Thursday, April 28, 2011

Lunch on April 29 - Go with what you know

Tomorrow's lunch was pulled together in the three minutes I had tonight to get it done.  I actually used one minute to make the lunch and am using the remaining two right now to blog it.  I have been doing a ton of cooking for an event tomorrow night and I haven't really had much time (or room in the fridge) to devote to lunchmaking.

All that combined with the fact that today's ravioli triangles were rejected (well, I think one was eaten but as I suspected, they were mostly pushed to the side in search of mushrooms) made me put together a very uninspired lunch of old favorites.

Cantaloupe and grapes are joined by TJ's Greek honey yogurt with pomegranate seeds, half an avocado, and the rest of the mushroom and leek saute from yesterday.  There are some edamame pods in the ReSnackIt bag (which I have grown to love a lot) and two more SnackTaxi sacks filled with other familiar snacks (English peas and pita chips) not shown.  Yes I realize that this lunch is almost identical to today's lunch and yes I realize most of you only read this space for cute lunch accessories etc.  I guess I'm in a lunch rut since I have no time.  Here's hoping I get a second wind next week and start getting creative again!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Lunch on April 28 - Trying triangles today

For tomorrow's lunch we are trying something new.  Whenever I try something new I also offer extra stand-by foods in case the newcomer is rejected.

The new items are these triangle ravioli stuffed with butternut squash and a hint of brown sugar.  I find them absolutely delicious and hope Juju does too (I got them in the fresh pasta section at Trader Joe's).  I sauteed leeks and mushrooms in a small amount of butter and oil and layered them with the 5 ravioli (I just boiled them in water).  I also threw in some steamed broccoli and sprinkled a little parmesan cheese on top.  My guess is Juju will pick around the ravioli and only eat the veggies but maybe she'll figure out ravioli is really just dressed up pasta and she'll gobble them up (she never has any trouble eating pasta).  I am also including grapes and cantaloupe plus a small bowl of Greek honey yogurt with pomegranate seeds in case she doesn't dig the ravioli triangles.  And, my ReSnackIt bags came in the mail today (finally!) so I stuffed a few edamame pods inside.  The ReSnackIt bags are different from the SnackTaxis in that they feel more laminated and ready for food (like I am not worried about getting them wet) but there is still something slightly "homemade" about them.  I can't make a final ruling on which one I like better until Juju has had some more time with these.

This lunch is pretty healthy but lest you think I am a super-organic-no-pesticides-no-spray-health-food-only mom, let me clue you in to lunch today.  We ate at Johnny Rockets and Juju's lunch consisted of a mini hamburger bun dipped in ketchup, half of a mini hamburger patty (also used for lots of dipping in ketchup), 3 french fries, 2 pickles, and about 6 ounces of her first ever (I think) chocolate shake.  Sorry, no photo.  I'm definitely not winning mom of the year in the food category but I do think it's fun to shake things up a little bit (no pun intended).  She can't eat mushrooms for every meal. . .


Juju slept in today which reminded me that I started this blog about a month ago when she slept in and I had some extra time in front of the computer.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered today that I have had almost 1,500 pageviews since then!!!  Surely they can't all be me re-reading the posts to check the spelling. . .

I am truly amazed that Juju's lunches have reached so many people.  Thank you all for reading, commenting, and re-posting.  I'm really enjoying this little project and am so happy you do too!

Here is Juju today showing off the snailbox that started it all. . .

Monday, April 25, 2011

Lunch on April 26 - Riddle: Why can't we keep Juju in jail?

Today we have a lunch riddle.  Why can't we keep Juju in jail?  Answer at the bottom.

Today's lunch is the last Passover-friendly thing I have to pack this year.  Thank goodness.  If I had to make yet another frittata I think I would go crazy.  But alas there is one in this lunch.  I cut it with a heart shaped cookie cutter to make it more appealing and while I used the same recipe as last time I made sure to load this one with plenty of mushrooms.  I have no idea why Juju is so into mushrooms but I am not going to question it since I think they are a pretty good thing to eat.

Joining the frittata is lox with cream cheese on whole wheat matzah.  I am partial to egg matzah but we ran out and whole wheat was all we had left.  We got the smoked salmon this weekend at one of the fish stands at the Hollywood Farmer's Market.  They always have a really long line (and kind of high prices) so we usually skip it but this week there was no wait (ah the benefits of being a Jew on Easter) so we tried the lox people rave about.  It was pretty good.

Lastly we have farmers market strawberries and grapes and a Pucci-esque SnackTaxi filled with dark chocolate covered matzah.  I know I am not supposed to pack sweets for school but I'm hoping this classic Passover treat won't get us thrown out.

Two of the containers I am using came from the Thinkbaby set I mentioned in my last post.  I like the size of the rectangular container and you can't exactly tell from the photo but the bowl the fruit is in is a true bowl with low walls and easier for a toddler to eat from.

Ok, so back to my riddle: Why can't we keep Juju in jail?

Because she eats lox!  Yes, I know, super corny (yet kosher for Passover).  I apologize for the horrible jokes.  I should stick to packing lunches. . .

Sunday, April 24, 2011

More containerization - stainless steel edition

I haven't blogged about the stainless steel containers I use yet because I have just so much to say about them that I wasn't sure where to start.  But I have to start somewhere.   Here are a few things in my rotation for lunch and home use.  I'm not someone who completely shies away from plastic, as we all know it's everywhere and there is no avoiding it.  I just wanted to try to find a way to avoid using it when I could, particularly when it came to food storage, and so I started using the following sets.  I actually don't think any one of them is the perfect solution but they are a great start.

The three compartment stainless steel lunch container I used to make this lunch is the trio from Lunchbots:

Pros: The entire thing is made of stainless steel, absolutely no plastic.  That is pretty cool.  It also allows me to keep foods separate (this encourages me to get creative with the size of food I pack).  Fairly easy to clean.

Cons: The container looks like it is cheaply made.  The first time I opened it, I noticed that one of the interior steel "separators" is bent.  This doesn't really effect the storing of food but it's poor quality control and it just irks me.  Every time I use it I try in vain to straighten it.  Also, the inside edges seem slightly unfinished.  I don't think Juju is going to cut herself on them but they just don't feel smooth.  Something about this set makes me think the factory does not pay a lot of attention to detail.  It also makes me think these containers were originally for another use and were just repurposed for school lunch containers without much thought to how toddlers and kids work.  Also I am not sure these are 100% leak proof.

Another set I use a lot and featured in this meal are this trio of stainless steel Kids Konserve containers:

I bought mine at Whole Foods for $26 which I thought was really expensive but I have to say, I like these containers a lot.

Pros: Very high quality.  Someone clearly thought about these when they were designed.  Three sizes which allow me to back various foods, portion sizes, etc.  When not in use the three bowls nest inside one another which make for easy storage and, because they are sold that way, means they weren't sold with a lot of wasteful packaging.  Very good for liquids, so far totally leak proof for us.

Cons: The colors.  I know that they now sell these in more colors but the standard set of three still comes in puke green, rusty old orange, and kind of cool neon green.  I wish they had more fun with the lids.  Also, the lids are made of plastic but since they usually don't touch the food, I am not too concerned.  My other problem with these bowls is that they are great for food storage, but when it comes to eating from them at the lunchtable, the size just isn't right.  I wish they were more like bowls you would eat from with a more round bottom and shallower walls.  I think it's hard for Juju to work a fork or spoon in these.

I don't have any recent photos of Juju's lunch using the Thinkbaby set but it's also part of our rotation.  We have this orange set:

Pros: The bowls are the kind of bowls you would normally eat out of but they also have lids for storing and transporting.  Juju loves the mug and when she drinks from it she likes to announce "this is my coffee."  Fun, kid friendly colors.  Definitely high design.  Made for babies which means you can transport your baby food in the appropriate size containers.  Washes very well.

Cons: The surfaces of all of the containers and mug are stainless steel but they do use plastic on the outside of everything.  This is either for insulation or for looks.  Either way it's a lot of plastic, even though it doesn't touch the food.  The lids for the bowls are also plastic and slightly flimsy but still functional.  The fork and spoon are made completely of plastic.  Designed for babies so the containers are a tad small for everyday use once your child grows up.

At home I try to use stainless steel plates and bowls but I don't have too many.  I use the Thinkbaby bowls above and I also have the Lunchbots Children's Stainless Steel Dish set:

Pros: First of all, I really like that this set exists at all.  I looked around and there are so few options for home feeding in stainless steel so bravo to Lunchbots for offering one.  This one is definitely made of higher quality than the lunch container above.  They are clearly using a different vendor for these and I wish they would move everything over to this factory.  The bowl is a great size and happens to be the same size as one of the Thinkbaby bowls so I can use the lid from that one for this one if I want since this set comes with no lids.  The mug is also a great size and shape for kids.  These are very easy to clean.

Cons: I do not like the shape of plate.  It seems like it can't decide if it is a bowl or a plate so it ends up being sort of like a shallow soup bowl and you can't fit much food on it.  I wish they just gave me a normal plate.  No lid for the bowl means you can't store food in this set unless you also have the Thinkbaby set.  Price.  I paid $19.99 for one set.  I wish I could find a set that would give me 4 bowls and 4 plates and 2 mugs for around $50 - $60.  That would be ideal.  I realize stainless steel costs more but I can't believe it's really this cost prohibitive.

