children · food · Food allergies · food sensitivities · Gluten free eating · gluten free food · gluten free lifestyle · kids · Soup

The Cooking Season

 

September, Marymoor Park

Finally it’s fall here and our kitchen is alive with soupy smells and warm light instead of the harsh heat of this past summer, and the intermittent construction that had me searching for appliances, counter space, and counters, actually. It’s been fun making French green lentils again, minestrone, polenta, and risotto, without sweating and/or swearing. A welcome change. While our little kitchen has been turning out more variety than ever, such as this great soup: Egyptian Red Lentil Soup (read the comments below the recipe and modify according to taste, but for our family I doubled the cumin as several people suggested) and this delicious Pumpkin Spice Granola from Celiac in the City, it is hitting me even harder than ever that my kids’ schools’ lunch menus are like a study in wheat. Can school cafeterias really not think outside the gluten box? Every single day the main food item has wheat~ lasagna, chicken nuggets, pizza, hamburgers, hot dogs, spaghetti, sandwiches, and on and on. Is it really that hard to mix it up a bit? No wonder so many people have reactions to gluten~ any time you saturate your body with one ingredient your body starts to react to that ingredient, and Americans love their gluten. My older son forgot his lunch one day so he ended up getting nachos with fresh carrots and steamed broccoli on the side. He said the carrots were stale and the broccoli was gross, and this is a kid who literally cheers when I make broccoli and orders it out at dinner~ he loves it, so I can’t imagine how this broccoli was ‘gross’. I’m glad he was able to find gluten-free food, but if the vegetables they offer are either raw and stale (he knows a stale carrot when he eats one. My kids eat raw carrots every single day.) then of course the kids aren’t going to choose those items. It just doesn’t make sense to me why they don’t offer soups full of veggies, roasted vegetables, or more grain and beans together like a rice and black beans, or quinoa and lentils~ these are not overly expensive and they are not hard to make. They’d give kids a break from wheat every once in a while and are nutritious, filling meals. Of course I’m all in favor of the schools having school gardens to help grow some of those herbs and vegetables too, but at the very least we could improve the lunch menus. Jamie Oliver is making real strides in England which shows the time is right~ people are starting to take school lunch nutrition seriously.  Over on our side of the Atlantic Chef Ann is tackling school nutrition through several different initiatives and proving people are willing to listen and change. Let’s keep the energy going in that direction! Maybe it’s the cool fall air, or maybe it’s the bright warm kitchen, but I’m starting to feel cautiously optimistic.

September, walk home from RHMS

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Food allergies · food allergy blogs · food sensitivities · gluten free · Gluten free eating · gluten free food · gluten free foods · gluten intolerance · gluten intolerant

Snacks for School

This is a conversation that keeps popping up lately, so I thought I’d share a couple of things we do for surviving the school year’s endless birthday celebrations, holiday parties, and the myriad of other reasons gluten, dairy, and sugar are consumed in the classroom on a weekly basis. There was one year where one of my son’s classmates had food allergies so severe that all celebrations were limited to a couple of specific food items~ Annie’s fruit bunnies was one and I don’t remember what else…maybe popsicles…? Anyway, that class did not suffer because there were no birthday cupcakes~ I promise. And when I went to that Valentine party with gift pencils, novelty erasers, sparkly stickers, silly tattoos, and sugar-free lollipops, then went to my other son’s party where mounds of candy were piled up on all the kids desks, along with heart cookies and sugary punch and absolutely no boundaries, it kind of made me sick. Anyway, each classroom has its culture and you just have to be prepared for the inevitable. School supply shopping includes something for the boys to have in their classroom cabinets at all times for those birthday celebrations and it goes with them to school on day 1 if not before. We usually choose Lucy’s cookies because the cookies are wrapped three to a package, there’s a little variety for the year, and they are free of all kinds of allergens, as you can see. Lucy's cookiesOther friends I know have stored rice crispy treats at school because those too are individually wrapped so they can keep for months. As I mentioned above, Annie’s fruit snacks are also great if your child is a real gummy candy lover. I’d love to hear what some other favorites out there are…

On a different school snack note, I found something that my youngest has missed for years. He used to love Pirate’s booty and any cheesy puff thing like that. Earth Balance actually has a vegan cheese puff and apparently it’s a winner. One more thing my sons don’t have to miss~ Yay!

