135 posts categorized "Food and Drink"

Breakfast Time: what do you do?

January 24, 2014

In households across America, weekday mornings are frenzied rushes of breakfast making/eating, lunch preparing, signature collecting, and homwork finishing.  Many mornings, I will find my teen with her headphones in, listening to music, while my ten-year old sits on a stool staring at a blank wall, and the 4-year old might be begging for help putting on his shirt.  Indeed, it is a mad rush to get breakfast prepared, but - once seated - then what?  Sometimes we make morning conversation, sometimes we compare dreams, sometimes we listen to NPR, sometimes we listen to pop radio.

Once you make your breakfast - eggs, oats, cereal, smoothies or something entirely else (sometimes we eat cake!)- and once your kids do the same, do you sit down and chat?  Do you each have an independent activity like reading separately?  Do you watch TV or listen to the radio?

"I'm not that hungry"

October 07, 2013

"Will you PLEASE eat?"  This sentence I utter several times each day to my 9-year old.  She often responds, "I'm not hungry."  I find this virtually impossible.  She has a full schedule with sports practices 2hrs a day, 4 days a week.  She is an active, playful child, always running, scootering, or rollerblading around the neithborhood with her free time.  She picks at her meals, taking mere bites of food.  She is adventurous enough, loves to try new things, eats healthy servings of fresh fruit and veggies.  She likes proteins like cheese, salami and nuts, and she doesn't have a sweet tooth like her older sister (who can eat a dozen cookies in a sitting if the opportunity arose).  I fear she is not eating enough!

Could it be a situation like "Picky Eater! Food Rut!" wherein I need to come up with new snazzy food options?  

Other picky eater posts:

Ideas to encourage more volume for my active child?

Does your family dine together? How often?

September 16, 2013

It's dinnertime!  We are a few weeks into the new school year, and the schedules are getting a bit hectic.  What I realize: we only have one evening during the Monday-to-Friday stretch when we can all sit down and have dinner as a family, a calm time when we can catch up over our days, check in on school, friends, new developments.  Only one evening?  I feel it is not enough.

It's said that sitting down to a family dinner eases family stress, makes for happier children, even results in teens who are less likely to smoke, drink, or use drugs.

I believe it.  I want to have it.  How many evenings during the week do you manage to sit down to a dinner with the kids?

Throwback Thursday: It's Dinnertime!

September 12, 2013

Last week was lunch, this week is dinner.  So, here goes.

Throwback Thursday: What's for Lunch?

September 05, 2013

Back to school means back to packing lunch. Daily. (For many.)  Dig into the archives for tips and ideas:

Find ideas & feel free to suggest more.

Lunchbox Dilemmas

August 16, 2013

As soon as Spring Break hit a few months ago, I knew I would need to replace my girls' lunchboxes that had been doing overtime for two years. I found myself completely sucked into a thread on the *Portland Mamas FB group that had been discussing lunchboxes for the last two days, which caused the topic to resurface in my head. This is big stuff, folks. I like newfangled technology as much as the next modern mama, but sometimes I just wonder if the metal Rainbow Brite lunchbox of my childhood was really just fine.

My oldest had been carrying a Blue Q bag that originally contained a birthday gift. She was more into the bag than the gift so it became an accessory as part of her daily ensemble. I have to admit that in a world of the Thermos, insulated sides, waxed canvas, removable liners, and 100% machine washable, I was suspicious! As the months dragged on, that super cute polypropylene bag did its job, and did it well. It suffered endless half-empty, half-closed containers of applesauce, sticky fruit leather, and tuna fish smeared all over the inside. At first, this stressed me out, but after a quick rinse and a wipe with a soapy sponge, the smell would go away and the bag would be ready to go for another day.

Continue reading "Lunchbox Dilemmas" »

SW w(h)ine night: Thursday, May 2

April 08, 2013

It has almost been a year since we met to w(h)ine in SW Portland. So join us for snacks, wine and conversation.

date:     Thursday, May 2nd

time:     6:30 pm

location:     Korkage Wine Shop located at 6351 SW Capitol Hwy in Hillsdale.

Please RSVP in the comments.


urbanMama Lunch: Spring 2013

April 01, 2013

Let's lunch! We meet downtown, have some food and chat about work, kids, PTA or whatever is in your mind.

date:       Thursday, April 25th

time:        12:30 pm

location:   The Original300 SW Sixth Ave

Please RSVP by Tuesday, April 23rd in the comments. 

Favorite restaurants with and without kids: Portland 2013

March 18, 2013

Most of my fancy eating out is with kids, and by myself, so I pick restaurants that are indulgent and times when the place isn't packed. When we want to celebrate something, my boys and I invariably go to Pok Pok; it's best between 1 p.m. and 5 on a weekday (usually, our celebrations are right after school). It's always fun to sit among the tourists who have been told that THIS is the place they should come and they MUST eat the fish sauce wings. (Also, they like to gawk at Portland's foodie kids inhaling shrimp chips and drinking vinegars.) When we want to treat ourselves to dinner out, it's Gladstone Street Pizza on a Monday or a Tuesday after the dinner rush if we're splurging, or Little Big Burger if we're on a budget.

My husband's coming home for leave this weekend, and I'm thinking about planning something fancy for a date night sans kids. I read the comments on this thread on Eater PDX and came away thinking Ava Gene's, the new restaurant on 34th and Division (the old Lauro spot) run by Duane Sorenson was the way to go. I've also been wanting to try Aviary, Tasty & Sons, Le Pigeon, and the Woodsman Tavern.

We've gone to the Whiskey Soda Lounge and Olympic Provisions on previous date nights, and loved them. I'm also a big fan of Xico for fancy nights out.

Of course sometimes I look at the menus and think, "pork chop with mushrooms and stewed beans, $30, I could make that for the whole family for that price!" and I wish I'd just eaten at home. Which places are your favorites for going out with and without the kids right now? Which blow your mind with their innovative cuisine? Which would you have skipped and made your own at home?

mama lunch: Thurs., Jan 17

January 03, 2013

Let's meet for lunch and chat about the holidays, winter, kids, work, or whatever is on your mind.

date: Thurs., Jan 17th

time: 12:30

location: Brasserie Monmartre at  626 SW Park Avenue.

Please RSVP in the comments and I will make a reservation.


What to eat when you're pregnant: The Pregnancy Plate

November 06, 2012

Guest post by Stephanie Pearson

Nutritionists, like myself, love to share their geeky scientific knowledge about food. We can reach a sort of cerebral high when we get to breaking down and classifying nutrients into their chemical constituents. There is a point, though, at which dissecting the fascinating interplay between enzymes, peptide chains, and our own physiology falls short. When we single out and supplement the parts rather than taking in the whole food, what are we missing?

This is what pulls me out of nutrition geek-talk into my love affair with the simple perfection of food in its whole form. Thinking in terms of food rather than nutrients is a more tangible, more traditional way to ensure high health during pregnancy. Indigenous cultures from all corners reserved specific foods to be consumed by mothers during preconception, pregnancy, and postpartum periods. We too deserve and need to eat special foods during the childbearing years. Certain foods that were repeatedly prized in traditional cultures were wild oily fish, grass-fed butter, liver, greens, olives, seeds, seasonal fruits and vegetables. Together these foods provide the most important vitamins and minerals for fetal development, including: vitamins A , D, B (including folate), C, and E, calcium, protein, omega-3 fats. Beyond what conventional nutrition tells and encapsulates for us, bringing actual foods to plate during pregnancy may provide a source for the important and mysterious co-factors that allude the lens of science.

Here’s what’s on the plate:

Continue reading "What to eat when you're pregnant: The Pregnancy Plate" »

Birthday Celebrations at School: Songs, Treats, Other?

October 07, 2012

It was my son's birthday celebration at school the other day, and - when I handed the teacher four 8-by-10 photos to represent each year of his life along with a few sentences about his personality at those ages - I sheepishly said, "I didn't bring a treat or anything."  

She said, "That's ok."

My son has told me that they sometimes have ice cream at school to celebrate a birthday.  Or perhaps they have cupcakes but he cannot have one "because I'm allergic".  When one mama wrote: 

My children's school got around this whole issue by making birthdays party- and treat-free (much to many parents' relief). Instead, the birthday child can choose to have a "birthday book" celebration. He or she brings a book from home to share with the class. After the book is read, the child can either take the book home or donate it to the classroom library. My older son has always chosen to skip the celebration. I'm curious what my younger son will choose.

With our older children, I have probably sent some kind of "treat" about half of the time.  For one of my daughters, it was often grapes or clementine oranges, as these were her favorite fruits.  Sometimes I would do mini corn muffins or dried cranberries.  Mostly, though, it was a stressor for us and I wondered if we really needed to go through the exercise.  I wouldn't mind a treat-free policy for birthday celebration at schools, I'll be honest.  I would rather prepare some photos to share with the class and I have previously come into my child's class on the birthday itself to share 10 or 15 minutes of stories and photos of my little celebrant.  It makes them feel like royalty!

