Mom’s lunchbox friend: dip

Before I became a mom, I assumed I’d follow the sandwich model when it came to school lunches. I’d pack my daughter inventive variations on the childhood favorites I used to tote to class when I was a kid, and she’d happily gobble them up.

But as in many things involving motherhood, I was dead wrong. My 5-year-old, Dahlia, won’t eat any sandwiches except peanut butter and jelly, which are sadly forbidden in her nut-free school.

Enter my new lunchbox plan: Leave out the sandwiches, put in the dips.

Not only do most children love dips, but serving them is also a good way to persuade your small ones to eat their vegetables by using them as conveyances. Many dips can be made a few days ahead, and they require less last-minute work than sandwiches. You can scoop them into little containers, stack them up in your fridge and throw them into lunchboxes as you’re racing around pre-caffeine.

The two things I tried to do were to pack them with enough protein to make them appropriately sustaining without using nut butters or tahini, and to make them adult-friendly enough to nibble on myself when I needed a snack.

Yogurt, beans, tofu and cream cheese made the protein part a cinch. All of these substances are soft and mild enough to purée as a base, and easy to flavor in all kinds of ways.

The thing here is to know your children and what they do and don’t like. Dahlia has no problem with dark green bits, so I added basil to a luscious yogurt avocado dip, spiked with lime juice and a touch of honey. But you can leave out the herb if you’d rather.

One thing Dahlia won’t even touch is a pimento. So for a pepperless play on pimento cheese, I mixed grated cheddar with mayonnaise and cream cheese and flavored it with scallion for brightness and orange juice for a mild sweetness. Dahlia ate hers on cucumber slices while I spiked the rest with hot sauce and served it to my grown-up friends with cocktails.

We always keep bags of frozen edamame on hand to snack on like popcorn, so puréeing it into a creamy dip with tofu seemed like a natural way to use the legumes. Dahlia dipped rice crackers into hers while I plopped mine on brown rice as part of a grain bowl for dinner.

Of course, one of my anxieties is that once school starts, the dips she ate at home will be rejected when packed into her lunchbox. Let’s just hope that in this case, too, I’m dead wrong.

CHEDDAR SCALLION DIP

Time: 5 minutes

Yield: 1 cup

4 oz. cream cheese (at room temperature), cubed

2 Tbsp. mayonnaise

1 scallion, thinly sliced

1/4 tsp. fine sea salt, more to taste

Black pepper, to taste (optional)

1/4 tsp. sweet paprika

1 to 2 Tbsp. fresh orange juice, as needed

1/2 cup sharp cheddar, finely grated

1 small garlic clove, mashed to a paste (optional)

Hot sauce to taste (optional)

Place the cream cheese, mayonnaise, scallion, salt, pepper (if using) and paprika in a bowl and mix and mash well with a fork or spatula until smooth. Mix in orange juice until smooth, then mix in the cheddar. If dip seems too thick, add a little juice. Taste for seasoning. Add garlic paste or hot sauce (or both) if desired. You can also mix in a food processor.

EDAMAME TOFU DIP

Time: 5 minutes

Yield: 1 1/2 cups

1/2 cup shelled edamame, defrosted if frozen

1/2 tsp. grated fresh ginger root

1 scallion, thinly sliced

1/4 tsp. toasted sesame oil, more to taste

1 tsp. soy sauce, more as needed

1/2 of a 14-oz. block firm tofu (7 oz.), patted dry and cubed

1/2 tsp. fine sea salt

Freshly cracked black pepper, to taste

Place edamame, ginger and scallion in bowl of a food processor and process until everything is finely chopped, about 30 seconds.

Add remaining ingredients and process until smooth, about 1 to 1 1/2 minutes, scraping down sides of bowl as necessary. Taste and add a few more drops of soy sauce or sesame oil, or both, if needed.

BASIL AVOCADO DIP

Time: 5 minutes

Yield: 1 cup

1 7-oz. container Greek yogurt (1 scant cup)

1 ripe avocado, pitted and peeled

1/2 tsp. honey, or to taste

1 to 2 tsp. lime juice, or to taste

1/4 cup chopped fresh basil

1 garlic clove, chopped

1 Tbsp. olive oil

Pinch of fine sea salt, more to taste

Place all ingredients in bowl of a food processor. Process until smooth, about 1 to 1 1/2 minutes, scraping down sides of bowl as necessary. Taste for seasoning.

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