My work schedule hasn’t allowed for many lunch box or recipe posts this week, but I’ve been bustin’ a lunch move anyway. Last weekend, I made a batch of whole grain waffles to freeze for breakfasts and cheese sandwiches, along with a vat of chicken and broccoli risotto which has been a big help because I’ve had to work late or get to work early most days this week. On days where I don’t have backup in the freezer or fridge, I rely on my standby — and, frankly, the kid’s favorite — turkey and cheddar cheese kabobs, along with fruit, yogurt, nuts, veggies, and whatever else I can wrestle up.
On those “easy” days, my lunch bags, boxes, and fixins take center stage. It’s like my version of Bedazzling, minus the sequins, grommets, and studs. Here are my three favorite ways to make her school lunch filling and just a little bit fancy:
Personalized lunch box: I’m a huge fan of sarah + abraham and have ordered everything from water bottles to art prints from them over the last few years. This summer, they started offering customized lunch boxes — they’re super lightweight and come with a built-in chalk board for daily lunch box love notes.
Meri Meri cupcake kits: I use all sorts of cupcake liners and picks to pack lunches, but Meri Meri is my favorite. They stock evergreen items like these ballet-themed sets, but also have the best Halloween, Christmas, and Easter party supplies as well. I use the cupcake picks to create the much-adored turkey and cheese kabobs (or just poked into sandwiches for a bit of fun) and the baking cups to keep dry items like nuts, carrots, and other sides in place in the lunch box. (Knock on wood, my kid hasn’t stabbed anyone at school with the toothpick — yet).
Reusable napkins: Truth be told, I could be a better citizen of the planet. Yes, I recycle, use reusable cups (um, except for the cupcake variety, see above) and shut off lights when I’m not in the room (okay, I’m not very good at that), but I could do more. When I found Funkins, it was so easy to ditch the paper napkins — the adorable patterns and fun colors punch
up any lunch, even when this mom phones it in (hello, PB&J!).
That’s all I’ve got for tonight. What do you do to Bedazzle your boxes?
Shivering under a light blanket this morning, I was certain it was officially fall. It was 50-something degrees and didn’t seem to be getting any warmer — even as it got closer to noon. I could feel the call of hibernation deep in my bones — that yearly, seasonal pull to stay home, cook, bake, and live out my domestic fantasies (those fantasies that seem to drop, along with my mop and broom, as soon as the mercury rises). Alas, it ended up being 75 degrees and the pull of an outdoor restaurant on the water (with seafood, beer, friends, and a sandpit for the kids) was stronger. Still, I know fall is coming and when it does, this cauliflower soup recipe from Sweet Paul will be there. I’ll probably swap the cup of cream for Greek yogurt to take it from a weekend treat to a weekday lunch, but it will be good just the same. Until then, I’ll enjoy the last of the Jersey peaches, roasted corn, clams, Brooklyn Summer Ale, and the sun on my face.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 cauliflower, broken into pieces
3 cups chicken stock
1 cup cream
salt and pepper
Start with the toast, use a cookie cutter and cut out stars from toasted bread.
Preheat oven to 380F.
Place onion and cauliflower in a large oven proof dish and drizzle with olive oil.
Sprinkle with some salt and pepper.
Roast until golden.
Place the cauliflower and onions in a large pot and add stock.
Bring to a boil.
Let it boil 5 minutes, add stock and season with salt and pepper.
Pure in a blender and serve with a toasted star, a little olive oil and some pepper.
Guess what? 1 whole chicken can = 5 great lunches for kids
I know about whole chickens and their magical ability to provide a Sunday dinner, plus several dishes later in the week. Sometimes on a particularly hectic weeknight, a store-bought rotisserie chicken is the only healthy thing standing in the way of me and a frantic call to Chinese takeout joint. Still, I need to be reminded about the power of the chicken every once in a while.
As part of our Brown Bag Challenge at Everyday Health, Melissa d’Arabian blogged about her favorite ways to use one whole chicken to make five work lunches for the rest of the week. There are some great ideas here for kids, too. My favorite is the Slow Cooker Tortilla Soup, which essentially make itself and cooks while I’m work — how magical is that?
It got me thinking about other things I could do with a whole chicken that would be perfect for Lady M’s lunch box. Here are four more ideas I know my daughter will love. A couple of these ideas include pasta — particularly spaghetti noodles — so it might be a good idea to make a pound of pasta while the chicken’s in the oven.
Vietnamese Chicken Salad: Shredded chicken, chopped mint, shredded carrots, shredded cabbage, thinly sliced onion (more for flavor than bulk), the juice of one small lime, and a tiny bit of agave syrup for sweetness. Let sit in the fridge overnight and add a sprinkle of chopped peanuts before packing in a thermos.
Sesame Noodles With Chicken: Boil spaghetti noodles, coat with a 1/4 cup of peanut butter, 2 Tbsp. of sesame seeds, then add shredded chicken. I try do this when the noodles are still warm so it “melts” the peanut butter. I’ll probably sprinkle some chopped cilantro or green onion on top, which she will promptly pick off.