How do you feel about birthday celebrations at school?  What are your favorite ways to celebrate?

"Sorry, son, you're allergic"

October 01, 2012

At an event the other evening, there was pomp and circumstance to celebrate a very worthy mama-owned eco-conscious baby & kid store.  There were treats contributed by local purveyors, including some basil & tomato cheese pizza and chocolate-coated ice cream cones (think: drumsticks).  YUM, right?

Not for all.

A little boy, maybe 4 years old, sat at the toddler table looking longingly at the other kids devouring their snacks (of the cold variety), my son included (though he was wearing more of the ice cream on his face and shirt than he had in the cone).  The boy said to his dad: "I want one of those."

His dad, with a sad and almost upset voice said curtly, "Sorry, son, you can't have that.  You actually can't have anything here.  You're allergic."  He took out a box of rice milk and handed it to the boy.  Droopy-eyed, the boy sipped, still eyeing the treats all around.

It broke my heart.  I know I was adding insult to injury with my own boy licking dairy deliciousness right in front of the boy, who I presume was allergic to dairy.  Still, I do know the pain and I have felt that edge in my voice before.  My boy, allergic to egg-whites and peanuts, has gone to many birthday celebrations where he can't have the cake, cookies or cupcakes.  Even at his school, I have been told in the afternoon: we had a birthday celebration at school today with cupcakes, but we didn't give your boy any.  Once, invited to join friends' for take-out for a quick weekday dinner, I had that curt voice and said, "we can't eat anything here", looking at the smorgasbord of chow mein, egg-foo-young, and stir fry with bits of fried egg.

There are many allergies and there are things that are more common allergies than others (peanuts).  Is is possible to be able to accomodate all allergies all the time?  How do you handle it when your child cannot partake in fun food treats because he is allergic?

Water Fluoridation in Portland: Next Steps

August 28, 2012

I have three children, one born in New York and two born in Portland.  From the time when they were all young, my husband has commented that their teeth growth has been significantly affected by their water source in the formative years.  Our first child drank fluoridated water for the first three years of their lives.  Our second two children never did.

For our youngest, we don't yet know how the earliest years have affected his teeth, as he is only turning 3.  For our middle child, she has already had carries and fillings, while our eldest seems to have the best oral health.  This could also be a result of being the best tooth-brusher among them.

As educated parents (with ample health care coverage), we have swished, taken oral fluoride supplements prescribed by our pediatrician and used fluoride toothpaste.  Even still, one of our children - born and raised in Portland - has suffered cavities.

My best estimation of what is happening in Portland and Oregon is that, indeed, "we are in a dental crisis".  One in three of our children has untreated tooth decay, and one in five has "rampant decay", which is 7 or more cavities.  

The impact on low-income communities and communities of color is disproportionate: African Americans have twice the rate of tooth decay than white counterparts, 72% of Native Americans have untreated cavities, 46% of Oregon's Latino children have untreated tooth decay.  All these issues result in absenteeism and ultimately affects a child's success in school.  This is a preventable childhood disease.  Does the swishing work?  Yes, but it doesn't help the children before kinder age. And also, what about swishing in the summer or what about teachers who might forget the swish or kids that just throw it out?

Sometimes I like to know who else is support a certain cause.  This fluoridation effort, who else supports it, aside from health, dental, or medical organizations?  Some other supporters include: Urban Leauge, Central City Concern, Children First for Oregon, p:ear, Native American Youth Association, Latino Network, African Women's Coaltion, and many more.  (Full List Here in *pdf)

Commissioner Randy Leonard has been a supporter of this effort.  The Portland City Council is holding a public hearing on water fluoridation next Tuesdsay, September 6, at 2pm in the City Hall Council Chambers.  Interested in learning more?  Please attend.

Representatives from the Everyone Deserves Healthy Teeth Coalition has reached out to me and has offered to offer a Q&A situation where we can have readers email questions and concerns, to see if we can find answers.  For example: I, too, was concerned about the Harvard IQ study that is oft referenced, but - after chatting with other researchers and reading more online from a researcher-mom in Eugene - it sounds like the Harvard study is inconclusive.  I have plenty of questions about fluorosis, and - after again talking with others - it sounds like fluorosis can happen at higher levels of fluoridation but not at the level used to prevent tooth decay (0.7mg/L).  Do you have questions?  Send them over to urbanMamas@gmail.com and we will see if we can find answers.

I have suggested that we gather a group of subject-matter experts - a dentist, a medical doctor, a naturopath, maybe even a teacher who has implented the swish program at schools - to field questions from mamas and papas.  Interested in helping to coordinate this effort?  Please email us at urbanMamas@gmail.com and we will put you in touch!  Perhaps a playdate for parents and kids, where we have the opportunity to learn more?

Until then, keep talking, keep reading up on the issue, and keep informed.  It seems highly likely that this effort will pass in Portland, and we - as parents - need to educate ourselves on all the facts as it relates to fluoridating our water.

Water fluoridation in Portland: Taking the choice out of parents' hands?

August 18, 2012

We've made a case against water fluoridation here before.

Sam Adams says he doesn't care that voters have said 'no' to water fluoridation three times (in 1956, 1962 and 1980), and he will support a plan to add a $5 million fluoridation plant -- it would take at least five years to build and cost taxpayers about $575,000 a year to run once it was going. Commissioner Nick Fish, one of the two others who have publicly supported the project (Dan Saltzman is the third) told an Oregonian reporter how much poor families need fluoridation.

In a statement released Thursday, while on vacation, Fish said many hard-working families can't pay for fluoride. "With fluoridated water, simply drinking tap water gives all of our children the same opportunity to start life with healthy teeth," Fish said.

It's a bizarre argument, given that fluoride has been freely offered in Portland public schools every morning for decades. I swished the fluoride when I was in kindergarten (and my family was, indeed, poor); my kids swish the fluoride. Sure, preschoolers can't have access to fluoride unless they pay for it, but (umm) there are so many ways we don't support the health of poor families that this just seems a weird thing to plant a $5 million-plus flag in. Also, many health advocates have repeatedly noted that fluoride's benefit is topical, and there have been documented effects of fluoride poisoning -- from ingestion -- for about as long as water has been fluoridated.

According to a meta-analysis of fluoridation studies published in the journal of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, high levels of water fluoridation had a negative impact on the IQs of children. Here's another mark against fluoridation, found on the web site of Oregon Citizens for Safe Drinking Water:

A recently published study from Harvard found that young boys between the ages of five and ten years old who drink fluoridated water at so called “optimal” levels  of one part per million have a 500% greater likelihood of developing osteosarcoma, a rare and often fatal bone cancer, than boys who do not drink fluoridated water.  The study corroborates earlier studies on the fluoride/osteosarcoma link by the National Cancer Institute and the New Jersey Health Department.

I think the most powerful argument against adding fluoride to water, though, is that parents of babies are asked to avoid giving them fluoridated water to drink. The CDC itself, a supporter of fluoridation, says in a very carefully-worded statement that parents should not use exclusively fluoridated water to reconstitute baby formula. Baby and toddler toothpaste doesn't contain fluoride, because it's considered dangerous for babies to ingest.

I've read a book on fluoridation, and came through the experience firmly against it. I don't disagree with the use of topical fluoride; I think it's perfectly acceptable to use fluoride toothpaste. In fact, it's a lot cheaper to purchase flouride toothpaste than the natural fluoride-free alternatives (Sam and Nick, take note, poor parents now have no choice but excessive fluoridation).

I really don't think this move makes sense for any of us. If we as a city have decided that our tax dollars should support the heath of the poorer members of our community, the most efficient way to achieve that would be in health outreach to poor families -- more fresh whole foods and less sugar, more social-emotional supports for young families, more dental treatments for poor families -- than prophylactically medicating the entire city through our water system. I can't believe this is just about dental health, because there are so many better ways to approach it (and, once again! we already HAVE a fluoridation program for children in Portland!)

If the city council does indeed vote for this plan, we'll have the opportunity to overturn it. It will be expensive (money better spent on true community building and food and farms and arts and all sorts of things); it will take a lot of our time and energy; it will be seriously annoying. We already said "no." We have alternatives that work. We could spend $100,000 a year to buy toothpaste and fluoride tablets for every kid in Portland.

It's just not the Portland way, Sam & Co. Let the parents make the choices about their children's health. We can be trusted. Stop making it so clear you don't agree.

Eating the heat

July 08, 2012

No sooner does it turn warm than we all realize why we like living here: heat does have its drawbacks. Yes: my clothes on the line are drying super fast! No: I don't feel much like engaging in slow cooking enterprises that take all afternoon. Dishes that get us through the rest of the year, like tacos and chicken soup and chili, seem too much.

