Meal Plan for February 2015: Getting Ahead of the Snow

So, uh, it’s not quite the last day of the month yet, but there’s this thing called “Juno” apparently headed this way? And we might get crushed under the weight of one billion pounds of snow?

OK, it probably won’t be THAT bad, but still, it does look like there is going to be quite a lot of weather bearing down on us here in the Providence, RI area this week. Schools are already cancelled for tomorrow, with principals cautioning parents that we ought to mentally prepare for a Wednesday cancellation as well. People are scrambling to stores for bread and milk and batteries and flashlights. My boys are planning to construct a 4-piece snowman rock band and head to the city park with their sleds (as soon as it’s safe to go outdoors, obviously). And I’m pretty sure we’ll lose power for at least a little while, so I’m thinking I may bake up a loaf or two of bread today juuuuuust in case.

All this by way of saying: It’s early for me to post the February meal plan, but I may as well get it up now, because who knows what the rest of this week will look like?

February 2015

WEEK ONE:

Sunday, 2/1: Super Bowl! I’m not sure yet exactly what we’ll be doing, but homemade “junk food” is a good bet. :-)
Monday, 2/2: Pasta with creamy mushroom sauce, salad
Make it GF: Use your favorite gluten-free pasta
Tuesday, 2/3: Slow cooker – California Chuck Roast
Wednesday, 2/4: Everything-crusted chicken and roasted vegetables
Thursday, 2/5: Greek-style lamb pita pizzas
Friday, 2/6: Fend night/Kids Cook
Saturday, 2/7: Spaghetti and meatballs
Make it GF: Use gluten-free pasta or serve the meatballs plain, alongside roasted vegetables or on a bed of polenta

WEEK TWO:

Sunday, 2/8: Smothered chicken with apple cider gravy, mashed potatoes, broccoli
Make it GF: You can omit the flour in the gravy, or use rice flour
Monday, 2/9: Meatball subs
Make it GF: Instead of subs, make a meatball parimigiana stuffed baked potato
Tuesday, 2/10: French onion soup and salad
Make it GF: Omit using bread to top the soup
Wednesday, 2/11: Breakfast for dinner
Thursday, 2/12: Balsamic brown butter chicken and broccoli rabe
Friday, 2/13: Fend night/Kids cook
Saturday, 2/14: Friends over for dinner! Still working out what we’ll serve.

WEEK THREE:

Sunday, 2/15: Steak and Guinness pie
Make it GF: Use mashed potatoes for the crust instead of pastry
Monday, 2/16: Sheet pan nachos
Tuesday, 2/17: Slow cooker – apple barbecue pulled pork sandwiches
Make it GF: Serve on cornbread made with masa (not flour) instead of traditional rolls
Wednesday, 2/18: Lemon chicken pasta
Make it GF: Use your favorite gluten-free pasta
Thursday, 2/19: Eggs poached in tomato sauce, sourdough bread
Make it GF: Omit the bread and use squares of fried polenta for dipping
Friday, 2/20: Fend night/Kids Cook
Saturday, 2/21: Homemade chicken nuggets and mixed vegetables

WEEK FOUR:

Sunday, 2/22: Ham and scalloped potatoes
Monday, 2/23: Chicken nugget parmigiana, salad
Tuesday, 2/24: Slow cooker – sloppy joes, sweet potato fries
Make it GF: Use the sloppy joe filling to make corn tortilla quesadillas, or to top baked sweet potatoes
Wednesday, 2/25: Layered deep dish pizza
Make it GF: Use polenta for the crust
Thursday, 2/26: Chicken noodle lettuce wraps
Friday, 2/27: Fend night/Kids Cook
Saturday, 2/28: Mom’s Old School goulash and salad
Make it GF: Use your favorite gluten-free pasta

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7 Ways We Overcame Sensory Food Aversions (Mostly)

Not long after I began writing this blog, many moons ago during the last Ice Age and when I could still say confidently that I was closer to my 20s than I was to my (gulp) 40s, our older son L. was diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder. As time went on, he’d also be diagnosed with a motor planning disability, Non-Verbal Learning Disorder, and giftedness in selected areas (which, believe me, is more of a “diagnosis” than a bragging thing and can affect his functioning in the world as much as any of the other stuff he’s got). All of those labels for my kid’s complicated brain wiring mean a number of different things, but among them is the fact that – due to not only the sensory stuff, but also the NVLD and the gifted profile – his experience of all sensory input is not at all like most people’s.

Sometimes, it’s good – almost like a superpower. But in other ways, it’s a disadvantage, to say the least. Other parents of kids with sensory differences are probably nodding their heads vigorously right now. Because the aversions, my gosh, the aversions are just. So. Damned. Hard.

Many of you will recall that L., who is arguably one of the most food-adventurous 8 year olds on the planet, has always battled with us vigorously over eating fruit, of all things. I mean, FRUIT. Sushi, no problem. Beets, fine. Miso, curry, satay, Buffalo wing sauce? All in the realm of accepted flavors. Strawberries? Cue hysterical gagging.

If you follow me on Facebook, you’ve seen dozens of lunch pictures, and you’ve possibly even noticed some slight improvements to L.’s lunchboxes this year. Yes, this year, second grade, at 8 years old is the first time I’ve been able to branch out even the slightest in packing any kind of actual fruit. And he may or may not eat what I pack. But at least he won’t panic, or cry, or vomit. That, friends, is a huge milestone in and of itself. Consider the progress:

FRUIT ITEMS ACCEPTED IN FIRST GRADE

  • One specific brand of blueberry applesauce

    1stgradelunch

    A lunch from 1st grade. See those few measly slices of dried date? That was his “fruit” for the day.

