Sunday, August 22, 2010

How Much Wood Could a ...

woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?

More garden adventures here, and not happy ones. It started with noticing a half-eaten tomato on the ground of the raised bed. No, I did not and will not take pictures of destruction.
A better blogger would give you photographic evidence. I'm too grumpy about it.

After the half-eaten tomato, we found munched and crunched cucumbers and nibbles in our failing broccoli. I don't eat as many tomatoes as my boys, but I was still annoyed. I was especially perturbed about the cucumbers. And then Aaron saw the culprit:

Groundhog. Woodchuck. Marmot. Land beaver. Marmota monax. Rodent of the family sciuridae. And if you think that Latin family sounds like squirrel, you would be right. The groundhog is a large ground squirrel, according to Wikipedia.

On the plus side, it is a cute critter and appears to be much more scared of humans than the smaller tree squirrels.

On the negative side, it has a voracious appetite. While we were enjoying time with our family in Indiana and Chicago, it ate every last leaf of potential broccoli and chomped at several more cucumbers. It started in on the swiss chard, but apparently didn't like it as much as the rest of the garden. Our garden became land-beaver buffet.

I read about ways to encourage the furry critter to leave - pepper spray (not the kind you use for self-defense), moth balls, the urine of predators. I bought 2 of those 3 suggestions (care to guess which?). This morning Caleb woke up half the neighborhood with primal screams of defending our turf. He called it a fat squirrel (pretty accurate) among other choice epithets.

As I sat down to share the joys of Greek yogurt and the frustration of our newest pest, I watched the furry fat squirrel forage in our grass, far from the raised bed. Maybe one of my deterrents turned him off from the bed? I can but only hope.

A New Food for ME!

I realize this blog is supposed to be about how I feed the kids, but I have to share a food experience I have had recently.

On our midwestern road trip, my mom-in-law (Aaron's stepmom) asked if I wanted to try some Greek yogurt. I never tried Greek yogurt despite all the claims that it is so very excellent. In my mind, yogurt is yogurt. Some tastes a bit better or has a different texture, but it's all just yogurt right? The exception I found to this thought was Trader Joe's Strawberry and Cream yogurt, but even that has faded to sort of a "yeah, it's better than average yogurt and makes a nice dessert substitute."

Greek yogurt is amazing! Why didn't I try this years ago? I realize my midwestern upbringing makes me a bit reluctant to try "exotic" foods, but still it is yogurt. Thick, creamy, filling yogurt! At my in-laws, I had plain Greek yogurt which was pleasantly tart. My mom-in-law suggested that the flavored yogurts are even better. And boy was she right! Aaron picked up a multi-pack of Chobani Greek yogurt at BJ's - 4 each of strawberry, blueberry, and peach. Such creamy fruity goodness!

It would be a really great food to give my kids, but I don't want to share.

Friday, August 20, 2010

More Eating on the Road Thoughts

We just got back from our 11 day sojourn to the Midwest. I really think we had very successful eating while traveling. No, we were not perfect - we are human after all. But a few thoughts have been rolling around in my head, and I thought I'd put them out here to share.

Success #1 - Car Foods
I have oddly fond memories of eating some pretty junky stuff in the car as a kid. Anybody remember these? And of course, I had most of McDonald's and Wendy's menus memorized at a rather young age. I no longer remember their menus since I haven't eaten fast food in several years (minus pregnancy induced weakness for crispy chicken from McD's - blech). Anyway, I'm pretty sure my childhood car trips were an excuse for eating all sorts of stuff I may or may not have had more regularly. I think my kids will have very different memories. Here is a list of snacks we packed for all of us:
  • Fruit - plums, nectarines, peaches, grapes
  • Vegetables - cucumbers, tomatoes
  • "Crunchies" - Puffins cereal, Ak-Mak crackers, Kashi TLC crackers.
The "crunchies" were in the trunk of the Outback, but the fruits and veggies were in a cooler we could reach fairly easily from the front seat. When the kids got hungry, they started with the fruit and veggies before we even mentioned the "crunchies." This worked amazingly well! The kids were eating a medium size cucumber each day. We had to restock fruit by the time we arrived at our destination (2 days of driving).

