Lunch Planner Doc: Simple Tool to Reduce Chaos

I’m a list maker, a binder gal, an iPhone app junkie.  I own not one, not two, but THREE label makers. (One for home, one for the office, and one simply because I liked the fonts better). Yes, I have a problem. I like to organize things. Alas, I was far better organized before I had a family. My loving JavaKids and JavaHusband are the antithesis of Organization. The are the personification of Chaos. I love them any way… but my constant battle to maintain order is much akin to the battle between good vs. evil in the many episodes of Star Wars my son likes to recount endlessly over dinner. 

And so, when I stumble upon a system that makes all four members of the JavaFamily happy for more than a week, I consider it a success.  When I find something that works, I like to share it with YOU!

Food PyramidI would love to say that we have fantastic, creative school lunches around here, but the fact of the matter is, my kids don’t really like creative lunches.  They insist that I follow the Food Pyramid (no, seriously, they check the magnet on our fridge…) and they don’t like for me to get fancy with presentation. No fru-fru Bento box meals for them (though I’m going to keep trying to jazz things up). Also, JavaGirl is going through an impossible stage where she’ll inexplicably turn her nose up at a food she loved just three days earlier. Since becoming a Kindergartner, she’s become quite opinionated about everything. Both kids love fruits and vegetables, but my son dislikes most proteins and anything his sister likes, he is certain not to like (she likes chicken, he does not.)  He likes mayo on his sandwiches, she only likes mustard. She likes peanut butter, he only likes soynut butter.

This has made packing lunches a challenge. Even more so if JavaDad has to do it.

Finally I decided to make the kids part of the process. I created a simple matrix and now each week we go through and plan out their lunches and morning snack and post it on the fridge — one sheet for each kid. Because they are so tied to the food pyramid, I help them see how their lunches correspond to the food groups. To make life easier for absent-minded JavaDad, who often helps pack the lunches, I painstakingly detail out everything such as including ice packs and napkins. This way, no matter who packs the lunches, every single item is included, every preference is remembered, and if a kid complains about not liking a lunch, I can point out that he/she personally chose that lunch, quickly quelling any grievances.

Miracle of miracles — lunches come home eaten. Lunch-packing is faster. No more “oh wait, we’re out of ___” panics because we have planned lunches for the entire week and make sure anything we need is stocked or on the Sunday shopping list. It’s not rocket science, but with the whole family being involved, it’s no longer just another one of Mom’s harebrained ideas.

Some additional changes that have helped:

  • I’ve put a bin on the lower shelf of our kitchen island that holds all of our lunch-making items including Posh Pouches, reusable water bottles and thermos cups, plastic containers, etc. instead of constantly moving them from the dishwasher to the different “appropriate” spots in our kitchen cabinets (i.e. glasses cabinet, “plastic containers” cabinet, etc.) only to have to retrieve them every morning. Now it’s a mere arm’s reach from the dishwasher to the bin, and from the bin to the counter where the lunches get packed — everything is in one place and my cabinets are less cluttered.  Why didn’t we think of this sooner?
  • The kids know that the first thing they need to do when they come home from school is empty out their lunch boxes and snack sacks, putting ice packs in the freezers, emptying out containers, and setting everything that needs to be washed by the sink.
  • I don’t like packing up sandwiches the night before as I feel they get a little soggy, but I do try to prep anything that can be, the night before (i.e. slicing tomatoes, putting carrots into a Posh Pouch, pre-filling cups and keeping in the fridge).

You can download the lunch planner form as a Microsoft® Word document or a PDF document.

Microsoft is a registered trademark of Microsoft Corporation. Photo credit: Microsoft Image Gallery (lunch bag).

Local Reading Program Really Pays Off

Ice cream, admission to The Water Mine, a game of bowling, a round of miniature golf — these are just a few of the things this year’s Fairfax County Public Library Summer Reading Program participants can get for free by completing the targets set for their age group.

The program runs through September 5 and encourages kids preschool through sixth grade to read 15 books.  (Younger children may have the books read TO them.)  Kids in grades 7-12 read eight books.  In my experience, they allow children even younger than preschool participate, because the ultimate goal is to develop the habit of reading or being read to — so no need to leave out that younger sibling.  The young readers record the books read in a log, which you can pick up at the library or use one of the forms from the Summer Readingweb site.  We prefer going to the library, first of all, because we love going to the library, but also because it makes it a big, festive occasion.  The kids walk up to the SRP booth, staffed by student volunteers, and give their name and receive their very own reading log.  The printed reading logs include two bonus coupons, one for a free student ticket to a Nationals game on Sunday, August 9, and one for a free DC United ticket with purchase of one Adult ticket for a summer game at RFK (must be purchased in advance of the game).

JavaBoy and JavaGirl have enjoyed selecting their books for the reading program, particularly since they knew that once they completed their 15 books, they would get their coupon books, which provided lots of fun adventures last summer.  We immediately selected some books and started reading right there at the library and then checked some others to take home.  JavaBoy (5) is learning to read, so we’ve devoted part of the list to books he could read to us, and then we read some books to him.  JavaGirl is 3, so we read books to her, but after we read them, she tried to “read” them back to us.  JavaBoy also wrote most of the book titles on the log himself, so it became an exercise in writing as well — good practice for Kindergarten.

