Back to School: Tips on encouraging kids to make their own lunches

I recently republished a column I wrote in 2009 about why my mom and dad did not make our school lunches when we were kids. If you’re making that transition in your family, here are some tips to help you get started.

School lunches don’t have to be a pain to pack, which is why children should be involved in the process. Contributed by Shefaly Ravula.
  • Don’t dump the lunch duty on kids on the morning of the first day of school. Talk with them a few days or a week ahead of time to prepare everyone for the change. Practice making a few lunches before school actually starts.
  • Be patient with them and show them how to do the various lunch tasks. Kids can get frustrated easily if they don’t know how to do something, but parents also avoid frustration themselves by just doing it for them. Remember: Give the kid a lunch; they’ll eat for a day. Teach them how to make their own lunch; they’ll eat for a lifetime.
  • Avoid rushed mornings by packing lunch the night before. Get creative with a Thermos. It’s great for soup, but you can also keep smoothies cool or things like chicken nuggets relatively warm.
  • Look over the school’s lunch menu and pick out a few days each month to eat the cafeteria lunch. It will give your kid a break from lunch-making duties and might encourage them to eat the school’s lunch more often.
  • Some quick, easy-to-pack foods include dried fruit, cheese, crackers, lunch meat, rice cakes, yogurt, applesauce, cottage cheese and fruit, such as apples, oranges, nectarines, plums and bananas. Use a reusable container to pack them, if you can.
  • Grains such as couscous and quinoa, which can be eaten at room temperature, are a blank palette for vegetables, nuts, herbs or anything your kids like. You could make a grain salad for dinner and plan to have the kids take leftovers to school the next day.
  • Now that school lunches are significantly better than they were when I was a kid, I would definitely recommend eating school lunch on the days that the menu item sounds appealing, even if the kids are hesitant at first.

BACK TO SCHOOL: Plan ahead for tax-free weekend, make sure your vaccinations are up to date

Break out of the sandwich rut

Here are some alternatives to peanut butter and jelly from chef and cookbook author Ann Cooper, founder of the “School Lunch Revolution” campaign:

If your kids like Italian sandwiches, this one packs well in picnics and lunchboxes. Contributed by Natasha Milne
  • Cashew or almond butter and honey on 12-grain bread.
  • Add dried cranberries and walnuts to chicken salad.
  • Stuff a salad in a pita (keep the dressing on the side if it’s going in a lunch box).
  • Turkey, cranberry sauce and a thin layer of mashed sweet potatoes or leftover stuffing.
  • Grilled vegetables with goat cheese on toasted whole-grain bread.
  • Grilled portobello with melted Swiss cheese, avocado and honey mustard.
  • Instead of the standard mayonnaise or mustard, use pepper jellies on ham, turkey and chicken sandwiches.
  • Skip the bread and use lettuce leaves as sandwich wrappers.
  • How about a fruit sandwich? Put slices of your favorite fruits between thin slices of banana bread.
  • Sit down with your kids and ask them to brainstorm sandwich ideas with you. You might be surprised by the combinations they come up with.

Ask Addie: What’s up with this vegan garlic spread that everyone is loving?

When a reader enthusiastically emails you about a product she loves, including an offer to drop off samples, it’s hard to say no.

Majestic Garlic is the name of a powerful garlic spread similar to toum, a traditional dip from Lebanon. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

Austinite Susan Sneller isn’t affiliated with Majestic Garlic, a light garlic spread out of California that is only sold locally at Wheatsville.

What was her motivation for reaching out to the local newspaper? “I’m hoping you’ll create a wave of demand that will shake up grocery stores so they’ll stock it,” she wrote.

Sneller told me that she uses the airy spread as a dip or a marinade or with meat, fish, potatoes and other vegetables. She even puts a little of it in  ramen noodles. “It’s very versatile and doesn’t have an unhealthy ingredient in its carton.”

