Lunch Box Tuesday

Three kids. Three schools. Three identical start times. Three wildly different school locations. It’s time to re-enroll in the fall academic schedule.

The Fuel Factory that is My KitchenThe beginning of a new school year brings with it both enthusiasm and reserve. I still revel in the purchase of a fresh note pad yet see the intimidation factor in my youngest son as he enters a new school in a different neighborhood. I’m still wondering how we are going to do this. How will morning routines have to change? What responsibilities do the boys need to take on? Who can we enlist to help?

Part of our academic season routine is the preparation of school lunches.  While all three have a food service option, each prefers to pack a lunch. We’re finding that doing as much as possible the night before is helpful and they each need to be involved in the process.

Yesterday, my oldest son packed three peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, a side of 6 oz. of grilled salmon, two apples, cheese crackers, two protein bars and extra protein powder to make a shake during school.  A quick visit to the online calorie calculator says that he should consuming close to 3,000 calories per day just to maintain his weight. His 14 yo brother needs 2800 to maintain and both are trying to gain weight. Additionally, both of the older boys have adopted pescetarian diets meaning that they no longer consume beef, pork or poultry.

Their diet easily fits into my dinnertime planning but I’m struggling with school lunches and the over-consumption of protein bars with ingredients that I can’t pronounce.  Then, one terrific blog that I’ve recently discovered lamented the same protein bar fatigue with a wonderful solution.

Vegetarian Spring Rolls
Yields: 16 – 20 rolls
Adapted from this really terrific food blog The Garum Factory


  • ½ lb firm tofu, diced ½-inch
  • ½ cup organic crunchy peanut butter
  • 1 Tbs honey
  • 2 small sweet peppers, diced small as possible
  •  Zest of 1 lime
  • Juice of 1½ limes
  • 4 Tbs soy sauce
  • 1 Tbs grated ginger
  • 1 Tbs grated garlic
  • 1 Tbs sriracha
  • 1 Tbs roasted sesame oil
  • 1 cup cooked long grain brown rice
  • ½ cup finely grated carrot
  • ½ cup shredded purple cabbage
  • 2 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 8 oz. shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 24 small cooked green beans, cut in half crosswise
  • 1 small cucumber, peeled and cut into matchsticks – ¼-inch thick and 2 inches long
  • ¼ cup  torn mint leaves
  • ¼ cup torn cilantro leaves
  • 20 12-inch rice paper rounds


  1. Place the tofu on paper towels after dicing to withdraw some moisture.

    Remove as much moisture as possible.

    Remove as much moisture as possible.

  2. In a small bowl, mix peanut butter, honey, lime zest, juice of half a lime, 1 Tbs soy sauce, 1 tsp ginger, 1 tsp garlic, and 1 Tbs sriracha.
  3.  In a large bowl, mix  remaining lime juice, soy sauce, ginger, garlic, and  sesame oil.  Add the tofu and toss to coat.  Add the rice, vegetables, and herbs and gently mix together.
  4.  Fill a plate with water for dipping rice paper.
  5.  Dip a singel rice paper round in water.  Immerse for several seconds until it is flexible, but not completely saturated. Remove from  water and place flat on a cutting board,  Carefully smear 1 tsp of peanut butter mixture down the middle.  Top with scant ¼ cup of filling mixture.  Lay a couple beans and cucumbers down the middle.  Fold in the two side ends.  Starting at one end, fold the paper over the filling and roll to form a tight bundle.  Repeat. Allow to air dry for 10 minutes. flip over and dry on the second side for 10.IMG_1704
  6.  These can be stored in the refrigerator overnight with a loose covering so they don’t get too soggy, or wrap individually in plastic if you are going to eat them on the rode the next day.

Admittedly, we’ve decided that we like these best when first rolled but regardless, the taste is terrific and the concept of rolling opens a whole new set of lunch box options.

What are your tricks and tips for getting into the school routine?  What’s your favorite packed lunch?

