Back to School Lunch Hacks

Back to School Lunch Hacks

Crisp air, the smell of No. 2 pencils in the shopping aisles, and the luring anticipation of routine is upon us and that means one thing – it’s back to school season! Whether your kiddo packs their school lunch or you need some weekend inspo, I’m breaking down the art of a well-balanced lunch that’s bound to be not only nutritious, but delicious.

The Bento Box bandwagon is a hot trend for school lunches and for two great reasons:

  1. Meal Prepping Simplified: compartmented food storage containers are a great way to pack your meals ahead of time and ensure freshness when you’re ready to enjoy! Reusable, stackable, and durable – kid-safe and parent-approved!

  2. Balance Made Easy: having compartments offers a great visual to ensure a balanced meal. Aiming for a serving of protein, veggies, whole grains, fats, fruit, and dairy will guarantee brain fuel to tackle the rest of the day.

Packing a lunch is one step, but how do you get your kids to eat it? I’ll share a couple tips below!

  • Get packing… together! Offering 1-2 nutritious options from each food group can go a long way. We’ve all experienced kids exercising their need for autonomy (that’s one way to put it, right?) – when they get to make their own choices, they are more likely to eat and enjoy their food!
  • Keep it interesting. Kids aren’t expecting any Pinterest-worthy concoctions, but varying colors, textures, and dips can add enough spice to entice!

Now that you’re armed with a few tips and tricks up your cable-knit sweater sleeve, let’s break down some grocery staples you can add to your back to school shopping list!

Protein:
Hard-boiled Eggs
Deli Meat
Cottage Cheese
Tuna
Grilled Chicken

Whole Grains:
Whole grain wraps
Whole grain pasta
Whole wheat waffles
Whole grain bread
Whole grain crackers
Pretzels
Brown Rice
Beans
Potatoes

Fats:
Seeds or Seed Butter
Nuts or Nut Butter (check your school policy)
Avocado
Olives
Hummus
Dips/Dressings

Dairy:
Cheese
Greek Yogurt
Milk

Veggies:
Sweet bell peppers
Celery
Baby Carrots
Broccoli
Cauliflower
Lettuce
Green Beans
Tomatoes
Pea Pods

Fruit:
Pears
Clementines
Oranges
Cherries
Grapes
Banana
Melon
Peaches
Pineapple
Berries
Kiwi

Recipe: Turkey Twists

Serves: 1

Ingredients:
Whole Grain Wrap
2 Tbsp. Hummus
¼ cup Red Bell Pepper, thinly sliced
¼ cup Cucumber, thinly sliced
3 Slices of Turkey

Instructions:

  1. Spread your favorite flavored hummus on the whole grain wrap.
  2. Layer peppers and cucumbers on top of hummus, then top with turkey slices.
  3. Roll your wrap and slice into 1-2 inch pinwheels.
  4. Serve Turkey Twists with a side of fruit and dairy for a well-balanced lunch!

Sweet Corn Polenta with Sage & Feta

I’m not sure why we don’t eat more polenta in South Dakota. It’s a great way to use corn as a side dish and base for creative sauces. It’s especially delicious when made with fresh sweet corn, a seasonal treat. Top with a tangy tomato chutney, sliced grilled sausage, marinated shrimp, in-the-shell stir fried peas… the options are endless!

Sweet Corn Polenta with Sage & Feta

Makes 4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 6 large ears of sweet corn (use 8-10 if small ears)
  • 4 tbsp butter
  • 4 oz feta
  • 1 tbsp fresh chopped sage (or herb of your choice)
  • Salt & pepper to taste

Instruction:

  1. Shuck corn to remove leaves and tassels. Use a knife or corn stripper to remove kernels from the cob, cutting as close to the cob as possible. Put kernels in a stock pot and add water, just to cover kernels. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  2. Once cooked, strain corn from the pan and place into a blender. Reserve the remaining liquid by pouring into a measuring cup or bowl. Blend the corn until desired texture (I prefer mostly smooth with a few chunks). Add reserved corn water to blender as needed to ensure a consistent blend and nice texture.
  3. Once blended, pour corn back into the empty pan. Add a little of the remaining corn water and cook on low until slightly thickened, about 10 minutes. Be careful! The mixture can bubble a lot but the tall sides of the stock pot should help keep it contained.
  4. Stir in butter, 3.5 oz of the feta, and herbs. Season with salt and pepper as needed. Cook until butter is melted and feta softens. Transfer to serving bowl and top with remaining .5 ounce feta and fresh herb sprigs.

Adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi.

Cream Cheese & Strawberry Rhubarb Pinwheel Danish

There’s nothing quite like strawberry and rhubarb in the early South Dakota summer. It’s a classic flavor for our area, with an abundance found in pick-your-own fields and neighbor’s backyards. This danish is great as a breakfast treat or dessert after dinner.

Cream Cheese & Strawberry Rhubarb Pinwheel Danish

Makes 24 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 17.3 oz package of puff pastry sheets (2 sheets)
  • 1 cup rhubarb, chopped into 1/2″ pieces
  • 1 cup strawberries, chopped
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 2 tbsp cornstarch
  • 1.5 tbsp water
  • 1/2 block cream cheese, softened
  • 1 tbsp heavy cream
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/4 cup coarse sugar

Instruction:

  1. Remove the puff pastry sheets from freezer to defrost. Preheat oven to 400º.
  2. Place chopped rhubarb, chopped strawberries, and white sugar in a medium saucepan on medium heat. Heat and stir until begins to thicken, about 10 minutes (will coat the back of a spoon). Meanwhile, mix cornstarch with 1 tbsp of water to make a paste. Stir the cornstarch paste into the fruit mixture while briskly stirring to avoid clumps. Remove from heat when mixture is thick, about 2 minutes. Let cool.
  3. In a small bowl, mix softened cream cheese, heavy cream, and vanilla extract together until smooth.
  4. In a separate small bowl, whisk together egg and remaining 1/2 tbsp water until yolk and white are fully mixed.
  5. Work on puff pastry sheets one at a time. Once a sheet can be unfolded, roll out with a rolling pin on a well floured surface. Roll until sheet is about 12″x15″. Using a sharp knife, cut this sheet into 12 smaller squares.
  6. Place a small dollop of cream cheese mixture in the middle of the square topped with a dollop of strawberry rhubarb sauce. Make four cuts into each square, from the corners towards the center, but only cut to the edge of the filling. Turn one corner of each cut into the middle of the pastry, until the pinwheel is formed. Repeat for all squares. Repeat process for remaining puff pastry sheet to make 24 total pinwheels.
  7. Brush egg wash onto pinwheels and sprinkle with coarse sugar. Place on parchment paper on a baking sheet. Bake at 400º for about 13 minutes, until pastry is golden. Remove from oven and place pinwheels on cooling rack after a few minutes.

Nutritious Summer Strawberry Snacks

Guest post by Trish Noyes, Registered Dietitian and Licensed Nutritionist

Summer is such a nostalgic season of the year full of making memories with friends and family, enjoying the sunny weather, embracing a little less routine, and one of my personal favorite attributes – peak season of the best fruits and veggies! With all the aforementioned qualities, summer is a great time to create new and share old traditions – in and out of the kitchen. One of my favorite summer traditions is picking strawberries at Sanderson Gardens.

If you haven’t gotten the chance to visit, Sanderson Gardens is fun for all ages. This 30-acre garden just outside of Aurora, SD offers a pick-your-own produce experience including asparagus, rhubarb, strawberries, raspberries, and pumpkins each year. There’s something about the process that makes you appreciate and enjoy the produce even more when you get to pick it yourself.  

Getting your kids to eat and enjoy fruits and vegetables can, at times, feel like a daunting process. In the words of Marie Kondo, “it does not spark joy.” As discussed above, Summer is an exciting opportunity to introduce fruits and vegetables at their peak moments of flavor. Below, I’ll outline a few additional tips to get your kids trying and enjoying new foods!

