Power Your Lunchbox: Leftovers Edition

With 2 middle school-ers in my house, mealtime has taken on a bit of a different meaning. I can no longer expect my older kids to eat whatever I put in front of them (well, maybe I could expect that, but I would spend a lot of time being disappointed). Nowadays, the food that comes out of my kitchen has to be yummy, healthy, not embarrassing, and cool. This is made particularly difficult because what qualifies as “cool” and “not embarrassing” changes all the time – sometimes within the span of a few hours. It’s exhausting.

So, when Produce for Kids sent out their Power Your Lunchbox Promise (see more about the awesome program here) I decided to enlist my middle school-ers to help make some healthy, cool lunches they might actually eat!

For reasons I will surely never understand, leftovers are currently all the rage in the middle school lunchroom.  Perhaps it’s because they feel cool to have access to microwaves now that they’re out of elementary school? Perhaps it’s because sandwiches are too square? I honestly have no idea. But we’re going to go with it.

Here are 3 days worth of lunches made from leftovers:

We started with this sorry-looking pork chop with peach jam sauce:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We sliced it up, and added it to this yummy-looking salad:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Definitely looks cool to me! (Disclaimer: A few days later my daughter informed me that salads with salmon and berries on top are now the lunch of choice for the cool kids in the lunchroom. Seriously?)

Here’s another one. We started with half of a turkey sausage, and an odd turkey meatball leftover from an Italian feast the night before:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Found an old roll to make a sandwich:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chopped up some pineapple – and we had a delicious lunch! Perfect for cold, January days!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This last one is the best, because my oldest actually made the dinner all by herself.  She is currently taking what we used to call Home Ec as an elective (yes, it’s a very cool class). She had made this veggie stir fry earlier in the week and was super eager to make it for the family:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was very good. We ate it with tilapia and a veggie egg roll. Yum:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

She then told me that the stir fry was good hot or cold! Yea! Another great candidate for leftover lunch:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

She was even willing to share with her younger sister! Miracles can happen, people!

For more healthy and cool ideas for your lunchbox, head over to Produce for Kids:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Want to take the Power Your Lunchbox Promise? Check it all out here:

 

 

 

Are You Worried About Your Teen’s Eating Habits?

Pinterest is pretty awesome. I love looking at the beautiful pictures of gardens and homes, crafts and cupcakes. I’ve even gotten a few useful tips and recipes for feeding my kids – particularly when they were younger.  But now that they’re getting older and they aren’t so into the cutesy butterflies made out of watermelon; and they aren’t impressed when I make smiley faces out of bananas and oranges on their morning pancakes – it’s not nearly as useful to me.

In fact, my tween and teen aren’t impressed by much that I do. And sadly, Pinterest – and society in general – has kind of left me out in the cold when it comes to helping my older kids make healthy choices when it comes to food. So, I recently offered some tips for helping older kids navigate the world of food choices over at Produce for Kids.

Check it out:

When No One In Your Family Eats the Same Thing…

Eating together as a family is a powerful force for psychological health. It’s a seemingly easy thing to do to encourage:

  • Good communication
  • Improved mood
  • Healthy habits
  • Decreased anxiety
  • Better performance and school/work

But actually eating (happily) together is easier said than done…especially when no one in your family eats the same thing.

I recently wrote an article over at Produce for Kids offering some tips for getting your family around the table at once.  One of may favorite tips?

Don’t give up. I’ve known a lot of families who have tried to change their cooking and eating habits, only to quickly become discouraged by the enormity of the task. Habits (especially eating habits) take a long time to form, and take a long time to change. By setting small, realistic goals and giving your family lots of grace, you will notice positive changes over time.

Check out the entire article – including some reasons why my family has fallen into some not-so-great eating habits over the years – here.

