Saturday, June 30, 2012

Bento Leftovers - June 2012 (Part 2 of 2)

I not only managed to crank out more bento lunches than usual this month, but I also managed to get too far behind in posting. So I have enough to fill TWO posts to show off my more boring or random bento lunches.

Thursday 6/7/12 - Since I didn't want to clutter up the post about her Birthday Bento, I saved my lunch for my end-of-month leftovers round-up.
Spinach salad w/blueberries, almonds, raspberry vinaigrette;
celery w/SunButter and raisins, crackers, cheese scraps
Monday, 6/11/12 - I had to get my emissions checked and pick up my tabs, plus we had something else to do, all before swim class. So I packed Z a quickie lunch to last throughout the afternoon. 
Root Chips, half-sandwich, Ranch and ketchup, apples, carrots
Can't remember what kind of sandwich it was. Probably PB-Nutella or PB-honey. And she had requested ketchup for her carrots as well as the Ranch, but (as suspected) just ate it off her fingers. She ate all the carrots though, so I'm fine with it. The root chips are Trader Joe's version of the TERRA Exotic Vegetable Chips.

Friday, 6/22/12 - A snack for the trip to and from the farm to pick up our weekly CSA box. I wasn't worried about fruits or veggies, since she usually ends up eating a pint of whatever berries comes in our CSA share on the way home. And maybe some "leaves" (lettuce or spinach) or peas.
half a PB-chocolate sandwich,
Baby Goldfish, Parmesan Goldfish
Boring. But in a box, so a bento! The box is some random Ziplock or Glad cheapie box that I had been storing kale chips in, but she had polished them off just before, so I just used the box one more time before washing it.

On a side note, she requested both those Goldfish when I showed her all the kinds we had available (they had been on super sale for $1 a bag, plus I had a coupon, so I got one of each flavor/style! But now they're starting to expire, so I need to use them up faster!) The Baby Goldfish were the babies, of course. And the Parmesan ones were the Mommies!

Monday, 6/18/12 - This had originally been packed for the Sensory-Friendly Film screening of Madagascar 3 the Saturday before, but we all ended up sleeping in and missing it. I used our Goodbyn because unlike for a preschooler-sized lunch, in the case of popcorn, it's not too big at all!
I love these showings because, while designed for kids with Autism and other sensory processing disorders, they're great for little kids in general. They keep the lights on at trailer level, so it isn't so dark. The sound isn't as loud either. Movies are always too loud for me, so I can only imagine what it's like for someone with a sensory disorder! They also don't enforce the "Silence is Golden" rule, so I don't have to shush my inquisitive little kiddo, or feel bad if the baby starts fussing. (I'd still take them out if there was an ongoing issue. But I don't feel embarrassed about it!)

But the best part for us and our dye-free diet is that they allow you to bring your own snacks for the kids (since many kids in the Autism spectrum have dietary issues as well. Including dye-sensitivities, often!)
Olive Oil popcorn, green beans, Teddy Grahams,
cherries and strawberries, dye-free "Cheetos"
I had originally planned a frozen Capri Sun (no artificial flavors or colors) and some rounded manicure scissors for cutting the pouch open to make a push-up slushie, to replace the dye-filled ICEE she's used to at the movies. But since we didn't end up going, I moved the green beans to that compartment and added some cherries in with the strawberries. I saved the frozen juice pouch for when we went to see the Sensory Friendly showing of Brave (this morning!)
The popcorn was Trader Joe's pre-popped Olive Oil and lightly salted. It's very tasty! The "Cheetos" are also their all-natural version. I don't like them, but she's happy that we were able to find the "wrinkly" ones, and not just the "puffs" version. (When we started our switch to dye-free, she and I had a big fight over a little snack-sized baggie of Cheetos she found on the counter and I opened up and sprinkled into the garbage because she wouldn't stop trying to sneak them. We went out that afternoon to Fred Meyer's Naturals section to buy her a safe version, but the Cheetos Naturals only come in puffs.)
The Teddy Grahams are the cinnamon flavor, left over from when we got n Variety Pack for her Star Wars Day bento (Ewoks! Teehee!) The chocolate ones have artificial flavor, so I made sure to fob those ones off on her t-ball team for our snack day. I also got rid of all but one of the honey-flavored packs, and we still have one or two cinnamon packs, which was her favorite flavor. Plus a partial pack, since I didn't put a whole one in here.

She ate all the snacks and cherries. Maybe a green bean or two. The popcorn counts as a whole grain, at least!


Bento Leftovers - June 2012 (Part 1 of 2)

(And some May. I'm really waaaay behind on posting!)

Saturday, 5/26/12 - T-Ball snack bento! 
We hadn't had much success with snacks at our t-ball games thus far (they're either sugary garbage or full of dyes. Usually both!) After the debacle the previous week where I had to confiscate everything and go home with her "staaaaaaaarving," (other weeks there had at least been one sugary pre-packaged junk item that had no fake colors in it!) I wanted to be prepared!
String cheese nibblets, strawberries, "everything" pretzel chips
On our last trip to Daiso, she had picked a pair of nesting heart bento boxes, which are the perfect snack-size! I chose the larger one and managed to fit two silicone muffin liners with the moister items, and filled the rest with the pretzel chips  .

