Category Archives: Food & Nutrition

From Seed to Plant to Plate — and Back?

We have grown wheat in our garden for the last three years.  I originally got the wheat seeds at a meeting of the Manitoba Nature Action Collaborative for Children – MNACC for short. I didn’t know anything about growing or harvesting wheat but I thought it would look nice in the center of the raised beds – to contrast all the other plants — and it did.

In 2008 when we first planted wheat in our garden I didn’t really have any type of goal in mind, no lesson plan, no purpose other than growing something different in the garden. In the fall when we harvested the last of our vegetables we also collected all the wheat heads. I was actually thinking about using the wheat for crafts or decorations but first I let the children take some of it apart and examine it closely with magnifying glasses.

We did some research, identified all the parts of the wheat plants and what they were used for.  I even used my food processor to grind up some of the wheat and make – very coarse – flour.  And then, one of the preschoolers decided that we should use our new flour to make cookies!  So of course we did because that’s what child-led curriculum is all about.  Our very crunchy ‘wholegrain’ cookies were also very good according to the children.

In 2009 as we planted the wheat in the garden the children were already discussing how we would be using it in the fall.  They had big plans.  “This time”, they said, “we would be making muffins!”  I was more experienced too and used my coffee grinder to turn the wheat into flour – it does a much better job than the food processor.  The muffins were excellent.

2010 was a dismal year. Most of the summer had been cool and very wet.  Our garden produced little of value – several tomatoes, a few cucumbers, one zucchini, some inedible corn, kale that was eaten by something else and only a handful of wheat.  There would be no baking this year.

So, as I was contemplating what we would do for 2011 it occurred to me that the term ‘multigrain’ comes up often in our discussions about food and nutrition but what exactly does it mean? There are other grains besides wheat — maybe we should try to grow some other grains too.

This could be interesting but I wondered where in the city could I get a variety of grain seeds from?  I’ve never seen grain seed at any of the places that I purchase our vegetable seeds from. Spur of the moment I fired off an email to the agriculture department at the University of Manitoba explaining my dilemma and asking for suggestions.

The response surprised me.

They didn’t suggest a nearby farmer or a feed store or any type of ‘agriculture’ type place. They suggested the “Scoop N’Weigh” store on Taylor Ave (sorry, they don’t seem to have a website so I can’t link to them but now that I’ve been there I have to say that it is a totally awesome place). I was stunned.

Honestly, it had never occurred to me to go to a bulk food store to buy grain seeds.  I mean, I wanted seeds for my garden not seeds to eat!?!?! – OMG – For years have I been trying to get children to see the connection between our garden and the food we eat AND I COULDN’T SEE THIS!   Sigh.

This is the end of this post.  It’s not the end of this project – we’ve got some new grain seeds and we’ve begun some experiments but I still need some time to wrap my head around this new concept. I still can’t believe I didn’t see this – and part of me is still doubtful that the seeds will even sprout.  I still have some information to process.

Quick & Easy

I want to write a post but I’m a little short on time so it will have to be an ‘easy to write’ post.  I’ve got five loads of laundry in various stages of completion and I need to get paperwork organized for my re-licensing tomorrow.  I probably should have done some of this work yesterday but Mother Nature begged me to go outside and play so I did.

So what should I write about?  Yesterday’s yard work project is not yet complete and it will probably not be a short post so I won’t write about it now. I considered writing about our Mother’s Day crystal flowers activity but I’m still undecided if it was a ‘pass’ or ‘fail’ activity so I’ll have to do some more reflecting before I can write about that.

Wait, I just remembered that there was a request for a recipe and I haven’t emailed it yet.  A post about recipes would be easy and since it has been five months since I revamped the menu it is probably time for an update.

Some of the early favourites – like the Turkey Tetrazzini – from our new menu have begun to loose their appeal. It is not that the children don’t like them any more but rather, they don’t get excited and cheer anymore.  Many of the menu items receive mixed reviews – loved by some, hated by others.  This can be difficult since I cannot replace the menu item nor leave it on the menu without upsetting someone.

