9 lessons I’ve learned cooking with the kids

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A little over five months ago, our boys began cooking one meal a week. They alternate weekends and have to go grocery shopping. It is a lot of fun, but plenty of work! Here’s what I’ve learned so far…

They love cookbooks with pictures

Most kids want to know what dinner is going to look like. Does it look yummy or scary? Illustrations don’t seem to convey the final product the same way. We have tried a few different cookbooks, but they really enjoy The Food Network Magazine cookbook. There is a beautiful photo for every recipe and the recipes aren’t too difficult 🙂

They aren’t scared of ingredients or the process

It doesn’t matter that they’ve never heard of something or don’t know how to do it. We have found many new parts of our grocery store looking for ingredients. It’s truly been fun exploring and discovering new flavors. There is no part of the cooking process that scares them. They don’t know what most of it means, but that doesn’t keep them from wanting to try. We have ventured well out of my cooking comfort zone. Thank goodness for google and YouTube!

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It takes twice as long to make dinner

I’ve found it works best to have everything prepared before cooking. It takes time to explain how to do something, let alone the fact that they are doing most of the work (slowly). We make all sauces and cut up everything before we start cooking.

Have a back-up plan

For the most part, it has been a success. The biggest challenge was carrot-ginger soup with tofu. Our youngest selected this recipe and was adamant about preparing it. I suggested having grilled cheese to go with the soup. Thankfully, he went along with it. Everyone enjoyed the soup – except the chef. I kid you not, he thought the soup (carrot soup) was too carrot-y. He ate some of it and enjoyed his grilled cheese.

It’s hard to keep my food opinions out of it

Honestly, this has been the hardest part. There are times I really want to talk them out of it (carrot-ginger soup with tofu, for one) but decided to go with it. Yes, he didn’t like what he made, but our oldest enjoyed it. We also learned about new ingredients and had a scavenger hunt in the grocery store (looking for said ingredients). The experience was worth it. It is so tempting to put my two cents worth in, but that isn’t the point. If they aren’t scared of something – why should I change that?

It’s not always easy

Like everyone, it can be difficult to make time for the store or preparing dinner. There are times the chef would rather play Legos, just like there are times Mommy would rather read, but dinner must be made 🙂 Even on the more difficult nights, we find our groove. Once we are assembling our ingredients, we are having fun.

Their personalities are coming out in their cooking

One of the funniest parts of our cooking adventure is how different they are in their selections. Our youngest has focused on seafood, while our oldest has really gone for comfort foods. It’s even crazier that they pick from the same cookbook. It shows that several people can have the same cookbook and have completely different experiences.

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They are open to more foods

This applies to seafood and comfort food. There are times it’s been a battle to get them to eat chicken, turkey, ham, salmon etc. Now, they will eat all of it. Recently, we made stuffed lobster tails and they devoured them (who wouldn’t? But they do look funky). I was hopeful they would branch out, but it has far exceeded my expectations.

It’s pretty awesome!!

The boys have really grown through this experience. They are becoming more confident in their selections and enjoying shopping. They used to look uncertain in the store and now, they know where they are going. Our youngest is a regular at the seafood counter and our oldest navigates the entire store like a pro. We have all learned about different ingredients and to ask when we need help. I can’t wait to see where we go from here 🙂

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What about me?!?!

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Each week I fill my house with healthy breakfast, lunch and dinner options for my husband and our boys. By the time I’m done rationing the fruit and preparing meals – I’ve missed my own food. As a result, I often skip breakfast and indulge in a large, unhealthy lunch.

Why is the health of my family more important than mine? It’s not! All of our health is important. The better I fuel my body, the better I can be for myself and my family.

For the last two weeks, I’ve been making myself an equal participant in the healthy planning. I include myself in the fruit rationing and meal preparation. My energy has increased, and my workouts have been more effective.

Do you put others ahead of your own health? Look at your own meals and decide if you would feed them to the rest of your family. Remember to take care of yourself – you are worth it!!

Fitness and vacation

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When we are home, I workout a lot; but on vacation, I leave the gym behind. This doesn’t mean I hang out on the couch and waste my efforts. I find other ways to stay active.

