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    Easy meal and snack ideas for families adjusting to busy back-to-school schedules

    As the relaxing days of summer come to a close, it can be challenging to smoothly transition to back-to-school time. While kids and families adjust to more hectic schedules, it’s more important than ever to fuel both body and mind with foods that nourish and satisfy.  With a few new meal and snack ideas, your family will have a head start on the season.

    When it comes to simple snacks it doesn’t get easier than fresh grapes. California’s fresh grape season is in full swing throughout the fall – good news for kids and their parents, too. Packed in a container for munching during lunch or snack breaks, grapes are a sweet, juicy and refreshing fruit with excellent credentials:

    * Grapes contain just 90 calories per 3/4 cup serving, with no fat or cholesterol, and they are very low in sodium. In addition, all colors of grapes – green, red and black – contain antioxidants and other polyphenols, which scientific studies suggest may help protect the heart and important cell functions.

    * Having a bowl of fresh grapes handy for an after school snack is a delicious and smart alternative to chips, cookies and other manufactured foods, which are generally expensive and high in fat and salt. Plus, grapes are delightfully easy: no peeling or coring required.

    * Grapes make a simple snack that kids can make themselves. Try a fresh take on the PB and J classic. If needed, a parent can pre-slice the grapes, which can be done the night before; luckily grapes don’t brown when cut. Peanut butter can be replaced with almond butter or other nut butters and spreads.

    Peanut Butter and Grape Sandwich

    1 slice of bread (wheat, sourdough, cinnamon swirl)
    2 tablespoons peanut butter
    1/4 cup red seedless California grapes, halved

    Spread peanut butter on bread. Place grape halves on top. Serve immediately.

    Adults can join in the fun too. Nutritious and delicious, a rice salad with grapes and golden beets will appeal to older children, teens and parents, and anyone wanting a fresh take on salads.  It’s also perfect for vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free diets.  Three food groups are well represented and the grapes add a juicy quality and a unique sweet and tangy flavor which complements the honey-vinaigrette dressing. Grapes also add a crispness that balances the textures of the chewy rice and the al dente beets. The salad can be served as a side for dinner or packed for school or office lunches.

    Grape, Golden Beet and Brown Rice Salad

    4 medium golden beets, scrubbed
    1 cup short grain brown rice (or 2 cups cooked brown rice)
    Salt to taste
    1/3 cup chopped red onion
    1 clove garlic, minced
    1/4 cup white wine vinegar
    1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
    1 tablespoon honey
    Black pepper, freshly ground, to taste
    1 cup thinly sliced celery
    1 cup halved red seedless California grapes
    Pinch cayenne
    1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley

    Preheat the oven to 375 F. Trim off all but 1-inch of stem on the beets and place in a small baking dish. Cover with foil and bake until a paring knife inserted into the center of the beets goes in easily, about 60 to 90 minutes. Let cool until easy to handle. Peel, then cut the beets into 1/2-inch wedges.

    Meanwhile, bring 2 cups of water, the rice and salt to a boil in a medium saucepan over high heat. Cover, reduce the heat to low and simmer covered until tender and most of the liquid has been absorbed, 40 to 50 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes, and then transfer to a baking sheet to cool slightly.

    At the same time, combine the onion, garlic and vinegar in a large mixing bowl and let stand 15 minutes. Whisk in the oil, honey and salt and pepper to taste. Then add the rice, beets, celery, grapes, cayenne, parsley and toss. Serve warm or chilled. Makes 6 cups.

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