Still, day after day, it can be a challenge to create healthy, interesting and tasty brown-bag meals. The lack of time and competing activities often make parents revert to prepared meals and pre-packaged snacks. Keep those lunches more appealing and healthier by livening them up with additions of kitchen-made treats.
To help in your lunch planning, consider:
ï If you buy pre-packaged foods, check ingredient/nutrition labels to see what your children will be consuming:
-As labels list ingredients in order of relative percentage, avoid foods that list high levels of sugar, fructose, artificial flavorings and colors, etc., before any nutritional ingredients.
-Seek foods in which nutritional levels add up to be worthy of the calories involved.
ï Identify your favorite healthy options among pre-packaged foods, then supplement them with your own options. Make a list of everything and tape it to the refrigerator door to help create variety in lunchbox meals.
ï Make large quantities of home-cooked treats and freeze them in plastic bags and containers in small quantities. Defrost in the refrigerator before adding to lunches.
ï Let your children help in snack cooking and lunch preparation. Their involvement in the tasks should reduce complaints about the meals.
So remember - keep it healthy, delicious and diverse. Treat your children to appetizing mid-day lunches and afternoon snacks and they'll reward you with all-day vigor and smiles!
Jacqui lives in Danville with her pug, Nina Simone, and volumes of cookbooks and recipes. Her column runs every other week. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Peanut Butter & Jelly Cookies (makes 2 dozen)
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup natural creamy peanut butter
1/4 cup dark corn syrup
3 Tbsp butter or stick margarine, softened
1 large egg
2 tsp vanilla extract
1-1/3 cups all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp cornstarch
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup grape or other flavored jelly or jam
1. Beat brown sugar, peanut butter, corn syrup and butter/margarine with a mixer at medium speed until well blended. Add egg and vanilla; beat well.
2. Lightly spoon and level off flour into dry measuring cups; combine flour with cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda and salt, stirring well with a whisk. Add flour mixture to sugar mixture; beat well.
3. Cover; freeze until firm, about 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
4. Shape dough into 24 balls; roll in granulated sugar. Place balls 1 inch apart on baking sheets coated with cooking spray.
5. Press thumb into center of each cookie, creating an indentation. Spoon about 1/2 tsp. jelly into the center of each cookie.
6. Bake for 12 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool 2 minutes on pans.
7. Remove from pans, and cool completely on wire racks.
Note: Natural peanut butter (from ground peanuts with no added sugar) is the best choice for these thumbprint style cookies; it adds a strong peanut flavor and helps the cookies hold their shape better during baking.
One-Pot Chicken Noodle Soup (makes 4-5 cups)
1/2 tsp olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
1 tsp dried oregano
1 garlic clove, minced
6 cups chicken stock, divided
2 cups diced peeled baking potato
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup (1/4-inch-thick) sliced carrot
3 cups chopped cooked chicken
2 cups chopped spinach
1 tsp salt
3 oz uncooked medium egg noodles (about 1-1/2 cups)
2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp black pepper
1. Heat olive oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onion; sauté 3 minutes. Add oregano and garlic; sauté 30 seconds.
2. Add 5-3/4 cups chicken stock and potatoes. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, and simmer for 15 minutes until the potato is tender. Mash potato in stock mixture.
3. Add celery and carrot; bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the chicken, spinach, and salt; bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer 3 minutes.
4. Add noodles; bring to a boil and cook 5 minutes. Combine 1/4 cup stock and flour in a small bowl; stir well with a whisk. Stir flour mixture into soup; simmer 3 minutes. Stir in pepper.
Mom's Kitchen Karamel Korn (makes about 12 cups)
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup light colored corn syrup
1/3 cup butter
1 Tbsp light molasses
1-1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
12 cups popcorn (popped without salt or fat
1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Coat a large jelly roll pan with cooking spray.
2. Combine sugar, corn syrup, butter, and molasses in a medium saucepan; bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook 5 minutes, stirring once. Remove from heat; stir in vanilla, baking soda, and salt. Place popcorn in a large bowl; pour sugar mixture over popcorn in a steady stream, stirring to coat.
3. Spread popcorn mixture into prepared pan. Bake for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes.
4. Remove from oven; stir to break up any large clumps. Cool 15 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature. Let the popcorn cool completely before storing; stays fresh in airtight container for up to 1 week.
Mini-Frittatas: Ham & Cheese (makes 24 mini)
1/2 cup onion, finely chopped
2/3 cup reduced-fat ham (about 2 oz), chopped
1/3 cup (about 1 1/2 ounces) shredded reduced-fat extra-sharp cheddar cheese
2 Tbsp fresh chives, chopped
1/8 tsp dried thyme
1/8 tsp black pepper
4 large egg whites
1 large egg
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Heat a large nonstick skillet coated with cooking spray over medium-high heat. Add onion; sauté 2 minutes or until crisp-tender.
3. Add ham; sauté 3 minutes. Remove from heat; cool 5 minutes.
4. Combine remaining ingredients in a large bowl; stir with a whisk. Add ham mixture, stirring with a whisk.
5. Spoon mixture into 24 miniature muffin cups coated with cooking spray. Bake for 20 minutes or until set.
Dad's Fruit/Nut Granola (makes 5 cups)
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup apple cider
2 cups regular oats
2/3 cup pistachios, chopped
2/3 cup nutlike cereal nuggets (such as Grape-Nuts)
2/3 cup dried sweet cherries
1/2 cup sunflower seed kernels
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1. Combine sugar and cider in a large nonstick skillet; cook over medium-high heat 3 minutes or until sugar dissolves, stirring frequently.
2. Stir in oats and remaining ingredients; cook 5 minutes or until granola is lightly browned, stirring frequently.
3. Keep in large chunks or break into smaller pieces; cool completely. Stays fresh in an airtight container up to a week. Besides as a snack, it is great as a cereal with milk, with vanilla low-fat yogurt, over ice cream.