Helping the children in our care to enjoy preparing and eating good food doesn’t always have to be about standing over a hot stove. In the summer, spending a little time with the children preparing simple sandwich fixings for eating al fresco, garden party style, will help vacation days stay festive and relaxed.
There’s something special about not having to come inside to eat. Even when my son has been playing in the mud I try not to break the spell, bringing him hot soapy water in a bowl outside rather than making him come inside to wash up for lunch.
The simplest, most elegant sandwich for a garden party is the cucumber sandwich with delicate bread and a hint of butter. With some iced herbal tea, it’s a refreshing, simple lunch or snack.
Slicing a cucumber is a good thing for children who are learning knife skills. After the grownup demonstrates peeling off the outer skin, the cucumber can be laid on the cutting board and will be easy for children to cut. Show them how to slightly tuck their fingertips away from the blade, and how to slice gently and firmly straight down through the cuke. It is worthwhile to watch a video with the children on handling a knife or read about it together in a cookbook that has good drawings or photographs of using knives.
A tasty and economical way to use canned or leftover fish, ham, chicken or a hardboiled egg is to turn it into a salad sandwich. Chop the leftover meat, fish or egg into small pieces and put into a bowl. Add some finely diced onion and celery, if you like. Let the children mix in a small amount of mayonnaise and a little bit of pickle relish, sweet or dill depending on your tastes. Eat with crackers or serve on bread with some fresh, crunchy lettuce or sprouts.
Try variations if the children are game: mix in a little curry with egg or chicken salad; use sliced grapes and apples instead of onions and celery; mix in some chopped cooked bacon with the egg salad; spread the bread with cream cheese and sliced tomatoes before filling with the salad.
Sandwiches cry out for something crunchy on the side, but there are alternatives to a huge pile of too-salty potato chips. Try instead: a very small amount of potato chips plus carrot sticks and broccoli florets with a little bit of ranch dip, radishes, frozen peas, pickles, apple slices, celery sticks with peanut butter, tortilla or vegetable chips, pita chips, mini rice cakes or rice crackers.
Keeping several kinds of sandwich fillings and breads on hand throughout the week, not just for impromptu garden parties, makes sense for several reasons. Adults and children both can assemble sandwiches to their own fickle tastes. Packing lunches for day camp or for work goes more smoothly, especially if you get a small plastic crate for the fridge that can be removed easily in which you put everything sandwich-related: butter, mayo, mustard, cheese and cream cheese, deli meats, pickles, relishes, chutneys, chicken or ham or egg salad, cooked bacon, lettuce, sprouts, cucumber. Keep a basket on the counter next to the cutting board filled with ripe tomatoes, avocados, and onions, ready to slice. And of course, for the traditionalists, a jar of peanut butter and a pot of jam will always come in handy.