New Year, New Traditions: Family Fondue

It's a new year and our family is a year older. When you are parenting young children, this growing up business can be really exciting. Moving past the cumbersome, workhorse days of babies and toddlers can feel like a liberation of sorts. For me, there's a mix of satisfaction (at getting through it) and sadness (at saying goodbye).

I can feel the magic of this time of year inching closer to an end. Sleepy faces wearing footed pajamas and poking us awake when it's still dark. Plates of cookies for Santa and wide-eyed wonder at the gifts he has left for us. The six of us rumbling around the house together in that quiet space between Christmas and the new year. I will miss all of it.

But having older kids means we can bring in new traditions. This year, I decided we would bravely and boldly try fondue for our new year's eve meal (I really know how to let my hair down these days). It hasn't been on my radar until now, because I couldn't imagine a meal made up of repeated safety warnings about boiling cheese and hot pots would feel very festive or relaxing. 

family-fondue-night

Most of the recipes I found for the cheese sauce had ingredients like dry mustard, garlic and Worcestershire sauce (which would probably be delicious, unless you're a kid), but I opted to keep it simple and plain-tasting and added a flavourful cheese to the cheddar instead.

  • 4 cups shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 cup of shredded Gruyère cheese
  • 2 tablespoons of flour
  • pinch of salt to flavour
  • 2 1/2 cups of milk (or to desired thickness)

Pre-mix the two cheeses and toss with the flour and salt, then set aside. Heat the milk on the stove until it's bubbling at the edges and then slowly add cheese while whisking constantly. Once all the cheese has melted, transfer to the fondue pot.

  • boiled mini potatoes
  • cubed ham
  • cured sausage chunks
  • sirloin steak cubes (pre-cooked)
  • steamed broccoli
  • red pepper strips
  • apple slices
  • pear slices
  • chunks of fresh bread
family-fondue

Anyone who feeds kids knows it's hit-and-miss when you try new food, but not this time — everyone liked it! Being able to choose which items to eat and which ones to dip was a big part of the enjoyment. 

And we didn't stop with cheese. I had a smaller, ceramic and candlelit fondue set for dessert. I melted a block of semi-sweet baker's chocolate in a pot on the stove and slowly added evaporated milk until it was a nice consistency. We dipped pineapple, strawberries, gigantic marshmallows and chunks of pound cake. A friend of mine has since suggested melting a giant Toblerone bar: brilliant. 

family-fondue

It ended up being a fantastic way for us to ring in the new year as a family. It was interactive, silly and different from the usual meals we have around the table. I only delivered warnings about the hot pot about 10 times before JB's sideways look told me I had reached maximum safety nut levels. 

Family rating for family fondue night: FIVE STARS. 

 

 

 

 

 

Holiday Giveaway: 100 Days of Real Food Fast & Fabulous

Photo provided by Lisa Leake

Photo provided by Lisa Leake

It's the most wonderful, hustle and bustle time of the year. 

Our family is feeling like we've barely had time to pack away our Halloween costumes, before donning our ugly Christmas sweaters to decorate the tree. 

It's all good, though. Holiday get togethers and doing our best to make the season more about giving than receiving means we'll be spending a lot more time in the kitchen in the coming weeks: making our own meals and preparing treats and food to share with others. This week there's a potluck and a girl on a mission to make something sweet for our neighbours penciled into the family calendar.

With four growing kids, the kitchen is already the highest traffic area in our home. If we don't look for ways to be efficient with shopping and meal planning, we start to slip into a pattern of cobbled together meals that don't fuel us the way we need to be fuelled to get through our hectic schedule. Oh, and we get on each other's nerves when all of us are bumbling around in the kitchen foraging for food!

During the week, I am the primary kitchen person. Most nights, it's just me and a couple of the kids at the table. Plates of dinner for the rest of the crew wait for their later arrival. And that was an important decision for our family. It can be all-too-easy to get into a fend for yourself groove when the whole family isn't able to eat together. It happened a lot when the kids were small and I was on my own for meal prep. Once they were older, and I could spend more time in the kitchen, I started to make some serious changes. The first thing to change was the mindset that I didn't need to prepare a family meal if we weren't eating together. Now that we have our routine of setting aside plates for latecomers, I'm more likely to prepare a well-rounded meal. On the weekends, my husband takes over in the kitchen and we do our very best to make sure all six of us are at the same table on one of those nights. 

