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Let’s eat healthy this school year!

Believe it – or not – We’re back to school!

It’s still hot and muggy outside here in Cville. We’re still wanting ice water over hot tea. And we’re all still wearing our shorts and sandals instead of sweaters and scarves. The other day, walking downtown, we saw the first red leaf on the ground, and were reminded that the start of the school year is somehow only one short week away!

That means early morning buses, packing lunches, running around, and generally less time to make a healthy dinner for your family. But fear not! We’re here with our top 5 helpful ideas to get a healthy dinner on the table!

  1. Start a weekly menu. It doesn’t have to be fancy, or even all that detailed, but having a list of ideas and sticking to it will really help! You don’t have to buy all your groceries in one go, or prep everything in a mad freezing frenzy on Sunday, but having a schedule will take the pressure off of you during the week. If you have a few favorites slot them in, then add a few new favorites, or schedule a night of takeout. You’ll have less of those “What’s for dinner?” moments.
  2. K.I.S.S. Method. Keep it simple on weeknight meals! Aim for quick, easy meals, you don’t have to be Chef Gordon Ramsay (all the time). Choose recipes that have a total prep & cook time of under one hour. Try to limit the number of special ingredients you will need. We even think it’s great to pick a protein and a vegetable and just cook them simply. We recommend stir-frys, fajitas, and kebabs as simple options. Cutting up larger cuts of meat or vegetables makes them cook faster, and let’s them take on more seasoning, too!
  3. One pot/pan wonders. We love a good soup or stew, especially as we move into cooler months. They are easy to make healthy, filling, affordable, and can be made in just one pot! Sheet pan dinners are simple to make, healthy, easy to clean up, and provide plenty of food for the whole fam! We love the 5 ingredient method of The Kitchn for sheet pan dinners. The internet is loaded with healthy one pot/pan ideas so search around and find some inspiration!
  4. Leftover remix! We pick some of our meals just for the leftovers. Some are great just reheated, some take on a wonderful new life in a new dish! Those fajitas from the other day? Great filling for quesadillas tonight! Your pesto noodles from Tuesday? Add some vinaigrette and chopped veggies on Wednesday for an instant pasta salad!
  5. Keep some healthy-ish SOS meals on hand. No matter how well we plan, or how fast we are cooking, there are going to be days where it just isn’t working out. We recommend keeping some SOS meal options on hand for just such occasions. We like whole grain pasta with tomato sauce or a frozen pesto, whole grain mac and cheese, frozen lean white-meat chicken nuggets, low-sodium canned soups, and frozen peas or vegetable blends as quick-cooking, low-fuss meal options. We also like breakfast for dinner: whole grain, low sugar cereals with 2% milk, yogurt and granola, or scrambled eggs all with a side of fruit are great options!
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We love the Boys & Girls Club of Central VA!

The PB&J Fund works with lots of partner non-profits to run our cooking classes. Our partners help us to reach participants who may not know about our programs. Over the course of a semester we typically work with 10 partners and hold 14 classes per week. Some of our current partners include: ReadyKids, Piedmont Housing Alliance, City of Promise, and Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Central Blue Ridge. 

One of our extra special partners is the Boys & Girls Club of Central Virginia, who has worked with us to deliver classes since 2010! Before our kitchen opened we held classes inside the Cherry Avenue and Southwood Clubs. (You may have even seen our old kitchen space at Cherry Ave!) Each week we would take food and supplies to the clubs to hold classes. Once the PB&J Fund kitchen opened downtown, it provided us the opportunity to serve more Boys & Girls Club members and is a field trip opportunity for the club members. 

We currently offer classes for the Cherry Avenue, Southwood and Jack Jouett clubs during the school year. Over the summer we hold two classes for the Cherry Avenue club (Elementary and Teens), two classes for the Southwood Club (Elementary and Teens) and one class for the James River Club. Together we’ve served over 550 club members in the last nine years who have participated in 6,600 classes! The Boys and Girls Club is also a huge partner for Holiday Giving, as they allow us to use the Cherry Avenue gym when we sort the food, pack the bags and load the delivery trucks. We wouldn’t be PB&J without our partners like the Boys & Girls Club. We’re grateful to all of our partners for helping us to serve our community! 

