We Are Both Right

Best of: What’s for Brinner?

breakfast for dinner

Breakfast for dinner anyone? ©Alicia Solario/stock.xchng

Brinner. Better known as breakfast for dinner. Or that quick fix on a busy night when you just can’t fathom take-out again.

What’s not to like?

Brinner is the easiest evening meal to pull off.

It can be as healthy as you make it.

The kids can help.

Did we mention it’s quick?

And in our homes, brinner often gets a better reception from the kids than when we spend close to an hour or longer finely mincing, dicing, and sauteing ourselves to a balanced meal (and a sink full of dirty dishes).

The husbands are a different story. Brinner is not a winner for either of them, although neither seems to mind if we serve the kids pancakes at 6 p.m. when they’re working late.

And at times like that, a mom will eat just about anything that doesn’t require a meat thermometer:

Sticky Waffles: Pop a few fluffy style frozen waffles (cinnamon work great with this) into the toaster. Set your preschooler up with a butter knife and a peeled banana to slice into quarter-inch rounds (or however they manage to do it). Spread peanut butter (optional) onto the toasted waffles, top with bananas and drizzle with honey. Warm, sticky, and yummy!

Egg Sandwiches: Eggs any which way with your favorite cheese, and bacon if you have a few more minutes to spare, smooshed between toasted English muffins, croissants, whole wheat, frozen dinner rolls, whatever bread you have on hand — it all works!

Veggie Frittata or Omelette: Same idea as above, just dump some whisked eggs and milk into an oven proof pan. Stir in diced tomatoes, sliced mushrooms, peppers, leftover ham, or anything you have a chance at disguising for your kids. Top with shredded cheese and slip it into a warm oven while you find those paper plates.

Breakfast burrito: Line up bowls with scrambled eggs, hashbrowns (the frozen kind warmed up), salsa, sour cream and shredded cheese alongside warmed tortilla wraps and consider it a make-your-own kind of night.

What’s for brinner by you? Share your favorite “recipe” below and tell us about how many times a month you enjoy breakfast for dinner.

An Apology to Emily Post on Behalf of My Children

I can assure you (although sometimes I don’t believe it myself), that my children were not raised in a barn.

You’d never know it, sitting at the dinner table with them. I don’t understand. I don’t chew with my mouth open. My husband doesn’t put his feet on the table. We sit straight in our chairs and say “please” and “thank you.” We don’t kick the person who is sitting across from us under the table. We don’t slurp our spaghetti, nor does half of our meal wind up on our plates. We don’t reach across one another to get to the dish that we need.

If the best way to teach children is by setting an example, I’d like to know exactly who it is that sneaking into my house every day and eating in the most unmannerly way possible in front of my kids.

 © mwookie/stock.xchng

© mwookie/stock.xchng

I don’t get it. No matter how much begging and pleading and whining and screaming we do, they still eat as if they’ve been handed a plate of lime jello and a trowel.

And certainly, we try our hardest to instill manners in them. We go over the rules, correct them if they make a mistake and then “punish” when appropriate. A.’s biggest offense is that she always sits improperly in her chair. After two warnings, we make her stand for the rest of the meal. C.? He often has to be reminded of how a knife works. And to stop kicking his mother under the table.

What worries me is not what happens so much when they are home, but when they go to other houses and I’m not there to keep them in line. C. has a friend J. who not only puts his napkin in his lap, but he asks to be excused. The first time J. came for dinner and said that, C. looked at him as if he had asked if  he could wash our windows for us. I want my kids to go to someone’s home and ask to be excused! I want someone to tell me how polite they are!

Luckily, S. seems to be on the right path. Sure, he makes a mess and he throws his food but at least he has good reason — he’s 18 months old. At least he always says “thank you” before he hurls his carton of yogurt across the room.

Look, I know they are kids, but at seven and 10 years old, I don’t think we are asking too much of them. I’m not giving them seven forks and asking for their proper usage, I just want them to remember to bring their plate to the sink when they are finished.

Manners are important. They need to be instilled now, before they go to their first White House dinner!

When did you expect your children to display table manners?

