My Favorite School Lunch Supplies

The very first posts that I shared on my Instagram account were those of my oldest's lunchbox when she started Moms Day Out in the Fall of 2015. At that point, I was a young mom, feeding my first kid, and still very much figuring out the ins and outs of not only packed lunches but also picky eaters.

Since then, I have packed hundreds of lunches and learned a lot along the way. I have found products I loved, realized which ones are unnecessary and which are essential, and come up with an arsenal of the best lunch packing supplies.

So if you are doing some back to school shopping for items to use in your child's school lunch, check out my recommendations below. You'll quickly see which are essential, as well as get a bit more insight on the extra special product additions we enjoy.


For most of us moms, we were raised on the good ol' Ziplock bag. In my case, I can recall my parents always wrapping sandwiches in plastic wrap and otherwise using those plastic bags that folded over the top for everything else (instead of zipped). Rarely was there a tupperware tossed in and even then, it was most definitely not compartmentalized.

As a kid, I remember thinking how "all the cool kids" got zip-top bags in their lunch and envied those over my "fold over the top" types. Now, there are so many items to redefine what makes a "cool lunchbox." What is most ironic about it though, is many of the items shared below are intended to make packing school lunches EASIER on your, not the other way around.

So check out the items I share under each of the following steps to see which items I recommend you stock up on for this school year. Then, be sure to snatch the coupon codes (where available) so that you can save a bit more on your back to school shopping!

The Best Back to School Lunch Packing Supplies

 

The Best Back to School Lunch Packing Supplies

Please note that some of the following lunch packing supplies include affiliate links. These do not cost you more money, but help Veggies & Virtue continue to grow and offer you fun free resources like this post. For more on my disclosure policy, please visit my legal page here.


Step 1: Add Food

To pack a lunchbox, you don't actually have to have a bento box or lunch box (although I highly encourage that you do). While other approaches to packing lunches have worked for generations, I have to say I am 110% on the bento box band wagon.

Bento box systems (like Yumbox) or compartmentalized tupperware containers (like EasyLunchboxes) are seriously sanity savers. Instead of opening up, filling, and sealing several little containers or bags for your child, you can put everything that is needed in one single container and call it lunch. Not only does this waste less, but it gives you an obvious platform to pack a lunch from.

 
best lunch packing supplies yumbox

Yumbox

This is the bento box we have used since my oldest's first day of school. She is now 3.5 and still uses the same Yumbox we bought for her first year of Mom's Day Out in the Fall of 2015. I shared a previous product review of the Yumbox here if you would like more product details. Since the time of this review, we have also added the MiniSnack and Tapas boxes to our lunch packing arsenal and love each of them in their own ways. I recommend these lunchboxes to anyone who wants a high-quality, long-term lunch-packing solution.

For 20% off your order (in the month of August), use code YUM20 when ordering on Amazon (affiliate link) or www.yumboxlunch.com.

 

EasyLunchboxes

Okay, so these are amazing. Awhile ago, we had bought something similar to this by Ziplock brand. However, they were hard to find and when we went to buy more, they had changed the design. Since a cluttered tupperware closet doesn't make anyone excited about packing lunches, it drove me to find a new solution. That's when I found EasyLunchboxes. They are a super cost-effective option for anyone who likes the basic premise of bento boxes, but chooses not to spend quite as much on anyone single box.  My husband and I have been using the classic colored EasyLunchboxes for over a year now, but we just got a new set of the EasyLunchbox brights (which I love)!  EasyLunchboxes also has some mini dippers as a great way to include small containers of sauces and dips that won't spill (as EasyLunchboxes are not leak proof).

 
best lunch packing supplies easy lunchboxes

So whether you have several kids, like to pack a few days worth of lunches in advance, or want one system your whole family can use, THIS is your box. It is universal enough for a little in Mom's Day Out, a preschooler or school-aged child, a stay-at-home mom, and working dad to all have their lunches packed and ready for where ever their days take them.

To order, visit on Amazon (affiliate link) or http://www.easylunchboxes.com/welcome.

 
best lunch packing supplies omiebox

OmieBox

Full disclosure - this is a brand new bento box to us this school year. However, it helps answer a problem I hear a lot of parents having: I need more ideas and options outside of just cheese and crackers or cold sandwiches. With its design, the OmieBox is able to hold both hot and cold foods while keeping them at their intended temperatures. Considering we have packed only cold lunches for the last two years, I am already certain this lunchbox will have a new place in our lunch packing routine. I have loved playing around with it so far and am excited to start sharing what I pack it in soon.

For 15% of your OmieBox, use this link (affiliate link).

Stasher Bags

If you aren't convinced that a bento box or reusable lunch box system is what you want this school year, there are some reusable bags by Stasher that may be your school lunch packing solution. These work well in addition to a packed lunch or in place of the bento/lunch box solution all together.

For 15% off your order, use code VIRTUE15 when ordering at www.stasherbag.com.


Step 2: Add Fun

I know some parents who won't use a cookie cutter in their kid's lunch if their life depended on it. Then there are others who use egg molds everyday to shape the most elaborate bento boxes. I like to think I fall somewhere in between depending on the day. Sometimes I keep it SUPER simple (especially since our second child came along!), and other times I get a bit more festive and utilize fun options to flare up my girl's packed lunches. Here are a few of my favorite fun add-ons!

best lunch packing supplies pickease

Pickease

Fun and yet functional, Pick-ease are kid-safe pokers that take your traditional toothpick to a new level. With a design intended for small hands and a dishwasher safe material, these are age-appropriate and economical additions to any lunchbox. They make getting small items out of bentos even easier on kids, plus they may help picky eaters get more excited about what's being offered - all because they get to poke it to pick it up (i.e. they don'd have to touch it!).

For 20% off your order, use code VEGGIES20 when ordering at on Amazon (affiliate link) or www.pick-ease.com.

Muffin Cups

When you want to create barriers between different foods (due to preference or to prevent something from getting soggy), using silicone muffin cups can be a great way to go. With a variety or shapes and sizes, these are an easy way to design your own bento box in any sized or shaped container.

 

Cookie Cutters

The options for cookie cutters are endless but we have found a few that are our favorites for year round use (affiliate links).


Step 3: Add Love

Lunchbox Love Notes

There are a lot of times I feel like I channel my mom as a kindergarten teacher, and adding in little lunchbox notes is no exception. I think to all the notes she wrote and tucked into my lunchbox as a kid and what a warm reminder it always was of her love, presence, and support during the school day. With sweet messages of encouragement, words of wisdom, and the very sentiments we would hope stick with our kids at school, these are another addition I love to keep on hand. These cards also have fun facts on the opposite side, so you not only have double the options but also may be able to get two uses out of each if they come home unruffled.

For 20% off your order, use code VEGGIES when ordering on Amazon (affiliate link) or at www.sayplease.com.

