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

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Spring on a plate

Here in New England it is rainy and cool, but we had a springtime treat. Lila and Deacon enjoyed pepper flowers with green bean stems and spinach leaves. Delicious!

I realized when Lila was little that if I sliced peppers horizontally instead of in strips I could make flowers. Girly Lila loves anything that has to do with flowers, princesses, or fairies! Stay posted for other “shape” ideas to make meals unique.

Today's tip: Make veggies fun! Try these pepper flowers.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Vegetable Barley Soup

Lila and I made a big pot of soup yesterday. It was a rainy, cool evening and this soup really hit the spot. Both Lila and Deacon ate it, so I consider this recipe a success!

Lila just discovered barley this winter and loves it! Barley is a high-fiber whole grain, with many of the same health benefits as oatmeal.

Vegetable Barley Soup

1 medium onion, chopped
4 stalks of celery, chopped
5 carrots, chopped
2 Tbsp olive oil
14.5 oz can diced tomatoes in sauce
8 cups of broth
1 tsp dried thyme
1 bay leaf
¾ cup barley
1 cup green beans, cut small
1 ½ cup beans (either soaked if dried or drained and rinsed if canned)
1 cup frozen peas

1.Heat olive oil in soup pot over medium heat. Add onions, celery, carrots and cook for about 10 min until tender
2.Add tomatoes, broth, thyme, bay leaf, and salt/pepper to taste. Bring to simmer.
3.Add barley, green beans, and beans and simmer for about 30 min until barley has swelled and is softened.
4.Add peas and let heat for 5 minutes. Check to see if it needs more salt and pepper, remove bay leaf, and you're ready to serve!

Notes: You can adapt this recipe to your family's preferences. My version is a little heavy on the carrots (Deacon's favorite) and has plenty of barley and beans (Lila's favorites). Add whatever veggies you like. If your family likes spice add a little crushed red pepper flakes when sweating the onions/celery/carrots. I used low-sodium chicken broth since that's what I had – vegetable broth would make this completely vegetarian.

Today's tip: Try barley in this soup or one of the recipes listed on the whole grain council's website.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Leaf eaters

When Lila was about two-years-old, she saw me making a salad and said, “Dinosaurs eat leaves!” I asked her if she wanted some leaves and she was excited to try them. Since then, she is a fan of all things leafy – from lettuce to spinach, and even raw cabbage leaves during dinner prep!

Most leafy green veggies are great sources of Vitamins A and C, plus calcium, iron, fiber, and more. Serve them raw, steamed, or sauteed (spinach or heartier greens like kale are awesome sauteed with a little olive oil and garlic).

Today's tip: Add something green and leafy (the darker the better) to your kids' meals and remind them that dinosaurs and giraffes eat leaves.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

I see a snack!

I try to give the kids fruit and vegetables whenever possible; at times they make perfect snacks. I try to keep a big fruit bowl on the counter, and veggies like baby carrots, celery sticks, and broccoli florets ready to go in the fridge at eye level.

When my hungry kids look around the kitchen, the only food they can see is the big bowl of fruit. We have plenty of other snacks, but they are in the pantry out of their reach. There are many days when Lila will run up to me and ask, “Can I have an orange?” And Deacon, as you can see, sometimes just helps himself!

Today's tip: Keep healthy foods (like fruit and vegetables) visible and less healthy ones out of sight.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Easy Oatmeal

We love to have oatmeal for breakfast. ¼ cup of oatmeal mixed with a smushed banana is Ned's favorite way to start the day! By making oatmeal myself, I get to control the amount of sugar it contains. Since breakfast time with three little kids is CRAZY, I have a hard time making oatmeal from scratch most mornings. I've found a cool short-cut: cook-ahead oatmeal.

When I do have time to make oatmeal (sometimes this is in the afternoon or evening), I make extra and throw it in the fridge. The next morning I pull it out, add a little milk or water, heat it up in the microwave, and we're ready to go.

Just follow the cooking instructions for your favorite variety of oats (quick, old fashioned, steel cut, etc).

Oatmeal is good for everyone in the family! All varieties of oats are whole grain. Studies show that oatmeal lowers bad cholesterol while improving intestinal health (read: helps you stay regular) and controlling appetite.

To make super-nutritious oatmeal even better, try one or more of these ideas:
  • Make it with milk instead of water for added protein, calcium, vitamins and minerals
  • Add your favorite fresh, dried, canned (drained), or frozen fruits
  • Add spices like cinnamon or nutmeg
  • Sprinkle on a handful of nuts
Today's tip: Make a batch of oatmeal and portion it into covered bowls. Pull them out tomorrow for a quick and healthy breakfast!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Baking together

Today I baked banana bread with Lila and Deacon. I like to freeze bananas that get too ripe, then we bake this healthy snack when enough have accumulated. The thawed bananas mash up really well! If (like today) we bake banana bread in the late morning the kids are usually excited to eat it for lunch. I add sliced almonds or reduced-fat cheese cubes, fruit, vegetables, and milk to make it a meal for them. This is a favorite lunch in our house.

Here is our recipe, you have the option to add more or less sugar, and use whole eggs or just whites. The resulting bread is great either way! Thanks to my friend and fellow Registered Dietitian Kimberly Mirsky for this easy recipe:

Banana Bread

3 large, well ripened bananas
1 egg or 2 egg whites
2 tbsp canola oil
1/3 cup milk
1/3 to ½ cup sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp baking powder
¾ cup white flour
¾ cup whole wheat flour

1.Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2.Mash bananas with a fork.
3.Add egg, oil, milk, sugar, baking soda, and baking powder. Beat well.
4.Gently blend the flour into the banana mixture and stir until moistened, about 20 seconds.
5.Pour into a 4” x 8” loaf pan that has been lightly oiled or treated with cooking spray.
6.Bake for 45 min or until toothpick comes out clean.
7.Let cool 5 min before removing from pan to cooling rack.

Note: I often make two mini-loaves instead of one regular sized-one. Mini-loaves bake for about 40 minutes. Today I doubled the recipe.

Today's Tip:  Cook with your kids! Let them prepare a healthy item with you and they may be more excited to try it.


Hello! My name is Melissa, and I am a stay-at-home-mom to three young kids. I am also a Registered Dietitian. Before I had children, I thought it would be easy to serve healthy foods to my family. I would think, “I love veggies, so my kids will love them, too!” Oh, how na├»ve I was!

The reality is that feeding healthy food to my kids has proven to be a daily challenge. My four-year-old, Lila, is a picky eater who decides whether she likes a food (or more often dislikes it) on sight. My two-year-old, Deacon, is a little more adventurous but would prefer to have doughnuts, cookies, and Goldfish crackers to anything I cook. My littlest guy, 10-month-old Ned, is just starting to transition from purees to table food.

I don't claim to serve the most perfect meals and snacks. But along the way I have learned some tricks that allow me to increase the fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein in their diets, while sticking to a pretty tight budget. I've been happy to borrow ideas from others; this blog is a way that I can share some tips with you.