Thursday, August 30, 2012

4 tips for fun and easy packed lunches

My third-grader says he's unhappy with the president. This took us by surprise, especially since he'd written to the White House in the spring and was delighted to get a small package in return.

So what happened?

School lunch, of all things. My son is unhappy that he has to choose fruit and a vegetable with every meal, and that chocolate milk is off the menu — thanks to major improvements in the federal program.

The funny part is that the new school menu — packed with fruits, veggies, and whole grains — isn't much different from what I pack most days. Here's his lunch box today, for example:


Peanut butter on whole wheat bread, carrots, grapes, Cheez-Its, and a cookie. Not too bad. The Cheez-Its are the dregs of a box purchased as a summer treat, and the rest is typical lunch fare.

The boy wants a packed lunch every day. Awesome. Except I can count all the entrees he's willing to eat on one hand —with fingers left over. Today's lunch is OK, but boring. For me, and soon for him if we don't get creative.

Here are four tips to help make school lunches a little easier for you, and more fun for your kids.


Make a lunch menu

Our "What's for lunch?" checklist gives my son a chance to design his own menu. It lists healthful offerings in each food group, plus room to add his own. The "tip jar" is another spot where he can make suggestions.

You can use this free menu weekly, monthly, or as often as you wish. Download the Word document and change it as needed to reflect your own family's tastes. (You also can download the pdf version.)

Anna has offered a picture-based menu to empower her children to choose — even the option to be surprised.

Play with nutrition

The MyPlate program offers free printables including coloring pages and posters to help you talk about healthful eating with your family.

School-age kids can play the online game Blast Off, fueling a rocket ship by choosing a balanced plate of healthy foods.

If you have a toddler or preschooler, check out the special section with tips on getting kids involved in the kitchen — a topic near and dear to our hearts!

Put kids to work

With my younger son now in kindergarten, I'm appreciating more than ever the benefits of helping my kids be more independent.

Keep some easy-to-pack good food choices on a shelf in the pantry and in the refrigerator, and put your children in charge of choosing something for their snack or lunch each day. If they're willing and able to do more, encourage them! This is going to be a priority for me — one week into school, and I've already sent the wrong snack with the wrong kid.

Enjoy yourself!

Browse our collection of back-to-school lunch recipes and tips, and find something new to enjoy. For a quick list of inspirational ideas, check out this post full of great ideas for filling lunch boxes with fresh, fun food. And please share your own tips here and on our Facebook page!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Wild Smoked Salmon Summer Salad

While we were tasting many classic and new flavors of the French cuisine, one scene caught my eyes in awe in the bistros: How salads are so popular and go much beyond the concept of romaine lettuce tossed with some garden vegetables with some predictable dressing on the side.

I tasted many interpretation of the well known Salade NiƧoise, and was puzzled by how French ladies would take hours chatting and eating a ParisiƩnne Salad: something like a beautiful mountain of greens with little mounds of all sort of things to be mixed and seasoned. The slow motion of eating and working the salad to a different level of dish, while ingredients were mixed in each portion brought to the mouth, the long pauses to eat, the elegant way of flavoring it with no pressure from the waiter. Something like a scene from a movie. All of this caught my attention and inspired me to make more salads at home.

This is inspiration for a very nice lunch for the end of summer, but don't forget the French dijon mustard to bring the soul of French flavors to your salad.

Wild Smoked Salmon Salad

This is for two to three portions of salad.


12 ribbons, about 1/2 inch width, of wild nova smoked salmon
1/2 bulb of fennel, shaved
1 celery stalk, shaved
1 scallion (green onion), chopped
1 teaspoon whole grain dijon mustard
a few drops of fresh lemon juice (enough to season the salmon)
dill, sprinkled over salmon
6 cups spring mix salad


2 tablespoons white or red wine vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon French dijon mustard
1 teaspoon chopped shallots or white parts of green onions
kosher salt to taste
Fresh chopped chives (optional)

Layer salad greens, fennel, and celery in a big bowl and put the salmon on top. Put half of the mustard in the middle of the plate. For the dressing mix all the ingredients and refrigerate for two hours before serving. Serve the dressing on the side. Enjoy it cold.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Chia Seed Verrines

Sometimes I have the impression that everything is more elegant when said in French. While we were in Paris, the sight of the blackboard menus (oh la la, les ardoises!)  was always enticing. And among the many wonderfully named handwritten with chalk, I found one very special: verrine in the dessert menu. Mostly they were composed with  fromage blanc and some fruit  preserve or coulis on top.

Back in California a couple of weeks ago, I had this little obsession with composing one verrine (little cup, little glass?) of my own. It was with joy that I found a little bag of affordable chia seeds in my favorite grocery store, with a little inspiration of recipe for chia seed pudding written on its back. I fused it with other interesting recipes from the web, and finally made my own with the help of my 5-year-old boy.

We made two recipes, and found that this one, with lots of variations, was the best. But you can certainly play with your creativity and add other twists, such as fruit compotes and other extracts to add flavor. Invite your little ones to play with you like mixing wizards, if you feel like it, and enjoy together for a healthy snack or dessert.

Chia Seed Verrine with Blueberry Honey

We topped the little cups with some cute champagne grapes. Next time we will cover them with chopped macerated berries, like the ones we used in this recipe. Chia seeds are an amazing ingredient that holds the power of fiber, protein and omega-3 in its tiny and nutty seeds.

1 cup coconut milk (from a refrigerated carton) or almond milk
1/4 cup chia seeds
1/4 cup blueberry honey (or regular honey), add more if you want more sweetness
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (or rose water)

Whisk all ingredients in a bowl and distribute among as many little glasses you can. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours or more if using almond milk. Serve very cold with your favorite topping.

Monday, August 6, 2012

5 savory ways to use up all that zucchini

The home gardener's favorite holiday is Sneak Some Zucchini onto Your Neighbor's Porch Day this Wednesday, Aug. 8.

If you should find yourself with a pile of summer squash on your porch, or if you surreptitiously dump your bounty at your neighbors' only to find another dozen squash have grown overnight, here are five ways to make the best of this prolific summer vegetable.

These savory muffins are a healthful treat, packed with flavor. Made with spelt flour and yogurt, they're studded with raisins and pine nuts and topped with Parmesan.

Lighten up dinner with this summery faux-carb take on pasta. It's a quick and easy way to use some of the most reliable vegetables in a home garden: zucchini, cherry tomatoes, and fresh herbs.

A creamy white bean and blue cheese spread becomes finger food when it's rolled up in zucchini ribbons.

100326_zucchini twirls_5

Dress up a quick meal of mac-n-cheese from a box with a bit of protein and garden-fresh vegetables.

This is another faux-carb pasta — it's melt-in-your-mouth goodness, lovely on its own or paired with heavier fare. Pictured here, the ribbons of squash are a background supporter to chicken parmesan, but they really deserve to be front and center on their own.


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