  1. Don’t sweat it. Pressure in a positive or negative way will always backfire. Meal and snack time should be an enjoyable experience for all – keep food and food offerings neutral, like the Swiss. Some research shows it can take 15-20 introductions of a new food for a child to feel familiar enough with it to give it a try. It could take an additional 10-20 re-introductions of that same food for them to decide if they like it or not.
  2. Plant or visit a garden! Gardening has been known to help kids improve their mental and physical health, including their willingness to try more fruits and vegetables! Limited on space? Get creative with a container on a patio or a well-lit space in your home. Not a green thumb? Take advantage of local community gardens or a visit to a pick-your-own-produce spot!
  3. BYOK (bring your own kids) to your local farmer’s market or the produce section of your grocery store. Farmer’s markets are a great way to connect the dots from farm to table. Your local produce section can offer your kids an exploration of color, textures, and flavors! Pick out a recipe together and go on a treasure hunt to find the fruit or vegetable at the grocery store. Bonus points if you can get them involved in the cooking process!

Getting kids involved in not only the selection, but preparation and cooking process only boosts their odds of trying and enjoying the fruits of their labor. (pun intended) Below are a couple fresh and fun recipes to try that are kid friendly and adult-approved, packed with fiber and protein!

Strawberry Pinwheels
Ingredients:

  • 1 whole grain tortilla
  • 2 tbsp. low-fat cream cheese
  • 2 tbsp. vanilla Greek yogurt
  • Dash of cinnamon
  • 4 fresh strawberries, sliced

Directions:

  1. In a small bowl, mix the cream cheese, Greek yogurt, and cinnamon together.
  2. Using a spatula, spread the yogurt mixture on the tortilla.
  3. Spread your sliced strawberries atop the yogurt mixture.
  4. Roll your tortilla and slice into pinwheels.
  5. Enjoy!

Summer Strawberry Parfait
Ingredients:

  • 6 oz. Vanilla Greek Yogurt
  • ½ cup sliced strawberries
  • Optional mix-in’s: ¼ cup granola, 1 tbsp chopped nuts, dash of cinnamon

Directions:

  1. In a small bowl or mason jar, layer the yogurt and strawberries.
  2. Top with your favorite mix-in’s such as granola, chopped pecans or pistachios, and a dash of cinnamon!
  3. Prep ahead and have ready for a quick grab and go breakfast in the morning!

Caprese Deviled Eggs

Deviled eggs + cheese + basil + tomatoes + balsamic = DELICIOUS! Add a little kick to the classic recipe to add a some variety to your Easter dinner menu. These eggs are only slightly more work than the regular recipe but the additions bring so much flavor! I would recommend making extra, as you’ll probably sneak a few before company comes over.

Caprese Deviled Eggs

Makes 12 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 dozen hard boiled eggs (I recommend using a BeepEgg or electric pressure cooker to hard boil eggs.)
  • 1/3 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 2 tsp yellow mustard
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh basil, reserve some for garnish
  • 2 tbsp shredded mozzarella cheese
  • salt & pepper
  • 1 tbsp sun-dried tomatoes, for garnish
  • 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar, for garnish

Instruction:

  1. Cut eggs in half and scoop yolks into a bowl. Add mayo, butter, mustard, chopped basil (excluding a little to use for garnish), and mozzarella cheese. Mix until smooth with a fork or hand mixer. Taste and season with salt/pepper as needed.
  2. Scoop egg mixture back into egg halves. You can also put mixture into a piping bag to make a pretty swirl, but I feel you lose too much egg mixture this way.
  3. Slice sun-dried tomatoes into small strips. Place one strip on each egg. Top with a few pieces of reserved basil. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar just before serving.

Lemon & Balsamic Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Do you capitalize Brussels sprout or leave it as brussels sprout? How about the “s” at the end of brussel? According to my research, the following are all correct: Brussels sprout, Brussel sprout, brussels sprout, brussel sprout. Regardless of how you say it, I do hope you try this recipe. It would make an excellent side for Easter brunch or served for dinner alongside salmon or chicken. I recommend cutting the sprout in half no matter what size they are. Why? The best part of a roasted brussels/brussel/Brussels/Brussel sprout are the crunchy leaves that fall off when the veggie is cut in half. There is nothing more delicious than a hot and crispy brussels sprout leaf. Trust me.

Lemon & Balsamic Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Makes 4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb brussels sprouts
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 1/4 lemon

Instruction:

  1. Preheat oven to 425º.
  2. Wash, trim ends, and cut brussels sprouts in half. Do not throw away the loose leaves; those are the best part! Mince garlic.
  3. Add brussels sprouts, garlic, olive oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper to a bowl and toss to combine.
  4. Dump onto a parchment lined baking sheet. Roast at 425º for 25-30 minutes.
  5. When brussels sprouts are done, transfer to a serving bowl. Quickly zest lemon over the sprouts and finish with a squeeze of juice over the top.

