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Alter your approach to school lunches

Turkey and American on wheat again? A Ding Dong for dessert ... again?

It's easy to get into a rut with school lunches. Open the box and toss in sandwich, chips, sweet, drink. Repeat, Tuesday through Friday.


School lunches don't have to be so narrowly defined. Kids eat out a lot these days and are exposed to many cuisines. They order California roll sushi and know Greek salad and Cuban sandwiches. Here, you'll find suggestions to change up the main offering and recipes for the always-important sweet ending.

Alternative thinking

A sandwich is protein slapped between carbs, give or take veggies. For many school kids that's peanut butter and jelly on white bread. That made sense for those long-ago days when lunch went to school in a brown paper sack. But today, insulated bags and ice packs provide enough chill for cold cuts and mayonnaise-dressed salads such as chicken, egg and tuna.

Bread — make it whole wheat if they'll eat it — doesn't have to be two thin-sliced squares. Think about tortillas for wraps, focaccia or ciabatta, bagels, pita halves or rolls (hamburger, hotdog or hoagies). Or forget the bread entirely, and offer the protein/carb combo as cheese and crackers; turkey and cheese rollups with breadsticks or seafood salad with crispy bagel scoopers.

Other sandwich suggestions:

• Turkey, lettuce and cranberry sauce on a soft roll.

• Roast beef, Swiss cheese and horseradish sauce on swirl bread.

• Salami, pickles and mustard on French bread.

• Roast beef and tomatoes with Russian dressing on a hoagie.

• Ham and cheese sliders on Parker House rolls.

• Fresh mozzarella, basil leaves, tomato and olive oil on a ciabatta roll.

• Leftover meatloaf with ketchup (or spicy mustard) on multigrain.

• Cream cheese (with walnuts and raisins, scallions and tomato or smoked salmon) on a bagel.

• Ham, grated Swiss, honey mustard wrapped in a tortilla.

• Tuna salad stuffed in a pita.

• And whatever they eat at Subway you can copy at home.

Beyond sandwiches

When they — or you — are tired of sandwiches, think about leftovers or hot food. A Thermos-full of soup with crackers or chili with corn bread trumps the Lunchable and all its packing any old day.

Some other suggestions:

• Quiche of any kind.

• Chicken Caesar salad (pack croutons and dressing separately).

• Leftover Chinese food (heat it up and fill the thermos).

• Leftover pizza (they'll eat it cold in the morning so why not?).

• Tortellini salad with chicken or ham.

• Baked chicken pieces or chicken wings.

• Hard-boiled eggs.

• Hummus with pita chips and veggies.

• An antipasto offering of cheeses, cold cuts and pickled veggies.

Sweet endings

A lunch without something sweet doesn't seem quite right. But before you toss in the granola bar or Twinkie, take a look at what else you've packed. Chances are, the meal is already laden with carbohydrates thanks to high-fructose corn syrup (bread, chips, juice). If you want to include something sweet scale back other carbs (crackers instead of bread; celery sticks with peanut butter instead of chips).

Homemade anything is a nice touch when you have the time. A batch of granola bars can be cut, wrapped and frozen and will keep for weeks. Alternate with a store-bought treat or something else you've made.

Think it's too Martha Stewart to make granola bars? Read — or try to — the labels on popular brands. You might change your mind or at least realize that some varieties are no better than candy bars.

Quick breads or muffins, such as carrot, banana or blueberry, are as sweet as cupcakes with some added nutrition. Pound cake is good, too.

Ripe cherries or juicy peaches are enough of a treat for some kids. Probably the ones who do well in math.

Janet K. Keeler can be reached at or (727) 893-8586.

