The Secret of Saying “No”

I’m very much a “yes” girl at heart. Yes, I’ll volunteer for this and that fundraiser. Yes, I’ll be at the extra service this week. Yes, I’ll teach that extra class. Yes, I’ll sign up for extracurriculars. Yes, I’ll meet up at the coffee shop.

But this year, I’m learning to say “no” more than I ever have.

The Secret of Saying No

Image Credit

No, I’ve got to stay home this week to catch up. No, I’m sorry, teaching that class is actually going to take me away from other priorities. No, I can’t do this fundraiser this time, but I’d love to help next month.

It sometimes means saying no to a lot of good things. Sometimes it means missing out on something that I’d really like to be part of. Sometimes it means giving something up for a time so that I can refocus on other goals.

This year, we’ve said no to a couple of job possibilities that weren’t going to be a good fit for our family. We cut way back on our extracurricular school activities as we settled into our first real year of homeschool. I said no to attending births, no to multiple playdates, no to several homesteading projects, no to the commitment of regular blog posts, and no to teaching some lessons that weren’t fitting in my schedule.

I’m learning to say no to a multitude of self-inflicted pressures. No, my house doesn’t have to be clean today. No, I actually don’t have to make everything from scratch this month. No, I will not feel guilt over the lack of crunchy stuff going on in my life right now.

Happily, all of this gives me room to say yes to the things that matter most right now.  Yes to homeschool. Yes to a few dedicated music students. Yes to gigs that work well for our family. Yes to practicing voice. Yes to time at home together. Yes to reading, yes to drawing, yes to laying together and talking about our day.

Nothing is permanent, and I can always re-prioritize what commitments I choose to take on down the road. However, I can’t get back the time that I lose hustling and bustling and trying to do everything at once.

Here’s to saying yes to the things that matter most.

Kitchen Therapy & The Best Scrambled Eggs

I haven’t really enjoyed myself in the kitchen for a very long time.

Dinner has become a horrific, daunting monster that I try to beat back with a spatula every afternoon around 4 p.m. All of those tasks that usually motivate me– making sourdough, cooking everything from scratch– have become massive, ugly beasts that leer at me from my brown and yellow, disgusting 70s mess of a kitchen.

Burn-out. It makes me cranky and ungrateful. I don’t want to live like that.

Of course, the problem isn’t the cooking itself. It’s that I’m trying to do too much and I don’t have the time and love to put into the kitchen that I used to have. So I decided that I needed to treat the kitchen like therapy instead of an enemy. That sounded much nicer.

Learn to love the kitchen again while making breakfast.

I tried to think back. What made me love the kitchen in the first place?

My childhood- baking with my mother. Sitting on the counter, carefully measuring scoops of flour, baking soda, and sugar, watching mountains of drifted snow build in the bowl and delightfully sticking my finger in it to draw lines and faces. Grilling hundreds of Welsh cookies together for a fundraiser. Singing a silly song about looking for a loaf pan that I still remember 25 years later.

My first jobs- discovering how dinner really becomes a reality. Exploring new tastes and flavors and shedding my pickiness. Tandoori chicken, portabella mushroom paninis, formal tea parties with tiny sandwich triangles. My experience as a sous chef and short-order cook, learning to move like lightning in the kitchen and come out smiling and calm to my waiting customers. Even waitressing– I loved it all. The clinking of dishes, the steam off the griddle, the delicious smells and morning coffee and noise and hustling of the workplace. I’d honestly still be very happy working in a restaurant.

My early married years- learning how to cook my mother’s secret recipes. Calling my mom-in-law to find out how she made her famous chicken cutlets. Figuring out how to “cook by the look” and not the book. Kitchen mishaps along the journey– exploding a Pyrex dish in the oven, trying to cook a chicken and not finishing it until 10:30 at night, lumpy loaves of bread and burnt pasta. For some reason I kept coming back to try to do more of it.

The kitchen holds a fond place in my heart. But I’ve succumbed to frustration and tiredness in recent years, and I don’t wanna cook no more.