Originally published November, 2010

Never Mind Finishing School for Manners-We Haven’t Even Started Yet

Should my daughter ever become engaged to a prince someday, I think we’ll all be in trouble. The Queen of England surely won’t approve of her habit of stirring her drink with a parmesan cheese covered fork. Or the way she turns her soup-filled spoon upside down on its way to her mouth.

Perhaps Her Majesty will be distracted by the fencing match between the fork and knife in my son’s hands. And then once he falls off his chair because he only bothered to pull it out at a 45 degree angle, the contents of the chalice carelessly left in front of his plate will spill on the 16th century antique dining table and the whole palace will be in a tizzy.

It’s not even like we can depend upon our beagle’s English roots to pull us through. Her incessant barking will add another layer of madness to the event and she’ll likely only stop long enough to sniff the Queen’s corgis and dorgis.

And there I’ll be, with my phone under the table googling which of the eight forks should be used for pheasant — too busy to notice or be embarrassed by this display of poor table manners.

On second thought, maybe instead of junior year abroad, I should send my kids to finishing school for remedial table manners. Because as much as my husband and I try our best to model good table manners and etiquette, we sometimes worry (possibly prematurely) that our children will be destined for a life of social missteps.

Not too long ago, I read an article about a weekend course for children that focused on the etiquette of meeting and greeting, answering the phone, and of course, table manners. All I could picture was kids walking 40 yards with a stack of books balanced on their heads and then sitting down for tea. It seemed a little much.

pnijhuis/stock.xchng

But during meals when I get so frustrated with my kids’ disregard for the most basic of table manners, I have been known to threaten that instead of football practice we’ll send our son to “manners school” instead. He always objects with a groan and sits up straighter.

Right now we’re working on encouraging him to shore up his social etiquette skills, especially when it comes to meeting and greeting people. The warm welcomes he gets from his former day care teachers when we drop his sister off are all too often met with blank stares in the other direction. On a good day, they’ll get a belated and cursory “hi” when we’re halfway down the hall. Part of it is the shyness gene he inherited from me — but knowing how that held me back, I want him to work through it now and realize how his response in these settings is a reflection on him (and us as parents).

On my bookshelf, I have a tattered copy of Emily Post’s book of etiquette circa 1945 (curiously enough found at the home of my non-English speaking grandmother who didn’t arrive in America until 1955). I read it for a good laugh — especially the parts about men needing a collapsible high hat should they happen to be seated in the orchestra versus the boxes at the opera and tips on how to space place settings with a string in lieu of a less-than-accurate eye.

Etiquette sure isn’t what it used to be, and I don’t aspire to have my children constrained by these standards, but there is definitely room for improvement.

How far do you have to go on table manners and etiquette with your kids?

Originally published November, 2010

Thankful for a Thanksgiving Table with Room for Everyone

© We Are Both Right

© We Are Both Right

My 7-year-old self would have been very lonely at a kids’ table on Thanksgiving. Every year we celebrated at my maternal grandparent’s house (Memaw and Bepaw) and I was the only grandchild on that side of the family at that time (my sister is nine years younger than me, my brother 11).

But not only would my younger self been sitting by my her lonesome at a table, she probably would have been pretty annoyed too. My Memaw and Bepaw made a big fuss over Thanksgiving, always including me in the preparation process. I can remember spending many “Thanksgiving Eve’s” at their home helping to get everything ready. After a big slumber party, we’d all wake up early and put the turkey in the oven. I’d help snap string beans and set the table while we waited for the other guests to arrive. And when it was time to carve, I’d dutifully stand by my Bepaw’s side as he worked, happy to accept any samples he was willing to slip me (lots).

The Thanksgiving meal, and the buildup to it, was (and still is) always about family. If after spending all that wonderful time with my grandparents I had been relegated to sit away from all the grown-ups, I think I might have been a little hurt. Now obviously our situation was different as there was only at most on any given year, three children at our Thanksgiving table, but still, I liked being with the grownups. Being a part of the conversation. And the family.

And even if the house had been teaming with kids, I’m still not sure the idea of a kids’ table on Thanksgiving (or any holiday for that matter) would have been a good fit for us, then and now. I mean, in our family anyway, we make a big deal about eating dinner together every night. Why, on what is arguably the most special meal of the year, would I separate myself from the people I love the most?  (Wow, that came out a lot more heavy-handed and judge-y than it sounded in my head.)

