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Sorry to have disappeared… Let’s do lunch!

Flight Academy

The girls with the mascot, “Soonie”, at OU’s Flight Academy

Sorry that I have not be blogging lately, but the end of school and start of summer have been a busy time for us.  This week, the girls are attending a wonderful day camp, the OU Sooner Flight Academy.  Not something that is in our budget for four kids, but thankfully we received a partial scholarship from the Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission.

The girls are there for seven hours each day, so we send a packed lunch with them.  Since this will be a short post and folks have expressed an interest in our lunches in the past, I thought I would share a picture of yesterday’s lunch.

Lunch consists of: a nitrate-free turkey and organic cheese roll-up with olives, baby-cut carrots, grape tomatoes, a sprouted grain pretzel, plain yogurt with honey, and cut-up bananas and pineapple.  For camp, we’ve been sending ice water as the beverage, although we normally send white milk during the school year.

Day Camp Lunch -Summer 2012

I’ve been trying out some new recipes on the girls and should be posting those soon.  Some were hits, such as a chilled strawberry soup, and some were misses, such as a new honey-lime slaw dressing that I tried on broccoli slaw.

Again, I am a better correspondent on my Facebook page, so please join me there for more frequent updates and information.

– Stacey


Bean Soup – or what to do with your Easter ham bone…

Yummy Soup Ingredients

On Easter, we had the ham from the local hog we recently bought.  It was quite tasty and since it was a whopping 18 pounds, we have lots of leftover ham in both the freezer and fridge.  As we always do when we have a ham bone, I made our family’s Bean & Hominy Soup.  I used dry navy beans and canned hominy this time, but since I got the recipe from my mom and she always uses canned beans, I am giving the recipe using those. Of course, you can use dried hominy and beans, instead of canned, if you prefer. It will be both cheaper and healthier to make that way.

This is the navy bean soup that my family makes. It is a recipe that my Mom got from her Mom and is a dish that they used to make in Key West, Florida. My grandparents were Key West “Conchs”, meaning they were born and raised in Key West. I guess that this recipe came over to Key West from the Bahamas (or maybe Cuba?) along with the immigrants from there in the late 1800’s. I’ll call it “Ida’s Key West Bean & Hominy Soup” after my grandmother.

But, I will note that while my mom has always made it with hominy, recently she did she reveal that when she was a young child (late 1930’s) her Mom, Ida, made it with dried white “cracked corn”. Later, as it became easier to find hominy and more difficult to find food-grade cracked corn for human consumption (it is used today in chicken feed), they switched to hominy.

Wikipedia states about hominy that “Soaking the corn in lye kills the seed’s germ, which keeps it from sprouting while in storage. In addition to preserving the grain as foodstuff, this process also affords several significant nutritional advantages over untreated maize products. It converts some of the niacin (and possibly other B vitamins) into a form more absorbable by the body, improves the availability of the amino acids, and (at least in the lime-treated variant) supplements the calcium content, balancing maize’s comparative excess of phosphorus.”

It’s great with hominy, but I guess the cracked corn is more authentic.  Also, we always used white hominy, but this time I used half white and half yellow and it still looked and tasted fine. Feel free to adjust the hominy to bean ratio to your tastes, but there must be some hominy in it.  Sadly, there is no vegetarian version of this, since the ham bone and attached ham is what give it most of the flavor.

Ida’s Key West Bean & Hominy Soup

  • 1 ham bone (with some ham left on it)
  • 4 cans Navy beans, 15 oz. size cans (you can use Northern beans, but it’s not quite the same)
  • 2 cans white hominy, 15.5 oz. size cans (hominy is lye-soaked corn, yellow will do if you can’t get white)
  • 1 medium white or yellow onion, chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • Old Sour, for adding at the table (optional)
  1. Simmer the ham bone in water until the meat drops off and the water makes a rich broth. I use my crock-pot and cook it on low overnight.
  2. Remove the bone and cut up any larger chunks of meat to small bite-size pieces. Drain and rinse the beans and hominy and put the chopped onion in the broth/meat in a pot along with the hominy and beans. Add additional water if necessary, as the final product should have the consistency of a stew when finished.
  3. Cook on low heat (or in a crock pot) for several hours, until the beans and hominy have softened a little and made a saucy-broth. Add salt and black pepper to taste. At the table, you can add “old sour” to taste.

