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  • Writer's pictureSusie Csorsz Brown

Back to school. Almost.

I bet you are as excited for class to start as your child is. Excited, and, if this is your first year, a bit scared, right? We are getting close; one week out until the first day of school! Summer went by so quickly. If this is your first year or you've just moved to a new city/country (and we all move fairly often, so this happens more than we'd like, I'll bet), this last week is probably filled with a bit of apprehension, am I right? Relax. Trust your instincts in having chosen a great school for your little sweetie(s). The school you chose is a warm, caring place for your child. There are a couple of things you can do to help them with their day, though. Specifically, their lunch. A couple pointers for the lunchbox:

1. Practice the containers. Doesn’t matter how great of a lunch you’ve packed if your child can’t open the containers. It took me several tries to find containers that my kids can open AND don’t leak. Yes, your child’s teacher can help, but they have at least 15 other kids in class who also need attention. AND, most importantly, having been through the ‘No-I-do-it’ phase three times now, your child will appreciate the sense of independence they will get from opening their own containers. 2. If you’re going to include a candy/cookie/treat, your kid will probably be thrilled. The kids sitting at the table with him or her, though, will not. Unless you are giving enough for the whole class, perhaps the treat should be offered as an after-school snack, instead. 3. Don’t pack too much food. You know your child, and how much they normally eat. An over-packed lunch can be overwhelming. 4. I’ll get into this more, but keep in mind that a lot of pre-packaged food is high in salt and sugar. And here in Dakar, the label might not even be in a language you understand. The less processed the item is, the more nutrients it will (still) have in it. Trust me, I know how much easier it can be to use the snack packs, but your child’s body will pay the price for the few minutes you save. 5. Ask your child what they want to eat. They have some insightful suggestions. You can't always do what they want, but if you do it often enough, they'll be that much more excited about lunchtime.

6. Pack lunches the day before. It’ll make your mornings flow just a bit smoother. School mornings are rough, so any things that makes things a bit easier are good in our house.

One last thing: little notes from you tucked into the lunch box are a hit, no matter what age your child is. Even the youngest of kids can recognize a heart (and what it might represent); for older ones you can right a code that only he/she would be able to interpret. Lets them know you're thinking of them, even when they aren't with you.

On that note, here's a favorite for my kids.

Hey, noodle fans. Here's a dish that's great for dinner, and great for those thermos containers for lunch, too. Teachers, I apologize in advance for any Master Shifu-like noodles moments during lunchtime. You can make this with Chinese lo mein noodles if you'd rather.

This recipe is actually called Master Shifu noodles at our house.

Veggie-Loaded Lo Mein

16 ounces spaghetti (we use whole grain)

1 cup frozen edamame (shelled soybeans) or peas

4 scallions, thinly sliced

¼ cup oyster sauce, or vegetarian "oyster" sauce

¼ cup rice-wine vinegar

3 tablespoons soy sauce

1 teaspoon sugar

2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil

⅛ teaspoon crushed red pepper, optional

½ pound boneless chicken, steak, or extra firm tofu

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 medium carrots, cut into matchsticks

2 small red bell peppers, cut into matchsticks

1 lb. asparagus, broccoli, or any other favorite veggies, trimmed and cut into bite-size pieces

Servings/Yield: 4 servings

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add noodles and edamame and cook, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is just tender, 8 to 10 minutes or according to package directions. Drain.

2. Meanwhile, whisk scallions, oyster sauce, vinegar, soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil and crushed red pepper in a small bowl until the sugar is dissolved. Add 1/2 of the sauce to the meat option of your choice. Set aside.

3. Heat 1 Tbsp oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add meat to the pan and cook, stirring often, until the meat is cooked through. Transfer to a plate or bowl and set aside. Heat second tbsp oil in pan. Add all veggies and cook, stirring often, until slightly softened, 5-8 minutes. Add the pasta and edamame. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is crispy in spots, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the sauce and stir to combine. Serve!

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