How We Eat on Vacation

We just returned from a Disney Cruise. Wow, I felt incredibly fortunate to get out of the bitter cold, which I'm pretty sure was turning my skin a disgusting shade of hollow grey. The kids were beyond excited to see what Disney had in store for them. Even my 8 year old. These days, when I think about Disney, just the princesses come to mind. But that couldn't have been farther from the truth. There were live shows, dance parties, cooking classes and many more activities that were interesting, relevant and fun for people of all ages (from morning till midnight!). 

But I digress. We tend to eat very healthfully at home. There's a saying in my house that there are four big things that help a person stay healthy and strong: sleep, water, good food and exercise. To that end, I'm not the mom that lets my kids stay up very late, I'm always armed with water or seltzer, I encourage my kids to do something active as an extracurricular activity and we regularly eat simply prepared, good food. On vacation, living up to that is much, much harder. 

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Here are three things we do about eating on vacation: 

1. Ease up on restrictions.  When confronting the breakfast buffet - with chocolate glazed donuts, giant cookies masquerading as scones and vibrantly colored sugared cereals - I took it in stride and let them eat what they wanted. It was hard, but I felt encouraged to see my kids eating fruit with all of their meals and tried to focus on that. My 8 year old has a salty tooth. Her lunches were accompanied by fries almost every day. Her younger brother and sister, always eager to do whatever she does, followed suit. This would never happen at home, but what happens on vacation stays on vacation. 

2. Set limits on quantities. Much as I tried, I couldn't let it all go. While I saw that it would be too much of an uphill battle to prevent them from trying and eating foods that we normally wouldn't eat on vacation, I did set limits on the quantities. For example, there was unlimited access to the ice cream machine at all hours of the day, but my kids were told they couldn't have it more than once per day. 

3. Pack good snacks. I brought snacks from home for our flight to and from Miami. In addition to fresh fruit (bananas and oranges, which are perfect little travelers), I packed Somersault Snacks, 18 Rabbits JR organic granola bars, Peeled Snacks dried mango and dried apple, packaged applesauce, and Super Seed crackers. Sure, it took up room in our carry on bag, but it was well worth it. 

The kids have definitely asked for more sweets than usual in the last two days since we've been home, but I feel confident that we'll be back into our usual routine in no time. 

Do you have a vacation food strategy? 

Time Savers

It's been a year since my kitchen accident, where I mangled my right thumb and index finger. I had 27 stitches because I forgot to unplug my stick blender before touching it and, well, the rest is gruesome history. I still don't have all the feeling back in my fingers but frankly, I'm just grateful that I still have ten of them. I spent weeks avoiding all sharp objects, including scissors, appliances and big knives. I followed doctor's orders and avoided preparing anything in my kitchen with raw meat. I don't think of my family as particularly carnivorous but as I thought about dinners that could be assembled without having to cut much and without meat (or fish – I'm allergic), it was embarrassingly challenging. We had rice and beans. Eggs. Frittata. DIY pizza. Pasta. Lots of frozen peas, pre-cut veggies and fruit and grapes. 

As I look back on that accident a year later, here's a shout out to a few things that made my life easier then, as well as those that I've discovered along the way to make life easier now: 

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  • Hummus. I threw away my stick blender after the accident, so I stopped making my own hummus. It's a shame because we eat a lot of hummus around here. But I've since discovered several store bought varieties that I like, especially on a sandwich with lettuce and some scooped avocado. 
  • Peeled and cut butternut squash. No knife? No problem. This made my life so much simpler. 
  • Canned black beans. I don't always have the time to soak dried beans and have always been a fan of canned beans. We eat a lot of beans and my preference for canned beans is for those without salt and made with BPA-free lined cans. 
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  • Yogurt drinks. My son could basically live on yogurt. My preference is to give him plain yogurt and to sweeten it myself with maple syrup or honey but that doesn't always happen. Last week, these strawberry banana smoothies were a big hit as an after school snack. 
  • Pancakes. I'll be honest: right after the accident, I intended to buy a pancake mix but I bought this gluten free one by Bob's Red Mill by accident. I had never bought a pancake mix before so I'll chalk it up to a lucky accident because my kids absolutely devoured it. I'm trying not to take it personally, since homemade pancakes are a point of pride, chez moi. 
  • Applegate's HALFTIME. HALFTIME is a new product from Applegate, our partner whose products we are proud to feature on both LaLa Lunchbox and LaLa Breakfast. HALFTIME wasn't available when I had this kitchen accident but I pack it for my kids' lunch now sometimes and they're delighted. We supplement the HALFTIME (which comes with Applegate's meat and cheese, plus a Stonyfield yogurt tube plus Annie's bunnies) with fresh fruit and veggies and it's an amazing lunch shortcut when things get hectic. 
HalfTime on LaLa Lunchbox

Are there products that make your life easier? Are there kitchen appliances or utensils that you avoid? We'd love to hear about all of it.  