I also use a set of stainless steel food prep bowls with lids I got at Target for around $5.  It came with three small bowls with three plastic lids.  The bowls are small so they are great for dips, sauces, or small amounts of food.  They are very easy to clean and fit nicely in nooks and crannies of a lunch box when it's otherwise stuffed with the above containers.

That's pretty much all I use around here in the stainless steel variety but I'll check my drawer later to make sure I'm not missing anything.  And, I have a few more stainless steel recommendations and things on my wish list which I'll post about soon.  I will also post about the ceramic and glass we use around here too. 

Another discount on fabric snack bags

Just wanted to alert you to another Earth Day sale on fabric snack bags. The Mini Social is having a sale now on Beneterre bags. I have never used these (I've never even heard of them) and they seem a little pricey to me but I think the bagel fabric is super cute. And I just think it's interesting that there are so many reusable snack bag options out there right now. Happy shopping.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Kids Konserve at a discount

I am working on a post (which means I have a note to myself to start it) about the Kids Konserve containers I use in Juju's lunch.  But, I just noticed that they are doing a Kids Konserve sale on Gilt Groupe in the children's section.  They aren't selling my favorite things but there are a few stainless steel or disposable plastic alternatives included so it's worth a look.

Happy shopping (and saving!).

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Lunch on April 22 - Passover Provisions and a Pink Puppy

As I mentioned it's Spring Break so I only had to pack a lunch one day this week but in addition to Juju's lunch, I had to pack food for three adults as well.  And it's Passover so I had some extra limitations.  But, I think I made out pretty well.

I mentioned my friend Annie H. gave me a great baby frittata recipe perfect for kiddos.  I didn't follow her recipe exactly, I mostly used my own (this one features leeks, mushrooms, and spinach), but I did use her idea of baking in mini muffin tins.  I also baked some of the frittata in large muffin tins for the adults. 

I wanted to find a nice complement to the eggs, something that could easily take the place of bread.  I settled on a new Passover favorite: quinoa.  I realize some very observant people don't consider quinoa kosher for Passover but I am not one of those people; abstaining from bread and grains and a whole bunch of legumes and peanuts is plenty deprivation for me.

I haven't had time to shop for groceries for a few days since we've eaten out the last three nights so I made up a quinoa recipe with things I had around the house.  I'd give it a B, maybe a B+.  I was trying to replicate a sweeter quinoa salad that was served at my second seder but fell short.  This is good, just not exactly what I was going for.

Here's how I made it: I toasted 1 cup quinoa with 1 tablespoon of oil in a small pot on the stove. When the quinoa was toasted (but not burnt!) I added 2 cups of water, let it come to a boil, then simmered it  covered for about 15 minutes.  I usually cook quinoa with a clove of chopped garlic but since I was going for a sweeter taste, I left it out (but I did add some salt).  Once the quinoa was cooked and cooled, I threw it into a bowl and started mixing things into it.  I cut up some scallions and threw in a pack of dried raisins and cherries my friend Marla brought me from Seattle.  I also threw in some chopped walnuts since I wanted more of a crunch.  For the wet stuff I added some oil and vinegar.  With quinoa you can really add any oil: vegetable, sesame, olive, etc.  Then I squeezed the juice of a lemon Juju picked at a friend's house the other day and voila, quinoa salad!  I am hoping the flavors blend a bit more tonight so the salad is even more flavorful tomorrow.

Here is how the adults' lunches came out - everyone got two regular size muffin tin frittatas and the quinoa salad.  I like presenting things on lettuce for the color and it helps to keep the two dishes separate which I think makes them more appealing.  Since these lunches are for adults I packed them in glass, my favorite way to store food (but sadly not very kid friendly).  These are Snapware Glasslock containers that used to be really hard to find but are now everywhere like at Target and Bed Bath and Beyond.  I think the best prices for them are still at Costco which used to be the only place I could find them.

I gave Juju a small cup of the quinoa salad (not shown), four baby frittatas, mango, cantaloupe, and clementine segments, and three Passover macaroons.  The pink puppy is yet another Japanese style lunch "fascinator."

Only 4 more days of this holiday to go.  Then I'll focus on another eating challenge: we are considering going vegan for a week sometime in the near future.  Can you believe it?  I can not.  More on that later as I work up the courage to plan it out. . .

Snack Taxis

I can't sleep so I figured I'd do a follow-up post on the fabric snack bags I mentioned earlier.

Last week my new Snack Taxis arrived - no word on where my ReSnackIts from Zulily are.  According to my order history status they still have not shipped.  I hope I get them before the school year is over. . .

But back to the Snack Taxis (which arrived really quickly so are already ahead in my book) we have been breaking in since the weekend.

