Allergy Safe Lunches

I had an allergic reaction the other day. I was with my son, who had ordered a yogurt parfait and the woman behind the counter offered us a sample of the smoothie she had just made for another customer. I asked what was in it and the answer was "all of the berries." As it turned out, it was that plus pecans. The sample was literally just a sip, but even the tiniest bit of pecan is a problem for me. 

Since that day, I've given loads of thought to how allergies have shaped my life. It's time to update this post about nut-free lunches and I figured that I'd tackle all Top 8. I'll be sharing allergy-safe lunches (including recipes) with you all very soon. 

Stay tuned, friends.  ❤

Valentines Day Drinks

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With Valentine's Day here already, my kids have been excitedly checking the mailbox every day after school in hopes of Valentines from friends and loved ones. They've been dutifully making and sending their own Valentines too, and decorating our apartment with hearts, doilies and scratch and sniff cupcake stickers. 

These Oooh LaLa Drinks are now a Valentine's Day staple in my house. They're ice cubes made with mint and raspberries and they are absolute palate pleasers. They also couldn't be easier to make. So if you're a bit of a procrastinator, fear not. These will add a special touch to any Valentines Day celebration. As the ice cubes melt, they add more raspberry-mint flavor to your water plus a wonderfully festive pink color!  Happy Valentine’s Day!

These are super fun to make together and delicious to drink. Here’s what you’ll need:

Setting up the ice cube tray
  • 1 pint of raspberries
  • A few sprigs of fresh mint
  • A heart-shaped ice tray
  • Fancy straws (we used paper straws that are biodegradable)

Here’s how to make Oooh LaLa Drinks:

1. Wash and smash your raspberries into a puree using the back of a spoon

2. Chop the fresh mint

3. Place the raspberry puree into some of the sections of your heart-shaped tray

4. Place the mint into the remaining sections and fill with water

5. Freeze overnight

6. Fill a glass with water

7. Add heart-shaped ice cubes and straw

 

Voila!

Healthy Valentine's Day: Red Beet & Sweet Potato Soup

Ever since my husband and I became parents (almost 11 years ago!) we've been celebrating Valentine's Day with a home cooked meal instead of going out. He's quite talented in the kitchen but he's not home in time on weekdays to cook. Valentine's Day is one of those holidays where he lets his cooking skills shine, and frankly, I love it. This year, though, we're sharing the kitchen and I'm making one of our favorites as a starter: this beautifully red, earthy and delicious Beet Sweet Potato Soup. 

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Look at that color! This is Mother Nature at her best. Starting our special meal with a chock-full-of -vitamin soup is just perfect. Did you know that beets are loaded with folate (a B vitamin), potassium, fiber, magnesium and vitamin C? And sweet potatoes are an excellent source of vitamin A, vitamin B, potassium, manganese and fiber? It's a powerful combination!

My husband is the son of immigrants. He ate a lot of borscht as a kid, and while this isn't a traditional borscht, it's kind of related. The best part is, it's something we both love to gulp down. I may serve this in tea cups, because it's got the consistency of a smoothie, so why not drink it?! 
The prep takes about 10 minutes and it cooks for about 40 minutes. Pureeing takes about 5 minutes so this soup is ready in under an hour.

However you choose to celebrate, I hope it's festive. ❤

Here's what you'll need:
5 beets
2 sweet potatoes (I used the Japanese white flesh variety) 
3 tablespoons avocado or neutral oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 cups vegetable broth
2 cups water
1/4 cup fresh dill, chopped plus extra for garnish
Salt and pepper to taste
Optional: sour cream or sea salt yogurt to garnish

Here's how:
1. Peel the beets and sweet potatoes and cut into 2-3 inch chunks. I like to use gloves when I do this to prevent staining.
2. In a large soup pot, sauté the onions in the oil on medium heat.

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3. After about 5 - 7 minutes, add all of the beets and sweet potatoes and season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir for 2-3 minutes so that the oil and onions are evenly distributed.

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4. Add the vegetable broth and water and turn the heat up to high. Once boiling, reduce the heat to a simmer.
5. Add the fresh dill, stir, cover and cook for 40-45 minutes.

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6. Purée with a stick blender. Sometimes you'll miss a spot and there will be a chunk of beet or sweet potato. That's ok. Life isn't perfect; soup doesn't have to be either. 😊
7. Taste and see whether it needs more salt or pepper.
8. Pour into bowls and garnish with dill (and sour cream, if using).

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Tahini Blondies: Nut Free, Dairy Free, Gluten Free

Tahini Blondies

I am stress baking these days. The state of the world has me feeling anxious and at times, hopeless. In moments like these, I do one of two things: I clean or I bake. That plus a long run usually helps me sort things out, but even that isn't working as it normally does. I've made 5 batches of tahini blondies in the last 10 days. I give them out to the kind folks who work in my building, because sharing food gives me comfort (and also because it would be dangerous to have so many batches in my house). I don't know what to do to feel better about our future, but I am staying informed because knowledge is power. 