Cheesy Chicken Quesadillas: This one is so simple you can prepare it in the morning before school starts. Grab a whole-wheat tortilla, fill with shredded chicken, mashed black beans or avocado, and shredded cheese. Fold the quesadilla over and toast in a toaster oven or “grill” in a frying pan with a small amount of oil. Cut into triangles and pack it up.
Chicken and Cheese Pesto Noodles: Similar to my pasta dish last Sunday, the hardest thing about this dish is boiling the noodles. Just add a Tbsp. of pesto, shredded chicken, and some grated cheese to the pasta and you’re good to go (er, pack).
What are your favorite ways to use up a whole chicken?
It’s only the second week of school and we’ve been felled by the flu — or some other kind of school-borne illness (did I mention she’s only been back for 4 days?). Since both Lady M and I are both sick, I have the patience for just 5 minutes of “extra” tonight. As a result, I’m dusting off this fruit salad with yogurt dip for tomorrow’s lunch. I’ll use the seasonal stuff from the fridge: cantaloupe (you need a large firm fruit to make the hearts), peaches, and apples. Lady M likes plain Greek yogurt with a splash of agave (as shown), but you could use any prepared yogurt your child likes for the dip.
This school year, my nightly pack-it-up routine has expanded to include two snacks. I’m trying to make snacks as turnkey as possible by making a list of go-to items I can get from fridge to lunch box rather quickly. That way, I can focus on the main event, which is, of course, LUNCH (said in my best Oprah voice!). Fruit, yogurt, cheese, and cut-up veggies are natural go-to items, but here are some other favorites in rotation at the moment. As I sat down to write this list, I realized that the reason they’re so popular with the kid is because they’re all associated with FUN and LOVE. And, well, I love that.
Edamame. Is there another healthy snack that’s as delicious and satisfying as edamame? Maybe it’s just me, but edamame really activates the pleasure center in my brain normally reserved for salty/crunchy/bad-for-you things like potato chips. The kiddo loves them, too — and especially loves squirting them out of the pod and popping them into her mouth. They’re available everywhere I shop from Whole Foods to Trader Joe’s to Costco to the regular grocery store so I stock up on whatever’s available at the time — individual snack packs or larger bags that I separate into other containers. I take them out of the freezer the night before, let them thaw in the fridge until morning, and pop ’em into the lunch bag. So easy.
Trail mix. For Take Your Kids to Work Day at Everyday Health, my team and I organized a healthy trail mix bar for the kids. It inspired me to think harder about just packing snacks like Cheddar Bunnies and calling it a day. Now, I mix fun finger foods like snack crackers with nuts, seeds, dried fruit, cacao nibs, and coconut chips (they’re SO good!) to even out the nutritional profile a bit. She loves the variety and I like finding new items to add to our make-shift trail mix bar at home.
Popcorn. The addition of popcorn to a Friday night movie takes the weekend from ho-hum to hooray for my kid. She loves adding the popcorn kernels to the oil (safely, of course) and then waiting for that tell-tale pop-pop-pop to happen. We love to experiment with different herbs, oils, and toppings. Parmesan cheese is the current favorite, but I’m trying to get her out of her comfort zone. Mexican Lime is on my list of toppings to try.
Muffins. Muffins are for Mommy-and-me time at my house. Lady M and I have gotten so good at finding ways to make our muffins healthier from adding brown bananas to cut sugar to Greek yogurt and black beans to cut the fat. But we’re not Nazi about it — we swap out so we can swap in. That way, there’s nothing standing the way of our muffins and a few delicious chocolate chips. We experiment with whatever’s on hand or in season. Last week, we went raspberry picking so we made raspberry and dark chocolate mini muffins (using up some sad-looking bananas from the fruit bowl for the win!). We gave a bunch to her new teachers and froze the rest for lunches for the weeks ahead.
Bunny eggs. I bought Japanese egg molds back when she was a toddler as a way of getting out of making scrambled eggs every morning. You boil the eggs, allow them to cool, and then press the whole egg into an adorable shape. “Bunny Eggs” have been breakfast stars ever since! Now that she’s eating two snacks at school, I’m adding Bunny Eggs to the snack-time mix as well. With the edamame and the egg, I like the fact that she’s getting at least one protein-packed snack per day that isn’t processed or complicated.
Now that I’ve got this list to refresh my memory when mommy brain strikes, I have another problem to solve. This morning, the kid almost toppled over under the weight of a backpack full of lunch, snacks, and her water bottle. 30 pounds of preschooler + 8 pounds of food and food accoutrement = oy vey. If anyone has any ideas on now to lighten the load, let me know. My friend Nicole over at The Humble Larder, reminded me of wax paper and paper bags last night. I’m placing my right order now.
Prepare your lunch at home every day for the next two weeks, and then #BrownBagIt to work, school, or wherever you’ll be for the day. No takeout, fast food, or restaurant dining allowed — you’ve got to pack your own healthy lunches right at home. Nominate your co-workers, friends, and family to join you! Join us on Recipe Rehab — share your photos, recipe ideas, and win prizes!