“Pack” to School (or work)

My daughter likes school lunches but she also likes packing. Honestly, I start the year out great: she usually packs 3-4 times per week and buys school lunches 1-2 times. By the end of the year I’ve hit a road block and she buys lunch every day because I’m just over it! Told you I’d be honest.

She has gotten into situations where she hasn’t eaten enough fiber and that’s not good for her gut health. When she packs, she eats enough fiber. When she buys school lunch I’m not so sure…? It’s really nothing against school lunch, she can pick and choose what she wants to eat and I can’t guarantee it’s full of fiber! Packing lunches for my kiddo is fairly easy because she does eat a moderate variety of foods. Some kiddos are easy to pack for, while others aren’t. Whichever box your child fits into, I think you’ll find some ideas in this blog. You may even be able to get ideas for your own lunch at work!

First, you need the key items: a lunch box that can keep things cold, an ice pack, containers and/or baggies, and a piece of paper.

  1. The lunchbox to keep things cold along with the ice pack will keep you and your child’s lunch safe from harmful bacteria that grow when it gets warmer.
  2. If you are packing warm items, consider a thermal lined container that will keep it hot and also safe from harmful bacteria.
  3. Containers are great for things like salads, pasta salad, and even things like sandwiches, fruits, and snack items because they are reusable. I love the environment and being responsible but we also use baggies because…life!
  4. Was the piece of paper weird? Probably but here’s the catch: your child, spouse, you yourself needs some encouragement and what better way to add it than half way through their day at a meal?! If your child is younger and can’t read, just a simple picture of a heart or a smiley face will do. In elementary school a nice “I love you”, “Kindness is cool”, or “God loves you” is amazing! In high school, quotes of encouragement “Be the best you, you can be”, “Look out for the friend that’s hurting”, “I am so proud of who you are becoming”, “I loved watching you play baseball yesterday”, etc. I’ll put more encouraging quotes at the end of this because I think it is super important to use words of affirmation with your children/spouse/yourself!
My kiddos help with food prep! This is my 7 year old daughter cutting cucumbers.

Second you need an idea of what a good lunch layout looks like. I mentioned fiber was an important piece to my daughters lunch…it should be a huge piece to everyones lunch! Fiber keeps your bowels healthy which in turn helps to keep your entire body healthy!

  1. Protein: protein comes from both plants and animals. We mostly think of them coming from animals like chicken, turkey, ham, cheese, and tuna BUT they can also come from plants like peanut butter, almond butter, beans, peas, lentils, and nuts.
  2. Energy: energy comes from things with carbohydrates. Carbohydrates help to feed every.single.cell in our bodies! Foods like fruits, grains (whole wheat bread, rice, corn), beans, and starchy vegetables like potatoes will give your kiddos the energy they need to finish out their day strong!
  3. Veggies: there’s really no scientific reason that I put veggies here except for the fact that it helps them get in more fiber and keeps them fuller longer so they aren’t coming home SUPER RAVENOUS! Things like carrots, celery, cucumbers, peppers, broccoli, cherry tomatoes, salads, etc all have a load of fiber AND nutrients for their and your overall health.

Third you need to actually pack it! I like to pack my daughter’s lunch in the morning BUT I will do prep-work the night before. I know many parents who pack their kiddos lunch the night before because the mornings are chaotic. If I worked a full time job I probably would put in the grunt work the night before because…chaos BUT because I stay at home now, I just throw it together in the morning. There’s no right or wrong but I will tell you that if you are feeling overwhelmed in the mornings PLEASE pack lunches the night before. Do whatever you can to lighten the load of the morning rush 🙂

Fourth the “what to pack” is probably the most important! OK Dietitian Lady, just tell me what some good ideas are for packing. I’m on it! Honestly (again), as I sat here reading through one of the dietitian bloggers’ lunch ideas I realize how hard it is to follow their lunches. I mean…you’ve got to make grain free granola bars and chia seed pudding. I’m not that kind of girl!!!!! Here’s a list of 20 EASY AND FEASIBLE ideas to pack your kiddos and yourself! There will be asterisk* after some and I will provide the simple recipe to that.

