If you have access to storage and are able to buy larger bulk items it can be convenient to have a fully stocked pantry ready for last minute cooking, baking or lunch packing. My inspiration for our pantry set up was chef Michael Smiths’ kitchen pantry and we use mason jars to store many dry ingredients, grains, and spices. But that will have to be another post.
What works for one family may not work for another and this post is not meant to venture into the Costco vs. No Costco debate. For our family our membership easily pays for itself due to the volume of fruits, vegetables and perishables we consume in a year. My post today is to simply provide some insights into how I have managed our pantry for the school year and some of my favourite purchases. As in all families this will always be a work in progress and as inventory changes new items will take anothers place.
You could also call this post our Easy to Grab & Easy to Store Healthy Favourites for the school year. All of these items set the foundation for many homemade recipes and are my go to options to simplify lunch packing.
Manitoba Harvest Hemp Hearts
- Why I Like It: These are a pantry staple that my oldest often asks for. One tablespoon will give you 3.3g of protein, 1g of fibre and is a great source of healthy omega 3 fat.
- How To Use It: We use it as sprinkles on yogurt and oatmeal (overnight oats for lunch, yes please!), in our homemade granola bars, on salads or sprinkle it on any sandwich spread. BONUS: Let your little one help by sprinkling it on themselves!
- Note: Being high in fat a big bag from Costco can go bad quickly so we store ours in the freezer and keep some ready to use in the refrigerator.
- Recipe: Hemp Seed Tabouli
The Good Bean Roasted Chickpeas
- Why I Like It: Simple ingredients, high in fibre (5g) and protein (5g) in only 18 chickpeas. These are the ultimate bento lunch box filler. While I could make them myself, it is much more convenient to buy a bag and spend my time on packing lunches or homemade muffins/granola bars instead.
- How To Use It: Looking for a source of protein and a snack, pack this. Add to a trail mix with whole grain cereal, dried fruit and seeds, added to a salad (they crunch like croutons) or pack along with a soup in a thermos and add at eating time! Not sure what to put in the treat or dip well in your bento? This is my go to!
- Recipe: Do It Yourself Roasted Chickpeas
Bassé Shelled Organic Pumpkin Seeds
- Why I Like It: With nut free schools these little seeds are a great source of protein, fibre and iron. Their sodium is also not too high. They are a great nutrient dense food item to help fill hungry bellies!
- How To Use It: Great on their own for a snack or to put on yogurt. Try adding to a homemade trail mix with dried cranberries to help absorb their iron. I often will fill up the treat/dip well too. We buy such a big bag because they are our go to substitute in recipes that call for nuts to make them school safe.
- Recipe: Lunch Box Granola Bars
- Why I Like It: Another great nut-free substitute are these little seeds. They are a great source of protein, fibre, magnesium, zinc, and iron with almost no sodium.
- How To Use It: Great on their own for a snack or to use to put on yogurt. Another great addition to a homemade trail mix. Try filling up the treat/dip well or you can even make your own sunflower seed butter to use as a peanut butter substitute, which is why we buy such a big bag.
- Recipe: Homemade Sunflower Seed Butter
Prana Organic Chia Seeds
- Why I Like It: A pantry staple in our house as our kids love these little black sprinkles. A source of protein, omega 3 fats and an excellent source of fibre makes these seeds a great lunchbox addition.
- How To Use It: I sprinkle these seeds on everything! I also like to add them to many recipes for muffins or cookies and make this amazing chia seed pudding! Your kids will love it; it’s a favourite for our 3!
- Recipes: Almost Instant Chocolate Chia Pudding
- I substitute cow’s milk for the almond milk and if you don’t have milk ice cubes just make the night before and use an extra ¾ cup of milk (1 ½ cups total).
- Zucchini Bread Quinoa Breakfast Cookie
- These are great for breakfast or substitute the peanut butter for soy nut butter for a school snack.
- If you don’t have quinoa flakes use extra oats.
