The kids are back in school and the rush is on -- music lessons, soccer practice, science projects and book reports. Who has time to cook? Here are some ways to make meals a little easier and more fun.

Make vegetables go down easier

Kids won't eat their vegetables? Parents magazine offers these tips:

* Make buttered pasta shells with frozen peas and corn. The vegetables hide in the shells so they're not so noticeable.

* Grate carrots and mushrooms into marinara sauce.

* Layer spinach into your child's favorite lasagna.

* Add grated zucchini to the meat when making meatballs.

For lunches on the wild side

Add a bit of fun to a party, picnic or the family table with Hefty's Zoo Pals paper plates. The sturdy plates come in 50 animal styles, such as pigs, tigers, frogs and fish. A package of 24 sells for a suggested retail price of $2.49. They are available at supermarkets, drugstores and other retailers.

Bagels for kids

If you're looking for something new to pack in your kids' lunch boxes, try Funny Bagels. The meal kits are designed for kids ages 6 to 12 and come in 15 varieties, including pizza, turkey breast, peanut butter and jelly, and ham and cheese. Each meal includes side dishes, such as yogurt or chips, and drinks. The meals are available in local supermarkets for suggested retail prices ranging from $2.49 to $2.99.

Bread and pasta in easy combo

Almost every kid likes bread and pasta. Kraft has found a new way to combine these favorites with its Digiorno Bread Bakes. The dinners come in five varieties and feature Italian dishes baked on a thick, soft bread. Although they are not quick -- they take about an hour to prepare -- they are easy.

We tried the Chicken Alfredo, which featured a flavorful cheese sauce and tasty bread, although the meat and vegetables were a bit skimpy.

Each pie contains about six slices and sells for $7.79. Available in grocery frozen-food sections.

It's all in the wrapping

You can make those bag lunches more appetizing with a bit of creativity. Weight Watchers International suggests wrapping foods in bright-colored plastic, adding notes and treats to lunches so the kids know you're thinking of them, decorating brown bags with stickers and getting the kids to help make lunches they will like.

Bagging photos that children love

Kids can remember those they love when they open Tupperware's new Picture Perfect lunch bags. The bags come with a space that holds a 4-inch-by-6-inch photo or note. They are available in two color combinations and retail for $19.99. To order, call 888-919-8099 or visit www.tupperware. com.


* Chef Jerry Pellegrino will prepare a five-course tasting dinner featuring Maryland food and wines at 7 p.m. tomorrow at Corks Restaurant in Baltimore. Price is $62 for members of the American Institute of Wine and Food, $74 for nonmembers. For information, call 410-244-0044.

* Learn how to prepare a late-harvest dinner at 6 p.m. Sept. 18 at Donna's Cafe in Cross Keys. Cost is $45. Call 410-659-5248, Ext. 112, for reservations.

* Discover the history of tea from noon to 1 p.m. Sept. 18 at the William Paca House and Garden, 186 Prince George St. in Annapolis. For reservations, call 410-267-7619, Ext. 8146.

* Find out how vintage can affect the quality of wine with a tasting of Ridge Petite Sirah at 6 p.m. tomorrow at Bin 604, 604 S. Exeter St. Cost is $50 per person, and advance tickets are required. Call 410-576-0444.

The Dish welcomes food news and notes. Send to The Dish, Attn.: Liz Atwood, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, MD 21278; fax to 410-783-2519; e-mail

6. For lunches on the wild side

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