Tuesday, December 13, 2011

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

No wonder they wouldn't let him play in any reindeer games!  Look at him!

This guy has lunch meat features, cheese and olive eyes, a cherry nose, cheese hair and fruit leather twists for antlers.  Pretty fun!  These ideas came from parentmap.com.

Bell pepper Christmas lights!  A broccoli 'tree' with cookie sprinkles as lights.

A sleepy rice ball snowman.  He has a bell pepper nose and scarf, and a hot dog hat.

In response to a few recent questions I've received, yes I make all of these lunches myself, at home (hence the bad lighting and photography).  I get a lot of my ideas online through various websites and try to reference those sites.  There are some amazing Bento Box meals out there, much better, more beautiful and intricate than mine.  I pick ideas based on what I think my child will eat and how easy it would be for me to replicate.  What I'm really trying to say, is, if I can make these, anyone can.  I don't have much time or patience but I really do love spending a few extra minutes in the evening packing something special.  Most importantly, I want my child to have something healthy to eat and have him actually eat it! 

Happy holidays from Lexi's Lunchbox!

Monday, December 12, 2011

It's All Fun and Games.........Until Someone Acts up in a Restaurant Lobby While Waiting for a Table Then Falls on his Head and Starts Screaming and we Have to Leave Before I can Even Order a Margharita

Some advice I remember my husband giving me as newlyweds was, "You have to learn to be more flexible.  You're too uptight.  Let things go."  My response to him was, "Why?"  I should be able to feel how I want to feel when I want to.  There is no reason for me to have flexibility.

Rice topped with red bell pepper, olives and carrot sticks

Everyone says becoming a parent changes everything.  It's true.  Now, I am Mary Lou Retton flexible.  It had been a while since we took the kids out to dinner and I thought it would be a great start to the weekend.  My youngest got hurt so we headed back home.  My parents joined us, we ordered take-out and had a nice evening.  My stress was due to my son's bulging goose egg on his cute little head.  It's torture when the kids are sick or hurt.  The change of plans didn't matter at all.

Second, my schedule works around naps, around meal time, around play time, and I seem to get whatever time is left over, if any.  I try to give my husband time to get his work done and this isn't including his regular day job.  He is also flexible for me when I need to run an errand or get in a quick work-out.  He'll tell me to "take my time" if I'm going to the gym.  What is that supposed to mean?

Third, I was never a morning person.  Before kids, my husband couldn't understand why I didn't want to have long, happy conversations while getting ready for work.  My co-workers knew I didn't 'wake up' until 10:00AM.  Getting up at 3AM to feed a hungry infant isn't easy, then suddenly, I had this adorable happy baby wanting to talk and play at 6AM and I could never resist!  Now I'm all, "GOOD MORNING BABIES!  DID YOU HAVE NICE DREAMS?  LET'S PARTY!"

These rants have to lead to lunches somehow.  My son's food preference happens to be diverse.  I couldn't feed him the same dinner two days in a row even if it were Mac & Cheese.  I like to surprise him with fun lunches but truth be told I don't pack an entertaining lunch every day.  When he requests food I don't have, like pudding, I try to remember to add it to the grocery list so it's a nice unexpected surprise for him down the road.  I keep a long list of foods I can easily reference if I'm having a hard time deciding what to pack.  He told me the other day he no longer likes kiwi.  Here's the translation:  "Mom, you've been giving me too much kiwi.  I don't want to see another one for about three weeks."

I try to shop in season and local as much as possible but by mid-season those foods can get boring.  This requires a little more creative preparation and presentation.  Really it could be as easy as giving a whole apple instead of slicing it up.

A little side note:  This time of year I freeze holiday cookies.  I pack a few frozen cookies in a plastic bag and place inside his lunchbox, to help keep the bento box cool.  The cookies defrost by lunchtime.

Christmas Bentos coming very soon and they are a trip!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Outside Influences

I'm convinced my children wouldn't know a thing about McDonald's had they never been in day care.  They would eat the crust on their bread, never ask for chocolate milk, and have the perfect, well balanced diet including all the daily requirements, DAILY.  Yeah, okay.  That's reasonable.

It's easy to point a finger at anyone else in charge of my children for a portion of the week for influencing their imperfect behavior, current obsessions (Star Wars---though that may be my husband's doing), and food aversions (my baby used to love black beans, tomatoes and green beans.  What happened????)

Who knows.  Tastes change.  Kids want to fit in (no one else is eating bread crust).  Independence.  This 'village' that is helping us raise our children, either hired caregivers or family, I'm sure are doing it better than me at times (like when I should have prevented my one year old from taking a tumble down the stairs.  Carpeted stairs but still!)

