School represents a huge milestone in the life of a kid. Last fall my daughter, who’s 5 years old, started to stay at her preschool group until 1pm twice a week. Not only was I excited because my baby was getting older and regular school is on the horizon, but it was an opportunity to test-drive different lunch options. As a former primary school teacher, I can tell you that I’ve pretty much seen every kind of lunch you can imagine and, I’ve also seen many of these lunches go uneaten. Knowing this I am determined to demystify homemade lunches and discover real options that are suitable to send with my daughter because I want her to eat and enjoy her lunch.
This is where Allison Day’s Modern Lunch comes in — written because she realizes that a sad lunch al desko is avoidable using some simple strategies and delicious recipes. While I’m focused on packing a school lunch, this cookbook offers options for anyone who eats lunch (read: everyone!). Throughout the introduction Day reminisces over her own school lunches and reminds us that lunchtime offers a chance to celebrate the communal nature of lunch. Building our community by eating with friends, colleagues, and sometimes strangers. I really appreciate how she elevates lunch and highlights the important connections it can build. Last week my friend brought her son over for lunch and a playdate, so I made us the Walnut-Crusted Avocado, Feta, and Eggs w/ Pesto Rice (the kids had their playdate fav — Annie’s with a ketchup smiley face). Both of us loved this recipe for its simplicity and flavour! It was delicious if I do say so myself, and, even better when shared with my friend!
Modern Lunch is divided into twelve chapters: Meals in Jars, Soups + Stews, Contemporary Lunch Boxes, Plates + Bowls, Salads w/ Substance, Platters, Brunch for Lunch, Picnic Baskets, Modern Lunch Club, Lunchbox Treasures, Modern Meal Prep Staples, and Gear Guide. All of these chapters contain recipes that help to reimagine any lunch scenario, from the typical lunch at work or school, lunch at home, to the more relaxed weekend lunches. I love that the book is full of recipes that aren’t about leftovers or sandwiches (in fact there are no sandwich recipes at all)! What I found after cooking almost a dozen recipes is that everything I’ve made is delicious! I’m already beginning to see different things I’ll send in my daughter’s lunch.
When it comes to packing a lunch (especially in my daughter’s case) texture is key — nothing that may be “slimy” or “gross.” Having this in mind I start to look at recipes where the texture will remain — such as Day’s recipe for Black Bean Salsa Salad w/ Homemade Crepe Tortillas. Beans are such a great choice to pack in a lunch because they keep their texture, taste ok at room temperature, and taste great when paired here with avocado (creamy texture is ok!), crisp bell pepper, kernels of corn, and the sweet, with a bit of chew, cherry tomatoes. Adding in the crepe tortilla provides a fun element that is easy to eat with your hands (a great kid option for kids).
It’s with this recipe that I’m reminded what a master Day is at formulating gluten-free recipes. Just as I found with her previous cookbook, Whole Bowls, all of her recipes are gluten-free because she develops them with her sister, who has celiac disease, in mind. So, with the tortillas she uses chickpea flour and a gf all-purpose flour. Since we don’t need to eat gluten-free I used regular all-purpose flour, but I appreciate that her recipes offer a delicious and flexible way for everyone to enjoy lunch. And, while this is not a strictly vegan, vegetarian, or omnivorous cookbook most of the recipes are flexible enough that you can either omit or substitute ingredients which better suit your dietary needs.
The more I cook from Modern Lunch, the more I realize that it’s not just my daughter’s packed lunches that need tending to but my own lunches as well. As an at-home parent I don’t always have time to create elaborate midday meals (or even passable ones) so I’ve been turning to Day’s book to help build an arsenal of ready-to-go, quick and easy lunches that will carry me through until dinnertime. There’s nothing worse that feeling ravenous around 4 o’clock and then reaching for snack food! What I’ve noticed is what is good for me is also good for my kid. The other day I set out a tray of Chopped Thai Salad with Peanut Sauce and as soon as the tray touched the table my daughter grabbed the tongs and started to serve herself. Reminding me that fresh, whole-food ingredients (with sauce because that is key with kids) are enticing. While she doesn’t love bell peppers she quickly went for the tofu, mango, cucumber, and even the purple cabbage! Giving her options helped her to make “big girl” decisions without any fuss.
The Springtime Pasta Salad w/ Tuna and Creamy Pesto Dressing is another favourite here. I love how regular pasta is swapped out in favour of quinoa pasta, and, to be perfectly honest that dressing is incredible. My mouth is watering just thinking about it; which is what happens when I think of many of the Modern Lunch recipes! Day does an excellent job of incorporating different flavours and textures when creating her unique recipes. The Avocado w/ Turmeric Yogurt and Walnut Crumble is so delicious! She takes two of the plainest ingredients — yogurt and avocado — and by adding umami elements (miso, tamari) with sweet ones (maple syrup) along with turmeric and lemon to the yogurt and a savoury walnut crumble to the avocado she’s devised one of the most moreish lunch dishes I’ve had in awhile!
What’s lunch without a little treat? Here she offers satisfying, yet healthy-ish options that taste just like childhood. I know that when I say the Express Chocolate Pudding Cups contain tofu (I use the silken variety) many of you may grimace but, in truth, this recipe tastes exactly like the chocolate pudding I had in my lunch as a kid. No fooling! Before trying any, I told my husband that while, yes, it’s chocolate pudding it’s a wholesome, vegan version. He didn’t like the sound of that, and he asked, “it doesn’t have avocado and tamari in it does it?” because, unfortunately, I’ve served him such a pudding. So wasn’t he pleasantly surprised when he tried Day’s version and it delivered! And, it’s something that I happily add to my daughter’s lunch box because she loves it! No lunch is complete without a little something special.
Allison Day says it best in her introduction: “A modern lunch is special, simple, (mostly) make-ahead, healthy, share-worthy, community building, money saving, colourful, and delicious.” It’s with all her recipes within Modern Lunch that she helps to reimagine the midday break without having to resort to consuming sad lunches or spending hard-earned money on fast food. And, while my daughter still enjoys her sandwiches, I’m glad to expose her to different, healthy options that nourish her. If you’re curious to see what my lunches having been looking like lately then have a look at my custom Instagram hashtag #shipshapemodernlunch or my dedicated Facebook post.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Appetite by Random House for providing me with a free, review copy of this book. I did not receive monetary compensation for my post, and all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.