And that means, for those of us with kids, back to school lunches. Is anyone ever really ready for it?
I've seen this same photo circulating on Facebook for years now. It's a great idea, and has generated a lot of excitement on getting your kids ready to accept some empowerment and having them to choose their own lunches.
The biggest issue I have with this particular example is the vast quantity of heavily processed, nearly nutritionally void foods. Many of them are high in sugar, fat, and.or sodium. The only items I see basically unprocessed are the cheese strings and the cucumber.
I totally understand the frustration with building a lunch for your kids. The schools my children attend have so many restrictions on what can be brought in their lunch- and when you add a picky child to the mix, as we have lived through with both, options become extremely limited. Take heart, though. My first defined picky, but he's a great eater now. I have high hopes for the second.
That being said, there are things we can do as parents and caregivers to provide healthy, balanced lunches for our kids. We can give them the choices needed to build their own lunches, still. It just requires a little bit more planning and preparation on our part. I promise, a balanced diet will do wonders for your kids and their health, both now and into the future.
Because my boys are finally going back to school tomorrow, this blog post will be spread out over the week as a school lunch series. Please comment, suggest, and share! I would love to see school lunches transformed into something more than just stuff to fill an empty belly- make them the backbone of healthy bones, growing minds, and active bodies!
Today, we focus on Milk and Alternates.
First, why worry about it?
As a child I used to hate the "because I said so" answers. As an adult, I still do. So I'm not going to throw out a whole bunch of things you should do with no reason behind it.
Calcium is a mineral that is found in your bones and teeth. To simplify, the amount you get into your body as a child will directly impact your health as an adult. If you are deficient in your younger years, there will be bone density problems as adults. Calcium also impacts the health of your teeth and plays a role in disease prevention. We have such a short time, as parents, to make sure we are doing what we can to make our kids as healthy as possible not only now but long after they've grown. I think it's marvelous that we can take the reins and do this for our kids. For further information, check out this article!
The Canada Food Guide determination for servings of Milk and Alternates is age dependent. From 2-8 years old, both boys and girls need 2 servings of milk/dairy/alternates per day. From 9-18, that jumps to 3-4 servings per day for both sexes.
What constitutes a serving?
So what does this look like in a typical school lunch?
At our school, students get about 20 minutes to wash their hands, eat their lunches, use the bathroom if needed, and clean up after themselves. As you can possibly imagine, this is not an easy task for some kids who would prioritize social time and play over eating. I advocate easy-to-open and easy-to-eat lunches, so that we can hopefully get some nutrition into our kids for the afternoon session of classes.
And here's how easy it is...just pick one. This is the dairy I had on hand today, but there are many more options you can use.
If you don't want the added sugar, skip the flavoured yogurt and eat unflavoured. Our school has a milk program you can opt into. Assuming that most kids won't guzzle a whole 1 c. of milk plus eat lunch in their 20 minutes, if you opt into a program like that I wouldn't worry too much about sending additional dairy, unless you want to. They'll probably drink half of their milk in that time.
If it is easier to think about, for the younger kids, 2 servings of dairy a day can be broken up into 4 half-sized servings.
For example, the Activia is not a full serving- just over a half serving. And the cheese string is just under a half serving. So combine those in your day, and that is one serving of dairy. That's a half serving of milk, and just over a half serving of feta cheese (not that my kids will eat it!). If you make sure they are drinking milk or eating yogurt with their breakfast, having some for lunch, some after school, and some at dinner or at bedtime, they're likely going to hit all their nutritional needs for the day.
Bigger kids, well, are bigger- my experience this summer with my first son is that he's always hungry. Getting him to eat an extra serving or 2 of dairy is not a problem.
Hopefully these ideas will help you figure out what's for lunch this week. Over the course of the next week we will be examining all the food groups, and then a series of put-together lunches will follow after that.
Enjoy the rest of your day, friends!
