Monday, September 12, 2016

Stress Less Over Packing Lunch

This year, I'm back to focusing on saving so except for special occassions, I decided no ordering school lunch. With 3 kids and not working full time,I can't really justify it anyways. But whether you work or not, I don't know a single mom out there who does not stress over lunch packing.

Here are a few easy things I did to help me keep my cool over the years...

1. Make a LIST of all the foods your kids will eat for lunch. Do this with your kids. You only need to make this once really. This was probably the single most helpful thing I did for myself. I only update this list if the kids ask or if I come across any new foods I want my kids to try. Aim to have a list of "mains" (we used to call them proteins), veggies, fruits and snacks. I post it in the kitchen and it allows me to be brainless. I just scan it real quick any night and it also helps me shop too.

This is the very first list I made when I started to have to make 3 lunches/day. It's morphed a bit since then but not too much overall.

2. Every Sunday, discuss the week's lunch MENU with the kids and jot it. Stick it up on your wall somewhere that is visible to all. We only list out the mains but if you're kids want to, let them discuss the veggies, fruit, snacks, etc. Be sure to have the kids AGREE that this will not change over the duration of the week. Our lunch mains do not change much week to week so now I just jot them down on my own and just have kids OK it on Monday morning. It takes me all of 1 minute!

3. Every weekend, make sure your FRIDGE is sufficiently STOCKED. Don't overbuy as this leads to wasting food. This will help food stress levels for all meals, all week long. If your schedule allows, take the kids with you and let them choose what they want to eat for the week. It only helps. And of course try to eat the foods in order of how long it will stay fresh. The foods that go bad faster, stick them in the front so you can see them.

4. Pack LEFTOVERS. I don't like to stray from my weekly already-agreed-upon menu but if I have dinner leftovers I know at least 1 of the kids will eat for lunch, I will save myself some work (and money!) and pack that instead.

5. KEEP IT SIMPLE! If you have multiple kids, as much as you can, pack the same for all. And of course we want our kids to eat healthy, balanced meals but be realistic and if you don't have a veggie in every meal, your kids can still have extra veggies at dinnertime or for an after-school snack. And no need to be fancy and use cookie cutters and toothpicks. This is one of many reasons why I like the Yumbox. It makes the simplest lunches look good all because the box is pretty and it's just 1 container to wash vs. multiple containers for each food item. However, if you enjoy the extras, go ahead, but no stress please cause honestly, it gets old for the kiddos too.

For more lunch ideas, join my Facebook Lunchbox Ideas group!
Hope this helps! Let me know your thoughts!

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Perfectly Boiled & Peeled Eggs

We eat eggs all the time in my house. I like to mix up how I cook them but one way I never could get just right was the hard boiled egg....until last week! I finally figured out how to make them so they peel perfectly. With Easter coming up, wanted to share this precious knowledge and save others the angst I've felt for years!

I've looked up numerous videos and blog posts on how to make perfectly boiled eggs and all is well until it's time to peel the eggs. Unfortunately, the fresher the egg, the harder to peel. On a lucky day, they peel well, but for the most part, I end up peeling off half the white with the shell and they end up bumpy skinned. Boo.

Last week, I had a nerdy moment. The OCD part of me felt so satisfied cause I found the trick! You know those cute little pointy handles you can buy to hold corn on the cob? They are the key! Before you boil your eggs, gently poke a hole (or 2) in one end of your egg. That's it! This allows a tiny bit of water into your egg that helps separate the egg from the thin film of skin that makes it impossible to cleanly peel your egg. So simple, right? Oh! You can use a tack too but I prefer to use cooking tools on food if I can help it.

So this is what I do...

