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There's...just...so...much...to...do....
Nov 23rd, 2012 by Nancy

wreath

I hope you managed to push away from your Thanksgiving table in a pleasantly overfed state, and that you shared that table with loved ones old and new.  It’s a crazy time of year, and every minute of respite is that much more appreciated.

Now that today, the Friday after Thanksgiving, has become the de facto opening bell for the Holiday Rush, I’ve come to appreciate yesterday, and it’s message of “take time to drop everything, recognize and gratefully acknowledge the blessings in your life, and share a long, relaxing meal with friends and family” even more.

It’s especially ironic since Thankgsiving in my household, which we have shared with another couple families for 10+ years now, involves cooking not one but two 15+ pound turkeys, as well as stuffing, gravy, cranberry sauce (thank you Mama Stamberg), eight loaves of french bread, and at least two pies, all from scratch, for a gathering of 20+ people, most of whom are under 15 years of age.  It’s not, but anyone’s measure, a peaceful, restful day (or week, for that matter).  But it is a tradition, and one of the few to which my family holds firmly.

Now that Thanksgiving 2012 is under our belts, so to speak, I’m ready to face the next month with a little more energy.

Don’t look now, but it’s time for...

BlackFridaySmallBusinessSaturdayFinishtheThanksgivingDishesSunday
CyberMondayMobileTuesdayHideStuffWednesdayChoirConcertThursdayHolidayPartyFriday
ShopMoreSaturdayEndofSoccerSeasonPizzaPartySundayFinishtheReportatWorkMonday
FluShotTuesdayHaircutsforEveryoneWednesdayGetthatFunnySoundintheCarLookedAtThursday
AnotherHolidayPartyFridayBakeCookiesAndGetTreeSaturday
HolidayBazaaratChurchandDecorateTreeSundaySweartoEatNothingButSaladUntilChristmasMonday
BandConcertTuesdayNoPleaseNotaColdThisYearWednesdayDrugstoreRunThursday
NoPleaseNotAnotherHolidayPartyFridayCan’tBreatheWhileLyingDownSaturday
ReturnStuffandShopSomeMoreSunday
WhoeverDecidedToPutEmployeeEvaluationsThisTimeofYearShouldBeFiredMonday
MoreShoppingTuesdayTryandRememberWhereHiddenStuffIsWednesday
ChristmasisSeriouslyInFiveDays?ThursdayKidsOutofSchoolNowWhatDoIDoFriday
NoThankYouIDon’tWantToGoToaCookieExchangeTomorrowMomSaturday
FindHiddenStuffbutMisplaceWrappingPaperSunday
BuyWrappingPaperandStayUpAllNightMonday
…And then it’s Christmas.

Feeling the stress? Don’t worry, We like to make things easy around here – after all, that’s what brought Lunchsense into being in the first place – so don’t let the frantic rush of the holiday season get to you.  Sit back, relax, help yourself to your favorite beverage, and get a great new lunchbox for everyone on your list. It’s absolutely clever, immensely practical, looks great on anyone, and best of all it’s just a few clicks away.

Good news: All U.S. orders get FREE SHIPPING November 23-26.

Even after the weekend has come and gone, however, do note that all U.S. orders over $80 get free shipping all the time, and everyone who signs up for the mailing list get an additional 10% off, not to mention yet more great deals just for them.  Other sweet deals will come ’round over the next month, so check in again.

And don’t forget to share a long, relaxing meal with friends and family, at every opportunity!

LunchSense10-30-09-047295

Thanks...Giving us something to think about
Nov 21st, 2012 by Nancy

May your day be full of food, friends and family!

In keeping with tradition I’m re-posting a wonderful bit Chris wrote a few years back, but I’ll precede it with a quick “message from our sponsor”:

FREE SHIPPING ON ALL ORDERS FRIDAY NOVEMBER 23 THROUGH MONDAY NOVEMBER 26!

‘Thought you’d want to know.  No code required, free shipping will apply to all domestic U.S. orders.  More deals to follow in the next couple weeks, so stay tuned.  Thanks.

Now, back to our regular programming….

Bucket of Coal

In response to a perceived discourtesy, November’s holiday-spirit, simply referred to as “Thanks,” is sending December’s patron saint, Santa Claus, a bucket of coal for Christmas this year.

Disturbed by Santa’s increasing intrusion on the month of November, Thanks feels forgotten and rudely ignored.  “It’s just so inconsiderate,” she said.  “We used to share the parade with him, but now he’s coming with the full-color newspaper inserts, direct-mailings and television ads before the turkeys even reach the stores.”

Public concern over Santa’s expansion appears to be mixed.  “I wish it was Christmas every day,” one seven-year-old boy confided.

Thanks, however, is convinced “St. Nicholas” has committed an egregious mistake.  “That fat, old elf is finally going senile,” she said.  “He doesn’t know what he’s doing and he’s confusing the kids.”

The facts suggest Claus did start the Christmas campaign earlier than usual this year.  Toy catalogs began trickling into mailboxes almost as soon as the trees surrendered their leaves, and electronic solicitors began flooding email accounts just after the recent elections.

When questioned, Claus admitted to a misunderstanding, though he blamed it on the complexities of varying international customs.  “I might have gotten a little mixed-up,” he confessed.  “The Canadians have their thankful thingy in October, and the missus is always nagging me about needing to ‘check the list twice’ and everything, so I didn’t want to dawdle this year.”

