User's Guide

Brown-bag It Like a Chef’s Kid


New York City Public Schools open tomorrow, and chefs’ kids eat sandwiches for lunch just like the rest of us. But instead of Wonder bread and bologna, think soppressata on whole grain or Pecorino on rye. We asked David Shea, Frank Castronovo, Bill Telepan, and Charlie Palmer what they pack in their children’s lunch bags.

Chef: David and Laura Shea of Applewood
Kid(s): Daughters Sophie, 8, and Tatum, 4
Lunch Staples: For the most part, the girls get sandwiches — yes to mustard, no to mayonnaise — and fruit. “Our older girl is really into cured meats like soppressata and salami,” says David. “I sneak a house-cured ham in there that we do at the restaurant and she really digs it.”
Other Favorites: Both girls love pasta dishes, so those show up in lunches occasionally. And Tatum will happily eat braised meats, especially pork.
Idiosyncrasies: “Sophie is a huge fan of goat cheese. Most of our goat cheese comes from a farm in Vermont. She’s usually crazy about it. One day later, it comes back untouched because she’s decided she doesn’t like it anymore. If you go back to the well too often, it’ll fall out of favor.”
Advice: Offer small portions of a number of different things. “I ran into the problem of giving them too much of fewer things. If that thing wasn’t held in high regard, Daddy would get an earful.”

Chef: Frank Castronovo of Frankies 457
Kid(s): Daughters Sophie, 13, and Louise, 9
Lunch Staples: The girls get fresh fruit, a yogurt, and a bottle of water (in a reusable bottle) every day. Sandwiches are generally on whole-grain Ezekiel bread with tuna, turkey, hummus, or ham.
Other Favorites: “Sometimes we’ll do stuff from the restaurant, like tomato-mozzarella sandwiches, or the tuna that we serve at the restaurant packed in olive oil. It’s all around a pretty healthy lunch, and it usually comes home empty.” Castronovo will also occasionally pack some of the baked goods from the restaurant, like banana bread, zucchini bread, or a linzer tart.
Failed Items: “We tried some cracker packages with cheese. They see what the other kids get and they ask us to get it and then they don’t like it.”

Chef: Bill Telepan of Telepan
Kid(s): Daughter Leah, almost 8
Lunch Staples: Leah’s favorite sandwich is Pecorino Romano on rye, which she has almost every day. It’s usually accompanied by cucumber slices and some sort of fruit, like apples, grapes, strawberries, or pears.
Other Favorites: Pasta with pesto, bean salads, and the occasional peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich.
Lunch Envy: “She’ll come home and say, ‘Why can’t I have Lunchables? So-and-so has Lunchables.’ No way she’s getting that, so we make it for her. We’ll send her to school with crackers and pecorino and we’ll throw in a piece of candy.”
Advice: “You want them to eat, so pack them something they like, but try to come up with the healthy alternative of it.”

Chef: Charlie Palmer of Aureole
Kid(s): Sons Courtland, 15, Randall, 14, and 11-year-old twins Eric and Reed
Lunch Staples: Now that they’re older, Palmer’s boys tend to pack their own lunches or opt to buy at school. While they’ll occasionally take sandwiches, for the most part they pack leftovers from the previous night’s dinner. “The twins pack their own lunches too, although once in a while I’ll do it. They like it when I make their sandwiches for them. I use prosciutto, or we usually have dry-cured sausages and hard salamis around. I put the lettuce and tomato in a separate bag so they can put it on just before they eat it.”
Other Favorites: One son likes to make pasta and toss it with olive oil and tomatoes. Another is currently on a peanut butter, jelly, and bananas kick. There are usually homemade sweets like cookies around the house, so they’ll take those to school, too.
Lunch Envy: “We went through a pudding phase. They’d ask, ‘Why can’t we get pudding?’ You know, those individual puddings. So we bought the puddings.”
Advice: “Some parents try to pack really healthy stuff, like carrots and celery. Maybe their kid likes it, maybe they don’t. If they don’t like it, they’re not going to eat it. Try to make lunches as healthy as possible, but make sure it’s something you know your kid’s going to eat. Roasted beets, salads — you put those in a container and it’s well dressed and seasoned, they’ll eat it.”

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

Brown-bag It Like a Chef’s Kid