By the time the school year comes to a close nine months from now I figure our household alone will have churned out somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 lunches.

Can that be right?

No wonder it can get a little old.

Talking to other moms, it seems one of the biggest challenges in packing lunches isn’t necessarily having the time or the right ingredients, it’s finding inspiration. Once we’re on about lunch number 50, it’s hard to get enthusiastic about the whole thing. Which is why, when I hit on a new lunch box idea, we get a little excited around here.

Take this Lunch Box Ramen. It’s perfect thermos food. Prep involves little more than boiling a pot of water along with a teensy bit of chopping and measuring. You can make it while you pull together breakfast or even the night before, reheating it in the morning.

The key here is choosing the right ramen. The noodles in standard supermarket brands — appealing because they’re dirt cheap — are deep fried and include seasoning packets chock full of MSG, artificial flavorings, and other mystery ingredients. Not good. If you opt for organic ramen it’s likely to be air-dried, so less added fat, and seasoned largely with, well, seasonings –- herbs and spices.

The one downside to ramen is that it’s high in sodium. You can opt to use less of the spice packet, which may work just fine if your household favors their food mildly flavored. Mine do not (I spied Mr. Mom’s Kitchen salting his already salty baked beans last night).

The other trick to a healthful pot of ramen is embellishing it with nutrient-rich goodies. Here, I add edamame, baked tofu, and a generous helping of spinach. The spinach may seem like a lot at first, but it melts right into the soup so as not frighten any green food-phobic children. As for the baked tofu, feel free to substitute leftover cooked chicken, pork, or beef, or double up the amount of edamame to be sure you’ve got plenty of protein in there.

So…one lunch down. 499 to go. I’d love some help. What inspired lunch box ideas do you have?

Lunch Box Ramen

Yield: 2 to 3 lunch box servings

Lunch Box Ramen

Be sure to opt for organic ramen when making this to avoid the deep-fried noodles and artificial ingredients in conventional ramen. You can find organic ramen in specialty markets and the natural foods section of some supermarkets. Baked and smoked tofu is sold in the refrigerated section of the market near other types of tofu. To reduce the amount of sodium, start with one seasoning packet instead of two. Taste and adjust as needed.

Ingredients

  • 3 1/2 cups water
  • 2 two-ounce packages organic ramen noodles, any flavor
  • 1/2 cup frozen shelled uncooked edamame
  • 1/2 cup cubed baked or smoked tofu (or cooked chicken, beef or pork)
  • 2 cups baby spinach

Instructions

  1. Pour the water into a medium pot and bring to a boil. Add the edamame and cook 1 minute. Add ramen noodles and cook 1 minute less than the package directions (sitting in a thermos until lunch, the ramen will continue to cook). Remove from heat.
  2. Add the seasoning packets from the ramen along with the tofu and spinach. Stir well.
  3. Transfer to thermoses if packing for school lunch.