Happy Day After Halloween

halloween lunch with mini mummy pizzas

My favorite Halloween treats to make for the kiddos are these adorable mini mummy pizzas. They take a few more minutes to make than the standard sandwich, but they’re well worth the effort. I typically use sweet, soft King’s Hawaiian rolls, which are sliced in half and layered with marinara sauce, string cheese and sliced black olives for the eyes. Aren’t they adorable?

mini mummy pizza

This will make packing lunches a little faster.

Usually I’m not crazy about pre-made guacamole because it tends to taste way too smooth, citrusy and chemical tasting. Imagine my surprise when I tasted Wholly Guacamole at my neighborhood Costco and discovered that it’s actually delicious. Even though I’m not a fan of single serving type packaging (wasteful, bad for the earth, too much plastic, blah, blah, blah), I have to admit that Wholly Guacamole Minis are the perfect lunch box item.

wholly guacamole

Today, I made lunches in a flash thanks to these little guacamole packs.

lunch on 30 Oct 2017: chips, guacamole, cheese stick, pineapple guava, dried pineapple, carrots and celery
lunch on 30 Oct 2017: chips, guacamole, cheese stick, pineapple guava, dried pineapple, carrots and celery

 

Why Sliders Are the Best

turkey slider with cheese

When I was in high school, I loved to eat a plate of sliders and fries at this place in Omaha called The Diner. It was, well, a charming little diner with classic diner food. Ever since I discovered those mini burgers, I’ve been obsessed with sliders. I don’t even know where the term “sliders” originated. I should do some research on the internets.

In the meantime, I’ll just continue to have fun making different types of sliders. I love a straightforward beef and American cheese slider loaded with pickles, lettuce and Thousand Island (secret sauce) dressing. Sometimes, I’ll mix it up with turkey or pork or even salmon. The other day, I made turkey sliders with sautéed kale and mushrooms incorporated into the burgers. They were fantastic. I always try to make a few extra burgers, so I have some leftover for lunches. They’re actually delicious cold.

grownup lunch with turkey and cheese sliders served with a green salad
grownup lunch with turkey and cheese sliders served with a green salad
a kid lunch with a turkey and cheese slider, veggies, apple slices, Goldfish crackers, almonds and a chocolate eyeball treat
a kid lunch with a turkey and cheese slider, veggies, apple slices, Goldfish crackers, almonds and a chocolate eyeball treat

 

Because the Grownups Gotta Eat

a sandwich that will make you happy
a sandwich that will make you happy

I pack a lot of lunches. Luckily, as a college professor, my academic schedule is similar to my kids’ school year. That means I pretty much get to take the summer off from lunch packing. This could be one of the reasons that I’m pretty motivated to make good lunches; I get that much needed break in the summer. When I’m teaching, I often have very little time for lunch. Sometimes I eat during my office hours and sometimes I have a weird schedule like this quarter, in which I have a class that meets from 11:00 in the morning until 2:00pm (it’s a terrible class time). When I’m on campus, I pretty much always have to bring my lunch to work. Some days, I have no energy for making myself a fancy lunch once I’ve finished cobbling together a family dinner, cleaning the kitchen and making lunches for the kids. BUT, occasionally I can muster the will to pack myself a lovely sandwich—and, oh, how I love a lovely sandwich. I would be so excited to have a job in which all I did was come up with interesting sandwich combinations. Look at the gorgeous sandwich I made for my lunch today: it’s got cilantro microgreens that I discovered at the farmers market over the weekend, avocado sprinkled with chile limón seasoning, cheese, and thinly sliced grilled pork loin on sprouted wheat bread with mayo and brown mustard. I can’t wait to eat it today!

