School Lunch Ideas + Sweet Potato Energy Bars

It’s that time of year again… packing kids lunches (or our own) and trying not to repeat the same old recipes.  Even with the best intentions, I tend to get in a rut for L… I like sending her the things I know she’ll eat (anything nut butter related) but I also want her to get a variety of nutrients.

Here are some lunch ideas to help spark your creativity:

Roll-ups (our favorite, with endless combinations)

  • Hummus and shredded Veggies (carrot, zucchini, beet)
  • NB &B (peanut, almond or sunflower seed butter with sliced bananas)
  • Melted Cheese and Tomato
  • Black Bean + Spinach Spread +Cherry Tomatoes
  • Avocado (mashed) and shredded cheese

Finger Food Leftovers

Breakfast for Lunch

For more inspiration, check out Lindsay’s 50 Packable lunch ideas, Michelle’s School Lunch series and Lisa’s Smart Lunch box ideas.

We created a new favorite granola bar this week, using sweet potatoes, dates and nuts.  The measurements make enough to fill a bread pan, or 12-14 squares.


Sweet Potato Energy Bars (print recipe)

  • 1/2 c. oat groats (steel cut oats)
  • 1 c. walnuts, almonds or peanuts (I combined almonds and peanuts)
  • 1 1/4 c. dates (or combination of dates and raisins)
  • 1/2 c. mashed, cooked sweet potato
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • dash of salt

Combine steel cut oats, nuts and dates in a food processor and combine until chopped finely.  Add sweet potato, vanilla and salt and continue to blend until the mixture is well blended and begins to pull away from the sides. 

Line a bread loaf pan with wax paper, and spread mixture in the bottom of the pan.  Bake at 350 for 15-20 minutes, until done.

The steel cut oats give the bars a little crunch, and the dried fruit is sweet enough that no additional sugar is needed.  This recipe is gluten and dairy free, and an excellent project for little hands to help dump in the ingredients.  It’s also a safe batter to eat straight from the bowl.  🙂

Final tip: If do-it-yourself bars and snacks are are intimidating, remember that the freezer is your friend! Make large batches at a time and freeze the rest to have for the month.  Recipes that freeze well include muffins, granola bars, pancakes, mini-frittatas, homemade pizza dough, spanokopita triangles, homemade crackers, etc).

Thanks to Jenn, at Peas and Crayons, for the encouragement to set September goals, (like more variety in lunches!) I’m also linking up with Munchkin Meals for picnic ideas!

What are your go-to lunches?

Chocolate “ice cream” and trigger foods

Last week, I decided to challenge myself for the week and skip the chocolate chips at the grocery store. I’m happy to say I haven’t missed them too much.

It did lead to some other dessert experimenting, but some healthier alternatives.

Chocolate “ice cream”

and (non-chocolate) sweet potato date bars, inspired by an amazing Thunderbird Energetica bar I had.

This recipe needs more tweaking, but L and I are happy to keep taste testing to get it right! The batter is incredible.  Maybe it should be a pudding, rather than a bar.

Yesterday was super busy. It was L’s first day of “school”- she goes two mornings a week.  She was so excited!

She’s also a willing taste tester and fan of all this experimenting.

Pureed frozen bananas make a great healthy “ice cream” for dessert.  If you’re a chocolate lover, it’s even better with a little cocoa.

Chocolate “ice cream”  (print recipe)

  • 3 very ripe bananas, frozen in chunks
  • 2-3 tbsp cocoa powder (I like this one or raw cacao powder)
  • dash of vanilla
  • optional 1-2 tbsp honey
  • add-ins or toppings: coconut, chopped nuts, sprinkles, or chocolate chips, if you have any!

Place frozen banana in the food processor and let it thaw slightly.  Blend well with cocoa powder (start with 2 tbsp and increase after tasting if you like a darker chocolate).  Taste.  Add optional honey or sweetener and top as desired.

So simple and so good!

Do you have any trigger foods that you can’t resist?

Also, go check out my guest post for Madeline on post-workout fueling!


