Cooks Exchange

Pack a little love in the kids’ lunchboxes this school year with these ideas

This bento box style lunch features a panda-shaped peanut butter and jelly sandwich, fish crackers, a container of hummus, strawberries and carrots.
This bento box style lunch features a panda-shaped peanut butter and jelly sandwich, fish crackers, a container of hummus, strawberries and carrots. TNS

Now that school is in session, how many youngsters and teens eat their lunches?

Whether eating cafeteria meals or brown-bagging, some kids just do not eat. If you have one of these children, it can get frustrating.

They need to eat a nutritious lunch, but what can parents or grandparents do? My daughter rarely did, and I do not anticipate my granddaughter being any better.

She is pickier than her mother was. We are trying the lunch program at school, but may have to switch to lunchbox meals, some foods she might eat. No guarantee.

Often cafeteria meals, no matter how tasty, go in the trash, as do lunchbox meals. Trying to be a good mother, I would carefully pack my daughter’s lunch with cute cutout sandwiches, fruit, yogurt and a drink or offer microwavable canned alphabet spaghetti or ravioli. I even had her put what she didn’t eat back in the lunchbox, so I could see if she ate anything.

Somewhere along the school years, I decided she would eat if she was hungry and just tried to have a healthy dinner meal for all of us. Guess what? She is still picky about vegetables. Despite my efforts, I decided some food battles I just can’t win.

I was discussing this with a dietitian recently. She suggested that I cook the same vegetable seven different ways each night of the week. My granddaughter didn’t go for it; she recognized the vegetable.

One blessing, my granddaughter loves fruit, bananas, apples, Mandarin oranges and grapes, so I use fruit at most meals, fresh fruit preferably.

If kids are brown-bagging it, perhaps the smartest choice is to let them help prepare their lunches. They can help make a sandwich or pick out an accompaniment.

While not all my ideas worked with my daughter, I still think they can give parents and grandparents some help.

I used cookie cutters to make animal shapes for sandwiches or I made smiley faces on apple or pear slices with raisins and cherries. I also put a smiley face or an “I love you” note in her lunch each day. If she was having a test, I would write a “go get-‘em” message.

Here are some tips:

▪  Freeze a cold drink or juice overnight and wrap in aluminum foil. By lunchtime, it is defrosted or just a bit icy. That frozen drink also keeps the rest of the lunch cool.

▪  Do not use the same meal each day. Mix it up.

▪  Broccoli tops make great trees served with a side of ranch dressing.

▪  Apple slices are a must, but be sure to soak them in lemon juice so they do not turn brown. Who wants a brown apple? I made funny teeth with miniature marshmallows, peanut butter and apple slices. Or made ants on the apple slice spread with peanut butter by topping with raisins.

▪  Try leftovers for lunch especially if they liked that meal, according to Sav-A-Lot chefs.

▪  Instead of buying costly premade lunches, do your own. Use their favorite meats, maybe cheese sticks, crackers and fruit. Put them in cute containers that the elementary school set might enjoy.

▪  Make lunchboxes fun; not drudgery.

▪  Tortilla rollups work well with peanut butter and bananas or other fruit or even with lunch meats. I try to watch the sodium content on lunch meats for all of us.

▪  Bento boxes, using lunch containers with at least three sections, are another way to make lunch fun. Experts at suggest de-constructing sandwiches for picky eaters who do not like sandwiches. Another idea is to make pizza from sandwich bread with sides of fruit cup and cheese stars made with a cookie cutter.

Whatever goes into the lunch, let children play a role in the decision making.


Readers want more restaurant recipes.

A new one this week is Alamo fried chicken. I am told patrons stood in long lines for this fried chicken. A friend asked for the recipe for that special chicken.

“I would love to have the recipe for the Greek dressing at the Phoenicia in Ocean Springs,” said Georgia Day. “It is fabulous. Good on everything.”

I will check with the chefs and see what I can find. Readers, do you have the recipe or a similar one?

“Could you get the original recipe of crab meat au gratin from Angelo’s Restaurant?” said Shirley Dedeaux. “It was the best. Thanks.”

Ann Brown wants the shrimp salad recipe from the now-closed Hook Line and Sinker restaurant in Biloxi. Readers if you have this old-time Biloxi recipe, please share.

Andrea Yeager can be reached at and Cooks Exchange, P.O. Box 4567, Biloxi, MS 39535-4567.


1/2 cup Minute Rice

1 spinach flour tortilla, any brand

2-3 tablespoons ranch or Russian dressing

3-4 slices turkey breast from deli

A handful of pea shoots or bean sprouts

2 red bell pepper strips, 1/4 inch wide

2 slices deli-cut Cheddar or Provolone cheese, cut into 1/2-inch strips

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Have your Grown-Up Helper prepare Minute Rice according to package directions, maybe while they make their morning coffee.

Heat a flour tortilla for 15 to 20 seconds on high in the microwave oven. Spread out tortilla on a work surface. Coat the tortilla evenly with dressing. Cover with slices of turkey. Pile some rice onto one side of the turkey. Arrange the pea shoots, pepper strips and cheese strips in a line on top of the rice. Season it up with salt and pepper.

Wrap and roll the sandwich up around the rice, veggies and turkey, making the ingredients resemble a sushi roll with the cheese and veggies at the center of the rice. Cut the sandwich wrap into 2-inch-long pieces. Arrange in container or on aluminum foil and pack up for your school lunch. Makes 1 serving.

From ‘Cooking Rocks! Rachael Ray 30-Minute Meals for Kids’


Make the pizza’s crust by cutting a piece of bread into a circle using a biscuit cutter or drinking glass rim. You can also use an English muffin. Save the bread crusts to make a yummy snack.

Spread pizza sauce, jarred or homemade, onto center of bread circle. Top with favorite meat and cheese. For sides, use mixed fruit in a colorful cupcake paper. Add stars made of cheese.

Anti-choking warning: Remember to remove toothpicks and cut up blueberries, grapes, carrots and other food for children under 4.

From Anna Yamamoto at