Kids Want Food and Photo Credit Too

O.K. so for all the complaining my kids do about waiting for me to take food photos before we can eat, not their getting into the act too.  My kids are making me wait to eat so they can take pictures of their creations.  Can’t fault them for that right?  Here are a couple from a snack they made themselves and them photographed.

Here’s a “fancy” flatbread wrap with carrots on the side.  “It’s fancy because of the umbrella” said my daughter.
Here’s a raspberry tower my son skillfully created.
This was fun and cute and easy.  We put pretzels in a tic-tac-toe shape and added cheese x’s and a rounded ball of sunflower butter for an O.  My kids may be creating the next cookbook in my house.

Halloween Fruit Treats


It’s finally arrived…Halloween.  I love Halloween.  This year we had our costumes particularly early as my son chose Star Wars costumes for each of us.  However there is still last minute costume alterations (thanks goodness for Nana) and all the school party festivities.  I was a bit leary of Halloween on a Sunday.  But for the school activities it was nice to spread out and celebrate on Friday.  Then we had a day to fix costumes and prepare for tonight.  Although I’m sure no one will get to bed on time, eventhough it’s a school night.

Here are some fun treats I made for my son’s Halloween party.  These were easy to do, but time consuming when doing 2 dozen.  I guess I needed something to do while enjoying the world series game (Go Giants).  I found this idea on a website and thought it was a cute idea for something festive yet healthy.  Of course I had to change the original from fruit cocktail to cut fresh fruit, so that’s why it took longer than expected.  They came out even cute than expected and were a big hit with kids and parents.

I made 24 of these, but I made 2 samples to see how they worked.  It’s kind of nice that you can do as many as you’d like (time permitting), you’ll just have to adjust how much fruit you cut.  I made way too much and would cut it in half.  Although it’s never bad to have extra fruit salad on hand.  Without the jack-o-lantern faces, I’ll plan to do this again for anytime of year.

Jack -O-Lantern Fruit Cups

navel oranges

bite size cut fruits – I used pineapple, cantaloupe, grapes, oranges, apples (figure about 3/4 cup per orange)

Cut top 1/4 of orange across the top to make a lid/top and set aside

Using a paring knife cut all the way around inside of orange from pith.  Using a teaspoon or grapefruit spoon,  dig out orange.  Reserve orange for cutting and adding to fruit cups.  Scrape inside orange to get other large pieces but be careful not to tear orange side.

Fill each orange with fruit salad.  Put lid back on.

Using a Sharpee pen, draw desired faces.  (If my kids were awake and I hadn’t started the project so late, I would’ve enlisted their help and artistry).

Scrape out orange and juice over bowl to save
Hollow the oranges and arrange in muffin tins
Color the faces and fill cups
hardest part - finding room in the fridge

The Resident Chef at Kids Konserve

Kids Konserve has a great new blog from chefs that use their waste free food and drink containers.  Being one of them I was happy to share recipes that work well with their mini stainless steel containers. Perfect for packing snacks and dips, they are easy to pack into a lunch bag, backpack or even a purse.  Check out my recipes on the resident chef page for curry curry chickpeas, cherry almond granola and no-nuts trail mix, as well as other resident chef’s ideas and recipes.  Just in time for back-to-school, be sure to get 15% off your next purchase (valid thru August) with the code “minichef” at checkout.


Hunger Challenge Wrap Up

I’m glad my family participated in the hunger challenge.  I learn more from each year’s experience, which will not only help me for next year’s, but the way I shop, cook, teach and think about food without the challenge. 

I did have some items from my list, that I didn’t use including:


chinese pasta


And I do have some ingredients remaining, which were opened and partially eaten:

sunflower butter

fruit spread


veggie broth

goat cheese

You realize some items you’d buy that would last a long time, such as sunflower butter and not have to worry about finishing.  However others such as fresh fruit, you’d have to consume quickly.  Thus you may have more fresh produce during the beginning of the week, vs. the later, or whenever you went to the pantry.  Also I felt bad about the “free” pantry items that I didn’t use, because someone else could’ve used them.  However you would plan to use them the following week if something like chinese noodles.

Here are some of my take-aways:

It can be done.  Parents and caregivers are ingredible at making things work and sacrificing for their children and families.  Cooking and eating healthy may be harder to do than giving in to fast food, however it can be done with lots of planning and disclipline.

An extra $1 makes a huge difference.  I hope the awareness the hunger challenge brought to others will enable the extra money to be supported beyond the Jan 2010 deadline.

Everyone likes variety, however sometimes too many options can lead to waste.  Take for example my usual whole grain bread purchases: lavosh, mini wheat bagels, crumpets, whole wheat sandwich bread, mini pita bread, tortillas.  Sometimes a few pieces of  one variety will go stale as we’re eating the others.  How about choosing 2 or 3 this week and then 2 or three the next?  Same goes for cheese, snack items, cereals, mustards, dressings etc.

