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Top chefs share school lunch ideas kids will actually like.

When packing lunches for kids, it’s easy to fall into a PB&J rut. But you don’t have to be a famous chef to make your kids the envy of the cool table — you just need a few of outside-the-(lunch)box recipe ideas. The Post visited six NYC culinary stars to find out how their junior...
Time: 17:31     Date: 12.09.2017
US Living News: Top chefs share school lunch ideas kids will actually like. NY Post 24 - US News

But you don’t have to be a famous chef to make your kids the envy of the cool table — you just need a few of outside-the-(lunch)box recipe ideas.

The Post visited six NYC culinary stars to find out how their junior foodies brown-bag it on busy school days.

These chef-approved kid lunches all boast exciting flavor combos, A-plus presentation and plenty of opportunity for family participation. (Why should parents do all the work?) Even better, you can prep them in advance or throw ’em together in a jiffy — no actual Jiffy required.

Mina Newman

Executive chef, Sen Sakana

Mina Newman with her daughters, Valentina (left) and Mia.Annie Wermiel

Newman may be a “Chopped” winner, but that doesn’t mean she can’t share kitchen duties with her young daughters. The chef behind Midtown’s Peruvian-Japanese hot spot Sen Sakana says this school year is all about getting her girls to pitch in with making their midday meals.

“That way, if they don’t like it, it doesn’t fall on me,” says Newman, who lives in Woodside with her 7-year-old, Mia, 9-year-old, Valentina, and her husband.

The girls’ favorite lunch is onigiri — molded balls of rice stuffed with an ever-changing array of fillings, then wrapped with nori.

Newman picks up the seaweed wrappers from a Japanese market and lets the kids choose the fillings, such as savory chicken with toasty sesame seeds and fresh basil.

“They like this recipe because they can make it,” Newman says. “I like it because I can use up leftover chicken from the day before.”

Recipe: Sesame-chicken-salad onigiri

Makes 5 to 6 onigiri

Sesame-chicken-salad onigiriAnnie Wermiel

Ingredients:

1 cooked chicken breast, diced ¹/₂ cup shredded carrot ¹/₄ cup diced celery 3 tbsp. Japanese mayonnaise, such as Kewpie (or substitute with regular mayo) 1 tsp. rice vinegar 1 tbsp. julienned basil 1 tsp. sesame oil 1 tsp. sesame seeds Pinch of salt and black pepper 1 cup cooked Japanese rice 3 nori sheets, cut in half Special tools: onigiri mold (available on Amazon, starting at $1.78)

Directions:

Combine chicken, carrots and celery in a medium bowl. In a small bowl, whisk together next seven ingredients, through pepper, and add to chicken mixture. Fill onigiri mold halfway with rice. Shape 2 tablespoons of the chicken mixture into a mound in center. Top with more rice to fill mold completely. Gently push the onigiri from of the molds directly onto nori and press nori into place. Wrap onigiri with plastic wrap and seal with cute stickers.

Bonus tip: To get her daughters excited about eating veggies, Newman lets the girls pick out flavored olive oils — such as lemon and garlic — and seasoned salts at the supermarket to use as toppings.

Antonio Mora

Executive chef, Quality Meats

At home in Park Slope, the father-daughter duo makes simpler meals — nothing too spicy or complicated, Mora says.

“I think it’s really important for kids to see their parents enjoying cooking,” says the chef. “It’s a fun thing to do together, and I’m a big proponent of food memories.”

One of Elena’s favorite lunchtime dishes is Mediterranean pasta salad. “It’s fresh, bold, crisp and light, with simple, strong flavors,” Mora says.

Plus, advance prep makes the family’s mornings less hectic. “You can make the pasta and chop the fresh ingredients the night before, then mix everything together the day of, to keep it fresh,” Mora says.

The salad also tastes great with leftover protein, Mora adds. “If we have grilled chicken or steak on hand, Elena is happy to throw that in there.”

