Category Archives: Food & Nutrition

Recipe Requests

After my last post about our new menu there were a few requests to post some recipes – an easy post but it still took me a month to get around to it. I think my increased procrastination may be due in part to my lack of early morning trips to the gym. I miss those 4 AM workouts that were always a great way to get energized for a productive day.

The first request was for ‘Texas Hash’ which was pictured in my last post. I rarely measure anything so all my recipe amounts are only approximations. I also buy a lot of things in bulk when they are on sale and I have time to cook and package them in meal sized portions. I always have a variety of cooked meats in my freezer ready to add to casseroles, stir fry’s, sauces etc so this step is not in most of my recipes.

Texas Hash

Dice 2 large onions and 5 green/red peppers, cook until tender.  Add 1 can tomato sauce/puree/soup (roughly 300 ml?), 1 lb cooked ground meat/soy protein, 1 cup frozen corn, and 3 Tbsp taco seasoning.  Simmer until heated through.  Cook 2 cups rice (I use brown jasmine or basmati) in 4 cups water and then add to warm sauce mixture.  Serve now or put in casserole dish to keep warm or reheat later. Pictured below: first just sauce mixture before rice added and second plated with jasmine rice added (sorry, blurry pic). Note: I rarely use beef, usually soy protein of pork.

Meatloaf

In a large bowl soak corn meal in milk (I’m guessing 1/2 – 3/4 cup of each but I have never measured it). Add 1 pkg onion soup mix, 1 egg, salt, and 1 tsp of liquid smoke. Mix. Add 3 kg ground pork (I buy the chub pack from Costco). Mix well and press in to 9×13 pan. Bake in 325F oven for roughly 90 min until centre tests to 74C. I cut the cooled slab into three 9×4 inch ‘loaves’ and package for the freezer until needed.

The New Menu

As stated on my Menu & Recipe page; ‘We have a four week revolving menu. Occasionally I make changes the lunch menu due to the likes and dislikes of the children in care.’

When I make changes to the menu it is usually only one or two items that either the majority of the children dislike or have grown tired of. Sometimes, about every two or three years, I do a complete overhaul of the menu and try a bunch of new recipes.

One of the things I did during the low attendance/quiet period this past spring was to go through all my recipes and pick some new ones that I wanted to add to the menu. Possibly the biggest change I made to the menu was moving Sandwich Day to Wednesday instead of Tuesday but only one of the currently enrolled children seemed to really notice that change.

There were just three lunches that I left on the menu as I feared there may be a riot if I removed them. ‘Taco Pie’, ‘French Toast with Applesauce’, and ‘Fries with Meatloaf’. The children might actually prefer that I paired the meatloaf with something other than fries – for that meal it is the meatloaf they want, not the fries. I still struggle to find potato dishes that the children will eat. Read more about that here.

The completely new four week menu was introduced beginning on the week of June 8th as most of the children were returning. In retrospect I probably should have waited a little longer. My preschoolers may have actually preferred to have some familiar lunches after being away for two months. Also, the school-age children were attending full days now and are generally far more picky eaters than any of my preschoolers – their behavior greatly influences the little ones.

For the first four weeks each day was the same – all the children sitting around the table looking at each other, occasionally poking at or nibbling their food but no one willing to actually take the first real bite. I was eating my food – I always sit with the children and eat the same food that I serve them – modeling. This is the reason the little ones are generally willing to try new things but that strategy is less effective with the older children who have well developed preferences.

Interestingly there were more vegetables eaten during that first menu period – vegetables were familiar – not like the unknown main course menu items. Even once I told them what all the ingredients were they were still hesitant to try the new foods. I found it amusing that one of the school age children, striving to be a good role model for the little ones, would rave about how great the day’s lunch was going to be but would still refuse to eat any citing “I’m just not hungry right now”. LOL – translate to “I only eat sugar”.

The second round of the new menu was slightly more successful. Most of the children at least tried the new items but were still too unsure to have seconds. I was beginning to doubt some of my menu choices – I was finding some of the new recipes a bit too labour intensive. I missed some of my favourites from the old menu. If there was going to be a lot of leftovers I wanted it to be something I really enjoyed 😉

Still, I persevered and the third time the new menu was offered almost all of the children were eating the majority of the meals. Some were consistently asking for seconds. However there were still a few lunches that most of the children were not enthused by and were reluctant to eat. I was a little perplexed by some of the less popular meals – like grilled cheese sandwiches.

Seriously – it has been at least 10 years since the last time I had grilled cheese sandwiches on the menu and the reason I took it off was because it took too long to make enough – we could easily consume 18 or more at lunch – and it is not a menu item that is nice to make ahead and reheat. Yet this group was unimpressed by grilled cheese sandwiches. In fact, a total of FIVE sandwiches was most this group of eight children managed to eat in one meal. Some don’t like cheese, some don’t like bread, some don’t like cooked sandwiches. *sigh*

We are now midway through the fourth go-round for this new menu and there are some emerging favourites. There are also some items that continue to be unpopular and may be replaced once I am certain that the majority of the children consistently refuse to eat them. I can’t automatically assume that they don’t like a menu item when it is not a familiar food.

