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Real Food Lunches

23 Oct

Hey guys. I’m “back.” I’m recovering from my second illness in a month and trying my darndest to remember how the citric acid cycle in cellular respiration works, along with molecular shape and VSEPR theory. So much fun, I tell ya.

lunches

You may recall my nervousness at the beginning of the school year. I was worried about keeping up with packing a nourishing, satisfying lunch for my daughter to take to kindergarten. Thirty-some-odd packed lunches later, I’m over my initial apprehensiveness. These past seven weeks have been a trial-and-error/ learn as I go period. Now I fret less and even take less time preparing everyday.

What I’ve learned thus far: (in bullet format, because I’m all about bullet format lately (hooray lab reports!))

  • Ask what they want. After the first few weeks of choosing for her, I started to let my daughter decide what to eat. Surprisingly, she asked for the same things she had already been eating. I would simply add one or two things to make it a more complete lunch.
  • This or that. For tough food categories, I give her the choice between what we have. She’s old enough to understand that this is what available; so she has to pick out of what there is. Example: Jerky, tuna, or turkey?
  • Some kids like a lot of variety. My daughter is not one of those. She is ok with having only a few things in rotation, as you’ll see in the pictures below. She does get plenty of variety in her breakfast, snack, and dinner though.
  • Finger foods are fun. We don’t consume many finger foods at dinner anymore (ex. pizza;) so having things like cherry tomatoes, olives, and raw veggies to pick up with her hands are so cool. At least to my five (and a half) year old.
  • It’s ok to introduce new foods during the school year. I’ve had a pep talk or two about how new foods might not taste very good the first or second time. It might take a lot of small tries to learn to like something new. (FYI- it’s worked.)
  • Buy a thermos. I didn’t get one until my daughter didn’t eat something “because it was cold” a few times. Twelve bucks at Target later, she was happily wolfing down hot meatballs and spaghetti squash at school.
  • Before we bought the thermos, she was only carrying her cute LunchBots bento box and a water bottle. After the thermos purchase, we got little bag on clearance to stash everything in. Thank goodness it’s machine washable.
  • Usually she gets water to drink. On the occasion that I do pack her juice or milk, I throw in an ice pack, which wouldn’t have worked without the aforementioned lunch bag.
  • Store bought “lunch” type meat is either priced high or high in preservatives and flavors. Added flavors really irk me, whether “natural” or artificial. To me, that says “whatever meat we’re feeding you is so crappy that we had to add other crap to make you think it tastes good.” While I have bought some Applegate sliced meats here or there, we have made a lot of the others and saved a ridiculous amount of money, not to mention peace of mind knowing exactly what I’m feeding my child.

On to the pictures! These are the real lunches I’ve packed, and my daughter has eaten.

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If you’re more into lists than pictures, here’s a breakdown of these real food lunches:

Meats/Mains

  • Homemade jerky
  • Tuna sushi
  • Scotch eggs (sausage wrapped boiled egg)
  • Homemade chicken nuggets (breading is mainly shredded coconut)
  • Pepperoni
  • Salami
  • Homemade sliced smoked turkey
  • Turkey/ham/roast beef wrapped peppers
  • Paleo zuppa toscana soup
  • Bacon
  • Cucumber tuna sandwiches
  • Meatballs, sauce, spaghetti squash

Vegetables

  • Sliced peppers
  • Carrots
  • Cucumber
  • Broccoli
  • Homemade sweet potato chips
  • Olives
  • Spaghetti squash
  • Celery (ants on a log- with almond butter and raisins)
  • Kale (usually wrapped in meat)

Fruit

  • Apple
  • Banana
  • Plum
  • Raisins
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Mango
  • Orange
  • Strawberries
  • Grapes
  • Dried pineapple
  • Creamsicle gummies
  • Strawberry gummies

Nuts/Seeds/Treats/Other

  • Trail mix
  • Cinnamon Almonds
  • Raw nuts and seeds- almonds, pecans, pepitas, sesame seeds
  • Justin’s maple almond butter
  • Honey yogurt (our yogurt is from a local farm. It contains whole, un-homogenized milk, cultures, and honey)
  • Pumpkin yogurt (honey yogurt + pumpkin + spice)
  • Pumpkin chia pudding
  • Paleo apple cider muffins
  • Pumpkin spice coconut cookie
  • Kerrygold cheese
  • Raw pumpkin pie bar
  • SB&J bar
  • Paleo pumpkin muffin

There you have it. Real food lunches- easy. But wait! What about that one thing in the picture? How did I make it? What’s the recipe? Don’t be shy- ask in the comments below and you shall receive.

