To make this recipe gluten-free, use gluten-free pasta instead of the whole wheat pasta. In the case of the school “Lunch Bunch”, I had corn tortillas on hand instead, which worked great! This recipe is also nut free.
We had our second “lunch bunch” (my project to home cook lunch for the entire grade at my daughter's school) and it was a hit.
All the parents want to know how I do it. My secret weapon? The SLOW COOKER!
This time I went with a really easy choice for kids: Lasagna. It was a HIT! Smiley faces from all on their food evaluation sheet, with comments including:
“What I liked most about this recipe was EVERYTHING, even the salad!”
Now, when people think of lasagna, they envision many hours of cooking with many steps. I have experienced this too with lasagna, but my slow cooker has come to my rescue in solving the “slaving over the stove” issue. Here is how I easily got lunch ready for the kids:
-The night before I cooked up some ground beef—really simply without adding onions or garlic since the audience is kids. I used just a bit of olive oil. If your kids like onions and garlic and lots of spices, you can definitely add them in! I was going easy on the spices, onions, garlic, in case we had some fussy eaters. I just added a bit of Muir Glen tomato sauce (about a ½ jar per 2 pounds of ground beef). Once you've sauteed the meat until there is absolutely no pink left (determine this before you add the tomato sauce), you might want to drain most of the fat off to reduce the amount of saturated fat in the meal.
-In the morning I mixed up the cheese filling—1 part shredded mozzarella and 1 part ricotta cheese.
-Then I was ready to start the assembly process… which means a layering of the four parts: 1) meat, 2) pasta noodles, 3) cheese filling and 4) sauce.
Before you place the first layer (the meat) in the slow cooker, rub some olive oil all around the slow cooker so that the noodles don’t stick to the side. This had happened to me on test runs, and I solved it by rubbing the olive oil all around in the slow cooker.
For the pasta noodles I used whole wheat noodles—the no bake kind. For the sauce I used Muir Glen pasta sauce.
I found that it helped to add a little water (about ¾ cup per slow cooker) to the pasta sauce to give the whole pot enough moisture to properly soften the noodles. When I didn’t do this on test runs, the noodles came out a little hard at the top where there was not enough moisture. See how much moisture is in the slow cooker pot?
Then I cooked it on Low for the morning right at the kids school (that would be about 4-6 hours). I wanted to get a picture of how it turned out, but the kids dived in before I could get a good picture! This is what I have to show you:
To serve the lunch, we needed to fill half our plates with fruits and veggies–after all, we had just learned the lesson about Myplate/ Harvard's Healthy plate.
The kids decorated frisbees as a take home reminder to fill half their plate with fruits and veggies, and the other half with lean protein and whole grains:
Our lunch included a salad (with greens, carrots, tomatoes and peppers) and apple slices and/or clementines. The lasagna provided a great and delicious source of whole grains and protein –with the cheese adding a dairy source.
If you are planning this meal for your family, here is your shopping list for a single slow cooker serving about 8:
- ground beef (look for the leanest sirloin if you can; ground turkey is another great option)- 1 pound per slow cooker
- Muir glen pasta sauce (1 jar)—use half in making the meat and half when layering the lasagna. Remember to add water so there is enough moisture
- Ricotta cheese (1 tub will be more than enough…I used ½ a tub in each slow cooker); I used organic
- Shredded mozzarella cheese (1 bag will be enough… I used a ½ bag in each slow cooker); I used organic
- Optional: garlic, onions, dried herbs/spices (Italian seasoning would be great, oregano), fresh herbs (basil)
- Optional: to get your veggies in the lasagna itself, you could add spinach, zucchini, mushrooms or even winter squash (the list is really endless here—be creative with things like fennel, kale, chard, etc.).
Notes and thanks:
-Thank you to school parents for their support of the Lunch Bunch program
-Thank you to our local grocer Atkinson’s Market for providing a discount on items purchased for this program
-Read more about healthy lunches for kids