Archive for October, 2010

So its the day before the day before Halloween, and for some reason or another your child, or you for that matter, does not have a costume. It’s ok, it happens to Mom’s every year, especially with all the craziness of work, school, and holiday prep. There are a whole bunch of really easy, really cheap, and really fun costume ideas that you can put together in no time with just a few things from around the house, and they can all be inspired by FOOD!

Grapes:

Dress your child in a green t-shirt and sweat pants. Blow up purple balloons and carefully attach them to the front and back of your kid. Get some green felt and pipe cleaners and make leaves and curly stems, attach them to the costume, and TADA! Your kid is a bunch of grapes. Kids like this costume because, let’s face it, walking around with a bunch of balloons wiggling all over you is fun.

Bag of Jelly Beans:

Get a large clear trash bag. Cut two holes for feet, and reinforce the holes with clear packaging tape. Have your kid dress in a an all white outfit. Have your child step into the bag, and fill it with balloons. The best kind to use for this costume are water balloons, since they are smaller, or those tube shaped balloons, because they look like jelly beans. After the bag is full, carefully close it, gently around your child’s shirt collar and add a ribbon for decoration. Fluff out the plastic bag around their head, and cut off the part in front of their face so they don’t have problems seeing or breathing.

Carrot:

Have your kid dress in orange from head to toe. Find a green hat and cut some feathery looking leaves from construction paper. Carefully pin the leaves to the hat. Tada! A carrot.

Banana:

Dress in yellow. Color a banana sticker, like the Dole or Chiquita label, and attach it to their belly. Have them wear a brown hat or hood.

Marshmallow:

For this costume you will need two white pillow cases or for a larger child  white plastic garbage bags and a whole lot of either white grocery bags, white packing peanuts, or pillow filling. Cut holes for your child’s head and arms, in one bag, and feet in the other, then reinforce the holes with packing tape. Have your kid dress in black, and step into the pillow cases or bags, taping them 3/4 of the way shut at the middle with clear packing tape. Fill the space inside the cases or bags around your kid with your choice of white stuffing material until your child resembles a marshmallow shape, then tape the bags all the way closed.. Have them carry a stick, or some graham crackers.

Gummy Worm:

This easy costume requires a stretchy colored top, and leggings or stretchy pants of a different color, and some glitter or sparkly dust. Let your kid dress, then apply glitter or dust generously until your kid looks “sugary”. If you want you can use a permanent marker to draw lines horizontally over the costume to give your kid that real wormy look.

Glass of Milk:

This one takes a bit of planning. You’ll need four wire coat hangers, opened and bent into circles, a white trash bag and a clear trash bag. Cut holes in the bottom of the white trash bag, reinforce them with packing tape, and push the circle frame down into the bag. Have your kid dress all in white, step into the bottom bag, then cut a clear trash bag in half, discarding the bottom of the bag. Attach the clear bag top to the white bag using packing tape, and cut arm holes for your kid, then tape the metal frame to the top of the clear bag to make the bags look like a tube, half clear half white. Attach white suspenders or lengths of elastic to the top frame to prevent it from falling down, and slide them over your kids shoulders. Have them carry a bag of Oreo Cookies.

Pretzel Stick:

Have your kid dress in brown, then blow up up and seal little white bathroom trash bags, and attach them to your kids outfit. This costume works great if you send your husband out with the kids dressed as a beer.

Slice of Pizza:

Have your child dress in brown and cut two large triangles from a good sized cardboard box. Decorate one side of one of the triangles to look like a pizza, add bits of felt veggies, black balloon olives, and felt pepperonis. Tie the two triangles together over your kid’s shoulders, and then after he or she puts it on, tie the triangles together again at his or her waist. Leave the back triangle brown to look like crust. Give your kid a container of Parmesan Cheese.
Its really easy to make these costumes fun as a group too! Dress your kids as grapes, and the adults as bottles of wine. Or a glass of milk and a bunch of cookies. Food related costumes are easy to make, and they don’t leave your neighbors guessing as to what you are. 🙂 Perfect for a last minute or forgotten Halloween event.

Happy Costuming!

This Sunday is going to be one of the sweetest days of the year. Halloween is traditionally a time for hundreds of costumed kiddos gorging themselves on a wide array of artificially sweetened edibles, usually at the mercy of your neighbor’s Walmart budget. Very rarely does a family have the time or the energy or the inclination to offer a sugar free substitute for Halloween candy on such a ghoulish night, and no one wants to be that family who gets their house egged because they gave out toothbrushes. When you hit up your local grocery store for your candy-fixins and Halloween party favors, take a serious look at what you are purchasing. As always, read labels. Look at things like sugar content, fat grams, especially saturated fat, calories, and nutrition (vitamin) levels. Very rarely can you find a sweet treat that is available at a good price at Walmart or Target that has any vitamins in it at all.

So what can you do? You know toothpaste and toothbrushes is NOT an option, you saw what the neighborhood kids did to old Mr. Turnbuckle’s house last year, but you don’t want to feed the already unhealthy sugar addiction that is already an epidemic in our world. In order for you to go to bed on Hallow’s Eve wihtout having to remove toilet papers from your trees and egg yolk from your windows, and still have a clear conscience consider some of these alternatives to the regular every day candy assortment.

  • Throw your own Halloween Party, and skip giving out candy all together. That way you can have complete control of what is eaten and offered to your kids and their friends.
  • Give out those little 100 calorie snack packs of crackers, or chips, or give out pieces of fruit, apples or pears aren’t a bad choice.
  • Offer sugar free candies, but make sure you read the labels, or make your own sugar free cookies or muffins to give out.
  • Pop a whole bunch of popcorn, and put it in little party favor bags for the kids.
  • Stick with the pumpkin theme and roast Pumpkin Seeds for the kiddies to munch on.
  • If it is a particularly cold night, offer sugar free hot chocolate packages for them to take home with their collection.
  • If you are still at a loss and want to avoid problems, go ahead, turn off your lights, pull your pumpkins inside, and go out to dinner, and avoid the mess altogether. Make sure that there is absolutely no sign that you are home if you do decide to stay at your house. If kids, especially older kids, know that you are home and are avoiding the door bell, you will most likely have an egg related mess to clean up in the morning.