There are two outside influences that have worked amazingly for me......I mean, my son.  The first had to do with potty training a few years ago.  No matter how hard I tried to persuade him with stickers, charts, applause and finally resorting to mini M & M's, I couldn't get the job done, even when I felt certain he was ready.  Seeing the other big kids at his day care convinced him he is ready to move on to the next chapter in his underwear wearing life.  Overnight, he became a professional flusher.

The second influence is in regards to academics.  Our smarty-pants two year old recognizes every letter of the alphabet but our older one has forgotten some .  We read to the boys every night as part of the traditional bedtime routine.  I could hear Alex complain and whine when my husband insisted he sound out letters and words.  Suddenly, we are worried he is behind.  On the weekends I want to work on writing letters and discuss consonants and vowels.  He insists on drawing Darth Vader and Light Sabers.

I used a food coloring marker to write on the sandwich, cheese for windows
Lima beans with red bell pepper stars

A few months into kindergarten, during dinner one night, Alex announces he can spell the word bus.  "It's B, then U, then, um, S!"  That was the first word I learned to spell!  That was the first word my husband learned to spell too!  We were so excited.  By the following week he was spelling run, bad, but and sit.  Next I hear, "Mom, I know what 2 and 3 make.  5!"  Now my mind is blown.  "You know math?!"

This whold independent thing is happening much faster than I thought it would.  I always thought the parents would get to teach their kids all the important stuff so long as they put in the effort (that it was actually our responsibility).  Our kids don't necessarily want to learn everything from us.  I guess it's a little like my professional job.  Sometimes a customer just needs to hear the same exact thing from someone else in order to be happy and move on with their life.

My son's classmates all want to have a look at what's inside his lunch box and Alex loves the attention.  This time, being different is paying off.  I also have new spelling and math ideas to include in his lunch box to keep learning fun!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Halloween Lunch Box Ideas

My favorite childhood Halloween memories are trick-or-treating in Cuyahoga Falls where my family's best friends lived and collecting massive pillowcases full of candy.  They were almost too heavy to carry.  There was this one house we looked forward to going to because the homeowner made and gave out candy coated apples.  I can't imagine how many candy apples she made each year.

We would return to our friend's house and us four kids would dump our cases and trade goodies with each other.

Once home, I would clear out a top dresser drawer and organize all my candy by size and type.  It was like having my own candy store.  I can't believe my parents let us have all those treats to ourselves to eat at our leisure.  It was usually gone within a couple weeks.  I would try to prolong the inevitable by sneaking my brother's candy here and there, later came to find out he was doing the same to me.

Now that I have kids, I'm having those feelings all over again-- the decorations, costumes, parties and trick-or-treating, their excitement makes me excited!  The only difference, really, is the feeling of my pants getting tighter just thinking about the pounds of candy around the house---boooo : (

As important as I think it is to limit my children's intake of sugar, fat and provide them with healthy meals to help them grow, learn and stay healthy, there are those holiday and special occasion exceptions where I hope they learn to appreciate and give thanks for what they have while also making their own great childhood memories.

There are all sorts of creepy cupcake, layer cake and Halloween dessert themed recipes I found and I absolutely want to make each of them.  I have to consider all the treats that are already in abundance so I've tried finding some creative ways to make some fun and scary healthy treats and lunches.

Peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  The letters have been carved out of hard salami.  The bat and grass have been made out of a sheet of roasted seaweed.  You can use scissors to easily shape the seaweed. 

Another sandwich, sliced through to form a mouth.  I used some strawberry jam to enhance the mouth, salami and black olives to make the eyes, and seaweed for his eyebrows.

The fingers are string cheese, with a red bell pepper for fingernail.  I carved a section of the cheese out to fit the finger nail.  You can use soft cream cheese to help keep it in place.

The goblin mouths are apple slices, and sliced almonds.  Slivered almonds would have worked better but I didn't have those.  I used a pairing knife to make slits in the apple first, then fit in the almonds.  I put a little lemon juice on the apple to slow down the browning.

Ideally, the pizza mummies would have had a more 'wrapped' look.  My cheese melted together.  It would have been cute to use thin ribbons of cheese and melt slightly to keep the shape.  Black olives for eyes.  The Jack O' Lantern is a carved out orange and I filled that with grapes.  Dried fruit would work well also.

Bones and monsters.  Refrigerated bread sticks make up the bones.  I carved an octopus out of a hot dog and made monster eyes with sliced carrots, sliced red grapes and sliced black olives.