A special interview and Summer Ratatouille

Yesterday was busy- it started with a 6:30 am spin class I was subbing, which is about the time I usually workout, but required a much earlier wake up. As much as I grumbled when my alarm went off, I loved getting that burst of energy first thing in the morning.

While L had her Tuesday morning class, I had the opportunity to interview Marshall Ulrich about his recent adventures.  He and a friend just completed the first circumnavigation of Death Valley National Park, about 425 miles and 40,000 feet of elevation gain in the heat of summer.  And all of this just 3 days after running his 18th Badwater Ultramarathon! (Badwater is a 135 mile race through Death Valley with temperatures up to 130 degrees!)

Marsh is also the author of Running on Empty, which I reviewed a few months ago.  He was incredibly down-to-earth, and I felt like we could have talked for hours. I took as many notes as I could and look forward to sharing what I learned from him soon.

School started here this past week, and it doesn’t change too much for us other than the extra traffic.  But it does remind me that summer is coming to a close.  I’m trying to use the remaining weeks to get our fill of summer produce before it’s gone. Here’s what we’re eating:

[Bfast: Yogurt, banana, oats & mila; Snack: 1/2 banana+ almond butter; Lunch: Eggplant Rataouille with white beans +polenta; Snack: (unpictured) plum + handful raisins+ almonds; Dinner: Laura’s Cauliflower pizza (yum!)+ Spinach salad with cukes, tomatoes + peppers; Snack: Rice “pudding” (leftover brown rice + almond milk+cinnamon)]

And what L’s been eating:

[Bfast: Yogurt+banana+granola; Lunch: pasta+avocado+cheese; squash; Dinner: Ratatouille; Snacks: goldfish (at school); small granola bar

Unfortunately, our easy-to-please toddler is finally taking a turn to the picky side.  She downs her breakfast, but has been picking at lunch and dinner lately.  She never used to leave food on her plate! It’s a strange transition, but I’m trusting that her body knows what she needs and I’m sure she’s getting enough.

It didn’t help that we made granola bars this afternoon, so she was counting on that being her dinner.  I heard myself say something I’ve never had to say before: that old, familiar “Let me see you eat two bites of your dinner and you can have dessert.”  I don’t want to start that battle! But we rarely have dessert, and these granola bars are actually a very healthy snack, so I played her game this time. And made a mental note to save any baking for after dinner!

I added the Ratatouille recipe to my Recipage… it’s so easy, and delicious!  If you’re looking for another way to use the last of summer’s eggplant, I recently added our favorite Mediterranean pasta recipe as well.

I’m linking up with Jenn at Peas and Crayons . Check it out for more What I ate Wednesday posts!

Runners, have you read “Running on Empty“?

Moms, did your kids go through phases of more and less pickiness?

Healthy Travel Tips for Toddlers (and mamas!)

Being away from home for two weeks is a long time for a toddler, especially when it involves several long car rides and flights.  I knew we would have to be flexible with our schedule and eating habits, but was equally determined not to drop the ball on healthy living while we were gone.

Here are some of the things I used to keep us happy and healthy:

1) Healthy snacks!

It’s nearly impossible to avoid packaged foods when traveling, but we took along some of our favorite healthy snacks to avoid last minute junk food.

Yogurt smoothies, all-fruit bars, Annie’s whole wheat bunnies

I packed extra veggies for snacking, and brought frozen peas for L which have been a favorite of hers since she started solid food.

More travel favorites: Bananas, nuts, carrot & nut butter sandwich

I started both travel days with a spinach, banana, blueberry and yogurt smoothie for greens and protein.

2) Water, water, water

It’s always important to stay hydrated, but traveling makes water much less interesting.  Even a 2 yo knows that grandma’s kitchen has juice, and her usual sippy cups were rejected the entire time we were away.

We used “big girl” cups and I brought a few fun curly straws to make drinking more interesting.  Sometimes I add frozen blueberries to make water tastier and more tempting.

3) Stay active

Being trapped in the car or on a plane is miserable for me, and possibly even more challenging for toddlers.  Use every opportunity to run and get out the extra energy.  While waiting to board, we walk all our the airport and go up and down as many ramps or staircases as we can. We always take breaks on long car rides to run around, or stop at toddler friendly destinations with playgrounds or open grassy areas.

