Hear that? It’s the sound of millions of frustrated parents staring at lunchboxes, wondering how to fill them. You know who has to feed difficult, sometimes whiny people on a regular basis? Chefs. And chances are, when it comes to “having a word with the chef,” the pickiest guest of the night has nothing on that chef’s own kid. We asked chefs across the country what they feed their toughest audience, and came back with great ideas. So before you send one more soggy PB&J or give in to the appeal of Nacho Thursday, take some advice from the pros.
“I used to pack a six course slow food degustation. I’d polish cherries and plums, peel celery, and bubble wrap bananas. Generally it came right back home the way I packed it, missing just the fruit or dessert. Took me a while to get the hint! Now, I have some tricks up my sleeve. Chocolate milk (I make my o“Our 4-year old son Luke just started pre-K, so my wife Katherine and I try to get creative with his slightly limited palate. We’ll whip up some Spanish tortilla; homemade apple-sauce with chia seeds; or baked oatmeal with blueberries. It’s important to have something with a little fiber and protein in there to keep him full! Unfortunately we have to steer clear of nuts because school lunches have to be nut free. Gone are the days of PB+J!”
—Gabe Thompson, L’Apicio, NYC; dad of Luke, 4wn, with vanilla syrup in it, too).
Cantaloupe—it doesn’t brown or mush. And my out-the-door trick: I put half a cup couscous, a drizzle of olive oil, and some of my secret dried herb salt with a half-cup boiling water in a thermos, seal it up, and run out the door.”
—Aimee Olexy, Talula’s Table, Philadelphia; mom of Analee, 10
“I do a Moroccan-style stuffed pita with spicy potato salad, hard boiled egg, and Laughing Cow cheese, or we’ll do soba noodles with ginger scallion dressing, sesame seeds, nori, and grated carrot. A bento is the best lunchbox ever. There are compartments for everything.”
—Ana Sortun, chef, Oleana, Boston; mom of Siena, 10
“Cucumber and cream cheese sandwiches on thin sliced dark rye. For snacks, we do olive oil stovetop popcorn, sungold tomatoes, and Greek yogurt with honey. Plus, cubed cheese of any kind!”
—Joe and Katy Kindred, Kindred, Davidson, NC; parents of Alba, 4, and Luca, 2
“Our 4-year old son Luke just started pre-K, so my wife Katherine and I try to get creative with his slightly limited palate. We’ll whip up some Spanish tortilla; homemade apple-sauce with chia seeds; or baked oatmeal with blueberries. It’s important to have something with a little fiber and protein in there to keep him full! Unfortunately we have to steer clear of nuts because school lunches have to be nut free. Gone are the days of PB+J!”
—Gabe Thompson, L’Apicio, NYC; dad of Luke, 4
“My daughter is obsessed with Umi Mazuzaki from On Poppy Hill, a Miyazaki animated film. In the film, Umi, a Japanese teen, lives in a guest house and makes her own lunch and breakfast each morning. So we got a bento box and now we make cute lunches with small portions of pork chop, omelets, hard-boiled eggs, pickles, even fish cake. We write the menus together in the morning. The bento box keeps it looking tidy and tasty!”
—Alex Raij, La Vara, NYC; mom of Mayaan, 6, and Lucien, 3
“I make a lot of composed salads with protein from last night’s dinner and pack them in those little Lunchbot containers. Some favorites: roasted chicken, broccoli, almonds, and grapes with a little container of mustard dressing; tuna salad with sliced kale, carrots, olives, radish and cherry tomatoes; or a sushi rice salad with avocado, edamame, spinach, and sesame.”
—Suzanne Goin, Lucques, LA; mom of twins Jack and Alex, 8, and Charles, 6
“The dream lunches that I make my kids are unfortunately not reality because of allergies these days; schools can be quite strict. But we work with what we’ve got! I’ll make Chinese pork dumplings with cilantro and ginger or egg sandwiches on brioche with arugula. Once in awhile I’ll pack her some sashimi which she happens to love. We love to cook together at night, too, her favorites being orecchiette bolognese, chicken milanese and Spanakopita—all of which make great leftover lunches the next day.”
—Ken Oringer, Coppa, Boston; dad of Verveine, 6
Original article by Belle Cushing appears on Bon Appetit.