Real Food For Families

Limping Towards the Finish Line


So here we are…the last full day of school…the last lunches packed for the year. Remember how we started? I was all “Use whole wheat bread! Don’t put any processed food in your kid’s lunch!” You will note that in this final packed lunch, there are WHITE bread sandwich rolls, crackers from a box with more than 5 ingredients, and cheese popcorn. Well, at least I have not succumbed to the Uncrustables pre-made PB&J sandwiches. The year has been both long and at the same time over much too soon as my little girl finishes up her elementary school days. It’s on to middle school for her and my project for the summer is to teach her to pack her own lunch! More challenging for households that strive to bring real, minimally processed and packaged food in the lunch bag. But we’ll do our best! Stay tuned for some tips if you too are hoping to delegate lunch packing to the kids! We hope you have all had a great school year and best wishes to all of you elementary school kids heading on to the next phase of your life!


20140625-125010-46210598.jpgKatie and one of her best friends at their moving up ceremony.

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School Lunch Ideas and a Blogiversary!

I’ve been taking pictures of some of the lunches my kids have brought to school over the past few months and thought I would share them. I love seeing other people’s ideas. Sometimes you feel like you pack the same thing over and over and it’s helpful to get inspiration from others! So here you go…

Grapes, whole wheat pretzel sticks, tomato/pesto/cheese roll ups, slices of cheddar cheese

Slices of mozzarella cheese, organic pepperoni, blueberries, PB&J sandwich

Cheese and Tomato sandwich, raspberries/blueberries, nuts/chocolate chips, organic pepperoni

Organic Salami/mustard/cheese sandwich, grapes/cantelope, sunflower seeds/chocolate chips

Tomato/pesto sandwich, olives, mixed nuts, grapes

PB&J sandwich, whole wheat pretzel sticks and dried raspberries, cut up carrots/red pepper

Whole wheat bagel, carrots/sugar snap peas, grapes, grapes, hummus

By the way, our blog, KatieJeanCooks, turned one year old yesterday. I believe that’s known as a Blogiversary! It has been a fun year documenting our journey to eating better and we hope you have been able to find something useful in our posts. Thanks for reading!


Chopped Salad with Grapes, Pecans, Feta and Rice


We are not vegetarians, but we do occasionally like to eat meat free meals and this is one of our favorites. When I make rice, I try to make extra so that I can make this salad. You can change up the ingredients depending upon what you like. You’ll notice in the above picture, I used arugula and actually didn’t have any rice that day. This delicious salad has enough protein and fiber to be a real meal versus just salad (if you happen to be one of those people that doesn’t consider salad to be a real meal!). I adapted this recipe slightly from The Kitchn.com .

Chopped Brown Rice Salad with Grapes and Pecans
Serves 6 to 8

For the salad:
1 cup cooked brown rice, cooled to room temperature
1 cup whole pecans
1 heart of romaine lettuce
2 cups red grapes
1 cup crumbled feta cheese

For the vinaigrette:
3 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons spicy brown mustard
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350°F and spread the nuts on a baking sheet. Roast the nuts in the oven for about 10 minutes, stirring once or twice, until toasted a darker shade of brown and very fragrant. When cool enough to handle, transfer the nuts to a cutting board and roughly chop. Set aside.

Chop the lettuce into bite sized pieces and slice the grapes in half. Combine the rice, chopped pecans, chopped romaine, feta and grapes in a large bowl and lightly toss to combine.

To make the dressing, combine the vinegar, olive oil, brown mustard, a pinch of salt, and a few shakes of black pepper in a small bowl. Whisk to combine, taste, and adjust as needed.

Leftovers will keep for about 5 days refrigerated.


And Now…Back to Our Regularly Scheduled Programming


Of course, the “Regularly Scheduled Programming” involves a list as long as my arm of things that need to get done…but right now…I’ll relax for at least a few minutes! The kids are off to school on a beautiful sun drenched morning and although they won’t admit it, I think they are just a tiny bit excited. Here’s a peek at what I packed in their lunches…nothing too exciting…but that’s kind of the point. Keep it simple and it’s manageable.


Unfortunately, it was not “Bring Your Dog to School Day” so you know who had to remain at home!


