Friday, August 9, 2013

School Snacks, A Frustrated Mother's Rant

As most who read my blog know, I have been busy making sure that my kiddos have great home made snacks for school. Since school began I have had 2 complaints to my princess that the fruit roll ups are too sticky and sticky foods aren't to be brought, that was easily rectified with me sending baby wipes so she could wipe her hands and table when done. Yesterday my son came home and informed me that he wasn't allowed to eat his snack because it had too much sugar. To be fair, since then (and after a long ranting e-mail to his teacher) his teacher has contacted me and said she thought his cinnamon glazed popcorn was caramel corn. My son didn't argue when the teacher told him he couldn't eat it, yes that made me happy that he wasn't arguing, and so she didn't realize it was homemade and healthy. He wasn't allowed to eat his 100 Days of Real Food Cinnamon Glazed Popcorn because it looked like caramel popcorn. I have to say that the teachers my kiddos have are wonderful, and unfortunately she was just enforcing school policy. I asked my son what other children were bringing for snack and couldn't believe that his popcorn could be seen as worse than pop tarts, Taki's (a seasoned corn chip like product), store bought fruit roll ups, fruit gummy snacks and then some fresh fruits and healthier things. 

Since when did I have to fight about the snacks my kiddos bring to school? I have plenty of "epic fail" moments of a parent, but snacks generally aren't one of those. I don't complain when other kiddos bring the above listed snacks, I don't point out how they can be sticky and sugary... Why then is good, home made food being questioned without any inquiry? My kiddo went without a snack, even if it WAS caramel popcorn, at this point how much worse is it than any of the store bought processed snacks I listed? Simple solutions to both snack issues listed above are; bringing wet naps to clean the fruit roll ups and asking my son if he thought caramel corn was an appropriate snack. At that point at least he could have answered that it wasn't caramel popcorn. This year I have sent homemade sweet potato applesauce (no sugar added) in squeezies, fruit roll ups with little to no sugar added (one recipe I use honey), fruit, cinnamon glazed popcorn (again, made with honey), homemade plain apple sauce (no sugar added) and homemade beef jerky. Not one thing in that list doesn't have ingredients that I can't pronounce or give a recipe for. 

I know I am not the only one that has had these types of issues. While the teachers are only following school policy and have 20-30 children per class to watch out for, how is it that we got to the point that snack time has become a stressor for parents and teachers in the first place? For me it started at the time we were at the beginning of our switch to less/no processed foods and I was still buying the kiddos snacks. I had 4 at the time needing snacks every day so I would go with what was easiest. I tried to be healthy but for me it was one small portion of the day so granola bars and gummies were sent. With this alone I can't judge anyone with their snacks, but then came the limitations of no nuts. So most of what I sent, including the organic stuff was cut by half of what I normally chose. I fully understand nut allergies and have treated anaphylaxis, it took me a while and I forgot at times, but I complied. As schools have now chosen to go with healthier food choices at lunch (yea, very little bit helps) they have attempted to make the parents send healthier snack choices. I can see where this would potentially help in making better overall choices for your kiddos BUT without education and at least a generalized list of accepted and not accepted foods that leaves a lot of people struggling to send "healthy" snacks. When you aren't researching and/or know what is ACTUALLY healthy how do you do this without some help?

Should the schools really be the ones educating and getting your children to eat healthy is now my ultimate question. Most of us out there would prefer to educate our children and help them make proper choices so that when they get into situations where parents aren't around they have the tools to make sound decisions. Back in the day, schools and most households followed the USDA recommendations for healthy eating. They broke things down into categories and how much of each were concidered acceptable. Being federally funded most schools still follow this guideline. Yet now there are so many options available through the Internet via the web and social media that to have schools educate children on the importance of healthy eating according to those standards we are bound to have families that disagree. As I have stated before, our family here, work on eating everything in moderation, incorporating many ideas out there to make a balanced diet that ranges in variations. But what if you have chosen to go paleo? Or gluten free? Or vegan? Or GAPS? What if any of those isn't a choice but a need due to medical reasons?

I pointed that out to ask where do we draw the line at what our kiddos bring for snack? How do we say that you can't bring caramel popcorn (just for sake of argument) but yet Taki's that have MSG and fruit roll ups with their 3 kinds of sugar and false advertising of having "real fruit" are ok? We can have sugary treats at holidays and birthdays at school but that's the exception? Oh, and if the class has a party who is to say that the food brought that looks healthy actually is? Do we tell those parents, that have made an attempt to provide snacks, that it is full of junk and they are wrong in their choice for their kiddos? Who has to tell the parents that they have to try to come up with a snack that one group deems healthy? What if that doesn't fit with another? Does one small snack constitute how the rest of their diet is? Really, this to me doesn't sound like something I want my kiddos teacher worried about. How about we send home an e-mail or letter stating that these categories of snacks are nutritionally deemed appropriate and are highly recommended and let the parents go from there?

