Life Cycle of the Banana

There are two types of banana eaters in this world.  Those who eat them green and those who eat them ripe.  In our household, we make use of bananas over the entire color spectrum.  I buy them so green it makes my teeth hurt just thinking about taking a bite. Jim and Sam will only snack on them at this point.  When they soften and sweeten a bit, provided there are any left, I start slicing them for my morning oatmeal.

Not quite ripe!

Not quite ripe!

Occasionally, a few cross over to the Dark Side.  It’s the only fruit I know of that maintains its usefulness well past its prime. In other words, they blacken to the point of being only fit for mashing and blending. Sliced and frozen they makes terrific faux “ice cream” and “frozen yogurt”.  But ask anyone what to do with old bananas, and I’m fairly certain the answer will be the same.

Banana bread.

Recipes abound, but if you’re trying to shore up nutritional content, you can make a better than average version without a lot of fuss.  One that works equally well served with breakfast, tucked in a lunch box or presented as dessert.

The following recipe came together with the help of an old copy of the cookbook, Laurel’s Kitchen.  It was developed after I had mashed my bananas and before I realized that I was completely out of butter and eggs.

(Healthier) Banana Bread

  • 3 super ripe bananas
  • 1 small lemon, juiced
  • 1/3 cup oil
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour (or a blend with whole wheat pastry flour)
  • 1/2 cup untoasted wheat germ
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon

Mash bananas with lemon juice.

Whip oil and sugar well and mix in banana mixture.

Sift together all dry ingredients.  Then add to wet mixture.

Spoon batter into a small greased loaf pan and bake at 375 degrees for approximately 30 to 35 minutes.  If you slide a knife in the middle and it comes out with only a few crumbs attached, it’s done!

Let completely cool on a rack (if you can wait that long) before slicing.  In the morning it’s good with a schmear of peanut butter or cream cheese.  Just sweet enough.

Good Morning!

Good Morning!

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The Hungry Planet: What the World Eats

When Sam was young, I used to read to him a lot.  All that reading paid off because today he is a voracious reader.  But I miss the good ole days of sitting side by side in bed or on the sofa with a boy curled up against me–begging me to read just one more book, then, when he got a little older, one more chapter.

I recently got a chance to relive some of that closeness with my teenager over a copy of a truly fascinating and beautiful book, The Hungry Planet.  We chanced upon it at our local library and finally, after checking it out multiple times, I decided to purchase our very own copy.

Authors Peter Menzel and Faith D’Aluisio traveled to 24 countries to visit 30 families and showcase each of them surrounded by a visually stunning week’s worth of food.  From a small Himalayan village in Bhutan to an affluent community in Germany.  From Egypt and Australia to Mexico and Chad, we get intimate glimpses into the homes of families around the world.

Each chapter details the lives of families we get to know by name.  With vivid, engaging pictures, we learn about cultures and lifestyles very different from our own. Included are family recipes and country statistics.  Jim, Vegan Man, was interested in life expectancy and meat consumption per person per year.  Sam was hoping I might make some seal stew (fat chance).

Subjects such as malnutrition, obesity, the effects of urbanization and fast food are also discussed in such a way that is enlightening and educational when looking at them from a global perspective.

This is a book that the entire family can enjoy on some level and can lead to pretty great conversations with children of all ages.  Through Amazon the cost of a new copy approaches $30, but there are multiple used copies out there from a number of sellers.  I bought ours for about $10 which included shipping.

This would make a great gift–for your family.  Tuck into a bowl of seal stew (recipe, page 81) and do some “armchair travelling” for the price of a movie ticket.

Seriously?

Seriously?

The Week in Lunch

It’s Friday!  Since I have lunch on the brain, I thought I might send out the pictures I took of Sam’s lunches last week.  Leftovers definitely figured into the equation but so did fresh fruits and vegetables.

Monday Sam had leftover whole wheat pesto pasta with Parmesan cheese, chopped red cabbage, sliced apples and almond butter for dipping.  Aside from a little knife work, there was little to prepare.

Monday

Monday

Tuesday was pizza pockets day: whole wheat pita bread spread with jarred pasta sauce and layered with cheese slices.  I put them on a hot pan to crisp the outside (which keeps them from getting soggy) and melt the cheese inside. If I have spinach, I chop some up and throw it in before putting the pockets over heat. We were out of all fruit except bananas, so in they went with a little cinnamon on top.

Tuesday

Tuesday

Since Tuesday is my shopping day, I was able to stock up on the basics for Wednesday. The menu included an almond and apple butter sandwich on high fiber whole wheat bread, a sliced pear, leftover roasted brussel sprouts and yogurt (the plain variety, flavored at home).

