Food, Nutrition, Cooking
Kids are hungry. Dinner is late. Pantry is bare. What’s a mom to do?
This situation is fairly common in my busy, hungry household. The answer to the problem lies in asking kids to prepare their own dinners from a selection of wholesome options.
What you need: a wrapper. This could be a toasted nori sheet (my favorite), a tortilla, a pita, or any other hand-held food wrapper.
The guts. For us, with our love of sushi, it’s seasoned rice. Cheap, easy, and, if we make white rather than brown, it takes 20 minutes to prepare.
The fun stuff. What do you have? Nuts? Chop them. Veggies? Dice them. Sauces? Drizzle them. Salad? Add it. Whatever yummy odds and ends you have on hand can be considered.
Bring these items to the table, offer some extras like curried mayo (curry powder + veganaise), and there you have it: a kid-friendly, adaptable 20 minute dinner worthy of being served at your local ethnic fusion restaurant.
When we bought our 1+ acre “farm”—and yes, that term is a stretch—it came with an overgrown, neglected raspberry patch, about 30 feet long and about fifteen feet deep. We bought in the autumn, and we didn’t know what to expect. The canes had been planted in the 1980s and left to run wild ever since, and so we were very pleasantly surprised when July rolled around and we began to harvest quarts of strawberries at a time, several days a week, throughout the height of summer.
Seven years later, the raspberry patch is still weedy and wild. We’ve talked about training it into rows, but we haven’t bothered. The hens have made tunnels under the leafy canopy, the children have carved corridors to travel through, and parts of the patch have been named. “Granny’s house” is where our ten year-old black australorp hen sits in the summer shade. “Pickle’s place” is named for my daughter’s deceased duck, Pickle. These hiding places fuel the imagination and whet the appetite, making me glad we never trained these canes into rows.
There’s an old saying: “The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago, the second best time is now. ” Perhaps that applies to raspberry patches, too.
My feeling about vitamins has always been that a diverse diet of fresh, wholesome foods is enough to keep kids healthy without needing a multi-vitamin on top of it. My husband, on the other hand, likes to play it safe by giving our sometimes-finicky eaters a daily multi. We can agree that it will probably do more good than harm, so our kids take vitamin and mineral supplements along with their daily repast.
What, exactly, IS a vitamin? It’s one of many organic compounds that are needed in small quantities by the body. Beyond that fundamental definition, vitamins can vary widely in their nature, their composition, and their availability for our bodies to use! Vitamins can be fat-soluble (like A, D, E, and K) or water-soluble (like C, plus the B’s: 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 9, and 12). You may know some of these by other names: the B vitamins include beta carotene, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, and folic acid. Each vitamin is needed for certain bodily functions, and a lack of just one can cause extreme, specific symptoms of illness.
Because fat-soluble vitamins can be stored in the fatty tissues of the body, such as the liver, they are not needed in the diet every single day. On the other hand, because they are stored they can be toxic at an overdose quantity. Water-soluble vitamins, however, are excreted with urine and are therefore needed again and again by the body. It is safer to take large quantities of a water- than a fat-soluble vitamin.
See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vitamin for more information on specific vitamins, what they do in your body, where you can get them, and what to watch for in under- or over-dose symptoms.
On a day like this, it is so tempting not to turn on the oven or stove! Sure, we could have chips and salsa for dinner . . . and sometimes that’s tempting. When you want to pack in the nutrition without hanging out over a hot stove, try these meal ideas:
Cole slaw. This classic doesn’t have to be heavy on the mayo! Try lime juice, a little salt, and a splash of toasted sesame oil.
Sandwiches. Use whole grain bread (Dave’s Killer Bread is delicious, healthful, and kid-friendly) and plenty of fresh vegetables.
3 bean salad. You can combine any three bean types that you have on hand. My favorites are pinto beans, green beans, and great northern beans.
Wraps. Try combining grated carrots, your favorite dressing, thinly chopped greens (lettuce or spinach), and whatever yummy leftovers you have on hand!
Sushi. OK, so you do have to cook the rice—but this is a great hot weather snack when made ahead and chilled! In my kids’ book, avocado and cucumber maki, iced herbal tea, and coconut sorbet add up to a PERFECT summer meal.
I’m a Community Food Co-op member, a Moondance Farm CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) member, and a fan of a good deal. I love Fred Meyer’s expanded organic, natural, and vegan food line, and I appreciate the efforts of Haggen and Fred Meyer to broaden their natural food sections. I appreciate Terra Organica for their organic, natural, and non-GMO offerings.
What are YOUR priorities in choosing a grocer? Is there one you recommend, and why?
My daughters are six, eight, and 13, and they’re already practiced at shrugging off the pressures of peer criticism. Take nori, for instance. My girls LOVE it! They cannot get enough of the crispy, salty, sesame-flavored snack. I don’t buy it every day (it’s very packaging-intensive, which gives me pause) but when I do they love it as a box lunch ingredient. Unfortunately, some of their friends think it sounds GROSS. My girls take toasted nori to school and come home with stories of horrified peers, revolted classmates, and nauseated acquaintances. I hope my own kids use more tact in the lunchroom, but who knows? There may be foods in other children’s lunch boxes which set my daughters’ jaws dropping!
My eight year old has a best friend who gamely gave toasted sesame nori a try, and do you know what? It was not a week later when I had her mom on the phone, asking me where to buy the stuff. Her daughter had come home raving about this yummy new food.