Scotcheroo Chocolate Layer Cake

There’s some debate on whether the sticky, peanut buttery, chocolate topped rice krispie bars are called “scotcheroos” or “special k bars.” Personally, I believe they are scotcheroos unless they are made with Special K cereal, and only then should they be called special k bars. Makes sense, right? Regardless of which side of the debate you land on, we can all agree the bars are delicious. This cake is next level play on the famous bars, adding a chocolate cake layer to wow your guests. It’s made in three parts: bar layer, cake layer, and then the frosting and assembly. If you only have one cake pan, start with the bar layer as it can easily be removed from the pan within about a half hour. If you have two pans, start with the cake layer as it can cool while you work on the bar layer. When assembling, keep the bar layer on the bottom as it is heavier and would squash the cake layer when cutting if they were reversed.

Scotcheroo Chocolate Layer Cake

Chocolate Cake Layer Ingredients:

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup cocoa, plus more for dusting pan
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 hot coffee, boiling water with instant coffee crystals or reheated coffee from breakfast (haha!)

Instruction:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray an 8″ cake pan with oil (or use butter) and use cocoa powder to dust the inside.
  2. In the bowl of a mixer with the whisk attachment, mix flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Mix on low to thoroughly combine.
  3. In a separate smaller bowl, add egg, vegetable oil, vanilla, milk, and lemon juice. Whisk together. Slowly pour in hot coffee while briskly whisking so it doesn’t cook the egg.
  4. Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients and mix until just combined, scraping edges of the bowl as needed. It will be very runny.
  5. Pour into the prepared pan and bake for about 30 minutes, until toothpick inserted at center comes out clean.
  6. Once baked, let cool for about 15 minutes and then flip onto a cooling rack, gently tapping the outside of the pan to release. Let cool completely.

Scotcheroo Layer Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup light corn syrup
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup peanut butter
  • 5 cups Rice Krispie cereal
  • Pinch of salt

Instruction:

  1. Grease an 8″ layer cake pan. Set aside.
  2. Pour corn syrup and sugar into a 4 qt or larger pan. Bring to a boil on medium heat on the stovetop, stirring frequently. (Tip for corn syrup- spray your measuring cup before pouring syrup in. It’ll come out of the cup much easier.)
  3. Remove from heat and add peanut butter and salt, stirring until completely melted and combined.
  4. Add rice krispies and stir until well mixed.
  5. Press into prepared cake pan with greased hands. Smoothing out the top as best as you can.
  6. Let cool about 30 minutes and then flip onto a plate to cool completely.

Frosting Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/3 cup cocoa
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 5-7 tbsp of milk

Instructions:

  1. Add butter, peanut butter, and vanilla to a mixing bowl with the whisk attachment. Whisk on medium speed until smooth and fully combined, scraping edges of the bowl as needed.
  2. Add powdered sugar, cocoa, and salt and mix in on low speed. It will be very dry and look like coarse sand.
  3. Beat in milk until desired consistency is reached. Beat well so it’s light and fluffy.

Assembly:

  1. Put a clump of peanut butter on the middle of a plate and place the scotcheroo layer on top (this keeps it from moving around). Top with frosting and a few small dollops of peanut butter, if you want.
  2. Place cake later on top. Stick three toothpicks into the cake about 1″ in from the edge (this keeps the top layer from shifting off).
  3. Frost sides first using a frosting spatula and then frost the top. Decorate by pressing rice krispies into the sides of the cake. Enjoy!

Buttered Mushroom and Herb Gnocchi

Mushrooms are like little fungus sponges full of liquid that can be manipulated to soak up flavor, which sounds gross but tastes delicious! When cooked with lots of butter, they first release all their own moisture and then soak it back up along with the melted butter. It’s magical and creates these incredibly delicious savory morsels that work perfectly with gnocchi. Squeeze lemon on top for an acidic finish and sprinkle with a little cheese for richness. Tip- rinse your mushroom tops without flipping them over. The gills on the underside of the cap will hold onto the rinsing liquid, making the mushroom mushy and slimy.

