Back to the Kitchen: School lunch recipes and the Bento Box

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gwen-upper110x1101BY GWEN KENNEALLY

As the summer comes to an end and the fist day of school is here, I once again ask that age old question “What the heck to feed my kid?”

I love to create fun, healthy lunches that she will devour, but in truth I can not tell you how many times I have dug through her backpack only to find squished sandwiches and half-eaten pieces of fruit that I can no longer recognize.

My favorite lunch carrier idea is the bento box with compartments for lots of little snacks, such as nuts, fruit, a roll up — all things that you know your child will eat. You can find these in many Asian stores or from a couple of moms in Santa Cruz who developed the Laptop Lunch idea Their slogan is ‘bento-ware for everywhere.’

My Daily Find reader Martha Bissell has been researching this for a while and wrote us about her particular “find.” As a busy mom with two middle school students,  she was looking for good sturdy lunch holders that can stand up to her kids backpack throwing. She found Lock & Lock which is tried and true in her own kitchen.  She bought this box below for $12.99 at Kim’s Housewares at 2940 West Olympic in Los Angeles.  It is packed with three neat little lock and lock boxes, one subdivided.  She says  there are lots of variations of the box to choose from in the store — and  some much more masculine, but her heart was captured by the pink gingham of this one, especially as the fabric and construction is extraordinarily sturdy.

Making school lunches will always be an ongoing area of creative cooking, so I doubt that this will be my last column addressing the topic.  I welcome you  into the trenches. Make it a good year  with fun and healthy lunches!

Tuna Roll-ups


The bento box lunch box concept keeps food crisp.

The bento box lunch box concept keeps food crisp. Photo: Martha Bissell

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 2 halves.

Simple Egg Salad

6 large eggs

1tablespoon 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 4  sandwiches.

Cucumber tea sandwich

1 seedless cucumber, peeled and very thinly sliced (about 32 slices)

1 8-ounce package of cream cheese

1/2 cup chopped watercress

16 slices white bread

Salt to taste

In a small bowl combine cream cheese and watercress. Spread on one side of each side of bread. Lay cucumbers onto the cream cheese on 8 slices of bread. Sprinkle with salt. Top the remaining slice of bread cream cheese side down. Carefully cut the crusts from each sandwich with a sharp knife. Cut the sandwiches in half diagonally and then in half again.

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 peppers, 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.

Gwen Kenneally is the owner of Back to the Kitchen, Full Service Catering and Party Planning. Check out her website and blog and

About Karen Young

Karen Young is the founder of My Daily Find.