14 Sept 2012: Friday Finger Food

lunch on 14 Sept 2012
lunch on 14 Sept 2012
lunch on 14 Sept 2012

My kids love “snack attack” lunches: lots of little finger food instead of something lunchy like a sandwich. In honor of Friday, I’ve made a finger food lunch: pub cheese with honey whole wheat pretzel twists and pretzel slims. Pub cheese is a bit dubious. It seems a little processed and has that unnatural orange color reminiscent of spray cheese. I keep meaning to find a recipe for pub cheese. I think it’s basically a cream cheese/cheddar cheese combo. I’ll work on that and report back. There are also some carrot and cucumber sticks for dipping. Fruit today is a mix of dry and fresh: farmers market grapes, dates and dried apricots (prunes for Iain). In the treat tray are candy coated chocolate sunflower seeds. Lunches/snacks like this are pretty easy to make if you keep a good supply of crackers/pretzels/pita chips, fruits and veggies on hand.

13 Sept 2012: Sautéed Tofu and the Amazing Technicolor Lunch

lunch on 13 Sept 2012
lunch on 13 Sept 2012
lunch on 13 Sept 2012

I have to admit, the colors in this lunch are amazing. In the main tray: sautéed tofu, steamed broccoli, sliced carrots and oranges. The combination may sound a little weird depending on your comfort level with sweet-savory dishes; I threw in the orange at the last minute because we literally have oranges falling out of our orange trees. I thought, hey, orange chicken, pineapple fried rice, slightly sweet tofu with orange chunks—it could work. On the side: rice crackers, pretzel slims and Goldfish Space Adventures with “Colors From Natural Ingredients” (this is what happens when you shop at Target with kids). Remember that strawberry chia pudding from a couple of days ago? Yep, I had to get rid of that, so it’s making a reappearance in the little round container next to the green grapes. The treat is a couple of dutch cocoa Somersaults, these little not-too-sweet sunflower seed snacks. They’re pretty good.

Do you see that little spoon in the upper right? I believe it’s an airplane spoon from my childhood. A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, airplane food—in coach—was served with miniature stainless steel flatware. True story.

And, if you’re wondering about that sautéed tofu, no I did not make it specifically for the lunch boxes. Even I’m not that dedicated. I made a stir fry for dinner and fished out some of the tofu and broccoli before adding in the sauce. I get very proud of myself when I think of such things—incorporating bits of dinner into the next day’s lunch—before I actually have to make the lunch. The tofu was a modified (less sweet, no wasabi, red miso instead of white miso) version of this recipe and was incredibly delicious.

sauteed tofu
sautéed tofu

12 Sept 2012: Hummus Plate

lunch on 12 Sept 2012
lunch on 12 Sept 2012
lunch on 12 Sept 2012

I love a good hummus plate. For some reason it’s really easy to eat your veggies when you get to dip them in creamy, garlicky hummus. Today’s lunch has a little mini container of hummus with cucumbers, sugar snap peas, carrots, pretzel slims and whole grain pita chips for dipping. Look at those strawberries—aren’t they gorgeous? We live in some serious strawberry country. All produce in today’s lunch is from the farmers market. In the treat tray are Powerberries from Trader Joes’s. Powerberries are dark chocolate covered gummy bits allegedly made from the juice of superfood antioxidant berries such as: acai, pomegranate, blueberries, etc. Whatever. They’re not healthy, but they make a nice post-lunch treat. With the exception of the Powerberries, this lunch is totally plant-powered. Yes that means vegan—somehow, plant-powered sounds much more appealing.

Snack Strategy

protein bars, up close

I have two different types of snacks I have to deal with on school days. Iain gets a packed snack everyday for school. A couple of times a month I have to provide 17 snacks for Lily’s preschool class. These two types of snacks are challenging in different ways. The preschool snack requires mid-week planning, an evening burst of energy, and creative thinking. What is the healthiest snack that will appeal to the widest range of kids? I know that not all four year olds are as adventurous as mine when it comes to food. I stick to safe options: whole grain muffins on the sweet side, mild cheeses, and easy to prep fruit (grapes are the best). Once I made ants on a log—you know, peanut butter on celery with raisin “ants”—and it was insane. Way messier and time consuming that I anticipated. Never again.

