Friday, August 31, 2012

Do You Love Olives Bento, and a Giveaway

Do you love olives?  Are they just an awesome part of your lunches in any way?  Keep this question in mind, there's a quiz later (well, not really, but a giveaway, and guess what the question is).

The team at California Olives contacted us and asked if we'd like to share a lunch, showing how olives can be a great part of the meal.  They sent us an awesome kit with olives, a fancy can opener, cutting board, pizza cutter, fruit/veggie cutters, a Laptop Lunch kit, and a gift card to facilitate making a fun lunch, including California Olives.

They also sent us some great recipes and a few fun facts. Did you know that since California Ripe Olives are fruits, they have no cholesterol. And each large olive has only 7 calories. That’s a lot of flavor per calorie!


So what did we make?  With a little help from Miss Faith, we had pitas stuffed with salsa chicken and topped with sour cream and olives, along with strawberries, mini oranges, carrots & ranch, a fig bar and a couple of vanilla crisps.

For the salsa chicken, place a few chicken breasts in the crockpot.  Combine 1 cup salsa, 1 packet taco seasoning, and 1 can cream of chicken soup, then pour over the chicken.  Cook of low all day.  Before serving, add a half cup of sour cream and cook a little bit longer.  Shred the chicken and serve in tacos, burritos, over rice, etc.

For the leftovers, we warmed a pita slightly, then sliced it in half and stuffed it with the chicken.  We add a dollop of sour cream and several sliced olives on top .  The verdict from Faith?  Sooooooo good!

Now that giveaway I mentioned.  California Olives is sending one reader a prize pack similar to the one we got, including California Olives and a Laptop Lunch!  To enter, leave me a comment telling me:

What is your favorite way to include olives in lunch or dinner?

Make sure I have a way to contact you to, please, either an email or your profile.  The contest is open till next Friday, September 7th, and I'll use Random.Org to draw a winner! :)

Hormel August - Back to School

Since August is back-to-school season, one of the topics this month from Hormel was, of course, school lunches. Now this is one of those topics that I happen to like writing about (in case you hadn't noticed).

It's important to make a plan and set goals prior to the beginning of the school year as thinking of healthy back-to-school lunch ideas that children will actually enjoy can be quite the challenge for many parents.  The stand at the fridge 20 minutes before school starts in the morning in the hopes of coming up with a lunch plan?  It doesn't always work exceptionally well.

What does work?  For me, there's some planning, but I also try to have a variety of items in the house to make lunches easier--several kinds of bread, lots of assorted fillings, eggs, veggies, fruits, a few treats, pasta for salads, etc.  I'm trying to build in even more variety this year so that lunches are less boring.

Hormel suggested a few tips too:
  • Veggie sticks are always a great addition to a packed lunch. To add a bit more excitement to please your child, send a small container of hummus to dip vegetables in. For a fresh, healthful addition, try new Peloponnese® hummus spread. 
  • Dried fruit and nuts are a great alternative to a bag of chips or cookies. Toss a variety of nuts together with raisins or other dried fruits and make a homemade trail mix. Throw in some whole grain cereal for extra crunch. Let your child pick out their favorites and create the snack themselves. 
  •  Many families are reluctant to send their child to school with sandwiches packed with deli meats because of the fear of added nitrates and preservatives. Luckily the Hormel® Natural Choice® line of deli meats is 100% natural meat with zero preservatives, no added nitrites or nitrates and no MSG. These meats are also gluten free! Ditch the bread and make roll-ups using your choice of deli meat. 
  • Make water your child’s best friend, as water is one of the most important nutrients for a growing body. Staying hydrated not only helps with physical performance, but mental as well, keeping your child on top of things in the classroom.
Do you set a meal plan prior to the school year? Is it monthly, weekly or daily? Are there certain items that you always include in lunches? What are the biggest challenges you have and your best tips? I'd love to know!

Disclosure: I have received product and information from Hormel Foods in exchange for being a Hormel Foods Extended Family Blogger. All opinions expressed within the post are my own. 