Pedon More Than Pasta Chickpea Mezzani
- Why I Like It: I just found these at Costco on our last trip and they jumped into my cart! During those times of lower meat intake these will be great as a meat substitute with 16g of protein for 1 ¼ cup, 8g of fibre and a source of iron and gluten free (for those who need it).
- How To Use It: Since it is a plant source of iron it will be important to add in a source of vitamin C to help absorb the iron. Try making a pasta salad with sweet red peppers and a favourite dressing (or lemon dressing for added vitamin C) or with your favourite veggie filled tomato sauce in a thermos.
- Recipe: Garden Pasta Salad
INNO Specialty Foods Coconut Clusters with Super Seeds
- Why I Like It: These are soooo good and made with simple whole ingredients. A serving has 2g of fibre, 2 g of protein (from the pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds) and fat to help fill up those little bellies (and ours too!).
- How To Use It: If you don’t eat them all yourself and they make it to the lunch box, I use these when I want to add something different for a snack to mix it up a bit. They work great on top of yogurt too. These aren’t a regular purchase but too good not to mention!
Made Good Chocolate Chip Granola Bars
- Why I Like It: Free from most common allergens making them school friendly and have an easy to read and identify ingredient list. Each bar has 2g of fibre, 1 g of protein, 5mg of sodium (so low), 6g of sugar and some vegetables too. Although I will always recommend eating vegetables in their true form to help work towards exposure and acceptance, the vegetable powder added to these bars does add some extra nutrients that are a good thing and the kids won’t be able to taste it.
- How To Use It: When I don’t have time or have run out of homemade granola bar options these bars are a go to in our pantry and I always have a couple stashed in my bag when we go out for those hangry child moments. They also accompany us on road trips!
- Why I Like It: A great source of protein with 5g per cheese and a source of calcium. Easy to grab and makes a great add-on to any lunch.
- How To Use It: Pack for a snack with some fruit or pack 2 to use as a lunch main with whole grain crackers. If in doubt pack a Babybel!
IOGO Vanilla Yogurt
- Why I Like It: Nutritionally it is a great source of calcium, vitamin B12, vitamin D as well as protein and isn’t low fat to help fill them up and give them energy. Downside is that it is a sweetened yogurt and while there is naturally occurring sugar, there is also sugar added. I love that it comes in a 2kg bag and is a great price. Since we use a bento box it is more economical to pour into a selected leak proof compartment.
- How To Use It: Vanilla is more of a neutral flavour so add any fruit to change up the flavour or desired toppings (we like hemp hearts, chia seeds, pumpkin and sunflower seeds). You can mix with plain greek yogurt if you wanted to make it less sweet and have more protein to use in a yogurt parfait as a lunch main or dip.
Harvest Snaps Snap Pea Crisps
- Why I Like It: Low in salt, baked and crunchy make these a popular option on our house. It’s a bonus that each bag has 4g of protein and 2g of fibre which makes them filling as well!
- How To Use It: With the convenient portioned serving packs, these are easy to grab for a quick snack or side option and tossed in the lunch bag. These are also popular road trip snacks in our car.
Applesnax Applesauce Pouches
- Why I Like It: Can’t go wrong with having an applesauce pouch around in the cupboard as a go to for a quick, shelf stable serving of fruit when you have run out of apples or other fresh fruit.
- How To Use It: Easy to toss in the lunch box or for special school days like a school trip or as a side for a hot lunch. These are also popular for any road trips or picnics our family takes.
Fontaine Santé Hummus (Traditional) (not pictured)
- Why I Like It: Simple, delicious and a great addition to any lunch. In 2 tbsp it has 2g of protein and 1g of fibre that will help kids to feel full. Buying in bulk makes it cheaper to add to a bento compartment than the single serving options.
- How To Use It: A great dip for veggies, savory muffins, crackers, mini pitas or naan strips. Change it up by using as a spread on sandwiches or try a Hummus Veggie Wrap by spreading on a tortilla and fill with your child’s favourite veggies (shredded carrot, cucumber, spinach) for a filling lunch option.
Disclaimer: I was not compensated for mentioning any specific products, brands or locations of products purchased at the time of this post. Many items or alternatives can also be found in local grocery stores or bulk food stores.