Thursday, 5/17/12 - A breakfast/snack for the drive to her preschool's zoo field trip.
1/2 PB-Honey sandwich, honeydew and watermelon
The melon flowers were left over from the teacher appreciation fruit bouquets. The container is a re-usable sandwich box that one of our Tovolo sandwich cutters came in.

Wednesday, 5/23/12 -  Baby's first "bento!"
Prune and peas purees. (Blech!)
When I saw the Take N Toss baby feeding bowls, they looked so much like a little bento I couldn't NOT get them! I can't really recommend them though. They're waaaaay deeper than they need to be for baby food, and it's kind of hard to get stuff out of the corners. And I couldn't get the lid to stay on. Although it's possible it was airtight over the foods and just not over the outer edges. But it kept popping off up by the spoon bowl. The deeper compartments might be good for snacks when she's eating finger foods though. Or for noodles and steamed veggie chunks, or something else bulkier.

Monday, 6/4/12 - Snack Lunch
Not a full day, but we'd need something for in the car to and from Baby's swim class in the late afternoon, and then we had a craft playdate after.
Ham, Snappea Crisp/pretzel stick/Annie's Cheddar Bunny mix,
goat cheese, Ranch; raspberries, broccoli
Since this was meant to be more of a snack tray than a lunch, I didn't bother with a sandwich. I did roll up some ham with some animal picks for a little protein though.
The weird white stuff in the square muffin cup is some goat cheese we found at Trader Joe's. She's been asking me for goat's milk for a while now. So naturally I thought she actually meant goat's milk. So I was all excited that I had found some at Trader Joe's. Then she proceeded to throw a major fit that it wasn't right. I thought she was upset that there wasn't a picture of a goat on it, since the brand of cow's milk we buy has a cow on it. But then she said something about how it wasn't squishy. Squishy? Did she want goat's milk yogurt? And then she mumbled something about crumbly. AHA! Cheese! I had been wondering where she got the idea to want goat's milk. At one time, Hubby was really into Greek salads, so he brought home some  little tomatoes, kalamata olives, and crumbly goat's cheese to pack his own for work. She went ape for the olives and cheese.
For some crunch, I made a "snack mix" of Snappea Crisps, Annie's Cheddar Bunnies, and pretzel sticks. I put them in one of my new Glitterville muffin cups (more expensive than the Wilton brand, but SUCH gorgeous colors!) and put some Ranch for her broccoli in another, to fill up the space.

Dinner in a box! (later the same day...)
Veggie Birds Nests, Tempura dipping sauce, popcorn
Even though we were eating at home, I decided to go ahead and put her dinner in an EasyLunchbox, since it was the best way to get her some dipping sauce without having it spill everywhere.
The veggie birds nests were something I bought to try from Trader Joe's frozen section. They were tempura-battered mounds of carrot, onion, and kale strips that we re-heated in the oven. I'm not an onion rings fan, and I figured these were mostly onion, so would taste like onion rings, and I wouldn't like them. They were actually okay. I would eat them again. And Z ate hers eventually. These might be a fun thing to try and make myself. With a healthier batter though probably. And with additional vegetables, like potatoes or sweet potatoes.
The popcorn is also from Trader Joe's - organic popped corn with olive oil and a little salt. Verrry tasty! We're trying out a variety of popcorn options for dye-free alternatives to traditional microwave popcorn and the popcorn at movie theaters (if you go to one of AMC's Sensory Friendly Films, they lift the "no food" rule, since many autistic kids have dietary restrictions. And because there are no-trailers, the theater lights are on at trailer-level, the sound is not so loud, and "Silence Is Golden" does not apply, they're GREAT showings for restless toddlers and preschoolers as well!)
She had already eaten a bowl full of cherries as well. [Yes, BBFers. Those cherries!]

Wednesday, 6/6/12 - Shopping for  Lunch
Not a packed schedule by any stretch, but with our co-op preschool (Z's M/W classes) done for the year, we had Baby E's new Little Gym class before lunch, and then Z's swim class at 3:30. We could have gone home in between... but Little Gym is not only right across the street from the Daiso store (well, the mall with a Daiso inside, anyway,) but on the other side of that mall is a Trader Joe's! And since this is all 20-minutes away from our house, we don't go out there much, other than for gym class. And we've had to go racing off to preschool after Z's classes in the past. So I planned for the long-haul!
PB-Nutella sandwiches, Snappea Crisps, cheese scraps,
carrots, Ranch, raspberries
Not that you can tell, but the sandwiches were made using a Marie (from Aristocats) sandwich cutter/press that I got with a bundle of other licensed character sandwich presses off eBay.
I only had a few baby carrots left, so I put them all in and added some Snappea Crisps for additional veggie-action. (I don't normally get baby carrots anymore, since they're soaked in bleach to kill bacteria, plus the peels are just that much more nutrients being consumed.* But I was trying out a new organic produce delivery service that I had a Living Social deal for, and one of my boxes came with a bag of organic "baby" carrots.) The star silicone cup with Ranch in it was from Cost Plus World Market (6/$2.99.)
There's a ton of raspberries in there mostly because they don't last long in the fridge, and those were the last of the ones from the large-ish container we got for her preschool snack day. The cheese scraps were also left over from our snack day.