“Old Sour”  is Key Lime Juice that has salt added to it, and is then left to sit and sour/ferment for a while.  I think that its use goes back to the seafaring heritage of many Key West and Bahamian folks, as the preserved  lime juice is a good source of vitamin C when you are out at sea.  That is why “limey” is a slang term for a sailor.

I found this recipe on a Key West web site, in case you can’t find it ready-made. By the way, my Mom doesn’t use peppers in hers, just lime juice and salt. Old Sour is a very old Key West tradition and Conchs use on it just about everything.

Old Sour

  • 2 cups Key Lime juice or Persian Lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 2 Bird Peppers or a few drops of hot sauce, optional
  1. Strain the lime juice through cheesecloth three or four times to make sure to remove all pulp.
  2. Mix lime juice and salt together. Pour into bottles with Bird Peppers. Cork.
  3. Refrigerate two weeks or more before using, the longer the better. Store in refrigerator three to six months.

Serve the bean soup with buttered Cuban bread, or French or Italian if you aren’t lucky enough to live in a town like Tampa were you can get Cuban bread.  A salad goes well with it and gives you something green.

The girls really like this soup and at their request have taken it for lunch in their thermoses the last two days.

– Stacey

School Lunch with the Girls today – special Thanksgiving meal

Mike and I had lunch at school with the girls today.  It was the day the cafeteria serves their Thanksgiving meal, so it was a “special” menu.  Normally, the lunch is $2.00 for kids and $2.80 for adults, but today’s was $3.50 for everyone, so not really a reflection of a typical lunch. 

Since the girls bring a homemade packed lunch everyday it was exciting and a little confusing for them to get to go through the lunch line.  Normally, the cafeteria provides a choice of 2-4 different entrées, but today it was just one.  So, as we were going through, I said to the girls “Look, everyone gets the same thing, just like when I was in school.  And, everyone gets vegetables too.” 

At that point, one of the women serving said to me “Did you watch the news last night?” Since I assumed she was referring to the local news which I rarely watch, I said no.  Then, she proceeded to tell me in a shocked voice that the congress wants to declare pizza to be a vegetable.  So, I said that I had heard that and mentioned that when they wanted to declare ketchup as a vegetable in the Reagan years, it was protests from citizens that stopped that.

But, I was glad to hear this food service worker from the girls’ school show the same concern and shock at pizza being declared a vegetable that I did.  I think that many food service employees feel trapped in the middle.  They truly want to serve healthy food to kids, but the limited funding provided and the way that the food industry groups keep pushing them to adopt processed foods doesn’t help.

Here is a fuzzy picture of today’s lunch that I snapped after Leah had already started eating hers.  There was also canned cranberry sauce available on the table where the plasticware and napkins were, but she didn’t get any.  My girls all chose 1% white milk to drink along with a tiny handful of other kids; most kids had either chocolate or strawberry milk.

The “garden bar” which is not really a salad bar, more a row of bins with 3-4 selections of fruits and veggies (sometimes canned) was not open, so potatoes and green beans were the only veggies available and there was no fruit choice.  I like green beans, but from what I have read, they are not nutritional powerhouses, to say the least, especially the canned ones we had.  But, they are supposed to be a good source of fiber.

– Stacey

The menu described the meal as: 

Thanksgiving Lunch

  • Turkey & Dressing
  • Potatoes & Gravy
  • Green Beans
  • Cranberry Sauce
  • Fresh Baked Dinner Roll (packaged white roll, Leah had eaten it before I snapped the pic)
  • Sweet Potato Bars w/ Whipped Topping (note: what we got was white cake, not a sweet potato bar)

Update: Just saw a link to this Chicago Public Schools lunch lady’s opinion of pizza being called a vegetable…love it.

The 2012 Farm Bill – get your voice heard in support of kid’s nutrition

Michael Pollan in a recent video says that while we need to continue to vote for better food with our forks, we also need to vote with our VOTES. 

I am not by any means an expert on the wranglings and backroom deals that influence how legislation is based in D.C., but I am an American and a concerned parent.  It saddens me to hear about how much influence food industry lobbyists have in getting things like PIZZA DECLARED AS A VEGETABLE under the school lunch program.

