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

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Salsa chicken

Here's an easy weeknight meal: salsa chicken. It's perfect because it was easy to prepare, used inexpensive ingredients that I had on hand, and made everyone happy.

  1. Take 2 large split chicken breast halves (still on bone), remove the skin, and place them in your crock pot.
  2. Add 1 jar of salsa, making sure to coat the chicken.
  3. Cook on low for 3-4 hours until the chicken is tender and shreds easily. Remove meat from bones (throw those away), shred it, and return it to the crock pot to mix with the “sauce.” Add 1 can of beans or 1 ½ cups of pre-soaked and cooked dried beans, combine and heat through.
  4. Serve with brown rice or tortillas and your family's favorite toppings.

Some versions of this recipe call for cream cheese to make the sauce creamy. I didn't care for that, preferring instead to add yogurt and cheese to my own meal to make it creamy. However if you want to try it I would recommend adding about ½ a block of reduced-fat cream cheese at the end of the cooking time and mixing it into the shredded chicken, salsa, and beans.

We ate this meal over rice the first night. The kids love any meal where they can add toppings to their food – we had shredded cheese, plain yogurt (you could also use low fat sour cream), sliced black olives, and green onions.

Here is my bowl:

Here is Lila's plate (I had an extra chicken breast in the package, so I roasted it so she could have plain chicken, too):

Later in the week I sauteed fresh corn and tomatillos from our farm share, then added the leftover chicken/salsa/bean mixture and made soft tacos from it, which we enjoyed with the leftover brown rice.

I love that we enjoyed two healthy feasts made from inexpensive ingredients: 2 chicken breasts (that I bought on sale), beans, a jar of salsa, brown rice, tortillas, and whatever toppings and extra veggies I had in the house.

Today's tip: Make salsa chicken for your family... you may enjoy it twice!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Zucchini bread

When we were little my dad had a garden and must have grown zucchini. I remember mom making zucchini bread all the time. I especially loved when she would make CHOCOLATE zucchini bread, it was moist, sweet, and delicious!

Facebook is great for sharing recipes! A friend posted the status “making zucchini bread,” and I remembered mom's freshly baked treat. I asked my friend Deb for this recipe and she gladly shared. (That's how I came across the recipes for Veggie Pot Pie and Marbled-Chocolate Banana Bread, too) Here it is for you all to bake at home!

Zucchini Bread

1 ½ cups flour
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
2 eggs
¾ cup sugar
¼ cup unsweetened applesauce
¼ cup canola oil
2 tsp vanilla
1 ½ cups coarsely shredded zucchini
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Spray loaf pan with cooking spray.
  3. Mix dry ingredients (flour through salt) thoroughly
  4. In large mixing bowl, beat eggs until frothy. Add sugar, applesauce, oil and vanilla. Beat until lemon-colored, about 3 minutes.
  5. Stir in zucchini.
  6. Add dry ingredients and mix until just moistened.
  7. Pour batter into prepared loaf pan and bake for 40 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.

Of course I tried out a couple of changes!
  • I used half whole wheat flour and half white – still yummy!
  • I tried a chocolate version by adding 1/3 cup of cocoa powder to the dry ingredients – delicious!

Today's tips: Share recipes with a friend! Oh, and zucchini is plentiful now, so make some delicious zucchini bread for your family.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Southwest Squash Soup

I found this recipe several years ago in a 5 A Day program cookbook. I've made it so many times in so many different ways. Last week I picked up two big butternut squash at the grocery store and instantly remembered this favorite recipe.

The CDC has since updated the 5 A Day program to call it Fruits & Veggies – More Matter(TM). This was a great move, since we all need to remember to keep adding fruits and vegetables to all meals and snacks during the day. I find this easier than counting how many servings we eat each day.

Fall and winter fruits and veggies like butternut squash are heartier than a lot of the produce of summer. This makes it easier to keep tons on hand without fear of spoiled produce!

Butternut squash provides fiber, potassium, Vitamin C, folate, magnesiun, iron, and calcium to a healthy diet. It's orange color is a tip that it's a good source of beta-carotene (which becomes Vitamin A) an antioxidant with a key role in maintaining eye health and vision.

I did some chopping in the morning before school drop-off, then whipped this soup together while playing with Ned. The hardest part is peeling and dicing the squash – most stores stock peeled squash that will save you this step.