Wednesday

Wednesday

Valentine’s Day fell on Thursday.  Notice the dark chocolate candy?  It’s not a typical lunch box treat but, hey, I never said I was perfect.  Anyway, the day’s entrée was a cheese and avocado quesadilla on a whole wheat tortilla.  Carrots are easy–especially if you buy the ready-to-eat “baby” ones.  And kiwis are great this time of year.  Sam calls them “green strawberries”.

Thursday

Thursday

Friday is pizza day at school.  Sam complains they taste dry this year because they are making them with 100% whole wheat flour.  And yet he still asks for lunch money in the morning.  I’m intrigued.  I think I’ll take a field trip to the school cafeteria to check it out.

I guess the take away message here is that making a healthy lunch is pretty easy and doesn’t have to involve a lot of convenience food.  It’s easier on the wallet and definitely better for growing bodies. It doesn’t have to be fancy. The challenge is getting kids to eat it. Serving healthy foods at home is the first step to getting kids to eat them at school.

What did you send in your child’s lunch today?

The Secret to Packing School Lunch

In a word?  Leftovers.

On occasion, I show glimpses of a type A, “Mother of the Year” persona and whip out lunch box specialties, but honestly, it’s usually about what’s handy.  And what’s at hand is what we ate for dinner the night before.

Soups, spaghetti, grilled chicken, even salad.  It all goes in if I’ve got it in the refrigerator.  If it’s meant to be hot, I might warm it up before packing so it isn’t stone cold.  Sam is happy to eat normally hot foods at room temperature (and so am I).  It’s along the same line as cold pizza.  Sometimes it’s just as good that way.

One family dinner that translates well to school lunch is the slow cooker Hoisin and Ginger Shredded Pork from the Kitchn.  It’s great on so many levels: easy to make (love my crockpot), flavorful and super lunch friendly.

Served over farro with salad and broccoli.

Served over farro with salad and broccoli.

I always sleep easier knowing that lunch is practically made.  And with a whole wheat tortilla, some leftover salad and few sprigs of cilantro, this pork wrap comes together in a minute.

006Add in leftover pan cooked broccoli, a sliced blood orange (Jim brought them home from a colleague’s tree) assorted nuts and, voila, a healthy lunch from home.

The lunch that prepares itself!

The lunch that prepares itself!

Do you send leftovers for lunch?  Which ones pack well for school?

Lunches From Home Less Healthy Than School Cafeteria Food

I’m having a really hard time digesting the latest news from the Children’s Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine.  Even the researchers themselves can’t believe it.

After studying lunches brought from home by 2nd graders in a Texas school district, they concluded that these lunches were less healthy (really?!) than those served up in the school cafeterias.

School cafeterias have, for years, taken their share of abuse for serving unhealthy, over processed foods and mystery meats with few fresh fruits and vegetables.  Images of styrofoam trays laden with an unappetizing array of monotone colored foods come to mind.

The reality, however, looks something like this:

Lunches from home were less likely to contain:

  • fruit  (45.3% vs. 75.9%)
  • vegetables  (13.2% vs. 29.1%)
  • dairy  (41.8% vs.70%)

Lunches from home were more likely to contain:

  • snacks high in sugar and fat  (60% vs. 17.5%)
  • non-100% fruit juice  (47.2% vs. less than 1%)

This is so surprising because in past studies, parents indicated that they could pack healthier lunches than the school would provide.  So what gives?

Researchers suggest that parents worry more about the fact that their kids are eating–not what they’re eating.  It’s true, giving our kids what they want is tempting.  And there are so many convenient prepared foods out there that will do just that and make the lunch assembly process about as easy as pie oatmeal.  But we also want our kids to be healthy. And that starts at home.  It’s our responsibility to teach them healthy habits now that will last a lifetime.

So what to feed them–that’s easy to put together during a morning of lost socks, misplaced homework and sibling squabbles.  Remember Harvard’s Healthy Eating Plate?  The one that shows exactly how much of our plates should be covered by the various food groups?  Just apply that concept to your child’s lunch as well.

healthy-eating-plate-700

Half of a home packed lunch belongs to fruits and vegetables.  A quarter of lunch should be lean protein.  And another quarter is for whole grains.

Does thinking about what to pack make you feel like your brain has been co-opted by an alien being?  Check out 85 Snack Ideas for Kids (and Adults!) from 100 Days of Real Food.  Most of these ideas are simple and easy to prepare–perfect for a lunch box.

Tip:  Let your kids weigh in on deciding what’s packed in their lunch boxes.  Give them a few healthy choices and you’ll have greater buy in.

Does your child bring a lunch from home or eat school lunch?  How does your child’s school cafeteria measure up?

Fresh fruit, tomatoes and cucumber, pizza with whole wheat crust.

