March 25, 2023
Our In-house Lunch Program- Behind the Scenes: The Main Event
For our third and final blog this year, we would like to focus on some of the main courses we serve for the hot lunch program. The main course can be described as follows:
A main course is the featured or primary dish in a meal. In some
establishments it may in fact be called the “entrée.” The main dish is
usually the heaviest, heartiest, and most complex or substantive dish on
a menu. The main ingredient is usually meat or fish; in vegetarian
meals, the main course sometimes attempts to mimic a meat course.
Although we do not “plate” the food for the lunch program, we would like to share some practical serving tips. Read the clock! A foolproof way to arrange food on a plate is to place the carbohydrate (pasta, rice, bread, etc.) at “11 o’clock,” the vegetables at “2 o’clock,” and the protein at “6 o’clock” from the diner’s point of view.
This will also help you portion correctly, if you remember that vegetables should cover about half of the plate, starch one fourth, and protein one fourth. When planning the lunch menu these serving proportions were part of our calculations so that we could ensure appropriate allocation of these food groups.
Throughout the cold winter months, nothing is more appealing than home-style comfort foods. Traditionally, comfort foods are associated with high carbohydrate, high-calorie meals which do not fall into the category of healthy eating. However, with a little thought and creativity, it is possible to enjoy the best of both worlds, warmth and satisfaction with a healthy, nutritious balance.
Yield – 8 servings
6 slices whole wheat bread, crusts removed, torn into pieces
½ cup low sodium beef stock
2 large mushrooms
1 medium onion
1 medium carrot
1 celery rib
2 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 large eggs, beaten
2 lbs. lean ground beef (or 1 ¼ lbs. ground beef and ¾ lb. ground pork)
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon reduced sodium soy sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
Bread crumbs as needed to bring mixture to a firm consistency
½ cup ketchup
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon mustard
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place bread pieces and beef stock in a bowl and let stand
until liquid is absorbed.
Meanwhile, puree the mushrooms, onion, carrot, celery and garlic in a food
In a large skillet heat the oil over medium heat. Add the mushroom mixture, cook
and stir until tender and liquid is evaporated. Stir in tomato paste and cook one
minute longer. Cool slightly.
Beat together the eggs, Worcestershire sauce, and soy sauce. In a large bowl
mix together the beef, egg mixture, vegetable mixture and bread mixture.
Season with salt and pepper.
Shape into a loaf and place on a vegetable spray coated rack on a baking pan.
Bake for one hour. Meanwhile prepare glaze ingredients and brush over loaf.
Bake for another 15 – 25 minutes or until a thermometer inserted into centre
reads 165 degrees F.
Let stand for ten minutes before slicing with a serrated knife.
Our four-week rotating lunch schedule also allows us to feature a variety of pasta lunches. Pasta is a slowly digesting complex carbohydrate food and is the perfect place to start when building a healthy diet. It is low on the glycemic index, meaning that it has a better effect on blood sugar, offering the body a slow and steady source of energy.
Pasta pairs wonderfully with vegetables, olive oil, beans, herbs (whole or in sauce form) fish, and lean meat or cheese for added flavor and protein.
What constitutes a healthy pasta meal?
A healthy pasta meal is truly the sum of its parts and features two key factors: what you pair with pasta, and how much pasta is served in a meal.
One dish that has been well received is the beef tenderloin, broccoli stir fry. Tender sautéed strips of beef tenderloin are combined with steamed broccoli florets, mixed with a mild seasoned sauce and served over egg noodles.
Another successful meal is the chicken teriyaki stir-fry. Succulent cubes of seasoned cooked chicken, mini corn pieces, and green snap peas are stir fried in teriyaki sauce then combined with stir-fry noodles.
When serving the younger children, we have had better success presenting the meat, vegetables and pasta separately with sauce served as a side they may choose to add or not. This gives the children the opportunity to taste and experience new flavours and to become comfortable with items they may never have seen before.
We offer a wide variety of lunch mains, pulled pork tenderloin served on rice and pulled white chicken breast served on whole wheat buns, our “egg McMuffins” served with hash brown patties, skillet lasagna and soon to be featured beef tacos to
name just a few more.
We are researching and planning new offerings to add to our luncheon repertoire always with the goal of instilling and fostering a knowledge base, lifestyle choice and appreciation of healthy nutritious food.
It’s about making it a little harder for children to make the wrong choices, and a little easier to make the right ones.
Keeping It Real
There has been much media coverage lately about the impact of technology, and its attendant devices, on all of us, but most poignantly its impact on the very young. Montessori pedagogy tells us that children up to about the age of 6 are sensorial learners. They learn by doing, they learn by experiencing the world through the senses. The real world! Montessori classrooms are purposely designed to capitalize on this developmental trait, but short of building a Montessori classroom in the home environment, what are parents to do if a technology-rich childhood is not the path to stroll down?
