Prepping for School

Did you miss me? This is the last week of summer for three of my four kids, and the first week my teacher husband was back to work. We spent all last week shoving every activity we planned to do this summer into a week-long family activity fest. I have several recipes coming down the pike that I made this summer, but I thought I’d change things up and use this post to tell you how I’m prepping for school to start.

The last two years, my kids have eaten hot lunches at school. It made me cringe every time they would come home and tell me what they had for lunch. Last year they even ate breakfast at school. First, let me say that our school serves above-average tasting food. They also allow for unlimited salad and fresh fruit, which is great. Our district also follows our state health policy for lunches. You know, so many servings of vegetables, “low” sugar content, a certain fiber content, etc. I acknowledge that it’s a valiant effort, and it’s definitely better than nothing. But, there are a few problems with it, in my opinion. First, the almighty Dairy Council (cue either angelic singing or a morose funeral durge, depending on your opinion) has lobbied and succeeded to make flavored milk exempt from the sugar content rule. Did you know that flavored milk has at least as much sugar as soda? Your child’s chocolate or strawberry milk has 27-31 grams of sugar per serving. Second, I believe strongly in training a palate. It’s one reason that dieting using processed foods (like, low-fat instead of full-fat pizza) will never succeed in the long run. In my family, I cook home-made, from-scratch, nutritious, flavor-packed meals. I tend to make ethnic foods from all walks of life and expect my children to experiment with taste and enjoy trying new things. My third son’s favorite meal when he was 2? Baked salmon and asparagus. The problem I have found is that within a month of eating school “healthy” food, they lose their adventurous palates and start refusing to eat my dinners. Can you blame them? They are eating processed chicken nuggets and pizza and french toast sticks for breakfast and lunch. Yeah, the pizza has a whole wheat crust and low-fat cheese, and the nuggets are baked and not fried…but it still trains their palate to want to eat that type of food.

So, we decided, NO MORE! We are a processed-food-free family, I have to admit that the decision was difficult. We qualify for free meals at the school, so this is an expense we would not normally have, but we believe it is worth it. Both for the health of our kiddos, and for the peace of mealtime, the extra effort is worth it.

This post is how I am planning to do breakfast and lunches for my kids, to give them choices and give me less of a headache.

First: breakfast. I would love to say that I plan to get up and make my kids breakfast every morning. But, I’m a realist. Maybe some days I will, but in general, I just know it won’t happen. We stopped eating cereal when we stopped getting raw milk. Cereal is one of the worst breakfasts you can have. Milk has a naturally high sugar content, and cereal is mostly empty carbs (yes, there are whole grain cereals that are better). I find when we eat cereal that our blood sugar is raised, it gives us great energy, then we crash mid morning. Days that I have cereal for breakfast, it sets me into a mood swing cycle that is hard to recover from. Protein is key for us for breakfast. I have one child who won’t eat protein for breakfast, my goal for him is to lower his sugar intake for breakfast. Even though milk has protein, he responds better to oatmeal for breakfast than cereal, for some reason. We’re not fans of processed milk here, anyway, since two of our littles have dairy allergies (only to processed milk, raw milk they have no issues with. That is a post for another day…)

Three options for breakfast on days I don’t make something fresh:

#1: Whole Wheat Breakfast Pockets

#2: Breakfast Burritos: Scrambled eggs and natural sausage (no msg or perservatives: Jimmy Dean just came out with natural sausage that is super good!) wrapped in a tortilla and frozen. Microwave for 40 seconds to heat

# 3: Oatmeal packets: My oatmeal kid’s favorite type is apple cinnamon. I pre-make oatmeal packets using snack-sized ziploc bags. In each I put 2/3 cup whole oats, 1 TBS sucanat, 1 tsp ground cinnamon, about 1 TBS dried apple, cut into small pieces with kitchen shears. Use these just like regular oatmeal packets: add water and microwave for 1-2 minutes. I’ve also made strawberry ones, using dried strawberries. You can make whatever kind your kids like, and control the sugar amount and type yourself.

