Are your kids’ lunch boxes ready?
Unless you’ve been making lunches for summer camps, are among the lucky parents whose kids love the school lunch or are bold enough to ask your kids to make their own school lunches, it’s time to start gearing up for the daily task of putting together a lunch that your kids will actually eat.
Two new cookbooks take totally different approaches to solving this all-too-familiar problem.
We'll start with “Weelicious Lunches: Think Outside the Lunch Box With More Than 160 Happier Meals” (William Morrow Cookbooks, $29.99), by Catherine McCord, a pretty traditional kid-focused cookbook aimed at parents of the younger set.
McCord, a former television host who founded Weelicious.com about six years ago, has two preschool kids. Unlike her website, which focuses on baby and toddler food and some family meals, her second cookbook is aimed at helping school-age kids expand their palates and enjoy a wider variety of foods at lunch.
Think jam-filled breakfast bars, cinnamon pita chips, homemade fruit leathers, tomato soup with grilled cheese croutons, pancake PB&Js, hummuses (or would it be hummi?) made of roasted carrots, avocados and black beans, and a trio of banana sandwiches.
McCord tackles food allergies by offering tips about non-allergenic substitutes, including nut-free seed butters such as sunflower, sesame and flax, which are becoming more widely available in natural grocery stores. She includes a chart for all the recipes to indicate which are gluten-, dairy-, egg- and nut-free.
If you’re looking for healthier-than-usual recipes for muffins, cookies, bars and even baked doughnuts for birthday parties and school celebrations, this book is also for you.
On the other end of the spectrum is “Beating the Lunch Box Blues: Fresh Ideas for Lunches on the Go!” by J.M. Hirsch (Rachael Ray Books, $18). On the first page of his new book, Hirsch, the food editor of The Associated Press, decries what he calls the “lunch box cookbook”:
“If you’re one of those people who somehow finds the time to craft sandwiches into cutesy animals, or carve cheese into flowers and hearts … congratulations! And good luck with your therapy. Now go away.”
I love Hirsch’s recipes and his 2010 cookbook “High Flavor, Low Labor.” But he actively avoids traditional recipes in this photo-centric “un-cookbook,” which was inspired by the LunchBoxBlues.com blog that he started a few years ago to chronicle the lunches he made for his now 9-year-old son, Parker.
Hirsch is very much a realist about how most parents put together lunches for their kids and themselves: by mixing and matching whatever’s already in the refrigerator into something that you won’t dread eating a few hours later (or the next day).
His best tips – make too much dinner on purpose so you have leftovers to work with, and use a Thermos to keep food, even non-soups like scrambled eggs or steamed broccoli, warm – will go a long way in keeping your lunches fresh. He also includes about 30 recipes for extra-large dinners with plenty of ideas for how to turn the excess into something else the next day.
Five-spice pot roast becomes a roast beef sandwich; fettuccine with pesto and chicken is the starting point for a grilled cheese-and-pesto sandwich one day and a chicken-pesto wrap the next.
This is a technique that I, as a leftovers lunch-eater myself, can appreciate. But my kids aren’t the kinds of eaters who will go for a sweet pepper and white bean salad or hoisin-glazed meatloaf sandwich made with extras from last night’s dinner.
Adults battling the lunch box blues might get more out of Hirsch’s book than their kids, but it’s also a good buy for middle and high school students with evolving palates who are packing their own lunches and getting tired of ham and cheese sandwiches.
Addie Broyles writes for the Austin American-Statesman. Email: mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org
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