Snack Plate

My kids are at the age when they are about to eat us out of house and home.  I used to roll my eyes when I heard other people say that.  “It’s just food. How expensive could that be?”  But now I know better.

The money issue was only part of the problem for me.  What bothered me even more was the constant pleading for more food.  I literally (and I’m not using that word figuratively) would be washing up the lunch dishes, wiping down the counters and they would walk up (from the table) and say, sandwich crumbs on their cheeks, “What can I have for a snack?”  And then all afternoon, they kept me completely informed by the half hour about how empty their poor little tummies were, begging for scraps lest they wither away and die.

I was going crazy.

So I came up with a solution.  I put a plate of food on the table every afternoon.  That is their snack allotment for the day and when it’s gone, it’s gone.  They are not allowed to ask me for anything different, or for anything else.  But here’s the winning part: They do not have to ask me if they can eat anything that’s on the snack plate.  They love this.  They get to be in charge of when and what and how much they eat (from the snack plate but at seven and four years of age, this suffices as “in charge”).  I decide on cheap, healthy choices and then get left alone the rest of the afternoon about feeding them.  I love this.  Win-win.

Sometimes I take the opportunity to clear out the cabinets.  Leftover whole-wheat crackers from our game party last weekend.  Pumpkin seeds that have been in there so long I thought they were part of the house.  Cereal bits that won’t make a whole bowl full for breakfast.

Sometimes I get fun and make a “theme.”  Round things.  (Grapes, blueberries, cherry tomatoes, and boiled eggs.) Red things. (Red bell pepper strips, strawberries, tomatoes, four red gummy bears.)  On Fridays I like to make it a special treat – banana muffins and maybe carrot sticks to balance the treat part.

Scientifically, I’m not sure how this works, but my kids will almost always completely devour whatever is on the plate.  At dinnertime, fill their plate with carrot sticks and almonds and they will totally balk and spend the entire evening sitting and staring at the grossness I’m making them eat.  But on Snack Plate, different story.  Wild.

And my husband and I find ourselves grabbing a carrot stick to munch on since it’s right there on the table.  Convenience is everything.  I’m such a big fan of this Snack Plate idea. We are all eating really healthy snacks, the kids are getting another intake of vegetables and fruits, my cabinets aren’t so stuffed with junk I bought and we never finished, and everyone is happy about being in charge of their own afternoon eating.

Now my son’s first question when I pick him up from school is, “What’s on the Snack Plate today?”  No matter that it’s a turquoise plate full of vegetables.  It’s Snack Plate! It’s all about the marketing.  Freaky but awesome.IMG_8694

Where To Go

I’ll be up front – I don’t mean where to travel.  I mean where to go to find those elusive items you crave and sometimes actually need when you are off home base.  Of course, my  experience is very Czech centric from an American point of view, but it could amuse you others to see how desperate expats can get for a cup of real brown sugar.

So we’ll start with the brown sugar.  Back in the day (don’t I sound so experienced in expat living?  Or just old?) my roommate and I used to mix molasses with white sugar.  I honestly think that was better (because it was moist) than the massive, dry granules that you usually find at stores like Tesco, Globus, and health food stores.  Then the health food store I frequented in Brno, Czech Republic started to have fairly good “packable” brown sugar and in the last two years, I’ve have been an exclusive brown sugar shopper at Marks and Spencer, the British clothing store that has food products tucked into the back of most stores as if clothes were more important than finding brown sugar.

So I’m almost ready to make American chocolate chip cookies but have run out of the chocolate chips my mom throws into every package she mails us.  (Because she knows where the priorities are at.)  Sometimes Tesco or Globus have chocolate chips but these are teensy weensy and super expensive for the handful you get.  You buy five packs to make one batch of cookies and then can’t balance the budget that month.  No room for error or snacking as you bake (not that I do either, right?)  Besides, they aren’t even semi-sweet – just plain sweet.  Not the best for the chocolate chip cookie.  I haven’t seen these anywhere else.  I chunked up baking chocolate in my hand chopper and my husband and kids liked it better.  (They weren’t washing the extra utensil.)

Okay, let’s get off the cookie ingredients before I stop this and go make a batch.  (Incidentally, how many burned calories do you earn to use on freshly baked cookies by making them and cleaning up after yourself?  Just wondering.  No reason.)

Cereal.  This is one of the things that actually blows me away every time we’re in America – the overwhelmingly long aisle of cereal choice after cereal choice.   I love muesli but sometimes you just need (your kid) to have a bowl of cheerios.  Of course, there’s honey nut everything anywhere.  But we found multigrain cheerios (among other amazing finds) at a store in Prague called Roberstons.   They ship anywhere in Czech for a fair price so we just load up on all kinds of cereal (Rice Krispies, Grape Nuts, Special K with Red Berries, Frosted Mini Wheats, Raisin Bran) once a month or so, pay online, wait for the package in the mail, and enjoy breakfast as if we were sitting in Bixby, Oklahoma.  3712

Corn syrup.  I don’t usually use this, but come Thanksgiving, I desperately need a piece of pecan pie and then pull my hair out scouring stores for corn syrup.  Of course, the health food store wasn’t the first place I thought to look.  But that’s about the only place to find it.  Along with other, hard-to-find unhealthy foods.

Here are some more of the finds I count as major gastronomical victories for my little American family (and our big American mouths):

balsamic vinaigrette salad dressing: Marks and Spencer

amazingly thin American corn chips: Marks and Spencer

marshmallows: Robertsons

box stuffing mix: Robertsons

chicken broth: Marks and Spencer

peanut butter: health food stores or Marks and Spencer (elsewhere but I prefer these two for health, crunch and price.)

pizza like you grew up with: Forty’s Pizza (American style crust)

soft sandwich bread: Warburtons brand was at Tesco for a blissful 9 months or so.  Now they are not and going back to the old brands was NOT easy.  Sob story done, sorry.

I asked my husband what the hard-to-find things were we’ve found and he said, “ESPN sports channel from the O2 cable package.”  So for what it’s worth, even Monday night football is at our finger-tips.  With a glass of milk and chocolate (chunk) cookies.