A few days later, she and her son arrived at the Statesman to share three tubs of this surprisingly spicy and intensely flavored spread. We ate it on crackers, and I can see how it would give indigestion to people who aren’t keen on the taste of raw garlic.

Toum is the name of a Lebanese and Mediterranean garlic spread that contains oil, garlic and lemon juice. Contributed by Charles Haynes via Creative Commons.

It turns out that Majestic Garlic is a commercial version of toum, a Lebanese garlic spread that is similar to aioli, but without an egg yolk. (Austin360Cooks contributor Paul Czarkowski mixes the garlic spread with harissa to make a marinade for chicken.) After digging around, I found out that Trader Joe’s makes a version of it, and that you can make it at home if you have a food processor or high-powered blender.

You can find plenty of recipes on the web, but if you want to watch someone expertly drizzle the oil into the garlic, watch this YouTube video from Kamal Al-Faqih, who demonstrated the dip on his YouTube channel.

RELATED: Flautas, miso-rubbed pork and more quick recipes to get dinner on the table in a snap

Majestic Garlic is made with organic raw garlic and cold-milled flaxseed, as well as safflower oil, sea salt and lemon juice. According to the website: “Majestic Garlic stands alone as a delicious, versatile and nutritious condiment, adding incredible flavor to the most simple of dishes, while harnessing the many health benefits of garlic.”

If you want to find Majestic Garlic’s toum, head over to Wheatsville, which is the only place to find it locally. (Sneller says the company will ship the product to Texas when the weather isn’t so hot. They also make Majestic Hummus, a raw and sprouted hummus made with raw garbanzo beans.)

Majestic Garlic sells cayenne and basil garlic spreads, but here is how to make a version of plain toum at home.

Lebanese Toum

You can find a version of this creamy garlic spread in Kamal Al-Faqih’s 2009 book, “Classic Lebanese Cuisine: 170 Fresh And Healthy Mediterranean Favorites.” Feel free to cut the recipe in half, but make sure you drizzle the oil slowly into the garlic and that the equipment and ingredients is totally dry from water. Here’s a little more about the emulsification and why toum is a little different than aioli. Use this spread to flavor meats, including chicken, or to spread on grilled or broiled bread.

1 cup garlic, peeled
4 cups canola oil
1/2 cup lemon juice, divided

Place the garlic in a food processor or high-powered blender. Pulse the garlic to finely chop and then start to drizzle the oil slowly, using a thread-like stream. After every 1/2 cup of oil, add about 2 teaspoons of lemon juice, alternating until both are used. It will take several minutes to fully add the oil, and the slower you add it, the better chance that the sauce won’t break.

— Adapted from a recipe in “Classic Lebanese Cuisine: 170 Fresh And Healthy Mediterranean Favorites” by Kamal Al-Faqih

 

Ask Addie: How do I cut recipes in half without changing the taste, texture?

Note: This post is part of an occasional Q&A series called Ask Addie. Have a question about food or cooking? Email me at abroyles@statesman.com.

Japanese smoked salmon with rice and avocado from “Mug Meals: Delicious Microwave Recipes” by Dina Cheney. Photo by Andrew Purcell.

I’ve enjoyed your columns for the last three years. I started reading your column when my wife died and I had to start cooking for myself. I usually pick the recipes that sound good, have minimal exotic ingredients, not too many steps and can be cut in half without affecting the results.

That brings up two things. Item one: It seems that when you cut down a recipe, in half or thirds, the taste changes. It just isn’t as good unless you cook the whole recipe, but then you have three or four days of soggy microwaved leftovers that are worse than if you had cut the recipe down. Are there some rules of thumb to follow that will make a cut-down recipe taste like the full batch?