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Healthy Snacks on the Go!

For most families, summer is a really busy time of year. We are running from work to summer camps to the pool and everything in between. If your kids are anything like mine, things fall apart quickly when we forget about snack time! Nobody wants a hangry child to deal with! In addition to warding off cranky moods, snacks play an important part in our diets. Children should be eating every 2-3 hours. They have smaller stomachs and can’t eat as much at one sitting. Snacks are also a great opportunity to sneak in an extra serving of fruits and veggies or low fat dairy. When making snacks, try to always include food from at least two different food groups. It is also a good idea to include protein in your snack – it will keep you feeling full longer. So before your next outing, grab one of these snacks to eat on the go!  

Photo by Kristen Kaethler 
  • Whole pieces of fruit: apples, bananas, peaches, pears  
  • Unsalted nuts 
  • Dried fruit 
  • Whole grain crackers 
  • Peanut butter  
  • Plain popcorn  
  • Low-fat mozzarella sticks (if you eat them right away or have a cooler) 
  • Fruit pouches  
  • Cut up veggies: carrot sticks, celery, whole cherry tomatoes  
  • Whole grain pita chips 
  • Low fat yogurt pouches (if you eat them right away or have a cooler) 
  • Whole grain muffins  
Photo by Christian Wiediger

*Of note, some of the above are not age appropriate for young eaters. Toddlers should not be eating nuts, popcorn, hard uncooked veggies or round foods like whole grapes and whole cherry tomatoes because these are choking hazards. You can cut tomatoes and grapes in half or in fourths to make them safer to chew.  

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Move your body as a family!

Physical activity is important for everyone of all ages. If you make a habit of exercising every day at a young age, you are more likely to continue that habit throughout your life. Just like adults, it is recommended for children to get 60 minutes of physical activity most days of the week. This can be done all at once, or broken into small sessions throughout the day. Physical activity helps build strong muscles and bones, maintain a healthy weight, and helps with coordination and concentration.  

As most parents know, children learn by example. If you lead an active lifestyle and find ways to be active in your daily life, your children will want to join in. There are so many fun activities for the family when the weather is nice! Your kids won’t even realize they are exercising! Always remember to stay hydrated, especially when the weather is hot and you spend long periods of time outside. So grab a bottle of water and try one of these activities today!  

  • Swimming  
  • Bike riding  
  • Outdoor walk or hike  
  • Roller skating 
  • Sports: soccer, basketball, football, volleyball, anything that gets you moving! 
  • Play a game of tag  
  • Go to a playground or splash park  
  • Work together in a garden or do yard work as a family  
  • Have a dance party 
  • Walk the dog  
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Do you really have to go?!

To say that we will miss Carlin Barber is a ridiculous understatement.  She began volunteering with the PB&J Fund in 2014 through Madison House, the student volunteer center at the University of Virginia.  In my role coordinating volunteers, I was fortunate to inherit a volunteer like Carlin when I joined PB&J in 2016. After graduation, Carlin joined us as an intern.  Later, we were thrilled to have her return to the team after an international adventure teaching in the Dominican Republic.

Carlin will be starting graduate school at Vanderbilt University this fall.  As a former high school teacher, and now as a supervisor of volunteers, I have been asked to write a fair number of letters of recommendation over the years. Writing one for someone like Carlin is a piece of cake.  I can recall writing “I’d clone her if I could. She’s that volunteer.” 

Most recently, I was contacted by phone about a job Carlin applied for in Nashville.  It was easy to speak to specific skills and qualities. She’s smart and professional, funny and kind, a real dream colleague, and we will miss her so much this fall.  At the end, the employer asked if I had anything else to add. I said, “I think it’s pretty clear that you’d be a fool not to hire her” and laughed. The interviewer chuckled and said, “That’s what I was thinking.  All my calls are not this easy.”  