Is it merely an accident, or instead, a growing trend?  Ever since Kris Kringle endorsed “Black Friday” as the unofficial start to the Christmas season, retailers have been utilizing his likeness earlier and earlier to promote their sales.

“Santa is good business,” one store-manager concluded succinctly.

Statistical analysis indicates consumers, in turn, are beginning to shift their attentions to the Christmas season sooner than ever before.

“Thanksgiving?” one mother of four shrugged, “I’m thankful when my shopping’s done and all the presents are wrapped.”

In the U.S., Thanksgiving has legally controlled the fourth Thursday in November since December 26, 1941 (the day after Christmas).  Traditionally, the holiday has occurred on this date since 1863, however a source close to the Ministry of Christmas contends, “Nobody has ever said anything about the following Friday, or any of the weeks prior, for that matter.”

This same source, in an exclusive interview, revealed that Santa is no longer solely in charge of the Ministry, and that he is most likely not the one responsible for the increased promotional effort.  Tech-hungry consumer demands have allowed corporate retailers and manufacturers to muscle in on the North Pole’s operation.

“Kids don’t just want dollies, tin soldiers or BB guns anymore,” the source instructed, “they want an iTouch, an X-Box or a Nintendo DS.  Who do you think makes those, the elves?”

For her part, Thanks is unwilling to let Kringle off the hook.  Interviewed in a grocery store parking-lot, next to a row of leaning fir trees, she confirmed that she had heard the rumors but added, “Santa not in charge anymore?  I simply won’t believe it.”

Regardless of who’s to blame, Thanksgiving has clearly been slighted, and the effects of this negligence have yet to be fully realized.

“I don’t mean to seem ungrateful,” Thanks explained.  “Everybody loves Santa, especially the children, but I just think we need to stop and appreciate what we already have, before we begin asking for something new.”

When asked what she hoped to accomplish by her symbolic gesture, Thanks replied, “Gratitude should precede bounty in action and acknowledgment; it is the parent of all other virtues.  Santa should understand.”

Can't Buy Me Love
Feb 14th, 2012 by Chris

cupid1With quiver loaded, Cupid is taking careful aim, but don’t let the barrage of blush-shaded marketing prompts caress you into breaking your heart-shaped budget.  Valentine’s Day has, like so many holidays, evolved into a manufactured excuse to consume more stuff in greater quantities.  We are encouraged by smiling, hugging and kissing couples to purchase jewelry, flowers, candies and all manner of amorous enticement.  It is suggested that we solidify and reaffirm our affections by opening our wallets, yet I maintain that an expression of love need not come with a price-tag attached.

If your sweetheart requires an emailed reminder from FTD to say “I love you” and that sentiment is shared only once a year, your relationship is no bouquet of roses.  The real currency of love is sincerity, shared not on single, date-book occasions but always, and mostly without sparkling accoutrement.  True expressions of devotion are rarely found on racks of greeting cards.  Affection is displayed in showy flourishes, but love distinguishes itself steadily, in all seasons.

I’m not totally frowning on gifts—if you’re feeling flush, by all means, share the wealth.  But you don’t have to buy-buy-buy just because a cut-out Cupid offers alluring promises at 20% off.  No perfume, trinket or charm can adequately prove love (though many jewelers will swear a diamond comes close).  If you want to impress your feelings upon someone special, carefully consider what they might actually need before bringing out the bankcard.  Caring means providing what your significant other really wants without them ever requesting it.  Most importantly, remember that your sentiments are more sincere when accompanied by acts of kindness.

Of course, Lunchsense suggests…lunch.  Perhaps a Chicken Caesar Salad, wedge of French bread, orange slices and chocolate truffle.  Make it any day, include a sweet note and you’re positively proving how much someone is loved.

The absolutely true story of a nine year old and his lunch
Sep 21st, 2011 by Nancy

iStock_000013297428SmallI scored big on the lunch-making front today.

I was prepping bits and pieces of lunch for my nine year old as I passed through the kitchen – mixing leftover turkey soup from last night with the last half cup of noodles from a few days back, getting it started in the microwave, locating the wide mouth thermos in the cabinet, that sort of thing.  I checked with Evan about the rest of the lunch as we passed in the hall:

“Do you want watermelon?”

“Nah.  Do we have any peaches?”

“I don’t think so, but I’ll check.  Plums…and yes! A peach.”

“Yay! I’ll have peach. And carrots too.”

In the medium (and large) lunchbox, the thermos fits nicely to one side, which leaves room for three side-dish-sized containers, or two containers and a drink.  I don’t put the ice pack in the lunchbox when I use the thermos – they sort of compete with each other, leaving us with cool-ish soup and warm-ish milk by lunchtime – so I don’t pack milk on thermos days either, and I let Evan either buy milk at school or carry water.

I chopped up a carrot (Insider’s tip: the most nutritional value is in the peel, so cut the carrot into many thin slivers and they won’t notice you didn’t peel it)(better yet, for boys chop them into arrowheads – they love that) and put it and half a peach into two little containers. I popped these into the lunchbox next to the thermos, and tossed in one of the unmatched spoons from the silverware drawer that I really hope he loses at school someday.

Evan noticed the empty spot and said, “hey, there’s room for one more thing.”

I never pack a treat in my kids’ lunches.  Have you ever emptied out a lunchbox at the end of the day to find that your child didn’t eat anything…except the cookie?  And you wondered why that kid was cranky and whiny after school?  Our house rule is this: eat your lunch, and you can have a treat when you get home.

So I was surprised and a little horrified to hear these words coming out of my mouth: “How ’bout a cookie?”

I guess I figured that homemade turkey soup, a peach and carrots was certainly a good enough meal to justify a cookie, but I was breaking my own house rule which every parent knows is a sure-fire way to lose all pretense of authority forever and ever.  I waited for Evan’s response.

“Okay!”

No surprise there.  But then the kicker:

“Oh, but wait, there’s no water.”

Trying really hard to mask my shock, I said as casually as I could muster, “You want water instead of a cookie???”

MAMA’S BIG WIN FOR THE DAY: “Yeah, water.”

And he trotted out the door to get his bike out of the garage.

HALLELUJAH! AND AMEN!

Foodie Tuesday: Food Appreciation Day
Jul 26th, 2011 by Nancy

This came across my screen from EcoSalon, and it compelled me to echo Anna Brones’ sentiments about the the simple pleasures in simple fare.  I realized, however, that I could never write as well as she does, or travel to Sweden for inspiration, so it seems best to just pass along her words.  Here you go:

FOODIE UNDERGROUND: APPRECIATING SIMPLE FOOD stockholm-salad

by Anna Brones, July 20, 2011

I’ve been traveling for a few weeks, and in doing so have failed to keep up with the latest and greatest in food news that seems to inundate the blogosphere on a daily basis. But a girl needs a break every now and then, and so the computer has been off, and the brain partially so as well. Fortunately, we all need sustenance, and although I haven’t been keeping up to date on what’s new in food, I have been eating a lot of it.

This is relaxing eating. Summer enjoyment. Sitting down with friends and family and enjoying everything from basic open faced sandwiches to fancier fried chantrelles. Not fretting over what to throw in the stir fry for dinner because I’m exhausted after work. No, this is food for the sake of food.

Sometimes I will ask for a recipe and jot it down in my red Moleskine, sometimes I just sit and enjoy, not thinking about what went into making what I am eating, and sometimes I get riled up and launch into a diatribe on the failings of the American and global food system – trust me, it’s part of the dinner table charm.

I’ve also been scouring every daily newspaper that sits next to my cup of tea and skim through the food section where there’s always a new recipe. Really they just make me want to throw dinner parties. And then in the evening I feel a pang of jealousy as I watch trailers for the new television series by one of my favorite Swedish food personalities, Tina, thinking to myself, “I want a cooking show too.”

What I’ve come to realize is that even taking a break, I still can’t get away from food. None of us can. No matter where we are or who we’re with, we have to eat. You may be a freak about it as I am – every meal I eat I make a mental list of how easy it would be to make at home and how I could even tweak it – but when it comes down to it, food culture permeates all of our everyday lives.

Unfortunately, we often don’t take the time to enjoy it.

I read an article during one of my famed tea and morning newspaper sessions about the author of the new cookbook Mat Under Bar Himel (Food Under an Open Sky). Beyond the poetic name that seems to sing summer and vacation ( it’s on the shopping list for before I head home), the author Michael Krantz points out that eating outside is a way to better appreciate our food and our friends. “When you eat outside you’re forced to talk to each other in a different way. When you’re inside, there are a lot of other distractions,” he said to Dagens Nyheter.

Combine that idea with the fact that we know that eating is better for us when we’re in positive social settings, and it’s no wonder that summer fare tastes and feels so wonderful.

I won’t even attempt to make any arguments about how Swedes are more conscious about what they eat than Americans – they are also facing a staggering obesity epidemic, fast food burger chains are on the rise, and a trip to the grocery store tells you there are plenty of refrigerators stocked with prepared foods ready to be thrown into the microwave.

And yet, there’s a consciousness about food that hangs in the air, not what it is or where it comes from, but that it’s important to eat, three times a day, every day, and that sometimes, it’s worth investing a little time in making something good. Even those who don’t like to cook peruse cookbooks to put together respectable dinner parties. Food has a certain level of importance and deserves our attention. Which is why the Swedish refrigerator and pantry tends to be stocked with the essentials: hardtack, dense bread, yogurt, meat, cheese, butter, vegetables and most likely a bowl of fruit on the kitchen counter or table. Basic but essential.

And when it comes to eating that essential food, time is valued. Breakfast, even as small as coffee and a macka (open faced sandwich), is a must, lunch breaks are lunch breaks, to be had in the break room instead of in front of the computer, and on weekends, dinners often get a little glorified, if nothing else, to celebrate the days off.

There is nothing extraordinary or trendy about this approach to food, on the contrary, it’s very simple. This is what makes it so that food and the enjoyment of food plays an integral role in everyday life, instead of being a mere after thought. Which means there’s thought put into which sandwiches you make to take on your afternoon outing, and an insistence on finding a good spot to sit down with your coffee thermos and enjoy the sun. The time to eat, even when you’re not eating anything fancy, is not to be taken lightly.

So forget complex recipes, forget the latest gluten-free baked goods, just take some time to eat good, simple food with friends, maybe even throw in a bottle of wine for good measure, and give honor to the sustenance that your body needs.

