Every morning at 6:15 I drag myself out of bed, displaying no morning glory face I assure you, and make my way to the kitchen to pack my husband’s lunch. I wish I could say that it was motivated by a strong desire to provide good nourishment but it’s mostly because I’m cheap. Buying lunch in Manhattan every day adds up to a lot of cash.
That being said I hate doing it. I don’t know why I hate it, I don’t mind cooking and I even like being in my kitchen and providing meals for my family but this little chore just puts me in a bad mood.
I’m not much of a morning person ~ you may have picked up on that.
So lately, in order to make life a little easier and his meals a little nicer I’ve been preparing ahead. This is very unlike me but some of the sad lunches I was packing were making me feel bad, especially since the man never complains about anything I’ve ever fed him. Even if it deserved complaints and derision. Nary a peep. So I think he deserves a little more thought and planning. And it’s a way to serve him and show him some love, which is more important than lunch but is part of the whole package.
Honestly, the smallest efforts in this regard have paid off and I have been in a much more pleasant frame of mind regarding this chore (why did I get in such a huff about this?) since I started planning a bit.
If you are the nice kind of wife who enjoys putting together beautiful lunches for her man then come back tomorrow and maybe I’ll have a post that will interest you. However if you struggle with this maybe my ideas and this ridiculously long step-by-step kind of post will help.
Dave works in Manhattan and has an hour and a half commute to and from work, when the train is on time which is rare. Add to that a ten to twelve work day and his days are pretty long and we are getting into tax season which ups that ante pretty high. He needs a good bit of food to keep him fueled that long and it’s just healthier to provide it to avoid the vending machines and overpriced chain coffee shops. Plus (and this me again) it’s cheaper. Not cheap, but cheaper.
So when I make my grocery list I also plan for his lunches. That is that I plan for most meals to have enough left to pack a lunch for Dave in addition to having hearty sandwich fare in the house should the left over plan fail (I have a teenage boy in the house and his food consumption is just astonishing). If you are interested in learning to shop and cook for a crowd with planned extra meals and how to save bits of things in your freezer to make more meals I highly recommend Leila’s Save A Step method to planning and cooking meals. There are several posts within that post so wait until the children are in bed and spend some time reading through. There is a slot of good advice, methods and lovely pictures of bread, cake and casseroles. I harken back to that post often for some inspiration and encouragement.
So, I try to plan what I pack in the lunches right along with what I plan for dinners for the week. Often I can get away with leftovers from dinner but I try not to give it to him the next day because,well it’s just boring. I bought two of these Sistema lunch cubes, which Dave likes because they are light and I hate because they are plastic and they never look very clean. I do use these glass containers with the snap on lids as well, I like them because they clean up nicely and there is no weird plastic smell but they are quite a bit heavier to carry. He carries a ridiculously heavy briefcase, a laptop and another loaded bag seems to annoy him. It might have something to do with all the spinal surgery he’s had.
So when dinner clean up is going on, (and I am never part of dinner clean up anymore since I have six capable children living here at the moment and a seventh that pops in when there is a break in the semester, so why should I clean up after dinner?) the kids know to carefully put any leftovers in whatever of dad’s lunch containers is available. You really only need two because while he is using one the other is home being washed.
That’s a pork roast that I made yesterday, and this is where the love comes in, we didn’t eat pork roast last night. Rather I made a broccoli chicken skillet meal from leftover chicken I had roasted Monday (never roast one chicken, roast three) but I had this small pork roast that had been on manager’s special ( I think it was $3) and since I wasn’t going anywhere and I was only using the skillet for dinner I decided to just roast the thing. Apricot jam and a little bacon grease coating and and hour later it was done. Unfortunately the drippings were lost due to an unforeseen event.
Meet the unforeseen event. If anyone had told me that keeping food I had just cooked safe was akin to hiding Jews from Nazis I would have seriously re-thought the whole, “the children need a dog” thing.
In any event, I just added some of the jam and a hunk of bacon grease to a pan, heated it, thinned it with a bit of apple brandy and poured it over the meat so as to glaze it.
This is less about taste and aesthetics and more about the meat not drying out when he reheats it. The cabbage was another act of love, since everyone else in the house hates it. It was a small bag of shredded cabbage and I thought it would round out this meal nicely. I cooked it down with some brown sugar and apple (recipe below) and that with some frozen corn makes him a nice meal. It was less than ten minutes of work and I was already in the kitchen so very little effort was extended.
Another way to make this easier and nicer for him is to buy those things he likes but the kids would never eat. For example; crab ravioli. One small bag will last for three lunches. I just add some tomato sauce (which I keep in containers in the freezer) and some broccoli. I boiled this in the pot I made the apricot glaze in. Didn’t even wash it just drained the ravioli and started the glaze. Who cares if there is starch in the glaze? The little container has grated parmesan cheese. The broccoli goes into the container frozen, that way it’s nice when he heats it and not a soggy mess. Last week I made two Reuben sandwiches for him (corned beef on sale). Fried them up while I was making grilled cheeses for everyone else. Let them cool (so they don’t get soggy) and put one in a lunch container and one in the freezer. It worked. The kids would rather be thrown off a train than eat a Rueben. Silly kids.