I would LOVE to share some of the information I shared with my kiddos teacher in the e-mail I sent. I would LOVE to see other families hop on board to see how healthy eating can benefit them and their families. How thankful I am that I have seen a positive change in school parties, school lunches and overall choices a lot of kiddos are making because so many people ARE attempting to be healthy. I know for me and my family we will continue to do what we are doing and educate. We will continue to lead by example and show that you can have the occasional food that may not be something we would ever consider eating on a daily basis, and yet continue to make the healthy foods our main source of what we eat. I chose not to take everything away and allow food we don't usually have on occasion, with education as to why it's not an everyday food. Nothing is totally forbidden, just not allowed much. For others their examples are of what their diet they have chosen has done for them. Why do we all have to fit into one little dietary box when parents ultimately should be making that choice for their children?

Here are some examples of what has been excepted when the healthier, homemade snacks were being complained about...

This one has to be the best one I found... Without getting into all the processed parts of this product, THREE DIFFERENT sugars are listed, THREE!! Oh and my favorite, "made with real fruit" yet it's 'Blastin' BERRY Hot Colors' and the first ingredient is PEARS and not only that, but FROM CONCENTRATE! No wonder this stuff isn't sticky, it isn't made from puréed fruit!! There are a ton of great recipes out there, I have a couple of my favorites in my post 'fruit leather snacks'. Oh yes, these have been bought BY ME for my kiddos in the past, thank goodness I have better alternatives now thanks to easy access to educational resources on the Internet!!

AGAIN with the DIFFERENT types of sugar only one of which is closer to a real product. If you want a good recipe for fruit snacks like this check out  this healthy fruit snack recipe. Ugh I can't believe I did these too... Lol

Pop tarts.... YIKES!! AGAIN with at LEAST 3 DIFFERENT kinds of sugars!!! *face in hand shaking back and forth* I fed these to my children too... Thank goodness I'm not expected to be perfect huh? Once again, 100 days of Real Food has a great pop tarts recipe that works great if you aren't into HFCS and all the fun unpronounceable ingredients in the store bought variety!!! 

And one more...

corn flour, hydrogenated soybean and/or canola and/or palm and/or sunflower oil, seasoning [salt, sugar, natural flavor, artificial flavor, citric acid, soybean protein, yeast extract, monosodium glutamate, maltodextrin, sodium diacetate, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, artificial colors (fd&c red no. 40 lake, fd&c yellow no. 6 lake), onion powder, chile extract, sodium bicarbonate, sodium guanylate, sodium inosinate and silicon dioxide (no more than 2% as anticaking agent)] and antioxidants (bht and/or tbhq and/or propylene glycol and/or bha).
Obviously on this one I will only point out the MSG found in these, being an educated person can see things like propylene glycol (antifreeze and used to absorb liquid, toxic to kidneys, lungs (if inhaled) and dermal) are gonna be an issue. I will admit my kiddos have had these and we have discussed what the ingredients are and what they can do to a body. So when offered they can make a decision as to whether these would be a good choice or not in the future.  
Instead of Taki's this is what I get my kiddos and family now for chips. We haven't tried the blue ones but all the others have been awesome and my kiddos love the sweet chili that offers a little more bite without being too hot. 
I have put these out there as examples of what has been allowed as snacks. While most people I know wouldn't send this stuff, quite a few do. I would say that choices still need to be made by parents, not teachers who are there to educate children as to basic academic studies. It's up to US to know what we are sending with our children and make the decisions that are right for them. I hate to see that good choices are being deemed as an issue because our homemade foods don't come out as nicely processed, dry, pliable and less messy because we use natural ingredients that don't nicely contain them in one neat little processed shape. 
Just some food for thought and the end of a very long rant... :) I love and respect teachers and what they do, let's not add that they need to educate my children on how to eat healthy, that's my job as a parent. 
** UPDATE: Since this happened my son's teacher has been awesome. She took the critisism well, and the parent teacher relationship has been been great. Like I said, I LOVE that we have dedicated teachers out there educating our children when some of us, like me, just can't do it on our own. It takes education and communication to help change views, make sure we are doing both and being receptive as well. :)

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Baby Shower Adventure

We have been blessed with my husband having a job where they are like family. They work together, hang out together, celebrate and support each other, just a great group to be involved with. My friend Mary and I have also been blessed with the fact we have been able to be there and involved with things that help the families. Among other things we have done morale meals for those that work and activities that are family oriented and help connect and bring together the spouses. Our latest endeavor was an idea from a wife who wanted to do a baby shower for one of the wives that recently had their first baby. A co-worker of my husband then suggested we do a yearly baby shower, so we took both and made it happen. There were more than 5 new/soon-to-be moms but we could only do those that were able to attend. We invited everyone at work and their spouses to the event and the guys decided since they were being "forced" to attend that a good old fashioned mojito/margarita contest was in order. Mary and I got to work on the decoration planning and left games (neither of us are big on games) to the original spouse that came up with the idea. Oh, did I mention we had 2 weeks to plan everything and other commitments made that time even shorter??