Edit: We did buy a bag of Chex Mix while on the road. The kids only sort of liked some of it and greatly preferred our options. Also, Aaron had some roasted peanuts, and I chose to indulge a few completely unhealthy desserts on the way home.

Success #2 - Eating Out
Eating out is REALLY hard for me since I'm trying to watch my weight and trying to teach my kids healthy eating. It's so easy to pop into a drive-through "McWendyKing" (Aaron's name for any fast food place) and just keep driving. We didn't. Here's where we ate while on the road:
  • Panera - in NY, they provide calorie counts on their menu! Also they have a good kids' menu.
  • Subway - nutritional information easily available AND marketing to guide you in picking healthier options (low-fat, low-calories, etc.). Thanks fellow Hoosier Jared!!
  • Sandwich picnics at various state parks - this meant we planned sandwiches and found parks.
I must say that we all really enjoyed the picnics since we had a chance to stretch and enjoy some nature. I have new love for Panera as well, and Subway was a good fallback option.

Success #3 - Eating at our various stops
When we were eating with our in-laws, it was super easy to be healthy because they already eat so healthfully and are very supportive of all the kids and grandkids. When we chose to eat out, I found myself choosing salads, grilled chicken with vegetables and being quite aware of portion control and choices I was making.

Did I eat junk while on the road? Sure! I had 2 shakes from Steak N Shake. I had Chocolate Suicide cake from Round the Clock. I had Reese's Pieces at the movies. I overate at Leona's (one of our favorite Chicago-area restaurants), which isn't to say I chose junk but to say I ate too much then. And you know what? I knew that the choices I was making were temporary and not a change in how I wanted to eat in general. And yes, my family also ate some junk or at least less than ideal things (lots of pizza, mac n cheese, and even ice cream for the kids though I am not sure it's so terrible to eat ice cream *grin*). For me, it matters that I am aware of my choice to deviate from the norm and that I am aware of how much and what I'm putting in my body. And it matters that we are back to good eating here at home.

One of the best parts of coming home has been a return to cooking. Aaron was restauranted out (his words), and the kids were ecstatic to have olive pesto last night and today. We're heading back on the road for a shorter trip on Sunday, but I have faith that we can continue to feed ourselves well with good choices.

A Caleb Quote

Had to share this one:

"If I/you eat junk food, 10 minutes later I'll/you'll be hungry again!"

Truth from the mouth of my four year old son. See if it's true for you too. What happens when you eat candy or store-bought cookies or chips/pretzels/crackers? What happens when you eat sugary "yumminess"? Do you find yourself satisfied until the next meal or snack? OR...

Do you find yourself hungry 10 minutes (or some short period of time) later?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Conversation with Caleb about Real Food

At lunch today, Caleb seemed to have a carbohydrate craving. He wanted peanut butter and jelly but not the quesadilla I was making for Ellie. Then he saw the tortillas and wanted those PLUS his PB&J. I denied him the tortilla.


His PB&J would be on a cinnamon raisin bagel, so I figured that was more than enough carbohydrate and processed food for one meal. I loaded up his plate with some favorite veggies (or fruit, depending on your definitions) and the argument was dropped.

As he expressed his enjoyment of the lunch, I asked him if he knew why I cared so much about what he ate. No, of course he didn't know, though he suggested that I was keeping him safe. I agreed that I was keeping him safe and reminded him that some foods are "growing foods" while others are not. He gave me examples of growing foods like the vegetables on his plate and the cherries he ate for a snack earlier. He then included his bagel sandwich in his list of growing foods, and I paused in my agreement.

Where is the line between growing food and junk or treat food? I started with the PB&J minus the bagel and decided those were real foods. Caleb remembered my making the strawberry freezer jam, and the PB has one ingredient - dry roasted peanuts. Caleb thought it was hilarious that one could make peanut butter from mashing up dry roasted peanuts. I think we will have to try this sometime. But what about the bagel? His bagel comes from a local bakery, so it is not mass produced. If it were mass produced, then the bagel could have all sorts of not so real stuff in it. For example, Lender's brand plain bagels contain:

Enriched Flour [Unbleached Wheat Flour, Malted Barley,
Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamin Mononitrate (Vitamin B1)Riboflavin (Vitamin B2)Folic Acid (Folate)Ascorbic Acid (Dough Conditioner)Water, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Salt, Yeast, Cornmeal.