Here are a few ideas/options to consider when the temptation of the iPad looms large.
Make grocery shopping an event to share with your child.
Your child need not accompany you every time you go grocery shopping, especially if time is tight or hunger is near, but if you do have the time to devote to making grocery shopping an outing to be experienced and enjoyed, your child may prove to be a willing participant. Take time to name the fruits and vegetables around you. Smell and touch them if this makes sense. Have your child select items, counting them perhaps, or him/her them to read from and check off the grocery list if this is possible. Approach such outings not as a chore to be done, but as time well spent with your child. Enjoy.
Involve your child in household routines such as cooking, setting
the table, folding laundry, snow shovelling, raking leaves,
watering plants, making beds etc.
Children wish to be active participating members of their families with a real contribution to make. For the young child, these tasks are not something to be accomplished but rather activities which are fun in and of themselves. They nurture self-esteem and are tremendously empowering. A step towards independence. Make sure that activities are safe, materials are properly sized for a child to succeed (eg. a small shovel) and tasks are not overwhelming in their scope. Focus on the doing (“Thanks for your help with this.”) and not the end result. Competencies will build over time.
Compliment your child’s school experiences rather than trying to duplicate them.
A trip to an aquarium, florist, farm, swimming pool, library etc. will enrich his/her world in numerous ways.
Help your child learn to structure his/her own time by offering lots of unstructured time.
Unstructured time outside in a backyard, a park or any natural environment provides a host of opportunities for exploration, creativity and much needed “downtime”.
Inside, access to creative tools which have no ‘rules’ per se, such as coloured pencils, paper, scissors, glue, tape, building supplies (eg. Lego), dolls, cars, fort building materials etc. can be extremely beneficial. Keep quantities limited, access open and expectations for use and tidy-up clear.
It’s gratifying to remember that if we confidently allow children to experience ‘boredom’, imagination and creativity will flourish.
Read, read, read and engage in conversation.
Reading together and thoroughly enjoying the experience is one of the most important gifts one can give a child. If reading isn’t an option in the moment (eg. stuck in a traffic jam), consider telling a story (a true story from your day, your week or even your childhood, or a made-up story works well too). You can also simply engage in conversation, recite familiar poems or rhymes or sing songs as a way to explore words. Remember, children too need time to express themselves. Ask open-ended questions and let them reveal whatever it is they wish to.
Listen to music, sing, clap, dance….and don’t worry, an ability to sing in tune or
demonstrate Broadway-worthy dance moves is not necessary. Just have fun.
Our In-house Lunch Program- Behind the Scenes: Bread
“The smell of good bread baking, like the sound of lightly flowing water, is indescribable in its evocation of innocence and delight…”
M.F.K. Fisher, The Art of Eating
In the early planning phase of the lunch program, we discussed the possibility of making our own bread on site. What better way to stimulate children’s appetites than the aroma of freshly baked bread wafting through the school?
Although it seemed a somewhat ambitious plan at the onset, it has become a reality incorporated into our menu. On several early mornings, dough is made from scratch for Challah bread, whole wheat buns, chicken cheese dog crescents, and pizza pockets.
Our French Toast, cooked maple apples, home-made chicken noodle soup Wednesday has become one of our signature luncheons and preparations begin on Monday with the making of Challah bread.
Challah Bread is a Jewish egg bread and is a finely grained bread, most often slightly sweet (for a bread) and eggy. This rich bread is perfect for French Toast and adds a hint of honey flavor with a tender texture. We would like to share this recipe with you and encourage you to give it a try!
Challah Egg Bread
Yield: 2 loaves
1 package (1/4 ounce) quick rise instant yeast
2 ½ cups warm water (110° to 115°)
1/2 cup honey
¼ cup vegetable oil
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon salt
8 cups all-purpose flour
1 large egg
1 tablespoon milk
In a large bowl, combine water, honey, oil, and eggs; mix until smooth. In a separate bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Stir in into egg mixture to form a soft dough (dough will be sticky).
Turn dough onto a floured surface; knead only until smooth and elastic, (very little kneading is required.) Place in a greased bowl, turning once to grease the top. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.
Punch down dough. Turn onto a lightly floured surface; divide into two. Working with one piece at a time, cut the dough into thirds. Roll each piece into a 16-in. rope. Place ropes on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and braid. Pinch ends to seal; tuck under.
For egg wash, in a small bowl, whisk egg and milk until blended; brush over each loaf.
Preheat oven to 350°.
Let rise in a warm place until almost doubled, about 45 minutes.
Bake 25 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from pan to a wire rack to cool.
The sliced Challah bread is dipped in a mixture of eggs, milk, melted butter, vanilla extract and cinnamon and baked on a griddle. There is much anticipation as this delightful aroma permeates the school!