If you still can’t avoid offering candy, offer smart choices such as an assortment of the Sugar Free options by Weight Watchers, Russel Stovers, or Hersheys. Try not to give out things like jelly beans or super sticky candies like toffee, because it not only has a ridiculously high sugar content, its also bad for little teeth, braces, and retainers.

If you are sending your kids out to trick or treat this weekend, make sure they eat a healthy meal before going out so that they do not eat their candy while trick or treating. Perhaps come up with an agreement that anything that they receive will be split down the middle, and half can go to a children’s shelter, a nursing home, or another place where Halloween doesn’t come quite as easily. As always make sure they are of an appropriate age to go out by themselves, or send a chaperone with your littlest ones, and make sure that all candy is fully inspected before eating. Those horror stories about bad candy and bad people don’t come from nowhere. Be sure to give your kids flashlights and if they are wearing a dark costume, add reflective tape or light up sneakers so that they are visible to drivers.

Have a Safe, Healthy, and Smart Halloween!

Happy Cooking!

The Sweet Truth, Part 3: Living a Sugar Free Lifestyle

PLEASE SPEAK TO YOUR CHILD’S PEDIATRICIAN OR NUTRITIONIST BEFORE MAKING ANY DRASTIC CHANGES TO THEIR DIETS!

The first thing that anyone will tell you about living sugar free is that it truly is impossible. Even if you were to live on green beans and vitamins alone for the rest of your life, you would still consume sugar, be it small quantities, but still eating it all the same.

The only real way to benefit from a sugar free lifestyle is to reduce the amount of added sugar in your life. Added sugar is any kind of natural product  that has sugar added to it to make it taste better or in some cases to improve the texture. Some things by themselves, like say yogurt, or even water, are just plain gross by themselves to a large number of people. Plain yogurt can be bitter, but if you add a little bit of sweetened flavor, such as sugar and vanilla extract, the yogurt becomes much easier on the taste buds.

For kids, this is very hard to overcome, because a lot of companies understand that kids love sweets, that kids are picky, and that kids will eat things that are sweetened and not taste bland. Anything and everything made for a child’s diet is often loaded with added sugar and flavorings, especially things like breakfast cereal (HELLO, LUCKY CHARMS?)  and juices. A great representation of the juice example is Kool-Aid. Mix 2 cups of sugar, which has the same amount of calories in the two cups as an entire stack of pizzas, with water and add a little packet of coloring and flavoring. This drink is often times enhanced even more with sugar, as some kids have become so immune to the taste and effects of sugar that they need more. When I was a teen I babysat for two small children that would not even touch Kool-Aid unless it had been sweetened with three or more cups of sugar!

The direct replacement for something like Kool-Aid would be all natural apple juice, or freshly squeezed OJ or in a perfect world plain water. But the question is, how can you get from something that is almost syrup like in its sweetness to something that is going to almost be considered bitter in comparison? Your kids are going to have withdrawals, especially if you go cold turkey on them. As the body is deprived of something that it normally consumes, just like an addiction to cigarettes or nicotine, it goes into a mild form of shock. There will be mood swings, cravings, physical symptoms like chills or sweating, and lots of arguing. You can make this transition easier on you and your kids by Replacing, Reassuring, and Rewarding.

REPLACING:

 


To replace large amounts of sugar in your child’s diet, first take a look at what they eat during the average week. For lack of space and time, i’m going to focus on the quickest meal, breakfast. Because school is in session now, lets say you are providing them a breakfast of say, a Pop Tart, some grape juice, and maybe an apple or a banana. The next day you offer them cereal, perhaps Frosted Flakes, and whole milk, and on Saturdays you have the time and energy to make them a full breakfast of eggs, bacon and toaster waffles, complete with syrup. Believe it or not, the only thing in that morning diet that doesn’t automatically come from the store PACKED with sugar in the average brand are the eggs, and the fruit. (Fruit has natural, not processed sugars in it, good sugars that are broken down and cause limited spiking of blood sugar levels. )

So how do you replace the bad things? For day one, we’ll start with the Pop-Tarts. Anything filled with jelly and coated with frosting is not only going to have reached maximum energy output by the time your kids get to the bus stop, but will cause a crash right around the time their spelling test occurs at 11:00. White flour, sugar, and preservatives do nothing for your child. Swap it with a whole grain cereal, (if you need the frosting try frosted Mini-wheats) and the amount of sugar will balance with the amount of good carbs and fiber to extend the length of the blood sugar increase. The grape juice can easily be switched for a “no-added-sugar” brand, and keep the fruit.

Day 2 is a little better than day one, except you’re gonna need more whole grain cereal, or swap the Frosted Flakes for natural oatmeal. I’m not talking about the flavored bananas ‘n cream kind, just regular cooked oats, with a drizzle of honey, or a half teaspoon of Splenda on top. The oats will go alot further than the Flakes. And although whole milk does contain amounts of sugar, its not bad enough to necessitate a switch, if you feel the need to, skim milk is best.

Saturday’s meal is one of my favorites. I love pancakes, waffles, anything that fills me up. Thankfully a lot of toaster waffles and pancake mixes are offered in whole-grain and even some sugar free varieties. Ask me to lose the syrup and I’ll ask you if you want to lose your hands. But there are substitutes for that too. Try a sugar free syrup. My mom was a diabetic, I can promise you and your offspring that sugar free syrup tastes just about the same as regular syrup. Or try a fruit (with no fruit syrup) topping, like fresh blueberries, strawberries, or peaches. You’ll mix the good energy of the whole grain ‘cakes with the energy of the fruit, and your kids will be happier, healthier and more focused throughout the day.  As for the bacon, try turkey bacon, or a brand that doesn’t say maple or honey flavored, or sugar cured.

When you do your grocery shopping you will notice an explosion of a variety of brands that are offering sugar free and whole grain products. This shift from the days of processed white flour and sweeteners is a response to the obesity epidemic that plagues our nation and most of the planet.  Take your time to examine the other options available to you when yo shop, and LOOK AT LABELS. Just because a product says reduced sugar does not mean its healthier, and just because a product says its high fiber does not mean it is whole grain. Reduce the amounts of processed white flour and sugar in your shopping cart and your kids will benefit from it at home.