It’s true though. For me, Thanksgiving is about family and three-fifths of my immediate one all happen to be under five feet tall (although my 10-year-old is closer and closer to negating that  by the second) and are too young to know what a VCR is. Does that automatically mean they should have to sit by themselves? (Only if they start making fun of us for having to fast-forward to get to the good parts.)

And from a practical standpoint, I think a kids’ table is actually more stressful for parents, especially if younger children are part of the dining entourage. I’m constantly being asked to cut up food, mop up milk, pour more milk — the closer the proximity to the children and their places, the faster I can put out fires and get back to my own meal (and if there are lots of other adults at the table, that means there are lots more hands to help).

In any case, for our family, this year there is no need to even question the need for a kids’ table. We have a lot going on later on in this holiday season so in the interest of maximizing our family time,  T. and I decided that the main part of the Thanksgiving meal will be spent at our home, just us five.

And when we are finished, we will head over to my sister’s house for dessert  – where the little ones will be happily dispersed amongst the grownups.

Where do your kids sit for the Thanksgiving meal?

Originally published November, 2010

It’s Always More Fun at the Thanksgiving Kids’ Table

When I was a kid, with nine cousins over a fifteen-year age span, the kids’ table at holiday dinners was the hot spot.

It was the stuff memories are made of — clams oreganato eating contests, smack talk about the Monopoly game underway, and brainstorms for yet another original theatrical performance which we would always make the adults endure before coffee was served. (I still remember being pretty bummed when I finally graduated to the adult table as a senior in high school.)

The tradition of a holiday kids’ table still exists in our family, although most of the time now it’s an appendage to the main dining table as opposed to the exclusive seating we had at my parent’s house. There are also less kids overall, with the max being four on either side of the family.

Not quite the level of excitement it used to be — but for me the kids’ table is always more fun. Since this is a holiday from work, I would much rather be debating our favorite episodes of Yo Gabba Gabba (and whether Lance Rock was wearing the orange sneakers or the white) than haranguing about mid-term elections.

falconreid/stock.xchng

For Thanksgiving this year it will just be my two — so we’re planning to take the far end of the table which actually juts out into the foyer of my in-laws’ house. It will still be decorated with linens and china, but we skip the wine glasses and keep the bowl of cranberry sauce snuggly planted at the other end of the table. This arrangement also allows the kids a quick escape when they’ve had their fill on the first course and we excuse them until the turkey comes out later in the afternoon.

Mainly it was out of necessity that my husband and I started sitting at the Thanksgiving kids’ table when our son was a toddler. Someone had to take the place of honor at the far end and it might as well have been us, since we needed to hop up and down on a moment’s notice.

But neither of us seemed to mind the “preferred seating” and we plan to keep our spots until the incoming nieces/nephews bump us over to adult territory.

For reasons that include peace of mind, I hope the tradition of the kids’ table lives on until my children pass the final exam at the etiquette school I keep threatening to send them to. (Or until there are enough other little kids running around that no one can pinpoint just who spilled the ketchup on the new, creamy white, fabric-covered dining room chair.)

Will there be a Thanksgiving kids’ table at your celebration next week? Was there one when you were a kid?

Originally published November, 2010

Move Over Applesauce, Hello Halloween Candy!

In our house, my youngest child, 17-month-old S., is a big fan of “M-M-Ms.” (That’s “M&M’s” for those of you who don’t speak toddler.) He doesn’t get them very often, but when he does, it is cause for celebration, complete with dancing, hand clapping, waving arms and plenty of “RAY!”s.

© lusi/stock.xchng

© lusi/stock.xchng

It’s adorable. And yet somehow I feel guilty for enjoying his display of joy.

I know that we have an obesity epidemic in this country. And I realize that these sweet nuggets of chocolatey goodness probably aren’t the wisest of food choices for my little guy. But he likes them. And he’s a good boy. And sometimes I like to give him a treat.

Or bribe him.

After his first haircut, the barber gave S. a lollipop, admittedly, a type of candy that I’m not a fan of at all. (Every time I hear the candy bump up against my kids’ teeth I can practically see the sugar coating them.) And I’m terrified of choking. But after a traumatic experience like getting your hair trimmed for the very first time, is it really so bad to let a kid kick back with a “La-Pop!”?

