What's a parent to do? The cupboard is full of 10 kinds of cereal, from the tutti-fruttiest to the bran-spanking healthiest. There are plenty of eggs in the refrigerator, not to mention pancakes, waffles and muffins in the freezer. But in the rush of a school morning, none of these gets a passing grade from your young student. Then there's lunch. Forget it. True or not, most kids have long ago concluded that cafeteria food is totally inedible. The alternative: peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (or cheese, bologna or whatever) every single day. What a boring task, making these day in, day out!
So when it comes to after-school snacks, why even bother?
Does it always have to be so bad? Perhaps not - at least if you realize that the hard and fast rules you grew up by need not apply to today's child.
Why, for instance, should cereal be eaten only at breakfast? For years, hundreds of children have topped off their day with cereal as a bedtime snack.
So why not turn the tables, so to speak, and let kids start their day with last night's dinner? And if there's enough left over, why not also have last night's dinner or the morning breakfast for a snack as well?
For one thing, leftovers may be considerably more nutritious than the doughnut or other breakfast sweet the kid may eat - or the candy bar or bag of chips after school.
What's more, thanks to the microwave, eating last night's leftovers has become considerably more appealing.
"Anything that's left over from dinner is what my 11-year-old daughter Sara prefers for breakfast," says Joyce Schwartz of Chevy Chase, Md. "The micro-wave has been a boon for that. She loves spaghetti and meat sauce and stuffed baked potatoes. There's pizza, of course, and frequently she eats homemade chicken-and-rice soup for breakfast."
As far as Schwartz is concerned, eating dinner for breakfast is just fine with her. "Spaghetti with cheese and butter is better than a doughnut," she says.
Pat Taylor of Alexandria, Va., has taken this idea still another step. When she could not get her daughter, now 11, to eat vegetables at dinner, she decided it was "switch-a-meal time. We ate breakfast at dinner time. We had waffles at night, and we had spinach souffle and vegetables in the morning." She only did that occasionally, but "it worked," she says.
Similarly, Schwartz says, thanks to the advent of frozen yogurt, why not be truly daring and offer a milkshake in the morning - a frozen-yogurt milkshake, that is, mixed with lots of fruit and low-fat milk. That's a favorite in the Schwartz family. "They are great for breakfast," she says.
Just like Schwartz and Taylor, who have learned that the old rules don't apply, many other parents have discovered that creating innovative treats doesn't always work either.
As Nancy Pollard, owner of La Cuisine kitchen-equipment store in Alexandria notes, "there are some really nice books where you can get great ideas for lunches and sandwiches. But most kids balk at it - unless they are told by someone else their own age it's a really great idea. In the real world, kids will eat whatever their peers will eat."
Linda Roebuck, a former school teacher and mother of "almost grown kids" in Fairfax, Va., knows that to be true after years of observing lunchroom shenanigans.
"There's a big difference between what mothers think is being consumed and what really happens," she says. "Even the most creative mother would be shocked." Efforts to make things cute by cutting up different shapes or adding different colors were more often than not ridiculed and the food thrown away, she recalls.
But Roebuck is not without a solution. Having asked kids of varying ages what they would take to school for lunch if they could take anything they wanted, Roebuck found the answer "across the board was pizza, pizza, pizza."
So Roebuck has devised the pizza roll-up. When making a regular pizza, she usually makes extra dough - or buys previously made dough at the store. She rolls the dough into a rectangle, covers it with tomato sauce, cheese and whatever filling she has on hand.
Then she rolls the dough up like a jelly roll, pops it into the oven and cooks it for about 15 minutes, until the dough is browned.
The roll can then be cut into inch-wide strips, wrapped individually and put in the freezer, waiting to be thrown into a lunch bag at a moment's notice. It can even be eaten cold, if there's no microwave to warm it up.
Other parents have come up with similar pizza favorites. Schwartz, for instance, frequently takes a piece of pita bread, tops it with tomato sauce, mozzarella and a slice of turkey and puts it in the toaster oven for a few minutes for breakfast or a late-afternoon snack.
Meanwhile, Taylor likes to make a fruit pizza with pureed cottage cheese as the sauce and apples or blueberries and a touch of brown sugar and cinnamon as the topping.
Making a pizza specifically for breakfast, with scrambled eggs and sausage as topping, also is easy - and according to numerous marketing reports, fast becoming a favorite on the New Jersey shore near Atlantic City.
Simply top a pizza crust with tomato sauce, mozzarella, cooked eggs and any other ingredient you would use in an omelet and bake.
As much as pizza is a favorite, there are few children who would turn their nose up at a Chinese meal. Leftover Chinese food has always been popular for breakfast (and not just with kids).
Now Edie Lasner of Bethesda, Md., has come up with an idea that makes an unusual and fun brown-bag lunch for her 12-year-old daughter Emily. "We very often have Chinese food on Sunday nights, either in the restaurant or carry-out, and we always get extra," Lasner says.
Then she lets Emily take the extra to school in the carry-out cardboard boxes - carefully wrapped in plastic bags, she points out, because the boxes sometimes leak. "We don't bother with chopsticks at school, though," she says.
Another ethnic food that is popular in some houses is noodle kugel.
Eaten in Jewish households either with dinner or for dessert on the Sabbath and holidays, the kugel is made with eggs, fruit and noodles.
