Janet's Notebook
Back to School: Brighten Up Your Lunch Boxes with Surprising, Kid-Friendly Recipes

Bowties Add Flair to School Lunches

Shhhh.... don't tell the kiddos, but it's nearly back to school time again! I can hardly believe it myself. It seems just like yesterday that I finally got all the summer clothes ironed and hung up. (Oh dear, I think that WAS yesterday!) Well, no matter - Summer wasn't meant for chores anyway. And as school days inch ever closer, I want to help make sure that lunchtime doesn't become a chore for you either.

One of my favorite tricks I've picked up from you cooks is to snazz up a lunch box by packing pasta salad! I sure wish this had been on the menu when I was a kid. Simple pasta salads - leftover or made fresh - can be a great way to liven up Junior's lunch. Kimberly Harbeck of Sorrento, FL, for example, has a great recipe for Bowtie Pasta and Brie Cheese Medley that translates perfectly into lunch box-sized portions. My grandson, Conner, is a very adventurous eater, but even those pickier among us will want to eat their veggies when they're ingeniously hidden amongst cheese and adorable bowtie pasta.

Similarly, Kentucky gal Rhonda Gibson blends her favorite summer flavors into her recipe for Summer Spaghetti Salad. With subtle Mediterranean flair - thanks to Italian dressing, black olives and cucumber - this is a wonderfully accessible recipe for kids who might not otherwise eat the ingredients on their own. The kids will be asking for spaghetti every day once they get a taste of this in their lunch sack. No need to re-heat. Simply pop a cold pack in their bags and away they go!

I've also noticed that you smart mamas are using bite-size goodies when feeding the pint-size members of the family. Appetizers can make for terrific lunch box fare... and there's no end to the number of creative ingredient combinations. (In other words, make the most of what you have on hand!)

Two of my favorite appetizer recipes combine traditional lunchbox flavors in some not-so-traditional ways. Take dill pickles, for example. Warren, OH cook Kim Biegacki has turned her love of these dill cuties into a fun, lunch box-appropriate appetizer called Nutty Pickles. "One thing that I eat everyday of my life is dill pickles; cold packed dill pickles... anyone that knows me well will tell you so," laughs Kim. "About 12 years ago, a lady brought this yummy treat to an office party and I never forgot it." These "nutty" treats are simply sliced dills wrapped in a blanket of cream cheese and rolled in chopped pecans. They are unexpected and delicious. "I have tried flavored cream cheeses, different nuts and sprinkling a light touch of garlic salt on top," says Kim, "but all in all it stands as a simple recipe that I love so much and serve up as an appetizer for parties. Hope you enjoy as much as I do!"

Jillena Smith of Montevallo, AL also wowed us with her easy peasy lunch-appropriate appetizer. Her Strawberry Ham Bites can be assembled in a snap; they're simply the most adorable little ham cups made from baked deli ham and filled with a mixture of cheddar, jam and cream cheese. "I was inspired to create these after seeing a turkey and spinach bite," says Jillena. "Everyone here loves them." Meant to be served warm, they are also delicious when they are cold. An ideal lunchbox surprise!

And finally, if you're plain out of ideas and just can't bear to pack one more peanut butter and jelly sandwich, why not try wrapping it up?! Tortilla wraps are a great substitute for everyday bread, and folks are telling me that their kids are far more willing to eat a veggie wrap than a veggie sandwich. (And no crusts!) New Yorker Thea Pappalardo adds some kick to her wraps with a recipe for Mexican Pinwheels. These spicy wraps can be easily tweaked to become the ultimate kid-friendly munchie. Throw in some chicken to Thea's cheese mixture, wrap in up, give it a slice and your little one will be the talk of the lunchroom.

There are just so many fun ways to brighten up those back-to-school lunch boxes. These great member recipes are proof that lunchtime creativity doesn't have to take a lot of extra time or effort. Gone are the days of swapping for someone else's lunch... There's no way your kids will want to give up these eats!

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Carolyn Hancock - Aug 15, 2011
This is such a neat and cool thing (this cooking club)that I just joined today. I know that I am going to have a whole bunch of new friends here who are like me,love to cook.I just love this and cannot wait to show my girlfriends this site that I just joined.I've already saved recipes I've found for my four legged family of three. And I cannot wait to start making treats for them this week. Thanks for this really cool club.I'm passing this on to my brother up in Iowa.
Didi Dalaba - Aug 11, 2011
Thank you so very, very much!! Thank you to those amazing talented cooks as well.

Lord knows "school lunches" are now so very expensive!! I would love to "pique" my kids interest and avoid the "throw away" factor!!
Deneece Gursky - Aug 11, 2011
congrats thea and kim! all of these look wonderful!!
Kathleen Hagood - Aug 11, 2011
Judy, you make a good point about food poisoning. When my child was still in elementary school, a friend who worked in the cafeteria made sure that he ate because he was always so thin and such a picky eater. Anyway, she told me about a classmate of my son who had taken apple juice in his thermos. The child took a sip and said he had beer in his lunch. The cafeteria friend smelled and then tasted the drink and found it to be fermented apple juice. Apparently, the juice had gotten hot at some point. It's funny but only because it wasn't a case of food poisoning.
Judy Pennington - Aug 10, 2011
Oh and you just want to be careful about packing things with mayo, eggs, creams, etc. They have to stay COLD or you could give you child a good case of food poisoning!!
Judy Pennington - Aug 10, 2011
We love whole dill pickles wrapped in thin cut smoked ham, spread with whipped cream cheese, (some of the flavored ones are great too) and sliced into pieces about 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. They never make it to the meal at our get-to-gethers because every one eats them before.
Laurel Files - Aug 10, 2011
I wish my mother gave me something like this when I was in school, I always had sandwiches. Plain sandwiches and that was the only thing I could like to give my daughters. never thought of anything else. I will keep it in mind for Grandchildren.Thank you
Jewel Hall - Aug 9, 2011
love IT ALL !!
Jen Cullin - Aug 9, 2011
This is great! I always like to read articles about good things to pack for lunch...even if I'd be packing it for me and not for kids! Hey, if it holds up in a lunch box that's all that matters!
Colleen Sowa - Aug 9, 2011
Congratulations Thea!!!! xoxo
Colleen Sowa - Aug 9, 2011
This is great! I love the article and the recipes... what a nice way to remind us to check out new recipes that we may have missed.. xo
Kim Biegacki - Aug 9, 2011
These are all great ideas for lunch. I will be sure to share with my sister as she has three growing boys. They are all in football and have big appetites. Thanks for the unique ideas for the kids.
Pam Ellingson - Aug 9, 2011
Janet, I really enjoy your articles. This one is particularly timely as the kids go back to school here on August 15th. I wanted to add a note to have our "Moms" check out Bento Boxes for their kids lunches. (Just Google Bento Boxes) They are small compartmented boxes (Japanese idea) that you can fill each compartment with a separate food. The compartments are small, so you might put the Pinwheels in one and some pasta salad in another, a few grapes in the third, and maybe a small handful of nuts in the smallest one. They are terrific for kids because they make a meal of small amounts of a lot of things. Just thought that some of the members might want to check them out as a New and Exciting way to get their kids to eat a variety of good foods. :)