Being prepared with a stocked pantry and refrigerator is great.  This means you’re ready for last minute playdates or hosting a dinner.  However waiting for something to actually run out, gives more money for the items you actually need.  By this I mean, sometime I buy an extra item to have on hand (peanut butter, fruit spread, whole wheat crackers, etc)

Stick to the list and budget.  It’s easy to get sidetracked, especially with children as your shopping helpers.  Remind them of what you actually need and explain the idea of a budget. 

Out of sight out of mind.  I think if doing the challenge again, I will clean out my pantry and refrigerator, so we don’t see the extra food we’re not allowed to have (that was already there).

Left-over planning is key.  Some of the items I made were just too much.  The bean stew/soup was quite heavy.  Especially after the pasta.  And not something I would usually eat for lunch (but certainly wanted the food).  I felt better when I made “my food” (reference to Top Chef again), meaning things I know my family likes and feels good after eating (such as the fish tacos).

Next time I’ll plan to shop more than once.  I was so afraid to go to the store more than once because I would be tempted by things I couldn’t buy.  But really this would’ve allowed me some room to learn and create new menu items and not be so overwheled by thinking of every meal for 7 days.  (I finally did it at the end and glad I left some money left-over)

We take for granted that we’ll always be able to go to the grocery store and buy whatever we want.  It’s sobering to know that many food stamp recipients have jobs or recently had jobs, and how quickly economics and circumstances can change.


Final Challenge Day


So yesterday was the final day.  Although probably the easiest.  We were so busy, there was not much time for eating.  The days started early, as my son had a 9 a.m. soccer game.  Once again I only finished half my bowl of oatmeal.  We were out of berries, bananas and nectarines, so it was plain.  The kids and my husband finished the last of the granola (there’s a bit left of the Mighty Bites) with milk, and the kids had plain yogurt sweetened with brown sugar and cinnamon.  We all had a quick glass of O.J.

We were headed for miniature golf after the game so I packed a quick lunch/snack of sunflower butter and fruit spread sandwiches, along with some trail mix, and sliced apples (last 2) and cheese.   We also had my son’s friend with us.  Luckily there was enough bread.

Later we went to friends’ to swim.  My kids were offered some snacks of crackers and cheese, grapes, watermelon and grape juice.  It looked good, but I passed and luckily had some apple slices left-over.  I explained about the hunger challenge and they said, but you’re not paying for this.  Seems I could eat what was offered at someone else’s house right?  Then I started to think about all the places you could go and sample food if you wanted.  Even when I shop at Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s there’s usually something to taste and nibble.  In fact sometimes my kids want to go back repeatedly.

Many that I spoke to about the challenge had stories about college or struggling days on their own away from home.  Remembering back, you had a certain amount of money and knew how to budget to feed yourself.  It often meant lots of baked potatoes, spaghetti, PB&J and boxed macaroni and cheese.  And let’s be honest you had to factor in beer.  One friend joked that the beer would be a name brand favorite at the beginning of the month and then get more generic and watery by the end of the month.

So dinner tonight was a kid favorite – breakfast for dinner.  I still had 6 eggs so why not?  If you remember I was just under $99, then I went to the store and bought the fish and tortillas, putting me at about $106.  Well I decided to buy (from my own pantry) a can of pureed pumpkin for $2.29 to make my kid’s favorite pu,pkin pancake recipe.  Getting everything out I realized I wasn’t going to be able to make the usual pumpkin pancake recipe as I needed to use 4 eggs.  Luckily I had created a recipe for a mom who wanted to give her son (who was allergic to eggs) pancakes  and out it my book, The Petit Appetit Cookbook.  Aha!  I will add the pumpkin to get the veggie factor in and please my kids, to the “no yolking around pancakes” recipe. (see my new recipe below).   I made a double batch which makes quite a few.  Left-overs will be welcome as a lunchbox snack or a quick re-heat for breakfast. 

While these are rib stickers I also wanted to make eggs.  Thinking of TopChef, I made eggs two ways.  One way was over easy, my son’s favorite.  While the other was a simple omelet with cheese (one thing I still have plenty of), my daughter’s fav.  A typical breakfast for dinner night would also have turkey bacon, but not tonight.  That’s was o.k.  We were all so tired from the day’s activities, no one missed it. 

Pumpkin “No Yolking Around Pancakes”

 Makes about 15 (5-inch) pancakes

 2 cup organic wheat flour

2 tablespoon organic cane sugar

1 Tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 1/2 cups organic milk

1 tablespoon expeller pressed canola oil

1/4 cup canned pumpkin puree 

In a medium mixing bowl, stir together flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, baking soda and cinnamon. 

In a separate bowl, whisk together milk and oil. 

