14 chefs share what they pack in their kids' lunches

Business Insider US
lunch box
Photo by Ella Olsson on Unsplash
  • Chefs told Business Insider about the types of foods they pack in their children's lunchboxes.
  • Many chefs said they try to prepare balanced meals that include new foods for their kids to try.
  • Some chefs said they put sweet treats, like homemade pastries, in their children's lunch boxes.

Running a kitchen and cooking for hours in a fast-paced environment is hard work, but preparing meals for kids can sometimes be even more challenging.

So INSIDER asked chefs around the Unite States what sort of lunches they prepare for their toughest critics - their children.

Here's what chefs said they pack in their children's lunch boxes.

This chef said he packs foods he knows his daughter will eat as well as new things for her to try

Alex McCrery, a chef and the co-founder of Tilit, told INSIDER that his daughter "subsists on various forms of white carbs and cheese mixed in with the occasional bite of protein or fruit".

"When it comes to preparing lunch I keep in mind what I know she'll eat, as the waste factor really gets me," he said. He said he will also pack her a few foods that he hopes she might try.

"I believe the most important thing is to not give up on suggesting new things for her to try and to not get upset when she spits them right back out," he added.

McCrey said a typical lunch box for his daughter usually includes leftovers from the previous night's dinner, such as pasta Bolognese, mashed potatoes, or chicken tacos. He said sometimes his daughter's lunch is comprised of dishes he can prepare in the morning, like a grilled cheese sandwich or quesadilla, plus yogurt, fruit, and a few slices of chorizo.

This Italian chef said she uses pasta to introduce new flavors to her son

"Like all good Italians, my [2-year-old] son has recently shown a love of pasta," Lena Ciardullo, executive chef of Marta, Vini e Fritti, and Caffe Marchio, told INSIDER. "To this end, I have started making differently filled tortellini and sauce bases to expose him to some new flavors. Our most recent success was tortellini filled with spinach, pecorino, and lemon."

She said even though she knows her son would be perfectly content with eating peanut butter at every meal, she's actively working to get him excited about different kinds of food by keeping his lunches interesting.

This chef said she prepares things like hummus and spicy soups for her kids

"I love packing a bento-box-style lunch and a small thermos," Janine Booth, co-chef and owner of Root & Bone, told INSIDER.

One of the things she always includes in her children's lunches is hummus. "Every Sunday I make a fresh batch of whipped hummus which I pair with mini cucumbers, crunchy carrots, and pita chips," she said.

Booth said the hot thermoses she gives her kids are usually filled with just about anything, from chickpea pasta with chicken and pesto made from sun-dried tomatoes and cashews to homemade meatballs with lentil-based spaghetti.

She said one of her kids loves spicy soups so she'll sometimes pack her some homemade chicken tom yum.

This chef said he uses reusable containers and tries to make packed lunches that are healthy and fresh

"We like to keep it really healthy and fresh with lots of fresh fruit and vegetables like veggie sushi, cucumber and veggie sandwiches, hummus and crudités, and veggie chili," Chef Richard Blais told INSIDER.

This chef said he mixes up different healthy options that suit his son's restricted diet

"My kids are older now, but my eldest son Sean is autistic and on a restricted diet," Franklin Becker, chef and partner at La Central in Hôtel Americano, told INSIDER.

"To keep choices healthy but also varied, we pack fresh vegetables, like cucumbers or celery, with sunflower butter and, for added protein, some pork or steak bites. He also enjoys cassava chips, a great alternative to potato chips [that are] made from cassava root," he added.

This chef said he usually gives his kids a classic peanut butter and jam

"When I pack lunch for [my kids], I generally opt for an old-fashioned peanut butter and jelly sandwich on good bread," Mike Lemole, chef at Datz in Tampa, Florida, told INSIDER. "I like to pair the sandwich with fruit and, of course, a juice box. It keeps meal prep simple and the kids love it."

This chef said he keeps lunches simple by making sandwiches for his kids

Rida El Azri Ennassiri, executive chef of The Weather Room at Cyrus Hotel, told INSIDER that he prepares a lot of simple sandwiches because his kids tend to be picky eaters.

He said that some of the sandwiches he makes for his kids include shaved honey ham with provolone cheese, roasted chicken with cheddar cheese, and roasted turkey with muenster cheese, mayonnaise, and mustard.

