N is for Nutrition

When my son was turning one, we went to Iowa to visit my family. While staying at my sister’s house, my husband brought a Subway sandwich home for lunch one day. He removed some of the vegetables and placed them on the tray of the high chair which my son occupied. My sister walked by as our child’s chubby little hands reached out to enjoy his lunch, and in astonishment said, “I can’t believe how he just eats those vegetables!” Ah, but his nutritional education had begun nine months before, when he was only three months old! As I conducted a cooking demonstration at our church, he slept in his car seat that was placed on the floor beside me, hidden by the table. It was a surprise to the attendees when he suddenly awoke towards the end of the class and let everyone know it with a cry! He may have been the youngest one in the audience, and he may have slept through most of the presentation, but I think the principles of good eating had stuck!

In our home, we subscribe to a plant based diet and try to live healthfully. We believe that God has given us instructions for better living. The acronym NEWSTART sums these up in eight healthy laws of health. Let’s start today with the letter N, which stands for nutrition. As homeschoolers, we can take better charge of what our children eat, because we are with them most of the time. But even better than that, we can teach them the reasons for and benefits of our food choices and how they can pass this knowledge on.

Here are some ideas for incorporating good nutrition into your homeschooling days.

Of course, the obvious way is to feed our kids good food. Our days are busy, but taking a little time to plan and shop for healthy meals is well worth the effort. Attitudes, behavior, learning, physical health, and relationships with God will all improve. Including your children’s imput on the menu plans, letting them help with the grocery shopping, and having them assist with meal preparation are good ways to show them the importance of eating right. My son was only three or four when he asked me to stay in bed and proceeded to make pancake batter by himself, remembering the recipe by heart because we had made it so many times together. Now his favorite way to help in the kitchen is to mix up exotic sauces of his own creation to go with egg rolls, stir fries, etc.

Planting a garden and reaping the harvest makes trying new foods fun. If space isn’t available, some towns have community gardens where one can rent a plot and grow their own vegetables. Even shopping at a local farmer’s market makes produce more appealing. We used to walk to ours each Tuesday, and all the way home my little boy would eat ground cherries, popping them out of their papery skins. Shopping at neighborhood and ethnic markets is always intriguing. Bring something home you have never tried before!

I mentioned my son’s early involvement in my cooking class. Later on he would participate by demonstrating recipes of his own as part of his Pathfinder Cooking honor. This not only reinforced good nutrition, but gave him opportunity to spread the message and gave him good practice in public speaking and interacting with the audience. He would also hold bake sales at my classes. The classes were free for the participants, but he raked in more than $50 with his vegan goodies! His handmade sign with prices was not only a good lesson in writing and math, but a keepsake I cherish.

These days we are planning how to get to the next Pathfinder Camporee in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Those of you who are involved in Pathfinders know there are funds to be raised in order to attend this exciting event. We are thinking of selling homemade food as one of the ways to achieve our goal. My son is helping with ideas of what foods to include in our sales. He has also helped figure out how much our costs and profit margins will be so we will set our prices accordingly — good lesson not only in math, but again involving him in good nutrition, because of course we want to sell only the best food to people, thereby selling our health message along with it.

Measuring ingredients, figuring out serving sizes and costs: all wonderful math lessons. My son loves to check serving sizes on food packages to see how much he can have of a certain food to meet the requirement. It has become his personal joke when it’s something sweet, and he wants to make sure he gets to the serving size to obtain all the sweetness he can!

Letting your child leaf through your cookbooks, gazing at all the beautiful food pictures is a great way to whet his/her appetite for good food. Books or videos from the library explaining how food is grown or made are excellent resources. Field trips to food businesses are even better! Bakeries, grocery stores, farms, food processing plants, etc., usually offer tours. Even the tours that don’t necessarily apply to your lifestyle are informative and fun, a good learning experience. For us, these have included a dairy farm, a potato chip factory, and a candy factory. Apple picking in the fall is a great experience. Look around, and you might find a variety of food festivals. In our area we have an annual veg fest touting the vegetarian lifestyle. We have even attended a garlic festival with friends who live in a small town.

There are so many ways to incorporate good nutrition into homeschooling days. You will be giving your child a great start in life, plus handing him the tools to teach others the wonderful diet plan that God has provided for us. Nutrition, the N in NEWSTART: start with it today in your lesson plans!

Staying Healthy on the Road

We often find ourselves on long road trips. My husband travels quite a bit for his work, and we’re fortunate to be able to go with him at times. Two big challenges seem to always loom: 1) how to keep up with school work, and 2) how to eat healthy food on the go.

For now, I’ll address number 2 and share what we’ve done to try to eat healthy on the road. I’m almost hesitant to write this because we have a long way to go and certainly haven’t arrived yet. I’m eager to hear what ideas you have as well, so be sure to add your ideas at the end of the post or on the Facebook page.

