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, 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 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