Because if we all have to eat, every single day, why not make it an enjoyable routine?

Images: Anna Brones

Nancy here again…

EcoSalon points out that this is the latest installment of a weekly column, Foodie Underground, that I highly recommend.

Here’s hoping that this summer we all have the opportunity to share, with friends and family, food under an open sky.

Foodie Tuesday: gluten-free "granola" bars
May 3rd, 2011 by Nancy

IMG00283-20110503-1225My husband was diagnosed as gluten intolerant about 11 years ago, which means that he is allergic to wheat, oats, barley, rye and spelt.

Naturally, this topic often comes up when we’re dining with new acquaintances (as all our old ones already know), and we’ve found that it gets, um, awkward when they start asking about the symptoms of gluten intolerance.

The awkward part is that the symptoms of gluten intolerance aren’t something anyone would like to discuss over a meal with friends (much less new acquaintances), so we’ve come up with a few code words. 

When asked “what happens if you do eat gluten by accident?”, we reply,

“Intestinal distress. Sudden, acute, intestinal distress.”

Forks pause (if only briefly) as our new acquaintances grasp our meaning, and also grasp that they probably didn’t want to know that over a plate of something yummy.

Anyway, the up side to gluten intolerance (in our household, anyway) is that I can probably attribute to it my love and appreciation of all things food.  I’ve found a world of great recipes, tricks, and substitutions I never would have otherwise, and this week’s Foodie Tuesday is one of those finds.

Until recently, finding gluten free options in a regular grocery store was challenging.  It’s thankfully much easier now as food manufacturers are creating and releasing new GF products all the time, but we always return to this basic tenet:

Homemade

Tastes

Better.

In a pinch, we’ll get the packaged goods; our earthquake kit has lots of cans and boxes that we rarely see in the regular mealtime rotation.  The rest of the time, we start from scratch.

This “granola” bar is a riff off a no-bake peanut butter bar we found in a gluten-free cookbook that was, in the early days of gluten-free living, our bible: Gluten Free Gourmet, by Bette Hagman. 

the original recipe goes like this:

Combine and heat in a saucepan until bubbly:

1 C dark corn syrup

1 C chunky peanut butter

1 C sugar

Combine in a large bowl:

6 C gluten free puffed or crisped rice cereal

1 C raisins

Pour the hot mixture over the dry, combine thoroughly, and press into a greased 9 x 13 pan.  Allow to cool, and cut into bars.

Simple, yes?  The base of the recipe looks just like a Rice Krispie square, i.e. sticky goo poured over dry cereal.  To turn this into “granola” bars, all you need to remember is the proportions, thusly:

3 C goo to 7 C dry

 

The goo:

1 C peanut, almond, or other nut butter   This is for protein, substance, heft, flavor, etc. for the finished bar.

1 C corn syrup   Light or dark, per your preference or your current inventory.

1 C sugar

Combine these three in a saucepan, and heat until bubbly.  You may add, if it works for you, seasonings:

1 t cinnamon,

1/2 t nutmeg,

1/4 t allspice, cloves, etc.

1/2 t vanilla, almond extract, maple flavoring, etc.

The dry stuff:

4 1/2 to 5 C cereal   We usually use a combination of Mesa Sunrise cereal (which I crush lightly so the flakes are about the size of dry oatmeal flakes), and Crispy Rice, a gluten free dry rice ceral.  Corn or Rice Chex also work.  The goal here is something dry with a nice crunch, as it will soften somewhat when combined with the goo.

2 to 2 1/2 C “add-ins”   This is entirely up to you and your cupboards.  I usually use about one to 1 1/2 cups dried fruit, cut into raisin-sized bits if necessary – raisins, cranberries, cherries, pineapple, banana, apple, mango, whatever suits your tastes.  The rest of the add-ins can be seeds (sesame, sunflower, pumpkin), any nuts you like, coconut, chocolate chips (mini work well here).

Mix the dry and the add-ins, pour the goo over the dry mix and combine (it will get stiff pretty quickly), and press the mixture into a greased 9 by 13″ pan.  Allow it to cool to room temperature and slice into bars.

These travel like champs (especially in lunchboxes), will keep for ages in the freezer, and are a marvelous treat for the celiacs in your life, but I love most that this recipe allows me to use up the last of many things that lurk in little bags in the back of the kitchen cabinets.   I mean to try a few “thematic” combinations:

Dried mango, pineapple, and coconut, with pecans (a tropical bar) (Hey! how ’bout rum extract in this one!)

Chocolate chips, almonds, coconut (sounds like a familiar candy bar….)

cinnamon, nutmeg, dried apple, cranberry, walnut (autumn special)

Throw some suggestions on the wall (also known as “comments”) below!

 

p.s. Thanks, Mike.  You’re my inspiration.

Lost in the Supermarket
Oct 6th, 2010 by Chris
Photo by Flickr user Lyzadanger.

Photo by Flickr user Lyzadanger.

