Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Packing A Miracle

“…Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?” – John 6:9

Do you ever get tired of packing lunches and snacks for your kids? I sure do. One of the many things I love about summer vacation is the long break from filling lunchboxes and washing water bottles.

In the Biblical account of Jesus feeding five thousand people, meal time rolls around and no one is prepared. The people are hungry and there is no food available. However, one boy offers to share his five loaves of bread and two small fish. Jesus gives thanks for this food, and miraculously uses it to feed all of the people until they are full, then the disciples gather up twelve baskets of leftovers.

Now, how do you suppose the boy got that food? One can assume his mom packed it for him. That is what moms do—they think ahead to what their children might need for the day. When they know their kids will be running around outside all day, they tuck snacks into pockets and canteens of water over shoulders. They load up lunchboxes and water bottles for school. They plan treats for special occasions and fun lunches for play dates. Moms plan, prepare, and pack.

Yet I often forget the value and the potential power of this loving effort. When the boy’s mom sent him out with bread and fish, she had no way of knowing her meager meal would become a miracle. We don’t know when that might happen either. But God can use anything, even a snack, to reach people and show His love.

Consider the conversations around the lunchroom tables. “My mom packed my favorite sandwich for me!” “Ugh, my mom packed a banana again.” “I got cookies in my lunch, do you want one?” For my oldest daughter, one day that conversation led to a boy asking her about Jesus.

We often show our kids love through what we pack, and our kids can use that to share, help and encourage their friends. When my daughter was in first grade, a classmate never brought a snack to school, so she shared hers. In fourth grade, the boy who asked her about Jesus at lunch wanted to know more while they sucked on lollipops and waited for their afternoon carpools.

Food can break down barriers, make conversation easier, and allow people to seem more real or down to earth. Sometimes it is more comfortable for kids to bring up sensitive topics with something in their mouths.

The next time you pack a lunch or a snack, remember the mom who packed the five loaves and two fish for her little boy, and expect a miracle.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Make Fruit More Fun With This Simple Dip

Most kids like the sweetness of fruit, but if yours don’t, or if they don’t eat enough fruit, this fun dip may help.

Put one 8oz block of cream cheese (cut up if necessary), ½ cup of brown sugar, and 1 teaspoon of vanilla in a blender or food processor. Whirl until smooth. If needed, you can thin it a bit with a tablespoon of milk.

Let the kids dunk slices of fruit into the dip. If you like, you can also provide a dish of finely chopped peanuts or pecans (or any other nut). Dip a slice of fruit into the cream cheese mixture, then roll it in the nuts for a crunchy variation.


Monday, February 7, 2011

Perturbed With Picky Eaters?

Is there anything more frustrating than putting in the time and effort to make your child’s favorite dinner, only to hear her say, “I don’t like that anymore?” Kids’ tastes seem to change with their moods, and can be difficult to follow. One day my daughter announced, “Now that I am five, I don’t like shrimp and I don’t like cheese on my macaroni.” When she turned six, she informed us that these dislikes had passed.

If you struggle with picky eaters in your kitchen, don’t worry. For each meal of the day, make something for your entire family that your child is likely to enjoy. Don’t become a short-order cook who makes a different meal for every member of the family. Encourage her to try at least one bite of each item on the plate.

If she pushes it away, let her know that choosing not to eat is perfectly fine, but that you are not making anything else until the next meal (even if that meal won’t come until tomorrow morning). If she is hungry but doesn’t like her meal, she may get something else on her own, as long as it is healthy and she cleans up after herself. My kids are allowed to replace disliked meals with things like lunch meat, cheese, yogurt (keep an eye on the sugar level and ingredients in the yogurt), or rice cakes topped with almond butter. You could even convert the small meat tray in your refrigerator to a “kids compartment” and keep it stocked with approved foods the kids can get for themselves when they want a meal replacement.

It is important that meal times remain pleasant. Don’t engage in a battle of the wills over food. Trying to force your child to eat something will just result in everyone being upset and frustrated for no real gain. Don’t be concerned if your child doesn’t eat much (unless she is having growth or nutritional issues). Consider what your child eats over the course of a week, rather than an individual meal, to make sure she is hitting all of the food groups. On the flip side, encourage your good eater to listen to her body and stop eating when she is full. It is better to throw food away than to form the habit of overeating.