I'm not going to pretend it comes easily. It's work to come up with ideas and to plan for pulling meals together around our schedule. I rely (heavily) on inspiration from others. And one of the cookbooks and blogs that really works for our family is 100 Days of Real Food and now the newest cookbook in the series 100 Days of Real Food Fast & Fabulous. I stumbled upon Lisa's Instagram feed last year, and I was hooked. 

These recipes meet all my requirements for family meals: quick, user-friendly, real ingredients (that are easy to find in the grocery store and are often already in my kitchen). 

The newest cookbook (which I'm working my way through) has 100 recipes and includes a lunch box section which has some great ideas for grown up and pint-sized lunches. She also provides gluten-free and nut-free options in the recipes. And did I mention easy? I was amazed by the five minute jars of overnight oats the kids could grab in the mornings. And the dinners really are fast and fabulous, I'm not exaggerating! 

EASY FISH TACOS. Photo provided by Lisa Leake

EASY FISH TACOS. Photo provided by Lisa Leake

Like I was saying, the kids are older now. I can spend more time in the kitchen while they're busy doing other things. But here's the kicker: they are also old enough to start pulling their own weight when it comes to feeding themselves and the rest of the family. My husband likes to remind me (often) that he was preparing dinner for his whole family at least once a week by the time he was 10, and I'm doing my best to let go of my need to control the kitchen. The recipes and ideas in this cookbook are completely tween and teen friendly, so no more excuses for any of us. There are going to be some more changes in the new year when it comes to meals. 

I'm so happy with this new cookbook that I'd like to give one away to a lucky reader, so you too can head into the busiest time of year with the best tools to feed your family (and anyone else who you happen to be spending time with over the holidays). 

If you are a Canadian resident, you can enter below. Thanks and good luck!

Disclosure: I was not paid to write this post, but I was generously gifted a copy of the new cookbook 100 Days of Real Food: Fast & Fabulous by Lisa. I love this book so much (and I think you will, too) that I bought another copy to give away to one of you!

 

 

Back To Basics: Bento Lunches

bento-lunch

If you've been in this space before, this post is not surprising. 

What is surprising, is that I waited a whole week before bringing up the word that sends waves of despair through our standing-in-the-kitchen-gulping-caffeine selves: 

LUNCH.

Throw this word into conversation during the months of September-October-November-December-January-February-March-April-May-June and hair-pulling, dramatic sighing, and foot stomping is the norm (and I'm talking about the adults, not the kids). 

I GET IT, YOU GUYS

I've been making lunches for a full decade now. I have kids that are temperature-sensitive. I have kids that are texture-sensitive. I have kids that are mixing-of-foods-sensitive. I have kids who can't stop looking around the room and talking-sensitive. I've faced all of it.

And OH BOY, have I ever become an expert in predicting hangry levels by the weight of a lunch box at the end of a school day. 

It wasn't until I switched to the bento style lunch box that I started to make progress in solving all of the above problems for all of my kids. With the flip-open-top and individual containers, all the food is on display, it's easily accessible, it's separate (!).

This lunch box is often accused of being a display case for showing off. But that's not how I see it at all. For me, it's like packing a mini-buffet or picnic of sorts. And most kids in their early years, prefer to eat this way anyway — nibbling and snacking throughout the day.

Just think about how much attention they need to invest in getting through a school day. Having to pick up individual containers, peel open lids, decide whether they feel like eating what's inside at that particular moment, only adds more "thinking" to a time of day that's meant for recharging and re-fuelling and, yes, socializing.

In short, this lunch box was a game-changer for us. And since I've started blogging and instragramming about it, it's become a game-changer for other families, too. 

Here's a recent post I wrote offering some of the tips I've picked up over my five years of using this system. I promise, there's nothing I'm putting into those lunch boxes that's worthy of a museum. It's just food. I do my best to keep it healthy and the four containers help me (and my older kids, who like to help) remember to follow a system of: veggie, fruit, protein, snack when packing it. 

How To Bento Like A Boss

To see older posts, I've written about bentos, click here and here.

I share photos on Instagram and other helpful pages on Pinterest. I also love the book The Best Homemade Kids' Lunches On The Planet.

If you've ever thought of making a change, let me help you get started. I've once again partnered with my favourite online store Fenigo to give one lucky reader an amazing bento start up prize. 

bento-lunch

Leave me a comment below letting me know how the lunch-making is going at your house, and you'll be entered to win. Canadian residents only. Contest will be open until Friday, September, 17th. 

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.