Monday, September 10, 2012

The Edgy Veggie: Packing nutrition into the kids' lunchbox

Fresh vegetables, ripe fruit, calcium-rich yogurt, whole grains, energizing nuts and seeds - that's a lot to pack into a lunchbox. But it's what you want to pack into your kid (not to mention yourself). Fear not. Back-to-school season offers new lunchbox-ready products promising to ease parents' anxiety while providing maximum kid nourishment.

Greens Vegan Original Superfood Crisp ($1.99, 40-gram bar) is gluten-free organic and vegan. Primary ingredients include peanut butter, brown rice crisps and chia seeds, but what you taste is wheat grass and chlorella. Green super food, yes; delicious treat, no. Despite the crispy rice, the texture is chewy, verging on dental cement. One bar contains 160 calories, 7 fat grams, 6 protein grams, 115 milligrams sodium and 5 grams fiber.

Veggie-rich, organic, gluten-free, vegan and chocolate, too? That's Betty Lou's Just Great Stuff Organic Chocolate Dream Greens ($1.89, 42-gram bar). The question is, can kale and chocolate coexist in one bar? Not happily. Austere flavor and dry texture make mass kid appeal unlikely. One serving has 180 calories, 8 fat grams, 4 protein grams, 25 milligrams sodium and 2 grams fiber.

Trade greens for Greek yogurt with kid-friendly Rickland Orchards Greek Yogurt Bars ($1.79, 40-gram bar). Available in six fruity, grainy flavors, they strike the right balance between crunchy and chewy, healthful and fun. The shelf-stable yogurt lends creamy mouth feel without the tartness. One cherry almond bar contains 160 calories, 6 fat grams, 7 protein grams, 45 milligrams sodium and 5 fiber grams.

Fun food meets serious nutrition with Navitas Naturals Power Snacks ($8.99, 227 grams). Available in three flavors, these chewy, yummy, organic, vegan, gluten-free cubes are loaded with super foods like goji, chia and hemp. Blueberry hemp snacks provide an antioxidizing punch and taste sweet and buttery, besides. A 28-gram serving (a small handful) contains 130 calories, 7 fat grams, 3 protein grams, 40 milligrams sodium and 2.5 fiber grams.

All these products are available at natural food stores, but remember, man does not live by bars and cubes alone. The American Dietetic Association recommends pairing power snacks with fresh produce to boost energy and fill you up.


Commercial power bars are marketed as good-for-you treats despite their abundant sugar and fat. Do-it-yourself power squares let you put healthy whole foods in your bar and into your family. Feel free to swap any nut butter for peanut butter, substitute your favorite nuts for almonds, and use any dried fruit in place of apricots.

1 cup old-fashioned oats

1/3 cup almonds, chopped small

2 tablespoons hulled sunflower or pumpkin seeds

1 tablespoon ground flaxseed

2 tablespoons creamy peanut butter

1/4 cup pure maple syrup

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 cup dried apricots, chopped small

1 cup unsweetened crispy (not puffed) brown rice cereal (such as Nature's Path or Erewhon)

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon


Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Lightly oil an 8-inch-square baking pan.

In a large bowl, mix oats, nuts, sunflower seeds and ground flaxseed. Spread onto a large rimmed baking sheet. Toast for 8 to 10 minutes, or until oats and nuts smell buttery and just start to turn golden.

Remove from oven and let cool. In the meantime, heat peanut butter, maple syrup and vanilla in a small saucepan. Stir over medium heat for just a few minutes, until mixture just comes together and is warmed through.

Return the oats mixture to the large bowl. Add dried fruit, rice cereal, cinnamon; stir to combine. Pour in peanut butter mixture. Mix well with a large spoon until ingredients are lightly coated and slightly moistened.

Pour mixture into baking pan. Moisten your hands with a little water and press mixture firmly into pan. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. When well-chilled and firm, cut into squares.

Keeps refrigerated and well-covered for several days. Makes 16 bars.

Per bar: 99 calories (29 percent from fat), 3.3 g fat (0.4 g saturated, 0.9 g monounsaturated), 0 cholesterol, 3 g protein, 15 g carbohydrates, 2 g fiber, 26 mg sodium.

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What type of healthy things do you pack for your kids to help keep them going?

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