Thursday, July 31, 2014

Top Five Back to School Essentials

(*Note: This post contains affiliate links.)

I cannot believe it's that time again already! It seems like summer just started, but already it's just about time to pull out the school supply lists and peruse back-to-school ads. Getting five kids ready to return to school is a pretty massive undertaking, and I really have to be organized in order to pull it all off successfully. Having a list ready in advanced, or at least a pretty good idea of what I'm looking for, is crucial!

To help get you started, or maybe just give you some good ideas, here are five things which I find to be essential for making going back to school as smooth as possible!

#1: A great lunch dish.

As a bento-packer, having a great box to pack lunches in is definitely my number one essential school supply! A good bento box can make lunch packing both easy and fun. Some of my favorite bento boxes are pictured below:

Clockwise from the upper left: Laptop LunchesLunchbots TrioEasy Lunchboxes, and the Planet Box Rover

#2: A few fun tools.

A good sharp knife is the best bento tool, but there are a few other common kitchen items that can make lunch packing vastly more pleasant! Colorful silicone baking cups, a few sturdy shaped cutters, and a variety of fun cupcake picks are great ways to brighten up any lunch.

#3: A sturdy backpack.

The higher kids climb in grades, the heavier their backpacks seem to get. I remember lugging around a bag that seemed to be filled with bricks when I was in school, and they haven't gotten much lighter since! A strong backpack with sturdy straps is worth the extra cost over those made with flimsier materials. I am still hunting for a great backpack brand that can stand up to the beating my kids put them through.

#4: A good water bottle.

Yes, for us this is a school must! Water fountains and breaks to visit them can seem few and far between, so to keep hydrated we take reusable bottles filled with cool water with us everywhere. They are easy to wash with hot water and a good bottle brush, and by using reusable bottles instead of buying bottled water we are reducing both our spending and our impact on the environment. My favorites for the kids are the Reduce Water Week bottles.

#5: Your own style.

This one is the most fun! Whether you're reinventing yourself with a whole new style, or just adding a few new pieces to spruce up an outgrown wardrobe, back to school clothing and accessories shopping can be a blast! It can also get crazy expensive. Try going in with a list of specific items to avoid impulsive over-shopping, and watch for sales! A lot of retailers offer good clothing deals right before the new school year starts. Our favorite accessories this year are brightly colored shoes, backpacks with patches, and super fun Jamberry Nail Shields!

The special letter for the Bento Bloggers & Friends Back to School Basics Hop & Giveaway code is...

Keep going through the whole hop for a chance to win! Collect all of the letters for the code, unscramble the secret message, and follow the instructions to enter to win an amazing prize. Click the pic below to continue through to the next post in the hop:

Thanks for playing with us, and good luck!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Food Allergy Awareness Week

Did you know...?

(Graphic courtesy of FARE, - Check them out for some great info, resources, and support for food allergies.)

As most of my regular readers know, my four year old is allergic or sensitive to six of the Top 8. He is also highly allergic to garlic, which isn't in the Top 8 and isn't required to be labelled for in the US, and he has cold induced cough variant asthma and cold uritcaria (which causes hives in response to exposure to rapid changes in temperature from warm to cold). We keep him safe by being very careful with his food - always reading ingredients labels, never giving him anything we aren't sure of, carefully washing hands and surfaces to prevent cross contamination - and by carrying a pair of Epi-Pens, his inhaler, and allergy medicine with us wherever we go. We also make sure that his skin is covered fully anytime it is cold and use extra coverage if it's raining.

My 11 year old also has some allergies - most notably an allergy to latex, and to multiple fruits and vegetables (strawberries, mangoes, pineapple, cantaloupe, and cucumber in particular). She has been loosely diagnosed with oral allergy syndrome - a condition which causes mouth burns and rashes with exposure to raw fruits. Anti-histamines are very helpful for her when she is accidentally exposed, and we take care to watch for natural fruit juice flavorings in food ingredients to help prevent reactions. Luckily she is pretty proactive about her own health and is able to read ingredient labels on her own now.

Ever since Beaker and Bean were diagnosed last year, I have tried to use this blog as an example to other parents of how you can still have fun with food and keep kids safe, even with multiple serious food allergies. I post some of the lunches that I make for Beaker, both as a creative outlet for myself and to give others ideas for preventing allergies from taking all of the fun out of food. I also love to share any new tips or good products that I come across that might help others out.