They are much stiffer than the one I already had from back when they were called Happy Sacks.  This is either because they have improved the product or, more likely, because they haven't been washed yet.  I'm digging the stiffer body and hope they don't get too soft with the first wash.

The folks at Snack Taxis make them available in a zillion designs but as you already know my credit cards are impervious to retail prices so naturally I picked from the ones that were on sale.  The sushi one is my favorite (Juju likes it too) and I wish I had also ordered it in red (sadly they are out of them now).

There is really no comparison with ziploc bags when it comes to the cute factor.  Plus, I love that when I hand Juju her snack bag she has no idea what's in it until she opens it up.  She seems to really enjoy the surprise each time (although lately, it's almost always granola).  I do too.

UPDATE: I just noticed on the Snack Taxi website that they are having an earth day sale and you can take 20% off your order (but not on sale merch) through April 22 with coupon code "earthday2011").  This could be your chance to try ditching ziplocs for a day.  Happy shopping!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Speaking of eggs. . .

I mentioned earlier that my husband always refers to Passover as the holiday of eggs since that is all we end up eating when we're forced to give up most carbs and other goodies.

I seem to be on egg overload, (you'll recall my recent attempts to mold eggs) because I saw the coolest thing on Manhattan Craft Room today that I just had to post.

She actually embroidered eggs!  Isn't this so cool?  I like to think of myself as pretty crafty but this kind of thing is way out of my league.  Click here to see how she did it.

Oh and if you liked the eggs, you will absolutely LOVE what she did with Jell-o here (and here and here).

Yes I realize this has nothing to do with stainless steel containers or packing a school lunch but I hope you enjoyed it anyway.

Spring break

Just a note to let you know that I have not given up on this blog.  I'ts just that we're on Spring Break this week so I'm not packing any lunches.

I am however cooking and eating a lot of eggs because as my husband likes to say, Passover is the holiday of eggs.

My friend Annie H. gave me a great recipe for mini egg frittatas, perfect for a school lunch.  I've made them at home but never packed them before.  I should give it a try.  Here is her recipe.  I generally add in leeks and mushrooms and broccoli to my frittatas but if you are using this recipe, make sure you chop up your veggies very very small because the "batter" has to fit in the small holes of a mini muffin tin.

I'll post more fun photos of food soon.  I realize they are way more fun to look at than words!

Baby Frittatas 
(Makes 12 Baby Frittatas)
4 Large Egg Whites
2 Large Eggs (whole)
2 Tbsp Milk
1/2 cup shredded Mexican Four-Cheese blend
1/4 Cup onion, diced
1/4 cup baby spinach, diced
Salt, pepper and garlic powder (to taste)
1. Preheat the oven 375 degrees.
2. Spray or grease mini muffin tins with oil or butter.
3. Whisk the eggs and milk together. Add the cheese, onions and spinach, salt, pepper and garlic powder. Stir to mix ingredients together.
4. Add a heaping tablespoon of egg/vegetable mixture to each muffin cup.
5. Bake for 14-17 minutes.
6. Cool and serve.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Lunch on April 15 - pasta, avocado, fruit

Today is an example of a lunch packed the morning of.  No frills, no fun accessories, just something thrown together from what is in the fridge.  Today I am serving leftover pasta with cheese sauce.  Despite my efforts to serve fresh, wholesome foods most of the time, this dish came from a box.  It's apparently "organic" but it's basically Trader Joe's fancy version of mac and cheese.  Juju usually eats mac and cheese when she has a babysitter and this is leftover from earlier in the week when we went out.  The shells and cheese are paired with half an avocado and a fruit medley of strawberries, grapes, and cantaloupe.  I also threw some granola in one of my new SnackTaxi sacks that arrived the other day.

Speaking of granola, I wanted to post a fantastic kosher for Passover recipe for granola since Pesach starts on Monday night.  Even if you aren't Jewish you will find this recipe delish.  It is courtesy of my friend Marla (it's actually her mother's recipe) and is a great breakfast alternative to the all too common matzah and butter:

Matzah granola

2 cups matzo farfel (or just crush up regular matzah to fill 2 cups)

1 cup almonds (I use slivered, unpeeled)
1/2 cup shredded coconut (I usually omit this)
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup diced, dried apricots
1/2 cup pitted dates, chopped
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Line a baking sheet with foil and spray it lightly with cooking spray.
In a large bowl, combine farfel, almonds, coconut.
Add honey and oil to the bowl and mix well.
Spread the mixture onto the baking sheet and even it out.

Bake the granola for 20 minutes, stopping at 10 minutes to stir it up.
After 20 minutes, transfer the granola onto a platter, or just remove the foil from the baking sheet and allow it to cool to room temperature.
Pour the granola into bowl, add raisins, apricots, dates, mix well.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Lunch on April 14, 2011 - with love from the farmer's market

I'm writing today's post quickly.  I took the morning off to hang out with Juju and I have a bunch of work to catch up on.  I apologize in advance for any typos.

