SOLON, Ohio — Calling all moms and dads! What lunch did you send with your kids to school today?
Same old PB&J? Baby carrots, apple slices, a juice box and a few Chips-Ahoy thrown in?
Around here, we call that “lunch rut.”
Two months into the school year and packing lunches is already little more than a speed sport. And frankly, it shows.
So get inspired by a Solon mom who is gaining international fame for her next level lunches. And she says you, too, can be a packing pro.
Tiffany Keene is a textbook busy mom. Working full-time, raising three boys, two of whom are under two! Yet Keene is getting extra credit for her creativity in the kitchen, where she creates the school lunches for third grader, Cruz.
“I liked the meatball sub. That was really good. I liked the mini meatballs. There was a lot of different lunches that I really love,” said Cruz.
And his favorite?
“I liked the lobster one.”
That’s right. Lobster salad.
“I was looking to see what I could give him for lunch.," recalled Tiffany. "And he looked in the freezer too. I said, ‘what do you want for lunch?’ And he goes, ‘um, how about lobster?’ And I'm like, ‘how about a lobster salad? You know, I'm not just going to send you with lobster!’ He said, ‘alright, how about some pecans on it?” So, we kind of came up with it together. And that’s how the lobster salad came about."
Solon mom gets international attention for creative school lunches
Tiffany learned to cook from her grandmother. As a mother, her approach is to serve a wide variety of foods to her children. If mom and dad eat salmon, the kids eat salmon too, even pureed for those who are still on baby food.
Tiffany shares her recipes, tips and tricks on Instagram. But husband Nathan shared the lobster salad post with a Facebook lunch box group, where it took off.
“The Daily Mail, The Sun, The Mirror. And then there are people in South Africa that heard about it. I had people reach out to me from Chicago. Texas. It’s just been crazy,” said Tiffany.
Admirers are now checking out some of Tiffany’s other creations. A fan favorite? A cookie-cutter she uses to make Cruz’s sandwiches.
“That Biggie sandwich that I made, everyone's like, ‘oh my gosh, that thing's amazing.’ I had a cookie cutter and I said, ‘Hmm. Instead of making cookies, let me make a sandwich out of it.’ And I'm just always trying to be creative, and I hate eating the same things over and over again. My family does too.”
Tiffany gets Cruz in on planning and preparation too. He helps in the kitchen, even chopping with child-safe knives Tiffany bought for him.
She’s quick to point out that her meals may look expensive, but she’s frugal and keeps track of sales and shops at discount grocers. Pre-planning helps keep her freezer stocked.
Her Instagram following is growing, but Tiffany has some critics too, who say she is setting the bar too high.
Her response: “Do what’s best for your family. Every family is different. You shouldn’t compare yourself. As long as your kids are fed, that’s all that matters,” Tiffany stressed.
And what matters to Cruz is that lunch time remains a favorite time each and every school day.
“Makes me feel great. It makes me feel like, ‘Oh, this has got to be good! I can’t wait to chow down on my meal,’” Cruz said.
Here are some of Tiffany's tried and true tips on how to make lunch (and other meals) exciting again:
- Use fun cookie cutters to make interesting shapes for sandwiches
-Join a lunchbox social media group. Parents share many ideas there, which Tiffany has used.
-Try bento boxes. They make lunch presentation fun and Tiffany recently saw some on sale for $5.00! (She is a dedicated bargain hunter!)
-Leave notes! She loves little surprises and has even written messages on a banana as well as put jokes in Cruz's lunch
-Get the kids involved. Cruz helps to plan and also chop! Tiffany picked up a child-safe knife set on Amazon, for less than $10.00.
Tiffany recently published her very first cookbook of family meals. It's called "Cooking at Tiffany's: Simple recipes for everyday life" and is available on Amazon.