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  1. I’m a teacher, so I’m definitely feeling the excitement/panic of back to school. I’ve recently gotten back into the routine of carrying an agenda book & writing in it the day before; it has helped me be productive all summer & I think it will keep me more organized this school year (something I desperately need as I teach in two schools).
    My favorite packed lunch has always been ham & cheese sandwiches, but lately to eat better I’ve done salads. I purchased some EasyLunchboxes and I’m really loving them so far (used them for band camp). They’ve helped control portion size & limit the number of plastic baggies I use.

    • I can’t imagine how organized you must have to be to teach in two different schools. I am going to have to check out the lunch boxes.

  2. Those look soooo yummy!

  3. My oldest just started focusing on nutrition. He put on a college freshman 30 but from pizza & mac&cheese. He now does two protein shakes a day & six meals. Work & school makes it a challege.

    My middle is not a meat eater.. Cottage cheese & organic/natural peanut butter is her staple. Occasionally ob a tortilla instead of gluten free bread (she’s my one allergic to many things).

    My youngest loves homemade chicken nuggets made with Panko. She is one that loves variety & is my biggest challenge. She eats so early (10:45 lunch) I send a snack (veggie stick & homemade ranch) but is starving when she gets home. Since I am at work & her sister goes straight to home work I have had to get ib the habit of cutting up fruit & put in serving sized containers eye level for her

  4. Lisa H

     /  August 20, 2013

    Wow, I can only imagine three different school schedules, as I can barely keep up with two! I lucked out last year when one school changed their starting time by 30 minutes…just enough to get both kids to school if I need to on my own.
    We really enjoy spring rolls, too. I love the idea of packing them in lunches! And so easy to make ahead! Right now pita pocket sandwiches are a hit with my daughter. We stuff them with lettuce, onions, and homemade lunch meat (cheaper and healthier!). Thanks for the recipe, we will definitely give it a try.

  5. The spring roll recipe looks heavenly! I was getting a bit stressed out just thinking about your family’s schedule, but it sounds like you are on your way to making it all work seamlessly. Here’s to a great new year!

  6. There was one year when I had three children at three different schools, all in different ends of Sydney and all with different start times and uniforms and holidays and rules and sports programs and subject choices etc. My head was spinning the entire year just trying to keep up with all that was going on. I know all about teens and their food fads too – it can make for tense times in the kitchen. I love the look of these tofu rolls – they would be approved by all my kids xx

  7. I am amazed at the quantity of food your eldest packed for lunch:

    “Yesterday, my oldest son packed three peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, a side of 6 oz. of grilled salmon, two apples, cheese crackers, two protein bars and extra protein powder to make a shake during school.”

    Teenage boys really do eat their parents out of house and home! 😀

    Somethings I like to munch on for lunch if I’m brown bagging it:
    * 3 bean salad
    * pasta salad with cheese & beans
    * tortilla roll ups

    Good luck!

    • BTW: Even if’s he’s aiming for 3,000 calories for the day, that lunch seems excessive:

      3 PB&J = 350 x 3 = 1050
      6 oz. salmon = 250
      2 apples = 125 x 2 = 250

      That’s 1550 calories (1/2 the day’s maintenance calories) not including the cheese crackers, protein bars, and protein shake (which may have added another 700-800 calories to the total).

      If he eats that much at every meal . . . he should be a BIGGER boy in no time. 😛

  8. I am not a fan of tofu but, reading the recipe and viewing your photos, I must admit it looks absolutely inviting! I applaud you for taking the effort to provide healthy meals for you family. Great blog, as usual!!

    • So, is there a nat and do you make lunch for him?

      • My “nat” is grown and she has a son who will graduate in 2014. I loved making lunches for her and she does the same for her son. More choices for lunch in today’s world though.

