Tag Archives: back-to-school

Back to School: Packing Lunches With Stonyfield, Justin’s, and PackIt

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It’s back-to-school time! Which means it’s time to pack lunches again. Unless, like us, you’ve needed to pack lunches for camp or outings for most of the summer. I’m kind of a professional lunch packer at this point.

It still seems daunting, though. I don’t know why. And last year the second grader was packing his own lunches. Why did this stop when he started camp this summer? I don’t know. I think both kids will be packing their own lunches this year, with my support.

And it’s not just knowing what to pack — how many snacks, who’s eating what this week (turkey? salami? hummus and cucumber? leftovers?) but who can eat what. Like when a particular upcoming first grader has a wiggly tooth, so you have to slice up his apple before you pack it because otherwise he can’t bite it.

But if you have the supplies and a formula, lunch-packing doesn’t have to be a drag.

Here are some key tips for packing a lunch:

Food Containers
We use reusable containers for snacks and lunches. For the main lunch, we use EasyLunchboxes three-compartment lunch boxes, with snacks in other small reusable containers. Yes, I wash a lot of containers, but I’m OK with that.

Lunch Bag
A sturdy, reusable lunch bag can last for the whole school year and sometimes for a few years! PackIt makes a great freezable lunch bag which contains a freezable gel. Just put it in the freezer overnight, then in the morning pack your child’s lunch in it. The lunch bag will keep the food cold for hours.img_9328.jpg

Lunch Food
Sandwiches are popular with my kids:

  • salami
  • PBJ
  • hummus and cucumber

Sandwich alternatives:

  • mac&cheese in an insulated food jar
  • leftover pasta with pesto
  • hummus, veggies, and crackers
  • cheese and crackers

I also pack veggies and fruit in the other compartments of the bento box.

Besides the “main course,” I include:

  • fruit — berries, a sliced or whole apple, cut-up oranges, grapes
  • veggies — baby or big carrots, grape tomatoes, sliced cucumber
  • something crunchy/salty, such as pretzels
  • Stonyfield YoKids Squeezers (these are great to keep in the freezer)
  • a granola bar (in case an extra snack is needed)img_9329.jpg
  • Justin’s Chocolate Hazelnut Butter and Pretzels snack packsimg_9334-1.jpg
  • maybe a packet of Justin’s Honey Almond Butter (who am I kidding, these are for me! Great pre-run fuel and a handy afternoon snack at my desk)img_9338.jpg

A reusable water bottle. That’s all I send my kids with. But you could also include a juice box or milk.

By the way, could you sense a theme here? Reusable containers, few processed foods, and products from companies like Justin’s and Stonyfield that make sustainable practices their mission? I like supporting companies that have values similar to mine.

Oh — not that I’m telling you what to do, but because these tips can help you save time packing lunches — if you have some extra time, check out the recipes on the Justin’s site! I want to try the spicy peanut soba noodles and the granola bars, for starters.

Happy school year, and enjoy packing healthy lunches!

Packing Healthy Lunches for Kids

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What's in YOUR lunchbox?

What’s in YOUR lunchbox?

I have been packing healthy lunches for kids since my strapping second grader was a toddling little preschooler. Back then, his day was a half-day, and group snack was provided, so all I had to pack was lunch itself. He liked peanut butter and jelly then, and there were no allergies at his school, so every day I packed a PBJ, fruit, veggies, and pretzels.

I used cookie cutters to cut his sandwich into fun shapes: a pine tree, a snowman, a star. Then another mom told me her daughter (a budding marine biologist even at age four) wanted her sandwich cut into shapes, too: a norwhale, if I recall correctly, or was it some kind of shark? which her father painstakingly cut by hand. (Sorry, Michelle!)

Packing lunches hasn’t stopped. The younger boy started preschool. The older one went off to kindergarten, at a nut-free school. No peanut butter? No problem! (And no, my kids will not eat soybutter or sunflower butter no matter what brand or what kind of jam, banana, or fluff I put with it.)

