). And for two kids who like different things. I’m going to have to start brainstorming!

  7. Love the duckie crackers! I am going to try to make them as soon as I find a free minute. Hmm…wonder when that might be! I love to put things like that into lunches and am completely over thinking there must be a sandwich in there because all she likes is PB&Js and they aren’t allowed anywhere. So, my answers are homemade fruit rollups – huge hit with Katie. Now that it’s fall, I’m going to buy up the pears and start drying. And my whole wheat zucchini/carrot muffins. They always get eaten, especially if they have a few mini chocolate chips in them – and she promises me she won’t ever tell a soul she’s eating chocolate at lunch! ;)

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