1. Poke a tiny hole into the egg of each egg and place in a pot.
2. Place your eggs inside and cover them completely with cold water.
3. Bring your pot to a boil, then turn off your stovetop.
4. Let eggs sit for 10-12 minutes for hard boiled eggs and 5-7 minutes for soft boiled eggs.
5. Pour out the hot water and immediately add ice and run cold water over eggs, keeping them inside the pot.
6. Tap each egg on your counter top on all sides and peel away with ease. The shell will peel off in large connected chunks!
7. Quick rinse and that's it!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Fave Lunchbox - Yumbox Panino

I've tried basic plastic tupperware, some disposable, some not. I've tried Lunchbots, Planetbox, GoodBin, Rubbermaid as well as various cute asian bento boxes and realize that there is no perfect lunchbox. That said, my fave so far is the Yumbox Panino. In a perfect world, I'd make a few tweaks but for now, I'll take it!  Here's why:

There are 4 sections. I put the main food item in the large square compartment. In the 2 medium sized ones, I put fruit and vegetables, and the circle in the middle is great for condiments/dip or a small treat. I adore all the cute bentos you see online with cute rice shapes, cute toothpicks, and cut out food but I don't have the time nor the skill level required. Kids with those moms are so lucky! With the Yumbox, you don't have to do anything fancy. Just fill it and it looks attractive and appetizing, as is.

You don't need 3 or 4 different containers with 3 or 4 different lids. Matching up the lids, washing all the pieces, having all the lids fall through the dishwasher cracks, storing all the containers, picking out the right container for each food item...such a pain! And picture your child at school opening them all...chances of spillage are high and chances the teachers are annoyed each time they have to open a container...haha. It's just 1 container to store and 2 parts (outer box & removable tray) to wash either by hand or in the dishwasher. Done.

It is too limiting for me to pack foods that will not leak. What about hummus, salad dressing, ketchup, yogurt, applesauce, and even soy sauce! Lots of other kinds of food gets a little drippy, even fruit. I suppose you can always buy additional leakproof containers but then you end up with all the annoyances I mention above, not to mention the additional cost. The original Yumbox had thicker walls and an imperfect seal. I found some food seeping into other sections. The newer models have fixed this and seem to maximize the food storage space as well. They also now have slits on the silicone interior of the cover. The thin walls slide snugly in to create the awesome seal. This awesome seal also keeps the wet items away from the dry ones. The dry foods stay dry and don't get soggy...crackers, nuggets, what have you.

It's bright, colorful, all neat & pretty. It's easy for kids to open without help from teachers, and it's fun for them to eat, lunchables style. Ever since I started using the Yumboxes for all three of my kids, there is much less food coming back home. Most days, 2 of the 3 bring home near empty boxes and my picky one has been leaving much less.

You don't need plastic baggies, plastic wrap, or a slew of containers. Less waste and cost. You don't need to buy pricier snack sized, individually packaged foods. Instead, you can put your raisins, yogurt, applesauce, or fruit directly into a compartment.

It's compact and light, but not flimsy. It doesn't take up a huge amount of space when open on crowded school lunch tables. I also know that if I fill the Yumboxes, that's generally the right amount of food for my kids. Sometimes I'll throw in a banana, granola bar or frozen yogurt. Before, my portions were not as consistent and a lot of time I overpacked. Now there is much less waste.

Form & function. What else can you ask for?
Although I do not recommend microwaving food in plastic, if you purchased your Yumbox after May 1, 2013, the tray, not outer box, is microwave safe. It is BPA and phthalates-free.

Solid customer service makes the world of difference these days. I found out after the fact, that Yumbox would have replaced a broken latch on an older, used box I tried. They also offered my "Lunchbox Ideas" Facebook group a helpful discount, no questions asked. Love them.

And why the Yumbox Panino over the regular 6 compartment Yumbox?

I think the 4 compartment Panino is much more flexible for a variety of foods. A friend gave me an older original model which I used almost everyday for months. I found it hard to fit certain foods into the small spaces and it didn't maximize the amount of food I could put in the box - nuggets, sandwiches, quesadillas, etc. Also, after packing 3 or 4 items, I felt the need to put more variety but didn't have anything else to pack which stressed me out. If you have more than 4 items to pack, I just pack a few together in the large space. If I need more compartments on some days, I just use silicone baking cups.

A mom from our Lunchbox Ideas group just informed me that if you do not prefer illustrations on the tray, you can purchase a blank tray & outer box separately from the mix & match section of the yumbox site for only $0.50 more. Just be sure you're getting the right tray for the right outer box.

