Muffin tins get used heavily in our kitchen, but rarely for baking cupcakes. They are used to get our fresh garden produce and homemade mini-meals ready for the kids’ school lunch boxes. Back-to-school preparations in our home include picking, baking, freezing, and vacuum sealing.
Digging Food is an earthy food blog, not a “Mommy” blog; but, this post might cross over into “Mommy” blogging. This one is all about feeding the kids.
Filling lunch boxes is one of the most important things I consider when I plan our gardens. If you don’t have a vegetable garden, you can buy fresh seasonal produce and prepare it similarly. The recipes included in this post can be made by anyone with a muffin pan; foraging and/or gardening experience are not required. But, I must say, it is incredibly rewarding to know that my beautiful boys are eating home-grown foods while they are away at school. Some days, the contents of their Bento boxes make me feel like I should pin a blue ribbon to my shirt and wear it all day. I am a total Mom dork–Mom dork with well fed offspring!
We try to teach our kids to appreciate real food, quality food, food that doesn’t come doused with preservatives. We are not 100% organic health nuts. Our kids do get trips to the ice cream shop, occasional chocolate cake, and far too many sour cream and onion potato chips. But, they also get their vegetables, and I make sure they have at least one vegetable or fruit dish in their lunch boxes every day. Muffin tins help make those daily servings convenient.
When I harvest Spring peas or Summer green beans, making lunchbox “pods” is my top priority. We cook the vegetables and divide them into individual portions by filling lightly oiled muffin tins. The muffin tins go into the freezer, then once they are frozen, the servings are removed and vacuum sealed, individually. We call these sealed servings “freezer pods.” When we are crazy busy on school mornings, we just toss a couple of freezer pods in a pot of hot water while we are getting the kids ready. After about 10 minutes, they are thawed, warmed, and ready to go in the lunchboxes.
Having a vacuum sealer does help make these pods super easy to store and heat. But, if you don’t have one, you could store muffin tin “pods” in gallon sized freezer bags. The morning time spent thawing and heating just won’t be quite as easy. Vacuum sealed packets do make our lives easier. I realize that this is not the most environmentally friendly or economical way of storing food. But, it is the best way we have found to get food from the garden into the lunchboxes.
Every weekday morning, like most parents, we are struggling to get out the door and are operating in survival mode. If it weren’t for our muffin tin meal prep, we might be sending the little ones out the door with PB&J everyday. Or even worse: Lunchables. I have never broken down and purchased a Lunchable; and, hopefully, I never will. The meats and processed cheeses in those things really gross me out: they seem like little slimy circles of nastiness with refrigerated crackers. They are not what I want my kids eating. However, I do need easy lunchbox fillers, so I fill the muffin tins.
Freezing vegetables isn’t the only way our muffin tins help with meal prep. You can bake just about any healthy and delicious muffin and sell it to a 4-year old as a “cupcake.” My child would never want to eat a Zucchini Muffin. But, he loves “Cinnamon-Kini Cupkakes.”
These are simple, easy, and perfect for breakfast on the run or for filling lunch boxes. The recipe makes 2 dozen. When they have cooled just toss them in gallon-sized freezer bags. They freeze beautifully. Try to not to eat them all by yourself before getting them into the freezer (I struggle with this step).
One of our favorite lunch box mini-meals, Muffin Tin Quiche, is an easy way to pack in plenty of great nutrients. These cheesy little treats are super protein sources. They are also a great way to sneak in vegetables that might not be enjoyed by kids, otherwise. Finely chopped mushrooms (usually Chanterelles, in our home) are not noticed by picky toddlers when they are baked in cheesy delicious eggs. I always include caramelized sweet onions; and, sometimes, I might sneak in spinach. There are endless possibilities for Muffin Tin Quiche fillings. This recipe leaves plenty of room for creativity and different flavor options. Just be sure to minimize filling ingredients with high moisture content (details in the recipe). Like muffins, these little quiches freeze beautifully.
The vegetable “freezer pods” and muffins that I’ve included in this post are some of my kids’ favorite foods. In addition to these muffin tin specialties, we also stock the freezer with venison meatballs in mass quantities and heirloom variety corn on the cob. These foods enable us to send the kids off with warm real meals several days of the week. The mornings when we actually do make PB&J sandwiches, aren’t as easy as the mornings when we just pull from our freezer stash.
This is how we do our school days. We work hard stocking up via muffin tins so we have extra time on school mornings for searching for missing shoes, changing the 4-year-old’s shirt 3 times, pouring coffee on ourselves, finding our cell phones, and desperately chasing tangled haired kids around the house with hopes of brushing out their highly visible knots. We need all the help we can get these days. Thank God for muffin tins and a working freezer!