Sunday, August 29

School Lunches: Fun and Friendly!

So, I've talked about some cool options for putting the lunch into and how to keep variety and healthy options in the a fore mentioned cool lunchboxes, to keep it fun. Because let's be honest, no one wants to eat a boring lunch. And the best way to make your kid eat something you're not sure they'll like is to make it interesting and give it kid-appeal.

There are a LOT of great little tools out there at your disposal to make lunches more fun, and Earth friendly too! One of the easiest is to get some cloth napkins. It's an easy and inexpensive way to personalize your child's lunch a bit more. I just ordered a half-dozen outer-space inspired cloth napkins from my friend Rachel at She has a lot of great napkin prints, that will HOPEFULLY, inspire your little student to use the napkin instead of their shirt sleeve.

Another really cool item P picked for his lunch box this year are sporks. I ordered them from He chose the lime green, white and black set. I like that it gives him a spoon and a fork with only one utensil. And they are perfect kid size. They fit really well in his new lunchbox from GoGreen.

Instead of using all those plastic bags that end up in landfills, why not invest in a few cute snack taxis or some sandwich wrappers. There are a lot of great options, in fun fabric prints, that will save you a lot of money in the long run. And no more running out of sandwich baggies at 11pm while making tomorrow's lunch!

But it's not all about the accessories. Sometimes, it's the food itself, right? Consider using standard cookie cutters to sandwiches into fun shapes. Or, if you're a little lazier like me, consider these full sandwich cutters that give you multiple shapes with one cut. I really like the puzzle piece ones, but I know my lil M would enjoy the transportation set. For those of you with little girls, there is this fairy tale set that is super cute too. If you don't like any of those, there are a few more set options as well.

Sometimes, making lunch fun and interesting can be as simple as cutting fruit into fun shapes, something that is really easy to do with the Wilton Fondant Cutters. You can order them online, but I found them the cheapest in the cake supply section of JoAnn fabrics or Michaels. And with the 40% off coupons they put out each week, I was able to get each set for around $1.80! I've used them for cucumber, apple, cantelope, watermelon and cheese so far. I've also seen them used on fruit leather (a fruit roll up type product). The kids love cut the shapes themselves, and they're more interested in eating them when they've done the work. The alphabet set would be SO fun to spell out their name or another fun word. Or here's a world of flowers and butterflies set.

If you're kids are like my friend Kim's, who don't eat traditional lunch food. Use the small cookie cutters to create fun shapes with cooled rice. Or use these unique rice molds to create little characters or fun faces.

Everything tastes better on a toothpick! Make meat & cheese Kabobs. Or fruit kabobs. For holiday seasons, look in the cake supply section of your local craft store for disposable seasonal toothpicks. You can make them extra special by using some of these adorable toothpicks.

50 pcs Mini Food Pick
Cute Animal Pick Set
Music Note Set
Safari Animal Set
More Bento Accessories - dividers, picks, napkins, etc

I found a few other great tips while looking for ideas as well.
  • Keep a spray bottle of lemon juice & water in the fridge to spray apples to keep them from turning brown.
  • Shredded carrots can add a nice sweetness and texture to a sandwich or wrap.
  • Top yogurt with a few mini marshmallows or chocolate chips to make it more dessert like.
  • Use a silicone cupcake liner to create more compartments within your lunch container. Or use it to hold a dip.
  • Use Horizon Milk boxes to provide your student with extra calcium. They don't require refrigeration. Find them in the organic section at your local grocery store.
  • Frozen applesauce can become an applesauce slushie by lunchtime.
  • Don't forget to write a short note, joke or riddle to add into your child's lunch. Occasionally a sticker is a special treat as well. It reminds them that you're thinking of them.

During my journey through the internet world of bento lunches, I found a TON of inspiring lunches; some elaborate and some simple. Take a look around and see what inspires you!

Yummy Lunch Ideas
Bento Bizarro
Bento Pictures
Easy, Healthy Bento Lunch Box Ideas for Kids
O'Bento Lunch 4 Kidz
What's for Lunch at Our House
Bento Lunch Ideas for Kids
Muffin Tin Mom

Wednesday, August 25

School Lunches: Change it up, Keep it healthy

So the fun part of what to put our lunch in has been settled, but that still leaves me with the same menu as last year in a new box. Eventually, that'll get boring too. I knew I needed to devise some way to make lunch exciting and different. I searched the internet and a few books trying to find new ways to make lunch foods interesting.

I found a list somewhere (sorry, I can't remember where) that had a list of all the different types of bread options, filler options and condiment options to make a different sandwich each day. I created my own list, called it the "Sandwich Construction" Chart and printed it up. I have it on the fridge for easy reference. I plan to use it to make sandwiches when I'm in a rush. Or for those times I feel like I've made PB&J four days that week. My chart is below. For example; I might choose to put peanut butter and apples on a pita pocket. OR maybe pizza sauce, olives and pepperoni on an English muffin. Feel free to copy the chart, paste it to a new document, customize it to be your own and then print it for YOUR fridge!