  1. PBJ sandwiches on whole wheat bread with carrot sticks and ranch dip
  2. Turkey sandwiches on whole wheat bread with cucumbers and hummus
  3. Pasta salad with cheese cubes and veggies (broccoli, cucumbers, and tomatoes)
  4. Whole grain crackers (think Triscuits or Wheat Thins), ham and cheese chunks with pepper sticks (add a dip to make it fun)
  5. Garden salad with Greek yogurt on the side and cheerios
  6. MYO pizzas! Whole grain English muffin, pizza sauce, and shredded mozzarella with celery and ranch dip
  7. Ham sandwich on whole wheat bread with creamed cucumber salad*
  8. Tortilla chips and hummus and/or salsa to dip with a few cheese cubes
  9. Tuna salad on whole wheat bread with celery
  10. Apple slices and celery with peanut butter
  11. Three bean salad (green beans, wax beans, black or kidney beans) add some string cheese to that for a pop of protein
  12. BLT sandwich with turkey bacon on whole grain bread with carrot sticks
  13. Bento box lunch: hard boiled egg, blueberries, whole grain crackers, pepper sticks
  14. Bento box lunch: cubes of turkey lunch meat, cheese cubes, whole grain crackers, carrot sticks
  15. Bento box lunch: cottage cheese, strawberries, whole wheat tortillas, salsa
  16. Chicken salad sandwich on whole grain bread with sliced cucumbers
  17. Sushi PBJ: whole grain tortilla with peanut butter and jelly sliced up and broccoli on the side
  18. Greek style tziki* made with plain Greek yogurt, whole grain pita bread, and cucumber slices
  19. Hummus roll-up: your favorite hummus filled with spinach, shredded carrots, tomatoes, etc on a whole grain wrap
  20. Taco salad: leftover taco meat on a salad with tortilla chips
Guac toast is another great lunch idea! Add some protein in there like Greek yogurt on the side and perfecto!

Throw in some side dishes too! Here are some great ones to keep in mind:

  • Greek yogurt
  • Dressing to dip veggies
  • Fruit at any time
  • Nuts
  • Raisins
  • Water, 100% fruit juice, milk

Do not beat yourself up if lunches are simple! Simple is sometimes the best! Make sure it is cost effective too! The goal of my blog is that anyone can read it and follow through. If you get your food from food banks, you can make most of these (you’ll be surprised at what you can get at your local food pantry). If you use SNAP, you can make all of these. If your food budget is tight, you can make all of these. If you keep the reins on . your food budget, you can make all of these. If your food budget is unlimited, you can make all of these!

Here are some inspirational quote ideas for your kiddos, your spouse, yourself:

  • Draw something! A heart, a smily face, you hugging your child, an inside joke that only you and your kiddo would get
  • “I love you”
  • “I love your face”
  • “You make my heart smile”
  • “Have a great day”
  • “Be the best you, you can be”
  • “Be kind to everyone”
  • “You are smart”
  • “You are kind”
  • “You are a great friend”
  • “You are a blessing to your teachers”
  • “God loves you”
  • “God is with you today”
  • “Smile”
  • “I’m so proud of the boy/girl you are becoming”
  • “I loved watching you play (insert sport or instrument) yesterday/this week/whenever”
  • “Thank you for helping me this morning”
  • “I appreciate how kind you are to your siblings”
  • “Life is so much better with you in it”
  • “You make life fun”
  • “Three things: I love you, you make me so proud, please wear deodorant” (haha)
  • “Find someone who is hurting today and give them a smile and this piece of candy”
  • “I can’t wait until you come home today”
  • “I can’t wait to watch/hear you play/sing…”
  • “I was so proud when you…”
  • Here are some scriptures for school and work: Micah 6:8, Romans 15:13, Psalm 20:4, 1 Samuel 16:7, Joshua 1:9, 1 Timothy 4:12, Proverbs 3:5-6, Hebrews 12:1-2, Colossians 1:17, Matthew 11:28, Philippians 4:6-7, Isaiah 30:21, Philippians 4:13, Proverbs 13:20, Colossians 3:23-24, James 1:5, Jeremiah 29:11, Galatians 5:22-23, Romans 8:28, Philippians 4:8

Make packing a lunch part of your routine! It’ll not only save you money (from buying lunch every day) but also improve your overall health if you are eating nutrient rich foods!

** Recipes:

  • Creamed cucumber salad: sliced cucumbers, sliced onions (optional), greek yogurt, splash of vinegar, salt. If you like it sweeter, add honey or sugar.
  • Tziki: cucumbers, dill, greek yogurt, lemon juice

Road Trippin’ Snacks

In my family, we go on vacation together. No. You don’t understand. This is not just immediate family we are talking about. There are around 30 of us who go to the beach (not quite) every year (but usually every other year). You see, years ago my grandparents created this tight knit bond of a family and 40 years later it is still going strong…to the point we vacation as extended-extended families!

Lovin’ their popcorn-in-a-bag

We go to the beach and we don’t live very close SO that means we spend hours in the car…with three kids…who eat A.LOT.OF.FOOD. Honestly, sometimes road trip snacks are to keep kids satiated (feeling full) but sometimes it’s to keep them satisfied (not screaming and crying). You know what? On road trips, that’s definitely OK! You’ve got to survive and as a mom and a dietitian, I get it!!!!!!!