So, the requested recipe falls into this category since not all the children will eat it and others have been begging their mothers to make it at home too.  Some of the children don’t like ‘spicy’ food so this may be part of the problem but I actually consider the recipe to be quite mild.

Taco Soup

  • 1lb ground beef (cooked and drained)
  • 1 can mixed beans
  • 1 can cheddar cheese soup
  • 1 can tomato soup
  • 1 ½ cups salsa (I use extra chunky extra mild)
  • 4 cups water
  • 2 tbsp taco seasoning
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • Chopped tortilla wraps

Mix first 7 ingredients together and bring to a boil.  Lower heat and simmer to blend flavours. Stir occasionally.  Add sour cream shortly before serving. Use chopped tortilla wraps instead of crackers or croutons.

I have to admit that this is probably my favourite soup recipe and it is so quick and easy.

Why I Hate Spinach

People who know me are now saying “Huh what? I thought you loved spinach.”

Yes, I love to eat spinach.  It is one of my favourite vegetables – possibly my most desired vegetable.  I love it raw or cooked, in a salad, casserole or sauce.  Since the first time I had spinach (and bacon) on pizza there was no going back to any other pizza toppings.

For our daycare menu it is just used in salads and there is only one child who will not eat spinach salad.  The reason the children refuse to eat it in other meals is mostly due to the ‘cooked’ aspect – they refuse most vegetables that have been cooked.

So now, because there really is one serious reason to despise the stuff, let me get back to the topic of ‘Why I Hate Spinach’.

Spinach is nearly impossible to clean off of plates, bowls, the table, the floor, or anything else.  Try wiping it off while it is still fresh and it simply rolls along the surface to another location and stays there.  I used to think that rice was hard to clean up but I discovered that when rice dries up it can easily be flaked or swept off surfaces.  This is not possible with spinach.

As spinach dries it forms a bond with the surface it is on.  Spinach would make fantastic glue if it wasn’t dark green. Dried on Spinach can be soaked until it becomes wet spinach but then it goes back to rolling across the surface again.

You can’t rinse spinach off a plate.  As cheese, egg or other foods get dissolved by running water spinach leaves just flatten out on the surface increasing their grasp.  They stay there taunting you until you increase the volume of water hoping the extra pressure will work.  Combined with a slight twist of the wrist and this extra water pressure rebounding off the plate can be used to wash your walls/ceiling/face/hair but the spinach will remain.

Giving up on rinsing and putting the dishes in the dishwasher will not help.  Dishwashers only ensure that spinach leaves become permanent features on glassware.  This is why all my dishes have pictures and green ‘patterns’.  Think the plate I served your food on is dirty?  Go ahead and try to clean it – I dare you!

We had spinach salad with our sandwiches yesterday and I am afraid to empty the dishwasher because I hate spinach.

Popular Lunch

Well, as planned I was able to have our new lunch menu ready for the New Year so we are officially on week two of the menu.  Most of the new recipes had been tested in the months beforehand so I knew the majority of the children would accept them.

Some of the trial recipes, such as the Salmon Strata, were eliminated from the list after completely failing the initial taste test.  I know when introducing new foods to children you shouldn’t assume they won’t ever eat them just because they refused them the first time – sometimes it takes a few (up to ten) tries before you know for sure.  However, when everyone in the group – including me -dislikes a new recipe it is simply not worth the effort to convert them.

A couple of the new recipes were not tested before adding to the new menu simply because I ran out of time and I was fairly certain they would be accepted by most of the children.  Wednesday’s lunch was one of the untested recipes but even I was surprised by the enthusiastic response it received from the children.  Every one of them had two helpings and several of them could not stop praising the dish.

Now before I post my ‘Turkey Tetrazzini’ recipe I should point out that I kept the original name of the recipe but because I always modify recipes I thought I should check and see what exactly real ‘Tetrazzini’ needed.

