Week of School Lunches – Day 2: Grade School Vegetarian Lunches (part 1)

Continuing on with the Week of School Lunches series, that I started yesterday.

These are some of the lunches I packed for my daughter (age 6) to take to elementary school.  She has a bigger appetite and likes much more variety in her lunch than her preschool aged brother.  Our elementary school allows nuts, which give me more flexibility while packing vegetarian lunches.

We used a Laptop Lunch bento box system last year and loved it.  It’s still in good shape and will be used again this year.

Week of School Lunches – Day 2

nectarines + raspberries, frozen peas + carrots, yogurt, triscuits + sunflower seeds

Pear, fruit snacks, cherry tomatoes, sunflower seeds, cheese + tortilla

cantaloupe + pineapple, sprinkles, red peppers + carrots, yogurt, pb &j sandwich

Pasta + tomato cream sauce, carrots + red peppers, applesauce, apple, cashews

Grapes + yogurt, crackers, mixed nuts, peppers + carrots

Coming tomorrow: Part 2 of Vegetarian Grade School Lunches

Week of School Lunch Ideas – Day 1: Preschool Lunches

I’ve been stockpiling $0.99 boxes of markers, shopping with the kids for closed-toe shoes and trying to cram a summer’s worth of good-intentions-but-never-happened learning into our final days (aka – ‘you can have a snack after you tell me what 7+9 equals’).  Which can only mean one thing – school is about to start again.

I’m setting goals (that will probably be ‘adjusted’ after a few weeks).  Which basically means I’ve got to get more done each night:

  • we will lay out all outfits the night before
  • lunches will be at least 50% packed the night before
  • the kids will set their shoes and socks by the door, you guessed it, the night before

I’m cherishing the final days of summer, but also looking forward to the excitement of a new school year.  I’ve loved the freedom and flexibility of summer and appreciated it much more since we’ve started full-time school.  Yet, I do like the structure and routine of a Monday-Friday school year.

I thought I’d help get myself in the school-lunch-packing mindset by doing a week of school lunch posts.  I’ll feature some lunches that I packed for my kids last year, as well as some creative lunches I’ve seen around the web.  Feel free to send me any ideas or links (thelivelykitchen[AT]gmail{dot}com)!

A Week of School Lunch Ideas – Day 1: Preschool Lunches

These are lunches packed for my pre-school age son who is a creature of habit with food. He is quite loyal to his beloved tortilla + cheese roll-ups.  I pity the fool who dares to pack him PB&J.

cheese + tortilla, cucumbers, berries

broccoli + celery, chickpeas, cheese + tortillas, watermelon, water

cheese + tortillas, celery, chickpeas, grapes

broccoli, cheese + tortillas, celery+ peppers + raspberries

chickpeas + pasta, broccoli, apple, cheese + tortilla, water

Chips, cheese + tortilla, banana half, clementine, cucumbers + broccoli

strawberries + pineapple, broccoli + cucumbers, cheese puffs, cheese + tortilla

Coming Up Tomorrow: Grade School Vegetarian Lunches

Muffin Tin Meals

I’ve posted about muffin tin meals before and am still a huge fan, as are my munchkins.  Here is the complicated recipe:

  1. Get a mini muffin tin
  2. Fill it with things from the fridge and pantry (if your kids are competitive [if they aren’t please tell me how you do it, please please!] count out each nut, vegetable and fruit to make sure they are 100% equal)
  3. Serve it.

I think Muffin Tin Meals can be a great way to get kids to try new things, as well as a good way to get some variety into their meals.  I let them help fill up the tins and look for things in the pantry and fridge to add up to 12 different things.  I usually end up eating a big salad on those days, as we already have most of the produce out of the fridge and on the counter.

pistachios, carrots, strawberries, cheese, cashews, celery, apples, almonds, cooked pasta, pretzels, red pepper, frozen peas

The kids eat them for lunches and sometimes for dinner, especially if I’m making something I know they won’t like.  I normally don’t advocate making a separate meal for the kids and parents, but I also like to eat spicy black bean chili on occasion and don’t want to force my kids to eat something they honestly don’t like.  (Neither one does spicy and my boy does not do tomatoes.)

the boy got black beans, broccoli, mango, cheese, celery, apples, cashew, raspberries, carrots, peanuts, grapes, triscuits

the girl got tomatoes, avocado, mango, cheese, celery, apples, cashews, raspberries, carrots, peanuts, grapes, triscuits