Food, Mood and Mental Illness

At first glance, it doesn’t seem like food and mental health would have much to do with each other. But actually, they go hand in hand. Appetite changes (eating more, or eating less) can be an important red flag, or symptom, when it comes to diagnosing mental illness.  For example:

  • Some people who suffer from depression notice that their appetite wanes as their mood becomes worse.
  • Others who suffer depression, or other mood disorders, may notice that their appetite actually increases as their psychiatric symptoms intensify
  • Still others might notice that their appetite patterns change (they’re hungry at times they never were before, etc) as their psychological health changes

Psychiatric medications can also change appetite and eating habits.  Stimulant medications, anti-depressants, mood stabilizers and other psychiatric medications used to treat mental illness all come with possible side effects.  For this reason, mental health providers and patients often keep a close eye on eating habits when a new medication is started, or dosage changed.

Want more information about food and mental health? Check out my recent article at:

And for recipes, stories and other ways food and mood go together, check out my Food and Mood page.

How To Eat Dinner As a Family…Without Yelling, Screaming or Crying

Does dinnertime at your house look like this?

Freedom from Want, Norman Rockwell,1943 oil on canvas, Norman Rockwell museum, Stockbridge, Massachusetts

Or like this?

The Scream, 1893 by Edvard Munch

Few of us have the happy, healthy, technology-free family dinners we think we should have. In fact, many families almost never eat at the same table at the same time (let alone eat the same thing). I recently wrote an article over at Produce for Kids about where to start when you’ve never eaten as a family. The prospect can be daunting, so I tried to offer some simple strategies for sharing meals together – and have fun doing it. Check out the full article:

Power Your Lunchbox – Hearty Snack Time

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I’m thrilled to be continuing my work with Produce for Kids this year.  If you don’t know about the organization, they are an awesome group of folks who strive to help kids and families have fun while eating well.  Check it out:

Produce for Kids® believes in creating a healthier generation through cause marketing campaigns that provide easy, fun and inspiring recipes. Produce for Kids has been helping families and children by giving back since 2002. Through produce and grocery retail partner programs, Produce for Kids has donated more than $6 million to charities that benefit children and families nationwide.

One of my favorite things about Produce for Kids are the ideas they have for healthy meals and snacks.  A couple of times a year they focus their efforts in helping families pack healthy lunches.  Take the pledge to power your lunchbox!

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I’m going to be honest, in our house we heartily support buying lunch at school.  There are a few reasons for this, not least of which is that it makes the mornings more pleasant – no lunches to pack!  But it still leaves after school snack time to deal with.  As my kids are getting older, the afternoon snack is becoming more important – there is just so much to accomplish in the afternoons before dinnertime. Things like:

  • Homework
  • Piano Lessons
  • Karate
  • Soccer practice
  • Swimming lessons
  • Choir

and really boring things like:

  • Meetings

The other day, we had a full afternoon in the hours between after school and bedtime: homework, piano lessons, soccer practice (2 of them actually), basketball practice  and a parent meeting at school.  On days like these, snacks are particularly important.  I’ve been trying to be better about packing good looking, healthy snacks that will sustain my kids (and me!) until dinnertime – which often ends up being later than I would like.

So while the big kids were at school, my little guy and I tried our hand at homemade hummus.  We used this recipe by the Pioneer Woman (don’t you just love her).  It was super easy, and also delicious because we were able to tweak the ingredients to our taste (more lemon juice, less garlic).

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Everything is just dumped into the blender and mixed up until smooth

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Put it in an airtight container

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And make sure to pack some yummy, healthy things to dip in all that deliciousness!

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This would also make a good lunch – but hearty, tasty snacks are important too!

Don’t forget to take the pledge to Power Your Lunchbox (or snack box, or whatever!) – Happy snacking!

 

 

 

Hidden Veggie Meatballs

I have a little bit of extra time off this holiday season – and I plan to use some of that time to stock my freezer with easy, yummy foods for when life (work, school, soccer, piano) ramps up to its normal break-neck speed again.

The other day my kids found this recipe for Hidden Veggie Meatballs in the Produce for Kids cookbook, Healthy Family Classics:

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Before I knew it, they’d made a cute little video documenting how to make them.  Check it out:

We now have a couple dozens of these tasty little things just waiting to be eaten in the freezer.  For this and other kid-friendly and health recipes, check out Produce for Kids.