This morning we headed to Santa Monica to walk around the farmer's market. I haven't been to that one in years and somehow remember it much bigger (maybe it's bigger on the weekend?).  But it was certainly big enough for our needs today.  And although her first choice was to go to the zoo, I think Juju was happy we went because she had her first taste of one of my favorite snacks, peas in the pod (or English peas if you prefer) and she is hooked!

I have fond memories of eating fresh peas as a very young child.  I remember at our old house in NY we had a vegetable garden out back (I think my Grandpa Leo who had a green thumb planted it for us) and we grew peas.  I loved running out there and eating the peas right off the stalk.  This reminds me I want to figure out a way to grow vegetables in our backyard.  We tried once with tomatoes but we live in a canyon and some of our animal neighbors kept harvesting everything for us before we could get to them.  I also want to compost since peas in the pod leave a good amount of waste.  I'll work on both of those ideas when I have some more time.

Juju wasn't interested in the peas at first but once I showed her how to eat them she was obsessed.  She ate the entire bag in about a block and a half so I had to go back and buy some more for tomorrow's lunch.  It was actually a great way to move around the farmer's market.  Her eyes and hands were so focused on not dropping any peas on the ground that she moved slowly and stuck by me stand after stand.  We also bought some beautiful strawberries.  They are finally starting to taste as they should which means summer will be here before I know it.  Time really does fly.

I made lunch ahead of time again; our mornings are just too crazy to make a fresh lunch and I certainly wouldn't have time to blog about lunch if I made it in the morning!  Joining the peas in the pod are clementine segments, strawberries, and cream cheese hearts.  I made the hearts by slathering a bunch of cream cheese on two pieces of whole grain bread and using one of my handy dandy Tokyo Japanese Outlet heart-shaped cookie cutters.  I've never given Juju a cream cheese sandwich before but my guess is she is going to love it.  I am concerned that the lunch might not have enough protein so I might throw something else in the snailbox like yogurt or hummus and carrots. 

When I asked Juju today what she wanted for lunch tomorrow she replied "carrots and ice."  Let's hope this is a welcome substitute.

Inspired by reading this piece on artichokes I bought some beauties at the farmer's market today.  I once had a fantastic raw artichoke salad.  Maybe I'll try making it but I'm guessing the taste will be a little too sophisticated for a toddler's lunch.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Containerization - the first in a series

I have to say, the response I've gotten since I started this blog is absolutely amazing, especially considering I've never officially launched it other than highlighting a few of the posts on Facebook.  My friend Caroline sent me photos of her sons' lunches (can you believe she packs 30 snacks and lunches per week and when her 4th son goes to school next year that number will be 35?!?!), my friend Jesse told me she made my pasta salad plus recipe for her whole family and people I haven't seen in years (but love!) have been telling me about the lunches they are making, the containers they are buying, and the foods their kids are eating.  Who knew so many of us had so much to say about lunch?  Thank you so much for reading and interacting with me.  Keep it coming!  And feel free to comment on the posts so others can see the great ideas you all have.

One question I keep getting is about what kinds of lunch bags, bowls, cutlery, and containers I use.  This is something I've been spending a lot of time thinking about lately and I'm happy to share what I use, what I don't use, and what's on my wish list.  I've seen a lot so I will likely break this topic up into a few posts.  I don't know if I'll ever find the perfect kid-friendly food storage options but I'm working on it.

Let's start with the basics, the lunchbox.  We have two in our house but so far we've only used one (the other just looks too clean to take to school).  The one we have been using is affectionately called "the snailbox" by Juju as it's in the shape of a snail and is quite possibly one of the cutest things I've ever seen.  I got it at the Gap but unfortunately it's no longer listed on their website.  The inside is completely insulated which makes keeping things cold easy and it holds a whole lot for a snail.

We have a Pottery Barn Kids Mackenzie Retro lunchbox sitting on a shelf that will probably see the lunch table some time next fall when I have to pack a lunch daily and may need to relieve the snail.  The Pottery Barn lunchbox was a gift and came with some snazzy green containers (alas they are plastic) and best of all a green and white cutlery set (stainless steel utensils - hooray) complete with a case to take them back home in a sanitary manner.  I had been sending Juju with loose utensils to school and it's a lot more pleasant to unpack her sack now.  Despite the plastic cutlery holder, I really endorse these.  The plastic isn't ever really touching the food so from what little I know about the dangers of plastic leaching into food, this seems to be ok.

