As Labour Day nears, the idea of school lunches looms over me like a black cloud heralding the end of summer.
I've been packing school lunches for more than 11 years, so here is my most important advice: plan your exit strategy early. Instead of training your kids (and spouse) to expect work-intensive, incredibly complex lunches, start teaching them to put together something tasty, relatively healthy and fairly easy themselves as soon as you can.
I know that Instagram and Pinterest are filled with carefully curated, impossibly cute bento box lunches, but that is not reality for most parents. And this may be a rationalization, but I don't think the kids eat them. The truth is that most kids (and adults) have a mere 20 minutes to eat lunch – and even that is squeezed into social time.
So I stick to the KISS (keep it simple, stupid) plan of lunches. I pack the "main course" for my kids, which is usually one of the following: homemade macaroni and cheese, a sandwich, bits of bread, cheese and salami, fried rice or chicken soup with noodles or wontons. Then, they add their own side dishes and snacks. Yes, they pack cookies. I try not to micromanage what they take, because if they don't want it, they won't eat it.
My evil plan is to be out of the lunch business entirely halfway through the school year. So the main onus on me is to stock the fridge and pantry with healthy(ish) choices that they will consume in the very few minutes they devote to eating during the day.
The challenge this week was to come up with an easy granola bar that my kids will eat and fill them up enough to get them through the day if it's the only thing they manage to get into their system. This granola bar is held together by chocolate but is also filled with lots of wholesome ingredients. It is really a template that you can play with, adding and subtracting your family favourites.
If you can, keep it cold in the lunchbox by either tossing in a small ice pack or packing it frozen so that it stays cold until lunch.
Use your favourite kind of chocolate – even if you aren't a fan of white chocolate, it works well in these bars and is not overly sweet. We love the citrus edge of the lime, but it can be easily omitted. These bars are nut-free. For the grain, crispy rice cereal isn't necessarily the healthiest choice, but it gives these bars a good crunch.
Servings: Makes 12 bars
Easy Granola-Ish Bars
2 1/2 cups rolled oats
1 1/2 cups crispy rice cereal
1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1/2 cup roasted seeds, such as sunflower, pumpkin, hemp or a mix
1 tbsp flax seeds
1 tbsp chia seeds
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp Kosher salt
1/2 cup coconut oil or butter
1/2 cup honey
1 tbsp lime juice (optional)
1 tsp grated lime rind (optional)
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups chopped white or dark chocolate
1 cup dried cherries or cranberries
1/2 cup white or dark chocolate
Butter an eight-inch square cake pan and place a sheet of parchment on the base. Combine oats, crispy rice cereal, coconut, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, flax seeds, chia seeds, cinnamon and salt in a bowl. Reserve.
Heat coconut oil, honey, lime juice, lime rind and vanilla together in a pot over medium heat until completely liquid. Remove from heat and stir in chocolate. Let sit for one minute, then stir until everything is incorporated. Pour over oats mixture, stirring until well incorporated. Stir in cherries. Pack into the cake pan and freeze for 45 minutes.
Heat chocolate for topping in a small, heavy saucepan over low heat, stirring occasionally until chocolate is melted. Cool until thickened. Cut frozen bars using a serrated knife into 12 pieces and drizzle chocolate on to each bar. Leave to set in the refrigerator or freezer.