Monday, September 14, 2015

Perfect Pizza Pasta

We are full swing in school mode over here and desperately trying to find our groove with our new routine since returning to work after a busy summer and maternity leave.  As you know, when it comes to the day to day grind - I am all about anything that saves a little bit of time.  This recipe is no exception.  It is super easy to throw together, can be eaten warm or cool and can be customizable to your child's (and your) individual taste.  This recipe is also a perfect way to use up some leftover veggies you have in your fridge and introduce them in a fun way to get your kiddos excited!

Last week, Benjamin moved up to a preschool classroom at school (wahhhh, where has the time gone!?).  He is absolutely loving his new class and enjoying his new teachers and new room (with all new toys!).  At home, I have had to adjust the way I pack his lunch as well. With this new class, they no longer heat up the children's lunches - which is a major adjustment for us since all of my boys love a warm lunch! (Yes, my husband takes a warm lunch almost everyday).  Until I can find a thermos that works well for his lunches, I'm trying to stick to a main course that travels well, is fun to eat and can be eaten cold/room temperature.  I found some really handy (and thin) ice packs which fit perfectly in our personalized Pottery Barn lunch boxes.  (FYI - to keep the box as cool as can be, I use two of these ice packs in the zipper pouch of the lunch box)

I have recently started purchasing turkey pepperoni and Benjamin is a huge fan.  It makes for a perfect snack and also travels very easily. A week or so ago, we had homemade pizza night and Benjamin had such a blast helping add the toppings to the pizza.  I had some left over toppings so I decided to add some pasta for a new family favorite.  This recipe is a lot of eyeballing and really adding whatever your heart (and tummy) desires.  The best part of this recipe, is that you can make it different every time.  You choose a few options from each of the main ingredient categories and mix and match!  This is a wonderful way to engage children in the process of preparing food.  Toddlers especially love helping in the kitchen and by encouraging this you, in turn, get them excited about helping pack their lunch.  The more fun you make these experiences for them, the more excited (and proud!) they will be to open up their lunch box and scarf their meal down.

I hope your kiddos love this recipe and it puts a smile on their face!  The possibilities are endless... have fun with it!

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Perfect Pizza Pasta

Basic ingredients:
Pasta + Meat + Veggies + Cheese + Sauce

PASTA options (cooked and cooled) -
Wheat/Whole grain pasta
Cheese tortellini
Veggie pasta

MEAT options (cooked, cooled and chopped) -
Turkey pepperoni
Mild Italian sausage
Chicken sausage
Ground beef
Ham cubes

VEGGIE (and one fruit!) option -
Cherry tomatoes
Black Olives
Yellow/Red Onion (chopped)

CHEESE options -
Mini mozzarella balls
Mozzarella chunks
Cheddar chunks (white or yellow, mild or sharp)
Pepper Jack chunks (for a little spice)
Monterey Jack chunks

SAUCE options -
Marinara sauce
Meat sauce
Alfredo sauce
White sauce (garlic + butter)

Combine all desired ingredients in a bowl until blended and Mangia!
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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Make Ahead Muffins

I feel like I've hit the mommy jackpot with this recipe.  Not only is it healthy and delicious but it is a major time-saver - and these days, those types of things are certainly speaking my love language.  Also, this recipe is geared towards mini muffins which makes them really easy to pack in lunch boxes and to hold in little hands.  The original recipe is from one of my go-to toddler cookbooks:  "Baby & Toddler - On the Go." I have slightly modified the recipe for our taste.

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The concept behind "make-ahead" muffins is the master muffin dry mix!  This recipe makes four separate batches of 14-16 mini muffins OR two batches of 24 muffins.  You mix all of the dry ingredients together and store in an airtight container in the fridge.  Having the dry mix already taken care of allows me to throw together (and bake) fresh muffins for toddler breakfasts + snacks in less than 20 minutes - each week.  I modify the flavor every week using different mix-ins which keeps those little toddler taste-buds excited!  This recipe is also perfect for baking and freezing - which comes in especially handy when we are away traveling for the weekend and our Sunday prep is non-existent.

As mentioned in my lunchbox post - last week I made banana cinnamon.  This week, we had some extra carrots and apples from our CSA box, so I decided to make some apple carrot spice muffins.  Both, as expected, were a big hit and it just warms my heart when Benjamin asks for muffins and tells me how yummy they are - "so good, mommy, so good in my tummy!"  I hope these are a hit in your house as well!

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Make-Ahead Muffins:

Makes 4 batches of 14-16 mini muffins or 2 batches of 24 mini muffins

Master Muffin Dry Mix:
1 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups whole wheat flour
3/4 cup wheat bran
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup light brown sugar

Whisk together all ingredients in a bowl until well blended.  Store in a plastic ziploc bag in the refrigerator for up to a month.

Banana Cinnamon Variation (Wet Mix):
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons canola oil
1/4 cup plain-whole milk greek yogurt
1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup mashed banana
one cup master muffin mix

Apple Carrot Variation (Wet Mix):
1/4 cup shredded carrot
1/4 cup diced apple
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons canola oil
1/4 cup plain-whole milk greek yogurt
1/4 cup applesauce
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
one cup master muffin mix

Preheat the oven to 400*F.  Spray a 24-cup mini muffin pan with cooking spray or line with paper liners.

