“Lunch Box Blues” – Unconventional Lunch Ideas From AP Food Editor J.M. Hirsch

by Bettina Elias Siegel on February 24, 2011

Recently I posted my interview with J.M. Hirsch, Associated Press Food Editor and author of High Flavor, Low Labor, a cookbook full of flavorful weeknight meals.  But I didn’t realize then that J.M. also has a blog called “Lunch Box Blues” in which he documents with text and photos the creative school lunches he packs for his impossibly adorable six-year-old son, Parker.

J.M. makes no bones about the fact that packing a daily lunch can be a real trial, and he approaches the task with a refreshing, lets-get-it-done sort of attitude.  An excerpt from an introductory section of his blog says it all:

If you are one of those parents who somehow finds the time to craft your kid’s lunch into cutesy animals and characters from their favorite movies, good for you. And good luck with your therapy.

J.M. is constantly pushing the boundaries of what’s “normal” to pack for lunch.  For example, this past week he decided that leftover breakfast pancakes were a perfectly suitable vehicle for a sandwich, with great success.  And in the past he’s given Parker everything from leftover spaghetti carbonara to a spelt tortilla filled with pepper-garlic jelly, cream cheese and leftover roast chicken.  Clearly, he’s not your basic PBJ sort of guy.

Reading Lunch Box Blues is like giving myself a much needed wake up call.  Although the TLT household also favors rather unconventional lunches (today’s entree for both kids was a Thermos full of steamed chicken and cilantro won-tons), we still get stuck in terrible ruts and  J.M.’s out-of-the-box thinking opens up new lunch horizons.

One thing about Lunch Box Blues makes me laugh, however, and that’s the sheer quantity of food that little Parker is apparently putting away each day.  For example, on the day when the aforementioned spelt tortilla sandwich was served, J.M. also packed salami slices slathered with hummus, some hunks of pork sausage, pretzels, strawberries, apple sauce and a drink.  [Ed. Update: NOT a drink!  Squeezable fruit!   See my comment below.]

I’m pretty sure my kids, aged 8 and 10, wouldn’t come close to being able to finish that lunch.  Maybe J.M. will stop by and shed some light on this mystery.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

bettina elias siegel February 24, 2011 at 10:22 am

JM just tweeted me to say that he’s in South Beach, FL for the Sobe Food and Wine Fest but will stop TLT by when he returns and let us know what’s up with Parker’s prodigious eating ability. :-)

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Chic mummy February 24, 2011 at 11:43 am

My son is 4 and he goes to school with the exact lunchbox everyday. Swap out the applesauce for a yoghurt and the pretzels for some cucumber and it would almost be the same contents. However, that is for lunch and morning recess. Whether he eats all of it or not depends on the day. Somedays the box comes back empty & others it is still half full, in which case he will usually ask me if he can finish eating it during the drive home. After 3 years of picky eating he seems to be making up for it!

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Kim February 24, 2011 at 12:02 pm

I have that exact same lunch box. It’s big. Most kids couldn’t eat everything in that box. Most kids don’t even have time in school. They barely sit down, say “hi” to their friends, and then the lunch lady tells the kids to get up and go outside.

I follow a blog on twitter that shows creative ways to fill those lunch boxes. I love these things.

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Renee February 24, 2011 at 8:32 pm

What is the squeezable package in Parker’s lunches? Is that juice?

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bettina elias siegel February 24, 2011 at 9:24 pm

You know, I originally hought it was juice, but upon investigation I think it’s actually a squeezable fruit product called Buddy Fruits. So you have that, plus applesauce, plus strawberries in the fruit category. This is a seriously BIG lunch. We really need JM to tell us what’s going on here . . .

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J.M. Hirsch April 4, 2011 at 6:40 am

Wow! So sorry about not coming back to respond. Good indication of just how crazy South Beach was (and a total blast, but tons of work). Completely spaced it.

Totally agree. Parker’s lunches are huge! I’m not quite sure where he puts it all. But he’s a tall, thin, active kid who loves to eat. I find that if I don’t pack plenty of food, he comes home starving. And that’s not good for anybody (including his teacher and me!). And yet when I pick him up at 3:30, he still needs a snack before dinner (we usually eat around 6). The lunches I pack are intended to cover him for both lunch and morning snack at school. I don’t designate one item for snack; he just picks what he wants from what I’ve packed.

The pouch is 100 percent fruit (no sugar or anything else). It was my compromise snack idea for Parker’s old school (he switched schools in January). They insisted that we pack a snack but that it had to be dry. Just one of many things I didn’t like about his old school — it basically made it impossible to pack real fruit or yogurt for a snack. So I compromised with those, and they’ve just sort of stuck.

And yes, he generally eats a large breakfast, too. This morning — 1 1/2 yogurt cups with about 1 cup of strawberries and blueberries and a few crumbled graham crackers all layered in a glass.

I fear how much he will eat when he is 14…

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