Question is, what should you pack for road trip snacks? Well, I’ve come up with a list of 30 foods that are kid proof (won’t make a huge mess in your car) and adults love them too!!! If you’ve followed me long enough you know there’s at least 1 list in each blog post! Hah! These snacks should be quick to open, easily eaten with the fingers, AND provide nourishment!

Have your kids help! Emma (7) can cut up veggies with a pairing knife!
  1. Carrot sticks. Seriously these are a family favorite and delish! Bag them in small containers or baggies for each member of your family. Really little kiddos? Cut the carrots in to fun strips to reduce choking.
  2. Pepper sticks. Yes kids will eat them too! Try red, orange, or yellow peppers. Super sweet!
  3. Turkey jerky. Beef jerky is a great choice as well. Although expensive, this can be a great protein source…find it on sale!
  4. String cheese. They make tons of flavors so choose your favorite and snack away!
  5. Popcorn. Pop ahead and put them in individual baggies or containers.
  6. Granola bars. Kids Clif bars, Lara bars, and homemade granola bars are my favorite!
  7. Grapes. Make sure you cut them in 1/4ths for babies and toddlers and in half for younger children (choking hazard)
  8. Nuts. Peanuts, almonds, pistachios, cashews…whichever are your favorites!
  9. Raisins. The to-go boxes are great on the road. Sour raisins are Ah.Maze.Ing!
  10. Cranberries. A little more added sugar than raisins but still a great choice for a road trip
  11. Amanda’s Awesome Trail Mix: 1 cup cheerios, 1/2 cup raisins or cranberries, 1/2 cup nuts of your choice, 1/4 cup semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips. Mix and toss in to snack bags.
  12. Peanut butter bites: Here’s the link to mine. YOU DO NOT HAVE TO BE BREASTFEEDING TO EAT THESE! My husband loves them (and my kiddos do too)!
  13. Sunflower seeds: not just for salads!
  14. Pumpkin seeds…all the flavors.
  15. Dried whole grain cereal. Seriously. Cheerios in a bag…stellar!
  16. Yogurt pouches! YUM! These portable packs are great for younger kiddos and older ones alike! AND they don’t need to be refrigerated…BONUS!
  17. Fruit/veggie pouches…so many brands/varieties! Choose your favorite grab-and-go flavor.
  18. Cucumber slices. So good and refreshing! Sure you can dip them into hummus or ranch but if you can’t trust yourself or younger kiddos plain cucumbers work great themselves.
  19. Apple slices. Wash and keep the skins on (there are tons of nutrients in the skins) get your kiddos used to it! To keep them from browning on the trip use whole apples for yourself and older kids or slice them and add a little ascorbic acid (vitamin C…name brand “Fruit Fresh”) to keep them from browning.
  20. Mandarines. Easy to peel and sooooo delicious! I like to peel mine ahead of time for the kids and then when they are hungry just hand them a peeled one so they can go to town.
  21. Edamame. Add a little salt and pepper to these amazing soy beans and YUM! These come in the fresh and frozen section. Sometimes when they are frozen, salt has already been added so make sure you check!
  22. Whole grain crackers. My favorites are Triscuits and Wheat Thins but there are tons of brands and varieties that are great and tasty!
  23. Cherries. Especially in season these juicy fruits are great! Just make sure you have something to spit the seeds into.
  24. Roasted chickpeas. So good! They are crunchy and come in tons of flavors.
  25. Pickles. Yep. In a bag. My kids love them! They’re crunchy and salty and ohhh soooo yummy!
  26. Apple chips. These freeze dried fruit crunchies are incredible!!!! You can also pack dehydrated apples. They won’t be as crunchy but they are super sweet and delicious.
  27. Tortilla chips. The varieties are endless. Black bean, blue corn, flavored, extra crunchy…whatever. Although they are fried they’re usually only a few ingredients and if you get the whole grain, bean, or higher fiber varieties they also have some protein in them. I NEVER DO BAKED CHIPS! The ingredient lists go on forever. Regular tortilla chips/potato chips may be fried in oil (which is usually heart healthy) but their 3-5 ingredients makes up for it by not having so many additives. Plus fat isn’t “bad” for you…neither are carbs. Moderation.
  28. Fruit cups. Yes I know with little little kids this is a nightmare but with older kids this is fantastic! Peaches, pears, mandarins, apple sauce…your possibilities are endless!
  29. Turkey rollups. If your cooler game is strong (and I mean very strong like you can keep these under 44 degrees the entire trip) go for it! Roll up a slice of turkey lunch meat with some cheese. If you’re feeling adventurous add honey mustard and a thin slice of cucumber…mmmm
  30. Yogurt. Again, you have to keep these bad boys cool BUT some Greek yogurt on a road trip not only hits the sweet spot but also keeps you fuller longer.
Snacks are better on a shark towel…

I hope this list helped to give you some great ideas on road trip snacks. Instead of loads of candy or tons of processed snacks this list helps to start vacation off on the nutrient rich foot. Look, I’m not judging…I like snacks the same as the rest of the population. I don’t say no to a good Blazin’ Buffalo Dorito (ever). But it helps to take snacks on the road that won’t give the kids a sugar high while you’re cooped up in a car!

