There are lots of ways to make sophisticated and delicious chicken salad. This is not one of those ways. This is problem-solving: It is morning, and you need to pack a lunch off to school or camp, and the school or camp is peanut-free. Luckily, for these purposes, this is the kind of week where you’re already falling behind, so dinner last night was a store-bought roast chicken. The carcass is in the fridge.

Put two slices of rye bread in the toaster.

Ideally, have already read your child Bread and Jam for Frances by Russell Hoban, a masterpiece of children’s literature, which demonstrates to young audiences that parental love is unlimited but that being a pain in the ass about food is subject to limitations. Children being children, and artistic truth being artistic truth, it is possible instead that they will have read the book as a manual on how to get access to endless bread and jam. Be that as it may, through Bread and Jam for Frances, the children will also have been exposed to the idea that chicken salad is part of a generous and fondly prepared lunch. This is what you are making—the idea of chicken salad.

While the bread toasts, take out the carcass and, with the help of kitchen scissors, cut and shred some leftover chicken meat into a regular soup or cereal bowl. How much? Some. A pile in the bottom of the bowl.

When the bread finishes toasting, take it out and let it cool off.

Add to the chicken one biggish spoonful of mayonnaise and one smallish squirt of ordinary yellow mustard.

Do not add: dried cranberries, toasted slivered almonds, celery, scallions, halved grapes, pine nuts, lemon juice, mandarin orange segments, shaved fennel, green papaya, banana blossoms—none of this. It is 8:05 a.m. The day will provide you with plenty of other problems to fuss over.

Stir the mayonnaise and the mustard into the chicken. Spread the chicken on the rye toast. Wrap it up in aluminum foil.

Is it safe to leave a mayonnaise-and-meat-based sandwich unrefrigerated till lunchtime? Probably. Schools start serving lunch around 10 a.m. anyway. If you are the sort of person who worries about two or three hours at room temperature, you should also be the sort of person who keeps some cold packs in your freezer and uses them.

(You know what you wouldn’t need to worry about refrigerating? A peanut-butter sandwich.)

There is your sandwich. Throw some carrot sticks or a mini cucumber into the lunch box with it, to demonstrate that you care that your child eats a balanced diet. You are done.

Illustration by Jim Cooke. Contact the author at