Today’s lunch flies in the face of my healthy, not cutesy lunch philosophy. But, I couldn’t help myself. I am a complete Halloween junkie. Maybe it’s the dress up, the macabre, the pagan undertones, the candles, the spooks, the pumpkins, the candy, a Catholic preoccupation with the dead—who knows? As a kid I was obsessed with Halloween. As a 20-something designer in Chicago, I spend months fabricating elaborate costumes, because there was always something fabulous to do on Halloween. If not, I brought my own fabulous. Now, with kids, Halloween is beyond awesome, because—guess what?—my kids are crazed for Halloween. I had to honor their love of All Hallow’s Eve with a Spooktacular Halloween Lunch. The inside-out mummy sandwich is smoked turkey and mayo on whole wheat with a fresh mozzarella wrapping. I used a small biscuit cutter to make the circular head. The arms are pieces of fresh mozzarella cheese sticks. Mr. Mummy is lying on a bed of nori seaweed snacks (nori is also the dark stuff behind his eyes). The jack o’lantern is sliced persimmon with chocolate chips glued on with a little cream cheese. When I got to the celery, I ran out of steam. I was intending to make little snake eyes with freeze dried strawberries, but it was time for bedtime stories, so the cucumber is just cucumber. I have no idea if this lunch will survive the trip to school intact, so I let the kids take a sneak peek. Happy Halloween.
I love a good sandwich and today’s is a kid favorite: smoked turkey (try to find the most minimally processed kind), sharp cheddar, dill pickles, and mayo on whole wheat. The only thing to improve this sandwich would be the addition of a little mustard, but the kids are still working on mustard. They have accepted “secret sauce” (mustard and ketchup mixed together), but plain mustard is still too, well, mustardy for them. We’ll get there. I probably didn’t eat mustard until I was 30. Seriously. As a kid, I’d freak out if there was a drop of mustard on my hamburger. The only condiment I ate as a kid was ketchup. No mayo, no Miracle Whip, no relish, no salsa, no salad dressing, no nothing. My kids are much more adventurous when it comes to condiments. Anyways, back to lunch. There are some whole wheat pretzel twists on the side. Veggies today are sweet red pepper, carrots, and little cucumbers. Those gorgeous dayglow half moons are fuyu persimmon slices, which are starting to show up at the farmers market. If you’re thinking “persimmons, ick,” it’s important to know that Fuyu persimmons are non-astringent and don’t make your mouth pucker like hachiya persimmons. You learn these things when you live in California. The treat is a mix of freshly roasted pumpkin seeds and candy coated chocolate sunflower seeds.
Monday’s lunch is pumpkinlicious: Greek yogurt swirled with pumpkin butter and topped with homemade granola. The granola is nut-free for Iain’s peanut-free zone. In lieu of nuts, I added sunflower seeds and pepitas to the granola. Pepitas are little green pumpkin seeds that are commonly used in Mexican cooking as an ingredient in mole sauces. I understand that pepitas are also a good source of protein and iron—what a wonderful little food. In addition to the pumpkin yogurt parfait, we have extra sharp white cheddar with honey whole wheat pretzel twists, cucumbers and grapes. Aren’t those cucumber slices adorable? Yesterday at the farmers market, a super nice lady gave me three skinny little cucumbers. I don’t know what variety they are, but they are virtually seedless and really yummy.
Today’s lunch is kind of a crazy combo. The muffin is whole wheat bran banana sweetened with honey and—I couldn’t resist—some chocolate chips. It’s yummy and reasonably healthy. The little container contains plain Greek yogurt with homemade granola (sweetened with maple syrup, pureed dates and a little coconut oil—crazy good). Because I’m an indulgent bon vivant on Fridays, I even squeezed a little honey on top of the granola. I confess that the Strawberries and Cream Laughing Cow cheese was a total impulse buy. I have no idea how it tastes and am curious to see if the kids like it. That brown blob is a tasty medjool date. By the way, I love the word medjool. For a little veggie action, we have sweet red peppers and carrots. Grapes and strawberries finish off this eclectic lunch.
This week I’ve been dealing with a case of strep (Lily) and my own sore throat issues. I love a nice bowl of Tom Kai soup when I’m feeling a little under the weather. That meant that last night was a Thai Boat night. As usual, the meal did not disappoint. I always get two orders of Pad See Ew tofu because, well, we are a family of Pad See Ew fiends. Today, the kids (and the parents—yippie!) get to have a little leftover Pad See Ew for lunch. The rest of lunch is pretty sweet: apple cinnamon multigrain snacks, strawberries, oranges and Halloween fruit snacks. The apple cinnamon multigrain snacks have a texture similar to Funyuns®, which means they are a bit like eating air. Sweet cinnamony air.
I had two little whole wheat rolls left over from last night’s dinner, hence, today’s pizza bread. I split the rolls in half and topped them with a thin layer or marinara sauce, homemade pesto, and shredded mozzarella. About 15 minutes in a 375˚ degree oven = melty goodness. Fruits and veggies today are: carrots, sweet red peppers, plums and strawberries. Mmm, this lunch looks much better than mine: a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
Today’s sandwich is an oily little fish powerhouse: smashed sardines (lightly smoked, packed in oil), sweet pickle relish, mustard, and mayo. We are a fish loving household and the kids will eat pretty much anything with scales and a tail. Sardines are a great alternative to tuna—they are tiny little fish, low on the food chain, so mercury contamination is not a concern (or, so I’ve read). I’ve also included honey whole wheat pretzel twists and farmers market fruit (strawberries and grapes). For the treat: Halloween fruit snacks from Target. “Fruit” snacks is a bit of a misnomer. They should just call them gummies.