And often, we eat little between a mid-morning breakfast and dinner. The boys and I snack on fruit and chips and salsa and hummus. Come late afternoon, I know I need to fix them something and no one has the slightest idea what they want.

My go-to, especially when there are friends about, as is often in the summer. One of our frequent visitors is a vegetarian, and another is very picky, so bread-and-cheese combos are the best for him: grilled cheese and carrot sticks and cherries is dinner they all can eat happily (and boy do those cherries disappear). My other standby choices are terribly dull: hamburger patties and roasted or parboiled-plus-butter veggies. Whole-wheat spaghetti with sausage and tomato sauce (for my boys) and cheese (for the visitors). Hot dogs with baked bean-style lentils (we have lots of lentils and they were a hit with the boys!). Fried eggs, scramble eggs, boiled eggs. Bread with butter and honey.

Soon we'll have corn on the cob to boil and eat with butter and tomatoes to roast and cucumbers to slice thin for sandwiches and crudite and chop for dips and gazpacho. But in the meantime, I'd love a few ideas... what was a hit with your crowd? What do you feel like fixing when the thermometer crosses the hot-for-Portland 80F? (I'll share the recipes for the boy-approved hummus and lentil dip in an edit to the post later, promise!)

What to eat when you're in "your time"?

June 10, 2012

Yep: it's that old familiar "time of the month" for me. I wrote a little "LMP" on my calendar for this morning. And as usual I'm exhausted and headachey -- half of the symptoms of first trimester pregnancy with none of the fun. I've been wondering these last few months if I feel so badly because I'm eating all wrong. Just like during pregnancy, I have cravings during my period for comfort food. I don't usually eat a lot of sweets, but they are comfort for me, and I gave in and had a few small servings of ice cream with a much more nutritionally sensible rhubarb-blueberry crumble.

Because it's farmer's market season and I happen to have a bunch of fresh vegetables and fruits today, that's pretty much all I've eaten. And it occurs to me that my cravings might be working against my well-being. Do you pay attention to what you eat when you're on your period? After all, your body is losing all that blood; perhaps it should be replaced by some iron-rich food (maybe today would be a good day for steak and creamed spinach!). Have you found any dietary combo that works to help you feel a little better during this time?

Of children, diet, and poop, and crying mothers with toilet plungers

March 06, 2012

In order to protect the child of whom I am speaking, I won't say which of my sons is the sufferer, but he's a grade-schooler, and as grade-schoolers do, he eats the school breakfast and lunch with alacracity. Even though the Farm to Table program is making strides in increasing good grains and vegetables, it's still pretty much a white flour- and sugar-rich diet. At home, I make concerted effort to get dried fruit, whole grains, and lots of vegetables into the kids (and lots of kombucha), but whenever I stray from my constant vigilance, and a sugary snack or loaf of white bread sneaks in the door, they gobble it up. I swear sometimes they drop themselves into the mail slot and sidle in behind the kitty. I swear it!

Enter the digestive system, and its slowing and slowing until, boom! it compacts into a ball of disgusting solid poop that hurts coming out and prevents a child from wanting to to expel it. A few days of protesting, crying, negotiating and writhing later, the poop cannot be denied and it clogs up my toilet.

Continue reading "Of children, diet, and poop, and crying mothers with toilet plungers" »

Once obese, always obese: Can we prevent it in the first place?

January 19, 2012

At the turn of the year, we love to make resolutions.  Many might like to make resolutions of the health variety: I resolve to eat better, I resolve to exercise more, I resolve to lose weight.  A few weeks might go by, and our resolutions might slip.  In fact, over a third of resolutions are broken by the end of January.

Then, there is a twist.  On January 1st, the NYT ran an article discussing new studies in the realm of obesity: once obese, are we always obese?  Some studies show that we can get stuck in a fat trap, once fat.  Obese individuals who successfully lose weight will only regain all that weight (and more, possibly) in due time.

Depressing?  Yes.

What can we do about it?  Well.  There is much focus now on "upstream public health", tackling the root of the cause, preventing the fatness before we even enter (and get stuck) in the "fat trap".  This got us thinking about programs that affect our children, making sure that programs are designed to keep them active, to make sure they have access to healthy food, to help them be safe when active.

We live in a busy, complex world.  Our lives can be overwhelming.  How can make living a healthy lifestyle easy for people of all socioeconomic backgrounds, races, etc in our modern world?  Our lives are complex, and the environments that shape our health behaviors are too.  Work, school, urban or rural infrastructure all of these these can attract us to or deter us from eating more fruits and vegetables and moderate exercise.  How can we make this utopia of walkable/bikable cities with access to affordable fresh produce for all a reality for all?  What do we, as parents, see to be barriers to that reality?  What do the experts think we can do to change?  What are your top priorities for change?  What do you do in your day-to-day life as small steps toward keeping the family healthful?

* Keep the conversation going at a screening & panel discussion of "Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead", next Monday, January 23, 6-9pm at Living Room Theaters.  100% of proceeds of the $35 ticket go towards EcoTrust's Farm to School program.

The Great Turkey Debate: What's your Thanksgiving main dish?

November 10, 2011

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays, as it's all focused on food. A traditionalist and a lover of everything about this holiday, from the concept of gratitude to cooking elaborate meals to Native Amerian tales to the artist's imagination of Pilgrim garb (knowing, of course, the inherent conflict of the romanticized tale of the first thanksgiving celebration -- well, I like a complex tale too), I've been cooking a full Thanksgiving meal almost every year since I was 19 years old. That year, I made a Kroger turkey and cranberry-and-orange sauce and mashed potatoes and turkey gravy and two kinds of pie.

At the time, I had no idea about the politics of turkeys. These I would learn later -- when I read Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle in the winter of 2007-2008. I was already a farmer's market junkie, but this opened my eyes to the crazy modern history of poultry raising. I know it's kind of a weird way to go about making judgments, but the part that had me convinced was the whole chapter on turkey sex. (Yes. There was a whole chapter, pretty much, on turkey sex.) The turkeys that are for sale at every grocery store in the country right now are 95%+ the broad-breasted white variety -- one that has been carefully selected and bred for enormous breasts and fast growth. This breeding has left us with a turkey that's pretty much unable to have regular turkey relations. Like chickens, our turkeys are brought to us through artificial insemination.

They're also grown in big turkey pens that look something like the videos of riots at soccer stadiums. You know the ones? You're always afraid someone will be trampled. That's what routinely happens to turkeys (I know this is a fairly alarmist link, but there isn't much controversy about the underlying conditions in turkey farms; they're mostly like this). And besides the obvious inhumanity concerns, there is the fact that stressed, unhealthy birds are not the best choices for our table.

Continue reading "The Great Turkey Debate: What's your Thanksgiving main dish?" »

Cafeteria food check in: Yogurt, not for breakfast

November 02, 2011

My six-year-old is always hungry when he gets to school -- even if he's just finished his toast or pancakes on the bike ride there. No matter the quantity or quality of the calories, he's hungry. And as our elementary is a school with a large enough percentage of free and reduced-price lunch families, breakfast is free for everyone; so he feels that breakfast is a must. (As an aside, this frustrates his teacher to no end; he and a few other of the not-so-early risers in the class eat their breakfast at their desk, delaying her reading group schedule. I don't know what to say; I can't get him out of bed any earlier, I'm literally carrying him out of bed as it is. He insists that he's hungry. I have no good solutions.)

So today when we went through the line, I saw the no-thank-you table chockfull of yogurt, so much that the cafeteria employees had set out a bin for it. Usually, the no-thank-you table works on equilibrium; there are roughly equal numbers of kids who don't want some of the mandatory breakfast items as those who are hungry for extra. I commented on this to the cafeteria worker.

She told me that she supposed most kids don't really see yogurt as a breakfast food; they think of eggs, potatoes and pancakes as breakfast food. This surprised me, as I don't remember this ever being the case at Bridger, where Truman and Everett went last year; yogurt on the no-thank-you table was usually snapped up by kids who could eat two or three.

Our family has always considered yogurt an acceptable breakfast food but I wondered if it might be cultural; the makeup of Bridger (lots of Hispanic kids) was very different than Grout (lots of caucasian kids and East African children). Even though it has rather more sugar than I'd like, I generally approve of yogurt, especially over those "bagel wraps" and a few of the other highly-processed breakfast options.

What about your school? What breakfast options are popular? Does your child seem to get hungry as soon as he approaches the cafeteria, too?

Of School Fundraisers

October 20, 2011

Och! School fundraiser season is upon us, and if you want to get my blood boiling, ask my five-years-ago self to have my kid sell frozen cookie dough and cinnamon rolls in order to earn cheap prizes probably made in China. Go ahead, make my day!

