Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Banana Yogurt Cake for a Lunch Box Treat

For many, Labor Day weekend signifies the end of summer and a transition to the new school year. This past weekend was a fun last hurrah for us, a time to reflect on the relaxing summer months off while preparing to jump into a busy schedule. My sons do not return to school until tomorrow, but I have lunches on my mind today as I start planning what they’ll take.

Growing up, my mom packed school lunches for my brothers and me, and Bob’s mom did the same for him. I bought milk at school (5 cents for regular, 6 cents for chocolate!) and occasionally ate the hot lunch (usually on pizza days). When my sons were in elementary school, they went to a small school that did not serve a hot lunch program so lunches had to be brought from home. As they entered middle school and high school, though, buying lunch became an option for them, an option they quickly discarded.

Both Sam and Isaac prefer to bring food from home rather than eat what is in the school cafeteria and I can’t say I blame them. I’m in the middle of reading Free for All: Fixing School Food in America by Janet Poppendieck for the Slow Food Seattle Book Club and it is eye-opening. I highly recommend it if you have school-age children or an interest in nutrition in our schools.

Good nutrition is an important part of lunch, vital to refueling our children’s bodies so they can focus and learn during the day. In addition to the healthy food I pack for Sam and Isaac, I like to include a treat now and then. One of our favorites is this Banana Yogurt Cake. The original recipe comes from Cooking for a Healthy Family by Simon Hope. The cake is full of wholesome goodness from bananas, whole wheat flour and yogurt.

It’s a cake you can dress up with cream cheese frosting or toss in some chocolate chips or blueberries for a little decadence, but we usually enjoy it plain. It’s moist and flavorful and a nice alternative to banana bread when you have speckled bananas sitting on your counter (you can also freeze overly ripe bananas in their peel to keep on hand for baking). I usually double the recipe and bake it in a Bundt pan so it’s easy to slice a hunk and wrap up for lunch.

Cheers to a new school year! (And I can't resist sharing this pic of Boots and Bess hanging in the sun together.)

Banana Yogurt Cake
Adapted from Cooking for a Healthy Family
By Simon Hope
Makes an 8-inch cake or you can double the recipe for a Bundt cake

1/2 cup plain yogurt (I like to use Greek yogurt)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
3 very ripe bananas, mashed
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter an 8-inch cake pan or Bundt pan.

In a medium size bowl, stir the yogurt and brown sugar together. Whisk in the vegetable oil, followed by the bananas, eggs and vanilla. Slowly stir in the flour, baking powder and salt until mixed.

Pour the cake batter into the prepared pan. Bake for about 40 minutes, until firm to the touch (this is a moist cake, be careful not to over bake). If baking in a Bundt pan, increase the time to about 50 minutes. Let cool and remove from pan. The cake will keep, well wrapped, at room temperature for 2 days.


  1. This does look like a perfect after-school treat. Love the photo of your dog and chicken

  2. Gorgeous cake! We haven't had bananas here for so long because they've been ridiculously expensive after a cyclone destroyed the banana fields earlier this year. I can't wait to make banana bread when the prices are back to normal!

  3. @thislittlepiggywenttothefarmersmarket.com
    Thank you, Lisa! We have another dog and 2 more chickens, but they were all running around so my attempt to get a photo of all the animals was comical. I hope you enjoy the cake!

  4. We read the Poppendieck book in a class I took last year about Food and the Visual Arts. It was during the unit about television, when we studied Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution program. As sad as she makes the state of lunch food in America seem, I definitely see real changes happening across the country. Have you read any Marion Nestle? Worth checking out if this subject is of interest to you.

  5. @Maria
    Thank you, Maria! I do hope the fields recover and prices drop soon so you can enjoy bananas again.

  6. @cheapbeets
    Your class sounds like a great one! I watched the Jamie Oliver Food Revolution program but have not read Marion Nestle. Thank you for the recommendation!

