Healthy and Happy in the Kitchen

We are not a perfect family. We try to eat healthy, but do not always succeed. At home I fix mostly vegan meals. Still, my kids love to go to Grandma’s for mac and cheese and ice cream. What to do? How do I instill in them a positive emotion towards healthy foods? While I don’t have all the answers for sure, this is what we’ve done to foster health and happiness in the kitchen. The side benefits, of course, are the skills they’re practicing in math, food science, home economics, nutrition, and time management. But, we won’t tell them all that!

Let Them Cook

My 12-year-old son has taken a liking to baking and cooking. What a delight! Steering him in the direction of foods that he loves to eat, which happen to also be healthy, is the ticket. We started with corn bread (from Cooking Entrees with the Micheff Sisters: A Vegan Vegetarian Cookbook) and moved on to vegan mac and cheese. Once he realized, “Hey, I can read any recipe and follow directions,” he moved up the difficulty scale to vegan lasagna. We served this scrumptious dish to company, and he got praise and positive reinforcement for his efforts. Double bonus!

Other favorites are pasta with sautéed mushrooms, garlic, basil, oregano, and tomatoes, using the pasta water to get the right saucy consistency; and, the ever requested grilled “cheese” sandwich made with vegan CHAO slices on whole grain bread.

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When the boy wants to make banana bread or muffins, and there are no eggs available, he simply looks up a vegan recipe online and goes to work. Through this process he has learned how to substitute ground flax seed and water for eggs. We are also blessed to have a vegan society in our town and take both our kids to the vegan potlucks where they get to sample a variety of yummy nutrition packed food. At one dinner my lucky son won a cookbook, “The Uncheese Cookbook.” I never thought I’d see a pre-adolescent boy get so excited about winning a cookbook. He was thrilled!

Younger kids can start helping in the kitchen by measuring and mixing. My five-year-old has become quite adept at “skinning carrots.” That’s what he calls it! By helping us when we juice vegetables and fruits, he then wants to sample the juice and has loved it from the start.

Below are some of the kids favorite recipes to make.

Spinach Lasagna by Heather McDougall (adapted from the Forks Over Knives App)

Ingredients:

2 lbs. water-packed firm tofu

2 tsp. garlic, minced

1/4 cup nutritional yeast

1/2 tsp. sea salt

1 Tbs. parsley flakes (or fresh parsley, chopped)

1 tsp. dried basil

1 tsp. dried oregano

1/4 cup lemon juice

1/4 cup soy milk

1-2 lbs. fresh spinach, chopped (can use swiss chard)

8 oz. no-boil lasagna noodles (gluten free noodles work as well)

7 cups pasta sauce (we use Trader Joe’s Marinara)

1/2 cup Vegan Parmesan Cheese or daiya mozzarella style shreds

Directions: To make the tofu ricotta, combine tofu, garlic, nutritional yeast, sea salt, parsley, basil, oregano, lemon juice, and soy milk. Mix in food processor or with hand held mixer until just slightly lumpy. Place in large bowl, set aside. Chop spinach and mix into “ricotta.”

Preheat the oven to 350 ºF.

Spread 1 cup pasta sauce over the bottom of a 9×13 baking dish. Cover the sauce with a layer of noodles. Next, bread half of the ricotta mixture over the noodles. Top with 2 more cups of the sauce. Add another layer of noodles, the rest of the tofu mixture, 2 cups more of the sauce, and the rest of the noodles. Put remaining sauce over the noodles (make sure you cover all the edges), and sprinkle some parmesan or “cheese” over the top. Cover with parchment paper, then foil (we just use foil).

Bake for 60 minutes. Remove from the oven and let rest for 30 minutes before cutting.

 

Baked Macaroni & Cheeze (adapted from The Uncheese Cookbook)

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Ingredients:

1/4 cup water + 1 Tbs. balsamic vinegar or fresh lemon juice

1 large onion, chopped

1 lb. elbow macaroni

2 cups water

1/2 cup pimiento pieces, drained

1/2 cup raw cashew pieces

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

2 tsp. onion granules

2 tsp. garlic granules

1 tsp. salt

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 ºF.