Item two: When you cut a recipe down, the volume of the batch goes down and the depth of the mix in the pan is reduced. This creates a problem with cooking time and temperature and makes a cake look like a cookie. So I have tried to find smaller pans that keep the mix to approximately the same depth. For example, when a recipe calls for a 9-inch-by-12-inch dish, a 6-inch-by-8-inch would do the trick for half the batch. But I have yet to find a 6-inch-by-8-inch dish. Can you tell me where I can find small “cooking for one”-sized dishes?

Thanks,
David Kite

Freezing leftovers is one way to avoid the boredom of repeating meals in the same week. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

My condolences on your wife’s passing, David. For more than the recipes, I’d recommend “The Pleasures of Cooking for One” by the late Judith Jones, who wrote about cooking by herself after her husband’s death.

The logistics of cooking for one can be tricky, but here are some thoughts to help find the right recipes and tools for the job.

  • Cooking ingredients individually and then remixing them is one way to reduce food waste and boredom. Cooking one cup of rice or quinoa can yield enough rice for a savory dish dish, a salad and a wrap, saving you cooking time on three different meals.
  • Cut whatever protein you’re using in half, and season each portion with a different spice or marinade. This means you can turn one large chicken breast, piece of salmon or block of tofu into two meals, perhaps a lemon pepper pasta one night and fajita-spiced tacos the next.
  • Smaller pans, which are available at restaurant supply stores, such as ACE, and international markets like MT Market, will help when baking, roasting and braising smaller portions of food because they will more accurately cook the food, from a frittata to a pot roast, as intended in the recipe. In most cases, a smaller saucepan, skillet, roasting tray or baking pan will cook the food a little faster, too, so keep an eye on the heat.
  • When looking for recipes, keep an eye out for dishes that serve two and no more than four. Don’t try to scale down batches larger than that. The larger the batch, the harder it is to recreate the same flavor in a smaller portion, especially when measurements are in tablespoons, teaspoons and cups.
  • Some foods, chili or pozole, for instance, simply can’t be made well in smaller batches. If you don’t mind the texture of leftovers but just don’t like to eat the same foods in a week, freeze the leftovers in portions, which are easy to reheat in the future.
Softly set raspberry cheesecake from “Mug Cakes” by Joanna Farrow. Photo by Lis Parsons.

RELATED: How to microwave dinner or even cheesecake in a mug

There’s a whole subculture of mug food, which is aimed at people who want to make single-serve meals using a mug and a microwave. We ran a recipe for a raspberry cheesecake a few years ago, and Duncan Hines is now selling single-serve mug cake packages at the grocery store.

Sarah Kerekes Watkins, an Austin-based recipe developer who spends a lot of time scaling recipes as a corporate chef, says that using smaller cooking vessels will help, but so will using a kitchen scale. “Do everything by weight, if possible,” she says. “Once you have ingredient weights, you can derive ingredient percentages and make scaled batches according to your total desired yield.”

RELATED: Why small-batch baking is my new favorite cooking trend

If halving a recipe is still too much food, find another recipe or adjust the proportions intuitively as you prepare the meal, cutting back on liquid or seasoning to accommodate the cooking method and ingredients. In general, if your problem is flavors that are too intense or the textures are off, cut back on the spices and use less-pungent or faster-cooking ingredients, such as shallots instead of onion or a sweet potato instead of a large butternut squash.

 

Ask Addie: How long can I leave groceries in the car on a hot day?

Austin traffic plus hot afternoons plus a car full of groceries is a situation that many of us find ourselves troubleshooting during the summer months.

How long can you leave groceries in the car? It depends what’s in the bags, but for perishables, no more than an hour on a really hot day. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

I reached out to the H-E-B Curbside team to find out how they answer questions like:

  • If I stop for groceries on the way to pick up the kids, do I have enough time to go by the library before the ice cream melts or the lunch meat spoils?
  • Raw chicken breasts are on sale at a store near where I work in Austin, but I live in Kyle. Do I need an insulated bag to make it home with them safely?
  • Should I store bottles of wine in the backseat, where they might be exposed to the sun, or in the trunk, where the temperatures might be higher?

