Yet it often can be uninteresting and unhealthy, likely made with processed meats and cheeses or sugary peanut butter mashed between flavorless slices of refined-grain bread.
By lunchtime, too, a sandwich can be soggy; half or more may end up in the trash can.
To add variety, excitement and nutrients to your children's lunchbox menu this year, consider these recipes provided by four chefs who have school-age kids of their own.
The mini meals, some of which could double as dinner the night before in larger portions, provide a means for serving fruits, vegetables and legumes in a tasty, finger- licking way -- sure to make your child's lunchtime almost as fun as recess.
Japanese meatballs with tare sauce
3/4 pound ground beef, 20 percent fat
1/4 pound ground pork
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, chopped
2 tablespoons garlic, minced
1/2 cup chopped white onion
2 tablespoons soy sauce
Salt and pepper, to taste
In a medium bowl, mix all ingredients together. Form into small, quarter-size balls. Allow meatballs to chill in fridge until firm.
Saute meatballs over medium heat until golden brown, then toss with tare sauce (recipe follows).
Makes approximately 16 meatballs. Per meatball: 87 calories, 7 grams fat, 1 gram carbohydrates, 5 grams protein, 35 milligrams cholesterol, 159 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber, 72 percent of calories from fat.
2 ounces sugar
2 ounces soy sauce
5 ounces water
Cook all ingredients in a small sauce pot over medium heat until the mixture has the consistency of maple syrup.
Makes approximately 2/3 cup, per 1-tablespoon serving: 25 calories, trace fat, 6 grams carbohydrates, trace protein, no cholesterol, 324 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber, 0 percent of calories from fat.
Green chile chicken squash sliders
2 cups cooked chicken, shredded or pulled (chicken thighs or whatever is on hand.)
1/4 cup finely diced onion
1/4 cup finely diced celery
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/4 cup diced green chiles
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 yellow summer squash, raw and unpeeled
Combine all ingredients except squash, and keep chilled.
Slice squash into four lengthwise strips, remove any seeds, and cut each strip into approximately three pieces to create slider "buns."
Assemble each slider using a scoop of green chile chicken mixture and two squash pieces.
Makes about 6 sliders. Per slider: 162 calories, 9 grams fat, 2 grams carbohydrates, 17 grams protein, 51 milligrams cholesterol, 137 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber, 52 percent of calories from fat.
Mark Hitri, executive chef, Billy Bob's Texas, Fort Worth
Cannellini bean dip
2 cups cooked cannellini beans, rinsed
1/3 cup sauteed shallots
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt (see note)
Use a food processor or immersion hand blender to blend all ingredients together until smooth. Serve with pita chips.
Note: Chandra Riccetti uses Morton's Iodized Salt, "because American diets don't have iodine."
Chef's tip: Use this ingredient list to make Tuscan bean soup by adding 1 quart of chicken or vegetable stock. Stir everything together, heat and serve.
Makes approximately 2 1/2 cups. Per 1-tablespoon serving: 21 calories, 1 gram fat, 2 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram protein, no cholesterol, 27 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber, 41 percent of calories from fat.
Chandra Riccetti, owner and chef, The Bastion Restaurant, Fort Worth
Barbecue salmon fillet with cucumbers, tomatoes and feta
1 salmon fillet
Salt and pepper, to taste
Barbecue sauce, to taste
3 tomato slices
5-6 cucumber slices
Feta cheese crumbles, for garnish
Season salmon with salt and pepper on both sides, then coat both sides with barbecue sauce.
Grill until salmon is done and sauce is slightly caramelized. Allow to cool before storing in fridge overnight.
Season tomato and cucumber slices with salt and pepper and top with feta crumbles.
Makes 1 serving: 240 calories, 7 grams fat, 7 grams carbohydrates, 36 grams protein, 91 milligrams cholesterol, 283 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber, 27 percent of calories from fat.
Vance Martin, owner and chef,
Lili's Bistro, Fort Worth
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