Add milk mixture to flour mixture all at once.  Stir with a rubber spatula until just blended.  If batter is too thick, thin with milk.

Heat a large non-stick skillet or griddle over medium heat.  Lightly grease skillet with cooking spray or melted butter. 

For each pancake, pour about 1/4 cup batter onto hot griddle or skillet.  Cook until bubbles form on top of pancakes and bottoms are golden and set.  Flip with spatula and brown other sides until golden.   Warm finished pancakes in a 300 F oven, while continuing to use batter to make more batches.



Drink Up for the Challenge

So what we were drinking during the challenge?…lots of things.  Most of what I drank was water.  Although I did factor in two bottles of Tejava iced tea.  This was mainly for my husband, but I didn’t realize how much I missed it too.  I don’t reglarly drink coffee (sometimes a decaf drip or cappucino).  However I do have a glass of unsweetened iced tea per day (either fresh brewed or Tejava).  I woke up with a headache a few days into the challenge.  My mid-day I think I missed the caffeine and had a glass of iced tea.  Abracadabra!  I felt better.

My kids drank their usual – milk, water, juice (1/3 juice mixed with water) and splashes.  What’s a splash?  It’s simply a way of getting more flavor from water, but lots less juice.  This is a good money saver (and sugar saver), which works well anytime and especially during the challenge.  I even put it in my book, but there’s really no recipe required.  Simply add a splash of juice to water.  We had orange juice this week, but would also usually have cranbery or pomagranate.  We also do this with bubble water.  Makes a refreshing drink (and good non-alcoholic drink) for all ages during the holidays, etc.  Along the same lines of adding flavor to water is what I call “hints”.  This is simply squeezing a citrus slice into water.  Kids love to do this.  This week we used some lemon and lime slices.

There were two other drinks we made this week with the ingredients on hand – smoothies (see previous post) and a watermelon juice.  This simply means place fresh watermelon (remember we had a whole one) in the blender.  You can even add some bubble water (not this week) for a special watermelon spritzer.  Super refreshing.


Fish Taco Night!

tacos 008
my son's fish taco creation

I did it.  I went to the store and thankfully I was able to buy some fish.  At Whole Foods, there was a sale on Dover Sole for $5.99 a pound.  This is a thin fish, so 4 fillets came in at about 2/3 of a pound or $3.29.  I had to rethink my idea of stir fry and the chinese noodles.  I just can’t do noodles again.  So I factored in the cabbage, cheese (I still have cheddar), black beans, and onion and came up with fish tacos.  I was missing tortillas, but figured I had enough cushion (remember I only spent $95 and change) and bought those for $2.99.

This meal was a real treat after the heavy dinners I had been making.  And it looks like a lot, since there’s many dishes of individual things (shredded cheese, cabbage, diced onion, beans).  Tacos are always so great because everyone can make their own choices and participate.  Without holding back some of my budget, I wouldn’t have been able to alter my meal plan.  I was worried if I went into the store another day during the week, I would buy too many other items.  I did buy a few more, but told myself and kids we couldn’t eat them until next week.  I realize that through this challenge I need to go to the store less often.  Out of sight out of mind.  Instead of waiting until we run out of something or we only have 2 kinds of cereal (and not the usual 4 or 5), I go out and rebuy, along with other things. 

Tonight I even got creative with a bit of dessert and made sugar-cinnamon tortilla crisps.  So easy and the kids love them.  Simply cut desired shapes in tortilla with a cookie cutter.  Don’t toss the scraps (those make tasty/funny crisps too).  Place on a baking sheet lined with foil and brush with melted butter.  Sprinkle a mixture of sugar and cinnamon (we keep some handy in a shaker) and bake in a 375 oven for about 8 minutes (turning half-way through) until browned and crisp.

sweet tortilla crisps
photo before baking

I also used more of the watermelon and feta for my salad again.  And there was the rest of the broccoli which I roasted in the oven with olive oil and rosemary salt.

Let’s get to one of my addictions…rosemary salt.  This perks up everything – roasted veggies, potatoes, meats, dressings, etc.  We get it at the farmer’s market or order it online at Eatwell Farms.  I realize that while I only use a bit at each meal, this would be a cash layout of $8 for a jar.  Kind of a luxury given the hunger challenge.  You’d have to give up something one week to have this (althugh for a while).  For me it would be worth it.  Even if you couldn’t do the rosemary salt, a sea salt is so much better and smoother than traditional Morton salts, and not so salty.  A big shaker is worth the extra money, say $3.50 vs. $1.00(?) for Morton.


Snack Time

So I’ve got kids and like to graze, so this means snacks.  Snacks sometime get a bad reputation.  There’s the thought that a snack is something big on carbs and suagr, low on nutrition and processed out of a bag.  Not at our house.  I like to think of snacks as mini meals with various textures (a little creamy, a little crunchy).  They could even be left-overs.  I think it should have some carbs but also some protein to sustain energy and not give a sugar rush (which will leave you hungrier and unsatisfied).  I factored in snacks when making my hunger challenge food list.  Both for packing for my son’s lunch, when we’re on-the-go and eating at home. 


