Today’s lunch packed for you by… Elizabeth Karmel

So yesterday in between bouts of badminton with Parker and struggling to get a wood-fired oven to fire, I did a couple interviews about the upcoming release of “Beating the Lunch Box Blues.”

Which is unbelievably just two weeks away.

The question I kept getting? What are parents doing wrong?

I’m not so sure that “wrong” is the right way to phrase it, but I get what the interviewers were going for. Sometimes we trip over ourselves and make our jobs harder. Any job really. And when it comes to parenting… Every job, really.

Lunch is no exception.

When it comes to lunch, the way we trip up most is boxing ourselves in unnecessarily. Culturally, we tend to have an idea of what a packed lunch is supposed to be. Usually it involves some sort of sandwich, a hunk of fruit and a treat on the side.

And if that’s all you have to work with, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the lack of choices.

The solution is simple — treat lunch like any other meal. And by that I mean, anything goes. Your kid (or you!) craves steak carpaccio? Sushi? Pack ’em. Gazpacho? Go for it (and don’t forget the dollop of sour cream).

Lunch doesn’t even need to be that structured, particularly when it comes to kids. Lunch doesn’t need a centerpiece. In fact, that’s what I love about the bento approach to packing lunches. Lots of little bits add up.

Some of Parker’s favorite lunches are collections of odd bits and pieces — leftover bacon, some fruit, a nibble or two of cheese, a hunk of bread or some crackers, maybe a small treat. A total what-have-you approach to lunch.

That’s why I love today’s food celebrity lunch. Grill goddess Elizabeth Karmel clearly knows her way around Parker’s lunch box as well as she does the barbecue pit.

Her suggestion? A French picnic made up of bits and pieces — cheese, sausage, slices of peach, multi-grain melba toast. And chocolate!

Easy lunch ideas: A French picnic -- bits of cheese, sausage, peaches, multi-grain toast and chocolate.


Love the simplicity of her shot. This is the sort of lunch kids would love. And it could be packed in less than 5 minutes.

And it’s a fine excuse to give a sneak peek at one of the lunches in my new book — a similar sort of lunch appears on p. 113.

Easy lunch ideas:


By the way, the Buy Lunch, Get Dinner Free! giveaway continues. There are about 20 free copies left of my last book. So head over to Amazon and preorder “Beating the Lunch Box Blues,” then forward your order confirmation to and I’ll send you a free copy of my last cookbook, “High Flavor, Low Labor.”

And for anyone who preorders two copies of “Beating the Lunch Box Blues,” the folks over at Rachael Ray Books will toss in a copy of one of Rachael Ray’s last books, either “My Year in Meals” or “The Book of Burger.”

Meanwhile, with Labor Day coming up, I wanted to share with you one of Elizabeth’s most awesome recipes. Her take on North Carolina-style pulled pork is just amazing. And while it’s too long a recipe to make for lunch on Day 1, it makes plenty of leftovers for lunch on Day 2. And Day 3.

North Carolina-style Pulled Pork Sandwiches

North Carolina barbecue is seasoned by time and wood smoke. Remember, the larger your piece of meat, the longer it will take to cook. And there is no rushing real barbecue.

Start to finish: 6 hours
Servings: 10

Hickory wood chips, soaked in water for 30 minutes
7- to 9-pound bone-in pork butt or Boston Butt
Olive oil
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
Barbecue sauce (see recipe below)
10 unseeded hamburger buns

Prepare a charcoal or gas grill for low heat, indirect cooking. For a charcoal grill, this means banking the coals to one side. For a gas grill, turn off the heat on one side. Aim to maintain a temperature of 300 degrees.

Do not trim any excess fat off the pork; this fat will naturally baste the meat and keep it moist during the long cooking time. Brush the pork with a thin coating of olive oil, then season with salt and pepper. Set aside on a clean tray until ready to cook.

Before placing the meat on the grill, add soaked wood chips. For a charcoal grill, place the chips directly on white-gray ash briquettes. For a gas grill, use a smoking box according to product directions. If using a charcoal grill, you will need to add charcoal every hour during cooking to maintain the heat.

