Food Planning Tips for Success

By Emily Schwartz

It’s that time again: back to school time! Although exciting, the new school year often means more activities and less time to focus on meal planning and nutrition. Taking even just a moment to plan ahead can help keep your family healthy while maximizing your time and allowing you to do more of the things you love. Here are quick and easy tips to set you and your family up for success, anytime of the day!

Breakfast is arguably the most important meal of the day as it helps give us the energy and nutrients necessary to focus and function properly throughout the day. Kids that enjoy healthy, balanced breakfasts are also set to perform better in school and maintain a healthier weight. Putting together a nutritious breakfast doesn’t have to take much effort. Just pair a source of protein with a source of fiber—two hunger-fighting nutrients—to help carry you and your family to your next meal or snack. For example, try having a Greek yogurt cup with berries or whole grain toast with nut butter and banana slices.

Keep the “health train” going throughout the day with a delicious and nutritious packed lunch. Take a little time on the weekend to prepare and portion foods, like fresh cut veggies, hard-boiled eggs, or popcorn, to help streamline the packing process on more busy weekdays. Also, keep nutrient-rich, ready-to-pack foods like granola bars, hummus, or guacamole cups and whole fruit, like apples, bananas, or oranges, on hand to easily round out packed meals. Try one of these packed lunch favorites or create your own:

● Nut Butter and “Jelly” Sandwich (try mashed fresh fruit like bananas or berries in place of jelly), baby carrots, popcorn, and milk

● Hummus, whole grain pita bread, bell pepper slices, grapes, and milk

● Cheese slices, whole grain crackers, snap peas, and strawberries

Although breakfast and lunch are important, supper is the meal most likely to be enjoyed as a family. And, family meals are associated with their own positive benefits. In fact, kids who partake in more family meals each week tend to be healthier, both physically and mentally, perform better in school, and are less likely to engage in risky behaviors as they get older. To help enjoy more meals as a family, try planning meals ahead of time, making a list of go-to meals, and enlisting your entire family to help in the meal preparation process.

For even more ideas, we at Festival Foods will be celebrating National Family Meals Month™ the entire month of September. Started in 2015 by the Food Marketing Institute, National Family Meals Month™ is a national campaign aimed at promoting the commitment of enjoying more meals each week as a family. Throughout September, we will be sharing family meal ideas on our blog at FestFoods.com/blog, sampling our Dine at Home Deli meal options in our stores and sending you home with a Festival Foods oven mitt. We invite you to join us for #FestivalFamilyMeals and to commit to having one more family meal each week this fall.

Emily Schwartz is a nationally accredited, registered dietitian-nutritionist (RDN) serving the Eau Claire and La Crosse communities as Festival Foods’ Western Wisconsin Regional Dietitian. 

Supporting Local Is the Way to Go!

Bob Adrian, owner of Rump’s Butcher Shoppe in Altoona, is an advocate of going local. “If we can continue to spread the word about the benefits of buying, producing, and selling locally, the positive impact on the Chippewa Valley will continue to grow,” Adrian says.

Rump’s offers a full selection of fresh meats, cheeses, and made-in-house sausage, ham, and bacon along with wild game processing.  Meat and cheese trays, beer, wine, liquor, and the list goes on! They make over two hundred items in house.

Adrian says the exceptional team consists of chefs, meat cutters, caterers, and professional sausage makers. The result: extremely high quality products along with unmatched customer service. Adrian said if he had not met Dan Horlacher, the shoppe would have never happened. Both of them come from deer-processing, sausage-making families, and with a combined forty-plus years in the meat and food industry, it was an easy decision to go ahead with the shoppe after just a few conversations. As they say, the rest is history.

Rump’s Butcher Shoppe buys local beef from Elk Mound, chicken and eggs from Chippewa Falls, local buffalo and elk, and occasionally local pork as well.  Adrian says they do their best to have as much local product as possible and still be able to be an affordable market.

Not long after opening Rump’s Butcher Shoppe, another opportunity presented itself. The restaurant at the Chippewa Valley Regional Airport had been sitting vacant for approximately one year. As with Rump’s, Adrian knew he had to surround himself with skilled quality partners. After some back and forth and some recommendations from friends and colleges, Adrian partnered up with Ryan Anderson and Chef Travis Dudley to start planning the new Hangar 54 Grill, which opened in May 2016 and has been very well received by the locals and airport travelers alike. There is a great partnership between the restaurant and the butcher shoppe. Quality and customer service is what both are about.

