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Green and healthy school lunches and snacks

Nurturing

FUEL FOR THE DAY Fill lunch boxes with healthy food that will keep them going all day.

Green Living

McKinley Neal

Many of us are returning to routines outside of our homes now, with schools, offices and activities reopening and restarting, and it’s amazing how hard it can seem to prepare for this.  
In our house, we are starting school for the first time, and we’ve been reading all the emails about the uniforms, schedules, supplies and rules. Reusable items for lunch are allowed in our school, which we are thankful for.
If schools that you know have been advising parents to send food packed in Ziploc bags or other single-use items for lunch, it’s worth sending an email to point out that medical experts have stated that reusable lunch boxes, water bottles and cutlery are safe to use. We will be washing them thoroughly each evening with hot water, and ensuring that everyone knows to keep track of their own items and not to share with others at the moment.   
The next quandary can be what to pack for lunch, as we want to be respectful of guidelines promoting healthy eating and protecting other children with potential allergies. Also, it’s important that items are easy to prepare ahead for a few days, will suit adult and kid palates, and won’t be the same day-in and day-out.
We know nuts are out. We’re finding this tricky, as we have relied on peanut and almond butter as staple foods for quite a while. So, I’ve been experimenting with alternatives like seed butter, which can be made simply by toasting seeds (sunflower, pumpkin or a mix) in the oven, letting them cool and then using a food processor to grind them for about five to ten minutes into a smooth spread that can be flavoured with some sugar for a sweeter version, or some spices or chilli flakes for something savoury.
Hummus can be made more interesting by using any bean or lentil instead of chickpeas, which really transforms the flavour. We really like to use black or pinto beans with some tomatoes, smoked paprika and chilli, cannellini beans with dried tomatoes and herbs, or puy or beluga lentils with a bit of mushroom stock for a richer flavour.
Both the hummus and seed butter can be used as dips for raw carrots, peppers or cucumbers, or with bread or crackers, and the protein will keep everyone full for the afternoon.
Go for chopped seasonal fruit for a sweeter treat, and dried fruit when there are not other good options. A good tip for yogurt is to buy it in larger pots and spoon it into a smaller reusable containers, to avoid multiple small pots.
Another homemade treat is a pudding made from chia seeds (1/4 cup) and some kind of liquid (at least ¾ cup), like oat, coconut or almond milk or a fruit juice. Mix these with a sweetener if needed or cocoa powder if desired, and let sit in the fridge for a few hours or overnight. This can be eaten as is, or topped with fresh fruit or jam for a real treat.
Back-to-school time can be chaotic, but with a little effort, it can still be healthy and green.

McKinley Neal co-runs PAX Whole Foods & Eco Goods, a minimal-waste shop in Westport offering bulk organic foods, reusable goods, household products, eco-friendly personal care items and gifts.