Thursday, July 30, 2009

Packable Lunch Ideas

I've perused multiple library books on packable lunches looking for lunchbox ideas, but most have meals that are clearly intended to be microwaved - something my daughter won't be able to do at school. Her lunch either has to be cold, or packed to stay hot. (Indeed, Minnesota terminology for a packed lunch is apparently "cold lunch" - not the most appetizing name, especially in January.)
This is a list in progress, of foods that we buy (e.g. no preservatives, food coloring, etc) and which my daugher will eat (yes, she really eats tofu. Relishes it, actually.) If you haven't already guessed, my kitchen serves primarily natural, homemade and low-sugar foods. We do eat lots of nuts, but I am trying to avoid sending those to school due to the prevalence of allergies among children there.
  • Hummus and whole wheat pita
  • Cheese and bread, whole wheat tortilla, or crackers
  • Pita bread with things for stuffing
  • Yogurt and granola
  • Cottage cheese and crackers
  • Baked tofu with pita or tortilla and toppings (shredded carrots, spinach, etc)
  • Wrap with sunflower seed or bean spread, carrots, cabbage, other veggies
  • Cold soba noodles with dipping sauce
  • Hard-boiled egg
  • Samosas (baked)
  • Quinoa or couscous salad with garbanzo beans
  • Black beans, kidney beans, or garbanzo beans
  • Pasta salad
  • Cream cheese sandwich with/without cucumber or pepper or carrot
  • Cream cheese and jam sandwich
  • Vegetarian pasties - experiment with fillings
  • Bean salad and pita
Hot, in food jar
  • Tomato rice soup
  • Chicken noodle or chicken rice soup
  • Vegetable noodle or Veg rice soup
  • Lentil soup
  • Pasta with sauce, or with olive oil and cheese
  • Homemade mac & cheese
  • Beans, mashed or not, with tortilla and cheese on the side
  • Taco in a jar - layered or split taco ingredients, with corn tortillas
  • Lasagna
  • Chili, red or green
On the side
  • Fruit - Apples, pears, kiwis, berries, grapes, clementine, banana.
  • Vegetables, sliced as needed- carrots, celery, broccoli, cauliflower, red bell peppers, cucumber, green beans, snap peas
  • Raw energy bars
  • Pickle - cucumber or other veggies
  • Roasted chickpeas
  • Sweet potato chips
  • Steamed green beans or sugar snap peas
  • Dried fruit
  • Trail mix
  • Homemade granola bars
  • Brownies
  • Butterscotch brownies
  • Apple crisp
  • Sugar cookies
  • Gingerbread cookies
  • Banana bread
  • Sweet potato muffins or bread
  • Apple muffins
  • Zucchini muffins
  • Pumpkin bread
  • Pumpkin brownies or cookies
  • Walnut-raisin bars from Laurel's Kitchen
More: a list of lunch ideas from the Wedge Community Co-op. 

    Wednesday, July 29, 2009

    Do-It-Yourself Cleaners

    Have you ever wondered what your great-grandmother used for cleaning her house before there was an entire row of products in the store? While they do clean, many of these products leave chemical and fragrance residues in your home - neither of which is necessary or desirable. For the price of one commercial cleaning product, you can clean your entire home for a few years!

    In recent years, antimicrobial agents have been added to many products, from soaps to paint. Many scientists believe that overuse of these products has the potential to create more resistant bacteria. Additionally, many studies have shown that triclosan, a commonly used antimicrobial, accumulates in our environment, particularly in groundwater. An FDA panel reviewed studies on handwashing in 2005 and concluded that antibacterial soaps are no more effective than regular soaps.

    Cleaning your house is as simple as locating a spray bottle and a few basic ingredients that you may already have. Always label your homemade cleaning containers with name and ingredients. Like all cleaners, these should be kept out of the reach of children. Many of these recipes use vinegar, so you should remember that vinegar and bleach should never be mixed.

    All-purpose cleaners (I use the first two, choosing one based on what I'm cleaning - what could be easier than vinegar and dish detergent?):

    • Vinegar and water mixed in equal amounts. This can also be used as a glass cleaner.

    • Dish detergent diluted with water.
    • 1 tbsp borax, 1/4 cup vinegar, 1 tsp dish detergent, and fill spray bottle to top with water.

    Scouring agents:

    • Baking soda, which can be mixed with some dish detergent for more cleaning power, or
    • Vinegar and salt.

    Air fresheners:

    • Open the windows.