  • Homemade applesauce, with much grumbling
  • Some dried fruits, including fruit leathers
  • Navel oranges, sliced only in one very specific way
  • Limes (of all things), sliced in the same very specific way

 FRUIT ITEMS ACCEPTED IN SECOND GRADE

  • Almost all kinds of applesauce, no grumbling
  • Some dried fruits, including fruit leathers
  • Navel oranges, no strategic slicing required

    See the one on the top? Oranges AND figs. He tried figs. Didn't like them, but tried them!

    See the one on the top? Oranges AND figs. He tried figs. Didn’t like them, but tried them!

  • Limes, also no strategic slicing required
  • Blood oranges
  • Clementines (even WHOLE!)
  • Cooked apples
  • Cooked peaches
  • Raw apple slices with cinnamon-sugar
  • Raw apple slices with peanut butter
  • Pomegranate seeds
  • Jam
  • Apple butter

I wish I could tell you that what we’ve done to achieve this progress would work with every child, but I’m sure it won’t. However, here are some of the main steps we’ve taken that I think have helped, and might be encouraging to other families whose kids are battling an issue like L.’s:

  1. We respected him.
    Once we figured out what was going on, we stopped making a big deal about it or really bringing it up at all. Years of treating it as a non-issue allowed him to get over the early trauma we (inadvertently) caused by trying to force things.
  2. We waited until his brain matured.
    Yes, maturity has a lot to do with it. He’s now old enough to have reached a critical phase of brain development that helps him to more accurately perceive some sensory input and organize a response to it. He’s also reached the magical “age of reason.” He’s now more able to understand that even a food he greatly dislikes will not actually harm him by its mere proximity, and that the worst thing that can happen if he bites into something distasteful is that he spits it out and moves on with his day.
  3. We involved him.
    Once we started to see the signs of greater maturity, we made a list with him: “No-Go” and “Try It” foods. He was allowed to put three fruits immediately into the “No-Go” category, which means we are not allowed to put them on his plate or request that he try them. He then helped us brainstorm a list of fruits he might be willing to taste. We keep it tacked to the refrigerator as a reminder to all that these are the boundaries we’ve created, and we’ll honor them.
  4. We took it slowly.
    We didn’t expect that he’d eat the new foods right away, but we did ask his permission to put a tiny bite on the edge of his plate, with the reassurance that all he had to do was eat the remainder of his meal without freaking out about the interloper on the rim. He managed that pretty well, so we moved on to “trying.” “Trying” didn’t mean swallowing, but it did mean licking and nibbling. If he could lick and nibble with no real gagging, he could progress to a small bite.
  5. We used lots of words.
    Words are a strength for L., so it was easy to engage him in conversation around those small bites – not simply “I like it” or “I don’t like it,” but “It tastes like weird old feet that were left in a closet forever” (a real reaction from him, to blackberries). We’d ask questions like “What does it remind you of?” “Does it smell better, or taste better?” “On a scale of Best Thing Ever to Most Awful Thing I Think Might Kill Me, where does this rank?” Talking about it helped L. cope with the experience and actually taste things thoughtfully.
  6. We didn’t forbid sweeteners.
    Some cultures make a habit of adding small amounts of sugar to strong-tasting vegetables to help children develop a taste for them, gradually decreasing the sugar over time. I don’t necessarily recommend the practice across the board, but if jam from a spoon could act as a gateway to trying new things – which it did – I wasn’t going to be stubborn. Likewise, apple slices with cinnamon sugar, which have really opened up L.’s world. In the context of his generally healthy diet, I feel this is a trade-off I can not only live with, but embrace.
  7. We thanked him.
    It’s no small thing for L. to keep trying foods that once quite literally triggered his fight-or-flight instincts. Each time he has tried, we’ve praised him, hugged him, and high-fived him. We don’t GUSH, but we respect and honor the hard work it takes for him to step outside his comfort zone.

Is it all smooth sailing? Hardly – and I won’t pretend that it is. There are still a number of untried and no-go foods on his list, and he still can’t stand to be near melon or very ripe bananas (which he’s now able to tell us is because they smell sickly to him). I still long for the day he’ll take delight in strawberry season, which – given the fact that strawberries are #1 on the No-Go list – may honestly never happen. But the hard work has been worth it, if only for the fact that this year for the first time ever, he was able to help us pick apples in the fall without anxiety. Now that’s progress.

 

 

 

 

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Monday Menus: Indian Take-Out at Home

We don’t often go out to eat. Whether it’s taking the whole family to a restaurant or getting a little “date night” time for me and J., a meal away from home is a relative rarity for the RRG clan. I love a good restaurant experience, but it can be expensive to eat out, and my standards for “good restaurant experience” are probably higher than they ought to be. It doesn’t have to be fancy or extra-pricey to qualify as good in my book, but for the most part, I’ve got to be served food I can’t (or won’t) make at home…which, if you’re an adventurous cook like me, cuts out about a third of affordable restaurants right off the bat.

As a result of my desire to eat restaurant foods that aren’t going to be gracing my family dinner table regularly, I’m often drawn to ethnic restaurants. Sure, I can make some version of miso soup at home, but I’m not going to be pulling out the rolling mats and sourcing fresh fish for our own maki every week. I can put together something resembling a decent curry, but I’m not going to stock the pantry with fish sauce and kefir lime. And although I love spicy foods, I’m mindful of the fact that my kids aren’t quite up to my tolerance for heat yet – so if I want Szechuan, or vindaloo, or a very hot drunken noodle dish, I have to get it elsewhere.

