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

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Cereal -- for breakfast and beyond!

Healthy cereal is a great pantry staple to keep on hand. In general, cereal is a good source of whole grains, fiber, vitamins and minerals. Here are some guidelines for selecting the healthiest cereals:
  • Aim for cereal that has at least 2.5 grams of fiber per serving.
  • Pick a cereal that provides at least 25% of the recommendation for vitamins and minerals.
  • Try to keep cereals with 5-10 grams of sugar (or less) per serving around. Make these the most popular cereals in the house by serving them up often!
I stock up on cereal when it is on sale at the grocery store to avoid high prices. Two of our favorites are Cheerios and Wheat Chex. I often pack these alone as snacks, or mix them with more popular dry snacks like Goldfish or pretzels. These make great snack mixes to pack for car trips and play dates!

Obviously cereal makes a healthy choice for breakfast, too! These additions can boost it's nutritional power:
  • Skim milk or yogurt add protein and calcium (for strong bodies, bones, and muscles), plus vitamin D (which helps your body absorb calcium), potassium (which can help maintain healthy blood pressure), and more! If your family chooses to not drink milk you should try to find a soy, rice, or other beverage that has been fortified with all the nutrients of milk, and shake it well before serving.
  • Fruit adds more fiber, plus natural sweetness and potassium, vitamin C (helps with growth, repair, and healing bodies), and folate (helps make blood cells), and other vitamins and minerals.
  • Nuts can add crunch plus omega-3 fats (the “good” kind found in fish that lowers your risk of heart disease), protein, and antioxidants to fight disease.
Today's tip: Stock up on cereal for your family.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Egg Triangles

My kids aren't huge fans of scrambled eggs, but they love egg triangles! They are just as easy to make for a yummy breakfast, brunch, or quick dinner like the one the kids had Saturday night (after a day of too many snacks).

Beat up as many eggs as you need with a little water or milk. Lila (4) can eat two, Deacon (2) just gets one. Preheat a small nonstick skillet over medium heat and spray with cooking spray. Pour a thin layer of eggs in the pan and let them cook until they are practically set. Gently flip the eggs over to quickly cook the other side. Remove to a plate and slice like a pizza. Voila, egg triangles! They can be cut further if your child wants to use a fork (in our house they are finger food). My kids dip them in a bit of ketchup, but salsa would be a great choice here, too.

Lila helped me cook these, so I broke all the eggs into a container with a tight-fitting lid. She shook the eggs to beat them, then I did the cooking at the stove.

 Today's tip: Try egg triangles instead of scrambled eggs.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Easy Beans

Beans are a great source of protein, calcium, phosphorus, folate, and iron. Beans contain soluble fiber (the type in oatmeal) which can help reduce cholesterol and insoluble fiber for “regular” bellies.

Canned beans are easy to keep on hand for quick cooking. Just open a can, drain, and rinse before adding to a recipe. Dried beans are also easy to keep around, cost less than canned, and are lower in sodium. They just have to be soaked and cooked before using them.

Here's a way to make dried beans as easy as canned: soak and cook them when you have time, then freeze them for quick use later. This is a trick I learned from Food Network's Melissa D'Arabian. There are two ways to soak beans –

Quick method: Put 1 pound of beans in a pot with 6-8 cups of hot water. Bring this to a boil for two minutes, then let it sit for about an hour. Drain and rinse.

Longer method: Use the same amount of cool water and let beans soak overnight. Drain and rinse.

To cook: Cover beans with water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and let them simmer until tender (each type takes a different amount of time up to 1 1/2-2 hours, I just try one every 10-20 minutes or so).

To store: Drain beans and let them dry off in a colander for a few minutes. Portion beans into small zip-top storage bags and freeze. I put about a cup and a half per bag, which is about the amount in a can.

My kids LOVE beans, and I will sometimes add plain beans to their plates as a side dish. Beans are also a great addition to soups, pasta, rice and casseroles.

Today's Tip: Add protein and nutrients to meals with beans.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Move over, french fries!

Here's a quick side dish: roasted potato wedges. Potatoes are good sources of complex carbohydrates, potassium, fiber, and vitamin C. Roasting them in a little olive oil makes them crispy like french fries, but healthier! Here's how to do it:

1.Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2.Wash potatoes, cut each into 6-8 wedges depending on size.
3.Put potato wedges in a large bowl and add 1-2 Tbsp of olive oil plus salt and pepper. Toss to coat the potatoes.
4.Arrange potatoes on a baking sheet and roast for 30-45 min or until they are crisp on the outside and tender inside.

