Archive for February, 2011

Protecting our kids from harm is a mother’s biggest responsibilty, be it from strangers, physical harm, or even chemicals and preservatives in our food. Thankfully there are some ways we can cut back on the amount of harmful substances that enter into our bodies, and “going organic” is an easy and “green” way to do it.

How do you know its organic? What are the standards?
Supporting organic farms and growers is easy to do, whether you have access to a farmer’s market or a large supermarket. Look for product labeled “organic”, “100% organic”, and for even more brand confidence look for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) seal. Simply “organic” products are those grown, raised, prepared and processed with at least 95% organic ingredients or processes, and the remaining ingredients must be on the approved USDA National List. “100% organic” products are created. raised, processed and prepared with only organic incgredients, with no additions of any kind. Both of these types of products must not be produced using excluded methods, sewage sludge, or ionizing radiation. Products labeled, “Made with organic ingredients” must contain at least 70% organic ingredients, can include up to three types of ingredients that are certified organic, and can include the markings of the certifying agency, but can not be labeled with the USDA seal anywhere on the packaging.

What does organic mean?
Organic products do not contain any chemicals, substances or preservatives that are considered unhealthy by the USDA. Chicken that is labeled organic is most likely free range (not caged) chickens that are fed with pure and natural feed that do not include any growth hormones, fattening agents, or antibiotics. Veggies that are labeled organic are grown with no pesticides or chemicals, and are processed using methods that do not require these products either.

What are the farmer standards?

The USDA requires all growing organizations to be certified after a vigorous inspection of their farming procedures by and accrediting USDA agent. Farms and ranches that make more than a $5,000 profit on the items that they sell must be certified by the USDA to use organic labeling.

Why go organic?

Foods that are organic taste better, are better for you, and even make you healthier! Organically grown vegetables have been scientifically proven to have larger amounts of antioxidants, and obviously lower amounts of harsh substances and cancer causing compounds. Lands that use only organic fertilizers are more healthy than those poisoned by chemicals and phosphates, and this helps to protect the waters and ecosystems around the farm as well. And any food that is raised with only compost, sunshine and clean water is definitely going to more yummy than a food that is loaded with chemicals, fillers, and byproducts. Foods that do not contains these harmful substances do not pose the same risks to pregnant women, infants, and young children that chemically processed foods do. You are protecting not only your immediate family, but the next generation as well.

Organic Recipes

There are a host of websites promoting the green movement and organic foods. Check out sites like  Organic.com for games and recipes that your little ones will enjoy. Or try Horizon Dairy for great tasting meals and snacks all made with your child in mind. And try Babyzone for organic goodies for your toddler.

But what about plastics?

There are a lot of chemicals and harmful substances used in making everything from baby toys to the dishes and silverware we use to eat on. One of these in Bisphenol-A, or BPA, which can leach into the foods we eat and the water and juices we drink from the plastic packaging used to display it. To avoid such contamintants, only buy plasticware, plates, forks, spoons, leftover containers and baby bottles that are marked BPA-Free, or pthalate-free. Don’t heat plastic items in the microwave, and don’t wrap your leftovers in cling wrap.If you aren’t sure whether or not your plastic items are free of Bisphenol-A, (BPA) look for the #7 stamped into the container.

These rules are easy to follow and will help you keep your family and future generations safer and healthier.

It’s hard for some families to agree on a meal plan, especially when there are a lot of mouths to feed and not everyone enjoys the same items, and finding ways to inspire everyone and stay out of the same old routine can be hard. One way to help your children broaden their horizons and learn more about the world that they live in is to start early with introducing foods from a variety of nationalities. More than just eating Chinese takeout or Taco Bell, kids need to learn where and how these recipes developed and how fun and tasty they can be. An easy and rewarding way to do that is to add an “ethnic food night” to your weekly meal rotation.

Write a different country on slips of paper and put them in a jar. On a specific morning every week remove a slip of paper from the jar and plan a meal for your family utilizing customs and traditions from that country. By using the jar method you reduce the number of arguments over choosing a country, and your kids will be excited about the anticipation of a random choice every week. If you own a globe or have a large map of the world you can also blindfold a member of the family and have them spin around and point to the country of choice.

So for example, lets say that you pull Sweden from the jar on a Friday morning. For dinner that night you could quickly and easily whip up some Swedish Meatballs, with a warm loaf of Limpu Bread, a customary treat loved by the Swedes. If you want to experiment a bit with dessert you can try Semlor, which are cream filled buns alot like cream puffs.

