packed_lunch.jpgI run a pretty loose program in the summer. Our meals don’t really happen on a schedule and they’re more of a ‘Are you hungry now?’ type of situation that’s easy to stick to when you really have no specific place to go and no time frame to do it in.

But when school gets back in? I can say goodbye to my casual summer program and snap back to breakfast and dinner at the exact same time. Plus, on top of that, I have to make lunches for 4 that are healthy and won’t result in my receiving notes home from the teacher. That’s never happened to me, but my kids tell me a few of their friends are bringing in soda and Doritos, so I’m pretty sure it’s happened to a few people I know.

Getting back on a schedule, making sure everyone has enough to eat, and making sure it’s healthy is a lot to take on for any parent, but there are a few recipes you can use to ensure you’re on track every day. The bit of extra time you’ll spend preparing them instead of grabbing a granola bar from the store will work out in the wash, because you’ll spend that much less time feeling guilty for what you’re kids are eating.

For breakfast

Starting the day off with a healthy breakfast before school is so important, even if your kids say they’re not really hungry. All you have to do is look at the sugar content on a box of sugary cereal or granola bar and you’ll realize that starting their day off with what amounts to ½ a cup of sugar is going to mean they’re tired, hungry, and cranky by the time lunch hits.

honey-almond-powerbar.JPGInstead of cereal, try these Honey-Almond Power Bars. You can make them ahead of time and freeze them for up to one month or keep them in your refrigerator for one week. Photo and recipe from


1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats

1/4 cup slivered almonds

1/4 cup sunflower seeds

1 tablespoon flaxseeds, preferably golden

1 tablespoon sesame seeds

1 cup unsweetened whole-grain puffed cereal

1/3 cup currants

1/3 cup chopped dried apricots

1/3 cup chopped golden raisins

1/4 cup creamy almond butter

1/4 cup turbinado sugar

1/4 cup honey

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/8 teaspoon salt



Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat an 8-inch-square pan with cooking spray.

Spread oats, almonds, sunflower seeds, flaxseeds and sesame seeds on a large, rimmed baking sheet. Bake until the oats are lightly toasted and the nuts are fragrant, shaking the pan halfway through, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl. Add cereal, currants, apricots and raisins; toss to combine.

Combine almond butter, sugar, honey, vanilla and salt in a small saucepan. Heat over medium-low, stirring frequently, until the mixture bubbles lightly, 2 to 5 minutes.

Immediately pour the almond butter mixture over the dry ingredients and mix with a spoon or spatula until no dry spots remain. Transfer to the prepared pan. Lightly coat your hands with cooking spray and press the mixture down firmly to make an even layer (wait until the mixture cools slightly if necessary). Refrigerate until firm, about 30 minutes; cut into 8 bars.

For lunch

When I was in high school, I walked to the store with friends during our lunch hour and I bought, unbelievably, a bag of Doritos and an orange slush. I did this every single day for my entire Grade 9 year, and that’s why I was horrified when my kids would tell me that some of their friends were eating that stuff for lunch.

I remembered how I felt after: tired, mentally foggy, and just wanting a nap. I don’t want my kids to feel that way, so packing a healthy lunch is so important. It doesn’t have to be hard either, because something like these Mini Greek Muffin Pizzas is easy to make ahead of time and even easier to pop into a lunch kit. You can freeze them ahead of and just store them separately in zip lock bags. Photo and recipe from



2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2/3 cup finely chopped onion

2/3 cup finely chopped red bell pepper

1/3 cup whole-wheat pastry flour

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano, or 1/2 teaspoon dried

1 teaspoon sugar

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup low-fat milk

1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese

1 large egg, well beaten

2 tablespoons tomato paste

2 tablespoons chopped kalamata olives



Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and bell pepper; cook, stirring often, until the onion is tender, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl and let cool for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 400°F. Coat a mini-muffin pan with cooking spray.

Whisk whole-wheat pastry flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder, oregano, sugar, garlic powder and salt in a medium bowl.

Stir milk, feta, egg, tomato paste and olives into the onion mixture. Make a well in the dry ingredients; add the wet ingredients and stir until just combined. Fill the prepared muffin cups two-thirds full.

Bake the muffins until lightly browned, 13 to 15 minutes. Cool in the pan for 5 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

For dinner

I’m guilty of being one of those people who stand at the door of the fridge at 5 pm and wonder exactly what I can make for dinner that night. My mom always told me that if I’m not sure of what I’m cooking at 5 pm I might as well order takeout, but I still try to avoid that when I can.

I’ve found that making the kids a healthy dinner that includes vegetables and some sort of protein helps them sleep better. After running around all day, doing homework, and doing some after school activity, a plate of greasy pizza really doesn’t give them what they need. I don’t always succeed, but I try to do a healthy dinner like these Sliders with Shallot-Dijon Relish. They sound fancy, but they aren’t, and although my kids like a little bit of kick in their dinner, I really think any kid would like these.

Photo and recipe from


1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 pound ground sirloin

Cooking spray

3 tablespoons finely chopped shallots

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

2 teaspoons butter, softened

8 (1-ounce) Parker House rolls

16 dill pickle chips



Prepare grill to medium-high heat.

Combine 1/2 teaspoon salt, pepper, and sirloin. Divide meat mixture into 8 equal portions, shaping each into a 1/4-inch-thick patty. Lightly coat both sides of patties with cooking spray. Place patties on grill rack; grill for 3 minutes on each side or until done.

Combine shallots, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, and butter in a small bowl, stirring well. Cut rolls in half horizontally. Spread shallot mixture evenly over cut sides of rolls. Layer 1 patty and 2 pickle chips on bottom half of each roll; top with top halves of rolls.

Breakfast, lunch, and dinner: it’s hard to get back on track after a summer of easy eating, but if you focus on how your kids will feel after each meal, you might even enjoy packing those lunch kits. If you have a fast, easy, and healthy meal idea for any time of the day, be sure to share it in the comments.

  My favourite appliances for back to schoolcan help you make healthy meals every day
Every great lunch starts off in a great lunch kit
Last week on Shelly’s Friday Favourites we had a few ideas for back to school lunches

 Main photo from

Shelly Wutke

By Shelly Wutke, Editor Appliances and Home & Lifestyle

From blenders to laptop computers, I like to take everything I write and put a personal spin on it. As a Vancouver freelancer for 5 years, I’ve written for the Globe & Mail, The Vancouver Province, Chicken Soup for the Soul (grab your hanky, that one is a tear jerker), and on too many websites to list. My personal website is at and if you like Twitter, come find me and chat at @kidswap. 

Shelly Wutke
Editor TV & Home Theatre
I'm a Vancouver freelancer and tech enthusiast. When I'm not writing you'll find me on my farm with my alpacas, chickens, and honeybees. Visit my website Survivemag