Bob, Rump’s, and Hangar 54 Grill enthusiastically support the Local Challenge. “I’ve always stood behind local business whenever possible. It just makes sense. Most of the money spent locally will keep getting recycled locally, which benefits everyone in the area. So anything I can do to help spread that philosophy is something I’m going to try to get behind,” Adrian explains.

Comfort Food from the Best Local Ingredient

By Chef Joseph Meicher, The Local Lounge

Growing up, I have always loved cooking. I worked in Madison at the University Club. When I moved up to Eau Claire in 2007 to attend business school at UWEC, I took a job at Mona Lisa’s.  After graduating, I spent one month in sales and quickly returned to the kitchen at Mona Lisa’s.  I worked through every station there and wanted to continue learning and advancing my career. I went in October of 2012 to work in Tuscany at Podere il Casale, an agriturismo outside of Montepulciano. While working on the farm, I had the opportunity to cook in their restaurant daily. We prepared a different menu every day based on what was in our garden, freezer, larder, etc. In addition to cooking, I was lucky enough to harvest grapes for their wines, olives for their oil, make incredible goats’ and sheep’s milk cheeses, take sheep to pasture along with some dogs, and take the goats into the forest to forage every evening. It was an awesome experience that taught me so much about local food and taking pride in the products that are from one’s region.

The people I worked with were all incredibly passionate about food. They cared deeply about every detail that went into making a dish. One dish in particular that really got people fired up was a marinated eggplant dish. There were only four ingredients, eggplant, olive oil, lemon juice, and salt; however, the method of preparing the dish seemed to be contested every day. Enis, the chef, insisted that the eggplant should be salted, pressed, grilled (with no oil), then drizzled with a mixture of lemon juice and olive oil. The owner of the farm, Ulisse, was certain that the best way to prepare the dish was to oil and salt the eggplant, grill them immediately, then as they came off the grill, squeeze a few drops of lemon juice on each slice followed by a bit of olive oil. Both versions were absolutely wonderful; the passion they had for their method was memorable and stuck with me. I ended up preparing the dish differently every day based on who I thought might walk into the kitchen. If Ulisse was making cheese, I would mix the oil and lemon juice. If Enis was at the market, I would grill the eggplant right away and finish with the lemon juice first then the olive oil. It was inspiring to work with people that cared so much about food, particularly the foods and dishes specific to their area in Tuscany.

The Local Lounge has been a phenomenal opportunity.  I have been lucky enough to collaborate with a very talented and passionate staff to construct our menu.  It is really exciting to be surrounded by like minded cooks that are always striving to figure out the best way to showcase our local ingredients.  We have a phenomenal kitchen staff ready to serve some really awesome food that will be familiar and comforting but executed at a level you would find in Minneapolis or Madison with the best ingredients available in the Chippewa Valley.Using local ingredients is common sense if you are sincerely trying to cook good food. Our goal is simply to show off the best ingredients to our guests in a way that is familiar and not pretentious. We will be using many local farmers throughout the growing season and preserving as many ingredients as possible so that we can continue to serve locally sourced foods all year long.

We will measure success in the restaurant not only monetarily, but also by how much we can support local farmers and by how much we can give back to our community. Our goal is to be a profitable restaurant that plays an integral role in helping sustain local farms as well as getting involved with non-profit work, local charities,and other organizations that do good for the community.

I am thrilled to have the opportunity to cook alongside such a talented and passionate group for the Eat Local Challenge. It is a really exciting time for the Eau Claire restaurant scene. I think the meal will be a great chance to show off some of the awesome ingredients and the awesome talent available to us in the Chippewa Valley.

Locally Laid —Eggs, That Is! A Chat with Lucie Amundsen

Duluth-area writer and co-chicken farmer Lucie B. Amundsen is the author of Locally Laid: How We Built a Plucky, Industry-Changing Egg Farm from Scratch (Avery, 2016). She will appear at the Chippewa Valley Book Fest Saturday, October 15, 2016, at 3:30 p.m. in the Eau Claire Room,  L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library. She has a masters of fine arts in writing from Hamline University, has written for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and has served as an editor at Reader’s Digest Association.