Heat the water and vinegar or lemon juice in a large saucepan. Add the onion, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender (about 15-20 minutes). If onion sticks to the pan, add a few teaspoons more water to loosen it.

Cook macaroni in boiling water as directed on package. Drain and set aside.

Process the onions and remaining ingredients in a blender for several minutes until completely smooth. Stir blended mixture into the macaroni and spoon into a lightly oiled 3-quart casserole dish. Bake uncovered for 25-35 minutes. Serve immediately.

Healthy and Happy in the Kitchen

Yes, my son loves to make chocolate chip cookies and pizza too. But, I’m hopeful that his positive exposure to healthy foods and fun healthy cooking experiences will carry into his adult choices. At least he won’t find healthy foods unusual or different, just a taste of home!

How have you instilled healthy and fun eating habits in your family? Has cooking helped your children grow and learn in surprising ways? Share in the comments and let’s support each other on this homeschooling journey.

Dirty Hands and a Clean Heart

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Moms don’t need New Year’s resolutions. There’s already enough on the to-do list. We are barraged by the tedious and annoying on a regular basis, and as a mom of three (ages two, four, and six), I am no exception. Whether it’s the six loads of laundry, the dishes that never end, or the continual fight for the blue cup, we tend to pass our days merely surviving under a load of work that is undone and re-done every hour. An online friend posted the other day that moms should add to their to-do list one thing, every day, that cannot be undone! I love it and I hope to take it to heart, but the tedious stuff still needs to be dealt with.

We all know that when we clean or cook with our kids, that small tasks take three times longer and patience can stretch thin. However, I have noticed that if I go with my natural inclination and do it all myself, that while I’m cleaning/cooking, the kids spend their time making new messes (or old ones that I just cleaned up) or fighting. When I go it alone for the sake of time and sanity, my kids not only lose out on precious domestic skills, but also the character development that comes from helping, laboring, and working together as a team…plus it usually takes just as long because I have to keep stopping to discipline them.

Homeschooling is a wholistic experience, one that includes home economics and hygiene. These particular lessons are important and character-building. So, I’ll share with you a few of my ideas for young children, ones that have made the tedious in life more bearable and, dare I say, sometimes even fun.

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Each responsibility/chore is a printed picture, “laminated” with wide clear tape, and glued to a piece of business card magnet. The kids enjoy changing their magnets every morning.

Their Friday cleaning choices are based on trucks! The enthusiasm for choosing their truck has lasted more than a year. They can be…

  • the Crane (pick up and put away any toys or clothes on the floor).
  • the Street Sweeper (sweep, mop, or vacuum all floors).
  • the Garbage Truck (empty all waste baskets, take out trash and compost).

They also help with the laundry. Long ago I stopped sorting their laundry by type and color. Each child has their own laundry basket, and everything of theirs goes into the washer together (gasp). Life is too busy and short to worry about fading colors and grass stains (that’s why thrift stores are such a treasure). Keeping their clothes separate from their siblings’ gives a sense of ownership and duty. They all help shoving them in the dryer, but when it comes time to fold, they help according to their age and ability, whether it’s sorting, stacking, or turning things right-side-out. It may not sound like much, but they’re actively learning, it really does help with the whole job, and they don’t have time to argue.

Now my oldest is in kindergarten, and as we begin our homeschooling journey, I’ve added daily assignments/privileges (Chief, Cook, and Bottle-Washer).