My grandmother bought me a tiny trivet when we first got married that reads, “Kissin’ don’t last. Cookin’ do.” I’ve kept it all eight years because it makes me smile.

A trivet from my grandmother. 😉

A photo posted by Abigail Zieger (@theyrenotourgoats) on

Thankfully, I have a really awesome husband that will still kiss me, and even cook for me too. He makes the most delicious eggs of anyone I know. This has earned him the title of official breakfast cook.

You want to know the secret to the best scrambled eggs?

First, turn on the radio and make sure the kitchen is pleasant. Get the radiator nice and warm in the winter, or fling the door wide open in the summer. Start some coffee brewing and heat a cast iron pan with bacon grease. Chop a clove or two of garlic and throw it in the pan.

Meanwhile, set your children to playing something purposeful. Wash some dishes, clear the counter, get some steam and dish-clinking going on. Trust me, it makes the kitchen happier. Add onion and whatever chopped vegetable you have to the pan. Let them soften over medium-high heat. If the pan gets dry, add a splash of water, cover it, and turn the heat down a little. Allow the onions and vegetables to caramelize.

Meanwhile, beat the eggs and milk in a bowl. Stop to hug your husband and ignore the bickering children in the other room. Make sure you can hear your rooster crowing if you have one. Once the stuff in the pan is properly soft and browned at the edges, pour in your eggs and give it a stir. Quickly add chopped or grated cheese of your choice.

Let the eggs sit just a couple minutes on medium-low heat- don’t stir the life out of them. Drink some coffee. Scratch a back. Gently go around the pan and turn the eggs over. Give them a couple more minutes. Stretch and set the table. Turn the eggs one more time if necessary, ensuring that the eggs are cooked but not dried out.

Call everyone to the table. Light a candle. Eat your eggs with bread or biscuits or bagels or nothing at all. Try sauerkraut on your eggs. Sit around in your pajamas for a little longer if you can. Talk about your day and get a plan. Read the paper. Ask your kids questions and take interest in each other. Clean up together when you’re done.

We have our favorite way to make scrambled eggs- but the best way to do it is with time and music and togetherness.

Clearly, love is the key to reclaiming the kitchen AND the secret ingredient in great scrambled eggs.







BushelBox Review

Imagine what healthy, sustainable food looks like to you.

Delicious breakfast granola with nutritious ingredients. Healthy snacks on the go when you’re running from place to place.  A delectable cup of organic afternoon tea.  Food that you know is helping community members across the world instead of farming them out for profit. Food that you feel good about.

Expensive food. Am I right?

BushelBox Review

But what if you could get your favorite healthy products at a discount?  Let me introduce you to Kimmy from BushelBox.

BushelBox is a new site that allows friends to go in together to order high quality products at bulk pricing. Shipping costs are divided between the friends’ orders, and the box is shipped to one central location for distribution. Here are some questions I asked Kimmy about her company.

Abi: How did BushelBox get started?

Kimmy: Three years ago a group of mamas and I wanted to keep feeding our families healthy organic foods but for less money so we started a buying club. We bought food in bulk form local producers at a discount and distributed amongst ourselves. I have passion now to help other families be able to do the same thing. That is why we built BushelBox. Anyone can buy delicious products at awesome discounts by sharing the savings with their neighbors.

A: How does BushelBox work?

K: The way it will work is simple- anyone can start a buy for whatever product they want. They can place their order and invite their friends. Payment will take place on the site and even deal with complicated stuff like dividing up shipping costs! The goods will get shipped to one house and distributed from there.

A: What kind of products can you buy from BushelBox?

K: Currently, Bushel Box offers a variety of foods, including various snacks, teas, nut butters, beef jerky, granola, dried fruits, nuts, and more.

BushelBox values supporting small companies with quality organic, non-GMO products. Currently, you can place orders from one company at a time. The folks at BushelBox are always working towards finding other quality foods to make available on their site.

Bushel Box goodies

Kimmy generously provided me with a sample box of delightful goodies to review for you. Here’s what came in my box. (You can click the links to find out more about each individual company.)

