Jenny Mollen’s book ‘Dictator Lunches’ welcomes back lunchbox season

When Jenny Mollen’s oldest son first started preschool, she was tasked with making lunches every day. The routine of it all soon became tedious. “I would wander to the kitchen at the end of the day, but I wanted to entertain myself. I’m a storyteller, so I would start building a story around the lunchbox,” says Mollen, an actress and author who is married to actor Jason Biggs. “I remember sending him to school and the teacher said, ‘This is over the top, you can’t send a Chinese bao bun with instructions to reheat it, there are 20 other kids here!” But this wasn’t enough to discourage Mollen. “This only made me think, ‘Game on.’ So the next day I sent fondue with instructions.”

And thus an instagram legend – @Dictatorlunches, a nod to the way that little kids can be food tyrants – was born. Her lunches — colorful and nutritious food creations — are now a hilarious and aesthetically appealing new book, “Dictator Lunches: Inspired Meals that Will Compel Even the Toughest of (Tyrants) Children” (Harvest.) 

“I’m not a great cook, I’m just obsessed with food, and I eat as I cook,” explains Mollen, who lives in New York. “When Jason first met me, one of our first dates involved me buying a bag of frozen shrimp. I threw it on the communal grill at the apartment complex where I lived and started to pick shrimp off the grill as I cooked.”

Author Jenny Mollen
Author Jenny Mollen
Dictator Lunches: Inspired Meals that will Compel even the Toughest of Children by Jenny Mollen

While she might not be a trained chef, nutrition has always been a part of her life — her father, Art Mollen, is a well-known physician who wrote several books on diet and aging. “I’ve always been very conscious of what is in food, and I didn’t want to raise a kid who only eats mac and cheese,” says Mollen, who recently returned from a family vacation in Thailand where she was impressed to see small children eating everything from curry and rice to calamari. 

“I think it’s weird that in America, we think there are kid foods and non kid foods,” she says. “It’s so strange. I don’t think there’s any reason to underestimate their palates.”