Back to school lunches and yes you can have some fun with it!

First week back at school and everybody is filled with ideas to get the school lunches filled and the routines back on track! Is this the case for everyone? Well maybe not everyone. I love offering up new ideas for lunches to my kids for back to school lunches, those ideas aren’t always accepted with open arms. 
The creativity of packing lunches can be fun, with such fun containers that are colourful or shaped like fruits and vegetables and my favourite is the containers that you can snap in an ice pack to keep things cool. I think one of my favourites was my Strawberry Shortcake thermos, what joy it brought to open it and find something different for my lunch.
So I thought for the first week back to school I would play up some favourites with our family and change them up a bit to offer up some twists on the back to school lunches. Muffins are big players around here and great for packing away in lunches and banana happens to be one of our favourites. So I decided to change it up a bit and create this Banana Chocolate Chip Bundt cake with spelt flour. Each piece has chocolatey morsels in them that are perfect for that last snack of the day or for parents to enjoy when their kids are off at school. (Parents have fun sometimes too!) 
Hummus is a major player in the lunch world for many families, it’s versatility in being used as a snack or increasing taste and protein in sandwiches as a vegetarian alternative is a life saver for many. The recipe I’m offering up has a few variations to hopefully fit the flavour of your family. Making your own hummus at home is easy and a great after school snack to have tucked away in the fridge if anyone comes home with big hunger pains.
And I couldn’t forget dinner! Enjoying dinner together to find out how the first week back at school went is important so bring out that slow cooker if you have one and try out my simple slow cooker beef chili. Only a few ingredients will create an easy and tasty dinner that also makes great leftovers to tuck away into a thermos the next day for lunch. I’m sure whether it is Strawberry Shortcake, Lightning McQueen or Skylanders thermos they will all be happy to hold it for lunch.

Banana Chocolate Chip Bundt

This spelt flour cake might be a good option for those who are trying to move away from traditional wheat and offer up options to pack for the children and themselves. The spelt flour offers a really moist texture and a slightly nuttier flavour to the cake which makes it simply addictive!

3/4 cup (175 mL) butter, softened
1 cup (250 mL) granulated sugar
2 eggs
3 very ripe bananas, peeled and mashed
2 tsp (10 mL) vanilla
1 3/4 cup (425 mL) spelt flour
1 1/4 tsp (6 mL) baking soda
1/2 cup (125 mL) semi sweet chocolate chips

In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar until fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in bananas and vanilla until well combined.

In another bowl, whisk together flour and soda and stir into butter mixture until combined. Stir in chocolate chips to distribute evenly. Pour batter into greased 10 inch (25 cm) bundt pan and even out top. Bake in preheated 350 F (180 C) oven for 30 to 35 minutes or until cake tester inserted in centre comes out clean. Let cool in pan on rack for about 15 minutes before turning it out to cool completely.

Makes 12 to 16 slices.

Tip: Pack up slices in lunch containers for family members to enjoy for their snack. A great accompaniment is a glass of milk or afternoon tea.

For a dairy free option, omit butter and substitute 2/3 cup (150 mL) canola oil. Whisk with sugar and proceed with recipe. 

Chickpea Hummus

This hummus is great to dip into with raw veggies or is a great addition to top off sandwiches. You could also enjoy it on it’s own in half a whole-wheat pita with tomatoes and cucumber slices. Try the variations for different flavours to excite your lunchbag.

1 can (19 oz/540 mL) chickpeas, drained and rinsed
½ cup (125 mL) chopped roasted red peppers or 1 red pepper, roasted, peeled and seeded
¼ cup (50 mL) tahini 
½ tsp (2 mL) ground cumin
2 tbsp (30 mL) extra-virgin olive oil
2 tbsp (30 mL) water
1 tbsp (15 mL) lemon juice
1 small clove garlic, minced

In food processor, pulse together chickpeas, peppers, tahini and cumin. With food processor running, add oil and water until very smooth. Pulse in lemon juice and garlic.

Makes about 2 cups (500 mL).

Sundried Tomato Version: Omit roasted red peppers. Use ¼ cup (60 mL) chopped sundried tomatoes that have been rehydrated in hot water and drained.

Roasted Vegetable Hummus: Omit roasted red peppers. Use ½ cup (125 mL) chopped roasted vegetables. 

Storage: Keep in airtight container, refrigerated for up to 2 weeks.

Helpful Hint: Tahini is a toasted sesame seed paste that you can find in most grocery stores. You can also find it in health and bulk food stores. It adds a great nutty flavour to the hummus. For a slightly different twist try other nut butters or nut alternative butters for the tahini.

Slow Cooker Chunky Beef Chili

Chunks of beef make a super tasty chili that is hearty and full of flavour. With a kick of heat from the hot sauce this will warm your family up after a long day. If heat is not in your family plan, simply reduce the hot sauce by half.

2 lb (1 kg) lean stewing beef
2 tbsp (25 mL) chili powder
1 tbsp (15 mL) Worcestershire sauce
1 large sweet onion, coarsely chopped
1 can (19 oz/540 mL) Italian seasoned chunky stewed tomatoes
2 tsp (10 mL) hot pepper sauce
2 green peppers, chopped
1/4 cup (50 mL) all purpose flour

In a large bowl, toss together beef, chili powder and Worcestershire sauce. 

Heat large nonstick skillet over medium high heat and brown beef in batches and place in slow cooker. Add 1/2 cup (125 mL) of water to skillet and bring to a boil, scraping up brown bits. Pour into slow cooker and add onion, stewed tomatoes and hot pepper sauce, stir to combine. Cover and cook on Low for 8 to 10 hours or on High for 6 to 8 hours.

Uncover and stir in green peppers. In a small bowl, whisk together flour and 1/4 cup (60 mL) of water and stir into slow cooker. Turn up to High and cook covered for 30 minutes or until peppers are tender but crisp and chili is thickened.

Makes 8 servings.


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