Editor’s Note: The lovely local foodie Sarah Stromquist is with us today. She’s serving up some ideas that are sure to rock the lunch box. Check them out:
It’s that time of year again, when the weather starts to cool down, the days get shorter and, as school starts, parents everywhere are making lunches for their kids.
In my calculations I figure, per child, five lunches a week, four weeks in a month, and 10 months of the school year with the exception of holidays… well over the span of 12 years that is a whole lot of lunches.
There are so many factors that go into the preparation and making of a lunch. But the key factor is whether it’s healthy enough to sustain them mentally and physically for the active day ahead.
So what to pack?
There is no shortage of inspiration from magazines, websites and books on this very subject. I have found myself browsing these for some new ideas and was eager to try quite a few – although most have failed when actually put into our menu rotation.
A lot of these ideas are foods that we don’t usually eat or are ridiculous to try to accomplish on a busy morning.
In an attempt to make lunch making a bit easier I have been suckered into purchasing almost every gimmick on the market. Yes, I own the banana holster!
I have lovingly sewn lunch totes, fabric wraps and baggies. I must admit they all work well but nothing will mask a lack luster lunch no matter how deceptively it’s packaged. Of course after all the thoughtfulness and hard work that goes into a lunch all that really matters is whether or not they actually eat it.
After the first few weeks we are already becoming frustrated. I get bored of making the same things. I can only assume that they would get bored opening up their lunch kit to the exact same thing day in and day out.
I have been assured that this not the case and that a plain processed meat and mayo sandwich is a perfect lunch. I hang my head in shame.
And when the lunch box returns almost as full as it left, I worry that they are not getting what they need.
I realize I must also compete with the other kids in the class flaunting candy bars and prepackaged snacks. I have gone for the educational approach and explained all the reasons why a full and healthy lunch is essential. Like the importance of maintaining a growing body and mind for a full day at school.
I talk to my kids and explain the food process and that treats are nice but your body needs certain things to run properly, like gas in a car. This speech has already fallen on deaf ears and I need to change the metaphor.
I am starting to feel like I am losing a lengthy battle. But what is a good solution? That I’m not sure of. I have started a middle of the road approach and hope that my children will be wise enough to make educated decisions.
I know that they won’t everyday, but I have made a pact with them that I will give them “treats” as long as they continue to eat the good stuff.
So far so good.
And essentially they feel that they have control, that much needed “say” in the matter which, as parents, we all know is really the root of it all.
Yet through all this I still believe kids will learn to trade, throw away, or just go hungry if they are not satisfied with their fare. They will ultimately decide their dietary intake. But we can sure tempt them with delicious foods that will interest them enough to eat and enjoy while we, as parents, feel satisfied that we have been able to feed them well.
In an attempt to transform the lunch into a happy healthy affair for us all, I have come up with a few surefire healthy foods that most kids will enjoy and parents will feel good about giving. All of these ideas are fabulous for involving the kids in the kitchen as an after school project.
Here are a few suggestions that I hope you and your family will enjoy…
The Rebar Modern Food Cookbook has such great food that we basically live out of it. These Power Spheres are no exception.
In a food processor pulse ¾ cs. dried apricots, ¾ cs. dried apples and 4 brown rice cakes into a fine texture and transfer to a large bowl to set aside.
Next pulse to roughly combine 1 c coconut, ½ c sunflower seeds, ½ cup pumpkin seeds, 1/3 c. sesame seeds and ½ rolled oats.
Add to the fruit mixture along with 1 ¼ cs. fruit sweetener (I use frozen apple juice concentrate) and ½ warmed peanut butter.
Mix everything together until well combine and cover and chill for at least and hour.
Rough into small balls and coat with toasted sesame seeds or coconut.
Wrap in plastic and refrigerate.
A definite must is a good muffin and granola bar. We alternate between these and yummy loaves for snacks in the lunch box. Try these awesome tasty morsels that my kids enjoy so much – they don’t even notice how good they are for them. They freeze really great for a ready supply.
Sarah’s Cosmic Muffins
Mix in a large bowl all the wet ingredients.
1 c. milk (cow or alternative)
½ oil (olive, veggie or apple sauce)
¼ c. molasses
2 grated carrots
½ c. buttermilk
In another bowl blend dry ingredients.
2 ½ cs. flour (white or ½ whole wheat and ½ white)
2 tsps. baking powder
1 tsp salt
2/3 c. sugar (white or brown)
1 c. bran (or ½ oat bran and ½ wheat germ)
¾ c. raisins ( or crasins, dates, apricots or a combo of all)
¼ tsp cloves
1 Tbsp. cinnamon
¼ c. pumpkin seeds
¼ c. sunflower seeds
¼ c. flax seeds
Mix dry ingredients into the wet until just blended and put into lined or greased muffin tins.
