Thursday, April 7, 2011

FitCity: Little Explorers: A Healthy Menu

In September, I blogged about the changes made at my kids’ preschool in regards to having a healthier environment.  Healthier food, more activity.  I promised that I would follow up to see where things were later in the year.  I have- and I’m excited to share some healthy food information!

There is a new cook at the school.  Her name is Caryn Allen.  Caryn has a catering company called Casserollin’ so she is skilled in cooking for groups.  And she is definitely skilled.

When I see the weekly menus, I drool.  I’ve tried suggesting that the leftovers from lunch be packed up and made available as brown bag leftover lunches for parents to buy at the end of the day.  I’ve been there when she is cooking and it smells delicious.  It smells like my mom’s kitchen.  You know that smell?  Real food… comfort food… cooking in the kitchen. 

Here are some examples of the lunches that Caryn serves:
  • Meatloaf, corn, dinner roll, fresh fruit
  • Breakfast burritos (eggs, sauage, cheese in soft shell) with salsa, Hashrounds, fresh fruit
  • Pulled pork BBQ on bun, sweet potato fries, fresh fruit
  • Nachos, salad (lettuce, carrots, tomato), fresh fruit
  • Spaghetti and meatballs, fresh fruit, breadstick
The best part?  Caryn knows how to get veggies into these kids.  She is divinely skilled with spinach.  She adds spinach to the meatballs and the kids never know.  Those nachos?  It’s chips and the meat they dip into is black beans, ground beef, and corn.  When the school celebrated Dr. Seuss and she was tasked with making Green Eggs and Ham, she didn’t use any artificial coloring to create those green eggs.  I was so inspired by her green eggs that I took her idea and created a casserole (I’ll share the recipe in a bit).

According to Caryn, the kids will always eat well (asking for multiple servings) when she serves any kind of breakfast for lunch, BBQ chicken pizza, spaghetti and meatballs (with spinach enriching those meatballs), and tacos or nachos.  Most surprising to her is how much all the kids have come to love caesar salad!  Another observation she’s had is that when a “good” eater sits next to another good eater- they both eat well.  But the picky eaters tend to bring down the borderline eaters to a picky level.  To me, that’s exactly what plays out at home.  When kids have parents and siblings who eat well, eat healthy, try new foods, they are more likely to have a healthier diet and be good eaters.

I had the pleasure of eating lunch with my kids at school recently.  Caryn made teriyaki chicken, teriyaki rice, broccoli, and fresh fruit in a yogurt and honey sauce.  The chicken had pineapple on it.  The yogurt was sweetened and flavored by Caryn.  I cleaned my plate!! 

Caryn has gotten rid of the last items that still contained high fructose corn syrup- she’s even found a Log Cabin pancake syrup that doesn’t contain it!  She is committed to serving fresh fruit- there were 4 fresh pineapples in the kitchen when I spoke with her.  The fruit I had included fresh banana, kiwi, melon. 

I’m pretty picky about what my kids eat.  I’m up front with them about sugary junk versus healthy options.  We talk openly in our house about sugary junk being a rare treat.  We talk about how chicken helps your muscles and cheese helps your bones and carrots help your eyes and so on.  I love knowing that they are served a healthy, balanced meal at school.  I love knowing that the food on that plate is very similar to what I serve the kids at home.

Something really exciting is that Caryn is working with the school’s owner/director, Lori Lorenz, to develop more food into the curriculum in the classroom and in the upcoming summer camp program.  The classrooms have learning play centers and there is talk about incorporating a cooking/food center with a focus on fruits and veggies and healthy foods.  This summer, Caryn wants the kids to learn to make a simple breakfast for their families, to measure water and flour and such, and wants to introduce fun foods like fondue.  (No, grown ups can’t sign up for the camp… yes, I asked.)

The big concern about healthy food is always the money spent.  According to Lori, the spending and savings still hasn’t changed.  She says Caryn is skilled at buying on sale, with coupons, and so on.  She says that there are times Caryn will come in with bags and bags and bags of food and a receipt as long as her arm and the total is practically a drop in the bucket.  It is possible to eat healthy on a budget!

I do believe I promised you a recipe.  This is an adaption of a recipe a friend shared and the tricks Caryn used to green up those eggs.

I used about 3/4 bag of refrigerated hash browns, I bought diced ham and sauteed it with some chopped onion. I put the hash browns in a casserole dish then the onion/ham on top, took a handful of shredded cheese and layered that on the meat. In a blender, I combined 8 eggs, 1/2 cup milk, 2 handfuls of baby spinach, and the meaty green parts of about 4 green onions. Pour over the casserole. Sprinkle some salt and pepper on top and then bake at 350 for about 40 minutes. I took it out and cut into it and it was still watery so cooked it about 10 more minutes.  The casserole fed 2 adults breakfast for a week.  It was super easy and yummy when reheated and with the spinach and eggs, this is a great source of protein, iron, Vitamin A, and calcium.

Special thanks to Little Explorers for letting me be part of the changes made this year!


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