One of my favorite ethic cuisine fixes is Indian food, mainly because the complexity of the flavors rules out my ability (or desire) to replicate most of my preferred dishes at home. J. and I are particular fans of a place that goes outside the bounds of the typical Americanized Indian restaurant and offers more adventurous regional specialties you’re not likely to find elsewhere. They make a pepper chicken dish and a Bengali seafood stew that I absolutely can’t mimic, not to mention a spiced cauliflower appetizer that I’ve tried desperately to duplicate (and failed miserably each time). But no matter how much I love and even crave those Indian flavors, we’re not going to head out to dine every time I get the urge for a curry. So I’ve had to learn to make some basic Indian restaurant staples for myself, which staves off my need to drop $15 on the meal of my cravings.

I can pull together a very decent chicken tikka masala; I can make a lentil dal that satisfies my tastebuds; I can whip up mango lassis in the blender and spike my rice with turmeric. And, I’ve discovered, I can make samosas. Those little turnovers, stuffed with potatoes and peas, are a mainstay of Indian restaurant appetizer menus. They’ve got a flaky crust that encases a filling of spiced – but not spicy – potato with a beautiful golden hue. Samosas are crisp, tender, savory, and deeply satisfying, and as luck would have it I’ve found that it’s not brutally hard to make a decent knock-off at home.

Restaurants usually deep-fry their samosas, but I bake mine, which makes them easier to handle and much less messy. Using cold yogurt and butter in the pastry crust gives them their trademark flakiness without weighing them down. The only thing that may seem intimidating about this recipe is the spice blend – but you’ve got options there. Most grocery stores stock garam masala, so you can buy a jar if you’d like; because they vary widely, and because I don’t like to buy spices I won’t use often, I prefer to make my own. Every spice in my preferred blend is one I keep on hand for regular use anyway, so taking a few minutes to measure and mix my own garam masala isn’t much of a hardship. The recipe for my blend will make more than you need, so you’ll have plenty on hand for the next time your samosa craving strikes.

I highly recommend trying these pillowy vegetarian turnovers next time you’re in the mood for something a little bit exotic. For a real restaurant-style experience, pick up some chutneys or raita for dipping, and you’ll feel like you’ve taken yourself out to dinner.

Baked samosas

Get the recipe: Baked Samosas

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Monday Menus: The Chicken of My Everything

Ever see those posts on Facebook where somebody says something like, “OMG…this is my EVERYTHING?”

Maybe it’s just my friends, but it seems like “my everything” is the latest equivalent of “greatest thing ever” to hit the internet. I’m not complaining, by any means – I’m sort of a fan of funny social media hyperbole. (Not to mention a user of it, occasionally – guilty as charged on that.) It’s just something I noticed, and it made me think of food. Obviously. Because all the things apparently make me think of food.

For me, “my everything” makes a lot of sense as a measure of praise, because – follow the logic, here – EVERYTHING BAGELS. I love the things. I don’t eat them very often, but I do love them, when they’re properly done. (Note: that’s hardly ever.) I think the combination of the salty, earthy, crunchy, nutty, slightly sour, slightly tangy flavors in the coating on Everything bagels is one of the most perfect food ideas on Earth. So a few times a year, I indulge myself and head over to a local shop that makes a darned decent Everything bagel, and I order one piled with smoked salmon, tomatoes, red onions, and capers, because the only thing that can improve on an Everything bagel in my book is a whole bunch of amazingly pungent stuff that will render your breath unfit for polite company for the rest of the day.

However, that’s only a few times a YEAR. That’s the frequency with which I allow myself to give in to my Everything lust. Or it was…until I schemed my way into this chicken recipe. This is the Chicken of My Everything, otherwise known as Everything-Crusted Chicken, and it’s awesome.

Why chicken? Why not? I could have made bagels or pretzels or buns or something, but that’s far more complicated, and would have resulted – most likely – in a negligible increase in my Everything consumption. I wanted something faster, fresher, healthier, and easier to pull together whenever the craving strikes. For what it’s worth, I think the coating would be absolutely phenomenal on salmon or pork, but chicken is more economical and let’s face it: Boneless, skinless chicken is sort of the Supreme High Ruler of easy family meals, no? So why fight it?

Gluten-free, easy to make, and a fun twist on the “crunchy bites of chicken rolled in something” phenomenon that brings families to the table so willingly…that’s the Everything-Crusted Chicken. Oh, and it makes for killer leftovers, too.

See? Amazing leftovers. Perfect for lunchboxes.

See? Amazing leftovers. Perfect for lunchboxes.

Get the recipe: Everything-Crusted Chicken

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Meal Plan for January 2015: Just Rolling With It

I usually have some insights or observations to offer in preface to my meal plans. Even if it’s just a little reflection on the season, an anticipatory commentary on ingredients that are about to become available, or a half-hearted lament about the jam-packed schedule that’s led to a certain method to the madness, I always have something to say.

Not so for January 2015. Not so.

Honestly, right now, I’m just rolling with it. Rolling with what? Life. Family. Work. Routine. There’s plenty to think about on a daily basis, and plenty to do. Making (and planning) dinner is, as always, one of the cornerstones. So I wrote a meal plan without giving it much thought or effort, just off the top of my head. I took into account a visit from my parents and a couple of social obligations, and of course the celebration of the New Year. But really, this is just a meal plan that happened almost spontaneously, something written easily when I was feeling pretty chilled out and not concerned about much in the world. It’s a good place to be. :-)

January 2015

WEEK ONE:

New Year’s Eve: Beef tenderloin, asparagus, soft rolls, and salad with crispy prosciutto for the kids. Later for me and J., tenderloin mini-sandwiches with arugula and mustard sauce, bay scallops with garlic butter and wine, asparagus wrapped in phyllo with hollandaise, and crackers with goat cheese and sour cherry jam.
New Year’s Day: Double-cut pork chops with tarragon mustard crust, mashed sweet potatoes, and brussels sprouts
Friday, January 2: Fend night
Saturday, January 3: Hosting friends for dinner – Chicken parmigiana, pasta, salad, and garlic bread
Make it GF: Omit the breading on the chicken, or use almond meal for breading; use your favorite gluten-free pasta and omit the bread.
Sunday, January 4: Meatloaf and mashed potatoes1.15tip1
Monday, January 5: Monte Cristo sandwiches, sweet potato fries, and fruit
Make it GF: Use polenta in place of the bread for the French toast portion of the sandwich (like in my Pumpkin Polenta French Toast Sticks)
Tuesday, January 6: Slow cooker – Turkey chili
Wednesday, January 7: Honey mustard skillet chicken and rice

WEEK TWO:

Thursday, January 8: Broccoli alfredo and salad
Make it GF: Use your favorite gluten-free pasta or make zucchini “noodles”
Friday, January 9: Kids cook/Fend night
Saturday, January 10: Chicken tikka masala and baked samosas
Make it GF: Use teff flour for the samosas, or omit the pastry and make potato cakes out of the samosa filling
1.15tip2Sunday, January 11: Pork schnitzel with pickled red cabbage and dilled green beans
Make it GF: Use almond meal for the breading, or a mixture of pure oats and ground puffed rice
Monday, January 12: French onion bread pudding, salad
Make it GF: Make a crustless caramelized onion quiche instead!
Tuesday, January 13: Slow cooker – Mom’s meat sauce over spaghetti
Make it GF: Use your favorite gluten-free pasta or serve the meat sauce over baked potatoes with a sprinkle of cheese
Wednesday, January 14: “No fuss” chicken and roasted vegetables

WEEK THREE:

Thursday, January 15: Clam chowder and salad
Friday, January 16: Porchetta, herb stuffing, and vegetables
Make it GF: Use gluten-free cornbread for the stuffing, or serve potatoes instead
Saturday, January 17: Chicken with 40 cloves of garlic, mashed potatoes, asparagus
Sunday, January 18: Eating out with family
Monday, January 19: DIY Salad1.15tip3
Tuesday, January 20: Slow cooker- chicken soft tacos
Make it GF: Use corn tortillas
Wednesday, January 21: Pasta with roasted brussels sprouts and mushrooms
Make it GF: Use your favorite gluten-free pasta

WEEK FOUR:

Thursday, January 22: Homemade pizzas
Make it GF: If you don’t have a favorite gf crust option, try making my gluten-free crepe recipe and making pizza crepes – or use polenta for the base!
Friday, January 23: Fend night/Kids cook
1.15tip4Saturday, January 24: Bracciole
Make it GF: Omit any bread crumbs from the stuffing. It’ll still be great.
Sunday, January 25: Sunday roast chicken dinner
Monday, January 26: Breakfast for dinner
Tuesday, January 27: Chicken noodle soup and homemade bread
Make it GF: Use gluten-free noodles or substitute rice; serve cheese fricos instead of the bread
Wednesday, January 28: Cheeseburgers
Make it GF: Make Cheeseburger salads or lettuce wraps

WEEK FIVE:

Thursday, January 29: Autumn stir-fry and rice
Friday, January 30: Fend night/kids cook
Saturday, January 31: BLTs and butternut squash soup
Make it GF: Make BLT rollups in corn tortillas, lettuce leaves, or slices of turkey

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Year in Review: 14 Best Lunches of 2014

I’ve never been much in the habit of doing a year-end post here on the blog – I don’t know if it’s pure laziness or the fact that I tend to be more “unplugged” during the final few weeks of the year than at any other time. It may be that I don’t think of a food blog as being a place to put any wise or pithy observations about the passing of time, or it may be that I’m not a person who believes in making grand resolutions on January 1, so the New Year for me is no more and no less than what it says it is. It’s a new year, a new number on the calendar, and sure there’s opportunity in that – but isn’t there opportunity in any fresh day?

This year, though, it occurred to me that I could do a quick retrospective of sorts. Pretty frequently, I put pictures of the kids’ school lunches on the RRG Facebook page, more because it’s helpful to people (and helps me keep track of good lunchbox ideas I’ve had) than for any more specific, strategic reason. I almost never, however, put photos of the lunches here on the actual site, which may be an oversight. So why not use this opportunity to look back at the lunches I packed in 2014 and select a few that seemed worthy of extra recognition?

Say…maybe 14 of them?

I’ve chosen these 14 lunches based on a totally unscientific combination of factors: Facebook likes and comments, kid reactions to the lunches, and my own feelings about their relative nutrition/creativity/excitement level. Without further ado, I present to you….

Red, Round, or Green’s 14 Best Lunches of 2014!

#14. The Halloween lunches

Halloween lunchesI wouldn’t have necessarily chosen these lunches for the countdown, but they were very popular with RRG readers – and with the boys! My theory is that it has to do with the “cute” factor, which isn’t important to me and is not something I strive for on the average day, but I get that it makes things visually appealing.
Contents:
Spelt tortillas (rolled up with pb&j for one kid, made into a cheese quesadilla for the other)
Carrot “pumpkins”
Wax beans or cucumbers
Bunny grahams
Clementine “jack o lanterns”

#13. The Pumpkin Waffle Sandwich Lunch

pumpkin waffle sandwichAgain, this one’s on the list because it received lots of attention both on Facebook and Twitter. It’s a simple concept – using waffles as a stand-in for sandwich bread – but one that always seems to be popular with kids and readers alike.
Contents:
Sandwich of homemade pumpkin waffles and bacon
Wax beans and peppers
Pomegranate seeds
Cheese cubes
Dye-free Halloween gummies

#12. The Alphabet Soup Lunch

alphabet soupIt’s not the prettiest picture, but something about this lunch resonated with people. I think it’s the variety factor, as well as the fact that objectively speaking, this array of food will almost certainly keep a kid full throughout the long school day.

