Kid favorites with a twist for back-to-school lunches

Give hot dogs, pizza new life with these recipes

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I've been back in the lunch-making game for a little over a week, and I'm already feeling my inspiration dry up like leftover ketchup in a Bento box sent home at the end of the day.

I'm one of the lucky ones — or perhaps, unlucky if you look at my weekly grocery bill — my 4-year-old son seems to be in a constant growth spurt, eating most of the lunch I cram together the night before preschool. He usually makes it through the day on sandwiches — peanut butter and jelly or bologna are kid-approved staples for when I really don't feel like putting in effort — and any sliced fruit. Often, the only thing left over in the box are the vegetables I send in a last-ditch effort to appease that nagging voice of our pediatrician in my head asking what's my son's daily serving of vegetables — but really, does ketchup count? Because then, we're golden.     

The United States Department of Agriculture recommends that children eat a variety of vegetables, fruits, protein, grains and dairy at every meal, with vegetables and fruit taking up half of the plate. All parents know, that can be easier said than served. What I have found that works for me is good old-fashioned trickery. For lunch, when I'm not there to make sure my son eats his vegetables before ripping into the fruit or small snack pack of gummies, I resort to finding creative ways to hide vegetables, or at least, dress them up.

Before you roll your eyes at me and say, "Not my kid!" know that every child is different. This is what works for me: I find things I know my son loves to eat and then slowly slide in the good stuff.

Despite everything I vowed before I became a mother (aren't we all so smart and sure before we have children ...?) my son loves pizza and hot dogs. So for fun lunch, I've found two creative ways to serve up these staple kid foods, but with a twist that allows the hiding of some vegetables, if need be.

MINI CORN DOG MUFFINS

Makes 24 mini muffins

Ingredients:

1 box of favorite cornbread mix made according to directions

6 hot dogs, cut into 1-inch bites

1/2 cup of fresh corn off the cob or frozen corn

Directions:

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Preheat oven to 375 F. Mix cornbread according to box instructions, then add in fresh corn and mix. Generously grease mini muffin pans with cooking spray (these muffins can be difficult to get out of the pan!). Spoon 1 tablespoon of the batter into each mini-muffin cup. Place one hot dog bite into the middle of each cup. Be sure not to overfill your muffin cups as this will cause the muffins to overflow. Bake for 10-12 minutes, until golden brown. Cool for 5 minutes before serving. Store leftovers in the refrigerator then reheat for 20-30 seconds before serving.

Note: Once your child starts eating and liking these, make the switch from traditional hot dogs to turkey dogs or chicken sausage and see if they notice.

PIZZA ROLLS

Makes 12 rolls

Ingredients:

1 pizza dough, store-bought or homemade

1 cup of pizza sauce

1 cup of shredded mozzarella cheese

Toppings: pepperoni, cooked sausage, chopped spinach, sliced peppers or tomatoes

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400 F. Grease a 12-cup muffin tin. Roll out pizza dough into flat rectangle. Spread sauce over dough, leaving an inch to an inch-and-a-half around the edges without sauce. Spread cheese and desired toppings evenly over the sauce. Starting from the side closest to your body, slowly roll the dough into a long log. Once rolled, tuck dough under itself to keep sauce from leaking out. Cut 2-inch slices of the log and place each round into a muffin cup, spiral facing up. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes until golden brown. Serve with sauce for dipping.

Note: Spinach, sliced thinly, is a great vegetable to hide in this recipe. It blends in with the sauce in look and taste. Just call it "herbs" if your little eater asks "What's the green stuff?"


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