Lunch box fun!

25 Apr

By Jamie Chultz

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while you probably remember just how much my youngest son loves dogs.  When he was 7 months old our neighbors had a puppy and whenever we were outside our little man would crawl all the way across our yard, into the neighbors yard, and over to the dog where he would sit and pet and play with him.  Anytime we are out and about and spot a dog he begs to go over and pet the dog.  The funny thing is that dogs seem to love my son right back.  I can’t tell you the number of times we’ve been around dogs and more often than not they clamor toward my son.  My husband and I often joke that he’s like a mini dog whisperer.

For the past few years my husband has been trying to talk me into getting a dog.  I’ve never owned a dog or cat in my life so the thought of bringing a four-legged friend into our home wasn’t something I was all that comfortable with.  It seems I’ve heard story after story of dogs who rip apart the house, eat shoes (oh, how I love shoes!),  and need to be exercised everyday.  The thought of all the possibilities of what could go wrong had me frozen and unwilling to commit!  However, the boys (especially my youngest son) have now joined my husband in begging for a dog.  They have done an incredible amount of research on a breed well suited for our lifestyle, along with reading up on how to train a dog, how to care for a dog, how to keep a dog from eating shoes (they obviously knew that was a big roadblock for me).  As the boys continued to plead their case I felt my defenses going down ever so slightly.

After much thought I decided that having a dog around for my boys to care for and love might not be such a bad idea…especially considering just how much our youngest son loves dogs.  When my husband suggested we travel to go see a litter of puppies just born I knew the battle was pretty much over.  Sure enough about 2 seconds into our meeting with the pups I was sold.   I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves:

Today’s lunch is in celebration of the newest addition to our family who will be coming home in 4 weeks and 6 days (according to my son who is keeping very close track on the calendar)!!  The lunch includes:  peanut butter sandwich, white American cheese with ham accents for the paw print, celery and peanut butter (if nut allergies are a concern you might consider using sunbutter), almond flour chocolate chip cookies, two squares of dark chocolate


You may remember from my last post about children’s literacy that I’m working really hard to give ownership to my son over the types of books he reads.  We’ve found that by taking him to the library or book store and letting him select books he is FAR more likely to read those than the books I’ve been picking up and storing in our home library.  For the past few weeks my son has been absolutely fascinated by the story of the Titanic.  We have no idea what prompted his interest in the subject, but on a recent trip to the book store my son approached the checkout counter with two books devoted to the subject.  The first book he chose was 882 1/2 Amazing Answers to your Questions about the Titanic which is a fact book (surprise, surprise!!) and the other, The Titanic, is an interactive history adventure.  Between these two books he has learned a lot about the doomed ship and loves to quiz us all on the facts he’s learned over the past few weeks.  The former history teacher in me is trying to soak up every minute of this!  Together my son and I have spent time on-line looking at video footage of the Titanic and at images of the Titanic remains.  I’m surprised by just how interested he is in soaking up information on this topic all because of two books he picked up at the store.  What a relief it is for me not to have to force my son to get his daily reading minutes anymore .  For us it really has been all about giving our son the lead and providing him plenty of opportunities to grab books that are of interest to him.  All I can do is hope that this will help build a lifelong love for reading!

Today’s lunch is in honor of the 100th anniversary of the Titanic disaster which occurred on April 14th, 1912 (although the boat didn’t actually sink to the bottom until 2:20 am on the 15th).  Included in this lunch is a peanut butter ship sandwich (if nut allergies are a concern you might try sunbutter), blueberries, cucumbers/hummus, string cheese, chia seed cookies, almonds all packed in a Planet Lunch Box

Today I’m taking a little break from talking about nutrition and instead focusing on another topic I’m passionate about…children’s literacy.  Prior to having children I was a high school history teacher and during the summer months I worked as a reading specialist with ESL (English as a Second Language) students.  Needless to say, I understand the value of reading and hoped beyond all hope that someday I would have kids that loved reading just as much as I do.  When I discovered I was pregnant I started what has become a mega collection of children’s books.  Before our kids were even in school we had bookshelves lined with board books, picture books, chapter books, old book series, new book series…all waiting ever-so-patiently for our boys to dive into.  Both my husband and I spent countless hours with our kids reading with the hopes that would help develop an interest in reading.

