Thinking Outside the Lunch Box

Andolyn Fitzgerald puts a great deal of time and effort into nourishing her children in both mind and body. The amazing mother of seven homeschools much of her brood, serves delicious, nutritious home-cooked meals and even grinds her own wheat. She and her husband, John, live in bucolic Baldwin County where their bustling household includes the children, five girls and two boys ages 3 to 16; eight chickens; 11 baby chicks; one guinea pig; and two big dogs.

Andolyn says folks are often fascinated by the idea of homeschooling such a large family, adding that she couldn’t do it without the help of her supportive spouse. (The pair, who has been married for 17 years, met when they were graduate students at the University of Virginia.)

“I like to use the expression home-educated more than home-schooled, ” Andolyn says. “It may just be semantic, but it captures the spirit of what we try to do a little better. I do not set my home up to be like school at home.” More often than not, lessons occur around the dining room table or in the great outdoors. While Andolyn uses several curricula that she orders, she believes in a lot of creative play, including painting, fort-building and nature walks. Reading is perhaps the most critical component. “When children develop a love for reading, they are well on their way to being lifelong learners. I have also found that if the children are out of sorts or not getting along, sitting down to read with them really brings us peace. It has such a calming effect on everybody, including me, ” she says. The children often also help each other learn by “playing school.”

Additionally, she says, people are usually curious about what sorts of meals she serves her family. “I tell them it is not necessarily that different from what they feed their families. It is just a lot more food.” Nutrition always plays an important role, whether it’s portable, packable meals for her two oldest, both daughters, who now attend school at Fairhope High School, or snacks and sustenance for her stay-at-home students. Many of the dishes she prepares are vegetarian. For the younger five children, she says, lunch is like dinner: Pasta, omelets, tortillas and grilled sandwiches top the list. The older girls really like little quiches, bean tortillas, chicken salad and muffins. The following recipes are some of their family favorites.

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On the Menu

Black Bean, Edamame and Wheatberry Salad

This is a delectable, delightful salad brimming with healthful ingredients.

4 cups water
1/2 cup dry wheatberries
8 ounces black beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup frozen edamame
1 cup chopped tomato
1 cup corn
1/2 cup chopped green onion
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
lime juice, to taste
salt and black pepper, to taste

1. Combine water and wheatberries in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil.
2. Reduce heat, cover and simmer 55 minutes, or until wheatberries are tender. Place in a fine mesh strainer. Run under cold water to cool quickly. Drain. 
3. Boil edamame according to instructions on the package. Let cool, and then pop beans out of the shells. (This is a fun job for children.)
4. Combine wheatberries and edamame with remaining ingredients. Serve immediately or cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate up to 8 hours in advance. Serves 6 to 8. 

Zucchini Muffins

These muffins are a staple at the Fitzgerald home. They are a nutritious and delicious snack or take-along treat.

2 large eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups grated zucchini
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
3/4 cup raisins
1 cup chopped pecans

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. In a large bowl, mix together eggs, oil, brown sugar and vanilla. Stir in zucchini. Mix well. 
3. In a separate bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and cardamom. 
4. Stir dry ingredients into wet ingredients until just combined. Do not over mix the batter. 
5. Fold in raisins and pecans.
6. Spoon batter into buttered muffin tins and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until puffed and golden brown. A knife inserted into the center should come out clean. If using mini muffin tins, bake for 10 to 15 minutes. Makes 12 muffins or 2 to 2 1/2 dozen miniature muffins.

Potato Sour Cream Quiches

These tasty all-in-one dishes are incredibly versatile. To mix things up, toss in ingredients like asparagus, mushrooms and Canadian bacon. Andolyn makes her own piecrust with wheat pastry flour (see recipe below). Frozen piecrust works just as well.

