SEPTEMBER BEGINS one of those seasons of resolution, and one thing the family cook always resolves around this time of year is to stuff something different into the lunch boxes. Last year I went off and splurged on things (puddings, fruit salads, cookies) in teeny tiny packages, which children are supposed to like, and cold cuts in little thin slices.
All of this stuff, except the cookies, came back uneaten. The reason is that Teddy really only wants peanut butter and jelly all the time, with a thermos of chocolate milk on the side. And once he's had that staple, he might also stomach a little box of raisins or half a banana.
And so, for eight months straight, he ate peanut butter every day for lunch, which from my reading of parents' magazines, I take to be a very common and not harmful sort of diet. It's convenient, too, for even the sleepiest family cook to assemble. You can do it before you go to sleep. You can even do it in your sleep.
But alas. The family cook's conscience is bothering her. The child is 4 1/2. His diet should be varied and healthy, his lunch box should be a place of joy and surprise. Maybe not dried tomatoes and kiwi slices, but at least the occasional turkey on wheat.
I took the overachieving mother approach and tried to sell him on variety in an intellectual way. I laid hands on two books full of beautiful lunch box ideas and sat down with him, paging through the luscious possibilities. Wouldn't he like to see some Ham and Cheese Swirls in his lunchbox? What about dates stuffed with bacon? His eyes fell upon the page with the open-faced radish sandwiches; he flipped to the page with the sliced olives and cream cheese rounds.
"Yuck!" he snarled. "Where did you get these books? Let's throw these books away. I want peanut butter and jelly every day!" What bothered me was not the content of this reaction, but the violence of it. Teddy is not just satisfied with his P, B and J; he is determined to have nothing but.
So I'll let it go for another year. When I want to surprise him, I'll put in a fortune cookie, a tiny car, a little fake flower, a love note. I'll fix these good-sounding lunch things for myself and pass them on to you. Maybe you'll have better luck. ELLIOTT'S CHICKEN AND PEANUT FLOWERS (Makes about 6 sandwiches) 1 1/2 cups finely chopped cooked chicken 1/4 cup chopped, unsalted peanuts 2 tablespoons mayonnaise 1 tablespoon chopped parsley Whole wheat and white bread, no crust, cut in flower shapes with a flower-shaped cookie cutter
Combine the chicken, peanuts, mayonnaise and parsley in a bowl. Mix until the mixture becomes a manageable spread. Spread the chicken mixture on a piece of flower-shaped white bread, top with a whole wheat flower. Cut out the center with an apple corer and flip the center piece.
From "The Lunch Box Book," Annie Gilbar, Simon and Schuster, $3.95 CESAR'S PEANUT BUTTER KISSES (Makes about 1 dozen) 1 cup dry milk 1/2 cup peanut butter 1/4 cup honey 1/8 cup shredded coconut
In a large bowl, mix together the dry milk, peanut butter and honey. Roll the mixture into 1-inch balls. Put the coconut in a flat dish and roll the peanut butter balls in it, so that all sides are covered. Refrigerate.
From "The Lunch Box Book," Annie Gilbar, Simon and Schuster, $3.95 BETTY'S HAM AND CHEESE PUFFS (Makes 10 to 12 puffs) 1 cup water 1/4 cup butter 3/4 cup flour 1/2 teaspoon dijon mustard 4 eggs 3 slices cooked ham, finely diced 1/4 cup finely diced cheddar cheese
In a saucepan, combine the water and butter and boil. Using a wooden spoon, stir in the flour and mustard and continue to stir, over medium heat, until the mixture forms a ball. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition until the mixture is smooth. Now mix in the ham and cheese. Form into balls 2 inches in diameter. Drop the balls about 2 inches apart onto a lightly greased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 1/2 hour or until puffed and lightly browned. Cool and refrigerate when done. In the morning, pop puffs into the toaster oven to warm. Then wrap in aluminum foil.
From "The Lunch Box Book," Annie Gilbar, Simon and Schuster, $3.95. CHRISTOPHER'S CURRIED CHICKEN BALLS (Makes 8 to 10 balls) 1/2 cup broiled chicken 1/2 teaspoon curry powder 1/2 teaspoon chutney Parsley Salt and pepper if needed
Put the chicken, curry powder, chutney, parsley and the salt and pepper into a food processor and blend until fairly smooth, about 30 seconds. Shape mixture into small balls. Chill. Refrigerated, Curried Chicken Balls will keep for 3 to 4 days. In the morning, just put a few balls into a plastic bag, then into lunch box.
From "The Lunch Box Book," Annie Gilbar, Simon and Schuster, $3.95 CALIFORNIA POTATO CRISPS AND BAGGED SALAD (2 servings) 8 large baking potatoes 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese Dash of paprika 4 lettuce leaves 1 ripe tomato, sliced 1/2 large sweet onion, sliced 1 tablespoon mayonnaise 1/4 pound monterey jack cheese, cubed
Scrub potatoes and prick skin with fork. Bake for 1 hour at 375 degrees or until done. Cut potatoes in half lengthwise, and while still hot, remove inside and set aside for another use. Place skins on baking sheet and sprinkle with cheese and paprika. Return to oven for 4 to 10 minutes or until skins are crispy and cheese is melted. Pack in plastic bag. Place lettuce leaves in a double-strength food storage bag. Top with tomato slices, onion slices, and a dollop of mayonnaise. Sprinkled cubed cheese on top and close the bag.
From "Lunches to Go," Barron's Easy Cooking Series, $4.95. BUMPS ON A LOG 2 stalks celery, washed and trimmed 3 tablespoons crunchy peanut butter 1/4 cup raisins
Fill centers of the celery stalks with peanut butter. Sprinkle raisins on top.
From "Lunches to Go," Barron's Easy Cooking Series, $4.95 CARROT CIGARS (1 serving) 4 slices soft salami 2 slices turkey 2 slices roast beef 2 carrots, peeled and washed Mustard
Wrap salami, then turkey, then roast beef around carrots very tightly. Seal with mustard. Serve with a roll.
From "Lunches to Go," Barron's Easy Cooking series, $4.95