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

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


Do your kids want to try a new fruit? Avocado is the answer! One ounce of creamy green avocado (about 2-3 thin slices or 1/5 of a whole avocado) has only 50 calories, but packs a wealth of nutrition. Avocados contain folate, potassium, Vitamin E, vitamin C, iron, lutein and beta-carotene plus monounstaturated fat – the good fat.

An avocado's texture makes it easy to serve in many different ways. Their cool green color may make them a hit with kids! Cut an avocado into chunks for kids that are using a fork or smashed into a creamy baby food. Avocados can be added to salads or sandwiches or sliced alongside vegetables. You can even serve a quarter of an avocado in it's skin to kids with a spoon for scooping. Try avocado slices on toast for a filling and healthy breakfast. Or the classic guacamole dip with veggies or chips.

Last night I made a simple salad of diced avocados and grape tomatoes, drizzled with a little olive oil and lemon juice plus salt and pepper. It was delicious.

Don't be intimidated by avocados, here's how to get to the good stuff:
  • Use a sharp knife to cut the avocado in half lengthwise
  • Remove the pit with a spoon
  • Use a large spoon to “scoop” the avocado from it's skin.
Just be careful, avocados will oxidize and turn brown quickly after slicing, so cut only enough for the meal or snack you are preparing. A bit of lime or lemon juice will keep them green longer.

There are lots of delicious-looking recipes on the California Avocado Commission website.

Today's tip: Buy an avocado on your next shopping trip and serve it up to the family!

Please comment with some of your favorite ways to serve avocado. I love to hear new ideas and tips!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Zucchini and summer squash two ways

Zucchini and summer squash were on sale at the grocery store. I grabbed about 7 small zucchinis and 4 small squash eager to have a taste of summer. I hoped the kids would be as excited as I was! Zucchini and summer squash are mild flavored veggies and make a great side dish for any meal. They are very low in calories and contain fiber plus Vitamins A and C. Vegetables like these are great ways to fill up your family's plates without adding a lot of calories.

These vegetables are GREAT grilled, but since I wasn't planning to grill I sliced all but one of each (more about the whole ones later). I heated about 2 Tbsp of olive oil in a large nonstick skillet and added the zucchini/squash, sauteeing for about 10 minutes until they were tender and some were starting to brown. I added salt and pepper and the zest of a lemon, plus the juice from half of it. Lila got a kick out of watching me zest like a Food Network Chef, and Deacon just kept repeating the word “zucchini.” He got a real kick out of how funny it sounded.

Now back to the zucchini and squash I didn't slice. I made thin spears of these and served them to the kids alongside the cooked zucchini (my picture is actually from the next day's lunch).

The kids did their tasting at dinner and liked the contrast between the mild, crunchy raw veggies and the steamy, lemony cooked ones. Deacon seemed to prefer the cooked version, while Lila munched on the raw. I don't think Lila would have eaten many veggies if I had just served her the cooked ones. The sauteed veggies were the perfect texture for Ned to eat chopped in small pieces.

Kids like choices, so offering a variety of a healthy item like vegetables may encourage them to eat more.

Today's tip: Whenever possible, leave some of your vegetables raw so your children can taste them both raw and cooked.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Stealth health or straight-up nutrition?

I read an article today about “stealth health” – changing recipes so kids eat better without realizing it. Your kids still eat their favorite foods, but fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are hidden inside (for example, adding prune puree to brownies). Are you a creative chef who can disguise the taste of butternut squash in a bowl of homemade mac & cheese? Do your kids run from a plate of broccoli but love baked goods that can hide a wealth of fruits and veggies? Then stealth nutrition may be for you! A good book to guide you is Deceptively Delicious by Jessica Seinfeld. Seinfeld gives great tips on pureeing fruits and vegetables, then provides tons of recipes using these purees to boost the nutritional value of your kids' favorite foods. This method is really convenient if you are feeding a baby and young children, as the baby can eat the purees while you cook for the kids.

Some see stealth health as miraculous, while others think it doesn't teach children about proper nutrition. Are you the type of parent who prepares a new vegetable for the family each week? Do you cook with your kids? You sound like a proponent of nutrition education – improving your kids' health by teaching them about new foods and encouraging a varied diet. I recommend The Moms' Guide to Meal Makeovers, Improving the Way Your Family Eats, One Meal at a Time by Liz Weiss and Janice Newell Bissex for delicious, healthy recipes plus tons of tips for healthy family eating.

Personally, I fall in the middle of these two philosophies (and like both books!). I think it is important to expose your children to a variety of healthy foods. Sneaking fruits, veggies, and grains into their favorite foods will not teach your children about these foods, and they may continue to shy away from them when selecting a meal. However, if I can hide a little of a veggie that my children don't eat in something that they do, well no harm done!

