Kids Clean Up! Cheese Dip

cheese dip

Welcome to another installment of Kids Clean Up! Today we are tackling a Halloween holiday favorite… Cheese Dip! You know, the one made with the infamous Velveeta. It has been a part of Halloween tradition in my family for a very long time. Since “cleaning up” my food act a few years ago, Halloween is the one time of year that Velveeta has managed to get in my grocery cart.

This year I was ready to give it up – I just couldn’t buy it anymore, and worse share it with my kids and their friends. And then I ran into the Food Renegade’s recipe and nearly swooned. The only reason I didn’t swoon was due to having no faith it would actually taste good. Cheese dip made without the Velveeta? How’s that supposed to work? But it did…

What are we cleaning up? Classic Cheese Dip made by melting a Velveeta cheese chunk with salsa.

velveeta cheese dipVelveeta cheese dip

Ingredients: Milk, Whey, Skim Milk, Milk Protein Concentrate, Water, Milkfat, Whey Protein Concentrate, Sodium Phosphate, Modified Corn Starch, Salt, Calcium Phosphate, Dried Corn Syrup, Canola Oil, Maltodextrin, Lactic Acid, Sorbic Acid, Sodium Alginate, Sodium Citrate, Cheese Culture, Enzymes, Apocarotenal and Annatto.

Basically, Velveeta is a chemical cheese product that has been made in a lab. It’s a “cheese-like substance.” Kraft doesn’t share the process by which it is made, but it is clearly made by chemists in a laboratory. If you are looking for some science behind how they make it all melt-able, check out this article by Discover. Beyond the Frankenstein laboratory creep factor of Velveeta, I am also avoiding this product because it is made by Kraft, a company I don’t choose to support. Kraft Mac N Cheese (my daughter’s favorite restaurant kids menu choice) is made with several artificial food dyes ONLY WHEN MADE FOR CONSUMPTION IN THE USA. For example the version sold in the UK does not include artificial food dyes (the UK is phasing out allowing artificial dyes in food due to consumer pressure). Over 300,000 Americans have signed a petition asking for Kraft to stop using the artificial food dyes and give us the other version that tastes and looks the same, but they are not willing to do so. So I say BOOOOOO to Kraft. (Want to add your voice to the petition? Go here.)

Here’s the cleaned up version: Food Renegade’s Creamy Mexican Cheese Dip. I used organic cream, organic milk and organic cheddar cheese, plus egg yolk, arrowroot powder, diced tomatoes, a can of mild green chiles, salt and chipotle chili powder. All ingredients that I am happy to use in my kitchen! The process was completely do-able, and not very many steps, which I appreciated. (Especially since the Velveeta version is so easy.)

The result was a very smooth, silky cheese dip that tasted terrific. It actually tasted much stronger of cheddar cheese than the Velveeta version does, which was welcomed. Mine turned out a little thinner than Velveeta dip is, and I think when I do it again I will let the milk and cream warm with the thickener a little longer. I might also mix in a little of my favorite clean salsa to make it taste more like my family’s version, though I did enjoy the chipotle flavor. But enough about me…

My kids LOVED this stuff. I wondered if they would enjoy it because the color isn’t as bright as the Velveeta and the taste is a little more well-rounded and grown-up. Both of them can be very picky when it comes to foods like this, so I was happily surprised with their enthusiasm over this version.

It is very interesting to me how we often eat less of the cleaned up version of foods than we would of their processed version. This cheese dip was a great example. When the Velveeta version is out on the table, I can’t stop eating it. Each bite makes me want another bite as soon as I’m done. But with this cleaned up version, I had several bites and then felt fullish and done. The kids seemed to be the same way. Amazing what happens when you nourish your body with real food.

Before we go, let’s talk chips real fast. Ideally, we’d all be making our own corn chips using organic corn tortillas and a great fat (like coconut oil or tallow). Gracious Pantry has a baked chip recipe I like, here. That may be more than some of us can do right now. This is especially true for me when we are having other people over, that’s just more chips than I can pull off! My recommendation for buying chips is to go organic to avoid GMO corn and GMO vegetable oils. I am not a fan of processed vegetable oils, so purchased corn chips are a fun treat food, not an every day food for me.

I’m not the only one who grew up on Frankenstein cheese dip, am I? Is there anything that is always on your Halloween menu?

cheese dipHere I am, stealing the cheese dip. Happy Halloween everyone!