All of our effort and preparation thus far seems to have helped somewhat.  Both of our boys do love books and seem to have a genuine interest in reading.  When our boys started school I was hopeful that their interest in books would continue and that they would both easily transition from one reading level to the next.  They certainly have progressed, but at times I’ll admit that it’s a bit of a struggle.  As part of our school’s reading initiative our boys are required to read a certain number of minutes each and every day to help achieve a monthly goal of 400 minutes.  That seemed easy enough when we started, but with our oldest son now in 3rd grade and involved in after school activities and sports it was getting harder and harder for him to meet the daily requirement.  Thus began a book battle of sorts.  My son was moaning and groaning about reading.  Often saying he was too tired to read and he would do it later.  When he finally did find time to sit down and read I would walk by and see him sitting with a  book in hand and a blank stare on his face…obviously not engaged in what he was reading.  All kinds of bells and whistles were going off in my head as I feared we were setting him up to despise reading which is the last thing I wanted!

I went on-line to do some research on this topic and quickly realized I was not alone.  Evidently this book battle is something a lot of parents of boys deal with…what a relief that was to read.  In fact, The U.S. Department of Education reading tests for the last 30 years show boys scoring worse than girls in every age group, every year.  So I made a list of resources, did a fair amount of reading on the topic, and developed a new strategy.  It’s been working so well that I felt compelled to share it with you here in case there is another parent out there struggling with the same thing.

Pam Allyn, author of  ”Pam Allyn’s Best Books for Boys” said,  ”Tension between parent and child is the single most deadly bullet. Be a team player with your child on this reading journey. Do not be critical or judgmental about what the child reads. If they love comics and cereal boxes, riddles and video game manuals, celebrate and affirm their choices. The home should be a sanctuary for reading.”

What I took away from that is that I needed to give some ownership to my son in what he was reading.  The 2010 Kids and Family Reading Report sponsored by Scholastic reports that “only 39 percent of boys say reading books for fun is extremely or very important versus 62 percent of girls.”   Reading this statistic made me realize that what I think would be “fun reading” doesn’t mean my son would feel the same.   So I took my son to the book store and let him pick out a few book on his own with ZERO guidance from me.  When it was time to check out I noticed that every book he selected was a non-fiction/fact book of some kind.  Interesting!!  Come to find out that a recent study shows that given the opportunity 80% of elementary-aged boys will pick out a non-fiction book from a library over fiction.  Most of what we had in our home library up until that point were fiction books!

Now we have an abundance of non-fiction books including fact books, joke books, biographies about famous athletes, Presidents, historical figures, etc… Right now, my oldest son is drawn to Question/Answer type books which we have started referring to as “Why” books.  I used to have to block out time in our day for him to read and every other minute he was asking if his reading time was up.  Now I find my son reading at the breakfast table, in his room, in the car…you name it.  I think he loves that he can absorb a lot of factual information about topics he’s interested in relatively quickly.  It’s not to say he doesn’t love chapter books.  In fact, I think he enjoys chapter books more now than ever before because he’s not being forced to read them.  One little tip that has worked well for us with chapter books is to read the first chapter to our son.  This gets him engaged and interested in the story and then he’s eager to finish the book.

If you’re interested in reading more on this topic you might visit the following sites:

1) Scholastic

2) Guys Read

3) Read Aloud Dad

Today’s “WHY?” themed lunch was inspired by one of my son’s favorite books of the moment “Time’s Big Book of Why”.  This is a fun, fact-filled book perfect for curious readers!  I’ve also started adding some of my boys’ favorite books to the This Lunch Rox Amazon Store…I’ll continue to add books as we go.

This lunch includes:  turkey sandwich with white American cheese accents, broccoli & ranch dressing, strawberries/blueberries, almond flour chocolate chip cookies all packed in the Planet Box Lunch Box

Today’s the last day of school as we head into the holiday weekend so I thought an Easter themed lunch would be appropriate.  If you read my last blog entry I’m sure it will come as no surprise that one of the holiday traditions we try to avoid is overloading Easter baskets with candy.  It’s not to say the kids won’t have a little bit of candy to enjoy, but I decided to fill a majority of their baskets with non-candy items.  I found a few things I think the kids will get excited about so I thought I’d share them with you in case any of you are looking for ideas:

A. Pocket Kite

B.  Scratch -N- Sniff Stickers

C.  Smencils

D. Fingerprint Art Set

E.  Mad Libs

Today’s lunch includes: a bunny digging for carrots (that’s right…you’re looking at the back-end of a bunny) turkey sandwich, carrots/hummus, grapes, chia seed cookie, string cheese all packed in a Planet Lunch Box


The other night 60 Minutes featured a segment, “Is Sugar Toxic”, revealing the danger of sugar and the impact fructose is having on our health.  It was very informative and from the response I’ve seen to it on Facebook over the past few days I think it was eye-opening for a lot of people.

