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Creatively Packing School Lunches for 12 Years! No Bake Chewy Granola Bars

Written for the River Current Publication

Is it just me or does it seem like summer never really fully arrived?  How can it already be time for the kids to be heading back to school?  With my normal sadness, I helped my youngest with his return to college last week.  It has been a busy summer around our house.  Why does it seem when the kids are around, everything always seems to be so hectic, hurried…and happy!     

Nothing is more pleasing than to sit at the table and share a meal with my boys.  As mothers, it must be our instinctual need to provide nourishment for our children…no matter how old they are! 

I always enjoy sharing with others how my youngest never, EVER purchased a school lunch.   Every day, from grade one thru twelve, there was a lunch to be packed.  This was not at my insistence, but rather was by his choice.  Do you know how challenging it was to come up with new and different things to pack for a child who was a picky eater for twelve years?
When he was younger it was a little more fun to play with my creative side when packing his lunches.  I would cut his sandwiches out like hearts, flowers or stars and happily tucked little love notes into his lunch box.  (Did you know you can take a spoon (or any blunt edge) and ‘write’ a message on a banana and by lunch time the bruising on the banana will spell out the message?)  How cool/fun/embarrassing is that? 
Of course the day came when he said, “Will you please, please not cut my sandwiches into shapes anymore!”  The real killer was when he asked why he couldn’t have store bought cookies like the other kids…instead of the ones I made from scratch.  Are you serious? 
Admittedly, there were a few days along the way when I asked, “Are you sure you don’t want to just buy your lunch today?”  But we prevailed and met the challenge.  He endured 12 years of my creative (and not so creative) lunches.    
The most beneficial aspect of packing your child’s lunch is that you are able to maintain some influence in their dietary selections when they are away from home.  Believe me, I have sat in a high school cafeteria shocked by the a la carte items the kids would purchase for their lunches.  Give them some freedom and a pre-paid lunch card and it is a full-blown junk food jamboree!

Try to think of ways to enhance school lunches and snacks to make them more nutrient-dense and sustaining.  It might be wise to avoid introducing new foods with your lunch box ideas.  Perhaps you can focus on variety and/or new ideas at dinner!  Often I would repeat the same things I knew my son would eat, over and over again.  Kids seem to be comfortable with repetition; things that are familiar.  Hey, I grew up on a peanut butter sandwich in my lunch almost every day and lived to tell the story. 

Some of the best ways to get kids to eat the healthier foods you pack in their lunch is to make it look exciting! Try using a rainbow of foods to brighten their day.  Avoid silly sugar-laden processed snacks.  Include healthy fats which are vitally important to growing kid’s brains and for sustained energy throughout the day.

The mere thought of those crisp brown paper bags filled with goodness and love can still make me smile.     

Homemade Chewy Granola Bars
1/2 cup raw sugar
1/2  cup honey
1/3 cup coconut oil
1/4 tsp. fine sea salt
1 cup all natural crunchy peanut butter
2 tsp. vanilla extract
4 cups crisp rice cereal (I used organic chocolate gluten-free rice cereal...winner!)
2⅔ cups old fashioned oats
1/2  cups ground flax seed
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips

1. In a large bowl, combine oats, crisped rice cereal, and ground flax seed. Stir with a large spoon until well combined. Set aside.
2. In a medium saucepan, stir sugar, honey, coconut oil, and sea salt over medium heat. Bring to a boil. Stirring constantly, boil for exactly 1 minute until the mixture combines and sugars dissolve. Take pan off the heat and add the peanut butter and vanilla extract. Stir until smooth. Pour this peanut buttery honey deliciousness over the oat/rice crispy mixture. Stir until well combined.

3. Let mixture sit for about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, line a large cookie sheet with parchment paper. Pour the granola mixture onto cookie sheet. Press with a second cookie sheet to flatten.  Immediately spread the chocolate chips on the top and press again.
4. Once the bars have cooled completely, slide mixture out of the pan. Cut into bars…5 bars across and 7 bars down.

To Freeze: Wrap each bar in plastic wrap. Place in a freezer safe zip lock bag and freeze. In the morning, pull out a bar and put it in lunches. By lunch the bars have thawed, becoming soft and chewy again.



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