corn, cheddar and scallion strata

I have a lot of feelings about lunch boxes, none of them especially genial. But as this teeny tiny person that I only just recently brought home from the hospital, barely able to utter a “beh” and now able to fill a 2-hour car ride back from a beach house with all the words every uttered (hm, wonder where he gets it) begins kindergarten this week, and will do so with a lunchbox in hand, I’ve realized that the only way to move forward with my grouchy feelings about lunch boxes is to air them here, in this town’s square, and then move on.

what you'll need, plus a lunchbox
three cobs because summer isn't over yet

And so here goes: I, Deb Perelman, resent lunch boxes. I resent that my friend Valerie can send her children to a French summer camp where they are served hot lunches (just the basics, like blanquette de veau, omelette aux champginons and, oh, a galette du rois) on real plates daily and the best my child can hope for is stuff like this. I resent that we don’t prioritize filling our children’s bellies with nutritional, balanced meals that will fuel them their growing bodies and brains through long school days, and that only parents with the means to (time or financially) can provide wholesome alternatives. I resent that I’m looking down the barrel of a decade or more of this, every single school day. And I resent that, on top of all this, if our summer months of packing lunch boxes for camp were any indication, at least half of the food will come back uneaten because a whole lot of places that ostensibly have children’s best interests in mind feed them cookies or crackers with ingredient lists as long as this blog post and juice in the middle of the morning as a snack, sometimes just an hour before lunchtime.

a good hearty miche

corn cut from cobs

And I know how terrible this makes me sound — whining about being lucky enough to have lunch options, problems which, believe me, I am very grateful to have — but I am a person that needs to vent, I need, yes, to also be allowed my tantrum (hm, wonder where he gets it), before I can move on and now I’m ready. Because life, as I’ve tried to explain with limited success to my (sniffle) kindergartener, is not about what you like and want as much as it is about how you handle what you dislike and don’t want.

all ready to go
adding the egg mixture

Plus, I wanted to tell you about this one thing that’s actually worked, if “worked” can be defined as coming home with an empty lunch box, asking for it again the next day and then even receiving an email from the teacher asking for the recipe because it looked so good. I am not sure I will achieve such great lunch box heights again, so we’re going to run with this. It was, of all things, the spinach strata I shared a few years ago as the perfect brunch dish for a crowd. Cubed bread, beaten eggs, milk, and a hearty helping of spinach and cheese cook together into a savory bread pudding that is nothing short of a dream for breakfast, lunch or even dinner. It’s also surprisingly packed lunch-friendly: it freezes well, reheats well and holds this warmth for hours. I figured that I was providing him with the grilled cheese sandwich he’d rather subsist on, while throwing in some protein, calcium and green vegetables that make me feel triumphant, or at least like I’m doing a passably okay job at this parenting gig, uh, today.

corn strata, from the oven

But it’s still summer out so I believe that this dish needs a winter’s-not-coming-yet lunchbox update. To get us ready for the big week ahead, I used a whole-wheat sourdough bread (miche), lots of sweet summer corn, sharp cheddar cheese and scallions. Unlike the spinach version, no sauteeing or even heating of ingredients is needed — you’ll just chop and assemble. You set it in the fridge overnight or at least for several hours and bake it when you’re ready. It can then be kept in the fridge for the rest of the week or frozen in foil-wrapped squares slide into a larger freezer bag, perfectly portioned to easily be reheated in the morning before school. The other sections of his lunchbox are usually filled with kid-approved fresh stuff: cucumbers, tomatoes, strawberries and sometimes even a couple thin slices of salami. In an ideal world, the lunchbox will return empty and there will be no pre-dinner hangry meltdowns that result from mostly skipping lunch. But in the one where I actually live, we’re also going to need some after-school snacks for big and small people alike. More of that, soon.

corn, scallion and cheddar strata

New Category: Lunch! Lunch boxes may be more specific, but these are things that I think can work for all ages — whether you pack one for the office or just hope to have something easy to reheat at home in the middle of the day. I’m just populating it now; let me know if you think a dish in the archives is a great or beloved candidate for inclusion. Thanks!

Lunch Box Strategies: I’d love to hear about yours — what’s worked, what flops and how you managed the daily part of it without wearing out. I need tips!

One year ago: Butterscotch Pudding and Pink Lemonade Popsicles, and Zucchini Parmesan Crisps
Two years ago: Roasted Apple Spice Sheet Cake
Three years ago: Roasted Tomato Soup with Broiled Cheddar
Four years ago: Fresh Tomato Sauce and Peach Shortbread
Five years ago: Peach Cupcakes with Brown Sugar Frosting
Six years ago: Kefta and Zucchini Kebabs, Dimply Plum Cake and Crisp Rosemary Flatbread
Seven years ago: White Bean and Roasted Red Pepper Dip

Corn, Cheddar and Scallion Strata
Adapted from Gourmet’s 2003 spinach strata

I buy whole wheat sourdough in quarter loaves (which clock in at about or just under 1 pound) from the Le Pain Quotidien chain or Balthazar, inexpensively. Balthazar distributes to many grocery stores, as well. A baguette or country bread will also work here. You could deliciously replace the parmesan with a crumbly salted cheese such as feta, ricotta salata or queso fresco; use just 1/2 to 2/3 cup instead. In the spinach strata, 2 tablespoons smooth Dijon mustard are whisked into the egg mixture and it’s wonderful. But I (hangs head in shame) couldn’t resist replacing it here with a less earnest ingredient — mayonnaise. Obviously, if you loathe mayo, you should skip it or just use the Dijon. But if you like it, you probably already know how good it is with cooked corn and cheese.

Serves 6 to 8

1 tablespoon butter
3 cups fresh corn (cut from 3 small-to-average cobs)
1 1/2 cup thinly sliced scallions (both white and green parts from a 4-ounce bundle)
8 cups whole wheat, country or French bread in 1-inch cubes (weight will vary from 10 to 14 ounces, depending on bread type)
2 cups (6 ounces) coarsely grated sharp cheddar
1 cup (2 ounces) finely grated parmesan
9 large eggs
2 tablespoons mayonnaise (optional, see Note up top)
2 3/4 cups milk [note: several commenters have said that they find prefer it with only 2 cups milk]
1 teaspoon table salt or 2 teaspoons of a coarse sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Generously butter a 3-quart baking dish (a lasagna or 9×13-inch pan works well here too). Toss corn and scallions together in a medium bowl. Combine cheeses in another bowl. In a large bowl, gently beat eggs and mayo together, then whisk in milk, salt and lots (or, if measuring, 1/2 teaspoon) of freshly ground black pepper. Spread one-third of bread cubes in prepared baking dish — it will not fully cover bottom of dish; this is fine. Add one-third of corn, then cheese mixture. Repeat layering twice with remaining bread, corn and cheese. Pour egg mixture evenly over strata. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 8 hours or up to 1 day.

When ready to bake, heat oven to 350 degrees F. Bake strata, uncovered, until puffed, golden brown and cooked through, about 45 to 55 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

Do ahead: Strata keeps baked in the fridge for 4 days or longer in the freezer, wrapped well. It reheats wonderfully, either from the fridge or freezer and holds up well in lunch boxes.

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483 comments on corn, cheddar and scallion strata

  1. Did you see the Melissa Clark piece last week about snack options for kids? I totally forgot the nut-allergy thing because we’ve been so lucky with Lilli. (Although pine nuts seem to irritate her.)

    I love that the teacher asked for the recipe. You’re probably expected to “bring it” for all bake sales and PTA meetings. I see a new tag on your blog for all the parents out there.

  2. We sent our 10 year old son to live with his grandparents in Austria for a half term of a school year. I will say that the lunches provided to him were exceptional and one of the things I most treasure about his experience there. Warm meals on real plates (something my husband complains about in terms of how the USA chooses to feed its children). I hear your complaint and add in mine to the mix!

    1. deb

      Blair — Oof, I made the mistake of doing a Google Image Search for “menu cantine scolaire” (recommended by my friend Valerie when I asked her about school lunches). Utterly depressing.

  3. I need to pass this on to my sister a recent new mum and dealing not so well with younger one and fussy eating. Maybe one day when they are older the lunch box will not seem such a big deal and finally give you break deb!

    Beautiful easy brunch or dinner or lunch. I could sure do with cheesy and bread comfort any day.

  4. Terri

    And we missed you, welcome back! For those with slightly different tastes, I often add gorgonzola to my strata. The baking mellows it, but at 23 my daughter only now will eat it (we used to have two ends on our strata, kiddie and grownup, two different cheeses).

  5. Judy K.

    I love this recipe! Having three kids, I struggle with “lunchbox” ideas every day. Would love to see more of these recipes throughout the school year :). Can’t wait to try it!! Perhaps a new category in your recipes section, “For the Lunchbox”?

  6. Margit Van Schaick

    So nice to see you back, and with such a nourishing, comforting dish. I would not have thought of strata as lunchbox fare, and you’ve opened up a whole new genre of food to pack (or not, since this sounds so good at any meal). I like the idea of freezing single portion chunks for eating whenever.

  7. Judybusy

    I haven’t had kids, so feel free to ignore me. But, my entire working life, I’ve brought my own lunch. It’s usually leftovers from the night before. Would it be too hard to plan this? Today’s lunch is Thai fiery grilled beef salad. Can’t wait for noon! Also, best wishes on the transition to kindergarten. Those five years definitely disappeared in a flash!

  8. Judy K.

    I love this recipe! Having three kids, I struggle with what to put in their lunchboxes all the time. Would love to see more ideas. Perhaps a new section in your recipes: “For the Lunchbox”?? Can’t wait to try it!

  9. Catherine

    What lunch container do you use that it actually stays warm? I could use a thermos for my kids, but I think they struggle to get food out of it. Thanks and this looks fantastic!

  10. It looks wonderful. My boy starts a pre-kindergarden program where I’ll need to make his lunch everyday. Do you heat the stratta in the morning and then stick it in his lunch? Does it get reheated at school (I don’t know if that is an option for us)? Do you only to heat in the morning if it is frozen first? Sorry for all the questions? Thank you for inspiring me to try to give my kid a tasty lunch.

  11. Jenna

    I’m with you. I took one look at the lunch menu for the month and promptly started menu planning. A big hit with my daughter is this: Crackers, cheese, fresh fruit, pepperoni, and hummus.

  12. Ah school lunches! A daily struggle for me. Some things my two boys like and will eat again and again: salted edemame from Trader Joe’s. They don’t need to be cooked. Put into lunch box frozen, they’re ready to eat by lunch. Rice balls stuffed with tuna or simple nori rolls. I think they like these because I sprung for tiny fish-shaped soy sauce dispensers. My kids love salami too, and I like sending that better than lunchmeat. Dumping uneaten food makes me crazy, one of the issues my kids have is there isn’t much time blocked off for lunch and it’s one of the only “free times” in the day, so the kids spend the time talking instead of eating. Tricky business! I just bought a PlanetBox for my 8 year old and am having l fun filling up all the little compartments.

  13. Susan

    Your spinach strata is an often requested dish when the family gathers here; so is your corn and tomato pie. This recipe appears to be the best of both!

  14. Susanna

    When did Jacob turn the corner on cheese? :) My LO is only a year, so I don’t have any tips for the lunchbox yet. Looking forward to a lot of comments and a mental-bookmark!

    1. deb

      Susanna — Only recently! Seriously, the late 4s have been watershed with us and food. Suddenly, he took an interest in baba ganoush, he ate lamb and pork chops, he even ate turkey sandwiches on the beach (which means I know what to do in a pinch) and he’s even taken to grilled cheese. Give it time; it definitely gets better. [I should note that I also have some views on feeding children that would probably make you call Family Services on me, so I might not be the best to offer advice. Okay, I’m being melodramatic. But you won’t catch me writing a book on how to feed kids.]

      Sara — I use the PlanetBox lunchbox mentioned in an earlier comment. It’s wonderful, but expensive for a lunchbox. I’d never suggest that people should break the budget to buy it, but I expect that it to last many years. I find that things stay pretty warm in there — especially if you keep what you’d like warm in foil in it’s section. There’s also a cold pack you can keep in the freezer, if you need to go in another direction.

      Katie — Great tips. I totally do the edamame thing too. He also loves their frozen chicken shu mai, which are easy to steam up in the morning; I don’t do it every week but he’s always excited to find them.

      Christine — I heat it before school, hotter than I would for a regular meal. The PlanetBox keeps it pretty warm. It’s likely closer to warm by lunchtime; my son doesn’t seem to mind.

      Judy — I will definitely be on the lookout for dinner leftovers when we have them. I’m really just getting started on the lunchbox thing and suspect that I will be cooking in a way that will ensure at least one leftover meal in the future. It’s such a relief to wake up in the morning and know lunch is already made.

    1. deb

      Lara — It’s totally not! Well, that’s the initial idea but I hope that all lunches I share here would be equally welcome by grown-ups. Because in the end, I really want my kid to eat like a grown-up. :)

  15. The whole reason I started my blog was because my coworkers wanted to know what was in my lunchbox. About once a month, I’ll cook up a few batches of food to keep in the freezer: lasagna, enchiladas, pasta, stir-fry, etc. I portion everything into tupperware and slide it into my lunchbag on the way out the door. Nothing could be easier.

  16. Brittany W.

    Deb, thank you so much for focusing on lunches! I don’t have kids but pack mine and my husband’s lunches for the office, and it is a struggle to find healthy options that are portable and quick. I find that a lot of magazines will recommend lunch dishes that require cooking a whole other meal for only about 1 or 2 lunch servings, which isn’t terribly practical, as I don’t even cook dinner every night. Consequently, we subsist on PB&J, which isn’t bad, but gets old. I’m looking forward to more lunch postings and seeing how little Jacob likes school.

  17. Kelly

    This looks delicious! I have an egg yolk allergy in higher doses. Is it possible to substitute egg whites for the full eggs? If so, would you increase the number? Thanks!

    1. deb

      Kelly — I think you could; you can estimate roughly 1 egg white for each 2 yolks. I might add a little cream to replace the richness/softening factor of egg yolks.

  18. You are preaching to the choir, sister. Luckily, we have relocated to a place with delicious school lunches (ribs today, pot stickers last week), but we could use some new ideas for the bring-your-lunch days and all of my days at work. : )

  19. I’m so excited for this new lunch category! I try to pack my lunch for work every day, but some days I’m just feeling so uninspired I end up buying our cafeteria at work :( My go-to is spinach salad with seasonal vegetables and whatever meat I have leftover from dinner the night before.

  20. Stephanie

    I was debating this morning whether tonight I should muster the energy to make crust for your corn and tomato pie. Now, I have the lazy alternative! Thank you!!!!

  21. miss catherine

    I’m a teacher and therefore familiar with the lunchbox conundrum. My first gig had no faculty lounge and one microwave/fridge for a huge faculty, so I had “desk drawer” lunches. I’m now afforded the luxury of a fridge and microwave in a nice lounge that serves a much smaller staff, so I don’t have to do the desk drawer thing. My fave no-heat lunches that keep in a lunch bag are pasta salads. My go to is fresh cubed mozzarella, a balsamic-y dressing, little chunks of genoa salami, tomato, olives, whatever else sounds good at the time. I also love putting together a salad for a cold lunch. My fave heat ’em up lunch is stir fry. Or a “burrito bowl” (cilantro lime rice, black and/or pinto beans, lots of spicy pepper, any other veg you want to toss in). I do truly love the tortilla de patata of yours for lunch as well!

    And I always, always, always bring a real dish to eat lunch. It makes me feel a little happier and human to eat with a real plate than out of my tupperware.

  22. Liz

    I have an 11-year-old kid who will eat anything but a sandwich, and a school that respects food allergies and strongly suggests that he put his own lunch together (he does his 6-year-old brother’s lunch, too). So we’ve made a list of stuff he can choose from, and try to keep a few of these options on hand: Leftovers, if at all possible. Cheese, crackers, salami, fruit, olives. Hard boiled eggs, pickles, cherry tomatoes, bread and butter. Hummus with carrot sticks and cucumber slices. Always lots of fruit. Quesadillas with refried beans. Cream cheese with smoked salmon trimmings or jam — the one sandwich these nuts will devour. Did I mention leftovers? The art of which this strata perfects.

  23. Lucy

    We have a newly-minted kindergartener, as well. While we’ve been packing lunches for pre-school for a while, now, I somehow feel more pressure having her in “real” school. That said, we’ve ended up going with a lot of sunflower butter and jelly on wheat bread and clementines, apple slices, or baby carrots. She’ll eat them quickly enough that she doesn’t come home with a full lunch box (she’s a talker, and they have limited lunch time), while getting some fresh fruit, some protein, and some fiber. She does love “egg pizza,” as she calls it (frittata), and will happily eat large amounts of that when made with broccoli and cheddar, so that has been another go to. We just found out yesterday that the after-care at the school regularly gives treats like Oreos and gummy bears, so that explains a LOT about how she’s been acting in the morning (bounce, bounce, bounce, yell, cry, crash).

  24. Deb, this looks wonderful!! I totally agree with you about your beef with American school lunches, very frustrating! Once you get more used to packing lunches I would loooove a post on your lunch strategy. I don’t have kids, but am constantly struggling to pack lunches for myself for work (because let’s face it home cooked food is way better than a Fresh & co. salad any day). Hope Jacob is having a great time at Kindergarten so far!

  25. Mary Ellen

    Cannot wait to try this. I try to make food that can be taken for lunches by both my husband and me. Usually do accomplish it but it does take planning.
    I was a very fortunate girl – the parochial school where I went to school served cooked lunches on real plates! Thank you to the women who volunteered to cook, serve and clean up!! I did not realize what a blessing it was.

  26. Laura

    I remember really enjoying pasta salad for lunch, especially in grade school when I didn’t have access to a microwave (by late high school my father and I were bargaining for dinner leftovers). Pasta, a balsamic & red wine vinaigrette, assorted vegetables (raw or blanched), sometimes salami, and slivers of parmesan or romano (or some goat cheese, which makes it nice and creamy when mixed in). It didn’t need to be cold or hot, it benefited from a couple of hours sitting in dressing, and you didn’t have to worry about keeping things separate.

  27. Rebecca

    I have a teen who goes to high school. I pack his lunch most days (he doesn’t like the school food that much) but my mental struggle is that he really can’t use reusable containers for his food – it is impractical for him to carry them due to his schedule/limited visits to the locker. It would be hard for me to send something like this delicious thing because it would get squished.

    Suggestions in general?

  28. Julie

    My mom used to roast a turkey breast sometimes on a Sunday night and for the next couple of days, my brothers, sister and I would have awesome turkey sandwiches. She also roasted an eye of the round roast about every other week for dinner and those leftover steak sandwiches were awesome. Sometimes, when she ran out of things, she would microwave a hotdog, put it in a bun and wrap it in foil. it was definitely not steaming hot, but still kind of warm and the bun was soft from steaming in the foil all morning. I guess it’s not best option, but those hot dogs were yummy and definitely better than the mystery meat my school cafeteria served. Haha! Mostly I got sandwiches, but they were so good, I never really got tired of them.

  29. Michelle

    Man, I cannot agree more about the state of school lunch. It is absolutely mind boggling what we serve our kids. It has improved since I was a kid but still has a long way to go.

  30. Completely agree with your tantrum. I was so shocked that cafeterias here serve pizza, nuggets and McDonald’s on a weekly basis. That is completely surreal with how much we know about nutrition nowadays. In Brazil we had home cooked meals (rice, beans, meat, salad, veggies and a dessert) every day at school, with once a month for a junk food meal like nuggets or pizza. Sure all the kids would run screaming to the cafeteria on those days but on a daily basis the food was real food made from scratch.

  31. 1. I can’t wait to put this in my lunchbox.
    2. I teach at a high-poverty school, and I am HORRIFIED by what subsidized meals consist of. A factory-made muffin and a cup of juice? Terrible on regular days, and even worse on testing days. (Which of course are many.) Check out the book Fed Up with Lunch if you haven’t already.

  32. Jennifer


    I now have a 10-year old and a 13-year old, and ever since pre-k we’ve made several dozen muffins every two weeks or so. They get decanted into ziploc bags in the freezer, and every morning we take out two and stick them into exactly muffin-sized containers. They’re eaten at school as snacks (we have to send them) or part of lunch. (They defrost by mid-morning.)

    Otherwise, lunches around here have been heavy on black-bean burritos: ww tortilla, cooked mashed black beans (they also live in the freezer, so it’s easy to defrost 1 or 2 tortilla’s worth) melted cheddar, shredded carrots, and hot sauce or salsa.

    Good luck with school!

  33. BHT

    Suggestion: Get a single serving size soup thermos (it’s worth spending a bit more for a nicer one) and fill it with hot soup, dinner leftovers, etc. Freeze stuff in single serving sizes that you can heat in the morning and put in the thermos – having an assortment of “lunch things” ready in the freezer is very nice.

  34. Your lunchbox is BEAUTIFUL, ..and I hope it does last for a long time, and that you never have to go look for it in the bus depot on eleventh Ave. .. While your son thinks the whole expedition is cool because you can watch all the bus drivers playing pool ! Just sayin. ( looking back it was kinda fun :-)

  35. Val

    This looks delicious! I also struggle with the lunchbox conundrum, since the daycare my son attended before pre-k provided all meals and snacks. I look forward to reading up on your new lunch category! One question about this – can I use frozen corn to make this when corn is out of season?

  36. Alison

    This looks like a delicious all purpose entree! Thanks for posting. Also, I appreciate your stance on school lunches and the garbage kids eat whilst at school. I am not a parent quite yet but I work in education and am floored by how awful and processed the food kids eat at school is. It looks like you’re on your way to figuring out how to combat that with your kindergartener. Good luck :)

  37. meghan

    we are 2 weeks into this packing-lunch thing…and my son’s lunches are boardering on the incredibly boring (PB&J, fruit, something crunchy, something sweet) – but the one thing that is working for us is that packing it is HIS JOB. He gets a parent assist every night, given that he’s only 5, but he has to make/cut/put the sandwich in the bag, get the other parent-approved pieces and put them in the box, etc. My plan is that by next year no parent-assist is needed. And, if he packs it, he’s much more likely to eat it!

  38. Emma

    We’re into year three of using the PlanetBox, and I love it. I just replaced the carry bag and magnets, box itself shows no wear. Having everything accessible with just one thing to open made a big difference in terms of lunches coming home eaten or not. Certainly well worth the investment for us. I am also packing a separate snack for my 2nd grader this year, so bought a Shuttle as well. (And last year I finally gave in to lunch box envy and got the Launch for myself!) I haven’t tried heating and foil-wrapping, that is an interesting idea. I have tried the separate thermos idea but that doesn’t work too well for my (left-handed) daughter – hard to open, and an entirely separate container required for any other items. I recently backed a Kickstarter for the OmieBox, which is a similar bento-style but with an included thermos compartment. The thermos is wide and shallow, and has a flip-up handle to make it easy for little hands to open. An appealing idea, though I don’t have it yet, so can’t speak from experience. It can be ordered from their website, though not scheduled to ship until November.

  39. Elemjay

    Hi Deb don’t get too excited about the French school lunch thing. My daughter goes to a French school in London and has a proper menu available every day. She eats hardly anything because she is pretty picky. I ask her “what did you eat for lunch today?” and she might say something like “a carrot”. What just one? Yes. It drives me mad, but we’re not *allowed* to provide packed lunches. I just have to hope she starts eating some of it eventually!

  40. Monica

    If you are just joining in the lunch prep world here is my advice. I have a 6th grader and a 9th grader and since I work full time I have been making lunch since they were babies at the day care center.

    1. You really never need to worry about keeping things cold. Lunch will be eaten within 4-6 hours or less of leaving home, and food does not go bad that fast (I am a scientist!). My old roommate was from Ireland, and when I visited her family home in the late 1980s, they did not even own a refrigerator!!! Leftover food, even leftover meat, was covered and left on the counter and was fine for the next day. Remember people, for most americans refrigeration and all its accessories (freezer packs) was not around til the 1930-40’s and folks took lunch to school without dying.

