Brown-bag gourmet: Pack a chef-created school lunch - The Buffalo News

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Brown-bag gourmet: Pack a chef-created school lunch

The humble sandwich is nearly a no-brainer when it comes to back-to-school lunchbox options. It’s easy and portable, and most kids like the simple flavors of ham and cheese or PB&J.

Yet it often can be uninteresting and unhealthy, likely made with processed meats and cheeses or sugary peanut butter mashed between flavorless slices of refined-grain bread, thrown together in the morning by harried parents who may lack the time to be more creative.

By lunchtime, too, a sandwich can be soggy; half or more may end up in the trash can.

To add variety, excitement and nutrients to your children’s lunchbox menu this year, consider these recipes provided by four chefs who have school-age kids of their own. The mini meals, some of which could double as dinner the night before in larger portions, provide a means for sneaking in fruits, vegetables and legumes in a tasty, finger-licking way – sure to make your child’s lunchtime almost as fun as recess.

Japanese Meatballs with Tare Sauce

¾ pound 80/20 ground beef

¼ pound ground pork

2 tablespoons fresh ginger, chopped

2 tablespoons garlic, minced

½ cup chopped white onion

1 egg

2 tablespoons soy sauce

Salt and pepper, to taste

In a medium bowl, mix all ingredients together. Form into small, quarter-size balls. Allow meatballs to chill in fridge until firm.

Saute meatballs over medium heat until golden brown, then toss with tare sauce (recipe follows).

Makes approximately 16 meatballs.

Per meatball: 87 calories, 7 grams fat, 1 gram carbohydrates, 5 grams protein, 35 milligrams cholesterol, 159 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber, 72 percent of calories from fat.

Tare sauce

2 ounces sugar

2 ounces soy sauce

5 ounces water

Cook all ingredients in a small sauce pot over medium heat until the mixture has the consistency of maple syrup.

Makes approximately ∏ cup.

Per 1-tablespoon serving: 25 calories, trace fat, 6 grams carbohydrates, trace protein, no cholesterol, 324 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber, no calories from fat.

White Sesame and Fresh Peach ‘Cobbler’

2 fresh peaches, peeled, pits removed and cut into small wedges

1 tablespoon white sesame seeds

2 ounces apple-cinnamon granola

1 ounce sweetened banana chips

½ cup fresh berries of choice

In a small nonstick pan, cook peaches over medium heat, adding sesame seeds after peaches start to soften. Remove from heat.

Combine cooked peaches and remaining ingredients in a bowl and mix well with a wooden spoon until mixture sticks together.

Makes 4 servings.

Per serving: 145 calories, 7 grams fat, 19 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams protein, no cholesterol, 2 milligrams sodium, 4 grams dietary fiber, 43 percent of calories from fat.

Chocolate Gelatin

3 cups water

2 cups 2-percent milk

6 ounces Toll House milk chocolate chips

1 packet agar agar powder

Heat water, milk and chocolate chips in sauce pot. Once simmering, add agar agar. Simmer for 3 minutes, stirring constantly.

Turn off heat and pour mixture into molds of choice. Chill until firm. Makes 3 servings.

Per serving: 372 calories, 21 grams fat, 42 grams carbohydrates, 9 grams protein, 25 milligrams cholesterol, 128 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber, 48 percent of calories from fat.

– From Tokyo Cafe, Fort Worth, Texas;

Green Chile Chicken Squash ‘Sliders’

2 cups cooked chicken, shredded or pulled

¼ cup finely diced onion

¼ cup finely diced celery

½ cup shredded cheddar cheese

¼ cup diced green chiles

2 tablespoons mayonnaise

2 teaspoons ground coriander

1 yellow summer squash, raw and unpeeled

Combine all ingredients except squash, and keep chilled.

Slice squash into four lengthwise strips, remove any seeds, and cut each strip into approximately three pieces to create slider “buns.”

Assemble each slider using a scoop of green chile chicken mixture and two squash pieces.

Makes about 6 sliders.

Per slider: 162 calories, 9 grams fat, 2 grams carbohydrates, 17 grams protein, 51 milligrams cholesterol, 137 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber, 52 percent of calories from fat.

– From Billy Bob’s Texas, Fort Worth, Texas;

Cannellini Bean Dip

2 cups cooked cannellini beans, rinsed

∑ cup sauteed shallots

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

½ teaspoon salt

Use a food processor or immersion hand blender to blend all ingredients together until smooth. Serve with pita chips.

Chef’s tip: Use this ingredient list to make Tuscan bean soup by adding 1 quart of chicken or vegetable stock. Stir everything together, heat and serve.

Makes approximately 2½ cups.

Per 1-tablespoon serving: 21 calories, 1 gram fat, 2 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram protein, no cholesterol, 27 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber, 41 percent of calories from fat.

– From the Bastion Restaurant, Fort Worth, Texas;

Barbecue Salmon Fillet with Cucumbers, Tomatoes and Feta

1 salmon fillet

Salt and pepper, to taste

Barbecue sauce, to taste

3 tomato slices

5 to 6 cucumber slices

Feta cheese crumbles, for garnish

Season salmon with salt and pepper on both sides, then coat both sides with barbecue sauce.

Grill until salmon is done and sauce is slightly caramelized. Allow to cool before storing in fridge overnight.

Season tomato and cucumber slices with salt and pepper and top with feta crumbles. Serves 1.

Per serving: 240 calories, 7 grams fat, 7 grams carbohydrates, 36 grams protein, 91 milligrams cholesterol, 283 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber, 27 percent of calories from fat.

– From Lili’s Bistro, Fort Worth, Texas;

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