Needless to say, my son was very excited about his lunches this week.  I have to step it up a notch and find some more ideas.  His teachers have been quite entertained as well.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Five O'Clock World

Work travel.  Usually my husband is the one jetting off to another state once every month or so.  It's really hard when he's not around since he is so hands-on.  When he's gone I take time in the evenings once the kids go to bed to try to accomplish something useful like gathering up old clothes and toys for the donation center to clear up a cluttered room, or catch up on all my recorded television shows so he doesn't have to suffer through them when he returns (although I know he secretly loves Glee)! 

My job took me to St Louis for five nights.  That's unfair time away because he is usually only gone for three nights when he travels.  Lucky for him he has both our mothers standing by taking turns cooking dinner for him and the boys.  Lucky for me, he got to experience my early mornings of getting both kids up, dressed, fed and off to separate schools across town.  Guess what else?  He also had to pack a lunchbox each day.

I'm proud of my man for keeping the kids happy (he promised me they would still be alive when I returned), managing all the household duties (though most of their time was spent outside the home), and he, on his own, took photos of each lunch he packed in case I wanted to use them for the blog!  Let's check it out!

This is great!  PB&J on whole wheat bread, a vegetable and cookies for a special treat that he bought because those were not in the house when I left.  Good job, A+

Oh, okay, this is funny.  I know where this is going.  My husband is very funny and very sarcastic.  He pretty much makes fun of everything.  B- for lack of creativity.

Psych!  It's just a different camera angle.

The rest of the week

In his defense, he said he switched up the sandwich from PB&J to salami and cheese.  Also, he said our son was excited about the lunches and brought back an empty box each night.  That's fine, I'm sure it was nice for everyone to experience something a little different but now that Big Mamma's back, it's time for everyone to detox! 

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Homemade Pizza

We eat so much of this in the summer time.  With fall fast approaching, it's the perfect time to use up those last fresh tomatoes from the garden and stock up the freezer with individual balls of dough.

 Homemade pizza has become one of my absolute favorite things to make.  Sure you can buy all the ingredients to put together a pizza in no time, but the fresh dough, easy sauce, knowing I'm not  putting too much sugar, salt and preservatives into my kids' bodies are so worth the effort.  Plus it can be a fun family project!  I have a dough roller, a topping placer, of course with much supervision and a slightly messier than usual kitchen.  Our dog, Frankie, helps eat up the dropped shredded mozzarella.  By allowing my kids to help prepare meals, I've found them much more willing to try new things and excited about meal time.  It also keeps them away from the video games and television.

For us, this is definitely a weekend project, however, you can make enough sauce and dough over the weekend to freeze or refrigerate for the upcoming busy work week. 

This recipe comes from myrecipes.com, slightly modified:

Easy Pizza Dough
  • 1 package dry yeast
  • 2/3 cup warm water (105° to 115°)
  • 1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour, divided
  • 3/4 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 tablespoon cornmeal
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Vegetable cooking spray
  • Dissolve yeast in water in a large bowl, and let stand 5 minutes. Stir in 1 cup flour and 3/4 cup wheat flour, cornmeal, oil, and salt to form a soft dough.
  • Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead until smooth and elastic (about 5 minutes); add enough of the remaining flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, to prevent dough from sticking to hands.
  • Place dough in a large bowl coated with cooking spray, turning dough to coat top. Cover dough, and let rise in a warm place (85°), free from drafts, 40 minutes or until doubled in bulk.
  • Punch dough down, and roll into a 15-inch circle on a lightly floured surface. Place dough on a 15-inch pizza pan or baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Top and bake according to recipe directions.
  • Note: To make 6 individual pizzas, roll dough into 5-inch rounds.

Pizzas like a hot oven, you might have heard.  I place a pizza stone into my cold oven then preheat to around 425 degrees just so I don't set off the smoke alarm.  My stone smokes for some reason.  I also make sure I have the oven vent on. 

I like to make individual pizzas so the kids can customize their own but also so I can get it onto the hot stone using the spatulas I have. It would be easier and way cooler with one of those pizza paddles I've seen at the professional pizzerias.  But where to store that thing?? 

It's also fun to grill pizza.  The dough cooks real fast on the grill so I don't take my eyes off of it!

I make a couple batches of dough and divide it into the six individual balls (twice, so 12 balls for two batches) which I'll wrap in plastic wrap, then place those in a freezer bag.  That way, I can pull as many balls as I need for dinner the next day, to defrost in the refrigerator overnight. 

So, I know, what does this have to do with lunchboxes?  Packing lunches are one more thing on the to-do list that can create anxiety for some.  By taking 15 minutes or so over the weekend to plan out meals over the week and grocery shop, then in turn have some easy left-overs for lunches (I believe I mentioned the left-overs thing before), to make lunch packing a cinch.   I save much time and stress if I have what I need when I get home from work faced with a tired, hungry family.

