Category Archives: food

What’s For Dinner: Whole-Wheat Buttermilk Pancakes

My kids love pancakes, and they do make a cheap meal. However, when I make pancakes from a mix I feel like I’m feeding us empty calories, and I often feel sick after eating them. My husband feels sick enough that he usually won’t eat them.

Twitter friend Stephanie Stricklen recommends Bob’s Red Mill 10-Grain Pancake and Waffle Mix, and I have every intention of trying it at some point. But in the meantime, and in the interest of the family budget, I decided to try from-scratch whole-wheat pancakes.

I adapted this recipe from Cooking Light; I doubled it and added cinnamon and vanilla. The pancakes were delicious. They were light, fluffy and flavorful. The kids devoured them, although the eldest (13) suddenly developed an aversion to the flavor after I mentioned the whole wheat. This was after she’d taken a second helping, though.

The leftover pancakes will go into lunches tomorrow, with toppings. I got this idea from 100 Days of Real Food, where Lisa Leake often packs leftover pancakes and waffles for her kids.

Whole Wheat Buttermilk Pancakes
makes about 32 4-inch pancakes

1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/12 cup whole wheat flour

1/3 cup sugar

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

3 cups low-fat buttermilk (or use 2 3/4 cup milk w/ 3 tablespoons of lemon juice or vinegar)

2 tablespoon vegetable oil

3 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Combine all dry ingredients in a large bowl, stirring with a whisk. In a medium bowl, combine buttermilk, oil, eggs and vanilla, stirring with a whisk.  Add liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients, stirring just until moist (batter will be lumpy).

Heat a nonstick griddle or skillet over medium heat (I use an electric griddle at 350 degrees). Grease it with butter or cooking spray. Spoon about 1/4 cup batter per pancake onto griddle. Turn pancakes over when tops are covered with bubbles and edges look cooked. Serve with syrup and butter. Or applesauce and jam. Peanut butter and bananas!


Will Kids Eat Healthy Food?

As a school employee, I get to take my turn at cafeteria duty every day. It’s not much fun, but I do get to see what kids do and do not eat. Over the past few years, I’ve seen good progress toward healthier school meals. Our food service department has been cutting back on packaged junk-type foods, increasing fruits and vegetables, and adding a variety of local fruits and vegetables.

And this year, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) changed its requirements for school lunches.

The final standards make the same kinds of practical changes that many parents are already encouraging at home, including:

  • Ensuring students are offered both fruits and vegetables every day of the week; • Substantially increasing offerings of whole grain-rich foods;
  • Offering only fat-free or low-fat milk varieties;
  • Limiting calories based on the age of children being served to ensure proper portion size; and
  • Increasing the focus on reducing the amounts of saturated fat, trans fats and sodium.

So far this year, I’ve noticed that a packaged dried fruit mix is being served with most lunches, and that only unflavored milk (2% or fat-free) is offered. The fresh, local fruits and vegetables are continuing to be offered in the variety bar (kids choose which items they want). The entrees appear to be the same as before, and I haven’t noticed portion sizes shrinking.

However, there are reports, like this one in the New York Times, of trouble in other school districts, especially at the high school level. Students don’t want to eat fruits and vegetables, and they feel they’re not getting enough to eat.

I don’t doubt these reports. Teens are hungry, and they love junk food. But the schools are required to offer them a minimum of 750 calories as lunch, so they’re not starving, either. I don’t know. I don’t have a teen yet, and I don’t have boys, who I understand will eat several times their weight in food. Maybe the teen meals do need some adjustment.

The other issue being reported is food waste — students are simply throwing out the fruits and vegetables. There’s a picture with the NYT article of a garbage can full of foam trays (yuck) containing leftover vegetables, which is supposed to illustrate this.

Here’s my take on food waste:

Yes, some kids will throw away the vegetables. That’s just how it is. However, I’ve also seen kids taking and eating fresh spinach, asparagus and watermelon – even when they didn’t know what was until that very moment. NOBODY eats the waterlogged canned spinach. The dried fruit mix has taken some time to be accepted. But the fruits and vegetables are being eaten by at least some kids.

Also, many kids over-fill their trays. So even if they ate some fruits and vegetables, there are a lot left on the tray. We try to monitor and discourage this, but since they serve themselves, and we can’t watch every kid 100% of the time, it still happens.

So at the elementary level, I think it’s working. And maybe when these kids are in middle and high school, there won’t be so many complaints.

If Life Gives You Lemons, Make…Baked Beans?

I didn’t grow lemons. I grew tomatoes. And I made lots of them into tomato jam, thinking I would give it away as gifts.

However, this year the jam did not set! I don’t know why – perhaps I used the wrong pectin? Or the wrong variety of tomatoes? At any rate, I didn’t give the tomato syrup away (for the most part – I think I gave some to Melody anyway, because they are CRAZY for it). I gave away the strawberry jam, the raspberry jam, and the salsa, and left the tomato jam in the giant metal filing cabinet where we store the home-canned goods and empty jars.

So what to do with it? I used some on English muffins, like I did last year, but it really didn’t work well.

Then, one day, I decided to make baked beans. And I didn’t have enough ketchup for the recipe, so I used tomato jam instead. It was delicious! So I laid in a supply of canned navy beans, and we’ve had baked beans several times since. You could probably make a decent barbecue sauce out of it as well.

Tomatoey Baked Beans

  • 3 15-ounce cans navy beans or other white beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 8-ounce jar of tomato jam
  • Molasses
  • Ketchup
  • Yellow Mustard
  • Chopped onion
  • Bacon (cooked and crumbled/chopped) or hot dogs or other meat product if desired

Preheat oven to 425°F.