Favorite school lunch packing supplies lunchbox love notes

Step 4: Add Labels

lunch packing supplies mabels labels

Mabels Labels

The fact that I have been able to use one single set of these labels since my 3.5 year old was born (because they're still on some of the first items I ever put them on) is just darn right impressive. In being cheap, I admittantly tried a few other brands since our youngest was born because I didn't realize what a difference there is between good vs bad labels! Now knowing and having had the frustration of labels that fall off with each wash, I am loyal and a big lover of Mabel's Labels.

For 10% off your order, use code VEGGIE10 when ordering on Amazon (affiliate link) or at www.mabelslabels.com.


Step 5: Add Bag

My personal favorite lunch bags are by Lands End. I love the matching soft-sided lunch bag and backpack combo they offer for the size, quality, and functionality of the set. Unfortunately, their patterns are limited and in a way not to my liking, so we went with another backpack and lunch bag for our youngest this year. Our oldest continues to use her matching set from Lands End though and it remains in excellent shape after two years in Mom's Day Out. The Lands End lunch bag fits the Yumbox Panino perfectly as well, which has made this our favorite bento box + lunch bag pair.

Another great option if you are going to use an EasyLunchbox is their lunch tote. EasyLunchboxes also shares ways to jazz up and personalize their lunch totes here, as well as a list of other lunchbag options that fit and the necessary dimensions here.


Step 6: Add Ice

These are my favorites (affiliate link). We have used these ones for going on two school years now and continue to be pleased. They work well, are a slim fit, and work in every lunch tote we've tried them in! We have never had an issue with them leaking, and they seem to stay cold for the course of our daughter's school day.


A Few Final Items You May Want to Add

A few of the other items that all parents may want to consider packing each day include a good leak-proof cup or water bottle and hand sanitizer or anti-bacterial hand wipes. Also, depending on if you send finger foods or a more involved dish, also consider along sending reusable silverware as well.


Off to School They Go!

So there we are. All packed and ready for another school year! I hope this round up of some of my favorites was helpful to you and will get you set up for a successful year of packing school lunches.

If you haven't done so already, be sure to enter our Back To School Lunch Packing Supplies giveaway over on my Instagram page!

I am teaming up with Yumbox, EasyLunchboxes, Lunchbox Love, Pick-Ease, and Mabel's Labels to give away all the lunch supplies you need to get started this school year! Giveaway runs from 8/16/2017 until midnight on 8/18/2017.

Build Your Own Taco Bar

Hey there, August!

If you have been following along with my "Read with Recipes" this summer (see June and July's posts here and here!), you know it is time for me to feature another favorite kid's story alongside Days with Grey and The Mama Workshop, as well as U Ready Teddy and Grace Giggles and Naptime for, "Dragons Love Tacos."

 
 

This is such a fun kid's story and one I had to make an obvious kid-friendly recipe idea out of: TACOS!

With this Build Your Own Taco Bar, you promote kids getting to serve themselves family style while also offering them an assortment of love it, like it, and learning it foods. By allowing your kid to build their own tacos, you also empower them to experiment and yet control the ingredients they want to eat.

Even if your kids only eat the tortilla shell and cheese (like mine did), keep this recipe in your meal rotation. By repeatedly offering a meal with such variety like this, your kids continue to see that tacos can be built, eaten, and enjoyed a variety of ways -- all unique to each family member's tastes and preferences. Since not all meals are as easy to customize as this without being a short-order cook, it is great to include opportunities like this if/when you can.

So get your copy of Dragons Love Tacos and dig into this recipe! I bought my copy at Half Price Books, but here is an affiliate link to order on Amazon if that's easier for you! This doesn't cost you more to use, but it does help Veggies & Virtue to continue sharing more ideas like this one each month! For more on my disclosure policy, please visit here.


Dragons Love Tacos Taco Bar with Kids

Build Your Own Taco Bar

Ingredients:

Taco Meat or Meat Alternative

For a ground taco meat:
1 small onion, diced
1 pound grass-fed ground beef
1/2 packet Trader Joe's taco seasoning (or taco seasoning of choice)
1  15-oz can tomato sauce, no salt added

For a meat-alternative:
1 cup lentils, rinsed
2 cups vegetable broth, low sodium
1 small onion, diced
1/2 packet Trader Joe's taco seasoning (or taco seasoning of choice)

Taco shells (or fresh tortillas)

Toppings
Shredded greens (we used romaine)
Shredded cheese (we used organic sharp cheddar)
Sliced baby bell peppers
Diced tomatoes
Diced avocado
Corn (we used canned, rinsed)
Black beans (we used canned, rinsed)

Of note: we found all of the above ingredients at Trader Joe's.

 

Build Your Own Taco Bar for Kids

Instructions:

1. To prepare taco meat, follow the instructions on the package of taco seasoning: lightly sauteing the diced onions, then adding and browning the ground beef. Drain excess fat, then add in the taco seasoning and the tomato sauce. Allow to simmer until all flavors have combined. Transfer into a glass dish until time to serve.

2. To prepare taco meat alternative, add the rinsed lentils, vegetable stock, diced onion, and taco seasoning to a crock pot. Cover and cook on high for 3-4 hours, or until all liquid is absorbed and the lentils are soft. Transfer into a glass dish until time to serve.

3. Set out all of the desired toppings in individual bowls with spoons. Allow each member to assemble their own taco with the desired toppings. Then sit back, eat, and enjoy!


Dragons Love Tacos Taco Bar

Products Used:

For the colorful bowls seen in these images of our family taco bar, visit Bobo & Boo on Amazon. These are our favorite snack bowls, but also they are ideal for "Build Your Own" bars like this taco one!

Disclosure: The following are affiliate links. Please see my complete disclosure policy here.


For More Fun Kid's Activities:

Visit each of the following for fun, engaging, and educational ways to also enjoy "Dragons Love Tacos" all month long.

Days with Grey: Website and Instagram

Days with Grey Dragons Love Tacos.jpg

The Mama Workshop: Website and Instagram

U Ready Teddy: Website and Instagram

u ready teddy.jpg

Grace, Giggles, and Naptime: Website and Instagram


That's a wrap for this month's Read with Recipes!

I hope you enjoy this meal idea and all the learning activities to engage your littles alongside it!

How to Feed a Toddler at Snack Time

How to Feed a Toddler at Snack Time

How to tackle snack time with simple tips for establishing real nutrition from a real mom. Free printable available!

The Summer's Best Pool Snacks

Disclosure: This post is sponsored by Sneakz. Thank you Sneakz for providing us with the assortment of milk options to enjoy at the pool this summer! This post also may contain affiliate links. For more on my disclosure policy, please visit my legal page.

 

Although I am all for packing picnics to take to the pool in our yumboxes, there is something to be said for the laid back, laissez faire attitude of eating an easy afternoon lunch or snack poolside.

That's why I came up with this complete list of healthy pool snacks for summer.

Complete with a grocery list to get all the suggested snacks, these items are some of my faves to toss in for a day at the pool.

So don't rush home for lunch and be sure to skip the sno-cones and nacho cheese sauce with chips at the lifeguard stand. Instead, keep some of these offerings on hand so you and your kiddos can enjoy swimming and the sunshine with a bit less stress.

the summers best pool snacks

The Summer's Best Pool Snacks

Here are a few keys considerations I kept in mind when selecting this summer's best pool snacks. For a free printable with all my favorite products to each of the recommendations below, download the free Summer Pool Snacks grocery guide!

