Back to School Bento

The month of August is like biting into a sour patch kid. The thought of getting back into morning routine, kids in bed by 8pm while the sun is still shining, sitting in carpool lane and packing lunches on the regular just puts a sour taste in my mouth! All the while, it’s our duty as parents to encourage our little ones to be on time, expand their minds, get excited about school and take on challenges of a new year with  a positive outlook and embrace new adventures. Believe it or not, though I am a chef and love to cook… the thought of creative school lunches gives me a migraine! First, you have to be aware of peanut-free facilities, the lack of refrigeration, and pack something kids can eat in less than 25 minutes. (in reality it is less than 10 minutes because they are little chatter boxes)  The next challenge is whether or not you have a picky eater or any food allergies/sensitivities. Fortunately, my child will eat almost anything since we have insisted from birth she try new foods daily. However, being a cooking camp instructor and working with children from all ages and backgrounds I have been challenged with the pickiest taste buds and sensitivities. What has consistently worked time and time again is the level of involvement the child had in preparing his/her food.
Researchers at Teachers College, Columbia University, studied how cooking with a child affects the child’s eating habits. In one study, nearly 600 children from kindergarten to sixth grade took part in a nutrition curriculum intended to get them to eat more vegetables and whole grains. Some children, in addition to having lessons about healthful eating, took part in cooking workshops. The researchers found that children who had cooked their own foods were more likely to eat those foods in the cafeteria, and even ask for seconds, than children who had not had the cooking class.
Cooking with kids is rewarding and got me thinking on how we can incorporate cooking into school lunches. Thus the creation of Back to School Bento Boxes!  My daughter loves Chipotle’s burrito bowls with rice & beans and adds her favorite toppings to it. So, I created the following box combination where kids can actually mix the ingredients, add their sauce and veggies and become more involved in the meal. If studies are correct, they will become more likely to eat new foods, enjoy their lunch and most importantly give a big high five to mom or dad (which makes it all worth it).

Back to School Bento Box 
½ cup of cooked white rice
½ cup of Trader Joes Cuban black beans ( or any organic black bean in the can)
¼ cup of shredded lettuce
¼ cup of cotija cheese, crumbled
½ of avocado, diced
2 TBSP of pineapple or red salsa
¼ cup of steamed chopped broccoli or roasted asparagus
1 hard-boiled egg, sliced
½ cup of diced grilled chicken

For the bento box arrange all the ingredients in small clear containers with a bowl for mixing.  Write a recipe in the box and let your little one choose the combination.  Throw in some grapes or diced strawberries for dessert.  At the end of the day, ask your child what combination they chose and what they would like to see different.  This can become a fun game and gives the child more authority over what they eat and enjoy.


When to leave the nest?

Part of my new years resolution was to expand my food blog with more recipes and tricks of my trade but to also get “real” with readers and highlight  key issues I face every day as a mother, wife, business owner, and woman. This lead me to rename my blog from cookingupfun to afreshhotmess.  With maturity, wisdom, pain, life, and success I realize I am a hot mess.

For those of you from the north (aka above kick-ass Kentucky state lines) or other parts of the world let me clarify what it means to be a hot mess.  Urban dictionary defines it when one’s thoughts or appearance are in a state of disarray but they maintain an undeniable attractiveness or beauty.  In other words, organized chaos…and never to be confused as a train wreck.

Now let’s get real, as a mother and business owner, I am constantly tugged in one direction or another and inevitably feel guilty regardless of the decision.

Today I had a brilliant conversation with another mother who together with her daughter’s input made the decision to move her daughter from a language arts school to a performing arts program and said “It was time to let the birdie leave the nest.”  This phrase is used so often with children in their 20’s and even 30’s when some parents mandate they live on their own or leave the house and “spread their wings”.  This really had me thinking, when is the right time to start letting children make their own decisions for their future. After all, it is their future, right?

From birth, my husband and I never used baby talk with our daughter and once she understood what we were saying we strived to use complete sentences and address her as an individual.  To the best of our ability we also refrained from answering with “Because I said so,” but rather explained why to help with her cognitive understanding of our decisions.

Now that she is eight and independent as hell I’m starting to freak out!  She is half way to sixteen and still has a lot of molding to do before the hormones kick in. At the same time, I would never want to discourage her independent way of thinking or her free spirit. So when do you let the bird leave the nest?

Dr. James Dobson who authored the book Parenting Isn’t for Cowards highlights on this very topic.  He says, “I’m convinced that mothers and fathers in North America are among the very best in the world. We care passionately about our kids and would do anything to meet their needs. But we are among the worst when it comes to letting go of our grown sons and daughters. In fact, those two characteristics are linked. The same commitment that leads us to do so well when the children are small (dedication, love, concern, involvement), also causes us to hold on too tightly when they are growing up. ”

So why do we do this? “If we’re honest, we need them too much to let them go. They have become an extension of ourselves, and our egos are inextricably linked to theirs. Therefore, we not only seek to hold on to them, but we manipulate them to maintain our control.”

Ouch!  But is he right?  I have caught myself doing this very thing when I don’t want my daughter to stay at a sleep over simply because I sleep better when she is at home safe-and-sound in the comforts of her own bed under our roof.

In October of 2015, posted an article about helicopter parenting and the dangers of hovering too much.  Mentioned in this article is the reality that today’s adults, who were raised in a society that gave kids the freedom to play at the playground with other kids and walk home with their brother or sister when they were done, now find themselves in a society that arrests parents who allow their ten-year-olds to walk home from the park without supervision, a society that now teaches kids to fear the dangers of the world around them and to always rely on parents to protect them from those dangers.  So where do you draw the line?  Helicopter parenting may protect children from the rare horror story but it does a lot of irreversible damage by not allowing them to grow up. If we learn by doing, kids are learning now that mom or dad should be with them at all times, that they cannot be solely responsible for themselves, and that there are too many dangers awaiting them if they venture off alone.

First, let me say I am not one to let my child venture off alone, but I do encourage interactions with other adults, strangers, kids, etc in my presence or view so she can learn to handle various situations.  So many times she has asked us to order for her at a restaurant when the waiter comes to the table and I insist she speak for herself.  At the doctors office when they ask what is going on and how she is progressing I sit back and allow her to speak with the doctor about her body.  It is the little steps that get you there I just pray it leads to a decent level of clear-headed thinking when the raging hormones decide to show their ugly face.

A baby bird doesn’t just leave the nest,  they first perch and retreat, spread their wings, ruffle their feathers, and even fall. Maybe we could learn a thing or two from this other species and remind ourselves that at some point, baby birds will leave the nest, the question is will they know how to fly?

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