We love exploring new areas and walk all over new cities and towns. Our kids are used to walking lengthy distances and are (mostly) willing companions. While the kids enjoy pushing the buttons on the elevator, they also enjoy racing up and down the stairs.

This year, we planned a cruise for February vacation. We put a lot of effort into research. We chose an itinerary that had a lot of different stops and the day at sea was at the end of the week. We felt the kids would be tired and less antsy.

Each day we were some of the first people off the boat. We ventured to the beach or rainforest and ended with a walk around town. At the beach, we swam and took long walks and in town, we climbed forts and the 99 steps to Blackbeard’s castle.

Walking, allows you the opportunity to truly enjoy your surroundings. Try skipping the cab or shuttle when you can. Stop when you need to and look around before starting again.

A few other tricks, are remembering to engage your core while walking and dining and sneaking in some ab exercises. We flew Jet Blue and had enough leg room to do some seated core exercises like lifting our feet up and down, keeping our feet lifted and opening and closing our knees. In the pool, I sneak in some reverse crunches and sometimes I add a twist to the crunch.

Vacation should be fun and relaxing; but you can have fun and sneak a little exercise in, too.

A healthier Sunday

"Almost" Buffalo Wings

“Almost” Buffalo Wings (Photo credit: esimpraim)

It is cold and pouring rain, here on the Cape.  Our Pats are playing at one and it seems to be the perfect day for easy football food.  As I was wandering the grocery store this morning, I decided to share ways that we cut calories.  These ideas are not healthy, just healthier for a dark autumn day.

 

The veggie plan: I put out cucumber slices, celery sticks and baby carrots on a tray and it stays out the whole time.  The key is to use your usual dippers, but only put out a smaller amount. We tend to be a little lazy on Sunday and it’s much easier to dip the cucumber that’s in front of you than get up and find more salty dippers.  Our kids will graze all day if given the option so leaving out the veggies guarantees they get some good stuff too.

Chicken wings:  I buy the Tyson frozen wings (they taste really good grilled if the weather is better where you are).  The key here is portions and the blue cheese.  Only cook enough for you and any guests (they keep well in the freezer).  We have found the Marie’s light chunky blue cheese and the Bolthouse Farms chunky blue cheese yogurt are good substitutes.  They both provide the flavor without the calories (the yogurt dressing is the better choice and still creamy).  You can even dip some of those veggies in the dressing without too much guilt.

The great turkey substitute: This is more effective when there is heavy seasoning.  We are making sweet and sour meatballs (chili and cranberry sauce) but with turkey meatballs.  The flavoring is strong enough you don’t need the ground beef.  Another area I substitute turkey is in my chili.  We often make our chili with ground turkey and sometimes I use turkey kielbasa.  Again the seasoning makes the turkey flavorful and you won’t miss all those extra calories.

Pizza rolls: I am all about convenience.  I use the Pillsbury pizza dough; put some tomato sauce across the dough and then part-skim mozzarella cheese.  Roll one end and continue to roll – place the roll seam down on a cookie sheet and follow the baking instructions on the pizza dough package.  Let it cool for a few minutes and slice into circles.  The kids love this one and you lose a few calories with the part skim cheese. (turkey pepperoni can be used too :))

Dips: Onion dip is a fan favorite around here.  When I use the Lipton mix, I use low-fat (and sometimes fat-free) sour cream.  This is again a time where the extra flavoring allows for the lower fat version.  I also make a low-fat hot spinach and artichoke dip (here’s the recipe http://simplymoderndance.com/2012/09/10/for-the-love-of-spinach/) that is warm and yummy with very little guilt.

These are simply meant to be ideas that allow you to have your football food with a little less guilt.  None of these options are the epitome of health, but they do lesson the caloric intake and taste good!  Please share any other dishes or “tricks” that you use for football food.

 

Does it matter?

Our boys have taught us so much from their interactions in kindergarten.  Each day when our oldest got off the bus, I would ask him how was school, who did he play with, did he sit with anyone at lunch and how was recess.  He would tell me the names of the kids he sat with, how they played tag and so forth on the playground.   That was pretty much all that he shared.

