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

(Continued from page 3)

click image to enlarge

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

click image to enlarge

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

If you're making a stir-fry for dinner, make a little extra rice. The next morning, after cooking a fried egg for breakfast, don't wash out the pan. Throw in the leftover rice and heat it up with a little oil, then add any leftover vegetables or meats you have in the refrigerator. Voila -- fried rice.

Last week, Hirsch took some leftover bacon, a single banana in danger of turning brown, whole wheat tortillas and peanut butter, and turned it all into Elvis-inspired sushi.

"I put the banana and the bacon in (the tortilla), I rolled it up, and I cut it into rounds of sushi-like bites of peanut butter, banana and bacon. And he loves it."

• Get kids involved in planning their lunches. That starts at the grocery store. "Say, 'OK, I'm going to be sending you a yogurt three days next week. What would you like as mix-ins? What would you like to bring to build your own parfaits with?' " Hirsch said. "Let them look around the grocery store to find things. If they choose chocolate and caramel sauce and candied cherries, well, you can veto that and say, 'You can choose one unhealthy item, and then the other three items that you choose have to be healthy items.' Now you've got something that they have designed, but you have controlled."

• Design a lunch around a silly theme -- all round foods, for example, which could include mini mozzarella balls, grapes, cherry tomatoes and anything else that shape you can think of. Or create a lunch of "mini foods" such as baby cucumbers, mini bagels or crackers, mini cheese rounds, and/or cherry tomatoes.

• It's hard to go wrong with mac and cheese, and it's not hard to make your own. Make extra pasta at dinner time. The next morning, dig out whatever cheese you have on hand along with some sort of creamy dairy base -- Greek yogurt, sour cream or creme fraiche are good choices. Put it all in a saucepan, and two minutes later you have a creamy mac and cheese.

"I don't get hung up on what type of cheese I use," Hirsch said. "I use whatever I happen to have pieces of in the refrigerator. I don't get hung up on the shape or size of the pasta. If all I have is linguine, I will use my kitchen shears to cut it into bites. And that's three ingredients."

Consider spiking it with a little hot sauce, which enhances the other flavors without adding a lot of heat, Hirsch said. Make a more robust version of the dish by adding leftover steak, chicken or pork, deli meat or leftover cooked vegetables.

• Involving children in planning sometimes means occasionally embracing their crazy ideas. Hirsch once made a whole wheat "grilled mac and cheese" for his son. And when Parker asked for chocolate pudding instead of yogurt in his yogurt parfait, Hirsch gave him yogurt topped with a teaspoon of mini chocolate chips. "I've probably added 20 calories with that teaspoon of chips," Hirsch said. "He thinks it's the greatest thing in the world."

"You can usually find a way to give them some version of what they're asking for that you can feel good about," he said.

• Grow a garden, and let your child help. Greene's daughter Anna, almost 7, loves fruits like strawberries, blueberries and raspberries, but her fondness for vegetables was lacking until her father helped her start a garden. Now she likes spinach. She also likes tomatoes and carrots -- or, as she calls them, "cawwots." (Anna names her carrots. Carroty, meet Carroty Jr.)

(Continued on page 5)

Were you interviewed for this story? If so, please fill out our accuracy form

Send question/comment to the editors

Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

click image to enlarge

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


Further Discussion

Here at we value our readers and are committed to growing our community by encouraging you to add to the discussion. To ensure conscientious dialogue we have implemented a strict no-bullying policy. To participate, you must follow our Terms of Use.

Questions about the article? Add them below and we’ll try to answer them or do a follow-up post as soon as we can. Technical problems? Email them to us with an exact description of the problem. Make sure to include:
  • Type of computer or mobile device your are using
  • Exact operating system and browser you are viewing the site on (TIP: You can easily determine your operating system here.)