Will it fuel?

What is the purpose of a snack? As discussed in my last blog post, the first goal is to fill in nutritional gaps. While this may seem to counter the typical snacks we pack or purchase for the pool, the ideas I share here each offer a bit more of a nutritional benefit than the average processed, non-perishable snack food.

Ideally, you want to pair at least 2-3 different food groups to make up a snack food that will fuel your children for longer. Depending on if the goal is to make this is a large enough snack to replace lunch or one that will just need to hold everyone through the afternoon until dinner, you can bulk up the variety and/or serving size of what you offer accordingly.

Think of easy combinations like these:

  • Personal nut butter squeeze packs with pretzels, apple slices, or straight from t he pouch!
  • Non-perishable hummus with veggie straws or snack packs of baby carrots*
  • Frozen grapes*, cheese sticks, and whole grain crackers
  • DIY trail mix with dried fruits like no sugar added mangoes, raisins, or freeze-dried strawberries plus no-sugar-added dry cereal and dry roasted nuts*
  • Pre-packaged pulses for a crunchy snack with more staying power (that's to the natural fiber!)

* Note that baby carrots, whole grapes, nuts, and some dried fruits may be choking hazards in kids under 4. Use caution, cut or quarter into smaller, more manageable pieces, or avoid completely.

 

Will it refresh?

Let's talk about hydration.

In my opinion, water is almost always the easiest, most economical, and effective hydration solution to offer kids between meals. We know though that kids often want something a bit more “fun,” especially when they likely see other kids at the pool getting Kool-Aid and Capri Suns. However, children should drink no more than 4 ounces of juice per day so I don’t recommend juice boxes as a norm nor poolside staple. Instead, use this as yet another opportunity to maximize the nutritional value of what is offered as a poolside snack while filling in nutritional gaps with the beverages you offer your little one.

Most kids need about 16 ounces of dairy products per day in order to meet their recommended calcium needs. Majority of us parents don’t want to deal with keeping milk cold though, nor packing it in an expensive thermos only to take it along and let’s be honest, likely lose it at the pool! That’s why I am especially happy about a new disposable, shelf-stable milk option I recently learned about: Sneakz.

If you have ever heard how chocolate milk is one of the best recovery drinks for athletes, you’ll also understand a bit of why I love these Sneakz organic milk for active days at the pool. With a 4:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein, this is a great beverage option to both refresh AND refuel your little swimmer. Plus, since most kids aren’t crazy about getting in their vegetables while splashing around with friends, Sneakz helps us moms out. With ingredients like carrots, cauliflower, sweet potato, spinach, and beets that are added into kid-favorite milkshake flavors (available in chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla), each 8- ounce Sneakz tetra pack has half a serving of vegetables.

Plus as I mention below, Sneakz are perfect to toss in the freezer and then use them as ice packs to keep our snacks cold. Icey and cool like a milkshake, and yet far more dietitian-mom approved than anything the ice cream man has to offer when he inevitably stops by the pool.

summers best pool snacks sneakz

Will it melt?

Most of us know not to bring a candy bar to the pool for a few reasons, one of which being the huge mess it'll make when our kids attempt to eat it in the hot summer sun. But even “healthy” granola bars with chocolate chips can still get unnecessarily messy.

That is why I have listed options here that are not only melt free, but also that offer a space-saving, dual purpose as preferred snacks and ice packs. The following items are perfect to throw in the freezer beforehand, use as temporary ice packs, and then enjoy as they thaw out before snack time.

  • Non-perishable milk boxes, like the ones by Sneakz
  • Yogurt tubes
  • String cheese
     

Will it compete?

This is important, even to a dietitian-mom like me.

How cool are the items you are bringing to the pool?

I have very little pride when it comes to if my daughter gets to eat what “all the cool kids have.” But I know firsthand that when I pack her lame, healthy snacks, no one really wins. Not only does it make those items available at the lifeguard shack seem that much more appealing (and yet off limits), but also my daughter ends up that much less interested in refueling and refreshing with what we have (AKA we are almost guaranteed a meltdown on the way home).

So while I want to instill in her an understanding of what snacks are smart choices, we can still have fun with and fully enjoy what options we do bring from home.

My main trick for this? Save novelty snack foods for when you are at the pool and have some competition.

I don’t often buy pre-packaged items for our girls because I know there are more cost-effective, healthy ways to make or serve them at home. But for the pool, I often take advantage of the individual yogurt squeeze tubes, personalized nut butter and pretzel snack packs, and a few other pre-packaged favorites like Sneakz milkshakes.

These almost always come off as more of a “treat” than the bowl of yogurt, nut butter from the jar, or milk from the jug our girls know to have at home. So having something that is a little extra special, allures kids away from the snacks we don’t want them having and back to the healthy choices we have packed up for them to eat at the pool.

 

Will it fit?

Every time we head to the pool I think how fitting it would be if I were an octopus. I literally need eight arms to carry all the towels, sun screens, floaties, diapers, random clothes, snacks and the hand of each kid as we cross the parking lot.

That’s why I love having a little tote to keep our snacks compartmentalized in. Not only is this an easy way to keep all the food together, but also tends something small and with a shoulder strap that our older kiddos can carry on their own.

 

Sunscreen, Snacks, Smiles

I hope this post helped you know what to pack for the Summer's Best Pool Snacks. If you would like specific product recommendations as to the brands and items I buy for each of the above, download this grocery guide!

pool snacks grocery guide

 

Happy summer to you and your favorite little swimmers+pool snackers, from Sneakz and me.

Summer Potlucks and Picky Eaters

Disclaimer: This post is sponsored by Regalo. Thank you Regalo for providing us with the Portable Activity Chairs to enjoy at all of our summer potlucks.

I would love to be the dietitian whose kid ate anything and everything at a good summer barbecue. From marinated meats to grilled veggies to an assortment of mixed pasta salads and fresh green salads, there are so many foods I love about summer...that my kids won't touch.

I recognize that I am not alone in this, especially after how many times I have seen parents carefully make a plate with the 1-2 foods their child *may* eat.

Besides the distractions of other kids making it hard to sit still and the foods that are likely prepared differently than what's offered at homes, kids -- especially picky eaters -- can really struggle with what to eat when at summer gatherings.

Our kids struggle is our stress. Am I right?

So let's lay down some ground rules for your next summer potluck.

Here is how to take your picky eater to a summer potluck (without stressing):

 

Follow a Division of Responsibility with Feeding (addressing  the WHO)

As I recommend as the #1 key to success in this free parent download, the first thing we as parents must do is recreate our attitude and approach to feeding our child(ren). If you aren't already owning your responsibility of feeding your child, that needs to be your first goal.
A parent's responsibility is the WHAT, WHEN, and WHERE their child is offered food.

