veggie toddler - a young child learning how to walk and eat vegetables, not necessarily a wobbly vegetarian.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Growing Food

 Today I had a lunch date.  A 10:35am lunch date with my daughter and her kindergarten class in the school lunch room.  A cafeteria full of 5 – 7  year olds eating their lunch is certainly a sight to behold.  The organization and strategy needed to simply complete the task at hand is impressive.  I mostly sat there with my mouth open, taking in the scene, wondering if herding cats would be an easier operation.  The teachers who walk around the cafeteria making sure the little kids eat their lunches and behave nicely told the kids to eat their “growing food” first, and then dessert.  My daughter held up her sandwich and pointed to her cantaloupe and whispered to me, “this is my growing food, mommy.” 
Growing Food.  What a fantastic phrase.  It’s not good food or bad food, healthy food or unhealthy food, food that mommy wants you to eat or food that you really want to eat.  Instead, it’s about growing up.  I’m pretty sure that all kids think about growing up in some way, every day.  So to talk about nutritious food as food that will help you grow is just brilliant.  No one is saying that cookies are bad; instead they are saying that a sandwich will make you grow. 
This phrase allows the child the independence to think through the scenario himself.  “I want to grow up and be a big kid…I will eat my sandwich first….then I will eat my dessert.”  The phrase Growing Food teaches little kids WHY we want to eat nutritious food rather than just forcing nutritious food without an explanation. Thank you to the lunch teachers, for inspiring our little ones to eat their growing food.    

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Box of Treats: Butternut Squash

The other day in the grocery store, I found myself looking at some organic grapes. They were expensive, but looked very good so I decided to splurge and buy them. A day later at home, I opened up the package and found the grapes to be covered with mold.

Ideally, I would like to buy locally produced organic fruits and vegetables for my family to eat, but in my hectic, non-stop busy world, I simply don’t always have the time to make an extra stop at a farmer’s market or specialty store. Sometimes I force myself to make the time but most weeks it simply gets in the way of soccer practice or ballet class schedules. I end up looking for organic produce at my regular grocery store which is often over priced and simply not that fresh. Fortunately, many organic farms are embracing the concept of selling a box of organic fruit and vegetables that are locally grown, once a week. I just signed up for a 15 week CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) subscription through our local preschool for a weekly box of treats.

The concept is fantastic. I don’t have to go to a special market for organic produce and I don’t even have to decide what fruit and vegetables to purchase (the mix has been decided for me based on what is ripe). As I pick up my box for the week I am delighted by the surprise mix of organic fruits and vegetables. If I find myself with a vegetable that I don’t typically cook, I am forced to try new recipes and figure out new ways to incorporate the unfamiliar vegetable in to our meals and snacks. Some might find this stressful, but I see it is a fun challenge that will keep my whole family eating healthy and trying new things.

This week there were three large butternut squash in my box of treats. I love butternut squash when I can purchase it peeled and sliced into chunks ready for steaming or baking. But when I am shopping for vegetables and come across whole butternut squash, my lazy side kicks in and I typically keep walking. Sad, I know. But, here I was with three beautiful squash in my kitchen, already paid for. “How many ways can I cook this,” I thought.

The first one I peeled, sliced and steamed and then offered it to my kids for an afternoon snack. My kids are accustomed to eating sweet potato in this way so when my daughter asked what it was, I responded with “it is just like sweet potato.” Only after they had tasted the squash and determined that they liked it and asked for more did I tell them it was called butternut squash.

The second one I peeled, sliced and steamed but this time I pureed it into soup. My kids wouldn’t taste it (they are not big on soups), but my husband and I enjoyed it.

The third squash I decided to bake. I am more found of savory squash rather than sweet or with nutmeg so I baked it with butter and salt. I scraped out the baked squash, mashed it with butter and salt and served it as a side dish for dinner. My kids have a hard time with the mashed consistency so I didn’t get many takers.

Stay tuned for more recipes and ideas that come to mind as I open my weekly box of treats.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Independent Kindergartener

When I think about getting my kids to eat nutritious food, in the back of my mind I know that one day my kids will grow up and be faced with making decisions about what to eat on their own. Right now I decide what’s for dinner, I let them know what the options are for breakfast each morning and I am the one who packs their lunch. I know that teaching my kids about what it means to eat nutritious food is just as important as getting them to consume it. One day I won’t be there, looking over my daughter’s shoulder, to guide her in her food choices. All of this I know will happen one day. I just didn’t realize that day was today.

