School, harvest time call for easy, portable meals

posted Aug. 28, 2017 7:57 a.m. (CDT)
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by / Janelle Thomas | Food Columnist

Wow, the eating and cooking routine in our family, and probably many others, is about to do a 180-degree flip. September means back to school and work and a busy sports schedule for our family. For farm families it also means fall harvest time, so there’s often little time to stop for a meal.

Our girls are diving into school days that require cold lunches and extra, packable snacks to quickly consume before practices or while on the bus to a tournament or a meet. It also means sending our oldest to college for the first time along with a supply of protein bites and chocolate chip cookies to share with his floormates.

I have been on the hunt for recipes that will help our family transition into fall’s demanding schedules, especially when it comes to meals and snacks on the go. I want cold lunches to be just a bit more exciting than a peanut butter sandwich, pretzels and yogurt, and I want snacks to be something other than what the vending machine offers.

We are excited to try frozen smoothies in the lunchboxes. I love the idea of making them up in advance and having them in the freezer, ready to pop into a lunchbox. They should be thawed just enough by lunch time and will also serve double-duty of keeping the other items chilled.

Quesadillas with dipping sauce will be a nice substitute for sandwiches occasionally. Yes, they will be eaten cold, but I’ve come to realize kids just don’t mind. Pasta salads with ham or chicken for protein and a variety of vegetables and a bit of dressing will add interest to boring cold lunches.

I’ve also come around to salads in mason jars, and I think our girls will like them, too. A pint-sized jar makes a nice side salad and a quart-sized jar is a full meal. The key is to layer the salad ingredients so the dressing is at the very bottom, followed by hard vegetables, soft vegetables, cheese, meat, grains, toppings and finally greens.

Make sure to pack the ingredients tightly. This keeps the ingredients from shifting and mixing during transport and ensures a fresh, crispy salad come lunch time. The jar salads can be made several days in advance and stored in the refrigerator.

Hard-boiled eggs, homemade granola to sprinkle on yogurt, mini muffins (baked, packaged individually and frozen) and cheese sticks all make great, easy-to-grab sides and snacks.

We also love the ease of sliced apples, but I cringe at the price of the pre-sliced ones at the store. To prevent your own sliced apples from quickly turning brown, add apple slices to ½ cup of apple cider and ¼ cup lemon juice. Let sit for several minutes, drain well, package in zipper-top bags with as much air squeezed out as possible and seal.

Whether the cold lunches and snacks are going to the field for harvest or into the school backpack, take a minute to think about how to make them a little less ordinary.

Janelle Thomas can be reached at

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