Empower Your Kids and Free Yourself of School Lunch Packing


Are you looking forward to summer because you can take time off from making your kids’ school lunches?  I have heard this complaint from quite a few moms.  Now that I got my kids to make their own lunches I’m not worried about the frantic morning lunch rush.   Ok there is a rush…but it’s not me scrambling.  My kids have made lunches in the past but somehow it always comes back on my shoulders when we’re in a hurry and my kids are enjoying a leisurely breakfast.  I love that my kids have breakfast with Dad every morning while I’m in the shower.  However is doesn’t need to go on for 40 minutes!


I turned the tables on my kids a few weeks ago and told them they needed to scale back their breakfast time and were now officially in charge of their lunches.  This was met at first with groans.  However when I told them about their new power and freedom in packing what they want they got excited with questions.

First was my daughter.  “We can pack whatever we want?!”

“Well within reason”, I said.  “I am going to check the lunches before you put them in your backpack”.

My son then requested,  “Can I put in a dessert?”

“Depends on the size and type of dessert”.  Thinking an ice cream sundae doesn’t really pack in a stainless lunch box.


I did have to confiscate a chocolate egg the size of a real egg from lunch day number one.  My kids were laughing when I found it.  Of course I expected some testing and trickery.  (I forgot about the neighbors bringing Easter chocolate)  But my son was happy when I suggested he could have a small mini chocolate egg.  “See.  If you don’t push it and put treats and sugar in every time, you can do this yourself and I won’t even have to check.  You know what gives you good energy to play P.E. and get your through the day.”  Yes, that was a bit of my usual healthy food reminder, but they get it.  That reminds me if you don’t have junk in the house, they can’t pack it.


So now it’s been a month and with the exception of Dad being out of town and the kids and I oversleeping, I haven’t had to help with the lunches.  I do have to set a timer so they get up from the breakfast table and sometimes I help clean up as we’re hurrying out the door.  The clean up part is always the bummer.  It’s the reason why sometimes I don’t feel like cooking.  It’s not the cooking but the mess and cleaning that inevitably comes after.


My kids have gotten very creative and sometimes even competitive about who’s packed a better lunch and now ask for specific things for me to buy for them to pack.  My daughter has discovered all the various burritos she can make with veggies and beans and left-overs.  They both now like pickles on sandwiches.  Flat bread pizza is easy if you toast it while gathering the rest of your lunch items.  My son now makes his wrap with less turkey and more hummus so it’s not too thick, like “mom used to make”.  And they both now cut carrots into “coin” shapes.


I hope we can keep this up until the end of the school year and then for camps and summer outings.  I’ll just look forward to sleeping in a bit this summer.


Here’s 6 tips for getting your kids to pack their own lunches:

  • Set expectations and timers so they have enough time to get the packing done.
  • Stock the pantry with things they like so they’re excited to make and eat their lunch.
  • Store all the lunch containers in one location, and within their reach, so they can find things easily.
  • Give them some variety and flexibility.  Make cookies or muffins on the weekend so they can pack for their lunches.  Make a dip they can pack with their veggies.  They may need some help with suggestions.
  • Show them which food prep items are appropriate for them  (knives, cutting boards) and show them how to use them with caution.
  • Praise their efforts and tell them how great their lunch looks.  You may have to take foodie photos too.





Ode to my Rice Cooker – Plus Lettuce Wrap Ideas

Rice Cooker
25 Years Young

I pulled out my rice cooker to make forbidden (we like to call it “forbeeeden” in a scary voice) black rice and my son asked “How long have you had that?”  I remembered that I got it as a gift for my 21st birthday from my college roommates.  No, really.  That was almost 25 years ago.  It’s hard to believe this $40 appliance has seen me and now my family through 25 years of rice and quinoa meals.  It is low tech.  There are no switches and timers other than cook and warm.  Rice and water go in and you press to “cook” then the cooker clicks to warm when the rice is cooked.  Couldn’t be easier.  I wish more things in life lasted as long and were as simple and reliable.  So here’s a sexy picture of my rice cooker in all it’s glory.


We’ve been on a lettuce wrap/cup kick with the warm weather.  Here I made asian cups by offering the forbidden rice and added tofu or chicken, chopped peppers, broccoli and mangoes.  I also made rice noodles for layering and added some peanuts for crunch.  Fresh mint and cilantro brought some great freshness.  Kids love to make these.  Each person can assemble themselves to suit their own tastes.  This means no complaining!

Asian Lettuce Wraps
Asian Lettuce Wraps


A few nights later we made mexican themed lettuce wraps.  I didn’t have time to make spanish rice (and maybe I should give my workhorse cooker a break) but had everything for a quick meal with left-over ground turkey, olives, cilantro, black beans, guacamole and salsa.  My husband even suggested doing lettuce instead of tortillas on burrito nights because he felt less full.  The kids thought Dad was crazy suggesting no tortillas, but it’s a good option for us, sometimes.