Once you get to your destination, nutrition shouldn’t be your top priority…honestly. Enjoy it and your family/friends! Don’t worry about “what” is eaten as much as how it tastes and who is in your company. Calories, carbs, proteins, fats, aren’t my main priority…ESPECIALLY while spending time with family. My family is a healthy group of eaters, balanced with a ton of activity. Our beach house will be filled with people of all ages, love, donuts, gobs, cookies, snacky foods, salads, fruit, shrimp…a lot of shrimp, fun, and laughter.

Enjoy your summer vacation! Make it healthy but don’t obsess about it! Don’t like some of the foods on this list? Don’t eat them! Choose healthy snacks you enjoy. Life is too short and moments are too good to focus on how many calories you eat while life is flying past you. Take healthy road trip snacks and mix it in with other foods too #balance.

Owen and Asher approved ::two thumbs up::

Summer Lunchin’

I’m baaaaack! It’s been a while and honestly, I wasn’t inspired enough to give you content that I felt would be worthy of you reading. I took on too much and my brain/heart just wasn’t in it BUT today I felt super inspired because I was trying to wrack my brain about what to give the boys for lunch. Summer is coming and if you have kids who are going to be home or you are going to need to pack them lunches for summer camp, you came to the right place!

I decided to pull together a list of delicious, quick, healthy, and low-cost lunches for you and your kiddos this summer. So what makes a healthy lunch anyway? Welllll I’m so glad you asked! A healthy lunch doesn’t have to be gourmet, take forever to make, or break the bank! It just has to be balanced enough for you and your kiddos to get nourishment and energy that you’ll need to conquer all of the summers most fun moments!

A healthy lunch consists of:
– Protein (for snack/hunger control): turkey lunch meat, peanut butter, beans, peas, cheese, greek yogurt, chicken, tuna, ground beef/chicken/turkey
– Carbohydrates (for energy): whole grain bread, brown rice, potatoes, pasta, pizza crust, corn, beans, peas, lentils, fruit (yep it counts!)
– Veggies (because I said so): carrots, celery, peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce, broccoli, veggie soup, tomato soup, snap peas, cauliflower, etc etc etc

From there, get creative! Keeping it low cost is a cinch…seriously, don’t make this too hard on yourself and too time-consuming either! If you use SNAP benefits, these ideas will help your access money stretch! If you get food from your local food bank/pantry keep your eyes peeled for these things! If you’re watching your food budget (like I do) take these tips to heart!

  • Make a meal plan and stick with it. Check your pantry for foods you already have and use them up! Cans of tuna? Tuna salad/casserole this week. Pasta sauce, yep you guessed it! Some kind of pasta dish! From there create a grocery list (if you get food bank items, meal plan around them). ONLY BUY WHAT IS ON YOUR LIST!
  • ROTATE IDEAS! Seriously, don’t reinvent the wheel. Your kiddos (and you) will have your favorite lunches so use them once a week/once every other week. They’ll love you for it and so will your brain 😉 You know that works, they’ll eat it, and it’ll be budget friendly, right?!
  • Because it’s summer, get your fruits and veggies FRESH! They’ll be much cheaper (especially if you plant a garden) and definitely tastier! Check local farmers markets to see if they accept the Farmers Market Nutrition Program (WIC and senior assistance). Many farmers markets also accept access cards. SNAP also covers fruits and vegetables you can plant! You’ll find the SNAP logo on the approved ones.