RELATED: Ask Addie: Is it safe to bake a casserole and drive it to Fort Worth?

Ask Addie: What’s the word on salted versus unsalted butter?

Bacteria love warmth, moisture and nutrients, and a hot car with bags of groceries provides just that. Foods that require refrigeration are the top priority for keeping cool. Frozen foods are a concern, too, but you have less time with refrigerated meats and fresh produce, which can harbor the rapid growth of dangerous bacteria if you’re not careful.

When sacking your groceries, make sure to store the perishable foods together, as well as the meats and frozen foods in their own respective bags. MARLON SORTO / AHORA SI

According to food safety experts at H-E-B, perishable food can stay safely unrefrigerated for two hours if the air temperature is under 90 degrees and only for one hour if the temperature is 90 degrees or higher. This is true for foods transported in a car or bag or when you’re having a picnic or a barbecue outside.

You don’t need to worry about shelf-stable foods unless they have an element that could melt in the heat, such as chocolate chips in granola bars or trail mix, but you do need to take extra care with meat, deli, dairy, fresh fruit, frozen foods and prepared dishes, including rotisserie chicken, pasta salad or ready-to-bake pizzas. Treat restaurant leftovers with care, too, keeping them refrigerated and not in a warm car for more than 30 minutes or an hour at most.

Here are some other tips to keep in mind:

  • Try to plan your trips so that you are going straight home from the store. If you have to make another stop, keep it at less than 15 minutes so your total time en route isn’t more than 30 minutes or, at most, an hour.
  • Be aware of the type of food you’re buying, and adjust accordingly if you have errands to run. Stop at the cleaners or for coffee before grocery shopping, not afterward when your groceries will be baking in the car.
  • If you have to stop somewhere, park in the shade or keep groceries out of direct sunlight. Wine should never be exposed to direct sunlight, so make sure the bottles or bags with other perishables are covered with a towel or other form of shade.
  • When buying foods that melt quickly, such as ice cream, consider putting the bag or food in a cooler with ice packs.
  • Don’t leave your cooler in the car, however, because it will hold and release heat, even with cold gel packs in the bottom. You could buy a bag of ice to put in the cooler if you have an extra-long trip ahead of you. Insulated bags are the next best thing to coolers, and they don’t hold as much heat if left in your car before shopping.
  • If you’re helping to bag your own groceries, keep in mind what the grocery store employees are already trained to do: Store like foods together. Perishable foods belong in a bag with other perishable foods so they help keep each other cool on the way home. Keep meats and frozen foods in their own respective bags.
  • Put groceries away as soon as you get home. After 45 minutes in the car, another 30 minutes on the counter won’t do your perishables any favors. They might not make you sick, but some foods, such as milk, might expire more quickly if not handled properly.

Ask Addie: If we aren’t supposed to eat romaine lettuce, why is it on grocery store shelves?

That’s a question I’ve received from a few of you this week, as both the Centers for Disease Control and Consumer Reports warn consumers not to eat heads, hearts and bags of romaine lettuce while investigators try to find the exact source of a recent E. coli outbreak that has sickened dozens.

H-E-B has said that it is not sourcing lettuce from Arizona right now, but there aren’t any signs in the store with more specific information. You can still buy bags of romaine lettuce in most stores. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

Even though none of the reported illnesses have been in Texas, many grocery stores are continuing to sell lettuce. Some companies, including H-E-B, have stated that they do not source from the Yuma, Arizona area, but during a stop by a store today, you could find plenty of products with the dubious “Product of USA” or “Grown in USA” label or signage.

Much of the lettuce sold at H-E-B carries a “Grown in USA” or “Product of USA” label, but that’s not specific enough to assuage watchdog agencies, including Consumer Reports. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

According to the two biggest public health watchdogs, you’re not supposed to be buying and eating lettuce unless it specifically is not grown in Arizona. So, that means you can still eat and buy romaine lettuce, but you need to be careful about how you source it. Here are three ways to following the guidelines and still eat your salad:

  1. Buy from a local farmer. Central Texas farmers are not involved in the outbreak, as Johnson’s Backyard Garden pointed out in an Instagram post this week.