My friend Jesse (the one who made the pasta salad!) introduced me to the world of reusable fabric snack bags about two years ago.  I have to say, I was really reluctant at first.  It seemed like a weird idea to hold food in fabric, and I wasn't really sure how I could possibly get them clean.  Plastic bags sounded way more sanitary.  But I tried the Snack Taxi (then called Happy Sacks) Jesse gave me and I actually really liked it.  It was easier for Juju to hold and open when she was younger and it certainly was prettier.  The inside is lined with nylon which is really easy to wipe out and you can also throw them in the wash.  I haven't put anything like a sandwich in mine yet (somehow that still feels weird) but it's great for holding pretzels, crackers, granola, etc.

I've tried a few other kinds because above all, I really like that they are reusable.  The few I bought on Etsy where homemade looking and I didn't realize when I was buying them that that were unlined (big mistake).   The sample sale site Zulily featured a company called ReSnackIt last week and I bought two bags from them.  I'll let you know what they're like when I get them.  I just noticed on their website that they also have some snack bags with double pouches which look really cool.  I also bought some more Snack Taxis yesterday (there are some on sale and it's hard for me to resist a sale!) because I am not yet the kind of blogger who gets free things sent to her to try out. . .though of course I am always open to such a scenario.

I feel the need to point out that I am really not the greenest person around.  I do plenty of things that probably waste a lot of energy and resources.  If you met me for the first time you would not mistake me for Al Gore.  I just feel good knowing that I am in some way working to cut down on waste and sparing my family some exposure to plastic in our food.  But if I am being totally, totally honest, I will admit that I am a sucker for cute accessories and lunch is no exception.  Fabric snack bags really are way cuter than ziplocs.  It's really a win-win.

This is pretty much all the fabric I pack with lunch.  Next time I'll focus on some more of the stainless steel I send to school.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Lunch on April 12, 2011 - The spa meets the playground

Today is another day where I am forced to prepare lunch ahead of time.  Tonight I am doing a photo shoot for Milkstars (I'm so excited about our new styles coming soon!) and I'll be home way too late to make anything tonight and am hoping to get as much sleep as possible tomorrow morning.

So, today's lunch is a mishmash of things in my refrigerator.  Last night we had friends over for dinner and served salmon and spanikopita (this time we didn't use frozen spinach but we did use the pre-washed bag kind - sorry farmer's market!).  It actually came out better than last time.  We also used a French feta instead of the Greek one we used last week.  We don't normally eat the same thing every week; we just thought it would be a fun dish to serve at a dinner party.  It's really not that difficult to put together and it's an unexpected dish to present to guests.

I cooked some brown rice today (the quick way, in the microwave), let it cool, and cut up some leftover salmon on top.  I have to remember to throw in an extra ice pack tomorrow to make sure the lunch stays really cold.  Lukewarm fish at the lunch table sounds pretty gross.

I didn't intend to make today's lunch look like something you'd find on the menu at a spa or yoga retreat; it just sort of happened that way.  Fingers crossed it passes the kid test.  If all else fails I know she will eat the rice.

We also served large (delicious!) artichokes from the farmer's market for dinner last night and I saved a few baby ones to cook today.  Mini artichokes are really easy to cook up.  In this case I pulled off all the leaves and just sent the hearts to school.  I thought it would be too difficult and time consuming to expect Juju to rip off all the leaves herself.  Plus, when she eats artichokes at home, she insists on dipping each leaf in lots of butter and I would be nervous to send a container of clarified butter to school lest Juju be called out for bringing contraband on the premises.

Finally, I included some grapes and cantaloupe and a clementine.  Cute clementine accessory courtesy of the Tokyo Japanese Outlet I've mentioned in earlier posts.  I was downtown on Thursday and happened to find a parking spot in front of the Japanese Village Plaza.  I took it as a sign that I needed more cute lunch accessories (a treat for Juju and now readers of this blog too) and went in for a few things I didn't pick up last time.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Pink Eye Picnic - faux sushi salmon cream cheese rolls

Today's lunch plans were thwarted by the fact that Juju is suffering from pink eye and won't be going to school today.  I had planned a lunch of an artichoke heart and faux-sushi salmon cream cheese rolls but instead I made the rolls for breakfast and will have to improvise a new lunch around the artichoke.

Yesterday's trial run of a salmon roll-up was a small disaster.  All of the salmon was eaten but as I suspected, Juju ripped apart the entire thing and it was a horrible mess.  I had higher hopes today as I cut the salmon wrap in thin pieces like sushi.  It looked like this:

But this clever design didn't fool her.  She sat down and proceeded to unroll each roll picking out the salmon and moving on.  It was however much easier to clean up this way so I still might consider sending a lunch like this to school in the future.