We will be sad to see Carlin go at the end of the summer, but we are proud of her for following her heart into teaching.  Having watched her with our students over the years, we like to think that PB&J played a small part. 😊  Please join us in expressing our utmost gratitude and best wishes to Carlin Barber as she starts her next adventure!

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We <3 Bellair Farm!

This week’s cukes and carrots from Bellair!

Summer is our favorite produce season at the PB&J Fund. We love to see the bright colors of fresh fruits and vegetables. We always try to buy local produce for our summer classes and highlight one new vegetable or fruit each week. This year we purchased some produce from Bellair Farm which runs a CSA in Charlottesville. CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. While some families may choose to buy a “share” of 22 weeks of vegetables, you’ll also find Bellair at both the Meade Market and Charlottesville City Market where any one can buy vegetables! 

This summer we will buy kale, summer squash, zucchini, basil, cucumbers, carrots, tomatoes and bell peppers from Bellair. During our first week of programs we were able to take our Boys and Girls Club classes out to the farm so they could see where our food is grown. The students learned about the types of vegetables grown at Bellair and a bit about organic farming. We walked through some of the fields to see peppers and tomatoes that will soon be ripe. They even had a chance to try fresh green beans from the field. The best part of the field trips was a chance to hold and pet two week old bunnies! Thank you to Miss Chelsea, Miss Emily, and Miss Meg for the great tours!  

Even if your family does not buy food from a CSA, like Bellair, there are lots of ways to buy locally grown vegetables in Charlottesville. Most grocery stores place signs on items that are locally grown or made. Our friends at the Local Food Hub are also trying to make locally grown produce more available to all families through programs like Fresh Farmacy or their partnership with the Emergency Food Network. We hope you love summer fruits and vegetables just as much as we do! 

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Summer Food Safety!

Summer is officially here, which means a lot of us will be firing up the grill and heading out to barbeques and outdoor events! It’s always important to keep food safety in mind, but especially in the hot summer months. With temperatures reaching the 90’s and more people serving food outdoors, the risk of getting sick from a foodborne illnesses increases. 

Enjoy the outdoor parties and family picnics, but keep these tips in mind so everyone stays safe!  

  • Start with a clean surface! Always clean food prep areas with hot soapy water before preparing food. Wipe down outdoor grills and clean all coolers with hot soapy water. Always use clean utensils and serving platters.  
  • Thaw meat safely! Always thaw frozen meat in the refrigerator, microwave or under cold running water. Never thaw frozen meat on the counter at room temperature.  
  • Wash hands often! Always wash your hands before cooking and after handling raw meat, poultry, fish and eggs.  
  • Avoid cross contamination! You never want to mix raw meats with prepared cooked foods. Keep raw meats separated, in different dishes, and use different utensils to handle them. Once you put raw meat on a grill, immediately place the dish and utensil aside. Use a clean plate and utensil when fully cooked meat is removed from the grill.  
  • Marinades: Always marinate raw meat in the refrigerator, not on the counter at room temperature. Never reuse marinade that was on raw meat. If you dipped a basting brush into a bowl of marinade and brushed raw meat, you must discard the bowl of marinade when finished.  
  • Avoid the Temperature Danger Zone! Food should never be kept between 41 degrees and 135 degrees for more than 2 hours, so don’t leave food sitting out for your party guests all afternoon. When outside in the hot summer sun, you shouldn’t keep food out for more than an hour. At these temperatures bacteria can grow rapidly.  
  • Keep food below 40 degrees! Keep perishable foods stored in the refrigerator or in ice filled coolers until you are ready to cook or eat. When transporting food, pack perishables in a cooler and place the cooler out of direct sun. To be extra safe, place a refrigerator thermometer in your cooler to make sure food stays below 40 degrees.  
  • Cook foods thoroughly! Always use a meat thermometer to make sure food is cooked thoroughly. Whole cuts of beef and pork should be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 145 degrees. Ground beef, pork and lamb should be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 160 degrees. All poultry should be cooked to minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees.  
  • Leftovers: Discard any food that has been left out for more than 2 hours (or more than 1 hour in temperatures above 90 degrees). When consuming leftovers at a later time, heat all food to an internal temperature of 165 degrees.   
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Grilling: Healthy Style!