Easy Pizza Sauce from myrecipes.com slightly modified:
  • Cooking spray
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 (14.5-ounce) can crushed tomatoes, undrained


  • Heat a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add onion to pan; sauté 3 minutes or until tender. Add garlic to pan; sauté 30 seconds. Add tomato paste, oregano, crushed red pepper, black pepper, and tomatoes. Reduce heat, and simmer for 20 minutes or until thick. Remove from heat; Cool.
Sometimes I add a little honey to my sauce if it needs sweetened a bit.  Some canned pasta and pizza sauces contain a lot of sugar (that's why they are so good).  Please read the labels if that is something you are concerned about.  You can also find some that are low in sugar.

Frankie, our topping catcher

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Bento Box

This one is dedicated to my oldest friend, Erin.  Not because we are old, just because our Dads were BFFs before we were born!  She is wonderful.

Honestly, I cannot remember how I come to learn about the wonderful Bento, probably by 'Googling' something because that's how I find out about of lot of stuff.  It's really a perfect serving for kids and perfect portion control for adults.  The Bento is traditionally a Japanese boxed meal, containing rice, a protein, vegetables and sometimes fruit for dessert.  I fell in love with the concept!

I found this lunchbox on Amazon for around $22.00.  It's plastic, easy to use, and dishwasher safe.  The lid seals tight and I haven't experienced any leaks.  I will however, use plastic wrap to cover any section containing wet foods to keep the others from getting soggy and to make sure small foods stay put.  I've read a few reviews stating the lid has cracked for some owners of this particular product.  I choose to hand wash mine each night because of my anal retentiveness about what gets tossed into the dishwasher.  This Bento has lasted me well over an entire school year and into the second.  If something were to happen to it tomorrow, I would order another in a heartbeat!

You may want to know I place the packed Bento into an insulated Transformers lunchbox (last year it was Spiderman) which then is either carried or packed again into a book bag.  These thermal lunch bags sometimes have a separate compartment to hold an ice pack to keep the 'cool' lunch cool.  So, the Bento should be small enough to fit into something a little more fun.
Depending on the child's appetite (mine seem to already be eating us out of house and home), I sometimes fit a snack size pudding or whole banana inside the thermal lunchbox, outside the Bento.  I realize, down the road, the Bento may not hold quite enough food for my hungry boys, but for now it's quite fun.
Couscous with onion, bell pepper, peas, toasted pine nuts, and raw carrot 'super-stars'!
Ants on a Log:  Celery, peanut butter, and raisins

Hello!  I'm totally aware that not many kindergartners are bringing couscous for lunch.  My Dad doesn't even know what it is.  But, right now, I have a couple of vegetarians on my hands (they miraculously turn carnivorous in the McDonald's drive-thru and have no problem devouring their cheeseburgers.  Can I get them to eat beef, chicken, or fish at home?  Not so much).  Last night we had a delicious baked, white, flaky fish served over a bed of couscous.  My son pushes fish aside, gobbles up couscous.  I might have guessed it was simply the lesser of two evils on his plate but he surprisingly asked for more.  I don't want to guess what he'll like for lunch.  I save the taste-testing games for dinner!  Once we find a winner, packing a lunch of leftovers just saved me a ton of time and energy.  I only have to 'switch it up' a bit--hence the crazy star carrots.

So for me, it's a challenge to make sure my kids are getting the right amount of protein and more importantly, iron in their diet.  Couscous is a carbohydrate.  It's low in fat, has a little bit of fiber, a little bit of protein and a little bit of iron.  I like to add lots of diced veggies to up that nutritional value.

Traditional couscous is served under a vegetable or meat stew (yummy).  I use it as if it were a side of pasta, mashed potatoes or rice.  It's versatile because you can add any spice, flavors, vegetables, dried fruit or nuts you like.  Either way, it's crazy-easy to make and super-fast.  Most grocery stores have it in the rice and dried beans aisle, pasta aisle or ethnic foods aisle.

The bag on the left was purchased at my favorite Lebonese bakery, the container on the right was purchased at Giant Eagle

How I prepared this couscous:

Heat 1 teaspoon of olive oil in a medium sauce pan
Saute 1/4 cup onion and 1/4 cup bell pepper
Add 1 cup of chicken stock (or water) and bring to a boil
Add 1 cup of couscous, cover, remove from heat, let stand for five minutes
Once I removed the pan from the heat, I added a handful of frozen peas and a handful of toasted pine nuts
After five minutes, remove lid and fluff with a fork, salt and pepper to taste

Saturday, August 27, 2011

"So, what's a couple of bites like you doing out so late, eh?"

