Yesterday we marked the beginning of one of our favorite family traditions...The Giving Jar. If you missed the original post you can see it HERE. Basically, The Giving Jar is a way for us to serve our community and it's something we thought might help us all remember the true meaning of Christmas.
When we started this project 5 years ago, we hoped we would be able to continue doing it year after year but feared life might get busy or the kids schedules would make it nearly impossible to complete. However, what we're finding is that the longer we do it the more adamant the boys are about continuing the tradition. As the boys get older we're altering the tasks and adding a few more "hands-on" projects which really allow the boys to dig in and sereve others.
Our Giving Jar is probably my favorite Christmas decoration we own. It's a great centerpiece that serves as a constant reminder about the spirit of Christmas and that it is, in fact, better to give than to receive...something I hope my boys will always remember.
Every year I get a lot of requests from friends and blog readers asking for printables and I am happy to oblige. Click HERE or on the image below to download a Giving Jar planning calendar, Giving Jar tasks (including some blank boxes if you want to create your own tasks, Giving Jar tags, and numbers).
We are in the midst of hockey season up here in the northwoods and I'm gearing up for a big weekend between rinks. Our youngest son is in a tournament and our oldest plays in several games around the Twin Cities. On weekends like this I like to prep a lot of on-the-go snacks in an attempt to avoid concessions as much as possible. One of my boys favorite snacks is protein puppy chow. It's so easy to make and it's really filling...and it tastes oh, so good! I often double the batch so I can keep some on hand at home and have enough to fill snack bags the kids can grab on the go.
This recipe was modified slightly from a recipe provided by Food Faith Fitness.
- 1/2 c. chocolate chips
- 1/4 c. peanut butter (substitute sunbutter for peanut allergies)
- 1/4 c. honey
- 1.5 TBS coconut oil
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 4.5 c. Honey Nut Chex cereal
- 2/3 c. Jay Robb vanilla or chocolate protein powder
Melt the chocolate, peanut butter, honey & coconut oil in the microwave (10 second intervals, stirring between each one until mixture is smooth). Add vanilla and stir. Pour melted mixture over cereal and stir until combined. Pour protein powder into a large ziploc bag. Add cereal and seal bag, shake until the powder covers the cereal. Store in an airtight container.
They say breakfast is brain food making it the most important meal of the day. Sadly, mornings are usually the most chaotic time of day around here and my boys aren't all that hungry first thing in the morning. In order to get some nourishing food in them before they go to school I've discovered that having quick-and-easy breakfasts that they can eat on the go is essential.
Whether it's granola, smoothies, muffins, egg sandwhiches, or breakfast cookies...my goal is to get something in their system that packs a nutritional punch so their blood sugar is stabilized allowing them to stay alert and focused during the school day.
Today I'm sharing one of the easiest and most filling breakfast recipes I currently have in our rotation. These breakfast cookies are a powerhouse combo of protein, fiber, omega-3's so they are very filling. The best part is that they can easily be made ahead of time so they are easy for kids to grab as they are running out the door.
- 1 mashed banana
- ½ cup creamy peanut butter (or sunbutter)
- ½ cup honey
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 cup old fashioned oats
- ¼ cup almond flour
- 2 TBS ground flax seeds
- 1 TBS chia seeds
- ¼ cup vanilla or chocolate protein powder (my boys prefer Jay Robb Chocolate)
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ cup chocolate chips or raisins (my boys prefer chocolate chips)
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or a silpat mat.
- In a large bowl, stir together banana, peanut butter, honey, and vanilla.
- In a small bowl, combine oats, flour, ground flax, chia seeds, protein powder, cinnamon, and baking soda.
- Stir the oat mixture into the banana mixture until combined. Stir in raisins or chocolate chips.
- Using a scoop, drop mounds of dough 3 inches apart on prepared cookie sheets.
- Bake for 13-15 minutes or until browned. Transfer to wire racks to cool completely.
- Store in an airtight container or resealable plastic bag for up to 3 days. I like to split the batch and keep half in the freezer.
For portion control and to make it a little easier for the kids to grab on the way out the door, I usually package two cookies in a cookie bag. That way if they only want to eat one on the way to school they can keep the extra in the bag for later.
