Monday, September 1, 2014

Choosing a Lunchbox Right for You!

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Tomorrow marks our first day back to school, so welcome back everyone to homework nagging and the drudgery of packing lunches! The start of school for us means new clothes and of course new backpacks and lunchboxes. I am often at a loss for the perfect lunch container. I try to avoid plastic, but the lightweight convenience is hard to beat. I have tried stainless steel but worry that they have trouble opening the containers. I purchased a new silicone lunch container just a few months ago, which I thought was going to be the perfect lunchbox, but it ended up being too large... Listed below are a few of the lunchbox options I have tried with the pluses and minuses for each:


Easy Lunchboxes

BPA-free sturdy plastic divided compartment containers. Each container has a large container, medium container and small container.
I love the sizes of the compartments and lightweight sturdy construction, but am not crazy about the fact that it is plastic leaching who knows what into my children's food.
 
Yumbox
 
The Yumbox is new on the block, but looks like it might become a new favorite. It has divided containers, opens easily, and the most exciting part, each compartment seals tight, so you can fill with dips or yogurt.

Lunchbots

Stainless steel single and divided containers in a variety of sizes.
I love the fact that it is not plastic, but the container I have is pretty small and can be difficult to open. I worry that they will not be able to get it open in the school cafeteria.

Laptop Lunches

BPA-free sturdy plastic containers with a variety of small compartments and containers to encourage creativity.
I have always loved the idea of these but the price-tag has kept me from jumping in. I have quite a few friends who love the fact that all the containers inspire them to be creative, but are not crazy about the fact that some of the containers do not have lids.

Go Green Lunchbox

BPA-free plastic divided container with water bottle.
This looks like a great option to me, although once again I am not crazy about the fact that it is plastic.

Planet Box

Stainless steel segmented tray, folds in half to close.
I loved the idea of this lunchbox since it seems so similar to the divided tray above but in stainless steel. I will have to get one and report back.

Smart Planet Silicone Meal Kits

Collapsible silicone divided compartments with lid.
I thought this was going to be my answer, since it is a divided lightweight container similar to my favorite plastic box, but the compartments are so large I feel compelled to pack more food than my kids can eat.

Thermos

For insulated water bottles and food jars.
I love my food jar for packing hot lunches!

Best wishes for a fun-filled stress-free back to school!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

10 Easy Camp Lunch Ideas

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If you are like me, summer vacation doesn't end the need for packed lunches. Nope. Now my kids need lunches that can withstand the summer heat and enough snacks to keep them going through that long camp day. And with these sizzling hot temperatures and busier-than-ever days, who wants to think about packing lunches?? Not me! To simplify your life and mine, enjoy this list of easy summer camp lunch ideas:

  1. Sandwiches - Get out of your boring sandwich rut by choosing different breads (think rolls, mini-bagel, english muffin, pita, flat-bread or tortillas) and different fillings like feta or cream cheese and cucumber, scrambled eggs and cheese, nitrate-free turkey, chicken or ham, or hummus and vegetables.
  2. Three bean salad - My kids love beans, so an easy bean salad is always a hit. Blanch green beans and chop into 1 inch pieces, combine with a can of kidney beans and a can of chickpeas, some olive oil and a dash of balsamic vinegar or lemon juice.
  3. Fruit salad and cottage cheese - A nice crisp plate of fruit makes the perfect lunch for a hot day. Combine with a small dish of cottage cheese for protein and you have a perfect easy lunch!
  4. Pasta salad - Mix cooked pasta with copped veggies, tuna, hard-boiled egg, italian salad dressing, salt, pepper and a little mayo, or skip the tuna and egg and just use tortellini or small ravioli.
  5. Chicken salad - Take last night's rotisserie chicken and mix in a little mayo, salt, pepper, chopped celery and maybe even some cut-up grapes or green apple. Serve with crackers, pita bread or as a wrap sandwich
  6. Cheese and crackers - What kid doesn't love a lunch-time picnic?! Combined sliced cheese with crackers, veggie sticks and dip, and grapes.
  7. Eggs - From an easy hard-boiled egg to a leftover frittata, eggs make a great lunch-time source of protein. Mash up hard-boiled eggs with mayo, salt and pepper for egg salad or if you want to get fancy, serve them sliced over cooked asparagus or a garden salad.
  8. Waffles - Frozen waffles make a great easy lunch. Just toast, slice into strips and serve with a little container of syrup. You could make them into protein-packed sandwiches by topping them with nut butter (or sunflower butter) or serve alongside turkey sausage for protein.
  9. Grilled cheese - Fry up a ham and cheese / tomato and cheese sandwich, or broil up an English muffin pizza for a noon-time treat. 
  10. Burrito - Cook beans with sauteed garlic, onions, cumin, chili powder, salt and pepper (Hint: I like to make rice and beans for dinner and use leftovers for lunches). Then roll up a tortilla with rice, beans, cheese and salsa inside. Secure the roll with aluminum foil.
Happy Camping!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Crunchy Roasted Chickpea Snack

