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

Monday, August 30, 2010

Pizza fish

My grandfather was a Gloucester fisherman. I remember that he used to get haddock fresh off the docks, freeze it in portions, and fly it down when he'd visit us in Maryland. We always had a stash of fish in the freezer, thanks to him.

My mom invented pizza fish, thinking it sounded more appealing to kids than plain baked fish. Fish IS nutritious but can be a tough sell to kids unless fish sticks are on the menu. I remember that pizza fish was a special dinner in our family, so I recreated it for my family.

It all starts with mom's homemade pizza sauce (feel free to use it on traditional pizza, too!). I took thin filets of white fish (although mom used to use thicker filets in a baking dish and it worked really well), cut each filet in half and topped each portion with pizza sauce. I baked the fish at 375 degrees for about 15 minutes until the fish was cooked through -- bake longer if you use thicker filets. Then I added part-skim mozzerella and baked the fish for another couple of minutes. It was easy and delicious!

Pizza Sauce

1 Tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, diced
1 28-oz can of crushed tomatoes
1 tsp dried oregano
salt and pepper
  1. Heat oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and cook for about 5 minutes until the onion is soft.
  2. Add tomatoes, oregano, and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and gently simmer the sauce for about 30 minutes.
  3. This makes enough sauce for 2-3 large pizzas. I used about half of the recipe to make pizza fish, which I sauced pretty generously.
Today's tip: Serving fish but the family wants pizza? Try pizza fish!

Thursday, August 26, 2010


My spell-checker does not know what quinoa is. Do you?

Quinoa (pronounced “KEEN-wah”) is a protein-rich seed. It falls into the “whole grain” category, since it contains the nutrient- and fiber-rich outer layers that are removed when grains are processed and refined.

The protein in quinoa is a complete protein, which means that it contains all of the essential amino acids that our bodies cannot produce on their own. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Essential amino acids are necessary for good health and must be obtained through food. Typical sources of complete protein are: meat, egg whites and casein (the protein in milk). Since quinoa is a plant source of complete protein it is a good addition to vegan diets.

Quinoa is also a good source of magnesium, riboflavin, manganese and copper. A serving of quinoa has about the same amount of fiber as a bowl of oatmeal and is gluten-free.

I set out to try quinoa as a side dish for our family's dinner. Since it was a beautiful summer night, I decided to mix in grilled vegetables for texture and flavor. I often blend vegetables into a grain side dish to increase the kids' exposure to them.

Here's how I prepared our quinoa:
  1. I rinsed the quinoa under cool water per package instructions.
  2. I added one part quinoa to two parts liquid (I used broth for added flavor) to a pot on the stove, brought the mixture to a boil, and them covered and simmered it for 10-15 minutes until the liquid was absorbed (again, per package instructions). I used 1 ½ cups quinoa and three cups of broth for our family.
  3. Meanwhile, I sliced one eggplant, one green pepper, and one red pepper. I brushed these with olive oil and seasoned them with salt and pepper, then cooked them on a pre-heated grill (about medium flame) for 5 minutes per side.
  4. I finely minced one clove of garlic and added it to about 3 Tbsp of olive oil in a large bowl. When the veggies were done I cut them into bite-sized pieces and added them to the bowl, then dumped in the quinoa when it was ready. I stirred all this together with about 4 oz of herbed goat cheese and salt/pepper.

Since this was a totally new food for the kids, I kept some of the quinoa plain and served them both the plain quinoa and the quinoa-veggie mixture so they could try both. I also sliced some raw peppers for them to enjoy plain, too.

I just added “quinoa” to the dictionary on my computer, and to our family's food repertoire. You should introduce it to your family, too. Oh, and I'm still working on the crock-pot meal I mentioned the other day – you'll hear about it when it has been perfected.

Today's tip: Try quinoa for a side dish or vegetarian meal.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

One more ice cream: yogurt, honey, and cinnamon gelato

I tried another gelato recipe from after remembering the delicious simplicity of the coconut gelato. I know, I'm on a bit of an ice cream machine kick, but this is ice cream season!

It's hard to believe that three basic ingredients: greek yogurt, honey, and cinnamon could make such a creamy treat. Lila and I set out to blend the mixture then we poured it into the ice cream machine so it could magically become gelato. The recipe states that it can easily be made into popsicles if you don't have an ice cream machine.

We enjoyed our treat after dinner with cocoa-dusted raspberries. It was so good!

I've already discussed the health benefits of greek yogurt and cinnamon. Add in honey for sweetness and this recipe is a winner. It uses full-fat yogurt, so stick to a small scoop to keep calories in check. Do not serve honey (or uncooked recipes containing honey) to babies under 1 year old.

Stay tuned, I have the crock-pot out for tonight's dinner. If it comes out well I'll post the results! Fall is around the corner...