Homemade flat bread
Bread sticks
English muffins
Soft tortillas
Lavash bread
Pita bread
Rice cakes
Traditional sandwich bread

Almond butter
Apple butter
Apple Slices
Avocado (mashed)
Banana (mashed)
Brie Cheese
Cashew butter
Cream cheese (1/3 less fat)
Jam (spreadable fruits)
Peanut butter
Pizza sauce
Pumpkin butter

Carrots (shredded)
Chicken (shredded, sliced, leftover)
Chicken salad
Egg salad
Hard boiled egg
Hot dog (all beef, nitrate free)

Another thing I struggled with last year was not repeating the same 4-5 fruits and vegetables. So I added that to my list as well. I'm, again, hopeful that we can avoid eating the same foods over and over.


Pepper strips
Green beans
Snap peas
Sweet potatoes

And who are we kidding if we think we're going to do a healthy lunch every day? I always put a special treat into my kids' lunch. Sometimes it's a Hershey Miniature. Sometimes it's something less "junk" like but it still seems like a great treat. So I added to my list "smarter treats" and "other stuff" that didn't seem to fit into any category.

Smarter Treats
Chips with salsa
Rice pudding
Fruit bars
Homemade cookies - add flax seed or ground wheat germ give them an added boost
Trail mix
Yogurt - can top with mini marshmallows, sprinkles or chocolate chips for extra special treat
Babybel Cheese (fun to eat!)
Crunchy Bagel Chips

Oatmeal in a thermos
Goldfish type crackers
Homemade pizza
Meat roll up with laughing cow spread & avocado
Mini bagel with neufchatel cheese (1/3 less fat cream cheese)
Hard boiled egg
Pita & hummus
Stuff pita with hummus and shredded carrots

I'm certain that I won't be able to make every lunch as healthy and wonderful as I'd like to. I'm bound to have a crazy night or morning where I can't get it done and he'll get a leftover slice of pizza. But with my lists on the fridge, I can have options already draw up. Ideas already in the flowing mode...I just have to bring them together.

You can get my entire document in it's complete and slightly disorganized form HERE.

Need more inspiration? Check out all these great links! You're bound to find SOMETHING that inspires you when you're stumped.

Yummy Lunch Ideas
Nutritious Lunch Ideas (Laptop Style Lunchboxes)
Two Weeks of Menu Ideas (
The Family Dish (mostly dinner ideas, but some could carry over to lunches)
Back-to-School Cooking (
Laptop Lunches (Laptop Style Lunchboxes, but still great ideas)
What's for lunch at our house (a mom's blog of bento style lunches)
How to Pack a Kids' Lunch Without a Sandwich ( (more grown-up lunches)
Super Healthy Kids (another great blog! GREAT ideas & information!)
Weelicious (We are SO trying her Eggplant Parmesan Sticks! They looks like French Toast Sticks!)
Cooking with My Kid (These ideas are realistic and fun)

On Friday, I'll be posting about the little things that us "lunch makers" can do to make lunchtime a bright spot in our little sunshines' day, as well as a few other random tips to make your student's lunch safe.

Monday, August 23

School Lunches: What to pack 'em in!

I honestly don't remember my lunch bag as a kid.  I know I purchased lunch on pizza day, but my mom packed my lunch most of the time.  My lunch bag, I'm sure, was a basic lunch bag.  Because if it was something really cool, I would remember that.

My son is entering the second grade.  Cool is of the utmost importance right now.  Can't be too babyish.  Yet, he's not into superheroes or cartoon characters.  Last year he had a lunch bag that lasted him 5 months.  That's ridiculous, in my mom-pinion.  If it's created for a student, it should be practically indestructible!  What's the point if it's not?!  This year we have a lunch mission: Healthy, Earth Friendly and Fun!

Our lunchbox needed a few specific characteristics:
1) It needed to have compartments.  (We're a "food shouldn't touch" family.)
2) It needed to be an appropriate size.  He doesn't have a lot of room to store things at school.
3) It must be easy to open.  A lot of little lids and containers was one of our problems last year.
4) It should be able to stay cold when it needs to be.  My lil' guy's lunch will sit in his cubby for approximately 4 hours before being consumed.
5) It needed to be affordable and durable.

