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Lisa's Kitchen Blog

Thank you for visiting my blog! I'm glad you're here. I am a part-time Living the Country Life and Successful Farming web editor, and a full-time stay-at-home mom to my three young sons, Jake, Luke, and Will. My husband, the boys, and I live on 40 acres in south-central Iowa. We have a handful of cattle, an old farmhouse, a dog, a turtle, a goldfish, and a garden. It's a great life! I really enjoy cooking for my family and friends, and am thrilled to get to share some of my favorite recipes and meals with you.

Come visit my blog anytime you’re looking for ideas on what to fix for your family. The coffee’s always on!

~ Lisa Foust Prater

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September 26, 2011

Muffin tin apple pies

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My oldest son, Jake, is a very good eater, and happily eats just about everything I fix. He rarely asks for any food in particular, so when he does ask, I usually make whatever he wants. This week, he wanted apple pie. Apple pie it is.

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I happened to have a fruit bowl full of apples, and a couple of refrigerated pie crusts, so I set out to work. I wanted to make mini pies so they could take extras in their lunches. I didn’t have any mini pie pans, but I did have a muffin tin. I found a cup that was about an inch wider than the muffin cups, and used it to cut out circles, then pressed them into the bottom of the muffin cups and up around the sides. A double-crust box of dough was just enough to make 12 mini pies, with enough dough left over to cut out stars with a mini cookie cutter for the tops.

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Here’s how I made the filling:

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8 apples, peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces (smaller than for a normal-sized pie)

Lemon juice, if needed (I had Jonathan apples on hand, so added some lemon juice to make them more tart)

1/2 cup sugar

1 Tbsp. flour

1 tsp. apple pie spice

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Toss all the ingredients together and fill the crust-lined muffin tins. Top with the dough cut-outs, sprinkle with a little sugar, and bake at 425 degrees F. for 30 minutes.

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These little pies turned out so cute, and they couldn’t have been easier. You can use canned pie filling to make these pies easier still! They also make portion control easier. There’s no way a pie would be cut into 12 pieces in my house, but with the same amount of ingredients, we had 12 mini pies. They’re also the perfect size for lunchboxes, so Jake and his brothers are happy campers!

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September 14, 2011

Easy chicken tetrazzini

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As you know, I pack a lot of sack lunches for my boys. I let them choose one hot lunch a week, but send a homemade lunch the rest of the time. Since they are normal kids, they generally choose pizza day or chili and cinnamon roll day to eat at school. But for some reason, when chicken tetrazzini is on the menu, that is their choice, hands down.

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They love the school tetrazzini so much that Luke even asked Mrs. Gillespie, the school cook, for the recipe. She is a very nice woman, and always has a kind word for the kids as they go through the lunch line. She shared the recipe with Luke, who of course shared it with me. I made a few changes since I’m cooking for five people instead of 150, and made a few substitutions to fit the ingredients in my pantry.

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This quick and easy version of chicken tetrazzini can be whipped up in no time, so it’s perfect for busy school nights. I had a quart-sized bag full of cooked, chunked chicken in the freezer, so I put it in the fridge to thaw the night before. Having cooked meat in the freezer is such a great time-saver. If you’re browning a pound of ground beef for a recipe, go ahead and brown two pounds, and freeze half. Or if you’re making baked chicken for dinner, double the amount, then cut up the leftovers and throw them in the freezer. It doesn’t take much extra effort, but saves a lot of time in the long run.

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For my tetrazzini, I broke 16 ounces of spaghetti into 3-inch pieces. Instead of boiling it in plain water, I added a couple of chicken bouillon cubes to the pan. You could use chicken stock, but the cubes work well and are so easy and inexpensive. The pasta was then cooked according to the directions on the box, but before draining, I reserved a few cups of the broth.

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The drained spaghetti pieces went into a large bowl, and I added 2 cans of condensed cream of mushroom soup. I used one can of low-fat, and one can of garlic-flavored cream of mushroom, and folded them into the pasta. Then, I added the quart-sized bag of cooked, chopped chicken (turkey would also work well), 1-1/2 cups of shredded cheese (I used my favorite, Colby Jack) and 1/2 cup of grated Parmesan cheese, and stirred to combine.

