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.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Preparing sugar pumpkins for baking

Fall is here! We've been enjoying apples, squash, and pumpkins as we celebrate the change of seasons. I love baking with pumpkin during the fall and winter. Usually I buy canned pumpkin, but this year I pureed sugar pumpkins for baking.

Sugar pumpkins are smaller than the ones you carve into jack-o-lanterns. They have the right water content for baking and are available now at farms and in the grocery store.

It took a bit of work, but Lila and I prepared four medium-sized sugar pumpkins. I decided to bake the pumpkins to avoid peeling. Here's what we did:
  1. Cut the pumpkins in half, scoop out the pulp and seeds, and remove the stem.
  2. Place the pumpkin halves (cut side down) in a shallow baking dish and cover them with foil.
  3. Bake at 375 degrees for about 1 ½ hours or until very tender. Allow pumpkins to cool.
  4. Scoop out pumpkin flesh and puree or mash it. Strain the mixture if you want your pumpkin to be very smooth.
  5. Portion pureed pumpkin into bags for the freezer. A can of pumpkin contains 1 ¾ cups, so I used that measure to make portions.

If you'd rather boil them, you can take the pumkin halves, peel them, and cut them into small chunks. Cover  the pumpkin pieces with water and boil until tender, then drain and puree or mash.

There you go, mashed pumpkin that is ready for your favorite pie, bread, or muffin recipe (or to feed to your baby)!

We cleaned off the pumpkin seeds, seasoned them with vegetable spray and salt, and roasted them at 325 degrees for about 30 minutes.

Today's tip: Prepare for winter baking by preparing pumpkin this fall.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Broccoli-potato soup

I made a delicious and very simple soup last week – broccoli potato. I love baked potatoes topped with broccoli and cheese. This soup ended up tasting like a loaded baked potato.

Broccoli-potato soup

2 medium onions, roughly chopped
1 Tbsp butter
3 large broccoli heads (stalk and florets), roughly chopped
5-7 medium potatoes, roughly chopped
5-7 cups of broth (I used low-sodium chicken broth)
salt and pepper
  1. Melt butter in a soup pot over medium heat. Add onion and cook for about 10 minutes until soft.
  2. Add broccoli, potatoes, and enough broth to just cover the veggies. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover the pot and simmer for about 15 minutes until the potatoes are tender.
  3. Use an immersion blender to puree the soup until it is smooth. You could also use a blender or food processor to carefully puree the soup in batches (the mixture will be hot).
  4. Add salt and pepper to taste.

The kids ate their bowls of soup, probably because of the toppings! I went with the loaded baked potato idea and served this soup with crumbled bacon, scallions, and shredded cheddar cheese. I add toppings to lots of meals – they get the kids excited to decorate their food and eat it.

We adults enjoyed our soup with shredded Cabot 50% reduced fat jalapeno cheddar – it was delicious and spicy!

I scrubbed the potatoes and left the skins on. I think this gave the soup even more of a “baked potato” taste. You could peel the potatoes if you prefer.

Today's tip: Turn healthy, cheap, and seasonal broccoli and potatoes into this EASY weeknight soup. Add toppings to make the meal fun!

Please note: I am not being paid by Cabot to promote their cheese. I just like it!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Information about celiac disease

Over the summer, one of Lila's 4-year-old friends was diagnosed with celiac disease. I have watched her mother learn about gluten-free food preparation and struggle with serving different foods to a sensitive preschooler who just wants to eat the same food as her friends.

This is why I've started labeling any recipes on my blog as gluten-free or offering specific gluten-free modifications. I know how hard it is to prepare healthy, fresh food for young children. Adding a serious food allergy or condition that changes their diet makes meals that much harder! I hope I can offer recipes and ideas when I have them.

In case you're curious, here's the scoop. Gluten is a protein that is found in wheat, rye, barley, and some other grains.

Celiac disease is an inherited autoimmune condition. When a person with celiac disease eats foods containing gluten their immune system kicks into overdrive, causing damage to the small intestine. Nutrients from food are absorbed from the small intestine -- damage causes nutrient deficiencies that can affect growth and health.

Symptoms of celiac disease include:
  • Gas
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach pain
  • Fatigue
  • Joint Pain
  • Itchy skin rash.