In the bottom of a baking dish (I use a round pyrex thingy), mix together the tomato jam, a drizzle of molasses, a drizzle of ketchup, and a smaller drizzle of yellow mustard. Yes, I said drizzle. I make a loose spiral around the dish, starting in the center. Adjust the amounts to your taste.

Add the chopped onions, beans, and meat if desired. Mix well. Place in oven and bake for 30 minutes (mixture should be bubbly and meat should be heated through).

You could also make this in a slow cooker, or turn the oven down and cook it longer. I haven’t tried this yet – I’m more the “it’s 5:30 and I have to make dinner, STAT!” type.

Dollars for Decent Food

One of my colleagues handed out prizes at school recently, saying, “…and if it breaks before you go home today, well, it’s a dollar store prize.”

And that’s a lot of what you find at the dollar store (Dollar Tree in our case) — cheap plastic toys that don’t last long. So why do we keep going there? Well, this time it was because the kids wanted to spend their allowances. Thankfully, they did make some good choices — bubbles for blowing, crayons, a perfectly good water bottle.

I got some supplies for our Girl Scout meeting (you can get cheap craft supplies and school supplies at Dollar Tree, although quality may vary). But I also did much of our grocery shopping for the week!

What?! That doesn’t sound like a recipe for finding decent, sustainably produced foods, right? Well, it’s not like shopping at the farmers’ market or Whole Foods, of course. But I can’t afford Whole Foods right now, and the farmers’ market isn’t open yet anyway. So I looked around for some of the basic items we needed for the week and found: snack crackers, graham crackers, pretzels, tortillas, jam, hot dogs, shredded cheese, chicken pot pies (the husband eats them for lunch), and cornbread mix.

No, that isn’t a lot — but we didn’t need a lot, because we have a fairly full pantry right now due to ordering canned and dry items from Azure Standard. And it’s definitely not organic health food, but these are the same things I would have bought at a regular grocery store anyway. I do buy meat and eggs from local farmers, and I often buy organic veggies, but I don’t buy organic everything, and I do get moderate amount of moderately junky stuff like snack crackers.

The jam is the one thing I normally wouldn’t have bought, and felt rather guilty about — it’s basically flavored sugar goop, not real jam, and I’m usually a little more careful about that.

As a bonus, the cornbread mix was from Marie Callendar’s, and it’s something I haven’t seen at our regular grocery stores for a while.

It’s not something I’d want to do every week, but by shopping at Dollar Tree, I saved money as well as some time (because we were going there anyway). Both of those are good for my sanity.

What’s your experience shopping at dollar stores? Ever find anything really exciting?

Low-Meat Eco-Challenge

As I mentioned in my last post, I’m challenging myself to eat me no more that two times per week for two weeks. Well, the next day, my wonderful husband brought home a pizza for lunch. With meat. And I had some pizza for lunch and then again for breakfast today. So I’ve already blown my two helpings of meat for this week! But I have a plan.

Yesterday, I served my family chicken burgers, and I had a Boca “chicken” burger. So that was easy.

I’m eating Weight Watchers Smart Ones meals for lunch, so I just picked meatless meals: Santa Fe rice and beans, pasta with veggie sauce, spinach lasagna.

I don’t normally eat meat with breakfast.

Tonight’s dinner was veggie chow mein. I used onions, carrots, broccoli slaw, a very small amount of fresh broccoli, zucchini and napa cabbage in it. No one even asked whether there was any meat in it, so I’m counting it as a success!

Also on this week’s menu: spinach ravioli with marinara sauce, bean burritos, scrambled eggs with potatoes and something yet to be determined that will be prepared and eaten while camping this weekend.

And thinking about all that? I’m not feeling deprived at all.

Weight Loss Woes

We just had a delicious, spicy, homemade pad thai for dinner. The combination of chicken, rice noodles, sauce and fresh veggies was so good that I gobbled a second serving as well. And my mouth and brain wanted more, but my tummy is so full I can hardly move.

Eating good food feels sooooo good. But chasing that feeling is also sabotaging my weight loss goals.

I’ve been losing weight for a little over a year now. I started on my own, and then started Weight Watchers when we were offered free meetings at work. That first year of Weight Watchers went quite well, although perhaps a little slowly. I didn’t always stick to my point limits, but I did (mostly) cut out regular soda, fast food, and convenience store breakfasts. I added more fresh fruits and veggies to our menus. I started choosing the turkey sausage and other lower-fat products. I continued riding my bike to work, and added some crunches and yoga here and there, along with some longer bike rides. The weight came off, and I reached my ten percent weight loss target over the summer.

Since then, however, I’ve been bobbing up and down right around that ten percent target number. I’m not really getting anywhere. Part of that is probably the stress of starting a new school year, both on the job and with my own kids. But it’s also that weight loss is getting a little harder for me. I took off the easy weight. If I want to take off more, I’m going to have to work a little harder. I need to work on portion control and just eating less each day, and I need to add a little more exercise. And I need to make it a lifestyle change, so that I won’t just start bingeing again.

And THAT is hard. It’s hard for me to resist the euphoria of good eating. And sometimes, I just plain feel hungry when I eat less. I get a little of both.

I know the usual suggestions:

  • Do something besides eating that makes you feel good.
  • Plan healthy snacks so you won’t get hungry.
  • Eat more protein and fewer carbs.
  • Drink more water.

Sometimes those things work. Sometimes they don’t. The hardest part is the “do something besides eating.” I haven’t found anything that really works.

I’m going to keep plugging away, though. I’ve committed to tracking my food and activity this week, which I’ve been slacking off on, so I’ll be able to see what I’m really doing.