Saturday, July 10, 2010

nutritious and delicious

“No more pencils, no more books, no more teacher’s dirty looks… school’s out for summer” –Alice Cooper  

On an evening run, I breathe in the fragrance of freshly cut grass mingled with the heady perfume of watercolor blossoms dripping from every branch.  Warmed by the sun, stately old homes release the aroma of their aged wood.  The hum of insects fills sleepy air, heavy with warm sunshine and the intoxicating scent of summertime.   
For my daughter, summer represents the luxury of basking in a three-month sojourn from the structure of the school year.  Like most children, she is grateful for a few months to put her studies aside.  I am thankful just to be relieved of  the dreaded chore of packing lunches.  This banal task is surely met with universal disdain.  Creativity gets you nowhere.  That PBJ on whole wheat, cut out with a heart-shaped cookie cutter and packed in an ec0-friendly reusable container can never compete with orange cheesy puffs, ‘real’ fruit snacks or creme filled chocolate cookies.  Faced with this lose-lose scenario, one can either succumb to the lure of convenient pre-packaged foods or stick to their guns and risk being labeled the ‘health-nut parent who packs bo-ring lunches’.  I have long since resigned to the latter. 
Back when I was in school, my mom prepared similarly wholesome lunches.  One year, during an awards ceremony, the teachers came up with a handful of tongue-in-cheek categories meant for laughs.  Mom was none too amused when I won the award for ‘student most likely to give their lunch away’.  She felt she was being penalized for her efforts to properly nourish her child.  The parents of the kids who swapped their lunches with me, on the other hand, were off the hook.

When my daughter began eating solids, our household consumed about 25% organic produce and dairy.  Initially, buying organic stemmed from a desire to avoid pesticides.   Over time, our vernacular has shifted to include local and seasonal produce,  free-range and grass-fed meats and fish that is wild, not farmed.  We now seek out minimally processed foods, avoiding hydrogenated oils, high fructose corn syrup, artificial flavors and colors, and foods with a high sodium or sugar content.  As a result, we cook a greater percentage of our food rather than eating take out or instant meals.  This not only saves money but also increases awareness about what actually goes into our bodies.  By omitting additives, we are noticeably healthier and more energetic.  Food is so much better when you feel as good after you eat it as you felt while you were eating it.  

As vital as it is to eat mindfully, there should be plenty of room for exceptions.  Dessert must remain just that.  Whole wheat flour is delicious in muffins, dinner rolls and pizza dough, but far less appetizing in delicate pastries, cakes and cookies, which all demand refined flour.  Brunch is not complete without salty slices of crisp bacon and holiday sugar cookies’ allure is their brightly hued frosting.  Guidelines are just that.  They are not concrete principles.  The key is moderation.  Dining out or at the homes of others offers the opportunity to sit back and enjoy a change of pace.
Nutritious food is obviously good for you; but it should taste good too.  I wanted to put this belief into action when my turn came to provide snacks for my daughter’s kindergarten class.  My hope was to awaken their petite palates with innovative yet accessible options. 

The class consumes two snacks each day: protein and fruits or veggies in the morning and carbohydrates in the afternoon.  In the course of one week, I would provide  280 snacks for twenty hungry kindergarteners.  It was the last month of the school year and with eight months of preceding snacks, questionable as to whether originality was viable…   
Photo0018My intentions were threefold:  please the majority, provide one homemade snack each day and keep it wholesome.  I just may have succeeded:  In the words of my daughter, “Mom, your snacks were a big hit!”

The following three recipes resulted…

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