Around the table: Pack a lunch with healthy treats

Everyone knows that taking your own lunch to work or school is not only more economical, but an opportunity to pack food that is loaded with ingredients to sustain energy for the rest of the day. This is National School Lunch Week, originally intended to promote healthier choices in school cafeterias, but also a reminder that if your keikis don’t like some of the school’s lunch offerings, you may be packing the lunch some days.

Is your repertoire limited to PB&J sandwiches, cold leftover pizza, or fatty Lunchables? Does that bunch of grapes or small apple or any vegetable you send in the lunchbox make a roundtrip back to your kitchen? Even after considering individual likes and dislikes, your choices for lunch boxes and bags might benefit from these tips:

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First, keep it simple. As a general rule, unless you experiment with exotic flavors at dinner time, kids are purists who want everything separate, with no discernable seasoning. Second, small bites are best. Try finger-size veggies, a few strawberries or blueberries, a slender cheese stick. Those tiny pizza bagels are handy, but homemade or leftover pizza can be cut into small bites at a better price and usually better ingredients.

Third, pack a variety of items in small quantities. The odds will be better that at least one or two will be acceptable cuisine for that day. You’re bound to cover more nutritional ground, too. Dried fruits (especially apricots and raisins) provide iron; nuts like almonds or cashews pack protein and energy; fruits in season (berries, orange slices, small apples) offer vitamins and fiber.

Here are a few nutrition-packed and packable items disguised as “treats” for school or work. All can be made in advance.

Carrot Bread

It’s like carrot cake in a slice, but with extra iron and fiber. Pack a wedge of cheese on the side and leave the guilt at home. Recipe from “Pure &Simple” by Marian Burros; makes 2 loaves, which freeze well.

4 eggs

3/4 cup honey

1/2 cup unsulfured molasses

1-1/4 cups salad oil

2-1/2 cups whole wheat flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon each: ground cloves, ground nutmeg

2 teaspoons grated orange peel

2 cups grated carrots

In a large bowl, beat eggs, then add gradually add honey and molasses; beat until thoroughly mixed. Slowly add oil; continue beating until well mixed. Stir in flour, baking powder and soda, salt, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and orange peel. Blend until mixture is smooth, then stir in carrots. Pour batter into 2 greased 9×5-inch loaf pans; bake in preheated 350 degree oven for 30 minutes. Reduce oven to 300 degrees. and bake about 20 minutes longer. A toothpick inserted in center should come out clean. Cool loaves in pans for 10 minutes; then remove loaves to wire racks to cool completely. Wrap in foil and store overnight before serving, or freeze.

Coconut Crunch Cookies

When you want a flourless treat, these easy, cereal-packed cookies can serve as a lunchtime dessert or breakfast on the run. Recipe from “This for That” by Meryl Nelson.

2 egg whites

1 cup brown sugar

1 cup flaked coconut

2 cups corn flakes

1/2cup chopped nuts

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a bowl, beat egg whites until stiff. Add brown sugar; beat well. Stir in remaining ingredients. Drop teaspoons of batter onto well-greased cookie sheets. Bake 15 to 20 minutes and let cool before removing from cookie sheets. Store in air tight container.

Apricot Nut Squares

From the Kona Outdoor Circle’s “Kona Kitchens Cookbook” comes this packed-full-of-energy treat. Makes 3 dozen.

1 (4 oz.) package pitted dates

1 (4 oz.) package apricots

½ pound (2 sticks) butter

1 pound dark brown sugar

4 eggs

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup nuts, chopped

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Powdered sugar (optional)

Cut dates into bite-size pieces. Boil apricots for 5 to 10 minutes. When cooled, cut them into bite-size pieces and mix with dates. Melt butter; add brown sugar and cool. Add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Add combined and sifted dry ingredients; beat well. Add vanilla and nuts; stir. Pour batter into well-greased jellyroll pan. Place cut fruit on top of batter, covering entirely. Bake in preheated 350 degree oven for 30 minutes. Cut into squares while still warm. Store in airtight container after completely cooled.