Food

A+ school lunches: Healthy ideas for happy kids (recipes)

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Photo by Emily Ryan. “I recommend there are four things we need to pack,” says registered dietitian Ashvini Mashru. “There’s a protein. There’s a whole grain, a fruit or vegetable serving and a dairy serving.”

By Emily Ryan, The Mercury

Backpack? Check. Notebooks? Check. Pencils? Check. Now what’s for lunch? Start the school year off right with healthy, kid-approved recipes as easy as A-B-C.

“It’s all about planning and not going crazy when packing school lunches,” said mother-of-two Ashvini Mashru, a registered dietitian and owner of Wellness Nutrition Concepts in Malvern.

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Photo by Emily Ryan. Pair individual hummus cups with veggies for a healthy, easy-to-pack snack.

Remember this simple formula: “Three colors (fruits or veggies) + one protein + one healthy grains = a better box.”

Her girls enjoy chicken salad with nonfat Greek yogurt instead of mayonnaise or a veggie hummus sandwich loaded with protein and fiber.

“It tastes really good,” Mashru described. “Most kids don’t get enough fiber in their meals because they’re eating processed food every single time.”

“Vegetables. That’s probably one of the biggest challenges,” agreed Libby Mills, a chef and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, who makes rainbow pinwheel sandwiches full of colorful veggies.

Another challenge: Redundancy.

“Stick with things that they like,” she said. “Introduce in small quantities a new food maybe once a week, so they’re not inundated.”

While teaching kids’ cooking camps at The Kitchen Workshop in Paoli, Mills introduced chocolate chip cookie dough dip. The secret ingredient? Tofu.

“They were a little skeptical. But we put it together, and it was such a hit!” she said. “It’s just a winner flavor-wise, but it is leaps and bounds better than having an actual cookie.”

Kathy Wolper of Kitchen Wizards in East Norriton also serves a version of the dip.

“I struggle with offering healthier options for my kids’ cooking classes,” she admitted, “but I’ve been pleasantly surprised by a few healthy recipes that I offered in the spring/summer that would be great options for bento-box school lunches!”

Try her Mediterranean quinoa salad with red peppers, cherry tomatoes and black olives. Plus, don’t forget healthy snacks like individual hummus cups and veggie sticks, yogurt and fresh fruit or nut-free trail mix.

And for something special, Mills bakes garbanzo bean chocolate cake.

“It’s super easy. It’s totally kid-friendly,” she said. “Everyone does like a treat, especially if there’s something to look forward to in a packed lunch.”

Healthy Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Dip

This chocolate chip cookie dough dip is secretly healthy, making both kids and parents happy! Try it with fresh fruit or lightly salted pretzels for a satisfying snack.

Ingredients

5 ounces silken tofu

3 ounces light cream cheese

2 tablespoons rolled oats

2 tablespoons unsalted peanut butter

3 tablespoons brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/4 tablespoon salt

1 tablespoon unsweetened vanilla almond milk

1/4 cup chocolate chips

Instructions

Remove tofu from packaging and rinse in cool water to remove excess moisture from packaging. Place tofu on a plate between two paper towels and place a heavy object like a 15-ounce can on top. After approximately 5 minutes, remove the paper towels. Use a new, clean paper towel to pat the tofu dry. The goal of compressing tofu is to remove excess water. Put tofu in the base of a food processor or blender along with the cream cheese, rolled oats, peanut butter, brown sugar, vanilla, salt and almond milk. Puree until creamy and smooth, scraping down sides as you go.

The dip’s texture should be similar to pudding. Depending on the power of your food processor or blender, you may need to add an additional tablespoon of vanilla almond milk. Add in the chocolate chips and pulse three or four times to combine. Remove dip and place in a serving bowl. Enjoy with fresh fruit, graham cracker squares or lightly salted pretzels for a sweet and savory treat!

Cooking tip: Use your favorite type of milk in place of vanilla almond milk.

RECIPE COURTESY OF ACADEMY OF NUTRITION AND DIETETICS

Rainbow Pinwheel Sandwiches

Help your kids make this colorful fun rollup and pair it with milk and a piece of fruit.

Servings: 1

Ingredients

1 tomato tortilla

3 to 4 tablespoons hummus

3 to 5 sticks of yellow pepper

3 tablespoons shredded purple cabbage

1/4 cup shredded carrots

1/4 cup baby spinach

Instructions

Lay the tortilla flat on a clean surface. Spread the hummus evenly, coating the tortilla. Avoid adding vegetable ingredients to the upper 1-inch of the tortilla. Lay the yellow pepper sticks in horizontal lines randomly over the tortilla. Sprinkle the shredded cabbage over the tortilla, keeping the top inch veggie-free. Sprinkle the shredded carrots on top of the cabbage. Finally, layer on the spinach. To roll the tortilla, start at the bottom. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight or until ready to eat. For fun, the wrap can be removed from the plastic in the morning before school, and sliced into 3/4-inch-thick rounds. Re-wrap the rounds in the original rolled shape for easy transport. Keep refrigerated.

RECIPE COURTESY OF CHEF LIBBY MILLS

Garbanzo Bean Chocolate Cake

My version contains less sugar than the original recipe from Epicurious.

Servings: 12

Ingredients

1 1/4 cups semisweet chocolate chips

1 (19-ounce) can garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained

4 eggs

1⁄2 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 tablespoon powdered sugar

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-inch round cake pan.

Put the chocolate chips into a microwave-safe bowl. Cook in the microwave for about 1 minute. Stir. Cook an additional 20 seconds and stir again. Repeat cooking and stirring every 20 seconds until the chocolate is melted and smooth.

In a food processor, mix the beans and eggs until they are smooth. Blend in the sugar and the baking powder. Pour in the melted chocolate and blend until smooth and thoroughly mixed. Use a spatula to scrape sides and corners as needed. Add vanilla and mix just to combine.

Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan. Bake for 40 minutes or until an inserted knife comes out clean. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 to 15 minutes. Invert onto a plate. Dust with powdered sugar just before serving.

RECIPE COURTESY OF CHEF LIBBY MILLS, ADAPTED FROM EPICURIOUS

Chicken Salad

Servings: 6

Ingredients

2 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts, poached

1/4 cup nonfat Greek yogurt

1/3 cup celery, diced

1/3 cup apples, diced

1/3 cup grapes, halved

1/4 cup slivered almonds

Instructions

Dice poached chicken. In a large bowl, mix chicken and yogurt to coat evenly. Add other ingredients and mix well. Store in refrigerator.

RECIPE COURTESY OF REGISTERED DIETITIAN ASHVINI MASHRU

Veggie Hummus Sandwich

Servings: 1

Ingredients

2 slices whole-grain Ezekiel bread

2 tablespoons hummus

3 slices cucumber

2 thin slices tomato

3 slices avocado

1/4 cup fresh sprouts

1/4 cup grated carrots

Instructions

Toast bread. Spread 1 tablespoon hummus on each slice and layer on vegetables.

RECIPE COURTESY OF REGISTERED DIETITIAN ASHVINI MASHRU

Chocolate Chocolate Chip Yogurt Dip

Ingredients

1 cup Greek yogurt

2 to 4 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (depending on how rich you want it)

1 tablespoon maple syrup

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

3 tablespoons dark chocolate chips

Instructions

Mix ingredients together until there are no lumps from the cocoa powder and add more maple syrup if desired. Chill [covered] in the fridge. Top with chocolate chips. Serve the chocolate dip with banana, apple, pretzels, pound cake, animal crackers or strawberries.

RECIPE COURTESY OF KITCHEN WIZARDS

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