Lunch box snack bars

"I get to level!" May Buchanan announced with 6-year-old authority, then slowly slid the edge of an angled spatula across the top of the flour-filled cup her mother Heather held over a mixing bowl.

"Perfectly flat," she pronounced as her 3-year-old sister, Paige, looked on with awe.

Just like a recipe, the road to master-chef status is traveled in steps, and right now the Buchanan sisters are up to the steps where they get to level off cups of flour, stir pots of melting butter and marshmallows, and mush down balls of gooey dough with their bare hands. It's part of the magic of childhood and the fun of cooking with your kids.

On this day in the Buchanan kitchen, the girls are helping their mother prepare two different snack bar recipes, either of which will be perfect for May to pack in her first-grade lunchbox or for Paige to munch on when she returns from a tough day at preschool.

Read on for the recipes and helpful hints!

PB&J Bars | Preparation Time: 20 minutes Baking Time: 45 minutes

1 cup all-purpose flour (plus a little more to coat the baking pan) 1-1/2 cups whole wheat flour (or all-purpose flour, if you prefer) 1/2 cup rolled oats (like Quaker's Old-Fashioned brand) 1 teaspoon baking powder 1 teaspoon cinnamon 1 teaspoon salt 3/4 cups (or 1-1/2 sticks) of butter at room temperature 1 cup sugar 1/2 cup light brown sugar 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 2 large eggs 1 18-ounce jar (or 2 cups) of creamy peanut butter (don't use the "natural" kind) 1-1/2 cups seedless jam (strawberry or raspberry both work well) 1/2 cup chopped, salted peanuts 1 tablespoon of vegetable shortening or aerosol cooking spray to coat the baking pan Directions:
FOR THE GROWN-UP TO DO: Lay out all the ingredients ahead of time, then heat the oven to 350-degrees Fahrenheit.
FOR THE KID: Grease a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with vegetable shortening (using a paper napkin or towel sheet) or with cooking spray.

FOR THE GROWN-UP OR BIG KID: Sprinkle a handful of flour into the greased pan and shake it around, lightly coating the surface.
GROWN-UP: Over a medium-sized bowl, measure out the dry ingredients: flours, oats, baking powder, cinnamon and salt.

KID: level off each measurement and pour into the bowl. Mix together and set aside.
GROWN-UP: In a large bowl using an electric mixer (or a stand mixer with a paddle attachment), put the butter and sugars.

KID: Turn on the mixer to a medium speed and mix until well blended.
GROWN-UP: Reduce the mixing speed to low, and then add the vanilla, eggs and peanut butter, beating until well blended.

KID: Add the dry ingredients in small increments, while the grown-up turns the mixer off and on.
GROWN-UP: Beat until a soft dough is formed. Spread half of the dough over the bottom of the prepared baking pan.

KID: Use your fingers to press the dough into the corners and to make a smooth surface.
GROWN-UP & KID: Spread the jam evenly on top of the dough.

Take the remaining half of the dough and, making small crumbles with your hands, sprinkle the dough over the jam (when it bakes, the dough will melt, bake and form another "PB" layer). Sprinkle the chopped peanuts on top of the dough.

GROWN-UP: Bake for 45 minutes, or until golden brown on top. Let the bars cool completely (several hours or overnight) before cutting into squares.
KID: Eat!

Cherry-O Bars | Preparation Time: 15 minutes Baking Time: about 1 hour

4 tablespoons (or half a stick) of unsalted butter 1 10-ounce bag of marshmallows (smallest size works best) 1/2 teaspoon salt 6 cups of an oat cereal like Cheerios (substitute cereals include Rice Krispies or puffed brown-rice) 1 cup of dried cherries (other dried fruits like cranberries and blueberries also taste great) 1 cup of shelled, roasted and salted pistachios (or other preferred nuts)
FOR THE GROWN-UP & KID TO DO: Spray a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with cooking spray (or grease it with vegetable shortening, as in the PB&J Bar recipe)
GROWN-UP: In a large saucepan, start melting the butter over a medium heat. Add the marshmallows and salt.

KID: With careful supervision, slowly stir the mixture as the marshmallows melt.
GROWN-UP: When the marshmallows have melted, remove the saucepan from the heat.

KID: Pour in the cereal, dried cherries and pistachios, then stir until combined.
GROWN-UP: Pour the mixture into the baking pan, then spray the kid's hands with cooking spray (or smooth on some vegetable shortening).

KID: Pat down and smooth out the cereal mixture into the pan. Let cool about one hour before cutting into bars. Then eat!