Saturday, July 17, 2010

Project Lunch: Shaping Up!

On Thursday (7/15/10) I did another toddler/preschooler cooking class for my MOMS club. Only this time, since I didn't want to have to scrub my house again, we did a no-cook event at a nearby park! My original plan with these cooking classes was to have them all be no-cook at parks, since my house is usually such a pig-sty. For my first one, my house was still cleanish from Z's birthday party, so I added quesadillas to the menu, to utilize my available oven. For this one, my plan was sandwiches, cheese and fruit, cut into shapes using the cookie cutters and sandwich punches I have.
Due to my lack of planning and time-management, I was out late the night before shopping at Safeway, rather than my preferred (and MUCH cheaper) store, Winco. I got watermelon, apples, whole wheat and whole wheat white bread, honey, creamy peanut butter (I actually had a whole jar still in the pantry, so used that,) Nutella, and squeezable strawberry and grape jellies. Oh, and Colby Jack cheese and plain cream cheese (if anyone wanted to try cream cheese and jelly sandwiches. No one did.)

I then stayed up extra late playing on Facebook instead of frantically slicing cheese and melon, so I got to get up extra early (on top of getting to bed extra late. Yay.) The melon was difficult, since my largest knife couldn't cut clear through the middle by itself. I had to hack it around as best I could and try not to make too many skinny half-flaps of melon. I was actually surprised at how well it turned out though. Some advice for melon slicing - if you shave off a slab of rind on whichever part of the melon is going to be the 'bottom,' it stays nice and flat for you! I sliced the apples crosswise from side to side (rather than top-to-bottom or into wedges) so that we could use tiny cutters to either punch out the seed 'star' in the middle, or else to punch out little shapes from the 'flesh' of the apple. I got some super cute tiny cutters made by Toysmith -the smallest ones are about as tall as a dime! In the first photo, the tiny shapes in the sandwich are from the star one.

Since apples tend to brown once peeled or sliced, I dipped them in an apple/lemon juice mix. I read somewhere that its the Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) that prevents browning, which is why the McDonald's Happy Meal apples and the pre-sliced ones at the grocery store have that as an ingredient, but they usually use lemon juice. But apple juice has Vitamin C too! And won't make them taste as funny! As a reward for all my hard work, I completely forgot to bring the apples, and they were brown when I checked them the next day. I also forgot to bring plates. Sigh.

Since we were at a park with a playground, the kids played for a while first, but I was surprised at how quickly they came back. The class at my house, they hardly wanted to stop playing in the ball pit! It was slow going at first. Little Z actually made a ducky shape cheese, by herself (I was too busy to help her for the most part) and she made many ducky-shaped lines in her cheese as well! Then she got bored and wandered off. The kids made cheese shapes and either ate them or didn't. They then either ate the scraps, or didn't. I brought my Krustbuster sandwich press to make 'puzzle cheese' sandwiches, since the little bits stay in better with the sides of the bread sealed, but none of the kids were interested. I was worried that they were going to think the whole thing was stupid, and hate me forever. Well, the little geeky kid in me was afraid of that.

So I pushed on to sandwiches, which went a little better. The moms let the kids pick whatever toppings they wanted, so one boy had a honey and jelly sandwich! Most of them chose Nutella. Many of them had never had it before, so I'm glad I brought it. I wanted to introduce a new or unusual food with each class, to get them to taste 'outside the box' as it were. I had wanted to try mangos, since they seemed pretty firm and might be good for making shapes, but I completely forgot when shopping. *I* had never had Nutella before, so it was a first for me too!
There was one little boy who is apparently a very picky eater. He refused to play with the cheese at all, and didn't want to try any spreads to make a sandwich. He did enjoy having his mom use dinosaur cutters and make shapes out of plain bread. He took them home in a baggie! (I think he did end up trying some cheese at the very end.)
One of the moms was pleasantly surprised to discover that her kids could make their own sandwiches! They put the spreads on themselves! She joked that she'd never have to make a sandwich again!
Another mom told me about her son, who had all but refused to even TRY some of the guacamole we had made at out first class last month, is now asking her to buy more avocados! I love it! This is why I wanted to do these classes! Food is MUCH tastier, and they are more willing to try something new if they either got to choose a new ingredient to try, or helped prepare it! (Or grew it in their garden, but that's too much work for me! Maybe next summer I'll do a garden class! Oooo! Good idea!)