Today's tip: Try roasted potato wedges instead of french fries.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Frozen Vegetables

Frozen vegetables are a mom's best friend! They are picked when ripe and frozen immediately so they are super fresh and nutritious. They also go on sale often and last a while. Plus they help me get through the cold New England winter when there are not a lot of fresh local vegetables available.

I make sure to keep plenty of frozen veggies on hand to make quick healthy meals. Since broccoli and peppers are two of my favorites, I buy them in huge packages from BJ's once a month. I also stock up on others when they are on sale at the grocery store.

Here are two ways I used them recently:

I added tons of frozen broccoli and peppers/onions to a package of Trader Joe's frozen Orange Chicken to make a very quick and yummy Asian-inspired dinner. I just heated them through in the microwave while the chicken was baking, then combined everything with the sauce provided. We paired this with brown rice and everyone loved it!

I've been watching Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution and am excited to see him encouraging families to ditch high-fat processed foods. Even if we don't live in the least healthy city in the country, we can all eat healthier! Last week's episode featured a musical flash mob scene where a yummy-looking stir fry was made. This triggered a massive stir fry craving, but I couldn't find the recipe so I improvised and made my own. I stir fried (using a skillet over high heat) thinly sliced beef in a bit of olive oil. Once they were cooked I moved them to the sides and added TONS of thawed, frozen veggies – sugar snap peas, carrots, water chestnuts, peppers, onions, and broccoli. I kept stirring to heat everything, then added a sauce I made by throwing together some water, vinegar, soy sauce, brown sugar, and cornstarch. I added whole grain thin spaghetti and my beef-noodle stir fry was ready!!!

Today's tip: Stock up on frozen vegetables.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Appetizer anyone?

When Lila was about 2 ½, I started giving her what she still calls a “veggie snack.” Basically this is an appetizer while I make dinner. She loves crunchy raw veggies, so I usually give her a small bowl of them while she watches TV and I make dinner. Some of our favorites include carrots, raw broccoli florets, cucumber slices, celery, and pepper flowers. Try still-frozen peas – they are a cool treat for little guys.

Children are more likely to try new foods if they are hungry. Lila was often begging for food at 4:45,claiming that she was starving and couldn't wait for dinner. I used this opportunity to increase her veggie intake.

Does your child scarf down veggies but leave fruit on their plate? Maybe a small bowl of apple slices or grapes would be a good choice. Do you have a child that turns their nose up at meat? Sneak him or her small pieces of the meat you are preparing for dinner as you make plates (Deacon eats far more chicken if I pass him shredded chicken while I'm still at the counter).

Today's tip: Try a healthy “appetizer” to increase your child's intake of a food they may turn down during dinner.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Chicken Noodle Soup

Meat is usually a tough sell for my kids unless it is in a nugget, burger, or meatball. This recipe provides protein from lean chicken breast meat and beans. The noodles are the superstar here. Lila and Deacon slurped noodles, eating some chicken and veggies in the process.

I make soup by adding a little of this and a little of that. Hopefully I've captured the recipe correctly for you. Feel free to change ingredients or add whatever your family likes.

Chicken Noodle Soup

2 split chicken breast halves on bone
olive oil, salt and pepper
1 medium onion, chopped
5 carrots, peeled and cut to whatever size you like in soup
2 stalks of celery, chopped
2 cups of navy beans (already soaked or canned)
10 cups of lowfat, low sodium chicken broth
8 oz of noodles – I used no yolk whole grain egg noodles
½ tsp dried rosemary
½ tsp dried thyme

1.Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Put chicken breasts on a baking sheet and drizzle each with about a Tbsp of olive oil. Add salt and pepper. Roast in oven until the meat reaches 165 degrees on a meat thermometer (I use a roasting thermometer that stays in the meat while it's in the oven). This took about 40 minutes. Remove from oven and cool until you can handle it.
2.In the meantime, heat about 1 Tbsp of olive oil in a soup pan over medium heat. Add onion, celery, and carrots and cook for about 10 minutes until the onions are soft.
3.Add beans and broth, increase heat to high and bring to a boil. Lower to medium-low, cover, and simmer for about 20 minutes until the carrots and beans soften (if using dried beans).
4.Add noodles, rosemary, and thyme, increase heat to medium high and boil for about 10 minutes or according to cooking time on noodles.
5.Remove skin and bone from chicken and shred meat. Add meat to soup, heat through and serve.