Southwest Squash Soup

2 Tbsp butter or margarine
2 medium onions, chopped
1 medium carrot, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cubed
1-2 jalapenos, chopped
4-5 cups low sodium chicken broth
1 cup tomato puree
1 Tbsp chili powder
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp salt
½ tsp black pepper
  1. In a large saucepan, melt butter over medium heat.
  2. Add onions, carrot, and garlic and cook for 3 minutes. Cover pan, reduce heat and cook for 3-4 minutes until soft.
  3. Stir in squash, peppers, broth (enough to just cover the veggies), tomato puree, and spices. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover and cook for 30 minutes.
  4. Mash squash to a chunky puree with a potato masher. Taste for seasonings and add more if needed.

My notes:
  • I used 1 jalapeno (without seeds or ribs) and it was spicy enough for my family.
  • I used an immersion blender for a smooth soup. I have used the potato masher in the past and it leaves lots of texture (which is good, too).
  • In the past I've added brown rice or white beans to make the soup more filling.
  • This soup is great for topping! Try adding grated cheddar, sliced green onions, light sour cream or plain yogurt.

Today's tip: Make a delicious soup out of abundant (and inexpensive) butternut squash this fall and winter.

Monday, September 20, 2010


Fall is apple season here in New England. Apples are on sale at the grocery store, available as part of my CSA farm share, and abundant for picking at several local farms. We have a big bowl of apples on the counter so we can all enjoy this sweet fruit.

Does an apple a day keep the doctor away? Apples contain fiber – both soluble fiber that can lower cholesterol and insoluble fiber to aid digestion. Apples also contain quercetin, a powerful antioxidant. A medium-sized apple only contains about 80 calories but can be a filling snack.

We can't keep apples in the house long around here. We love to eat them plain, sprinkled with cinnamon-sugar, smeared with peanut butter, or baked into a tasty treat. I posted a recipe for delicious maple-apple muffins last week. Here is a simple apple recipe, applesauce.

I don't think this even qualifies as a recipe... it's pretty vague. I just wanted to let you know that homemade applesauce is easy to make.

Homemade Applesauce

Step 1: Peel, core, and chop apples (whatever amount you have on hand) into large chunks.

Step 2: Put the apples and a bit of water in a saucepan. Today I made applesauce using 7 apples and about ¼ cup of water.

Step 3: Cover the pan and heat the apples/water on medium until the apples are soft enough to mash. This takes a different amount of time for different varieties of apples. I used McIntosh apples and they took 20 minutes to soften.

Step 4: Use a potato masher to mash the apples to a chunky applesauce. Use a blender or food processor for a smoother puree. Cool and enjoy.

Today's tip: Make your own applesauce – it's easy, natural, and delicious.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Maple-apple muffins with oat topping

I found another muffin recipe in another novel! I already posted the recipe for coconut orange blueberry muffins from The Friday Night Knitting Club by Kate Jacobs. I recently read the sequel, Knit Two, which featured another yummy-sounding (and healthy) muffin recipe. Now that it's officially apple season I had to give it a try.

These muffins were easy and so delicious! I followed the recipe exactly as written, except that I couldn't leave well enough alone and had to add an oatmeal crumb topping. I had them out on the counter and my sons wouldn't stop asking for them, then requesting seconds.

Each muffin contains 1/3 of an apple – not bad if you are having trouble getting your kids to eat fruit. Plus they are made entirely with whole wheat flour for added nutrition over white flour. You can also easily make them gluten-free.

I can't find the recipe officially posted anywhere, so I'm retyping it here in it's original form. The topping is my invention, though!

The only change I may make in the future would be to add a little maple extract. I couldn't taste maple in the muffins and would have liked that flavor to be stronger. Let me know how it turns out if anyone tries this.

Maple-apple muffins – from Knit Two by Kate Jacobs

1 ¾ cups whole wheat or gluten-free flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp salt
2 eggs
¼ cup oil – I used canola
½ cup applesauce
1/3 cup maple syrup – use the real thing!
1 tsp vanilla
2/3 cup dark brown sugar
2 ½ cups of peeled, cored, and chopped apples (the recipe calls for Granny Smith, I had macs in the house and they worked well)
½ cup chopped pecans, optional – I didn't add these

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a muffin tin with baking cups.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt.
  3. Beat the eggs in a separate bowl. Add the oil, applesauce, maple syrup, and vanilla and stir. Mix in the brown sugar.
  4. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and combine. Stir in the apples. Add the nuts if desired.
  5. Pour batter into muffin cups, filling to the top.
  6. Make oat topping: mash 1 Tbsp softened butter with 1 Tbsp whole wheat (or GF) flour and 2 Tbsp brown sugar, plus a dash of salt and 1/3 tsp cinnamon. Stir in 2 Tbsp oatmeal. Top each muffin with this mixture, pressing it together lightly to form a crumble.
  7. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until muffins are set and lightly brown. Remove the muffins from the baking pan and cool on a wire rack. Makes 12 muffins.

