Back To School Healthy Lunches (with Hidden Vegetables for Kids)!

Welcome to Part II of our Back to School Hidden Veggie Meals blogs! This time, we’re featuring lunch ideas. Can you believe we are less than two weeks away from the new school year starting? Where has the summer gone? As sad as it is to see it come to an end, it is nice to get back to our fall routines. We always try to see the positives in seasons’ change, especially after the warmest one comes to a close. This change will be challenging for kids, since they’ve gotten used to being home and away from the classroom.

A great way to help them transition into the upcoming school year is to nourish their bodies and minds with delicious and nutritious foods! That’s where this week’s article comes in with a few lunch ideas to help get on the right track. You won’t be scrambling, trying to put together ideas while dealing with the emotions that come with heading back to school. And it’s not just kids who will benefit from them. You will benefit from them too! So do not only prepare these meal ideas for your kids, but for you as well! 

Recipes included in today’s blog post below include a Veggie Pasta SauceHidden Broccoli Chicken Nuggets & Cauliflower Pizza Bites

Hiding Vegetables in Pasta Sauce

A lot of kids enjoy spaghetti & tomato sauce. Tomatoes are (nutritionally) a vegetable and are rich in vitamin C. Vitamin C is beneficial for the immune system, and is in so many veggies! You can hide them within pasta sauce to make it that much healthier! By adding more vegetables, you’re adding a wider variety of nutrients that your child may refuse to eat. Providing an array of veggies (like in this pasta sauce) not only offers more helpings of vegetables, but also will contain a wider variety of phytonutrients. Every vegetable has a different set of phytonutrients in them, which all do other things in your body. Many of them are antioxidants and anti-inflammatory in nature. Chronic inflammation leads to a very unregulated immune response, which usually leads you to be more susceptible to infection.

By encouraging a wider variety of veggie options, you are also promoting the health of their immune system at the same time! Try out this filled veggie-filled pasta sauce below with carrots, celery, zucchini, bell pepper and onions. An added tip: if you find getting protein in your kids diet a challenge, pair this sauce with a protein-rich chickpea or lentil pasta. My personal favourite is Maria’s Homestyle Noodles, as they are super clean and cook up quickly!

Pasta with Hidden Veggie Sauce

Course Dinner, Lunch
Keyword Dairy Free, Gluten Free
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 5 minutes
Calories 446.6kcal
Author Sabrina Cellupica & Nicole Ensoll

Equipment

  • Blender

Ingredients

For the sauce:

  • 3 tbsp Nature’s Emporium Olive Oil
  • 1 organic yellow onion finely chopped
  • 1 clove organic garlic finely minced
  • 2 tsp Italian seasoning
  • 2 tbsp fresh organic basil chopped
  • 3 organic celery stalks trimmed and finely diced
  • 2 organic carrots peeled and finely diced
  • 1 organic red bell pepper finely diced
  • 1 organic zucchini finely diced
  • 2 jars Nature’s Emporium Organic Strained Tomato Passata
  • 1 tbsp Nature’s Emporium Organic Tomato Paste
  • ½ cup organic vegetable stock

For the pasta:

  • 1 package Maria’s Chickpea Pasta cooked

Instructions

  • Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large saucepan.
  • Add the onion, garlic, and Italian seasoning and stir for a couple of minutes.
  • Then add celery, carrots, red bell peppers, and zucchini, and cook, covered, for approximately 20 minutes.
  • Ensure that you continue to stir the vegetables to prevent them from burning.
  • Once the vegetables are cooked and soft, add the tomatoes, tomato paste, and the vegetable stock and stir until everything is fully combined.
  • Bring the sauce to a boil, reduce the heat and allow to simmer for a further 20 minutes and set aside to cool.
  • In the meantime, prepare a pot with water and bring to a boil. Add Maria’s Chickpea Pasta and follow instructions on the package.
  • Once the sauce is slightly cooled, transfer to a blender and blend until smooth.
  • Pour sauce over pasta until fully combined, plate and serve immediately! Grate some parmesan cheese on top and enjoy!

Nutrition

Serving: 1serving | Calories: 446.6kcal | Carbohydrates: 62.9g | Protein: 22.3g | Fat: 10.6g | Saturated Fat: 1.5g | Sodium: 51.8mg | Fiber: 12.7g | Sugar: 10.2g

How to Hide Broccoli in Chicken Nuggets!

On the opposite side of the vegetable spectrum, we have broccoli. Broccoli is usually a veggie that kids stick their noses up to. But they are so very rich in nutrients, so it’s an important one to incorporate into their meals. In addition to containing loads of Vitamins C and K (discussed in detail in last’s blog), broccoli also has a high folate amount.

Folate doesn’t always come to your mind when you think of immune health, it plays an important role! Research has shown that inadequate folate intake levels can lead to an altered immune response by inhibiting the activity of immune cells. With a weakened immune response, you are more susceptible to catching the common cold & flu. Some of the best food sources of folate include broccoli, dark leafy greens, seafood, liver and beans. Let’s be real – most kids aren’t running to the dinner table to eat these, so if we found a way to sneak it in! What better place to hide vegetables than including it a fan-favourite of every child – chicken nuggets! 

Making your chicken nuggets from scratch is obviously the healthiest option since you are removing many added preservatives often found in the freezer section varieties. Still, now you can use this recipe to sneak in some broccoli too! Try them out and let us know what you think!

