WASHINGTON — It’s back to school for many students in the D.C. area — and back to busy schedules for many families. But healthy eating doesn’t have to fall to the wayside during the school year.
From on-the-go breakfasts to brown-bag lunches to family dinners, natural foods chef Jesa Henneberry has creative and simple recipes that will help everyone start the year off on the right foot.
Breakfast is the most important meal — especially for growing bodies and minds — but it comes at one of the more hectic times of the day. So Henneberry says the key to making sure everyone catches the bus and gets to morning meetings on time is preparing breakfast in bulk before Monday morning.
One of her favorite kid-friendly breakfasts is roasted vegetable egg frittatas. Sounds too adult and too complicated for the morning rush? Henneberry says it’s time to think outside the pan; she makes her frittatas in muffin tins.
In a bowl, beat the eggs and throw in a few veggies your kids enjoy (mushrooms, broccoli, roasted peppers) along with some chopped pieces of turkey bacon. Then pour the egg mixture into muffin tins and bake them in the oven until the egg is fully cooked.
“It’s a super-friendly, portable, grab-and-go kind of serving size,” Henneberry says.
A layered quinoa bowl is a portable, healthy and tasty lunch for students and parents. (Courtesy Jesa Henneberry)
To squeeze a little more protein into breakfast, Henneberry ditches the paper muffin tin and instead uses a sliced turkey or ham cold cut — along with some nonstick spray — to line the muffin pan. Then, she pours the egg mixture into the meat cup.
“It’s a little bit more protein, and then it eliminates the waste of the paper cup,” she says.
If your child craves something sweeter in the morning, Henneberry suggests trying “overnight oats” or a chia seed pudding. Both can be made the night before and are ready to eat the next morning.
“Chia seeds are a little bit forward for kids, but you can impart a sweet component by using dates and coconut milk,” says Henneberry, who says kids can help with the mixing and prep the night before.
Pop the combined ingredients in the fridge overnight, and when it’s breakfast time, everything is ready to eat. And overnight oatmeal and chia puddings don’t have as much sugar as most oatmeal packets and cereals.
Another breakfast that can be made the night before — even days before — is a Mason jar parfait.
“Fill them with Greek yogurt, maybe a little granola and fresh fruit; layer it up,” Henneberry says. “Stick [the jars] in the refrigerator and let [the kids] grab their breakfast every morning.”
Let’s face it: Sometimes the brown-bag lunch can get boring, day in and day out. It’s time to look beyond the traditional turkey sandwich and apple slices.
“For kids, it’s about switching up the old-school favorites and incorporating veggies in new ways so they don’t know that the veggies are there,” Henneberry says.
Baked chicken drumsticks are a good option for a higher-protein snack. (Courtesy Jesa Henneberry)
One way she likes to add some green to lunch is to swap a traditional sandwich wrap for a collard green wrap.
“Steam them, just gently, in a steamer pot, and then use that instead of your traditional wrapper. Fill it with cold cuts, lettuce, sprouts,” says Henneberry, who also suggests spreading hummus on the wrap to add more flavor and protein.
On the side, pack some baked sweet potato chips. “It’s a different variation on a sandwich lunch.”
Growing up, Henneberry says her favorite lunch was a corn dog. Now, she makes a healthier version of the kid classic — and one that’s easy to pack for school lunches.
She makes corn muffin batter and pours the batter into muffin tins. Then she sticks chopped turkey or soy hot dogs into the batter before baking them. She suggests packing these with fresh veggies and dip.
Henneberry also recommends a variation on a Chipotle “bowl.” Once a week, she makes a big pot of quinoa or brown rice and purchases a rotisserie chicken, both of which she uses for a variety of meals throughout the week. Using a recycled soup take-out container, Henneberry layers quinoa, roasted vegetables, lettuce and the shredded chicken. Then, she tops it all off with a salsa. It’s easy to pack and pleases the palates of kids and adults.
A fast and easy snack doesn’t have to be bagged chips or pre-packaged processed foods. Henneberry says there are a lot of healthy snacks you can prep ahead of time and pull out throughout the week.
For a sweet after-school frozen treat, Henneberry makes a dairy-free ice cream using a bag of frozen fruit. (She says cherries, bananas, strawberries and mango are delicious.)
“Just put the frozen fruit into the blender; add a few dates, a little bit of full-fat coconut milk and puree it. It’s this delicious, healthy, fruit-based frozen ice cream,” she says.
Her Greek yogurt bark is another kid-friendly sweet-treat favorite. Henneberry mixes a tub of fat-free or low-fat Greek yogurt with chopped nuts, dried fruit and chocolate chips or dark chocolate bits.
“And then you spread it out onto a parchment-lined baking sheet, put it in the freezer, and it becomes this frozen yogurt bark,” she says. “The kids can break off a chunk of it as they go.”
For a high-protein, grab-and-go snack, Henneberry is a fan of baked chicken drumsticks, coated in simple spices and sesame seeds.
With homework, sports practices and hectic work schedules, getting a healthy, homemade dinner on the table for the family can seem like a daunting task. Henneberry has a few tips to make dinner time easier.
For starters, Henneberry says you shouldn’t shy away from picking up a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store. “I think it’s a really fantastic way to skip the preparation of the protein,” she says. Served with a side salad and some pre-made quinoa or brown rice, it’s a simple, no-cook dinner.
Henneberry also advises to buy the center cuts of meat, such as chicken cutlets or turkey cutlets, and prepare them by quickly pan-frying them with a touch of olive oil. On the side, char some frozen corn in a skillet and mix in some bell peppers for a quick salsa-inspired salad.
For a hearty pasta dish, Henneberry says, cook some lean ground pork, bison or beef in a pan. In the meantime, roast some cherry tomatoes in a high-temperature oven. Add the roasted tomatoes and a little bit of cooking stock to the pot of cooked meat.
“And you have this awesome meaty pasta sauce,” she says. “Serve it over gluten -free pasta and throw in some fresh greens and it’s a great way to have a quick nutritious dinner at home.”
Frozen Yogurt Snack Bark
Makes one cookie sheet of bark
Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Mix the yogurt with honey and vanilla extract, fold in the remaining ingredients and spread evenly onto the lined cookie sheet. Sprinkle with reserved coconut flakes. Place in the freeze to firm. Once frozen, remove from freezer, peel back the parchment paper and break into chunks to enjoy.
Sesame Flax Baked Chicken Drummies
Preheat oven to 425. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and coat with spray oil. Rinse and pat the drumsticks dry with paper towels, and toss the drumsticks with oil to coat in a large mixing bowl.
Place remaining ingredients in a spice grinder or mini food processor. Whiz until coarsely ground, leaving some seeds still intact. Pour the seed blend out onto a plate. Roll the drumsticks in the seed mixture to coat them evenly.
Place the drumsticks on the prepared baking sheet and bake for 25 minutes or until golden brown.