You can alter this recipe by adding more vegetables or leaving the beans out. I've found that my kids love beans, so they help sell the soup. Use whatever noodles or pasta you like – this would be a good place for a fun pasta like stars or alphabet shapes. Or you can use rice instead of pasta.

Today's tip: Skip the nuggets and serve chicken soup instead!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Fun Food Supplies

I had to mention a few products I've found that make it fun and easy to serve healthy meals to young children. After all, food isn't nutritious if your kids don't actually eat it. Sometimes babies, toddlers, and preschoolers need cool stuff to get them to the table and keep them clean while they are there!

Lila and Deacon love to have meals off their personalized place mats. If you're crafty you can make these yourself and have them laminated to last a while. I am not very artistic, so I purchase mine at Olive Kids. They are adorable and last a long time! They also make personalized plates, cups, and more.

I cannot rave enough about these bibs I found when Deacon was a baby. They are handmade with vintage fabrics, and have enough coverage that my boys' clothes stay clean no matter what I feed them -- bring on the beets! Check them out from EvelynKate.

And what girly girl wouldn't be extra excited to eat her fruit (or go picking at the farm) wearing one of these  handmade bows or clips from Gals With Girls? Lila is a huge fan!

Please note: I am not being paid by any of these companies.

Friday, April 9, 2010

To Puree or Not To Puree?

When Lila and Deacon were babies, I fed them jarred baby food. At the time, I thought it would be too time-consuming to puree baby food for them. And the simple, single- or two-ingredient foods that I selected for them did not have additives – just carrots (for example) and water. This was a convenient way to feed them, and they seemed to like the food.

Fast forward to this past year, when I contemplated starting 6-month-old Ned on solids. Suddenly I had this overwhelming urge to start pureeing fruits and vegetables for him. I checked a few books out of the library and got to work.

It turned out to be easy. Lila even helped me as I was washing, peeling, chopping, and pureeing. Since Ned was eating purees through the winter months we started with sweet potatoes, squash, and carrots, and added fruits like apples, bananas, and pears. He also got to try cauliflower, broccoli, blueberries, prunes, kale, cantaloupe, peas, and green beans.

I was a little scared to puree meat, but decided to try it, since I had made it so far without buying baby food. I browned some ground turkey, threw it in the blender with water, and gave it a whirl. Suddenly Ned was no longer a vegetarian! I expanded his meat offerings to include chicken and beef.

Along the way, I checked a few books out of the library. The most helpful one was Blender Baby Food: Over 125 Recipes for Healthy Homemade Meals by Nadine Young. Other good books are: Top 100 Baby Purees by Anabel Karmel, and Cooking for Baby by Lisa Barnes. Ned's (and my) favorite recipe was for Cranberry-Apple Mush from Nadine Young's book, a cinnamon-y treat during the holidays.

Here are a couple of tips I would pass on to parents embarking on home pureeing:
  • Make food in the biggest quantity you can freeze and store. Freeze purees in ice-cube trays and pop frozen food cubes into labeled food storage bags. At mealtime you can pop a few cubes in a bowl, microwave, and you're ready to go.
  • I preferred to puree single foods and mix them for meals. For example, I'd pull a couple of carrot cubes, mix them with a couple of chicken cubes, and serve with pears.
  • I found it to be easier to serve Ned store-bought natural applesauce (the kind without added sugar) than to make it homemade. It might have been better homemade, but I decided to take a short cut on this food – and jarred applesauce is inexpensive!
  • I never pureed bananas. They turn brown quickly, so I would just mash them with a fork at mealtime.
  • Once beans were introduced into Ned's diet I found it easy to puree them into meats. The resulting meat/bean puree had a better texture than plain meat puree.
All in all, I was happy serving my older two kids jarred baby food, and they were none the worse for it. I enjoyed pureeing food for Ned, and found it to be less expensive, but more time-consuming.

Today's Tip: If you are buying baby food, try a homemade puree. Check out a book and get cooking!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

mmmmm... Muffins!

Deacon and I had fun baking muffins today! I wanted a quick project, so we used a boxed muffin mix. Deacon has recently started cooking with me, and loves it. He is always asking me for the step stool so he can make something.

It can be a little scary to cook with young children. Believe me when I say that I am a control freak. I would never cook with the kids if it meant cleaning batter off the ceiling when we are done! Plus Deacon has a tendency to taste the ingredients or batter if he is left alone for any amount of time. My kids have started out doing small cooking tasks, adding more as they get older.

