Catherine McCord of Weelicious on parents' perennial problem: What to pack for lunch

Catherine McCord of Weelicious on parents' perennial problem: What to pack for lunch
What to pack for your kids' lunch? Catherine McCord of Weelicious has ideas. (Maren Caruso)

Catherine McCord probably isn't known to many of the locavore-obsessed types at the Hollywood Farmers Market who get a thrill from picking arugula alongside one of their favorite chefs. McCord, however, happens to be one of the most influential regular shoppers at the market, with a national audience eager to find out what she'll do with the week's haul.

A former model and actress, as well as a formally trained chef, McCord founded the website Weelicious, where she develops healthful practical recipes for parents of young children. Many national media appearances and a cookbook later, her current project helps parents solve another daily dilemma -- lunch -- especially now that the back-to-school season has arrived. McCord's second book, "Weelicious Lunches: Think Outside the Lunch Box with More Than 160 Happier Meals" (William Morrow Cookbooks), will be released Sept. 3. In it she offers tips and recipes from the combinations she cooks up in her Los Feliz kitchen and posts daily to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Why do you think lunch can be harder than dinner for some parents to figure out?

Everyone at night is like, "Oh, God, expletive, expletive, I gotta make lunch." You don't have as much time for lunch. It's just late at night or first thing, and it's whatever you can throw in. For a lot of parents they're not eating a lunch themselves. You kind of give up. It's the "I can't deal" meal.

How did Weelicious lunches begin?

My son started at a school in the Valley and the parents got to watch the kids eat. I remember watching 14 kids, and 10 out of 14 kids opened white meals. Peeled apples, white cheese sandwiches, pasta. Four kids had bento boxes. The teachers said they love them because you can see everything. I got one, and I started just posting a picture to Facebook every day. If I forgot, people would ask, "Where's lunch?" Over four years later I've posted a picture every day of the school -- or camp -- lunch series. Then I became so passionate about it. All of Weelicious is what parents are passionate about, and what they struggle with.

What keeps you inspired?

What's at the Hollywood Farmers Market gets me excited. These past two weeks I've been so crazed, so thank God for my freezer. I've been taking out cookies and they defrost by lunch, so it's not as if every day I'm making two to three gorgeous fresh new recipes.

What do you think makes an ideal school lunch, in terms of colors, flavors and textures?

It's all about variety. Switching it up can be good for a lot of kids. I always make sure I have a fruit, a vegetable, a carbohydrate and a protein. That's first and foremost. I've done my job, whether they eat it or not. Second is visual appearance. Colors, shapes, textures. Sometimes I'll do something crunchy and something smooth. Once you get used to doing it, it's really easy.

What night-before strategies do you have to minimize morning stress?

Today's lunch I made at midnight last night. It was rice from dinner that I added some sesame seeds to. I really encourage people to take dinner and repurpose it. And your freezer. I try to make as much [ahead of time] as possible. Two days ago I stamped out the bread for grilled cheese sandwiches the night before in heart shape, and grilled them while I was making breakfast. It's all very glamorous!

Where are your first stops at the Hollywood Farmers Market?

We always run to Harry's Berries. For me it's what's in season. I love peaches, I love stone fruit, so I love Tenerelli Farms. Weiser for carrots and radishes when they're in season, and their baby potatoes. We buy about 80% of what we make in our house from the farmers market.