Category Archives: Lunches

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Setting yourself up for success with The Healthy Lunchbox

I love this book:  “The Healthy Lunchbox – How to Plan, Prepare & Pack Stress-Free Meals Kids will Love” by Marie McClendon and Cristy Shauck.  They give so many practical no-nonsense tips on how to get started & create a gameplan for packing your kids lunches.  Here are just a few of  the great tips I picked up along the way…

1.  Find out what your kids like/dislike.  When I first started packing the kids’ lunches, I had grand ideas of all the cool, nutritious things they would try and how much they would love them.  As if overnight, the healthy fairy visited them in their sleep and *poof* just like that they were transformed into non-junk food eating kids.  Yeah, right.  Though I don’t hesitate to introduce 1-2 new foods into their lunch each week, I try to pay close attention to what they love and the things that they may not like. 

2.  Don’t get discouraged.   Even if they don’t like it I try not to give up, I just reintroduce it at a later time and maybe in a different way…with a dip (ranch always makes things better!) or even steamed or raw.  It may take 10-12 times for a child to be introduced to something for them to try it and even more exposure to it for them to like it.  Buy in small quantities and if you want to avoid waste, try new foods at dinner so if they don’t like it, you can finish it for them!

3.  Choose your timing wisely.  I’ve also learned that I’m more successful introducing new foods after school (when they’re hungry) and we’re out and about running errands or at their activities.  They will try just about anything when they’re hungry, especially when that’s the only thing mom brought to eat.  For that reason, they look forward to our after school trips to the grocery store because they LOVE trying the food at the Cooking Connection at HEB and beg me to make it when we get home.  Another fun game we like to play is letting them pick a new fruit or vegetable to try that we don’t normally eat…that’s how they discovered their loves for kiwi, sugar snap peas, artichokes, avocados, yellow bell peppers and tomatoes, cabbage, cauliflower and bean sprouts.  We’re looking forward to trying star fruit, pommegranate, jicama, papaya, and perhaps one of these days we’ll get around to brussel sprouts!

4.  Make their food look fun and exciting!  Now’s the time where it’s ok to play and get creative with your food!  My kids love fruit/veggies cut out with cookie cutters, julienned, skewered, or made into a creature with eyes, mouth and a smile!  Making lunches has been just as fun for me and my husband as it has been for the kids to discover it at lunchtime.  There are tons of neat tools and accessories out there that you can use to prepare and serve food:

I spotted these on Etsy and surprisingly, the shipping from JP is pretty reasonable!

Cute Animal Cupcake Topper - Bento Picks - 10 pcs

These came from Amazon.com but I’ve also seen similar shape cutters at Target and the grocery store.

I picked up some sandwich cutters at HEB for $2 but have also seen these online.

Crust Cutter - Dynobyte Dinosaur Shaped Cutting Tool

One thing to note, you don’t have to buy accessories to make food fun…you can use your imagination!  Make faces using olives, peas, beans as eyes & noses…use a thin slice of orange to make silly teeth & mouth.  Introduce a variety of colors, shapes, and textures to make their lunches interesting.  Use ordinary objects in unconventional ways!

Banana Octopuses

Photos courtesy of Disney Family Fun site:  http://familyfun.go.com/recipes/cooking-with-kids/making-food-fun-photo-gallery-848181/view-all/

5.  Be inspired!  I subscribe to lots of food newsletters and FB groups for ideas and inspiration.  Here’s just a few that I love:

It’s not as hard as it looks, trust me!  And though we do run our dishwasher more frequently, it doesn’t take that much more time preparing our food.  I often make my kids lunches the morning of school in less than 15 minutes!  It just requires a bit of planning, thinking ahead, or having a quick go-to backup plan.  If you don’t know where to start your planning, “The Healthy Lunchbox” offers rotation menu charts with quick fix lunches, combinations that take less than 10 min and also recipies you can prepare overnight.  [Not to mention, they have an excellent Lunchbox-Packing Blueprint guide which lists dozens of options for the balanced lunch:  Main Dish (protein), fruit, vegetable, and snack/dessert.]   But I have to add, packing their lunches the night before is a good way for me to relax…I sometimes would rather spend an hour being creative in the kitchen preparing our meals instead of spending an hour unwinding in front of the tv.  A couple of great resource for just starting out:  http://www.anotherlunch.com/p/how-to-start.html and http://wendolonia.com/blog/2010/08/16/back-to-school-back-to-lunch-lunch-box-ideas/

