'Top Chef''s Antonia Lofaso Shares Secrets to Healthy School Lunches

Antonia Lofaso is more than just a 'Top Chef,' she's also an expert packer of lunches for her daughter, Xea. Here, she shares tips on keeping lunch healthy and interesting

Antonia Lofaso is best known for whipping up sophisticated, delectible dishes on Top Chef and Top Chef All Stars. But like all working moms, she's also well-versed in no-brainer weeknight dinners and kid-friendly school lunches. Her first cookbook, The Busy Mom’s Cookbook, will be out next fall, but as our Mealtime Makeover Community Challenge coach, she'll be sharing her favorite healthy recipes and cooking tips through a free four-week program.

With back-to-school season approaching, we talked with Lofaso about her strategies for keeping her young daughter's lunches healthy and interesting.

1. Tell us a little bit about The Busy Mom's Cookbook.
The book is tips and recipes for busy parents. I want to inspire people to cook as a way to spend quality time with their families. Some of my fondest memories of my childhood are with my mom, dad and brothers cooking and enjoying meals together

2. What do you typically pack for your daughter’s school lunches?
I pack seaweed crisps, charcuterie and cheese plates, hummus and pita bread, olives and tabouleh, soups when it’s cold, sushi, salads.

3. Do you have any favorite containers or lunchboxes for packing lunches?
I love packing her lunches like "to-go" packaging from a restaurant but not disposable. She has a fork-knife-chopstick roll-up that she brings home every day. [I also use] containers for salad dressing or avocado dips. I put a lot of thought into the packaging -- it makes her feel special.

4. What are some ways to make sure kids eat a whole, balanced lunch, not just the cookies or chips?
I make sure she eats well by really talking to her about the importance of eating well. She understands she has to have her salad before she enjoys her cookie.

5. So many classrooms and schools are nut-free. Do you have any lunch suggestions for parents of peanut butter-loving kids who can’t bring PB&Js to school?
Xea’s school is nut-free and at first, I was crazed -- peanut butter is my favorite. It really opened my eyes to so many other options. [It's] 2011, time for lunches to evolve.  It’s been quite easy and much healthier because lunch does not have to revolve around a sandwich.

6. What are some fun ways to break the same-old sandwich routine?
Allowing them to be interactive with their lunches helps. Like building lettuce cups, pouring dressing on salads, having hummus with pita and putting olives on top.

7. Are there any healthy store-bought snacks or products that you love?
I love seaweed crisps.

8. What are some ideas for quick and healthy school lunches when you’re really pressed for time?
Sushi is my go-to on-the-run lunch. [It's] healthy and made for you.

9. Do you have any suggestions or tips to help parents plan ahead and making the lunch-packing process a little easier?
Parents need to have fully-stocked refrigerators in order to prepare healthy meals and snacks. Grocery shopping on a regular basis helps, when the fridge is bare you run to fast food.

10. What was your favorite lunch as a kid?

My favorite lunch as a kid was leftovers from the night before. My mom is a great cook and I loved eating her food twice!

Want more tips from Antonia Lofaso? Sign up for our Mealtime Makeover Community Challenge!

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