St. Patrick’s Leftovers and a Birthday Weekend

Corned beef hash

The picture at the left is tonight’s dinner — the promised Corned Beef Hash, made with the leftovers from our slow cooker meal of Tuesday evening.  It turned out great, with all the elements I really appreciate in a hash (but so rarely find): good, rich flavor that’s not too salty; recognizable chunks of meat, so it doesn’t have that pet -food texture; and lots of super-crispy bits that were so deeply brown and crunchy they were JUST barely shy of being burned.  Delicious, especially with a poached egg:

Corned beef hash with poached egg

Now that I’ve taken care of my hash craving for the year, I can move on to the next thing, which happens to be a birthday weekend — mine and P.’s.  We share a birthday and will be doing lots of fun things with family and friends (meaning that I won’t be cooking a full dinner again until Tuesday — even I like a break now and again!); but tomorrow will be the start of the festivities, with classroom treats for P. and his buddies.

Yes, I know.  There are many, many people out there who oppose the idea of sending treats to school for kids’ birthdays; and actually, I’m sort of straddling the line on this one (that sounds like a cop-out, I’m fully aware).  On one hand, the kids get PLENTY of treats at school without there being additional stuff sent by parents for birthdays and so forth; just today, they celebrated St. Patrick’s Day with green pancakes and green milkshakes.  As J. said, “It’s always something, isn’t it?  Halloween, Thanksgiving, the winter holidays, then Valentine’s Day and now St. Patrick’s.  There’s always some excuse to hand out sweets.”  He’s not wrong. 

On the other hand, it’s a matter of my kids being still quite young — young enough to care about these things, and young enough to not really get it if Mommy launches into a big discussion of why she thinks we don’t need to have birthday treats at school.  All they know is that all their classmates have at-school treats and get sung to and wear the birthday crown and all of those really, really important things that mark the passage of the years, when you’re little.  I’ve said before that I believe it’s crucial to look after their nutrition and well-being WITHOUT making them the odd ones out, and to a 4-year-old and 2-year-old, the school birthday is a big honking deal.

I do not, however, feel like this is a time to purchase a huge sugary store-bought cake.  It’s not something I’d give to them at home, so it’s not something I will give to them at school, nor will I feed it to their friends.  I usually try to find something that will satisfy my boys, but not make me feel like a hypocrite — for L., we generally choose all-natural fruit popsicles, since his birthday is in the hottest part of the summer.  That tends to be a hugely popular choice, but P.’s birthday is now…in the cooler weather…and P. doesn’t even like popsicles.  So I had some thinking to do. 

What really sent me into a quandary about the whole birthday business was realizing that a large number of the kids in P.’s classroom ALL have birthdays in the next week or so.  I brought it up to his teachers, and asked tentatively: “Doesn’t that seem like it’s going to be a lot of, um, treats?”  They agreed, so I ventured a bit further: “I’m not sure what to do.  I’d like to send something so that he’s not left out, but I really don’t want to just contribute to sugar mayhem.  And I know you guys have the rule about everything being packaged and labeled, so I can’t make anything, but I don’t want to just send fruit because he eats a ton of fruit all the time and he deserves something a LITTLE special…” I was rambling, obviously, by this point — but I was nervous.

The teachers, bless them, stopped me in my tracks.  “If you’re more comfortable sending something homemade, we’ll write up a permission form for the other children and ask parents to opt in for the treat.”

I was surprised, pleasantly so, but still apprehensive.  The packaged-treat rule exists for the benefit of food-allergic kids, and while I may not like it, I understand and respect the fact that it’s necessary for safety.  Plus, I didn’t want to do something that would potentially exclude a large number of little ones — I know if I had a child with a food allergy, I’d likely say “no thank you” to a homemade treat.  “Well,” I said, “what’s the allergy situation like?  I don’t want to endanger or exclude anyone.”

Shockingly, I was assured that not one child in P.’s classroom, or even on his floor of the building, has a serious food allergy.  With that bit of knowledge, I proceeded to discuss the options with his teachers, and we finally settled on some homemade banana muffins — one of P.’s favorites — for the morning snack tomorrow.  Muffins, as we all know, are not completely virtuous; in fact, they’re relatively cake-like, thus satisfying my desire to give P. the experience of having a special “treat” with his classmates.  However, homemade banana muffins are not nearly in the same category as, say, chocolate cake with icing, or ice-cream sundaes; so I also get to feel comfortable that I’m not junking up a bunch of toddlers with mega-dessert in the middle of their school day.  Lastly, and this was important to me, knowing that parents would have to sign and give permission for their kids to eat the snack gave me confidence that there was at least an element of CHOICE for the other famililes.  Whenever my kids come home from school and tell me that they’ve had birthday cupcakes for a friend, it’s news to me; there’s no process to alert parents to the fact that a treat will be served in the classroom, so they’re getting extra sweets without my knowledge.  While I can sort of take a deep breath and let that go, I’m happier thinking that the parents of P.’s classmates know what’s going to be happening and are okay with it.

It’s not a hard stance to be taking, I don’t think, but it’s a balance I’m still trying to find.  And believe me — I’ll be sugaring my OWN kids up plenty this weekend, as the birthday celebrations get underway and that promised Thomas the Train cake becomes a reality.  I’m just glad to be able to do that with a relatively clear conscience, and no parental guilt.

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13 Responses to St. Patrick’s Leftovers and a Birthday Weekend

  1. Pingback: Other St. Patrick’s Food | Red, Round, or Green

  2. Pingback: March Meal Plan: Austerity Now! | Red, Round, or Green

  3. Bri, I think I’d try to use this as an opportunity to educate the school about how ridiculous it is to require permission slips for wholesome homemade treats vs. crappy store-bought ones. Point out the irony and ask that the school consider alerting parents in advance when birthday treats will be served.

    My daughter’s teacher does an e-mail newsletter every Friday, and one of the things she mentions is whether there will be any birthdays celebrated in the upcoming week. I love this because it gives me the opportunity to talk to Tess in advance about her choices (eat the treat, if she wants, or skip it and visit her favorite local organic bakery after school). It also gives parents the option of supplying alternate treats to accommodate allergies/food preferences/etc. It’s such an easy thing to do that teachers really have no excuse to refuse such a request.

    • Agreed, Christina. I’ve been mulling over that. I will admit to having wimped out on it because I really still feel there’s some awkwardness over my last major stance on the issue of the Munchkins. I’ve been trying to navigate things without making too many waves and see where my comfort zone lies; but I have been turning this one over in my head a bit. I think now I have my point of entry, so to speak, especially since we did also receive a permission slip home stating that another family wishes to provide pizza and cupcakes for lunch next week and they’d like parents to sign off on that or tell the school directly that they do not wish to have their child participate. Now I think it’s a case of me being able to say “thank you so much…that went so well…can I make a suggestion? I’d love to see permission slips go home every time there’s going to be a treat, so we’re aware of what’s going on.” I’m also thinking that I want to suggest that the snack menu be printed on the calendars that go home for the month, because there are occasional days when I want to treat my boys a little by packing a muffin, some pretzels/crackers, or another snacky item in their lunches, and I almost never do it anymore because i don’t feel confident that it will be the only such item they have that day. If I knew that they would NOT be receiving pancakes for morning snack or *groan* Lucky Charms, I’d find it easier to strike that balance.
      Thanks for the prodding! Much needed. You always know the right thing to do. 🙂

  4. Great solution to a challenging issue…although call me ignorant…but I’m not quite sure how having something packaged helps? It must be something with a complete ingredient list on the package…and the teachers then decide which kids can get the treat based upon an allergy list? What about bakery cakes/cupcakes?

