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?

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 protein powder (optional- and ideally a grass fed whey protein like this one, or pea based)
  • 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!


Foodie Penpal Reveal!

It’s my second month participating in the Foodie Penpals program, and it’s time to reveal the goodies!

I was lucky to be linked up with Laurie at Love, Laugh, Laurie and she found all sorts of goodies from Milwaukee, Wisconsin! So let’s peek in the box…

Laurie picked out so many of my favorite treats. First up, Wisconsin-made Cranberry Pepper Crisps.  I was curious about this flavor combination, but wow.  Sweet and salty with a kick of heat at the end…  crunchy delicious-ness!

Another all-time favorite snack of mine: popcorn! Also local to Wisconsin, we were so impressed with how perfectly it popped on the stove top, light and airy… and, sadly, is also gone already.

Laurie sent both vanilla and cocoa powders local to Milwaukee and suggested using them in coffee.  Mmm.  I have never used vanilla as a powder, and can’t wait to start experimenting more with it.  (Ironically, the penpal that I sent my box to, Kate is also from WI and works at the Spice House!)

More awesome snacking.  Chipotle Cheddar is the best flavor I’ve tried yet… these didn’t last long.

Of course, a box isn’t complete without a little (WI-made) chocolate!  FYI, melted chocolate-covered nuts are still delicious.

And to top it off, Laurie made beer bread with Spotted Cow beer, the most famous Wisconsin craft beer, which we devoured in a few days:

You seriously spoiled us, Laurie.  Thank you so much!!

If you’re interested in participating for August, please click here to for more information.


I’m doing double duty and linking up with Jenn at Peas and Crayons again, too!

Here’s a recap of yesterday in food:

This was a seriously snack-y day, partly due to subbing a spin class over the dinner hour.

[Breakfast: yogurt, kashi cereal, banana and chia; Snack: Several bites of L’s pb and carrot spread ww pita; Lunch: Spinach, avocado and tomato salad with an Eggplant-Lentil burger and watermelon; Snacks: PB-kashi bar from freezer; banana with almond butter; apple and jalepeno cheddar; Late dinner: Fish and veggies with Charmoula sauce; Snack: 1/2 Probar + handful pistacios (unpictured)]

Finally, thanks to everyone who signed up for the 5 or 10 mile Virtual run! I’m exited to hear all your stories… if you missed the announcement, check it out here!

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.

Carb-loading, Veggie Stromboli and Cookie Dough Pudding

It’s a rainy week here.  The good news is that Texas is relatively cool. The bad news is that thunderstorms are supposed to continue through the weekend, and I am terrified about cycling in the rain at the triathlon.  Let’s hope it stops by then!

This week’s What I ate Wednesday is more like what we’ve been eating the last few days. July’s focus is on fun, food and fitness.

Fun: Over the weekend, a Chinese friend asked if I would help her learn how to bake bread and muffins.  We had a blast kneading the dough for french bread and mashing bananas for muffins.

Food: Monday night, I made pizza dough, which Lil helped me roll out for a Veggie-packed Stromboli:

Veggie StromboliIt’s super easy and delicious! We spread the rolled dough with mustard, add sauteed broccoli, onion and peppers, top it with mozzerella or feta cheese, and pinch edges together to make a roll.  Bake at 350 for 15-20 minutes until dough is done, and serve topped with tomato sauce.

Veggie StromboliLocal avocados and tomatoes are everywhere, so we’ve been eating lots of fresh salsa and guacamole:

The Farmer’s Market is also overflowing with eggplant.  Last night’s dinner was Mediterranean pasta over spinach:

And my favorite dessert lately has been a variety of cookie dough puddings.

I’ve been experimenting with both chickpeas and tofu as a base, and I prefer the chickpeas.  The basic ingredients are the same as the Garbanzo Bean Brownies.