I have heard people avoid gluten for many different reasons. If you think a member of your family has celiac disease it is important to go to your doctor or pediatrician for tests that confirm it. A registered dietitian  can provide tips for feeding your family in a safe, gluten-free way.

Pink birthday cupcakes are still possible with a little careful ingredient selection! We enjoyed these treats at a party (baked using a Betty Crocker gluten-free cake mix and homemade frosting).

For more information check out:
Celiac Disease Awareness Campaign
Celiac Disease Foundation

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Salsa chicken

Here's an easy weeknight meal: salsa chicken. It's perfect because it was easy to prepare, used inexpensive ingredients that I had on hand, and made everyone happy.

  1. Take 2 large split chicken breast halves (still on bone), remove the skin, and place them in your crock pot.
  2. Add 1 jar of salsa, making sure to coat the chicken.
  3. Cook on low for 3-4 hours until the chicken is tender and shreds easily. Remove meat from bones (throw those away), shred it, and return it to the crock pot to mix with the “sauce.” Add 1 can of beans or 1 ½ cups of pre-soaked and cooked dried beans, combine and heat through.
  4. Serve with brown rice or tortillas and your family's favorite toppings.

Some versions of this recipe call for cream cheese to make the sauce creamy. I didn't care for that, preferring instead to add yogurt and cheese to my own meal to make it creamy. However if you want to try it I would recommend adding about ½ a block of reduced-fat cream cheese at the end of the cooking time and mixing it into the shredded chicken, salsa, and beans.

We ate this meal over rice the first night. The kids love any meal where they can add toppings to their food – we had shredded cheese, plain yogurt (you could also use low fat sour cream), sliced black olives, and green onions.

Here is my bowl:

Here is Lila's plate (I had an extra chicken breast in the package, so I roasted it so she could have plain chicken, too):

Later in the week I sauteed fresh corn and tomatillos from our farm share, then added the leftover chicken/salsa/bean mixture and made soft tacos from it, which we enjoyed with the leftover brown rice.

I love that we enjoyed two healthy feasts made from inexpensive ingredients: 2 chicken breasts (that I bought on sale), beans, a jar of salsa, brown rice, tortillas, and whatever toppings and extra veggies I had in the house.

Today's tip: Make salsa chicken for your family... you may enjoy it twice!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Zucchini bread

When we were little my dad had a garden and must have grown zucchini. I remember mom making zucchini bread all the time. I especially loved when she would make CHOCOLATE zucchini bread, it was moist, sweet, and delicious!

Facebook is great for sharing recipes! A friend posted the status “making zucchini bread,” and I remembered mom's freshly baked treat. I asked my friend Deb for this recipe and she gladly shared. (That's how I came across the recipes for Veggie Pot Pie and Marbled-Chocolate Banana Bread, too) Here it is for you all to bake at home!

Zucchini Bread

1 ½ cups flour
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
2 eggs
¾ cup sugar
¼ cup unsweetened applesauce
¼ cup canola oil
2 tsp vanilla
1 ½ cups coarsely shredded zucchini
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Spray loaf pan with cooking spray.
  3. Mix dry ingredients (flour through salt) thoroughly
  4. In large mixing bowl, beat eggs until frothy. Add sugar, applesauce, oil and vanilla. Beat until lemon-colored, about 3 minutes.
  5. Stir in zucchini.
  6. Add dry ingredients and mix until just moistened.
  7. Pour batter into prepared loaf pan and bake for 40 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.

Of course I tried out a couple of changes!
  • I used half whole wheat flour and half white – still yummy!
  • I tried a chocolate version by adding 1/3 cup of cocoa powder to the dry ingredients – delicious!

Today's tips: Share recipes with a friend! Oh, and zucchini is plentiful now, so make some delicious zucchini bread for your family.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Southwest Squash Soup

I found this recipe several years ago in a 5 A Day program cookbook. I've made it so many times in so many different ways. Last week I picked up two big butternut squash at the grocery store and instantly remembered this favorite recipe.

The CDC has since updated the 5 A Day program to call it Fruits & Veggies – More Matter(TM). This was a great move, since we all need to remember to keep adding fruits and vegetables to all meals and snacks during the day. I find this easier than counting how many servings we eat each day.

Fall and winter fruits and veggies like butternut squash are heartier than a lot of the produce of summer. This makes it easier to keep tons on hand without fear of spoiled produce!

