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

Monday, June 28, 2010

Kid Superfood: Tomatoes

By now we've all heard the news: tomatoes are loaded with lycopene, a powerful antioxidant that is associated with a lower risk of developing cancer and heart disease. Lycopene is more readily absorbed by the body in cooked and canned tomato products, making canned tomatoes, ketchup, and salsa excellent sources. Lycopene is also found in other red fruits like watermelon and pink grapefruit. Tomato season is coming – you just can't beat the flavor of fresh-grown summer tomatoes!

This may be a good place to discuss antioxidants. (I found the following explanation in the book Food and Nutrition Controversies Today: A Reference Guide by Myrna Chandler Goldstein and Mark A. Goldstein, M.D.) Tissues in our body are susceptible to damage by free radicals, which are reactive oxygen molecules that are present everywhere. Diseases like arthritis, cataracts, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer are associated with free radical damage. Antioxidants are molecules that “take the hit” by being damaged by free radicals and neutralizing them. Ok, enough science, more food!

I already posted my recipe for tomato sauce, a great way to add tomatoes to your family's diet. Canned tomatoes are easy to keep on hand. Buy them on sale and stock up! I add canned chopped, crushed, or whole tomatoes to soups, stews, chili, and rice.

Deacon and I made “tuna boats” for lunch. I cut a roma tomato in half, then we scooped out the seeds to make boats. We mixed up tuna salad and loaded it into the boats, then placed them on lettuce “waves.” Deacon would grab tomatoes and eat them like apples if I kept them in his reach!

Please comment, I'd love to hear your suggestions: what else would you stuff in a tomato?

Today's tip: Add antioxidants to your diet with fresh tomatoes and tomato sauces, ketchup and salsa.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Kid Superfood: Cabbage

At first you may not think of cabbage as a kid-friendly food, but I've found it can be a big hit! Cabbage is very low in calories, yet contains cancer-fighting antioxidants, fiber, and vitamin C (among other vitamins).

Raw cabbage is crunchy and colorful, with varieties ranging from bright white to green and deep purple. Lila loves having a crisp pile of cabbage to munch through as a side dish. Deacon was impressed with the stuffed cabbage roll that was on his plate for dinner the other night, complements of a delicious recipe by Food Network's Ina Garten.

Cabbage can be shredded and added to salads, coleslaw, and soups. Sauerkraut can be added to a hot dog or sandwich for a unique twist. And here's an added bonus: it is hearty enough to survive a week in the fridge!

Need some coleslaw inspiration? Check out these ideas I found from the American Dietetic Association:
  • Sweet/tart slaws: Made with sweet dressings and flavorful vinegars, these slaws often include sweet fruits such as pineapple, apple or raisins. Dried cranberries, toasted almonds or thinly sliced fennel are other flavor enhancers.
  • Creamy slaws: These mayonnaise-based slaws can be deliciously spicy when made with mustards and horseradish. Substitute low-fat versions of mayo, sour cream or yogurt and add broccoli, broccolini, chilies or red pepper flakes for more crunch and heat.
  • Asian-inspired slaws: With no creamy ingredients and less added sugar than its traditional counterparts, common ingredients include ginger, peanut butter, lime juice, soy sauce, sesame oil, sesame seeds, green onions, dry noodles and peanuts.
  • Exotic slaws: Exotic slaws may or may not include cabbage, but these varieties are considered slaws because of the way the vegetables, fruits or other ingredients are finely chopped and tossed together.
Today's tip: Pick some up cabbage to add crunch and fiber to your family's diet -- coleslaw is the perfect accompaniment to grilled summer meals!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

A dinner for two, oops I mean five!

I needed a quick meal this week and turned to my freezer. Thanks to Buitoni, I had a ravioli “dinner for two” ready to go, but there are five of us! Luckily I had plenty of frozen veggies on hand, and this dinner for two quickly turned into a delicious healthy dinner for five, plus leftovers!

