Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Food for Thought

The subject of children and their eating habits is a touchy one.  Each of us seem to have our own opinions on how best to provide a robust food education to our children.  What we can agree on is that our early year experiences sets us on the course of who we end up as later in life, so modelling a healthy relationship with food from the beginning is something that shouldn't be taken too lightly.

Our family's food philosophy has evolved over time, through research, trial-and-error, and advice from other parents.  Compared to other families, we put less importance on what the children eat, and more importance on the pleasure and social culture of eating.  It goes something like this:
  1. Eating is a shared, communal experience.
    We eat together, as a family.  Eating happens at the table, not in a car, stroller, or while running around.  The only company we keep is each other; no toys, TV, or phones during mealtime.  Everyone eats the same food, and only what's offered at that meal.
  2. Snacking is reserved for social events, and only when other children are also snacking (e.g. birthday parties, play dates).
    The kids get 2-3 snacks a day at daycare.  But when they are with us, we don't provide any snacks, as it often ruins mealtime appetites.  If the kids are truly hungry between meals, they can have a glass of milk, and a reminder to eat when food is available, which is only at mealtimes.
  3. Food is never to be used as a reward or punishment.
    Nobody is coerced into eating anything, but everyone is encouraged to try new foods or things they claim not to like.
  4. Food should be treated with respect.
    No playing with food.  No throwing food.  No "hiding" vegetables in sauces or smoothies.  All foods should be appreciated for what they are, and if the child isn't interested in trying it, we'll just offer it again another time.
Our kids are still kids.  They would rather have cookies over a bowl of soup any day.  Sometimes they only get in a couple of bites before wanting to run off and play.  Other times there are tears because vegetables are mixed right into the pasta, or the food is too hot.  But they also love picking clams our of their shells, munching on leafy greens right off the plant, and going to town on a bone-in chicken leg.  The girls act silly and there are lots of giggles, and we chat about our how our day went and upcoming weekend plans.  And when mealtime is over and the clean-up is done, there's always another meal to look forward to only a few hours away.

Grilled Spinach and Cheese Sandwiches
Makes 4 sandwiches.

These little sandwiches are quick to make, especially if you prepare the filling in advance and keep it in the fridge until you're ready to assemble your sandwiches.

1 bunch of spinach, trimmed and washed
1 tsp olive oil
1 tbsp onion, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
50 g (1/4 package) cream cheese
A pinch of nutmeg
Salt and pepper, to taste
8 slices of bread
4 slices of Emmentaler Swiss cheese
Softened butter or mayonnaise

Blanch spinach by immersing in boiling water for 30 seconds.  Drain and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process.  Squeeze the spinach with your hands to remove as much water as you can, and roughly chop into small pieces.

Heat the olive oil on a skillet on medium heat.  Add onion and garlic, and cook until the onion softens, about 2-3 minutes.  Add cream cheese, and mix until the cream cheese melts and there are no large lumps.  Stir in spinach, nutmeg, salt, and pepper, and scoop into a bowl.  Clean out the skillet in preparation for sandwich grilling.

Assembling the sandwiches: lay down a slice of bread.  Spread a thick layer of spinach-cream cheese, and cover with a slice of swiss cheese.  Sandwich with another slice of bread.  Repeat with the remaining 6 slices of bread, to make 4 sandwiches altogether.

Cooking the sandwich: heat the skillet on medium heat.  While it is heating up, spread butter or mayonnaise (my preference) on both sides of the sandwich.  Place on the skillet and heat until golden brown and crisp, about 2 minutes.  Carefully flip the sandwich, and brown the other side the same way.  Remove from heat, and repeat with the remaining sandwiches.  Slice into quarters, and serve warm.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Stories About Girls

Yesterday, my one-year-old daughter's caregiver told me how impressed she was that my daughter is a risk taker, like when she tried to climb up the book shelf.  As a cautious person myself, it's not easy to embrace the idea that your baby girl has little regard for her own safety.  But after reading this article about how parents treat their girls differently than boys, I'm trying to be better at it.

In celebration of International Women's Day, here's an easy activity you can do with your kids.  Read them one of their favourite books, but change the genders around so that the boys are now girls.  The Very Hungry Caterpillar?  SHE was a beautiful butterfly!  Little Red Riding Hood?  Saved by a female hunter!  Three Billy Goats Gruff?  The fierce mama billy goat butts heads with an ugly troll!  I'm convinced that reading more stories to our children about females who are bold, adventurous, and strong will help them understand that girls can be outspoken and fearless too.

Friday, February 19, 2016


After reading the book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up last year, I made it one of my goals to declutter and streamline my belongings.  At first, it was quite easy to do. I had accumulated many useless things over the years, and the pile of thrift store donations grew quickly.

I loved the feeling of getting rid of all those unused clothes and household items, because it made our house immediately feel more spacious and tidy. I also loved having an excuse to visit the thrift store, because it would give me a chance to look through the store and discover quirky items or bargains. But the more often I went, the more I noticed how much of the store was filled with garbage. Lots and lots of cheaply made, useless, ugly garbage.

Since then, I've been trying to be more mindful about our household consumption and waste habits. My partner and I recently attempted an experiment in reusing food waste, by using leftover buttermilk and dredging flour mix from a fried chicken recipe. The buttermilk and flour mix were diverted from the trash, into buttermilk biscuits to accompany our chicken dinner.

The experiment was a partial success. We ended up with a dozen paprika-tinged biscuits that were as tender and fluffy as they should be. Only these were terribly salty, on account of the TWO TABLESPOONS of salt that went into the flour mix. Which begs the question of which is more wasteful: throwing out the buttermilk and flour mix, or forcing yourself to eat salty-as-hell biscuits in the name of waste reduction?

In any case, it was a good reminder to use only what you really need.