Thursday, March 31, 2011

Eating lunch is nice, especially when you do it twice

It's a little disingenuous of me to chronicle the lunches my daughter has eaten since she joined the lunch bunch at school without revealing a big part of the story.  Allow me to fill you in on everything she is actually eating:

When Juju started school in the fall, I used to take her home for lunch and then a nap.  But, school proved to be so stimulating for her that she couldn't easily come home and eat and go to bed.  She needed to unwind a little.   So, one day I took her to one of our favorite lunch spots after school, the California Chicken Cafe.  (Apologies to the vegetarians near and dear to my heart who read this blog but CCC is just plain delicious and as it turns out, a great spot for kids.  The food comes out quickly and for $4 you can get a kids meal which includes two chicken drum sticks, one side, and a drink.  That's a pretty great deal even though I completely respect your wishes to be meat-free!)  The trip to and from lunch was enough to wear her out and she would happily sleep for a few hours once we came home.  Also, since I have been enjoying CCC for about half my life, I really enjoyed the chance to eat there myself.

As it turned out, the routine of eating at CCC worked so well that our visits went from once a week to every day after school.  Sometimes other friends from school or the neighborhood would join us and pretty soon we were getting recognized by the staff there who knew what we wanted even before I opened my mouth to order.  This is part of the reason I resisted having her stay to eat lunch at school earlier: I liked eating with her, the routine was great with her nap, she ate a hot lunch, it was cheap, etc.

Here's the problem.  Even though I pack Juju a decent sized lunch and even though she eats about 80% of it at school, every time I have picked her up in the last two weeks she has insisted I take her to the "California Chicken Cafe!*" (*said in a very loud and whiny voice) before we go home.  Lunch is by far her biggest meal of the day and she is still hovering around the 20th percentile for weight so when she wants to eat, I want to feed her.  I should also note that since she is just getting used to staying at school longer, I am still picking her up early each day, not too long after lunch time.  So, if you can believe it, this week I have been giving in and taking her to CCC after she's already eaten her "first" lunch!  It sounds totally crazy but it's not just about the routine; each time we have gone, she has gobbled up her entire meal despite having already eaten most of a meal like this one.

As it turns out, my biggest challenge with food is not getting my child to eat the healthy lunch I pack for her, it's getting her to realize that starting next week, she can only expect one meal!  I think I'm going to try a CCC-inspired lunch to help her realize it's all she's going to get.  Wish me luck.

For those of you who are curious, Juju's favorite sides include ceasar salad and rice with carrots, scallions, and green peppers.  She eats so much at CCC that I often have to order her an extra side.  We'll have to find other times to take her there to visit the staff and get her fill of the CCC goodness!

The incredible, edible (and malleable) egg

I should be on my way to the gym but instead I am blogging about egg molds at the request of one of my readers.  Anything for my fans, right?

I kind of forgot egg molds existed until we accidentally bought too many eggs  a few weeks ago and thus were making a whole lot of egg salad.  I started saving some hard boiled eggs for Juju's breakfast, using a egg slicer to make the pieces more toddler friendly.  And then I remembered that eggs are pretty malleable; I once even saw a square shaped egg mold.  (Why anyone would want a square shaped egg is beyond me).

Since I was looking for ways to make lunch more fun (both to eat and to make!) I set out on an egg hunt of sorts looking for affordable egg molds.  I'm aware the term "egg mold" sounds really gross but just go with me here.  Amazon has a few options, as does Etsy, but I preferred shopping at a 100 Yen store because it was cheaper and I liked reviewing all of the options in person.  The set I purchased contained the bunny and teddy bear shown in the picture above.  I also saw molds for hearts and stars in addition to the car and fish in the photo.  Since Easter is around the corner, I bet there are other great options for deocrating hard boiled eggs.  If anyone finds any please post a link in the comments! 

I got some great ideas on how to actually make the molds from this great blog post on Just Bento.  I followed her instructions but I used Extra Large eggs the first time and the results were not so pretty.  The Large eggs are a much better fit (if only I read Japanese I would have understood this from the package).  And if you want to get really fancy, you can soak your eggs in colored water before molding them to give them a color AND a shape (but that kind of creeps me out).  Another plus to using Japanese molds like the one above is that they double as rice molds and they have a "stamp" on the back of the mold so you can use them like a cookie cutter to cut a fish for example out of a piece of cheese.  Again, writing this out in words sounds gross but they do look really cute, I promise.

