Thursday, September 3, 2015

Bacon Egg and Cheese "Muffin" Sandwiches - Plan Ahead and Freeze for an Easy Grab-and-Go Meal Option!

This lunch was sponsored by the American Egg BoardThis post contains affiliate links.
We don't have a lot of time in the mornings, and I'm not known for my time-management skills. And now that I have two kids who need to be up and ready and out the door at the same time, mornings have become twice as hectic! So to try and streamline our routine this back-to-school season, I've started making easy grab-and-go breakfast options in batches and freezing them. Then I can just reheat what each girl requests before heading out the door and they can eat it in the car on the way to school. Bonus: these also make a great lunch option!

We just finished off the banana bread muffins (GF/DF) my sister had made in massive amounts for us, which is what motivated me to start doing this. She made, like, 24 muffins, and my girls weren't really interested in trying them, and I couldn't eat them fast enough. So I froze them. One morning when we were rushed to get my oldest to summer camp, in addition to offering our usual bowl of cereal or chewy bar options, I offered to quickly heat up a muffin. It was a hit! She ate hers AND mine! They became a morning favorite for both girls, who usually only get warm breakfasts on the weekends.

Bacon Egg and Cheese Muffin Sandwiches
12 eggs
12 oz bacon, cooked and chopped
2 c grated cheese or 6-12 slices, optional
up to 2 c finely chopped veggies, optional (spinach, broccoli, peppers, chives, mushrooms, onion, etc)
1 tsp salt or seasoning salt blend
12 cooked biscuits or english muffins, halved lengthwise (toasted and buttered, if preferred) 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F

Set a 12-cup silicone muffin pan onto a metal baking sheet. Divide veggies evenly into the 12 muffin cups (I prefer using a silicone muffin pan, but a metal one will work if you spray it with oil. The baking sheet is to help you move the silicone pan around without having it flop around and spill everywhere.) 

Divide chopped bacon evenly into the 12 muffin cups. If using, divide the grated cheese into the muffin cups. If using sliced cheese, save until assembly after baking.

Crack open all 12 eggs into a medium-sized mixing bowl. Add salt and whisk together until blended. (I open eggs right into a 4-cup measuring cup with a pour-spout and mix in there to save time and mess later!)

Pour or ladle egg mixture slowly into each muffin cup, filling until about 3/4 full, or to the top of the fillings, whichever is higher. Evenly divide remaining egg mixture, if any.
Bake at 350 degrees F for 25-35 minutes until puffy and starting to brown on top. Should feel firm to the touch. 
Remove from oven and let sit 15 minutes to "set." (If planning to serve any right away and you chose not to bake cheese into the egg, top the ones you plan to eat with cheese now, so it can get nice and melty.)

You may need to gently use a butter knife to separate muffins from the sides, although they usually pop right out of a silicone mold.

For english muffin sandwiches, slice each egg muffin in half lengthwise and cut one of those halves in half crosswise and lay on bottom half of toasted english muffin. If using sliced cheese, add 1/2 to 1 slice of cheese, then top with other half of english muffin. 

For lunchbox-sized sandwiches that fit in my Omiebox and other insulated food jars, I used a round cutter to make smaller english muffin rounds to perfectly fit the egg muffin. I toasted the smaller english muffin rounds for a few minutes on Broil in the oven (along with the scraps) to avoid having to dig around in a toaster for them, which is also easiest when was making a large batch all at once. I trimmed 1/3 lengthwise of the egg muffin off mine, just to make the thickness a better ratio and to fit more evenly, but you don't have to. (And yes, I ate all the scraps!)
Since Z really likes cheese and likes seeing it on her food, instead of baking grated cheese into the egg muffins, I opted to add a partial slice of cheese (cut to fit) on top of the egg before topping with the other half of the english muffin.

Pretty much the same process for biscuit sandwiches, except they should already be the perfect size!

Serve immediately, or cool to room temperature and store in freezer bags or separate with parchment or wax paper in a storage container and refrigerate or freeze. They last up to 1 week in the fridge or longer in the freezer. Reheat in microwave, one for 1 minute, two for 2 minutes, four for 3 minutes, etc.