children · gardening · kids · organic · parenting · picky kids · slow food

Superfly

Did you know that flies actually live a lot longer than 24 hours? They can apparently live for about a month, which is closer to 720 hours. It must be true, I found this out on the internet. Sarcasm aside, it really must be a myth about the 24 hours because we’ve had the biggest, freakiest fly in our house for three days now, and it has made itself known all 72 hours it’s been visiting us. It’s so fat that my oldest can’t believe how fast it is, he thinks it should be like a Garfield Fly where it sleeps all the time and waits to be served lasagna. I told him maybe it is all muscle and some kind of super fly, a hero in the insect world. He said no, it just seems to want to be our pet. I have to agree, it follows us upstairs and downstairs, in and out of rooms, noisily adding a buzzing soundtrack to our home life and stealthily remaining just out of arms reach, or rolled up magazine reach to be more honest. We are trying to encourage it to go outside, I don’t want to kill it b/c it would make such a nasty mess I can’t even imagine, so we are leaving doors open and swatting it towards them, but that just never works and we end up feeling frustrated and foolish, Superfly laughing haughtily in the corner. Anyway, despite the new ever-present presence in the house, I did want to share a good news infographic from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, by way of the Edible Schoolyard Project. It shows improvement in kids’ lunches but I think the real news is that when kids actually have healthy choices they are more likely to eat healthy foods. It’s another myth that kids will always choose the pizza over the salad bar. Just like adults, kids want to make healthy choices, maybe not all the time, but if there is no healthy choice, then it will be none of the time. And that’s no myth.

From the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
From the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
children · Education · kids · parenting

Schools and STEM

Chicken huggersIf you have a child in school these days then you surely have heard of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math.) It’s the big thing right now~ there are STEM schools,  STEM measurements, and people compare the STEM-ness of schools when making decisions about where their child will go. Personally, I’m wondering where creativity fits into science, technology, engineering, and math. It seems to me innovation is tied to creativity and we need to foster that in our children just as much as the other things. Not only that, but creativity gives people the space to appreciate art, music, literature, and all the things that still exist beyond our screens. Our kids will be proficient in computers, that’s a given, but do we really want to tie our futures so inseparably with modern technology? Has there really been nothing of use in the world up until the computer chip was invented? What about the natural world? Science seems centered on dissecting it, but what about giving kids the chance to appreciate it? Breathe it. Realize they live in it along with billions of other beings and need to think about that fact. An example of what I’m talking about is the fact our school district does not have art teachers. There are volunteer parents that go in and teach art to classes at most once per month, but often a lot less. Why are we teaching these kids that art in not that important? They have music and PE and library at least once per week, but art for some reason is not valued enough to have at least a weekly class with a trained teacher. This just blows my mind. Kids get so much out of art class and I’m not just referring to the kids who are gifted in it. When I go in and help with art lessons I’m always struck by the highly intellectual students who are astounded they can make something aesthetically pleasing with their own hands, and the hyper-active students who can focus on something that is truly their own, and the quiet students who love being able to work on something as an individual and not be overwhelmed with the constant group activities that are also so vogue in modern education. It gives students a place to pause and consider what art means to them, to recognize every single one of them has some creativity and how good it feels to express it, and to understand it is valuable to work on something purely for aesthetic reasons. These are just a few of things that I see falling out of schools in favor of STEM, and I’d like to propose a post-STEM environment focused on Creativity and Nature. Computers will be integrated in their lives more and more with textbooks changing into tablets, research done on Google, Kindergarteners giving PowerPoint presentations~ that’s all part of the modern world and I’m not trying to stop it, there just needs to be some focus on what goes on outside of a screen and perhaps inside of a head. Of course, I have to bring up the Edible Schoolyard Project as I so often do because it embraces nature and creativity both in such a beautiful balance, and in an increasingly teched-out world kids need to be reminded of the importance of these things. Isn’t education about expanding the mind after all…? It certainly can’t just be about learning how to use a single tool. Our kids are brighter than that and they deserve more.

children · ecology · Education · gardening · health · kids · parenting

Schools a Healthy Place?