Please comment and tell me where you stand. Do you put healthy choices right on the table or hide them in favorite foods? Any good tips for either option? I'm curious to hear from you!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Pizza Party

Turn your kitchen into a pizza parlor! Everyone likes pizza, and it is an easy meal to make with your kids. We like to make individual pizzas for a couple of reasons:
  • It's easier to roll out a small ball of dough, and less messy to transfer the small rolled-out “crust” to the pan
  • Everyone gets to add the toppings they like
  • Kids love having their own little pizza for lunch
The kids loved “waking up” the yeast with warm water. We watched it bubble for a few minutes, then added the rest of the ingredients. We made the dough in a bread machine that did the rising and kneading for us. The kids took turns looking through the machine's window to watch the dough twirl and rise.

Here is the pizza dough recipe from the Food Network that I've been using for years. My version has the exact same ingredients, but the instructions are modified for our bread machine:

Bread Machine Whole Wheat Pizza Dough

1 package dry yeast
1 ¼ cups lukewarm water
1 ½ cups whole wheat flour
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp honey
½ tsp salt

1.Pour water and yeast into bowl of bread machine and let sit for 5 minutes or until bubbles form.
2.Add the rest of the ingredients and set bread machine on “pizza dough.”
3.When dough cycle is complete, turn dough out onto a floured surface. Cut dough into thirds (each third makes a big pizza). These sections can be frozen for future use at this point. Take one section and cut it into four pieces for individual pizzas.
4.Roll dough out to desired thickness and move to a baking sheet. Top with your favorite sauce, cheese, and toppings.
5.Bake at 450 degrees for 7-8 minutes for a thin-crust pizza... longer if your pizza is thicker.

Here are our finished pizzas. We were in a rush that day and kept it simple with sauce and cheese. They were still customized, though -- Lila only likes cheese, Deacon likes tons of sauce and cheese, and Ned's pizza had typical amounts of each. The sky's the limit, though, so encourage your child to try new toppings. Set up a pizza bar of toppings and challenge your kids to be creative chefs.

Why stop there? Get crazy and make one of these sweet yet healthy pizzas:

Fruit pizza – Bake a crust without toppings and let cool. Top with light cream cheese or greek yogurt and your favorite fruit.

Peanut butter banana pizza – Bake a crust without toppings and let cool. Top with peanut butter and banana slices....yum!

Chocolate berry pizza – Bake a crust without toppings and let cool. Add a thin smear of Nutella and sliced strawberries. Or sprinkle a still-warm crust with dark chocolate chips (a delicious source of antioxidants), let them melt for a few minutes, then top with raspberries.

Now I'm hungry for a dessert pizza. Good thing I have dough in the freezer!

Today's tip: Make pizza at home instead of calling the delivery guy.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Yogurt Parfaits

I tempted Lila and Deacon with a “treat” after lunch today. They were thrilled to see me putting some of their favorite foods on the table: yogurt, berries, and nuts. I gave them each a clear glass and a spoon and we got to work layering the ingredients into parfaits.

This is a great way to make custom treats – each child can pick the yogurt flavor, fruit, and other additions that he or she likes. Plus they get to “cook” by spooning everything into their dishes. They ate every last drop!

Yogurt is a great source of protein and calcium for growing children, plus other essential nutrients like potassium, phosphorus, vitamins A, D and B12, riboflavin, and niacin. The probiotics (good bacteria) in yogurt promote health and help with lactose digestion – even lactose intolerant children can enjoy small amounts of yogurt.

I just looked around the kitchen to put together these parfait ingredients. Use whatever you have available! Other good additions would be:
  • Fresh, dried, or canned fruit (select canned fruits in juice for less added sugar and drain them well)
  • Any nuts or seeds
  • Your child's favorite cereal
  • Low-sugar fruit preserves
  • Crushed pretzels
  • Toasted coconut

 Here are our parfaits -- guess which one I made!

Today's tip: Set up a yogurt parfait bar and let your kids create a delicious treat.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Hot Pink Hummus

A general rule when selecting a fruit or veggie is that the darker or brighter the color, the more nutritious it is. So you can imagine how excited I get about beets. The color compounds that give beets their deep pink/red hue are powerful antioxidants and potential cancer fighters.
I found this recipe in the September issue of Parents magazine and have been meaning to try it ever since. I have beets in the house this week so it's time. The recipe is from Blogger Catherine McCord who has a great website:

The combination of smooth pureed beans with sweet beets and garlic is so good I couldn't stop dipping whatever I could find in the resulting hummus!The kids were tickled by the fuschia dip – I served it to Lila with carrots for dipping and spread it on an English muffin for Deacon.

