Something to Try in the Lunchbox: Deconstructed Salads

You guys, few things move me to violent language like packing the lunches.  My husband had to listen to a string of expletives just a few moments ago, in fact, as I faced the week ahead with dread.  If, like me, you dread the lunchbox-related shopping, planning and packing, here are a few ideas to get you through the urge to curse.

elmo

 

Ha ha!  Just kidding.  Seriously, if you have time to make your kids’ lunches look like this, then we cannot be friends.

My friend Amy makes every Tuesday a Taco Tuesday, and Youngest has come to love her taco salad.  It’s infinitely customizable to fit your “eat up the fridge” offerings, and it’s the inspiration for these deconstructed salads.

Deconstructed salads are what, to my mind, bento boxes and leftovers were made for.  Slice a few extra veggies with dinner the night before or use up leftovers.  Picky eaters can keep the ingredients separate, nothing gets soggy, and the presentation gets top marks.  Five or six compartments, five or six ingredients, and you are good to go.

Taco Salad: lettuce, chopped sweet peppers, corn, black or kidney beans or chicken or beef strips, and, in the tiniest compartment, a few crumbled tortilla chips.  (They are like magic pixie dust!  Give them two chips’-worth of crumbs to put on top of a salad, and they think they’ve hit the jackpot!)

Salade Nicoise: tuna salad, hard-boiled egg, lettuce, olives and bread sticks.  Ooo la la.

Greek Salad: lettuce, grape tomatoes, black olives, feta and chick peas.  Mini-pita on the side.

We tried these snack-sized Li’l Oliver green and black olives from Sardo, and they are perfect for packed lunches.

LilOliver (3)

 

Fruit Salad: Why not?!  Send it with some greek yogurt and a mini-bagel, and breakfast for lunch is done!

 

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The Home Away From Home Eatery: Everyone Needs One

mimi

I like cooking, sometimes. Often, even. But some sweltering summer nights, the last thing I want to do is charge up the stove. On these nights, I might get enterprising and put together a dinner sans heat: maybe serve up a salad or wraps with a side of popcorn (air-popped of course).

But some nights, what I really like to do is get away for a quick meal away from home, that feels like it might have been made at home, just not my home.  You know the type of place, where you can sit back with a book or your phone and tuck in to a tasty, reliable meal that reminds you of the homey kitchen you’d rather not be in.

Everyone needs a place or two like this.  It’s a modern day essential, up there with sunscreen and the little black dress.

I confess I flit around a little with where I like to go, but here’s my current favourite: a steaming bowl or noodles at Mimi Restaurant, a Vietnamese eatery in east Chinatown. There are tons of variations off a few types of noodle bowls and soups, all hearty and delicious. Vegetarians can actually eat here; there aren’t many veggie options but at least there are some (hard to find in a Vietnamese restaurant), and they’re really good.

Also, there’s a woman there who is ever so friendly. She always asks after my sons (who love the noodles there) and has a smile for me.  She’ll talk if I want to talk, or serve quietly if my nose is in a book. I go to Mimi’s and know exactly what I’ll get and how I’ll get it.  It’s kind of perfect as far as summer essentials go.

