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5 Healthy Pumpkin Recipes for KidsWe LOVE pumpkin in this house (well, except my husband who is a good sport) and eat it all year round. High in Vitamin A and fiber, pumpkin is a powerhouse fruit that appeals to kids with its sweet taste. Yes, it’s a fruit, although in my head I still consider it a vegetable! Botanically speaking, it’s a fruit because it develops from a flower and contains seeds.

Topping my list of 5 favorite pumpkin foods are:

1 - Roasted Pumpkin Seeds – I make these every year but this year they tasted exceptionally better with the addition of one step to a standard recipe: After rinsing and cleaning the seeds, let them dry out for about 24 hours before cooking. This extra step removed that chewy, never-going-to-break-down, aspect of pumpkin seeds!

2 - Pumpkin Muffins – These appear in our house frequently and disappear quickly. I use a healthier version of a recipe with whole wheat flour and canola oil. 

3 - Pumpkin Pancakes – A popular kids’ breakfast with antioxidants, what could be better? I make a double batch and either eat them a few days later or wrap individually in plastic wrap and freeze.

4 - Pumpkin Curry – Roast and chop fresh pumpkin, then simmer with one can of coconut milk, 2 tablespoons of red curry paste, and ½ cup of water. This is the basic recipe, and you can add pretty much whatever you have on hand: extra veggies, shrimp, tofu, chicken, beans, fresh cilantro or basil...

5 - Pumpkin Macaroni and Cheese – Yum. You can add a healthier twist on Mac and Cheese with the addition of something like pumpkin and cut back on the fat (butter/cheese). Using cheese with a lot of flavor, such as extra sharp cheddar, helps when you are cutting the amount down.

 

Pumpkin Macaroni and Cheese

Ingredients:

  • One 16 oz. box macaroni
  • 2 Tbsp flour
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • One 15 oz. can pureed pumpkin
  • 2 cups milk 
  • 1 cup extra sharp cheddar cheese (4 oz.)
  • 1 1/2 cups Gruyere cheese (6 oz.)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp pepper

Topping (Optional):

  • 1 1/2 cups fresh breadcrumbs (5 slices white or wheat bread)
  • 2 Tbsp melted butter

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Coat a 9x13 baking dish with cooking spray.
  2. Cook macaroni according to directions, in salted water. Drain and transfer to baking dish.
  3. Melt butter in medium saucepan over medium heat. When melted, whisk in flour for one minute.
  4. Slowly add milk, whisking to remove bumps. 
  5. Add pumpkin and cook until mixture is warmed, almost simmering, stirring occasionally.
  6. Remove from heat and stir in cheeses, salt, pepper and nutmeg. 
  7. Pour mixture over macaroni. 
  8. Melt butter, mix with fresh breadcrumbs, and sprinkle on top.
  9. Bake 20 minutes, may broil at end for 3 minutes to brown top.

Servings: 8

 

Halloween Candy Ideas for KidsI think we all can identify with our children. The thrill of running from house to house trying accumulate the most Halloween candy possible before trick or treat time ended. And then dumping out that incredibly heavy bag (pillowcase in my day) to admire our accomplishment! Whatever happened to that candy? My parents certainly didn’t let me eat it all the candy and after eating some for a few days I don’t even remember it disappearing!

It’s a good thing because as a parent I realize the excitement of Halloween is many things, like costumes, parties and the game of getting the candy. But eating every single piece of candy doesn’t make the experience any better!

So, in our house, after the kids enjoy occasional treats from their loot bags for a few days, we leave our candy out for the “Candy Fairy” who exchanges it for a toy or book. This obviously won’t work for older kids but I have heard of similar strategies where you eliminate the middleman (fairy) and just exchange the candy for a toy or money (some people even do something like a certain amount of money per pound of candy exchanged!).

But what should all of us parents do with all of that leftover Halloween candy? My level of will power with chocolate is close to non-existent so hiding it from the kids would just lead it straight to my mouth (not the best solution). And I’m pretty sure I’m not alone on this lack of will power when it comes to candy! 

Solution #1:  Donate the Left Over Halloween

Candy  Organizations such as Operation Gratitude and Operation Shoebox (and some local schools) accept wrapped candy to include in care packages they send to US troops. Other organizations that often appreciate candy donations include nursing homes, shelters, and food banks. Just call ahead to make sure they need it. This is also a nice way to encourage generosity in your kids by sharing their hard-earned candy with those in need.

