Sunday, September 30, 2007


What a surprise! We found watermelons at the Meridian Township Farmers' Market on Saturday. Cinzori Farms had five beautiful watermelons. They were only $3.50 each (a bargain for large, organic watermelons) so we bought three of them. We took one to a barbeque this afternoon and we served half of the other one at the brunch we hosted for seven friends this morning. Caroline loves watermelon, especially when it served at room temperature. I love apples but I must admit that since locally grown apples are available until early spring, I will almost always choose other late summer/early fall fruits over apples. White grape juice and bananas are the fruit servings on the menu tomorrow. But Caroline won't be eating organic versions of these foods. Instead, she will be hanging on to the late summer/early fall Michigan harvest with watermelon and red raspberries.

Caroline's Lunchbox Menu, October 1: Breakfast - O's, red raspberries; Lunch - rice, tofu, zucchini, corn; Snacks - watermelon

Childcare Center Menu, October 1: Breakfast - White grape juice, Cheerios, Rice Krispies, Life; Lunch - cheesy rice, California vegetables, bananas; Snacks - graham crackers, soynut butter

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Kabocha Squash Two Ways

Kabocha squash, also known as Japanese pumpkin, is my favorite winter squash. When I was growing up, my mom would cut it into large chunks (semi-peeled) and simmer it in a sweet soy-based sauce. Kabocha squash has a squatty shape and has a dark green skin with celadon stripes. The flesh is deep orange in color and meaty in texture. I bought a kabocha squash a couple of weeks ago from Pooh Stevenson at the Meridian Township Farmers' Market. She warned me that it hadn't been cured but I bought it anyways. I steamed half of the kabocha squash yesterday and packed it in Caroline's lunch today. It was good but it wasn't as flavorful as I expected. It turns out that most winter squash benefits from curing. Curing squash is simple and involves holding the squash at room temperature for two to three weeks and then transferring it to a cool, dry place for a month or longer. Curing helps to harden the winter squash skins and heals any cuts and bruises. Kabocha squash (and maybe all squash) continues to ripen and become more flavorful during this process. Instead of steaming the other half of the kabocha squash and eating it as is, I am going to puree it and use it in my favorite pumpkin muffin recipe: Pumpkin Carrot Muffins. This recipe is from my friend Lori who makes them on a regular basis and brings them to school for breakfast. When we study together, she always brings one for me too! Since they are made with whole-wheat flour and are packed with vegetables, they are a healthy alternative to the typical store-bought variety. Plus, they taste great! Since it's the end of the week and I've nearly cleaned out my refrigerator (including the carrots the recipe calls for), I'll have to improvise with this recipe and use what I have left on hand - parsnips.

Caroline's Lunchbox Menu, September 28: Breakfast - oatmeal, applesauce; Lunch - whole wheat pasta with pesto, Cherokee Purple and Green Zebra tomatoes, corn (frozen from Titus Farm), blueberries (frozen from Walton Orchards); Snacks - Lori's pumpkin carrot muffin

Childcare Center Menu, September 28: Breakfast - pineapple, bagels, cream cheese; Lunch - cheese pizza, carrots, pears; Snacks - pumpkin cookies, apple cider

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Local Eggs!