Iain’s snack poses another set of challenges. Last year, Iain was placed in the dreaded first grade “allergy class.” Before school started, I was informed that some of the kids in Iain’s class had life threatening allergies to, I kid you not, peanuts, eggs and fish. Parents were asked to not send these items to school in lunches and snacks. This lead to a vegan granola bar baking extravaganza. I spent months trying different recipes before I found the perfect bar. Easy to make, minimal ingredients, and Iain loves it. When Iain was placed in the second grade “allergy class” (evidently they keep these poor epi-pen carting kids together in the same class), I was prepared. Although I am less vigilant about avoiding the allergens entirely since discovering that the allergy kids eat in their own area, the lunch boxes are kept outside of the classroom, and all the kids in the class wash their hands a gazillion times a day. I still don’t send tree nuts, though. Thank the Good Lord for sunflower seed butter.

Here is what snack production for Iain looks like:

protein bars in 8-inch pan lined with parchment paper
Protein bars in 8-inch pan lined with parchment paper. Yes, that’s a thin layer of chocolate on top. Please don’t judge me.
protein bars cut into 12 pieces
protein bars cut into 12 pieces

One 8-inch pan will yield 12 good sized bars. I decided to cut these in half again to get 24 bars, because I’ve noticed that Iain has not been eating his entire bar every day.

protein bars, up close
protein bars: yes, they are as good as they look

Once I’ve got the bars cut, I wrap them individually in waxed paper.

protein bars wrapped in waxed paper

I keep these bars in the refrigerator and they last a long time. There’s really nothing in them that can go bad and I haven’t noticed a consistency or flavor change even in bars that have been in the fridge for a month.

On school mornings, I’ll pack a protein bar and a piece of fruit (usually an apple) in a SnackTaxi.

a yummy snack getting packed into a SnackTaxi
a yummy snack getting packed into a SnackTaxi

SnackTaxis are wonderful. I got mine at Lunchville.com. Full disclosure: a friend of mine started Lunchville. However, she is not paying me or coercing me in any way to endorse her site or the products sold on her site. Actually, I wish she would pay me. Pay me in SnackTaxis.

the SnackTaxi, ready to go
the SnackTaxi, ready to go

By the way, this SnackTaxi is at least two years old. Doesn’t it look great? I think of all the plastic baggies I’ve saved by using the SnackTaxi. I love to feel like an ecowarrior.

11 Sept 2012: Grilled Chicken Quesadilla

lunch on 11 Sept 2012
lunch on 11 Sept 2012
lunch on 11 Sept 2012

Last night was Make Your Own Taco night in our house. The kids love Make Your Own Taco night, because they get ultimate control over their meals. I love Make Your Own Taco night, because it either uses leftovers or creates leftovers. And, I don’t mean to brag, but I’m kind of the Queen of Leftovers. Today’s lunch uses leftover grilled chicken (from Sunday’s bbq and Monday’s taco night) and leftover pinto beans (cooked from scratch, frozen and saved from a previous taco night) in a whole grain quesadilla. Fruits and veggies are all from this week’s trip to the farmers market: carrots, English cucumbers, and grapes. There’s a date in the treat tray. That blur at the top is Iain stealing a grape. I usually pack lunches after the kids go to bed, but last night I made the quesadillas right after dinner. Iain and Lily ate so many grapes that I had to refill both of their fruit compartments

Cooking Tip: Best Ever Grilled Chicken Marinade

  • a cup or so of buttermilk (Who am I kidding. You don’t have buttermilk in your fridge; neither do I. Just add a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar to a cup of regular—soy, almond, dairy—milk. You could also use yogurt.)
  • the juice of a lemon
  • a couple of cloves of garlic, pressed
  • a nice squirt of honey
  • a tablespoon of olive oil
  • a teaspoon of salt
  • a hearty grind of pepper

Pour all ingredients into a ziploc bag with your chicken pieces. Exact measurements are unimportant; I just eyeball everything. Marinate for at least 4 hours. Grill your chicken—thigh meat is more forgiving than breast meat and tastes way better (in my opinion, at least). It will be gorgeous and delicious.

10 Sept 2012: Ch-Ch-Ch-Chia Pudding

lunch on 10 Sept 2012
lunch on 10 Sept 2012
lunch on 10 Sept 2012

Today’s lunch features fabulous vegan chia pudding. Yes, the same chia seeds from the Ch-Ch-Ch-Chia Pet commercial. Chia seeds are some sort of superfood of the ancient Mayans and Aztecs—or, so the back of the package tells me. I understand that distance runners can use chia seeds to stay hydrated, because they soak up water/liquid in this crazy amazing way. Chia seeds are the new flax seeds. For reals.

