To close out this series, I think it only appropriate that we end with the best part: dessert! Well, at lunch, it’s more of a treat, but still: it’s sweet! No lunch is complete without it.
“Sweet treat” doesn’t have to mean sugary and fatty, like Hostess Cakes or Little Debbie cakes, or even Oreos or Chips Ahoy. It doesn’t mean granola and carrot sticks either. Somewhere between the two is a nice balance, particularly if it’s kept within boundaries: only when the healthy food is eaten, and only a small portion.
Stumped? Don’t be! Let’s brainstorm and get creative about delicious treats that have some measure of nutrition as well (in other words, they don’t cancel out the goodness of that healthy lunch you just packed!) and also some time-saving tips to make it easy.
1. Bar Cookies
Bar cookies are some of the easiest to make: simply mix up the batter, spread it in a 9×13 pan and bake. You don’t have to deal with scooping out the dough to form the cookies, nor do you have to take the time to prepare and bake multiple pans. You can even whip up a quick batch on a weeknight, and portion them out to last for an entire week (depending on how many children you have!).
The biggest key here to keeping it healthy is portion control, which I discuss at length in my post about brownies. Also, some recipes work well with half or more of the oil replaced with applesauce. Many recipes also taste great with the addition of raisins or nuts for added nutrition. Try throwing in a little flax seed (extra fiber, Omega-3s) – no one will be the wiser.
I recently discovered a great recipe for Monkey Bars, with lots and lots of banana in the batter (hence the name). Kids will love the fun name, and they’ll love the taste, too. The banana makes it plenty sweet, and you can choose to add in nuts, raisins or chocolate chips for an extra fun treat. I love that it uses whole wheat flour, and you don’t even notice it. Also it makes a LOT and it’s perfect for freezing so it’s perfect for lunches. Unfortunately, I dont’ have a picture, but here’s the recipe:
1 2/3 cup mashed banana (about 5 medium bananas)
1/2 cup raw sugar
1/4 cup oil (or melted butter)
1/4 cup milk
2 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1 3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup raisins/chocolate chips/nuts (I used raisins)
Preheat oven to 350F. Line a jelly roll pan with foil. Whisk bananas, sugar, oil, milk, eggs, vanilla, baking soda, cinnamon and salt in a large bowl until well combined. Whisk in flour just until it is blended, then gently stir in 1/2 of the raisins (or other substitutes). Spread batter in prepared pan, and sprinkle remaining raisins on top. Bake about 15 minutes, or until a tooth pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan on a wire rack.
When the cookies are cool, slice them carefully into 40 pieces, removing the foil as you go. These stay moist and delicious for several days in an air-tight container at room temperature. For longer store, it’s best to freeze them.
For a no-bake bar option, try these Peanut Butter Crispy Bars. They are a LOT healthier than rice crispy treats, but just as easy and just as delicious.
2. Drop Cookies
Drop cookies are the quintessential lunch time treat, but they also are more of a pain. Here’s a sweet trick: mix up the batter, then drop it by spoonfuls onto a cookie sheet. Place the whole sheet in the freezer and when the dough has frozen solid, remove to freezer bags. Store in the freezer until you want to bake them up, then bake as normal. This way, you don’t have to make multiple pans at a time, and you can bake up just as many as you need, so there’s no waste.
Some great semi-healthy drop cookie recipes are:
Banana Cookies (these are super delicious and very addictive!)
Oatmeal Cookies (add raisins or chocolate chips if you like)
Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies (Yes, whole wheat!)
3. Mix It UP!
It’s so easy to make a trail mix or cereal mix with whatever you have on hand. It makes a great snack because it’s mostly healthy but you can throw in some fun, sweet treats to help end lunch on a sweet note. Any of the following can be mixed together to create all kinds of fun flavors. Trust me; your kids won’t mind the occasionally bizarre combination, especially if you call it something fun like “Mystery Mix” or “Crazy Concoction”.
-puffed rice or wheat
-any dried cereal (especially not-too-sweet kinds like Cheerios or Chex)
4. Homemade Chex Mix
Along the same lines, it’s so easy to make your own chex mix. I will admit it’s not the healthiest food in the world, but I make it all the time for my DH because it’s at least healthier (and cheaper) than buying it at the store, and he loves the stuff. It’s so quick, too: go here to find all kinds of 15-minute recipes for Chex Mix that range from really pretty healthy to… well, not at all! Here’s a great one that has very little sugar but a lot of other healthy ingredients: Breakfast-To-Go Chex Mix. Another great benefit of making it yourself is that you can put whatever you want in it. At the store, you’re stuck with the flavors they have available, but at home, you can customize it to your family’s tastes.
5. Mini Muffins
In my opinion, most muffin recipes make better snacks than breakfasts, despite the fact that most people eat them for breakfast. To be honest, I actually DO make my Certain Little Someone muffins for breakfast, but I make them with very little sugar (one recipe only uses 2 TBSPs) and I always include fruits or vegetables (like zucchini). They make much better snacks, though, if they have a lot of fats and sugars and white flour. And it’s even better if you bake them in a mini-muffin tin. Remember: portion control! Another reason to make them mini-sized: they’ll bake up even faster!
Again, when choosing a muffin recipe, find one with minimal fats or replace unhealthy fats (such as vegetable oil) with healthy fats (like melted butter) or applesauce. Use minimal sugar as well, or better yet, honey. I also like to look for recipes that call for yogurt and whole grains (whole wheat flour, oatmeal, etc.) as well.
6. No-Bake Cookies
These are easy, quick, and often healthy. The typical base is made of peanut butter and honey mixed with some kind of grain such as oatmeal or puffed rice/wheat. Dry cereals and raisins are also often found in the ingredient list. You can find a whole list of no-bake recipes here.
Another slightly indulgent option I recently discovered is Chocolate Covered Corn Flakes. It sounds kind of, well, corny, but it’s actually pretty good! And certain very easy.
7. Edible Playdough
For the youngest – or the not-so-young who still like to play with their food – send along some edible playdough to school. You can find a whole list here, although the majority of them are not exactly healthy. Most of them require peanut butter, so make sure there are no allergy issues in the classroom, or use an alternative nut or sun butter.
Pudding cups are a very popular snack in kids’ lunchboxes, but almost all store-bought varieties are full of yucky ingredients you don’t want in your child’s lunch. Thankfully, you have two options (besides avoiding pudding altogether):
-Purchase Kozy Shack pudding, which is the only brand I’ve found that makes pudding with real, whole food ingredients. It’s so delicious, too. However, despite the fact that coupons are often available, it’s still pretty expensive, especially compared to its practically inedible counterparts. That leads us to the other option.
-Make it yourself. Honestly, it’s really very easy. I have two different recipes right here on my blog: Chocolate Pudding and Yogurt Pudding. You can step it up a bit by turning either one into a trifle (with leftover cake/muffins/brownies/bar cookies/cookies) or a parfait (with granola and fruit).
9. Small Pieces of Chocolate
When I first started drastically reducing the amount of sugar in my diet, I found that I felt deprived without a small sweet treat at the end of lunch. What did the trick was including just a small piece of chocolate (Hershey’s kiss, mini Reese’s peanut butter cup, Lindt truffle, individual snack-size Hershey candy bars, etc.). It satisfied my craving without totally throwing me off the wagon. Find a small version of your child’s favorite chocolate candy and offer it occasionally as an extra special treat that says “I Love You!”.
Previous Post: Let’s Get Creative Pt 2
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