My fourth grader had a field trip yesterday, and snagged a packed school lunch to bring home and show me (not sure how he did it, but I’m not asking too many questions). While we won’t stop packing lunch anytime soon, I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised by the lack of crap. Yes, the sandwich looks kind of nasty, but water, carrots, celery, and applesauce? You can tell they’re trying.
It’s never occurred to me not to encourage my kids to help in the kitchen. It’s fun, we get to spend time together, they learn how to cook and what goes into our food, it’s a no brainer. Yes, sometimes they eat more raw cookie dough than I’d like, but that’s not the end of the world.
My most reliable helper. She also makes a mean PB&J.
Which is why I was so flummoxed recently when asked about what healthy foods elementary-age kids could manage on their own. Turns out the questioner is trying to help their favorite seven year old friend make smart choices when sent to the kitchen by a parent who has no interest in cooking. None. Like yogurt is a viable dinner. Every once in a while, I get a reminder that not everyone lives in my foodie bubble….
Here’s what we came up with so far (mostly on the fly). We would love suggestions from others whose kids have shown interest in kitchen independence!
I bought my husband a book recently, and didn’t think much about it at the time. An old college friend of his had written it, and I was excited to support Matt’s endeavors and surprise my husband at the same time. And, of course, it didn’t hurt that the old friend is a chef, and the book he’d written was a cookbook (and a good-looking one at that). After Super Bowl Sunday (and making Matt’s great wings and blue cheese sauce), a thought clicked in my head.
Trying to get back to sourcing my food locally – away from processed food, away from GMOs and frankenfoods, closer to a more local system – automatically linked me in to a local foods community. Part of this has always been obvious to me, I know the ‘know your farmer!’ mantra well. But it didn’t really occur to me how plugged in we have become. Not only do we buy from farmers at local markets (both seasonal and year-round ones), we frequent locally-owned restaurants, we buy locally made bread, etc. etc. etc. Now we also plug into cookbooks and recipes written by people we know. So my kids think it’s normal to talk to the person who owns the restaurant, to get a hug from the coffee shop owner, to know the guy on the tv teaching the host how to cook, to have met the chickens who laid the eggs we’re eating. They’re learning to expect a certain standard of food, both in quality and preparation, at home and when we go out.
The European horse meat scandal drove this home to me – especially since so many responses to it have been ‘what’s the big deal?’ Either people are so used to not knowing what’s in their food, not used to reading labels, or not caring what they ingest, that they don’t seem to think it’s a problem that what is labeled at beef may not actually be beef. Even if you don’t care about whether or not you eat horse meat (in many places it’s culturally acceptable to do so), why don’t you care when you’re being lied to? Doesn’t it bother you that the companies that feed you are banking on your apathy for their profits?
Have you considered where all your food comes from? Not just the local farmers, but the boxes of mac and cheese on your shelf, the flash frozen reconstituted whatever it is on your plate from the chain restaurant you took your family to tonight? We’re far from perfect with our food management, but good food is a priority of ours. I don’t miss the crap, and I cherish the real connections we’ve made. The wings aren’t bad, either.
Eating my homemade street food lunch out on the street. Just because I can.
Yes, you read that correctly. I have a blog where I wax poetic about food and policy and growing edible things in my yard, and I can’t pack a decent lunch to save my life. My kids get pretty much the same lunch every day. I am amazed they haven’t mutinied against the ubiquitous PB&J monster. And I have the same problem with my own lunches – I have largely given up on packing lunches on office days because I just can’t get excited about nuking what’s in my fridge in the break room. Not when biryani is right down the street.
While I have friends who do bento boxes for their kids every day, I am intimidated by the entire process. It doesn’t occur to me to craft the sandwich into a monkey, or the cheese into a fish. It runs up against my mother telling me in my head not to play with my food.
I’ve started to consider this seemingly mundane topic more seriously, as my son is more interested in packing his own lunch, and I recognize that we need to expand our horizons a bit. Surprisingly, following 100 Days of Real Food has not intimidated me, it’s made me think ‘hey, I could do that!’ a few times. I haven’t yet done “that,” but the gears are at least turning.
So some Cornish pasties (thanks, Jamie Oliver’s Great Britain and Santa Claus) made an appearance in my son’s lunch last week (his idea, my brain is still mush on this topic). It may have been the only time he willingly ingested zucchini, but I’m going with it. Wish us luck!
The fiscal cliff is, thankfully, no longer looming. Cuts to the SNAP program have been bandied about for months. And the latest ‘lack of a farm bill’ issue entails reverting back to the last permanent farm bill – from 1949 – that could have doubled the price of milk.
According to the brief on the McConnell-Biden Plan, the farm bill “[e]xtends for nine months portions of the current farm bill, including provisions that would prevent milk prices from increasing and continued direct payments to farmers. Eliminates conservation programs and financing for fruit and vegetable growers and organic farmers and does not include disaster assistance.” So while your milk costs may not double, looks like fruit, vegetables, and organics might be screwed.
If I was a paranoid type, I’d wonder if Congress wanted bread lines.
Which got me thinking – do people really know how much money it costs to eat today? Do you know what a doubling of the cost of a staple item would do to your family’s budget? How much of us pay close enough attention to how much each meal costs to make? And how expensive is it to eat healthily?
One of my Christmas break lunches, according to NPR in 2009, cost less than $10 for four servings. That’s still roughly $2.50 per person. Cheaper than eating out, for sure, but more expensive than eating crappily at a drive through. One of the reasons my family tries to eat seasonally is because it’s cheaper. Sure, it’s more work than buying a can of tomatoes off the shelf, but I can buy half a bushel of tomatoes for $10 at a farmers’ market in the summer (or less if it’s the end of the day and the farmer wants to get rid of them). For the price of three or four cans of tomatoes, I can process about 8-10 quarts. That saves me money down the road – and brings a little kiss of summer to these snowy winter days.
One of my goals for this year (since I hate the word resolution) is to better manage my family’s staple items. That requires planning ahead. Shock! Horror! But it’s doable, and much better for my psyche to know I have what I need in the cupboards to make the dinner I intend to make than it is to make a screaming trip to the store and get dinner on the table at 8:30.
It is glaringly obvious that food prices are increasingly political – I’m doing what I can to depoliticize my kitchen.