Tuesday, August 17, 2010

I am back-School Lunches Part One: Containers and Yogurt

Well-I am back. I am going to try to post at least once a week, but would like to be posting 2-3 times a week. I will try to back fill with info about Ty’s diet, put in recipes in addition to the theme of my next few posts: School Lunches-What to Pack? If you have any requests or need meal ideas email me!

School Lunches: What to Pack: Part 1 Containers and Yogurt
So, as you know I am a director of a small early learning center near Columbus, Ohio. One reason I enjoy our center is because children have the choice to pack a lunch, or buy a school lunch for an additional fee (although, we currently do not offer this at our center, it will be offered soon).
This gives me the ability to pack my son healthy, mostly organic, meals that I know he will enjoy. In Ohio, and many other states, Childcare centers and schools are required to follow the USDA food guide. In Ohio this means that at each meal served at the center has to have a serving of veggies, fruit, protein, grain and milk. Milk is provided by the center and you can bring two veggies or two fruits instead of one of each.

My first hurdle when packing lunch for Ty was what to put it in. I know this seems like you just throw it in a lunch box and there you go, but I was packing 4-6 items for lunch everyday. That was a lot of plastic containers and/or disposable sandwich bags. Many of the items that I pack for Ty are warmed up, so I was not only worried about waste but also heating items in plastic.

So here is what we settled on:
This box not only has 4 compartments with lids for 2, but also a small container for sauce/ketchup, a spoon and a fork, and the plastic is safe to heat in. It is large enough for Ty now, and will continue to hold all his food for many years to come.

My other favorite box that many children bring to school is a simple metal box with two compartments. It is not safe to heat in, or large enough for an entire meal, but can be recycled. One student at the center brings one of these with a sandwich wrapped in one of these: (ignore the phone)

Ty is in a yogurt phase. Ok, if it lasts for this long, it is probably an obsession. He loves yogurt in milk, on cereal, and for lunch. Here again is a dilemma. Almost EVERY yogurt you find in the grocery is low fat (we are still serving him full fat foods), full of sugar, chemicals, artificial sweeteners/colors/flavors, and is just crap. So, from the beginning, we have flavored our own yogurt.

Flavoring your own yogurt:
This is entirely done by sight. Put in enough fruit to flavor, but now overpower, the yogurt.
-For this I prefer to use frozen fruit. By the time it is lunch time it has thawed and the juice from the frozen fruit flavors the entire bowl of yogurt. If you do not use frozen fruit I would suggest cooking the fruit or letting some of the juices soak out of it, first. If you are using bananas just mash them up. All fruit should be mashed before putting it in the yogurt.
-Mix one batch at a time (I prefer this because the fresh fruit can get nasty)
-Add in a little vanilla extract, cinnamon, cocoa, or even a little honey (if you need to sweeten up the fruit) to make the yogurt a little extra special.
-You can add chopped almonds a little brown sugar for a crunchy treat.
-For apple pie yogurt use cooked apples, a little brown sugar, and top with cinnamon.
-Jam makes a quick flavoring. Use your favorite unsweetened to make it healthier
-Peanut butter can be added with pear or apple slices for a fun dipping sauce!
-Make sure you stir before eating!

Sometime in the near future I will be trying to make my own yogurt for Ty. Once I do this I will post my thoughts/recipe on homemade yogurt.

Lunch Box:http://www.amazon.com/Laptop-Lunch-Bento-Set-2-0/dp/B002Q0X54K/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&s=home-garden&qid=1282086309&sr=8-4

Lunch Bags:http://www.amazon.com/Unknown-Eco-Ditty-Sandwich-Bag/dp/B003M6H4PI/ref=sr_1_fkmr1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1282087678&sr=8-1-fkmr1

Pictures of yogurt to come (tomorrow, when I make some yogurt for Ty!)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Rice Treats!

Fruity Rice Pudding
Feel free to mix up the dried fruit in this recipe. You can also add more!

¾ c uncooked rice
2c milk
1 1/2c water
¼ white sugar
2T brown sugar
1 egg
2T butter
1t vanilla extract
2/3c dried fruit (cranberries, raisins, apples…)
Dash of salt

Boil water and add rice. Cover and reduce heat to low. Cook for 20min.
Combine rice, 1 1/2c milk, sugar, and salt in a pan. Cook over medium heat for 10 to 15 min until mixture starts to thicken. Make sure it does not burn.
Stir in remaining milk, beaten egg and dried fruit. Cook for a few more min, stirring constantly, until everything is warmed through.
Remove from heat
Serve or pop into 350 degree oven for a few min until the top gets crunch

For a tropical twist use dried papaya, mango, coconut flakes, or other dried tropical fruit. Don’t use banana chips though. They are too crunchy for this dish.