*Carrot peels are not more nutritious than the rest of the carrot. The orange color is from the beta carotene, so if the insides are orange too, they are just as nutritious. But peeling the carrots is just throwing away perfectly good nutrients. And if you're worried about pesticides, they soak into the ground, so the whole carrot could be contaminated. Buy organic [for any thin-skinned fruit or vegetable] if you want to avoid pesticides.
Mama's Lunch
Spinach salad w/almonds, blueberries, and raspberry vinaigrette;
heirloom tomatoes, Stroopwaffel cookies, cheese scraps
The cheese scraps (and the train cheese cut-outs below) were also leftovers from preschool snack the day before.
Elevensies  (a joke from the Lord of the Rings)
Annie's Cheddar Bunnies, broccoli, leftover cheese trains,
carrot, Ranch, apples
Since she wolfed down her entire lunch [well, she left one baby carrot] before and during Baby E's Little Gym class (she has to sit and wait in the lobby,) I swung by the house on the way to swim class after our stop at Trader Joe's and replenished her EasyLunchbox with some healthy afternoon noshes for after swim class.
I think she left some broccoli and that poor, lone carrot.
She gobbled her second lunch down as well. Someone's going to be fitting into 4T clothes pretty soon, at this rate!

Friday, June 29, 2012

Red, White and... WHO?! Charlie the Unicorn Bento - Patriotic Blog Hop

My Bento Bloggers and Friends are doing another fun blog hop, this time for the 4th of July. We decided to just have it be a general patriotic theme, rather than 4th of July specific, to allow for bloggers from other countries to show off their national pride as well. Plus you might get some good general ideas for things to do for Presidents Day, Memorial Day, etc!

My original plan had been for a stars-themed lunch, replete with red, white, and blue foods. I had it all planned out, and was waiting for Hubby to get home so I could go to the store to buy the last few items I needed. And then it came. The dreaded question.

"When are you going to make me a Charlie the Unicorn lunch?"

Thanks to my "friend" Jenn from Bento for Kidlet, I was under the misconception that the Charlie the Unicorn cartoons were okay for little kids. Heh heh heh. Not so much. But this was not discovered by me until the very end of the first webisode. After she had already seen it and fallen in love. Ugh.

[Warning. Don't watch this with your little kids around. Ten-and-up only, and only if you let them watch PG-13 stuff. No blaming me if your kiddo gets hooked now. It's on YOU!]

So now Z loves this show. Luckily she doesn't "get it," so she thinks they stole his baby carriage or something, since she doesn't know what a "kidney" is. And she still thinks the blueish and pinkish unicorns are his nice friends.

So I quickly revamped my original stars idea to include Charlie and his two "friends." At least it's all still Red(dish,) White, and Blue!

Red, White, and WHO?! Charlie the Unicorn. And "Friends."
Ham, mozzarella, grape-white nectarine-raspberry skewers, peppermint,
roasted cauliflower and bell pepper, blue corn chips
Click the link or the hop button above to blast on over to see what Chef Corey from Family Fresh Meals has come up with! After you read more about MY lunch, that is!

Red, White, and Roasted!: I opted to try her on a red pepper versus getting radicchio or red chard. I've learned that veggies often taste sweeter or less bitter if you roast them first, so I decided to give that a try. While I was at it, I decided to roast the cauliflower as well. She enjoyed Astrid's Cauliflower Popcorn when I tried it once before. Hopefully she still thinks it's good in a lunch the next day!
For the peppers, I cut stars out first with a star cookie cutter, then roasted them and the scraps flat on a parchment-lined baking sheet at 400 F for 20-25 minutes. I hate red peppers. But Hubby says the scraps were okay. I ground some Himalayan pink salt over the tops, in the hopes that she'll be more willing to try them. She loves the pink salt we found!

To round out my red-white-and-blue veggie options, I got some blue corn chips. She can also use these in lieu of crackers if she wants to make ham-and-cheese sandwiches.

Firecracker Fruit: On my tinsel starburst picks, I skewered blue (purple) grapes, chunks of white nectarine, and red raspberries. Easy peasy! But SO fun!
Charlie and "Friends": Using a mini unicorn cutter, I cut 6 ham-icorns and 6 cheese-icorns. I had the all-natural (no nitrates added) ham cut double thick, to help them keep their shape. I used my blue natural food color to lightly paint onto one of the cheese unicorns with a wetted finger. I used a toothpick to try and draw on their googley eyes. No luck. The eyes turned out really bad. I had started on the blue one, and since I didn't want to go to the trouble of painting a new one, I just made crappy eyes on Charlie and the ham unicorn too. To be consistent.

The peppermint, my nod to the whole Candy Mountain bit in the cartoon, is an all-natural, dye-free version from
Silicone muffin cups from eBay (red,) and World Market (blue.)

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Cinnamon-Sugar Sweet Potato Chips

Since she had picked out two different sweet potatoes at the farm store when we picked up our weekly produce box, I decided to try making sweet potato chips. Plus I had a new mandoline slicer with adjustable settings, so maybe I could actually get them thin enough this time!
While looking up a quickie recipe for them in my AllRecipes app, I saw Cinnamon Sweet Potato Chips. Hmmm... I decided we could at least do a half-batch and try them out.
We altered them a bit to suit our tastes.