While on vacation, I was able to get out for some scenic runs and took more daytime walks. Thankfully, running is an easy activity that can be done anywhere.  It’s one of my favorite ways to check out a new place when we travel.

Toddlers will run around anywhere, but it’s helpful to plan outings where they will be free to do so, as opposed to an afternoon of shopping where they’re strapped in the stroller.  We took daily trips to the neighborhood playground and checked out the local children’s museum.

4) Probiotics

Even with the best intentions, our diet changes when we travel.  A few less veggies, a little extra sugar, and less fiber can cause some stomach distress.  Culturelle helps to support kids natural defense systems and reduces digestive upset.

It comes in tablets for kids over 50 pounds or dissolvable packets for those 25-50 pounds, and is sugar, dairy and gluten free.  This is an easy way to increase the good bacteria in their tummy.  L happily drank it in her milk or smoothies.

5) Sleep

Maintain a schedule as consistent as possible to the usual routine, with an early bedtime and planned naps.  A well-rested toddler is a happier toddler, at least in our experience! This makes the entire trip more enjoyable. (A well-rested mama is happier, too.)

6) Plan Down Time

We packed our trip full of social time with old friends, relatives, great-grandparents, cousins, etc.  It’s important to be flexible and take the opportunity to do new things, but constant stimulation is exhausting for both kids and adults.  We built in some down time for reading and free play every day.

Reading with grandma

Check out Jill’s for more Fitness Friday posts!  I was compensated for this post.  All opinions are my own.

What do you do to stay healthy when you travel, or to keep your kids healthy?

My favorite summer salad and celebrating 8 years!

After being cooked for and eating out the last two weeks, I found a renewed energy for cooking again, and came home with a long list of recipes I wanted to make this week.

I’m linking up with Jenn again at Peas and Crayons.  Check out what everyone else is eating, too!

I’m also linking up with Brittany for Munchkin Meals. Despite some delicious meals while traveling, it’s always nice to be back to our own food again.  Here’s what I ate yesterday- a few more sweets than usual, but it was a special day:

[Breakfast (post-spin class): Plain yogurt +homemade granola + banana; Snack: bites of L’s shredded pb and apple; Lunch: Summer grain salad over spinach;  Snack: almonds, raisins and dark chocolate; Dinner: Zucchini crab cakes with avocado-wasabi dressing, Mini- spanokopita; Dessert: Toasted coconut brownie bites and Mini Zucchini-Apple Cakes (Because you get two desserts on your anniversary, right?)]

My favorite Summer Grain Salad (print recipe)

  • 1 c. bulghur
  • 2 c. boiling water
  • 2 scallions, chopped
  • 1 red or yellow pepper, chopped
  • 1/2 cucumber, chopped
  • 1 c. cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1/4- 1/2 c. fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 1 can chickpeas, drained or 2 c. cooked
  • (optional) salmon or chicken, diced
  • 3-4 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp mustard
  • salt and ground pepper to taste

Cook bulghur in boiling water, or for chewier bulghur pour boiling water over the bulghur and let it sit in a bowl, covered for 30 minutes.  Drain and cool bulghur, and add veggies, herbs, chickpeas and salmon.  In a small bowl, mix lemon juice, oil and mustard.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Pour over salad and stir to combine.  Eat warm or cold.

I love the flexibility of this salad.  You can replace the bulghur with quinoa or couscous, and can add other veggies you have on hand, kalamata olives, or feta cheese.

Depending on her mood, L will sometimes eat this with me.  She likes the cherry tomatoes and chickpeas. Yesterday was a pickier eating day, so her lunch was a tortilla roll-up with peanut butter, shredded carrots and shredded apples.

The brownie bites were so good! I based them off Gabby’s recipe. I just stumbled across her blog this week, and she has some delicious gluten-free recipes! Here’s what I put in mine:

Toasted Coconut Brownie Bites (no-bake)

  • 1/3 c. nut butter (I prefer almond)
  • 1/4 c. ground flaxseed (such as this one)
  • 2 Tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1/2 scoop chocolate Life Shake protein (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 Tbsp raw honey

Combine all ingredients and roll into balls.  Toast coconut for five minutes on the stove, stirring constantly (I used unsweetened coconut).  Roll brownie bites in toasted coconut and store in the refrigerator.  Yum!