Egg salad sandwiches are on the menu tomorrow. I've never made egg salad for Caroline but since she loves eggs, she is sure to like it mixed with mayonnaise. Who doesn't like mayonnaise? Cooking a perfect hard boiled egg is somewhat of an art. For me, a perfect hard boiled egg has a yolk that is cooked but not dry and a white that is...well, white. I put my eggs in a pot with cold water to cover by about an inch. I then bring the water to a gentle boil, turn off the heat, cover, and let it stand for 8 minutes. If I'm not eating them right away, I plunge them in a bowl of cold water to stop the cooking. This last step is important. If eggs are not chilled immediately, a greenish ring will form around the yolk and stain the white. This is caused by overcooking - the iron and sulfur in the yolk form ferrous sulfides which create the green ring. I just finished boiling the eggs for tomorrow's lunch. I always boil more than I think I need since hard boiled eggs make great snacks. The eggs come from three different sources. The blue, green, and brown speckled eggs are from my advisor's farm out in Mason. The large brown eggs are from Grazing Fields, an egg cooperative located in Charlotte. And the very large egg is from our chicken. We have two chickens, a Salmon Faverolle and another one whose breed I don't know. When I mention to family and friends that we have chickens, they are more than surprised. And honestly, I am too. I never thought we would have chickens. But last April, I visited the Michigan State University Student Organic Farm and noticed that the lone Salmon Faverolle looked horrible. She was missing most of the feathers on her head, back, and feet - they were pecked off by the other chickens. I voiced my concern and the next thing I knew, I was spending my evenings in my garage building a chicken coop. So, now we have chickens (we got two since they are social birds) and another source of fresh, local eggs. And our Salmon Faverolle (Fav for short) has grown back her feathers (see photo above)!

Caroline's Lunchbox Menu, September 27: Breakfast - O's, applesauce; Lunch - egg salad, 100% whole grain bread, kabocha squash, pineapple tomatoes; Snacks - blueberries (frozen from Walton Orchards), graham crackers

Childcare Center Menu, September 27: Breakfast - applesauce, raisin bread; Lunch - egg salad sandwich, cucumbers, pears; Snacks - trail mix, pretzels

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Last Times

Just like that, cantaloupe is no longer in-season. We didn't know it then, but Friday, September 21st would be the last time we would enjoy fresh cantaloupe until it is in-season again next summer. My sister Sophia once said, "It's funny how last times give no warning of coming" after her 2 year old son survived his second diaperless night dry. Had she changed her last diaper? I feel the same way about food. Well, sort of. Mother Nature decided the last time we would enjoy cantaloupe and she typically does not give a lot of warning. Of course, there will be conference receptions, family reunions, and hotel buffet breakfasts where cantaloupe will be served. But it won't be the same. The store-bought out-of-season cantaloupe (which is typically hard as a rock and flavorless) doesn't even merit comparison to the fragrant, creamy cantaloupe we've enjoyed over the past month. For us, eating seasonally means that we periodically binge on on our favorite fruits and vegetables like cantaloupe, sweet corn, and tomatoes. Since the growing season is so short here in Michigan, we never worry about getting bored with our seasonal menus. While we are in mourning for the end of cantaloupe season, we wait with sweet anticipation for the apples, pears and raspberries that we will buy at the farmers' market this weekend.

Caroline's Lunchbox Menu, September 26: Breakfast - O's, peaches (canned last summer); Lunch - whole wheat elbow macaroni, tofu, yellow peppers, tomatoes; Snacks - fresh mozzarella cheese, Ak-Mak crackers

Childcare Center Menu, September 26: Breakfast - pancakes, syrup, strawberries; Lunch - chicken, pasta salad, red peppers, honeydew; Snacks - cheese, crackers

Monday, September 24, 2007

Observing School Lunch

I went to the childcare center at 11:00 am this morning to observe lunch through the one-way mirror. I was curious about how four staff manage twelve toddlers eating sloppy joes. I was impressed. The children sat in two groups at two different tables and happily ate their lunch. The staff served the sloppy joe in two pieces: meat sauce and bun. Baby carrots (the small ones that you can buy in bags already peeled and chunked into 2-inch pieces) were cut into small pieces and bananas were sliced into rounds. Some of the children ate with their fingers and some used a spoon. The meal was messy but the staff didn't seem to mind and served seconds when the children cleaned their plates. Caroline sat at the end of one of the tables and I could see her eating her tomatoes and picking at her broccoli. My heart sank. I wanted to run into the room, grab the sloppy joe meat sauce and put a spoonful on her plate. But since we've opted out of the food program, I knew that all I could do was watch while Caroline ate (and picked at) the lunch that I packed for her. For the first time, I had second thoughts about packing Caroline's meals and snacks for her instead of allowing her to participate in the food program. When I picked her up this afternoon, I asked her teacher, Krystyna, how Caroline ate at lunch today. Krystyna said that Caroline did not eat well but assured me that she usually eats most of her lunch. Was it the broccoli that turned her off? Was she more interested in the other children's' food? Or did she just have an off day? I don't know but for now, I am going to go with the off day.

Caroline's Lunchbox Menu, September 25: Breakfast - oatmeal, peaches (canned last summer); Lunch - flour tortilla, pinto beans, fresh mozzarella cheese, corn (frozen from Titus Farm), Early Girl tomato, patty pan squash; Snacks - hard boiled egg

Childcare Center Menu, September 25: Breakfast - fruit cocktail, apple muffin; Lunch - soft shell veggie tacos with refried beans, cheese and corn, kiwi; Snacks - baked potato, butter

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Sloppy Joe Dilemma

Turkey sloppy joes are on the menu for lunch tomorrow. But after much experimenting, I have decided that I don't like store-bought ground turkey. It tends to taste metallic and has an unpleasant smell. I can't place my finger on it but the smell reminds me of raw meat that has sat in the refrigerator for too long. I've never tried a turkey sloppy joe but I can guess the ingredients: bun, ground turkey (obviously), tomato sauce, chopped vegetables, and maybe ketchup. I could make vegetarian sloppy joes but since Caroline doesn't care for cooked tomatoes (except for Julie's tomato soup), mimicking tomorrow's lunch is going to be tricky. What to do? And since we've been in Chicago all weekend and haven't had a chance to go grocery shopping for the week, I need to pack Caroline a lunch with ingredients I have on hand. Does color matching count as mimicking?

Sloppy Joe trivia: Sloppy Joes were first created in 1930 in Sioux City, Iowa by a cook named Joe. Synonyms: wimpies, yip yips, slushburgers, barbecues, steamers (source: Wikipedia).

Caroline's Lunchbox Menu, September 24: Breakfast - O's, blueberries (frozen from Walton Orchards); Lunch - 100% whole grain bread, Early Girl tomatoes, cheddar cheese, roasted carrots and parsnips; Snacks - applesauce, fennel raisin bread from Bennison's Bakery stand at the Chicago's Green City Market.

Childcare Center Menu, September 24: Breakfast - orange juice, Cheerios, Life, Rice Krispies, yogurt; Lunch - turkey sloppy joes, carrot sticks, bananas; Snacks - peaches, wafers

Thursday, September 20, 2007

September 21st Menu

Caroline's Lunchbox Menu, September 21: Breakfast - O's, Queen's Lace peach; Lunch - fresh mozzarella cheese, carrots, zucchini, broccoli, Sun Gold cherry tomatoes, 100% whole grain toast; Snacks - whole wheat pancakes, cantaloupe

Childcare Center Menu, September 21: Breakfast - oranges, croissants; Lunch - BBQ chicken, peas, carrots, pears, bread, mashed potatoes; Snacks - pumpkin cookies, cucumbers

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Preserving the Harvest

Today was in the 80s but for me, summer is officially over. A sure sign of the end of summer in our family is an evening (or two) of canning tomatoes. And that's what we did tonight. Starting at 7:00 pm, Geoff and I blanched, peeled, halved, cooked, and canned a bushel of Roma tomatoes from Titus Farm. One bushel (about 70 lbs) will last until next summer when the first Early Girl tomatoes are harvested. I will use the tomatoes all year long for soups and sauces, including some which will end up in Caroline's lunch. The last batch of tomatoes is in the canner now and in 45 minutes, we will have seven more quarts. After almost seven years of marriage, Geoff is a master canner. While canning for five hours on a Wednesday night might sound boring, we actually enjoy it. After a busy day at work, it is nice to spend time together. We turned on music (the new Alison Kraus CD, a gift from our friend Christine), ate snacks (Concord grapes, Sun Gold cherry tomatoes, fresh mozzarella cheese), and caught up on each other's day. Okay, maybe we gossiped a bit, too. Canning is one way that we preserve the harvest so that we can enjoy it all year long. I first learned how to can back in 2001 when I was working as an Extension agent in Oregon. I took the Oregon State University Extension Service's Master Food Preserver course and learned how to preserve everything from fruits to vegetables to fish. My friend Marge (who was my colleague and taught several of the classes and who is now a business partner at Portland Preserve) and I spent hours together canning tomatoes and peaches and making strawberry jam. Canning can be intimidating and it helps to have a friend around who knows what she's doing. Canning with Marge gave me the confidence I needed to do it on my own.

Caroline's Lunchbox Menu, September 20: Breakfast - O's, Queen's Lace peach; Lunch - rice, tofu, broccoli, carrots, cantaloupe; Snacks - Westwind Milling Company apple cinnamon raisin bread, Sun Gold cherry tomatoes

Childcare Center Menu, September 20: Breakfast - peaches, blueberry muffin; Lunch - cheesy rice, California vegetables, cantaloupe; Snacks - smiley fries

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Farmer Tim

The Friday before Caroline enrolled at the childcare center, I attended their monthly Food and Nutrition Committee meeting. Little did I know that I would walk out of that meeting as the new committee chair. When the group asked if I would be the chair, they probably had no idea how seriously I would take this new responsibility. Since June, I have been convening our small but growing committee to work on several projects. The goal of one of those projects is to connect the childcare center to local farms that grow food without harmful chemicals. The committee has been working hard and we have finally identified a farmer who is interested in working with us. Tim is a student farmer at the Michigan State University Student Organic Farm. His brother used to work at the childcare center so he was enthused to learn that we wanted to buy food from the farm. Caroline and I met Tim last Friday and we were both thoroughly impressed. He seemed organized, interested, and willing to do whatever it takes to make this partnership work. And he showed Caroline a neat mobile made of various metal objects. She loved this clanking, shiny, metal thing. Yesterday, Tim went to the center and introduced himself to the cook. He brought her flowers, popcorn, onions, and a big bowl of cherry tomatoes. She was so impressed and this morning, she was still smiling. "Tim is awesome" she said. Tim is going to bring the cook a price and product list on Friday. And if everything goes well, all the children at the center may have a few farm fresh, organic, foods to try in their lunch next week.

Caroline's Lunchbox Menu, September 19: Breakfast - oatmeal, red raspberries; Lunch - tofu, zucchini, Costoluto Genovese tomato, 100% whole grain toast, apples; Snacks - cantaloupe, graham crackers

Childcare Center Menu, September 19: Breakfast - oatmeal, bananas; Lunch - turkey sandwich, pears, cucumber; Snacks - pumpkin pie

Monday, September 17, 2007

Tomato Soup

Caroline finally ate cooked tomatoes! Tomato soup is on the menu for tomorrow so I made tomato soup for dinner tonight. I was sure that Caroline wouldn't even try it but I made it anyways. The recipe is from my friend Julie who lives in Portland, Oregon. When my husband Geoff and I moved to Michigan three years ago, Julie gave me a packet of tomato seeds and the recipe as a gift. To make the soup, I chopped about 5 medium-size tomatoes and put them in a pot with 5 leaves of basil and 1 clove of minced garlic. I simmered the tomatoes over medium-low heat until they were very soft and then processed them in my Cuisinart mini-prep until smooth. I finished the soup by adding a couple of teaspoons of brown sugar and a pinch of salt. At first, Caroline was not interested in the soup. But half way through dinner, I think she decided that she wanted to use her spoon and that using her spoon meant that she would have to drink her soup. I helped her put soup on her spoon and let her bring it to her mouth. She was so proud every time she licked her spoon clean! I am still looking for a stainless steel thermos that I can use to pack Caroline soups and other hot foods. For tomorrow, I will have to pack her soup in a small Mason jar and ask the cook to warm it up for her. Note to self: Buy stainless steel thermos this weekend!

