Category Archives: breakfast

Sweet Little Lies Too

General Mills just said they’ll be adding less sugar to it’s kids cereals, and I’m trying to feel excited.  Isn’t that like, I dunno, UPS saying they won’t be driving as fast when they take shortcuts through the schoolyard?  Should  they really be doing it in the first place?

I figured I’d better break it to the kids gently. The Trix rabbit,  “C00-C00” Cocoa Puffs and Lucky the Charms leprechaun are plotting to secretly wean them from some of their breakfast sugar.

Not all at once.  Not too much, or too fast, I explained.

The plan is to lower the sugar in small steps, and hope kids won’t notice and switch cereals.  It’s a fear that grips the industry: if kids don’t get their fix from one dealer, they’ll find another.  Jeff Harmening, president of General Mills’ Big G cereal division, summed in up: “…if you change the taste dramatically or suddenly, they’ll walk away from the brand,” he said.

After working for decades to supply America’s kids with all the sugar they want, it’s a hard change for the industry.  But apparently, loading children with the sweets they crave may in fact be bad for them.  Recent studies from the 1970’s, 80’s, 90’s and the entire latest decade suggest the explosion in childhood obesity, diabetes and other health issues may have something to do with all that sweetener in the diet.

Given sugar is now the single largest additive to processed foods, and breakfast cereals are the number four most often purchased food in America, some have begun to think there might be some connection.

Clearly, not all parents are going to be concerned.  Those who may be upset with the cereal sugar cutbacks can add back about a quarter teaspoon of sugar per serving, the amount the company is taking out.  That will keep the sugar level up at it’s current total of two and a half teaspoons a bowl.

To its credit, General Mills’ goal is to reduce the single serving of sugar to less than 10 grams in cereals targeted to children.  But studies and new national dietary guidelines for children say they shouldn’t be eating more than 48 grams of sugar per day.  Which means just one bowl of cereal and one can of soda (39 grams of sugar) would more than do it for the whole day.

Adult cereals won’t be affected. Unlike those made for kids, ours typically only have 1 to 3 grams of added sugar in the first place.

But, my kids weren’t listening.  They were polishing off the slices of fresh dense bread I’d turned out of the breadmaker that morning.  With one-third the sugar, and twice the protein, as the cereals.

Trix Rabbit my eye.

For my take on why Dads should own bread machines,  see my post, Winner By a Nose.

Eat This Vacation

Vacationing with six stomachs can be a distraction. I’m on the road with the family, seeing the country. And eating out, and eating through a car payment every day. While everyone is oooing and ahing at the waterfall, I’m seeing the gushing hole in my wallet. And trying to come up with ways to plug it.

Yeah, it’s the end of summer. For three weeks the family has been straining like olympic runners at the starting blocks to bolt the house and have a real trip. Maps drawn, reservations made. Special clothes, with colors and cuts that insure they will never be worn again, have been bought. Neighbors have promised one last time to keep plants and pets alive. And finally one fine bright sun-filled early morning all bags are packed, and we’re loaded and off, an excited, happy crew.

To the drive-through for breakfast. It’s the first stop on our vacation.

And we’re not the only ones. The place is packed with families like ours. Scampering kids doing laps around a long line of WalMart shorts sorting out who-wants-what?, while the happy meal crew behind the counter efficiently relieve us of some excess cash before we hit the road. Something starts nagging at the back of my mind.

And by about a third of the way through our trip, I’ve figured it out. The natural and man-made wonders of America have become bait in a spiders-web of eateries of every imaginable variety. Freeway exits are clogged with them, and they’re lined up miles deep before you actually get to see your destination. And small wonder. All that fresh air and vacation spirit makes for some big and frequent appetites. And expensive tabs by the end of the day.

Now, I’m all for the pleasures of eating out on vacation. Which is part of the problem, of course. So, it took some doing to come up with ways to still make food fun without breaking the bank or waistline. Here’s some ideas I tested that worked just fine, and with a little effort and looking, made for a good time as well.

1. Farm Fresh It’s easy to forget that food doesn’t come from a semi truck or fluorescent lit shelf.  All across America there are folks who actually grow and raise food. And many are more than happy to share some bounty directly with us. Farm stands, farm stores, and tours are not only great stops, but you can often load up on delicious and inexpensive eats you won’t find anywhere else. Some communities have farm trail maps, showing dairy, fruit, vegetable and other specialty growers. Otherwise, consult local papers or the internet. You’ll be shocked how many you’ll find, from cheese makers to fruit pies. You’ll never again think what you got in the supermarket was the way food should taste.

2. Farmer’s Markets These days even cities often have excellent farmers markets, one or more days a week. Discover one and you’ll find aisles of local fresh food, as well as a variety of cooking or prepared foods to take with you. It’s fun to wander, eat and shop, and discover tasty and unusual treats  to munch or carry away. Stock up on things like local jams, fruits, baked goods, snack type foods, and other items that will carry well, and make a great between meal feast or picnic.

3. U Pick If you’ve never helped your kids pull ripe berries or apples off a laden branch, or rake new potatoes out of the ground with their fingers, you’re depriving them of a lifelong memory. It may take a little scouting to find, but u-pick – for pick-it-yourself – farms are worth the hunt.  There’s the field or orchard, here’s a bucket or basket, and you’re in charge of harvest. What you’ll find varies by season and farm, so it’s worth calling ahead to see what’s ripe and ready. Be prepared to have to pull the kids away. You can load up to take home, or just pick enough for an afternoon. Prices are usually market or much better. And the best part is, you can select the ripest, freshest, best fruit or veggies yourself.

