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Lunch Box Treats Made Healthier

Lunch Box Treats Made Healthier

Four desserts you won't feel guilty about eating

When the kids beg for sweets in their lunch boxes, here are four recipes for desserts you won’t feel guilty about sending to school, including "Nutella" Bliss Balls, Grain-Free Chocolate Zucchini Chocolate Cake, White Bean Tahini Blondies, and Chocolate Hummus.

“Nutella” Bliss Balls

Makes 12 • Vegan, DF, GF

nutella bliss balls from kitchen matters 


  • 1½ cups raw hazelnuts
  • 1½ cups Medjool dates, pitted (about 12 dates)
  • ¼ cup raw cacao powder
  • ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • ¼ teaspoon sea salt


  1. Toast the hazelnuts: Preheat the oven to 350°F. Pour the nuts onto a pie plate and toast for 10-15 minutes, or until skins blister. Remove from the oven and allow to cool; rub the nuts in kitchen towel to remove the skins.
  2. Place all the ingredients in a food processor and blend until the nuts are finely chopped and you have a well-combined mass that is moist enough to roll into balls. Depending on your food processor, this could take a couple of minutes.
  3. Roll the mixture, using your hands, to form 1½- to 2-inch balls.
  4. These can be eaten immediately, or refrigerate to firm them for a few hours. Store them in the fridge in a covered container for up to seven days.

Grain-Free Chocolate Zucchini Cake

Makes 1 8- or 9-inch square pan • Vegetarian, GF, DF

This is probably the most popular dessert I have ever taught in a class. My students consistently report back with success stories after serving this cake to their kids, at parties, and to their friends. After telling my son that this cake contained zucchini, he inhaled another piece and, with crumbs falling out of his mouth, declared, “I don’t even care.” It’s that good. You can also bake the batter in regular muffins tins or mini muffins tins. Just watch the time, because regular muffins will likely take 20-25 minutes; and minis, 7-12 minutes, depending on the size of your tin. These also freeze amazingly well.

grain-free chocolate zucchini cake from kitchen matters 


  • Coconut oil for pan
  • 1 cup creamy, unsweetened, unsalted almond butter, raw or roasted, or sunflower butter
  • 1/3 cup pure Grade A maple syrup or honey
  • ¼ cup raw cacao powder or unsweetened cocoa powder
  • ¼ teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon instant coffee powder, regular or decaffeinated (optional)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1½ cups shredded zucchini (about 2 small)
  • 1 cup DF dark or semisweet chocolate chips
  • ½ cup chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)


  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease an 8- or 9-inch square pan with coconut oil. If you want to remove the cake from the pan in one piece, line it with unbleached parchment paper as well.   
  2. In a large bowl, combine the almond butter, maple syrup, cacao powder, salt, coffee powder, if using, egg, vanilla, and baking soda until smooth.
  3. Stir in the zucchini, chocolate chips, and nuts, if using.
  4. Pour into the prepared pan and bake until just set and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean or with dry crumbs. Do not overbake. A 9-inch pan will take about 30 minutes; an 8-inch will take about 35 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool before serving.

TIP: Instant coffee powder enhances the chocolate flavor in baked goods. It is completely optional, though. There are coffee alternatives, such as Pero, which is a chicory and barley-based product with no caffeine. Pero is not gluten-free or grain-free, due to the barley. Do not use coffee grounds in place of instant coffee powder.

White Bean Tahini Blondies

Makes an 8-inch square pan • Vegetarian, GF, DF adaptable

White bean blondies are the new black bean brownies! I know the ingredients seem a little bizarre, but I promise these bars taste nothing like white beans. They’re dense, lightly sweet, with the perfect amount of chocolate to satisfy my sweet tooth. But these blondies have gone high protein with legumes and sesame tahini pureed into the batter. Tahini is an amazing spread made entirely from sesame seeds. Besides being rich in protein and good fat, sesame seeds boast an impressive amount of calcium, about 88 milligrams in only 1 tablespoon.

white bean tahini blondies from kitchen matters 


  • 4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter (not DF) or unrefined virgin coconut oil, melted, plus more for pan
  • 1½ cups cooked white beans, or 1 (15-ounce) can, drained and rinsed
  • ½ cup tahini, preferably raw
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2/3 cup muscovado sugar or light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon aluminum-free baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon sea salt
  • ¾ cup DF semisweet chocolate chips
  • 6 tablespoons unsweetened shredded coconut
  • 6 tablespoons chopped pecans


  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease an 8-inch square pan with butter or coconut oil and line with unbleached parchment paper.
  2. In a food processor fitted with the metal blade, combine the melted butter, white beans, tahini, eggs, muscovado sugar, vanilla, baking powder, and salt. Process until smooth. Stir in ¼ cup of the chocolate chips.
  3. Pour the batter into the prepared baking pan.   
  4. In a medium-size bowl, mix together the remaining ½ cup of chocolate chips and the shredded coconut and chopped pecans. Spread evenly on top of the batter and press lightly into the batter.
  5. Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until the cake springs back when pressed in the center. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely on a wire rack before cutting. Leftovers can be refrigerated for up to five days. Even more delicious cold.

TIPS: You can turn this into a light and fluffy cake by adding 1 tablespoon of coconut flour. Creamy almond butter can also be substituted for the tahini.

Chocolate Hummus

Makes 2 cups • Vegetarian, GF, DF

I know what you’re thinking. Chocolate, yes. Hummus, yes. Chocolate hummus, not so sure. Stay with me. Hummus, which is made from chickpeas, tahini, garlic, and lemon juice, is, hands-down, my favorite dip. But I didn’t exactly throw chocolate into the pool, too. Instead, this is a blend of chickpeas, raw cacao, and some high-quality sweeteners that transforms into an insanely delicious chocolate dip. It’s creamy, chocolaty, and the perfect snack, since it’s high in protein, fiber, and good fats. I love an extra pinch of flaky salt on mine because chocolate and salt are BFFs! Serve with apple slices, celery sticks, or your favorite GF/DF crackers.

chocolate hummus from kitchen matters 


  • 1½ cups cooked chickpeas, or 1 (15-ounce) can, drained and rinsed (or sub white beans)
  • 2 Medjool dates, pitted
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened, unsalted, raw or roasted almond butter
  • ¼ cup pure Grade A maple syrup
  • ¼ cup raw cacao powder or unsweetened cocoa powder
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • ¼ cup warm water


  1. Place all the ingredients, except the water, in a food processor or high-speed blender. Process until smooth.
  2. With the motor running, add the warm water and process until combined.
  3. Serve at room temperature or chilled. Store leftovers, covered, in the refrigerator for up to four days.


kitchen matters by pamela salzman Excerpted from Kitchen Matters: More than 100 Recipes and Tips to Transform the Way You Cook and Eat—Wholesome, Nourishing, Unforgettable by Pamela Salzman. Copyright © 2017. Available from Da Capo Lifelong Books, an imprint of Perseus Books, LLC, a subsidiary of Hachette Book Group, Inc.

All photos: Amy Neunsinger


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Pamela Salzman


Pamela Salzman is a a certified holistic health counselor who teaches cooking classes full time. She lives in Manhattan Beach, CA, with her husband and three children.

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