    2. When my kids were little I liked it when the teachers – and later the kids- brought home food they did not eat, so that I cold figure out how hungry they were for dinner or for pre dinner snack and/or how much I should modify my lunch packing. HOWEVER as time went on, I just get darn mad when the kids came home with food they did not eat – often it was not salvageable – and I began to see the positive side of kids just throwing away what they don’t eat.
    Mine never did that, but sometimes I wished they did (and from the time I spent helping out in the elementary school lunch room every now and then, I know LOTS of kids do just throw it all away!!!).

    2. This is for when you have to give up on the reusable containers and lunch boxes themselves (Rebecca- this is for you!), which happened at middle school for my kids, you can make yourself feel better about the waste of using a brown bag and wrapping things in plastic wrap or baggies by reusing the wax paper bags that breakfast cereal comes in. My boys go through cereal at an absolutely alarming rate (sometimes a box a day!), so I have tons of those bags to reuse.

    Good luck!

  41. Emma

    I love to take a piece of leftover quiche in a lunchbox – I know that if I make a big enough quiche for dinner for 3 people I can also get 3 lunch servings, without really doing any more work. You don’t need to worry about heating it up either. I also like to make your zucchini bread in muffin form to take as a dessert – it somehow seems healthy and they travel well.

  42. Trisha

    Re: lunch–My guy eats a lot of jam sandwiches. I make my version of this bread: for us almost every week. Hubs makes the jam, red kinds (strawberry, raspberry, currant blends) are more of a hit with the lad. Sometimes the sandwiches are chicken or bacon.

    Another bread that is popular at our house is a rosemary foccacia made with perfect pizza blend (embarrassingly easy):

    The planetbox looks cool. We have had great success with the laptop lunch system. It helps us have a variety of fresh fruits and veggies. Applesauce is always a winner. (I am sure you have the same experience!)

    I can’t wait to try this version of the strata. I love the spinach one.

  43. Meaghan

    BHT’s thermos recommendation is a great one! I loved when it appeared in my lunch box with one of my Mom’s soups or spaghettios & meatballs. Similar to your strata, I’ve made frittatas full of whatever veggies I had on-hand Sunday night, cut them into wedges, and wrapped the single portions up so that they could be taken each day to work for breakfast or lunch. Along the same lines, this could be done in a muffin pan to make 12 smaller servings which might be more appropriate for kids and are also easier to eat on the go if necessary.

  44. Kimberly

    I make something very similar, but add some crumbled chorizo to the corn layer. I also finish with fresh cilantro, but I do know that people are divided on that addition. Really lovely dish, reheats well and can be eaten any time of the day.

  45. Ania

    Thank you so much for echoing my lunch box sentiments! I read 2 books by Americans that raised their children in France (Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman and French Kids Eat Everything by Karen Billon) and I am so jealous of their food culture and especially of their lunch system in schools!

  46. Hannah

    I don’t have a child, but I do have an other half who receives a fully packed lunch box at least four days a week. My go-to items that reheat well or (better!) don’t require heating at all are:

    Roasted chicken (whole or bone-in breasts), cooled and sliced. Send it atop herb-y/pesto rice or a chickpea+potato salad or quinoa (if he’ll go for that). One chicken=one week of man/boy-friendly meals.

    Burritos! They are fun, easy to eat, and they pack up small. And they can be filled with anything — rice, beans, sweet potatoes, chicken, sausage, veggies, hummus, cheese…also, breakfast burritos can be a fun lunch that seems like a treat, even if it’s pretty healthy.

    I rely heavily on hard boiled eggs. I typically boil 8 or so on Sunday, and they can serve as a super-easy lunchbox snack, or if I’m frantic/desperate, I can whip up a 5-minute egg salad as a main course.

    Good luck!!

  47. amanda

    Great timing–mine starts pre-k tomorrow! And for some reason, packing lunches seems to biggest challenge of the whole ordeal. I’m trying to think beyond sandwiches and pack more snack-type things that I think he might actually eat: for instance, he loves ‘yogurt salad’ where I give him plain yogurt and dried fruit, nuts, etc. to mix in. And I’m thinking maybe quesadillas? He won’t eat meat, and is very picky with veggies, so I’m really struggling to come up with lots of options. Your lunch focus sounds like a great one and really helpful.

    And of course, we’re baking cookies tonight (your recipe!) so he can have one in his lunchbox on the first day of school.

  48. Michelle

    I love that you added a lunch (lunchbox) category! As someone who’s in law school and attempts to bring health lunches with me, I find this super helpful! Maybe I’ll make this next week!

  49. The strata looks fantastic – I have one kid who will love it, and I’ll eat what the other kid doesn’t take! My rant about school lunches here is that the kids have very little time to actually eat; the quite nice (and expensive) school lunches are too big for a kid to finish before most of the class has run off to the playground. I just pack less and they get a snack at home. Some suggestions for lunches: hard boiled eggs, potstickers, veggie burgers, bao, English muffin pizza.

  50. Terry Covington

    Thank you for pointing out that part of packing lunches involves having resources — both time and financial. Part of the problem with school lunch programs, from what I have read and heard on discussions about this, is that schools are often only allowed a budget of what ends up being 60 to 75 cents per meal per child. This is far from realistic, and one reason the food quality can be so poor. Some schools are starting to grow their own gardens, or partner with local chefs to come up with healthier menus. It is really a shame, especially as some of the children who eat this poor food are poor children who are on the free lunch and breakfast programs available through schools. These children are the ones at the greatest risk, and need good nutrition.

    1. Helen in CA

      and some involve the fact that menu decisions are made by people that think that kids will only eat fast food. At least that was my experience at my son’s school.

      Hopefully this is less true now (my experience was awhile ago)

  51. Debbie

    I find that a big crockpot batch of chili makes for several great lunches. I also make a lot of crockpot soups and eat them as lunch. Both would translate to school lunch as long as you have a thermos to keep it warm! :-) I eat one or two fresh fruits with lunch every day too—and to keep it from getting old, I get a different fruit each week. This week is bananas, mangoes, and strawberries but last week was strawberries, apples and grapes. I also love making tuna sandwiches for lunch but picky kids may not like those as much as I do!

  52. Sarah

    Hi Deb!
    What does the refrigeration for 8hrs/overnight do to the strata (besides mingle the flavors, I’m supposing)? Is it necessary enough that I could forgo the refrigeration and make this for dinner when I get home from work? Thanks!

  53. a

    With the poor-quality school-provided lunches we are training our children to eat bad food, leading to health problems and increased strain on our health system and our finances. It’s so depressing.

  54. Sarah

    Oh also– the miso ginger lime noodles are a great addition to the lunch category. I had mine with some pan-fried tofu on top for lunch yesterday.

  55. Liz

    I bought a neoprene lunch bag made by BUILT for the whopping price of £25 (! I know…) but it’s machine washable, keeps food hot or cold for up to 4 hours, stretches to fit numerous Tupperware boxes, looks good and is very well made. I usually lose things but havn’t lost it yet in 4 years – maybe something to do with the price?! The cost may not make it a great option for kids but it’s a great one for adult lunches. I am on a budget but have found investing up front in a decent lunch bag, a spork and various sizes of Tupperware have saved me countless £’s in the long term.

    1. Monica

      I wanted something more fall like, so I changed up the veggies and cheese, but it turned out delicious! I left out the corn and scallion and instead used sauteed mushrooms with thyme and caramelized onion, and replaced the cheddar with gruyere.

      It’s a great base recipe that’s easily adjustable! Looking forward to trying the original recipe when corn is back in season.

  56. Jen Robson

    I heartily agree with you, Deb! As for lunch ideas, I second BHT’s suggestion above to use a thermos. Both my kids have their own small wide-mouthed thermos and although they routinely turn their noses up at sandwiches they rarely ignore the contents of the thermos. I use it for omelettes (really anything egg-y), grilled cheese (cut in little squares), quesadillas, soup, macaroni and cheese, or whatever is left over from dinner the night before. With it I pack cheese and crackers, veggies and hummus, and one small treat (eg homemade cookie). No juice, just water. Doesn’t take long at all in the morning (I am not a fan of anything complicated at that early hour) and it goes even faster when I do some prep work on Sunday night eg wash and cut up veggies or bake and freeze cookies.

    1. deb

      steph — You mean the ends that I trim off? Or just whole extra scallions? I want to know. I really love them and almost always have a bundle in the fridge. (I just added chives and parsley to the collection. The parsley is barely making it; the chives don’t look much better. Not sure I’m going to buy herbs at the Greenmarket again!)

      Sarah — It allows the egg mixture to really absorb into the bread. I’ve soaked it as little as an hour if I was in a rush; it’s still good, but the pieces of bread — depending on what you use; hearty whole wheat will take longer to absorb than a baguette — don’t get as soft. Not really a huge deal, though.

      Hannah — Shh, it’s important that my husband doesn’t find out that people like you exist. :) (P.S. Great suggestions!)

      meghan — Oh, that sounds wonderful! I mentioned on FB that my son had loved the smoky eggplant dip from a couple weeks ago and I made it the same day as the lamb chops he’s seasoning in the photo I shared today — the babysitter had to leave early and he made dinner with me. He ate EVERYTHING. So many tiny lamb chops and eggplant, we were shocked. I really think there might (finally — earlier, it made little difference) be a correlation between them helping cook and eating what you cook.

      grace — Yes, I can hardly HANDLE how luxurious this new kitchen feels. I want to buy huge baking pans! Or at least standard sized ones? Perhaps just in time to make a big birthday cake for Jacob in two weeks.

      Val — I think frozen corn would work fine.

  57. Krista

    Please help with lunch! You’re my go to recipe source- cookbook or blog and 9 out of 10 times you’re recipes are perfect, so we probably have close to the exact same taste buds. I’m a nurse working 12 hour shifts and have the hardest time packing a good lunch. If I’m lucky it’s good leftovers from the night before, if it’s the end stretch of 4 12 hour shifts in a row it’s noodles in a box, a granola bar and some yogurt, oh and all the cookies and crap people leave out for us in the break room (gasp!). Any help would be greatly appreciated!!!

  58. Shannon

    I don’t have kids, but have brought lunches for most of my working career (10+ years, yikes!) and one of my favorite tools to keep things not boring is Laptop Lunchboxes. I got half of my coworkers hooked on them too. There’s also a flickr group where people post photos of their lunches for inspiration. Not all of the photos are great, but there are plenty to scroll through. I love that it’s a little of everything. So I can have some leftovers, but also have some fruit and veg too. I don’t work for them, I just really like their product. :)

  59. Helena

    My son’s favorite lunches involve leftovers in a thermos – spaghetti, burrito bowls, pulled pork – with buns separate. Otherwise he’s more inclined to choose the school lunch. I’m just thankful they renamed “chicken chunks” to “chicken bites” this year. The name alone made me shudder.

  60. lindsey

    We have to pack my 18 month’s lunch for daycare, or he gets tater tots and pizza and other really healthy things. We end up sending steamed veggies and leftovers, it also has to be relatively clean and easy for him to eat.

    I think our biggest obstacle is remember or being motivated to pack his lunch and ours the night before, otherwise mornings are too hard.

    Also my current favorite lunch (other than your sub salad with the oregano dressing) is this chickpea salad: It’s good but I would LOVE to see your take on it.

    Also, since this comment is already so long, got your cookbook for my birthday this weekend and made the granola lasts night! Love it!

  61. Erika

    I hate that the schools all seem to use disposable Styrofoam trays….Don’t they know food tastes better on real plates eaten with real forks????
    I don’t have kids, but I remember our school having really good lunches.
    I could get on a soap box but I will refrain :)
    Note to self: If I ever have kids, move to France!!! :)

    1. Helen in CA

      While this is totally depressing……a big issue w/ real plates and real forks is washing them.

      Labor and time and equipment, all of which cost. And yes, I know there are other costs for disposables (our planet for one & modeling for the kids). But then we, as taxpayers have to be willing to pay for the real plates & forks, washed to public health level standards every day.

  62. witloof

    When I’m not cooking I’m a pediatric occupational therapist and I am here to say that good nutrition is so important for education. One of the biggest factors in the ability to sit still, focus, attend, curb impulses, and filter out distractions, in addition to being able to cope with frustration, retain information and problem solve, is the abundance of serotonin and dopamine in the brain. The SAD {standard American diet} does not include much in the way of the food that the body uses for building blocks for manufacturing those neurotransmitters. The micronutrients in fruits, leafy green vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and fish are what the body needs to perform well in school. It kills me to go into a classroom and see the children eating blue gummy bears and drinking from juice boxes for their snack.

  63. Issa

    Our county does okay on lunches, however I’ve heard horror stories about ketchup being counted as a veggie in some places. That being said, all of mine pack their own lunch now 97% of the time…although they have a list to remind them to take a couple of healthy items. One thing we do (once it cools down) is I make extra chili/soup/stir-fry and send it in thermoses. I pour boiling water in the thermos and let it sit for five minutes, then pour it out and add heated food. Keeps it hot until lunch. PBJ gets old really quick. I will try this recipe out and see what my kids think.

  64. Emily

    In my extensive experience as student and teacher, the best way to keep food warm without the option to reheat at lunch is a thermos. The trick is to heat up the food AND the thermos beforehand. While you are heating your food, you pour boiling water into the thermos to heat it up, so you don’t put your food into a cold thermos. It makes a difference in the long run.

    Also, you can buy mini peppers, cut off the tops, scoop out the seeds, and fill with hummus. Then you have the vegetables and hummus perfectly portioned.

  65. Jess.

    You are an inspiration. We completely gave up on sack lunches last year. I’ll try again (it’s hard, man)! As a side note, I find mayonnaise noble. This sounds amazing. Can’t wait to try it/ put it in lunchboxes. xox

  66. Kimberly

    A few other blog items I take for lunch:
    – granola bars with greek yogurt and berries
    – beef, leek, and barley soup in a thermos
    – barley, corn and green bean salad
    – nancy’s chopped salad
    – chard and white bean stew (again in a thermos)

  67. Killian

    The biggest piece of advice I will give with regard to lunch boxes is this: let him have as much control as possible.

    On a weekend day, cut veggies and put in individual tupperware containers in the fridge. Cut cheese cubes, portion out snacks like pretzels, whatever it is that you and he and Alex have agreed are potential choices.

    Each night, HE chooses what goes in. Set up something like, 1 protein, 1 dairy, 1 carb, 2 fruit/veg, 1 sweet. Yes, he’s only 5. But he can easy learn the difference among those with simple examples, and it teaches him how to make healthy choices.

    The more control you give him, the less food comes home or gets thrown out.

    The second piece of advice might seem stupid, but it worked well for us – let him choose a bento box style set up. Not necessarily with chopsticks and the ornate designed lunches, but the small compartments and individualized areas for food. It makes the stuff look appealing, and he won’t feel overwhelmed.


  68. Meg L

    My little one is just starting preschool so I don’t have too much experience packing her lunch yet. She loves her lunch box, it’s called a YumBox- five small compartments plus a small one for dip/treat. It’s easy to pack the night before, and different compartments ensure that the lunch is balanced (one for veggies, fruit, grains, protein, and dairy). Plus the lid seals well enough that yogurt can be packed with spilling into the other containers.

  69. Terri

    My God, how the world could be different if everyone had a mom like you.
    I promise, what the boy will remember is the love you feed and nourish him on, and you are obviously doing a stellar job in that arena. The rest will all work out over time. Shine on, sister. Shine on.

  70. Perfect timing. I’m in the midst of making a bunch of lunch recipes to freeze (for myself and my partner). This looks amazing. And I, like you, love mayonnaise. :)

  71. Johanna Berger

    Yay to Deb! My girls were really picky about how their lunches were packed. By 3rd grade they were doing it themselves. They have always taken “grown-up” food for lunch. I don’t believe in “kid food.” People are shocked that I don’t make several meals for dinner. I am shocked by the lunch menu at our school. We live in a wealthy school district. French toast sticks, syrup, sausages and potatoes are not a nutritious lunch. It’s embarrassing. My 8th grader’s pesto mozzarella tomato on baguette is a much better choice. My 12th grader (don’t know how that happened) took a peach, tomato turkey sandwich, leftover tabbouleh today. Little Jacob will always remember the wonderful lunches. Eventually, his friends will be envious of his lunches and want to trade.

  72. This looks fantastic – I wouldn’t have thought something like this would work well for packed lunches, but I’ll take your word for it and give it a try! My school lunches as a kid were always turkey or PBJ sandwiches and an apple, which was pretty monotonous, so it was always a huge treat when we got to take leftovers like pasta salad with tuna or cold pizza. Much of the monotony was my own fault, though – starting at the age of seven, I was in charge of packing my own lunch, and let’s just say, I was not exactly a creative cook. I’m sure your son will look back and appreciate how delicious his lunches (and other meals) always were!

  73. leigh anne

    Deb, please pretty please dont judge school meals by one story focussed on negatives. I am a dietitian working in public schools and i take my job seriously. I can personally prove there are many, MANY school districts across the nation who provide important nutrition at a fantastic value to school kids. For examples please see my public facebook album of USDA school meals at my page: Leigh Anne Critzer. My district in Texas and many others are so much better than the pictures the media posts to get ppl riled up. So many parents who deem school lunch “gross” have never set foot in their child’s cafeteria. Until you have both sides of the story i urge you to remain neutral.

  74. Honey, you had me at corn and cheddar. Do you suppose this would work with some thinly sliced kale mixed in (I do actually like and enjoy kale)? My little is only 2 so I don’t have to deal with this yet but you better believe this will be making my lunch box a happy place again. = )

  75. I’ve been eating half a cheese sandwich for lunch for the past 20-odd years, so I could prolly use some suggestions LOL.

    Actually, I eat that sandwich cause I love it, and in my defense, it’s on oat nut bread, is low fat cheese, and has spicy mustard, avocado and craisins on it, so it’s delicious. I do bring leftovers for my second lunch. Love stratas and need to try yours.

  76. Rebecca

    Hi Deb. . this looks delicious and welcome back! The beach pics on Instagram were great. It’s been a long time since I packed lunches, but one of the things that I did was freeze the cheese! Any of the cheese stick varieties freeze well and as the girls got older, we branched out to those little round ones. They usually defrost just in time for lunch. Also, I know it’s tough to think about now, but be prepared to have Jacob come home (probably when he’s a bit older) and ask to **buy** lunch. (yuck). We used to just let the girls choose two days a month as a “treat”. And of course, the ever popular (and true)..involve him in packing his lunch for the next day. It worked for us. . hope it goes mostly smooth for you! Good luck (to you both)!

  77. Tamsin

    School food is equally bad in the UK. I was fortunate that my mum packed me a lunch every day for 10 years. If my brother or I came home hungry having left our lunches we had a choice of eating what we’d left or waiting for dinner! Of course even mum’s lunches couldn’t live up to the school meals I ate when I studied in France – 4 courses with mains and sides served in big dishes on each table so students could practice table manners and social skills. Sigh.

  78. Amy

    Making lunches is one of the worst parts of elementary school. By 4th grade I made my kids do it. What worked for us is purchasing those bento type boxes–laptop lunches or planet box–which have specific compartments that are small and easy to fill. Neither of my kids will eat a sandwich. (I KNOW) so we do a lot of leftovers. Or potstickers/meatballs from the freezer heated up in the morning. Carrots, cucumbers, fruit, some pretzels and you’re done. Still a big PITA. So happy we are now in middle school where they food is better and no one would be caught dead bringing in a lunch regardless.

  79. Rebecca

    I love to cook, but hate making lunches every day. I cook the breakfast and dinner, can’t lunch just happen on its own? I hate sandwiches unless they are fancy and just don’t have the energy or desire to make anything involved. I have looked for inspiration on sites like Weelicious, but want to make one lunch for everyone and am not into the whole “cute bento box” craziness. Sigh. I find that a large chicken salad works pretty well and you get some decent variety–curry, lemon artichoke, southwestern, traditional, etc. Wrap that in the appropriate bread and you are covered for a few days. I also go for a lot of quiche/frittata.

  80. deb

    Welp, I just learned that his lunch period will be from 10:50 to 11:20 a.m. I’m definitely horrified (nothing but snacks from 11:20 to 6/6:30 when we ideally but not always have dinner?!) — anyone else experienced this? Was it as big of a deal as I’m making it out to be?

    Anna — It’s up there. 8 cups.

  81. Erika

    Deb, I love your recognition that home made lunches are a luxury that many kids just don’t have. School meals programs provide the majority of a day’s calories & nutrients to hundreds of thousands of low income students across the nation. School lunches, while perhaps still tasteless, poorly prepared, eaten in loud spaces in too short a time, have gotten more healthful since the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act (& yes, we can debate many of the individual nutrition requirements). And there is a huge movement to bring more locally grown produce, proteins, grains & dairy into those meals… check out the National Farm to School Network to find resources for taking action in your community. More voices will make change, meanwhile, I’ll make your Strata!

  82. juliet

    Raw energy salad is always welcome in my lunchbox! Grate carrots, beetroot and apple, add the juice of a lime and a handful of sultanas. Toasted nuts or sunflower/pumpkin seeds optional. Keeps well in the fridge for several days, tastes yummy, crunchy and refreshing. Leftover burgers are also a great option, even cold, homemade beef/lamb/pork or chicken patties are delish with salad and a bun. Keep everything separate until eating to avoid to much sogginess.

  83. Laura J

    Lunches are something of a just-gut-it-out event at times. My son’s kindergarten teacher gave us a wonderful phrase that she used, keep it handy for grown-ups too, “you get what you get and you don’t throw a fit”. I like the EasyLunchboxes. I used to prepare homemade dried apples to send in my son’s(now 21) lunch. They were fairly labor intensive, but I liked knowing they were real food. They were always gone, so I was very pleased. When I asked how he liked them he said, “They are great! I can trade them for a whole bag of chips!”

  84. klarola

    i’m a big fan of good-looking food, so lunch boxes have always been a big challenge for me. luckily, i have a wonderful boyfriend who knows my quirks and got me an indian tiffin ( to take to the office with me. BEST. IDEA. EVER. separate compartments for different food components and the chance to have an actual meal with sides and all at work. highly recommended for grown-ups who have a microwave and a plate at the office. also genius if you don’t like your co-workers and want to make them jealous by bringing awesome food that looks like it could be served in a restaurant. ha! :)

  85. Liz

    Welcome back, way in the dark ages when I went to grade school in a small logging town in Oregon the lunch ladies would hand knead the bread dough for our rolls. They were the most amazing rolls, true they were white, but they were real. Nearly everything was made from scratch. I homeschooled my kids so I did not have to pack lunches, but a few years ago I was in a middle school lunch room and was horrified. Everything was heat and serve. Nothing was truly fresh or home made. It was a travesty. Fore perspective the school I went to was k-8 and 1000 students all of whom ate those wonderful lunches.
    All of the leftover food was scraped into a big stainless steel container and one of the women took it to her pigs. Nothing was wasted. Ironically the staff at the modern schools in just as big, they could be cooking
    We also never had kid food. I remember when my kids realized that other kids did not eat eggplant, seaweed etc… They were horrified. My kids will eat darn near anything, but they are all up and out. My daughter lives in LA and people are frequently surprised at how much she knows about food, afterall she was the one who started me reading this blog.

  86. Others have already said this in the comments, but I’ll echo: I don’t have kids; I need lunch ideas for myself! It’s easily the hardest meal of the day to keep healthy and on time. Having tasty options to prepare ahead will keep me out of fast food hell. Thanks!

  87. Staci

    Thank you for venting for all of us frustrated moms out there. Our country’s school lunch program is appalling. Molly just started preK 2 1/2 weeks ago & packing lunch has been a challenge. Her class is peanut, strawberry & pineapple free which is making things tough. But also, my kid isn’t really into sandwiches. We don’t do deli meat in our house very often & I’ve been stuck for ideas. So far, she’s had pasta & turkey meatballs, black beans & rice, etc. and I’ve been really conscious about including a fruit, vegetable and dairy. But I’m running out of ideas quick! So thank you, yet again, for saving the day! This recipe looks amazing. And simple!

    P.S. When we interviewed for Molly’s PreK, they told us she would be getting a snack at 9 am including at least 2 food groups. So far it’s been juice and garbage cereal (dry) that I would never feed her. I’m glad to know that I’m not the only one who’s pissed about this.

    1. deb

      Staci — Jacob’s first preschool called itself a “juice-free facility” when we interviewed. Which meant he had apple juice and orange juice every day — of course.