By your assuming these responsibility prior to a public potluck, you set both your child and you up for a more enjoyable meal time shared with others. The following ideas address some ways you can help with the what, when, and where of what you're responsible for, so that your child is better able to succeed with their responsibility in eating.
A child's responsibility is the if/whether and how much they eat from what is offered.

 

Always bring something you know your kid will eat (addressing the WHAT)

Have you started working through the Love it, Like it, Learning it approach with your child (Key #2 in this free parent printable)? If not, prior to a potluck is a great time to give it a try. Because by bringing a dish to a potluck (or offering one when hosting) that you know your family/child LOVES (a "love it" food), you will then be able to rest assured that there is at least something for your child to eat at the gathering -- even if they are still learning to like everything else.

Of note: If you are bringing/serving more than one item, all of them don't have to be tailored to your picky eater. Just make sure that you are providing at least one option you know they will eat, even if it is just fresh cut watermelon. It should not be on the host to accommodate to your picky eater, nor should you have to stress at an otherwise fun gathering about if/whether and how much your child will eat. If you help work through the WHAT is being offering, if and how much they eat is on them.

 

Help your child adjust to the timing (addressing the WHEN)

The reality is, potlucks aren't always planned at the ideal time for every family when there are several people and one gathering place to consider. Sometimes the potluck may interfere with nap time and more commonly, they can run late and into night time. With each of these timing conflicts, the time in which your child gets to (or doesn't get to) eat may create issues.

So help your child from getting hangry by giving them a balanced snack ahead of time. Then when you arrive (or as guests have all arrived, when hosting), consider the timing of when others may be eating. If it is a casual potluck where food is out for the serving, serve your child a plate when you know they would usually eat. Waiting until too late can backfire as we all know, so instead, encourage fellow parents to come alongside you to feed the kids first so that they don't become excessively hungry. 

 

B.Y.O.B. (addressing the WHERE)

That's right: Bring Your Own Backrest!

So many times at group gatherings, there isn't enough room for everyone to sit. Unfortunately, this often encourages kids to graze and walk around while eating, only to leave a potluck without ever really eating anything of substance. Instead, bring your kids their own portable chairs like this one from Regalo. Unlike just lying out a blanket and expecting your kids to sit still and eat well, this chair from Regalo puts kids in a more upright position for eating at potlucks. Plus, we love how these Portable Activity Chairs by are compact and easy to carry with us to any potluck or outdoor event. It's also surprisingly easy to wipe down (or hose off!) so kids can sit and eat at it without us obsessing over the mess. I have found this portable activity chair to be especially helpful with feeding our youngest too. The weight limit for this chair is 50 pounds, so thankfully I know we will get several more years out of it even with our three year old. But it has proven especially convenient with our one year old! Although I love a good portable high chair, I can't always seem to find a spare chair to strap their portable high chair onto at potlucks. Regalo's Portable Activity Chair gives me the ease and accessibility of keeping my child safe while eating in one spot that I can easily make near me and amidst their friends.

Want to win your own portable activity chair? Enter here! Please note: Giveaway closes at midnight CST on July 21st, 2017.

Practice Family Style Meals in Advance (addressing the IF/WHETHER)

Most young children are used to their parents preparing them a plate and picky what goes on it. At places like potlucks where there may be a lot of unfamiliar foods that could make your picky eater uncomfortable, that means you will end up with only a couple of items on their plates (if you're lucky).

So set them up for success by practicing family-style serving. If you don't use this approach already, offer meals family style a few times before the upcoming potluck. This primes them to how meals can be offered at group gathering and gives them a sense of control over what they eat by being able to self-serve themselves. This is bound to minimize their fear over the uncertain foods being offered (i.e. the learning it foods) while equipping them with some age-appropriate autonomy to choose the foods they love or at least like from those being offered.

 

Don't call your kid a picky eater publicly (addressing the HOW MUCH)

Do you want to know one of the best ways to raise a picky eater? Keep calling them picky, especially in front of others.

The more your kid hears you identify them in this way, the more they will own this title. For example, if they know that you expect them to not eat, throw a fit, or expect an alternative to what is offered at the potluck, that is the persona they will assume publicly. Instead, don't say anything. Keep your attitude light and positive and more about the social aspect of time with family and friends than on the food your kid won't eat.

 

Time to Pack Up and Have a Potluck

Potlucks can be a great first exposure to informal social gatherings. They provide a natural, relaxed environment to train your kids in what is expected of them in such social settings. So help your child embrace these experiences from an early age, instead of expecting them to know how to adjust to out-of-the-norm meal times on their own. by applying a few simple techniques, don't be surprised if summer gatherings create less meal time stress and more feeding success.

 

Cheers to summer time and your chances to win this fun activity chair from Regalo!

Enter below to double your chances to win! Giveaway closes at midnight CST on July 21st, 2017.

Omelet in a Bag

Who else is a big fan of breakfast for dinner?

My guess is if you are a mom, you are! It is so easy, economical, and even for those of us who have picky eaters, we can usually win everyone in the family over with breakfast foods -- especially when you add in the novelty of having them for dinner!

That's why when my husband told me about this idea he saw on YouTube, I knew we needed to recreate this concept. Thanks to Vicki Bensinger's YouTube channel for this idea, info, and inspiration!


Omelet in a Bag

Omelet Bar Set-Up

Ingredients:
1-3 raw eggs (still in the shell) per person
Toppings of choice: raw or roasted zucchini, mushrooms, broccoli, asparagus, or bell peppers, spinach, diced tomatoes, chopped onions, shredded cheese, and any breakfast meat of choice (like bacon, sausage, chorizo, ham)

 
Omelet bar
 

Instructions:
1. Start a large pot of boiling water.
2. In a quart-sized* Ziplock freezer bag, crack 1-3 eggs per person. Seal bag and mash egg until well-scrambled.
3. Unseal Ziplock with scrambled egg. Add desired toppings. Reseal and mash again, until all toppings are well mixed in.
4. Make sure all air is removed from plastic bag. Gently place bag in the pot of boiling water. Turn down heat to maintain a rolling boil, and cook omelet for 15-20 minutes.
5. When done, remove omelet in a bag with tongs. Gently open bag. Probe the omelet with a knife to make sure it is cooked through. If not, reseal bag and return to boiling water for 3-5 minutes more.
6. When done, open Ziplock and pour the omelet from it onto plate. If preferred, you also may pour it onto a medium-hot pan or griddle to lightly crisp the outside.
7. Once cooked to desired doneness, garnish with avocadoes, salsa, and tortillas, or a side of potatoes and fresh fruit. enjoy!

*Note, you can use a gallon-sized freezer Ziplock instead if you would like a longer, thinner omelet. Just decrease the cooking time to 13-15 minutes. For more on the types of accepted bags, see the section titled, "A Note on the Safety of Heating Plastics" below.


Kids in the Kitchen

I love the idea of Build Your Own anything with kids, especially picky eaters. This is a great way for them to be exposed to a variety of options and ways for preparing the same item, while also seeing you as the parent role model a more adventurous spirit with what you include in your omelet. It also gives kids a sense of comfort and control around these foods though by allowing them to decide and manage if and how much of each ingredient they include in their omelet bag.

