Tonight’s guest post comes from a mommy after my own heart. Susan, the author of Real Kids Eat Spinach (how could you not love a site with that kind of title).
While Susan is not gluten-free or dairy-free, she is focused on providing her family with the healthiest food in kid-friendly ways, which is what this Healthy Lunchbox series is all about!
My best piece of advice for packing successful schools lunches is to get your kids involved in the decision process as much as possible. I specify the word “successful,” because not only do you want them to head off to school with good food, but you want your children to EAT it as well.
You might be thinking that if you offered your kids such authority they might choose to head off with a sports drink, toaster pastry and chocolate cookies for lunch. And *that* is where my technical piece of advice comes in: control the choices! It’s not as if my two children get very enthusiastic about the subject of their school lunches. I have just trained them to the point that we have a nice little system going. I always have lots of good, healthy options on hand and when I holler out a few choices there isn’t much room for whining or negotiating.
I know that here in Connecticut we still have a little less than two weeks left before school begins. Perhaps you’ve already headed back, but regardless of the exact start date now is the time to arm yourself for what needn’t be a battle with your kids.
First off, I recommend stocking up on healthy packaged goods you are comfortable sending in with lunches. I like to keep my stash on the counter, in canisters like you see below. That way my kids both have a mental picture of what’s on hand for the picking. Needless to say, the occasional all-out treats I get them do NOT make it into the canisters. Just because
they’re organic fudgy sandwich cookies does not mean they’re something to eat on a regular basis!
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, Amazon is a fantastic online resource for stocking up on natural and organic snacks. No, these goodies are not as pure and simple as a piece of fruit, but they are convenient and much better than the majority of what is known as customary lunchbox fare. Obviously read the ingredients to see what suits your family’s dietary needs.
I have already posted about the granola bars and applesauce pictured above; the website changes its offers on the first of each month, and August is always a month Amazon features a good deal of back-to-school worthy picks.
Here’s another example: Bare Fruit dried cinnamon apple chips, which contain only apples and cinnamon baked into chip form. With the current extra 25% off deal Amazon has going, each 2.6 oz bag is only $1.63, versus the more than $3 it would cost at a Whole Foods or other grocer. The bags are big enough to yield multiple servings as each contains a whopping four
Along with bars and dried fruit I have also picked up coconut water “juice” boxes, seaweed snacks and sunflower seed butter for a great price on Amazon. They are also a great place to stock up on healthy baking supplies, which you’ll need if you’re going to make the delicious bars that close this post!
Once you’ve got a good stash of packaged snacks on hand, make sure your vegetable and fruit bins are full of portable, kid-friendly choices. My two, for example, will be much more likely to pick up an apple if it’s small and cute. Trader Joes sells bags of petite, organic apples and pears of different varieties. Right when I bring home celery or carrots I always try to remember to cut them into the appropriate size for dipping so they’re easy to grab.
I also recommend you always, always whenever possible have *the* food your child goes ga-ga over on hand. My son would never turn down a banana in his lunch. If I left him to his own devices he would likely eat three a day and be beating his chest up in a tree. The girl has a similar thing for pitted kalamata olives and kiwi (she’s a little more high maintenance).
Also try to get your kids accustomed to the concept of “either/or.” I personally do not consume dairy and don’t recommend you let your kids have a free-for-all with it. I am very selective with the products I buy, and if they’re headed into school with an organic Trader Joe’s string cheese then I am not packing a yogurt as well. They always have to choose at least one
fruit or veggie element, and they each get to pick out one healthy treat to include.
While I love giving advice about smarter shopping and refrigerator stocking, I first and foremost would love to inspire families to actually produce good, healthy stuff in their kitchens. I give myself the largest mental pat-on-the-back when I send my kids into school with something I’ve made for them myself.
Homemade pasta salad, hummus, applesauce, salsa… these are all great choices. At heart I’m a baker, though, so my personal favorite is to whip up healthy treats that are lunchbox-worthy. Baked goods are also the easiest to get your kids involved in making, so have at it!
Friday I crafted a carrot-zucchini muffin that won raves from my crew. As written it is vegan and nut-free, and the flour used could easily be tweaked to make them gluten-free as well. Muffins are a great item to experiment with, as they pack and freeze so easily. Even when produce isn’t at its peak frozen fruit is always an option, and healthy add-ins
such as ground flax are endless. I even sent my kids into school with quinoa muffins once (recipe available if you’re interested).
Today I wanted to share what has become known to my kids as my famous energy bars. I feel I need to give the esteemed Mollie Katzen credit, as I stumbled upon her recipe for homemade Protein Bars many moons ago in her Sunlight Cafe cookbook.
As time has passed, however, I have really changed the recipe to be more in conjunction with the way I feed my family. What I do love about the original recipe, however, is that is so easily allows for modification. They can be made to suit virtually any taste of allergy. My children’s school is a nut-free environment, so I’ve crafted them to suit. I do prefer them with some raw nuts included, but for our needs they are more versatile without.
If you click through the link you’ll notice Katzen recommends partially baking a whole tray of bars, cutting them and then finishing the baking process. I bought a silicone brownie bite pan that makes perfectly shaped little square bars and completely eliminates that step. Mini muffin cups work well too.
FAMOUS ENERGY BARS
1 cup protein powder*
1/2 cup spelt or brown rice flour (any flour would work here)
2 cups gluten-free rolled oats
1/2 cup ground flaxseed
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
3/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup packed palm sugar or 1/2 cup raw honey
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips or carob chips
1 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
1/4 cup sunflower seed butter or melted coconut oil
2 tsp. vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350. Spray either mini muffin cups or brownie pan with nonstick spray. Mix together all dry ingredients in a large bowl (through the chocolate chips). In a separate, smaller bowl combine honey (if using as your sweetener), yogurt, butter or oil and vanilla. Add the wet mixture to the dry and mix well. I would agree with the original recipe – this
is a VERY thick batter. Hands are good to work it all together.
Fill your cups or pan, smoothing out the tops to make even bars. Bake for 20 minutes and then allow to cool before removing.
*not all protein powders on the market are the health foods they would seem, for adults and least of all for children. Definitely read labels carefully. I recommend organic hemp protein, and if you consume dairy the About Time brand is quite natural and comes in a lot of flavors. Vega and Sun Warrior brands also offer clean options.
I can honestly say I’ve never had one of my kids turn these down as a lunchbox option. If kept in the freezer I can just pop them right into their lunch, and they’ll thaw out during their morning at school.
My closing tip is to take the time to put together your kids’ lunches the night before school, when possible. I usually take the opportunity while I’m cooking dinner, and my daughter is doing her homework at the bar in our kitchen. The kids are underfoot and I’m in and out of the fridge anyway. I can throw out a few options to the peanut gallery, and pack accordingly.
Here’s wishing happy, healthy eating to yours as the school year begins, and a big THANK YOU to Sunny for allowing me the chance to participate in her Healthy Lunchbox series.