Turkey sandwiches it was. And fruit, veggies, crunchy stuff. And snacks, now. All nut-free (which simply required some extra-close label-reading on the granola bars, if I wasn’t making my own).

But the younger boy doesn’t like sandwiches. So packing his lunch was a little more challenging: turkey roll-ups (until he decided he didn’t like turkey), ham roll-ups (ditto), cheese and crackers (ditto on the cheese). I’d send him with pasta and tomato sauce, pasta and parmesan, mac and cheese in an insulated food jar (which in my day we called a “Thermos”). Cut-up chicken (nope), cheese sticks (nope), hummus and veggies and a spoon (fine for a while), chicken nuggets (at his request).

If you have a sandwich-hater, you still have a lot of options when it comes to packing healthy lunches for kids. Here’s my formula:

  • main thing: sandwich, cheese and crackers, lunch meat roll-ups, nut butter or sunflower butter rolled up in tortilla, cream cheese and turkey and veggies rolled up in a tortilla and cut into pinwheels, pasta, rice and beans, leftovers, pizza
  • fruit: whole or cut up (I find sliced apples results in less waste than a whole one, frankly); include a toothpick if your kid can handle it and a fork if your child is younger
  • veggies: carrot sticks or baby carrots, celery, grape tomatoes, cucumber slices, snow peas or sugar snap peas, a small chunk of corn on the cob (hit or miss around here, but your kids might like it)
  • crunchy: pretzels, tortilla chips, crackers, goldfish
  • snack: yogurt tubes or squeezes, hummus and a spoon, applesauce, granola bars, almonds (if your school allows nuts)

Did I get summers off from lunch-packing? Oh, you’re sweet to ask. Well, until this year I did (except when we headed out on adventures for the day). This summer, with camps and such, it was nonstop lunch packing except for a few blessed weeks.

The younger boy has been excited to start a new school this fall. “Mama, if they have a cafeteria, I do not want you to pack my lunch. I want to buy lunch at school!” he announced. I swooned. Then I realized that even though our school lunch menu looks decent, I still want some control over what he eats, to be honest, so he doesn’t fill up on chocolate milk and chicken nuggets.

We’ll see what happens.

Anyway, even though it is not my favorite evening activity, I still take some satisfaction from packing healthy, yummy lunches for my kids (this summer with two snacks, also).

healthy lunches for kids include fruits and veggies

Typical lunch for Ben, though this day he’d requested avocado in his lunch (didn’t eat it, because he claimed he “didn’t have time”).

healthy lunches for kids: protein, carbs, fat, yum!

Typical lunch for Max: Turkey sandwich, apples and peaches, carrots, some chocolate-chip zucchini cake from our neighbor (an atypical sweet in his lunch), YoKids Squeeze (frozen)

I realize Ben’s lunch, above, looks a little low-protein that day, though it does have hummus and the YoKids yogurt tube. He’d asked for avocado in his lunch.

healthy lunches for kids with snacks

Another lunch: sandwich, veggies, and fruit in an Easy Lunchbox, with apples, goldfish, a kids’ Clif bar, a YoKids squeeze, and a hard pretzel on top. That was from their week at a camp that left them super-hungry and tired, so I packed as many snacks as I could!

healthy lunches for kids include snacks

Snacks on top of lunch for a hungry camper

I freeze the YoKids yogurt tubes and the YoKids Squeeze! (which are a little more substantial and which Max selected), to help keep their lunches cold. They thaw by snack time (I think — actually, the bigger ones might not thaw in time for morning snack!).

Stonyfield gave me coupons to try the yogurt tubes, the YoKids Squeeze! pouches, YoKids yogurts, OhMyYog (a layered yogurt with a cream top), and the Stonyfield Greek & Chia yogurts (haven’t tried those yet!).

healthy lunches for kids AND for me

I pack my own snacks and lunches, too.

I pack my own lunch nearly every day, too, and also snacks…including this last little yogurt I knew the boys might not eat.

