A Week of Bento School Lunches

bento-box-lunch

Every Sunday afternoon, I drop my tiny dancer off at class and head to the grocery store nearby to stock up for the school week ahead. It's a newer ritual I've started in the past few months, to help me stay organized when it comes to my bento school lunches — something I'm still learning and perfecting after 10 years of lunch-making (somebody pin a medal on me).

Now I realize some of you may find it ridiculous that I make a dedicated trip to the grocery store for school lunches, but I find it keeps me on track for planning and only buying what we need. I also end up with less impulse purchases this way. It helps that I only have 45 minutes before I need to go back for my daughter, leaving me no time for distracted browsing.

I couldn't do it without my list. And, yes, I use one for my weekly grocery trips, too. I created a specific lunch box list on my favourite app, and it's been so helpful (it's easy to add and delete items when changing things up week-to-week. Or you can just ignore an item, but leave it on the list so it's there for a future trip). 

So how do I come up with my list? I map out a week of lunches — taking into account glorious pizza and hot lunch days — and then take a peek in my refrigerator and cupboards to see what needs to get topped up. Sometimes, I do a Pinterest search (I've been slowly building a board) for new ideas and add a new food/recipe to the weekly rotation (best not to try too many new things in a week). The kids are allowed (and encouraged) to throw their ideas in the ring, too. I also love this cookbook: The Best Homemade Kids' Lunches On The Planet.

bento-box-lunch

I recently wrote a piece for Savvymoms about how I put my bento boxes together, but here is my simple formula for planning out the week: bite-sized + easy + colourful + familiar + healthy. 

I always include one or two foods I know my child will willingly eat, and then I might try something different or not as favoured (but healthy, nonetheless) in the other containers. By not overfilling the bento with too many options, I have also found they are more likely to eat what's there. 

bento-box-lunch

Last week, I saved my list so I could share it with all of you for some inspiration/ideas (note: photos don't necessarily correspond with menu...I'm not THAT organized)

Day One:

Day Two:

  • bagel and cream cheese (I toast it in the morning, put together, and wrap in foil)
  • berry and pineapple fruit salad (left overs from a weekend fruit platter)
  • carrot sticks
  • muffin (again, from my freezer stock)
  • veggie straws

Day Three:

  • leftover beef stew (in a thermos)
  • watermelon slices
  • edamame beans
  • air popped popcorn (sprinkle some nutritional yeast on for cheesy, vitamin-packed flavour)
bento-box-lunch

Day Four:

  • mini quiches
  • orange slices
  • red pepper strips
  • mini muffin
  • cheddar rice crackers

Day Five: 

  • mini naan bread pizzas (naan + pizza/tomato sauce + shredded mozarella for 8 mins at 375)
  • grapes
  • cauliflower and broccoli florets (and ranch dip in a dippers container)
  • tortilla chips and guacamole
bento-box-lunch

I'm always happy to share more ideas or talk shop with my readers. Feel free to find me on Instagram, where I do the most sharing of the insides of my kids' lunch boxes. 

Let's Make Soup

Today, I'm more glad than usual it's the weekend.

When something unsettling happens in the greater world, I take comfort in having my loved ones close and together.

The kitchen becomes my refuge and the food I prepare a token of my love.

Here are my three of my favourite soup recipes (all hold up well as leftovers).

I hope you're finding comfort in the gift of family and home, too. 

Cozy Lentil Soup With Squash

PHOTO: THINKSTOCK

PHOTO: THINKSTOCK

Cauliflower Corn Chowder

Photo: Jeff COULSON, CANADIAN LIVING

Photo: Jeff COULSON, CANADIAN LIVING

Classic Potato Leek

PHOTO: DAIRY FARMERS OF CANADA

PHOTO: DAIRY FARMERS OF CANADA



10 Minute (Meatless) Stir-Fry

10minutestirfry

In my family, dinner was rarely a surprise when we came to the table each night. We could make a pretty good guess when we opened the refrigerator to get our breakfast in the morning. My mom was meticulous about prepping (and marinating) her food ahead of time, and there were often several bowls and containers of pre-chopped meat and vegetables waiting to be thrown into her wok when we tumbled through the door at the end of the day.

I would love to say I'm just as organized as she was, but most of my dinner prep happens as I'm cooking. I will give my self a big ol' pat on the back though, because by the time I roll out of bed I know what we're having for dinner five out of seven nights a week—a necessity with four busy kids and a frightening weekly grocery bill.

