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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No-bake granola bars

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Guys. I have tried and tried to make actually good, lower sugar, school-safe granola bars. I succeeded with these bars, but they're a bit more effort than I'm willing to expend when I suddenly realize on a week night that we don't have anything for snack or lunch boxes the next day. These granola cups are super easy, but we're entering that sweltering season where turning on the oven is basically just opening the gates of hell.

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Instead we have these no-bake granola bars that are super quick and easy (and cool) to prepare, are lower in sugar than store bought bars, are free of dairy, nuts, gluten, and eggs AND are absolutely freaking delicious.

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I've tried a couple of no-bake granola bar recipes via Pinterest that left me wanting. Some recommended using quick oats, which got lost in the honey and nut butter mixture. Some also suggested rice cereals that lost their crunch when mixed with the other ingredients.

Many of them also call for dates, which I tried in these bars too. Here's the thing: If you use enough dates, they do help the bars stick together when they heat up. But, your bars taste primarily like dates, which I didn't want for this recipe. So, just beware that these bars are ever-so-slightly crumbly when they heat up.

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A couple of notes:
- The texture of these bars can change based on a few factors: First, nut butters separate, especially in the heat, so the thoroughness of your mixing can change the texture of these bars. Try your best to mix vigorously so that your nut butter isn't too thin or too thick.
- You should be able to form the mixture into a ball that stays together and doesn't stick to your fingers. If the mixture is too crumbly, add one Tbsp of nut butter at a time and mix again to see if the grains come together. If the mixture is too sticky, try adding 1 Tbsp of oats at a time until you have a better consistency.
- Give the dry ingredients a good stir before adding in the wet ingredients. The mixing of the wet and dry ingredients can require some elbow grease, but is easier if you've already distributed the grains and cinnamon.
- To make these bars school safe, use sunflower seed butter. If you don't have nut or peanut restrictions, peanut and almond butter are perfectly great substitutes.
- If you can't find or don't want to use the chocolate-covered sunflower seeds, any old chocolate chips or carob chips (we're particularly fond of these non-dairy chocolate chips), will do.  
- Millet is a slightly more exotic ingredient, but it's available at Whole Foods or health stores and really helps these bars to have some crunch. Millet is also gluten free and has a ton of health benefits.

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Actually good, no-bake granola bars

1¾ cups rolled oats (not quick oats or steel cut)
½ cup millet
1 tsp cinnamon
¾ cup sunflower seed butter
¼ cup honey
½ cup chocolate covered sunflower seeds or chocolate chips
Optional: a pinch of salt

Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl and give them a stir.

Add the sunflower seed butter and the honey and stir to combine. You can zap these ingredients in the microwave to loosen them up a bit first, but I find that a little elbow grease and some wet hands do the trick.

Add the chocolate covered sunflower seeds or chocolate chips and stir again just until they’re incorporated.

Dump the mixture out into a parchment-lined brownie pan (I like 8x8 best for the size of the bars it produces, but 9x9 or larger will also work with thinner results).

Freeze for 20 minutes. Remove the bars and cut them into 16-24 portions. Store in the fridge.

Yield: 16-24 bars

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Boneyard bark

Boneyard bark | Me & the Moose. This boneyard bark is easy and cute for classroom parties, playdates, or just a Halloween treat. #meandthemoose #halloween #bark #boneyardbark #chocolate #marshmallows #pretzels
Boneyard bark | Me & the Moose. This boneyard bark is easy and cute for classroom parties, playdates, or just a Halloween treat. #meandthemoose #halloween #bark #boneyardbark #chocolate #marshmallows #pretzels

Halloween, guys. I truly didn't realize how weird this holiday is until I tried explaining it to a toddler. Luckily he's satisfied with "It's pretend" when he asks about skeletons and ghosts, but if he ever asks "Pretend, what?" I will not have sufficient answers. Pretend dead people whose spirits hang around and scare the living? NOPE. Shut it down.