  88. JP

    It is an early lunch (but usually someone has to have the early lunch), so make sure the snacks in the afternoon are healthy. If you can send lots of fruit, veggies and protein, then you do not have to worry if Jacob will be hungry (after eating snacks) by dinner time. When he gets home, plain yogurt with a little honey and fresh fruit and nuts mixed in, hard boiled eggs, a nice crunchy salad will be welcome and then if he doesn’t want so much for dinner, he has gotten what he needed throughout the day so no worries. You are just shifting around when get gets the nutrients he needs. The preschool I teach at allows no sweets, except possibly on a birthday and no junk food and the kids never complain a bit. Our snacks are always fruit, veggies, sometimes whole grain crackers, cheese or beans and we drink tap water. Best wishes to that new kindergartner!

  89. RT Boyce

    In grade school my kids were smitten with Lunchables, so I went modular. For example, instead of the ham and cheese sandwich my mom put in my lunchbox, I gave my kids string cheese, a small stack of sliced ham, and low-salt Triscuits.
    Here is a list of my modular units, though I’m sure my memory of those days is not quite complete: mini carrots, cherry tomatoes, grapes, orange slices, mini whole wheat bagels with cream cheese, small-sized apple or pear, mandarin oranges, cubed melon or mango, sliced ham or turkey, sliced cheese, string cheese, yogurt cups, crackers, pretzels, homemade cookies or quick breads, nutrition bars, various dried fruit.
    Looking back over this list, I notice all the “mini” foods – this may be another aspect of making lunch items tempting.
    The modular thing also made it easy to reopen the lunchbox after school and finish up things not eaten at lunch, as a snack. As opposed to, say, tossing a half-eaten sandwich.
    Good luck with figuring out your own lunchbox strategy!

  90. Kristina

    When my oldest daughter (freshman in college, now) started Kindergarten, all of the teachers ate in the cafeteria, because the food was so good. Then our district phased out having a skilled person plan and prepare meals ($$), in favor of buying pre-packaged, heat-and-serve food, along with special warming machines with yard-duty aids serving the food. We are a small farming community with lots of kids on free & reduced lunch who get both breakfast and lunch at school every weekday. I kid you not, pop-tarts and donuts make regular appearances for breakfast, and nachos (the 7-11 kind with the liquid cheese) for the “meatless” option at lunch several times a month. It’s criminal.

    I’ve got one kid still in HS, and she generally prefers leftover meat or hummus & bread, when possible, sometimes good ol’ PB&J (no allergy restrictions at HS) or PB& honey. Cookie or crackers, and a piece of fruit or carrot sticks. (Alas, I’d get a major squiggle-eyed look if I proposed any sort of fancy container for her to carry around along with 6 giant textbooks and a trombone.)

  91. Arlene

    I don’t know if you look at these questions for an old recipe, so I’ll write my question on this one… I’m making the apple cider caramels for my son’s wedding. They want them as part of the goodie bags for the hotel guests! I have to make lots and was wondering if I could double the recipe, and then put it in a 9×13 metal pan, which I know is not double of the 8×8. Any advise or suggestions…..??? Thanks!

  92. Mac and cheese with stewed tomatoes! It’s my daughter’s favorite leftover meal to eat cold. And she loves peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I make the peanut butter and whole wheat bread so I don’t feel guilty about sending that! Homemade crackers with cheese are good too.

  93. It’s Not All Bad.

    Dear Deb (and others who’d like to learn about school meal challenges and successes):

    Not all school meals are bad and there are a lot of websites out there dedicated to making it look bad and are not an accurate reflection of the many good school meals being turned out day after day by an overworked and under-compensated workforce, and insanely regulated federal system.

    Check out

    to learn about how schools are doing it right. You’re right in that some school meals need work. But those of us working so hard to affect positive change around school food environments in general try to lift up those doing it well to set the bar higher for the rest and celebrate how far school meals have come over the last few years. Some might find institutional food “appalling” or “disgusting.” But I advise folks that before passing too much judgment to read up on what’s going right, how hard people are working to make change, how hard change is (the reimbursement rate / meal is what’s appalling), and how parents and communities can support better school food environments through positive action and not through put-downs (not that you were doing this; venting is fair. this last point is for other commenters).

    That was my vent in response to yours. Thanks for letting this full-time good school food advocate / public health professional / lunch lady champion get that out there.

    Separately, and importantly, that strata looks completely amazing and I can’t wait to make it. I hope the corn’s still coming when the weather cools down.

  94. Carole

    Looks awesome and I don’t have to pack lunches anymore :). But we all had a laugh about the beach house. We, too, rented a beach house that only had one hard-wired connection that 6 adults couldn’t share–so a big shout out to the techie in the group who went tout and bought a wireless router for all of us to use! BTW, I had one kid (who is now an awesome cook) who ate the same lunch for 6 years: string cheese, cereal bar, carrot sticks, 6 crackers and a bottle of water.

  95. I’ve made the spinach strata for the last three Christmases (twice for brunch, and last year for dinner with a vegetarian version, one with smoked salmon added, and a mini one with gluten free bread) and it’s always a huge hit, and the leftovers are divine. I was planning on making again for a girls’ breakfast on Saturday, but now….this sounds much less like we’re giving into winter already.

    I need to remember that I can cook special meals (like this one) for my packed lunches, and not just rely on leftovers and overnight oatmeal (which, to be fair, is much less delightful when the summer’s berries are gone).

    I’ve found big batches of things like chili (which handily have lots of good food groups in one bowl) to be great for lunches, and if you get bored, you can always vary the topping (avocado, cheese, green onions, etc) or add or subtract a bed of rice. I see lots of comments on here worrying about “running out of ideas,” but perhaps the lunch-packers are worrying too much? I often have the same thing for lunch (or at least the same components) several times each week, and as long as it’s good, I don’t mind the repetition so much. As a teen, I packed the same exact lunches for months on end. It was easy for me, and I’m sure it made grocery shopping easier.

  96. Elizabeth

    The French camp lunch is kind of amazing…but a real hassle when your 5 year-old won’t eat anything except the prepackaged cookie they serve for the goûter, trust me. French kids eat plenty of nuggets, frites and steak haché, as well as sugar laden yogurts and compotes. On the whole, i don’t think they eat any more healthfully than American children whose parents are the type to worry about French food culture.

  97. H

    This looks delicious. I’ll be packing a lunchbox in another year for preschool – very glad to know you’re planning a lunchbox section. In the meantime this strata is my idea of a tasty brunch.

  98. Alice

    Yum! I know what I’m making with my farmer’s market haul this weekend! PS, your lasagna bolognese (though with store-bought pasta) is what I’m having for lunch all week–it definitely belongs in the new lunch category!

  99. Sara

    My husband and I love your tomato and sausage risotto, in large part because it is how I (we) imagine Spaghetti-O’s should really taste. And when I was a kid, I was always super excited when my dear momma packed me a thermos of Spaghetti-O’s that stayed warm until lunch. So all that is to say that in our house, leftover tomato and sausage risotto makes a terrific lunch.

  100. Maryanne

    I am SO EXCITED to see lunch as a new category. I am a teacher, and I’m always looking for new ideas for lunch.

    For my own survival I make a lot of salads for lunches, actually, beans and grains and stuff that I can dig into for a few days. This week has mixed grains, mixed beans, radicchio, basil, micro greens, black olives and pepperoncini peppers.

    But, there is one food I absolutely cannot stand, and it is corn. I just can’t even. This recipe looks fantastic except for the corn. Is there any substitute I could do?

  101. Tina

    When my son was in kindergarten, I packed his lunch because he was a picky eater. As he got older, I continued to make his lunch because the school lunches were ghastly, microwaved, mystery meat. * shudders*

    Sometimes it was leftover pasta and tuna, a turkey BLT on a bagel thin, chicken salad (again – leftover from a roast chicken dinner) on pita bread – whatever I had in the fridge. The one constant was fresh fruit – grapes, bananas, oranges, a container of fruit salad. When he was younger – many times, an apple would come home uneaten. I found that if I cut the apple with a wavy knife into “apple fries” (as the apple would turn brown like French fries by the time lunch rolled around) – it was somehow more appealing as finger food.

  102. Alexis

    The chickpea and lentil salad would make a great entry in the lunch category! It’s especially good if you bring extra spice mix and cheese to freshen it up.

  103. ktr

    My son is not in school yet but we have been dealing with similar issues since he started eating solid food at daycare. We love our current daycare (and our former one) but my husband and I both hate that we know he is getting processed food including cereal and lots of crackers. My son used to go on a day long hunger strike every Saturday because he wasn’t getting the food he eats at daycare. We have thought about packing food for him for the day but we haven’t done it yet.

  104. margaret

    this is fantastic! not to be dense but after living in a teeny nyc apt for years with no freezer im totally inept at the whole reheating business. could you provide specific instructions for how to best reheat when a portion has been frozen. microwave?? oven?? and are you saying that when said strata is reheated it holds its heat for hours?! thanks for the help!!

    1. deb

      margaret — I usually reheat slices still wrapped in foil in a 300 to 350 degree oven. It’s possible that you could do this in a microwave to but we didn’t have one for a long time so I’m not a pro at cooking with them. Once piping hot and wrapped (either in original foil or in a lunchbox), it should stay warm for hours, as long as lunchboxes aren’t, say, stored in a school yard on an icy winter day. That said, this is not something that will taste bad lukewarm even if it cools slightly more than intended.

  105. I have been packing lunches for four year now (ahh!). Some things I have learned 1) my girls can never finish what we pack because they are too busy chatting and a 20 minute lunch period goes by quickly 2) they like salami sandwiches waaaay more than I wish they did 3) allowing them to choose what they want to eat, with some parental guidance, has ensured they do finish most of their food 4) I will never be able to have lunches as beautiful at Weelicious. I have been documenting most of the lunches here:

    I would be green with envy if I saw this strata in a lunch box!

  106. rachel

    Definitely frittata for the lunch category! I make one almost every Sunday (with “filling” veggies like mushrooms or eggplant) and then eat it all week. I often put a slice of it on a salad – makes for a much more filling lunch than the salad alone and is a great meatless option. It’s delicious cold, no need to reheat! I’ll definitely try a strata next. Thanks!

  107. Kristy

    I also have a kindergartner and have been packing lunches for a couple of years. His lunch period is also 10:50 to 11:20. He gets a snack about 1:00 p.m. and he is starving when he gets home. I leave a list of things he can have with my husband and he generally runs through it pretty quickly. We try not to let him snack after 4 so that he is hungry for dinner and doesn’t pick.

    He doesn’t like typical sandwiches so I tend to deconstruct them for him by putting in slices of meat, cheese, and some crackers plus mini peppers and some fruit. I make some funky pizza wonton things that he loves and devours. But the last two nights he has requested the leftovers from dinner for his lunch! One night was salmon cakes with couscous and tonight was stuffed peppers. Absolutely floored me. Quesadillas are another good choice. Oh and I do what Ree Drummond calls “prairie sushi” with spinach wraps. I love the idea of this strata and will probably make it for dinner next week and hope that there are leftovers for both me and my son! I’m so excited that you are creating the lunch category. This is going to be great!

  108. deb

    Just wanted to thank everyone for all of the great comments today — I’ve learned a lot and have many new ideas at my disposal. Oh, and I’m working on an after school snack (FOR ME. Fine, I’ll share.) which, if it lives up to it’s promise, will be my new favorite everything.

    Re, progress in school lunches — I hope my comments did not offend, but what I was talking about is still the reality for most of our public schools. I am thrilled that there are so many people working to change this. I’d be happy to be one of them.

    Re, French envy — While I mooned over living in a world where someone might serve me salade crevettes et pamplemousse in a cafeteria, my envy is as much over the way meals are treated. I would love it if school could reinforce an almost lost daily ritual of sitting at a table and sharing, and to respect food by eating it slowly. I realize this sounds mighty ambitious for a public kindergarten but a 20-minute lunch period screams to me “meals are a problem that must be dealt with, and the best way is to teach kids to inhale them quickly.” We’re not giving meals a chance to be another place where little sometimes uncivilized people could learn essential life skills. [I have very Marion Cunningham-esque views on the bigger importance of sit-down meals themselves.]

  109. Jane M

    Ok don’t hate BUT I always had extra cookie dough in my freeza so I could bake off cookies EACH morning! Yep I was 1 of those freaky Moms. I also bought WHITE lunch bags from which for 2 kids lasted 8 YEARS! My kids are both grown now and out in the world packing their own lunches now! WINNING!!!!!

  110. Andrea

    I think you already have a ton of recipes that are lunch box friendly. Once you get beyond lunch-as-sandwich, loads of choices. My middle son rebelled against sandwiches 4 years ago so we cook for pack able leftovers. Best are receipts that are “vehicles” for whatever bits and pieces of veg/protein are in the fridge- def strata, quesadillas or quiche, fried rice or sausage rolls a la the Boston Globe ladies “ThecWay We Cook”. Soups and stews are popular thermos fillers or even fruit smoothies with my 3 boys. I find fresh fruit gets complained about (the bruising issue) but cold corn on the cob, blanched green beans with dip, roasted carrots get noshed up as long as I don’t highlight the fact that they are veggies, go figure!

  111. Leah

    Deb- Love love love this! I’m going to make it for my own (high school) lunch. And in response to another comment of yours– from kindergarten to 8th grade, we had lunch from 10:45-11:30. Wasn’t much of a problem, but my siblings and I did have a healthy snack (second lunch) upon returning from school at 3:00.

  112. Hannah

    Love this post! My kiddo also just started kindergarten, and I was so appalled by the school lunch menu–and the afternoon snacks at the school daycare are equally lame. (So. Many. Cheez-Its.) So we are definitely packing, and so far she’s eating everything. (Woohoo!) I’m lucky that she likes sandwiches a lot (cream cheese/cucumber, ham/cheese, almond butter/jam, cream cheese/jam), which I pack with a couple fresh or dried nibbles on the side. If I have something dippy around, I will send that with the veggies. This week I tried homemade apple chips, and she LOVED those. Sometimes a few M&M’s as a surprise. I did a pasta salad one day (saved a half-cup of noodles out from our pasta pot the night before, and then threw them with some vinaigrette, tomatoes and mozzarella in the morning), which she ate, but I can tell she likes her sandies more. I’ve been nervous that if I take the thermos route, she’ll feel “different” but this post and the comments have all bolstered me to try some leftovers of her favorite dinners. Can’t wait to see more of your ideas!

  113. Kate

    Deb, I admire your aspirations to awesome box lunches and civilized mealtime habits for kiddos! I grew up on box lunches that I know were lovingly prepared by my adoring dad, but definitely less than appetizing. It taught me to love my dad, often skip lunch, and avoid deli meat sandwiches and warm milk like the plague. When I started packing my own meals, I reverted to unmodified foods that worked at room temperature. Often this meant a chunk of bread wrapped in a towel, or an apple. Maybe barbaric by some standards, but I came to appreciate the flexibility and convenience of being able to picnic whenever I wanted. It also helped me understand the difference between eating out of hunger and eating out of habit. Boring food gets more interesting if you get hungry enough!

  114. Laura

    I’ll echo many of the comments here with leftovers, esp for my now HS freshman son! Strata is one of his favorite leftovers, so very excited to see this new variation, and had never thought of making one just for leftovers throughout the week — he’ll be thrilled! My husband works from home, and it’s often a case of who calls dibs on leftovers first, esp for the favorites! Kids don’t like sandwiches, so when there are no good leftovers, it’s often pasta (usually the fiber-added kind so there’s a little bit of staying power to the meal) with sauce or butter/cheese. Quesadillas with whole wheat tortillas are also good. We use an insulated thermos from LL Bean – decent size and seems to keep food quite hot, even stuff warmed up at 6:15 am! So excited to see all the lunch ideas here – I really feel like we’re in a rut and could use some inspiration! Now, if I could only find a leak-proof, insulated non-plastic water bottle that can also go in the dishwasher, then we’d be all set!

  115. Frederique

    No offense Deb,

    But you seem out of ideas lately.

    A strata is a grasp.

    It’s okay. Happens to lots of blogs. Take some time to refresh.

    Best wishes,

  116. Sara Eagle

    I am so excited about this new “Lunch” category!! I’m always snooping around the archives, seeking office-lunch suggestions so this definitely helps simplify the process :)

    A few of our favorites which we often bring for lunch:
    -lentil soup with sausage, chard and garlic
    -one pan farro with tomatoes
    -butternut squash salad with farro and pepitas
    -baked orzo with eggplant and mozzarella

  117. Jordan

    I second the farro! It definitely requires a microwave, but it’s the perfect lunch because you can make it ahead of time, it’s filling, and, oh yeah, it’s delicious!

  118. JP

    The thing that bothers me about the lunch period is not the food, but the noise level in the cafeteria. I hate to admit it, but I could not wait to get out of the cafeteria when I taught kindergarten and I pitied those whose job was to watch the children eat. Many of those kids did everything but eat and the waste (from both their own lunch boxes and cafeteria trays) was shameful. When I was a child, the teacher sat in the room with the children and all ate together. While this probably would not go over with today’s teachers, it was at least quieter and civilized. Twenty minutes may be long enough time IF the children are eating…even with some socializing too. But too often that is not what is going on in the school cafeteria.

  119. Mandy

    Talk of school lunch brings back not so fond memories of gagging everyday walking into the lunchroom at school because the smell from the food being served was so horrendous! I (ok, my mom did) packed a lunch everyday in all my years of school because the school lunch looked and smelled so awful and I was a really picky eater. I’m thankful to have attended school before food allergies were a big thing, as I subsisted on nothing but pb&honey sandwiches for a few years and would have been screwed if they had been banned.

    These days, I still pack a lunch to work. My coworkers are always amazed to see containers filled with actual!good!food! come tumbling out of my lunch tote, as opposed to a Lean Cuisine or whatnot. And the best part is, they ask how I find the time to do it and stare in wonder as I calmly reply I filled my lunch containers at night while clearing up dinner.. as if the thought had never occurred to them to put together lunch the night before rather than in the morning!

    Back on topic to the post, this looks divine to bake up and portion out for a heart breakfast. And yes, I will be heating up said breakfast at work! :)

  120. Helen in CA

    Couple of things from experience (my kindergartner is now in college) #1 be prepared for him to come home w/ideas from seeing other kids lunches. Yeah, peer group pressure happens in the lunch box set (whatever your local school is, maybe at Jacob’s school it’ll be good foodwist). #2 some of the problem w/ American school lunches is that the modern day “cafeteria ladies” think that kids will only eat fast-food so that’s what they plan. This might be influenced by PTA etc if it’s recognized. The hangries were helped when I picked up my son by protein. That would help him hang in there ’til dinner. Hopefully in this day of bento boxes etc things have improved. Food is so personal AND so regional/cultural.

  121. Jenny

    We’re still in the “I’m-3-and-hate-most-things” stage of life right now. Add in the fact that my daughter is tactically defensive in her mouth (she’s VERY sensitive to textures), and we don’t have much lunch variety. (I’ve counted; she’ll eat four fresh fruits and three vegetables, and all of the vegetables must be cooked in a very specific way. None of them can be combined with other things.)

    Last year, for 2 year old preschool, she subsisted on walnut butter and jelly sandwiches, cream cheese and jelly sandwiches, cheese sandwiches, and the occasional salami or turkey sandwich. Her preschool is kosher, so that limits the combinations, too. I can reliably get a banana in her, most days. She’ll eat dried berries and raisins, so she gets those, too. Grapes are a great snack/lunch accompaniment, but the stupid preschool insists that they be cut in quarters…

    Sometimes we did cheese and crackers, or chunks of challah and crackers. In a moment of desperation one morning, I threw a cold, leftover grilled cheese sandwich in her lunch and she ate it happily. I’ve tried cold chicken pieces and cold corn niblets, both of which she’ll happily gobble at home, but it apparently loses its appeal in school.

    I suspect I could give her pasta and sauce, or plain broth (miso, chicken, etc) in a thermos, but she’s still sort of in the messy eater stage, so I’ve also avoided that.

    I would LOVE to find something else to help her eat more things. Trust me, we’ve tried, putting food in front of her countless times. She eats around the vegetables; she picks out the parts she won’t eat; sometimes, she refuses all dinner.

  122. I feel your lunch box pain but I am glad you have reached that stage because I can’t wait for the ideas you are going to share with the rest of us! My lunchbox jewel is scrolls; bread dough rolled into a rectangle spread with cheese, ham and whatever other toppings take your child’s fancy. Our must have topping is peach chutney which I make by the boxful at the end of every summer, recipe by Stephanie Alexander (google it!), it makes the rolls sweet, spiced and moist. I roll up the dough, slice and bake close together. Freeze individually and put straight in the lunchbox in the morning to defrost by lunch. Hurray to no morning sandwich making. Zucchini slice made with the addition grated sweet potato and carrot baked in muffins size is another winner.

  123. Sarah

    Love this recipe, my ten year old is going to go nuts for it. She just loves anything with corn. Last term her class did an assignment where they had to write down the food and drink they had over two weeks (eeek flashbacks to my weight watcher days). I was a little stressed out about it and my girls eat pretty well with a few treats. I spoke to her teacher who was shocked that one boy had no fruit or vegetables for the entire two weeks, maybe it’s a culture thing as we are living in Indonesia. Her favourites are, cold meatballs, cold bacon and egg pie, corn and cheese. I must try sending her some warm food too. Thank you Deb, love your work!

  124. berit

    I always thought our lunches in my East German school were…well…not really gourmet like, but the US tops us I have to say. Funny btw, how cultures differ, we would only take sandwiches and some fruit to school. Or a small candy bar if you were reaaaally lucky.

  125. Cathy

    One of my daughter’s favorite lunch box meals that always comes back eaten are your zucchini bread pancakes with the cream cheese topping. She doesn’t seem to mind eating them room temperature, and loves ripping them up to dip in the sauce. They’re great to freeze ahead of time, and there’s veggies, whole grains, and a little something sweet all in one meal!

  126. Dahlink

    Boy, does this post bring back memories. There was a kid in my elementary school who used to bring a mashed potato and ketchup sandwich. What?!?

    My first-born picky eater took lovingly prepared healthy lunches until one of our neighbors got a job as cafeteria helper, and informed me that most of what I sent with him was unceremoniously dumped. After that he had to pack his own lunch. I think he lived on peanut butter sandwiches and Cheetos for a year or two, but now he is an adventurous eater and a great cook. We all survived somehow.

  127. ALESSIO

    Hello from Italy, i would like to know if i coold use canned corn, since fresh one is out of season here now….what do you think?

  128. Catherine

    When my girls were little, they were in a (private, international) school that had very limited cafeteria facilities for its K-12 student body. That meant that “lunch” period started at 10:20 am for some grades. My first reaction was horror. It actually wasn’t so bad: I sent in a slightly smaller than usual lunch and then they had a slightly larger than usual snack after school. Like many respondents, we were essentially doing tapas before tapas was a thing: some cheese, cut up, some crackers, a container of grapes or other fruit, little bits of pizza or quesadilla, ‘wienies in bikinis’ (the family version of pigs in a blanket made with homemade biscuit dough) with a small container of catsup or mustard to dip into. Pretty much anything was fair game for packing up and then the snack after school could be soup or the peanut butter that couldn’t go to school.

  129. Cherie

    Congratulations to your new kindergarten kid! A new stage. Less control. More to complain about LOL – I speak from experience ;)

    Love the idea of the strata for lunch, going to start with the spinach because my ‘no sandwiches’ child loves it.

    I have found a new problem with eating lunch at school as my children have moved on to middle and high school – they have almost no TIME to eat – and there’s no food allowed outside the classroom at all.

    And worst of all? Once upon a time, a kid or two brought alcohol in a water bottle, and now no one is allowed to bring any drinks into the school whatsoever. EVER. They must wait on unbelievably long lines to buy a drink or use the water cooler [with it’s not really sufficient cups] – crazy

    Good think I like the school otherwise LOL – however I agree – the food thing is just handled terribly in the school system here

  130. Ila

    TIP Frittatas travel well, slices can be eaten out of hand. I use deliberately leftover rice + chopped ham, grated cheese, whatever (cooked) veggie, herbs, lots of eggs + milk.

