Banana Oatmeal Bars: A Fast, Easy, Healthy Breakfast

'Tis the season to be hectic. 
I don't know about you, but amid all of the awesomeness of the holiday season, I'm just pooped. Truth be told, my husband and I are relieved when the kids want cereal with milk and a banana or toast with a banana for breakfast these days. My kiddos choose their breakfasts and lunches in advance, which certainly makes things easier for me because I don't have the added stress of thinking about what to serve (let alone dealing with an argument about it). That said, I still have to prepare and serve those meals and unfortunately, there are no holiday fairies that take care of that for me. 

It's times like these that make Banana Oatmeal Bars so very amazing. 

LaLa Lunchbox banana oatmeal bars

These things are so easy to make, my kids do it themselves now, which frankly is one of the greatest holiday gifts ever. One batch makes 9 bars in our house – but it can make 16 more if you cut them smaller. My kids generally eat two apiece with breakfast. With just four ingredients, they're simple to prepare, quick to serve, and full of healthy goodness. Trifecta! In fact, putting two of these on a plate with some fruit is even easier than serving a bowl of cereal with milk. These bars also make for wonderful snacks! They're dairy free, gluten free, vegan and naturally sweet thanks to those super ripe bananas. 

Download the image below and add it to your LaLa Breakfast Food Library and/or your LaLa Lunchbox Food Library so that your mornings are just a teensy bit easier. Feel free to reach out with any questions you might have about that. 

Banana Oatmeal Bars

LaLa Lunchbox banana oatmeal bar ingredients

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 one of these: dried cranberries, raisins, nuts, pumpkin seeds or chocolate chips

How to:

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 mix until the ingredients are evenly distributed.
5. Pour into baking dish. Bake for 25-28 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes and enjoy.

Here are some other recipes you might like: 
Banana Sweet Potato Muffins
Banjo Muffins
Oatmeal Muffins
Banana Pancake Kebabs

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Yummy Pasta, Made from Beans!

We're not gluten free in my house (we're nut free and fish free and my littlest one is dairy free, but all of that is another story). As an allergic person, I have an affinity for products that are specifically directed to those with allergies or special food needs, even if they aren't catering to my particular needs. 

When I spoke with the folks at Explore Asian, it was clear that while they set out to create products that were delicious, they are also keenly aware of the needs of those who are gluten free, health conscious, vegan and kosher. I fit into one of those four categories (health conscious) and I can say confidently that these pastas are delish. 

The first flavor we tried was the Organic Edamame Spaghetti. My kids are big fans of spinach pasta (affectionately called 'green noodles' in my house) so the color of this was an immediate plus. The kids giggled - how can pasta be made with beans and water? These products are 92% beans and 8% water. I find that amazing. No weird fillers! I was initially a little nervous that the texture would be strange and gummy or rubbery but my concerns were unfounded. While it doesn't taste exactly like pasta made from wheat flour, the mouth feel is pleasant in it's own right. 

Explore Asian Edamame Spaghetti

All three of my kids liked this. I gave it a quick toss with roasted garlic olive oil (see below) and my kids added freshly ground black pepper and voila! Dinner was done. These pastas are loaded with fiber and protein - it's like eating a giant bowl of beans with dinner, but with the ability to twirl on a fork! 

A few nights later, I made the Soybean Spaghetti for dinner with my husband (with plans for leftovers for my two year old). Again, the taste and texture were both satisfying. This time, I made the dish with olive oil, homemade roasted red peppers, sautéed snow peas, steamed green peas and salt. We devoured this. 

Explore Asian Soybean Spaghetti

Explore Asian has other flavors (all organic) including Black Bean pasta, Mung Bean pasta, Adzuki Bean pasta and an Edamame and Mung Bean combination. They also make rice noodles, wheat noodles and noodle soup, but I have not yet tried any of those. 

Have you tried the Explore Asian products? If so, I'd love to hear about how you prepare it! 