2 (9- or 10-inch) frozen piecrusts
6 – 8 medium red potatoes, scrubbed, but not peeled
6 tablespoons butter
2 onions, chopped
2 teaspoons dried dill (or 2 tablespoons fresh dill)
4 tablespoons finely chopped green onions
6 eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups milk or heavy cream (depending on desired richness)
1 cup sour cream
1 pinch nutmeg
4 cups grated Colby Jack cheese

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Cook potatoes in water to cover, until they are tender but still firm, about 30 minutes after water boils. Let cool. Dice into small cubes.
3. In a medium frying pan, melt butter. Sauté onion 2 to 3 minutes, until it starts to look limp.
4. Add cooked potatoes and continue to cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Stir frequently and add a little potato water if it starts to stick. Stir in dill. Remove from heat.
5. In a medium bowl, beat eggs with a whisk. Whisk in salt, then milk/cream, then sour cream, then nutmeg.
6. Sprinkle half the cheese on the bottom of the crust.
7. Add potato mixture; then sprinkle remaining cheese. 
8. Pour in the egg mixture.
9. Bake 40 minutes or until lightly browned and firm in the center. Makes 2 9- or 10-inch quiches or 8 individual quiches. For fun, individual lunch portions, Andolyn rolls crust dough thinner and makes the quiches in muffin tins. 

Spicy Corn Quesadillas

Quesadillas are an easy, child-pleasing meal. Andolyn sneaks extra vegetables into the version she feeds her family.

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 medium carrots, grated
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 cups corn (fresh, frozen or canned)
2 teaspoons coriander
2 teaspoons ground cumin
salt and black pepper, to taste
2 1/2 cups Mexican blend cheese
8 (8-inch) tortillas

1. Heat vegetable oil in skillet.
2. Cook onions and peppers in oil over medium heat for about 5 minutes, until vegetables are softened.
3. Add garlic and grated carrots. Sauté for 4 minutes more. 
4. Add cayenne, corn, coriander and cumin. Cook, covered, for 5 minutes, stirring often. Add salt and black pepper to taste. 
5. Stir in cheese and let stand until cheese partially melts. 
6. Fill half of each tortilla with vegetable and cheese mixture in half-moon shape. 
7. Fold over and cook on griddle or in cast iron skillet until golden brown and slightly crispy. Serve with salsa and sour cream. Makes 8 quesadillas.

Andolyn Fitzgerald’s Wheat Pastry Piecrust

1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup cold unsalted butter
about 1/2 cup cold water or milk

1. In a mixing bowl, mix together the flour and salt with a fork.
2. Grate the cold butter with a medium grater over the flour. Toss with a fork until the butter is evenly distributed.
3. Toss in cold water or milk a little at a time and stir lightly with the fork. The exact amount of liquid will vary with the properties of the flour you are using, the temperature of the butter, how hot and humid the weather is, and the way you like the dough to feel when you roll it out. You have added enough liquid when you can press the dough with your hands and it holds together. The mixture will still look pretty loose and dry. It should not be wet or sticky.
4. Form the dough into 2 balls.
5. Butter two 9- or 10-inch pie pans well to prevent sticking. Roll out the crusts, one at a time.
6. First knead the ball about 10 times on a floured counter so the ball holds together. 
7. To get it into the best shape for rolling, first press the dough down so it becomes a flattened ball. Then push it down in the center to make a medium-size dent. Last, turn the dough around on the counter, pressing the edges with cupped palms so the whole edge becomes smooth.
8. Lift up the dough and lightly flour the whole counter. With a lightly floured rolling pin, roll the dough, starting from the center and rolling it out. Turn the dough over frequently as you roll so it doesn't stick. Continue flouring the rolling pin and counter as needed. Roll the crust until it is large enough to fit into pie pan with a 1-inch edge around the top.
9. Fold the crust in half, and lift into pan. Unfold it, and ease it down so it fits smoothly. Fold under the edge of the crust, then flute the rim.
10. Prick the crust with a fork and store it in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for a short time or the freezer for a longer time, until you are ready to use it.

Andolyn Fitzgerald’s Top 5 Tips For Getting Children
to Eat Healthily

1. My one big rule is to have a fruit or vegetable at every meal.

2. There are certain things my children will eat only if they are pureed. Spaghetti sauce and soup are two examples. When they are full of chunky vegetables, they won’t eat them; when I puree sauces and soups with a hand blender until they are smooth, they will.

3. Smoothies are a staple at our house. They are a treat for the kids, while still being healthful. Plus, they are never really the same twice, so they are also a bit of a surprise.

4. Children won’t eat unhealth-ful foods if they aren’t in the house. Soda and sugar drinks are verboten. We pretty much drink water at every meal. It is a good habit to develop. 

5. Lastly, I think children enjoy food more when they participate in making it. I have some excellent little sous chefs who can really chop up some vegetables.

text and styling by Sallye Irvine

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