Filled with fruit and pasta, it's a hit with kids; what's more, it's easy to make and can be prepared in advance, then refrigerated for future meals. It is even transportable for power-packed school lunches.
By abandoning the rules, there's no reason why the kugel, pizza or Chinese leftovers won't also serve as a tasty snack as well.
But for a real out-of-this-world treat, try "Moon Rocks" developed by Catherine Evans, a cooking teacher who gives classes for children at Bethesda's L'Academie de Cuisine.
The nuggets are made with granola, honey and peanut butter, and Evans says they are so good "you wish you could say you had moon rocks for breakfast or lunch!"
Catherine Evans' Moon Rocks 1/4 cup nonfat dry milk 3 tablespoons honey 1/2 cup peanut butter 2 teaspoons cinnamon 2 1/2 cups granola cereal with raisins Requiring no cooking, this is an easy recipe for kids to make on their own - if they don't eat all the granola and peanut butter while making it.
Mix together the nonfat dry milk, honey, peanut butter and cinnamon. Gradually add granola until the mixture holds together tightly. If the mixture is too sticky, add a little bit more granola until the dough can be formed easily into balls. Squeeze dough into balls, about 1 to 1 1/2 inches in size. Eat right away or refrigerate in an airtight container.
Makes about 30.
Per cookie: 76 calories, 2 gm protein, 9 gm carbohydrates, 4 gm fat, 1 gm saturated fat, .1 mg cholesterol, 43 mg sodium.
Fruit Pizza 12-inch uncooked pizza crust 2 cups cottage cheese 2 cups fruit Cinnamon 1/4 cup brown sugar
Pat Taylor of Alexandria, Va., makes this pizza frequently. Through
experience she has discovered that apples and blueberries work the best. Peaches, bananas and other soft fruit tend to get mushy, she says.
Prepare pizza crust for topping. Puree cottage cheese in blender until is is smooth. Spread smoothly on top of pizza crust, leaving a little rim of crust around edge. Top with fruit, making a design if you wish. Sprinkle with cinnamon and brown sugar. Bake in preheated 450F. oven for about 5 minutes until crust is browned.
Makes one 12-inch pizza or 6 servings.
Per serving: 431 calories, 18 gm protein, 77 gm carbohydrates, 5 gm fat, 3 gm saturated fat, 17 mg cholesterol, 863 mg sodium.
Breakfast Pizza 12-inch uncooked pizza crust 1 cup tomato sauce 1 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded 1/2 pound breakfast sausage, cooked 4 eggs, scrambled
Prepare pizza crust for topping. Spread tomato sauce evenly on top, leaving a little rim around edge. Top with cheese, sausage and eggs and bake for 5 minutes in preheated 450F. oven.
Makes one 12-inch pizza or 6 servings.
Per serving: 497 calories, 23 gm protein, 50 gm carbohydrates, 22 gm fat, 9 gm saturated fat, 234 mg cholesterol, 1,407 mg sodium.
Frozen Yogurt Fruit Shake 1/2 cup fruit, pureed 1/3 cup milk 1/2 cup frozen yogurt
A favorite of Joyce Schwartz, this drink can be made with a variety of fruit, including peaches, strawberries, bananas or blueberries.
Mix all ingredients in a blender and serve.
Makes 1 large drink.
Per serving: 305 calories, 9 gm protein, 57 gm carbohydrates, 5 gm fat, 2 gm saturated fat, 16 mg cholesterol, 64 mg sodium.
Rich and Fruity Noodle Kugel 8 ounces medium-wide egg noodles 10 1/2-ounce can mandarin orange segments, drained 16-ounce can pitted dark sweet cherries, drained 8-ounce can crushed pineapple, including juice 1 cup plain non-fat yogurt 1/4 cup butter, melted 1/3 cup sugar 2 tablespoons honey 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 5 eggs 2 tablespoons sugar 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon This noodle pudding recipe, adapted from The Jewish Holiday Cookbook (by Gloria Kaufer Greene, Times Books, 1985, $19.95), is filled with fruit, eggs, yogurt and noodles, making it a delicious treat for breakfast, lunch or dinner - even snacks. Fresh fruit, such as peaches and blueberries, can be substituted for the oranges and cherries when they are available.
Cook the noodles according to the package directions and drain well.
Do not overcook because they will be cooked again. Combine them with the canned fruit and spread mixture into a well-buttered 9-by-12-inch baking dish.
In a blender or food processor, combine the yogurt, butter, sugar, honey, vanilla and eggs. Process until completely smooth, scraping down the sides of the container once or twice. Pour the mixture over the noodles and fruit and stir gently with a spoon so that all the ingredients are evenly distributed.
Combine the remaining sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle over the top.
Bake in a preheated 350F. oven for one hour or until the kugel is set. Let it rest for 10 to 15 minutes before cutting. Serve warm or at room temperature, cut into squares. (If made ahead, let it cool to room temperature and refrigerate it uncut. Shortly before serving reheat it until warmed through and then cut).
Makes about 12 servings.
Per serving: 163 calories, 5 gm protein, 22 gm carbohydrates, 6 gm fat, 3 gm saturated fat, 131 mg cholesterol, 84 mg sodium.