Brown-Bag It Like A Chef's Kid


Happy first day of school! Chicago Public Schools open today (with the various suburban and private schools following a similar schedule), and scattered among the thousands of backpack-wearing young'uns will be plenty of chefs' kids. They're not exactly toting foie gras-and-jelly sandwiches, but they do have pretty excellent sounding lunch plans. We asked Sarah Stegner, Grant Achatz, Phillip Foss, and Dan Smith what they're packing for their kids this fall.

Chef: Sarah Stegner of Prairie Grass Cafe and the soon-to-open Prairie Fire
Kids: One daughter, 5 years old.
Lunch staples: Stegner's kindergarten-age daughter goes to a half-day program, so she has snack instead of lunch. Local fruits and veggies rule: "I'll put in heirloom tomatoes," Stegner told us. "She loves the little ones, red, black, and yellow though she picks out all the yellow ones and brings home the rest. Right now grapes are in season, but I don't use the ones with seeds." Come winter, she's planning to send her daughter to school with clementines.
Other favorites: Stegner's daughter loves Greek yogurt, especially the kind that comes with a side portion of honey.
Idiosyncracies: "I'm going to make homemade granola bars," says Stegner, but she's limited by what the school will allow. Because of the rise in peanut allergies, her daughter isn't allowed to bring any peanut products to class. She plans to replace peanuts with other fruits and nuts.
Advice: Color, color, and more color. "It's always great to do carrots it's fun when they're the different-colored ones."

Chef: Grant Achatz of Alinea
Kids: Sons Kaden, 7, and Keller, 5
Lunch staples: In the Achatz household, it's all about leftovers: "It all depends on what we had for dinner the night before," says Achatz. If the previous night involved going out, there's an added wow factor: "If we go out for Thai or sushi, they'll typically ask to take that to lunch the next day. I think they enjoy it because they get to go in and tell their friends 'guess what I did last night - I went out for sushi!' "
Other favorites: In winter, the boys bring packaged leftovers of hearty meals like gnocchi or beef stew, which they often help make themselves. "They enjoy cooking they'll have their plastic knives, they'll pick herbs, that sort of thing."
Back to basics: Sometimes you just have to let kids be kids. "They have those days when they just want Skippy peanut butter and Welch's concrod grape jelly on white bread, or they want that crummy school pizza which is not very good."
Advice: "They're kids - you've got to let them make their own choices. I've been very fortunate that they're adventurous and open-minded eaters for their age. I think if I forced them to eat that way, they'd push it back."

Chef: Phillip Foss of Lockwood
Kids: Daughter Talia, 2
Lunch staples: "She's not about sandwiches," Foss says. "She prefers my wife's couscous. That or pasta. She eats better than I ever did as a kid."
Dietary restrictions: Foss and his wife are raising their daughter in a kosher home, so they strive to make sure her day-care lunch is satisfying enough that she doesn't want to share her friends' possibly nonkosher food.
Advice: Give the kids what they like. Talia is "a pretty finicky eater," so rather than impose foods she might not like, Foss packs her foods he knows she'll love.

Chef: Dan Smith of the Hearty Boys
Kids: Son Nate, 4
Lunch staples: Surprisingly for a four-year-old, Nate loves strong-flavored cheese: Smith and his partner Steve McDonagh pack things like Leyden cheese with cumin seeds, or Sage Derby. "We try to give him string cheese," says Smith. "He won't eat it."
Other favorites: To balance out all that cheese, Smith and McDonagh send Nate to school with crackers or pretzels, fresh fruit, and lots and lots of raw vegetables including raw onion, one of his favorites.
Idiosyncracies: Despite his dads' carnivorous preferences, Nate is a vegetarian. "It's not very strict," Smith explains, "he just doesn't really like meat."
Lunch envy: "We try to stay away from stuff that's higher in fat. We won't send potato chips, we'll do goldfish crackers instead. His big treat is McDonald's - he loves their fries - but we've come to this agreement where we'll stop at McDonald's for fries and we'll get him a side salad to balance it out. No chicken nuggets or anything else."

What else are chefs putting in their families' lunch boxes? We surveyed cooks throughout the Grub Street network. Get some school-lunch ideas from Boston, New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.