But wait! There’s more! I will be updating this post at least once a week with MORE lunches and ideas! That’s right, this very post right here will continue to grow. So if you run out of ideas or are just looking for something a little different, hop on over and you’ll be glad you did.

 

Winging It

14 Oct

Whew. What a whirlwind October has been. Between adjusting to a heavier workload at school, keeping up with kindergarten toing and froing, achieving my Tough Mudder goal (and recovering,) and maintaining a functioning household, I feel like I’m just sitting down to really rest today. I have, of course, been cooking, baking, eating, and snapping photos of food this whole time; so don’t think I forgot about you folks.

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I love trying new foods. It’s like an adventure and a challenge. I also encourage my daughter to love good food as much as I do. Strolling through the produce section in the grocery store, I asked my daughter to pick any vegetable- any at all. She scans the stands, her sharp eyes gleaming with the opportunity to choose. For that moment, she was in charge; and she took full advantage of her independence by ensuring she chose the right vegetable from the entire selection. Sure, I could’ve inhibited her by asking her to hurry; but I didn’t. I knew that every minute in the store was a minute later that dinner would be ready. But, I suppressed my own urge to make haste and waited. I answered her questions about what certain things are called, “that’s parsley, and that’s cilantro.” I nodded and smiled as I confirmed each label she put to the many familiar vegetables.

Then we reached the squashes. “Yes, that’s right. Butternut, spaghetti, zucchini, and yellow squash. Very good.” Suddenly she drove her hands into the pile of squashes and attempted to pull one out as she excitedly asked, “What’s this one?” After helping uncover the mystery, she lifted up the unknown squash and announced that this was what she wanted. She was mesmerized.

The sticker said the squash was a gold nugget squash. Instead of hesitating and going for the “safe, known” squashes, I happily put it in the cart. I’d never heard of it, but I have my dear friend Mr. Google. A few days later, I found myself in between meal plans- a rare occurrence. I had this weird squash sitting on my counter and had forgotten to take any meat out of the freezer. Sadly, this is one of those times that Google failed me. And by fail, I mean the first six results for “gold nugget squash paleo” were not sufficient to my needs. I know, a shame. So I decided to just wing it. I know squash. I know how it works. Most of the denser ones roast the same. What could I do with roasted unknown-tasting squash and no meat thawed? Frittata. I always have eggs on hand- when we reach a dozen, that’s considered running low. Frittata is so versatile that anything savory thrown in is bound to be good.

Even though I felt a bit like this:
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I had a determination to captivate my daughter with her chosen vegetable. And so onward I foraged.
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After slicing it open, I felt more at ease. It’s just like a butternut, pumpkin, or acorn squash. I got this. I was a little pressed for time and thought that peeling and cubing this cute little squash would expedite dinner. Ha. Nope. The peel/skin was much thicker and tougher than it appeared to be. Coconut oil face down, so be it.

Just in case the squash ended up being not very flavorful (which I hoped not, because then the name would be so misleading. You’d think something called gold nugget would be awesome, right?) I fried up some bacon to add to the frittata.

I hurriedly scooped the soft flesh out and added brussels sprouts and tomatoes to some of my ramekins. I left one without tomatoes for my tomato hating husband.
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And you know what? They turned great.

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It’s ok to wing it sometimes. You may surprise yourself with your genius. Have you ever tried something new without researching about it first? Ever have it turn out terrible? Tell us about it in the comments below.

Waffles, Round Two

29 Sep

I’ll be doing the Tough Mudder in one week from today. I’m excited and only apprehensive of one of the obstacles- the Arctic Enema. For those that don’t know much about it, the obstacles of the Tough Mudder are meant to test your abilities to the maximum. I hate cold. I really hate it. When I had a bad ankle injury and was told to ice it all the time, I hated every minute of it. Ice is supposed to numb. Well, for me, it just hurts. So…I’m going to be jumping into a huge dumpster full of ice water and wading through to the middle where I will be forced to submerge my entire body to get through to the other side. Does that sound crazy stupid? Yes. Am I going to do it? You betcha.
Completing the Tough Mudder is more than bad ass bragging rights. I’ve come so far and changed so much about my lifestyle to better myself and live a fuller life. To me, finishing such a mentally and  physically trying challenge will signify “victory” over my fitness. Reaching new heights in my physical capabilities is the ultimate “high” for me. That feeling from getting seventeen double-unders in a row for the first time  or using a heavier weight correctly or squat jumping twice as many times before getting tired is exhilarating! The Tough Mudder will be chock-full of new, difficult challenges all in one eleven mile course. I’m ready for it.

