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!
How is it already December 23rd? Halloween was late this year (thanks to Superstorm Sandy rescheduling), Thanksgiving was early, I blinked, and now it’s Christmas.
You mean you don’t celebrate Christmas with the Muppets? Perhaps you should.
Thankfully, we recognized that a calmer holiday season was in order (as opposed to our usual crazy hosting of hordes of people with groaning tables of food). While we missed the cacophony at Thanksgiving, keeping it simple this year actually gave me time to wrap presents days ahead of time and make something more than just chocolate chip cookies for Santa as the kids are going to bed on Christmas Eve. I broke out the cookie cutters from my own childhood, and let the kids lead on baking. Tomorrow, we decorate, and Kermit will likely lose all his facial features under mounds of powdered sugar icing. But I’m ok with that. At the end of the day, the kids are happier with ‘candy sandwiches’ anyway, and I’ve actually been able to enjoy their company without running down the mental list of things I still need to do. Sometimes you just need to take the holiday season slowly.
Here’s to important connections – family, friends, the neighborhood coffee shop, bakery, cheesemonger, or just the neighbor who smiles while walking by – all the little things that add up to a life well lived. Happy Holidays to you, and thanks for helping me feel connected to what truly matters.
or, how to stuff your face with different food every day while in a different city.
Have them help you.
I forget this lesson often, usually when little people are whining and tired and ‘I really wanna watch tv’ and I’m tired too and dinner needs to be made quickly and and and….
Well, I need to get out of that habit. I haven’t made toddler sushi with my nine year old in ages (or with my four year old at all, I don’t think). This past weekend, before I left for a week-long work trip, I made spending time with my clingy daughter a priority, to hopefully make those ‘please don’t go, Mommy!’ pleas not hurt quite as bad. And because we needed to use up the two pecks of peaches I bought mid-week with a neighbor, peach pie was on the menu. Yum.
This time of year, fresh local peaches are ripe, delicious – and easy to slice with a table knife. Perfect for a helpful little person not particularly good at watching her fingers when slicing peaches:
Measuring and dumping is also easy for kids (we even successfully grated fresh nutmeg while not grating any fingers), with different colors of stuff going into the mix to jazz things up. Giving input to the pattern on the top of the pie – a wobbly star, this time – also added to the fun.
Here’s the end result of our peach weekend: pie, peach bourbon jam, and peach halves canned with local honey syrup.
This process of encouraging help might have worked a little too well. After eating almost all the jam that didn’t fit in a jar…
…she still had enough room to put away two pieces of pie. Great! She’ll eat what she helps to make! I have succeeded as a parent (especially one who doesn’t mind if her kids eat pie for breakfast since I know there’s a ton of fruit and not much sugar)! I left for my work trip secure in the knowledge that this life lesson was a good one.
And then I offered a slice of pie to a friend, who contacted my husband to sort out the pie delivery details on facebook:
Snow peas in August? Yes, please!