Category Archives: Food & Nutrition

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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Taco Pie

Today I want to highlight one of our lunch menu items.  A long time ago I used to have chili buns on the menu – they were popular but any meal items that need to be assembled on the individual plates I find are too time consuming.  I much prefer to prepare ‘all-in-one’ meals like Layered French Toast that can be prepared in advance and are easier to serve to a group.

Taco Pie is like that – essentially a chili bun casserole type meal – perfect.  In the morning I start by making chili;

  • 1 796 ml can diced tomatoes
  • 1 540 ml can of black beans
  • 1 284 ml can of tomato soup
  • 1 lb ground beef, scramble fried
  • 1/4 cup taco seasoning (approximately – maybe more – I don’t measure it, I just dump some in until it looks/smells right).
  • salt, pepper, chili flakes, paprika, (to taste)
  • Salsa (optional – sometimes I add some, sometimes I don’t, never measure)

These all simmer for an hour or so while I grate cheese, prepare the crust and do any other necessary tasks before the children arrive.  This is the biscuit crust recipe – this I measure;

  • 4 cups whole wheat flour
  • 8 tsp baking powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 1/2 cups milk

Stir dry ingredients together in a bowl.  Make a well in center and pour in milk and mayonnaise.  Mix to moisten and then press into bottom of a greased 9×13 baking pan.  Bake in a 400 degree oven for 20 minutes.  Remove from oven, sprinkle crust with grated cheese, pour chili over top, cover with crushed corn chips and some more grated cheese.

At this point I suppose you could just bake it a little longer to melt the cheese and then serve it but because I prepare it very early in the morning I cover it with foil and put it in a 175 degree oven until lunch – it is ready for us whenever we are done playing.

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New Soup

I have always liked to have at least one home made soup included on our four week revolving menu.  Over the years I have tried many different soup recipes but sadly none of them have ever received enthusiastic, positive reviews from the children.

I blame bread.  I like to have a heavy, home made savory bread with soup to dip in and soak up the broth…yum.  However, if I serve homemade bread then ALL the children eat only the bread and won’t even try the soup.

So, I tend to make all my homemade soups very thick – more like a thin stew than a soup.  With pasta or rice included in the soup we don’t need to have bread added as a side dish to get the grains.  Still, soup is definitely not a popular item with the children unless it comes from a can and is laden with salt.

Last month I introduced a new soup and this week we had it for the second time.  All but one of the children eat this new soup – in fact, most asked for a second helping too.  The one who doesn’t eat it has never even tried it, adamantly insisting they don’t like it without tasting even one bite of it.   Stubbornly sitting at the table eating only raw vegetables and salad because I didn’t make any bread. 😉

Here is the recipe for Lasagna Soup;

  • 4 Italian sausages,cut in half lengthwise and sliced
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 680ml can of spaghetti sauce
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 1 L water
  • 1 L vegetable stock
  • 8 lasagna noodles, broken in small pieces
  • 500 ml cottage cheese

Stir fry sausages and onions together in large pot.  Add pasta sauce, tomatoes, water and vegetable stock. Simmer.  Add noodles and cook until softened (about 30 minutes).  Remove from heat and add cottage cheese.  Serve topped with Parmesan or Mozzarella cheese if desired.

Here’s a picture but it was taken later in the day after  the leftover ‘soup’ had already been refrigerated and so the noodles have soaked up almost all the broth but it still tastes good.

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Squash

I love how many different types of squash we get in our CSA share from Wild Earth Farms.

15-10-squash01Each fall we collect some of the seeds from each of the different types of squash and try to grow our own plants in the spring.  We can usually manage to get them to sprout and sometimes even move them to the outdoor garden but beyond that we haven’t been very successful.

The squash we get from the farm is very interesting. There are so many different sizes, shapes and colours.  The textures of the stem, skin and innards are all so fascinating.

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15-10-squash03And of course we taste them too.  All the muffin, cake and loaf recipes made with squash are very popular.  The savory items are more challenging.  Still, we try.  They may never become permanent menu items but it is always fun to see what we can do with all our squash.

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Slow-Cooker Vegetarian Chili

1 medium red onion, chopped
• 1 green bell pepper, chopped
• 4 garlic cloves, chopped
• 1 tablespoon chili powder
• 1 tablespoon ground cumin
• 2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder
• 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• salt and pepper
• 1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
• 1 15.5-ounce can black beans, rinsed
• 1 15.5-ounce can kidney beans, rinsed
• 1 medium squash, peeled and cut into 1⁄2-inch pieces
• sour cream, sliced scallions, sliced radishes, and tortilla chips, for serving

In a 4- to 6-quart slow cooker, combine the onion, bell pepper, garlic, chili powder, cumin, cocoa, cinnamon, 1 teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon black pepper. Add the tomatoes (and their liquid), beans, squash, and 1 cup water. Cover and cook until the squash is tender and the chili has thickened, on low for 7 to 8 hours or on high for 4 to 5 hours. Serve the chili with the sour cream, scallions, radishes, and tortilla chips.