In October, I went on a field trip with his class.  Imagine my surprise when his “best friend” didn’t speak a word of English.  He was assigned to my group and the teacher asked me to help explain the names of animals to this little boy as we saw them on the farm.  As I was telling this boy, that the animal in front of us is a turkey; my son interrupts me and says, “Mommy, he doesn’t speak English.  He speaks Mandarin Chinese!”  It amazed me that in all the afternoons he talked about playing with this boy and eating lunch with him that his lack of English never came up.

Our youngest started kindergarten this week.  At dinner we were asking him about his day and who he played with, ate lunch with etc.  His continuous answer was “my best friend”.  We asked him what his best friend’s name is and he simply answered “I don’t know”.  By the end of the week, he did know his name but it was not important.

We have chuckled over these stories; but it really is amazing what doesn’t matter to little kids.  They simply enjoy playing with certain people and the details don’t matter.  It doesn’t matter what they wear, what they look like or even what language they communicate in.  We could all learn to look at the person and not the details.  The more open we are the more we will get from our daily interactions.

Home alone…..

After the kids got on the bus this morning, I ran around the house like Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone! Coming back into the kitchen, I realized it’s time to tackle all of the projects I’ve been putting off until the kids are back at school. The – it will be easier to clean out the playroom, their closet, games, etc – list. Now that I am looking around, I may have wanted to start this process a little earlier.

I am hoping that once I put on some music and start at the top of the list it will all flow from there. Right now, it is pouring rain and I have no motivation. Of course, I have many hours until the boys are home from school. Like my youngest tentatively getting on the bus this morning, I need to take the first step. Pick a project and start it.

In my opinion, all projects need good music. Usually, I play country music while I’m cleaning. The lyrics are easy to sing along with and you can bounce around. Today might be more of a hip hop day. Let the beat drive me through the to-do list (maybe even the explicit versions).

Today is the beginning of my new normal. I’m trying to take it one day at a time and not look too far down the road. My personality is one that wants everything mapped out and nice and neat. I am trying to go with the flow and be myself on this journey. For now, it’s time to turn up the music and take the first step.

As the tomatoes grew

So far the summer has been filled with lots of fun and growth.  The boys have made great strides in their swimming and social skills – not to mention independence.  Early on, I learned that I had tried to fit too much into each day and took a big step back.  The boys continued with morning sports activities, but they went to the same camps.  On the mornings that I teach, they came with me and went to child watch.  Our afternoons and weekends were filled with the beach and friends.

My older son met two brothers last year in his swimming lesson and he was beyond thrilled when they were in his class again this year.  My younger son, who tends to warm-up to others at his own pace, also made friends with boys in his swimming lesson this year.  They get so excited to see these kids arrive at the beach.  They have also found kids from previous soccer and baseball teams and included them in the fun.

For me, it has been an interesting transition to sit back and watch.  It seems for so many years, you try to regulate and be sure that your kids are being polite and including others.  To watch them interact from a distance has been fun.  Overall, the entire group has played well.  They have shared shovels, boogie boards and buckets.  They dig huge holes and build elaborate sand castles.  Of course, there is some Star Wars and military games that go on too.

The formal activities have ended for the summer, but there are many more beach days to come.  Hopefully, they will continue to play with their summer friends and be ready for the beginning of the school year.  While they have continued to read (or be read to) they have also continued their social growth.  The youngest will begin kindergarten in the fall and ride the bus with his older brother.  This will truly be a big change for him (and me) but I am confident that he is ready to make new friends and have a great year.  The oldest has continued to grow and has done a great job including his little brother.  I am assured that he will help show his brother the ropes of a new school and an entirely new adventure.

Watching the boys grow on different levels has helped give me perspective as I also enter a new phase.  A year ago, I was anxious to try anything and look for new opportunities.  Eventually, a few stuck and now I am in the process of deciding what direction I want to go in this year.  Each venture or idea will take a lot of work and I need to set my priorities.  This is an interesting balance as a mom.  Slowly, but surely – I feel that I am finding the direction I want to head in.  It’s currently a matter of what falls into the hobby side of things and where do I see career potential.  I am not sure right now, but I am sure it will come.

For now, I am looking forward to enjoying the end of the summer with sand in our toes and smiles on our faces.  The tomatoes are continuing to ripen and so is our summer fun!