As many of you know, I have two growing boys...one teenager and one tween. What I'm learning about boys is that they can eat. A LOT! For a while I was so overwhelmed with how to keep them full that I started to let my standards slide. Pre-packaged snacks & fast food started creeping into their diets and we came pretty close to letting it become a regular occurence. The only problem was that it was costing us a fortune as those food choices seemed to only leave our boys hungry for more.
Both of our boys are very active in sports and the more reading I did about fueling teen athletes, the more important it became for me to provide them with nourishing food instead of junk. Especially since research shows that our muscles replenish glycogen much quicker when we eat within 30 minutes of a practice or a game. I realized that one of our biggest challenges was post-practice or post-games. The boys would come off the field, ice, or track (whatever season it might be) and they were H-U-N-G-R-Y! That's when we were most likely to grab packaged snacks or fast food.
A few months ago I started getting into the habit of pre-packing snack boxes on Sundays. Then when I'm running out the door to pick up the boys from their activities I have a quick, easy and nourishing snack for them to munch on while we drive home. The contents of the snack boxes vary depending on the season. Currently my son is in a stretch where football and hockey overlap. I've found that he's craving more fruits and veggies post-workout where when it was just football practice he asked for more protien cookies, muffins, etc...
Here's a peek at this week's snack boxes and if you keep scrolling down you'll find a printable of some of our make-ahead snack box staples!
I've found the Snapware 2-cup containers to be about the perfect size for packing snacks.
Here's a list of some of our snack box staples! You can download this list HERE.
*This post contains affiliate links to the Amazon store created by This Lunch Rox
Knock, knock...is anyone here?? I took a long hiatus from blogging as we transitioned into life with the boys at two different schools (one in Middle School and one in Elementary), multiple sports and activities, and a new job for my husband. Add to that, my boys both hit that growth phase where I had to spend some time adjusting to their appetites! Wow...growing boys sure can EAT!
It feels like we are finally settling into a rhythm (a chaotic rhythm at times), but a rhythm nonetheless. Over the past few months I've had several conversations with friends and fellow parents about the topic of food and it has really inspired me to get back to writing here on the blog. It seems there are a lot of us out there who struggle with how to fuel our kids with nutritious foods in a real and practical way.
Note the last few words I typed there..."REAL and PRACTICAL". If you've been following my blog for a while you might remember the cute, little lunches I packed for my boys. Well, my little boys aren't so little anymore so anything "cute" and "little" when it comes to food just doesn't cut it these days. With the increasing demands on our schedules with sports & other activities I've had to work hard to find practical ways to fuel their bodies with real food.
I'm excited to share recipes, kitchen tips & tricks, snack ideas, and other random things that are working well for us in this phase of life. You can also expect some posts about books we're reading and our travel adventures. I'm always open to ideas so if any of you are reading this and you have questions, ideas, suggestions, etc... please feel free to send me a message or leave a comment here on the blog. I'd love to hear from you!
Now for today's topic! MEAL PLANNING!!!! This is something I have struggled with for years...especially as the boys got more and more involved with sports. No matter what strategy I tried, I found myself almost always scrambling at the dinner hour.
This summer I spent some time organizing a system and we're nearly two months into the school year and I'm thrilled to say that so far this strategy is working! Below is an overview of how I'm planning our meals along with some FREE meal plan printables.
1) Schedule Dinner Themes
One of my biggest challenges with planning meals is that I get overwhelmed with all the options. By scheduling theme nights, it gives me some parameters when I sit down to plan out our meals for the week. I decided on the following theme nights for our family: Sunday Steak Night, Meatless Monday, Chicken or Seafood Tuesday, Breakfast for Dinner Wednesday, Beef Thursday, and Soupy Saturday.
Here's a list of theme ideas to consider: (You can download this as a printable HERE.)
2) Gather Recipes for Each Category
I'm finding that organization is key when it comes to meal planning. One of the most helpful things I've done for myself is to create Pinterest boards for each "dinner theme". For examples, I have Pinterest Boards titled "Breakfast for Dinner", "Chicken Recipes", "Steak Night", etc... I pin my tried and true recipes onto my boards along with anything other recipes I think my family would enjoy. This makes it easy for me when planning out our menu for the week and it also makes it convenient for storing recipes.
3) Make a Weekly Menu
I generally like to plan my weekly menu on Saturdays. That gives me time on the weekend to grocery shop and gather any ingredients I'll need for the rest of the week. I've found that I like writing out my menu (including the main dishes and sides) on the same page as my grocery list. You can download my Weekly Menu Printable FREE here.
