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!!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Taking Lunch on the Road

The last month has been very action packed. Speaking of packed, each day brings a different challenge of lunch packing. Some days the smaller kids stay home with a sitter and don't need a lunch packed, other days they head off to daycare and I need to pack lunches for them as well as their big sister. All of this is good preparation for our upcoming holiday train trip.

We are going from Southern California to Oregon on the train.
It's a 27 hour journey...that means two lunches, one dinner, one breakfast and several snacks (times five people that is 35 "meals"). The train does have a dining car but the logistics and expense of going to the snack car or dining car all together for each meal are daunting. So, I am planning on packing 12 Easylunchboxes of meals, several free-standing snack bags and bringing lots of these Horizon milks in the aeseptic packaging.

Clearly the things I pack need to require little to no refrigeration and will be supplemented by the occasional onboard meal or snack. Bringing a cooler is a logical option except...we have three kids who are four and under which means we are already bringing a lot of gear. As I begin the journey to this journey, I am looking for ideas, tips and suggestions from others who have done this before.

Many of my friends said take the plane as their suggestion...we will do that another time...this is a chance for our little family to bond and learn to travel together without as much restriction as a plane or car. It's a beautiful ride that I last took with my brother 20 years ago!

"This legendary train now features enhanced Coaches and Sleeping Cars, along with exclusive new amenities. The Dining Car offers fresh cuisine served on real china and table linens, while the Arcade Room will entertain kids of all ages with a great selection of arcade-style video games. Coach passengers enjoy big, comfortable seats, plenty of legroom and new, larger pillows, plus available at-seat meal service." (We know where the biggest kid - aka my husband - will be!)

Would love to hear your tips!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Instead of a PB & J...stick it to them...

One of my favorite books as a kid was Bread and Jam for Frances, the story of a little badger who was very picky about her food and was forced (when her parents granted her wish...) to eat bread and jam every meal. Frances soon tired of her favorite snack and tucked into a proper meal with her family.

I think I liked it so much because I was a very picky eater and wished that my parents would let me just eat one thing that was something I really oatmeal raisin cookies. Why am I telling you this? Well, some of us have picky kids who only like a very select group of foods, others have kids who really thrive on routine and don't want any surprises in their lunch and a few of us have grown-up lunchers in our house with special dietary restrictions or just plain favorite meals.

My oldest Little Luncher is on a kick where she (despite my best intentions) wants to have the same lunch over and over and over and what can I do? For one, I give myself a break and make "that" lunch for her at least two days of the week, makes my morning easier honestly. Secondly, I look for small changes to make - vanilla yogurt with sprinkles instead of strawberry yogurt, Baby Bel cheese instead of cubed cheddar, carrot sticks instead of pretzels. The sticking point has become her PB & J. She flatly refuses to eat any other traditional looking sandwich (I know in another two months this will change) so out come the pita & hummus, the cheese & fruit skewers, quesadillas and even the occasional bagel and cream cheese.

Magically...she will eat any of these things so, I asked people to share on the Little Lunches Facebook Page, their skewer tips here are a few great ones:

Mama Kamola - I use swizzle sticks and mostly skewer fruit. Sometimes I stick a few mini marshmallows in as a treat. I will have to give Turkey meatballs a try though.
Muffin Tin Mama - Fruit is a favorite, sometimes meat and cheese, occasionally veggies, but their faves aren't soft enough to skewer. I usually use regular plastic skewers/picks or drink stirrers.
Another Lunch Mama - I've used pretzel sticks for cheese occasionally - that reminds me, LOL, back when I had only one child (and obviously a LOT more free time!) I used to very gently work Cheerios onto pretzel sticks. It was slow and tedious to get the the Cheerios on there without breaking, but my son loved it. These days I'll skewer just about anything on little food picks and swizzle sticks.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

What is your "panic" lunch?

Last week was a little crazy around our house - the shorter week, a couple of unplanned but non-emergency doctor's visits, two after work meetings...and somehow the grocery store just didn't figure into the mix. Since it is early in the school year there were a whole lot of back-ups on hand...our Little Luncher did get her lunch on Thursday but it was not the lunch I had I was wondering...what do you do in that situation? Her school doesn't offer a hot lunch option and so I found myself at the grocery store at 6:15 am before everyone else was awake.

