Avocado Chocolate Cookies

Okay, I know. It sounds weird. But when I came across the photo of these Avocado Chocolate Cookies on Pinterest, they looked so good, I just had to see for myself. Plus, I had all of the ingredients in my house, so it was an easy experiment. And when I showed the photo to my sweet-toothed son, he was game to make these with me. I mean, look at these things! 

avocado chocolate cookies

I made one substitution in the original recipe (granulated sugar for coconut sugar) and added three ingredients (baking powder, salt and cinnamon). Our recipe noted below. 

ingredients for avocado chocolate cookies

First we cracked an egg and added it to our mixing bowl. Next we used about 3/4 of a large avocado and mashed it. 

avocado and egg for cookies

Next, we added sugar and cocoa. This batter is looking good! 

cocoa and sugar added

Finally, we added baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt, and then the chocolate chips.  

"Mama, can I taste it?" 

"Mama, can I taste it?" 

We spooned the batter onto parchment paper on a cookie sheet and baked at 350 for 9 minutes. 

avocado chocolate cookie batter

Wow. These things! Gooey. Rich. Satisfying! A keeper, for sure. 

avocado chocolate cookies

Here's the recipe: 

Avocado Chocolate Cookies (adapted from the Fit Ninja)

1 extra large egg
3/4 very ripe avocado, mashed
1/2 cup sugar (I used raw sugar. The original recipe called for coconut sugar)
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon of baking soda
1/4 teaspoon of baking powder
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350. Combine the egg and mashed avocado and mix until the lumps are mostly gone (be careful not to overbeat). Add sugar and cocoa powder and mix well. Add baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon and stir until you have a nice batter. Add the chocolate chips and mix one final time. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Spoon the batter onto the baking sheet and bake for 8-10 minutes. This recipe makes about 24-30 cookies. Keep in the refrigerator. Enjoy! 

Managing the LaLa Lunchbox Food Library for Weekly Grocery Shopping

manage library LaLa Lunchbox

We began the LaLa Lunchbox journey almost 4 years ago. My daughter started going to school for the full day, and thus needed a packed lunch from home. The system that evolved into LaLa Lunchbox was simply a way for me to stay on top of healthy, delicious lunches for my then 4 year old daughter. It was on paper and lived on our fridge

The rest is history. I've said it before, my life-threatening allergies have helped to shape me and have influenced my willingness to try new foods (in general, I'm game for everything that I'm not allergic to). They have also made a huge impact on my parenting decisions when it comes to food and my business decisions with LaLa Lunchbox. So when it came time to build LaLa Lunchbox (and LaLa Breakfast), it was critical that the Food Libraries be customizable to accommodate every eating lifestyle. In my own home, because of my allergies, my kids' LaLa Lunchbox and LaLa Breakfast Food Libraries don't show them options that include fish or nuts. My kids eat plenty of sunflower seed butter as a delicious substitute, and while my two older kids absolutely LOVE peanut butter and almond butter, they know that it's only eaten outside of our home. Beyond that, the only other changes that I usually make to our Food Library are for seasonal reasons. For example, we can't get plums or peaches now so I've dimmed out that option until warmer weather is upon us again.

Manage Items on LaLa Lunchbox

Here's how it works: the kids plan their meals for the week ahead of time. My husband or I shop from the grocery list that those choices generate. Straightforward. My kids eat their lunches enthusiastically, and the lack of food waste makes me incredibly happy. Plus, as is the case with so many things sibling related, when one sibling sees what the other has chosen, he or she wants that too. So I find that while I'm allowing my kids to choose their foods, there's loads of overlap which is pleasantly convenient. 

But! And I'm a little embarrassed to admit this after having used this app for so long - I recently began dimming out food items that I don't have in my kitchen AFTER grocery shopping. I narrow the playing field before the players step up to the bat. The fruits with the little blue check mark next to them are the only ones I bought from the grocery store Saturday (this image doesn't show the full available Library but you get the point). So here's the good news: if my kids can't get around to planning their meals for the week before I need to get up and go to the grocery, it's still all good. And those little red X marks? Those can be checked back to blue at ANY time. 

Convenient. Simple. Straightforward. Good for kids and parents. 
If you're looking for some lunchbox inspiration, check out our School Lunch Gallery. It's divided into the following four categories to make browsing easier: Lunches with Dairy, Lunches with Egg, Lunches with Meat, Lunches with Nut Butter and Vegetarian Lunches. Click back and forth to view each category by holding your mouse over the word "School Lunch" at the top of the page. And be sure to follow us on Instagram for daily school lunch postings. 

