Back to School Food: Pies Present the Perfect, Packable Lunch Options

You sit down to lunch and unfold the top of the brown paper lunch bag. Peering down into the papery depths, you spot ... a piece of pie?

Believe it our not, the flaky, pastry-packed dishes can be the perfect, packable option for back-to-school menu planning.

"They make very easy meals,"Jenell Parsons, theownerofThe Pie Hole in Vancouver, says. "You can bake them from frozen - and not only will your house smell amazing with fresh-baked pies, they are filled with locally sourced organic meat, fresh veggies and everything made in-house from scratch." While many of us think of sweet pie fillings such as fruit or candied nuts, Parsons says there are a plethora of filling options that are more suitable for a main dish rather than dessert.

"I think people forget that savoury pies make a perfect meal for the family," she says."And adding a salad is optional." She says the freezable, one-dish meals offer a great way to time-save in the kitchen for busy families. And more and more people are catching on to the variety of flavours available.

"Our sales are very even between sweet and savoury pies," she says. "Especially in the fall as the weather gets cooler and pies are the perfect cosy comfort food." Thankfully, the simplest savoury piesare also a common hit with most taste buds.

"You can never go wrong with a classic Chicken Pot Pie," she recommends. "And, in our shop, a staff and customer favourite is the Bacon Cheeseburger Pie." The baked beef dish features ground meat, cheddar béchamel, diced pickles, cheddar cheese and bacon, all encased in The Pie Hole's signature Double Butter Pie Crust. The entire pie is then topped with sesame seeds for an added crunch.

For Parsons, who has admittedly tried her fair share of pies, her go-to savoury creation is a little more saucy.

"One of my favourite is our Chicken Carbonara," she explains. "We make our own Alfredo sauce, which is so creamy and rich, and then combine slow-roasted chicken, bacon, peas and lots of cheese.

"You really cannot go wrong with this combination and a buttery flaky crust." Pies are "incredibly versatile," Parsons says.

"I always say almost anything can go into a pie - it is a fantastic way to use up leftovers." To save time during pie prep, for those who aren't buying pre-made options from a store or bake shop, of course, Parsons says there's one sure step to ensure time-saving.

"You can make your pie crust ahead of time and keep it frozen until you're ready to use it," she says.

As for addressing the common question of how long pies keep for, homemade or otherwise, Parsons says its good to stick to a rule of three.

"Fresh baked pies are good for about three days," she says. "But they can stay in the freezer for a few months and baked when ready to be enjoyed." To help preserve your pie the full three days so the savoury ingredients can last longer, it's important to keep the pie cool.

"Pies should definitely be kept refrigerated," she says.

And, while a microwave will suffice at school or work, an oven, admittedly, is always ideal.

"The best way is to heat up in the oven," Parsons says. "Texture is everything, and this method keeps the crust nice and crisp and flaky. The microwave is an option, as well, but you run the risk of the crust softening." For side dishes to pack with a pie slice or hand-held option, Parsons recommends keeping it light.

"Pies are very filling, so I would pack something light and palette cleansing like a nice fruit salad or veggie sticks," she recommends.

Parsons admits she herself never received a slice of pie for her own school time lunches, but she's happy to say she'll likely dish out a baked delight for her own family in the future.

"I would have been so delighted to find pie in my lunch box," she says. "And I have a feeling my daughter will when she starts going to school." And, until then, she'll just keep serving them to hungry customers at her store.

Ready to try creating your own packable pie?

Jenell Parsons, theownerofThe Pie Hole in Vancouver, shared a recipe for hand-held chicken pot pies that are sure to disappear from the lunch bags of even the pickiest of eaters.

Guaranteed.

Mix the thyme, rosemary, sage and celery seed in a small mixing bowl.

Take the chicken thighs and half the spices and mix to coat the chicken. Spread onto a baking sheet and roast the chicken in a preheated oven (375F) for 20 minutes. Remove the chicken and rest it. This will allow the chicken to cool so you can dice it into chunky bite sized pieces.

In a large pot melt the butter over a medium high heat. Once almost completely melted add your diced carrots, onions, and celery. Cook for approximately 7-10 minutes to soften the vegetables. Once your onions have a transparent look you can add the remaining spices and sprinkle the flour over the vegetables. Stir the vegetables to completely coat them with the flour and butter. Cook for 2 minutes.

Add the milk and chicken stock. Stirring constantly to thicken the mixture. You want to be careful to not have the filling stick to the bottom of the pot. Once the mixture has thickened to a rich gravy like consistency. You can remove from the heat. You will season to taste with salt and pepper.

Add in the frozen peas. They will help to cool the mixture and also will keep the peas feeling fresher and not overcooked. Allow the mixture to cool completely before attempting to fill your pie. Pie crust is best if it stays as cold as possible before going in the oven.

Once cooled you will take your pie crust and dock the bottom by poking several times with the tines of a fork. Fill the shell and top with a rolled out pie top.

Finish with a wash of whisked egg to give the pie that golden colour when finished baking. Cut several 1-inch vents in the top to allow for the steam to escape. We always finish our Chicken Pot Pies with a sprinkle of rosemary before baking. Bake in a preheated oven at 350F for 60 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and some of the gravy is starting to bubble out from the vent holes.

Now that you've got your lunch menu sorted, it's time to consider the carrier for said eats. Yes, we're talking about a good old lunch bag.

Here are five fun lunch bags, boxes or containers to consider carrying for the back-to-school (or work) season.

Add a pop of functional fashion to your lunch break with this Herschel Pop Quiz Lunch Box. The colourful polka dots add an element of fun, while the black base ensures it will stay clean-looking for longer. Even with inevitable spills.

$34.99 | Herschel Whether in the schoolyard or the campground, be the envy of all your fellow diners with this Light My Fire Meal Kit 2.0. The portable kit includes food containers, a cup, double-sided utensil and more - all in a washable, reusable kit.

$32 | MEC Stripes are always in style, and that includes on your lunch bag. This Lululemon lunch tote features a secure top zip and easy-carry handle so you can grab and go with your lunch in, well, tow.

$32 | Lululemon Let your lunch box do all the talking with this cheeky Is It Friday Yet Bento Box. The cheery exterior and organized interior mean business, while the silly slogan lets others know you don't take lunchtime too seriously.

$19.50 | Indigo The '90s style revival continues with this Tracker Mega Value Lunch bag. The tie-dyed exterior is sure to be the envy of the lunch crowd, while bringing up a few memories for parents while packing it too.

$12.99 | Shopbently.com

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