1 sweet potato, thinly sliced (you can peel it if it's not organic. But the skin has a ton of nutrients, and organic ones don't need the peel removed due to pesticides, so I leave it on)
1 tbsp melted butter
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp brown sugar
1/2 to 1 tsp ground cinnamon

1. Preheat oven to 400 F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper (or grease them.)

2. Combine butter, salt, brown sugar and cinnamon in a small dish. Set aside.

3. There are a couple of ways to coat the chips.You can dump the sweet potato slices loosely into a large bowl or sealable container (Tupperware-type or zip-close baggie) with butter mixture and toss/mix by hand (if using bowl) or slosh around (in a container or bag) to coat.
Or you can lay them in a single layer on the baking sheets and brush the mixture on. But then it only coats one side. And feels more labor intensive.

4. Bake at 400 F for 20-25 minutes, until edges start to curl up and brown.

The original recipe called for two sweet potatoes, but either they're normally very tiny, or else very little of the mixture goes on each one. I sliced up my two sweet potatoes and ended up making two batches (two trays each batch) and still only managed to go through a little over half of my sweet potato slices!
I also decided that sloshing them around to coat both sides would be yummier than just painting the butter mixture on one side.
My orange sweet potato slices cooked faster, so I had to take them out earlier.
Z decided they weren't "cinnamon-y" enough, so I had to sprinkle on even more cinnamon. And she loved them. They were a huge hit!
They didn't keep well. I packed the last few chips into her lunchbox for the next day and she complained that they weren't "cwunchy." They tasted great though. They were just a little soggy.

Last Day of Preschool 2012 Bento

Thursday, 6/14/12 - My not-so-little-anymore-girl's last day of drop-off preschool for the year. 

Big Girl's Lunch

apricot, green beans, Saturn peach, smoked Gouda cheese, sandwich roll-up
At our trip to Trader Joe's the day before, she had chosen to try some apricots and green beans. I chose a set of Saturn peaches, mostly because they were flatter and would fit in an EasyLunchbox! When asked which fruit she wanted in her lunch, she chose both, and not cut into chunks with a pick either. Whole. (The disposable butterfly pick is from a pretty cupcake pick and liner set.)

So I tried to make up for it with the smoked gouda (another Trader Joe's purchase,) by making butterflies and hearts with cutters from one of my favorite sets of really tiny garden cutters. The scraps are all tucked underneath. (Paper liner has a butterfly design on it and came from Target around Easter time. I bought mine two years ago, but they had them again this year.)

So for her sandwich, after slicing the crusts off two slices of bread, and cutting them each in half lengthwise, I  pressed them flat and lined two strips up at the short ends with about an inch of overlap and smooshed them together really well. Then I used a rolling pin to roll the bread really flat before putting the Dark Chocolate Dreams peanut butter* on and rolling them up into two pinwheels. I added a dragonfly pick to jazz things up.

*I went to Wal-Mart hoping they had a bath seat for Baby E, since she HATES getting bathed in her baby tub, but LOVES sitting in the big tub with her Big Sis. No luck, but I found some items I'd heard of but never seen elsewhere - including Peanut Butter and Co's peanut butters mixed with chocolate! I bought two flavors to try, along with some WowButter (nut- and peanut-free soy butter - safe for nut-free classrooms!) I also found Biscoff, at a price much cheaper than I've been paying to get it from Amazon. Mental note for when I run out!

Mama's Lunch
spinach and lettuce salad, almonds and dried berries, raspberry vinaigrette.
grape medley, chocolate peanut butter mini pita pocket medley
For my lunch, since my lettuce and spinach were pretty packed, I decided to risk keeping my runny dressing in a mini muffin cup since the lettuce pressed it flush to the lid. Because I had to rinse the dirt off my lettuce, it was pretty wet, so I put the almonds and dried berries (they were a free sample with a Nuts'com order I'd made recently. They have fake red coloring, so I'm trying to use them up to get them out of the house.) My almonds had started to get soggy the previous lunch, so since I was packing this one the night before as well, I wanted them to stay dry in a silicone muffin cup.

Grapes for me, since she's not eating them, and I tried both Peanut Butter and Co's Dark Chocolate Dreams and White Chocolate Wonderful peanut butters on a mini pita pocket (also from Trader Joe's) cut into quarters to fit into the EasyLunchbox compartment. 
I liked the white chocolate better, which I hadn't tried the day before when I gave some to her, but she preferred the dark chocolate. So when we run out, I'll restock MY flavor, since she wants me to add regular PB with the brown-chocolate ones anyway, so I can just use another brand of chocolate nut butter or make my own(Nutella has vanillin, which is an artificial flavoring that some dye-sensitive kids react to, but since she'd been eating it during our dye-purge and I saw improvement, she's probably okay with it. But I'm still looking for alternatives. Trader Joe's has a Chocolate Almond Butter too, but neither that nor the dark chocolate PB are as rich-tasting as Nutella.)

Posing outside the school for last-day photos!
If I recall correctly, she only ate the cheese and some of the sandwich before school, then ate her apricot, some more sandwich, and a green bean or two after.

   garden cutters  

Monday, June 25, 2012

Train Bento - I Choo-Choo-Choose You!