 

Happy National Food Day!

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What is National Food Day?

From www.FoodDay.org:

Food Day is a nationwide celebration of healthy, affordable, and sustainably produced food and a grassroots campaign for better food policies.

Food Day aims to help people Eat Real. That means cutting back on sugar drinks, overly salted packaged foods, and fatty, factory-farmed meats in favor of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and sustainably raised protein. Food Day envisions shorter lines at fast-food drive-throughs—and bigger crowds at farmers markets.

 

What could you do today to honor National Food Day’s mission?

Lean.Green.Kitchen’s Ten Do-able Ideas for Honoring National Food Day:

  1. Find a recipe for something you usually buy processed and make it for yourself.
  2. Include the whole family in making a meal (or even part of a meal).
  3. Do some research to find a better source for a food that you use regularly, such as meats, dairy, local produce.
  4. Ban sugary drinks from today’s menu. Perhaps some “vitamin water” or iced tea?
  5. Make a big batch of a homemade family favorite and freeze half for a hairy evening in the future or give half to a friend who would appreciate it.
  6. Make a big production out of dinner tonight. Set the table with flair, invite everyone to use their best manners, and use the time together to discuss ways your family can Eat Real. Talk about what is in each dish and where it came from.
  7. Find out the Farmers Market days/times in your area and plug it in to your calendar. This week you don’t miss it!
  8. Ask each family member to name their favorite vegetable and make a plan to incorporate it into next week’s meal plan. Bigger kids can be charged with finding a recipe they’d like to try.
  9. Make a big pot of nourishing home-made broth and freeze it by the quart to use throughout fall.
  10. Celebrate your 2013 successes regarding real food. What improvements have you made this year and what are your next steps?

 

 

Share what you will do to honor Food Day – in the comments below and with all your friends and family!

Halloween Manifesto

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Lean.Green.Kitchen’s official Halloween statement:

We at the Lean.Green.Kitchen feel that Halloween is a FANTASTIC holiday, full of traditions, silliness and surprise. We encourage and support creativity, imaginative play, community building and love of seasonal squash, all which are prominent in this holiday’s make-up.

Our little ghosts and goblins look forward to trick-or-treating all year-long and will dazzle the neighbors with their costumes that we have worked on for weeks. Prior to trick-or-treating, they and their friends will enjoy a hearty meal of nutrient-rich foods. We know that, upon return, their bags will be filled up with processed unpronounceable ingredients, corn syruped, overly packaged little pieces of tasty junk. They will delight in sorting it, selecting their favorites, and consuming a few before heading off to their beds to dream sweet Halloween dreams.

We will be handing out glow sticks to treat-or-treaters venturing up to our wickedly decorated porch. It is our hope that in the future more and more households will join us in finding alternate goodies to hand out that don’t support the Corporate Candy Machine. Because truly the holiday is so filled with fun, those bowls of candy are not even necessary.

Halloween is just one example of many where we must find balance between our food philosophy and the culture in which we live. We support the Lean.Green.Kitchen on-line community in making their own decisions about how to navigate their food choices in this world. Lean.Green.Kitchen will continue to advocate for everyone to do what feels right for them.

Resources I highly encourage you to check out:

100 Days of Real Food’s Ideas for Non Candy Hand Outs

Great Round-Up of Halloween Foods from Clean and Scentsible

Beautiful Vegan Halloween Recipes from Oh She Glows

Catherine Burns’ Switch Witch Poem if you are interested in trading candy for a toy

UNREAL Candy: A great option if you want Halloween candy that you can stand behind

Inquiring minds have asked what do we do with our leftover candy after the kids enjoy a few pieces on Halloween. Each person in our family has a small treat box in our cabinet (about the size of a pencil box) and that is how much space treats are allowed to take up in our kitchen for each of us. So all treats from Halloween, the holidays, birthday parties, etc must be stored in the box. (Grown-up boxes seem to fill up with a bag of chocolate chips and guilty pleasures out of the kids’ veto pile.) After trick-or-treating, the kids spend a lot of time deciding on their favorite things that will make the cut for the treat box. Anything left over gets out of the house. Sometimes we donate it to grown-up friends who work in offices that have candy and sometimes I -wait for it- throw it out, usually with a maniacal laugh because it feels so wrong.

