Summer goes so quickly. I’m very fortunate to work in a school where we have a nice, long period of time to relax and enjoy summer. Now, as I’m about to go back to the kitchen and start banging those pots and pans, I’m thinking, “Wow, that sure went fast!”. However, I’m also excited that we are going back to school while the local farms are at maximum production and there is so much we can cook with the wealth of fresh ingredients. I love the possibilities!
I’m going to make a peach cobbler, a nectarine crumble, a plum tart (like this famous recipe!) and some amazing apple tarts using the apples just coming back into the farmer’s markets. I’m looking at my list from the New York City wholesale farmer’s market, Greenmarket Co., and I’m seeing 6 types of apples already. I love Apple season. You may recall that apples have about the longest market season of any other fruit, except maybe pears. Don’t worry there are still plenty of blueberries (pancakes and muffins) and Tristar strawberries (shortcake, tarts, and preserves). I learned just last year that the name “Tristar” comes from the fact that they are available during 3 seasons of the year, Spring, Summer, and Fall. How cool is that? Tristar strawberries are quite small and I’ve also learned that the tinier the berry, the sweeter the fruit!
And, I think it is needless to point out that we are well into tomato season; some of the brightest and sweetest of the fruits of summer. Those along with melons, vegetables, fresh herbs (did someone say basil? Pesto??!!) and so much more help to make this time of year my favorite.
As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, it’s also time for returning to school. The kids at my school are so fortunate to have a team of chefs and cooks working every day to make a nutritious and delicious meal from scratch. We don’t serve any processed food at our school. The only food we buy already made is bread. The ingredients in our meals are all fresh, some arriving from local farms just the day before. If you want to teach a kid to eat healthy I strongly believe you have to give them delicious food, food that they can relate to. We don’t think of lunch as dead time when learning isn’t happening. It’s just the contrary, with every bite of lunch they are learning about flavors, other cultures, the difference in flavor when it is fresh compared to when it is processed and even how much is enough! We start simple so they can discover flavors in the simple foods that perhaps they hadn’t tasted before. Later on, we start having fun with our meals to thrill their palates. By having fun, I mean help them discover what kids in other cultures eat for lunch. Think of kids in India, China, Mexico, South America, Greece and so much more. They learn to eat a very diverse diet. Parents tell me that when they take their kids out to eat they no longer want food from the “kiddie’s menu”, and they want to go to places that have ethnic flavors . . . you know, the kind they have experienced at school. My dream is that every school in America will eventually enjoy the same quality of food.
Then there is the “bag lunch” task. I can remember back when I was a kid and had to take the dreaded bag lunch to school. It seemed like I always got what my sisters wanted and never what I wanted. But the typical lunch was usually a sandwich (made on Wonder Bread), a bag of chips, and 4 cookies. Every single day it was the same formula. The only thing that changed was the main ingredient between the 2 slices of bread and the kinds of cookies that were included. Our school had a “teacher’s table” in the cafeteria and the end of that table was used for leaving lunch items that you didn’t want for other people to eat if they wanted to. Needless to say, many of my lunches went there. And, on occasion, it’s where I found something that I thought was interesting to eat for lunch. After hearing enough of my whining, my grandmother finally told me, “okay, young man, if you don’t like what I’m giving you and if you want something different for your lunch, then you pack your own lunch!”What a great decision on her part! Being a creative kid, I could have fun making different kinds of
What a great decision on her part! Being a creative kid, I could have fun making different kinds of lunches. And after we went to a couple of Tupperware parties the possibilities expanded. I saved up my allowances and bought myself a thermos so that I could take soup for lunch. I could actually take normal food for lunch! It didn’t always have to be sandwiches. I could even take puddings instead of cookies. And fruit salad! Leftovers became my salads and soups and I soon was the envy of other kids in my school. No more visits to the “teacher’s table”!
To create lunches which are healthy and tasty, you have to give up the traditional model of a bag lunch and look around for new ideas in different places. When you go to a restaurant and you eat something really good, think – “I wonder how this would be for lunch?”, “Can it be made into a salad?”, “How can I turn this into a sandwich?”, “How can I package something like this?” Then, ask for a doggy bag and take the leftovers home to work on it. You have to try it, tweak it and then try it again. Ethnic restaurants (Asian, Mexican, Italian, etc.) tend to offer the most ideas, i.e., cold sesame noodles, beef salad, beans and rice made into a salad, cold pasta with tomato sauce.
Don’t stick to bread for sandwiches. We are a “wrap” society and wraps offer a palette of possibilities, spinach wraps, tomato wraps, whole wheat wraps, blue corn tortilla wraps, to name a few. Lettuce leaves also make great wraps…it’s what they use in most of Southeast Asia. Tuna Salad wrapped in a leaf of bibb lettuce is to die for! Instead of bags of chips, get yourself a slicer of some sort (like a mandolin) and slice carrots and other veggies very thin and keep them in water in the refrigerator. They are as crispy and delicious and healthy as they can be. And how about roasted kale chips! These chips are excellent on their own and when accompanied by a dip such as plain yogurt (seasoned with spices and veggies) or salsa. The same thing can be done with fruits like apples and pears but just make sure that the water has lemon juice in it so the fruits don’t oxidize and turn brown. Using fruit as chips with a sweet yogurt dip is a nice lunch item as well.
In changing your way of thinking about bag lunches, think also of “deconstructed lunches” meaning that you can send the various ingredients of a salad or sandwich in separate bags or containers and let your kids put it together when they eat lunch. This gives them a little creative control over how they will eat what you send for lunch and allows them to share with their friends. Perhaps you can get together with other parents and have a “pot luck” day where kids bring different items in their deconstructed lunches and put it all together at lunch.
Here’s a great recipe for zucchini muffins that I like to make a sweet treat with delicious, summery zucchini!