On a night when Mexican is the choice you can try making a seafood Ceviche, or yummy Enchiladas con Arroz y Negros, translated as enchiladas with black beans and rice. Play it up, have your kids dress up in sombreros or do a Mexican Hat Dance. On Italian night you can make a refreshing Tomato Salad, using fresh basil and buffalo mozzarella, or make your own quick and easy No Rise  Pizza Dough and let your kids choose from a variety of toppings. Have your kids make funny paper mustaches and speak only in silly Italian accents.

If you have the time and the resources you could really go wild with the theme, choose a country on Saturday and create three different meals around the theme. Imagine a tasty Greek Omelet stuffed with feta and spinach for breakfast Monday, tasty Gyros for lunch on Thursday, and Lamb Kabobs for dinner on Saturday! This is great for home schooled kids and stay at home Moms.

The more your children learn about a wider range of cultures the more accepting they will be in the future when they have to deal with issues like racism, religion, and tolerance and acceptance in their daily lives. You might also inspire the travel bug. If you have time, get books from the library about each different culture and begin or end the night with a short lesson on the location of choice, what the people are like, what they do for fun. Make it relevant for your kids. If you want to expand more on a subject use one of several pen-pal type websites like Kid’s Space Connection or ask your child’s teacher for information about getting signed up with a safe and reliable pen pal program for kids from a far away land.

Just in case you find that one of your family members does not like a certain dish, and you don’t want them to go hungry or feel left out, create a safe meal. Have a variety of frozen dinners, or something familiar, like Peanut Butter and Jelly or microwaveable Pizza Rolls set aside for people not thrilled with the ethnic meal. Be sure to let your kids know that if they choose not to eat what is prepared that they are more than welcome to prepare their own simple meal, but that they must at least make an attempt to try each dish before they go that route. Most kids will give in when faced with the task of preparing their own food, and remind them that it usually takes between 5 and 10 different attempts before they actually like a food.

***********************************************************************

As usual, a journal of the events, maybe even including camera snap shots of your kids in costume, is a great idea. This activity is bound to be fun for the whole family, and the ability to look back on the memories will be cherished in the years to come. Happy Cooking!

Moms have a lot to worry about when it comes to nutrients and food for their babies. Scares about formula and tainted jarred food have become more and more common globally and even here in the US, but there are a lot of step that Moms can take to make sure that their little ones stay safe.

1: Before you buy any type of baby food ensure that the expiration date and seal on the jar is good. When you look at the jarred kind you can usually press down on the lid and if you hear or feel a popping sound pass on that jar. For the plastic containers squeeze the container, if one of them has a lot more or a lot less “give” than any of the others on the shelf it’s probably not been sealed correctly. High pressure containers usually mean spoilage and gases building up.

2: Check the color of the food. Usually the shelves are full with plenty of choices, so pick up two or three. Are they all the same color? Does one stand out more than the other? Do you see anything that makes you think mold, or bacteria?

3: Make sure that once your baby food has been opened it stays safe. You can keep baby food in its original container for up to 48 hours in the fridge. Any more than that and you risk the sugars breaking down even more and going bad. You can freeze baby food for up to three months, but remember once you defrost it, that is it, you can’t refreeze it.

4: Make sure formula that is prepared is fresh and stays that way. Quickly refrigerate any un-finished bottles, and make sure to sanitize your bottles and nipples. Take them completely apart and give them a boiling water bath, or run them through the hottest cycle in your dishwasher. Bottles that are half-eaten need to be tossed within 6 hours. Formula spoils quickly.

One of the best ways I find to escape the scares of processed baby food is to make your own. My son Spencer is 4-1/2 months old and we just recently got clearance from his pediatrician to start stage 1 foods, so after an unimpressive trip down the baby food aisle I made a beeline for the produce section and decided to make my own.


 HOMEMADE BABY FOOD
  

Raw You Will Need:
   1 large Apple
   1 ripe Banana
   1 ripe or barely ripe Pear
   1 handful of Green Beans
   1 large Carrot
   Baby formula and water to add additional nutrients and thin baby food consistency.

To prepare your veggies you have a couple of decisions to make. For fruits like apples and pears peeling the skin is best, because that skin is very hard to digest and will be tough on baby’s tummy. Carrots aren’t so bad, but you can still peel them if you prefer. Green beans you can go both ways and bananas you always peel. As always, thoroughly wash your fruits and veggies and make sure there are no bruises, damaged spots, or nicks or cuts to the skin.

