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Back to School: Back to Lunch

Healthy lunchbox and after school snack ideas.

Healthy Lunch and Snack Ideas

Creative Kids Kitchen's "Choose Your Own Muffin" Recipe

1/3 cup butter

1 cup sugar (can easily reduce to 3/4 cup)

1 egg, beaten

1 teaspoon vanilla

pinch of salt

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

3/4 cup whole wheat flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

Pick One Of These:

1 cup mashed, ripe bananas

1/2 cup blueberries

1 cup pureed butternut squash

1 cup mashed sweet potato

1/2 cup shredded carrot

No need for a mixer for this recipe. Preheat oven to 350°F. Mix butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl. Stir in egg, vanilla, baking soda and salt. Mix in your "pick one of these" ingredient. Finally, add the flours a little at a time until the batter is well mixed. Pour the mixture into a greased muffin tin. Bake for approx 30 minutes or until a wooden pick comes out clean.

Creative Kids Kitchen's Sneaky Pizza Bites

1 cup all purpose flour

1 cup whole wheat flour

1 green bell pepper (chopped)

1/2 cup mozzarella cheese

1 cup pizza sauce

1/2 cup water (or enough to moisten dough)

1/2 cup finely diced extra firm tofu

In a medium bowl, mix together the flours, green bell pepper, tofu, mozzarella cheese and pizza sauce. Gradually stir in a little bit of water until the mixture is a workable consistency. Roll into 1-inch balls.

Arrange pizza bites on the baking sheet. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes, or until lightly browned. Serve hot.

Tiny Chefs’ Apple Cheddar Quesadillas with Honey Mustard Dip

For the dip:

2/3 cup mayonnaise

2 tablespoons yellow mustard

3 tablespoons honey

2 teaspoon lemon juice

For the quesadillas:

3 large Granny Smith apples, cored and sliced thin

8 (6-inch) whole wheat tortillas

1 – 1 1/2 cups (about 6 ounces) shredded cheddar cheese 2-3 tablespoons butter, divided

In a small bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, mustard, honey and lemon juice. Set aside.

Use a mandolin or sharp knife to thinly slice the apples.

Build a quesadilla by adding a handful of shredded cheese and a handful of sliced apples to one half of each tortilla. Fold it over like a book.

Add 1 tablespoon of the butter to a large saute pan over medium heat. When hot, place 2 quesadillas in the pan and cook for several minutes or until golden brown.

Carefully flip over the quesadilla to allow the other side to brown.

Once both sides are browned and the cheese is melted, remove the quesadilla from the pan. Slice it into quarters.

Carefully wipe out the pan with a damp paper towel. Add the remaining butter to the pan and repeat the above process with the remaining quesadillas.

Serve warm with the honey mustard dip.

Tiny Chefs’ Chocolate Chip “Power Balls”

Makes 2-3 dozen, depending on the size

2 1/2 cups old fashioned oats

1 cup any nut butter, or tahini for those with nut allergies

1/2 cup honey

1/2 cup ground flax meal or wheat germ

1/2 cup mini chocolate chips

1/2 cup dried cherries, cranberries, or raisins

1/2 cup sunflower seeds

1/2 teaspoon salt

For finishing: 1 cup flaked coconut, lightly toasted (spread onto a sheet pan and toast in a 350 degree oven for 5-7 minutes)

Set toasted coconut onto a large plate or tray. Set aside.

Combine all of the ingredients (except the coconut) in a large mixing bowl and stir well to combine. The mixture should be sticky and stiff.

Scoop large tablespoons of the mixture (or you can use a mini ice cream scoop), roll them between your palms (make sure your hands are clean!), then roll into the toasted coconut. Enjoy immediately or refrigerate for up to 2 days.

Quick After-School Snack

(Courtesy of Culinaria Cooking School)

Gently mix together 6 oz of plain, low fat Greek yogurt, 1 tablespoon honey, 1/2 cup fresh berries (or fresh peaches) and 2 tablespoons chopped walnuts.

Serve in a tall glass.

