Back to school recipes

It’s hard to believe back to school is just around the corner! To make sure you and your family are organized for lunch planning for the new school year, we asked University Health Network registered dietitians Fatim Ajwani, Julie Statler and Anna Richardson for their favourite lunch recipes.

Fatim’s picks

Fatim Ajwani, Registered Dietitian, Cardiovascular Prevention and Rehabilitation Program, Toronto Rehab. (Photo courtesy: Fatim Ajwani)

Chickpea salad

This healthy and easy-to-make chickpea salad is loaded with flavour and nutrients – chickpeas are a legume and are a great source of protein and fibre. It’s a perfect addition to your next lunch as a main or side dish. Get creative with this salad and add your own favourite ingredients! You could try it with olives, feta cheese or even add a grain such as quinoa or couscous for a well-balanced lunch.

Photo via SkinnyTaste

Yields: 4 servings


  • 1 can low sodium chickpeas, drained
  • 3/4 cup cucumber, chopped
  • 3/4 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1/2 cup bell pepper, diced
  • 1/4 cup red onion, diced
  • 1/4 cup cilantro or fresh parsley (or a combination of both), minced
  • Optional: 1 avocado, cubed


  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/2  tsp lemon zest
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  • Combine salad ingredients in a large bowl
  • Whisk dressing ingredients together in a small bowl
  • Add dressing to salad  and toss well
  • Will keep for 2-3 days in the fridge

No-bake granola bites

Add these delicious no-bake granola bites to your next lunch. Dates will be your main ingredient – a good source of fiber and a natural sweetener.

This recipe can be made nut-free too. Substitute the peanut butter for a nut-free butter like sunflower or soy butter and use sunflower or pumpkin seeds instead of almonds.

Recipe via the cookbook Food sense: healthy cooking on a budget

Tip: Freeze any leftover bites for a healthy on-the-go snack.

Yields: 15 servings (serving size: 2 bites)


  • 1 3/4 cups packed dates, pitted
  • 1 1/2 cups large flake oats
  • 1/2 cup raw almonds, sliced
  • 1/3 cup raw unsalted sunflower seeds
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 2 tbsp honey (optional)
  • 1/4 cup mini chocolate chips, semi-sweet or dark chocolate


  • Line a shallow 8-inch or 9-inch square baking pan with parchment paper, set aside
  • In a small bowl, soften dates by covering with very hot tap water and soaking for 15 minutes
  • In a large bowl, combine oats, almonds and sunflower seeds
  • Drain dates and discard water
  • Add drained dates to a blender or food processor. Pulse dates, scraping the sides with a rubber spatula as needed, until broken down and few chunks remain. If difficult to break down, add 1-2 tbsp hot water and continue pulsing.
  • Add dates to the oat mixture. Using your hands, break down the dates so they mix evenly throughout the other ingredients.
  • In a microwave-safe bowl, add peanut butter, honey (if using) and stir. Tip: to prevent honey and peanut butter from sticking, lightly oil the measuring cup/spoon first. Microwave on high for 25 seconds. Stir and immediately pour over the oat-date mixture. Stir quickly to evenly coat using a wooden spoon. Fold in chocolate chips and continue to mix.
  • Transfer mixture to the pan and using another piece of parchment paper, spread the mixture evenly into the corners. To ensure the mixture binds together, pack firmly into the pan until level.
  • Place in freezer for 30 minutes
  • Lift the entire square out of the pan by the parchment. Using a sharp knife, cut into 36 bite-sized pieces (6 by 6).
  • Store in the fridge in an air-tight container

Julie’s pick

Julie Statler, Registered Dietitian, Transplant Inpatient Unit, Ajmera Transplant Centre, Toronto General Hospital. (Photo courtesy: Julie Statler)

Homemade tzatziki sauce

Made with a few simple ingredients, this delicious homemade tzatziki sauce is versatile as a spread on a Greek-style sandwich or as a dip. A perfect combination with pita, crackers or raw vegetables.

Recipe adapted via The Wanderlust Kitchen

Yields: 2 cups


  • 1/2 large cucumber, unpeeled
  • 1 1/2 cups plain Greek yogurt (Julie suggests 2 per cent M.F. but any will work)
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbsp white vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp fresh dill, finely chopped


  • Grate cucumber and drain through a fine strainer. Gently press the cucumber in the strainer to remove more of the liquid.
  • In a large bowl, combine the yogurt, garlic, olive oil, vinegar and salt
  • Add grated cucumber and dill to the yogurt mixture and stir to combine
  • Before serving, chill for a few hours or overnight. Can be stored, covered and in the fridge for up to 3 days.

Anna’s pick

Anna Richardson, Registered Dietitian, Nephrology, Toronto General Hospital. (Photo courtesy: Anna Richardson)

Thai-inspired peanut quinoa salad

This peanut quinoa salad may look complex, but it’s easy to prepare! Packed with vegetables, fiber and topped with flavourful Thai dressing, it’s guaranteed to become a staple in your work or school lunch repertoire.

Yields: 6 servings

Recipe adapted via The Real Food Dietitians



  • 1/2 cup quinoa, uncooked (makes 1 cup cooked)
  • 1 cup water
  • 4–5 cups mix of cabbage (any color), carrots, broccoli slaw, shredded
  • 1 cup snap peas, sliced
  • 1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
  • 6 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup cilantro, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup dry roasted peanuts and additional for topping
  • 2 tsp sesame seeds
  • Lime wedges (for topping)


  • 1/3 cup natural peanut butter
  • 1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce
  • 3 tbsp lime juice
  • 2 tsp rice vinegar
  • 1 1/2 tsp toasted sesame oil
  • 1 tsp minced fresh ginger (may substitute 1/4 tsp ground ginger)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced (may substitute 1/2 tsp garlic powder)
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • Salt (to taste)


  • Prep the quinoa according to package directions and let cool. Set aside.
  • Combine all salad ingredients with cooled quinoa
  • Whisk together all dressing ingredients. Add a bit of water to thin if needed.
  • Stir dressing into salad to combine. Sprinkle extra peanuts on top and a squeeze of lime.

Which back to school recipe was your favourite? Take a picture of your lunch and tag us on social media @UHNfoundation.

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