Of course, at PB&J we love all kinds of cooking.  Summer time is prime grilling time. Grilling is actually a very healthy way to cook food (you don’t need to add lots of fat to the pan before cooking!) and who doesn’t love an excuse to be outside when the weather’s warm and sunny? It’s also nice to cook outside and not heat up your kitchen with your stove or oven on those sweltering summer days. Plus, grilled food just tastes more like summer, doesn’t it?

You know at PB&J we take cooking and make it healthy, so we decided to put together a simple guide to some of our most favorite grilled healthy foods (sorry, no bratwursts), along with some of our favorite grilling tools to help you be the (healthy) master of the grill!

First, some general tips, a grill is going to put char (those little blackened bits) on most everything cooked on it. This is part of the flavor and fun of cooking this way! It may look burnt, but try it! You might love it! A grill will also cook a lot faster if you have the cover on it, so cover it up and you’ll have a delicious meal a whole lot faster!

Tools that can help any griller make a better grilled meal:

Cooking Spray- Grilling can get a little sticky, by that we mean, grilled food can sometimes stick to the grill. If you use a little cooking spray before lighting the grill, that should help keep your food free from the stick!

Grill toppers- Grill toppers or trays are little trays made out of metal with lots of holes in them. They make it easier to keep smaller, more sticky items (small veggies, fruits, fish) from getting lost or stuck to the grill. We really like these ones.

Skewers- Metal are good, but they get screaming hot on the grill. Wood are good, too, but need to be soaked for a while before using so they don’t burn. Either way, they help keep small pieces of food together and prevent them from slipping through the cracks! 

Long tongs- Grills get hot, of course! Keep your fingers away from the flames with a long set of tongs. These will help you place, flip, move, and remove all your food while keeping your hand cool!

Thermometer– A meat thermometer is a must when grilling. Not only will it keep your food safe from germs, it will also help from over-cooking, which is a real danger when grilling! Digital thermometers are super-fast and easy to read, we recommend this one.

Our favorite foods to grill:

Veggies

Asparagus- toss them in a tiny bit of olive oil and salt, use a grill topper or be careful not to let them drop through the grate! Grill for 10-12 minutes turning occasionally to cook evenly.

Corn- a staff favorite! You can peel back the husks, remove the corn silk, then cover the corn back up and let it grill for 10-15 minutes, until the husks are starting to char and burn. Be careful and use oven mitts when removing the corn from the husks: it gets HOT! For bonus grill-ness, put the husked corn back on the grill for some char right on the kernels!

Tomatoes- Cherry and grape tomatoes work best. Stick them on a skewer and toss in a little bit of olive oil. Cook them for just a few minutes, rotating halfway through, until they have a little bit of char all around! YUM.

Peppers- Peppers are a classic grilled veggie, they are great on skewers, or left whole or in large chunks and grilled. They get sweeter and their skin takes on a nice char.

Zucchini/summer squash- Slice these into large planks, coat them in a bit of oil, salt, and spices and grill them, flipping at least once, until they have a good char and are soft enough to easily fall off a fork when stuck into them.

Onions- Oh my, what to say about grilled onions? Sweet, smoky, still a little crunch. They are famously delicious grilled veg, and for good reason. Slice them into rings, season lightly with salt (and spices if you like), and let them grill until charred and just translucent.

Broccoli/cauliflower- We love broccoli and cauliflower any way you cook ‘em, but we love the extra flavor that the grill adds to them. Leave them in big chunks, coat in olive oil, salt and your favorite spices and let them cook for 7-10 minutes on a hot grill.

