Packing lunches is truly a labor of love. It involves guilt and anxiety along with a need to provide safe, nutritious food for members of the family who will be away from home at this mealtime. It’s funny how something so simple can get so complicated.
The container is perhaps one of the first considerations. Is it durable, packable and portable? Will it keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot? Is it something your child or husband will carry with pride? Allowing them to choose the container for their lunch, within limits, of course, is perhaps the best way to deal with this. Kids have definite ideas about what they like and what their peers will accept, and husbands have their preferences, too.
Early lunchboxes were just dome-lidded steel boxes designed to carry factory workers’ sandwiches. Then, came the insulated Thermos containers and easier-to-clean plastic boxes. These then gave way to the fabric or vinyl stuffed with insulating foam to keep foods at safe temperatures and reduce the risk of bacterial growth. Lately, there have been some concerns about the kind of plastics and lead content of some containers for packaging foods inside the box. There are styles to fit every taste and need.
Lunch in a box should be ‘fun food’ and preempt the temptation to wander off in the direction of fast foods. But then, what goes inside? Lucky is the wife and mother whose family will eat most anything. The beauty of homemade and home-packed lunches is the ability to accommodate all sorts of foods and palates and present it in a way that entices everyone to eat healthy.
Packing lunches is an acquired skill and can be shared by the whole family. As Valerie Waters states in her Food-wise Tip of the Month, “When you bring your lunch and snack with you to work or school, it guarantees you’ll eat right. Take just 10 minutes after dinner to make lunches for the next day. Help your child learn to be responsible for his/her own nutrition by getting them involved. Children age 7 and under can choose from a pre-approved selection of snacks, like an apple, orange or snack box of California Raisins. Ages 8 through 10 can help assemble a sandwich under supervision, and 11-year-olds and up, can make their lunch while you make yours.” It’s not only a learning experience, but it is fun and teaches kids about food and nutrition.
The 2008 Olympics in Beijing have sparked unlimited interest in the culture, the people, and the foods of China. The approach of fall brings the Chinese Moon Festival, observed on the fifteenth day of the eighth lunar month, and the birthday of Confucius, observed on September 28. The best place to see this latter festival is the Confucius Temple at the Qufu in Shandong, the sage’s birthplace. Families of Chinese heritage here in the Untied States will also be celebrating these holidays.
Moon Cakes, a favorite food named in honor of the festival itself, are often filled with red bean paste, hard-boiled eggs, lotus paste, or a mixture of fruit and nuts. Wooden molds, available at many Oriental markets, help wrap and shape these fillings with a pastry imprinted with Chinese characters or impressions of the moon. The cakes may also be shaped and made just like these Nut and Raisin Thumbprints or the Pecan Thumbprint Cookies with California Golden Raisin-Dried Cherry Marmalade. Before the summer is over, these latter make extraordinarily good ice cream sandwiches as shown here.
For pastry to line the wooden mold mentioned above or any other small mold, combine 1/4 cup sugar with 1/2 cup salted butter and 1 egg yolk and beat together until smooth. Then, stir in 1 cup all-purpose flour until the dough forms a ball. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for 30 minutes. Divide dough into small balls and press to thinly completely cover the inside of the mold. Fill with a filling from one of the thumbprint cookie recipes mentioned above or Old English Mince for Pies and Tarts and cover with a piece of dough rolled to fit the top of the mold. Turn mold and tap until cake falls out. Arrange cakes in individual muffin tins or on a baking sheet. Brush with egg wash made of 1 whole egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water. Bake at 350°F for about 20 minutes or just until slightly brown. Cool and cut into wedges to serve.
California Raisins Own Harvest Festival
About this time of the year, the Central Valley of California is the scene of another kind of harvest festival. Along with many other fruit and vegetable crops, the grapes are ripening and must be harvested to make those sweet tasty California Raisins.
Many of the raisins are still harvested by hand where the bunches of grapes are cut from the vines and laid out on paper trays between the rows to dry in the hot, hot California sunshine. About half of the 350,000 tons of raisins grown within a 60-mile radius of Fresno are harvested with mechanical pickers that shake the grapes off the vine and automatically lay them out on a continuous paper tray to dry.