I packed mine in an Omiebox, which contains an insulated compartment, but Thermos Funtainer food jars would work with biscuit-sized ones or if packed halved to send them hot (warm by lunch,) or the Lunchbots Thermal jar (also available here) would fit most english muffins.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Preschool Princess

My 3-year-old is finally old enough for "real" preschool this year, and will be attending the same school as her Big Sis, as they have students ages 3 through 9th Grade. Over the Summer, they offer full-day summer camps for ages 4 and up, but allow new incoming 3-year-olds for the last two weeks. So I signed E up for both weeks to learn the ropes!
The night before her first day of "school," I let her browse through my bento cupboard to choose which container she'd like her lunch packed in, and she chose the limited edition Yumbox Panino in Tiffany Blue. She practiced opening and closing it, so I knew she'd be successful on her own at school!
[This post contains affiliate links.]

Lunch Fit for a Little Princess!
PB-honey sandwich on GF bread with dye-free sprinkle accents, Naturebox Blueberry Almond Bite, kalamata olives;
organic carrots, green beans, grapes; blueberries, strawberries, blackberries from our backyard
Since I wanted her to go to school with confidence and excitement, I made sure to include her in a lot of the decisions I normally just make on my own for lunches, like the theme and food choices. E chose a princess-theme out of a few options I offered, and I let her choose which crown-shape cutter she'd like for her sandwich. My Australian bento friend at Loving Lunches sent me an amazing assortment of dye-free sprinkles from Down Under, so I used a some extra peanut butter to "glue" on a sprinkle star and some pearls to decorate the crown.

The Early Childhood classrooms at our school frown on treats in lunches and snacks, so instead of a small bit of candy, I sent a Naturebox Blueberry Almond Bite in a little Disney Princess Rapunzel treat container from Easter. (This doesn't mean that I won't ever send candy or sugary treats. Just that I'll try and limit it to Fridays, when is my traditional treat day, instead of Fridays-and-whenever-the-theme-makes-me-want-to-use-a-treat-box...!)

Since I had already included a little "treat" in the princess box, I scrounged around in my pantry and fridge to find something to put in the small treat compartment built in to all the Yumbox trays. I decided on olives, since they count as a "fat" rather than a vegetable, so are good to limit to small servings! And both my girls loooove them. Yay!

When the limited Tiffany Blue Yumbox was released, they offered a special set of gem stickers to decorate it, so I let E go to town decorating up her lunchbox while I got the food ready. They'll come off in the dishwasher, but should last through several hand-washings, at least!

Tools of the Trade

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Lunchbox-Friendly Deconstructed Fried Rice Recipe

This lunch was sponsored by the American Egg Board.
I love anything quick and easy for lunch, especially if I can use ingredients prepped ahead in bulk for multiple meals. For this recipe, all you need is some cooked rice, hard boiled eggs, soy sauce (or gluten-free tamari soy sauce,) and frozen veggies. (And a chopped onion, which I don't bother with.) All of those can easily be bought or prepped ahead. I always like to make a big batch of rice once a week or so, freeze it into "pucks" in a silicone muffin pan, and pull them out to thaw and use as needed. Same with hard-boiled eggs. Boil or bake up a bunch at once, and use as needed throughout the week.

Lunchbox-Friendly Deconstructed Fried Rice
Serves 2-3

1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 medium white or yellow onion, diced (optional)
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 carrots, diced
1 cup frozen veggies (peas, corn, green beans, or a mix)
3 cups cooked rice (cold) [can sub cauliflower "rice"]
2-3 hard-boiled eggs, diced
1/4 c soy sauce or gluten-free tamari, divided
Ground black pepper (to taste)

In a 12" frying pan, heat oil over Medium to Medium High heat until hot but not smoking. Add chopped veggies (onion, celery, carrot) and saute until onions are transparent and carrots are crisp tender (about 5 minutes.)

Add frozen veggies and cook 1-2 minutes more until thawed.