In Praised of Roasted Broccoli

roasted broccoli
roasted broccoli

My kids were never that into broccoli—that is, until I made roasted broccoli. I wouldn’t say they beg me to make it on a regular basis, but they will actually eat a delicious serving of tender, roasted broccoli. I try to buy broccoli at our local farmer’s market, because it really does taste better than your average bunch of grocery store broccoli. After reading Tamar Adler’s An Everlasting Meal, I started getting into the habit of roasting a big bunch of broccoli during the weekend. Roasting broccoli is the easiest thing ever: chop broccoli into bite-sized pieces (kids can help with this), line a sheet pan with parchment paper, toss the broccoli with olive oil and salt and pepper (and any other seasonings of your choice), and roast in a 425˚F oven for about 25 minutes. Broccoli can go from perfectly roasted to burnt in a matter of minutes, so I tend to keep an eye on it: opening the oven and stirring the broccoli ever few minutes. Once the broccoli has cooled, it will keep in the fridge for about a week. It’s super convenient to quickly heat it up as a side dish or toss it into salads or soups. The best thing about buying broccoli and immediately roasting it is that you tend to eat it before it languishes in the back of crisper drawer and becomes sad, forgotten, stinky, half rotten broccoli (we’ve all been there).

Lily chopping broccoli
Lily chopping broccoli

A Kale Salad that Kids Will Eat

I actually love kale salads. They are crunchy and filling and will last for several days in the fridge. I’ve even cracked the code and found a way to get kids to eat kale salad: make it just a little sweet with either the dressing or toppings to counteract kale’s slight bitterness.

Here’s a super delicious kale salad I made last week.

kale salad
kale salad

Versatile Kale Salad with Grains

Salad

1 cup dry grains (such as quinoa, couscous, farro, barley, wild rice etc.)
about 8 oz. of Lacinato (also called Dinosaur or Tuscan) kale
1/2 cup nuts, toasted and chopped
1/3 cup dried fruit, chopped
optional additional veggies (cooked or raw), such as: green beans, sugar snap peas, cucumber, radishes, sweet peppers etc.
fresh herbs if you have them, minced

Dressing

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon honey or maple syrup
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Cook grains and drain off any extra water.

Wash your kale and dry it well. Pull the thick stalks off of the leaves (I find this is easiest to do with my hands). Set the stalks aside. Stack the leaves and cut across them to make kale ribbons. In a large bowl, toss the kale with the grains (it’s okay if the grains are still warm).

Chop the kale stalks into small pieces. Sauté them in olive oil until they are tender. If you want to add cooked veggies to your salad, you can cook them along with the kale stalks. Salt the cooked veggies to taste and toss them in with your salad. Add the dressing and remaining ingredients and toss to mix.

Behold: One of the Best Snacks Ever

We have an overloaded snack drawer in our house. You know the one: it’s filled with random stuff like Goldfish, rice cakes, those applesauce squeezy packs, granola bars, fruit bars, etc. Sometimes, the kids forget about one of the best snacks ever: a banana.

Seriously, bananas are cheap, delicious, available everywhere, totally unprocessed, and not likely to be contaminated with pesticides due to that lovely wrapper of thick skin. They also fill you up. You can even mash them up and feed them to a baby. So, the next time your kids tell you they are starving and dinner is still two hours away, tell them to eat a banana.

one of the best snacks ever: the banana
one of the best snacks ever: the banana

Kids Making Lunch

Lily makes a kid-approved lunch.

I wish I could say that it was a regular occurrence, but one in a while, the kids do make their own lunches. They are more than capable of doing this, especially since we pretty much always have a stocked fridge and pantry. Actually, we probably have a far too stocked fridge and pantry. Here, Lily builds a lunch around one of her favorite snacks: honey whole wheat pretzels dipped in peanut butter and Nutella swirled together.

a kid made lunch of pretzels and Nutella peanut butter dip, a Chomp beef stick, pumpkin cookie, carrots and fresh figs
a kid made lunch of pretzels and Nutella peanut butter dip, a Chomp beef stick, pumpkin cookie, carrots and fresh figs

Mom Lunches

I typically feature kid lunches on this blog, but I also pack lunches for myself. My teaching schedule typically doesn’t allow for time to go out to lunch, so I frequently eat in my little windowless office—not the best ambiance, but at least the food is okay.