I also pack overnight oatmeal a few times a week for a breakfast thing. This one is Greek yogurt with vanilla, frozen blueberries, oatmeal and chopped walnuts. Sometimes he just gets plain yogurt and fruit and sometimes he gets a package of oatmeal to make there or something I’ve baked.
I make these the day before at lunch time because lunch here is chaotic and the kids seem to empty half of the fridge anyway so throwing one of these together is no effort.
Snappy containers are the bomb.
I baked an apple cake too, I was in the zone.
So tonight we are having chicken noodle soup with biscuits but I am going to make a small broccoli cream soup first with some of the broth (three chickens makes a lot of broth) and that will be everyone’s Friday lunch. I use the Sistema soup container and it’s never spilled in all the commuting it’s done (I do put it in a gallon sized Ziploc – just in case). I also put a quart of Chicken stock in the fridge to use for sauces and things.
So three lunches in one evening without much fuss while also using what I’ve cooked all week to make more nice lunches for my hubby. In addition I give him two pieces of fruit and a granola bar or some homemade baked something (that cake) for the afternoon. Sometimes trail mix too.
It is a little bit of extra work but I’m so much happier doing it ahead of time rather than trying to get my brain in gear in the wee hours of the morning.
Do you have lunch packing strategies?
Red Cabbage Recipe (very forgiving, tweak as necessary)
A small head of red cabbage or a bag of the pre-shredded stuff
2 apples peeled and cored
2 heaping tablespoons of brown sugar (you can use a bit more if you like sweet as opposed to spicier)
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2-3/4 cup water
1 tablespoon of butter
Put everything except the butter in the pot, heat on a medium heat until water is absorbed and cabbage is deep red. About 30-40 minutes The apples should have mushed away too. Take off the heat and mix in the butter.
You are so nice. I’m sure he enjoys it. Did you ever read Laurel’s Kitchen, the first, original one? the author had an article about how at first it seemed ridiculous that Lauren carefully cooked and packed her husband’s lunches, making special desserts for him, etc. Then she realized even though her husband never complained that he should have better. I always remembered that story and when I married some years later I began packing my husband’s and later my son’s lunches. I did it with love for over twenty years until he retired. And you are right about saving money. With snacks and coffee, a day’s worth of food in manhattan is very pricey. I noticed that when I went to a training in Manhattan last week. Because it was a “treat” I went to a nice, small, nothing fancy restaurant and spent $26 for lunch. It was delicious and fresh but I couldn’t do that all the time! But even sandwiches, wraps and panini are expensive….even pizza. So good for you, I admire all your creative tips for cooking ahead and keeping enough aside for lunch. 🙂
Deanna Bartalini says
Kathleen, I was reading this and thinking about the same book!
Mary Ellen, you certainly make nice lunches for your husband!
Thank you so much for your kind words.
Mary Ellen, I love this post (and not only because of your kind linking to mine). You are my hero.
Thank you so much!
Just found your blog. Thanks for an inspiring post.On a long Amtrak trip, I wanted to weep when I heard two unrelated passengers behind me discussing how their NYC 10-year-old grandchildren had the task of making their own lunch every school day, and how beneficial it was for the children. It took all my self-restraint not to butt in and declare, “My son is 28, and I still make his lunch!”
And let me tell you I am glad I made those lunches because our family lost him to brain cancer last May when he was 31 1/2. I too am consoled that he died with the sacraments and–like your dear Ryan–is with the Lord.
My deepest condolences. I’m so sorry for your loss.
I used to enjoy packing a leftover hot meal for my husbands lunch, but his work place changed policy and the staff are now required to use the canteen, no packed lunches permitted, and certainly no microwaves to reheat anything! Such a shame!( tell that to our dog!!)
That seems so unfair!
I packed my husband’s lunches for 35 years. I thought I was good, but you are in another league entirely. Keep going. His lunches are one thing he always brags about and his fellow workers envied. My husband’s parents came from Germany so I learned to make many German dishes, including rotkraut (red cabbage) which is very similar to your recipe. I cooked it in a slow cooker using a head of red cabbage and letting it cook for 3 to 4 hours. So delicious. I could live on it for days and it keeps well in the refrigerator for several cays.
Nothing beats good German food!
Margo, Thrift at Home says
inspiring! I, too, loathe packing lunches and wish I could let my kids do it for themselves, but they would never get the nuances and which food needs to be used up and how to keep it nice. . . everything you described.
Your remarks about you “unforeseen event” made me laughs in the early morning hours! Such an innocent looking dog, too!