I posted about waffles a few weeks ago, using Paleo Parent’s recipe. This morning I woke up nice and early on the only day of the week that I can sleep in (thank you circadian rhythm!) and I wasn’t quite ready to be super productive (like studying or housework) so I decided to make a big breakfast. I had purchased and set aside a banana and apple earlier in the week specifically to make waffles to freeze, but never got around to making them. Since the banana was nearing the end of its usefulness, I figured it was now or never. I grab all my tools needed and put the banana in my ninja to puree. Then I go to grab the apple to peel and core and it is nowhere to be found. Some unknown family member had already eaten it.
I had already peeled the banana. I was committed. Improvisation to the rescue! So I tweaked the recipe here and there, dumped it into my fancy Goodwill waffle iron, closed the lid and crossed my fingers. Thanks to my culinary genius (or sheer luck) the waffles turned out spectacular. I’ll be using this recipe from now on to save me the trouble of peeling and coring an apple.

The cool part is the waffles turned green this time. The last time I made them I used 50/50 sunbutter and almond butter and they were normal “waffle color.” This time it was all sunbutter and vividly my favorite color. Chlorophyll (in sunflower seeds)+ baking soda = green!

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Waffles
Grain-free, dairy-free, nut-free.

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  • 1 cup sunbutter
  • 2 bananas, pureed
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 TB arrowroot powder
  • 1 TB real vanilla
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • Melted coconut oil for waffle iron

Thoroughly mix your sunbutter to distribute oil evenly. I use a whisk on a hand mixer.
Added pureed bananas. Mix.
Add everything else. Mix.
Slather your waffle iron in coconut oil. I use a silicone basting brush.
Fill each waffle space 3/4 full and cook for 3-5 minutes depending on how hot your iron gets.
Watch for the steaming to decrease and check to see if they’re floppy. Of course, you may like floppy waffles. If not, wait for them to stiffen. This is best if you plan to freeze them and later throw them in a toaster.
If you’re not eating right away, cool on a wire rack to prevent sogginess.
Enjoy!

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Have you ever done a mud run or obstacle course? What was your experience like? Have you ever thrown something together and it turned out great?

Creamsicle Gummies

9 Sep

Oh goodness gracious. Today is the day my daughter started kindergarten. I’m sitting in my quiet house, all awkward. By myself. She will be gone most of the day and I don’t know what to do with myself. Before he left, my husband asked me what my plans were for the day. I told him I’d probably work on developing a nervous tick by 2 pm.

I, at least, started my morning off right with a great 6 am tabata. It felt fantastic.
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And because there was a birthday, we had this finisher that left me shaky. I haven’t done that many burpees in a row in I don’t know how long. With as much as I was sweating throughout, it was a cleansing experience; especially after a sugary dessert last night.
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I read about the benefits of gelatin from many different paleo/health bloggers and knew I wanted to give their recommended brand a try sooner or later. Well I finally took the $19 plunge and I’m ever so glad I did.  I’ve been putting a teaspoon in my coffee in the morning and tea in the evening; and whether by mere coincidence or the gelatin actually had a noticeable effect so quickly– my nails stopped breaking and have actually grown passed the ends of my fingers for the first time in two months. Plus, I’ve been munching on these gummies ever since I made them less than two days ago.

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What I like about these:

  • Taste. Yum, creamsicle!
  • Balance- fat, protein, and carbs.
  • Collagen! Read about that in the link above.
  • Super simple.
  • Filling.
  • No artificial coloring, flavoring, or preservatives like the store-bought counterparts.

The little squares I cut the gummies into are so filling that I’m hoping this batch lasts a little longer than most of the snack foods I make. I’m not going to go into the science of absorption of protein, carbs, and fat together (I’m too busy drumming my fingers waiting for it to be 3 so I can go sit in the parking lot for 20 minutes waiting for my daughter to get out of her first day of kindergarten) but just know that having a great balance in one bite is an extra bonus on top of great flavor.

The pre-set flavor of the gummies is not a good indicator of the finished flavor. It might seem like a lot of honey or vanilla, but all the flavors mellow after it has set and is solid. My advice is to make the recipe as is first, and then tweek it to your liking after you taste a finished batch.

Creamsicle Gummies

Recipe tweeked from Tiffany of The Coconut Mama

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups orange juice
  • 1/2 cup coconut cream (separated cream on top of a refrigerated can of coconut milk)
  • 1 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup gelatin
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla

Directions

  • Heat juice and cream over medium heat in a saucepan.
  • Pour gelatin over liquid. Whisk gelatin into mixture.
  • Add honey and salt and continue to stir until the gelatin dissolves.
  • Bring the mixture to a light boil, stirring constantly. This could take several minutes, depending on your burner and pan.
  • Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla.
  • Let cool 5-8ish minutes, stirring a few times.
  • Pour mixture into a 8×8 square pan. Cover pan and refrigerate until gummy snacks are set, about 4 hours or overnight.
  • Cut into small squares and store in air tight container in the fridge.