As soon as the raisins are sun-dried, they are loaded into bins and delivered to the packing plant. There the first step is for government inspectors to gather samples and inspect each bin to ensure that United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) standards are met. Next, raisins are processed through a series of conveyor belts and drums to remove any stems, chaff or lightweight fruit, and then, they are sent through a vacuum air stream to catch any other undesirable materials. Finally, they are size-graded and thoroughly washed in pure water.
In preparation for packaging, the raisins are moved through a laser sorter where anything else beside raisins is removed. Quality control technicians and inspectors examine the raisins by hand throughout the packaging process, assuring that California Raisins are the cleanest, highest quality in the world. After final inspections, raisins are automatically weighed and packed in a variety of convenient size packages. California Raisins are then shipped throughout North America and the world for consumers to enjoy.
Mexican Independence, September 16
Mexico celebrates its Independence Day on September 16 with the country’s biggest national holiday. The celebration begins on September 15, with traditional foods and festivities and continues through the following day with parades and, of course, more food and fun!
Vivid colors, national flags, patriotic citizens and food fill the streets throughout Mexico. At midnight on the 15th, the Mexican president appears on the balcony of the Zócalo or Main Square in Mexico City and yells out the national cry while patriots gather around or watch from their television sets. Fireworks illuminate the sky, music fills the air, and the fiesta continues throughout the night.
Mexican or not, celebrate this foreign holiday by trying some authentic Mexican dishes. Plan your own festive fiesta at home by decorating with bright colors, traditional music and hey, why not some fun sombreros?
For dessert and the ultimate finishing touch, these easy California Raisin and Brie Dessert Quesadillas makes a sweet, nutty and buttery treat. Be sure to make plenty! This award-winning recipe is sure to be a favorite! Mexican Chocolate Rum-Raisin Bread Pudding brings on the decadent chocolate flavors of Mexico if that is more to your liking. This is a great time to try some of these ethnic Mexican recipes. You will be surprised at how simple they truly are.
A Special Note about Women’s Health & Fitness Day, September 24, and Family Health & Fitness Day, September 27
Women’s Health & Fitness Day is the nation’s largest annual health promotion event for women of all ages. On Wednesday, September 24, a special focus will be on the importance of regular physical activity and health awareness for women. Creating awareness is the first step to change that carries throughout life for better living. Women especially are encouraged to take control of their health, learn the facts that will lead to wise choices for health, and make time for regular physical activity.
Then, Family Health & Fitness Day follows right on its heels on Saturday, September 27. Lessons learned earlier in the week by women can be shared with friends and family. Family Health & Fitness Day is also a great time to promote family involvement in physical activities. Gather the family and friends together and make a point to exercise together on a regular basis. This is motivating and a lot of extra fun. Perhaps your garage or recreation room could provide a gathering place for this group to all work out with Valerie Waters’ video, Cardio Without the Gym.
Along with promoting physical activity are other healthy choices, starting with the foods you choose, remember that old saying, you are what you eat? It’s true! When you eat well, you feel better about yourself, both in body and in mind. Make Wise Choices and add California Raisins to your daily diet. Your body and mind will thank you for it. You might start with the Recipe of the Month, Grilled Limoncello Chicken with California Raisins.
Here are some other Healthy recipes that will guide you to those Wise Choices. For breakfast, Bumps-on-A-Bagel or Cocoa Raisin Muffins provide convenient on-the-go nutrition. Prepare ahead of time and just grab-and-go. Nobody should skip breakfast.
In-between-meal snacks are important for keeping your metabolism up. California Raisin Tapenade makes a satisfying snack or party appetizer. Chocolate-covered Raisin Clusters are a delicious solution for a sweet tooth, and are healthy and low in sodium. These sweet and decadent clusters can be made ahead of time and packed for a healthy on-the-go snack, anywhere you go.
All the recipes featured in Women’s Health & Fitness Day and Family Health & Fitness Day are healthy and have other dietary considerations. Check out more healthy recipes by selecting the Healthy category under recipes at LoveYourRaisins.com and get on the road to great health!
Remember California Raisins are the Wise Choice for healthy eating, every time.
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