Monday, March 24, 2014

good-bye, and thank you!

Well, the Ladies have come to the end of the road.

It's a funny thing. The very first post on this blog, way back in September 2010 by Sue, was a lament about Bento boxes, cookie-cutter shaped sandwiches, and love notes from mom tucked in among the theme toothpicks.

We didn't know how good we had it. Pinterest's huge popularity was still a year away. Bento boxes weren't the half of it, folks.

However, we all adapted. In January 2013 Sue moved on, and Nicole and Hannah joined the site. We added more recipes. We tried not to notice that people were taking the time to make Chewbacca out of pasta:

As time passed, we all got into the routine. Some kids moved on to bigger schools where they could buy lunch. Other kids started helping to pack their own, or developed preferences that made packing lunches easy (if not mentally stimulating).

We started finding it tough to come up with new topics. There are so many options for finding lunch ideas online now, that this space has become kind of redundant.

After much discussion, we've made the decision to finally bring lunch to an end.

It's been fun, and we've loved putting this together for you. The blog will still be here and we hope that both long-time readers and parents new to the packed lunch game will find laughs, tips, and comfort in our stories.

Here are some of our favourite posts:

Home for a Lunch

High School Confidential

Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme

Slow Like Molasses


Honeydew and Lemons

On behalf of all the Ladies, past and present, thank you. Thank you for reading, for sharing your own suggestions for lunches, and for offering your comments and feedback.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

desperate times, desperate measures

Well, we missed last week. And by "we" I mean "me", and since I'm normally a stickler for meeting deadlines you can tell how bad this Winter That Will Not End is grinding me down.

My kids, after brief forays into interesting lunches, have retreated to "ham & cheese sandwiches every day, except Thursday, when we have pizza at school". I am so booooored with packing lunches. SO BORED IT IS TIME TO BE DONE NOW PLEASE.

On Monday morning I went to make lunches and realized I had completely forgotten to take a loaf of bread out of the freezer. I briefly toyed with the idea of keeping them home (nope) or heating up some canned soup and throwing it in a thermos (oldest would have loved it, middle would have starved, youngest would have needed a bath after lunch).

Obviously, none of these ideas would work. In desperation I boiled half a dozen eggs. Each of the three kids got a boiled egg or two, some cheddar cheese cubes, whole grain crackers, and cherry tomatoes. The usual two pieces of fruit to accompany it and a small yoghurt cup, and we had what I thought was a nice-looking lunch.

All three kids ate every crumb in their lunch. I was feeling pretty smug. I mean, that lunch was practically Bento-box worthy! Perhaps I would be freed from the tyranny of ham & cheese sandwiches.

Alas, it was not to be. Although 8yo and 5yo both said the lunch was "delicious!" and "tasty!" and "fun!", when I asked what they'd like on Tuesday they both said "ham & cheese sandwiches, please".

Oh well. It was fun while it lasted.


I have a trick that I've been playing on my kids for years, and even though two of them are now old enough to know that I'm totally snowing them, they still love it.

I buy plain, live-culture Greek yoghurt. No added sugar, no weird preservatives I can't pronounce. I drizzle it with a little honey and tell them it's just like Winnie-the-Pooh's favourite snack of condensed milk and honey.

Now, I know that condensed milk and plain yoghurt taste absolutely nothing alike, in any universe... but when they were very young, they didn't. All they knew was that if Winnie-the-Pooh would eat white dairy stuff with honey, they would too. The tradition has stuck. They call it "pooh-snacks" and take great delight in freaking out their friends by asking me for some after school.

This is a snap to throw together, cheaper and healthier than 'lunch box ready' yoghurt products, and endlessly customizable. Give it a try!


1/2 cup plain, live-culture Greek yoghurt
1 tsp honey
a handful of your favourite fruit

Mix it up, serve it. Make sure you call it a Pooh-snack or the magic doesn't work.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Mama Mia, Here We Go Again

