Archive | August, 2013

Back to School Edition: What’s for Dinner Wednesday?? Lunch!

28 Aug
Our newly posted lunch menu. Good idea? We'll find out!

Our newly posted lunch menu. Good idea? We’ll find out!


My nemesis. It always has been, even when my kids were toddlers and preschoolers. I hate lunch. I hated coming up with lunch ideas. I also hated relying too heavily on things like chicken nuggets, hot dogs and mac and cheese. Although all have their place, they couldn’t all be every day occurrences. We didn’t love sandwiches at the time, our choices seemed few.

First kid enters first grade, and it’s time to send in lunches. The other option–buy school lunches.

What to send? Who likes what? Who likes nothing? Who wants to spend $2.25 on school lunches that may be less than stellar?

And so it went, on and on. Each couple of years or so, another child entered full day school and the lunch issue hovered over us. It didn’t consume us, it was just a pain, trying to figure out lunches.

This past school year, I wrote about Elizabeth’s desire for better lunchtime choices and her new cookbook, purchased with her own money, “The Lunch Box.” Last year, Caroline and I won the Healthy Lunchtime Challenge and traveled to DC for the first Kids’ State Dinner, and Alexandra came in second place for the Jr. Chefs Competition in our school district with her Healthy Sunshine Salad.

I felt like this coming school year, we just had to do better.

I thought about it all summer as we tried out different lunches at home from various cookbooks. In the meantime, my kids also changed a little bit in that they all suddenly seemed to love sandwiches. We joked when we were at Subway one day that we could name some of the sandwiches after them, “The Alexandra, The Caroline, The Elizabeth” because they each had their favorites and they’d sometimes order their sisters’ favorites instead of their own.  We started recreating their favorites at home on occasion too, and they’d start ordering them by name, as if on a menu.

That’s when an idea hit me. Good idea, bad idea, we’ll see as the year goes on.

I had the idea to make a list of all the things they loved to eat that I could put into a lunchbox pretty easily, so that similar to the school menu that comes home each month, they could pick and choose what they’d like for lunch from home and as long as I had the items on hand in the house, I could make them some lunches with more variety than what’s now known as “The Usual” (pb&j).

The girls and I sat one day and came up with our lists. We started with our new-found love: sandwiches. Then we added salads, something Alex always loves to take and something easy enough to change up depending on your tastes. We thought about sides–healthy fruits, vegetables and dips/dressings etc. Finally, we added in specials: the things that they get to take only when we have leftovers from the night before–pasta with meatballs, mac and cheese, things like that.

It looked good! I even had my own sandwich, “The Mommy,” which is Nutella, Peanut Butter and Banana on a fat free wrap.

I printed it out. It took up three pages, with all the choices we’d come up with. Is this something I could maintain all year? Something I could manage?

I’m not sure. But, I’m going to try.

Mix and match, grab and go, fast and easy!

Mix and match, grab and go, fast and easy!

Keeping our already-chosen dinner meal plan in mind for leftovers (or “specials”), and knowing that my days are a little more open this first week of school, we came up with a decent list of lunches for each of the kids. Caroline’s newly into braces and still needed something soft the first day because they’d been tightened the day before. Elizabeth chose something that might sound complicated--Baby Quiches, but is fast and easy to prep early in the week and grab and go. Salads made the list for each of them on one of the day; I was thrilled.

The night before school, I mixed up one dozen eggs in a bowl. I added some milk, and grabbed a muffin tin. Into it I put some spinach and cheese in six of the cups, ham and cheese in six more, and since I still had leftover egg, I did just cheese in three more. 25 minutes later I had 15 mini quiches, or whatever you’d like to call them, for anyone’s taste. I put them into ziploc bags labeled with the chosen variety on them and put all the bags into a bucket in my fridge. Done. Lots of lunches. Both Alex and Liz took those on the first day and they’re scheduled to take them again later in the week, if they last that long.

I don’t know how this new system will work out. I do know how crazy our weeks get, but I feel like at least we’re trying; we’re making an effort to have a good variety of healthy choices for everyone to eat for lunch. And I feel like for every day that we can’t pull it off, and they have to have “The Usual,” there will be so many more days that we can.

I am a keeper of lists. I need to see things in print or I forget about them. I have lists of smaller lists. I now have a list of lunch ideas to keep things creative in our lunchboxes this year.

We’ll see how it goes.

