There is nothing particularly remarkable about this lunch, except that it is the last Friday lunch for Iain. The kids are giddy and I’m ready for a break from the morning chaos that happens on school days. And, in all honesty, I’m slightly weary of packing lunches. As much as I love coming up with fun and creative new things to pack for lunch, it can be exhausting—even for a food junkie like me. But, I will power through the last few days of lunch making.
Today for lunch, I made tuna salad sandwiches with lots of dill and sweet gherkins. Lately, I’ve been using Dave’s Killer Bread for sandwiches and toast. It’s good stuff, and the kids love it. The trail mix is a combination of Pretzel Goldfish, Parmesan Goldfish and raw almonds. And the fruit, glorious fruit, is from the farmers market: sweet nectarines and strawberries.
Yesterday I made a batch of banana carob chia pudding, because it’s always a hit for lunch. This time I added a little flaxseed oil to the pudding, just because flaxseed oil is a yummy way to get some omega-3s. Honestly, I don’t know exactly what omega-3s do, but I have heard that such essential fatty acids are really really good for you. So there you have it: a chocolatey tasting pudding that is healthy enough to play the starring role in a kid lunch. Plus, it’s vegan! And, I just love hard boiled eggs—aren’t they photogenic? Alas, they are not vegan. Fresh nectarines and strawberries from the farmers market finish off today’s lunch.
Banana Carob Chia Pudding with Flaxseed Oil
1 cup almond milk
1 banana (the riper the better)
1 heaping tablespoon carob powder
1 tablespoon flaxseed oil
1 tablespoon sunflower seed butter
1 tablespoon protein powder (optional)
2 tablespoons chia seeds
small drizzle of maple syrup taste
Combine all ingredients, except chia seeds, in a blender. Stir in the chia seeds, cover and refrigerate overnight. DThe chia seeds will plump up overnight and the pudding will be nice and thick in the morning. This recipe makes enough for about two kid portions.
Today Iain’s 2nd grade class is going on a field trip to the SLO Botanical Garden, which is one of the hottest, dustiest botanical gardens around. But, no matter—the kids will be so excited to get out of the classroom for most of the day. Parents were instructed to send a sack lunch and Iain told me: “It has to be in a sack, Mom. Keep it simple.” A field trip sack lunch is actually kind of hard, because it has to withstand the heat without an insulated bag/ice pack, it will inevitably get crushed in the backpack or in transit, and everything in the lunch has to be disposable. And because Iain is in “the allergy classroom,” no peanuts or peanut products allowed. This is clearly not my usual lunch packing style, which involves complicated food neatly arranged in little compartments with a fork, spoon and cloth napkin. Sometimes simple things are a challenge for me.
The sack lunch contains the following:
half a sunflower seed and lingonberry jam sandwich, in a snack baggie
a little snack baggie filled with Goldfish and honey wheat pretzel sticks
a little snack baggie filled with blueberries that we picked over the weekend at Cal Poly
a homemade energy bar wrapped in waxed paper
a granny smith apple—no plastic required
a teeny tiny bottle of water
Geez, that’s a lot of snack baggies. I meant to throw in a paper napkin, but I think I forgot.
And for decorations on the bag, a Pea Shooter from Plants vs. Zombies:
If you live with an 8 year old boy, you are probable quite familiar with Plants Vs. Zombies, which is actually a pretty awesomely cute game.
I don’t know what it is about Memorial Day weekend, but it makes the following week extra difficult. The kiddos have end of the school year fever and they are just not into the school routine anymore. Next week is the last week of school for them and they can just taste summer vacation in the air.
But, lunch making continues—at least for a few more days. Tuesday’s lunch was a ham and cheese sandwich with dill pickles on a little slider bun, served with a nice heaping portion of Parmesan Goldfish (the finest Goldfish flavor, in my opinion). That treat in the middle is a little mini donut muffin that I made with some leftover donut batter from breakfast on Monday. I am in the process of trying to perfect my baked donut recipe. I’ll report back once I’ve figured it out.