What’s the lesson in this? I don’t know, really. Pat your kids on the back if they like a healthy snack and if they’re asking for something nutritious in their lunchbox. Offer interesting, wholesome foods at home and watch as your kids’ good eating habits hold up under public scrutiny. Thank your children’s friends when they try something nutritious and new. And remind your children that opinions and preferences may differ, but cruelty and teasing have no place at school. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, even when the others have something weird for lunch.
I’ve blogged about the importance of eating multihued, antioxidant rich fruits and vegetables of every color before. When it comes to Nature’s rainbow, I’m all in. From lycopene-packed red tomatoes to potassium-packed purple cabbage, I do recommend eating brightly colored fresh foods.
Food dyes, on the other hand, make me VERY nervous. In 2011, when the E.U. required manufacturers of foods containing artificial dyes to label their products with the warning, “consumption may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children,” I realized that all the buzz among my natural parenting crowd is also being talked about in the scientific community. There IS a documented link between food dyes and the exacerbation of ADD and ADHD in children, and yet the Food and Drug Administration in the United States continues to allow these coloring agents in our groceries. What can we, as concerned parents, do?
Here are four ideas:
- Read labels. Don’t buy foods with artificial colorants.
- Cook from scratch. You’ll know exactly what your child is eating.
- Boycott brands that use synthetic food coloring. Money talks.
- Speak out. Write letters to the editor, contact your legislative representatives, ask your pediatrician what he or she thinks, and talk to your friends about dyes in food. The squeaky wheel gets the grease, and I think it’s about time we caught up to Europe in recognizing, and warning against, these dangers in our children’s food supply.
For many families, what to eat comes down to what’s affordable. Beyond that, there are personal and health preferences. For me, the perfect food is 1) vegan, 2) organic, 3) local, 4) fresh, and 5) affordable. Growing my own or buying produce from a neighborhood farmer meets all five criteria.
With so many special dietary choices out there—paleo, gluten free, vegan, macrobiotic, organic, etcetera—how can a consumer navigate the grocery store aisles without going crazy? What about the five ingredient rule (don’t eat anything with more than five ingredients on the label)? That’s a good one, unless you simply don’t have time to make your own everything. It comes from the right place, anyway. It helps us remember to eat real, whole food and avoid highly processed food derivatives that were created in a laboratory.
I propose a simpler approach for someone wanting to eat better without breaking the bank or carrying a shopping manual.
Start in the produce section. Buy all the vegetables your heart desires. Skirt the edges of the store. Check out.
That’s it! You’re done!
If you can buy most of your family’s groceries from the produce aisle, supplement with a few bulk grains, add meat if you eat it, and make it to the checkstand without visiting the other 80% of the store, you’ll have a head start on health. Most of the highly processed, salty, sugary, pricey, health-degrading foods that plague the modern diner are there in the middle of the store, and steering clear is an incredibly simple way to keep your cart healthy and affordable.
Can you try a shopping trip that does NOT involve a walk down the central aisles? Can you report back? How did it go? What did you discover, and what did you miss?
Cookies, candy, potato chips, and soda are tempting go-to snacks for a kid in a hurry for something to eat, but they’re not the sort of foods that will power a growing body through a day of happy moods, active play, and smart thinking. They’re the sort of foods that contribute to the crash-and-burn attitude that’s all too common when poor nutrition collides with an afternoon slump.
I recommend keeping a few easy, grab-it-yourself snacks around. Washed, organic apples, clementines, bananas, and kiwis in the fruitbowl. Nuts in a jar on the counter. Carrot sticks or celery, washed and ready, in the fridge. Hummus, bean dip, pesto, or other nutritious spread in the fridge.
As a writer, I work from home. I can’t always get up to feed a hungry snacker. I’d much rather shout, “veggies and dip are in the fridge!” from my office upstairs than A) leave my desk mid-paragraph to cook, B) leave my kids hungry, or C) have them rustle up some jelly beans or caramel corn. By skipping the unhealthy foods entirely in the grocery store aisle, we avoid turning to them when hunger strikes.
Paleo diets, gluten free recipes, and low-starch alternative foods are big in the news lately, but is there any evidence to support the theory that perhaps grains DON’T belong at the expansive bottom of the food pyramid?
According to a Harvard-based research team (and good old intuition), it’s not GRAIN that is harming us: it’s the refined products that most of us consume every day (here’s a great article on the subject). The wheat flour that we’re used to eating in our bread, cakes, and pasta is a far cry from the bran-clad, germ-cradling grain our ancestors selected for. It’s hardly more than glue, really: white flour is a dusty, dry product with a great shelf life, virtually no fiber, and starkly reduced levels of vitamins and minerals. It’s excellent at pasting paper flyers to telephone poles, but not particularly good for our insides. Even worse, much of the flour used in commercial bakeries is bleached! I save bleach for my grossest sanitation chores (soaking the compost bucket a few times a year). I don’t want it in my children’s bodies.
In my family, we struck a compromise. We really don’t care for the flavor and texture of whole flour of the common “hard red” wheat variety, which is usually used for bread making but can be very coarse. We do, however, LOVE whole wheat pastry flour. It’s 100% wheat, but it’s milled from a softer strain called Soft White. It’s fine, fluffy, and very useable in the kitchen, even for someone used to baking with white flour. (I recommend adding slightly more moisture than your recipe calls for if you’re adapting from white flour baking.)
If you can start choosing whole-grain alternatives, use whole wheat flour or a combination of wheat and white, and mix up your grain sources with alternative choices like brown rice, spelt, amaranth, and buckwheat, you’ll soon find your palate adapting. Your family’s health is at stake, and you have nothing to lose but a lot of sticky, indigestible gunk.