Some of you may recall that last winter I was sicker than I've ever been since I picked up mono almost 20 years ago. Just in time for my birthday this year, not only did I catch the flu but also developed some sort of sinus infection and pink eye, all at the same time! It was almost a couple of months before I was up and running our household in my usual capable way.
This month the boys had their annual doctor appointments, and blood work was done to check on their overall health. My first son, who was anemic a year ago, is now in good shape, at least as far as his iron levels go. That doesn't surprise me at all, because he's a fantastic eater, and we eat a very balanced diet. My second son, however...you may recall him as "the picky one", isn't quite anemic, but on the way there. Because he will not take vitamins (nope, not even gummies) and has a limited love of iron rich foods, I've started cooking once a week with beef, which is the one consistent thing he enjoys eating. Naturally, I serve it with whole grains, which also contain iron, and the vitamin c helps that non-heme iron to absorb into his system. If I can increase his iron levels slowly and steadily, I'm sure at this time next year he'll be improved. I'm also hopeful he'll be less picky a year from now...we'll see, I guess. Hope springs eternal!
So I'm planning ahead, this year, for the inevitable fall or winter cold that knocks me back a few paces. I've started stocking my own freezer with meals that are basically ready to go, and so far all of them involve beef of some sort. Tonight's dinner was meatballs, started on the stove (to brown) and finished in our slow cooker while we were at swimming lessons. I was able to get 15 good-sized meatballs put away for a future need.
Let me tell you about these meatballs. I combined lean ground beef with extra lean ground turkey (about 1/2 kg of each), added a couple of eggs, a cup of large flake oats, some seasoning, and some garlic. They were browned on my stove, then put into the slow cooker, topped with some mushrooms and onions I'd stir fried after the meatballs were browned, and cooked on low for just 3 hours. They were moist and perfect when we got home- I wasn't sure how it would work out because I've never done that before, but I definitely will again. We served them with loads of fresh vegetables, and whole wheat whole grain pitas.
Meatballs are super freezable for a future need. You can pull them out and reheat when you need a meal- They can be added to sauces or soups, or like my kids, just eaten "as is".
They are one of the easiest things to double or triple!
Consider cooking ahead to help fight your future cold or flu. Nutrition has a huge role to play in how you approach your personal health care.
Enjoy your day, friends!
I got to spend the majority of my afternoon yesterday in a parking lot, waiting. Waiting for the police, waiting for the other guy's company to come take pictures, waiting for the tow truck. As you can probably tell, my bumper got torn off the car when the big white truck tried to turn left to exit the parking lot...but my car was in the way.
It could have been worse, so much worse. No one was hurt, the kids and I weren't even in the parking lot at the time, we had a witness who stayed until I got everyone's information, and the other driver called me out after it happened (good thing I have The Meals Maven advertising on my car!). It looks pretty cut and dried. I'm hoping I get my car back by the time yoga starts up in September.
That being said, it threw a loop into my dinner plans. Hooray for leftovers! I was way to sun-stunned to even contemplate cooking when I got home, and it was easy to heat up a bowl of soup for everyone. The leftover soup was destined to become a freezer meal for a future need, but it served a present need instead.
So let's talk about why it's important to cook ahead and keep freezer meals. I'm not exactly a pessimist, but I am a realist. As Robbie Burns said, "The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry" (paraphrased). I love planning, and am not a big fan of surprises, but for all the planning I do, life happens, as it happens for everyone.
Without further ado, here are a few good reasons why it's a great idea to cook ahead and use your leftovers.
Here are a few pointers about stocking your freezer. Sometimes it feels overwhelming, or perhaps hard to start, but if I lived for 12 years without a deep freezer and still managed, so can you.
I hope these ideas will inspire you to get started on making the most of your resources, and enable you to eat more at home, eat less fast food, save more of your food budget, and organize your freezer in a way that suits your needs.