For a chocolate treat add in some chocolate chips instead of fruit after cooking. You can also add in 2T of cocoa powder.

For a maple treat replace sugar with 1/4c of maple syrup and use dried apples.

For a citrus pudding add in 2T or orange zest, and replace ½ c water with ½ c of citrus juice.

Brown rice crispy treats!

These are better for you than the traditional rice crispy treat. Although still a treat, it is a yummy snack for kids. This recipe is based on one by Alton Brown

6 c of puffed brown rice. You can find this in the organic section of your grocery store or at a Whole Foods type store
3T flax seed oil
4 c mini marshmallows
3/4c unsalted sunflower seeds (optional) in the Alton brown recipe he uses slivered almonds. The children I watch though they were too big and brought too much of a “health flavor” to this treat. The sunflower seeds blend in better and have less taste.
1/2c dried berries (cranberries, cherries, blueberries)

Heat oven to 425 F
Coat large glass baking dish with oil (when I used flax seed oil as in the Alton Brown recipe it added a lot of flavor that the children I watch do not enjoy).
Toast rice cereal in oven for 4min, make sure it does not burn
Heat oil, honey and marshmallows in microwave, 30sec at a time on medium heat. Stir after each 30sec interval and continue to cook until marshmallows are melted.
Mix mixture into rice, seeds and fruit.
Spread mixture in pan and cool.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Super Easy Rice Casseroles!

Rice Casseroles!

These dishes are SUPER quick! One dish required for baking (you may need a few things to prep, like a cutting board or a bowl for tossing ingredients). Make sure you spray your dish with EVOO for easy clean up. For all of these recipes use brown rice (organic!) if you can. Stay away from “perfumed” rice such as basmati and jasmine. In these dishes the delicate flavors will be lost.

Spicy Rice and Chicken Casserole

Notes: If you are a vegetarian feel free to leave out the chicken. If you don’t like super spicy food cut down on the chilies or leave them out entirely.

4 whole chicken breasts (boneless and skinless)
16oz canned and diced tomatoes
1c uncooked white rice
1 green pepper, diced
1 or 2 jalapenos or other spicy pepper, minced (see notes below)
½ pack of your favorite taco seasoning
1T butter
3T all purpose flour
3/4c low sodium chicken broth
½ c milk (low fat or fat free)
Salt and pepper to taste

In large oven safe rectangle casserole dish lay out cleaned chicken breasts (see notes below on cleaning chicken breasts)
In a separate bowl beat butter, flour, broth, taco seasoning, and milk
Add in tomatoes, peppers and rice
Add salt and pepper
Pour mixture over chicken
Cook in a 350 degree oven, covered, for 45min or until rice is tender.

Sausage Casserole
This is an updated version of sausage casserole that my mother used to serve to us when we were children. My mother’s version was a cream of mushroom soup, veggies, sausage and rice. This one is a little different and healthier.

1lb sausage (I prefer a mild Italian turkey or chicken sausage in this but feel free to use any savory sausage including a bratwurst or your favorite sausage in or out of casing. Make sure your sausage is cooked and the fat is drained.
1 chopped medium onion
3 stalks celery, chopped
2c broccoli florets chopped
½ c mushrooms, diced (optional)
1/2c uncooked rice
2c chicken or beef stock, low sodium
Salt and pepper to taste

Dump it all in a casserole dish, mix and cook (covered) at 350 for 90min.

Vegetarian Rice Casserole
Feel free to change around which veggies you use but keep the same total amount of veggies in the dish.

1c rice (uncooked)
1 ¼ cup finely chopped vegetables (choose any! mushrooms, peas, greenbeans, broccoli, carrots, bell pepper, zucchini, summer squash, tomatoes)
1/4c chopped onion
2 1/2c veggie stock (low sodium)
1/4t of each dried thyme, rosemary, dill, and paprika
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix in a 9/13 baking dish, cover, bake for 30 min or until rice is cooked through

Cleaning chicken breasts: No matter what brand of chicken breast you buy it will probably have fat, tendons, or even bones attached to it. When cleaning a chicken breast lay out on your favorite RAW MEAT cutting board (should be a separate cutting board from the cooked/veggie board). Pull up the fat, tendons, bone piece with your fingers and slice away as close as you can with a sharp knife. Make sure you cut away from yourself. Throw fat in trash (do not put down the disposal). After cutting off as much junk as you can wash the breast and pat dry with a paper towel. Make sure you wash everything, including your hands, thoroughly.
Hot pepper tips: The only way you are going to know what your heat level is on peppers is to try some. The link below is a good started guide though. When preparing hot peppers cut the top entirely off. Cut the pepper down the middle and remove all of the seeds and white part with a sharp, small, knife. Throw those parts away. Make sure you wash your hands before touching your eyes, nose, uh….other body parts or children!