***You can make shopping for healthier foods a fun experience, pick a product and see if your kids can find the healthiest version of it. Say you pick up a box of oatmeal. Without making too much of a mess pick out a bunch of types of oat-meals and compare the labels. Whoever gets the least amount of calories and sugar wins, and that’s the item you you buy. This does take extra time, but if youre going to spend a Saturday at the market, might as well teach them something.***

You also have the option of replacing sugar in your cooking. Use Splenda, or if it is available to you, stevia products like PureVia or TruVia. They don’t have the same effects on blood sugar as regular sugar does, as a matter of fact, stevia has no effect on the blood sugar at all. Swap the sugar in your Kool-Aid or lemonade for Splenda, change the sugar and milk in your recipes for unsweetened apple sauce, and slowly bring your kids to an acceptable, healthy level of sugar. Your family, their teachers, and eventually even they will thank you.

REASSURE:

Teach your kids about how they are making their body healthy! Taking something away without a valid, understandable explanation causes tantrums in even small babies. “You take away my toy, I cry. You take away my toy and give me a shiny spoon, I don’t cry.” Let knowledge and REWARD (scroll down) be your shiny spoon. Ask your kid’s doc at their next appointments about why they shouldn’t eat massive amounts of sugar. Usually a doctor or nutritionist will be happy to explain to your kids how sugar can affect how they feel during the day, how they act in class, and how they sleep at night. This coming from the doc instead of just silly old Mom can be helpful, most kids have a reverence for anyone in the medical profession.

Be honest with your kids, let them make the choices in what the family eats, set good examples, and you will create good habits that will help them the rest of their lives!

REWARD:

There are days when yo are going to want to cheat. That plate of cupcakes the nice neighbor brought over is not going to sit on the counter for very long without someone giving into the urge to snack. And being realistic in the idea that one day isnt going to kill you or yor kids is GREAT! Teaching them moderation and using small amounts of sugar as a reward is a great method to encouraging healthy eating habits. But if the backsliding is too much for you to bear, take the cupcakes to a nursing home, or politely tell your neighbor thanks, but no thanks. Then promptly take your kids out for a movie. Rewarding them with fun activities for a week of sugar free will go much father than a cupcake. Plus the physical activity will go towards making them healthier and happier too.

It’s not easy, but it doesn’t have to be torture. Reducing sugar in your kids lives can be fun and ultimately rewarding. Check back tomorrow for a collection of sugar free Halloween recipes that you and your kids will LOVE!

Happy Cooking!

What kind of substitutes are there for sugar?

Sugar alternatives have flooded the worldwide market in the last forty years, some FDA approved for use in food in the US, and most not. The very first artificial sweetener was actually made from lead, and is known as lead acetate or sugar of lead. It was used by ancient civilizations like the Romans, but was obviously found to cause lead poisoning after long term consumption and humanity discarded it. Saccharin was the first safe sweetener, accidentally created in the late 1800’s, and is used today to flavor toothpaste and dietary food products. Aspartame (Sweet N Low) came along in the mid 1960’s and is used for packet sweeteners, desserts and chewing gum. It is useless when heated to high temperatures and therefore is not recommended for candy making, cooking, or baking. Sucralose (Splenda) is a chlorinated sugar that was FDA approved in 1998. It can be substituted for normal sugar in any application, but does not break down in the body, passing through the digestive system as waste.  Alternatives that are not made from sugar but are naturally created include sorbitol, xylitol, and lactitol, which are found in things like berries, but the costs outweigh the benefits of commercial production of these products and they are not widely available to the public.

Speculation of artificial sweeteners as a carcinogen has been a major topic of debate since the 1970s. There has been evidence in rats that large amounts of some compounds in artificial (synthetic) sweeteners can cause cancer, but that evidence has been denounced by both sides of the controversy, and it is believed at this time that all of the six FDA approved sugar substitutes are safe for human consumption with no ill effects.

The newest sweetener to hit the supermarket shelves in the United States is stevia. This highly controversial sweetener has been available since its discovery as a member of the sunflower family, with leaves that are sweet to the taste, and a taste that lasts longer than regular sugar. Stevia as a food additive was banned in the early 1990’s in the US, with the statement that not enough study  had been done about the health effects and toxicity of the plant, but many speculated that it was banned because of the fact that stevia does not require patenting to produce, unlike other artificial sweeteners, and that the FDA could have been pressured to ban the substance by the sweetener industry. The leaves and extracts were still available as a supplement. After many years of testing and studies, the stevia compounds that primarily contain the sweetness were linked to mutagenic properties inthe livers of male rats, but again this evidence was largely dismissed by the scientific community, because of mishandled testing and results.  The rebaudioside-A extract was approved for use as a food additive in 2008, and major soft drink companies like Pepsi and Coca-Cola have based their formulas on the use of the extract in their sodas, creating PureVia and TruVia, respectively, which can be purchased at stores nationwide.  Stevia has been used and cultivated without restriction in Japan since the 1970’s with no reported ill effects.

What about high fructose corn syrup?

High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is known as any kind of corn syrup that is processed to convert some of the glucose found naturally in the syrup to a sweeter fructose to enhance the taste. This additive can be found in an extremely wide range of products in the US from breakfast cereal to soup. There are several concentrations of HFCS, three that are commonly used in the US, with different ratios of fructose and glucose.

HFCS is much cheaper to use in large scale commercial food operations than sugar, because of the wide availability of corn here in the states, available amounts of sugar made here in the US, and the exorbitant costs of shipping and taxes on sugar from foreign countries.

HFCS is denounced by its critics because of claims that the higly processed substance is more detrimental to the human body than regular sugar, affecting weight and appetite levels, and because of the possibility that in some applications it could cause mercury poisoning. The American Medical Association calls for more research on the subject, but deemed that no comparable effect on the body was seen as compared to table sugar. High fructose corn syrup was approved as a safe food additive in 1976. There has been much debate on the subject of HFCS, and many businesses from Hunts Ketchup to mom and pop bakerys have changed their formulas to use real sugar instead of the corn based product. The Corn Refiners Association, the main advocate for HFCS petitioned the FDA to change the name of HFCS to “corn sugar” in September of 2010. The debate rages on.

Thats Part 2! We’ve covered real sugar, fake sugar, and alternatives to sugar! Check back tmro when we will go SUGAR FREE in Part 3!