5) Prep Ahead
Once I have my menu and purchased my groceries I like to prep ahead as much as possible. Anything I can do ahead like chopping fruit, vegetables, frying hamburger, etc...helps make things a little more efficient when I'm throwing meals together during the week.
I hope this is helpful for anyone else out there who is struggling with meal planning!
When I found out I was expecting my oldest son I started dreaming of the day I could share stories about both of his great grandfathers who served in WWII. I was so excited about it that I actually outfitted his nursery with WWII planes (my paternal grandfather was a B-17 pilot) and tanks (my maternal grandfather was a Lt. Colonel who drove a Jeep he named the "5 Jays") along with photos of my grandfathers.
My son outgrew his nursery long ago and it has since been transformed into a sports themed room, but I'm happy to say that he's finally hit a stage where he is truly passionate about all things WWII. Over the past few months he's been reading anything and everything he can find on the subject of WWII. And gone are the days of "kids movies"his movies of choice now include WWII classics such as: Twelve O' Clock High, The Longest Day, A Bridge Too Far, The Memphis Belle, and Tora! Tora! Tora!
As a former high school history teacher you can only imagine how delighted I am that he's so intrigued by this piece of American history. I also love that it connects him to a generation of men who answered the call of duty with bravery and perseverance. These are true American heroes and I love that my son is learning just how much of a sacrifice our service men and women make when they choose to serve our country.
I know as we head into the summer months I'm always looking for book ideas for my boys. I thought I'd share some WWII themed books that my son has enjoyed for those of you whose kids have a similar interest.
The Right Fight, Courage Has No Color, Candy Bomber, Once, Soldier Boys, The Boy Who Dared, Dog Tags(Not a WWII book, but still a great read), WWII Pilots, Shattered Sky, DK WWII, Scholastic Discover More WWII, The Journal of Scott Pendleton Collins, Under a War-Torn Sky, Maus, Bomb
You can see more book recommendations HERE.
Today's WWII themed lunch includes a turkey sandwich with white American cheese accents, turkey jerky, strawberries/blueberries, string cheese, and carrots all packed in a Planet Box Lunch Box.
As you may have noticed, my blog posts have been few and far between over the past several months. It's been quite a year for us as we adjusted to being a family of 5 with the addition of Filip. When the school year started I had grand intentions and lots of fun ideas for things to share here on This Lunch Rox. Then life happened. Reality hit. Both boys now had homework, we went from having to follow one hockey schedule to three, and I had to figure out how to feed three growing boys.
For the first few months I felt like I was treading water. I'd go to work, come home and cook, cook, cook, assist with homework, run one of the boys to the rink, cook, pick up said boy from the rink, and cook some more. (Did I mention how much three growing-hockey-playing boys can eat?!) It's been a great experience and I honestly wouldn't trade it for anything, but it did mean that I had to put things like writing blog posts on the back burner.
Combine that with the fact that we had one of the longest, coldest winters in Wisconsin's history and you can probably see why we decided a family vacation was in order. My husband and I have always placed a pretty high priority on traveling with the kids. There's something to be said about stepping out of your everyday routine and seeing something new together as a family. We love watching the boys explore their surroundings and make connections with things they've read or heard about in school. Plus, traveling is something we've found definitely strengthens our bond as a family.
Earlier this year we worked together on creating a family bucket list of all the places we wanted to try to visit before the boys go off to college. We prioritized the list and agreed that we were all willing to make sacrifices if it meant that we could travel to as many destinations as possible. This year we knew we wanted to go somewhere WARM. We referred to our bucket list and found The Alamo in San Antonio, TX near the top of our list.
Our boys first learned about The Alamo when they were younger and were both fascinated with the story of Davy Crockett. They watched every episode of the old b/w TV series along with the Disney movies. Our oldest son, who shares my love of history, has read every book I've been able to find about The Alamo and we wanted to make it a point to get him there before he lost interest. (You can see some of his favorite books about the Alamo HERE.) So, this past weekend we packed our bags and headed to the Lone Star State!