The more your kids become comfortable with this, ask them what new toppings they would like to put out and try! Encourage them to try even one mushroom, spinach leaf, or other learning it foods, and excite them about "trying to find it in the omelet" once it is cooked. Even if they don't eat it, this is a great way for them to realize they can politely pick out learning it foods. It also helps them realize that these foods don't destroy everything they touch!


Other Tips

This recipe is a GREAT way to use up random leftovers. Rather than tossing out the spinach that is on its last leg or the few leftover veggies that didn't get eaten, chop up and put out as optional toppings.

If including breakfast meats, be sure to look for those without added nitrites and nitrates. Instead, make natural bacon, ham, sausage, and chorizo a "sometimes food" that is eaten in moderation. For more information on processed meats, see this article on My Recommendations for Processed Meats.


A Note on the Safety of Heating Plastics

I admit, I was a bit amazed by how this worked. Having never done the more technical sous vide method of pressure cooking in a bag at a controlled temperature, this seemed like a fun way to make an omelet. However, the physics of how the Ziplock didn't melt when boiled did make me question a bit how healthy it was to be cooking our omelets in a plastic bag in hot water.

Generally, I am not a fan of heating plastics, so I recognize this is an exception to this rule. I do tend to agree with recommendations (such as those from Harvard here), stating not to heat nor store hot foods in plastics. Ideally, I recommend glass or ceramic as the ideal choice.  That is why almost all of my meal prep photos are shown using Pyrex Snapware. However, as an occasional novelty, I am curious:

Is using this boil in a bag omelet concept safe - especially when using with young kids?

Even though the Ziplock website states that their bags are BPA- and dioxin-free (see the ingredient list here), they may melt if in water that exceeds their melting point. Polyethylene plastic, which is typically used to make Ziplock brand bags, will start to soften at about 195 degrees Fahrenheit. If you put these bags in boiling water (around 212 degrees F), they will melt. So although the above instructions state to keep the water at a rolling boil, this may be pushing the temperature that is safe for Ziplocks to be exposed to. On the package, Ziplocks state they may be microwaved with a 1-inch vent.

According to Harvard's research on this topic, only containers that pass the test of leaching "the maximum allowable amount is 100–1,000 times less per pound of body weight than the amount shown to harm laboratory animals over a lifetime of use can display a microwave-safe icon, the words "microwave safe," or words to the effect that they're approved for use in microwave ovens." Since Ziplock freezer bags do state they can be used in the microwave, I would take this to mean that they may be used in high temperatures (ideally not to surpass 195 degrees F). Of note, many other types of bags (such as thinner, non-freezer-safe varieties and knock-off brands of Ziplock bags) may be made with lesser-quality ingredients that cause more concern for leaching when subjected to high temperatures. 

As always, use your best judgement. While I think our family will still use this approach on occasion, I am going to keep researching this issue prior to making this recipe a mainstay in our "breakfast for dinner" arsenal. I don't suggest cooking in plastic bags as the ideal way to cook all or even any foods, but considering how few plastics we use in our home and especially in cooking, I consider this a low-exposure and infrequent-issue in our household.


Products Used

I love our new Bobo & Boo snack bowls for a variety of uses, but this omelet bar set-up may be a new favorite! They are the perfect size for little hands at snack time, and they work perfectly when setting out a variety of toppings for Build Your Own Omelet Bar!

Please note the following links are affiliate links. These do not cost you any more to use, but in purchasing through these links, you help to support the efforts of Veggies & Virtue! For more info, please visit my disclosure policy.

 

Watermelon on a Stick

This is about as easy as they come, y'all.

But in this Texas summer heat, we cling to all of the cool summer treats we can find! That's why I love this one as a favorite fruit turned frozen. I am a big fan of it being a one-ingredient, no-sugar-added option. My older daughter loves that she can hold onto it one-handed post-bike ride without it dripping like a popsicle would. My younger one seems to most enjoy these as a flavorful remedy to ease the discomfort of teething.

However you and your family choose to eat these, take a few pieces from your next watermelon and turn them into these super simple and yet satisfying summer snack!

Watermelon on a stick

Ingredients:
Fresh cut watermelon

Instructions:

  1. Wash the outside/rind of water and pat dry. Cut the melon in half. With the flesh side down, remove the rind from the entire half.
  2. Once the rind is removed, cut several slices vertically and horizontally, until you have 20-30 separate, long "stalks" of watermelon. Be sure that each has enough of a buffer to hold onto a popsicle stick.
  3. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Gently insert a popsicle stick into each long piece of watermelon. Place each watermelon on a stick on parchment paper until you have the number of them you wish to freeze.
  4. Put the tray of watermelon on a stick into the freezer. Allow to freeze for 1-2 hours.
  5. Remove tray from freezer.Enjoy immediately, or transfer watermelon on a stick from the cookie sheet into an air tight container. Separate any that are being returned to the freezer with small pieces of the parchment paper.

DIY Froyo Push Pop

My kids are just like every other I have met. They LOVE those yogurt tubes you can buy at the store. They especially love them frozen!

So for a more economic option and one that I can have complete control over the ingredients with, we have started keeping a constant supply of these frozen yogurt push pops in our freezer.

Whether you pour in leftover smoothie to freeze or try the recipe below, I am sure your kids will be equally eager to eat this novelty DIY froyo push pop as they are the store-bought alternatives.

DIY Frozen Yogurt Push Pop

Ingredients:
1 cup strawberries, washed and hulled
1-2 Tablespoons honey (depending on desired sweetness)
Two 4-ounce containers of 4% strawberry-rhubarb @siggisdairy yogurt

Instructions:

  1. Quarter and then roughly chop strawberries into small 1/2" pieces.
  2. Put berries in a small sauce pan with honey. Heat on low until strawberries are soft/macerated. Remove from heat and let cool.
  3. Spoon yogurt into blender or food processor. Add strawberry mixture in as well, then blend/pulse until well-combined.
  4. Pour strawberry-yogurt mixture into push pop molds. Freeze for 2-3 hours, or until firm.
  5. Remove from freezer and allow to sit for ~5 minutes. Take off the top, push yogurt pop up, and enjoy!


Get creative! This recipe is versatile to make with any combo of seasonal summer fruits, fruit jam or compote, and a complimentary flavor of yogurt.
 

Note:
These molds are designed so the popsicles slides back down when not actively being pushed up. This can be challenging for little hands with weaker grips (i.e. under 3). To solve this, we use a chip clip as a clamp to keep it moving its way up as they eat! There is a disposable option as well though that this issue doesn't seem to happen with. Both are shown below!


Products Used (affiliate links):

$11.95 $15.95
$11.50

Chicken Marinade

This is my go-to chicken recipe when grilling out with friends.

Drumsticks and thighs always seem to be a hit with kids, as they're more fun to eat and juicier than white meats. Also, they're less expensive which makes this an entertaining big-win!

Marinade a batch the night before a big dinner gathering or the morning of. I guarantee you will have others asking you for this recipe when you do!

