As a young student growing up in Norway, my mom (and sometimes my dad) would make my “niste” every day to bring to school : slices of homemade whole grain bread topped with brown cheese, liverwurst with beets or cucumber, “fårepølse” (a sort of salami) or our famous caviar in tubes among other selections, wrapped in parchment paper. This was my lunch during break at school, there was no such thing as school cafeterias back then, until we got to high school and the selections weren’t that great then either. So we pretty much relied on our little parchment wrapped sandwiches, and when I look back on it; it was a pretty healthy alternative to what children are offered today.
Modern “nistepakker” today are not as limited, and can include many other options than just sliced bread. Why not get creative and bring wraps, nut mixtures, whole grain waffles or pancakes topped with cheese or jam, yogurt with granola, pasta salads, fruit salads, shrimp salads, scones… the choices continue. The idea of a ‘nistepakke’ is that you can (and should) use leftovers from dinner the previous nights, mix and match foods you find in your fridge and cupboards and come up with a quick recipe to create tasty, satisfying meals to bring along to school and work. Not only is it healthier, but also more economical, and you definitely will know what you are putting in your body!
For two years, my husband and I were involved with the “Chefs Move to School” program in our local community, where we would visit the school in our town and teach the kids (anyone from kindergarten to 8th grade) how to make healthy foods made with vegetables they grow in their school garden. It was incredibly rewarding to see kids eat fresh vegetables, learning about the different types, and be excited about making recipes that they themselves came up with. Kids are incredibly creative and their enthusiasm was infectious. After we created a recipe together, we cooked it and tasted it, and the dish was then presented and served in the school cafeteria to all the children the following week. The children took ownership of it because they were involved in the process, and many chose to buy the special dish as opposed to many other not so healthy offerings in school cafeterias that are processed and frozen. A great initiative I wish more schools in this country would take part in.
Here is Mark (My husband) helping a student grind spices in the molcajete (mortar and pestle) at Haldane School here in Cold Spring:
This made me think of Norway’s “nistepakker” and although many kids no longer bring their lunch bags, this is definitely a big Norwegian tradition, and I hope it comes back to popularity among kids today, because I firmly believe it helps curb obesity among young people and sets the standard for good life habits going forward. Nistepakker are also popular to bring along on hiking and skiing trips. There is something wonderfully comforting in eating a homemade “nistepakke”!
Norwegians aren’t necessarily used to eating a hot lunch, they reserve most of their appetite for dinner, which is also typically not eaten as late as in other countries (5-6 pm at the latest). Lunch then would consist of room temp foods, and often be a repeat of breakfast. Lunch break is often a quick 30 minutes, so most prefer something casual and easy. Some people think of ‘nistepakke’ as ultra Norwegian; humble, efficient and …stingy? :) Norwegians traditionally would never go out to eat lunch at a restaurant or a cafe (as opposed to the Swedes), and were economically “sensible” by bringing their own food to work. This of course is slowly changing with the times. The discussion continues, but I think, if nothing else, niste is a healthy tradition!
In this post, I want to give you some alternatives to just plain slices of bread for your nistepakke or lunch box, as mentioned earlier. I particularly like the idea of making some healthy waffles or pancakes, these are just as healthy and nutritious as whole grain breads, and even lighter on the stomach.
Another fabulous thing about these whole grain waffles is that they taste equally delicious with both sweet and savory toppings. Try them spread with creme fraiche and topped with fresh little shrimp sprinkled with chopped dill, Norwegian “gjetost” topped with raspberry or blueberry jam, smoked salmon and guacamole, nutella and sliced banana, strawberry jam with sour cream, freshly sliced fruit with whipped cream, ham with sliced tomatoes and a dollop of mayonnaise or mustard, sliced boiled eggs with caviar, or goat cheese with cucumbers, sliced peppers and cracked pepper. The options are endless! Whatever YOU like to eat – go for it!
Below are two recipes, the first one is an extremely healthy rye waffle recipe, while the second one is a bit more luxurious although still largely whole grain. You can also make these into pancakes if you don’t have a waffle iron. Test them both out and let me know your favorite!
GROVE RUGVAFLER (RYE WAFFLES )
Makes 8 “sheets” of waffles
1 cup rye flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup skim milk or 2 % milk
1 cup coconut milk
2 tbsp sugar
Combine all the dry ingredients in one bowl then mix eggs, coconut milk and milk in a separate bowl. Add the dry ingredients in to the dry ingredients and combine well to a smooth batter. Let sit for about 30 minutes before cooking the waffles in your heart shaped waffle iron (or a regular iron will do just fine if you don’t have a Norwegian one!).
Photo Credit: Synøve Dreyer, matprat.no
GROVE VAFLER (WHOLE GRAIN WAFFLES)
150 grams / 2/3 cups all purpose flour
125 grams / 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
75g / 1/3 cup rolled oats
2 tbsp honey or sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp cardamom
1 tsp vanilla sugar
2 cups milk
50 grams / 3 tbsp butter
Whisk eggs, sugar and salt until light and fluffy. Separately, mix the flours and oats together in a bowl. Add in the flour mixture inter mixed with the milk. Melt the butter and add this in the end. Let the batter rest for about 30 min before cooking it according to your waffle iron’s instructions. Note: You can also make this batter the day before you want to make it – sometimes the waffles taste even better then!
Photo Credit: tinepartner.no
Another option would be to include a salad in your “nistepakke”. If stored in a cool place, I would recommend making this delicious cheese and shrimp salad. You can bring crackers or slices of bread and enjoy with this, it’s a light and refreshing alternative to a sandwich and is a perfect food now that the weather is getting warmer and you may want food that are more summery and fresh.
OST OG REKE SALAT (Cheese and Shrimp Salad)
adapted f rom melk.no
200 grams/7 oz jarlsberg, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
250 grams / 9 oz fresh shrimp, small
1 celery stalk, sliced thinly
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and diced small
1/2 head ice berg lettuce, chopped
1 1/2 cup low fat sour cream
juice from one lemon
1 tbsp ketchup
1 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp fresh dill, finely chopped
salt and white pepper to taste
2-3 tbsp fresh dill, chopped
Combine all the salad ingredients in a large bowl and set aside. In a separate small bowl, combine all the ingredients of the dressing and dress the salad lightly. Serve with a nice piece of homemade bread!
Photo Credit: melk.no