Welcome to lunch duty!

Now and then, we all get the blues. The lunch box blues.

Maybe it’s the daily struggle to find something – Anything! – your kid will eat and you won’t feel guilty about. Or maybe you’re battling the yet-another-salad demon in your own brown bag routine.

The particulars aren’t important. What matters is what we all know all too well – serving time in the lunch box trenches can seriously suck.

Except that it doesn’t have to.

I’ve been packing lunch for my son every day for the past five years. And early on I decided I didn’t want to succumb to the day-after-day PB&J routine.

So I decided to treat his lunch as I would any other meal. Because once you ignore what a packed lunch is supposed to be, the possibilities really open up.

As in, pizza “sushi.” Chicken and waffles. Steamed dumplings. Shepherd’s pie. Pancake sandwiches. And my 8-year-old’s absolute favorite – carpaccio.

The lunches I pack are creative, but they aren’t gourmet. They aren’t fancy. And they aren’t time consuming. I never spend more than 5 to 10 minutes packing his lunch.

Because even though my day job is being food editor for The Associated Press and writing cookbooks, neither of those gigs magically gives me extra time or energy for lunch prep during the morning rush.

About three years ago, I started a blog – LunchBoxBlues – about the lunches I pack for Parker. It’s as simple as it sounds – a Monday-through-Friday chronicle of the contents of my kid’s lunch box.

Along the way, an awesome community of like-minded folks sprang up around the blog, sharing ideas, commiserating failures. It’s been awesome and humbling.

And now even more so. About a year ago, Rachael asked me to turn my blog into a book – Beating the Lunch Box Blues – the first book she’ll publish under her new Rachael Ray Books venture.

Starting today, I’ll also get to share easy, affordable and fun lunch ideas here. For a day-by-day account of my lunch escapades, check out my blog. Then on Mondays, check in here for a rundown on what worked, what didn’t and some great recipes.

This week, for example. Parker was a demon for the quiche and the carbonara. Both were easy dinners made from whatever I happened to have on hand. And they made plenty of lunch box-friendly leftovers.

The dulce de leche and banana sushi on the other hand…? How many ways to say messy disaster? I’m sure he loved it. But I’m not sure most of it reached his mouth. At least not according to the state of his lunch box Friday afternoon.

But I will be doing more carpaccio, my little guy’s favorite meal, breakfast, lunch or dinner. For the recipe — and it’s crazy fast and easy — check it out here.

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 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.

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