  • The Chief is in charge of family prayer, grace at mealtimes, and receiving first choice in things like colored cups. No longer do I need to strive to remember who got to pray last and whose turn is it this time. One of you gets to be Chief for the day.
  • The Cook gets to help in the kitchen! Cooking with small children can be a joy, a danger, and sometimes an impossibility. For too long have I tried to cook with all three, only to leave me frustrated and them in tears. With one in the kitchen, it’s safer, I can still reach the counter and the ingredients, there’s no arguing over who “scooped” last, and one child gets to have a meaningful experience. The two left waiting for dinner will play together much more cooperatively than three ever did. There will be special days when I cook with all three, but not every day.  washing-dishes-1112077_1920
  • The Bottle-Washer: It’s time to add “doing dishes” on to their domestic skill list, and at this age it’s still fun to stick your hands in the bubbles.

Chief, Cook, and Bottle-Washer are for our regular home life, but downstairs in our school room we also have Meteorologist, Time-Keeper, and Farmer.

  • The Meteorologist checks our outdoor thermometer and changes our daily weather forecast chart.
  • The Time-Keeper is in charge of changing our calendar and our day-of-the-week chart.
  • The Farmer is in charge of chickens! We are the proud new owners of six beautiful buff brahma bantams, and they must be fed, let out to roam, and cleaned up after daily. The kids LOVE it! The chickens sit on our patio and look in the windows during school.

And, my personal favorite is a daily “Good Habits” chart to help them on their path to independence and self-sufficiency in their morning routine (printable: Good Habits). It’s posted on the refrigerator, and they cover each box with a magnet as they complete them after breakfast. They enjoy the autonomy, choosing the order in which they do them, and checking them off. I’ve named it good habits instead of chores because we use it 7 days a week, including Sabbath.

These jobs are all based on a family of three, but, with a little imagination, can be adapted for any home. I hope this brings you inspiration as you balance the tedious and fun.

Exploring Homeschooling Methods for the Early Learner | Montessori

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I have to admit, writing about the Montessori method has been quite intimidating to me. It is a very rich and scientific method that is very precise. For something to be truly Montessori, the teacher (at home or school) MUST be formally trained in the Montessori method and use specific Montessori supplies. However, in this day and age, many families are choosing to provide their homeschoolers with a Montessori inspired education.

Some are drawn to Montessori by the emphasis on independence, others on the child-directed approach to learning, and still others by the vast array of materials and resources provided for even the youngest of learners.

In this brief introduction, I will by no means do the full Montessori method justice, but my hope is that I can share some of the most desired aspects for those of you who are interested in taking some inspiration from the pen of Maria Montessori.

A Brief History of Montessori
Maria Montessori was an Italian physician and educator who did extensive work with special needs children. As she observed children and read various educational philosophies of her predecessors, Maria began to develop a very precise and scientific approach to education that revolved greatly around the “prepared environment” and the idea that children teach themselves. By understanding child development and examining the way children played with different textures, tools, and materials, Maria developed various prepared activities, from transferring beans from one bowl to another with a spoon to sorting cards of animals and plants. During her life, Maria set up many “children’s homes” (or schools) all over the world where her theories were put into practice and found to be very successful.

Why Montessori for the Early Years
As mentioned above, Montessori methodology begins at birth. This means there is something from every age group through middle school. Where most educational philosophies don’t offer many exercises or activities for the under-six crowd, Montessori is chalk full of them.

Key ideas in Montessori are independence and giving children space to grow and discover, as well as respecting each child as a person. In a Montessori homeschool, a child would have furniture and tools that are good quality, real, and all their own size. Typically there is a shelf with prepared activities that teach a child crucial skills. One activity may be a tray with a pitcher full of water and a glass for a child to practice pouring. The idea is that the child will naturally do this over and over again until she masters the skill. She is not forced to do the activities, but rather can choose what she would like to do and for how long. Then, after she has experimented with an activity, the teacher comes alongside the student, showing ways to expand upon the things she is already learning.

Some of the key elements of a Montessori style education are mixed ages in one classroom (great for homeschool), large uninterrupted blocks of time to play and explore, freedom to choose activities, a discovery model vs. direct instruction, use of very specific educational materials and tools created by Maria Montessori, and plenty of free space for a child to move.