I know after I’ve had a long day a little bit of chocolate always makes me feel better, so why would that be different for a toddler?

The key of course is moderation. When C. and A. were toddlers, they didn’t have any candy at all. Guess what? They still love it and would eat their weight in Nerds if I let them.

When S. does get candy — and so far it’s just been M&M’s and the one la-pop — he gets very little, maybe five or six pieces. Even still, that tiny amount of sugar and chocolate is enough, causing him to turn into a bit of a whirling dervish, spinning and shouting around the house, bouncing off the walls. Now I don’t know if he’s just deliriously happy or it really is the sweet stuff hitting his bloodstream, but it’s enough to give me (a little bit of) pause, limiting his treats to just once a week or so.

Still, this Halloween you can bet I’ll be letting S. not only do a little trick-or-treating, but reap the rewards too. To be sure he’ll get something he can have, I bought M-M-M’s as the candy we’ll be handing out.

If I can just convince him to give them to the trick-or-treaters.

Originally published in October, 2010

Pretzels Anyone? A Sugar-less Halloween

This Halloween will be like no other, now that my daughter is a preschooler.  You see, I’ve tried to keep her away from the gobs of Halloween candy that tend to get thrown into the bags of the oh-so-cutest trick or treaters.

But an innocent toddler she is no more.  Last year, I was able to entice her with pretzels instead of lollipops, but I think she will be much wiser to my tricks this year.  Nope, no more toddler yogurt snacks filling in for mini-Musketeers.  This year, she’ll be snubbing her nose at animal crackers and tearing open the Kit Kats.  Guess the party’s over in my world.

Don’t get me wrong, I never was the mom that forbid a gram of sugar from ever coming within 50 feet of my child — but I did put up a valiant effort to impose some limits.  A bag of M&Ms here, a lollipop there was OK with me.  I never used candy as a bribe and even if I did buy the occasional candy reward, my kids knew that they weren’t leaving the store with those dipsticks attached to a bag of pure sugar.

Up until now that is.  My Little Mermaid is going to be swimming her way through a sea of candy, trying to keep up with her big brother who boasted for days after last Halloween that he had filled his treat bag up to the bellyache line.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am not one to shy away from a Snickers bar.  I ate peanut M&Ms religiously every afternoon when I was pregnant with L.  Ice cream is still one of my favorite snacks.  So it’s not that I’m trying to spoil the enjoyment of a sweet treat for my kids (or the best holiday of the year), but I twinge at the thought of so MUCH candy.

I guess the best I can do is to keep track of what S. is unwrapping as we make our way from house to house.  My strategy is to steer her toward the chocolate, since there has to be more nutritional value in that than chewy squares of colon-clogging colored corn syrup.

And maybe she’ll be delightfully side-tracked when we happen upon one of those houses that has a bowl full of pennies or (score) a mini-tub of Playdough.

But in the end, it’s one day, and I’ll let her (mindfully) indulge the sweet-tooth she inherited from me.   Once we get home, I can hide the excess of treats from the little one with a short-term memory.  Her brother on the other hand will be making a mental inventory of every last Starburst he brings in, but that’s a story for another day.

Originally published in October, 2010

Hey Jamie Oliver — do you need an intern?

Do your kids brown bag it? Or buy school lunches? ©Steve Zazeski /stock.xchng

I’m raising Jamie Oliver’s protégé — which means that on this first-day-of-school eve, we’re less concerned with loading supplies in the backpack or laying out the perfect outfit. We’re back to talking about grey chicken nuggets.

That’s right. Grey chicken nuggets. My soon-to-be-fourth grader’s kryptonite.

And if the new school’s cafeteria doesn’t pass his stringent inspection tomorrow, it will be home-packed lunches every day this year too. (Except I’m not waiting for the official verdict, considering he’s in the same district with the same food service vendor. I was already at the supermarket this afternoon stocking up on sandwich stuff and snacks.)

So for our family, the convenience of writing a check to fill a pre-paid meal account isn’t even an option. Either my husband or I pack a school lunch for L. every morning before work. It’s a part of the daily rush I could honestly do without, but it does make me feel better that he’s eating a healthier meal than the school’s processed mac-n-cheese, tater tots and ketchup that counts as a vegetable.