Happy school year, and happy packing healthy lunches — for your kids OR for you!

Disclosure: I am a Stonyfield ambassador and am provided with their products. All opinions are my own. 

Oh, Hello Again

Hi there. I haven’t forgotten about you.

But it’s late summer, and we were racing the clock as usual, and then we were away for an extremely short week visiting my father. It was sunshine and a bright swift shallow creek, chickens and green grass and the most marvelous livestock auction. Neighbors, soccer, tadpoles, fishing. Late evenings (well, for the boys — as for me, I pretty much went to bed with them every night and slept “late” every morning, until 7 or so).

I somehow didn’t get to spend any time with my father, in the chaos of children and meals and gathering stuff for our outings, and all my sleeping instead of reading the paper together companionably after the boys were in bed, or waking early and hanging out talking. We only had one morning like that, maybe 20 minutes to talk before Max woke up and wandered over to climb on my lap and needed “itch cream” for a mosquito bite and generally got the rest of the day in motion and away from quiet conversation.

And I somehow didn’t get enough time with my children, who were constantly in the creek or fishing or playing soccer or always in a whirl of action, it seemed.

There were two runs, though. As you may know, I often seem to have a running injury. Right now it’s my hip that’s bugging me. Mostly glute, and I’ve been to a great massage person, but it’s still sore, so I haven’t been running much (and also having to lug the laptop to and from work really put a damper on run-commuting!). But I got in two good runs in Pennsylvania and felt like I could run forever (were it not for my glute and for wanting to get back to spend time with my family). The roads are gorgeous rolling hills, country roads, with views of fields and old red barns and limestone houses. Apple trees, roadside blackberries, and the constant shimmering sound of cicadas. It was such a nice change from the city flatlands I normally run.

We got home to chaos, of course (that word seems to keep appearing here, doesn’t it), with the boys signed up for a summer camp that ends at 4 p.m. (oversight!), so we had to scramble for some afternoon childcare. Yesterday I had to leave work at 3 to pick them up; tomorrow it’s my husband’s turn. And this morning I was (and tomorrow I am) on duty for drop-off, meaning that instead of leaving before they wake up, I get to see them in the morning! And get them dressed and fed and out the door. Plus, when I got home today, they wanted to go the park. Of course it was 6 p.m. and time for me to make dinner. They were grumpy. I felt bad.

Then my husband got home early for some reason and I said, “Hey, please, can you make dinner tonight and I take them to the park?” and he agreed! And that load was lifted, and I could just go play with my kids and come home to find dinner ready!!

That, dear friends, is a rarity, and today it was a very much-needed gift. We went to the park for half an hour and they had my full attention, instead of being home and my scurrying to get dinner ready.

School starts soon, and I’m worried about their 10-hour days with someone other than us. I want to be home with them more. I want to pick them up from school, especially on their first few days (I mean, come on, the little one is starting kindergarten! How can I not pick him up on his first day of school? And every day?).

This summer went too fast. Time is going too fast. I want this time with them. No, I don’t want to be home all day while they are in school, doing nothing. Part-time jobs are not so easy to find (I mean, ones that pay a decent wage) but I’m working on it, and I haven’t yet let go of the dream of going back to school.

The current condition isn’t cutting it for us, that’s for sure.

Anyway, hi, readers, if there are still any of you left.

Shared School Supplies: Why Don’t They Warn Us?

My older son started kindergarten today. He’s been nervous, excited, and ever-so-ready.

I found the school supplies list for kindergartners on the school’s website (they don’t send it home in advance) and went to Staples to pick up the crayons, glue, a glue stick, and markers. I also bought him pencils, a pencil sharpener, a pencil case, and scissors. I had a new box of tissues (also on the list) at home, and I planned to buy the disinfecting wipes within the first week of school.

He happily organized all his new stuff into his new backpack. I wrote his name on everything, including the crayon and marker boxes.

At drop-off this morning, I noticed another mom handing the teacher a gift bag labeled “school supplies.” What? Maybe she was giving some extras to the classroom.