Lunch. The trick to lunch is going to be keeping them from getting bored. The plan is each lunch will have a main dish, a piece of fresh produce, a savory snack, and a sweet snack.

The sweet snack is a family favorite. The recipe is flexible and for a sweet snack, healthy in the way that it has no processed sugars, it’s low in sugar, and it’s chock full of healthy fats for energy and brain function. They are called energy bites, and the recipe is below. I make 3-4 batches and freeze them. For school, I placed 3 in each snack bag and froze the bags. Yes, it’s a lot of plastic bag waste, but I’m going for convenience here. Maybe someday I’ll be superwoman and do it all. for now, I’m satisfied feeding my kids healthy, unprocessed foods. Oh, and the reason I put them in individual bags is because it stops my kids (or me) from taking 20 every day, which they would do. They are that good.

The produce will be anything they choose from the array we have at all times, typically apples, mini carrots, tomatoes, bell peppers, and whatever in-season snack fruit is on sale (right now, peaches and berries).

The savory snack is typically cheese sticks or bags of pretzels. Sometimes, I may make Soft Pretzels, but I typically reserve those for an after-school snack.

The main dish, for right now, will be a choice of dinner leftovers, bean burritos (my homemade beans, cheese and salsa in a tortillas and frozen) or “Hot Pockets”, which is my Breakfast Pockets recipe, but each one is a slice of cheese and 1 slice of natural lunch meat (we like Boars’ Head Ovengold turkey breast, and Hormel’s naturals, which has an uncured ham and I just discovered an uncured salami, which has made my 11-yr old’s year).

I calculated costs and figured that it’s costing us about $2 per lunch per kid. Not too shabby.

So, whether your kiddos are back to school this week, next month or in September, you can start prepping those healthy lunches and snacks now!

ENERGY BITES

makes 35-40 bites, depending on size

1 cup natural peanut butter (check the label, the ingredients should only be peanuts and salt, or just peanuts.)
1/2 cup raw honey, or agave syrup if you prefer
2 cups whole oats
1 cup shredded or flaked unsweetened coconut
1/2 cup ground flaxseed
1 cup mini chocolate chips

Mix the peanut butter and honey well. Add dry ingredients and mix until well incorporated. Roll into balls, or use a small cookie scoop (I found this to be easiest). You can refrigerate these and use within a week (Ha! They won’t last more than 2 days), or freeze.

REAL food alert: check the chocolate chips for artificial flavors.
HEALTH alert: to keep these healthy, you really need to use unsweetened peanut butter and unsweetened coconut, otherwise, you might as well make cookies.
ALLERGY alert: the peanut butter can be substituted for any nut butter, like almond, or sunbutter (made from sunflower seeds). You can eliminate or swap any of the add-ins (like the coconut, flaxseed and chocolate chips). You can use dried fruit, nuts, chia seeds, or anything else your imagination can come up with (try cocoa!).
VEGGIE alert: These are naturally vegan, depending on the add-ins. Eliminate the chocolate chips and add in dried fruit or vegan carob chips.

Recipe adapted from Smashed Peas and Carrots

“Chocolate Covered Cherry” Sorbet

DISCLAIMER: The following blog entry involves discussion of non-REAL food. 😉

When I was a little girl, growing up in Iowa, I would sometimes be lucky enough to spend a few days at a friend’s house who lived “in the country”. We’d stay up late playing barbies in her basement, and the next day, grab some bikes and ride down to the DQ for drippy ice cream cones that melted faster than we could lick in the hot, humid, midwestern air.

Every once in a while, on family night, my family would drive down to the local DQ and get “belly-buttons” as a treat. Dilly bars no longer have the curlicue in the middle that made them look like an “outie” belly-button. Now they’re just a circle on a stick. Sad, really.

