I still can’t believe it: the school year is over. It’s been a long slog this year, but we survived it. I’m actually relieved to get a break from lunch packing. I was starting to run out of inspiration as the school year wound down. I’ll be using the summer to get my lunch packing groove back and to try to master the art of choux pastry.
Here are some of the favorite kid lunches from the last two weeks of school:
This lunch looked so tempting this morning that a little apple thief started sneaking a snack. I was surprised she didn’t grab a spoon and start digging into that bowl of chocolate chia pudding (sweetened with a super ripe banana and some dates). This lunch is actually vegan, yummy, and super kid-friendly. I feel so good when that happens.
I made a quick, easy and relatively healthy chocolate peanut butter chia pudding for today’s lunch, which also has a cereal mix, fruit + veggie strips cut into bite-sized pieces, apple slices, half a kiwi and some smoky almonds. I get a brief break from lunch packing, because the kids have a four-day weekend for my birthday—no, wait, I mean for Veteran’s Day (which, as luck would have it, coincides with my birthday). We’ll be celebrating with a mini holiday to Disneyland. Even though we live within driving distance to Disneyland, we have never taken the kids to experience this important cultural touchstone of childhood. Disney princesses, here we come!
Easy Chocolate Peanut Butter Chia Pudding
1-1/4 cup milk (I used almond milk, but any milk will work)
2 tablespoons carob powder
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
1 tablespoon peanut butter
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1/4 cup chia seeds
Mix all ingredients together except the chia seeds. I find that carob and cocoa powder are difficult to mix without using a blender or an immersion blender. Once everything is blended together, stir in the chia seeds and let rest in the fridge overnight. The next day, voilá: thick, rich, reasonably healthy chocolate chia pudding.
Lunch on Friday was a typical end of the week meal comprised of slightly random odds and ends (a clean out the fridge scenario). I had made some teriyaki chicken and veggies for dinner, with coconut rice and black beans; this got packed as is into the lunch box, because I was too lazy to make something new. Earlier that morning, I had the wherewithal to mix up a small batch of blueberry chia pudding. Isn’t that pudding a great purple color?
Blueberry Chia Pudding
1 cup milk of your choice
1/2 cup blueberries
1 tablespoon honey
pinch of cinnamon
4 tablespoons chia seeds
Combine all ingredients except chia seeds in a blender until smooth. Stir in the chia seeds and let the mixture sit in the fridge for several hours, preferably overnight. This pudding was a big hit with the kiddos.
Today’s lunch has a nice big serving of protein-packed peanut butter chocolate chia pudding. It’s healthy! It’s vegan! It’s gluten free! Anyone can eat this pudding. Peanut allergies, you say. Just use sunflower seed butter instead of peanut butter.
Combine all ingredients in a jar and shake it up to blend. Store in the fridge overnight, so the chia seeds can thicken up the pudding. If you don’t have carob powder, you can substitute cocoa powder, but you may need to add a little more sweetener.
If you are fan of pumpkin pie, you should try this kid-approved chia pudding. It tastes remarkably similar to pumpkin pie filling, but has no refined sugar and is packed with pumpkin goodness.
Pumpkin Pie Chia Pudding
makes 2 large or 4 small portions
3/4–1 cup canned pumpkin puree (about 1/2 a 15 oz. can)
1 cup milk of your choice (I used vanilla soy milk)
1 very ripe banana
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
pinch of allspice
1 tbsp maple syrup
2 tbsp chia seeds
Combine all ingredients except chia seeds in a blender. Stir in the chia seeds and store in the fridge overnight, so the chia seeds can work their magic and thicken up the pudding. Serve in a pretty orange bowl and enjoy the taste of pumpkin season.
Chia pudding is a super fun and easy thing to make for kid lunches. I’m always experimenting with different flavor combinations in chia pudding, but the kiddos especially love anything with chocolate—or, what they think is chocolate. I usually use carob powder in chia pudding, because it’s naturally sweeter than cocoa powder, but still tastes chocolatey. In addition to yummy pudding, the kiddos get homemade cinnamon honey wheat crackers in their lunches today. My little chef buddy and I decided to make crackers yesterday. And because I was cooking with Lily, we couldn’t just make plain, square crackers—we had to make cute, heart-shaped crackers. Aren’t they adorable? In this delicious lunch, also included grapes and mini apple slice sandwiches with sunflower seed butter.
Sweet and Healthy Mexican Chocolate Chia Pudding
1 cup almond milk
1/3 cup plain yogurt
2 heaping tablespoons sunflower seed butter (or nut butter of your choice)
1 heaping tablespoon carob powder
1 tablespoon maple syrup
a generous shake of cinnamon (1/2–1 teaspoon)
2 tablespoons chia seeds
Combine all ingredients—except chia seeds—in a blender. Stir in the chia seeds and let the pudding rest in the fridge overnight. It tastes surprisingly like Mexican chocolate. For a more grown-up version, you could add a nice pinch of cayenne pepper. Recipe makes enough for two kid portions with some leftover for Mom’s mid-morning snack.