I started with a box of Buitoni's Braised Beef & Sausage Ravioli with Creamy Marinara Sauce. This dinner for two contains a generous 16 large ravioli and plenty of sauce. While the sauce was heating and the ravioli were cooking, I sauteed the contents of one bag of frozen peppers/onions, plus about a half a cup each of white beans, edamame, and peas in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. The veggies were hot by the time the ravioli and sauce were ready. I threw them all together in the pan and we had a LARGE dinner of pasta and veggies ready in about 5 minutes! We couldn't even finish it all, there was plenty left over for my lunch the next day.

Not only did I stretch the dinner to serve more people – I added nutrition! On it's own and served to just two people, this dinner would have been higher in fat, sodium, and calories than I'd like. Piles of vegetables added nutrients, and lowered the overall calorie count for each person.

I know I've given this tip before, but it's a big one so I'll say it again: Keep frozen veggies on hand for quick dinners like this one! I add defrosted frozen vegetables to pastas, casseroles, rice dishes, frozen prepared meals, omelettes, and more.

Today's tip: When cooking a frozen prepared meal, add vegetables to make it healthier and serve more people.

Please note: I received this Buitoni Dinner as part of the Foodbuzz Tastemaker program.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Two Kid Superfoods: Cocoa and Cinnamon

I want to hug the researcher who discovered the health benefits of chocolate! I also love that warm, yummy cinnamon is another super-spice! In fact, while writing this I am sipping the scrumptious mug of hot cocoa that I made for this blog's photograph, topped off with a sprinkle of cinnamon for a healthy, Mexican-style hot cocoa drink. Two superfoods for the price of one!

Dark chocolate and cocoa powder (provided it is not “Dutch Processed”) are high in flavenoids, the strong antioxidants also found in red wine, tea, cranberries, and other fruits and veggies. Research has found that flavenoids can prevent heart disease and high blood pressure. This is not an excuse to feed your family brownies three times a day, but it's nice to know that a dusting of cocoa powder on your kids' pancakes is healthful!
Cinnamon has been shown to stabilize blood sugar in people with diabetes, preventing rapid highs and lows. This theory could mean that adding cinnamon to your family's diet may prevent blood sugar crashes during the day.

Since reading this article, I made up a small container of a “cinnamon/cocoa sprinkle” with two parts sugar and one part each of cocoa powder and cinnamon. I have used this superfood fairy dust on toast with a bit of margarine (soooo much better than cinnamon toast!) and mixed with Ned's antibiotics and applesauce when he refused to take his medicine the usual way. It's a winner.

I make my own hot cocoa mix using a recipe I got from the Food Network a couple of years ago. I leave out the cayenne pepper from the batch, and add a tiny bit to my own cup when I make it for myself. Deacon is a huge hot cocoa fan, and I will often make him some by mixing the powdered mix with a small amount of hot water, then topping it off with cold skim milk until it is barely warm.

Substitute chopped dark chocolate or dark chocolate chips for milk chocolate or semi-sweet chocolate chips in your favorite recipes for added antioxidant power.

I often add cinnamon to many of the kids' foods:
  • cinnamon-sugar sprinkled over apples or applesauce,
  • dashes of cinnamon added to baby purees like squash or sweet potatoes,
  • a pinch of cinnamon added to couscous mixed with dried cranberries and a handful of chopped nuts,
  • carrots glazed with a bit of margarine and brown sugar and dusted with cinnamon, and
  • cinnamon added to oatmeal and baked goods
Today's tip: Add nutritious spice to your family's life with cinnamon and cocoa.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Kid Superfood: Soy foods

Before writing this I will admit that I hardly ever cook tofu. I enjoy eating tofu and choose it in restaurant and take-out dishes, but typically do not prepare it at home. We DO eat a lot of edamame (soybeans), so we aren't missing out on soy entirely! Since tofu is on the kid superfood list, I decided to tackle it.

Tofu and other whole soy foods like edamame are a good source of complete, lean protein for growing bodies, plus calcium for growing bones and fiber. Studies have linked soy consumption to heart health, a lower risk of developing diabetes, bone strength, and improved women's health including a possible lower risk of breast cancer.