It's official: my children have passed the stage where they want to give their classmates Valentine cards. Valentine cards are "lame" and "boring" and also, they don't want to give cards to people who aren't particular friends. Gone are the days when one could feel popular based on the number of cards in our construction paper mailboxes; these are the days when we either give to everyone, or give to no one. My children have chosen the "no one" option.
But that doesn't mean they want to be merely Takers in the classroom. They do want to be Givers, just not Lame-o Card Givers, apparently. What they chose to do, this year, is to send in cookies for their classmates to enjoy during the class parties. Cookies, in their humble opinions, are far superior to cards.
And so it was that I found myself making eighty-four sugar cookies in the shape of hearts. I packed off thirty-five for each class - making sure the teachers and aides could enjoy as well - and kept a few at home for the boys to gorge on. When I went to pick up the boys from school, a number of third-and-fourth graders came running up to me on the playground, to inform me that I am, officially, the "World's Best Baker".
Well. I feel I might just get myself a t-shirt with that emblazoned on the front.
The truth is, though, that I owe this title to my mother. This is her recipe for sugar cookies, and when I was a child my friends would all clamour for more of her cookies. She would bake them for every occasion and now I do too: heart shapes for Valentine's, ghosts, pumpkins and black cats for Halloween, bunnies for Easter, trees and snowmen for Christmas, stars for birthdays. My kids' friends gobble them down with admiration, just like my friends did for my mom. It's sweet.

Mom's Old Fashioned Sugar Cookies

1 1/2 cup butter, softened
2 1/4 cups sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons vanilla
3 eggs
4 1/2 cups flour
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoon salt

Cream together butter, sugar, and vanilla. Add eggs and beat together. Mix in dry ingredients. Divide dough into three balls, cover with plastic wrap and a) chill overnight, or b) freeze for later consumption.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees and line cookie sheets with parchment paper. Roll dough out to 1/4 inch thickness; cut into shapes. Bake for 8-9 minutes for a perfectly soft, chewy cookie. Cookies should be slightly browned around the edges.

Perfect Buttercream Frosting:

1/2 cup very soft butter
4 cups icing sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla
2-3 tablespoons milk

Beat butter with icing sugar, adding the sugar very slowly by 1/2 cup increments. Add vanilla and milk by tablespoon until desired consistency is reached. Add food colouring if desired.

Makes about 7 dozen cookies, depending on the size of your cookie cutters. Size does matter and don't let anyone tell you different.

Friday, February 14, 2014

A Lovely Lunch

It's Valentine's Day! Which, at this point in my life, who really cares right? Don't get me wrong: I am grateful to have found someone to love who is a fantastic partner and father, but it still feels like a manufactured holiday. This is good for said partner. It means my expectations are non-existent. That lucky, lucky guy.

I remember in high school, during the lead-up to every Valentine's Day students could order carnations of different colours (red for love, yellow for friendship, some other colour for a crush) and have them delivered to a person's homeroom. My self-esteem is still slightly bruised from the experience of sitting there for 5 years and never receiving a red carnation. Or even the crush colour. I got yellow from my friends once, I think. I was a late bloomer. It happens.

But my sad, pubescent love life is not really relevant on this lunch blog. The reason I bring it up is that I find kids and, yes, that includes teenagers, put a lot of stake in Valentine's Day. My youngest went off to school this morning, dressed in fetching shades of pink, her Valentine cards in her backpack with Hershey Kisses carefully taped on top.

My middle-schooler dressed and did her hair extra carefully in anticipation of attending a Much Music dance party at her school today.

And my high-schooler...I frankly have no idea what's going on there. He's 14 and male so communication is not his strong suit right now. There could be carnations, and a tender, bruised ego, but I will never know unless it makes it on to Facebook. That is reality.

Because kids are kids and they like to celebrate every "holiday", I have always made an effort to include something special in their lunch bags on Valentine's Day. In past years, I have cut heart shapes out of sugar cookie dough and lovingly decorated them. I have baked decadent brownies, also cutting them into heart shapes. I even have a giant heart-shaped cookie pan that I usually crack out at this time of year to make a really large chocolate chip cookie and then decorate with appropriately gushy decorations.

Guess what I did this year? Threw a few leftover Hershey's Kisses in each of their lunch bags and called it a day.

I don't think I ever appreciated how much extra time working from  home afforded me to do the little extras. In between writing projects I could easily whip up a batch of brownies, it was no biggie. Now that I'm working a traditional work day in an office, and trying to run kids to activities, get errands done and everything else in the evenings, time is a scarce commodity. Last night when I got home at 9 p.m., I did bake red velvet cupcakes, but they are for dinner with friends tonight. The kids are under strict orders to NOT TOUCH THE CUPCAKES. At least until after dinner tonight. And those cupcakes that I made? They were from a box.