As soon as we arrived in San Antonio we walked down to the Alamo. Seeing my son's eyes light up when he saw it for the first time was pretty magical. He was in awe and I could see his wheels spinning as he connected all the things he'd read about the Battle of the Alamo with what he saw in front of him. I've come to realize that moments like this make it worth the effort it takes to travel with kids.
The next morning we took our time touring The Alamo and then strolled down the River Walk and ate some great local fare.
I'm finding that anytime we travel we're always a little surprised at what the boys list as highlights. This time the "table musicians" earned a spot on the list. They got a kick out having someone sing to them while they ate!
They also loved the boat tour of the River Walk!
Then, because we had such a long, cold, miserable winter we decided to spend a few days soaking up some sun at a resort just north of San Antonio. The JW Marriott Hill Country exceeded every expectationand no, they aren't paying me to say that! It was a great place for us to spend time unwinding and just being together as a family.
We spent some time hiking around the property which was breathtaking and oh, so peaceful.
It was a great trip and I was thrilled to have a chance to reconnect with my family. After the chaos of the past few months it felt like a much needed break for all of us.
Today's "Alamo Lunch" includes: peanut butter sandwich with white American cheese accents, strawberries/blueberries, granola bar, string cheese, celery with peanut butter all packed in a Planet Lunch Box.
If you've been following my blog for a while you know that children's literacy is something I'm truly passionate about. You also probably know that our oldest son was somewhat of a reluctant reader in his early elementary years. I've written a lot about some of the strategies and tactics we've used to help him and now that our son is in 5th grade I'm happy to report that he has learned to love reading!
One thing I've learned throughout this process is that it really does work best to let him take ownership in the books he's reading. He has developed a pretty strong sense of the types of books he's interested in...namely books with adventure/thriller/survival/mystery themes. He does a good job of finding books at the school library, but I also do my best to search for new titles within those genres as well. While I research a lot online some of the best book recommendations, not surprisingly, have come from friends who have boys. It has been a huge help to know what other boys my son's age have enjoyed and it helps me keep our bookshelves stocked with lots of options.
Simply stocking his shelves with books I *think* he will enjoy has helped tremendously. He rifles through the shelves until he finds something that catches his attention. If he starts reading a book and he doesn't find it interesting...he moves onto the next without any argument from me. I've learned to expect that he'll go through phases where he'll read books with complex characters and plots one week and the next he's back to comic books and fact books. The fact of the matter is that he finally loves reading and we no longer have to set the timer to ensure he's getting in his required reading minutes and that's really what it's all about.
I'm sharing this post just in case any of you have reluctant readers. Just know that all the effort you put into finding books your child might enjoy will pay off eventually!
Here are some of my son's favorite books...I thought I'd share if you're looking for ideas! He's read so many great books this year and I couldn't list them all here, but I will continue to add these titles to my Amazon list HERE if you're interested in browsing through the titles.
1) The Old Man and the Sea 2) The Hardy Boys Series 3) The Dive Series (Gordon Korman has several adventure series: Titanic, Island, Everest, etc..and my son has loved all of them!) 4) The River 5) Weird But True: History Facts 6) I Survived
A few more worth noting!
Last night was a WILD night to say the very least as our oldest son got to serve as the Flag Bearer at the NHL Wild vs. Tampa Bay Lightning game. It was a dream come true for him and I imagine it would be for most hockey loving kids, but it really was something bigger for our son and here's why. You see, when our son was just a few months old we started to notice that he was incredibly sensitive to noise. The start of our dryer, a motorcycle driving by outside, the vacuum cleaner, hair dryers...these are all things that typically sent him into an inconsolable crying fit. Many people said we were just too quiet around him and we needed to get him used to noise. My maternal instincts told me it was more than that.
Over the years we tried taking him to parades, noisy arenas, loud public places and while he could tolerate it for a while he usually broke down and we'd leave earlier than expected because he would get completely out of sorts. Luckily we have a wonderful pediatrician who heard our concerns and explained that he had something referred to as sensory processing disorder. She was confident that he would eventually grow out of it, but in the meantime she encouraged us to just keep exposing him to different environments knowing that it might take him longer to adjust than other kids.
We registered him for music classes, basketball, preschool and other activities. Slowly but surely we started to see a change in him. Just before Kindergarten he informed us that he wanted to play hockey. Now, unless you've parented a child with sensory issues there is really no way to explain how crazy that sounded. Playing hockey would mean getting into a lot of uncomfortable gear (helmet included) in a freezing cold rink that tends to be very loud at all times. However, he was determined to play, so we went ahead and signed up for the learn how to skate program. Both my husband and I were convinced that our son's hockey career would last one or two days at best!