 

Blizzard Bars - Snow Day Fun with Kids!

Winter Storm Juno
Winter Storm Summer Fun

Is it snowing where you are? We're in the midst of Snowmageddon (Winter Storm Juno) and here in NYC there were crazy lines at the grocery stores last night and this morning as people prepared to hunker down while Mother Nature dumps 20+ inches of snow on the city. I know this because I was one of those line-standing people. Basically, we walked into the grocery store, got online at the entrance and shopped while we waited in the queue. My kids thought it was hilarious. I stocked up on things like clementines and chicken, bread, milk and eggs. My third grader had school as usual today (it's canceled tomorrow). My preschooler's school was canceled today and tomorrow (and my 2 year old doesn't go to school). My two younger kids and I went out in the snow before it got crazy outside. After getting home, we got into bathing suits and pretended it was summer. We read books, colored, built a fort, played on the iPad and I cut and prepped every vegetable in my fridge. Then I looked at the clock and it was 2:46 pm.

The day was long. It'll be even longer tomorrow. 

Tomorrow, we're making Blizzard Bars (aka Banana Oatmeal Bars). These are a household staple. It'll be great not just to pass the time with a fun cooking activity, but also to have a delicious, tasty snack on the ready. I may even add chocolate chips to the recipe. Because, Blizzard. This is going to be a super snow day activity, and if you have these four ingredients in your house -- ripe bananas, rolled oats, salt and vanilla extract -- you can make Blizzard Bars too! It's simple to make with really young kids, it's delicious and healthful, and with just four ingredients, you likely won't have to endure long grocery lines to make it a reality. Best part: you can take them to go when you bundle up to go sledding! 

banana oatmeal bars

Wishing you all the best in your quest to stay warm and entertained! 

Banana Oatmeal Bars

3 super ripe (aka brown) bananas

2 cups of rolled oats (not instant)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

½ teaspoon salt

Optional: 1/2 cup of chocolate chips or raisins or dried cranberries

Method:

1. Preheat oven to 350. Line an 8×8 dish with parchment paper.

2. In a mixing bowl, mash the bananas until they are smooth.

3. Add the oats and mix to combine.

4. Add the vanilla extract and salt (and optional add-ins if you're using) and mix until the ingredients are evenly distributed.

5. Pour into baking dish. Bake for 25-28 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes and enjoy.

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Spinach Pesto (Dairy Free)

When I close my eyes and dream of the ultimate comfort food, it's nothing fancy... it's the dinner that my mom cooked often when I was a kid: roast chicken with broccoli and white rice, with the chicken juices poured on top. I probably complained about it at the time (chicken again?!) but even now when I go to my parents' house and smell her chicken roasting in the oven, it's a comfort like no other. I'm hungrostalgic just thinking about it. 

Beyond dishing up delicious food, though, cooking enabled my mom and I to spend time together. As a food writer and cookbook author, she was always in the kitchen and she encouraged my sister and I to get on board early and often. It was a thrill to be included. Today, I invite my kids into the kitchen as often as possible. And while they don't always take me up on my offers, I see that each of them is slowly developing an interest in flavors, ingredients and cooking. Most recently, my youngest (2 1/4 years old) joined me in the kitchen for the very first time and helped get her own dinner on the table! 

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She's at an age where she enjoys bold flavors and doesn't shy away from new foods or textures so pesto was a huge hit. She helped me to wash spinach and basil, peel a clove of garlic and pour olive oil. When I loaded the ingredients into my mini chopper, I let her press the buttons (and naturally, made sure to unplug immediately after we were done). This was a hit! 

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When the pesto was done (in about 2 minutes), I let her spoon it into the bowl of cooked macaroni and stir. Voila! 

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Fast, easy, delicious. My gal gobbled this up and reminded her older brother and sister at least four times during dinner "I made that, you know!" I used the leftovers in her lunchbox the next day: 

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Here's the very-flavorful, super easy recipe: 

Spinach Pesto (Dairy Free)

Ingredients:
1/2 bunch spinach, washed and cut
10 basil leaves
1 clove of garlic
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/3 cup olive oil
2-3 cups of cooked macaroni (we used half whole wheat and half plain pasta) 

Method
Cook the pasta as directed on the box. As it cooks, add the spinach, basil, garlic, salt and olive oil to a cuisinart or chopper of your choice (an immersion blender can also work) and blend until smooth. Spoon into cooked pasta, stir and enjoy! 

Hot Cocoa Pancakes

My kids beg for chocolate chip pancakes. Do yours? I've made them a handful of times and apparently the experience is stuck in their heads as the ultimate breakfast treat. I decided to use my go-to pancake recipe and added my homemade hot cocoa mix. Boom! Hot cocoa pancakes. 

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First, make the pancake batter. Next, add the homemade hot cocoa mix. Stir to combine. 

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Fry these babies in butter or coconut oil. Flip when little bubbles start to appear on top. 