Clearly, I was in awesome mom mode yesterday when I whipped up this lunch: french toast stuffed with Nutella and blueberries. Have you ever made stuffed french toast? It’s not really stuffed—it’s just a sweet sandwich dipped in egg batter and fried in butter. I’m getting hungry just thinking about it.
You start by slathering some Nutella on nice, whole grain bread. Then sprinkle on some blueberries—fresh, frozen, or any other berries/fruit you have on hand.
Whisk an egg (about one egg per sandwich) with a little milk and cinnamon. Dip your sandwich in the egg batter, making sure that it is coated on all sides. Be sure to use a bowl that is too small, so you have to squish your sandwich into it. That’s what I do.
Fry the egg-dipped sandwich in a little butter. Use medium low heat—stuffed french toast is thick, so you want to cook it low and slow.
When the toast is golden brown on both sides, it is done and ready to be served (or cooled and packed in a lunch):
It took every shred of willpower I had not to devour this french toast after taking the photo above. It’s just oozing with warm Nutella goodness. And because this is a “My Mom is Awesome” lunch, I also packed some Angie’s Sweet & Salty Kettle Corn:
Crazy good, that’s what Angie’s popcorn is. And isn’t the packaging delightful? Run to your nearest Target and pick up a bag. If you like sweet and salty crunchy stuff, you’ll think you’ve died and gone to heaven.
For some reason, when it starts to get hot outside, plain old cold water just doesn’t seem refreshing enough. You need lemonade, iced tea, something fruity, something minty, or maybe something sparkling. Last Saturday at the farmers market I bought a golden beet pineapple ginger chia seed juice (it may sound bizarre, but it was really good) and it inspired me to go home and whip up a refreshing chia seed cooler for the kiddos.
I started with some citrus, but you could use any fruit that is super juicy—watermelon or really ripe pineapple would work well.
If you are using citrus, you will want to juice it. I ended up with about 2 cups of juice. If you are using something like melon, just throw it in the blender.
Then you can add any type of fruit you have around. I used strawberries:
Then add a little grated ginger because it’s good for you and super refreshing in a cool drink. I learned an awesome trick years ago from Rachel Ray: store your fresh ginger in the freezer and it is super easy to grate. Plus, you don’t end up with a chunk of moldy ginger at the bottom of your crisper drawer.
Then get a few sprigs of fresh mint.
Toss everything into a blender and blend it up.
Once everything is blended, add the equivalent amount of cold water. Taste the juice/water mix. If it’s too tart, add a little sweetener. I was going for a less sweet version of a Mexican agua fresca—not too watery, but not too juicy either. Pour the juice mix into a container and add about a tablespoon of chia seeds.
Stir the chia seeds into the juice mix. For some insane reason, I always use a super long chopstick for this.
Chill the chia seed cooler for at least an hour, so the chia seeds can absorb some of the liquid and work their chia magic. Supposedly, chia seeds are super hydrating, so, in theory, you’ll feel great after a tall glass of chia seed cooler:
Lunch today is a kid favorite: hummus with crackers and veggies. I also threw in some tropical trail mix with: almonds, banana chips, dried pineapple, dried cherries, dried papaya, mini dark chocolate chips and white chocolate chips. Without the white chocolate chips, this lunch would be completely vegan.
Yogurt cream cheese is delicious stuff. It’s basically yogurt that has been strained until it is thick and spreadable. If you strain yogurt for an hour or so, you’ll get Greek yogurt. If you strain yogurt overnight, you’ll get yogurt cheese. The process is super simple.
Start with good yogurt:
My favorite yogurt is Trader Joe’s Organic Plain Whole Milk Yogurt, because it tastes amazing: rich and creamy with a good amount of yogurt sourness. Also, look at the ingredients:
There’s no junk or weird stuff of gelatin in this yogurt: just milk and yogurt cultures. Mmm, I feel healthy just looking at this label.
