Greetings on this lovely Monday! Today, I’m addressing one of the common areas of concern for parents and care providers of young children: serving healthy, delicious, easy-to-prepare, delicious meals. When I mention that my program serves vegetarian meals and that I do not cook processed foods, I often get looks. What do you serve? You mean no hot dogs? No fish sticks? No tater tots? Not that there’s anything terrible about hot dogs or fish sticks or tater tots, but I believe that in order to preform and learn their best, children need high quality, nutrient dense foods, low in sugar and salt. Children have unpredictable appetites: some days, they eat through several servings without blinking, and at others, they nibble like little birds. Making each bite count helps ensure that throughout the day, their bodies get what they need to grow.
I have written before about my philosophy of how to feed children — to get the whole thing, you’ll have to hop over and read for yourself. In short: I provide it, children decide if they want it and if they’re going to eat it. No just try a bite, you can’t have seconds until you finish your broccoli, or there’s no dessert without finishing your lunch. Speaking of dessert, if we have it, we eat it along with our meal. The work of Ellyn Satter influenced my thinking on respectful eating with children, and I highly recommend her work.
These are guidelines I use for meal planning in my program.
1. Variety: I alternate my proteins: beans, eggs, cheese, repeat. When I repeat the collection, I change the variety. Black beans the first time through, garbanzo the second. I purchase a diverse collection of produce so children do not get the same fruits and vegetables everyday.
2. Seasonal: I try to purchase seasonal produce whenever possible: oranges in the winter, watermelon in the summer.
3. Organic: While I cannot run a strictly organic program, I do follow the guidelines of the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen, regardless of sales!
4. No Boxes: As much as possible, I cook products that do not come from boxes. Cooking from scratch is healthier, and often cheaper, than using prepared foods.
5. One Produce Snack: I don’t always stick with this guideline (as you will see) but I try to serve fresh fruits or vegetables for one of the two daily snacks.
6. Substantial Breakfast: We typically eat hot cereal 3-4 times each week. I always stir frozen fruit of some kind in to the cereal to help it cool. I have some in the crew who can eat three bowls of oatmeal to start their day. If not hot cereal, we eat nutrient dense muffins (made from scratch), or some other power-packed item. We limit cold cereal, bagels, and the sort…as these breakfasts do not sustain for long.
7. Preparing Ahead: I try to do some prep in advance, but often, all of the work is left until the moment. When I am more planned, I like to make a double or triple batch of muffins and freeze the ones we won’t immediately use. Then I end up with a great, power-packed snack or breakfast another time.
8. Vitamin C, Iron, and Calcium: Calcium stops your body from absorbing iron, which can be a problem for vegetarians who get protein from dairy. The bonus? Vitamin C helps the iron absorption. In our program, I serve the required amount of milk with each meal, but not seconds (after their first glass, the kids drink water). I am careful to serve vitamin C in combination with iron to help absorption. (Strawberries, tomatoes, citrus, peppers…these are all high in vitamin C)
Our Menu Last Week
Just so you can see how we eat, I am providing our menu from the last week. You may notice that I have served MANY carrots or carrot-y things this week…I got a little ahead of myself at Costco, and ended up with an “end-of-the-world-stockpile” amount of carrots, just so you know.
Breakfast: Carrot oat muffins (used applesauce for oil and omitted the apples by mistake…still turned out fine), bananas, milk
AM Snack: String cheese, crackers
Lunch: Cheesy brown rice (cook brown rice and stir shredded cheese in once the rice is finished…easy and delish! A nice variation on mac n’ cheese), apricots, carrot raisin salad, milk
PM Snack: Green smoothies (kale, yogurt, frozen blueberries and strawberries, wheat germ, sweetened with honey)
Breakfast: Cold cereal, mangoes, milk
AM Snack: Crackers, milk
Lunch: Peanut butter, pears, rice cakes, cauliflower, milk
PM Snack: Prunes, cheese crackers
Breakfast: Oatmeal, blackberries, milk
AM Snack: Apricots, milk
Lunch: Quesadillas with refried beans, cucumbers, pears
PM Snack: Rice cakes, peanut butter
Breakfast: Carrot pancakes (I have made the frosting before and it is so good, but we eat them plain), milk
AM Snack: Graham crackers, milk
Lunch: Peanut butter and honey sandwiches, dried apricots, tomatoes, milk
PM Snack: Carrot oat muffins, milk
Breakfast: Oatmeal, blueberries, milk
AM Snack: Bananas, milk
Lunch: Tomato pie [crust, cheese, tomatoes...sorry, no recipe...I made it up. Use some kind of refrigerated dough, brush it with some kind of oil - butter or olive oil - to stop the tomatoes from making the crust soggy, then add a layer of Parmesan cheese, a layer of tomatoes (slice them and lay them on a paper towel to absorb some of the juice), some shredded cheddar and mozzarella, sprinkle with salt and basil, bake at 350 ], carrot raisin salad, kiwi, milk
*no afternoon snack on Friday
Happy eating! Do you have healthy, appealing, inexpensive, quick-to-prepare meals? Share them below in the comments.