But when Truman brought home the fundraising forms last week -- Delicious Delights! like the Thaw-and-Bake Blueberry Muffins ($16) or the Pizza Pail ($16, too), full, I was sure, of all kinds of ingredients I try to avoid, not to mention expensive (win a Sling Shot Plush animal! a plastic crawling bug! A Tornado Mug!) -- there was a bit of a surprise. The PTA letter that accompanied it judiciously mentioned that the school would get 40% of the proceeds from the sale of these caloric firebombs; or you could write a check and the school would get 100%.

So, I was getting ready to write a check for $20 (with "donation in lieu of fundraiser" in the memo line) when I saw a comment thread from another Portland Public Schools mom. She was lamenting the state of her PTA's fundraiser, which hadn't been accompanied by a letter like mine. Another mom on her thread said her school (in the area, I assume) had given parents a donation goal for the year -- $500, plus fundraisers.

Meanwhile, I'm helping the cross country team raise money to go to invitational meets and buy uniforms. Nearly all the money for sports is now provided by parents -- the coaches' salaries and the cost of buses come from the sports fees, and fundraisers pay for uniforms, and the Booster Club pays for end-of-season "banquets" (which are usually potlucks) and awards. Volunteers often end up paying for the privilege through t-shirts and Chinook Books and (in my case) babysitting. When I do the math, I realize that high school students who are involved in a few activities do pay $500, plus, a year for the privilege of going to public school.

What is there to say about this? Sometimes I feel like the school year is one big revolving hit-up. I'm hitting other parents up for Chinook Books for cross country while they're hitting me up for Run for the Arts laps while the schools are hitting us up for snacks and boxes of tissues while my friends' school are hitting me up for Burgerville and Pizzicato fundraising nights. I remember writing at least five or six checks for field trips last year. One of the cross country runners rolled his eyes and said, while we talked about the lap-a-thon we are planning for Friday, and the book sales, and the other money-raising ideas, "why don't we just ask people for one check?" Indeed.

Why don't we? Wouldn't it be easier and simpler? At the beginning of the school year, principals could come out to us and say, "we need $12,000 per kid for what we want to do. The state gives us $10,800. Pay up (if you can)." Obviously, we all couldn't afford to make up the difference. But at least we wouldn't have our kids pushing sweets and pizza and those endless forms at us -- the kids could focus on doing arts and PE and (I don't know) reading and math and not on raising money for it.

If you ran the world (or even just your own PTA), how would you fix it?

Halloween Costumes Verboten at Buckman; How 'Bout the Candy?

October 17, 2011

However tempted I am to say something like, "Halloween was simpler when we were kids!"; it's just not true. When I was of trick-or-treating age, I was faced with an enormity of moral and safety concerns each October 31st. My family, very faithful Conservative Baptists, approached Halloween with great suspicion thanks to its age-old ties to the Devil himself. A few years, we went to church on Halloween for witch-free celebrations (that's where I got my first goldfish!); I always chose "good" costumes, princesses and fairies and, ok, I really only ever wanted to be a princess. Also, we had the specter of razor blades and poison, which must have happened one time ever, and yet most of our parents were sure there were razor blade vendors on every block. Beware of the caramel apples! Take heed of the popcorn balls!

This year, in Portland, we have a modern flavor on the ages-old debate over Halloween. At Buckman Elementary, costumes will be banned for the second consecutive year; the principal "says celebrating Halloween at school excludes some kids and can be very offensive." (My six-year-old's school, Grout, is allowing costumes but banning weapons and gory/offensive/skimpy "content.") This has brought up all the debates you'd think ("what's happened to childhood?" "Halloween is an American celebration" "children need to have the opportunity to use their imaginations and dress up, but I do not believe this needs to be accomplished through Halloween"), and a few new twists. A few commenters on Think Out Loud said that they were disallowed from costumes by their family due to strict religious beliefs, and they appreciated the opportunity to stand up for their beliefs (in one case) or to soak up the "normalness" of the culture around them (in another case).

I'm not very passionate either way on this one; costumes at school, for me, means I have to have them ready earlier (I'm a very-last-minute homemade costume aficionado). And I do understand that they are distracting from the learning environment, and agree that there are ample times outside of school to wear costumes. On the other hand, I disagree that Halloween costumes in particular create disparity and cultural discomfort. As one commenter said and I agree wholeheartedly: these differences are always apparent, and Halloween costumes don't highlight them more or less than any other day at school. In my experience, you can see the cultural/economic differences best in the clothing worn to school when it's cold and rainy outside. (And as someone who was once a very poor high school student and is now a high school coach, I'm telling you, the disparity issues only get worse and more obvious every day that goes by in public school.)

Want more reasons to feel ambivalent about Halloween? The candy. It's not just probably pretty bad for you and your kids (and even I let my kids gorge for a day or two on Halloween and a few other holidays; childhood, right?). It's also the product of child slave labor.

Continue reading "Halloween Costumes Verboten at Buckman; How 'Bout the Candy?" »

Granola Bars, Cereal, Lunch Meat & Bread: my love/hate relationship

September 20, 2011

Having recently moved, my new neighborhood supermarket is Safeway in addition to a small, great local produce stand.  I find myself accomplishing my supermarketing tasks very, very slowly.  Not only do I try to enjoy the time without kids (when I am able to escape to market without them), but I am stuck on the labels.  I look carefully.  

Granola bars: the 70% organic CLIF bars run over a buck a pop but a box of the Quaker Oat bars ("now made without high fructose corn syrup" the box boasts!) will give you 8 for $2, if on sale.  The economics are compelling.  The kid CLIF bars usually run about $0.75 each, still significantly more than the ones I usually consider "candy bars" more than anything.  I struggle.  Do I have time this week to make my own (this one being the favored recipe so far)?  The wrappers.  I think about the wrappers.  Can we make an art project out of the wrappers?  Make a reusable shopping bags for holiday gifts?

Cereal: this is a treat in our household.  The poor children beg for it.  I sometimes look past the high fructose corn syrup (why do Rice Krispies need HCFS as a sweetener?) and reason that the iron-enrichment is worth it.  Why not?  On special, we could get two boxes for a few dollars, compared to the one box of my preferred brand of "natural" cereal.  What are your preferred O's?  Does it break the bank?

Lunch Meat: Oscar Mayer was on sale.  And, as I was humming "my baloney has a first name, is O-S-C-A-R....", I was thumbing the list of ingredients: ham, water, sugar...... sodium nitrite.  Is sodium nitrite bad?  Well, it could be.  But, it also does good in preventing botulism.  To be sure, though, the meat processing industry have indeed found ways to make us lunch meat that do not include sodium nitrite.  I've seen it at the store "No Nitrites", but it's just a bit too expensive.

Then, the bread: we have had long conversations about our decision-making process on the bread.  We look for lower sugar, no high fructose corn syrup, more whole grains, no enriched processed white flour (but wonder bread can be so good!).  We look for loaves under $5, please!  Under $2!  There are so many things to consider.

Between choosing these four items and whether or not I buy them, I could easily spend 45 minutes. It is a balance, and we all have our own ways that we juggle the cost, the convenience, and the health impacts.  What frustrates me to no end is how much I feel bombarded to buy the cheaper varieties, which often end up being the less healthy options.  How easy it is, though: cereal for breakfast, meat sandwich for lunch, granola bar for snack.  That's half of the day's meals, taken care of with just a few dollars and a few boxes.  It's not a decision I feel good about.  To eat out of stuff that has been previously wrapped no longer feels right to me.  That's just me.

When I go to the market, I wonder: why is it so hard to buy whole fresh foods?  Why do many factors push us to buy the convenient food, the cheaper food?  How can I continue to afford the whole food if it is priced higher than the processed food?  All of these things, I wonder, in my love/hate relationship with granola bars, cereal, lunch meat and bread.  It's a luxury to be armed with all the information we have, to have the time to ponder these questions, but I know I'm not the only one thinking about these things.  

Sunday Meal Planning: Back to the Lunch Grind

September 04, 2011

I start every school year thinking this will be the year I win my kids over with the homemade lunches. And every year, I end up giving in to the siren song of the cafeteria (last year, it was the second week of school, when Truman came home with a bill -- he'd been getting both a cafeteria tray and his lunchbox every day). Certainly, I've loved being here in Portland, where school food is undergoing a serious revolution, and, most days, the children will have ingredients from local farms on the menu.

However, as the photo above (taken at a field trip near the end of school last year, so we've got to give them some slack for brown bagging necessities) indicates, there's a lot of room for unhealthy choices. As hard as I try at home to steer my children clear of refined sugar, preservatives, processed flours and other highly-processed foods: if Truman has a choice, it's chocolate milk every day, and, judging from this small window on school food, no one eats the good stuff like grapes.

So I'm trying to get it right this year.

