Get an A+ in packing tasty, healthy lunches this year.

The sack lunch has long been synonymous with boring food or unnaturally colored cheese. But it need not be this way. This year we’re reinventing the lunchbox. In the process we’re kicking out the junk food and upping both the flavor and the nutrition. Whether you’ve got an adventurous eater or someone who prefers to stay close to the sandwich/chips/cookie paradigm, we’ve got something for your kiddo (or you!).


cuban rolls, parmesan chips and cookies

Cubano Roll-Ups

Makes 2

A meat roll-up is, at best, a boring substitute for a sandwich—never as satisfying as its carb-centric cousin. But with a few extra steps and seasonings like mustard and crispy bacon, we’ve transformed the roll-up into something special. (And don’t worry, even after a few hours, that bacon tastes amazing, even if it’s not at peak crispness.)

2 slices deli ham
2 slices deli chicken
1 slice thick-cut bacon, cooked and crumbled
¼ cup cream cheese
1 kosher dill pickle, chopped (or dill relish, drained, to taste)
1 teaspoon whole grain mustard
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
Chives, left whole for tying sliced meat

At the grocery store, ask for your deli meat sliced slightly thicker than normal so it holds together. Lay a slice of chicken on top of the ham. Combine the cream cheese, chopped pickle and two mustards. Scoop the mixture onto the meats, burrito-style so the roll has a nice thick filling. Sprinkle bacon liberally on top of the cream cheese mixture and roll.  Tie rolls together with a chive or spear with a toothpick.

Parmesan Chips

Makes 6 to 8 chips

Making Parmesan crisps is the easiest fancy thing ever. Adding a hint of dried mustard gives the chip a more complex taste, and mustard-deniers out there, fear not—it doesn’t even read as mustard on your palate.

½ cup Parmesan cheese (I used pre-shredded to save my fingers)
1 teaspoon dry mustard

Preheat oven to 350. On a lined baking sheet (parchment paper works best) arrange heaping teaspoons of the mixture a few inches apart. Cook on 350 for six minutes, checking often. When they’re done, the top will be completely browned. For a thinner, drier chip, spread the cheese a bit thinner and leave in the oven a bit longer, although you may have to reduce the temp a bit.

Gluten-Free Black and White Cookies

Makes a dozen

A cookie shouldn’t be TOO virtuous. Our version still has sugar and chocolate, but the addition of almond flour gives these cookies a stick-to-your-ribs protein base. We also think the cookie is moister and yummier than your standard flour cookie.

2.5 cups blanched almond flour*
½ cup sugar, or you can use an equal amount of agave
½ teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ cup white chocolate chips, divided
½ cup coconut oil (warm enough so it’s liquid)
¼ cup Nutella
1 egg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine dry ingredients, using only half the white chocolate chips. Cream egg with coconut oil (only if in its semi-solid state) then stir in the hazelnut spread. Mix wet into dry ingredients.

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or spray with oil. Roll dough by the heaping tablespoon into balls and lightly press to flatten on top—they’ll spread on the pan but not as much as a flour cookie. Press remaining white chocolate chips onto the tops of the cookies.

Bake for 7-10 minutes. Allow to cool five minutes, then move to a rack.

*NOTE:  It’s important to find blanched almond flour, not almond meal. Almond meal will retain more water resulting in a much denser cookie. It will also have flecks of brown from the almond hulls and a slightly coarser texture.


meat roll ups, pasta

Honey Mustard Meatballs

Makes 12

This is the grown-up version of chicken nuggets, minus the mystery meat and dipping sauce. We’ve started with fresh chicken breasts and incorporated a honey mustard sauce into the meat so it’s a one-dish wonder. This recipe is a good base for other flavor pairings as well—feel free to change up the spices to suit your palate.

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 tablespoons grainy mustard
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon honey
¼ cup whole oats
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon white pepper

Preheat oven to 375. In a food processor fitted with a steel blade, pulse all ingredients until they make a ball. Do not over-process or meatballs will be hard to form. With wet hands, roll chicken mixture into one-inch balls and place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Brush the tops with a little honey and mustard (I just used what was left in the mixing bowl) for a quick glaze. Bake for 10-15 minutes, or until an instant read thermometer gets to 165. 

TIP: To preheat the thermos that will hold your meatballs, boil some water then add to the thermos and wait a few minutes. Filling it to the tippy-top works best. When empty, dry out the inside and add your dish. The heat should keep your food warm for 4-5 hours.

Mediterranean Cold Noodle Salad

Serves about 4

Pasta is a great power food for active kids. Here we’ve gone with a cold noodle salad so no thermos is necessary, and we’ve tried to hit it with a lot of flavor, so they’ll want to slurp up the whole serving.

1 large eggplant, julienned thickly
2 teaspoons coarse sea salt
2 tablespoons sesame oil
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves of garlic, smashed
¼ cup sun dried tomatoes packed in oil, julienned
½ pound linguini or spaghetti noodles
Juice from half a lemon

Toss the eggplant with salt and leave in a colander over the sink or a plate for 30 minutes—this will leech out the moisture. When finished, rinse the eggplant and pat dry.

While you wait, sauté the garlic in the olive oil over low heat until the garlic turns a golden brown and has flavored the oil. Divide in half.

Toss half the garlic oil with the eggplant and roast in the oven on parchment paper until firm and brown, about 15 minutes at 350. Add the lemon, sesame oil and sun dried tomato to the remaining garlic oil.

Cook a half-pound of linguini (or spaghetti) noodles following package directions—it tastes best a little al dente. Cook the pasta in very salty water; it will really add to the final taste. Drain the pasta and toss with the oils and roasted eggplant. Chill in the fridge until cold or eat warm if you can’t wait.

Apple Raspberry Fruit Leather

Makes 6 one-inch strips

This is the perfect antidote to faux-fruit snacks. The only trick is time management: The recipe takes about six hours, mostly unattended. We started the fruit drying a little bit before lunch on a weekend and then it was done and ready to be rolled up by dinnertime. If your oven doesn’t go as low as 170 degrees, this recipe is not for you. All attempts to “cook” fruit leather turned out burned, even at only 200 degrees. You want the temp to be low enough that the mixture is really just drying.

4 medium apples, peeled and diced
12 ounces raspberries, fresh or frozen
2 tablespoons lemon
2 tablespoons honey

Preheat the oven to 170 degrees. Puree all ingredients in a food processor or high-speed blender. Do not omit the lemon, as it helps prevent the mixture from browning. In a very high-sided pan or pot (you’ll thank me for not letting you splatter up your kitchen as I did) bring the fruit puree to a high simmer, and simmer until reduced by half. This step takes about 20 minutes. Line a cookie sheet with parchment or oiled tin foil and spread reduced mixture thinly in a square. You want it to be about ¼ to 1/8 inch thick. Leave in the oven for about five hours, checking every half hour in the last two hours. A finished fruit leather will be shiny, a bit transparent and tacky to the touch. Cut with kitchen shears and use the parchment as a backing.