It’s hard to believe it’s August already, and big and little kids will be going back to school! For this article, I have joined forces with Sharon Rigsby, the creative mind behind Grits and Pinecones, a southern cooking and hospitality blog. Together we have come up with kid-friendly, healthy and easy ideas for snacks, lunches, and dinners to start the school year off right.
With one going into middle school and one in elementary school, I know all about the daily challenges of feeding a family healthy and enjoyable meals and snacks. My best tip for starting the year off right? Pre-plan! Just taking a little time to come up with a master list of dinners and lunches that everyone will eat is key to lessening the chaos of the school year – at least in regards to food. I keep a running list of dinner meals in my notes section of my phone so that when I go to make a grocery list I don’t have to recreate the wheel and go searching all over for a different recipe – that my family may or may not like. Each week I try to plan at least 3-4 days to have on hand what we need for both dinners and lunches. This cuts down on trips to the grocery store and just makes life a little bit easier.
Baked Cinnamon Apple Chips – Sharon Rigsby
Eating a diet rich in fruits and veggies has seemingly endless health benefits including the ability to lower blood pressure, reduce risk of heart disease and stroke, prevent some types of cancer, lower risk of eye and digestive problems, and have a positive impact on blood sugar, which can help keep appetites in check. Sometimes, though, especially with kids, it takes a little creativity to make that happen. These apple chips are easy to make and with only two ingredients, it’s a great way to get your kids to eat an “apple a day”.
2 large apples
Preheat oven to 200 degrees.
Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.
Wash and core your apples. Use a mandolin to slice them evenly. If you don’t have a mandolin, slice as thin as possible.
Spread the slices out on the baking sheets in a single even layer and sprinkle lightly with cinnamon.
Bake for 1 hour, turn the apples over and bake for another hour. Turn the oven off and leave the apples in the oven for 1 more hour to help them crisp up. If your apple slices are thick, you may have to bake them for another hour or so until they dry out.
You can store apple chips at room temperature in an airtight container for up to 1 week.
Rainbow Veggie Pinwheels – Sharon Rigsby
Rainbow Veggie Pinwheels are another easy and simple kid-friend friendly snack loaded with veggies and vitamins. What kid could resist these delicious and nutritious treats? Eating a variety of types and colors of produce is important to provide our bodies with the mix of nutrients it needs. Try dark leafy greens; brightly colored red, yellow and orange, blue, and purple vegetables and fruits. Each different color represents a different set of disease-fighting phytochemicals. These pinwheels squeeze in several different colors of the veggie rainbow. Don’t think your kids will go for one or the other in this recipe, mix it up and add in what they do like.
2 large spinach whole grain wraps or tortillas
1/3 cup softened or whipped cream cheese
2 tsp dry ranch salad dressing and seasoning mix
½ red bell pepper, thinly sliced
½ yellow bell pepper, thinly sliced
½ cup shredded purple cabbage
1 cup baby spinach leaves
Combine the cream cheese and dry salad dressing and mix well.
Spread the cream cheese mixture evenly over the two wraps.
Lay out the vegetables in rows across the wraps.
Roll up each wrap as tight as you can. If needed, use a little cream cheese to seal the wrap.
Cut crosswise into 1-1/2 to 2-inch pinwheels and serve. May be made ahead of time and refrigerated until ready to serve. Store in the refrigerator in an airtight container.
The BEST Chicken Salad – Anna Jones, RD
Need another option for either your kid’s lunchbox or even your own? Try this delicious, simple chicken salad. Roasting your chicken may sound daunting, but is super easy and amazingly tender and juicy. A few simple ingredients come together to complement the chicken and make a tasty midday treat.
1 1/2-2 pounds chicken breast on bone, skin removed or buy skinless
5 sprigs fresh rosemary
1 Tbsp olive oil
Salt & freshly ground pepper to taste
3 Tbsp plain Greek yogurt
3 Tbsp mayonnaise
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup red grapes, rinsed and cut in half
1/2 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
Place a few sprigs of rosemary in roasting or baking pan. Drizzle chicken with olive oil and season with salt and pepper on both sides. Place chicken on top of rosemary in the pan. Remove some of the remaining rosemary from the stems and sprinkle on chicken. Roast chicken at 400 degrees for about 45 minutes or until a meat thermometer reads 165 degrees. Let cool. Remove chicken from bone and shop into bite size pieces.
While chicken cooks mix the yogurt, mayonnaise, salt, and pepper.
Remove cooled chicken from bone and chop into bite size pieces. Place chicken in large bowl. Add grapes and walnuts. Stir in dressing. Enjoy over a bed of lettuce or on a sandwich!
Homemade Spaghettios – Anna Jones, RD
Most canned pasta and soups are full of sodium and other processed ingredients. So, I decided to make my own version. We had this for our meatless family dinner one night and then had plenty to use for leftovers in their thermos all throughout the week. These were a huge hit with my kids, and I have to admit were pretty tasty even for us adults in the house! You could add turkey meatballs if you like.
