Practical food tips for parents from a RD and mom of three

Monday, November 22, 2010

Francesca's applesauce birthday cakes

My niece has a suspected dairy allergy and my sister called to find out how she could bake a safe birthday cake for her. I made substitutions to a Gale Gand cake recipe to bake up with these cute little applesauce cakes that are moist, delicious, and completely dairy-free. I baked them in a muffin tin and flipped them over for individual little cakes, perfect for a princess on her first birthday!

Dairy-free applesauce cakes with apple cider icing


½ cup vegan margarine (make sure to get one that is good for baking)
2 cups brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2 ¼ cups flour
2 tsp baking soda
¾ tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp nutmeg
2 cups applesauce

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Cream the butter in a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Add brown sugar and continue mixing. Add the eggs and vanilla and mix until well blended.
  3. In a separate bowl mix the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Start the mixer again, and slowly add portions of the dry mixture, alternating with the applesauce until the batter is blended together.
  4. Pour the batter into greased muffin tins (fill them about 2/3 full) and bake until a toothpick comes out clean, about 20-25 minutes. Turn the cakes out onto a cooling rack and cool completely. This recipe makes 24 cakes.

1 Tbsp vegan margarine, softened
1 cup powdered sugar
2 Tbsp pasteurized apple cider

Stir all ingredients together with a fork or small whisk until the icing is smooth. Drizzle over applesauce cakes.

Today's tip: Delicious birthday cakes can be dairy-free.

Pumpkin spice oatmeal

This pumpkin spice oatmeal is the perfect steamy breakfast on a cool morning. Whole grain oatmeal is filling and hearty, while the bright orange pumpkin provides a day's worth of Vitamin A. The spices add warmth and delicious flavor.

Pumpkin Spice Oatmeal

This recipe makes 3 adult-sized servings.

¾ cup pumpkin (canned or pureed from fresh)
3 cups skim milk
1 ½ cups old-fashioned oats
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
½ tsp cinnamon

  1. Use a whisk to combine pumpkin, milk and spices in a medium saucepan.
  2. Add oats and cook over medium heat until the mixture boils (about 10 minutes) stirring occasionally.
  3. Remove from heat and enjoy with your favorite oatmeal toppings. The following are delicious with this pumpkin spice oatmeal: walnuts, cranberries, raisins, brown sugar, or honey.

You can portion any leftover oatmeal into small bowls and refrigerate for a quick breakfast another morning.

Today's tip: Enjoy sweet pumpkin spice oatmeal for a warm, filling breakfast.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Kale chips

Kale chips seem to be all the rage these days. I've seen several recipes for different versions, and have tried a couple. I came home from my farm share pickup with a beautiful bunch of kale this week so I seasoned it, baked up these chips, and was impressed to see that my family enjoyed them.

You only have to look at kale to see that it is insanely good for you! Kale is a leafy green cruciferous vegetable (other cruciferous veggies include broccoli and cabbage). A serving of kale is very low in calories, but contains a wealth of Vitamins A, C and K, fiber and calcium; plus copper, potassium, iron, manganese, and phosphorus. It is an antioxidant powerhouse with vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients that promote wellness, eye health and cancer protection. And we all know how good high-fiber foods are for us and our families, right?

I was born in Maryland and love to use Old Bay Seasoning in recipes. Here are my kale chips, try them out and let me know what you think.

Maryland kale chips

1  HUGE bunch of curly leaf kale – washed, stems removed and cut into small pieces
1-2 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp Old Bay Seasoning
pinch of salt to taste (optional)
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Add oil and seasonings to kale in a large bowl. Stir well to ensure that the oil and seasonings are distributed to each leaf (I used my hands).
  3. Place the kale on two baking sheets and make sure it is in a single layer. It is helpful to line the baking sheets with parchment paper or silpat liners, but I went without these and the recipe worked out fine.
  4. Bake the kale for 10-15 minutes or until dark green and crisp. Let it cool and enjoy.
Today's tip: Crunch on kale chips with your lunch.

Thursday, October 28, 2010


These quick jack-o-lanterns are a snack and a craft in one! We made them for breakfast this morning, and they were a hit. Make these the next time you host a playdate.

  1. Take a whole wheat mini bagel or english muffin and toast it if desired.
  2. Spread on a bit of pumpkin cream cheese.
  3. Spoon some canned pumpkin or pumpkin puree into a small zip-top bag to form a pastry bag. Snip off a small tip and pipe “pumpkin lines.”
  4. Add sliced shapes made of dried plums (a.k.a. prunes) to make a face, and attach a green bean stem. Enjoy!

You could decorate these with anything you have on hand if you don't have dried plums or green beans. Be creative!

Here is Lila's:

I keep whole wheat mini bagels on hand in the freezer – they make a great breakfast, school snack item, or lunch slider sandwich roll.

Today's tip: Make a jack-o-lantern today, no pumpkin carving required!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Ravioli with squash and leeks

As the weather gets cooler I crave steamy soups, stews, and pasta. These meals are often family-friendly, plus easy to prepare in bulk and reheat as leftovers. I try to add as many veggies as possible to these dishes to boost the nutritional value.