Oh, except for Wednesdays, which if the same menu holds from last year, is breakfast for lunch day. The pancakes and waffles have been deemed acceptable by my resident gourmet. So now I only have to come up with four creative ways to serve tuna, chicken, ham and peanut butter/banana sandwiches with fruit and a complex carb snack.

Extra work aside, it does strike me as kind of funny that he turned out this way. It’s not even that he’s an especially picky eater. He is just selective. And has a leaning toward finer foods. (I think I know where that comes from.)

Still I’m not the type of mom who calorie counts for her kids, or freaks when they ingest sugar. I do want them to eat healthy and I push that when I can, but I wouldn’t tackle you if you handed my child a fruit snack made of corn syrup. (I might just stow the rest of the pack away in my bag and not return them later).

So the fact that my son is interested in where his food comes from (and just where do grey chicken nuggets come from?) makes me proud. He’s taking charge of his own health — not because I haven’t — but because he understands how it factors into the bigger picture.

And there doesn’t seem to be any degree of peer pressure that is making him sway off course. I’ve asked him at various points during the year how many of his friends bring lunch and how many buy. There’s a different answer every time, but it seems that the majority buy school lunches most of the time.

And I’ve asked him if it bothers him to bring his lunch sack and sit at the table waiting for his friends on line in the cafeteria, or if any of them make fun of him for bringing lunch. His shoulder shrug says it all. He really doesn’t care.

As long as there’s fresh bread and something he can identify inside that aluminum foil, he’s happy.

How about your school-age child? Do you pack lunch, or do they buy lunch at school? Also, are there any superior school menus out there? I’d love to know.

************

School lunches are bought not packed in Amanda’s house.  Which makes me think that I might just have to check out their school menu, if we ever consider moving.

In Defense of School-bought Lunches

©dmgoodguy/stock.xchng

I have enough faith in our school district to let them feed my children every day for lunch. Do you? ©dmgoodguy/stock.xchng

I don’t know what my children are eating for lunch today. As I write this (the first day of school here where we live) my kids are at their respective institutes of learnings, getting ready to enjoy their midday meal. They both opted to buy, despite us not yet having a calendar spelling out what the food choice for the day will be.

They like buying their lunch most days and that’s OK with me. Is it because our school district more progressive than most when it comes to healthy school lunches, offering organic, all-natural fare? Not really, although they try — serving grilled chicken Caesar salad, roasted chicken (or turkey), omelettes and even orzo salad on some days.  But don’t get me wrong, they serve up their fair share of chicken and pizza nuggets and nachos too.

I let my kids buy lunch because they want to (and if they didn’t, they wouldn’t), the price is right and it saves me a step in the morning. I have rules — they have to buy the lunch being offered or the alternative (generally a sandwich of some kind or a bagel with yogurt and a string cheese) and they have to promise to take and eat all the components of the meal that is being served — the entree itself, plus milk (flavored is acceptable) and the snack, which is generally fruit (sometimes canned, yes, but fresh most of the time).

Do they actually eat all of those things? I have no idea. But they tell me they buy them (and I believe them) and I feel like if this variety of food is on their tray it’s hard for them to throw it out. The ladies who work in the cafeteria (and see how much food is wasted every day) may scoff at my logic, but there it is. And according to research, I’m not too far off in my thinking that school lunches aren’t all bad — if a child is wise about his purchase.

According to the USDA, schools must “provide lunches that are consistent with the applicable recommendations of the most recent of the most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans including: eat a variety of foods; choose a diet with plenty of grain products, vegetables and fruits; choose a diet moderate in sugars and salt; and choose a diet with 30% or less of calories from fat and less than 10% of calories from saturated fat.  In addition, lunches must provide, on average over each school week, at least 1/3 of the daily Recommended Dietary Allowances for protein, iron, calcium, and vitamins A and C.”

Seems pretty reasonable and I think my district does a good job of following these guidelines while offering up things the students actually like to eat. Where kids get tripped up it seems, is when they buy lunch items a la carte — some pudding here, some ice cream there — and they don’t buy what the food service director has put together. (I don’t know how it is by you, but in our district, they do not monitor what the kids buy so it is conceivable that a child eats only dessert for lunch.)