Here’s are some favorites:

pita with cheese (pita could be toasted or not)

pita with hummus (pita could be cut or not, or baked in the oven for “chips”)

organic carrot sticks and edamame with hummus

organic apple alices with sunflower butter (we like nutspreads too, but not duing the challenge) – above

smoothies – any combo of yogurt, and fresh and frozen fruit (see yesterday’s below)

fruit with yogurt dip – a simple dip of plain yogurt and lemon and squeeze of honey, syrup or agave is good with fruit.

slice of cheese and trail mix – we usually create our own trail mix from raisins, cereal, seeds and nuts (though too expensive this week to buy all thins individually)

organic apple sauce and fig bar

Strawberry Banana Smoothie

You can make just about any smoothie with some fruit and yogurt and either milk or juice.  I like to have bananas in the freezer waiting and ready (or just think ahead an hour or two).  This makes the smoothie creamy and thick and there’s no need for ice, which can be a choking hazard for little ones.

makes 2 cups

1 frozen banana

4 strawberries (about 1/3 cup), tops removed

2/3 cup organic milk

1/3 cup plain organic yogurt (can freeze too for thicker texture)

Blend all together in a blender.  Adjust thickness and consistency with milk. 

kids drinkingsmoothie


What’s for Breakfast?

Unlike some bloggers thru this challenge I haven’t discussed each and every meal.  Many are similiar, such as breakfast.  Here’s the breakdown:

Me – oatmeal with sliced fruit (loving the pantry “free” strawberries).  I simply cook old fashioned oats with milk and add sliced fruit a sprinkling of granola for texture and a dash of cinnamon.  This is hearty and keeps me full through morning.  I should note this is my usual and preferred breakfast, with or without a challenge.  (In fact I priced it all out when I took the challenge last year and it’s a clear winner under $1). However on Monday I didn’t even have breakfast.  This was not due to the hunger challenge, but the challenge of getting my new kindergartner to school on time.


my oatmeal
my oatmeal

Kids – some variation of plain yogurt sweetened fruit spread or just a dash of cinnamon and brown sugar, and maybe a sprinkle of granola.  Sometimes a toasted crumpet as well or instead.  Sometimes (usually my daughter) also likes cut fruit too (nectarine, apple, strawberries or combo)

Husband – bowl of cereal (usually up to 4 kinds, prechallenge) with milk if time permits midweek.  Maybe a banana.


The Challenge Continues…Last Night’s Dinner

Aside from my son’s comment “Only two things?” when he came to dinner table, I think the hunger challenge meal was a success.  My kids are used to variety – more than one low sugar cereal, more than one bread type (pita, mini bagel, sandwich, lavosh),  more than one “butter” (peanut, almond, sunflower, pumpkin), etc.   At dinner as well there are usually, my son pointed out, and least three things.  They have many choices and are lucky.  This is certainly a luxury for many, and I tell them.

Tonight was a use of the last of the roasted veggies from the potluck sandwich, with penne noodles, goat cheese (again from the sandwich ingredients) and 3 of the 5 chicken apple sausages.  Because of my son’s disappointment of only 2 things.  I split one sauage for he and his sister.  Sometimes I serve my kids meal deconstructed – same ingredients but not all added together, thus the sausage alone from the pasta.

The other item at the table was a watermelon salad.  This is my new favorite, after having on a few restaurant menus recently.  So I was very excited to see the free watermelon on the pantry list.  It’s also a great use of the fresh mint in our garden.  My kids really enjoy this.  It’s very surprising how the ingredients work together and really quite refreshing.

I was pleased with dinner.  It was easy to make and I did it ahead of time and had it in the refrigerator for when my family got home hungry from soccer practice at 6:30 p.m.

Here’s the recipes and photos:

Veggie Sausage Pasta Salad 

4 cups cooked penne noodles

1 cup chopped roasted veggies (eggplant, peppers, squash)

2 chicken apple sausages cut into chunks

about 2 Tablespoons goat cheese, crumbled

1/4 cup torn basil leaves


2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablesppon balsamic vinegar

1 teablespoon red wine vinegar

salt and pepper to taste

This all went together and tossed in a big bowl.

Watermelon Salad

about 3 cups watermelon, cut into chunks

about 1 cup cucumber, peeled and cut into chunks

1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese

2 – 3 Tablespoons nuts (I picked these out of the trail mix)

about 3 Tablespoons fresh mint, chiffonade


about 2 teaspoons olive oil

about 1/2 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

Combine watermelon and  cucumber.  Sprinkle nuts, cheese and mint.  Drizzle with dressing.