Contents:
Homemade alphabet soup
Chocolate-banana spelt muffin
Fruit leather
Applesauce
Pecan crackers with sunbutter and jam

 

#11. The Waffle Iron Panini Lunch

waffle iron sandwichesI know exactly why people (and my kids) loved this lunch – it’s hard to resist a panini that’s made in a waffle iron! They’re cute, they’re crispy, and they’re fun to eat.

Contents:
Salami and cheese waffle iron panini on homemade sourdough
Kale chips
Peppers
Pomegranate seeds

#10. The Turkey and Corn Wheel Lunch

Turkey and corn wheelsIt’s so pretty….
Packed at the height of the summer, this lunch is a good representation of what nice fresh produce can do for the look (and nutrition) of a lunchbox. I’m not surprised that it was a popular photo among readers on both Facebook and Twitter!

Contents:
Turkey
Fresh corn wheels
Strawberries
Grape tomatoes
Peppers
Cheese stick

#9. The Cucumber Sandwich Lunch

Cucumber Sandwich lunchThis might be one of my very favorite lunch photos, ever. The whole thing came together looking so fresh and vibrant – and I’m sure that’s why readers went nuts for it! It was a summer camp lunch intended to keep my five-year-old going during a long, active day at a historic farm camp – gardening, tending animals, swimming, hiking, and generally getting himself tired and dirty. As I recall, both the lunch and the camp served their intended purposes!

Contents:
Leftover roast lamb, cubed for easy eating
Cucumber sandwiches with butter on homemade sourdough
Pepper rings
Strawberries and dark chocolate chips

#8. The Ham Crepe Lunch

ham crepeI couldn’t let a lunch roundup post go by without a photo of a crepe lunch. We occasionally pack crepes, and every time we do, they’re a hit with readers (and the lunchboxes come home empty, too!). If you’ve made crepes ahead of time – say, for Sunday brunch or for a breakfast-for-dinner evening – then this type of lunch is a snap to pull together and makes a nice change from the usual sandwiches and wraps.

Contents:
Ham and spinach crepe
Heirloom corn (blanched and frozen during the summer)
Peppers
Pretzel thins with chocolate almond butter for dipping

#7. The Zucchini Bread Sandwich Lunches

zucchini bread sandwichesThis lunch photo has to be one of my most popular Facebook photos ever. The idea of using zucchini bread (or banana bread, or pumpkin bread….) for sandwiches not only makes for really happy kids at lunchtime, but seems to bring out the happy kid in the adults as well!

Contents:
Sunbutter and jam sandwiches on zucchini bread
Peppers and green beans
Bunny crackers
Oranges or berries
Cheese cubes (for one kid only)

#6. The Pizza Burger Kebab Lunch

pizza burger kebabYes, it’s pretty, and yes, it was popular – but I include this lunch in the roundup mainly because it’s amazing for its nutritional density. Every bite in this lunchbox is a bite that counts for something and will fill up a kid’s belly for a hard afternoon of learning and play.

Contents:
“Pizza burgers” chopped and skewered on lollipop sticks
Baked sweet potato drizzled with honey
Salad of greens and peppers
Raspberries

#5. The Hubby Lunch

hubby lunchIt’s not a school lunch, but I had to list this one in my best lunches roundup. After all, some of my readers are trying to pack not for young kids, but for themselves, their spouses, or their ever-ravenous teens – and this lunch will do the trick. I packed this for J. shortly after he started a new job this summer, and the photo got a tremendous positive response on Facebook. I still look at it and think it’s one of the best meals I’ve packed for anyone, ever.

Contents:
Stuffed pepper (stuffed with grass fed beef, kale, marinara, and cheese)
Sauteed squash and zucchini with onions, basil, and cheddar
Homemade sourdough dinner roll
Popcorn
Cherries
Parfait of yogurt, maple syrup, peanut butter, and strawberries

#4. The DIY Nacho Lunches

DIY NachosProving that often, it’s the simplest concepts in lunch-packing that resonate the most, these DIY Nacho lunches were hugely popular with readers. All I did was take the leftovers from a taco night and assemble them in a kid-friendly way in our LunchBots, but clearly, these are lunches that many readers felt would be a hit with their own families – which is the point, after all!

Contents:
Grass fed beef taco meat
Lettuce
Peppers
Tomatoes (for one kid)
Cheese cubes (for the other)
Tortilla chips
Guacamole
Fruit leathers (not pictured)

#3. The Scrambled Egg Rollup Lunch

Scrambled egg rollupPeople loved this lunch. They loved the idea, they loved the photo, and it got passed around on Facebook and Twitter – all this attention for a lunch that was born of honest desperation! Still, it was a great lunch and not a scrap was left at the end of the day.

Contents:
Scrambled egg sheet, rolled around cheese slices, peppers, and greens
Berries
Whole wheat cinnamon raisin muffin with butter
Yogurt and banana parfait (not pictured)

#2. The Rollup Lunches

rollup lunchesPersonally, I think this is my favorite of all the lunches I’ve posted here. Nutritionally dense, fun for the kids, pretty to look at, and easy to pack – it’s like the Holy Grail of lunches!