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Here’s where the reserved broth comes in. Add it as needed to the mixture to get a moist, creamy consistency. You’ll just have to play it by ear depending on how the mixture looks. If your family likes mushrooms or peas in their tetrazzini, go ahead and stir them in now.

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Pour the creamy pasta mixture into a greased casserole dish. Sprinkle 1/2 cup of grated cheese over the top, and another 1/4 cup of grated Parmesan. Then crush 1/2 sleeve of round rich crackers and sprinkle them on top. Bake at 350 degrees F. for 35 minutes or until bubbly.

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The kids loved my easy version of Mrs. Gillespie’s chicken tetrazzini. Give it a try!

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September 6, 2011

Brownie cupcakes

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Today is my oldest son Jake’s 10th birthday. My policy is that I will make absolutely any treat their little hearts desire for my boys to take to school on their birthdays. Jake was torn between brownies and cupcakes, so I surprised him with … brownie cupcakes!

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In fact, this is birthday week at my house. My middle son Luke had his 8th birthday on Saturday, and my youngest, Will, turns 6 on Friday. Luke took s’mores bars for his treat, and now that Will has seen the brownie cupcakes, he wants them for his birthday as well. And so it shall be.

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These treats really are the perfect combination of brownies and cupcakes. The tops get crinkly like brownies, and they don’t need any frosting. They’re chewy like brownies, but in easy-to-serve cupcake form. Perfect for, say, taking to school!

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Give these a try … you won’t be sorry!

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1-1/2 cups butter or margarine suited for baking

1-1/2 cups chocolate chips

6 eggs

2-1/4 cups sugar

1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla

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In a saucepan, melt the butter and chocolate chips over low heat, stirring until smooth. Let cool slightly. If you like nuts in your brownies, add 1-1/2 cups or so of walnuts or pecans to the chocolate mixture. Jake doesn’t, so I didn’t.

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In a large bowl, combine the eggs, flour, sugar, and vanilla. Fold in the chocolate mixture.

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Fill cupcake tins (I sprayed mine with a non-stick spray for baking) about 3/4 full, and bake at 325 degrees F., for 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on wire racks.

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This recipe made 2 dozen cupcakes, and I had just enough batter left over to fill a tin that makes a dozen mini donuts. We ate the donuts for dessert, and sent the cupcakes to school with Jake!

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September 4, 2011

PB&J French toast

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As you know, I love breakfast. Any excuse to make pancakes or French toast, and I’m in. So when my friend Ginger mentioned making PB&J French toast for her boys, Jake and Josh, I knew I had to make it for my boys! What a great idea!

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Basically, I just made PB&J sandwiches, dipped them in a bowl of eggs beaten with a little milk and cinnamon, and toasted them in a skillet sprayed with non-stick spray.

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This is another one of those “I can’t believe I didn’t think of this” recipes. So easy and so simple, yet so good! The peanut butter and jelly were gooey and melted, and ran out of the middle of the toasted sandwiches. All I put on top was a sprinkle of powdered sugar, and that’s all they needed. The kids went crazy for this breakfast, and I loved it too!

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September 1, 2011

Easy slow cooker chicken and rice

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My husband came home from the store the other day with three 10-pound bags of frozen chicken hindquarters. They were on sale. We have a big freezer on our back porch that’s full of meat, and now we have a bunch of chicken to go with the hog and half beef we split with our neighbor. Now … what to do with all of that chicken?

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Now that the kids are back in school, it’s feeling like fall, even though it’s still nice and warm. That puts me in the mood for using the slow cooker!

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I used my 5-quart cooker, and sprayed the whole thing with non-stick spray. Then I shook some garlic powder on both sides of half of the frozen hindquarters and just popped them in the cooker and turned in on high. This was about 11:00 a.m. (If you start cooking first thing in the morning, just set the slow cooker on low instead of high, and your meat will be ready by dinnertime.)

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Around 4:30, the house started to smell really amazing. I checked on the chicken, and there was a ton of liquid in the cooker, and the meat was done. I dumped in a bunch of quick-cooking rice, eyeballing the amount based on the amount of liquid that was in the cooker.