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

What's for Lunch Wednesday, Week 118

What's for Lunch Wednesday

Thanks so much for joining in last week, if you did, and looking forward to seeing all the fun lunches this week!
Want to join in?
Just choose a bento (please, just one bento or post or link) you've made from the last week you want to share, copy the URL of that post from your blog (you may need to click on the title to get it), and enter it into the linky below.
Click on the "Add Your Link" button to add yours and follow the steps, it's simple, I promise!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Kid-friendly "Sushi" Bento

I've been messing around with an idea for a fun, kid-friendly sushi that does not involve fish, and that F&B could take to school.  For once, I actually had whole carrots instead of the baby ones and realized that I had a workable idea, if I used grilled chicken.  So I hit the grocery store, bought some already grilled chicken strips, cooked up some sushi rice and got to work!

In the grand scheme of things, I probably should have still used the nori wrappers, but the effect wasn't bad.  Besides the rice, each piece of sushi had grilled chicken, thinly sliced carrots and a bit of cream cheese in it.  And it looked pretty, so that's a bonus.  Sushi kit I use is linked below, we find it so much easier than rolling with a bamboo mat.

Both kids had 4 pieces of sushi (they are larger than you'd think),  a fig bar, mini orange, plum slices, a strawberry and some raspberries.  Lots of fruit, but I'm low on veggies right now and my co-op basket comes in on Saturday, so I'm making do for now. It's packed in our Easy Lunchboxes (also available on Amazon).

Monday, August 27, 2012

Back from NOLA Bento

I made it home from my trip safe and sound, and hours before the hurricane could have posed an issue. However, after the trip, I was EXHAUSTED and ended up taking a very long afternoon nap. So long, in fact, that the commissary was closed by the time I was ready to go. So I looked through the fridge and improvised a bit.

I had some broccoli from one of our produce baskets, so I made up a batch of my friend Robin's broccoli salad (there's bacon in it too).  Faith had some of the broccoli salad, a sliced boiled egg, cut up peaches, and two cake balls.  It's a little on the simple (aka boring) side, but for a bit, the whole idea of lunch was touch & go!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Mini Pita Pizza Bento

Since I'm living it up in New Orleans this weekend while at NicheMommy12, I decided to be nice and make lunches for the kids so the husband didn't have to figure it out.  Of course, that did mean figuring out what food would keep best in the fridge for two days, but at least they don't have to worry about it!

This was actually the Thursday lunches.  Both kids had mini pita pizzas, made with some leftover pita crusts, marinara sauce, a sprinkle of cheese and a handful of teeny turkey pepperonis.  To go with it, the kids had carrots and cucumber stars, sliced plums and blueberries for Ben (Faith wanted watermelon), and two mini banana-chocolate chip muffins from the batch I made the other day.

It's packed in our Easy Lunchboxes (also available on Amazon).  Since I wanted to leave two days of lunches in the fridge for the kids, these were the best option for stacking, along with being dishwasher safe so no one (the husband) had to worry about washing dishes.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Mini-Corndog Bento for School

In case you were curious, we're still fascinated with the mini-corndog maker. Though really, how could you not be???

F&B wanted mini-corndogs for school, so I told them I'd make some fresh in the morning if they were fine with cereal for breakfast.  That made a deal, so they got to have corn dogs.


Both kids had the same lunch 3 mini corn dogs (I actually used mini sausages instead of hotdogs), along with a container of ketchup to dip it in.  They had carrots, cherries and a few veggies sticks to round out the meal, along with Greek yogurt for a snack. It's packed in our Easy Lunchboxes (also available on Amazon).

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

What's for Lunch Wednesday, Week 117

What's for Lunch Wednesday

Thanks so much for joining in last week, if you did, and looking forward to seeing all the fun lunches this week!
Want to join in?
Just choose a bento (please, just one bento or post or link) you've made from the last week you want to share, copy the URL of that post from your blog (you may need to click on the title to get it), and enter it into the linky below.
Click on the "Add Your Link" button to add yours and follow the steps, it's simple, I promise!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Another Lunch, Another New Bento Box

We're all about the new boxes lately!

When we were in California at the end of May, the husband was kind enough to drive to several stores to do a bit of bento shopping.  I didn't find everything I wanted, but I got several new boxes, dividers and a ton of new picks.

