For most parents September means it’s back to school, back to work and back to the daily routine. This also means nine or more months of lunches assembled amidst the flurry of the morning out-the-door chaos that is the norm for many busy families.
Chuck Hughes, host of Chuck’s Day Off and co-owner and chef of Garde-Manger, one of Montreal’s hottest restaurants (his series is shot on Mondays – his actual day off – in the restaurant kitchen), is on a mission to encourage kids to get into the kitchen and help make their own lunches – and parents to let them.
Chuck’s food philosophy is grounded in simple, well-made food. He wears his love of good food on his sleeves – literally – some of his favourite ingredients are emblazoned in a colourful array of tattoos on both arms. His shield of lobsters, pomegranates and bacon strips acts as a permanent symbol of his radical passion for good ingredients.
He was in town recently, cooking with a few local kids, including my five year old. He was right in there with them, allowing them to call the shots, genuinely interested in what they were doing. “All we hear on TV is that we don’t have time to cook,” he said to me as the kids assembled their sandwiches, annoyed by the convenience food industry’s message that we can’t or shouldn’t bother to cook, and should hit the drive-thru or open a package. What better way to spend TV and computer-free time with your kids than in the kitchen, cooking?
“I grew up eating everything,” he says, “and my Mom taught me to love cooking. The one thing we do that affects us all directly is eating.” He feels it’s vital for the next generation to grow up with positive feelings about food and cooking, and to learn what to do with whole ingredients. Kids are fun in the kitchen because they like to screw around – something Chuck encourages.
“What I love about cooking is there are no rules. Just do what you want and have a good time.” School lunches are a great opportunity to have some fun with your kids, and get lunch made at the same time.
Chuck’s Sandwich-Making Tips
Have fun with leftovers. Sandwiches are a great way to transform leftovers into a delicious snack or meal. Try unusual fillings to make the most out of leftover food.
Plan ahead. Gourmet-inspired ingredients such as caramelized onions, seasoned mayonnaise, and roasted red peppers can take a sandwich from ho-hum to amazing. Prepare ingredients that require a little extra effort ahead of time or on the weekends when you’re less busy and keep them in the fridge to use all week.
Have fun with DIY lunches. Consider packing ‘deconstructed’ sandwiches that can be assembled at work or school by keeping ingredients in separate re-usable containers. Not only is this a great way to ensure ingredients are in great shape by lunchtime, but it also gives kids a chance to help create their own lunches.
Surprise yourself. Adding unexpected ingredients can make an otherwise basic sandwich exciting. Some of Chuck’s favourite ingredients include kim chi, spicy antipasto mixed vegetables, fresh herbs, oven‑dried tomatoes, seasoned Hellmann’s® mayonnaise-type dressings, and romaine lettuce.
Layer strategically for sog-free sandwiches. Layer wet ingredients, such as tomatoes and sandwich spreads, between the meat and cheese to protect bread from getting soggy in packed lunches.
Hone your knife skills. Try cutting your sandwiches in different ways to mix things up and add a bit of surprise to your lunch. Remember the joy of eating a crustless, quartered sandwich as a kid? Some stores even sell sandwich cutters in fun shapes that are guaranteed to put a smile on any kid’s face.
Honey Mustard Catch (of the Day)
Hughes suggests using leftovers from dinner the night before and transforming them into lunch. If kids like fish, why not a fish sandwich? After all, it is brain food!
Honey Mustard Mayo:
• 4 Tbsp. Hellmann’s® 1⁄2 the Fat mayonnaise-type dressing
• 2 Tbsp. Dijon mustard or honey mustard
• 2 Tbsp. honey (if using Dijon mustard)
• 4 6 oz. haddock filets, baked
• 4 whole wheat buns
• 4 large leaves romaine lettuce
• 4 slices low-fat cheddar cheese
Stir together the mayo, Dijon and honey and spread 1 Tbsp. on the bottom half of each bun. Place lettuce and haddock on top and top with the other half of the bun. Serves 4.