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:

 

 

 

Happy Thanksgiving and Tips for Surviving!

Happy Thanksgiving week!

Turkey and all the trimmings can be great fun, but this season comes with its share of stressors for many of us. Whether it’s dealing with family members we’d rather not, coping with memories of better times, or something else – Thanksgiving doesn’t always look like Pinterest tells us it should.

So here are just a few quick-and-dirty tips for making it through to Monday.

Keep up with your normal routine. As much as you can, try to keep up with your normal routine this week. Whether that means taking a walk each morning, saying a prayer each evening or watching Ellen every afternoon – keep it up! These are the routines and behaviors that keep your stress at bay all year long – don’t abandon them now!

Take a break from social media. Nothing can ruin the holiday more than comparing yours to everyone else’s on your Facebook feed. You might be having a perfectly good Thanksgiving, but there’s always going to be someone who seems to be having more fun, in a prettier home, with better behaved children in a more stylish outfit. Best to not even go there.

Go outside. This one might seem a little weird, but I am a firm believer in getting outside and DOING something – particularly when things inside are going south. Uncle Jim driving you crazy? Take a walk. Grandma Penelope drinking too much? Grab the cousins and throw a football. You get the idea. A little fresh air and activity is a effective, healthy stress management strategy – and its fun, too.

Helping Kids Manage School Stress

I recently wrote an article for the National PTA’s magazine, Our Children:

Pretty fun opportunity! The topic was how to manage stress in families with school age children. There are so many things to consider when dealing with kids: Academics, activities, social pressures, safety – not to mention all the stuff that we as parents try to manage: work, finances, relationships, etc.

Photo Credit: National PTA

Here’s a bit about stress and teens in particular:

In fact, a 2013 American Psychological Association poll revealed that 31% of teens surveyed feel their stress increased in the past year. Concerningly, 42% said they either are not doing enough to manage their stress or they are not sure if they are doing enough to manage it.

So what can we do to help? Here’s one tip:

Ask your kids what they think

It may seem silly, but sometimes I forget to ask my kids what’s important to them. Questions like: “How do you feel about your piano lessons these days?” and “Is the swim team still something you enjoy?” are crucial to helping your kids maintain good mental health.

As our children develop their own interests and passions, we should be mindful of keeping them in the loop when it comes to setting up schedules.

To read the entire article – with more info about stress, kids and strategies – check it out:

 

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:

Do You Ever Freak Out At Your Kids? Then You Might Want to Read This:

Photo Credit: Fatherly

I recently had an opportunity to speak with the folks over at Fatherly. The subject? Losing our cool (meaning: raising our voice, being irritable, impatient) with our kids.  Here’s the thing: It happens to the best of us. Sometimes a lot. Here are some of my thoughts about stress, parenting and losing our temper with our kids:

“I think of it as an iceberg. The bulk of the stress is underneath the surface,” says Dr. Stephanie Smith, a clinical psychologist based in Erie, Colorado. “We’re not really paying attention, but it builds up throughout the day. It all piles up, but when we reach a certain level the tiniest little thing can tip us over the edge: we’re out of Cheerios or whatever. It’s silly little things that end up being the breaking point.”

The good news is, there can be some teachable moments when our kids see us feeling stressed out. Like this example:

“It’s ok to take a few deep breaths, or an hour, (after a breakdown), but make sure to come back to it,” says Smith. “In an age-appropriate, developmentally appropriate way say, ‘I’m sorry, I’ve had a really rough day, and I kind of lost it for a minute. I’ll do better moving forward to deal with those feelings before that kind of thing happens again.’”

To read the entire article, check it out on Fatherly.

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.

Are Work, School, Activities Getting In the Way of Your Life?

Is this what dinnertime looks like at your house? Yea, me neither…

I have a million good intentions at the start of each week:

  • I’m going to exercise
  • I’m going to meditate
  • I’m going to watch less TV
  • I’m going to cook fresh foods for every meal
  • I’m going to finally weed the garden
  • I’m going to clear out my email inbox

You know the drill: We all have the best intentions to live in calm, healthy ways. But then reality sets in and all the plans get blown up. I recently wrote an article about how to carve out time – at least a couple of times a week – to slow down and eat a meal with the ones you love. Here’s my favorite tip:

Want to read the entire article? Check it out:

#PowerYourLunchbox – Teen Edition

Do you remember being a teenager? A middle schooler? Let’s just say it can be a challenging time in life. Bodies, ideas and emotions are changing at lightening speed; nobody understands you; and life can feel like an endless series of demands, trials and challenges. Everything from clothes to hair to after school activities can be put to the test:

Is this cool or totally dorky?

And yes, I know those aren’t the terms today’s teens would use to describe good and bad, so I am reverting to my own adolescence (cringe.)

Anyway, it wasn’t until a year or so ago that I realized that school lunches were also judged in terms of being cool, or not-so-cool.  Here are how things work out for the teens/tweens in my house:

Buying lunch = cool

Taking lunch to school = not cool

But after discovering that my now-7th grader ate fried chicken sandwiches every single day for lunch last year, I decided we needed to make some changes this year.  So when Produce for Kids issued their annual #PowerYourLunchbox Pledge, I decided to get creative. The goal? To find a cool(ish), healthy lunch that my tween and teen would actually eat for lunch. In front of their friends. And not blame me for ruining their lives. Tall order, I know.

And here’s what I came up with: Mason Jars. They’re cheap, functional and Joanna Gaines-approved (that’s a good thing in our house). You’ve probably seen mason jar salad ideas floating around online for the past couple of years. I had too, but I had yet to try them. Here’s how it went:

I pulled everything out of my frig and pantry that could go into a salad:

I read that you should start with dressing, so I put that on the bottom, then filled up the jar from there:

I put the dry ingredients (tortilla strips, croutons, etc) in a little baggy on top so they would still be nice and crunchy at lunch time:

Then I realized I could put anything I wanted into the jars and it would look cute! Leftover pasta salad, fruit salad – nothing in the frig was safe!

…you see where this is going…

One of my kids took this for lunch today, doesn’t it look delicious?

In about 20 minutes we made several lunches and snacks.

And guess what? The kids actually took these beauties to school, ate the contents and brought the jars back home to be refilled – a HUGE SUCCESS! Next time we might try peanut butter, hummus or Nutella in a jar, with some fruits or veggies in another jar for dipping. The possibilities are endless!

Want more ideas for healthy, yummy and semi-cool lunches? Check out Produce for Kids.

Want to help support Feeding America as they provide meals for kids in need just by lifting a finger? Take the #PowerYourLunchbox Pledge!

 

Is Your Stress Rubbing Off On Your Kids?

This is what I have looked like for the past few weeks. Except not that pretty.

Stress is a reality of life. A little of it can be good. A lot of it for long periods of time, not so much.

I was recently interviewed for a story about how our stress affects our kids over at WebMD. The bad news is that our kids (and our partners and pets) definitely pick up on our stress. The good news is that there’s quite a bit we can do about it. Check it out:

Here’s a tip:

Here’s the whole article:

WebMD: How Does Your Stress Affect Your Kids?

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: