Sunday, February 6, 2011

Ordering off the Kid's Menu?!?!

Last weekend, the fam went out to dinner. This is something the hubby and I used to do fairly often, but have scaled way back on recently. My parents, however, were leaving for their winter get a way and we had a Groupon for a restaurant we were dying to try, so we decided to head out.

Before going out to eat, no matter what the occasion, what the venue, I always check the online menu ahead of time. The main reasons for this are that I have a hard time making up my mind so the extra time to think is a big help, and I like to see what the offerings are for Caleb. Usually, a scan of the children's menu leaves me disappointed. Sadly, this time was no different.

My husband I have put a lot of time and thought into the feeding of our son over the last 3 years. Breastfeeding was, for us, a no brainer, but the adding of "solids" or "real" foods required a lot more consideration. I did not want my son to be a chicken nugget, hot dog and mac and cheese kind of kid and I felt (and still feel) quite firmly that the avoidance of that starts with baby's first meals.

As it seems more and more people are returning to, I made as much of Caleb's baby food as I could. I loved the knowledge that I was "cooking" for him (even when it was just mashing up a banana) and the control I had over the ingredients that went into his food. Equally as important, I had control over the texture and flavor of his meals in a way that I don't think you do when you rely on jars. As he got bigger and more accustomed to eating I could make things thicker, chunkier, add different spices and experiment with different combinations of foods. Purees quickly gave way to soft steamed chunks of veggies and small crumbles of ground meats. Early favorite meals were variations of shepherd's pie and the like.

Long before his first birthday, Caleb was off of "baby" food and his meals consisted of smaller, softer portions of what mom and dad were eating. This worked well when went out to eat as either the hub or I (or sometimes both) would share our entree with him. As Caleb has gotten bigger and started eating more, it now seems like he should get his own meal and this is where the aforementioned problems with the kid's menus comes in. It is very rare (in our experience) to find a kid's menu that excites us and provides us with the things we want our son to eat. Don't get me wrong, he has had and loves chicken fingers, french fries, grilled cheese and the other staples of the kid's menu, we would just prefer to get him something else. I hate, however, to get him an adult sized entree and see food go to waste and not always do the hub and I get entrees good for sharing (ie, we both tend to like things on the spicy side and Cal doesn't.) Every time we go out to eat, I wonder why restaurants don't provide their little customers with choices more in line with the offerings they provide adults, just smaller.

That brings us back to last weekend's dinner out. The restaurant in question was a German one, with a menu filled with shnitzels, saurkrauts and brats, all things my son would happily eat. Turning to the children's menu- hot dog, chicken fingers, grilled cheese, mac and cheese. Not one thing representative of the cuisine of the restaurant.

Our solution in this particular instance, as we really wanted to make sure Cal had a chance to sample something new was to choose an appetizer which sounded appealing, and then share a bit off of everyone's plate. He enjoyed it for sure but the only thing he asked for more of was the french fries that came off his grandmother's plate! Reflection on this has resigned me to the following going forward... going out to eat infrequently and allowing those times when we do to be a real treat for him and if that treat comes in the form of chicken fingers and fries, I guess we can all live with it. All things in moderation.

All for now. Thanks for reading.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Oil or Cream?

Have you seen this commercial? A woman sitting in a diner orders a piece of pie. She is immediately presented with a series of choices, the first being the flavor of the pie. That decision made, she is next faced with the choice between "oil or cream?" Confused, she looks to the waitress who clarifies her question by holding out two choices in whipped topping, the first being an "oil" based product, the second made from fresh, wholesome (albeit canned) "cream."

This commercial resonates with me every time I see it. To be certain, it is not on the top ten list of favorite ads. It is no "Peggy" the customer service rep and can't hold a candle to the chicken and Chi Chis robot. Compared to "I pick things up and put them down" it is nothing more than an annoyance to fast forward through. Yet every time, it gets me thinking. Not about running out to buy a tasty can of whipped cream (yum, whipped cream...) but instead about a debate I have with myself each time I feed my family. This debate for me is illustrated best not through oil or cream, but instead through butter or chemicals.

Whenever I cook for my family, I try to use only real ingredients. By that, I mean the fresher the better, I like to know where they come from, and I try to avoid things that require the addition of preservatives or other chemicals. I like my food to be made of, well, food, not the kinds of things you might find in a chemistry lab. I frequently employ the "does it contains ingredients I cannot pronounce or recognize" test when deciding what to eat or feed my family. Butter passes this test and meets the real food requirements I try to live by.