Tuesday, 6/5/12 - While we had no morning plans, she just expects a "beautiful lunch" whenever we get in the car now. Plus if she doesn't eat it all before school, it's already ready to go for after-school! And we had t-ball practice that evening as well.
Since I still had some train cheese cut-out scraps from her preschool snack the previous week, I decided to go with a train theme in our EasyLunchbox!

I Choo-Choo-Choose You!
PB-Nutella sandwich with (dye-free) gummy vitamin bears,
raspberries w/blueberries, cheese, carrots, broccoli, Ranch
I had used a mini train cutter to make the cheese trains for preschool snack, and managed to keep some of the "negatives" intact.
I chose a white muffin cup initially to be a cloud of steam from the engine, but the blueberries stuffed inside the raspberries look more like little people. So maybe it's the platform at the train station?
I didn't bother doing anything fun with the veggies, mostly because I couldn't think of anything. I put her Ranch dip in a mini blue silicone cup.
For the sandwich, I used a train sandwich cutter from the Lunch Punch Vrrrrrrm! Set, which makes an engine and a little car. The little bears are her two daily artificial flavor- and dye-free gummy vitamins. I got these at Fred Meyer, but Trader Joe's carries a slightly cheaper brand as well (like, $1 or so less!)

I'm so behind on posting lunches, so I don't recall for sure, but I think she ate most everything. Except the blueberries.

In hindsight, I should have taken the time to cut circles out of cheese or a fruit leather to put over the wheels. And maybe a square for a window. Oooo or cut a window out of just the top slice! But I'm still so stuck on the "add details with food pens" mindset, that while prepping a lunch, I forget there's even a box to "think outside of" for alternatives!


Saturday, June 23, 2012

Top Five Re-Uses for Ring Pop Rings

Z loves eating her jewelry. Candy necklaces. Candy bracelets. Ring Pops... you get the idea. But when we switched to being artificial flavor and color free, I had to get rid of all of those. Still, it seemed a shame to waste those Ring Pop rings... Surely I could do something else with them...?
Get Ring Pops. 
Dollar Tree sell the original brand for 4/$1 (Well, 3/$1, and the package has one "Free" inside.) I also found smaller ones there at 5/$1 for Valentines Day with hearts and lips and such, instead of "jewels." And I found some sturdier-looking ones in pretty pastel colors with Disney Princesses on them at the party store (I got them on clearance because the candy parts were broken. Yay!)
Remove candy. 
Now, you could do this the old-fashioned way, by eating them yourself letting your kids eat them. But since we are now artificial-dye-free, I just tossed them into a container with water in it to dissolve them off. This is a safer bet than trusting them with your kids, since the plastic rings don't get chewed on or lost while you wait for the candy to get eaten. And I didn't have to wash any germs off first!
Play With Your Food!

1. Fruity Ring Pops
For a quick and easy treat, I started off with putting fruit onto the stick part. Strawberries were an obvious choice, since they're hollowish in the middle, so I only had to get through the greens on top. But this would work with grapes or chunks of melon really nicely too. And you could use mini cookie cutters to shape the melon first to make it extra special!
I gave Z the one strawberry on a ring and a bowl with more strawberries and she loved it! She worked on her concentration, problem-solving skills, and fine-motor skills while eating a much healthier treat than what was originally on that ring!
I see a super fun party food idea right there! Each child could have their own ring to re-use to skewer more fruits! And you could use mini cutters to make shapes to fit your theme!
filter effects from Instagram
2. Frozen Fruit Ring Pops
This would also be fun with frozen fruit. Skewer fruit onto all your rings and stick them in the freezer for a few hours for a fun, cooling Summer treat!

3. Frozen Ring Popsicles
The idea of freezing the fruit gave me another brainstorm - Ring Popsicles! We already have Jewel ice pop ring molds, but this way is much cheaper and more versatile, since you can use them with any shape ice cube tray to fit different fun themes! And if they're silicone, the ice cube trays themselves are more versatile, because they can be used for ice, frozen juice treats, even chocolates and candy making! Plus with these you can make more at once. The limit is only how many plastic ex-ring pops you have lying around!
I found my star tray for $1 at Target's Dollar Spot (a seasonal item for Summer, I imagine,) but you can find so many fun shapes online. Tropical shapes, flowers, stars, fruit, dinosaurs - even Lego figures and bricks! (Just search for "ice cube tray" or "silicone tray" and whatever shape/theme you're looking for!) And for around $1 you can find starfish, heart, flower and fish-shaped trays at IKEA (although the hearts are a little too big for the smaller-based rings.)

For the ring pops, I just used some watered-down fruit juice we had on hand. Trader Joe's dye-free pink lemonade left over from her birthday party, in this case. Another fun treat healthier than the original! And when the dreaded artificial dye- and flavor-filled ice cream truck comes tinkling around our neighborhood, she's just as happy with one or two of these versus an entire adult-sized frozen treat!

4. Frozen Yogurt Ring Pops!
To add to that idea. my friend Keeley from the Keeley McGuire Blog suggested freezing yogurt or pudding like that too. I thought about adding my smoothie to them, but Z hasn't liked any of my smoothie blends so far, so I didn't bother.