    This brand of romaine lettuce is grown in California, which is not an area of the country currently affected by the romaine lettuce warning. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman
  2. Seek out lettuce from another area of the country than Arizona. If the only lettuce options include a vague mention of “Grown in USA,” skip it, at least for now.

    Now is the time to real labels. This brand of lettuce is grown in California, so it should be OK to eat under the current CDC and Consumer Reports guidelines. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman
  3. Buy a different kind of lettuce. Romaine lettuce is the product currently only scrutiny. Other kinds of lettuce, including butter head and iceberg, are OK to eat.

 

 

Ask Addie: I’m mad. Why wasn’t Randalls or Walmart in your rotisserie chicken taste test?

A few weeks ago, I hosted a rotisserie chicken taste test that Fiesta won, hands down.

We tasted six chickens from local stores, but we missed several, including Randalls and Walmart. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

In this week’s food section, we published that story, with a little more information about how these ready-to-eat chickens became so popular and why they are cheaper than an uncooked whole chicken.

On Wednesday morning, my inbox and voicemail at work started to blow up.

Here’s a sampling:

I just read your article on rotisserie chicken. Is there any reason you omitted Randalls?  I feel that most articles lean toward HEB, Central Market and Whole Foods. Just wanted to express that there are other stores in Central Texas.

And another:

Read with interest your article on tastiest chickens this morning. So sorry you did not include Randall’s in your appearance, price, and taste test. They are the best ones  and we have tried all the others except Fiesta. A couple of undercooked chickens from Central Market. We enjoy the Randall’s chicken’s on a weekly basis.

There was this voicemail that implied I have it out for Sam Walton:

I just read your article that you wrote about rotisserie chicken. It’s funny that I’ve eaten every one that you bought, but the best one in town is at Sam’s and you didn’t even bother to include it. You didn’t include Walmart either. Is that because you have a problem with Walmart and Sam’s? It’s just not right.

Rotisserie chickens have been a grocery store staple for nearly 30 years. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

RELATED: Which Austin grocery store makes the tastiest rotisserie chicken?

I love hearing from readers, even if they don’t like what they see in the food section, but I thought I’d address this question with a follow-up to explain what I’ve been telling each of these readers: I don’t have it out for Randalls, Sam’s Club and Walmart. I also missed Trader Joe’s and Wheatsville. I don’t think Aldi and Natural Grocers carry rotisserie chickens, but you can start to see where I’m going: There are a lot of stores in Austin, so many that it’s hard to get to them all in one day.

It took two hours to buy five of the chickens that we tested, and one of them came from a co-worker who has a Costco membership. I shop frequently enough at the Walmart near my house to know that it’s not a place where people pop in to buy a rotisserie chicken on the way home from work. I don’t have a Sam’s Club membership, but not because I have it out for Mr. Walton. I just don’t buy enough bulk items to require a club membership anywhere.

(To further persuade you that I don’t hate Walmart: I am a huge fan of Crystal Bridges museum in Bentonville, Ark., whose admission is always free, thanks to Walmart. We’ve been nearly half a dozen times since it opened in 2011.)

Whole Foods sells regular and organic rotisserie chickens in several flavors. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

However, I do wish I’d stopped by Randalls when I was at Central Market on Westgate on the day of the taste test. That reader is right: I don’t cover Randalls enough. I do tend to lean toward HEB, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Sprouts and the other stores in my coverage. I try to get to Randalls now and then, but they aren’t leaders in grocery innovation, they don’t carry many local food products and they aren’t rolling out new house brand products in response to the food trends that I cover, so shopping there doesn’t yield very many story ideas.

