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In the Kitchen: Time to think about back to school lunches
School lunch

Can you believe school starts next week? The summer just flew by.  

Our children usually brought their lunches to school which meant I had an assembly line of four lunch boxes lined up. 

When our children were quite young, I tried to coordinate packing lunches with cleaning the kitchen after dinner. This was also a great way to sneak some leftovers into their lunches. 

There are so many terrific lunch box containers nowadays. You can get plastic or stainless steel bento boxes which make separating lunch items super easy. These have the added bonus of making lunches more appetizing to the eyes and cut down on using plastic wrap, plastic baggies and aluminum foil. Some of these lunch box “systems” are a bit pricey, but think of them as an investment — they will last for years. 

To keep lunches interesting, try to think outside of the peanut butter-and-jelly box. Also, steer away from all of those pre-packaged lunch snacks. Sure, they are convenient, but all are loaded with preservatives, additives and many other things which are not food at all. Instead, do a little planning and try to incorporate things you serve as snacks or dinners at home. 

Remember thermoses are your friend. They are terrific for keeping things hot, but are also great to keep things cold. Hot soup is always a favorite — especially in the colder months. 

Also, for your little ones, do include a note — even if it’s just once a week. Young children especially love hearing your “voice” during their busy lunch break at school. 

Fruit kabobs with yogurt sauce

Favorite fruit — strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, grapes, melon balls, etc.

1 cup plain yogurt

2 teaspoons pure maple syrup

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Skewer fruit onto toothpicks. Combine yogurt, maple syrup and vanilla extract. 

Pizza bites

12 Mini whole-wheat pita pockets

Homemade or store-bought pizza sauce

1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

Spread a small amount of pizza sauce on pita pockets. Sprinkle with cheese. Bake in a preheated 400-degree oven for 10 minutes, until cheese is melted. Cool to room temperature before packing in lunch box or bake the night before and send as cold, leftover pizza. 

Sure you can buy frozen chicken nuggets and they are not too expensive. But check out the ingredient list and you might want to make your own. After all, what is in a chicken nugget? Chicken and some sort of breading. Nobody wants to feed their child chemicals. These are simple to make, delicious, healthy and freeze beautifully. 

Chicken nuggets with honey mustard

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts

Salt and pepper

2 eggs

1 ½ cups bread crumbs, preferably whole wheat

1/3 cup parmesan cheese, grated

1/2 teaspoon paprika

1/2 teaspoon onion powder

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

1/3 cup olive oil

Honey mustard (recipe follows)

Cut the chicken into bite sized chunks. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. In a small bowl, whisk together bread crumbs, parmesan cheese, paprika, onion powder and garlic powder. Whisk eggs in another bowl. Working in batches, toss the chicken nuggets in the eggs and then roll in the bread crumbs, coating each nugget completely. Place coated nuggets on a plate or baking sheet. 

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat and cook nuggets until they are golden brown and cooked through — about 12 minutes total. Depending on the size of your skillet, you may have to do this in batches. Remove to a clean plate and serve or refrigerate or freeze. 

Honey mustard

1/4 cup honey, preferably local

1/4 cup yellow mustard

Combine honey and mustard. 

Other suggestions for lunch boxes

• Cubes of ham, turkey, cheeses

• Olives

• Pickles

• Nuts, dried fruit

• Rice cakes

• Whole wheat crackers

• Cut up fruit

• Vegetables for dipping (baby carrots, celery, red pepper strips)

• Boiled eggs

• Yogurt and applesauce

• Jell-O

• Mini-bagels with cream cheese

• Animal crackers

• Hummus (homemade or store bought)

• Pimento cheese (homemade or store bought)

• Leftovers (chicken nuggets, chicken drumsticks, macaroni and cheese, taco meat with tortilla chips, pasta with sauce, chili or other soup, grilled cheese)