Apple and Beet Salad

(Courtesy of Chef Kristen Robinson)

Buy cooked or canned diced beets at the grocery. Cut up smaller if necessary. Mix in some diced apple. Dress this salad with a simple squeeze of lemon juice, a few tablespoons of olive oil and some chopped mint and/or chives as well as a sprinkling of salt.

“The most important tip for parents to remember is to make healthy food fun for kids, even if that means turning the apple in their lunch into a turtle by adding some grapes for his feet and raisins for his eyes.”

For many families, back-to-school means back to lunch boxes and after school snacks. Local experts offer advice about how to get children excited about their midday meal.

“The most important tip for parents to remember is to make healthy food fun for kids, even if that means turning the apple in their lunch into a turtle by adding some grapes for his feet and raisins for his eyes,” said Chef Kristen Robinson of the Arlington-based culinary faculty at The Art Institute of Washington.

For children who like snacks with a crunch, Nichole Ferrigno, culinary director of Tiny Chefs with locations in Alexandria, Springfield and Centreville, as well as Potomac, Md., suggests roasted kale chip and roasted chick peas.

“Kale chips are very hot right now [and] could be made with an Asian flare using rice vinegar, sesame oil, tamari and sesame seeds, or with an Italian flare, using balsamic vinegar, olive oil, a little garlic powder, salt and pepper,” she said. “Roasted chick peas become a flavorful, crunchy snack [when made] with olive oil and tons of spices and fresh herbs. You drain, rinse and pat dry a can of chick peas, toss together with seasonings and bake on a sheet tray at 425 degrees for about 10 minutes, or until crispy on the outside.”

Homemade muffins are a favorite lunch box addition and after school snack for Arlington mother and culinary instructor, Andrea Nelson of Creative Kids Kitchen. “My own kids are big fans of the myriad muffin varieties that we make at home,” she said. “I have mini-muffin tins, [and] preschoolers and older children alike love the bite-sized portions. They are great to pack in lunches because they don't get squashed, don’t require utensils, and are tasty at room temperature.”

Nelson says that families can make large batches and freeze them. “This avoids the morning lunch-making frenzy,” she said. “The muffins I make contain whole wheat flour, eggs and pureed vegetables like sweet potato, winter squash or shredded carrots, so that the kids take in several food groups at once.”

Nelson says children often find “pizza bites” appealing. “It’s the easiest recipe in the world, she said. “It’s quick, tasty and healthy. Plus pizza bites travel well. They are great to take in the car to munch on the way to soccer practice.”

Robinson agrees that many children enjoy bite-sized pieces. “Cut foods into kid-sized pieces,” she said. “Good food seems more appealing and less intimidating in smaller pieces. Cut a sandwich on whole grain bread into triangle quarters. Cut apples into slices, removing the core, and rub with lemon juice to prevent browning. Include a small handful of roasted no-salt almonds for a snack. Instead of a sandwich, pack some slices of low-fat cheese, cut into small squares, and some whole grain crackers.”

Adding fruit to vegetables is a healthy eating technique that Robinson recommends. “[It] encourages them to eat more veggies,” she said. “Adding citrus fruits to a salad is a great way to get fruits and vegetables into your child. Or make a grated carrot salad with grapes and raisins.”

Interesting colors, shapes and textures can also help entice children into eating a healthful lunch of after school snack. “If it looks exciting they are more likely to eat it instead of trying to trade it at the lunch table,” she said. “For example, if you have leftover chicken from dinner, you can turn that into a lunch the following day by adding yogurt or light mayo, curry powder, chopped celery, almonds and blueberries. Now you have crunchy nuts and celery, sweet berries, extra protein from the yogurt and little fat in comparison to the regular mayonnaise-based chicken salad you would buy at the grocery store.”

Giving children control over their food choices can encourage healthy eating. “Take your children to the local farmers’ market and have them pick different vegetables and fruits to try,” said Marilena Leavitt, chef and instructor at Culinaria Cooking in Vienna, and the mother of three children. “Have healthy, after-school snacks available 24/7. For example, baby carrots and hummus, plain Greek yogurt, olives, mozzarella cheese sticks, unsalted nuts and raisins, popcorn, and salsa and tortilla chips.”