  • Labrang tea. Fair Trade and organic Black Jasmine tea. This tea was a delicate blend of traditional black tea and floral notes from the Jasmine. It made a perfect cup for afternoon quiet time. (This is available 20% off retail price from BushelBox.).
  • Young Mountain Tea– Fabulous, fair trade teas made in the Himalayan mountains. I love my teas, and these loose-leaf delights were a true treat. (20% off retail.)
  • Bliss Nut Butter– Peanut butter with chia seeds from a woman-owned nut butter company. The only problem with this peanut butter is that I am no longer satisfied with my regular stuff. I want to eat it ALL THE TIME. It’s seriously addicting, and will most likely be what I place my first bulk order of from Bushel Box! (30% off retail.)
  • Masala Pop– Amazingly complex, non-GMO, Indian-inspired flavored popcorn made by a woman-owned company. This was also one of my favorite snacks. Our bag of Masala Pop was the perfect combination of spicy and sweet. My kids (surprisingly!) gobbled it too. Needless to say, I had to hide it.  (20% off retail.)
  • Nick Sticks– Grass fed spicy beef sticks with no fillers. These little sticks packed a quick protein-punch, perfect for any on-the-go parent. They are also available as turkey sticks. (35% off retail.)
  • Cafe Mam– Shade grown, fair trade, organic coffee. This was delicious! I’m no coffee snob, but you could tell this was great stuff. Also, more importantly, they are committed to ethical work practices and creating a quality product. (15% off retail)

Advantages to Bushel Box

  • Some areas have wholesale buying co-ops readily available, but they are often dependent on a specific location and pick-up date. If it’s not convenient for you, then you’re less likely to take advantage of the savings.
  • You have the opportunity to purchase unique foods at wholesale pricing.
  • You can order from anywhere.
  • Shipping costs are split with friends who order with you.
  • There’s no membership fee to join BushelBox.
  • Kimmy is personally supportive, and answers any questions you might have promptly.

I was thrilled with my box of samples from BushelBox catalogs. While my budget wouldn’t allow me to purchase these foods at retail price, I could occasionally indulge in some of my favorites by taking advantage of the savings that BushelBox offers. The foods were delicious and I knew that they were being made with sustainable practices. Even better, by purchasing from BushelBox, I know I’m supporting various small business owners.

Ready to try some quality sustainable products at a discount? Check out BushelBox today!



Dear Homeschool, I’m Trusting My Gut This Year.

Last August, I called almost every school within a 30 minute radius of our house. How much is tuition? What do you teach? How do you handle x-y-z? What’s your philosophy of education? Etc., etc.  The schools either seemed too conventional, too far, or too expensive to me. (Maybe I’m too much of a perfectionist!)

I was worried how my homeschooled kid would adjust to life in the classroom– not for social reasons so much as the fact that his entire routine would shift dramatically. I also didn’t want to turn his childhood into primarily a classroom experience. Not yet, anyway. I still have an idyllic vision of a beautiful childhood filled with natural play and learning seamlessly woven together. (Don’t laugh too hard.)


I scoured homeschool curricula, unsatisfied with much of it. Montessouri, public cyber school, My Father’s World, Christopherus… there’s a lot of good in so many of the options out there. I just hadn’t felt like I found a good fit for us.

In reality, I think I was having homeschool panic–though since I’m so new at it I can’t say for sure. I was indecisive and worried about almost any choice I might make.

Finally, I stumbled across Oak Meadow, and as I perused their curriculum samples, I looked up at my husband and told him I think I found our answer for this year. Their curricula was Waldorf-inspired, nature-filled, literature-based, inclusive of music and art, and well-rounded.  It was a perfect fit for my little bookworm who loves to play in the dirt. (We are also adding in a home Bible time.)

It’s funny, because a while back we felt we discovered that J does so much better with “real life” learning than he does workbooks and conventional curricula. But for some reason, I forgot that last year and tried to build a Kindergarten year on workbooks. Some of it went well, but most of it was contrived, boring, and frustrating enough to spark a figurative headbutting contest.

