Thursday, November 21, 2013

branching out

The lead-up to the holidays is always a fun time to go grocery shopping.

So many treats on the store shelves! So much candy and chocolate and fancy cheese and fancier cheese and weird snacking meats and nuts in the shell and...


Funny thing though, this is also the time of year where you start seeing slightly more exotic fruit on offer in the produce department. Things that are coming in season halfway around the world, like the humble but always delightful clementine (or mandarin orange, depending on where you live). All of a sudden you can get 4lbs of easy-to-peel balls of orange happiness, and who doesn't love one (or two) of these sweet little bundles in their lunchbox?

This time of year you also tend to see deep discounts on pomegranates. Now, I love pomegranates, but I've spent years trying to decide if the game is worth the candle; to wit, if it is worth my time and energy to sit there painstakingly picking the seeds out from the membrane.

Then I saw this video, and I thought if this works, it will change everything:


In mere minutes (fun ones, too - spanking a pomegranate is hilarious for some reason) I had a big bowl of tasty little nuggets of sweetness. The kids loved them. My husband did, too. And because I didn't have to pick out each individual seed with a stickpin (yes, that is one suggested method) or roll it around in a bowl of water for a thousand years (the most commonly-seen method) I didn't mind sharing.

They are nice in lunches as part of a fruit salad with some slices of clementine / mandarin and some grapes - also an item usually marked down in the run-up to Christmas. They're packed with fibre and are one of the prettiest foods going.

Pomegranate = WIN.

We also tried persimmons this week - another fruit that tends to go on sale this time of year. They're still pretty pricey, but I was feeling chuffed from my success with the pomegranates so I figured I'd give it a go.

You eat a persimmon like an apple; just take a bite. I sliced mine first because I was sharing it and the peel is much thicker than an apple, so I'd do that. The flesh is very smooth and with a creamy texture; the taste is sort of reminiscent of an apple and a pumpkin together, but sweeter. My suddenly-very-picky five year old loved it, as did my two year old; my eight year old said it was "pretty nice" but declined to take any in his lunch. Two out of three? I'll take it.


Next time you're in the grocery store, give some thought to trying one of the "holiday fruits". Slip some into your kids' lunches and see how it goes. You may start a new tradition (and trick your kids into eating some extra vitamins while you're at it.)

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Expectant Lunches

Today we have a guest post from the southern US. A friend of the Ladies is due to deliver any day now, and having a newborn AND school-aged kids presents its own unique set of organizational challenges. She's got it cased! And agreed to write a post for us while thinking labor-ish thoughts (I took out the "u" because she's American. Cross-cultural sensitivity is important.)


Every Sunday night for the past three weeks I've done the same thing: pack five snack bags for the oldest son, prep half of five snack bags for the girl, and fill a lunchbox with random goodies for the preschooler who firmly believes that he, too, is going to school and needs a lunch. Here and there I've assembled lunch "side items" as well. This level of organization and preparedness is not natural to me. I'm just paranoid. I'm paranoid that I will go into labor with child number four, and I'll have no time to make sure that the children are taken care of in my absence. My preparedness has left me a million weeks pregnant, but it's also taught me something that I should have already known: Advance preparation actually makes morning life so much easier. Let me say that again, because frankly, I'm shocked that this is the case since I've lived so long on coffee, adrenaline, and a lead foot motoring toward the city center each morning:

Advance preparation actually makes morning life so much easier.

Just let the above statement soak in for a minute or two. I'll wait for you to digest this, fellow adrenaline junkies. If you're one of those perfectly organized moms who has "known this all along" (sarcastic air quote emphasis mine) then just go watch this video of some kittens eating lunch with a monkey while the rest of us mull this over.

I mean to tell you that I am pretty darn impressed with how quickly I can roll out of bed, get kids into uniforms, shove breakfast into their mouths, and load them into the car each morning when I have these snacks and lunches staged and waiting. Today is a great example: I awoke startled to discover it was already 7:15. Bleary eyed, I wondered if I could get us out of the house in a mere 20 minutes. It might not have been pretty, and the two big kids might have been eating double chocolate gluten free muffins in the car at 7:30, but thanks to those snacks and lunches mostly prepped we made it with time to spare.

This evening I'm spending time in between contractions putting together a few more snacks and lunches. I'm taking a little more care because now I'm starting to feel the impending guilt of being away from the children while in the hospital. My kids have different tastes and dietary requirements, so it's pretty important to me that I make sure they are set up with snacks and lunches that they can and will eat in my absence. I feel like children have so much demanding their focus in school - not just the school work, but the dynamics of discipline as well as social life. Making sure they have food that doesn't throw them curve balls, but rather comforts and represents a taste of home is in many ways a comfort to me as I send them off for the day without me. It sounds a little bit sappy, but I do want them to have good food experiences while I labor, deliver, and hide in the hospital begging for extra ice and pain medication.

To wit, my middle child really enjoys the making of lunch. I don't do it very often because I'm an impatient hag who is guilty of valuing speed over what I really do know could be valuable time with my eight year old daughter. The girl, Peep, has recently discovered that she likes tuna salad, but we've struggled with the right way to transport it to school. On a sandwich? By lunch the cold pack has sogged out the bread. Our best strategy has been to pack the bread in her sandwich case, put the tuna salad in a small container on the side, and add a plastic knife for spreading. This approach to packing lunch has really worked well. Tonight I let her make the tuna salad herself. I didn't prod, fuss, fix, or really help her except to remind her what ingredients a girl from the southern United States might use.

