Sunday, August 4, 2013

Shoes in the kitchen! (Okay, not exactly, just the boxes)

It's that time of year again. There's a nip in the air, the days are shorter, the leaves crack under your, it's still the hot dog days of summer, you keep checking the calendar to see if you can cram one more family getaway in, everyone has suntan lines and bedtimes have been a little more lax. This all means it's time for Back To School.

Do yourself a favor - start baking extra batches of muffins, waffles or pancakes as you are making breakfast this summer. Stick those in the freezer for hectic back to school mornings (the muffins could actually go into lunches as well). Do a Costco/Sam's Club run based soley on stocking the pantry for lunches - non-perishable items that will help make your mornings run a little smoother. Oh, and while you are there grab one of those two million packs of yogurt (toss them in the freezer) and a couple boxes of the Horizon Milk Boxes that don't require refridgeration.

Organize one shelf in your cabinets to be the lunch making center. Hit the end of summer clearance sales and get a three of those plastic shoeboxs. Make one the protein box, one the fruit box and one the carb box (we'll give you suggestions in a second), then when you are packing lunch on the fly you just grab one item from each box.

Protein Box: Nuts & Seeds(prepackaged or buy in bulk and distribute into snack size ziplocks or small plastic containers (we like the Mini Dippers from, nutbutter or sunbutter packages (check out the ones from Peanut Butter & Co.), Z-Bars (or something similar with 2 g of protein or more).

Fruit Box: raisins, craisins, fruit snacks (Tasty Brand or Annie's have more "real" ingredients than most), other dried fruit - mangoes, bananas, papaya are very popular with my kids.

Carb Box: Pretzel sticks (the fat kind), whole grain crackers, melba toast, granola, cheese & cracker packages, etc.

These items are meant to supplement the main fresh ingredients in the lunches you pack, we are just helping with the planning ahead part right now. We'll give you the week before school shopping list in next week's post.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Back To School 2012

School got out when I was on a trip abroad. A month later I headed into the culmination of the biggest work project I had on the calendar for 2012. This week I realized that school starts in three weeks. Time to get cracking and make this school year the most smooth sailing.

Three weeks from the start of school:
  • Clean and inventory lunch supplies from last year, order new containers, cookie cutters and accessories as needed
  • Make a list of ten lunch menus, create shopping list for two weeks of lunches
  • Make a list of three different "snack day" ideas if your children attend a school where parents provide the class snack on occasion
  • Stock up on items to fill lunch boxes (prepackaged items or staple items such as crackers, peanut butter, raisins, pirate bootie, fruit leather, tetra-packed milks)

Two weeks from the start of school:
  • Plan a few picnics or pack lunch to take in the car, have your kids help, you might discover they have developed some new skills in that department since the previous school year
  • Print out some lunch notes or gather up scraps of paper and jot down a few notes to tuck in their lunches for mornings when you want a little something extra to send with them
  • Check with your school about the school lunch menu/pricing in case you need to do a last minute subsitution one day
The week before school starts:
  • Make sure all of your ice packs are in the freezer
  • Stick yogurt sticks, halved grapes (in a zip lock), juice boxes and freshly baked muffins in the freezer so you are ready to grab them on busy school mornings
  • Purchase perishable items for the following weeks lunch
  • Purchase the non-perishable portions of one "class snack" and tuck it away for when it's your turn to bring it
The night before school:
  • Pack lunch
  • Tuck in a note
  • Don't forget to set up your coffee maker
Seeking inspiration?
Try Pinterest, EasyLunchboxes or just google lunch box ideas!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Giving Thanks!

My goal when I started Little Lunches was to get and share ideas about making easy, fun, healthy lunches for my kids as they grew from tiny babies into actual eaters. Four years into this I am still in awe of the inspiring lunches I see other moms making. I am grateful for the feedback and suggestions I get from the nearly 1,000 other parents who have joined the conversation.

The next seven weeks of holiday madness can make us crazy. Here are a few tips to make things a little smoother in the lunch department:

  • Baking cookies? Do a couple of batches of muffins while the oven is going and freeze most of them for popping in the oven on rushed mornings or sticking into school lunches (they will thaw by noon).
  • Speaking of cookies - use those cookie cutters to make some fun themed lunches. See what our friend Shannon is whipping up over at What's For Lunch at Our House.
  • Keep a bowl of mandarin oranges on the counter (they are usually easy to find this time of year) - great to toss to a hungry kid for a snack, easy to include in a lunch or to take the edge off your hunger while baking those yummy holiday treats.
  • When you are baking your holiday dressing - scoop a few extra servings into silicone baking cups and freeze for lunches later in the season.
  • Stock up on your basics while you are at the store anyway - big holiday meals require big shopping trips, don't forget to get some lunch stock while you are out. It's easy to get too focused on the big meal and forget to get things for the next week's lunches.
  • Stick more fruits and veggies in the kids lunches than usual...they are going to be getting plenty of baked goods, try to encourage a little bit of crunchy, healthy snacking.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Alternatives to PB & J - Coping with a Sandwich Strike

Over the three years of lunch packing we have gone through a series of "sandwich strikes." The oldest of my three Ps goes through weeks of wanting PB & J (actually Sunbutter and J) in every lunch followed by weeks or months (basically all of last school year) of refusing to eat any sandwiches, regardless of content.

