It was noon when the call arrived.
“Do you know what you packed in my lunch?” my daughter whispered over the phone.
I was puzzled. Though I had been half-awake when I prepared the brown bag, lunch seemed to have been pretty much, well, lunch.
“I could have been expelled,” she hissed over the phone.
Well, clearly I had not been as alert as I thought I had been.
Ever have a morning like that?
Whether you’re in charge of making lunch — as I was on that occasion — or simply the one who does the buying, meal prep for the noontime sit-down can be as predictable or as innovative as you or the recipient want it to be.
Judging from the number of new cookbooks on the subject, plenty of ideas are floating around that raise the box lunch to new levels. These are meals, I should note, that I want myself (and I wouldn’t mind if someone made them for me).
The bigger dilemma for the One in Charge of Lunch may be, “Does your child want variety at noontime?”
That answer may differ by the day, and definitely by the age.
And that’s the true challenge of packing a lunch. What works at age 6 may not satisfy at 8, and definitely won’t delight at 16 (well, nothing will, so don’t even try), much less at 18. Furthermore, what worked yesterday won’t necessarily work today.
Then again you may have a 12-year run of PB&J with all parties happy.
It just depends.
Wherever your child lands on the food spectrum (from picky to adventurous eater), the best place for the lunch packer to begin is with fresh ingredients. If possible, let the eater be part of the process, whether it’s at the grocery store or in the kitchen. It’s harder to complain when you’ve packed the lunch yourself.
One of the best of the new lunch books offers a visual feast of ideas — not so many recipes, per se, but inspiration for pulling together quick lunchtime bites for anyone in the family.
“Beating the Lunch Box Blues,” by J.M. Hirsch (Rachael Ray Books, 198 pages, $18) offers variations on a lunch theme, with photos that will make any kid say, “I want that.”
Simple but contemporary ideas from Hirsch include:
• Peanut butter (or other nut butter) over a whole-wheat tortilla, topped with a whole banana and strips of apple or pear; then rolled up.
• One-minute cold sesame noodle salad: Leftover noodles tossed with tahini (sesame seed butter), soy sauce, vinegar and a splash of hot sauce and sesame seeds. Add some veggies, or not.
• DIY lunch kits, made of crackers, cheese, hummus, nut butter or whatever your little darlin’ likes (that you approve of).
• The BLT salad.
• Prosciutto-wrapped melon slices and a slice of prepared quiche, served warm or cold.
• Leftover rice turned into fried rice, served in a Thermos.
A big oops
And that lunchtime item I packed for my high school daughter many years ago?
A can of beer.
Could have happened to anyone half-awake, at the end of a very busy week, who reached into the back of a dark pantry shelf and grabbed what appeared to be a beverage. Really.
Lesson learned: Pack lunches the night before. Or have the kids do it.
Follow Lee Svitak Dean on Twitter: @StribTaste