Caroline's Lunchbox Menu, September 18: Breakfast - red raspberries, O's; Lunch - Julie's tomato soup, cheddar cheese, 100% whole grain bread, carrots, Concord grapes (from Wilson's Farm); Snacks - cantaloupe

Childcare Center Menu, September 18: Breakfast - applesauce, croissants, jam; Lunch -grilled cheese, tomato soup, grapes, carrot sticks; Snacks - veggies, sour cream dip

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Fall Raspberries

Today was a beautiful Michigan fall day. The air was crisp and the sky was bright blue. It was perfect day to pick raspberries! So, Caroline and I drove 15 minutes to my friend Anne's house and spent the morning picking raspberries. Two years ago, Anne and her husband David bought an old farmhouse out in Mason and planted 1,000 raspberry plants on their property for a future u-pick operation. In addition to their raspberries, they raise 12 chickens for eggs, and grow a lot of their own food. When we arrived, there was (literally) 20 lbs of basil on the kitchen counter waiting to be dried or turned into pesto. They hope to open their raspberry operation for u-pickers next year but for now, their friends are the lucky ones who get to pick (eat, pick, eat, eat, eat, eat) the berries. Earlier this year, Caroline tried frozen raspberries that I thawed, pureed, and mixed into her oatmeal. She ate them but her lips were puckered as if she had just finished sucking on a lemon. Today was her first experience picking and eating fresh raspberries. She loved it! Anne and David planted a couple of different varieties and both were melt-in-your-mouth sweet. We walked down the long rows with Anne and her 2 year old son, Quin and picked as many berries as we could. Caroline held on tight to my basket...until she decided to dump out all of the berries and eat them off the grass! We still came home with a couple quarts of beautiful red raspberries.

Caroline's Lunchbox Menu, September 17: Breakfast - O's, red raspberries; Lunch - navy beans, whole wheat elbow macaroni, Sun Gold cherry tomatoes, zucchini; Snacks - cantaloupe, Ak-Mak crackers

Childcare Center Menu, September 17: Breakfast - apple juice, Cheerios, Life, Golden Grahams; Lunch - spaghetti with ground turkey sauce, salad, bananas; Snacks - pudding, crackers

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The First Fresh Apple

The first apples of the season are here! Last week, I bought some small but delicious apples from our friend and farmer, Pooh Stevenson of Owosso Organics. Owosso Organics is an organic farm that is located about 40 miles northeast of Lansing. Pooh grows almost 100 different kinds of vegetables. From eggplant to zucchini, to lettuce, to melon, Pooh grows just about everything. We love Pooh. She has been a part of our life since before Caroline was born. When I was pregnant, she shared our excitement and anticipation of our baby's arrival. When Caroline was born, Pooh gave us a beautiful bouquet of sunflowers that she grew on her farm. And when Caroline turned one, Pooh arranged wild flowers in Mason jars as table center pieces for the birthday party. One of Caroline's first solid foods was purreed chard grown at Owosso Organics. We visit Pooh at the market almost every week and if she isn't too busy, we talk about everything from parenting to food to vegetable varieties. Pooh doesn't know it, but tomorrow she will share another milestone with Caroline - the first fresh apple!

Caroline's Lunchbox Menu, September 14: Breakfast - O's, apple; Lunch - egg, 100% whole grain bread, corn, Red Zebra tomato; Snacks - watermelon

Childcare Center Menu, September 14: Breakfast - french toast sticks, strawberries; Lunch tuna fish pitas, corn, watermelon; Snacks - apple crisp

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Fresh Fresh Bread!

