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Tastefully Speaking

With the rise in childhood obesity, providing a healthy and nutritious school lunch is a responsibility that parents should not take lightly. Healthy habits are like building blocks

– they form a strong foundation for later in life.

For growing youngsters, lunch provides the building materials for normal growth as well as energy for the day's activities. Although lunch may not include foods from all the basic food groups, the noonday meal should supply approximately one-third of the nutrients and calories needed for the day.

In other words, there's more to lunch than a PBJ sandwich. To make “brown bag” lunches more interesting consider the following tips:

– Keep school lunches in mind at dinnertime and prepare soups, main dishes and desserts that can be packed for lunch the next day.

– Prepare a larger than usual roast for dinner and slice the leftovers for sandwiches.

– Avoid monotony by adding a surprise such as a brightly colored napkin or a personal note from mom or dad.

– Wash lunch box and thermos the night before and leave in the open air to dry.

– Clean and store vegetables, such as carrot or celery sticks, in a container in the refrigerator. Wash and dry fruit so that it's ready to pack the next morning.

– Bake several batches of cookies (ones that contain healthy ingredients such as nuts and fruit) on the weekend and place them in individual plastic bags for easy weekday packing.

Treat the brown baggers in your family to a trip down memory lane this week with today's tried and true lunchbox favorites from the past: Old-Fashioned Hermits, Apple Oatmeal Cookies, Poppy Seed Orange Cake.

OLD-FASHIONED HERMITS

1/3 c. margarine, softened, 2/3 c. packed brown sugar, 1 egg, beaten lightly, 1/2 tsp. vanilla, 1-1/2 c. flour, 1-1/2 tsp. baking powder, 1/2 tsp. allspice, 1/2 tsp. cinnamon, 1/4 tsp. cloves, 1/4 tsp. nutmeg, 1/4 c. skim milk, 1/2 c. raisins

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Coat baking sheets with cooking spray; set aside. Cream margarine and brown sugar in mixing bowl until light and fluffy. Add egg and vanilla; beat well. In another mixing bowl combine flour, baking powder, allspice, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg; mix well. Add to creamed mixture alternately with milk, beginning and ending with flour mixture; mix well after each addition. Stir in raisins. Drop dough by rounded teaspoonfuls two inches apart on prepared baking sheets. Bake 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown. Cool slightly on baking sheets. Remove to wire racks and cool. Makes 48 cookies.

APPLE OATMEAL COOKIES

1-1/2 c. quick rolled oats, 3/4 c. flour, 3/4 c. whole-wheat flour, 1/2 c. packed brown sugar, 1 tsp. baking powder, 1/4 tsp. baking soda, 1/2 tsp. salt, 1-1/2 tsp. cinnamon, 1/2 c. raisins, 1 c. apple, chopped fine, 1 egg, beaten slightly, 1/2 c. oil, 1/2 c. honey, 1/3 c. milk

Preheat oven to 375 degrees; spray cookie sheets with cooking spray. In medium bowl combine oats, flour, whole wheat flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. Stir to combine. Add raisins and apples. In large bowl combine egg, honey, oil and milk. Stir in dry ingredients. Mix to form a smooth batter. Drop batter onto baking sheets, using a rounded teaspoon of dough for each cookie and leaving two inches between. Dip fingers into water. Press dough down to about 1-1/2 inches in diameter. Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until lightly golden. Remove sheet from oven. Cool on rack. (Check cookies while baking to make sure they are not getting too brown, especially if using a dark colored baking sheet – or to prevent over-browning use insulated cookie sheets.)

POPPY SEED ORANGE CAKE

4 egg whites, 1-2/3 c. flour, 2 tsp. baking powder, 1/4 tsp. salt, 3/4 c. sugar, 1 T. poppy seeds, 1/2 c. oil, 1/2 c. orange juice, 2 tsp. grated orange peel

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat bottom of an 8-1/2 by 4-inch loaf pan with cooking spray; set aside. In small mixing bowl beat egg whites with electric mixer at high speed until stiff peaks form; set aside. Combine flour, baking powder, salt, sugar and poppy seeds in large mixing bowl. Add oil and orange juice; beat with mixer at medium speed until batter is smooth (batter will be thick). Add orange rind and about 1/3 of the egg whites; stir gently. Fold in remaining egg whites; pour batter into prepared pan. Bake 45 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan 10 minutes; remove from pan and cool on wire rack. Serves 16.