How to Make Great School Lunches

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Mom’s Note: I’ve been packing virtually the same school lunch for seven years now. The entree is a cheese and mustard sandwich since my non-meat-eating son, who fortunately does not have food allergies, also dislikes peanut butter (yes, we’ve tried SunButter, Soy Butter—all the butters; all a bust.) I switch up the fruits. I slice up cucumbers—he’s a vegetarian who also doesn’t like carrots, or most other vegetables. I try to find healthy alternatives to potato chips—veggie straws, pretzels, and the like. I throw in a Go-Gurt. Ho-hum.

Then I see the lunches chef Molly Herrmann posts on Instagram. They are healthy. They are adventurous. They are varied. So I suggested to Oscar that we go see Molly at her Kitchen in the Market, a commercial kitchen within Midtown Global Market in Minneapolis that serves as headquarters for her catering business and a space for private events and cooking classes. I thought perhaps she could help us out of our cheese and mustard rut. I thought maybe Molly would have better luck getting Oscar to try new things.

Turns out, Molly’s clever lunches were born of necessity, not being a professional chef. Her 11-year-old son AJ has serious nut allergies and is also sensitive to corn and wheat. And, while he does eat meat, he doesn’t like sandwiches for lunch. AJ is also particular about his cheese being chilled, so he prefers no cheese in his lunches, either.

AJ’s favorite lunch is a brat salad. Sliced up bratwurst on a bed of romaine lettuce with cucumber. No dressing needed—Molly says the brat gives ample flavor.

I could see Oscar’s nose wrinkling as Molly described the brat salad. But she has vegetarian ideas too, and it all starts with the lunch box. Molly is a fan of bento boxes (she sells a couple of varieties at Kitchen in the Market). Her strategy is simple: a fresh ingredient in each section—an egg, apple slices, strips of red pepper—with something for dipping, like hummus or tzatziki sauce. Get kids trying different flavors, she suggests.

As far as I’m concerned, anything beyond yellow mustard tastes like victory. We’ll work our way towards tofu.

By Oscar Wolfe

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I am a very picky eater. It’s true, every day for lunch at school I have a cheese and mustard sandwich. The only real variety I have is what type of potato chips to put in. Molly Herrmann is the exact opposite. She packs her son, AJ, the best lunches ever! They are seriously restaurant quality (which isn’t surprising considering the fact that she is a chef). The lunches normally involve tons of fruits and vegetables. We decided to make a lunch that I would eat at the Midtown Global Market, where Molly has a kitchen. Meat was off the table right away because I’m a vegetarian. She and AJ asked me a few questions about what I like and what I would try. Then, we went grocery shopping.

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First, they both said that they had to show us a surprise: Quail eggs. They looked exactly like chicken eggs except that they were tiny and cute.

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Next, we visited the cheese station. There, they handed us samples of cranberry cheddar. I couldn’t really taste the cranberry. Ezra, my brother, said that he could taste the seeds. Molly said that we should definitely buy some goat cheese. While she bought the goat cheese, AJ led us to the produce area where we picked up a few Honeycrisp apples and a red pepper. We met up with Molly again and picked up a seedless English cucumber. We then got a bag of taro root chips, made of baked vegetables and healthier than the average potato chip. Finally, we went over to Holy Land Deli and picked up some green olives, pita and hummus.

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After we had gotten all of our ingredients, we headed back to the kitchen to make lunch. First, we started to boil the quail eggs. Since they’re so much smaller than chicken eggs, we only had to boil them for about half the time! As the quail eggs where boiling, Molly and AJ showed Ezra and me how to chop the apple the best way—at an angle, toward the core. Then we moved on to the cucumber and the red pepper. I took a few samples of everything before I put them into my lunchbox. The Honeycrisps were as good as ever. The cucumber was surprisingly delicious. However, I still didn’t like the red pepper. And I wasn’t crazy about goat cheese. Some things never change.

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Once we were finished chopping, Molly opened the olives, pita, hummus, and chips. I was pretty familiar with the pita, hummus, and olives and knew that I liked them but the chips were completely new. They were harder than normal potato chips and had a subtly different taste, but I liked them.

Finally, the quail eggs were ready. Molly showed us how to peel them and remove the membrane. They were harder to peel than normal chicken eggs. Once they were all ready, we dipped them in salt and pepper and plopped them right in our mouths. Sometimes I decided to take the yolk out. We took everything that we had tried and prepared, and put it into our lunch boxes. It was spectacular. I’m finally becoming less of a carbohydratarian.

Molly’s great lunch tips for parents of picky eaters:

  • Get kids involved—they’ll be more excited about lunches they’ve helped to make
  • Worried about your elementary schooler chopping vegetables? Start with a pizza cutter on pita to get them used to the motion with their fingers out of the way
  • Introduce new vegetables with different dips like guacamole or greek yogurt
  • Substitute pita or an english muffin for bread, just to mix things up
  • Buy for the week and don’t be afraid to repeat!

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That Is Great!

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