My mother, Mae, was nicknamed "amazing Maezie” in high school, for her many talents, but even in her later years, she could magically pull a meal together with virtually nothing on hand. We couldn't afford to eat out, so she packed food from home and we went on picnics instead. When Dad's salary needed to be stretched, Mom made pancakes or scrambled eggs for supper. I remember one night she opened a can of pineapple rings, a bag of shredded coconut, and a box of raisins and encouraged the six of us to create faces on our pancakes.
On Saturday night, I would help Mom boil water for a Jell-O gelatin salad to be served as a special treat for Sunday dinner. We added fresh raspberries, chopped apples, or finely shredded carrots into various flavors. After church, my sister and I changed our clothes or put on cute homemade aprons. I remember using a hand-crank rotary egg beater to make the whipping cream to top off the Jell-O. My sister, Chrystine, would remind me to not over do it and accidentally create butter. Then I would set the table with our only set of matching dishes and goblets from Mom and Dad's wedding.
My favorite parts of the Sunday atmosphere were one lit candle, classical music on the record player, and relaxed conversations. We were relatively poor, but I felt rich drinking cold, creamy goat milk from our delicate golden goblets and listening to Dad discuss Shakespearian plays.
Mom had overcome asthma and emphysema by avoiding products containing wheat and cow milk. Dad had researched natural health concepts and encouraged us all to embrace them for her sake. She'd quip, "The whiter your bread the quicker you're dead!" Dad provided our own source of wholesome, fresh milk by always having a goat or two. They grew a garden and juiced fresh vegetables, realizing they were a powerhouse of nutrition and life-giving enzymes. Using balance in food, work, and family time - my folks not only raised four successful children, but lived (mentally sharp) into their eighties. I didn't realize it at the time, but my folks were gradually strengthening our family with unity, nutrition, spirituality, and work ethics.
My childhood memories inspired me with my own four daughters. I tried to keep meal times pleasant and creative, while striving for healthy choices, too. Just like mothers of yesteryear, many moms today would love to pull a nutritious meal out of a black magician's hat, but they are busy, tired, and on a budget. I've learned a few tricks that work . . . like magic!
"Hocus pocus" - Get Creative - Sometimes I would gather a couple of small cookie cutters and let my four girls cut various shapes from slices of cheese, bologna, and bread for fun mini sandwiches. It was good for them to learn to find simple joys in "cooking," and they loved eating new shapes. The joke of the day was, "Well, don't bite my head off!" before they gobbled up a snowman or gingerbread man made out of cheese or lunch meat.
"Abra-ca-dabra!" - Trick the Eye - Tweaking the appearance of typical foods can make a difference. We always had fruit available, yet, there it sat. When I'd cut some apples and bananas into chunks and add a few tooth picks, our girls devoured them. Lacey and Holly always relished "stabbing" the fruit with their toothpicks.
"Sleight of Hand" - Distract and Serve - I'm still a real believer in juicing fresh vegetables to help prevent and cure any illness. To give more nutrition to our beautiful Heidi, who has Down syndrome and some autism, I would give her a small cup of carrot juice with a straw while she was focused on her favorite Disney movie. When I made up a green smoothie of healthy powdered nutritional supplements from the health store, I poured it into an opaque sippy cup so she couldn't see its unusual color and refuse it.
"Use the Magic Wand" - Tweak and Transform - Using your knife or special cooking tools you can transform food to be more appealing. Cucumbers cut into coin or flower shapes are more fun. Various shapes can almost instantly be created by an electric salad shooter. Sometimes I would cut cantaloupe with the melon rind still attached and encourage our kids to hold it up to see that it was their "giant smile" as they ate.
Today, my grandchildren like to drink a lot of juice, so I read labels and buy 100% juice. Their Moms offer them creamy (yogurt-like) kefir drinks to give vital probiotics or sometimes make frozen fruit "smoothies" in a blender to sneak in even more nutrition.
"Somethin's fishy with that trick!" - Consider Smells - Some things can turn kids off. When preparing meals involving tuna fish, I would turn on my kitchen vent and crack open a window. Canned tuna fish, mayonnaise, and shredded lettuce spread on Trisket crackers were yummy. A few years ago, after having tests confirm that Heidi (our child with Down syndrome and autism) had abnormally high levels of heavy metals in her system—especially mercury—we really limited our canned tuna fish consumption. Now I substitute it with small cans of chunked chicken.