Contents:
Rollups of either ham or turkey around peppers and mixed greens
Miniature spelt zucchini muffins
Sunflower seeds
Sweet potato chips
Oranges or berries

#1. The Baguette Lunches

baguette lunchesAlthough I’d have chosen the rollup lunches as my number one favorite of 2014, these lunches were HUGE with my kids and highly “liked” on Facebook and Twitter – so I guess they win, or at least it’s a toss-up. I guess part of the appeal is that conceptually, these are just sort of like a Lunchable on steroids – so as far as ease and kid-friendliness go, they do take the top spot. (Not to mention….I’d sort of like to eat these myself!)

Contents:
Baguette slices with butter
Pepperoni and/or prosciutto
Cheese cubes (for one kid)
Spinach
Miniature bell peppers
Apple slices with cinnamon sugar
Toasted corn snacks (for one kid)

That’s it – the rundown of the 14 best lunches I packed in 2014, which will hopefully provide some much-needed 2015 packing inspiration for all of you! Agree? Disagree? Tell me your favorite RRG lunch ideas in the comments!

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December 2014 Pantry Challenge: Nobody Starved

We’ve completed our December pantry challenge!

If you’re just getting up to speed, the quick recap of the concept is that each year, J. and I try to offset the costs of holiday shopping and baking by eating exclusively from our freezer and pantry stores for a week or more at a time. Typically, we do a little in November and a little in December, but this year we decided to try to do a whole(ish) month – with only some staples and desperation items coming in for groceries until the holidays.

So what have we eaten? It’s probably not very exciting, but I think I owe you all a look at what comes out of that freezer and pantry when I have to rely on them. After all, I doubt I’m the only one who stores things up and then realizes belatedly that I haven’t used what I’ve bought – so now’s my chance to convince any skeptics out there that it really is possible, and even more than that, fairly un-traumatic to take a break from groceries and just eat what you’ve got.

The good news is that nobody starved. The bad news, or indifferent news, is that there was a lot more moaning and groaning about dinner than I’m used to dealing with. Both of my boys are fairly good sports about eating what they’re served, but several weeks of Mommy winging it entirely based on whatever was available definitely tested their patience. Thankfully, it’s now the holidays, so they can take solace in indulging!

First, a note about breakfasts:
We’re not fancy when it comes to breakfast around here, and I really don’t mind if the kids just want a bowl of cereal every morning for a week. Over the course of the pantry challenge, things are much the same as they would be during other weeks – lots of cold cereals (like single ingredient brown rice krispies, shredded wheat, and organic o’s), oatmeal, fruit and yogurt, and eggs.

Now, the rundown:

Monday, December 1:

LUNCH
leftoverpizzaLeftover pizza
Bell pepper strips
Clementines, berries
Toasted corn snacks (from Whole Foods)

 

 

 

DINNER
“DIY” Salad platter

diysalad

 

 

 

 

 

Tuesday, December 2:

LUNCH

pepperoni and baguetteNitrate-free pepperoni (and a little prosciutto for one kid)
Baguette with butter
Miniature peppers
Spinach
Apple slices with cinnamon sugar
One kid: Berries and cheese cubes. Other kid: Toasted corn snacks

 

DINNER
fried chicken and cheesy mashOven fried chicken drumsticks, cheesy mashed potatoes, sauteed vegetable medley

 

 

 

 

Wednesday, December 3:
LUNCH

fried chickenOven-fried chicken
Clementines (and berries for one child)
Miniature pepper rings
Christmas cookies

 

 

 

DINNER
quicheQuiche Lorraine(ish)
Apple and pear crumble

 

 

 

 

Thursday, December 4:
LUNCH

dinner roll sandwichesMini sandwiches on dinner rolls – goat cheese and jam for one kid, pb&j for the other
Applesauce
Mini peppers
Clementines or berries
Cinnamon roasted chickpeas (from Whole Foods)

 

 

DINNER (no photo available)
Vegetable fried rice, miso soup

Friday, December 5:
LUNCH
turkeynachosTurkey nachos with tomatoes and cheese
Peppers and carrots
Apple slices with cinnamon sugar

DINNER (no photo available)
Spaghetti, salad, bread

 

 

Saturday, December 6:
LUNCH
Bacon and eggs

DINNER
steak fajitasSteak fajitas

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday, December 7:
LUNCH
Breaded chicken strips
Fruits and vegetables

DINNER
chicken and pesto pastaRoast chicken drumsticks
Tagliatelle with pesto
Butternut squash and apple mash

 

 

 

 

Monday, December 8:
LUNCH
chickensaladChicken salad sandwiches with greens on oat bread
Tortilla chips with guacamole
Bell pepper strips
Clementines

 

 

 

DINNER
steak pizzaiolaSteak Pizzaiola
Roasted potatoes

 

 

 

 

Tuesday, December 9:

LUNCH (no photo available)
Steak pizzaiola wraps with spinach
Clementines and berries
Leftover roasted potatoes with ketchup
Cinnamon roasted chickpeas

DINNER (no photo available)
Chicken and dumplings

Wednesday, December 10:
LUNCH
pbbananaSandwiches on oat bread – pb and banana for one child, fried egg and greens for the other
Peppers
Miniature homemade peppermint brownies
Berries and cheese cubes for one, oranges for the other

 

 

DINNER
We actually went out! J. found a gift card to b.good and offered to use it so I could have a break. I’m dedicated, but not crazy. ;-)

Thursday, December 11:
LUNCH

cornmuffinsMiniature corn muffins
Herb sausage
Applesauce
Carrots and peppers
Annie’s fruit snacks

 

 

 

DINNER
onion soupFrench Onion Soup
Salad with poached eggs

 

 

 

 

Friday, December 12:

LUNCH (no photo available)
Macaroni and cheese with crispy sausage
Mixed greens
Peppers and carrots
Orange slices

DINNER (no photo available)
Shells stuffed with ricotta and blanched mixed greens (chard and kale) from the freezer, topped with a beef ragout

Saturday, December 13:

LUNCH (no photo available)
Grilled cheese sandwiches

DINNER
oven puffed pancakeOven puffed pancake
Fruit
Herb sausage

 

 

 

 

Sunday, December 14:

LUNCH
We “cheated” a bit – after the kids’ performances in the church Christmas pageant, we treated them to pizza at our favorite place.