You can tell as soon as Junior gets off of the bus. His class had an early Halloween party. The unmistakable glow of a 100% sugar diet emits from him like like the beam from a lighthouse, blinding…  terrifying. You scramble to prepare your house and yourself for the whirlwind that will soon occur as your son makes the 30 yard dash from the bus stop to the front door in what seems like mere seconds. The door is thrown open and your perfect angels runs in, chocolate frosting still covering some of his left cheek and screams “HI MOMMY! THE SCHOOL LET US HAVE CUPCAKES AND CANDY FOR HALLOWEEN TODAY! ISNT THAT GREAT!” You wince as his backpack is thrown at the kitchen counter, and you grab knick knacks from the shelves in the living room to prevent them from falling to the floor as his tiny feet pound down the hallway to his room like a rhinocerous. You are sympathetic to the plight of his toys as the sounds of a boy in full hyper mode come crashing through the house.

Ahhh, the effects of a sugar rush. Every kid will experience it, every mom will deal with it. I have often wondered if there could be a place where small children under the influence of a “Snickers bar diet” could be placed in large hamster wheels and the running would generate enough power to light up Baltimore. Any mom who has ever been to a place like Chuck-E-Cheese on a Saturday night knows what I’m talking about.

So this week, with the Halloween holiday quickly approaching, we’re gonna talk about sugar, the types, the nutrients involved, the effects, the substitutes, and pros and cons of things like SweetnLow, high fructose corn syrup, stevia, and other recent sweet mentionables in the news. Part 1 is the history, the making, and the effects on the body of sugar. Part 2 is alternatives to sugar, the controversy behind the different artificial sweeteners, and Part 3 will tell you how to live a lifestyle that is sugar free but still satisfying and will not cause your kids to move to Grandma’s house.

What is sugar and where did it come from?

Sugar, according to Wikipedia, is most commonly derived from sugar cane, a tall cornstalk like plant. The stalks grow in fields much like corn does, and when harvested they are boiled down to extract the juices called liquor. The liquor is heated, and processed to remove impurities, color, and contaminants, and during this time takes it crystal like shape, but since this is very time consuming most sugar manufacturers as sugar dust to speed up the process. The liquor and forming crystals are spun in a centrifuge to separate and the removed crystals are dried and packaged for sale.  The raw sugar that is processed directly from the cane without any serious refinement is brown and quite strong flavored, with an almost nutty taste and much larger crystals. White sugar is boiled and refined a number of times to remove all the color and impurities.
Sugarcane was present in India and southeast Asia dating back to the early days of civilization, because of its love for a tropical climate and lots of rain. Indians would chew on the stalks of the sugarcane plant and suck on bits of the plant for its sweet taste. During the 500’s and 600’s Indians discovered ways of processing the cane into the granules commonly known today. This new product could easily be preserved for much longer than the cane stalks and would eventually become one of the most highly sought after trade items on the planet. Buddhist monks taught the Chinese how to grow sugarcane, and they were the first people to learn many different ways to incorporate sugar into their diet.
The Arabs learned how to make sugar granules from the people in India, and they were the first to start large scale production of sugar in that form for trade and commerce. Soon there were sugar plantations and refining mills spread as far as Africa, around the 10th century. British soldiers brought the first tastes of sugar back to  Europe, where sugarcane can not be grown on a large scale, after the crusades in the Holy Lands of the Middle East, and it replaced honey as the most popular sweetener somewhere around the 12th century. Christopher Columbus would bring the first cuttings of sugar cane with him to the Americas when he discovered our lands in 1492. Raw sugar can easily be made and shipped all over the world, but white sugar is largely consumed in the country that it is made largely because it is still difficult to transport long distances in storage without spoilage of the product.

Sugar can also be made from sugar beets, a small plant that resembles a parsnip, and the processing is much easier, but the crop does not grow as quickly or spread as fast as cane does. It can be grown in colder climates, but the amounts of sugar made from an individual beet plant is much less than from a stalk.

What types of sugar are there?

Sugar is most commonly purchased in white or raw form. Raw sugar is the crystals in their purified but not extremely refined form. White sugar is also ground fine into powdered sugar, or caster sugar. Molasses is the dark thick sugar liquor that has been boiled down from the cane and purified without losing its color or strong flavor. Brown sugar should not be confused for raw sugar as it is usually white sugar that is colored and flavored with molasses.

What kind of value to the body does it have?

Sugar is, at its most basic form, a carbohydrate, or more accurately a group of carbohydrates. Sugars in their chemical compound formulas are known as sucrose, glucose, dextrose, fructose, and maltose, among other things, based on the number of chemical bonds. Sugar is found in the most basic bonds of existence, (human DNA contains deoxyribose) and is normally burned by the body to fuel energy. It is made by most plants as a form of stored energy, to keep for later use. Sugar increases the amounts of sugar in teh blood, fueling muscles and organs and allowing the body to go faster farther. However the effect of sugar is often short-lived and the crash that occurs when your blood sugar drops to normal, and often times lower, can be exhausting. This constant up and down of blood sugar causes hunger, cravings, emtional and physical symptoms as well, and can lead to serious health and mental problems if not managed. Large amounts of sugar were thought to be detrimental to the human body as a major cause of diabetes. Recent studies show that sugar by itself is not the cause of diabetes, (there are many variables including controlling the amounts of all carbohydrates that enter the body), but sugar is a major factor in obesity which is the number one cause of diabetes. Also, the human body adapts to amounts of sugar you consume, requiring more and more for energy, the more you eat it, which leads to weight gain. Consuming large amounts of sugar also leads to tooth decay and oral problems as well.

Check back tomorrow for Part 2 of The Sweet Truth, we will cover artificial sweeteners, their risks and benefits, and what the heck is STEVIA?!?

Let’s say for a moment that its just about 7:30. You’ve got thirty minutes to get yourself dressed, packed for work, makeup on, and take the kids to school. Your little one is sitting at the breakfast counter, waiting hungrily for his or her breakfast, and  there is absolutely no way you are going to be able to get a full bacon and eggs breakfast on the table in less than fifteen minutes. You hate the thought of shipping them off with a handful of cash to fend for themselves at the school cafeteria, since you know how much those sugary snack machines profit every year, but what can you do?

The simplest way to solve this problem is create an emergency meal kit. This can be a drawer, a cabinet, or even an entire minifridge dedicated to meals that your kids can make themselves. Even the most uncoordinated three year old can spread peanut butter on a piece of bread with the back of a spoon, and with some simple coaching and a “let’s make it fun” attitude, your kids can feed themselves for breakfast, lunch, or the occasional after school snack.

