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

Thursday, October 28, 2010


These quick jack-o-lanterns are a snack and a craft in one! We made them for breakfast this morning, and they were a hit. Make these the next time you host a playdate.

  1. Take a whole wheat mini bagel or english muffin and toast it if desired.
  2. Spread on a bit of pumpkin cream cheese.
  3. Spoon some canned pumpkin or pumpkin puree into a small zip-top bag to form a pastry bag. Snip off a small tip and pipe “pumpkin lines.”
  4. Add sliced shapes made of dried plums (a.k.a. prunes) to make a face, and attach a green bean stem. Enjoy!

You could decorate these with anything you have on hand if you don't have dried plums or green beans. Be creative!

Here is Lila's:

I keep whole wheat mini bagels on hand in the freezer – they make a great breakfast, school snack item, or lunch slider sandwich roll.

Today's tip: Make a jack-o-lantern today, no pumpkin carving required!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Ravioli with squash and leeks

As the weather gets cooler I crave steamy soups, stews, and pasta. These meals are often family-friendly, plus easy to prepare in bulk and reheat as leftovers. I try to add as many veggies as possible to these dishes to boost the nutritional value.

A couple of weeks ago I was looking at a butternut squash and bunch of leeks from my farm share, trying to figure out what to make for dinner. I threw them together with ravioli and a couple more ingredients, and loved the meal so much have I made it again with tortellini.

Ravioli with Squash and Leeks

1 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp olive oil
one bunch of 3 large leeks
1 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded and diced
salt and pepper
¼ tsp dried sage (fresh would be great here)
1/8 tsp nutmeg
2 13-oz packages of frozen cheese ravioli or tortellini

  1. Put water on to boil in a large pot. Cook ravioli according to package directions and drain.
  2. While doing step #1, heat butter and oil in a large pan over medium heat. Cut off the dark green tops of the leeks and discard them. Slice the remaining white/light green leek sections in half lengthwise and run them under cool water, making sure to wash well between layers. Dry the leeks and slice them. Add the sliced leeks to the butter/oil in pan and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  3. Add the squash, sage, nutmeg, and salt/pepper to the pan with leeks, cover and cook (stirring occasionally) for about 10 minutes or until leeks and squash are tender.
  4. Stir in cooked ravioli, add more salt/pepper if needed and serve with parmesan cheese.

Today's tip: Squash your ravioli for fresh taste and nutrition!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Pumpkin muffins

I've been making these muffins for years. They are sweet and warm with the spices of Fall: cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and ginger. Sometimes I make them as directed, other times I switch out chocolate chips for the raisins for a sweet mini-muffin recipe. Either way they are delicious!

Pumpkin Muffins
from Cooking Light, November 2006

2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1 ½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground ginger
¼ tsp salt
1 cup golden raisins
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup canned pumpkin (or fresh pumpkin puree)
1/3 cup buttermilk
1/3 cup canola oil
¼ cup molasses
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
2 Tbsp granulated sugar
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Coat 18 muffin cups with cooking spray or line with paper liners.
  2. Combine flour, pumpkin pie spice, baking soda, ginger, and salt in a medium bowl, stirring well with a whisk. Stir in raisins and make a well in the center of the mixture.
  3. Combine brown sugar, pumpkin, buttermilk, canola oil, molasses, vanilla extract, and eggs, stirring well with a whisk.
  4. Add sugar mixture to flour mixture; stir just until moist.
  5. Spoon batter into muffin cups. Sprinkle with granulated sugar and bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Remove muffins from pan immediately and cool on a wire rack.

My notes:
  • I used half all-purpose and half whole-wheat flour and these came out great. I may try all whole-wheat next time after the success of the maple-apple muffins.
  • For delicious sweet mini-muffins substitute ½ cup of mini chocolate chips for the cup of raisins. Scoop into mini muffin pan and cook for about 10 minutes or until done. This recipe makes tons of mini muffins!
  • If you don't have pumpkin pie spice you can substitute: 1 tsp cinnamon, ½ tsp ginger, ¼ tsp cloves, and ¼ tsp nutmeg.
  • If you don't have buttermilk in the house you can add 1 tsp vinegar to 1/3 cup of milk and let it sit for a bit as a buttermilk substitute.
Enjoy! Add fruit and these muffins are the perfect breakfast on a crisp Fall morning.

Today's tip: Bake up pumpkin muffins and enjoy a taste of Fall.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Baby's first finger foods

I have an adorable 9-month-old niece who is ready to start finger foods. This process can seem scary to new moms as they navigate the world of introducing new food to their babies. It's really not difficult if you start thinking in terms of transitioning the baby from breastmilk or formula and baby food/purees to the same table food that the whole family eats.

At some time between 4- to 6-months of age we start feeding our babies purees and baby cereal. During the next several months parents carefully introduce many fruits, vegetables, grains, meats, beans, and dairy to the baby, watching for any preferences and food allergies.

After a while babies get the hang of being fed, and you can introduce safe finger foods so they can practice picking up food, putting it in their mouths, chewing (or as close to it as they can get without back teeth) and swallowing.

My sister wanted ideas of finger foods to introduce, so I suggested the following:

Baby “puffs,” or Cheerios
Small pieces of soft fruit: peaches, plums, grapes, bananas, apples or pears cut into tiny “matchsticks”
Small pieces of soft cooked veggies: carrots, sweet potatoes, green beans, beets, squash
Tiny shreds of tender meat: chicken, beef, turkey
Beans (cut in half if large)
Shredded cheese
Whole wheat toast that has been cut into very small pieces
Scrambled eggs
French toast that is cut into very small pieces
Small pasta

You get the idea. You can really feed your baby small pieces of any food that he/she has already been eating as a puree. You can also introduce any new foods they are ready to try this way, just be careful to keep an eye out for signs of food allergies.

