School uniforms -- check. New sneakers -- check. Book bags -- check. Football schedule printed, stuck on fridge -- check. All that's left is figuring out the lunchbox, right?
Instead of the usual PB&J and chips, why not infuse your kids' school-day lunch with a few innovations? And why not make those new ideas of the healthful variety?
Because you have enough to deal with as the new school year begins, we consulted local chefs to find out what you can make and pack in the lunchbox that's quick and nutritious. Oh, and we specified that it needed to taste good, too.
Here are their creations, all light and flavorful. They'll give your little scholars good energy at midday and break up the sandwich monotony. We've also found some lunchboxes and accessories that will make transport easy and keep foods cool. Be sure to pack an extra bottle of water; hydration matters even after the temperatures drop later in the fall.
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Tom McGrath, executive chef of the Community Kitchen Program at the Tarrant Area Food Bank and owner of Ultimate Cuisine and Events in Fort Worth, came up with a variation on the wrap. He crafted this with an eye toward son Alex, 9, who “doesn’t love bread like I do. The pretzel rod gives him that crunch he always craves.”
Serves 1 to 2
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon chives
2 thin slices smoked ham
2 thin slices turkey
1 pretzel rod
1. Mix the cream cheese, mustard, honey and chives together with a fork.
2. Layer a slice each of the ham and turkey, alternating, the length of the pretzel rod. Spread the cream cheese mixture onto the ham and turkey. Place the pretzel rod at the edge of the meat and cream cheese mixture and roll up, overlapping. Let sit in the refrigerator until the cream cheese sets up, about 30 minutes.
3. Cut with a sharp knife through the middle. Wrap tightly in plastic to keep fresh. Place in lunch box or plastic container with insulation to keep cool.
Nutritional analysis per serving, based on 1: 564 calories, 41 grams fat, 23 grams carbohydrates, 21 grams protein, 153 milligrams cholesterol, 1,281 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber, 68 percent of calories from fat.
Rice salad with fruits and nuts
Vance Martin, owner of Lili’s Bistro on Magnolia Avenue, counts the bulgur wheat salad on his menu among the restaurant’s bestselling items. Making a lunch for daughter Lili, 8, he tweaked the ingredients a bit to substitute rice as the grain. You can serve some for your child’s lunch and use the rest to accompany grilled chicken or fish for a family supper.
2 cups cooked white or brown rice
1/4 cup minced cilantro
2 tablespoons dried cherries
2 tablespoons dried cranberries
2 tablespoons banana chips, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons salted pistachios, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon orange juice
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
1 teaspoon salt
1. Mix rice, cilantro, fruit and nuts together in a bowl.
2. In a separate bowl, whisk dressing ingredients together then toss with rice mixture. Cover and chill.
Nutritional analysis per serving: 329 calories, 18 grams fat, 38 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams protein, no cholesterol, 540 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber, 49 percent of calories from fat.
Carrot dip and pita chips
Callie Salls, a private chef whose Fort Worth company is called Linguine and Dirty Martinis, knows how to make a simple vegetable, such as a carrot, sing. By adding citrus and a touch of honey to roasted carrots, she has created a dip that your kids will love as much as you do. Salls notes that the dip “can be pureed with an additional 1/4 cup whole milk to turn into vegetable baby food for families with smaller children, or you can also puree it with an addition of 1 tablespoon chipotles in adobo to provide a colorful, spiced sandwich spread for adults.”
Makes 1½ cups dip and 16 pita chips
1 pound carrots, peeled and chopped uniformly
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided use
2 rounds whole wheat pita bread, cut into eighths
1/4 teaspoon smoked sweet Spanish paprika
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
3/4 cup whole milk
2 tablespoons honey
Juice of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. On a baking sheet, toss carrots with 2 tablespoons olive oil and roast until tender, approximately 45 minutes.
2. On another baking sheet, sprinkle pita chips with 1 tablespoon olive oil, smoked paprika and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Bake at 400 degrees until crisp, approximately 8-10 minutes.
3. When carrots finish cooking, place in a food processor with milk, honey, lemon juice/zest and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Puree to a smooth spread. Serve at room temperature or chilled with baked pita chips.
Nutritional analysis per serving (2 tablespoons dip): 51 calories, 3 grams fat, 7 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram protein, 2 milligrams cholesterol, 19 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber, 43 percent of calories from fat.
Nutritional analysis per serving (2 pita chips): 62 calories, 2 grams fat, 9 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams protein, no cholesterol, 204 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber, 31 percent of calories from fat.
Petite spring rolls
Restaurateur-chef Hui Chuan, longtime owner of the restaurant by the same name on Camp Bowie Boulevard in Fort Worth, has been making Asian dishes with her children since they were small. Iian, a student at Paschal High School, has spent plenty of time crafting spring rolls alongside his mom, so your kids can learn to make these with you. Look for items like this to show up on the menu at Chuan’s forthcoming casual noodle house, which she hopes to open later this year or in early 2012.
Makes 1 small roll
1 small piece of rice paper (approximately 8 inches round)
1 ounce sliced turkey, cut into 2-inch strips
1/2 romaine lettuce leaf
1 ounce cooked rice noodles
1/2 ounce fresh steamed bean sprouts
1 small carrot, julienned into 3-4 thin strips
1. To make rolls, lightly glaze rice paper with sprinkles of hot water for approximately 5 seconds until rice paper is moist. Place rice paper on countertop, add a few drops of hot water and smooth over surface with hand until rice paper is flat and the texture is softer.
2. Place turkey on top of rice paper, followed by romaine lettuce leaf, noodles, bean sprouts and carrots. After all ingredients are stacked on top of each other, fold rice paper in a 1/3 fold toward you, enough to cover all ingredients, similar to folding up the “bottom” of a burrito. Fold left and right sides toward center. Then tightly fold the rest of the way until the roll is complete.
3. Dip in Thai sweet and sour sauce: Mix 1 tablespoon Mae Ploy Sweet Chilli Sauce (available at Central Market, Whole Foods and Asian markets) with 1/2 teaspoon sugar and 1 teaspoon of concentrated real lemon juice.
Nutritional analysis per roll: 223 calories, 1 gram fat, 45 grams carbohydrates, 9 grams protein, 16 milligrams cholesterol, 433 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber, 2 percent of calories from fat.
Peanut butter and apple cookies
Heather Kurima, director of the Culinary School of Fort Worth, says one of the easiest goodies in the school’s recipe repertoire are these cookies because there is no baking involved. Best of all, the preparation is fast. Look for the variation that turns these into chocolate goodness. Like all the recipes here, you will want to pack these with a freeze-block to keep them cool in an insulated lunch bag.
Makes 20 cookies
1/2 cup low-fat peanut butter
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup mini-marshmallows
2 cups whole-grain cereal, such as Kashi GoLean
1. In a microwave-safe bowl, mix peanut butter, applesauce, cinnamon and marshmallows. Microwave for 1 minute. Add the whole-grain cereal and stir until well-combined.
2. Scoop into balls about the size of ping-pong balls and place on a plate. Put in refrigerator to set for about 10-20 minutes. Note: Add 1 tablespoon cocoa powder to the peanut butter mixture for a chocolate variation. Drizzle chocolate sauce on top before chilling in refrigerator.
Nutritional analysis per cookie: 71 calories, 3 grams fat, 8 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams protein, no cholesterol, 53 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber, 36 percent of calories from fat.