Now, I live in a semi-rural suburb, where one of the only “fast-food” places nearby is a DQ. Many traditions now revolve around the DQ: first day of school, last day of school, birthdays, etc. typically involve a trip to the DQ for drippy ice cream cones that melt faster than we can lick in the hot, dry, southwestern air. I still love a “crunch” covered cone, and occasionally a butterscotch dipped. But, when it comes to blizzards, my favorite is the “chocolate covered cherry” blizzard. Vanilla soft-serve mixed with cherries and chocolate coating. It’s just darn tasty!

A week ago, we had an exciting delivery: AN ICE CREAM MAKER. We actually have one already, it’s one of those huge old fashioned types that require ice and rock salt. I have to admit, the old clunkers do a much better job making tasty rich ice cream. But, I wanted one of the new-fangled speedy ones that make a batch in 20 minutes (of course, that’s not accounting for the time to freeze the bowl, make the mix and chill the mix…it’s still a half-day affair, but still beats having to watch and add rock salt every little while).

This recipe I devised after seeing fresh cherries on sale and reminiscing about DQ. It’s a sorbet made from fresh cherries, with chocolate flakes throughout. It’s very tasty and a perfect summer treat.

CHOCOLATE COVERED CHERRY SORBET

2 pounds fresh cherries
2/3 cups sugar (you may want less if your cherries are really sweet)
1 cup water
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
1/8 tsp real almond extract
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 TBS coconut oil (you can use butter if you don’t have coconut oil)

Rinse and remove stems and pits from cherries. Place in a pot with the sugar, water and lemon juice. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Lower heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Place in a blender or food processor and puree. Pour mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into a large bowl, use a rubber scraper to push as much juice out as possible. At this point, you can add some of the pulp back in, depending if you want a smooth sorbet, or small bits of cherry pulp in it. I scooped two spoonfuls of pulp back into the juice and discarded the rest. You can skip the straining altogether (just watch out for hiding pits), or just use the juice for your sorbet. Add the almond extract to the juice. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours before putting into your ice cream maker.

When the mixture is chilled, turn on your ice cream maker and pour in the cherry mixture. Make according to the directions for your ice cream maker. I have found that sorbet takes a little longer than ice cream. While the ice cream is churning, melt the chocolate chips and coconut oil in a small bowl in the microwave for 30 seconds. Remove and stir until smooth. When the sorbet is nice and thick and about done, use a spoon and drizzle the chocolate into the churning ice cream. Every once in a while, it may build up, and you may have to use the rubber scraper to stir it in. It just depends on the design of your ice cream maker. The idea is to pour in a thin stream, which will harden and break into flakes in your sorbet. You can accomplish this however it works best with your ice cream maker. You may or may not use all of the chocolate. Add as much as you would like. When finished, remove into a freezer-safe bowl, cover it and freeze until hard. Overnight is best, if you want it really hard. My kids didn’t mind the soft texture of ours one bit. 😉 (Ours chilled about 4 hours).

REAL food alert: check for artificial flavors in your chocolate chips.
ALLERGY alert: the only thing with dairy here is the chocolate. You can just make the cherry sorbet without the chocolate flakes, or use dairy-free chocolate.
VEGGIE alert: to make this vegan: see above.

From-scratch EASY Ice Cream Sandwiches

I’m back. Did you miss me? That was an unscheduled absence.

It is officially summer here!! Woo Hoo!! My hubby is a teacher so summers are a big fat deal around here. I love having him home and playing and lazing around all summer. In honor of summer, here is one of my favorite easy treats. The greatest thing about this is that it’s totally flexible. You can create whatever ice cream flavors you want..without an ice cream maker!!! I’ve included some ideas to get you started. You could even let your kids make their own, by mixing in their favorites! I also love that the ingredients are pure and simple: cream, milk, sugar. No additives and artificials you get from conventional ice creams. For those of us in the U.S., the tea biscuits can be found in the specialty or imported food section of your grocery store. I use a combo of plain and chocolate, for variety. Some have additives, others don’t.