Stocking Your Kitchen With “Short People” In Mind:

First we will tackle the fridge. Do you really need two veggie drawers? Come on, we all know that anything that gets put in the bottom drawer gets buried under the lettuce and forgotten about until it resembles a slimy greenish brown ooze. So stop wasting your produce and give the bottom drawer and bottom door shelf to your kids. It’ll save you lots of “MOM! I can’t reach the mayonnaise! Can you get it for me?” when you are trying to apply eyeliner quickly without ending up in the ER. You can store items that need to be refrigerated, like juice boxes, pudding snack cups, and veggie dip, in the bottom drawer, and kiddie sized condiments in the shelf. Please note that Ziploc bags are your FRIEND, and come in a variety of sizes, including very small snack sizes that hold perfect portion sizes of grapes, snack foods, and cereal. If your kid can open the fridge, he or she can easily reach into the drawer, grab a healthy snack, and be on their way in no time.

Speaking of condiments, the easiest way to make things like peanut butter, jelly, mustard, and mayo easily accessible to your kids is to either buy them in, or transfer them to, a squeeze bottle. Most restaraunt supply stores and a variety of websites sell those red and yellow squeeze bottles that mom and pop restaurants use for ketchup. Fill them with your arrangement of condiments, and label each one, or see if you can find a white bottle for mayo, yellow for mustard, red for jelly, etc, if your kids cant read yet. If you have trouble squeezing peanut butter out of the container, cut the nozzle so that the hole is bigger, and it should fix the problem. Squeeze bottles also erase the problem of glass jars and breakage.

Squeeze bottles also work for milk and juice, but there are other options for that. Check out your local Walmart or Kmart, and see if you can find a jug with a spout on the bottom. These nifty jugs can be set on a low self and stick out just far enough for a child to fill his or her cup, or bowl full of cereal, without having to pull the jug out of the fridge, lessening the chance of major spillage, or leaving it out on the counter. (I know this from experience, as a child I left an entire gallon (new gallon btw) out on the counter to get very warm. Mom was NOT happy. Milk is not free.) Juice boxes and small plastic bottles of milk are also a good substitute for heavy gallon containers.

Dry products can be stored in a lower cabinet, and it is easy to add a lazy susan rack to it. Glad containers with a “portion sized” amount of cereal can easily be used as a bowl for a super easy breakfast. You can also add plastic applesauce cups, 100-calorie packs of snacks, bags of microwaveable popcorn, as well as Ziploc bags full of pretzels, baked chips, dried fruits, or nuts.

Paper or plastic plates cups bowls and even silverware can be stored in your kids “pantry” so that they can be easily available when Mom isn’t. Making the restocking of the “pantry” a habit is a great way to teach your kids how to wash, dry and organize their utensils.

Provide access to the microwave and the toaster. Teach your children an easy setting like the “Quick Minute” or “Add 30 Seconds” function to prevent burning food. Hitting the “Add 30” button repeatedly until the hotdogs are plump but not fried is much easier than constantly repeating how long a hot dog cooks. Plus it teaches your kids self-reliance, and that, if anything is our main goal today. Be sure to teach them that metal can NOT BE MICROWAVED.

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Now let’s brainstorm some simple and easy meals that your kids can make for themselves with limited supervision, or none at all. Because let’s face it, the straightener cord is long, but definitely not long enough to reach the kitchen from the bathroom, and you didn’t mean to sleep in, but you’re running late…

Meals Kids Can Handle:

Peanut Butter and Jelly.
Simply put, this delicious snack was created to save moms time and money. Its sweet, nutty, and fills kids up with the right balance of carbs, sugars, and vitamins that can keep them happy and not hyper. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches can be made super simple in a couple of ways. Keep the bread in a low drawer. Not only does this keep it accessible to little ones, but the cooler temps at the bottom of your kitchen will help it last longer. Teach your kids the importance of keeping the bag sealed, so that it doesn’t go to waste.

Hot Dogs:
Again, a staple of any household that has kids. Hot dogs are super easy, and only require a microwave, so kids can easily heat them without worrying about boiling water or a hot grill. Keep hotdogs in a resealable Ziploc bag in a lower part of the fridge or freezer depending on how quickly your family goes through them. Teach kids to poke a series of holes in them so they dont burst, and microwave til done.

Soup:
Campbells and other soup makers learned quickly that cooking soup in a separate container was inefficient, and created such items as the Soup At Hand personal serving cups. You can heat them after removing the seal, and eat right from the cup. Ramen and other noodle makers also have “Cup o Soup” which you just need to add water to and microwave. Even Chef Boyardee has gotten in on the insta-meal, with microwaveable packaging for individual portions of their pastas.

Sammiches:
Make sure the bread is accessible, teach kids how to add just the right amount of mayo and mustard, or get a box of the packets from your local restaurant supply or Costco, and add deli meats and cheeses. A simple sammich takes seconds to make, and requires no heating. This is a great thing for kids to learn EARLY.

Cheese and Crackers:
Sometimes you can buy little plastic packages with cracker sticks and processed cheese goo in them, but real cheese and crackers doesnt have to be hard. Cheese can be pre-sliced, or buy those little individual squares, or cubes, and keep them readily available, along with Triscuits, or Wheat Thins.

Tuna Fish:
Not quite as easy as other meals, but still not hard. Tuna doesn’t have to come in a can anymore, which is good, because I have yet to find a brand that makes it with a pull-tab lid. Teach your kids how to mix a pouch of fresh tune with some salt, pepper, light mayo and celery seed, and you’ll have a snack that’s great for crackers or bread in no time.

Baked Potato:
The average sized baked potato can be ready to eat in anywhere from 5-8 minutes, depending on the size of the potato and the power of your microwave. Warn your kids that they need to poke holes in the skin though, or you’ll get “burst potato” instead of baked.

Frozen Dinners:
If you’ve tried everything else with no success, or have run out of options, or food, a frozen meal can easily be microwaved. I don’t always recommend these, because kids versions of these meals are hardly healthy, but in a pinch they will work just fine. This is one habit that should be considered a LAST RESORT. Teaching your kids to make a real meal and fend for themselves will go a lot farther than zapping a meat-look alike and squishy mashed potatoes in the microwave for a minute and thirty seconds.

Your kids are not without options! Next time someone starts to whine and says “Moooooommmmm… I’m huuuuungry…” you can point them in the right direction, and teach them a lesson that may inspire their inner chef.

