Do you ever feel overwhelmed at how many times you have to provide food for your kids? Breakfast then snacks then lunch then snacks then dinner then snacks, snacks, snacks!
Cooking used to be a hobby of mine, and I guess it still is most of the time, but it can also occasionally be classified as a “chore”!
The worst for me is when I come home from an outing with hungry kids at mealtime, with no ideas, and a bare kitchen just before the necessary grocery trip. Yikes! Not to mention the added pressure of feeling like I want to provide a balanced meal that includes fruits and vegetables.
One thing that helps me feel a little more prepared for these situations is always having dried, frozen, and canned fruits and vegetables on hand. Yes, there is all of the hype about the loss of nutrients and added sugar or sodium in fruits and vegetables that have been preserved. But eating these fruits and vegetables is hands down better than not having any at all. Also, studies have shown that most nutrients are preserved in frozen fruits and vegetables. As for the drawbacks of canned foods, try choosing canned fruits and vegetables with no added sugar or salt.
We love the dried fruits as they are easily transportable and are a less messy snack.
So stock your kitchen with frozen, canned and dried in addition to fresh fruits and vegetables! This will help you be prepared for the bare-kitchen meals and it also helps to add more variety and sources of fruits and vegetables for your family!
Remember, when it comes to fruits and vegetables, it all counts!
Valentine's Day is so much fun for families and kids and adults! However, it is also so hard to resist all of those delicious homemade goodies and beautifully wrapped treats (for myself AND for my kids)! While I want all of us to enjoy the holiday festivities, I try to limit the amount of sugar we ingest.
On Valentine's Day, I do let my kids eat some of the treats they receive as gifts; however I also try to incorporate healthier, fun Valentine-themed foods into the rest of the day.
Here are 11 Fun and Healthy Valentine’s Day Themed Foods to try with your kids:
- Heart shaped whole wheat pancakes topped with fruit
- Heart shaped French toast made with whole wheat bread, topped with fruit
- Whole grain muffins in festive liners
- Whole grain bagels with strawberry cream cheese
- Red and white yogurt parfait made with raspberries or strawberries
- Banana boats – banana scooped out lengthwise with red berries in the middle
- Fruit cut into heart shapes with cookie cutter
- Fruit either dipped in chocolate or drizzled with chocolate
- Pink milk – cup of milk with a drop of red food coloring (can add few drops of vanilla or almond extract for a little extra flavor)
- Heart shaped sandwiches, grilled cheese, pizza
- Tomato, red pepper and mozzarella skewers
I love to bake and wrap presents. However, I don’t love to add to everyone’s growing pile of sweets and treats that come from so many good-hearted friends, family and events.
While we do eat Christmas sweets and treats (in moderation as much as possible, depending on how tired I am and my level of willpower), I challenge myself to make edible gifts that look and taste wonderful but also provide some healthy nourishment during this fun and exhausting holiday season. I have to ship many of my gifts too so they have to be something that can keep for a few days.
Here are 8 of my favorite Homemade Gifts that are Healthy and Delicious!
- Popcorn balls – Made with peanut butter and honey or traditional caramel popcorn with half of the sugary topping. Popcorn is a good source of fiber and combining it with protein-packed peanut butter makes a yummy, long-lasting snack
- Homemade Pancake Mix – I made this one year using whole wheat flour for fiber and added all of the Smores components in separate bags for fun. I use my favorite pancake recipe, combining the dry ingredients in a bag and printing the recipe for the receiver to later add the wet ingredients
- Granola – Great for snacking or a hearty breakfast
- Homemade Muffin Mix – Just like the pancake mix, I combine the dry ingredients in a bag or jar and provide the recipe. This is a nice time-saver for the baker who doesn’t like to buy the boxed mixes from the store!
- Roasted Nuts – These look pretty in party bags wrapped with ribbon. Spiced, seasoned, and/or sweetened, everyone loves these (and if by chance they don’t, the nuts are a great addition to a party buffet)
- Oatmeal Cookies – At least these cookies have oatmeal in them!!
- Bean Soup Mix – Obviously not a good choice for a family with kids, but nice for grown-ups!
- Trail Mix – Provides a power punch snack to fuel those extra holiday tasks!
Kids need about 20-30 grams of fiber daily. But with all of the processed food lurking around, it can be a challenge to provide our kids with the fiber they need.
Why is fiber important to our kids?
Fiber comes in two forms and they play different roles in our bodies. The two different forms are soluble fiber and insoluble fiber.
- Named because it dissolves in water
- Helps the body digest food more slowly
- Helps kids feel full longer
- Helps with better blood sugar and cholesterol control
- Does not dissolve in water
- Adds bulk to stool to promote regularity
- Helps prevent constipation and sort of “cleans out” the gut by helping food and waste move through. I like to tell my kids that fiber is like a scrubby brush for their insides
Given that kids need about 20-30 grams of fiber daily it can be hard to meet the guideline just in meals. Offering snack foods with fiber helps bridge that gap and also can help prevent the “Hunger Meltdown” by making your kiddos feel fuller longer.
12 Fiber-Filled Snack Ideas for Kids:
- Whole fruit (not juice, as the fiber is filtered out)
- Dried fruit
- Vegetables and dip
- Whole grain crackers with hummus, cheese or bean dip
- Beans (kids can eat these as a finger food!)
- Whole grain muffins (I make mine with whole wheat flour, and freeze them in individual portion sizes)
- Whole grain dried cereal, or oatmeal
- Smoothie made with fruits and vegetables
- Pumpkin or sunflower seeds
Make a plan to enjoy the delicious food and traditions of the season, while leading the way for your family to avoid that over-stuffed, after-meal feeling!
