Following on from my 10 Alternatives to Sliced Bread post, I thought I'd explore some of the many alternatives out there to sandwiches. After all, I first got into the idea of bento lunches when I realised that they offered a real and easy alternative to the 'cheese sandwich and an apple' that was fast becoming my standard lunch. You can put pretty much anything in a bento box, which means that really, there is no real limit to the choices available to you. Here I've rounded up 10 ideas for those days when you can't face making another cheese sandwich!
1. A Leafy Salad. OK, I have to admit, this isn't one I use often for Small Child. He's not a huge fan of lettuce, so I tend to 'hide' it in things like wraps & sandwiches when I put it in his lunches. But for myself, and my husband, a leafy salad with some tasty additions can make a great, healthy, low fat lunch. Try adding shredded chicken, tuna, ham, boiled egg, chunks of cheese or croutons, as well as a selection of crunchy raw vegetables like chopped cucumber, pepper, grated carrot or grated beetroot. A little tub of salad dressing to drizzle over, plus a handful of nuts or seeds and you've got yourself a really tasty lunch.
2. Rice Salad. This is a great way to use up leftover rice, or you can cook a small portion of rice to use as and when you need it. I like to make a quick rice salad up using leftover rice, chopped pepper, cucumber, cherry tomatoes, peas & raisins, but you could mix in anything you have on hand. I also like this Tuna Rice Salad recipe from the BBC Good Food website. Mix it all together ready to eat, or present the rice separately, so that it can be mixed in at lunch time. I sometimes shape the rice using a cookie cutter, and you can also buy rice moulds for this purpose.
3. Pasta Salad. Another easy to throw together lunch is a pasta salad. Like rice, it can be served up in many different ways with whatever ingredients you have available. We often have pasta for our main evening meal, and as it usually tastes great cold, I save leftovers to feed the family for lunch the next day too. My favourite pasta salad recipe involves oven roasting a mixture of vegetables (such as butternut squash, sweet potato, peppers, tomato, onion, courgette etc), then stirring it into hot pasta along with some balsamic vinegar & mixed herbs. When using plain leftover pasta for lunch I'll add a little mayonnaise, shredded ham, peppers, spring onions & peas etc to make a quick pasta salad.
4. Couscous. I think that couscous is the ultimate fast food, and very handy for lunches. It only takes minutes to prepare, and although it doesn't have a strong flavour of its own, it easily soaks up the flavours of whatever is added to it. When making couscous up for a quick salad, I like to use vegetable or chicken stock instead of plain hot water to add a bit of extra flavour. Like pasta & rice, you can add pretty much any ingredients you like to couscous to make up a quick & healthy salad. I love this Harissa Veg & Goats Cheese Couscous Salad recipe, which works well for an evening meal, leaving leftovers for lunch the next day.
5. Noodles. Like pasta, noodles taste great served cold as well as hot. They're quick and easy to prepare, so make a convenient lunchbox food. Try throwing in some baby sweetcorn, sugar snap peas, prawns and a little sweet chilli sauce for a delicious and healthy lunch. Using leftovers make preparing lunch even easier; here I have used leftover stir-fried noodles in Small Child's lunchbox.
6. Crackers. The ultimate store-cupboard 'I really need to go shopping' lunch for me tends to be crackers with cheese or ham. It's an extremely quick and easy lunch to throw together, and makes a nice change from sandwiches. Small Child would eat crackers for tea every day if he could, so he's always happy when they appear in his lunchbox! Try different types of crackers; there is a huge variety of types and flavours to choose from in most supermarkets. We love oatcakes, cheese thins, sesame & poppy seed thins, Cornish wafers, onion Ryvita & multi-grain crackers, to mention just a few.
7. Houmous or Dip with Crudités. A favourite way of getting lots of lovely veggies into Small Child is to serve up crudités with some houmous on the side to dip them in. We enjoy both 'ready-made' organic houmous and home-made when I get around to it; a favourite recipe of ours is this really easy carrot houmous. Any kind of dip or soft cheese would also work well in the place of the houmous. We think that finger food can be a lot more fun than sandwiches, and it is also particularly good for tempting younger children to eat a variety of foods.
8. Cottage Pie. It was my 'northern' husband who introduced me to the idea of cold cottage pie. Initially I wasn't convinced by the idea, but after I tried some cold leftover cottage pie for lunch one day with brown sauce (which is obligatory apparently!) I was forever converted. If anything, cottage pie improves overnight, and it really does taste great cold as well as hot. With this in mind I prepared a mini cottage pie for Small Child alongside our main meal one evening, and it went down very well eaten cold in his lunch the next day. It may have helped that I named it dinosaur pie!
9. Potato Salad. I've made potato salad a few times for Small Child's lunch now, and it's always gone down well. You can use leftover potatoes or boil a few new potatoes just for lunch. Add mayonnaise, or some dip of your choice, and some chopped chives or other herbs and you've got a good start to a yummy lunch. You can add extras either mixed in with the salad or on the side.
10. Pizza. Who doesn't like pizza? Although not everyone is a fan of cold pizza, it has always gone down well in our house when there are leftovers to be eaten. Whenever we have pizza at home I make it myself (see my recipe and tutorial here), which is particularly useful for us as my husband can't have dairy products, so he gets a special goats cheese pizza. I usually make a few spare mini pizzas or calzone pizzas for the freezer, so that I can use them to make a quick and easy lunch for Small Child when I'm running low on food or inspiration. You can also make a really easy pizza by spreading a little tomato puree on a halved English muffin, sprinkling on a little cheese & popping it under the grill for a minute or two.
I hope that I've managed to provide a little inspiration in this post, I'd love to hear if you try something new, or any other ideas you may have to make a change from sandwiches!