Just when you think there is nothing for lunch…

On Wednesday morning, this week, I slept in.  I was late getting up by a full 20 minutes.  Normally, I get up at 5, have a glass of water and my Ionix, followed by another glass of water, and then giddy up and finish off packing everyone’s lunches, and then head out either for a 35 minute run or a short 10 minute run before I get to my work out.  So, sleeping in by 20 minutes, throws the whole plan out of whack.   On this day, instead of just getting up and getting going making lunches, I got busy and made my husband’s lunch, and then got on with getting ready for my work out.  My thought was they can make their own lunches for a change.  At 16, 16, 11 and 9, they are all more than capable of making their own lunches.  So, when they all surfaced at 7 am, I informed them of this.  The big girls very sweetly offered to make the younger ones lunches as well.  My son was quick to jump on this, with a “Yes, please!” before he headed for the shower.  My 9 year old?  Not so much.  “I want Mummy to make it…” I said, “No, you can make your own.”  She started poking in the cupboards, and asking what there was.  I said, “You can make a chicken and spinach wrap, or you can make a cheese and tomato sandwich.”  We had some stampy feet, and some pouting.  “I don’t want those things.”  Then she found a tin of smoked oysters.  I said, “No.”  Next she pulled out a tin of tuna…”Can I have this?”  I said, “Sure.  You can make a tuna sandwich, or a wrap.”  Instead, we ended up with tuna and white beans with vinaigrette, and a bowl of spinach and baby kale. (and a little container of feta to sprinkle on).  She was thrilled, and I sort of got out of making lunches.  Originally, the recipe came out of a Nutrition Action Magazine from 2010, I believe.  I have it scribbled out on a recipe card.  It was a big hit tho’!

Here is what we used:

1 14 oz can white kidney beans (you could use chick peas too), rinsed and drained

1 can tuna packed in water

8 cups of dark leafy greens (spinach, kale, romaine, etc)

Vinaigrette: (makes 1/2 cup)

5 TBSP Olive Oil

2 TBSP red wine vinegar

1 Tsp Dijon mustard

1/2 Tsp honey

1/8 Tsp salt.

Combine all ingredients in 1 cup mason jar with a lid.  Cover and shake well.  Pour over tuna and beans.  Spoon tuna and bean mixture over leafy greens.



Clean Lunch menu for April Week #4

my girl at last fall's District Cross country race.

my girl at last fall’s District Cross country race.

A full school week ahead, and an even fuller week of activities!  The most exciting thing this week, the school track meet is this Friday.  While for most kids, it is just an adventure outside the classroom and for some, they would rather stay inside the classroom, for my daughter, this is a day that requires a plan.  She is keen to make it all the way to the District meet, which is three meets away, and requires qualifying not only out of the school meet, but then out of the Zone meet.  This week, she told me, “I really want to go to the District meet.”  So, I said, “Then you need to have a plan, and a vision.  You know you can run fast.  You know you are strong and you know your body can do what you need it to do.  So now you need to make sure your mind knows what to do.”  That has been her work this week.  Getting that picture in her head of crossing the finish line first, at the school meet, and then doing it again at the Zone meet, and finally, seeing her name on the list of athletes going to the District meet, and feeling herself running fast and strong and confident.

Having a goal and a vision, is what turns dreams into reality.  Those visions keep us focused on what is important to us and where we want to go.

And my contribution to the goal?  Putting good fuel into that little gas tank!  So I have planned a menu that should take all of my kiddos to the top of their game.  Lots of healthy lean protein, veggies and fruit, complex carbs for great energy.


Monday: Wild Rice Salmon chowder, raw broccoli and carrot sticks,  fruit salad and cottage cheese, oatmeal pecan cookie

Tuesday: White bean and Tuna with kale salad, raw veggies with yogurt dip, banana and granola bites

Wednesday: Chicken and spinach wraps, apple, avocado chocolate pudding, carrot and celery sticks, cheese cubes.