1. Plan food for the whole day. I have been guilty of only planning the big meal and getting stuck eating chips and dip for lunch. Have a light lunch and healthy snacks ready, including fruits and vegetables to offset the oncoming heavy foods of the holiday meal.
2. Don’t skip meals, as this usually leads to that ravenous feeling and eating way too much to even enjoy the meal.
3. Set a good example for your kids by eating slowly and savoring the time together. Your body needs a certain amount of chewing and swallowing to feel full, as well as about 20 minutes for the “I’m done” feeling to kick in. If you take big bites, eat quickly, and chew less, you end up taking in more food without any more satisfaction.
4. Eat every food you want, just use reasonable portions. This is a great skill to model for your kids. It shows them how to include special foods without overindulging and feeling too full.
5. If you are hosting, have ‘To Go’ containers ready for guests to take some leftovers home. This will help cut back on the temptation to eat Thanksgiving dinner three days in a row. The rule in my house is if it is there, I will eat it, including pie for breakfast. So it’s important for me to find a way to have the food exit the house or it will find residence in my waistline!
6. Include an active tradition in your day such as a morning or evening walk, outside game or activity, or check out your community to find a Turkey trot or other group fitness activities.
Sweet potatoes appeal to kids with their sweet flavor AND are also packed with nutrients! Their popularity has grown and they are even working their way into restaurants as an alternative to the traditional French fry.
Sweet potatoes are little bundles of nutrition as they are a good source of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, multiple B vitamins, potassium, fiber, minerals and antioxidants. Amazingly, they are also an easy-to-prepare, relatively cheap, versatile vegetable!
Following are 4 easy to prepare recipes for Sweet Potatoes. I usually cook about ½ to 1 potato per person, depending on their size.
Microwave Sweet Potatoes:
- Wash, poke holes to vent, wrap in a damp paper towel
- Microwave for about 5 minutes for a medium potato, time will vary
- Slice open and enjoy either plain or with your topping of choice – I often mix in a little applesauce for my kids
Bake Sweet Potatoes:
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees
- Wash, poke holes to vent and place on baking sheet lined with foil
- Bake for about 45 minutes
Roast Sweet Potatoes:
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees
- Wash, peel and cube sweet potatoes into 1-inch pieces
- Toss with a little olive oil (about 1 tablespoon per potato) and salt
- Spread on baking sheet
- Roast for about 30 minutes
- Can add more seasonings such as honey, maple syrup, cinnamon, nutmeg, garlic…
Baked Sweet Potato Fries:
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees
- Wash and dry sweet potatoes
- Cut lengthwise into ½-inch slices
- Toss with a little olive oil (about 1 tablespoon per potato) and salt
- Spread on baking sheet
- Bake for about 20 minutes, turning after 10 minutes
- As above, can add more seasonings
We 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
- 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
- 1 1/2 cups fresh breadcrumbs (5 slices white or wheat bread)
- 2 Tbsp melted butter
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Coat a 9x13 baking dish with cooking spray.
- Cook macaroni according to directions, in salted water. Drain and transfer to baking dish.
- Melt butter in medium saucepan over medium heat. When melted, whisk in flour for one minute.
- Slowly add milk, whisking to remove bumps.
- Add pumpkin and cook until mixture is warmed, almost simmering, stirring occasionally.
- Remove from heat and stir in cheeses, salt, pepper and nutmeg.
- Pour mixture over macaroni.
- Melt butter, mix with fresh breadcrumbs, and sprinkle on top.
- Bake 20 minutes, may broil at end for 3 minutes to brown top.
Who knew a kid and adult-pleasing snack could also be healthy? No, I'm not talking about movie theater popcorn or microwave popcorn.
Movie theater popcorn contains a ton of unhealthy fat because of the oil used for popping. And then, of course, the chemical-laden fake butter flavor poured on top (which, yes, I do eat on occasion).
Much of the microwave popcorn isn't any better with the pretend butter substance and questionable chemicals used to line the bag. There are some brands that do not contain these unhealthy and potentially harmful ingredients, however, you can easily make your own popcorn in a paper bag and probably save some money too!
When prepared in a healthy manner, popcorn is low in calories and a good source of fiber; three cups of popcorn has 93 calories and 3.6 grams of fiber.
The health factor of popcorn depends on two things:
- How it is popped
- What is on top
Here are some simple and fun popcorn recipes that I recommend and use quite often!
Using an air popper or popping in the microwave or on the stove with no oil are the best methods to pop the corn.
To pop in the microwave, simply add 1/4 cup kernels to a lunch-size brown paper bag, fold the end over, and microwave until the popping slows down to a few seconds between pops. The time required depends on your microwave, probably around two minutes.
The next step is to add some flavor. First, you need something to make the flavor stick. I usually do a light coat of canola oil using a sprayer. By spraying the oil, I use much less than if I were to drizzle it and I'm able to coat more of the popcorn.
Then, the world is your oyster as far as flavor goes! You can go traditional with just salt or go crazy with the spices in your cabinet! In the mood for a sweet treat, try cinnamon, cardamom, and a touch of sugar. Savory? Try grated Parmesan Cheese, parsley and garlic salt. Experiment to find your favorites! My mother-in-law introduced us to using a splash of soy sauce for an intense flavor!
So add some fun to your family movie night or afternoon family snack with some yummy and healthy popcorn!