New cookbooks help kids eat something good for lunch

Cox NewspapersSeptember 3, 2013 

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Are your kids’ lunch boxes ready?

Unless you’ve been making lunches for summer camps, are among the lucky parents whose kids love the school lunch or are bold enough to ask your kids to make their own school lunches, it’s time to start gearing up for the daily task of putting together a lunch that your kids will actually eat.

Two new cookbooks take totally different approaches to solving this all-too-familiar problem.

We'll start with “Weelicious Lunches: Think Outside the Lunch Box With More Than 160 Happier Meals” (William Morrow Cookbooks, $29.99), by Catherine McCord, a pretty traditional kid-focused cookbook aimed at parents of the younger set.

McCord, a former television host who founded about six years ago, has two preschool kids. Unlike her website, which focuses on baby and toddler food and some family meals, her second cookbook is aimed at helping school-age kids expand their palates and enjoy a wider variety of foods at lunch.

Think jam-filled breakfast bars, cinnamon pita chips, homemade fruit leathers, tomato soup with grilled cheese croutons, pancake PB&Js, hummuses (or would it be hummi?) made of roasted carrots, avocados and black beans, and a trio of banana sandwiches.

McCord tackles food allergies by offering tips about non-allergenic substitutes, including nut-free seed butters such as sunflower, sesame and flax, which are becoming more widely available in natural grocery stores. She includes a chart for all the recipes to indicate which are gluten-, dairy-, egg- and nut-free.

If you’re looking for healthier-than-usual recipes for muffins, cookies, bars and even baked doughnuts for birthday parties and school celebrations, this book is also for you.

On the other end of the spectrum is “Beating the Lunch Box Blues: Fresh Ideas for Lunches on the Go!” by J.M. Hirsch (Rachael Ray Books, $18). On the first page of his new book, Hirsch, the food editor of The Associated Press, decries what he calls the “lunch box cookbook”:

“If you’re one of those people who somehow finds the time to craft sandwiches into cutesy animals, or carve cheese into flowers and hearts … congratulations! And good luck with your therapy. Now go away.”

I love Hirsch’s recipes and his 2010 cookbook “High Flavor, Low Labor.” But he actively avoids traditional recipes in this photo-centric “un-cookbook,” which was inspired by the blog that he started a few years ago to chronicle the lunches he made for his now 9-year-old son, Parker.

Hirsch is very much a realist about how most parents put together lunches for their kids and themselves: by mixing and matching whatever’s already in the refrigerator into something that you won’t dread eating a few hours later (or the next day).

His best tips – make too much dinner on purpose so you have leftovers to work with, and use a Thermos to keep food, even non-soups like scrambled eggs or steamed broccoli, warm – will go a long way in keeping your lunches fresh. He also includes about 30 recipes for extra-large dinners with plenty of ideas for how to turn the excess into something else the next day.

Five-spice pot roast becomes a roast beef sandwich; fettuccine with pesto and chicken is the starting point for a grilled cheese-and-pesto sandwich one day and a chicken-pesto wrap the next.

This is a technique that I, as a leftovers lunch-eater myself, can appreciate. But my kids aren’t the kinds of eaters who will go for a sweet pepper and white bean salad or hoisin-glazed meatloaf sandwich made with extras from last night’s dinner.

Adults battling the lunch box blues might get more out of Hirsch’s book than their kids, but it’s also a good buy for middle and high school students with evolving palates who are packing their own lunches and getting tired of ham and cheese sandwiches.

Banana Dog Bites From “Weelicious Lunches: Think Outside the Lunch Box With More Than 160 Happier Meals,” by Catherine McCord (William Morrow Cookbooks, $29.99). McCord came up with Banana Dogs to vary the monotony of peanut butter sandwiches. Her young son helps make them, then she slices them “sushi-style.” 2 tortillas 1/4 cup peanut butter or almond or sunflower butter 2 bananas, peeled

PLACE 1 tortilla on a flat surface and spread 2 tablespoons of peanut butter on the tortilla to coat it evenly. Place one whole banana near the edge of the tortilla and roll it up. Slice the banana dog into 1/2-inch rounds. Repeat to make a second banana dog and serve.

YIELD: 1 serving. Penne With Sausage and Broccolini From “Beating the Lunch Box Blues: Fresh Ideas for Lunches on the Go!” by J.M. Hirsch (Rachael Ray Books, $18). Hirsch says this works with any variety of sausage, from bulk sausage to chicken, turkey or even soy sausage. You can use other pastas, but follow the directions not to drain it. The starchy cooking water helps form the sauce. 1 (12-ounce) box penne pasta 2 pounds bulk sausage 1 large yellow onion, diced 1/4 teaspoons red pepper flakes 2 bunches broccolini (about 1 pound total), roughly chopped (see note) 1 (14-ounce) can artichoke hearts, halved 1 1/2 cups grated Parmesan cheese Kosher salt and ground black pepper

BRING a large saucepan of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook for 5 minutes. Set the pot aside off the heat. Do not drain.

HEAT a large saute pan over medium-high. Add the sausage, onion and pepper flakes and brown for 8 minutes or until the meat is nearly cooked. Add the broccolini and saute for a minute longer. Add the artichoke hearts and saute for another minute.

USING a slotted spoon, transfer the pasta from the cooking water to the saute pan. It’s OK to get some of the water; this helps form the sauce. If your pan is not large enough to accommodate everything, you can instead combine everything in a large bowl. Stir in the Parmesan cheese until melted. Season with salt and pepper.

NOTE: Substitute broccoli florets, baby spinach (reduce the cooking time) or peas for the broccolini.

YIELD: 4 servings, plus leftovers Spicy Peanut Turkey Sandwich Adapted from “Beating the Lunch Box Blues,” by J.M. Hirsch. 1/4 cup creamy peanut butter 2 tablespoons jarred salsa 2 slices home-style white bread About 1 cup sliced turkey Lettuce Tomato slices

COMBINE peanut butter and salsa to make an instant spicy peanut sauce. Spread on two slices of bread.

TOP one slice of bread with turkey, lettuce and tomato, then finish with the second slice of bread. Slice sandwich and wrap.

YIELD: 1 sandwich. Roasted Carrot Hummus From “Weelicious Lunches,” by Catherine McCord. It holds up well in an unrefrigerated lunch box and it’s high in protein, particularly helpful for parents with vegetarian or vegan kids. Serve it with crackers or raw vegetables, or use it as a sandwich spread. 3 large carrrots, peeled and cut in 1-inch pieces 1 clove garlic 2 teaspoons olive oil 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt 1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas (also known as garbanzo beans), drained and rinsed 2 tablespoons lemon juice 2 tablespoons peanut butter (or almond butter, sunflower butter or tahini)

PREHEAT oven to 400 degrees. Place the carrots and the whole garlic clove on a baking sheet. Drizzle with the olive oil, sprinkle with salt and toss to coat.

ROAST for 45 minutes, or until the carrots are fork-tender and starting to caramelize.

PLACE all the ingredients in a food processor and puree until smooth.

NOTE: You can thin the hummus with olive oil or hot water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until desired consistency is reached.

YIELD: 2 cups.

Addie Broyles writes for the Austin American-Statesman. Email:

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