Meal Planning

Oct. 11, 2016

Knock, 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.

Meal Planning by This Lunch Rox


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.)

Dinner Theme Ideas

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.

Menu Planning by This Lunch Rox

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!



Jun. 4, 2014

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.

San Antonio

Apr. 25, 2014

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.

Book Hunt

Mar. 13, 2014

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!

- The You Choose Series

- Interactive History Series

- Gregor the Overlander Series

Wild Night

Feb. 5, 2014

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.

Giving Project

Dec. 10, 2013

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.)





Nov. 26, 2013

Some of you may have noticed that I've been writing on my blog sporadically at best this fall. I mentioned in my last blog post that I had good reason so today I thought I'd share a bit about why it's been so quiet here over the past few months. You see, every year starting in August/September my work schedule gets pretty intense (it's the nature of the beast in my industry). Combine that with the kids starting school, the fact that I'm typically organizing travel plans for the year, gearing up for the start of hockey season, etc... well, let's just say that life gets a little crazy around here. For the past 6-7 years we've done what we could do brace ourselves for "busy season", but each and every year seemed a little crazier than the one before. While our schedule and daily life felt somewhat out of control during those stretches I found comfort in that everyone around me seemed equally busy. I began to wonder if maybe "busy" was the new black. It seems a lot of people, my family included, were running from one thing to the next in a state of self-imposed busyness.

Then last Fall I stumbled upon an article titled "The Busy Trap"by Tim Kreider. Wow. Talk about an article that nearly knocked me out of my chair. I read the article not once, not twice, but three times in a row. I printed it, highlighted it, let it soak in, and did a lot of self reflection on how I was contributing to our "crazy busy" schedule.

In the article the author says, "People are busy because of their own ambition or drive or anxiety, because theyre addicted to busyness and dread what they might have to face in its absence.Almost everyone I know is busy. They feel anxious and guilty when they arent either working or doing something to promote their work." That part hit me like a ton of bricks. As an entrepreneur I feel wired to work. I pride myself on my ability to multitask and manage a heavy workload...especially with a lot of looming deadlines. Then I read further in the article where Kreiger follows up saying, "Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day."

Right then and there I decided that this year would be different. I didn't want "busy" to be the pace of life our kids remembered about their childhood, nor did I want busyness to serve as their existential reassurance. No longer was I going to fill my schedule so full that I had to sacrifice my quality of life at home. No longer would I stress myself out trying to write blog posts, promote my work, or anything else that would push me into the "crazy busy" category. It's not to say that we aren't involved in activities. The boys are still involved in school activities, they still play hockey, I'm still working. The difference this year is that I'm doing everything I can to protect our schedules. It's meant turning down work, saying no to some speaking/traveling opportunities, taking a break from writing on my blogs, limiting time on social media, etc...

Becoming purposely "unbusy" has allowed me to enjoy Fall, one of my favorite seasons of the year, for the first time in a very long time. I feel reconnected with my family and I've been rediscovering things that feed my creativity. Obviously this has been a great thing for my family, but I also have to say that it's been great for my business as I'm much happier with the quality of the work I'm producing now that I don't feel so rushed and hurried. Which leads me to my favorite part of the entire article where the author states, "Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets. The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done. "

So, there you have it...a little explanation as to why the blog has been relatively quiet for the past few months. I have no plans to stop writing as this blog does serve as a creative outlet for me. I just hope you'll understand if the posts aren't as frequent as they've been in the past.

Today's "quick-and-easy" lunch seemed fitting considering today's topic. The lunch includes peanut butter roll-ups on lavash bread, broccoli, raspberries/blueberries, hard boiled eggs, almonds, almond flour chocolate chip cookiesall packed in a Planet Lunch Box

All eyes

Oct. 31, 2013

Happy Halloween, everyone! Today's post isn't exactly a "lunch". You see, over the years we've struggled with how to manage dinner on Halloween night. We've tried time and time again to have the boys sit down and eat dinner with us before we head out Trick or Treating. However, it seems the boys are always far too excited to sit down and eat a meal which means they leave the house with empty bellies. Then while we are out and about collecting candy in the neighborhood the kids eat a piece here and there and here and there and here and there (I'm sure some of you can relate). By the time we get home the boys are so full on candy the last thing they want to think about is eating dinner which usually means they go to bed with yucky tummies.

This year I thought I'd try to mix it up a bit and offer a heavy after school snack before the excitement of Trick-or-Treating has hit. My hope is that the food will sustain them and maybe even keep them from consuming massive amounts of candy. Having said that, if you've been following my blog for a while you know that I like for my kids to enjoy treats on special occasions and tonight is definitely one of those nights. It's a chance for my kids to experience a tradition and build memories with family and friends. It seems the older my kids get, the better able they are to regulate themselves when it comes to consuming candy and/or other junk food. This leads me to believe that all the effort we've put into educating our kids about how food impacts their bodies and encouraging them to be mindful of what/how much they eat is finally paying off! We'll see if the same holds true with all the treats tonight, but I'm hopeful this snack might just do the trick! (Pardon the pun.)