On a personal note, yesterday was our 8th anniversary! We celebrated with a few days in the Finger Lakes alone last week, and will go out again on Saturday when we have a babysitter.  Last night, we were content to eat at home and have a relaxing evening.  L is still catching up on sleep from the trip and crashed by 7pm, giving us extra down time.

A lot happens in eight years.  Since getting married in 2004, we lived in Philadelphia, then upstate NY, and are now getting our southern experience in Houston.  We’ve had a few job changes, said goodbye to four grandparents, battled 18 months of infertility, and now have a sweet 2-year-old who we can’t imagine life without.

I feel so blessed to have married such a hard-working, supportive, engaged, loving partner and father.  We’ve found it is true that marriage takes work, but all that hard work to grow the relationship and practice selflessness is well worth it.  I’m looking forward to what the next 8 years will bring!



WIAW and a Larabar/Uber giveaway!

Before I get to the good stuff, thank you all so much for your supportive words on my first attempt at the sprint triathlon! It was an amazing experience.  Like my first marathon, I had moments (mostly in the swim) where I thought I don’t ever need to do that again.  But now I’m thinking about training for a half ironman… someday.  🙂

I’m linking up again with Jenn at Peas and Crayons for What I ate Wednesday.  Here’s yesterday’s eats:

[Breakfast: 2 eggs (unpictured) and healthy banana bread; Snack: Green smoothie (yogurt, blueberries, banana, greens); Lunch: Leftover Black bean- sweet potato hash; veggies and bean dip; Snack: Apple and almond butter; Dinner: Black bean burger, quinoa salad, red beets; Snack: Popcorn with nutritional yeast and 1/2 grapefruit]

You may have noticed more Larabars in my WIAW posts the last few weeks.  The lovely folks there sent me the new Uber bars as well as some of the fruity flavored Larabar options I had never tried (let’s be honest, I would never choose blueberry muffin on my own with the Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough and Peanut Butter Cookie varieties calling my name).


I tried the Blueberry Muffin, Apple Pie, Coconut Cream and Banana Bread Larabars, and as expected, they did not disappoint.  If you’re new to Larabars, they are made with dried fruit and nuts with no added sugar.  I haven’t found one I don’t like yet.

I was very curious to try their new Uber bars.  The Uber bars are a chewier fruit and nut bar.  The ingredients are similar to Larabars, but are chunkier and lightly sweetened with brown rice syrup and honey.

The Uber bar flavors are Cherry Cobbler, Roasted Nut Roll, Bananas Foster, and Apple Turnover.  They are satisfying as a mid morning or mid afternoon snack, and are also very kid-friendly!

My absolute favorite was the Apple Turnover Uber bar.  The sweet cinnamon, apple and nut combo was perfect.  I enjoyed the others, although I’m not a big fan of anything banana flavored.  You can learn more about their products on their website.

Larabar would like to provide one of you with a box of either Larabars or Uber bars!

To enter, simply leave me a comment telling me which one you would choose.

For more entries, let me know in another comment if you:

  • Follow Larabar on Twitter or follow me on Twitter
  • Tweet about the giveaway, one example:  Win a box of Larabars from @mommyrunfaster and @Larabar at #giveaway

Good luck!

This giveaway will run through Tuesday, July 24, 2012 at midnight EST, and I will announce the winner on Wednesday, July 25, 2012.  I was provided with Larabar bars for this review, but was not compensated.  All opinions are my own.

Friday Fit-bits with healthy Chocolate Chip Banana Bread

It’s Friday again! I have lots of little updates today- some good, some not-so-good, and then we’ll wrap up with an amazing banana bread.

  • Fit Gear

Running blogs are buzzing with talk of the Mezamashii Project, and there have been numerous opportunities to win a pair of Mizunos.  Guess who totally lucked out and won a pair?!