Bake at 350 degrees for 25-35 minutes, or until golden brown and tester comes out clean.
Our all-time favorite is a special granola bar recipe that I have worked on for quite some time and am proud to pass along.
Sarah’s Granola Bars
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Mix together in a large bowl 1c. brown sugar, 1/2 corn syrup, ½ c. melted butter, 2/3 peanut or almond butter and 2 tsps. vanilla. Mix to a paste.
Then add into paste mixture 3 cs. quick oats, ¼ pumpkin seeds, ¼ c. sunflower seeds, ½ c. coconut, 1/3 c. wheat or oat bran, ½ c. raisins, 1c. chocolate chips, ½ c. slivered almonds and ¼ c. mix of sesame and flax seeds.
Put into a 9×13 greased pan and pat down firmly.
Cook for 25- 35 minutes unitl golden brown.
There is a necessity for bread items, but I am fed up with sandwiches.
Now I am trying wraps, foccocia sticks, pizza slivers and crazy breads. Little quiches and meat pies are delicious and cute to put into a lunch as well. Stuffed Yorkshire puddings, pasta salads and rice balls work really well and stay tasty until noon. Each can contain meat, or not, and be packed with a great deal of hidden veggies for a well balanced snack.
Crackers and cheese are also super tasty. The recipe below are for some awesome and addictive crackers. I had these first at one of the pot luck lunches with OBE this summer and immediately scoured the internet for a recipe. This one I found at YumYum.com.
Fennel and Onion Crackers
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Roughly grind 2 Tbsps. fennel seeds and set aside.
In a large bowl combine 2 cs. flour, the ground fennel, 1 ½ tsps salt and 1 tsp black pepper.
Cut 2 Tbsps softened butter until the mixture resembles course oatmeal.
Stir in 1 ¼ cs. minced onions.
Blend in up to 2 Tbsps cold water. Enough to form a smooth dough that will hold together into a ball.
Divide dough into two portions.
On a floured surface roll out into a ¼ inch rectangle.
If desired, sprinkle lightly with extra ground fennel seeds and gently roll onto dough.
Cut into desired shapes, squares, long strips or fun cut outs and transfer to an ungreased baking sheet.
Prick each shape two or three times with a fork.
Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until golden brown around edges.
Cool on rack and store in an airtight container.
Yogurt with granola and fruit, or even a muffin crumbled on top, is fun and satisfying. Cheese, fruit and meat platters, or little kabobs, are interesting and palatable for most kids. Popcorn with a tasty topping, homemade fruit leather with yogurt, dried fruits and nuts or trail mixes are all quick and handy for a healthy boost.
This week’s favorite yummy has definitely been this little wonder I made. Give it a try and let me know what you think.
Sarah’s Apple Apricot Bar
Heat oven to 350 and line an 8×8 pan with tin foil (a must)
Place ¾ cs. dried apricots into a blender with ¼ cup boiling water and let sit while you make the rest.
In a small bowl mix together ½ whole wheat flour with 1/4 c. wheat germ, ½ tsp baking soda, ¼ tsp cinnamon, ¼ tsp salt and set aside.
In a large bowl beat together 6 Tbsps. softened butter with 1/3 brown sugar and ¼ c. granulated sugar.
Beat in 1 large egg and ½ tsp vanilla.
Add ½ c. apple sauce and beat until well combined.
Stir in 1 ½ cs. rolled oats and divide batter into thirds.
Press 2/3 of the batter into pan.
Puree apricots in blender and spread over batter. Top with 2/3 c. raisins and ½ cup chopped dried apples.
Add ½ c. flax seeds and ½ cup sunflower seeds to the remaining batter and place on top of the apricot blend.
Bake for 30 -35 minutes.
Cut when cooled. Makes 18 bars.
And last but not least, a cookie. What lunch kit is complete without a little cookie to enjoy?
Chocolate Orange Cookies with Oatmeal (adapted from a Hollyhock recipe)
In a large bowl use a fork to cream together 1 c. butter and ½ c. brown sugar.
Add 2 eggs, 2 Tbsps orange zest and 1 tsp vanilla.
Mix in 1 ½ c chopped nuts such as almonds, walnuts and/or hazelnuts, 1 ½ c chocolate chips, 1 c oats and 1 c coconut,
In a separate bowl combine together 1 ½ cs whole wheat or spelt flour, 1 Tbsp cinnamon and 1 tsp baking soda.
Gradually mix the flour blend into the wet mixture and stir well with hand or wooden spoon.
Shape the dough into balls and place them on a lightly oiled cookie sheet or parchment paper and press down with a fork.
Bake for 15 minutes until golden brown.
Store in an airtight container.
I hope you and your family enjoy all of these ideas for making hardy, healthy and fun lunches.