Just to show that it's not just Lender's bagels, here is the ingredient list for Thomas' plain bagels:

Unbleached Enriched Wheat Flour [Flour, Malted Barley Flour,
Reduced Iron, Niacin, Thiamin Mononitrate (Vitamin B1)Riboflavin (Vitamin B2)Folic Acid]Water, Modified Food Starch, Oat Fiber, Wheat Gluten, Inulin, Polydextrose, Yeast, Cornmeal, Salt, Dextrose, Natural Flavor, Preservatives (Calcium Propionate, Sorbic Acid)Grain Vinegar, Monoglycerides, Guar Gum, Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate, Citric Acid, Sucralose, Soy Flour.

BUT Caleb is not eating a mass-produced bagel. He is eating a magnificent Rosenfeld's cinnamon-raisin bagel. I would have preferred giving him a plain or sesame, but we had no such bagel. So is his bagel real food? I decided it was real food, but that it is a more processed food than even the peanut butter and jelly. As we talked through this, I realized I have another thought about how I want my family (all of us) to eat.

I want us to eat more foods which are less processed and to eat fewer foods which are more processed.
I don't think it is reasonable for our family at this time to say "no processed foods at all." I do think it is reasonable to eat smaller quantities of processed foods and to eat larger quantities of less processed/whole foods. I think real foods will end up being more satisfying and filling, and that we will be giving our bodies what they actually need rather the junk they claim to crave.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

When Kids Choose NOT to Eat...

We arrived last night in Indiana after 2 days of driving from Boston. We decided to have dinner before ending our journey, and we had some of the best Middle Eastern food I've had in ages. I didn't know whether the kids would be game for this type of food, but I'm of the mind that kids generally will eat when they are hungry. The service was super fast, and my kids were hungry enough to try all sorts of things besides the tasty pita. Caleb discovered baba ghanouj, and Ellie enjoyed some of my lentil soup. We ordered a falafel plate for them, and they both liked the crunchy flavorful balls of chickpeas. I felt very proud that they tried new things and enjoyed them. They ate really well and behaved well too. By the way, anyone traveling through northwest Indiana should check this place out: Aladdin Pita Fine Middle Eastern Cuisine.

Then came this morning.

Grandpa and Grandma's house is very exciting. There are people who will pay attention to them ALL.THE.TIME. There are new toys (new to them). Who has time for food?

My kids played for at least 1-2 hours before eating anything. Caleb probably played even longer as he woke up at 5:30am (the foul words I think of that hour are not appropriate here). While the grandparents were showering and such, I managed to get both kids to eat some yogurt. Not enough to fill them up, but maybe enough until everyone was ready for a fuller breakfast. The kids ate fruit and picked at cereal during the so-called breakfast.

We eventually head out to a playground. It was hot, humid, and downright icky air quality, but the kids ran themselves out. When I couldn't bear the heat and humidity any longer, we head to the grocery store to pick up a few more things for our week here. I met up with Aaron at the cheese counter and discovered that Caleb was DONE. Done, you ask, what does that mean?

Aaron had acquired samples of cheese for the kids. Caleb was unable to accept the sample from Aaron. Aaron would offer, and Caleb would stomp and sulk. Eventually he took the cheese. Then he said he needed something to put it on, so he sat on the floor of the store and put his cheese down on its tissue paper on the floor. Ew. I instructed him to stand. He whined and again tried to find a place to put the cheese down. I suggested his mouth as a good place for it. He yelled at me. Eventually he ate the cheese. We made it to the checkout. He started picking up junk food in the checkout. I told him we were not buying it. WHY???!?!?!?!? I considered not answering him based on his whiny screaming, but I told him that the junk food wasn't on the list and we would eat lunch at Grandma's house. He sat grumpily on the floor again. Grandma asked if he wanted to walk with her to pick up her prescription. He mumbled incoherently. We think he said yes. As he went to walk with her, the junk food distracted him again. Then he realized he wasn't walking with Grandma and our checkout experience sounded like this:


I explained that he would see her again soon, that she just went to get her prescription.

"Buh-buh---but I wanted to be WITH HER!!!!!"