The line of glaring shoppers gathering behind me has nearly snaked its way back to the meat department.  “No, I’m going to be late,” one of them relays via her cell-phone, “I got behind some idiot at the grocery store again.”  My items are beginning to form a small mound near the cashier because I can’t keep the conveyor moving fast enough as I struggle to bag the haul.  I realize I left an envelope of carefully clipped coupons somewhere behind me, probably near the paper products or maybe in the cereal aisle.  The beads of sweat forming on my scalp and streaking down my face are starting to fall on my groceries in audible “plops.”  The total is coming and I don’t have my bank-card ready.  I’m shuffling through the multi-colored plastic plates when I discover—I’m missing one—the one with the money—“$163.85, please”—and I’m without a single cash cent.  I look to my children for a sympathetic smile, or some indication of a greater good, and I notice only one of them is in visible range and he is choking down an unauthorized grab from the candy rack.

Grocery shopping sure ain’t for sissies, and until recently it was a task handled mainly by the super-moms of the world.  I don’t mean to suggest that men can’t buy groceries.  I realize there are millions of single guys out there, and at least half of them have moved out of their parents’ houses and now have places of their own.  But, generally speaking, outside of a few professional cooks I know, grocery shopping isn’t very highly regarded (or appreciated) among the dudes.  To underestimate the effectiveness of a well-honed shopper’s acumen is a fatal mistake however, that can lead to vein-popping stress-tests like the one described above.  As the traditional roles of “husbands” and “wives” become less defined by gender, more men are being pushed into unfamiliar territories (like “produce”), and it is advisable to get your game-face on.  Don’t be alarmed.  I’ve been there, and in my ongoing effort to discover my inner “House-Husband,” I’ve found some essential practices that are sure to ease the strain.

  • Treat it like a job.  Become the House Manager for your family and attack the assignment as if you were getting paid for it.  Make it a challenge.  See how much money you can save the family by kicking butt on aisle nine.  If you manage to save just $25 a month, you’ll have $300 by the end of the year, and then you can dust off your golf spikes and stroll confidently to the first tee knowing you’ve actually earned it.
  • Before you start your list, make a plan.  Every shopping expert says the same thing—“start with a list.”  This is a no-brainer, but men often forget to consider the end-product (a meal) when they shop.  A list comprised solely of individual items is a recipe for waste, money consuming return-trips and numerous pizza bail-outs.  If you want to shop like a real pro, you’ve got to start with a menu plan.  I know.  It sounds so Martha Stewart, but a menu plan is essential to any effective grocery list.  You don’t have to become a chef or anything.  I only plan dinners, and I try to have between six and eight before I write my list.  Think entre, veggie, and a side.  Maybe a couple of casserole dishes.  The internet is a limitless resource for recipes, and I’d recommend investing in a cook-book or two (with color photos) for inspiration.
  • Clean out your fridge.   Most guys tend to enter the ice-box with blinders on.  Their determination to quickly locate and acquire the one item they need (“cold beer”), conveniently permits them to disregard everything else.  Without a loving wife/mom, or conscientious House Manager on hand, a guy’s fridge can get out of hand in a hurry.  You should always clean your refrigerator before you go to the store.  It’ll help determine what you need, you’ll discover what’s not getting eaten, and it should clear some space for the new arrivals.
  • Consider cash only.  If you only take cash, you’re more likely to stay within your budget, and you get the immediate satisfaction of actually holding any excess loot you save.  Just don’t forget to bank it.
  • Timing is everything.  Don’t underestimate proper timing when planning a grocery run.  Avoid shopping on weekends, if at all possible, or during rush-hour, after work.  Crowds are stress-breeders that can undermine the savviest of shoppers.  It is never a good idea to “squeeze in” a shopping trip.  Only go when you have enough time and are focused on doing a thorough job.  Return-trips wreak havoc on budgets.  Don’t go when you’re tired (or hungry, duh), and shop by yourself, if you can.  On top of eliminating possible distractions, research suggests we spend less when shopping alone.
  • Choose your store(s) carefully.  Guys often go for the fancy ones with the free samples, awesome beer/wine selection and a café attached.  I like to hit one of these occasionally too, for the excellent deli meats, fine butcher and appealing selection of organically grown produce; but a can of beans is a can of beans.  You will save hundreds on all the basics like toilet paper, condiments, frozen foods, cereal, canned goods, etc., if you make use of a warehouse-style, bag-your-own store.  You can still explore specialty options like farmer’s or fisherman’s markets, but don’t overpay for a tube of toothpaste.
  • Learn how to read (a label).  Listen up gents—you may not care if your own waist-size has decided to race your age to 50, but if you are the primary food buyer for your family, you really need to give health and nutrition some consideration.  This can get tricky.  Food Inc. isn’t going to help you here.  They don’t want you to know exactly what you’re eating, because if you did, you might not buy it.  They will try to divert your attention from important nutritional info like “calories per serving” or sugar content with flashy terms like “low fat.”  The truth is—you could get fat eating “low fat” foods.  “Calories per serving” is a much better gauge when dieting.  Look for “whole” foods or grains for the highest nutritional content, and try to avoid things that are “processed,” or “prepared.”  Deciphering the terminology of modern food labels is the key to making intelligent, health-conscious choices.
  • Find the “real” price.  When comparison shopping, between stores or particularly between brands, always note the per item/serving cost.  Sometimes food companies get slippery with sizes or items per container and what initially looks like a good deal is actually a rip-off.
  • Be practical with produce.  Yes, you want to stock up on a colorful range of fresh fruit and veggies; but remember—it can spoil, if left unused.  Rely on your menu plan and only purchase fresh items you’re going to use.  Learn which items spoil quickest, so you’re sure to use them first.  Hearts of romaine, for instance, generally stay fresh longer than other leafy greens, so this is a good staple.  Pay attention to ripeness when making your selections.  Don’t overlook frozen fruit and vegetables.  The taste and texture isn’t that much different than fresh, and they work great in casseroles (veggies) and smoothies (fruit).
  • Organize your cart.  If you use a bag-your-own store, don’t just haphazardly toss your items into your shopping cart.  You will benefit later by situating most cans and boxes (bottom of the bag items) so they can be placed on the conveyor first when you check out.
  • Double check the checker.  Try to keep an eye on the register’s display as items are being totaled.   Sometimes scanners hiccup or incorrect codes are entered and you end up paying caviar prices for a can of chicken noodle.  This can be challenging while bagging your own, so give your receipt a quick perusal before you leave the store, paying particular attention to any high-cost items.