I have to admit that banana tofu chia pudding is not the most beautiful thing on earth. It has, um, a certain beige-y-ness to it. But, no matter: the kiddos gobbled it up today. It could be because I crumbled some Nilla Wafers into the pudding to give it that classic banana pudding texture and flavor. But, it’s made with tofu, so I’ll call it healthy. Or at least not completely unhealthy. This lunch also has some leftover quesadilla slivers from dinner: black beans, avocado yogurt sauce, melty cheese and perhaps there’s even a little sablefish in there. The fruit today is all from the farmers market: strawberries and a single juicy cherry for the treat.
Banana Tofu Chia Pudding
1 package of silken tofu
2 ripe bananas
1–2 tablespoons maple syrup (add sweetener to taste: if bananas are super-ripe, the pudding may be sweet enough without any added sweetener)
2 tablespoons almond milk
2 tablespoons chia seeds
Combine all ingredients—except chia seeds—in a blender. Stir in the chia seeds and let the pudding rest in the fridge overnight. If you want to turn this into a decadent dessert, make it like classic Nilla Wafer banana pudding and serve with whipped cream.
I don’t have a photo of the kids’ lunches today, because, when I took the photos the camera’s memory card was in my computer. Hmm, I guess that’s what that poorly designed, incomprehensible red icon that I didn’t recognize on the camera back meant. Whoops. I can tell you that I made a delicious new chia pudding.
Tropical Chia Pudding
1 can light coconut milk
a cup-ish of mango chunks (I used frozen)
a half cup-ish of pineapple chunks (I used frozen)
handful of spinach leaves (optional)
1 tablespoon agave syrup (optional)
4 tablespoons chia seeds
Puree all ingredients except the chia seeds. I used my trusty Vitamix, which makes everything super smooth. Stir the chia seeds into the delicious blended tropical smoothie and chill in the fridge overnight.
This is a fabulous, rich and creamy vegan pudding. I served it with a half whole wheat bagel sunflower seed butter and jam sandwich. I also packed half a banana in each lunch. Mmm.
And, now, for a little Friday garden tour.
The front yard:
This box has several varieties of kale and lettuce. After many failed attempts, I finally have a nice batch of lacinato kale growing out front. However, I’m sure it will soon be infested with aphids.
Because we are incompetent at composting, we have all sorts of random veggies popping up around the yard. Here is some lettuce and what I think is a pumpkin (or maybe a zucchini plant?) growing alongside the kids’ hopscotch squares.
The side yard:
A few years ago, I planted three small artichokes in our front side yard. I got the plants from my friend Sky when she was thinning out the amazing artichokes that she planted in her front yard. Artichokes must love the climate here, because they grow like crazy in crap soil with very little water and fertilizer. Right now, these artichokes are taller than me and they are going gangbusters. You see that big one that’s starting to open? It should have already been picked, cooked and eaten because artichokes are best when the buds are still closed up tight.
When we started looking for a house in SLO, I was hoping to find something with mature citrus trees. And, as luck with have it, our ridiculously over-priced modest little 60s tract home came with two big gorgeous orange trees (a navel and a valencia) in the side yard. We have so many oranges right now that we can’t keep up with them.
I am crazy about raspberries. I think raspberries may be my favorite thing on earth. My Nanny Yetman makes a raspberry jam with wild Newfoundland raspberries that would blow your mind. My mom planted raspberries in Nebraska and babied those bushes for months, so we could have fresh raspberries in our cereal. A couple of years ago we built a box just for raspberries, because, no surprise, the kiddos are raspberry fiends. The little raspberries are just starting to form on this big, unruly bush and I can hardly wait for them to grow and ripen.
This bed is underneath the orange trees and filled with strawberries, arugula, spinach, cilantro and basil. I haven’t had much luck with strawberries; the snails seem to get them as soon as they turn red. But, I keep trying. It also appears that something is attacking my spinach. So it goes with organic gardening: it’s a constant struggle against vermin. At least the cilantro is thriving.
The back yard:
This is our biggest raised bed (about 8 feet x 4 feet) and we’ve had the worst luck with it. I’m always planting stuff in here that completely fails. I just pulled out four sad little cauliflower plants. I’m hopeful that the warm weather crops will do better. The eggplant on the left is looking pretty good. I’m not so sure about that little pepper on the right. I’m also trying to grow celery for the first time. I actually hate celery (blech!), but the kiddos like it. Especially Iain.
I put in these beans about a month ago. Look at those climbers! Beans are the most magical of plants, no? The little short guys on the right are edamame. I’ve never grown those either, so we’ll see how it goes. I’ve had okay luck with beans.
Lettuce is another one of those things that I’ve killed like crazy. I’m pretty sure it’s due to lack of water and too much sun. But this gorgeous variety—red freckles—has been doing extremely well. It is the best lettuce ever. The flavor is nice and mild and the ribs are very thin. I just love being able to go outside and pick my salad.
