I’m going to share my Twitter thoughts on Food Inc. because this is a topic that has been on my mind lately and I’m having trouble putting together something more coherent and comprehensive. So these soundbites will do for now. (“RT” means I’m restating something said by the person whose name follows.)

Watching Food Inc. on PBS. The sick and dead chickens – wow. just wow.

I didn’t know farmed fish are fed corn.

RT @gammasworld: Sounds like the chicken “farmers” are modern-day share croppers — never owning a damn thing for owing the big companies.

RT @ezweber: Instead of going vegan you should support farmer who farm in a way in line with your values.

RT @Rosemont_Farm: I can’t understand why farmers get their panties in a bunch over #foodinc – it’s going after big processors & unsafe practices not you.

RT @dushom: There is more than one side to an argument, #FoodInc may reveal some issues to fix, but no solutions to feeding the world.

RT @SouthShoreTwit: #foodinc is disheartening. Like banking, the executives become the regulators, and the lobbyists write the legislation. We are the suckers.

Read through an ag response to #foodinc. I feel like the truth lies in the middle.

The organic/small vs conventional/large farming debate has interested me since I worked at an ag newspaper. Still undecided. #agonfoodinc

agreed RT @BeginningFarmer: divisiveness will not help to make the food system or farmers lives better, we need understandin

@mrobin032009 I’m with you on less processed stuff. Wondering if grass-feed beef, cagefree eggs, etc. are truly better or if it’s a myth


After recently making note of the sodium content in boxed macaroni and cheese (and not just Kraft), I decided to attempt making my own. I say attempt not because I thought I couldn’t do it but because I thought Grace wouldn’t eat it. She has turned up her nose before at white cheddar macaroni or the shell variety. It’s original yellow mac for her or nothing.

I wanted to start with something as simple and quick as possible and then work my way up to a more involved preparation if need be. I think we came pretty close on the first try.

I started with this recipe, which is just macaroni, butter and cheddar cheese. It looked a little sticky rather than creamy and was a bit bland so I added a bit more butter and two Tablespoons of vanilla yogurt, which gave it just a bit of tang. I put the bowls on the table, called the kids over and held my breath. (I made sure Grace didn’t see me preparing it so she wouldn’t know it was something different.)

She first looked at it kind of funny and I thought she would notice that the elbows were fatter and shorter and the cheese less yellow than usual. But she didn’t. She took one bite, made a mad face and pushed it away. Shoot! Then she said “needs more milk.” So I added a little milk to her bowl and nuked it a bit. She ate a few bites and said it still needed more milk. She asked if it was leftover macaroni (which neither she or I like because it’s dry). I told her no and she said OK and ate some more once I added more milk.

When she said she didn’t want any more, I asked if she liked it and … she … said … YES!

So, here’s the recipe I’m going with next time:

8 oz. macaroni, cooked and drained.
3 Tbsp. butter
1 C. cheddar cheese
2 Tbsp. vanilla yogurt
1/4 C. milk
Salt and pepper to taste

Once they are used to that, I might get bold and add some pureed squash or sweet potatoes instead of the yogurt to boost the nutrition and the yellow color.

Not only is this way just as easy as the box kind, it has waaaaaay less sodium, no artificial colors and no unpronounceable ingredients. (Annie’s, whose nutritional panel is pictured above, gets props for at least having no artificial colors or unpronounceable ingredients. They do offer a low-sodium variety as well, but it’s not as low as making it yourself.)

For more kid-friendly recipes, visit the My Cup 2 Yours link-up.

As you know, I have one very picky eater. (Penance for mine and hubby’s childhood eating habits.) So I am always looking for ways to get her to try new things or eat nutritious things. I’ve found it’s all about making it fun. About a new presentation or a good story or having her help cook. Here are some ideas that I have tried or plan to try. I want to pass them on to others with picky eaters.

The food’s presentation

Amira told me her 5-year-old son will eat anything shaped like a face. Lauren responded to us both suggesting these face plates. They are kind of expensive but SO fun. I’m going to order one for each kid to put in their Easter baskets.

Don’t underestimate the power of a toothpick. My kids love things presented in bite-size portions with a toothpick through it. This can be bites of sandwiches, pizza, cheese, meat, fruit.

Anything shaped as a heart, Mickey Mouse or the kids’ initials has a higher chance of being eaten than if presented in its normal shape. Grace doesn’t eat noodles of any kind, except mac and cheese. I wonder if these squid dogs would change her mind. Family Fun has a whole section devoted to making food fun, including a slide show of fun shaped food like these kiwi faces.

The food’s story

At the Cub VIP event, the two big kids were among four to take part in a Cub 4 Kids event. One of the activities was reading a coloring storybook about eating fruits and vegetables. It was sponsored by Dole as part of the 5 a Day program. They learned that you can get your own rainbow if you eat five different colored fruits or veggies a day. Grace is still talking about it and about what fruits she likes (not so much veggies) and what colors they are. I’m hoping this will help me introduce new fruits and veggies to her. I bought a mango this week to try out. (PS What do you do with a mango? How do you cut it, etc.?)

