Kids and Vegetables

March 26, 2012

Years ago, I stopped to visit a friend while she was preparing dinner for her daughter. She cooked while we chatted and at some point asked her daughter if she wanted broccoli or beet tops. The 3 year old child screamed out, “Beet tops!! I love beet tops!” I was stunned. Beet tops?! Are you kidding me?

I never forgot that moment, and am happy to report that now I too have kids that generally eat their vegetables (no, not beet tops… I’ll never live up to that one). Another friend asked me today how I managed to pull that off. I am going to share what I told her. But kids can be capricious, so let’s hope I don’t jinx myself by posting this!

My best tip is to start them young. Or rather don’t stop. Go right from Gerber’s pureed squash to the real thing. If that ship has sailed, then the next best thing is to start serving vegetables every day and set the example by happily eating them yourself.

I notice a big difference in intake if I cut the snacks off about 2-3 hours before dinner and serve the veggies first. I also use these tips from Dr. Sears. My take on tip #1: At snack time, I set out an ice cube tray (I got some star shaped ones from the Dollar Store) filled with finger foods and dips (celery, carrots, granola, apples, raisins, broccoli, cheese cubes, peanut butter, ranch, yogurt, etc.) When I introduce something new, I’ll dip some pieces myself and take a few bites saying stuff like “Mmmm, I like the celery with peanut butter” to get them started and show them what’s good.

Presentation also does the trick sometimes too. Last week I wanted to introduce a spinach salad with shrimp. I arranged the food into a monster face (spinach hair, carrot slice eyes, cucumber mouths, and shrimp ears) using ranch as “glue”. They ate it all. Even the shrimp.

If they don’t care for something, however, my husband and I have agreed to skip the battle of wills at the dinner table. Although we are not above negotiating if it gets results. We don’t allow the word “hate” at mealtime. They have been taught to say, “I don’t prefer this” instead. I find it very rude when someone works hard preparing a meal and a kid pushes it away with a face and whines, “I don’t like that.” Especially if I am the one who made the dinner! 

Now let’s discuss particulars if you don’t even know where to start. I don’t bother with canned foods anymore. Too many nutrients leach out during the processing and too much salt is added in. Frozen vegetables are great and, of course, I go for fresh whenever possible.

Here’s what works the best with my kids:

  • baby carrots, raw
  • green beans, frozen or fresh, steamed*
  • broccoli, raw w/ ranch or microwaved*
  • corn, frozen or fresh, boiled or microwaved*
  • cucumbers, raw with ranch (leave some slivers of skin on when peeling)
  • asparagus, grilled w/ olive oil, salt & pepper
  • various lettuces or purple cabbage in salad with ranch
  • baby spinach, raw mixed into salad**
  • salsa w/ chips
  • snow peas, stir fried in sesame oil

Here are some others that they tolerate:

  • yellow squash and/or zucchini, sliced or cut into spears, grilled or sauteed in a pan with butter, salt, and pepper
  • Brussels sprouts cooked a very particular way
  • peas as a condiment (added to stews, chicken pot pies, etc)
  • onions and celery (if I chop them tiny and add them to ground beef, soups, or stews)

*I always steam my vegetables in the microwave by adding the veggies to a Rubbermaid container, covering just the bottom of the dish with water, and adding salt and pepper. I put my lid on loosely, microwave on high for 5 minutes, check and stir. Then cook for 2-4 more minutes depending on how firm I want them. Once they are done, I drain the water, stir in a pat of real butter, and add more salt and pepper to taste. If you are anti-microwave, feel free to steam on the stovetop with a colander.

**I can usually get away with swapping the less nutritious iceberg lettuce with fresh baby spinach in almost anything (salad, tacos, etc.). Lately I have been slipping fresh spinach into other dishes as well (lasagna, omelets, calzones, etc.).

And last but not least, involve the kids in the process. Let them help shop. Even better… help them grow their own. Last year I won my boys over to tomatoes by letting them plant some in a container on the front porch (BTW, if you want to plant from seeds, now is the perfect time to start). The yield was not great and the tomatoes were tiny, but my oldest picked one, popped it in his mouth, and declared that he liked it! I consider that a win. This year we are planting tomatoes and peppers.

So there you go. My secrets. Well… actually, I have one more secret. It’s possible we are winning the veggie battle simply because we cut out the competition. My kids aren’t saints. I’ll be honest, if we had fruit snacks laying around all the time, they would choose those over the carrot sticks. But I save the junk for road trips and Grandma’s house. They don’t seem to be suffering.