I went to the farmers' market today and discovered a new (to me) bread company: Westwind Milling Company. I have been eyeing their bread for weeks but somehow I always end up spending all of my cash on fruits, vegetables, and meat. Today, I made a special trip to the market to buy a loaf of their bread. Westwind Milling Company is a certified organic flour mill and bakery owned by Lee and Linda Purdy. The mill and bakery is located only 60 miles away in Linden, Michigan. They sell several different types of bread including Parmesan cheese, apple cinnamon, spelt and herb. Honestly, I was craving the apple cinnamon bread. But since it is not made with whole wheat flour, I decided (admittedly at last minute) to buy their 1 pound whole wheat loaf. The bread is delicious and gives a whole new meaning to the word "fresh." The flour was milled this morning and the bread was baked this afternoon. Delicious!

Caroline's Lunchbox Menu, September 13: Breakfast - O's, watermelon; Lunch - pesto chicken, rice, tomato, corn, zucchini; Snacks - Westwind Milling Company whole wheat bread, applesauce

Childcare Center Menu, September 13: Breakfast - pineapple juice, tortillas and cheese; Lunch - turkey and rice with tomatoes and onions, corn, beans, orange; Snacks - Apple slices, monkey bread

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Polenta Triangles

Well, I've misplaced the childcare center menus for this week so I don't know how well Caroline's meals will mimic tomorrow's menu. I will just pack some of her favorite foods plus a new item: polenta. Polenta is easy to make. Just bring 6 cups of water and a teaspoon of salt to a boil in a heavy saucepan. While stirring, slowly add 2 cups of coarse cornmeal. Stir constantly to prevent lumps. Turn the heat down to low and continue stirring. And stirring. And stirring. For 30 minutes. Making polenta can seem time consuming but if you have a good book (or in my case a book on how to conduct a focus group) to read, the time goes by fast. I stirred with my left hand and flipped pages with my right. When the polenta was done, I added a couple tablespoons of butter. You can serve the polenta as is (soft) or you can pour it into a sheet pan and let it become firm. Once it is firm, it can be cut into squares, triangles, or any other shape. I hope Caroline enjoys the polenta as much as she enjoys corn and cornbread!

Caroline's Lunchbox Menu, September 12: Breakfast - oatmeal, peach; Lunch - cannellini beans, cucumber, fresh mozzarella cheese, tomatoes, polenta triangles; Snacks - watermelon, graham crackers

Monday, September 10, 2007

Titus Farm Lunch

The Michigan harvest is truly at its peak. My friend Colleen is a member of the Titus Farm CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program and since she is going out of town on Wednesday, she asked me if I'd be interested in picking up her share of fresh fruits and vegetables. Of course I said yes! The Titus' are at the Meridian Farmers' Market on Saturdays and we have been loyal customers since moving to Michigan three years ago. As a CSA member, Colleen shares the risk and the harvest with the Titus'. She pays her membership fee ($269 for 20 weeks) at the beginning of the season and in return, gets a weekly share of whatever fruits and vegetables are in season. Today's share included tomatoes (beautiful big yellow ones), zucchini, fingerling potatoes, corn, white and red onions, chard, and green beans. All for just over $13. Thanks, Colleen! Although the Titus' are not certified organic, they are the type of farmers I want to support. Paul and Rose Titus started the farm back in 1982 with their daughter Rebecca, a senior at Michigan State University majoring in horticulture. They use sustainable farming practices such as cover crops to control weeds and they don't use harmful pesticides on their fruits and vegetables. And Rebecca is a young and energetic woman. With the percentage of farmers younger than 35 declining (from 15% in 1954 to 8% in 1997), it is critical that we support young farmers. The future of farming in America depends on it. And if we don't have farms, we won't have a reliable source for food.