Where’s your go-to for a home away from home meal?

~~~

ps. The folks at Mimi’s don’t know I’m writing about them. Think they’d blush if they knew?

Tips to Help Your Picky Eaters

picky

It’s food month here at 4Mothers, and we have been reveling in our taste adventures.  What do you do, though, if you love a wide variety of foods but your kids have distinctly more limited tastes?  What do you do if your child eats such a limited range of foods, that the whole family ends up restricted by the picky eater’s choices?

I recently read Helping Your Child with Extreme Picky Eating, a guide by Katja Rowell and Jenny McGlothlin, two professionals in helping children with eating disorders.  I have to tell you that my first reaction was to count my blessings that my own picky eater is far and away more easy to feed than the children profiled in this book.  This is a book for parents and caregivers of extreme picky eaters, children who do not eat “enough quantity or variety to support healthy emotional, physical or social development, or [who have] eating patterns that are a significant source of conflict or worry.”  Often, these are children with food issues that have sent them to a medical or psychological professional.  These children may only eat five or ten foods, or they are extremely averse to certain food textures, or they have sensory motor issues that make feeding physically difficult.  If you are one of those parents, I found the advice in this book so grounded in compassion and common sense, and I highly recommend picking it up.

This is not necessarily a book for parents of run-of-the-mill picky eaters.  Nevertheless, I found a lot of advice that can help all families gather around the table with less stress and more joy.  I found it full of great, practical advice, and I learned about some of my own unproductive approaches to food and feeding.

1. Eliminate stress from the dinner table

The number one priority is to create a relaxed and inviting atmosphere around food and eating.  Who doesn’t want that?

If you have a picky eater, the first step is to learn not to engage in conflict or power struggles and not to draw attention to the issue of food.  The idea is to enjoy the time you share around the table and for both parent and child to stop obsessing about food and nutrition.

How many of you do this?  You pick up your kids from school or camp, and one of the first questions you ask is an anxious or accusatory, “Did you eat all of your lunch?” I do it every single day!  The advice from these authors?  Stop that right away and take the battle over what did and did not get eaten right out of the equation.

Enjoy each others’ company; do not measure each others’ food intake.

It’s the same at the dinner table.  Eliminate the stress and conflict over food by relaxing the reins and letting the kids take more control.  Stop all pressure tactics, bribes and negotiations.  Stop all praise or blame.  The big picture is that kids have to learn to eat to satisfy the intrinsic cues of hunger, not to satisfy (or annoy!) an anxious parent.

2.  Create structure.

No more all-day grazing.  Kids need to learn to listen to hunger cues.  Make eating a structured and mindful part of each day, and make each meal and snack nutritionally balanced so that all eating opportunities are healthy eating opportunities.  Let kids’ hunger and appetite build between meals, and don’t dull the appetite with constant grazing.

3. Create a clear division of responsibility.

The authors of this book are refreshingly clear on what a parent should control:

Your job: decide when, where, and what foods are offered (as long as you include something your child can eat)

Your child’s job: decide whether and how much to eat.

Period.

No more one-bite rule!  Really??  Really.  Your job ends with putting the food on the table.  What the children choose to eat is their responsibility.

4. Do not put food on anyone’s plate but your own.

Do not serve dinner on to the diners’ plates.  Put all of the food you serve in the middle of the table.  All food is equal: broccoli and pasta, salad and bread.  It all goes on the table, and there is no division of adult and kid food.  No more us and them.  If the only thing your child will eat today is crackers, put them in a bowl on the table with the rest of the food.

Then let the kids serve themselves.

The authors even suggest putting dessert on the table with dinner!  If you stop using dessert as a bribe, you stop a food battle in its tracks.

In the short term, the kids may still only eat the plain pasta and a bowl of ice cream.  Let them.  Let them learn enjoyment and pleasure at the table.  Let them learn to trust that they will find things they like.  In the long term, when conflict and power struggles are gone, they will begin to expand their eating repertoire.

5.   You are not a short order cook.

Stop catering to the limited palate of the picky eater.  Make your menu, provide at least one safe food and serve it up without apology: “When you sit down to foods you actually want to eat, not only do you expose your child to a wider variety of foods, but you can also authentically model enjoying different foods.”

6.  Model healthy eating.

