And Just Like That: The End of School

lunch on 6 June 2017: teriyaki tofu and cucumbers with sweet chili sauce on King's Hawaiian rolls, baby carrots, mango banana chia pudding, and grapes

I still can’t believe it: the school year is over. It’s been a long slog this year, but we survived it. I’m actually relieved to get a break from lunch packing. I was starting to run out of inspiration as the school year wound down. I’ll be using the summer to get my lunch packing groove back and to try to master the art of choux pastry.

Here are some of the favorite kid lunches from the last two weeks of school:

last day of school lunch: pita pizzas with papaya, nectarine, Trader Joe's dark chocolate Nutty Bites and Reese's Pieces (special treat!)
last day of school lunch: pita pizzas with papaya, nectarine, Trader Joe’s dark chocolate Nutty Bites and Reese’s Pieces (special treat!)
lunch on 6 June 2017: teriyaki tofu and cucumbers with sweet chili sauce on King's Hawaiian rolls, baby carrots, mango banana chia pudding, and grapes
lunch on 6 June 2017: teriyaki tofu and cucumbers with sweet chili sauce on King’s Hawaiian rolls, baby carrots, mango banana chia pudding, and grapes
cantaloupe, donut peach, fennel, mini peanut butter banana chocolate chip muffins, grilled chicken and salami sticks
lunch on 31 May 2017: cantaloupe, donut peach, fennel, mini peanut butter banana chocolate chip muffins, grilled chicken and salami sticks
lunch on 1 June 2017: peanut butter, Nutella and bananas on homemade challah, grapes, cherries, kiwi and baby carrots
lunch on 1 June 2017: peanut butter, Nutella and bananas on homemade challah, grapes, cherries, kiwi and baby carrots
lunch on 5 June 2017: cantaloupe, grapes, Cheez-It snack mix, salami sticks for Iain and mortadella wrapped around cheese and sprouts for Lily
lunch on 5 June 2017: cantaloupe, grapes, Cheez-It snack mix, salami sticks for Iain and mortadella wrapped around cheese and sprouts for Lily

 

Variety and Teriyaki Pork Tenderloin

lunch on 17 May 2017: teriyaki pork tenderloin, cheddar cheese, pretzel thins, donut peach, apricot, kiwi and purple carrots

I just love our new Monday morning routine in which the kids pack their own lunches. This week, I asked Lily to pack me a snack and she made me a beautifully organized container or cherries and carrots, complete with an encouraging “You’re Awesome” Post-it note. I love that kid.

Lily making her lunch and a snack for mom
Lily making her lunch and a snack for mom

Lunches for the rest of the week were full of variety. For Tuesday’s lunch I made little salami pizza’s on honey whole wheat English muffins.

lunch on 16 May 2017: English muffin pizza with salami, carrots, grape tomatoes and kiwi
lunch on 16 May 2017: English muffin pizza with salami, carrots, grape tomatoes and kiwi

Wednesday’s lunch contained lots of fruit along with cheese, pretzels and leftover pork tenderloin. I love how fast pork tenderloin cooks. I marinated two pork tenderloins in teriyaki sauce (Soy Vay®) and roasted them in a 500˚F oven for 20 minutes (be sure to line a baking sheet with parchment paper or you’ll be left with a sticky, burnt mess when cooking at this high temperature). They were perfectly tender and juicy. With rice and some quick sautéed mushrooms and sugar snaps, it was a perfect dinner with plenty leftover for both grownup and kid lunches.

lunch on 17 May 2017: teriyaki pork tenderloin, cheddar cheese, pretzel thins, donut peach, apricot, kiwi and purple carrots
lunch on 17 May 2017: teriyaki pork tenderloin, cheddar cheese, pretzel thins, donut peach, apricot, kiwi and purple carrots

On Thursday, the kids requested a “sandwich tasting” for lunch. These little King’s Hawaiian rolls have 1) Nutella, 2) butter and strawberry jam, and 3) crunchy peanut butter and marshmallow Fluff.

lunch on 18 May 2017: mini sweet sandwiches, pistachios, carrots, cherries and mango
lunch on 18 May 2017: mini sweet sandwiches, pistachios, carrots, cherries and mango

