Commence the time of year when Dan is wrapping up his crazy summer work while I simultaneously begin my crazy fall work. We call this our craaaazy transition time. This year we can stack onto that having a six-year-old who is adjusting to full-time school, which is actually going better than I ever could have imagined. Have I told you what his favorite part of the school-day is? That would be lunch time. He is over-the-moon about eating lunch at school. He adores his Angry Birds lunch box, and he swoons over the notes I tuck under his cheese sticks and apple sauce. He loves punching in his lunch code to buy milk, and he cherishes those days that we tell him he can purchase a school lunch. For now, most days he is eating out of his lunch box and that's the way I like it. CONTROL FREAK.
One of the fun treats we have been adding to Elijah's lunch box has been homemade fruit/veggie roll-ups. MOMS! I'm telling you! Ditch the preservatives, sugar and artificial junk! Make these for your kids. I have to tell you up front that they are super easy to make, but when you commit to making them you will need a solid chunk of time in the vicinity of your oven. They require a decent amount of baking time. As long as you can monitor your oven, it will do ALL of the work for you.
Start out with approximately 4 cups of any kind of chopped fresh fruit. The sweeter the fruit, the less you will be inclined to add sugar and the tastier the roll-ups will be. Some good options for fruit that add natural sweetness: mangos, strawberries, raspberries, peaches, pineapple, blueberries, apples, blackberries, pears and grapes.
If you wish to throw in some veggie power, GO FOR IT. I am all for being sneaky with veggies. My boys do not inherently love vegetables, so I am constantly seeking creativity. Many veggies will alter the flavor of the finished product, so add in small increments if you choose to go that route. The only vegetable (that is actually a fruit) that I've been able to use without limitation is the good ol' tomato. You get the vitamin A and antioxidants and sweetness. Spinach is another powerhouse option that doesn't overpower, but should be used moderately when thrown into these.
Preheat your oven to 170 degrees F. Line 2 to 3 small, rimmed baking sheets or 9x13 pans with either parchment paper or plastic wrap. Most batches will produce 2 pans of roll-ups, but some will produce more. If using parchment, spray generously with cooking spray. I personally prefer using plastic wrap. It does not melt in such a low temp and it does not require cooking spray. The dried fruit comes out of the oven grease-free which allows it to adhere to the wax paper nicely in the end. It will peel right off the dried fruit nicely.
Ensure the parchment/plastic wrap is as smooth as possible in the pan and that there is a little bit of overhang on all sides of the pan.
If you are using plastic wrap, it tends to stick to your fingers as you attempt to wrangle it into place in the pan. Here's a little trick. Wrap a small dish towel or cloth around your pointer finger while pressing down into the corners and edges of the pan.
Here are a few basic recipe examples that can be a good starting point:
Mango Strawberry Fruit Roll-ups (makes ~16-20 roll-ups)
2 cups chopped mango
2 cups chopped strawberries
Touch of honey
Tomato Peach Strawberry Grape Fruit Roll-ups (makes ~24 roll-ups)
2 large tomatoes
1 large peach
1 cup grapes
1 cup strawberries
1/4 cup honey
Raspberry Strawberry Fruit Roll-ups (makes ~16-20 roll-ups)
2 cups raspberries
2 cups strawberries
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Place ingredients into a blender or food processor.
Pureé until smooth. Do a taste test to determine whether or not you need more flavor or sweetness. If necessary, add a touch of honey, agave nectar, vanilla extract, almond extract, orange extract, lemon juice, lime juice, orange juice, apple juice or even maple syrup. Pureé again until mixed through.
Pour the mixture into the prepared pans until you have reached a thickness of about 1/8th of an inch. Spread with an offset spatula, or just a plain ol' regular spatula, until it is nice and even. The more even it is, the better the baking process will be.
Bake in the preheated oven for 4 to 8 hours. Once you reach the 4-hour mark, check your pans every 30 minutes. You should be able to lightly touch the dried fruit and not come away with a gooey finger. If there is even a tiny bit of gooeyness, shove the pan back into the oven until the fruit is firm and totally dry. After such a large time investment, you will want to make sure the roll-ups are entirely ready. Once the fruit is fully cooked through, remove the pan from the oven and allow it to cool completely.
Place wax paper onto cutting boards or a flat work surface and set aside.
Starting at a corner, carefully peel the fruit away from the wrap/parchment.
Place the fruit rectangles onto the prepared pieces of wax paper.
Pat down on the dried fruit evenly and firmly so that it adheres to the wax paper.
Trim the edges of the rectangles with a scissors. Cut the dried fruit into 1- to 1.5-inch strips.
Roll those cute little strips right up into cute little rolls. Feed to hungry little mouths. Or your own. Ahem.
Store in an air-tight container for up to 2 weeks. Your kids will love you! They will beg you for these nutritious treats as if they were packed with sugar. I promise. You're welcome.
And may you and yours be sweetly and nutritiously satisfied!