Trust that your child will not starve. She may skip meals, but as long as she is healthy, she will eat when she is hungry. Set her up for success at meals by making them a fun time of reconnecting as a family.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Looking for a new side dish? Try quinoa!

If your family is getting tired of rice, or if you need to pack some extra protein into a picky eater, try quinoa (pronounced keen-wa). It is delicious, easy to make, and not very expensive. Best of all, it is very healthy.

Although it looks and cooks like a grain, it is actually related to leafy green vegetables such as spinach and Swiss chard. It has a nutty flavor and a slightly crunchy texture. Quinoa is a complete protein, meaning it includes all nine essential amino acids. It is also a good source of manganese, magnesium, iron, copper, and phosphorus, and it is gluten free.

I normally make it just like rice and top it with a little butter and salt, but one day my husband decided to make it like Thanksgiving dressing. My whole family loved it, and it tastes warm and homey on chilly winter nights.

Simply boil 1 cup of quinoa, 1 teaspoon of rubbed sage (you can use more or less depending on your preference), and 2 stalks of chopped celery in 2 cups of chicken broth. When it comes to a boil, cover and reduce the heat (just like you do when cooking rice) and let it simmer for about 20 minutes. It is done when the water is gone and the grains are tender. Stir in ¼ cupped chopped parsley and salt to taste.

You can also cook quinoa with chopped carrots, celery, green peas, onions, and curry for an Indian flare.

For the best price, buy quinoa from the bulk bins at your local health food store or Sprouts Farmer's Market. It will be near the rice and dried beans.

Quinoa also makes a great breakfast. Ancient Harvest makes quinoa flakes that cook like instant oatmeal. Top with a sprinkle of brown sugar for a hot, hearty, healthy start to the day. I buy this at Vitamin Cottage, but it is available at many stores in the cereal aisle.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Fun Foods To Shake Up Sack Lunches

Hello, my faithful reader! I hope you had a great Christmas and New Years. Thanks for sticking with me while I took a holiday break from blogging.

For the next few weeks, we will talk about food, including ways to incorporate healthier foods into our diets, dealing with picky eaters, and how to make meal time fun for the whole family. Check back each week for new tips and information.

If your school-aged kids are anything like mine, you started hearing, “Can I have something other than a sandwich?” back in September. Sadly, when it comes to finding new things for sack lunches, I often come up short.

I have found a few winners, though, so I hope these help your children find their sack lunches a bit more enjoyable.

Ham Roll-Ups
Spread Neufchatel cheese (low fat cream cheese) on a slice of ham. Drizzle a little raspberry chipotle sauce over the cheese and roll up like a burrito. My favorite sauce is Buffalo Bob’s Raspberry Chipotle Dipping Sauce, sold sporadically at Vitamin Cottage or Sprouts. I’ve also used Archer Farms brand raspberry chipotle grilling sauce sold at Target. My kids eat three roll ups for lunch.

Fruit Dip
Mix cream cheese, vanilla, and cinnamon to taste. If desired, use a little orange juice or lemon juice to thin it a bit. Send an assortment of sliced apples, pears, celery, bell peppers, or other fruits and vegetable to dip.

Pasta Salad
Use a thermos to keep pasta salad cool until lunch time. You can also use a thermos to hold warm pasta like spaghetti or mac and cheese (it may not stay hot), mashed potatoes, mini-bagel pizzas or left-overs from dinner.

Rice Cakes
Top lightly salted brown rice cakes with peanut or almond butter and a drizzle of honey or agave nectar for an open-faced twist on the traditional sandwich. Send it in a hard-sided sandwich box since the peanut butter will get smooshed all over a plastic baggie.

Celery Boats
Stuff celery sticks with tuna or chicken salad. If your kids don't like celery, you can hollow out half of an apple and stuff it with the salad. You can also put the salad in a plastic cup and send celery and other veggies separately for dipping.

Make Your Own Lunchables
Cut up pieces of lunch meat and cheese so your kids can make their own sandwiches using crackers instead of bread.

If you have fun lunch ideas, please share them with us!