4. Mom and Pops Before the plastic arches,  every town and crossroads had at least one or more cafes or small restaurants serving food the local folks liked to eat, and many still do. It’s hard to compete with two dollar value meals these days, but some local eateries still serve working man portions, and good food for the value, with pride and a local twist or recipe. Again, the internet can be your friend to find one, but look for the places that are busy at meal time, and smell good when you walk through the door. Avoid the temptation to order what you always do. Instead, ask the waitress what’s popular.

5. Ethnic Eats American towns and metropolises are populated with people with ancestors from around the globe, and many still prepare all the good and wonderful menus they enjoyed in their native countries. You can explore for authentic wursts and sausages, dim sum, or tapas with the family and not only expand some horizons, but eat well and often inexpensively to boot. And why would you want to drive a hundred miles to eat the same thing you can get a mile from home anyway? Here’s a tip on how to pick a good one: eat at a place filled with people of the same nationality or ethnicity as the food.

6. Ice Chest You’ve probably got one, but are you using it? If you’ve stopped at any or all of the above suggestions, you could probably fill one or more with all kinds of goodies or leftovers, and skip having to make a restaurant stop every few hours. Bring condiments or such things from home, pick up food from the store to make meals and snacks, and you’ll save a bundle. Plus, you’ll avoid a lot of whining and driving around looking for someplace everybody wants to eat.

7. BBQue If you don’t want to haul your Weber or hibachi, nearly every park has a pit or grill you can use, and besides the fun of eating outdoors, you keep the tip. If you’re equipped for tailgates already, bring the gear. Otherwise, travel light, just pick up a stainless grill and some charcoal, and use rocks, or park cookouts. Just don’t torch the forest.

Near the end of our vacation, we were having as much fun looking for new and interesting places for food experiences as we were our planned attractions, and not only saved some money, but ate better than we’d ever imagined.  And, personally, it felt like a small victory, to sail by the chain joints, with nobody missing them a bit, and share a bit of what regular American folk do for food.

The Trouble With Breakfast

I have a problem with breakfast.  I need trained professionals with paddles who shout ‘clear’ in order to wake up before the kids.  Early morning is not my best time of day.  So, I find a big heaping bowl of ice cold milk and wet flakes first thing about as appealing as finding  our labrador had an accident in the living room.

Don’t get me wrong.  Should anyone from Kelloggs, General Mills, Post or any other cereal company stumble over here and find me comparing their products to dog poo:  I’m sure you good folks make very fine breakfast foods, which are enjoyed by hundreds of millions daily.  In fact, I believe breakfast cereals are the fourth most common item purchased at supermarkets in the US.  So, I’m also sure, you don’t miss having me for a customer.

I think my distaste for cold cereals started when I was a young boy.  In those days my father would only allow the family to eat the kind of cereal HE liked.  And he liked corn flakes.  Every single day.  My brothers and sister and I would watch television commercials with creatures shouting about exotic, unbelievably sweet and shaped cereals, eye-popping with colors, and could only imagine what it would be like to live in a country that served them.  Like, just next door.

I discovered my ideal breakfast on an extended work stay in a bed and breakfast outside Aberdeen,  Scotland.  Let’s just say, the breakfast was bigger than the bed.  The gracious family who ran the place would suggest what I might like to have, without restriction, and then serve it.  Not ‘either / or’, but, altogether.  Meats, eggs, fried tomatoes, and potatoes, black pudding, baked beans, whole grain breads and marmalade, on the plate, early every morning.  And in the center of my table, arranged by variety, stood little boxes of different types of dry cereal, which I deliberately ignored.  With a start like that, I ran all the way til dinner and skipped lunch.

Now, its clear, if I ate that way each day of my life, I would actually require those professionals with paddles, to manage heart attacks.  So, at home, it’s just a fond memory.

But every couple of weeks, I like to take a weekend morning and give the kids a small taste of what they’re missing.  They’d choke on my Scots menu, so I do a special hash brown potatoes with eggs or french toast, and they’re always happy.

The hash browns are a big hit because of a little cooking secret.  Here’s how it works.  Plants that have bulbs or tubers in the ground are actually using them to store up sugar, so they can get through a deadly winter, and have enough spark to put up leaves in spring.  You may not know it right off, but onions, garlic, and potatoes have the sweet stuff in abundance.  The trick is to get them to come out so you can taste them.

Slow, long cooking is the key.  I start with two good-sized onions and three garlic cloves and eight medium potatoes, to feed six.  That may leave you with leftovers, but they’re just as good as fresh.

Chop the onions into pieces about the size of your thumbnail, and the garlic as fine as you can.  Margarine or butter, about a tablespoon or one and a half, in a cast iron skillet.  Use another pan at your own risk, you want to brown things, not blacken, and the trusty skillet is a master at doing that.

Start the onion and garlic over medium heat.  Meanwhile, microwave or boil the whole potatoes til they’re firm enough to still resist a fork, but less so than raw.  Cut that into pieces about twice the size of your thumbnail, or any size you prefer.  Smaller cooks best.

Then turn the flame down to medium low, still sizzling but gently, and put in the potatoes, with some salt, a bit of pepper, a little shake of dry dill if you have it, and a couple good shakes of paprika. You can also add another tablespoon of margarine or butter if the mix looks really dry.  The ingredients should look like they have a little on them.

The layer of pieces in contact with the skillet bottom cook, and as they do, they’ll want to stick.  So, your job for the next hour or so is to use a metal spatula and keep them scraped off and turned over, so everything gets evenly done.

As they cook, the onion, garlic and potatoes are losing water, and the sugars in them are browning.  Medium dark brown is good, close to cherry wood, but not walnut, or stop before things start to get crunchy.

A proper breakfast, if I say so myself.

The old saw is, you are what you eat, and I like the idea I’m feeding the kids something good, straight from the earth.  My wife says, I’m flaky enough as it is.