healthy banana, date + orange cookie recipe and kids lunch-box ideas

I'm still finding it hard to comprehend, but in a mere four days my big baby girl will be starting school *gulp*. For some reason when the kindy year finished last year, I thought that between then and now things would have changed, you know, she would seem older and I would seem well, ready. Cause lets face it fellow mums, they are ready, we are not. She's been ready for a long time now, and for the past week has been asking me daily "how many days to go 'till I start school Mum?". She's so ready. 

She's going to love school, I just know it. She's such a busy little bee and loves the constant stimulation school provides which mum doesn't. My only worry is how her little body will cope with five full days of it? The next few months are going to be pretty full I'm guessing, while her body adjusts and adapts. She did only just drop her day sleep late last year after all! 
The day after she starts school, my little man is going to be starting kindy *another gulp*. He loves the idea of it all, being able to do more craft projects than we do at home and finally being able to play in what was only ever "Ada's" playground has him super excited. But I fear what will happen when he realises mum's going. He knows it's going to happen in theory, we've talked about it a lot, but I still have my fingers crossed that when it comes time for me to leave, he's okay. There's nothing more heart breaking than your child screaming as you leave, the tears building up in your eyes as you walk out the door.

Now moving onto the other big stress that comes with kids starting school and kindy... lunches. Or gluten-free lunches to be exact.

Growing up I had a love-hate relationship with school lunches. My mum would always pack us amazing healthy vegetarian lunches. I remember lots of fruit, yoghurts, nuts, dried fruit and sandwiches. But I also have memories of trying to hide my "hippy" sandwiches (natural peanut butter and alfalfa sprouts if I remember right, mum?) from my friends by only unwrapping just enough of my sammie to sneak a little bite before anyone looked. I always wished I could have packets of chips or a pie from the tuck-shop for lunch or just regular vegemite or cheese sandwiches on white bread, not brown, wrapped in glad wrap (plastic wrap) not paper. I also remember with great clarity how tomato sandwiches tasted once they'd been sitting in my bag all morning, with their warm limpness wetting the bread making me gag with every mouthful. I vowed to never make my kids have to eat vegetable sandwiches while at school (they eat them at home happily, freshly made). I instead keep their sandwiches simple, spread with my beloved Vegemite (wheat but not gluten-free) or nut butters that I know will get eaten, I then just add loads of vegetable sticks and cherry tomatoes separately for them to snack on. Same ingredients as a vege sandwich, just separate!

I now totally appreciate how determined my parents were to bring us up eating real food, even when no one else around them was doing the same. It was the 80's after all, where mince and cheese pies were considered good food and flavoured milks were just coming into vogue. I'm now just like my mum. (Seriously mum, thank you! I forgive you for those weird sandwich combinations, really). I refuse to buy pre-packaged kids "lunch" foods, preferring to fill the kids lunch boxes instead with fresh, healthy, home made foods with a few naturally sweet treats thrown to keep things exciting. Eating gluten-free doesn't have to be any harder than regular lunches and if your kids know no different they will never complain. (Sure you may get the odd, "I want what Sarah eats mum". But look at me, proof a mums hard work does pay off!).

A few of my favourite lunch box ideas...

  • vegetarian sushi. It's my kids favourite and I always make sure I make extra when making it for dinner, leaving plenty for lunches the following day. I save the little soy-sauce squeezies from sushi shops and re-fill with my own tamari or gluten-free soy sauce.
  • lightly toasted gluten-free bread spread with peanut/almond or nut-free sunflower seed butter (most schools are nut-free these days) with 1/2 banana for them to squish between the bread when ready to eat.
  • boiled eggs, crack the shell a little so they can peel them easily.
  • leftover quinoa and roast vegetables
  • yoghurt. Frozen in summer, so that it's lovely and chilled when time to eat.
  • a variety of fresh fruit and vegetable sticks
  • dried fruit; pears, apple, peach, raisins, sultanas, mango, dates etc...
  • stuffed dates (I blitz up almonds and desiccated coconut until paste-like and use this to stuff freshly pitted medjool dates)
  • hummus in a little container for dipping vegetable sticks. This can be frozen overnight to keep it from spoiling in their lunch boxes in the warmer months.
  • home made sugar-free cookies like todays banana and date based ones.

A few weeks back I had the pleasure of being asked by Amy Green and Maggie Savage to be part of a blogging event to launch their new site The Balanced Platter. It's a place where you can go for balanced, healthy gluten-free living with recipes, tips, how-to's and product reviews.
All month gluten-free bloggers from around the world, have been sharing their recipes and tips for living a balanced, healthy gluten-free life. Click here for all the links to their posts and while you're there have a little browse around, I'm sure you'll be impressed with what's on offer!