In the meantime, on this first day of school, it’s time for lunch!


Monday Musings: It’s over and done…have a cookie.

26 Aug
All's quiet as we prepare for the first day back to school, back to routine.

All’s quiet as we prepare for the first day back to school, back to routine.

Well folks, that’s that.

Summer’s over, at least for us. The best two months of the calendar year have flown by, but they’ve been two wonderful months, for sure.

Tomorrow is the first day back to school.

We’ll be starting our first year where both our elementary kids are on the intermediate hallway. No more primary grades. Ever.

We’ll be starting our last year of middle school for our first kid. Next year…high school.


On a happy note…only ten more months until summer.

To celebrate, let’s have a cookie.

A couple of weeks back I tried out a new recipe, modified it for our needs, and it was a huge success. So today I’m sharing that recipe with you. Enjoy your week, munch on a cookie, it makes everything seem better.

These were in a new cookbook I received from a family friend recently. Everyone loved them!

These were in a new cookbook I received from a family friend recently. Everyone loved them! They’d make a great after school snack!

Nestle Toll House Chocolate Chip Oat Cookies

(with our modifications in italics)
1 1/4 cups packed brown sugar
1 cup butter (we use I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
2 tablespoons milk (we use skim)
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 3/4 cup white flour (we did one cup of white and 3/4 cup wheat flour)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt (optional and I did NOT add it in)
2 1/2 cups uncooked quick-cooking or old fashioned rolled oats
1 pkg. Semisweet Chocolate morsels
1 cup coarsely chopped nuts (optional and I did NOT add it in)
Heat oven to 375 degrees.
In large mixing bowl combine brown sugar, butter and granulated sugar.
Beat at medium speed until light and fluffy.
Add eggs, milk and vanilla.
Beat at medium speed until well blended.
Add flour, baking soda and salt.
Beat at low speed until soft dough forms.
Stir in oats, chocolate chips and nuts.
Drop by heaping teaspoonfuls 2″ apart on ungreased cookie sheets.
Bake for 9-10 minutes for chewy cookies or 12-13 minutes for a crisp cookie (I DID TEN.)
Let cool for 1 minute before removing from cookie sheets. Cool completely before storing.

Makes approximately 5 dozen cookies.

Fun Friday: Spanish Flan

23 Aug
Subliminal message for me.

Subliminal message for me.

Elizabeth wanted me to make flan.

Really badly.

She saw flan featured on “Sabrina The Teenage Witch,” and figured if it was so great on the show, enough that an entire episode was devoted to it, then it must be so great in real life too.

I had to make it.

She even found me a lower-fat recipe so that we could make one that everyone in our family could try.

We bought the key ingredients.

They sat on our counter for weeks.

I kept forgetting.

It’s not like I don’t ever do *anything* around here.

So I finally told her to get a piece of paper and write me a note and leave it on the table for the next day, a Friday.

I think instead of a note, I got a reminder poster. It was easily a 9×12 piece of paper.

But it worked, I remembered.

How could I forget, with a note like that?

That next day we set to work, making our flan. I personally LOVE flan. I love anything flan-like. Puddings, custards, things like that. Love them.

So I was very excited to try this out.

Recipe or science experiment? Both!

Recipe or science experiment? Both!

The recipe was easy enough to follow and it was one of those that was like a science experiment. I love that too. The sugar had to be cooked on the stove until it turned a light caramel color and liquified. The kids had never seen that before. It was neat to see and to show them.

The other very cool thing about this recipe was that you cook the flan “right side up” but you serve it upside down.

Once the sugar was liquified, Elizabeth poured it into a pie plate and it hardened right away, which was also very cool. (Cool to see, but hot to the touch, which we learned the hard way.)

She mixed the rest of the ingredients, poured them on top of the hardened sugar and then it was ready to bake for one hour.

Elizabeth was very excited that we were finally making her requested recipe.

Elizabeth was very excited that we were finally making her requested recipe.

Although the prep is relatively quick, the cooking and cooling parts in order to get to the eating part take some time.

While the flan cooked we ate our lunch, and while it cooled, we went and ran some errands. We came back hungry, perfect timing for trying out our new dessert.

I had a little bit of trouble getting the flan out of the pan. Although it was cool and we’d flipped it upside down, it wasn’t coming out. However, using a technique only known to soon-to-be-fifth-graders apparently, Elizabeth banged on the bottom of the baking dish which was now facing bottom up, and out it slid.