Eat what you love and relish it.  Avoid labelling food “good” or “bad.”

 

I have put some of these very concrete steps into place in our home, and I’m loving the results.

  • I put platters and bowls of food in the centre of the table, and, sure enough, the kids were more willing to serve themselves a taster of something new.
  • After I told them about some of the tortuous strategies used to teach children table manners, like knives in the backs of chairs to enforce good posture (learned watching a documentary about the making of Downton Abbey!) we laughed about table manners from days of old, and the boys planned a night of eating fancy: dress up and pretend to be aristocrats.  This is to be followed by a night on which we eat like cavemen, with fingers and no manners at all.
  • My “picky eater” planned a cheese tasting for dinner when he had a friend over, and he went to the cheese store and spoke to the owner and tried five new cheeses.  He helped slice the fruit and veggies, lay out the cheese board and the cracker tray.  He ate like a horse, and his friend very gamely tried all of the cheeses, even the blue.  It was a huge success.
  • I’ve stopped calling my picky eater a picky eater.  Take the label away and the behaviour will follow!

 

Helping Your Child with Extreme Picky Eating is published by New Harbinger Publications.  We were sent a copy for review.

Saving Money in the Kitchen

2012_05 - various 025Before I talk about January and debt diets, I have a confession to make.  I’m one of those (probably quite annoying) people who has a good relationship with money, even though I have less of it than most of my peers.  This is the result of a bunch of things, including a book called Your Money or Your Life:  Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Independence by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin (there’s a more recent edition, but this is the one I read).  Through a series of exercises, it helps you to evaluate what you really think about money, and how to save and spend it according to your personal values.  You don’t have to implement the full program to benefit from it (I didn’t); but it really has the potential for transformative, lasting change.

If you are not, for whatever reason, quite up for this, a debt diet for January could be in order.  I’m not averse to a temporary change to nudge oneself in the direction one wants to go as it can be helpful to spur on greater changes.  And for this, as with most things, I like to start in the kitchen.  Here are my favourite tips:

1.  Eat from the pantry.  If, like almost everyone I know, you are blessed to have a stuffed full pantry and freezer, eat into this food cache and use up your supplies.  You will find food you didn’t know you have and save the rest from expiry or freezer-burn.  You’ll also de-clutter your food storage spaces.

2.  Stop buying junk food.  Tying in with Nathalie’s new mantra of avoiding unnecessary spending, it must be said that all junk food is unnecessary spending.  Chips, candy, ice cream, pop, and packaged snacks rack up the bill without corresponding value.  If you can’t cut it all out, pick carefully how spend your “crap quotient” (as coined by my husband) and cut the rest.  It’s called junk for a reason, so try not to put it in your body.

3.  Don’t waste food.  It’s easy to fret about the cost of food (especially higher quality or organic foods) at the cashier, but most of us waste an astonishing amount of it (this Globe and Mail article  research says about 40%).  Try to remember that throwing out half of an item means you’ve paid double for the amount you used (a price you’d have balked at in the store).  Survey what you have in your fridge and cupboards before buying more.  Take the time to put smaller amounts of food on the plates (especially with kids, whose foods needs and intake fluctuates often) and serve extra helpings rather than throwing out uneaten food.  Eat leftovers for lunch and read a book or talk to a friend with the time saved from not having to cook the meal.

4.  Cook.  So much opportunity for multi-tasking here:  cook for the fun of it, for the health of it, for the economy of it – even with organic ingredients, you’ll spend less for a good family meal than taking the family to a fast food joint.  Put on some music, involve your kids, make food you love eating – anything that inspires you to make cooking a pleasure, because it really can be.

5.  Don’t cook, but have a back-up plan.  Not in conflict with point 4, at least not to me.  Keep on hand and in your mind a back-up plan for the days when you can’t face the stove but still need to feed yourself or a family.  Take-out is a disappointing way to eat (usually mediocre, lukewarm food in disposable containers) and can really blow the budget.  It’s a lot easier to avoid spending $40 on pizza and wings than to trim it from the weekly groceries.  Simple spaghetti (boiling pasta and opening a jar of sauce), sandwiches, scrambled eggs, or cereal and fruit are probably more nutritious than most take-out and aren’t much (if any) more work.  It’s just one meal, and if it’s going to be forgettable, at least it’s not expensive.

What do you do in the kitchen that helps keep you on financial track?