I explained he missed that when he picked up the junk food that I said we weren't buying. I mentioned that I knew he was tired and hungry to which he angrily yelled "NO I'M NOT!!"

I told Aaron I was escorting Master Caleb from the store and that we would see them all at the car. I carried 38 pound Caleb to the car in the 90 degree, 99% humidity weather. No, we were not in the first row.

As he screamed in the blessedly air-conditioned car, I considered what caused this meltdown. It's not like he wants to scream and rage at us. Here's what Aaron and I came up with:
  1. Not enough sleep. Caleb was up until at least 10 and woke around 5-5:30.
  2. Not enough food/water. We didn't give the kids any food at the playground, and they didn't eat enough breakfast (and probably a bad balance of foods)
  3. Temperament. Transitions are challenging for Caleb. Caleb is very persistent and fixates quickly/easily on ideas and plans. When the basics of food and rest are covered, we usually navigate transitions and disappointments reasonably well. Thanks to #1 and #2, this disappointment was an epic fail.
So how did we get out of this mess? For starters, we didn't drive until Caleb could get his screaming under control. This took a few minutes in the car (maybe 5-10). Then food became top priority as soon as we walked in the door at the grandparents' house. I made the current favorite sandwiches for both kids (PB&J - my kids are classic, though a bit boring) and added lots of veggies. Caleb got cukes, tomatoes and olives. Ellie got cukes until she promised not to spit out the olives. I was shocked to see her eat the olives. Maybe she prefers black to kalamata olives? Never complain when they eat vegetables. OK, olives technically are a fruit as are the dates I gave them too. :) I never saw Caleb eat, but his plate was empty and he seemed calmer.

A very wise parent once said to me, "There are at least three things you cannot force a child to do: sleep, use the toilet, or eat." We parents often wish we could make our kids do some combination of those three activities. I wish I could have made Caleb eat an adequate breakfast this morning and/or sleep more last night. It was not in his grand plans, and we all paid a price. What I hope he can take from this experience is that sometimes he needs to eat and that not eating can make him really cranky. After all, don't we all need to eat so we feel good?

Friday, August 6, 2010

Food on the Road

We're about to head on another road trip, so I thought I should take a few moments to write a bit about food away from home. Between trying to lose weight, trying to teach my kids good eating habits, AND trying to eat real food, travel can be a challenge. When we went to NY last weekend, I was certain that I would gain weight. By the time of my weigh-in this week, I had lost 2 pounds, and I'm pretty sure I didn't do that between Sunday and Wednesday. So what's working for us?

Road Trip Snacks
Being in the car for a long time can be really boring, and often we're in the car when we would normally eat. The kids end up asking for snacks, which can trigger me to think I NEED a snack. Snacks actually help me not overeat later, so I just need to make sure that the snacks we have are reasonably healthful and diverse.

We try to take fresh fruit and veggies with us. This time of year, plums are plentiful in New England. We also happen to have bananas because both kids have had their on again, off again love affairs with them. For me, a banana is quite filling for a snack. In the past month, the kids have enjoyed cucumber sticks (peel a cucumber and slice it such that the pieces look like sticks), so we usually have some of those. We pack some of their favorites like Vinta crackers and Annie's Bunnies. The crackers are not my favorite snacks for the kids, but I think I need to be practical on a road trip. Another item we pack for the kids is Trader Joe's fruit bars like these. They come in several flavors: strawberry, blueberry, fig, apple. Again this is not the ideal snack since it is a processed food, but we set some limits about them and tend to offer the real fruit and veggies first.

For my crunchy "fix," I pack Ak-Mak crackers, which I think are the most awesome cracker EVER. I wish my kids would get excited about these, but I'm selfishly glad they aren't yet. ;) They're all mine... *evil cackle* Anyway, they are low in Weight Watcher points for a pretty good serving size, and I like the taste and texture. I've seen them in regular grocery stores as well as Trader Joe's.

Snacks on the road are part of the story for successful eating away from home. But of course that's not all of what works for us.