Keep in mind that while these ideas work great for my family, they may not necessarily fit with your family’s lifestyle.  But don’t let that be an obstacle to trying out 1-2 new ideas out and experiment with what works best for your family.  I’d love to hear what works for you!

Ok, time for another giveaway…just a couple of teasers to entice you to start packin’!  ;)   Last week I had the pleasure of receiving some sweet notes of appreciation and encouragement (which I am forever grateful for!) so I thought I’d return the favor to my blog readers and share the love!  I have two sets of “love notes” for you to include in your kids’/husband’s/friend’s lunch or even just to surprise them with throughout the day!  One is the “mini lunch notes” featured in Parents Magazine and the other is “Lunchbox Love for Thanksgiving”.  The Thanksgiving notes (geared toward older kids or adults) would be perfect to set your table with for your Thanksgiving meal or to include with a bottle of wine or flowers when visiting family or friends.

Mini Lunch Notes

TO ENTERJust visit one of the links listed in this post and leave me a comment about something neat you discovered there or want to try out, only one comment per person please.  The winner will be drawn using random.org, this time using their true random number service.  The cutoff for entries will be Sunday, November 14th at 11:59pm and the winner will be announced next week.  Make sure you enter your email address so I can contact you and find out where to ship your prize!  Good luck!

Win your own Bento Lunch Box System!

Last week I mentioned I would do a giveaway this week…well, here’s your last chance to win this awesome Easy Lunchbox System.  It comes with a set of 4 containers and a cooler bag in your choice of colors!  The contest will end Monday Nov 1st at 11:59pm CST. 

And to make the deal sweeter, I will personally give away a custom SIGG water bottle to the winner of this giveaway.  The winner can send me a picture to add to your water bottle or I can put in an image from a previous session.   The winner will be drawn using Random.org and notified by email.

For an additional entry (or two!) into our contest, you can 1) become a fan of Easy Lunchboxes on Facebook or 2) follow them on Twitter or 3) do both for two additional entries!  After you’ve done so, come back and leave me a comment HERE letting me know which you did for your additional entry.  If you did both, please leave me separate comments.

Spinach salad with feta cheese, almonds, grape tomatoes.  Strawberries, turkey and cheese rolled in a whole wheat flour tortilla. Thanks to Amanda of lunchbox limbo  http://bit.ly/cSYUhm for this one!

The EasyLunchbox System ‘s design, functionality, and low price has quickly made it a top choice among green lunch box solutions since it came on the market in December, 2009. Named a “Top 5 Eco-Friendly Mommy Must Have” by Parents Ask, the EasyLunchbox System has been rated TOP CHOICE by many independent reviewers. Read their reviews HERE .  And for some lunch inspiration ideas, check out their photo gallery!
 

Gearing up…

I wish I could blog about school lunches or healthy eating every day as food is waaaay up there on my list of favorite things!  Today I wanted to share a little on what type of gear I use and offer some other alternatives for you to use.  I have a long list of things I want to try out, but as I’m discovering new and wonderful things every day I have to use some restraint or I’d go broke!