According to Wikipedia

Tetrazzini is an American dish usually involving a non-red meat (often diced fowl or seafood), mushrooms, and almonds in a butter/cream and parmesan sauce flavoured with wine or sherry and stock vegetables such as onions, celery, and carrots. It is often served hot over spaghetti or some similarly thin pasta, garnished with lemon or parsley, and topped with additional almonds and/or Parmesan cheese.

Ok, so since I eliminated several of those listed Tetrazzini ingredients maybe I should have changed the name but I didn’t so if that’s going to bother you maybe you should stop reading now.  I apologize to any Tetrazzini lovers if they feel I am misusing the name.

Here’s the recipe for My Turkey Tetrazzini;

  • 6Tbsp flour
  • 2 Tbsp vegetable seasoning (mix of dried peppers, onions etc)
  • ½ tsp nutmeg
  • 4 cups chicken stock/broth
  • 2 cups milk
  • 4 cups cooked turkey, cubed
  • 400 g pkg of rice vermicelli
  • Boiling water
  • ½ cup grated parmesan cheese

Mix flour and seasoning with broth and milk in saucepan.  Heat and stir until it boils and thickens. Add chicken. In large pot cook vermicelli in boiling water until it softens. Drain. Combine vermicelli with chicken mixture and pour into a casserole dish.  Sprinkle with parmesan cheese.  Cover and bake in a 350 degree F oven for about 20 minutes, uncover for the last 5 minutes or longer depending on how brown you want it.

That’s all, and the children loved it.  I served it with a spinach and tomato salad.  Mmmm.

New Recipes — Good & Bad

As part of the process to revamp our menu I have been trying out some new menu items.  Some items, such as the Tomato Beef Stew we tried yesterday, have been completely rejected by many of the children and will not be included in the new menu.  My family however loved it and was pleased that there were leftovers.

Last week I was more successful.  While searching for new ideas for new menu items I found a recipe for Corn Dogs and thought that might be interesting to try.  However, after reading through the recipe I thought it sounded like it would be an awful lot of work and there has to be an easier way to make corn dogs for my group.

So, I found a corn bread recipe for my bread maker…

  • 1 ¼ cup of water
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 ½ tsp salt
  • 3 Tbsp honey
  • 2 Tbsp shortening
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 1 tsp yeast

Measure ingredients into baking pan in the order recommended by the manufacturer.  Place pan in oven chamber and select sweet cycle – I chose the dough cycle because I didn’t want to make a loaf of corn bread.

Then, I split the corn bread dough into two parts – the dough was a very moist so I had to add a fair amount of extra flour to handle it.  I spread one part of the dough into the bottom of a greased 9 x 13 pan and then covered it with wieners – split in half lengthwise. I added a few dollops of ketchup and mustard and then spread the remaining corn bread dough on top.  I baked it in a 400 degree F oven for 25 minutes and everyone ate it.   I called it ‘Corn Dog Bake’ for lack of any creative inspiration when it comes to naming things and served it with coleslaw and milk.

Next time I will do some things differently;

  • Add a little more flour to the bread machine recipe
  • Put the condiments under the wieners instead of on top – placing wieners on the slippery sauce isn’t difficult but spreading cornbread dough on condiments is.

I might try experimenting with some other meat instead of wieners – maybe cooked ground beef mixed with creamed corn.  Bacon might be good too – everything tastes better with bacon 😉

Layered French Toast

I’ve been going through all my recipes and trying some new ones.  I’m still working on having a new menu by January.  When I introduce a new menu item to the children I have to also make sure I don’t do it on a day when we would normally have one of their favourite meals.  The disappointment in missing a much anticipated meal could affect the response the new menu option.

One menu item I know I cannot replace is the Layered French Toast.  Many times parents have asked me for the recipe and I’ve always said it was on the recipe page of my website but I just checked and realized that it isn’t.  Well, it should be because it has been a favourite lunch for at least six years now.  In fact, the reason I developed this particular recipe/method is to save time because I had to make so much of it and even though my griddle holds eight pieces of bread I cannot prepare French toast as fast as the children eat it.