Place the pork in the center of the cooking grate fat-side up. Cook slowly for 5 to 6 hours at 300 degrees, or until a thermometer inserted at the middle of the pork registers 190 degrees to 200 degrees. The meat should be very tender and falling apart. If there is a bone in the meat, it should come out smoothly and clean with no meat clinging to it. There is no need to turn the meat during the entire cooking time.

Let the meat rest for 20 minutes, or until cool enough to handle. Using 2 forks, pull the meat from the skin, bones and fat. Set aside any crispy bits of fat that have been completely rendered and look almost burned. Working quickly, use the forks to shred the chunks of meat by crossing the forks and “pulling” the meat into small pieces.

While the meat is still warm, mix with enough barbecue sauce to moisten and season the meat, about 3/4 cup to 1 cup. The recipe can be made in advance up to this point and reheated in a double boiler with about 1/4 cup additional sauce.

Serve on white hamburger buns. Serve additional sauce on the side, if desired.

North Carolina Barbecue Sauce

Start to finish: 5 minutes
Makes about 3 cups

2 cups cider vinegar
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon ground white pepper
1/2 to 1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 cup ketchup

Mix all ingredients together and let sit at least 10 minutes or up to several weeks in the refrigerator. Note that the longer the sauce sits, the hotter it gets since the heat from the red pepper flakes is brought out by the vinegar. Start with 1/2 tablespoon red pepper flakes, then add more to taste.

« Back

14 Responses to “Today’s lunch packed for you by… Elizabeth Karmel”

  1. Today I sent Baguette to day care with Breakfast for Lunch. She didn’t eat Breakfast for Dinner last night, so I warmed up the eggs and pancakes and put them in her thermos.

    Other days, I send her in with what I like to think of as tapas–other parents might call them “snacks.” I’m hoping that she’ll try more things and like some of them.

    I’ve started using both these approaches as a result of reading your blog. Thanks!

    • J.M Hirsch says:

      Aw, thanks. And I love the idea of billing the tidbits as tapas. Sounds so much better than the “whatever crap I can find in the refrigerator” — which generally is what I’m thinking (but not saying out loud)!

  2. Sara says:

    For the modest cooks you can’t quite “eye ball it” thank you for the recipes.

  3. Daniela says:

    This sounds delicious!!

  4. Daniela says:

    I think having some great lunch gear really helps with the lunch variety. I am a big fan of the Planetbox for kids in K and 2nd grade. It makes it very easy to throw in bits and pieces and turn out a lovely lunch.

    • J.M Hirsch says:

      I totally agree. The gear makes all the difference. Having containers makes it so much easier to come up with ideas for filling them. Sounds silly, but so true.

  5. Jillian says:

    Can I ask you something? I am new to the vinegar world. I have Braggs Apple Cider vinegar which I assume must be the same as cider vinegar. Now I see you use rice wine vinegar all the time, how does the flavor differ from the apple? Is it a sweet vs savory?

    • J.M Hirsch says:

      Oh, that’s the brand of cider vinegar I use. I go through gallons of the stuff. It has a slightly sweet, but still sharp flavor. I think it goes well with just about anything and I use that as my go-to vinegar most of the time. For Asian foods, such as sushi dipping sauces or spicy peanut noodles, etc., I will often use seasoned rice vinegar. It has a milder, but tangier flavor. But truth be told, if I’m out of one, I won’t hesitate to use the other. And I go through large amounts of the cider vinegar (it’s pretty cheap). I use it in marinades, dressings, slaws, even in place of lemon juice for things like hummus.

      • Jillian says:

        oh fabulous! Thank you, I have always been hesitant to try them because it can be such an overwhelming flavor. So far the only thing I have ever used it for was to dye eggs :p

  6. LaurieGo says:

    Because I am packing a lunch for someone who loves breakfast any time, I made a bacon and (hard boiled) egg sandwich with a side of veggie straws (as the potato substitute). We’ll see how it goes.