Tag Archives: Menu planning

Follow-up: The Lunch Menu

I had a few requests to share the lunch menu choices that I came up with for my boy (see My Back-to-School Bento Strategy).  Here you go, along with some notes for clarification:

Main Courses (I have him pick this first)

  • Amy’s Black Bean burrito
  • Chicken nuggets (I prefer Applegate)
  • Hot dog (again, Applegate) with dipping ketchup
  • Broccoli and Cheese Quiche (Homemade and then frozen in individual slices)
  • Pasta w/ pesto
  • Pancakes (homemade in advance and frozen, usually oat-whole wheat-banana)
  • Chips & Salsa
  • Pizza bagel
  • Baked Ziti
  • Chicken Cheese Quesadilla
  • Mac & Cheese
  • Peanut butter and banana sandwich
  • Cheese cubes w/ crackers
  • Cheese and salami sandwich
  • Spinach Ravioli
  • Taco dip (leftover taco fillings) w/ tortilla chips
  • Tiny Meatballs with tomato sauce for dipping
  • Hummus w/ pita triangles
  • Hard-boiled Egg
  • Steamed dumplings (frozen or Asian restaurant leftovers) with soy sauce for dipping
  • Cheese and salami slices

Side Dishes (He tells me that he only has time to eat 1 or 2 other foods besides his main course)

  • Peaches (fruit cup or whole)
  • Cucumber spears
  • Edemame
  • Pineapple rings
  • Kiwi rounds
  • “Shell nuts” (pistachios)
  • Olives
  • Mini-muffins (homemade and then frozen – usually banana oat or pumpkin)
  • Fruit leather
  • Grapefruit slices (peeled)
  • Carrots w/ ranch dip (recipe from Weelicious)
  • Red bell pepper strips
  • Pears (fruit cup or whole)
  • “Candy carrots” (homemade roasted carrot bites)
  • Popcorn
  • Crackers
  • “Mommy’s Power Bars” (actually Ellie Krieger’s power bars)
  • New pickles
  • Grapes
  • Apple slices
  • Dried apricots
  • Fig bar
  • Cookies
  • French fries (leftover homemade or Alexia brand) w/ ketchup for dipping
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My Back-to-School Bento Strategy

Earlier this year, I wrote about the challenges I have packing school snacks for my 6 year-old  (See Snack Time).  I didn’t get into this in that post, but the thing that frustrates me most about his picky snacking is that he’s NOT a picky eater!  He’s actually an enthusiastic eater who will eat almost anything… unless it’s in his lunchbox. Here are some of the foods which he has enjoyed recently: sautéed flounder, red quinoa, stir-fried bok choy, golden beet yogurt smoothie, roasted potatoes tossed with garlic scape pesto, chicken in green curry sauce, duck bacon, broccoli rabe. Does this sound like a picky eater to you?

What happens at school (and this summer, at camp) is peer pressure, I think. It’s so annoying. And after forcing my preferred lunches on him for almost an entire school year, and seeing 75% or more of the food come home uneaten (and then having an over-hungry bear on my hands), I was really getting upset. And the daily arguments were really getting old.

A child psychologist who knows my son suggested that I needed to let go of lunch and let him select his own food. It was becoming a major power struggle and my nutritional ideals were no longer worth it. Fair enough, I thought, though the idea of letting him have free reign didn’t sit well. Then, my mother threw in the advice that tipped the scale: Make a list of ALL of the potential lunch and snack options that I would be comfortable serving him and let him choose the menu each week.  Brilliant, I thought. Let him THINK he’s getting his way while still holding my Dietitian dignity intact.

As part of my new plan, I bought a bento-style lunch box from Laptop Lunches. I don’t know why, but a bento box lunch is just more fun.  It allows for the provision of a variety of foods along with nice extras like dips or small tastes of sweet treats (in its tiniest covered container). And for some reason packing a lunch in a bento box gets the creative juices flowing – suddenly you think of new ideas and your packed lunches become so much more attractive and appealing.

With bento box in hand, I made a list of foods for my boy to choose from and tested the strategy during the last few weeks of summer camp. The verdict: Success! The fights have basically ceased, and he’s actually selecting more fresh fruits and vegetables than he was eating before. The illusion of power has mitigated his picky-ness.

So, now as the start of the new school year approaches I have a bit less stress. I may not know WHAT I’m sending in the lunchbox each day, but I do know HOW!

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The Taco Salad Stratosphere

My husband Josh and I enjoy a good taco salad.  What’s not to like about a meal that’s super easy to make and is what nachos would be if they were a salad?

So, I made a taco salad recently. The kids had heard only part of the menu and were excited for tacos. After they saw no shells, and instead a large bowl of chopped lettuce, they eventually managed to choke back the bitter disappointment and try it out. Nonchalant but praying that they would eat it, I waited for the verdict.