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I am always looking for new snack ideas outside the basic pretzels and apple routine, particularly snacks with some protein! My kids are tired of cheese sticks, hummus and yogurt tubes, so I always feel like I am grasping at straws... an egg? some almonds? I recently came across a recipe for roasted chickpeas that I thought sounded fun. Beans are great sources of fiber, protein, trace minerals and phytonutrients. Just a quarter cup of chickpeas provides 9 grams of fiber and 10 grams of protein, much more than those processed pretzels! What is particularly fun about roasted beans is the bite-size snacking and fun crunch they offer. Crispy, salty and full of flavor, they offer a great alternative to chips:


Crunchy Roasted Chickpeas
  • 1 can chickpeas (15 oz)
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  1. Preheat oven to 425
  2. Drain and rinse chickpeas
  3. Blot with a paper towel to remove moisture
  4. Combine chickpeas with oil, garlic powder and salt and stir well... Feel free to add your own seasoning combinations at this point. My kids are picky so I just stuck to the basics but these would be delicious with herbs, paprika or cayenne pepper!
  5. Spread the chickpeas on a baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes
  6. Stir, then bake for another 5-10 minutes if needed until crisp but not burnt


Kid Reviews
Thumbs up!
"These are much better than regular chickpeas!"
"Umm... kind of good, kind of bad...."


Thursday, April 17, 2014

30+ Quick Dinner Ideas

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I was recently asked by a friend for easy quick portable family dinner ideas for busy nights. Whether you have soccer, baseball, homework or just get home from work with no time to cook, this is a common  dilemma. As a nutritionist with lots of dinner-cooking experience (cooking dinner was my daily responsibility since the age of 12 - and yes, I have failed since my kids can barely make their own cereal), I have a list of my favorite go-to dinners. Some of these are quick dinner ideas, some can be whipped up in minutes, others will require a few minutes advanced prep so you can be ready at game-time:



Pasta ideas:
  • Pasta with turkey meatballs (Make a big batch of pasta and freeze in small baggies for heating up just before game-time, then mix with warmed up frozen turkey meatballs and sauce and pack in food jars)
  • Pasta with meat sauce: brown ground turkey or beef and add to tomato sauce, serve over pasta.
  • Pasta with chicken and broccoli: saute thin strips of chicken until cooked, add broccoli and serve with pasta. You can buy pre-cooked frozen grilled chicken strips at Trader Joe's and make this in minutes.
  • Pasta salad: Mix pasta with chopped hard-boiled egg, canned tuna, cut-up veggies, a drop of mayo and some italian salad dressing. Serve cool.
  • Pasta carbonara: Cook pasta, Combine 2 eggs, 1/2 cup parmesan cheese and saute into pasta.
Slow cooker ideas (takes a little advance planning, but how nice it is to arrive home to a fully made meal!):
Salads:
  • Grilled chicken Caesar salad: use frozen grilled chicken strips, parmesan cheese, and bottled Caesar dressing
  • Cobb salad: rolled up cold cuts, crumbled blue cheese and a hard-boiled egg
  • Antipasto salad: sliced cold cuts, cheese, pickled vegetables and olives
  • Taco salad: taco filling, cheese and chopped tomatoes
  • Caprese salad: tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, basil and/or spinach
Sandwiches:
  • Cold cut wrap sandwich with veggies
  • English muffin / egg and cheese sandwich
  • Frozen waffle/pancakes with nut butter sandwich
  • Burritos with rice, beans and frozen grilled chicken strips
  • Veggie burgers/ turkey burgers served on a roll or English muffin  (I just bought these great pre-made chicken burgers that we are all loving)
  • Quesadillas (broil open-faced tortillas topped with shredded cheese, beans or chicken as desired. When cheese is melted, fold over and cut into triangles)
  • Grilled cheese sandwich
If you have a little more time, try these 30 minute dinners:
  • Tacos: Brown ground turkey, add salsa, black beans and taco seasoning (I use McCormick brand). Serve with shredded lettuce, chopped tomatoes and cheese
  • Stir-fried chicken and vegetables: Saute thinly sliced chicken until cooked, add vegetables, soy sauce and minced ginger and garlic and cook until vegetables are tender (serve with warmed up frozen rice)
  • Baked breaded chicken (either homemade or Bell & Evans) and vegetables
  • Turkey sausage with peppers and potatoes (chop the potatoes, drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper and cook for 5 minutes in the microwave then add to cooked sausage and peppers for speed)
  • Pasta e fagiole (saute turkey sausage and add white beans, chopped spinach or kale and chicken broth, cook until tender and serve with pre-cooked noodles)
  • Curried lentils with spinach or kale, served with rice
  • Beans (black, pink or red) flavored with tomato sauce and taco seasoning, served with rice
  • Macaroni and cheese: cook noodles in evaporated milk and water, thicken with corn-starch and add a pinch of dry mustard and shredded cheese
  • Broiled fish or fish tacos (served with shredded vegetables, fish taco sauce (sour cream, mayo, lime juice and taco seasoning) and tortillas)
  • Ground beef stroganoff: Brown ground beef and add white wine, mushrooms and plain yogurt, serve with noodles
Happy eating!


