Kids. You just can’t please them.
We have fresh free-range eggs and milk right out of our back door. Our kids can wander through fields of wild
strawberries and eat to their hearts content. They can spend the morning grazing on sweet, crisp snow-peas out of the garden or dig a carrot or potato from the ground and bring it to me to prepare for lunch. They get fresh mozzarella cheese and homemade wheat rolls made for them by their father every week. I make them whole milk yogurt and top it with local maple syrup or honey and freshly made granola in flavors like vanilla bean pecan or caramel cashew.
However, I must confess. When my 6-year-old daughter is especially pleased with something her father or I have made what does she say? Is it “Thanks mom! This is so deliciously wholesome!” or even “Wow, this is better than any restaurant!” No, our daughter’s gold standard, her highest compliment is this:
“It tastes just like it came from the FACTORY!”
We’re not sure whether to cry or to laugh (and we tend to laugh). It is funny. It’s really funny. It’s partly the nature of kids. If your mom fed you Fruit Loops you probably wanted granola, if your mom fed you granola you probably wanted Fruit Loops. That’s just the way kids operate, right? It’s also the insane amount of marketing targeted towards kids. Outside of making them live in a bubble their entire lives we just can’t get away from all of it. Although like many things, it’s something we should work to change we also need to realize its part of the world we and our children are living in right now.
Now, we’re certainly not purist parents. Somewhat ironically, the thing that makes me think like an ecotarian is the same thing that makes me see the big picture in everything I do. I know that if there isn’t some kind of moderation, if I don’t let my kids experience fast food or junk food every now and then it’s likely to hit them all at once later and they won’t know what to do with it. They won’t know how to moderate themselves. I have nightmares of my 7-year-old son sitting in front of the TV all day in college eating french fries for every meal. The kid will watch anything on a screen. Even golf. He’s been captivated by television since he was a baby. My other two kids not so much. Anyway, my point is that as parents our ultimate goal is to help our kids see the big picture, make good choices and moderate themselves when a choice isn’t so black and white.
And that might mean “factory food” once in a while. But, there is a silver lining and a huge teaching opportunity in these experiences. Here is what I love to do. Make something “factoryish” from scratch with your kids. An apple pie is a lovely example with easy ingredients. Have them pick the apples from the store –or better yet, from the tree. Have them mix the dough and roll it out. Put it together and bake it. Then, when it’s time to serve it put it next to the most tasteless pre-made apple pie you can find from the store. Let them try each one and ask them what they think. I tend to believe that kids enjoy things that taste real. Then talk about the ingredients a little. Ask them what is in your apple pie and where the ingredients came from. Then look at the ingredients in the store pie. Are they the same? Different? Do you know what they are or where they came from? At the very least it’s an exercise in being conscious about what we eat.
So, I’ll finish with a couple of “factory foods” that we re-created at home: Donuts and Marshmallows. Both are really fun to make. Also, when my daughter finished her first test marshmallow she told me, “Now mom, to make the BEST s’mores ever we have to make homemade graham crackers and chocolate! Do you know how to make those?!” Now that’s more like it. I told her no, but we could certainly figure it out!
Homemade Marshmallows (from slashfood.com)
.75-oz unflavored gelatin (3 envelopes of Knox gelatin)
1/2 cup cold water
2 cups granulated sugar
2/3 cups light corn syrup (I used homemade vanilla syrup)
1/4 cup water
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon vanilla extract (or one vanilla bean scraped into the mixture)
Line 9 x 9-inch pan with plastic wrap and lightly oil it. Set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, sprinkle gelatin over 1/2 cup cold water. Soak for about 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, combine sugar, corn syrup and 1/4 cup water in a small saucepan. Bring the mixture to a rapid boil and boil hard for 1 minute.
Pour the boiling syrup into soaked gelatin and turn on the mixer, using the whisk attachment, to high speed. Add the salt and beat for 12 minutes. After 12 minutes, add in the vanilla extract beat to incorporate.
Scrape marshmallow into the prepared pan and spread evenly (Lightly greasing your hands and the spatula helps a lot here). Take another piece of lightly oiled plastic wrap and press lightly on top of the marshmallow, creating a seal. Let mixture sit for a few hours, or overnight, until cooled and firmly set.
In a shallow dish, combine equal parts cornstarch and confectioners’ sugar, (I also think they’d be fantastic in equal parts cocoa powder and confectioners sugar…or toasted coconut). Remove marshmallow from pan and cut into equal pieces with scissors (the best tool for the job) or a chef’s knife. Dredge each piece of marshmallow in confectioners’ sugar mixture.
Store in an airtight container.