Fresh fruit, tomatoes and cucumber, pizza with whole wheat crust.

Make or Buy: Flavored Yogurt

I’m not quite done with the subject of yogurt.  It didn’t feel quite right to cross it off the list of blog topics with just one teensy post about frozen yogurt.  The truth is, we eat a lot more flavored yogurt than frozen yogurt.  And while you can find hundreds of different kinds at the grocery store, much of them contain a scary amount of sugar…and in some cases, thickeners, added colors and preservatives.

Check out the list of ingredients!  This is yogurt?

Check out the list of ingredients! This is yogurt?

  Flavoring plain yogurt at home can make a healthy food even healthier.
018Here’s Sam’s favorite.

Lemon Yogurt

  • 1 cup plain yogurt (preferably low-fat or full-fat for best flavor)
  • zest of half a small lemon, washed well
  • 2 tsp. fresh lemon juice (love those Meyer lemons)
  • 1 T. maple (or agave) syrup
  • 1/4 tsp. vanilla extract

Whip it all together and let rest for a few minutes for flavors to meld.

Another well-loved recipe is a riff on one included in a book I picked up at our library’s used book sale, Fit Kids! The Complete Shape-Up Program from Birth through High School by Kenneth H. Cooper, M.D.

Chocolate Yogurt

  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • 1 T. maple (or agave) syrup
  • 2 tsp. cocoa powder
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Whisk together and let sit for a few minutes for flavors to meld.

Delicious and chocolatey, this makes for a nice after dinner dessert should one be needed.

Another good sweetener is 100% juice concentrate.  Remember that apples made the top of the Dirty Dozen list of most heavily pesticided produce, so buy organic apple juice concentrate.  And, of course, fresh fruit is the very best possible choice of all.

Eat it for breakfast or pack it in a lunch box, have it for a snack or dessert.  Easy enough for the kids to make themselves.  Pretty all around great.  Definitely make.

020

Kale: Get Your Green On!

Most of the time when kale comes up in conversation (like always, right?) people tell me they’ve heard of it but haven’t used it.  And what do you do with it, anyway?  Really I’m still somewhat new to this green, but I’ve quickly become a convert.  Jim planted seeds in last year’s garden, and it grew so well I had a hard time keeping up with it.

Mostly we put it soups and casseroles. I’ve attempted kale chips (yum) and raw kale salad (make sure those leaves are young and tender).  Kale adds color, flavor and mega-nutrition.  But quite possibly my favorite way to eat it is as a simple saute.  I keep it on hand, in the fridge, for use all week.

It’s terrific piled on a sandwich.  Use it in creative lasagna or enchiladas.  Serve it topped with scrambled eggs or just serve it–alongside whatever else you’re having.

Garlicky Kale Greens

  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 2 bunches of kale (about 1 lb.)
  • 2 cloves of garlic (or more if desired)
  • 1 or 2 large tomatoes, chopped (or half a 15 oz. can of chopped tomatoes, more if desired)
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • fresh ground pepper

002Begin by removing the thick kale stems.  There are a couple of methods.  I use a knife to trim the stem out.  Find where the stem starts to get thick near the top of leaf.  At this point, place your knife close to the stem and slide downward, separating the leaf from the stem.  Do this on both sides.  Then chop the stem away at the top.

006

Alternatively, you can simply rip the leaf away on each side of the stem with your hands. I tried it this way.  It works, but as a creature of habit, I went back to my knife method before I finished.  It’s a matter of preference.

With so much kale, I find it easier to divide and conquer.  I chop only half at a time.  Place half of the kale in a pile lengthwise in front of you.  Cut crosswise in approximately 1/2″ strips.  Then cut the opposite direction.  And yes, I use the largest chef knife I have!

010Prep the other ingredients.  Chop the tomato (or use canned).  I like the garlic sliced thinly, but you could certainly mince or put it through a press.

017Film a large skillet with olive oil.  Heat to medium and put in half the kale.  Use a wooden spoon to carefully mix the kale and the olive oil.  It’s going to seem like quite a bit, but it will cook down considerably.  Now add the second half and do the same thing.  Toss on the garlic and mix again.

After a minute, add tomatoes and season with salt and pepper.  Mix well and cover.  Turn heat down to low and cook for 20 to 30 minutes.  You want the greens very tender.

023

Check the seasoning.  I’ve also made this with thinly sliced onion.  Put it in the pan and saute for 5 to 10 minutes before adding kale.  And fresh herbs make a nice addition.  Try finely chopped rosemary or some oregano or thyme.  A splash of fresh lemon juice to brighten or a little white wine could be nice too.  We’re straying into improv cooking waters. Lots of possibilities.  Go Green!

005

Pita pocket stuffed with hummus and garlicky kale for lunch.