I actually have a red velvet cupcake recipe that I love, but I just did not have the will (or the red paste food colouring) to make it happen. It's fine. These days I do what I can and the kids are fine. They know that love doesn't hinge on home baking. So today they will open their lunches to Hershey's Kisses and, whether the day is leaving them feeling blessed or bruised, I know that they will be happy for the surprise.

Friday, February 7, 2014

technical difficulties - please stand by

Sadly, a broken laptop has cut our intrepid Beck off at the knees. I can only assume she's holed up in the wilds of Northern Ontario, twisting hay to keep warm and cursing her phone's unsuitability as a blogging platform.

Regular posting will resume next Thursday, February 13th.

In the meantime, here are two videos of handsome British men interacting with Muppets, for your viewing pleasure. One features cookies and one features fruit, so it's kind of like lunch, right?

See you next week!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

we all live in a yellow submarine

As this year has worn on, I've learned that what we as adults would find boring - the same lunch every day for weeks on end - is actually comforting to kids. We may not like packing the same dull lunches day after day, but they like eating them.

And so, my kids have settled into a routine:

Monday - ham or turkey & cheese sandwich with baby spinach, yoghurt or cheesestring, banana, one other fruit or vegetable
Tuesday - see above
Wednesday - replace "apple" with "bag of plain popcorn for school fundraiser"
Thursday - pizza from school, snacks from home
Friday - egg salad for 5 year old, ham or turkey & cheese for 8 year old

It's easy to plan for. I have my fun mixing up the fruit / veggies they get based on what's on sale or tasting especially nice in a given week. And they come home with empty lunchbags, so either they're feeding seagulls or I've hit on a winning formula.


This week, store-made sub buns were on sale at my favourite grocery store, so I decided to give it a try. Mix things up a bit. I bought the buns and asked the boys if they'd like subs for a change this week.

"WOW!" said 8 year old. "Like from Subway?"

"I LOVE Subway!" proclaimed 5 year old.

Here's the funny thing. The toppings on their subs are exactly the same as what they've been having on their sandwiches. Turkey or ham, cheese, baby spinach, mayo, little bit of spicy mustard.

But they are on a SUB. This is COOL. The other kids in the class are, apparently, ENVIOUS.

We have a winner, folks.

Is it any less boring for me? A little, actually. It's nice to hear "mom, that lunch was delicious! Can we have it again?" Now I'm trying to think of ways to repackage other favourites. I guess it's all in the presentation.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Haters Going To Hate, Nicole's Going To Lunchmate

As you know, my children come home for lunch. I can count on one hand the number of kids who go home for lunch in our school of 520 children. I don't mind it; we are a twelve minute walk/ two minute drive to the school, so other than pattering back and forth to the school six times a day, and always having to schedule appointments in the space in between drop off, lunch, and pick up times, it's a pleasure. I like to see the kids in the middle of the day, they like to have a bit of downtime at home, I don't need to worry about them freezing on the playground when the temperature is only slightly above the minus-20 cutoff, and the dog is always happy when he sees his people come home, hopefully to accidentally drop a bit of lunch on the floor.

Plus, I get to serve the children a hot lunch*!

*Hot lunch meaning toasted bagel, plus non-hot fruit and cookies.

That's the drill from Monday to Thursday, anyway. Fridays are different because those are the days of early dismissal; the children finish school at 1:10. This means that they have a fifteen minute "nutrition break", and I need to pack as much nutrition as possible into that nutrition break for a couple of reasons. Friday afternoons mean long hours at the playground, hanging out with friends at home, or doctor/ dentist/ haircut appointments. In any case, they need to be sufficiently fueled for our free afternoon, but they also need to be able to eat quickly.

And so on Fridays I join the ranks of practically every other mother in the country, packing lunches that I am reasonably sure are going to get eaten. I make them "Lunchmates".

Before you slam your laptop shut or, less aggressively, click on the "close window" button, I have actually never purchased a Lunchmate in my life. I know there is a furor surrounding them and their lack of nutrition, not to mention the environmental impact. But I tell you this: I can really understand the appeal. I am someone who actually secretly likes getting meals on airplanes, everything in their little compact container. I loved getting hospital meals because look! A tiny thing of milk to pour on the little bowl of oatmeal, so cute! I also, less weirdly, like getting room service for the same reason. So I can really understand why Lunchmates are appealing: they're cute, they're neatly contained, and they require almost zero effort on the part of the lunch packer.