These boxes are actually smaller and thinner than most of the two tier ones I have, so perfect for F&B.  Faith's has a black top with flowers and came with a light pink band, Ben's is blue, no design and a blue band.  I think his needs a sticker or something on top.

Today, Faith had faux sushis with rolled out multigrain breads, romaine lettuce, ham, cream cheese and a sliver of carrot.  I thought they really turned out cute!  To go with it, she had skewers of grapes, the leftover bits of carrots from the sandwich, and cucumber hearts.  At the last minute, I discovered we were out of veggie straws, so I subbed in some Plum Kids Organic Fruit Shreds (peach) and half of a Gnu Foods Carrot Cake Bar.  The Gnu bar was from a swap and the Plum Kids shreds were a sample, the kids loved both!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Freezer Meal Extravaganza - 14 Ready to Go Meals - 14 Ready to Go Freezer Meals

Now that school has started, it feels like I have both more and less time to get things done. On the plus side, I have the hours of approximately 7:30 to 2:30 to run errands, clean and enjoy a few cups of coffee. On the down side, those hours from 2:30 till dinner are a wee bit crazy with homework, play practice for Faith (which ends in September thankfully), and potentially swim team starting soon.

I've done freezer cooking many times before, so psyched myself up for some cooking and hit the grocery store.  Unlike some of the blogs I've read on freezer cooking, I don't go in shopping with recipes in mind.  I go see what meat is on sale first, then work from there.  Our commissary has a big markdown section for meat, so I stocked up there, knowing I would freeze it all anyhow.

And then I got to work.  I came home with a 4 pack of ground beef, 2 packs of 6 large chicken breasts, pork ribs, 2 packs of pork strips, and beef strips.  I also had plenty of ham and leftover BBQ chicken saved.

For veggies, I had the obvious onions, carrots, mixed frozen veggies, and I had broccoli and cauliflower from our Bountiful Baskets.  I always have tons of garlic, most spices, and one of our neighbors who is getting ready to move shared a ton of marinades and rubs with us.

And this is why I love the internet.  I was able to use a combo of my own recipes, recipes from Don't Worry, Dinner's In the Freezer, and ones from websites to come up with 14 freezer meals.  My preference, this time, was ones that could be put frozen right into the crockpot with minimal to no prep on the day of.  Since we do steamed rice a lot, I'm fine with ones that still need sides, and I was hoping for ones that didn't involve a ton of pre-cooking.  I wanted simple meals that everyone in my house is going to eat, so that's what I ended up with!

So what do we have?

Two pans of breakfast casseroles - Layer the bottom of a foil pan with about half a bag of shredded hash browns, half a package of diced ham, and a good handful of shredded cheese.  Beat 6 eggs with some milk and seasonings, pour over the hash browns, cover and freeze.  To serve, defrost and cook at 350 for about a half an hour or so until the eggs are set.

Two pans of simple beef enchiladas - This is one of our favorite recipes for enchiladas.  It's not exceptionally traditional, but it's easy, and if you layer it as a casserole, it's really quick to make.  To serve, defrost and cook at 350 till the cheese is bubbling on top.

One barbecue pizza - One of my concoctions, with prepped pizza crust, BBQ sauce in lieu of marinara and topped with leftover pulled chicken or pork, cheese, and onions if you like them.  Defrost, cook like a pizza.

One stuffed cheeseburger bread - Another one of my concoctions.  Hollow out a loaf of Italian bread (save the insides for breadcrumbs), sauté ground beef, drain, add ketchup, mustard and shredded cheese to it, mix well and stuff into the hollowed out bread.  To serve, defrost, and bake at 350, wrapped in foil so the top won't burn, till heated through.  We like this with soup.

One bag of salsa chicken for the crockpot - Combine 1 can cream of chicken soup, 1 cup of mild salsa, 1 packet of taco seasoning in a freezer bag and add 3-4 chicken breasts (I do 3).  Freeze.  To serve, take out of the bag, place in crockpot, and cook on low for 8 hours.  Towards the end, add 1/2 cup sour cream.  Shred and serve over rice, with tortillas, etc.