The recipe I'm sharing today is one I've been making for quite some time. Inspired by this recipe from 101cookbooks, it is the perfect addition to any kids lunch box. Sweetened with only ripe bananas and a handful of dates they are sweet but not sickly and you needn't fear your kids experiencing the sugar-low that comes from eating most other cookies. I've used quinoa flakes for added protein (and to keep things strictly gluten-free) which pairs perfectly with the coconut flavours and citrus notes.

The end result is somewhere between a muesli-bar and cookie, with a golden exterior and moist buttery coconut orange centre. I like to add chopped dates, but I'm thinking almost any other dried fruit would be wonderful; raisins, cranberries, blueberries, apricot, peach....

Their is one upside to the kids both starting kindy/school... I will now have 2 1/2 days a week to myself for the first time in over 5 years! I can hardly believe it, I will now be able to think without the constant nagging of a small child in my ear, do the grocery shopping without battling over what to buy or breaking up fights over who gets to sit in the trolley that day. I can go for a walk/run/swim when I want to, leave the house with little more than a purse and I will be able to cook like a mad woman, music on high without any fears of waking someone from their nap. This might not be so bad after all...

healthy banana, date + orange cookies
As mentioned above I like to use chopped dates, but you could sub in any of your favourite dried fruit. I'm thinking dried blueberry and lemon (zest) would make for a lovely variation too. Heidi's original recipe uses rolled oats in place of quinoa flakes, so if you tolerate use them if preferred.
makes 3 dozen.

  • 3 large ripe bananas
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup (60ml) coconut oil, warmed slightly if solid
  • zest of 1 orange 
  • 2 cups (180g) quinoa flakes
  • 1/2 cup (55g) almond meal (ground almonds)
  • 1/2 cup (45g) desiccated coconut
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder (check it's gluten-free)
  • 1 cup (160g) pitted dates, finely chopped

Preheat oven 180 C/350 F. Line 2 trays with baking paper and grease.

Mash bananas in a medium size bowl, you will need approx 1 1/2 cups once mashed. Stir in vanilla, coconut oil and orange zest, mixing well to combine.

Add the rest of the ingredients and mix to form a wet paste-like dough. Take 2 teaspoonfuls of mixture and mould into a cookie shape. Place onto baking trays and bake for 12-14 minutes or until golden around the edges and if you lift one up it is deeply golden on the bottom.
Remove from the oven and cool on the tray 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely. Store airtight for 3-4 days, although I like these best if eaten in the first 1-2 days.

Click here to see my vegetarian sushi recipe and sushi making tips...

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  • Reply
    January 28, 2012 at 1:38 am

    OOoo those look so yummy. I just need to find some quinoa flakes and I will be making these. Your school lunch ideas sound really tasty and healthy. Your kiddos are lucky to have such a caring mom. 🙂

    • Reply
      January 28, 2012 at 1:49 am

      Thanks for your kind words. I hope my kids appreciate it when they are big, like I do now.

    • Reply
      January 28, 2012 at 1:53 am

      Oh also if you tolerate oats (you can buy certified gluten-free oats these days too, although some people still react) Heidi uses them in place of quinoa flakes in her original recipe if you wanted to try that out.

  • Reply
    January 28, 2012 at 1:53 am

    these look good. is there anything u can substitute for the quinoa flakes as i can't seem to get them locally. i can eat anything so doesn't need to be gluten free or anything..thanks

    • Reply
      January 28, 2012 at 6:32 am

      Hi, yes Heidi's original recipe uses rolled oats.

  • Reply
    January 28, 2012 at 2:36 am

    I just LOVE LOVE LOVE your beautiful kiddo lunch!!! It is easy to eat this way yourself, but when trying to feed others, that is the challenge…so great job keeping your kiddo's healthy and happy!!!

    • Reply
      January 28, 2012 at 6:48 am

      Thanks Nicole.

  • Reply
    January 28, 2012 at 3:15 am

    wow, great post!!! I am going to print these lunch box ideas off. I struggle every day with making three lunch boxes, one of whom is gluten free.. but my kids all love sushi and veges so its time to make a difference in their lunchboxes!

    • Reply
      January 28, 2012 at 6:34 am

      Thanks Leonie, good luck!

