Labour Day is like a little new year, as people begin anew at school and work.
Schedules become more structured, work loads shift, a new season of activity begins.
On an Island where the farming, fishing and tourism are pivotal, I don’t buy into the proposition that summers are relaxed and lazy. Many Islanders work just as hard in summer as they do the rest of the year, or even harder.
However fall, for many of us, means a transition to more regimentation and tighter scheduling. The change is evident for families with children in school, but they aren’t the only ones for whom Labour Day marks the beginning of a different lifestyle. Students doing post-secondary studies need to find time for scheduled classes, studies, often part-time work, and a little entertainment, and adults in the working world find their schedules filling up with all the meetings that were deferred for the summer.
There are consequences in the kitchen: people need lunches to carry with them to school or work, and it becomes more important to have meals at a particular time to permit people to get to other scheduled activities.
Scheduling is just one of the important considerations. In order to do their best learning and work, people need to not just fill their bellies, but to consume foods that will keep them healthy. They also need to choose food that fits into budgets stretched to accommodate seasonal purchases such as fall clothes, school supplies or fees for clubs or sports.
That makes it a perfect time for me to insert a plug for my favourite meal management tool: planning. When you make a realistic weekly menu plan to suit your schedule, and plan your food shopping around your meal plan, you can be prepared for mealtimes, eat better and manage spending.
The fall season is the best for fresh, local produce. By focusing on serving plenty of vegetables and fruits, you’ll be making meals that are delicious and healthful as well as filling, and you can keep food costs down by using smaller servings of protein foods such as meat, fish or poultry.
Since the only preparation that many fruits and vegetables require is washing, and sometimes a little slicing, produce such as carrots, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes and blueberries are excellent for use in packed lunches. They are also nutrient-dense while being relatively low in calories.
It’s good to keep an assortment of rigid containers on hand for packing perishable foods such as blueberries and sandwiches in lunch bags and boxes, so that they’ll be as appealing at lunch time as they are when you pack them.
For food safety, cold foods need to be kept cold, and hot foods hot. This is not a concern for muffins, rolls, or whole fruit, but it is important for sandwiches, salads and other dishes containing cut fruit or vegetables, hard cooked eggs, and other high-risk foods.
Cold packs or frozen juice packs or frozen containers of water (remember to leave room for expansion when filling them) will keep things cold for several hours when packed beside the perishable foods in insulated lunch containers.
Soups, stews and other hot foods, which will be welcome when the weather gets cooler, can be carried in insulated thermos-type containers, or chilled in microwave-safe containers for reheating on-site. Make a large batch for dinner, and pack some into individual containers at serving time. You can have one for tomorrow’s lunch, or keep some frozen, ready to pop into lunch bags in future weeks.
Most people like to have something baked with their lunches. For people with special dietary needs, such as diabetes or celiac disease, homemade treats are the best because you control what they contain.
That’s a good reason for the rest of us to use home-baked foods instead of commercially-prepared ones, too. I am told, though, that, in conjunction with their nut-free policies, some schools do not permit students to bring home-baked foods in their lunches. It’s important for parents to take such policies into consideration when planning school lunches for their children.
Try these muffins with a chunk of cheese for a lunchtime treat.
Marilyn’s Oatmeal Muffins
250 mL (1 cup) 1 per cent milk
250 mL (1 cup) quick rolled oats
125 mL (1/2 cup) whole wheat flour
125 mL (1/2 cup) all purpose flour
75 mL (1/3 cup) granulated sugar
10 mL (2 tsp) baking powder
125 mL (1/2 cup) raisins (optional)*
1 well-beaten egg
50 mL (1/4 cup) vegetable oil
Preheat oven to 225 C (425 F). Oil 12 medium muffin tins lightly, or insert paper liners.
Stir rolled oats into milk. Let stand for 15 minutes.
In a medium bowl, whisk together whole wheat flour, all purpose flour, granulated sugar, and baking powder. Stir in raisins, if using.
Combine egg and oil, and stir into milk mixture. Add to dry ingredients all at once, and stir just enough to combine. Batter should be lumpy.
Divide batter evenly among 12 prepared muffin tins, and bake in preheated oven for about 15 minutes, until surface springs back when pressed lightly.
Serve immediately or freeze for later use.
Use any combination of dried fruit (chop larger ones such as dates or apricots), chopped nuts or seeds to a total of 250 mL (1 cup) if desired.
Makes 12 muffins
Margaret Prouse, a home economist, can be reached by writing her at RR#2, North Wiltshire, P.E.I., C0A 1Y0, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.