Caroline's Lunchbox Menu, September 11: Breakfast - O's, white peach; Lunch - tofu, Titus Farm salad (zucchini, green beans, corn and tomato), 100% whole grain bread; Snacks - cantaloupe, Ak-Mak crackers

Childcare Center Menu, September 11: Breakfast - french toast sticks, peaches; Lunch - chicken nuggets, salad, orange slices, wheat bread; Snacks - cinnamon tortillas, cucumbers

Sunday, September 9, 2007

September 10th Menu

Caroline's Lunchbox Menu, September 10: Breakfast - O's, white peaches; Lunch - whole wheat fusilli pasta, cheddar cheese, grilled zucchini and eggplant, tomatoes; Snacks - cantaloupe melon

Childcare Center Menu, September 10: Breakfast - White grape juice, Cheerios, Life, Rice Krispies; Lunch - macaroni and cheese, mixed vegetables, bananas; Snacks - yogurt, vanilla wafers

Friday, September 7, 2007

Ritz or Ryvita?

I have been packing Ryvita crackers (also known as crispbread) in Caroline's lunch. I buy the Light Rye and the Fruit Crunch for our family. Caroline used to love Ryvita crackers until I introduced graham crackers. Now she just likes them. The crackers are made with whole grain rye but they are not produced in Michigan or anywhere else in the US. They are made more than 3700 miles away in Poole, England. If I think food should be sourced as close to home as possible, why am I buying Ryvita when there are other crackers that are made right here in the US? In addition to providing Caroline with food that is grown/raised without harmful chemicals and that is sourced as close to home as possible, I want to provide her with high quality nutritious food. I checked out the food labels of other crackers like Ritz (which appears on the Childcare Center menu from time to time) and was appalled, but not surprised, to read the long list of ingredients.

Ritz crackers: enriched flour (wheat flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), soybean oil, sugar, partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil, salt, leavening (baking soda and/or calcium phosphate), high fructose corn syrup, soy lecithin, natural flavor, cornstarch.

As a general rule, I don't buy food that contains ingredients that I don't recognize or that are hard to pronounce. And I never buy food that contains "natural flavor." Why would anyone want to buy a product that tastes so awful that it needs something called natural flavor to be added to it in order to make it palatable? To me, these are red flags that warn of food that is highly processed and that contains ingredients that might be harmful to your health. Ryvita crackers are the polar opposite of Ritz crackers when it comes to ingredients.

Ryvita Light Rye crackers: whole gain rye flour, salt

That's it. Just whole grain rye flour and salt. Until I can find a similar cracker that is made closer to home, I will continue to choose Ryvita over Ritz.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

September 7th Menu

Caroline's Lunchbox Menu, September 7: Breakfast - O's, white peach; Lunch - flour tortilla, corn, carrots, yellow summer squash, pinto beans, Goldie tomato, fresh mozzarella cheese; Snacks - cucumber, graham crackers

Childcare Center Menu, September 7: Breakfast - applesauce, cinnamon pita bread; Lunch - taco salad, plums; Snacks - chocolate cookies, cucumber

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Rice for Hot Summer Days

The weather in Lansing has been hot. On days like today when the temperature is in the mid-80s, I am in the mood for food that reminds me of summer. Chicken and rice is on the menu tomorrow. I love chicken and rice but I think of it more as comfort food for cold nights. But since I am trying to mimic the childcare center menu, I needed to come up with a rice dish. I turned to one of my favorite cookbooks, Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison, looked up the ingredient rice in the index and found my inspiration in the recipe, Rice and Eggs with Pesto, Pine Nuts and Tomatoes. It seemed like an unlikely combination but I gave it a try. I cooked 2 cups of white short grain rice in my rice cooker and while it cooked, I made a batch of pesto in one bowl and beat two eggs together in another. As soon as the rice was done, I stirred the eggs into the rice, mixed in the pesto and closed the lid. I served the eggs, rice and pesto dish with chopped tomatoes for dinner tonight. It was delicious. Rice is an awkward dish for toddlers who haven't mastered the spoon. Caroline ate the rice slowly, picking up each grain one by one. Most of the rice made it into her mouth but some of it ended up on the floor. And there was pesto in hair. And tomatoes on her clothes. But she loved it and when she was finished, she asked for more.