Tuna Salad:
1 can of your favorite brand of tuna
1-2 TBS Duke's mayonnaise (having a brand you love is important!)
1 stalk of crisp, fresh celery (diced)
1 TBS sweet pickle relish
dash of celery seed
salt/pepper to taste

I'm not going to insult y'all by telling you how to mix up tuna salad. This does make 2 generous sized sandwich portions which is my way of saying that I just successfully conned my daughter into making my lunch in advance. See how everyone wins here??

To recap: Some of you got some amazing advice about how doing things in advance actually increases personal efficiency. Some of you had the opportunity to watch an inter-species luncheon. Mostly, all of us got the chance to reflect on exactly how a perpetually exhausted and frazzled mother of three manages lunch preparation while being approximately 7,000 weeks pregnant.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

A microwave would make things simpler

At least twice a week, while making lunches, I fantasize about buying a microwave for my kids' classrooms. Or at least for two of them: the logistics for the high schooler who moves from class to class would be ridiculous. Plus he'd probably be embarrassed, since pretty much everything I do is embarrassing now.

Of course, you can't just buy a microwave for one classroom. So would it be a microwave for all kids in the school? Can you imagine the line up? That leaves the alternative for buying many microwaves for the whole school population to use, which is financially prohibitive, really. Plus, you know some kid would microwave their spoon and cause some sort of injury that would result in a lawsuit. And so my microwave dream evaporates, like steam rising off of reheated soup. :)

"What about a thermos?" you may be asking yourself. Well, yes, that's the alternative. I do send thermoses, of course. But despite the labour intensive process of boiling the water to heat up the thermoses, heating up the food to scalding and getting the lid on before any of that heat can escape, it's not quite the same. I open up thermoses at the end of the day to find abandoned pasta or soup, those last few bites that just weren't hot enough. That never happens with microwaved food.

I recently discovered the joy of turning stereotypical hot food into cold-food lunch awesomeness. I'm talking about taco salad. Whenever I make tacos we always have some of the meat filling leftover, so why not use it for lunches the next day? Now you could heat it up and put it in the thermos, but it's actually really good thrown in a cold salad. It's one of my favourite things to eat for lunch at work.

I like to send the various components separate, so the cheese doesn't get all soggy and lettuce doesn't get all taco-meaty. I have these multi-compartment containers so I can put torn up lettuce in one spot, with any kind of veggies I have on hand thrown in. Then the shredded cheese goes in its own compartment and, in the third, the leftover taco meat (or, if you're vegetarian, you could put chickpeas or some other kind of bean in there). I put some ranch dressing in another container and, if we have any, a few nacho chips to crunch up over the whole mess at lunch time. It takes 30 seconds to throw all the components together at lunch time and then you're eating taco salad. No boiling water required.

Speaking of tacos, do you use the little spice package from the store to make yours? I used to and then I discovered this recipe in a milk calendar over 10 years ago and it has been my go-to every since. I find it milder then the spice mix and my kids love it.

Make your own taco filling

1 lb ground beef (I actually use ground turkey for tacos - leaner and still delicious)
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced (if you don't have garlic, leave it out. It tastes fine without)
1 tbsp. chili powder
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 cup milk
1/3 cup tomato paste (or ketchup. I often use ketchup because I always forget  to buy tomato paste)
salt and pepper to taste

Brown the meat. Add the onion, garlic and spices. Cook for about 5 minutes, until the onion is tender. Stir in the milk and tomato paste (or ketchup!). Then you just let it simmer for 5 or 10 minutes until all the liquid is absorbed.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

It Is My Turn To Post, Which Is Why It's Late

I was sick! Wretchedly sick with a cold although now that I'm better it's sort of hard to remember that I spent much of the week staggering around with a fever and complaining dramatically to my poor long-suffering husband. And I didn't have to make THAT many lunches this past week, because I cleverly infected my children as well and they mostly just lay around asking me to make chicken noodle soup (the "good" kind that comes dry in packets and that Gwyneth Paltrow would never, ever feed her children).

But I also made homemade lentil soup, which is one of my children's very favorite things and which causes ANOTHER one of my children to burst into horrified sobbing so you be the judge of whether or not your kids will like this. It packs nicely in thermoses for lunch, if your children are more like my first child and if they're more like my youngest it will also give them an excellent story of childhood hardship for when they're older and build their character:

M's Lentil Soup
1 quart chicken stock (although if you want this to be a vegetarian soup, add vegetable stock or heck, just another quart of water)
1 quart water
1 pound dried red lentils
2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
2 medium onions, diced
3 garlic cloves minced
1 tsp dried oregano
a sprinkle of black pepper
1/2 cup olive oil
pinch of salt
and any or all of the following:
2 large tomatoes, de-glopped and quartered
a red pepper, diced
a green pepper, diced (and you can continue adding other colours of peppers, if you'd like. You're free!)
2 large carrots, peeled and diced

In a large pot, bring the chicken stock and water to a boil. Add all the other ingredients at once. Bring the soup to a boil, TURN IT DOWN and let it simmer along for... a while. Half an hour? Stir it once in a while and make sure it doesn't burn. It's done when it's cooked and it tastes better after a day or two in the fridge but it MAGICALLY the best tasting lentil soup ever.