  131. Lizzie

    I’d add your potato and broccolini frittata, carrot salads, fennel and blood orange salad, mixed citrus salad with feta and mint, nancy’s chopped salad, hacked caprese, and pretty much any of the quiches/tarts to the lunch category.

  132. “I resent that we don’t prioritize filling our children’s bellies with nutritional, balanced meals that will fuel them their growing bodies and brains through long school days, and that only parents with the means to (time or financially) can provide wholesome alternatives. I resent that I’m looking down the barrel of a decade or more of this, every single school day. And I resent that, on top of all this, if our summer months of packing lunch boxes for camp were any indication, at least half of the food will come back uneaten because a whole lot of places that ostensibly have children’s best interests in mind feed them cookies or crackers with ingredient lists as long as this blog post and juice in the middle of the morning as a snack, sometimes just an hour before lunchtime.”

  133. Kate

    The key to sanity is LEFTOVERS! When I make dinner I try to make enough for leftovers. Then when I am cleaning up I will put the food away in lunch-sized containers, ready to go in the morning. I do not heat in the morning, rather I send it in cold. Schools will heat if necessary but room temperature is usually fine. Also, if you send in milk in a thermos, freeze milk in cubes and add one or two to the thermos to keep it cold.

  134. Michele L

    I was just looking for a corn and egg recipe! Some of our family eats gluten free, so wondering what kind of substitutions I could do for the bread other than gluten-free bread. Would broccoli work? Or a new black bean pasta that I recently picked up at the market? If I used something like that could I eliminate the soak time of the casserole? Do you have any other ideas Deb?

  135. PippaS

    Selfishly, I am sooooo glad you’re onto packed lunches! I’ve been making these for 9 years now and still have about another 8 or 9 to go, and it is … hard. Here are some of my tips (probably copying some above but don’t have time to read so many comments)
    1) When they’re little, they take whatever you give them. Then they realise that other kids are having all kinds of stuff I wouldn’t even contemplate putting near my shopping trolley, let alone my child. They complain that they don’t get cheese strings or yoghurts in weird containers with more sugar than a piece of toffee. Wear them out. Don’t budge. They’ll come round in the end. And start to sound like you (“You should see what so and so has in his lunch – he has a WHITE bread sandwich with JAM (jelly), NO vegetables AT ALL, crisps AND a chocolate bar. etc etc..”:)
    2) Make the lunch the night before. You’re less likely to be rushed and you won’t end up throwing chocolate in because you suddenly find you’ve run out of …
    3) Muffins (or yoghurt cake, fruit cake (if your school allows nuts). They need something sweet. They use a lot of energy, and if you make your own, you control the quantity of sugar. My kids fave? Banana and oatmeal muffins with dark chocolate chips (only about 40g for about 12 muffins). taste really sweet but actually don’t have much sugar and no butter.
    3) For cold days, vegetable and bean soup or pasta in tomato sauce. Takes a little time in the morning, but saves in the evening (assuming you have your pasta sauce ready – mine always want tomato or pesto). Slightly undercook the pasta (say 8 minutes instead of 10 or 11) as it continues to cook in the thermos. They need a wide mouthed thermos for this. And they love you for it.
    4) Tortilla (Spanish, not Mexican). potato, onion, egg and then whatever other flavours you want to add. SImilar to your strata, I guess, but doesn’t require bread.
    Btw, did you hear about Jamie Oliver’s campaign here in the UK about the terrible quality of school meals? Seems like you need something similar in the States!

  136. Renee

    I keep wanting to add tomatoes to this. I think the corn/mayo combo has me thinking of your tomato corn pie which brings me nearly to tears every time I eat it. What are your thoughts on adding tomatoes? Obviously there’s an excess liquid factor to handle….

    Maybe if I deseeded them and cut the milk down to 2 cups?

    Love to hear your thoughts!

  137. Annie

    My most reliable approach to lunch (though it may not be appropriate for a school setting) is to bring 5 or 6 components to work at the beginning of the week and assemble each day during lunchtime. Ingredients generally consist of: a giant box of raw greens, perhaps a summery corn salad/ pasta salad/ roasted veggies, some sort of shredded protein, cheese and/or dried fruit, optional homemade vinaigrette, chopped raw veggies (like bell peppers!). I call it the ‘throw-anything-and-everything-on-a-bed-of-greens” approach.

    If any of the components run out during the week, I grab replacement items on the way home. This way, lunch doesn’t get too boring, and it’s a nice break from work to take a little time to assemble a well-balanced size-adjustable meal or snack.

  138. KatieO

    Deb~I am a huge fan and have been for years! Guess what, I’m a lunch lady! I have the privilege of working in a small school cooking delicious homemade meals for our students. Both my children attend the school so I know exactly what they are eating and where it came from. It is shocking to see what other schools are serving! I want you to know you are an inspiration for some of the dishes on our menu. We just served a Kale, sausage, potato soup inspired by your Chard, Sausage soup recipe. All Local and the kids harvested the veggies themselves! Wahoo!

  139. CarolJ

    Deb, thanks for the strata recipe – I’ve been looking for new ways to use sweet corn, and this will be on next week’s menu after our Saturday jaunt to the farmers’ market. On the lunch front, if it’s any comfort, I don’t think you’re quite looking at a decade of making lunches for Jacob, as by the time he’s in middle school he can be packing his own. Maybe earlier, given that he’s already learning his way around the kitchen.

    1. deb

      Nicole — No, it has neither.

      Renee — Excess liquid would be my primary concern, too.

      Michele — Maybe cubed, steamed potatoes?

      Alessio — I think canned corn would work. Definitely drain it very well, maybe even on paper towels.

  140. Rachel

    I’m so excited for these lunch recipes! I have to send my 13-month-old with a lunch that she can eat by herself, and I need ideas! Can’t wait to see what you come up with.

  141. Jessica

    LOVE that you’ll be having lunchbox ideas. (This sounds delicious, btw). I also long for real plates and decent hot lunches served at school.

  142. Blech, that ‘food’ in that image you shared is disturbing. I am 100% with you, and one of the reasons I and thankful for living in the upper Midwest – our school’s snacks tend to be local, and lots of fresh outstanding veggies/fruits. No juice. Local milk.

    Still that being said – the ‘hot lunch’ probably doesn’t look much different than that picture you posted, I would assume. And that is a shame. We pack a lunch every day for our Kindergartener too, and while the occasional leftover pasta or pizza makes its way in there, I could use some variety from what I foresee as a neverending march of quesadillas/sandwiches/etc. when there are no viable leftovers.

    This is totally going in the “must make” pile and will make the perfect lunch, for all of us! Keep up the great work on your blog, I have always adored it and make something of yours probably once a week, no exaggeration. I look forward to snapping up more school-ready meals in the future!

  143. Anne-Laure

    We are a French family of four (two girls, aged 2 and 5), and we lived in New York the past year, where we had to prepare lunchboxes for our two daughters for their daycare center. I’m quite familiar with the lunchboxes-coming-home-half-eaten problem… :) Some tips/remarks:
    – We used 10oz thermos, which kept to food warm for a very long time. Since our kids don’t really eat sandwiches and the school couldn’t warm up the food, this was the best option for us.
    – Some of their favorite dishes (or at least, the ones they might agree to eat, rather than reject outright): your broccoli, cheddar and wild rice casserole. Your lamb meatballs with rice or pasta. Pasta carbonara. Carrot risotto. Some Ina Garten’s recipes, such as: brown rice with cranberries, couscous with sweet peas, tomato soup with orzo. Soups (carrots/squash/lentils/split peas). Chicken cooked in coconut milk with curry, fruits, and rice. “Flan de courgettes” or “flan de poivrons”, that is : steam-cooked zucchinis or roasted rainbow pepper, puréed and mixed with eggs, bits of goat cheese and creme fraiche (I’m sorry, I never made the conversion to heavy or sour cream), and cooked in a loaf pan. Veggie loaf (for instance with feta, basil and dried tomatoes).
    – More often than not, our daughters were not hungry at lunchtime for the reasons you mentioned (lunch was too early, or they were given snack an hour earlier…) But they sometimes would eat their lunch as an afternoon snack, which I didn’t really mind. So, don’t despair on the long afternoon going from 11:20 to 6:30pm…
    – Every week-end, we would make a list of menus for the following week, and made our grocery list for the week accordingly, in order to avoid scratching our heads on a week night to decide what we were going to cook for them, or cursing our grocery cupboard which always seemed to be missing the key ingredient.
    – I went to the French “cantine” for almost fifteen years as a kid, and I have to tell you that there is really nothing to envy there, except for : 1) the fact that it is undoubtedly less of a hassle for parents, 2) the social part that was mentioned above: sitting down together at a table, eating in a proper plate, etc. But a blanquette de veau from the cantine really doesn’t sound appealing for someone who has been there, believe me. (My youngest brother was a rather picky eater as a kid, and when my mom would ask him what he had had for lunch that day, he would answer “Oh, the bread and water were delicious”. And he usually wouldn’t eat anything else. So much for nutritional, balanced meals…)
    Sorry for the long comment, and many, many thanks again…

  144. Michelle Mcguire

    So glad you are picking this up again! I started with you when you had home made baby food! What a pain in the ass packed lunch is, both for me and my kids! Can I just hire someone to come do it for me for the week without it becoming soggy? Unlikely, but a girl can dream!

  145. ChristineV

    I don’t have kids, but went through a pretty intense period of sometimes elaborate lunch prep via bento boxes for myself a few years ago. I have three suggestions that were hugely helpful to me in terms of getting the job done:

    1) Use a divided container to pack the lunch. I have one that I love by Lock & Lock. (It’s unfortunately discontinued, but I’ve seen similar products in stores/online) It’s a leak-proof, square container with four removable divider cups. Filling each of these little cups with a bit of something from the fridge was a lot more manageable than having to conceptualize a full lunch. A veggie in one, a fruit in another, protein in the third, and boom – you’re almost done!

    2) When you’re feeling stuck mid-lunch pack, count how many colors are in the foods you’ve added. Aim for 4-5 different colors. It can be hard, but it can also spark an idea when you’re feeling bleh about the task.

    3) Pack the lunch at night. Not really an option if you want to send something warm for lunch, but a lifesaver for those of us who struggle with the snooze button in the morning.

    Again, my lunches were packed for me, by me. And I know that afforded me a luxury of time and options that are not necessarily available to a parent preparing lunch box(es) for kids. It was a creative outlet for me, and I never had to worry about the recipient liking the food enclosed. If you’d like to take a peek at the lunch crazy phase of my life, you can see it here:

    Thanks for another interesting post/delicious-sounding recipe/gorgeous photos. Your little one is fortunate to have a momma who cooks like you do!!

  146. ChristineV

    I don’t have kids, but went through a pretty intense period of sometimes elaborate lunch prep via bento boxes for myself a few years ago. I have three suggestions that were hugely helpful to me in terms of getting the job done:

    1) Use a divided container to pack the lunch. I have one that I love by Lock & Lock. (It’s unfortunately discontinued, but I’ve seen similar products in stores/online) It’s a leak-proof, square container with four removable divider cups. Filling each of these little cups with a bit of something from the fridge was a lot more manageable than having to conceptualize a full lunch. A veggie in one, a fruit in another, protein in the third, and boom – you’re almost done!

    2) When you’re feeling stuck mid-lunch pack, count how many colors are in the foods you’ve added. Aim for 4-5 different colors. It can be hard, but it can also spark an idea when you’re feeling bleh about the task.

    3) Pack the lunch at night. Not really an option if you want to send something warm for lunch, but a lifesaver for those of us who struggle with the snooze button in the morning.

    Again, my lunches were packed for me, by me. And I know that afforded me a luxury of time and options that are not necessarily available to a parent preparing lunch box(es) for kids. It was a creative outlet for me, and I never had to worry about the recipient liking the food enclosed.

    Thanks for another interesting post/delicious-sounding recipe/gorgeous photos. Your little one is fortunate to have a momma who cooks like you do!!

    Re-submitted w/url removed. I read the comment guidelines after I initially submitted the post. Sorry about that!

  147. Wife To An Amazing Cook

    Packed lunches used to really stress me out (our kids don’t have hot lunch as an option at their school, so it’s packed lunches every day). What worked for was to make a food grid (with their input), so…. Monday is always soup for lunch, Tuesday is a quesadilla, Wednesday is a sandwich, Thursday is pasta, and Friday is stir fry. The specifics of each depends on dinner the previous night(s) (e.g., Monday is always soup and could be anything from black bean to minestrone to beef stew — whatever is left over from a weekend soup/stew meal). Then we supplement the lunch to always include one fruit, one veggie, one “crunchy” (cracker, pretzel, tamari almonds or the like) and occasionally a sweet (chocolate chip cookie, zucchini muffin, etc.). Having lunch predetermined (and especially already agreed upon) makes a huge difference for us — there’s no negotiation and no swirling each morning to figure out lunches, all before the ridiculous hour of 8am. :)

    Your archive recipes that make great lunch options for us include: breakfast apple granola crisp, zucchini muffins (using the zucchini bread recipe), dijon and cognac beef stew, pizza, wild rice gratin with kale (from your cookbook), stuck-pot rice, ethereally smooth hummus, cumin seed roasted cauliflower and thick chewy granola bars. These all travel and hold up well (and get eaten!).

    I can’t wait to try out this strata, too. If it’s as terrific as it looks in those photos, I’m going to have to make a substitution to my grid. :)

  148. Hey, tantrum away. If enough people do perhaps there’s a glimmer of hope for change.

    We survived packed lunches with a short thermos (10 – 12 oz ish) It was awesome for keeping favorite dinner leftovers warm for lunch. Those bento box type containers are also great for making homemade “lunchables” with actual food you’d want a person to eat. Each square filled with a bit of fruit or cheese or mini muffin or yogurt etc gives nice variety that they can see (instead of little bags buried in the lunchbox.

    Also, do not discount the value of an uneaten lunch as the after school snack. Without the distractions of other kids and being actually hungry often that lunch box will have more appeal at home after school.

  149. Carmen

    I just started going through this with my one year old. I haven’t introduced meet yet but I am sending him to morning school with veggie sandwiches on GF bread. Cubes help. All kids like food in shapes. All other is boring. I spent years making car sandwiches for my nephew.

    My friend says she does mini-muffins which you can stuff ANYTHING in and they wont know.

  150. Lori Parker

    School lunches are definitely a ” if it doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger” moment. I remember finding wadded up, moldy whatevers in the corner of bedrooms, back packs, sock drawers (yes)…….I would get upset because I thought I was doing a good job at the school lunch thing. And of course my children LYING to me (stab me in the heart, why don’t you) that they ate their lunch. So I learned to make the most nutritional cookies and muffins ever, learned that last nights leftovers will go well in a wrap the next day AND get eaten. And they still grow big and strong despite your best efforts.
    Now I have a new husband so new lunch box skills will be required…….good luck with your packed lunch journey, I will follow with interest!

  151. ChristineV

    One more trick that helped me:

    I would make small batches of mini-foods that could be frozen for later use. Little quiches/frittatas made in muffin tins were great, but my biggest success was with mini-burgers. I made batches of silver-dollar-sized patties of all sorts, some with meat, some vegetarian, one favorite with tuna and tofu.

    It was easy to incorporate whole grains (uncooked oatmeal, cooked quinoa or brown rice, etc), add-ins like flax seed and sesame seeds, and left-over veggies into the patties, giving them an extra nutritional oomph. Having these yummy, two-bite sized ready to grab from the freezer was a lunch lifesaver for me on many days. They also lend themselves well to the evening lunch-packing. An overnight in the fridge, and they would be thawed.

    Again, I realize that these items are an easier sell for an adult audience than kids. I wonder though if the burgers especially might be a fun cooking lesson for the bigger kids. Would they be more inclined to eat something they created?

  152. My children are now grown and making their own lunches but I remember those days well. And I had the same gripes then! Don’t get me started on chocolate milk in the cafeteria…I posted a similar recipe for a ham and cheese strata that my children LOVED and could be easily altered to incorporate different breads and proteins. They also tend to like deviled eggs because they are pretty :) Those French sure know how to live don’t they??

  153. Hi Deb, I normally find myself laughing at your humor and enjoying your recipes completely, but I have to stop and comment about your complaint about school lunches vs. having to pack a lunch. We are so lucky in the U.S. that the majority of schools can feed kids one or even two meals a day. It might not be perfect food, but at least its food. I follow Humans of New York on instagram, which I highly recommend. They are currently in Africa in refugee camps where people have harrowing stories of hunger. I understand wanting to give your son something healthier, which is great, since you can afford it and you certainly know how to cook amazingly. There was no vegetarian option for me at school, and so my working parents packed 12 years of a thermos of soup or a cheese sandwich and 2 oreo cookies including little notes, and I was always happy and loved my lunch. I just think that here in the U.S. we have to be careful to be grateful when the worst we suffer is at best a first world problem. Respectfully, Meghan

  154. nobleknits2

    As a Canadian teacher, who occasionally has to explain to baffled European parents coming here that no, we don’t feed their children at school (other than a bag of healthy fruit and cheese, and not so healthy grain that gets shared in the class at the start of the day) (we don’t do the cafeteria thing – everybody bags it), and yes, they are expected to provide a non-hot, bringable in a bag lunch for their kids, thank you, thank you, thank you! Thank you for contributing to the conversation, thank you for raising the issues.
    I had a parent one year who arrived every day with a tiffin full of delicious hot food for her daughter (her husband was here studying at university – they were from France). We were all incredibly envious – but she was not willing to sacrifice her daughter’s established healthy eating habits – and she had the ability/time/economic status to prepare her child’s lunch everyday.

    My boys are 11 and 13, and are creative lunch makers – salads in a jar, leftovers in a thermos, lots of fruit, muffins or cookies they’ve made themselves. They help with the shopping, and if there’s something specific they want, they need to make sure it’s on the list. They’re also ingredient readers, and know what to avoid. I’m proud of the choices they make. They are very indignant at the number of their classmates who don’t make their own lunches. :)

  155. naomi

    wow, I could have written this rant myself. I have to say that making lunches for my 3 kids (2,4,7) is the the most annoying part of back to school/daycare. I have so much angst about what I should be filling their lunch boxes with each time. Is it healthy? too much carbs? not enough protein? It sucks!

    ok, my advice is to try back mini “things” that you can freeze can pop out of the freezer, like mini muffins, quiches, etc. anything that freezes well for a week or two that you can pop out the freezer without handling much. Another thing I found helpful is to have tiny little Ball jars to put things into. It’s a minor thing but I find having little jars to put random bits of food/leftovers from dinner/fruit into really helpful! Good luck, I hope your little guy is a good eater because that makes it much easier to pack lunches.

  156. KJill

    I suspect lunches for kids are much tougher than for us adults who often have access to both refrigeration and microwave at work. DH has always taken lunch, we use some nice square white freezer/microwave safe containers from Ikea that have a pop vent in the top. Generally I plan meals to make an extra serving or two of protein and veg and just pack and label those for the freezer. In the am he just goes through his stash of options and picks out what sound good. Since not every meal creates a good feezer lunch I do make casseroles periodically to stock up. This corn strada sounds so good since we are still getting fresh corn, have to go looking for the spinach version too, love spinach!

  157. meg

    I have a 13 month old in daycare, and while the care they provide is wonderful, they do not provide breakfast or lunch, so I have entered this lunchbox packing world rather early! I can’t wait to pack some strata- great idea! I seriously have a pinterest board that is just pancakes- including veggie fritters and the like- that I’ve been consulting on a regular basis. I love how convenient pancakes are, they freeze and reheat well and she scarfs them down! I’m a loyal reader, but I can’t wait to see what else you come up with in this new lunch category!

  158. deb

    meghanssj — I completely understand where you are coming from and I think what we are able to do in this country is by and large incredible. But, I wholly address the FWP-ness of my complaint in this post (“problems which, believe me, I am very grateful to have”). I also know that there will always be bigger problems to address, and it’s any sensible adult’s job to be aware of their privilege, but that doesn’t mean that we cannot or should not criticize the status quo when there’s immense room for improvement. Just because a system could be worse doesn’t mean that it’s beyond reproach.

  159. LK

    I’m still new to the kids lunch box thing but 2 things that work for us right now are 1) Meatballs. Not necessarily meat, can also be made with beans, lentils etc. I think of them as tiny burgers/patties/kofta. 2) dumplings.

    I aspire to make homemade empanadas/turnovers, but this is still aspirational on my part. I hear they freeze well.

    Can someone who suggested quesadillas tell me if you fill them with cheese? And if so, do you make them the night before or the morning of? I like the idea but I’m also imagining dried cheese.

  160. Stefanie

    I’m an American mom in France, whose 3.5 year old just started preschool in the French public system (yes we have FREE preschool starting from 3 yrs old!) and am so thankful for the hot lunch program at my daughter’s school. I work full time and having to prepare a healthy packed lunch every morning would probably send me over the edge. Students pay based on income, with the highest bracket being €5.10 per meal, for a three course lunch. Today my daughter had cantelope, sauteed turkey with olives and pumpkin puree and chocolate pudding for desert. Tomorrow’s lunch is hard boiled egg with mayo, sustainable fish with lemon sauce and organic green beans, organic swiss cheese and organic seasonal fruit. They sit at little tables of 6 children, with fork and knife and terry cloth bibs and a group of lunch ladies keeping the peace. From kindergarten through highschool I ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, apple, two cookies and a milk for lunch every day with the odd turkey or tuna sandwich and turned out just fine (and love to eat vegetables and cook) but I do love that she is getting a wholesome meal every day at a fairly reasonable price.

  161. Carol

    I am so, so excited about the new lunch posts! I, too was super disappointed by the number of carb-heavy/sweet “snacks” in Kindergarten. Fortunately, my daughter’s first grade teacher is a diabetic and discouraging both crackers and sweets. I’ve already told her I’m packing her snacks. And, I’m considering reducing her to buying lunch to once or twice per week. She just doesn’t eat as well if it doesn’t come from home. The most exciting thing we did this year was buy her a Thermos. She loves leftovers and I was able to sneak some broccoli into her turkey mac & cheese and none of that came home. Thanks for any and all lunch inspiration!

  162. Shannon H

    School lunches are a subject near and drear to my heart–I make 3 a day, and one for my husband to take to work. I find it’s like most restaurants-I can make food that tastes better and is much healthier at home. Some excellent ideas so far, here’s my contribution. Always a vege and a fruit. (Cut cucumbers, dip in salsa, carrots, sugar snaps, any fruit!) and water. Occasional treat of organic chocolate or vanilla milk that doesn’t need to be in fridge.
    1. Paninis are a fav-right now tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and pesto. Also lunchmeat and cheese with pesto. Good even cold the next day.
    2. Several good ideas as already mentioned at including using thawed puff pastry, put cheese and lunchmeat on, roll up, cut into pinwheels and bake at 400 for 15-20 min. Delicious! Like a ham & cheese croissant!
    3. Use leftover chicken or steak, put in a whole wheat tortilla with cream cheese or spreadable cheese (like Boursin) down the center. Top with spinach, roll like a taco. Top with srichaca for dad or mom. Or put hummus instead of cheese. Or tzatziki sauce, add olives, tomatoes, chicken, artichoke & feta to go Greek!
    4. Bean and cheese tacos–mash a can of rinsed, drained black beans. Put on one half of a tortilla, cover w cheese. Fold, place several on a plate, nuke 30-60 secs. Yum!
    5. Cook tortellini on stovetop till golden, about 5 min. Add peas, and cubed meat if wanted. Top with Parmesan, throw in thermos.
    6. BLT in a tortilla– just a couple of pieces of bacon, some spinach, and cherry or cubed tomatoes on a tortilla (with mayo down center if desired).
    7. Leftover or rotisserie chicken on a bun with barbecue sauce.
    8. Buy the little pastry cups, fill with eggs & cheese? Meat too? Broccoli? Pb&j? Like a little quiche. Bake & pack up.
    9. Vege sandwich–good bread, spread with cream cheese with Italian seasoning on it. Place cut cucumber, sliced tomato and avocado on bread. Yum, one of my favs!
    After school snacks include homemade fruit leather, banana on a ww tortilla with peanut butter or Biscoff spread, avocado toast & stewed fruit like peaches or plums or raw fruit like berries over yogurt with granola, whole grain waffles topped w ? Your choice. Cream cheese, pb, jam and fruit.
    Other good websites: mom’s kitchen handbook & weelicious.
    I used to worry my kids would be made fun of, because most kids buy lunch, or have chips every day, but, surprisingly, kids are interested in their lunches, and they’ve even turned some kids on to bringing veges I their own lunches! Now other kids are actually envious and parents ask me for recipes and ideas! Thanks to everyone for the great ideas, hope these give a few ideas to others!

