Stick it to Them! 7 Winning Lunches on Sticks

When it comes to packing my son’s lunches, I don’t do cute.

I don’t shape his cheese into animals. I don’t carve his vegetables into superheroes. I don’t use Star Wars cookie cutters to render his PB&J as a Death Star.

I just don’t have the time for cute. With the way my life is, there are days the kid is lucky he gets fed at all. So all discussion of molding his rice into a panda bear pretty much stops there.

Which isn’t to say I don’t value some novelty. I appreciate that embracing something funky now and then can pay serious dividends in terms of kid buy-in for whatever I pack. I just refuse to do novelty for the sake of novelty.

That’s the big reason I like the food-on-stick approach. For reasons that remain a mystery to me, kids love food on sticks. Meat? Cheese? Veggies? Fruit? Put them on sticks, and they’re all in.

So over the years of packing way too many lunches for my son, I’ve speared a vast number of foods. I’ve also learned a couple lessons worth passing on:

– Bamboo is your friend. This isn’t the time to bust out the stainless kebab holders. Most of them are too long, anyway. But bamboo skewers are cheap, lightweight and – most importantly – easily trimmed to a manageable size for your kid’s lunch.

– Pointy ends are good for you, not for your kid. Pretty much by definition, skewers have a pointy end. This makes it easy to thread food onto them. But those points also make it easy for your kid to play “pin the cherry tomato” on Billy Smith in the cafeteria. My solution? After I’ve threaded the food onto the skewers, I use kitchen shears to snip the points off the skewers.

So what should you skewer? Pretty much any food that can be cut into 1- or 2-inch chunks is fair game. Straight up fruit or veggies are obvious. So here are some of my favorite less traditional ideas:

– Ham and cheese: Literally. Skewer chunks of ham (or ham steaks) and a favorite cheese (cheddar is a natural). Honey mustard is a fine dipping sauce.
– The Italian: Alternate tiny balls of mozzarella cheese and cherry tomatoes. If your kid is game, thread some fresh basil leaves in while you’re at it. For a dunking sauce, try a basic vinaigrette.
– The Pizza: Cue the tiny balls of mozzarella again. But this time, alternate them with cubes of bread (bonus points if you have leftover garlic bread to use), tomatoes and pepperoni. Some warm marinara packed in a thermos would be perfect for dipping.
– The Grinder: Alternate chunks of chicken sausage (it comes fully cooked, so it’s fine to use it straight from the package) with hunks of red or green bell pepper. Some Italian or Caesar dressing would be great for dunking.
– The Cheesesteak: At dinner, grill up a little extra steak, then cut the leftovers into chunks. In the morning, thread the chunks onto skewers, along with hunks of provolone cheese and – if your kid will go for it – jarred roasted red peppers.
– The Cubano: Ready for this one? Alternate Swiss cheese, ham, pickles and salami and accompany with mustard.
– Strawberry shortcake: OK, not really shortcake, but pretty close. For a mostly healthy dessert, skewer hunks of angel food cake and fresh strawberries. Use water to thin some no-sugar jam until it reaches a dunk-friendly consistency, then pack that on the side.

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Rachael Ray