I prefer the bunny mold to the teddy bear because in two attempts I could not get the egg to move far enough into the mold of the bear's ears so they weren't as cute as they should have been and were still very much egg-shaped.  Proving he is very secure in his manhood, my husband took the failed teddy bear egg attemps to work today. 

If you can't find any egg molds near you, you can still have a whole lot of fun with an egg slicer (or just a plain old knife); I used hard boiled egg slices to give eyes to my snack face gal shown in the photo to the right.

*Sadly the only egg molds I could find are made of plastic.

Food policies

I thought I would share some of the constraints I have when assembling Juju's school lunches. In addition to my attempt to avoid plastic when I can, I have to consider the school's policy on food that was sent to us when we signed up to stay for "lunch bunch." It all sounds pretty logical to me but I'm wondering if those of you reading this from other places might think this is "way too California." I suppose others will also point out that it takes for granted that everyone at school has access to affordable, healthy food options.

Here it is:


Healthy snacks (cereal, crackers, raisons, fruit) will be provided mid-morning for Transition Toddlers; mid-morning and mid- afternoon for Preschoolers. Water is given to drink.

There is a NO JUICE policy at XXXX. We will promote the drinking of water if children are thirsty. Juice can cause a sugar high and also reduce appetite leaving little desire in your child to finish the food needed to help him or her sustain their day at school.

Please do not send snacks from home. Snack time is more than just about eating a snack. It is in fact one of the learning experiences of your child’s day. Snacks brought from home present issues of food-sharing, envy from other children and interfere with the general structure and protocol of snack time.

We do not allow the sharing of food so as to avoid complications with allergies, dietary restrictions, etc. Please inform us if your child has any food allergies or dietary restrictions.

If your child is in preschool or in transitions “Lunch Bunch” we ask that you provide a healthy lunch for your child. Please do not send any junk food or sugary foods in your child’s lunch. We will be strict in enforcing this policy, including screening lunches and asking you to take home any sugary or junky foods.

The reason for this policy is beyond just wanting to encourage healthy nutrition and reduce sugar-induced behavior. Lunch, like snack, is not merely about eating food. For your child, eating lunch at school is an activity, and one which they should rightfully have full autonomy over, in terms of being able to choose what they eat, what order they eat it in and how much of it they eat. When children have a lunch that contains junky or sugary products, there are two undesirable scenarios. One is where the teachers try to encourage the children to eat their “healthy stuff” first, then the “junky stuff,” which takes away the child’s control, threatens their sense of healthy autonomy and sends subconscious messages of ineptitude to the child. The other scenario involves the teachers leaving the child to choose how and what he/she eats, inevitably resulting in the junky food being eaten first and the rest of the lunch going uneaten. This not only develops poor nutrition, but also can set the child up for “failure” in their environment in that their behavior is being influenced by what they’ve eaten (or haven’t eaten). When their lunch is full of healthy choices, it’s a win-win situation in which the child is in control, feeling confident as well as getting the nutrition their bodies and brains need to navigate the rest of their day.

Lunch on March 31, 2011

Today's lunch: cucumber stars with pomegranate seeds from Trader Joe's, California roll sushi from Gelson's, sugar plum tomatoes with hard boiled egg from Trader Joe's. Not shown: honey Greek yogurt and homemade granola from Arizmendi Bakery in San Francisco courtesy of my friend Emily.

Today's lunch is very cutesy courtesy of the "Japanese Tokyo Outlet" store I visited in Little Tokyo on Tuesday. I had to go downtown for Milkstars and noticed that my marker and grader was pretty close to 2nd and San Pedro where I knew I could take a look at some bento boxes (research for a new business idea, more to come on that later). I wasn't really impressed with the bentos I found but I did succeed in purchasing some fun lunch box "enhancers" (fascinators?) like hard boiled egg molds (this one is a bunny, it also came with a teddy bear face - both for $2.49) and a set of two small cookie cutters (one in the shape of a heart, the other a star - both for $1.99).

Although we did visit the Hollywood Farmer's Market this weekend, somehow almost everything in this lunch came from Trader Joe's.

This blog

I am not exactly sure what this blog is going to be. I just know that I am enjoying building lunches for my daughter who goes to preschool two days a week and just last week started to stay there long enough to eat lunch.

In general I like to pack her healthy food but more than that, I am currently really excited about making the lunches look cute. This is likely because I only have to pack lunches twice a week and the idea is still novel to me. . .

I try to avoid plastic products when it comes to food storage (hence the blog name Steel My Lunch) but I don't always succeed. I'm only human and plastic is pretty handy.