More and more men are starting to shoulder their way up and down the aisles of our supermarkets, and their inexperience causes them to underestimate the complexity of the job.  This often leads to a mismanaged household and worse still, reinforces a guy’s apprehension about doing it.  Do yourself a favor, get serious and get good.  Successful grocery shopping is an exercise in proper planning and refined technique.  Everyone develops their own routine and there are countless effective strategies.  I’ve only included basic practices aimed at assisting the novice shopper.  With a little preparation, anyone can determine a personalized approach that meets their family’s needs.  Most guys will puff-up at the slightest sign of an accomplishment, so roll-up those sleeves, unleash the “guns,” and show June Cleaver who’s the boss of the bulk bins.

Lunchsense always appreciates your comments and suggestions.  Don’t be shy.

It's a wrap
Sep 17th, 2010 by Nancy
Actually, I'm really not that into southern rock.

Actually, I'm really not that into southern rock.

We’ve all had bad weeks.  This one is no exception.

Lunchsense is my “full time” job, which means I attend to it every weekday after my two boys get to school (8:15) and before they get out of school (2:35).  This isn’t nearly enough time to keep all the plates spinnin’, so I often return to work in the evening after dinner.  Since I work at my house, to keep it – work, house, kids, laundry, groceries, dinner, whatever – all together I try and keep to a pretty tight schedule.

With the start of the school year I’ve tried to get a steady supply of playdates to keep my kids busy (and happy) so I can avoid having to shlep over to the grade school at 2:30 and lose an otherwise very productive hour (or more).  Ideally (so the plan goes) at least half those gigs would be at someone else’s house, and the perfect storm would find both my boys going somewhere other than our house so I don’t have to kill that hour going to the school only to say that yes, they can go to their friends’ houses.

I’m Oh-for-five this week, though. Ouch.

I’ve had a houseful of “spares” (as in kids – also known as “strays”) all week long, which would be fine (we call it “subtraction by addition”, this bringing-in of kids to keep mine out of my hair) except several have been the recalcitrant types who don’t WANT to be here, and to prevent them from breaking out and trying to walk home I’ve had to keep a weather eye on them.  I actually did have to chase one four blocks and carry him back.  It is, sadly, not a great way to work.

We’ve also had houseguests.  I really like houseguests, and as members of couchsurfing.com we have a steady stream of fascinating, generous, kind, complete strangers staying overnight here.  Of course we have complete control over who stays and who doesn’t, but when we agree to host a couchsurfer we have no idea what life will have served up in the interim.  Our most recent guests were delightful – among the favorites of everyone we’ve ever hosted, in fact – but haven’t we all had that night of “I am having an absolutely wonderful time with these people, which is only slightly ruined by the recall of the huge pile of work I should otherwise be doing”??

I’ve also had evening meetings.  Again, they are for groups I absolutely love and wouldn’t dream of giving up, but the end result is that I haven’t been able to carve out even an hour or two for work most nights this week.

Did I mention that one of my boys misplaced, in a record-setting 48 hours’ time, his glasses, his shoes, two sweatshirts, the family camera, and his school binder?  All were eventually found, but you know how it is.  Just one more thing.

Same boy, different day: he brought to me (to his credit, sheepishly) three food containers for his Lunchsense lunchbox that had been waylaid under his desk for…weeks? I have no idea.  And I had just ‘bought’ (from company inventory) three more of the exact same containers that very same day.

So here it is, Friday afternoon, and my to-do list for the week is not only NOT shorter, it’s way, way longer.  Simple things – what the &^# do I do when a printer has “print skew”?? – have completely shut down my productivity.  THE WHOLE WEEK has been a testimonial to bad customer service: technical issues that should take 5 minutes to fix have taken 30; Thirty minute problems have taken 90. To top it all, I’ve spent over an hour on customer service hold lines every day this week, and every day has been for a different problem.

Speaking of “customer service,” I’ve created my very own disaster, all by myself, by shipping an order meant for Malta…to Malaysia.  Seriously.  (Therein lies the great downside of autofill. Type M-A-L and hit return, yeah? Um, no, Nancy.)   Another hour went down the rabbit hole trying to un-disaster that beauty.

