Eli would be on summer break which meant adventures aplenty. I was tired of packing the same PB&H picnic lunch for the three of us. The Lunch Box Challenge was born.
The Challenge: Begin the hunt to find at least 20 healthy, easy and (mostly) new packable lunches by next summer. As in, the summer before Eli starts kindergarten. Say what? That can’t be possible. Oh, but it is.
The ground rules:
– Try at least one new recipe or idea in each packed meal during summer break.
– 15 minutes or less to assemble.
– Document here and on this board for easy reference.
And then we were off.
Eli wanted to revisit many of the water feature parks from last summer so that’s where we met friends on most Wednesdays.
John D. Morgan Park, Campbell: The boys and Owen had a lot of fun getting wet running through the splash pad and sandy while they built rivers and lakes in the sand on the Rincon side of the park. Then they wanted to eat lunch and climb on the Budd side with the big play structure.
Lunchbox: “Coocoo balls” (as named by the boys and containing peanut butter/oats/carrots/raisins/honey), pineapple, jack cheese cubes, edamame & berry/carrot/fig (dehydrator) fruit roll-ups
Veteran preschooler: Squeals of delight. Emptied the container.
Newbie preschooler: I believe he started singing, “There’s a party in my tummy…”
Mama: We are off to a good start.
Mayfair Park, San Jose: One of the best park water features in the South Bay with a small playground as well. We were lucky to have Eli’s preschool friend Kaitlin and our neighbors Mikey and Johnny join us each week for our water feature adventures.
Lunchbox: PB&J sushi, cherries, zucchini & carrot “noodle” salad, mozzarella cheese & berry/carrot/fig roll-ups
Veteran preschooler: Requested PB&J sushi for weeks after. Took one bite of the “noodle” salad.
Newbie preschooler: Thumbs up. Took three bites of the “noodle” salad just to show-up his brother, I think.
Mama: I do not have a future in food photography.
Ortega Park, Sunnyvale: It has a fairly large water feature with a huge flower in the middle as well as two play structures, sand to dig in, swings and a rock wall. We had a major friend party that day.
Lunchbox (Fin wanted to dig in that morning): Banana/almond/yogurt muffins, ants on a log, cantaloupe, sugar snap peas & garden tomatoes from our neighbor! Since we had lots of friends coming we also made our favorite no-sugar added peanut butter cookies to share.
Veteran preschooler: “Mama, you can eat the tomatoes.” The rest was inhaled.
Newbie preschooler: Fin walked around the playground trying to shove tomatoes into mouths.
Mama: I love peaceful lunchtimes.
Serra Park, Sunnyvale: I love this park because it has a huge riverboat themed play structure, a modest water feature and a babbling brook that runs throughout the park. We picnicked next to the brook and made wine cork boats to float in the water.
Lunchbox: Pizza rolls with bacon and arugula, carrots, pluots, seaweed & yogurt/carrot/spinach/berry popsicles (which I forgot in the freezer at home)
Veteran preschooler: Downed the pizza rolls, pluots and seaweed.
Newbie preschooler: Unbenownst to me, he was working on coming down with a 103 degree fever. He snuggled and ate nuts and raisins.
Mama: Quick and homemade pizza rolls don’t belong in the same sentence. At least not these ones.
Lakewood Park, Sunnyvale: This space themed park has a couple of big play structures, a decent water feature and a skate park. The kids had the skate park to themselves most of the morning and went from skooting to climbing to racing Matchbox cars down the ramps. It was the first day of kindergarten for Owen and Ben who joined us after their big day.
Lunchbox: Weelicious “all kids like this tofu” recipe, peanut dipping sauce (to rescue the tofu, if needed), Asian-inspired pasta salad with carrots and edamame, broccoli, strawberries and my first attempt at homemade “Fig Newtons” with figs from our trees.
Veteran preschooler: “This tofu is yucky.” + “But I will eat it because I want dessert.” + “The peanut sauce is very yummy.” = Tofu 75% gone
Newbie preschooler: Tofu sentiments x2. Not so hot on the pasta salad either.
Mama: Don’t believe everything you read on the Internet.
Jack Fischer Park, Campbell: The first water feature park we ever visited about 2 years ago. It has a water feature, a sand area with a faucet to build rivers and lakes, a play structure and a huge grassy hill. Eli and Kaitlin really hit it off this summer and were typically the most sopping wet kids at each park. Kayla will be ready to join them next summer!
Lunchbox: We ate something. What? I have no idea.
But we didn’t just picnic at parks with water features. We had many more opportunities to eat outdoors.
Happy Hollow: Many times. The boys always hate to leave the Crooked House, Fin rode the Frog Hopper for the first time and we even got a behind the scenes look at how the puppet shows are produced.
Lunchbox 1: Turkey/cheese/veggie pita sandwiches, carrots, grapes, garbonzo beans and applesauce roll-ups.
Veteran preschooler: Ix-nay on the sandwich eggies-vay.
Newbie preschooler: Lunchtime smiles = empty lunchbox
Mama: Consumption of any “stabbable” food increases dramatically with toothpicks.
Lunchbox 2: Cucumber/salami/Fontina cheese “sandwiches”, hummus with roasted broccoli and pita and cantaloupe.
Veteran preschooler: Deconstructed the “sandwiches” further and just ate the meat and cheese. Declared loudly that he loved roasted broccoli.
Newbie preschooler: Down the hatch.
