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Amy Umble writes about family issues and kid-friendly events.

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Thinking outside the (lunch) box

The following is a column I wrote in 2008. Since then, I have had a child of my own, but I still haven’t graduated to the lunchbox-packing club. Parents: please share your favorite ideas for kid-friendly lunchbox fare. If you’re interested in the recipes that ran with this story, here they are in printable form:

- Emily Freehling

Chefs at fine restaurants may slip into high-adrenaline mode when they get a hint that an important food critic is headed their way, but at least they get some finality from a published critique.

The school-lunch-packing parent, on the other hand, might not get such clear feedback. He or she might not even know whether a carefully crafted PB&J met its intended fate or ended up tossed in a trash can or traded for some frosted Pop Tarts.

I can’t claim any kind of expertise in this field, because I don’t have kids, but I used to be a kid. And although I’ve got nothing but sincere thanks for the balanced lunches my mother packed me, I did witness my share of bologna-for-Bagel Bites trades in the cafeteria.

So what’s a parent to do?

Ingrid and Scott Mahar are wrestling with that very issue.

The couple, who own Poppy Hill Tuscan Kitchen in downtown Fredericksburg, are gearing up to send their daughter, Ella, off to kindergarten next week.

In the Mahar family, Scott is the whiz in the restaurant kitchen, but school lunches are Ingrid’s territory.

The Mahars admit they’re at a bit of an advantage when it comes to choosing food for their daughter, who has a fairly sophisticated palate, especially for a kid.

But that doesn’t mean they don’t have to obey the cardinal rules of kid lunches.

“School lunches are not the time to experiment,” said Ingrid Mahar. “Stick with what your kids will eat.”

She said she likes to put a new spin on her daughter’s favorite foods. That could be as simple as trading out normal sandwich bread for kid-sized mini-bagels, or, when there’s more time, turning her daughter’s favorite fruits into a tasty dip (see Mahar’s recipe above).

Taste and portability are two important factors to consider when packing kids’ lunches, but so is the time it takes to throw something together on a hectic morning.

Registered dietitian Nancy Farrell said a good way to avoid morning madness is to pack up leftovers from the night before.

A dish like spaghetti and meatballs can add variety to a child’s lunch. It can be put into a thermos for clean and convenient travel.

Both Farrell and Mahar recommend filling the thermos with boiling water, letting it warm up, and then adding the food.

That way, the thermos and its contents stay warmer longer.

Mahar also makes a creamy tomato soup that works nicely in a thermos–that is, until your child reaches the age where it’s no longer socially acceptable to carry lunch in anything more elaborate than a brown paper bag.

Sending your child to school with a cooked lunch can save more than just money.

“A little bit of time spent here is going to save you down the road,” Farrell said. “Perhaps, in time spent in a physician’s office.”

Start the school year with a few new strategies for the daily brown bag, and you might find yourself the subject of acclaim from some pretty tough critics.

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Permalink: http://news.fredericksburg.com/fredericksburgfamilies/2011/08/30/thinking-outside-the-lunch-box/

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