DanvilleSanRamon.com

Living - August 31, 2007

Epicure: Super-duper school snacks

by Jacqui Love Marshall

It's that time again ... back-to-school planning and prepping. School lunches are one of those daily, recurring tasks for parents and kids. But repetitive does not have to mean boring and bland.

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:

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.

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.

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.

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 jlovemarshall@yahoo.com.

Recipes

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

Cooking spray

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)

Cooking spray

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)

Cooking spray

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.

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