The last lunch of the week has some oranges that I picked last night in the dark (ripe, luckily), kiwi, carrots and a mini sandwich with mortadella, pork and cheddar. What a yummy end to the week.

lunch on 19 May 2017: pork and cheese mini sandwich, oranges, kiwi and carrots
lunch on 19 May 2017: pork and cheese mini sandwich, oranges, kiwi and carrots

A Week of Lunch Inspiration

lunch on 10 May 2017: little turkey, cheese and dill pickle sandwiches with mini bell peppers, honeydew, Goldfish and pistachios

This was a pretty good week of lunches for the kiddos: lots of variety and plenty of delicious fruit. We got some particularly delicious mangoes and a big, sweet honeydew that the kids have enjoyed throughout the week.

Lily makes here lunch: pita with edamame hummus, purple carrots and grilled chicken, salami sticks, more carrots, orange slices and chunks of mango
Lily makes her lunch: pita with edamame hummus, purple carrots and grilled chicken, salami sticks, more carrots, orange slices and chunks of mango
lunch on 9 May 2017: pizza bread on King's Hawaiian sweet rolls, mango and carrots
lunch on 9 May 2017: pizza bread on King’s Hawaiian sweet rolls, mango and carrots
lunch on 10 May 2017: little turkey, cheese and dill pickle sandwiches with mini bell peppers, honeydew, Goldfish and pistachios
lunch on 10 May 2017: little turkey, cheese and dill pickle sandwiches with mini bell peppers, honeydew, Goldfish and pistachios
lunch on 11 May 2017: rice salad with ham, tofu, cherry tomatoes and butter lettuce with seaweed, honeydew and Goldfish trail mix
lunch on 11 May 2017: rice salad with ham, tofu, cherry tomatoes, edamame, and butter lettuce with seaweed, honeydew and Goldfish trail mix
lunch on 12 May 2017: peanut butter, Nutella and bananas on flat bread with mango and honeydew
lunch on 12 May 2017: peanut butter, Nutella and bananas on flat bread with mango and honeydew

How to Make Lunches for the Whole Family Without Going Insane

lunch for the whole family on 3 May 2017: fluffernutters with honeydew and veggies for the kids, peanut butter and strawberry jam sandwiches for the grownups

I actually don’t possess the secret for making lunches every week without going insane. Some days it seems impossible to balance work, kid activities, exercise, cooking, and errands/chores. Typically, my lunch-making strategy is to pack lunches while I’m cleaning up the kitchen after dinner. That way I’m not making a mess twice. I always have more energy for packing lunches early in the week—by Thursday night, I’m often a hopeless mess. But, miraculously, work gets done, the kids do their homework, dinner gets on the table, and the lunches do get made. I even occasionally get motivated to make decent lunches for the adults in the house.

kid lunch on 1 May 2017: chocolate chip brioche rolls, salami sticks, watermelon and colorful carrots
kid lunch on 1 May 2017: chocolate chip brioche rolls, salami sticks, watermelon and colorful carrots
lunch for the grownup on 1 May 2017: sandwiches made with leftover grilled pork, smoked turkey, cheese, and butter letter; roasted potatoes and watermelon salad
lunch for the grownups on 1 May 2017: sandwiches made with leftover grilled pork, smoked turkey, cheese, and butter letter; roasted potatoes and watermelon salad
lunch on 2 May 2017: fruit salad (watermelon, mango, strawberries, and apples), pancake muffins with jam and chocolate chips, and Goldfish trail mix
lunch on 2 May 2017: fruit salad (watermelon, mango, strawberries, and apples), pancake muffins with jam and chocolate chips, and Goldfish trail mix
lunch for the whole family on 3 May 2017: fluffernutters with honeydew and veggies for the kids, peanut butter and strawberry jam sandwiches for the grownups
lunch for the whole family on 3 May 2017: fluffernutters with honeydew and veggies for the kids, peanut butter and strawberry jam sandwiches for the grownups

In Praise of the Bread Machine

a loaf of challah fresh out of the oven

A bread machine is one of those big bulky kitchen appliances that I never imagined would be an essential item in my house—that was, until I got a bread machine. I love this thing. The loaves that bake in the machine are a little funky in size: tall and puffy with a hole in the bottom from the mixing device. But, the kids don’t complain: they love fresh, warm bread. The thing that I really love about the bread machine is that it mixes dough perfectly. We use every week to make pizza dough: dump the ingredients in and the dough is ready in 45 minutes. All it needs is a short rest and then it’s ready to roll out.