Butternut squash provides fiber, potassium, Vitamin C, folate, magnesiun, iron, and calcium to a healthy diet. It's orange color is a tip that it's a good source of beta-carotene (which becomes Vitamin A) an antioxidant with a key role in maintaining eye health and vision.

I did some chopping in the morning before school drop-off, then whipped this soup together while playing with Ned. The hardest part is peeling and dicing the squash – most stores stock peeled squash that will save you this step.

Southwest Squash Soup

2 Tbsp butter or margarine
2 medium onions, chopped
1 medium carrot, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cubed
1-2 jalapenos, chopped
4-5 cups low sodium chicken broth
1 cup tomato puree
1 Tbsp chili powder
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp salt
½ tsp black pepper
  1. In a large saucepan, melt butter over medium heat.
  2. Add onions, carrot, and garlic and cook for 3 minutes. Cover pan, reduce heat and cook for 3-4 minutes until soft.
  3. Stir in squash, peppers, broth (enough to just cover the veggies), tomato puree, and spices. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover and cook for 30 minutes.
  4. Mash squash to a chunky puree with a potato masher. Taste for seasonings and add more if needed.

My notes:
  • I used 1 jalapeno (without seeds or ribs) and it was spicy enough for my family.
  • I used an immersion blender for a smooth soup. I have used the potato masher in the past and it leaves lots of texture (which is good, too).
  • In the past I've added brown rice or white beans to make the soup more filling.
  • This soup is great for topping! Try adding grated cheddar, sliced green onions, light sour cream or plain yogurt.

Today's tip: Make a delicious soup out of abundant (and inexpensive) butternut squash this fall and winter.

Monday, September 20, 2010


Fall is apple season here in New England. Apples are on sale at the grocery store, available as part of my CSA farm share, and abundant for picking at several local farms. We have a big bowl of apples on the counter so we can all enjoy this sweet fruit.

Does an apple a day keep the doctor away? Apples contain fiber – both soluble fiber that can lower cholesterol and insoluble fiber to aid digestion. Apples also contain quercetin, a powerful antioxidant. A medium-sized apple only contains about 80 calories but can be a filling snack.

We can't keep apples in the house long around here. We love to eat them plain, sprinkled with cinnamon-sugar, smeared with peanut butter, or baked into a tasty treat. I posted a recipe for delicious maple-apple muffins last week. Here is a simple apple recipe, applesauce.

I don't think this even qualifies as a recipe... it's pretty vague. I just wanted to let you know that homemade applesauce is easy to make.

Homemade Applesauce

Step 1: Peel, core, and chop apples (whatever amount you have on hand) into large chunks.

Step 2: Put the apples and a bit of water in a saucepan. Today I made applesauce using 7 apples and about ¼ cup of water.

Step 3: Cover the pan and heat the apples/water on medium until the apples are soft enough to mash. This takes a different amount of time for different varieties of apples. I used McIntosh apples and they took 20 minutes to soften.

Step 4: Use a potato masher to mash the apples to a chunky applesauce. Use a blender or food processor for a smoother puree. Cool and enjoy.

Today's tip: Make your own applesauce – it's easy, natural, and delicious.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Maple-apple muffins with oat topping

I found another muffin recipe in another novel! I already posted the recipe for coconut orange blueberry muffins from The Friday Night Knitting Club by Kate Jacobs. I recently read the sequel, Knit Two, which featured another yummy-sounding (and healthy) muffin recipe. Now that it's officially apple season I had to give it a try.

These muffins were easy and so delicious! I followed the recipe exactly as written, except that I couldn't leave well enough alone and had to add an oatmeal crumb topping. I had them out on the counter and my sons wouldn't stop asking for them, then requesting seconds.

Each muffin contains 1/3 of an apple – not bad if you are having trouble getting your kids to eat fruit. Plus they are made entirely with whole wheat flour for added nutrition over white flour. You can also easily make them gluten-free.

I can't find the recipe officially posted anywhere, so I'm retyping it here in it's original form. The topping is my invention, though!

The only change I may make in the future would be to add a little maple extract. I couldn't taste maple in the muffins and would have liked that flavor to be stronger. Let me know how it turns out if anyone tries this.