Buttered Mushroom and Herb Gnocchi

Makes 4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 4 tbsp butter
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 8 oz mushrooms, rinsed, hard ends trimmed, and sliced
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • 1 tsp sage
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 16 oz package of gnocchi
  • 2 oz fresh grated parmesan
  • 1/2 of a fresh lemon

Instruction:

  1. Start a pot of boiling water for the gnocchi (don’t cook gnocchi yet).
  2. Add butter to medium fry pan at medium heat. Once melted, add garlic and stir for about 2 minutes, until fragrant. Add all mushroom and stir to coat. Let cook at medium heat, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms soften and turn brown, about 5-10 minutes.
  3. Add thyme and sage to mushrooms and stir until mushrooms are coated. Taste and add salt & pepper as needed.
  4. Add gnocchi to boiling water. Drain when gnocchi float to the top of the water. This will only take a few minutes. Once drained, add gnocchi to mushroom pan. Stir all together so gnocchi are also covered in herb butter blend.
  5. Divvy into bowls, squeeze lemon over each and top with 1/2 oz of cheese.

Gouda Stuffed Chicken Breast with Ginger Blackberry Sauce

South Dakota has incredible berries! We are lucky in Brookings to be close to Sanderson Farms and their delicious pick-your-own strawberries and raspberries. However, when it’s not summer, fresh berries can get crazy expensive, like $6 for a 6 oz container of blackberries. That’s nuts but makes sense as the berries need to be flown or trucked in quickly at the peak of freshness as they don’t stay ripe for long. Now imagine my shock when I saw containers of blackberries available at a Brookings grocery store for only 69 cents. I bought four and have been savoring every single berry, including using a container for this herby, bright, and just sweet enough blackberry sauce served over a savory Gouda cheese stuffed chicken breast.

Gouda Stuffed Chicken with Ginger Blackberry Sauce

Ingredients:

  • 4 small chicken breasts, about 6 ounces each
  • 4 oz smoked gouda cheese
  • 1/2 tbsp butter
  • 6 oz fresh blackberries
  • 2 tbsp red wine
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp ginger root (I use the pre-grated kind that comes in a jar or tube.)
  • 1/2 tsp thyme
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • Water as needed
  • Salt & pepper

Instruction:

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Pat at chicken breasts dry. Season with salt and pepper on both sides. Cut a slit in the side to make a pocket into the chicken breast. Stuff 1 ounce of gouda into each chicken breast pocket. Use tooth picks to seal the hole shut so cheese doesn’t melt out.
  2. Heat a large oven-safe cast iron or stainless steel skillet on the stove over medium heat with the butter. Sear both sides of all chicken breasts in pan at the same time, about 3-4 minutes per side, until golden brown. Cover pan with foil and place in oven for about 15 minutes or until thermometer inserted in the center of the breasts reaches 165 degrees.
  3. Meanwhile, put blackberries, red wine, and sugar in a small sauce pan with lid over medium low heat. Heat with lid on until sugar is melted and berries begin to break down, about 10 minutes, opening lid to occasionally stir and check. You are basically steaming the juices out of the berries. Once berries begin to break down, reduce heat to low and add ginger, thyme, and lemon juice. Stir together until heated through, pushing berries against the edge of the pan to further break down. If sauce gets too dry or thick, add water. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  4. When chicken is done, let rest briefly and remove toothpicks before moving to plates. Top with a generous spoonful of sauce. This is delicious served with green beans and mashed potatoes or wild rice.

Chocolate Covered Strawberry Overnight Oats

Chocolate covered strawberries are a Valentine’s Day classic. Turn this treat into the perfect February breakfast with this simple overnight oat recipe. It takes less than 5 minutes to throw together the night before, with only a few quick stirs in the morning. You can adapt the recipe to suit your taste, leaving out the chia seeds, adding a banana or yogurt, or mixing in any of your favorite supplements.

Chocolate Covered Strawberry Overnight Oats

Makes 1 serving

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup oatmeal
  • 1 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1 tsp mini chocolate chips
  • 1 tsp chia seeds
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup frozen sliced strawberries
  • 3/4 cup almond milk

Instruction:

  1. Add all ingredients to a mason jar, adding almond milk last. Stir together, cover, and place in fridge overnight.
  2. In the morning, stir well and enjoy!