Solution #2: Give the Left Over Halloween Candy to Your Dentist

Many dentists do a “Candy Buy Back” where they will give your kids a little something in return for them turning in their candy. The dentist will then usually donate the candy.

Solution #3: Freeze the Left Over Halloween Candy

This is the riskiest solution, especially if you are like me, because the candy remains in the house (although it is harder to get to if you stick it way in the back under other food items). You can then pull out the candy to use in one of the million candy dessert recipes available on the internet when needed. Or have an ice cream sundae party with candy toppings; chop and mix with nuts and fruit for a somewhat healthy homemade trail mix; include in care packages or presents. The list is endless!

These are my top three solutions to candy leftovers. Any other great ideas out there? Please share!

Health Benefits of Fruit for KidsHands down, I love summer exponentially more than any other season. I love it for many reasons of course, but one of my favorite is the abundance of easy-to-prepare, delicious, and cheap fruit.

Fruit has earned a suspicious reputation because it has sugar. This is unfortunate because a “strawberry lollipop” really shouldn’t be in the same category as a strawberry! The sugar in fruit, fructose, is naturally present versus in a lollipop, for example, that is processed and added in. While the only value (besides flavor) from the lollipop is energy (i.e. calories), fruit provides many benefits, including:

  • Essential vitamins and minerals needed by the body
  • Fiber for a healthy digestive system and to help us feel full
  • Antioxidants to protect against illness

And the best thing is most kids need no persuasion to eat berries and fruit! If I do end up with perfectly ripe berries that we can’t eat in time, I try to freeze them. This is the best method I’ve found:

How to Freeze Berries:

  1. Wash berries and let them dry thoroughly
  2. Lay out on a cookie sheet (use parchment or wax paper for easy clean up)
  3. When frozen, move the berries to a container or plastic bag

Making freezer jam provides another way to preserve fruit as well as provide a fun and educational project for the kids. My kids recently had a blast picking plums off our tree and then mashing them to make jam. What a fun way to have kids see how fruit is used to make jam and learn that it doesn’t grow in jars at the grocery store!

While I still haven’t learned the art of canning, I have discovered that anyone can make freezer jam! I follow the recipe listed on the booklet that comes with the pectin. I get the pectin that allows for using less sugar. The only way you can actually use less sugar AND get awesome jam is to use ripe, sweet fruit. Some recipes even allow for eliminating sugar completely but I haven’t ventured out that far yet (if you have a great recipe, please share!).

 

Great Tasting Vegetable Recipe for KidsWe read this book, On Top of Spaghetti by Paul Brett Johnson, very often (and the song goes through my head long after we read it!). It includes a recipe for meatballs and one of our clever aunts made them with our son. He loved it and both kids ate a ton!

Using a story reference has helped with trying other new foods too. It offers a little bit of a “safe reference” for kids to feel more confident about trying something.

When I made meatballs with my son, I added finely chopped mushrooms to the recipe. The meatballs were just as delicious as without the mushrooms and the kids still ate a ton.

Both of my kids enjoyed mushrooms when they were younger but lately they haven’t been eating them as readily. I figure they are going through a picky phase and will one day embrace mushrooms again. Until then, I have no problem including mushrooms in dishes where they are largely undetectable but still provide short and long-term protection against illness.

 

Why should children eat mushrooms?

Mushrooms are great for our immune system and are a good source of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Who knew fungus could be so good for you?!

 

How to encourage children to eat vegetables?

If your kids are leery of a certain vegetable that you wish they would try, you could use this method with any meatball/meatloaf recipe:

  • Using the ratio of ½ cup of the vegetable per pound of meat
  • Finely chop 
  • Add to your regular recipe.

Also try using those favorite books as a catalyst to trying new foods. If you come across a reference in a book to something you would like your family to try, bring the book out at mealtime and read it.

Too bad ice cream doesn’t take much convincing to try because it is referenced a lot!

Peanut Butter Allergy Alternative for KidsWake up Sunshine!

We eat a ridiculous amount of peanut butter in our house so in an effort to broaden our options I have tried some other nut and seed spreads. Sunflower butter is a winner!

Sunflower butter is a ray of yummy sunshine! It is nut and gluten-free so Sunflower butter is acceptable for those with food allergies, and packs in just as much protein as peanut butter. It’s also higher in fiber than peanut butter. You can make your own sunflower butter (there are a lot of recipes on the internet), or buy it in many grocery stores now.

Use sunflower butter any way you would use peanut butter. We love it on bananas. Stir it in oatmeal for a power breakfast, or blend it up in a smoothie.

