Lunch today is a kid favorite: hummus with crackers and veggies. I also threw in some tropical trail mix with: almonds, banana chips, dried pineapple, dried cherries, dried papaya, mini dark chocolate chips and white chocolate chips. Without the white chocolate chips, this lunch would be completely vegan.
Yogurt cream cheese is delicious stuff. It’s basically yogurt that has been strained until it is thick and spreadable. If you strain yogurt for an hour or so, you’ll get Greek yogurt. If you strain yogurt overnight, you’ll get yogurt cheese. The process is super simple.
Start with good yogurt:
My favorite yogurt is Trader Joe’s Organic Plain Whole Milk Yogurt, because it tastes amazing: rich and creamy with a good amount of yogurt sourness. Also, look at the ingredients:
There’s no junk or weird stuff of gelatin in this yogurt: just milk and yogurt cultures. Mmm, I feel healthy just looking at this label.
Scoop some of your delicious wholesome yogurt into a strainer lined with a coffee filter. Set the strainer over a bowl or measuring cup.
Let the yogurt strain for about 8 hours (all day or overnight). I usually just leave it on the counter all night. However, if your home is very warm and/or potentially bug-infested (that would describe my first apartment in Chicago), or if you have a yogurt-loving cat, you might want to put the yogurt strainer contraption in the fridge.
When the yogurt is nice and thick, scoop it into a little container and store it in the fridge. The liquid that comes out of the yogurt is whey. It’s supposedly good for you, so use it in a smoothie. Or, if you’re bold, try drinking it straight.
The consistency of yogurt cheese will be similar to whipped or spreadable cream cheese. I love it on toast. The kiddos love it on toast. You will love it on toast.
And, if you happen to have an amazing jam-making, triathlete, philosopher, business ethics professor friend who sends you a jar of freshly make peach apricot jam, slather that on your toast as well.
I make green smoothies for breakfast almost every day. For some reason, when I have a green smoothie, I need less coffee. It must be the power of the kale. This past year, I’ve also been sending green smoothies to Lily’s preschool class whenever we have snack duty. The kids just love them. Here’s the process for making a big batch of kid-friendly green smoothies:
Add 2 cups of juice to the Vitamix. Apple juice is great for smoothies on the sweeter side. Lately, I’ve been using fresh squeezed orange juice, because we have so many oranges on our trees.
Add about 2 cups of milk to the blender. I usually use almond milk.
Add a nice big pile of frozen bananas. You could also use fresh bananas, but frozen bananas have magical properties and will make the smoothie extra thick and creamy. Every few days I cut up more bananas to replenish my frozen supply.
Now the blender will look like this:
Add some more fruit. For the preschool kids I like to add pineapple because it’s so sweet that it will completely obliterate any earthy kale flavor. Mango is also good.
Now, top the blender off with a big handful of kale or spinach. Pull the stems off if they are really thick. This big blender full of goodness is for a class of 15 preschool kids and their two teachers. Can you believe that the Vitamix can completely pulverize all this? It’s incredible, truly incredible.
And here is the glorious finished product:
When I make smoothies for just us, I use the same process but I start with 2 cups of liquid which I load up with fruit and greens. This makes two grownup portions and two kid portions.
I had preschool snack duty today, so I whipped up a batch of peanuttylicious mini banana muffins.
Peanuttylicious Mini Banana Muffins
Makes 36 mini muffins
- 1-1/2 cups white whole wheat flour (White whole wheat? How is this possible? I just have to trust that Trader Joe’s is not scamming me.)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 2 medium ripe bananas
- 1 large egg
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1/3 cup coconut oil (or any decent vegetable oil)
- 1/2 cup soy milk
- 1/3 cup peanut butter chips
- creamy peanut butter
Preheat oven to 400˚ and grease mini muffin pans with baking spray. Mash up bananas is a large mixing bowl. Mix the egg, oil, sugar and milk into the mashed bananas. If you use coconut oil, microwave it for about a minute in order the liquify it. If you are a proper baker, combine the flour, salt, and baking powder in a separate bowl. If you are like me and have no time for this separate bowl nonsense, just dump the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and mix everything carefully with a fork. Add in the peanut butter chips. Then take a big scoop of peanut butter and swirl it into the batter. Don’t combine it all the way; you want to taste yummy swirls of peanut butter in the muffins. Bake for 10—12 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.
Mmm, all I can say is: peanuttylicious mini banana muffin, come to Mama.
The kiddos just love a snacky lunch with lots of little nibbly things. The snacky lunch should have good variety and color, so it’s fun to eat. This lunch has slices of swiss and sharp cheddar cheese served with some Wheat Thins and edamame. For fruit, I packed chunks of pear and apple, and a few dried apricots. I also threw in a little baby carrot and a couple of Fig Newmans. And, yep, that’s a big marshmallow for a treat, again. I’m not sure what to do with the big bag of marshmallows left over from the Epic LEGO Cake Project.