On a personal note, I find the prices higher at Randalls than other grocery stores, so I’m less inclined to do my own shopping there, but I will try to make more professional visits, including to try the rotisserie chicken that another caller swears is the best.

What other chickens did I miss? Have you tried the Fiesta chicken see we broadcast our taste test? I’ve love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

 

Ask Addie: Is it safe to bake a casserole and drive it to Fort Worth?

A reader called this morning with a very important Thanksgiving question:

Can I bake a sweet potato casserole and drive it three hours to my daughter’s Thanksgiving in Fort Worth?

Sweet potato casserole — with or without marshmallows — is a popular Thanksgiving dish, but can you drive it to Fort Worth (or Houston or San Antonio)? Depends on how you transport it and how long you’ll be in the car. RALPH BARRERA / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Michael Brown’s daughter had specifically requested that he make the family’s beloved sweet potato casserole, but he was understandably concerned about the food safety of a warm casserole sitting in his car and then on a buffet table.

 

When I returned his call, we talked about the situation, and I advised him against driving the warm casserole to the DFW area. That’s a drive that thousands of Austinites make every holiday, and I’m sure many of them have food in the car. Some of them might have even recreated this exact scenario without anyone getting sick, but the USDA says that you really shouldn’t serve food that has been out for more than two hours.

You could freeze a casserole before transporting it on a road trip, but not all casseroles freeze well. Mac and cheese would be fine, but green bean casserole or stuffing would get soggy.
RALPH BARRERA / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

I suggested Michael bring rolls or another dish that he didn’t have to keep warm or cool on the drive, but there is one possible option. Because the “danger zone” of cooked food is 40 to 140 degrees, which is when bacteria can grow rapidly, Brown could bake the casserole the night before, let it cool and then refrigerate or freeze overnight. He could pack a cooler with ice packs and wrap the casserole in foil to try to keep it as cold as possible on the drive and then reheat it when he gets to his daughters house.

RELATED: Find all our holiday coverage here

To brine or not to brine? That’s not even a question for these experts

Not all casseroles freeze well, but that’s the safest option, especially considering that a drive to Fort Worth on Thanksgiving Day could take more than three hours.

Here are more Thanksgiving-related food safety tips from the USDA.

 

 

Ask Addie: What is coffee flour and how do I use it?

Have you seen coffee flour in stores yet?

Coffee flour looks like a mix between a flour and a spice. Some bakers use larger quantities of it in recipes to amp up the nutritional value, while others use just a little in addition to cinnamon or other spices. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

I first encountered it — in a barrel in the bulk section — at Sprouts, but you can also find jars of it at Trader Joe’s and elsewhere.

Earlier this week, the proprietors of CoffeeFlour, which owns the trademark on the name and the production process, were in Austin for a food innovation competition called FoodBytes. (The local cricket company Aspire won one of the prizes.)

CoffeeFlour didn’t win, but it’s a product already on my pantry shelf and a product with lots of blog posts dedicated to it, so they are kind of already winning.

Here’s the idea: In order to make coffee, you have to discard the outside of the coffee bean. It’s the flesh of a fruit that rots and puts off methane and has all the other problems associated with food waste.

But this company dries out the fruit, or cherry, of the coffee plant and then they turn it into a powder that’s a mix between a flour and a spice. This fruit has nearly as much antioxidants as blueberries, and it also has some fiber and other good-for-you-nutrients.

Trader Joe’s is one of the grocers that sells coffee flour now. It’s a good-for-you product that reduces the waste produced during coffee production. Contributed by Trader Joe’s.

The company suggests replacing 15 to 25 percent of your flour with the coffee flour, but Food52 experimented with this and found that, unless you want a significantly stronger flavored product, it’s not wise to use quite so much. The sugar cookies made with the coffee flour were much darker and they compared the taste to molasses or gingersnaps. They said there was a slight graininess, too.

On Epicurious, they tried 3/4 cup of it in a pound cake, which make the cake look like it had been baked with chocolate. That baker concluded that she’d use coffee flour for the health benefits, but the taste was slightly bitter without the addition of any additional sweeteners, such as actual chocolate.

Coffee flour has about as much caffeine as dark chocolate, so you might notice a perkiness after eating a whole cookie or a slice of cake, but I think I might fall into the camp of bakers who will use coffee flour as a spice to add complexity to breads, muffins, cakes and cookies.

Earlier this week, I used coffee flour in a maple oatmeal raisin skillet cookie, and it was one of my favorite treats I’ve ever baked. I wasn’t sure if it was the coffee flour or the dates that I also threw in at the end, but the cookie had a rich undertones that reminded me of figs and chocolate, and some of that had to have come from the coffee flour.

Because it’s still a new-ish product, you’ll find coffee flour in different forms and that will evolve as the product evolves. You’re most likely to find it in a grocery store with a natural or health focus, and maybe even a bulk section. Trader Joe’s sells theirs in the baking section.

This skillet cookie is made with oats, raisins, pecans, dates and coffee flour. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

Maple Oatmeal Raisin Skillet Cookie

1/2 cup unsalted butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon maple extract1 egg
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 to 1 teaspoon coffee flour (optional)
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup old fashioned oatmeal
1/3 cup raisins
1/4 cups chopped dates
1/2 cup pecans

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Heat a cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Melt the butter and stir frequently until the butter browns. Stir in the brown sugar and maple extract. Remove from the heat and let cool for about 8 minutes. (You want the pan to be warm but not hot.)

Crack an egg into the skillet and whisk into the mixture. Add the cinnamon, salt and baking soda and stir until combined. Add flour to the skillet and stir slowly until incorporated.

Add your mix-ins: oatmeal, raisins, dates and pecans. Combine and pat evenly into the skillet with a spatula or your hands.

Top with raw sugar if desired. Bake in a 375 degree oven for 14 to 18 minutes, until set. Serve warm with yogurt if desired.

— Adapted from a recipe by Baker Bettie, bakerbettie.com

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Austin360Cooks: I need your best skillet cookie recipe (Please!)

Readers and online friends, I need your help.

It’s my son’s birthday this weekend, and I want to make a skillet cake. I’ve made a few this summer. They were OK. I want a better one.

This healthy skillet cookie wasn’t kid-friendly enough for a kids’ birthday party. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

Do you have a really good skillet cake recipe or technique? Would you mind to share it with me? You can shoot me the link (or a photo of the recipe card in the box on your countertop) at abroyles@statesman.com or @broylesa on Twitter.

He’s a chocolate-on-chocolate fan, for sure, but any kind of kid-friendly skillet cake would be amazing.

Thanks!

RELATED: Our 2016 Year of Baking series

Winning iced lemon cookies will be a keeper for your recipe box, cookie tin

This peanut butter cookie cup would be great as a skillet cookie, but will the original recipe work? I’m on the hunt for a few good skillet cookie recipes this weekend. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

Avoiding the dinner meltdown: Your back-to-school checklist for the kitchen

We’re gearing up for school in my house, and I’ve been consciously trying to get my culinary house in order to keep up with the new routine.

What does that mean?

Well, making sure I have plenty of cereal and after-school snacks on hand is at the top of the list, but like many parents, I treat this back-to-school time like a second New Year’s, where I try to correct some bad habits we might have accrued over the summer and reinstate some house rules that have loosened since we started school last year.

Take a morning or an afternoon to purge your pantry and fridge of expired items, but also take some time to clean the shelves and reorganize so you’ll have a happier time cooking this fall. Contributed by Melissa Skorpil

Here’s my back-to-school checklist for your kitchen:

Stock up on supplies. That’s snacks, plastic zip-top baggies and lunchmeat and bread, but I also mean staples like rice, pasta, canned goods and frozen veggies that will help you get a quick dinner on the table. I always have potstickers, frozen pizza and corndogs on hand for nights that are just too harried to cook.