I still worry some– is our choice too distanced from traditional teaching methods? Are we spending too much money on it? Do we really need a full curriculum for first grade? (Sometimes I wish I had never gotten an education degree. I think I’d worry less without it.) However, we’ve spent a lot of time praying and hashing out the answers to these questions. For now, our school decisions feel right to us, and we think we’ve found a good fit.

So this year, despite my regular doubts and indecision, I’m choosing to dig in wholeheartedly with the curriculum we chose. So far, it’s been little short of a miracle in the way it’s helping my son to come out of himself and try new things. I’ve been consistently surprised by the connections he’s making and how much he’s been able to do. Besides that, I really feel like we are exploring material together, and that’s been really lovely.


Will I always use this curriculum? I have no idea. Will I always homeschool? Maybe, maybe not. But this year, I’m not going to worry so much about every little thing. We are going to just keep moving ahead, and be okay with changing the way we do school as our family needs change.


Things I Love About the Healthy Living Bundle

Do you ever feel like you’re lost in a jungle instead of growing a garden?


Do you feel frustrated that you have to keep trying to feed your kids good choices?

IMG_0200Tired of deciding which essential oil you should use?


Feel like all your chickens are plotting against you?


Puzzled by wild foods?


Okay, okay, so I’m being a little silly. But if you’ve ever tried to live a healthy lifestyle and felt frustration along the way, I get it. I’m right there with you.This is one of the only times I am super, over the moon excited about an online product. One of the only times I will go on and on about why I’m buying something (and why you should too). One of the only times I will unapologetically spend $30 on something “just for me”– even though it’s quite clearly for my family too. It’s Healthy Living Bundle Time! (This post contains affiliate links.) 

What is the Healthy Living Bundle?

The bundle is a collection of e-books, e-courses, printables, and product bonuses from some of the best bloggers and companies across the web. Each resource focuses on a different aspect of healthy living to help address a wide variety of reader concerns, questions, and goals. The bundle is a super deal (less than $30) offered for a very short amount of time (cough, cough- the deal ends Monday at 11:59).

Here’s some of what I love about the Healthy Living Bundle.

1) It’s got a gazillion resources that you’ll actually use. 

A gazillion actually means 80+, but hey, that’s something like a gazillion when you’re only one person. The bundle covers topics from healthy eating to fitness to alternative health and essential oils. It’s got sections on gardening, homesteading, and healthy kids. For the ladies, the bundle includes a section on pregnancy and women’s health. No matter what your natural health interests, it’s got something for you.

2) It’s cheap. 

If you bought all the e-books, courses, and bonus products that come free with the healthy living bundle, do you know what it would cost you? $2,669.53. Do you know what the cost of the bundle is? $29.97. I don’t know about your math skills, but to me, that seems like some pretty serious subtraction. If you were eyeing up only one or two of these resources, chances are the bundle will pay for itself VERY quickly.

3) It’s inspiring. 

I’ve always wanted to be skeptical of gimmicks, courses, challenges, and life-fix-it courses. While I’ve kept a healthy dose of realism (no product is going to change my life in 3 easy steps), I have come to accept that resources like the Healthy Living Bundle truly help inspire me to reach my goals. I can’t help it- When I have a list to check off, I tend to be more productive. When I have a great new cookbook, I’m going to try a new healthy recipe. When I have a garden planner, I want to make next year’s growing season the best it can be. The bundle gives me the kick in the pants I need to get back on track. Whatever works, man.

4) The bonuses! 

The bundle comes with over $250 in free products– just pay the shipping to get it to your house. Examples of some of the bonuses included in your bundle cost are:

  • Free Meyer’s detergent & fabric softener ($32.66)
  • Free Trilight herbal formula ($15.00)
  • Free organic maca powder ($15.44)
  • Free “Dirty Mouth” tooth powder from Primal Life Organics ($15.97)
  • Gift certificate to Perfect Supplements ($15.00)
  • Free eyeshadow trio from Orglamix ($18.00)
  • Free 6 month membership to Meal Garden, a meal planning service ($35.70)
  • And several MORE, including a kombucha tea blend, liquid probiotics, skin care products, and a health magazine.

5) It’s risk free. 