So, to all who care to hear, I’ve dug down deep and found a refuge from this week’s frustrations.  Here it is (Forgive me, in advance, for showing my age. Note, though, I highly recommend this to them of any age):

Lynryd Sykynryd.  Freebird.  Really, really, really ear-bleedin’ loud.  (I have to acknowlege – painfully – that it’s not loud enough.  Have I finally wasted my hearing?)  Nine minutes and nine seconds of escapist bliss. I’m on about my seventh time ’round and it’s exhilarating, liberating, and exactly what I need to scrub out the memory of this wretched week, and I highly recommend it to anyone with ears and a bad day in the rear view mirror.

Next up: Inagaddadavida (Iron Butterfly).  Frankenstein (Edgar Winter Group). Hold Your Head Up (Argent.  First line: “And if it’s baaaad, don’t let it hold you down, you can take it”  Aaahhh, pearls of wisdom).   Sunshine of your Love (Cream).  Hocus Pocus (Focus). Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress (the Hollies).  Bungle in the Jungle (Jethro Tull).  And, of course, Stairway to Heaven (Led Zep).

And I’m not even going to try and fix iTunes, which seems to unable to find over half the music in my library.  That’ll be Monday’s problem.

Under Construction
May 15th, 2010 by Chris

under constructionThere’s a major renovation project going on at our house, and I’m the architect, contractor and primary recipient of this refurbishment.  That’s right; I‘ve decided to expand and rebuild myself.  The current floor-plan is simply not accommodating our family’s needs.  I‘m one of a growing number of men who has been thrust into a “house-husband” role, and I have to admit—I’m struggling with it.  I’m having trouble reconciling who I am with who I am.  In fact, there are times when it feels like I’m disappearing altogether.  What is required of me often conflicts with what is desired by me, and my current “position” (house-hubby/dad) has me feeling like the “Incredible Shrinking Man.”  My circumstances and domestic responsibilities have conspired to squeeze me into a corner closet with a box of old records and a fondue pot.  I’m doing a fair amount of kicking, screaming, stomping, moaning and groaning about it, and I’m not an easy person to ignore, but with the piston-driving engine of home, wife and children churning in the foreground, I’m always going to be outgunned.  It all adds up to an inefficient (and cranky) household, so we’re going to have to knock out a few walls and move some things around.

If I sound like a “typical man” with some “spoiled, only-child” issues, the shoe fits.  I see a problem and I want to fix it (with a home repair metaphor no less).  I also want to get mine.  Don’t worry moms; I understand (by now) that parenting (and husbanding) requires near-legendary levels of selflessness.  And, I realize that no person is above “grunt” labor.  But, remember that age-old question, “Whatever happened to the woman I married?”  She becomes a mother and a homemaker and her husband doesn’t recognize her anymore.  I’m facing that same kind of thing: an identity crisis and a little “stuck in the rut blues.”

I know plenty of dynamic moms who integrate their family responsibilities seamlessly with vibrant, unique personalities.  They are confident and interesting, and their kids and husbands are proud of them.  So, what’s my problem?  The number one issue I need to overcome is acceptance/denial.  I have not welcomed or embraced the “home-making” concept.  I have a soft, sensitive side and I’m pretty in touch with my feelings, but I’m still mostly a “dude.”  I don’t really think about this stuff much.  Most men are genetically hindered in their ability to process things like dust, grocery lists, shower-grime, or home-décor.  Even before I was laid-off, I was a stay-at-home dad because I worked nights.  Having a job meant I could guiltlessly slack-off housekeeping, and hold my head high, knowing my kids could say their dad worked in the sports department at the local newspaper.  I viewed our cluttered, undecorated home as a temporary condition.  We (i.e. my wife) would get around to fixing things up eventually, when we were more settled.  That was nine years ago, and I’ve been unemployed for the last nine months.  We don’t always choose what happens to us, and sometimes the choices we do make lead us to unexpected places.  Like it or not, I am the primary housekeeper, cook and child-care provider for our family.  Thus far I’ve resisted putting much of myself into these noble endeavors.  I’ve managed to get things done by just going through the motions.  I’ve been trying to tread water and survive until “something” changes, but just-getting-by on a day-to-day basis for nine years has taken a toll.

So, what can I do?  First thing, take a deep breath.  Look at my smiling, healthy children and pat myself and my wife on the back.  This is hard.  It’s okay if we don’t have it mastered.  Survival in this game is synonymous with success.

Next step, assume ownership over these responsibilities and begin to address the problems proactively.  I’m discouraged and grumpy because I’ve accepted mediocrity from myself.  I’ve been sleepwalking through the cascading to-do lists, and waiting for some special moment to shine again; however, an opportunity exists right now.  I simply need to apply myself.  I should put as much enthusiasm and determination into creating a more-efficient, nurturing home as I would any other personal project.  Just because I lack a little housekeeping acumen doesn’t necessarily mean I don’t have taste, style or a willingness to fight mildew.  I’ll admit I’ve held little regard for most domestic duties, instead viewing them as chores to be dreadfully endured.  This is a critical mistake.  I never visualized “house-husband” as a career choice, but I did see myself having a family.  And now, my wife and kids are counting on me to deliver as much (or more) than they ever did when I was bringing home a check.  I need to set a positive example for my kids and make the most of this fate.  It is time to officially “take the position” and begin applying more passion and ingenuity to the task at hand.

