Spicing Up Brown Bag Lunches

It’s time for parents to start packing school lunches again. We enlisted the help of some of Washington’s best chefs for easy and healthy lunch recipes.

By: MJ Lee

Back to School Guide

Tips From the Pros
Greening Your Back-to-School Shopping List
What to Do After School
Back to School 2.0: Gadgets for Students
Great First Day Clothes for Girls
Great First Day Clothes for Boys
Spicing Up Brown Bag Lunches
Getting In To Top Colleges

Chef Vikram Sunderam with his daughter, Nidhi, and his son, Viraj.

Chef Vikram Sunderam of Rasika has a 14-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son. A typical brown-bag lunch for his kids includes a sandwich, fruit, granola bar, and fruit juice. “Sandwiches are quick and easy to make and ideal for kids because you can really vary the filling,” says Sunderam. “You can easily make them nutritional, too.”

Sunderam shares simple and flavorful sandwich and wrap recipes to mix up the old PB&J routine.

Cucumber-and-Chutney Sandwich

Makes 4 sandwiches


8 slices of whole-wheat bread, or any bread of your choice, buttered
1 cucumber, thinly sliced

For the chutney:
1 cup cilantro, washed and chopped
½ cup mint, washed and chopped
2 Thai green chilies
5 ounces ginger, peeled and cut
4 cloves peeled garlic
2 tablespoons lemon juice
½ teaspoon sugar
Salt to taste
Water, as needed

Blend all the ingredients for the chutney into a smooth, thick paste in a food processor. Use water to adjust the consistency while blending; it should be smooth and thick. Spread 1 tablespoon of chutney on four of the buttered bread slices, and arrange the cucumber slices on top. Repeat with the rest of the bread. Keep the sandwiches cold.


Grilled Chicken Wraps with Mint-and-Yogurt Chutney

Makes 4 wraps

For the mint-and-yogurt chutney:
1 cup cilantro
½ cup mint
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
2 Thai green chilies
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 cup full- or low-fat plain yogurt
Salt, to taste

In a food processor, blend all the chutney ingredients except the yogurt into a finely chopped but thick paste. Add a little water if the chutney is too thick. In a mixing bowl, combine the paste with the yogurt. Add salt to taste.

Preparing the chicken wrap:
4 8-ounce chicken breasts, grilled and cut into thin strips
½ head romaine lettuce, shredded
2 plum tomatoes, thinly sliced
1 bell pepper, julienned
4 tablespoons mint-and-yogurt chutney
4 8-inch whole-wheat tortilla wraps

Toss the chicken, lettuce, tomatoes, and bell peppers with the chutney. Fill each tortilla wrap and roll. Serve cold. 

>> Next page: Recipes from Cathal and Meshelle Armstrong
Cathal and Meschelle Armstrong with daughter, Eve, and son, Eamonn. Photograph by Stacy Zarin

Cathal and Meshelle Armstrong, the husband-and-wife team behind Restaurant Eve, Eamonn’s, and The Majestic, named their first restaurants after their children, Eve, 10, and Eamonn, 7. According to Meshelle, the secret to getting their kids to eat well is involving them in the process as much as possible—from grocery shopping to the table.“Take them with you to the farmers market to pick what they’re going to bring as a snack to school,” says Meshelle. “Give them their own bag and let them go to town. There’ll be little complaining and moaning when they see you’ve packed them the peach they chose themselves.”

Eamonn’s R.L.T. (Rasher, Lettuce, and Tomato Sandwich)

Makes 1 sandwich

1½ back rashers (leaner than bacon)
2 slices wheat bread, toasted
½ tomato (or 1 small tomato), sliced
2 or 3 leaves romaine lettuce
One large spoonful homemade mayonnaise (see below for recipe)
Cheddar cheese, sliced, as needed (optional)

In a pan set over medium-low heat, sauté the back rashers, then pat them dry. Wrap the bread and a few rasher strips in tin foil. In a separate container, pack the sliced tomatoes and romaine lettuce. Put the mayonnaise in a small container and pack a blunt-edged spreading knife.

Meshelle’s tip: Separating everything in individual containers stops the bread from getting soggy. Eamonn puts the R.L.T. sandwich together at school, and he likes it because he can show his pals that he can “cook.”