Best Chicken Marinade

Ingredients
6-10 chicken thighs (drumsticks work well too)
2 Tablespoons avocado oil
2 tsp onion flakes
1/2 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/8 tsp cayenne
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
Juice of half a lime
6 oz beer (I used a gluten-free beer or cider)
1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley
Salt to taste

Instructions

  1. Add all of the ingredients except the chicken to gallon-sized zip lock bag. Seal bag and mash together until all ingredients are mixed up.
  2. Add the chicken. Reseal bag and massage the marinade onto the chicken. Let the chicken marinate for at least a couple of hours in the fridge, overnight would be best to let the chicken absorb all the flavors. Ideally, flip the bag over every couple hours to make sure the both sides of the chicken get to sit in the juices to marinate more evenly.
  3. Oil the grill. Preheat to medium-high heat. Add the chicken then flip around 7-8 minutes. You can baste the chicken with excess marinade, if desired. Cook the chicken until the juices are clear and the internal temp reads 165 degrees.
  4. Remove from grill and serve!

Watermelon Ice Cubes

Can you believe it is already the start to another month?

That means, I am partnering up with Days with Greythe Mama Workshop, and the Littles and Me to contribute a recipe towards this month's Book Box activities.

This month we are reading through hands on play for the book, "The Watermelon Seed."

 
 

The Watermelon Seed (affiliate link) is such a darling book and so perfect for story time in the summer.

So pour yourself a pitcher of water and plop in some of these festive watermelon ice cubes! It will make a refreshing beverage choice that both you and your child can enjoy together without all the sugar of juice and other flavored drink alternatives.



Ingredients
2 cups fresh watermelon (without the rind)
The juice from one lime

Instructions

  1. Place the watermelon into a blender. Add lime juice. Blend until all watermelon is broken down.
  2. Pour into ice cube trays, or if using a fun-shaped option, spoon watermelon mixture in using a 1 Tablespoon measuring spoon.
  3. Freeze for 2-3 hours or until firm. Remove from freezer and take cubes out of mold, placing them in an air-tight container with parchment paper in between layers.
  4. To make the remaining batches, repeat steps 1-3 to make three batches of stars (using the suggested mold below).
  5. When it is time to enjoy, simply remove the air-tight container with all of these stars from the freezer, then add to a pitcher of still or sparkling water. Note they may melt quickly, so be sure to wait until it is time to serve to put these fun ice cubes into the water!

If you want to make these immediately and don't have time to order or go out to buy the star-shaped mold, no problem!

  1. Simply cut off the rind from the melon as you would for the recipe above, but then make large, thin slices. Lie the slices flat. Using a star-shaped cookie cutter, cut stars from the melon.
  2. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper, then put each of the watermelon stars on top of the parchment paper. If desired, you may add drops of lime juice to each star or wait and add it directly to water later.
  3. Place cookie sheet in freezer for a few hours, or until the time you need to use the stars. If preparing more than 4-6 hours in advance, you may consider transferring the stars to an air-tight container once frozen.
  4. When it is time to use these, remove from cookie sheet or air-tight container, and place into a pitcher of cool water. Note, these will maintain their shape in the pitcher of water longer than the frozen ice cube stars above, which is a nice option if you anticipate the water being left over for awhile instead of served immediately.

Products Used (affiliate link)

Frozen Yogurt Parfaits

FROZEN YOGURT PARFAITS

Ingredients:
1.5 cups granola
1/4 cup all-natural peanut butter
3 Tablespoons honey
4 containers 4% @siggisdairy (can use any flavors or brand of choice; need total of ~2 cups)
1/2 cup fresh berries (can use any berries of choice)

Instructions:
Heat peanut butter and honey in microwave for ~30 seconds, or until melted. Add granola to honey-nut mixture and stir to combine. Spoon granola mix evenly into 12 lined muffin cups, pressing firmly into the bottom. I used silicone muffin tins for this and it worked really well to pop them out once frozen. Scoop yogurt on top of each cup until full (about about 1/4 cup of yogurt per spot). Press fresh berries into the top of yogurt. Cover and freeze for 2 hours or until firm. Remove from freezer and let sit for 3-5 minutes to slightly thaw. Remove from muffin liner, and enjoy!

Note:
If you're a family who needs this peanut-free, swap out the peanut butter to an almond or cashew butter and choose a granola that's peanut free! Or, use a nut-free butter like SunButter or the Sneaky Chef's No Nut Butter.

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip "Nice Cream"

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip "Nice Cream"

Ingredients
2 frozen bananas, sliced
1/3 cup all-natural peanut butter
1 container @siggisdairy 4% vanilla yogurt
1/2 cup whole milk
1/4 cup mini chocolate chips

Instructions
Add bananas, peanut butter, Siggi's yogurt and milk to blender. Turn on until all banana bits are blended in. Transfer to a plastic container (I used one from @tovolous). Add chocolate chips and stir in. Freeze for 30-45 minutes then serve for a soft-serve style scoop. For a more firm nice cream consistency, stir (making sure the chocolate chips didn't all sink to the bottom) and refreeze for an additional 15-30 minutes.

NOTE: If frozen overnight, allow to sit for 20-30 minutes at room temp or microwave at 50% in 30 second increments until scoopable. Enjoy!

Pina Colada Froyo in a Pineapple Shell

Pina Colada Froyo in a Pineapple Shell

Ingredients
1 ripe pineapple
2 5-oz containers 2% coconut @siggisdairy
1 frozen banana
1/4 cup coconut cream

Instructions
Slice pineapple in half with peel still on. Inside each half, score pineapple to remove flesh and the core (see an example in my story). Once all the inside is removed, place pineapple pieces in a blender with yogurt, banana, and coconut milk. Blend until well combined and mixture is completely smooth. Pour into pineapple half then freeze for 1-1.5 hours or until firm. Add little baby spoons (just like the pineapple sorbets have in stores) and let lots of little hands dig in!

Blueberry Froyo Bars

Blueberry Froyo Bars

Ingredients
1 pint fresh blueberries, washed
1-2 Tablespoons blueberry jam (brand of choice; we used a local one)
2 cups @siggisdairy plain yogurt

Instructions
Put berries and jam in a small saucepan. Heat on low, stirring occasionally until juices start to seep out of berries and jam mixes in. Let cool. Once room temperature, gently fold in Siggis. Spoon into popsicles molds. Put popsicle stick in/base on and snap to seal. Freeze overnight or until firm. Enjoy!

The Beginner's Guide to Love it, Like it, Learning it

If you have been following Veggies & Virtue for any amount of time, you have likely heard me use the term "Love it, Like it, Learning it." In fact, my Instagram followers were privy to seeing these lunchboxes as my earliest social shares. Some of my only blog posts in the beginning told of the lessons I learned using Love it, Like it, Learning it with my oldest daughter. This past year, I shared a bit more of the inside scoop of what she loved versus is still learning with these before and after lunches.