I used a whole wheat and corn tortilla, whipped cream cheese and two pieces of lox.  She wasn't as hungry today as she was yesterday so some of the rolls remained and might show up again at lunch.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Leftovers for lunch

I thought I would share some things we serve for lunch around here when Juju isn't at school.  I won't be sharing any photos because generally we eat a lot of leftovers and they aren't so pretty.

Here is what we made for dinner on Monday and Tuesday night that we will be calling lunch this week:

Monday night - homemade turkey meatloaf and brussels sprouts
The turkey meatloaf recipe comes via Ina Garten.  I always knew about it but it wasn't until my friend Missy made it a few months ago and I sampled some that I started making it on a fairly regular basis.  We've actually not been cooking much meat in our house lately but this was an exception.  And a delicious one at that.  The recipe is here.  Ina calls for 5 pounds of meat which is kind of crazy for a family of three like ours.  On Missy's recommendation we only used 3 pounds of meat (which still yields an enormous meatloaf) but did not cut back on any of the other ingredients.  The result is a very flavorful loaf.  Ina calls for all white meat turkey but I am sure the recipe will only be enhanced by using some dark meat as well.

The brussels sprouts came from the Hollywood Farmer's Market.  My recipe is really easy and something I learned by watching Ina Garten roast a dozen other vegetables.  It was also inspired by the amazing brussels sprouts I had at my friend Maggie's wedding last month.  YUM!  These sprouts were really big so I cut each of them in half and some in quarters (I also trimmed the ends).  I put them all in a big bowl with a chopped onion and several whole cloves of garlic (no Dorot this time, I actually had to peel the garlic myself!).  Then I drizzled a good amount of olive oil, salt, and pepper over the top and mixed everything with clean hands to make sure all of the sprouts were coated.  I turned the bowl over onto an ungreased cookie sheet and roasted the sprouts at 400 degrees for 40 minutes.  I know brussels sprouts get a bad rap but these were SO delicious.  Unlike the meatloaf, the sprouts really do taste much better the night they are made and aren't such a great idea for leftovers.

Tuesday night - homemade vegetarian moussaka and spanikopita 
We've been doing a lot of vegetarian cooking these days and have been using this Moosewood cookbook as our bible.  These recipes were actually prepared by my husband who all of a sudden decided he wanted to cook two extremely labor intensive meals at home.  He agreed to clean up the mess so I couldn't argue with that and he's actually a really great cook with more patience than I.  You'll have to buy the book for the official recipes but I did find this spanikopita recipe and this moussaka recipe online which are quite similar to the ones we used.  The spinach for the spanikopita came from the Hollywood Farmer's Market but save your time, money and energy and use the frozen kind, it will probably taste the same.  Both recipes are what my mother-in-law would call pichkarye (peetsch-kar-eye) which translates loosely into pain in the tush so save your time while you can.  But don't leave the cinnamon out of the moussaka if you do try it.  It gave the whole dish a really unique flavor and I never would have expected to use cinnamon in something like this.  Juju enjoyed this meal although truth be told if there are mushrooms in anything, she will eat it.

I grew up in a house where we rarely ate leftovers.  My mom usually made the right amount of food for dinner and my Dad hates leftovers so we didn't see too many.  But these days I am married to someone I like to call "Camp Cook."  My husband is very efficient and conscious of resources in so many aspects of his life (we live in LA and he rides the subway and buses, he find industrious ways to reuse almost anything nonrecyclable that enters our house, etc) and leftovers are no exception.  He finds a way to reinvent leftover foods (much the way the cook at my camp did if there were too many leftovers of one particular thing after a meal) and if he can't, he makes sure to take the leftovers to work for lunch the next day.  I appreciate his interest in not wanting to wasting food (and happy that Juju and I are rarely recruited to be a part of his efforts!)

Lunch dry run - salmon and cream cheese roll-up

Yesterday I mentioned I had the idea to make a lunch out of some sort of salmon.  I ended up buying lox, one of Juju's favorites and figured I should give her a test run before packing this dish as a lunch.  Juju actually has a problem eating sandwiches/wraps.  She doesn't really get that you're supposed to take one big bite and taste the flavors of the bread, spread, lettuce, protein, etc together.  This is why she is one of the few children I know who does not like grilled cheese.  She just pulls the bread apart and tries to pick at the cheese and seems disatisfied with the whole experience.

I am a little afraid to send her with a salmon and cream cheese sandwich because if she starts to pick it apart at school, the results could be, well, gross for all parties involved in clean up.  So, I made it for breakfast today and we'll see if she is mature enough to handle this lunch at school.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The big reveal

The hardest part about packing a lunch is dealing with the threat of rejection.  You spend a lot of time thinking and preparing and cooking and arranging but at the end of the day, your kid can open up her lunchbox, take one look at your masterpiece and give it a big "Kthxbye" as she picks at two bites before scooting off onto the playground. 

