How to fill a lunchbox

Chicken and cheese taco with cherry tomatoes, raspberries, blackberries,  Romesco  sauce, guacamole, and flax seed tortilla chips.

Chicken and cheese taco with cherry tomatoes, raspberries, blackberries, Romesco sauce, guacamole, and flax seed tortilla chips.

I spend a lot of time thinking about, planning, and executing M's lunches. And there are days when he eats...none of it. But there are days when he eats tons and I feel utterly triumphant. I wanted to share my top lunchbox tips so that you, too, can declare victory when that lunchbox comes home nearly empty (and you haven't worked that hard to make it happen).

Sushi is always a favorite and can be filled with WHATEVER your kid likes. See my  Instagram post  for my simple sushi rice recipe.

Sushi is always a favorite and can be filled with WHATEVER your kid likes. See my Instagram post for my simple sushi rice recipe.

1) Repurpose leftovers: Obviously, you can plop a portion of last night's dinner into your kids' lunchbox. (See below for some favorite ways to do this.) But another tactic is to make extras of the proteins and veggies that were dinner's components. Those ingredients, plus a tortilla with some cheese (or vegan cheese) and avocado, become a taco, quesadilla, or roll-up. We're also big fans of the "open face" sandwich with cheese melted on top. Or, cube it all up and make a skewer. Or, if your kid is a pasta eater, add those proteins and veggies to noodles and some jarred sauce. Easy peasy.

Leftover fried rice plus smoked salmon, blueberries, cheese, hummus, and pretzels.

Leftover fried rice plus smoked salmon, blueberries, cheese, hummus, and pretzels.

2) Prep: Every weekend I do these 5 things:

  • Hard boil some eggs

  • Make a white, wheat, rice, or bean pasta

  • Bake mini muffins or doughnuts

  • Make no-bake energy balls or granola bars

  • Roast two veggies that I know M will eat

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3) Send breakfast for lunch: I often make double breakfast and add it to a lunchbox later in the week. For instance, these two-ingredient egg and banana pancakes are a big favorite. Use them as sandwich bread with nut or seed butter and chia jam or rolled them up like little cigars. Savory waffles like veggie or cheese can sub in for sandwich bread. Granola cups are also an easy batch bake that work for breakfast, lunch, and snacks.

4) Take inspiration from their classroom learning: I like to theme M's lunches, but that's mostly because I need inspiration and not because I'm trying to win any mom awards. Dinosaurs, Butterflies, and The Ocean were particularly fertile ground. Even if "theme-ing" lunch just means cutting out a sandwich shape, it feels a little special.

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5) Deconstruct something they like: Add the fixings for tacos, nachos, sandwiches, pasta, etc and let them put it together themselves. Like a homemade lunchable.

6) Think about appetizers: Have you considered sending your kids to school with a cheese plate or chicken sausage pigs in a blanket? Half of M's lunch most days is a crudite plate.

See? Basically crudite.

See? Basically crudite.

Double Duty Dinner/Lunch Recipes 

Sweets with oomph

No bake add-ins

Happy lunching everyone!

S'mores energy balls

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Happy national s'mores day everyone! While I love a real s'more, I don't dig activities that include both my toddler and fire, so we're sticking with this faux, somewhat healthier version. Also, these energy balls can be packed in a lunchbox (after subbing the nuts for pumpkin or sunflower seeds if necessary).

Your kids' teachers and counselors will thank you for skipping the sticky marshmallows and melted chocolate.

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These balls start as your basic date, cocoa powder, nut, and chia seed energy ball. And if s'mores aren't your thing, you can absolutely stick with this base and have a delicious treat.

But, since it's summer and who doesn't want a s'more or something a little special, I like to stick some lightly toasted marshmallows in the middle and coat the outside in graham cracker crumbs. A couple of easy swaps here make this free of gluten, dairy, nuts, eggs, and soy. (Look for soy-free marshmallows; gluten-free graham crackers; and, as I said before, swap the nuts for pumpkin or sunflower seeds.)

One note about the toasted marshmallows: Since they're so small, toasting them makes them a bit crunchy. You can absolutely use untoasted marshmallows to have that soft texture in the center, but to me, the taste of slightly burned sugar is more s'more-like. I also like a little bit of crunch in the middle of a soft energy ball anyway.

 

A note about the graham cracker coating: If you can, store the crushed graham crackers in an air-tight container and roll the balls right before eating. Otherwise, the crumbs can get soft.

