The Ultimate Guide to Packing Lunches
Photo: Vanessa Rees
Get the recipe: Warm Maple-Mustard Dressing
Photo: Matthew Mead
Copyright © 2013 by J.M. Hirsch, from Beating the
Lunch Box Blues, published by Rachael Ray/Atria
Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
Nothing against egg salad on spongy whole wheat, but the textural difference between dry bread and juicy fillings is one of the things we love best about sandwiches. Susie Cover, a former caterer and private chef and a mother of two, has figured out how to prepare the standard lunch food the night before and still have it taste fresh. Her first choice for bread is a wrap; she finds whole wheat or whole grain versions keep best. She also likes a hearty baguette or ciabatta. But bread alone won't combat mushiness. It's important to keep any sauce—like honey mustard or pesto mayonnaise—on the side. Cover packs the sandwich along with a container (these test tube-like vials are perfect) of sauce that you or your child can dip the sandwich into as you eat. Another idea, straight from the streets of Nice in southern France: Make a pan bagnat, a tuna sandwich that actually improves the longer it sits.
Repurposing last night's meal sounds admirable...until 1 p.m. rolls around and you open up a plastic container holding the suddenly pathetic-looking remains of Parmesan-crusted chicken breast and potatoes with onions. Your homemade food deserves better. One tactic is to toss cooked vegetables with a versatile vinaigrette, like this one from Colin Cowie, which has infinite variations. Another is to take whatever vegetables and protein (chicken, pork, beef, shrimp) you used the night before for dinner, chop them all into a uniform size and combine them with a cooked grain, like whole wheat Israeli couscous, for a brand new dish (just watch out for fish and other foods that tend to have a strong smell when warmed in a microwave). We also love this ingenious use of last night's pasta for Chilled Peanut Noodles.
Spreads don't just add flavor; they also act as glue to hold a sandwich's other ingredients together. Picky eaters can carry on with mayonnaise and mustard, but there are many fruited, spiced sauces and spreads that can make a plain turkey sandwich taste exotic. Fischer & Wieser Mango Ginger Habanero Sauce, for instance, is ideal with roast beef and Cheddar on a dark pumpernickel, and Harvest Song Sour Cherry Preserves adds a bright flavor to roast turkey, arugula, a semisoft cheese like robiola and seven-grain bread.
Photo: Emma Boys
Chef and caterer Kate McMillan, who has three daughters, makes sandwiches with fruit for everyone in her family. Some of her favorites include mashed avocado with sliced Asian pear or pomegranate seeds; strawberry jam, strawberry slices and goat cheese; honey, almond butter and banana; and apple, Cheddar and peanut butter. (If peanut and almond butters aren't allowed at your child's school, try NoNuts Golden Peabutter, I.M. Healthy SoyNut Butter, Omega Nutrition Pumpkin Seed Butter or SunButter Sunflower Seed Spread.)
Photo: Adrian Fiorino
This tribute to the popular '80s game, which put Adrian Fiorino's extreme sandwich blog, Insanewiches, on the map, might be a little complicated to assemble on the average Monday morning. But its concept—a 3-D block made from cubes of pastrami, kielbasa, pork belly, salami, and yellow and white Cheddar—is adaptable to any lunch box, whether it's yours or your child's. Cut meat or cheese into strips and eat it with toothpicks. Or use kitchen shears, like Fiorino does, to make specific shapes. Turn square slices of bread into moons, stars or fish using a cookie cutter, or write a note with edible markers on the outside of a sandwich. For more ideas, see Fiorino's new book, Insanewiches: 101 Ways to Think Outside the Lunchbox (sandwich dominoes, anyone?), and the Tumblr and the book Scanwiches, which has turned photographs of Fluffernutter and other sandwiches into works of art.