Boneyard bark | Me & the Moose. This boneyard bark is easy and cute for classroom parties, playdates, or just a Halloween treat. #meandthemoose #halloween #bark #boneyardbark #chocolate #marshmallows #pretzels

Apparently, I really gravitate toward graveyards and skeletons for Halloween (and other holidays). Exhibit A: This healthy graveyard from last year. Next year, no bones. 

Boneyard bark | Me & the Moose. This boneyard bark is easy and cute for classroom parties, playdates, or just a Halloween treat. #meandthemoose #halloween #bark #boneyardbark #chocolate #marshmallows #pretzels

So, this "boneyard bark" is slightly more appropriate for the older set since it might require more explanation than you're willing to give to your small person. But M digs the yogurt pretzels, so we focused on that aspect.

Boneyard bark | Me & the Moose. This boneyard bark is an easy mix of pretzels, chocolate, coconut oil, chocolate chips, yogurt pretzels, and candy eyes. #meandthemoose #halloween #bark #boneyardbark #chocolate #marshmallows #pretzels

This bark is so easy and a great last-minute party treat. If you have a Michael's or a Target in your neighborhood, you can probably get everything there. The most complicated part is getting the bones together, but it's not actually complicated

For the bones:
1/2 cup white chocolate chips
1 tsp coconut oil
Pretzel sticks
Mini marshmallows
 

First, melt the white chocolate and coconut oil in the microwave. Heat it for 10 seconds at a time, stopping and mixing after each 10-second burst until melted.

Prep a cookie sheet with a piece of parchment paper and clean out space in your fridge to chill the bones.

Next, cut your pretzel stick in half.

For each 1/2 pretzel stick, you'll need one mini marshmallow. Cut the marshmallows into four smaller squares and roll each 1/4 marshmallow between your thumb and forefinger to make it into a small circle.

Dip one end of the 1/2 pretzel into the melted chocolate and place on the parchment paper. Carefully stick two of the 1/4 marshmallows onto the chocolate and hold for a few seconds to set. Lift the pretzel with the stuck-on marshmallows and move them about 1/2 an inch to remove some of the extra chocolate before chilling. You'll have to keep your fingers on the marshmallows so that they don't fall off while moving.

Chill in the fridge for 10 minutes.

Repeat above steps on the other side of the pretzel and chill for another 10 minutes.

Reheat your chocolate slightly (5 seconds) and stir.

Dip the whole pretzel and marshmallow bone into the white chocolate with a fork and gently tap on the side of your bowl to let the extra chocolate drip off. Move back to the fridge and chill for 10 more minutes.

Boneyard bark | Me & the Moose. Easy to make pretzel, chocolate, and marshmallow bones. #meandthemoose #halloween #bark #boneyardbark #chocolate #marshmallows #pretzels

For the ribs and skeleton bones: 
Yogurt covered pretzels (whatever you think you'll need and then extras because they break in the cutting)

Saw the yogurt pretzels in half with a sharp knife and take off a little bit of the middle nubbin that's left between the pretzel's two arches. These arches will be the ribs. The bottom half of the pretzel can be the pelvis and any pieces that break off (and lots will, don't worry about it) can be used to make the arms or legs.

Set aside the cut pretzels.

For the bark:
2 cups chocolate chips (any combination of semi-sweet, milk, and dark chocolate)
1 tsp coconut oil
Candy eyes (optional)
Candy bones (optional)

Melt the chocolate and coconut oil in the microwave, stirring after each 10-second burst until everything is melted.

Gather your toppings.

Pour the melted chocolate onto a fresh piece of parchment paper on a cookie sheet and spread into a thin layer (but not too thin). Place your pretzel bones, pretzel ribs, candy eyes, and candy bones (if using) onto the warm chocolate. Once you feel satisfied with your arrangement, chill for at least one hour, but up to 24 hours in the fridge.

Boneyard bark | Me & the Moose. This boneyard bark is easy and cute for classroom parties, playdates, or just a Halloween treat. #meandthemoose #halloween #bark #boneyardbark #chocolate #marshmallows #pretzels
Boneyard bark | Me & the Moose. This boneyard bark is easy and cute for classroom parties, playdates, or just a Halloween treat. #meandthemoose #halloween #bark #boneyardbark #chocolate #marshmallows #pretzels