Maple-apple muffins – from Knit Two by Kate Jacobs

1 ¾ cups whole wheat or gluten-free flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp salt
2 eggs
¼ cup oil – I used canola
½ cup applesauce
1/3 cup maple syrup – use the real thing!
1 tsp vanilla
2/3 cup dark brown sugar
2 ½ cups of peeled, cored, and chopped apples (the recipe calls for Granny Smith, I had macs in the house and they worked well)
½ cup chopped pecans, optional – I didn't add these

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a muffin tin with baking cups.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt.
  3. Beat the eggs in a separate bowl. Add the oil, applesauce, maple syrup, and vanilla and stir. Mix in the brown sugar.
  4. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and combine. Stir in the apples. Add the nuts if desired.
  5. Pour batter into muffin cups, filling to the top.
  6. Make oat topping: mash 1 Tbsp softened butter with 1 Tbsp whole wheat (or GF) flour and 2 Tbsp brown sugar, plus a dash of salt and 1/3 tsp cinnamon. Stir in 2 Tbsp oatmeal. Top each muffin with this mixture, pressing it together lightly to form a crumble.
  7. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until muffins are set and lightly brown. Remove the muffins from the baking pan and cool on a wire rack. Makes 12 muffins.

Note: If you are trying to make these muffins gluten-free you can either: omit the topping, make the topping without the oatmeal, or make it using certified gluten-free oats.

Today's tip: It's apple season, so mix up a batch of delicious muffins for your family.

Monday, September 13, 2010

"Get-Well-Soon" Soup

School started last week, and all three kids are already battling a cold! The poor little guys looked so miserable today, then my throat started feeling scratchy too. My first thought was: we need soup!

Since I was also feeling under the weather, I wasn't exactly up to making an elaborate soup. But homemade soup is so much more delicious than canned soup – plus it makes the house smell great. I devised two quick and easy soups that can be pulled together to soothe sick family members of all ages.

Here's the base of the soup:

  1. Chop ½ an onion, 1-2 stalks of celery, and 1-2 carrots. Saute these veggies in 1 Tbsp olive oil over medium heat until soft (about 15 min).
  2. Add ½ tsp of dried thyme, ¼ tsp dried oregano, and about ½ tsp of salt and ¼ tsp of pepper (or any amount that tastes right for your family).
  3. Add 4 cups of chicken, beef, or vegetable broth and bring to a boil.

Then I came up with two variations that worked for my family. Adding tortellini to the soup sounded comforting to me, but I knew my kids would flip for meatballs. So here are two variations we tried:

Add about 2 cups of frozen cheese tortellini to the boiling soup base. Simmer for 5 minutes to cook tortellini and serve.

Add about 1 ½ cups of diced potatoes and your favorite precooked frozen meatballs to the soup base and simmer until the potatoes are cooked (about 10 minutes). (I used small ½ ounce Italian meatballs and heated them in a separate pan of water first to drain off some of the grease before slicing them in half and adding them to the soup.)

Both soups hit the spot! You could add anything to the soup base to make your own variation: try any combination of vegetables, beans, meat, pasta or rice to make a soothing soup.

There's a reason soup is comforting when you are sick. Hot (or warm for small children) liquids help clear nasal congestion and soothe a sore throat. Volatile oils in thyme and oregano have been cited as having antibacterial properties. Plus the meatballs, pasta, and potatoes provide calories and protein to sick family members who aren't up to eating much.

Today's tip: Check your pantry and throw together a quick soup to soothe a cold.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Marbled-Chocolate Banana Bread

I know what you're thinking, “ANOTHER banana recipe?” Hey, if you have young kids like I do (or even if you don't) chances are pretty good that you buy bananas regularly and rarely eat them all before they start turning brown. In my house, brown bananas go into a zip-top bag in the freezer for future baked goods (like traditional banana bread).

When I posted the recipe for banana-chip cookies my friend Helene said that she was baking a banana bread with chocolate swirl. She shared the Cooking Light recipe she uses and I just got a chance to try it out today.

I had all the ingredients in the house except egg substitute, so I just used an equal amount of egg whites. Deacon helped me mix up the batter. I was pleased by the easy way the few ingredients came together – it was so easy to make the banana batter, mix chocolate into a portion of it, and swirl them both together.

Deacon actually kept coming into the kitchen to check on the bread as it baked – he couldn't wait to try it! We weren't disappointed, it was light and just chocolatey enough (especially warm out of the oven) to satisfy a sweet tooth.

Tomorrow I plan to follow the recipe's suggestion and make a snack of a slice of toasted marbled-chocolate banana bread smeared with peanut butter. Yum.