And did I mention that you can get this cookbook for 20% off this holiday season? Check it out:

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Power Your Lunchbox

Yea (or, boo! – depending on your perspective) it’s back to school! Regardless of how you and your family feel about this time of year, one thing never changes: everyone has to eat lunch.  I feel quite lucky that all 3 of my kids have become sandwich lovers over the past couple of years, making packing lunches pretty simple.  But all of us need to mix it up from time to time, so today I am teaming up with Produce for Kids to help spread the word about their Power Your Lunchbox campaign:

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Look at all those clever, yummy and healthy lunches!

Please consider taking the pledge! It’s super simple and also helps the organization Feeding America.  Additionally you can be entered to win a bento box from Bentology, and also get some free printable lunch box notes (super cute).

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Ok, let’s get started.  I was lucky enough to get one of these fun bento boxes.  My kids have been itching to get their hands on it for weeks!

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There’s just something about all those cute little boxes that fit so perfectly inside each other.  I think it makes us all believe when can eat smarter and more creatively!

So when my kids and I discussed what to put in our bento box, they decided they wanted something with their new fave – Greek yogurt.  I thought about making granola to go with it, but decided instead to use up some of the delicious peaches that are in season right now.  I had just seen this Peach Oatmeal Muffin recipe over at Six Sisters Stuff, so we gave it a try:

4 cups of juicy peaches - delicious!

4 cups of juicy peaches – delicious!

We used 1/2 white flour and 1/2 wheat flour:

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I was concerned that full-sized muffins wouldn’t fit in the bento box, so I made a couple dozen mini-muffins:

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My little one decided to make some full-sized, Christmas-themed muffins:

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We may or may not have popped a few in our mouths straight from the oven:

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Next it was time to fill the box! I put in the vanilla Greek yogurt, then the little guy added some muffins.  I said 2 was plenty, he thought 3 sounded better:

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We agreed on some strawberries and sliced almonds, but had a difference of opinion on how to fill the last little box.  I thought carrots, he thought cheese sticks.  We compromised and added both:

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Does that look like a tasty lunch, or what?

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Chicken Avocado Enchiladas With Produce for Kids

Happy Summer!  School’s been out for exactly one week, and the excitement has just about worn off.  Which means we’re looking for things to do that aren’t: watching TV, playing video games or zoning out on the ipad!

One of my favorite hobbies is cooking.  Luckily,my kids share my interest.  So the other day we decided to try a recipe from this awesome cookbook:

We agreed on the Chicken Avocado Enchiladas, then headed to Costco to pick up the ingredients (or as close to the ingredients as we could get at Costco since I didn’t want to go to the grocery store, too!)

ingredients

I couldn’t find ripe avocados, so I bought this pre-made gauc.  I also have one family member who HATES yogurt, so swapped that for sour cream.

We checked all the steps, then were ready to get started!

getting ready

Another thing I forgot to mention was that I needed A LOT of enchiladas.  I’m trying to stock my own freezer, but also have a new nephew so I wanted to make a tray for that family, as well as another family who is dealing with illness.  So, I bought 2 of those rotisserie chickens at Costco to save time.  Here it is:

chicken

I didn’t get a shot of us shredding the chicken, but I am pleased to say that I didn’t have to do that much.  My girls are now old enough to take over that hideous job. Woohoo! Then we mixed in the goodies:

stuffing

Rolling them up:

rolling 'em up!

Into the tray:

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Finished product!

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It was actually a great time to teach a bunch of kitchen lessons:

  • How to substitute ingredients
  • How to shred chicken (yay!)
  • How to double or triple a recipe
  • How to package food up for later consumption (including the importance of writing instructions for cooking on the packaging!)
  • The powerful role food plays in supporting our friends and family

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Ready to go:

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Oh! And we also had them for dinner that night.  They were a huge hit.  The sauce (which we served on the side) was amazing, and the chicken was super tasty.  Definitely a keeper!

dinner's ready!