Post-swim lessons adventures: Two months of swim lessons. Eli loved them. Fin not so much. Sometimes we picnicked in the park next to the pool, visited Dad at work or headed to the library.
Lunchbox 1: Bagels and cream cheese, strawberries, barley/white bean/tomato/zucchini salad, edamame and applesauce roll-ups.
Veteran preschooler: Eli sort of looked at me like I was joking when I offered him the barley salad. He took a bite to get his fruit roll-up. No go.
Newbie preschooler: Fin eats bagels and cream cheese by digging out the cream cheese with his finger and leaving the bagels.
Mama: No, we don’t eat fruit roll-ups every day.
Lunchbox 2: Pepperoni, Kalamata olive & Jack cheese skewers, roasted cauliflower, watermelon and yogurt/berry/carrot/spinach popsicles.
Veteran preschooler: Devoured it but lukewarm on the cauliflower. And then he asked, “Why did you put our lunch on pointy things?”
Newbie preschooler: I can stab people with these skewers.
Mama: Perhaps I need to rethink skewers in a lunchbox.
King Library story hour: The highlight? Having to walk all the way across campus to our car with two children simultaneously screaming bloody murder, turning every head as we walked by and (me) trying to act like I had it all under control.
Lunchbox (which was eaten at home because the picnic was aborted before it began): Sliced apple and cheddar sandwiches, blueberries and raspberries, marinated mushroom salad and cashews.
Veteran preschooler: He yelled, “Yuck!” Then he screamed, “YUCK! This is yucky!” He threw himself down from the table without eating much of anything.
Newbie preschooler: Repeat performance that was slightly less dramatic.
Mama: This is the day that just keeps on giving.
Symphony Silicon Valley concert on the SJSU campus: An outdoor summer concert series held on the lawn at SJSU. With friends. And free ice cream. Bliss.
Lunchbox: Cheese tortellini salad with garden tomatoes and arugula, pancetta, grapes and sugar snap peas, radishes and cucumbers.
Veteran preschooler: After complaining about dinner once he was reminded that they serve ice cream at the concert. He cleared his plate without another word.
Newbie preschooler: He followed suit.
Mama: A delicious way to clean out the garden, refrigerator and freezer!
Symphony Silicon Valley concert on the SJSU campus – Star Wars edition: We hadn’t remembered it was a Star Wars theme. Luckily, Eli was properly branded and eagerly approached the stormtrooper to tell him, “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.” Little did I realize that this would be the birth of a new, hardcore Star Wars obsession.
Lunchbox: Chicken salad sandwiches, cucumbers and carrots, grapes and fresh mozzarella, garden tomato and basil salad.
Veteran preschooler: Free ice cream.
Newbie preschooler: Free ice cream.
Mama: How can my children not like chicken salad? Or a salad made from the bounty of our garden (and Costco)?
Children’s Discovery Museum: Another favorite summer vacation haunt.
Lunchbox: English muffins pizzas with arugula and bell peppers, sugar snap peas, strawberries and (dehydrator) zucchini “fruit” snacks.
Veteran preschooler: Can’t go wrong with pizza. Except when there’s bell pepper on it.
Newbie preschooler: Ate everything including the bell peppers off Eli’s pizza.
Mama: I am obsessed with my food dehydrator. I also think we win the prize for most sugar snap peas consumed over summer break.
National Night Out: After watching our local National Night Out from a distance for years, the boys were both finally old enough to last until dark. They practiced their chalking skills, watched a few minutes of their first “big screen” movie, ran around with friends and got a brief cameo on the nightly news.
Lunchbox: French dip sandwiches, refrigerator pickled cucumbers/radishes/carrots, strawberries, roasted chickpeas and fig bars.
Veteran preschooler: The meat boy dug it all.
Newbie preschooler: The veggie boy dug it all but the meat.
Mama (and Papa!): We should picnic in the park more often.
Central Park, Santa Clara: A large park with an old-school wooden play structure with metal slides and huge concrete blocks for climbing on. It also has a big “lake” with ducks and a small play area with water.
Lunchbox: Chicken and cheese quesadillas, sugar snap peas, nectarines and plain yogurt with jam and Cheerio toppers.
Veteran preschooler: Not sure if he ate the yogurt because I put meat in the quesadilla or the Cheerios won him over.
Newbie preschooler: Boycotted the quesadilla, too.
Mama: After months of various tactics, it’s plain yogurt for the win! Finally.
Volunteer Garden benches: And sometimes you just pack a lunch and walk down to the corner of your block. Especially when you have nice benches to eat on and a sidewalk just dying for a brother race.
Lunchbox (which Eli was ready to eat before we left): apple and peanut butter “sandwiches”, strawberries, carrots and green beans (from our garden!), pasta salad with Italian dressing and broccoli, tomatoes and garbonzo beans and berry and yogurt popsicles.
Veteran preschooler: “I LOVE peanut butter and apple sandwiches!” He kept trying to sell the green beans to random strangers, “They are from our garden. No really, you should try them!”
Newbie preschooler: Was equally eager to talk to everyone that walked by and offer food from his peanut butter covered hands.
Mama: Easy sandwiches to make. The post-consumption face and hand clean up is another story.
So what did I learn? Packing lunches is a lot of work. (I know, statement of the obvious.) Although I started to get really good at coordinating food prep for lunches to make packing more efficient, I’m thankful for a picnic hiatus. And the boys are now ready for a peanut butter and honey infusion after our little break. Perfect timing.