I’ve never tried Mizunos before, but I took them for a spin this week and they were perfect- great fit, comfy ride, and lighter than I’m used to. I am still in awe that they fit so well for an online shoe purchase- their website was really helpful in the decision-making process. Thank you, Mizuno!

  • Fitbloggin

More good news… I’m officially signed up and registered for FitBloggin!  This will be my first blogging conference, and I am beyond excited.  I have so much to learn, I can’t wait to soak it all up.

And I’m thrilled to be sponsored by Drink Chia!

I came across Drink Chia earlier this year, and was impressed with everything about the company: their mission and the story behind them (started by another running mom),  their availability and approachability,  and, of course, their delicious drinks.

I’m sure you’ll be hearing more about this in the next few months!


  • Fit Hiccup

I hate to break the flow of good news, but my unhappy shin is not going away.  I can trace it back to that superhero week when I did HIIT (with lots of plyo moves), then raced a 5k on the unforgiving treadmill, and finished off with a weekend 15 miler instead of my planned 12.

I’m good at ignoring aches and pains, but this week my shin finally got my attention.  So… with the triathlon a week away, I’m going to focus on biking and swimming (and tapering) and hope it’s happy come race day.  Wish me luck!

  • Fit Fuel

I’ll leave you on a happier note, with this amazing (whole-grain, low-fat) chocolate chip banana bread. Despite being very low in sugar, this is dangerously good. You can also double it, and freeze one for later.

Chocolate Chip Banana Bread (print recipe)

  • 3 mashed, ripe bananas
  • 2/3 c. plain or vanilla yogurt
  • 1/4 c. milk or non-dairy milk
  • 1/4 c. unsweetened applesauce
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 c. whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1/3 c. sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3/4 c. chocolate chips

Mash bananas and mix the first five ingredients together. In a separate bowl, combine dry ingredients (flour through salt). Add wet and dry ingredients together, stirring only until blended. Stir in chocolate chips and optional walnuts.

Pour mixture into a greased 9×5 bread loaf pan. Bake in a preheated oven for 45-50 minutes at 350, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Hop over to Jill’s for more Friday Fitness posts!


Biking, Baking and Black Bean salad

It’s time for another round of What I ate Wednesday!  This month, we’re tying in fitness, something I usually do anyway, so I’m excited.  Let’s get started!

Biking: This month holds a new fitness challenge for me… my first triathlon! Eleven days to go.  I feel so lucky that my local blogging buddy Holly is letting me borrow her road bike- it. is. amazing.  I’m too nervous to race clipped in, so I walked it two blocks to the bike shop yesterday to get the pedals switched.  And then I couldn’t wait to take it for my first spin last night!

Wow!  I had no idea what I was missing- that 15 mile ride was the most fun I’ve had on a bike in years.  Now I just have to get comfortable with a little more speed outdoors and work up the nerve to grab my water bottle while riding… it’s a bit different from indoor spinning!

Baking: I was inspired by the six very ripe bananas on our counter top to do some healthified baking this week.  Lil helped me restock her banana “cookies” and then we used yogurt and applesauce to make an amazing chocolate chip banana bread.  In the chaos of baking with a 2 year old, I forgot to add any sugar and it was still delicious! I’ll share the recipe this week.

Black Bean Salad

Nothing says summer like sweet corn and fresh salads!  We’re having a BBQ with friends this afternoon, and I plan to bring this salad with us:

Black Bean and Corn Salad (print recipe)


  • 2 c. cooked black beans, or 1 15 oz can, rinsed and drained
  • 2 c. fresh steamed or frozen sweet corn
  • 1 red pepper, chopped
  • 1 yellow pepper, chopped
  • 2 scallions, sliced
  • 1 c. cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 avocado, diced (optional)
  • 1/4 c. fresh cilantro, finely chopped
  • 3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 Tbsp. fresh lime juice
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp fresh ground pepper


Combine salad ingredients (through cilantro). In a small bowl, combine oil, lime juice, salt and pepper. Pour over salad and toss gently to mix.

Happy 4th of July! How are you spending the day?

Do you have a favorite summer salad?

June recap and Winners!