“I will eat 18 bowls of this salad!” declared my 6 year old. Score! “I will not eat this. It is yuck. I want just the lettuce, cheese, and beans,” declared my 3 year old. Fine, I’ll take that.  And my husband… well, he declared (on Twitter to all SEVEN of his followers – @joshmarlow if you’d like to show him some follow-love) that we had reached the “taco salad stratosphere”. It was a bold (and quite ridiculous) statement. It was not untrue.

Here is the now-legendary Taco Salad recipe for you.  It’s not fancy. It’s not for highbrow foodies. It’s not 100% made-from-scratch. It’s not low in sodium. But damn, it was a tasty weeknight crowd pleaser!

Amy’s Taco Salad – Serves 2 adults, 2 children

1. Slice some carrot sticks, bell pepper strips, cucumber rounds and serve (with or without a healthy dip) as an appetizer before the meal. This is not a veggie-heavy salad.

2. Chop enough lettuce for the family (I used organic romaine hearts) and put into a large bowl.

3. Make Cilantro Lime vinaigrette: This is a semi-homemade dressing which starts with a packet of Good Seasons Italian dressing (which seems like it could be junky, but it’s actually all-natural and I happen to like the flavor) plus 1/2 cup canola oil, 1/4 cup water, 3 Tbsp fresh lime juice, and 1-2 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro.  Toss the lettuce with a small-ish amount of dressing, to taste. (Don’t skip this. I think that tossing the lettuce in the dressing first was key.)

4. Brown 1/2 pound ground beef or turkey (definitely organic), drain all fat, return to the pan and add 1/2 a packet of Old El Paso Mild taco seasoning (I hate to admit this part – these seasoning packets are full of sodium and preservatives and I should have just made a homemade seasoning but I just didn’t) and 1/3 cup water. Bring to a boil and cook until it thickens, about 3 – 4 minutes. Remove to a serving bowl.

5. Drain and rinse a can of black beans and put into a small serving bowl. I used no-added-sodium Eden Organic beans. (I like that there’s no BPA in the lining of their cans.)

6. Shred about 1/2 cup of cheese into another small serving bowl. I used a delish queso blanco, made nearby in the lovely Hudson Valley by the Amazing Real Live Food Co., procured at my local farmer’s market.

7. Serve the salad make-your-own style with all the aforementioned components on the table, plus salsa (fresh, if possible) and reduced fat sour cream.  We also serve with multigrain tortilla chips on the side.

Superlative-worthy?  You be the judge. Enjoy!

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Products, products everywhere and not a bite to eat

I’ve lived in the ‘burbs for about 6 weeks now, and I’m slowly adjusting. I’m used to driving. I’m used to going up and down the stairs all day.  I’m used to the peace and quiet (sorta). BUT. I am not anywhere near being used to the grocery shopping.

The grocery stores here are enormous.  So, imagine my dismay after shopping at one the size of two city blocks, when I couldn’t find many of the things on my grocery list.

In the middle of September (in New York state for goodness sake!), not a single organic apple.

In the substantial meat department not a single organic chicken breast.

Aisles and aisles of snack food, but I could count on one hand the ones that don’t contain high fructose corn syrup, artificial preservatives, and/or artificial colors.

It was such a bummer.

Fortunately, our town has a wonderful farmer’s market and every Saturday we can stock up on fresh local produce, grass-fed beef, free-range chicken, fresh eggs.  Then later, I drive to the mega-mart to fill out my menu – milk and yogurt (they do carry organic dairy!), beans and pasta, bananas and clementines, some snack foods for the kids, etc.  It makes it all so much more bearable for me. Though each week, I do return from the store a tad depressed.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot, but when I started jotting down ideas for this post last week I couldn’t really figure out what my point was, other than a rant about the abundance of processed foods in American supermarkets and a chance to gloat about my farmer’s market.

But then, it was Sunday again, and I was back at my mega-mart doing my weekly shopping. And finally it occurred to me why I feel so bummed out each time I shop there!  It’s because shopping there feels like a chore. I’m overwhelmed by the abundance and not inspired by the food. Perhaps because there are so many items that I feel we (and by “we” I mean humankind) shouldn’t be eating or perhaps because I’m disappointed in the produce section which is huge but offers surprisingly little variety (not to mention that the fruits and veggies, most flown in from Cali, Mexico, or Chile, don’t always look so fresh).  I have found little joy in my local mega-mart.  And there, surrounded by more food than my whole town could eat in a month, I feel little connection to the food.

On the other hand, when I’ve shopped at farmer’s markets, or in some of the better small NYC food stores, or online at NYC’s fantastic grocer Fresh Direct (oh, my beloved Fresh Direct, how I miss you!) I get a different feeling. It seems that the people who are selecting and selling the merchandise actually enjoy food as much as I do, and have put thought behind which products made it on the shelves, and which were dispensable. There are not 20 different types of granola bars available to me, but who needs more than just one good kind?