Lean protein

Chicken breast- chicken breast is very lean, so be careful not to overcook it or it can get tough and stringy! We like to butterfly it (slice width-wise so you end up with a thinner, wider cut of meat), season it with salt and spices, and cook it over a medium hot grill. Cook over a medium high grill to an internal temp of 165.

Chicken thighs- Thighs are super for the grill, they are already thin enough to cook quickly and they taste great grilled up. We like them basted in a simple sauce (even store-bought BBQ, buffalo, or hoisin sauce). Cook over a medium high grill to an internal temp of 165.

Salmon- We love salmon on the grill. Use aluminum foil over the grate or a grill topper to keep the salmon from sticking. Season with salt or your favorite seasoning blend and grill over a medium low grill.

Turkey burgers/Lean beef burgers- We love a good burger. Lean ground meat has less fat, and is healthier for your heart than meat with higher fat content, but a little bit less flavor. So season up your burgers with your favorite seasoning blend, then grill it on a medium hot grill until you hit an internal temp of 165.

Tofu– Tofu gets a bad rap, sometimes its fair, sometimes not. It can be a little boring, but we like slicing them into domino shaped slices, basting them in a flavorful sauce, and grilling them for 3-4 minutes per side on a super hot grill. Yum!

Flank/skirt steak- Flank and skirt steaks are born for the grill! They are thin, and are best cooked at high heat for a short period of time. Season them lightly with salt and a few spices, grill over a hot grill for about 7 minutes per side, until you hit an internal temperature.

Fruits (What?! Fruits?! On the grill?! Trust us!)

Lemons- Slice a lemon in half, slap it on a hot grill. It’s that easy.  The juice loses some of the acidic edge, and takes on a little smoky flavor, it makes a great complement to veggies, chicken, and fish dishes.

Cherries/Grapes- Smaller fruits do well on a skewer or grill tray. They get sweeter, and take on that smoky char flavor. These go great in fruit salads, on top of ice cream or cakes, or as a topping for meats (really!)

Pineapple- One of our favorite fruits on the grill. Remove the core (you can leave the skin if you want) and slice into inch-thick rings. Grill on each side for 4-5 minutes and be prepared for a caramelly, sweet-sour, delicious treat!

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Un-Recipes: Kale

We love recipes here at PB&J. We love discovering new recipe sites, spending hours reading cookbooks, trying exciting new recipes, and of course, building the perfect recipes for our students! But recipes can be time consuming! Sometimes recipes include exotic ingredients or they don’t use all of what you have on hand. And sometimes you just need to put some food on the table quick and easy!

To work around this issue, we are putting together a series of what we call “un-recipes.” These are brief how-to’s on preparing and serving some of the ingredients we are working with this summer.

First up: KALE! Kale is a PB&J favorite, as it is often one of the more transformative foods for our students. Often when we introduce students to kale we get a chorus of “ewwwww” and “yuuuuck!” Honestly, we get it, it can be tough, very green, and even kind of looks like mini-alien-trees. But by the end of our classes we have kids begging for more!

What is it?

Kale is a leafy green in the same family as broccoli, cabbage, and collard greens. It has a mildly bitter-sweet flavor, and it can be a little chewy (though the younger it is, the more tender and sweet it is).

What are 3 good ways to eat it?

As a salad.

If you can get younger, small kale (3-4 inch leaves) you can just tear it up and throw it in with your lettuce or other salad greens. If the leaves are bigger, you can remove the stems, cut or tear the kale into bite-sized pieces, then massage some olive oil (about 1 tbs per bunch) into the kale to tenderize it before dressing it as you would any other salad. We love kale with a lemon vinaigrette, Caesar dressing, or even Asian-inspired vinaigrette with some soy sauce and toasted sesame oil.