    • Yes, that’s it exactly — it has to be in its original packaging, and the packaging has to include a complete ingredient label. (This, by the way, is part of what riled me up about the Munchkins suddenly showing up at school — they’re NOT labeled, and if you look into the Dunkin’ Donuts corporate language, they state that they do NOT guarantee that their products are nut-free. So…) And yeah, that does exclude bakery cakes and cupcakes. There is a wonderful little cupcake bakery just a few blocks from our house that uses all local ingredients, but it’s not a school-friendly option due to the lack of labeling. (Also, I wouldn’t go that route anyway, for the expense of it!) Which means that the typical birthday treat is something from the supermarket bakery aisle — those clamshell packages of cupcakes with really stiff neon-colored frosting — because they’re clearly labeled with all ingredients.

      • Pardon my language: but that’s just gross and idiotic.

      • Yeah…I do tend to think “ew, gross!” when I see those packaged cupcakes, but it’s actually not because I’m being high-minded; I just think they taste horrible. 🙂 Of course, not ALL packaged and labeled treats are terrible. As I mentioned in the post, the all-fruit popsicles L. likes to bring are really tasty and unobjectionable from a health standpoint; and if a parent chose to send, say, a gallon of all-natural vanilla ice cream, with only five ingredients or so, that would at least be a decent choice, I think. It’s just that I don’t think many people actually consider those things. I’ve said before, and I’ll say it again here: as parents, we are so conditioned to think solely about what is NOT permissible to send that we often don’t give enough attention to what SHOULD be sent. And that goes for educators as well. In making policies about what to avoid, there should also be attention given to policies that encourage GOOD choices.

  5. Renee says:

    What an interesting dilemma –packaged goods because of allergies vs. homemade treats which are likely to be better for the kids overall, even if they are treats. My daughter has a peanut/tree-nut allergy, but I cringe at the idea of every birthday treat (her schools does one a month, for all the birthdays in that month) being a store-bought treat. They’re so awful compared to homemade cookies, brownies, cupcakes or muffins!

    Did you send the recipe to the parents as part of the permission slip? With my daughter’s allergy, I’m always so happy to see a recipe from a teacher or parent when I’m trying to decide if she can participate in something.

    • I did not supply a recipe, actually, which I should have done — but we did talk about what would be in the muffins so teachers could answer questions if there were any, and I told them I’d be happy to provide clarification if any was needed. In the future I’ll definitely give at least the ingredients list. Thanks for the suggestion.

      I’m interested to hear from you about your take on the packaged foods for your food-allergic child. That’s always my thought: “so food-allergic kids should be subjected to whatever ungodly thing is in the boxed cupcakes?” It’s safer, which I totally get; and then on the other hand, it’s not a good long-term solution.

      • Renee says:

        Actually, the ingredients list would probably be enough –don’t really need the recipe.

        I think most things that are packaged with an ingredients list are pretty awful tasting, in addition to having many more chemicals –even if someone made brownies or cupcakes from a box, there are probably fewer chemicals, and maybe some real eggs 🙂

        In my ideal world, parents providing birthday treats would find out (from the teachers) whether there were any known allergies among the kids (or teachers!); they would provide an ingredients list to all parents a few days before the scheduled treat, just to be on the safe side; then bring an allergy-free treat (the allergy-free part would be dependent on any allergies among the kids and teachers –in your case, it sounds like you wouldn’t have needed to worry about any specific ingredients). I might even take this one step farther, and add in food “sensitivities”. If you have a child in the class who’s sensitive to things like artificial colors, that should be avoided as well.

        I guess compared to just buying a package of cupcakes at the local grocers, this is a lot of work. However, I think it would be worth it.

        In my real world most of the parents of my daughter’s classmates don’t bother to think about food allergies or sensitivities –even if they have been told to avoid things like peanuts in treats! This means that I keep a stash of things for her to eat as substitutes, but of course they all have to be packaged to have a long shelf life 😦

        I’m glad it’s a once-a-month thing at her school.

  6. Recipe Chefs says:

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