I’ve been packing and sharing bento-style lunch boxes for my kids for over three years now. Every time I share a picture on Facebook or Instagram, I get a lot of, “Can you come make my lunch?” “How do you do this?”
If you know me at all, you know I wouldn’t do it unless it were pretty easy.
I love getting a little creative with my kids’ lunches, and they truly seem to appreciate it. I’m not great at many parenting things (playing on the floor, for example), but I love food and I want my kids to like good foods, too.
We’re working on that. They are all fairly picky eaters, which I’m sure you can tell from these lunch pictures.
My lunches certainly aren’t all healthy or homemade foods. They are just foods my kids will eat, the best I can do, with a little dose of fun.
So I’ve put together this PDF with pictures of 60 of our lunches, outlining what’s in each one, links to recipes if the items are homemade, and some how-to recipes throughout. They are all packed in either a PlanetBox Rover or a BentoGo Kids box. It also has a recipe index, links to all the tools I use in packing lunches, and a letter from me that might answer some of your questions.
And I’m giving it to you for free, because I want you all to be able to pack great lunches, too! I hope this will be a resource you can peek at if you are lacking in lunch box inspiration and just need a fresh idea that won’t take long to throw together.
Click here to open the PDF! (If you want to download and open in Adobe, you may need to right-click and pick “download linked file.”)
August was such a great reading month for me! All of these books were at least four stars, and two were five-star books for me on Goodreads.
What Falls from the Sky by Esther Emery – This memoir follows Emery as she chooses to take a year without the Internet: no e-mail, texting, blogging, or even using a debit card. She has just moved to Boston with her husband and kids after a major marital rift and leaving a theatre career. Esther’s raw emotions definitely spring off the page as she discovers the art of writing letters, how to bake bread, contemplates her odd childhood, and reconnects with God and her late mother’s memory.
I didn’t come away ready to give up the online world myself (or move to a yurt, like Esther and her family have), but it definitely gave me a lot to think on and desiring more quiet. A really beautiful book that speaks to our modern age. (I also love that the events of this book happened quite a few years ago; I don’t think she was performing the experiment just to get a book deal.)
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas – You may have heard the premise of this timely book: teenager Starr is with one of her best friends, Khalil, when they are pulled over by a white police officer and Khalil, unarmed, is shot and killed. In the aftermath, Starr tries to make sense of her two worlds: the projects where she lives and the wealthy school where she and her brother are two of a handful of minorities.
The book is gritty but feels so real, and I think it’s an important one for those of who are who privileged, white people to read especially. It’s YA, but if your kids are going to read it do be warned there is a lot of language and some sexual content.
The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui – This graphic memoir explores Bui’s family history: her parents’ growing-up years in Vietnam, their marriage and the young years of Bui and her siblings, and how they all fled to America in the midst of conflict in Vietnam. There is still a lot I don’t understand about the history of Vietnam, but Bui’s drawings and writings both illuminated the grief and hope of the times. I found the way Bui wove her current situation as a parent with reflections on her own parents’ parenting to be skillful and thoughtful.
Trajectory by Richard Russo – Trajectory is Russo’s latest work, a collection of four short stories. I am not generally a short-story reader, but I liked that these are longer, about 75 pages each, giving time to know the characters and get the feel of the story. I loved how the first three felt slightly connected – like a minor character from the previous story morphed into someone in the next tale. (Although the fourth one didn’t have that connection, so maybe it was coincidental?) I found “Voice,” the third story, to be the most provocative.
Russo’s writing is just so darn good. The only one of his books I have read is Bridge of Sighs, but I think I’m going to need to dig into his other works. There’s a reason he is a Pulitzer Prize winner.
Beartown by Frederick Backman – Y’all, this book broke my heart into little pieces. (That might be a theme this month. Nothing light here.) It’s another way-too-relevant read for right now. If you’ve read A Man Called Ove, you know Backman is a masterful writer. He uses the same voice in Beartown, but a much more serious tone. You think this book is about hockey in a small town. And it is. But it’s also about small-town thinking, growing up, secrets, and the politics of wealth and privilege. So much good here, although it’s certainly not easy to read certain events in the book. Five stars all the way.
The boys are back in town … or, in our case, the girls.
