Monday, March 9, 2009

To Pack or Not to Pack (Lunch)

To pack or not to pack – isn’t that the big question? My kids have only recently been allowed to buy school lunch (they have the meanest mom in the world). I finally caved because it seemed that if I dug my heels in they would only want to buy lunch more – even stuff like fish sticks and sloppy joes which they have traditionally hated. So I agreed to allow them to purchase lunch one day a week if they want. Funny thing is they almost always choose to pack. The only exception being Breakfast-for-Lunch day. They can’t resist the pancakes and more importantly – the syrup. I cringe at the thought of them fueling up on processed pancake mix, corn syrup mixed with artificial flavors and coloring, and bad fat-laden homefries. There is not a vegetable or even a fruit to be had. But it’s the sacrifice I make to keep the peace and to keep them from resenting our food choices.

School lunch, at least in my experience, is by nature loaded with processed food and artificial ingredients. How else can you feed so many children so cheaply? All I can say is “shame on our government”. I completely understand the budget restrictions and hard choices, but I don’t accept them. Our children deserve better. Rather than climbing up on my soapbox, I’ll just leave it at that.

But what I wanted to write about is packing lunches. First rule – don’t always pack the same stuff. You’d get bored if you had to eat the same thing day after day. I know you have a million other things to do in the morning and believe me I know it’s hard to keep coming up with ideas, but do it. These are your kids we’re talking about. And it’s also an opportunity to get some good things in them if you’re sneaky enough. I know some kids are fussy – but change something up as much as possible. In the next post or two I’m going to give you some ideas.

Here’s our plan. First, we avoid baggies. Baggies are the bane of my existence. Have you ever considered anything so wasteful? I can’t get around them on many occasions, but I do avoid them when packing lunches. We buy the tiny re-usable plastic containers. Now, I know plastic is on the black list these days, but I will use it under these conditions-
1.) Never wash plastic in the dishwasher. I wash the plastic by hand, with warm water and soap – never scalding hot.
2.) Don’t pack anything hot in the plastic.
Following these rules, I’m able to get through the school year on just a few packs of the things. The kids eat their food and put the plastic back in their lunchboxes. There are some accidents occasionally – lost lids and crushed containers – but no one and no system is perfect. This works for us.

This week I’m going to write about what I put in these lunches. I’ll start with dessert because that’s the most important piece. An entire lunch can rise or fall on the quality of the dessert! My kids love chocolate chip cookies. So I bake a huge batch most weekends and freeze them. I take the cookies out each morning and pack them in their little plastic container. By the time the kids eat them they have thawed out and are nice and moist. Freezing them keeps them fresh without me having to bake them frequently. One big batch, hidden well in the freezer will last me two weeks.

The way I make the right size cookies for the extra small Ziplock containers is by using a tiny ice cream scoop I got from Pampered Chef to measure out the dough when baking. I think a melon baler might work great too. The cookies are incredibly uniform and could be mistaken for store bought (which is sometimes a good thing in certain situations).

Here’s my very loosey-goosey recipe. I change up the recipe frequently, so I’m writing in lots of options. Treat this like step aerobics and pick the option that you can handle best.

A Little Bit Healthy Chocolate Chip Cookies
½ cup butter
½ cup coconut oil (if you don’t have/like coconut oil you can just substitute another ½ cup butter. But coconut oil is good for your immune system and makes the cookies really crispy. You can always start out with ¼ cup coconut oil and ¾ cup butter if that seems less crazy!)
1 cup succanot (or 1 cup white sugar) (Succanot is raw cane sugar. It’s less processed and although no sugar is good for you, I think this is better than white processed sugar)
1 cup brown sugar (or 1 cup rapidura – another raw sugar that is a good sub for brown)
2 teaspoons vanilla (use real extract not imitation – you will taste the difference)
2 eggs
1 cup organic white flour
1 ¼ cup whole wheat pastry flour (be sure to use fresh whole wheat flour – stale flour is awful – especially stale whole wheat flour. Keep it in something other than the bag it came in to prevent this from happening. If you don’t go through it as fast as me, keep it in the freezer and it will stay fresh.)
1/3 cup almond meal (Trader Joes carries this. Many grocery stores carry the Red Mill brand almond meal in the organics section. You can substitute it for part of the flour in any recipe calling for flour. If you’re not in to it, you can leave it out – but it really makes a yummy cookie or pancake or bread or just about anything)
¼ cup ground flax seed (you can add more of this if you mask it with something like Toffee bits – I know they’re processed, but it’s a trade off – flax seed is SOOOOO good for you. You can also leave it out, but this is something that cancels out some of the bad stuff in this cookie because it’s such a powerhouse food. Flax seed adds moisture and can even be substituted for some of the butter in a recipe. Just don’t go overboard or you’ll get caught!)
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
(I use celtic sea salt and increase it to almost 1 teaspoon)
2 cups grain sweetened chocolate chips (or use a good chocolate chip like Ghirardelli’s – cheap chips cheapen the cookie in ways other than price)

1. Preheat oven to 375. (I warm the pans in the oven while it is preheating. Usually I’m working with a cooking stone, but even if I’m not I do this. I think it makes the cookie crispy on the outside and chewy inside.)
2. Cream butter, oil, and sugars. Add vanilla and eggs. Beat well. (If it’s cool out and I’m using coconut oil it will be kind of hard, so I beat it much longer than if I do when it is warm to ensure that it is evenly spread through the batter.)
3. Mix together flours, almond meal, flax seed, baking soda, and salt with whisk. Add to batter. Beat until mixed well. Add in chocolate chips.
4. Use mini ice cream scoop or melon baler to drop small tablespoons on to pan.
Bake for 8-10 minutes, depending on the size of the cookies and whether you heated the pans. It also depends on your oven, so watch your cookies carefully the first few times.


  1. Thanks for the recipe! I love your cookies... now I can make them myself! Looking forward to lunch packing ideas!

  2. We use laptop lunches to help pack healthy lunches and keep our containers in order. what's nice is that kids can see their whole lunch in front of them and there are enough containers to include a fruit, veg, grain, and protein. my kids like to be creative with it and come up with new ways to fill the containers. check it out at

  3. I've never heard of laptop lunches, but I checked out the website right away and ordered one. I think my daughter could have fun with these. Is it tall enough to hold an entire piece of fruit or do you have to cut everything up?