The ProsenPeople

Jewish Day School: Yes Or No?

Wednesday, May 17, 2017 | Permalink

Earlier this week, April Peveteaux shared how she balances her kids’ kosher demands with her own diet. With the publication of her new cookbook, Bake Sales Are My B*tch: Win the Food Allergy Wars with 60+ Recipes to Keep Kids Safe and Parents Sane, April is guest blogging for the Jewish Book Council all week as part of Visiting Scribe series here on The ProsenPeople.

Some people think parenting gets real when you bring that baby home from the hospital and realize it’s now totally on you to keep it alive. As a more seasoned parent, I know that parenting gets real once you have to enroll your baby into big, bad Kindergarten. Yes, I’m being serious. No, I’m not belittling the fact that keeping your baby alive is a big freaking deal.

Like most parents living in Los Angeles of a certain creative/business/lawyering class, we are simultaneously lucky and cursed to have so many options for educating our children: lucky because the fact that I’m even able to write this piece about the pros and cons of Jewish Day School means that my husband and I CAN AFFORD JEWISH DAY SCHOOL; cursed because those who are given too many choices can often make bad ones. Or expensive ones. Or ones that give you indigestion.

Our choice of sending our children to a progressive, Reform Jewish day school was not the obvious one. But at the time, and even now with the benefit of hindsight I would maintain, it certainly seemed like the best. Still, we’re a mixed religious family and not particularly observant, so spending every day learning Hebrew from ages 5 to 11 seemed excessive.

Surprisingly, our ambivalence became the strongest reason to choose the path of Moses. Since my husband is Jewish, but very hazy on his Hebrew school knowledge, this felt to me like the best possible way to introduce our children to half of their heritage. As a Protestant from the Great Plains, I was not going to be able to help them with their Torah portion if they decided to be a bar and bat mitzvah. I’d always been interested in learning more about Judaism myself, so we decided this was a fantastic opportunity to give our children an excellent education while allowing them to discover Judaism and what it meant for them.

We have been incredibly happy with our children’s school. The focus on tikkun olam in our community has been the most impactful part of their early education. Living in a huge city like Los Angeles this school affords them the opportunity to exist and learn in a small, loving, like-minded community. This has also been a blessing. Yet, we have had our doubts about wrapping up our little citizens of the world in a tiny bubble.

Teaching our Jewish kids how to heal the world through service is an amazing start that I wish for every child. I will never undervalue the impact these years have had on my children and their ability to empathize and act when they see injustice in the world. Yet, I can’t help but feel that allowing our children to experience diversity of all kinds on a daily basis will enhance empathy in a real world way.

Eventually, our children need to live in the world outside of their bubble. To study alongside children who are not exactly like them. To understand that some classmates may be hungry, that some face racial, religious, gender, or class discrimination. They will see these children, because they’re sitting next to these kids in class, asking what they got for #9, and where everyone’s going after the after-after party.

Living in a city with such diversity but keeping our children away from the majority of its citizens started to feel like a disservice to our children. As parents of young ones, we do want to keep them surrounded by love and comfort at all times. But as parents of future adults, we have a responsibility to teach our children that they do not, in fact, exist in their own universe. Other people occupy the world who have different needs, different beliefs, and won’t agree with them at every turn.

While some people may think throwing children into the wilds of public school in Los Angeles is cruel and unusual—I mean the lunch options alone—we are not those people. Or maybe, we are no longer those people. Perhaps it took us too long to come to the realization that our job as parents is to not only protect and nurture our children, but to create good people who truly get what other people have to endure simply to get an education, and to prepare them for adulthood. At some point our kids have to learn that their worldview is not shared by all of their peers. And their fresh, organic, kosher lunch is a privilege, not the norm for children who eat one or more meals at school every weekday.

We are so grateful for the time our children spent surrounded by love, and the supportive families who will always be part of their journey. We are especially thankful for the lessons in Judaism they learned every day. We know they are able to look outward and question what they think they know, and that is because of the years spent at the Jewish day school. That is not nothing. That is not to be taken for granted, and forgotten. It’s simply that now, for many reasons, some altruistic, some convenient, it’s time to leave the nest and live in the real world. All four of us.

April Peveteaux is the author of Gluten Is My Bitch. Her new cookbook, Bake Sales Are My B*tch: Win the Food Allergy Wars with 60+ Recipes to Keep Kids Safe and Parents Sane is now available!

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Breaking Kosher: When Your Kids Make the Rules

Monday, May 15, 2017 | Permalink

April Peveteaux is the author of Gluten Is My Bitch. With the publication of her new cookbook, Bake Sales Are My B*tch: Win the Food Allergy Wars with 60+ Recipes to Keep Kids Safe and Parents Sane, April is guest blogging for the Jewish Book Council all week as part of Visiting Scribe series here on The ProsenPeople.

I am a woman who loves to eat. I consider feasting upon great foods one of my greatest passions and an intimate, yet universal, way to connect with other like-minded people who enjoy stimulating all of their senses. In other words: If you wanna be my lover, you gotta get with my blended spinach and ricotta dip.

It was no accident that my husband and I fell in love over every ethnic meal we could indulge in while dating in New York City, and some that we were not sure qualified as any ethnicity. Where do those sugar-roasted nuts come from, anyway? His appreciation for my Southern and Cajun cooking and our many arguments over what makes a taco, based on his California experience and my Oklahoma and Texas knowledge, meant we were able to fulfill each other while remaining hungry.