10 Fun Ideas For Summer Lunchin’

  1. Tomato soup and cheesy flatbread – canned tomato soup will work just fine for this but if you want to make homemade, go for it! I use flatbread or thin pizza crusts…brush with oil, sprinkle with garlic powder/oregano/basil/black pepper, and a small layer of cheese. Bake or broil until cheese is melted! Cut in strips for easy tomato soup dipping!
  2. Tuna salad with crackers and celery – tuna, mayo, and diced pickles are how I like to make my tuna salad. Shoot for a cracker that gives some fiber like wheat thins or triscuits. Serve with a side of celery sticks (these are great to dip into the tuna salad too)!
  3. Garden fresh pasta salad – whole grain or high fiber pasta makes a great base but you can use regular pasta too! Use any veggies you have and add some cubed cheese for protein. My favorite dressing is an Italian style (I make it homemade) but use whatever you like.
  4. Grilled chicken salad with black beans – after making grilled chicken for dinner, use the leftovers in a salad! Top with black beans and your favorite dressing and you’ve got yourself a balanced lunch.
  5. Corn tortilla chips, guacamole, and salsa – my sister makes the.best.guacamole.ever…seriously! Her secret ingredient is sour cream! A great substitute for sour cream is Greek yogurt AND it adds tons of protein! Making guacamole with avocado, limes, tomatoes, onions, cilantro, and greek yogurt and serve it with corn tortilla chips (whole grain plus more protein), and salsa!
  6. Sushi-like hummus wraps – grab your favorite hummus flavor, very thinly sliced cucumbers, julienned carrots and peppers, and whole grain wrap. Make it and roll it up tightly! Cut it into small slices like sushi!!!
  7. Turkey bacon BLTs – Turkey bacon, lettuce, garden fresh tomatoes, and whole grain bread. It’s old school but it is SO GOOD! PS if your kiddos don’t like tomatoes, try it with cucumbers instead 🙂
  8. Egg salad sandwiches – Hardboil up a dozen of eggs (use them for this salad, chopped up in a veggie salad, for snacks, etc), I like pickles, celery, and mayo in my egg salad! Gives it a little pop and crunch. Spread on whole grain bread with tomato and lettuce…mmmmmm.
  9. Turkey and cheese kabobs – go to the deli and get turkey breast in a chunk. Buy block cheese and then cube both into one-inch cubes. Along with the cubes of meat and cheese, add cherry tomatoes, pepper squares, lettuce pieces, mushrooms to the kabob sticks…whatever veggie your kiddos like! On the side use honey mustard dressing for dipping!
  10. Apple slice PBJ – Instead of using bread, make it super fun with apple slices! Cut the apple with the core still in the middle OR use an apple corer to take out the core before cutting them in slices (like a sandwich). Put the peanut butter and a small amount of jam or jelly on one apple slice and then top with another apple slice! Fun and delish!

Don’t reinvent the wheel either! I know ya’ll like looking on Pinterest for ideas but what do your kiddos like? Expand on that! If they enjoy mac ‘n cheese MAKE IT FOR THEM ONCE IN A WHILE! They should have a veggie with it, so give them an option of green beans, broccoli, salad, whatever they like. Hot dogs on your kid’s favorite list? FINE! It’s not an everyday kind of thing but once in a while have fun with it! Make them their favorite veggie side dish and have a picnic outside.

Remember parents…you only have 18 summers (sometimes less if they decide to get a summer job when they are 16) with your kiddos. Don’t make the lunch menu a point of contention with kiddos. Keep it fun, incorporate the things they like too, help them try new things, and eat together!!!!! The love and skills they will gain eating together this summer at lunch are going to be taken with them throughout life. Nurture that as you eat your BLTs on a blanket in your back yard 🙂

What I Learned From Grandma

This post is a little different because it’s not really about food and nutrition (but it is a little bit). I promised when I started this blog that I would be as transparent in my real life (nutrition journey and education) as possible. So as I type this with tears streaming down my face I am thankful that I have this opportunity to share about Grandma Mae.

My gorgeous, wonderful, hard-working, tough-loving, courageous Grandma went to be with Jesus just a few short weeks ago on September 9, 2017, relatively unexpectedly. Although she was 92 and her heart was failing, her mind and the rest of her body were in pretty good shape considering her 92 years of life. Our family, myself included are deeply saddened…but hopeful that we will see her again in heaven someday.

I learned so much from her. I learned from her life, her example, her stories, and her convictions. She was a family woman but not the lovey-dovey type grandma that gave you hugs, kisses, and “I love yous”. But she’d drop anything to help you, cook you your favorite dish for Sunday dinner, and tell you when she thought you were doing something wrong…because she loved us. I learned about true strength and courage from her. I learned a lot about Biblical/moral right from wrong from her. I learned that love comes in all shapes and sizes, not just through words. I also learned, through her passing, that even though she didn’t say “I love you” she appreciated when we did. I found notes that I had written her telling of how much I appreciated her and loved her. I got my Grandma for 34 years and my children got a Great-Grandma for 5 and almost 2 years and not too many kiddos have that blessing. So we are blessed and we are so much better off for having Grandma.

She loved these little boys

Earlier in the week before she passed, I sat and looked through her Bible sitting beside her chair in the living room. Note after note she had carfully written verses about courage, bravery, and strength. I spent the day before she passed with her in the afternoon talking about her old nursing school friends, her nursing career, and praying over her as she slept. I wrote in my prayer journal a scripture that she had marked down in her own Bible. It says “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or tremble for the Lord your God is the one who goes with you. He will not fail you or forsake you.” -Deuteronomy 30:14. My Grandmother was the strongest person I have ever met. Seriously…I’m not just saying it…she reeeeeally was.