For six years, my husband has been a dorm parent in a boys’ dorm at the private high school where he teaches and we live. We were in one dorm for a year; and then, when we moved into our last apartment, another dorm for five. I LOVED those boys – and still do, of course. We knew at the end of last year with us moving it was likely my husband would be assigned to a different dorm. And he was. A girls’ dorm.
Most of my part in dorm parenting has been baking for the boys. It brings me a lot of joy, and I think it helps them feel a little more like school is home. I was a little hesitant about the girls’ dorm, wondering if they would eat like the boys do. I have been assured from every side that yes, they do.
So now I have 40 high-school daughters. And they wiped this platter clean the other night. Mr. V said one even said she doesn’t usually love chocolate, but she really liked this cake!
We’re living in a house now, so we’re not in the dorm with the kids, which is kind of weird after six years of being in one. But we’re still on campus and eating in the dining hall and trying to love these kids like our own. So I’ll still be baking up a storm!
Slightly adapted from Barbara Bakes. I love bundt cakes because they are so easy to serve and don't require as much frosting (I am not huge on frosting), but you could also bake this as a 9x13 or a layer cake, adjusting the time.
1 c. (2 sticks) butter
5 T cocoa powder
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 cup water
2 c. all-purpose flour
1 3/4 c. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 c. sour cream
1 tsp. vanilla
3/4 c. chocolate chips
1 T honey or corn syrup
3 T heavy cream
Preheat oven to 350F. Spray a bundt pan with cooking spray with flour and set aside.
In a medium-sized saucepan, stir together butter (cut into slices), cocoa powder, salt, and water. Cook until the butter is melted, stirring, and set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, and baking soda. Add half of the butter mixture and stir until well blended. Add the remaining butter mixture and stir until uniform. Stir in sour cream and vanilla until uniform.
Pour the mixture into the prepared bundt pan. Bake 35-40 minutes, until a tester comes out clean. Cool in pan 10 minutes, then invert onto a cooling rack or platter to cool completely.
Put chocolate chips into a microwave-safe measuring cup. Add honey or corn syrup and heavy cream on top. Microwave 30 second on high power, then stir together until the chocolate is smooth. If it will not all melt, give it another 15 seconds or so. (Do NOT add more heavy cream once the chocolate is hot; it will make it seize up.) Drizzle or spoon over top of the cake and let set.
I posted this recipe approximately eight million years ago, or in 2011. At the time, I wasn’t 100% happy with it, but I didn’t know why.
Last year, I started tinkering again, and found that lowering the oven temperature to let the muffins rise slightly slower and using whole-milk buttermilk did wonders. Now these are fluffy and luscious and one of my favorite muffin recipes. And they are all whole wheat, using the magic of white whole wheat flour. (Which they’ve stopped carrying at my Food City AND Walmart. GRUMP! This bag I found at Target.)
Next time you have some very ripe bananas, make these! In fact, make a double batch. Because they’re going to get gobbled up, especially if you have many small and hungry children as I do.
The 2011 Jessie would have never believed she could take a picture that good with a phone. Kind of amazing! After holding out on getting a smartphone for a long time, we caved two years ago. And about two weeks ago, I upgraded to the iPhone 7 plus. It takes pretty pictures. And you know I need those of my babies.
(Four. Have I mentioned I have four kids now? It’s been almost 10 months and it still feels surreal.)
I’m so excited to share my July reads because several of them were so good!
Moloka’i by Alan Brennert – This book is more than a decade old (2003), but I hadn’t heard of it until I became a part of a Facebook group that talks books. It got rave reviews there, and so I grabbed it somewhere (a thrift store, I think) when I saw it for cheap. I was not at all disappointed.
Moloka’i is the island to which Hawaiians with a form of leprosy are shipped in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Separated without choice from their friends and family, the “colonists” of the island form family units and unshakeable bonds. Rachel is just 7 when her sores are discovered and she is cut off from her close-knit family, including her beloved father, a merchant who sails around the world. Rachel finds her own dreams of seeing the world cut short, instead facing a lifetime of the sameness of Moloka’i.