In my many weeks of research for the ultimate lunchbox, I came across many, many options.  A lot of this research was done in tandem with my friend, Jennifer over at Whatever.  These were some of our family's top qualifiers:

Bento Box & Laptop Lunchbox
These little compartmented boxes are very popular in Japan, where Bento means "a picnic type lunch".  They come in LOTS of styles and designs.  They are super cute and there are tons of websites devoted to people who make adorable little lunches in the boxes.  The kid version of the Bento Box is the Laptop Lunchbox.  Bento boxes do not come in a cooler bag, you have to buy all that separately, but you can buy a Laptop Lunchbox as a full kit for around $40.  It includes the case, the box, the "buddies" you put food in, a set of silverware, a water bottle and a book to help you with ideas for packing lunches.   These look like a great option for many families!  They are reported to be incredibly durable and safe, also a bonus.  The main reason we did not choose the Laptop Lunchbox was a few reports I received of it being difficult to open smoothly.  I admit I have not personally tried, nor has my 2nd grader tried to open one, however.  I also was concerned that the containers would leak into each other if I put applesauce or something into one of the compartments.  It's something still in our thoughts and may become our 'second' lunch box after school starts.

This was P's top choice for his lunchbox.  This box comes in two styles (with and without ears), in 8 colors.  He really liked the slate blue 'too cool for ears' lunchbox.  I really liked the size of the compartments and the water bottle being part of the box.  It's all in one piece and easy to handle.  It looks easy to open and like the foods would remain in their intended containers.  We opted not to go for this box because of the lack of a way to keep cool foods cool.  It didn't fit into any of our current lunch bags and it was a bit tall for the ones I could find online.  I do, however, think it's adorable and I am considering getting one for Maxwell.  If only he needed to take lunch somewhere... ($25)

This is a great plastic free option!  It's a stainless steel tray system with a hinged, fitted lid.  The system comes with a bag, the main tray and two smaller containers with lids for things like applesauce or yogurt.  I'll be honest, right off the bat I knew we wouldn't get it.  $60 for the system was just too much for me.  But the compartments are awesome.  The bags are adorable and the magnet sets really are great for personalization.  I would be concerned about getting those magnets home though.  It seems as though my son would take them off during lunch and they'd never come back. 

GoGreen Lunchbox
This is our winner; the one P can (hopefully) make last a full year.  This system seemed to have it all.  It's compartmented with tight seals, it's an appropriate size, it has a cooler bag and it's only $30.  I like that I can buy an additional tray to fit the bag for only $13.  That's affordable.  I also thought if we needed more food room, we could just take the water bottle out of it's designated area. I was concerned about the locking system that keeps the tray sealed.  Jennifer, my lunch box search partner, who has already received her system she said her little "A" who's going into 2nd grade handled the system fine after a few practices.  I also talked to Kim, the designer of the GoGreen system, and she said if my P couldn't handle it I could send it back for a refund.  That's someone who stands by their work!!  And as a bonus, I'm supporting a mom, not some major company. 

So we have finally made our choice.  I'm happy with it.  Finding a system that allowed for more eating time and less "opening" time was crucial.  Additionally, I found one within our budget, that keeps the food cool and is cool enough for my 2nd grader.  I'll give an additional review after a few weeks of use and let you know how it's working out for us.

Wednesday, I'll be posting some great resources and sites to use for making healthy and fun lunches for the kids.  Make sure you sign up on the side of the blog to become a "follower" so you don't miss anything!

Friday, August 20

School Lunches: Break from the Boredom

Last year, working full time and having a house and kids to care for, I got lazy with packing my son's lunches.  I even let him buy hot lunch a few times a week, knowing full well it wasn't a healthy choice.  But I just didn't feel like standing at the fridge that night saying "What now?!" 

I want this year to be different.  I want it to be interesting.  Changing.  Even -gasp- exciting!?  I know.  I can hear you already.  "Really?  It's just lunch!"  I know.  I know.  But I know my kid.  And I know he likes change, variety and a break from the boredom that can become the standard "cold lunch".

So I'm launching a multi-post blog topic.  Beginning Monday, I'll be discussing lunch box options, healthy choices and ways to make cold lunch cool again.  Trust me.  You're gonna want to bookmark these posts.  Because if you're anything like me, it'll all last about 6 weeks and you'll be bored and frustrated standing at the fridge saying "What now?!" all over again.

Stay tuned for some awesome ideas, thoughts and discussions!

Thursday, August 19

Overcommitted - again

I have a lovely way of doing this to myself.  It happens several times a year.  I really need to learn to do something about it.  The problem is, I don't realize I'm overcommitted - thus overwhelmed - until it's too late. 

My current fall line up:
work full time at Reach
foster a dog (comes and gos thankfully!) & photography for the shelter group
co-coach middle school volleyball (Mon, Tues & Thurs)
take a college class (hopefully!)

assist with a bible study at church (Wed)
continue my training for a 5K and complete 5K before Nov 1st
take care of my family & my home

WHEW!  It's gonna be a hectic fall!