Once I’m committed to the project, I can begin to develop strategies for overcoming my deficiencies.  House-hubbies, like kids, require a lot of structure.  I can’t continue to apply a “take care of the basics and wing the rest” approach to my daily agenda, or I‘ll remain powerless over the fortunes of each new day.  A schedule reestablishes control.  Things are addressed when I determine.  Schedules eliminate uncertainty.  Does that shower really need to be cleaned? Yes, today I scheduled “bathroom scrub.” Most men function efficiently when they’re “on the clock.”  The successful house-husband mandates specific hours for specific tasks.  There are children involved, so the calendar should maintain some fluidity, and it might take a while to establish the authority of the household schedule because it has lapsed for so long.  It must be written down.  The commitment to writing is a tangible statement of intent and a personal contract.  When something exists on a family calendar, the entire family tends to acknowledge and respect its importance.  I’m not too comfortable with contracts or dictating structure, so I’ll have to convince myself of the benefits we all stand to gain from the concentrated effort.  Improved time-management increases efficiency which enables more productivity.  Ultimately this should create more quality “me” time.

Two other vital elements of my renovation project involve expansion and repair.  Life is a brutal contest that really requires top physical condition, especially when kids are present.  As my propensity to feel overwhelmed has increased through the years, my dedication to health and fitness has waned.  This is backward thinking.  Aging and added stress necessitate improved fitness.  I’m not just going to say I should get in shape while regretfully eyeing my paunch in the mirror.  I’m going to schedule it.  I’m also determined to get out of the house more on my own.  I need to plan and participate in activities that will provide intellectual stimulation (or physical fitness) and networking.  I shouldn’t isolate myself.  I have to broaden the range of my daily experiences.  In order to truly value myself, I must find ways to integrate who I am with what I do.  All those super-moms that I mentioned earlier find a way to incorporate elements of themselves into their homes, their meals, and the activities they share with their children.  If I lend more of myself to home-improvement and take pride in what I’m doing, I might find new means of expression.  Defining and discovering who I am outside the traditional work-place is an ongoing project, but I’m determined to reassert myself rather than just passively enduring my circumstance.  The blueprint has been sketched; it’s time to break-ground.

Lunchsense is always looking to become more sensible, so please share your experiences, suggestions, or shrieks of laughter below.  I’ll continue to post select moments from my misadventures, offering relevant insight when I can, and together, we might make some progress.

Seeing Shades of Green
Feb 23rd, 2010 by Chris

Gaia shineI’ve got a confession to make.  I’m not the Greenest person in the world.  Wait!  Before you strap me to the back of a wild orca, or string me up a Redwood tree, hear me out—please.  I’m not that bad.  I haven’t cashed any kickbacks from ExxonMobil or Dow.  I recycle, I carpool, and I (usually) walk my boys to and from school each day.  I live in Eugene, Oregon for goodness’ sake, a haven for organic, natural fiber, tree-hugging types.  You can get publicly flogged for tossing compostable foods into a trash can here.  So what’s my environmental atrocity?  I’m a stay-at-home-dad who needs to prepare two reasonably healthy lunches every weekday morning before 8 a.m., and I’m not a morning person.

Still doesn’t sound so deplorable?  Well, it started years ago while I was working evening shifts at a local newspaper.  I simply wasn’t getting enough sleep, and it slowly became harder and harder to perform my morning chores as a walking, slit-eyed zombie.  My wife would wake the boys and set them up with a cereal/oatmeal/bagel-type breakfast before placing a cup of strong, black coffee on my night-table, shoving me (hard) and slingshot-ing herself off to work.  I would often stay in bed until the last possible second when I would force myself upright, slurp down one, then two cups of java and frantically prepare my sons for school.  In this weakest of possible conditions, I abandoned good sense and succumbed—to individually packaged, grab-and-go food items.  Yes, I really should have known better, but (please forgive me) my boys just gobbled those fruit cups, yogurt tubes and energy bars right up.  The worst part?  I don’t work the night-job anymore, yet I still (occasionally) ignore my want-to-be-Green conscience and opt for convenience.  This is an inexcusable exercise in poor judgment, but there are no two ways about it—“it’s not that easy being Green.”

In 2008, U.S. residents, businesses and institutions produced 250 million tons of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW), commonly referred to as “trash.”  This amounts to about 4.5 pounds of waste per person per day.  We recycled and composted 83 million of the 250 million tons.  The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that residential waste (you and me) accounted for 55-65% of the total MSW generation.  Containers and packaging made up nearly 31% of the 250 million tons.  Only two manmade structures on Earth are large enough to be seen from outer space: the Great Wall of China and the Fresh Kills landfill.

So, should I hang my head and skulk around with a Scarlet Letter sewn to my guilty conscience?  Yes, in all honesty I probably should, but we at Lunchsense like to view the Green Movement as just that—a movement; a progression from a toxic, yellowish-neon shade to the deepest emerald hue.  Clearly, you can’t plot me on this Green graph next to Ed Begley Jr., but by recognizing and addressing my own waste problem, I am heading his way.  Rather than dodging the Green Police and fretting over whether I’m “Green” or not, I’m simply accepting the continuum and trying to become Green-er.  Now (thanks to Nancy), I utilize reusable containers much more frequently, and I also buy bulk when I can.  There are a number of tasty items available in this under-appreciated section of the supermarket.  And remember–you can buy as much or as little as you need.  Ask yourself how you can limit the amount of waste you produce each day and share your own confessions/suggestions with us.  By increasing our awareness and making the most of our Lunchsense, we can all grow Greener each day.

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