If your kids are into dipping, you could fill some cups with ketchup, barbecue sauce, salad dressing mustard or whatever dipping sauces they like.  Mine aren’t big into dipping, but they do like to dip with applesauce and yogurt, so the trays below have both, in addition to some leftover pasta sauce from the fridge.

carrots, cheese, apples, plum, peas, pasta, chickpeas, raspberries, broccoli, applesauce, pasta sauce, yogurt (with sprinkles)

Kid Friendly Tostada Dinner*

1. Assemble the Fixings

Brown Rice, Pinto Beans, Salsa, Tostado Shells, Cheese, Avocado, Lettuce and Pureed Pintos (as my little ones much prefer refried bean style than whole beans)

– other topping ideas: fresh tomatoes, green onions, olives, black beans

2. Let the kids assemble

Do you see any produce on his plate?  Me neither….

She got extra points for the avocados and lettuce. Ignore the paint on her shirt.

3. Eat!

*warning: keep your broom handy, the kids will drop as much food as they eat

Week O’ School Lunches – First Half of October

grapes + cantaloupe, celery + red pepper+ carrots, applesauce in a pouch, pistachios + cheese tortilla wrap

cantaloupe + pineapples, cup of sprinkles (intended for yogurt, but I’m betting she just drank them straight), red peppers + carrots, yogurt, pb&j

pancakes + syrup, carrots + red peppers, chickpeas, pineapple + raspberries + cantaloupe. Everyone eats chickpeas with their pancakes, right?

Penne + tomato cream sauce, carrots + red peppers, applesauce, apple + cashews.

This was the double apple lunch.

grapes + yogurt, crackers, nuts, carrots + red peppers

Previous School Lunch Posts

School Lunches – September

School Lunches- Checking Back In

Safe School Lunches- Part Deux

Safe School Lunches

What I Ate Wednesday – What Day Is It Anyway?

Happy Wednesday!  It’s time for What I Ate Wednesday hosted by Jenn at Peas and Crayons.  Having Monday off school for Columbus Day has really messed with my head – are you sure it’s not Tuesday?

Today’s WIAW turned out to be a ‘Day in the Life’ kind of post. Here is my Tuesday.  I mean Monday.  No, wait, Tuesday.

I got up and packed some lunches:

ravioli + marinara, cantaloupe + pears, chickpeas + peas+ peppers, applesauce

chickpeas+ pasta, broccoli, apple, tortilla + cheese

After dropping off my daughter at school, my little guy and I came home for a bit.  I had some tea and a pumpkin chocolate chip oat bar (recipe coming soon).  ps – I loved the comments last week and seeing that many of you re-use tea bags.

I took the little guy to his preschool (notice that my blog tends to be updated on Tuesday/Thursday?) and headed to get my tires rotated.  Don’t tell me my life isn’t exciting.  While in the waiting room, which is immensely more pleasant when not trying to entertain a 3 year old and keep him away from all the tire displays, I read this new-to-me magazine and was impressed with the content and message.


I headed to Target.  I know, I know.  First, Discount Tire.  Then Target?  How do I manage such an exciting life????  I picked up all kinds of randomness, but how can you shop Target any other way?  Grapes, a candle, some glow bracelets, yoga pants and this cardigan and tank combo.  Can I pull it off?  Be honest.  It’s horizontal stripes and it kinda hugs my belly.  What do you think?


I came home, made some lunch and spent some time on the computer.  I’ve been unplugged for a few days, which was nice, but it was also nice to catch up on some blogs and other news.

Quinoa Tabouleh (recipe from the Cleanse), celery, carrots and a boiled egg

I gathered up some library books to return,


made some iced tea, 20111011-180128.jpg

And left to pick up my munchkins from their respective schools.  The little guy wasn’t ready to wake up yet.


We hung out in the front yard for a bit after school (hello wonderful weather) and I enjoyed a blueberry kombucha.


We came inside and the kids built a fort/made a mess while I baked some cookies for Bible Study in the morning.  It is the pumpkin gingersnap recipe from Peas and Thank You blog and they are my favorite cookie to make right now.  Perfectly spicy and so flavorful.  I had a couple.20111011-195330.jpgAt 5 the kids and I went to the gym.  They headed off to the kid’s area and I went to Athletic Interval.  It kicked my tail in a very good way.  The teacher is this tiny, very buff lady who has the best energy and is so inspiring.  Very good use of an hour.  We came home to a ready dinner, thanks to the bread machine and crockpot.

white bean, corn and carrot soup, bread + butter

After dinner I ate a few at least ten spoonfuls of this yumminess.