  163. Gail

    You are already inundated with ideas, but I’ll add one that I have recently had success with: savory muffins. My kids like one I make with gruyere or cheddar and scallions (sometimes with bacon too), and one with smoked salmon, dill, and hard boiled eggs. Protein and carbs in a portable generally agreeable muffin shape.

    But I am no lunch expert, and have pulled my hair about making them for years now. When their dad is putting lunches together, everyone gets a turkey or PB sandwich, no special orders. I still try to find things that each kid likes, but when only one of them likes the traditional lunchy sandwich, it gets tricky.

    Anyway, good luck! and keep us posted. It’s a brave new world for you! :)

  164. Gail

    I am no lunch expert, and I hate packing them, but my kids lately have been liking savory muffins of various kinds: cheddar or gruyere with scallions and sometimes bacon, or smoked salmon, dill, and hard boiled eggs. Sometimes I split them and put a slice of salami on them.. I freeze the muffins after they cool, and then they thaw by lunch ( which is at 10:50 for my daughter as well…! ugh!)

    Good luck – making lunches is a drag! I don’t know any mom who actually enjoys it. Well, or maybe those moms exist, but I don’t want to be friends with them.. :)

  165. Mairsydoats

    Lunch, oh lunch can be such an issue. I’m currently in a Tabbouleh phase (which for me, coincides with tomato season in CA), which also includes your Israeli salad with pita chips. Hummus, etc. also goes well with same. When not eating Middle Eastern, I’ve been doing hearty salads: kale and napa cabbage with lots of veggies and a tahini dressing. Basically, salads that stand up to not being refrigerated or being pre-dressed. Oooh – and your Mango Slaw, too. Perhaps not really a kindergarten option yet. I love the strata option – will be moving that direction along toward winter!

  166. DK

    Deb, would dry bread work here? Forgot all about my rye bread and it’s delish, so don’t want to throw it away. mayb 1/2 cup of chicken stock to soften it a little?

  167. tips: I wrote out a Lunch Box Menu so my kids can make their own lunches. I listed all the options for proteins(meat, cheese, yogurt…) all the fruit choices (fresh piece of fruit, applesauce tub, dried fruit…) all the veggie choices, carb choices (tortilla, pita, croissant, crackers…) and treats. They can choose to put their meat and cheese in a homemade “lunchable” or wrap them in a tortilla. They can take yogurt and a mini croissant. I don’t have every ingredient all the time, but most are easily kept around in some form. I put things in the fridge and they can choose what to put in the lunchbox from each category. It almost always gets finished this way.

  168. I am also thankful for the lunch box section… Like others I do not have kids but do hit blank walls constantly in an attempt to intrigue my own “bored of sandwiches” palate.
    Not a recipe suggestion, but what I still remember the most from when my Mom was making our school lunches wasn’t the bologna sandwiches (ick), but the notes she would write on the napkins. Sometimes it was a simple “have a good sweetie”, or even just a smiley face, but seeing them made me feel loved. Which, in the middle of the stressful school day, I sometimes needed.

  169. Lara

    There’s all sorts of interesting lunch containers these days, but our favorite container has been a basic wide mouth stainless steel thermos. It accommodates cold and hot items: weekend soups, leftovers, yogurt parfait. I will pre-heat the thermos for hot foods that will not entirely fill the thermos: pour boiling water in the thermos and let it stand while reheating the food that goes in the thermos. By far, the favorite lunch item has been our homemade soups prepared over the weekend. Many of the soups already have all the food groups, so there’s no need to add much else to the lunch.

  170. Leigh

    I had two boys in kinder last year who ate at 10:45. They were always hungry after school. First grade lunches come super early, too. To hold them over until dinner, they have a nice protein rich snack of ants on a log, deli meat and cheese kabobs, funny face hard-boiled eggs or full fat Greek yogurt with fruit or cucumbers. After that, they are energized, can tackle homework and then go outside and play until dinner.

  171. Tina L.

    I also employ the leftovers strategy, things all three of my kids have loved over the years:
    Pasta of all kinds, especially spaghetti (served both warm and cold!) and pasta salads
    Hard boiled eggs with various dips (whatever homemade dressing I have on hand)
    Turkey burgers, Sloppy Joes (with ground turkey), turkey dogs
    dim sum, including shu mai and bao
    Tacos (meat, cheese and shredded lettuce), salsa on the side
    Quiche (a favorite for dinner and lunch!)
    Cold cuts, cheese and crackers
    Pizza (homemade and take out)
    Sandwiches from whatever roast, chicken, steak we had the night before, including tortilla roll ups of same
    I always send cut up veggies (carrots, celery, cucumbers, bell peppers, even lightly steamed broccoli, edamame and jicama) and plenty of fruit. They also like yogurt in their lunches. I pack them the night before so the morning isn’t stressful and I can actually make something for breakfast that is healthful as well. Plus, I just like going to sleep knowing my “chore” is out of the way.

  172. Cathy

    My 7 year old twins hate anything that resembles a sandwich- ack! So lots of thick soups and any other “thermos-able” leftover, cooked sausages, and their favorite: baked potatoes. I found a shallow thermos that can hold a decent sized potato and include a container of shredded cheese. I just have to get up early enough to get them in the oven.

  173. School lunch woes and school snacks: AMEN! Preach it, sister! Glory, hallelujah! (Cue Gospel music)

    Add in a little sideline of grump about the teachers (actual adults!) who tease your kid about the homemade lunch “making everyone else look bad.” Are you serious?!

  174. Cair

    I started packing lunches for my daughter when she first went to a home day care when she was not quite two. Two or three times she went to a summer camp that provided lunch, but other than that and vacation time I packed her lunch five days a week until she graduated from High School. And she stuck her nose up at sandwiches.

    When she started kindergarten and I realized that we were in this for the long haul I went to Target and bought a wide mouth metal thermos for about $15. I preheated the thermos with boiling water. She ate lots of leftovers, lot’s of reheated rice with anything with sauce (she’s my rice eater). If I didn’t have leftovers I’d make fried rice (ok, there was almost always rice). If I made enough then she’d have it for both breakfast and lunch. Oh, that thermos that said hand wash only. And yes, I ignored that (I could buy another if I destroyed it) – it worked just as well on the last day of high school as it did on the first day of kindergarten.

  175. Stacey Bower

    Deb, have you ever considered homeschooling your child? Our family has loved it for 25 years. The lunches are so much better. Just a thought. (Your website is one of our go-to sites for great food. Thanks so much!)

  176. Catherine C.

    In high school, I would pack a little wedge of brie or other soft cheese, slices of baguette, some grapes, and a cookie or small bite of chocolate. Maybe for when Jacob is a little older? I loved it.

  177. deb

    So, my son came home from his first day of school with basically a full lunchbox, and then declared (okay, had a meltdown) he wanted to eat at the cafeteria because the kids with trays from there had chicken nuggets. You guys warned me, but I still didn’t see it coming (because I’d asked him if he wanted the corn thing this morning and he said yes; it had been such a hit at summer camp!). Oof, guys. Just keeping it real, right?

  178. wookie

    Having three elementary school kids, a commute and a full time job makes us very utilitarian with our lunch boxes. My only rule is that they have to hit at least three food groups and eat what they take.

    Mini muffins tend to be a hit, as do various types of bread (pitas, rolls, toast bread) and filling/dip combos (hummus, salsa, cheese etc.) Finger foods is also in constant demand, like kelbasa, rolled up lunch meats, berries, cubed cheeses, every veggie under the sun, etc. At intervals through the week, I will wash and cut up fruits and vegetables, and keep them in the fridge for the kids to pack their own or to snack on when they get home.

    I try not to stress too much about it… they eat two meals at home that I am in control of, so if they eat too many crackers or not enough protein at school, it all balances out in the rest of the day.

  179. JP

    You can always have that little chat about choosing one day a week (after you read the cafeteria meal calendar together) for a cafeteria lunch day. That is one less lunch box meal for you to prepare and a special treat for Jacob. Hopefully win/win.

  180. Ruth

    As a cold lunch carrier my whole school life, there were a few things my sister and I loved! One of our favorites was yogurt with berries, my dad would put the frozen berries in, in the morning and by lunch they thawed and made pretty colors in the yogurt. We also loved the treat of frozen peaches that had been frozen during the summer. I’m excited for this recipe! I’ve been eating corn and tomato pie for…well every meal this week!

  181. April

    The great thing about kids and lunch is once you get down a few things they like, they will eat them over and over for a long time. I guess pb&j is a thing of the past, even if your kid can eat it. Too bad, that was lunch for life for many kids, and one could do worse from a nutrition stand point. Corn muffins are pretty kid friendly, at lease one of my kids would have loved one every day. Hummus is also a good option. I would look for a few things your child really likes
    that can successfully travel and go with them until he says “no more”. You know he will let you know! Like everything, you will find a pattern and it won’t be so bad.

  182. Diane

    Your Broccoli fritters are a constant in our lunch rotation. Sometimes we sub roasted cauliflower for broc. Checkout weelicious veggie pancakes. A big NUTRITIOUS lunchtime hit for bigs & littles. & they freeze beautifully.

  183. Susan

    All it takes is one kid at the table to say “Eeewww” or “That smells funny” to your kids’ lunch and it’s all over. Keep it simple…sweetheart! It’s lunch. Just one meal in the middle of a busy day where healthy food choices just aren’t on the minds of most kids. If they eat breakfast and have a decent dinner, they’ll live. We all lived.

  184. I hear you about the school lunches. My toddler goes to a “school” (daycare) where parents are asked to send well-balanced lunches with very specific quantities of carbs, protein, fruit and vegetables. I wouldn’t mind the nutrition policing except that the school-provided snack is always something like ‘nilla wafers and a doctor’s note is required by parents who only want their kids to have water instead of juice! Anyway, I often send quesadillas, which my kid likes even straight out of the fridge. And lately he’s been really into figs, which require basically no prep and aren’t too messy either.

  185. Laurie

    My children have taken/took peanut butter sandwiches since preschool. (Nut-free classrooms didn’t exist back then.) In defense of this somewhat sad lunch, my daughter said the predictability is comforting, and she likes that the portions are always the same size. The students have only about 15 minutes of eating time and are crammed into too-small tables so a big lunch with anything other than bagged food doesn’t work. I have offered to prepare something different, but she’s happy with it. We eat a sit-down dinner with lot of fruits and vegetables so I don’t worry about the nutrition.

    My kids never wanted to prepare their own lunches, and as they got older with hours and hours of after-school activities and homework, I felt it was a gift of love to make their lunches for them. We would write funny things on their napkins and add yummy surprises once in awhile. My youngest is a senior. Just thinking about her leaving makes me sad!

  186. Adrianne

    I think the lunch thing is so difficult. My kids attend a drop-in daycare and only occasionally need to have lunch there, but getting them to eat anything is difficult. One will eat dolmas (our local store carries a nut-free version) and they both like salami and olives. Cherries have done well when it was cherry season. But even when I pack exactly what they want, it often doesn’t get eaten because they didn’t have enough time (I translate that to just wanting to play). I think the length of time and amount of supervision (to ensure they actually eat) could go a long way in getting kids to eat. And I’m happy to see so many people caring about this issue – the schools do provide way more sugar (junk cereals for breakfast, chocolate milk at lunch) and we should consider that our kids can’t function without good nutrition. For all that we know about nutrition these days, it would be nice to see it implemented at school. But I know so many kids who refuse to eat anything else because their parents only offered them this junk food (pizza, boxed mac n cheese, chix nuggets), so it seems the schools are only offering what they know will be eaten. A vicious cycle!

  187. Mer

    First I’d like to say thank you to Leigh Anne Critzer, Erika, and It’s Not All Bad. I’m guessing y’all are fellow school nutrition professionals. Bless you for your commitment to getting the word out, even when you’re not on the clock.

    For those of you who are complaining about the state of school meals in the US; what are you doing to fix it? Complaining on the internet and sending your kids to school with healthy lunches is great for your own progeny, and I salute you for it, but what about all the other kids who have no choice but to eat school meals?

    The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 improved nutrition standards and created a new meal pattern for school meals, but it also enhanced the rules for local school wellness policies.

    Did you know your child’s district and/or school is REQUIRED to have a wellness policy that can set additional standards above and beyond what is required by USDA or your state? Did you know that you can participate on the wellness committee and help set that policy?

    An LSWP can require schools to give your children a minimum amount of time to sit and eat their lunch. It can ban chocolate milk in schools. It can prohibit kids from bringing unhealthy snacks to share on birthdays. It can ban soda being sold in your kid’s school—OH WAIT, that’s already been banned. So if there are sodas or candy or potato chips being sold at your local schools? You have every right to march down there and get that crap out.

    School lunches are improving at a phenomenal rate, but the nutrition standards can only go so far. The junk food companies just alter the recipe to align with the rules, which is why schools are still serving chicken nuggets (but I find it highly unlikely that a public school participating in the NSLP is serving McDonalds, sorry). Those of us working in school nutrition are doing our best, but the fastest way to foster a healthy food culture in your children’s schools is to get stuck in and lead the way yourself and get the other parents involved as well.

  188. Re. Jacob- childhood food envy is brutal. I remember it well, as my mother refused to buy the gushers, fruit roll-ups, and other hideously unhealthy garbage the other kids ate (of course at the time, these were delicacies to a 5-8 yr old). All I wanted were those damn gushers. Oh, and white bread. As an adult, though, I now appreciate my mother’s food rules, as I am not practically, if not actually, addicted to all of that sub-par “food” like a lot of my peers.

  189. Ally

    Deb, these posts have been wonderful (this is my life right now). What’s working for me now is using brightly-colored silicone baking cups to separate foods bento-style in a regular reusable container. It makes everything look so fun to eat. This isn’t a new idea, but I found empty containers coming home when I did this with my 3 boys.
    As for food ideas, my kids love mini-sized things–meatballs, sandwiches in little buns, little cubes of cheese, etc. Color and cuteness worked for us!

  190. Catherine C.

    PS perhaps try to somehow, magically, instill the following in Jacob’s mind: “Mom’s food is the special, awesome food that every other kid wants!”. If only, right?

  191. Lilster

    Congratulations on kindergarten! Time does fly. It often takes the little kids a while to be able to eat in the busy cafeteria, and buying lunch can take too long in the beginning. So sending lunch is the best way early on.

    My son is a pain in the neck and won’t eat sandwiches. Thankfully, he will eat what he likes over and over. So thermoses are your friend – I make a tray of baked pasta on Sunday nights and then each morning I boil some water, put it in the thermos for about 15 minutes, and then heat up a portion of the pasta, dump the water, fill the thermos and send it to school. He eats his lunch every day. He also gets bags of grape tomatoes, a banana, and a couple of homemade cookies (that he saves for an after school ‘cookie party’ with his dad when he gets picked up). I also will do vats of homemade mini meatballs.

    Make sure he practices opening the thermos! My son had trouble and would often tell me “mommy, don’t close the thermos so tightly, I can’t open it”. And buy more than one thermos, because he will forget it in school. I need spares so I can go to school and look in the lost and found bin for the forgotten ones.

    And I let him buy once a week — if you get access to the menus, let your son pick a day. My son picks hot dog day.

  192. This looks absolutely delicious. Holy cow. But I have to say, I’m sorely tempted to try the spinach strata, too. My, oh my, which will be first?!?

    Also, your little boy is absolutely precious! I’m so jealous his lunchbox meals include such delicious food. I have vague memories of DIY lunchables (yep, you better believe it – saltines with cheese and deli ham…every kid’s favorite!) and other not-very-exciting meals.

    This will definitely be one for my hubby’s lunchbox, though! Thanks!

  193. Flowerscat

    I made this for lunch today – a perfect Friday can’t-be-bothered-to-cook-but-need-something-delicious-and-quick lunch :) thank you for sharing the recipe, and looking forward to some more lunch box ideas.

  194. It is moving to see how much of a response the topic of school lunches incites. It brings me to tears (literally) every time I think about children in France receiving beautiful, warm, real food at lunch everyday. We are paper bagging it here and it causes so much stress and disconnection from what lunch should be. My daughter rarely comes home with an empty lunch box. Most of the time she says it is because she didn’t have enough time to eat! What can we do to encourage a revolution? I am on board and looking forward to a day when my daughter has enough time to eat her lunch and is allowed the privilege of a real plate.

  195. ksm

    I have a 10 YO, and pack lunch every day since there’s no lunch option at school (for which I am thankful!). I sometimes pack leftovers of one of your grain-based meals, like the one-pot farro and tomatoes or the farro and butternut squash, both great at room temp. 101 cookbooks blog (Heidi Swensen) often has some travel-friendly recipes, too, like her fabulous oatcakes (made in a mini size for lunch boxes) and some healthy cold noodle salads. Also: many varieties of a roll-up – ww tortilla with goat cheese, a slice of roast turkey or leftover grilled chicken breast, and some red pepper strips, sliced like a maki roll. Sunbutter on mini rice cakes is another favorite. Build-your-own yogurt parfait is good one: one small container of yogurt, and one of dried or fresh fruit and a low-sugar granola that she mixes up herself. When Jacob is a little older, he might like skewers – this one is a big hit here. Tiny fresh mozzarella ball, cherry tomato, a chunk of red pepper, half an olive, even a leftover tortellini, all stuck on an appetizer-sized skewer. about three of those make a pretty good main section of the lunchbox. A mini caprese salad is another easy one, layering sliced fresh mozz and tomato slices, with a little o&v and salt. Your black bean soup in a thermos is quick, too. I haven’t tried strata or frittata as a lunchbox option, but I will next week! Can’t wait to hear more of your lunchbox adventures!

  196. Lana

    We own a lake house and we do not have internet, land line or much cell signal-on purpose. We have to unplug and my husbands co-workers cannot call and ask him to work. Now if we can just get our 23 yr old daughter to stop calling our cell phones at 7 AM while we are there and sleeping late we have managed to really get away.

  197. Kate

    I have a kindergartner this year (all day KG) and we are stuck in a lunch rut! It has been in the 90s here since school started 2.5 weeks ago and the little nugget has three recesses a day; including one right before lunch. And he comes home ravenous! He doesn’t want anything too heavy right now, but is pining for the day when he can take soup for lunch. I would love to see what you pack for your little guy, even if it is just a picture. In the sea of peanut butter sandwiches and tastycakes, I would love to show him a picture of Jacob’s lunch to show him that other kids take good for them lunches, too.
    The comments (as always) are fantastic; thanks for all the ideas.

  198. Sally McEntire

    Oh school lunches, they stress me out! I have the kids make a list of things that they will eat for lunch and I go from there. That way if they tell me they don’t like it, I can say that they agreed to it. We revise the list throughout the year if they decide they really don’t like something. I make large batches of mac and cheese and freeze them in portion sizes, easy to heat and put in a thermos, make sure you preheat your thermos. My kids are a big fan of breakfast for lunch, I send waffles that we made on the weekend, syrup, fruit and a protein.

  199. Wife To An Amazing Cook

    Re: LK at #206 – When we have quesadillas for lunch, they’re always made in the morning. We use pre-made soft flour tortillas, fill with protein/veggies/cheese, fold in half and then place them on a sheet in the oven until they are toasted and warm through (and cheese is soft/melted). They then get cut in two, wrapped in foil and then wrapped in a cloth napkin to insulate; my third grader says they’re still warm-ish when she has lunch at noon.

  200. JW

    Was it last year? 100 days of real food posted a pic of her lunches she packed almost everyday. She had great ideas. I could not afford the expensive lunch box but did make a trip out to Ikea and bought their tupperware collection with the green lids for $5 and they have many small pieces that we use as a bento style thing. My childs favorite lunch box items are..anything wrapped in a tortilla, cauliflower salad, apples, and walnuts. Thankfully we get to have nuts this year. Cutting things into small sizes helps them be able to get a lot in the mouth at one time I find that mine is hungry but talks a lot and gets less than 15 minutes of actual sitting time to eat. I also do the smoothies, veg, fruit, and protien, in the silicone tubes and freeze them as a way to get him all the nutrients in one fell shwoop.

  201. Hi Deb,

    If you’re interested in learning more about school nutrition and marketing in schools, please check out Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity’s parent-focused website — Rudd ‘Roots Parents ( There’s a lot of information about the USDA’s updated nutrition standards for food served and sold in schools, along with advocacy information that might be helpful to your parent readers.

  202. Emily

    Is there a reason for layering everything and pouring the egg mixture over rather than just mixing it all together and pouring it into the pan? Is it just for looks, or do you get better ingredient distribution by layering?

  203. Bunmi

    Im going to have to try this ASAP!

    Also, the day I started thinking about lunchboxes differently was the day I liberated myself from all the pressure! So this is what I do when pressed for ideas for lunch – as long as I can check the carbs, protein, fruit and veggies box, im good. For example – I packed in a bento box yesterday some greek yogurt with fresh bluberries, baby carrots, trader joes crackers, string cheese and some rolled ham slices. The other day it was a boiled egg, baby broccolli with some dip, string cheese, fresh strawberries and some crackers. The kids love having a bunch of little different things and the box always comes home empty! …and when I can pack a hot lunch i do that as well. :)

  204. deb

    On a lighter note, this gave me a chuckle. I was reading along all “yup” “uh-huh” and then I saw the peacock and cried “I WANT TO DRESS A PEAR UP AS A PEACOCK!”

    Hope you all have a nice weekend.

  205. Elise (Bergelson) Singer

    Well, now that you have a little one going to school lunchbox in hand, you’ll see that you’re already (amazing!) highly read blog will probably double again. There are a lot of us lunchbox-sufferer parent-foodies out there.

    I presently have a 1st, 3rd and 5th grader. Although we cook from scratch every night and my children generally eat everything, somehow the leftover for lunch thing doesn’t really work more often than not.

    So, I’ve been reading for about a year, you’re the only food blog I follow. This is a big HOORAY for addressing the lunch box. And I hope that all this enthusiasm will help encourage you to KEEP IT UP!!!!!!

    -Elise (previous Ridgewood High student btw. I think my brother and your husband were friends)

  206. Rachel Bee

    One lunchtime hit is to make fresh summer rolls with a peanut dipping sauce. Great for people of any age, and you can get your protein and veggies all rolled into one. I usually pan fry strips of tofu to go in with the veggies and rice noodles. A mandoline makes veggie prep really easy. I put in carrots, cucumbers, lettuce, sometimes peppers and avocado.

  207. Emily

    Re: chicken nugget tantrum, you could make some homemade healthier chicken strips (cut boneless chicken into manageable pieces, dip in egg then a mixture of panko/seasonings, and bake or saute) and send those along with whatever vegetable/fruit options he likes. Not guarantees, because maybe tomorrow pizza or something else will be on the menu and then he’ll want that…but it might work. I know throughout school I always enjoyed lunch more when it was closer to “real” food–i.e., I much preferred leftovers, even cold/lukewarm, to sandwiches and such.

    1. deb

      Btw, re: chicken nugget tantrum — The teacher told me today that nuggets weren’t even on the menu! Also that she reads this site? So behave, guys. :)

      I’ll make nuggets anyway. I can take a hint! Oh, did I ever tell you guys about my pickle-brined, pretzel-crusted chicken tenders? Maybe a little too weird? The kid loved them. I think I was worried people would leave here disgusted.

  208. glee

    I always have my kid eat something when he gets home. This will be esp important later when J has soccer (or something) practice at 4o’clock. I for sure remember eating a sandwich when I got home from school back in the cretaceous period, too. Dinner time is a lonnnnng way from lunch for sure.

  209. JP

    Baked this tonight for supper and used Monterey jack and Swiss and my own homemade wheat bread because that is what was on hand and it was pretty tasty, but probably would have been better with the cheese you suggested and our San Francisco extra sour dough bread. I know readers want to use canned or frozen corn, and I am sure they can do that, but it will never have that sweet pop of fresh corn. That was the best part.