They are working on the 2012 Farm Bill right now and Farm Bills are only done every 5 years.  So, go to one of the sites below and read how to contact you member of Congress to voice your opinion about how the Farm Bill, or as Pollan calls it, the Food Bill, affects local farmers trying to grow actual fruits and vegetables (not commodity corn and soy, they are well protected by industry lobbyists).  Also, show your support of continuing the ability of SNAP benefit recipients to use those benefits at local Farmer’s Markets. 

And most importantly, because is affects so many kids and they are our future, voice your concerns about unhealthy processed foods such as pizza being classified as a vegetable.  As you can see from a few of my previous posts about school lunches, they need to improve and increase the amounts of real food including fruits and vegetables, not make things worse.  What is next, calling corn dogs a vegetable because they contain corn?

Find out more about the Farm Bill and how to contact YOUR government about this:

Over 50% of the kids that go to my daughters’ school receive either free or reduced lunches.  I understand that there are several school in disadvantaged parts of Oklahoma City, were that figure is 100%.  So, this bill directly affects the kids in our neighborhood, town, and state, not just farmers.  Even  if you are lucky enough like we are to be able to pack and send your kids a healthy lunch, what about all their classmates?  We know the food industry doesn’t care about kids, but we need to encourage our elected officials to care because we do.

– Stacey

Better than Jello – Juicy Gelatin Jigglers

Sarah and her Juicy Gelatin Jiggler

Knox Blox Recipe on Box

Knox Blox Recipe on Box

Kids love Jello, at least that is what Bill Cosby and the folks at Jello tell you.  But, Jello has lots of nasty artificial flavorings and food dyes in it.  Well, why not make your own “Jello” out of fruit juice and unflavored gelatin?  There is even a recipe on the Knox box for it.  I cut the recipe in half and leave out the honey since juice is already sweet.  If you want to make a more traditional, less firm gelatin using juice, then just use one packet of gelatin to 2 cups juice, but your kids won’t be able to pick it up with their hands.  🙂  I put these in my girls’ lunches about once or twice a month.

Juicy Gelatin Jigglers
(or you can call then Knox Blox, if you want)
  • 2 cups of 100% fruit juice (I used Welch’s grape juice)
  • 2 envelopes of unflavored Knox gelatin,  each envelope holds 1 Tbls gelatin

Place 1 cup of juice in a microwavable measuring cup.  Microwave juice for 60 seconds.  Pour hot juice into a 3-cup container (I used a Rubbermaid plastic container with a lid).  Sprinkle gelatin powder into hot juice and use a fork or small whisk to mix it in until it dissolves and there are no clumps.  Pour in the other 1 cup of juice and mix well.  Put the lid on your container and refrigerate for 4+ hours.   Cut into desired shape or cubes.  You can use assorted cookie cutters to create fun shapes.

This is ridiculously simple and almost doesn’t even qualify as a recipe.  Actually, since most parents already have some kind of juice on-hand, it is probably easier and faster than making the traditional Jello.  So, I always wondered why Knox didn’t partner with one of the juice companies to pitch this as a healthier alternative to Jello.  I think the answer is on the back of the Knox box.  Knox is owned by Kraft Foods and so is Jello. 

General note about the ingredients: Since I am trying to create healthier versions of foods but still use ingredients that you can get at your local grocery store, I used Welch’s grape juice and Knox gelatin. If you want to make these even better, please feel free to use organic juice and gelatin made from happy, pastured animals. They should both be available at a natural food or health food store in your area.

Updated 9/29/11 to add: Here is a link to more information about higher quality gelatin from Food Renegade.

Note to vegetarians & vegans: Gelatin (including Jello brand) is not vegetarian as is made from animals.  Gelatin is derived from collagen, which is mainly involved with connective tissues and bones.  I understand the many vegetarians substitute agar-agar for gelatin and online I found this recommendation for a fruit juice jello, but I have not tried it: “Boil up 1/4 cup agar-agar with 1 quart of fruit juice for five minutes, then pour into dishes and cool. That’ll make 4 servings of a substance that doesn’t wobble like Jell-O, but because it’s made with fruit juice rather than artificial flavors it’ll actually taste considerably better.”

– Stacey

School Lunch – What We Pack

First Day of First GradeToday is the first day of school for the girls and they were pretty excited to be starting First Grade. 

As the school year was approaching, I talked to several other moms that are concerned about nutrition about what their kids would be doing for lunch. Last year in Kindergarten, the girls took a homemade lunch almost every day. About once a month, we have something come up where we just can’t get it together that morning and we let them buy lunch at school that day. But, we check the menu online and talk to them about what choices are the better ones and emphasize the white milk, not chocolate milk, rule. Also, my husband or I have lunch at school with the girls about once every couple of weeks, so we are familiar with how the lunchroom is set up and the procedures.