Recipe: Mediterranean pasta salad

Tamara Beckwith

Makes 2 to 3 servings

Directions:

2 cups dried rotini or fusilli pasta 1 cup canned chickpeas, drained and rinsed ¼ cup chopped cucumber ¼ cup diced red onion 12 cherry tomatoes or 1 small standard tomato, chopped 1 tbsp. chopped parsley 1 tbsp. chopped basil ¹/₄ cup olive oil Salt and black pepper to taste

Directions: Cook the pasta according to package directions in a large pot filled with salted boiling water. Drain and let cool. Toss with remaining ingredients.

Bonus tip: Mora maps out a family-meal plan at the beginning of every week to simplify shopping and prep work. “What makes any chef good is time management,” he says.

Joseph Mallol

Executive chef and consultant, HPH Hospitality restaurants

Joseph Mallol making cookies with his children, Abigail and Joey.Annie Wermiel

Mallol divides his time between multiple restaurants, including Harry’s Cafe & Steak, Beaubourg at Le District and the Dead Rabbit, but his greatest joy is cooking and baking for his kids, 8-year-old Joey and 9-year-old Abigail.

The siblings love the elevated oatmeal cookies Mallol makes as a wholesome lunchbox treat.

“This isn’t a plain, old oatmeal cookie,” says the single dad. “It’s a little chewy with a nice texture, a hint of chocolate and the sweet-tartness of cranberries.”

As a bonus, Mallol hopes the cookies’ fragrant nutmeg and cinnamon notes help expand the children’s palates.

“I’m trying to teach my kids about different kinds of spices, from really hot ones to really flavorful ones,” he says.

Recipe: Back-to-school oatmeal cookies

Back-to-school oatmeal cookiesAnnie Wermiel

Makes 24 to 30 cookies

Ingredients:

1 cup unsalted butter, softened 1 cup brown sugar, packed ¾ cup granulated sugar 2 large eggs 1 tbsp. pure vanilla extract 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour ½ tsp. salt 1 tsp. baking soda 1 tsp. ground cinnamon ½ tsp. freshly grated nutmeg ¾ cup raisins ¾ cup unsweetened dried cranberries ¾ cup semisweet chocolate chips 3 cups rolled oats

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. In a large mixing bowl, beat butter with a mixer on medium speed until creamy. Add sugars and beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating until incorporated. Mix in vanilla extract.

Combine flour, salt, baking soda, cinnamon and nutmeg in a medium bowl. Stir into the butter-sugar mixture with a spatula until smooth. Stir in raisins, chips and cranberries. Stir in oats.

Scoop spoonfuls of dough onto a greased baking sheet, spacing about 2 inches apart. Bake 10 to 12 minutes, or until edges turn golden brown. Let cool.

Bonus tip: Mallol likes to serve fresh fruits and veggies to his kids in kebab form. “Anything on a stick is exciting to kids,” he says.

Darren Carbone

Executive chef, El Vez, and Sue Torres, former owner of Sueños and Season 3 guest judge on “Chopped”

Darren Carbone and Sue Torres prepare tomato jam.Zandy Mangold

This culinary power couple keeps right on cooking when they’re home in Stamford, Conn. — often with help from their children, Elias, 11, DJ, 3, and Charlie, 1.

“When we make sugar-snap peas, we race to see who can get the peas out [of the pods] fastest,” Torres says.

This school year, DJ has been obsessed with his bento box. In addition to tasty bites of crackers, fruit and cheese, Carbone and Torres usually pack him a simple wrap sandwich with a healthy tomato jam for dipping.

It’s way better than ketchup, Carbone says of the superstar condiment. “All the ingredients are fresh, which adds more complexity and flavor.”

The gingery, sweet jam not only tastes great with savory wrap ingredients, such as lean turkey, but packs a pop of color that kids can’t resist. “You have to look at things through a visual perspective,” Torres says.

Recipe: Tomato jam

DJ shows off his prepared lunch.Zandy Mangold

Makes 1 cup

Ingredients:

2 tbsp. sunflower oil 2 tbsp. minced shallots 1 clove garlic, minced 1 cinnamon stick 1 bay leaf 1 pint grape tomatoes, chopped ³/₄ tsp. kosher salt, divided into ¹/₄ and ¹/₂ 2 tbps. apple-cider vinegar 2 tbsp. honey

Directions:

Heat oil in a skillet over low heat. Saute shallots and garlic for 3 to 4 minutes, or until shallots turn translucent. Add cinnamon stick and bay leaf and saute for another 3 minutes.

