When your 8-year-old son comes home from school and asks — for no apparent reason — if it’s OK to eat bacon and peanut butter together, there really is only one appropriate response.
And it involves Elvis and bananas.
I never did suss out how or why Parker was considering this peculiar culinary pairing, but I’m a big believer in exposing kids to as many foods and flavor combinations as possible.
And that often means unquestioningly seizing opportunities when they present themselves.
The next morning as I pondered packing Parker’s lunch, I noticed a partial bag of whole-wheat hot dog buns left over from the weekend grilling. And they were sitting right next to the bananas.
You see where I’m going with this, right? Elvis might have been more particular about his namesake sandwich, but I decided a hot dog bun was the perfect vehicle for peanut butter, banana and bacon.
Parker was dubious when he saw me packing it. But he raved about it when he got home from school.
Which got me thinking about other creative non-hot dog ways to use these buns. Because as we all know all too well, with kids novelty is half the battle. If it tastes good and looks funky, you probably have a winner.
- Layer deli meats and cheeses in a stack, then roll them up cigar-style. Squirt some mayo or mustard into the bun, then pop in the meat-cheese roll and add a pickle spear.
- Smear some whipped cream cheese (regular is too dense and will tear the bun) into the bun, then top with sliced fresh strawberries and a drizzle of honey (think strawberry cheesecake a la hot dog).
- Toss a peeled (whole) banana in a skillet with some butter, cinnamon and brown sugar. Roll it around until it’s nicely browned, then pop it in a hot dog bun. Accompany with a cup of vanilla yogurt (spiked with the syrupy goodness the banana leaves behind in the pan) to dunk the whole thing in.
- Spread peanut butter (or a nut butter alternative) in the bun, then top with thin slices of apple and some granola. A dollop of jam or a drizzle of honey ties it all together.
- Toss chopped leftover cooked chicken with chopped romaine lettuce and a drizzle of Caesar dressing. Spoon the whole thing into the bun and top with grated Parmesan cheese.
- Spoon some hummus into the hot dog bun, then top with a row of cherry tomatoes and some chopped cucumber. Finish with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper.
- Go Greek! Buy some stuffed grape leaves (sold near the hummus) and pop four or five of those in the hot dog bun. To get fancy, pair it with a cup of plain Greek yogurt and a lemon wedge, which can be spooned and squeezed over the fillings just before eating.
- Got leftover cooked veggies from dinner? Whatever they are, spoon them into the bun. Top with some shredded cheddar cheese, then wrap the whole thing in foil. Pop it in a toaster oven for a few minutes, then pop the warmed sandwich into a tall thermos for a hot veggie melt.
- Make it a caprese! Fill the hot dog bun with tiny balls of mozzarella, cherry tomatoes and some fresh basil. A sprinkle of salt and pepper and you’re good.
J.M. Hirsch is the national food editor for The Associated Press. He blogs about the trials and tribulations of his son’s lunches at LunchBoxBlues.com. His upcoming cookbook, Beating the Lunch Box Blues, will be the first to be released by Rachael’s new publishing venture, Rachael Ray Books. Hirsch’s previous books include High Flavor, Low Labor: Reinventing Weeknight Cooking and Venturesome Vegan Cooking. He lives in New Hampshire with his son, wife, and too many cats.