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Back to the Kitchen: School Lunches They’ll Want to Eat

Posted By Karen Young On August 13, 2012 @ 11:44 pm In Eat,Featured,My Daily Find,Recipes,Sandwiches | 1 Comment


Brown bag it.


After a super active summer I am happy to report that school starts this week for many students!  I love the lazy, low-key days of summer —especially compared to the routine of the school year which can be a bit overwhelming.  My daughter is starting a new school so the verdict is still out as to whether she will eat there or if she will brown bag it!

For school lunches, I believe it is important to offer healthy and well-rounded choices— and with a little planning and some creativity brown bagging can be a wonderful and tasty experience. With the disposable Tupperware (I still encourage Emma to bring them home as they can go through the dish washer and be recycled), left over pasta, stir-fry, hard boiled eggs, edamame, hummus and carrots, apples and peanut butter can be delicious at room temperature. Even a plain PB&J can be dressed up by using a cookie cutter to make fun sandwich shapes. Stuffing tomatoes with tuna or chicken salad is popular with the kids.

I’m sure that you all know the trick of freezing the juice or tea boxes and placing them in the lunch. They keep the food cool and are defrosted by lunch. I always include lots of fresh fruits and melon. The key is to know what your child likes and offer variety so that you get more in their bellies and less mashed up at the end of the day.

Below, I have put together some fun recipes that are always a hit with my daughter. The two big tips that I can offer that save time in the morning are to make your lunches the night before and pick clothes for the day as well.  Less stress and fewer choices make way for a smoother transition from summer fun to back to school.

Turkey Roll Ups

This is a fun way to make a sandwich. The exact measurements are not really important so you can add any meat or veggie your child likes. These roll ups are made with tortillas but you can play around with other types of sandwiches and you can use crackers, rolls pita or bagels for a bit of variety.

1 pound thinly sliced turkey

1 package cream cheese

4 flour tortillas (10-inch diameter)

1 cup shredded carrots

1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese

8 leaves lettuce

Spread cream cheese evenly on one side of each tortilla. Top evenly with shredded carrots and Jack cheese. Layer lettuce and turkey evenly on cheese, leaving 1/2-inch border around edge. Roll up tightly; wrap in plastic. Refrigerate over night. Serves 6-8

Tuna Roll-Ups

1 can (6 ounces) tuna fish, preferably packed in water, drained

Juice of ½ a lemon

1 cucumber, peeled and coarsely shredded

1 medium carrot, peeled and coarsely shredded

3 tablespoons mayonnaise

Two 10-inch flour tortillas

2 medium lettuce or spinach leaves

1/2 of a ripe avocado: peeled, pitted, and sliced 1/2-inch thick

Flake the tuna and squeeze lemon over it. Combine the tuna, 2 tablespoons mayonnaise, carrots and cucumbers in a small bowl and mix until blended. Lay the tortillas on a work surface. Spread 1/2-teaspoon mayonnaise on each tortilla and arrange the lettuce on top of both and avocado lengthwise in rows near one edge. Spoon the tuna in a line next to the vegetables (away from the edge). Roll each tortilla up snugly into a cylinder. Cut crosswise in half. ½ is more than enough for a small child. A teen or adult could eat two halves.

Simple Egg Salad

6 large eggs

1 tablespoon mayonnaise

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

Salt and pepper

2 stalks celery, washed and chopped

1/2-bunch chives, chopped

2 small handfuls of lettuce

8 slices of whole grain bread, toasted

Place the eggs in a pot and cover with cold water by a 1/2-inch or so. Bring to a gentle boil. Now turn off the heat, cover, and let sit for ten minutes. Have a big bowl of ice water ready and when the eggs are done cooking place them in the ice bath for three minutes or so – long enough to stop the cooking. Crack and peel each egg, place in a medium mixing bowl. Add the mayonnaise, Dijon, a couple generous pinches of salt and pepper, now mash with a fork. Don’t overdo it; you want the egg mixture to have some texture. If you need to add a bit more mayo to moisten up the mixture a bit, go for it a bit at a time. Stir in the celery and chives. Taste, and adjust the seasoning – adding more salt and pepper if needed. To assemble each egg salad sandwich: place a bit of lettuce on a piece of toast, top with the egg salad mixture, and finish by creating a sandwich with a second piece of toast.