If for some reason you buy the Healthy Living Bundle and you really don’t think it’s for you, you’ve got a whole YEAR to return it and get your money back. That is a serious guarantee, and one you will rarely find in any online product.

6.) It’s supporting small business owners everywhere. 

Bloggers everywhere are supporting the Healthy Living Bundle, first and foremost because it’s a great product. But you should also know that when you buy the bundle through my site, or any other blogger’s site, we receive a commission at no extra cost to you.

I try to keep my sales posts rare and worth your time, and only promote products I really believe in. The products I promote are ones that I think my readers will find useful and affordable. The Healthy Living Bundle meets this criteria spot on.

When you buy through my site, you are helping to put dinner on our table and keep our lights on. Literally. Thank you in advance for supporting us in this way!

In short, this bundle rocks. 

Even before I blogged, I would drool a little over these bundles and wonder if they were really worth it. Once I finally bought one, I never looked back. The Healthy Living Bundle is worth every penny.

By the way,in my usual procrastinator style, I have waited until the last possible day to write a post about this. The Bundle is only available until 11:59 EST on Monday, September 26th. Check it out before it’s gone for another year!

Before Adding an Animal to the Homestead

I have a a daydream that goes like this: I own a sprawling property that covers acres of rolling hills and lightly wooded areas. Sheep and goats mill about through the pastures and chickens dot the landscape. There’s a family of ducks quacking about on our quiet pond, and we have several sources of peacefully raised and processed meat. Of course, the loyal family dog is also there, and he greets you noisily but merrily.

Reality: I got chickens, rabbits, and a goat. I love them dearly, but they’re also a big responsibility.

It’s easy to become enamored with (and addicted to) homestead animals. Each new addition is enthralling and delightful. We keep thinking of excuses to get more chickens. (Just one more, honey, I promise.) We tend to say yes to friends who need homes for their animals. We wonder, what difference would one more goat make? When we hear of free guinea hens, we think, why the heck not?

Here are some points to consider before you decide to buy a homestead animal.

Maybe you’re an experienced farmstead extraordinaire. Perhaps you’re just at the stage where you think chickens are cute but you’ve never smelled inside a dirty coop. Regardless, you should know that you must consider each animal carefully before you add it to your homestead.

Here are some factors for consideration:

1) Housing 

Every animal needs a home, and many animals have particular needs. Chickens need a coop with nesting boxes and a roosting pole. Rabbits like to have a hide-away place. Goats need super-awesome fencing and a shelter for the night. Plan your animals’ housing carefully to make sure that they are warm, comfortable, and safe from potential predators.

2) Feed

I hate to say it, but animals eat too. Depending on the animal and your purposes for it, you’ll need to provide pasture, kitchen scraps, grain, hay, and/or other food and supplements. You can try to do as much of it as you can inexpensively, but all animal feed options either take time or money.

Consider animal food needs before adding them to your homestead.

3) Health Care

Do you know how to trim a goat’s hooves? Figure out whether or not your birds have parasites? Separate a sick animal from its companions? Deal with a litter of baby bunnies found dead in the early morning?

I don’t want to be intimidating– we didn’t know how to do any of this when we first started acquiring animals. However, you must be prepared to do a little research and jump in with both feet when your animal has a health need.

4) Cost

All of these animal needs cost money. We got into raising animals ultimately to save money, and sometimes that has worked out really well. However, there have been lots of times when they’ve cost us more than they’re worth, and that can be disheartening and frustrating.

We are still trying to work out how to raise animals as frugally as possible. The best advice I can give you is to research inexpensive methods, try to be resourceful whenever possible, and be prepared to adjust if you find something is costing you more than you would like. Now, to go take my own advice!


5) Responsibility

Dairy animals need to be milked twice a day. TWICE A DAY. And finding willing victims helpers who are able to milk while you go on vacation can be difficult. Bear this in mind before you buy your goat or cow.

All animals, however, require daily chores. Food, water, cleaning, moving, and tending to as necessary are all part of keeping farm animals. It can be a big commitment at times. Not to mention it requires some level of physical strength to complete the tasks– I can do a lot of it, but I often need my husband to help with some of the heavier lifting.