I’ve also discovered that the bread machine can make lots of other doughs, including enriched doughs for brioche, sweet rolls, pan de muerto and challah. Look at this beauty I made yesterday:

a loaf of challah fresh out of the oven
a loaf of challah fresh out of the oven

And here is today’s school lunch, featuring that lovely bread:

challah with Nutella and jam, pistachios, baby carrots and strawberries
challah with Nutella and jam, pistachios, baby carrots and strawberries

Getting Kids in the Kitchen, or, Outside of the Kitchen

learning the proper way to remove a slider from the grill

I’m continually trying to come up with ways to get my kids interested in food prep and cooking. Some days it’s easier than others and I don’t try to force it if they’re not feeling it. A few days ago, my husband decided to give Iain, who is almost 12, a little grilling lesson. This kid LOVES burgers. And, he also loves fire, so it was a perfect combination. We made sliders, which are especially kid-friendly in terms of both flipping and eating.

Iain gets slightly smoked out while grilling
Iain gets slightly smoked out while grilling
Iain gets an audience
Iain gets an audience
learning the proper way to remove a slider from the grill
learning the proper way to remove a slider from the grill

The best part about making sliders: serving them for lunch the next day. The kids said they were delicious cold. Too bad there weren’t enough leftovers for me to have some for my lunch.

lunch with fruit, carrots, pretzel thins and a mini cheeseburger
lunch with fruit, carrots, pretzel thins and a mini cheeseburger

In Praise of Strawberries and Fancy Sandwiches

crazy big strawberry from the SLO Farmers Market

Here at Love and Lunch Corporate Headquarters, we have had a rough couple of weeks (a month?) of sicknesses working their way through the office. As a result, I haven’t been keeping up to date with my lunch posts. But, rest assured, we have been eating. And eating quite well, I might add. I was thinking about this as I made sandwiches for the kiddos last night. I took sandwich requests (always a mistake), so I had to make two different types for today’s lunch: one with mortadella and the other with roast beef. Making these fancy sandwiches made me reflect on my own childhood of bologna, American cheese (Kraft singles), and ketchup (Heinz, please) sandwiches. Yep, that atrocious combo was my favorite. My kids definitely have way better taste than I ever did at their ages.

sandwiches made to order: mortadella, cheddar and sprouts for Princess and roast beef, cheddar, a few sprouts and dill pickle relish for Big Dude
sandwiches made to order: mortadella, cheddar and sprouts for Princess and roast beef, cheddar, a few sprouts and dill pickle relish for Big Dude

Of course, I didn’t grow up in California (except for a brief stint in kindergarten when Dad was stationed at March AFB), land of plenty. I mean just look at this strawberry:

crazy big strawberry from the SLO Farmers Market
crazy big strawberry from the SLO Farmers Market

My kids are so lucky to have year-round access to such amazing produce. It makes it a lot easier to pack reasonably healthy lunches when you always have delicious fruit and veggies on hand. Here is a round-up of some recent lunches. Almost all the produce is from the SLO Farmers Market. Yum, yum and more yum.

lunch on 13 Mar 2017: carrots, apple slices and strawberries with mini peanut butter and jam sandwiches, and pistachios
lunch on 13 Mar 2017: carrots, apple slices and strawberries with mini peanut butter and jam sandwiches, and pistachios
lunch on 14 Mar 2017: rice cake with crunchy peanut butter and jam, graham fish and dry roasted peanuts, strawberries
lunch on 14 Mar 2017: rice cake with crunchy peanut butter and jam, graham fish and dry roasted peanuts, strawberries
lunch on 15 Mar 2017: jam and butter on homemade egg bread with dried apricots, a Fig Newton, strawberries, carrots and sugar snaps
lunch on 15 Mar 2017: jam and butter on homemade egg bread with dried apricots, a Fig Newton, strawberries, carrots and sugar snaps
lunch on 17 Mar 2017: sandwiches with grapes, carrots and baby cucumbers
lunch on 17 Mar 2017: sandwiches with grapes, carrots and baby cucumbers

