Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Disposable Lunch Bento

Yes, that's right. Disposable. I'm not happy.

A note was sent home to all second grade parents last week requesting that a disposable, yes, a disposable, lunch be provided to all children attending the field trip. I stopped in my tracks as I read and then re-read the letter, which, by the way, was from the principal.

My son is a follower. If the teacher tells him to solve a math problem differently than how I have shown him how to do it (and believe me, I am well qualified to teach the kid math), then he'll do it her way, even if it's longer and cumbersome and despite knowing how to solve it more quickly and efficiently. He argues, "That's the way our teacher wants us to do it!" It's maddening. I get it, but it's still maddening.

Needless to say, when I said, "This is going to be a problem. We don't do disposable lunches," he whined, "But mommy, it HAS to be disposable! The principal's letter said so!" My response was, "Well, I guess I am just going to have to talk to her because I have an issue with this." Unfortunately, with many other things going on this week, I did not get a chance to pursue this with the principal.

In my annoyed state of mind, however, I did the resourceful thing and came up with a satisfactory compromise of recycled and recyclable items for an appropriate outdoor picnic style lunch bento. I reused a recyclable plastic take out food container for the outer box. Inside is a smoked turkey and white american cheese rolled into a tortilla, an apricot, some dried pineapple wedges, edamame, Ritz Bits cheese sandwich crackers, two Thin Mint Girl Scout cookies, two mini peanut butter cups, and a Horizon chocolate milk. He picked out most of the items to be packed, so hopefully he will eat it. I have packed little bentos like these for myself for flights and situations when it's not practical to carry around containers.

The crowning glory didn't make the picture because we were running late for school. I didn't have a paper bag, so I used a page of the Sunday cartoon pages for an inner wrapper that he can use as a placemat and an outer wrapper from a larger spread of the cartoon pages. I taped it all together and fashioned a rolled handle for his lunch "bag", put his name on it, and sent him on his way. As I dropped him off I reminded him that the outer plastic container and the newspaper are both recyclable and he should look for the appropriate bins wherever they have lunch.

Waste generated: one drink box, two small foil and paper wrappers, and a paper napkin. Recyclables: outer container and newspaper wrappers. Although this lunch generated more garbage than I am usually comfortable with, I am sure that it is still far less than most of the other kids. Even if he isn't fully on the bandwagon, at least the kid knows to think about these things.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Breakfast for lunch

My husband's breakfast this morning provided the inspiration for M's lunch/snack for preschool. When it comes to mass marketed boxed cereals, we are very uncomplicated, opting for Cheerios, Rice Krisipies, and either corn flakes or bran flakes. Sometimes I buy organic Amaranth flakes, but I have to buy several boxes because my husband will finish half a box of those at one sitting. We were recently introduced to Quaker Oatmeal Squares by a fellow skating coach and mom who included them in a lunchbox for herself and her daughter one early spring morning. I tried one and fell in love instantly, thus breaking me out of my breakfast cereal routine for the first time in years. My husband tried them and loved them as well, and both kids like them dry, so they are a winner all around. They are lightly sweet, crunchy, and have a bit of cinnamon and brown sugar flavor. They are tasty dry and stay crunchy in milk and are tasty with regular milk, soy milk, and rice milk (which I don't buy very often because I'm the only one who likes it).

Today she got a container of Oatmeal Squares, some fresh strawberries, and some whole wheat and multigrain crakers with vanilla soy milk in the reusable drink container. Not pictured are the Tinkerbell cloth napkin and the Backyardigans lunchbox and a note from me. No waste (except for the note), yummy cereal, juicy berries, and some crackers. Gotta love it.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Wasted Food

I subscribe to the New York Times Learning Network. Each weekday I get an e-mail with a link to a current article from the New York Times and links to lesson plans, vocabulary words, geography links, etc. The topics range from politics and religion to science and art. It's interesting, it's relevant, and it's something different.

Today's article was about the increase in worldwide food shortages and wastefulness in industrialized nations. Most of us grew up with moms who said that there were children starving in India (or Africa if you were my mom). My smart-mouthed reply was to not give me as much and Fed Ex it to them. While there are logistical challenges to that scenario, the harsh reality is that starvation and malnourishment continue to plague many parts of the world while in others wastefulness is the norm.

The article makes some suggestions on how to minimize waste and one important one is portion control. One of the principles of my blog is properly tailoring portions, so I was glad to see that this was mentioned. Not only is managing portion sizes better for nutrition, it's less wasteful. As much as I loathe those 100-calorie packets of cookies and crackers, at least in theory, they are starting to get it right, nutritionally and economically. There is a link to a photo essay on Time magazine's web page from a book called Hungry Planet. It is about what families around the world eat and what their weekly expenditure is. It's interesting and astonishing, at both ends of the financial spectrum.