Please share your thoughts on the Yumbox or any other favorite lunchbox of yours. I'd love to hear your opinions.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

How You Eat is How You Live

(Adapted from Food52)

I believe that cooking doesn't have to be complicated or stressful.

When you cook:
Your family will share meals together.
You will naturally have a more sustainable household.
You'll set a lifelong example for your children.
You'll understand what goes into food and will eat more healthily.
You'll make your home an important place in your family's life.
You'll be happy.
You'll make others happy.

Do you agree?

Friday, March 6, 2015

The Spiralizer

As badly as I want to try out my new sous vide, my fridge is full so I've been holding myself back from going grocery shopping. But being sick is boring! So I decided to try this out instead. Sorry kids! You can have a turn next time!

Now that my youngest is in school a few mornings a week, I've been trying to finally do all the things I've (im)patiently been waiting to do. One of the projects on my list is to eat and cook healthier foods for myself and my family. I've never been your typical "skinny Asian girl" and the main reason is probably because I've always eaten everything I've ever wanted...literally, everything. Portion control, what? Literally, the best I've ever looked, and the most confident I've ever been, was each of the three times I was pregnant, ha! And we all know that women's bodies are not the same after having kids and also with age. So began my little journey towards a healthier lifestyle and this is just one of many steps I'm taking.

I stumbled across this "spiralizer" on the Nom Nom Paleo site. As many times as I've considered getting a Vitamix, I'm usually not too into kitchen gadgets. But this was not an expensive purchase and I really knew I would use this. I love Italian and I also love noodles and pasta. I've lowered my carb intake before but missed the yummy marinara sauces, Rao's being my fave. This was my answer.

Paderno Spiral Slicer

The main reasons why I love this is:
1. added nutrition
2. low carbs & calories
3. quicker cooking time
4. fun for kids

I've been trying to get the kids more and more involved in food decision making, as well as prepping and cooking meals. Getting kids involved with the everyday really does something to their little brains. It's like magic. Suddenly, they're excited to eat new foods, they think everything tastes so good, they think I'm the best cook, and having taken part of it all builds their confidence. I'll take those things any day!

If you want to know more, this chick Ali is the spiralizer guru and goes into the details of all the benefits here.

Getting back to actually using it...
It was very easy to put together, use and clean up. It worked exactly the way I expected with no unexpected glitches.

I was planning on cooking these "noodles" in a pan with a little bit of cooking oil but having no energy, I covered the bowl and threw them in the microwave for a little under 2 minutes. I had leftover sauce and threw some spicy mango & jalapeno chicken meatballs in (Aidells, can be found at Costco) and a few minutes later had this yummy little snack. (Yes, my snacks are mini meals.)

I literally inhaled it. Part of me was expecting it to taste too "healthy" but it was so yummy! And an unexpected plus was that I could use chopsticks! I don't use forks unless there are no chopsticks around.

I was surprised that Bed Bath didn't carry this. If you have a 20% off any item promo code at Williams Sonoma, get one there. Otherwise, Amazon seems to have a better regular price. If you happen to get one there, please use my affiliate link. I get a few pennies and it's no additional cost to you.

There are lots of other veggies and recipes I'm going to try from Ali's site. Take a peek if you're curious. For me, the next step is to make this for the hubs to see his thoughts. Will let you know!

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Healthier Eating Step No. 1 - Fruits & Veggies

This post is dedicated to my friend Sonia Chun. I remember when I was shopping for you and thought to myself, "I know Phil loves his potatoes but do they really have to be organic?" You sparked my curiosity and now my family is eating a little bit healthier. You make me want to pray more, too. Thank you!

I've heard that we don't need to buy everything organic. But how the heck are we supposed to know what to buy and what not to buy? Here are some basic guidelines from the EWG (Environmental Working Group), the latest "Dirty Dozen" and "Clean Fifteen" list.

