The last post of summer vacation! And the secret to great panini.

Easy lunch box ideas: turkey and asiago panini; blackberries; and mini bell peppers.

Which sounds crazy to me. I know a lot of kids already have headed back to school, but Parker doesn’t until Tuesday.

So to celebrate summer’s final hurrah, we have a big weekend at the lake planned. Tomorrow, friends are coming over for a pulled pork and gazpacho fest. On Sunday, a family barbecue.

And on Monday… I think we’re going to come home early and get our lives in order. I’m actually looking forward to a return to routine. So we’ll come home, clean up, get squared away for Tuesday.

Who knows… Maybe I’ll even have time to do some grocery shopping so Parker can bring a decent lunch for the first day of school!

For today’s lunch, I kept things simple. I made a turkey and asiago panini, which he inhaled, then asked for more. I paired it with some blackberries and a couple mini bell peppers.

By the way, I firmly believe the secret to making great panini is not some expensive panini press. The presses are handy, but they are a real pain to clean. Especially when all you really need is a good cast-iron skillet.

Pop the skillet over a medium-low heat and let it get hot slowly. Then drop in some butter or oil. Now add your sandwich and balance something heavy on top of it (I used a cast-iron saucepan). Now reduce the heat to low and walk away.

Check it every once in a while, but do nothing else. After about 5 minutes, flip the sandwich, add the weight again, then walk away for another 5 minutes. That’s eat.

The slow, low, even heat delivered by the cast-iron skillet will gently brown and crisp your bread while giving the sandwich fillings plenty of time to heat up.

And by the way, that’s the sort of crispy exterior you want for toasted sandwiches that you plan to pack for lunch. The fat and the thorough toasting help keep the bread from getting soggy.

Now, in other news. Remember the banana ketchup chicken recipe I raved about a while back? It was inspired by my friend, chef Daisy Martinez. Here’s the recipe. You will want to make this.

Also, yesterday I posted an essay over on Rachael Ray’s site about my philosophy regarding involving kids in lunch packing. I called it, “Lunch is not a Democracy.” Let me know what you think.

Finally, next week I’ll be doing a Twitter group chat with the folks from Family Fun magazine. Details below. Be sure to join in the conversation about packing good, healthy lunches kids will love.


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6 Responses to “The last post of summer vacation! And the secret to great panini.”

  1. Katie says:

    Oh, I loved your article! I never ask them aboit dinner! why have i been asking them a oit lunch??? it is now a thing of the past! So timely as my boys )7 & 7) started school this week. I’ve been thinking about asking you some questions that come as a problem for me, so I’m going to just ask them here! So one problem that I feel like I’m always battling is my boys coming home and wanting what someone else has, eg “a monsters university snack!!!!!” Ugh. I find myself working against the tide of processed packaged for little consumer foods. Have you dealt with that. The other problem I have is that I hear all the time that there isn’t enough time for lunch. Thankfully in our school there is a lot of recess time. But out of the lunch hour only 20 minutes is for sit them down, let them get milk, eat and get them out for the next shift. I also have talkers – I’m sure they are not concentrating solely on food. Today I thought maybe more bite-sizes things would be a help??? I’d love to hear your thought. Thanks so much for this blog, love it! Looking forward to the book.

    • J.M Hirsch says:

      Thanks so much! So glad you enjoyed the article. Happy to tackle your questions.

      1 — The kids wants the lunches the other kids have.

      I think this one is pretty common. Oddly, I have rarely had to deal with this. I’m probably just lucky. But I also think it’s partly due to the way I pack his lunch. While I don’t give Parker much say in his lunches, I do try to pack foods I know he’ll get excited about. That’s a balancing act, of course. He’d be excited about all sorts of junk food. But we’re not going there. Packing foods I know he’ll love (bacon! pulled pork! steak carpaccio! sushi! etc.) makes the other kids’ lunches less attractive. Same with slipping in the occasional treats.

      My advice would be this. Have a chat with the boys and start out with that line all kids hate to hear… “Every family makes different choices. Our family doesn’t buy (insert whatever crap they are coveting) because (a gentle version of it will rot your teeth and steal your soul).”

      Now… Break every rule I talked about in my post about lunch not being a democracy. A little. After you’ve broken the bad news that you aren’t buying them any Despicable Monster Planes 2 Lunchtastics, ask them what sort of lunches they would like. Tell them that as long as it’s a healthy choice, you’ll find a way to work with their ideas. As guidance, consider telling them to think about their favorite dinners. Write down their ideas. If they seem odd or difficult choices for packed lunches, let me know and we’ll find a way to remake them so they are easy to pack. Hey, if I can pack carpaccio, I’m pretty sure we can handle whatever your kids come up with.

      But note this… Once you’ve established what sorts of lunches they want, that’s where their role in the process ends. You decide which lunch goes on which days, etc. You’ve got way too much to balance without having to worry about whether your selection pleases them on any given day (not that I’m speaking from experience with a certain 9-year-old boy or anything…)

      2 — No time to eat.

      Oh. My. God. I hear this one every single day from Parker. I’ve considered talking to the administration about it, but I’m not sure I want to be “THAT” dad again. (About a year ago I was “THAT” dad who insisted the snacks they sell in the school store be healthier — those snacks are the only foods sold at my son’s school). So I feel your pain on this one. And Parker isn’t just a talker. He’s a babbler. He will gladly spend all day babbling away, then suddenly realize he’s done nothing and eaten nothing.

      You’re on the right track for the solution. I have found that packing lots of small items makes it easier for Parker to inhale bites in between babbles. So wraps, for example, I turn into sushi bites. I’ll cut larger sandwiches into quarters, or even smaller pieces.

      I also do some of the work for him. I make sure I cut any meat into bite-size chunks before I pack it. I pull the grapes off the vine so he can just pop them in his mouth. I cut apples and plums and any other similar fruit into slices or chunks. It sounds stupid, but it does make it easier for him to eat it all faster. I think part of it is psychological. Faced with one large sandwich or one big apple, kids feel daunted, slow down, babble more, etc. And as a result, don’t get their lunches eaten. But break the food down into bites, and suddenly it’s easy for them to pop the food in their mouths fast.

      I even do this with pasta. If I pack him a pasta dish make from spaghetti or some other long form of pasta, I will use kitchen shears to cut it into easy bites before popping it in the thermos. It’s a small thing, but I believe it does make it easier for them to eat it faster.

      So I hope these ideas help. And I can’t wait to hear what your boys say they want in their lunches.

  2. Meg C says:

    Great interview in the Union Leader today.

  3. Caroline L. says:

    Hi –

    These are super ideas! What type of bread do you use to make paninis?

    • J.M Hirsch says:

      Oh, I’m very selective. I use only… whatever bread I have. This time it was focaccia buns. Next time it will be… whatever bread I have.