Top 5 Reasons to Involve Kids in Lunch Planning

As many parents of school aged kids know all too well, packing lunch can be an absolute nightmare. Many of us kick off September with Pinterest-worthy lunchboxes but let’s face it: come November (or even earlier), there’s a collective parental groan about lunch and we cobble together whatever we can muster. Of course we want our children’s lunches to be varied and healthful so that they have enough energy to make it through the day. But unless those lunches are also tasty, they will come back wasted and uneaten at the end of the day. (Seriously, how disgusting is that sandwich after it’s been sitting out at room temperature for 8+ hours?!) And don’t forget the groceries required in order to pack that lunch. It’s pretty tough to get all of those ducks in a row on a typical weekday morning, and that’s how lunch quickly takes on cringe-causing chore status. I'm a firm believer in getting the kiddos involved from the get go for smoother family sailing and here's why: 

1. It takes the stress off of you. Woo hoo! No more arguments in the morning because you ran out of your son's favorite turkey and have exactly 8 minutes to figure out lunch before you all have to leave the house.

2. It saves you time. Scratch the meal planning chore off of your list!

3. It saves you money. Remember how awful it felt to throw out a perfectly good sandwich that was uneaten? When your child chooses, she is less likely to waste food like that.

4. It’s an inspiring way for them to try new foods. Picky eaters beware! When kids are at the wheel, even the pickiest among them is more likely to try something new. Radishes anyone?

5. It helps their organizational skills. Planning ahead is an incredibly useful skill! Get them started early.

Sounds great, right? So pass the meal planning baton to your kids. 

I’ve built a career on the intersection of lunch for kids and technology (and more recently, breakfast for kids and technology). So “what’s for lunch” is a question that’s near and dear to me. Everything I have read and researched has shown that when children are involved in meal planning, they are more enthusiastic about what they eat, more inclined to try a variety of foods and more likely to make healthy choices. (Informative articles here and here). All those benefits just by giving kids a voice in their food choices? Yes!

So hey, parents: take a load off! You can choose to use an app like LaLa Lunchbox or LaLa Breakfast to make it fun and simple for you and your kids or you can go about it another way. Either way, the benefits are clear. Empower your kids to be part of the food planning process! And best of luck with back to school!

p.s. -- While we’re on the topic, there’s no shortage of advice available about what to pack for lunch and much of the advice is focused on healthy and quick items (which is awesome because really, do you want to be spending hours preparing for and packing lunches?). Here’s a quick list of some of our favorites:

homemade sunflower seed butter sandwich (fantastic for nut-free schools)
roasted black beans (easy and inexpensive and perfect for those anti-sandwich kids out there) and for a snack, homemade granola bars (nut free, and without processed sugar or unpronounceable ingredients).

 

* A version of this appeared on the Kidville blog

 

Homemade Sunbutter... Yes, please!

As I mentioned, I eat a lot of sunflower seeds and sun butter. I really love the organic unsweetened version of this brand of Sunbutter because there's just one ingredient: roasted sunflower seeds. I always have sun butter in my house because it's a fabulous nut alternative and when I'm hungry and need a quick snack, a spoon of it is just perfect. My kids love sun butter too, and it's a frequent lunch choice on a sandwich with fresh fruit slices or jam. I decided to try my hand at making my own sun butter.

It's harder than I thought it would be! I tried several times using raw sunflower seeds and adding oil instead of starting with roasted seeds and the result was pretty gummy and not at all smooth and creamy like I had hoped. Blah. Then I tried using maple syrup instead of honey but that didn't turn out well either. I finally got it right using roasted seeds and didn't need to add any extra oil. Victory! My successful recipe had just two ingredients: 1 cup of roasted, salted sunflower seeds and 1 tablespoon of honey. That's it! Next time I plan to eliminate the honey and use vanilla extract and cinnamon instead and see how that goes...  For any nut-allergic folks, be sure to read the label on roasted sunflower seeds to make sure they're not roasted with peanut oil.

1 cup of roasted sunflower seeds.   

1 cup of roasted sunflower seeds. 

 

First the seeds became dry and crumbly. It took patience and time to get to the next stage.  When you think it's time to give up, keep going! The oils take a while to be sufficiently released to produce the desired outcome. 

