Packing snacks for school

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Yesterday, I asked the kids to pack their snacks as I emptied their lunch boxes to make today’s lunch. As I sorted the recycling from the garbage and they ran to the pantry and grabbed apple sauce, granola bars and all sorts of packaged treats, I told them – we can do better than this.

My husband and I both work full-time and we’re busy and often exhausted at the end of the day. As much as I love making everything from scratch, I am pressed for time these days so I haven’t kept on top of the homemade snack making. And when the kids pack their own lunches (and we try to get them to help out as much as possible), they’ll grab what’s easy. Granola bars, crackers, apple sauce and though some of it is recycled, I’ve been feeling increasingly guilty about dropping the ball on my attempt to reduce waste.

In the spirit of them still being in charge of packing their snacks for school, I told them to grab recipe books and figure out what to make for their lunches. They chose recipes, asked if we had the ingredients and did their best to make them without much help from me.

My son made whole wheat chocolate chip cookies. He read out the instructions and I did what I was told. When the dough was mixed, I brought the cookie sheets to the table for him to form the cookies while I helped my daughter avoid burning her snack of choice.

She chose butterscotch pudding. She got out all the ingredients and followed the recipe with my supervision. She’s a bit older so while she needed help lighting the gas stove and has a tendency to wander away while the recipe says to stir continuously, she was able to pull off most of the recipe by herself.

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Much better – wasteless lunch snacks. Apple, half an orange, salted popcorn, giant chocolate chip cookie shoved in a container and butterscotch pudding made with soy milk. Lunch is in a different pocket – leftover mashed potatoes, roasted brussels sprouts and vegan sausage.

In the end, they both felt a sense of achievement, got to lick their spoons and pots and traded a bunch of packaged goods for home made treats. I think I’m going to try to do this more regularly. We won’t be able to consistently avoid waste but together we can make more of an effort to do better.

The only problem is the cookies my son made are too big for most of our snack containers! My daughter’s pudding is hidden behind the popcorn.

Nut and seed spread for healthy snacking

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One of my favourite finds as a vegan are the nut-based spreads and sauces that have become really popular – for good reason. You can find all kinds of nut cheeses in stores that taste fantastic and feel indulgent even though they are good for you.

There’s really nothing more satisfying than a dollop of cashew cream to top off a taco and if you mix the leftovers with salsa, you’ll have a delicious dip. I’ve even been using cashews as the bases for my gravies for a creamy and delicious sauce.

The one challenge people may face when making nut-based sauces, gravies and spreads is having a powerful enough blender to get the right texture. You can make it easier on your blender by soaking the nuts overnight but having a super-powerful blender does make all the difference in the end.

Here’s a really simple nut and seed spread that makes a satisfying snack for adults and kids as well. Spread it on crackers, use it in your sandwiches or with a pita. If you’ve overindulged on hummus and need a change, this is a good option.

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Nutritious nut and seed spread

  • 1 cup raw cashews
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 1/4 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1 1/4 cups of water
  • 3 Tablespoons of nutritional yeast
  • 2 teaspoons of lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons of apple cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon herbs de provence (or other herb mix that you like)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Soak the nuts and seeds in a bowl overnight or cover them with boiling water for 30 minutes. Drain and add them to the blender with all the other ingredients. Blend until creamy. Add water if necessary.

Enjoy! This makes a good mid-afternoon snack at the office or after-school snack for the kids to keep them satisfied until dinner is ready.

You can change the ingredients up according to your tastes and the contents of your cupboard. You’ll need nuts or seeds, water, an acid and salt – the rest can be easily omitted or changed.

Polar Express Gingerbread Train

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Merry Christmas! I hope you’re spending holidays with loved ones doing the things you love. I’ve been doing a lot of sewing – which I enjoy like meditation – and today I’m in the kitchen. No doubt for most of the day! I’m not one to sit down much. Creating something special for my family puts me in the holidays spirit.

 

IMG_6820Every year, I’m tempted to make a gingerbread train with my special cake pan and it often goes not quite as planned. I considered making other plans but my kids are getting older and I don’t know how much longer the Polar Express will excite them. So this year, I took no chances with the cake, I greased it meticulously and it came out perfectly. I used wax paper and vegan butter to make sure I got butter into every groove.

The cake pan is very detailed so the cake itself looks pretty when plain. I made a simple glaze and then decorated it with Skittles, sprinkles and icing sugar to give it a good dusting of snow.

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We don’t have much snow outside – enough to cover the walkways but not enough to cover the grass – this snowy scene may be the best we get this Christmas! The Christmas trees are cutouts we made recently, covered with glaze, Skittles and dusted with icing sugar.

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The cake is the gingerbread cupcake recipe from Vegan Cupcakes Take over the World. The glaze is simple (1 cup of icing sugar and 3 Tbsps of water with a drop of lemon extract).

Happy holidays everyone! And best wishes for a joyful new year!

 

Savoury spiced popcorn

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I don’t give my kids microwaved popcorn. The bag lining includes a chemical that could cause cancer (google it) and the popcorn itself is very salty with questionable additives and it’s rarely vegan. But air-popped popcorn or popcorn popped on the stovetop is a whole food that makes a great snack for everyone. We often make extra to put some aside for lunches – in a sealed container, it won’t go stale before it’s eaten.

Making popcorn on the stovetop is really simple and quick – simply heat some oil, add the kernels and cover the pot with a lid. When they start to pop, shake the pot regularly until the sound of the popping stops for a few seconds. Pour them into a bowl and season them as you’d like. If you’re used to microwaved popcorn, buy some kernels and give it a try. It’s inexpensive, easy and you can season it as you like.

For popcorn seasonings, I like to experiment with different spices but it’s always topped with vegan butter, salt and nutritional yeast. In the image above, I used the recipe that follows.

