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

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!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Best beverages for thirsty kids

It's important for children to drink enough fluid during these hot summer days. Numerous studies have linked intake of sugary sweet beverages to childhood overweight and obesity, so choose your drinks wisely.

Water is the best choice for all-day sipping. Keep a thermos, water bottle, or sippy cup of water for each of your kids in an easy-to-reach spot all day. These are our bottles and cups lined up and ready to go!

I just saw these adorable and convenient refillable bottles from The Container Store on a friend's blog – a great find for families with older children! If your kids get bored of plain water, try adding a small slice of their favorite fruit for flavor.
Children need 3-4 servings of skim or lowfat milk per day (or the equivalent as cheese, yogurt, or other sources of calcium). A serving of milk is 6 ounces for children aged 1-3, and 8 ounces for kids aged 3 and up and adults.

You can brew decaf iced tea to keep on hand for older children and teenagers -- add lemon, orange, or other fruits to each cup for a unique and delicious summery drink.

Fruit juice is fine for occasional drinks, but it's best to stick to 4-8 ounces of 100% fruit juice per day. It's fine to water it down for a bigger drink, but avoid sipping on juice (even diluted juice) all day to reduce the risk of cavities.

Avoid soda and sports drinks – they are called “liquid candy” by public health officials. These drinks contribute too much added sugar to kids' diets, contributing to weight gain and poor dental health.

Foods contain fluid, too! If your child doesn't feel like drinking try adding one of the following to their meals (from the August 2010 issue of Parenting Magazine):
  • fruits and vegetables: contain 70-95 percent water
  • yogurt: 80 percent water
  • oatmeal, beans, couscous, pasta: absorb more than 50 percent of their weight in water during cooking.

My friend (and supermom) Erin Green Kelly makes homemade popsicles to keep on hand for her thirsty 2-year-old all summer. She was kind enough to share some of her favorites (just blend/puree and freeze in a simple popsicle mold):
  • strawberries and bananas blended with a little orange juice
  • blueberries blended with a little apple juice
  • peaches and mangoes blended with a little apple juice
  • mangoes and bananas blended with a little pineapple juice
And for a really easy popsicle, just dilute 100% juice and add it to the molds with a couple of chunks of strawberries or any other fruit.

Today's tip: Keep hot kids hydrated all summer with cool (and healthy) drinks and foods.

Please note: I am not being paid to endorse The Container Store's products.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Sweet pickles

Lately we have been getting tons of cucumbers from our farm share AND they were on sale at the grocery store. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, as cucumbers are a very good source of Vitamin C, plus fiber, Vitamin A, potassium, manganese, folate, and magnesium.

I've been serving cucumber slices, scooping out cucumber boats and cups, and adding them to salads left and right. Then it suddenly came to me – I should make a batch of pickles!

I love sweet pickles! I wasn't sure how involved the pickling process would be, and definitely wasn't in the market for an intense canning ordeal. I searched online, and found this ridiculously easy recipe for Sweet Summertime Pickles. I even broke out the mandoline to make evenly-sliced crinkle cut pickles. Just one day later, I had a batch of delicious sweet pickles in my fridge.

This is a recipe you should try if you have a bounty of summer cucumbers. They are the perfect accompaniment to grilled meats, sandwiches, and burgers. The kids have been crunching on them, and I even made a delicious summery salad with farm fresh lettuce and tomatoes, pickles and the pickled onions, and a scoop of tuna salad. These pickles have made for one happy mom and some happy kids.

I'd love to hear more kid-friendly ideas for ways to use cucumbers. I still have a lot of them!

Today's tip: Make your own pickles with fresh summer cucumbers.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Fish -- take two

Ok, time to try fish again! I breaded filet of sole to become “fish schnitzel.” Traditionally, schnitzel is served in Austria as breaded and fried veal with lemon slices, but other meats are used as well. It's such a fun name that we call any crispy meat cutlet (or fish) schnitzel – and more of it gets eaten! (I apologize to any Austrian people we may offend.)

I took sole filets and dredged them in whole wheat flour, beaten eggs, and seasoned panko crumbs. I went all out with the three-step breading process to make for crispy crunchy fish. I pan-seared them in a bit of olive oil and served the fish with lemon wedges, summer veggies and fruit.

The kids loved squirting lemon juice on their fish (and veggies, and fruit) and tried it after hearing how crunchy it was when I bit into it. They love to bite into crunchy things and see if I can hear them from across the table.

Between the breading and oil this is a higher calorie way to serve fish, but it was so delicious! I balanced the heavier fish by serving it with farm fresh veggies and fruit for a well-rounded meal.

