All chefs contend with restaurant reviews, but those who moonlight as parents face an entirely different—and pickier—set of critics: their kids. We asked seven of them to recommend healthy lunches that consistently garner raves from their children. Luckily, you don't need a culinary degree to master these back-to-school meals.
Bill Telepan of Telepan
Dad to Leah, 9
I often make a bean salad that can be served on its own or as a side salad with a sandwich. I use a mixture of black beans and pinto beans—beans are such a great source of protein, and they're cost-efficient. I've also been known to make a vegetarian chili, which I pack into a thermos. It's a combination of spices and a variety of vegetables, like tomatoes and peppers. You can blend it all in a food processor if your kids aren't into veggies. If they are vegetable fans, though, you can prepare a whole-wheat pasta salad and add in broccoli, sugar snap peas, grated carrots and wax beans."
Alex Guarnaschelli of Butter and The Darby
Mom to Ava, 4
As a professional chef, I'm always thinking about using the best ingredients possible. When it comes to my daughter, I am no different. I'm not a fan of tricks or gimmicks, but I do focus on presenting healthy food in a fun way. I pack her a little kit with different cut-up vegetables like carrots and cucumbers. I also prepare her sandwich in separate parts—bread, chicken salad, lettuce, tomatoes. That way, she can assemble it on the spot, so it doesn't get soggy. Lunch with a small interactive element makes it more exciting."
Amy Scherber of Amy's Bread
Mom to Harry, 6
Peanut butter isn't allowed at my son's school. Instead I use two slices of organic miche from Amy's Bread and spread one with 1 tablespoons of softened organic unsalted butter, and the other with two or three tablespoons of peach, wild blueberry or dark cherry preserves. I often add a container of fresh pineapple, putting a toothpick inside—but do that only if you trust your child will not choke on it."
Eric Ripert of Le Bernardin
Dad to Adrien, 7
Kids, like adults, love to eat with their eyes. So when I cook for my son, I pay attention to how I present the food to him. If he has a sandwich, I cut it into a fun shape, like a triangle. I also include lots of small, healthy snacks like fruit and trail mix, so he feels like he is getting to choose what he wants to eat. And I allow him to have a sweet or two in moderation. Forbidding certain foods only makes him want them more!"
Marc Murphy of Landmarc and Ditch Plains
Dad to Campbell, 8, and Callen, 4
I use leftovers to create a new lunch for the kids. I'll throw together whole-wheat Israeli couscous with whatever veggies and protein I used the night before for dinner. For a snack, dried fruit is a good option. It replaces candy and satisfies those sweet cravings kids get at the end of a meal. Or I pop some popcorn and throw it in with their lunch. I toss the popcorn with a little sea salt and Parmesan. My kids love it, and it's much better for them than processed chips."
Josh Capon of Lure Fishbar and Burger & Barrel
Dad to Amanda, 5, and Max, 2
The most important thing, whatever you make, is that the kids get involved. That way, they will be proud and excited to eat their lunch. One of my daughter's favorite things is a 'smiley-face pita pizza.' We make it with fresh roasted vegetables, organic tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella and whole-wheat pita bread. The kids also love it when we make deviled eggs, mixing different things in the yolks, like crab and lobster. For dessert we like to make fruit skewers or kebabs, using child-safe wooden skewers. Kids love anything on a stick; it's fun to eat. Cubed watermelon, honeydew and cantaloupe work really well."
Michael Anthony of Gramercy Tavern
Dad to Gabrielle, 12, Colette, 9, and Adeline, 18 months
I make my daughters some of their favorite foods from restaurants we've been to together. They love Japanese cuisine, so I prepare carrot-and-avocado rolls by cutting thin slices of carrots, layering them with slices of avocado, rolling the vegetables in rice and then wrapping everything in a damp sheet of nori [seaweed]. While Japanese food can be complicated, home versions can be easy—especially if the rice is cooked ahead of time or is left over from another meal. And when lunch is packed in a fun container, it makes it feel even more special."