Packing Your Kids’ Lunches

Packing a school lunch for kids saves money and ensures your child eats something nutritious every day. Plus, it’s easy if you do it the night before. I follow three rules in packing my daughter Zoe’s lunch:
Rule 1: Make it fun.
Rule 2: Make it something she likes.
Rule 3: Always throw in something special.

To make it fun, use kid-sized (pre-packaged) containers like applesauce or salad dressing and pack kid-friendly finger foods like cherry tomatoes, mini-bananas, carrots and celery stalks. I cook, slice and pack cold asparagus or green beans, then throw in a packet of Ranch or Thousand Island dressing from the grocery salad bar or “Zoe’s Sauce” — caramelized garlic and olive oil.

(Editor’s Note: You can make Zoe’s Sauce too. Just log on to www.charlotteParent.com/food to download it. Or share your favorite sauce for kids via e-mail to food@charlotteparent.com.)

Zoe loves “banana dogs.” I smear peanut butter on a whole-wheat hot dog bun and put a sliced banana where the hot dog would go. It’s healthy and fun. She loves it!

Something special might be grapes or a new berry-flavored applesauce. Or, I’ll simply write a little note with a cartoon face saying, “Eat your carrots.”

Good Gadgets
Nine times out of 10, I reach for my “Le Creuset,” enameled cast iron cookware. It distributes heat well, holds heat, is oven-safe and doesn’t react with acidic foods. I fry chicken, braise collard greens and bake corn bread in it. Mine came from a yard sale. It’s available on line at www.cookswares.com or locally at Williams-Sonoma, and it comes in a variety of shapes, colors and sizes.

BOOKS THAT COOK
A good summer read about food for fun!

Gumbo Tales: Finding My Place at the New Orleans Table
by Sara Roahen: W.W. Norton & Company, Ltd.
This is one woman’s discovery of New Orleans, its people, its lifestyle and its foods. Sara Roahen understands cooking and writes well, creating a delightful read. Just the names of the chapters are enough to hook you: “Gumbo: A Higher Education,” “Sazeracs: I Take My Liquor Brown,” or “Turducken: Tales of a Poultry Chimera.” The author is funny and unpretentious — she includes a chapter on Sno-Cones — and her post-Katrina “Red Beans and Rice: Rising to the occasion,” brought tears to my eyes. So kick back, read and enjoy the last of summer with a delectable taste of The Big Easy.

NEAT EATS
Zoe’s Sauce
(3 to 5 servings)
This sauce is easier and quicker — maybe 15 minutes — than other sauces and is great to spoon over vegetables or use as a dip. It makes about 1/2 cup.
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon of salt (or to taste)
1/2 cup of olive oil
A couple of grinds of black pepper
A pinch of dried thyme
Combine ingredients in a heavy saucepan, turn up the heat and cook until the olive oil begins to sizzle. Then remove the pan from the burner and cool before serving.

RECIPE

Zoe’s Sauce
(3 to 5 servings)
This sauce is easier and quicker – maybe 15 minutes – than other sauces and is great to spoon over vegetables or use as a dip. It makes about ½ cup or 3 to 5 servings.
1 tablespoon minced garlic
½ teaspoon of salt (or to taste)
½ cup of olive oil
A couple of grinds of black pepper
A pinch of dried thyme
Combine ingredients in a heavy sauce pan, turn up the heat and cook until the olive oil begins to sizzle. Then remove the pan from the burner and cool before serving.

When you heat the ingredients, the garlic flavors seep into the olive oil and sweeten the mixture. As soon as it starts to sizzle, remove it from the heat because the garlic will continue to cook for a few minutes. Once the mixture cools, taste it carefully to see if it needs more salt or pepper. You also can squeeze a little lemon or lime juice into it, or add white wine or chicken stock to thin it out a little if you’d like. But don’t let the additions overwhelm the flavor of the garlic. Zoe likes it spooned over cooked broccoli or almost any other vegetable. We also like to use it as an artichoke dip.

Chef Mark Zink, former baking and pastry chef for the Brennan Family restaurants in New Orleans, is baking/pastry instructor at The Art Institute of Charlotte. Chef Zink and his wife, Beth Howard, a freelance writer, are the parents of 9-year-old Zoe