My 10 minute stir-fry is in the weekly rotation for a couple of reasons: we are aiming for a 60 to 40 vegetarian/pescetarian to meat diet right now, and there are nights we need a meal that can be put together in a hurry.

I start with the veggie crispers in the refrigerator—which I basically empty into my wok—and I serve the stir-fry with either seafood or tofu on noodles or rice, depending on what I have available or whichever the kids request.

IN MY PANTRY/REFRIGERATOR:

  • a wide variety of vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, celery, peppers, cabbage, frozen peas)
  • canned miniature corn for added texture (water chestnuts are great, too)
  • pasta noodles (stir fry works best on spaghetti-style noodles)
  • long-grain rice
  • extra firm tofu
  • frozen/fresh shimp
  • minced garlic
  • vegetable broth
  • oyster sauce
  • soy or tamari sauce

PREPARATION

  • boil water for noodles or rice and prepare accordingly
  • chop whatever veggies you plan to use into bite-sized pieces
  • chop extra firm tofu into bite-sized pieces or thaw frozen shrimp under cold water and drain
  • prepare broth

BROTH

  • 1 1/2 cups of vegetable broth
  • 1-2 tbsps of oyster sauce
  • 1-2 tsps of soy or tamari sauce

IN THE WOK

  • 1-2 tbsp of whatever cooking oil you prefer (we use grapeseed) into hot wok (medium high temp)
  • 1 tsp of minced garlic
  • add raw vegetables and stir-fry continually for 5 minutes until tender
  • add half of broth and let simmer for two minutes
  • add cubed tofu or thawed shrimp and stir-fry until shrimp is pink or tofu is warmed (add both tofu and shrimp if you want an extra punch of protein)
  • add remaining broth and let simmer on medium for two to three minutes.

ON THE PLATES

  • distribute cooked rice or noodles onto plates
  • pour stir-fry over top (my girls like broth, my son doesn't...so I used a slotted spoon)
  • we also use fresh udon noodles (in the sushi section of most grocery stores) which can be added directly to the wok with the tofu or shrimp

I promise you'll have this down to 10 minutes before you know it. This dish also holds up well as leftovers for tomorrow's lunch boxes. You can heat and add to a thermos or send in a microwave-safe dish, if you're feeling lovey dovey towards your fellow in-house parent. Enjoy and feel free to post any questions. 

xo

 

 

 

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Slow Days

Ripleycouch

As soon as the last shiny Christmas bauble comes down and gets packed away, I feel a familiar dullness start to creep in. It's nothing I can't handle or push aside enough to get through the day and do the things I need to, but it unsettles me enough that I've always felt the need to do something about it.

Normally, I'm very high energy. I do no less than two things at once. And when this dullness starts to settle in, I typically feel like I need to kick it up a notch and do more, more, more to help combat those feelings. 

But wisdom, and thyroids, have me approaching this winter differently. 

Over the Christmas break, we looked at our family schedule and decided to eliminate some of our commitments, so we had less places to be and more time to do...well, whatever strikes our fancy. 

We aren't a winter sport family, so I guess I've always worried that we need to keep moving at a fast clip to keep ourselves active. But lately I'm realizing the muscle that tends to end up feeling most fatigued is my mind.

I am beginning to understand that a shift to hibernation mode is okay, and, dare I say, restorative and healthy for me and the kids.

So on the agenda for the next few months are swimming, curling and a family getaway. Other than that, it's homework, board games, play dates, books, movies, Wii dance parties and music.

And cooking. Lots and lots of cooking. 

There is nothing that warms me up more than soups and stews, and with windows and doors closed against the cold, the aroma of a simmering pot is so comforting. 

So come join me as I head into my self-imposed slow revolution. To get you started, I'm giving away (thanks to my generous friends at Simon & Schuster Canada) a copy of Canadian Living's New Slow Cooker Favourites cookbook.   

Monstermeatballs

As we make our way through the book this winter, we are picking out our family's favourites. At the top of the list, so far, is the Monster Meatball recipe. It also ended travelled from my kitchen to a girlfriend's table when she and her family were going through a rough patch of illnesses. And her four kids gave it two thumbs up, too.

Monstermeatballsrecipe

Leave me a comment below, and one lucky Canadian reader will have a copy delivered to their door. 

Does your family go into hibernation mode during the winter, too? 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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