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School Lunches : How to Beat the Lunch Box Blues : Menus: The littlest food critics--caterers come up with new twists on old favorites in an attempt to please them.

September 06, 1990

Having a hard time figuring out what to pack in your child's lunch box? You're not alone. When we asked some of the best caterers in town to come up with interesting new ideas for school lunches, the repetition was amazing. There were lots of peanut butter sandwiches, chicken or turkey in abundance, and more celery than you can shake a stick at. For dessert--cookies, of course.

There's a lesson here; these caterers understand the aesthetics of eating. They know that no food critic is more exacting (or more of a traditionalist) than a child, and that the last thing any kid wants is to show up at school with Mom's latest experiment.

When it comes to kids, caterers know enough to stick with the tried and true. And we know that if you try these recipes, your kids will be very happy when lunchtime rolls around.

From Don Ernstein, owner of Wonderful Parties, Wonderful Foods, (213) 933-6211

Peanut Butter, Banana and Jam Spirals Homemade russet potato chips Carrot curly Q's Gooey Bars Fresh or bottled apple juice PEANUT BUTTER, BANANA AND JAM SPIRALS

1 loaf Pullman white bread, sliced 1/2-inch thick, lengthwise

Peanut butter

Ripe banana

Favorite berry jam

Trim crusty sides off bread slices. Flatten slices by rolling lightly with rolling pin. Spread sliced bread liberally with peanut butter and jam. Place banana on top of mixture.

Roll long side, jellyroll-fashion. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Refrigerate 3 hours. Cut log into 2-inch lengths.

GOOEY BARS

1/2 cup butter

1 (18.5-ounce) box butter recipe golden cake mix

4 eggs

1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened

1 pound powdered sugar, sifted

Cream butter until light and smooth. Add cake mix and 2 eggs. Beat until smooth. Turn into greased 13x9-inch baking pan.

Beat cream cheese and powdered sugar until smooth. Beat in remaining eggs until well blended. Gently pour over cake batter, spreading to edges. Bake at 325 degrees about 30 minutes. Cool and cut into squares. Makes about 12 servings.

Note: Sweetness in topping may be cut down by using 1/2 to 3/4 pound powdered sugar. For lemon flavor, add 2 tablespoons lemon juice and 2 teaspoons grated lemon zest to topping.

From Joann Roth, president, Someone's in the Kitchen, (818) 343-5151

Breast of turkey salad on 7-grain bread with lettuce and tomato or bacon, tomato and lettuce on whole-wheat toast or fresh ground peanut butter with bananas and clover honey on whole-grain bread Julienne carrots and celery sti c ks with yogurt ranch dressing or homemade kosher pickles or black bean or blue tortilla chips or cheese wedges and crackers Strawberries and seedless grapes in summer , Apples and pears in fall Low - fat milk or fresh fruit juice Carrot Cupcakes or jumbo granola cookies or caramel apples or caramel popcorn balls with toasted almonds CARROT CUPCAKES

2 cups sugar

1 1/2 cups oil

4 eggs

2 cups flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 tablespoons vanilla

3 cups grated carrots

1 cup chopped pecans

Cream Cheese Frosting, optional

Combine sugar, oil and eggs in large bowl, blending well. Mix flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt together thoroughly. Add with vanilla to egg mixture, mixing lightly. Stir in carrots and nuts.

Pour batter into well-greased 3-inch muffin tins. Bake at 350 degrees 25 minutes or until wood pick inserted in centers comes out clean. Remove from oven and cool on wire rack.

Spread tops of cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting. Makes about 24 cupcakes.

Cream Cheese Frosting

1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened

1/2 cup butter

1 pound powdered sugar, sifted

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 cup chopped pecans

1 (5-ounce) can crushed pineapple, drained

Cream together cream cheese and butter. Beat in powdered sugar and vanilla. Stir in pecans and pineapple.

From Daryl Trainor, Village Catering and Food to Go, (213) 337-1818

Fried chicken leg

Tortellini salad

Banana Bread

BANANA BREAD

6 very ripe bananas

1 cup oil

2 cups sugar

4 eggs

2 1/2 cups flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 to 1 cup chopped nuts, optional

Puree bananas in food processor. Set aside.

In mixer bowl, beat together oil and sugar. Add eggs, one at time, beating each until blended. Add flour, soda and salt and beat until just blended. Blend in bananas, then stir in nuts. Turn mixture into greased 12-cup Bundt pan.

Bake at 350 degrees 1 hour, or until top is browned and tester comes out clean. If top browns too much toward end of baking, cover with foil. Makes 1 large banana bread.

From Pauline Parry, owner, Parry's Catering, (213)-287-0174

Oriental Chicken Drumettes Cheese Straws With Poppy Seeds Celery sticks filled with cream cheese and pear chutney Flap jacks (oatmeal cookies) Fresh fruit ORIENTAL CHICKEN DRUMETTES

1/8 cup red wine vinegar

1/2 cup soy sauce

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1 1/2 teaspoons ground garlic

2 pounds chicken drumettes

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