Thursday, April 10, 2014

Dyed Eggs with Shaving Cream

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This week has been all about eating "round" eggs, which is what we call hard-boiled eggs in our house. The kids like hard-boiled eggs, but a whole package of brightly colored eggs is so much more fun!

In the past I have tried natural egg dyes, since I don't like the dye seeping through onto the eggs (we try to avoid eating artificial colors in general), but the colors are muted and need to soak for a long time. This new method is so quick and fun, and  because the eggs aren't dipped in hot water the color doesn't seep through onto the egg!

First, boil the eggs. This used to be the trickiest part, until I learned the foolproof method below:


Foolproof Hard-Boiled Eggs
  1. Fill a pan with cold water and eggs. 
  2. Place the pan over medium heat and bring the water to a boil.
  3. Once the water is boiling, place a cover over the pan and turn the heat off. 
  4. After 10 minutes the eggs will be cooked through without the ugly green color that can happen with over-cooked eggs!
 Next, comes the fun part...


Dyed Eggs with Shaving Cream
  1. Fill a glass pan with shaving cream
  2. Dot the cream with 2-4 colors
  3.  
     
  4. Swipe a stick once or twice through the colors to make the color swirl (do not over-stir or you will get more muted colors, we learned this the hard way!)
  5. Roll the hard-boiled egg in the cream (definitely the best part!)
  6.  Scoop the shaving cream covered egg out and place on a piece of cardboard
  7.  
  8. Let sit 20 minutes, then rinse off and enjoy!


P.S. I was going to make the rice cake face out of craisins but pickings are slim in this house, and no one was willing to make a 10 pm grocery run! Next time!


Sunday, April 6, 2014

Quick Cauliflower Macaroni & Cheese

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All kids love macaroni and cheese, all except mine that is! Anyway, how can we have a blog about fun lunches without my favorite macaroni and cheese recipe?? This one is creamy and delicious, and cooks in minutes in just one pot. My husband proclaims this the best macaroni and cheese ever!

For this recipe I took my favorite Cook's Illustrated 30-Minute meals recipe and used gluten-free pasta, added cauliflower and decreased the cheese slightly. It was a huge hit with my husband and even my kids liked it, which is saying a lot because they are not fans of macaroni and cheese! 





