Summer 2021 Cooking Panda Box Back to School Hacks
By Cooking Panda
As the summer days waddle on, you might be thinking of ways to bring a bit of extra joy to the lunchtime and snacking experiences of the little scholars in your life. Here are 13 food ideas and hacks designed to bring some extra fun to the kitchen.
1. Homemade Uncrustables
With just a few adjustments to your regular PB&J approach, you can make these freezer section favorites at home, perfect as an addition to any packed school lunch. First, by spreading peanut butter on both slices of bread, you can keep the bread free from sogginess. Then, simply take any round kitchen item of the appropriate size, like a large cup, and cut out the middle of the sandwich, pressing down the edges with a fork for your very own freezable and portable PB&Js at home! Try Brainiac’s brain-boosting chocolate peanut butter for that extra burst of brainpower for the school.
2. Apple Peanut-Butter “Sandwich”
This variation on a classic snack makes for easier munching. Instead of slicing the apple as you normally would, inside cut horizontally through the apple, core and all, to create circular slices that you can then cut the core out of. Of course, having an apple corer on hand will make this step easier. Then, sandwich some peanut butter and raisins—Sun-Maid gives us a ton of choices now—between two slices and enjoy!
3. Decorated Kids’ Bars
Give a regular old snack bar a summer makeover with this adorable decoration idea. Take your favorite snack bar, like the oh-so-nutritious LivBar, and get yourself some teddy bear crackers, some M&Ms, frosting and coloring, and a little drink umbrella. Spread some ocean-blue frosting on the top of the bar, plop in some top halves of the bear crackers, decorate the edges of the bar with the M&Ms, stick the umbrella in, and boom, tiny bear pool party. Let your imagination run free, and get kids involved in the process!
4. Jello Marshmallow Pinwheels
We took some D’Gari jello mix and mixed it with the amount of water the instructions asked for, then plopped it in the microwave for about a minute, until dissolved. Then, we mixed in some marshmallows, at a ratio of about 1.5 cups per cup of water used, then microwaved for another 30 seconds or so until we could fully melt and stir in the marshmallows. We spread the whole mix into a nonstick-sprayed baking tin before leaving it to cool in the fridge for about 45 minutes. Once cooled, the gelatin sheet was ready to loosen at the edges with a knife, be rolled up, then finely sliced with floss or twine to form fluffy, fruity pinwheels.
5. Teddy Bear Pizza Bites
This hack uses measuring cups and spoons of various sizes to form a fun snack shape that kids will love. Starting with some pizza or puff pastry dough, we took a 1-cup measure to cut large circles out of the dough. Then, we cut out little dough ears with a teaspoon measure to stick to the “face.” We filled the face with some tomato sauce and shredded mozzarella and filled in the ears with small sausage slices, then baked until golden brown. To bring our teddy bears to life, we took a tablespoon measure and cut out some gruyere cheese for the bears’ snouts, and topped it off with Pipcorn eyes and olive pieces for the nose and pupils. Almost too cute to eat!
6. Reuse Plastic Containers for Lunchboxes
This one isn’t so much a recipe as it is an encouragement to recycle and upcycle! Rather than throw away a container as soon as you’re done with what’s inside, take note of how reusable it might be. For example, we found that Blüm’s toasted almonds come in a perfectly re-sealable plastic container, lid and all, ready to be washed and filled with snacks of your choosing. A great way to get some extra use out of the plastics that come in and out of our lives.
7. Hummus-Filled Snacks
Hummus is a fantastic, hearty addition to any snacking routine, and so versatile in its simplicity. Here, we took some From the Ground Up cauliflower crisps and filled them with hummus using a piping bag: a great balance of creamy and crunchy. Try this with your favorite crackers or vegetables for an easy way to add more nutrition and heartiness to your snacks.
8. Leftover Spaghetti Muffin Cups
It seems like kids love eating things with their hands, so why not try this hack that takes an old favorite and makes it super snackable? While leftover spaghetti would work perfectly well here, we decided to make a fresh batch, using Veggiecraft’s gorgeously golden cauliflower pasta. We cooked the pasta, mixed in some freshly-grated parmesan, then nestled the pasta into a nonstick-sprayed muffin tin. We then spooned some spaghetti sauce atop each bundle of pasta along with a small meatball and some parmesan. After baking at 375 Fahrenheit for 20 to 25 minutes, we finally garnished the spaghetti cups with some chopped parsley and extra parmesan.
9. Baked Apple Oatmeal
Sweet, simple, and healthy; what’s not to like about this snacking hack? We took six apples, cored out then baked at 325 Fahrenheit for 25 minutes until tender. We then cooked six packets of Bob’s Red Mill oatmeal, which came already flavored with apple and cinnamon, and stuffed the apples before broiling for another 2 to 3 minutes to finish off. You can garnish these with something cool and sweet for a lovely snack any time of the day.
10. Pasta Hot Dog Skewers
Here’s a fun way to get your kids comfortable with and experimenting in the kitchen. Ask them to help you cup up some hotdogs into fourths and then skewer the pieces with some dried pasta. Then, you can cook the little pasta abominations as you normally would. Kids can watch and wonder as the pasta softens and you end up “threaded” hot dog pieces and spaghetti. A wonderful way to get kids thinking and asking questions about how food cooks.
11. Pepperoni Pizza Bake
Pasta bakes are a simple way to make a hearty dish your kids will love. This idea hearkens to a classic kids’ favorite, pepperoni pizza, and looks lovely when pulled out of the oven. Simply preheat your oven to 350 Fahrenheit and prepare your favorite noodles—we used the wonderfully easy-to-prep Miracle Noodles—and toss with marinara in a small casserole dish. Top with some extra sauce and cheese, then layer with pepperoni slices. Bake for 20 minutes for a quick and easy lunch.
12. Frozen Yogurt Breakfast Bars
Granola bars are a great healthy snacking alternative and are easy to make at home. Take about 3 cups of granola and pulse them in the processor for a bit before adding 5 teaspoons of melted butter to pulse until incorporated. Line an 8 by 8 baking pan with parchment paper and press the granola down into a layer before freezing for 5 minutes. Mix some yogurt and honey to spread atop the bars, then decorate with your favorite toppings—we used Sun-Maid’s yogurt raisins, Blüm’s toasted almonds, and Rind’s skin-on dried fruits. Freeze for an additional 30 minutes before cutting and serving.
13. Rainbow Waffles
Farin’Up’s pre-prepped waffle mix saves you time to focus on bringing that dazzle factor to your breakfast. Prepare six small bowls of waffle batter to color with red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet. Then, with your waffle press hot and ready, plop a small dab of purple batter in the center, followed by concentric rings of blue to red in rainbow order. When they’re finished, cut the waffles in half to form those lovely rainbow arcs. And finally decorate with tufts of whipped cream clouds.