16 ounces small pasta (- use whole wheat if you can)
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp oregano
salt & pepper
28 ounce can tomato sauce
1 Tbsp butter
1/2 cup skim milk
1 cup Italian blend cheese, shredded
Prepare pasta according to package instructions. Heat olive oil in a large sauté pan. Sauté onions, garlic, and oregano over medium heat for 3-4 minutes. Season mixture lightly with salt & pepper. Add tomato sauce, butter, and milk to the mixture. Stir and simmer on low heat for about 20 minutes. Mix cheese into sauce until melted. Pour sauce over noodles.
Stir and simmer on low heat for about 20 minutes. Mix cheese into sauce until melted. Pour sauce over noodles.
Sausage Mushroom “Pizzadillas” – Anna Jones, RD
Quesadillas are so easy to whip up at home. The savings nutritionally is pretty astounding. A quesadilla from a restaurant chain will typically run from around 65 to 126 grams of fat, 24 to 63 grams of saturated fat, 1170 to 1790 calories, and 2,000 to 3,000 mg sodium (more than what is recommended for all of those nutrients for the average person for an entire day.) Try these kid-friendly and adult-friendly delicious “pizzadillas” for a quick & easy weeknight meal. Have picky eaters in your house that don’t care for mushrooms, like me? Just leave them out.
12 oz. Jimmy Dean Reduced Fat Bulk Sausage
8 oz. package mushrooms, rinsed and sliced
1/2 cup red onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
6 oz. baby spinach
1 tsp dried Italian seasoning
15 oz can diced tomatoes
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
Mission 100% whole wheat tortillas (8-inch)
Shredded Italian blend cheese
In a large skillet, sauté and crumble sausage on medium heat. Add mushrooms, onion, garlic, and Italian seasoning. Cook until onion is soft. Add spinach and cover with a lid to wilt. Remove lid and add tomatoes, stir together and simmer 3 minutes. Turn off heat, add Parmesan cheese.
Heat separate medium skillet (we use a cast iron one), spray with cooking spray. Place tortilla in the pan. Sprinkle with shredded Italian cheese, 1/4-1/2 cup sausage mixture, sprinkle with a little more cheese, then top with the second tortilla, and spray with cooking spray. Cover and cook until cheese melts. Carefully flip pizzadilla with a spatula. Let cook for 2-3 minutes more.
Homemade Taco Seasoning – Anna Jones, RD
Making a plan for weeknight dinners is key for keeping your sanity as the school year revs up. I have written in the past about theme meals or nights to take some of the work out of meal planning for the week. We have Taco Tuesday in our house every week. It is easy to put together, and the whole family loves it, which makes for a stress-free evening and a happy Mom! This is a great natural, lower sodium alternative to the pre-packaged taco seasoning mixes. It is quick and inexpensive to throw together and full of flavor.
2 tsp chili powder
1 1/2 tsp paprika
1 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp oregano
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
1 pinch red pepper flakes, or to taste (optional)
Mix all ingredients. Brown 1-1/2 pounds ground turkey, chicken, or lean ground beef. Add Taco Seasoning. Stir in 2/3-cup water. Simmer for 10 minutes.
Chocolate Chia Seed Pudding – Sharon Rigsby
Did you know Chia seeds are higher in antioxidants than blueberries and that a single serving has 4g of dietary fiber and 2.4g of Omega-3? Despite their tiny size, Chia seeds are among the most nutritious foods we have. Chia seeds look a little like Poppy seeds but act like and have the consistency of tapioca, swelling up and turning gelatinous when you soak it. And, like Flax seeds, you can toss them in pretty much any dish to add a little crunch and a nutrition boost. While it’s simple to toss them in smoothies or on top of salads, I like to add them to pudding recipes that taste like dessert (but are secretly super healthy) like this easy no-cook pudding that your kids will love.
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/3 cup Chia seeds
1/4 cup pure maple syrup or agave syrup
2 cups unsweetened almond milk
pinch of sea salt
Place all ingredients in a medium size bowl and whisk until the cocoa powder is dissolved.
Pour into 2 individual bowls, cover and refrigerate for at least 6 hours or until the Chia seeds turn jelly-like and the pudding thickens. Stir a few times to make sure all the seeds don’t settle to the bottom.
If desired, top with fresh raspberries, blueberries or strawberries and serve! Will keep in the refrigerator covered for several days.
Sharon Rigsby is the blogger behind Grits and Pinecones, a southern cooking and hospitality blog, featuring recipes that are quick and easy, and perfect for sharing with family and friends. Nothing fussy or complicated, just “go-to” dishes for the everyday home cook. For more recipes like this, nutrition facts or a complete printable recipe of today’s recipe, visit www.gritsandpinecones.com, or email Sharon at firstname.lastname@example.org.