Sunday, August 15

He's a Big Boy Now!

While Maxwell was staying with my inlaws the past few days, Matt and I rearranged his room and brought in a few new things. 

First, we realized the problem with stuffed animals was as bad in his room as it had been in Payton's around this age.  Luckily, we discovered the solution to that one years ago.  We mounded a 48 pocket shoe organizer to the back of his door.  It's perfect for all the animals; big and small.

We rearranged his closet, making his toys less stacked in towers and easier for him to sort through.  That left us with the issue of his dress up clothes.  We already had circles painted on his walls, so I found some 3M removeable wall hooks in colors to compliment the room and hung those.  His dress up costumes fit there pretty well!
The last issue was his bed.  He's been in his crib for 3.5 years now.  We removed the side about a year ago and he's done well, so we swallowed hard and purchased an IKEA kid's loft style bed with a bed tent from a friend of ours.  Another great friend had a free twin mattress for us, so that was great too!

It all came together perfectly, really.  We sent Maxwell a video while he was away and I heard he watched it quite a bit.  He called me to tell me it was "really cool" and "awesome!".  Tonight when he came home, he still felt just as strongly about it.  We played in his room for about 2 hours this afternoon, just rediscovering toys that had been lost in piles or new toys that had been Payton's that we brought in.

As I put him to bed tonight, he was very excited.  So excited he may not sleep.  But I'm just happy he loves his new room.

Monday, August 9

The time has come...

I have begun thinking about back to school already.  I'm not happy about it, but it must be done.

I have the clothing bought, I have the supplies purchased and I've started schedule and meal planning.  I have to set up my room at school yet. And I am looking forward to seeing my "work friends" and the students again.

But I'm still not ready.  I'm really enjoying my summer and I don't want it to end.  sigh

Roo update

It looks like Roo (now known as Rudy) has found a new home.  Last week, I took some pictures of the big guy in the backyard, posted them on Facebook and within 14 minutes, he'd been spoken for.  He'll be joining his new family on Wednesday.

As far as dogs go, Rudy was a great one for us to start our fostering experience with.  Matt has already said he doesn't expect any of our future fosters to be so good.  And he may be right.  Other than his sitnky breath, Roo has been an amazing dog to have in our home.

I hope he gives his new family as much joy as he's given us.

Thursday, August 5


Giving up Missy has created a hole in our home.  I don't know about anyone else, but I was missing the company.  When the boys go to bed, the house becomes a quiet place.  Missy was a great comfort to me.

Matt and I discussed adopting another dog.  We discussed breed, gender, size, age, hair length, everything really.  But in the end, we decided we may not be 100% ready for our ideal dog.  Instead, we decided to enroll in a foster program with a local shelter.

How it works is we tell them what we're willing to have in our home and then when a dog comes into the shelter that matches us, we get a call that we can foster that dog.  We're responsible for his or her care until it comes to be that the dog can be placed in a permanent home.

On Sunday, the woman from the shelter brought us Roo, a seven year old male mini-dachshund.  So far, he's fitting in really well.  He is pretty low key, doesn't chase balls or want to play too much.  He barks when left alone, which is annoying, but over all he's great.  He hasn't destroyed anything and seems to be adjusting to the house well.  He only had 2 accidents the first day he was here and he's been great since then.  At night, he likes to cuddle up on the couch and bury his nose in the blanket and pillows.  If I'm close by, he'll curl up next to me.  And, he's pretty good with the boys.  He has no issue with them either way, although he's more interested in Payton than Maxwell.

If you're interested in adopting Roo, just give me a "holler" and we'll get you in contact with the right people! :)

Wednesday, August 4

And so it begins...

Today was like any other day, until we were checking out at the grocery store. Then, my world changed. Not in a big drastic way. The sun didn't stop shining and no one died. It was more a slight shift. Entering a new level if you will.

As we stood at the check out, Payton was entranced with the young, beautiful, 16 year old girl bagging our groceries. I watched him stare at her for a moment and I heard him say "What's your name?" with measurable flirtatiousness in his voice. She giggled and told him. He said "My name is Payton." I was pretty sure this would be followed with "Here's my number, give me a call sometime", but luckily his brain is still 7...not 17.

I thought that was cute enough. And I got a good chuckle out of it. But as we were walking to our car, Payton proceeded to tell me the details that he was enamored with in this young lady.

"Mommy, I like that girl. I liked her hair. And her face. And she looked nice in that blue shirt. She had pretty eyes too."

It was then I knew - my boy had suddenly realized girls were pretty. And they are great to look at.

I'm sure this the first of many girls...and a lot of drama and heartache...but it was super cute. And I love that I was there and he shared his moment with me.