Please be careful and watch your baby as they try new things. Some babies are fine with new textures while others gag more easily. Start out cutting food into the smallest size they can pick up. I remember sitting at the kitchen table with a knife just chopping food into tiny pieces for Ned, thinking he would never be able to handle anything bigger than a speck. I cut grapes into sixteenths. Slowly he has advanced (and gotten more teeth) and at 17 months he eats what we do – I am happy to hand him a piece of toast or bagel and watch as he chomps away!

Today's tip: Once your baby has the hang of being fed purees you can slowly introduce finger foods.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Preparing sugar pumpkins for baking

Fall is here! We've been enjoying apples, squash, and pumpkins as we celebrate the change of seasons. I love baking with pumpkin during the fall and winter. Usually I buy canned pumpkin, but this year I pureed sugar pumpkins for baking.

Sugar pumpkins are smaller than the ones you carve into jack-o-lanterns. They have the right water content for baking and are available now at farms and in the grocery store.

It took a bit of work, but Lila and I prepared four medium-sized sugar pumpkins. I decided to bake the pumpkins to avoid peeling. Here's what we did:
  1. Cut the pumpkins in half, scoop out the pulp and seeds, and remove the stem.
  2. Place the pumpkin halves (cut side down) in a shallow baking dish and cover them with foil.
  3. Bake at 375 degrees for about 1 ½ hours or until very tender. Allow pumpkins to cool.
  4. Scoop out pumpkin flesh and puree or mash it. Strain the mixture if you want your pumpkin to be very smooth.
  5. Portion pureed pumpkin into bags for the freezer. A can of pumpkin contains 1 ¾ cups, so I used that measure to make portions.

If you'd rather boil them, you can take the pumkin halves, peel them, and cut them into small chunks. Cover  the pumpkin pieces with water and boil until tender, then drain and puree or mash.

There you go, mashed pumpkin that is ready for your favorite pie, bread, or muffin recipe (or to feed to your baby)!

We cleaned off the pumpkin seeds, seasoned them with vegetable spray and salt, and roasted them at 325 degrees for about 30 minutes.

Today's tip: Prepare for winter baking by preparing pumpkin this fall.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Broccoli-potato soup

I made a delicious and very simple soup last week – broccoli potato. I love baked potatoes topped with broccoli and cheese. This soup ended up tasting like a loaded baked potato.

Broccoli-potato soup

2 medium onions, roughly chopped
1 Tbsp butter
3 large broccoli heads (stalk and florets), roughly chopped
5-7 medium potatoes, roughly chopped
5-7 cups of broth (I used low-sodium chicken broth)
salt and pepper
  1. Melt butter in a soup pot over medium heat. Add onion and cook for about 10 minutes until soft.
  2. Add broccoli, potatoes, and enough broth to just cover the veggies. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover the pot and simmer for about 15 minutes until the potatoes are tender.
  3. Use an immersion blender to puree the soup until it is smooth. You could also use a blender or food processor to carefully puree the soup in batches (the mixture will be hot).
  4. Add salt and pepper to taste.

The kids ate their bowls of soup, probably because of the toppings! I went with the loaded baked potato idea and served this soup with crumbled bacon, scallions, and shredded cheddar cheese. I add toppings to lots of meals – they get the kids excited to decorate their food and eat it.

We adults enjoyed our soup with shredded Cabot 50% reduced fat jalapeno cheddar – it was delicious and spicy!

I scrubbed the potatoes and left the skins on. I think this gave the soup even more of a “baked potato” taste. You could peel the potatoes if you prefer.

Today's tip: Turn healthy, cheap, and seasonal broccoli and potatoes into this EASY weeknight soup. Add toppings to make the meal fun!

Please note: I am not being paid by Cabot to promote their cheese. I just like it!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Information about celiac disease

Over the summer, one of Lila's 4-year-old friends was diagnosed with celiac disease. I have watched her mother learn about gluten-free food preparation and struggle with serving different foods to a sensitive preschooler who just wants to eat the same food as her friends.

This is why I've started labeling any recipes on my blog as gluten-free or offering specific gluten-free modifications. I know how hard it is to prepare healthy, fresh food for young children. Adding a serious food allergy or condition that changes their diet makes meals that much harder! I hope I can offer recipes and ideas when I have them.

In case you're curious, here's the scoop. Gluten is a protein that is found in wheat, rye, barley, and some other grains.

Celiac disease is an inherited autoimmune condition. When a person with celiac disease eats foods containing gluten their immune system kicks into overdrive, causing damage to the small intestine. Nutrients from food are absorbed from the small intestine -- damage causes nutrient deficiencies that can affect growth and health.

Symptoms of celiac disease include:
  • Gas
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach pain
  • Fatigue
  • Joint Pain
  • Itchy skin rash.

I have heard people avoid gluten for many different reasons. If you think a member of your family has celiac disease it is important to go to your doctor or pediatrician for tests that confirm it. A registered dietitian  can provide tips for feeding your family in a safe, gluten-free way.

Pink birthday cupcakes are still possible with a little careful ingredient selection! We enjoyed these treats at a party (baked using a Betty Crocker gluten-free cake mix and homemade frosting).

For more information check out:
Celiac Disease Awareness Campaign
Celiac Disease Foundation