One Year Ago Today

March 25, 2012

So I was trying to find a phone number in my G-mail, and came across this “conversation” I had with my sister about whether or not to homeschool. It’s funny to see how my ideas then are matching up to the reality of now.

These are really good questions to think about if you are considering homeschooling. If you don’t have a sister to put you through the ringer, you can borrow mine.   😉

Here’s the conversation (her questions/concerns are in blue):

  • “us vs. them” mentality can form

agreed. I think I would like to treat this as if we were going to private school. I am not going to tell everyone that asks that I made this choice because schools suck so bad and good parents would never do that to their kids. I am not exactly sure what I WILL say yet….

  • avoiding whack-job, fear-mongering christians…it seems like that used to be the bulk of homeschooling parents, but maybe that’s changed.

yeah, a good chunk of the homeschool blogs are christian moms, but there is a trend towards secular homeschooling. a lot of the people on the Meetup group I just joined stress in the profile that they want to participate in “secular” meetups and outings. I bet they are tired of being preached at. I will probably fall in with them. I DO want to start addressing the spiritual void that is in my family, but I am not trying to jump right into the deep end and be crazy.

  • finding social activities may become challenging and you’re driving for 3-4 different kids.

True… but I think I would face that either way. If they are in school and one has chess club on wed/Fri and another has soccer on Tues/Thurs, and yet another has a band recital Wed. night…. I think this is just a logistics issue I am going to face no matter what and I will just have to be proactive and try and sign them up for groups that span ages. Like karate at the rec center has classes based on level and they are on the same day just at different times. Also, the plus to homeschooling is that we can have things going on in the evenings without turning into a disconnected madhouse. We will have all day to get stuff done and be together and can plan stuff in the evenings without rushing from here to there.

  • your house tends to be a little distracting in the video game department, changing that might make you feel like a nazi…especially because it would possibly involve trying to change your husband.

Jeff continues to surprise me… he is now okay with giving up cable and he has decided to sell all his Joes so he can focus on toys the boys are interested in. The video games don’t get turned on until after dinner. I am more lax when we have company and on weekends, but that is pretty standard on weekdays.

  • that said, it might become tempting to let the computer be their teacher (Nathan particularly) since it engages them so well, but that isn’t balanced.

The biggest problem is definitely the computer. They only play educational games during the day and they all learn alot from them, but that can’t be what they do alllll day of course. I will have to work on that, but I think as I work on planning our schedule and educational goals, that stuff will fall into line. I have also noticed that if I get into something, they jump on board. This will be important in the science/art department. I plan on figuring out ways to include them in my projects like woodworking, gardening, and cooking. Also the science kits like I mentioned before.

  • you will lose your mind if you don’t figure out a way to get yourself out of the house and have your own social life…one MAJOR component of why parents send kids to school, and i don’t think that’s wrong. please don’t underestimate this one…i am only just beginning to see how my happiness profoundly effects my husband. if i’m not happy, our marriage isn’t happy.

This is true. I have a few things up my sleeve. School being one of them. Some small business ideas I have are another. I think the biggest key is that I love to work. I am at a crossroads… I thoroughly researched becoming a lawyer and am disillusioned. The market is so supersaturated and it is getting worse even as schools are becoming more expensive. Plus so many of them get jaded so fast because the system is so corrupt. All my life I have wanted to start a business. I need to stop being so afraid of failure and do something. That is a another discussion altogether though!

  • if you give up your GI money for school because homeschooling consumes all of your time, i will personally kill you. how does this idea effect your current plan?

Doesn’t change much either way. Jeff’s application was denied and he doesn’t want to go anyway, so I am thinking I should just do what he was going to do… get my MBA. Goes along with wanting to run my own business in any case and gets me some start-up capital.

  • public school sports programs…particularly if one of your boys has the potential to play at a college level. they need the high school prep for that. i’ve heard that some school districts allow homeschool kids to participate…i suppose you can find out what your school district’s policy is on that.

I have no problem sending them to high school if they are that interested in sports. I think the critical years for molding and shaping them will be the grade school/jr high years anyway. Or at least the critical years for keeping them from the molding and shaping that happens in school!