Sugar is a topic I talk about a lot on my blog, but today I thought I’d go into a little more detail on why I feel so strongly about limiting the amount of sugar my family consumes.  Let me start by giving a little comparison about sugar consumption.  In the 1800′s-early 1900′s, Americans consumed an average of 15 grams (2.5 teaspoons of fructose/day) and most of that fructose came from fruit.  Today the average American adolescent consumes and average of 73 grams (18.25 teaspoons of  of fructose/day) and the average American adult consumes 55 grams (13.75 teaspoons of fructose/day).  That’s a 733% increase in fructose consumption!!  In the past twenty years obesity rates have doubled for adults and tripled for children.  Today 1 in 3 kids are obese and 40% of children are overweight.  There has also been a dramatic increase in the number of children diagnosed with hypertension, asthma,  type II diabetes, sleep apnea and gallstones.

How did we go from a nation that consumed an average of 15 grams of fructose/day to a nation consuming 55 – 73 grams/day?  Many doctors and researchers are pointing to the “low fat diet” craze that swept the nation in the late 1980′s and early 1990′s.  What happened during that time period is that food manufacturers were replacing fat with increasing amounts of fructose to improve taste.  Fructose is high in calories and there is a lot of evidence that suggests is addictive.  Combine that with the fact that fructose does not stimulate insulin secretion or leptin, two hormones that affect appetite and satiety, so people don’t feel full after eating a low-fat or fat-free meal.  This is great news for food manufacturers because people were consuming more and more of their products because they were still hungry and they thought what they were eating was healthy.

So why is fructose bad?  Fructose is “foreign” to our bodies and really has not benefit to our health.  In fact, the only organ in our bodies that can break down fructose is the liver.  One of the end products of the liver’s conversion of fructose is triglyceride- a form of fat.  These triglycerides can build up in the liver wall or they enter the blood stream where they can build up in artery walls.  This can damage liver function and it impacts insulin resistance (a precursor to diabetes).  In the 60 Minutes segment Dr. Lustig said,  ”The increase in fructose intake is worrisome because it suspiciously parallels increases in obesity, diabetes, and a new condition called nonalcoholic fatty liver disease that now affects up to one-third of Americans.”

Considering the impact fructose has on our bodies, it seems we should try to limit fructose consumption.  It’s hard to do when so many of the food products available at the store are filled with sugar including the obvious; soda, cakes, muffins, cereal etc… but it’s hidden in a lot of unsuspecting foods like ketchup, bbq sauce, pasta sauce, granola bars, and yogurt!  It pains me to see yogurt commercials marketing a “healthy” product when there is just as much sugar, if not more, in one container of yogurt as there is in a candy bar.  I think most Americans have heard the dangers of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS).  I’ve even noticed that some food manufacturers are starting to label their products as “No HFCS”.  This is a good start, but fructose is fructose! There are a lot of other sweeteners out there that contain the same percentage of fructose concentration as HFCS, if not more.  Here’s a breakdown of some of the most common sweeteners:

High-Fructose Corn Syrup & Honey= 55% fructose

Agave Syrup= 56 – 92% fructose (depending on the brand)

Table Sugar & Maple Syrup = 50% fructose

Fructose is also found in fruit and there are some fruits that have more fructose than others.  (Apples = 70% fructose, Grapes = 42% fructose, Bananas = 55% fructose, Strawberries = 51.8% fructose) The difference with fruit compared to the sweeteners above is that fruit in it’s natural state (NOT FRUIT JUICE) contains fiber.  That means it would be hard to overindulge on fruit (imagine trying to eat 10 oranges in one sitting).  However, like I said before, fructose is fructose and there is only one organ in our bodies that can break it down. So consuming fructose, even in the form of fruit, does still give the liver fructose to break down.    In no way am I saying that fruit is bad!  We all know there are vitamins and minerals in fruit that benefit our bodies, but know that many of those same vitamins and minerals are found in higher concentrations in vegetables.  I try to treat fruit as a desert, much like they did in the 1800′s and early 1900′s.  If my kids are going to consume fructose I’d much prefer it comes from fruit over sweeteners.

Everything I’ve written above explains why so many of the goods recipes I share call for natural/non-fructose sweeteners.  I’m doing my best to limit my family’s fructose intake so it is more in line with what Americans were consuming in the early 1900′s vs. what the average American child is consuming today.  I’ll be the first to admit the transition wasn’t easy, but now that we are two years into the process I’m definitely seeing the benefits.

Today’s lunch includes:  ham sandwich squares on a skewer with string cheese, venison beef stick, carrots with hummus, homemade chocolate cupcake (no fructose in this yummy desert!)