 

So in attempts to further help you understand this concept in a way you can apply with your own kids, here is a run down to:

The Beginner's Guide to Love it, Like it, Learning it


What is “Love it, Like it, Learning it?”

“Love It, Like It, Learning It” is a feeding approach that fosters exposure to a variety of foods. This approach minimizes age-appropriate pickiness while creating a well-rounded food environment, even for the most apprehensive (i.e. pickiest) of eaters. With a foundation in the Division of Responsibility in Feeding, “Love It, Like It, Learning It” can help kids develop a taste for healthier food without a fight. Through the simple saying and straight-forward strategies, parents can quickly begin to build better meal plans, offer more variety, and lead their families to eating more real food on a regular basis.

 

What are “Love it,” “Like it,” and “Learning it” foods?

Love It Foods: Foods your child consistently likes and preferentially favors compared to all others. These are foods your child eats most of the time.

Like It Foods: Foods your child usually likes but may eat less (or none) of when offered alongside “love it” foods. These are foods your child eats some of the time they are offered.

Learning It Foods: Foods your child rarely (if ever) likes and may or may not have ever been exposed to before. These are foods your child eats almost none of the time they are offered.

 

Why use a “Love it, Like it, Learning it” approach?

The first several years of a child’s life are crucial for developing healthy eating behaviors. Setting the foundation for future eating habits and taste preferences to develop, these early years are when children begin to be exposed to a wide variety of real foods. Many children however, especially those between the ages of 2-5 years, face food neophobia, or the fear of new foods.

Parents often misunderstand this age-appropriate behavior as rebellion, stubbornness, or defiance when in reality picky eating is a normal part of childhood. Instead of handling it as an expected part of raising a healthy eater, parents often resort to bribery, coercion, and food wars in attempts to force their child to eat the foods being offered. Just as bad, some parents may become short-order cooks and only offer LOVE IT or LIKE It FoodS to accommodate their child’s picky eating. None of these approaches work, however.

Alternatively, research shows that kids need to be exposed to LEARNING It Foods upwards of 12-20 times. Many parents either prematurely burn out on offering these foods this many times, or they become discouraged when their child seems to repeatedly refuse them. This leads parents to assume their child “doesn’t like it” too early, rather than viewing it as their child “still learning” a new, unfamiliar food.

 

How does a “Love it, Like it, Learning it” approach work?

Much like learning to swim or ride a bike, learning something new is often a little uncomfortable for kids at first. It takes a lot of repeated exposure partnered with the time, effort, and patience of both the parent and child. However, when children are allowed the freedom to learn in a conducive, non-coercive environment, the new skill slowly but surely begins to properly develop.

Much is the same with raising a child who becomes what pediatric feeding expert Ellyn Satter calls a “competent eater.”

For kids, pairing LOVE IT or LIKE IT foods with LEARNING IT foods makes new foods appear less threatening. Research shows that when familiar and unfamiliar foods are offered together, it may make children more likely to try the unfamiliar, LEARNING IT food (especially for the neophobic child).

Over time, offering meals in this way also helps to reshape how your child expects foods to be offered. Rather than expecting every meal to be made up of only their favorites, they understand that family meals include a variety of foods that each member of the family enjoys. Children become calm and confident around new foods, rather than anxious and irritated. This also helps children to understand that there will always be foods they are “still learning” while adapting and/or accepting them at their own pace.

For parents, pairing LOVE IT or LIKE It foods with LEARNING IT foods offers peace of mind that there is always something being offered that their kid should/could/usually would eat. This lessens the meal time stress of “what to make” for a picky eater. It eliminates the tendency to offer back-ups when the initial meal is turned down. It re-establishes a Division of Responsibility in feeding for your family that restores enjoyment for family meals. It also draws the line that if a child chooses not to eat the LOVE IT or LIKE IT foods being offered, that’s on them. More commonly what parents see is that when offered in a non-threatening manner, kids begin to learn how to expand their diets over time to accept more real foods.

 

Where can I see “Love it, Like it, Learning it” applied in real life?

 

Where should I go to get help with implementing “Love it, Like it, Learning it” in my own home?

I am glad you asked! You have a few options, depending on how invested you are in quick, effective implementation.

First: Be sure to download the Love it, Like it, Learning it worksheet below. With it, you are given suggestions for 150 kid-friendly foods and a Love it, Like it, Learning it template to fill in using the foods that are unique to your child's food preferences. This is the most basic starting place if you want to start expanding your child's diet ASAP.

Second: join on my next Love it, Like it, Learning it workshop where we address, "HOW TO GET PICKY EATERS TO TRY NEW FOODS: without running out of back-ups or wondering if these bad habits will stick." This workshop will walk you through some of the reasons for picky eating, problems with parents feeding, and how to correct it all using a Love it, Like it, Learning it approach.

Lastly, sign up now for an initial consultation with me. It is a free 30-minute phone call where you and I are able to review what struggles you are facing with your child and come up with an action plan for how I could help. This is your best option if you are ready to experience the transformation of Love it, Like it, Learning it immediately.

Now it's time to act.

If you are wanting to help equip your child to be a "competent eater" (as Ellyn Satter so well defines it), now is your time to take action. Start using this approach in your home, while too getting the help you need to help your family succeed. I can't wait to hear of your success once you get started!

Mermaid Toast

I have a good dietitian friend over at Milk & Honey Nutrition who does a weekly, "Toast Tuesday" on her Instagram. So just for fun, I decided to join in on this idea and do our own colorful toast idea with this "mermaid" or "unicorn" toast idea.

Full disclosure, my daughters wouldn't eat this as I think it was a bit too unfamiliar for them (being highly apprehensive little eaters). But I would expect most kids, especially little girls who love mermaids and unicorns,  would love this change up to your typical morning toast!

Ingredients:

  • Your favorite bread (we prefer Dave's Killer Bread or Alpine Valley)
  • Whipped cream cheese
  • Frozen blueberries, thawed in juice
  • Fresh mango, soft, mashed
  • Frozen strawberries, thawed in juice

Instructions:

1. Take bread of choice and lightly toast. While it toasts, put blueberries, mango, and strawberries in separate bowls. Gently mash fruit until it creates a colorful paste. Remove larger pieces of fruit, if you prefer a smoother spread (without fruit bits).

2. Gently add cream cheese to each of the bowls. Stir until colors combine well. Spread on toast and gently smear colors around until the desired pattern is achieved.

3. Use dye-free sprinkles for a fun extra touch to finish off your toast. I have linked the ones we use below.

Products Used (affiliate link):

 
 

Apple Donuts

You may have seen over on Instagram that June 2nd was National Donut Day! Although there is a food day for just about everything these days, I thought this was a fun one to play around with.

It was also a great way to use up extra dark chocolate we had from making these Frozen Monkey Tails. Either option has been an easy, healthier dessert alternative for our daughters to enjoy...and us adults too!