Here are a few of my favorite lunches from the past two weeks:

prosciutto and aged cheddar, pickles and lettuce sandwich
prosciutto and aged cheddar, pickles and lettuce sandwich with green beans and an Asian pear
grilled chicken salad with cucumbers, green beans and cashews
grilled chicken salad with cucumbers, green beans and cashews; homemade brioche and grapes
spicy fish salad sandwich (made with fish leftover from fish taco night), grapes and carrots
spicy fish salad sandwich (made with fish leftover from fish taco night), grapes and carrots
volkornbrot with avocado and pea sprouts, cucumbers with chile limón, edamame and carrots
volkornbrot with avocado and pea sprouts, cucumbers with chile limón, edamame and carrots

Anatomy of a Snacky Lunch

lunch on 15 Sept 2017: lunch on mini muffins and nibbles

I’m afraid the start of the academic quarter has made for sparse lunch posts on my part. Funny thing about teaching: it’s always a challenge, even for a class that you’ve taught for twelve years in a row. Or, maybe it’s just me. I can’t resist making new assignments, because I get bored looking at the same old thing year after year. That’s how it goes with lunch, too. If the lunches get too repetitive, the kiddos complain.

One thing they never complain about is when I make a fun, snacky lunch—a Momables lunch box, if you will. The snacky lunch is all about balance: something sweet, something crunchy, something salty, and something proteiny (I don’t think “proteiny” is a word).

Exhibit A:
lunch on 14 Sept 1017: lunch of small bites
lunch on 14 Sept 1017: lunch of small bites

If I have several little things to organize (like edamame and small slices of meat or cheese), I like to use silicone cupcake liners in the lunch box. Crackers are always de rigueur in a snacky lunch. Our favorites are good ol’ Ritz. Not the healthiest option, but I don’t make snacky lunches every day.

Exhibit B:

 

lunch on 15 Sept 2017: lunch on mini muffins and nibbles
lunch on 15 Sept 2017: lunch on mini muffins and other small stuff

Mini muffins are a great thing to build a snacky lunch around. Banana peanut butter chocolate chip muffins are definitely a kid favorite. I like to swirl a few scoops of peanut butter into the muffin batter before pouring it into a mini muffin pan. If you don’t fully incorporate the peanut butter into the batter, you get satisfying blasts of peanut butter deliciousness in every muffin. Small fruit is also great to throw into a snacky lunch: things like figs and apricots (fresh or dried).

The Basic Formula

A lunch of snacks is basically built around finger food. The formula is simple: crackers/bread + veggies (small or cut small) + fruit (bite sized or cut into chunks) + protein (meat or cheese or tofu or nuts) = a fun lunch.

 

Week 2: Crushed It!

lunch on 30 Aug 2017: grilled chicken and edamame hummus roll ups with veggies, watermelon and ginger snaps

The kids made it through the second week of school, and I’ve pretty much gotten back into the swing of lunch making. This week it was all about variety. Here are some fun lunch ideas:

Rice Cake Sandwich

Mix things up by using rice cakes instead of bread. Since rice cakes are pretty light, I threw in a hard boiled egg to power the kids through their day.

lunch on 28 Aug 2017: rice cake sandwich with peanut butter and Nutella, peanut butter filled prezels, hard boiled egg, sprouts, and apples
lunch on 28 Aug 2017: rice cake sandwich with peanut butter and Nutella, peanut butter filled pretzels, hard boiled egg, sprouts, and apples
Sandwich Bites and Bento Containers

Make a regular sandwich, but cut it into smaller pieces. Kids love small stuff. Cute silicone bento containers are perfect for holding little treats.

lunch on 29 Aug 2017: peanut butter and blueberry jam sandwiches with almonds, candy sunflower seeds, veggies and melon
lunch on 29 Aug 2017: peanut butter and blueberry jam sandwiches with almonds, candy sunflower seeds, veggies and melon
Roll It Up

Do your kids get bored with sandwiches? I know mine do. Use flatbread or a tortilla to roll up all sorts of yummy stuff. Hummus works great as a glue. So does peanut butter if you want to go sweet.