Three Changes You Can Make This School Year

We have about 12 more days until school starts back up. In many parts of the country, kids have already started skipping back to school, bright shiny new back packs slung over their shoulders, Moms and Dads doing the happy dance brushing away tears of sadness as their children wave goodbye and become SOMEBODY ELSE’S PROBLEM for the next 6 hours. No, no…of COURSE, I am just kidding…I have cherished every moment…all summer…EVERY moment, I tell ya! But, all good things must come to an end. As you start up the new school year, there is something I want to tell you about the products we are buying for our lunch packing endeavors. I’m about to lecture here, but it is important…so bear with me while I rant for a few paragraphs.

When you see something in the grocery store that says “Look, Mom! Look how easy we’re making this whole lunch packing thing for you! Make a PB&J sandwich? Noooo…you don’t have to do all that work…we’ve done it for you! Why, you don’t even have to actually pack the lunch if that’s too much…here, look…we’ve put together a wonderful, kid approved combination of sugar, salt and artificial flavors and colors…all you have to do is throw it in the bag…done!” When you see these items in your store, run…I repeat, run…very fast…away from these things. Because you know they have you right where they want you. You are probably sleep deprived. Maybe you have a baby on your hip or a toddler running away from you in the store. You might be a stay at home mom (or dad) who has to prepare and clean up about 21 different meals and snacks every day and THIS…this cute little premade sandwich in a package…with the crusts even removed for cryin’ out loud…this is what will save your sanity. Or, you are a parent who has to leave the house every morning to go to work and you have about 14 seconds to get those lunches packed. You’re thinking about how in the morning, maybe you could actually have time to drink that cup of coffee instead of spilling it all over your work clothes as you are running out the door because it took so long to scrounge around your pantry trying to find those stupid “real food” items these crazy blogs keep telling you to pack. But I am convinced that the more desperate we feel about packing our kids lunches, the more those packaged food companies have us wrapped around their little fruit roll ups. We have to take a step back and stop being overwhelmed by lunch. We have to plan ahead. We have to ask our kids, “Which two or three vegetables and fruits will you eat in your lunches this week?” And then buy those items, cut them up so they are ready to throw into the lunch containers. We need to stop putting juice boxes and sports drinks and vanilla flavored milks into the bag. Water is simple and cheap and exactly what they need. If you are grabbing those convenience lunch items off the shelves, before you throw them into your cart, I ask that you just look at that ingredient list. If the first few items on the list are not actually food (and sugar, my friend, does not count as an “actual food” when it is your kid’s lunch) then there is a problem.

So now that I have tried to make you feel like a horrible parent if you happen to have Lunchables in your fridge, it is important for you to know, that lots of us struggle with this. One morning, during a momentary lapse of judgement, I actually put THESE…


into my children’s lunch bags. We’re not horrible parents. Most of us are just doing the best we can. But I think many of us, myself included, can do a little better. Many of us have enough time to keep up with all of our Facebook friends and most of us have the financial resources to purchase the things that are important to us. Let’s make our children’s lunch important this year. As you start up the new school year, try making 3 simple changes to help your kids eat better while they are at school. Okay…maybe these are not actually simple to implement…your kids are mad enough that they have to get up at 6:30 AM and now you’re going to take away their chocolate milk and their Go-Gurt…sigh.

Three Changes to Make When Packing Lunch
1. Ditch the juice boxes, sports drinks, and flavored milks. These options usually have as much added sugar as soda. Send water in a stainless steel thermos. They will complain…ignore. Or maybe let them have a sweetened beverage once a week.
2. Make fiber a priority as you figure out what to pack. Google foods high in fiber, make a list, and sit down with your kids and ask them…what foods on this list would you like in your lunch? Fiber helps our bodies to use the natural sugars in foods for energy, thus avoiding the sugar high and inevitable crash as they sit down to learn about fractions after lunch. Fiber also helps us to feel full longer. Note that it is important to drink plenty of water when you are increasing the fiber in your diet.
3. Switch your bread from white to 100% whole wheat. Find a brand of bread that does not have high fructose corn syrup in it. If your child will only eat white bread, just skip the traditional sandwich. There are so many other options. Your best friend Google will help you find lots of ideas! I will try to post pictures of some of my kids lunches once we get into the school year, but there are lots of sites out there that do this much better than I ever could.

And lastly, if you are reading this and saying to yourself, “Pack lunch? That’s crazy talk! My kid buys lunch every day!” Investigate what kind of lunches your school serves. There are more and more schools out there that are trying to improve, but there are still a lot of scary school lunch programs around. If you are not happy with what your school has to offer, but you just can’t even begin to think about trying to pack lunch, start small. Commit to making lunch once a week, on Sunday night for the Monday lunch.