Ingredients:
1 apple, washed (I used fuji)
1 ounce dark chocolate (we've been loving @eschocolate 72% chimpanzee bars!)
1 Tablespoon all-natural peanut butter (or @thesneakychef no-nut butter for #nutfreefamilies)
1 Tablespoon food-dye free sprinkles (the ones by @indiatree are our faves)

Instructions:
1. Slice apple crosswise in 1/4-1/2 inch slices.
2. Using an apple corer (or a small circle cookie cutter if you don't have one), remove the core from each slice. This may also be done at the beginning if using an actual corer.
3. Melt chocolate pieces in microwave, stirring every 15 seconds until smooth. Gently stir in peanut butter.
4. Drizzle chocolate-peanut butter onto apple ring or spread to cover completely. Immediately sprinkle with sprinkles.
5. Enjoy!

Easy Coconut Pops

Need an EASY way to rehydrate your kiddos after a bike ride in the summer sun or as a natural, low-sugar treat to eat while in the sprinklers? This. Is. It.

Prepared with only two ingredients and in under 5 minutes, it is a simple go-to to have on hand all summer long.

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Easy Coconut Pops
 

Ingredients:

  • Unsweetened coconut water
  • Fresh strawberries (halved if small; sliced if big)


Instructions:

  • Slide halved/sliced strawberries into popsicle molds
  • Gently fill molds with coconut water (leaving a little room for expansion)
  • Put popsicles into freezer until frozen • Enjoy!

 

Need some new popsicle molds?

Here are a few of my faves.

Frozen Monkey Tails

I am so excited to pair up with Days with Grey and the Mama Workshop for this summertime reading series that encourages you to cook with books!

As an extension to their book boxes, we are now adding on a fun thematic recipe that you and your kids can create after you read the monthly book.

This month, we featured the classic book, "Caps for Sale" (affiliate link). Reading this book would not be complete without a fun, frozen take on monkey tails.

Frozen Monkey Tails

Ingredients:

4 whole bananas

8 popsicle sticks

1-2 Endangered Species Dark Chocolate Chimpanzee Bars (72% dark cocoa)

1/4 cup chocolate sprinkles or cacoa nibs

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Instructions:

1. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper, then cut bananas in half crosswise and peel each half. Place on lined cookie sheet.

2. Using popsicle sticks, gently insert popsicle stick into the cut end of each banana. Return to lined cookie sheet and continue to do this with each banana half. When finished, transfer baking sheets with bananas into the freezer for 2-3 hours, or until frozen.

3. Break chocolate bar into pieces. Heat in a glass bowl for one-minute. Stir with a silicone spatuala, then return to microwave to heat in 15 second intervals until chocolate is melted. Stir between each interval to ensure chocolate is evenly heated.

4. Remove cookie sheet from freezer. Using a silicone spatula, gently cover frozen banana halves with chocolate. One chocolate bar will be enough to drizzle all eight halves. For a little more decadence, two bars will fully cover all eight banana halves.

5. Immediately after covering each banana half with melted chocolate, gently sprinkle sprinkles, cacao nibs, or other toppings of choice* onto chocolate banana. Return covered banana to lined cookie sheet until chocolate has hardened. Enjoy immediately or return to the freezer until ready to eat!

*Get creative with toppings! Try coconut flakes, slices almonds, or crushed peanuts (avoid as a choking hazard depending on age of child). In order to make this recipe safe for the nut-free child, we chose to use chocolate only.

 

Links to Products Used:

Please note the following are affiliate links. None of these cost more to you to use, but by ordering through the links below, it does give Veggies & Virtue a little financial love to keep after my mission! For more info, please visit my privacy page.

A Note to You and Your Little Monkeys

These chocolate-covered bananas on a stick are sure to be a fun addition to any summer day. So be sure to also check out the book boxes on Beth and Lu's sites also! This can become a engaging and edible activity for you and your littles to enjoy all month long.

If you and your kiddos make these frozen monkey tails or a book box, we would love for you to share! When you post your picture, just be sure to tag me (@veggiesandvirtue), Lu (@themamaworkshop), and Beth (@dayswithgrey) on Instagram. It will be fun to see everyone's creations!

If you are curious how to get even more use out of this classic kid's book, be sure to check out Days with Grey and The Mama Workshop for their monthly book boxes ideas. They are experts at getting kids involved with story=telling and reading stories in a way that helps our preschoolers with kindergarten-readiness (something I know nothing about!). I just love the ideas they share this month for "Caps for Sale."

To get more info on how to do this cute activities below, click here for Days with Grey's pom pom stacking activity or click here for The Mama Workshop's wooden peddler activity!

days with grey june book box.jpg
the mama workshop june book box.jpg

Asian Beef Kabobs

We don't do a lot of beef around here, but it is nice to switch it up every once in awhile and offer it. Steak used to be a "love it food" for our three year old too, so I have tried to let it make an appearance every so often and still do even if it has unexpectedly dropped to a "like it" or maybe even "learning it food" again.

This recipe is a versatile grilling option for anyone who loves kabobs and wants to mix up the flavors to include a bit more of those that are Asian-inspired.


Asian Beef Kabobs

Ingredients

1.5 pounds top sirloin steak, cut into 1-inch cubes

1/4 cup toasted sesame oil

1/3 cup avocado oil

2/3 cup soy sauce

4 garlic cloves, freshly pressed

1 Tablespoon grated ginger

1 Tablespoon sesame seeds

1/3 cup sugar

1/2 large red onion, cut in 1-inch pieces

1/2 red bell pepper, cut in 1-inch pieces

1/2 yellow bell pepper, cut in 1-inch pieces

Sliced green onion, for garnish

Instructions

1. In a large Ziplock bag, add sesame oil, avocado oil, soy sauce, ginger, garlic, sesame seeds, and sugar. Seal bag and mash until all ingredients are well-combined. Open bag and add steak to marinade. Coat well, then let marinade for at least 3 hours or up to 24 hours.

2. Turn grill onto medium-high heat. Allow to warm while you assemble the kabobs.

3. Remove meat from marinade. Gently skewer on a wooden* or metal kabob skewer with red onions and bell peppers. Place skewers on hot grill.

4. Cook for 4-5 minutes, then turn over. Cook for another 4-5 minutes. Remove from heat at desired doneness. Serve immediately.


Notes:

*If using wooden skewers, be sure to soak for at least 15 minutes prior to skewering. This will help them not to burn on the grill.

Step 1 may be done in advance and kept in the freezer. To use, thaw and then proceed with recipe starting in step 2.

Kid-Friendly Adaptations:

Make "kid kabobs" that have fewer pieces of steak skewered on one end of the stick. This makes more of a "meat lollipop" that is easier for little hands to hold.

For kids who prefer foods separated, consider offering steak-only kid kabobs and then offering grilled pepper and/or grilled onion on the side.

We paired this with cauliflower rice (learning it food), organic edamame (like it food), and fresh cut watermelon (love it food).

Kitchen Tools Used:

For this recipe, you will need kabob sticks. I use wooden ones or metal, which are reusable. Here are two options below. Please not these are affiliate links, meaning that they do not cost you anything extra but rather help  to provide some financial compensation to Veggies & Virtue. Thank you in advance for your support!

$12.99
 
$16.99 $39.99

Enjoy!