[cmg_anvato video=”4152867“]

Get into a meal planning routine. Planning every meal doesn’t work for my family, but planning two or three dinners over the course of the week definitely helps. The best meal planning cooks keep calendars on their fridges or on the phones so they can easily keep track of what’s for dinner and what they need to buy from the grocery store.

 

Clean out your pantry to start the school year, which is a heavy cooking time, on the right foot. Contributed

Purge, purge, purge. You know I’m a big fan of culling your spice cabinet and pantry often so that you don’t wind up with canned beans that expired in 2015. In my house, rolled-up bags of chips collect in the back of the pantry at the bottom where the kids toss them when I’m not looking, but I’m also about to throw away about 10 jars of various refrigerated pickles that I’ve acquired over the year and no one is eating.

Clean, clean, clean. Give your stovetop a good scrub. Wipe the shelves in the fridge. Get rid of all those half-sprouted garlic cloves. Toss the plastic containers that don’t have a lid. Take all the magnets, photos and paperwork off the fridge and only put back what you really want to have up there. Fall cleaning is just as cathartic as spring cleaning, so take a morning or an afternoon to show some self-love by cleaning a space you spend so much time in.

Bump your kids up to the next level of cooking and cleaning responsibility. My kids aren’t quite ready to start washing dishes by hand, but I am going to enforce the expectation that they bring their dirty plates to the sink. Not the kitchen countertop. If your kids are in middle or high school, find a kitchen-related task that they can be responsible for, such as sweeping the floor after dinner or running or emptying the dishwasher. For elementary school kids, it’s reasonable to expect that they throw away their snack trash or help clean up after dinner by putting away clean dishes or anything that needs to go back in the fridge.

Your teens have to learn how to cook sometime, and there’s no better time to start than when they are still living at home. If you wait until they are seniors and are about to graduate, you will have missed out on several prime years of culinary instruction, not to mention the bonding that takes place when you cook together. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

If your kids are old enough to cook, assign them dinner once or twice a month. Don’t leave them totally unsupported, but let them take the lead on shopping for and preparing the ingredients. Kids who go off to college need the experience of not only cooking for themselves, but for a small group of people. It’s a life skill that is just as important as what they are learning in school.

Eat dinner together. You might already eat dinner at the table together every night, but it’s OK if you don’t hit every night. We try to eat the majority of meals at the dinner table together, but as a single mom, sometimes I need a little mental break. If eating separately means I have the stamina to play a board game or read a little extra with them later, that’s a fair exchange.

Divorced or separated? Talk with your co-parent about dining and food habits. My kids’ dad and I talk every day, usually via text, about stuff that’s going on in our kids’ lives. He’ll vent about the little one’s refusal to eat the amazing food he prepares for them, and I’ll let him know if they’ve overdone it on snacks when I wasn’t looking so he can be on the lookout for similar behavior. It’s unreasonable to expect that the kids’ have the same dinnertime habits in both houses, so try to avoid critiquing the other parent if he/she doesn’t do meals the way you wish they did. Having an open, acceptance-focused dialogue — rather than a corrective one — will allow you both to learn from each other. If there’s a problem around mealtime — bad manners, refusal to eat or sit at the table, poor food choices — talk about it privately with your co-parent and then have a family meeting with both parents and the kids to set some boundaries and expectations that both parents can commit to enforcing in each house. (This is true of resolving all family issues in divorced household, not just food, but you already knew that.)

You’ll find a ton of back-to-school tips over on Nicole Villalpando’s Raising Austin blog, including:

Let’s talk homework: Where, when and how are you going to get it done

Get ready for school: Reset the sleep clock

Back to school: What should you do if your child is being bullied or is the bully?

Back to school: Does your child’s teacher need a class pet? How to get one for free