School lunch 101: healthy (and easy!)

By Flora Tsapovsky

Gayle Pirie, chef and co-owner at San Francisco’s institution Foreign Cinema, knows a thing or two about school lunches. Pirie is the mother of two kids, aged 18 and 11 — the youngest, Pearl, is still enjoying Pirie’s creations on daily basis. “It comes down to being able to provide food that tastes good, has a nice uncomplicated purity to it, offers variety and also simplicity,” says Pirie. Her take on the second meal of the day is nutritious, creative and crowd-pleasing all in one.

Plan everything to fit into modular sets of containers that are easily transported in an insulated case. Use parchment paper bags for items that don’t need lids.The bags can also be used for leftovers or eating on the go.

Fresh crudités with homemade blue cheese dressing for dipping. Pirie favors baby romaine leaves, peeled carrot curls and crisp apple wedges.

A salad of farm egg is “a way to get protein into a child.” Pirie advises playing with different crackers for spreading and topping. Add cornichons and capers for extra zip.

Half a kiwi and oranges with blueberries or strawberries provide a fruity punch.

A thermos containing hot water, which can be used to make a quick miso soup from a packet, is great for days with a chill.

Air-popped popcorn with parmesan, butter and truffle oil “is always a kid-pleaser.”

Foreign Cinema: Not Just for Adults

Pirie, together with her partner, John Clark, has been at the Mission restaurant since 2001, and had previously worked at the legendary Zuni Cafe as well as for Alice Waters at Chez Panisse. A while ago, the duo launched their elaborate and seriously cool children’s menus, featuring several courses for brunch and dinner—just like the grown-ups. The menu, which arrives to the table complete with coloring-book pages, is a huge hit among local families. Brunch options include French toast and grilled cheese, and dinner features organic vegetables with dipping sauce on the side and a choice of pasta with tomato sauce or steak and potatoes. “Children have amazing and sensitive palettes and at Foreign Cinema we strive to create appealing, three-course meals every day with their tastebuds in mind,” says Pirie. “We use pleasing, simple techniques, and colorful fresh choices, and appeal to the kids’ ability to use their hands while eating, to maximize the sense experience and engagement with food.”

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