First the seeds became dry and crumbly. It took patience and time to get to the next stage.  When you think it's time to give up, keep going! The oils take a while to be sufficiently released to produce the desired outcome. 

Finally! After 7 minutes in the processor, the sunbutter began to resemble what I think of as sunbutter. Then I added 1 tablespoon of honey and pureed till smooth. 

Finally! After 7 minutes in the processor, the sunbutter began to resemble what I think of as sunbutter. Then I added 1 tablespoon of honey and pureed till smooth. 

Voila! Creamy and delicious. 

Voila! Creamy and delicious. 

Lunchtime! A great sandwich for a hot day. 

Lunchtime! A great sandwich for a hot day. 

Vacation and pre-camp breakfast

We are on vacation this week and the kiddos are going to camp at the Audubon Society. They'll spend their days on marsh hikes, exploring turtle shells and horseshoe crabs and talking about bats and other nocturnal creatures. 

It's a lot to take in! So this morning, the kids fueled up with whole wheat french toast, scrambled egg from the leftover french toast liquid, peaches and Applegate chicken apple breakfast sausage. 

Ready for the adventure ahead!

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100 Days of Push-Ups

100 days ago, I watched this video of a young girl who does push-ups for 100 days as a means to overcome bad feelings about her body (hat tip, Joanna Goddard) and was absolutely inspired. I watched it with my 8 year old daughter and 4 year old son. Several times. I showed it to my husband, my babysitter, my friends, my parents. I decided to give it a go myself. 

100 days is a long time, and yet for me with these push-ups, it flew by. Each day the alarm went off on my phone and somehow I found the time for push-ups. My kids cheered me on and always celebrated the final push up, dancing around and singing about having a strong mama. That alone is a powerful motivator. Admittedly, I have a shoulder problem so I did these push-ups on my knees but the work was challenging for me nonetheless. And 100 days later, I am absolutely proud to say that I'm stronger, I feel fantastic and though the work was grueling and tiresome at times, overall it was thoroughly enjoyable. 

100 days of push ups

I'm starting the next 100 days tomorrow! Will you join me? #giveit100

p.s. - how cute is that muscle-man Tattly?! 

 

 

Guide to Safe, Nut-Free Lunches

Last year, my son started a new preschool that my family loves. Their overall approach and philosophy are a super fit for my jolly little guy. Beyond that though, they have drawn thick lines in the sand on the issue of nut allergies and as a nut-allergic person myself, it is incredibly comforting. Thankfully, my son doesn't seem to have any food allergies but because of me and as a family, we're hyper aware of those who do. As we approach a new school year, I wanted to repost this guide to help those who need to pack nut-free lunches for whatever reason. 

I grew up at a time when it seemed no one had nut allergies, or allergies at all to things besides dogs or cats or ragweed. My parents had friends who said "send Gillian to our house. We'll teach her not to be allergic." Can you imagine?! Back then, there weren't organized communities of folks to rely on for product recommendations, allergist recommendations, latest news. So today, while the enormous increase in the number of children who suffer from food allergies is perplexing and terribly upsetting, I'm pleased to see people band together to become stronger, smarter, more informed. 

Below you'll find a guide to safe, nut-free lunches, largely based on a great, detailed list that I received from my son's school. A note about safe, nut free lunches: fresh, whole, unprocessed fruits and vegetables are always a great inclusion into any lunch. And always nut free! If you have product recommendations to add to this list, please add them to the comments below so that others can benefit too. Happy back-to-school season! 

Safe, Nut-Free Lunch #1

Safe, Nut-Free Lunch #1

Safe, Nut-Free Lunch #1

Cheese and crackers is always a fun lunch for kids, especially if you add variety with a couple of different cheeses and crackers. 