Thursday: Turkey Hamburger soup, pear and grapes, cottage cheese, oatmeal pecan cookie

Friday: Chicken and tomato and feta wraps with yogurt, apple, yogurt with berries, dark chocolate coconut protein bars

Daycare Lunches:

Monday: Turkey Hamburger soup

Tuesday: Tuna sandwich with cream cheese and raw veggies

Wednesday: Chicken and brown rice with spinach

Thursday: Clean peanut butter and “jam” sandwiches, and Quick tomato soup

Friday: Salmon and veggie pasta salad. (I use yogurt and a teaspoon of honey rather than light mayo)

Happy and Healthy packing!

Make a great week!

Weaning them off white pasta

My husband typically does our Costco shop once a month.  Although now that the kids are bigger, and our students eat at home much more (much healthier!), those Costco shops are up to twice a month, something that doesn’t bother him at all!

I make the list, and off he goes.  Typicaly, he gets what is on the list (I won’t go into the extras that sometimes come home as that is worthy of another post for another day!).  This time…

…He returns with the car loaded with items… He and my daughter bring them in, while my son and I put things away… 3 4L jugs of milk, feta cheese, fresh strawberries, frozen strawberries, low fat cheese, sprouted grain bread, laundry soap, toilet paper, white pasta, salsa, peppercorns…wait, white pasta??  I hold it up and give him a questioning  look over my glasses.  He huffs, “That was all they had, and the list just said “Pasta” ”

We have been together for almost 15 years.  We have been eating whole grain pasta for almost 15 years, not strictly, but mostly.  He loves tortellini and I have yet to find it made with whole grain flour, so it shows up on the table from time to time.  When we met, he virtually lived on pasta, jarred sauce and salad, oh and peanut butter and jam sandwiches.  At the time, I was fascinated by this man who ate salad every night, and only bought whole grain breads, and natural peanut butter, didn’t eat mayonnaise or margarine,  yet consumed such vast quantities of white pasta.  He was healthy and fit:  he walked or rode his bike to work everyday, swam at the YMCA pool twice a week, and at 5’10”, he weighed about 180lbs.

My mindset had always been if you could buy the whole grain version of something, why would you bother with the white?  I still often think, why even bother making the white version, if you can make a whole grain version?  Of course as an adult, I realise that for big companies, it isn’t about making what is best for people, it is about making what will make the most money.

I wasn’t raised eating whole grain pastas, or using whole grain flours.  Growing up in the 70s and 80s, typically the pasta in our house was white.  Although my mother (who also preferred whole grain breads, and cereals, like oatmeal) always bought spinach noodles for her lasagne or for making pasta salads.  My stepmother always bought whole grain breads for herself and white bread for my father.  As children, the choice of bread was ours, so the option was always there.  I can tell you we never got to have Wonder Bread, even though we asked for it!  But the pasta was always white.  My Auntie, however, lived in Ottawa, and whenever we would go to visit her or stay with her, she would take us shopping at the Herb and Spice Grocery.  Shopping with her, always left me thinking, “I love this. When I am older and I do my own groceries, I am going to shop this way.”  As an older teenager, I learned that my uncle (brother of the Auntie in Ottawa) ground his own flour, and for the most part didn’t eat meat (except when he came to our house).  We ate well, home cooked meals, lots of vegetables and fruit, not a whole lot of processed stuff, but a long way from a whole grain diet.

When I moved out on my own, I lived in the city, and discovered that grocery shopping in the city gave way more options, than a suburban community.  I spent hours on Saturdays, poking around different neighbourhoods, finding all sorts of exciting ingredients.  I taught myself how to prepare dried beans, and learned that chili didn’t have to be ground beef and kidney beans.  I shopped in China town in Montreal, and tried different vegetables, and different types of noodles.  Soba noodles, rice noodles, Chinese egg noodles.  Every weekend was a different food adventure.  The girls I worked with were from different areas of the city, and different Nationalities.  On Friday nights on pay weeks, we would go out for supper together sometimes.  We went to a small Chinese restaurant where no one spoke English to us, but the food was incredible!  We ate Ethiopian food with our hands, sitting on cushions on the floor. We went to a Greek restaurant where one of the girls ordered everything for us and the evening (and the food) didn’t end until after midnight.  And this is how my love affair with food began.  It was also when eating whole grains truly became a way of life.

