12 Sept 2012: Hummus Plate

lunch on 12 Sept 2012
lunch on 12 Sept 2012
lunch on 12 Sept 2012

I love a good hummus plate. For some reason it’s really easy to eat your veggies when you get to dip them in creamy, garlicky hummus. Today’s lunch has a little mini container of hummus with cucumbers, sugar snap peas, carrots, pretzel slims and whole grain pita chips for dipping. Look at those strawberries—aren’t they gorgeous? We live in some serious strawberry country. All produce in today’s lunch is from the farmers market. In the treat tray are Powerberries from Trader Joes’s. Powerberries are dark chocolate covered gummy bits allegedly made from the juice of superfood antioxidant berries such as: acai, pomegranate, blueberries, etc. Whatever. They’re not healthy, but they make a nice post-lunch treat. With the exception of the Powerberries, this lunch is totally plant-powered. Yes that means vegan—somehow, plant-powered sounds much more appealing.

Snack Strategy

protein bars, up close

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:

protein bars in 8-inch pan lined with parchment paper
Protein bars in 8-inch pan lined with parchment paper. Yes, that’s a thin layer of chocolate on top. Please don’t judge me.
protein bars cut into 12 pieces
protein bars cut into 12 pieces

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.

protein bars, up close
protein bars: yes, they are as good as they look

Once I’ve got the bars cut, I wrap them individually in waxed paper.

protein bars wrapped 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.

a yummy snack getting packed into a SnackTaxi
a yummy snack getting packed into 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.

the SnackTaxi, ready to go
the SnackTaxi, ready to go

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.

10 Sept 2012: Ch-Ch-Ch-Chia Pudding

lunch on 10 Sept 2012
lunch on 10 Sept 2012
lunch on 10 Sept 2012

Today’s lunch features fabulous vegan chia pudding. Yes, the same chia seeds from the Ch-Ch-Ch-Chia Pet commercial. Chia seeds are some sort of superfood of the ancient Mayans and Aztecs—or, so the back of the package tells me. I understand that distance runners can use chia seeds to stay hydrated, because they soak up water/liquid in this crazy amazing way. Chia seeds are the new flax seeds. For reals.

This chia pudding contains the following:

  • 1/2 cup chia seeds
  • 2-1/2 cups almond milk
  • 1-1/2 cups chopped strawberries
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp. lemon juice

I put everything into my Vitamix (man oh man, do I love my Vitamix—yes, I’m one of those). Then you just put the blended up goodness into the fridge and it will thicken up after a few hours (I usually leave it all day or overnight). That’s it. You could also blend everything except the chia seeds and then stir in the seeds separately. The chia seeds will plump up and end up with a consistency similar to tapioca. Chia pudding is one of those things: you’ll either love it or hate it. It has a slightly gelatinous quality. If you love tapioca pudding, tapioca pearl tea and mochi, you’ll probably love chia pudding. If tapioca makes you gag, don’t bother trying. You can just sprinkle chia seeds on your granola to get a little ancient superfood power.

Besides the plant-powered pudding of awesomeness, we have a mini whole grain pancake with chocolate chips and berries (leftover from Sunday Pancake Morning and looking slightly singed in this picture—that’s what I get for reading the Sunday NY Times and cooking pancakes at the same time), and an ode to the end of stone fruit season (pluots and peaches from the farmers market). For a treat, Lily gets dried apricots and Iain gets a prune (both from the farmers market). I know what you’re thinking. A prune? For a treat? But, a good prune is nothing more than a good dried plum—mmm, concentrated sweetness.

5 Sept 2012: Soy Love

05 Sept 2012 lunch
05 Sept 2012 lunch
lunch on 05 Sept 2012

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.

preschool snack: cheddar cheese and zucchini pineapple muffins
preschool snack on 5 Sept 2012: cheddar cheese and zucchini pineapple muffins

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.