Basically, we moms like sandwiches because they are an easy way to deliver whole grains, protein and a fruit or vegetable serving in a handy carrying case, oh and most of us can make a PB & J before we have had our coffee, with our eyes closed, while carrying a baby. Kids like them, when they like them, because they are easy to eat, taste good and look like what everyone else is eating.

So what to do if (a) you get bored making the same three or four different sandwiches every week or (b) if your Little Luncher goes on a sandwich strike?

Trader Joe's onigiri, cheese flowers and grapes

Think in terms of creating a simple lunch entree that has the same key components as the sandwich:

  1. protein - hard boiled egg, sandwich meats, meatballs, meatloaf, hummus, cheese, nutbutter
  2. whole grains - pasta, whole grain crackers, pita, bagels
  3. fruit and/or vegetable - self explanatory category 
  4. some sort of sauce, condiment or garnish - nutella, ranch dressing (check the ingredients), organic ketchup, pizza sauce
Some of my daughter's favorite sandwich replacements are: 
  • pita cut into triangles, shredded mozzarella & pizza sauce for dipping (each in a separate container so she is fully in charge of the mixing)
  • a bagel cut into quarters, nutella and raisins
  • muffin (made with vegetable puree and added cheese) with cream cheese
  • an assortment of crackers (we love the butterfly shaped ones), cheeses (also cut into shapes with cookie cutters) and shredded carrots 
  • pasta (spirals or penne hold up best for a day in the lunch box) sprinkled with parmesan ("snow cheese") with a few olives in a little silicon cupcake holder (Wilton Square Silicone Baking Cups, 12 Count)
We came across this article called "School Lunch Box Cheat Sheet" last week that has a fantastic list of ideas that might work for your Little Luncher in the place of the usual sandwich. She alludes to next week's topic...Make Ahead Lunch Items.

What have you packed for your Little Luncher instead of sandwiches?

Monday, December 27, 2010

New Year's Resolutions

Love them or hate them, it's that time of year again. If you aren't a Resolver then you spend a lot of time over the holidays telling people how you don't need them. If you are a Resolver you spend that same time plotting, planning or feeling guilty about past resolutions.

Before I had kids, I set three resolutions ever year, one each in three categories - (1) Learn to cook X, (2) Some physical accomplishment, such as walk three days a week, be able to do the splits again or try a new exercise class and (3) Some sort of brain activity - take a class, learn to speak French, take up chess. Some stuck, some didn't but the beauty to me is the time spent reflecting on yourself - past, present and proposed.

Now, I have three kids, two dogs and a somewhat picky eating, unathletic (but with other redeeming qualities) and my resolutions seem to be (1) Learn to cook what they will actually eat (2) Get everyone outside for an hour a day and (3) learn to speak Toddlerese.

Okay, not really but that would be the easier route!

I resolve this year to learn to make one new freezable make-ahead food item each month
I resolve this year to walk in two formal half-marathons
I resolve this year to take at least six college credits worth of new classes

Phew, that was actually not as hard as it looked.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Anniversary of Little Lunches

Two years ago, I had the idea to create a community for moms to help them with the tedious (at times) task of packing lunches. Technically it began as a class project for an extension course I was taking at UCLA. Through all the interations, two years later, Little Lunches is a great fan page on Facebook, has a growing following on Twitter and many visitors to the blog. I am glad to be a part of this group of moms (and a few dads) and hope that the tips and ideas I share help you out.

Thank you!!!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Fostering a Healthy Relationship with Food

Okay, I do try to give my kids healthier food more often than not. There are the occasional trips through the drive thru, nights of take out pizza and in a pinch yes, frozen chicken nuggets or mac 'n cheese. I know there are true food purists who balk at such things and there are those who think it's just too much work to worry about nutrition all the time. I fall somewhere in the middle. I think what is most important for my kids is that they get a balance of foods, a lot of good nutritious choices and the fun of occasional "junk."

My number one goal as far as food is concerned is that my kids have a healthy relationship with food. I want them to appreciate good food, to have a wide range of foods that they enjoy (I know this comes further down the road than age four), that certain foods evoke positive memories and traditions, etc.

I  have been taking them to the farmers market from day one and my older daughter's preschool has a garden, so I feel pretty comfortable that they are learning where food actually comes from. I also am slowly introducing them to cooking. It's fun to let them share in the process when and where it's appropriate. They love to play "kitchen" and have a few real but kid sized kitchen gadgets.

What are you doing to foster a healthy relationship with food for your children?

NOTE: Let me know, I'd love your ideas and I have a prize to give away!!! Little Lunches is giving away our first Thank You gift! It's this charming Limoneira Master Chef Kit : " These delicious little Master Chef Kits ensure that your child gets a jump start as the next celebrity chef. Little chef hats and aprons provide the professional career touch. Miniature rolling pin, wisk, wood spoon, spatula and scraper –the necessities that got Wolfgang Puck and Alice Waters off and running are also here. Limoneira Kids recipes are included for preparation for the next nutritious fun family feast."  Limoneira lemons, oranges, specialty citrus and avocados are shipped to restaurants around the world. 

To enter, please post your answer/comment here and/or refer friends to our Facebook page. A random drawing from these entries will be done on November 12. Good luck!!