If your kids have already started school, I hope they are having a great year so far! And for the rest of us…it’s off to the pool for one more week!


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Is it Summer Yet?

Katie: Recently, my Mom bought some containers that you can freeze smoothies in, off of Amazon. Well, they were a big success. I have them in my lunch all the time. My favorite kind of smoothie is berry. I like these a lot more than Popsicles. My brother does not like smoothies, so sometimes we put fruit juice in the containers for him. I love smoothie pops!

Debbie: We’ve made smoothies for years, but I had never thought about freezing them until recently and had no idea that I could send them to school in the kids lunches. The picture above shows a blue freeze pop mold (made by Norpro). These are made out of silicone and are dishwasher safe. They are flexible so I can bend them to fit into the ziplock divided lunch containers that we use. They do not stay frozen, since Katie eats lunch about 5 hours after I pack it. She says that it’s a very cold smoothie by the time she eats lunch. So you do have to be careful how you position it and make sure your child understands that it will be liquid when they open it. Once you’ve made these a few times, you won’t really need to follow a recipe…I just add things until it’s the consistency and taste that I want. This recipe is adapted from the 100 Days of Real Food’s site and she has a whole post about these freeze pop molds. I’ve had them for about two months and I use them every week.

Berry/Spinach Smoothie
~1 1/2 cups plain yogurt
~1 cup frozen berries (if using fresh berries, add a cup of ice)
~2 tablespoons of honey or 2 tablespoons of maple syrup or 2 bananas
~3 tablespoons of milk
~1/2 cup fresh spinach leaves, chopped

Blend all ingredients in your blender until smooth. This recipe makes enough for 4 smoothie pops with about a cup leftover (which I drink immediately, of course!)

Another tip I found on My Sister’s Pantry (a great “real food” blog that I recommend you check out!)…you can freeze spinach into ice cubes to keep in the freezer so you always have some greens on hand to add to your smoothies. Just blend about 3 tablespoons of water with every cup of chopped up spinach (or whatever kind of greens you want to use) in your blender, pour into an ice cube tray and when frozen, pop them out and store them in a freezer bag.





By the way…according to the view out my back door…the answer to the title of this post is…NOT EVEN CLOSE! But we’re still going to make frozen smoothie pops anyways!



Biscuit Caprese Salad


In the rare event that you happen to make biscuits and then in the even more rare event that there happen to be leftover biscuits…you might discover that they are just not the same the next day. There is nothing like warm, flaky biscuits fresh out of the oven…but if they are still around the next morning…they have a tendency to be a bit lacking. Here is a perfect way to use them for breakfast or lunch. Turn them into a Caprese Salad. This is so good, that now whenever I make biscuits, I hide a couple so I’m sure to have them on hand for one of my favorite lunches the next day.

Biscuit Caprese Salad (serves 1 to 2)
~1 or 2 left over biscuits, cut up into 1 inch pieces
~1 large Tomatoe or a handful of cherry tomatoes, chopped
~1 to 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar (or whatever vinegar you have on hand)
~Olive oil
~Salt and pepper to taste
~1/2 teaspoon of dried basil or a few torn fresh basil leaves
~1/4 to 1/3 cup shredded mozzarella cheese (or cut up a cheese stick)

1. Place the biscuit pieces on a baking sheet covered with foil
2. Scatter the tomatoes over them, drizzle on a bit of olive oil, and sprinkle with the vinegar, salt and pepper, and dried basil (if using fresh basil, scatter it over the salad after you’ve heated it).
3. Top with the mozzarella cheese and place under the broiler for a few minutes until the cheese is melted. I usually just put everything on a piece of foil and heat it in my toaster oven if I am just fixing a small portion for myself.


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What Kind of Grilled Cheese Does Your Dog Like?

Katie: I love my mom’s grilled cheese! I like when she adds a bit of honey mustard on it. I think it tastes better with the honey mustard. My brother disagrees…he likes his grilled cheese plain. My dog, KC, likes it both ways. How do I know? Because he likes to steal them both. I’d say my second favorite lunch my mom makes is the honey mustard grilled cheese. I hope you like it too!

