IF YOU FIND yourself staring into the refrigerator some mornings in hopes it will inspire you with new ideas for packed lunches, but the only response is its monotonous hum, here are some fresh ideas for those now-scratched lunch boxes.Everything's as easy, delicious and healthy as you choose to make it, and perhaps you'll end up saving some energy by shutting the refrigerator door faster.
For building different kinds of sandwiches, start with different kinds of bread. Instead of white or whole wheat why not use dill, pumpernickel, oatmeal, sprouted wheat or rye, bagels, hard rolls or Middle East flat bread (the mini-size is good for the calorie-conscious). If having a variety of breads on hand seems indulgent, store them in the freezer. They're available as needed, will keep indefinitely and sandwiches made with frozen bread thaw by lunchtime while keeping the contents nicely refrigerated.
Instead of plain mayonnaise or butter bread spread perk up sandwiches with a sprinkle of fresh or dried herbs -- chopped chives, chopped parsley, horseradish, mustard powder, celery salt or garlic -- or use a salad dressing instead. Even something this simple will give old stand-bys new flair.
To keep afternoon hunger pangs at bay the main sandwich filler should be a food rich in protein such as canned fish, hard-boiled eggs, peanut butter or other nut butters, cheese, tahini (a paste made from ground sesame seeds), poultry, left-over meats or luncheon meats. If you like to include something fresh, experiment with different kinds of fruits and vegetables. But do remember that juicy vegetables, such as tomatoes, destroy a sandwich's integrity and should be packed separately in a plastic bag then added at lunchtime.
For extra tast and texture top it all off with chopped nuts, shelled sunflower seeds, sesame, poppy, dill or caraway seeds, dried fruit, olives, pickles or wheat germ.
Here are some of the endless possibilities:
Raisin, brown or date bread with cream cheese, chopped walnuts, chopped dried apricots.
Whole-grain bread with peanut butter, tahini, raisins, honey.
Rye or pumpernickel bread with sliced ham or bacon, sliced green pepper, cream cheese mixed with pickle relish.
Oatmeal bread with Muenster cheese, pear slices, sunflower seeds.
Middle East flat bread stuffed with chicken slices, avocado slices, very thin onion slice, mayonnaise mixed with a dab of catsup.
Bagel with bologna, cucumber slices, toasted sesame seeds, French or garlic dressing.
Granola bread with peanut butter, apple slices, apple butter.
Dill bread with turkey or chicken slices, chopped celery, lettuce, butter mixed with chopped chives.
Sprouted wheat bread with tuna fish, raisins, bean sprouts, chopped walnuts, mayonnaise with a dash of cumin.
Black bread with corned beef, lettuce, sliced radishes, mustard.
If you rely on such long-time favorites as tuna fish and egg salad, but would still like a change, spice them up in much the same way as the other sandwiches. They'll taste like brand-new concoctions.
Main courses can also include yogart, cottage cheese and salads, all of which can be packed in containers with tight-fitting lids. (I use plastic freezer containers and old yogurt tubs). Hot meals such as soups, stews, casseroles, bean, rice and pasta dishes are easily packed in wide-mouthed thermoses. School and office cafeterias needn't be the only sources for hot meals.
Packed lunches can be a lot more than just peanut butter and jelly. They do require some planning as you tool down supermarket aisles, but also lunches become less routine and more interesting as you try new combinations of foods that are commonly on hand. Start with your old ideas then give them a new twist. Anybody for peanut butter, jelly, olives and onions?