  • Reply
    January 28, 2012 at 5:49 am

    yummo! I might make these with the oat variation, they look so tasty 🙂 I'm glad this recipe uses coconut oil, as I've seen to have neglected my jar for too long! x

    • Reply
      January 28, 2012 at 6:49 am

      Yep any recipe that uses coconut oil and I'm sold too! It adds such a lovely flavour to these cookies.

  • Reply
    Sugar and Spice
    January 28, 2012 at 6:01 am

    I'm glad you said that the quinoa flakes can be sub'd with oats. I don't think I'd be able to find quinoa flakes, not even at Commonsense Organics!

    Ada's lunchbox is amazing! It's better than what I would take to work for lunch – which is often just leftovers. Reading your post on what you used to take to school for lunch brought back memories of what my mum used to pack for mine! It was either a salad of some sort (not a lettuce in sight though!) or sandwich of some sort. And a hot flask of milo!

    • Reply
      January 28, 2012 at 6:39 am

      Yeah the (original) oat variation is a winner. Wow a hot flask of Milo, that would have been my dream lunch box addition back in the day!

  • Reply
    January 28, 2012 at 8:28 am

    I can totally relate to the warm , squishy tomato sandwiches…still make me feel ill thinking about it! great lunchbox ideas, thanks! Simone.

  • Reply
    The InTolerant Chef
    January 28, 2012 at 10:17 am

    Good luck next week- for you, I'm sure the kids will be fine 🙂
    I am still very cautious with school lunches as they aren't kept in fridges and those little freezer squares aren't real big. Our kiddies bags are kept outside in direct sun, and there are also clever magpies who attack unzipped bags and steal lunches!
    My sister us management at a school in Queensland and she bought in a policy of a fridge for every class unit. No more upset tummies in summer!

    • Reply
      January 28, 2012 at 1:13 pm

      Well done to her for getting that actioned! I've heard rumours of parents trying to get fridges in the classrooms at our school, but we still don't have them.
      I've got two freezer packs per lunchbox and a insulated cover, here's hoping it will be enough. I'm thinking over the next month or so lunches will be very simple (no yoghurts etc) if this past week is anything to go by it's going to be a hot start to the school year (42 C today)!
      Ada's bag is under cover but will still be hot (why do they keep the bags outdoors in Australia? They were always in doors in NZ when I was little) and I hope we don't have any cheeky magpies to contend with too!

  • Reply
    Julie Percival
    January 28, 2012 at 5:06 pm

    Yum!! These look good. What a good idea to add dates. I actually made Heidi's version a few weeks ago, and freezed half of the cookies cos I knew I had a busy few days coming up. They actually thawed pretty well and prvoided a constant supply of yumminess for a few days of uni snacks! Thanks for all the lunch ideas!! Keep the posts coming.

    • Reply
      January 29, 2012 at 2:03 am

      Hey cool thanks for letting us know these freeze well Julie! xx

  • Reply
    Nicola McKay
    January 28, 2012 at 6:29 pm

    Hey ems
    Awesome ideas I am baking this week to stock up the freezer for lunches!!! Def gonna try that recipe. Awesome ideas, my kiddies love vege sticks Even better with hommus Never thought to freeze it man I'm a nong:) also yeah bags all inside at Kirst and sams school, shesh bad enough to contend with 42 temps with out hot lunches

    • Reply
      January 29, 2012 at 2:05 am

      You're not a nong Nic! I only know you can freeze hummus because when I lived in Byron and had no money I lived off store-bough hummus and corn crackers and the hummus was sometimes still slightly frozen when I bought it! 😉
      So weird they keep the school bags outside over here aye. Silly too!

  • Reply
    January 28, 2012 at 6:55 pm

    Those cookies look amazing! I would love that lunch 🙂 Sushi is a great idea. My 5YO likes nori and rice so I might be able to get him to eat it, now I just need to make it. Is it really hard? Do I need to buy the sushi rolling supplies 🙂 Thanks so much for sharing your recipe for our launch. I hope school goes lovely and well for your babes.

    • Reply
      January 29, 2012 at 2:13 am

      Hi Maggie, thanks for inviting me!
      Re: sushi, it's super easy to make once you get the hang of it (maybe I should do a post on sushi making? Anyone interested?). You do need to buy a sushi mat to roll them, but that's all. You can buy seasoned sushi vinegar to flavour the rice or mix it up yourself like I do using rice vinegar, sugar and salt. To make things cheaper (we eat a lot of sushi!) I use medium-grain white rice instead of speciality 'sushi' rice. You can fill with whatever you like but I usually go along the lines of… rice, cucumber, avocado, toasted sesame seeds, real egg mayonnaise, caspicum and tofu or sliced egg omelette. Hope that helps? xx

    • Reply
      January 31, 2012 at 9:33 am

      Yeah, I would be interested in a sushi-making-post or a veggi-sushi-recipe-post 🙂

      (Thanks for the Sarah Blasko Link! She made my day, everyday :-))

    • Reply
      January 31, 2012 at 11:30 am

      Okay Annabel I'll work on doing a post in the near future. We only ever eat vege sushi anyways 😉 And how AMAZING is Sarah Blasko?! Insane voice.