He arrived at the rink for his first lesson with one of Hudson Hockey Association's finest...someone who stayed by his side the entire time and taught him first how to fall and then how to pick himself right back up again.
All the things we thought would be big issues for him with the cold, noise, gear, etc... turned out to be non-issues. He was so determined to learn how to skate that I don't think he had time to think about the things we thought might bother him. While we hadn't planned on signing him up for regular hockey season that's exactly what we did.
Throughout that time we saw his skating improve, but we also noticed that so many of the sensory issues we dealt with when he was younger were starting to dissipate. He was still pretty quiet and somewhat shy, but it seemed that he gained a little more confidence every time he stepped on the ice. And so we continued. One year led to the next...and he had one amazing coach after another.
I think it's safe to say that both my husband and I were shocked to see just how much confidence he gained each and every year...especially when he was on the ice.
Eventually, we hardly saw any of the sensory traits he struggled with as a toddler. The little boy who once gave away his surprise birthday zamboni ride at a MN Wild game because he couldn't bear the thought of being in front of a large, noisy crowd was growing up before our very eyes.
So imagine our delight when he was presented with an opportunity to be the flag bearer at a MN Wild game just weeks before his 11th birthday. He didn't hesitate for a moment when we asked if he wanted to do it. To give you a better understanding...this is a kid who begged for an FM radio when he was 5 years old so he could listen to the Wild games in bed at night, and who could rattle off player stats at a moments notice, and whose birthday wish every year since he started playing hockey was to go to a Wild game. Needless to say, this was truly a dream come true!
And I have to tell you, it was a dream come true for me as well. Watching my son do something that would have been next to impossible for him just a few years ago is incredible. I'll admit that my heart was racing when I saw him approach the ice last night and the camera projecting him onto the jumbotron was a little more than I could bear. I worried that he'd get scared or change his mind or panic or throw up...all the things a mother would worry about I worried about.
When he finally stepped onto the ice in the spotlight in front of 18,454 fans I realized we had reached a major milestone. It was a surreal moment and definitely something that was much bigger than simply being a flag bearer. What the sport of hockey has done for my child is really indescribable and for that I'll be forever grateful.
A Wild Flag lunch only seemed fitting for the day after such a spectacular event. The lunch includes: ham/cheese sandwich, strawberries, Quest protein bar, salad with parmesan cheese and sunflower seeds, dark chocolate all packed in a PLANET LUNCH BOX.
If you've been following my blog for a while you know that the Giving Project we do as we countdown to Christmas is by far one of my favorite holiday traditions. If you missed the original post you can see it HERE. Basically, The Giving Project is a way for us to serve our community and it's something we thought might help us all remember the true meaning of Christmas. When we started this project we hoped we would be able to continue doing it year after year, but feared life might get busy or the kids schedules would make it nearly impossible to complete. However, what we're finding is that the longer we do it the more adamant the boys are about continuing the project. This year we spent one day putting up all of our Christmas decorations up around the house. The ornaments were on the tree, the stockings were hung, the wreaths were on the doors, and my youngest son looked around and pointed out that we were missing the Giving Jar. Right then and there I knew that what we had started with the kids several years ago has very much become part of their Christmas tradition.
This Giving Project is something they look forward to doing and my hope is that they continue the tradition for years to come. Which is why, this year, I decided to do something a little different. You see...I wanted to create something I could pass down to my boys when they grow up and start families of their own. I asked my mom to make a set of envelopes I could use now while they are young, but could also serve as an heirloom to pass from one generation to the next.
With help from my dear friend, Jennifer, I was able to create a board for this years' project using the envelopes my mom created. It's a great centerpiece that serves as a constant reminder about the spirit of Christmas and that it is, in fact, better to give than to receive. Which is something I hope my boys will always remember.
Today's lunch represents some of our favorite Christmas traditions in our home. Included in the lunch is a sandwich gift to represent the gift of giving, cheese, celery with peanut butter, lefse (a traditional Norwegian food we have every year), and a pierniczki (a traditional Polish cookie representing Filip's heritage...a cookie that will definitely be part of our Christmas traditions from now on.)