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An hour later, dinner was served. It smelled and tasted great, and it couldn’t possibly have been any easier The chicken was moist and tender, and the rice had soaked up all of that chicken stock and garlic powder.

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The next day, I cooked the rest of the bag of chicken in the slow cooker, this time without the rice, and with a sprinkling of Italian seasoning. When the chicken was cooked, I removed the skin and bones, and cut the meat up into bite-sized pieces and froze it. I also strained the liquid that was left in the pot and froze it. This stock and meat will be great in a soup or casserole later this fall!

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August 15, 2011

Easy blueberry blintzes

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I’ve been on a breakfast kick lately. It’s probably because I’m about to send my three little boys back to school, and our lazy mornings together will soon be replaced by rushed breakfasts and frantic searches for shoes and backpacks before the bus comes. Today, I tried something new, and the boys were very pleased … so was I!

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I love the blintzes they serve at those pancake restaurants, but I’d never tried making them until today. I found a recipe for crepes in my trusty Better Homes & Gardens cookbook, made a few adjustments, and whipped up a filling that would use some of those blueberries I still have in my fridge. 

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Cinnamon crepes

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3/4 cup milk

1 cup flour

1/3 tsp. cinnamon

1 egg

1/2 Tbsp. oil

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Beat these ingredients together well., until the lumps are gone. Heat a lightly greased 6-inch skillet. Remove from heat and reduce temperature to medium-low. Pour a small amount of batter into the center of the pan (I used a 1/8 cup scoop), then immediately begin swirling the pan in circles to cover it with batter. This may take a few tries before you get it down pat. Return to the burner, and cook until the bottom begins to turn brown and the top is cooked (dry to the touch). Flip onto a plate and cover with a paper towel. Do not cook the second side of the crepe. Repeat. This recipe makes about 8 crepes.

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Easy blueberry-cream cheese filling

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For the filling, microwave 8 ounces of cream cheese until very soft, about 1 minute. Stir in 2 tablespoons of powdered sugar. Fold in 1/2 cup of fresh blueberries.

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Spread some filling into each crepe and roll. Hold the crepe shut using a little cream cheese as “glue”. Sprinkle with powdered sugar. Enjoy!

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August 14, 2011

Taboule salad

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Taboule (also spelled tabouleh, tabbouleh, tabbouli, or any combination thereof) is a Middle Eastern dish that also fits right in with Mediterranean cooking. It’s basically a bulgar wheat salad with lemon juice, olive oil, mint, garlic, and other herbs and spices. It’s traditionally made with cucumbers and tomatoes. The texture and flavor reminds me of couscous, which I also love.

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You can find quick-cooking taboule in the grocery store near the rice and couscous. The box contains the bulgar and a delicious assortment of herbs and spices. Prepare the taboule according to the directions, then make it your own.

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For my lunchtime taboule salad, I added 1/2 can of rinsed garbanzo beans (chick peas), 3/4 cup sliced fresh mushrooms, 1/2 cup chopped cucumber, a few teaspoons of olive oil, and a tomato-basil marinated grilled chicken breast, cut into bite-sized pieces. Then I sprinkled about 1/2 cup of tomato basil Feta cheese crumbles over the top.

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Serve this salad cold, and store leftovers in the fridge. They are just as good, if not better, the next day! You could leave out the chicken and serve this as a side dish for fish, lamb, or just about any meat. It’s fun to try new foods, so pick up a box of taboule and see what you think!

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August 13, 2011

Quick blueberry-banana muffins

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What’s a girl to do with a fruit bowl full of over-ripe bananas and a big container of blueberries in the fridge? Make muffins! This easy recipe takes no time at all, and the result is moist, soft muffins bursting with fruit flavor.

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1-3/4 cups flour

1/3 cup sugar

2 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. salt

3/4 cup mashed bananas

1 egg, beaten

1/2 cup milk

1/4 cup oil

1 cup blueberries

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In a medium bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Make a well in the center. In a separate bowl, combine bananas, egg, milk, and oil. Pour into the well of the flour mixture and stir just until moistened. Do not overbeat. Fold in blueberries.

