Packing back to school lunches is taking on a new twist this year. Because of the pandemic, some parents will send their children to Shady Pines Elementary, others will not. Either way, parents will need ideas on how to make lunches their kids will eat. And that makes them think of Maggie’s Diner.

The old fashioned diner is on Main Street in Shady Pines and is usually closed on Monday. But today, owner Maggie MacGillicutty is doing something new.

In just a little while Maggie will demonstrate how to put together creative, nutritious, school lunches for those brown bagging it, and others staying at home. Some 20 parents and grandparents have signed up for this first-time event.

“I’ve got to push these tables and chair six feet apart,” she mutters to herself. “Oh fiddlesticks, where did I put that loaf of bread I want to use?” As Maggie scurries about looking for the rest of the ingredients she’ll need, her friend Joan shows up.

“Hi ya, Maggie. Do you want some help?“

“Oh, Joan, am I glad to see you!”

Joan looks around. “What can I do?”

Maggie thinks for a moment. “If you will 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. Easy-Peasy.”

The two get to work. In no time flat, everything is ready to go. “Help me drag 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.”

Maggie writes on the Menu Board: DNF

Just before 2 p.m. people start to arrive. “Take a seat anywhere,” says Maggie. “Thank you for wearing masks. Feel free 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. Today we want to discover ways to make 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. And, you can add chicken or tuna, or whatever’s available and make it into a salad on the side for those of you cooking at home, see?” Joan shows the salad to the audience.

“Here’s a single serving of pasta salad.”

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 Shady Pines Gazette newspaper 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 a piercing sound ricochets around the room and bounces off the walls. “JOAN!”

Everyone cups 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 very noisy interruption, the day’s session comes to an end. One by one, the parents and grandparents 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.