I've got a post coming up pretty soon on healthy lunch box ideas. With the kids heading back to school shortly, and the restrictions placed on what we can pack for them, I think it's a timely post- keep watching for it!
Enjoy the last couple of weeks of summer!
Until next time,
I have a confession to make: I haven't kept up with my meal plan for the week.
It's just too hot! In spite of having central a/c, it feels like our house is taking more and more time to cool off. We ran out of propane, so we couldn't bbq, and that night we ordered dinner out instead. I didn't want to even turn on the stove to play #testkitchen, so my meatless meal went away and we ate cereal and fruit. We finished off our leftover lamb and ate it with fresh vegetables another night, and tonight I'm going to make gyros instead of charcuterie, because I want the cool fresh flavours of tzatziki and fresh tomatoes more than I want meat/cheese/crackers/pickles.
It was really tasty. I guess it wasn't technically a gyro, because I didn't have the meat cooking on a rotating spit for the day, but leftover roast beef worked really well, and everything else tasted delicious too. Best of all, I had the stove top on for maybe 10 minutes- just long enough to soften the peppers, onions, garlic, and mushrooms. Then I turned off the heat and tossed in the meat to warm up a bit, showed my family how delicious tzatziki is.
Well, my first son and husband enjoyed the experience, though my second son wasn't a fan.
But really, I can't take it personally. He almost never is.
I've posted my recipes tonight as well, so you can start making up your own simple meals on these super hot days.
Enjoy the rest of your summer, friends!
Before I tell you how good this feast was, let me link you to the song that won't let me keep me still no matter what state my head is in, and you can listen to it while you read.
To celebrate my mom's birthday last week, I cooked her fish tacos. We also enjoyed fresh watermelon, corn on the cob, and roasted sweet potatoes. Fish tacos are great to eat when it's hot outside. The fish takes very little time to cook on the stove, and the other ingredients are so cool and fresh.
My original recipe calls for fish seasoning. I actually ran out of that, so here's my updated version for you. To assemble the taco, I had the cooked tilapia, canned pineapple (though fresh would be amazing), fresh cilantro, fresh tomatoes, and fresh avocado. We had the choice of coleslaw blend or baby spinach, and included a fresh and slightly spicy yogurt sauce.
The fish was completely thawed and cut into chunks. I mixed everything in with the fish, and then cooked it on the stove in a frying pan, with no extra oil. I used a very large package of fish- the left bowl at the very back of the table is heaped with the cooked fish.
half lime zest and juice
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp savoury
a shake of chili powder
1 tbsp of olive oil
Greek Yogurt Sauce:
half lime zest and juice
3/4 c. plain greek yogurt (I like kirkland brand- it's not sour)
1/4 tsp chipotle
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 garlic powder
1/4 tsp savoury
1/4 black pepper
1/2 tsp salt
Let me know what you think of this! I hope you enjoy the rest of your week.
I can't believe that school starts up again for us in 3 weeks. We've got a pretty spectacular fall planned. This is the first year in the last 12 that I will have no kids underfoot for the whole school day. I hope I take advantage of the alone time to get a lot of stuff done- it's been piling up for 12 years! The challenge will be balance, I just know it.
This week is the beginning of a slightly busier summer than we've had up till now. Both sons have a week for their respective sports camps, and my second son has 2 weeks of swimming lessons. There's haircuts, vision care, and doctors appointments to take care of before the bell rings too. And 40 pencils to sharpen! Seriously, who needs 20 pencils in a school year? I sure didn't think junior high would go through that many. And what is with sharpening pencils, anyway? They are the worst. Am I the only person who can't seem to sharpen them to a nice point without the leads breaking off?
This week's forecast calls for hot and sunny. I can't complain about the weather, though it has been challenging in figuring out how not to heat up the house. I'm waiting for a few cooler days to get my freezer stocked with baking for the fall. As great a shortcut as my baking jars were, when it's time to bake I still have to actually turn on the oven, and I don't want to do that with day after day of heat.