  • Reply
    January 28, 2012 at 7:02 pm

    Wonderful lunchbox ideas and I love the recipe! Thank you!

  • Reply
    January 28, 2012 at 11:21 pm

    The cookies look great. I admire your determination to provide healthy food for your kids. So often parents cop out because they are too busy with work. You're doing an amazing job.

    • Reply
      January 29, 2012 at 2:14 am

      yeah I know, that whole time things a killer. It's all about planning ahead and sticking to your guns 🙂 Thanks for your kind words xx

  • Reply
    the good soup
    January 29, 2012 at 1:48 am

    The cookies look great, Emm. I'm so sorry I've been absent from the blog visiting world for awhile now. With looking after Oliver and fitting in a bit of work when he's being babysitted, I've been feeling too guilty to enjoy myself with other people's blogs! But that's got to change, and seeing these cookies you posted reminded me how much I have to learn from you, and how much I enjoy your blog. Have a gorgeous, musical, kitchen filled celebration of school aged kids for me!!

    • Reply
      January 29, 2012 at 2:15 am

      You don't have to apologise! I know how busy life gets, trust me! Nice to have you back though xx

  • Reply
    Cass @foodmyfriend
    January 29, 2012 at 11:06 pm

    These look so yummy. I don't know about back to school, but I could definately do with these back to work!

  • Reply
    January 29, 2012 at 11:26 pm

    What a beautiful, healthy lunch box! The cookies look fabulous too! I remember my kids first day at school like it was yesterday…I promised myself I would not cry in front of the kids, but as soon as I left the school…it was Niagra Falls!
    I must make the stuffed date recipe – sounds divine!

    • Reply
      January 30, 2012 at 2:07 am

      Ah yes Ina, I've already had days like that when Ada was just at kindy… it's not looking too good for me now is it? 😉 I'll try my best to keep it together until I'm at least out of the classroom. xx

  • Reply
    January 30, 2012 at 5:40 pm

    What a quaint and healthy-looking lunch box 🙂
    The cookies look amazing and original, I mean, it's not something you would usually find on this side of the world.
    Take care! xxx

  • Reply
    Tessa Domestic Diva
    January 30, 2012 at 6:46 pm

    I just made my 4 lunchbox stuffers for the week, but this looks great for next! It's all about pre-planning and most nutritious snacks are quick to throw together. I let my daughter pick her favorites, we have her own favorite recipes notebook that she picks from, and she often helps me make the items. then all I have left to do is to throw some sort of main course and fresh fruit and veg in her box. It's fun including her in on the process!

    • Reply
      January 31, 2012 at 5:46 am

      Great idea 🙂

  • Reply
    February 1, 2012 at 1:47 am

    Hi Emma, great lunchbox info! I've been wondering & your probably the right person to ask – at what age can you expect little ones to manage eating salad? I'm regularily puting it in front of our two year old, but without the success of his steamed vege consumption.


    • Reply
      February 1, 2012 at 4:56 am

      I wouldn't stress, so long as he's getting loads of veges in him somehow. Ada always preferred cooked when she was little whereas Kye's always liked raw. My best advice would be to keep serving him some whether he eats it or not, and you eat it often yourself. When the kids weren't eating it much I used to always make myself (and still do) a huge bowl of salad for lunch and eat it in front of them, they quickly started asking for a try… then quickly moved onto a whole bowlful each. Kids would much prefer to eat what mums eating I've found, so use that to your advantage! xx

  • Reply
    February 1, 2012 at 8:07 am

    I just read this post and was so pleased. I made an amost identical lunch box for my very own daughter Ada who is just starting kindy. My mother was unsure such a lunch would go down well with a toddler, but I showed her this page and she agreed.
    I have today bought my husband the same lunch box with the intention of filling it with same lunches as our Ada.

    • Reply
      February 1, 2012 at 11:15 am

      How cool that you have a Ada as well! Can't say I've come across many others 🙂 And well done you for sticking to your guns even with your mum doubting you. Kids are pretty clever and when given the chance most love healthy food.