Cub does these events quarterly throughout the Twin Cities. The next one is an Easter-themed event from 11 to 3 on Saturday, March 27. I don’t know if they all will encourage healthy eating as last week’s special event did. But we’re going to start checking them out. They are advertised in stores and in weekly ads so keep your eye out.

I love this idea, which came from a Family Fun article titled Meet the Mystery Vegetables:

Each week I find a vegetable that’s unfamiliar or that the kids have tried and rejected in the past. I then search out a tasty-sounding recipe to prepare in which the chosen veggie plays a starring role. After Gavin and Meriel are seated at the dining table, I tie blindfolds over their eyes and place bites of the mystery vegetable on their forks. The kids always find the blindfolds slightly scary — in a good way. It definitely adds a thrill to dinnertime. Next, they get to smell the veggie and describe the scent; then they taste it and describe the flavor. The whole time we encourage them to be as descriptive as they can, saying positive and negative things. Finally, they get to remove the blindfolds and name the new dish something wacky. If they seem to be having a hard time coming up with a name, I might suggest a theme to get their creative juices flowing. During the Olympics, for example, they named dishes after athletes.

The food’s preparation

I’m not sure my kids are old enough to help with cutting but when they are, this safety cutting board would be very handy. What do you think is a good age for teaching kids knife skills?

Lauren also mentioned that Pier 1 has fun cooking utensils but I can’t find them online. But I’m on the hunt for kid-sized utensils that have a fun design or bright colors or something that makes them not just regular utensils in a smaller version. Does anyone have suggestions?

Sarah reviewed two preschool cookbooks. We have tried Pretend Soup but it didn’t capture Grace’s attention. I still want to try Cooking It In a Cup.

The most important thing though, at least for me, is to remember that it’s more important that the kids learn to cook and to like cooking than it is for me to get it done quickly. So I need to stop saying no when they ask to “help” or to be lifted up to see into the pot.

Any tips you would like to add?

Last week, I was invited to a VIP tour of Cub Foods’ largest store, not terribly far from my house. Free food, free childcare and a chance to see my bloggy friends and maybe learn something? Yep, I’m there. (Too bad it was on Ash Wednesday so I couldn’t sample the prime rib!)

Cub’s nutritionist told us about their Nutrition IQ program. An academic medical center evaluated every product Cub carries for nutritional value. If a product passed the tests for saturated fat, sugar and sodium, it qualified for a Nutrion IQ tag next to the price tag on the shelf. Some tags have additional information like “good source of fiber.”

I took a stroll down the cereal aisle last night to see if there were any surprises. Only five of the following cereals had the tags. Can you guess which ones? Go ahead and take a stab at it in the comments. I’ll update this post with the answer tomorrow. Answers at bottom of post.

    Flickr photo from terren in Virginia

  • Cinnamon Life
  • Wheat Chex
  • Rice Krispees
  • Crispix
  • Frosted Mini Wheats
  • Special K (original)
  • Corn Flakes
  • Golden Grahams
  • Raisin Bran
  • Honey Bunches of Oats
  • Total (original)

Over on the granola bars, I didn’t expect too many tags, and I was right. I was surprised though that the one and only brand to get a tag was Quaker Chewy, even the chocolate chip ones. I would have guessed those to be less healthful than the Nature Valley ones.

In the freezers, I was surprised to see that none of the frozen fruit was tagged. I guess it has too much sugar. Yet to me, that would be better for you than a granola bar. So I guess the key to using the system is comparing like items. Even some of the frozen vegetables were untagged. I haven’t figured that one out.

The Nutrition IQ cereals are:

  • Cinnamon Life
  • Wheat Chex
  • Frosted Mini Wheats
  • Golden Grahams (how can this be right? I’m going to check it again. Maybe it was in the wrong place.) Nope, this really is right. I’m still baffled.
  • Total (original)

Emboldened by my lasagna and cranberry bread triumphs, I put two new entrees on this week’s menu plan. Mark came home starving yesterday because he forgot his lunch, so I decided to make Chicken Cordon Bleu Casserole, which takes only 20 minutes to cook, instead of the spaghetti squash I had planned, which takes more like an hour.

I started cooking about 3:45 and began by preheating the oven. I put the dish in to bake nearly an hour later. Way to be an energy-conserver, Jen! Here’s what took so long:

I heated the oil in my biggest pot, because I don’t have a 5 qt skillet. Is it just me or is that a really huge skillet? I diced and added the peppers (and left out the onions. yuck.) and then diced and added the ham. And then … uh oh … add cooked chicken? I haven’t even thawed any. So Mark thawed, grilled and cubed chicken while I started the sauce and rice. OH, oops, the rice takes 30 minutes to cook. Yep, this is why I hate cooking. Too much planning ahead.

