by Michael Vyskocil photography by Tara Hope Cofiell
What to pack for school lunches? The question seems to trip up parents who want to send their children off to school with a lunch that’s not only healthy, but also one that the kids will actually eat. Adding to the conundrum is the challenge of selecting foods that don’t require refrigeration and heating.
We’ve come up with a few ideas for some cool school lunches for your kids. Ants on a Log is an appealing appetizer that requires minimal advanced preparation. Personal Rotelle Pasta Salad packs fun wagon-wheel pasta shapes into a child-sized serving of pasta salad perfect for lunchtime.
Skip the bread and bring on the crepes in this French-inspired peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Finally, Carrot Cake Cookies with Cream-Cheese Filling are as delicious for lunch as they are for an after-school snack.
Ants on a Log
3 tablespoons Neufchâtel cheese, softened
2 celery stalks, washed well and cut in half crosswise
1/3 cup seedless black and golden raisins
- Spread cream cheese along the length of the cut celery stalks.
- Arrange the raisins on top of the cream cheese and serve. Makes 4 servings.
Crêpe Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches
½ cup all-purpose flour, spooned and leveled
1 ½ teaspoons sugar
Pinch coarse salt
¾ cup whole milk
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus more for pan
Smooth or chunky peanut butter
Desired flavor of jelly
- In a blender, combine flour, sugar, salt, milk, eggs, and butter. Purée until mixture is smooth, about 30 seconds. Let batter rest at least 20 minutes at room temperature (alternatively, refrigerate batter up to 1 day).
- Heat a 12-inch nonstick skillet or crêpe pan over medium heat. Lightly coat interior with butter. Ladle 1/3 cup batter into pan and tilt pan to completely cover bottom of skillet. Cook until underside of crêpe is golden brown, about 2 minutes.
- Gently loosen edges with a rubber spatula. Using your fingers, quickly flip crêpe over in pan. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes more. Slide crêpe out of skillet and repeat with remaining batter, adding more butter to pan as needed.
- Spread peanut butter and jelly on the flat surface of a crêpe. Roll crêpe into a cylinder and serve. Makes 4 sandwiches.
Personal Rotelle Pasta Salad
Coarse salt, for cooking water, plus more for seasoning
1 pound broccoli florets, washed well
1 pound rotelle (wagon wheel) pasta
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
8 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into small cubes
1 large tomato, cored, seeded and chopped
Fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley leaves, for garnish (optional)
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over medium heat. Prepare a large bowl of ice water and set aside. Place broccoli florets into boiling water. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, or until the florets are bright green and become tender. Transfer broccoli florets to ice water bath. Let broccoli florets sit in ice water for 1 to 2 minutes, then remove from ice water with a slotted spoon and place on a clean kitchen towel to drain.
- Return the saucepan of water to a boil and add another pinch of salt to the water. Once the water returns to a boil, add rotelle to saucepan and cook according to package directions, or just until al dente.
- In a small mixing bowl, whisk together lemon juice and olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Place mozzarella cubes in a medium mixing bowl and spoon half of the lemon dressing over the cheese. Toss lightly to coat the cheese cubes with the dressing.
- Remove cooked pasta from saucepan and transfer pasta with a slotted spoon directly to mixing bowl containing the remaining lemon dressing. Toss lightly to coat.
- Add cooked broccoli florets and tomato to mixing bowl with pasta and toss gently to combine. Sprinkle mozzarella cubes over the top of the salad and toss gently with the vegetables and pasta.
- Spoon pasta salad into individual small paper cups, cover tops of cups with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve. Garnish each serving with fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley leaves, if desired, before serving. Makes 10 servings.
Carrot Cake Cookies with Cream-Cheese Filling
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ cup packed light-brown sugar
½ cup packed dark-brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pressing cookies
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 ½ cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 ¾ cups carrots, peeled and finely grated
1 ½ cups raisins
Cream-Cheese Filling (recipe follows)
- In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter and sugars on medium speed until mixture is light and fluffy, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add eggs and vanilla; beat on medium speed until combined.
- In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg. Gradually add the flour mixture to the butter mixture; mix on low speed until just combined. Add rolled oats, carrots and raisins on low speed; mix just until combined. Do not overmix.
- Chill the dough in the mixing bowl for approximately 1 hour. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line baking sheets with nonstick parchment paper and set aside. Place additional flour in a small bowl.
- Using a 1-inch ice cream scoop or your hands, form dough into 1-inch balls and place them on the baking sheets, spacing the cookies at least 2 inches apart. Dip the bottom of a small custard cup or glass in the flour and press down on the balls of dough, forming flat rounds.
- Bake cookies until brown and crisp, about 10 to 11 minutes, rotating the baking sheets from front to back in the oven to ensure even baking. Transfer baking sheets to wire racks to cool; cool cookies on baking sheets for 2 to 3 minutes, then remove to racks to cool completely.
Spread about 1 1/2 teaspoons of the Cream-Cheese Filling onto the bottom of a cookie. Place a second cookie on top of the filling to form a sandwich. Repeat with the remaining cookies. Store cookies in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. Makes about 30 sandwich cookies.
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature, cut into small cubes
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into small cubes
1 ¼ cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- Place cream cheese in a mixing bowl; beat cream cheese with a wooden spoon until smooth. Add butter and combine with the beaten cream cheese until smooth.
- Add sugar and vanilla extract; stir until smooth, making sure no lumps of cream cheese or butter remain. Refrigerate until ready to use. Makes about 2 cups.