Making Better School Lunches

Lunch BagWhen I send my kids off to school I want to make sure they have healthy and satisfying lunches, along with them knowing that they are loved. Ideally, there is some thought put into their lunches instead of it becoming another chore to do day after day, which it definitely does become ever so often. To try and stay on track, I like to change it up every once in a while, to keep them and myself fresh and excited about the whole lunch process.

My latest findings have put a zing back into making their school lunch. My kids are pretty picky eaters so it can be a challenge. Trader Joe’s has mini baguettes that you can finish baking in the morning and then pack with their individual brie bites in small packages. Add some organic grapes and tomatoes, and you have a lunch that can transport you to Paris, wishful thinking I know… Trader Joe’s also sells lunch meats that are nitrate-free. We have been trying some of the different sandwich meats with their tasty sourdough sandwich bread. They really enjoy lunches with cheese, crackers, salami slices along with carrot sticks and organic apples. Another favorite are pre-made salads with their favorite lettuce, tomatoes, croutons and parmesan. Keep it cool and store the salad dressing separate so they can toss everything together right before eating.

I have been making them some fun reusable lunch bags with matching napkins. I hope they bring some color into their school days. The bags are available on Etsy. Here is a link to my site if you are interested: https://www.etsy.com/shop/livinginthefields?ref=hdr

Hope this gives you some new ideas on how to get away from making peanut butter and jelly the whole year, I have done that too…

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Vacations Make Kids Smarter – Let’s Go!

Luxembourg Garden in Paris
Luxembourg Garden in Paris
Rodin Museum in Paris
Rodin Museum in Paris

With spring break just around the corner, the news has been reporting about how travel can educate your children in different ways. I found a blog post on the topic from http://www.sheknows.com which discusses research from the U.S. Department of Education’s finding on the topic in How vacations make kids smarter. The good news is that you do not have to travel far or spend a lot of money for your kids to benefit. Even experiencing a trip to a museum or a day at the beach, can benefit your child’s overall development. I am just glad it gives me another excuse to plan our next outing!

Ideas for Different Ways to Celebrate New Year’s Eve

Unique New Year’s Traditions from Around the Globe

new years fireworks

Need some ideas for celebrating a fun-filled New Years? Check out some of these interesting traditions from around the world. Many are meant to bring in good luck for the upcoming year. Why not add some to your own traditions when celebrating? Here’s to getting your year off to a great start!

Out with the old and in with the new is a theme that comes across in many traditional New Year’s celebrations.  In Panama for instance, effigies are made to represent the old year and then are thrown into the fire to rid oneself of the past and make way for a fresh start.  Another tradition is to open all the windows and doors to let out the old air, while bringing in fresh new air.

Now, if you are looking for love, make sure you wear some red underwear to find that someone special in the New Year. If it is money that you are in need of, then yellow is the color that you should adorn.  Many Latin American countries carry on this tradition today.  Polka dots are also good to wear if you want to have prosperity in the New Year, as the dots resemble coins. People from the Philippines believe that wearing polka dots and eating circular foods, like doughnuts, oranges and tangerines help to attract good luck. So now that you have your attire planned for the evening, your polka dot dress or shirt with yellow or red underwear, let’s see what else we can do.

You probably are going to be hungry, so why not eat twelve grapes at the stroke of midnight?  The twelve grapes represent good luck in the upcoming 12 months of the year.  This tradition originally comes from Spain, but has worked its ways into many other cultures.  In Greece, a coin is baked into a cake called, Vassilopitta, whoever gets the piece with the coin is sure to have lots of success throughout the year.

If traveling is your thing, in Columbia it is a tradition to carry an empty suitcase with you on New Year’s Eve and your good fortune should send you off on that safari you have always dreamed of, or maybe that’s just me … Anyway, however you choose to spend this New Year’s Eve, and whatever traditions you hold close to your heart, let’s make 2015 a year of peace and prosperity for the whole world. We need it!

Who’s That With Old St. Nick?

DSC_0017
Krampus in Austria

“Up on the rooftop reindeer pause, out jumps good old Santa Claus”, but who is that crazy character that came with him? In many parts of the world children have a very different vision in their head, when Santa Claus comes to town.

Santa Claus is a tradition celebrated here in the United States, while many other countries observe St. Nicholas, a Christian bishop, whose generosity of giving worked its way into the traditions that are celebrated today.  There has definitely been a blending of Santa Claus and St. Nicholas but they are very different, indeed.  In Western Europe, St. Nicholas Day is celebrated on December 6th.   Often, St. Nicholas has a counterpart, who is the bad to his good, the yin to his yang.  You better watch out when St. Nick and his associate visit, especially if you were less than nice this year. Many of these traditions date back to the middle ages where there were strong themes of good versus evil.

Krampus
Krampus

These not so friendly acquaintances can be quite creepy. In Austria, for instance, there is a horned, hairy creature called Krampus, who takes the kids on the naughty list to its hellish liar. If you made the good list, which hopefully you did, then St. Nick will leave you fruits, nuts and sweets.

In the Netherlands, there is Sinterklaas (said to be part of where our version of Santa Claus came from) and his counterpart Zwarte Piet (translates into Black Peter, and political correctness is a definite issue with this, although the black is soot from going down chimneys, not the color of his skin) who will drag you off in a bag and teach you to be good, if you didn’t make the nice list.