Here are a few of my personal favorite posts from the last 15 months, in no particular order (click the pic to go to each original blog post):

Food allergies can be scary. They can be life threatening, and the severity can change with little or no warning. And accidents can sometimes happen, even when the utmost care is taken. But generally, with care and precaution, people with food allergies can be kept as safe as possible. And with a little extra effort, the diet doesn't have to be boring or bland - it can be delicious, and fun too!

Have any questions about food allergies? Want help navigating the world of allergy testing? Feel free to drop me an email using the form on the right side of the blog, or leave me a comment here. I would be happy to help in any way that I can!

For more ideas, check out the great posts from these bloggers:

Keeley McGuire Blog -
Bentos on the Bayou -
Biting the Hand That Feeds You -
Following in My Shoes -

Want this cool bento gear for yourself? Check out my affiliate links below!

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Gluten-Free French Toast

No fancy pictures, as it's not really a recipe. For this gluten free French Toast, I used UDI's GF cinnamon raisin bread (which is also free of soy, nuts, and dairy ~ we love this stuff here!), eggs from our chickens, and coconut milk. I whipped the eggs and coconut milk* together and dredged the cinnamon raisin bread through the mix. Then I cooked it with a little dash of coconut oil. They were utterly delicious! Beaker said, "These are the very best dinners EVER!" and then he ate several pieces for dinner, another for breakfast, and insisted I pack them for his lunch, too. High praise, indeed!

(*Tip: Using a sweetened coconut milk, like So Delicious Vanilla or Chocolate flavored coconut milk, adds a perfect sweetness to your French Toast! You can also use soy milk, if soy isn't an issue, and we have had great success in the past using a flaxseed-water mixture instead of eggs. Mix it up and try different things - French Toast is a great forgiving meal to play around with!)

For his lunch, I sliced two pieces of the toast into strips and packed in a small cup of syrup on the side for dipping. He also has another little cup of roasted sunflower seeds mixed with allergy safe chocolate chips. There is a small cup of breakfast sausage sliced up into bite sized bits, as well as some broccoli and peas. To round out the lunch, Beaker has watermelon balls and blueberries.

Simple, easy, delicious ~ our favorite kind of lunches!

Want this cool bento gear for yourself? Check out my affiliate links below!

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Star Wars Day, Part IV: A New Lunch

It's May 4th, and in our home that means one very special thing. No, not that tomorrow will be mock margaritas and tacos day (although that will probably happen, too).

It's Star Wars Day!

Hope you have had a wonderful weekend, and May the Fourth be with you!

Took Beaker, Bean, and Lulu on a road trip across the state to visit family for the weekend. Since "road food" isn't really an option for a kid with so many allergies, I packed this yummy lunch up for him to eat on the trip. Four hours in the car with three kids, leaving straight from a soccer game, means a hearty lunch is a must!

Darth Vader is nestled in a pile of delicious mango pieces, next to a looming Storm Trooper.

He also has Canadian bacon with applewood smoked Gouda, and baby carrots. Yoda and R2D2 are carrying raisins and sunflower seeds.

And for dessert, a delicious Enjoy Life allergen free S'Mores bar! Free of soy, gluten, dairy, eggs, nuts, and utterly delicious. Beaker LOVES them!

Now, click on through to see what is up next on the Star Wars Day hop!

Want this cool bento gear for yourself? Check out my affiliate links below!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Planet Box Rover Review

I love this box.

I received a Rover set from PlanetBox to review, and loved it so much that I bought another set just a few days later!

Not only does it look pretty - all shiny steel and separated sections - but it's also a great size for carrying lunch! 

The Rover complete set comes with all you see above, plus coordinating magnets for decoration in your choice of style. There is the main Rover container, a Big Dipper dish for messy/wet side foods, a Little Dipper sealed side dish for dips or very small loose items, the carrying bag, and the decorative magnets. 

As a food-allergy parent, I'm always looking for ways to keep my kiddo from feeling singled out. A lot of the time in our culture, events include food. You get together for a party, there is food. Playdates? Food. Soccer games, afternoon at the park, day at the indoor gym? Yep, food. A lot of our culture revolves around the serving and consuming of food. I'm not knocking that ~ I'm a big fan of food! Especially special party and get together foods; you know, the kinds of things that are yummy, but really too indulgent to eat or serve on a regular day. The kind of deliciousness you save for special occasions are among my favorites!