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As successful as these were, I’ve added some fun shaped, silicone molds to my wishlist. They would be so cute in star, heart, or bear shapes, don’t you think?

Are there any snacks that you buy that you wish you knew how to make at home? Tell me in the comments below and I might give it a try!

Cinnamon Roasted Almonds & Trail Mix

3 Sep

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It’s back to school time around my neck of the woods. My daughter will be starting kindergarten in less than a week; and while I may have a calm exterior, internally I’m fighting the urge to freak out. I know my social butterfly 5 year old will love kindergarten. She went to half-day preschool last year at a public school, so many things won’t be new or scary to her. What I’m not  freaking out about is me. This is the beginning of a decade of making school lunches, driving, more driving, and coordinating my classes to work with whatever school or extracurricular activities that interest her.  I have a resolute stance that yes, I can handle it all like a champ. But then I have this meek, inner doubt trying to squeak out, are you sure you can keep up with it all? 

Last year was a breeze. My husband was off of work due to an injury, and was available for driving, meal making, and keeping up with housekeeping. I had few classes on campus, and therefore a highly flexible schedule. My daughter was in school for 3 hours, and ate all her meals at home. This year, my husband is back to working full(and over-)time, I have many hours where I have to be on campus for classes, and my daughter will have to eat lunch at school for the first time ever. That means I’m the main meal maker, including portable lunches for both my husband and daughter. 

Needless to say, I’ve been preparing for weeks. Influencing posts by Michelle of Nom Nom Paleo persuaded me to purchase a LunchBot for my daughter to use. It comes in the mail tomorrow and I think I’m more excited than she is. Michelle has some great lunch ideas that I’m sure I”ll refer to when I get tired of making my go-to lunches. 

A challenge I’ve recently faced is making foods that are easy to eat while driving, because my husband’s career isn’t always accommodating with a lunch hour at a table or with access to a kitchen. Beyond raw, cut vegetables (that are always included in his lunch box whether he chooses to put them in or I lovingly slip them in after I notice he hasn’t packed enough) I wanted to make something that is closer to a balanced snack that is fantastically delicious, to the point of looking forward to eating it. Something with fat, protein, and sweet goodness. In comes trail mix to save the day! I spent some time in my favorite place (Marlene’s bulk cooler) and scooped baggies full of the good stuff. 

For the sweetness part, I perused a list of real snacks compiled by Katie of Girl Meets Nourishment and immediately wanted to give the cinnamon roasted almonds a try. The original poster uses pure cane sugar, which I don’t use. I did have a bunch of coconut sugar though, and honestly I had no idea if it would work as a substitute for this particular recipe; but I was willing to sacrifice having sticky nuts if it didn’t turn out right. I figured if it could become granulated/crystallized once, I could do it again. 

Cinnamon Roasted Almonds

  • 1 1/2 cups roasted almonds (if using raw, you can roast them beforehand for 10 minutes at 350°)
  • 1/2 cup coconut sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp sea salt
  • 2 TB water

In a big skillet, add all your ingredients except the almonds. Mix it all together until if forms a paste.

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Add the almonds and stir to coat. 

Place the skillet on a burner over medium, and stir. Stir, stir….constantly for 7-10 minutes. 

This is what stirring looks like, in case you didn't know...

This is what stirring looks like, in case you didn’t know…

Don’t walk away from them, you have to keep stirring and watching them like a hawk. After a while, the mixture will begin to solidify.

Keep stirring until the sugar crystallizes onto the nuts.

Immediately remove from the heat and pour onto some parchment to cool.

Hardened coconut sugar

Hardened coconut sugar

They are perfect on their own. Maybe a little too perfect. Without restraint, I’m sure I could have eaten the ENTIRE batch in one day. To prevent myself from eating handfuls of them at a time (besides that first one, of course) I put them into my fantastic trail mix. 

 

Yum Nom Mmmm Nummy

Yum Nom Mmmm Nummy

Trail Mix

  • Cinnamon roasted almonds
  • Pecans
  • Pistachios
  • Raisins 
  • Goji berries
  • Coconut flakes
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Pumpkin seeds

Use whatever proportions you like. You know you’re going to pick out your favorite ones anyways.

 

What do you pack in your kids school lunch or your own lunch?