Grandma was a disciplinarian and set the rules pretty clearly. You know, a black and white kind of lady. She never minced words and you always knew where she stood on things. Grandma wasn’t afraid of her opinion. Just ask my mom about the hot slaw incident or my sister about the burrito bowl dinner :). She liked what she liked and you knew it! She also had standards that should be met or she would tell you about it…unapologetically. But you never had to guess with her and you always knew where you stood. She had the courage enough to speak her mind without fear of what people may think. Her courage came in other forms too. My Grandpa passed when Grandma was in her early 60’s and she stepped up and cared for their home, the acres of land, and her family. She was the picture of courage. As a woman in her 60’s she could have easily said: “woe is me” (and who would blame her) but she didn’t. She was strong and courageous. She wasn’t afraid because she knew that God was with her. She poured her heart and soul into taking care of our family, her home, and those she loved. Even in her last days when the chest pain was strong, she powered through better than most people would have

Grandma was also a super hard-worker. Anyone who knew her will tell you she never stopped cleaning, cooking, caring, mending, ironing, hemming, gardening, weed-pulling, shoveling snow, or planning her next “job”. Even though “courage” was a theme I saw running through her Bible, I’m pretty sure she lived by the Proverb 16:27 verse that says “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.” So she kept her hands busy! I’m not kidding, a few months ago (after she was told not to get on ladders anymore) she was washing her windows while standing on a step stool. My father caught her and told her she shouldn’t be up on the step stool. Without missing a beat she said, “they said no ladders, this is a step stool.” I mean, how can you argue that?!? She even had a garden this year, albeit small, it was something she would talk about. Although she never thought her green beans would amount to anything this year, my Aunt just picked a good helping from her garden…she would have had a good laugh about that! Just in the week of her passing she cleaned and cut green beans for my Mom and ironed two shirts for my Dad. This woman was no joke.

I know my blog is about nutrition so here’s the food/nutrition part of the story: Grandma was an old farm girl. She could cook anything from scratch. The tales of her growing up on the farm were my absolute favorite stories Grandma told. No refrigerator, no electricity, no fancy kitchen equipment but everything was scratch made. Incredible! One day I’ll get into those stories more because I think we can learn a thing or two about food and nutrition from the way they cook/ate back then but for now, this isn’t my point. My Grandma could cook and bake well but if you asked her, she’d tell you she wasn’t a good cook because she needed a recipe. This always made me laugh because I don’t know of any dish she made that I didn’t like. My brother will tell you her pumpkin pies were out-of-this-world and my sister would say that her Texas sheet cake was good enough to eat the entire sheet. Every single one of her 12 grandchildren had a favorite Grandma dessert or food that we are all going to miss so dearly. She poured out her heart and soul and love into everything she made for us. My brother wrote a wonderful eulogy for her funeral that talked about Grandma’s love and boy did he hit the nail on the head especially when it came to her loving us through the food she prepared.

Last summer I had the honor and privilege to go over to Grandma’s house and make her infamous potato salad by her side. She taught me the ropes. She showed me what made it so good and I’m pretty sure it was the amount of times she licked her finger to clean the rim of the bowl so it was presentable for the picnic, just saying. We cooked together, chatted about life, she showed me her techniques, and we just enjoyed each other. Grandma taught me that making food for your family was much more than just the food prepared. It’s about the process, the journey, the love, and the memories. I wrote her a letter after that day…because that day meant so much to me. I put it in her car (yes she was still driving last summer). Grandma never mentioned anything about that letter but I just found it this week. She saved it and dated it. That day meant just as much to her as it did to me.

Grandma made Sunday dinner every.single.Sunday for the entire family for years. My parents took over a while back when they built a big garage to house the growing number of our family but Grandma was the center of these after-church meetings. It was critically important that we all gathered as often as possible to share in our week and eat the potluck food that was prepared with love. She built our family (4 children, 12 grandchildren, and 12+ great-grandchildren) with these Sunday dinners. All of us cousins are more like siblings and even the second-cousins are becoming so very close all because of Grandma. Some have moved away but there’s a bond and a love that goes deeper than distance and time.

This is what love looks like

Food and fellowship, love and discipline, hard work and courage…that was my Grandma. I will miss her so dearly and my heart aches thinking of all the voids that will be left because of her absence on this earth but I am so grateful for her life. I’m so blessed to have had her for 34 years of mine. I’m beyond blessed that we moved back hometown and we were able to spend this last year visiting with her. I cannot begin to tell you how valuable her life was to me and how much I have learned from that old farm girl turned nurse, turned mother, turned grandmother, turned great-grandmother, turned hero.