6) Neighbors

We are SO blessed with awesome neighbors who either have animals themselves or who are very forgiving of our rogue chickens and the occasional escapee goat. Let’s see if they still like us when our noisy guinea fowl are full-grown.

However, not all neighbors enjoy a runaway rooster dust bathing in their flower beds, or horses perusing their backyards. (Yes, that happened to us. Multiple times.) Consider an animal’s noise level, smell, ranging limits, and safeness before adding one to your property. Be considerate of neighbors and be sure that your animal choices will bring peace to your community, not war and increased legislation. Always be sure to check your local regulations too!

I said yes to free guinea fowl. #guineafowl #homesteadingit #imustbecrazy

A photo posted by Abigail Zieger (@theyrenotourgoats) on

7) Animal Interaction 

Will your animals live with each other? Will your cat kill your chicks? Can a pig and a goat get along? Does one animal present any bio-security hazards to another? Consider how well your animals will interact with one another, and ensure that you have adequate space and housing if certain animals need to be kept away from one another.

8) Usefulness

This might seem harsh to some, but I am at a point in my life where if an animal isn’t useful to me, I won’t keep it. I love dogs, but I can’t afford to feed one just for companionship. If an animal doesn’t feed my family or take care of predators for me, I’m not going to spend my time and money on it.

You, however, may have the resources necessary to raise an animal purely for your own enjoyment. It can be a wonderful experience– even therapeutic– to care for other creatures. If it brings joy to your heart and you are ready for the responsibility, then by all means, don’t let me discourage you from having an animal simply as a pet!


Don’t let all of these considerations scare you. Animals can be a lot of work, but they can also be a lot of fun. I admit– sometimes I’d like to ship our animals off to another house for a while– but most of the time, I’m really glad we have them and I’m grateful for their provisions.

Have any other advice? What animals do you own?


Moon Song (Saturday Song)

It’s time for another edition of the few and far between “Saturday Song” posts!

Moon Song is about “The moon, father time, and the way things change, or don’t.” As usual, I’ll let the song speak for itself.

Written by my husband, Timothy Zieger. Copyright 2016.

How to Grow Your Own Sprouts

Salad sprouts are so tasty and good for you. They’re also rather pricey. $4 and up for a teeny box of half-dead grocery sprouts? No thank you.

Grow your own salad sprouts at home- inexpensively!

This post contains affiliate links.

Thankfully, growing your own sprouts is easy and fun to do. You need very little- a screw-top jar, some water, and, of course, sprouting seeds! Sprouting seeds can be purchased online  or from a local health food store, and they come in many different varieties. While $12-20 for one bag may sound like a lot, the bag will give you way more sprouts than what you could purchase pre-grown for the same amount.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Put 2-3 tablespoons of sprouting seeds in a mason jar, covered with about four times as much water. (You could do more or less seeds, depending on how much you’ll eat at one time.) Screw on the lid and leave for about 12 hours at room temperature.
  2. Drain the seeds through a fine mesh colander or cheesecloth. Rinse very well with water. I like to spray mine with the hose attachment on high. Make sure seeds are well drained from the rinse.
  3. Put seeds back in the jar and cover with a paper towel and rubber band, or other loose covering that allows for air flow. Leave at room temperature for another 12 hours.
  4. Every 12 hours or so, re-rinse and drain the seeds. By the second day, you’ll see the beginning of little white sprouts. By day 2-3, the sprouts will grow longer and they are ready for eating.
  5. When the sprouts are ready to eat, rinse and drain one final time. Store in the refrigerator.


What happens if I accidentally skip a rinsing? One skip probably won’t hurt. Don’t make a habit out of it, though. You don’t the sprouts growing mold.

How long can I store sprouts? I’ve never gone more than a week or two before eating them all, but I’d say to use your best judgment. If they start to get slimy, grow mold, or otherwise seem questionable, then toss them. Hopefully you’ll eat them before then!