Pulled pork and pulled chicken lunches are accompanied by whole wheat buns made fresh in the morning as is the dough for our chicken cheese dog crescents accompanied by the home-made alphagetti featured in our Fall blog. Pizza pockets have become another favourite and the pizza dough is made on site as well.
We have also served various quick breads: sweet potato corn muffins and teddy bear and heart shaped Buttermilk biscuits which accompany the glazed pineapple ham and sweet potato fries lunch.
The winter menu will have several new items including sliced roast beef served on multigrain seeded bread containing edible plant seeds which provide even more vitamins, minerals and healthy fats.
The goal of providing healthy, whole-food based lunches to the children has been the drive behind the hot lunch program. By making many of the yeast breads and quick breads we can ensure that preservatives, additives and artificial dyes are excluded and the resulting products are pure, delicious and always healthy.
Our philosophy has been summed up quite aptly by one of my favourite chefs:
“You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces – just good food from fresh ingredients.”
Until next time,
Our In-house Lunch Program- Behind the Scenes: Tomatoes
Several years ago it was decided that it was time for Clanmore to launch its own in-house hot lunch program. Together, Wendy McCrae and I embarked on this journey and project. Now in our third year and providing daily lunches for over sixty children, we would like to share with you some of our thoughts about the program, our philosophy about healthy, wholesome food and our vision for the future.
Our society has become aware of the inherent high cost of fast food. It is cheap in price but as we have come to learn, low in nutritional value and in many cases a passport to obesity and diabetes. Even fast food chains have altered and adapted their menus making more items from scratch and incorporating healthier versions of favourites without the high sodium, sugar and unhealthy fat content.
Consumers are leading a great food awakening. Look at the produce aisles in supermarkets where organic, heritage, and locally grown products are now featured and accessible. In the past, junk food was the mainstay and real wholesome food was few and far between. The tables have turned where more people are realizing the importance of eating well. The medical community now views food as medicine and the diets we live by as the new frontier of nutritional science.
Healthy food is fresh food, whole food, low on the processing chain. We still have a lot of work to do to make it as convenient, affordable, and accessible as junk food, especially for children. This objective was paramount in our minds as we worked on the menu for the luncheon program.
When Wendy and I first met to discuss our direction, we realized we were in for a bit of a challenge. Even with the best of efforts, it would be unrealistic to think it would be easy to satisfy all the diverse palettes of a large group of children. We decided the best approach would be to focus on kids’ favourites, familiar and comforting. We would make as much of the food as possible from scratch and we would opt for healthier versions of classics.
The children were asked for their input as well. We surveyed each of the classrooms and gave them the opportunity to voice their opinions as to what they wanted to see in their lunch program. Many of these items were incorporated into the menu. As well, each classroom was provided with a suggestion box so they could continue to give us their feedback.
One of the dishes we have included is chicken strips cut on-site from whole chicken breasts, dipped in a three-stage breading station of flour and seasonings, eggs and buttermilk, and then coated with crushed cornflakes. The seasonings of paprika, basil, sage and marjoram build the flavor profile not an excess amount of sodium. The chicken strips are then baked not fried and are served with roasted baby potatoes. Each lunch is served with sides of fresh fruit and vegetables cut into serving sizes easy for the children to handle.
Another lunch served which has become a Clanmore favourite is our made from scratch Mac and Cheese. A white Béchamel sauce is the base for our cheddar cheese sauce, made fresh for each group served. Butter, flour, paprika, dry mustard, pepper, milk, grated cheddar cheese and freshly cooked elbow pasta combine into a delicious creamy dish the children love.
Wednesday is soup day at Clanmore and each week we feature a made from scratch soup. One of our classic lunches is our whole wheat grilled cheese sandwich served with home-made tomato alphabet soup. We would like to share this recipe with you and the process involved so you can have a glimpse of what goes on behind the scenes.
2 teaspoons of pre-chopped garlic
2 stalks of celery
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 x 14 oz. cans of whole peeled tomatoes
6 large ripe tomatoes – leave the green stems on!
¼ bunch fresh basil, stems removed, chopped
One 5.5 can of tomato paste
7 ½ cups low sodium chicken stock (or vegetable broth)
Pinch of sugar (if needed) *
White pepper to taste
Cooked alphabet pasta
Our home-made tomato soup is a classic and there is no comparison between this version and store bought canned when it comes to flavor and nutrition. The main ingredient – a lovely tray of fresh whole tomatoes.
Wash all vegetables then cut the carrots, garlic, onions and celery into small uniform pieces. Toss together in a medium bowl. Place a large pot on medium heat and add 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add vegetables and cook for 10 – 15 minutes until the carrots have softened and the onion is lightly golden.
Add the canned and fresh tomatoes including the green stalks that may still be attached to some of them (they add flavor and nutrition.) Add the chicken stock (or vegetable broth) then turn the heat up high and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low, put the lid on and simmer for about 20 minutes (or until cooked through, stirring occasionally.)