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Fill lightly greased muffin tins 2/3 to 3/4 full. Don’t use paper baking cups with these muffins. Bake in a 400-degree F. oven for 20 minutes until golden brown. Makes 12 to 15 muffins.

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August 13, 2011

Cinnamon roll pancakes

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My kids love pancakes, and they also love cinnamon rolls … why not combine the two? I made these cute little cinnamon roll pancakes for my boys yesterday morning, and they flipped over them! They were fun and delicious, and best of all, took almost no more effort than making regular pancakes.

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I used my basic pancake recipe for these (recipe follows), but you can use your favorite recipe if you’d like, or you could even use a mix. This is a great way to jazz up plain pancakes! 

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Simply prepare your pancake batter, then take 1/2 cup or so of the batter and put it in a separate bowl. Add a couple of teaspoons of cinnamon, and more as needed, until it’s a nice red color. Put the colored batter in a squeeze bottle. I bought a couple of these at a kitchen gadget store a while back. They look like the ketchup and mustard bottles you sometimes see on tables at restaurants, except they’re clear. Very handy for a lot of things, but I bought mine specifically for pancake batter.

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Use a tablespoon to drop batter into a greased skillet over medium heat. (Avoid using butter in your skillet for these pancakes, since it tends to make the cakes more brown.) Then, using your squeeze bottle filled with red batter, immediately pipe a swirl design on top of each mini pancake. I keep the heat slightly lower than usual for these, so most of the cake will bake before flipping, without the bottoms getting too dark. When most of the cake is set, flip and cook the swirled side for just long enough to finish it off. This way you won’t lose the design in a pancake that’s too dark.

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Instead of using syrup, mix up a quick glaze with powdered sugar and a splash of milk. Whisk together and dribble over the pancakes. It’s as simple as that! With school coming up, mornings will be extra busy, so make a bunch of these up on the weekend and stick them in the fridge or freezer, then throw them in the microwave for a quick breakfast the kids will love!

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Lisa’s basic pancake recipe

Makes about 2 dozen mini pancakes made with 1 Tbsp. batter each.

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1-1/2 cups flour  (I normally like to use whole wheat flour, but I recommend white for the cinnamon roll cakes to keep the color light.)

3-1/2 tsp. baking powder

1 Tbsp. sugar

1 tsp. salt

1-1/4 cups milk

1 egg

3 Tbsp. melted butter or margarine

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Combine dry ingredients in medium-sized bowl. Make a well in the center. In a small bowl, whisk together the milk, egg, and melted butter. Pour into the well and stir to combine with dry ingredients. Spoon batter into a medium-hot greased skillet. Flip when bubbles appear and the bottoms are golden brown. Cook until the second side is also golden brown. Enjoy!

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July 31, 2011

Back-to-school bento lunches!

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It’s almost time for the kids to head back to school. Where has the summer gone? At my house, this time of year also means back-to-sack-lunches. I let my three sons choose one hot lunch meal a week, and the rest of the days I make their lunches. Not only is it less expensive, but I feel like they get healthier meals, and things I know they will eat.

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In the dead of winter, I let them eat hot lunch a little more often so they can warm their bellies. I have yet to find a good container that will keep meals from home hot (or even remotely warm) for 4 hours. Many claim that’s what they do, and I have bought several, but none of them have done the job. If you have a container that keeps food hot, please let me know!

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Last year, I became obsessed with the idea of bento lunches. Bento is a Japanese term referring to single-serve take-out food. There are usually several small compartments in a bento box, and the idea is that rather than packing one or two big items, you mix it up with several smaller portions. Some people really go crazy with the cuteness of their lunches. Themes are popular, and you can spend hours creating the most adorable bento lunch ever. You can also spend a ton of cash on bento boxes, but that defeats the purpose in my mind. School lunches have to be quick and easy!