There are lots of options here. We have the Laptop Lunches  system and this is the second year we are using our set. I also have a Laptop Lunchbox and that is what I bring when I eat lunch at school with them. This is the one my daughter Julia, who loves PURPLE, has:

Laptop Lunchbox

Laptop Lunchbox "Purple Party"

The good thing about the system is that it lets you create a lunch with no unnecessary wasted packaging.  I watched a little girl in my daughters’ class today eat her Lunchable and it was shocking how much trash it generated (not to mention the questionable nutritional value). She also had trouble opening some of the individual packages inside.  We also use cloth napkins that IZiploc Lunch Container wash; got about 20 of them for very cheap in the Michael’s clearance bin last year. 

The downside of the Laptop Lunches system is that  the initial cost for the Laptop Lunches system is a little steep, Pre-K and Kindergarten kids may have trouble opening the main compartment themselves, and with four kids, we can almost fill the dishwasher each evening with just their lunchboxes and inside containers.   So, sometimes, I use the lunch containers from Ziploc.  They are very cheap (like $2.50 for a 2-pack) and you can re-use them several times.  They are liquid-tight, so I can put yogurt in one of the compartments with no leaks.  They also fit well inside our Laptop Lunches insulated carrier bag.

Beverages and Food

Their school does provide a water dispenser with cups for kids that want water instead of milk. The drink we send everyday is what they would have if they were eating at home which is organic white milk. The Laptop Lunches bottle holds 12 oz., we just put in 4 oz. of milk. When we put in more, they don’t drink it all. We try to limit juice to a special treat since it is really just sugar water. So, juice is something they get maybe 2-4 times a week as a treat when they are with us, not as part of a meal. I also do use juice (grape or apple) to make homemade jello (using unflavored gelatin) so they also get some then.

Our lunches generally consist of a main dish that is either a meat/cheese roll-up using nitrate-free turkey or ham and real cheese or an egg salad or tuna salad sandwich on 100% whole wheat bread; plain yogurt with honey; some cut-up fruit; and some kind of veggie (either broccoli slaw, grape tomatoes, carrot sticks or snow peas, etc. sometimes with homemade ranch dressing or hummus). The laptop lunchbox has 2 big sections and 2 small sections, so 4 items works out well for them.

The Laptop Lunches website has a photo gallery with lots of ideas for what to pack for lunch.  You also get a little booklet with the box.  Our lunches are a bit monotonous, but the kids don’t seem to mind. When I have tried pasta salads or things like that to make it more interesting, they don’t eat them. But, they will eat these same things at home, so go figure. 

Sometimes, we do put dinner leftovers in, if it is something that can be eaten cold, for example, leftover grilled chicken breast strips.  There is no way for them to heat up any of the meal, so we always pack a cold lunch.   We just used the re-usable ice packs to keep the food cold until lunch. I have tried a couple of different thermoses for soup, but have not been impressed with any of them.

What are you packing for your kid’s lunch this year?

– Stacey

8/31/2011 Update: These are a few of the lunches we packed for the girls this week:

Monday’s Packed School Lunch:
Monday's Packed School Lunch
Monday’s Packed School Lunch: Nitrate-free turkey and cheese rollup plus olives, grape tomatoes and sugar snap peas with homemade ranch, plain yogurt with honey, peaches and cherries, plus white organic milk
Wednesday’s Packed School Lunch:
Wednesday's Packed School Lunch

Wednesday's Packed School Lunch: Organic hard boiled eggs, cherries, peaches, broccoli slaw, plain yogurt with honey and flax seed, organic white milk


Getting vegetables into ALL your meals – plus Ranch Dressing and Broccoli Slaw recipes


VEGETABLES, Photo by "tellgraf", Image ID: 881416,

Just about any health authority recommends eating more fruits and vegetables.  The CDC even has a calculator to tell you how much is recommended for you based on your age, gender, and activity level.  

Generally, I don’t have any problem getting fruit into my kids.  No, not juice, which kids drink way too much of, but actual real whole fruit.  It is sweet and delicious, and since I deal with all the mess and work of buying, cutting, and preparing it, all they have to do is love eating it.