So, I suppose my point is this: When I feel connected to my food it doesn’t feel like as much of a chore to do the shopping, feed the family, clean up and do it again the next day. And it makes preparing healthy and minimally processed meals seem more doable and more enjoyable. I’d go so far as to say that the lack of connection to our food – and the lack of joy we experience from it – fuels America’s dismal dietary habits and obesity problems.

If your local supermarket (and busy lifestyle) is like mine it may seem hard to get that connection and enjoyment, but I encourage you to find a way. Here are some ideas that work for me:

  • Focus on whole, fresh, non-junk food for your meals and snacks, and try to prepare it simply, letting the flavors and textures come through.
  • Go to local farm stands or farmer’s markets whenever possible or, even better, grow some of your own fruits and vegetables in a garden.
  • Use your freezer wisely. Buy extra in-season produce (or something that you can’t find all the time in your community– grass-fed beef, sustainably harvested fish, etc) and freeze it. (Google it if you’re not sure the best way to preserve something.)  For example, make sauce of your August tomatoes and then enjoy it in the wintertime.
  • Plan your meals in advance and head to the store with a list. This will help you drown out the clutter (a whole aisle for just soda and juice drinks??!) but…
  • … be prepared to shift gears if something isn’t available or isn’t good quality. For example, if you get to the store and the greens are all wilted, choose a different vegetable.
  • And as you plan, think seasonally. I guarantee you that a bunch of asparagus purchased in November will not be as enjoyable as one found in late March.
  • Try to grocery shop without your kids if you can. Even if you’re a parent who finds it easy to say “No” (to “Mom, can I get Scooby Snacks?”, “But I LOVE Pop Tarts!!”, “Can we get the chocolate cereal?”, etc) it can still be really annoying!
  • Instead, involve your family in food growing and preparation.  I find that cooking with my kids infuses joy into the dishes, no matter what they are, and no matter where the ingredients were purchased.

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The Beauty of a Go-To Meal

My birthday arrived this morning at the same time as my son’s stomach bug. A bummer, to say the least.  It got me thinking about the obligations of parenthood, and as they tend to do, my thoughts have turned to food.

Of the many obligations I have as a mom, getting weeknight dinners on the table (and by “dinner” I mean a balanced meal that is nutritious, mostly homemade, affordable, and has at least a 50/50 chance of being consumed by my two kids) is one of my most challenging.

Years ago, I leisurely created elaborate meals for myself (and my husband if he made it home from the office in time) during the week, wine glass in hand, good music on the stereo…   Nowadays, the scene is a tad different.  Sometimes I cook something the night before, bleary-eyed from a long day and racing through a simple (and usually boring) recipe. Sometimes, I cook dinner at 6:30am before leaving for work. And then there are the days when I leave pre-prepped meal components (marinating raw chicken, a cooked vegetable, and raw potatoes, for example) labeled and in the fridge for my nanny to throw together around 5pm before I arrive home from work at 6.

I could ramble on for hours – days, probably – about how I manage to feed my kids well, most nights of the week.  In fact, many future blog posts will be devoted to this very topic.

For today, I just want to share with you my “go-to” meal – the dinner I plan for those weeks when cooking time is painfully limited and creative ideas are few and far between.  It’s nothing magical. It’s not gourmet. It’s… tofu with vegetables over brown rice.

Step 1: Find a vegetable(s)  in your fridge or freezer. (My favorites for this dish include broccoli, baby bok choy, mushrooms, red bell peppers, spinach, cauliflower… really any vegetable works.)  Cook it the fastest easiest way you know how. Steam, saute, microwave… whatever you can manage.

Step 2: Drain a block of firm or extra firm tofu.  Cut into chunks or strips. Bake at 350 for about 20 minutes (on a lined baking sheet), or quickly saute in canola oil in a pan until lightly brown, or… hold on to your hats… don’t cook it at all and move to step 3.

Step 3: Toss cooked vegetable(s), tofu, and an Asian sauce together.  Truth: I usually use a bottled product – Soy Vay Hoisin Garlic Glaze.  Yes, it’s fairly high in sodium.  Yes, it’s fairly simple to make a homemade Asian sauce.  Yes, I plan to stick to my Soy Vay.

Step 4: Put it all over steamed brown rice and serve.  I use a rice steamer so making the rice is super easy and hands-off.  You can also serve over rice noodles, which take less than 5 minutes to cook in boiling water.

It’s cheap. It’s fairly easy. It’s very fast. It’s rather tasty. It’s ridiculously healthy.  Though I must admit the real reason it’s my go-to dinner: A certain gorgeous blue-eyed 5 year-old boy told me that it’s his favorite.

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