While some families (like mine up until now) are unfamiliar with tofu, it is a mild-tasting food that takes on the flavor of the sauce or spices you are using. Knowing what your family likes, you can tailor a tofu dish to their tastes.

Deacon is a smoothie fan, so I decided to experiment with tofu by making him a fruit smoothie with some of the delicious local strawberries that just arrived in our CSA farm share. He LOVED it! I'll definitely be making this recipe again and again with whatever fresh or frozen fruit is available. Please note that babies under 1-year-old should not have honey.

Deacon's Soy Groovy Smoothie
  1. Place 2 ice cubes in a blender or food processor and pulse until the ice is crushed.
  2. Add 6 small strawberries, 1/3 of a medium banana, 2 oz of silken tofu and a drizzle of honey. Blend until smooth.
  3. Pour into a fun cup for your little smoothie fan – this recipe makes one smoothie that was about 8 fl oz.

Here's another amazing recipe that I got recently – Vegan Vegetable Pot Pie. It is such yummy and comforting way to eat a meal FULL of vegetables. I have made it a few times since I got the recipe and it is a big hit in our house. Thank you so much to Heidi Mears for the recipe!

Vegan Vegetable Pot Pie

3 stalks celery, chopped
½ medium onion, chopped
3 carrots, chopped
1 Tbsp vegan margarine
½ cup flour
2 cups vegetable broth
1 cup unsweetened soy milk
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
¾ cup frozen peas
¾ cup frozen shelled edamame
¾ cup frozen green beans, cut into small pieces
1 frozen pie crust, thawed
  1. Saute celery, onions and carrots in margarine for 10 minutes over medium heat.
  2. Add flour, stirring constantly for 1 minute.
  3. Add vegetable broth and soy milk to mixture while stirring constantly until the sauce is smooth.
  4. Let the sauce continue to cook for about 5 minutes until it has thickened, then stir in peas, edamame, salt and pepper.
  5. Pour the mixture into a round 2-quart casserole dish and top with the pie crust. Bake at 375 degrees for 30-45 minutes until crust has browned.

Once I lightened this recipe up by using phyllo dough instead of pie crust (three layers with cooking spray between each sheet, topped with a little salt and pepper) – this reduced the baking time to only 10 minutes and produced a crunchy, light crust. I have also made this recipe using regular skim milk and margarine when I didn't have the vegan alternatives in the house. When scallions came in the CSA farm share I thinly sliced a few and added them in step 4 with the frozen veggies for an added mild onion flavor.

Please comment to share your family's favorite tofu recipe! I would love to hear a tried-and-true way to serve this new food to the kids.

Today's tip: Introduce your family to soy foods in a meal or snack this week.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Kid Superfood: Low-fat Greek Yogurt

We LOVE yogurt! You may be asking, “What's the deal with Greek yogurt?” Greek yogurt has been strained to remove more water than is removed in traditional yogurt, in addition to other processing steps that make it thicker and creamier. The result is a smooth yogurt that resembles sour cream in texture and is much higher in protein.

Greek yogurt has been around for a while, but it's recent popularity has prompted the major yogurt companies to package it, and it can now be found in most grocery stores. You can find whole, low-fat, and non-fat varieties in addition to plain (unsweetened) and flavored versions.

I prefer to keep plain low-fat Greek yogurt on hand, since it's easy to add fruit, a drop of vanilla, or a sweetener like honey (NO honey for children under 1-year-old!) or maple syrup to flavor it up. Substitute plain Greek yogurt for sour cream in dips or as a topping for potatoes, tacos, and soups (like my black bean soup).

Try the simple snack pictured at the top of the post: sprinkle on some chopped walnuts and drizzle a little maple syrup for a delicious maple-walnut yogurt!

Today's tip: Grab some low-fat Greek yogurt to use for creamy treats and toppings!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Kid Superfood: Black Beans

If you follow this blog you already know that I love to add beans to meals. Beans are a great source of protein, fiber, B-vitamins, and a wealth of minerals: iron, phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, potassium, copper, calcium and zinc. As with fruits and vegetables, the darker color the better for beans, too.