A Day in the Life of a Montessori Family
Like with any homeschool, the schedule is going to look very different from family to family. Part of what will determine a schedule will be how strictly one adheres to Montessori methodology. However, two non-negotiable components of a Montessori education are outdoor play, and large blocks of uninterrupted play and learning time. Below is an idea of what a homeschooling day might look like. In this case our family has one girl, Isabella, four, and a baby brother, six months.

9:00 a.m. – Circle or “line” time. Isabella and her mom sing songs, read a few stories, and see what’s happening with the weather for the day. Today Isabella’s mom is adding  an activity about skeletons to their activity shelf. She talks about the x-ray cards with Isabella and shows her how she can make x-ray art by gluing cotton swabs to black paper. They also read a new poem about bones.

9:15 – Self-directed learning time. Isabella’s mom leaves her to explore all of the things on the shelf. She is there ready to help Isabella if she needs help, but tries to give her space. Isabella immediately grabs the new tray and begins working on her skeletons. She shows what she is doing to her mom. Then she cleans up, puts her tray back, and starts working on a puzzle that is on the shelf.

10:45 – Circle or “line” time. Mom reads a book to Isabella; they talk about the morning and get ready to go outside for a bit. They may go to the park, ride bikes, take a magnifying glass and explore nature, the sky is the limit.

12:00 p.m. – Lunch time. Because this is a Montessori homeschool, Isabella is encouraged to help as much as she can to prepare her lunch. She is able to cut her banana and prepare a sandwich all by herself alongside her mom. Special care is taken to practice manners and courtesy. Isabella sets the table and helps her mom wipe the table and clean up when the meal is over.

1:00 – Quiet time for Isabella to play, listen to books on tape, or just generally be calm and rest for a bit.

2:00 – The rest of the afternoon is open to play. Likely there will be another chance to go outside and play, and the activity shelf is always open.

Materials, Resources, and Curriculums for Montessori
Unlike other methods, there are some very specific materials typically used in a Montessori classroom. Much emphasis is placed on the activity trays, and those will need to be stocked. One of the best places to find Montessori style lesson plans and materials is from Michael Olaf’s website. The North American Montessori Institute has also put together a curriculum for homeschoolers. Many people, however, find they like to take some of the Montessori activities and ideas and rework them, rather than following the Montessori philosophy precisely.

I will provide links to some websites and books that can be helpful below, but a quick Pinterest search for “Montessori activities {insert age}” can be really helpful too.

Is Montessori Right for Me?
Montessori is an approach that really encompasses all of life, not just your typical academic subjects. It places emphasis on independence, courtesy, and child-led learning. How do you know if Montessori is right for you?

  • If you like the idea of watching for teachable moments and making suggestions, but letting your child take charge of his learning, Montessori might be a good fit.
  • If you don’t mind preparing activities and rotating them out, keeping an eye on how your child responds to new things, you might love the child-led nature of Montessori.
  • If you like the idea of giving young children more freedom to play and explore, both inside and outside, while providing structure and stability, you might have a good fit.
  • Montessori might be right for you if you like the idea of using a well researched and scientific method of education in the home.
  • If you have a really young child and you want to enrich her life by providing developmentally appropriate activities, Montessori would be a good place to start.

How About You?
Do you use any Montessori methods or activities in your homeschool? Are you strict, following it to a tee, or do you just like to pull in Montessori ideas from time to time? What are your questions and reactions? Are there other homeschooling styles you are curious about for your preschooler, kindergartner, first- or second-grader? Let’s get the conversation started in the comments below!

Find Out More

  1. Teaching Montessori in the Home Pre-School Years by Elizabeth G. Hainstock: An introduction to the Montessori method and how to set up a Montessori program in your home.
  2. Teach Me to Do it Myself by Maja Pitamic: A whole host of Montessori activities for children ages three to six.
  3. Montessori At Home Guide by A.M. Sterling: An introduction to using the Montessori method at home with two- to six-year-olds.
  4. Montessori on a Budget is a great website filled with tons of resources and ideas. It proves that using the Montessori method doesn’t have to be expensive and provides materials to help you implement the Montessori method in your home.
  5. American Montessori Society: Visit their website to find out more about the Montessori method and its founder, Maria Montessori.

