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Native Cooking

Kids have been back in school for a few weeks now in most places. Do your kids take a lunch or buy one in the cafeteria? I was surprised to find out recently that most schools do not allow peanut butter to be brought in. That is a pretty nasty allergy, but that is also a hard sacrifice for kids who love PBJ and for moms who are struggling to give their kids a healthy lunch they know will be eaten. What kinds of substitutes have you been using? We would all love to hear some ideas you may want to share.

School cafeterias are also trying to put out healthier foods and snacks, change cholesterol-loaded oils and provide more salads and vegetables in general. We all hope to provide and support healthy eating habits in our children, but we can only do what we can do; it's hard to control what they are exposed to in other places. If we encourage kids to eat vegetables and fruits in various ways, they may learn to actually like some of them and continue to seek them out. Fruits are a bit easier since they come in many forms: natural, dried, frozen, with others in salads and as leathers like pemmican. Vegetables are a harder sell, but can be softened with dressings and dips. They are good raw or cooked. Then there are the grains that kids need, but you have to watch the sugar and salt content in many of these offerings. Whole wheat, whole grain, enriched this and low-fat that: each is so cleverly worded in the advertising that you have to read every nutritional label on every single product to figure out what's good or not good.

To calculate the percentage of sugar in a food, see how many grams of sugar by the gram weight of one serving, and then multiply this by 100. No wonder it takes so much time to go shopping. Even the low-fat dairy products are tricky. They often are high in sugars. It used to be that about 50 percent of American Indians were lactose intolerant, but I was told recently that that figure is reaching nearly 100 percent. It looks like life was a whole lot healthier when we simply ate off the land naturally. Back to basics just isn't that easy anymore, but it should be something to shoot for, anyway.

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As parents or caregivers, we do our best to make nutritious meals, but kids tend to be snack mavens. Some healthy snacks include apples, pears, grapefruit, cantaloupe or oranges. Dried fruits such as raisins, apricots and cranberries are also a healthy alternative.

You could also try sweet potato chips, artichokes with dip, celery with cream cheese and walnuts, bean dip with corn chips or raw veggies, flour tortillas and bean dip, corn chips and salsa, homemade trail mix, roasted nuts, granola, popcorn, peanut butter or jelly on crackers, rice cakes and peanut butter, molasses and bread, mini frybread, cubed cheese and olives, and mini quesadillas.

These examples are just a guide. There are hundreds of combinations you can use. I like to chomp on parsley that I pick on the way into my house. It may sound weird, but it's good.

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There are some healthy drinks kids can have that aren't ''super-sized'' and bad for them. With so much sugar pumped into store juices today, it's hard to pick and choose. If a juice is too sweet, cut it with water. Make your own lemonade: it's so refreshing, and you control the sweetness. One of our favorites is sassafras, which is naturally sweet. Cranberry juice is good, and even better when combined with other flavors like apple or raspberry. Herb teas are nice when it gets a little chilly. I really love hot cocoa, but there again, the sugar and milk can be a problem. There is an instant hot chocolate that you make with water and it is very good. Just try to get your kids to stay off the bubbly soda pop; it is so bad for them.

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Notes and Tips

-- Check out the day-old bakery goods if your store has a section for that. There are some great buys. Even if you have to freeze some of it, you are better off. The day-old bread makes great bread crumbs or croutons for salads.

-- To keep the mice or moths out of your dried beans, peas, barley and such, put them in individual glass mason jars or jars with tight tops. They look nice, too.

-- This is the time of year to check your spice and herb supply. If you grow and dry your own herbs, bring them inside soon to avoid fall leaf molds.

-- If you make guacamole a lot, store it by using some extra lemon juice and press a piece of plastic wrap onto the top of the mixture, leaving no air. The air will discolor it.