Reduce heat to stop bubbling then stir in the chopped basil.
Carefully ladle into a blender and puree until smooth. This will take several blender fills (be sure to remove small plastic cap piece of the blender so a vacuum is not created and cover with a towel while you blend.) Pour pureed soup into a china cap strainer clipped over a clean pot to strain out the thick vegetable fibres.
Stir in sugar (as needed) and pepper and taste to check flavor.
Add the desired amount of alphabet pasta, stir and serve.
*Taste your sauce at the very end of cooking. If it tastes a little too acidic, that’s when you add a pinch of sugar. Add it just like you would add salt: a little bit at a time, until you get the flavor you want.
The luncheon trolley is ready to roll – healthy, nutritious and eye pleasing!
Our tomato soup also serves as the base for our Italian tomato sauce used for several other lunches. We add Italian seasoning, bay leaves, tomato paste and the vegetable puree left from our tomato soup (nothing is wasted!)
Even the Alphaghetti we serve originates with our delicious tomato soup – no canned alphaghetti for our kids!
Healthy eating is also balanced eating including a celebratory splurge now and then. The children love our chicken balls with rice day. We do not make the chicken balls on site but we carefully selected a brand with chunks of white chicken meat and a minimal coating of batter. They are a treat everyone looks forward to and they are a healthier version of a favoured food we are comfortable including in our menu.
Over the past three years Wendy and I have learned together, grown together, worried and laughed together. We have never wavered in our commitment to provide healthy food to our Clanmore children and we look forward to expanding the program to include many more varieties of foods and luncheon combinations.
A thought to leave you with…..healthy means eating delicious food made with loving intent.
Until next time, eat well, laugh often!
Why Clanmore Fundraisers Are Student-led
This journey began with a project on elephants.
One girl in lower elementary learned that elephants are mammals, that there are two kinds of elephants, and that elephants like to live where it is very hot. She also learned that elephants were endangered because they were being killed by hunters. This did not sit well with her. She was not OK with elephants being poached or killed for their ivory tusks. She had fallen in love with these leathery, gentle giants and didn’t want any more elephants to be killed.
She recruited two friends to help her. They approached us, the teachers in their class, and told us that we needed to have a fundraiser for elephants. They made posters. They picked a month. They informed all elementary classes when the fundraiser would happen.
In one afternoon, the three of them baked 192 (we counted) elephant shaped sugar cookies. Finally on the day of the fundraiser, bursting with excitement, they gathered all three elementary classes, the middle school, and the staff, and sold their cookies. They raised over $300 for WWF Canada.
In Montessori education we talk about the different sensitive periods that the children possess. They are time sensitive and only exist for a short period. For children in elementary they are in a sensitive period for justice. Their world is expanding beyond their family and they are learning The Rules. We hear them talk about what is fair. Children this age may experiment with things like lying or breaking the rules.
The flip side of this behaviour is these children being struck by things they find completely unjust or against The Rules. To the elementary child, learning about things they think are Wrong or Against the Rules can be offensive to them. They feel they know something (for example, the poaching of elephants) to be so fundamentally wrong they feel it is up to them to help, and up to them to stop this injustice from happening.
To these girls the mistreatment of elephants was completely unacceptable and something they could stop. One of them remarked to me when cutting out elephant cookies, “The absolute best case scenario that could come from this fundraiser would be if the WWF called us and told us that our donation saved the elephants”. And that is true. That would be the best case scenario.
These children believe that they are capable of changing the world. If this belief is continually fostered within them, they will be the people who change the face of our planet.
Portfolio Meetings from a Parent’s Perspective
The Portfolio Meetings in the Upper Elementary classroom are scheduled close to the end of the school year. As parents, we are a guest in our son’s or daughter’s classroom for the morning and they treat us as such!
The students create their portfolio at the beginning of the year and contribute to it as the year progresses. It consists of numerous hours spent in each area of the classroom and subject matter.
The children present their work to us in a way that promotes conversation and a deeper understanding of what happens in the classroom. This platform allows the children to discuss their work so that parents can understand the process the child is going through. The work chosen for this meeting is selected by the children themselves out of their interest in sharing with their parents.
As a parent, I see it as a chance for my children to describe to me what they are doing and how they are doing it; how they articulate it. Do they have an understanding of the material and how deep does that go? Do they have a passion for this or did this project ignite a passion for something that I had no idea about? Do their eyes light up? Are they serious and is that because they are nervous as this is their first time/experience? Are they relaxed now as they have done this in year four and five?
Listening to your son or daughter as they describe their work grants you great access into their world. It provides observations that will help you see them in a different way and allows you to take in, digest and aid them in being the best version of themselves.
It’s amazing what you can learn from your child, especially when they have an opportunity to present to you as their guest.