Slowly mix in cooked rice until all ingredients are well blended. (If you prefer cooking the soy sauce into the dish, add it before the rice. Or add just a little now and send some in the lunch to be added later.)

Divide into 2-3 lunchboxes or plates, and evenly divide the chopped hard-boiled eggs over the top (fried rice should be cold or room temp when adding the eggs to pack for lunch. Can add eggs to hot rice if serving immediately.)
Serve with soy sauce (1-2 Tbsp per person) or send with soy sauce packets or fill your own sauce containers.

Notes: If your kids are like mine, they tend to eat around the veggies, Chopping them smaller makes them harder to avoid. This trick helps me add more veggies to my own diet as well! Takes more time, but I'm worth it! *wink*

Whenever I make rice, I always cook a blend of rice (jasmine, brown, wild, etc) with quinoa or buckwheat groats for an added nutritional punch. (The meal shown features brown and jasmine rice with white quinoa.) My kids are now used to a rainbow of different-looking and tasting dishes that I all call "rice," and don't even blink an eye anymore. Whenever we go out for Asian food and I order brown rice instead of white, our servers stare goggle-eyed as my kids eat it without complaint. Now to get them to eat their veggies...

You can prep the dish up to several days before, but wait to add the egg until you are packing the lunchbox (the night before or morning-of) or when you're ready to eat it.

My kids like adding soy sauce themselves, and love the little travel packets and "squeezy fish" versions that I send in their lunches. So I cook this without the soy sauce, for them to add later.

 [This post contains affiliate links.

Tools of the Trade

Friday, August 21, 2015

Disney "Descendants" Dolls and DVD Dinner Party!

This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #Disney #VillainDescendants #CollectiveBias
I've always been a "Well, yeah, but NOW what?" person at the end of a book or movie, so I'm a big fan of shows that expand upon the "happily ever after" and bring us the next generation of fairy tale characters! So when I saw previews for Disney's Descendants movie released July 31, I made sure my girls and I were ready to watch! It was a fun change for my kids to see characters delighting in being mean and evil - every kid WANTS to be selfish and ignore the rules! So it's exciting to live vicariously through the wicked protagonists as they discover they have a choice in who they really want to be. And just like every child, the descendants of the storybook villains are constantly faced with opportunities to make a better choice.
My kids also got to struggle to comprehend a different parenting dynamic with the Villains, where the parents were still attentive and present, but controlling and selfish; parents who did not love their children unconditionally. These will be some interesting themes to discuss further and explore through play.

When I went to Wal-Mart to buy some of the new fashion dolls, I made sure to grab the DVD and soundtrack as well! I may or may not have been seen listening and singing along to the soundtrack in my car even AFTER the kids had both been dropped off at school...

My 7-year-old prefers to read or play on her computer versus playing with dolls, but she loves looking at beautiful things, so kept her Audrey doll in the box to display on her bookshelves. My 3-year-old, however, was highly impatient to meet her new friends, and threw about five tantrums while we frantically tried to open her Evie and Mal doll packages fast enough! I only managed to convince her to wait to open so she could take photos with me by reminding her of the unboxing videos she likes to watch on her YouTube Kids app!

Now that we had the dolls and could watch the movie DVD any time we pleased, I decided it would be fun to have a little DVD party with some Descendants-themed foods to munch on while our new doll friends "watched" the movie with us... All the foods I came up with were quick and easy, but still super fun!

While Mal doesn't actually have a wand in the movie, her mother does, and the entire plot of the movie revolves around Mal stealing the Fairy Godmother's wand.

So for our movie-night snacks, Mal's "Magic Wands" are just three different colors of grapes on some fun fringed skewers. The purple, black, and green grape colors all go with Mal and her mother Maleficent's color schemes!

Luckily they were so fun to wave around that my kids didn't mind the loose connection to the character!

For Cruella's son Carlos, I was originally brainstorming ideas like half-and-half cake balls or "Cruella deVilsfood Cake." But then sanity returned and I realized that I had zero interest in baking! Then BOOM! It hit me! Pasta with olive "spots!" 