I'll forgive the writer's comment "frugal mommy blog" comment because the article points out just how widespread the problem of waste really is.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Local Artisanal Cheese

M's preschool went on a field trip today to the Valley Shepherd Creamery, a local sheep farm, for a Spring Lambing Tour. The sheep farm produces a number of sheep's milk and related products including artisanal cheeses and yogurt. The drive was a bit further than we anticipated, a good thirty minutes away. The creamery is nestled in a beautiful area with mountains and rolling hills in Hunterdon County called the Black River Valley. It is way off the beaten path, at least half an hour away from anywhere, but the scenery is postively breathtaking. A world away from the Newark Airport, the Jersey Shore, and the Garden State Parkway, it's hard to believe that such a scenic and pastoral countryside exists about an hour away from Midtown Manhattan.

The tour began a video about the farm and the cheesemaking process. Then they saw the ewes, the milking parlor, and the cheese room. After that, they went into the area where the lambs are kept and M and her classmates got to hold a one month old lamb. I held it too and it was so cuddly and cute.

This is all that remains of a small wedge of cheese an aged romano style cheese which we thoroughly enjoyed. This variety is called Black River and was amazing. It was sharp, nutty, and rich but more fragrant and pungent than the imported aged romano cheese we normally buy. It's the kind of cheese I would buy and eat with a baguette and a glass of wine at an impromptu outdoor picnic. I would have bought more, but it was kind of expensive at $19.00 per pound. I will keep it in mind if we ever want some really good cheese for a very special occasion.

On the ride home, after stopping at Dunkin Donuts for my free promotional iced coffee, we stopped by a farm and store called Alstede Farms, which is a well known local farm. We went into the store and bought some of their home grown asparagus. I was bit disappointed to see that their store offered only a small selection of locally grown produce and a fair amount of not-so-locally grown items. However, they regularly have stands at local farmer's markets throughout northern NJ, so their products are getting out to the larger market.
It was a fun and interesting outing for both of us. I'm going to do some research and plan a day trip to the area for the summer since it's relatively close and do a really nice picnic lunch. There are a lot of historical sights in the area to see, not to mention the gorgeous views.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Thermos lunch... again!

My son has not had much of an appetite lately, at least not at lunchtime. This is inconvenient considering I write a food blog. Not much fodder if you have a kid that won't eat! Plus he's kind of a skinny thing too. My mother in law already thinks I starve the poor kid.

Today's lunch is mostly last night's dinner:

Rice and my not so pretty tamago in the thermos, strawberries and kiwi spears (a requested shape from him while I was cutting the kiwi this morning), multigrain crackers and alphabet cookies, and chocolate milk made with homemade chocolate syrup in the reusable straw container.

Everything is sitting on the Transformers napkin with a reusable fork. I'm just hoping he eats SOMETHING because we have a busy afternoon of a music lesson and track practice. Dinner won't be until 7 and there's not much time for a snack after school.

About the chocolate syrup.... I have been doing some experimenting in the kitchen, which is scary because I don't cook. Anyway, I found some recipes for chocolate syrup that were insanely easy so I made them with the politically correct fair trade cocoa and even more correct organic sugar. It's stupid easy to make. If I can make it and not mess it up, anyone can. It's sooooo good.... I have been known to just have it straight up from the container. I'll post the recipe soon.

Friday, May 9, 2008

There is more to life than plastic

Poor stretchy Plastic Man is so two (or is that three?) decades ago. I remember this guy from Saturday morning cartoons - he could reshape himself, stretch out like a rubber band and roll up into a ball. Personally, as far as stretchy superheroes, he's got nothing on Elastigirl. She's a superhero and a cool mom who wears spandex. She packs a heck of a punch. I'll bet she packs a good lunch too.

Ah, but I digress... I am always on the lookout for eco-friendly (and economical) products and solutions for food storage and portability, preferably BPA free. I'm not an alarmist. I still use plastic, although I try to use it less than I did a few months ago. My kids have probably been exposed to quite a bit of BPA thanks to me. Sorry for that, guys. Who knew? I don't necessarily believe in the hype, but at the same time, better to be safe than sorry.

One of my good friends is expecting a baby in June and has been concerned about the recent publicity about BPA leaching out of baby bottles. I used Avent bottles, but with the concern about BPA exposure, many parents are looking for BPA-free alternatives. Enter glass bottles, circa 1970 that my generation, and most of the current generation of new moms grew up on.
Some good options are the classic Evenflo glass bottles, which are available at my Amazon store, as well as the big box retailers like Target, Wal-Mart, BabiesRUs, and BuyBuyBaby. If you're a little more modern, these Weego bottles from are pretty cool too. They're not cheap, but the outer cover makes them quite safe. There are also some other BPA free plastic bottle and cups made by BornFree and Momo, both of which are available at Amazon. BornFree Also has a glass version available on their website.

I am also sharing this information that I received from my Ideal Bite daily e-mail about a boy from the NYC metro area who has created some fun and kid friendly products that are environmentally friendly. Hunter Gross, a 7th grader, was inspired to create eco-friendly lunch sacks and totebags, among other things as a way to reduce the number of plastic bags. Check out the ProjectKool website and products here. Way to go, Hunter! Keep up the great work!

