Category Archives: Food & Nutrition

Bread

I’ll admit I have a bit of an addiction to bread. I always try to eat a balanced diet but bread is the one thing that I could eat way too much of. I have ‘comfort foods’ in all food groups and there are only a few foods – like seafood and olives – that I absolutely refuse to eat. Other foods in the ‘grains’ food group don’t entice me like a good piece of bread. I like pasta or rice but I could turn them down if I wasn’t hungry. A good piece of bread however I will never say no to.

I should clarify though that I don’t consider ‘white’ bread to be ‘real’ bread. White bread is like marshmallow fluff and doesn’t belong alongside good bread. Good bread has texture, weight and flavour. I haven’t bought white bread or buns for more than twenty years. I don’t even buy all purpose flour for anything other than Christmas Shortbread cookies. I modify all my recipes – sweet or savory – to use only 100% whole wheat flour, oatmeal and seeds.

I buy packaged whole wheat and seed bread for our everyday sandwiches and toast but many of our fancy snack and specialty breads are made from scratch. I have, long ago, done the whole mix, knead, let rise, repeat, bread making by hand thing but that was before I got my first bread maker. I can’t even remember how long ago that was but I do know I just killed my third bread maker.

As usual, in the morning before the children arrived, I had measured and added the ingredients to the bread pan, started the program and walked away. About an hour later there was an awful noise in the kitchen and the bread maker was dead. I had a brief moment of panic about the unmixed raisin bread we were supposed to be having for afternoon snack – then I decided I could finish it myself.

I scraped what I could get from the bread maker pan into a bowl, mixed it and hoped it was enough of the important ingredients. For the next few hours whenever I had a chance in between activities with the children I’d knead the dough a little and cover it again. I didn’t time anything – I wasn’t even sure how long or how often each knead/rest cycle should be – the bread maker always took care of that.

At lunch time I climbed up on a step stool to find an old loaf pan from the top shelf of my cupboard. The five-year-old commented “Geez Cheryl, why are you so short?” My “I am taller than you” reply may or may not have been out loud. I put the dough in the loaf pan to rise a bit more during lunch and planned to bake it at nap time. If I had been using the bread maker it would have been done already. *sigh*

While the children napped and the bread baked I read reviews and researched bread makers online. There were some really fancy ones but I wasn’t sure they would be worth the higher cost. My research was cut short as two of the children woke earlier than expected. Apparently baking bread works like a toddler alarm clock – I can relate.

The raisin bread was beautiful. The loaf pan makes a much nicer shaped loaf than any of the bread makers that I have owned. There were no holes in the loaf from the mixing paddles. The crust was so much nicer too – even on the ‘light’ cycle I find the bread makers create a very thick, tough crust.

I was beginning to wonder if I really needed to buy another bread maker. Could I make all my bread maker recipes by hand? Do I really have time for that? What if instead of buying a bread maker I bought some better loaf pans – maybe even some cute mini loaf pans? What if that just made me want to add more bread to the menu? How much more time would that require? I don’t have much spare time as it is.

I think for now I’m just going to leave the menu as is and see if I can make all the current breads without a bread maker. Then I’ll decide if I need to add/remove bread recipes or buy a bread maker or pans. The experiment begins…

Potatoes

I love potatoes.  As a child I ate potatoes as a side dish in most meals and no matter how they are prepared I include potatoes on my list of ‘comfort foods’. 

As a parent with four picky eaters, potatoes were the one constant that I could be certain that everyone would eat.  In fact, five pounds of potatoes was the absolute minimum I’d prepare for any meal and often it was more.

I’ve never served potatoes as the vegetable portion of a meal – nutritionally I’ve used it in place of pasta, rice or bread.  When I first opened my childcare home I created a 4 week menu for lunches and snacks.  On that menu I ensured that each weekly lunch menu contained;

  • one rice dish
  • one cold sandwich meal
  • one pasta dish
  • one potato dish
  • one hot, bread based meal

This method offered the children a variety of meal types that would appeal to most of the children – you can never please them all with every meal.  Yet, year after year, group after group, potatoes seemed to be the least favourite food.  I was perplexed.

I tried serving them mashed, roasted or scalloped – all refused by the majority of the children.  I added them to homemade soups and stews and watched as the children picked out their preferred items and left the potatoes behind.  Even the Au Gratin Potatoes got dubbed ‘Rotten Potatoes’.  Seriously, how can you go wrong with cheese & potatoes?

Over the years there were more children that would eat salad than there were those who would eat potatoes.  Broccoli has been counted as a ‘treat’ by at least two preschoolers who also refused to eat potatoes in any form.  Don’t get me wrong – I’m not complaining that they prefer their salad & veggies – I just can’t fathom why the versatile potato consistently gets refused.

I have considered that it could be a learned behaviour from an anti-carb culture but ALL these children will eat vast amounts of pasta and bread so that’s not it.  According to their parents, a few of these potato haters will eat potatoes at home but the majority don’t.