It may be a bit of a stretch as far as craftiness, but took no extra time to prepare.  This is a great 'whole wheat' shark, splashing up over waves of green pepper.  Of course I get a, "Mom!  I only like red peppers!"  I thought the green pepper would look more oceanic.

How perfect would gold fish crackers go as a little side snack {adding to grocery list}?  My nephew loves these little Nemo gummy snacks (now I totally have to re-do this lunch idea)!

I was informed the teachers have the children take at least a few bites of each item packed in their lunch, hence my guy's concern over the green versus red pepper.  Way to go teachers!!  Now, how can I take advantage of this new knowledge?

The shark is simply a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  I used a paring knife to skillfully (yeah, right) cut big-sharp teeth, and black olives for his dark, ready to feed on prey, eyes.  His name's BRUCE!

Monday, August 22, 2011

This Little Piggy Went to the Farmer's Market

My five-year-old first thought these pretty piggy rice balls were cupcakes.  I'm glad I was able to break the news early, that his main course is not going to be a dessert!  Though slightly disappointed, he was still excited about taking a 3D lunch in to school today.

The rice balls are so fun and easy to make.  Most of the prep work can be done the night before.  You'll want to cook the rice ahead of time to save time in the morning.  The goal was to cook the rice with red cabbage to enhance the color.  That didn't work out as planned.  I think I needed to add a lot more than just a couple leaves to the rice cooker.  I added a drop of red food coloring to the warm rice.  I wouldn't usually use food coloring but I didn't have beets or beet juice on hand which I think would have worked well.

Once the rice has cooled completely, wet your fingers, take a scoop, then roll into balls.  Wrap the balls in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator.  When you are ready to assemble, you can poke a finger to make an indentation to hide a savory filling such as mashed black beans or a diced vegetable.  I used a plastic straw to cut out round shapes of American cheese for the snout and ears.  I used black sesame seeds for the eyes and nostrils.

My enthusiasm for our area Farmers' Markets has rubbed off a bit on my children.  They look forward to shopping outside.  It's fun for them to try samples and I ask them to help make decisions on how many ears of corn and apples they think we'll need this week.  Allowing them to be involved with meal planning can sometimes result in 'cleaner' plates. 

I don't have the time or creativity for these entertaining lunches every day, but their reactions sure are priceless and I know I have limited time before I completely embarrass them to death.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Back to School. Already???

You can put together a healthy lunch for your kids in no time.  With the first day of school around the corner, here's a quick list of ideas to get you started!

This is peanut butter and jelly on whole wheat bread, raisins, celery, fresh kiwi and a few chocolate kisses (it's the first day back)!
I try to include fresh sliced fruit (apple, peaches, plums, pears, strawberries, blueberries, grapes)
And a 'vegetable' or something close (sliced cucumber, bell pepper, carrots, celery)

One of the greatest gifts we can give children, besides unconditional love, undivided attention, incredible tolerance and patience, warm clothes, shelter, and education IS healthy meals.  I am not a dietitian or nutritionist nor does my formal education include health and wellness.  I am a full-time working mom and wife trying my best to keep my family happy and healthy.  I feel good when I eat whole foods.  My mind and body function better with a healthy diet.  While my kids are still growing, and while I still have some control over their food choices, my goal is to instill healthy eating habits that will hopefully stay with them into adulthood.

Understandably, kids are typically picky eaters.  Never imagined putting a vegetable in their lunch before?  Why not?  Try mixed vegetables or canned corn.  Chances are a child will gravitate towards certain vegetables, eventually, depending on where they come from (a can, the freezer, fresh out of the garden) and how they are prepared (sauteed in butter, blanched, roasted, raw or mashed).

This meal, to me, is important.  First, because I'm not around to monitor the situation.  Second, don't stress about three square meals every day.  If my kids eat a solid vegetable, a real fruit (fallen from a tree, not in juice form) and a whole grain once a day or every other day, I'm proud of that.  Third, the day care and school afternoon snacks provided, often include candy and Cheetos (the HORROR!) so I know my kids are not being deprived of sugar and fat and all that makes us excited.

Obviously, it may be easier to pack a healthy lunch if children are already accustomed to eating those foods.  With parents setting an example at home, cooking meals with fresh ingredients, kids are more likely to mimic those actions.  It's never too late to change!  Even small changes over time will benefit your family's health, budget, and waistline.

This is alphabet pasta with red bell peppers, feta and black olives.  It's dressed with a lemon vinaigrette along with red seedless grapes and organic alphabet cinnamon cookies to keep with the theme!