This chia pudding contains the following:

  • 1/2 cup chia seeds
  • 2-1/2 cups almond milk
  • 1-1/2 cups chopped strawberries
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp. lemon juice

I put everything into my Vitamix (man oh man, do I love my Vitamix—yes, I’m one of those). Then you just put the blended up goodness into the fridge and it will thicken up after a few hours (I usually leave it all day or overnight). That’s it. You could also blend everything except the chia seeds and then stir in the seeds separately. The chia seeds will plump up and end up with a consistency similar to tapioca. Chia pudding is one of those things: you’ll either love it or hate it. It has a slightly gelatinous quality. If you love tapioca pudding, tapioca pearl tea and mochi, you’ll probably love chia pudding. If tapioca makes you gag, don’t bother trying. You can just sprinkle chia seeds on your granola to get a little ancient superfood power.

Besides the plant-powered pudding of awesomeness, we have a mini whole grain pancake with chocolate chips and berries (leftover from Sunday Pancake Morning and looking slightly singed in this picture—that’s what I get for reading the Sunday NY Times and cooking pancakes at the same time), and an ode to the end of stone fruit season (pluots and peaches from the farmers market). For a treat, Lily gets dried apricots and Iain gets a prune (both from the farmers market). I know what you’re thinking. A prune? For a treat? But, a good prune is nothing more than a good dried plum—mmm, concentrated sweetness.

7 Sept 2012: Guacamole Friday

lunch on 07 Sept 2012
lunch on 07 Sept 2012
lunch on 07 Sept 2012

Friday’s lunch always feels like a major accomplishment, because, well, we made it to Friday. Today’s festive Friday lunch is guacamole on whole wheat sandwich thins, pretzel thins + goldfish (there’s an unintentional “thin” theme going on here), and fruit (grapes, pluots and plums from the farmers market). Candy coated chocolate sunflower seeds are in the treat tray.

Cooking Tip: Guacamole is the easiest thing on earth if you have good, ripe avocados. Mash up an avocado with some salt. Done. If you want it to taste more exotic, mash up some chopped onions and cilantro with the salt. Then add the avocado. Or, forget the onion, it’s a pain to chop and makes you cry. Just add a garlic clove pressed through a garlic press. I never add lime juice to guacamole, unless I’m putting it in the kids’ lunches. In this case, I’ll squeeze a little lime juice into the mix to preserve the green color. Oh, yeah, sometimes I add a couple of grinds of black pepper. I’m crazy that way.

6 Sept 2012: Greek Yogurt, Opa!

lunch on 06 Sept 2012

lunch on 06 Sept 2012

Ah, the things the Greeks have given us: the concept of classical proportions, reason, democracy, Homer, the Olympics. Moussaka. And, of course, Greek yogurt. Today’s main lunch item is Greek yogurt drizzled with local honey (farmers market). I’ve heard that a spoonful of local honey a day can help with allergies to pollen and such. Therefore, this lunch is part of Iain’s holistic allergy treatment. Lily just likes honey. I’ve also included a couple of whole wheat zucchini pineapple muffins from yesterday’s preschool snack, some pluots and berries (farmers market), and a date in the treat tray.

5 Sept 2012: Soy Love

05 Sept 2012 lunch
05 Sept 2012 lunch
lunch on 05 Sept 2012

Today’s lunch is soy-licious. The main entree is a medley of cherry tomatoes (our garden), carrots (farmers market), edamame (Trader Joe’s frozen section), and teriyaki baked tofu cubes. The teriyaki tofu is from Trader Joe’s and comes pre-prepared, but I often make this by cutting a brick of extra firm tofu into four pieces and baking it in teriyaki sauce for about an hour (350˚ish). My kids love tofu—especially if it’s pan-fried or served in some yummy soy-based sauce. In the other compartments are: rice crackers + pretzel fish and blackberries + raspberries (farmers market). The treat is a rather decadent almond toffee dark chocolate drop.

preschool snack: cheddar cheese and zucchini pineapple muffins
preschool snack on 5 Sept 2012: cheddar cheese and zucchini pineapple muffins

Today, I was also in charge of Lily’s preschool class snack. Parents have to sign up for snack duty a couple of times per month. I usually try to bring some sort of whole grain baked item with fruit. We are also required to include a protein item in the snack. This time I made vegan zucchini pineapple whole wheat mini muffins. Man oh man, did these muffins turn out good. Sliced cheddar cheese and granny smith apples were also part of this snack. I try to prep and pack up everything for preschool snack the night before and slice/prep the fruit in the morning.

Cooking Tip: If you are looking to make vegan baked goods (because of allergies, health reasons, etc.), check out this vegan baking site. I’ve had really good luck with the recipes.

