By Kim Robson:
Considering the sorry state of many school lunch programs, more health-conscious parents are sending their kids to school with a home-packed lunch. My mom was a health nut in the 70s, long before it was trendy, and she often sent me to school with a meatloaf or roast beef sandwich on wheat bread, and a sliced-up green bell pepper or a spotty banana for a snack. Not exactly “fashionable” food worthy of trading with friends for any of the “good” things my classmates had, like string cheese, peanut butter sandwich crackers, or those Ritz Handi-Snacks with cheese and crackers and that little red smearing stick. All junk food, of course.
Nowadays we see these incredibly intricate and painfully clever Bento boxes, with healthy food and snacks artfully arranged into darling images of cute animals and landscape scenes. They are wonderful to look at but, honestly, who has the time to put together a work of art every morning? There must be a happy medium.
First, a Few Tips:
- Invest in good, non-plastic, reusable containers. Think fun stackable tiffins and stainless steel
compartment boxes. LunchBots makes a large version for full meals and a smaller one for snacks in addition to small leak-proof containers that are perfect for condiments, dips, nuts and dressings. Don’t forget to include a PET- and HDPE-free (reusable and dishwasher safe) bottle for drinks. Klean Kanteen makes stainless steel bottles in a multitude of shapes, sizes, colors and designs. With its soft silicone spout, This one is great for kids. They also make a variety of vacuum-insulated food canisters. Mason jars are perfect for layering ingredients so they don’t get soggy (perfect for salads or taco bowls). Just remember, dressings and wet stuff on the bottom, greens and crunchy items at the top, proteins and veggies in the middle. Leave some head space so there’s room for shaking it all up.
- Create a meal plan. Kids love consistency and will look forward to the day when they know a favorite food will be in their box. This also makes it simpler to shop for your ingredients in bulk. Ask for input from your kids — they’ll feel included by contributing to their meal plans and learn about proper nutrition as well.
- Be sure to include a protein, a fruit and/or vegetable, and some healthy fat. Don’t forget fun snacks like sweet potato chips or hummus with baby carrots. Hot chocolate or soup in a thermos is delightful in cold weather. A two-week rotating schedule like this one provides more than enough nutritional variety:
- Get creative with drinks. It takes only a couple of minutes to throw together a healthy and delicious liquid “treat” in the blender. Think smoothies, a chia seed energy drink (kids love the little jelly balls), kombucha, or yogurt blended with fruit. You can always add extra fruit or veggies, green spirulina, or protein powder to boost the nutritional value.
Now Let’s Share a Few Recipes:
Kids love snacks. Allowing them to graze on cleverly disguised superfoods throughout the day boosts their energy level and ability to learn.
No-Bake Energy Bites
Try these stupidly simple No-Bake Energy Bites and see if you can keep from eating them all yourself.
- 1 cup dry oatmeal
- 2/3 cup coconut flakes
- 1/2 cup peanut butter
- 1/2 cup ground flaxseed
- 1/2 cup chocolate chips
- 1/3 cup honey
- 1 TBSP chia or pumpkin seeds
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
Combine all ingredients and let cool in the fridge for 1 hour. Roll into 1-inch balls and store in an airtight container.
Green Mom founder Fredrica Syren’s family love these Carob “Brownies,” also amazingly simple to make.
- 1/2 cup blanched almonds
- 1/2 cup raisins (soaked for 10 minutes and drained)
- 1 Tbsp tahini (sesame paste)
- 2 Tbsp carob powder
- 1/2 cup shredded coconut
Blend all ingredients except the coconut in a food processor or a bowl until smooth. Roll dough into 1-inch balls, then roll in the coconut to coat them. Store in an airtight container.
Raw Kale Chips
- 5 bunches kale, de-stemmed and torn into pieces
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1/2 cup maple syrup or agave nectar
- Himalayan pink salt
Combine oil and syrup in a large bowl. Add the kale and coat well. Work the sauce into the kale with your hands and sprinkle on some good Himalayan salt. Dehydrate at 118 degrees Fahrenheit overnight, or use an oven at the lowest setting for 2-3 hours, checking periodically until chips are crispy.
No-Bake Energy Bars
These no-bake homemade energy bars are another kid favorite the adults will also love.
- 1/2 cup chopped almonds
- 1/2 cup sunflower seeds
- 1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
- 1/2 cup chopped dried apricots
- 2 Tbsp chia seeds
- 1 cup puffed quinoa
- 1 cup nut butter (almond or peanut)
- 3/4 cup honey
Puff the quinoa. (See instructions here.) Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl. Transfer to a greased 9×13-inch baking pan. Refrigerate for a few hours to harden. Slice into bars and store in an airtight container.
Who doesn’t love Laräbars? Not us. Now you can try this healthy no-bake version at home.
- 1/2 cup unsalted cashews
- 1-1/4 cup dates
- Pinch of salt
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 Tbsp carob powder
Blend all ingredients in a food processor until a sticky dough forms. Mold into bars or balls and store in an airtight container.