At The Rose Garden, in Buffalo, New York, our approach to food and mealtimes works to consciously meet the needs of the young child while honoring the whole of the human being. As teachers we work to hold the importance of acting with consciousness, taking time with our words and movements, and really slowing down so that a moment of connection with a child can be given the full weight it deserves.
This attitude of reverence is important in the kitchen as well. As a cook, striving to bring a joyful heart to each meal is a main part of the job. Food will reflect the mood of the maker and the quality of the environment in which it is made. Choosing to act with love and respect during set-up, preparation, serving, eating, and clean-up, will boost the quality of the food and in turn the health of our bodies–child and adult alike. We know that rhythm with the young child is key, and finding ways of anchoring mealtime in this foundation is so helpful. At the Rose Garden we base our kitchen and mealtime rhythm in the repetition of having the same meals on the same day of the week, each and every week, with slight variations on the theme.
Morning Snack/Breakfast Ideas (we eat this meal around 10:00 a.m.):
Monday: Cooked Brown Rice. Add olive oil, soy sauce, nutritional yeast
Tuesday: Oatmeal. Add milk, apples, raisins, jam
Wednesday: Cooked Millet. Add olive oil and/or soy sauce
Thursday: Cooked Whole-grain Cereal. Make a mix of all the above grains. Add milk
Friday: Homemade Bread. Add cream cheese, sunbutter (sunflower seed butter), jam
Summer morning snack: homemade granola with milk or milk alternative
Lunch Menu (we eat lunch around 12:15 p.m.):
The ingredients and preparation of these dishes reflect the mood and bounty of each season.
-Stir fry made with brown rice and vegetables
-Rice and pesto
-Spanish rice and beans
-Classic stir fry
-Pancakes with yogurt and homemade applesauce
-Potato or zucchini/carrot pancakes
-Vegetable soup with cheese
-Green spring soup
-Pasta with cheese on the side
-Pesto and peas pasta
-Pasta, olive oil, salt
-Pasta and red sauce
-Homemade Pizza with tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, and vegetables
Afternoon Snack Ideas (we eat this snack around 3 p.m.):
Monday: Fruit with sunbutter
Tuesday: Crackers with cream cheese and jam, berries or cucumber on top
Thursday: Fruit with sunbutter
Friday: Popcorn. Add nutritional yeast and olive oil (We do not serve popcorn to children under three years old; use your own discretion.)
Our whole foods menu is nut-free and based on seasonal, local, and sometimes organic ingredients. We’re conscious of the journey our food takes from seed to garden to store to stove to table to belly. This is a top factor when making decisions about the quality of our food. We also know the best meals are the ones that children eat! This is not an endorsement of separate meals for adults and children, but a gentle reminder that a child’s palate is highly sensitive and salt, acid, and bitter can be strong tastes for children. Cooking for kids calls for understanding, steadfast repetition, and mindfulness on the part of the adult.
Studies have shown it takes up to thirty-two tries of a new food to get used to a taste, so it works well to plan your strategy and stick to it. A few tools that have helped us at The Rose Garden: pick a vegetable that is easy to integrate. Try grated carrots or spinach. Add this chosen vegetable to everything appropriate. The children may pick it out, but stick with it. Pick a number of Golden Bites (sometimes I call these rabbit or birdy bites) that must be eaten before deconstructing the remainder of the meal. This tactic may also be used if one food group is being favored over another. For example, “Eat five Golden Bites of peas before a second helping of pasta.” With tools and persistence you might be surprised at the variety of foods your child will come to eat, if not actually enjoy!
Another piece to remember is that we all eat with our eyes as well as our mouths. Wipe around the edge of your serving bowl with a clean towel to make sure there is no excess splatter from transfer from pot to bowl. Use a beautiful serving utensil and bowl or platter. Place the food carefully on the table. This is important both visually and for setting the tone of the meal. Arranging the place settings with care, lighting a candle when allowed, washing hands and giving thanks for our food are all ways to enhance the experience of our meals. Practicing manners and kindness while at the table, blowing out the candle and sending children to wash their bowls are actions that habituate a healthful food culture and practice. Mealtime has traditionally been a vital piece in fostering community. It is my hope that rhythmic, happy mealtimes will provide a classroom or family with good memories along with good nutrition as a lifelong source of sustenance.
Dasha Nadolinski is a LifeWays graduate and a worker owner at The Rose Garden, where she is also known as Cook Dasha.