Hidden Broccoli Chicken Nuggets

Course Appetizer, Lunch, Side Dish, Snack
Keyword Dairy Free, Gluten Free
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 50 minutes
Calories 104.2kcal
Author Sabrina Cellupica & Nicole Ensoll

Equipment

  • blender or food processor

Ingredients

For the nuggets:

  • Chosen Foods Avocado Oil Spray
  • 1 head Organic Broccoli (about two cups) chopped
  • ½ cup organic onion chopped
  • 1 clove organic garlic chopped
  • 454 g organic ground chicken
  • ½ cup nutritional yeast
  • 1 tsp sea salt

For the breading:

  • 2 Nature's Emporium Eggs beaten
  • 1 ½ cups Paneriso Gluten Free Bread Crumbs
  • 2 tbsp nutritional yeast
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1 tsp dried oregano

Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 350° F and prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper with a spray of avocado oil.
  • In a blender or food processor, blend broccoli, onion and garlic until completely combined. Ensure there are no chunks left in the mixture.
  • In a medium sized bowl, add the broccoli mixture, ground chicken, nutritional yeast and salt and mix all ingredients until completely combined.
  • In a shallow bowl beat both eggs and set aside.
  • In another shallow bowl combine bread crumbs, nutritional yeast, basil and oregano and set aside.
  • Spoon a heaping spoonful of the mixture and form them into balls (approximately ½ inch thick – ensure they are all the same size so they cook evenly) and then flatten and dip in the egg wash.
  • Quickly dredge in the breadcrumbs and form into the same size and thickness and place on the baking sheet.
  • Place the baking sheet in the oven and cook for 15 minutes, flip then cook for an additional 15 minutes, or until golden brown.
  • Remove from the oven, serve warm and accompany it with a honey mustard or your favourite dipping sauce. Enjoy!

Nutrition

Serving: 1serving | Calories: 104.2kcal | Carbohydrates: 10.5g | Protein: 8.1g | Fat: 3.5g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 47.7mg | Sodium: 182mg | Fiber: 0.7g | Sugar: 0.5g

Cauliflower Pizza Bites – and they’ll never know!

Our last recipe is going to be a favourite because what kid doesn’t love pizza?! We’ve put a spin on a classic. Instead of making a traditional pizza pie, we’ve created pizza bites to make it more convenient and comfortable for your kids (or you) to eat at lunch.

The veggie star of this recipe is cauliflower! Like broccoli in many ways – it is not one that kids will likely jump up to eat. Like all veggies, cauliflower contains fibre, and fibre is essential for your body. This goes beyond your digestive health, fibre also impacts your immune system! At least 70% of your immune system resides within your gastrointestinal tract. Fibre has a unique role in collecting waste as it moves throughout the intestinal tract. Some pathogens will even end up hanging out in the gastrointestinal tract. Fibre comes to the rescue by picking up these pathogens and removing them via your bowel movements. That’s just one reason why ensuring an adequate fibre intake is a must when it comes to keeping your kids (and yourself) healthy.

Cauliflower Pizza Bites

Course Lunch, Side Dish, Snack
Keyword Gluten Free
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 40 minutes
Servings 6 pizza bites
Calories 309.5kcal
Author Sabrina Cellupica & Nicole Ensoll

Ingredients

For the pizza bites:

  • 2 ½ cups organic cauliflower riced
  • ¼ cup organic green pepper diced
  • ½ cup organic cremini mushrooms diced
  • ½ tsp sea salt
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • ½ tbsp Italian seasoning
  • 2 Nature's Emporium Eggs
  • 1 ½ cups organic mozzarella shredded
  • cup Nature’s Emporium Almond Flour

For the topping:

  • ½ cup organic mozzarella shredded
  • ½ cup Nature’s Emporium Pizza Sauce
  • ¼ cup Mark’s Mennonite Meats Mini Pepperoni Sticks sliced

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 400° F and prepare two muffin pans.
  • Using a food processor, pulse cauliflower until the florets have broken down into a rice-like consistency.
  • Transfer cauliflower into a bowl and add green peppers, mushrooms, salt, baking powder, Italian seasonings, eggs, mozzarella and almond flour.
  • Divide the mixture evenly between the 12 cups and bake for 15 minutes then add toppings (pizza sauce, pepperoni and cheese) and continue baking for another 15 minutes; for a total of 30 minutes.
  • Bake until they are completely cooked and the cheese is fully melted and enjoy either hot or cold!

Nutrition

Serving: 1serving | Calories: 309.5kcal | Carbohydrates: 8.7g | Protein: 20.7g | Fat: 21.1g | Saturated Fat: 8.4g | Cholesterol: 95.2mg | Sodium: 645.6mg | Fiber: 2.8g | Sugar: 2.5g

That wraps up the second part of our hidden veggie meal ideas blog series! There are many other benefits outside of immune health – including digestive health, improved brain function, protecting the heart, maintaining a balanced weight and blood sugar levels. And the list doesn’t stop there! 

Remember, sometimes it takes a few tries for a child to consume something, especially if what they’re used to eating is overly processed or high in sugar. Keep trying and explain the benefits to them. Hopefully, your little one(s) will be eating more and more veggies varieties by the end of the day. 

What vegetable does your kid enjoy that isn’t typical, and how did you encourage them to eat it? Share your story in the comments below!

Nicole Ensoll

Certified Nutritional Practitioner

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