The big reveal comes when you're back at home and you go through the lunchbox to clean it out (I thought potty training meant I no longer had to clean gross stuff out of reusable containers - I was wrong) and you get to see what your kid actually ate. 

It seems Juju gave today's lunch a B+.  She ate all of the fruit, most of the carrots, half of the hummus and half of the pasta salad.  Maybe this just means my portions are too big; I am still trying to figure out how much food to give her.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, when we go out she stuffs herself silly but at school she consumes much less.  She is probably more social at lunch with her friends or perhaps she just wants to get to playtime faster.  She did ask to go to CCC today but I politely declined and she seemed to take no for an answer.

I'm working on ideas for lunch on Thursday.  Considering Juju's love for salmon, particulary raw or cured, I was inspired by this Weelicious recipe for salmon cream cheese bites.  We'll see.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Lunch on April 5, 2011 - Pasta Salad Plus

The idea of making lunches twice a week for my daughter is still fairly new and exciting considering we really like to cook (and eat) in this house and I usually pay a fair amount of attention to presentation.  Having this blog though has really thrown things into overdrive.  I will confess I actually thought about printing out the photo of the lunch above and taping it inside Juju's lunchbox so her teachers would know how to arrange the food in front of her and which container to open first.  Yes, I am aware that that is going overboard but if thoughts like that disturb you, you should probably stop reading this blog now; I imagine stressing over decisions like whether or not to print out lunch diagrams will be commonplace as I plan and execute more lunches and you need to be okay with that.

Today's lunch is actually tomorrow's lunch.  Although I like to pack food as fresh as possible, I simply have more time today than I will tomorrow morning so I've already made the lunch.  Also, the main dish is a pasta salad which I find tastes better the next day anyway.  Joining the pasta salad is a container of strawberries and grapes and a container of mini carrots to dip in hummus (while I loathe Costco, it's only redeeming values to me are cheap, quality kids pajamas and the fact that you can find individual servings of Sabra hummus there).

I have been thinking about making pasta salad since last week.  I know most kids gobble up any sort of noodle but I wanted to move beyond the prosaic mac and cheese.  Plus this lunch is served cold with no option to heat it up so I wanted a pasta dish that was best served at room temperature.  I made up the following recipe; the portions are totally up to you and I apologize that I am not actually a proper recipe writer. 

Pasta Salad Plus - this recipe will give you enough for 3-4 lunches
Cook 1/2 box of mini bow tie pasta. 
While it's cooking, place 1/3 package of frozen corn in a big bowl (don't worry about the moisture as it defrosts).  You can also use fresh or canned corn.
Heat 2-3 tablespoons of oil in a pan and add 1/2 clove of chopped garlic.  Stir and cook the garlic long enough to flavor the oil but don't let it get brown (you don't want to burn it).  When the oil starts to bubble, turn it off and let the garlic hang out in the oil off of the heat.  You may leave out the garlic if you don't like it but I find it really adds a great flavor to the dish.
Cut in half sugar plum tomatoes, as many as you like.
Chop up some fresh basil (optional, I just do this for color) or better yet, to save time, buy the frozen kind made by a company called Dorot sold at Trader Joe's and elsewhere.  Get your chopped garlic from Dorot too - this company has changed my life!
Chop up fresh mozzarella cheese (I used one big hunk, about the size of a fist)
Chop in half black and green olives (optional, I did this because my kid is obsessed with olives)
Drain pasta when cooked al dente and add it to the bowl with the corn.  Add the tomatoes, basil, cheese, olives, and salt and pepper to taste.  Add the oil and mix thoroughly.  If the pasta salad is too dry add more oil to taste.
Put some in containers for your child and eat the rest yourself!
It's best if you can make this dish a day or two before, the flavors taste even better when they've marinated overnight.

Fingers crossed the pasta salad is a hit; I don't actually have any kid feedback yet but I quite enjoyed the sample I had.  And I had enough to send my husband a container for lunch as well which is always a plus.  Today's lunch was served in Kids Konserve stainless steel containers.  I promise a post on all the containers I use very soon.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Variety is the spice of lunch

Juju ate most of her lunch yesterday; not too much came back home with the exception of the egg cleverly shaped like a bunny.  It could be that the bunny egg confused or scared her, but I think it's more likely that she is sick and tired of hard boiled eggs since I have offered them a lot lately.  I guess you can put bunny ears on an egg, but it's still an egg.  Ok, that was pretty bad.

I miss the days where I could serve the same meal over and over again and my toddler would happily eat them.  But now that I have this blog to keep me honest, I'm going to make a good effort to change it up going forward.

There are a few food blogs I read geared at cuisine for kiddos (see my blog links to the right) but if you have any other website ideas I'd love to hear them (and share them).