Packing a Lunch & Other Miracles

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Packing a lunch.  Sounds harmless.  For those that pack for themselves or for children, day after day, even the most creative individuals can find themselves running out of inspiration.  What is one of the most versatile pieces of equipment in your lunchbox arsenal?  The Thermos – or insulated food container.  No, seriously, you may have no idea all that can be done with one of these simple contraptions.  And because we like to share secrets… it doesn’t even have to be a traditional “Thermos”.  Do you have one of those travel mugs that makes it impossible to drink your coffee until mid-morning?  Perfect.  Now you also have a deluxe lunch transporter and variety beyond your imagination.

Yes, it is no secret that a variety of soups, stews and chili’s can be sent in a Thermos.  But there are so many other things that you can consider.

What about a grilled Panini or wrap, warm, melting, toasted up?  Did you know that after you crisp it up in a Panini press or a cast iron skillet, wrap it up in a paper towel and put it in your reheated Thermos, you will be eating delicious and satisfying diner food at noon?  Burritos also work.  Amy’s Burritos (bean & cheese, indian, tofu scramble, etc) have been tested (we work hard here at Amaranth!) and they are the perfect candidate for a premade option!  Just heat them all the way through in a toaster oven (take them out of the freezer the night before to speed this up) and make sure the outside is nice and crispy.  Then just add the paper towel wrap like above.

There is more.

Tacos.  So take your pulled or ground meat or seasoned legumes and put that in the Thermos, your toppings go in separate containers in the lunchbox and you have a fun, assemble your own satisfaction at noon.  Kids might love this.

Okay, I know what you are thinking.  How does this stuff stay warm and not taste like dreaded leftovers?  This brings us to another sweet secret.  The steamer.  Most of us have a contraption of some sort that is meant to steam your broccoli.  A pot and a “strainer” looking apparatus that fit together and you put the pot lid on top.  Yes?  Well, when you need to reheat something that is soupy, you use a pot, but when you need to reheat something that doesn’t have liquid in it, you use your steamer.  This means you can now pack things like fried rice, paella or anything casserole-like.  And the moisture from steaming will make you swear this is not a leftover.  Promise.


If you are still looking for more Thermos fillings, try:

  • Doubling muffin and loaf recipes and freezing what you can.  Pop some out and into the toaster oven until “freshly baked” and put in a preheated Thermos.  Lunch hour has warm baked goods, yum!
  • How about edamame?  Use that steamer to made them a bit al dente in the morning, add salt and put into a preheated Thermos.
  • How about steel cut oats?  Put these on low in your slow cooker before you go to bed.  In the morning scoop it into your pre heated Thermos, add you favourite toppings and you are done.  Kids can personalize this to their liking which is fun.  You can make anything in the slow cooker overnight and have it ready to pack in a thermos in the morning.  It is kind of like having a home chef, “Why thank you for preparing this masterpiece for me while I attained my beauty sleep!”
  • Sweet potato pancakes? Dumplings?  Falafel?  What else can you imagine?
  • What would happen if you stored your thermos in the freezer like it was an ice cream maker?  You could pull it out in the morning and add yogurt or a smoothie and that would be nice and chilly at noon.  We suggest a banana and chia free smoothie as those things tend to gel a bit too much by noon.

Let’s talk food safety.  To make sure that you are not visited by uninvited guests at lunch, here are a few simple tips:

  • Reheat your left overs until they are 74°C for at least 15 seconds.  Whether you are steaming or using a toaster oven, just stick a thermometer into the centre and check where you are.  Microwaves are not suggested for reheating.  For one, they really deplete the flavour and nutrition and they also create hot spots.  This means part of the food has reached 74°C and other parts are much cooler.  If you insist on using a microwave, make sure to stir things up midway through to make for more even reheating.
  • Preheat your Thermos with boiling water so that the food you put into it is not sending heat into the thermos walls.
  • The danger zone for pathogen multiplication is between 5-60°C.  So you don’t want your food in that temperature zone for more than 2 hours.  That means that as long as your food is still at 60°C or above at 10am, your lunch is still a pillar of safety at noon.
  • This is the reverse for cold foods - foods that really need to stay cold (dairy, cold meats, etc).  Start with them being nice and cold and use an ice pack in the lunch kit.  Thermoses with cold contents can be put in a lunch bag with a cold pack for extra insulation.  Foods that need to stay cold should stay between 0-4°C for as long as possible and not rise above 5°C for more than 2 hours.  So at 10am, if your lunch is just reaching 5°C, you are good to go for a safe lunch at noon

Don’t panic about this stuff.  You don’t need to carry around a thermometer.  You know if you have a good Thermos or coffee mug.  If you want to take extra precautions, this information is for you!

Now, you can become a master with leftovers, but if you plan to make meals during the week that don’t leave leftovers, well, I am not sure how there is going to be anything in your Thermos.  During your work week or the kids school week, plan meals that make lunch packing easy.  Take care of yourself by having lunch with little effort.  Remember, life is about balance and having something good to eat!

How about a tip on residual smells in the Thermos.  Sorry to bring that up.  Look back to the “It’s going to get messy” post from last month.  The castile soap spray works wonders.

We don’t want to leave you without a step by step planned leftover for the week ahead.  Try this easy Paella, adapted from Curtis Stone’s, ‘What’s for Dinner’.  Everything steams up the next morning for delicious pack and go lunch.  Enjoy!

Chicken and Chorizo Paella

Chicken & Chirizo Paella 

4-6 chicken drumsticks or thighs seasoned with salt and pepper (Prairie Roots chicken is certified organic and raised by the lovely Hamilton family)

2 TBSP olive oil

8 ounces of Chorizo sausage, out of the casing and cut into ½ inch rounds (try the bison chorizo from High Country Bison, yum!)

1 onion, finely chopped

1 red bell pepper, finely chopped

6 garlic cloves, crushed and finely chopped

¾ tsp paprika

large pinch of saffron threads

2 cups Arborio Rice, white

3 ½ cups chicken broth

1 medium tomato, finely diced

2 TBSP chopped flat leaf parsley

1. Heat a 12 inch heavy oven proof skillet over med-high heat.  Add olive oil. Brown chicken on all sides for about 5 minutes (it won’t be cooked, just browned).  Transfer to a plate.

2. Reduce the heat to medium, add the chorizo and cook stirring occasionally for about 2 minutes or until browned.  Add the onions, peppers, garlic, paprika and saffron and cook, stirring often, for about 3 minutes, or until the vegetables soften.  Add the rice and cook, stirring often, for about 2 minutes, or until the rice is coated with olive oil and the mixture looks dry.

3. Stir in the broth, 1 tsp salt and ¼ tsp pepper.  Return the chicken to the pan in a single layer and evenly spaced. Increase the heat to high and bring to a simmer.

4. Transfer the pan to the oven and bake, uncovered, for about 30 minutes, or until the rice is tender and the chicken shows no sign of pink when pierced at the bone with a sharp knife.  A sign of a well baked paella is crisp rice around the sides of the pan.  Let stand at room temperature for 5 minutes.  Sprinkle with the diced tomato and parsley and serve hot!  Tip:  Take out what you need for lunch, then serve.  That way, you are always left with lunch!

Lunch ideas by Amy Buckman with recipe adapted from Curtis Stone's, 'What's for Dinner?'