  210. Lynda

    OK, Deb, this is great and all, but my advice on school lunches is: chill out, dear! You are not obligated to show off how great you are at lunches. Over a couple of decades of daily lunch packing, I learned that you don’t need to plan perfect and camera-worthy lunchboxes each day. What you do need to do is develop a set of rules to help you crank it out every day and quickly produce a pretty healthy lunch that your kid will actually eat.

    So, come up with a pattern that works. For us, that generally meant simplicity: some fruit and/ or raw vegetable, something with protein, and something that qualifies as a snack or dessert. Within these guidelines you have a lot of leeway but can produce something edible in two minutes flat on a bleary-eyed morning.

    For us, that meant that many lunches had sandwiches. So many options here: make what your kid will eat. For one kid that may be turkey and lettuce. For another, sliced egg with mayo may be the fave. If your child likes lettuce on sandwiches then by all means include it. For one of ours, lettuce meant love; for the other, lettuce meant we were being mean to him :) If tomatoes, sliced in a separate plastic container solves the soggy issue. We always tried to mix it up so they got some variety each week, but don’t think you have to come up with something new all the time. Allowing some combinations to become their “classic” lunch is to be encouraged because simplicity is your friend, and familiar foods are quite comforting to them.

    Leftovers are great. We always had homemade pizza on Sunday night, so Monday lunches were much-loved with a cold slice or two. Become intensely practical: most kids hate to eat anything that is messy at lunch because they are stuck with sticky hands. Do not kid yourself that any little boy past kindergarten is likely to agree to use a wet-wipe. Cold chicken sounds good except for the messy factor, but cold sliced steak or pork can make an awesome sandwich or stuffed pita. Some kids may eat cold lasagna, etc…

    Do give them some stuff that will make the other kids envious rather than filled with pity for them. Image matters to kids, even pretty little ones. So as often as possible, send homemade dessert. Cookies are always popular, fruit cobbler travels well, and do get in the habit of making some tasty cakes in single-layer form they can be cut into squares and picked up easily.

    And, lastly, try to be flexible and not too judgmental. Please don’t start right out bad-mouthing the cafeteria meals at your kid’s school. You might be surprised to find that at most schools there are at least a few choices that the kids all want to have. Whether you think it sounds gross or not, let them. They will get more out of feeling that they fit in at at school than they will lose in nutrition.

  211. Linda

    I made this last night and it was delicious. My 15-year old son suggested that I put the recipe in a book of “Things to Make Again” and my 17-year old son suggested that I then make a book titled, “Things to Make Again and Add Bacon To”. They both loved it. I used some scallions and some leeks because I was short on scallions and used olive oil ciabatta bread. Easy to make one day when you have time and just pull out of the fridge and bake the second day when you don’t have as much time.

  212. Jen

    Your peanut sesame noodles ( keep fabulously and deliciously as a make-ahead lunch! My boyfriend and I make this dish about once a month, mixing up a big batch on Sunday to pack for lunches and eat throughout the week. (I will say that I noticed the first time we did this that the cucumbers get a big soggy after a day or two, so we switched them for julienned carrots instead, which hold up better).

  213. Gail

    Man, Deb, you are going all OUT these days! … Hitting those “third rails” of school lunches and then, in the next post, almond milk and hipsters. I’m loving it! Be brave! Stand strong! :)

  214. Jo

    Your raspberry breakfast bars are a favorite with my kindergartner. Also, I make blueberry muffins and freeze them (they thaw by snack time), homemade peanut butter granola (honey, pb, and oats), cheese, melon, and yogurt. I have found that giving lots of options and small portions results in the emptiest lunch box in the afternoon.

  215. Barbara

    My first grader doesn’t like sandwiches. He doesn’t like a lot of things actually. I have a few kid lunch cookbooks and the bento box approach seemed the best. I made a cucumber sushi roll and sent in 2-3 slices a day. I added cheese, crackers, and turkey pepperoni for him to assemble and some green grapes. I rolled up 4 slices of ham and he’s ate his whole lunch this past week with a request for more. So far so good! I’d love to hear some of your lunchbox ideas.

  216. I definitely need to try this for my own lunchbox! I hate having to subsist on whatever can last on the go as I split my usually 12-hour days between full-time college and a full-time job, but I’m realizing that there are delicious and nutritious options out there.

  217. Heather daley

    Hi from South Africa!
    As a Mom and Gran I find I can often use the dinner leftovers in lunch boxes if I shred or chop the meat/chicken/veg into small pieces, moisten if necessary with a bit of the sauce,mayo,Thai sweet chili etc and then wrap it in phyllo (FILO)pastry and pop in the oven for 10 minute. Pack when cool of course. It never comes back with the lunchbox and you can disguise even broccoli! Thanks for the ONLY cooking blog I subscribe too, and my absolute favorite recipe book. You are unique!

  218. Gina F.

    I don’t have children, but my husband and I both brown-bag our work lunches. I’m excited to see this corn strata recipe. I’d make it for our lunches this week, but already have spinach lasagna made for this week’s lunches. Look forward to browsing the lunch section.

  219. Brittany H

    Oh I’m so excited about a new lunch category! I nominate your lentil soup with sausage, chard, and garlic for the category as well. I often will make up a batch on the weekend and separate into single serving containers. Then all I have to do is grab one from the fridge on my way out the door. For the kiddos without access to a microwave, you could heat it up in the morning and put it in a soup thermos. So delicious, filling, and healthy.

    1. deb

      Naomi — Great video! And my friend is indeed from Lyon, which is really the food epicenter of France and where more Michelin-starred chefs hail from than anywhere else, I understand. So, not surprisingly, the food at the schools is representative of their cooking pride.

  220. Katrina

    I am with you 100% with the chagrin over the abysmal quality of typical school lunch food. I work in the kitchen of a fancy private school, and our students get served very good food. But the food costs extra beyond the insane tuition, some students spend $10-15 on school food each day. My hope with all of this (beyond paying the bills) is that these young women will appreciate the value of quality food and will go on to be leaders in the future, who will demand something better for children. (But some days there is so much entitlement around me I fantasize about running away and joining the FoodCorps.)
    Thanks for talking about this on your blog, as school lunch is a really big part of my life. I wish every student in America could eat at my cafeteria, for free.
    If you want to get lunchbox crazy and if your son likes rice, you should do some bentos for him. It’s really not too difficult or time consuming, and if you make it cute kids will eat all kinds of new things. It’s a good way to give leftovers a facelift. (It’s also kind of fun to do!)

  221. Kelly Walters

    This looks delicious, I’m going to try this for dinner tonight. My daughter always took her lunch when she was little. She’s sixteen years old now and started packing again this year because the lunches have gotten so bad.

    When she was young I did things like cheese (cut into shapes) and crackers with grapes. She loves french onion soup (which is kind of weird for a kid), so I would make a batch and she’d eat it for a solid week. I would also send left over beef stew or potato soup in a thermos. Only problem she had with the thermos was finding an adult to take the lid off for her, even the kid friendly ones can be difficult.

  222. Karin

    When my kids were in school they had lunch at 10:30 in the morning. By the time they got home at 3:30 they would eat the walls. My kids are 35+ now and school lunch was an option back then, it was all prepared in school and we weren’t so worried about additives or what kind of seeds were used to grow the food. When they got home I had dinner ready for them, soup, stew, pasta, whatever. With 3 boys I saved a fortune on snacks by doing this. They could eat dinner later with us if they wanted to or they could have pb&j or cereal or leftover at anytime. Worked great for us.

  223. Jay

    I couldn’t seem to get this to work very easily. With more than 20 minutes left of bake time, the bread on the top layer was burning, the outside edges of the dish were becoming tough and dry, while the middle third was a liquid mess. I turned all the bread back into the “custard” center midway through the cooking so as to protect the burning bread. Within another 15 minutes or so the same problem emerged so I just pulled it out. It tasted ok and the egg seemed to set but it was something I had to babysit a little. Served with a strawberry goat cheese salad and it turned into a meal.
    Thanks for sharing!

  224. AKM

    I’m sorry if someone already included a link to another mom’s post about school lunches–I didn’t take the time to read through all the comments. BUT, perhaps it is so good it even bears repeating! This one humbles me, and at the same time makes me wish my boys were really young again (with the oldest starting college, I am really feeling nostalgic!) And Deb, really yummy strata!

  225. Tania

    Mine is in the oven right now. I made a “lower fat” version with Almond milk and 2% sharp cheddar. I’m so excited to try my first Strata ever. Please post more lunch friendly recipes.

  226. Melanie G

    I tried this for our breakfast this mocking (and later in the week) but the center seemed to be sitting in liquid forever, and I baked it an extra half hour. Did I do something wrong or was my dish too deep instead of wide? It smells amazing and I definitely want to try this again!

    Also, hooray for a kunch category – ready to refresh my recipe box for lunches too!

  227. Melanie G

    Oops, typo – I meant “morning!”

    Also, our time really came down to the wire and I had to give up. If it sits out on the counter for a couple hours, is it a complete loss? I hope not…. Hope it can be salvaged.

  228. Trisha

    This was very tasty. One commenter asked how this reheats in a microwave. I have reheated the spinach one n a microwave a bunch of times and this one in a toaster oven, and the strata comes out much better reheated in the toaster oven. I am so glad you described how you reheat yours.

  229. Leah

    For all you last-minute Sallies out there: I committed the cardinal sin of recipes and didn’t read this one through before starting…at 4pm to serve for dinner at 6. I let it sit at room temp (yeah, not great food safety, but that’s what memory B cells are for) for an hour or so and then baked it up, and it turned out great, even without the extended soak. FWIW, I did use a pretty soft whole wheat boule; I don’t know how it would work with something crustier if you skip the overnight step.

  230. I take lunch to work, but I’m completely dependent on the fridge and microwave in the break room! I have no idea what I’d do with only an ice pack or thermos.

    One winter in elementary school, inspired by the tales of Kirsten the American Girl doll who lived on the frontier, I begged my mom to put baked potatoes in my coat pockets to keep my hands warm (in the 40-degree Southern weather) on the short walk to school. Mom agreed if and only if I’d eat the plain, hours-old potatoes for lunch—which I happily did, just to be like Kirsten!

    But more importantly, I’m definitely a fan of the strata! I followed the recipe without changes and loved every bite. I’ve got six more squares in the freezer!

  231. Tamara

    I’ve been making kid lunches for 13 years now – 2 teen boys in addition to my own lunch for work. I kept thinking they’d want cafeteria food eventually but nope. Top three are probably burritos, fried rice, and calzones but they get a wide variety of things in the boxes. Anyway, good luck and I look forward to learning some new tricks!

  232. caz

    I made this completely as is (shocking for me!) for brunch yesterday and it was fantastic. So much so I ate it for dinner again, and was picking at it cold out of the fridge. I had to hide the leftovers from myself.

  233. Victoria

    Does Jacob eat soup? This thermos: will keep soup hot for 12 hours. Comes, natch, with handy little drinking cup. Take it from the NYC elementary school teacher (uh, me) – along about November it will be exactly what the hangry ordered. Freeze portions, heat it up that morning, throw in thermos. Tomato bisque with some leftover grilled cheese, some kind of wonderful. The same thermos will keep a smoothie cold for 18 hours btw.

    The funtainer is good for refried beans with some melted cheese on top, throw in a pita or tortilla and some fruit, call it lunch. Well, maybe with a cookie.

    And…Deb…really…fritters. Just…fritters. With sour cream, with applesauce, with sawdust, it’s all good.

  234. Kari

    Lots of great lunch comments, and I love the new section in the recipe archive. Since it was mentioned in many lunch suggestions, you should really add your hummus recipe (the one where we peel the chickpeas) to the lunch list. It’s great with crudite, or spread into a wrap/sandwich. I’m now realizing it’s been far too long since I made this, but I enjoy it in a wrap with apples, cucumber, and spinach, though I realize that may not be kindergarten-friendly.

    I was blessed to have a momma committed to making my lunches all the way through school, even though that sometimes meant she got up after only a few hours of sleep to see to it. This was partially because she had a background in nutrition and wanted me to eat well, but it was also more economical than the school lunches. I believe I only did those once a week. There was a period, I think 5th grade, when I professed to want nothing but peanut butter sandwiches of various kinds: apple, banana, chocolate chip (only occasionally). But the reality was that about halfway through the year, I did not like them as much, so I started to only eat half and throw the other half away. When my mom found out, she was crushed and I felt bad too. First lesson in food waste!

    One thing I liked a lot in high school was a particular kind of yogurt, then matzo w/ cream cheese (the latter in a separate container so the matzo didn’t get soggy). I think I ate this once a week for the better part of two years. My mom also made me homemade lunchable-type things, mostly ’cause it was cheaper than the name brand but also because it’s easy to cater to tastes. I was big on colby-jack and muenster cheese, so she used that, not American or sharp cheddar, etc.

  235. nora1

    I made this to take to playgroup morning tea yesterday and we are enjoying it for breakfast as I type. It’s awesome! my only change was using tinned corn and cubed ciabatta rolls because that’s what i had. next time i’ll try fresh corn and wholemeal, i can only imagine it being even better. Easy and delicious, a keeper. My kids will be starting preschool in the new year and they’ll be taking this for sure.

  236. Sophia

    I have made many of your recipes with great success, but for whatever reason, this was not my cup of tea. I was so excited to make it, and it looked and smelled so good coming out of the oven…but we sat down with our plates for dinner and both agreed that it just…needed something. Bacon? Spinach? Potatoes? So Sunday morning, looking for something to whip up for breakfast, I made some home fries on the stove, threw in some spinach and beet greens I had in the fridge, a few halved cherry tomatoes that were about to shrivel, and then added a couple servings of the leftover strata to the pan and warmed it. Served everything in a bowl with avocado and hot sauce. Soooo good! Wish it had been a success for me the first time but still a happy ending!

  237. alex

    All I can say is, my sister and her family moved to France 2 years ago. And when we asked her 5 year old daughter about school lunches, she replied, “Well, there are three courses. But the last course isn’t usually very big… just maybe some Camembert.”

    Oh, I guess I can also say that our preschool lunches are almost always leftovers. And that they go over best when it’s lots of odds and ends (like, the amount you’re not sure is worth saving). It seems like multiple mini-portions are way more exciting than just one or two things.

  238. Shelly

    I’ve been enjoying this lovely recipe for lunch & dinner. I did change it up by using roasted garlic bread (just happened to have a good chunk left from our local grocery), and by throwing in spinach with the layers (didn’t even sauté it ahead of time, just tossed it in & let it cook in the oven). Every time I reheat it for lunch, it just smells so heavenly – the slightly garlicky bread, the cooked cheese, and the corn is delicious. My new favorite strata!

  239. Rebekah

    I need to expand my lunch box repertoire a bit more. My daughter is 15 now and still often gets regular old sandwiches. But, her and my husband’s three favorite lunch box mains that never return unfinished are Orzo with Roasted Vegetables, Taboulleh, and Roasted Red Pepper and Goat Cheese Sandwiches (all Ina Garten recipes). For the salads I can make a fairly easy double batch on the weekend (sometimes for dinner, sometimes not) and it makes a quick packed lunch all week. If I don’t make extra the salads disappear very quickly because even though they’re eating it every day for lunch they can’t seem to resist a little extra on the side, especially if we’re having leftovers for dinner. For the Roasted Pepper sandwiches I do a big batch of the marinated roasted peppers for the fridge and then assemble regular sized sandwiches each day. It occurs to me as I write this that these are all vegetarian options, but we do eat meat. I also find that sandwiches in general are less likely to return home if they are made with high quality, fresh bread. I’m sure many people would scoff at anything less but I confess it does happen in my house from time to time.

  240. Catharine

    I didn’t want to be “that mom,” but when my son started daycare I had a list of their salty/sugary snack foods that I didn’t want him to have. So along with his lunch I pack alternative snacks half the time. I also agree about the frequency of snacks. We rarely have a snack in between meals when he is home, but he has two snack times while at daycare.

  241. Alicia R.

    I read this and decided it was the perfect way to use up ournearly two dozen CSA eggs we’d fallen behind on eating. Used a mixed of multigrain and rye breads, mushrooms vice corn and gruyere instead of cheddar. To die for.

  242. Susan H

    This recipe got RAVE reviews when I served it at kiddush this week! I used a mix of rye and challah, to use up bits and pieces I had frozen in previous weeks. I toasted the breads lightly in a 325 oven before assembling. Yum.

  243. Amy P

    Here in BC, Canada, teachers have been on strike since June (yes, before exams, before report cards, before graduation. None of that happened). I was thinking about how I wish Canada would step up and offer healthy hot lunches like France, and also proper home ec classes, but then I realized I should just wish for school to reopen. Thankfully my kids are too young to be affected by it, but this ugly fight between government and teachers is dragging on and on and it’s hurting the kids they’re supposedly trying to help.

    Sigh. I guess next year we can start the lunch battle with the school districts? ;)

  244. Stephanie

    Deb, I must say, there is absolutely no need to bother with the reheating of this strata! It was beyond wonderful slightly cool (or even straight out of the oven) with some fresh chopped tomatoes one day and roasted onions & tomatoes the next. Ooh, and seared on a pan (but still cool inside) with some Trader Joe’s Soy Chorizo another day!

    I used about 3/4 of a loaf of Canyon gluten-free seven-grain bread, 4 leftover ears of grilled corn, half a bunch of sauteed beet greens and a couple of tomatoes. Because I didn’t have 9 eggs, I used 5. I’m a bit lactose-intolerant, so I went halfsies, combining yogurt and milk for the 2.5 cups of milk. When it’s cold, the “custard” is just divine.

    My 11-year-old who loves corn and hates bread pudding LOVED it.

  245. re lunch:

    -sweet potato/lentil stew (

    -stuck pot rice (

    -lentil/chickpea salad (

    hmm… i’m noticing a lentil theme here! anyway, just the few i’ve made over the years, and have enjoyed having when away from my kitchen during lunch time!

  246. Laura

    My twins are starting college RIGHT NOW and they flat out refused to ever eat at the cafeteria, so I made lunch every day from Kindergarten through 12th grade. What they liked best was for me to reheat leftovers and put them in wide-mouth thermoses. If it was something you had to cut, I cut it up and put the bite-sized pieces in the thermos. We had high-quality, metal-on-the-outside Thermos brand thermoses and the food was still pretty hot by lunch–and they lasted all those years. Occasionally sandwiches or salad (not in the thermoses, and I put the dressing in a little glass anchovy jar so it wouldn’t get soggy). Always raw veggies and fruit. Sometimes cookies/cake. What made this work was a meal plan for the whole week, so I would know there would be proper leftovers. It also meant things like cheese souffle only on a non-school night. It was work, but they loved it. And now I miss it…

  247. AudNoL

    Loved the strata! And, the leftovers for weekday lunches school/work. But what compelled me to post is your quote from somewhere in the middle “my pickle-brined, pretzel-crusted chicken tenders” I hope you post this & we are not even chicken nugget fans in our house, but I am intrigued! Thanks again for all your recipes!

  248. Rena

    I am finally one of those magical commenters that actually had all of the ingredients in the house already! Except the bread. So I reduced the number of eggs to a mere 3 and made it a quiche in a crust instead. Delicious!

  249. DK

    “crouton (aka dried rye bread)” update: should have read your directions to know that i ll be soaking that bread in a milk mixture, so no need for chicken broth! halfed the recipe, used egg whites and a whipped cream mix (ran out of eggs and too lazy for a store run) did a 2-3 hour soak instead of the overnight, used steak and corn and it came out AMAZING. the caravay seeds (or is it thyme?) really add an extra dimension to the stake, almost like a baked, fluffy ruben. def goes into the weeknight rotation menu!

  250. IMS

    I made this for brunch for some friends this weekend & it was a hit. I also had plenty leftover for my lunch today and it was equally delicious. Thanks so much Deb! This recipe is a keeper and will definitely be a permanent item in our brunch/lunch rotation. :)

  251. Echoing Leah’s comments above: I just couldn’t afford the 8+ hours in the refrigerator, so I managed maybe 1.5, and it ended up great, maybe a tiny bit less set then ideal, but nobody here knew the difference. Delicious. Thank you! Testing out in the lunchbox tomorrow…

  252. Brittany L.

    Deb, you are a Super Mom. I grew up in a house where my Mom didn’t have time to make my school lunches or dinners for that matter. Lunches at school were pretty much exactly like those pictured in the link you posted, absolutely nothing to write home about or actually eat for that matter. I would eat like 3 Dannon yogurts (they came on your lunch tray, I would barter for them) and buy a Powerade from the vending machines. Oh, in elementary school the booster parents would sell crappy plastic looking ‘nachos’ during recess (before lunch of course) and those were always there. In high school it was even worse, we had alternative options to the Cafeteria lunch so if you brought money why bother getting the lame cafeteria food when you could eat the exciting (even more poorly made than the original!) fast food like Subway! Pizza Hut! Cup of Noodle! I envied my friends packed lunches.

    I can’t tell you how much it would have made a difference in my life to have homemade lunches. There is so much more behind that little lunch box of love than just saving money and eating right. To all of you amazing parents out there that go out of their way to make sure your picky kids have healthy well rounded lunches to help better prepare them for their day, kudos to you. It really makes a difference.

  253. Agatha

    Hearing your son’s lunch time brings back every horrible memory of my son’s education. Thirty minutes. Early in the day. And when they finally have a time to just socialize. Many will spend most of that time in line for lunch. My child talked the whole time, ate little, and it affected his behavior for the rest of the day. But this is how scads of children live–many successfully. I love Heather Daley’s idea for leftovers baked in phyllo. I’m seeing potato hash with a few veggies in the phyllo. If he is not eating because he feels rushed or busy, I’d experiment with sending cold smoothie type drinks of fruit and yogurt. My son would drink absent-mindedly when he wouldn’t eat absent-mindedly. I also second the mom that was advocating cold cereal. Cold cereal, milk and bananas are probably responsible for my son not being stunted by malnutrition.

  254. Patricia

    My son is 11, just started sixth grade. In kindergarten we started giving him a weekly allowance, just enough to cover 1.5 school lunches/week. That way, he could look at the weekly menu and decide when/if he wanted to bring in money for it, versus a pack lunch. That made sure he didn’t feel left out on “pizza day”, or whatever. Whatever money was left over was his to do with as he pleased: save, blow on candy, combine the leftovers with next week’s allowance to buy two lunches the following week, etc. This gave him a great introduction to financial planning, planning ahead, deciding between needs vs. wants, etc. Although he initially spent just about all of it out on school lunches, he soon realized that the lunches he brings from home are the key to having extra money on hand for things his parents won’t buy for him but don’t expressly forbid (endless comic books, etc.).

    In third grade we went further and put the boy in charge of packing the lunch, too. At first, I made the entree (leftovers in a thermos, etc.) and he was responsible for the “side items” (cheese & crackers, craisins, fruit, etc.), but for the last two years he has taken over most of the entree duties, too. When this first started, we put all of the likely lunch side items together in one place in our pantry, together with baggies and small tupperware, right next to where we store his lunch pail and water bottle, so there was only one place he had to go to pull most of his lunch together.

    Recipe suggestion: this one is from your cookbook: my son’s current lunchbox favorite is a leftover grilled Swiss & prosciutto with caramelized red onions on marble rye! We warm it up in the toaster oven in the morning and wrap it in foil. I can’t believe it doesn’t get somewhat soggy by lunchtime but he assures me it is still delicious. Certainly none of it ever comes back home!

  255. Allison

    Preach Deb!
    My son just started K in Aug. Lunch is at 10:30 which I may pack. My son only has 15-20 min to eat in an extremly noisy cafeteria that is unmonitored by teachers. My son says all of the boys shout “potty” talk while eating their gummies, powdery chips, donuts, and drinking blue sports drinks (all of which I have proudly kept out of the home). What makes matters worse, each parent must feed 25 kids daily snacks for at least two weeks which are given to the kids in the late afternoon. So far (since the second week in Aug) snacks have been chips, cookies and gummies- even candy!!! He often comes home and has only eaten part of his lunch and junky snacks or even skips the snacks. in addition, the teacher rewards good behavior with candy! My time for snack duty is fast approaching and I am looking forward to bringing actual real food-fruit, plain popcorn, etc. We too live in an affluent area which confuses me all the more.

