Cookbook is full of ideas for easier school lunches

  • By Bill Daley Chicago Tribune
  • Monday, September 30, 2013 5:50pm
  • Life

J.M. Hirsch may be The Associated Press food editor and a cookbook author, but the Concord, N.H., resident still found it a challenge to make school lunches for his son.

Determined to do his best, he launched a blog,, to chronicle his efforts. That, in turn, has led to a new book, “Beating the Lunch Box Blues” ($18).

What Hirsch discovered along the way was that by letting go of the traditional idea of what school lunch should be (PB&J ad nauseam) and treating it as just another meal where anything can and does go, he could free himself to create delicious, healthy and creative lunches for his son.

As the book makes clear, anyone can make, pack and enjoy a good, tasty lunch — child, teen or adult. But here are some tips Hirsch offers specifically geared toward school lunches.

Make too much dinner. “There’s nothing worse than waking up in the morning, going to the refrigerator and wondering, ‘Now what?’” Hirsch says. Last night’s leftovers become the building blocks for today’s lunch.

Keep lunch-making simple and fast. “Nothing you do in the morning should take more than five minutes,” Hirsch says.

Little changes can make a big difference in your kids’ lunches. Take sandwiches. Experiment with different types of bread or make sandwiches using leftover pancakes or frozen waffles. “It gets them interested and excited,” he says.

Kids love DIY lunches. One idea: Steak tacos. Pack thinly sliced rare steak, tortillas and all the fixings in little packets for your kid to assemble at lunch.

Remember who’s the boss, but be smart about it. “Lunch is not a democracy. I don’t have time for my little 9-year-old dictator to tell me what he wants to bring to school,” Hirsch says, laughing.

1 Bird, 6 Lunches

J.M. Hirsch riffs on a rotisserie chicken with this weeklong series of lunch ideas.

Sunday: Buy a rotisserie chicken at the supermarket. Pick off the meat; refrigerate.

Monday: Pulled chicken sandwich. Toss shredded chicken in barbecue sauce, either hot or cold. If hot, pack sauced chicken in a thermos and serve bun on the side. If cold, spoon onto bun; pack in lunch box.

Tuesday: Chicken pasta salad. Combine chicken with leftover pasta, add dressings, leftover vegetables, seasonings.

Wednesday: Traditional chicken salad. Combine chicken with mayonnaise or honey mustard, add leftover vegetables and seasonings. Serve with bread of your choice.

Thursday: Grilled chicken cheese waffle sandwich. Thaw two frozen waffles. Place chicken and shredded cheese between the waffles and toast in a skillet.

Friday: Thai chicken salad sandwich. Use coconut milk in place of mayonnaise, stir in some fresh herbs such as basil, and accent with a shot of hot sauce. Serve with bread of your choice.

Saturday: Chicken-hummus dunk. Chop chicken, toss with barbecue sauce or dressing of your choice. Spoon onto container of store-bought hummus. Serve with flatbreads, tortillas, chips for dunking.

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