Back to School: Feed Your Kids Like a Chef

As the start of another school year approaches, we've got school lunches on the mind.

Mostly, when we think of school lunches, we picture cafeteria trays with grayish glop in each compartment, and we think of all the debates over what should or should not be given to growing kiddos. The vast majority of children eat cafeteria food every day, but those who don't rely on their parents to pack the good stuff.

And who gets the best stuff? Chefs' kids, of course.

Well, that's debatable, according to some chefs. Ryan Lachaine of Reef packs lunches for his twin boys, but, he notes, "I don't know that it's gourmet. There's not a lot of technique involved in making a fucking turkey sandwich."

Still, some chef's kiddos probably eat better than most of the country, and it's clear that many chefs place a greater emphasis on healthy eating than many parents.

Here's what some of Houston's culinary moms and pops give their children for lunch.

Ryan Lachaine, Chef at Reef Sons Maxim and Canon, age 3 Today they had a small turkey and cheese sandwich, some pasta shells with broccoli and sweet potato and some cantaloupe. I'm very lucky; My guys eat everything, but they definitely eat healthy. They like fruits and veggies. I'd take them to Oxheart, but I can't get a reservation.

Justin Turner, Chef/owner of Bernie's Burger Bus Son Cooper, age 2.5 Typically he likes a sandwich. He loves when I sous vide a turkey breast and some of my chipotle aioli with Tillamook white cheddar. Or ground sunflower seed sandwich (like peanut butter) with banana and Grade B maple syrup. One of his favorites. I always try to give him some veggies like baby tomatoes when local and in season or cucumbers, and he loves fruit so he always gets a bag of fruit.

Randy Evans, Former chef at Haven Daughters Delaney, age 7 and Sadie, age 4 We made pickles together this summer, so they will have pickles as a snack. They love hummus and carrots and cucumbers. They also like Janice Schindler's pimento cheese and crackers. My oldest, Delaney, likes hot lunches, so I will send her with homemade spaghetti and meatballs. She also likes soup and salad--chicken noodle, Greek salads, homemade chicken salad. My youngest, Sadie, is a little picky, and she likes PB&J on wheat. Sadie also likes pickles. They both love sushi. I also make shrimp fried rice and will send them with a hot lunch of fried rice.

I find it easy to get kids to try new things if they are involved in the process of growing the veggies or making their own meals. It's good to not give up after having them try something new. They may not like it, but their taste buds change. The biggest rule is to not place your own food likes and dislikes onto your kids.

David Cordúa, Executive chef of Cordúa Restaurants My dad [chef Michael Cordúa] made this ridiculous sandwich with waffles instead of bread, cream cheese, bacon, ham, mustard and maple syrup. When I couldn't eat the whole thing, I could sell half for up to $8. I tell him it's when we first went into business together.

Monica Pope, Chef/owner of Sparrow Bar + Cookshop Four children, ages 13, 11, 8 and 6 Our four kids make their own lunches. Ideally we make sure they have a protein and, of course, SUGAR! :) It's in everything!! Argh! Farmstead cheese triangles, bagels, quesadillas, pasta with olive oil and Romano Pecorino, leftover pizza or meatballs, udon and miso broth and chicken, yogurt made with Bellwether Sheeps milk...that's about it!

Nicholas Hall, Houston Press contributor and DEFCON Dining Dad Daughters Cecilia, 11 and Juliet, 8 (son Joshua is three months old and isn't yet enjoying Lunchables) DEFCON Dining extends to the lunchbox, of course. I'd love to say I'm always putting together lunches their teachers want to steal, but you've got to be prepared for contingencies. We try to keep easy toss things like carrots and cherry tomatoes on hand, so we can at least look like we've made an effort to feed our kids actual food. Despite my best efforts, though, they LOVE Lunchables, so that's in the mix too. It's just too easy, and they like it.

Usually though, it's a peanut butter and banana sandwich (they're always trying to beg some Nutella into the mix), a carton of milk, and some form of fruit or veggie. Last year, my eight-year-old went through a radish phase. She always wanted sliced radishes in her lunch. It was a bit weird, but kind of cool. The older one--the more adventurous eater--likes to get a little container of leftovers, if we've had something good the night before. She actually really likes it when nobody can figure out what the hell she's eating for lunch. Is that pretentious? I dunno.

I also like to toss the occasional piece of candy in there, because life should be fun. Plus, if you make it a treat, then you're applying a better perception to what might otherwise become a habitual thing. I also like to write them little notes, because I'm sappy. Last year, I'd started copying food related poems and tossing those in their lunchboxes. My favorite was "Celery" by Ogden Nash.

Mostly, though, I'm just trying to keep from defaulting to school lunch. That shit is nastier than you think.

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Kaitlin Steinberg