Today's tip: Try this easy recipe as another way to use those overripe bananas.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Kiwi fruit

Each week I buy the produce that is on sale at the grocery store. One of this week's sale items was kiwi frut so I stocked up. Deacon is my biggest kiwi fan – he was so excited to see them in our fruit bowl.

Kiwis can look intimidating, but are so easy to enjoy! Just wash them, slice them in half, and let your kids scoop out the green fruit with a spoon.

The seeds, white interior portion, and even the brown fuzzy skin are all edible. You can also peel and slice, dice, or wedge a kiwi; however, including the skin triples the fiber content as opposed to eating just the inside. If you are leaving the skin on a kiwi I would recommend either thin slices or small diced chunks for young children.

Kiwis are an excellent source of Vitamin C, with more than twice the RDA for Vitamin C in each serving. Kiwis are also great sources of fiber and potassium, plus magnesium, folate, zinc, Vitamin E, and lutein (which protects against eye damage).

I can't say I've been that creative with kiwi this week – we just sliced or scooped it and enjoyed it as is. Kiwi would make a sweet topping for ice cream or frozen yogurt and it looks beautiful in a fruit salad.

Today's tip: Serve up some kiwi fruit to your family.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Pizza fish

My grandfather was a Gloucester fisherman. I remember that he used to get haddock fresh off the docks, freeze it in portions, and fly it down when he'd visit us in Maryland. We always had a stash of fish in the freezer, thanks to him.

My mom invented pizza fish, thinking it sounded more appealing to kids than plain baked fish. Fish IS nutritious but can be a tough sell to kids unless fish sticks are on the menu. I remember that pizza fish was a special dinner in our family, so I recreated it for my family.

It all starts with mom's homemade pizza sauce (feel free to use it on traditional pizza, too!). I took thin filets of white fish (although mom used to use thicker filets in a baking dish and it worked really well), cut each filet in half and topped each portion with pizza sauce. I baked the fish at 375 degrees for about 15 minutes until the fish was cooked through -- bake longer if you use thicker filets. Then I added part-skim mozzerella and baked the fish for another couple of minutes. It was easy and delicious!

Pizza Sauce

1 Tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, diced
1 28-oz can of crushed tomatoes
1 tsp dried oregano
salt and pepper
  1. Heat oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and cook for about 5 minutes until the onion is soft.
  2. Add tomatoes, oregano, and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and gently simmer the sauce for about 30 minutes.
  3. This makes enough sauce for 2-3 large pizzas. I used about half of the recipe to make pizza fish, which I sauced pretty generously.
Today's tip: Serving fish but the family wants pizza? Try pizza fish!

Thursday, August 26, 2010


My spell-checker does not know what quinoa is. Do you?

Quinoa (pronounced “KEEN-wah”) is a protein-rich seed. It falls into the “whole grain” category, since it contains the nutrient- and fiber-rich outer layers that are removed when grains are processed and refined.

The protein in quinoa is a complete protein, which means that it contains all of the essential amino acids that our bodies cannot produce on their own. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Essential amino acids are necessary for good health and must be obtained through food. Typical sources of complete protein are: meat, egg whites and casein (the protein in milk). Since quinoa is a plant source of complete protein it is a good addition to vegan diets.

Quinoa is also a good source of magnesium, riboflavin, manganese and copper. A serving of quinoa has about the same amount of fiber as a bowl of oatmeal and is gluten-free.

I set out to try quinoa as a side dish for our family's dinner. Since it was a beautiful summer night, I decided to mix in grilled vegetables for texture and flavor. I often blend vegetables into a grain side dish to increase the kids' exposure to them.

Here's how I prepared our quinoa:
  1. I rinsed the quinoa under cool water per package instructions.
  2. I added one part quinoa to two parts liquid (I used broth for added flavor) to a pot on the stove, brought the mixture to a boil, and them covered and simmered it for 10-15 minutes until the liquid was absorbed (again, per package instructions). I used 1 ½ cups quinoa and three cups of broth for our family.
  3. Meanwhile, I sliced one eggplant, one green pepper, and one red pepper. I brushed these with olive oil and seasoned them with salt and pepper, then cooked them on a pre-heated grill (about medium flame) for 5 minutes per side.
  4. I finely minced one clove of garlic and added it to about 3 Tbsp of olive oil in a large bowl. When the veggies were done I cut them into bite-sized pieces and added them to the bowl, then dumped in the quinoa when it was ready. I stirred all this together with about 4 oz of herbed goat cheese and salt/pepper.

