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"BEATING THE LUNCHBOX BLUES," by J.M. Hirsch, Atria Books, $18, 208 pages

When J.M. Hirsch, the food editor for the Associated Press, started a blog documenting his son's school lunches, he just wanted to document how he provides quick and nutritious lunches for his son without sending the pre-packaged meals.

Rachael Ray noticed his blog at www.lunchboxblues.com and soon helped him create "Beating the Lunch Box Blues" due out on Sept. 3.

But it's not a cookbook. Hirsch recognizes that nobody has time to whip up a bunch of recipes in the morning before work and school. It is more of a guidebook, helping the lunch-maker put together easy meals that "taste outside the lunch box."

With 162 lunch ideas and 30 dinner recipes that can be used for a variety of lunches the next day, Hirsch's "un-cookbook" is filled with colorful pages, helpful tips and tasty foods.

Hirsch begins with tips for knowing what to pack for your child, what gear to store it in and how to use his book to pack the best lunches for your family. He even includes cheat sheets with ideas for simple snacks that can be added to his lunch ideas and lists to take with you to the grocery store.

With cleverly named sections like "Feeling Fowl" and "Catch of the Day," Hirsch's ideas are broken up by the main food the lunch is centered around. From steak to shrimp, salad to soup and breakfast turned into lunch, Hirsch turns everyday food into a delicious portable meal with options for everyone.

The book is filled with full-page photos of his lunches, all packed up and ready to go. The photos have tips describing how Hirsch puts the meals together, along with options for variations of that meal.

With the 30 dinner recipes included, Hirsch follows them up with two lunch ideas that can be made from that dinner the next day. He turns sweet and sour chicken into hot and sour soup and sweet and sour chicken salad. His tomato pepper-braised sausages become lunch on a stick and sausage rolls.

Hirsch believes there is no such thing as "kid food," and while the green bean battles should be saved for the dinner table, there is no reason that lunches shouldn't be fun and nutritious. So whether you're packing waffle peanut butter sandwiches or pizza sushi, these ideas will help to beat those lunchbox blues.


Serves: 4 mains, pus leftovers

Cook time: 20 minutes, plus any marinating time

4 ounce jar of Thai red curry paste

Juice of 1 lime

1/4 cup smooth peanut butter

1/4 cup water

1 tsp kosher salt

1/4 tsp ground black pepper

3 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs

In a large bowl, mix together the curry paste, lime juice, peanut butter, water, salt and pepper. Mix until a smooth, thick paste forms.

Add the chicken thighs to the bowl, being sure to unfold them. Use your hands to rub the sauce onto the meat, covering it entirely.

The meat can be cooked immediately or marinated for up to a day.

When ready to cook, heat the oven to broil. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil, then set a wire rack over it. Coat the rack with cooking spray.

Arrange the chicken on the rack. Broil on the oven's middle rack for 6 minutes, then use tongs to flip the chicken. Broil for another 6 minutes.

Leftovers from this meal can be turned into chicken sandwiches or chicken and rice.

— "Beating the Lunchbox Blues," J.M. Hirsch

Tara Creel is a Logan native and mother of three boys. Her email is taracreel@gmail.com and she blogs at www.mommienation.wordpress.com.