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Woot woot! 

Hot Cocoa Pancakes 

  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk or plain kefir

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tablespoon flax meal
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a bowl. Add buttermilk and oil and mix to combine, making sure not to leave any big flour lumps. Add egg and gently fold into the batter. Add flax meal, cinnamon, cocoa, sugar and vanilla extract and mix until all ingredients are thoroughly combined. 
Pour desired pancake size into a hot, buttered pan. Flip pancakes when tiny bubbles appear on the top. This recipe makes enough pancakes for my three kids for three breakfasts. Keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to five days.  

You might also like: 

Banana Oatmeal Bars
My 5 favorite quick breakfasts for hectic mornings

Chick Pea Salad with Dried Mango and Avocado

Hello, lunch! Refreshing, filling, sweet and savory. YUM. 

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Chickpeas with Dried Mango and Avocado

Ingredients
1/2 cup of chopped dried mango
1/2 cup of chick peas
1/2 avocado
1/3 cup chopped bell pepper (we used yellow pepper here)
pinch of salt
pepper to taste
2 teaspoons of olive oil
juice of half of a Meyer lemon
1.5 tablespoons of fresh chopped cilantro
teaspoons of fresh chopped mint

Method
Combine all ingredients and let the flavors dance together. This is best at room temperature and even better on day two! 

Buddha Bowl with Ginger Shallot Dressing

Hello, dinner! 

I typed "Buddha Bowl" into Pinterest the other day and got sucked down a rabbit hole for a while. I saw beautifully deep bowls of veggies and grains, some with beans, some with tofu, some with soy dressings, some tahini based. And then I was ravenous. I vowed to make one of my own this week and now that it's Sunday, I finally got around to it.

The most complicated part of this dinner was all of the chopping. First I sliced a sweet potato into semi circles and placed them on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and drizzled with olive oil. Next to that I placed thinly sliced Brussels sprouts and kale leaves that I had torn from the stem and drizzled both with olive oil. I roasted them in a preheated 400 degree oven (the kale took no time, about 7 minutes, the Brussels sprouts took about 20, and the sweet potatoes took about 25). As those veggies were roasting, I placed 1/2 cup of quinoa into a saucepan with 1 cup of water, brought to a simmer, covered and cooked for about 15 minutes. As that cooked, I chopped the red cabbage and frisee endive. The final step was to make the dressing - the thing that brings it all together. 

buddha bowl LaLa Lunchbox

My daughters both love red cabbage, so they munched happily as I was working. They also love shallot (raw, go figure!) so my version of this dressing had slightly less shallot than the recipe calls for. Also want to note that the jalapeno that I used was not super spicy and that you can adjust that based on your own heat preference. My husband and I devoured this dinner, and now we have lots of leftover dressing. Woot woot! 

Ginger Shallot Dressing
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons of fresh chopped ginger
1 chopped shallot
1 teaspoon chopped jalapeño
2 tablespoons honey 
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar 
Salt and pepper to taste 

Combine all ingredients and blend in a cuisinart or medium sized bowl with immersion blender. Pour into a jar and refrigerate for use all week! 

Our new partner, 18 Rabbits!

I like to take my time at the grocery store (both physically and online) to check out new products. I read labels, look at what's placed at eye level and I also like to see what others add to their carts to understand food habits and trends. I discovered the Jr. Granola Bars from 18 Rabbits a while back at my local store because my son absolutely loved the hot pink wrapper on their Chocolate Cherry bar:

18 Rabbits Chocolate Cherry bar
18 Rabbits on LaLa Breakfast

I read the label and voila! No nuts! We gave it a go, and the rest is history. In no time, we had tried and enjoyed all four flavors (Chocolate Banana, Chocolate Cherry, Cranberry Apricot and Mango Strawberry) and they became a mainstay in our snack cabinet. No nuts, wheat, soy, or dairy and no refined sugar! Yes, please. 

I'm so excited to announce that we now officially list all four Jr. organic granola bar flavors in the Food Library of LaLa Lunchbox. My 4 year old goes to a nut-free school and I'm happy that I can pack these in his lunches or bring them at pick-up time as an after school snack without issue. They're also beloved by my 3rd grader and my 2 year old. A multi-age snack? Pretty awesome. 18 Rabbits also has a brand new line of Jr. Granola cereals that we've added to LaLa Breakfast that are delicious and allergy friendly. 

And here's the thing: as I got to know the folks at 18 Rabbits, it was crystal clear that they are sharp, friendly, creative thinkers. This is a mission-driven company that's on top of their game. They mean it when they say their mission is "to make it possible for everyone to enjoy pure, simple, real food that's good for you and tastes good." And to prove it, they donate 1% of all of the bars they make to programs and partners that serve kids affected by food insecurity in their community. 

I'm proud to add 18 Rabbits to our Food Libraries and I look forward to hearing your feedback about their products (here's where you can find them)!

Happy days!