Tag Archives: menu

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.

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. 🙂

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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Replacing Crackers

I was at a meeting with other childcare providers and the subject of crackers came up.  Conversation centered around the use of crackers as the ‘grain’ portion of meals and snacks.  There was a brief moment of silence after I commented that I didn’t think the children liked crackers all that much so we rarely have them here.

Then I had to clarify my statement;  The children don’t like the crackers that I am willing to buy.  I have searched through the cracker aisle in the grocery store and read every label.  My husband has been near meltdown stage begging me to just pick a box and move on. I sigh and choose a variety that is somewhat (barely) acceptable.  I won’t advertise the brand but this is the nutrition label;

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The sodium level is still too high but it is less than some of the other types and at least it has some fibre.  Most crackers have none – even many of the ones that claim to be multigrain or wholegrain.  The only ‘benefit’ to this purchase is that this 200g box will be in my pantry for at least two months.

Yes, you read that correctly.  Even with eight children in care it will take about that long to finish a single box of crackers.  There are some types of crackers that the children really do like and will consume more of but the nutrition labels for them are nearly identical to that of a bag of chips.

Our four week menu has two snacks per day, five days per week for a total of 40 snacks.  Each snack has a serving of each of these food groups – fruit, dairy and grain.  Currently I only use packaged crackers for two of those 40 snacks.  So what are the other 38 you ask?

  • Oatmeal – the steel cut kind – I refuse to buy/make the overly processed varieties.
  • Store bought breads & bagels – always whole wheat or multigrain – the heavier the better.  We haven’t had any type of white bread here in the last 10 years.
  • Homemade breads etc – apple bread, raisin bread, pumpkin loaf, biscuits, and more.  I use only whole wheat flour even when the recipe calls for all purpose.
  • Breakfast cereals – high fibre with limited sugar – a processed item that I think is acceptable when only offered once per week.
  • Quinoa Pudding
  • Quesadillas made with multigrain tortillas
  • Homemade cookies and bars – all contain wholegrain flour and old fashioned oats

There are also a few snack items that I am considering eliminating.  Things like rice crispy squares and store bought waffles, and graham wafers. A total of six items in the four week menu that I’d like to replace – eight items if I replace those crackers too.

These items might be considered ‘treats’ but are certainly not necessities.  I’d even question the use of the term ‘convenience’ in reference to these items.  Healthier options are not a lot more work.  A big batch of biscuits or scones takes less than an hour to prepare, bake and clean up after.  They freeze well so they can be prepared in advance and used a required.

What about the cost of homemade snacks verses the cost of store bought items? Financially I think it varies but most of the homemade items are less expensive.  Time wise homemade items may cost more unless you are like me and spend hours in the store reading labels before you buy.  Nutritionally there is no contest – homemade always beats processed.

So, I’m off to find some new recipes.  I’ve got a long weekend ahead and a half empty freezer.  First up I think I’ll try something I’ve never made before – biscotti.  Maybe I’ll find a way to use all that pumpkin puree I have left from last fall…

Feasting

Here in Canada today is Thanksgiving Day.  Soon my husband, my children and I will be heading over to my Mom’s for our family dinner.

I’m making a Thai Red Curry Kabocha Squash as my ‘non-traditional’ contribution to the holiday dinner.  My mom asked me to make something using one of the unusual items that I received in my CSA box.  I had never heard of kabocha squash until it arrived in the box last week.  As for the recipe…we’ll have to see how well it goes over later today.

In the meantime I’ll share a couple recipes that have recently been added to our childcare menu.

The first is an afternoon snack item that has proven to be very popular with the little ones.

Quinoa Pudding

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2 cups quinoa, cooked
3 cups milk
½ cup brown sugar
3 eggs, beaten
1 tsp vanilla
½ tsp cinnamon
1 Tbsp butter
½ cup shredded coconut
½ cups raisins

Combine all ingredients. Pour into greased baking dish. Bake in 350-degree oven until set, about 45 minutes. Serve hot or cold

Admittedly I don’t like the texture of the quinoa – it doesn’t get as soft and mushy as rice pudding but that didn’t seem to bother the children.  It was surprisingly sweet given there is only ½ cup of sugar.

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The second recipe was from the lunch menu and may be one of my all-time favourites – probably because it contains many of my preferred ingredients.

Spinach Strata

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6 cups whole grain bread cubes
4 cups fresh spinach, chopped
1 cup diced bacon, cooked
1 cup cheddar cheese, grated
6 eggs
2 cups milk
¼ cup fresh basil

In a greased 8 cup (2 L) casserole; layer half the bread cubes, half the spinach, half the bacon and half the cheese, sprinkling each layer with salt and pepper.  Repeat layers, ending with cheese.

In a small bowl; beat eggs with milk and basil.  Pour egg mixture over the bread, spinach and cheese layers.  Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours or overnight.

Bake, uncovered, in preheated 350 F (180 C) for one hour or until puffed and set in centre.

Sorry, I didn’t take a picture of the finished dish – only the partially assembled ingredients.  Mmmm, I’m getting really hungry just looking at them but that’s probably because I skipped lunch to save room for Thanksgiving dinner.

Happy feasting!

A Period of Adjusment

School has begun again – for me this is somewhat sad.  I’m going to miss the long periods of uninterrupted free play.  I’m going to miss watching the interaction between the preschoolers and the school-age children.

Yes, I’m excited for the older children heading off to new adventures.  I’m also looking forward to being able to focus more attention on the little ones and planning some activities specifically for their developmental levels.  I’m eagerly anticipating the autumn leaves and yes, even the winter snow – these are such wonderful sensory experiences for the children (and me).

September brings many changes; changing seasons, variable weather, different schedules, new friends and more.  As I was making my grocery list for the upcoming weeks’ menus I realized that there are some changes needed there too.

With the larger group here over the summer I needed to double many of the recipes to ensure we had enough food for meals. Last school year I had no school-aged children here for lunch but I did have several preschoolers with good appetites.  This year’s preschool group is much younger and I again have no school-age children here for lunch.  Even without doubling recipes there will be far too many leftovers from the current menu.

It’s time to revamp the menu again.  I’m going to remove some of the items that cannot be scaled down for the younger/smaller group.  I want to add menu items that encourage the infants and toddlers to be more independent at meal times – menu items that can be easily scooped onto a spoon or picked up by tiny fingers.

We’re going to need more cooked vegetables.  The raw veggies and dip are magnificently nutritious but can be too difficult for many of the toddlers to chew. Salads are not popular with this little group – that doesn’t mean they won’t be served but they won’t be the only vegetable offered with a meal.

Yes, it’s time for me to go back to some old menu favourites and begin trying some new items too.   Let the experiments begin – mealtime science during a period of adjustment.