June Recap: June has come and gone, which means it’s time for another monthly goal recap to check in on my 2012 goals.

Running Related

  • June stats: 15 runs- 118.5 miles; 6 miles on the arc trainer; 9 spin classes- 134 miles, plus one outdoor 14 mile ride; swimming- 3400m; weights 2-3x/week
  • Record breaking: No new prs- too hot to race here right now!
  • New Cross Training Challenge: Finally went to the HIIT class (High Intensity Interval Training)- I loved it, but after all the jumping, my shin was a little unhappy

  • Running Buddy: I went from zero to 4, plus I started linking up with a local running group that meets two blocks from our house.  I have my long run buddy May, my interval-loving-triathlete buddy Liz, my BQ-aiming buddy MC, and another local mom
  • Meet bloggers:  I went for a run with a local blogger, and had coffee with Holly this month to soak up her triathlon advice!

Personal and Family Balance

  • Computer balance: Sticking to my plan so far of early am, naptime and/or pm computer time rather than getting off and on  But I could definitely work on getting to bed earlier…
  • Reading: Devoured Runner’s World’s Big Book of Marathon and Half Marathon Training; I think that was it for this month.
  • Date Nights:  Had a baseball date night, where I was part of a pre-game ceremony with all the age group winners from the Astros 10k

I also started a Fitness Bucket list, which motivated me to sign up for my first sprint triathlon on July 15… two weeks to go.

I cut my running back this week to fit in extra time in the pool and on the bike.  On Saturday, I met my triathlete friend and running buddy Liz at the pool for the Master’s swim, and we followed it up with a short run with hill repeats.  It rained all weekend, so I missed my planned outdoor ride on Sunday and did an 80 minute spin class instead.

Time to wrap up the giveaway!

Winners!   This is my favorite part of hosting giveaways… I love using to see what numbers will pop up.  So the two lucky winners are….

#222     Ali


#159     Kristin

Congrats, ladies! I was also thrilled to see that both women are training for their first full marathon!

Thanks to everyone who entered to win the RW Big Book of Marathon and Half Marathon Training!  It’s an excellent resource.  If you didn’t win a copy and are considering purchasing it, I would definitely recommend it.  Feel free to get in touch with me if you have questions about it that I didn’t cover in the review.

Do you track your goals monthly?  What was one of your June highlights?

Three healthy, homemade popsicles

We’re only a few days into summer officially, but Texas hit summer temperatures months ago.  One of our favorite ways to keep cool is with homemade popsicles, and we’ve been experimenting with some of our favorite flavors.

These are a much healthier alternative to store-bought varieties (you can even sneak spinach into the blueberry one!), and they are delicious, refreshing and more economical.

healthy, homemade popsiclesBlueberry, Watermelon and Orange Creamsicle

Blueberry:  Combine 1 c. plain yogurt, 1 banana, 1/2 c. frozen blueberries, 1/3 c. milk and 1 c.fresh spinach in a blender.  Pour into molds and freeze for 3-4 hours.

Watermelon: Combine 2 c. fresh watermelon and 1 apple (peeled or unpeeled).  Pour into molds and freeze for 3-4 hours.

Orange Creamsicle: Combine 1 c. plain or vanilla yogurt, 1/3 c. milk, 2 oranges and 1/2 tsp vanilla.  Pour into molds and freeze for 3-4 hours.


  • Each makes enough for 3-4 popsicles, depending on size.  You can easily double the recipes to make more.
  • If you don’t have popsicle molds, you can use dixie cups with popsicle sticks.
  • Run the popsicles under warm water to remove the popsicle in one piece.

It’s also another What I ate Wednesday with Peas and Crayons!

Here’s what I was chowing on yesterday:

  • Breakfast: (center pic) Post-run protein smoothie and oats.
  • Lunch: (lower left) Chickpea curry and couscous
  • Dinner: (lower right) Mini-frittatas; homemade whole-grain bread
  • Snacks: Apple + choc chips; Blueberry Larabar; Coconut-date-nut balls; unpictured banana; carrots + hummus

Is it hot enough for popsicles where you are?

Do you have favorite flavors? Or other tricks for staying cool?