Tag Archives: cooking

Is school lunch good for your kid?

16 Mar

Kids spend most of their day at school. They often eat both breakfast and lunch. My first year teaching I had to supervise the breakfast routine. I was totally appalled. Sitting on the desk at the front of the room was a cooler full of fruit DRINK (not juice, but an artificially flavored and sweetened drink) and a box of fruit rollups. The school was so proud of it’s breakfast program because they were helping to feed these poor kids who often had to come to school hungry because they came from families to poor to buy food.

I don’t know about you, but a fruit rollup and sugar drink doesn’t help me think through the day. I’ve talked before about the effects of diet on learning. But until we are ready to make some real changes we are going to continue to have obesity problems, behavior problems, health problems, and more.

I remember as a child my first year back in the country. My brother and I had our lunch boxes in hand (I had the metal Snoopy lunch box. How cool is that!) But we got to school and we were two out of a handful of kids who packed our own lunch. In the entire school! How embarrassing. We were like the lunch outcasts. We sooooo wanted to buy our lunches just like everyone else. We begged… and begged… to get to buy our lunch. But our parents couldn’t afford it.

Then the next year, our parents found out they qualified for the free lunch program. YES! We got our wish. We got to buy our lunch just like everyone else. There I was, a little girl, holding my tray waiting in line for this delectable mystery. It just had to be so good.

Boy, what a disappointment. I went home and BEGGED to be able to take my own lunch to school the next day. No luck. My parents didn’t budget for packing lunch because we were getting free lunch at school.

That was the last and only year we bought our school lunch. As I got older I started making my own lunch – and boy, were they good. I often had to make extra to share with my friends. They all had lunch envy.

Ann Cooper is known as the “Renegade Lunch Lady”. She is working out in Berkley, California and has implemented fresh, locally grown, and organic foods for the lunch program. And it is making a big difference.

Now, keep in mind that she is working within the system. She is working on changing how public schools feed children. That is why she  advocates for government spending and oversight in this arena. If you are going to depend on the government to educate and feed your child, you better make darn sure that they are doing it right.

My personal opinion is that the whole public school system should be scrapped. But that is not going to happen anytime in the near future – for many reasons. Be that as it may, public schools are a large part of most family’s lives. And as such, you, as a parent need to be aware of the costs (not just in dollars, but health, academics, and life) of school lunches.

Kids and chores – the never ending battle to get things done

11 Dec

three-year old sweeping

When is a child too young to start helping out around the house?

sit... stay... go get it... good girl

sit... stay... go get it... good girl

four-year old measuring pet food

Well, naturally, that depends on the child. But my observation is, if they are old enough to ask if they can help, they are old enough for you to let them help. The key here is that you, as the parent, need to LET them. Oftentimes, we would rather just get it done. It takes too long to watch them struggle through it, we don’t like having to clean up the mess that follows in the wake of their “cleaning”, and they might break something.

fourteen-year old washing dishes

seven-year old shredding cheese

After having four kids the amount of housekeeping required to sustain even the barest minimum of cleanliness consumed almost all of my time. That’s four kids, one husband, myself, and numerous pets (at the moment, one dog and one cat, but we have had as many as two dogs, two cats, and a pair of birds all at the same time).  And why should I be the only one cleaning up after the masses, afterall, I’m not the only one making a mess. So the new regime began – even for the youngest.

three-year old cleaning lint trap

three-year old helping with the laundry

One could make the argument that learning such menial tasks as laundry, cleaning, and washing is counter productive to successful living. This could be hired-out work. Most wealthy and successful people rarely spend their time on housekeeping but hire someone else instead so that their own time and energy can be focused elsewhere. But I firmly believe that everyone should have a basic understand of how to do such menial tasks. At the very least it fosters respect for the work entailed (would you belittle and abuse your housekeeper if you truly understood how difficult the work was). And if you are in dire straights, at least you now how to keep your shirt clean. Taking care of chores is also a great way to foster independence, strengthen self-confidence, and encourage pride in a job well done.

youngest "supervising" the seven-year old cleaning the litter

master "chef" in training

The nice thing about starting out early is that eventually the kids reach a level of proficiency that requires very little oversight and correction. Plus, with so many of them, they help each other out and teach each other.

I finally drew up a little chore chart. But we rarely ever use it because they have already been trained on what needs to be done. The chore chart merely acts as a reminder so that they are able to double check their work.

chore chart

youngest “supervising” the seven-year old cleaning the litter

Fried Rice

19 Jan

When people find out that I know how to make fried rice they always want to know my “secret”. This always makes me laugh because fried rice was a “get rid of the left-overs” staple growing up. What most people don’t know is that you need to use old rice. You cannot make rice and then use it to make fried rice on the same day. It must sit in the fridge for a couple of days (3-5 days is best) and totally dry out. The rice is important. To me, “Japanese sticky rice” is rice. All other rice is then referred to specifically (i.e. long grain, wild, brown, jasmine, basamati, etc.) Once you get the rice down the rest is easy. Here’s a basic recipe:

leftover rice
(at least 3 days old. it is ready when it crumbles and is no longer sticky)
onions, chopped
celery, chopped
carrots, chopped
any other vegetable you may want to throw in (zucchini, bean sprouts, cabbage, green peppers, green beans, broccoli, peas, etc) everything should be cut to the same size.
leftover meat (chicken, beef, pork , shrimp)
scrambled eggs, optional (do not add salt)
black pepper, optional
red pepper, optional
cilantro, optional
soy sauce

In a wok heat a liberal amount of cooking oil (you will need enough oil to prevent the rice from sticking-probably more than you realize). Add vegetables and stir fry until tender. Add meat and heat through. Crumble rice and add to mixture. Add seasonings and scrambled egg. Mix thoroughly. Make a well in center of pan and pour in soy sauce. Allow soy sauce to bubble before mixing together. Rice should be a light brown and fragrant. Do not add too much soy.

It’s quick, it’s easy, and everybody loves it. We usually serve it with miso soup and edamame. If I’m feeling really generous I’ll even make egg rolls or gyoza.

How To: Use a Knife

18 Dec

As many of you know, my family and I rarely eat out. It is just too hard to find food that tastes as good or is better for you at any restaurant than what we can make at home. It just doesn’t seem worth it to us. But we know of so many people that don’t cook at home. They are dependent on dining out, fast food, and prepackaged and prepared products at the grocery store. This is just so unnecessary. Cooking at home is easy and fun, once you get over the initial learning stages. Cooking at our home is usually a family event too. Everyone can get involved. The older kids are learning how to season, chop vegetables and use the stove, while the younger ones wash vegetables, put ingredients on the table, throw away or recycle the waste, and help mix and stir.

One thing that seems to stop everybody in their tracks is using a knife. Yes, it takes some practice; but what doesn’t? And in this case, learning a new skill help you live a much healthier and more satisfying life.

I found this handy mini-video on how to use a kitchen knife. It’s very short and demonstrates clearly the basic method for cutting virtually anything.

So let’s all stop avoiding the kitchen and get in there and whip up a delicious meal. You can do it!