Debbie: We’re all about the comfort food around here this week. For the past few days the mercury has been fluctuating between 10 below and 10 above freezing. When you are looking forward to it warming up to the teens, you know you need some comfort food on the table! I’m sure most folks don’t need a recipe to know how to make a grilled cheese sandwich, but we’ve included one for any kids trying it for the first time. We also wanted to share some variations on the basic plain cheese sandwich in case you are more adventurous than Katie’s brother!

Grilled Cheese Sandwich

1. Melt a pat of butter in a pan over medium heat.
2. Butter the outsides of two pieces of whole wheat bread.
3. When the butter in the pan has melted, turn the heat down slightly and place one slice of bread in the pan, buttered side down.
4. Add your cheese (and other combination items if using) and top with the second slice of bread, buttered side up.
5. Heat for 3 to 5 minutes until slightly browned, flip the sandwich carefully and heat another 3 to 5 minutes on the other side.
6. Serve with fresh fruit or cherry tomatoes and a pickle (sweet or dill…you choose!)

Other combinations to try:
~cheddar cheese and sliced apples
~Monterey jack cheese, mustard and honey
~mozzarella cheese, sliced tomatoes, basil and a splash of balsamic vinegar
~spinach (sautéed in a little olive oil and garlic until just wilted), Brie cheese (rind removed) and apricot preserves
~pesto and mozzarella or provolone cheese
~Monterey jack or pepper jack cheese and avocado slices
~Camembert cheese (rind removed) and pear slices



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Buy or Bring?

I try to pack lunches for my kids as much as possible. With all of the bad publicity school lunch gets these days, you almost feel like a bad parent if you don’t. But, I must confess, sometimes the two sweetest words in the English language are “I’ll buy!”. When I hear those two words as I’m dragging gently urging my children out of bed, I know that my morning just got a bit more relaxed. Maybe I will sit down and watch “Martha Speaks” on PBS for a few minutes (secretly, one of my favorite TV shows ever, second only to “Mad Men”). Or maybe I can get some of those decorations off of the Christmas tree (yes, yes, I know it’s MLK day…why can I not get this tree down????). But on the days when I hear “I’ll bring” I have to buckle down and pack those healthy, economical and environmentally friendly lunches. And it’s challenging. Because if I’m going to take the time to pack them lunch, I do want it to be all of those things (or at least 2 out of 3!). If I am just going to throw a few pre-packaged, processed items together…what’s the point? I know that I’m not the only parent that struggles with this. Any trip down the aisles of a grocery store makes this very clear. Go-Gurt, Lunchables, Uncrustables. There is a huge market for convenience lunch items for kids. But we really need to take a closer look at what these time savers are made of.

Luckily, I discovered Lisa Leake’s blog One Hundred Days of Real Food. She is the queen of packing lunch and I have found so much inspiration on her site. One of the best ideas I have gotten from her is the use of Ziploc Divided Lunch Containers. These containers make it so easy to pack a variety of items efficiently without having to use a lot of plastic bags or wash a bunch of smaller containers. They are reusable, BPA free, and dishwasher safe. I’ve been using ours for a year and a half and still have not had to replace them (I have 4 containers and 2 kids). The compartments are individually sealed so food can be kept separate and there is no leaking. We use insulated lunch bags from Target (Embark brand) and the containers just fit inside along with an ice pack.

Head over to Lisa’s site for some amazing ideas along with pictures. If you have not been packing lunch, start small…set a goal to pack a real food lunch once a week and then add on as you can. Make sandwiches on the weekend, freeze them and then dole them out all week. If you pack the frozen sandwich in the morning, it will be thawed out by lunch.

Pictured is one of Katie’s favorite lunches…cream cheese/salsa roll ups, cherry tomatoes and popcorn. And yes, we did finally kick our tree to the curb…just in time to start decorating for Valentine’s Day!



Some questions for Katie about buy vs. bring…
Mom: So would you rather buy lunch at school or bring a lunch that I packed?
Katie: Buy.
M: (shocked and saddened look on my face) Why is that?
K: Well, because then I don’t have to worry about carrying my lunch bag out and putting it in the bin and then remembering to pick it up from the bin after recess…
M: (relieved look on my face) Oh…I meant the food…which food do you like better?
K: Oh…that depends on what they are serving at lunch.
M: So what is your favorite school lunch?
K: Chicken Tenders.
M: (thinking to myself…she hates any chicken dish that I make!!!) And what is your favorite lunch that I pack?
K: Tomato Soup in a thermos! (See our last post!)