Flip side- I try to (for myself) maintain a low calorie, low fat diet. I don't go crazy with counting calories, logging foods, etc, but I do try to avoid "empty" calories whenever possible and, if there is an option for something with less calories, less fat, I generally tend to take it. By this logic, in cooking or baking something that requires a butter type substance, margarine would be the better choice. Calorie and fat content of the finished product can be lowered by using margarine instead of butter. But does margarine pass the real food test? Not even close.

To get to the heart of this matter, a full side by side comparison of the two products is necessary...

BUTTER- Ingredients
Cream, Natural Flavorings

MARGARINE- Ingredients
Water, Vegetable Oil Blend (Liquid Soybean Oil, Palm Kernel Oil Liquid Canola Oil), Natural Sweet Cream Buttermilk, Salt, Gelatin, Natural Soy Lechitin, Vegetable Mono and Diglycerides, (Potassium Sorbate, Calcium Disodium EDTA), Lactic Acid, Natural and Artificial Flavors, Vitamin A (Palmitate) Beta Carotene (Color)

Hmmm, employing the real ingredients test, butter comes out way ahead. Score- Butter 1, Margarine 0. Let's move on to a comparison of some nutritional facts...

Serving Size- 1 TBSP
Calories per serving- 100
Calories from fat- 100
Total Fat- 11 grams
Saturated Fat- 7 grams
Trans Fat- 0 grams
Cholesterol- 30 milligrams

Serving Size- 1 TBSP
Calories per serving- 50
Calories from fat- 50
Total fat- 5 grams
Saturated fat- 1.5 grams
Trans Fat- 0 grams
Cholesterol- 0 milligrams

And the winner of this round... MARGARINE! Score is all tied up, folks.

So how do we break the tie? Lets employ a few more tests... starting with the "me" test, meaning, which do I feel is the better option for me. In truth, the answer is neither and I should and do try to avoid both in my diet. No points awarded to either side here.

Moving on, lets look at the "family gut check" test. Which one do I feel better using when cooking for my family, especially my young son? Here, I have to award a point to butter, because, at the end of the day, my fear of putting unnecessary chemicals into our systems greatly outweighs my desire to avoid a few calories. Score- 2 to 1, butter in the lead.

Of course, we cannot leave out the old fashioned "taste" test. I recognize the subjectivity of this particular test but I don't care, its my blog, my test... In this one, butter wins out every time. Yum. I do love butter.

Final score- Butter 3, Margarine 1. Yeah butter!

Disclaimer- I do realize a diet high in butter is no better for my family than one high in chemicals. Butter, like other tasty treats, is something we use in moderation and whenever possible I do use "real" substitutes (ie applesauce or yogurt when baking.) But at the end of the day, when no substitution will do, give me the cream. You can keep the oil.

All for now. Thanks for reading!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Schedule? We don't need no stinking schedule!

Today is a snow day. As a teacher, there is one of two camps you can fall into regarding snow days. First, there are those who embrace them, enjoy them, consider them a gift from God. Then there are those who don't want them, regret them and lament the days we will have to make up in June. I fall into the first group. I will ALWAYS take a snow day now and happily make up the time in June. After all, in June, the end is in sight. In January, it seems a long, long time away.

My husband is NOT a teacher. He does NOT seem to enjoy my snow days. Part of the reason might be a bit of jealousy (it is hard to work when the rest of your household is not), but a bigger part is what it does to our daily schedule. He's a big fan of schedules, that husband of mine. He even blogged about is just a few short days ago...

The Monday past was Martin Luther King, Jr Day, a holiday for myself, my husband and our son. No school, no work for anyone! Normally, I make a concerted effort to fill such days with something- museums, movies, the park- anything that gets us out of the house as a family. I dropped the ball on MLK day, however, and we found ourselves in the house all day with nothing to do. The hub was down and out with a nasty cold, so I took Cal to the kitchen to do some cooking. Orange cranberry muffins for breakfast and chicken and barley soup for lunch made the morning pass quickly. Yes, there was a LITTLE disagreement in the kitchen when my father appeared asserting his supremacy as chicken soup maker and offering to take over. Yes, I MIGHT have threatened (in a good natured way) to hit him over the head with a frying pan. Overall, however, the dishes turned well and Cal and I enjoyed a nice morning together. In my mind, a success.

