Tips for back to school packed lunches, simple dinners

By Darla Cabe - For the Sidney Daily News

Brooke, Stephanie and Emma Duncum

Brooke, Stephanie and Emma Duncum

Courtesy photo


Courtesy photo

Stephanie Duncum prepares Protein Balls at her kitchen counter.

Courtesy photo

SIDNEY — “I absolutely love simple dishes with few ingredients” said Stephanie Duncum, of Sidney, and with back to school lunches and dinners to make, who wouldn’t?

Stephanie is a working mom who spends a lot of time at school. During the day she is a teacher’s aide at Hardin Houston schools, and her after school time is often spent with her daughters, Brooke and Emma, at their after- school activities. Brooke is in her senior year at Hardin/Houston this year and Emma is an eighth-grader. The girls are involved in cheerleading, National Honor Society, volleyball, soccer and Brooke has an after school job. Stephanie also works a few evenings a week as a secretary for Wilson Home Health/Hospice. Her husband, John, is a retired Sidney firefighter and paramedic.

“The girls have pretty much always packed their lunches — well I pack them,” she said. “I pack carrot sticks, with peanut butter (don’t knock it till you try it!) and I also started making these protein balls. I use oats, crunchy peanut butter, honey and cinnamon. They are so delicious and I feel so good about all the ingredients.”

As any mother can attest to, getting everyone up and out the door on school mornings can sometimes be the greatest challenge of the day.

“At one time,” Stephanie shares,” I tried to make our mornings run smoother by packing any chip or cookie or cracker type food in baggies as soon as I brought the big bags home from the store. That way I could just grab the bagged foods and put them in the lunch boxes.”

Stephanie found that this also worked well at home when the family would grab a snack bag.

“It ended up being a good serving size as opposed to grabbing the whole bag of chips!”

Stephanie grew up in Vandalia in a close-knit family. She is still very close to her parents and brother. Her dad owned a truck wash and her mother was a stay-at-home mom.

“I remember always eating meals together as a family when I was growing up. We would all sit at the kitchen bar. Sunday dinners were our big meal of the week – lots of comfort food. One of our Sunday staples was Creamed Dried Beef on Toast. I remember one Sunday evening, my brother decided to play a prank on my dad by loosening the salt shaker top. My dad went to use the salt, and it poured out. The joke ended up being on my brother though, as my dad switched plates with him!”

Stephanie’s own fond memories of after school times when she was growing up are of cookies or rice crispy treats that her mom would make.

“Her chocolate chip cookies were —and still are— the best!” Stephanie said. The three Duncum women are pretty hungry when they get home from school. “We recently realized that we like white cheddar rice cakes, so that’s a good snack, and the protein balls are good just about any time, but I found out it worked better for us to have a pretty early dinner if no one had any activities.”

For her family today, Stephanie cooks a lot of the same meals her mom made.

“Some of my family’s favorite dinners are taco dishes, chicken broccoli rice casserole and steaks in the air fryer.”

Stephanie also makes a pretty good French toast which the family all likes but admits that “My kids have kind of taken turns being picky eaters. When one might be in the mood to try anything, the other might have the same three or four things for days at a time, and then they might switch. However, both have decided they do not like meatloaf. The problem with that is my husband and I do. I was really in the mood for meatloaf one night and thought I would try to convince my kids it was something else so they would at least taste it. Before I had a chance to figure out the details one of the girls asked ‘What are we having for dinner?’ I had nothing. I said ‘We’re trying something new. It’s called ‘beef bouillon.’ That was the first thing that came to mind-a word I was pretty sure they had never heard. I even went as far as making smaller patties so it didn’t look like traditional ‘meatloaf’. As soon as they saw the patties, they said, ‘It looks like meatloaf.’ Soon we sat down to eat. They were skeptical, but both tasted the ‘bouillon’ and said. ‘It tastes like meatloaf/’ You know what they say…’f it looks like meatloaf and tastes like meatloaf…’”

So most of the time, this busy mom sticks to the tried and true recipes her girls like. Packed lunches and dinners often need to be simple and quick, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be delicious!

Protein Balls

1 cup oats

1 to 2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/4 cup honey

3/4 cup peanut butter

Mix all ingredients, form into 1-2-inch balls, refrigerate.

Pretty much all these ingredients are to taste-mine is probably a little different every time!

Also sometimes I don’t even form into balls. We just refrigerate and eat by the bowlful.

Hamburger Cabbage Casserole

1 pound hamburger, browned

Chopped onion, salt, pepper, to taste-you will cook this with browning hamburger

1/2 cup uncooked rice

8 ounces tomato sauce

4 ounces tomato paste

1/4 cup water

4 cups chopped cabbage

Combine all ingredients in large mixing bowl, transfer to ungreased casserole dish, cover and bake 45 min at 400 degree

Baked Cubed Steak

4 beef cubed steaks

1 cup flour

1 can cream of mushroom soup

3/4 soup can milk

3/4 soup can water

Flour and brown cubed steaks

Transfer to baking dish

Add water and milk

Bake 90 minutes at 350 degrees

**I serve with mashed potatoes

Chicken Casserole

1 cup uncooked rice

1 can cream of mushroom soup

1 can cream of celery

1 1/2 cans water

Any chicken parts you like

1 package Lipton dry onion soup mix

Place ingredients in order above in 9×13 baking dish (sprayed)

Bake at 350 degrees for 2 hours covered

Remove cover and bake additional 1/2 hour

Brooke, Stephanie and Emma Duncum, Stephanie and Emma Duncum Courtesy photo

Duncum Courtesy photo

Stephanie Duncum prepares Protein Balls at her kitchen counter. Duncum prepares Protein Balls at her kitchen counter. Courtesy photo

By Darla Cabe

For the Sidney Daily News

The writer is a regular contributor to the Sidney Daily News.

The writer is a regular contributor to the Sidney Daily News.