  7. With whole-wheat flour and bananas, it sounds perfect. My husband is always buying bananas that are already ripe and then he takes them to work and the last few get black before he eats them, so we're always making banana bread, but I'm ready for a bit of a change!

    My school cafeteria was horrible. Just the smell was nauseating. Free for All sounds like a fascinating read. We don't have kids yet, but I'm pretty sure I'm going to be packing lunches for them unless there's a radical change in school nutrition! Plus, Kansas is so deeply entrenched with industrial agriculture that I can't imagine our state government doing anything to change the current situation that so benefits ConAgra (who run our food bank, as well) or ADM. There's my rant for the day! Now I'm off to see if our library has a copy of Free for All.

  8. This looks sooo good! I'm always looking for more banana bread/cake recipes. Your kids are so lucky! I hated the cafeteria it was the worst! In high school there were way too many days when I ate a cookie for lunch because I didn't bring anything from home and couldn't bear school lunch. Sigh. Hopefully that's all changing now! slowly.

  9. @Lauren
    You're in good company with your rant, Lauren. Let's hope that with more awareness and interest in subjects like industrial agriculture and nutrition we start seeing some changes.

    I hope you and your husband enjoy the cake!

  10. @katherinemartinelli
    Thank you, Katherine! Sounds like we all had similar school cafeterias...such a shame. I do think there will be some changes coming (that's the optimist in me) but you are right, slow changes.

  11. I can't wait to try this. I make my own yogurt and am always trying to cook with it. (As I never know how long it keeps, I always try to use within a week or so though I think it keeps longer). Meanwhile, my toddler is in some stage where he demands bananas and only eats them about half the time. I've been collecting in the freezer. I have 4 right now so perfect for this cake, with a little bit left for the next batch! Finally--love using whole wheat pastry flour. I may have to get this book from the library. Sara

  12. @threecleversisters.com
    Hi Sara! I love that you make your own yogurt...I need to try doing that. I hope you and your little one enjoy the cake. Hopefully you can find Free For All at the library. Thank you for stopping by!

  13. @Hannah Cordes This was a bit hit with my older one. Have you ever tried molasses for baking with bananas? I wonder if that would be good...

  14. @Sara
    Oh, this makes me happy! I just pulled some bananas from the freezer to make this, and I like your molasses idea so am going to add some in (and decrease the brown sugar). Love molasses, especially during the fall months. Thanks for the suggestion!

  15. @Hannah Cordes Excited to hear how it goes. I want to start experimenting with these natural liquid sugars more (honey, maple, molasses) and I know there's great advice on how to do so on the web, but so far I haven't been diligent enough to make the effort to think it through.

  16. @Sara
    I agree! I'd like to experiment more, too. When I've substituted agave syrup for sugar the recommendation was 3/4 cup syrup for 1 cup sugar. I find agave syrup to be very sweet, so I used less and it worked well. Let me know what you learn! :)

  17. Thank you so much for posting this wonderful recipe! I made this cake last night. I used whole wheat pastry flour (all I could find in the bulk bins); expeller-pressed sunflower oil; Greek yogurt; and one semi-ripe banana (with two over-ripe ones). My husband loves bananas but I'm not a fan so I added some raw walnuts and a handful of dark chocolate chunks. Since I've frequently failed as a baker, I was nervous about some of the additions and substitutions I made but it turned out wonderfully!

    I love the mild sweetness (I imagine if my third banana was more ripe, it would've been slightly more sweet) and the moistness of the cake. The texture was satisfyingly dense but not so heavy as a banana bread. It looks healthy but tastes wonderfully unhealthy. :)

    I will definitely be making this again; next time, I want to try it with olive oil, lemon zest or a splash of orange juice, and some blueberries.

    1. Thank you for letting me know, Centelleo! I'm delighted you enjoyed the cake. Your addition of walnuts and chocolate sounds divine. I love your suggestion of using olive oil - I'm going to try that next time. Citrus and blueberries would be terrific, too. I appreciate you commenting! :)