When I first started thinking about packing my kids’ lunches last spring, I took inspiration from a photographer friend, Jamie Schultz, who had posted enticing pics of her sons’ lunches on Facebook.  She uses the system (among others) that I use, Laptop Lunches.  They offer American-style Bento lunch boxes that are reusable, recycleable and dishwasher safe.  They do not contain BPA, phthalates, or lead.  I ordered directly from their online store, but there are many online merchants  that carry their products as well as some local retailers.  We have a Bento System 2.0 (an insulated tote which contains a hard outer container shell with small individual inner containers, a water bottle, utensils, and a copy of the Laptop Lunch User’s Guide) as well as an additional outer shell and inner containers for each of the kids.  I like to have an extra set so I can pack their lunches the night before (if I have time) without worrying about washing the set they just brought home.  I love the tiny containers with lids that I can put salad dressing in, perfect for dipping  your fresh fruit and veggies with no waste! 

If you’re interested in purchasing a laptop lunchbox, use the discount code beyer to save 10% off.  (I am enrolled in their affiliate program and I will receive 10% of your purchase to which I will give 100% to a charity.) 

I’m currently using paper napkins to write a little note, joke or fun picture to surprise them when they open up their lunch box.  I’m planning to switch to cloth napkins soon and include “love notes” (see below) instead.  Another idea would be to use colorful index cards or recycled paper to write sweet messages to your lovebugs.  My kids adore them and often times, they come home with it folded up in their pockets because they wanted to save them!

EDITED TO ADD:  I use these Rubbermaid plastic Blue Ice packs to cool their lunch, recommended by my friend Jamie.  You may not think that the type of ice packs you use make a difference but my son noticed the difference the first time I used them and he said his food tasted better!  I bought these at Target for less than $1 and I’ve seen them at Kroger’s for $2 and also on Amazon.  I can fit 3 of these packs in a Laptop Lunch tote but I usually only put 2 in for each lunch.  I only use 3 when it’s critical that the food stay cold (chicken salad, mayo on their sandwiches, etc).

One quick thing to note, if you want to pack a warm lunch inside a thermos container along with cold items (drink, fruit, salad) you may need to consider a lunch container with two separate compartments.  I own one of these which I picked up at Sam’s Club a long time ago, but I’ve seen similar lunch totes at Land’s End and online on Amazon.

I’ve come across some other lunch systems that I’d definitely like to try:

Yubo – play with your food.  Customizeable lunch system with interchangeable faceplates.  So cool!

Spencer Bento Box – by Pottery Barn, they also offer Star Wars, Batman, & Spiderman character lunch totes to carry them.

Easy Lunchboxes - super affordable 2-piece compartmentalized bento-style lunch system.  FDA approved. No BPA, phthalates, lead, vinyl, or PVC.

PlanetBox – safe & non-toxic metal lunchbox system.

Fit & Fresh containers – I had seen these at my local Krogers grocery store for less than $10.  They are a container with a built-in ice pack (inside the container) to keep your salads and fruit cold!  Also offered at online merchants.

Other Lunch containers and fun accessories:

Lunchbox Love – positive notes and fun trivia for your child’s lunchbox, backpack, or binder.

Loveable labels – Multi-purpose sticker labels.

Goodbyn - Fun compartmentalized lunch containers with stickers that the kids can customize themselves.

Em Tanner Designs – Cute customized metal lunch boxes, totes, plates, water bottles, placemats, and more!

Stuck on you – Waterproof labels for their lunch containers and more!

Character Lunch totes - also available at local retailers, such as Target, grocery stores, Walmart

Food Skins – reusable sandwich bags

Food Face plate - a fun way to get kids to create and eat their peas!

Deluxe Lunch Box - a square lunch box with individual containers

Shinzi Katoh Bento Boxes – slim Japanese-style Bento Boxes (they offer single boxes or double-decker bento box) with cute artwork.  Handwashing recommended.

Custom Sigg Water Bottles – add your own photos, designs or text to your water bottle!

Snack Happened - reusable and washable snack bags.  They also have Wet Happened reusable bags for swimwear, diapers or travel.  What a great idea!

My Two Babes – I have personally used these and love them!  They are small enough to fit on the lids of water bottles, containers, you name it.

BleuRoo – hand-crafted reusable snack bags on Etsy.  You can personalize these cuties as well!

Mika + Bu – organic cloth napkins and reusable totes.