We still eat a lot of peanut butter but adding in other healthy foods offers different nutrients for those growing bodies, and exposes kids to different flavors which can lead to a lifetime of healthy and adventurous eating!

Give it a try!

Family Meals with KidsWith our two and four-year-olds in the house, we have recently moved to “family style” dining and it’s been a great change. We can sense our children’s feeling of empowerment and pride as they serve themselves just like the adults at the table!

Family style dining, where all food is placed on the table and everyone serves themselves, gives hands on experience for kids to learn social skills such as taking turns and using good manners. Kids are also more apt to sample a food if they actually scoop it on to their plate. They see the grownups doing it and will often imitate the action. It’s not always that easy of course. The kids might still need many exposures to a food but don’t give up! Kids food preferences change as they grow so don’t assume if they don’t like the taste of something now that they will never try it again or ever like it. Just keep offering and be prepared for rejection! Additionally, try to avoid getting too upset if your kids won’t try the new food because it might turn into a power struggle.

As parents, it’s our job to provide healthy food for our children at relatively set times and places. The kid’s job is to decide whether to eat it and how much. Of course when it comes to something like cookies it’s also our job to explain why we can’t eat a whole plate of cookies, three meals a day!

Serving food family style also (might) cut down on your multiple trips back to the kitchen to get something since all of the food is already on the table. A more relaxed mealtime benefits everyone! We spend so much time in our lives eating, it may as well be fun!

Watermelon Kids SnackInstead of a typical fruit salad, I carved a shark head out of a watermelon for my son’s birthday – it was awesome! The kids (and adults) got a kick out of it and it didn’t take much longer to make than any other fruit dish that needs to be cut.

Watermelon is good for children

Watermelon might come across as a useless, non-nutritious, summer fruit filled with “water”, however it’s actually packed with vitamins and the powerful antioxidant lycopene. Lycopene is a red pigment found in some plants, most well-known in tomatoes. As an antioxidant, it’s thought to help fight oxidative damage inside of the body, leading to protection from long-term diseases like cancer and heart disease. A win-win situation: healthy food that kids love!

Is watermelon a fruit or vegetable? Both! Based on botanical classification watermelon is a fruit because it is the ripened ovary of a seed plant. Consumers like us classify it as a fruit because it’s sweet. However, watermelon is grown and harvested like a vegetable and is a member of the same gourd plant family as cucumbers. Hmmm, it’s good either way!

Here is where I found easy-to-follow instructions on how to carve a watermelon shark:
http://www.whataboutwatermelon.com/index.php/2012/05/how-to-carve-a-watermelon-shark

 

Healthy Foods for KidsGrowing up I didn't even know the word “tofu”, and if I did, I probably would have thought it was too weird to eat. It fascinates me that my kids, and many other kids I’ve met, actually eat this food! If you introduce foods without prejudice or judgment to your kids, they can make their own decisions based on their taste. So even if you might think your kids will never eat something, just offer it, you never know! Inevitably as they grow they will go through picky phases, often influenced by outside sources, but if you give them early exposure to a variety of foods, the base for an open mind to eating can offer a lifetime of adventure, health and enjoyment!

Following are 3 Super Foods that will be great for your kid to try, including Tofu!

Beans
High in protein and fiber, beans offer a cheap powerhouse of long-lasting energy. Serve them right out of the can, rinsed, as a snack or throw them in a casserole or burrito for a quick and easy meal. To entertain your toddler on rainy days, make your snack activity last a little longer by serving rinsed, canned beans in a mini muffin tin alternating with whole grain crackers or veggies in the other holes.

Avocados
Avocados are high in heart-healthy fat, fiber, potassium, beta carotene, B vitamins, vitamin C and vitamin K. Their soft, creamy texture makes them perfect as one of the first foods for infants, either pureed with some breast milk or formula, or mashed well. Avocados are versatile enough to accompany any meal – serve them with eggs for a high-energy breakfast, or mash with lime juice and spread on bread instead of mayo at lunch. They often make an appearance as a finger food on our table, paired with cubed cheese, fruit and bread – makes a colorful, balanced and healthy toddler meal.

Tofu
Its soft texture and mild flavor make tofu a toddler favorite. Often infants who are still getting used to the texture of meat will gobble it up as well. Tofu is an inexpensive, easy-to-prepare source of protein. My kids eat it straight from the fridge, cubed and topped with a drizzle of soy sauce. Or sauté or bake it and serve as an entrée.

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