The novel follows Rachel’s whole life. It is heartbreaking – especially because this island and the epidemic really did exist – and beautiful. I was so moved and tearful over one part that I had to chant “it’s just a book” to myself for awhile. I highly recommend you invest the time to read this 400-page novel soon if you haven’t yet.
When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon – Dimple and Rishi are betrothed. Except Rishi knows, but Dimple doesn’t. All Dimple knows is that she’s going to her dream camp, a six-week summer program centering around designing a smartphone app. Fiercely driven and Stanford-bound, Dimple has her eyes set on the prize, not on having a relationship, and especially not finding that “Ideal Indian Husband” her mom is always talking about.
Rishi is the boy you fell in love with in high school or wanted to find: hopelessly romantic, artistic, utterly devoted to his family and culture.
Yes, the plot may have been slightly predictable, but the different cultures and people represented really livened it up. I thought the one scene of intimacy probably could have been left out, but that’s just not my thing.
I stayed up way too late finishing this one, because it swept me away in ooshi-gooshyness, as any good YA romance should.
I think the plot of this book is really interesting. Shandi, a young, single mom, is held up at a gas station with her son. William puts himself in the path between the robber and her son, and her heart is stolen. Shandi doesn’t know William has his own long and sad story, and their attraction might be just too messy.
Meanwhile, there’s a lot of very graphic sex here as we find out how Shandi’s son was conceived and about William’s past relationships. It doesn’t feel entirely extraneous to the book, but it was a lot for me. I really don’t enjoy reading graphic stuff like this. Anne assured me not all her books are like that, and I’m willing to give another one a try, because I really did think the story was excellent. Just a little gritty for me.
Light a Penny Candle by Maeve Binchy – Have I had this book in my possession forever? Yes. Have I ever read it? No. Why? I have zero idea. This is Maeve Binchy’s first novel, and I think it’s the only one of hers I had never read. I’m a huge Maeve fan, but this one was a little awkward.
The first half felt like many of her other books: comfortably settling oneself into the story of Elizabeth, an English girl, and Aisling, an Irish preteen, who are thrown together when Elizabeth’s mother sends her off to live with Aisling’s family in Ireland during World War II. After spending five years together as sisters and best friends, their bond extends throughout their lives.
Here are my two complaints: first, the last maybe 10 percent of the book feels incredibly clunky and like it was rushed. It doesn’t feel like Maeve to me. Second, my copy had what I thought I was a spoiler on the back cover. If it was really a spoiler, it would have been for the last 50 pages of the book; but I came to find out it was really juicier than what actually even happened. I was annoyed the whole time that I hadn’t reached that obviously pivotal event from the back cover, and then realized it wasn’t even accurate. Granted, this copy was probably from 1985 so I guess I can’t complain to the publishers now. Note to self: never read the back cover or flap copy. Ever.
Rabbit Cake by Annie Hartnett – And now for something completely different … this is a new book, published in March. It’s about a 10-year-old girl but not classified as YA, but it is written in a 10-year-old voice. Elvis loves animals passionately, adores and is scared of her older sister Lizzie, and misses the rabbit cakes her mother baked. Because her mother sleepwalked herself to a river and drowned, and Elvis’s counselor has given her 18 months to complete the grieving process. Meanwhile, she’s trying to keep Lizzie from sleep-eating, her dad is wearing her mom’s robe and lipstick, and Elvis still has to stumble through fifth grade.
It’s as quirky and crazy as it sounds, and I found it absolutely charming.
So those were my reads for July! I’ve already finished one five-star read in August and am working through another which I think will also be five stars for me! (COMPLETELY different books.) You can follow me on GoodReads if you want to know what I’m currently reading and finishing!
On the way to the grocery store, I was listening to Anne Bogel’s What Should I Read Next? podcast. And in an ad, she mentioned a recipe for arugula salad with peaches, goat cheese, and almonds. Once I got into Publix, I couldn’t stop thinking about an arugula salad with peaches. I love both of those ingredients a lot, and it sounded so good.
(Which, if you know my kids, was most of theirs. Surprisingly, David and Libbie did actually try arugula and at least ate peaches and the bagel chips.)
As with most salads, I recommend throwing in whatever quantity of ingredients looks good to you. This recipe is an approximation of what I used, but make it to your tastes. And then enjoy the applause of those around you, because SO YUMMY.