Smart Eating Out Choices
There are some foods I simply avoid or limit when I'm away from home. Truthfully, those foods are probably the same ones I limit when I'm at home, but somehow it seems more challenging to limit them away from home. Here are some examples:

Chips with salsa or dip - I don't avoid these entirely, but I take only a few chips and then back away from the dish very consciously. Road trips where the end destination is a family gathering usually means some kind of hors d'oeuvres or "munchies" before the meal, so I try to limit how much crunchy stuff I have. If there is an interesting dip or salsa, I try a chip or 2 with that interesting topping and then I back away. I look for the vegetables or I leave the food altogether for any non-food activity.

Deep-fried or cream-based meals - If I have the choice, I order or choose some food prepared in another way. If I don't have the choice, then I am very aware of the portion I'm having, and I try to fill half of my plate with fruits and vegetables.

Salads that aren't green - Potato salad, macaroni salad, Ambrosia/5-cup "salad"... all very yummy, and all not so great for my weight loss goals. As for whether I want my kids to eat these foods, I certainly let them try a small portion of anything being offered, but I don't make these rich foods the centerpiece of any meal. I let my kids know when something is a treat/special, and I don't force them to eat these foods especially if they say they don't like them (Caleb claims not to like potato or mac/pasta salad). I usually give myself a very small portion (think about 1/4 c at most) and only eat it if the first bite tastes good.

Desserts -
When we're on the road, especially for family visits, it's hard to say no to desserts. I have slightly different rules for me than for my kids. I eat desserts which seem worth it. Chocolate is worth it to me, especially as a homemade baked good. Store-bought baked goods probably aren't worth it. Ice cream is hit or miss as I have become an ice cream snob. For the kids, they have a small portion of dessert because I don't want to make any food off-limits or taboo to them. From a very young age, I tell them that dessert is not an everyday experience and that some foods are once-in-a-while foods. I let them know what foods are good growing foods, and I've been rather blunt about risks of eating out of proportion. My kids get really excited about watermelon as well as cupcakes, and I've seen both of them choose the fruit over the baked good. Maybe there is hope for them not to have quite the food struggles that I have. They know that we don't have baked goods and ice cream at home most nights, and I think they might start to make the association that dessert when on the road is something different from eating it all the time at home.

Restaurants - I haven't mentioned restaurants yet. Maybe it's because restaurants remain hard for me. For my kids, they don't read yet, so I can limit their choices to better options on the kids' menus. For me, I look for options with lots of vegetables but not necessarily salads. I look for foods which I know will fill me up more than a sandwich or a huge plate of pasta. Isn't it funny how eating a ton of pasta makes you feel full while you're at the restaurant but then you're hungry not long after leaving?

When we bought food on the streets of Manhattan, I looked for foods that were easily identified as "REAL FOOD" and not processed much. Yes, I had some of the hot pretzels we bought for the kids - several glorious delicious bites, in fact. For lunch, I saw burritos made fresh with grilled chicken and lots of veggies, rice, salsa, and other toppings. The kids had quesadillas; Aaron had chicken souvlaki, and I had one of the best burritos I've ever had. Sure, I could have bought a hot dog or some fried chicken or who-knows-what else on 6th Avenue. And no, the burrito probably wasn't the absolute best option for me that day. However, for road food, it was great. The portion seemed reasonable; it was delicious; it filled me up.

Anyway, I hope some of these late-night ramblings give you ideas for your next road trip. I remember stopping at all sorts of fast-food restaurants when on road trips as a kid. Other than the mall food court in Danbury, CT, I don't recall the last time my family went for fast-food on a road trip. It doesn't seem hard to me to avoid the drive-thru with my family, and maybe you will consider avoiding fast-food on your next trip.

Variation on a Quiche

In a previous post, I shared this yummy recipe for Crustless Swiss Chard Quiche. Now I'd like to suggest a variation on this recipe. Replace the chard with KALE!!

Caleb already loves kale, but I had not been able to get Ellie to touch the yummy yet perhaps not so pretty vegetable. Putting it in the quiche completely worked for both kids. I was bored with sauteing it with onions and garlic (yummy but getting old), so I decided to try it in the quiche recipe. Wow, was it good!

At my CSA pickup, someone had not been sure what to do with her chard. I wonder whether she has the same thoughts about kale. If you're looking for a new thing to try with kale, try that quiche recipe. I think you'll be pretty satisfied.

