August 22, 2013

Soup to Nuts: What's for lunch?

We asked some experts – who also happen to be moms and dads – what their kids would be packing when the school bell rings.

By Meredith Goad
Staff Writer

PORTLAND — Soon-to-be second grader Emma King, 7, was grocery shopping with her mom at Hannaford on Friday when she paused to answer a few questions about school lunch. She is, after all, an expert.

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Anna Greene, 6, slips a container of fruit into a shopping cart at the Forest Avenue Hannaford in Portland, where she was shopping with her mom, Julie Greene.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

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Julie Greene, manager for healthy living at Hannaford, shops with her children, Ben, 10, and Anna, 6. “If you involve (your children) in the decisions about what they want to eat,” Greene said, “they’re much more likely to eat it.”

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

Additional Photos Below


J.M. Hirsch, food editor for The Associated Press, is a firm believer that when it comes to making school lunches, recipes are not necessary. But he does believe in using leftovers. So all the recipes in his new book, "Beating the Lunch Box Blues," (Rachael Ray Books, $18), are dinner recipes that make enough for leftovers the next day that can be used for lunches.

This recipe will make one dinner and two different school lunches:

1. Make a barbecue chicken sandwich with the leftover barbecue chicken, thinly sliced red onion and a hefty smear of hummus. Add some veggie chips and a salad made with shredded carrots, raisins and slivered almonds tossed with a vinaigrette or a creamy dressing to turn it into a slaw.

2. Make barbecue chicken and rice using chopped leftover barbecue chicken, heat-and-eat brown rice, canned beans and (if it needs more moisture) some bottled barbecue sauce. Serve with fresh strawberries splashed with balsamic vinegar and garnished with mint. For a snack, add apple slices smeared with any nut butter; sprinkle with cinnamon sugar to make it a dessert.


Start to finish: 20 minutes (plus optional marinating)

Servings: 4, plus leftovers

The simple barbecue sauce used in this recipe blends the flavors of peanut satay and traditional barbecue. Hirsch likes it on chicken thighs, but it's delicious on any cut.

Don't do peanuts? Any nut butter or alternative can be substituted, including soy nut butter or even tahini (made from sesame seeds).

Because the sauce packs tons of flavor and is low-acid, the chicken can be flavored with it immediately before cooking, or can marinate in it all day.

This recipe calls for broiling, but the chicken also can be grilled. Aim for 7 to 8 minutes per side over medium-high heat. And be sure to oil the grill grates especially well.

4-ounce jar (just shy of ½ cup) Thai red curry paste

Juice of 1 lime

¼ cup smooth peanut butter

¼ cup water

1 teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs

In a large bowl, mix together the curry paste, lime juice, peanut butter, water, salt, and pepper. Mix until a smooth, thick paste forms.

Add the chicken thighs to the bowl, being sure to unfold them. Use your hands to rub the sauce onto the meat, covering it entirely.

The meat can be cooked immediately, or marinated for up to a day.

When ready to cook, heat the oven to broil. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil, then set a wire rack over it. Coat the rack with cooking spray.

Arrange the chicken on the rack. Broil on the oven's middle rack for 6 minutes, then use tongs to flip the chicken. Broil for another 6 minutes.

FOLLOW J.M. HIRSCH'S school lunch blog, which is a simple record of what he makes for his son's lunch every day, at

Asked what she likes to see most in her lunch box, she replied: "Well, I'm always hoping for a Milano cookie as a treat. But I don't really find them."

But she gets those sometimes? "Well they're rare."

That's just the way her mother, Catherine King of Portland, likes it. On most days, she tries to fill her children's lunch boxes with three servings of fruits and vegetables.

"Then a sandwich as a protein, and something fun and snacky that I know they like eating, like Goldfish or Cheddar Bunnies or pretzels," said King, who is Sen. Angus King's daughter-in-law.

Potato chips and granola bars are no-nos.

But King says it's hard sometimes to find new, creative ideas for school lunches that Emma and her brother, 5-year-old Gus, will eat.

Julie Greene, who was also shopping with her two children that day, agreed, even though as Hannaford's "manager of healthy living," she's already a step ahead of everyone else when it comes to packing a fun-but-nutritious school lunch.

It's tough, Greene says, because no matter how hard she tries to put together a healthy lunch for her 10-year-old son Ben, who will be a fifth grader this fall, sometimes he comes home and has traded his fruit leather for cheese puffs.

"It's frustrating, but I think you just have to be realistic about it and realize that there are some things you can control and some things you can't," Greene said. "If you involve them in the decisions about what they want to eat, they're much more likely to eat it."

Lynn Fredericks, founder of FamilyCook Productions and co-author with Mercedes Sanchez of "Get Your Family Eating Right," (Fair Winds Press, $21.99), says a healthy school lunch starts with building a foundation of healthy eating at home. If your child sees you drinking sugar-laden teas and sodas, or treating yourself to a cookie every day, it's going to be hard to convince them they should have a piece of fruit instead.

"Every decision we make about food, we're giving them messages every day," Fredericks said.

Take your children with you to the farmers market and let them pick out the vegetables they want to try, she suggested. Your children will see how foods change with the seasons, and will begin to value "real" foods in a society that values convenience over healthy choices.

"American families are struggling to provide a healthy diet in their own homes," Fredericks writes in her new book. "Working harder and longer hours is rewarded, over-scheduling children is encouraged. Mealtimes are outsourced to corporations and chefs, leaving parents on a constant search for a five-minute healthy recipe before succumbing to takeout, fast food or a packaged solution. Our children are rushed through school lunch in less than 15 minutes. Who can appreciate and value food in such a society?"

James Tranchemontagne, chef/owner of The Frog and Turtle in Westbrook and father of 8-year-old Logan, volunteers with organizations that are working to end hunger and helps teach families how to prepare healthier meals. He agrees that setting a good example at home will pay off in the school cafeteria. Set down the smart phones for an hour, disconnect from everyday life and cook and eat dinner with your children, he advises.

"Kids are kids," Tranchemontagne said. "You're not going to eliminate all the bartering and sharing at the (school lunch) tables. You're not going to eliminate all junk food from their life. I mean, we all were there. But it is extremely important for kids to see parents cooking and sitting down at the table, having dinner together."

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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In “Beating the Lunch Box Blues” by J.M. Hirsch, the food editor for The Associated Press offers two ways to use leftover macaroni and cheese in packed lunches – as the “cheese” in a grilled cheese sandwich and as a topping for DIY nachos.

The Associated Press


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