One of the things I am really excited about is the freedom to pursue an interest from beginning to end, exhaustively, until we are satisfied or lose interest. Not for an hour a day, stopping when the bell rings no matter where we are at. For example, I think I want to include learning Chinese as our foreign language. Those people are gonna own us in the next few decades, so how great would that be to unleash my boys upon the world speaking that language. Plus, I can learn it right along with them. Or at least try. So I don’t have to just surrender myself to this role of teacher… I can instead also be a learner and just take the boys with me on my journey. They want to do anything I am doing anyway, so how cool is that if we are really learning together.

Has it really been only a year since I even started considering this?!

20 Great Reasons to Homeschool
(click picture to enlarge)

Homeschool Domination

March 21, 2012

Homeschool Domination
Created by: College At Home

This is fresh off the press from my homeschooling mentor. I think it is well worth the re-post. I find it very telling that graduation rates have been stagnant since the 70s despite the lowering of standards.

I just finished watching the premiere of this movie (available for free until March 31st). Although the information isn’t new to me anymore, I still find it fascinating. The first half of the movie lines up perfectly with the “clean eating” aspect of this blog.  I wish everyone in America would watch at least the first 50 minutes.

My favorite quote:

“We’re overfed […] but starving to death.”

They make the point that a human could easily eat 10,000 calories a day but still desire more because we are not getting what we need from the “edible non-foods” that make up most of our diets. I totally agree with that and I think the average shape of the average American today backs up that fact.

I related very much to the stories about dieting and deprivation. I also like their first few suggestions for change:

  1. Focus on adding in good food instead of forbidding the bad (e.g. serve a salad with dinner) 
  2. Replace overly processed bad foods with it’s exact same healthy equivalent (e.g. replace hormone filled and anti-biotic laden milk with local, fresh milk)
  3. Watch out for MSG, HFCS, and other addictive, harmful chemicals

Towards the middle of the film, the focus shifted away from hard facts to what I felt was more speculative. They encourage you to spend time visualizing how you want to look and feel and loving yourself. It all comes off as a little hokey, but at the same time rings true, if that makes any sense. I do know that we are masters of shaming ourselves, however, and that certainly is not working!

I am also not loving the juicing plug. I guess if you are cutting out so many other foods, you almost have to juice to get enough calories into your body. To be perfectly honest, the one time I tried a “green” drink, I could barely choke it down. Besides, I have no moral or health reservations against buying a happy cow and using it all up over the course of a year. So while I am very supportive of giving our bodies more natural foods, I consider eating happy cows and chickens to be perfectly natural.

I also don’t like that they talk up the diets of our ancestors, but only propose a diet super high in vegetables as optimal. In fact, any traditional ethnic diet is optimal. The Inuits lived almost 100% off of animal products (which they do mention in the film, but then use that to justify adding wild-caught salmon to your menu). But Inuits did not just eat salmon. They ate seal, caribou, polar bear, and whale (including blubber). And their health was off the charts.

I guess my big problem is that I don’t think we are going to win over the population by promoting veggies and juicing. But I do believe that good foods can crowd out bad foods so we can at least start there.

So overall, I highly recommend at least the first half of this video. If you can bring yourself to follow all the suggestions in the last half, by all means do so. But anything that shines a light on the problems with what we are putting in our bodies and calling food is a winner in my book.

UPDATE (3/26): After discussing this movie with a few others, I felt I needed to update my review. I really want to stress that I do not agree that juicing is critical to a healthy lifestyle. I actually think it is rather wasteful. I completely agree with what my sister posted today about juicing fruit. If you have the fortitude and resources to juice and drink that quantity of vegetables, however, I am not going to try and talk you out of it. I really don’t want anyone to feel like juicing is the only way to a healthy life though.

14-yr old Buys a House

March 16, 2012

I find stories like this so inspirational  This girl not only raised half the money to buy a home, but it seems she also put in a lot of sweat equity to make it fit to rent out. What an incredible opportunity! Not to mention what she must have learned about economics and commerce from buying and selling items on Craigslist to raise the funds.
Now I am not making the argument that homeschooling is superior because there’s a homeschooled girl out there doing something incredible. But I do think homeschooling allows more opportunities for this type of… greatness. Nathan asked me what I was thinking just now because I was staring off into space trying to finish that sentence. I said, “I am just wondering what will happen when there are no limits on what you can do.”
I am so excited for my boys’ futures. I can’t wait to see what will spark their imaginations and fuel their dreams.

Edible Forest

March 15, 2012

(Edible Forest)

This is such an amazing concept it makes me want to weep! I want to see this happen here, there and everywhere! Where do I sign up?!