I had to laugh when I got together with Mary after we both agreed to grab ideas we liked off of Pinterest and the web. When we came together most of our likes were the same so planning what we wanted took a whole 15 minutes, I love having a friend like that!! We gathered what we could find (being at this point we only had a week left) and agreed we needed to be flexible due to not being able to get all we wanted before the shower. 

One thing we decided was to make the food healthy. We didn't want all the cakes and candy always pictured (trust me we had a hard time finding any that didn't). Supporting moms, to us, was helping them get a great start with nutrition and supporting most of them in their decisions to provide healthy food for their children. So we decided to make the choices healthy. Mary got to work on making simple diaper cakes to bless the moms as a parting gift and I got to work on getting food and decorations. The fact that there was 5 and it included baby boys AND girls made it all the more fun to plan. During the week we found out Mary would be leaving on a last minute trip to see family so would be unable to be there to help set up. She got her end done and I got to work tapping my inner creative self and hoping I could make this as cute as we had envisioned. 

I was able to set most of the shower up the day before and my week of cleaning was slow and sure, hard to do with 5 kiddos with a lot of energy, but got it done in time. The day of the shower I was amazed at how awesome my kiddos were helping prep food since having healthy food meant most had to be done the day of,  having choppers and kids that could squeeze lemons came in handy! My princess even made her own cantelope bassinet that she was so proud of. Getting everyone involved kept kiddos from destroying the house and gave them a sense of involvement in the day. 

The choice to go healthy adds a bit of a challenge because food really can't get put out too early,yet it was worth it. We came up with having a yogurt bar that had various sprinkles of fresh fruit, homemade granola (I did 2, one with dried fruit and coconut and one plain) and homemade nutritious muffins to accompany it. We had a big fruit and veggie plate with dip. I did 2 kinds of popcorn, one chili flavored and one cinnamon glaze that was made with honey. We asked anyone bringing food to make it healthy and made a signup on Perfect Potluck letting everyone know what we were looking for made that easier on everyone. We then knew who was bringing what and could plan accordingly from that. As mentioned before, my husband and a few other dads that were attending planned to have their own drink contest during our shower, you would think this would have been difficult but it actually added quite a bit of fun and made the atmosphere festive. I can say that the dads enjoyed being there just as much as any mommy there. We "made" them join in on the game aspect of the party, don't think they got out of that. We found them very willing and I noticed that since they were not "made" to go to the shower they really were active, competative and had a good time doing them! In the future we will definitely make sure if we do a "mommy" thing again we will consider having a "daddy" element that makes it fun for all, plus helps keep all more willing to be there! 

Veggie trays with dip helps keep the colors vivid and fun. It's hard to compete with the colors provided with fruit!

We did a fruit plate that made it colorful and allowed people to mix or take just what they wanted. 

Without the yogurt before the party but you can see our yogurt bar complete with banana palm trees that matched the decorations above them. We had raspberries, blueberries, coconut, granola, strawberry/banana mix and mixed fruit. To compliment the yogurt we had banana muffins with and without dark chocolate chips and chocolate chocolate chip muffins. Both muffins were homemade and made with healthy ingredients but yet added the sweetness "missing" from cupcakes. 

Instead of Soda Pop we offered lemonade and strawberry lemonade. These were supposed to have simple syrups but due to my one bump for the day that didn't happen. Unfortunately I ended up with a last minute trip to the store to cheat. The thought was there though!!! :) Note to self and others, make the syrup a day or two ahead of time... Yup, lesson learned. Ok, that or don't shower, some how I think the day ahead of time is a better plan though. 

The popcorn was a fun and sweet addition....

I put out small little paper bowls to keep the popcorn on the plate and away from all the wet fruit that would make it soggy. 

For such a short time to get planned I was amazed at how smoothly and easily it all came together. I had only one big "disaster" when 2 of my simple syrups burnt while I was in the shower and my watcher forgot about it. Honestly that was such a small bump in a very smooth day (not to say I wasn't devastated and bummed all that work was wasted.). Overall I have to say this was one successful baby shower, not too shabby being it was my first!!

Now to get ready for tomorrow and making some more Tiger Balm that I am low on!! This shower was awesome but added with everything else I found I was a lot more tense than I thought. That has led to some big ol' head aches that are totally relieved with a little of my balm. :) Can't wait to see if I can't make it myself cheaper than $10/little jar and yet the same ingredients!! What better to unwind than to do a fun project, right?