Happy Cooking!

Dried fruit, veggies, and meats date all the way back to the beginning of civilization, to a time where refrigerators were non-existent, and food spoilage was common and led to big problems and massive illnesses. Eventually mankind figured out that if you removed the water content from an item you extended its shelf life, and sometimes even helped to bring out its flavor and tastiness. Drying foodstuffs can be fun and easy, whether you use an oven, sunshine, or a dehydrator, and its a project that kids can help with and learn from.

Before I get into the details of this post check out the history and health benefits of drying fruits and veggies HERE.

Dried Fruits:

We’ve all passed those giant displays in the produce section of dried apricots, peaches, and candied pineapple laid out for the world to purchase and consume, but a lot of times those items are expensive, purchased by the pound, and can be flavorless and a waste of money. When you purchase and home-dry your own fruit you can save money, get more out of the fruit that you buy, and flavor the items you dry to the tastes that you would like, for a variety of uses.

You can dry pretty much any kind of fruit, from apples, pears, and blueberries, to peaches, bananas, and even oranges to extend their life, store outside of your packed freezer, or even to use as decoration and potpourri. Drying most types of fruit is very easy and can be done in a range of methods. A little patience and a little trial and error is vital to achieving the best results with your dried fruit, and the successes of your experiments can be a great healthy snack for your whole family.

Dried Veggies:

People don’t usually dehydrate veggies for snacking on, but things like sundried tomatoes, soup mixes, and bird seed/ pet food mixes can be made from dried veggies, and when its home made you don’t have to worry about things like preservatives, chemicals, or additives. Veggies that are dried and sealed in a vacuum packed package can be stored for months after your garden has shriveled up and died, and that bumper crop of onions, carrots, or even cucumbers doesn’t have to go to waste when you run out of canning jars or space. When re-hydrated, dried veggies can taste just as good as the originals, and can be used in almost the same ratios as fresh veggies in recipes, but with a little more liquid necessary.

Dried Meats:

Since the days of our ancient ancestors mankind has found ways to preserve meats and poultry items for longer use and to get the most out of any hunting bounty. The Native Americans used every single scrap of any animal that was killed, nothing was wasted, and what couldn’t be eaten immediately was often salt cured and hung to dry in the Wild West sunshine. Dried meat is usually referred to as jerky, and can be quite tasty and satisfying as a snack after or before a long hard day. Its flavors can be adjusted using any marinade, and even fatty cuts or meat that aren’t usually appreciated can be turned into good jerky.

How To Oven Dry Fruits and Veggies:

You Will Need:
Any kind of fresh vegetable or fruit that appeals to you
An oven set to a low temp (125-250*F) and that can be used for an extended period of time
Spices or flavorings
Simple Syrup (to bring out the flavor of dried fruit)
Wax Paper/Parchment Paper

For this example I’m going to use a pretty standard fruit, the apple. Apples dry quickly, have a great buttery texture when dried correctly, and are usually the most common dried item, (hello? Apple chips? YUM.)

First thing you need to do is wash and peel, or don’t peel, your apples. You can have your kids do this while you make the simple syrup. Combine equal parts sugar and water and heat over high heat until boiling and all the sugar has dissolved. After a few minutes the liquid will boil down to a light syrupy consistency.

Grab a sharp knife, (don’t let your kids slice unless of appropriate age levels), and slice your apples into thin slices, no more than 1/8 of an inch thick. The idea here is consistency, fruit of uniform sizes will dry all at the same time, where as different sized chunks will dry at different rates, and take up more time. After you have sliced your apples dunk each slice in the boiling syrup and lay out on the paper lined cookie sheet.

When your cookie sheet is full of slices you can add your spices and seasonings of choice, then place the sheet in the oven and get ready to wait. It can take from 1 hour to 6 hours to oven dry different kinds of fruits and veggies depending on moistures levels inside and outside the fruit, the efficiency of your oven, and how big your slices are. Check your slices often, and rotate the pan in the oven as well, to prevent scorching from varied heat levels. If you are drying things like grapes or berries, spread them out in a single layer, trying not to let any of them touch.

When your apples start to dry check on them more often, they can go from slightly browned and yummy to burnt and gross in a heartbeat if you don’t pay attention, so this is not a “set it and forget it” activity. After your fruit slices are dry quickly remove them from the parchment paper while they are still warm, because they might stick if left to cool on the paper.

How To Dehydrate Fruits and Veggies

You Will Need:
Everything from the above lesson, except the oven
A simple food dehydrator, these can be found inexpensively online or even at garage sales, a lot of people get blessed with these as gifts, use them once and then never again.

Repeat all the steps from above about washing, slicing and prepping your fruits and veggies. Instead of a cookie sheet, remove the dehydrators drying racks and fill them with the produce you are drying. Turn on the unit and set it to the desired levels you need, it usually has an indicator for drying speed, or the type of items you are drying. Dehydrators can take longer than ovens because the heat is much lower, but there is minimal burning risk, and you don’t usually have to check on your produce as much.

Here is a great recipe for a Dried Fruit Salad from Allrecipes.com

For an all natural experience try this method for sun-drying tomatoes from Ghorganics. They also sell great seeds for your home garden!

How to Make Jerky:

My mom used to have Jerky Weeks, where a good cut of meat would go on sale, she’d buy a whole bunch and we would wonder what to do with it all. 🙂 If the sale corresponded with a camping or Boy Scouting venture for my brother, or sometimes if mom got the craving for it, we would make jerky. Our house smelled like yummy spicy drying meat for seven or more days at a time, and the memories of helping her and tasting the different marinades we used are something that I hold near and dear to my heart.

You Will Need:
A cut of beef, ask your butcher what he would recommend, but most any cut works, even cheap ones
A very sharp knife
A marinade of some sort (homemade or bottled, doesn’t matter)
Meat tenderizer, or a large mallet
A dehydrator

First step is prepping your meat for drying. Remove as much external fat and gristle as you can, pound the cut as much as you can to break up connective tissue, and then you can marinate in one of two ways. 1) You can place the entire chunk of beef in a Ziploc bag full of sauce and let it sit for 24 hours, or 2) you can cut up the meat and then let it soak. I’ve found that slicing and soaking makes the meat more tender, especially if you use a powdered meat tenderizer in your marinade, and can take less time for more flavor, but its really up to personal preference. Try it both ways.