Behold the chickenless chicken nugget: a strange, processed soy product I picked up at Trader Joe’s. I usually try to avoid such faux meat products, but sometimes the kids just want something fried and crunchy served with a big ol’ pile of tater tots. I’m pretty sure that tater tots are the devil, because, well, they are certainly very very bad, yet strangely irresistible. I dare you to not eat a tater tot should one appear in front of you. But, I digress. The chickenless nuggets are accompanied by sliced colby jack cheese, multigrain crackers and pretzel slims. This week’s farmers market goodies are: strawberries, plums, and grapes.
Lately, I’ve become mildly obsessed with overnight oats—oats that are soaked overnight in milk, then eaten cold in the morning. Cold oatmeal may sound kind of weird, so just think of it as muesli (Europeans have been doing this soaked oat thing for years). I’ve tried different versions of overnight oats, usually with bananas, vanilla almond milk, and chia seeds as a starting point. The basic ratio is 1 part oats to 3 parts milk. This is the first time I’ve made overnight oats with a green smoothie (bananas, spinach and vanilla almond milk) as the soaking liquid. Isn’t the color amazing? I sprinkled some unsweetened coconut and a tiny bit of maple syrup on top. I used very ripe bananas, so these oats really don’t need any additional sweetener. Whole grains, fruit and leafy greens all in one bowl—these oats are plant power to the max. For the junk food portion: Goldfish and sugar cereal. Hey, I’m not perfect.
*UnCooking Tip: Green Overnight Oats
- two ripe bananas (the riper the better)
- two big handfuls of spinach
- 2-1/2 – 3 cups of almond milk
- 1 cup rolled oats
- 2 tablespoons chia seeds
- unsweetened shredded coconut (optional)
Combine bananas, spinach and almond milk in a blender. Stir green smoothie into the oats and chia seeds. The mixture will look really watery. Put in a covered bowl and let sit overnight in the fridge. In the morning, the oats and chia seeds will have absorbed the liquid and should be nice and thick. Sprinkle on shredded coconut for a little crunch. This makes a big portion of oats—probably enough for two adults and two kids.
On today’s lunch menu: spinach pizza roll-ups on fancy schmancy blue corn flax seed tortillas. I love fancy schmancy tortillas. I made the rookie mistake of overfilling my pizza roll-ups and they got slightly oozy. I always forget that you need about half the filling you think you need on tortilla wrap roll-up thingies. But, no matter, the ooziness actually looks pretty yummy. For a veggie serving, I went with edamame, because I fear my kids may be suffering from sliced carrot fatigue. For fruit, I mixed in some oranges from our trees (yes, this is a California luxury) with plums and grapes.
*Cooking Tip: Spinach Pizza Roll-ups
- marinara sauce
- fresh spinach leaves
- shredded mozzarella cheese
- whole grain tortillas
Spread a thin layer of your favorite marinara sauce on a tortilla. Place spinach leaves on top and sprinkle with cheese. Microwave for about 30 seconds, or until the cheese is melted and the spinach is slightly wilted. Roll up and let cool. You can slice these into little cute sushi-style rolls or keep them whole and serve burrito-style.
Today’s lunch features, not one, but two salads of awesomeness. Several weeks ago, I made a veggie-laden tuna salad of awesomeness. This week, I got a hankering for a tuna panini dinner, and, hence, the leftover tuna in today’s sandwiches. This tuna salad has finely chopped red cabbage, carrots, and fennel; I also added some smoked herring just to kick it up to the stratosphere of awesomeness. It may sound strange, but my kids actually love oily little fish. They eat sardines straight out of the tin. No lie. As a result, I often add either herring or sardines to tuna salad. Mmm, good. The fruit salad of awesomeness has pretty pomegranate seeds, grapes, cantaloupe and plum. I threw in a few pretzel slims, because I love a little crunch with my sandwich.
I was looking through some of my old Donna Hay cookbooks and I got the inspiration for today’s lunch. Donna Hay is kind of like the Australian Martha Stewart. I discovered her gorgeous cookbooks years ago when I was visiting my awesome friends Tom and Vaneeta in Queensland. I brought two cookbooks home and then a few years later, much to my delight, Donna Hay books started showing up at Barnes and Noble. This lovely quesadilla is from New Fast Food, which has a great little section on easy snack and lunch ideas. The quesadilla has pinto beans, feta cheese, mozzarella, and salsa (Donna calls this chili sauce, which I took to mean salsa); it’s cooked under weight (I used a small cast iron skillet) so the beans get nice and smashed and all the ingredients intermingle in a lovely way. The pinto beans were left over from a pot I cooked on Sunday, when we had grilled fish tacos. Veggies are tomatoes from our garden and carrots from the farmers market. The fruit tray has watermelon and grapes, also from the farmers market. The watermelon is dry farmed around here, which seems impossible but results in a super sweet melon.