My husband has never balked at eating whole grains.  He has always eaten whatever I cook, with no complaints.  When our children came along, we fed them whole grains right from the start.  Brown and wild rices, whole grain pastas and breads, barley, spelt, and more recently quinoa.  I remember taking my (then) 10 month old daughter with me for a lunch date with a friend.  I had ordered Quesadillas, which came with a side order of rice.  I had brought vegetables for my daughter to eat, and thought I would give her some of the rice (she loved rice!).  It turned out she loved “brown rice”.  I laughed when she turned up her nose at the white rice, and spit it out.  And in reality, why would you eat plain white rice if you are used to the nutty taste of brown?

Check out some of these articles about whole grain pastas and making good choices for yourself and your family.

Why whole grain pasta is a better choice

Weaning off of white flour

Is Smart Pasta really “Smart” ?

However, if everyone in your house is used to white pasta and white rice, and white flour, it is hard to get them to switch! Why?  For the same reason my daughter wouldn’t eat white rice.  We “like” what our mouths and bodies are used to, we are creatures of habit.  So then, if you have made up your mind you want your family to eat a healthier diet, how do you get them to switch?  You are the one who make the meals, and does the grocery shopping, but if “They” won’t eat any of it, what do you do? It can get expensive to keep making healthy meals that no one wants to eat.  Ideally, the best thing to do, is have a family meeting, get everyone on board, clean out the pantry and start fresh.  Well, ideal maybe, but not always realistic!

Piling on the vegetables is a great way to make pasta a healthy meal.

Piling on the vegetables is a great way to make pasta a healthy meal.

Here are some suggestions to get you started:

1. Go half and half for your pastas.  Mix up the rotini or the linguine.  Using a homemade sauce that everyone likes and is familiar with will take the pressure off the pasta.  Then over a couple of weeks, make it a greater amount whole grain to white, until your white pasta is depleted.  Then serve it up as just whole grain.  Try this easy kid friendly sauce with your next pasta meal.

2. Make it a side rather than the main meal.  Move away from making pasta the center of attention.  Make a pasta salad (toss leftover Greek salad with whole grain farfale) and serve it as a side dish.  Here is a great link for healthy pasta side dishes: Delish

3.Try something new together.  Find a new pasta recipe and try it together as a family.  This way everyone isn’t “expecting” the regular flavours of a known meal, but rather trying something new.  Here is a great idea for a new recipe: Stove Top Fideos.

4. Don’t give up.  Eventually they will be on board.  But don’t make a fuss about what is not eaten.  Just like when children were little, keep the rule of “this is what is for supper.  You don’t have to eat it, but the next meal is at breakfast time.”  Not as easy to do with teenagers, and adult males, as it is with little ones.  But for the most part, if you are making a strong effort to bring healthy whole grains into your kitchen, and you persevere, you will get there.  And they will eat the whole grain pastas (and flours and breads).  Remember how powerful your example is.  If your children see you eating healthy foods and making good choices, they will follow.  Here are some more great tips for helping your family to make healthy food choices.

And what to do with that package of white pasta?  My first instinct was to hand it to him and tell him to take it back.  However, instead I used the “half and half” guideline (although I think it was more of a 2/3:1/3 ratio) and I made sure to add lots of veggies to the sauce and salads!


Happy packing!


Meals Made Ahead

…Make life easy!

I love the satisfaction of looking in the freezer and seeing enough meals to take us through a week.  It takes at least one thing off my daily to-do list.  It also means that a busy week won’t derail health eating.

Making Meals ahead of time (in the tradition similar to the Big Cook), helps in a number of ways:

1. Saves you time in the long run: Taking something out of the freezer and warming it up in the oven or on the stove top.  No other prep to do.  Yes, you may have to devote the majority of a day to making meals, but if you plan things right, you can get yourself set up to make double batches of 4 or 5 meals that will feed your family with great, healthy clean meals.