So for your inspiration, here's my meal plan for the week:
Sunday: Slow Cooker Greek Seasoned Lamb with "Roasted" Potatoes (Actifry) and Steamed Broccoli
Monday: Meatless Spaghetti Pie (stovetop)
Tuesday: BBQ'd salmon and asparagus
Wednesday: Sweet Thai Chili Pork Wraps
Friday: Seafood Chowder (the high this day is 23*C, as opposed to 29/30)
What does the end of your summer look like? Are you still in high gear and living the dream, or are you winding things up too?
All the best to you today, friends,
I've been thinking this week about my least favorite part of being human, and that is the inevitable loss of people we love. Whether temporary separation or permanent split, from relationships turning sour to the death of a loved one- it's going to happen. None of us are immune to the ravaging of time. Where we love, we also mourn. One of those funny/not funny juxtapositions of life.
I've been fortunate in my life that at 40 years old, I haven't yet had to bear the loss of immediate family. My mom lost both her parents when I was just a baby, and I'm so thankful that we still have our parents and children with us. However, just as I am somehow 40 years old, I know that everyone else is aging, too, and it's only a matter of time. I wonder if we eventually will be inured to it?
I've dealt with loss, of course, of friends and extended family, and each time I reacted differently. I guess that's part of the challenge of being human. In my early twenties, I found out that a good friend of mine from high school had died suddenly of an aggressive cancer, just a few months into life with his new bride. A few years ago I lost my best friend from high school to a drug resistant bug. The grief I felt was related more to regret over missed opportunities to reconnect, and grief for their families left behind.
A little over a year ago, I lost my cousin to an aggressive cancer. If my husband was writing this, he'd know exactly what kind of cousin she was, with degrees of removal and numerical importance. He has a very large family. My family isn't so large, however, so I just thought of her as my cousin. Her death hit me like a sledgehammer, and my coping method involved sitting outside alone, ordering pizza for many dinners, and drinking wine. Not the healthiest choices, maybe, but that was as much as I was capable of. Truth be told, I'm still grieving.
This week I suddenly lost a friend to the turmoils of life, and I'm still processing it. So far my coping skills have involved writing, listening to music, and going outside to walk. A lot. I can't seem to sit still for long or stay in the house. Luckily, the weather is cooperating. I only got spit on a little bit by the sky this afternoon.
One of the songs I've been ruminating over talks about every day things that just happen, and depending on who it's happening to and at what season in their life, can have opposite interactions. It's probably one of my favorite songs, and the band one of my favorite bands. "Funny The Way It Is"- Dave Matthews Band.
Speaking as myself, the meal planner, not a psychologist- if you're grieving, just let it happen, and unfold as it will. None of us can predict how we'll react. It's one of life's mysteries. I'm finding myself mulling over the last 20 years of my life, almost frame by frame, freezing snapshots of moments, contemplating choices, reflecting on words spoken or unspoken, and so on. Sometimes I feel really removed, like I'm watching this unfold from a distance. Or that it might just be a really intense dream. I'm pretty sure it's real, though, because life goes on around me. The kids are back to school in 3 weeks, I'm working for a client, and I get to register for yoga on Monday.
I know this post has nothing to do with food or meal planning. Let's file it under "personal growth" and move on. I've danced this dance before; one way or the other, things will work out. And in the meantime, I've got a snuggly almost first-grader and a hilarious almost seventh-grader to keep me on my toes, and a patient husband who pours me a glass of scotch before I know I need it.
For most of my teen and adult life I was a dieter. Always watching what I ate and counting calories. Restricting this, that, and everything else. Trying out the ideas featured in women's magazines, harshly condemning myself when I looked in the mirror or when I'd try on a pair of jeans or a dress in the "wrong" size. And heaven forbid I should cave and allow myself some chocolate or some popcorn at the movies.