Make 4 sandwiches.

Roasted Vegetable Panini

3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1-tablespoon olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Vegetable oil cooking spray

1 medium eggplant, cut lengthwise into 8 slices (1/4 inch each)

1 medium zucchini, cut into 8 slices (1/4 inch each)

1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded and quartered

8 slices ciabatta

1-cup fresh mozzarella, sliced

8 large fresh basil leaves

Whisk vinegar, oil, salt and pepper in a bowl. Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray; place vegetables in 1 layer on sheet. Brush both sides of eggplant and zucchini with vinegar mixture. Spray all vegetables with cooking spray and place under broiler, 7 to 8 minutes, turning once and coating with cooking spray. Lightly brush bottom slices of ciabatta with remaining vinegar mixture. Pile veggies, cheese and basil on 4 slices of bread. Close sandwiches; spray both sides with cooking spray. Heat a medium nonstick skillet over medium-high heat; add sandwiches. Place a second skillet on top of sandwiches and press down. Cook 4 minutes, flipping once. Makes four sandwiches

Turkey Sandwich Five-Way

THE CAESAR WRAP: Large flour tortilla rolled with sliced turkey, shredded romaine, diced tomatoes, shredded Parmesan cheese and creamy Caesar dressing.
TURKEY PARMIGIANA: Sliced turkey topped with spaghetti sauce and shredded mozzarella, broiled on crusty Italian bread.
THE CALIFORNIA ROLL-UP: Large flour tortilla topped with sliced turkey, lettuce, tomato, avocado, and alfalfa sprouts and shredded Monterey Jack cheese.
TURKEY REUBEN: Sliced turkey topped with sauerkraut, Thousand Island dressing and Swiss cheese on grilled rye bread.
TURKEY BLT: Sliced turkey, bacon, lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise on toast.

Sushi Rolls

Sushi rolls are extremely versatile. They make fabulous picnic fare or lunchbox additions, and you can make endless varieties. I personally don’t use raw fish for packing in a school lunch, but I use lots of vegetables and Emma loves them!
Sushi rolls are a good way to use leftovers like veggies, cooked fish and chicken. Julian strips of cucumber, carrots, zucchini, sprouts, avocado, cooked crab and shrimp, really anything your child likes.  A rice cooker is an amazing appliance as you can pop it on and carry on about your day and have fresh rice in half an hour.

3 cups cooked rice

3/4 cups rice vinegar

1 tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon salt

Nori sheets

Assorted fillings

In large bowl mix vinegar, sugar, salt and rice until well combined.
To roll sushi you can use a bamboo sushi mat, or just use a clean towel instead. Place nori sheet on roller and spread a thin layer of the sushi rice over the nori. Place your filling in a centerline of the nori. Begin rolling by carefully folding over the top edge and starting the roll. Continue to roll, keeping the roll as tight as possible. Take a sharp knife and slice the roll into 1 and 1/2-inch pieces.

Pasta Pesto

This is a simple pesto sauce. It is great at room temperature and Emma just loves it. It can be a great leftover. You can serve it for dinner with fresh pasta scallops or chicken. For lunch I like to add tomatoes and olives, my daughters’ personal favorites! Add what ever your child likes and play around with the pasta shapes, there are some really fun ones available.

5 large garlic cloves

1-cup pine nuts (or walnuts work as well)

5 cups packed fresh basil

1-cup fresh parsley

1 cup fresh Parmigianino, coarsely grated

1 1/2 cup olive oil

In a blender or food processor mix garlic, nuts, basil, parsley and cheese and process until finely chopped. With motor running add oil mixing until incorporated. Makes about 2 cups.

Vegetable Chili

I understand that this may not seem appealing in the heat of late summer and early fall, but come the colder months this chili really kicks it. This is a basic roadmap you can add any veggies that your family likes.

