Small Mouths, Small Bites

Happy day after Mother’s Day! I was planning to give you a garden tour this morning to celebrate the new plantings that were part of our Mother’s Day festivities, but the rain has chased me inside… well, okay, I never made it out.  A garden update is in our future, and it’s very exciting, at least in my humble opinion.  Dead seedlings were replaced and the garden is exploding, and when the sun comes out, I’ll show you.

In the meantime, I’ve been thinking a lot about lunch.  Okay, I think it’s pretty clear to all of you that I’m thinking about food most of the time, but lunch has been on my mind ever since I registered my wee ones for kindergarten in the fall.  I have already resigned myself to packing lunches daily, a plan that was reinforced when I looked at the school lunch menu – but that’s another post for a day when I’m already in a bad mood, because it will have a pretty high percentage of rant in it.  For this gentle rainy morning, I just want to explore a trend that has emerged in yummy, nutritious, fun lunches for me and my little people.  I’ve stumbled upon a recurring theme.  Small bites.

In Big Sis’ discussion of Lunchables (Lunchables are also a zen threatener for me, so I’ll be brief here), she conceded that the packaging of these products (many of which have as much sugar as a Snickers bar, BTW) is kid-sexy.  Little compartments, small amounts, a variety that they can choose from, assemble, control.  The bento box craze reveals some of the same appeal.  Compartments that contain small amounts of various bits that they can choose between, manipulate, control. Honestly, this has also been one of my favorite things about eating Ethiopian food or tapas: variety, tastes, experiments.

So with these thoughts in mind, I decided to put a lunch together that really offered as many different bites a I could fit on the plate, a strong element of choice, some possibilities for assembly and experimentation.  I included one new food, and some things they’ve been reluctant to eat in the past as well as some old standbys.  This was not revolutionary; I’ve offered my kids strange little collections of food before, but I’ve not been this deliberate about it, nor have I ever watched and listened as carefully while we ate.  I tried to be quiet (this is hard for me) and see what choices they would make without pressure. This lunch was remarkably successful.  Was it the quantities?  Was it the variety?  The fact that they couldn’t help but have a healthy lunch if they ate any two of the items on the plate?  I have no idea; what I DO know is that they both ate most of it.  And my little picky one ASKED about 2/3 of the way through the meal if she could skip the rest of the celery if she ate all the other veggies, because the flavor of celery is okay, but she doesn’t like the way it feels in her mouth….  If you’ve eaten with my daughter, you know this is not the way our meal conversations usually go.  Delightful.  And Daddy and I got to finish the dip which they liked with the apples and on the bagel, but not on everything else.  My preference was to have it with the celery and banana.

Nutty Lunch Dip

  • 4 T peanut butter
  • 4 T plain yogurt (I used almond yogurt)
  • 1/2 t maple syrup
  • generous shake cinnamon

Ready for another miraculous cooking procedure?  Put all those bits in a bowl and stir them thoroughly to make smooth yum.  Adjust ingredients to taste.  If it seems like a little more sweet would be good, try a little more cinnamon first; you may be surprised.  When you’ve got it tasting the way you want, dip a few things in it.  Let your inner five your old take control of the lunch plate.  Pretend you don’t already know what tastes good together; you just might find something new hiding in the guise of an old trusted and predictable vegetable.  Nutty small bites for all!  Delish.

A Kale Smoothie Kind of Easter

Wow.  We’ve had a whirlwind for the last couple of days what with visiting family, trying new recipes, and preparing for Easter.  We’ve had a wonderful time (as we always do when Big Sis is in town) and once again, we’ve learned a few things…

LESSON ONE: BLUEBERRIES WORK
Blueberry EggsBig Sis and I (and our respective spouses and offspring) descended on our parents yesterday, having previously hatched up (har, har) a plan to dye Easter eggs as a group. Having discovered that Paas (and everybody else) includes food colorings that we find objectionable for contact with food, we decided to try some natural dyes. We also decided(some wisdom here) to bring crayons and stickers in the event that things didn’t go according to plan… We tried several recommended options, including beets, turmeric, paprika, spinach, green tea, something else I can’t remember (“brown”), and blueberry. Remember how I said I don’t always follow ALL of the directions? Well, apparently if I’d read ALL of them (or more than one post about them), I’d have discovered that MOST natural dyes perform best when you boil the eggs WITH the food. Oh… Blueberry, apparently, is an exception to this rule. So we had a wonderful time coloring, stickering, and dying fabulously purple eggs.