Cookie dough pudding  (print)

  • 1 can garbanzo beans (white beans make a smoother “pudding”)
  • 1/4 c. sugar
  • 1/4 c. almond or dairy milk
  • 2 Tbsp maple syrup
  • 2 Tbsp nut butter
  • 1 Tbsp cocoa powder or 1/2 scoop chocolate protein powder
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 ripe banana (optional)
  • 1/2 c. dark chocolate chips

Blend everything together in a food processor.

If you prefer a tofu base, Gina has a good peanut butter cookie dough recipe.

Fitness: I’m tapering this week, but did get in a 1600m swim in the rain this morning.  My shin is feeling much better with my Tommie Copper calf sleeves (thanks to Ali’s giveaway that I won a few months ago!)

Pasta, bread, and stromboli… I’m certainly taking my race week carb-loading seriously! What seasonal foods are you enjoying this week?

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?

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?

Two peanut sauces and wiaw

Did you know it’s National Running day today? Get out for a run if you can!


I’m over one week in, and the running streak is going well.  It’s pushing my 30 mile weeks to 33, which is a reasonable 10% increase, and my legs have been handling it so far.  I also mentioned last week that I had to tape myself teaching spin over the weekend to submit for a final review on my certification.  I’m happy to say it’s done and in the mail…here’s hoping it’s good enough!


Switching gears, it’s time for another What I ate Wednesday with Peas and Crayons:

Yesterday was an extra snack-y day for me…ironically, I realized at the end of the day that snacking was the WIAW theme for June.  It was mostly “sensible.”  Here’s a peak:

[Breakfast: Yogurt, granola bar crumbs from failed bars, and banana; Lunch: Leftover black beans with feta, carrots and hummus; Dinner: Gado gado (veggies and egg with peanut sauce) over quinoa; Snacks: a few of L’s roll-ups; dried fig; watermelon; and an unpictured granola bar; Dessert: Gooey garbanzo brownies]

After sharing my peanut-lime noodle lunch a few weeks ago, I had several requests for a recipe.  So I’m answering with two of our go-to peanut sauce dinner recipes. As it heats up, these are great options for tasty, healthy vegetarian meals that don’t use the oven!

Peanut Lime Noodles

  • 1/2 c. peanut butter
  • 1/2 c. salsa, medium or hot
  • 1 Tbsp lime juice
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • dash salt
  • 8 oz. soba, buckwheat noodles or angel hair pasta
  • diced cucumber, steamed broccoli, marinated tofu chunks, shredded carrot, steamed kale, etc.

For the peanut sauce, combine equal parts peanut butter and salsa.  Stir in lime juice, cumin and salt.  Cook the noodles according to package directions, and drain well.  Coat the noodles with the peanut dressing, then add tofu and veggies of your choice.

The peanut butter-salsa combination may sound odd, but it’s one of the easiest ways to make a peanut-lime sauce- and it’s really yummy!

The second recipe is a version of Indonesian Gado Gado, a vegetable salad covered with a peanut sauce .  You can add sliced hard-boiled eggs or grilled tofu for extra protein.  We like to eat ours over brown rice or quinoa.Simple Gado Gado

Simple Gado Gado   (Print recipe)

  • 1/2-1 c. vegetable broth or hot water
  • 1/3 c. creamy peanut butter
  • 2 Tbsp lime juice
  • 2 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp curry powder
  • hot sauce to taste
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 5-6 c. total : steamed broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, carrots or green beans
  • 4-6 hard-boiled eggs, sliced
  • grilled tofu, optional
  • steamed brown rice

Combine the first 7 ingredients (peanut butter through salt) to make the peanut sauce.  Add enough broth or water to reach your desired consistency. Steam or prepare the vegetables of your choice, and boil eggs for 10 minutes.  Serve veggies over rice, top with sliced eggs and tofu, and pour peanut sauce over everything. Enjoy!

I made some changes to the recipe page: under the recipe tab, I added a “search recipe” option where you can bring up the recipe without viewing the entire accompanying post.

Okay, it’s time to figure out dinner… what are you having tonight? Are you planning to get a run in today?