Today we picked up our coupon books — which JavaBoy has been quite anxious to do.  Memories of going to water parks and getting ice cream cones and free watercolor kits were dancing in his head.  This is what we found in this year’s coupon book (with many thanks to all the sponsors):

(Note:  in MOST cases, the coupon is for the reader, i.e. someone 18 or under.  Also, most of the coupons are specific to certain stores/locations, I’m not typing out all the fine print, just giving you an overview.)

  • $2 off a $5 purchase at specified library book sales from The Friends of the Library
  • Free game of bowling – AMF
  • 1 free adventure – Shadowland Laser Adventures
  • Buy one admission, get one free for the reader – The Water Mine
  • Free soft serve cone – McDonald’s
  • 20% off one item – Borders
  • $3 off half day row boat rental at Riverbend Park
  • 1 free child’s pass to Colvin Run Mill
  • 1 family pass to any George Mason University Varsity Club football game – GMU Varisty Club Football Team
  • 1 free 5×7″ color enlargement – MotoPhoto
  • $4 gift certificate with $6 min. purchase – Aladdin’s Lamp
  • 1 free admission to any RECenter in Fairfax County – Fairfax County Park Authority
  • 1 free after 3pm admission with one paid after 3pm admission M-F – Splash Down Waterpark
  • Free kids ice cream- Cold Stone Creamery
  • Free Mini Seed Starting Kit -Green Spring Gardens/Fairfax County Park Authority
  • Free gift -Hidden Oaks Nature Center/Fairfax County Park Authority
  • $2 off admission – Mount Vernon
  • 1 free session at Wakefield skate park – Wakefield Skate Park
  • 1 Free ticket to a men’s basketball game and a women’s basketball game at George Mason University – George Mason University Athletic Department
  • 1 Free round of miniature golf (x2) – Lake Accotink/Lucky Duck Miniature Golf, Oak Marr, Burke Lake Park, Jefferson Falls, Fairfax County Park Authority
  • 1 complimentary child’s meal – Old Country Buffet
  • 1 free doughnut – Krispy Kreme
  • $2.50 gift certificate – Clay Cafe Studios
  • Free gift -Huntley Meadows Park/Fairfax County Park Authority
  • Free Giant Ready to Eat Cereal 6 oz-20z pkg – Giant
  • Free Back Pack – sponsored by The Rappaport Companies
  • 40% off one item – Michael’s
  • Free gift -Ellanor C. Lawrence Park/Fairfax County Park Authority
  • Free laminated animal track ID card – Hidden Oaks Nature Center/Fairfax County Park Authority
  • Buy a large one-topping pizza gt a medium one-topping pizza free – Domino’s
  • Pay $24.99 +tax any day through Nov. 1, 2009 – Six Flags America
  • Free ticket to a men’s soccer game and a free ticket to a women’s soccer game any match in Sept. – George Mason Athletic Department
  • Free child’s admission to Sully Historic Site – Fairfax County Park Authority
  • Half-price tractor wagon ride at Frying Pan Farm Park -/Fairfax County Park Authority
  • One small cheese pizza free with purchase of a regular size Coke – Jerry’s Subs
  • Free brownie – Chik-fil-A
  • 1 free token for range balls with the cash purchase of one token – Burke Lake Golf Center/Fairfax County Park Authority
  • Clean Fairfax and all the regional libraries are listed as sponsors.

So just in case my Summer Fun Guidedidn’t provide you with enough ideas for keeping busy this summer, running around and redeeming those coupons should keep you hopping!  Every time you redeem one, you get the added benefit of linking the reward to reading, “Gosh, we’re having so much fun at this water park today because YOU read all those great books!”  I really love this program because it gets the kids excited to go to the library (I really build it up beforehand — we have a countdown until the program starts), they feel a lot of pride in walking up and signing themselves up, and they look forward to selecting the books that they want to “count” towards their list.  They don’t want any old book, they really want special books for some reason.  Then we have so much fun redeeming the coupons and if I’m having a particularly blah Mommy day, I flip through the coupon book to see if there’s a mini-adventure in there we can embark upon — even just going out for a brownie at Chik-fil-A can become an adventure if you choose to make it one. 

 The reading doesn’t stop after they have picked up their coupon books — we pick up the “keep on reading” logs from the library and keep recording what we’ve read.  Even today, as soon as the kids got their coupon books, they begged to go look at more books and JavaGirl brought me at least four to read to her and JavaBoy used his own library card to check out another book on his own.  That’s the ultimate payoff!

Yummy Thanksgiving Treats — Bree Hodges Would Be Proud Of You

Go ahead, indulge your inner Martha (or Bree Hodges) and impress your friends, neighbors or those other moms at school.  Or just thrill the hearts of your kids.  These little treats are oh-so-easy to make! (Although if you want “picture perfect” results, you may want to work faster than your four-year-old helpers.)