One bag of brown sugar chicken for the crockpot - Combine 1 cup brown sugar, 2/3 cup vinegar, 3 heaping spoonfuls of garlic, 2 Tbsp soy sauce, and a pinch of black pepper.  Place in a freezer bag with 3-4 chicken breasts.  Freeze with a note on the bag that says "Add 1/4 cup Sprite to crockpot."  To serve, take out of the bag, place in crockpot, add the Sprite, and cook on low all day long.

One bag Korean pork strips - I used this recipe from and my pork strips were already sliced. Place all the marinade ingredients into a freezer bag, add the pork strips and freeze.  Once again, take out of the bag, place in crockpot, and cook on low all day long.

One bag of teriyaki pork ribs - I found this site on Pinterest and adapted a few of her recipes.  She recommends teriyaki pork chops, but I had ribs, so ribs it is.  Same marinade, same procedure, same cook on low all day. :)

One bag beef burritos - The same site had a beef burrito recipe as well that sounded really yummy, so I made that two, but used chunks of beef instead of one large piece.  Again, it's what I found on sale.  It's another cook on low all day recipe, and we'll probably have it in tortillas.  I also took out the chipotle pepper, that won't end well around here.

One bag Hawaiian chicken - Same site again, I feel that you can't go wrong with a chicken recipe that includes pineapple.  I did 3 chicken breasts again, they were the larger ones, so 3 for the four of us is plenty.  And once again, freeze, remove from bag, crockpot on low, food.

One bag honey-garlic chicken - I've made this before and apparently, it's a popular way to cook chicken since this site had it too.  Combine 3 Tbsp garlic, 1/4 cup honey, 2/3 cup ketchup, 1/3 cup soy sauce into a freezer bag.  Add chicken breasts, freeze.  To serve, crockpot on low all day long (out of the freezer bag of course).

One bag orange pork stir fry - I sort of combined a bunch of things to make--orange stir fry sauce, mandarin oranges, pork strips, onion, garlic, some broccoli and cauliflower, carrots, etc, all in one bag, freeze, thaw, then sauté until the pork is cooked.  I may add some more frozen veggies at a later date.

But I'm happy, 14 ready-to-go meals, many of which are require little to no effort on my part to serve.  It's not like we don't always have steamed rice around the house!  I think I'll do this again in a few weeks, or at least the next time I stock up on meats.  I've spent quite a bit of time admiring the top shelf of my freezer!

Happy Crabby Bento

One of the fun things I like about bentos is sometimes you just see the ideas as you start making the lunch. In this case, I had the bagel prepped first and added the muffins to fit. All of a sudden, I saw the crab appear, so it just had to be made.  A bit of cheese cut-outs made the claws and the smile, a teeny grape cut in half for the eyes, and voila! A crab!

The kids had identical lunches today, but this one is Faith's.  She had cream cheese and cantaloupe preserves on a bagel thin, two homemade banana-chocolate chip mini muffins, a boiled egg and watermelon.  The aforementioned cheese cutouts and grape pieces finished out the design.   It's packed in our Easy Lunchboxes (also available on Amazon).

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Simple Cars Bento

Still working through all of our lunches for last week! The husband brought home half pitas when he went grocery shopping, which Faith immediately decided should have egg salad in them. I like egg salad and decided to make it so I could have some too.

Each kid had a half-pita full of egg salad, with cheese toppers.  Obviously this one is Ben's, from the car--cookie cutter, trim the windows out with a knife, and use a fondant circle to swap out the wheels with a different color (Faith had flowers).  To go with that, both kids had cucumbers, carrots, chunks of fresh peaches, and a small container with panda cookies.  It's packed in our Easy Lunchboxes (also available on Amazon).

Thursday, August 16, 2012

More Back to School Bento, this time with pizza!

The first full week of school is going rather well.  And I have to admit I'm enjoying the peace and quiet during the day.  I think we finally had enough of summer by the end of it (the kids were bored, Faith's good friend spent the summer back him and Ben's friend moved in June).  But so far, second and fifth grades are a hit.