I am sure I am not the only overweight woman who traces her food issues to her childhood and thinks, “what if…” and “if only….”

I am always quick to say I don’t blame my parents for my choices in life. At the same time, the habits ingrained in me as a child have made it hard to change my patterns as an adult.

I really believe that people try to do the best they can with the information they have. If the truth is elusive and confusing now, how much worse was it for our mothers? Women who were figuring out how to be working mothers while still living up to impossible standards as caregivers and homemakers?

That doesn’t change the fact that I grew up thinking water could only be consumed with Kool-aid mix and a cup of sugar. That a lunch consisting of deli meat on white bread, a Little Debbie snack cake, and a juice box was healthy because I threw in an apple. And if you ask 20 random people today if Honey Nut Cheerios is a healthy breakfast, I bet at least 19 of them would say “Yes”, so how was my mom to know any better back in 1985?

But darn it all… I was a skinny kid so I must’ve been healthy, right? I played a lot of sports, rode my bike to school, and was outside every evening until it was too dark to see. Maybe that kept the weight at bay, but I don’t think a return to that lifestyle is the answer for today’s children. For one… it’s just not going to happen in a world where recess is being cut, parents don’t feel safe letting their kids roam the neighborhood, and free time takes the form of “play-dates” in order to fit it into the family’s calendar.

For another, you’ll still wind up with me. The minute I entered the adult world, that level of activity was not sustainable. Things changed drastically in college. I got out of class, went to work, came home and studied. All I wanted to do during my free time was sit at Denny’s with my friends. Not much changed when I entered the workforce. And the weight crept on. 

Look around… I am certainly not alone in this. We have got to learn to eat right. For ourselves and so we can teach our kids. Skinny kids are NOT healthy because they are thin. They are walking time bombs. Just like me.

The weekend before last we went down to my parents’ place for my son’s fifth birthday party. My sister and I have talked with my parents about our new eating habits ad nauseum; they are both interested in what we have to say but don’t see our new lifestyle as being practical or sustainable.

Poking around their cabinets, I see exactly what they mean. I forget just how much tasty, convenient stuff is on the shelves in grocery stores. And my mom has always had a knack for “doctoring up” store bought foods. She was the master of “semi-homemade” before Sandra Lee ever set foot on the stage.
I brought dinner for the party Saturday night because my son made a special request, but I woke up Sunday morning hungry and unprepared. Now I am not a stickler about what the kids eat at Grandma’s house when I’m not around. If she wants to feed them cookies all weekend… whatever. She’s the one that has to watch them bounce off her walls all day. But it didn’t even occur to me that I would miss the routines I have established for myself over the past year.

My mom was ready for guests. I found plenty of cereal, bagels, muffin and pancake mixes.  But nothing had an ingredient list that worked for me. It made me recognise just how foreign my eating habits have become.

It’s true.. once I start eating sugar, I just can’t stop!

I chose a bagel and it left me snacky by 9:30am. I added a bowl of cereal, but was ready to eat again when my dad started fixing our waffle brunch an hour later. I ate a large Belgium waffle with strawberries and whipped cream but was already jonesing for more when we got in the car to drive home that afternoon. We only made it forty minutes down the road before I was directing Jeff to pull into McD’s for a “snack”. Oh and did I mention the leftover cake I grazed on every time I walked by the kitchen?

And it’s just that simple to fall back into the downward spiral.

The strange thing is that I went into this “lifestyle change” with a goal of 80/20 (eat right 80 percent of the time and don’t sweat the other 20). Even as I type “lifestyle change” in quotes, I laugh at myself. Like Chris Farley doing air quotes on SNL’s Weekend Update, I use the phrase “lifestyle change” as if it is a concept that I pretend to strive for but don’t really believe in down deep. Those quotes that I used without thinking reflect that subconscious belief.

It never occurred to me that the 80 percent clean eating habits would become the ones I enjoyed. That the 20 percent wouldn’t feel like an indulgence. I always figured people who ate right all the time managed it because either they were lucky enough to have grown up ingrained with good habits or they exercised a  major feat of willpower each and every day. I just never believed down deep in my heart that people didn’t eat fries nonstop or swill Coke all day because it just didn’t taste good to them. Inconceivable!

But the paradigm is shifting. I no longer view a tasty Marie Calendar meal as a treat. It’s a salt pie that sits in my stomach and makes me feel bloated. I eat McDonald’s and feel like crap immediately afterwards. I drink a Coke and can’t wait to have some water to wash the syrupy taste out of my mouth.

