Our Favorite Picture Books About Eating and Food

If you’re anything like me, you’ve had enough of cooking and serving food to last a while. Even when it comes to simple and healthy little snacks, I’m taking a break.

Snack time around here has been devoted to eating the 17 million granola bars sitting around the house. Also, we might be trapped under a pile of  apple chips soon because I found it impossible to walk away from the cheap bags of “applesauce” apples from Bushy Hill Orchard. And thank goodness for clementines which have been a bright spot in our snacking repertoire.

This week, in the name of taking a break from cooking, I’m posting a list of children’s picture books about eating and food instead of a snack recipe. These are our current favorites:

1. Bread and Jam for Francesby Russel Hoban

The rest of this list is in no particular order. But this book is number one for a reason.

2. I Can’t Said the Ant by Polly Cameron

Everyday kitchen objects and foods cheer on a heroic ant who comes to the aid of a broken teapot. Fabulous rhyming.

3. The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle

We all love a good caterpillar story and this is one of the best.

4. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs by Judi Barrett

Brilliant illustrations and a great story make us all smile every time we read it.

 5. Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Suess

The pacing of this story is extremely energetic and fun. A great reminder to never stop laughing and never give up when it comes to trying new foods.

6. Scrambled Eggs Super by Dr. Suess

A boy flamboyantly searches the world for the ultimate gourmet egg.

7. Bee-bim Bop by Linda Sue Park

Fantastic rhythm. Complete with a detailed recipe.

8. Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey

This summer, my youngest put Sal to shame in the blueberry patch.

9. Mean Soup by Besty Everitt

Anger management via soup-making.

10. A Bad Case of Stripes by David Shannon

A little girl denies her love of lima beans and pays dearly.

11. Chewy Louie by Howie Schneider

A puppy literally eats his way through his new home. Joyously goofy.

12. The Incredible Book-Eating Boy by Oliver Jeffers

A hilarious and beautifully illustrated tale of a boy that decides to get smart the easy way.

13. The Gingerbread Man retold by Jim Aylesworth

Food on the run is always fun. See #16 as well.

14. The Little Mouse, The Red Ripe Strawberry, and The Big Hungry Bear by Don Wood

A little mouse is convinced a bear is after his precious strawberry and will do anything to save it.

15. There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Fly retold by Simms Taback

I listened to this song a great deal as a child and now I get to enjoy it again with my kids. The amusing illustrations are a definite bonus.

16. Stop That Pickle! by Peter Armour

A hilarious tale of a crafty pickle on the run. Wonderfully goofy.

Easy Healthy Birthday Party Snacks

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My eldest just had her seventh birthday party and it was a blast. For pre-cake munching we offered the kids chocolate-dipped strawberries, fruit kebabs, and cheese pinwheels. The strawberries were the most popular by far. Next time I’ll just make 300 of those and call it a day.

The cheese pinwheels were the least popular, but I’ll offer you the recipe anyway. I’ve got to put some sort of variety out there just so I can say I tried. The adults were more than happy to pick up the slack and graze away.

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Cheese Pinwheel Recipe

4 ounces cream cheese
1 cup shredded orange sharp cheddar cheese
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1 sliced loaf soft whole wheat bread

In a small bowl, mix together the cream cheese, cheddar cheese, mayonnaise, salt, and garlic powder. Set aside.

Cut the crust off of a slice of bread and flatten it with a rolling pin. Spread 1 tablespoon of the cheese mixture on the flattened bread. Roll up the bread and wipe off any excess cheese. With the seam side down, slice the roll into 1-inch rounds (with a small serrated knife if you have it). Store covered in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

Yield: 70 pinwheels
Prep-time: 20 minutes

 

[donotprint]By the way, the cake was a HUGE hit.

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Cheese Stromboli (Pizza Pinwheels)

I finally got my hands on more of my husband’s pizza dough*. I told him I was thinking of doing pinwheels and he said, “Those are called Strombolis.” What a great name! Now I really had to make them.

My favorite part of the strombolis is the underneath where all of the cheesy saucy goodness has melted together.

Cheese Stromboli Recipe

 

1 pound pizza dough*
1 1/2 tablespoon non-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup pizza sauce (I used Trader Joe’s)
1/3 cup shredded mild cheddar cheese
1/3 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.

Allow the dough to come close to room temperature so that it is easy to work with. Keep it covered. If you have some good dough on your hands, you should try tossing it. Otherwise, use a rolling pin to create 14 – 16 inch circle.

Place the dough on a lightly floured surface. Spread on the olive oil then the sauce and cheese. Gently roll up the dough and slice it with a sharp knife into 2-inch segments. Gently reshape the segments into circles and place swirl side up on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Make sure that the circles are 2 to 3 inches apart.

Bake for 8 minutes or until the dough starts to brown. Allow the stromboli to cool for a few minutes on the baking sheet. Serve or transfer to a cooling rack. The stromboli can be frozen in an airtight container for up to a month.