After we brought our two beautiful, and voracious, children into the world it probably won’t surprise you to know that one of my most satisfying responsibilities as a mother and wife became the preparation of special birthday cakes for each member of my household. Pursuant to their personality and their preference, I make a unique birthday dessert for everyone, and insist they indulge in a piece for breakfast on the day they were brought into this earthly existence. Is there a better way to celebrate the day you were born than by smothering your gob with sugar? My husband goes for a honeybun cake made to resemble, well, a honeybun, covered in cinnamon, toasted pecans and a still-warm glaze. My son loves a rainbow cake with thick white buttercream frosting between each layer to accentuate the bright colors of the confection. And my daughter enjoys a cookie-crusted ice cream cake covered in fudge and whipped cream—the same ice cream cake my own mother made for me every year on my birthday.

Feeding my people is serious business, and I am filled with pleasure as they enjoy the culinary delights I share with them on special, and everyday occasions. Which is why raising kids as they attend a Jewish day school and start to get serious about Judaism has become a challenge to me—in the dietary sense.

As a cook who likes to expand her repertoire and broaden her children’s palates, preparing kosher meals on demand was not my (strawberry preferred) jam. I’m an add-on kind of gal who just walked into a restricted space and was not happy about having to ditch my bacon. I also like to make sure no one begins a meal hungry, so appetizers are a big part of my meal planning. When working under a traditional six-hour separation of the meat and dairy, there was no way I was bringing out my favorite roast chicken if I’d presented the epic cheese platter less than two hours prior. Something had to give. And it wasn’t going to be the cheese platter.

While doing some reconnaissance with other kosher parents, I realized that many chose the path of least resistance: going vegetarian or vegan. I am not that mom. I have celiac disease and can’t have gluten, and quite frankly I think that’s enough deprivation for one household. Also, being gluten-free means that bagels for every meal are also not an option. This is in fact, the worst.

Rather than risk offending everyone at my kid’s lunch tables, and also risk being a big old jerk, I decided my family would have to compromise. After all, if my kids were going to be raised Jewish, they were all ready to question everything. Why not lunch?

When packing a lunch I did decide that going vegetarian was the best way to respect the school guidelines and their observant classmates. Removing meat from their midday meal was going to be much easier on all of us. Especially me, since I don’t eat lunch at school and can shove all the leftover brisket into my mouth only minutes after indulging in nachos. But for my children’s sake, we pack a vegetarian lunch 99% of the time, and they can totally work with the lack of meat protein through the magic of bean and cheese burritos.

Dinnertime and the weekends are much more challenging, especially since the adults in the family do not keep kosher. Still, in support of our children’s commitment we make it work. Our daughter (the most stringent observer) has agreed to be “Dutch kosher” when at home or on vacation, meaning she can enjoy some dairy and only wait one hour to dig into the fried chicken. I compromise by experimenting with vegan and vegetarian meals that keep us kosher-style. Luckily the popularity of Paleo-style eating goes well with both kosher style (no dairy to mix with meat, just skip the pork and the shellfish recipes) and my own celiac disease, since the Paleo diet eschews all grains.

We are probably one of the few families who dine either Paleo or vegan depending on the evening, but mixing religions and food requires creativity and dedication to eating really well. I’m certainly willing to try new, delicious options—see recipe for Rice Chex chicken fingers below—to keep everyone in our house well fed and responsible to their beliefs. As long as I can keep deep-frying anything that falls in line with these dietary restrictions, it’s kosher.

Rice Chex Chicken Fingers

Kids love chicken fingers, but finding breadcrumbs that are both gluten-, egg-, and dairy-free is a huge challenge. Rice Chex (and other Chex products) are seven main allergen-free (no gluten, dairy, peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, fish or shellfish), so you can use them to crunch up your salads, or coat your fried chicken. Keep it dairy- and nut-free by using rice milk in this recipe.

Prep time: 20 minutes Cook time: 15 minutes
Makes: 12 servings

2 lbs. chicken tenders
4 cups Rice Chex
1 cup rice milk
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon paprika
3 cups vegetable oil
Sauces for dipping (check allergen info on label)

1. If not already cut into fingers; slice your chicken into 6” strips, approximately 2” wide. Set aside.

2. In a food processor or blender, combine Rice Chex, salt, pepper and paprika. Pulse until texture resembles breadcrumbs. Transfer to a large plate.

3. Pour rice milk into a medium bowl and set up assembly line with chicken tenders, milk and Rice Chex mixture. Place chicken tenders in bowl with rice milk as you heat your oil.

4. Heat vegetable oil on medium-high in large skillet or use a deep fat fryer and heat on medium-high. Once water sprinkles “dance” on the surface the oil is ready. Turn heat down to medium.

5. Dredge (rice) milk soaked chicken tenders in Rice Chex crumbs, coating completely.

6. Transfer to hot oil and cook until browned, 5-7 minutes per side. Allow chicken tenders to drain on paper towel-covered plate.

7. Serve chicken tenders alone, or with desired sauces.

Recipe excerpt used by permission from Bake Sales Are My B*tch: Win the Food Allergy Wars with 60+ Recipes to Keep Kids Safe and Parents Sane.