Back to school: prepare for the lunch bunch

A review by Norene Gilletz

Packing your child’s lunch box is a struggle for most parents, but not for Shellie Sefton, mother of two. Sefton is a lunch box maven! Her children’s lunch boxes always come back empty and she constantly gets phone calls from other moms who ask her how she does it.

I spoke with Sefton recently and she shared some of her secrets with me. She finds that when kids are involved in choosing what goes into their tummies, they’ll usually eat better. She designed a special chart on the computer with the help of her husband Daniel. The chart is on her refrigerator and every morning Sabrina and Max check the chart to see what they will choose for the day’s lunch. Since Max isn’t able to read yet, there are pictures of the foods to help him with his choices. There are six categories, each with five options:

Smoked salmon with cream cheese
Sliced turkey
Yellow Cheddar cheese and jam
Tuna (light tuna rather than white)
Cream cheese and jam

Bread choices are pita, bagel, whole wheat bread, challah or healthy crackers. Sefton encourages Sabrina and Max to choose a different sandwich every day – otherwise they’d choose smoked salmon and cream cheese most days. Also, they’re not allowed to choose challah every day.

Juice box and water with ice.

Apple or peach slices (lemon juice prevents discoloration, sprinkle lightly with sugar)
Berries (blueberries, strawberries)
Dried fruit (apricots, craisins, dates)

Mini yogurt
Yogurt tubes
Yogurt with apples and cinnamon
Cheese strings

Carrot sticks
Baby tomatoes
Cucumber sticks
Hearts of palm (canned)
Coloured pepper slices

Animal or fish-shaped crackers
Nut-free granola bars (with no trans-fats)
Smarties or fruit roll-ups
Rice Krispie squares (homemade or bought)
Brownies or cookies (nut-free)

If you’re trying to go green and reduce waste, choose food-safe reusable containers and use your own cutlery. Don’t refill disposable water bottles. The best choices are stainless steel reusable water bottles.

Sefton teaches children’s cooking classes called Yummy in your Tummy, although she will soon be on maternity leave because she has something yummy in her own tummy – she’s expecting her third child in December!

Here are two “yummy-in-the-tummy” recipes to make with your children for their lunch boxes. They come from Sefton’s cookbook Cook and Color, which includes simple recipes, along with appealing pictures for kids to colour to keep the young chefs busy while waiting for the food to bake, cook or cool.


The reason these are called one-dish is because you only use one dish, which means there is much less to wash up!

1/3 cup butter
1/3 cup white sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup cocoa
1 egg
1/3 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp vanilla extract)
1/3 cup chopped walnuts (omit for a nut-free version)
1/3 cup chocolate chips (increase to 2/3 cup if making a nut-free version)

Preheat oven to 350. Grease an 8-inch square baking dish. Put butter into the dish and microwave for a few seconds, until it has melted. Add white and brown sugars and mix well. Add the cocoa and egg and continue mixing well. Sift in the flour and baking powder. Mix in the vanilla extract and chopped nuts, if using. Finally, add half the chocolate chips and mix in gently, then sprinkle the other half on top.

Place the dish in the oven for 35-40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from the oven, cut into squares and allow to cool. Yield: 9 large squares.


Brown sugar gives these a rich butterscotch flavour!

1 cup oatmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
pinch salt
1/2 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract

In a small bowl, combine the oatmeal, flour, baking soda and salt.

In a medium bowl, cream together butter and sugar. When creamy and smooth, add the egg and vanilla extract. Add the oatmeal mixture to the sugar mixture and mix very well. Place the dough in a tightly closed container in the refrigerator until it is firm, about 1 1/2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 400F. For large cookies, form round balls the size of golf balls from the dough. Grease a cookie sheet and place dough balls on the sheet. Use the back of a fork to push down and flatten the balls. Make sure there is enough space between the cookies so that they can expand without touching the others. Place on the middle oven rack for 10-12 minutes. Yield: 2 dozen large or 3 dozen medium cookies.

Norene Gilletz is a cookbook author, cooking teacher and food consultant based in Toronto. For information about her cookbooks, cooking demonstrations and culinary services, call 416-226-2466 or visit her website at