I’m a total cookbook nerd. I have an entire bookshelf in my living room dedicated to them. There are about a hundred, neatly grouped by categories that mirror my interests: Mediterranean food, healthy cooking, celebrity chefs, preserving, reference and Julia Child. The top shelf — of course it’s the top shelf — is reserved for lunch cookbooks and if you’re a regular reader of this blog, it will come as no surprise that these are some of my favorites. My latest addition to this prized collection? Beating the Lunch Box Blues by J.M. Hirsch.
Hirsch is the food editor for the A.P. and the dad behind the Lunch Box Blues blog. I contacted him a few weeks ago to see if I could get a copy of his book for review and I was psyched to have it in my hands a couple days later. As I flipped through it, I instantly knew it would be something I’d reach for over and over.
This is not a traditional cookbook. Though it does have some recipes in it (more on that in a bit), most of the book is made up of ideas. As Hirsch notes, most people don’t want to cook elaborate recipes in the mornings to take or send in a lunch box. Instead people assemble lunches. This book is packed — packed tightly, right up to the rim — with novel, clever, fun ideas that can be combined in endless combinations to make a delicious lunch.
OK. Before I go any further, I have to mention that he has a couple of snarky comments about people who cut sandwiches into shapes with cookie cutters right there in the first paragraph of the introduction, which…ahem…. All I’m going to say about that is that is that it wouldn’t hurt him to lay off the decorative bento packers of the world. We are harmless and we aren’t trying to force anyone to engage in our hobby. That being said, I am willing to let his comments slide because he wrote a fantastic book (and because I’m not the kind of gal to hold a grudge).
The book is divided into a dozen or so sections. There are the expected lists of packing tips, suggested lunch gear, and pantry staples along with ideas for basics like chicken, seafood, and beef. But there are also whole categories that are terrifically creative and fresh. Breakfast for lunch? He suggests 14 different ideas — most of which I’ve never seen before. In a salad rut? There are a dozen ideas for turning your favorite deli sandwiches into a creative salad. He also includes 30 easy dinner recipes and accompanies each with two ideas for turning the leftovers into a new lunch the next day. Killing two birds with one stone is A-OK with me.
It’s important to note that this is not a book filled entirely with “kid food”. My boys are fairly adventurous eaters, but a lot of the recipes in this book would be a really tough sell with them. I would eat most of them happily. My kids? Not so much.
Still, there are plenty of ideas for food that I think they would like. Here are just a handful of dishes I’m planning to try in the kids’ lunch boxes:
- pizza sushi — not really sushi, more like tortilla roll-ups
- peanut butter and pretzel sandwiches — A total forehead slapper. How have I never thought of this before?
- a healthy pumpkin pie pudding
- thawed frozen shrimp with a side of cocktail sauce — this is another forehead slapper. Wyatt loooooves shrimp. Why did I never think of this?
- apples sauteed with brown sugar and butter and packed into a thermos to be eaten with freezer waffles
And here are a few ideas I want to try for myself:
- quick hoisin lettuce wraps
- banh me salad
- rosemary port braised beef short ribs
- tomato soup with grilled cheese croutons
And there are a bunch of ideas I’ve already tried:
- chia seed pudding — I like it, the kids think it’s weird
- hoisin meatloaf — I made this the other night, the leftovers went to school with the boys today.
- salami mixed into hummus — I tried this a couple weeks ago. Wyatt loved the salami, hated the hummus. Augie bristled because I adulterated his beloved hummus with salami. Sigh.
- pasta with ham, peas and creme fraiche — ridiculously good, but not an every day food
Last week, I made the Lemon-Paprika Roasted Salmon for dinner. The salmon was terrific and, shockingly, the kids ate it with little complaint.
But it was even better the next day, mixed into a sushi salad for my lunch. In the book, Hirsch suggests tossing together leftover rice, cooked seafood, avocado, rice vinegar and sesame seeds. I had some roasted sesame nori flakes in the cupboard so I sprinkled those on top for more sushi-osity. It was ridiculously good and quite satisfying and I’ll be making it again, for sure.
- This book has a gazillion (give or take a bazillion) creative, fun ideas for lunches.
- The photos are gorgeous.
- You can’t possibly read it without being inspired to try something new.
- J.M. Hirsch needs to lay off decorative bento-ists.
- I highly recommend his book!
Beating the Lunch Box Blues is available as of today. It retails for $18.00 but Amazon is selling it for about $11.00 depending on whether you buy the soft cover or the Kindle version.
Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book, but I have not been paid or otherwise compensated to write this review. This post contains affiliate links.