Mexican Lettuce Wraps 

I’m sure I can think of other lettuce cups themes and ethnic variations to use up left-overs.  Maybe next up will be mediterranean.


Here’s to New Mom’s! with Baby Puree Recipes


Approaching mother’s day I’ve been reflecting back on becoming a mother myself.  We all know how time flies and it seems like just yesterday I was feeding my kids their very first bites of food.  I’ve always loved being there for a first taste of something new.  Their first apple, strawberry, broccoli, fish, etc.  I still enjoy that.  But now it’s first escargot, starfruit, escarole, etc.  Sometimes I think being a new mom was easier than where I am today.  I’d take sloppy kisses and naps, any day over eye rolling and working school carline.  Although certainly while you are in the thick of it (diapers, no sleep, constant crying), you can’t imagine.  If only you had the sleep and awareness when they are babies, to appreciate every minute.

Right now I know lots of mom’s with babies.  Some are just starting motherhood while others have new babies to add to their families.  So here’s to new and experienced moms alike.  And to the new flavors and experiences we introduce them to.  Whether our kids are 6 months, 6 years, 26 years or 66 years.  We can always come up with firsts and new foodie adventures.  But be careful…it’s not always pretty.

Apple Puree (The Petit Appetit Cookbook, page 59)

Apples are a great first food because of their sweetness and versatility.  Besides being for baby, this puree can be used in all kinds of recipes.  Use it to sweeten baked goods, as a topping for pancakes, or even to dress up grilled meats.

Golden and Red Delicious as well as Fuji apples have the least amount of acid, and thus are the most tolerant for babies.  You may peel apples before or after cooking.  Cooking with skins on allows the apples to retain more nutrients.  Be sure to choose organic apples as they are number 1 on the Dirty Dozen list for pesticides.

6 medium (2-3 ounce) organic apples, washed, quartered and cored just before cooking

Steamer Method:

Place prepared apples in steamer basket set in a pot filled with a small amount (about 1 – 2 inches, but not to touch fruit) of lightly boiling water.  Cover tightly for best nutrient retention and steam for 10 – 12 minutes or until apples are tender.  Apples should pierce easily with a toothpick.  Set apples and cooking liquid aside to cool.

Scrape apples for skin and puree in a food processor with a steel blade.  Add 1 or 2 tablespoons of reserved cooking liquid to puree to make smoother and adjust consistency.

Makes 16 – 18, one ounce baby servings.

TIP:  An apple a day…When baby is ready for more texture, chunks on steamed apples are good finger foods.  Also for teething baby, put steamed apple slices in the freezer for a soothing treat.

First Fish (The Petit Appetit Cookbook, page 98)

This is an easy way to prepare fish for your baby or toddler.  Because of the mild and “non-fishy” taste, Tilapia is a good introduction to seafood for a little one.  Fish can be thinned with reserved cooking broth or mix with plain yogurt or cottage cheese for a more creamy texture.

1 cup organic vegetable broth

2, (4 ounce) white fillets

Heat broth in a medium skillet over medium-high heat until simmering.  Add fish fillets.  Broth should not cover fish, but come up about halfway.  Simmer fish 3 to 4 minutes per side or until opaque.  Fish should flake easily with a fork.  Remove fish from pan and mash to desired consistency, or puree with some of the cooking liquid in a food processor.

TIP: No bones about it.  Be sure to check fish carefully for small bones before feeding to baby.  Fillets have fewer bones than steaks.






Play Ball! Packing a Little League Dinner

Tailgate Dinner

Baseball season is officially underway and here I am packing and planning for tailgate dinners we can take to my 10 year old’s games.  Sure sometime we can wait until it’s over but that could be 7:30 or 8 p.m.  It’s easier for me to plan ahead and get it ready and packed.  I’m also discovering my son not only wants food during the game but can eat a meal after too.  My daughter is happy with packing food as it gives her something to do and as she says “it’s like a real baseball game”.   I’ve done lots of sandwiches and pasta in the past.  See last season’s dinner line-up blog.  But now I got to to thinking about the real game aspect and wanting to expand my little league menu.

So this week it was chicken apple and vegetarian sausages with popcorn.  Then to round out the meal there were blackberries, apples, carrots, tortilla chips and dip.  I ended up doing the score keeping so I couldn’t eat mine during the game.  But I was pleased when I got home.  My son was thrilled to have a sausage during the game when he got hungry.  One of my son’s teammates asked his mom to please get him the same thing my son had.  My kids I’m sure are sometimes embarrassed by all my food rules and snobbery but I saw my son smile as I told the mom I had made it at home.  She could’ve guessed by my large cooler bag under the bleachers.  I’m happy to share too.  I know I can go overboard, but I’d rather have too much than nothing.  I sometimes see parents rush out and leave the game to go get anything that will suffice as food for their children.  My son was even happier when he realized I had made an extra (actually thinking for Dad) and could have another dinner after the game.  I could’ve set up a stand.