Two Unrelated Recipes

In my last post I mentioned two recipes you may want to try with your families.

Squash Kugel
Courtesy of our dear neighbors
20 oz. frozen squash, defrosted
1/2 c. creamer (I use light cream)
8 Tbsp. (1 stick) butter, softened
7/8 c. natural applesauce (I use our applesauce)
2 c. flour
2 c. sugar (IF I add sugar, I halve it)
5 eggs

Mix everything EXCEPT the cinnamon in a large bowl. I use an immersion blender to make it reasonably smooth. Pour in an 8x8 or 9x9 pan lined with parchment paper. You probably could spray your pan instead of using paper. I use paper.

Bake at 350 for at least 1 hour, until set. Serve warm.

Tomato-Cucumber Salad
From ???
2 medium cucumbers, diced
2-3 medium tomatoes, diced
1 small or medium red onion, diced
olive oil
lemon juice
salt and pepper

Combine cucumbers, tomatoes, and onion in a bowl. There should be approximately equally amounts of cucumbers, tomatoes, and onion such that if you took a spoonful, you would have a taste of each vegetable.

Add olive oil (maybe 1/8-1/4 c.?), lemon juice (about same as olive oil), and salt and pepper to taste. Allowing to marinate for 30-60 minutes in the fridge is ideal.

This is one of the few ways I enjoy fresh uncooked tomatoes. :)

Involving Kids in Their Food

Something I think has helped our kids to be willing to try vegetables as well as other new foods has been involving them in the process of producing, acquiring, and making food. Today was a good example of involving them. Aaron and I cut a deal that he would buy the fish for tonight's dinner (saving me a trip to the grocery with 2 kids who don't really want to shop) and I would pick green beans from our garden, as well as anything else in need of harvesting. I was certain there would not be enough green beans to share with our friends who would be joining us for dinner, but I agreed to the deal.

Look what we found!

3 cukes, a tomato, and a little less than a pound of beans. The kids were really excited to show off the produce. I told Caleb about how much he helped by planting, watering, and picking dead leaves from the plants. Ellie enjoyed smelling the tomato (which she does not like eating yet) as well as trying to snag a green bean (they were washed before dinner!).

After harvesting the vegetables, the kids had lunch. I included a peeled and "sticked" cucumber, and they both ate it happily. Caleb also ate some tomato. Ellie has yet to develop a real taste for tomatoes, but I don't like them uncooked either, so I'm not too worried. After the so-called naptime, Caleb and I made squash kugel, which did not involve our harvested produce, but he still saw what went into making one of his favorite dishes. He enjoyed using my immersion blender, and he was surprised (annoyed?) that the mixture didn't look like "squash cake" when he was done mixing.

Involving him in the magic of cooking seems to help him try new things and enjoy the dishes we create together. At dinner, he tried the cucumber tomato salad even though I know he isn't fond of vegetables that have been "dressed up." He told me he liked the cucumber but not the other parts. I'm guessing he didn't like the onions. Anyway, he knew the salad came from our garden, and he was willing to try it because he was curious about what came out of our backyard. I think I even caught Ellie munching on a piece of cucumber or tomato.

Maybe this post isn't surprising, but I wanted to share that involving kids in the process of food does seem to have an effect, at least in our house.

Recipes for salad and kugel forthcoming!

Sunday, August 1, 2010


We just returned from a trip to New York and New Jersey, so I'm absolutely exhausted. I have the start of a few posts in my head (kale in quiche, a smoothie Caleb liked, maybe something about food on the road), but I only have energy for one post at the moment. SO...


Before we left for NY/NJ, we asked our neighbor to look in on our cat/wonder beast and to help herself to tomatoes from the garden as we didn't want them to go to waste. I was shocked to find 8 beautiful tomatoes in the garden when we arrived home this evening. The squash is a bonus. I picked it because the rest of the plant looked basically done.

When I spoke with my neighbor later in the evening, she told me she had taken 7 tomatoes while we were gone over the weekend. Aaron had given them 2 tomatoes before we left, and I know we've had a few before this week. Wow!

Tomato-cucumber salad, sauce, healthy snacks for Caleb - nom nom nom!

Ellie is more like me and has not developed a taste for raw tomatoes, but I am hopeful she will change her mind.