But that kind of makes things tough for a kid who is allergic to so many common food ingredients! My Beaker can't have anything with wheat, soy, garlic, hazelnuts, or shellfish, and dairy and egg are both only okay for him on a limited basis. Soy and garlic especially are difficult to avoid, and he is very sensitive to them, so we have to carefully avoid even trace amounts of cross contamination. Which means we bring food for him every time we go anywhere, just in case. That goes double for playdates and other special events!

To give the PlanetBox a real trial, I recently packed up a lunch for Beaker to take on a playdate with friends. We were spending the day at a local indoor playground we had never been to before. They have a cafe on site with a pretty extensive menu, but I couldn't trust that anything would be safe for Beaker. This is a pretty standard precaution when we go new places; if we don't know for sure that something safe will be available, food comes with us. And it was a good thing I packed for him; even though the cafe has plenty of organic options, and a pretty decent gluten-free and vegan menu, the only thing they had that Beaker could actually eat was applesauce. Even the apples weren't considered safe, because they slice them in a shared space. I was glad I had packed up the PlanetBox!

And the PlanetBox was awesome! Not only does it hold a perfect amount of food for a long afternoon for a little guy, it's also beautiful. We received many compliments and comments on Beaker's lunch and container while he was eating. Parents walking past our table kept stopping to ask about the box, and I was happy to share the word. It's a pretty fantastic box!

Even the apple hippo* loves PlanetBox! The biggest section of the box has plenty of space for a main dish, or a fun larger side. I've used this bento box to pack lunch for the older kids as well, to check for size. I've even packed lunches for myself, and it held plenty! The separated sections are a good reminder to pack up a little something from each of the food groups, and there is a tiny section in the center that is just the right size for a small dessert treat.

PlanetBox is one of the pricier bento boxes, but it's also worth the cost. It is sturdy, dependable, and very well made. PlanetBoxes are built to last. They are designed to hold up over time, and the high quality stainless steel is engineered for longevity.

They're also pretty. That wasn't the top factor for me, but I can't deny that the shininess held some sway!

Beaker's lunch is entirely gluten free. It is also free of soy, peanuts, tree nuts, garlic, and dairy. Not to mention beautiful and delicious!.

He has half of a turkey sandwich, some carrots and cucumbers, an apple hippo with marshmallow teeth, an Enjoy Life allergy free granola bar cut into bits, some EnerG gluten free pretzel rings, and a Surf Sweets fruit gummy ring for dessert.

Obviously even the best bento boxes can't make the food for you, and they're not going to cure your food allergies. But a pretty, functional, and sturdy box like PlanetBox does help make packing up meals easier, and a lot more pleasant. They look so nice that my Beaker never feels like he is being singled out or left out when I bring one with him to a get together, and that is something big. Instead of feeling like he has to bring his food everywhere, he feels like he gets to bring his food ~ the distinction is subtle, but to me (and many other food allergy parents) it is an important one. Beaker loves his PlanetBox almost as much as I do, and that makes handling his allergies just a little bit easier for me.

You can buy PlanetBox bento gear at their website,, or click the affiliate link below to purchase from Amazon.

Affiliate links to products used:

Want to see another great apple hippo bento lunch? Check out Becoming a Bentoholic here for a little hippo made from apple and watermelon, and his tortilla and ham friend!

* Editing to add that I totally forgot to include the story behind the inspiration for the apple hippo! I went grocery shopping, and the next morning I woke up with this apple hippo in my head. It was just this idea in my head, of a hippo made from a carved apple with watermelon teeth. It seemed cute and simple, and it turned out to be both! Later I was packing the lunch into the Rover lunch bag and tucked an apple juice box into the bag. Turning the box over, what did I see? An apple hippo! I must have seen it in the grocery store when I bought the juice boxes and registered it on a subconscious level. The hippo on the juice box looks quite different from mine - for one thing, it's CGI and mine is an actual apple - but the inspiration was there. Now if I could just remember the juice brand.... The store was out of our usual brand so I just grabbed the first 100% apple juice I saw.

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