But! They are nutritionally deficient, the containers are landfill-bound, and they are also expensive. Here's what I do: I have two Bento-style boxes I bought at my local Co-Op. I put a bunch of crackers in the large "sandwich" part of the container. I put a stick of pepperoni (nitrate free!) and some carrots, grapes, or berries in the smaller parts of the containers. I put a couple of cookies, a muffin, or some banana bread in a separate container, fill a water bottle, and BADA BING BADA BOOM. Lunch. The containers always come home mostly empty and the children are ready for a Friday afternoon of fun and/or appointments.

The best part? The cost. Here is my breakdown for the cost of the lunch, not including the baked goods:

Crackers: $3.49/box. I get about eight servings out of a box. Cost: $0.44/ serving.
Pepperoni: $8.99 for a pack of 20. Cost per stick: $0.45.
Carrots: $2.99/ 2 pound bag. I worked this out to $0.23 per serving of carrots.

Total cost: $1.12. I don't know what Lunchmates cost but I assume it is much more for smaller, less nutritious servings. It takes me approximately five minutes to put together, which is more than zero minutes, but still pretty reasonable.


Thursday, January 16, 2014

I got a case of January-itis

I am not a fan of January. It's the month that makes me feel incompetent; it makes me doubt my deepest, most ingrained skills. I have no gumption, and that extends to making lunches. The other day I fantasized about filling the kids' lunch bags entirely with popcorn. Maybe burying a full can of Coke in the popcorn. It would be like a nutritionally defunct treasure hunt. The kids would love it, to be sure, but the lack of protein and vitamins would result in a mood crash that would hurt me in the end. So I made pasta salad instead.

It didn't go well. I chose to boil shell-shaped pasta and when I rinsed one of the shells with cold water to test whether it was cooked enough, there was sneaky, sneaky boiling water hiding in the shell. NINJA water, that spilled onto my tongue and lip burning me painfully.

"I liked that pasta salad, Mom, but what was that weird stuff in it?"

"Oh, those were mama's taste buds baby. I didn't need them any more. Apparently."

Still, the pasta salad was good. I find that it's a nice break from sandwiches and thermos fare. And it's super flexible. Just boil some noodles (quinoa or rice would work too) and then chop up whatever veggies you have on hand and throw them in. Leftover chicken or salmon gives it a nice protein boost, if you have any. Then you can either mix in some bottled salad dressing (I used Renee's Greek) or you could mix up your own with a little olive oil, balsamic vinegar and a touch of sweetness - honey, sugar or even maple syrup would work.

Isn't that easy? And here's the best part: We're one lunch closer to spring.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Slow Like Molasses

The post-Christmas month of January - partly a relief (THE KIDS ARE BACK IN SCHOOL! THERE PROBABLY AREN'T ANY LARGE FAMILY GATHERINGS FOR MONTHS!) and partly a huge let-down because all we have to look forward to now are several more months of winter and  trying not to freeze to death. But let's stay positive: THE KIDS ARE BACK IN SCHOOL! And on a negative note, we must continue to feed them while they are at school and whatever early September enthusiasm I had for school lunches is long, long gone.

One of the things I like to rant about on Twitter - partly for fun and partly BECAUSE IT IS TRUE - is that people should eat more molasses. Yes! Stop using expensive corn-syrup-y cactus juice and instead use delicious, cheap, iron-rich molasses! I also like to rant about this in person.Obviously, I am very fun to know. I am also correct because molasses is excellent.

Also excellent: many years ago I sent away for a molasses cookbook offered for freeee by a molasses company and they sent it to me and it has been a delight and a comfort ever since. I've always thought the recipe for Frosted Molasses Bars looked delicious and last night I made them for school lunches today and WHAT DO YOU KNOW, they're AMAZING.

Frosted Molasses Bars
1/2 cup softened butter
1/2 cup white sugar
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup Fancy molasses
1/2 tsp. vanilla
2 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup milk
(The recipe called for 1/2 cup chopped walnuts and 1/2 cup raisins but of course I didn't add those because I am not a monster.)

Preheat oven to 350. Grease a 9x9 square pan.

Cream together butter, sugar and egg and add the molasses and vanilla.
Sift together all the dry ingredients add to the molasses mixture alternating with milk.
Bake for 35 minutes.

When it's cool, frost with a frosting made from:
3 c. icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1/3 cup softened butter
2 tbsp Fancy molasses
2 tbsp milk (I needed more than this).

Cut into bars.