In parts of France, there is the very scary Père Fouettard, a horrible child killer who is making up for his sins by eternally being St. Nicholas’s helper, not sure he will ever make that up for that though! Those that have been naughty should expect a whipping from this boogieman instead of any treats.

The Czech Republic has a tradition where Saint Nicholas comes with an angel to protect the children from the devil, who also comes, but is chained up; showing once again that good does overcome evil. Here the naughty ones get a lump of coal or a sack of potatoes and the real naughty ones get put into the devils sack and taken to hell, if that doesn’t make you want to be on the nice list, I am not sure what else will.

In parts of Germany, St. Nick travels with Knecht Ruprecht.  There are various traditions throughout Germany but they usually go something like this- Knecht Ruprecht carries a bag of ashes and a basket containing switches (branches used for whipping). He will ask children if they know how to pray, if yes, St. Nicholas gives them treats, often fruit, nuts, chocolates or gingerbread. If not, then Knecht Ruprecht beats the children with his bag of ashes. They are given coal and a switch is left for the parents to discipline them with.

So if you decide to be naughty, take caution, you are dealing with the forces of St. Nicholas, and his acquaintances don’t mess around. My advice, be good and have a wonderful holiday season whatever your beliefs are!

A School Day in France

french school

As we get into our own back to school routines, I thought it might be interesting to check in and see how school children in France, typically spend their day. Traditionally, the school day runs from 8:30 a.m.- 4:30 p.m. Schools are closed Wednesday and Sunday, and children often have a half-day of school on Saturday. Would you like your kids to have Wednesdays off but go to school on Saturdays? Many after-school activities take place on Tuesday afternoons since there is no school on Wednesday.  Recently though, France has begun to change to a more universal school schedule, with school days being Monday through Friday. This has been a difficult change for many and is still being worked out in different parts of France. Even though they have a longer school day, the schools have been struggling to keep up with other nations, which is why they are making changes.

The importance of France’s food culture begins early and school children are certainly immersed. A typical school lunch may consist of a lentil salad with tomatoes, roast pork or turkey, with peas and carrots. For dairy there is brie cheese and a kiwi for dessert.  Another school lunch might be a cucumber salad with vinaigrette, salmon lasagna and organic spinach.  Cheese fondue with a baguette to dip and organic fruit for dessert. There is a very interesting blog from author Karen Le Billion.  In her blog she follows a year of school lunches from a school in Paris. She calls it her French Kids School Lunch Project. You can find more information about it here:  http://karenlebillon.com/tag/french-kids-school-lunch-project/

school-lunch_menu-1-01

After school snacks are also a part of this food culture. The after school snack time is called goûter. The french word goûter is defined as either a verb meaning to taste, or a noun meaning a light meal in the afternoon. Goûter is incredibly common in France; it is similar to tea time in Britain.  It begins somewhere around 5pm, for the children when they come home from school. Keep in mind, dinner is not served until 8pm or so. Here is the catch though, it is all sweet treats!

At its simplest, le goûter includes something with bread. There are many variations but it typically includes a baguette spread with butter, sprinkled with sea salt (preferably fleur de sel) and then a sprinkling of grated dark chocolate. The baguette is put under the broiler for a few seconds to melt the chocolate and warm the butter. A pain au chocolate (basically a chocolate croissant) is another very nice option. How does that sound? My kids really would like to adopt this French tradition in our home.

Some other sweet treats that French children enjoy are Grenadine diluted with water. There is also the refreshing, Perrier-Menthe, which is Perrier mixed with a sweet mint syrup. Lastly, there is my personal favorite, Citron Presse, or fresh squeezed lemonade.

citron presse

Must head off to pick up my little ones now. Wish I had a wonderful French bakery close by, for some reason I am craving a croissant…au revoir!

Inside-a-French-Bakery

Suffering from Wanderlust?

wan·der·lust:

a strong, innate desire to rove or travel about.

airplane in sky
I frequently suffer from wanderlust. When it first appears the symptoms settle in my bones and then it begins to drive me just a little nutty. My first affliction with wanderlust appeared at an early age. My parents took me on many adventures throughout the United States and Europe. I was very lucky and realized that I couldn’t get enough of wandering about.
Many of us are troubled with wanderlust ever so often.  When you get a strong case of wanderlust and cannot get away to satiate that desire to explore, here are a few suggestions that might help get you through it.
change it up
1. Step away from your routine. Mix it up a bit. Head down to a new cafe in the morning for your coffee and pay attention to what is around you. Keep electronic devices out of reach.
2. Try something new. I keep looking at the painting classes from my local Groupon and think, I might have to give it a try. Maybe a cooking class too…
3. Take a tour in your own city. I live in a big enough city where there are still new things to explore, if this is not the case with you, it maybe as simple as taking a different route just to see a new street or a new view.
4. Find a new restaurant, a new store or even a grocery store that may have just a little bit of a different “flavor”. There is a great Mediterranean grocery store near me that I must visit again.
sunset
5. Connect to the moment, watch the sunset or sunrise and just sit still and breathe.
6. Check into a hotel in your city for an easy getaway or you can even rent a home through one of the many vacation rental websites like, http://www.homeaway.com or http://www.vrbo.com. It doesn’t have to be pricey, there are lots of deals these days.
There is so much to do and see right under our toes but we get complacent and stuck. I am very guilty of this. Time to cure my wanderlust!  I am heading out now, see you soon!