Love In the Lunchbox

Freshen up your approach to school lunches with help from Catherine McCord of Weelicious

By Christina Elston

WeeliciousMaybe you started the school year with a great plan to pack your child a tasty, nutritious lunch every day. Maybe things even went well through most of September before you exhausted that back-to-school energy or just ran out of ideas. Or perhaps you’ve always just knocked together a PB&J and some chips, assuming the lunch would be traded anyhow.

Get ready for a new menu, moms, because the Lunch Lady has arrived.

Catherine McCord traveled the world as a model and then studied cooking in Manhattan before marrying and becoming a mom. Searching for the best way to feed her son, Kenya, now 6, led her to found Weelicious.com, a site packed with more than 700 original recipes. From her home kitchen in Los Feliz, McCord, Kenya and daughter Chloe, 4, demonstrate dishes and cooking techniques in videos on the popular site.

A year ago, McCord released her first cookbook, Weelicious (HarperCollins, 2012), and the follow-up, Weelicious Lunches, came out Sept. 3.

McCord says you only need a few minutes to pack a lunchbox your kids will love. “I make something different every single day, so I would say it takes me 15 minutes,” she says, insisting that if you can live with a little less variety, you can cut your time to 10 minutes.

Not naturally an early riser, McCord does at least half her lunchbox prep the night before, and she has one more secret. “I freeze everything,” she says. From homemade waffles to pancakes, fruit and leftovers, it’s all waiting in labeled and dated zipper-lock bags and glass containers (“so you can actually see what’s in it”). Blue painter’s tape and permanent marker let her label reusable containers without a fuss.

Another time-saver for McCord: a hand-held mandoline to make quick work of slicing veggies. She says Oxo is a good brand, and you can get one for less than $20. It comes in handy for making a cucumber and cream cheese sandwich, which she says is her go-to on hectic mornings, “because I know it always comes back gone, and it takes me literally 30 seconds.”

For parents without much kitchen experience, she suggests her Banana Dog Bites as a good entry into the lunchbox world. Smear a tortilla with nut butter, wrap around a banana and slice for a gourmet take on the Elvis sandwich. “It’s not any more work, it’s just visually different,” she says. “I’ve yet to find a kid that doesn’t like it.”

Making lunch for the kids and yourself? Try her Shredded Chinese Chicken Salad. Grown-ups love it, but McCord thinks the dressing and the way that it’s chopped (finely, so it is easier for kids to eat) gives it kid appeal.

Beyond the great recipes (more than 160), Weelicious Lunches also packs in plenty of advice about engaging your child’s senses with healthy food, working with leftovers, appealing to picky eaters, and how to pack and serve lunches. McCord tested 40 to 50 different lunchboxes and lunch containers before choosing her favorites – mostly bento-style containers – to recommend in the book. Bento-style containers mean fewer lids and other parts for your child to contend with.

Another handy feature McCord is proud of is the food allergy chart, where families can quickly find out which of the recipes are gluten-free, nut-free, egg-free or dairy-free. She created the guide to help families with children whose allergies limit their lunchtime options and are often left serving the same few dishes again and again. “It’s great knowing that the book provides ideas that they may not have thought of,” she says.

Ideas you’ll find in the book include Veggie Tortilla Roll-ups, Crispy Chicken Bites and Pineapple Fruit Leather. See the roll-ups recipe above, and recipes for the chicken bites, the fruit leather, and a link to the Pumpkin Pop Tarts Catherine and Chloe are making on our cover at LAParent.com/article/weelicious.html.

For further inspiration, head out to your local grocery store – or, better yet, farmers’ market – and let your kids pick out some fruits and veggies to try. McCord says this is the best way to change picky eaters into healthy eaters. “My kids’ friends, I have transformed a few of them,” she says. “When you educate and empower, kids feel good about knowing what they’re eating.”

 

Christina Elston is editor of L.A. Parent.

 

Veggie RollsVeggie Tortilla Roll-ups

Makes 4 servings

½ cup hummus

4 whole-wheat

tortillas

2 medium carrots,

peeled and grated

(about 1 cup)

1 avocado, sliced

 

1. Spread 2 tablespoons hummus on each tortilla, taking care to cover the edges, since the hummus will act as a glue to hold the wrap together.

2. Sprinkle ¼ cup of the grated carrots along the closest edge of each tortilla, and lay a quarter of the avocado slices on top of the carrots.

3. Roll up, slice in half diagonally, and serve.

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