Back to the Kitchen: Back to School Lunch Recipes For All Ages

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As summer comes to an end and the first 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 back pack only to find crushed sandwiches and half eaten pieces of fruit that I can no longer recognize. I love the bento box idea with compartments for lots of little snacks, such as nuts, fruit, roll ups —  all things that you know your child will eat. You can find these boxes in many Asian stores or from a couple of moms in Santa Cruz who developed the Laptop Lunches. Their slogan is ‘bento-ware for everywhere’. Amazon has a few cute ones, as does the Ultimate Green Store .

Bento Box from

Once you find the packaging, the challenge is what to put in them. Dinner leftovers and grazing food are always a hit with my daughter, Emma. I have to stay one step ahead of her and really listen because what she loved and gobbled up one day comes back untouched the next.  I suspect that this will always be an ongoing area of creative cooking, therefore, I doubt that this will be my last column addressing such issues. I invite you to come on into the trenches with me and make it a good year and good lunches!

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

Two 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.

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.

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 bread

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.

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 eight 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.

Fettuccine Salad with Eggs and Heirloom Tomatoes

½ cup olive oil

½ cup balsamic vinegar

½ cup grated Parmesan cheese

4 sun- dried tomatoes, chopped

4 cloves garlic

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

10 large basil leaves

Pinch of crushed red pepper

Place in blender and puree until smooth and fluffy.

12 ounces Spinach Fettuccine, cooked and well drained

4 heirloom tomatoes, seeded and chopped

2 Persian cucumbers, sliced and halved

1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

Gently toss in a large bowl. Add the dressing and toss until evenly coated.

8 hard boiled eggs, peeled and wedged

Gently toss in eggs and serve.

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 four hours. Before serving toss with the garnishes of your choice.

Ravioli Pasta Salad

1/2 pound ricotta-stuffed ravioli

1 bunch thin asparagus, cut on an angel

10 ounce bag organic peas, thawed overnight in refrigerator

3 – 4 big handfuls baby spinach, washed

a couple splashes olive oil

1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted

pinch of sea salt

Parmesan cheese, for garnish

Into an extra-large pot of well-salted boiling water add the raviolis. After a few minutes, when a couple of the raviolis begin to float, add the asparagus and peas. Since the asparagus is thin and the peas aren’t frozen, you’ll need to cook them only for about a minute – really quick, just enough to brighten up the peas and give the asparagus a touch of tenderness. Drain everything into a large colander.

Immediately transfer to a large bowl, add the spinach and pine nuts, and gently toss with a couple big splashes of olive oil and a pinch or two of salt. Sprinkle with Parmesan!

Tortellini Salad

2 large bunches fresh basil (about 4 cups loosely packed leaves)

2/3 cup olive oil

2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

4 garlic cloves

2 tablespoons pine nuts

1 pound fresh cheese tortellini

2 cups diced cooked chicken

Additional grated Parmesan cheese

Puree first five ingredients in processor until almost smooth. Season with salt and pepper. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Transfer to small bowl. Press plastic wrap directly onto surface of pesto to seal. Cover; chill.)

Cook tortellini in large pot of boiling salted water until just tender but still firm to bite. Drain, reserving 1/4 cup cooking water.

Combine tortellini, chicken and 1-cup pesto in heavy large skillet over medium heat. Toss until mixture is heated through, adding reserved cooking water and additional pesto by tablespoonfuls until sauce coats pasta. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer to bowl. Pass additional Parmesan.

Couscous Salad

Remember you can change this with any number of variations—toast pine nuts and add them in, maybe try a few chickpeas. Diced red peppers, small black olives, any spicy dark green olive carrots, edamame, chick peas, dried fruits and nuts—anything your picky eater will like!

3 tablespoons butter

1-cup couscous

2 cups vegetable or chicken stock

Pinch salt

In a medium-sized saucepan, bring water, butter and salt just to moment of boiling. Add couscous and put cover on. Take the pan off the heat. Let it stand for five minutes.

3 small red onions

1 package feta cheese (about 5 to 7 ounces)

1 small bunch arugula (or parsley or basil)

2 tomatoes

Juice of one large lemon

Olive Oil


Meanwhile, dice your onions and shred your arugula into small bite-size pieces. Cut tomatoes into small pieces and get rid of seeds. When couscous has cooled, put it into your serving bowl. Fluff it with fork, moisten with water or stock if there any lumps. Blend in your onions, arugula and tomatoes. Crumble feta into small pieces into salad.

In a small bowl or jar, whisk lemon juice and olive oil together. Grind a little fresh salt and pepper into vinaigrette. Stir into salad.

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 lime juice

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.

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.

Gwen Kenneally is the owner of Back to the Kitchen, Full Service Catering and Party Planning. She is the co-founder and master baker at Magpie Gourmet Mini Pies. Check out her websites www.Backtothekitchen.netand She wrote a weekly food column for the Sun Community Newspapers.

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About Karen Young

Karen Young is the founder of My Daily Find.

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