“Sweetie how come you are not drinking any water from your thermos during lunch?” I ask my 5 year old after her first two weeks of kindergarten as I unpack her lunchbox at the end of the day.

“Oh I don’t need my thermos, Mom,” she replies with the attitude of a teenager. “I like to get chocolate milk instead.”

“You BUY chocolate milk every day?” I ask in amazement.

“Yes, its sooooo fun, mom,” she responds with a smile.

“But I don’t give you any money,” I wonder aloud, “so how are you buying milk without any money?”

“My teacher asks us if we want to get milk,” my daughter explains, “so I get in line and pick my milk.”

“And then what,” I coax her to tell me more.

“Then I stand in line and I give the lady my number, 40655, and then I go sit down and eat my lunch and drink my chocolate milk.”

There you have it. Just like that the chord of nutrition control had been severed the minute I enrolled my daughter into kindergarten and the teacher handed out student ID numbers for making purchases at lunch time to be billed to the parents at the end of the month. Now, it’s my daughter’s choice. Sure, I can still guide and advise her. But at the end of the day, or in the middle of the day, I should say, it is my 5-year-old, standing in the school lunch line, choosing what she wants to drink. All of a sudden it is no longer about only giving her healthy choices. She has met the school lunch line and now it is up to her to make healthy choices on her own. Of course, I can lobby to improve school lunches and do away with flavored milk. I plan to participate in the PTA committee for school wellness and bring about healthy changes in the years to come. But I also have to deal with the reality of today – my daughter purchasing high fructose corn syrup chocolate milk for lunch.

Just before bedtime that night I call my daughter over to me for a serious talk. We talk about drinking regular milk and how it is good for your body. We talk about chocolate milk that she has at home (in small portions and without the high fructose corn syrup) when she can brush her teeth right after so the chocolate doesn’t sit on her teeth all day and give her cavities. I tell her about how she eats many treats but ones that are approved by me and not necessarily consumed during school. We talk about how she needs healthy food to give her energy and keep her awake so she can learn and play at school. Most importantly, we talk about making healthy choices that are right for her, rather than just doing what everyone else does.

I have no idea how much of our talk got through to my daughter. And of course, drinking chocolate milk at lunch is not the end of the world. But it is the tip of an iceberg that is lurking beneath my feet. The tip of unhealthy habits may seem innocent and inconsequential, but I know better. My gut tells me that giving in to high fructose corn syrup drinks at lunch for a 5-year-old will only pave the way for more unhealthy habits to come. I know that if I stand my ground for nutrition over empty calories, she will feel better, have more energy and develop a taste for more healthy food down the road.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Easy Yogurt Muffins

I don’t bake. Or at least I don’t enjoy baking. It’s true. Just ask my friends. When we have people over for dinner and they ask what to bring, I tell them dessert. At a friend’s house one day my 4-year-old discovered that baking cookies didn’t mean slicing up batter from a shrink-wrapped package. It’s not that I am so bad at baking. It’s only that I don’t enjoy the process. I love to cook. I love to put together a little of this and a little of that and come up with something new and tasty. I find chopping vegetables at the end of the day to be calming and therapeutic. Getting out the flour and sugar and mixing bowls is just more of a chore than I am usually up for.

My daughter, however, loves sweets. If I don’t bake then she will eat sweets baked someplace else with most likely more high fructose corn syrup, sugar or trans fat than I would like. So...I moved the flour and mixing bowls to a more convenient location in my kitchen and decided to make the effort to bake more often.

Here’s a recipe that I found online and then changed a little here and a little there to make it my own. I encourage you to do the same. Feel free to add blueberries or chocolate chips. My son likes them plain so we eat them as a breakfast treat. Enjoy!
Easy Yogurt Muffins

1 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup all purpose flour
¼ cup sugar
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
1/2 cup oil
1 cup (8oz.) vanilla flavored yogurt (if you use plain yogurt, you might want to add a little more sugar)
1 egg
(optional: chocolate chips or blueberries)

Preheat oven to 400°F. Mix dry ingredients together in a medium mixing bowl. Beat egg, yogurt and oil in a small mixing bowl. Add wet mixture to dry and mix together. Spoon batter into muffin cups with paper lines. Bake 15-20 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool on a drying rack. Makes 12 muffins.