I used to have three grocery lists - Shoprite, Costco, and HMart (major korean supermarket chain). I was avoiding a fourth for so long because of cost but now my priorities have shifted a bit and I now have a WFoods/TraderJoe's list. The Dirty Dozen fruits & veggies now go here. When I see the non-organic dirty dozen with cheaper prices and looking fresh and yummy, I do get tempted. Who wants to go to another store in the middle of our busy days? But then I think back to this video and keep on walking down the aisle. If time and money is really a concern, I just opt for a less pesticide ridden option on the Clean Fifteen list. 

The full list of 50 or so fruits & veggies can be found here.

Update: I want to note that list is not perfect. From what I've read, the EWG bases this list on (1) the number of pesticide residues found (2) the percentage of samples with pesticide residues, and (3) the total amount of pesticides detected. It does not take into account how toxic the pesticides are nor the toxic organic pesticides used on organic fruits & veggies. Are you surprised that there is no simple straight forward answer? Course not.

In an ideal world, we would all just grow our own fruits and vegetables. I do want to start a small garden sometime in the near future. Plus, it's so much yummier. Or we would shop only at local farms where we could ask farmers what kinds of pest control and chemicals they use. Anytime we can do this, great! But realistically, our options are:

(1) blindly just eat what's cheap and easy with no concern for our health - But we're past that already, yes?
(2) buy everything organic - Then I've at least eliminated the synthetic pesticides, right? I wish I could afford to do this but I can't. And I need to still save to buy organic meats!
(3) just stick to this EWG list as a guideline

It's about progress, people, not perfection. And what's most important is eating more fruits & veggies overall. Let's just keep trying new recipes and including more nutritious foods into our daily.

Oh and there are also many Asian fruits and vegetables that aren't even included in this list. Again, I'm aiming for improvements and realistic, doable changes. So for now, I will continue to buy my bean sprouts and Korean melons from HMart and get my organic dirty dozen from Whole Foods or wherever else I can find them.

Why I (Finally) Decided to Make Some Changes To What We Eat

I know a few people who are health food crazies. Honestly, I don't think many of them know why they eat what they eat so I see most of "them" simply as trend followers. Koreans are notorious for this and I actually find it rather annoying. Why would you do something when you don't even know why you're doing it? Of course everyone knows we should all eat healthier but why? I've always enjoyed food and generally thought healthy eating wasn't ever going to taste as good. So why become one of "them"? I'm the kind of person who needs facts and numbers to be convinced of most things. Not that I ever went looking but no one ever really told me the details as to why eating healthier is important.

I've seen snippets of different food documentaries and have overheard my Whole Foods employed sister mention a few things but nothing clicked until I came across this video.

I have three children with peanut and tree nut allergies and one of them also has an egg allergy. Sadly to say, many of my friends have little ones with some sort of food allergy. I've also been praying for friends and their family members with different illnesses including cancer. So naturally, a switch flipped in my head and I decided I needed to start looking into all this and make some changes for my family's sake.

Now, where to begin...

Thursday, December 4, 2014

"You're a Nice Mom"

me: M, what kind of mom am I?
M: You're a nice mom. You're a faither mom. 'Cause you have faith. You're a studying mom. 'Cause you study knitting. (LOL) You're a cooking mom. I like what you cook. You're a nice mom.

Then he tipped his head to the side to touch mine.

God knows how to send me just the right kind of love to give me a boost.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Happy Valentine's Day

Today, Maxx learned what genetics was. One of the examples I gave him was that we had the same toes.
"Mommy, when you pass and go to heaven, I'm going to look at my toes and think about you."
I became mush.

Today, the first person to wish me a Happy Valentine's Day with hugs all day was my Ellie. No one gives me more hugs daily than my Ellie.

Nowadays, when I tell Iann that I love him, he responds with "I love you a lot." He said it all on his own. Love. And today, in the car on the way to pick up the big kids...
Iann: When I'm a grown up, I'm going to sit there. (Pointing to the driver's seat where I am.)
me: What about me?
Iann: You can sit there. (Pointing to passenger seat.) And I'm going to drive you when I'm a grown up.

And as a grand finale, the hubs left work early to pick up one of my fave foods, Taqueria, on his way home from work. We always go to the one in Jersey City but he totally surprised me this time and picked up from a New York location. Might seem small but it really is the little things.

Oh happy day.
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