  256. Susan Vandermeer

    I got up at 5 to turn my oven on and bake my strata before work today! It is going to be a great day and dinner is already done. As a life long working woman, I have packed my lunch most every day. I usually make a huge green salad on Sunday and morph it into lunch with leftovers like this strata. My days go so much better when I am prepared ahead a few days, my co workers are always jealous but too lazy to do it themselves… I know this is going to be so good, thanks as always Deb!

  257. Sarah M

    Made this for yesterday and it was amazing! I added some roasted Hatch chiles and a jalapeno and some cumin for a little western flair and it was delicious. Can’t wait to try other flavor adventures. Stata is the new jam in our household!

    One question/suggestion– with recipes like this that need to sit for an extended time, is it possible to also put that information at the beginning? I know I should have read it all the way through first, but I was just bopping along working my way through it on Tuesday and then came to the “let sit in the fridge for 8 hours up to 1 day” and went whoops! Guess this is for dinner on Wednesday night!

    I love the new lunch box category– no kids, but I pack lunch every day and hate sandwiches so am always looking for leftovers that will be delicious midday!

  258. Spyglassweb

    I made this last week for dinner. It was just OK. My kids ate it but it was not a hit and we did not finish the entire pan. It makes a lot!

  259. F

    I’m lunchboxing x 2 this year. This was a huge hit (even though I only did a sprinkling of parmesan on top) and I had great requests to follow up with more today. Thank you!
    I like to do baked chicken meatballs with rice, in various flavors-everything goes in them, and they can eat them quickly.

  260. sarah

    wow. i guess you see from this avalanche of comments an idea for your next book??! ‘groovy lunchbox fillings’ feels right for a title. my daughter just left for college and i am mostly elated to not be packing lunches for her anymore.
    this strata looks so freakin’ good. can’t wait to make.

  261. One of the often-retold stories of my deprivation as a child revolves around having to make not only my own lunch for school but also one for my little sister. Where is the justice? But throwing together a sandwich and some fruit/crackers/veggies/whatever wasn’t really all that taxing, and I think it helped my parents stay sane. Or at least get us out the door in the morning.

  262. Sara

    I made this without waiting 8hrs/overnight (because, oops who reads directions) and it still turned out great. Also, I did add panchetta, so that may have something to do with it. Thanks deb!

  263. Allison

    Oh, during my school lunch/snack rant I forgot to mention that I love the Weelicious books and blog and Beating the Lunch Box Blues book and blog for lunch packing tips. One of J.M. Hirsch’s ideas that I love is to bake phyllo cups with quiche-type fillings. Petite and so fun for the kids!

  264. Deb

    Deb, thank you for the most amazing comfort food. Four exhausted teachers feasted on this strata last night after one of them (me) taught for 4 hours straight (we’re mostly professors). For readers, we paired it with a lightly dressed arugula salad. The spicy arugula paired so nicely with the savoury strata.

    I think you might’ve earned an A+ for this one =)


  265. SRB

    don’t forget the old stand-by, ants on a log! it takes a few extra moments, but it’s a fun way to encourage healthy snacking. i remember being excited on the rare occasion my mom surprised me with these.

    i think you have at least one home-made granola bar recipe. you could make a big batch of and pop in the lunch box for a healthy dessert, especially if there’s chocolate or something else fun mixed in.

    home-made pizza is also a great left-over/lunch item!

  266. Chris

    I always love the blog and enjoy the wonderful photos and snappy text. Sad to say, this recipe was a complete waste of ingredients for me. It was bland, soupy and very disappointing. I wound up putting it out for the possums. Maybe it is geared to the taste buds of children, who are (perhaps?) not as demanding of varied, punchy flavours? It sounded like it would be fabulous, and I even added extra scallions, but the scallions did nothing to save the dish.

    Guess you can’t win ’em all…

    1. deb

      Hi Chris — I’m sorry it was a flop for you. The flavor may not have been for you (of course), although I do feel that this benefits from generous seasoning (salt/pepper). I wanted to ask about the soupy part — did yours not bake through? Did you use fresh corn? If it’s becoming soupy for folks, I definitely want to know about it because an adjustment might be in order. Thanks.

  267. I know the conversation here this week has veered toward school lunches ; but I just made this as a brunch dish for adults and had the whole table swooning . Everyone wanted the recipe, and everyone left happy. The discourse on lunch politics was interesting, but I don’t remember ever seeing so many divisive comments on this blog. Lighten up people , in a terrible news week just enjoy the goodness of this dish .

  268. Hillary

    Another YES vote here.
    I had one of those ‘eye roll’ moments when eating this, this morning.(that being a GOOD thing)
    I assembled it last night (Friday), put it in the oven when I went out to do Saturday morning errands, set a timer so my husband could wake up, take it out and enjoy! Then I had a piece when I got home.

  269. Ana

    For those wondering about frozen corn – it worked for me. I used frozen because I have 3 bags in the freezer for some reason. I rinsed the corn to take the ice crystals off and drained it. We just had the strata for breakfast and it was delicious! Thanks Deb!

  270. I just cried tears of joy upon seeing that your wee man has also started “school”. I was just sitting in my kitchen, contemplating lunch for my “primary” student (that’s what they call Kindergarten students here in Nova Scotia). I’m doing my best to pack healthy and tasty lunches for him, and worry when I pick him up from the after school program and find he hasn’t eaten his entire lunch.

    I asked what other kids bring to school and he described what can only be a prepacked lunch with crackers, cheese and meat. We all know the name of those awful things. Ick.

    I’m so very much looking forward to your lunch recipes!

  271. Margaret

    Deb, thanks so much!! Appreciate the help. One more question (yikes I’m probably pushing it)…if I make the strata in advance and then freeze the whole thing what is the best way to defrost and reheat? Defrost in fridge v. on the counter and then reheat at 350 OR put in oven straight from freezer? Thx!!

  272. Stephanie

    I made this last night – gluten free – by using a half of a loaf of gluten free white bread that was made from a mix. I had only about 6 cups of bread cubes so I reduced everything down and it came out really good!! I only let my dish soak up the egg and milk batter for 2 hours or less and it was still good.

  273. On the soupy comments, I made this tonight and at 50 minutes, it looked a little liquidy if I pressed the middle, so I gave it 10 more minutes. It absolutely needs the 5-10 minutes to rest after that. I think it cooks it a little more and just gives it time to set, and the center will still be softer than the edges.

  274. judi

    I hope you read this because as a mom of two who has just graduated from 10 years of making lunches every day I had to laugh (I’m free!- May I gloat?). My advice: You do not have to impress anyone. EVEN YOU. Leftovers that were a hit always got packed the next day. Otherwise, my mantra was: fruit,vegetable,grain,dairy,protein. Repeat. Check the boxes and move on. If my kids didn’t eat it at school they had it for a snack when they got home. Sunday nights, they packed their own. Good luck and enjoy…..

  275. April

    This was fantastic, Deb! Thanks for another wonderful recipe. I made it with the Dijon mustard and it was heavenly. Happy to eat tonight, and happy for some yummy leftovers for lunches.

  276. Ash

    As someone who is in high school (and vegetarian), school lunches are horrifying. If I was to buy lunch I believe the only veg option is salad on a buffet (which, as someone who has gotten a food service worker’s card, I can tell you the temp isn’t even sanitary), a PB & J, or a pizza (I’m not even going to get in on the animal rennet in cheese conundrum), but there are plenty of kids who just eat a bag of potato chips and a gatorade (if they don’t bring their own Monster or Rockstar). You’ll be happy to know though that we offer catered Chik-fil-a. What a disgrace.

    Usually my lunch consists of an apple (sliced and soaked in lemon water to keep from browning) and either carrots/celery and hummus, quinoa “tabouleh”, or that fabulous kale and quinoa salad you posted a while back. Those are my “go to”s but I’m working on more creative lunches this year

    Oh, and re the lunches are too short, thats an understatement we get 40 minutes but that is to talk to friends, go to the library to finish up homework, cram for that last minute AP US history test, copy notes for the chem lab you forgot, hunt down a teacher in the work room to make up a quiz and IF YOU HAVE TIME eat.

    *Steps off soap box*

  277. Ash

    Lunches have become horrendous, I can tell you that as a high school student. Most my friends grab a bag of chips and a sports drink/soda. Or Chik-fil-a, that our high school caters *eyeroll* My go to is an apple & a quinoa salad of some type (since I’m vegetarian), or if I’m running late (Who isn’t?) veggies and hummus.
    We have 40 minutes but that is to make up tests & quizzes, talk to friends, teachers, finish homework, etc. and ONLY if you have time eat a decent meal.

  278. ashley

    They start them young, my 20 month old just started PLAYschool. It’s only three hours in the morning 9-12. They give them a 10 am snack and another snack at noon pick up…great…I have no chance of getting a healthy lunch in after he has been charged up on juice and crap snacks. I offered to shop and donate food, but that gets expensive on our budget after a while. We could start a movement…large communities of moms cooking and serving great healthy foods! One can dream.
    I am so pissed, and it’s just the beginning for me.
    thank you, this is a great post

  279. Anna

    Yes on the soupy factor for me. The top 2/3 was great, and turned out really well. But I even baked for an additional 10 minutes, and still had soupy-ness. Did that stop my husband and I from eating it all in the span of two days? Of course not, because it was delicious. Just soupy-delicious…

  280. Janet

    Deb, absolutely loved this, even though I was foolish enough to not read the entire recipe while meal planning, so totally missed the “refrigerate overnight” part. It was still absolutely delicious baked right after preparation. Two small changes that might help others: frozen corn used, worked fine; put a LOT of black pepper in, probably more than 1/2 teaspoon. Packaged up leftovers in foil, and look forward to enjoying this dish again.

  281. Karen

    This looks yummy, sounds like dinner tonight. My kids always brought their lunches to school (through their senior year in high school) and always had the best lunches. Heat water, put it in a thermos to warm it up before filling it with warmed left overs and there’s a yummy, homemade lunch!

  282. Charlene

    Do you have to layer bread/corn/cheeses? Seems like once you add the egg mixture, it will just come together anyway. What about mixing bread/corn/cheeses in one bowl (or even right in the baking pan) and pouring the eggs over it? (My first comment/visit to your site, but I just bought the book and love it! Thank you!)

  283. Gerley

    I made this with Wasa/crisp bread since the bread I had had turned moldy and it was still fantastic! Pretty sure I also added WAY too much cheddar but it was so delicious paired with the sweetness of the corn.
    I am off to the kitchen to try a version of the cauliflower salad you posted and this reminded me to thank you for the cooking insiration I always get on here. I usually do something ALONG the lines of your recipes (being in Europe it’s sometimes just too tedious to substitute and calculate meticulously from American recipes) but the hardest part for me is the “What on earth will I make today?” so coming to your site and without fail finding something simple and delicious to try always makes me happy and my shopping trips less stressful! Keep doing what you’re doing!!

  284. Lorrie

    Made this last night and it was fantastic. I bought three fabulous ears of corn from my local Korean grocer for a dollar, can’t beat that. I bought sliced country style bread, didn’t have unsliced, and had two leftover brioche rolls so used them as well. I had extra large eggs so used 8 instead of 9. I did not refrigerate for 8 hours ( didn’t read that far down) so I put it right in the oven. The bread was a little crunchy on top and the corn has a slight crunch as well. Not soggy. I layered 5 oz bread, then corn, cheese, repeat, then 4 oz bread (14 total oz), corn, cheese and poured the egg milk mixture over all. I used the mayo. Not soupy at all. I served with sliced tomatoes. Having leftovers tonight with a salad and glass of wine.

  285. Marilou Garon

    Not a very original response, but my heart goes to the Thermos and to leftovers. On top of making things simpler, it also forces me to have a weekly menu plan that takes leftovers into account. Like others have mentioned, preheating with boiling water for 10 minutes ensures a warm lunch, and anything can go in a Thermos. Seriously. Thinly sliced leftover steak, for example. I even slice thin slivers of leftover pizza that I roll up, and “stuff” into the Thermos! I bought a Laptop Lunch Bento Carrier and the quality is top-notch. My son’s lunchbox has been thrown onto a Montreal snow-covered schoolyard for three years and it’s still impeccable.

  286. April P

    Not at all related to the lunchbox issue, but I would like to reiterate how amazingly awesome is this recipe. My husband is typically pretty reserved, but he’s mentioned several times how delicious this is. “Definitely on the repeat list” he says…. Thank you!

  287. Mary


    I just made this. It’s sitting on the stove for “5 minutes”. I poured the whole thing in a bowl and refridgerated over night. When I put it in the casserole dish this morning I realized the layering method would give you a top layer of cheese which I did not have by combining the whole thing. I added more cheese to the top to get this effect.


  288. Mary

    Looked good, smelled good, tasted good but a spongy texture. I while try a different bread and layer next time. Used frozen corn and made 1/2 the recipe. No soupiness but small changes can make a difference. No decent fresh corn at the grocery yesterday.

  289. I am putting this in my face as I type. It is *delicious*, and next time I make it I will add (a) more greens (put in a little kale, so the Kale Police wouldn’t take me away to Kale Jail) and (b) a little mustard.

    Really looking forward to that bit of mustard.

  290. Liz D

    I, too, had the soupiness problem. I used fresh corn and a lot of bread, and even cut back on the liquid a bit (because I was short 1 egg), but there was a *lot* of wet stuff in the bottom of the dish after 50 minutes of baking and some time to rest. I baked it for another 10 minutes but still had a god bit of liquid, so I baked a bit longer. It never really got firm/puffy – but it was still delicious! I’ll definitely try it again with less liquid, and maybe a shallower dish.

    1. deb

      Hm, not sure what’s causing the varying levels of soupiness but I’m starting to suspect that it’s the bread — if it’s soupy, it needed more. It’s a tough thing to measure (and my least favorite parts of recipes like this) because each bread will be different in weight/absorbency versus volume and I’d love to hear what kind of bread you’re using, if you have a moment. I used a pretty hearty bread, that sourdough whole wheat miche. I made this three times and it definitely absorbed sufficiently (I mean, or I wouldn’t have published it!) but I wonder if the soupiness was an issue of just a lighter bodied bread that drank up less custard as it sat. Thanks for the feedback, however; I wish it was working well for everyone.

  291. Meghan Grace

    “French Kids Eat Everything: How Our Family Moved to France, Cured Picky Eating, Banned Snacking, and Discovered 10 Simple Rules for Raising Happy, Healthy Eaters” by Karen Le Billon. Have you read this?!?! I’m DYING to move my 5 month old to France before she’s old enough to go to school and eat somewhere other than our home… Terrifying. Oh, to be French!

  292. I just read all 366 comments after seeing today what my daughter was being served in school. She’s in one of the 60 experimental lunch programs in NYC so her lunch is designed by famous chefs but the sad, brown chicken went completely untouched by the kids anyway (though they did eat the rice and random side of cucumber slices) and now I realize I have to step it up and actually make lunch. I am once again grateful to be in the same life stage as Smitten Kitchen.

  293. Terri (not the one above)

    Sorry, late to the strata/lunch party here. I tried to read through to make sure what I have to say wasn’t already said, but if it was, I apologize. Did you hear that cheer from the UES just a few days after Labor Day? That was me cheering (rather loudly) that I wouldn’t have to make another packed lunch until possibly next summer depending upon which camp we go to. (Can you tell I share your detest of having to figure out and pack healthy lunches everyday that my now 6y/o would enjoy and actually eat??). One thing I found that worked really well (that she didn’t mind eating cold which satisfied my need for protine with veggies and her need for actually eating it) was broc and cheese quiche. We also discovered that she would eat dinner things cold (ahh the joy of being a kid) so off I sent her with sauted shrimp and pasta (left over from the night before), cheese and spinach ravoli, haha (sorry, laughing cow) cheese and crackers, chicken salad and crackers, and hard boiled eggs – just the whites of course. lol I definitely ran out of creative ideas by the end of the summer, but I think you blow me away on the creative/food side so I imagine you’ll be ok longer then I was. :-) Btw, if your kid likes quiche and you don’t feel like making it, Zabars sells a good one which my daughter loves. It’s by food gems and I found them through the thanksgiving pie sale we do at her school every year. Anyway, hope you make it through and thanks for another great recipe!

  294. Sunny

    Late to this thread too. I am with you Deb about the lunch thing. Both my boys went to a fantastic pre-school that served hot lunches that our region voted as the best place to eat for lunch. Now that they’re going to public school, the lunches have been the bane of my exhistance. I personally eat well at work and insist that my team all have fantastic lunches … how else are we to survive 8 hours of office work. My boys are foodies at heart (despise sandwiches) and love hot lunches served with style … so here are my standard go tos:

    Sticky Rice in Lotus leaves – Once cooked, you can freeze them. Microwave high for 3 minutes in the leaf – unwrap them into a thermos for lunch – I even send it with chopsticks to add some element of real food!

    Pizza Roll: Made ahead of time. I freeze them and take them out to thaw when I wake up in the morning. They’re perfect in the lunch back by 11 am

    Macaroni Bolonese- Buttered Macaroni and left over tomato sauce heated up and shredded chedder/mozza on top – in a thermos. Served with a real utensil

    Good luck Deb with the upcoming lunches – I can’t believe we have 10 more years of this!

  295. Brenda

    Hi, I have been coming to your blog often since discovering that this is the best place to go for anything I am hankering for–it started this summer when I was trying to find a recipe for ratatouille and found your amazing version. And then I thought to try all the other summer veggies that I don’t really enjoy unless they get a makeover, like zucchini (your almond version had my husband asking for more–and he claims to not like zucchini!!). You have a knack of making even everyday things so tasty, and I’ve been meaning to let you know how much I appreciate your recipes. This strata is a winner–I’ve made it twice for my family and they love it!!! Thanks so much for sharing your skills with us.

  296. I only pack lunch one day a week for my 4-year-old, but I give her what feels like a meze platter. Hummus or another bean dip. Olives. Crackers or lebanese bread. Fruit. A small piece of chocolate.

  297. Anne

    Just made this, currently in the fridge so that the bread can absorb the “custard”. very simple to make – love the fact that only raw ingredients go in there.

  298. Anna

    Just a quick question – why does it need to be refrigerated for so long after it is assembled but before it is cooked? I want to eat it now! :)

    Would it be a big crime to cook after only 4 hours or so in the fridge?

    1. deb

      Anna — It’s just so that the bread has the max amount of time to soak up the custard. You can cook it sooner, but if your bread is very hearty or dense, it may not be fully saturated. Don’t think anyone will care, however.

  299. Lynne Jerome

    I want to make this for our Thanksgiving brunch but I’m worried if I refrigerate it in cast iron overnight the pan will crack going into the oven? Any problems with this or advice?

    1. deb

      Lynne — I hadn’t heard of this happening before! But I found a few discussions on the web and it seems that even Lodge’s website at one point gave the advice to warm pans slowly to avoid thermal shock. Maybe leave the dish out for an hour or so before baking it? Just to be safe.

  300. I bought a wide-mouth thermos to pack hot lunches in. My kids love it. Now i pack leftovers from diiner (pastas, soups, stews etc) for lunch. To keep food warm until lunch, put hot water in the thermos and let it sit while you warm up your leftovers. Pour water out put leftovers in. Done.

  301. Kimberly

    I made this over the weekend with French bread and whole milk. I used frozen corn and the flavor was good, but I am sure it is even better with fresh. Also added some diced red pepper, because it is the Christmas season and I couldn’t resist the red pepper and green scallions. Thanks so much for another great recipe.

  302. Ben

    For anybody out there who momentarily forgets how to read at the grocery store and accidentally picks up a cranberry-walnut loaf instead of sourdough, you will be pleased to know that this works just fine with that as well. I told my friends it was a “holiday themed” strata and that the cranberries were “intended to compliment the sweetness of the corn” and they totally bought it. I also make this with frozen corn all the time and it works almost as well as fresh, though I find it usually needs a bit more salt.

  303. Nora1

    Made this tho I only had one large cob of corn, made up the shortfall with halved cherry tomatoes. I was short on time so cut the bread in half-inch cubes and pressed it down a little, left it for half an hour then baked – worked great. Awesome recipe.

  304. michelle

    Good luck to you with the lunches. I have a 4 year old who is one of the pickiest eaters on earth and he does not and will not eat lunch at school no matter what I prepare for him or how I bribe him. My 2 year old daughter is less stubborn and she will eat a cream cheese sandwich or occasionally leftovers from supper. I love making extra supper in order for her and my husband to have lunch the next day. But my son…. he comes home in tears too hungry to negotiate to tired to eat. I have gotten used to this and pick him up at school with dry cheerios in hand in the hopes that it will fill him enough to avoid the tears. (usually unsuccessful) any lunch ideas/food ideas in general for picky eaters are more then welcome!!

  305. Sarah

    Hi love your stuff that I have made so far (cheese crackers, graham crackers) Having this for dinner tonight can’t wait.. question about the lunch box…cool idea are you concerned that your son might misplace/not bring it home/ etc….also (another question) the 1 cup (2oz) i have seen that in other recipes –isnt 1 cup supposed to equal 8 oz or is this a metric thing just curious can’t wait to try others…

  306. MelissaBKB

    I took this to a brunch and I think it was the best dish there! I roughly chopped 2 1/2 heirloom tomatoes and stirred them in to the corn and scallion mixture before layering. I think I was going for the flavors of the corn and tomato pie! It was really good but next time I might scale this back to 1 1/2 or 2 tomatoes (they were pretty big). However I think the additional wetness increased baking time because it took 1h20m total with the last 10min on 375 to get the middle to 160 degrees. Luckily the top stayed a nice golden brown. Also, I don’t know if it was the sharp cheddar I used but the dish was *just* on this side of too salty. I might pull back on the salt next time.

    Lastly, whenever I stir pepper into an egg/milk mixture it always falls to the bottom, so that when I pour it over the dish the pepper is left in the bowl. Next time I’ll just do a few turns of pepper on each layer instead.

    Despite the little tweaks I’ll do next time, it was definitely a winner this time!

  307. MelissaBKB

    To add to mine since Deb asked for bread feedback, I used an organic whole wheat loaf from Kroger. My husband cut them into cubes that were a little bigger than Deb’s pictures so I tore some of them in half to fit as needed; I would say 7-8 cups of cubes. It seemed like a dense bread to me. It was in the fridge soaking for about 9 hours and went straight into the oven. No soupiness, but maybe others aren’t baking it long enough? Even without the tomatoes I’m not sure it would have been done at 55min. It was barely puffed at 45min but kept getting taller until we took it out at 80min. The outsides were pretty dark like your pic but still tasty. With egg dishes I like to trust the thermometer over baking time to make sure the center’s done.

  308. Heidi

    Bread/soupiness feedback: I used a french country loaf from a local bakery (the same bread I’ve used in the spinach strata many times with success). This version was a little bit soupier, but not terribly so. I did let it sit out at room temp for about 30 mins. while the oven was preheating, and then baked for probably around 75 mins. At that point the center still looked a little wet but I had brunch guests to feed and so crossed my fingers that the resting time would firm it up. It was definitely looser than the spinach version and slightly soupy in the very middle – instead of cutting neatly into pieces as the spinach version does, it kind of fell apart when lifted out of the baking dish. Everyone raved about the taste though! Next time I might add even a few minutes more to the baking time and maybe use slightly less milk or add one more egg.

  309. Tina

    Hi Deb! Could I substitute soy or almond milk for the milk in this recipe? I’m a bit lactose-iffy. Or would that keep the dish from custard-izing? Can’t waaaait to try this!

  310. Sarah S.

    Deb, hate to ask such a silly question, but in order to try to beat any “soupy-ness” others have encountered, when you say “fresh corn” you mean raw from the cob, right? You do not mean to cook corn on the cob first before slicing it off? Thanks!

    1. deb

      Sarah — You cut the corn right off the cob, uncooked. I think, and it’s hard to say for sure, that soupiness might be because bread is such a weird thing to measure. In most cases, I think more bread or a more absorbent bread may have helped.