On our last road trip, which lasted 2 1/2 weeks, these are some of the things we did to try and eat healthier on the road.

Bring Healthy Snacks

Take lots of healthy snacks so when the hunger pangs come we aren’t tempted to grab junk food from the gas station. Here are some of our favorites. While you may not have these brands where you live, look for snacks with non-GMO ingredients, whole grains, low or no added sugar, no high fructose corn syrup, and no hydrogenated oils or fats.

Limit snack times. Grazing all day isn’t good for the stomach. Healthy snacks can minimize food you have to buy along the way or make a rest stop into a lunch break too.

Crunchmasters gluten free multi-grain crackers

Nature’s Bakery All Natural Fig Bars or other healthy fig bars

Trail mix: Sometimes we make our own with almonds, cashews, and raisins or dried cranberries.

Kashi Chocolate Almond Sea Salt with Chia (I told you we aren’t perfect yet.)

Pack Fresh Fruit

Pack some fresh fruit. Apples and oranges travel well and last many days on the road. When we stop to eat at a sandwich or burrito shop, I stash some oranges in my bag. Then I have the kids eat them while waiting for their order. The double bonus is they get good nutrition in first and we don’t have to order as much food, which helps with the budget.

Grocery Store Meals

Skip the restaurant or fast food for a quick meal from the grocery store. Many stores have a deli that makes fresh sandwiches. Or, grab some bananas, granola bars, and applesauce.

Juice Break Instead of Fast Food

Take a juice break instead of a meal. Many grocery stores and even gas stations now have fresh vegetable/fruit juices and smoothies. While some are nutritionally better than others, they are certainly better than French fries and soda by far. Look for cold pressed if you’re really wanting a nutritional boost. In parts of the USA, Trader Joe’s has some great options. Otherwise, look for a vegetable/fruit mixture with no added sugar, artificial flavors, or preservatives. Be sure not to leave leftovers out for later as these can go bad quickly. We like to take a small insulated cooler bag with ice to keep our juice cold, as small tummies fill up quickly.

Stretch and Exercise

Take exercise breaks often to stretch the legs and keep the blood circulating. Long trips are hard on the circulation even for little people. Play jumping games or tag at rest stops.

Salad Bars to the Rescue

Seek out buffet style restaurants that feature big salad bars. We love Sweet Tomatoes, aka Fresh Choice, for its fantastic salad bar.

Share Gifts of Good Health

When staying with friends and family, bring some fruit or healthy snacks and give them as a gift. They’ll want to offer them to you while you’re there, and will help keep the healthy food flowing even if not everyone’s on board.

Graciousness and Healthy Limits

Remember that relationships are more important than food. Be gracious and thoughtful of anyone who hosts you along the way. Give kids limits they can abide by and still be polite — for example, “take only one cookie after dinner.”

Like I said, we are certainly not the poster family for healthy road trips. We have frequented too many fast food chains and eaten too many Doritos. But, we are making strides to improve. I as a mom am elated if we can make it through a long road trip without anyone getting sick. The time and effort it takes to keep everyone well fed with nutritious food does pay off. Happy and healthy traveling!

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.

vegan-grilled-cheese   vegan-chao-slices

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)

  vegan-mac-and-cheese

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.

Fun in the Sun and the Kitchen

My blog posts this year center around the theme of homeschooling in the kitchen. I want to share some of the things that happen in our kitchen that are connected to learning. In science, my son was learning about solar power, so we decided to make solar ovens. To increase the fun quotient, we decided to do this project with friends that also homeschool.

In order to make these solar ovens, I went to Bertucci’s Pizza to get some pizza boxes. I asked if I could buy some, but when the manager heard what we wanted them for, he offered them for free. He also asked if I would share pictures of our project with the restaurant.

We made two different kinds of solar ovens, both very simple. The first one was made with a regular large, square pizza box. We cut a square flap into the center of the lid of the box, and covered the open area with plastic wrap and the underside of the flap with aluminum foil. We lined the bottom of the box with black construction paper to absorb the heat. We filled the boxes with a variety of food to see what affect the solar oven would have on each of these items. These included grilled cheese sandwiches, open-face cheese sandwiches, a veggie hot dog, a tomato, and quesadillas. Then we propped the boxes open with rulers and set them on the back of our truck in full sun.

The other solar oven we made consisted of a smaller box; I believe it is a box meant to carry your leftovers home in. We pushed the lid of this box into the box itself and covered it with aluminum foil. Then we pushed wooden skewers containing marshmallows and a bit of hotdog through the box. This was also placed in full sun.

Now the wait and…voila! Lunch is served!

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This was a fun learning project with a great end result — something to eat! My son loved it and cooked many other meals in it, experimenting with different foods. He also tried it various times of the day and in different types of weather.

So on the next hot day, get out of the kitchen and make your meal in a homemade solar oven. Bon Appetit!