 

SB&J

27 Aug

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Since easing my (bread loving) five year old into paleo, the one thing she still asks for on a regular basis is a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. After a few weeks of explaining that we don’t even have bread in the house to make a pb&j, she has started to ask, “did you buy bread yet?” It’s difficult for her to grasp/remember that we’re not eating peanuts OR bread anymore.  Having never liked peanut butter, it’s hard for me to empathize with her craving for this lunch time treat. She does enjoy almond butter, which is a great for me since I don’t have to convince her to like other nut butters. She even saved up a dollar of her earned money to buy a squeeze packet of Justin’s maple almond butter.

Then one day Taylor Made It Paleo posted these pb&j bars (which don’t really have peanut butter in them, but sunflower seed butter and cashews) and I thought I’d give them a try to help my daughter transition easier. I’m going to call them SB&J bars-sun butter and jelly- because that seems more logical to me.

Despite all I’ve heard and read about how great they are, I’d never bought or tried Chia seeds before. I knew exactly where to find them though, so I picked some up in the bulk section of Marlene’s. Kinda off topic-that little cooler room in the back of the store filled with nuts, seeds, dried fruit and all sorts of natural goodies is one of my happy places. Does it make me crazy that I could joyfully spend an hour a week in that little room? Probably. But I’m ok with that.

Anyways, back to the bars. The SB&J ones, not the kind with alcohol and single creepy guys. The crust was super easy and much like many other paleo snacks/desserts that use dates and nuts. The jam middle layer is so super simple and amazing that I wonder why I don’t make my own jam this way. In my opinion, reduction > pectin. (Oh yeah, I threw in some Tuesday morning math symbols. You are welcome.)
As for how they turned out, not only did my daughter love them, but my husband’s first response was, “Do you have enough ingredients to make more? I could eat one of these in my lunch everyday.” I’d call it a win.

SB&J Bars
Courtesy of Taylor Made It Paleo

Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups blueberries
1/4 cup honey
1 tbsp chia seeds
1 tbsp coconut cream
10 dates, pitted
1 cup raw cashews
1/4 cup sunflower seed butter
pinch of salt

Directions:
Place blueberries and honey in a small saucepan over med-high and bring to a low boil.
Turn heat down to medium-low, and continue to cook while mashing blueberries, and stirring frequently to prevent burning.
Add chia seeds and coconut cream and continue to cook/stir until you get a jam-like consistency (about 20-25 minutes).

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Thick and jam-like

Put mixture in the fridge to cool while you make your crust.
In a food processor, combine dates, cashews, sunflower seed butter, and salt until all ingredients are well incorporated.

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Separate mixture into two “equal” parts. They’re just as awesome if one layer is a little thicker, so unless you’re a perfectionist, don’t fret too much about it.
Line a small bread pan with plastic wrap or parchment paper for easy removal.
For the crust, take one half and press down into the bread pan using a spatula to compress.
Remove jam from fridge and spread evenly over the crust.
Crumble the rest of the crust mixture over the top of the jam and press down to evenly form top layer.
Place in the fridge for 30-40 minutes before using the plastic wrap to remove it from the pan and cutting.

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Eat Your Veggies

17 Aug

For my family and I, eating veggies is a fairly high priority. It’s up there on the list with getting enough sleep, always speak kindly, and hold hands when you’re in a parking lot. We try to fill our plates with around half veggies.
One of my family’s favorite veggie groups is squash. Any squash, any time of year, we love them all. I could say “especially. ..” but then I’d end up naming them all. Squashes used to be a sideline ingredient before we made the switch to only-good-for-your-body food.** Now squash is spot light center stage as it has replaced things like spaghetti, lasagna, and even pizza.

I’m regularly reading paleo bloggers’ new recipes for new ways to enjoy this season’s squash. Thanks to Juli of Paleomg for this summer squash meatball casserole, I had a satisfying dinner that I was happy to watch my husband and five year old eat up and ask for more.

Ingredients (with my alterations)

2 tablespoons bacon fat
5 garlic cloves, minced
2 small zucchinis, shredded
2 small yellow squash, shredded
1 red onion, shredded
1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon coriander
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
1 pound ground beef
3 tablespoons tomato paste
Large handful of cherry/grape tomatoes
salt and pepper, to taste
fresh parsley, roughly chopped

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Click here for the recipe.

If you have a shredding attachment on some sort of kitchen gadget, that will make prep a hundred times faster.
I served this dish with carrot fries.

**note- I don’t like to use the words “healthy food” because our modern day has competely mutilated the true meaning of the term. “Healthy” has been slapped on labels as a marketing ploy. If a “food product” has to convince you that it’s “healthy,” then it is likely not.