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  • Back to School Lunch Tip: Freeze PB&J Sandwiches

    Back in the day before food allergies banished all peanut products from our house, I discovered a great tip from Clever Dude: Freeze pre-made peanut butter & jelly sandwiches.

    It’s a simple concept – take a loaf of bread, make a bunch of sandwiches assembly-line style, bag or wrap them individually, and freeze. The photo you see is from Clever Dude’s how-to post, which is excellent.

    For the brief period of time that I was able to do this, it worked fabulously. I can’t imagine anything easier for a school lunch – add some grapes or applesauce, a drink, a napkin and maybe a cookie, and you’re good to go. That should take less than 5 minutes in the morning to get your kid’s lunch ready.

    What are your easiest back to school lunches?

    Cooking & feeding the kids: So far, so good + we’re saving a lot of money

    We’re going on week three of not eating out (much). I’ve been cooking pretty much every night, and stashing a few things in the freezer (like my favorite bolognese) for future meals to make things easier on myself.

    I know that shopping at multiple stores is saving us money but I couldn’t tell you how much right now. My monthly bill is completely skewed by purchases for Alex’s birthday party, which have been made during my regular shopping trips over the course of a few weeks. I should have a better idea of what’s going on with my grocery bill in about a month.

    But I think our grocery bill has pretty much stayed the same, while our overall spending on food has gone down significantly. This is because leftovers usually double as lunch and planning our meals ahead of time means I’m not wasting (as much) food.

    A huge bonus to all of this is that we’re all eating healthier. Although I must admit that there have been times when one or both boys has gone to bed having eaten only a bowl of fruit for dinner.

    Overall, though, there have been fewer battles at the dinner table as we’ve continued to follow Ellyn Satter’s plan. Serving all of dinner at once, instead of holding back the fruit that I know they’ll eat, has made a big difference. If the boys don’t like the entree, they just eat a lot of fruit (I take it for granted that they won’t even try the veggie, though of course I hope that’ll change someday – I’m picking my battles, though). I am much happier not having to scramble every night to come up with half a dozen alternatives the boys might eat.

    I’ll end this post with a couple of new recipes I’ve tried recently:

    CrockPot Korean Ribs from A Year of CrockPotting – Marc and I liked these a lot. I left out the jalapeños because I forgot to buy them, and I’m not sure I would have used them even if I’d remembered them because I worry that even a hint of spiciness will freak the kids out. In any event, I didn’t miss the peppers and the meat was very tasty.

    Miso Chicken Piccata from Cooking Light – I made a lot of adjustments to the recipe, some intentional and some not. I used dark miso, left out the capers, and cut back on the lemon juice – all of those were intentional. I also left out the flour – most definitely not intentional. By the time I realized what I’d done, the chicken was all cooked, so I substituted cornstarch. Which would have worked beautifully if only I’d dissolved it in cold liquid before adding it to the pan. But I didn’t. And ended up with lumps that I had to strain out. Needless to say, I made a lot of unnecessary work for myself. On the bright side, though, we all liked this dish fairly well – it wasn’t outstanding, but I’m a big fan of anything the kids eat without complaining.

    Feeding the kids: So far I really like Ellyn Satter’s book

    Thank you so much for all of your supportive and reassuring comments and emails on the topic of the boys’ eating – I appreciate them more than I can say! As I mentioned a couple of days ago, the boys did not eat the meatball sandwiches that I made for dinner recently. But it didn’t really bother me that much after Jennifer pointed out that her kids eat less for dinner when they’ve spent all day at daycare/preschool, and I realized that it’s the same with my kids. I think Alex gets one afternoon snack, and Tyler gets two. So it’s actually understandable that they’re not particularly hungry for dinner on school nights. Now I just have to remember that.

    Meanwhile, I’ve been reading Ellyn Satter’s book, Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family.(Thanks again, Camille and Dina!) The book is divided into three sections, and the second one is called “How to Raise Good Eaters.” I started with that section, since my main concern right now is making meal times pleasant for everyone.

    As Satter explains things, my responsibilities as a parent are to determine the what, when and where of eating, and the kids should determine the how much and whether of eating. In other words, present all of the food at once, and let them decide whether they want to eat and how much, and do this on a consistent schedule for meals and snacks, with only water in between.

    I like this division of responsibilities, and it doesn’t scare me the way it might scare other parents because my kids are, in spite of all of my concerns, pretty good eaters. I don’t worry about them eating too much or too little overall. Their disdain of all things in the vegetable family is a concern, but they do eat lots of fresh fruit. It’s their limited palate that causes most of the angst in our house.

    The biggest change I’ve made so far is to present them with their entire meal at once. I used to give them the main component, and when they were done with it, I’d give them fruit. But since this past weekend, I’ve been serving the fruit with the main dish, and if they don’t eat much of the main dish, that’s fine. This has also changed the “short order cook” aspect of our meals (most of the time), because I’m not scrambling to make something else for them to eat once they’ve rejected the entree.