    • Remove or clean the odor source.
    • Simmer water with cinnamon or other spices on the stove.
    • Mix a favorite essential oil with water in a small spray bottle.

    Furniture cleaner:

    Mix 1/4 cup vinegar or lemon juice with 1/2 tsp olive oil. Use a soft cloth such as a flannel rag.

    Laundry: Try your laundry without fabric softener or dryer sheets (I never use either). If there are many suds in the rinse water, try reducing the amount of laundry detergent in subsequent loads until the water is clean. If you have soft water, a small amount such as 2 Tbsp detergent might be enough for a large load of laundry.

    Dishes: Look for phosphate-free dishwashing soap and dishwasher detergent. Dishwasher detergent can be mixed from washing soda and borax, but washing soda can be difficult to find.

    One final tip: consider referencing the Materials Safety Data Sheet for any chemical that you use in your home or yard. Manufacturers are required to provide these; they can usually be found with an internet search such as "MSDS (product name)". The MSDS will list hazardous ingredients and particular concerns, toxicity, and recommended protective gear.

    For additional information, including natural oven cleaners, metal polishes, and less toxic ways to limit ants and other pests, try these resources:

    Book, probably available at your library:

    Better Basics for the Home, Annie Berthold-Bond

    Internet links:


    Michigan State Extension

    Wednesday, July 8, 2009

    Another reason to buy locally

    The following quote is from a CNN article about changes in U.S. food safety policy:

    "The rules go into effect within a year for producers with more than 50,000 hens, which produce approximately 71 percent of eggs sold to consumers, the FDA's Sundlof said."

    Farms of 50,000 hens or more produce 71% of eggs! No wonder the eggs I get from local farmers are so noticeably better than supermarket eggs. Their chickens have to be healthier (since they're not sharing tight quarters with at least 49,999 other hens); the shells of the eggs are significantly harder, the yolks are almost orange, and they taste fresher, with a nicer flavor. A study found that free-range hens produce healthier eggs, with increased nutrients and a healthier fat profile. Smaller operations also don't produce the huge quantities of waste that have caused pollution and contamination problems around the country.

    For reference, here's what the Humane Society says about factory-farmed chickens, and further statistics on unsustainable practices in egg-laying hens.

    Tuesday, July 7, 2009

    Reading Resources

    My daughter is a beginning reader, and both she and I have been less than thrilled with many of the books for her reading level. So many of them are seriously lacking either in the story or the art department and do not interest her in the least. We have found some materials that we both enjoy, however:

    Starfall's Learn to Read - this is a fabulous free resource, with phonics-based stories for multiple levels of readers

    Brand New Readers - there are a few of these fun, colorful books available online, and more might be at your library.

    Mini books - these are small books, typically 8 pages, that you copy or print and assemble (one cut and a staple), and kids can color the pictures if desired. Scholastic has books of these that typically contain 25 stories, available from your favorite bookseller, and there are some available online. The advantage of these is that there are so many, they can be cycled, so that I can determine whether they are being read from the words or from memory.

    A template for story paper is also useful for summer journaling. I printed a bunch of these and stapled them together, and by the time school starts, she'll have a book all about her own summer vacation.

    Friday, July 3, 2009

    3 Things to do with Beet Greens

    I've never eaten beet greens until this week. In fact, I've only rarely eaten beets themselves. Last summer I bought them once at the farmers' market - thinking that since there are almost no vegetables I truly dislike, I should see what I can do with them. The beet preparations I experienced in childhood were not fond memories. Roasted, I thought they were ok. This year, I'll try again. But first, the greens, since they are more perishable.

    Slice stems and leaves. Beginning with the stems, and adding the leaves when stems are fork-tender, saute lightly in olive oil with a touch of salt, just until bright green. Then, the beet greens can be

    - served alongside fried rice for the family to taste (could also be sauteed in the fried rice for more adventuresome folk)

    - made into enchiladas with some grass-fed ground beef, onions, and monterey jack cheese (for 4 servings, about 1/3# beef cooked with 1 small onion, 3 oz grated cheese, and about 1.5c sauteed beet greens, rolled into 6 steamed corn tortillas and topped with a sauce made from 1/2 c salsa and 1/2 c vegetable broth - bake, covered, 350, 20 minutes; uncover, top with 1oz grated cheese, and bake, uncovered, 10 more min or until thoroughly hot and cooked)

    - mixed with whole grain pasta, olive oil, and romano cheese.

    There are a lot of beet greens on a handful of beets, so they go a long way.