She never told me she loved me…ever. Over the past couple months, it became a joke! “Just say it!” I thought. But she never vocalized it. What I realize now is that she said it in more ways than just those simple words “I love you.” She said it through showing her courage. She said it by spending countless hours working on one thing or another for us. She said it by cooking potato or macaroni salad for me. She said it by letting me into her kitchen on that beautiful day to watch as she made potato salad. She said it by telling me the stories of the farm or nursing school or her nursing days. She said it by inviting my children into her house and letting my daughter drink chocolate milk or hot chocolate and letting the twins run amuck through her living room. She told me she loved me by giving me advice and lately she would say to me “Amanda, life may seem hard now but raising my children was the best time of my life.” She said it by letting me tell her I loved her because she knew I needed to say it.

Death is sad for the living but as a Christian, it is bitter-sweet. You see, she is with Jesus and some sweet day I will be too. Until then Grandma has given a great example of how to be courageous, how to work hard, how to cook with love, and that family is so deeply important. I think we can all learn a thing or two from Grandma Mae. She will be deeply missed by those who love her but we will continue her legacy the best we can.

Grandma enjoyed visits from her namesake (my daughter) Emma Mae

“Know, therefore, that the Lord your God is GOD! He is a faithful God, keeping His promises of love to a thousand generations of those who love and keep His commandments.” – Deuteronomy 7:9

Give them Breakfast!

Look…kids (and everyone else) need breakfast. Research shows that kiddos who eat breakfast do better in school, behave better, and have more energy for play/sports later in the day.

I’m a huge advocate of the school breakfast program. Use this resource!!!! But if you are feeding breakfast to your child at home, here are some tips for a smooth morning and some ideas to feed your kiddo!

Breakfast Tips:

  1. Wake up earlier. Mom’s, I know you are already strapped for time and tired. I’m there, in the trenches with you but waking up just 15 minutes earlier to get your kiddos breakfast can keep your kiddos healthy and doing well in school.
  2. Get things ready the night before. Have lunches packed, school bags ready to go, and clothes picked out. This reduces stress in the morning and allows more time to eat a nice calm breakfast.
  3. Let your children help pick out breakfast. If they are involved and invested in what they are eating they’ll be willing to eat a more balanced breakfast.
  4. Have a few grab-and-go breakfasts available. Come on, we all know that some mornings are just hot messes. Even if we don’t plan on these types of mornings, they happen and it’s so important to have a plan B.

Before getting breakfast ideas here are a few breakfast guidelines:

  1. Stay full with PROTEIN (pick one)
    • Animal: eggs, cottage cheese, ricotta cheese, Greek yogurt, string cheese, turkey sausage
    • Plant: peanut butter, other nut butter, nuts, soy sausage
  2. Get some ENERGY with Carbohydrates (pick one and/or a fruit)
    • Whole grains: cereal (Cheerios, Mini Wheats, look for at least 3 grams of fiber and 10 grams or less of sugar), oat meal, hot quinoa, whole grain bread, whole grain crackers, buckwheat pancakes
    • Fruits: fresh, frozen, canned in light syrup
  3. Extras for FLAVOR (pick one and/or a veggie)
    • Heart healthy fats: nuts, avocado, oils, peanut butter, nut butter, chia seeds, flax seeds
    • Vegetables: onions, peppers, mushrooms, spinach, salsa, tomatoes, fresh, frozen, canned

Blueberry Spinach Smoothie

20 Super Awesome Balanced Breakfasts Before School

  1. Cheerios with milk, banana, and peanut butter
  2. Whole grain English muffin, with an egg, slice of cheese, and a tomato
  3. Scrambled eggs with whole wheat bread and salsa
  4. Super Awesome Smoothie (frozen fruit, handful of spinach, chia seeds, milk, Greek yogurt)
  5. Banana burrito (whole grain tortilla, peanut butter, banana)
  6. Yogurt parfait (Greek yogurt, fruit, chia seeds, sprinkle of granola)
  7. Breakfast burrito (whole grain tortilla, egg, peppers/onion/black olives)
  8. Fruit salad wrap (whole grain tortilla, ricotta cheese, fresh berries, slivered almonds, drizzle of honey)
  9. Oatmeal with walnuts and blueberries
  10. Overnight oats with apples, cinnamon, and almonds (oatmeal, Greek yogurt, milk, chopped apples, cinnamon, and almond in a glass jar overnight in the refrigerator and microwaved in the morning)
  11. Whole grain waffles with peanut butter and jelly
  12. Buckwheat pancakes with turkey sausage
  13. English muffin with Canadian bacon, tomatoes, and green peppers
  14. Hard-boiled egg with whole grain toast
  15. Cottage cheese and fruit
  16. Breakfast sweet potato with vanilla Greek yogurt and cinnamon
  17. Breakfast pizza (whole grain English muffin, tomato, and shredded mozzarella cheese)
  18. Whole grain mini bagel, cream cheese, smoked salmon, and veggies
  19. Mini quiches (scrambled eggs, veggies, Canadian bacon or turkey sausage, shredded cheese – make ahead and freeze)
  20. Apple sandwiches (core apples, slice so they are in circles, put peanut butter inside, and eat!)

