The Main Menu: Time to transition from picnic bag to school lunch bag

With summer coming to a close and school back in, it's time to transition from picnic bag to school lunch bag, and Main Menu columnist Jan Main has recipes to to help.


A whole summer of picnics: at the beach, at the campsite, on road trips and now – now summer is over. It’s back to routine and the lunch bag.

However, let the inspiration of the summer picnic linger for the weekday lunch and extend your summer as long as possible. Here are some sunshine pleasers to enjoy during the transition period of early autumn.

Lake Ontario Grain and Mint Salad

This salad was consumed with pleasure during a sailing trip on a blue sky day in July. You can easily bulk up the recipe to accompany a barbecue for dinner with ample leftovers for lunch the next day. Leftovers are always an asset! Although this salad was made with quinoa and cracked wheat you could easily substitute cooked rice, or couscous. Other herbs such as basil or coriander could be substituted for mint.

1 cup (250 mL) quinoa (cook according to package directions)
1 cup (250 mL) cracked wheat (bulghur), cook according to package directions
3 cups (750 mL chopped fresh tomato, or mixture of tomato, cucumber and chopped red pepper
1 cup (250 mL) finely chopped fresh parsley, preferably flat leaf Italian parsley
1/2 – 1 cup (125 mL)finely chopped fresh green onions, or sweet onions such as Vidalia (quantity depends on hotness of the onion)
1/4 cup (50 mL) fresh chopped mint
1/2 tsp (2 mL) salt
1/3 cup (75 mL) fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup (75 mL) extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp (2 mL) salt
1/4 tsp (1 mL) fresh black pepper

Cook the grains according to package directions and cool thoroughly. Make sure all moisture has been absorbed by the grain. If chosen grain is wet, spoon onto clean tea towel and squeeze dry.

In a large mixing bowl, combine chosen grains with finely chopped tomato, cucumber and sweet peppers. Again, you can use one vegetable or combination for colour and variety of tastes. Add parsley, onion (to taste), mint and salt. Stir gently to combine. In separate bowl, whisk together lemon juice, oil, salt and pepper.

Pour over salad and combine thoroughly. Cover and refrigerate. May be made a day ahead. Makes about 8 cups (2 L) – 8 servings. Serve salad on a bed of lettuce torn into bite-sized pieces and place in a plastic container for the lunch bag with an ice pack.

Travelling Gazpacho

This chilled soup is like a liquid salad. It needs only a crusty roll and piece of cheese to make a complete lunch. For best flavour, prepare a day ahead of serving.

2 cups (500 mL) strained tomatoes (available in glass jars or use a 28 oz/ 796 mL can of diced tomatoes and puree in blender

2 cups (500 mL) tomato vegetable cocktail
1 cup (250 mL) finely chopped English cucumber with skin on
3/4 cup (175 mL)chopped yellow, orange, red or green pepper
1/4 cup (50 mL) finely chopped onion
1 clove garlic, minced
3 tbsp (45 mL) extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp (25 mL) fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp (2 mL) salt
1/4 tsp (1 ml) fresh black pepper
Hot pepper sauce (optional)
Garnish: toast croutons

In a mixing bowl, stir together strained tomatoes, tomato vegetable cocktail, yellow pepper, onion, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Taste and add more salt, pepper or hot pepper sauce if required. Pour into plastic jar and refrigerate. Keep refrigerated until ready to put in lunch bag with ice pack. Pack a plastic cup and pour soup into cup to serve. Will keep covered and refrigerated for 2 to 3 days. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Was this article informative? Become a Beach Metro Community News Supporter today! For 50 years, we have worked hard to be the eyes and ears in your community, inform you of upcoming events, and let you know what and who is making a difference. We cover the big stories as well as the little things that often matter the most. CLICK HERE to support your Beach Metro Community News!