    The examples in Satter’s book are understandably more extreme, and she says it takes four to six weeks for the patterns to change and the children to become less fussy at the table – provided the parents maintain their responsibilities of the what, when and where and don’t interfere with the kids’ exercise of their how much and whether responsibilities.

    I can see how this division of responsibilities encourages kids to be more adventurous, eat more vegetables, and generally be healthier eaters. But it presupposes that the parents are setting a good example, and so once I finish the second section of the book on raising good eaters, I’m going to turn my attention to the first section, “How to Eat,” to ensure that Marc and I are doing our parts as role models. I’ll keep you posted!

    Feeding the kids: The struggle continues

    At this rate, “Feeding the kids” is going to become a regular series around here. If you’ve been following along, you know that I’ve been having some trouble getting my sons to eat my cooking (and I’m a good cook, in all honesty). But it turns out that involving Alex in the meal planning doesn’t work too well because he’s not interested. It’s not about trucks and firemen and his other favorite things, after all.

    But I’ve only just begun to read the Ellen Satter book, Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family: Orchestrating and Enjoying the Family Meal.Things have been crazy lately, but I have a couple of appointments coming up where I’ll be sitting in a waiting room, so I should be able to read some then. Hopefully the book will have some tips on getting Alex to actually want to help go through recipes and identify meals he’d like to try.

    Meanwhile, I recently made macaroni and cheese in the rice cooker. I’m afraid I can’t remember who recommended the recipe – I can’t seem to find the comment or email, so my apologies to the kind person who suggested I try it. I figured the kids would eat it – it’s macaroni and cheese, after all – and the idea of cooking it in the rice cooker was intriguing. I used the only “healthy” elbow macaroni that I can find (Barilla Plus), 2% milk instead of cream, and 2 cups of cheddar and 1 cup of mozzarella. Of course, I now realize as I write this that the recipe only called for 1 1/2 cups of cheese. But overall, I thought the macaroni and cheese was fine – kind of plain compared to what I usually make from scratch, but otherwise good.

    So of course, neither child ate it.

    Does anyone have a good recipe for using up leftover macaroni and cheese?

    Feeding the kids: A new approach

    Thank you for all of the emails and comments regarding my dilemma over feeding the kids and handling their rejection of my cooking. It’s nice to know I’m not alone, and it was very interesting and enlightening to read all of the different perspectives. Camille‘s comment in particular really grabbed my attention because I realized that she’s absolutely (and rather obviously) right: I haven’t been putting myself in the kids’ shoes enough.

    I haven’t been asking myself on a regular basis if they’d be interested in what I was planning to make, let alone asking them (or at least Alex) if they’d be interested. I’ve been more focused on cooking things that I want to eat, rather than things they might be willing to try.

    Which isn’t to say that I haven’t made things that I was sure they would like, only to have them rejected upon sight. (Like the bolognese with alphabet shaped pasta, as I previously mentioned.) But overall, I have to admit that I haven’t been respectful enough of the boys’ opinions.

    So last week, I pulled out my folder of new recipes while Alex was eating and asked him what he’d like for dinner that night. We ran through a few general categories and he picked (unsurprisingly) pasta. I pulled out my pasta recipes and showed him a few that I thought he might be interested in, but all he said was, “That sounds yucky.”

    Then I got to a page from an old Martha Stewart Kids issue, which included a recipe for Baked Rigatoni Cake. “That looks yummy.” Okay, we had a winner.

    I considered making the “cake” with whole wheat penne, because I’ve never been able to find whole wheat rigatoni. But I really needed a flat end, so I had to use regular rigatoni. Instead of making the sauce in the recipe, I just pulled out some frozen bolognese base and made some of our favorite bolognese. It wasn’t as red as the sauce in the picture, but it was probably a lot tastier. The rigatoni wasn’t as hard to assemble as I thought it would be – in fact, it wasn’t hard at all. And one pound was the exact right amount for a 9-inch springform pan.

    I even assembled the “cake” in the early afternoon, wrapped the bottom of the pan in foil to catch any seeping liquid, and parked the pan in the fridge while we went out on a play date. When we got home, I popped the pan into the oven, adding about ten minutes to the baking time since everything was cold.

    Alex didn’t actually help me with the cooking process – he wasn’t really interested, although I did call him over to watch me set up the rigatoni in the pan. And throughout the day and at dinner, I emphasized that we were having something he’d picked out and requested.

    It worked. He didn’t actually love the dish, but because he felt some ownership of it, he ate a decent amount.

    I freely admit that I’m not thrilled with the nutritional content of the dish, but only because the pasta wasn’t whole wheat. And it was a good start. It made me realize that I need to include the boys more in the menu planning that I do.

    Camille recommended books by Ellen Satter, and subsequent commenter Dina echoed the endorsement. So I ordered Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family: Orchestrating and Enjoying the Family Meal.It sounded like what I needed, particularly the parts on ways to involve kids in the kitchen and guidelines on adapting menus for young children. I’ll review the book after I’ve had a chance to read it and implement its suggestions.

    Thanks again, everyone!

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