(picture courtesy of these folks

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Spring Lunch

Zachary's lunch today contained egg noodles with broccoli sprinkled with pecorino romano cheese a thermos, some spectacular sweet strawberries, Teddy Grahams and alphabet cookies, and on the right, some Trader Joe's multigrain crackers and some mozzarella cheese chunks. In the reusable container is some soy milk.

Talk about a tasty waste-free mostly vegetarian lunch. He had several bites of the noodles and broccoli before I packed them, so I know he'll like them. All of this went into his Transformers lunch box with a reusable plastic fork and his Transformers cloth napkin. See? You can be waste-free, veggie-friendly, and still fun.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The best laid plans...

Not that I am the best by any stretch of the imagination, but I am pretty good, usually.... This weekend we had a really long day of activities and sports. I packed a substantial lunch and snack for Zachary, which included a Clif Bar and a container of yogurt for myself. Mackenzie and I had to leave the house a little earlier for skating and Zachary was going to his track meet with my friend and her husband whose son is also on the track team. In the haste of getting out the door, Zachary forgot to take his lunchbox.

Fortunately he had his tote bag with his number for track and his sweats, but no lunch. My husband called me shortly after he left feeling bad that he had sent him off for the day with no food and no money. I reassured him that my friends would not let him starve and that I would make sure that Mackenzie shared her lunch and snack with him when we arrived later. I always pack more than what they will eat, not to be wasteful, but to give them a choice, to have enough to share (usually with me!), and enough just in case there is a delay in getting home, which happens from time to time. I would rather overpack than go through the infernal drive through.

Our day on Sunday was pretty long, but not unusual for us. M and I had to be out the door by 9:30 to be on the ice at 10:30. On mornings like this breakfast is almost always to go since we have a 40 minute ride to the rink. Since Z wasn't being picked up until 10:15, Daddy took care of breakfast for him.

I made a microwave cheese omelet and wheat toast with butter and jam for M. Normally I am not for prepackaged convenience foods, but I bought these from a school fundraiser for her preschool, so we'll eat them. I can truly appreciate the appeal of convenience foods; it took 30 seconds to remove the omelet, nuke it, and put it into a container for her. It's fast, it's nutritious, I get it.I put it into a Rubbermaid sandwich container and gave her a Light My Fire spork and a cloth napkin for breakfast in the car.

My kids spill. It's sad and sometimes annoying, but true. Finding suitable non-spill tumblers for them proved challenging indeed. The straw style containers are fine for clear liquids, but I am wary of them for milk products. There is something about dairy going through a straw that is icky to me. Don't ask. I have a few quirky food issues like that. The adult style travel mugs work a bit better, but many of those are not truly spill-proof. They will minimize spills, but not eliminate them altogether. Enter the Playtex Coolster Tumbler Sippy Cup. It has the sippy style silicone valve to prevent spillage but the profile looks like a grown up coffee cup. I have read that the valves are not good for older children, but I'm not worried about it too much. My kids take the lids off to get the last little bit out of the cups. At some point soon I they will graduate to grown up reusable non-spill travel mugs, but for now this is what they have.

Sunday wasn't a complete bust. Mackenzie shared her snack, although there wasn't enough fruit or drinks for both of them. During the track meet Zachary asked for some money to get something from the snack bar and I let him. He wanted a soft pretzel, but they were out of them, so he got some Gatorade instead. He could have easily gotten candy or chips or something else that I wouldn't have preferred, but he didn't. He's learning to make good choices and it makes me proud.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Animal Farm

This was M's preschool snack the other day. I made onigiri (Japanese rice balls made from sushi rice) for the first time using my Williams Sonoma ice cream molds. They turned out awesome. M is even starting to like the nori (toasted seaweed used in sushi). Also included in the snack are some animal crackers, a big strawberry, a piece of broccoli, and four mini cracker sandwiches made from Trader Joe's mini sesame crackers and some goat cheese. Not pictured is her apple juice in a reusable container and a cloth napkin. The only waste generated was one small piece of waxed paper used to separate the strawberry from the cracker sandwiches. I think George Orwell would approve.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

After School Snack

My kids like raw vegetables and have never complained about having them in their after school snack. That is not to say that they don't reach for the cookies or fruit snacks first. They're weird, but not that weird. However, they happily munch on veggies or fruit knowing that dinner is often hours away.

This is the afternoon snack I put together for Zachary the other day before track practice. Raw green beans, carrot sticks, red bell pepper slices, cucumber spears, and strawberry yogurt in the middle. Not pictured are whole wheat crackers, a granola bar, some graham crackers, and some apple juice, all in reusable containers of course. When packing their snacks, I load them up on protein and vegetables, particularly when we are en route to sports practice. On the way there they have a few bites, but on the ride home will finish everything in sight. I don't mind them filling up on this stuff before dinner because it's healthy and buys me the 20 minutes I need to get dinner ready for them upon returning home.