Yield: 10 stromboli
Prep-time: 15 minutes
Bake-time: 10 minutes

*Note: For this recipe I recommend store-bought pizza dough unless you are already accustomed to making your own. My local Whole Foods has some nice whole wheat dough in the freezer case. Alternately, you could try asking your favorite pizza parlour if they would sell you some of their dough.

Feed Me Something New!

It has recently become commonplace for my 4-year-old to say at snack time, “I want something new that I’ve never had before!”

Really. I’m not kidding. She says it all the time. It started several months ago after she had become accustomed to being subjected to my snack experiments on a regular basis.

I started blogging in March of 2009. Save a few favorites that have made repeat appearances, my kids have been continuously exposed to new foods for a year and a half. During this time, I’ve become increasingly daring and have gathered a vast arsenal of secret weapons.

My kids are an integral part of the snack development process. They are learning to appreciate new (and old) foods just like I am. And it seems like once we established our own little kitchen subculture, they have become delighted to try new foods. Granted, the level of delight increases exponentially when sprinkles or marshmallows are involved and it also helps if they’re starving…but still.

The trick is that I started preparing snacks with the blog in mind as much as my kids. Experimentation is the rule of the day. Good or bad, I keep moving, learning, and thinking about new ways to make happy and healthy snacks. The end result is that my kids are being exposed to new foods and preparations all the time. And more importantly, I’m not necessarily catering to what I believe to be their likes and dislikes. Occasionally, their reaction to a snack is nowhere near what I would have predicted.

I don’t think my kids’ taste buds are much different than most. Before I started bombarding her with all kinds of new snacks, my four-year-old was well on her way to being labeled as “picky”. Even now only beige or white foods will cross her lips for what seems like days. Even so, she’s willing to try new foods.

If you’re wishing your kids were more open to trying new foods, you could turn your snack regime on its head for a week or preferably a month. Try not to repeat the same thing twice in a week. Make novelty the rule and banish predictability and monotony. It sounds like a lot of work, but aside from the intial adjustment to your routine, it doesn’t have to be. Watching my own children get excited about preparing and tasting new foods has been extremely rewarding.

If you asked my kids directly, they’d probably tell you that they sometimes wish their mom would let them eat a bunch of cookies or potato chips for snack. And to that I say, “Sure, we’ll do that sometime soon…but first let’s taste this thing I made today…”

Snack baggies

The latest tool in my snacking arsenal is probably one most other families are already familiar with: snack-sized plastic baggies. I’ve had a box of these (that I bought by accident) sitting in my cupboard for quite a while. Usually, I use the larger sandwich-sized bags. Why? Well, I guess because I like to pack more snack than is necessary just in case.

But I’ve recently begun to realize that a little more portion control might be a very good thing for my family. I love the size of these snack bags. They keep me in check and my kids are much less likely to overeat at snack time. It’s beautiful.

Out of the Bubble

Yesterday afternoon, we pulled into a rest stop in central Massachusetts and were greeted by a Ronald McDonald flanked by American flags.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have much time to look down my nose at this unintentional commentary on the state of America. The fact is that our car contained a rather impressive collection of  highly processed “foods” – all of which we’d been happily ingesting for the past few hours. The rest of the way home I started to seriously wonder why we do this.

My family has developed an unwritten rule as of late that when we go for long trips in the car, the junk food flood gates are happily opened. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this family tradition has kicked into high gear since our diet has improved at home. Mom and Dad love the chance to revisit the unbridled days of high sugar, high fat, and high salt. And of course the kids are more than happy to join us.

I guess this would be fine if I didn’t already have school lunch, birthdays, kids’ menus at restaurants, holidays, and all the other “treats” that my family is bombarded with to take into account. More importantly, I worry about the binge mentality that we are modeling for our children. And while it tastes good at first, this stuff is really gross and deeply unsatisfying. 

Obviously, we’ll need to cut back on the next trip. I could even devote hours to making fantastic yet healthy treats that rival store-bought snacks. But I doubt I will. This “food” is a part of the world we live in and in small amounts is no big deal.

The real problem is being forced to acknowledge how fragile the healthy food environment I’m trying to build at home is. Are we ever going to be able to coexist peacefully with junk food when we move outside of our little bubble? Are we ever going to be disciplined enough to sample unhealthy foods  moderately?

Better yet, could there ever be a day when we pull into a rest stop and be greeted by a parade of dancing fruits and vegetables? That’s something I’d be more than happy to mount our flag next to.

We Are What We Feed Our Children?

Recently, I read Peggy Orenstein’s article The Fat Trap on the New York Times’ website. Here’s part of the opening paragraph of The Fat Trap:

Food is never just food. Food is love. Food is solace. It is politics. It is religion. And if that’s not enough to heap on your dinner plate each night, food is also, especially for mothers, the instant-read measure of our parenting. We are not only what we eat, we are what we feed our children.