Caroline's Lunchbox Menu, September 6: Breakfast - oatmeal, white peach; Lunch - rice with eggs, pesto and tomatoes; sweet bell peppers, zucchini, Tigger melon; Snacks - corn on the cob, Ryvita cracker

Childcare Center Menu, September 6: Breakfast - oatmeal, bananas; Lunch - chicken and rice with red bell peppers and mixed vegetables, kiwi; Snacks - cheese breadsticks

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Mostaciolli and Mozzarella

Everyone loves the childcare center mostaciolli. Until last week, I didn't know what mostaciolli was. But I visualized a perfectly al dente cannelloni noodle stuffed with herbs and soft cheese. On special occasions, it might be made stuffed with mascarpone cheese. Well, it turns out that mostaciolli is just mostaciolli noodles (I thought those were called rigatoni) smothered in tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese and baked in a casserole dish. Mostaciolli is on the menu tomorrow. So tonight, I decided to create my own mostaciolli. I made an oven-roasted tomato sauce using the last week's tomatoes and tossed it with whole wheat fusilli pasta and served it with fresh mozzarella. Mostaciolli, rigatoni, fusilli...does it matter? I doubt Caroline will know the difference once it is cut up into toddler-size pieces. The tomato sauce was easy. I cut 2 lbs of tomatoes in half, sliced half an onion into thin rounds and spread them both on a cookie sheet. I tossed in a few sprigs of fresh thyme from my friend Mary's garden, drizzled the tomatoes and onions with olive oil and oven-roasted the spread at 375 F for about an hour. When the tomatoes were shriveled, I pureed the tomatoes and onions in my Cusinart. The sauce was lovely with just the right balance of sweet and tangy. Caroline wouldn't touch it. She loves tomatoes but she turned up her nose at my version of mostaciolli. Are the fusilli noodles to blame? But she did eat the fresh mozzarella cheese. I will try again with the mostaciolli and pack it for her lunch tomorrow. Like the roasted beets (which ended up on the floor again), I will continue offering mostaciolli with the hope that over time, she will enjoy it as much as I did tonight.

Caroline's Lunchbox Menu, September 5: Breakfast - oatmeal, apple blackberry sauce; Lunch - roasted beets, zucchini, mostaciolli with fresh mozzarella cheese; Snacks - strawberries

Childcare Center Menu, September 5: Breakfast - fruit cocktail, bagels with cream cheese; Lunch - mostaciolli, California vegetables, cantaloupe; Snacks - baked potato

Monday, September 3, 2007

Take 3 - Roasted Beets

After a long weekend away and no time to go to the grocery store tonight, my options for Caroline's lunch tomorrow are limited to what I have on hand. And what I have in the freezer. Since I don't know what's on the childcare center menu tomorrow, I have a bit more flexibility. Twice last week, I put roasted Chioggia beets in Caroline's lunch. Chioggia beets have pink and white stripes and taste sweet when roasted. I thought that Caroline would like them but she hardly touched them. And when she did, they ended up on the floor. Unfortunately for Caroline, I have red beets, leftover from last week's farmers' market, in the fridge. Before I go to bed tonight, I will scrub them, toss them in a pan with a splash of water, cover them with foil, roast them at 450 F for 30 minutes and pack them for her lunch tomorrow. It seems like a waste to pack something that I know ended up in the garbage last week. But I also know that it can take up to twenty times of introducing a new food before a child (or an adult for that matter) will taste it. So, I will try again with roasted beets tomorrow. And maybe Tuesday, too.

Caroline's Lunchbox Menu, September 3: Breakfast - O's, AppleSchram Organic Orchard applesauce; Lunch - white beans, cucumbers, roasted beets, Early Girl tomato, 100% whole grain toast; Snacks - blueberries (from Walton Orchards and frozen)
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