Here is how the muffin baking went:
  1. Deacon put muffin liners in the muffin tins while I got the rest of the ingredients ready and turned the oven on.
  2. I cut open the muffin mix and we dumped it into the bowl together.
  3. I measured the water and he carefully poured it into the bowl.
  4. I cracked the egg and added it to the bowl.
  5. We stirred the batter together with both of our hands on the wooden spoon.
  6. Deacon counted the muffins as I scooped the batter into the liners.
He was very excited to taste the muffins. I have to keep an eye on him or he will steal them off the counter while they cool.

When Lila and Deacon were younger they would just stand on the step stool by the counter as I cooked. Now that she is 4 ½, Lila can crack eggs into the bowl for me (then we wash her hands right away!), dump in measured ingredients, stir carefully, and spoon out dough onto a pan if we're making cookies. Plus she helps me dry off fruits and veggies when we wash them while making meals.

Today we used Trader Joe's Triple Berry Bran Muffin Mix, which was very good. It contains whole wheat flour, bran, and dried fruit (among other ingredients) – just add egg and water. The resulting muffins tasted great and had 7 grams of fiber and only 150 calories.

We often make bran muffins using The Original All-Bran Muffin recipe, which are also yummy. Sometimes we add whatever fruit is in the house, or a teaspoon of jam in the center.

Today's tip: Let your kids help you cook, even if you're just preparing a snack.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Find a farm

I just signed up for a CSA – that's Community Supported Agriculture or a “share” of a local farm. For a membership fee and set price, I will pick up local organic produce that the farm delivers to a drop site in my city each week. My locally grown fruits and veggies will be super-fresh and full of nutrients! Plus, buying what is in season will force me to think outside of my usual produce purchasing habits to try new things.

I could start a garden, and I don't discourage you from doing this if you are so inclined. My thumb is far from green! By joining a CSA I get a variety of fresh produce from a local farm, without having to do the gardening myself!

Another option is to find a farmer's market, where farmers sell their products. Check your local paper for a farmer's market near you, and add it to your calendar each week.

Many farms offer the chance to pick-your-own fruits and veggies. This is a fun activity for the whole family, and what better way to get your kids interested in fresh food than to show them where it grew and have them harvest it?

I start picking up my share in June, so stay tuned to see how I fix these goodies for the kids...

Today's tip: Look for a farm near you. You can check out Local Harvest for CSA's, Farmers Markets, and more. Or ask around – a friend clued me into my CSA on facebook! You can find a farm that offers pick-your-own at

Monday, April 5, 2010

Excellent eggs

It's that time of the year! Do you have a big bowl of colored eggs? This is a great time of the year to try hard-boiled eggs if your kids don't eat them already. They are one of the best sources of protein, plus vitamins (including vitamin D!) and minerals.

Kids love to crack and peel them. Here are some ideas for adding hard-boiled eggs to meals:
  • Slice eggs horizontally and use them for a "circle meal" or as the centers of pepper flowers
  • Make quick egg salad -- mash peeled eggs with a potato masher, then add a bit of mayo or greek yogurt, mustard, and chopped celery. To add more crunch I often add finely chopped carrots and peppers, too. This makes a yummy sandwich on whole-grain bread, or add a small scoop to half a seeded tomato or pepper for lunch in an edible bowl.
  • For a hearty breakfast: cut a slice of toast in half, add sliced hard-boiled eggs and a bit of reduced-fat cheese. Throw this in the toaster oven or broiler for a minute to melt the cheese, then add the other half of the toast for a delicious breakfast sandwich.
  • Add chopped hard-boiled eggs to a salad.
Be safe! Make sure that hard-boiled eggs are well chilled. They should not spend more than a few hours total out of the refrigerator during the cooking and dying process, including any time they are out for display or egg hunts. Eat hard-boiled eggs within a week of cooking.

Today's tip: Enjoy eggs!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Circles, squares, and triangles

Here's an easy way to make meals fun – try making all the foods in a meal the same shape. The meal pictured here is one of Lila's circle lunches (we have many) of a whole-grain mini-bagel, apple slices with peanut butter, and cucumbers.

Circles include: slices of cored apple or pear, horizontal slices of peeled orange, whole-grain bagels, whole-grain English muffins, mini-cheese, and sliced round veggies like carrots.

For square or triangle meals I often cut a sandwich into the shape I want, then cut or arrange fruit and veggies to make the same shape.

Today's tip: Matching shapes may make standard breakfast, lunch, or dinner meals surprising.