Karla Salinas, owner of Karla’s Kitchen and Catering in Flourtown. (Photo by April Lisante)

by April Lisante

I begin every school year with the best intentions. My 11-year-old twins get the royal treatment when it comes to lunch every September: Bento-style boxes with fresh cut fruit, hummus packs with fresh veggies, heart-shaped peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

By May, they are lucky if I remember to throw in a water bottle with their Doritos and Rice Krispies Treats. By June, I even throw in some Hershey’s Kisses. Finding lunches that keep fresh until 1 p.m., as well as lunches that interest them, gets exhausting.

Of course, now it’s time for camp. All over Chestnut Hill, kids are headed off to day-long fun with their little lunch boxes in tow. And with the sweltering heat, I am at a complete loss as to what exactly should go into a camp lunch.

“It has to be fun for them, you have to make it fun, but you have to make it healthy,” Karla Salinas, owner of Karla’s Kitchen and Catering in Flourtown tells me. So that means not a Ziploc bag of gummy bears? Apparently not.

I visited Salinas this week at her Flourtown shop at 1666 Bethlehem Pike, next to Acme, for some advice. Her 6-year-old son, Mariano, goes to Norwood-Fontbonne Academy’s camp every day, and she seems to come up with some pretty cool ideas to keep the little guy interested in munching when it comes time to break for lunch.

Salinas, who had a spot in the Flourtown Farmer’s Market for the past 13 years, formally broke away from the market last week to concentrate solely on operating out of her storefront where Union Taco was once located. An ethnic mélange of Peruvian, Italian, Portuguese and Palestinian, this woman can cook. Her homemade prepared foods specialize in salads, hot entrees, and flavorful combinations that pull from her heritage.

“I have all the best types of food at my hands,” she said. “I make sure everything is homemade, even down to the empanada dough.”

So when it comes to her son Mariano, who has grown up with a diverse palate, she is adamant about serving him healthy, mostly organic foods, and making lunches that he will eat and enjoy.

“I do only multigrain breads, organic ham and fruits,” she said. “It’s so important.”

What can parents do to break the peanut butter and jelly monotony? Salinas had a few ideas.

First and foremost, as we face down weeks with temperatures topping 90 degrees, always include ice packs in every lunchbox that leaves the house, to keep foods not only fresh but safe to eat after several hours.

“I use ice packs not just in summer but in winter,” she said.

Next, always make sure certain staples are in the lunch. One of the musts is a water bottle for hydration. Salinas skips the sugary juices, since lunch might be the first time many kids are getting rehydrated after spending a few hours in the heat.

Another must-have is a dairy protein. She opts for a cheese stick or a yogurt, making sure to pack ice surrounding the items.

And finally, another basic for a summer lunch is fruit. Watermelon, strawberries or a banana pack the most punch and add hydration. She cuts and packs the watermelon or strawberries in small plastic containers and surrounds them with ice.

Once you have the basics packed, it’s time to get creative. Like many parents, she avoids all nuts and seafood, in case fellow campers have allergies.

Instead of peanut butter and jelly, or turkey and cheese, switch it up with one of Salinas’ favorites like flank steak on brioche, or an easy, mom-friendly Rotisserie chicken salad with crackers (see recipe below). Other options are hard boiled eggs, mini cauliflower crust pizzas or sticky white rice rolled sushi-style with cooked rotisserie chicken inside.

If your kid is a little more adventurous, keeping it light during the summer heat with a salad is one of Salinas’ go-to types of lunches.

Cold pasta is the easiest way to go. Salinas throws olive oil and vinegar, salt and pepper on cooked pasta, then adds fresh veggies. If your child has to eat a gluten-free diet, substitute green or yellow squash noodles for the pasta.

She also likes to do a chopped tomato and cucumber salad with bow tie pasta, lemon juice, salt and pepper, or a baby spinach salad with a sweet balsamic dressing, sliced apples and grapes. Her absolute favorite is chopped jicama, mango and cucumber.

“You have to get creative,” she said. “And just have fun with it.”

Karla’s Rotisserie Chicken Salad for Campers

1 whole rotisserie chicken, picked clean, dark and white meat
1 cup mayonnaise
½ cup chopped celery
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
Pinch of black pepper
1 tsp. lemon juice

Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Serve in a lunchbox with crackers or on multigrain bread. Makes about four sandwiches.