Tang Hulurs

imageWhen my son was small and we were just beginning our homeschool journey, my good friend, Tanya, loaned me her Sonlight curriculum for grade 1. Although I chose not to use it, I did read most of the books to my little boy. I have wonderful memories of sitting under the big maple tree in our backyard reading one of our favorites, “Little Pear,” by Eleanor Frances Lattimore. In this enchanting book, the main character’s favorite treat to buy is a tang hulur. My child liked this book so much that we borrowed the others in the series from the library. Our favorite part that has stuck with us all these years (he is 12 now, but still likes to be read to!) is the fascinating idea of a tang hulur. We have our own idea of what they look like, and when we see a resemblance of our conception, whether it be in a store or picture, we always exclaim, “Look! It’s a tang hulur!”

In this blog post, I share with you the day we made tang hulurs, better known as rock candy. This is a fun activity to go along with a science lesson or unit on rocks. We actually made the rock candy with our small Pathfinder group as part of the Rocks and Minerals honor. We had attended a gem and fossil show the week before, a first for all of us. A day or two later, I received an email to sign up for a free online science class to learn about rocks, including experiments to do at home. Thinking this was perfect timing, I bought the necessary supplies for the experiments and showed the video to the Pathfinders. To be honest, the video wasn’t a big hit, but everybody loves an edible experiment so that saved the day!

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Here is what we did to create our version of tang hulurs. This makes a big batch, so you might want to reduce it. We added eight cups of sugar, which was a small four-pound bag, to three cups of water gradually, and then heated it on the stove. Do not let it boil. We did not use a candy thermometer, but you can. The mixture should change into a cloudy yellowish color with all the sugar dissolved, and should be hot to the touch. Let it cool enough to pour into a glass container. We used mason jars. You can add flavorings and/or colors at this point.

imageThen position a skewer in the middle, holding it in place with a clothespin laid across the top.

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The skewer should be moistened and rolled in sugar to give the crystals something to adhere to.

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Now you just wait for the crystals to form. That can take hours or even days; we just kept checking ours.

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Break up the edges and pour out the excess liquid after it has crystallized, and set the jar in hot water to remove your creation. It’s not the healthiest treat, but fun to make to demonstrate crystals when studying rocks. Enjoy your tang hulur while reading a good book, like “Little Pear,” or even a book about rocks.

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Oh, and by the way, here’s what tang hulurs really look like! Much more tasty to me!

 

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Making Holiday Memories That Last!

I absolutely love this time of year! I have so many fond memories as a child that I find myself sometimes going a little overboard trying to bring that specialness to my own children — so much so, that I can even resemble Griswold from “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation”! It can be stressful!! So, I began to think back and evaluate what I really remember as a child. Honestly it wasn’t any of the presents I received or all of the holiday parties we went to. It was those simple traditions that we did together as a family. One of those memories that stands out is of us making sugar cookies together. We made them every year and have carried that tradition on with our own children.

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What is it about cookie-making for us? It’s not that they are yummy, or pretty, or messy, or fun….well it’s actually all of that plus more! It’s that we do it together. We get flour on our cheeks and frosting on our fingers. We laugh, talk, create, and eat. Togetherness is what creates the memories that really make an impact on our children’s lives!

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During the month of December, I like to switch up our curriculum and take on a more simplified and holiday-focused theme. We learn compassion through gift giving and random acts of kindness. We learn counting and calendars through our Advent calendar. We read classic Christmas literature and poems and work on math, science, and home skills through baking. We also tie in art and music through special church programs and creative crafts we do. We help feed the homeless, and collect items for those in need. There are so many different subjects you can tie into Christmas-themed projects. But, to really make whatever you do memorable, do it together as a family!

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Just for you, here is my late mother’s tried and true sugar cookie recipe!

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