Back to School is such a busy time and today is no exception. Maggie’s Diner is usually closed on Monday. It’s the one day each week that the downtown eatery gives its staff some time off. But on this sun-drenched afternoon, owner Maggie MacGillicutty is making an exception. The lights are on and in just awhile, Maggie will demonstrate how to pack creative, nutritious, school lunches. Some 30 parents and grandparents have signed up for this first-time event.

Maggie didn’t think so many people would be interested. Now, she’s nervous. “Oh fiddlesticks, where did I put that loaf of bread I was going to use?” she mutters under her breath. As she scurries about looking for the rest of the ingredients, her friend Joan shows up.

“Hi ya, Maggie. Do you want some help?“  Maggie greets her with a hug.

“Oh, Joan, am I glad to see you!”

Joan looks around. “What do you need me to do?”

Maggie thinks for a moment. “If you can help me chop up some of the vegetables and slice some of those apples, that would be great.”

Joan reaches for the apron she likes to use on occasions like this. She’s helped Maggie more than a few times. “Sure thing. I can do that.”

The two get to work. In no time flat, everything is ready to go. “Help me roll the big menu board over here, will you?” asks Maggie.

“Absolutely,” answers Joan. “Are you going to use this to write out ideas?”

Maggie finds her black marker pen. “Yep, that’s the plan.”

Just before 2 p.m. people start to arrive. “Take a seat anywhere,” says Maggie. “Hope you’re ready to take notes.”

When the clock on the wall with the big, magnolia blossom image chimes twice, Maggie declares it’s time to begin.

“Hello, everyone. Thank you for coming. Today we want to discover ways to make school lunches for your kids using an approach I call – DNF. That stands for, Delicious, Nutritious and FUN!” Everyone claps and whistles to show they approve.

“Let’s talk about some of the ingredients you’ll want to have on hand,” says Maggie. “Just having whole grain pasta, wraps and bread will go a long way. As Joan will demonstrate, you can take a wrap, spread some cream cheese or nut butter, add some apple slices, maybe a slice of leftover turkey from supper, roll it up and – voila! You have a healthy sandwich that’s not boring at all.”

Joan takes it from there. “Then, if we add some pesto to our cooked pasta, we have a side dish. Or, you can add chicken or tuna, or whatever’s available and make it into the main dish, see?” Joan shows the plate with sandwich and salad to the audience.

Maggie watches for reaction. “Any questions?”

A mom sitting at a far table raises her hand. Maggie point to her. “I try to make sandwiches that I think Tommy will like, but then he doesn’t eat them. What do I do?”

Maggie writes on the board: Picky Eaters

“This can be tough,” Maggie tells the group. “Sometimes if you take your child with you when you shop at Fred’s Grocer, you’ll get a better idea what they like and don’t like. That doesn’t mean you just pick those items, but it will give you a clue.”

Joan chimes in. “And you know how Fred is always running specials? Look for those in The Gazette and plan your menus around those items.”

Maggie writes: Buy foods on Sale; Get Creative with Bread

Maggie agrees. “Good one, Joan. The other thing we like to suggest is get some cookie cutters. Try trimming off the crust of the slice of bread you choose and make shapes like stars or triangles – whatever you can find. Now your creation looks fun. By the way, change up the bread. Instead of white and wheat, try something new like oat, multi-grain or potato.”

Maggie writes: Give It Pizzazz

Joan is assembling another sandwich based on what Maggie is saying. “And see these strips of chicken? Let’s use them. I’ll start with the triangle-shaped bread. Now, instead of mayo, I’ll use yogurt and flavor it with, I dunno, maybe Dijon or honey mustard. And, instead of using lettuce, I might try some of these tomato, avocado or cucumber slices. Do you see how you have options?”

All at once, everyone yells, “YES!”

Maggie is all smiles. “Great. Now, any other questions?”

A father up front asks, “I know potato chips aren’t the healthiest choice. But, my daughter loves them. Is there something else you can suggest?”

Maggie goes to the board and write: Sides and Treats

“Sure. Even baked chips are better than fried. You might also want to try whole-grain snack crackers. They have fiber, or go with cheese sticks ‘cause they add calcium.”

Joan appears with a plate filled with fruit. Some of the grapes, apples and berries are on skewers. “We always recommend fresh fruit whenever possible. And one of the ways you can jazz it up is by putting them on a skewer like a kabob. This works with lunch items as well.”                                       

Maggie wants to ask a question of the group. “How many of you struggle with kids who just want sweets?” Every single hand goes up.

“That’s what I thought. When it comes to adding a treat, think about something that’s tasty and in small amounts. No child needs a half-dozen cookies, right? So, maybe it’s one medium-sized oatmeal cookie instead. Think about a box of raisins or nuts. Maybe try a small granola bar. Even if you splurge on a brownie, just make the portion small.”

Maggie barely gets out that last word when there is a piercing sound ricochets around the room and bounces off the walls. “JOAN!”

All the participants are cupping their hands over their ears to muffle the sound. Their faces are frozen in shock. One man slips from his chair under the table.

Joan lunges towards the alarming contraption and turns it off. “Sorry about that everyone. I forgot to adjust the volume on my timer.”

And with that rousing punctuation, the day’s session comes to an end. The participants leave the diner thanking Maggie and Joan for all the good advice. Joan helps Maggie clean up. Before heading home, the two women decide to stop at Cup ‘O Joes for an iced coffee on this lovely day in the small Southern town of Shady Pines.

For more information on healthy school lunches, go to Off Line Resources HERE