Today's tip: Turn yogurt, honey, and cinnamon into a creamy gelato or delicious homemade popsicles.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Summer tomato pasta

It's tomato season! All year I look at the sad tomatoes in the grocery store and long for the end of summer when ripe red tomatoes are abundant. Now's the time, so grab them from your farm share depot or farmer's market, harvest them from your backyard garden, or hit up a neighbor who grew too many.

I needed a quick family dinner last night, so I mixed up this pasta. The longest part of the preparation process was waiting for the water to boil!

It's more of a method than a recipe, use as much of each ingredient as you like. You can make this recipe for one person or for ten. Here's what I did:
  1. Put on water to boil.
  2. Chop tomatoes and add to a large bowl with finely minced garlic, chopped basil leaves, cubed mozzerella, olive oil, salt and pepper.
  3. Boil pasta according to package directions. Add beans to last few minutes of pasta cooking time. Drain, reserving a little of the cooking liquid.
  4. Toss hot pasta with tomato mixture. If the pasta seems dry to you add the reserved cooking liquid.
You can choose the ingredients and amounts you like. I used plum and grape tomatoes (it amounted to about 3 cups when chopped) from the farm share, part-skim mozzerella (about 4 oz), and whole-wheat pasta (the whole pound), plus about ¼ cup of olive oil, about ½ cup chopped basil, and about 1 ½ tsp salt and ½ tsp pepper. I added about 1 ½ cups of precooked/frozen white beans. I used one garlic clove and thought it was very garlicky – you could try ½ a clove if you aren't a fan of strong garlic flavors. We topped our pasta with parmesan cheese and it was delicious!

Today's tip: Grab summer tomatoes and enjoy them while they are at their best!

Fun Pop Quiz: What culture invented boiled pasta?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Gingerbread pancakes

I remember that mom was on a fiber kick for a while when I was little. She would put Kellogg's All-Bran cereal in everything, from muffins to meatloaf.

She had good reason to be excited about fiber. People who eat higher fiber diets have been found to have:
  • lower cholesterol
  • improved digestive system health
  • reduced risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and some types of cancer
Fiber also makes you feel full after eating fewer calories. Studies show that consuming a high fiber diet is one way to avoid excessive weight gain (or to lose weight and maintain weight loss for any parents who are interested).

Fiber is found in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Bran is the high-fiber outer layer of grains like wheat, oats and rice. Whole grains still contain this layer, while refined grains like white rice and flour have had it removed. The All-Bran cereal mom was obsessed with contains 10 grams of dietary fiber per ½ cup serving.

The USDA recommends that adults consume 25-38 grams of dietary fiber per day, (based on gender, age, and size) while children should get 19-31 grams per day (again, based on age and size). Check for personalized recommendations for your kids.

Mom has since stopped stashing cereal in her meatballs and instead focuses on including plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains in her diet. I still love the recipe for Kellogg's All-Bran original bran muffins. While searching the Kellogg's All-Bran website I found a recipe for gingerbread pancakes. These are delicious – I have been making them for a few years. These tender pancakes are sweetened with molasses and spiced with cinnamon and ginger. Lila and I made them this morning and Ned ate two!

Gingerbread Pancakes (from Kellogg's)

1 cup Kellogg's All-Bran cereal
3 Tbsp canola oil
1 ¼ cups skim milk
¼ cup molasses
1 egg
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
½ tsp ground ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
  1. In large mixing bowl, combine cereal, oil and milk. Add molasses and egg and beat well.
  2. Stir together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices. Add to cereal mixture, stirring only until combined.
  3. Cook on greased preheated griddle until brown on both sides, flipping only once. Serve hot with preserves, warmed applesauce, or syrup.
Today's tip: Check to figure out your family's fiber needs, then track your diet for a few days to see if you meet the recommendation.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Quick fruit and vegetable tips

Sometimes it's a challenge to get kids excited about fruit and veggies. Offering them in a new way can make them interesting.

When Lila was two, she became bored with sliced apples so I offered her a whole apple. Her eyes lit up and she happily chomped her way through the whole thing. This has worked wonders, she loves to crunch through whole carrots, celery with leafy tops (thanks Wonder Pets), pickle-sized cucumbers, peaches, plums, and lots of other veggies and fruit. I even offered Ned (15 months) a whole peach the other day and he loved it!

Whenever I give any whole fruit to the kids I stay close by to make sure they don't take bites that are too big. I try to avoid raw crunchy veggies until they are 3 or 4 and watch to make sure they don't choke.