“See Mom? I told you that would work. I told you to do it my way,” she said.

This is how our flan looked when it came out of the oven, before we flipped it over.

This is how our flan looked when it came out of the oven, before we flipped it over.

I’m a big “I told you so” person too, so I can’t disagree. She did, in fact, state that I should try banging on the bottom of the dish.

We thoroughly enjoyed our afternoon snack. We had both Cool Whip and Whipped Cream available for topping off the flan, since some people like one or the other. I had to restrain myself from having more than one piece. I was trying to lead by example, but I really wanted at least two slices. I had to walk away. Literally.

Before I share the recipe that Elizabeth found with you, I have to share one more funny tidbit. The girls had recently seen the movie “Napoleon Dynamite,” which is a really silly movie, but the kids got a kick out of it. In this very silly movie there is a character named Lafonda. Having just seen the movie, Elizabeth decided she would actually name her Spanish Flan.

The name she chose: Laflanda.

And now, without further ado, here is the recipe she found for Spanish Flan, on one of our favorite sites:

Our finished product, Elizabeth's special request: Spanish Flan.

Our finished product, Elizabeth’s special request: Spanish Flan aka Laflanda.


Recipe makes 1 – 9 inch round
  • 1 cup white sugar

  • 3 eggs

  • 1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk

  • 1 (12 fluid ounce) can evaporated milk

  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
  2. In a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, melt sugar until liquefied and golden in color. Carefully pour hot syrup into a 9 inch round glass baking dish, turning the dish to evenly coat the bottom and sides. Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, beat eggs. Beat in condensed milk, evaporated milk and vanilla until smooth. Pour egg mixture into baking dish. Cover with aluminum foil.
  4. Bake in preheated oven 60 minutes. Let cool completely.
  5. To serve, carefully invert on serving plate with edges when completely cool.

Monday Musings: raising socially conscious kids

19 Aug
You wouldn't think that buying a doll could help others, but it can.

You wouldn’t think that buying a doll could help others, but it can.

This has been an amazing, interesting summer.

We have had our usual tons of fun at the beach, visiting with family, and taking advantage of some local tourist attractions we hadn’t visited yet.

But there’s been more than that, and it’s really had me thinking over the past week or so.

Our kids have been really trying hard to find ways to make a difference in the lives of others more than ever, this summer.  They seem to have really found a global awareness of the plight of others, to have developed a true social consciousness. I find the whole thing interesting, amazing, and of course, I’m so proud of them. They’ve always wanted to find ways to help others, they’re always asking and searching, but this summer it seems they’ve found ways on more than one occasion to put their desires to help into action.

Summer started out with Elizabeth’s birthday, which she dedicated to raising money and supplies and creating crafts for the local Ronald McDonald House. The idea was one she came up with herself, and I wrote about it here. We were so proud of her.

We are grateful to be able to help others with these bags of snacks and drinks, but those who receive them are giving blessings to us in return.

We are grateful to be able to help others with these bags of snacks and drinks, but those who receive them are giving blessings to us in return.

Then came the second Healthy Lunchtime Challenge/Kids’ State Dinner 2013, which although we didn’t attend this year, we were privy to all of the excitement that we got to read about on our Facebook group page. It was on there, that I read this article about Braeden Mannering of Bear, Delaware, this year’s HLC winner from that state. In the article I read about Braeden creating what he called his “Brae Bags,” which he keeps on hand, filled with food, water and brochures; “a soup-kitchen-to-go” as he calls them, to help people who are in need whenever he encounters them. I was particularly struck by Braeden’s idea of his bags because all of my kids are always asking what we can do to help those who are homeless or in need, whenever we pass them on the road. I never had a good answer, until I read the article about Braeden. I thought it was such a great idea that I read it to my kids and they agreed. We went out a few days later and bought supplies to fill our own bags (cereal bars, a bottle of water, fruit snacks and two pieces of hard candy) which we handed out to people as we came across them in our travels. We first filled six bags and within about seven days we filled six more. We keep them in a cardboard box in our car, ready to go. It gives us all a great feeling to be able to help someone else in need. We filled our bags with items from Dollar Tree, so it’s not a costly way to help others, and the value far outweighs the cost. Although we are helping others, it is us who leave feeling blessed. It’s reminded all of us how lucky we are and how little it takes to help someone else.