  9. School lunches can be a challenge. I love the idea of a spring roll. My guys seem to take pb sandwiches all the time. They are just quick and easy but with sports that just isn’t enough. Thanks for a great idea 😀

  10. These spring rolls look way tastier than any protein bar Tammy 🙂

  11. Oh my, what a year you have ahead of you. Not sure I would manage. It’s great that all your kids participate in the school lunches and these spring rolls looks fantastic.
    🙂 Mandy xo

  12. Kind of like a healthy burrito 😉 And how nice that the boys will jump into the advance planning. It’s so hard when everyone goes in a different direction, and every little bit of organization helps.

  13. I am in awe of your school time challenges, and the fact that you just take it all on without complaint. Spring rolls sound like a great idea! I make hearty pancakes from whole grain flour, eggs, yogurt and cottage cheese, spinach or kale, other cheese and veggies if I have them around…kind of a thrown-together concoction, but they are amazingly good hot or cold.

  14. Wow, Tammy. You have some big challenges with this school year, but I feel certain that your family will pull together and pull it off. Hungry growing sons consume a lot of calories. I had an only daughter, so I never experienced the need for 3 PBJ’s, 2 apples, 2 protein bars, and a side of salmon!

    Fresh spring (or summer) rolls make a terrific tote-to-school lunch option.

    • Looking for a lot of tote options but got some great new carrying devices from Jenny at the Spicy Simmer above!

  15. Huge fan of spring rolls! Yum!

  16. Ooh I love mixing up the sandwich routine with rice paper wraps, and the fact that you can make it as nutritionally dense as a protein bar is genius.

  17. MMMMM,…Divine spring rolls! They look superb & very appetizing!!!

  18. Tammy,
    My favorite school lunch is leftovers in a thermos that gets returned on the same day and loaded into the dishwasher. Since we moved I now have usually one but sometimes two kids home for lunch, as we now live in a walking district with a hour long lunch break and open campus. Crazy, but nice at the same time.
    I like spring rolls, but my son thinks they are too chewy–I’ll thinly slice my lettuce next time and see if that makes a difference.

    • Funny, my youngest complained that they were chewy but it was due to the rice paper drying a bit. They still loved them.

  19. They look delicious, even if you’re not a vegetarian 🙂

  20. I can imagine feeding growing boys well is quite the challenge! But your rice paper rolls look just great and sound like a wonderful option! I want to buy some rice paper again (which I can now since I’ve discovered a wonderful Asian food store in the neighborhood – finally 😀 ) and make rolls. I also like to make sushi rolls with nori sheets. However, it’s always a little laborous, so I haven’t done it much lately.

    Back at my school time, my mom usually made me sandwiches from whole rye bread, with jam or or honey. Sometimes I took a muesli bar. The school I went to didn’t have a canteen but was just a few minutes from home, so I could bike home during the lunch break and eat with my mom (she used to cook rice or potatoes and vegetables and probably some fish or so every day), which made it very easy to eat well. Actual lunch bagging set in later when I was at uni. I’d take bread roll sandwiches and apples at first (before I learned about my gluten intolerance), and later usually a precooked meal. Nowadays it’s usually brown rice, beans, and vegetables, or a porridge. I have a steel thermos container which has just the right size for a satisfying meal. I definitely spend some time with food preparation, but since I’ve started precooking large batches of rice, beans, and even veggies sometimes (or I use unseasoned frozen veggies), meal preparation has become a lot quicker.

    • I bought one of those steel containers last year because one of my kids enjoys soup. I hadn’t thought about nori rolls but ani phyo has some great options that are vegan. I may pull out her book today!

  21. Those look yummy!

  22. Spring rolls sound like a good option to make for my lunches or even a yummy afternoon snack. I usually bring apples and other fruits and nuts for an afternoon snack at work. Lexi brings her lunch to school, but she eats like a bird compared to your boys. No issues with a PB sandwich and maybe a small yogurt.

  23. Oh my that it some morning routine you have!!! and yes to Spring Rolls, aren’t they magic, I love to dip them in soy sauce. I’ve seen some fabulous Bento style lunch boxes on blogs (sorry I can’t remember any exact ones) which might give you some ideas, especially if the boys eat fish

  24. They look delicious on a hot day.


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