January 23, 2019

Pack your kid’s lunch with a side of fun

If you have children in school, you know that making a lunch that pleases both you and your kids is not an easy assignment. Think of it as the school-lunch challenge. To help, get them involved with planning a meal, because they’re more likely to eat it if they were part of packing it.

My daughter-in-law, Amy Zeidler, remembers when her busy mom made assorted sandwiches such as peanut butter and jelly, then wrapped them in wax paper and stored them in the freezer. In the morning, she would take out one of the sandwiches and pack it in the lunch box with a salad or fruit, and the sandwich would stay fresh until lunchtime. (What a great idea!)

Here are some other ideas on how to make your kids prefer their box lunches over the cafeteria. For protein, there’s good old peanut butter — we prefer the crunchy kind and often add a layer of Nutella, sliced banana or sliced marshmallows — but the kids might also enjoy a Sweet Pea Guacamole dip, Egg or Tuna Salad Sandwich, or even a thermos full of chili.

When serving tuna, egg, chicken or pasta salad, mix in shredded carrots, apples, zucchini, bell peppers, raisins, nuts — anything to add nutrition and fiber without adding lots of empty calories.

And it’s OK to add the ever-popular potato chips to the lunch box. You can choose from many herbs and spiced varieties, and they come in just the right portion size: little bags.

Surprise your kids by making or buying fortune cookies, then putting little sayings in them. Our son Paul always wrote wonderful messages or jokes on the napkins that he put in his kids’ lunch bags. Try it and you’ll see how much they look forward to checking out their lunch boxes. (If you want to get really crazy, write a note with an ink marker on the outside peel of a banana.) 

For a different dessert, try my recipe for Ladyfingers. They are as light as a feather and delicious. Don’t forget to pack a few extra for your kids to share with their best friends. While you’re at it, make sure to include my favorite idea — an apple for the teacher.


I always keep hard-boiled eggs in the fridge. It is a lunch staple for us, especially when we can’t think of anything to eat. I love adding diced fresh fennel instead of celery, along with red peppers and green or red onions. Don’t forget to make and freeze the sandwich the night before.

  • 4 hard-cooked eggs, finely chopped
  • 1 stalk celery or fresh fennel, finely chopped
  • 1/3 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 teaspoon yellow mustard
  • 2 tablespoons red onions or green onions, minced (optional)
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 8 slices bread
  • 4 lettuce leaves, optional


Place eggs and celery in a mixing bowl. In a small bowl, stir together mayonnaise, mustard, red onion, salt and pepper. Pour mayonnaise mixture over egg mixture, toss gently to combine.

Place 1/2 cup on four slices of bread, top with lettuce leaf and top with remaining four slices.

Makes 4 sandwiches.


Sweet dill pickles give this Tuna Salad Sandwich a little kick. For a special treat, make your sandwich with thick slices of raisin-nut bread.

  • 1 (6-ounce) can tuna, drained
  • 1 tablespoon mayonnaise
  • 1 teaspoon sweet pickle relish (optional)
  • 1 stalk celery or fresh fennel, chopped
  • 1/2 cup diced red onion (optional)
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 2 lettuce leaves
  • 4 slices bread


In a medium bowl, mash tuna with a fork. Add mayonnaise, pickle relish, celery, onion and salt and pepper to taste. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

Place about 1/2 cup of the tuna mixture on each of two slices of bread and top with a lettuce leaf and remaining two slices of bread. 

Makes 2 sandwiches.


Unless you grow your own peas, frozen ones work better because the color is more vibrant and you don’t need lemon to keep them green.

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
  • 1/2 cup cilantro leaves, trimmed of long stems
  • 1 pound frozen peas, defrosted
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup finely diced red onion (optional)


Combine oil, lime juice and cilantro in a blender or food processor and blend until cilantro is roughly pureed. Add peas, cumin, salt and pepper and blend until smooth. There will still be some lumps, but this adds to the textural interest of the guacamole. Scrape into a mixing bowl and add the diced red onion. Serve as a dip with potato chips. 

Makes 1 cup.


  • 3 eggs, separated 
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup powdered sugar, sifted
  • 3/4 cup sifted flour


Preheat oven to 350 F.

In the large bowl of an electric mixer, beat the egg whites with the salt until they begin to thicken. Gradually add the granulated sugar and continue beating until they form a stiff meringue, about 1 minute. Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat the egg yolks, vanilla and powdered sugar for 3 to 4 minutes, until thick and light in color. Gently fold the yolk mixture into the meringue. Sift small amounts of the flour on top of the meringue mixture, folding until completely absorbed, but do not over-mix.

Line a baking sheet with foil, then oil and flour the foil. Fit a pastry bag with a plain, round tip (5/8 inch in diameter). With a rubber spatula, carefully fill the bag with the meringue and pipe ribbons of batter 3 inches long and 1 inch wide on the prepared baking sheet. 

Bake for 6 to 8 minutes, or until evenly brown and somewhat crisp. Remove from the oven and use a metal spatula to transfer them to racks to cool. Store in an airtight container. 

Makes about 24 cookies.

Judy Zeidler is a food consultant, cooking teacher and author of “Italy Cooks” (Mostarda Press, 2011). Her website is judyzeidler.com