I grabbed two of those Horizon Organic single serving milks, a yogurt, packaged baby carrots, a couple of prepackaged slices of cheddar, a bag of those tiny boxes of raisins and a carton of strawberries. Those items and a nice PB & H(oney) and she was set for the day. Granted, I didn't feel great about all that packaging but I did feel good about what was inside.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Little Lunch Notes

Show your kids you are thinking of them during the day by including a note in their lunch. Write a few ahead of time, buy some prepackaged ones or look for any of a myriad of printable ones online. Make it easy on yourself though and have a few on hand for days when you don't have time to cut out cute sandwich shapes or do a themed lunch, just grab one of these (Little Lunches Mama hides them in a mug in the cupboard) and toss it in their lunch to show you are thinking of them. Here are some you can print onto Avery Labels #5371. If you need the original PDF file please just shoot me an email.

Happy Packing!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Healthy Snacks - Prepackaged Items - Stocking Up

Of course it would be great if we could all find and prioritize the time to make everything from scratch but in reality (my reality at least) finding the best easy to take and pack snacks comes in a close second. Cookie Magazine (a victim of the recesssion, sadly, but more on that in a minute) had a great article a few years back that showcased, "These healthy lunch-box essentials and snacks are sure to pull weight at the daily cafeteria stock exchange, but they're so tasty that your kids won't even try to trade."

Back to School time feels to me a bit like New Year's, we have really good intentions, we try to make resolutions and change habits and improve our lot. Fresh school supplies, new haircuts, freckled noses and sun-streaked hair - the first day of school. A month later - homework, soccer, homework, "what's for dinner," laundry on the floor and the best laid plans go out the window.

I don't think I can solve that for you, or for myself - my laundry room clearly has gypsies living in it who leave additional clothing behind in it each day. What I can do is help you find ways to keep your kids lunches relatively healthy and keep it easy on you. A few packaged things in a lunch are a good idea since who knows when the kids will need a snack, especially after summer break when they could raid the fridge and cupboard whenever you weren't looking.

Read the labels, find three or four go-to items, shop around a bit and then stock up. My girls love the Kids Clif Bars, I have found them at the local grocery stores priced from 49 cents to 89 cents. Clearly when I find the 49 cent ones it's time to buy a box. Somethings, like little crackers in packages seem odd to me - the per package price is enormous compared to buying in bulk and filtering them into little snack packs. Other things - raisins for example - seem to be pretty close in comparison buying the tiny boxes or a big bag so I get the boxes to save myself the sticky mess of transferring from one container to another.

If you live near a Costco or Sam's Club you can often stock up on things at a bulk price. If you don't, another great option is setting up a subscription on to your favorite staple items. They will just show up at your doorstep at the time you have determined you will need them again. Save yourself a trip to the store and have some of the key lunch items on hand.

To change the subject for just a minute, early in my post I mentioned something about Cookie Magazine. The editors and some of the writers from what was my favorite parenting publication have created a new place for information called Momfilter. Right now it's only on Facebook but the website is coming soon and we are all eager with anticipation.

Apple Raisin Mini Muffins (orginally posted November 2008)

I bought a Wilton miniature muffin pan at Michael's recently. I made Apple Raisin Mini Muffins from a Paula Deen recipe. In the end I had 60 mini muffins. I froze most of them, thawing out five or ten at a time for snacks, breakfasts or to go in my daughter's lunch. Sure, it took a while to bake them because I only have the one pan but I could do other things in the 15 minute increments and I had muffins for her breakfast or snacks for the last two months.

They thawed really well.

Apple Raisin Muffins from Paula Deen, The Lady & Sons, too!

Here's the recipe:
2 cups water
2 cups sugar
2 cups grated apples
2 cups raisins
1 cup butter - two sticks
2 tspn cinnamon
2 tspn freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 tspn ground cloves
1 cup chopped walnuts (I left these out)
2 tspn baking soda
3 1/2 cups all purpose flour

Preheat oven to 350. Combine water, sugar, apples, raisins, butter, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves in a saucepan; bring to a boil. Remove the pan for the heat and cool completely. (*this takes more than an hour so I wouldn't actually preheat the oven at the beginning of this recipe)

In a large bowl, stir the nuts and baking soda into the flour. Add the cooled mixture to the bowl, and stir until blended. Fill greased miniature muffin tins with batter to the top. (*I used mini cupcake papers) Bake 15 minutes.

School is just around the corner!!

Granted, my kids are still too little for Back To School to be a totally big deal. My oldest is in her second year of preschool and I am counting down to the middle one's 1/2 birthday (two and a half) to really go full bore on the potty training so she can join sis. That doesn't stop me from feeling the need to get ready for back to school. I stood in the school supply section of Target last week just breathing in the smell of No. 2 pencils and thinking of that feeling of infinite possibility that new school supplies bring me.

Summer has been filled with lots of things. We have been really busy, the kids were all sick for a while, work comes and goes, anyway, it's time to get focused again. So, I am preparing for Back To School by teaching a Little Lunches class for the local Park & Rec. I am also putting together my schedule of posts and updates for the school year. Please check back later in the week and see what I have been up to.