Sandwiches, Pizza Bread and More

lunch on 14 Feb 2017: pizza bread, sugar cookies, carrots and radish flowers

This week I made a variety of sandwiches and such on bread. For Valentine’s Day, the kids got pizza bread on King’s Hawaiian rolls with sugar cookies, carrots and radish flowers on the side. I admit that I’m not very skilled at making radish flowers, but the kiddos were eager to jump in and help.

lunch on 14 Feb 2017: pizza bread, sugar cookies, carrots and radish flowers
lunch on 14 Feb 2017: pizza bread, sugar cookies, carrots and radish flowers

Wednesday it was Make Your Own Sandwich day with some kid-approved sandwich ingredients: salami, ham and delicious Irish cheddar cheese.

lunch on 15 Feb 2017: Make Your Own Sandwich lunch with salami, ham, Irish cheddar and King's Hawaiian rolls. Chunks of mango, carrots and radishes on the side.
lunch on 15 Feb 2017: Make Your Own Sandwich lunch with salami, ham, Irish cheddar and King’s Hawaiian rolls. Chunks of mango, carrots and radishes on the side.

I got creative with my bread machine this week and made a lovely loaf of spiced carrot bread. I love adding shredded fruit or veggies and cinnamon/pumpkin pie spice into the bread dough: it gives the bread just a little hint of sweetness. Yum!

lunch on 16 Feb 2017: peanut butter and honey on spiced carrot bread with a chocolate oat bar, carrots, and orange slices
lunch on 16 Feb 2017: peanut butter and honey on spiced carrot bread with a chocolate oat bar, carrots, and orange slices

And here were are at the end of the week with a peanut butter and Nutella sandwich. Seriously, what could be better than ending the week on a sweet note?

lunch on 17 Feb 2017: peanut butter and Nutella sandwich with nut, chocolate Powerberries, satsumas, parmesan Goldfish and pretzels
lunch on 17 Feb 2017: peanut butter and Nutella sandwich with nut, chocolate Powerberries, satsumas, parmesan Goldfish and pretzels

Getting Kids Into the Kitchen

Lily's Valentine's Day arrangement of broccoli

People always ask me how I’ve managed to get my kids to eat, well, just about everything. My answer is that I have never given them “kid food.” As soon as they could eat solid food, I started introducing them to a wide range of flavors and textures (basically mashed and pureed versions of whatever the grownups were eating). The only thing I really changed about my cooking after having kids was avoiding super spicy ingredients and instead opting for add-on spice (hot sauce, pickled jalapeños, and roasted chilis on the side). Now that my kids are getting older (Iain is almost 12 and Lily is 8), I’ve been trying to get them more involved in food prep and cooking. I think the trick to getting them in the kitchen is finding tasks they enjoy or food they really like to make.

My son, Iain absolutely loves crepes. After making crepes for several weekends in a row, I told him I needed to take a break because crepes are pretty darn labor intensive. With the specter of no crepes for breakfast, he announced that he wanted to learn how to make crepes. Great! And, thus was born a fantastic crepe maker:

Iain making crepes
Iain making crepes

This crepe-obsession even motivated me to finally buy a proper crepe pan, and let me tell you, a proper crepe pan is much easier to handle than a heavy cast iron pan.

Lily chopping broccoli
Lily chopping broccoli

The good thing about having two kids is that they tend to get competitive with one another. If one helps in the kitchen, the other wants to join in. My little Lily has an affinity for chopping, dicing, and mincing. Actually, both kids like to chop—perhaps because big, sharp knives are involved and danger is fun. If I give Lily a chopping task, she’s all over it. I just show her how big I want the pieces to be, and she’s like a machine.

If you let your kids in the kitchen, all sorts of magic can happen. Plus, they’ll learn to respect and appreciate the hard work that goes into making a delicious meal.