Since this was a totally new food for the kids, I kept some of the quinoa plain and served them both the plain quinoa and the quinoa-veggie mixture so they could try both. I also sliced some raw peppers for them to enjoy plain, too.

I just added “quinoa” to the dictionary on my computer, and to our family's food repertoire. You should introduce it to your family, too. Oh, and I'm still working on the crock-pot meal I mentioned the other day – you'll hear about it when it has been perfected.

Today's tip: Try quinoa for a side dish or vegetarian meal.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

One more ice cream: yogurt, honey, and cinnamon gelato

I tried another gelato recipe from after remembering the delicious simplicity of the coconut gelato. I know, I'm on a bit of an ice cream machine kick, but this is ice cream season!

It's hard to believe that three basic ingredients: greek yogurt, honey, and cinnamon could make such a creamy treat. Lila and I set out to blend the mixture then we poured it into the ice cream machine so it could magically become gelato. The recipe states that it can easily be made into popsicles if you don't have an ice cream machine.

We enjoyed our treat after dinner with cocoa-dusted raspberries. It was so good!

I've already discussed the health benefits of greek yogurt and cinnamon. Add in honey for sweetness and this recipe is a winner. It uses full-fat yogurt, so stick to a small scoop to keep calories in check. Do not serve honey (or uncooked recipes containing honey) to babies under 1 year old.

Stay tuned, I have the crock-pot out for tonight's dinner. If it comes out well I'll post the results! Fall is around the corner...

Today's tip: Turn yogurt, honey, and cinnamon into a creamy gelato or delicious homemade popsicles.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Summer tomato pasta

It's tomato season! All year I look at the sad tomatoes in the grocery store and long for the end of summer when ripe red tomatoes are abundant. Now's the time, so grab them from your farm share depot or farmer's market, harvest them from your backyard garden, or hit up a neighbor who grew too many.

I needed a quick family dinner last night, so I mixed up this pasta. The longest part of the preparation process was waiting for the water to boil!

It's more of a method than a recipe, use as much of each ingredient as you like. You can make this recipe for one person or for ten. Here's what I did:
  1. Put on water to boil.
  2. Chop tomatoes and add to a large bowl with finely minced garlic, chopped basil leaves, cubed mozzerella, olive oil, salt and pepper.
  3. Boil pasta according to package directions. Add beans to last few minutes of pasta cooking time. Drain, reserving a little of the cooking liquid.
  4. Toss hot pasta with tomato mixture. If the pasta seems dry to you add the reserved cooking liquid.
You can choose the ingredients and amounts you like. I used plum and grape tomatoes (it amounted to about 3 cups when chopped) from the farm share, part-skim mozzerella (about 4 oz), and whole-wheat pasta (the whole pound), plus about ¼ cup of olive oil, about ½ cup chopped basil, and about 1 ½ tsp salt and ½ tsp pepper. I added about 1 ½ cups of precooked/frozen white beans. I used one garlic clove and thought it was very garlicky – you could try ½ a clove if you aren't a fan of strong garlic flavors. We topped our pasta with parmesan cheese and it was delicious!

Today's tip: Grab summer tomatoes and enjoy them while they are at their best!

Fun Pop Quiz: What culture invented boiled pasta?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Gingerbread pancakes

I remember that mom was on a fiber kick for a while when I was little. She would put Kellogg's All-Bran cereal in everything, from muffins to meatloaf.

She had good reason to be excited about fiber. People who eat higher fiber diets have been found to have:
  • lower cholesterol
  • improved digestive system health
  • reduced risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and some types of cancer
Fiber also makes you feel full after eating fewer calories. Studies show that consuming a high fiber diet is one way to avoid excessive weight gain (or to lose weight and maintain weight loss for any parents who are interested).

Fiber is found in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Bran is the high-fiber outer layer of grains like wheat, oats and rice. Whole grains still contain this layer, while refined grains like white rice and flour have had it removed. The All-Bran cereal mom was obsessed with contains 10 grams of dietary fiber per ½ cup serving.

The USDA recommends that adults consume 25-38 grams of dietary fiber per day, (based on gender, age, and size) while children should get 19-31 grams per day (again, based on age and size). Check for personalized recommendations for your kids.

