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Lifestyle

You're not dreaming. Healthy school lunches your kids can make.

Amid all of the shopping and scheduling that marks back-to-school season, packing a variety of children's lunches can seem daunting. But what if your children helped assemble their own lunches?

That's something even young children can do, Allie Foyerlicht, owner of Young Chefs Academy in Fresno, Calif. Her students, typically ages 3-13, learn how to make foods such as pita bread from scratch, energy bars, baklava and more. This summer, they even did a session with portable meals. Many of these foods work well for school lunch.

"That's the secret to healthy lunches. It's planning," Foyerlicht says.

Three children in the Silva-Costa family of Clovis, Calif., recently demonstrated how to assemble lunches.

Nine-year-old Harrison scooped jam thumbprint cookies, as well as a snack of baked, spiced chickpeas, into plastic bags.

His sister, 6-year-old Kennedy, rolled tortillas around sliced tomatoes, turkey, spinach, bean spread and cheese.

And 4-year-old Britton used a melon baller on a cantaloupe.

They had some help from Foyerlicht. She used the food processor to make the bean spread, and she transferred the chickpeas and cookies to and from the oven. But the kids did the rest - slicing tomatoes with a special plastic knife, stirring together a raspberry dressing for the cantaloupe, shaping the cookies and more.

It may sound like a lot of work, but each of these dishes can be made the day before. Tortillas, in particular, are great for sandwiches. Unlike bread, they won't get soggy, Foyerlicht says.

Cooking this way also lets children experiment according to their tastes. Harrison chose a turkey wrap without tomatoes, and he wouldn't touch the cantaloupe. "I like everything but cantaloupe and raw tomatoes, he says.

But he happily ate the chickpeas. "I like them because they're seasoned," he says.

This year, the children will be home-schooled, but they'll still eat meals on the go, Harrison says. They'll tote lunches to dance class, and he'll sometimes being dinner to football practice.

In addition to these ideas from the Young Chef's Academy, the children say they like carrot sticks with ranch dip, leftover pizza, raisins and peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches - all foods they can help assemble.

No matter what they eat, the food containers are just as important as the lunches themselves. A sandwich on bread can look great in the kitchen. But packed in a plastic bag and a soft tote, it can look less than appealing by the time it gets to school.

"Kennedy doesn't like it when the sandwich is smushed," says the children's mother, Darrylynn Silva-Costa.

The family has its preferences when it comes to lunch boxes and food containers. Darrylynn Silva-Costa likes two-part containers that store cold milk on the bottom and dry cereal on top. They also work well for parfaits of yogurt and granola, she says. One brand is the EZ-Freeze Cereal on the Go.

She also was interested in the Thermos Food Jar, which keeps food cold or hot for hours and was easy enough for Britton to open.

Harrison liked a lunch box with compartments that keep different foods separate. One brand is the Arctic Zone insulated lunch pack. The bottom compartment comes with a Tupperware-like container. There's a taller, top compartment that can hold a sandwich or another container.

Kennedy and Britton liked a different lunch box. A small Igloo Playmate Gripper (the 9-can cooler) has a large bottom compartment and another space on top that's perfect for a water bottle.

No matter what type of lunch box you buy, you'll want to ensure that it keeps food at safe temperatures.

"We do recommend the ones for cooling just because of health department reasons," Foyerlicht says. Small ice packs also can do the trick.

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JAMMIN COOKIES

Makes 2 dozen cookies

3/4 cup old-fashioned oatmeal

1 1/2 cups whole-wheat flour

1/4 cup, plus 1 teaspoon canola oil

1/2 cup maple syrup

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/8 teaspoon almond extract

1 egg, lightly beaten

2 tablespoons raspberry jam

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat cookie sheet with cooking spray.

Place the oatmeal into food processor bowl and pulse until you have oatmeal flour.

Mix together in a medium bowl: oatmeal flour, whole-wheat flour, oil, syrup, extracts and egg.

Roll the dough into 1 inch balls and place on cookie sheet. Gently flatten cookie dough and make a thumb imprint in the center of each cookie. Fill each indention with 1/4-1/2 teaspoon jam.

Bake for 18-20 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool on wire racks.

-- Young Chefs Academy

COOL TURKEY WRAPS

Makes 4 servings

1 can (15 ounces) white beans (such as navy or cannellini), rinsed and drained

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 teaspoons lemon juice

1 small garlic clove

1 teaspoon fresh thyme

Pinch salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

4 large (10-12 inch) flour tortillas

1/2 pound thinly sliced deli turkey

1 large tomato, thinly sliced

1/4 medium red onion, thinly sliced (optional)

4 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, shredded

1 cup baby spinach leaves

Combine beans, oil, lemon juice, garlic, thyme, salt and pepper in the bowl of a food processor. Puree until smooth.

Spread about 1/4 cup bean spread on one side of each tortilla leaving a 1-inch border around the edge. Arrange 2 ounces turkey down the center of each tortilla. Layer with 2-3 slices tomato, 1-2 slices onion, 1 tablespoon cheese and 1/4 cup spinach.

Starting at one end, tightly roll each tortilla and place, seam side down, on a serving plate. Cut crosswise in half and serve.

-- Young Chefs Academy

CHICKPEAS TO GO

Makes about 1 3/4 cups

1 (16-ounce) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained

2 teaspoons lemon-pepper seasoning

3/4 teaspoon Cajun or Creole seasoning

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Coat baking sheet with cooking spray.

Lightly pat chickpeas with a paper towel to absorb excess moisture.

In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients and toss to coat. Transfer to baking sheet and bake for 25 minutes, shaking the pan every 5 minutes to promote even cooking.

Remove pan from the oven, coat chickpeas with cooking spray and bake until chickpeas are golden brown, about 10 minutes more. Remove from oven, spread out on paper towels to cool. Makes about 1 3/4 cups.

Variation: For a sweet version, use 2 tablespoons sugar, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg. Reduce cooking time to 20 minutes.

-- Young Chefs Academy

CANTALOUPE WITH RASPBERRY DRESSING

Makes 4 servings

1 cantaloupe, seeded

1/4 cup raspberry wine vinegar (see note)

1 1/2 tablespoons honey

1 teaspoon poppy seeds

Cut the cantaloupe into quarters, or use a melon baller to scoop out cantaloupe balls. Set aside.

Whisk together vinegar, honey and poppy seeds, stirring well. Drizzle evenly over cantaloupe.

Note: If you are unable to find raspberry wine vinegar, use 1/4 cup white-wine vinegar with 1 teaspoon seedless raspberry jam.

-- Young Chefs Academy

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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