Here's the deal with that Roasted Garlic Olive Oil: I roasted several heads of garlic recently and followed this recipe. I then mixed the soft, roasted garlic with olive oil, poured it into an ice tray and froze it. Now whenever I want roasted garlic-flavored olive oil, I just pop out a cube. For pasta dishes, I melt a cube into a sauce pan and give the pasta a quick toss, adding veggies or whatever else might be accompanying the dish. It is typically ready to plate in about 3-4 minutes. 

** full disclosure: Explore Asian sent me these pastas to try but I have not been compensated to write this post. 

School Lunch

People often ask me what my kids eat for lunch so I've decided to post a collection of images of the lunches that my 8 year old and my 4 year old cart off to school in the hopes that it perhaps provides some helpful ideas to others. I'll also post the occasional grown up lunch and lunch for my 2 year old because we need to eat too! 

Simply click the images below to see the description for each lunch and, where applicable, a link to an easy recipe or click here to open up the gallery. I'll keep updating the gallery, so you can visit for fresh ideas and updates. Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter for updates and Pin these for later too. 

As always, I welcome comments or questions and if you have product suggestions that your family loves and you think others should know about, I'd love to hear about that too! 


Body Puzzles

My son wondered aloud this morning about how tall he was, measured in sheets of paper. And so a fast morning project was born! 

First we laid out paper. As it turns out, my guy is 6 sheets by 2 sheets. 

body puzzle step 1

Next, I traced him. Oops, there were some errors! Check out the difference between the ankles!

body puzzle step 2

Then, he colored in the details he wanted to include. 

body puzzle step 3

Now we're having a grand old time rearranging the pieces as a puzzle and fitting them together properly or putting them in absurd positions. Fun, fast and inexpensive! Woot woot!

body puzzle 4

As an aside, when I noticed my 2 year old with the end of the tape roll in her mouth, as if to cut the edge off with her teeth, I realized that my attempts to save a nanosecond by not using scissors is being watched more carefully than I thought. 

Veal Stew with Carrots and Cinnamon

My 4 year old has become quite fond of making phone calls. We have a list of important numbers posted in our kitchen and he has taken the liberty of calling some of them when he feels chatty. Last month, he called my mom and dad and requested "special time" in the form of a sleepover. #heartmelt 

My pareants were (of course) delighted by this request and have changed around their schedules to make it happen three times - on a weeknight, no less! My son proudly tells his teachers "I'm doing the Grandma and Grandpa thing tonight." His preschool has a late start so mornings for him don't have the time crunch that come with other school schedules. That'll all change next year. In the meantime, there are few things in my world that are as awesome as seeing my kids having fun with my parents and hearing the stories from both sides. 

My daughters are more amenable to eating meat for dinner than my son, so when he sleeps at my parents' house and has dinner there, it's an opportunity for me to serve something a little different. I was excited to make this recipe from The Kitchn but yesterday was one of those days and I was tied up for so many hours that it would have been impossible for me to make anything other than scrambled eggs for dinner if it weren't for my all-around-lovely babysitter, Wendy. Three huge cheers for her!

Veal Stew with Carrots and Cinnamon

I texted her the recipe with my changes, noted below, and I came home at the end of a long day to my home smelling of warm cinnamon, earthy roasted cauliflower, sweet carrots and slow-cooked meat. Mmmm. The hallway leading up to my apartment smelled like roasted sweet potatoes - a favorite in my house. Boy is it nice to go home to that! This dish got enthusiastic thumbs up from everyone. Wendy says the prep was easy – it's a mostly hands off dish. Next time I think I'll try it with lamb, as the recipe calls for. My daughters love veal and we don't have it often so this was a treat! 

