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Bagged lunch gets makeover

– ham or tuna sandwich for lunch again? Here are some tips for giving a tasty makeover to the usual lunch fare. Start with a simple sandwich that might be used for a school lunch, then take it to the next level. These tips come courtesy of the popular food and recipe site Epicurious.com.

Ham sandwiches

The basics: 2 slices bread, 3 slices ham (we recommend using a nitrate-free or low-sodium ham)

The upgrade: Hard-boiled eggs with mayo

Add 1 sliced hard-boiled egg and 2 teaspoons mayonnaise to the humble ham sandwich for extra protein, plus nutrients like vitamins A, B12, and D. To up the ante, cook the ham in a skillet over medium-high heat for about 2 minutes per side. This will add a light crispness and amplify the natural flavors of the meat.

The upgrade: Smashed peas and ricotta

Getting your kids to eat their green veggies can be a challenge, but a simple pea purée just might do the trick. In a blender, combine 1/4 cup thawed frozen peas and 1 tablespoon ricotta and blend until smooth, then season with salt and pepper to taste. The combination of the pea spread and the ham tastes like a delicious bowl of smoky split-pea soup between two slices of bread.

The upgrade: Mashed sweet potato with honey

For a boost of beta-carotene, not to mention a hint of holiday flavor, try some sweet potatoes on your child’s next ham sandwich. Mash 1/4 cup of a cooled, boiled or baked sweet potato (skin removed) with 1 teaspoon honey, and season with salt and pepper for a topping that will make this hearty lunch taste like honeyed ham and candied yams.

Tuna sandwiches

The basics: 2 slices bread, 1/2 can tuna (drained) mixed with 1 tablespoon mayonnaise. The best tuna for the job is solid white albacore packed in water. (Oil-packed tuna has more calories and fat, but is an OK substitute as long as you drain it well and reduce the amount of mayo.)

The upgrade: Olives or capers

Taking inspiration from the briny flavors of the classic French nicoise salad, this combo gets a salty kick from a great garnish, which perks up the essence of an otherwise plain sandwich. Use 4 to 5 chopped olives (we recommend pitted nicoise, kalamata, gaeta or Spanish olives) or 1 tablespoon jarred capers – look for the nonpareil variety, as they are smaller and won’t require any chopping.

The upgrade: Red onion

Finely chopped fresh red onion – about 1 tablespoon’s worth – will add a bit of a bite to a seafood sandwich. If your tykes like the onion flavor but not the bite, try dicing the onion and letting it soak in cold water for about 10 minutes, then drain well. This removes some of the onion’s sharpness while leaving the aromatic flavor intact.

The upgrade: Sun-dried tomato

The sweetness of 1 to 2 tablespoons of chopped sun-dried tomatoes will entice even the choosiest children. If using dry-packed tomatoes, soak them in hot water for about 10 to 20 minutes, until softened, then chop.

Plum Chutney

UnChu Littlefield of the “Tate’s Kitchen” blog (www.tateskitchen.com) adapted this plum-chutney recipe from Bon Appétit. Slather a little of this over some turkey or pork in your sandwich, or pair it with roasted pork tenderloin for dinner.

4 to 6 red or black plums

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 large shallot, sliced lengthwise

1/2 cup packed light brown sugar

1/4 cup apple-cider vinegar

1 tablespoon chopped garlic

1 tablespoon mustard seeds

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger (optional)

1 bay leaf

Salt and pepper, to taste

Halve and pit the plums. Cut into 1/4 -inch wedges.

Heat the oil over medium heat.

Add the shallot and cook until soft, 2 or 3 minutes.

Add the brown sugar and stir to coat all the pieces of shallot.

Add the apple-cider vinegar, garlic, mustard seeds, ground ginger (if using), bay leaf, pepper and salt plus 1/4 cup of water.

Cook until fragrant, about 3 minutes.

Stir in plums and bring to a simmer. Cover.

Cook 7 to 8 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Uncover and let cook another 10 to 15 minutes – until fruit is soft and juices have thickened. Season to taste with salt and more pepper if needed.

Let cool. Store refrigerated in a glass jar.

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