I just made a white cheddar macaroni and cheese (with gluten-free noodles and goat milk cheddar) and added some sliced black olives on top. It was such a big hit that my husband didn't actually wait for me to tell him it was okay to dig in... So my photo shoot came to an unexpected halt! Hahaha!

Z was torn between enjoying what would normally be a favorite food, and lamenting my choice of words. She was very sad about the poor spotted puppies that went into this dish...

For Jafar's son Jay, I made some "Prince Ali Kabob-wa" skewers. I had toyed with tying Iago's name in there, because of the chicken [parrot... chicken.. see where I'm going with this...] but opted not to traumatize my kids! Ha!

I had some leftover rotisserie chicken, so I just skewered some chunks of that along with some sweet gherkin pickles and whole kalamata olives, which my kids looooove! I would have included some cherry tomatoes and other veggies instead, and then served with a Ranch dipping sauce, but we were all out of fresh veggies!

Food on a stick - crazy easy, and extremely fun! Both my girls initially balked at these, despite them being loaded with two of their favorite foods. I put one on each of their plates and told them that they didn't have to eat them, and then we went to watch the movie. Both girls gobbled theirs down, and my oldest went back for seconds!
(If your kids are too young to be trusted with wooden skewers, try snipping off the pointed end after you've assembled your kabobs, or else try swizzle sticks instead!)

My 7-year-old liked the Evie doll best, but ended up choosing the Audrey Coronation doll because the dress and accessories were "prettier." I got them both anyway! Teehee!

These apple slices were not only super easy, but they were also addictively yummy! I melted some white chocolate chips with a little coconut oil to thin it out some, and then kind of flicked it onto the apple slices, since apparently it still wasn't thin enough to drizzle!

Of all the Descendants, I think I like Mal best, but that's probably because she was the main character, so we got to see more of her personality and personal journey to discover who she really wanted to be when she was finally on her own without her mother there to ensure that every action was done with an evil purpose. Plus her mother Maleficent was played by the very talented Kristen Chenoweth, one of my personal favorite actors. Mal's burgeoning magical powers are pretty cool too!
But my favorite villain of all-time has got to be Ursula. I love her deep rich voice and her swishy swirly movements, as well as her unwavering self-confidence. She also embraces who she is as a person [fish?] even though no one else likes her. I wonder what her kids would be like!

Who is YOUR favorite Disney villain?

Monday, August 17, 2015

Breakfast for Lunch? Egg-cellent!

Leftover pancakes and hard-boiled eggs make for an egg-cellent bento lunch!
This lunch was sponsored by the American Egg Board.
Making and freezing extra pancakes or waffles from a weekend breakfast not only makes for some time-saving options on a hectic weekday morning... But when paired with a healthy protein like a hard-boiled egg, they can make for a fun and easy lunch to help fuel your child through a long afternoon of learning!

Hard-boiled eggs are another great plan-ahead hack to make weekday lunches quick and easy! Boil up a bunch at once on the weekend (or whatever day you can squeeze in some weekly meal prep time,) and use them as-needed throughout the week!

Dye-free gummy "eggs," organic carrots, leftover GF pancake with maple syrup, 1/2 hard-boiled egg, raspberries
My grade-schooler does not eat a lot at lunchtime; both because she tends to be a slow eater, and also because she doesn't do well with time limits. So I tend to pack lighter for her than you'd expect for a First Grader. I saved the other half of her egg for an after-school snack!

The gummies were a sweet find [see what I did there?] by my friend at Eats Amazing in the UK who helps me find dye-free versions of the stuff we can't have here in the US, and they were perfect for a "breakfast" lunch! So I couldn't resist including them.

Leftover GF pancake w/maple syrup, hard-boiled egg;
organic carrots, tomatoes, raspberries
My 3-year-old, on the other hand, saves her bird-nibbling for breakfast and dinner, and tends to pack it away at lunch time. So she often gets as much or more food than her Big Sis! She got a whole pancake with maple syrup drizzled inside, just like her sister, but a whole hard-boiled egg (she lo-o-o-oves eggs!) and extra veggies.

Tools of the Trade
 [This post contains affiliate links.