Now because both of my boys seem beyond anything "cute" for Halloween I decided to create a snack that's a little more "creepy" than cute. This "I've Got My Eyes On You" snack includes: English muffin pepperoni pizza, hard boiled egg, banana toast with "Nutella", grapes, ChocoPerfection Mint Chocolate Mini Candy Bar.


Oct. 22, 2013

You may have noticed that I've been unusually quiet here on the blog over the last few weeks and I have a good explanation, but I'm going to save that for another post. Today I want to share something that has become one of my kids' favorite traditions around this time of year...The "Boo Basket". When my boys were little an anonymous neighbor left a basket full of Halloween goodies on our doorstep with a note saying that "We'd Been Boo'd". My kids were delighted and poured over the treats for days. It was such a fun experience not only receiving the surprise, but also paying it forward! We decided right then and there that we wanted to continue this tradition.

Each and every year the boys look forward to delivering the baskets and we all love seeing how far the Boo Baskets spread around town. When we go out Trick or Treating it's so neat to see a variety of "We've Been Boo'd" signs hanging on a number of doors. I love this new tradition for several reasons, but mostly because I think it helps foster a sense of community among neighbors.

The boys had fun helping me put together this year's baskets and last night they successfully delivered them without being seen(although if my neighbors read this blog post I may have just blown their neighbors, if you're reading this, SHHHH!!!!).

This year we filled the baskets with mechanical pencils, notebooks, mini erasers, eyeball bouncy balls, plastic spiders, and sheets of stickers!

Below I've created a "You've Been Boo'd" Free Printable for my readers for any of you who would like to do this with your own kids! Click HERE for the FREE DOWNLOAD!

To celebrate our annual "Boo Basket" tradition I created a Boo-themed lunch which included: turkey ghost sandwich with white American cheese accents, grapes, broccolini, gluten-free snickerdoodle cookies, almonds



Sep. 25, 2013

It's been quiet here on the blog over the past few weeks, but I promise it's for good reason. Two weeks ago we decided (rather spontaneously) to host a 19-year old hockey player from Poland for the 2013-2014 season. Being a billet family is something we've talked about in years' past but the timing never felt right. That is, until this year, when we heard a player had arrived from Poland as a late add to the team roster. We talked about how fun it would be to host someone from another country and to give him a "taste" (pardon the pun) of America. Without giving it a lot of thought we called the billet family coordinator and told her we might be interested. At that point we learned that another family was already considering taking him so we assumed it wasn't meant to be. Fast forward one week and we got a phone call from the coordinator telling us that the other housing arrangement fell through and that if we were still up for it we could be his new host family.

We received that call on a Thursday and she asked if we could be ready for him on Monday of the next week. Anyone who knows me well can probably imagine what the next 72 hours looked like. My first step was to call my parents to see if they could come up and help with preparations. They arrived the next day and we kicked it into high gear preparing a room in our house for him, rearranging our kitchen to make room to extend our table to seat five, and organizing pantry cupboards to make sure we had room for all the food it would take to feed a 19 year old athlete.

Here's a little peek at the room we pulled together over the weekend including the Polish Flag wall art my Dad made using salvaged wood along with two new nightstands he built from scratch. (It pays to have a handyman for a Dad!)

By Monday morning we were all beyond excited to welcome Filip into our home. The boys were a little awestruck at first but it didn't take long before they were showing him around the house and talking about all the fun things we could do while he is here.

Since his arrival I can safely say that having Filip join our family was definitely meant to be. There is no question that he is the perfect fit for us! He's quiet, well-spoken, very polite, hard working, witty...the list goes on and on. We couldn't have asked for a better role model for the boys. Combine that with the fact that the kid LOVES to eat which is great because I LOVE to cook! And cook I do...feeding a 6'3" 19-year old athlete could be a sport in and of itself.

Before Filip arrived I think we were all anxious to teach him about life in America, but the fact of the matter is that we're learning a lot more from him. Hearing his about his life in Poland and dreams for the future is both fascinating and inspiring. It's definitely an honor to be his host family!

Today's lunch represents Filip's home country POLAND (a.k.a. Polska) and includes a peanut butter sandwich on Lavash bread with homemade fruit roll up and white American cheese accents, strawberries, cheese curds, tomatoes, hard boiled egg, and a Polish candy bar Filip brought for the boys to enjoy!