Do you have a Halloween Manifesto? What will your family be doing for Halloween?

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Recipe: Weeknight Rescue Frittata

Frittata

I was asked a GREAT question the other day… what do you eat for dinner when you have no plans and little time? I like this question so much I think I’ll just keep answering it with different recipes over the next few months. Because as much as I love a good meal plan, sometimes life gets in the way and it’s on to Plan B.

Plan B works for us because there are some things we pretty much always have around and today’s recipe utilizes them front and center. This kitchen always has eggs, cheese, and random veggies and herbs (usually several days past their prime). Throw that together and -voila- thirty minutes later we’ve got a beautiful frittata and a cleaner refrigerator!

Recipe: Weeknight Rescue Frittata

Ingredients

  • 6 Eggs (highest quality you can manage)
  • 1/2 Cup Whole Organic Milk (optional, but use an extra egg if you are leaving it out)
  • 1T Organic Butter
  • 1 Onion, chopped small
  • 1 Cup of Dark Leafy Green, chopped small
  • 1-2 Cups of Veggies, chopped small
  • 1 Clove of Garlic
  • 1/4 Cup of a Fresh Herb, chopped small (if you don’t have a fresh herb, then toss 1 teaspoon of dried thyme in with the onion)
  • 1/2 Cup of chopped Bacon or Sausage or Leftover Cooked Meat (totally and completely optional)
  • 1/3 Cup of Any Kind of Cheese (use more or less due to personal preference)
  • 1/2t Salt
  • 1/2t Pepper
  • 1 Chopped Tomato, Green Onion and/or Avocado for a topper

Optional:

  • Can of green chilies
  • Can of sliced olives
  • Can of artichoke hearts (chop them up good)
  • Sun-Dried Tomatoes

Instructions

  1. Whisk eggs with the milk and salt and pepper. If using any of the “optional” ingredients, add them into this egg mixture. Set aside.
  2. If using bacon or sausage, sauté it up in a medium-sized skillet until it begins to brown up (over medium to medium-high heat). Cast iron works best here. The skillet must be able to go under the broiler at the end.
  3. If you have a lot of extra grease in the pan, drain most (not all) of it out.
  4. Add in the onion. If you are not using bacon or sausage, then melt a little butter in the skillet to saute the onion.
  5. Once the onion begins softening, add in veggie ingredients that need a sauté such as greens, bell peppers, asparagus, garlic, broccoli, etc.
  6. Once all veggie and meat ingredients are softened to your liking, take a moment to lightly butter the edges of the skillet and any spots on the bottom that seem dry. DON’T SKIP THIS STEP or your frittata will stick.
  7. Adjust the heat to medium and pour the egg mixture over the vegetable/meat mixture. You may need to slightly turn the skillet to use gravity to move the mixture over all areas of the pan.
  8. While the eggs are slowly cooking, sprinkle the fresh herbs all over the top. Then sprinkle the cheese.
  9. After a minute or two when the sides just start to look set, transfer the skillet to a low broiler for a few minutes.
  10. Keep your eye on it, and pull it out when the edges begin to brown and the center is set and not runny.
  11. Top with chopped tomato, avocado or green onions.
  12. Can be served warm or room temperature.

Preparation time: 15 minute(s)

Cooking time: 15 minute(s)

Number of servings (yield): 4

This one is more like an art project than a science experiment. Use what you have and play around with it. You can also make this the night before and refrigerate it, if you know tomorrow is going to be crazy. Just warm it up in an 250 degree oven until it comes to room temperature and serve.

Serve with fresh fruit and maybe a little flavored yogurt with granola? If you have an extra few minutes, a side of country potatoes works beautifully with this frittata. Now you are having breakfast for dinner which is always a crowd pleaser!

What’s your “go to” dinner when you have little time and no plan? This recipe has a lot of room for interpretation. If you have a question about a specific ingredient or when it would go in the mix, just comment below and I’ll give you my opinion!

Kids Clean Up! Flavored Yogurt

Flavored Yogurt

It’s time for another installment of Kids Clean Up! This week I have tackled my daughter’s favorite food — yogurt. And specifically, flavored yogurt. She would eat 14 Go-Gurts if I had them and would let her. This actually isn’t all that much, since each Go-Gurt seems to have about a tablespoon of yogurt in that little tube. What a waste.