I used chickpeas instead of white beans, so here is my recipe. Be sure to check out the original recipe, too! The Parents magazine version noted that you can use 5 canned beets in place of the freshly roasted one.

Hot Pink Hummus

1 Medium Beet
1 ½ cups chickpeas, pre-soaked and pre-cooked
1 Large Garlic Clove, peeled
Juice of 1/2 Lemon (about 1/2 Tbsp)
1/4 Cup Olive Oil
1 Tsp Salt

1.Preheat over to 400 degrees.
2. Wash beet well and wrap loosely in foil.
3. Bake for 45 minutes or until beet is tender when poked with a knife.
4. Remove skin from beet.
5. Place all the ingredients in a food processor and puree until smooth.

Today's tip: Try this unique hummus recipe to add color to your meals.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Fruity Muffins

Last year I read a novel called The Friday Night Knitting Club that had this recipe in it for Oatmeal, Blueberry, and Orange Muffins. The muffins sounded delicious, so I gave them a try. The oatmeal and coconut give them a great texture!

Today Deacon and I made them, but we didn't have blueberries so we used bananas. They came out really well... the orange, coconut, and banana combination is tropical and fun. Deacon snagged a lot of bananas while we were cooking -- another reason to make healthy food with your kids. He will eat anything if it is an ingredient!

Here is my modified version. I tossed the diced bananas in the orange juice before adding them and they didn't turn brown.

Banana, Oatmeal, and Orange Muffins

Makes 16 muffins

1 cup plain rolled oats
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp each baking powder, baking soda & salt
Grated rind of one large orange
1½ cups flaked sweet coconut
½ cup liquid pasteurized honey
1 egg
3 tbsp canola or extra-light olive oil
1 tbsp vinegar
Juice 1 orange & add water to make one cup of liquid
1 1/2 cup diced bananas

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Line a muffin tin with paper cups.

Combine the dry ingredients into a large mixing bowl: oats, flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

Next, add the coconut flakes and orange rind to the dry ingredients.

Get a separate bowl and beat the egg. Then incorporate the wet ingredients: honey, oil, vinegar, juice and water.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry mix and stir until just moist. Then fold in bananas.

Pour batter into muffin cups, careful not to let any batter spill onto the tin. Bake in a preheated oven for 20-25 minutes. (Check to see if the muffins are fully baked by inserting a toothpick before removing from the oven; it should come out clean.)

Remove muffins from the pan and cool on wire rack.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Secret's in the Sauce!

Here it is... the quick tomato sauce recipe handed down from grandpa and mom. I've modified it slightly over the years. It has some sugar in it to balance out the tartness of the tomatoes, but I've reduced the amount from the original recipe.

Canned tomatoes are an excellent source of lycopene, a powerful antioxidant. Antioxidants work to protect the cells in your body from damage, and may improve your immune system.

Making your own sauce is quick and easy. This way you know exactly what you're putting in your sauce – jarred sauces can be high in sodium, sugar, and other additives.

Tomato Sauce

1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes
2-3 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 Tbsp olive oil
2-3 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp Italian Seasoning
salt and pepper

1.Heat olive oil in a sauce pan over medium heat.
2.Add garlic and cook for a minute until softened and slightly brown. Be careful not to burn the garlic.
3.Add tomatoes, spices, sugar, and salt/pepper to taste. Stir and heat until sauce simmers.
4.Turn down the heat to medium-low and simmer sauce for 5-10 min.

Change up this basic sauce by adding:
  • browned ground turkey, beef, or chicken
  • vegetables like onions, peppers, mushrooms, peas, or spinach
  • beans like white beans or chick peas
  • olives
Today's tip: Make homemade sauce for your next pasta dinner.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Making everyone happy!

Ahhh, Saturday morning! Time to make a yummy breakfast! With help from Lila and Deacon, I made waffles with warm bananas (sauteed with cinnamon, nutmeg, and a little butter and brown sugar) and toasted walnuts. Deacon and I loved them!

However, Lila is the queen of plain food. She took one look at breakfast and said, “I only like plain waffles.” I planned for this by keeping some plain waffles, bananas, and walnuts aside for her.

This is a tactic I often use. While cooking a meal, I keep ingredients separate for her when possible. For example:
  • If we eat chili, she will have a plate of beans, corn, peppers, and whatever meat I cooked up.
  • When we have pasta and meatballs in tomato sauce she has plain pasta and meatballs (separately on the plate) without sauce.
Ned got cut up plain waffles and bananas. I was happy to make one meal for all of us.

I still give her a very small taste of our “real” meal – this morning she tried a bit of the bananas. Sometimes she will surprise herself and like our meal!

This way she gets food she will eat, but I'm still only preparing one meal for the family.

Today's tip: Try to satisfy picky eaters without preparing different meals for everyone.