I have a huge list of resources - lunch planners, menus, nutritional ideas, school lunch program information and packing tips - I am going through them and putting them in themed posts so you can take advantage of them. Lots of good stuff!!

How much of your back to school shopping/prep is done?

Monday, July 12, 2010

Summer Time and the Lunchin' is Easy

We have three Little Lunchers in our house. The youngest luncher is just over seven months old so his lunches are pretty straight-forward. The oldest luncher is three and a half and has grown quite particular in her old age. The middle one is two and will eat pretty much anything unless she hears her sister say it's yucky. I get into a rut easily, if they are willing to eat something...we have it often until one of them suddenly dislikes it.

Fortunately summer brings lots of easy meals. The best two things about summer eating - not everything has to be a hot meal and there are lots of delicious fruits and vegetables to try out. I have been trolling the farmers market and friends with orchards to stock up on great summer items like plums, apricots, zucchini and strawberries.

The plums and apricots get a quick eight minute boil to shed the skins then are pitted and pureed. Puree goes into ice cube trays and frozen into individual serving for feeding the baby or adding to muffins on Saturday mornings. The strawberries get eaten quickly but I chopped up a half flat of them and stuck in them in individual baggies in the freezer for making smoothies when the season is over.

Zucchinis - boiled, pureed and frozen as well - good for adding to muffins, spaghetti sauce, mac 'n cheese and for baby food.

While I have the water going, I like to hard-boil a dozen eggs. I stick them in salads, pasta dishes and honestly, I grab one for myself when I am running around trying to get everyone else fed.

Getting back to the muffins - we have been enjoying, perhaps experiencing is a better word, "June Gloom" here despite the calendar reading mid-July. The coolness has encouraged me to get back to muffin baking. I like to do a double or triple batch of mini muffins and freeze most of them...they make great additions to lunch boxes, snacks for on the go or a nice substitute for waffles on a school morning.

Monday, June 14, 2010

What really works for packing your lunches?

When I just had one Little Luncher, I had more time to get really fancy with her lunches. Once I had two, things could still be done with extra touches and flair but I had less time to dedicate to packing. Now that Little Luncher #1 and Little Luncher #2 have different tastes, appetites and schedules things could be getting a bit more hectic...add to that Little Luncher #3 starting to try new foods and it could really become chaos.

I look for ways to plan ahead, prep ahead, keep things simple and seasonal but also make eating fun and enjoyable. Recently I came across the Easy Lunchboxes system and I have to say, it works for our lifestyle and our family. The system is made of three parts - a three-section container, a tightly closing lid and an insulated carrying bag (with room for a thermos, a yogurt, a banana, etc).

These containers are equally practical for taking a lunch to preschool, the office or for running around town. I love that they go in the dishwasher, freezer, microwave or fridge. They come in a set of four containers with four different colored lids - that works really well to make sure the right person gets the right lunch. Mornings can be crazy, it's nice to not spend ten minutes looking for the lids for each of the little tupperware containers or opening and closing each person's lunch three times to be sure the right person has the right lunch.

Find more photos like this on Little Lunches

And, while we are at it...we love this company because it's run by an mompreneur who knew from experience what we moms need to make our lives a little less hectic.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Bringing it all together...the Little Lunches Project

Two-and-a-half years ago I was taking a class in social media at UCLA. Our final assignment was to put together a social media campaign for a person, product or service. I toyed with a few client projects (I was taking the class on behalf of my employer, a boutique ad agency in Ventura County) and I thought about my mother who is an incredibly gifted hand weaver and could benefit from reaching a larger audience but I felt that my final project should be a segue into something tangible and applicable.

At the time my oldest daughter was two and eating anything and everything I fed her, while my baby daughter was just starting to eat solid foods. I belonged to a very active online baby board. As our kids grew through the various food phases many questions came up. Some were surprising to me.

I was raised in the early seventies in a farming community. My parents were both very well traveled and enjoyed a wide palette of foods. I didn't really experience processed/packaged foods until I was in grade school. I went into parenthood blindly assuming that that was just how you start kids out. Soon I discovered that (a) most kid oriented food is not actually that healthy and (b) once you move past the single pureed food stage most people really want some direction and practical ideas about what in the heck to feed these little people.

So, Little Lunches was born. I first built a "Ning"site to create a community for other parents who were wondering the same things as me. I then added a Facebook Group and a Twitter page. Off and on over the past two years I have dedicated myself more or less to this "cause." This blog is being built to bring all the components together. Please enjoy and remember, "Do think inside the box!"