Then it was off to bedtime stories, laundry and, now, some blogging.  All in all, a pretty good day.

School Lunches – Checking Back In

This is the forth week of school for our family and dare I say we are getting into a groove?  With that said, tomorrow something is bound to go wrong.

My daughter has learned about Lady Gaga, Justin Beiber and snack packs of Oreos.  We are so proud.

She is actually doing quite well and thoroughly enjoying school.  I still get a little emotional as I watch her walk into school each morning, her little purple puppy backpack bouncing on her back and her Sketcher Twinkle Toe shoes lighting up the entire front walkway.

I’ve written about school lunch containers here and here.  We decided on the Laptop Lunch system and it’s working well for us.  She takes her lunch 3 days a week and buys her lunch 2 days a week.  We look at the school menu in advance and plan out which days she will buy.  In all honesty, she’d probably be happy buying her lunch each day, but I’m not ready for that.  I still like to have a little control over what goes into her growing body, so the 3-2 plan is our best compromise for now.

Here are 5 days worth of lunches from my little lively kitchen:

cheese + tortilla, fruit + vanilla yogurt, carrots + peppers, almonds + pistachios

cheese + tortilla, triscuits, fruit + vanilla yogurt, peppers, applesauce

cheese + tortilla, cashews + pistachios, broccoli + peppers, rice krispie treat, watermelon

cheese, sunflower seeds + cashews, grapes + vanilla yogurt, carrots + peppers, leftover orzo + macaroni

fruit kabobs, pita chips,vanilla yogurt (for the fruit, but I think she dipped the pita chips in too….), cashews + pistachios, celery + carrots + peppers

Some sites with good lunch box filling ideas:

Vegan Lunch Box

Laptop Lunches Site – this site has a plethora of options.

And… trying something new…

For those of you who don’t like to comment, would you mind voting in the poll below?  It’s totally anonymous and no login is necessary.  Just click your answer and you’re done.  Thanks!!

What I Ate Wednesday – First Day of Kindergarten

For this week’s version of What I Ate Wednesday, hosted by Jenn at Peas and Crayons,

I’m going to share my daughter’s special first day of Kindergarten eats.  I’m not going to share that I cried in the parking lot after walking to her class.  Oops, I already shared that.

I let her choose all of her meals for her special day, within reason of course.  Call me a killjoy, but we are not having ice cream cake for breakfast, cotton candy for lunch and snow cones for dinner.

For breakfast she chose pumpkin bread.  It was the first loaf of pumpkin bread I’ve baked in months.  I loved the smells of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves wafting through my kitchen and was almost transported to autumn.  Then I remembered it’s going to be over 100 every day this week and it didn’t feel so fall-like anymore.

So excited.  She picked out her clothes and accessories and fixed her hair herself….

I packed the first of many school lunches.  

carrots + red peppers, berries, applesauce, cheese+ tortilla (cut into rounds)

As a side note, after a couple of posts on school lunch box options, we choose the Laptop Lunch System.

We headed outside to do the obligatory ‘first day of school in front of the house’ photo:

And we loaded into the car to drive her to school.  Want to fall in love with your husband all over again, watch him walk your little girl (in a pink dress and puppy backpack) into school.  My emotions were running high at this point.

I got to be in one photo.

Foreshadowing Alert: my little guy wanted to ride in the sling.  Not typical behavior…

We dropped her off, I cried, then the husband headed off to work and my little guy and I started our new routine of just the two of us during the day, 5 days a week.  I had breakfast with chocolate, of course:

steel cut oats + coconut + choc chips

When lunch time rolled around I made a big salad for me:

mixed greens + goat cheese + pine nuts + Balsamic Vinegar

and my little guy ate a random lunch of Rice Chips, Berries and Veggies.

do you like see-food?

A couple of hours later I got a home-brewed kombucha (cranberry) and some water and got in the car for my first time to wait in the school pick up line.  That’s 45 minutes I’ll never get back….

My little guy (who had a rough night sleeping the night before) starting to get a little uncharacteristically cranky and sleepy as we got in the car to go pick up our kindergartner.  By the time we got home (she had a fantastic first day by the way), he was like this:

Which turned into a burning up little body with some scary, seal-like coughs.  So, instead of having a celebratory first day of kindergarten family dinner, he and I headed to pediatric urgent care as soon as the husband got home.

Croup Sucks.