lunch on 30 Aug 2017: grilled chicken and edamame hummus roll ups with veggies, watermelon and ginger snaps
lunch on 30 Aug 2017: grilled chicken and edamame hummus roll ups with veggies, watermelon and ginger snaps
Add Something with Cute Packaging

I usually try to avoid food that is overly packaged, but some things are just too cute to pass up like GoGo Squeezes. They are kind of like baby food, but my big kids still like them.

lunch on 31 Aug 2017: peanut butter, Nutella and banana sandwich with peach applesauce, apples, and veggies
lunch on 31 Aug 2017: peanut butter, Nutella and banana sandwich with peach applesauce, apples, and veggies
Make a Sliders

My kids are crazy for any sandwich made on King’s Hawaiian sweet rolls, which are so soft and delicious. Every sandwich is more fun when it’s slider-sized.lunch on 1 Sept 2017: pepperoni and cheese sliders with veggies, white nectarines, and Goldfish grahams with candy coated chocolate sunflower seeds

lunch on 1 Sept 2017: pepperoni and cheese sliders with veggies, white nectarines, and Goldfish grahams with candy coated chocolate sunflower seeds

And Just Like That, It’s Another School Year

lunch on 24 Aug 2017: ham and guacamole pocket with pea sprouts and red pepper, peanut butter filled pretzels, plums and apples

I can’t believe that the lazy days of summer are over and the kids have been in school for a full week. I am full of optimism for this new school year. I now have a 4th grader and a 7th grader (first time middle schooler!), so I feel like an old pro at lunch making.

Here is how the first week went:

lunch on 21 Aug 2017: peanut butter, Nutella and banana sandwich with carrots, lipstick peppers, and an apple
lunch on 21 Aug 2017: peanut butter, Nutella and banana sandwich with carrots, lipstick peppers, and an apple

I’ll admit that the first day of school snuck up on me. It was the day after my daughter’s dance recital and it coincided with the epic solar eclipse (which wasn’t so epic here), so there was a lot going on. For lunch, I stuck to a classic combination: peanut butter, Nutella and banana (quite possibly the greatest sandwich ever) with some crunchy veggies and a little farmers market apple.

lunch on 22 Aug 2017: ham, cheese and sprouts sandwich with carrots and plums
lunch on 22 Aug 2017: ham, cheese and sprouts sandwich with carrots and plums

On Tuesday, my son actually tried school lunch for the first time ever. He was underwhelmed by the “street tacos” so I’m not sure if he will by buying lunch at the middle school too often. For Lily’s lunch, I made a ham and cheese sandwich with butter and pea sprouts.

lunch on 23 Aug 2017: edamame hummus and sprouts sandwich with salami, lipstick pepper, plums, nectarines, Goldfish and almonds.
lunch on 23 Aug 2017: edamame hummus and sprouts sandwich with salami, lipstick pepper, plums, nectarines, Goldfish and almonds

My kids are crazy about these salami sticks that come in two-pack at Trader Joe’s, so I typically throw them into a lunch at least once a week. On Wednesday, I also included a little sandwich with edamame and hummus, half a super sweet lipstick pepper, some plums and nectarines and parmesan Goldfish with almonds.

lunch on 24 Aug 2017: ham and guacamole pocket with pea sprouts and red pepper, peanut butter filled pretzels, plums and apples
lunch on 24 Aug 2017: ham and guacamole pocket with pea sprouts and red pepper, peanut butter filled pretzels, plums and apples

I was motivated to try something a little different for lunch on Thursday. I folded a tortilla around some sliced ham and guacamole to make a little pocket of yumminess (a little cheese glues the edges together). These were a big hit with the kids, so I think I’ll be making more tortilla pockets in the future.

lunch on 25 Aug 2017: pretzel bread with sprouts and grilled fish, carrots, plums, Goldfish and almonds
lunch on 25 Aug 2017: pretzel bread with sprouts and grilled fish, carrots, plums, Goldfish and almonds

On Friday, the lucky kiddos got sandwiches made on pretzel bread filled with leftover grilled cod fish and sprouts. How yummy does that sound? Whew, we survived the first week of school.