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Liven up the lunchbox


Monday is Labor Day and we all know what that means — back to school. For the past month, we have been bombarded with TV commercials, store circulars and newspaper ads for everything kids need for the first day of class.

But one thing they don’t need, according to some recent news reports, are excess calories. Philadelphia and New York City public schools are making strong efforts to rid the lunchroom of colas and other fizzy drinks, foods loaded with fats and sugar, and other junk. The solution for moms and dads is to pack a nutritious lunch that is tasty and sure to please.

Soups, salads and sandwiches can be prepared with ease if you keep the ingredients on hand and the recipes simple.

Wide-mouth thermoses are perfect for soup. Since the weather is still warm when school starts, simple cool soups will fill the bill. A number of soups, such as tomato or puree of roasted red peppers, can be enjoyed hot or cool. I know many kids who enjoy a pasta salad. I began to play with some recipes and came up with two types — Asian and Italian.

Sandwiches run the full culinary gamut. Fillings, sliced meats and cheeses, an array of toppings and condiments make a sandwich special. There are so many types of bread available today, from pita to tortillas for wraps, to Italian bread and rolls, that kids won’t get bored of sandwiches. Include a piece of fresh fruit and a sweet such as a chocolate chip cookie in the lunch box or brown bag.

Here are recipes for the back-to-school lunch.

Easy Tomato Soup


1 (28-ounce) can imported plum tomatoes, with their juice
2 (10-ounce) cans chicken broth
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 cup light cream or half and half


Place the tomatoes in the food processor fitted with the steel blade. Puree the mixture. Place the tomatoes in a saucepan and heat through. Add the chicken stock, salt and pepper. Blend well. Add the cream or half and half and heat through.

Serves six to eight.

Note from Phyllis: Soups are wonderful freeform recipes. You can add some fresh basil leaves or fresh baby spinach leaves to this soup. If you do, snip them with scissors, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil to the saucepan and saut� until slightly wilted. Proceed with the recipe. This soup can be served hot or cool for the thermos.

Roasted Red Bell Pepper Soup


2 (16-ounce) jars roasted red bell peppers
9 cups tomato juice
1 (15-ounce) can chicken broth
Handful fresh basil leaves, snipped with scissors
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste


Rinse and drain the peppers in a colander. Place them in the bowl of the food processor fitted with the steel blade and process until smooth. Place the pureed peppers in a saucepan and add the remaining ingredients. Heat thoroughly. This soup can be served hot or cool for the thermos.

Asian Pasta Salad


1/2 pound tri-color pasta, any shape such as corkscrew
2 baby bok choy, sliced
8 large shiitake mushrooms, sliced
1 medium-sized carrot, peeled and thinly sliced
1 (7-ounce) can water chestnuts, drained and sliced
3 tablespoons sesame oil
Sprinkling of sesame seeds


Cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain in a colander and run cold water over the pasta. Drain well and place in a large mixing bowl.

Add the remaining ingredients and toss well.

Serves two.

Italian Pasta Salad


1/2 pound tri-color pasta
1 (7-ounce) jar roasted red peppers, rinsed, drained and sliced into strips
1/4 pound imported Italian meats such as prosciutto di Parma or Genoa salami, cut into strips
1/4 pound sharp provolone
Sprinkling of baby capers, well rinsed and drained
1/2 cup olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste


Cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain in a colander, run cold water over the pasta and drain well. Place the pasta in a large mixing bowl. Add the peppers, meat and cheese and toss well. Add the baby capers, olive oil, lemon juice and salt and pepper. Toss well.

Serves two.

Note from Phyllis: You can add some sliced, pitted imported black and green olives and sliced canned artichoke hearts to this salad.

From Susan Costner’s Great Sandwiches


1 cup pitted and chopped brine-cured green olives
1 cup pitted and chopped brine-cured black olives
1/2 cup olive oil
1/3 cup finely chopped Italian parsley leaves
1/2 cup chopped roasted peppers
2 anchovy fillets, mashed
1 teaspoon oregano
Juice of 1/2 lemon, or to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1round Italian loaf, approximately 8 inches in diameter
2 cups shredded bitter greens such as lettuce, arugula or curly endive
1-1/2 cups chopped tomatoes, optional
1/4 pound sweet Italian salami, such as mortadella, thinly sliced
1/4 pound spicy Italian hard salami, such as soppressata, thinly sliced
1/4 pound provolone or Italian fontina, thinly sliced


In a mixing bowl, combine the olives, oil, parsley, red peppers, anchovies, oregano, lemon juice and pepper. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Cut the bread horizontally and pull out most of the soft dough in the middle. Drain the olive salad (retain the marinade) and brush both pieces of bread very generously with the marinade, using it all.

Place half of the drained salad in the hollow of one piece of bread. Add layers of half of the greens and tomatoes, if using, then the sweet salami, cheese, hard salami and remaining greens and tomatoes. Finally, heat the remaining olive salad on the other side of the loaf. Press the sides together and wrap the sandwich in plastic wrap or waxed paper.

Put the loaf in the refrigerator, cover with a small plate and weight it with a 5-pound sack of flour or sugar or several pounds of unopened cans. Let it rest at least 30 minutes until serving. Cut into six wedges.

Serves six.

Note from Phyllis: The muffuletta is the New Orleans first cousin of the Philadelphia hoagie. According to The Joy of Cooking, the word muffuletta is a derivative of a type of Italian bread. Obviously, you can make this sandwich on individual Italian hoagie rolls. Just double the portions of meat and cheese. If you are making this sandwich with individual rolls, there is no need to refrigerate and weight it overnight.

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