A week ago, I bought my tomato plants at Cal Poly’s annual tomato extravaganza: Tomatomania. I still haven’t put all of them in the ground, because I filled up my tomato beds and need to find more space. We go through a lot of tomatoes. I got all sorts of crazy varieties at Cal Poly: things like Black Cherry, Red Zebra, Pink Torbay, Isis Candy, etc. Most tomatoes don’t even make it in the house, because the kiddos graze on them while playing in the back yard.
We have planted several dwarf citrus trees around the house: meyer lemon, satsuma, calamondin, Mexican lime, and bearss lime. It seems to take a few years before these little trees start producing fruit. I think it stresses them out to get moved from containers into the ground. Citrus trees are sensitive that way. After about five years, this little meyer tree is finally content and producing big, full-sized lemons.
This little blueberry bush was a Christmas present. It’s still small, but berries are already starting to form.
We have herbs growing all over the place: in beds, in pots, in the ground. The mint plant in the middle is new, because I’ve learned my lesson with mint: it must be contained or it will take over the entire yard.
If you’re wondering, our yard is not enormous. We’ve tucked raised bads in little corners and planted edibles in random places where there was once grass (like the parking strips next to the sidewalk where the kale is). It’s amazing how many things you can grow in a small space.
Today’s lunch features a new chia pudding concoction: carob chia pudding made extra creamy with bananas and avocado. When I first heard about making healthier chocolate pudding with avocado, I had two thoughts: 1) huh? and 2) genius. Avocados are amazing: rich with good fat, nutrient dense, and packed with super awesome avocado flavor. I wasn’t sure how that super awesome avocado flavor would play with chocolate, but a funny thing happens: the chocolate pretty much takes over and the avocado gives vegan puddings a glorious thick and creamy consistency. The first time I made chocolate avocado pudding, the kiddos went crazy for it and never guessed the “secret” ingredient. As I was making a batch of carob chia pudding yesterday, I remembered that I had some ripe avocados in the fridge (once avocados get ripe, you can move them from the counter to the fridge where they will be perfectly preserved and guacamole-ready for several days). I decided to add half a big avocado to my chia pudding, except there was a slight problem: I had already mixed up the pudding. I didn’t want to get out the Vitamix, so I tried to just mash up the avocado with a fork and add it to the mix. Bad idea. There were little green chunks of avocado in the pudding, and I just knew that I had a consistency issue on my hands. And with kids, you can’t have a consistency issue. I told myself not to be a slacker and ended up throwing everything in the Vitamix in order to achieve creamy consistency perfection.
Creamy Carob Chia Pudding
1-1/2 cups of milk (I used almond milk)
4 tablespoons chia seeds
4 tablespoons carob powder
1 ripe banana
1 small ripe avocado (or half a large avocado)
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 tablespoon chocolate hemp protein powder (optional)
unsweetened coconut for garnish (optional)
Puree all ingredients in a high-powered blender. Alternately, you could puree all the ingredients except the chia seeds, then stir them in if you like the tapioca-esque quality of plumped chia seeds. Let the pudding thicken up in the fridge overnight. Serve with a sprinkling of unsweetened coconut if you like to garnish things.
I have to admit that my banana carob chia oat concoction looks a little like a pile of mud, but it’s mmm, good. Really. I swear. I threw in a little of everything: a banana, some dates, a little honey, carob powder, rolled oats, chia seeds, yogurt, sunflower seed butter, and almond milk. I wasn’t organized enough to measure anything, so I can’t give out the recipe. Okay, I may have been in a bit of pre-Oscars mania. But, trust me, it’s almost impossible to mess up chia overnight oat concoctions. Not the same can be said about the Academy Awards, which never fail to disappoint. Yet, I love movies and gowns and diamonds and big hair and Clooney, so I always watch. But, back to lunch—even though now all I can think about is George Clooney, that handsome devil. The kiddos gobbled up the banana carob chia oat concoction, along with the sunflower seed and lingonberry jam half sandwich. I got the strawberries at the Saturday farmers market, and they’re not quite in season yet—still a little tart—but, seriously, can I complain? Strawberries in February. Oh the joys of California produce!
This is definitely a fun Friday lunch. Yesterday I made a batch of Banana Carob Chia Pudding. This time I added a heaping tablespoon of sunflower seed butter to the pudding, so it’s extra yummy. The baked tofu cubes are left over from a pasta salad I made for dinner last night. I tossed extra firm tofu in some soy sauce, maple syrup, ketchup, sesame oil and a clove of crushed garlic, and baked it at 400 for about 30 minutes. Next to that delicious tofu, is a nice pile of clover sprouts. There’s a woman at our Saturday farmers market who sells all kinds of sprouts, and she’s just what you would expect from someone who grows sprouts: super earthy, mellow and sweet. She seems like such a gentle soul, and her sprouts are so good that even kids love them. I also threw in a few crunchies: plantain chips, pretzel fish and a couple of Nilla Wafers. This lunch would be vegan except for the Nilla Wafers and chocolate chip treats.