- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Welcome to the new school year. By now, you probably have shopped for backpacks and sneakers and notebook paper. So far so good. Then there’s lunch. Make that plural: five lunches a week per child, to be exact.

Did you forget? Are you drawing a blank and wondering what you did in the past? You are not alone. Witness the avalanche of articles, not just during the fall but throughout the academic year, about the problems and challenges of school lunches. They’re on everyone’s mind, and lunch seems to stump even the best of us.

Let’s break the creative block and make something that is not only easy, beautiful and delicious, but also intriguing, healthful, inexpensive and educational. Herbed cream-cheese-spinach-tomato spirals cover pretty much all of those bases.

It’s a good idea, in general, to engage your children in making their own lunches. It teaches them a valuable lesson in functionality, creativity and responsibility — especially if you don’t mention any of those things — and it can be a good bonding opportunity.

It also sneaks in a lesson or two about food. With this visually compelling recipe, your children just might come away with pride of ownership and a sense of accomplishment. They also may be less likely to trade or throw away their lunches in favor of something junky.

Tomatoes are superb in September, so the one in this sandwich is more than just decorative. Take your child with you on an excursion to the farmers market to look at the many shapes and shades of heirloom tomatoes. Buy several different kinds so you can make this sandwich often and make it seem different each time.

This also is a good way to introduce your children to fresh herbs — cream cheese is a good medium. Have them rub the herbs between their fingers and then sniff. Children really appreciate savory aromas.

For variety, and if your child is at all adventurous, try substituting watercress or arugula for the spinach called for in this recipe. Serve with fresh fruit, nuts and chocolate, baby carrots and sweet yellow bell pepper sticks.

Herbed cream cheese-spinach-tomato spirals

1 pita bread or 1 medium-size flour tortilla

½ cup (4 ounces) softened cream cheese

4 fresh chives

1 small sprig fresh dill

3 fresh basil leaves

1 medium-size ripe tomato

6 large, crisp spinach leaves, washed and thoroughly dried

If using pita bread, snip around the edges with a scissors to separate the bread into 2 halves. Lay the pita circles flat on a cutting board with the inside part facing up. Or, if using tortillas, just lay them flat on the cutting board.

Place the cream cheese in a medium-small bowl. Use scissors to snip tiny pieces of chive, dill and basil directly into the bowl. Mash with the back of a spoon until well combined.

Spread a thin layer of cream cheese onto each pita circle or tortilla.

Cut the tomato in half around the middle and squeeze over a sink to discard the seeds.

Use a very sharp knife to cut the remaining tomato into thin slices, then place 3 slices in a row on top of the cream cheese. (It’s OK if the tomato slices overlap a little.) Spread a little cream cheese onto 2 or 3 spinach leaves, then lay the “frosted” spinach on top of the tomatoes, with the cream cheese facing up.

Roll up the circles, pressing the edges tightly closed. You’ll end up with a log shape.

Cut the log crosswise into 3 or 4 pieces to show the lovely spiral design inside.

Serve on a plate with the spiral facing up. Or pack it in a container or tightly in strong plastic wrap for safe and sturdy transportation. Makes 2 to 3 servings but is easily multiplied.

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