They have a very mild flavor so even my pickiest child enjoys them. Because of this they tend to take on the flavor of whatever you are adding them to so you can flavor beans the way your family will like them.

Beans are also incredibly inexpensive. Stock up on dried beans, soak and cook them when you have time, and freeze them for easy meal preparation (see this earlier blog post for details).

Try whipping up this yummy black bean soup. The Vitamin C from the peppers makes the iron in the beans easier for your body to absorb. Serve it up with lots of topping choices so everyone in your family can prepare it their own way.

Black Bean Soup

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
2 carrots, roughly chopped
1 rib of celery, roughly chopped
1 red pepper, roughly chopped
1 green pepper, roughly
4 15-oz cans of black beans, drained and rinsed
4-5 cups of vegetable or chicken broth
1 ½ Tbsp chili powder
2 tsp cumin
salt and pepper to taste
Optional spices: chipotle chili powder, cayenne pepper, or crushed red pepper

  1. Heat olive oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add onion, carrots, celery, and peppers and cook for about 10 minutes until the onions are softened, stirring occasionally.
  2. Add beans, broth and spices and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover pot, and simmer for about 15 minutes or until carrots are soft.
  3. Remove soup from heat. Use an immersion blender (or work in small batches in a blender) to blend soup until smooth. Taste to make sure spices are okay, and serve.
  4. If you want to spice this up, you could add some crushed red pepper to the vegetables in step 1, or a bit of chipotle chili powder (which adds a smoky spice) or a tiny bit of cayenne pepper with the other spices in step 2. Adjust any of the seasonings to make this the way your family likes it!
  5. Serve soup with toppings like: shredded cheese, chopped green onions, plain lowfat Greek yogurt, chopped tomatoes, avocado chunks and crushed tortilla chips.

 Other easy ways to add beans:
  • Melted with cheese and veggies in a quesadilla
  • Sprinkled into salads
  • Mixed into brown rice with salsa
  • Mashed into hummus
  • Combined in the meat mixture for tacos, burritos, or pasta dishes like lasagna or manicotti
Today's tip: Black beans are an easy way to add protein and powerful nutrition to your family's meals.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Kid Superfood: Blueberries

While all berries are great sources of fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants, blueberries win the superfood designation. In fact, blueberries have the highest antioxidant activity of any food according to the USDA. Antioxidants work to help your body fight diseases like cancer and heart disease. Blueberries contain color pigments called anthocyanins that are powerful antioxidants – another reason to include colorful foods in your family's diet.

In the summertime we go berry picking every weekend. The kids love to fill our baskets with fresh berries, sampling along the way! In New England, blueberry season starts in mid-July. My kids are already talking about it! Find a farm near you for summer berry-picking fun.

We used fresh blueberries to make pancakes over the weekend. Deacon loved them so much he was still talking about them at swimming lessons later that day! We used a boxed multigrain pancake mix, then added blueberries to make faces or initials before flipping the pancakes.

Blueberries make a delicious addition to salads, baked goods, cereal, or oatmeal. Stir some into yogurt for a quick breakfast or snack idea. Add some to a dish of ice cream. Frozen blueberries are just as nutritious and available year-round – I made a big batch of blueberry puree for Ned using frozen blueberries over the winter. I stirred this puree into applesauce, yogurt, sweet potatoes, and even veggies like cauliflower.

I've already posted some blueberry ideas and recipes, check out the yogurt parfaits we made last month, try blueberries on one of my sweet pizza ideas, or the original recipe for oatmeal, blueberry and orange muffins.

Today's tip: Give your family antioxidant power with blueberries.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Ten superfoods for kids

An article in the June issue of Parenting magazine lists ten kid superfoods. While there are LOTS of healthy foods to serve your family, these ten pack the maximum amount of nutrition into each bite. There are many lists out there, but I really like these picks for kids.

low-fat Greek yogurt
black beans

Including these superfoods in your family's meals and snacks when possible guarantees an infusion of antioxidants, calcium, or protein for great health.

I'm planning to spend my next blog posts exploring each superfood – I'll let you know how I serve them to my family! Stay tuned.