Continue reading "Sunday Meal Planning: Back to the Lunch Grind" »

Beets for preschoolers and other good vegetable-y things

July 07, 2011

It was Citymama herself who cooked up the fresh goodies at the preschool where Everett began his tenure (until she, sadly, moved away to California). Watching small children eat pasta with eggplant tomato sauce or steamed green beans or little hummus cucumber sandwiches is so affirming it made tears come to my eyes. ("They like it. They really LIKE it!") Later, I would birth a baby who would eat carrot greens out of my farmer's market bag, raspberries right off the bushes outside, and salmon salad sandwiches with fresh onions and yogurt-chive dressing (that was today).

Last month, I went to a culinary conference in Austin. There, my friend Michelle (this friend!) organized a visit to a charter school at the University of Texas where grade school-aged kids had grown and learned to cook vegetables from a garden right behind the school. The presenters asked the kids what they had learned to love that they never would have tried before. "Sorrel," said one (!!). The next four kids picked "brussels sprouts."

So when I saw the FOODday piece by Leslie Cole in this week's Oregonian, "Taking a Fresh Approach to Daycare Meals That Kids Will Actually Eat," I squealed a bit. One-year-olds at ChildRoots eating beets, black beans, and steamed grains. Preschoolers at Maryam's Preschool eating Persian rice and vegetables. Parents thrilled... but not really doing anything nearly like this at home.

After having made some mistakes and some total victories with my own kids (and having the sort of child who has a totally unique set of likes and dislikes -- my middle son, Truman, will only eat dried fruit, and only carrots if he can see the vegetable, though he will happily eat grilled fish or sardines or pate, straight), I can say that it's not just exposing kids to a variety of freshly-prepared healthy foods that aren't hidden in other things that is important in developing healthy eating habits; but also maintaining, as much as possible, a food environment in which unhealthy choices are severely limited. It's just a fact: if there is soda in the house, my kids will drink it (same for energy drinks and prepared chocolate milk etc. etc.). If candy is offered right before lunchtime, they'll eat that and skip the salmon-salad sandwiches. If even such a mildly unhealthy choice as Trader Joe's breakfast bars or those sugary yogurt tubes (even the organic ones are pretty high-sugar and TJ's bars have less whole grains and more sugar than I prefer for the kids to have), they'll disappear before the whole-grain scones I made are even touched.

This piece is fantastic inspiration to keep me offering fresh peas and cherries instead of Starbucks treats and yogurt squeezers. I love that more preschools and elementary schools are offering kids whole grains and fresh vegetables prepared in delicious and visible ways (no wink-wink hiding black beans in brownies). I think parents (and here I include my own thoroughly fallible self) could do a better job of supporting these institutional chefs by putting a variety of recognizable vegetables and fruits and whole grains in front of our kids and keep the packaged snack food and sugary treats and breakfast food out of our cupboards. Not every child is going to become a brussels sprout and quinoa lover. But we should give them lots, and lots, and lots of chances -- and they just might end up surprising us.

Compare & Contrast: Portland's various farmer's markets

June 03, 2011

The growing season is here!  And, farmer's markets will soon be in full swing.  Portland Farmers Market is the big daddy of markets around here.  In ther 9th year, they have grown to a location on every single day of the week: Saturday at PSU (the OG), Sundays at King School, Mondays/Tuesdays/Thursdyas at Pioneer Courthouse Square, Wednesdays in the lower South Park Blocks, Thursdays at Buckman and in NW (EcoTrust bldg parking lot).  I guess nothing queued up for Fridays.

There are many, many  more markets beyond these main ones.  OEC has a comprehensive listing of Portland-area farmers markets: Tigard, Beaverton, Interstate, Lents, Montavilla, Hollywood, Hillsdale, Lloyd, OHSU, Moreland, Parkrose.  There are so many to chose from; it's a little dizzying.

An urbanMama recently emailed:

I know lots of the area farmer's markets are starting back up and I would love to hear people's thoughts about the different ones, i.e., price differences between them, quality and diversity of the vendors and items offered for sale, etc. I am familiar with the big one downtown, and the one in Hollywood, and I have to say that they have started to seem pretty expensive in the past few years. Are any of the other ones (Lents, Montavilla, Beaverton) any less expensive?

Picky Toddler: only eats yogurt, apples & cereal

May 05, 2011

I've moved beyond wondering if how much he eats is enough.  Now, he's in a food rut, eating just a few things, and a whole lot of them (thank goodness).  We offer all sorts of [gluten-free] options, but the child is constantly gravitating to the same old things.  I know I've been through this before: my biggest girl would only eat yogurt & veggie booty all day long.  I know it passes.  Aside from continuing to offer new things, lots of options, and waiting for it to pass, is there anything else that can nudge a toddler off a single-track meal plan?

Sunday Meal Planning: Getting Kids Involved With 'The Whole Family Cookbook'

April 24, 2011

My friend Michelle Stern was still pitching The Whole Family Cookbook when I met her face-to-face a year ago during the IACP conference in Portland. Once she closed the deal and started creating recipes, I did a little testing and, as you'd expect, lots of photograph-making in the process. Because her book is focused on cooking together with children, I wanted to get Everett and Truman and Monroe involved; and I was immediately surprised to see how much benefit we get from having them join in the cooking fun. [Note: Enter a giveaway for the book by commenting; details at the end of the post.]


Even months before we got the book, then, we were discovering how much healthier kids might eat if they just take a hand -- not just in cooking the food -- but in planning that cooking. I'd ask Everett which of a couple possible recipes to try, and we'd discuss whether a recipe had ingredients he'd like together. I was a little thrilled when he said one of the recipes we tried was too sweet for him -- and we made another variation on it that had honey and a small amount of sugar and that we all loved, adding a great sherbet recipe to our family repertoire. (The recipe that made it into the book is a delightfully tart buttermilk lemon sherbet, a winner indeed.)

Handing kids a cookbook with lots of pretty photos of healthy food and asking them, "find something for dinner tomorrow" is the best way I can think of to get them involved in this hardest parental job (filling their stomachs with good "growing food") and to make sure the hard work you put in to choosing sources and shopping and lugging the stuff home and cooking it all on demand pays off. Until, that is, they're old enough to do all the shopping and preparing on their own (I was particularly freed by the image of Rebecca's teens from last week's post making turkey sandwiches and sweet potatoes). I did that one night, and the next night, we had taco salad straight from Michelle's book (my recipe adds red cabbage to the onions for a little extra nutritional zing).

Continue reading "Sunday Meal Planning: Getting Kids Involved With 'The Whole Family Cookbook'" »

Meal Planning: What is your strategy?

April 17, 2011

Choppingboard Two of my kids are in baseball this spring and with practices and games at least three evenings a week, it is clear I need to step up my meal planning game. The most stressful part of my day is coming home from work and cooking dinner as three hungry boys forage and constantly remind me that they are hungry. If I am prepared, I can give dinner on the table in 20 minutes. More often than not, I am scrambling. It's not pretty and I scramble to throw something together that's available from what we have on hand.  My go to meal is pasta with a quick and easy tomato sauce. 

Feeding the family is favorite topic on urbanMamas, we've talked about meal planning loosely especially as it relates to Sunday night stress, running a tight ship, and recently about how much does dinner cost but I am in need of specific ideas and to compare notes on strategies to make meal planning an integral part of the family routine. Do you plan meals? Do you plan by the week, two weeks, a month?


How much does dinner cost?

April 06, 2011

I am a finance person through and through.  It's what I do for work, and it's what I spend extra brain power on when we're at the supermarket.  And, not only do I track and calculate what we spend on food weekly, I have started to try to estimate what each dinner might cost.  Recently, I came across a new issue of Delivered Dinners in Portland and was surprised at the price tag: $45-50 per meal. Perhaps I'd rather opt for the DIY Freezable Dinners, which bear a much lower price tag.  Maybe the delivered dinners would equate to a fancier night out for the family.  To be sure, that's not what I spend on an average weekday dinner.  When we're looking for take-out, we might hit up some of those chains, where ne'er would we break the $30 point, barely even $20.

Lately, I've been doing the calculating.  Our cheaper dinners are meat-free: black beans & rice, an egg bake, tofu stir-fry with veggies over rice.  Those dinners are well under $10, probably more like $5. Meat dinners are much more expensive.  I splurged on a seafood dinner last Friday & it was the price of a dinner out!  Thank goodness, though, with the discovery of food buying clubs, I feel I am saving more and investing in great quality.

Right now, we are needing to pinch pennies more than ever, and I am always thinking: What is your *super-affordable*, healthful, and easy dinner option?  Your go-to family-pleasing meal that meets all the criteria?

Gluten-Free, Vegan, Dairy-Free: Children & Their Food Allergies

April 03, 2011

It is hard enough managing food allergies, sensitivities and preferences in our own households.  When a child has celiac or other diseases/allergies, how do you manage to maintian this diet even outside the home?  Even if you pack his lunch for school, he will still have exposure to other children's foods. An urbanMama recently emailed:

I am looking for a "preschool" that accommodates gluten free.  In searching, I have only found Urban Roots.  But I wanted to post asking others if they knew of any childcare/preschools that run gluten free.  I have a celiac who, despite us packing his lunch, keeps having an exposure...correlating with EVERY time he goes to "school". 