When Max got home from school, I asked about his day. He had a good day and a great time and seems to be getting the hang of it (on his first day!), but when I asked if he’d given the box of tissues to his teacher, his face fell.

“She took all my stuff,” he said.


“My new markers and my crayons and stuff. She took them and put them into a box for the whole class. I didn’t like that. She only left me my pencil case.”

I didn’t like this, either. At all. I’d be happy to buy some school supplies for kids whose families can’t do so for them, but don’t have me send my child to his very first day of school, with his own special school supplies, only to take them away from him!

I kept calm and looked through his backpack to see what was left. Pencil case, pencils, scissors, pencil sharpener.

“And my glue stick! She took my glue stick!” he wailed.

“Shhhh,” I said. I’d bought a four-pack. I gave him another one, putting it into his pencil case. He zipped it shut. “She won’t find this one,” he said, sniffling.

What the fuck. I have read several posts and articles about this: good arguments about allergies, or about toxins in some of the regular classroom supplies, or about how having their own supplies teaches kids to take care of their stuff. I fully agree with these arguments. I also would love to buy supplies for another family who can’t afford them.

But to not let us know in advance that this is how it works? Really? What about even a small quick note on the school-supply list: These items are for communal class supplies, not for your individual child. If he or she wants his own special supplies, he or she can keep those at home. This list is for combined classroom items.

Would that be so hard? Then I could have warned him. The child already has to deal with protecting his stuff from a younger brother. To worry that his teacher will take his stuff, too? Nice way to start the school year.

Just a tiny bit of communication would have let me warn him that the shiny new things were for his classroom, not for him. Just a few simple words.

Instead, now he’s worried the school is going to take his stuff.

Thanks. Thanks a lot.

Ming Tsai Back-to-School Cooking at Macy’s #spon

Ming Tsai will be at Macy’s in Natick, Massachusetts Thursday night to give a demo and talk on back-to-school cooking, including lunches and meals that are quick, easy, and kid-friendly!

Ironically, I have to miss it because the kids are just getting back to school this week, and I need to be home that evening to make a quick dinner, prep lunches, and get the kids to bed early. I would love love love to go to this, but today I’m finding out (the hard way, believe me) that keeping the kids out late on a school night makes for a ROUGH next day. Early to bed –> happy kids, happy me!

[DISCLOSURE: I am being compensated for this post, but all opinions are my own.]

The cool thing about Ming Tsai—well, there are several cool things about Ming Tsai. He’s an amazing cook, so he obviously knows food and flavors and deliciousness. He’s a father, so he understands kids and back-to-school pressures and the need to pack healthful lunches and fast, nutritious dinners. And he understands food allergies, so he knows all kinds of great foods and recipes that are safe for kids who are allergic to all kinds of things.

  • James Beard Award-winning chef/owner of two restaurants – Blue Ginger and Blue Dragon; Emmy Award-winning host of PBS-TV’s Simply Ming, now in its tenth season; author of five cookbooks, including his latest Simply Ming In Your Kitchen.
  • In 2012, invited by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to represent the U.S. with the Diplomatic Culinary Partnership Initiative/American Chef Corps.
  • national spokesperson for the national Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) organization; also worked with Massachusetts Legislature to help write Bill S. 2701, which requires local restaurants to comply with food allergy awareness guidelines.
  • member of the Harvard School of Public Health’s Nutrition Round Table, and supporter of many charities including Big Brothers Big Sisters, Cam Neely Foundation, Family Reach Foundation and Greater Boston Food Bank.

So not only will his demo on Thursday, as part of Macy’s Culinary Council, be a great opportunity for all families (or non-families; after all, couldn’t everyone use some tips on healthful lunches and other meals??), but it’s going to be a great talk for families whose members have food allergies.

Ming Tsai

Also, he’s totally personable and funny. I’ve had the chance to see one other of his cooking demos, and it was a great time. So even if you don’t care at all about food or anything back-to-school related, I guarantee this would be a fun evening anyway!