Rainbow Nutrition

rainbow

“And God said, Behold I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed: to you it shall be for meat…And thou shalt eat the herb of the field,” Gen.1:29 & 3:18.

“Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God,” 1 Cor. 10:31.

When God made food, He put together the nutrition each thing should have. All the nutrition works together when we eat whole (not refined) plant based foods. For example, eating a whole apple is better than eating sauce, or dried. When something has vitamin C or A or K or an antioxidant, this pulls the nutrition apart so it can be sold separately (sometimes known as a reductionist view), but when we focus on eating whole (plant) foods we get all the nutrition in the food. (I know about depleted soils, etc, but it is still better to eat the whole food than to separate it and only focus on one or two parts of nutrition.)

Rainbow Nutrition                                                                                                      

Red: red apples, tomatoes, watermelon, cherries, strawberries, red grapes, red pepper, red raspberries, cabbage — antioxidants, heart healthy, helps memory, lowers risk of some cancers.

Orange: carrots, pumpkin and other winter squash, cantaloupe, sweet potatoes, orange pepper, oranges — beta-carotene, supports immune system, heart healthy, eye health, fights cancer.

Yellow: lemon, grapefruit, papaya, peaches, gold/yellow raspberries, corn, yellow/summer squash — flavonoids, inhibits tumor cell growth, detox from harmful substances.

Green: avocado, asparagus, celery, tomatillo, pepper, all green leaves (kale, chard, spinach, lettuce — especially romaine, beet greens, mustard, cabbage, etc) zucchini, green grapes, green apples, broccoli, brussels sprouts — builds healthy cells, eye health (especially against age-related problems), builds bones and teeth, lowers risk of cancer, heart healthy, supports immune system.

Blue and Purple: blueberries, plums, eggplant, blackberries, beets, black beans, purple grapes — protects cells, helps memory, healthy aging, antioxidants, urinary tract health, destroys free radicals, fights cancer.

Brown: whole grains, legumes (beans), nuts (raw) — fiber, supports immune system, proteins, carcinogen remover, phytochemicals.

White: banana, cauliflower, onions, garlic, ginger, white flesh potatoes, white corn, jicama — heart health, fights cancer, lowers cancer risk, balance hormone levels, maintains healthy cholesterol levels, supports immune system.

This list is not exhaustive. There could be more foods and benefits for each color. When you eat foods as close to natural as possible (some do need cooking), you get the most benefit from them. They are also heart-healthy and fight cancers.

Good nutrition is extremely important to children because that is when you are training their lifelong health and habits. If you teach them to eat right from when they are babies (and even before they are born), you will give them the building blocks for a healthier life. It will also give food to the brain for them to be able to learn better.

Rainbow Salad: tomatoes, carrots, lettuce/spinach/other greens, cucumber, avocado, beets (raw or cooked)*, jicama*, and other possible ingredients — any color pepper, cucumber,  raw winter squash*, chopped broccoli, cauliflower, yellow squash*, zucchini*, sliced olives, cooked beans, and/or grains

*shredded or grated

Please do not limit yourself to the usual or my suggestions. Experiment, I’ve made beautiful, colorful salads from chopped kale or cabbage, shredded beets and winter squash, and cauliflower, or spinach or kale strips with sliced strawberries and chopped pecans or walnuts or almonds.

With the additions of fresh herbs, like sweet basil, parsley, oregano, chives or onions (green tops not as strong), or cilantro, you don’t need dressing. Just squeeze lemon on it and it’s good. For something different, use cilantro and lime instead of lemon.

Rainbow Burgers:
(makes 6-8 depending on size)
1/2 green pepper diced
2 small carrots & zucchini each grated
3-4 green onions chopped
10-14 spinach or other small green leaf  diced
2 tablespoons cauliflower grated
1/4 cup fresh basil (or oregano, parsley, dill, cilantro each or combined) diced
2 cups (about 1 14-ounce can) tomato sauce and oats (quick) each

Prepare vegetables and mix well. Add tomato sauce and oats. This is what holds them together, so make sure they stick together, adding either more sauce or oats as needed. Form into burgers and bake as 350 for about 25 minutes; flip, bake about 10 more minutes.

Variations: try other vegetables grated, chopped or diced. Can be frozen. Good on a sandwich with mashed avocado, lettuce, onion slice, tomato slice. Try serving burger style with corn on the cob, for a picnic.

Learning about health is one of the most important things you can teach your children. So, take them into the kitchen with you and let them cook (as is age appropriate).

“The one who understands the art of properly preparing food, and who uses this knowledge, is worthy of higher commendation than those of any other line of work. This talent should be regarded as equal in value to ten talents; for its right use has much to do with keeping the human organism in health. Because so inseparably connected with life and health, it is the most valuable of all gifts,” Counsels on Diets and Foods, page 251.