Do you let others know, when he goes to birthday parties, school, playdates?  Do you ask that children do not share food?  Impose other rules or restrictions on children in these other environments? Going out to eat, do you only eat foods that your son can tolerate, to minimize chance of exposure?

It Starts Here: Multnomah County's Healthy Living Initiative

April 01, 2011

A recent report on the healthiest counties in Oregon shows Multnomah county ranking in the middle.  Not all of us are fit and mindful of our sugar intake.  The Multnomah County Health Department recently launched the “It Starts Here” Campaign for a healthy, active Multnomah County.  “We are promoting healthy eating and active living as a means to combat obesity and its many associated health consequences. You can learn more about our campaign at our website multco-itstartshere.org.”

Mc billboard kid 030211

How does this image make you feel?  16 packets of sugar?  WOW, is that how much is in a bottle of soda?  The County is working on an outdoor advertising campaign to raise community awareness about the health burden of obesity and the effects of hidden sugar, particularly in sugary drinks like soda, sports drinks, and sugar-sweetened juices.  Care to share your input?  Click on the image <above> to complete an anonymous survey.  The county appreciates the input!

Do you or your kids drink soda?


Homemade Granola Bars: crowd-pleasing & easy, too!

March 31, 2011

I came to realize that there were a handful of grocery items that really added to our level of waste: milk (at least we can recycle the jugs), cereal (boxes recycled, inner bags usually not), and granola bars (CLIF might have a recycling program for their wrappers, but all the other shiny ones are usually chucked into the landfill).  

So, I have been experimenting with making granola bars using ingredients I can buy in bulk (nuts, sugar, oats, choco chips!, dried fruit).  Other mamas have recently asked me for recipes, and lots of us seem to be experimenting, so I thought it'd be fun to share tips, tricks, and favorite recipes.

The hardest part is getting the consistency down, making sure the liquid binders (maple syrup, honey, butter, peanut butter, coconut oil, etc) is ample to hold it all together.  When I mix it all together, if the end result doesn't look sticky enough, I'll throw in a beaten egg, which is sure to keep it all together.  So far, two of my favorite recipies are from Alton Brown and this thick chewey bar recipe that happens to be gluten-free (one of our kids is gluten-free).

Have you made granola bars at home?  Best recipes to share to make the perfect bar?  Must-try ingredients and mix-ins?

How to help: planning for meals & care

March 12, 2011

Have meal-trains become more and more popular or has our community just become more tight? Perhaps a bit of both.  When my last child was born about 1.5 years ago, I was absolutely floored by the generousity of friends, life with a newborn and the gift of meals was so abundant!  

There are quite a few babies entering our lives soon and there are also families in help due to serious health conditions.  I have come across several different tools to help plan out meals: MealBaby seems to be popular, but there is also Lots of Helping Hands (which can also help with coordinating care), Take Them A Meal, and MealTrain.  Which meal train websites have you used?  Which do you like and why?

Eating for weight gain: We need to PUMP (*clap*) you up!

January 27, 2011

My little man is so very, very little.  At 16 months old, he weighs about 18 and a half pounds.   Not that we're in a rush for him to sit in a forward-facing car seat, but we have often thought that most one-year-olds will be facing forward already (good thing he mostly rides in a bike seat;  he faces forward all the time.)  He is a vibrant, inquisitive, and capable child.  He is developmentally spot on.  Still, his gain of9 ounces over a 3.5 month period was a bit alarming to us and our health care professionals.

Some have suggested that we give him Pediasure, for a bulky, reliable cocktail of carbs, fats, and protein.  Primary ingredients:

Water, Sugar (Sucrose), Corn Maltodextrin, Milk Protein Concentrate, High Oleic Safflower Oil, Soy Oil, Whey Protein Concentrate, Medium-Chain Triglycerides. 

Wait a minute.  Can't I just mix some water, milk, sugar, and oil and call it Mamasure?  Needless to say, I was not comfortable offering the Pedia-cocktail to my toddler.  Instead, I am digging deep to come up with healthful, easy-to-eat, nutritious, wholesome foods that he will love: lots of granola with coconut oil, avocados on tortillas, pancakes/waffles/biscuits with butter, whole milk products, some meats, and grains.  Lots of good grains.  I welcome your thoughts and suggestions on good whole foods that can help bulk up our little people with healthful alternatives to the Pediasure.  I also welcome links to recipes!

Lunch-Pooling: Making Friends and Swapping Muffins

September 30, 2010

My neighbor Camellia posted on Facebook about her lunch pool -- something I fell in love with briefly once years ago but never executed. When she offered to write a post about her new experiences, I said, "yes!"

I was nervous about my almost-Three starting Montessori school. I was worried about him adjusting, about drop-off, and about…it seems silly, but packing lunches. After reading the recent posts about kids leaving their lunches uneaten and Sunday night insanity I was nervous about being prepared each morning with balanced, nutritious lunches he would actually eat. Even at home, I don’t feel like we always do a very good job of coming up with good little guy meals day after day. We fall back on quesadillas and Cheerios far more often that I’d like.

A woman overheard me discussing the topic at the gym and approached me with a suggestion: lunch-pooling. You find a parent in your kid’s class with compatible lunch-styles and take turns making lunch for both kids, one week on, one week off.

I love it. It’s actually easier to pack two lunches because you can use up your ingredients faster, packing fresher lunches with more variety. I feel like the challenge of coming up with a week’s lunches is much more manageable than the prospect of packing lunches every day. And so far, the kids are eating nearly everything! My kid actually eats better than he does at home, because I have to plan better, and he has to eat what he gets instead of demanding Cheerios. Arranging it in a cute little box helps, too.

Of course, the challenge is finding a friend who eats more or less the same stuff your kid eats. This could be harder if your kid has dietary issues. But even if you don’t find a lunchbox buddy right off the bat, there are other ways to lunch pool. Even if your friends’ kids go to different schools, you can swap home-made lunchbox staples for the freezer. Mini-muffins, meatballs, soups, and pot-stickers are a few our kids like.

In general, I love the ideal of “pooling,” be it transportation, lunches, or what-have-you… I love that the same effort goes twice as far, and it’s more fun, too. As the old saying goes, many hands make work light. I have friends who even pool soup dinners through their kids’ classroom: several families rotate cooking duty on Soup Night, making a savory soup that’s substantial enough for a meal with salad and bread. They exchange soups at school when they pick up their kids. I’m also part of a carpool for picking up our raw milk and fresh eggs from the farm. What do you pool? What are the pros and cons? And what are your favorite freezable lunchbox staples?

How much lunch remains by day's end?

September 21, 2010

I was visiting another school at the 3pm hour today.  I noticed a papa with his two kids packing up on their bikes to go home.  Before putting the bags into the cargo bin, the papa rustled through the kids' lunch bags.  "What did you eat today?"  He sounded exasperated.  When I heard him, I felt a bit relieved.  I was glad to know that my kids' lunches aren't the only ones coming home almost completely intact.  I would say they are anywhere from 60-90% intact, on the whole.  

What is it the kids eat all day?  How is they get through the day, if all they eat are crumbs and nibbles of bits and pieces?  Is it too distracting at school for a proper lunch?  I would think that the full day of activity would make for ravenous children.  Why is that when they get home, they are suddenly so hungry and tear through the cupboards for that pre-dinner snack?  Should I be packing other items, more suitable for hurried lunch hours and distracted mouths?  I would like to know: how much of your kids' lunches make their ways back home?

Portland redeems school lunches, breakfasts

September 16, 2010

I've been downright cynical about the fate of school lunches. The breakfasts have often been the worst: plastic-wrapped greasy sugar-or-salt balls, was my verdict. While there may have technically been "nutrition," protein and carbohydrates and some pass at vitamin enrichment, I suspected breakfast from McDonald's would have been healthier.

Today, I dropped my children off late at school and there was a big basket of leftover breakfast in the office. Monroe got one, too, and as we headed home I checked it out. The Zac O Mega-bar had me at "northwest fruit filling" and the insurmountably reliable ingredients list which was filled with stuff that's in my kitchen, not the contents of a chem lab. Yes, there's still sugar (zoinks!) but I was pleased with the whole wheat flour and oats, the molasses and honey. Fairlight Bakery in Vancouver makes the treats, and uses Shepherd's Grain flour from northern Washington, a sustainable farming cooperative.

It smelled good -- smelled real! -- and tasted great.  Today's lunch is macaroni and cheese; I've got a call in to ask further, but a lot of effort has gone into making more food from scratch, so I'm hopeful.

Continue reading "Portland redeems school lunches, breakfasts" »

On the brain: What's for lunch?