Quick One-Pot Cauliflower Macaroni and Cheese
Adapted from Cook's Illustrated 30-Minute Recipe
  • 3 1/2 cups water
  • 1 can evaporated milk
  • 12 ounces Ancient Harvest gluten-free quinoa pasta (or regular pasta)
  • 3 cups cauliflower, chopped (approx. half a head)
  • 2 tsp cornstarch
  • 1/2 tsp dry mustard
  • 2 cups cheddar cheese
  • 2 cups Monterey jack cheese
  1. Bring water and 1 cup evaporated milk to a simmer.
  2. Add cauliflower and pasta and boil until the macaroni is tender (about 10 minutes)
  3. Mix remaining 1/2 cup milk with cornstarch and dry mustard and add to pot
  4. Simmer mixture for about 1 minute until slightly thickened
  5. Remove from heat and add grated cheese
  6. Stir to combine until cheese is melted
Kid Reviews:

This is delicious!
The little pieces of cauliflower are ok, but the big pieces are not good


Thursday, March 27, 2014

How to Get Kids to Like Vegetables

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One of my proudest mama moments was the time the dentist asked my son for his favorite vegetable, and he replied "Kale". I was as shocked as she was, but savor that moment when he refuses to eat any fruits besides apples and blackberries and begs for "something with wheat" as an after-school snack.

How did I get here? I remember only a couple of years ago making a list of the 6 foods that my daughter would eat, 2 of which were chicken and cheese. I am so glad we have come this far... I have enough shame over the breastfeeding fiasco for my reputation as a nutritionist to backslide any further with picky kids not eating their vegetables!!!

How to Get Kids to Like Vegetables
  1. Set an example: Make sure you eat your vegetables. Kids model your behavior so if they see you enjoying your vegetables they will be much more likely to follow suit!
  2. Be persistant:  Research suggests that kids need multiple exposures to a food before it is accepted. In a study of Kindergarteners, 3 days of consecutive exposure to cabbage significantly increased how well it was liked. If they can do that with cabbage, just imagine what repeated exposure can do with other fruits and vegetables!
  3. Play with texture: Try cutting vegetables in sticks, rounds or even funny shapes using cookie cutters, or serving vegetables cooked vs. raw. My kids for example love raw carrots but dislike cooked carrots. I don't mind as long as they get them in some way.  I recently bought some ruffled carrot coins at the store for a change and my kids loved them. If I wasn't so lazy I could have done it myself!
  4. Offer dips: Jazz up boring vegetables with salad dressing, dip or hummus for more flavor. Kids love dipping, and snack-packs of hummus or guacamole make it easy. Even regular blue cheese salad dressing can take celery and cucumbers from blah to bl-amazing!
  5. Sprinkle with butter, salt, bacon, garlic or cheese: Boosting taste with herbs or small doses of tasty fats can change everything. I do secretly know that the whole reason my kids love kale is that we saute it until tender and then add SALT as the secret ingredient. Butter can also make vegetables more palatable and you can feel better knowing that the fat is helping with absorption of the carotenoids and other fat soluble vitamins!
  6. Mix into sauces and grains: Extra "stealth" nutrition is always good. Add finely diced vegetables to sauces (cauliflower to cheese sauce, or zucchini/carrots to tomato sauce) or grain dishes (rice pilaf, pasta casseroles, couscous or quinoa) for a nutrition boost. Just make sure to include vegetables along with the main meal too, so they continue to be exposed to the idea of eating regular vegetables.
  7. Praise "adventurous": Another idea I have had success with is praising the tiniest advance my timid eaters make towards being more adventurous. This has been a slow process but they have begun to think of themselves as adventurous, and are now willing to try a small bite of most anything. Some things are pleasant surprises (like seaweed soup) while others have been less well received (last night's garlicky fresh pesto for example)
  8. Try one bite: Along the same vein, we have a rule that kids have to try at least one bite of everything that is served. After that, if they truly don't like it, they don't have to eat it (but they do have to eat something on their plate). They don't have to finish anything (according to Ellyn Satter that can backfire into power struggles and kids thinking of vegetables as a chore), but they do have to at least try it! 
  9. Make it fun: Use fun names or cut into fun shapes. My husband does something as simple as make a face out of tomatoes, carrot and pepper slices that my kids love! You can get creative with fun cutters or just call broccoli "mini-trees", kids love fun! In a 2009 study, kids ate twice as many "X-ray vision carrots" even after the label was removed!
  10. Get them involved: Take kids to the grocery store / farmer's market and let them pick the weekly vegetables, or have them help in the kitchen. Research has shown that kids are more likely to eat the foods that they have helped prepare.
Of course, they still hate Brussel sprouts and cabbage, but they happily enjoy most of the rest...

Good luck!