It’s still summertime on the calendar and outside, but the Back to School blues are in the air. Besides the idea of getting the kids up in the morning — which is never fun after the lazy days of summer — it also means time to start packing lunch again. We want to help with that chore, so recipe researcher Sheila Kern got out the lunch box and started preparing new and tasty ways to feed the kids. Some recipes are perfect for school days; others are more appropriate for weekends. Enjoy and happy packing.
Apple Sandwiches with Granola and Peanut Butter
2 small apples, cored and cut crosswise into 1/2-inch thick rounds
1 teaspoon lemon juice (optional)
3 tablespoons peanut or almond butter
2 tablespoons semisweet chocolate chips
3 tablespoons granola
If you won’t be eating these tasty treats right away, start by brushing the apples slices with lemon juice to keep them from turning brown.
Spread one side of half of the apple slices with peanut or almond butter then sprinkle with chocolate chips and granola. Top with remaining apple slices, pressing down gently to make the sandwiches. Transfer to napkins or plates and serve. Serves 2.
Sandwich on a Stick
Cut up cubes of bread, cheese, and lunch meat (we ordered 1/2-inch-thick slices of ham and turkey at the deli counter).
Slide the cubes onto a skewer with other foods your child likes, such as a grape tomato, a piece of lettuce, a pickle, or an olive.
Set out a side of mayo or mustard for dipping.
Sweet Potato Chips
2 medium sweet potatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Peel 2 medium sweet potatoes and slice as thinly as possible. Toss with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and spread in a thin layer on a cookie sheet. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and paprika. Bake about 20 minutes or until crispy. Serves 4.
Rainbows and Butterflies Pasta Salad
8 ounces bow tie pasta, preferably whole grain
3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup corn kernels, thawed if frozen
1 cup shelled edamame, thawed if frozen
1 medium red bell pepper, diced
2 medium carrots, shredded (about 1/2 cup)
1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese (about 1 ounce)
Cook the pasta as the label directs. Drain and toss with 1 teaspoon olive oil to prevent sticking; let cool.
In a large bowl, toss the cooled pasta with the corn, edamame, bell pepper and carrots. Drizzle with the remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil and toss to coat. Add the parmesan and 1/4 teaspoon salt; toss again and season to taste. Serves 4.
Vegetable Noodle Soup
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 rib celery, sliced (about 1 cup)
1 medium carrot, sliced (about 3/4 cup)
1 clove garlic, smashed
1/4 medium onion, about 1/2 cup
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup orzo or other small pasta or egg noodles or broken up spaghetti
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth (1 quart box, or 2 cans)
Small handful fresh parsley leaves, basil or dill, chopped (about 2 tablespoons)
1/2 lemon, juiced (about 1 tablespoon)
Freshly ground black pepper
Serving suggestion: Whole-wheat crackers and cheese sticks
Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat; add all the vegetables, garlic and onion. Season with the salt, and cook until tender, about 6 minutes. Add the pasta and cook until slightly toasted and golden, about 2 minutes. Add broth, and bring to a boil over high heat. Cook, covered, until pasta is just tender, about 8 minutes.
Stir in whatever herb suits you (or your young eater) and lemon juice. Season with pepper and additional salt, to taste. Fill thermos, pack in a lunch sack with crackers and cheese sticks and send off to school.
Tip: This soup freezes well, so freeze any leftovers or make a double batch to have plenty on hand. Also, you can stir in some cooked chicken or mini-meatballs, if desired, for another meal. Serves 4.
Cinnamon Snack Mix
4 cups Honey Nut Chex cereal
3 cups vanilla Yogurt Burst Cheerios cereal
2 cups Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal
1 1/2 cup raisins
1 cup pecan halves
1/2 cup butter or margarine
1/4 cup honey
1 teaspoon grated orange peel
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Heat oven to 350 degrees. In large bowl, mix cereals, raisins and pecans.
In 2-cup microwavable measuring cup, microwave butter uncovered on high 30 seconds to 1 minute or until melted; stir in honey, orange peel and cinnamon. Pour over cereal mixture, tossing to coat evenly. Spread evenly in ungreased broiler pan or 15-by-10-by-1-inch pan.
Bake 11 to 13 minutes or until mixture is glazed, stirring once during bake time. Spread on foil to cool completely, about 30 minutes. Store in tightly covered container.
Popcorn Trail Mix
2 cups popped popcorn (preferably unsalted)
3/4 cup roasted almonds or roasted peanuts (preferably unsalted)
3/4 cups unsweetened dried banana chips
3/4 cup fruit-juice sweetened dried cranberries
Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl. Divide between 8 small storage containers. Trail mix will keep about 5 days. Serves 8.
Crunchy Asian Chicken Salad
Kids and adults alike will enjoy this lunch. Store this tasty salad in a wide-mouthed thermal container, use several Bibb or Boston lettuce leaves to wrap around the salad instead of bread, and pack the nuts separately in a little plastic bag for sprinkling. For those who can take the heat, add a splash of Chinese hot oil or hot sesame oil to the salad.
1 1/2 cups finely diced cooked chicken meat (6 ounces, about 1 1/2 breast halves)
6 canned peeled water chestnuts, rinsed and chopped
1 carrot, peeled and shredded
1 small celery rib, finely diced
1/2 cup diced apple, such as Gala or Golden Delicious (about 1/2 apple)
1 tablespoon natural peanut butter or sesame tahini
1 tablespoon seasoned rice vinegar
3/4 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon minced fresh chives (optional)
1/4 cup roasted soy nuts or coarsely chopped unsalted peanuts
1 teaspoon hot sesame oil (optional)
Combine the chicken, water chestnuts, carrot, celery and apple in a bowl and stir to mix.
Whisk together the peanut butter, vinegar and soy sauce until smooth. Whisk in the mayonnaise and chives, if using, spoon the dressing over the salad, and mix well. Sprinkle with soy nuts just before serving.
Peanut Butter Berry-Wich
2 slices whole-wheat bread or Banana Bread
1 tablespoon natural peanut butter
1 tablespoon softened Neufchatel (reduced-fat) cream cheese
2 medium strawberries, hulled and sliced
1 teaspoon honey
Lay the bread slices on a work surface. Spread the peanut butter on one slice and the cream cheese on the other.
Arrange strawberry slices in an even single layer on top of the peanut butter. Drizzle the honey on the berries and then place the other slice of bread with the cream cheese on top. Cut into halves or quarters. Serves 1.
1/2 ounce whole shelled (unpeeled) almonds
1/4 ounce unsalted dry-roasted peanuts
1/4 ounce dried cranberries
1 tablespoon chopped pitted dates
1 1/2 teaspoon chocolate chips
Combine almonds, peanuts, cranberries, dates and chocolate chips in a small bowl. Serves 2.
1 8-inch whole-wheat flour tortilla
2 tablespoons prepared pizza sauce
12 leaves baby spinach
3 tablespoons shredded part-skim mozzarella
Place tortilla on a plate and spread pizza sauce over it. Top with an even layer of spinach and sprinkle cheese on top. Microwave on High until the cheese is just melted, about 45 seconds. Carefully roll the tortilla up. Let cool for 10 minutes before slicing into pieces, if desired. Serves 1.