Variety pleases the school lunch bunch


I don’t understand why October is National School Lunch Month when school started in September, or even late August for some. What I do know is that, about this time into the school year, many kids succumb to Sandwich Syndrome: “Mom, I’m tired of the same old thing.” “Mom, don’t give me that again.” Even though you try to be creative with heart shapes and happy faces, it seems the homemade lunches of PB and J or turkey sandwiches get old fast. The problem is, they don’t seem to like any of the alternatives, either. Tortilla roll-ups? No way. Pita surprise? Not in this lifetime. Now, I’ve done a lot of research on this emotionally-charged subject and there are as many different answers as there are kids. Although each is unique in their food habits, most kids share a few preferences that can translate into these useful tips:

First, keep it simple. As a general rule, kids are purists who want everything separate, with no discernible seasoning. Second, small bites are best. Those mini-carrots, a few strawberries or blueberries, a slender cheese stick: think kid-size bites. Those tiny pizza bagels are handy, but homemade or leftover pizza can be cut into small bites at a better price.

Third, pack a variety of items in small quantities. The odds will be better that at least one or two will be acceptable cuisine for that day. You’re bound to cover more nutritional ground, too. Dried fruits, especially apricots and raisins, provide iron; nuts, such as almonds or cashews, pack protein and energy; fruits in season, berries, orange slices and small apples, offer vitamins and fiber.

Fourth, consider the appearance, smell, texture and freshness of the foods you pack for lunch. We’ve all seen rice cakes smeared with peanut butter and a happy face made of raisins … get creative! Vary textures: pack a creamy item, and a crunchy or crispy item; something smooth and something rough; if one item is dry, make sure another is juicy; you get the picture. Wrap things to keep them fresh and separated all day. If you pack perishables like lunch meat or dairy products, be sure to use an ice pack and a thermal lunch bag.

Here is a trio of treats that offer good nutrition and taste appeal.

Nutty numbers

Your keiki make want to help make these easy and fiber-filled treats. Recipe from “Kinder Krunchies” by Karen Jenkins; makes 6 to 8 servings.

1/2 cup butter, softened

1 cup flour

1/4 cup honey

1 cup wheat germ

Chopped nuts of choice, about 1/2 to 3/4 cup

In a bowl, combine butter, flour, honey and wheat germ; mix well. Shape into free-form numbers. Cover numbers with chopped nuts, pressing in lightly to adhere. Bake in preheated 350 degree oven for 10 minutes. Cool; place in covered container until ready to use.

Berry rich muffins

A nutritious lunch box surprise from Eating Well magazine. Makes 1 dozen muffins.

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup whole wheat flour

1/4 cup nonfat dry milk

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 large egg

1 large egg white

3/4 cup packed light brown sugar

1 cup buttermilk

1/4 cup canola oil

1 1/2 teaspoons grated lemon or orange zest

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups mixed fresh or frozen berries, such as blueberries, raspberries or blackberries

1/4 cup dried blueberries or dried cherries

1 tablespoon sugar

Preheat oven to 400. Lightly oil 12 muffin cups or coat with nonstick cooking spray. In a mixing bowl, whisk together white flour, whole wheat flour, nonfat dry milk, baking powder, salt and baking soda; set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk egg and egg white until frothy. Add brown sugar; whisk until smooth. Add buttermilk, oil, lemon or orange zest and vanilla; whisk until blended. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients. Add wet ingredients, stirring with a rubber spatula just to moisten dry ingredients. Gently stir in berries. Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups; sprinkle sugar over tops. Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until tops spring back when touched lightly. Cool on a wire rack.

Apricot nut squares

From the Kona Outdoor Circle’s “Kona Kitchens Cookbook” comes this packed-full-of-energy treat. Makes 3 dozen.

1 package, 4 oz., pitted dates

1 package, 4 oz., apricots

1/2 pound butter

1 pound dark brown sugar

4 eggs

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup nuts, chopped

Powdered sugar, optional

Cut dates into bite-size pieces. Boil apricots for 5 to 10 minutes. When cooled, cut them into bite-size pieces and mix with dates. Melt butter; add brown sugar and cool. Add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Add combined and sifted dry ingredients; beat well. Add vanilla and nuts; stir. Pour batter into well-greased jellyroll pan. Place cut fruit on top of batter, covering entirely. Bake in preheated 350 degree oven for 30 minutes. Sprinkle with powdered sugar if desired; cut into squares while still warm.