  • Reply
    Domestic Executive
    February 2, 2012 at 5:53 am

    I sent off my husband with a healthy lunch box one day – he went out and bought sandwiches and a muffin. I give in. Seeing that cool lunch pack made me want to pack one for myself though even though I work at home!

    • Reply
      February 2, 2012 at 10:50 am

      Ah yes, getting your kids to eat healthy food is one thing. Trying to work your magic on the hubby is another thing altogether 😉 I'm still trying…

  • Reply
    February 3, 2012 at 8:13 pm

    Good post exploring some lunch box ideas. The banana, date and orange cookies sound great.

  • Reply
    Rochelle's Lenz
    February 4, 2012 at 9:05 pm

    Yum Emm these are delicious! I have just made a batch this morning while our girls are out on a Kiwi adventure with Dad. I hope there are some left for their return! This is such an inspiring post. Kaea is only two so still a wait for school, however because she is such an explorer I often have to pack lunches as we are often out at playcentre, play group or just out!
    I am new to making sushi and Kaea is just getting into it and wondered if it can be made the evening before and refrigerated?
    And please could you publish a book? Your recipes are devine and photos amazing. I would buy it and give them away as pressies too.
    Was it your brother at the Mount Little Big Markets yesterday with his shoes?
    Happy Waitangi weekend

    • Reply
      February 5, 2012 at 2:00 am

      Hi Rochelle, yep that would have been my brother Ben at the Little Big markets! Say hi from me next time you see him 🙂
      I do make sushi the night before, we eat some for dinner and the leftovers for lunch the next day, it's not ideal as the rice firms up somewhat. I wouldn't recommend making it the night before if you are planning on impressing guests with your sushi making skills, but for kids lunches etc it's fine!

      Thanks for your kind words, I do hope to publish a book one day… 🙂

  • Reply
    February 11, 2012 at 11:42 pm

    Hi Emma,
    These look amazing, However, I've recently developed a nut allergy so I'm thinking of making them with ground flax seeds, (as I can't think of another flour with similar properties to ground almonds) do you think this would work?

    • Reply
      February 12, 2012 at 2:52 am

      Hi Jen, I'd try wizzing up some sunflower seeds until finely ground. I find they are pretty damn close to ground almond meal. Or try using a combo of the ground flaxseeds and more desiccated coconut? Let me know how you go.

    • Reply
      February 26, 2012 at 11:30 pm

      Thanks heaps Emma! I made them last week using the flaxseeds and more coconut combo (as I'm yet to find sunflower seeds etc that do not have traces of nuts!)It worked really well and they have definitley been a tasty addition to my workplace lunches!

    • Reply
      February 27, 2012 at 1:07 am

      Awesome Jen, so glad they worked out and you like them. Good to know the flaxseed/more coconut combo works xx

  • Reply
    dear olive
    February 19, 2012 at 1:41 am

    I'm definitely going to try these cookies. What a super lunch that looks! Seriously, what a fantastic thing you're doing for your kids, giving them real food like that! So not easy. But so great. Kellie xx

  • Reply
    May 21, 2012 at 10:59 pm

    This is another fabulous recipe. The kids were a little unsure till they tasted them – and then asked for more in their school lunches. This recipe will be added to my baking list. Next up I'll be trying the chocolate brownie recipe with black beans (as soon as I can lay my hands on some dried black beans).

  • Reply
    June 11, 2012 at 12:45 pm

    Ha, I quite like warm squishy tomato sandwiches! 🙂 I still got pie, fizzy drink and crisp envy occasionally though!

    In my case I made my own lunch everyday though from when I started primary school, unless there were leftovers from the night before available. Same with all my siblings. I always wonder why parents make lunch for their children to take to school – so many excellent and useful skills to be learnt from making their own lunches. 🙂

  • Reply
    July 26, 2012 at 9:05 pm

    This week on Food on Friday, we are collecting ideas for using bananas. Would you be happy to link this in? Here is the link .

  • Reply
    January 26, 2014 at 11:00 pm

    any idea what the nutritional information is

    • Reply
      January 27, 2014 at 5:43 am

      I'm sorry I have no idea? I'm sure there are website you could use to find out though. Do a google search. Good luck!

  • Reply
    February 22, 2014 at 4:42 am

    These are great – both kids (aged 3 and 20 months) and adults loved these.
    A slightly random question – do you happen to know the brand of lunch box pictured above? Many thanks!

    • Reply
      February 23, 2014 at 6:49 am

      Ah great to hear you all enjoyed them 🙂
      The lunchboxes we use are called Nude Food Movers (they're great as they eliminate the need for lunch wrap!).

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