Here are some crackers that are produced in a facility that does not process nuts:
* Kavli Crispbread - 5 grain
* Back to Nature - Harvest Whole Wheats
* Carr's Whole Wheat Crackers
* Mary's Gone Crackers Original

Hummus produced in a nut-free facility:
* Sabra Hummus
* Tribe Hummus

Want to make your own? Try these:
* Hummus
* Black Bean Dip
* Carrot White Bean Dip

Pretzels made in a facility that does not process nuts:
* Happy Herbert's Pretzels
* Unique Pretzels
* Annie's Pretzel Bunnies

 

 Safe, Nut-Free Lunch #2

Safe, Nut-Free Lunch #2

Safe, Nut-Free Lunch #2

My kids love lunch on a stick. We like to use tongue depressors for our fruit and cheese kebabs.

Yogurts processed in a nut-free facility include:
* Stonyfield Farm yogurt
* So Delicious Vanilla coconut yogurt (dairy free)
* Chobani yogurt
* Fage yogurt

For popcorn kernels to pop at home (we're huge fans!) you can use Arrowhead Mills Organic Popcorn Kernels (also gluten free). 

 

 

 

Safe, Nut-Free Lunch #3 

Safe, Nut-Free Lunch #3

Safe, Nut-Free Lunch #3

We are big fans of sunbutter. It's not hard to make your own at home, as long as you can find sunflower seeds that are packaged in a nut-free facility and not roasted in peanut oil.  My son loves it either with jam or banana slices. You can pack sunbutter as a sandwich or a roll up (made with a tortilla). Sunbutter Sunflower Seed Spread is processed in a nut-free environment and is also gluten free. Cascadian Farm makes Spreadable Fruit, which is made in a nut-free facility. 

* Happy Herbert's* Unique Pretzels* Annie's Pretzel Bunnies

Breads made in a nut-free facility include: 
* Udi's Whole Wheat Bread
* Rudi's Multigrain Bread

Tortillas made in a nut-free facility include: 
* Rudi's Tortilla Wraps
* Alvarado St. Bread Tortillas

Cheese Sticks packaged in a nut-free facility include:
* Organic Valley Stringles
* Horizon String Cheese

Other nut-free facility lunch options: 

Homemade snacks: 
My favorite nut-free and dairy free granola bars, made with Enjoy Life Foods dairy free chocolate chunks
Oatmeal Banana Bars
Dairy Free Banana Bread made with Earth Balance

Graham crackers: 

* New Morning Organic Cinnamon or Honey Grahams
* Annie's Bunny Grahams
* Mi-del Honey Graham Crackers

Cereal:
* Kashi Cinnamon Harvest or Autumn Wheat
* Cascadian Farm Organic Cinnamon Raisin Granola or Maple Brown Sugar Granola
* Cheerios

Rice Cakes:
* Lundberg Organic Brown Rice Cakes or Organic Caramel Corn Rice Cakes or Cinnamon Rice Cakes

Fruit Snacks:
* Just Tomatoes etc. - Dried Fruits and Veggies (also gluten free)
* Little Ducks Organics - Tiny Fruits (also gluten free)  

 

 

 

Phew.

I'm going to put this right out there: my kids are blessed with good health. I was sick a lot as a kid and becoming a mom and being a mom has, at times, been frought with worry for me because of that. I am completely and utterly relieved that my kids have not had health issues like I experienced as a kid. 

So tonight when my son complained of a stomach ache, I suspected gas and went through my repertoire of gas-relieving techniques. When he was doubled over in pain and complaining of chest pain and wailing for 20 minutes though, I felt a bit of panic. I called the doctor. It was after regular business hours and so we were directed to the ER. The ER is never a place you want to go if you can avoid it and while my gut still felt this was some kind of bad case of gas, my heart panicked a little.  

Here's the bottom line: it was gas. My boy is totally fine.  

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He was feeling better before we even got to triage, thankfully. I'm sharing this story because I feel so incredibly fortunate, again, for the miracle and the delight of my kids and I'm also so grateful for the men and women who dedicate their lives to emergency medicine, and to my amazing babysitter who held down the fort at home with  my other two kiddos. The nurses and doctors at Cornell had my sweet little guy smiling and put my mind at ease almost immediately. Thank you, thank you. 

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Bad Mood!