We are back from spring break and what a trip we had!!  I’ll write more about our adventures throughout the coming weeks so stay tuned.  While we were away, This Lunch Rox hit a milestone…the site reached a whopping 250,000 unique visits.  That means nearly 1/4 of a million people have clicked on the site and there have been nearly 500,000 page loads!!  I started using a web-tracking device soon after the launch of the web-site simply out of curiosity to see if the blog posts were of interest to people.  The boys and I got in the habit of checking the stats on the site regularly and have had fun noting where people are reading the blog.  We started mapping visits from the U.S., but within a few weeks of launching the blog we were mapping visits from all around the world!  We celebrated when we realized the site had been seen on 6 out of 7 continents (if anyone in Antarctica is reading this…HOORAY!!  That means we’ve reached 7 out of 7).   It’s been a wonderful geography lesson for the kids and it’s exciting for me to know that there are people worldwide interested in what I’m saying here on the blog.

My 3rd grader has been working on fractions this year so when the site hit 250k hits I knew it would be a fun way to incorporate a math lesson here at home.   When I gave him the number he figured out that 250,000 people visiting the site = 1/4 million people = 25% of a million people.  Then we looked at the page loads and he figured that 500,000 page loads = 1/2 million page loads = 50% of a million page loads.  Now we’ll continue to watch the site stats and see how the fractions change over the next few weeks & months!

Today’s 1/4-themed lunch includes:  peanut butter sandwich (if allergies are a concern you might consider using sunbutter), 1 stick green grapes and 3 sticks of red grapes, venison sticks, Babybell cheese round, hard boiled eggs, almond flour chocolate chip cookies  (if nut allergies are a concern you could try this sunbutter cookie recipe)


My family and I are enjoying a family vacation over spring break this week so I won’t be posting any lunches.  Instead, I wanted to take this opportunity to write about something that has been bothering me for a while…how food is marketed to kids.  About a month ago I had to venture down an aisle of a grocery store I haven’t visited in a while.  You see, my local grocery store moved the almonds from the baking aisle to the “chips/pop” aisle.  On my way to their new location I walked through the cereal aisle where I noticed most of the sugar-filled, cartoon laden cereals were all at hip level or below…right where kids could see them and in turn beg for a box (or two).  Then when I turned into the chip/pop aisle I couldn’t help but notice just how bright and colorful the food packaging was.  Very inciting to little eyes!

This grocery store incident combined with the fact that I’ve noticed that just about every commercial that comes on tv during kids’ programming is marketing junk food to kids made me want to get some specific facts on this topic.  I did some digging and stumbled upon a great infographic created by the folks over at  The statistics shown below illustrate the degree to which our children are exposed to and encouraged to consume foods filled with sugar, calories, and other “junk”. These commercials also often mislead our children into believing these foods are somehow healthy and good for them.

Brought to you by and MAT@USC.

This is a good reminder to myself about why I do what I do.  My children are constantly bombarded with images of bright, colorful, playful looking food that looks delicious and fun to eat.  While I do think there is value in allowing my kids to enjoy a special treat every now and again, my goals is to help them develop a taste and preference for nutritious and wholesome food.  When my family first made the transition to making better food choices the only way I could get my youngest son to try new foods was to cut them in shapes or place them in colorful containers (which is how this blog came to be).  Knowing what I know now about how food is marketed to kids I understand why!


Research shows that gluten sensitivity in some form, including celiac disease and mild gluten intolerance, affects approximately 15% of the US population and I wouldn’t be surprised to see that number rise.  It seems more and more people I come in contact with have gluten intolerance or celiac disease.    So what is gluten intolerance?  In many people the body reacts to gluten as if the protein is a virus and their body attacks it and the surrounding tissue.  This response damages the surrounding tissue and has the potential to set off many health problems within the body.  Gluten sensitivity means that rather than digesting gluten the body ends up fighting gluten as if it were a virus which leads to inflammation.  This reaction can result in a variety of symptoms such as; gastro-intestinal problems (IBS, bloating, pain, gas, constipation, diarrhea), aching joints, eczema, depression, head aches, exhaustion, etc…

At the requests of some of my readers I’ve been experimenting with some gluten free lunches.  I made two this week that went over well with the kids so I thought I’d share them with you!  Before I get into what I included in each lunch I will state that if you are packing a lunch for someone with a gluten sensitivity or allergy I would encourage you to read labels VERY carefully.  Gluten is hidden in many foods you might not suspect such as; deli meat, dry spices, candies, sauces, salad dressing, soups, etc…