Lily's Valentine's Day arrangement of broccoli
Lily’s Valentine’s Day arrangement of broccoli

In Praise of Lunch in a Jar

beet and cottage cheese lunch in a jar

I’m a big fan of bringing lunch in a jar to work. If I’m not motived to make an elaborate salad or sandwich, I just pile fruit, yogurt or cottage cheese, and granola or something crunchy into a jar. Lately, I been on a beets kick—especially raw, shredded beets (messy to make, but delicious to eat). Last week, I made this gorgeous concoction for my lunch:

beet and cottage cheese lunch in a jar
beet and cottage cheese lunch in a jar

I piled shredded beets on cottage cheese with apple chunks, peanut butter, cinnamon and honey. The color is insane and I loved the spiced/sweet/earthy combo.

This morning I decide to make the kids’s lunches in jars. Of course, they had to be made to order, because they didn’t want the same thing. Lily got a yogurt, applesauce, banana and granola parfait, and Iain wanted the Elvis Special (yogurt, bananas, peanut butter and honey).

lunch on 6 Feb 2017: yogurt lunches in jars
lunch on 6 Feb 2017: yogurt lunches in jars

A Week of Mini Muffins

chocolate beet apple banana oat mini muffins
chocolate beet apple banana oat mini muffins
chocolate beet apple banana oat mini muffins

The theme of school lunches this week was: mini muffins. I made mini beet muffins on our Monday holiday and once the kids gobbled them up, I had to make another batch of mini muffins. They were quite dubious when they saw me grating a beet to add to the muffins, but they ended up loving these loaded with goodness…

Chocolate Beet Apple Banana Oat Mini Muffins
  • 1-1/2 tbsp. ground flax mixed with 4 tbsp. water
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1 mashed ripe banana
  • 1/2 cup grated apple (about 1 small apple)
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1-1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 cupunsweetened almond milk
  • 1 heaping cup (packed) grated beet
  • 2/3 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1/4 cup almond meal
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 cup + 2 tbsp white whole wheat flour or all purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375˚ degrees F. Spray mini muffin pans with cooking oil or use cute little cupcake liners.

In a medium sized bowl, mix the flax and water and let it thicken while you mash the banana and grate the apple and beet. Add the grated/mashed fruit and veg to the flax egg and whisk in the maple syrup, olive oil, and almond milk.

Add the dry ingredients (brown sugar, salt, baking soda, cinnamon, oats, almond meal, cocoa powder, and flour) to the bowl and stir until everything is combined. Then stir in the chocolate chips.

When filling the muffin pans with batter, fill them all the way up to the top. Bake for about 15 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let the muffins cool for a few minutes before transferring to a cooling rack. Muffins can be stored at room temperature for a few days (if they last that long).

Yield: about 40 mini muffins

Muffins, Muffins and More Muffins

And here is a round up of those muffin-filled lunches:

Not Exactly A New Year’s Resolution

sweet potato sandwich beauty shot

After a holiday hiatus from lunch making, I am back in action. School started this week for the kids and I, so I am making both school lunches and grownup lunches. It’s not a resolution per se—I can never commit to anything as concrete as a resolution—but I am trying to create more inventive vegetarian sandwiches for the grownups. Here is my first attempt in 2017:

sweet potato, swiss cheese, apple, parsley, romaine and the magic ingredient: sriracha ranch dressing
sweet potato, swiss cheese, apple, parsley, romaine and the magic ingredient: sriracha ranch dressing

Vegetarian sandwiches can be great, but sometimes they require some planning. Yesterday I had a little time between my daughter’s piano and dance lessons, so I roasted some sliced sweet potatoes which became the base of my sandwich. Then I piled on cheese, apples, parsley and lettuce. My favorite sandwich condiment is Trader Joe’s Sriracha Ranch dressing: this stuff is seriously delicious and quite spicy. I spread it on some sourdough and these beauties were done. Don’t they look yummy?

sweet potato sandwich beauty shot
sweet potato sandwich beauty shot

I’m afraid I haven’t been quite so creative with the kiddos’ lunches, but they haven’t complained.

lunch on 9 Jan 2017: English muffin French toast with raspberry jam, carrots and satsumas.
lunch on 9 Jan 2017: English muffin French toast with raspberry jam, carrots and satsumas.
lunch on 10 Jan 2017: peanut butter and banana sandwich on sourdough with carrots, sweet baby bell peppers, celery, and mixed nut pretzel trail mix
lunch on 10 Jan 2017: peanut butter and banana sandwich on sourdough with carrots, sweet baby bell peppers, celery, and mixed nut pretzel trail mix