Category Archives: Cooking with Kids

Lunchbox Fare – and an Impromptu Lunchbox Carnival

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School starts in earnest for Chicken Little tomorrow. In an effort to find that ever-elusive balance we discussed things I could buy for his lunch at the store. Naturally any boy with a Lunchable ™ fettish would request those first in the off chance that Hell had frozen over. But since it hadn’t, we broadened the conversation.

Everything I listed off he shot down. Sushi wraps? They come undone. Tortilla rolls? Too messy. Sandwiches? Too soggy. For a moment I felt like I was reading Old Hat New Hat with the Berenstein Bears.

I know next week when I am in the throes of packing lunchboxes I’ll be desperate for ideas so I’m compiling a list now. I hope this list helps trigger ideas for you and would love you to add more ideas in the comments below. In fact, I’m turning this into a carnival so we can all participate. I’ll keep this entry open so feel free to come back at a later time when you do your own blog post and link in to it, or if you don’t have a blog please do leave ideas in the comments.

Some quick ideas I had that I’ll hopefully find time to post recipes for in more detail next week:

  • Sushi wraps were too messy for my guy because I don’t wrap them in plastic wrap, however, if you have a creative way to wrap them they make a wonderful and fun lunch. You can line a piece of nori with brown rice then make a line of julienned lunch meat or veggies, smoked or canned salmon, bacon, egg salad, roe, olives or whatever your kids like. The more flavor the better since the rice will balance it out. In fact you can make these themed with Spanish rice and taco fillings or feta and sun dried tomatoes – think of pizza toppings and there you have it.
  • Tortilla wraps are essentially the same thing. You can spread a layer of cream cheese and then add lunch meat and a pickled green bean, asparagus or pickle spear and roll them up. Or try hummus and feta with chopped tomatoes and cucumber. The sky is the limit here too.
  • Burritos are always easy if you have purchased or frozen tortillas on hand. Black bean and rice or leftover meat and cheese. Chicken and peanut sauce with crunchy carrots. Black eye peas and corn with mustard vinaigrette. Teriyaki chicken and rice. These would all be nice flavors.
  • Hard boiled eggs
  • Deviled eggs, egg salad, deviled or potted meats, liver pate, chicken, tuna or salmon salad, smoked salmon spread, hummus, flavored cream cheeses, potted cheese (grated cheddar mixed with cream cheese) all make nutrient – dense entrees you can pack in a small lidded container and can be eaten with a spoon or fork or used to spread on bread and crackers.
  • Calzones, pocket bread, pasties, filled croissants, empanadas and other hand pies are a fun thing to make. You can use pizza dough or purchased puff pastry, croissant or brioche dough or make your own. The fillings for these can also be endless.
  • Homemade Lunchables ™. Since Chicken Little has a Lunchable ™ fettish I’ll be focusing on these. He seems particularly enamored with the pizza and cracker sandwich options, which I believe his little brother (Pancake Boy) will also be willing to try. We’ll be making our own whole grain crackers and sending sliced cheese and home cured ham along. He also wants the nacho ones and I may find time to make corn tortillas then fry them into chips but more likely I’ll be buying the Que Pasa organic ones from BC. I will be making cheese sauce from a standard white sauce with grated cheese added and some green tomato enchilada sauce. We’ll also be prebaking small pizza shells and sending along some pizza sauce, grated cheese and pepperoni or home-cured Canadian bacon. I’d love any other ideas you have for interactive meals!
  • Homemade chili, soups, or leftover casseroles in a small thermos
  • Savory bread pudding squares or breakfast strata
  • Stir fried rice
  • Omelettes or mini quiches
  • Croque-Monsieur or French Toast
  • Croquettes
  • Fried Chicken
  • Rice and bean bowls
  • Okonomiyaki
  • Pasta salad – standard Italian seasonings, feta, olives and sun dried tomatoes or nut sauce and sesame oil with Asian flavors
  • Yakisoba
  • Tortellini with Alfredo sauce, ravioli or spaghetti with meatballs or Bolognese sauce in a thermos
  • Swedish or teriyaki meatballs in a small thermos
  • Garbanzo bean and spelt salad
  • Beef or salmon jerky
  • Dried fruit or fruit leather
  • Carrot salad or broccoli slaw
  • Yogurt and fruit with granola for self topping

  • Carrot sticks, celery or cherry tomatoes with dip
  • Apple slices with cajeta or nut butter
  • Pantry Pudding


    Did you think I was going to pull a box out of the pantry? :)

    Last year when I started this journey I was a pretty decent cook but there are so many pantry items I never would have even thought about making from scratch. Pudding was one of those things.

    When you read the list of ingredients on the back of the pudding box it sounds so magical, so mysterious, so laboratory and so improbable that you could make pudding yourself from things you already have in your pantry or fridge in the same amount of time it takes to cook box pudding.