Mom has since stopped stashing cereal in her meatballs and instead focuses on including plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains in her diet. I still love the recipe for Kellogg's All-Bran original bran muffins. While searching the Kellogg's All-Bran website I found a recipe for gingerbread pancakes. These are delicious – I have been making them for a few years. These tender pancakes are sweetened with molasses and spiced with cinnamon and ginger. Lila and I made them this morning and Ned ate two!

Gingerbread Pancakes (from Kellogg's)

1 cup Kellogg's All-Bran cereal
3 Tbsp canola oil
1 ¼ cups skim milk
¼ cup molasses
1 egg
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
½ tsp ground ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
  1. In large mixing bowl, combine cereal, oil and milk. Add molasses and egg and beat well.
  2. Stir together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices. Add to cereal mixture, stirring only until combined.
  3. Cook on greased preheated griddle until brown on both sides, flipping only once. Serve hot with preserves, warmed applesauce, or syrup.
Today's tip: Check to figure out your family's fiber needs, then track your diet for a few days to see if you meet the recommendation.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Quick fruit and vegetable tips

Sometimes it's a challenge to get kids excited about fruit and veggies. Offering them in a new way can make them interesting.

When Lila was two, she became bored with sliced apples so I offered her a whole apple. Her eyes lit up and she happily chomped her way through the whole thing. This has worked wonders, she loves to crunch through whole carrots, celery with leafy tops (thanks Wonder Pets), pickle-sized cucumbers, peaches, plums, and lots of other veggies and fruit. I even offered Ned (15 months) a whole peach the other day and he loved it!

Whenever I give any whole fruit to the kids I stay close by to make sure they don't take bites that are too big. I try to avoid raw crunchy veggies until they are 3 or 4 and watch to make sure they don't choke.

Other new things you can try without a lot of effort:
  • cut up fruit with a sprinkle of cinnamon
  • offer veggies that you typically serve cooked raw and vice-versa
  • check for new colors of typical favorites, like yellow watermelon, blue or purple potatoes, or golden delicious (yellow) apples
  • try new dips for fruit and veggies

You may be dealing with a baby, toddler, or preschooler who refuses to eat any vegetables. This is common, just try the tips above and keep serving vegetables to your child as part of each family meal. Eat veggies in front of your child and casually tell them how good they are. Do NOT make a big deal out of it, or vegetable eating will become a power struggle. Make sure your child is getting a variety of fruit in his/her diet (if they will eat fruit) plus fiber-rich whole grains. You may want to sneak veggies into favorite foods (I mentioned Jessica Seinfeld's book Deceptively Delicious in a previous post, it has tons of stealth recipes you can try).

Today's tip: Change the way you serve fruit and veggies to make them new and exciting.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Coconut Gelato

My sweet tooth is showing these days!

I revisited Weelicious, the blog where I found the infamous beet hummus recipe in search of a brilliant new summer recipe. Success! I found a recipe for coconut gelato that inspired me to break out the ice cream machine in our basement.

My children LOVE making ice cream but I often forget that we have the machine and rarely have cream in the house. This recipe impressed me with it's simplicity – how could I not take a few minutes with the kids to mix coconut milk, agave nectar, and vanilla to create this treat? Catherine McCord is a genius! You can bet I'll be trying her recipe for yogurt, honey and cinnamon gelato as well.

Coconut milk (the liquid obtained by pressing and straining the liquid out of coconut meat) does contain saturated fat, but studies of healthy populations that consume a great deal of coconut milk have found that it does not raise bad cholesterol. I was surprised to read that the main fatty acid in coconut milk, lauric acid, is also found in breast milk where it plays a role in building brain cells and healthy bones. Plus lauric acid has antimicrobial properties – coconut oil is being tested as a medical treatment for diseases such as HIV and influenza. It will be interesting to see future research on this topic. That said, it is important to limit your intake of saturated fat, so stick to a small scoop!

This recipe uses agave nectar for natural sweetness. Agave nectar is extracted from a cactus-like plant. It is cooked down in a process similar to maple syrup (although at a much lower temperature). It also has antimicrobial properties. Agave nectar's sweetness is mainly from a complex sugar called inulin, which has a low glycemic index. It does not cause the rapid spike in blood sugar (followed by a quick crash) that other sweeteners can cause.