My husband and daughter ate her chosen dinner (Chicken Pot Pie) at a table for two instead of four. I snapped a picture of the leftovers when I got home a couple of hours later.  She apparently had 3 servings.  Kindergarten makes a girl hungry!

So, quite a full day.

Later that night, as I was putting her to bed, she said

“Kindergarten was really fun today and I really like my teacher, but I think I’d like to take a little break from it tomorrow.”


Safe School Lunches

It seems I’m taking an unplanned blogging break.  We are less than two weeks out from the start of kindergarten and I’m trying to get ready for all that entails.  Who knew that finding the proper school supplies would require all of my brain power AND trips to 4 different stores.  It seriously shouldn’t be that hard.

Now I’m trying to figure out what the best options are for packed school lunches.  I’m not so much worried as to what food I’ll be packing, I’m more concerned with what containers I’ll be using to hold the food and how I can keep the food at safe temperatures.

I read this article about the 99% of packed lunches that are not at the proper temperature:

Strollerderby,Brown Bagging it Could Be Making Your Kid’s Sick 

I have had a few courses in Food Microbiology throughout my undergrad and graduate work, so keeping food the proper temperatures is more than just a common concern for me.  I’m kinda known as the control freak who insists that leftovers be placed in the fridge IMMEDIATELY after the meal.  It drives my extended family batty.  My husband and kids don’t know any different.  :)

Then I consider all the BPA and PVC and Lead-leaking issues of plastics and many traditional school lunch boxes, and I have to worry about more than just keeping the food the proper temperature.  Now I have to keep the food sufficiently chilled and sufficiently toxin-free.  Uffda.

Plus there is the whole environmental impact of plastic sandwich bags, wrappers and such.  Bang head against wall now.

My little girl picked out a lunchbox at Target that says it’s ‘Ultra Safe, pvc free and lead and phthalate safe.’ It also looks like a dog, which was the main selling point for her.

I’m trying to talk her into this one instead:

Kid’s Konserve

I may compromise and just buy the containers:

Kids Konserve Trio

I also like this Crocodile Creek lunch box, but, alas, it does not have a puppy on the front.  Whole Foods carries this line, as well as Amazon.

In my searching I’ve also come across this site/product and it seems intriguing:

Pack It

The entire lunchbox is frozen, eliminating the need for an added ice pack.  Still, no puppy design available…

What do you think?  Any of my mama readers have a product that you love?  



Snack Time for Kids

I’ve written a short novel about my kid-feeding philosophy.  Cliff Notes version: I feed them healthy at home and don’t stress much if they eat not-so-healthy foods when we are away from home or they are in someone else’s care.

I have kids that eat a lot of food and eat often.  They are both really active and I have no problem with them snacking all day.  I have found that being hungry or tired can bring out the worst in my kids.  Who am I kidding?  It brings out the worst in me too.  The challenge is that kids, especially the under 5 set, can’t always recognize, much less vocalize, hunger and sleepiness.  A well fed, well rested child is generally a much more pleasant child to be around.*

*Well fed and well rested still doesn’t prevent sibling rivalry in my house, sadly.  If you have a cure for sibling rivalry, PLEASE write me!!

I post our meals often, but I thought I’d show some of the snacks we eat at home and share my approach to kid’s snacks.

1. Produce, produce, produce.

The first snack I offer when the kids are hungry is an apple.  I buy organic apples, usually in 3lb bags, and always have some in the fridge.  They are free to get one any time.  My little guy is really good at getting an apple when I’m not looking, eating it and leaving me a core hidden in the lego box to be found 3 days later.  Don’t say my life isn’t exciting.  And don’t go digging in the lego box unwarned.

Bananas are also an easy and quick snack that kids can serve themselves, although my munchkins tend to need my help starting the peel.  I have cut up cucumbers, carrots and celery in the fridge most of the time too and the kids often snack on those.  Once again, my little guy likes to leave celery fibers around the house for me to find.

Occasionally we’ll have berries for a snack (the weeks the organic versions are on sale), but berries are always a supervised snack in my house.  Berries have potent natural colors and I do not want them smushed into my couch or carpet.  I’m fine with apple cores and celery fibers, but I draw the line at blueberry stained couches.  You’ve gotta have standards, right?


2. Carbs

After apples, my kid’s most common snacks are dry Cheerios, Triscuits and pretzels.  All are kept on the low shelf in the pantry and the kids can serve themselves easily.  I have no idea how many pounds of Cheerios we’ve gone through in the last 5 years, but I’m guessing it’s a lot.  I’m doing my part to keep General Mills in business.