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I found some handy divided plastic lunch containers (Ziploc brand), which work perfect. They’re around $1.50 apiece, and can be used over and over. I also have some smaller, sandwich-shaped containers that work well. I have a little box in my cupboard filled with bento accessories, so I just pull it out when I’m making lunches. It has cupcake papers with matching picks, other plastic and wooden decorative picks (intended for topping cupcakes or holding olives in cocktails), food coloring markers, mini cookie cutters, and fun things like that. Cute napkins are a must, and I also put a note inside their lunches, usually with a corny joke they can tell their friends at the lunch table. The boys have water bottles with ice inserts that clip onto their lunch bags. They usually just take water, since they get milk at school in the afternoon, and drink plenty at home. Sometimes they get a can of spicy vegetable juice or a juice box if they’re on sale. I also use frozen inserts inside their bags to keep their lunches cold.

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It may sound like a goofy thing to do, but making these special lunches for my boys makes me feel a little closer to them during the day, and it gives them a little hug from their mom while they’re away at school. I’ve had other moms tell me their kids always describe what the Prater boys had for lunch each day, and teachers have told me they go out of their way each day to stop by their table and see what they’re eating. Here are some of the bentos I snapped photos of over the past school year. I may try to get a little more creative this year!

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bentoantslog

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Kiwi slices with decorative pick for eating, celery with peanut butter and raisins (ants on a log), string cheese, mini turkey wrap, and fishy crackers.

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bentoturkeypep

 

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Cupcake papers make perfect dividers for bento lunches. Some folks use the silicone variety, which can be washed and reused. I haven’t found any that I really like, so I go with paper. It’s fun to switch it up with holiday or cartoon character papers, and they often come with coordinating picks, which is fun! Here, we have mini pepperoni (perfect for bento!) skewered on a pick, turkey slices, raisins, whole-wheat crackers, and a cheese stick. A banana was also included in the lunch bag.

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bentostarweek       bentobakedapple

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1. This was Will’s lunch from when he was the “star of the week” in kindergarten. In the upper left compartment, I put grape tomatoes and cheese I cut out with a mini star-shaped cookie cutter. I also wrote “Will” and “of the week” on the stars with food coloring markers. He also took champagne grapes, ham slices, a no-sugar-added dried fruit bar, and Irish soda bread. I could have made his sandwich for him, but this way he got to be a big boy and make his own sandwich, plus his bread didn’t get soggy.

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2. Turkey wrap, mini cornbread muffin, baked apple (I made extras when we had them for dessert the night before), and carrot chips. A frozen tube of yogurt was also packed with this lunch. They thaw out by lunchtime, and keep the lunch cool!

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bentohamkabobs        bentomeatloaf

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1. Mini cornbread muffins, grapes, and grape tomatoes; a peanut-butter-chocolate bar; and cubed ham and pepperoni with picks for eating. A frozen tube of yogurt was packed with this lunch as well to get in some dairy. Frozen containers of fruit cocktail or applesauce also work well to keep lunches cool, and they thaw out by lunchtime.

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2. Meatloaf is even better cold, the next day! I cut it into bite-sized chunks and included picks for eating, and some cheese. The kids made their own meatloaf kabobs with this. They also got an apple and some baby carrots in their lunchbag. 

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bentopaintedtortilla        bentomeatrollup

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1. A PB&J made with tortillas instead of bread, then cut into quarters, makes a great canvas for food coloring markers! This lunch was made around Christmas. Get creative with the markers … you could make pepperoni and cheese quesadillas, and paint the tops to look like pizza! Or, paint a picture like a face, clock, or baseball on the round tortilla before cutting it up, to make an edible puzzle. Also, mini pretzel crackers mixed with raisins and nuts; and a juicy apple. This lunch came with a container of cottage cheese as well.

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2. Salami and cheese rolled up and poked with a pick, raisins, crackers, carrot chips, and pudding. The cupcake papers are great for separating food. They just hit the top of this container, so when the lid is on, nothing slides around, and crackers stay dry!

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bentohalloween

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It’s worth going a little above and beyond for holidays. Here, a PB&J sandwich crawls with gummy worms. Strawberries dipped in white chocolate are painted with dark chocolate to look like skulls and ghosts, and chocolate “eyeballs” round out this Halloween lunch. I normally don’t include candy in their lunches, but hey, it was Halloween!

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I hope you’re inspired to make some tasty, fun lunches for your kids this school year. I’ve got all kinds of ideas for my boys, and I’ll post photos throughout the year. Have a great lunch!

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