So many texture issues!

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S'mores energy balls

12 medjool dates
½ cup cashews (I like to use roasted, lightly salted cashews)
2-3 Tbsp cocoa powder (depending on how chocolate-y you like things)
2-3 tsp water
1 tbsp chia seeds
Pinch of kosher salt
15 mini marshmallows
5 graham crackers

Pit the dates and place them in a large food processor. Add the cashews (or seeds, if using), cocoa powder, chia seeds, and 2 teaspoons of water. Blend until the mixture starts to form a large ball, about 3-4 minutes. If your mixture won't come together in a large ball with the machine running, add the final teaspoon and blend until you have a large ball.

On a parchment-lined baking sheet, place your mini marshmallows so that none are touching. Toast them in an oven or toasted oven heated to 400 for about 1-2 minutes. The regular oven will toast the marshmallows very quickly, so watch them like a hawk. You can even leave the door open slightly to make sure that the marshmallows don’t burn too quickly. The toaster oven is somewhat easier to control, but you still have to watch the marshmallows very closely.

Place the graham crackers into a large bag and crush them with your hands, a rolling pin, or a heavy can.

To make the balls, measure out a slightly heaping tablespoon of the date and chocolate mixture. With wet hands, roll the mixture into a ball. Make a large hole in the center and add three toasted marshmallows. Fold the mixture over the marshmallows and roll into a ball again.

Roll each ball in the crushed graham crackers.

Yield: 10 energy balls

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Pumpkin energy bites

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I refuse to call these "Pumpkin spice" energy balls because I am now and have always been, anti pumpkin spice. I understand it in theory, but the ubiquity of this spice combo is out of control. However, these guys are technically speaking, a combo of pumpkin and spices. They're also yummy and easy and perfect for lunchboxes because they're nut, dairy, soy, gluten, and egg free.

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Also, they're basically no cook. You must toast the pepitas in either a toaster oven, regular oven, or in a pan on the stove because the flavor is so much better, but this step only takes about 5 minutes. You want some browning and some "popping" sounds, which happens quickly.

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I fiddled with the ratios here for some time before settling on my favorite. Too much pumpkin and they're too wet, but not enough and they don't look orange and mostly taste like dates. The final product is a bit sticky, but they hold together completely and, once chilled, firm up quite a bit. You could also roll the balls in unsweetened shredded coconut to make them less sticky for kids who don't like that sensation on their fingers.

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Pumpkin energy bites


½ cup toasted pepitas
½ cup pumpkin puree
10 pitted dates
¼ cup shredded, unsweetened coconut
½ tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp nutmeg
¼ tsp ginger
Pinch of cloves
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup vegan chocolate chips (I like this brand)

Toast the pepitas in the toaster oven or in a pan on the stove just until the seeds start to brown and pop lightly.

Add the seeds and the rest of the ingredients (except the chocolate chips) to a food processor. Pulse until the dates and seeds are broken up and everything is well combined. You'll need to scrape the sides of the bowl a few times. I like to look for the mixture to form a large ball and spin around all together to know that I've mixed enough. 

Turn the batter out into a bowl. Add the chocolate chips and stir to combine.

With wet hands and a bowl of water to re-wet as needed, scoop 1 Tbsp of the mixture and roll it into a ball. Repeat with the rest of the batter until 12 balls are formed. To make them look more like pumpkins, chop up your favorite dairy, soy, and nut free chocolate bar (like this one) into chunks and stick them into the tops like stems.

Chill for at least 30 minutes, or up to 2 weeks.

Yield: 12 1 Tbsp balls

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Whole 30 snacks and a recap

Strawberry and cherry energy bites | Me & The Moose. Dried fruit and raw nuts combine to make an easy and filling snack. #meandthemoose #energybites #snacks #snackrecipes #whole30 #whole30recipes #almonds

Today is the day! Last day of my Whole 30! This was my hardest round of Whole 30 eating so far. I blame world events for my extreme wine desire throughout the month. I'm sure the plan's founders would blame my "sugar dragons" and suggest that I stay the course and keep Whole 30ing until I truly didn't want it anymore, but...that's not happening. Mostly because it already happened. I caved a few days ago. I think that, as much as January is a great time to clean up your eating, perhaps this January was an exception.