I'm still trying to avoid the sandwich rut early on in the year, so I was quite happy to find our favorite pizza bread on sale at the commissary bakery.  It's almost an Italian bread baked with cheese and pepperoni on top and so yummy!

Both kids had exactly the same lunch this time--a piece of pizza bread, sliced in two chunks to fit in the box, along with a container of marinara to dip it in.  I bought the dipping containers several years ago in Texas and they have some of the most secure lids I've used, I need to find similar ones again.  To go with this, they had panda cookies and watermelon, along with yogurt that was in a separate container in their bags.  It's packed in our Easy Lunchboxes (also available on Amazon).

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

What's for Lunch Wednesday, Week 116

What's for Lunch Wednesday

Thanks so much for joining in last week, if you did, and looking forward to seeing all the fun lunches this week!
Want to join in?
Just choose a bento (please, just one bento or post or link) you've made from the last week you want to share, copy the URL of that post from your blog (you may need to click on the title to get it), and enter it into the linky below.
Click on the "Add Your Link" button to add yours and follow the steps, it's simple, I promise!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Leftovers to Lunches Bento - Pasta Salad & Meatballs

Since the school year has barely started, I really don't want to get into a sandwich rut already, so I've been playing around with ways to use out our leftovers.  (By the way, if you are looking for sandwich ideas, I still love the 5 Simple Sandwich Spins I wrote last fall.)

So what made the leftover-to-lunch cut? The kids had pasta salad with some extra cheese bits and peas which are apparently on the bottom of the dish (it's a mini tier from another bento set that fit perfectly here).  They had leftover Italian style meatballs, skewered with some new picks, carrots and shaped cucumbers.  To the right are creme brûlée crisps and some sliced plums (Faith opted for a peach instead).  It's packed in our Easy Lunchboxes (also available on Amazon).

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Other First Day of School Bento & Rilakkuma Boxes

Well, since Ben had a new box for his first day of school bento, Faith had to have one as well.  Luckily, I had just the thing for her.

The staff at Modes4U, an online shop out of HongKong that carries some of the cutest bento gear and other items, offered to send us a box to try out and share.  Faith and I looked through a ton of options when she said that she liked the idea of the multi-tier boxes in different sizes.  After more serious looking, she finally settled on an adorable Rilakkuma set with cupcakes (Rilakkuma is from San-X, in case you were wondering).

The set arrived in 10 days, which impressed me since they were shipped from HongKong.  I was expecting it to take longer.  Faith opened it up and was definitely happy with her choice.  The three boxes nest inside each other when empty (great for storage or for bringing them back from school), and stack nicely on top of each other when full.  The bases are three different colors--pale pink, blue and yellow, and the lids each have a different Rilakkuma pattern.  For the first day, we chose to use the largest and the smallest boxes.

The largest box contains her sandwich (turkey & provolone) topped with marble cheese spelling out "Fifth Grade" and a flower, along with two mini brownies.  The smallest box was perfect for her fruits and veggies--watermelon, carrots and cucumber flowers.  I love keeping the fruit completely separate since it can tend to make other foods soggy.  I see us using this box a lot more in the future or even parts of it for snacks!

Friday, August 10, 2012

First Day of School Bento & a PlanetBox

I've been coveting a PlanetBox for quite awhile now. It's pretty, it's stainless steel, you can decorate it with your choice of magnets, and it has a darling little matching bag to carry it in.

I was more than a bit excited when PlanetBox offered to send me a set to try out for the kids.  They had some serious negotiations on the bag color (turquoise won) but managed to quickly compromise on the magnet set (there was a winter/skiing set).

The second dilemma was who got to use it on the first day of school.

In the end, Ben won, since Faith has another nice new set to use that was sent specifically for her, so it seemed only fair to at least let him use the other new box.  He was really excited, and came home telling me that his teacher needed my blog address so I had to give him a card for her.

Ben had a turkey and provolone sandwich on multigrain rounds, topped with a "Second Grade Star" pattern (made from a marbled cheese.  He had blueberries, carrots and cucumber stars, watermelon with a few more stars and two mini brownie bites from the other new handy-dandy kitchen machine I bought recently.  The extra space in the box was perfect for one of his Fabkins napkins.

