What to Pack – Healthy Ideas for Back to School

I put together the following list to give parents a place to start when being overwhelmed by the prospect of packing your child’s lunch.  When packing a lunch I try to pack a variety of colors, flavors and textures to appeal to kids (or really everyone) and be sure the food that packed, gets eaten and enjoyed.  Whether they’re small and just heading off to preschool or daycare or older and expressing their boredom of the same old lunch.  Here are some tasty and healthy food items to quickly make and pack for school, day trips, or anytime on-the-go.  These foods do not require much in the way of preparation.  They are easy to make and don’t need a real recipe – only your imagination and your child’s appetite.  Even kids can help make these.  This is just a start to get you and your family going with their favorites and new combinations.  Feel free to share with us here!


Not being able to pack peanut butter (for school and community activities) can be difficult for some children.  However alternatives such as soy nut butter,  sunflower butter, and cream cheese can be a good source of protein and makes a healthy snack paired with the following foods:

  • Spread on chunks of apple
  • Spread on brown rice cake
  • Sandwiched between two waffles or pancakes
  • Spread on wheat tortilla, topped with a banana and rolled up
  • Spread on lavosh with fruit spread and rolled and cut into pinwheels

Vegetables and fruits can make their own snacks with a little extra effort to make them special and appealing to children.  A few suggestions:

  • Celery stick spread with cream cheese and sprinkled with raisins
  • Fruit chunks (melon, pineapple, grapes) skewered on a popsicle stick
  • A cored apple stuffed with granola or cereal
  • Carrot and jicama sticks served with dip
  • Lettuce leaves stuffed with egg-olive spread, then rolled

When the bag of plain old cereal needs a shake up.  A variety of homemade trail mixes make easy to pack favorites.  You can even pop in a few chocolate chips to any of these for a real treat:

  • Favorite low sugar cereal mixed with raisins and coconut flakes
  • Granola mixed with dried apricots, cranberries
  • Dried fruit pieces mixed with wheat pretzels
  • Seeds (pumpkin, sunflower) mixed with goji berries and banana chips
  • Yogurt covered pretzels mixed with whole wheat crackers

Something other than typical sandwich bread.  Pita bread makes a handy and healthy pocket to stuff your child’s favorite fillings:

  • Stuffed with lettuce, avocado and cheese
  • Stuffed with spinach and hummus
  • Stuffed with ricotta cheese and herbs
  • Stuffed with left-over meats and veggies

Lavosh or flatbread and tortillas make a neat roll-up for little hands.  These rolls can also be cut for a special, colorful presentation – kind of like sushi!

  • Spread with cream cheese and shredded veggies (carrots, red pepper, zucchini)
  • Spread with hummus and sliced cooked turkey
  • Spread with tomato sauce, sprinkled with mozzarella cheese
  • Spread with bean dip and sprinkled with jack cheese

For something creamy and cold, which can also be put in partially frozen to act like an ice pack:

  • Organic plain yogurt (provide berries or granola to mix in)
  • Flavored organic greek yogurt (less sugar than regular)
  • Fruit gel cups (vegetarian)





King Cake, Take 2 …Cupcakes

I was searching through more king cake recipes and found one for cupcakes on the king Arthur Flour website.  This was immediately exciting to my kids because they both realized everyone could get their own “baby” (walnut) and luck for the year.   

Since I haven’t tasted anyone else’s king cake version, I still can’t compare.   This cake had a few of the elements of the crescent version – including the cream cheese frosting and the decorative colors.  However these may be my new go to vanilla cupcakes.  The cake was moist and the cream cheese frosting very versatile.  The few unique ingredients that are in a classic brioch like king cake and not in a classic vanilla cupcake are the addition of Fiori di Sicilia (a combo citrus and vanilla flavor) and nutmeg.  I made a few tweaks to the recipe I found online, as there was too much sugar in the frosting, which was plenty sweet enough.  I used a mixture of lemon oil and vanilla extract as I did not have Fiori di Sicilia.

These are great for a mardi gras party with kids, so no one gets left out of the luck.  Just be sure of any potential nut allergies if you use the walnut “baby”.Also good for a small goup or family, rather than making a whole cake.  You can even freeze cooked, unfrosted cupcakes to enjoy another day.  Here’s how to make them…

  Mardi Gras King Cupcakes

Yield: 12 cupcakes.

  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 2/3 cups unbleached all purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons soft butter
  • 2/3 cup milk, at room temperature
  • 1/4 teaspoon Fiori di Sicilia; OR 1 teaspoon vanilla + 1/8 teaspoon lemon oil
  • 2 large eggs


  • 3 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 4 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/8 teaspoon lemon oil
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • colored sugars, preferably purple, yellow, and green
1) Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line the muffin tins with papers, and spray the insides of the papers.
2)In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the sugar, flour, baking powder, nutmeg, and salt.
3) Cut butter into pieces and beat in with an electric mixer at low speed, until the mixture looks sandy.
4) Combine the milk and vanilla in a small bowl.  Add milk to butter mixture, all at once. Mix at low speed for 30 seconds, then increase the speed to medium and beat for 30 seconds. Scrape the bottom and sides of the mixing bowl.
5) With the mixer running at low speed, add 1 egg. Increase the speed to medium and beat for 30 seconds. Add the second egg, again beating for 30 seconds.
6) Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl, and beat briefly, just till smooth.
7) Scoop the batter by heaping 1/4-cupfuls into the prepared muffin tin. A muffin scoop works well here.
8) Bake the cupcakes for 23 to 25 minutes, until they’ve domed, and are a light golden brown around the edges. They’ll spring back when pressed gently on top, and a toothpick inserted in the center will come out clean.
9) Remove the cupcakes from the oven, and place on a rack to cool completely before icing.
10) To make the icing: Combine the butter, cream cheese, vanilla, and lemon oil in a medium-sized bowl, and beat them together until light and fluffy.
11) Add the sugar gradually, beating well.
12)optional – you can 1 – 2 tsp. add milk if frosting is too thick.
13) Spread each cake with icing, and immediately dip in gold, purple, and green sparkling sugars, covering about 1/3 of the cupcake with each color sugar.
14) Store at room temperature for several days. For longer storage, wrap well and freeze.