Not only what we feed them, but how much we feed them. According to the article, ‘good’ parents these days are expected to have normal-weight kids. An overweight child, especially a girl, is viewed as a failure. Reading this floors me. It’s true, but I don’t want it to be, especially in my own psyche. I hate hate hate to admit it, but a lot of the worry I have over my daughter’s health is centered around how others see her and me as a result. I never wanted to be this kind of parent. But is it possible not to be?

Another thing about the article that hit home for me was the unrelenting internal dialogue Orenstein describes that includes eating, social pressures to grow your own organic carrots, body image, and being a model for her daughter. Just reading about the fact that someone else is conducting this balancing act blew my mind.

I’ve never put it into words before, but I try to be thoughtful about the way I approach food in front of my girls in a lot of the same ways Orenstein does. I never talk about growing food organically, but I do make it a point to enjoy my broccoli as well as my ice cream. I try to stay away from my own body image completely. But with the girls I soak up and point out their beauty and strength as often as I can.

Have any of you out there read Orenstein’s article? Reactions? Thoughts?

Rice and Egg Bowl

Whenever I wake up and stop blogging my life away, I’m going to have to start stalking John Thorne. He’s a food writer that apparently lives only an hour north of me in Northampton, Massachusetts. One of his books, Mouth Wide Open, contains a recipe for Stirred Egg Rice Bowl. Thorne mentions that this type of dish is popular in China, especially for children or the infirm.

This recipe is adapted from Thorne’s only slightly – can’t mess with perfection. I made some attempts to adapt the recipe using brown rice, but it didn’t compare.

1 scant cup water
Pinch salt
Heaping 1/2 cup long grain white rice
2 large eggs, beaten
1 scallion, trimmed and chopped fine
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
Drizzle of soy sauce or oyster sauce, for garnish (optional)

In a small saucepan, bring the water to a boil. Add the rice and turn the heat to low. Cover the pan and allow to cook for 13 minutes.

While the rice is cooking, stir together the eggs, scallion, sesame oil, and rice wine in a small bowl. At the end of the 13 minutes, pour the egg mixture over the rice. Place a folded cloth napkin or dish towel over the saucepan with the lid on top to hold it in place. Cook over low heat for 2 more minutes. Then remove from heat and allow to sit with cover and towel on for 15 minutes.

Stir the egg into the rice and be sure it is adequately cooked. Stirring it usually takes care of any questionable bits of egg by exposing them to just a little bit more heat. Transfer to serving bowl(s) and garnish with soy sauce or oyster sauce, if desired. Serve warm.

Note: Thorne’s favorite soy sauce is this Dark Soy Sauce from Pearl River Bridge. I’m not a soy sauce aficionado, but this is definitely a world apart from Kikkoman. I found it at an Asian grocery store.

Yield: 1 1/2 cups
Prep-time: 10 minutes
Cook-time: 30 minutes

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Cucumber Sandwiches

I haven’t actually tasted one of these. My kids will not share! Selfish little monkeys! But I guess that is that best indicator of all that they are a kid-friendly snack. We’ve got a thing for cucumbers dosed in vinegar at our house though. I imagine it’s not a such a thrill for most families. Still, you never know…

The recipe is adapted from one I found in The New York Times Cookbook. I think proper finger sandwiches are supposed to be wrapped in plastic wrap and refrigerated for a while, but I opted not to.

1/4 – 1/3 of a medium cucumber (preferably European Greenhouse), peeled and sliced
White vinegar
Salt and Pepper
4 slices of whole grain bread
Butter for spreading

Place the cucumbers in a small bowl, pour over enough white vinegar so that they are well coated. A bit of extra vinegar at the bottom of the bowl is fine. Sprinkle on a little bit of salt and pepper to taste and stir to coat. Allow the cucumbers to sit for five or ten minutes.

Prepare the bread slices by spreading on a thin layer of butter to coat one side of each slice. Shake any excess vinegar off of the cucumber slices and arrange them on two of the bread slices, overlapping slightly or in two layers. Top with another slice of bread. Cut off the crusts. Cut into quarters, preferably triangles, and serve.

Yield: 8 finger sandwiches 
Prep-time: 5 – 10 minutes

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Latest Favorite Kitchen Tools

Here are some tools we are digging these days:

Egg Beater!
It just occured to me that our lives were not complete until we had one of these. When I showed it to my husband he said, “Oh yeah, that was always my job as a kid”. No matter how hard I try, it seems to be too early to teach my kids how to whisk properly; something about that tricky movement of the wrist. Problem solved.

Rainbow Whisk!
I bought this on a whim a while ago and it has proven itself to be a star player in all our baking. We use it exclusively to mix up dry ingredients, but my preschooler just looooves it. It starts all our baking off on a very happy note.

Rolling Pin Bands.
This one is for me more than the kids. These bands allow me to freak out a little bit less about the uneven pressure my kids exert with the rolling pin. The sizes include 1/16″, 1/8″, 1/4″, and 1/2″.