How do I eat sprouts? Any way at all! Try sprouts in salads, on a sandwich, in your eggs, or as an appetizer topping. Use your imagination and see what you come up with!

Have you ever made your own sprouts? What’s your favorite way to enjoy them?




Kids Can (and Should!) Cook

I wrote this post a while back, but I’m realizing my own need to revisit it regularly. It’s easy to get frustrated with kids in the kitchen, and to just want to do it yourself to save time and hassle. I often forget the reasons why I so want them to learn to cook in the first place! So, here’s to you and me both working towards this goal together. Press on, parents of sous chefs.

(This post contains affiliate links.) 

Kids should cook.

Kids should know where food comes from. They should know food preparation basics. They should have the basic skills they need to cook a simple meal. And, ideally, they should enjoy doing it!

Kids Can Cook(J cooking his own egg for lunch. He’s able to do it from start to finish- with supervision at the stove, of course.)

“Anyone can cook, and most everyone should. It’s a sorry sign that many people consider ‘from scratch’ an unusual and even rare talent. In fact, cooking is a simple and rewarding craft, one that anyone can learn and even succeed at from the get-go.”How to Cook Everything: Simple Recipes for Great Food, by Mark Bittman.

I don’t want my children to grow up without a clue as to how to perform simple cooking tasks for themselves. I don’t want them to rely on microwaves and fast food joints. I’d hate for J to one day get his own apartment and stare at his stove in dismay, not knowing where to begin.

Why? Part of it is about life skills. A little home economics goes a long way for kids these days, especially when the push for more convenience and less labor is growing ever stronger. But more importantly, I want my kids to have a healthy relationship with food: to know where it comes from, to know what they’re putting into their bodies, to make moderate and nourishing choices when possible, and to be grateful for what they have.

How do we get started on this process? It can seem daunting at first, especially if you don’t cook too much yourself.

There are lots of kid’s cookbooks available, but these resources can be either a blessing or a curse. Sometimes they actually teach kids a simple recipe. Other times, however, they just teach children to microwave chicken nuggets and make a special dipping sauce out of three different condiments you already have in your fridge. Really? Is this cooking? Is this what we want our children to have in mind when they think of preparing a meal?

Look, I’m not a great cook, but I do an awful lot of it. And from the time my kids are very little, I have them in the kitchen with me, helping with simple tasks. Is it always easy? No. Do I get frustrated and fed up with them making a mess of things? Yes. Do I push them to do it perfectly? No. Do you end up with carrots in the silverware drawer? Yes. Is it worth it to teach them? Yes.

You can do this.

For the youngest children, just having them “work” alongside you is great. If you’re making bread, give them a small piece of dough to mold while you knead the big loaf. Give them a small amount of flour to draw in. Yes, it will get on their clothes and the floor. Can it be cleaned? Yes, and maybe you should invite them to help wipe it up with a towel.

January 2015 021

For 2-3 year olds, have them try simple kitchen tasks. Scooping cups of flour. Mixing ingredients in a bowl. Cracking eggs. Washing the potatoes before you peel them. Mashing the apples you’re cooking down into sauce.

For preschoolers, try having them begin sequencing tasks. For muffins: First we mix the dry ingredients, then the wet, then we gently put them together. Or, for an omelette: heat the pan, add the chopped veggies, whisk the eggs and milk, then pour the mixture onto the hot pan. Top with cheese while it’s cooking. Cooking is a homeschooling mom’s dream lesson- it’s great for beginning math (counting, adding, etc.), science (how does baking soda work?), and general life skills.

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You can have elementary aged children practice skills that require more coordination. J (not quite 5) is already practicing proper knife skills with a butter knife. Once your children are older, you can teach them to use a real knife- always supervised, of course. Older children can try recipes that require a little more finesse- like using a double boiler, or trying to cook eggs in different styles (over-medium, sunny-side up, hard-fried, etc.). Older children can read recipes themselves, plan a meal, and learn proper safety precautions for using the stove or oven.

My sister-in-law has each of her teenage children take a night of the week cooking, and they can make great meals for the whole family. The younger ones always have responsibilities to fulfill for the meal as well. Imagine what a good foundation they will have for when they leave the home!