1 /2 cup olive oil

4 small red onions, roughly chopped

8 cloves of garlic

2 green bell pepper, roughly chopped

2 yellow bell pepper, roughly chopped

6 carrots cut lengthwise then sliced

3 bunches broccoli, roughly chopped

3 zucchini cut lengthwise then sliced

3 yellow squash, cut lengthwise then sliced

3 carrots cut lengthwise then sliced

2 cans (35 ounces) Italian style stewed tomatoes

3 pounds fresh ripe plum tomatoes cut in 1- inch cubes

4-6 tablespoons chili powder (to taste)

2 tablespoons ground cumin

2 tablespoons dried thyme

2 tablespoons Italian spices
(Or any combo of basil, oregano, sage, etc.)

2 teaspoons fresh ground pepper

1-teaspoon salt

2 cans dark red kidney beans, drained

2 cans garbanzo beans, drained

2 cups tomato sauce

Heat olive oil in really large pot. Add onion, garlic, peppers, carrots and broccoli. Sauté for 10 minutes. Add all tomatoes and beans. Sauté for 5 more minutes. Add all spices and sauté for a few more minutes. Add the marinara sauce and 1 cup of water. Cook covered, stirring frequently for 1 hour. Serve with lots of shredded cheddar cheese chopped scallions and homemade corn bread. Serves 8-10

Edamame Salad

1 lb frozen shelled edamame

3 cups corn kernels

1 red bell pepper, diced

3 green onions, sliced

1 small red onion, finely chopped

6 parsley sprigs, chopped

6 basil sprigs, chopped


1/3-cup fresh limejuice

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons olive oil

½ teaspoon cumin

Pinch salt and pepper

In a small bowl whisk together lemon juice, mustard, olive oil, cumin and salt and pepper. In a large bowl mix together edamame, corn, bell pepper, red onion, green onion, parsley and basil. Toss with dressing. Makes 6 lunch servings.

Peanut Noodles

1 pound dry pasta- spaghetti or angel hair

1-cup peanut butter

3 Tbsp. sugar

1/2-cup soy sauce

1 tsp. chile pepper flakes

3 tbsp. toasted sesame oil

3 tbsp. minced garlic

3 tbsp. canola oil

Garnishes- slivered carrots, green onions, red pepper s, fresh cilantro, and sesame seeds, toasted peanuts

Cook pasta in large pot of boiling water. Drain the noodles, let stand and use the warm pot to make the sauce. (It helps with the thickness of the peanut butter) Wisk the rest of ingredients until blended. Mix in the pasta. Let Stand in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours. Before serving toss with the garnishes of your choice. Serves 6-8

Curried Chicken Sandwiches

3 pounds chicken breasts

Poached, cooled to room temperature, cut into 1/4-inch chunks*

2 granny smith apples, finely chopped

3 celery ribs, finely chopped

4 tablespoons curry powder

2 tablespoons ground ginger

1 1/2 cup mayonnaise

Juice of one lime

16 slices raisin bread

In a small bowl whisk together curry, ginger, limejuice and mayonnaise. In a large bowl mix the chicken, celery and apples. Add the mayonnaise mixture to the chicken mixture and coat evenly. Divide 8 ways and place on raisin bread and quarter each on the diagonal. Serves 8

Banana Chocolate Chip Cookies

2-1/4 cups unbleached all purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1-teaspoon salt

2 large ripe bananas

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1-cup butter

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar

2 large eggs

1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

1 cup coarsely chopped pecans

Adjust an oven rack to the middle shelf and preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside. Mash the bananas with the vanilla, making about 1 cup. Set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer mix the sugars and butter on medium speed until light and fluffy, then blend in the mashed bananas. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. The mixture will look curdled. At low speed, blend in the flour mixture, stopping once or twice to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Fold in the chips and nuts. Drop the dough by heaping teaspoonfuls 1-1/2 inches apart onto ungreased baking sheets. Bake until the cookies are golden brown, about 12 minutes, then remove to racks to cool. Store in a cookie jar for up to 1 week. Makes about 6 dozen.

PB&J Energy Bars

These high protein bars are great in a lunch box or as an after school snack. We love to make them together and the kids just gobble them up. We also have had some real fun designing the packaging!

2 cups uncooked oats

1-cup crunchy peanut butter

1/2 cup 100 % fruit jelly

In a large bowl, mix all ingredients together thoroughly. Spread in a sprayed 8-inch square pan. Bake for 30 minutes. Allow to cool at least 10 minutes before cutting. Cut into 8 bars and wrap individually.


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