In the cold, harsh light of comparison, there was always someone thinner than me, taller than me, slimmer waisted or tighter tushed. I remember swim suit shopping with my bestie and another friend in college. What could have been a really fun day for us was ruined for me because I was so obsessed with how I thought the bathing suits looked so much worse on me than on her.
I even struggled with how I looked on my wedding day, even though now I think I looked beautiful. When I look back, I can't believe I thought I was fat. I can't believe how much of my life has been spent in obsessive introspection about the size of my clothes or how I looked in a bathing suit.
The human body's capacity for adaptation is amazing. At my slimmest, the year or so before I was married, I was probably about 30 lbs lighter than I am now. That was the only time my BMI was in line with the "healthy" weight. And I say that in quotations, because my body and my mental state are hundreds of times healthier now than I ever was then. I had just come off of a bad breakup, and was so emotionally shattered I couldn't eat for days. And once I started eating again, I severely restricted my food intake and started working out. Sure, I looked great. But I was obsessing with food and exercise as a means to control something in a life I felt was out of control.
When I was pregnant with my second child I was heavier than I ever have been, before or since. I learned the hard way with my first pregnancy that denying myself food when I was hungry in an effort to not gain more than the recommended 25 lbs was a recipe for non stop vomiting for my entire pregnancy. So, with my second son, I ate when I was hungry. As a result, I was 50 lbs higher than I am now- a staggering number.
A few years ago, I was almost at my BMI target weight again- just 15 lbs away from it. To get there I was working out almost every day, counting calories, and again obsessing about how I looked, and what size I could fit into. I loved buying smaller clothes! But I didn't love the amount of effort I had to put into my life to be that size. It was constant vigilance, never ending. If my weight didn't drop in a week I'd feel despair, even worse if I put on a pound or two. Woe to me if I was too sick or busy to get my hour long workouts in. I'd started letting food control issues dictate my life again, and eventually I burnt out.
Naturally, I put some weight back on. But the number I'm at is the one my body seems to like. It takes no effort to maintain it, and I am physically healthy- blood work confirms it- and active. I am now active purely for the joy of it. I can't wait to take up yoga and tap dance again in the fall. I can keep up with my boys. I enjoy walking and sometimes even jog a little. I may not ever hit my ideal BMI again, but somehow over the last year I don't look in the mirror and think "eww" anymore. Sure, my belly and my bottom got a little bit of extra padding from when my boys took up residence inside me, but I'm strong and capable. I'm not afraid to try new things, and my quality of life is pretty great.
It's about 20 minutes until dinner is ready. I can't make the potatoes cook any faster, and I'm so hungry. The kids are whining and hungry, and trying to sneak crackers. I'm tempted to join them. So what's a person to eat that won't spoil the appetite but help stave off junk food noshing?
After staring in the fridge and pantry myself for longer than I'd like to admit, I decided on a spoonful of peanut butter, and figured that I can't be the only person and have the only family this is an issue for.
So here's a little list of something you can offer yourself and your family. My criteria is pretty simple: it can't get in the way of dinner prep- I don't want to be washing and peeling and cooking something when dinner's almost done. It has to be nutritious- there needs to be more than a "good source of vitamin e" label, like you'd find on a bag of potato chips. It needs to be easy, so the kids can help themselves. And it needs to be something that's going to offer them a quick hit of nutrition without filling them up before dinner. I'm not looking to supply them with a full portion from a food group, just a little bit, in order to help offset hunger and prevent overeating, and also to top-up the main food groups in case they're a bit short on servings.
In case you're wondering, we're having minestrone soup for dinner tonight, and it will be delicious. A bit of a warm meal for summer, but I'm in the mood for soup. Everyone in our family enjoys it, and I need my second son to eat more well-rounded meals. Minestrone has loads of vegetables and protein sources. In fact, every food group is represented, if I grate a little fresh parmesan on top, which I will. Fresh fruit for dessert will help the iron from the beans and beef to be better used by their bodies. Mmm. What are your dinner plans tonight?