The smooth, creamy coconut gelato is vegan and gluten-free. It is a delicious treat for hot summer days. We will definitely make this simple recipe again soon! Next time I may mix the ingredients in the blender, since the coconut cream tends to separate from the milk when chilled.

Today's tip: Whip up some homemade ice cream with your kids for a wholesome summer treat.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Peanut butter and WHAT?!

My older kids are HUGE fans of peanut butter sandwiches and I wanted to inject some variety (and more nutrition) into this favorite lunch. Since it's summer we have plenty of fruit around – and peanut butter/banana is one of my favorite combinations. I decided to experiment.

I made three sandwiches on whole wheat flatbreads: peanut butter and banana, peanut butter and apple, and peanut butter and plum. I presented the sandwiches to the kids on a platter, then cut each one in half for tasting. I added carrot sticks and cucumber spears and lunch was served.

Lila liked the apple sandwich, but then asked for plain pb. Deacon shocked me by eating half of each sandwich – the biggest lunch I can remember him eating in a while!

Peanut butter and jelly is a common sandwich choice, but the fruit in jellies and jams has been cooked down with added sugar. Using fresh fruit decreases the sugar in the sandwich (while keeping the natural sweetness of the fruit) and gives the sandwich a little fiber boost.

Peanut butter is a great source of protein. Be careful of varieties with added sugar and hydrogenated oils (which add trans fat). Because peanuts are one of the most common food allergies, I am careful to only serve it at home. It's also a choking hazard for kids under 4 -- I spread a thin layer on sandwiches, crackers, apples, or toast to reduce this risk.

Try some of these other fruity sandwich ideas, too:
  • Grilled cheese with apples or plums
  • Turkey with apples
  • Ham with peaches or plums
  • Chicken salad with grapes or raisins mixed in
  • A sweet sandwich treat of Nutella and strawberries or bananas
Have other ideas? Please comment to let me know!

Today's tip: Add nutrition and surprise to sandwiches with fruit.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Banana-chip cookies

This post will be short and sweet!

An awesome friend tipped me off to a delicious cookie recipe – how could I not try it? The kids and I baked these banana chocolate-chip cookies and they were so good. Here's another great way to use bananas that are getting a little mushy (I already posted my favorite banana bread recipe).

Everyone thinks that, as a dietitian, I only feed my kids vegetables. However, all kids like occasional treats and these cookies are a great little bite of chocolatey sweetness. Plus they have the nutrition of a little banana thrown in there! And nothing goes better with a glass nutrient-rich milk than a cookie (every now and then).

I used a very small scoop to make lots of cookies that were just the right size for a little sweet tooth. I also used mini chocolate chips so there is a chocolate in every bite. Try dark chocolate chips for more antioxidant power.

Today's tip: Bake up a sweet treat with your kids.

Thursday, July 29, 2010


Watermelon has been on sale a lot recently so we have been enjoying a lot of it. It is in-season and delicious! This juicy, sweet fruit is a good way to add Vitamins A and C, plus potassium and lycopene (a powerful antioxidant) to your kids' diet.

Watermelon can be your secret weapon if you have trouble convincing your children to drink enough during these hot summer days -- it is 91% water! No wonder a bowl of watermelon can be so thirst-quenching.

To select a ripe watermelon, look for one that has a firm underside that is yellowish, not white or green. When you thump the side of a ripe watermelon it should sound hollow.

As with other fruits and vegetables, it is important to wash a watermelon before slicing it. I put it in the sink and give it a good soap and rinse, then dry it off with a paper towel. Watermelons grow on the ground, and I don't want dirt to get on the watermelon pieces we eat.

A whole watermelon will last a week or so in the refrigerator, but it will only stay fresh for a few days once it is cut (and I've found it spoils more quickly the smaller the pieces). For this reason, I often cut half a watermelon at a time. I wrap the second half in plastic wrap and leave it in the fridge until we eat the slices from the first half.

Watermelon is fun to eat as slices or chunks. It is delicious in fruit salads with other delicious summer fruits and berries. You can also freeze chunks of watermelon on sticks for children to eat as popsicles. Frozen chunks of watermelon can be used in place of ice in smoothies. There are lots of recipes for watermelon salads out there – this has been a popular and new way to serve watermelon over the past year.

Today's tip: Buy a watermelon and enjoy this sweet, juicy taste of summer!