Tag Archives: menu

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.

Saving Time

Many of the items on our menu are prepared in advance – or at least some of the ingredients for the meals are.  For example, I buy bulk packages of ground beef or pork and scramble fry it all.  Then I package the cooked meat into small portions and freeze them.

I do the same for chicken – cook an entire 4 kg box of chicken breasts and then freeze them individually.  Turkey and ham are roasted, sliced and then packaged and frozen.

This way I always have cooked meat available for sandwiches or to add to casseroles etc.  The small packages allow me to adjust the meal size – thawing one, two or even three packages – depending on the menu item and how many children will be here for the meal.

Personally I don’t like reheated casseroles so I won’t make the whole meal ahead of time.  I prepare the fresh vegetables and pasta or rice etc on the day the meal is to be served but having the meat already cooked saves a step in the process.

Some of the menu items are entirely prepared ahead of time.  I make large batches of cookies, bars, and loaves which are also frozen until needed. Depending on the menu item the amount I prepare ahead of time may be enough to last from two to four months.

Usually I manage to arrange it so I don’t have to prepare more than one bulk batch each week but recently we ran out of several items at once.  Consequently I spent this past weekend stocking up on supplies, frying packages of beef and pork, making four meat loaves, a huge batch of curry sauce, some trail mix cookies, and three loaves of pepperoni pizza bread.

It was a busy weekend and I could have used that extra hour from the time change.  However, the freezer is well stocked and I’m looking forward to spending the week playing with the children instead of working in the kitchen.