Do I worry that my kids are eating things that aren’t as healthy as they should be when they buy their school lunch? I suppose a little, but honestly, I’m not necessarily always serving the highest-quality things either, frequently turning to boxes, cans and bags for our sustanence.  A poor excuse, I know, but it is what it is. My concern above all else is that they eat something. The school isn’t serving them bags of sugar or giving them some salt to lick, it’s a basic meal that covers most of the food groups.

All that and an education too? Works for me.

What about you? Do your kids buy lunch or bring? Which would you prefer they do?

Suzanne and her husband do such a great job of making lunch for their kids every day. Forget about my own offspring, I’m going to their house every day for my midday meal!

The Jury’s Out On Grocery Delivery Service

I had a hot date on Friday night.

With the grocery delivery guy. He came into my kitchen with his ball cap and brown uniform, carrying 15 bags attached by two carabiners. I was boiling over with excitement.

In one fell swoop, the bags landed on my counter at my request and he asked, “Will that be all?”

I handed him a tip and with a “Yes, thank you!” he was heading out the front door and I was digging into my treasure.

This was so cool. After spending just ten minutes online Wednesday night, pouring over a list of my recent in-store shopping purchases (tracked by my store card), I simply entered a quantity next to the “regulars” I brought home every week and clicked through the sales just as quickly. An e-mail alert had arrived earlier in the day to let me know that the delivery ETA was between 8 p.m. and 10 p.m.

It turned out to be perfect timing, considering we got a late start with dinner after everyone came home from work, school and activities. Knowing that the groceries were being delivered in advance of an otherwise jam-packed weekend was a huge load off my shoulders. The kids were pretty excited too, realizing that they didn’t have to give up an hour toiling through my list and coupons with me on a beautiful sunny day.

And then out of the blue, as if the universe were trying to prove a point to me about how much fun I could have if I just let the mundane tasks of life get less of a grip on me and my “free” time, the neighbors across the street invited us over for drinks, dessert and a movie for the kids.

It was shaping up to be a hopping Friday night!

Even better we could see the delivery truck arrive from the neighbors’ yard, so it delighted me to no end to think that right then and there someone was doing my shopping for me and driving it to my house. Make that directly to my kitchen counter!

I was pretty proud of myself. And I wondered again why it took me so long to get on board with the idea of having groceries delivered.

Even though I’m working full-time and have a busy schedule with the kids’ activities on weekends, I could never quite wrap my head around getting a housecleaner, or farming out any of the other tasks that make the weekend more of a rat race than the workweek.  I’m someone who doesn’t even have pizza delivered, opting instead to call it in and pick it up.

But listening to a few moms on the baseball field speak glowingly of grocery delivery finally convinced me. They placed their orders after the kids went to sleep, giving them time and space to organize and match coupons to sales with no pressure, and then scheduled delivery at 7:30 a.m., just after the kids got on the bus and they headed out to start their day. And the best part: with a $15 off coupon code you can find online, the delivery is free and then some.

Still, I had my doubts.  Would some teenage boy filling my order select ears of corn with as much care as me. Would he check the dates on meat and know exactly when I planned to use it (since my husband doesn’t go for buying meat in bulk and freezing it)?  Was he going to use as much strategy as I do when picking out yogurts for the kids?

Probably not. But I didn’t want to be an old dog any more.

In the end, it was a mixed bag. I was thrilled with the convenience, and for the most part the groceries were delivered with care. There are the two packages of meat which I have to use by Tuesday, because they obviously didn’t dig in the back of the freezer case like I would have to find the latest dates.  Oh, and the bread has a freshness date of Tuesday too. Some of the apples were nicked, but the ears of corn were exquisite.

So delegation can have its pitfalls. As anyone who is the least bit particular knows, asking someone else to help out can be unsettling. First, you have to accept that no one knows your “special way” of ______(fill in the blank). Then you have to take the results and like them, because after all you took the help.

In the end, you have to decide for yourself: convenience vs. perfection.

Because if you want something done just so, I guess the old adage holds true: do it yourself. And I’m still grappling with that one.

Have you ever used a grocery delivery service? How did it work out for you? What other household duties have you outsourced?