"Razzle Dazzle 'Em!" - Themed Meals are Fun - My girlfriend recently thought of a fun winter meal for a family luncheon on her daughter's birthday. Shelly called it Snowball Soup. It was a basic potato soup recipe, but her husband used her metal melon ball tool to carve cute little snowballs out of potatoes. It was a hit!
"Presto Change-o!" - Change with the Seasons - Every Easter, we love boiled eggs on our family picnic and comment that we should make them more often. In March, green bell peppers cut horizontally in small slices across the middle can resemble four leaf clovers or shamrocks for St. Patrick's Day. (My girls are more willing to eat green bell peppers with a little ranch dressing or dill dip to jazz it up.) Bonnie, my sister-in-law, does an annual Halloween meal with orange and black foods. (Think pumpkin soup, carrot sticks, black olives, and fresh orange slices.)
"Poof!" - Goofs Happen - Years ago, our oldest, Torey, made a Fourth of July cake like an American flag with a white background, strawberries lined up to make the stripes, and whipped cream peeking through blueberries in one corner representing stars. I suggested she substitute real whipped cream for the sugary white icing. (Too bad there were only two beaters and four girls to lick 'em!) Torey got so excited to put the fruit on, that she didn't drain it and it "ran" a bit. She was embarrassed, but it tasted great, and it was a good learning experience to remember to follow the recipe carefully.
"That Old Black Magic" - Sometimes Old Feels New - Everyone knows from watching old Bugs Bunny cartoons that he loves to eat full-sized carrots with the green part still attached. Our special girl, Heidi, wasn't thrilled about mini carrots and surprised us when she loved chomping on long, skinny (organic) carrots with the green tops still attached. Who knew watching cartoons would pay off?
"Pulling a White Rabbit Out of a Top Hat" - Healthy Substitutes - No one will ever know that you're substituting plain white yogurt for sour cream in veggie dip or other things. It looks and tastes the same but has the live cultures that are vital for your GI tract. Smart moms are replacing traditional greasy French fries with baked sweet potato fries. My girlfriend, Laurie, swears that when she started calling broccoli "Tiny Trees" that was when her children began enjoying it.
"Smoke and Mirrors" - Have Meals Outside - Kids love cooking outdoors at a local camping site or a barbeque in the back yard. But remember, even eating on a blanket on the grass in the fresh air is grounding, and the sunshine is a free and natural source of Vitamin D. With a little planning, a healthier alternative to roasting hot dogs is "Tinfoil Dinners" cooked right in your campfire. Mmm-mmm. Don't forget marshmallows!
"Say the Magic Words" - Manners Matter - Mom, set the example, then insist that your family says "Please, thanks, and you're welcome." They really are magic! (end)
Basic Recipe for Tinfoil Dinners
(Requires adult supervision)
Parents, this fun outdoor activity may be a good way to experience, discuss, and expand on your own Family Emergency Preparedness Plans.
At home: Everyone wash hands. Encourage youngsters mesh in a package of dry onion soup mix into raw hamburger. Divide up and mold into circles, then flatten into patty shapes. Chop carrots, potatoes, and onions. Place some in the middle of a tin foil sheet, and then add the patty on top. (Each serving has a separate piece of tinfoil.) Add some veggies on top of the meat patty. Help children fold into a rectangle and carefully crease shut. Add another layer of foil over the first one for added security.
(If you're traveling to a camp site or will not be cooking it soon, remember your meat is raw, so use a cooler, etc. Bring ketchup for added flavoring.)
Alternative ideas: Omit the onion soup mix and add a spoonful of cream of mushroom or celery soup over the meat/veggies. Or, omit all soups and season it to your preference.
To Pack: Proper BBQ tools like tongs, a turner, and heat-resistant gloves. A small metal shovel is quite helpful. You'll need a lighter or matches and a fuel source (briquettes or wooden logs with old newspaper to get it started.) To extinguishing the fire, take a large jug of water or an empty container if water is available.
When There: Build the fire first, so it can start burning down. Never leave a fire unattended while you unpack, play, or hike. Allow the flames to continue to burn down into coals. Teach your children to use caution, as this process can be very hot. With adult supervision, carefully place the dinners around the fire pit in between the logs. To cook thoroughly, they need some coals on both top and bottom. (Use the shovel for this.) Let them cook for 20-30 minutes (depending on the thickness of your patties and size of veggie chunks). Carefully take out of the coals to check for doneness. Continue cooking, rearrange as needed. When done, lift out, blow off, open up, and let cool. You may transfer it to a paper plate or eat right from the foil (ashes and all!).
Teach children to respect the great outdoors. Always extinguishing your campfire, put trash in its place, and "take" only photographs!
Mom on a Mission