September 01, 2010

With Hood to Coast now fading into a memory, we are looking forward to the start of school next year.  We're trying to enjoy these last moments of summer vacation.  No summer camps this week, only organizing school supplies and cooler weather clothing.  We're trying on backpacks and making sure our lunch totes fit into the backpacks.  And, we are talking about lunches.

As I was reading about Portland Public School's new nutrition plan, I needed to organize my thoughts and cupboards around the lunches that await us.  I asked my first-grader to make a list of her favorite lunch items (we pack lunch almost every day), and I reminded her that she needed to have a protein, a fruit, and a veggie with every meal.  I typically stay away from packing snacks or granola bars, fearing that those would be the only items eaten when it came to lunch.  I am checking out the archives for suggestions on what's for lunch, here and here, but why not restart the conversation anew?  Come next week, what are you packing in the kids' lunchboxes?

Interested in learning more about bringing healthful food to our schools?  See how you can support local and larger-scale efforts through the Ecotrust Farm to School work.

Potty training diet: No corn, no way

August 17, 2010

Monroe, finally, seemed ready for potty training. He started to have a more positive response to the question, "do you want to try to go potty?" My sister (who teaches preschool for two- and three-year-olds, and babysits for me regularly) bought him a bag of gum drops from Trader Joe's, and started offering them as prizes. His early intervention specialist mentioned the way to tell he was ready was, could he be dry through the night? And the next night, I let him go the night in his underwear, and sure enough: he made it!

So we began; put away the diapers and started the slow progress toward an accident-free future. Emphasis on slow. Though he lately seems to have almost conquered the pee accidents, the poop accidents are frequent. So we're on a potty training diet.

The first thing off my list was corn on the cob. We don't eat it much, anyway, as I rarely buy fresh food that's out of season, and it's not something I love enough to freeze. But Everett had asked for some, and there was sorta-local corn cheap at Limbo. Four corn-kernel-filled pairs of underwear later, gross gross gross, and I declared (quietly, to myself, no point in reminding him he loves it) NO MORE CORN. Yesterday, I let him have blueberries, against my better judgment. Yuck. Three times cleaning blueberry poop off the floor was enough to have me questioning that (delicious and healthy but oh! messy!) food, too.

It seems like a perfectly rational plan, to me, to limit the diet to less-poop-inducing foods while you're in the worst of potty training's throes. Maybe my brain is a bit addled by the ick. Have any of you done this? What foods have you, umm, eliminated?

Eat Organic & Local on a Budget: HOW?

August 16, 2010

I mentioned the other day that our lemonade stand featured homemade product made with organic lemons and organic agave sweetener.  I did not mention that we do not normally stock these products.  My husband bought the lemons when they went out for a walk, and they were considered a "treat" for the kids.  The agave sweetener was on sale at the market and - with a Chinook Book coupon - was cheaper per unit than sugar.  

A couple of years ago, we talked about how to balance our food buying: how can we buy healthful foods on a budget?  Where are you shopping now?  How have you changed what you buy?  Are there items you buy only organic, but others you buy conventional due to price?  Do you take advantage of local fruit and veggies, canning, preserving, and freezing for later in the year?  Buying clubs are also on the rise locally.  I myself am a new member of the North Portland Buying Club, and another urbanMama (Sarah) is a member of Know Thy Food.  Perhaps you are a member of a group purchasing club in your neighborhood?

How much does your toddler eat?

July 21, 2010

Feeding our little folk is such a big thing for us mamas.  Especially in the younger tender ages, when we want them to grow, but also develop healthful eating habits and preferences.  I am often thinking about this these days, as my littlest is just about 10 months old, enjoy trying new foods, tastes, textures, smells.  I am a bit more sensitive about it all, as he is pretty much off-the-charts on the little growth percentile graph.... I'm talking negative percentile.  Ah, well.  I'm not too worried about it, but I do wonder what are delicious, enticing, amazingly nutritious things we could feed the littlest of the littles?  I am glad that I'm not the only mama wondering.  An urbanMama recently emailed:

I was wondering if you could do a post about what and how much does your young toddler eat?  My daughter is 16 months old and it is a constant struggle wondering if she is eating enough.

The revolution will be put into glass jars

July 05, 2010

Last year, I was invited to join a group of amazing women, mostly food writers or bloggers, but a few simply passionate about preservation, in Seattle, Philadelphia and a few other locales to help promote the Canvolution -- a celebration of Canning Across America all year long that culminated in a weekend Can-a-rama. In cities across the country, canners were invited to host events in which beginning and experienced putter-uppers would join together in something like the harvest parties of old.

The inaugural event was scheduled for the weekend of Hood-to-Coast; much though I wanted to host something, it was a little more than I could juggle. I canned alone on Sunday when I returned home from a lot of mostly-sleepless running. I was lucky enough, though, to be invited to a tomato canning party in September, giving me the community canning fix to get me through the winter (and, for the record, I canned enough tomatoes! -- with my solo jars and the product of our canning party, 70 pints were more than my family needed). I've been inviting a few friends over for strawberry jam-making on Wednesdays, and though it's been a bit chaotic, it's been lovely, too. And the jam has been delicious!

This year I was thrilled to see the Can-a-rama scheduled for the weekend of July 24 and 25. Immediately, I knew I'd host a canning party; every time I've mentioned food preservation here, I've had at least one commenter wonder, how can I learn to can food? This will be just a bit of a lesson, and it will be hands-on and messy and probably hot, but it should be fun.

I'm planning to book a solid day of harvesting and preserving on Saturday, July 24; we'll begin by harvesting some plums from a neighbor's tree, then make a number of preserves based on those plums (including jam, a savory sauce and perhaps plum pickles), and probably some other preserves -- blueberry, apricot, zucchini? -- based on what's bountiful and cheap that week. I'll demonstrate both water-bath canning and lacto-fermentation; but no pressure canning. I think my Southeast Portland home can fit about a dozen mamas and papas; I'd love to see parties clustered around neighborhoods so that you all could use this as a community-building as well as a teaching/learning/food-securing opportunity. (If you want to host but aren't into the coordination, leave a comment and I'll help.)

Managing allergies, sensitivities, and preferences

June 08, 2010

I know that other mamas have mentioned to me before that I may want to tame my love for dairy when it came to my babe's current eczema.  The suggestion was reinforced by the pediatrician the other day.  So, I begrudgingly committed to cutting the cheese, even though cheese and milk has become a larger and larger part of my diet as I have started to eat less and less meat.

That evening, faced with tight schedules of piano lessons, basketball practice, and bath times, my husband suggested picking up a pizza from one of our reliable chains.  Great idea!  I like to reserve one night a week for a quick and easy pizza.

WRONG.  I took the piping hot pizza out of the oven and thought "doggonit!"  Hungry, I looked sadly at our dinner.  Too exhausted to really fix anything else, I think I had salad for dinner.  A lot of it.

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Nuggets, pink milk, and party pizzas taking the fall

April 09, 2010

I've been watching Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution (along with a lot of you, I know) and I can't tell if my blood is boiling hotter than my tears are stinging, or vice versa. During the third episode last Friday, I was in need of a good noseblow by the end. I think it was the stunning failure of Oliver to inspire anything like interest in real food in the kids in episode two that hurt the most, and it was the chicken nugget bit that had people talking. I wrote about it: "When he showed children how chicken nuggets are made -- grinding up the least desirable parts of a bird, gloppily straining out the bones, and adding flavorings and fillers -- he expected them to refuse to eat them. Instead, after having cried 'ewww!' and 'gross!' they each asked for a patty, answering his bewilderment with: 'We're hungry!' ...

"Though part of Oliver's stunt was pure fiction -- 'Thankfully, chicken nuggets in this country are not made this way,' he clarified before heading off to cleave a carcass into pieces -- it's part of a wider movement that's calling out processed fake food by name and calling for it to be eliminated from children's diets." What surprised me was how many of the people I know (and plenty I don't) started talking about how chicken nuggets were now off their family's menu.

There's a lot not to like in Oliver's show. There are the cafeteria workers, who grumble and complain when Oliver dares to bring real chicken and potatoes in need of a peeler into the kitchen, where the comfort food comes in a box and needs only to be heated up. There are the rules that say Oliver's many-vegetable pasta "isn't a cup and a fourth" of vegetables (he has to serve fries with his healthy fare to make it up) and that every meal needs to have "two breads" even if those breads are both halves of an extremely processed, nutrition-bereft pizza crust and that schools need to have "two kinds of milk" which often means milk that's been colored pink and sugar-added. There is all that sugar, so much sugar that Oliver himself has been making special note of it. In that post on Moms Rising, he writes, "Ask a pediatrician (or a teacher for that matter) to identify the biggest enemy of child’s health and they will answer,” sugar”. You put beautiful little kids in school, 180 days of the year, from four to 18 and nearly every choice offered to them is some version of junk food."

