No one knows how the back to school juggle like uber busy chef, TV personality, writer, environmentalist and dad Michael Smith. He wraps up his day religiously at 4 p.m. to make dinner for the family. He really does. And he uses this time to prepare other meals in advance, like the "20 item salad" his 11-year-old, Gabe takes to school. He starts with a can of mixed beans and takes them to the fridge in search of 19 more things to make a lunch out of. Gabe then shares at school and makes a game of it with his chums...he gets them to guess what's in his lunch today. Pretty cool way to get kids eating beans.
Michael says "don't confuse unfamiliar with difficult" and has these tips to make weekdays go more smoothly right through the school year.
1. Michaels kids love to cook pancakes on the weekend, they make a whole grain batter, double it and use up the next day for waffles. Seasonal fruits and homemade compote make quick, healthy breakfasts.
2. Just decide that the kitchen is fun, not work. Don't worry about the clean up part, have a system to make quick work of that too.
3. Serve all meals "family style" on platters to please everyone's palate and hunger level and then the leftover components can be transformed into lunches.
4. Cook outside on the grill as long as you can while the weather is good, grill off a bunch of fish fillets, chicken breasts or legs at the same time and toss into salads.
5. Have a fridge shelf designated for fruit and chopped veg ready for the after school rush, kids are hungry at this time and you have more of a chance to "hit the mark."
6. While you are cooking dinner, put an extra pot on the back burner with veggie ends, peels and bones. This makes a very nourishing soup, broth for rice. Reduce it all the way down after straining and it can become a sauce.
7. Make baby food out of whatever you have on the go. Mash and jar, freeze.
8. Cook your basics in advance when you have time: quinoa, wild rice, beef, tomato sauce and the like do very well in the fridge throughout the week.
9. Have a neighbourhood baking rally. Trade off muffins, biscuits, breads and loaves to get everyone in on the process and some great variety.
Having a system to make clean up easier encourages you to get in there more often. Chef Michael shares these clean up tips:
1. Michael is a big fan of a dishwasher that is clean itself and dishes that are spotlessly clean.
2. The discipline of "cleaning as u go" translates into better cooking, he believes that "every craft benefits from discipline."
3. Use a garbage bowl for compost and dishes for everything, it is more efficient and safer to stick dishes in the dishwasher than it is to clean the counter.
4. Wipe baking spills from pans with a moist clean cloth before u bake so sugars don't burn. Small drops burned on make bigger problems.
5. Have a dishwasher system that uses your dishwasher to the maximum, stacking well also makes unloading a snap
All in all, Chef Michael Smith believes to his very core that removing every impediment and fear of cooking is key to getting back to basics (which is the name of his new cookbook, by the way...go figure!).
Growing up in a Moroccan immigrant family, my parents didn't know the meaning of peanut butter and jelly (even though that's all we really wanted to bring to school for lunch). My dad loved to reinvent leftovers from dinner but my twin sister and I insisted on sandwiches — rather than say a leaky tin of couscous and spicy broth. So one day we got a rye-bread sandwich, with rice and peas inside. We were mortified. — Claire Sibonney, Acting Living Editor
My mom also used to take curry but I refused to take anything with sauce because A) it would leak in my bag and B) everyone knew I was eating Indian food (kids loved calling me "Paki") so I would get a dry potato curry roti wrap or a fish one. But again, I was so embarrassed I would get maybe two or three a week and COLLECT them in my backpack and throw them all out on Friday. I feel like such a punk for wasting my mom's food. — Arti Patel, Associate Living Editor
My little brother was sent off to school with cauliflower korma in his Transformers lunchbox — straight in, the korma wasn't even in its own container so it would leak and smell. We begged for bologna sandwiches like our 'Canadian friends' and my mother finally relented. On good days I'd get a cold hamburger patty on Wonderbread. Now I turn my nose up at so-called Canadian foods like bologna and white bread and would rather have a tasty cauliflower korma any day! — Hamida T.
Headcheese. Another time, I had a whole Dungeness Crab. (My parents were fishers.) — Andrew B.
You wouldn't know it from my last name, but I my family is part Ukrainian and we eat a lot of Ukrainian food and follow certain traditions. Not so unusual in the West, but not a lot of families with that heritage on the east coast where I grew up (Halifax.) Sometimes my mom would make me take borscht to school in a thermos. It smelled a bit funny and the kids would ask if it made me pee blood. This was particularly horrifying around junior high. — Michelle Butterfield, HuffPost Alberta's Associate News Editor
My mom would make a sandwich with peanut butter, banana, lettuce, cheese and mayonnaise. DISGUSTING. — Chantel G.
We actually enjoyed these beef-tongue stew sandwiches until we saw my mom cleaning the freaky looking thing in the kitchen and realized what it was. This was a good 20 years before offal was in fashion. — Claire Sibonney, Acting Living Editor
Liverwurst and sweet pickles on rye bread with cold rosehip soup to drink in my Dukes of Hazard lunch box while the other kids at Wonderbread PB and J and drank Kool-Aid. Yeah...my lunches weren't exactly tradable. Embarrassed then, thankful now. — Lars P.