Sautéed

If you’re looking for more of a hot dish to make with kale. We love sautéed kale. Start by removing the stems and chopping it into bite-sized pieces. Then, mince 2 or 3 cloves of garlic, or half an onion, 1 tsp of chili flakes, or even 1 tbs of fresh ginger, you want a little bit of something aromatic for flavor. Add 1 tbs of cooking oil to a hot skillet or sautée pan over medium-high, and let it heat for 20-30 seconds. Then add the garlic, onion and spices and let them cook until you can smell them. Then add the kale and turn the heat down to medium. Let the greens go without stirring them for 3-4 minutes, until they start to turn dark green. Then give them a good stir and let them cook until they’re all dark green and even have a few browned bits.

Braised

Braised greens are great when the weather turns a bit cooler. Start the greens the same way as sautéing, but when you would stir in the sautéing version, add about 1-2 cups of liquid (water, stock, vinegar, any liquid!) and let it cook until the liquid is mostly gone

Why is it good for me?

Kale is super healthful! It has lots of fiber, vitamin C, vitamin A, and vitamin K.

How can I get it?

You can find good kale at almost every grocery store, you can find different, colorful varieties at farmer’s markets, and it is supremely easy to grow from seed if you have a garden!

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Try it! You might like it!

From Tracey Cardwell Roberts, Manager of our CHEF for a Day field trip program

I’m old enough to remember the Life cereal ad campaign featuring a picky Mikey. His older brothers offer him the new cereal that’s “supposed to be good for you.” They say, “He won’t like it. He hates everything.” The tag line is then their shocked “He likes it! He likey!” Yes, I know it’s corny, but it was the 70’s. You wouldn’t believe how it caught on, the equivalent of “going viral” today.

Through our CHEF for a Day field trip program, I get to welcome a new group of students to PB&J each day. They come through the doors with eyes wide and a readiness to experience something new. I could pretend that my own children come to the dinner table every night with that same excitement, but we both know I’d be lying.

With students here at PB&J, I use the same “act” I’ve used with my own kids for fifteen plus years — I channel my inner actress and HAM IT UP.  Come on, you knew this post couldn’t possibly avoid a Green Eggs and Ham pun. After pitching this idea to thousands of students, I still want to do a happy dance every single time I hear a child say, “I didn’t think I’d like this, but I do.” YES!

Here’s the goofy approach that has worked for me.  First of all, it’s helpful to channel the enthusiasm you would use to talk about the thing you love most, like when my son talks endlessly to me about all the intricacies of his favorite video game. 

Here’s my set-up:
Trying a new food is such an AWESOME adventure!  I LOVE it when I get to try something new.  When I’m about to taste it, I think to myself, “Will I like it?”  I don’t know!  It’s so exciting!  Sometimes, when I take a bite of a new food, I think, “I’m not sure how I feel about it,” because the taste is so new.  My taste buds are so SURPRISED that I don’t really get to taste the flavor of the food.  After first feeling shocked, then my taste buds calm down.  It often takes two or three bites before I really start to sense all the flavors of the new food.
Some kids are more cautious about trying something new.  Here are a couple ideas to positively encourage the ones who aren’t sure:

  • Ask them to “Take a bite and see if you can taste the (insert ingredient here).” If there are six ingredients, this is a great way to get them to take at least six bites. By that point, the flavor is familiar, and they usually keep eating. I like to make a big deal out of it if they say they can taste something I can’t.  “Wow!  Your taste buds are better than mine at that!” 
  • Let your kids vote on the recipe like we do here at PB&J. They love to have their say with a simple thumbs up, thumb sideways, or thumbs down. We tell them that “At PB&J, we are never going to MAKE you eat something. You just don’t get to vote unless you try it.  After all, you can’t say “I don’t like it” if you’ve never even tried it. You don’t KNOW if you like it.” 
  • Be playful and encouraging. The exact words aren’t important. My wish is that you get to experience a “Mikey likey!” moment at your table.  Don’t give up!  It can happen! 😊
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