Pilgrim Hats

The Pilgrim hats were super-easy and came from Family Fun magazine.  Althought I’ll link to their original instructions, I’ll add some notes as to what I learned along the way.  Ours were a bit sloppy, so with care, you can get neater results, but this is a pic you can use as a reference:

Basically you need:

·         some fudge-striped cookies

·         marshmallows

·         some form of chocolate to melt – I used milk chocolate chips

·         and one of those small icing tubes you can get in the grocery store in the color yellow (for the buckle) – I recommend NOT GEL icing

·         toothpicks

·         Start out with a cookie tray lined with wax paper.

·         Put your fudge striped cookies with the STRIPES DOWN (so you are seeing the chocolate covered back of the cookie).  These will be the brim of your hat.

·         Melt your chocolate – I did mine in the microwave by pouring one bag of chocolate chips in a glass bowl, then microwaved for 30 seconds, stirred, 30 seconds again, stirred, and then 15 seconds more and stirred.  If you do it all at once, you can burn the chocolate, so you have to keep stopping and stirring.  Online I noticed some people used a fondue mix, and others used chocolate bark candies instead.

·         Stick a toothpick in your marshmallow and dip it into the chocolate until you have it completely covered.  You may need to drizzle some on top with a spoon.  We were quite sloppy in our dipping/drizzling, so this is where more finesse produces finer results.

·         Plop the marshmallow onto a cookie brim, use a second toothpick to help pull out the first toothpick.

·         Repeat until you’ve made all the hats.  Set them in the fridge for a while to set up.

·         Take the frosting tube and make a small square on the marshmallow, but close to the brim to represent the buckle.  Now, if you are planning on bagging these, which is what I was originally going to do, you may want to use a harder frosting than the gel or you may want to melt some yellow candy bark, b/c I found the gel icing never set up to be hard enough not to smear.  If you are going to serve them on a tray, then don’t worry about it. 

Ritzy Turkeys 

This is an adaptation of a recipe I originally found on a scrapbooking board a few years ago.  I thought these were so adorable, I couldn’t wait to have kids old enough to do this with!  The woman who makes them said her mother always made them until the last year of her life, when the daughter picked up the tradition and now makes them every Thanksgiving in remembrance of her mother — I didn’t keep the original post to remember the name of the woman in order to give her credit, I am sorry to say, I just kept the photo.  UPDATE: I have gotten back in touch with the woman who first posted this and she likes to go by “Peggy J” on Scrapbook Addict.  Many thanks to Peggy J!

Here’s a picture of the original version:

Ritz cracker turkey

Ritz cracker turkey








Here’s a picture of the version we made:

Ritz cracker turkey - chocolate

Ritz cracker turkey - chocolate









  • Ritz crackers (I used the original flavor rather than the whole wheat ones)
  • Hershey’s kisses, with foil off
  • Candy corns (for tailfeathers and beak)
  • Frosting (original version used white frosting, I chose to use chocolate b/c I liked having the Hershey’s kiss body blend in with the frosting color) – I used canned frosting, but a thicker frosting may hold the candy better
  • A candy to make the turkey stand up – the original directions used a caramel cube, but I couldn’t find any, so I just used and additional Hershey’s kiss and cemented it with some frosting.

Quick note – apparently candy corn is considered a Halloween candy (who knew?) so I found “Indian Corn” at Wegman’s, which is brown/orange/white instead of the brighter orange/yellow/white of candy corn.  So my corn was a different color than the original candy corn, which also guided my choice in using chocolate frosting.  I actually like that better because I think it is more turkey-like!

  • Start with a wax-paper lined cookie sheet
  • Lay out your Ritz crackers – I chose to use the salted part as the front, I’m not sure that it matters
  • Spread some frosting all over the front of the cracker – you want a fairly thick layer b/c this is what will hold your candy corn and Hershey’s kiss – I’ve done this two years now and have found that there is a fine line between too thin and too thick — you want it thick enough to hold the candy corns, but not so thick that it won’t “set up” — so don’t do it paper thin but don’t do it overly thick either.
  • Arrange some candy corns in an arc on one side of the Ritz, I used 5 per tail, and that seems to be the right amount because more than that and it gets a bit unwieldly when you try to prop it up in the next stage.
  • Take your kiss and plop the flat side onto the cracker, pretty much towards the bottom of the cracker from the center part of the tail.
  • After I did this for all of them, I put them in the fridge to harden a little before propping them up.   You can also put it in the freezer if you have more freezer space than fridge space.
  • Do the next steps in either order.
  • For the beak, take a candy corn, smear a little frosting on the back, and smoosh it down on the pointy part of the kiss – it is just going to follow the slope of the kiss, I let it hang off a little further than the tip of the beak.
  • To prop up the turkey, put either a caramel cube (either slightly melted or with a dab of icing) or a kiss (I did mine with the flat side down, and a blob of icing going up the slope of one side) and smush it against the back of the crackers.
  • JavaBory wanted to make eyes, I wasn’t up for it, but I suppose you could with a little dab of icing from one of those small icing tubes.
  • These look better when displayed on a tray rather than bagged.  This year I put them into little cupcake paper cups and gave them out to the kids that way rather than bagging them (transporting them in my really nifty cupcake carrier).