The book recounts the adventure she and her husband began when they decided to create a large-scale, pasture-raised egg farm—with no previous experience! In November she’ll be speaking as a William J. Clinton Guest Lecturer at the School of Public Policy in Little Rock about Middle Agriculture, which, she says is “quite an honor for a reluctant chicken farmer.” The book recently won the Midwest Choice Award for Nonfiction.

Recently we spoke with Amundsen about the adventure and the book.

Why did you decide to write the memoir? It started as a blog, which honestly I started as part diary/part mental health exercise. I found that if I was writing out everything that was going on (read going wrong) at the farm, I wasn’t grinding my teeth quite so hard. Then I needed a subject for my book-length thesis project for my masters of fine arts in writing from Hamline University in St. Paul. Oddly, I began writing other topics, but found myself drawn to writing the blog. Then it hit me that the blog could be adapted to a book. Also, I think of the book as narrative nonfiction—like if a memoir and a popular nonfiction had a bab. There’s a tremendous amount of facts and research in there, and my hope is that the personal, funny story will propel people who didn’t know they cared about the food system into reading a book about it. I’m tricky that way.

All the chickens are named Lola, short for Locally Laid. Are all your chickens of the same type? What type(s) do you have? We have had different breeds over the years—mostly Rhode Island Reds, Bovans Brown, and Red Stars. They’re all hearty northern girls, good layers with gentle personalities.

You have said that in this venture you are “championing agriculture of the middle,” saying in an Open Letter to the Man Offended by Locally Laid (http://locallylaid.com/open-letter-to-the-man-offended-by-locally-laid/), that Middle Agriculture is “the most stressed, least understood agricultural segment in America. Mid-sized farms, like awkward teens, don’t fit in anywhere. They tend to be too large to sell all they produce directly to the public (think farmer’s market or CSA) and way too small to romp with the big dogs of commodity markets. As such, there are less of us mid-level producers every day. Between 1997–2012 the number of these types of operations has declined by 18%. That’s over 130,000 farms that have been shut, barn doors closed, tumbleweeds cued.” You wrote that when this happens, it affects all the local and regional agriculture-related industries. This is really the crux of the farm for me. The idea is that when a business sources locally — farmers in our region grow our Non-GMO corn, then we use the local feed mill to grind and store our feed, buy our supplies from the local farm store, handle our own processing, and hire our neighbors to wash eggs, and then use a local distributor to sell locally — then all that economic vitality swirls around the community and we’re all better for it.One of our partner farmers who had been renting his land forever was able, on the strength of his Locally Laid contract, to buy his farm. It gives me goose bumps.

How much training or education would someone need to do what you and your husband have done? I think of my book as farm contraception. If someone reads the book and still wants to go into farming, then they should find a farmer to have a mentor relationship with for at least a year. Also, understanding of accounting and marketing would be really useful, too. Farmers now can’t just excel at the craft of agriculture, they also must understand branding.

Why, in your mind, is growing and selling/buying locally better (assuming you think so)?

There’s everything I said above, but also I talk about food miles in the book. Here is a bit on that from page 108. “It’s a form of culinary accounting, adding up all the travel on long-haul trucks and plane hops a product takes to get from farm field to processing plant to your town. The Worldwatch Institute ran the numbers and figures that most things we pick up from the grocery store travel between 1,500 and 2,500 miles before they slap down on our kitchen counters. And that seemed like an awful big side of diesel with our breakfast. I started writing about it.”

Are local organic eggs more nutritious? Do they tend to be more expensive than Big Ag eggs? It had been our intention to be organic certified, but then we learned a lot.Organic eggs don’t feel local to me as most of the organic animal feed in this country comes from China and India. Our government subsidizes commercial corn so heavily, it makes business sense to export our commercial grain and import organic. Of course, I’m not sure how organic a crop can be from some of the most polluted countries on earth.