Today's tip: Try making schnitzel using fish, beef, pork, or chicken cutlets.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Kid Superfood: Salmon

I have a confession to make: I don't cook seafood very often. Lately I realized this means the kids are hardly exposed to seafood. Since I know how healthful it is, I often order seafood in restaurants. How do I expect my children to like it if they never get a chance to try it? As the last of the ten Superfoods for Kids, I was determined to cook up salmon for my family.

Many types of fish contain Omega-3 fatty acids that increase good cholesterol, reduce blood pressure, and lower the risk of developing heart disease. Fish with a higher fat content like salmon, tuna, and mackerel have the highest amount of Omega-3 fatty acids. Other sources include walnuts, canola or soybean oil, and flaxseed.

I found Trader Joe's Premium Salmon Patties and thought they looked like a good first introduction to salmon for the kids. The patties are hamburger-shaped and kid friendly and contain no additives -- just salmon. I brought them home and excitedly cooked them up for lunch.

I served the salmon burgers on hamburger rolls with lettuce and a choice of ketchup or a sauce I made from low-fat Greek yogurt (another superfood!) mixed with chopped basil (and another!), lemon zest and juice, and salt/pepper. It was no surprise that the kids opted for ketchup. The picture is of my burger with the yogurt sauce.

I think salmon is delicious but I also understand that it has a strong fish flavor. The kids took tentative bites, then decided they didn't want to finish the burgers. I'm so proud they tried something new. Keep in mind that it can take MANY introductions before children accept a new food, so this was a good first step. I thought the burgers were delicious and will definitely serve them again soon, along with other types of seafood.

How do you serve salmon (or any other fish) to your children?

Today's tip: Serve something new – it may be an instant hit or take several tries to become a winner.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Kid Superfood: Basil

I was surprised to see basil on the list of superfoods. After some research, I found that basil contains Vitamin A and magnesium – both great for protecting against heart disease – plus iron, calcium, Vitamin C, and potassium. Basil has also been shown to have antibacterial properties and has been used as an anti-inflammatory agent (possibly alleviating headaches and other inflammatory conditions like arthritis and IBD).

Wow, tons of health benefits AND basil is delicious in summery dishes like tomato/mozzerella/basil salad and pesto. It grows like a weed during this time of the year, so grab some and add it to a salad or meal!

My sister was kind enough to give me a big bag of fresh basil this week. As soon as I saw it I started craving tortellini with pesto – one of my favorites either hot or as a cold salad. I didn't have quite enough to make a batch of pesto, but I happened to have some pre-made pesto in the pantry. I boiled a package of cheese tortellini, adding frozen peas/carrots and broccoli in the final 5 minutes of cooking. Once this was done and drained I mixed in some pesto and lots of the fresh chopped basil.

This was a delicious dinner! The kids were amused by the green pasta. The basil flavor from the combination of pesto plus chopped fresh basil was so good. I would have added fresh veggies, but we finished our farm share batch right before I made this.

If you're looking for a good pesto recipe try this one. I'm always looking for ideas, so please share your basil tips!

Today's tip: Add chopped basil to a sauce or salad for delicious health benefits.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Lunch snapshots

Sometimes it's hard to come up with new ideas for lunch. Here are pictures of recent lunches the kids have enjoyed.

It's a classic for a reason! Peanut butter on whole wheat bread, served with a small apple and baby carrots. I buy natural peanut butter to avoid the sugar and hydrogenated oils that are added to most brands. Whenever possible, I also buy tote bags of small apples, so the each kid can have their own without too much waste. They love to chomp into whole apples!

Another kid classic: macaroni and cheese. I make the traditional packaged version very occasionally for a quick lunch. I'd prefer the organic box, but my kids won't eat it. I served a scoop of mac alongside an apple and baby carrots on this day, too. One note about the carrots: I served them raw and crunchy to Lila, who is almost 5 and beyond the risk for choking on hard foods. I boil them for a couple of minutes to soften them up a bit for Deacon (just turned 3), and chop the boiled carrots for Ned (1).

Beet hummus on a whole grain english muffin with baby carrots. Yummy and colorful!

Leftover grilled chicken drumstick with brown rice and tomato/avacado salad. Lila is picky about meat, but recently discovered drumsticks and loves to munch on them. My kids are big fans of rice, too.

Black bean soup with a wedge of cornbread -- so delicious! There are tons of beans and veggies pureed into this soup.

The day after Deacon's birthday party we had leftover pickies, so the kids enjoyed "party lunch": whole grain crackers, cheese, fruit and farm fresh cucumber slices.

This was Ned's chopped party lunch: crackers, leftover grilled chicken, cucumbers and fruit.

Today's tip: If you are in a lunch slump try something new today. Feel free to borrow one of our ideas!