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Memories and Principles

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What I learned at Alma Schrader Elementary School in Cape Girardeau, Missouri is still mostly a fog. What I do remember is mostly pretty random. For instance, I remember that morning recess was at 10:15 and that second afternoon recess stopped when you started third grade. I remember, although I am hard pressed to put it into words, what the chili they made weekly and served with peanut butter sandwiches and carrot sticks smelled like. I will say it was not a good smell, although it was actually pretty tasty and was perhaps quite rightly the focus of a chili supper every fall. I also remember that the pizza was cut into squares and that when you were done you could buy prunes with powdered sugar. For some reason, kids thought that was a treat maybe because you could get up from the table to go buy them. That may be the best marketing job I have ever observed, although I can say I never fell prey to it.

I also assume that I got a fairly decent education in my six years there (I went to kindergarten at another school). I mean I made it through college and into a fairly pricey, err, prestigious if somewhat snotty (and sorry Northwestern Alumni Association it is snotty to jangle keys at the opposition fans and imply they will be parking your cars someday) graduate school. I even picked up some honors like Phi Beta Kappa along the way, although I don’t get to drop that little tidbit much any more, which is why I have gone out of my way to do it here. HaHa! I also eventually learned how to open those ubiquitous school cafeteria milk cartons, although it still gives me some anxiety to see one.

The one lesson I remember clearly came in Ms. Wilson’s fifth grade class. She had a food pyramid and some new research about low-fat cooking and how it was good to have no more than 30 percent of your calories from fat. I was 11 or 12 and just becoming body/weight conscious. I latched right onto that. That summer my mom began the precess of teaching me to cook. I sought out all kinds of lower fat cooking options. My mom ended up dropping several pounds and I found a principle I still try to use in a lot of my nightly cooking.

When Max came along, I tried to stick to that principle at least in the main menu items I prepared. I am not a total stickler about it. I don’t even give it much thought when it comes to his or Claire’s snacks or what they order when we’re away from home. I do try to stick to it mostly for me. I figure that,  in the general scheme of things, making the effort most of the time will balance out the rest of what the kids eat and hopefully not leave them with too many hang ups.

Here are a couple of the kids’ favorite dishes which are in the regular rotation here and which are also dairy(and egg) free:

Meatloaf Muffins (adapted from a Weight Watchers)

1 pound extra lean ground beef (I use 96/4 if I can find it)

1 box Stove Top Stuffing (I use whole wheat blend if I can find it, most varieties are dairy-free)

1 cup water

Mix all the ingredients together. Spray 12 muffin tins with non-stick cooking spray. Divide evenly. Bake at 350 for 40 minutes.

Cranberry Chicken

1 pound skinless boneless chicken breast

2 cans whole-berry cranberry sauce (or if you can find fresh, make your own with one package of cranberries and sugar to taste)

Salt and pepper to taste.

Layer chicken pieces in a 9 x 13 baking dishes. Season with salt and pepper. Pour cranberry sauce over the top. Bake at 350 for an hour.

I usually bake whole sweet potatoes in the oven with this. It couldn’t be simpler. There’s a lot of sugar in the cranberry sauce, so I try, not always successfully, to limit desserts on nights we have this.

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