The verdict?  We *LOVE* the box.  Ben said  that it was easy to open and all the food stayed separated nicely, even with turning the box on its side to put it in the bag.  Of course, the next question was could I wash it so Faith could have a turn.

Want a PlanetBox?  We'd love it if you'd shop our affiliate. :)

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

What's for Lunch Wednesday, Week 115

What's for Lunch Wednesday

Thanks so much for joining in last week, if you did, and looking forward to seeing all the fun lunches this week!
Want to join in?
Just choose a bento (please, just one bento or post or link) you've made from the last week you want to share, copy the URL of that post from your blog (you may need to click on the title to get it), and enter it into the linky below.
Click on the "Add Your Link" button to add yours and follow the steps, it's simple, I promise!

Friday, August 3, 2012

Featured Friday - 5 Basics for Getting Started with Bento

Usually, I use Featured Fridays to share things I've loved during the week.  But with back-to-school season upon us (F&B start on the 9th), I thought it might be fun to share some ideas how to get started with bentos.

Despite the scary amount of products I own, I use a lot of the same ones on most days.  And I've been building my collection for 5 years now, so take a normal amount of lunch items and times it by that many years.

So, if you are getting started, a few recommendations to help you out!

1a.  Easy LunchboxesInsulated Cooler Bag - This is probably one of the best deals you'll find on lunch boxes.  You get four boxes, they are dishwasher safe and they have a bag that fits them perfectly, along with a drink, napkin, yogurt, etc.  I use them a lot, because of the space layout (try this tag "easylunchboxes" to see some of what I've made).

1b.  Lunchbots - Prefer stainless steel to plastic?  We have one of these too.  I have a Duo which works well for my kids and I've been leaning towards getting the Trio or Quad, just because I like the built in sections.  These also fit well into most standard lunch bags, Faith had a Vera Bradley one last year and it worked.

2. Klean Kanteen Stainless Steel Water Bottles - F&B take water to school daily and despite the initial cost, we've only had to buy these once.  We still have the same bottles we've had for a couple of years, they like the mid-sized bottle with the sport cap.  I fill them completely with ice in the mornings, then add a little bit of water.  It acts as an extra ice pack and the water is still very very cold at lunch.

Now that you've got the basics (containers, bag and water bottles), you can always add the cute stuff!

3. Wilton Fondant Cutters - I actually have tons of cookie cutters, including my favorite sets from Williams Sonoma, but for a quick, easy, inexpensive option, check out the cute stuff Wilton has.  Most local craft stores carry it too.  Their fondant cutters are metal, so they work well on veggies and fruit, along with meats and cheeses.  Sets usually have a tiny version, a small version and a medium version.  The tiny one is perfect for decoration (it's about the diameter of a baby carrot), the small is ideal for cucumber slicing, the medium can be anything from cookies to sandwiches!

4. Silicone Muffin Cups - I use the Wilton ones because they were the easiest to find.  There are tons of cute options--hearts, stars, flowers, but my favorites are still the solid color squares to tuck into the corner of a box.  They are ideal to separate food, although they won't contain anything too messy.
5. Food Picks & Kebab Sticks - These are just cute, perfect for skewering food or holding things together or just making a plain lunch look pretty.  Besides all the varieties on Amazon, don't forget to check out places like the Dollar Tree.  I have a package of primary colored hearts, 100 for $1.  During the various holidays, they sell themed muffin wrappers with pick too.  These are paper, but at 25 or so for $1, I'm OK with losing a few along the way.

Now of course, once you start with a few basic items, you'll probably end up wanting (I call it "needing") a whole lot more!  But for now, at least you have the supplies to start.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

What's for Lunch Wednesday, Week 114

What's for Lunch Wednesday

Thanks so much for joining in last week, if you did, and looking forward to seeing all the fun lunches this week!

Want to join in?

Just choose a bento (please, just one bento or post or link) you've made from the last week you want to share, copy the URL of that post from your blog (you may need to click on the title to get it), and enter it into the linky below.

Click on the "Add Your Link" button to add yours and follow the steps, it's simple, I promise!

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