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Ask a Chef: Best Back To School Lunch Recipes

How is it that children in other countries are consuming spicy pickled cabbage, curry and dried fish and your kiddos want the fifteenth peanut butter and jelly sandwich of the month for lunch? You can tell them that kids in Finland open their Hello Kitty and Batman lunch boxes and find carrot and beet salads and that those kids not only do not complain, but they also love carrot and beet salads.

It could be that the other options you've offered are just not appealing to the little miscreants: rubbery, salty lunch meat, bland cheese and soggy-by-lunchtime bread might not be applauded in a penitentiary let alone the school cafeteria. Relax - it's not you, it's them, and even chefs have to wrangle with the issue of picky eaters.

Arnulfo "Arnie" Tellez, Executive Chef of Shaw's Crab House in Chicago has chopped alongside such masters as Yves Roubaud, Geoff Felsenthal, and Jean-Georges Vongerichten, all of whom helped him to develop as a chef and an artist. Despite his storied resume of working his way up the kitchen ladder from dishwasher to executive chef for Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, Chef Tellez still has to deal with his own culinary critics––9-year-old Brandon and 12-year-old Emily. He prepares lunch items for his kids with the same gusto as his Shaw's dinners; he says using the freshest ingredients, a hint of risk and passion are the perfect combination for any recipe. 

Here are three very simple, yet kid-satisfying lunchbox recipes that Chef Tellez prepares for his own children. Notice that there's a hint of sweetness in each one (which kids crave), provided not by high fructose corn syrup or refined sugar, but rather sugar snap peas, sweet corn, honey smoked turkey and barbecue sauce. Oh yes, and a smear of that kid-pleasing peanut butter.

Chicken Salad

  • Roasted Chicken
  • Diced Carrots
  • Sweet Corn
  • Soy Beans
  • Sugar Snap Peas
  • Mayonnaise
  • Salt
  • Cayenne Pepper
  • Lemon Juice

For Dessert: Cuties Clementine

Use up that leftover chicken by shredding it and tossing with the vegetables (cut off the kernels of yesterday's grilled corn, too). Snip off the ends of the sugar snap peas and cut them in a uniform size with the carrot, soy beans and corn. Add a nice dollop of mayo, a shake of salt, a smidge of cayenne and a squeeze of lemon juice to brighten up the whole thing.

Turkey Wrap

  • Flour Tortilla
  • Fresh Spinach
  • Mayonnaise
  • Mustard
  • Honey Smoked Turkey

For Dessert: Fresh Grapes

Smear a tortilla with mayo and mustard, add the spinach and turkey, roll burrito style and your kids are getting iron, protein, vitamins, antioxidents and a full belly. Honey ham would work here, too.

Chicken Breast

  • Sautéed Chicken Breast with Fresh Garlic
  • Broccoli
  • BBQ Sauce

For Dessert: Apples with Tajin, Peanut Butter or Nutella
(Tajin is a seasoning used in Mexico and Latin America that's a simple mix of  chili peppers, sea salt and lime. It's traditionally sprinkled on fruit and is available in ethnic grocery stores).

The night before, it's a snap to saute a chicken breast until cooked through, add some small broccoli florets and cook until bright green (not soggy) about two or three minutes. Add garlic last and saute for just a minute (don't overcook it or it will turn bitter). Cut the chicken into bite size pieces, toss in a sweet barbecue sauce and refrigerate overnight. By lunch, manana, your kidlet has a little gourmet, healthy meal. 

If all else fails, remember the ranch dressing. The little dips will eat almost anything that can be plunged into the stuff!


Jacky Runice has been a columnist with the Daily Herald Chicago since grunge music and flannel was the new black. Her fingers and gray matter have been busy as travel editor of Reunions Magazine; penning a column that was syndicated around the nation via Tribune Media Services. Her work can be found at

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