While it’s true that I’ve spent a lot of times pulling my hair out while trying to guide my son in helping, we’ve had just as many times that cooking together has been an encouraging and bonding experience. Yes, it can be a lot of work at first, but the memories we have created are wonderful, and I am proud of all that he is learning in the kitchen.

cooking with kids

All that work is starting to pay off! J just made his first full meal for us last night- tuna burgers and toppings on homemade buns, with homemade ice cream for dessert. I had to help him with measuring (he can’t read yet), shaping the buns (he just needed a break from prep), and flipping the burgers (we don’t want burnt little hands!), but he did everything else himself. The resulting meal was delicious, and he was proud of it. In fact, he doesn’t even like tuna- but he ate it because he cooked it himself and wanted to take part in his meal.

Kids can cook, and they probably should too! A little energy and patience put into teaching them cooking skills will set them off on the right foot for healthy eating, independence, and food appreciation- for life!

Would you like a little help to guide you on the way? The Kids Cook Real Food course from Katie of Kitchen Stewardship looks like a wonderful resource. It’s definitely on my list to try! 

Three Simple Foraging Rules

Last month, I was enjoying our family reunion in Vermont. Clear skies, clean highways, miles of wildflowers and green mountains, and (atypical for this Pennsylvania girl) not a billboard in sight. I loved it.

Along with picturesque scenery and extra free time came foraging. It seemed like everywhere I looked there was a wild edible or medicinal. Even my nephew and son were delighting in how much wood sorrel there was in the yard by our rental.

“You guys know a lot about this stuff,” marveled Uncle V. “That’s cool, man,” he said with a nod.

In reality, as we assured our uncle,  we still have a lot to learn. While I frequently make use of friendly neighborhood weeds in homemade medicines, teas, and meals, we still are amateur foragers at best.

Here are three simple rules to help you forage safely, ethically and sustainably.

If you, like us, find yourself wishing you knew more about foraging, take heart. You can still enjoy feasting upon even the most mundane of wild-harvested oddities (i.e., dandelion greens) while you learn how to improve your foraging skills safely and sustainably. Here are some basic rules of foraging to abide by.

1)Know thy plants. Buy a guide to wild edibles. Ask the great Google for plant descriptions and photos. Learn about poisonous lookalikes and companion plants. Pay attention to details of leaf shape, seasonal changes and growth, fruit arrangements, etc. Know when you can eat a plant, what parts of the plant you can eat, and how it is best consumed.

If you aren’t 100%, double checked, absolutely sure what a plant is and how to use it, don’t pick it. An innocent misidentification could lead to topical rashes, stomach upset, nasty side effects, or even death.

Now that I’ve scared you, you should know that foraging is generally quite safe as long as you’re well-researched and sensible. Just don’t start sticking everything in your mouth at once, okay?

2) Pick only what you need. If you pick all of the plant in one go, it won’t have a chance to come back the following year.A general rule of thumb is to harvest no more than 10% of the total plants available, and no more than 25% of any one individual plant. For example, let’s say there are 100 nettle plants in my goat field– I should only harvest about a quarter of the leaves of each individual plant, and make sure that I don’t take more than about 10 plants in total.

If there’s only one or two plants in the area, then it’s better not to pick at all. If you leave them to their own devices, hopefully there will be more the following year to return to and enjoy more fully for years to come.

And of course, take only what you need. You want to leave the plants there to help promote a thriving ecosystem. Remember that it’s not just you that enjoys eating plants!

3) Pick in legal and safe locations. If you suspect that the wild apple tree on the side of the road is on private property, do be sure to ask permission from the property owners before claiming a bushel. Also, double check with the rules of your local parks before making off with an abundance of a precious resource that is actually protected for ecological reasons.

And of course, avoid areas where pesticides, roadside fumes, or toxic run-off could be compromising your plants.

While these guidelines may seem like no-brainers, it’s easy for a newbie forager to become overzealous and forget to use common sense. Remember these simple rules as you traipse about searching for wild edibles, and you will ensure a safe and principled foraging expedition.