Homemade Mayonnaise

Makes about 1 cup, enough for five sandwiches


1 large organic egg yolk
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon water
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 cup canola oil

Combine the yolk, salt, water, and lemon juice in a mixing bowl. Fold a hand towel into a ring on the counter and set the bowl into it to hold it steady while you whisk the ingredients together. While whisking vigorously and constantly, slowly drip in the oil (it helps to measure out the oil into a cup that pours well in a thin stream, or you can start your emulsion by drizzling the oil off a spoon). After the emulsion turns creamy, add the oil more quickly a thin stream. From the beginning, the mixture should look creamy and be thick enough to hold its shape. Store in the coldest part of fridge.


Easy-Peasy Fruit Kabobs

Bamboo skewers for however many kabobs you want to make.
Grapes, raspberries, cubed pineapple, and cubed cantaloupe, or any other fruit, as needed

Cut the bamboo skewers in half. Squeeze a little lemon on the fruits that turn brown. Alternating colors, thread the fruit pieces on each skewer. 

>> Next page: Recipes from Danny Bortnick
Danny Bortnick with sons Jonah and Judah.

Firefly’s Danny Bortnick has two young sons. Last year, when four-year-old Jonah started preschool, peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches weren’t an option because of the school’s ban on peanut butter. Bortnick found other ways to make a quick sandwich and snacks.

For his pesto-and-cheese sandwich, Bortnick says the potential add-ons are endless—he suggests grilled zucchini, roasted bell peppers, roast turkey, tomato, cucumbers, fried egg, bologna, baby spinach, or tuna salad.

Pesto-and-Cheese on Multigrain Bread
 
This recipe makes 2 cups of pesto.

½ cup pine nuts
2 garlic cloves, chopped
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
½ pound basil leaves, chopped
Salt and pepper, to taste

Place all the ingredients in a food processor and pulse to combine.

Multi-grain sandwich bread (2 pieces per sandwich)
White chedder or Gruyère cheese, sliced, to taste

Spread 1 tablespoon of pesto on each slice of bread and top with a few slices of cheese.

Dips ’n’ Stix

Bortnick pairs the following dips with pretzel rods, carrot sticks, and bell-pepper slices.

Hummus

Makes 1 quart

2 cups canned chickpeas, rinsed
¼ cup tahini
4 cloves garlic
1 lemon, juiced
¼ cup blended olive oil
1 cup water
Salt and pepper, to taste

Place the chickpeas, tahini, and garlic in a food processor and pulse. Process into a smooth dip with water, lemon juice, olive oil, and water, and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Buttermilk-Herb Dressing (a.k.a. Ranch)

Makes 1 quart

1 cup buttermilk
2 cups mayonnaise
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon chopped chives
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 tablespoon chopped chervil
1 tablespoon chopped dill
1 tablespoon minced shallots
1 tablespoon minced garlic
Salt and pepper, to taste

Combine all ingredients and season to taste.


Cheddar-Cheese Crackers

Makes 2 quarts, which feeds three kids for a week

8 ounces shredded cheddar cheese
4 ounces grated Parmesan
1½ cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon kosher salt
4 ounces butter cut into small pieces
4 tablespoons water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place the cheddar, Parmesan, flour, and salt in a food processor, and process until well mixed. Add the butter and pulse until the texture is coarse. While running the processor, add water until dough just comes together. Remove dough and roll into logs that are approximately 1-inch in diameter. Refrigerate until firm. Slice the logs into ¼-inch thick coins and bake for 10 minutes.

Oat Cookies

Makes two dozen large cookies

6 ounces butter at room temperature
1 cup light brown sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1¾ cups all-purpose flour
2 cups rolled oats

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugars until light and fluffy on medium speed. Add the baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon, and mix until well blended. Reduce the mixer’s speed to medium-low and add the eggs and vanilla. Reduce the speed to low and add the flour and oats, scraping down sides as necessary. Scrape the dough together and chill for 1 hour.

Using a teaspoon, drop small balls of dough onto a baking sheet. Flatten each ball and bake for about 15 minutes or until light brown but still fairly soft. Set aside to cool.


Banana Bread

Makes 1 loaf

4 bananas, smashed
1⁄3 cup butter, melted
1 cup sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
1½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 pinch salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Mix the bananas, butter, and sugar by hand. Stir in the egg and vanilla. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, and salt. Stir in the banana mixture.

Spoon the batter into a buttered loaf pan. Bake for about 45 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.