February 3, 2011

Build A Better School Lunch

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In September, my oldest child started kindergarten.  He goes all day, so he eats lunch at school.  He usually gets pizza one day a week, but for the other days I pack him a lunch.  Not only does his lunch have to be something he’ll eat, but I like it to also be reasonably healthy.  And I don’t want his lunch to create a mountain of trash that will take forever to break down in a landfill.

He has a reusable lunch box instead of paper bags, and because it’s insulated, I can send fresh foods and dairy.  He has a stainless steel water bottle instead of using plastic throw away containers.  I’m working on alternatives to plastic sandwich and snack bags.  And I’m reducing our dependency on packaged snacks.

There are a lot of snack options these days with quality ingredients, but they are pricey and the cost adds up.  Plus, the cereal bars my son likes each come individually wrapped and over the course of the school year, that’s a lot of trash.

Instead, I decided to try my hand at making my own cereal bars.  I looked at about 15 different recipes online and came up with this hybrid.  I was pleased with the taste, and my son ate them, although he did note the slightly different texture.  This recipe is also very open to change.  I used quick cooking oats, you might want to try it with old fashioned oats.  I made bars with blackberry preserves and another batch with strawberry, you could use virtually any fruit preserve.

Refrigerating the cooled bars seems to help them hold together better, and I wrapped them tightly to preserve the shape inside the lunch box in case my son drops it, or as 6 year old boys tend to do, throws it into his desk.


Fruit and Oats Cereal Bars

1/2 cup butter (I used Smart Balance) 
1/2  cup brown sugar
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup all-purpose flour (I used King Arthur Unbleached)
3/4 cup oats
1 jar ShopRite preserves of your choice
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

In a microwave safe bowl, heat the butter until softened.  It’s fine if it starts to melt.  Add brown sugar and mix to combine.  Add flours and oats and mix well.  The resulting texture will be soft and crumbly.

Place half of the crumb mixture into a greased 8 by 8 pan (I used a round pan and it worked great) and press down with a spoon or spatula.  Spread preserves on top of the crumb layer, being sure to spread to all corners of the pan.  Use as much or as little as you like, but the bars hold together best with about 8 ounces of preserves.  Top preserves with remaining crumb mixture and press down gently.

Bake at 325 for 25-30 minutes or until brown.  Let cool completely before cutting.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: As a POTLUCKTM blogger, I received ShopRite Preserves from ShopRite for free.