Hubby's mind, however, was a different matter. While (mostly) appreciative of the goodies I made him, he viewed the day as a bit of an unscheduled nightmare. My being home from work disrupted the time my father usually has dominance over the kitchen, causing the aforementioned disagreement. Cal's being home from school resulted in a bit more TV than usual and a whole lot of energy unexpended. Worse, due to our time in the kitchen, resources were used that normally would not have been- oranges, cranberries, flour, barley, chicken, veggies, all things that would have to be replaced. My husband's conclusion: An unscheduled day cost us both emotionally and financially.

My conclusion: Phooey! My husband found a few big negatives in the day and, while I recognize them, I feel the positives greatly outweighed them. The three of us were together and, unscheduled or not, that time is a blessing and filled with opportunity. While baking with me, Cal is learning- counting, measuring, vocabulary like sweet, tart, salty, etc. Making the soup provided not only a warm, hearty lunch, but also the lesson that lunch at home doesn't come from a box, jar or can. Extra time together with nothing to do allowed us to be silly together in a way that doesn't happen every day.

Fast forward to today, the wonderful snow day... Another day without plans, a morning in the house due to the large amount of snow outside. Hub is busy working from home, so what are Cal and I to do? You got it, after some puzzles, playing boats in the tub and a little Scooby Doo, we headed for the kitchen. On today's unscheduled menu- vegetarian chili for lunch and a treat of chocolate chip cookies. More talking and laughing together, more learning in an unstructured way. And a smile from dear husband when I brought him his homemade lunch. I'll take it.

All for now. Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

What I'm all about...

If you have taken the time to read my profile information, you already know that I am a married mother of one fantastic little boy. This blog is not about him, nor is it about my husband. Instead, it is about MY life with them, why we do the things we do, and how we do them. Interest peaked? Read on...

What will be contained in the virtual pages of this blog? Anecdotes about my family and my students (did I mention I am a 7th grade history teacher?) Recipes and other tips for keeping a busy household happy and healthy. Discussions of the things I love to do, the things I hate to do and the things I wish I could find the time and money to do. Musings on the good, the bad and the ugly of the life I lead.

Lets complete the picture with a little more information about me and mine. My household currently consists of myself, my husband, my son, my mother and my father. The house we live in belongs to my parents, and we are living with them while we try to sell a condo we have outgrown. I have two siblings and they are a big part of our life, as are their spouses, children and dogs. They are around a lot. My husband comes from a much bigger family but due to geography they aren't all around nearly as much as we would like. My mother in law is close by, however, and for that we are grateful. Yup, I really like my mother in law. I'm not afraid to admit it!

I try to keep my family's life as simple and "unprocessed" as I can. I cook a lot and VERY little comes out of a package, a can or a box. I'd rather spend Sunday morning baking with my little assistant than buy the bread, cookies, muffins, etc we eat during the week. My ultimate goal is to get us to a life free from processed and packaged foods. I have a ways to go in accomplishing this goal, but I like the sense of focus that comes from having something to work for.

Speaking of focus, and having something to work for, I apply this same philosophy to physical activity. Modeling an active lifestyle for the children in our life is extremely important to my husband and myself, but it's sometimes hard to find the motivation to work out just for working out's sake. To help us find that motivation, my husband I and I started racing triathlons 2 years ago. More about this in a later post, but for now I will just say that an impending race gives me the focus to find 6 to 12 hours a week to train and provides an event my son can attend to see why Mommy spends so much time in the gym. He knows my running sneakers from my hanging around sneakers and looks forward to "racing day" as much as I do.

A last thought that speaks to the true inspiration for this blog... As I state in my profile, my husband has recently started his own blog discussing issues of budgeting, financial planning and the like. I have been blogging about my son for the last three years, but now reading his blog has caused me to realize I wanted my own space to spout off about things that strike my fancy. Sometimes, I might make a post directly in response to something he has blogged about, so I wanted to start off with the disclaimer that, despite a strong sense of competition that exists between the hubby and I, and occasional differences of opinion, I feel that he and I compliment each other and each makes the other a better person. He's a pretty good dude and makes the sometimes crazy life we lead a whole lot better.

All for now. Thanks for reading.