Savoury spiced popcorn

  • 2 tbsp vegan butter
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • savoury masala (mine is a spicy mix so the kids had theirs plain)
  • sea salt
  • 2 tbsp nutritional yeast

Pour the butter over the freshly popped popcorn. Add the spices and mix well. Enjoy!

Carrot and cauliflower pakoras

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My favourite pakoras are packed with sweet onions and spicy chilies. But when I decided to make a little snack this evening, I wanted to make something the kids would enjoy too. So I left out the chilies and swapped the onions for carrots and cauliflower. It resulted in these little gems I can share.

On the side is some Curried apple chutney that I made in the fall. It’s a bit spicy so it makes up for the missing chilies in the pakoras. This recipe is based on Vegan Richa‘s pakoras.

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Carrot and cauliflower pakoras

  • 1 cup chickpea flour
  • 2 Tbsp rice flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp Garam Masala
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1/4 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 inch fresh ginger, minced
  • 3 tbsp non-dairy yogurt
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 cup shredded carrot
  • 1 cup finely chopped cauliflower

Preheat oven to 425 and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Combine dry ingredients and mix well. Add garlic, ginger, yogurt, lemon juice, oil and water and stir well to combine. Add veggies and mix.

Scoop batter into 2 tbsp balls on to the parchment paper and bake for 18 minutes.

Protein-rich superfood seed bread

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My son has been off all week. The lethargy and lack of appetite makes it hard to stuff him with the healing foods he needs to get back on his feet. But he doesn’t need an appetite to eat fresh homemade bread – so I filled this bread with everything his body needs. If he crashes before dinner today, I know he’s had at least one solid meal – even if it was just a piece of buttered bread!

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This bread is stuffed with seeds: pumpkin, sesame, flax, sunflower, hemp and quinoa. And yet it’s light and delicious. I let it rise at room temperature for a few hours and baked it on a hot pizza stone so the crust is crunchy and the inside is fluffy.

I had my daughter’s help measuring the ingredients. It’s good for her to practice her fractions with measuring cups and to learn about the ingredients in the foods we eat. Bread making is a great craft to hand down – it’s my hope that she knows her way around her kitchen when she has her own place (we have a few years to get there!). Making bread reminds me of my grandmother – the bread I make is different but her bread was something I always looked forward to when we would visit.

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Protein-rich superfood seed bread

  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups oats
  • 2 Tbsp ground flaxseeds
  • 3/4 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
  • 1/2 cup quinoa
  • 1/4 hump seeds
  • 2 Tbsp pumpkin seeds
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp yeast
  • 1 Tbsp sea salt
  • 1/4 cup vital wheat gluten
  • 3 cups very warm water
  • 1/2 maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup canola oil

Combine the dry ingredients in stand mixer. Add the wet ingredients and stir to combine (but don’t bother kneading – just make sure there’s no more dry ingredients). Let it sit in room temperature for 2 hours covered (I cover my mixing bowl with a plate – you don’t want it airtight). Don’t punch it down.

Preheat the oven to 450 F with a pizza stone inside to heat too. Prepare a flat surface with cornmeal (like a cutting board). With floured hands, grab a ball of dough about the size of a cantaloupe. Pull it into a ball, tucking the sides underneath. Let it rest while the oven heats up (20 minutes is good).

When the oven is hot and the dough ball has rested 20 minutes, brush the top with water, slice it with a knife and top it with more seeds. Slide it from the cutting board onto the hot pizza stone and bake for 30 minutes.

Once the bread is done, let it cool for about 15 minutes – I know this is hard but if you cut into it right away, it won’t keep its nice shape. Enjoy!

Sunflower seed butter and pear jam sandwiches

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Packing nutritious school lunches can be a real challenge for anyone. The kids get limited time to eat – generally in their classrooms with minimal supervision. It’s noisy and rushed on the best of days, from what I gather. They want to eat and go for recess with their friends. But my kids know they’re expected to eat their whole lunch before they eat all their snacks. If they eat a treat before they’ve finished their lunch, they won’t get a treat the next day.

My son’s a little rule follower so if he runs out of time to finish his lunch, he’ll eat it during last snack. If he feels the lunch we’ve packed was too big, we hear about it after school – through tears. My daughter, on the other hand, has a good appetite so the challenge with her is packing enough calories for her to consume in the time allotted.

Generally, we pack leftovers from dinner – if we can. But we have a few tricks for those days when we can’t pack leftovers or if the leftovers won’t translate well into cold lunches (like soup).

Hummus and cucumber sandwiches are a good choice for my picky eater. I’ve mentioned frozen leftover pizza. Another easy lunch is peanut butter and jam, of course. But since the kids’ school is nut-free, it’s sunflower seed butter and jam.

Sunflower seed butter has more protein and fat than peanut butter so it’s a good choice for energetic, growing kids. I know my kids get plenty of vitamins but the whole foods we eat are generally low in fat. Kids need plenty of healthy fats to energize their growth spurts. These sandwiches are topped with homemade pear jam for that touch of sweetness they crave.

Vegan pudding
Chia seed pudding is delicious and full of protein to power you through the morning.

For high energy snacks, I’ve mentioned chia seed pudding, which is one of my daughter’s favourites. Overnight oats is preferred by my son. I always include chia seeds in his oatmeal for added protein. We also include snack mixes of dried fruit, seeds, whole grain cereals (like Shreddies), pretzels or a couple crackers. This week, I’ve added a couple heart-shaped candies to the mix as a special treat.

Other snacks include fruit, apple sauce, baked goods (like muffins or leftover pancakes) or sliced veggies (generally carrots and cucumbers).

Coming up with quick and easy lunches for the kids can be a real challenge, so I’d love to hear your ideas. What do you pack in your kids’ lunches?