In the meantime, I'm sharing my recipe for Tahini Blondies with you. It checks a lot of boxes: it's nut free, dairy free and gluten free, it's an uncomplicated recipe and it's an absolutely delicious sweet treat. I've been making them into little hearts in anticipation of Valentine's Day, but also because we all could use a little love right now. If you don't need these to be gluten free, you can of course make these with wheat flour. And if you don't want to get coconut sugar, you can use brown sugar instead, but trust me when I tell you that the coconut sugar adds a whole new dimension of flavor to these delights. I've used dairy free chocolate chips, but if dairy free isn't necessary for you, you can use regular chips. I've also added these to our LaLa Lunchbox Food Library, so my kids can choose them for lunches. Download the app for free today, and all you have to do is snap a photo of these and add them to your LaLa Library via Settings! 

Tahini blondie ingredients

Tahini blondie ingredients

Tahini blondies

You'll need 8 things: 
1/2 cup tahini
1 cup coconut sugar
1 cup oat flour
1 large egg
8 tablespoons coconut oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/3 cup chocolate chips
Additional oil for greasing the pan

Here's what to do: 
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Combine all ingredients except the chocolate chips. Mix until smooth and then add the chocolate chips. Line an 8x8 baking tray with parchment paper and grease with coconut oil or vegetable oil. Pour the batter in and bake for 22-24 minutes. Cut into little squares and enjoy either hot or cool. If you make these into little hearts, adjust the baking time to approximately 15 minutes. These are a perfect treat for the lunchbox too! Want more lunchbox inspiration? Head over to Instagram where we post daily! 

Tahini Blondies in the lunchbox

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We Love Produce for Kids

I've been following Produce for Kids for as long as I can remember. Here's what has always resonated with me: Produce for Kids not only promotes healthy eating for kids and families with great recipes and helpful tips about what's in season, they've also orchestrated partnerships with produce and grocery outlets which has enabled them to donate $6 million to charities that benefit children and families.

Their Power Your Lunchbox Pledge is a cause that's near and dear to my heart. For each family that takes the pledge to eat a healthier lunch, Produce for Kids donates $1 to Feeding America, a network with 200 food banks, 60,000 food pantries and meal programs dedicated to hunger-relief. Each dollar donated provides 11 meals to families in need. 

When I connected with the folks at PFK and was asked to be part of their January 2017 Power Your Lunchbox promotion, I was over the moon. I took over their IG for a day to share the lunches that I pack for my kiddos as well as some easy recipes and tips and had a great time doing it! If you didn't follow along, you can see those posts below. It goes without saying that it's worthwhile to follow along with PFK on Instagram, and while we're talking about it, go ahead and take the pledge! Beyond doing something worthwhile, you can also grab money-saving coupons. If you like what you see below, be sure to follow us on Instagram for more! And p.s., you can download the LaLa Lunchbox app for FREE here

nut butter and jam, apple noodles, polka dot banana

Here we've got sunflower seed butter and jam on raisin bread with apple noodles, raspberries, blueberries, celery, polka dot banana and a chocolate covered pretzel. 

Pasta with Quick Meat Sauce

Quick meat sauce with either pasta or polenta is a staple in my house. It comes together in 30 minutes or less! Here's where you can grab that easy recipe. Also featured here: produce in season! Pink grapefruit, sweet potato, apple and banavocado bread. 

Sausage in puff pastry

Sausage in puff pastry

My mom made sausage with puff pastry when I was a kid, so I have fond memories of it. Here we've got vegetarian sausage and I've added spinach to the roll. Sausage in puff pastry takes less than 30 minutes to make and also works beautifully for lunchbox leftovers! All you do is roll precooked sausage in puff pastry and bake at 400 degrees for 25 minutes. 

After school snacks

After school snacks

My strategy for getting my kids to eat a ton of fresh produce is to make a ton of fresh produce available to them! I like to prep fruits and veggies ahead of time and have them in containers in the fridge for my kids to eat after school. It doesn't mean they're not also eating snacky stuff... it just means they have yet another opportunity during the day to eat fresh fruit.

Veggie sushi, made by kids

Veggie sushi, made by kids

I can't eat fish because I'm allergic. Sushi intrigues me incredibly! My husband and my oldest child (10 years old) go on sushi dates together and I think it's so sweet. She loves to make veggie sushi at home and I love to encourage kids in the kitchen, so it's a win-win! Here's where you can see a little clip of my 10 year old rolling up sushi magic!

Breakfast Bites

Breakfast Bites

I'm a morning person, but even for me, mornings are hectic and stressful. I like to get as much done in advance as possible and that includes making these Breakfast Bites at night. It's just eggs and vegetables (typically whatever is leftover from dinner, chopped). Somehow the cupcake shape, the simple flavors and the convenience make these irresistible for kids. Here's how:
* Preheat oven to 350 degrees
* Beat 10 eggs in a small bowl
* Add 3/4 cup chopped broccoli (or any veggie of your choice... there are so many options!)
* Add salt and pepper to taste
* Place cupcake wrappers in a muffin tin and coat each with cooking spray or oil. If you don't have wrappers, just coat each muffin tin with oil.
* Pour egg mixture into each
* Bake for 14-18 minutes or until they are cooked through
(Optional: you can add 2 tablespoons of milk 1/2 - 1 cup of shredded cheese to these if your family eats dairy).