The first gluten-free lunch includes:  gluten-free deli sliced turkey/grape kabobs, two protein packed peanut butter muffins, carrots/hummus, string cheese, two squares of gluten-free dark chocolate

The second lunch includes a peanut butter sandwich using a gluten-free waffle instead of bread, hard boiled egg, cheese, cantaloupe/grapes, broccoli, gluten-free brownie


It’s been a very busy week for me at the studio so I’ve been throwing together a lot of quick-and-easy lunches for the kids.  Often times I don’t feel they are worth posting, but after reading through comments on the This Lunch Rox Facebook Fan Page it sounds like readers would love to see more “quick-and-easy” lunch ideas!  So, today’s lunch is exactly that…a lunch that took 5 minutes to throw together.  When I know I have a busy week ahead there are a few things I like to do to make the process of putting lunches together more efficient.  First, when I come home from the grocery store I start by cutting up a few days worth of fruits and vegetables and storing them in single serve Lock and Lock boxes in the fridge.   I also like to spend time on the weekends making up 2-3 “baked goods” (typically I make one muffin recipe, one desert recipe, and one bread recipe).  Just to give you an example, last weekend I made almond flour blueberry muffins, chia seed cookies, and almond flour drop biscuits.   I store the baked goods in an airtight container in the freezer and pull them out as needed for breakfast, lunch, snacks or dinner.   I’ve found that while it takes time up front it’s well worth the effort on the mornings when we are all running around trying to get out the door on time.   It also ensures I have plenty of snacks handy for the kids when we’re on the go!

Today’s lunch includes:  peanut butter roll-up, strawberries/blueberries, cucumber, string cheese and a chia seed cookie  (recipe below)

As mentioned above, this lunch includes a chia seed cookies…this is a new recipe I found recently via Pinterest and my boys LOVED them.  Because chia seeds are packed with antioxidants, fiber, and omega-3 I try to include in as many recipes as possible.  I adapted this particular recipe from the original version by replacing the white flour with almond flour and used a natural sweetener in place of the brown sugar:

Chia Seed Cookies  (Recipe adapted from Yummy Mummy Kitchen)

1 1/2 cups rolled oats 1 teaspoon baking powder 1/2 cup almond flour 1 1/2 Tablespoons chia seeds 1/4 cup butter, room temperature 1/2 cup natural sweetener 3/4 cup natural peanut butter 2 eggs 1 teaspoon vanilla 1/2 cup dark or semisweet chocolate chunks or chips  (I use Simply Lite bars or Chocoperfection bars which are both gluten free)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. In a medium bowl, stir together oats, baking powder, flour, and chia seeds. In a separate bowl use an electric mixer to beat butter with sweetener until creamy. Add peanut butter, eggs, and vanilla. Slowly stir in oat mixture to combine. Stir in chocolate chips. Place heaping tablespoons of dough onto cookie sheet. Press dough into balls with hands, as dough will be crumbly. Bake 12 minutes.


Today is NEA’s Read Across America day.  This is an annual reading awareness program that calls for every child  to celebrate reading on March 2, the birthday of children’s author Dr. Suess.   Last year I posted a lunch inspired by the beloved Theodor Giesel (a.k.a. Dr. Suess) himself in honor of the special day.  However, given the recent passing of beloved author, Jan Berenstain, I decided to forgo a “Suess-themed” lunch today and instead create a lunch to celebrate Berenstain’s contribution to children’s literacy.

When I was growing up Berenstain Bear books were a staple in my home and I can still recall how proud I was when I was able to read “The Spooky Old Tree” all on my own.  That was really when my love for reading began!  As a former teacher and avid reader I hope to instill a love for reading in my own kids.  Over the years we’ve built quite a library for the kids and The Berenstain Bear books make up part of that collection.  I love the the illustrations, story lines and lessons about kindness, courage, tidiness, etc…  Because the authors used simple language and illustrations I have found these books help my kids see the connections between the words and the stories which is incredibly important for emerging readers.  The Berenstain’s have certainly provided a strong reading foundation for myself, my boys and many, many children around the world.

Today’s Berenstain Bear lunch includes:  ham/cheese sandwich, grapes, dark chocolate almonds, string cheese, cucumbers, chia seed cookies (I replaced the brown sugar with 1/2 c. of Wholesome Sweetener Erythritol which is a natural, plant based sweetener) packed in a Planet Lunch Box

Ironically, as I sat here typing this blog entry both of my boys rolled out of bed and landed in the bean bag next to me and read a few of the books I pulled for this post…a perfect way to start the day!  Happy Read Across America Day, everyone!!


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