I grew up on fresh baked bread. When my Mom married my Dad and left Newfoundland for Montana and a crazy life in the Air Force, she declared that she “hated American bread.” “I absolutely hate the stuff.” “It’s not bread.” This was around 1970 and American bread meant soft, processed white stuff like Wonder Bread, which was clearly devoid of all nutritional value and wholesome flavor and a nice crumb. You see, Mom grew up in the country. And by country, I mean the extreme country of St. Mary’s, Newfoundland. My Nanny has proudly told me that they had the first flush toilet in town—put in, I kid you not, in the 1960s. If you wanted a glass of milk, you went out and milked the cow. If you wanted bread, you got some flour, water, and yeast and started kneading. If you wanted a cute mini-dress, you pulled out the sewing machine. Well, you get the picture. My Mom also told me on a number of occasions that I was a spoiled rotten, lazy American teenager and that she “was making bread at 12 years old.” Or was it 10 years old? And, yes, I was spoiled rotten—by her, no less.
So, when I moved out of my parents’ house and started living on my own, did I take up bread baking? Hell, no. What struggling graphic designer in their 20s has time for proofing yeast and mixing dough by hand and kneading and rising and punching down and forming loaves and rising again and finally baking? This was all I knew of bread baking. Then years later (in 2006 to be exact), I discovered Jim Lahey’s no-knead bread making method in The New York Times. Well, that changed my life. A few years after that, my talented and amazing friend Jason O’Malley turned me on to Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. Two words: mind blowing. You mix up your dough by hand in a big plastic container, let it rise in the container, store the container in the fridge, and form a loaf of bread when the spirit moves you. That’s it. No proofing. No kneading. No heartache, because the bread always turns out.
I decided to bake a couple of loaves yesterday, so I could send some lovely homemade whole grain bread to preschool for today’s snack. I also sent along some honey butter (actually Earth Balance vegan buttery spread—almost as good) and some honey yogurt cheese (I’ll tell you how I made that one of these days). And, of course, I made a big batch of green smoothie for the kiddos. To make smoothies for a crowd of preschoolers, I fill up the entire Vitamix. Today, I started with about 3 cups fresh squeezed orange juice and one cup of almond milk. I put in about 4 or 5 frozen bananas, a frozen avocado and a handful of frozen mango chunks. Then I stuffed the blender to the top with spinach leaves. Mmm. Super sweet, creamylicious, and vitamin-packed.
I decided to do a small bites lunch today with lots of little nibblies. The apple slices have sunflower seed butter and raisins sandwiched between them. I dipped the apple slices in some lemon water to prevent them from browning. The assortment of fruits and veggies includes: carrots, grape tomatoes, a medjool date, mango chunks and a satsuma. There’s also a little serving of plain yogurt with honey. The treat is a couple of cocoa Somersaults. This lunch was on the light side, as evidenced by the amount of popcorn and assorted snacks consumed by the kiddos after school.
I’ve been dealing with a rather annoying cold, but I am determined not to let it get me down. Case in point: this super cute deconstructed sandwich lunch. In a bizarre fit of evening inspiration and motivation, I decided to make mini smoked turkey, cheese, grape tomato and dill pickle kabobs for lunch today. I love food served on toothpicks; it always reminds of that scene in Mermaids. You know—with the incomparable Cher and Winona Forever. But, I digress. Also in this lunch: pretzel fish and plantain chips, half a satsuma and a little Greek yogurt with blueberry jam. This lunch is so cute that I’ll have to make a point of packing more colorful kabobs in the future.
Today I was in charge of the preschool snack, so yesterday I whipped up a batch of mini vegan banana muffins. Once upon a time, I thought that vegan baked goods consisted of hard as a rock carob cookies and bran muffins that taste like cardboard. Then I became interested in food and nutrition and the environment and such things, which eventually lead me down a path to plants. And trying to eat more plants. I began experimenting with vegan baking and discovered that in many recipes, eggs and butter are totally unnecessary. This is especially true for muffins and quick breads. These super delicious vegan banana muffins use minimal sugar and oil, but they taste amazing.
*Cooking Tip: Super Delicious Vegan Banana Muffins
- 1 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour (I use Trader Joe’s brand, because it’s cheap and good)
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 4 very ripe bananas, mashed
- 1/2 cup white sugar, or sweetener of your choice
- 1/4 cup unsweetened apple sauce
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extra
- secret ingredient: the zest of one orange
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Spray a 12 muffin pan (or two mini muffin pans) with oil.
- In a large bowl, stir together all ingredients except the flour.*
- Add the flour to the wet mix and stir until just incorporated.
- Spoon batter into prepared muffin pans. Bake in preheated oven for 18-22 minutes (shorter for mini muffins), or until a toothpick inserted into center of muffin comes out clean. Or until the muffins look golden and delicious. Do not over bake.
