When Kozue Morii’s 5-year-old son, Charlie clung to her the first day of kindergarten and wouldn’t let go, she knew she had a problem. “He would not stop crying; he’d hang onto my clothes,” she recalls. “He was so used to being with me at home.” She dug deep into her Japanese roots and began to think of creative ways to “make him smile” by applying her culinary skills from her own childhood.
She decided to make him a bento box lunch, but not just any ordinary bento box. Bento box lunches are single-portion home-packed meals common in Japanese cuisine. They include rice, fish or meat, and pickled or cooked vegetables packed in a box-shaped container.
Instead, Morii whipped up some deep-fried Asian-style meatballs. Topped with mozzarella cheese pieces, a tomato smile and olive eyes, they started to look a lot like one of Charlie’s favorite creatures from PIKMIN, a Japanese Nintendo video game they play together. (Get the recipe here.)
“When I showed him the first lunch I made for him and he saw his favorite PIKMIN character, he looked at me and said “I am so happy;” he didn’t cry at school anymore after that.”
Yellow American cheese, cut into PIKMIN body shapes with nori seaweed eyes and snow pea leaves on a tomato tulip were some other ways she used food to surprise Charlie in his lunch every day.
“Dinner is not what you do in the evening before something else; dinner is the evening.”__Art Buchwald
Food fit for a king in Saudi Arabia, a big, fat Greek meal in Athens or recipes made from a modern day Julia Child in Columbus, Ohio may be what’s for dinner tonight, tomorrow or as many evenings as you wish–and almost wherever you wish.
Dining in unusual places with strangers is what Eatwith was created to be: a website directory of hosts who cook in their home or a venue of their choice. Users make reservations on the site and choose the venue, menu and host for a particular evening get-together.
With over 60 countries and hundreds of hosts participating, guests can dine while vacationing or traveling for work–anywhere a host has open reservations. Billing itself as “the future of dining,” EatWith has also been compared to ultra successful airbnb, but for meals instead of beds.
Familiar foods with healthier ingredients and reduced sodium is a positive start to improving kids’ menus. (Photo: Las Canarias & Ostra)
In the 1960’s, the healthy part of a “kid’s” meal at a restaurant was the cherry in our Shirley Temples.
And who doesn’t remember slathering cold butter on her crackers as the waiter brought us mini steaks and fries, followed by chocolate pudding with a whipped cream topper. Even dentists gave us a lollipop after a teeth cleaning!
But the world has certainly changed – and not a bite too soon when it comes to curbing America’s child obesity epidemic.
The Fat Fight
According to the Centers for Disease Control, children are mirroring their older role models when it comes to excess weight. For sadly, the obesity rate “has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years.”
Further, the link between poverty and higher obesity rates is clearly delineated – largely because food deserts, where lower-income families cannot find fresh fruits and vegetables, remain a striking problem in the U.S.
Millions of people are ordering boxed dinners and meal services to the tune of $5 billion in sales and growing. The growth and variety of these services is dizzying but basically it boils down to this: recipes, ingredients, and delivery. All you add is cooking and cleanup.
After that it gets interesting. Competitors looking for their piece of the pie offer trimmings such as menus for special diets, recipes created by celebrity chefs, weekly menus designed to cut food waste, biodegradable packaging, etc. All of them promise an easy time in the kitchen and a meal that’s much more homemade than takeout.
Executive Chef Richard Papier opened Arana in New Orleans’ Garden District about a year ago. He is holding a bottle of Kai tequila (Day of the Dead), one of their many varieties. (Photo © Kent Hardouin)
Over 1,800 people died as a result of Hurricane Katrina. Many more fled the city prior to the floods, including Richard Papier. Ten years later, he finally came back.
“I didn’t know if my home was OK. I was sitting at a computer watching the governor on TV talking about the city,” recalls Richard Papier of New Orleans. Although his home was in the Garden District, far from the Lower 9th Ward, he didn’t realize it had been spared from the floods.
Papier had had to flee, along with thousands of others, days before Hurricane Katrina slammed into Southeastern Louisiana in late August 2005. He left for North Carolina, but not as quickly as he planned. Traffic was snarled. Power lines were down.
“Trying to get out of town was crazy. We had to drive to Baton Rouge just to get out of town… Both sides of the interstate were being used, yet even so, what usually took 45 minutes to an hour took about five hours. We couldn’t find a gas station, either.”
Home isn’t the only place where families bond around the kitchen table. So do firefighters at work. Generally, crews assigned to shifts that extend over consecutive days and nights, spend a lot of time together on the job. Eating around the kitchen table, (yes, fire stations have kitchens as well as dormitories) is a tradition that nurtures a family of its own.
Unlike most families at home, however, fire stations do not have one person responsible for the cooking; usually each firefighter rotates cooking for the “family.” And when you are together for extended periods, on call for strenuous duty, sandwiches and leftovers are not enough–you need hearty meals! Some firefighters are already good cooks when they join the department; others learn on the job.