Anyway… this clean up didn’t call for internet recipe searching, I had a plan. It just needed to be executed and tested. And tested. And retested. And tested some more. And not by my daughter. It turns out that this became our first Grown Up Clean Up, because I could not get enough of these.

Back to the beginning, here is what we are replacing: Flavored Yogurt

sunnyside front sunnyside label

This ingredient list reads: CULTURED PASTEURIZED GRADE A NONFAT MILK AND WHOLE MILK, BOYSENBERRY BASE [SUGAR, WATER, BOYSENBERRIES, MODIFIED CORN STARCH, NATURAL FLAVORS, PECTIN, CITRIC ACID, SODIUM CITRATE], SUGAR, FOOD STARCH MODIFIED, KOSHER GELATIN.

I guess we can start with the two pluses I see here. One, there is actually at least a speck of boysenberry in this product (though I bet we’d all be astounded by how little it actually is). Two, it does contain live and active cultures which is what makes yogurt a health food. But the rest of this list is full of questions and ingredients that were selected for their cheapness over their quality.

How about this one:

activia front activa label

This ingredient list contains: CULTURED GRADE A NON FAT MILK, SUGAR, BLUEBERRIES, WATER, MODIFIED CORN STARCH, PECTIN, NATURAL FLAVOR, LACTIC ACID, FRUIT JUICE AND VEGETABLE JUICE, CARRAGEENAN, CALCIUM CITRATE, SODIUM CITRATE

Can we take a minute to talk about “NATURAL FLAVORS?” This, the vaguest of terms, means that natural things (essential oils, plants, animals, trees…) are used in laboratories and turned into flavorings. For an over the top (but true) example, there could be castoreum in these products, because it is sometimes used as a flavoring for berries and vanilla. What is it? It’s the secretion from a beaver’s castor sacs, used to mark their territory. So, that’s gross, but more importantly to me, it’s a clear indication that the food industry is willing to put things in processed food and not be transparent about it. Because if BEAVER SAC SECRETIONS was written on the packaging of a yogurt container, many of us would probably skip it.

This yogurt also contains CARRAGEENAN which has been found to be a carcinogen (a substance that may cause cancer).

Let’s not skip this kid favorite:
gogurt front gogurt label

This ingredient list states: Strawberry Splash – Cultured Pasteurized Grade A Low Fat Milk, Sugar, Modified Corn Starch, Kosher Gelatin, Tricalcuim Phosphate, Colored with Vegetable Juice, Natural Flavor, Potassium Sorbate, Carrageenan, Vitamin A Acetate, Vitamin D.

I feel I’ve belabored these ingredient lists, so I’ll be brief on this one. There are no strawberries in this yogurt, which is called Strawberry Splash. That seems fraudulent. That’s all.

So here’s my recipe for making your own.

Recipe: FRUIT ON THE BOTTOM YOGURT

Ingredients

  • 2 Cup Frozen Organic Fruit of your choice
  • 2 Cups Organic Whole Milk Yogurt (you could even go crazy and make your own with this HOMEMADE YOGURT RECIPE)
  • 1-3T Local Honey
  • 1/2t Vanilla (optional – goes great with cherries)
  • 4 1-Cup Mason Jars or 8 1/2-Cup Mason Jars (or mix and match!)

Instructions

  1. Heat frozen fruit and 1T of the honey in a small saucepan on medium-low heat.
  2. Bring to a simmer and heat until the fruit is nice and soft and gooey. Add in vanilla if you are using it. My mixed berries took about six minutes to be the consistency I wanted.
  3. Place about 1/4 cup of the mixture in the bottom of each 1-Cup Mason Jar or half that if using 8 1/2-Cup Mason Jars.
  4. Allow the fruit mix to cool a little before layering in yogurt (1/2 cup total per jar) and a few mini drizzles of honey.
  5. Chill in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

Preparation time: 10 minute(s)

Cooking time: 6 minute(s)

Number of servings (yield): 4

RESULTS:

I’ll be frank. If my daughter was offered a Go-Gurt or this, she would take the flashy, chemically Go-Gurt. But then she’d be hungry after eating that minuscule amount of food in a tube and would happily eat my hearty version.

I’ll be double frank. The first time I made these (and when I took the photos) she did not like it. I realized later, that was because she didn’t stir it up so she was eating plain tart yogurt. My next batch I added in the extra drizzles of honey and -boom- she was all in.