You don’t have to make them hard. These are relatively easy with little prep work.

What are your favorite go-to breakfasts?

Let Them Play

I am an adult dietitian. I’m not an expert in child nutrition…at all. So far I have one semi-picky child and two boys who eat just about anything you set in front of them. Like these dudes genuinely enjoy eating. I have pictures to prove the joy they get out of eating/playing. Is it a fluke? Maybe. Maybe not. Just last month I went to a conference and heard a speaker talk about eating behaviors in children. Letting children play with food can actually make them less picky. Seriously, no one wants a picky eater. So maybe letting them play can actually encourage them to eat better, healthier.

Because I have 2 kids who eat just about everything and one who eats fair (there are many frustrating meals and also some good ones thrown in there), I’ve learned that the oldest child is definitely the experimental one (I was the oldest too). Kids following the first may have a significant advantage! HAH! All kidding aside here’s what I see between my kiddos in how I fed them/allow them to eat. This may be the key to lessen picky eating…or it could just be a coincidence? Eh either way it’s worth a shot to try!

With my daughter I was going to do everything “perfect”. First-time parent syndrome. I was going to be the perfect dietitian-mom. All organic, low sugar, homemade everything, no fast food, etc. etc. etc. blah blah blah. Yep I was one of those. I made all of her food for the first 2 years of her life. Seriously. Day care provided lunch but I packed hers. I spoon fed her (obviously) when she was a baby. She never got very messy when she ate…at all. Despite my best efforts I made the same few foods over and over and over and over again because, as a working mom, I could only do so much.

The boys are a different story all together. They are rainbow babies and after a high risk pregnancy my outlook on raising children changed a little…and they aren’t my first AND there are 2 of them. I ain’t got time to be perfect! 😉 Besides watching their dairy intake, (they have an allergy) those dudes eat whatever.  I let them eat with their hands mainly because I can’t feed them fast enough before they go ballistic so I let them have-at-it. They are 17 months old and have eaten everything from sauerkraut to Thai food to salads and even spicy chili.

This is a Thai cabbage salad the boys devoured!

Meals are messy and, although clean up isn’t awesome, they enjoy eating. Surprisingly more goes into their belly than their highchairs or the floor. They feel their food, squish it, pick it up, pinch it, scoop it, lick it, taste it, and enjoy it. Would I have let my daughter do this? No. Should I have? Maybe.

Recently I started inviting my daughter to help me cook and it has worked wonders! She has tried everything she makes and is excited about new recipes, baking, and helping me prepare the food. It’s awesome! She’s playing, learning, trying, tasting, and expanding her palate!

So my conclusion is: let kids play with their food. No matter the age! There are researched benefits to allowing babies, children, and teens play and cook with food…it’s not just me 🙂

  1. Let babies explore food. Feel it, squish, mold, pinch, pick up, lick it, and smear it all up.
  2. Give toddlers a spoon and even if they have a difficult time, let them try to hit their mouth!
  3. Let pre-schoolers start to help in the kitchen.
  4. Kids can begin to help meal planning (and continue to help cook).
  5. Older kids can meal plan and cook simple meals.
  6. Teens can take over in the kitchen! Let them plan, try new cooking techniques, and find recipes.

Check out this great website for kids cooking by ages.

Other great tips:

  1. There is no such thing as “kid foods”. They can eat whatever adults eat…seriously.
  2. You are not a short order cook. What you make for dinner, the family should eat (outside of a food allergy).
  3. Kids do not need to clean their plates but they should taste everything on their plate.
  4. Even if they don’t want to eat everything, taking a “thank you bite” gives your child the opportunity to try the food without the pressure of eating it all. Thank you bites are shown as gratitude for the cook.
  5. Let your kids have foods they like too! Make your kids a meal they truly enjoy once in a while shows them you do know what they like. For instance, macaroni and cheese as their starch or having pizza night (with a veggie of course)!


Parenting isn’t about being perfect, it’s about doing your best and knowing what’s best for your children. My daughter probably won’t be picky for the rest of her life (many times it is a power struggle not necessarily the food itself). There are many picky eating “fixes” out there. Try them but don’t make yourself crazy. I hope this helps for some of you out there.