Food: The Lunchbox Gourmets

Article excerpt

Byline: Julie Scelfo

Stumped by what to pack in your kid's lunchbox? We talked to chefs, cookbook authors and assorted foodies--and it turns out that they're scratching their heads, too. After all, the box lunch is a challenge. The food has to be reasonably healthful. And it has to entice some of the world's pickiest eaters. Lunches have to be quick and easy to prepare. And they have to survive up to five hours without refrigeration. But while food pros may feel the same brown-bag anxiety we do, they have better solutions. Here are a few of their suggestions:

Mix it up. By the time she gets home from work, Tanya Wenman Steel, an editor at Bon Appetit magazine, has about 20 minutes to make dinner and pack the next day's lunches for her 6-year-old twins, Will and Sanger. Still, a successful lunch, she says, must combine the essential kid courses: a drink, an entree, nibbles and a treat. She always includes a protein, like a thin slice of meatloaf with cranberry chutney on whole-wheat bread, stir-fried-steak in peanut sauce or a bran muffin split horizontally and slathered with cream cheese. To add variety, she packs a different drink each day, such as a yogurt smoothie, a box of milk or an apple-cranberry juice with a wedge of lime. Steel also involves her sons in the lunch-packing process, giving them small tasks, like putting dried fruit into plastic bags. "When they do this, I find they are more likely to eat all of their lunch the next day," she says.

Let them play with the food. To keep her teenage daughter and son interested, Sara Moulton, host of Food Network's "Sara's Secrets," packs taco kits--separate plastic bags of shredded cheese, lettuce, salsa, taco shells and rotisserie chicken she buys precooked at the store. DIY snacks are also a hit with the 5- and 7-year-old sons of chef Mario Batali, who wraps up slices of cold pizza with hot sauce on the side so the kids can dip. "It's all about fun finger food," says Batali. …