But, sometimes veggies are a different matter.  Fruit, we generally eat close to how nature provided it.  I will cut it up or peel it, if necessary, but we usually have it raw and unseasoned.  Veggies however, can get to be a bit boring that way.  And, there are some veggies my kids don’t like raw, such as broccoli. 

So, a lot of the time I either steam the veggies and serve them with a bit of real butter, sea salt, and freshly ground black pepper, or roast them in the oven in a bit of olive oil.  We do this with root veggies similar to Jamie Oliver and Ina Garten.  We also like to cook broccoli and asparagus by roasting in the oven.  So, that takes care of the dinner veggies; but what about breakfast and lunch?

Now that my girls are in school and packing a cold lunch this has presented a bit of a challenge.  During Pre-K, they would eat lunch at home and we would just heat up leftovers from the previous night’s dinner.  But now, since they have to eat their lunch cold from a lunchbox, that is not an option.

The triplets like salad, but Emma doesn’t.  So, green salads for lunch each day would not be a solution.  I have tried making a simple broccoli slaw and that goes over well with three of them, but again Emma is not that crazy about it.  The veggie and grain salads using such things as quinoa that I have tried have not been well-received.  So, this leaves putting some raw grape tomatoes (LOVED by all) and some baby-cut carrot sticks in just about all their lunches.  I usually include a little container of either homemade hummus or homemade ranch dressing with it.  But, kind of boring.  Do you have any other ideas for incorporating veggies into kid’s lunchbox lunches?

That brings us to breakfast.  A while back, we participated in the “100 days of real food” blog’s “Mini-Pledge Week 1: Fruits and Vegetables” where you were supposed to “Eat a minimum of two different fruits or vegetables (preferably organic) with every breakfast, lunch, and dinner meal.”  Dinner is no problem, lunch we can do with the tomato/carrot option, and we always have fruit at breakfast.  But, how to incorporate veggies into breakfast on a daily basis?

Spinach, Tomato, Mushroom, Shallot, & Goat Cheese Fritatta

Spinach, Tomato, Mushroom, Shallot, & Goat Cheese Fritatta - Don't let the smile fool you, she only ate half of it!

My kids like scrambled eggs and we have them at least five times a week for breakfast as they are a cheap and healthy source of protein.  So, the most obvious solution is an omelet or frittata where I  add some veggies such as spinach, tomatoes, bell peppers, etc. to the eggs.  But, when I have tried that, they only eat about half their eggs and they complain that they want their “plain eggs” instead.  I even think that serving dinner-style steamed veggies as a side to plain eggs may be received better. 

Another option it to serve raw or grilled tomatoes (British-style) as a side.  I have also tried Everyday Paleo’s baked eggs that include spinach and sweet potatoes and “Baked Eggs in Tomato Sauce with Parmesan”, also known as “Eggs in Purgatory” from various sources.  They ate these, but again, wanted to go back to plain scrambled eggs.  For snacks we have done “green smoothies” by adding raw spinach to yogurt, fruit, and milk in the blender.  They liked it, but more as a snack, not so much for breakfast.

So, I am looking for ideas on how to incorporate vegetables (not as juices) in ALL your meals, especially into breakfast. 

– Stacey

Here are a couple of my recipes for some of the foods mentioned above:

Simple Broccoli Slaw

  • 1 bag Broccoli Slaw (12oz, about 4 cups, shredded broccoli stems with a bit of purple cabbage and shredded carrots)

    Broccoli Slaw

    Broccoli Slaw

  • 2 tsp prepared yellow mustard (adjust to your taste)
  • 3-4 Tbsp mayonnaise
  • Sea salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste

Mix it all together in a large bowl.  Makes about 6-8 servings as a side. This is not a sweet slaw, but a bit spicy.

Ranch Dressing
(based on this one from

  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise

    Ranch Dressing ingredients in bowl

    Ranch Dressing ingredients in bowl

  • 1/2 cup Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 tsp dried chives
  • 1/2 tsp dried parsley
  • 1/2 tsp dried dill weed
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp onion powder
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • 1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper
Ranch Dressing in bottle

Ranch Dressing in bottle

In a large bowl, whisk together all the ingredients. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes before serving. 

I pour mine into an old glass bottle and just keep in the fridge.  If you have kids (or a husband that likes ranch dressing), you will use it pretty quickly.  Shake before serving.

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