5. Candy Ring Pops!
I haven't tried this yet, but you could just as easily use chocolate in the silicone ice cube tray. And probably you could crush other hard candies and lollipops and fill the molds and melt them in the oven (6-10 minutes at 350 F,) then add the rings while the candy cools (outside of the oven, obviously.) The heat of the candy shouldn't melt them, since the original candy had to get on there somehow, right? Or, even better - make your own hard-candy base! With natural flavors and colors, of course.

And when she's done licking off whatever I've put on there, I toss the ring into my little bottle parts dishwasher basket and run it with the next load. These baskets work great for washing bento gear too. Silicone cups, plastic sauce and sprinkles containers, re-usable straws - you get the idea. Occasionally I even have room left to wash a nipple or two for the baby!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Wordless Wednesday 6/20/12

First Day of Preschool 9/8/2011

Last Day of Preschool 6/14/2012
She's grown and changed in so many ways! Now she not only picks out her own clothes (in case you hadn't noticed...) but can put them on by herself! And she used to smile for me, on cue. She was also excited to have her first-day-of-school picture taken, way back when. Now she barely even let me take her picture the last day of school, even though I had to park a bajillion miles away and schlepp the baby up the hill so that I could take the time to get her photo in the same spot. (Normally the parents drive up and the teachers bring the kids to the cars and buckle them in.)

Ladybug Girl at the Beach - Summer Blog Hop

For my Summery-themed BBF Summer Blog Hop lunch, I couldn't really think of anything creative to do. Until about a week ago when I brought Baby in to Z's room during bedtime stories. They were reading Ladybug Girl at the Beach. Perfect!

From the moment I first laid eyes on the book Ladybug Girl, I knew it was for us! I didn't even have to flip through it or read reviews or anything. I just *knew* Little Z would love it! And I was right! Now, I'm a super cheap frugal person, so I couldn't justify just buying all the books in the series even though I desperately wanted to. I got Ladybug Girl and Bumblebee Boy at Costco for her birthday last year, even though we didn't even have the first book yet. But somehow we've accumulated all of the rest in the series over time. Thank goodness. I no longer have this overwhelming urge to go on a book spending-spree!

In this story, Ladybug Girl and her family take a trip to the ocean. Ladybug Girl is a little intimidated by the water. So she does her best to avoid going in, until she is so engrossed in her activity that she doesn't notice the tide coming in and carrying her bucket away. So she has to face her fears in order to rescue her pail. And discovers that the water and waves weren't so bad after all.
Stick around and read more, then hop through a complete circuit and see a ton of fun Summer-y lunch ideas and themes. Hop on to see what Kat at Obento Momma! has come up with! 

 Ladybug Girl at the Beach
Green beans and sugar snap peas, PB-Nutella sandwich,
  honey Greek yogurt w/ ginger cookie crumbs, strawberries
Life's a Beach: I was out of Greek honey-flavored yogurt, but I had some plain Greek yogurt earmarked for smoothies (which for some reason always come out tasting like dirt so far...) To make it look like the ocean, I used a whole ton of blue from my natural food colors, and still only got a pale purple color. Oh well. 
I added a huge dollop of honey to sweeten it, and then added a little more after mixing and taste-testing. I usually mix inside the EasyLunchbox compartment, to save on dishes, but for this lunch I had already created and assembled everything else, and there was no way I was going to risk messing anything up by jostling the container around while adding and stirring things up. So I instead plopped way too much into a separate bowl, which is why I needed so much food color and honey. On the plus side, I got a little midnight snack for myself. :)
That little sad-looking little blob in the "water" is a bucket I cut free-hand out of fruit leather. Since Lulu's (Ladybug Girl) bucket floats away in a wave.

For the "sand," I dug through the tub of Trader Joe's Ginger Cat cookies for broken bits, and smashed them to smithereens in a small Ziploc baggie. Actually, I was able to just gently crush them by pushing and grinding around on top of the bag with a knife handle.
And if you'll notice, the "sand" comes up on the side, all the way over to the sandy sandwich beach, where Ladybug Girl is staying safe and dry. Purely coincidental I totally planned that.

Strawberry "Ice Cream": I added in the last of the strawberries, mostly because with the seeds, they always remind me of ladybugs. The ice cream cone pick represents one of the methods Ladybug Girl used to stall going into the ocean - going with her mom to get ice cream at the snack bar.

Ladybug Girl in a Bento: Using a peanut-butter-Nutella sandwich as the base (I cut off the crusts and cut the sandwich into thirds to make it easier for her to eat later,) I built a "peeking" Ladybug Girl out of cheese, fruit roll-up, a strawberry, and some toffee licorice rope.
I used my faces cutter to make the head out of mozzarella, and the hair out of a Betty Crocker Simply Fruit Roll-Up. I have some fruit leather from Trader Joe's, but she doesn't really like it. So I thought I'd try this thinner version, once I heard that the Simply Fruit ones are artificial dye- and flavor-free. Hopefully she'll like it. If nothing else, it was *much* easier to cut with the plastic cutter, and a large enough surface for bigger designs in the future.
For the headband (strawberry) and bangs (fruit roll-up,) I used the bangs part of the faces cutter, then slid it down and used it again to cut another half-circle underneath the top, instead of leaving the jaggedy "bangs" edge.
I had some toffee licorice string from IKEA from forever ago. The English part of the ingredients is torn off, but from what I can tell in French, it uses natural flavors and colors. So I didn't throw it out in the purge. If I hadn't been feeling lazy, I could even have found bendy bits to use to make the antennae more jaunty. Oh well. I used a straw to cut little circles from a strawberry for her deely-bopper bobbles.
Her "wings" are the two outer slices from the strawberry used for the headband and antennae. I didn't do anything to them, other than slicing them off the berry!
To make her features, I used unsweetened cocoa powder and water. I thought about combining a drop of each of my natural food colors to make a dark brown or black, but decided to try the cocoa first. Meh. I used a toothpick, so it's possible it was the instrument that was the problem, rather than the medium. Either way, just as sucky as the Wilton food color pens which we're no longer using, so I decided it was good enough, for a dye-free effort.