The watermelon was a huge hit. During the sandwich portion of our show, many of the kids were eating as they went, so I didn't know if anyone would still have room in their bellies, and some kids were taking longer than others, and since I had forgotten the plates, I didn't want to be pushing sandwiches aside to fit melon on the mats too. Many of the kids had run off to play on the toys after eating their sandwich. Well. It didn't take long for the word on the street to get out about the melon! I had an army of little kids clamoring for watermelon! Even the picky eater had some! (And took a bunch of dino-melons home.... in a baggie!) It held up surprisingly well. The only faulty shape I saw was a hippo whose tummy fell out (a hole in his middle, so his frame was intact) and the girl thought that THAT was great fun! Whew!

I made this next picture extra large so you could see the little "Army of Duckness" this girl had going there! There's a whole bunch of duckiemelons lined up on the left side of the melon rind! (I named this picture "Army of Duckness" when I sent it out to the MOMS who attended before finding out that this girls' mom loves the Bruce Campbell "Evil Dead" movies! ("Army of Darkness" was one.) What a fun coincidence!)

Meanwhile, Little Z whined and cried and begged to be held, and wanted to play on the toys, but wanted me to go with her. She had eaten a little cheese, but was uninterested in a sandwich (I ate the 'puzzle cheese' sandwich pocket I had made to demonstrate it to the kids.) Once most of the kids were done, and the MOMS had gotten the hang of things, I went out to play with my little girl. I had found a jar in my car earlier, when she was whining for water when all I had brought was Capri Suns, and she found a patch of dirt and made mud pies. Hey. That counts as cooking, right?

When all the other kids had left and I was cleaning up, I saw I still had a few small slices of watermelon left, so I asked Z if she wanted any (she did) and I made flower shapes for her (and one hippo.) She would climb up onto the bench, snatch a flowermelon, then scarper off to the grass, sit and eat it, then rinse and repeat. It was hilarious.

Most of the products we used are linked below, except the puzzle Lunch Punch  (bright green cutter in the pictures.) and the Creative Cutters set from Pampered Chef. (I've pre-ordered the VrrrrM! and Sand*Wishes LunchPunch sets, and haven't bought the Critter Cutters set yet from Amazon. *sigh.*) 
The place mats and cutting mats we used were Sesame Street ones I got for $1 at Wal-Mart and Target, generic ones from a Dollar Store near me that's going out of business, and some from red/yellow/green sets of flexible cutting mats for keeping food surfaces separate (red for beef, green for veggies, yellow for chicken, but I use my yellows for cheese!)
If you happen to buy any of the products via these Amazon links, I get a tiny percentage, but don't let that influence whether you buy them! But if you were going to get something anyway, you may as well link from here before buying! :)


  1. way cool! that sounds very daunting putting all of that together. nobody noticed anything missing i am sure, and those kids sure had fun eating a variety of food. when i am a hostess, i also like to buy a huge variety of things so that everyone is happy, and then i spend way to much money and food gets wasted. i am working on that :-)

  2. Yeah. I spent over $40 on food for a $24 return. But I got all the leftovers. I probably would have saved at least $5 if I had gone to the store I had wanted to shop at.
    The moms all tell me that their kids had a great time, so I'm assuming they did. I had originally planned on doing these classes only during the summer, so I could do them outside so I wouldn't have to clean my house, but they're so popular, moms are offering their houses, if I do all the rest of it. But I'm terrified. They could so easily turn on me and take over! (The kids, not the moms!)


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