Feeding crowds of kids

Cynthia Stone
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It's that time of year - kids looking forward to summer holidays and you perhaps dreading them a little.

The younger ones' classes are winding down with year-end activities while teenagers write exams, excited about graduations and parties and friends. They're all wound up and the last thing they want to deal with is your family supper table.

Since they can't live on pizza and burgers - no matter how much they want to - I have a few suggestions that will fit their pack mentality but still get a vitamin or two on board.

Layered Chicken Nacho Dip and Chips

Nachos won't kill your kids - they're not even that bad for them - but this version of chips and dip makes a substantial meal substitute that will keep them going while they get ready for whatever is happening in their busy lives.

Most nacho dip recipes call for the packaged taco seasoning mix, but I have to say it's more salt than flavour, and the extra two minutes it takes to make your own is well worth it.

If your kids are not bean-lovers, you can use refried from a can or mash them yourself, leaving some chunks for texture. To boost nutritional value, consider throwing some baby carrots or celery sticks on the tray with the chips - they might eat a couple by accident.

This amount will serve a fair-sized bunch as a snack or six for supper with a green salad.

1 8-oz. package softened light cream cheese
1/2 cup sour cream (low-fat is fine)
2 tsp. hot chili powder
1/2 tsp. each dried oregano, cumin, salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 tsp. each onion and garlic powder
1-1/2 cups bottled salsa - as hot as they like it
1 19 oz. can red or white kidney beans, washed and well rinsed
2 cups diced or shredded cooked chicken
1 green pepper, finely diced
4 green onions, finely chopped
2 cups shredded Monterey Jack or sharp cheddar cheese
1/4 cup coarsely chopped black olives
lots of tortilla chips

Whip cream cheese and sour cream until smooth. Beat in chili powder, oregano, cumin, salt, pepper, onion and garlic powder. Spread on a platter or in a deep-dish pie plate. Top with salsa, beans, chicken, green pepper, green onions, cheese and olives. Chill as long as you can, then serve with tortilla chips.

Sausage and Cheese Party Pita Pizzas
Make a pile of these for family dinner or let the kids take off with a couple in their hands - what odds? Use whole-wheat pitas if you think you can get away with it.

The trick here is not to overload the pizzas because if you have to bake them any longer the crust will crisp too quickly and they won't be easy to eat without forks and knives, which sort of defeats the purpose of individual pita bread pizzas.

Use whatever toppings you and your kids like. I favour sliced tomatoes, onion and hot peppers, but kids seem to prefer these.

1/2 lb. hot Italian sausage - in bulk or casings removed
1 onion, diced
8 to 12 pocketless pita breads
1-1/2 cups bottled pasta sauce
3 cups grated mozzarella cheese
1 green pepper, thinly sliced
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Fry sausage meat together with onion until sausage is cooked through and onion is soft. Drain thoroughly; discard any fat and cool for a few minutes. Place pitas on baking sheets and spread evenly with pasta sauce. Sprinkle on the mozzarella, cooked sausage and onions, green pepper, and Parmesan. Bake at 400 F just long enough to melt the cheese.

Peanut Butter & Chocolate Checkered Chex

If they've managed to get down a bit of supper, what's the harm in a sweet treat to encourage a little study time or to share in front of the TV? Keep your own hands out of this mixture - although it won't be easy - because it instantly turns into fat inside adult bodies.

2 cups chocolate chips (divided)
1/2 cup crunchy peanut better
1/4 cup butter or margarine
1 cup whole roasted peanuts (unsalted or salted, as you prefer)
1/2 tsp. vanilla
9 cups Chex cereal (rice, corn or both)
1-1/2 cups icing sugar

Place 1 cup of the chocolate chips together with peanut butter and butter in a microwave safe bowl and microwave on high 1 minute. Stir and continue to cook until melted and smooth - be careful not to overheat the mixture and it shouldn't take more than another minute unless your microwave is very low power.

Stir in peanuts and vanilla and pour over cereal in a really big bowl - consider shaking in a large and sturdy plastic bag to make this step easier. Stir to coat thoroughly. Add icing sugar and continue stirring until every piece of cereal is covered. Stir in remaining chocolate chips.

Creamsicle Smoothies
Serve up a round of these to the kids and even if they don't eat a bite they won't starve to death. Delicious and nutritious, this would be a hit for breakfast, lunch, supper or while they're packed in your basement playing a video game or watching a movie. Make as much of this as you like, because it will all get consumed.

3 cups orange juice
3 cups plain or vanilla yogurt
1 cup honey
1 tbsp. vanilla
4 cups crushed ice

Whizz in the blender in about four batches - depending on the size of the blender - and stir together in a large jug.

For a party, serve from a punch bowl with thin orange slices floated on top.

Cynthia Stone is a writer, editor and teacher in St. John's. Questions may be sent to her c-o The Telegram, P.O. Box 86, St. John's, NL, A1E 4N1.

Organizations: The Telegram

Geographic location: St. John's

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