    Imagine making amazing pudding anytime you want without having to run to the store because you are out of boxed pudding, and without giving a dime to a large food corporation. No special packaging to dispose of and no artificial flavors or chemicals. And because you control the amount of sweetener the ingredients are, for the most part, totally wholesome ingredients that can help you get nutrient dense calories into a growing child. How cool is that?


    Tonight’s pudding is dessert but it could just as easily be breakfast if I increased the number of egg yolks and cut back on the sugar. In fact, I may just make a bacon and maple syrup flavored pudding for breakfast one day. It would be the same basic recipe that I’m about to share with you and that would be one of a million ways in which you could personalize it.

    By adding various flavoring extracts in place of the vanilla (think orange, coconut, mint, almond) or steeping herbs and spices for 30 minutes in the warm milk before making the pudding (think mint, lemon verbena, cardamon, coffee beans, tea with Chai spices, cinnamon, even garlic, rosemary or basil), adding solids (think citrus zest or pureed pumpkin) or substituting another liquid at the end as part of the total liquid in the recipe (think Frangelico, Kahlua, scotch) your options are endless.

    You can dial up or down the sweetness and the fat to your own personal preference since the sugar and butter have nothing to do with getting the pudding to set. The cornstarch and egg yolks take care of that for you.

    And really, there’s always room for pudding. Everyone knows that.

    Master Recipe for Pudding

    3/4 cup organic sugar
    3 tablespoons organic corn starch
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    1 1/2 cup heavy cream
    1 1/2 cup whole milk
    3 egg yolks
    3 tablespoons butter in 3 pieces
    1 teaspoon vanilla


    If you plan to steep herbs or spices in the milk gently warm the milk, add the spices, then turn off the heat and let the milk sit for 30 minutes before straining. Discard the herbs or spices and use the milk as directed in the recipe.

    In a saucepan, whisk together the sugar, cornstarch and salt. If you were making chocolate pudding you would add your cocoa powder now as well. Add half of the cream and the egg yolks and whisk until smooth.  Whisk in the remaining cream and milk.

    Place the pan over medium heat and bring it to a boil, stirring constantly once the mixture thickens. Boil the pudding for 1 minute then remove the pan from the heat and stir in the butter along with any extracts, liquors or chocolate chips until the mixture is smooth.

    Pour into individual serving dishes then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Pudding will set once it is chilled.


    I have not found a satisfactory work around for covering the pudding surface with plastic wrap and I hate to use it around food. This step is not necessary but it does help make the pudding creamier since the steam doesn’t escape as the pudding cools and that thick skin doesn’t form on the surface.

    What I do is put all the ramekins on a tray and cover that with another tray. Because the steam is trapped under the top tray the skin doesn’t form but as condensation forms on the tray above the pudding, it drips back down and discolors the pudding surface. The texture is still intact and you could easily hide the surface with some whipped cream if you were entertaining. My kids certainly don’t mind though! 

    Flavor Variations:

    Chocolate Pudding
    Add 3 tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder along with the sugar. Once the pudding is cooked and you’ve removed the pan from the heat stir in about 1/2 cup of chocolate chips or chopped baking chocolate. Cinnamon, mint, orange, coffee, Kahlua, or Frangelico would all be great in this chocolate variation.

    Butterscotch Pudding
    Substitute 3/4 cup brown sugar for the granulated sugar. Once the pudding is cooked and you’ve removed the pan from the heat stir in 2-3 tablespoons of Scotch along with the vanilla.

    Chai Latte Pudding
    Steep 1 tablespoon of black or rooibos tea along with 3 cardamom seeds, 3 peppercorns, 1/2 stick of cinnamon, 6 cloves and a pinch of ginger in the milk before making the pudding as discussed above. Proceed with the master pudding recipe.

    Kids Cook

    Early in December my friends Joshua and Emily came to dinner with their two kids.  Our goal:  to have the kids cook dinner for us.  We settled on pizza and I had prepped as much of the work as possible.  They had some grown-up assistance but took to their responsibilities like true chefs.


    A discerning eye and headlamp for night time harvesting – only the freshest produce would do.


    Carefully placing each chosen ingredient.  Balance is key.


    The fruits of their labors – one plain Jane cheese pizza to please the pickiest toddler palate, one Thundering Hooves ham on a Mt. Pleasant munschli based bechamel, one Skagit River sausage, home pickled Tonnamaker cherry bomb peppers and previously frozen basil leaves from the yard.  The tomato base came from previously made and canned sauce from the garden.  Our concession since River Ranch stopped selling fresh mozzarella and my freezer was all out of the surplus cheeses I had made all summer – Tillamook mozzarella.  The kids didn’t mind though.


    We rounded out the dinner with Rockridge Orchard apple cider, just pulled carrots, and a freshly picked salad featuring Estrella Wynoochie blue and home pickled beets from our yard which we discovered that even the toddler liked.

    It was a blast putting the kids in charge of dinner and watching them work together to pull it off.  The grown ups assisted when necessary but otherwise relaxed and enjoyed the face of what I hope will be many meals to come.  Ya hear that kids?  Now I know you can do the cooking!