2. Less waste: Making meals right away after you have shopped means that fresh ingredients don’t get forgotten and then have to be thrown away.

3. Saving you money: you can buy larger quantities of vegetables or meat (fish, poultry) if you are making a variety of meals using similar ingredients (like onions, carrots, peppers, ground beef or turkey, etc).  It will also prevent those daily trips to the grocery store.

4. Keeps your meals (and your family!) healthy: If you fail to plan, then you plan to fail. Taking your meal planning to the next step by cooking and prepping some meals for the coming week, helps prevent using processed foods (or the drive thru!) as a fall back.

Things to keep in mind in preparing for make ahead meals:

  • know how much certain containers hold (use a measuring cup and water to determine quantities)
  • have an assortment of containers on hand (large Ziploc freezer bags are great for some things, but you may want to have 1 cup and 4 cup containers, or even 12 cup ones)
  • label containers with how many meals they hold (ie “for 4 people” or “12 cups of spaghetti sauce”). You can even go so far as to label things with days of the week on them.  This can be especially helpful if there are others in the house who are responsible for preparing the meals (Wednesday is chili, not spaghetti sauce!)
  • watch store sales, to get the most bang for your buck.  If peppers are on sale, don’t plan for making pea soup.  If ground turkey is on sale, then switch up your normal ground beef recipes for turkey for a change.
  • Batch your prep work.  If you will need onions for all of your recipes, then prep all of your onion at the same time
  • Make the best use of your tools at hand.  I typically use the oven for one, the stove top for one (or two) and the slow cooker for one (or to prep beans or meat for another day)
  • Check in with a friend: maybe you can make double batches of two recipes and a friend can make double batches of two different recipes, and then you can trade.  Then you each have four different meals for the week.

7 Make Ahead meals and sides ideas and links:

1. Soup: one of the easiest and economical way to make a meal ahead of time, that freezes well.  One of the many I like to have on hand is Homemade tomato soup. It makes a great addition to any meal.  Another favourite in our house is Hamburger soup.  And my personal favourite to have on hand: Chicken and black bean soup.

2. Sauces: Making your own spaghetti sauce for pasta, spaghetti squash or using as a base for shepherd’s pie, is always a great alternative to the store bought option.  Using your big roasting pan in the oven allows for you to free up the top of the stove for making soup.  Double up your own recipe or try mine.  Another great make ahead sauce to work with lots of meal options is a simple Marinara Sauce.

3. Quick Simple “Fast food meals”: Homemade quesadillas cook up quickly and usually satisfy even fussy eaters.  You can make simple ones with just salsa, chicken and cheese.  Make the quesadillas with the fillings of your choice, wrap individually and freeze, then when you are ready to use them, just cook them up in the oven or a non stick pan, and serve with Greek yogurt and salsa, and a side salad for a complete meal.  Our favourite recipe is a Clean Eating one: Spinach, chicken and ricotta Quesadillas.

Beef and Vegetable Penne Casserole

Beef and Vegetable Penne Casserole

4. Casseroles: Classic Shepherd’s pie is always good, especially when it is made with extra lean ground beef, or change it up and use mashed yams instead of the standard mashed potato.  Or use spaghetti sauce as the base, or a mild lentil dal. Another favourite in our house is Beef and Vegetable Penne casserole, I have made it using turkey as well and it is wonderful.  So much so that I usually make two!   A yummy change from pasta for casseroles is quinoa: here is a great recipe we use often too (omit ham for a great vegetarian dish) : Quinoa, Cheddar and Zucchini Bake 

5. Partially prepared meals: Not everything has to be made completely, often I will make ahead part of a meal, to allow for things to march along more quickly, or in anticipation of marinated.  BBQ chicken is a great option: when the butcher has chicken breast on sale (I use bone in for this recipe), I will buy a whole whack of it and then create meal ready packs with the right number.  For BBQ chicken, I make the sauce (find the recipe here) and pour it into the container, and then layer the uncooked chicken into it and freeze it in the BBQ sauce.  Then you are ready to roll just by thawing the chicken and cooking it either in a 375 F oven for 35-40 minutes or on the BBQ over indirect heat for 45-55 minutes.