  311. c

    michelle @ 382, as a former Very Picky Eater, I don’t have many suggestions, as I haven’t a clue what I ate for lunch. If I had to guess, I’d say PBJ for years on end.

    I just want to say, take heart for your son’s culinary horizons. Right after HS I traveled abroad as an exchange student, which exposed me to all sorts of exotic (to me) foods (cherries, peaches, plums.. and some more unusual stuff). That experience, though, finally opened me up to a much broader food arena, and now I eat a variety of foods / veggies (though still am averse to chewy meat and a lot of spice). Good luck!

  312. I made this for a caroling-party potluck and expect to have it, or its spinach cousin, in party rotation hereafter. Thanks for yet another great recipe. Click the link in name if you want to see my commentary.

  313. TKK

    First off I’ve been eyeing this recipe since you posted it. I love many of the components — corn, cheese, scallions, bread — but I am not an egg person (taste plus texture doesn’t work for me). First off I halved the recipe in case my experiment didn’t work but I am happy to report that it did. For a half recipe I deleted original egg and milk amounts and I used 1 egg, 1 cup of heavy cream (I didn’t say I made it more healthy!) and 1/2 cup milk. I combined all the ingredients in a large bowl and let it sit for about 15 minutes during that time I stirred it a couple times. Then I poured it in the buttered baking dish (12×8) added extra cheese on top and baked for about 45 minutes. We loved it!

  314. EL

    What a lot of comments! I suspect this will get lost. First of all I don’t have any children, but if those of us without children don’t bother to have an opinion on what is going on with school nutrition then things (such as ketchup being included as a vegetable (when we all know it is a fruit (joke!))) will happen. The US has a history of nutritionally poor and poorly cooked lunches for school kids (if you buy into the school lunch program — anybody else remember the rice (not risotto) that was scooped like mashed potatoes?). And if you don’t buy into the program and can afford to send your child to school with a good lunch — What about those people who are poor and are stuck with school fare? We are just setting those kids up for medical problems later (and we all pay for that). Well, forgive my rant.

    I love your spinach strata and this one looks good as well. But I guess that I would add some other summer ingredients to it, such as tomatoes or peppers and baby leeks instead of scallions. But that us just my opinion. . .

    And isn’t that the nice thing about stratas and bread puddings and casseroles? you can add or subtract things and it all still turns out okay.

  315. stephanie

    omg, i made this strata last night and it was SO good. we had it with this chicken [thighs] fra diavlo – i wanted a savory all in one side i didn’t have to mess with, and something that would foil all the spice in the chicken. boyperson – aka mr. meat & potatoes when it comes to home cooking – liked it too. (he not only tried the generous slice i gave him, but finished it!)

    i read through a lot of the comments before i made this, and i can’t believe anyone had trouble with it because i totally botched this every step of the way and it still came out amazing. let me count the ways…
    1. i didn’t let it sit overnight. i actually was looking for something i could do the night before, skimmed down to the “do ahead” portion, and saw that it kept baked in the fridge and thought “damn, i guess i can’t leave it unbaked, then.” and i read the recipe too, i thought. don’t know how i missed such an important step. anyway, 1-1.5 hours in the fridge turned out to be fine.
    2. i used a dish that was way too small. remember the chicken thighs? i had every intention of marinating them in a tupperware container, but then for some reason on a whim i put them in my mini casserole dish. …the only small casserole dish i have, that i needed for this recipe. (i halved the recipe for two of us, another change.) so…i somehow crammed three layers into a 9″ 1.4qt clay pie dish. before i even added the custard it was piling over the top. i carefully drizzled the custard into the holes i could find, giving it a moment to seep down before pouring the next bit. then i covered the whole thing with saran wrap so i could smash it down with my hands. perhaps this actually helped everything become one with the custard. i also cut my bread cubes into 1/2″ pieces to account for the smaller dish and short soak time.

  316. stephanie

    [my comment was too large to post as one so i split it into two.]
    3. i didn’t mix the custard properly. again, failing to read the recipe ahead, i had the milk measured and just figured i’d throw the eggs, salt, pepper, and mayo in there all at once and stir it with a fork and save myself another bowl. after i stopped vigorously beating the ingredients (see, more not reading), i watched in horror as little curdled blobs covered the surface of the mixture.
    4. my ingredients weren’t glamorous. speaking of eggs, i somehow used up all my nice organic free range eggs the day before…and my car had a flat. and that’s how i ended up using gas station eggs. it’s march in boston so no fresh corn – i used frozen (whole foods organic frozen sweet white corn) which i put in a colander intending to defrost/rinse and then dry on paper towels before putting it in the strata…but then i dumped the scallions on top, needing the cutting board for the bread, and so the mixture went into the dish frozen. also? my parmesan was the last of a green plastic cylinder…it wasn’t even kraft. it was store brand.
    5. i baked it at the wrong temperature. i could have sworn when i picked this recipe to go with the thighs that they baked at the same temp, because i already knew they baked for the same amount of time. but the chicken thighs needed to bake at 400. and after all my other screw ups at that point i just figured, well, f*$! it.
    AND IT STILL CAME OUT AMAZING. chicken thighs were done at 45 minutes and i left the strata in for the full hour, uncovered, at 400. it puffed up so high and got so beautifully golden brown. no burnt or dry edges, no soupy parts anywhere, and after the five minute rest it cut easily into beautiful serve-able wedges. the bread i used was a san francisco sourdough from whole foods…four days earlier. i used about half (basically all the “middle” slices) of a 20oz loaf. also, since you can’t really halve 9 eggs, i used 5, based on others’ comments. i usually read a recipe several times before making something, i’m not sure where my mind was yesterday. but i hope my novella helps someone else to make this recipe because for me, it was pretty foolproof and has nowhere to go but up once we start getting fresh corn again. looking forward to having leftovers for lunch this week!

  317. Kelly

    Made this for a brunch and it was indeed easy & delicious! Made one probably-not-kid-friendly but very tasty modification I thought I’d pass along: added a can of diced hatch chilies.

  318. Pam

    I want to make this as a side dish for a dinner party I’m having Is here any benefit to letting the bread become a little stale? looks delicious.

  319. Seong

    I completely agree with you about the need to take our children’s nutrition more seriously – and about how interminable lunchbox making can feel! But I am selfishly glad that you have make lunches too because it means all the more inspiration for me and even more nutritious deliciousness for my family. Hooray for Deb’s lunches!

  320. Judy

    I like this recipe but we are doing our best to avoid heavy carbs, like bread, potatoes to keep diabetes at bay. Do you have an idea for a substitution?

  321. Deby from France

    Hello, we have a hard time coming across fresh corn in our neighbourhood, can we use canned corn ? Thank you for the great recipes !

      1. Jane

        I was just poking around to see if anyone had success with frozen corn so that I could use this in the winter. We loved it this summer! Seems like it’s worth a go with the frozen.

          1. Katherine

            I’ve got some buttermilk in the fridge. Can I substitute the milk for buttermilk, or will it change the flavor profile too much? Maybe half and half? Thank you in advance! I love your recipes and have both your books. Maybe a kid-centric book next? 🤞

  322. Kimberly

    We just started Kindergarten too, on Monday. Looking forward to your ideas, sorry, we have none beyond “what we didn’t eat for dinner”. Thank you for this!

    1. deb

      Actually, I’d say a couple years in “What we didn’t eat for dinner” is as sound as any approach. It promises variety, the kid cannot say he didn’t like it if he ate it the night before (not that we know any kids like that) and it ensures you don’t become a short-order cook in the morning.

  323. Mary

    This strata was delicious as listed. I think I am going to add several cups of cooked chicken next time as a brunch or lunch offering with a salad. Thanks for a great recipe!
    Check out annieseats, another blog for lunch suggestions. This post was several years ago so maybe it has gotten easier. If not, she puts together amazing lunches for her kids that make me want to copy them. She has a section on lunches on her blog.
    Happy packing! Good luck!

  324. Bowen Shoemaker

    I made this for dinner last night and it was divine! I’m planning to take some of the leftover to a friend who just had a baby and am wondering what the best instructions would be for reheating. Thoughts?

  325. This just came out of the oven and smells delicious! I did use mustard instead of mayo, though I’m sure the mayo would be wonderful. I’m planning to have it for lunches at work this week. Something to look forward to! Thanks for the great recipe.

    1. Just wanted to add that I am now making this again, for the second week in a row, to eat for lunch at work. It’s so, so good! Re-heats perfectly and tastes delicious. I froze half of the first batch as Deb suggested, it thaws and re-heats very well. You’d never guess it wasn’t fresh out of the oven.

  326. Kate

    Sorry Deb, I just didn’t find enough flavour in this recipe. It was kind of bland. The proportions are great so I think next time I’ll use the recipe as a base. Thinking I’ll try sautéed mushrooms and leek with garlic, then add ham and Dijon into the mix.

    1. Kate

      Updated to add: I did make it again. I sautéed sliced mushrooms with garlic and then sautéed a leek, sliced thinly. Layer with pieces of ham, and used 1.5 tbsp of dijon mustard and 0.5 tbsp mayonnaise.
      It was really good and I served it for brunch with 15 people; lots of compliments.

      Thanks Deb!

  327. Susan

    I made a pan last week and am having leftovers for lunch now (thank you for the great idea!). It’s delicious but I feel like there’s something missing and I think that thing is bacon. I may ‘have to’ make another pan this week to test my theory.

  328. Shelley

    Hi Deb! I’m making a list of recipes to freeze before baby comes, I’ve made this recipe many times before and it was one of the first items on my list. I’d recommend you add it to the ‘freezer friendly’ section of the recipe guide. Thanks for always being my go to!

  329. Katie

    With sweet corn in full-swing here in Wisconsin, I decided to try this dish this weekend. I will definitely make it again – it’s delicious! I used half mustard and half mayo, but otherwise followed the recipe as stated. For bread, I used a whole wheat sour dough. The middle of the dish was a bit more wet than the edges – next time I’ll just add more bread or reduce the egg/milk mixture, and I think it will work out even better. My one-year old son loved it and ate almost a whole adult-sized piece! We’ll keep the recipe handy for school years.

  330. Susan

    I made this…again : ) But this time I cooked up some crispy bacon, crumbled it up, and sprinkled it on top of the strata. Heavenly!

  331. Julie

    This was a great way to use up some homemade bread that hadn’t risen enough! It was delicious but I agree with other commenters that it needed a little something. Next time I will add something for umami- mushrooms or sausage maybe? Or maybe some hot sauce would do the trick.

    I can’t wait for leftovers!

  332. Jan

    I made this to help feed the workers setting up our quilt show. Of course I had to try it before taking it–YUM! Like your Silky Cauliflower Soup, it amazes me how just a few ingredients can make such a stellar dish. I may add bacon or chicken or leeks or mushrooms, but I liked it as is. I often wish these stratas called for less bread; I may experiment with that. Thank you for another great recipe.

  333. Susan

    In case anyone is wondering how long this will keep in the freezer, I baked it in two smaller dishes sometime in the fall and froze one batch, then forgot about it until last week. A day in the fridge to thaw while we tried to remember what it was (where’s the adventure in labels??) and then 10 minutes at 350 in the toaster oven and it was delicious!

  334. ClippyZ

    Based on some of the comments and experience with strata, I made a few mods and really enjoyed this. I dried out the bread cubes in the oven, which helps with the liquid absorption. I also weighted down the strata with a heavy book in the overnight period. Finally, I replaced some of the milk with cream and replaced some of the scallions with a healthy portion of caramelized onions, for a little richer flavor. I made it in a 3 quart dish, and I think next time I’ll make it in the 9×13 as suggested – more delicious crispy top that way and less liquid. Also used frozen corn for ease and because it’s winter in New England and apparently spring will never ever come.

  335. Melaura

    This was very tasty and a hit at book club! I listened to the other commenters’ concerns, and so I added some little chunks of ham. Also it took more like 1.5 hours at 350 to finally come together (in a disposable aluminum 9×13 pan). I used fresh corn and scallions, 2% milk, and extra sharp cheddar.

  336. Whitney

    I’ve made this several times and it’s always a huge hit (for brunch and in lunchboxes)! I was wondering about making it it muffin tins for a kid-friendly brunch. Any suggestions about how to adjust the cooking time?

  337. Abby P

    When I make this, I use about 2/3 of the milk and eggs suggested, otherwise it comes out too wet for me. I also strongly recommend adding minced garlic (to your taste, but I like a good amount). I’ve found the cook time to be longer than stated, I keep checking it until there’s a good quiche-like texture to the egg mix.

    Love this recipe after fiddling around with it to my tastes, definitely recommend.

  338. Amanda

    This was delicious! I used a whole baguette (didn’t weigh or measure), half super sharp cheese and half mild cheese, and fresh sweet corn. I let it rest for about eight hours in the fridge before baking for an hour. Highly recommend.

  339. Hannah

    I used stale rye bagels for this, which really added a nice flavor to the mix! Turned out great (I used sharp cheddar and feta, skim milk, mayo) everyone loved it. Thanks!

  340. Aleta

    I’ve just taken this out of the oven, took almost 1.5 hours for the egg to stop being runny. Not sure why it took so much longer…I cooked it in a lasagne dish. Wow it smells and looks so good though! I cannot wait to eat it! Fingers crossed that the toddler gives it the thumbs up too

  341. Judy Galloway

    Loved your op ed and thus found your site.
    I may even “cook”one of your recipes…I have not
    “cooked” in years!

  342. Kathe

    I made this and it was very good with Trader Joe’s red salsa. I baked it for about 1 hour but it was still a little wet/eggy; I didn’t want it to burn. I followed one of the reader’s bits of advice to bake the bread in the oven to dry it out; I used about 2/3 of a multigrain boule and baked the chunks at 400 degrees for 20 minutes. I also used a little more than the recommended amount of scallions for a flavor boost, and skim milk because I never buy any other kind of dairy milk.

  343. Ceci

    I made this in a whim the other night and was really impressed. I wasn’t actually expecting to like it because I don’t like eggs and I thought it would be a bit too quiche-like, but the cheese and scallions really overcame the eggy taste. I loved this recipe, as did my husband, and I will absolutely be making it on the regular from now on. Thank you for the great recipe!

  344. Christina

    I made this for my family’s weekly Sunday brunch and it was a huge hit! It was called “the best thing I’ve ever brought.” I highly recommend it!

  345. Kathleen

    This was delicious. I made it with a spiral ham which cooked at 275. I cooked this 1 hr at 275 and when i took ham out the ham I boosted the temp for about 5-10 minutes to brown it off. Everyone RAVED about it. I did use half scallions and half vadalia onion since i did not have enough scallions. I used a good sharp Irish cheddar. Replaced half of the mayo with Dijon.

  346. Allie

    Someone made this for me right after I had a baby and it was so good, I just made it for my cousin who just had a baby! So easy to make!

  347. Deb, getting ready to make this again Sunday for Father’s Day brunch for my son – his request! Have made this so many times, sorry not to comment before. My whole family loves it! Thanks for all of your work and inspiration!

  348. Amanda

    I’ve been packing lunches since my son was 18 months old. He will be 11 in December. I feel you pain and disdain. HOWEVER. It’s not hard to make it fun and interesting for the kiddos. My son eats adventurously, but my 5 yr old daughter, not so much. Although one time she did eat one piece of the cucumber sushi roll I packed for my son but accidentally sent with her. For the past 5 years, we have used Planetbox Shuttles + Rovers to give a great selection of yummy but healthy options, and a small treat. I love that I can throw them in the dishwasher and that my son can’t break it like he did the plastic boxes. I take pics and post them on instagram under the hashtag #yukidseat. (I swear I don’t work for them) I also pick up accessories like seasonal sprinkles, cookies cutters, adorable paper for notes, or food picks to liven them up.

  349. Maureen

    This looks fantabulous and I want to make it this weekend. On my way to the farmers market to buy fresh corn. But…I’ve never gotten more than 1/2 cup cut corn from any cob. Is 3 small cobs accurate for a yield of 3 cups corn? If so, wow, what am I doing wrong!?!

  350. This will be dinner for a Thursday evening dinner guests … that is, if I can hold off making and tasting this.
    Anyone have any thoughts on an easy and colorful salad that will serve as the only side dis?

  351. Laurie

    Why is it so hard to actually get to your lovely recipes to print out?
    I am coming to you via Instagram and while your dialogue is interesting, I don’t want to print out all your thoughts/rants etc, just give me the fabulous recipe! I have 8 grandkids so thought to share this lunch recipe with their 3 mothers, but alas, don’t want to print 9 pages!haha. Love you anyway.
    And I have both your cookbooks.

    1. deb

      There is a print icon that leads to a print template at the bottom of each recipe, where it says “DO MORE:” You can also click CTRL + P from any recipe post and it will take you to a streamlined print template.

  352. Michelle

    Made this for dinner last night. Per the comments about it being bland, I added crumbled sausage, about a cup of extra cheese, and some Tony Chachere’s creole seasoning {cuz I add it to everything!}. I baked it in a 9×13 dish for 50 minutes, and it was still soggy on the bottom, so I put it back in for another 15 minutes. Everyone had at least two servings. Really good, and i’d definitely make it again!

  353. Katherine

    Whoops. Posted this as a comment by accident. I’ve got some buttermilk in the fridge. Can I substitute the buttermilk for the milk here, or will it change the flavor profile too much? Maybe half and half? Thank you in advance! I love your recipes and have both your books. Maybe a kid-centric book next? 🤞

  354. Kim

    Love this recipe — I always add bacon, and even with the just 8 cups of bread often need to add some extra liquid (e.g. an extra egg and a bit of extra milk). As a result it usu needs to bake an extra 15min or so, but so tasty and given how many meals it gives, it’s worth the work up front (I find the prep takes a lot of time). I also always use the Dijon instead of the mayo. Quite agree as well that’s it’s delish both fresh and from the freezer.

  355. Savannah F

    My family really enjoyed this dish. I was looking for something to make with 1/2 a loaf of leftover homemade bread. I did layer in cooked, chopped bacon; used half mayo, half Dijon mustard; and I added parsley. I also needed to cook it an additional 15 minutes or so, covering it with foil for that extra bit of time. That was likely due to me using frozen corn instead of fresh, so it created extra liquid. This will probably be our new go-to dinner for when I need to use up bread!

  356. I made 1/2 of this recipe with the ingredients that I had on hand given the quarantine. I used feta, cheddar, white sandwich bread and heavy cream instead of milk. Skipped mayo/mustard entirely. Per other reviews, I cut down on the liquid amount–for half the recipe used 3 eggs and 1 cup of heavy cream (milk). I didn’t have 8 hours to wait, so only let it sit in the fridge for about 5 hours. Baked in a 9-inch cake pan for full cooking time. Turned out phenomenal despite all of the substitutions!! Thanks for the recipe!!

  357. Vera

    This is my first ever Smitten recipe that didn’t work :( The flavors are wonderful, and I’ve had good luck with dozens of your recipes… but I had this in the oven for well over an hour, and the inside was still pretty uncooked even as the outside was getting burned. I’m not sure what I did wrong, but I will try again maybe longer at a lower temperature and in a different dish (I used a 9×13 glass dish).

  358. Diane

    I made the strata using frozen roasted corn from Trader Joe’s and two-day old sourdough baguette. It was delicious. I halved the recipe and may have goofed on halving the salt because I found it a bit salty for my taste. Nonetheless, it’s all gone and I will make it again. It would be a great addition to a Thanksgiving menu since the frozen corn worked so well. Can’t wait to try out your spinach strata.

  359. taash

    I made this for New Year’s Day with my mum, daughter & friend, and it was sensational. Making it now as a “covered dish” for a recently bereaved neighbor.

    Thank you again for this amazing recipe.

  360. Sharon

    I made this for a crazy guest-packed holiday weekend. I made it two days in advance and then we ended up pushing it back yet another day, so I kept this all ready to go for three nights! The texture was perfect and it didn’t seem to suffer at all. I did one big substitution in this recipe: I had buttermilk I wanted to use up so I swapped that in in place of the milk. I think it was an excellent swap, adding another layer of flavor. One minor note, other strata recipes call for drying the bread before assembling the strata. I think it helps avoid a gummy texture, so I did that. I used a deeper casserole than called for here and my strata needed a bit more baking as a result. I will absolutely use this recipe again. It was terrific.

    1. Sharon

      I should clarify – I held it unbaked for three nights before I baked it and served it. I just realized that it might have seemed that I baked it right away.

  361. Erica

    I’d like to make this for a brunch on April 3, but need to make and bake it earlier in the week and reheat it. What temperature would I reheat it at and for how long?

  362. Amy

    I couldn’t disagree more about sending my kids to school with my made-with-love lunch in their lunchbox. The important thing is to make sure it’s food they like—my kids were (and still are) adventurous eaters. I loved making sandwiches cut into puzzle-shaped pieces, layered with their fav cold cuts and bean sprouts. I packed easy-to-eat oranges slices or grape and mango kebab skewers;?extra long carrot and celery sticks (the longer the better and more fun to eat!) with a sealed container of homemade hummus or their fav dip. Their friends would anxiously watch as my kids unpacked their lunch. Even when they lived at home in the summers while they were in college, I packed a hungry-man-size lunches. I love to feed my kids—and all their friends. Lunches are a happy and satisfying memory for all of us.

  363. I made lunches for about 9 years. It’s expensive, time-consuming and thankless work. Added complication – we’re vegetarian plus she didn’t like sandwiches. Her school had a no nut policy. Things that worked for us –
    I bought a wide mouth thermos. Pre-warmed with hot water, it kept food warm till lunch time.
    I also bought her a 3-tiered thermos – like a tiffin inside a thermos. Great for meals with separate components like leftover Chinese or Indian food.
    Meals that guaranteed she wouldn’t bring it home again-
    Leftover Chinese or Indian food.
    Fishsticks and oven fries, made in the morning and whisked into a pre-warmed wide-mouth thermos, all stacked vertically like pencils in a holder, and a little cup of ketchup for dipping.
    Sandwiches which could be assembled at school – separately wrapped bun, cheese and tomato. This allowed me to sidestep the no-sandwich issue.
    One large artichoke, steamed the night before and cooled in the fridge overnight. I packed a small container of ranch dressing for dipping. This was hands-down the the favourite of all her lunches. I ended up always making two so she could share one with her friends.
    As soon as possible, I involved her in making her own lunch. She got to choose and she was much more likely to eat it if she chose it. After a bit of trial and error she could make her lunch without involving me.

  364. Bernadette Kleinman

    Hi Deb,
    I am looking at your recipe for corn, cheddar and scallion strata. I would like to clarify(no pun intended), a few of the items.
    1 Tbp butter unsalted or salted?
    2-3/4 cups milk whole milk or can you use 2%?

    Thank you.

  365. Nicolle

    So, I’ve doubled this and made half in foil pans. Should I bake the foil pans before I freeze them? And then how might I reheat in the oven? Thanks :)

  366. Kathryn Parker

    Hello Deb.
    You have a little typo in the preamble to this wonderful recipe. The correct spelling is ‘champignons’ not ‘champginons’.
    Happy cooking!

  367. Christine

    I don’t like uncooked onions. Do the scallions get cooked/soft in the baking, or do they remain relatively raw? If the latter, I might precook them. Also, would substituting regular onion be just as good?

  368. Mit

    I’m a mess – of COURSE I didn’t read the recipe all the way through … and I didn’t really think “Hmmm …. strata … eggs and bread, it will need to sit for a while for the eggs to soak into the bread” …

    You can imagine my dismay (at 6:10 pm) when I got to the part about “cover in cling wrap and let sit 5 hours to overnight). :(

    I was brave (and didn’t have a backup dinner planned) … so just put it in the oven with no “soak-it-up” time. I am pleased to announce it still puffed … and was good (if slightly more crunchy/chewy) than intended.

    I also switched sourdough for wheat bread … and swiss cheese for cheddar (because it’s 110 outside – and I was not dashing to the store at the last minute).

    Yay Deb for amazing recipes that can still feed you – even if you don’t follow the directions. :\

  369. Jane

    Just made this and loved it, but did not see until the end that it needed to be refrigerated for eight hours or more before baking. As I needed to serve it in an hour or so I just popped it in the oven and it was still delicious and no one noticed, I am sure it would’ve been even better if we had waited but I wanted to reassure people it is not essential if needs must.