Thursday, Sept. 12, 2013 at 6:00 PM

Macy’s Natick Collection
1245 Worcester Road
Natick, MA 01760

Reservations are required as space is limited. To save your spot today and get full details, visit www.chefmingtsainatick.eventbrite.com.

With your purchase of $35 or more* in the Home department, receive a $10 Macy’s Gift Card, and a Macy’s Culinary Council backpack filled with gourmet goodies and a cookbook by Tsai, which he will sign following the demonstration.

*One per customer, while supplies last, while time permits. Seating is first come, first served. Macy’s gift card valid September 12th – 19th. Purchase must be made September12th, 2013 at Macy’s Boston. Chef Tsai will sign after the demo only. Event subject to cancellation or change.

To learn more about the Macy’s Culinary Council and upcoming events, log on to macys.com/culinarycouncil.


Relishing the Last of Summer: Burning the Entire Candle

We’re running out of summer fast, though the final two weeks stretches long ahead of us.

I keep breaking my own rules and policies. It started when we went to Iceland back in July (I swear, I’ll get a post on visiting Iceland with kids out soon!). We were traveling, right? To a different time zone, where the sun didn’t set until around midnight, right? So bedtimes got quite lax.

And it was fine.

Once we returned home, well, it’s summer! The children, I’m sure, stayed up late and did things out of the ordinary plenty in the first part of August, but lately I feel like we’re on high speed toward the end of summer.

We went to the Cape for several days of fun at the beaches (ocean and pond). I took the kids out in a kayak. Back home again, we’ve gone to the local pond nearly every day to swim. We had a flurry of blogger/social media events which included a Hood ice cream party (#MeetHarvey, to introduce their new ice cream bars—yum) at a wonderful playground with a water feature. The kids enjoyed the treats, the water, the other kids, and I enjoyed hanging with some fellow local bloggers and catching up a little (plus, those Hood people treat their social media friends right!!).

Last weekend, we went on a last-minute camping trip. I was concerned about the state forest campground we ended up in, about not being prepared enough, about sleeping together in a tent, etc. I needn’t have worried. The boys had a great time riding their bikes up and down the camp road, having tons of freedom, hiking a “secret” trail to the lake, and then going for a night hike after dinner, headlamps on as they ran down a trail through the forest.

Back at our campsite, we let them eat too many s’mores, perhaps, because you’re only young once. Then everyone slept hard and fast in the tent, waking to enjoy a morning campfire (I mean, why not?). After we struck camp, we drove to Mt. Monadnock, where we hiked to the summit and down again, five often steep miles round trip, with lots of bare granite face to scramble up using hands and feet.

Max did it all on his own, very excited and proud. I was thrilled for him. Ben needed to be carried at times, especially on the way down, where he nearly fell asleep riding on C’s shoulders (note to self: get a hiking carrier). We found a diner for dinner, then (despite my quite Capricorn objections, it already dark and we were more than an hour from home on a Sunday night) we stopped for ice cream. Of course.

The next day, it was a full day at the Museum of Science, including a planetarium show and the butterfly garden. Tuesday, I made a last-minute decision not to catch the last family concert of the season at the lake, because the boys were tired. Wednesday, to the lake to swim, and today, off to a local pool to swim.

On top of this, my work has really picked up, with some heavy deadlines coming up. I’m hoping to pick up some other fall projects as well.

On top of all that, twenty pounds of peaches sit in my kitchen waiting for me to turn them into jam before C and I head to New Hampshire tomorrow for a weekend backpacking trip with some friends.

We’re not at a frantic pace, for sure, though it may sound like it. It’s actually fairly relaxed, just super-spontaneous. The boys are with the sitter for the morning and with me from right after lunch, on. I make sure they’re eating dinner by 5:30 or so. But oh, life is short, and time is short, so we do whatever they want in the afternoons. Errands can wait, for now.

