When our two years at Applewood School ended, the “Lunch Box Challenge” re-entered my life. One would think that seven years of packing lunches during Natalie’s elementary school years would have made me a calm pro, but I still got overwhelmed thinking about what to put in a lunch bag five days in a row. On extra-busy mornings (when I had to get out the door as early as everyone else), I knew I could wrap up a hearty piece of whole-grain bread with a chunk of good cheese, and toss in a crisp apple and Natalie would be nourished and happy until she got home from school for tea-time. But two years of hot lunches during home schooling made me want strive for a healthy variety in Natalie’s lunches, without going crazy.
“Couldn’t Natalie pack her own lunch?” asked some friends. She could, but I’d decided that I’d rather she be able to sit down and eat a healthy breakfast. I’m convinced that eating a healthy breakfast is one of the reasons Natalie has such a happy temperament. Too many of her friends don’t eat breakfast and by mid-morning are suffering from a low blood sugar slump, which they try to boost with a sweet snack. This is the challenge: breakfast takes time and too many families are short on sleep and time.
Once cancer cells make an appearance in one’s body, as they did in mine, food takes on more meaning. I have always enjoyed good food, but life-long food sensitivities had limited my consumption of leafy vegetables and raw fruit. As I write in Two in the Middle, a few years ago I finally discovered a connection between repeated doses of antibiotics I had been prescribed since adolescence and my food sensitivities. Figuring out the connection and restoring my body’s healthy flora and balance had allowed me to enjoy foods I hadn’t been able to eat for decades. This helped so much as I learned about the wide range of foods that were both delicious and unfriendly to cancer cells. Thus, during our two years of home schooling, I made preparing healthy and delicious hot lunches a part of each day. Natalie began calling me Applewood School’s “gorgeous cafeteria cook” (that was a nice incentive to keep cooking).
But the truth was, in spite of the clear health rewards, I wasn’t always in the biggest mood to cook. On those days, I had to channel positive influences. While recovering from two lumpectomy surgeries, I read Julia Child’s My Life in France. I read only a few pages day, as I didn’t want the book to end. “Being with” Julia made me feel happy. Her passion for food was contagious, and I started to realize that the time I spent preparing food shouldn’t be thought of as time pulled from something else “more important,” like writing, researching, or teaching. Good health was more important than anything.
Dr. David Servan-Schreiber’s book Anti-cancer: A New Way of Life, includes attractive, easy-to-read food charts, which include the inhibiting influence of certain foods on various cancers. The idea of “food as medicine” empowered me. Furthermore, I started paying closer attention to the beauty of the food I was preparing. I pulled serving dishes out of cupboards so that I could place avocados, onions, garlic, squashes and oranges out where I could see them, like still-life paintings.
Good food is important. It does take time to create. It helps to recruit a helper. William grills chicken or fish perfectly, and cleans the kitchen after every dinner. We’ve also found excellent family-run Lebanese and Greek restaurants in our neighborhood that pitch in side dishes on busy nights. (One of Natalie’s favorite lunches includes whole-wheat pita, hummus, feta cheese, a dollop of tabouli (parsley and tomato salad) and a date.
The hot lunches I made during our two years at Applewood School have made me more adventurous with my cooking, and also gave me new ideas for sack lunches.
A delicious cabbage-apple-radish salad that is incredibly easy to make, stays fresh for a few days in the refrigerator and is delicious with some cut-up leftover chicken (or your favorite legumes) and a spoon of brown rice (leftovers from dinner). The flavors blend together nicely. I pack Natalie’s lunch in a stainless steel “bento box” (similar to the one below from www.lifewithoutplastic.com) and include an ice brick in the bag.
A big pot of lentil soup is so easy to cook up, and is easy to heat up in the morning for storage in a short thermos container. Natalie loves having it for lunch with a hearty piece of bread (for dunking) and fruit. If she’s baked a batch of her delicious whole wheat oatmeal or date-filled cookies, I’ll add a cookie to her lunch bag.
Cabbage Salad with Apple and Radishes
Remove outer leaves of cabbage and then rinse off cabbage.
Cut cabbage in half (if it’s a big cabbage, you can save half the cabbage for later use).
Slice up and put in big bowl.
Add sliced apple and sliced radishes.
Sprinkle with some soy sauce and seasoned rice vinegar. Start with a little and add to taste.
Slice up one onion or two leeks
Slice up 3-4 garlic cloves
Slice up 2 carrots
Simmer vegetables until soft and light brown in a generous amount of good olive oil.
Add 5 cups of boiling water
Add one cup of rinsed dry lentils
Add a bay leaf, ½ tsp. pepper, ½ tsp salt.
Simmer for 50 minutes and check if lentils are done.
Let sit for 20 minutes and enjoy immediately, or later heated up.
Stainless Steel Oval Bento Lunch Box, 15 cm (5.85″)
This snazzy food storage container is made of high quality, food grade 304 stainless steel. It can be used to store leftovers such as pastas, rice, vegetables. It can be easily cleaned in the dishwasher and can be re-heated in the toaster oven. It also works wonderfully as a convenient lunch box for a child or an adult. It can fit a bagel, a sandwich, a salad, some nachos, fruit pieces. This container is not watertight.