When you slice your meat make very thin strips, usually 1/8″ thick or a little thicker. A sharp knife is necessary for this, not only for safety, but for uniform slices, which as I described in the fruit and veggie part, is critical for timing levels. Plus you wont tear up your meat and get nice looking slices if you use a very sharp knife.  If you are still worried about this step, ask your butcher to slice the meat for you at your supermarket.

After your meat has been marinated and sliced arrange your slices on the dehydrator racks and turn on the unit. Meat takes longer than veggies or fruit to dry, but it is soooo worth it. Check on your meat every hour for the first four to six hours, then every half hour until you get the jerky dryness that you prefer. Some people like a little bit of flex and chew to their meat and let it dry for a minimum of time, some people, like me and my family, like their jerky almost crispy, and I’ve had meat dry for 24-36 hours or so just to get it to that level.

Jerky is fun because you can use any kind of marinade you would like, from a simple orange or grapefruit juice infusion, to a big bottle of barbecue or teriyaki sauce, or something like a Lawry’s marinade. Try out flavors on your kid, before you add it to the meat of course, and see what they like and don’t like. I’ve even used maple syrup as a flavor choice, it was delicious and helped the meat to crisp up nicely.

Here is a recipe for Oven Dried Jerky from Sara @ Allrecipes.com.

Storing Your Dried Items

Anything that has a secure seal is okay for short term storage, but a vacuum sealer is ideal for long term (think 6 mo to a year) storage. Glass jars completely filled with the dried stuff isnt too bad either. If you’re in a pinch, a sandwich baggie filled with the dried item, and then squeezed to remove the air works great, especially if you stick it into another plastic baggie and squeeze that too. You can stick them in a dark dry location to keep for months, even a year.

Well there you go, a whole bunch of methods to prepare and dry fresh fruit, meat and veg. Experimentation is key for this kind of thing, so don’t worry if your first batch doesn’t turn out great.  Keep trying until you find a method you and your kids like. There are a variety of books and recipes all over the internet and all over the world for different histories and lessons about drying foods, or hit up YouTube for a quick tutorial video. 🙂

Happy Cooking!

Its been proven by just about every kid out there, chicken nuggets are a huge favorite to anyone who has teeth. Even the pickiest eater usually has an affinity for the breaded, baked or fried snack. They go with anything, from corn on the cob to mashed potatoes, and the high levels of protein and good amounts of nutrition that come in the neat and easily edible package make them a quick and easy meal choice that moms everywhere can benefit from. From Tyson to McDonalds, nearly every major food preparation service makes some kind of chicken nugget. Lets take a look at where the chicken nugget came from, and then some recipes on how to make your own!

The History of the Chicken Nugget:

The chicken nugget was created at Cornell University, by Robert C. Baker, in the 1950’s. He oringinally published the creation as a medical journal entry, and his processes for the creation of the nugget allowed the chicken nugget to be made in any shape possible. McDonalds started selling their version of the chicken nugget in 1980, a Tyson chicken product that came in a 5 nugget package. Info culled from Wikipedia.

How are They Made?

Chicken nuggets can be created in a variety of ways, but the most common way is to blend different cuts of chicken, mince it into a paste, then press it into nugget form, and bread the nuggets with a variety of ingredient, usually containing flour, spices, and sometimes even corn meal. The product is then flash frozen and sealed into bags with other nuggets, shipped to sellers, than purchased by moms like us or restaurants, and are either deep fried or baked til golden and crunchy.

For a slightly derogatory video featuring Jamie Oliver and how chicken nuggets are made you can click HERE.

Who makes the best nuggets?

McDonald’s had a shaky history with nugget quality, but a lawsuit by a bunch of overweight kids in 2003 inspired them to revamp their recipe. Now their tasty little $1 menu delights are made of 100% white meat. Lets take a look at some of the store bought nuggets with a quick rundown of brands, quality ratings, nutrition content, and availability.

Tyson:
100% White meat chicken, can be a bit dry and lacks some of the flavor that dark/white combo chicken nuggets have, not too greasy, generally appealing to picky kids. Contains fewer preservative, stabilizers and chemicals than the average chicken nugget, but costs more obviously, per nugget.

Banquet: Made by the classic frozen dinner manufacturer, these nuggets contain both white and dark meat, and are greasier and less “pretty” than the Tyson nuggets. They do have slightly better nutritional value, but when you balance that with additives contained in the Banquet brand it comes out pretty even.

Perdue Farms: Made for such brands such as Great Value, from Walmart, Perdue nuggets are comparable to Tyson, though not as high quality. Flavor is about the same, and they do not claim to contain 100% white meat.

Chicken Nugget Alternatives?

Morningstar Farms and Boca Burger both make chicken nugget-like alternatives made from primarily soybeans and vegetable matter. I’ve never tried them personally, but based on reports from a variety of sources the flavor and texture just can’t be compared to the real thing. McDonalds even tried to offer a GardenNugget in their menu as an alternative to the chicken nuggets, but it wasnt considered popular and the product was pulled.

Variations of the Nugget?

Chicken strips are not to be confused with chicken nuggets. Chicken strips are usually white meat, pure and unadulterated portions of breast meat that are breaded and deep fried and do not require “mechanical separation” like regular processed nuggets.

Chicken fingers can be interchanged with strips, but sometimes can be made of ground up white meat, with no skin or bones included.

Boneless wings are not the same as nuggets. Usually made up of smaller chunks of white meat and sometimes marinated before breading.

Recipes for Home Made Chicken NuggetsChicken Nuggets
Baked Chicken Nuggets
Tofu Nuggets
Paula Deen’s Chicken Nuggets
Easy Shake N Bake Nuggets

Experiment at home with your kids, let them discover the joy of seasoning and prepping their favorite food. 🙂

Happy Cooking!

Kids are pretty easy to please when it comes to hotdogs and hamburgers. A little meat, right off the grill, with some cheese or ketchup can go a long way at a family picnic, a BBQ, or even a tailgating function. But there are more ways to add health to your burgers without taking away taste, fun, or texture.