Why Do You Take Photos?

My computer has been running really slowly lately. I know it's time to delete files that I don't need to make some room but it's such a daunting task. A lot of memory is used by photos. I have almost 50,000 photos in my library. No kidding. There are absolutely hundreds, if not thousands, that can be deleted in an instant, and there are undoubtedly accidental duplicates that can be deleted too. But sifting through the entire collection to find them? Ugh. Despite the uphill battle that this presents, I've started the process and it has taken me on a delightful memory voyage. 

In the summer of 2007, my oldest child was 1. We took a family vacation that summer to Cape Cod and we returned to find our computer had malfunctioned and all of my photos were gone. We sent it to some expert but the files were lost forever. They included my wedding, my honeymoon, photos of my daughter's first year, and everything else that had preceded those life changing events. Heartbreak doesn't come close to describing how this felt. I was able to get many (low resolution) photos back because I had uploaded them to a gallery site to share with family. It wasn't everything, but I felt fortunate nonetheless. 

Often I am asked why I take so many photos. I've read plenty of articles about how taking photos prevents you from living in the moment. I wholeheartedly disagree. I take photos to make the moments last longer. Looking back at old photos that I've taken immediately transports me into the moment that I wanted to capture. In an instant, I can remember how my daughter screamed with delight after picking these "lello flowahs" and presented me with the bouquet. I remember how carefully I tried to shield my son's chicken leg from the sand that blew in the wind on the beach that day. These are the tiny, real-life moments of parenthood that I savor. I felt them deeply when I took the photos and I'm so incredibly grateful for the opportunity to live them again when I look at the photos. 

I take photos because doing so provides me with a soul-hugging sense of joy. I plan to continue doing it, at the same pace - and hope that our backup system protects them sufficiently. It helps me see how far we've come as a family and as individuals and it helps me make sense of the things that are constant in my children and our lives and the things that have changed over time. So I'll be buried in iPhoto for a while... 

Food and Body Shaming. At Home and At Large.

I've recently read a bunch of articles on the topic of talking about healthy eating and the impact that has on kids. In my own home, we have a set of food values that we try to adhere to, and I do my best to talk about why those values are important to us. Whether it's for allergic, religious or other lifestyle reasons, people everywhere have food preferences and avoidances. My kids notice that other homes have different food rules, so I've been sure to discuss the importance respecting others. I think having an allergic mom and a kosher grandmother has been helpful for them to understand that people eat differently for a variety of reasons. 

Along these lines, I really enjoyed the four tips for instilling healthy habits in this article, by Sally Kuzemchak, aka Real Mom Nutrition. But here's the thing: it's a battle out there. Much as I try to keep our discussions about food focused on the positive, and emphasize that there are different rules in different homes and be aware of mixed messages, my kids live in the world with others who don't abide by those rules. 

is this lunch too big? too small? 

is this lunch too big? too small? 

My eldest, soon to be 9, has come home from school telling me that another child made her feel bad because her lunch was too small. On another occasion, there were comments that her lunch was too big. She's been asked why she gets vegetables in her lunch (the vegetables came back uneaten that day, and for several days after that). She's been asked why her desserts aren't bigger. And why she gets chocolate but not Cheetos. Then yesterday, I got an email from her teacher that a child in her class called her fat. She happens not to be even remotely fat, but that's not the point, is it? It's a disheartening reality that though we can do our best at home (which, mind you, is not easy), there's another battle out there that we have to prepare our children to address. 

Lunch at school is a social thing. I am proud to empower my kids to have a voice in their lunch so that they feel confident about what they're eating. But I feel sad when I hear about food shaming on either side of the aisle (too "healthy" or too "junky"). And body shaming? It makes me want to cry. At home, we say that being healthy isn't about what your body looks like. I like to tell my kids that in broad terms, good health comes from four things:
1. getting enough sleep
2. staying hydrated
3. eating a variety of foods 
4. being active

Luckily, my daughter didn't seem too bothered by the substance of this child's comment. She was more annoyed that he was badgering her throughout math class and concerned that she hadn't heard the teacher. It was a good opportunity to discuss both the hurtful impact that words can have and on the flip side, the concept of "sticks and stones."  But I wonder if I've addressed it properly. And how often to address it. The battle continues. It's imperative to be mindful of what happens both at home, and at large. 

So I wonder: what tips do you have to deal with food and body shaming? How have you responded when your children presented issues like this? 

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: 

KalamataHummus_450.png
  • 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! 

Spinach Pesto dairy free 1

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! 

spinach pesto 2

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

spinach pesto 3

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: 

spinach pesto 4

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!