However having my chickens outside on ROTATED pasture (cage-free birds don’t really go outside, but when they do it’s often on a concrete slab or on denuded pasture) adds nutrients to their diets. All that clover, flowers, grasses, seeds,bugs, and hapless frogs makes for better eggs—tastier and also with more yolk integrity. A USDA-funded study and others have found that pasture-raised eggs have less fat, less cholesterol, more beta-carotene, omega 3s, vitamin A, etc.

It makes sense to me that when I exercise and eat salad, I’m healthy. Same for the birds.

What has been the most challenging aspect to your chicken-raising endeavor? It’s hard to say one thing. The book really is a giant pratfall into our ag experience, but because we’re not so small that we can procure all our chickens at say Dan’s Feed Bin (a local feed store in Superior) and we’re not ordering the 30,000 pullet minimum from a big hatchery, getting lines of supply going as a mid-sized farm was very difficult.

What has been the greatest reward? The greatest reward has been watching some of our partner farms (farmers who raised eggs to our brand standard, we buy them and do all the distribution and marketing) have a materially better life. Like I said, one bought his farm. Another insulated his house. That’s tangible stuff.

In the book, I find ways to take big questions like “Why is a food system broken?” and find light, amusing ways to answer them. At a reading, I had a woman come up to have her book signed, and I could tell she had something important on her mind. This is a paraphrase of what she said, “In the 1980s my parents lost our farm, and I thought it was because we were bad at business. But then I read your book, and I see it had nothing to do with that. That the whole deck was stacked against us. And now…I see things differently.”  This might be the most rewarding thing that happened about the book for me.

We are hosting the annual Eat Local Challenge, where local chefs seeking to use local, organic products create a wonderful meal. Have you and your eggs participated in any events like that? If so, why do you think they are important?

We’ve been involved with the statewide project Minnesota Cooks. I think events like these are good for consumer education and are usually a lot of fun.

Happy Goats, Great Cheese

This June, Bifrost Farms Creamery, near Boyceville, Wisconsin, became the only farmstead goat cheese micro-creamery in Western Wisconsin. Licensed Cheesemaker Meg Wittenmyer opened Bifrost Farms with the goal of providing a local source of fresh goat milk products. Wittenmyer’s vision is to be a key part of building a vibrant, sustainably active food community in Dunn County and surrounding areas.

A farmstead creamery differs from the typical cheese factory of Wisconsin in that the goats are raised, milk is produced, and cheese made all right on the farm. Meg takes pride in her small herd of Mini-Nubians who produce sweet, high-butterfat milk, perfect for cheesemaking. Current products available through Bifrost Farms are all non-GMO and use only vegetable rennet. They include plain and flavored Chèvre, a Feta-style cheese called Salzkäse, Cajeta (goat milk caramel sauce), and Meg’s unique yogurt cheese made in both sweet and savory flavors,such as Matcha Green Tea and Tzatziki.

Bifrost Farms goats are treated humanely and naturally, with no vaccines or traditional wormers. They are also proud of their “no-kill” dairy label and will soon be Animal Welfare Approved. Although not certified organic, they use organic practices in their goat dairy. Wittenmyer says, “We maintain that the natural path is the most efficient and safest way to treat animals. With a strong immune system and healthy diet and supplementation (all derived from natural means, not chemical) when necessary, our goats thrive and in return, provide us with the means to create wonderful goat milk products. We are building our herd from some of the best bloodlines in the country and hope to have kids available soon to pass on their amazing genetics.”

Goat milk is the basis for creating the special products Bifrost offers.  “The first thing you need to realize is that goat milk is NOT cow milk,” Meg notes. “They both come from the teat of a hoofed animal, but as far as we’re concerned that’s where the comparison ends. Goat milk is fragile. Goat milk must be handled carefully, stirred slowly, and not overworked. The reason has to do with the tiny fat globules that make up goat milk, and by the way, that is what also makes it more digestible. If goat milk is treated roughly, the final product will be tough and not at all what you intended.”

Future plans include farm tours and weekend cheese making and soap making workshops, as well as adding goat milk gelato to the line-up of products. For more information about Bifrost Farms Creamery and its products, visit their website at www.bifrostfarm.com. Bifrost Farms products are currently available at the Menomonie Market Food Co-Op, the Menomonie Saturday morning farmers market, Just Local Food Cooperative in Eau Claire, or at the farm. Please call the farm at 715-643-2208  before visiting.