LESSON TWO: A SOLID FOUNDATION RULES THE DAY

I’ve been dreading this day a bit, because of the whole sugar extravaganza.  We had a lovely dinner with my parents last night that included delicious deserts that all four of us consumed with great vigor.  It’s possible that I overdid it…  And so when I woke up this morning, the last thing I wanted was to eat candy, to see candy, to provide my children with candy, or to argue about candy.  I did give them a little in their Easter baskets, but none of the consequences that I feared came to pass.  It was absolutely no surprise to them that they would have to wait until after breakfast to have any.  It was no surprise after breakfast that they would be limited to one small item.  They have asked a couple of more times and we’ve let them work through a few Jordan almonds, but there has been no drama, no whining or complaining, and the sugar amounts have been small enough that there’s not even been an obvious sugar freakout.  I am so delighted that I can provide them with a “treat” and have it incorporated into our family’s rules about food so seamlessly.  I guess all of the earlier conversations are paying off.  Hallelujah indeed.

LESSON THREE: A KALE SMOOTHIE HELPS JUST ABOUT EVERYTHING

So I mentioned that I overindulged a bit yesterday and as happens during holiday weekends, I felt a bit done with the food celebration before we got to the actual event.  So this morning after the children found all of their bits, I went out to the kale patch and harvested the last of what last season’s still living plants had to offer.  Stuffed it into a blender with a whole bunch of other bits and served it with the hard boiled eggs that tradition commanded and some toast.  I had a small amount of the egg salad (because my husband makes KILLER egg salad), but drank down a huge glass of that kale smoothie, and my oh my but I felt better after that. The “recipe” below is fairly approximate as in my haste to complete the task before the wheels came off the children’s respective carts, I got a little loosy-goosey with the measuring.  Adjust to your and your own crew’s preferences.

FOOD HANGOVER KALE SMOOTHIE

  • 2 Tbs chia seeds*
  • 1.5c water
  • 2-3c fresh kale
  • 2 frozen and 1 fresh banana
  • most of a can of pineapple and some of the juice
  • handful of frozen cherries
  • 2 handfuls of fresh blueberries
  • 1c cold water
  • handful of ice cubes

Place the chia seeds in a bowl or glass with 1.5c water and set aside.  Place all other indredients in blender.  You may have more luck adding the items as you blend, depending on your blender.  When you’ve finished assembling other ingredients, check chia seeds.  They should seem a little jelly-like; if it’s not, give it a few more minutes.  Blend like mad and adjust ingredients to your preferences.  My crew LOVED this one.  I’m pretty sure we were close to the 3 cups of kale and the cherries added enough sweet and color to keep that reality from my children altogether.  This made EXTREMELY generous portions for four very willing consumers.  Delish.

There you have it folks, Easter traditions done (our way), important lessons learned, and glorious weather enjoyed with family members who are also great friends.  Perfect.

* A Note About Chia Seeds.  Yes, these are THE chia seeds.  If you don’t know what I’m talking about you may well have been born sometime after the 1980′s; the rest of us are busy hearing a jingle in our heads.  “Ch,ch,ch chia pet.”  Yes.  Same chia.  The seeds are highly nutritious and can add body to other foods if mixed with liquid and allowed to sit.  I’ve used them here to increase the nutritional punch and to give the smoothie more, well, smoothie feeling, thickness, without resorting to either adding protein powder or using so much frozen fruit that my Vitamix gets ticked off at me.  I get mine in bulk at my local food co-op and I have also seen them in my local Wegman’s.

Breakfast in Bed

Rolled Oats

“How do you feel about oatmeal, buddy?”

“I feel yes about oatmeal.”

“You mean you want some right now?”

“No, I mean oatmeal is yes.  Especially with a little syrup.  And it’s warm and makes my stuffy nose clear up.”

So there you have it folks, the word from the experts on oatmeal is YES.