Beef Burgers

To spice up your beef burgers you can use a variety of spices and flavorings, everything from smoke additive to cinnamon to kick up the “yummy” for your kids and their burgers. Don’t forget a healthy selection of fresh veggies, sauces like mustard, mayo, BBQ, honey, and of course ketchup. You can also add cheese, a fried egg, bacon, ham slices, sauteed onions and mushrooms, peppers, anything you can think of to a burger. Remember that more condiments often adds to the fat and calorie levels of a meal. Better to stick with veggies and when you hit up the grocery store for your ground beef take a good look at the fat content of the meat that you buy. There are several different grades, from hamburger to prime sirloin, and nutrition/fat/price varies from type to type. Here is a quick rundown of the meat available in most supermarkets.

Turkey Burgers

Ground turkey has a lot of the texture and taste that ground beef can offer, without the high fat content, the large amount of cholesterol, and more nutrients than a big hunk of beef. Ground turkey can also be flavored with the same items that ground beef can, you can easily add garlic, onions, french onion soup mix, ketchup, parmesan, anything that you can add to a beef burger, with all of the same taste. It’s often a good idea to add an egg to your ground turkey so it sticks together on the grill because of the low fat content, but ground turkey takes even less time to cook than beef. Ground turkey is also easy to add to taco meat, meatloaf and any other recipe requiring ground beef.

Veggie Burgers (Store Bought)

Veggie burgers have come a long way since the flavorless patties that were inspired in the 70’s and 80’s. Brands like Boca Burger, Amy’s Garden, Gardenburger and Morningstar Farms make a lot of different types of burgers, made with beans, soy and other vegetables that offer you all the health benefits of a meatless diets without the lack of flavor. A lot of these companies also offer an organic version, and have yummy flavors like onion, mushroom, and cheese. You can grill, bake, broil, and even microwave some of these burgers and they still have a lot of the same meaty texture that you look for in a burger with none of the cholesterol and health risks of meat.

Tofu Burgers

Burgers made of tofu can be just as tasty and delicious as burgers made of beef, as long as you use fresh, good quality tofu, the right seasonings, and know just how to prepare and cook it. Tofu can  be a bit deceiving with its interesting texture and its ability to absorb any flavor you add to it, but with a little practice and some experience, you can do just about anything with tofu that you can with any other kind of meat. For a great tofu burger recipe that your kids will approve of visit HERE. In my experience, unless your children are very young and haven’t seen or heard any of the kid stigma surrounding tofu, its better to tell them that it’s chicken burgers, but experimenting with tofu at an early age is great for your kids as they will grow up with an advantage over kids who have never tried it and still hate it.

If you have a blender, some fruit, some ice, and maybe a little bit of milk, you have a smoothie in the making. Smoothies are tasty, nutritious, easy to make, and can be a lot of fun as you experiment with different combinations, textures and flavors.  Make a big batch of the recipe of your choice, and freeze it as a yummy sorbet for later use, or send it to school frozen in a 3/4 filled plastic bottle, (you don’t want to fill it all the way when you freeze it because it will expand and burst the bottle.) Smoothies can keep for up to two weeks in the freezer, any longer than that and they start to lose their flavor and with the milk in there you don’t want to risk spoilage.Here’s a couple of quick and easy recipes with a minimum of ingredients that you and your kids can put together in very little time.

Peanut Butter Banana Smoothie

You Will Need:
1 ripe banana cut into pieces
1-1/2 cups of ice
1 cup plain/banana/vanilla yogurt
1-1/2 tablespoons peanut butter (chunky or creamy)

Add the ice, peanut butter and yogurt to you blender, blend on high speed until smooth. If the mixture is too dry add milk until it blends smooth. Add your banana and blend until completely mixed. Pour into a chilled tall glass, garnish with chocolate sprinkles or ‘Nilla wafers. Enjoy!

Berrylicious Boost

You Will Need:
1-1/2 cups frozen berries
1 cup orange juice
1/2 cup ice

Blend all ingredients in blender on high until smooth. This recipe gives your immune system a great kickstart with the vitamin c of the orange juice and the antioxidants of the berries. It’s great in the early morning when you are all running out the door, or when that 2:30 dragging feeling creeps up after the ride home from school. It’s also a great treat after a Saturday soccer game or a tasty treat to make for dessert.

Tropical Treat

You Will Need:
1/2 cup crushed pineapple
1/2 cup coconut milk
1 cup ice
1/2 cup mandarin oranges

Blend all ingredients til smooth, add chaise lounge, Jimmy Buffett, crazy straw and tiny umbrella for instant karma fix.

Strawberry Dream

You Will Need:
1 cup fresh strawberries
1/2 cup skim milk (or for a thicker treat heavy cream)
1 tablespoon Splenda or 2 tablespoons strawberry syrup
1 cup ice
Fat Free Reddi-whip

Blend all ingredients except Reddi-Whip until smooth, layer whipped cream and smoothie in a frozen glass, top with whipped cream and a strawberry for garnish.

Fruit Punch

You Will Need:
1/2 cup ice
1 can cocktail fruit
1/2 cup Cranberry juice

Blend all ingredients for a tart and refreshing smoothie that is great at the end of a long day and can easily be adapted for those who may not like cranberry juice, try regular fruit punch, Hawaiian punch, orange juice, apple juice, or anything that you’d like.

Frozen Lemonade

You Will Need:
1/2 cup of ice
1 large Meyer lemon, peeled, seeds removed, and segmented or 1/2 cup lemon juice
1 tablespoon Splenda

Blend all ingredients until smooth. The Meyer lemon is sweet and the pulp of the lemon gives this smoothie great texture and nutrient quality.

All of these recipes can be adapted according to tastes, allergies, and amounts. They are easily doubled or tripled for lots of kids, and most of the ingredients are easily obtainable at your local grocery store. Some quick and easy substitutions can enhance the nutrient value, such as Splenda for sugar, skim milk for whole, OJ with calcium or pulp instead of concentrated, frozen juice cubes instead of ice. Try adding flax seed or a vitamin packet for extra health benefits, or make the smoothies with a Boost or Slim Fast drink instead of milk for extra protein and more energy value for a meal replacement.

If you’re looking for a different tried and true smoothie recipe you can of course search the ‘Net, or there are several books available that are dedicated to the art of smoothie making since its inception as a great diet enabler. Here are a few links to check out in your search

Recipes:

Kids Simple Smoothie Recipes
Healthy Snacks for Kids: Smoothies
Basic Healthy Smoothie Recipe
Homemade Juices and Smoothies

Books:

Cool Smoothies Juices and Cocktails
Super-Charged Smoothies
Smoothies!

Happy Cooking!