It was this tidbit that sealed the deal for Elizabeth. She fell in love with the doll and the ability to help others with her purchase.

It was this tidbit that sealed the deal for Elizabeth. She fell in love with the doll and the ability to help others with her purchase.

Recently we started to give our kids an allowance each week. It’s a new initiative at our house and so far it’s gone well. It’s good to see the girls working hard, saving money for college (part of their allowance goes into savings) and saving money for fun things they’ve always eyed but been unable to buy. Elizabeth found a new kind of doll at Target, and I was fascinated when she told me all about the Hearts for Hearts dolls and why she wanted to buy one. It turns out that each doll is from a particular country and comes with their own story. The doll she first fell in love with, as she tells it, was the one from Afghanistan, and the biggest thing for Elizabeth was that by purchasing her, learning her story, which is quite sad, she was helping girls from around the world who are less fortunate than she is. You can read more about that here. This doll is one of her top favorites and since she’s gotten her, she’s already started planning her next purchase.

And finally, for now anyway, around the same time, Elizabeth stumbled across another Target initiative. They’ve teamed up with FEED USA, to offer a wide variety of products designed to help feed children and families across the country. That’s all she needed to hear. Having gone a whole school year last year with the same backpack from the previous year, I’d promised her an update for this school year. When she saw that Target had a backpack in the lineup of items for the FEED USA program, she insisted that had to be her backpack. Each item in the product line has a number stamped on it, the number of people it will feed by your purchasing it. Her backpack which would cost $28 at full retail price (I never pay full price for anything) and would feed 28 people. She was thrilled. We had to order it online because our store is sold out of many of the FEED USA items. I used my Target Red Card which got me free shipping and saved me an additional 5% off the price and I had a $5 Target gift card as well. For $23 we fed 28 people. Since the backpack hasn’t arrived yet, I don’t have a photo to show you. Once I do, I’ll add it in.

So all in all, it’s been a great summer. We’ve spent time with family, been to the beach, a mansion, and a water park. We’ve fed 28 people across the country and helped at least seven of those who are homeless in our own community. We’ve also helped to ease the plight of girls less fortunate than us around the world and given some comfort to those whose children are receiving treatment at our local hospitals. We’ve been busier than I thought.

Our awareness of others in need and of our own blessings has been raised significantly. I can’t point to just one thing that made the difference, but rather a combination of things we’re all involved with, from church, to school to scouts, to national events, to our dinner table conversations. Whatever it is, I’ll take it. I like the socially conscious people that our children are becoming and I hope that we as parents can help to encourage that type of social awareness even further in the coming months and years so that when we let our children go out into the world on their own, we can be proud of the adults they’ve become.

Coming soon to theaters near you!

15 Aug
My two One Direction fans await the opening of "This is Us" in theaters near you!

My two One Direction fans await the opening of “This is Us,” coming soon to theaters near you!

When my kids were little and they saw a commercial for an upcoming movie, they’d beg to see it and they’d say, “But it’s coming soon to theaters near you,” as if those words meant that we absolutely must see it.

Even though they’re now much bigger, they still get very excited when a new movie is coming out, so when they heard that there was a One Direction movie, “This is Us,” coming out on August 30, Elizabeth in particular was very excited.

She’s a big fan.

That’s putting it mildly.

Her bed is surrounded by One Direction posters. The members of the band watch over her while she sleeps and plays and does her homework.

We have really enjoyed the movies we’ve seen in the past which chronicle the lives of the singers we love to listen to on the radio, and we’re betting that we’re going to love “This is Us,” just as much. We like getting a glimpse into the real lives of the band members, what they were like as younger children, or “lads” as they call themselves, as well as getting to see them day in and day out as their tour takes place. It’s exciting to see lives that are so different from our own.

Elizabeth and I decided to do a little bit more exploring about this movie, now that we knew it was coming soon.

The official movie sites looked great!

We visited this one and noticed that besides all the great photos on the opening page, there was a countdown to the opening of the movie! How fun! From there, we visited the Sony site, where we watched not one, but two great movie trailers. Elizabeth and I thought that both trailers were good, and that the movie looks excellent. We love seeing the behind-the-scenes aspect of the singers’ lives when we watch these types of movies. I actually got a little bit sad when I watched one of the trailers and the band members were stating that the hardest part of being on the road was being away from their families. I can’t even imagine!