Veal Stew with Carrots and Cinnamon 

1.5 pounds boneless veal stew meat
1.5 teaspoons salt
1.5 teaspoons ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 large white onion, chopped
3 medium carrots, cut into chunks
2 whole celery stalks, cut into chunks
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 cup red wine

Place the veal in a bowl and sprinkle with the salt, pepper, and cinnamon. Cover and place in refrigerator for an hour, or longer if you have time. 

In a heavy saucepan or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium heat and brown the pieces of veal on all sides. When all of the meat is browned, add the onion, carrots, celery and garlic. Cook for about five minutes, stirring often, until vegetables start to soften. Add the tomatoes and wine and stir.

When mixture begins to bubble, reduce the heat to low and cover. Cook for 2 -3 hours, or until meat falls apart when tested with a fork. 

Serve with roasted sweet potatoes and roasted cauliflower (Cut, place on parchment paper and drizzle with olive oil. Roast at 400 degrees for approximately 25- 30 minutes). 

The Candy Fairy

Here's the deal: the night before Halloween, my kids write sweet notes to the Candy Fairy asking what his/her favorite candy is this year. They leave the notes under their pillows and are incredibly excited to find a response in the morning. On Halloween night, they leave that candy under their pillow for the Candy Fairy and in exchange get a small present. The kids usually get a huge haul of candy (and it seems to grow every year), so parting with a few pieces (usually between 5 and 10) is never an issue. Here's what we do with the rest of it. 

Candy Fairy 2

We've had a bit of a hiccup lately with the Tooth Fairy -- the jig might be up with my 8 year old -- so her questions for the Candy Fairy were a lot more probing than a simple "what is your favorite candy." 

Candy Fairy 1

As usual on Halloween morning, the day began with excitement! The Candy Fairy will be busy today finding a little gift to place under their pillows tonight in exchange for that candy. 

Happy Halloween! 


Kale and Ham Frittata

When in doubt, make frittata! 

Here's what happened: I was hungry. I looked in the fridge. I had a bunch of kale, about 5 ounces of ham, some scallions and a half dozen eggs. I preheated the oven to 350 and chopped the kale, ham and scallions. One cutting board, one knife. I lined a baking dish with parchment paper so that I wouldn't have to scrub anything vigorously on the flip side of this experiment. I cracked the eggs and put everything into one mixing bowl and combined. I poured it into the baking dish and then had to wait! This had all been done so quickly that my oven wasn't even preheated yet! Once the oven was ready, I popped in the baking dish and 30 minutes later, out popped this yummy lunch. My 2 year old and I gobbled up half of the whole dish together for lunch!

kale and ham frittata

kale and ham frittata

Four ingredients. Under 10 minutes of prep. Total deliciousness. 

Our Halloween Candy Strategy

I have a sweet tooth. There used to be a time in my life when I ate a lot more candy than I do now (red swedish fish and peppermint patties were some of my favorites). I read this post by Sally of Real Mom Nutrition and like so many of her posts, I felt she was speaking my language. Once I began connecting the dots between how I felt and what I ate, my habits changed and so did my life. I still have a sweet tooth, and while I'll always have a soft spot for homemade chocolate chip cookies, I mainly stick to seriously dark chocolate these days. 

trick or treating

My kids eat something sweet pretty much every day. I'd love to sit on a high horse and say 'well, it's not junk,' but frankly, I think sugar is sugar. They get heaps of candy for Halloween from trick or treating and eat whatever they want that night. They leave about 10 pieces of candy under their pillow that night for the Candy Fairy, who replaces them with a small toy or book. After that, they can choose one per day until the stash runs out or until the holiday season, when Halloween candy gets dumped out. 

FARE teal pumpkin

This year, I've decided to forego buying Halloween candy and will be giving out glow-in-the-dark bracelets and glow in the dark fangs to trick-or-treaters. They're seasonally relevant and they don't contribute to the candy overload of the holiday. They're also safe for kids with allergies, and while I don't have a teal pumpkin, I will print out a photo of one and attach it to our door. 

What's your Halloween candy strategy?