DINNER (no photo available)
Braised turkey legs
Rice
Glazed carrots

Monday, December 15:

LUNCH

sausage quesadillas
Sausage and spinach quesadillas
Oranges
Bunny crackers
Peppers

 

 

 

DINNER
sweet potato chiliBeef chili with sweet potatoes and kale
Guacamole, salsa, cheddar for toppings
Tortilla chips

 

 

 

 

Tuesday, December 16:

LUNCH

chicken strips
Breaded chicken strips
Applesauce
Spinach and peppers
Oranges
Roasted cinnamon chickpeas

 

 

DINNER (no photo available)
Beef stew over mashed potatoes

Wednesday, December 17:

LUNCH

mini pancake sandwiches
Miniature whole wheat pancakes with pb and honey
Cheese cubes
Peppers
Apple slices with cinnamon sugar

 

 

DINNER (no photo available)
Alphabet soup and grilled cheese sandwiches

Thursday, December 18:

LUNCH

pizza rolls
“Pizza rolls” on homemade spelt tortillas
Spinach and peppers
Oranges
Salted caramel krispie bark

 

 

 

DINNER (no photo available)
Bacon, egg, and cheese sandwiches with peaches and raw vegetables

Friday, December 19:

LUNCH

banana muffin sandwiches
Spelt banana mini muffins with chocolate peanut butter
Peppers
Apple slices with cinnamon sugar
Oranges or raisins

 

 

DINNER (no photo available)
Roasted chicken drumsticks
Brussels sprouts
Roasted potatoes

Aaand….that’s a wrap. After the 19th, we have spent every major mealtime with friends and/or family, so we haven’t been responsible for providing the food – which is, frankly, a good thing! Constantly scanning the freezer and pantry and trying to figure out how to best stretch our existing resources all month long has been a fun challenge, but “challenge” is certainly the operative word. I have to confess that I’m looking forward to writing a January meal plan and getting back into our usual routine, so I don’t have to expend quite so much mental energy each day on the “what to cook” question.

With that, I sign off for the holidays – Merry Everything, whatever you may celebrate, and look for a new meal plan next week!

 

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December 2014: When a Meal Plan is Not a Meal Plan

When is a meal plan not a meal plan?

When you’re flying by the seat of your pants. When you’re planning NOT to plan. When you’re NOT SHOPPING. That’s when.

I mentioned last month that our usual week or two of pantry challenges, which we generally undertake in the run-up to the holidays to help offset our spending, would not be happening this year in quite the same way we’ve become accustomed to. Now it’s time to unveil the NEW RULES of the RRG Pantry Challenge….the mother of all pantry challenges.

For the month of December, we are not planning to do much grocery shopping. No, we will not allow ourselves to starve. Yes, we will buy staples, like milk and flour and some fruits and vegetables. However, instead of me deciding what we would like to eat and then buying the necessary ingredients, we’ll be looking at our freezer, refrigerator, and pantry each week, and deciding HOW LITTLE we can buy to supplement what’s already on hand without sacrificing our good health and nutrition unduly. In other words, I won’t be making any pot roasts unless the meat’s already in the freezer, and if I can either make alfredo sauce with what’s on hand or marinara with new items from the store, we’ll be eating alfredo.

It’s an odd, brave new world for me, since I’m a planner – I’m accustomed to waking up in the morning knowing exactly what’s for dinner not only that night, but for many nights to come.  Pantry challenges in the past have been both fun and exhausting for me because they force me to live day-to-day in the kitchen much more than I usually do. But now, doing it for a whole MONTH (okay…not quite, given holiday travel and all that), I’m both anxious and excited. Already I had a moment of panic this morning which has now largely dissipated in the wake of the realization that we have PLENTY of food on hand. It’s just a matter of me putting it all together in a way that makes sense.

I’ll be updating you all on our progress – what we eat, what we buy, how we manage – throughout the month, so stay tuned. In the meantime, I’m off to prep for tonight’s dinner. Wish me luck.

Please pardon the lighting...this is a hastily grabbed dining room shot!

Please pardon the lighting…this is a hastily grabbed dining room shot!

First Night:

DIY Salad Platter, baguette

Salad greens: Leftover from dinner with friends
Apples: Leftover from dinner with friends
Grape tomatoes: Leftover from picture pizzas
Pickled red cabbage: Leftover from schnitzel last week
Olives: Leftover from picture pizzas
Chopped scallions: Leftover from bibimbap
Dried cranberries: Leftover from dinner with friends
Carrots: Hanging out in the crisper
Goat cheese: Leftover from dinner with friends
Mozzarella: Leftover from picture pizzas
Pepperoni/prosciutto: Leftover from picture pizzas
Hardboiled eggs: On hand
Baguette and butter: On hand

 

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Once Again, You Should Always Listen to Your Mother

Listen To Your Mother logoSqueee!

Longtime readers may remember that back in 2013, I was a member of the cast of the inaugural Providence “Listen to Your Mother” show – an amazing experience. Food writing isn’t the only writing I do, so it was a precious and validating moment for me to have the opportunity to share my words on a stage with a group of phenomenal fellow writers, especially knowing that we were all a part of something much bigger than what was happening in that auditorium. I wanted to do it again, but — quite rightly — the rules of the production discourage cast members from auditioning for subsequent shows, so that newcomers can have their chance. So I tucked it away as a special memory, enjoyed keeping up with the friends I made through the experience, and left it alone.