I’m sure that as soon as “This is Us” comes out, we’ll be heading to a theater near us to check it out! In the meantime, if you’re interested, you too can visit any of the official sites mentioned above, or you can click on any of the social media sites below for even more One Direction excitement!

Be among the first to see the movie (your daughter will love you for it)


Be among the first to see the movie! Your daughter will love you for it!

*Please note that this is a sponsored post. However, all of the thoughts portrayed in the post are my own.*

What’s For Dinner Wednesday: DIY Pasta

14 Aug
Choose your own toppings. You can have all of it, some of it or none of it!

Choose your own toppings. You can have all of it, some of it or none of it!

I know I’ve said it before, but it’s awfully hard to come up with new and exciting meals AND please the taste buds of five different people.

Last week we were having the “what to have for dinner” dilemma again. It was a nice night and warm, so we didn’t want to heat up the kitchen a whole lot by turning on the oven.

Don looked around and sized up the refrigerator and pantry situation.

It was looking like pasta.


But wait! Not just plain old pasta. Not again. Not this time. Even though plain old pasta would make a couple of people pretty happy, there were others of us who were craving something bigger and better.

So Don came up with a compromise.

DIY Pasta. A pasta bar of sorts. Build-your-own pasta dinner.

He boiled up some linguine, made up a quick marinara sauce.

I liked it all!

I liked it all!

Then, he sauteed some shrimp and veggies; a whole bunch of different veggies all mixed together. He used Valerie’s cast iron skillet to cook them up.

The house was smelling wonderful!

And the best part: we were going to be eating outside on the deck, a favorite summer treat that we do as often as we can.

Once everything was finished and ready to go, we lined it all up on the outdoor table in a row.

You could have plain pasta.

You could have pasta with sauce.

You could have pasta with sauce and some veggies or lots of veggies or veggies and shrimp!

You could add cheese on top, or not.

It was truly a customized meal, and it was fun to watch the kids build their pasta dishes.

I, of course, ate it all. I took linguine, added sauce, and threw my shrimp and veggies on top with some cheese.

It was another A+ meal by Don, and we all enjoyed whatever part of it we chose to eat.

So if you’re looking for something fun and different this week, look around your pantry and  your fridge and see what you can throw together to create your own DIY meal!

The kids had fun building their own pasta dinners!

The kids had fun building their own pasta dinners!

What’s for Dinner Wednesday: Tracey’s Pork Schnitzel

7 Aug
This was a delicious new meal for us!

This was a delicious new meal for us!

My mom discovered the Tracey’s Culinary  Adventures blog several months ago and since then she has tried some of her recipes. When she loves them she passes them on to us. Tracey also happens to be a local blogger so I enjoy sharing her blog with others.

Today’s recipes is one of those that my parents tried and loved, and sure enough we loved it too.

When my they tried Tracey’s Pork Schnitzel, they made just one change. Here is what my mom wrote to me:

“We tried this tonight and thought it was a winner. The only thing we did different was to deglaze the pan with white wine and lemon juice once the pork was cooked and out of the pan. Then we poured that “sauce” over the pork.” 

Don did the same thing when he cooked our meal and it was wonderful. I served this with couscous, homemade applesauce, and sauteed green beans. I’d definitely make it again. We actually purchased thin cut pork chops from Aldi’s so we didn’t need to pound ours at all.

Tracey’s blog is full of great recipes and I encourage you to check it out!

Here is the recipe as she has it on her blog. She had taken it from the May 2013 issue of Cooking Light magazine:

Pork Schnitzel
from Cooking Light, May 2013

4 (4 oz) boneless center-cut pork chops
1/4 cup milk (I used 1%)
1 large egg, lightly beaten
3/4 cup plain breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil

Using a meat mallet (or whatever you have – a skillet or rolling pin would be fine), pound each of the pork chops until they are 1/8-inch thick.

In a wide, shallow dish, beat the milk and egg with a fork until combined. In a second dish, stir together the breadcrumbs, parsley, garlic powder, and pepper. Season the pork chops on both sides with the salt. Dip in the egg mixture, coating both sides and letting the excess drip off, then transfer to the breadcrumb mixture, covering each side with an even layer.

Set a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of the oil and heat until shimmering. Place two of the pork chops in the pan and cook for about 2 minutes on each side, or until the coating is golden brown and the pork is cooked to your desired doneness. Transfer the pork to a plate and tent to keep warm. Repeat with the remaining tablespoon of oil and the remaining two pork chops.