ICE CREAM SANDWICHES

Basic Recipe:
1-2 packages rectangular tea biscuits
2 cups heavy cream
2/3 cup sweetened condensed milk

Line a 9×13 pan with plastic wrap. Line up your biscuits to cover the bottom of the pan, top down. Whip together the cream and condensed milk until stiff. (See this post about whipping cream if you need help). Fold in any add-ins (see below). Place biscuits on top to line up with the bottom biscuits. If you are using a typical 9×13 pan, notice that the sides are bigger on top than the bottom. I line up the first row of biscuits, so they are directly above the bottom ones. This means you will have some excess around the sides on the top. Cover the pan with plastic wrap and freeze for at least 8 hours (I typically do it over night). When you remove the pan from the freezer, pull the entire block of sandwiches out of the pan using the plastic wrap. (Yippee! The pan is still clean! Put it back in your cupboard. I love avoiding dirty dishes). Cut the excess from around the top edge. Now you should be able to pick up the block and break apart the sandwiches. Serve on a hot summer day!

Add-ins:

2/3 cups of:

mini chocolate chips (that’s what I typically use)

chopped dried cherries (with or without the chocolate chips)

mini chocolate chips + 1/2 tsp mint extract

broken pretzels

crumbled cookies

crushed strawberries (fresh or frozen)

crushed raspberries + coconut+ white chocolate chips

REAL food alert: check the biscuits for additives, check your chocolate chips for artificial flavoring, check the cream for additives.

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Adapted from To Food With Love

Cinco de Mayo Muffins! (Cinnamon Chocolate Chip Muffins with Dulce de Leche Glaze)

I’m kind of a purist. I like my Mexican food authentic and spicy. I like my steak medium rare, and with no additions that will impede the beautiful beefy flavor (sea salt is fine, and occasionally butter…but no onions, mushrooms, bacon, bleu cheese, etc. Do NOT suggest steak sauce, you blasphemer!) I do enjoy a good themed party, but I’ll always lean towards the authentic before the theme. For instance, St. Patty’s day? I’m not going to dye our food green, instead I’ll make something that is actually Irish. However, when I was deciding what treat to make my kiddos for their arrival home from school, and I decided on muffins, I instantly thought. “How can I make muffins that fit with the Cinco de Mayo theme?” Okay, first I thought, “Dang, no blueberries, and I don’t have time to run to the store”. But, after that, I had the Cinco de Mayo thought. The fact that I decided to create something in a theme that is not authentic I blame on screen-free week, and the fact that I had been sans computer for 3 days. It caused me to thrown caution to the wind. I even cleaned some walls this week. Amazing.

So, my first thought was how much I loooooovvvvveeee Mexican chocolate, which has a touch of cinnamon. Dulce de Leche (which is sugar and milk, thickened to a caramel) is one of my other favorite flavors from my neighbors to the South, so I decided to combine them. I created a simple cinnamon chocolate chip muffin, and dipped the tops in an indulgent dulce de leche glaze. The glaze recipe makes plenty, so you can use the extra on ice cream, or on a spoon. Not that I would know anything about that. The trick to making muffins is to NOT over mix the batter. The more you mix it, the denser the muffins with be. I stir muffins by hand, I don’t use my mixer, which tends to over mix.

CINNAMON CHOCOLATE CHIP MUFFINS with DULCE DE LECHE GLAZE

2 cups flour
2/3 cup sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 cup mini chocolate chips
2 eggs
2/3 cup milk
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray muffin pan with cooking spray, or lightly grease with oil. In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and chocolate chips. In a separate bowl, whisk eggs until fluffy. Add milk, melted butter and vanilla. Whisk together until well mixed. Add to the dry ingredients, and mix only until combined. Fill each muffin cup mostly full. Bake for 15-20 minutes. Let cool.

DULCE DE LECHE GLAZE

1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup sweetened condensed milk

In a heavy-bottomed sauce pan, combine the butter and sugar. Over medium heat, stir until butter is melted. Add condensed milk. Stir well. Continue stirring until mixture comes to a boil. remove from heat and continue stirring until the mixture stops bubbling. Dip the tops of the muffin in the glaze. Dip them all before the glaze cools. Don’t worry, it takes a little while to cool, you have enough time. You can make the glaze ahead, but you won’t get the smooth shiny glazed look if you let it cool and spread it on later.