Though I know we need to get back to an earlier bedtime in order to facilitate earlier wake-up times (hello, back-to-school!), for now, we’re just enjoying life and each other. I’m certainly enjoying the rhythm of things, having mornings to work and afternoons with the boys.

And it feels great.



Get Back-to-School Ready with P&G (Giveaway)

Ready for back-to-school!

Ready for back-to-school!

School starts, for us, in a few weeks. I thought I’d messed up Max’s kindergarten registration (and it didn’t help that the registration office always seemed to be closed, so I couldn’t confirm), but I can happily say that he’s in. All paperwork has been filled out and filed. My firstborn is about to begin his school years.

We’re excited, and neither I nor Max is nervous about it. He is looking forward to kindergarten and school and learning and new friends, and I am looking forward to all of that for him. He’s so ready.

And Ben is starting a new preschool, a place he’s really excited about and that I think will be a great place for him to grow and play and learn.

However, I know that shifting from the long, slow, spontaneous, relaxed days of August to a new school year (when we all have to be up and out the door by a certain time, lunches in hand, backpacks holding whatever is supposed to be in them) is going to be tough.

Some of my favorite local bloggers, getting ready for back-to-school!

Some of my favorite local bloggers, getting ready for back-to-school!

Ironically, Thursday I was headed into Boston to meet with some fellow bloggers, including Audrey McClelland of Mom Generations, to talk about back-to-school stuff with Proctor and Gamble. I’d be dropping the kids off with the sitter at 8:30 before heading out for the day. Naturally, Ben ended up sleeping way too late (I hate to wake a sleeping toddler whom I know is tired). I scrambled to pack their lunches, only to find out we were out of bread and pretzels and, you know, everything except apples.

Audrey McClelland giving us some back-to-school tips.

Audrey McClelland giving us some back-to-school tips.

So that was a fun morning, and I got to MiniLuxe just in the nick of time. See, the conversation was taking place at this great nail salon in Boston, where Proctor and Gamble had invited us to get pedicures, enjoy pastries, and chat about getting back into the school routine. Well, it turned out that we — at least I — didn’t talk about back-to-school stuff. We chatted and relaxed and caught up and laughed. A lot.


So much fun, and so relaxing!

Which is fine, since the point of it all, really, was for parents to be sure to take time for themselves and relax a little before climbing the mountain of tasks known as Getting Ready for Back-to-School: buying school supplies, making sure all your paperwork is in, finding out classroom assignments, buying new clothes and backpacks and lunch boxes and shoes. But oh, there’s so much more!

Fact: Bloggers are always working, even when they are supposedly at rest.

Fact: Bloggers are always working, even when they are supposedly at rest.

For more tips on getting back-to-school ready, check out P&G’s Back-to-School Checklist on P&G Everyday. I learned a few things from the site, things I wouldn’t have considered. I knew some obvious ones: start working on an earlier bedtime a week or so before school starts; get clothes and lunches ready the night before; and….um….hey, we’re just starting school for the first time! Give me a break!

But the checklist has other things I hadn’t considered. Cleaning out closets? De-cluttering your home before the new school year starts? Deep cleaning rooms? It all makes sense, but I hadn’t thought of it!

For many more tips, check out their full checklist.PG_products

To help ease your transition back to school, one lucky reader will win a $50 electronic gift card to the Proctor and Gamble eStore!! You may or may not know that they own several great brands, such as Cover Girl, Olay, Tide (those useful stain pens!), Cascade, Pampers, Duracell, Gillette, Venus, and more. So many back-to-school lists ask parents to bring in tissues, hand sanitizer, wipes. What better way to buy them than on the P&G eStore? With this gift card, you can get everything you need for back-to-school and every day.

Enter via the Rafflecopter widget below!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

All prizes to be delivered by sponsor.

Disclaimer: All opinions are my own. While this is not a sponsored post, I did receive a (fabulous) pedicure, gift bag, and gift card from Proctor and Gamble. Many, many thanks to P&G, Flour, and MiniLuxe for a great morning and excellent pedicure!