Brian Trinh, Travel Editor: My mom also packed me this thing called Xoi dau xanh. It's a rice dish made with glutinous rice and mung bean and is a few shades below a highlighter yellow. I had no idea what it was called in English so I called it cheese rice. I then became the kid who had cheese rice for lunch. I even tried to explain to them that you could add shredded coconut to made it sweet instead of savoury. That did not help my case as I then became the coconut-cheese-rice-eating kid. — Brian Trinh, Travel Editor TL;DR: Kids can be cruel.
I would go eat in the PE change room. Sardine sandwiches were a right ridicule. — Treva P.
My mom used to think it was funny to steal barf bags from the airplane and pack them with really stinky tuna fish sandwiches — Rebecca R.
We used to wash the milk bags and make them sandwich bags the next day. — Taty O.
I used to take char-siu baos for lunch -- my friends made fun of me and called them "poo buns." Sniff. — Lisa Yeung, Managing Editor of Lifestyle
Hot dogs...with no buns. — Jessica C.
My mom didn't meet the food to lunchbox size ratio.. It looked more like a construction workers meal, two huge overstuffed tuna sandwiches and enough snacks for a week. My barbie lunchbox had to be held shut with several elastic bands and be put inside another bag... Holy embarrassing. — Lilanne T.
After convincing my mom to buy a cool plastic lunch box for grade one I was super excited to take my lunch. Since this was my first year taking lunch, I asked my mom to make me a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Simple, right? No. When I got to school that day I opened my lunch box to find one slide of bread with peanut butter stuck to the TOP of the lunch box and a separate slice of bread and jam in another compartment of the box. I ended up eating a slice of bread with jelly. — Arti Patel, Associate Living Editor
Two sandwiches...the top one with ham and the second with cardboard which had this message written on it: 'enough food...get back to work.' — Lorna D.
Lobster, but then again I live on the Atlantic. — Jolene C.
Ketchup sandwich or brown sugar and butter sandwich. — Barb W.
I WISH my mother had sent me to school with a sandwich. Any sandwich. I got cabbage rolls. Or sauerkraut and ribs. Or baked beans and pork chops. Sandwich. HA! Not in this Serbian household. I had to beg for that. — Mima C.
Toasted tomato and chutney sandwiches. — Fazil H.
Things we know now — ethnic lunches are awesome. We should be ashamed of ourselves for not embracing them. — Kenny Yum, Managing Editor
Before they were cool. — Kenny Yum, Managing Editor
Mortadella and bocconcini sandwiches in Brampton (Ontario) were unheard of! Prosciutto too...Not to mention the thick bread...all I wanted was Dempsters with peanut butter! But now I know to be proud because everyone knows Italian food is delicious! — Natasha A.
When I was little, my grandma and mom would always pack me banh khuc, a savoury sticky rice dumpling that was super green because they didn't like to cover it with that much rice. One day, one of the kids in my class said something along the lines of "ew, those green balls look gross." As someone fiercely patriotic about my Vietnamese lunch, I freaked out on him and cussed him out in front of my classmates for being racially intolerant about ethnically-diverse foods. All the kids sitting next to him no longer sat with him during lunch for the rest of that week. Also, I was 10. — Brian Trinh, Travel Editor
Peanut butter alfalfa sprouts sandwiches. I can still hear my friends squeeel. Circa grade 5 or 6. — Sandrine L.
Mashed turnip sandwiches. — Lily M.
Spam sandwiches or that canned meat ham I think it was. — Julie J.
All I got throughout my elementary school career were Jamaican patties. Judging by my adult addiction to them, I'm assuming I didn't mind. — Kim R.
Huge chorizo sandwiches and/or tortilla de patata, you know, in case I had to plow a field. — Luisa P.
Spicy potato sandwich with ketchup...it's so good. — Tejal P.
Mom used to give me Indian french toast...basically french toast with all the masala so it stank up my lunch bag. — Sneha P.
My mom used to pack two or three triangles of laughing cow cheese until i felt self-conscious about just eating blocks of cheese in class. So we put them in sandwiches instead, and pâté (which is normal food for viets). But other kids saw it and made fun of it...so we stuffed that between slices of white bread as well. — Diana D.
Korean food and sushi, and now sushi is all the rage! My mom is so ahead of the times. — Caroline C.
My mother created themes lunches for holidays, and St. Paddy's Day was always dyed green cream cheese with olives on bread, that she wanted to dye but was afraid people would think had mold. — Emily G.
Limburger cheese on black bread! - Marisa F.
my mom used to put a wiener in my thermos in hot water..then put the bun in my lunch with little packages of mustard and relish..kids used to tease me. — Susan M.
Curry chicken with rice...I grew up in an eastern suburb in Montreal. — Atina D.
Peanut butter & molasses sandwiches....which became my favourite. — Ursa J.
White bread, with chocolate sprinkles (no joke). — Karin L.
Carrot sultana and cottage cheese on wholemeal bread. It was the late '60s and everyone thought our mum was weird 'cause she was into healthy food. — Cedar W.
Strangely, I had better luck with haw flakes, which are like, the weirdest, most artificial candy ever. Peeps liked their plummy taste and poker-chip format, I guess. — Lisa Yeung, Managing Editor of Lifestyle
Chocolate spread or lemon curd or banana sandwiches. — Jeremy H.
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