Back-to-school was always my favorite season. I was never a summer kid, and heading back to the classroom meant cooler weather, new Lisa Frank school supplies, and school friends!

Since the day I learned how, I don’t think I have stopped talking. At home I had three older brothers who were not the best chit-chatters, but at school, I could unclip my neon pink lunchbox and download with my girlfriends over PB&Js, baby carrots, and chocolate milk cartons.

Now, as an adult, I still take lunch seriously, and that goes for all the kids in my life who need a great meal to crack jokes over. Of course, over the years, I’ve learned that lunch is more than just a social call, and we need to energize our kids with protein, healthy carbohydrates, and all the nutrients that will help to keep them focused and energized for the actual learning part of the day.

Unfortunately, kids are notorious for preferring less healthy options, so sometimes we must be creative to find the right balance between good and good-for-them. I’ve spent a lot of time pondering what kids like and how we can make that work for them, and the answer I’ve come up with is this Plant-Forward Ranch Dip.

My sample size isn’t in the thousands, but most of the kids I know are open to eating raw vegetables dipped in ranch dressing. Vegetables: GREAT. Ranch? Nothing to write home about nutritionally. But what if the ranch was super-powered, made with beans and low-fat yogurt, but still flavored to taste like the thing they’re already conditioned to love? It just might work.

This dip is very easy to prepare, using canned beans and dry herbs and spices all blended together in your food processor. You can double or even triple the batch, sending it in a lunchbox with any assortment of raw veggies, whole grain pitas, or multigrain crackers. You can leave it thick, like a hummus, or thin it with olive oil or even just water to help it resemble the bottled stuff.

The dip will hold all week, but if you make a larger batch, you can portion it and freeze for later. Pull it out of the freezer and pack it up in a lunchbox the night before. Tasty and convenient!

Dress it up with new flavors, if your kid is adventurous. Buffalo-style hot sauce is a no brainer for the spice-lover! If texture is a problem, you can use a silicone spatula to press the mixture through a mesh strainer to remove any bean remnants, but a high-powered food processor should do the job.

This dip is allergy-friendly and can be made using your preferred vegan or non-dairy yogurt alternative. It is peanut-free and naturally gluten-free and packed with protein from the beans and yogurt. And, of course, for the kids: they will be eating dip for lunch, so what’s not to love?

Laura Monroe ’12 is the CIA Foodies Editor

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