We’ve been gearing up for school in my house, and I’ve been consciously trying to get my culinary house in order to keep up with the new routine. What does that mean? Well, making sure I have plenty of cereal and after-school snacks on hand is at the top of the list. And like many parents, I treat this back-to-school time like a second New Year’s, where I start fresh by trying to correct some bad habits we might have accrued over the summer and reinstating some house rules that have loosened since we started school last year.
Here’s my back-to-school checklist for your kitchen:
Stock up on supplies. That’s snacks, plastic zip-top baggies, lunch meat and bread, but also staples like rice, pasta, canned goods and frozen veggies that will help you get a quick dinner on the table. I always have pot stickers, frozen pizza and corn dogs on hand for nights that are just too harried to cook.
Get into a meal planning routine. Planning every meal doesn’t work for my family, but planning two or three dinners over the course of the week definitely helps. The best meal planning cooks keep calendars on their fridges or on their phones so they can easily keep track of what’s for dinner and what they need to buy from the grocery store.
Purge, purge, purge. You know I’m a big fan of culling your spice cabinet and pantry often so that you don’t wind up with canned beans that expired in 2015. In my house, rolled-up bags of chips collect in the back of the bottom of the pantry where the kids toss them when I’m not looking. I’m also about to throw away about 10 jars of various refrigerated pickles that I’ve acquired over the year and no one is eating.
Clean, clean, clean. Give your stove-top a good scrub. Wipe the shelves in the fridge. Get rid of all those half-sprouted garlic cloves. Toss the plastic containers that don’t have a lid. Take all the magnets, photos and paperwork off the fridge and only put back what you really want to have up there. Fall cleaning is just as cathartic as spring cleaning, so take a morning or an afternoon to show some self-love by cleaning a space you spend so much time in.
Bump your kids up to the next level of cooking and cleaning responsibility. My kids aren’t quite ready to start washing dishes by hand, but I am going to enforce the expectation that they bring their dirty plates to the sink — not the kitchen countertop. If your kids are in middle or high school, find a kitchen-related task that they can be responsible for, such as sweeping the floor after dinner or running or emptying the dishwasher. For elementary school kids, it’s reasonable to expect that they throw away their snack trash or help clean up after dinner by putting away clean dishes or anything that needs to go back in the fridge.
If your kids are old enough to cook, assign them dinner once or twice a month. Don’t leave them totally unsupported, but let them take the lead on shopping for and preparing the ingredients. Kids who go off to college need the experience of cooking not only for themselves but for a small group of people. It’s a life skill that is just as important as what they are learning in school.
Eat dinner together. You might already eat dinner at the table together, but it’s OK if you don’t hit every night. We try to eat the majority of meals at the dinner table together, but as a single mom, sometimes I need a little mental break. If eating separately means I have the stamina to play a board game or read a little extra with them later, that’s a fair exchange.
Divorced or separated? Talk with your co-parent about dining and food habits. My kids’ dad and I talk every day, usually via text, about stuff that’s going on in our kids’ lives. He’ll vent about the little one’s refusal to eat the amazing food he prepares for them, and I’ll let him know if they’ve overdone it on snacks when I wasn’t looking so he can be on the lookout for similar behavior. It’s unreasonable to expect that the kids have the same dinnertime habits in both houses, so try to avoid critiquing the other parent if he/she doesn’t do meals the way you wish. If there’s a problem around mealtime — bad manners, refusal to eat or sit at the table, poor food choices — talk about it privately with your co-parent and then have a family meeting with both parents and the kids to set some boundaries and expectations.
Popular peach fundraiser returns
If you’re in the market for some really good peaches that raise money for really good causes, mark your calendar for Sept. 9.
That’s the day the Northwest Austin Kiwanis will deliver 22-pound boxes of the best peaches you can find in this part of the country right now. The group hosts two peach fundraisers every year, one in July and another in September. They usually sell Texas peaches in July, but this year’s poor crop forced them to go with Colorado peaches earlier in the summer. Next month’s sale of Mountain Gold peaches helps raise money for dozens of groups the Kiwanis support over the year, including Any Baby Can, Austin Child Guidance Center and Libraries of Love.
Organizer Bud Baughman says they donate about $15,000 a year to local projects, and the peach sale is the primary source of that funding. The deadline to order the peaches, which cost $45 per box, is Aug. 30. You can order and find out more at nwaustinkiwanis.org/peaches. Customers can pick up their boxes from 8:30 a.m. to noon Sept. 9 in the Anderson High School parking lot.
When is it time to say goodbye to Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben?
Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben are two icons of American grocery branding. They are also two caricatures invented by white men based on slave and servant imagery. Countless articles and books have been written about the offensiveness and imbued racism of these African-American characters used to sell pancake mix and syrup and boxed rice on grocery shelves across all 50 states. It’s 2017. Why are they still there?
The breakfast website Extra Crispy posted an article last week about what’s really in fake maple syrup, as if that were the most offensive thing about Aunt Jemima syrup, whose smiling mammy figure debuted in 1889, a time when white Americans were anxious about race and needed comforting from a benevolent kitchen maid who would never talk back or demand equal pay.
As I watch many people around the country slowly start to wake up to the realities of institutionalized oppression and white supremacy, I can’t help but ask, what purpose do these characters serve today? When will we be ready to put them to rest in history books and museums?
My gut says that it’s only a matter of time before the parent companies of Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben brands (Quaker Oats Company, which is owned by PepsiCo, and Mars International) will face enough pressure to officially retire this tired, insensitive imagery. But I also know that nostalgia, which might come in the form of the scent of the syrup of our childhood, is a powerful drug. I’d love to hear your thoughts on how food marketing has or hasn’t evolved in your lifetime and if you think these brands will ever leave grocery shelves.