4 Sept 2012: English Muffin Pizza

lunch on 4 Sept 2012
lunch on 4 Sept 2012
lunch on 4 Sept 2012

Lunch today is pepperoni and basil (from our garden—the basil, not the pepperoni) pizza on a whole wheat english muffin. The portion of pepperoni is very small, because, let’s face it, pepperoni is a terribly unhealthy food that should probably never be served to children. It should probably never be eaten by anyone, anywhere. It’s an entry drug to fatty, cured meats. I’ll be working through this pepperoni guilt today, as my children enjoy its salty splendor.

At least we have veggies (tomatoes from our garden and snap peas and carrots from the farmers market) and fruit (grapes from the farmers market) to add some essential vitamins to this meal. The treat tray has a few chocolate rocks.

3 Sept 2012: Labor Day

Lily on the rocks in Cayucos
Liliana on the rocks in Cayucos
Liliana on the rocks in Cayucos

Today was Labor Day. No school. No packed lunch. Just a perfect day at the beach. Lunch was smoked fish tacos from The Smokehouse in Cayucos (quite possibly California’s most charming beach town). Iain had smoked shrimp and Lily had smoked salmon. It was good, oh yes, very good.

Saturday Farmers Market

Liliana with farmers market fruits and vegetables
Iain and Liliana with sunflowers at the SLO Farmers Market
Liliana and Iain at the SLO Farmers Market

I try to buy as much produce as possible (ideally, all our fruits and veggies for the week) from the farmers market. We have lots of farmers markets, so if I forget to buy something on Saturday, I can go to a market on Sunday or Tuesday or Thursday. My kids consume an mind-boggling amount of fruits and veggies every week; I think this is largely due to the amazing quality of produce at our farmers market.

A typical morning at the farmers market results in this:

Liliana with farmers market fruits and vegetables
Liliana takes stock of fruits and veggies from the farmers market. / September 1, 2012

So, how do I deal with this overwhelming table of deliciousness? I try to tackle it right away. Here is my strategy for produce cleaning and storage:

  • Carrots: tops are snipped off with scissors over a compost bin. Carrots are rinsed and scrubbed, placed on a kitchen towel to dry, and then stored in a ziploc bag in the fridge. I rarely have to peel carrots that I get at the farmers market. I’ll just slice them for lunches.
  • Eggs: these are easy—put the carton in the fridge.
  • Stone fruit (nectarines, peaches, plums, pluots, apricots, etc.): rinsed off and placed on a towel to dry. I never refrigerate stone fruit as this seems to negatively affect the texture. Once dry, these are placed on a tray within reach of the kids; they don’t last long. Pluots and plums will last the longest (5–7 days depending on ripeness) at room temperature.
  • Grapes: rinse well and dry on a towel or in a colander. I store these in the fridge in a recycled grocery store grape (or cherry) bag; you know, the ones with small holes all over them that seal at the top.
  • Kale: separate and rinse well. Then, I shake them out to get them as dry as possible (I do this outside—it never snows here). I lay the leaves on a towel to dry, then gather the leaves back into a nice bunch, roll them up in the same towel and store them in a ziploc bag. The leaves are long, so they stick out of the bag. Hearty kale will easily last a week in the fridge.
  • Apples: get rinsed and placed on a towel to dry. I store them in a cute little 1/4 peck bag that I once got at the farmers market. I place apples in the fridge to keep them nice and crisp, although I’ll leave a couple out on the fruit tray for the kids.
  • Green beans: I put these in a ziploc bag and don’t wash until I’m going to eat/cook them.
  • Potatoes: I put small potatoes in those little green baskets that strawberries come in (I have a zillion of them, because we consume a lot of strawberries) and keep them in the pantry. Potatoes should never be stored in the fridge due to some scientific thing that has to do with starch. I read about it once.
  • Berries (raspberries, blackberries, boysenberries, blueberries, strawberries): I usually buy a 3-pack, so I just keep them in their little containers within the cardboard box, wrapped in a plastic bag, in the fridge. I don’t wash until right before eating. I usually don’t wash raspberries until they look dirty. This is the advantage of shopping at a farmers market and buying from farmers who don’t use sprays and nasty stuff on their crops.
    farmers market produce, cleaned and ready to put away
    farmers market produce: cleaned and ready to put away

    *Lunch tip: Bring your kids to a farmers market, farm stand, green market or some such place. They’ll try new things and they’ll like them, because locally grown food tastes good. Surprisingly good.