No matter, I made it for most of the month and I feel pretty good, all things considered. Something I did out of some desperation was to pick a meal every day and make it a little special. This happened at breakfast with extra herbs and salmon roe. And often, a little extra effort with a snack made a difference to my motivation later in the day. Here are some of the "treats" that got me through the winter of my discontent and ALL are toddler-approved. There was a day last week when M refused anything other than the kale smoothie below and homemade pickles.

Strawberry and cherry energy bites | Me & The Moose. Dried fruit and raw nuts combine to make an easy and filling snack. #meandthemoose #energybites #snacks #snackrecipes #whole30 #whole30recipes #almonds

Strawberry and Cherry energy bites

1/2 cup dried strawberries
1/2 cup dried cherries
1/2 cup pitted dates, roughly chopped
1/2 cup raw almonds
1 Tbsp water

Put everything in a food processor and pulse until desired consistency, adding 1 Tbsp of water if needed to bring everything together.

Recipe notes: Give your dates a rough chop because I've never had a batch of "pitted" dates without any leftover whole pits or pit shrapnel. Nuts.com is the only place I've found dried strawberries that were Whole 30 compliant, but Trader Joe's carries dried cherries and dates without added sugar.

Yield: About 16, 2-3 bite snacks

 

Deviled eggs | Me & The Moose. These deviled eggs provide a tasty hit of salt and protein to satisfy snack cravings. #meandthemoose #whole30 #whole30recipes #deviledeggs #snacks #snackrecipes

Deviled eggs

2 hard-boiled eggs
2 tsp avocado oil mayo
1 tsp dijon mustard
pinch paprika
s/p
pickles, salmon roe, capers, olives, leftover bacon

Hard-boil your eggs. I like to use Martha's method and find that it leads to a very clean peel. However, I almost never peel the eggs right after cooking them. If making these for a larger crowd or just care a lot about aesthetics, hard boil your eggs one day in advance and store in the fridge. Peel cold.

Slice your eggs in half length-wise and pop the yolks into a bowl. Add the mayo, mustard, paprika, salt, and pepper and mash with a fork. Add back to the egg whites and top with your choice of accoutrements.

Yield: 1-2 servings, depending on your hunger level

Persimmons with coconut cream and pepitas | Me & The Moose. Dress up your fruit with some good fat from coconut cream and some crunch from pepitas. #meandthemoose #whole30 #whole30recipes #persimmons #snacks #snackrecipes

Persimmon with coconut cream and pepitas

1 fuyu persimmon, peeled and sliced
2 tsp coconut cream
2 Tbsp pepitas, roasted
pinch cinnamon

Peel and slice your persimmon. I like to toast a bunch of pepitas ahead of time and store them at room temperature, but if you don't have any on hand, roast in the oven or toaster oven at 350 for about 5 minutes or until they begin to smell nutty. Add the pepitas, coconut cream, and cinnamon. Eat immediately.

Yield: one serving
 

Kale smoothie | Me & The Moose. This smoothie is a bit of a whole30 cheat, but a good way to sip on some extra veggies and prolong that snack. #meandthemoose #whole30 #whole30recipes #kalesmoothie #snacks #snackrecipes #smoothierecipes

Kale smoothie

Adapted from Minimalist Baker
1 cup kale, packed
1 cup frozen peaches
1 apple
1/2 inch piece of peeled ginger (about the size of your thumbnail)
2 Tbsp lime juice
2 Tbsp water

Add everything to the blender and process until smooth.

Yield: 1 adult smoothie and 1 toddler smoothie, or 1 very large adult smoothie, or 2 toddler smoothies
 

Bananas with cardamom and pistachios | Me & The Moose. Dress up your fruit with some nuts and coconut cream for more protein and fat to keep you full. #meandthemoose #whole30 #whole30recipes #bananas #snacks #snackrecipes #coconutcream #pistachios

Bananas with cardamom and pistachio

1 banana
1 tsp coconut cream
1 Tbsp shelled pistachios
pinch cardamom
pinch sea salt

Slice or mash a banana and add the coconut cream, pistachios, cardamom, and salt. Eat.

Yield: 1 serving

 

Babaganoush | Me & The Moose. What’s better than a dip that’s mostly veggies? #meandthemoose #whole30 #whole30recipes #babaganoush #snacks #snackrecipes #diprecipes

Babaganoush

I like Epicurious's recipe, but I halve the amounts, use the smallest Japanese eggplants I can find so that I can use the whole thing (peel and seeds included), add 1/2 tsp smoked paprika, and add 1 Tbsp of avocado oil mayo for some added creaminess.

Yield: about 2 cups

Happy snacking!