*Recipes will always tell you to mix the dry ingredients together in a separate bowl from the wet ingredients. It’s the proper way to do things. However, when I’m making simple baked things like muffins, cookies and everyday cakes, I throw caution to the wind and mix everything in one bowl. It took me years to discover this time-saving measure, because I’m a type A direction follower. I was amazed to discover that most things turn out just fine when mixed in one bowl.
Today was another preschool snack duty day for me. I had every intention of making whole grain vegan pumpkin muffins. But, life, work, chores, etc. got in the way, so I turned to TJ’s convenience:
These muffins are darn good, but way sweeter than I would have made them. I did substitute applesauce for half of the oil in an attempt to make the muffins slightly less decadent. I’m sure the kids will gobble them up. I decided to try sending some green smoothie as part of the snack. The smoothie is pretty sweet, so I think the kids will go for it.
Green Smoothie for Kids:
- frozen bananas
- frozen pineapple
- kale or spinach
- apple juice
- vanilla almond or soy or coconut milk
Exact ratios are unimportant. More pineapple and apple juice will result in a sweeter smoothie. More milk and bananas will create a creamier smoothie. You don’t need a Vitamix to make green smoothies, although, the Vitamix smoothie will be, well: smoother.
I have two different types of snacks I have to deal with on school days. Iain gets a packed snack everyday for school. A couple of times a month I have to provide 17 snacks for Lily’s preschool class. These two types of snacks are challenging in different ways. The preschool snack requires mid-week planning, an evening burst of energy, and creative thinking. What is the healthiest snack that will appeal to the widest range of kids? I know that not all four year olds are as adventurous as mine when it comes to food. I stick to safe options: whole grain muffins on the sweet side, mild cheeses, and easy to prep fruit (grapes are the best). Once I made ants on a log—you know, peanut butter on celery with raisin “ants”—and it was insane. Way messier and time consuming that I anticipated. Never again.
Iain’s snack poses another set of challenges. Last year, Iain was placed in the dreaded first grade “allergy class.” Before school started, I was informed that some of the kids in Iain’s class had life threatening allergies to, I kid you not, peanuts, eggs and fish. Parents were asked to not send these items to school in lunches and snacks. This lead to a vegan granola bar baking extravaganza. I spent months trying different recipes before I found the perfect bar. Easy to make, minimal ingredients, and Iain loves it. When Iain was placed in the second grade “allergy class” (evidently they keep these poor epi-pen carting kids together in the same class), I was prepared. Although I am less vigilant about avoiding the allergens entirely since discovering that the allergy kids eat in their own area, the lunch boxes are kept outside of the classroom, and all the kids in the class wash their hands a gazillion times a day. I still don’t send tree nuts, though. Thank the Good Lord for sunflower seed butter.
Here is what snack production for Iain looks like:
One 8-inch pan will yield 12 good sized bars. I decided to cut these in half again to get 24 bars, because I’ve noticed that Iain has not been eating his entire bar every day.
Once I’ve got the bars cut, I wrap them individually in waxed paper.
I keep these bars in the refrigerator and they last a long time. There’s really nothing in them that can go bad and I haven’t noticed a consistency or flavor change even in bars that have been in the fridge for a month.
On school mornings, I’ll pack a protein bar and a piece of fruit (usually an apple) in a SnackTaxi.
SnackTaxis are wonderful. I got mine at Lunchville.com. Full disclosure: a friend of mine started Lunchville. However, she is not paying me or coercing me in any way to endorse her site or the products sold on her site. Actually, I wish she would pay me. Pay me in SnackTaxis.
By the way, this SnackTaxi is at least two years old. Doesn’t it look great? I think of all the plastic baggies I’ve saved by using the SnackTaxi. I love to feel like an ecowarrior.
Today’s lunch is soy-licious. The main entree is a medley of cherry tomatoes (our garden), carrots (farmers market), edamame (Trader Joe’s frozen section), and teriyaki baked tofu cubes. The teriyaki tofu is from Trader Joe’s and comes pre-prepared, but I often make this by cutting a brick of extra firm tofu into four pieces and baking it in teriyaki sauce for about an hour (350˚ish). My kids love tofu—especially if it’s pan-fried or served in some yummy soy-based sauce. In the other compartments are: rice crackers + pretzel fish and blackberries + raspberries (farmers market). The treat is a rather decadent almond toffee dark chocolate drop.
Today, I was also in charge of Lily’s preschool class snack. Parents have to sign up for snack duty a couple of times per month. I usually try to bring some sort of whole grain baked item with fruit. We are also required to include a protein item in the snack. This time I made vegan zucchini pineapple whole wheat mini muffins. Man oh man, did these muffins turn out good. Sliced cheddar cheese and granny smith apples were also part of this snack. I try to prep and pack up everything for preschool snack the night before and slice/prep the fruit in the morning.
Cooking Tip: If you are looking to make vegan baked goods (because of allergies, health reasons, etc.), check out this vegan baking site. I’ve had really good luck with the recipes.