To avoid having to make Lulu's body and costume, I decided to make her and her wings peek out from behind some chopped-up green beans. Even though it has nothing to do with this particular story. I also added some sugar snap peas we just got at our CSA farm last week. They're nice and plump, and she likes opening them up and getting the peas out!

Z ended up eating most of it. I was pleased to discover that she ate almost all the veggies (she left some of the cut green beans. She likes splitting them open and eating the "peas" out from the inside first, then eats the outsides. So maybe the little ones weren't as appealing for that.) She ate 2/3rds of the sandwich, and most of the yogurt. Plus the extra leftover crumbs that I offered her. She smeared around the now-sticky fruit leather hair on the cheese head, but didn't eat it. She did try the leftover fruit leather, but mostly licked it, before letting me know I could eat it. But not throw it out. Just eat it. [I totally threw it out! Licked fruit leather? Ew.] To my surprise she didn't eat the strawberries at all, until much later, after dinner.
   faces cutters

Monday, June 18, 2012

Muffin Tin Meal Playdate

My neighbor's oldest child (and one of Z's "sister-friends" - her name for the friends she really likes) had a no-siblings parent-child event with her Kindergarten class, so all of my neighbor's usual sitters (the other mommies from the class) were unavailable too. So my neighbor asked if I could watch her almost-3-year-old son that evening. It was Z's birthday, but I hoped she wouldn't mind. She'd much rather have had her 2-years-older "sister-friend" over, but she's actually closer in age to Eli.
Since he's a huge CARS fiend (and I'm a terrible sitter,) we watched CARS 2. (I checked that it was okay with his mom first. Some parents didn't like all the guns in it.) He told me he had eaten dinner, so I made them little snack trays to munch on.
Z's Snack
Goldfish/Pretzels mix, strawberries, apples, Ginger Cat cookies, kale chips
I let her have the fancy heart-shaped tray, since she's particular about that kind of thing. 

 Eli's Snack
Ginger Cat cookies, string cheese nibblets, Goldfish/Pretzels.
apples, blueberries, strawberries
Since I also made a Muffin Tin Snack the last time he was over, this kid probably thinks I don't own any plates!
Eli got a plain Dollar Tree pan - not good for cooking, since the one time I tried the paper liners got stuck to the bottom and tore apart coming out! (And there's still liner residue on that one. Bleah.) But can't beat $1 for use as a segmented tray or plate! Also great for crafts and sorting activities. Last time he didn't do as well with a silicone one, since whenever he tried to pick it up or move it, it would bend in the middle. So I figured a nice rigid metal one would give him the freedom to pick it up if he chose.

They both got some Trader Joe's Cats cookies in ginger-cookie flavor (Z's choice for me to sub for her Little Gym camp snacks instead of their artificially-flavored cookies. And since I'll be packing her substitute snacks, I can also sneak in some fruits and/or veggies in a little snack bento!) And I had some Goldfish/Pretzel Mix-Up mix to use up.

Z hasn't been eating blueberries lately, so instead of those, I tried to get her to eat the "birthday strawberry" again. Without success. And since she loves kale chips, I figured they'd be a safe choice. I figured he'd already had a nutritious dinner, so I didn't worry about trying veggies on him.

He ate the apples like a watermelon, leaving the "rinds," and he left half the cheddar Goldfish crackers, but ate everything else, and had seconds on the strawberries. Z ate everything but the strawberry with a birthday hat pick. Still the strawberry's birthday, I guess.
Turns out he had been served dinner, but had hardly eaten any of it! So I'm glad I didn't pile on too much junk food!

Muffin Tin Monday at

 hat picks

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Happy Father's Day, Dadda!

Little Z loves her "Dadda" so incredibly much. She even came up with her own way of saying "daddy." Dadda. Not Dah-dah. Not Dah-dee. Dad-uh. No clue where it came from, since I say "daddy" when talking about him. I love that she has her own special way of saying it. 
Baby E isn't talking yet, but when he enters the room, she yanks her head painfully towards him while nursing just lights up! He is such a great Dad to both our girls.

I wanted to do something that took very little effort on my part special for Father's Day. So when I saw this list of fun questions to ask your kid about their Daddy, I knew it would be perfect! Z's answers are all in bold. (I love hearing the answers little kids have to questions. It's so fascinating to hear how their minds work!)