Add tomatoes and raise heat to medium-high. Add ¼ teaspoon kosher salt and cook 3 minutes, stirring occasionally, until mixture appears slightly dry.

Reduce heat to low, then add vinegar, honey, remaining ¹/₂ teaspoon salt, and 2 tablespoons water. Simmer 3 to 4 minutes, or until liquid evaporates.

Cool to room temperature. Remove cinnamon stick and bay leaf. Transfer to a food processor or blender, and puree until smooth.

Strain skins using a sieve and discard. Refrigerate jam in an airtight container for up to one week.

Bonus tip: Homemade popcorn sprinkled with salt and chili powder is the whole-grain snack of choice in the Torres-Carbone household. “Hearing it pop and smelling it — the kids get such enjoyment out of those sensations,” Carbone says.

Arturo McLeod

Executive chef, Benjamin Steakhouse

“It’s important to give the kids a lot of foods to try at an early age, so I can play to their strengths when I cook for them,” he says.

McLeod’s second-youngest child, Timothy, 4, is just starting his school year.

After busy mornings in preschool learning the ABCs, Timothy loves to spoon up his dad’s warming split-pea soup with toasted bread.

The soup is filled with healthy ingredients and satisfying flavors. “I try to add carrots into every soup, which he loves,” McLeod says. “ He also loves the sirloin that I put into this recipe. I’m not at all surprised that he’s developed an affinity for steak.”

Recipe: Split-pea soup

Split-pea soupAnnie Wermiel

Makes 4 servings

Ingredients:

1 tbsp. olive oil 1 cup diced carrots 1 cup diced uncooked sirloin ¹/₂ cup diced uncooked bacon 1 lb. dried split peas ¹/₄ tbsp. thyme 1 clove garlic, chopped ¹/₄ tbsp. oregano 2 cups chicken broth 2 cups water Salt

Directions:

Heat oil in 5-quart stockpot over medium heat. Saute carrots, sirloin, ham, split peas, thyme, garlic and oregano for 5 to 10 minutes. Add broth and water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer uncovered for 30, stirring occasionally, until soup thickens. Add salt to taste.

Bonus trick: McLeod has noticed that his kids eat best when his own diet is balanced. “If they see you eating healthy foods, it’s the first step toward encouraging them to eat healthy,” he says.

No grocery shopping required

Gourmet meal-delivery services, a booming business in recent years, are now coming for the cafeteria crowd. These three companies specialize in fresh, fancy, nut-free lunches for kids and deliver to homes throughout NYC and the tri-state area.

Tuckrbox Tuckrbox

Favorites at this farm-to-table service include the Mac’Attack meal — gluten-free mac-‘n’-cheese muffins, crisp green beans and “choco-nana” pudding — and the Pizza Party box, which includes triangle-cut fruit salad, pizza-flavored hummus and cauliflower-crust mini pizzas.

The company says all meals come with fresh fruits or veggies, and beat federal school-lunch limits on sodium, saturated fat and added sugar. Options for kids with food allergies and gluten intolerance are available. $49.95 for five meals per week. TuckrBox.com

Yumble Kids Yumble Kids

Like health-conscious Happy Meals, the lunches from this new delivery service include fun extras like crayons and toys. Menuwise, one of Yumble’s biggest sellers is the Quinoa Pizza Cup meal, which includes cheesy mini “cupcakes,” steamed broccoli and hummus. Each meal contains less than 6 grams of sugar. The single-kid plan starts at $48 per week for six meals. YumbleKids.com

Nurture Life Nurture Life

Lunches from Nurture Life, best enjoyed warm from an insulated lunch container, are pegged for different age groups with input from a pediatric dietitian. Teriyaki salmon over brown rice and spinach-stuffed gnocchi with vegetable Bolognese are two popular picks. In addition to being nut-free, all Nurture Life meals are made without shellfish, artificial ingredients, trans fats or high-fructose corn syrup. Meal plans (for toddlers) start at $47 a week for five meals. NurtureLife.com

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