Pepper hotness link! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scoville_scale

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Cold Rice Salads!

Cold Rice Dishes

Perfect for lunches, side dishes, or pot luck dishes cold rice salads can rock! Use leftover rice or cook your rice the night before. Make sure you use a long grain rice and don’t use too much water! Feel free to use wild rice or brown rice! Rice cooked in chicken or vegetable stock will add a lot of flavor but make sure you use low sodium and add salt to taste later.

These can be made a day or two ahead of time. Just add dressing right before serving.

Cold Rice Salad W/lots of Veggies!

2 ½ cups cooked rice
1c Broccoli
½ c Peas (fresh or frozen)
1/2c Corn (fresh or frozen)
1c raw tomatoes, seeded and cut into bite sized pieces
1c pea pods or snow peas
1T of your favorite vinegar (apple cider or balsamic work really well in this)
Dash of garlic powder, onion powder, salt and black pepper (to taste)
Handful of fresh parsley, chopped

Blanch peas, corn, pea pods, and broccoli (Boil water, dump veggies in until they start to just get soft, no more than a min or two, strain and stick in an ice bath)
Combine everything in a big bowl, toss and season to taste!

Citrus and Fruit Rice Salad
2 ½ c Wild rice (cooked)
½ c red seedless grapes chopped into fourths
½ c apples chopped very fine

Dressing Ingredients:
2T fresh lemon juice
3T fresh orange juice
2t honey (optional, if you don’t use this add a little orange juice for sweetness)
½ t of both lemon and orange zest (the outside of the peel chopped very fine, don’t use the white part!)
1/4t died or fresh tarragon
Salt to taste

Combine juices in a blender and turn on high
Drizzle in EVOO and honey
Slow down blender and add zest, tarragon, and salt to taste
Add Dressing to rest of ingredients!

Rice and Beans- the cold way!

Don’t give up on this one yet, it is great on summer nights or as a side that you can make a few days ahead of time for taco night!

3c Cooked rice
16oz Black beans (from a can or pre-cooked)
1c (1 medium) bell pepper (your choice of colors) chopped
1/4c finely chopped raw onions OR 1/2c sautéed onions (for a more mild flavor)

Dressing Ingredients
2T Canola oil
1 LARGE clove of garlic minced
Juice of 1 large or 2 small limes
1/2t lime zest
1T Cumin
2T cilantro (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine juice, zest, garlic and spices in blender
Drizzle in oil
Add dressing to rest of ingredients
Top with grilled chicken breast, sour cream, or eat as a side dish!

Monday, December 7, 2009



This week I am going to explore rice!

Baby: One of a child’s first foods is rice. This comes through the form of “rice cereal” that is usually placed in a bottle or fed with a spoon around 6 months old (some earlier, some later).
When picking your baby’s first cereal make sure you go with organic. You should also look for BROWN rice (see more below) and make sure it is iron enriched! Rice cereal should be made to package directions, but can also be made into other foods (like Ty’s favorite pancakes, which he is eating right now!).
Rice cereal should be fed rice cereal until around 18 months old to make sure they are getting enough iron.

Toddler: Rice is perfect for toddlers because you don’t need to cut it up or do anything special for them to eat it! Just make sure it is cool enough to feed them and be ready for a mess if you let them feed themselves!


Just a side note on the organics before I start…I know that there are many studies being done on the possible benefits of eating organic products. Many people believe that organic foods do not offer any nutritional difference and that the chemicals in the foods do not hurt you when they are eaten.
Even if the end product that you eat may not be “healthier,” and time will tell on this one, many of the chemicals used to kill pests and weeds have been proven to be very toxic to humans, groundwater systems, and wildlife! So even if you are not eating the chemicals they are leaching into the ground water system and you are consuming them as a byproduct.