I won’t force them to eat things they don’t want but I also won’t offer them an alternate food item when they refuse to eat what is on their plate. Sometimes they may be too tired, grumpy, or just not hungry – I won’t assume they really don’t like a specific food until it has been offered multiple times and in various forms. Favourite foods are familiar foods.

Texas Hash is one of the emerging favourites.

December Fun

I am seriously behind on writing posts for my blog so just clearing some out some of the December photos with brief descriptions…

Last summer I had bought some waffle bowls for ice cream but nobody liked them and they were just going stale in the cupboard. I decided they could be put to use as ‘gingerbread’ houses for the toddlers.

We simply used cereal for decorations and ‘glued’ the pieces on by dipping them in icing.
Some chose to make a ‘hat with a pompom’
The bowls were fragile so if you used too much decorating force you created a ‘bear cave’
Some chose to create… a bowl for their cereal LOL

Everyone seemed to really enjoy this activity and because process is much more valuable than product I was fine with our non-traditional gingerbread houses until…my husband came home and said ‘Cool, you made yurts’. Huh, I should have thought of that.

Of course in December we also had to take advantage of my school bus driver husband being off work and able to do fire duty (it is too risky for me to watch both toddlers and fire by myself). We didn’t cook our whole lunch on the fire as we have in the past but bannock cooked on the fire is sooo good.

Add homemade Christmas Jam supplied by one of the children’s parents…
and we don’t care how cold it is..mitts are off and it is time to eat!

Pumpkin Tarts

Pumpkins are popular around here. We collect pumpkin seeds and plant them in our garden – sometimes they grow. We use pumpkins for decorations – usually we just paint the shell so we can still use the inside for our favourite pumpkin activity – baking!

I’ve previously written about making pumpkin pie with the children in 2012 and again in 2016 but it was a new experience for my current group of toddlers. This time we decided to make tarts instead of pie – a smaller product for my little one and two year olds.

First we removed the seeds;

Then we cut the softened pumpkin to practice some knife skills;

We measured all the ingredients and of course had to smell the spices;

The toddlers found mixing and mashing to be the most exciting part of the process;

Everyone got a turn to use the ladle to fill the tart shells before baking. There were enough tarts that each child got to take some home to share.

Of course we also got to eat some for snack too!

Sandwich Day

Since I first began writing this blog I’ve had parents tell me I should write a post about Sandwich Day. Well, today’s the day I’m finally getting around to doing that.

More than two decades ago, when I first opened my childcare home, I created the original 4 week revolving menu. On this menu I ensured that each week we had one lunch that included rice, one with potatoes, one with pasta, one day for hot bread meals like chili buns, burgers or meat pie and of course one day we had sandwiches.

There was a period of time, very long ago, when I had a couple children who would have been happier if we had sandwiches for lunch every single day because they didn’t want to eat anything else. With the whole group we had many discussion on the variety of food preferences and eventually these children learned to enjoy many other foods too but sandwiches remained their favourite. Hence the cheers for ‘Sandwich Day’ began.

There were no cheers for ‘Pasta Day’ even though some children really loved pasta. There were no cheers for ‘Rice Day’ either, and potato day usually got groans instead of cheers. The types of pasta, rice or potato meals on our menu changed often but so did the types of sandwiches. Yet, even when the sandwiches on the menu were not everyone’s favourite type, there were still cheers for Sandwich Day.

Parents have told me stories about their child’s Sandwich Day chant throughout the drive to daycare. They’ve commented how their normally reluctant riser will bounce out of bed when reminded that it is Sandwich Day. Some of the children have created Sandwich Day dances and rhymes. When two of the children arrive at the same time on a Tuesday morning there are special Sandwich Day hugs.

On numerous occasions I’ve been asked for my sandwich ‘recipes’ by parents whose children flat out refuse to eat sandwiches at home. However, I will also admit that all the children don’t always eat the sandwiches here either. I believe that ‘Sandwich Day’ isn’t really about the sandwiches – it is really about the shared experience, the friendships and the community.

The children who first deemed that Tuesday was ‘Sandwich Day’ left a long time ago and would be adults now. Still the tradition has continued – passed on through group after group of children in my care. As much as I would kind of like to take credit for the enthusiasm of Sandwich Day, I know that it is not something I initiated. I like sandwiches but I wouldn’t create a special day of the week for them – not without also assigning a special day for potatoes or rice or pasta too.

Year after year I have done nothing to promote ‘Sandwich Day’ other than ensure the menu has sandwiches on Tuesday because that is what the children expect. Sandwich Day is their thing – I’m just following their lead – and that is probably why they think it is so special.

I planned to take a picture of our sandwiches yesterday so I could include it in the post but lunch time was just too busy. Instead, here’s a picture of the Apple Bread I made without using the bread machine. After all, bread is a very important part of the sandwich.

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.

17-01-fire01

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.

17-01-fire02

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

17-01-fire03

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;

17-01-fire04

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;

17-01-fire05

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;

16-12-ginger00

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.

16-12-ginger02

16-12-ginger03

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

16-12-ginger01

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

16-12-ginger04.JPG

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;

16-12-ginger05

16-12-ginger06