Another partially made item we use sometimes: quick and easy pizzas: slice veggies (we use peppers and mushrooms), and bag, shred two cooked chicken breasts and bag, slice some left over baked ham and bag, put it all into a container with a package of whole wheat pitas, label one jar of marinara sauce “Pizza” and you are all set except for the cheese.  Some folks freeze cheese, but I usually just grate it at the time.

6. Some non freezer make aheads: Most salads made with vinegar type dressings can be used over a few days.  Coleslaw made with a vinegar dressing (you can chop your own cabbage or buy one of the ready made coleslaw type bagged salads, like broccoli slaw), can be a great side with BBQ chicken, or great in wraps.  Our favourite (as you probably know!) is Santa Fe salad: one day one, we use it as a side dish, day two it goes in wraps and day three, it gets cooked and put into rice and makes a nice spicy Rice and beans dish.  Cut up raw veggies are great to have on hand for snacking as well as making for a quick stir fry.

7. And it wouldn’t be fair to leave out a treat, now would it? Some great things to keep on hand in the freezer for easy breakfasts or for lunches include a new favourite in our house: Blueberry coconut pecan breakfast cookies.  Great to grab for breakfast or for a healthy morning snack.  Another great one for the freezer: Egg White Muffins.  And of course, Multigrain Cherry chocolate chip cookies.  

As with anything, make ahead takes planning and prep.  Start by choosing one weekend in the month that works for both the groceries as well as the day of meal preparing.  Plan to make one thing in the oven (doubled, so two), one thing on the stove (doubled so two) and if you have a slow cooker, you could make a third thing in the slow cooker.  Or better yet! make supper in the slow cooker, so after you have spend all day cooking, you don’t have to start again and make supper!

Happy Packing!




Quick Tortellini and vegetable soup

The first two weeks of April were so busy, with so much going on, that one night, I realised at 10 o’clock at night that I had 4 little people to feed the next day, and I wasn’t quite sure what that was going to be.  Now, it wasn’t that there wasn’t any food in the house, but it had to be put together, and that late at night, I didn’t want to start making something big.

So, I got out a container of homemade chicken stock, chopped some onion and carrot and celery, and then went on the hunt  again.  I had one large cooked chicken breast, a half a package of frozen cheese tortellini and some frozen peas and corn.  It all went into the pot, with some chopped chives and parsley.  And it turned out quite yummy, and went into thermoses and fed my little daycare friends for lunch the next day.  So good, that it was all gone after that, and my own kids were disappointed there were no leftovers for after-school snacks!

Tortellini and Vegetable soup

6 cups homemade chicken stock (or low sodium chicken broth)

1 tbsp olive oil

one medium onion chopped

3 medium carrots peeled and diced

3 ribs celery chopped

2 handfuls of cheese tortellini (or chicken if you prefer)

1 large cooked chicken breast, diced

1.5 cups frozen vegetables of your choice

1. Heat oil in large dutch oven or soup pot, over medium heat.  Add onion, carrot and celery.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until veggies are soft.  Add chicken broth or stock, and bring to a simmer.  Add tortellini, chicken, and frozen veggies.  Return to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes.  Taste and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Serve immediately or freeze for up to 3 months.





Clean Lunch Menu for April Week #3

Another week…Oh my goodness, we are just 10 days left until May, which means 2 months  left of school.  Really?  Is another school year almost over?  Where did that time go?

I have spent some time over the last month, digging around looking for a little inspiration for those lunch boxes.  I hope you like what I found!  Baked Chicken and brown rice wraps happened by chance in our kitchen when I was packing picnic lunch for us to take to the West Coast (of the Island) on Easter Weekend, a day that blessed us with gorgeous 20C and clear blue skies (in all the years of going to Ucuelet and the West coast of the Island, I don’t think it has ever been there when it has been 20 degrees!).  I tossed some homemade maple mustard vinaigrette with the brown rice, and added some lettuce and chicken and a new favourite was born.

