LUNCH BOX RAMEN

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

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.

• 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

Pour the water into a medium pot and bring to a boil. Add the edamame and cook 1 minute. Add ramen noodles and cook according to the directions on the ramen package (3 minutes for the brand I use). Remove from heat.

When the ramen is done, add the seasoning packets from the ramen along with the tofu and spinach. Stir well.

Transfer to thermoses if packing for school lunch.

Makes 3 lunch box servings.

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21  Comments

Comments

  1. Steph
    08.28.2012 at 7:18 AM #

    Where can you find this type of Ramen? We live in a very small town. My kids love Ramen and on top of it being unhealthy I watched a study where the body does not even digest it…ick. It is priced right and my kids love it, so we eat it only once a month.

    • katiemorford
      08.28.2012 at 8:48 AM #

      You can find organic ramen at Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, and natural foods markets. You might find them in the natural foods section of your supermarket. They are shelf stable, so you can stock up when you do buy it.

      • Steph
        08.28.2012 at 1:23 PM #

        Thanks, but we don’t have any of those here or even close by and our grocery stores don’t really have natural foods sections.

        • 09.10.2012 at 6:30 AM #

          Steph,

          You might look online and order a case directly from the supplier or an online retailer.

          • katiemorford
            09.10.2012 at 6:42 AM #

            Great tip. Thanks so much.

  2. Pamela
    08.28.2012 at 7:51 AM #

    Off to another school year with new ideas for lunch…lucky girls!

  3. christine
    08.28.2012 at 8:06 AM #

    I make quesadillas a lot, and panini sandwiches. But the huge timesaver is premade foods like tamales that I will buy at the farmer’s market and individually freeze, or sticky rice wrapped in banana leave (also very good to freeze). At the Chinese bakeries, I can also pick up pork buns, but they don’t freeze, so you have to send them with the kids day of or the next day.

    • katiemorford
      08.28.2012 at 8:46 AM #

      All great ideas. My kids love tamales too. Trader Joe’s sells some decent chicken ones. Thanks Christine.

  4. 08.28.2012 at 8:40 AM #

    Hi Katie- Love the idea for “homemade” ramen. For me, nothing says comfort food like noodle soup. Back-to-school season is a great time to focus on cooking dinners that can easily be re-purposed into packed lunches. Try waiting a day or two before sending those leftovers to school so little ones aren’t eating the same thing two days in a row. Don’t forget to add some some change so they can buy milk at school!

    Beat The Lunch Box Blues: Family dinner recipes selected with lunch boxes in mind. http://www.mealsmatter.org/blog/post/2012/08/24/Weekly-Family-Meal-Recipes-Beat-the-Lunch-Box-Blues.aspx

    • katiemorford
      08.28.2012 at 10:45 AM #

      I like the tip of waiting a day or two to use leftovers…kids may be a little more enthusiastic about them. And yes to milk at lunch to boost calcium. Water is great for hydration.

  5. Kristen
    08.28.2012 at 6:23 PM #

    Looks like a great option that we plan to try next week…wondering about msg in those ramen flavor packets…will check packaging.

    • katiemorford
      08.28.2012 at 8:11 PM #

      If you choose organic ramen it won’t have MSG or artificial ingredients. I think Trader Joes brands are a good option as well.

  6. Heather
    10.15.2012 at 1:38 PM #

    Thanks for this idea! My daughter attends a “nut-free” school so nut butters are out, making lunches that much trickier for us. We are always struggling with coming up with lunch ideas. Poor girl gets hummus-avocado-cucumber sandwiches about three times a week!!! Will definitely try this.

    • katiemorford
      10.15.2012 at 1:43 PM #

      How about seed butters? Pumpkin Seed Butter and Jelly is the new PB&J, no?

  7. 04.03.2014 at 6:14 PM #

    When I have tried this (cooking the ramen first and then pouring into a thermos for a school lunch several hours later), my kids tell me that the ramen noodles turn to mush. It makes sense that the thin noodles would keep cooking in the retained heat inside the thermos. Any thoughts on how to prevent this from happening?

    • katiemorford
      04.05.2014 at 5:52 AM #

      Maybe experiment with undercooking the ramen a bit? They will continue to cook a bit in the thermos, so perhaps will end up just how your kids like them by lunch time.

    • nicole
      05.06.2014 at 6:28 PM #

      Dierdre,
      I had the same problem with Ramen for my kids school lunch.
      I’d be interested to hear if undercooking it worked for you?
      Thanks,
      Nicole

      • katiemorford
        05.06.2014 at 7:16 PM #

        I think I’m going to have to put this to the test myself!

  8. Elizabeth
    08.26.2014 at 3:02 PM #

    Had ^^same issue with mushy ramen. My kids told me it was disgusting. I was googling to find a solution and found your page. How do you keep ramen warm, yet not have it soak up all liquid and go mush?

    • katiemorford
      08.27.2014 at 7:14 AM #

      I think the key is undercooking the noodles a little and using plenty of water. I also recommend a good thermos. Preheating the thermos by filling it with very hot or boiling water while the soup cooks and then pouring it out just before adding the soup also helps. I am testing the specifics on timing for the noodles and will adjust the recipe accordingly.

  9. Andrew
    10.28.2014 at 5:40 AM #

    I now put the dry ramen noodles into the thermoses and pour the broth over it and let them cook in the thermos. I have timed this and the noodles are done in about an hour and still edible in 2. By hour three they are pretty much mush.

    You pretty much have to fill the thermoses as you’re pushing the kids out the door for this to work.

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