This chef said he ensures there are always carbs, protein, vegetables, and something sweet in his daughter's packed lunch

Masatomo Hamaya, chef de cuisine at Dragonfly Izakaya & Fish Market in Miami, Florida, told INSIDER that he's focused on providing his kid with balanced, interesting meals.

"I'm always swapping things in and out to keep it fresh," he said, explaining that he ensures each meal he packs for his daughter includes carbs, protein, and vegetables.

He said he often wraps up these components in an onigiri, which he described as "a Japanese food made from white rice formed into triangles." He said he does this to keep his daughter interested in her meals and to keep her "always guessing" what could be inside of her lunch bag.

For dessert, Hamaya said he makes his daughter a sweet onigiri. He said he usually fills it with preserved plums because they're sweet and loaded with vitamin C.

This chef said he packs several food options for his kids in order to keep them energized for their after-school activities

Jorge Ramos, head chef at Cornucopia Gourmet Market, Spinnaker Pool Grill, and Atlas Cocktail Lounge, told INSIDER that he usually packs fruit, carrot sticks or celery sticks, a cheese stick or yogurt, and a treat like popcorn or cheddar crackers for his kids.

"Their hot lunch will depend on what we meal prep but we always include proteins, grains, and vegetables," Ramos said. "Most importantly, I always pack lots of water for them."

This chef said he deals with his picky eaters by packing a visually inviting and healthy spread for them

"I have two children who can be picky eaters so I make sure everything I pack them for lunch is very visually appealing," Tsui Yiuming, head pasta chef at MR CHOW Miami, told INSIDER.

"I usually start off packing them some type of rice or noodles and then I'll add in a meat or egg component. Lastly, I'll make sure to add some vegetables in - they enjoy corn, carrots, and green beans," he said. "Overall, I pack a healthy lunch in hopes that they develop healthy eating habits."

This chef said she packs sweet treats for her kids on Fridays

"I am a mom of two completely different children, so likewise, they have different lunch bags," Katherine Van Der Biest, pastry chef at dbakers Sweet Studio, told INSIDER. "I adapt to their tastes in the healthiest way possible from Monday to Thursday and [on] Fridays we have a party."

Van Der Biest said that she always includes a protein, fruit, and carbs in her kids' meals but, on Fridays, she sends her kids to school with additional sweets like homemade pancakes, Nutella with breadsticks, croissants, or macarons.

This chef said he gives his kids homemade meals and special plates for lunch

PJ Calapa, chef at and owner of The Spaniard and Scampi in NYC, told INSIDER that his son won't eat sandwiches even though he likes the components of them, so he came up with a clever solution - he makes his son a board of meats and cheeses for lunch.

He said these boards usually consist of cubed cheeses like Irish cheddar, Colby, or Monterey Jack, and meats like salami, soppressata (without the whole peppercorns), or mortadella.

Calapa said he usually pairs this board with a slice of locally made Pullman bread that is topped with a smear of high-fat French butter.

Calapa added that his wife sometimes makes a week's worth of homemade empanadas that contain ground beef and peas and then freezes them. He said in the morning they warm the empanadas up so they can put them in their children's lunch boxes.

This chef said his kids like to bring foods they make with him, plus fresh vegetables

"Recently, my daughter and I made rose-flavored (and -colored) French macarons filled with raspberry jam made from raspberries we picked in our neighbor's yard," Matt Aita, chef at Little Beet Table told INSIDER. "She was so proud of the macarons, she packed them to show [to] and share with her friends."

He also said that fresh vegetables are a staple in packed lunches, adding that his kids recently tried farm-fresh carrots and fell in love with their sweet taste.

This chef said his kids' lunches usually consist of fish and Asian fruits

"I love making my children fish for their school lunches - it's a delicious, nutrient-rich protein," Mike Khuu, owner and chef of PhoBar, told INSIDER. "I usually bake either tuna, salmon, or fresh sardines in my signature fish sauce."

He said he always pairs their meals with Asian fruits that are currently in season.

"Dragonfruit, rambutan, and guava are some of their favorites," said Khuu. "They cherish this seasonal fruit since the same fresh quality is not available year-round."

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