I won’t force anyone to eat something they don’t like but I also want our menu to contain a variety of foods and I do think potatoes should be included.   Currently, of our 20 lunches, only three have potatoes.  Two of them are usually refused by all and need to be replaced because I dislike wasting food.  The other one is french fries which are only sometimes eaten by half of the current group.

So, it has been a year since I last changed our menu and it is time for a revamp.  I’m looking for new recipes and there will be some that have potatoes.  They all look so good to me, I hope to find some that the children will enjoy too.

Juice

I don’t consider juice to be a replacement for a serving of fruits or vegetables yet I have always had juice on our menu as an occasional ‘treat’.  Milk is always served with lunch but once or twice a week I do serve juice with snack (water for those whose parents don’t allow juice).  I have never served fruit flavoured ‘beverages’, any type of powdered beverage mix or soft drinks even for special occasions.

Sometimes I have had children who don’t like milk but they will eventually drink it or water if juice is not an option.  Sugar sweetened beverages can become a battle ground (I’ve never even served chocolate or other flavored milk).  In the 20 years that I have been providing childcare, children refusing to drink anything except juice has never been a problem – until this summer.

I actually found it funny at first – none of the children in this group are new here – they all like milk but they love juice.  Their juice chant following every meal/snack had reached riot level.  The day they started throwing cups of milk and demanding juice instead was the end of my amusement.

However, I didn’t actually remove juice from the menu.  Instead, I now only buy/serve one type of juice – tomato based, eight vegetable juice.  It took just two weeks – no one demands juice anymore.  In fact, when offered juice or water they all choose water.  No one complains about milk anymore either. 🙂

Warm in Winter

The weather recently has been a bit of a deterrent to long periods of outdoor play.  Even when bundled up in warm clothing the littlest ones can get chilly crawling around in the snow.  The heavy clothing and deep snow can cause a lot of frustration yet we have still managed to be outside for at least some time every day.  After all, long periods of being stuck indoors is very frustrating too.

One perk to having my husband home from work during winter break means I have an extra set of hands.  So, for an extra special treat we had an outdoor fun day complete with lunch cooked on the fire. I did most of the food prep before the children arrived and hubby had the fire good and hot before the children and I headed outside.

The foil baked potatoes had been cooked first – I thought I had a taken a picture of them cooking but I guess not – it was funny because the fire nearly melted the metal colander I stored them in 😉  The bannock went on second – I chose to make them biscuit style instead of cooking on sticks because few in this group would have the attention span to stand still long enough to cook them.

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The children were much more interested in mostly playing on the hills and just occasionally stopping by to check on the food and warm up by the fire.

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Of course the tipi on the far side of the yard is another favourite place too;

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The wieners were the last thing left to cook.  Some of the children helped briefly but were a little too far away to get much heat.  It probably would have been better if we had more flames like we did at the beginning but the low fire worked eventually;

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It was a learning experience for all of us – not our first fire but our first entire meal cooked on the fire in the winter. Oh so yummy;

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Everyone just devoured their lunch – and two fell asleep at the table – after all, it was a long morning full of outdoor play.

Decorating Gingerbread

Every year I look at the various gingerbread kits available in the stores and think ‘That is a cute project but it is just way too much sugar’.  Once, probably a dozen years ago, I did buy a gingerbread house decorating kit for the school-age children to work on during the afternoons of Christmas break when there was no school and the little ones were sleeping.  Combining the little ones with that much sugar was something I was not prepared to do.

This year we did make whole wheat sugar cookies;

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Sorry, I didn’t manage to take any other pictures of the cookies – too busy assisting toddlers with dough stuck in cookie cutters.  They were very good cookies though – here is the recipe:

Whole Wheat Sugar Cookies

Ingredients

    • 1 cup sugar
    • 1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
    • 2 tablespoons milk
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla
    • 1 large egg
    • 1 3/4 cups whole wheat flour
    • 1 teaspoon baking powder
    • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt
    • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

Directions

  1. Mix sugar and butter in large bowl until fluffy.
  2. Add milk, vanilla and egg; mix well.
  3. Add flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and nutmeg; mix well.
  4. Cover and chill for 30 minutes.
  5. Heat oven to 375°.
  6. Mix the 2 Tbsp sugar with the cinnamon.
  7. Shape dough into 1-inch balls.
  8. Place 2-inches apart on ungreased cookie sheet.
  9. Bake for 7-10 minutes, or until light brown.

We didn’t decorate the sugar cookies but I still liked the idea of a decorating project so I thought about what would be a healthier option for gingerbread decoration.

I’ve never made gingerbread dough before and the store bought kind is so prevalent that it just seemed to be a better choice for the decorating base – besides, it was the decorating that I planned to be the main project.  As for my concerns about the excess sugar – I chose dried fruits, pretzels, and flaked coconut for decorations and some Wow Butter for glue.

