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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