LunchBots - stainless steel containers & lids.

Mabel’s Labels - offers allergy allert labels along with waterproof, clothing, and bag tag labels.

Napkin Origami – book with fun ideas on how to fold your napkins.

Kiddo Tags - offers custom name labels that stick to your kid’s clothing labels, toys, bottles, cups and other items.  They are Microwave and Dishwasher Safe, Waterproof, Weather-proof (UV-Resistant), Scuff-Proof, Tear-resistant,high quality and Durable Labels AKA ‘kid stickers’.

Ok, I have a ton more I could share but I don’t want to overwhelm you with the options out there to choose from!  Pick one that works best for you and your family’s lifestyle and get packin’!   For my lucky readers, I have a special giveaway for you!  Leave a comment below and one reader will be chosen at random to receive a free Easy Lunchbox to get you started on your journey!  Check out what some of her fans are having for lunch!

Next time, I’ll talk Bento box ideas!

Lunch, anyone?

Ok, let’s talk food.  [One of my all-time fave topics!]

For those that know me (or have seen my FB posts), you may have noticed I’ve recently gotten on the school lunch bandwagon.  For those that really know me, know that I am a woman of convenience and (though I am an avid cook and foodie) have not had a lot of free time to spend cooking since I’ve started my photography business almost 4 yrs ago. 

Then comes along Mr. Jamie Oliver and his extraordinary “Food Revolution” which changed my world.  Jamie tackled the school lunch program in the UK and started a national campaign to bring healthy and nutritious lunches into the school system.  “The impassioned chef, TV personality and best-selling author is determined to take on the high statistics of obesity, heart disease and diabetes in this country, where our nation’s children are the first generation not expected to live as long as their parents. Oliver is inviting viewers to take a stand and change the way America eats, in our home kitchens, schools and workplaces, with this thought-provoking new series.”

Last spring, Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution aired on ABC as he went to Huntington, West Virginia to try to make an impact on schools here in the US.  Huntington was declared one of the nation’s unhealthiest cities in a 2008 Centers for Disease Control report.  Nearly half of the adults in Huntington are obese, many adults suffer from heart disease (patients in their 30s having heart attacks and requiring open heart surgery), diabetes, and dental problems.  “Fast food has become a staple.”  They have more pizza places in Huntington than the entire state of West Virginia has gyms and health clubs.

So I guess you can say, I received a huge wake up call.  And though I may not be revolutionizing the way America eats, you can bet I can control the way my household eats.  So I made it a priority to start changing the way our family eats.  And the seed that was planted last Spring, finally started to take root and sprout for us this Fall.  I’ve been trying to cook healthy meals for my family most nights of the week and I’m commited to packing my kids’ lunches for school. 

I’d love to share everything that I’ve learned along the way…in hopes that you may join me on this journey.  I want to help encourage you, answer questions and learn from you as well.  I’ve learned and been inspired from many folks ahead of me.  And if I can help save you some time/money on things that worked and didn’t work for us, my time will be well spent.

Ok, first things first…where to start?  There are a lot of great (and free!) online resources at your disposal:

Weelicious

Laptop lunches

Parents Magazine

Just Bento

Maria’s Food and Nutrition Journal

Lunch In a Box

The Healthy Lunchbox

Martha Stewart Kid-Friendly recipes

Kid’s Lunch Box Suggestions

A couple of good reads that I’ve found:

The Healthy Lunchbox by Marie McClendon and Cristy Shauck

The Laptop Lunch User’s Guide by Amy Hemmert and Tammy Pelstring, comes with purchase of the Bento Box Set 2.0

Please know that this is something that I’m passionate about, it is not my intent to brag on how healthy we are (we have our Whataburger moments too!) and I’m not making any judgements on you and how your family is eating.  This is just something that I feel is important to my family and I’ve spent countless hours reading, researching, experimenting on what works for us.  I am still in the learning process and I would love to hear your thoughts and suggestions on what works for you!   Next week, let’s talk gear and supplies to get started!