A couple of weeks ago I was looking at a butternut squash and bunch of leeks from my farm share, trying to figure out what to make for dinner. I threw them together with ravioli and a couple more ingredients, and loved the meal so much have I made it again with tortellini.

Ravioli with Squash and Leeks

1 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp olive oil
one bunch of 3 large leeks
1 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded and diced
salt and pepper
¼ tsp dried sage (fresh would be great here)
1/8 tsp nutmeg
2 13-oz packages of frozen cheese ravioli or tortellini

  1. Put water on to boil in a large pot. Cook ravioli according to package directions and drain.
  2. While doing step #1, heat butter and oil in a large pan over medium heat. Cut off the dark green tops of the leeks and discard them. Slice the remaining white/light green leek sections in half lengthwise and run them under cool water, making sure to wash well between layers. Dry the leeks and slice them. Add the sliced leeks to the butter/oil in pan and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  3. Add the squash, sage, nutmeg, and salt/pepper to the pan with leeks, cover and cook (stirring occasionally) for about 10 minutes or until leeks and squash are tender.
  4. Stir in cooked ravioli, add more salt/pepper if needed and serve with parmesan cheese.

Today's tip: Squash your ravioli for fresh taste and nutrition!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Pumpkin muffins

I've been making these muffins for years. They are sweet and warm with the spices of Fall: cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and ginger. Sometimes I make them as directed, other times I switch out chocolate chips for the raisins for a sweet mini-muffin recipe. Either way they are delicious!

Pumpkin Muffins
from Cooking Light, November 2006

2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1 ½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground ginger
¼ tsp salt
1 cup golden raisins
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup canned pumpkin (or fresh pumpkin puree)
1/3 cup buttermilk
1/3 cup canola oil
¼ cup molasses
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
2 Tbsp granulated sugar
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Coat 18 muffin cups with cooking spray or line with paper liners.
  2. Combine flour, pumpkin pie spice, baking soda, ginger, and salt in a medium bowl, stirring well with a whisk. Stir in raisins and make a well in the center of the mixture.
  3. Combine brown sugar, pumpkin, buttermilk, canola oil, molasses, vanilla extract, and eggs, stirring well with a whisk.
  4. Add sugar mixture to flour mixture; stir just until moist.
  5. Spoon batter into muffin cups. Sprinkle with granulated sugar and bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Remove muffins from pan immediately and cool on a wire rack.

My notes:
  • I used half all-purpose and half whole-wheat flour and these came out great. I may try all whole-wheat next time after the success of the maple-apple muffins.
  • For delicious sweet mini-muffins substitute ½ cup of mini chocolate chips for the cup of raisins. Scoop into mini muffin pan and cook for about 10 minutes or until done. This recipe makes tons of mini muffins!
  • If you don't have pumpkin pie spice you can substitute: 1 tsp cinnamon, ½ tsp ginger, ¼ tsp cloves, and ¼ tsp nutmeg.
  • If you don't have buttermilk in the house you can add 1 tsp vinegar to 1/3 cup of milk and let it sit for a bit as a buttermilk substitute.
Enjoy! Add fruit and these muffins are the perfect breakfast on a crisp Fall morning.

Today's tip: Bake up pumpkin muffins and enjoy a taste of Fall.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Baby's first finger foods

I have an adorable 9-month-old niece who is ready to start finger foods. This process can seem scary to new moms as they navigate the world of introducing new food to their babies. It's really not difficult if you start thinking in terms of transitioning the baby from breastmilk or formula and baby food/purees to the same table food that the whole family eats.

At some time between 4- to 6-months of age we start feeding our babies purees and baby cereal. During the next several months parents carefully introduce many fruits, vegetables, grains, meats, beans, and dairy to the baby, watching for any preferences and food allergies.

After a while babies get the hang of being fed, and you can introduce safe finger foods so they can practice picking up food, putting it in their mouths, chewing (or as close to it as they can get without back teeth) and swallowing.

My sister wanted ideas of finger foods to introduce, so I suggested the following:

Baby “puffs,” or Cheerios
Small pieces of soft fruit: peaches, plums, grapes, bananas, apples or pears cut into tiny “matchsticks”
Small pieces of soft cooked veggies: carrots, sweet potatoes, green beans, beets, squash
Tiny shreds of tender meat: chicken, beef, turkey
Beans (cut in half if large)
Shredded cheese
Whole wheat toast that has been cut into very small pieces
Scrambled eggs
French toast that is cut into very small pieces
Small pasta

You get the idea. You can really feed your baby small pieces of any food that he/she has already been eating as a puree. You can also introduce any new foods they are ready to try this way, just be careful to keep an eye out for signs of food allergies.

Please be careful and watch your baby as they try new things. Some babies are fine with new textures while others gag more easily. Start out cutting food into the smallest size they can pick up. I remember sitting at the kitchen table with a knife just chopping food into tiny pieces for Ned, thinking he would never be able to handle anything bigger than a speck. I cut grapes into sixteenths. Slowly he has advanced (and gotten more teeth) and at 17 months he eats what we do – I am happy to hand him a piece of toast or bagel and watch as he chomps away!

Today's tip: Once your baby has the hang of being fed purees you can slowly introduce finger foods.