For the last day of the pre-Easter season, I want to return to Sugar Busting that breakfast bowl.  Have you re-visited oatmeal yet?  REALLY?  In my last oatmeal-related post, I pointed out to you that oatmeal is WAY cheaper than boxed breakfast cereal, that it packs much more of a nutritional wallop, and that it is WAY lower in sugar than most options.  What I failed to point out explicitly is that a serving size for oatmeal is also much smaller because of the whole expandy thing when cooked with liquid.  So when the serving size on the carton says 1/2c, that is actually a reasonable quantity for a person.  Boxed cereals often say 1/2 to 3/4c, which as Big Sis pointed out the other day, is not enough cereal for most reasonably hungry people; I’m pretty sure that’s not even enough for my 5 year olds.  So all of the nutrition and price differences are actually that much bigger.  One serving of oatmeal is a true serving, with less than one gram of sugar.  One serving of Frosted Flakes, on the other hand, is only 3/4c, and has 11 grams of sugar; so if you eat more than 3/4c, like say 1.5c, that’s 22g of sugar.  That’s just 1g shy of a Nestle Crunch Caramel bar. How’s that for a nourishing breakfast?

Not sure you eat that much cereal? I wasn’t either until several years ago when my husband and I were both following a Weight Watchers program. Nothing gets you honest about quantity faster than measuring every flipping bit. I’m not going suggest that you do that, because frankly, it’s annoying, but just for the sake of reality, you may want to measure that morning cereal just ONCE to see how much you are really eating. Then take a look at that label and see how it pans out for you. If it’s more than 5 grams of sugar (a serving of oatmeal with one teaspoon of brown sugar), then perhaps the time has come for an oatmeal revelation.

My Low-Tech Crock Pot

Here I am making the case for oatmeal again, and this is when you say: “It takes too long,” which is where we left off last time. I pointed out that it takes between 5 and 12 minutes to cook oatmeal. To which you say: “You don’t understand what it’s like around here in the morning.” And I say: “But wait, there’s another answer… how’d you like to wake up to breakfast that’s already made?” Five minutes of nighttime prep and you can be in low-sugar oatmeal heaven in the morning. How, you say? Our old 1970′s friend, the Crock Pot. Oh yes, the Crock Pot.

For hot overnight oatmeal, I prefer to use steel cut oats as they hold up to the long low heat better, in my opinion. Steel cut tend to be slightly more expensive than rolled oats, but if you DON’T get the ones in the fancy can (which is lovely, I agree), the price difference is less. I can buy them in bulk for the same price as rolled oats, so if you have a store with a bulk section, this might be a good option for you as well. There are also plenty of folks who used rolled oats in crock pots and recipes online abound. For either type, basically you mix it all up the night before and give it 7-8 hours to cook and voila, it’s hot and delicious, waiting for you. You can’t get much easier or faster than that, friends.

SIMPLE OVERNIGHT STEEL CUT OATS

  • oil for pot
  • 2 cups steel cut oats
  • 8 cups liquid – I mixed mine half water, half almond milk
  • cinnamon or nutmeg to taste

VERY lightly oil the bowl of the Crock Pot.  Add ingredients.  Stir.  Cook for 7-8 hours on low.  When you open the lid, it may not look like yummy oatmeal, but this is a result of the long low cook.  Give it a stir, and voila, there’s your hot oatmeal, ready to go.  Serve with preferred oatmeal toppings.  Here’s where you say: “THAT’S IT?!”  And I say, “Yes, that’s it.”  Many people like to cook apples, dried fruit, nuts, whatever, in with their oatmeal.  We tend to like the texture that these items add when put in individual bowls in the morning.  This also allows for more individual choice (pretty much a necessity with two five year olds). Delish.

Fancy Crock Pot Feature for $4.

A Note On Crock Pots: There are a variety of Crock Pots and slow cookers on the market and you can spend very little or a whole lot. There are also LOTS of people who have Crock Pots in the back of their cabinets that they don’t use. Ask around, see what you can dig up. But wait, you say, the new ones have timer functions and all sorts of other cool features. To which I say, yes, they do and you will pay for it. Unless you’re planning on doing a WHOLE lot of Crock Pot cooking (which I do), I’d like to suggest that you consider my ridiculously simple solution: the cheapest Crock Pot you can find with one of these  little numbers.  Four dollar wall timer.  Worked like a charm.  So if you have an old Crock Pot, your Aunt Martha has an old Crock Pot, or if you’re lucky like me and attended a White Elephant holiday party with a bunch of younger folks who couldn’t imagine the utility of a Crock Pot, slap that timer on there and you have breakfast in bed (because you could actually cook it in your room, you know) ready to go.  Hot Diggity!