Check out this recipe and many more in Healthy Family Classics.

P.S. We’ve also made One Pot Chicken Lo Mein and Broccoli Tater Tots – all delicious.

Full disclosure: I serve on the Parent Advisory Board for Produce for Kids.  See my articles on mental health and healthy eating on the PFK site.

 

Food and Mood: Pasta Is Love in a Bowl

This post is part of the Food and Mood series. Today’s author is Megan Alpert, welcome Megan!

 

Denver has so many amazing restaurants and one of my favorite local

spots is The Cherry Tomato in Park Hill. Delicious food and a cozy

ambiance make for a romantic date night or even a fun night out with the

family. The restaurant also holds a special place in my heart, as it was

where I navigated my first hostess job and delighted in the warm, savory

minestrone soup and scrumptious fettuccine Alfredo.

For almost twenty years, owner and chef, Tom Felise, has featured his

signature creation, Pasta Felise, which is a dreamy dish of bowtie pasta

with chicken, sundried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, and sweet green peas

dancing in a creamy white wine basil pesto sauce – how about that for

making your heart jump!

A few months ago, I attempted to recreate this masterpiece and am happy

to share my version of “Pasta Felise.” When I want to make my sweeties

feel special or when I get nostalgic for the taste of my twenties, I turn to

this dish. Enjoy!

Here is what you need. Wow, I feel fancy setting up this display like I am

the Pioneer Woman – love her recipes!

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Ingredients

3 Tablespoons olive oil separated

1 Tablespoon butter

1 package of boneless, skinless chicken breast (3-4 in a pack)

1 lb bowtie noodles (cook according to pasta instructions)

Basil Pesto (recipe below)

1 1/2 cup white wine – I like Sauvignon Blanc

1 package ready to eat julienne cut sun dried tomatoes

1 can of artichoke hearts (more if you want!)

1 cup of frozen green peas

3/4 cup of heavy cream

Salt and Pepper

Basil Pesto:

3 – 4 large bunch of fresh basil (about 3 cups basil leaves with stems)

4 cloves of garlic

Juice of 1/2 lemon

1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

1 cup olive oil

Serves 4-6

First, let’s prep the chicken. I cut the breasts into two inch pieces and salt

and pepper both sides.

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Next, cook the pasta according to the package and you can set it aside for

later.

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Then, heat about 2 Tbsp of oil with 1 Tbsp of butter in a large skillet on

medium-high heat. Cook the chicken until brown and just done (about 8

minutes). The mixture of olive oil and butter gives the chicken a nice brown

finish.

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While the chicken cooks, you can make the Pesto.

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I cut the very end of the stems off but use the rest of the basil – stem and

all – as it provides great flavor.

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Add the basil, garlic, lemon juice, and Parmesan cheese to a food processor and pulse until

coarse. Then add the olive oil and pulse until smooth. So fresh and so easy!

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By now, the chicken should be nice and brown and you will want to set it aside

and lightly tent with foil for later.

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Heat one tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat.

Next, add the beautiful pesto that you made and heat until fragrant (about 2

minutes).

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Then add the white wine and simmer for 5 minutes.

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Now, add the sun-dried tomatoes – lovely color!

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Then, the artichokes…

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Finally, add the peas. If using frozen, I sometime just add them in straight from

the freezer. I can only imagine how good this would taste in the summer with

peas from the farmers market!

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Stir and simmer for 5 – 7 minutes until bubbly.

As a last touch, lower the heat and add the heavy cream.

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Stir and cook for just a few minutes longer.

Your last step is to mix the beautiful sauce with the cooked noodles and serve

with shredded Parmesan. Love in a bowl!!

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Megan Alpert is a recruiter at Accenture focused on finding top talent for the Marketing & Communications team. Megan lives in Denver with her husband and two sons and her passions include sports, yoga, music, travel and cooking.  One of her priorities and great joys in life is to cook and enjoy dinners with family and friends.

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