3. Nuts

On the shelf next to the cheerios and pretzels are containers of peanuts, cashews, sunflower seeds and almonds.

I’m not real big on that whole ‘make food fun’ thing, because I want my kids to know that eating well is its own reward.  I worry if I put too much emphasis on food being ‘fun’ that they will only want to eat healthy foods when they are all doctored up to be fun shapes/colors/funny named**.  And, really, I don’t have the energy to do that on a daily basis.  We certainly have fun meals (like our color themed dinners) and most healthy foods have beautiful colors on their own, but I don’t put a big emphasis on it.

However, I am proud of one fun way I’ve discovered to provide snacks: the gumball machine turned nut dispenser.  We have it rigged (aka broken) so that it doesn’t require coins.  The kids love it.

**  Nothing against making foods fun.  If it makes your kid eat healthy foods, go for it.  My kids don’t seem to need it, so I don’t spend too much effort on it.  I’m all about efficient utilization of my efforts.

4. Fill ‘Em Up Before You Leave

I like my kids to be well fed when we leave the house for a few reasons.  One, they tend to behave better when they aren’t hungry.  Two, I’d prefer to feed them healthy food from home than be at the mercy of grabbing a snack at the store/library/post office/etc (although I’ve most definitely opened a box of Triscuits at the grocery store before paying and let them eat while shopping in moments of desperation).  Three, I’m cheap and it’s cheaper to feed them at home than to stop and buy snacks when we’re out.

I’m not sure whose arms are more full.
me: my boy, his snack and a camera
him: drink, his beloved blanket, alien (from Toy Story)

snack: cucumbers + oranges + oatmeal cookies

5. Super Sized Snacks

Some of the snacks my kids eat are meal sized.  Again, I’m fine with that.  If they are hungry enough to eat all the food, I’m more than happy to serve it all.  I think kids are pretty good at gauging their hunger, especially if you don’t enforce a ‘clean your plate’ rule that can teach them to override their natural satiety gauges.  If my kids want 2 plates worth of healthy foods, they get it.  If they want two bites, that’s fine too.  I use the same approach at meal times, with two added rules: 1. they must try everything on their plate and 2. they must stay seated until everyone is finished.

meal sized snack

oranges (cara cara if you are wondering why they look like grapefruit), banana oat cake, tortilla, triscuits + avocado

6.  Put the Kiddos In Charge of Their Own Snacking Destiny

This works after about age 4.5.  My daughter (5.5) loves being in charge of packing snacks when we are leaving the house.  She grabs a couple of ziploc bags and heads to the pantry to make a ‘create your own adventure’ snack bag for her and her brother.  She combines cheerios, pretzels, other cereal, nuts and, if she’s feeling crazy, some dried fruit.  She has a future as a trail mix creator.

7. Healthy Snacks From Kitchen’s Other Than Your Own

Sometimes I stay out longer than expected and must get a snack when we are out running errands.  Or, more commonly, we are running late leaving the house and I don’t have time to pack a snack (or eat my breakfast or fix my hair, etc).  On those occasions, we buy snacks.  As I mentioned in this post, Triscuits are my go-to grocery shopping snack.  If we are at Target, we sometimes get the popcorn from the snack bar.  It isn’t the healthiest, but it’s cheap ($1), they split it in two bags for me and my kids happily munch on a ‘treat’ for at least half of the shopping trip.  At convenience stores, I generally grab a bag of Lays chips.  Again, not comparable to fresh produce, but not an awful snack either.  Only has 3 ingredients (potatoes, oil, salt), isn’t sticky, nor does it coat little fingers with colors and gunk.

8. Healthy Snacks That Won’t Weigh Your Purse Down

Like most moms, I don’t travel light.  Still, I don’t want to carry a purse with a virtual snack bar inside.  I’ve found that the least messy (sorry granola bars), least smushable (sorry bananas) and least brittle/crushable (sorry pretzels) snacks that my kids enjoy are pistachios and raisins.  Both are light, shelf stable and pretty healthy.

There you have it – my general approach to the 3-4 times daily snack attack.  I better stop writing now, as my kids are getting hungry for a snack…..

I don’t always serve snacks on plates***.*** Yes, I have to vacuum often.  You could sometimes make a meal out of the crumbs in my carpet.  Luckily I like to vacuum and I also get a very strange pleasure out of full vacuum bags.