Organic vs. Non-Organic rice
Recent studies including one done by PANNA (Pesticide Action Network North America) found that there are over forty pesticides used in growing rice many of these (around 15) have been found to negatively effect humans and water systems.
Rice is cheap. Seriously, cheap. The best part is, there is little difference between the price of organic and non organic rice. (I recently found rice for .88 for a pound of white rice and 1.14 for a one pound bag of white rice)

Brown vs. White rice
To make brown rice the rice is run through a husker to remove the outer tough husks that protect the rice on the plant. White rice is made by removing the rice bran (inner husk) by polishing by using glucose or talc.
White rice was eaten in Asia for many reasons. Brown rice spoils quicker, you have to chew brown rice a little more, and white/polished rice was seen as a food eaten by those who were better off because of the extra processing.
Nutrition wise brown rice has more fiber, vitamin E, potassium and well, just about everything else that is good for you. It also has more flavor and is fine to use in most foods!
Although I like brown rice just fine, there are some foods I prefer white rice with (including most Chinese food!). This week I hope to provide everyone with recipes that use brown rice in creative and delicious ways!

For more on rice nutrition: http://web.tri-isys.com/greenhearts/orgbrown.htm

Coming up this week!
Cold rice dishes
Rice casseroles
Rice deserts
Gourmet rice dishes (without the work!)

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Work Food update

Work food:
As you all know, I bring Tyler to work. Although I was out of work recovering from my surgery I recently went back. I try to bring most of Ty’s food and supplement only a little with their food (usually a few crackers, some left over fruit, or milk). Here is what I usually pack for Tyler each day.

Breakfast: granola balls, pancake, toast, sandwich, fruit, cereal…the usual stuff. When I get to work Ty immediately is put in his little travel chair (don’t worry, I got a new one Jen!) and I give him food while I set up his little cage and start my work. He usually eats some and then gets out of his chair and eats a little more throughout the morning.

Shopping or organizing: Smoothie prepared the night before.

Lunch: Usual stuff with some crackers, fruit, or vegetables if we have been shopping. If Tyler sees me putting them away he ALWAYS asks for some (and he now says “please” which sounds like “peas”)

Nap: If we stay all day, which we usually do not, Ty has a smoothie for his nap.

Snack: Is usually whatever I have left over

Packing food tips:
Don’t pack anything that goes bad quickly, that way it can be reused the next day.
Don’t use anything that gets soggy over night. I always pack the night before because I have to leave the house before 6:30.
Drinks, drinks, drinks! Bring them all with you and bring extras.
Use an insulated reusable lunch bag.
Use containers instead of bags for less waste.
Use fruit that can be re-used. Bananas stay good if kept in peels and you can serve half at a time. Oranges stay good for days even when segmented. When cutting up apples/pears cut in half. Save the uneaten half in the peel and cut away browned parts the next day.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Juice and Jello


Tyler was “prescribed” juice by his doctor on a few occasions. When he was little it was for constipation and a SMALL amount of apple juice or stewed prune juice (made by me, see recipe below) was used.

Now that Ty is older he NEVER gets normal juice. Your typical juice from a bottle is nothing more than sugar water. Even if you are getting “100% fruit juice” it is still the sugars and flavoring cooked out of the fruit with very little of the good stuff left over.

We do however give Tyler “juice” which is a fruit puree watered down to 1/3 strength. This is made by taking soft fruit (melon, berries, whatever we have laying around) and blending the entire fruit (peel and all, unless it is an un-eatable rind) with water. Tomatoes also work well in this kind of juice. This is then strained, frozen and watered down when he needs a little treat.

We used juice a lot when I had my surgery and Ty was grumpy. We also use it when he is teething, has intestinal problems, and when we just want to spoil him a little. By serving “juice” in this way we keep the fiber, vitamins, and “good” stuff in the juice but take out the fake and processed crap.


Tyler recently had his first experience with “Jello.” Now I will be honest, this was pretty much junk food. I realize that I could have made it healthier, and I plan to next time, but this was kind of a spur of the moment idea on my part.

I did not use regular Jello when I made Ty’s gelatin treat. I did not want the fake flavor, chemicals and tons of sugar/fake sugar in the Jello so I bought WHITE grape juice, boiled it and followed the directions on a pack of PLAIN gelatin. I made a denser Jello and cooled it in an ice cube tray. I then cut the chunks into smaller pieces and let Ty play with it.

Plain gelatin comes from cows unless you get a Kosher gelatin, in which case it comes from fish. I have yet to find a “good” vegetarian Jello (I used to be a vegetarian and tried a few types) because they all seemed too soft or had an odd flavor.

Next time I will use Ty’s fruit puree and water to make the Jello. I will also probably put in a few berries or chunks to make it a little more fun!

Picture from: http://ec1.images-amazon.com/images/I/51PFWRSQPAL._AA280_.jpg