Until now.

I am beyond honored to officially announce that I’ll be co-directing this year’s Listen to Your Mother Providence show, along with an absolutely killer team that I am SO not worthy to be a part of:

Co-director Lauren Jordan, of the blog Don’t Lick the Trash Can
Co-producer Kirsten DiChiappari, The Queen of the Earth
and Co-producer Chelley Martinka, A is for Adelaide

All three are also LTYM alumnae – Lauren and Kirsten were cast members with me, in 2013, and Chelley followed us in the cast of the 2014 production. When we heard that the original director/producers were not able to continue helming the show in Providence for 2015, I think we all knew instantly that we couldn’t let it fade away. Other cities have applied and been turned down for this incredible opportunity; we needed to make sure that we honored Providence’s hosting rights and kept the show going for all the other writers who needed a place to share their stories. So we banded together, closed our eyes, and took a leap of faith.

As it turns out, our production will be part of the largest collection of Listen to Your Mother shows in the history of the project – 39 cities will host shows this year, 10 of them new. I am humbled to be a part of such a rapidly growing, incredibly rewarding national movement, and I encourage each of you to find the LTYM show that’s nearest to your hometown this spring so you can see what it’s all about, firsthand. You can also view all past LTYM shows on YouTube, including my reading of my 2013 piece, “Normal.”

 

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November 2014 Meal Plan: Getting Cozy

As my 8-year-old son L. would say, “I cannot…not…NOT…believe” that it is November already.

There is something so special about this time of year. I know that sounds trite and a bit like I’m stating the obvious, but really – the second Halloween is over, it’s as if we head into a whole new mode for the rest of the year. It’s a time when the cozy feelings of the upcoming holidays permeate everything; even everyday family dinners, with the darkness closed in around the windows and the warmth of the stove lending its heat to the whole house, are a little more snug and peaceful feeling than usual. Yes, there’s a lot to do when November hits, lots of holiday preparations to complete and plans to be made, but it’s all pleasant busy-ness.

Those of you who are longtime readers may be expecting to see at least one “pantry challenge” week on the meal plan for November, but that’s not the case this year. I’m gearing up for a different kind of pantry challenge this year, which I’m planning for December – one that lasts longer and allows for a few replenishments of staple items, but still relies almost exclusively on what we have in the pantry and freezer to get us all fed. So for this month, it’s still business as usual. It’s a meal plan I’m excited about – lots of warming, filling, comforting foods to help us through these first truly cold and dark weeks of the winter ahead.

WEEK ONE:

Goulash

Saturday, 11/1: J. and I will be away on an anniversary trip!
Sunday, 11/2: We’re still away. My folks are dealing with the care and feeding of the kids.
Monday, 11/3: Pasta “poulet” and salad
Make it GF: Use your favorite gluten-free pasta
Tuesday, 11/4: Slow cooker: Corned beef, roasted brussels sprouts, scalloped potatoes11.14tip1
Wednesday, 11/5: Everything-crusted chicken on root vegetable salad
Thursday, 11/6: Mom’s Old-School Goulash and rye bread (The recipe for my mom’s old-school goulash can be found in the “More Joy, Less Stress” holiday guide!)
Make it GF: Omit the bread and use gluten-free pasta for the goulash
Friday, 11/7: Fend/kids cook

WEEK TWO:

potato soup

Saturday, 11/8: Roasted chicken wings, salad, smashed potatoes
11.14tip2Sunday, 11/9: Beer-braised beef and vegetables
Monday, 11/10: Loaded potato soup
Tuesday, 11/11: Slow cooker – chicken stroganoff, buttered egg noodles, roasted vegetables (This is another recipe found in “More Joy, Less Stress!”)
Make it GF: serve the stroganoff over rice
Wednesday, 11/12: Dinner nachos
Thursday, 11/13: Croque Madame, salad
Make it GF: Instead of a croque madame, serve slices of fried ham topped with fried egg and bechemel
Friday, 11/14: Fend/kids cook

WEEK THREE:

Bibimbap

Saturday, 11/15: Out to dinner with friends
Sunday, 11/16: Sunday roast chicken dinner11.14tip3
Monday, 11/17: Bibimbap
Tuesday, 11/18: Slow cooker – classic pot roast and mashed potatoes (Yet ANOTHER recipe that’s in “More Joy, Less Stress.” I think I’m seeing a pattern in my cooking at this time of year!)
Wednesday, 11/19: Pumpkin carbonara
Make it GF: Use your favorite gluten-free pasta
Thursday, 11/20: Pizza burgers and salad
Friday, 11/21: Fend/kids cook

Pumpkin Carbonara

WEEK FOUR:

Pasta all'amatriciana

Saturday, 11/22: Lenti and sausage bake, sourdough bread
Make it GF: Omit the sourdough; you could serve this with almond-flour biscuits or cornbread made with masa harina
11.14tip4Sunday, 11/23: Pork schnitzel, braised red cabbage, dill potatoes
Make it GF: Use almond meal or a mixture of ground pure oats and puffed rice cereal for coating
Monday, 11/24: Pasta all’amatriciana
Make it GF: Use your favorite GF pasta
Tuesday, 11/25: Slow cooker – turkey chili
Wednesday, 11/26: Breakfast for dinner
Thursday, 11/27: Thanksgiving!
Friday, 11/28: Fend night

WEEK FIVE:

Saturday. 11/29: “Picture” pizzas
Make it GF: If you don’t have a preferred gluten-free pizza crust, try using corn tortillas as a base for open-faced picture quesadilla pizzas!
Sunday. 11/30: Clam chowder and salad

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