Me: "Cooking sucks." Mark: "Look like you're having fun. At least we're doing it together." Me: "Barf."

I made the sauce (gravy?) of butter, flour and broth in a seperate sauce pan even though the recipe seems to call for mixing it in with the peppers and meat. That seemed strange to me and it was unclear so I figured seperate was the safe bet.

Then I put the sauce, ham/peppers and finally ready chicken into the baking dish and mixed them up. Then took a 15 minute break while waiting for the rice to finish cooking. I’ve never been very good at cooking rice. Today’s came out pretty sticky but I added it to the dish and stirred again. Topped everything with cheese and put it in the long-heated oven.

Rice stuck to pot

We’re out of tinfoil so I covered the dish with a baking sheet for the last 10 minutes. It worked fine. I’m not unprepared, I’m just reducing my garbage load. 😉

The final product was pretty good though not as good as the lasagna. I might try it with less rice next time.

Left: Connor enjoying his meal. Right: Casserole and Grace's empty chair because she ran away and refused to try it.

We followed up the meal with chocolate cake in a mug. We didn’t have cocoa powder so I used a packet of Swiss Miss. It was quite tasty for a 5-minute microwave cake.

Here is my slightly modified recipe to try next time.

Chicken Cordon Bleu Rice Casserole
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 clove fresh garlic, minced
½ lb diced turkey ham
2 cups cooked shredded chicken breast
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons flour
¼ teaspoon pepper
14 oz can chicken broth
2 cups cooked brown rice
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup shredded mozzarella or swiss cheese

Cook rice; cook and dice chicken. Heat oil in skillet over medium heat. Saute pepper. Add garlic, ham and chicken. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In sauce pan, melt butter then stir in flour and pepper until combined. Slowly stir in chicken broth until well combined. Put meat mixture, sauce and rice into a 9×13 inch baking dish and mix. Top with cheeses. Bake for 20-25 minutes. Cover the dish with baking sheet for the last 10 minutes.

Grace decided she was going to try new foods this year. We’ve always suggested she try new things but not pushed too hard. As an older child, I rebelled against trying things I previously disliked because my pickiness was always made into an issue. So we’ve been encouraging without turning it into an issue. But she decided on her own that this was her year to try new things. So far she has tried but disliked egg nog, lemon pepper chicken, broccoli. She has tried and liked raisins, bologna, string cheese, egg nog ice cream. I know there is more but that’s all I can remember right now.

I’ve decided to take it a step further by making new recipes. Mark told me the other day that he likes when I try new recipes because I get passionate about it and it something that shows I care about the family. I was surprised that he thinks I get passionate about it. I would have guessed something more like frustrated because, when I’m in the kitchen, things rarely go as they are supposed to. I want to try to involve the kids in cooking, especially in the new items, as much as possible to get them excited about trying something they made.

The other night we made Cranberry Date Orange Bread, without the dates or nuts. The baking part went surprisingly well. The dough looked too dry before putting it in the baking dish so we added a splash or two of water. Veering from a baking recipe even a touch scares me but I’m glad we did. The final product was delicious, though I might add a few more cranberries next time. All four of us had a part in making it. I supervised. Mark helped Connor stir the berries and butter at  the stove and grated the orange after I gave up. Grace helped me measure and stir the dry ingredients. Ellie watched quietly from her swing.

Both kids gobbled it up and asked for seconds. However, the next morning Grace decided she didn’t like the cranberries and she wouldn’t eat any.

Mark bought me a Keuring coffee machine for Mother’s Day. Lately, I’ve been on a quest for the perfect a morning treat, rather than just a boring cup of coffee.

First I tried this DIY pumpkin spice latte. It was a lot of work and didn’t taste any different than just buying the pumpkin spice flavored coffee, as the whole milk foaming thing didn’t work for me. Mark and I both whisked till we got tired, to no avail. (The comments on that post contain lots of hints for this and other Starbucks facsimiles so check them out if you are interested in trying this.)

Recently, the same blog had an easier way to make steamed, foamed milk. I tried that out today and added it to the pumpkin spice coffee I got for my birthday. It was super duper easy and I think would have worked if I had a proper container. I didn’t have any tall-ish, microwavable containers with a lid. So I shook it in one container, then transfered it to do the microwaving. I lost a lot of the foam in the transfer. I plan to find a jar with lid and try it again.
In either case, the treat was screaming for some fresh whipped cream. I did make some the first time around but it takes long to whip then to enjoy, thus negating the treat of it. I don’t suppose you can buy real whipped cream, already whipped can you? If so, how long does it last?
While I was laboring over my disappointing latte, Mark came up with this fun treat for the kids: banana slices in vanilla wafers. They loved it. I even ate some, and I don’t like bananas.

I got both of the coffee links from Amy’s Notebook, which runs every Thursday. Lots of fun ideas from around the blogosphere.

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