Long Beach 2013

I came across this fun article by Jennifer Tyler Lee at Huffington Post, that was so full of ideas and great links, that I kept going back to it again and again.  Jennifer is the creator of a game called, “Crunch a Colour“, that I am going to get for our Home Daycare.  There were so many ideas at the Healthy Lunch Challenge that I finally just bookmarked the page!

So, check out our inspired menu for this week!

Happy Packing!


Monday: Baked Chicken and brown rice wraps, chocolate chip spelt bars, cottage cheese and 2 mini apples

Tuesday: Pizza Dip: Whole wheat pita cut in quarters, marinara sauce for dipping, baked ham slices, low fat mozzarella squares, sliced bell peppers, pear, blueberry breakfast cookie

Wednesday: Tortellini Vegetable soup with rye crackers, mini apples and blueberry spelt muffin

Thursday: Chicken BLTs on sprouted whole grain bread, orange slices, steamed edamame in the shell, yogurt with frozen berries

Friday: Baked pasta with roasted veggies, fruit skewers, yogurt and blueberry breakfast cookies.


Monday: Chicken and “fried” rice with steamed broccoli

Tuesday: Pizza Dip (see above)

Wednesday: Tortellini vegetable soup with rye crackers

Thursday: Chicken sandwiches with Steamed edamame in the shell

Friday: Baked Pasta with roasted veggies.



Homemade Marinara Sauce

My husband loves pasta.  As a student and then a bachelor, he used a lot of bottled sauces from the grocery store.  In fact, he still buys them, because he “likes to have them on hand just in case”.  Just like 200 rolls of toilet paper and an extra 4 L jug of milk (some scars from childhood, I suspect…).  Well, once you start reading the labels on many of the jarred sauces, they really should be a “just in case” sort of thing, and not a regular menu item (lots of salt!!!).

So, when the kids were little, I started trying out recipes to make my own marinara.  It turned out it wasn’t too hard, just chop some onions, some garlic, add some tomatoes and fresh basil and you are all set.  I have made it with fresh tomatoes, frozen tomatoes and canned tomatoes (here is a link to make your own!).  Frozen are great when you have them on hand; fresh are a lot of work (with frozen ones, you are splitting up the work), and canned taste just fine too.  I make a large quantity of the sauce and then freeze it in canning jars.

Marinara Sauce for meatballs, pizza sauce, or for with seafood

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

3 medium yellow onions, finely diced (don’t use the food processor, the onions will end up bitter)

8-10 cloves of garlic, finely chopped (I use a razor-grater similar to this one)

2 whole roasted red peppers (you can use jarred ones, I roast mine in the oven, and then peel off the skin and then freeze them), chopped

6-28 ounce cans whole tomatoes in their juice (no salt added) or 4-5 litres of frozen tomatoes, thawed

10-12 fresh basil leaves, coarsely chopped

2-3 tsp salt flakes

1 tsp ground black pepper

1.Over mesh colander, strain cans of tomatoes, and break up tomatoes, removing any hard cores or bits of skin. Put sorted tomatoes back into juice.  Set aside

2. Heat olive oil over medium heat, cook onions (stirring only occasionally) until soft (5-7 minutes).  Less stirring will help the onions grow sweet with cooking.  Add garlic and continue cooking for 2 minutes, or until fragrant (don’t let garlic burn).

3. Add chopped roasted red peppers, and cook 5 minutes.  Add tomatoes and juice, salt flakes and pepper.  Bring to a low boil, turn heat down and simmer 45 minutes.

4.  Using an  immersion blender (or in batches in your regular blender), carefully puree sauce, making sure to break up any large pieces.  Add basil leaves.  Continue cooking 10-12 minutes.

5. Ready to serve!  Or store in airtight containers (I use glass canning jars, leaving adequate head room at the top for expansion), in the freezer for up to 6 months.

Makes about 5 litres of sauce.  I put mine in 250ml, 500ml and 1 litre jars so I always have access to the right amount of sauce for different types of meals (or numbers of people!).

A collection of hard work, including 4.5 litres of marinara sauce

A collection of hard work, including 4.5 litres of marinara sauce