Tag Archives: Food

Hamburger Tarts

When discussing menu items in my childcare home ‘favourites’ can be defined in many ways. It could be a meal that all of the children eat at least some of and no one refuses to eat. It could also mean that some of the children really enjoy it and consistently ask for seconds but there may be one or two children who barely eat any at all. After all, not everyone likes the same things.

Sometimes it may be defined as one of my favourite things to make because it either doesn’t require a lot of work or it can be prepared well in advance and baked for lunch. I always prefer meals that don’t add to the already busy lunch time – between returning from outdoors and getting ready for nap time there is already a lot to do without including food prep.

Hamburger Tarts are one of the items that tick a lot of boxes. They require a bit of fairly easy prep early in the morning before the children arrive and then bake a bit just before we come in from outside. Most of the children like them – some don’t – some ask for seconds. Personally I find them addictive and left unchecked I could wipe out the whole batch because seriously – bread, meat and cheese is really just like pizza which I could eat all day every day.

This is the ‘original’ recipe which of course I only use as a starting point and then modify – a lot.

First of all, I don’t fiddle with cutting crusts (best part) off bread, buttering the slices and pressing them into muffin tins to essentially make more crusts. I use yummy brioche buns, placed upside down in a 9×13 pan, and hollowed out (keep for free bread crumbs). I have also tried this step using scratch made bread dough pressed in the pan and using a cup to make 12 indents for filling – good too but it requires much more effort and time and most of the children prefer the brioche buns

For the filling I do saute the onion and lean ground beef though I use much more than half an onion – more like one very large or two medium and very well cooked before adding the beef. One lb of ground beef will fill 12 buns. I never use the yucky mushroom soup – usually tomato soup or cheddar cheese soup.

I add all the saved ‘bread crumbs’ from the buns, eggs, and ketchup as well as some mustard and BBQ sauce too. I don’t usually grate the cheddar cheese to add to the filling. To save time I most often just place a thick square slice of cheddar in the bottom of each bun cup before filling with the meat mixture. At this point I cover with foil and refrigerate until closer to lunch time then bake covered at 325F for about an hour to heat through. Uncover for the last bit of time to brown a little without drying out.

Serve with salad or coleslaw – pick them up and eat like a burger or cut them up and use a fork (not as fun) – Mmmmm good.

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!

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.

Stick Insect(icide)

We have had stick insects as ‘pets’ for the past six years.  When we got our first one the children were all so excited and there was a long process to pick a name for her.  It didn’t take long for us to discover that stick insects are so prolific that naming them all is impossible.

I think having stick insects is a wonderful science activity.  As with any activity some of the children are very interested – watching the insects for long periods of time, eagerly anticipating the hatching and molting stages and more.  Other children have little interest and rarely even notice their existence in our room.

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The ‘baby’ stage is my personal favourite.  They are cute when they first hatch although they can occasionally escape when they are that small;

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I only keep a few of the eggs that are laid and even then when they hatch it sometimes seems like we may have too many.  Sadly (luckily?) only a small percentage of the babies make it to adulthood and lay eggs for our next generation of insects.

Sometimes the little ones are hard to find when they camouflage on the sticks or on the lettuce leaf;

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As they continue to grow they are easier to see but they also make more mess;

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On a few occasions we have run into a problem when we have a particularly large number of insects at various stages.  The adults make the cage very dirty but the numerous hatch-lings make it difficult to properly clean and keep everyone contained.  If it is winter I will take the container outside briefly to clean it – cold insects are slow insects.

Last month we were at the overcrowded, filthy cage level but it wasn’t yet cold enough outside to slow them down.  Then something unexpected happened.  I ran out of romaine lettuce and there was NONE in the fresh produce section of the store where I was shopping.  Instead of making a special trip to another store just for insect food I decided to buy a package of romaine hearts.

Back at home I tossed two leafs into the cage for the insects.  The next day ALL of them were dead.  A hundred + infant to adult stick insects were strewn across the bottom of the cage.  I assume insecticide caused the mass extinction and I know I won’t be buying packaged romaine hearts for any reason anymore.

For the first time in six years we have no stick insects.  I managed to save a few dozen eggs when I cleaned the cage but only time will tell if the insecticide affected them too 😦

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.