Now that peanuts are banned at your children's school, packing the standard PB&J is out. And your kid has had your signature turkey sandwich so many times he could probably make it for an Applegate Farms commercial. It's time to shake lunch up (and ditch that perfunctory baggie of carrots and celery you know they're tossing). So we tracked down celebrity chef dads and convinced them to reveal their secrets — and go-to meals — for feeding their kids and fueling their school days. What they shared were shockingly simple but delicious meals that you’ll want to steal for your own lunch.
If you want to make sure your kid isn’t trading away their lunchbox, look to Michael White, who's first up in our series on transforming school lunch. The Michelin star chef and owner of acclaimed restaurants Ai Fiori and Marea, regularly makes lunch for his daughter Francesca, 12, inspired by his culinary expertise in Italian cooking. These are his tried-and-true strategies for winning the school-kid-lunch-crowd game.
Plan for leftovers.
White uses leftovers to throw together a high caliber lunch in minutes. He simply tosses the ingredients together as he’s putting away leftovers from dinner so that it’s ready to go in the A.M. He also allows this process to inform his dinner menu for the week: Since, he knows he's going to use elements from dinner to make lunch the next day, he focuses on foods that can be easily repurposed with different toppings, spices, and sauces. Often, Francesca’s opening up a lunchbox to find a transformed side salad made main-dish worthy with the addition of protein and a grain (rice is boring, kids love wheels, orzo, and other, more interesting, pasta shapes). Make a little extra of each dinner component so that you have leftovers to alter for lunches.
Kids get bored almost instantly when they see the same thing at lunch that they had at dinner the night before, so reimagine your leftovers. They don’t have to be big changes, though. “If I make a pasta dish with roasted vegetables for dinner, I will throw them in a salad the next day as a side to the pasta just to change things up for lunch,” White says. (Try a quick dressing of one part brown rice vinegar, two parts olive oil, and a squeeze of honey and of lemon.) Or he'll use leftover vegetables from a salad and add extra virgin olive oil-packed tuna, white beans, and quinoa to give it more heft.
Don’t underestimate their palate.
White says the best way to make sure your kids actually eat their lunch when you’re not around is to make it too good to trade away. “If everyone else wants your lunch, then you have the best lunch. Create demand!” he says. He’s not afraid to use bold flavors like horseradish to accomplish that, either. The key, he says, is balance so new flavors don't become overwhelming, and to know your kid's tastes. He’ll also “mix it up sometimes with classics like PB&J. Kids don’t want gourmet all the time.”
Try this steak sandwich.
Here's the sandwich you need now: A leftover grilled steak sandwich on ciabatta with horseradish and arugula. If there's no way in hell your kid will try horseradish (or you just don't have it lying around), swap it for mayo or a combination of equal parts honey and mustard to balance out the arugula's peppery bite.
Turn hearty foods healthy.
White says the trick to making sure your kid is getting a nutritious lunch is to “stick greens in everything, including meatballs and pastas.” But if your kid sees red at the sight of something green on their plate, use other veggies. Pureed cauliflower can be a great way to bulk up creamy pasta sauces without throwing the color or flavor off. And if you’re making a pesto, toss in a handful of spinach or kale along with a scoop of walnuts for a nice nutrient lift. Making a creamy soup? Puree rolled oats or cooked rice into the base to thicken it up without relying on heavy cream.