So, for anyone who’s interested, here is how I make it (please note – amounts are approximate since I never really measure anything).

Layered French Toast

  • 10 large eggs
  • ¼ cup of sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 cup of milk
  • ½ tsp of salt
  • Thick sliced bread like Texas Toast
  • Applesauce or other fruit
  • Brown Sugar

Whisk together first five ingredients.  Dip slices of bread in egg mixture and place on heated griddle to brown both sides. Continue until all egg mixture is used up – I usually get about 20 slices of French Toast but will need only 18 to fill the pan.  Place six slices of French Toast on bottom of greased 9 x 13 inch pan.  Spread with applesauce or other fruit – I have used grated apples, fresh berries, canned peaches or pie fillings but applesauce is the favourite.  Sprinkle with brown sugar. Add another layer of six pieces of French toast followed by applesauce and sprinkled with sugar.  Top with third layer of French toast.  Drizzle with a small amount of syrup if desired.  Cover with tin foil and refrigerate and reheat in oven when needed.

I make this in the morning before the children arrive and then pop it in a 275 degree F oven before we go outside to play and then it is ready for lunch when we come in since we’re usually out for about two hours.  I suppose a higher temperature would reheat it quicker.  I serve it with salad and milk.


Menus & Meals

When I first opened my childcare home in 1997 I chose to provide all meals and snacks for the children.  Each week I planned and shopped for that week’s menu.  Most of the food was cut up and prepared early in the morning before the children arrived.  Many of the lunch items were cooked or reheated in the oven which enabled me to pop them in the oven before we went outside and like magic they were ready when we came in for lunch.  This method allowed me to focus all my attention on the children during the day but added an average of 12 hours to my work week – outside the 55 hours the daycare was open.

Colleagues often asked me why I still provided lunch – most licensed facilities did not.  Parents were delighted that I chose to but after discussing the issues with them they agreed to a trial period of parent provided lunches.   I still provided milk to drink and raw vegetables with dip as a supplement for all lunches to ensure those food groups were not left out.

The first week I didn’t have to plan and prepare lunches ahead of time I was thrilled to have much more ‘extra’ time.  I was able to spend a lot more time planning activities instead of meals.  Surprisingly the raw vegetables were a real hit.  Unfortunately there were also many drawbacks.  Bagged lunches became repetitive and boring.  Much of the food being sent could not be considered nutritious.  Hurried parents resorted to picking up a sub or ‘egg thing’ from a fast food restaurant on their way to daycare.  Picky eaters quit eating lunch almost entirely.   A vast amount of food was being wasted or sent back home and some children complained they were still hungry after lunch.

The worst thing about this whole experience was that time I spent storing, unpacking, heating, and repacking seven individual lunches added up to as much as two whole hours of our day.  Lunch related tasks that I had previously done in the morning before the children arrived now had to be done when they were here — time I would normally have spent on more constructive activities with the children.  I never had time to sit down with the children at lunch and I sometimes skipped lunch completely because there was not enough time for me to prepare my own food.  There was no way this could be considered an improvement for any of us.

After only two months I went back to providing lunches for the children.  To address my issue of time spent planning meals I chose to write a four week revolving menu.  There was a pattern – Mondays are ‘miscellaneous’ meals like tomato soup & pizza bread, Tuesday’s are sandwich meals, Wednesdays are casserole meals, Thursday’s are hot sandwich meals like chili buns, and Fridays are meat & potato meals. All of the meals are quick and easy and many of them can be prepared ahead of time and frozen until the day they were needed.

This has worked well for all of us but except for a few minor changes the menu has remained the same for several years but the children and I are getting tired of many of the items.  Over the next few months I plan to try out a few ‘new’ recipes and get feedback from the children.  As always, I won’t expect everyone to like everything – that never happens – but majority rules.  By the New Year I hope to have a completely revamped menu.  The menu favourites will be posted on the blog too so stay tuned as we begin our culinary experiment.