I just picked up this book thanks to a suggestion from a wise friend (and fellow mom of three):

Big Rabbit's Bad Mood

We all get into bad moods sometimes, kids included. I love Big Rabbit's Bad Mood because it provides a playful, tangible way for children and families to address the topic. It's refreshing to read a book that doesn't try to paint the world as a place where we should all be happy and celebrate everything all of the time. Sometimes we have to try several different strategies to shake a bad mood and this book provided lovely conversational moments for my family about just that. Bonus: each page is more adorable than the last with illustrations rich with fun detail. Admittedly, there could have been more meat in the the ending (I won't spoil it here) but the best aspect of the book lies in the process that Rabbit goes through to think about and address his bad mood and for that, it's a thumbs up for me. 

If you have a chance to stop by your local library or bookstore, check this one out! It's going on my gift-giving list for the year ahead! 

Best Lunchbox List

The search is over.

The best-ever lunchbox list is right here. No kidding around. Today I’m posting a week of kid-lunches, plus the grocery list that you’ll need to make it all happen (enough to cover three kids). This list contains 5 days of balanced, varied lunches, 5 delicious, crowd-pleasing meals. If you have staples in your home already like honey and ground cinnamon, which I included on the list, the cost is $4 per day, per kid.  

This list comes directly from my own kiddos - this is pretty much the “most played” list from their LaLa Lunchboxes. The lunches listed here are nut-free.

I use a service called Instacart for my grocery shopping and I love it! I can get groceries delivered to my house in under two hours, from multiple stores which is a huge bonus for pretty much anyone who has a life, let alone kids and/or a job. Ever realized you’re out of something at an inopportune time? Or that you have to get items from more than one store but only have time for one? Enter Instacart. 

Without further ado, here’s a super week of kid meal planning and you can instantly access the grocery list that you'll need to make it happen on Instacart. Now all you have to do is let your little ones choose this stuff with the LaLa Lunchbox app, which you can download for free throughout the back to school season! Here's a sweet bonus: Instacart has offered LaLa Lunchbox fans $10 off groceries plus free delivery (for new customers). Awesome, right? The discount will be applied at checkout. (scroll down to the bottom to immediately access the Instacart grocery list, already compiled for you)

Monday
I used to make my own hummus before the big kitchen accident. For now, I’m still a little appliance-shy and I buy hummus. Both of my daughters love hummus and it's a healthful and easy go-to food for lunch. 

Tuesday

Years ago, our babysitter made these delightful strawberry-carrot combos. My daughter fondly called them ‘lollipops’ and the name stuck. Years later, the kids are still psyched to eat these. (scroll down to save the lollipops image to download to your LaLa Lunchbox Food Library). For sandwiches, I'm happy to pack Applegate products in my children's lunchboxes (and to feature them in our apps) thanks to their commitment to antibiotic free, chemical nitrate-free meats. 

Wednesday

My son might single handedly be keeping the yogurt industry alive. This granola is his new favorite yogurt-topper.

Thursday

The shopping list includes a basil plant. Why? Well, my daughter has a total green thumb. Our basil plant is lush thanks to her and as a brown thumb myself, I get huge joy out of this, not to mention big, fragrant basil leaves whenever I want them. It's good to grow your own herbs and for some lucky folks, it's easy. My daughter occasionally munches on the leaves, which I find hilarious so I figured I’d pass the basil plant happiness your way. If you've got more basil than you know how to deal with, freeze the chopped leaves with olive oil in an ice cube tray! (thank you, Pinterest)

Friday

Friday’s lunch pulls together all of the leftovers from the week. Make pasta Thursday night and use up that bell pepper and those baby carrots. Throw in some basil. Add lemon zest. Boom! Deliciousness. The recipe is right here, and you can download the image below and add it to your LaLa Lunchbox Food Library. If your hungry little monsters have gobbled up the pepper and/or the carrots, pasta with basil and lemon is fabulous too. 

 

Download the images below and add them to your LaLa Lunchbox Food Library! 

Granola

Granola

Lollipops

Lollipops

Basil

Basil

Pasta w Carrots and Peppers

Pasta w Carrots and Peppers

Want these items immediately added to your shopping cart and delivered in 2 hours or less? Voila, here's the Instacart list: 

Any other questions? Just shoot me an email: food@lalalunchbox.com, I’d love to hear from you!
-Gillian