Let’s Talk Food: Packing a school lunch

  • Courtesy of AUDREY WILSON An assortment of nori cutters to make faces, vegetable cutters to make flowers or leaves and food cups to separate foods.
  • Courtesy of AUDREY WILSON Various shapes for rice balls.
  • Courtesy of AUDREY WILSON An assortment of lunch boxes.

Our grandson, Quentin, starts preschool next week and has the option to bring a lunch from home.

It is an interesting challenge to think about what to pack for lunch for a 3-year-old with definite likes. Because his dad is a chef, Quentin has been exposed to so many more different foods than most his age. Yes, he is typical because he loves spaghetti, macaroni and cheese and peanut butter sandwiches (check if the preschool is a peanut-free zone in consideration for any children with nut allergies). But he also loves Indian food, Mexican and Italian foods.


Mom Ariana is very good about trying to always get Quentin to eat his vegetables and fruits and he has been told many times that it makes him grow and get stronger. Macaroni and cheese at their house is made with grated carrots and milk; the milk turns color and looks like cheese. They use grated carrots or broccoli with some cheese for a vegetable-cheese quesadilla, and asparagus and broccoli are turned into trees and then these trees are eaten.

Cheese-Less Macaroni and Cheese

2 cups milk

1 cup grated carrots

Cook until carrots are cooked, then process in blender. Mix with cooked macaroni or other short pasta, flavor with salt and pepper.

• • •

If macaroni and cheese was dinner the night before, a macaroni and cheese sandwich can be made in the morning.

Macaroni and Cheese Sandwich

2 slices kid-friendly bread

2 slices cheddar cheese (Ariana does not like any processed cheese)

1/4 cup last night’s dinner macaroni and cheese

Place one slice cheese on bread, add mac and cheese and top with the second slice of cheese.

Place the second slice of bread, pan fry each side on low heat to brown and melt the cheese. Bread should be crisp and toasty.

Pack with slices of fruit, a few carrot sticks and fruit leather.

• • •

You also could pack hard-cooked eggs, peeled, with crackers, a fruit, vegetables and a snack. Another way to pack eggs is to make egg muffins.

Egg Muffins

1 tablespoon onion, finely minced

1/2 cup butternut squash, finely grated

2 eggs, slightly beaten

1/2 cup cheddar cheese, grated

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Spray 12 mini muffin cups, add egg mixture to fill 2/3 full. Bake for 16 minutes.

Remove from pan and pack for lunch.

• • •

Quentin loves a bean and cheese quesadilla, which is easy to make and pack. You could make it with cheddar cheese, beans (any type, but black beans are most nutritious) and add finely chopped broccoli. If you are short on time, spread cream cheese on one softened tortilla and place the second tortilla over it, slice into eight wedges and pack. Pack with edamame (Quentin first removes the string from the pod and then carefully eats the inside beans) in a small snack container along with cubed watermelon.

Bean Burrito

Recipe by Martha Stewart; can be made ahead and frozen

3/4 cup brown rice, cooked

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 medium onions, chopped

4 garlic cloves, chopped

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

Salt and pepper to taste

3 tablespoons tomato paste

3 cans (15 ounces) black or pinto beans, drained and rinsed

1 (10 ounce) frozen corn kernels

8 burrito-size flour tortilla, 10 inches

2 cups (8 ounces) shredded Monterey Jack cheese, shredded

Cook rice according to package directions, set aside.

Meanwhile, heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat, add onions, garlic and cumin. Be sure to cook onions well or a lot of time could be wasted picking out the onions at lunchtime.

Season with salt and pepper.

Add tomato paste and cook, stirring, 1 minute.

Add beans and 1 1/2 cups water, bring to boil, reduce heat to medium and simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened, 12 minutes.

Add corn, cook to heat through, 3 minutes. Remove from heat.

Heat tortillas according to package instructions, fill with rice, bean mixture and cheese.

Assembly: Mound 1/4 cup rice, 3/4 cup bean mixture and 1/4 cup cheese on one side of tortilla. Fold sides and hold them in. Starting from filled end, holding sides in as you work, tightly roll into a bundle. Place on a baking sheet, seam side and prepare remaining burritos.

Freeze remaining burritos for further packed lunches.

To reheat: Remove frozen burrito from plastic wrap. Place on a microwave-safe plate, microwave, covered in paper towel, on high for 3 minutes to defrost, uncover and microwave on high 3 more minutes. Wrap in lunch box. Pack with some fresh fruit and a fig bar.

• • •

Quentin also likes finger foods such as samosas and Chinese dim sum. They both pack well in a lunch box. These can be made the night before and packed for lunch.

In Japan, children’s lunches are whimsical and fun to look at as well as fun to eat. I always love to go to stores such as Tokyu Hands, to the section where they have rows and rows of lunch containers. The assortment of lunch boxes, complete with their own fork and spoon, as well as everything needed to make the home lunch look appealing, is always intriguing to me. I have nori (seaweed) cutters to make panda and happy faces and rice forms shaped like elephants, dogs, flowers and pandas. There also are vegetable cutters that could make a carrot like a flower or a leaf.

Food dividers come in colorful cups, the size of of a regular cupcake, to place fruits, vegetables and even cookies.


Correction: In my column about Kilauea Lodge’s new chef, Kurt Nelson, his wife’s name is Heather, not Heda. Sorry, Heather.

Email Audrey Wilson at audreywilson808@gmail.com.