Scoop some of your delicious wholesome yogurt into a strainer lined with a coffee filter. Set the strainer over a bowl or measuring cup.
Let the yogurt strain for about 8 hours (all day or overnight). I usually just leave it on the counter all night. However, if your home is very warm and/or potentially bug-infested (that would describe my first apartment in Chicago), or if you have a yogurt-loving cat, you might want to put the yogurt strainer contraption in the fridge.
When the yogurt is nice and thick, scoop it into a little container and store it in the fridge. The liquid that comes out of the yogurt is whey. It’s supposedly good for you, so use it in a smoothie. Or, if you’re bold, try drinking it straight.
The consistency of yogurt cheese will be similar to whipped or spreadable cream cheese. I love it on toast. The kiddos love it on toast. You will love it on toast.
And, if you happen to have an amazing jam-making, triathlete, philosopher, business ethics professor friend who sends you a jar of freshly make peach apricot jam, slather that on your toast as well.
The last time I made pizza rolls—little bun-sized calzones, really—I froze half of them to have on hand for days when I want to make a quick lunch. Take a pizza roll out of the freezer, let it thaw for a day, and pop it in the lunchbox. I had a tiny bit of quinoa in the fridge, so I combined it with some edamame, dried apricot and a little salad dressing (basic homemade vinaigrette) to make a mini power salad. Stone fruit season is in full swing on the central coast of California, so the kiddos get to enjoy some white nectarines and apricots today. Pretzel slims and sweet potato tortilla chips are a random, but delicious, salty crunchy side dish.
These little lunch burritos are filled with one of my favorite tofu taco filling concoctions, which has a mix of extra firm tofu, black beans, red potatoes, kale, onions, nutritional yeast and cilantro. The filling is vegan, but I did use a little real cheese to glue the burritos together, because I didn’t want a falling-apart-burrito-catastrophe at school. The kiddos love tofu burritos. They also love bean burritos and chicken burritos and carne asada burritos—they are equal opportunity burrito lovers. I decided to serve these burritos with some sweet potato tortilla chips (yum!) and salsa. The gorgeous strawberries are from the farmers market.
I make green smoothies for breakfast almost every day. For some reason, when I have a green smoothie, I need less coffee. It must be the power of the kale. This past year, I’ve also been sending green smoothies to Lily’s preschool class whenever we have snack duty. The kids just love them. Here’s the process for making a big batch of kid-friendly green smoothies:
Add 2 cups of juice to the Vitamix. Apple juice is great for smoothies on the sweeter side. Lately, I’ve been using fresh squeezed orange juice, because we have so many oranges on our trees.
Add about 2 cups of milk to the blender. I usually use almond milk.
Add a nice big pile of frozen bananas. You could also use fresh bananas, but frozen bananas have magical properties and will make the smoothie extra thick and creamy. Every few days I cut up more bananas to replenish my frozen supply.
Now the blender will look like this:
Add some more fruit. For the preschool kids I like to add pineapple because it’s so sweet that it will completely obliterate any earthy kale flavor. Mango is also good.
Now, top the blender off with a big handful of kale or spinach. Pull the stems off if they are really thick. This big blender full of goodness is for a class of 15 preschool kids and their two teachers. Can you believe that the Vitamix can completely pulverize all this? It’s incredible, truly incredible.
And here is the glorious finished product:
When I make smoothies for just us, I use the same process but I start with 2 cups of liquid which I load up with fruit and greens. This makes two grownup portions and two kid portions.
Lunch is pretty light today, because it’s starting to get hot here, and the kiddos aren’t nearly as ravenous on hot days. The little sandwich has smoked turkey, thinly sliced Dubliner cheese, dill pickles and mayo. The veggies—carrots and cucumber slices—are served with an itty bitty container of ranch dressing. For fruit, we have blueberries, dried apricots and a Fig Newman. Don’t worry, those colorful little things aren’t quaaludes, they’re Tic Tacs, the one and a half calorie breath mint.