While I am happy that these foods no longer have such a powerful hold on me, it also feels like I am severing a bond with humanity. Okay, maybe that’s a bit melodramatic… but seriously. Food is such an important part of community. To turn my nose up at something my mother puts on the table is unthinkable. I never want to do that, and I don’t want to teach my boys to behave that way. And for the record, I still enjoy everything my mom prepares. But it’s unrealistic to expect breakfast, lunch, and dinner from scratch when I go visiting family. At the same time, my body just feels so much better eating real food. I can’t go a whole weekend eating out of boxes anymore. It’s not a welcome break; it’s no longer a treat.

So I need to learn how to be better prepared. I am sure I can live off of oatmeal for at least a few days….

A Blank Canvas

March 12, 2012

I am not a very creative person. I am excellent, however, at copying ideas, finding inspiration in books or on the Internet, and then adapting those ideas to suit my purposes. I have created framed art projects from mementos, built a triple L-shaped bunk-bed from dimensional lumber, and put together a fair share of lovely digi-scrap pages. Yet I am immobilized by a blank canvas.

by: John Jonik

This blog post about Pinterest echoes these sentiments nicely. I am often paralyzed in this age of information overload. My problem isn’t that I can’t think of anything to put on that canvas; my problem is that I can think of 100 things and I fear the best one is yet to be discovered.

So what about the children? Do I empower them to create? Do I ever present them with a blank canvas? Do I let my own hang-ups interfere?

A few weeks ago, I bought a roll of paper 4′ x 100′ to make a giant wall timeline for history. After it came in the mail, I let it sit in the corner for a week while I planned and re-planned this project. My kids kept pestering me about it so I finally ripped open the box, tore off a huge sheet and threw it on the floor with a box of crayons. My expectations were low since none of my kids like to color, but the creativity I saw that day was unmatched in the history of my household!

I was stunned… my oldest, Nathan, later told me that the battles he wanted to draw wouldn’t fit on regular paper. But here I was thinking that if he couldn’t even be bothered to color or draw on scratch printer paper, why present him with a big, blank, canvas (that would intimidate the hell out of me).

I’ll admit this is an area where teachers have an edge over me. They simply have more experience with kids than I do. They know kids love big, blank canvases. They know that girls (for the most part) are happy to sit and color and cut long elaborate projects and boys just want to scribble through it and get it done unless he is inspired to so something epic. (They also know when you hand a toddler a piece of candy, he’s going to want one for his other hand).

So what does this post have to do with my theme? I don’t know. Maybe I am realizing there’s something to be gained from experience. Maybe it’s reminder not to put my kids in a box, but give them freedom to explore and create. Maybe I just needed to see that I just need to get up an do something and not worry all the time if it’s going to turn out perfect or exactly like the vision I have in my head.

I don’t know. I do know that it’s time to get off this computer and get out the crayons!

I just finished another book by John Taylor Gatto. After I turned the last page, I closed it , turned to my husband and said, “That might have been the best book I’ve ever read and that makes me so very sad.”

He asked why (as any good husband would know to do when a wife asks such a question). Actually he asked if it was better than Les Mis, but then he asked why. (FYI it’s probably not better than Les Mis, but is it really fair to compare a treatise on modern schooling with  the greatest French novel of the 19th century?)

Anyway, it’s a profoundly great book because his ideas strike at the heart of the problems that disease this nation. For example, by separating out the young and the old and locking them away from the rest of society in various institutions we are perpetuating a society with no past and no future.

The reason this book makes me sad is because I will probably never actually meet one other person in the flesh who has read this book. It makes me sad that a powerful book written to open our eyes to the absolute decay of the system we trust to raise our children, will never be read by the parents who need it most.

So there’s my backward book recommendation. I want to buy this book and send it to everyone I know. But I don’t think they would read it. Like clean eating, a person has to be ready for this kind of information. They have to already intuit that we have a problem and be hungry for a change. And once you are ready for it, reading the book is like preaching to the choir. Although if you only vaguely sense that something is seriously wrong, this book will help clarify those feelings and put them into words. Maybe it will make you into an activist. I want to become an activist?

BTW, A Different Kind of Teacher is not about homeschooling. Whilst it would seem that Gatto is impressed by homeschooling, he does not present it as the solution for our society’s ills.