Other new things you can try without a lot of effort:
  • cut up fruit with a sprinkle of cinnamon
  • offer veggies that you typically serve cooked raw and vice-versa
  • check for new colors of typical favorites, like yellow watermelon, blue or purple potatoes, or golden delicious (yellow) apples
  • try new dips for fruit and veggies

You may be dealing with a baby, toddler, or preschooler who refuses to eat any vegetables. This is common, just try the tips above and keep serving vegetables to your child as part of each family meal. Eat veggies in front of your child and casually tell them how good they are. Do NOT make a big deal out of it, or vegetable eating will become a power struggle. Make sure your child is getting a variety of fruit in his/her diet (if they will eat fruit) plus fiber-rich whole grains. You may want to sneak veggies into favorite foods (I mentioned Jessica Seinfeld's book Deceptively Delicious in a previous post, it has tons of stealth recipes you can try).

Today's tip: Change the way you serve fruit and veggies to make them new and exciting.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Coconut Gelato

My sweet tooth is showing these days!

I revisited Weelicious, the blog where I found the infamous beet hummus recipe in search of a brilliant new summer recipe. Success! I found a recipe for coconut gelato that inspired me to break out the ice cream machine in our basement.

My children LOVE making ice cream but I often forget that we have the machine and rarely have cream in the house. This recipe impressed me with it's simplicity – how could I not take a few minutes with the kids to mix coconut milk, agave nectar, and vanilla to create this treat? Catherine McCord is a genius! You can bet I'll be trying her recipe for yogurt, honey and cinnamon gelato as well.

Coconut milk (the liquid obtained by pressing and straining the liquid out of coconut meat) does contain saturated fat, but studies of healthy populations that consume a great deal of coconut milk have found that it does not raise bad cholesterol. I was surprised to read that the main fatty acid in coconut milk, lauric acid, is also found in breast milk where it plays a role in building brain cells and healthy bones. Plus lauric acid has antimicrobial properties – coconut oil is being tested as a medical treatment for diseases such as HIV and influenza. It will be interesting to see future research on this topic. That said, it is important to limit your intake of saturated fat, so stick to a small scoop!

This recipe uses agave nectar for natural sweetness. Agave nectar is extracted from a cactus-like plant. It is cooked down in a process similar to maple syrup (although at a much lower temperature). It also has antimicrobial properties. Agave nectar's sweetness is mainly from a complex sugar called inulin, which has a low glycemic index. It does not cause the rapid spike in blood sugar (followed by a quick crash) that other sweeteners can cause.

The smooth, creamy coconut gelato is vegan and gluten-free. It is a delicious treat for hot summer days. We will definitely make this simple recipe again soon! Next time I may mix the ingredients in the blender, since the coconut cream tends to separate from the milk when chilled.

Today's tip: Whip up some homemade ice cream with your kids for a wholesome summer treat.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Peanut butter and WHAT?!

My older kids are HUGE fans of peanut butter sandwiches and I wanted to inject some variety (and more nutrition) into this favorite lunch. Since it's summer we have plenty of fruit around – and peanut butter/banana is one of my favorite combinations. I decided to experiment.

I made three sandwiches on whole wheat flatbreads: peanut butter and banana, peanut butter and apple, and peanut butter and plum. I presented the sandwiches to the kids on a platter, then cut each one in half for tasting. I added carrot sticks and cucumber spears and lunch was served.

Lila liked the apple sandwich, but then asked for plain pb. Deacon shocked me by eating half of each sandwich – the biggest lunch I can remember him eating in a while!

Peanut butter and jelly is a common sandwich choice, but the fruit in jellies and jams has been cooked down with added sugar. Using fresh fruit decreases the sugar in the sandwich (while keeping the natural sweetness of the fruit) and gives the sandwich a little fiber boost.

Peanut butter is a great source of protein. Be careful of varieties with added sugar and hydrogenated oils (which add trans fat). Because peanuts are one of the most common food allergies, I am careful to only serve it at home. It's also a choking hazard for kids under 4 -- I spread a thin layer on sandwiches, crackers, apples, or toast to reduce this risk.

Try some of these other fruity sandwich ideas, too:
  • Grilled cheese with apples or plums
  • Turkey with apples
  • Ham with peaches or plums
  • Chicken salad with grapes or raisins mixed in
  • A sweet sandwich treat of Nutella and strawberries or bananas
Have other ideas? Please comment to let me know!

Today's tip: Add nutrition and surprise to sandwiches with fruit.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Banana-chip cookies

This post will be short and sweet!

An awesome friend tipped me off to a delicious cookie recipe – how could I not try it? The kids and I baked these banana chocolate-chip cookies and they were so good. Here's another great way to use bananas that are getting a little mushy (I already posted my favorite banana bread recipe).

Everyone thinks that, as a dietitian, I only feed my kids vegetables. However, all kids like occasional treats and these cookies are a great little bite of chocolatey sweetness. Plus they have the nutrition of a little banana thrown in there! And nothing goes better with a glass nutrient-rich milk than a cookie (every now and then).

I used a very small scoop to make lots of cookies that were just the right size for a little sweet tooth. I also used mini chocolate chips so there is a chocolate in every bite. Try dark chocolate chips for more antioxidant power.

Today's tip: Bake up a sweet treat with your kids.