In a bowl, beat together the wet ingredients.  Add the master muffin mix and stir until just evenly moistened.  The batter will be thick.

To ensure even distribution - use a medium (1.5 tablespoon) cookie scoop to portion batter into the prepared muffin cups. Bake until the muffins are golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center of the muffin comes out clean - approximately 13 minutes.  Let the muffins cool in the pan on a wire rack for about 5 minutes, then transfer to the wire rack to cool.

Store in an airtight container in fridge for one week and/or seal in a Ziploc bag and freeze for up to 3 months. Enjoy!

NOTE:  If you are making just one batch of this mix and using a 24 mini muffin cup pan you will have empty cups (since a single recipe usually yields approximately 14-16 mini muffins).  For each empty cup, fill half way with water as to ensure even cooking for the filled cups and also not to ruin your pan! :)

Click here for a printable version of this recipe.

Until next time... I'll leave you with this delicious morsel! #nomnomnom

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PS:  This post is not sponsored; it simply contains a few of my all-time favorite products in which an occasional Amazon affiliate link may be associated.
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Monday, August 17, 2015

School Lunch 101 - A Look Inside Benjamin's Lunchbox

This post is dedicated to all the moms out there trying to figure out what lunch/snack options to send their kiddos to school with. It's also dedicated to the stay at home moms that are in the lunch time rut and need a few fresh ideas to spruce things up. Occasionally, I'll post pictures over on my IG feed of the contents of Benjamin's lunchbox. Most often times, I get a handful of questions about what I pack and inquiries about recipe ideas to share. I thought this would be a good place to share that information as I know I am always curious as to what other moms pack for their kids lunches/snacks. Benjamin has been going to daycare since he was three months old. A few months later he started on fruit and veggie purees and I started making and sending those as well. Fast forward two years... and now we are well into the toddler food world. My motto on feeding wee ones is - variety! While we have main staples that I send in his lunch box everyday, I add variety consistently. Are their times when he doesn't care for what I've sent for him? Sure! My answer for that most often times it to keep sending it. Things he likes today, he's over tomorrow. His mind is a tornado at this age so I certainly don't give up when he tells me "mommy, me no like!" Most often times when I try again, it's a hit. This has allowed us to continue eating all of the wonderful variety of things in our home that we love without having to create additional meals every night for a super picky eater. 

When it comes to planning out the lunchbox meals for the week, I always try to incorporate our family meals as well. I share ingredients as much as possible and try to optimize our shopping. We don't like throwing away food in our family. To such a point, in fact, that I've dubbed my husband our "human garbage disposal." 

So here we go on our lunchbox adventure! I hope you find this the slightest bit helpful! 

The Main Categories I try to stick to: 
  • Yogurt 
  • Fruit 
  • Veggie 
  • Cheese 
  • Protein 
  • Grain/Carbs 
  • "Treat"/Snack/"Fun Food" 
On the Menu (Last Week/This Week): 

Yogurt - 1 4oz container each day, alternating flavors. We have been eating the Trader Joe's Organic yogurts in the following flavors: blueberry, vanilla, mango, peach, strawberry and banana. 

Cheese - 1 stick per day. This week I sent him with cheddar sticks. Last week I sent him with Colby jack sticks. 

Fruit - 1 4oz container of chopped fruit. I usually put two types of fruit in each container. This week was strawberries/raspberries and strawberries/donut peaches. Last week was strawberries/blueberries and blueberries/peaches. 

Veggies - 1 4oz container of steamed veggies. Benjamin is not a huge fan of raw veggies so I steam almost everything for him, but if your child likes raw veggies you can substitute those... which certainly makes for easier prep! Last week I alternated with fresh green beans and sweet potatoes. This week we are alternating between fresh green beans and broccoli. 

Main Lunch - Last week I alternated between homemade creamy broccoli mac+cheese and 1/2 chicken cutlet sandwich on 12 grain bread. This week I am alternating between whole wheat pasta with tomato sauce, Parmesan + sausage (leftover from our sausage and peppers night) and Spanish rice + Mexican pork (leftover from our grilled stuffed burrito night). 

Lastly, I supplemented with alternating flavors of GoGo Squeez last week and homemade banana cinnamon whole wheat muffins this week. These mini muffins also fit perfectly in my favorite 2 oz containers (link below). 


I absolutely love love love these containers - both the 2oz and the 4oz.  We have had them for over 2 years and have never had to replace them. They are sturdy, affordable and best of all - dishwasher safe!! 

All contents of Benjamin's lunchbox must be labeled each and every day. To make it easier, I purchased dishwasher safe labels from Name Bubbles and labeled all of my 2oz and 4 oz containers. I use a piece of masking tape with his name hand written - on the yogurt, cheese stick and other pouches or baggies. 

There are a bazillion types of lunch boxes out there, but we personally love the lunch boxes from Pottery Barn that are personalized with their first name on the front. I purchase them during a sale that also includes free shipping! 

I'll be back in a few days to share a super simple baking time saver AND the recipe for the homemade banana cinnamon whole wheat muffins! So easy, nutritious... and tasty, too! 

Please feel free to leave me a comment or a message and let me know if there is anything you would like to see me elaborate on or cover in a future post. I'd love to hear from you!

PS:  This post is not sponsored, just a list of some of our favorite products.  A few Amazon affiliate links may be included.
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