Note: If you are trying to make these muffins gluten-free you can either: omit the topping, make the topping without the oatmeal, or make it using certified gluten-free oats.

Today's tip: It's apple season, so mix up a batch of delicious muffins for your family.

Monday, September 13, 2010

"Get-Well-Soon" Soup

School started last week, and all three kids are already battling a cold! The poor little guys looked so miserable today, then my throat started feeling scratchy too. My first thought was: we need soup!

Since I was also feeling under the weather, I wasn't exactly up to making an elaborate soup. But homemade soup is so much more delicious than canned soup – plus it makes the house smell great. I devised two quick and easy soups that can be pulled together to soothe sick family members of all ages.

Here's the base of the soup:

  1. Chop ½ an onion, 1-2 stalks of celery, and 1-2 carrots. Saute these veggies in 1 Tbsp olive oil over medium heat until soft (about 15 min).
  2. Add ½ tsp of dried thyme, ¼ tsp dried oregano, and about ½ tsp of salt and ¼ tsp of pepper (or any amount that tastes right for your family).
  3. Add 4 cups of chicken, beef, or vegetable broth and bring to a boil.

Then I came up with two variations that worked for my family. Adding tortellini to the soup sounded comforting to me, but I knew my kids would flip for meatballs. So here are two variations we tried:

Add about 2 cups of frozen cheese tortellini to the boiling soup base. Simmer for 5 minutes to cook tortellini and serve.

Add about 1 ½ cups of diced potatoes and your favorite precooked frozen meatballs to the soup base and simmer until the potatoes are cooked (about 10 minutes). (I used small ½ ounce Italian meatballs and heated them in a separate pan of water first to drain off some of the grease before slicing them in half and adding them to the soup.)

Both soups hit the spot! You could add anything to the soup base to make your own variation: try any combination of vegetables, beans, meat, pasta or rice to make a soothing soup.

There's a reason soup is comforting when you are sick. Hot (or warm for small children) liquids help clear nasal congestion and soothe a sore throat. Volatile oils in thyme and oregano have been cited as having antibacterial properties. Plus the meatballs, pasta, and potatoes provide calories and protein to sick family members who aren't up to eating much.

Today's tip: Check your pantry and throw together a quick soup to soothe a cold.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Marbled-Chocolate Banana Bread

I know what you're thinking, “ANOTHER banana recipe?” Hey, if you have young kids like I do (or even if you don't) chances are pretty good that you buy bananas regularly and rarely eat them all before they start turning brown. In my house, brown bananas go into a zip-top bag in the freezer for future baked goods (like traditional banana bread).

When I posted the recipe for banana-chip cookies my friend Helene said that she was baking a banana bread with chocolate swirl. She shared the Cooking Light recipe she uses and I just got a chance to try it out today.

I had all the ingredients in the house except egg substitute, so I just used an equal amount of egg whites. Deacon helped me mix up the batter. I was pleased by the easy way the few ingredients came together – it was so easy to make the banana batter, mix chocolate into a portion of it, and swirl them both together.

Deacon actually kept coming into the kitchen to check on the bread as it baked – he couldn't wait to try it! We weren't disappointed, it was light and just chocolatey enough (especially warm out of the oven) to satisfy a sweet tooth.

Tomorrow I plan to follow the recipe's suggestion and make a snack of a slice of toasted marbled-chocolate banana bread smeared with peanut butter. Yum.

Today's tip: Try this easy recipe as another way to use those overripe bananas.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Kiwi fruit

Each week I buy the produce that is on sale at the grocery store. One of this week's sale items was kiwi frut so I stocked up. Deacon is my biggest kiwi fan – he was so excited to see them in our fruit bowl.

Kiwis can look intimidating, but are so easy to enjoy! Just wash them, slice them in half, and let your kids scoop out the green fruit with a spoon.

The seeds, white interior portion, and even the brown fuzzy skin are all edible. You can also peel and slice, dice, or wedge a kiwi; however, including the skin triples the fiber content as opposed to eating just the inside. If you are leaving the skin on a kiwi I would recommend either thin slices or small diced chunks for young children.

Kiwis are an excellent source of Vitamin C, with more than twice the RDA for Vitamin C in each serving. Kiwis are also great sources of fiber and potassium, plus magnesium, folate, zinc, Vitamin E, and lutein (which protects against eye damage).

I can't say I've been that creative with kiwi this week – we just sliced or scooped it and enjoyed it as is. Kiwi would make a sweet topping for ice cream or frozen yogurt and it looks beautiful in a fruit salad.

Today's tip: Serve up some kiwi fruit to your family.