08/13/2012 04:49 EDT | Updated 10/13/2012 05:12 EDT

Make school lunch fun and healthy with dips, muffins and chicken fingers

Use creativity and do some work in advance to make preparing school lunches less challenging. Many kids enjoy dips and snack-style items that can be toted in reusable containers.

Any time you are packing dairy products make sure to put an ice pack in the lunch box, cautions registered dietitian Shannon Crocker.

Fruidelicious and Dip

Everyone loves veggies and dip. With this recipe, even the pickiest eater will be drawn to fruit served in this way. Start with plain yogurt and add just enough sweetness and spice for the perfect coating for juicy pieces of fruit. You can pack them in containers to go so you'll have a nutritious snack wherever you are.

Prep Time: 15 minutes

375 ml (1 1/2 cups) 2 per cent plain yogurt

30 ml (2 tbsp) liquid honey

1 ml (1/4 tsp) ground cinnamon

1 ml (1/4 tsp) ground nutmeg (optional)

1 l (4 cups) fresh fruit pieces (a mixture of apple or pear wedges, nectarine slices, banana chunks, pineapple chunks, strawberries, cherries or seedless grapes)

In a bowl, whisk together yogurt, honey, cinnamon and nutmeg, if using. Portion into small bowls or airtight containers. Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days.

On serving plates or in portable containers with lids, arrange fruit pieces around bowl or container of yogurt for dipping.

Tip: If you like to eat frozen fruit, you can use some fresh and some frozen, but don't let the frozen fruit thaw — it will get too soft and watery for dipping.

Makes 4 servings.

Source: Dairy Farmers of Canada.


Shannon Crocker's Munchie Mix

— Air-popped popcorn

— Whole-grain cereal (wheat squares, o's or puffs)

— Dried fruit (look for those made without added sugars: apricots, raisins, apple, pear)

— Roasted chickpeas

— Whole-grain pretzels

— Unsweetened coconut flakes

— Whole-grain mini crackers

— Dark chocolate chips (optional)

Place a variety of the above ingredients on a table in different bowls. Have kids make their own crunchy medley using the ingredients they like the best. Store it in an airtight container. Scoop some out into smaller containers for lunch each day.

For a special sweet hit, add a sprinkle of dark chocolate chips to the mixture.

Source: Shannon Crocker, registered dietitian.


Oven-Baked Chicken Fingers With Tzatziki

A wholesome crispy coating made with milk gives this dinner favourite a healthy makeover. Serve with tzatziki and plenty of raw veggie sticks on the side.

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cooking Time: 15 to 20 minutes

50 ml (1/4 cup) milk

15 ml (1 tbsp) Dijon mustard

375 ml (1 1/2 cups) crisp whole-wheat crackers, finely crushed

500 g (1 lb) boneless skinless chicken breasts

Heat oven to 230 C (450 F). Line a baking sheet with foil; butter or spray foil.

In a shallow dish, combine milk and mustard. Place cracker crumbs in another shallow dish. Cut chicken breasts into strips about 7.5 cm (3 inches) by 1 cm (1/2 inch). Dip each chicken strip first into milk mixture and then into crumbs, pressing to coat. Place on prepared baking sheet. Discard excess milk mixture and crumbs.

Bake chicken fingers for about 15 minutes or until golden and chicken is no longer pink inside.

Makes 4 servings.

Tips: Crisp crackers such as Wheat Thins work best. You'll need about 750 ml (3 cups) crackers. Make crumbs in a food processor or place crackers in a resealable plastic bag and crush with a rolling pin.

Source: Dairy Farmers of Canada.


Easy Tzatziki Dip

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Refrigeration Time: 1 hour

250 ml (1 cup) plain yogurt

250 ml (1 cup) shredded seedless cucumber, squeezed dry

1 garlic clove, minced

1 ml (1/4 tsp) sugar

Salt and pepper, to taste

In small bowl, combine yogurt, cucumber, garlic and sugar. Add salt and pepper. Chill for 1 hour to blend flavours.

Makes 4 servings (325 ml/1 1/2 cups).

Source: "Cooking Made Easy" (Brimar Publishing Inc., 1996).


Spinach Dip

Here's a dip that can be served with raw vegetables. Kids will love it, even if they know it's good for them.

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cooking Time: 20 minutes

1 can (540 ml/19 oz) chickpeas, rinsed and drained

1 ml (1/4 tsp) clove garlic, minced

250 ml (1 cup) packed fresh baby spinach

250 ml (1 cup) shredded havarti cheese

50 ml (1/4 cup) freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 ml (1/4 tsp) pepper or hot pepper sauce

50 ml (1/4 cup) water (approx)

Salt and pepper, to taste

Carrots or any other raw vegetables (celery, cauliflower, broccoli, sweet peppers, etc.)

Variety of bread (mini-pita, naan bread, etc.)

Use a food processor fitted with a metal blade to combine chickpeas, garlic and spinach. Pulse until chickpeas and spinach are finely chopped, scraping sides of bowl, if necessary. Add cheese, lemon juice and pepper and pulse until blended. Gradually add enough water to thin dip to desired consistency. Transfer to a serving bowl.

For a warm dip, transfer to a small baking dish. Bake in a 180 C (350 F) oven or toaster oven for about 20 minutes or until warmed through. Or transfer to a microwave-safe bowl and microwave on medium (50 per cent) power for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring once, or until warmed through.

Serve with veggies and breads for dipping.

Makes 8 servings.

Tip: The dip can be prepared, covered and refrigerated for up to 2 days. Add more water before serving if it gets too thick. Orange juice can be used in place of the lemon juice.

Source: Dairy Farmers of Canada.


Dark Chocolate Orange Mini Muffins

Whip up these tasty little muffins with ingredients you likely have on hand. The combination of chocolate and orange in a not-too-sweet muffin is sure to be a hit with the entire family.

Prep. Time: 15 minutes

250 ml (1 cup) all-purpose flour

250 ml (1 cup) whole-wheat flour

7 ml (1 1/2 tsp) baking powder

1 ml (1/4 tsp) each, baking soda


150 ml (2/3 cup) granulated sugar

75 ml (1/3 cup) unsweetened cocoa powder

300 ml (1 1/4 cups) milk

1 egg

10 ml (2 tsp) grated orange zest

75 ml (1/3 cup) freshly squeezed orange juice

50 ml (1/4 cup) melted butter

75 ml (1/3 cup) miniature chocolate chips

Heat oven to 190 C (375 F). Butter non-stick miniature muffin pans or line with paper liners.

In a large bowl, combine all-purpose and whole wheat flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In another bowl, whisk together sugar, and cocoa; gradually whisk in milk until blended. Whisk in egg, orange zest, orange juice and butter. Pour over dry ingredients and sprinkle with chocolate chips; stir just until moistened.

Spoon into prepared muffin pan filling 24 deep cups or 36 shallow cups. Bake, in batches as necessary, for about 15 minutes or until tops are firm to the touch. Let cool in pan for 5 minutes. Transfer to rack to cool completely.

Makes 24 to 36 mini-muffins.

Tip for Kids: Muffins are the perfect recipe to teach kids about proper measuring techniques with liquid and dry measures (they're more forgiving than some baked goods). Older kids can make them on their own from start to finish and younger kids can help with supervision.

Replace orange zest and juice with applesauce and add chopped dried sour cherries.

Source: Dairy Farmers of Canada.