Fish & Chips

by Lisa

In keeping with the fast and easy snack theme, here’s quick little recipe I found in last month’s Sunset Magazine, though I can’t seem to find it online.

These are great with drinks for a pre-dinner snack, or a party appetizer, or side dish for a substantial salad, or just because. The kids liked them, but we saved them for ourselves.

Salt & Pepper potato chips, topped with smoked salmon, greek-style yogurt, snipped chives

Snacks, disguised

by Lisa

You know the moment: dinner is not quite ready but the kids are starving. You don’t want to give them a snack because that would ruin everything. What do you do?

First, I enlist them. Even Finn, at 5, is old enough to set the table. And if they know that I’ll get dinner on the table more quickly, they’re glad to help out. And I, of course, am glad for the help.

Then, I find something fast and healthy and good-looking to give them that won’t ruin dinner. I make them sit down at the place they just set and enjoy it, their precursor to dinner. In other words, they get a kid’s appetizer. These days, it’s often a tomato surprise, but what I serve depends on the season (what’s fresh and ready-to-go?) and the dinner plan. Pulling a side dish from your menu and serving it first can sate your kids’ hunger and also create that sense of ceremony and specialness that comes with eating in courses.  They have to slow down to eat, they eat one thing at a time, they feel like they’re getting a treat, or something special, and most important your meal isn’t hijacked by little ravenous appetites, (and theirs) isn’t ruined.

I think it’s important that it look good, so it feels like the beginning of dinner, not something you threw to the zoo animals. Also, it should be very, very simple. For instance, last week, they got a cute dish of sugar snaps, and a small slice of bread with fresh mozzarella drizzled with olive oil and a little salt.

For an added treat, I put a splash of homemade (by Ella) lemonade in their bubbly water and added a garnish of lime. They have a thing about limes.

Snacks, On Foraging

by Lisa

Basically, I find snacks overrated.  When Ella, especially, was really young, I rarely gave her those mid-morning and mid-afternoon snacks, mostly because then she wouldn’t eat her meals.   Over the years, I’ve found that the best way to ensure my kids eat a healthy lunch (or dinner) is to minimize what I feed them in between meals.  Of course, since I rarely say “never”, they have certainly eaten snacks at playgroup, and on those few mornings they attended preschool, and I did bring fruit and small things like rice crackers to parks, etc., but “snack time” was not a regular part of our routine.   Now, they rarely snack on  a regular basis, although we did have the cake + milk routine for a while,  Sometimes, when Ella has a early soccer or softball practice, we make a small, quick smoothie before she heads out the door.  But just as often, we don’t snack after school.

This, of course, doesn’t keep Finn from asking for food when he’s home with me, and I still don’t want to feed him things that will kill his appetite for lunch. Nor does it keep him from foraging for whatever he can find to satisfy his sweet tooth.  But I want to teach him to eat in moderation, and to eat (mostly) healthy things. So I keep some crackers in the house, but on shelf that the kids can’t reach  without climbing, and most of the time, our cookie selection is embarrassingly poor. I often hide the my chocolate bar, so the husband doesn’t eat it all at once–and for the most part, we eat everything, slowly, in small amounts. For instance, the kids’ chocolate Easter Bunnies?  Still sitting in a bowl on our hutch. The Halloween candy rarely gets eaten in total, & the same goes for the Valentine’s day candy.  Certainly, I have found both of them, high on the shelves in our pantry, pulling down the peanut butter crackers. And I have found a mysterious hole in the marshmallow bag and 1/2 the contents missing.  (For which they also must scale the pantry shelves, which was entirely Finn’s doing.) And I did discover both of them, huddled behind the pantry door a year ago, eating raw oats.  (Really, I do feed them. ) But mostly, they’re good about asking. I think.

All of this is to say that my philosophy is to keep a good range of  mostly healthy stuff within reach of the kids, so when Finn (or Ella) goes foraging, they have a range of things to choose from, but none of them are really going to ruin the next meal.  We always have:  cheeses, nuts, dried & frozen fruit, lots and lots of fresh fruit and vegetables (carrots and ranch or thousand island dressing is really popular when we have it). Whatever’s in season stays out on the table.  (I am waiting impatiently for those cherries….)  They take oranges off our tree in the winter, and tomatoes off the plants in the summer.  Sometimes we have yogurt.  The upshot is that they get the power to make decisions, & I can give them some freedom. So, yesterday, when Finn came out of the pantry with a bag of peanuts and another of almonds, I was happy to supply the remainder of the bag of raisins and dried cranberries and the rest of the pistachios:

I let him mix away.

And he munched happily.

Then we played marbles.  And ate more peanuts.

Tomato Surprise

By Lisa

This side dish/appetizer is so easy that it would be dumb–if it weren’t so cute. It came about one day last spring, when I was looking for a really fast, mess-free, new way to serve the fresh tomatoes the kids eat every day when they’re in season. Marginally decent tomatoes are just beginning to make their way into our market, so the Tomato Surprise has made it’s way back to our dinner table.

The idea is simple:  sprinkle a  little salt in a small, shallow dish, pour in about a tablespoon of olive oil and splash or two of  balsamic vinegar.  Cut a tomato in half, then in quarters, then put one half the tomato in the dish (you can see how this is a snap for 2 kids). Tuck a basil leaf (or mint, or cilantro, something fresh and spare-looking) and serve. The “surprise” is that the dressing is under the tomato. For some reason, my kids think this is one of the best things ever. They eat it nearly every day as a quick appetizer, or sometimes even for snack or lunch.  I like it because it’s neat and, obviously, healthy. The food looks like what it is, but with a little flair.  As I’ve suggested before, when it comes to food, looks matter.   If you like, you can experiment and make an inverted caprese by putting a thin, quartered layer of mozzarella under the tomato.

Thousand Island Dressing

by Lisa

It’s a snack food, a packable lunch dish, a side dish, an appetizer, an all around helpful thing to have in your kitchen. It’s lightening fast to make. It’s completely addictive.  It’s a way of getting your kids to eat more raw vegetables.  And even you won’t be able to stop eating it with salads, with crudite, for lunch, before dinner, after school. Even if you don’t like the bottled stuff, try this.  There’s no comparison. And there’s nothing like having a big batch of something healthy to pull out and feed the kids when they’re begging for food and dinner isn’t quite ready.

I dug up this recipe a few years ago, and while we don’t always have it the refrigerator, it’s the kind of thing that the kids suddenly remember and beg for. Last week it was Finn’s turn to remember that “pink dipping sauce” and so I made it. I had half a head of iceberg lettuce in the refrigerator, left over from fish tacos the night before, and we whipped up a batch of dressing, and it has lasted us all week.   I served it to them first over wedges of lettuce, which Finn thought was just about the best thing ever.

The recipe makes a lot, but it keeps really well (even gets better as the flavors blend), so we portion it out all week long, mostly with carrots and celery, which I precut and keep in the refrigerator.

The original recipe is here. My only change is to substitute ketchup for chili sauce and add a dash of tabasco (or more or less to your taste).  I usually don’t have pimentos, so I often leave them out, but when I’m short on pickles I’ve thrown in a few pimento  stuffed olives; you can leave out the egg, but it’s much better with it in.

Homemade Thousand Island dressing

  • 1 1/4 cups mayonnaise
  • 1/3 cup ketchup
  • 1/4 cup chopped drained pimiento
  • 1 large hard-boiled egg, shelled, finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped dill pickle
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons drained capers
  • 2 tablespoons chopped green onion
  • Tabasco or other Hot pepper sauce