Let’s talk back-to-school lunchboxes, shall we?
As much as I wish I could be one of Those Moms that packs totally gorgeous, colorblocked, Bento-style lunches on the regular, it really is just not happening around here. For one thing, I’m packing lunch for a notoriously picky eater, who would gladly eat the same turkey sandwich everyday for the rest of her life and would rather talk to her neighbor at lunchtime than waste time doing something as silly as eating food, so sending her to school with glorious, Warhol-esque lunch displays isn’t likely to be a big thrill.
Also? To be real? Raising the packed lunch bar too high stresses me out in the most unnatural manner. Because I’ve seen the amazing, ever-ante-upping, Instagram-worthy lunchbox game that some moms have going on out there. I even “heart”, “favorite”, and “like” these museum-worthy lunches, because really, what OCD person (me) doesn’t enjoy playing voyeur over perfectly-spaced, teeny organic strawberries and cubed dragonfruit and origami-ed finger sandwiches? I’m starting to feel like an artfully packed meal is some kind of status symbol and I’m just not sure I have room for that kind of, um…intensity in my weekday life. You feel me?
I mean, don’t get me wrong, fancy lunch packing moms–there is still a part of me that wants to be you and do what you do and learn your ways. I just prrrooobably won’t get around to it this week. However! I am a champion of a good, wholesome-yet-sweet-tooth-satisfying lunchbox treat. (In fact, I’m dedicating a whole chapter in my new book to recipes that fit this bill perfectly.) To me, the ultimate lunchbox treat has a little bit of nutrition, and a whole lot of craveworthy deliciousness, like these little gems that are in often in rotation around here. Because 11:30 a.m. on a Tuesday isn’t the best time to pump your kid full of sugary cream filling and then expect them to learn to spell actual words.
However, if you can find a balance of good ingredients that still feel like a treat, and pack and travel well, you’ve struck gold. This opinion, of course, comes from a mom who packs things in Ziploc bags for her kid’s lunch, so take it with a grain of salt. But if you tuck goodies like this fall-inspired bar cookie into the mix–packed with seeds and unrefined dark muscovado sugar and tender chew, with a smattering of bittersweet chocolate for good measure–you too can be free from the pressures of a multi-hued, Tetris-packed lunch extravaganza.
Seeded Pumpkin Chocolate Chunk Bars
Makes 16 bars
You can up the goodness of these treats even further with a few simple tweaks–use a half-and-half mixture of all-purpose and whole wheat pastry flours; use flavorful, unrefined dark muscovado sugar in place of regular supermarket issue dark brown sugar; and add in some additional nutrient-packed seeds (chia and flax could be good swap-ins here).
1 1/4 cups (5 5/8 ounces/160 grams) all-purpose flour (or a mix of whole wheat pastry flour and all-purpose)
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon (I love Vietnamese cinnamon)
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
4 tablespoons (2 ounces/57 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup (6 ounces/170 grams) firmly packed dark muscovado sugar (or dark brown sugar)
1/2 cup (4 ounces/113 grams) 100% pure pumpkin puree
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup (3 ounces/85 grams) bittersweet chocolate chips (60 to 70% cacao)
1/2 cup (2 1/2 ounces/70 grams) mixed seeds (I like a mixture of pepitas (raw pumpkin seeds) and raw sunflower seeds), toasted
Position a rack to the center of the oven and preheat it to 350°F. Spray and 8-by-8-inch square baking pan with nonstick cooking spray and line it with parchment paper.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the butter and muscovado or brown sugar until creamy about 2 minutes. Add the pumpkin puree and beat for 2 minutes more, until no large sugar lumps remain. Beat in the egg and vanilla extract (the mixture may look curdled–don’t fret). Reduce the mixer speed to low and stir in the dry ingredients until well-blended. Stir in the chocolate chips and half the seeds.
Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Sprinkle the remaining seeds evenly over the batter. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Let cool completely in the pan set on a wire rack before cutting into squares. Store in an airtight container for up to five days.
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