And there's the grocery store, where the aisles are packed with sugary treats disguised as healthy food. There's the "Froot Loops" and the happy-dippy commercials stacked five solid in our kids' favorite TV shows, the ones that say cheerfully, "part of this good breakfast!" (I tell Everett, overhearing one, "you know, that's not really a good breakfast..." "I KNOW, mom," he replies.) There is the yogurt (even the organic stuff), whose makers feel it necessary to pack it with so much sugar that one eight-ounce serving is as much sugar as the AHA recommends kids have in a day. There are the "fruit snacks," the lemonade which has no lemon juice, the trail mix with so many ingredients I have to look twice to see if there are really raisins and peanuts.

There are our kids, who eat a bunch of candy on Easter or when a well-meaning aunt or uncle stops by, or we ourselves let them go crazy at Starbucks' pastry counter, and then proceed to act horribly, fighting over Froot Loops and Skittles and Petite Vanilla Bean Scones until we cover our ears with our hands and scream, "no more candy, EVER!" (Is that just me?)

In all this craziness, I'm happy to see that more scrutiny is being placed on the harmful quality of junk food, poor quality meats, white bread and the abhorrent state of the "reimburseable meals" provided in our schools. It seems hopeful. It also seems crushing: how many cafeteria ladies will have to be convinced that kids might eat broccoli if we keep offering it to them? How many hard decisions will have to be made -- no chocolate milk, french fries once a week, a re-categorization of "food" in the food stamps even -- how will we pay for it?

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What we learned in a cooking lesson: Soup every way

March 07, 2010

A nice mama took me up on my offer from the post about Jamie Oliver, and came over Thursday for a cooking lesson. While I'd quizzed her on likes and dislikes before she came (no mushrooms, she said, and her husband wasn't an onion fan), we hadn't really talked about what she wanted to learn. "I feel overwhelmed," she said, with a 14-month-old in the kitchen and a tight budget. "How do people just always have what they need on hand?"

We quickly realized that she didn't need help figuring out how to dice and peel and saute: she needed to be released from the stress of a recipe. She's one of those people (on the other end of the spectrum of home cooks than I) who must absolutely put two teaspoons of thyme into a recipe if it calls for two teaspoons of thyme, and if she can't find thyme or if it's very expensive or if she gets home and realizes she has, after all, no balsamic vinegar (just cider), or whatever: she panics.

What she needed, I said, was to cook without a recipe at all. Just a process. That would save her from the planning, list-making, recipe-checking, budget-busting stress. She could just buy whatever she saw that was in season and inexpensive (or whatever was growing in her garden, arrived in her CSA box, or her mom had given her), and use the process to make it fit.

We made one thing: a cabbage black bean chili, in which I used the beans from the recipe I included in the first post, and I stressed throughout our time that weren't going to talk about quantities or requirements, just procedures, categories and maximums, and ways she could fit this process into her own family's life. One piece of advice I gave her was, I thought, universally useful, and that is to figure out what are your favorite and most versatile spices, and become comfortable enough with them so you'll always know how much to use. Mine are cumin, smoked paprika, dried chiles, cloves, nutmeg and allspice; other good standbys could include ginger, dry mustard, star anise, thyme, dill, cinnamon and cayenne or chipotle pepper. You could only have two or three (cumin and thyme and some sort of pepper, for instance) and still manage to make good food no matter what, I think. Buy the spices in bulk (Limbo has a fantastic fresh spice and herb aisle; many other neighborhoods sport their own super spice sources) and you'll save money and ensure freshness.

Below is the process for bean soup I used. This is an endlessly great way to make soups, and could be vegetarian, vegan, or thoroughly meaty-creamy, depending on which options you picked. The one we made was delicious! And though I'll probably never make it exactly like that again, I'm sure we'll make many more great soups in our day that will best even that.

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Jamie Oliver, fresh food, and changing our (doomed) destiny

February 23, 2010

I think we've all heard these statistics by now, right? We're raising the first generation of kids who won't outlive their parents -- their life expectancy is 10 years less than ours. Obesity will cost $150 billion this year -- 10% of our health care costs -- and that's projected to be doubled by 2020. Diet-related diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, and many cancers, are by far and away the biggest killers, far worse than even auto accidents. Why?

Jamie Oliver, in his TED talk that has everyone talking, has pegged a couple of culprits. Fast food is one; sugar is two. And we're starting to realize that it's not just high fructose corn syrup that's bad; it's all kinds of processed sugar. Even that "raw" brown sugar in the sweet brown packets. Sugar in the chocolate milk (it's truly terrible; one carton of the stuff has more sugar than the American Heart Association suggests a child have in a day, and more than soda), sugar in the yogurt, sugar in the breakfast cereal, sugar in the ketchup, sugar in the peanut butter and the jelly and the bread, sugar in the pizza sauce for goodness' sake.

And where is this killer food being served? In our schools, first. Even when fresh local cooked-on-site food is available, there's an alternative that includes yogurt, chocolate milk, chicken nuggets, pizza. In our homes, second. We're killing our kids. (Not just other people. Me. Everett's lunch yesterday: yogurt and "I don't want to talk about it any more.") What's more, in many classrooms Jamie's visited, kids don't even know what fresh food looks like. A radish is maybe celery, maybe an onion; an eggplant is maybe a pear; one kid doesn't recognize a potato in its skin. Jamie doesn't mince words: we are, he says, committing child abuse by feeding kids this junk.

His takeaway is this: "I wish for everyone to help create a strong, sustainable movement to educate every child about food, to inspire families to cook again and empower people everywhere to fight obesity."

How can we do this? Here's one way: to cook, really cook, from scratch. I don't mean "a can of this and a can of that" from scratch; I mean carrots and potatoes and cabbages and dry beans. Take our kids into the kitchen (even if they're just playing with the water in the sink while you peel and chop); take them to the market; buy vegetables and fruits whole; plant a garden (you can put peas and spinach and lettuce and broccoli raab in now!). Here's one recipe I've been making that's easy, easy, cheap, and delicious -- Everett likes it just plain but I dress it up with plain yogurt, hot sauce, and some braised kale or cabbage:

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Do you drink soda?

February 22, 2010

Just a week behind, I finally got around to reading an article in the NYT that considers treating soda like tobacco - through taxes, warning labels, and big public awareness campaigns to discourage consumption.  Also recalling a recent (California) study that linked soda consumption to obesity, it made me consider my own soda consumption, both as a child growing up and now as a parent.

Growing up, soda was the drink of choice in the household once my brothers and I were in the elementary years.  My parents drank a lot of soda.  We, the children, we allowed to drink Sprite but weren't allowed to drink Coke.  "It has caffeine; it's bad for you!"  It was my body-image issues that led to counting every calorie when I was a certain age, which is when I stopped drinking soda.  All the empty calories!  In my adulthood, I drank diet soda from time-to-time.  I recall having a Diet Coke every afternoon during my second pregnancy.

Our girls have rarely had soda.  There are some birthday parties where soda may be the only option, and - while I have suggested they try it - they have never liked the stuff.  Last fall, the family gifted me a carbonator for my birthday, to fuel my love for soda water, and - as a special treat - we have also made some cherry-flavored (cherry extract, sugar, water, and some CO2) soda for the kids.  But, even that, they don't so much love.  Sometimes they girls will tell me, coming home from playdates, that their friends offered them soda with their snacks.  All in all, though, we don't seem to be big soda drinkers.  We don't buy the stuff.

Do you drink soda?  How much?  A serving or two a day?  Maybe once in a while when you go out?  Maybe never?  How about the kids?  When did they first have soda?  Do they like it and ask for it?

urbanMamas snack: The recipes that changed our lives

January 21, 2010

Never one to shy away from an opportunity to hyperbolize food, I was enthralled with my neighbor Camellia's email today, asking me to try a recipe for raw, vegan "brownies," and write about them here in the context of life-changing food. What, she asked, are the simple, healthy, delicious recipes we couldn't feed our families without? 

Immediately, I thought of my favorite shortbread cookies, made with measures of brown rice flour, whole wheat flour, and white flour; honey; and plenty of butter. They put me at peace despite the fat content; it's all whole "real" foods and it's giving us the sweet cookie fix we all crave with a hefty dose of whole grains and none of the processed sugar I've come to fear. I also love the "recipe" Truman and I devised; stir together plain hazelnut or sunflower butter, honey, and a few drops of vanilla, eat with a spoon (that was breakfast today). And of course, there are zinemama's zucchini carrot muffins, shared with us just yesterday (great way to use up frozen grated zucchini!).

As soon as I have 20 minutes to shell the walnuts (gathered, appropriately, from the enormous tree behind her house), I plan to try these out; she, like me, had been treating herself regular with pieces of chocolate bar and these -- with only the whole-foods sugar of the dates -- are a far less compromising luxury. And if you like these, also try the homemade "Lara Bar" recipes here and here. Please, share your recipes that delight both kid and parent alike with their delicious wholesomeness! Camellia's and my recipes are in the "more" portion of the post.

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