Reaching for chips everyday to go with the sandwich is easy but can get tiresome. Here are some ideas of what to pack when everyone is tired of chips:

• Veggie sticks and hummus

• Green salad with dressing packed separately

• Nuts

• Edamame or pea pods

• Olives, green and black

• Cherries or grapes

• Snack mix (cereal, pretzels, nuts, dried fruit, small amount of chocolate)

• Pickles

• Applesauce/fruit cups

• Greek yogurt mixed with fruit or honey

• Cottage cheese with fruit

• Cherry tomatoes

• Popcorn

• Baked tortilla chips and bean dip

• Soup or chili

• Tropical fruit salad

• Deviled eggs

• Dried fruit

• Pasta or rice salad

• Pickled asparagus or green beans

• Cream cheese or peanut butter stuffed celery

• Soy crisps or rice cakes

• Dates or fresh figs


Popcorn and Nut Mix
10 cups air-popped popcorn

1 cup lightly salted dry-roasted mixed nuts

1/4 cup honey

2 tablespoons orange juice

2 tablespoons butter or margarine

1 teaspoon grated orange rind

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon or nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place popcorn and mixed nuts in a 9- by 13-inch baking pan.

In a small saucepan, stir together the honey, orange juice, butter, orange rind and cinnamon until well mixed. Bring to a boil over moderate heat. Drizzle the honey mixture over the popcorn and nuts. Using a wooden spoon, toss until well mixed. Bake for 15 minutes, stirring twice.

Spread popcorn mixture onto a large sheet of foil. Cool completely. To store, place in a tightly covered container.

Makes about 10 cups.

Source: Reader's Digest


Peanut Butter Granola Bars
1 1/2 cups rolled oats

1/2 cup oat bran

1/4 cup dry nonfat milk powder

1/2 cup raisins

1/3 cup honey

1/4 cup peanut butter

1/3 cup extra-light olive oil (or vegetable oil)

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 egg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9-inch square pan.

In a large bowl mix the oats, oat bran and dry milk. Add the raisins and mix well again, making sure the raisins are separated.

In a small saucepan, combine the honey, peanut butter, oil and vanilla extract. Over very low heat, stir the honey mixture well for a few moments. Do not let the mixture get hot; you only want to raise the heat a little so the ingredients will combine easily. Take the saucepan off the heat, add the egg and mix well.

Pour the honey mixture over the oat mixture and with a wooden spoon blend well until all the dry ingredients are moistened.

Pour the oat mixture into the prepared pan and distribute the mixture somewhat evenly. Bake the granola bars for 20 minutes.

Score into bars with the edge of a spatula. Let the bars cool in the pan, then invert them onto a plate and cut through to separate. Store in an airtight container.

Makes 10 bars.

Source: "The School Lunchbox Cookbook" by Miriam Jacobs (Globe Pequot, 2003).


Banana Chocolate Chip Mini Muffins
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

2/3 cup sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup mashed very ripe bananas (about 2 large or 3 medium)

1 large egg

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, melted

1/4 cup fat free or light sour cream

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/4 cup low-fat milk

1/2 cup mini semisweet chocolate chips

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a mini muffin pan with baking cups or lightly coat the muffin cups with cooking spray.

In a medium-sized bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt and stir with a fork to blend.

In a mixing bowl, combine the mashed bananas, egg, melted butter, sour cream, vanilla extract and milk. Beat on medium until well blended. Reduce the speed to low and blend in the dry ingredients (do not overmix). Stir in the mini chocolate chips.

Fill each muffin cup with 1 level tablespoon of batter. Bake the muffins for about 20 minutes or until the tops are golden and a toothpick comes out with some melted chocolate but no crumbs.

Transfer the muffins to a rack to cool. Repeat with the remaining batter. Makes 36 mini muffins.



Slice 'n Bake Brownie Rounds
1 1/2 cups sugar

1 cup unsalted butter, softened

1 cup semisweet chocolate chips, melted, cooled

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup mini semisweet chocolate chips

Combine sugar and butter in large bowl. Beat at medium speed until creamy. Add melted chocolate chips, egg and vanilla; continue beating until well mixed. Reduce speed to low; add flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Beat until well mixed. Stir in mini chocolate chips by hand.

Divide dough in half; shape each half into 12-inch log. Wrap each in plastic food wrap; refrigerate until firm (1 to 2 hours).

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Cut logs into 3/8-inch slices with sharp knife. Place 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheets. Sprinkle cookies with coarse-grained decorating sugar, if desired. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until set. Let stand 1 minute; remove from cookie sheets. Cool completely.

Makes 64 cookies.

Source: Land O'Lakes.

Alter your approach to school lunches 08/12/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 13, 2008 11:21am]
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