I had a strange experience last week when I went to my youngest son’s music class presentation. It was beyond cute of course, with all the second graders sounding angelic although I know they are often quite a devilish group as I’ve seen them enough in other settings. But sitting in the metal folding chairs as they sat on the floor or walked around singing, something else struck me besides the sweetness of it all~ when I looked at them each individually, as in really looked at them, they mostly looked kind of…sickly. Granted it was the end of the day and also the end of the week so they had reason to be tired, and maybe the lighting is not the best in their brand new school, but it seemed odd to me that they could all look so sluggish and lacking vibrancy considering their youth. My own son’s cheeks were flared up with the pink that signifies something is bothering him allergy-wise, either the carpet or something he ate, or who knows what, but that is what made me start looking at the other kids. There was one girl who looked completely healthy, alert, and engaged and I happen to know that this girl always looks that way or at least she does at library time where I help out and also field trips and parties, before and after school. She is just that kind of girl who notices everything and is part of everything and probably questions her teachers and parents ad nauseam. She was seriously the only one. The other kids were a mixture of eyes with dark circles, half closed eyes, wandering eyes and hands, bad skin, rashes, confused and disengaged looks, and tired faces and bodies. It made me wonder about kids, schools, and health. Is the modern school a healthy place for our students? Do they get enough outdoor time? Are they eating good food? Are we doing our best to help them learn? I don’t know, it just bothered me to see a bunch of second graders that just didn’t look vibrant and vivacious. They are too young not to be! The edible schoolyard project is one place to look for answers though my kids’ school has put me off for two years now when I’ve brought up planting a garden there. The students would get so much out of it, not the least of which would be a bit more good health. One bright eyed bushy tailed student out of 21 is not enough.

Education · gardening · kids

Give a person a tomato and he eats for a day…

Boys walkingThe other day my two sons and I were on a walk and as usual, my older son was talking while the younger one and I quietly listened. The truth is, I don’t always listen as well as I should because one can only take in so much information about video games, YouTube, and unfamiliar book characters, but on that day he said something that caught my attention. He asked, “Have you ever heard that saying: Give a man a fish and he eats for a day, teach him to fish and he eats for a…” “Lifetime” I filled in for him. Yes, I’d heard it of course, and was delighted we could have a real conversation talking about what that saying actually means. It got me thinking about school gardens, and how that’s exactly why they are so important~ not only do they teach kids about growing food. (Chances are they are not going to be in a situation that requires them to grow their own food or they’ll starve, but then again you never can be sure.) But more importantly, it teaches them where food comes from, what it should taste like, and to develop a positive relationship with food as it grows and helps them grow. Once you taste a homegrown tomato it’s really hard to eat something that tastes like what most grocery stores sell. So, I think we could actually modify the original saying a bit more to say: Give a person a tomato and he eats for a day, teach him to grow a tomato and he eats well for a lifetime. My favorite site on this subject is The Edible Schoolyard Project. Check it out when you are in the mood for a little inspiration. EdibleSchoolyard

ecology

Happy Earth Day

ImageI love this time of year when the plum tree outside our bedroom window blooms. In the summer when we sleep with the window open I often am awoken by rustling in that very tree, and when I peer out I find bright raccoon eyes peering back at me. We share the plums. Actually, they get the lion’s share because picking the tree requires a ladder or sharp claws, and simplicity wins every time.

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This is what’s blooming in the front yard, along with lavender, rosemary, and some rogue tulips.

stowaways

Earth day is celebrated in over 192 countries now, according to Wikipedia, but I wish it were more. More countries and more celebration. I asked my boys when they got home from school if they discussed Earth Day and both said nothing was mentioned. Sad. They have a captive audience at schools, surely someone cares enough to explain what Earth day is…? My older son told me this weekend that I was an “Earth Helper” so he must have gotten that from somewhere~ I had assumed school, but maybe not.

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I had a strange thought today that I’m not even sure how to put into words, but I was thinking about Earth Day and the Earth and just how insanely we take it for granted, and I wondered, if just maybe humans had started off as Earth worshipers instead of Sun worshipers if perhaps we would have evolved with a greater respect for the Earth. I realize there was a time when people did worship the earth in ways, Gaia and all that, but we seem, as a species, to always be looking up and out, as though there has to be something bigger and brighter out there…

sunny sunshine

And we forget to look under our own feet, where amazing things are happening.

stone path

I guess I just thought if religions got involved in being conscious of how we treat the earth, something good might happen. People might listen more, and if all religions started working towards the same goal, maybe there wouldn’t be so much to fight over. I’m not saying we should replace all religions with Earth centered gods or anything, but it’s something all religions could get behind and it would be a good thing, for many reasons. A shared, concrete mission instead of endless squabbles over this and that. Not that being a conscious earthling requires religion at all, it’s just a thought I had…that maybe when the future species of the future world look at our human limitations, they will see our tragic flaw as our first instinct was to look at the glory of the sun instead of the soil between our toes.