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Boston Cream Donuts…Baked!

Hmmm…Doughnuts…Donuts…. Either way, they are tasty balls of fried dough, made tastier when filled or frosted or dunked.

SOME people, however, have a hard time stopping with one, two, or four doughnuts, which has made BAKED raised donuts a popular trend amongst the scratch bakers.

So, I figured, if I’m going to take the time to make a yeast donut, and save calories by baking it, I have caloric wiggle room to add a cream filling and chocolate frosting, eh?

Thus is born the baked Boston Cream Donut…

BAKED BOSTON CREAM DONUTS

Donuts:

3/4 cup warm milk
2 1/4 tsp (1 packet) active dry yeast
1 TBS unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup sugar
1 egg, whisked
1/2 tsp salt
2 -3 cup flour

Combine yeast and warm milk in your stand mixer bowl, or in a large mixing bowl. Let sit for 5-10 minutes. Gently mix in butter, sugar and egg (make sure egg is well blended before adding). Add flour, 1/2 c at a time. Add salt in with the first batch of flour. Mix thoroughly after each flour addition. Stop adding flour as soon as the dough sticks together. You definitely want as little flour in your dough as possible. using your dough hook, or hands, if you’re more traditional, knead for 5 minutes. Watch the dough. If it starts to stick to the sides, sprinkle a little bit of flour as needed to coax it back into a ball. Again, use as little flour as possible. When I make this, I typically only use 2 cups of flour.

Remove bowl and place in a warm place to rise until double (about an hour, but this can drastically vary depending on all sorts of factors).

Once it has risen, dump it onto a counter that has been lightly dusted with flour. Roll it out to about 1/2 inch thick. Use a glass or round cookie cutter to cut the dough into circles. Use as much of the dough in the first cut as possible, then collect the scraps and recut. If you must, you can do it a third time, but the resulting donuts will be tougher than the first.

Place the dough circles on parchment-covered baking sheets, about 2 inches apart. Let rise again until double, another 45 min- 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Bake for 5-7 minutes. Remove when they are light brown on top. Immediately slide to a cooling rack.

Filling (Pastry Cream):

2 cups milk
1/4 cup sugar
1 egg
2 egg yolks
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/3 cup sugar
2 TBS butter
1 tsp vanilla

Stir together the milk and 1/4 cup sugar in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Over medium heat, bring it to a boil. Meanwhile, mix together the egg and egg yolks. Add the cornstarch and 1/3 cup sugar to the eggs and mix until smooth. When the milk has come to a boil, slowly pour a few tablespoons of it into the egg mixture.* Mix well and pour a little more hot milk in with the eggs. Mix well. Pour the egg mixture into the pan with the milk and slowly return to a boil, whisking frequently to keep the bottom from burning. When the mixture becomes thick, remove from heat and stir in butter and vanilla. Pour into a bowl and place plastic wrap to the surface to prevent a skin from forming. Place in the refrigerator until chilled.

Frosting:

1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
3/4 cup chocolate chips

Pour cream into a sauce pan. Heat over medium heat until hot, but do not bring to a boil. Remove from heat and add chocolate chips. Stir until smooth.

To assemble:

Take a donut and poke a hole in one side with a small knife or skewer. Carefully move the knife/skewer around the inside of the donut to allow room for the filling. (A clean finger does this well, if that doesn’t gross you out)

Scoop some filling into a zipper-topped bag. Cut a small portion off the corner, insert into the donut and squeeze the filling into the donut.

Dip the top of the donut into the bowl of chocolate.

Enjoy. With friends…or family…or hot chocolate.

*This is called “tempering” the eggs, slowly bringing them up in temperature so that when you add them to the milk, they don’t cook so quickly that you have scrambled eggs in your pastry cream.

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