Since we turned this into a Grown Up Clean Up, I will mention that as a grown-up who was raised on Fruit-On-The-Bottom yogurt (which is no longer the rage, apparently) I was able to stir mine and I inhaled the entire first batch in less than three days. Added some granola for a grab-on-the-go breakfast. Ate one after a grueling work-out. Had one for a late night treat while watching some Game of Thrones from the couch. And the last one while powering through a manic afternoon.

I will make these again and again. And my daughter and I can fight over them. Take that tiny Go-Gurt.

Food for Thought: What if food wasn’t a part of school celebrations?

LGK Logo

A month ago, the school my kids’ happily attend announced that this year they will be enforcing the school district’s policy regarding the food that parents bring into classrooms for parties, special events, birthdays, etc. Our school is a wonderful place with lots of parent involvement, extracurricular opportunities, hands-on explorative learning, dedication to the arts, I could go on and on.

We also have LOTS of parties and celebrations. We don’t miss a chance to celebrate. And parties at our school mean food. In the past I’ve seen: cute crafty homemade snacks and treats straight out of Pinterest, trays of local seasonal fruits and veggies, cultural delights from around the world, and often times whatever a frantic mom or dad could grab on their way to school to be ready for the potluck they forgot all about.

Under the new (to us) policy, all food and beverages served must now be prepared or purchased through a facility that has a health permit. Parents may not bring in home-prepared food items for student consumption, however food items may be purchased from a grocery store, restaurant or other facility with a health permit.

This caused quite a stir at our back-to-school meeting – and change is hard, so it’s certainly understandable. For those of us who are attempting to keep processed foods out of the mouths of our kids and get real foods in, this seems to weight things in the processed foods’ favor. To purchase from a certified facility the foods I’d like my kiddos to be eating will be more expensive, use more packaging and take away many healthy fresh options. Bummer.

But here’s the thing, and something I’ve been simmering on for a few years… What if we just took food out of school celebrations, special events and incentives altogether? My reasoning:

1. Kids need quality nutrient-rich foods to be at their best at school. It makes no sense to me to give them anything else during these hours that we have such high expectations for their learning and behavior.

2. I want my kids to learn that fun can be had without treats. We can celebrate successes and big days with dancing, games, hugs, special activities or even just a positive word from someone we love. My kids have come to expect a treat with every little thing that happens in their life. Though I roll my eyes at them, it’s not really their fault that they feel this way. {Lisa Leake at 100 Days of Real Food is making strides at her children’s school, asking teachers to use non-junk food alternatives for celebrations and incentives. I love following her progress.}

3. What every kid can eat is different. From the obvious severe food allergies that are the driving force behind this policy, to kids that are sensitive to the effects of chemicals, and those that overeat the junk because they are getting hungry. [Who are then not hungry once they get home and are offered nutritious after school snacks – making them a real joy as they crash right before dinnertime… but I digress.] And not to mention family preferences and all the different choices that each family makes on food.

4. I want to be the one who gets to share food and treat traditions with my kids. I want to make heart cookies with them on Valentine’s Day, enjoy clean Shamrock shakes on St Patty’s Day, go out to froyo on a Friday after school just because it’s Friday. In fact, truth be told, I want to have dessert – my way – pretty much every night. But I don’t choose to do this, because so many days (and certainly most holidays) they have already had some “special” treat at school and I’m attempting to be somewhat conservative in how much refined sugar/artificial flavors/colors their little building bodies consume.

You know what kind of food I want in my kids’ school? Food Literacy. Introduction to whole healthy foods. The power of building up young bodies with nutrients. The joy of vegetables grown with your two little hands.

A list could be made of the value food adds to special times in schools. I would probably agree with many of the points, such as the power of breaking bread with someone to develop community, the sensory exploration of taste, and the value of free food for children at school with not enough to eat. That’s the reason the issue is so challenging… there is no perfect solution. It comes down to what is most important to each of us as parents and as a community.

Where do you stand on this issue? All opinions welcomed as long as you aren’t nasty towards others. :)

 

Wish to support an organization that brings food literacy to schools? The California Food Literacy Center brought experiential food literacy to 2,400 students last year. If you are interested/able, find a way to support the California Food Literacy Center’s efforts.