We started with each child working independently on their own gingerbread man.  We began after morning snack – I hoped that having just finished eating snack they would be less inclined to nibble on decorations.

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Of course many decorations were still eaten – in some cases devoured leaving few to use for decorating;

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Even the Wow Butter got consumed by the handful – I’m really glad it wasn’t candy and icing.  Phase one complete;

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Phase two was more of a group project with many smaller steps over several days.  Five little houses were decorated and grouped to create a centerpiece for our table.  Often there were only one or two children working on the decorations and sometimes only for a minute or two.  It took nearly three weeks to complete and there was very little ‘snacking’ – maybe because this belonged to the whole group or maybe because the decorations were becoming less appealing over time.

Finished;

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From Beginning to End

The project began last fall when we saved some of the seeds from the pie pumpkin that came in our Wild Earth Farms CSA bin.  I think it is important to not only know where your food comes from but also where your seeds come from.  Most of the plants we grow in our garden start as seeds we collect from plants we have grown or food we have eaten.

In the early spring we started some of our seeds indoors – the seedlings really liked the box window location.  The preschool table is located in front of this window so the children got to see the progress of seedlings every day.

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Once it got warm enough outside we moved all the seedling to our outdoor gardening space.  The various squash plants got planted a block away in my daughter’s back yard – she doesn’t use her outdoor space and we don’t have enough room for those sprawling plants.

Throughout the summer we often stopped by her yard when we were out for a walk.  We are supposed to do some weeding and yard work when we go but mostly all the plants are ‘wild’ and just grow however and wherever they want.  Between the squash plants and the weeds there are so many prickly things but the children are still excited to explore every time we visit.

By the end of September her yard looked more like a jungle than a garden.  The children enjoyed searching for things to harvest.

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We found quite a few on this trip over – had trouble carrying them all back.  All the drivers were smiling as they watched our little parade cross the street.

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When we got back we examined the various produce and discussed what we would do with them.

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The flowers were added to our spaghetti at lunch that day.  The zucchini was used in a stir fry the following week.The rest were displayed as decorations until the end of October when all the pumpkins had turned orange.  Then we cut open the pumpkins and scooped out the innards.

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Then I roasted the pumpkin halves to prepare them for the next phase.

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The following day the children took turns mashing the cooked pumpkin.

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We added the other ingredients – everyone got to smell and even taste some of them before we mixed them in.

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Almost done;

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We poured them in to pie shells and baked them in the oven. Afternoon snack on Friday – perfect end to a busy week;

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There were comments like “This is better than birthday cake”.  Some of the children recognized the taste or smell of the various spices – savoring every bit to pick out the individual flavours.

A year long project from beginning to end – but, its not really the end, is it;

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Cucumbers and Zucchini

Cucumbers are technically a type of fruit but because they are more savory than sweet they tend to be referred to as vegetables.  They are definitely the most popular ‘vegetable’ around here – almost all the past/present children love them.  Even the really picky eaters will usually eat cucumbers.  Salad haters will often eat the bits of cucumber from a salad and leave the rest.  Cucumbers are soft compared to other raw ‘veggies’ so toddlers find them easier to eat.

Zucchini – also technically a fruit – has proved to be a difficult ‘veggie’ to get the children to eat raw.  Personally I much prefer raw zucchini over cucumbers mostly because they have a very mild flavour.  I’ve wondered if that is why the children don’t like zucchini.  When served both zucchini and cucumber slices I’ve noticed that they eat all the cucumber but all the zucchini slices are discarded after just one bite.  Were they disappointed by the (lack of) flavour?  Did they think it was a ‘bad’ cucumber?

Of course all the children love it when I bake zucchini in a loaf, muffin or brownie yet cucumber cookies failed miserably.  I wonder if the cucumber’s stronger flavour makes it less appealing in baked recipes than mild zucchini.  Some children will eat zucchini in a casserole or stir fry but many do not like any cooked veggies.  Raw is usually preferred and ‘from our own garden’ is the best 🙂

In the past we have grown both cucumbers and zucchini in our garden but they use a lot of space.  Luckily we get plenty of both in our CSA share from Wild Earth Farms.  A few weeks ago when we were having a picnic lunch I included both zucchini and cucumber slices in the raw vegetable assortment that accompanied our turkey sandwiches.  The children raved about how great the ‘yellow’ vegetable was.  I told them it was zucchini – a yellow zucchini – and watched as they devoured it all and asked for more.

I wondered if I finally had a group of children that liked zucchini or if it was just the thrill of having lunch outside that made it more appealing.  I have given them zucchini several times since then and they still love the yellow ones.  The green ones remain on the ‘dislike’ list – sometimes they get eaten reluctantly but most of the time they get discarded after the first nibble to determine if it is a cucumber or zucchini.  Apparently colour makes a difference when feeding zucchini to preschoolers.

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