My Dad is I don't know. 54? years old.
My Dad is really strong. He could lift a [Little Z]
My Dad's favorite color is orange
My Dad's favorite food is noodles
My Dad always says "No." No wait. "Yes"
My Dad is the best at playing Little Big Planet [a video game]
My Dad's job is work
My Dad laughs when I do funny things
If my Dad had time, he would love to play with me
My Dad and I like to play together
My Dad really loves me!
I love my Dad because he's fun

Z - age 4

You can do this yourself on a free printable from the Crafting Chicks and make a truly memorable one-of-a-kind card for Dad or Grandpa. (Use a photo editing program, such as Photoshop or Picassa to edit in your own text.)

She also worked on a special project for him [if I can remember where I put it... Doh!] Since he's the one who reads bedtime stories with her, she made him a special story book about our family at an art class/craft playdate we went to. It's made from several paper lunch sacks folded in half and hole-punched along the fold. Then she used a needle and yarn to sew several bags together to form a book, and added illustrations and some text (mostly random letters, since she still tends to skip a bunch when sounding out her words.) The bag openings make little pockets for treasures or special notes they can collect and add later. And the bottom flap from the bag can fold open and closed for extra interactive pages! 
For extra fun, there were some fancy hole punchers in fun shapes to make holes in the bag-pages, as well as cut-outs of colored paper to glue into their books. She wasn't interested in gluing anything on, but enjoyed making a few hole shapes in her front "cover."
"Dadda's going to NUV his new book!" 
The project went along with the story "Beautiful Oops!" where mistakes and messes kept "ruining" the book, but were turned into fun and creative artworks instead. This really appealed to Z, since she gets frustrated when what she's trying to do isn't "perfect," and then the paper is "ruined" after she throws a little tantrum and wrinkles it. She was pleased to see that she can turn her mistakes into something else, and maybe something better than she had initially planned!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

4th Birthday Bento

Thursday, 6/7/12 - Yeah. I know her birthday was over a week ago. But I forgot about this one was so behind on my posts and wanted to finish showing off May's lunches first!

A Birthday Bento for my 4-Year-Old Star!
Strawberries, PB-Nutella 2-tier sandwich w/dye-free sprinkles, cherries,
Greek honey yogurt w/sprinkles, kale chips
Birthday Star!: I chopped some strawberries up, but I kept one whole and stuck a party hat pick on top at a jaunty angle. I put the chopped ones and the last of our cherries into silicone star cups (I got my purple one imported from China via eBay, and the blue one at World Market, 6/$2.99.)

 [This post contains affiliate links.

The kale chips were a special request, which I was more than happy to oblige. Wait, what? You want veggies for your birthday? Hold on while I trip over myself to get it done!

I was making our lunches plus the snack for preschool the night before, so I opted to just use the last of the Greek honey-flavored yogurt instead of cutting cheese into stars. There wasn't enough left to give her as much as I usually would, but oh well. I added some dye-free jimmies to jazz it up. Even though she only needed a spoon, I put in one of her new sporks, since she really likes them and chooses one whenever she thinks about it.

You Take the Cake!: I got the idea to make a cake sandwich from BentOnBetterLunches, but I couldn't find my nesting biscuit cutters. And I don't have enough alphabet picks to spell out "Happy Birthday." So instead I got out my nesting stars cutters and then used some more Nutella to "frost" the top layer of "cake," and added dye-free jimmies sprinkles and a star pick "candle." (Purple. Her favorite color!)
Sadly the star got pushed in deep when the lid went on, and I had a hard time trying to pry it back up before handing her the lunch the next day. Not that she noticed, though.

Mama's Lunch
Spinach salad w/blueberries, almonds, and raspberry vinaigrette.
SunButter and raisin Ants on a Log, crackers, cheese scraps
Trying to use up the last of the organic grocery-store spinach before my CSA season starts (I signed up with this farm last Summer and really liked it. But their Winter share is mostly lettuces and greens, which are not my thing. Spinach and kale (chips only!) are the only leafy items I'm even remotely interested in. And I'd still rather have a PB-honey sandwich most days. Also frantically going through the blueberries, since Hubby bought a big container of them and Z won't eat them lately. And I need to use up the celery, since it's been in there a few weeks already too. So this is a "I got to move it, move it" lunch! Also some cheese scraps from her preschool snack shapes earlier in the week, and some Tuscan Herb Leek crackers I bought on a whim, but shouldn't have. Don't get me wrong. They're tasty. But not whole grain or anything, so just empty carbs. Delicious, delicious empty carbs.
Both packed in our EasyLunchboxes. My fork is from Dollar Tree (baby section,) and sauce container is a Tupperware Smidget. Super thin flexible silicone cup was also from Dollar Tree, found at Valentine's time (6/$1. Useless for baking though. Practically too thin to stand. Perfect for bento though!)

Her birthday was a busy activity-filled day! First she came in and snuggled with Baby and got to kiss her on the face (she's always trying to kiss Baby on the face, but after 3 months of back-to-back colds (including one trip to the hospital with RSV,) we've had to crack down on the snugglings.)
Then it was "The Big Show" at Little Gym - the end of the school-year season where they get to show off the skills they've learned, and get a medal at the end! Unka Seesee took the morning off work to come and watch too. But Z hates to be the center of attention like that, so she mostly goofed around and refused to participate

Then on the way to school, she ate every last little scrap of food - except the strawberry with the hat pick.
"It's the stwawberry's birdday today, and she doesn't want to be eaten."

      hat picks