I’ll start with the bananas because that is by far the easiest to make. Peel your banana, cut it into thumbnail size chunks, and put the whole thing into a blender or small food processor. The blender I got from Williams Sonoma  gives the best consistency to my baby food, and it’s really easy to make small batches. My food processor blends just as well but I find that a lot of the baby food gets sprayed everywhere and I lose a lot scraping it out. Anyway, after you puree the bananas you can add a teaspoon of formula to the mix for thicker consistency or add water and formula to thin it, depending on your baby’s tastes. The formula adds nutrients and helps to ease gas when first starting new foods.

Next up is your more solid fruits and veggies. We’ll use the apple as the model. Chopped

-Peel and slice your apple into uniform chunks, being careful to remove any seeds and debris.  (In the picture I left the peel on so you could tell the difference from the pears, but after I steamed the fruits soft the skins came right off.)
You can just puree a raw apple, but usually you end up with a cranky gassy baby and a whole lot of diaper rash. Softening them is quick and easy, and is especially beneficial to a younger baby.

-After the apples are soft, blend them right up, add a little formula or water to desired thickness.

Boil or steam your apples so that they are soft to the touch and slightly browned. This breaks down some of the harsher sugar bonds in the fruit structure that causes gas and fussiness.

-Repeat this process for the pears, carrots, and green beans.

After you’ve processed your foods you need to figure out a way to store them. Ziploc or Glad containers work great, especially the smaller ones, but I find that ice cube trays really are the way to go. You can freeze what you’ve made, transfer the cubes to a plastic bag, pop out enough for a meal, microwave it on medium until warm and then stick everything else back in the freezer. Williams Sonoma also offers these neat little serving size trays for baby food made by Beaba. You can check them out HERE. 

Ready to FreezeUnfortunately I have an ice maker in my fridge, and “someone” had tossed all of my ice cube trays. I made enough food for just one or two servings for Spence, so little Glad storage containers work, but long term use definitely requires ice cube trays. Here’s what the processed stuff looks like, and I’ll tell you what, it SMELLS a whole lot better than some of the jarred kind.

Clockwise: Green Beans, Pears, Carrots, Bananas. (*Note: The bananas, carrots and pears had already frozen by the time I finished the green beans, and I forgot to take a picture of the apples. I  LOVE my high-efficiency freezer. They are a lot smoother when defrosted.)

The last step in making the baby food is presenting it to your baby. There are a few recommended way to go about doing this, but the normal baby will usually be ready to start trying more solid foods around 4-6 months of age. Yes, there are “Councils” out there that say don’t give your baby anything but formula until he/she is six months of age, which I don’t disagree with, but as always; ASK YOUR PEDIATRICIAN


If you get the go ahead to try solids, use the 4-day system
. Start baby out with a spoonful or two of one type of food that is slightly warmed. There are a variety of different baby spoons available and a lot of them have a very nifty coating that changes colors when the temperature of the food is too hot. Of course a small spoon is just fine to use, but baby spoons are usually coated with soft silicone or rubber to be easy to feed with.


Babies that are very young do not “know” how to eat from a spoon, and this takes practice. In the beginning gently pressing the tip of the spoon to the lower lip will get baby to open his or her mouth, but there WILL be mess. I recommend a bib and a whole bunch of paper towels until baby can recognize “ok, here comes the spoon, I gotta open my mouth and swallow”. For Spence I started with green beans, because I don’t want him to get used to sweet fruits without trying and enjoying other stuff. Tastes in young babies change all the time, so try whatever you are comfortable with.


During the first serving, see how they like it.
Most of the time you will get the “scrunched up face”, because baby does not recognize the taste and different texture. This is where adding formula to the mixture helps, because it is recognizable to baby, and more comforting. Keep trying the food for four days, and watch your baby closely for allergy symptoms like redness, swelling, hives, or extreme fussiness.


After the four days are up, with no symptoms or problems, try a different food
. Make sure that baby gets a lot of different tastes and textures, it will help you in the long run with picky eating, and you will get a feel very early on for what baby does and does not like. After a few different types have been tried you can blend different foods, try adding sweet potatoes or another common type of baby food, and experiment a little bit. As always, keep your pediatrician updated on your progress, or keep a little journal, to track possible allergies, when you started a new food, babies’ reaction to new foods, whether or not tummy could handle it, and how you made them.

My Little Chef
Little Chef

It has been reported by the National Center for Health Statistics that 1 in 4 children will face a food allergy sometime in their life. While it may seem scary at first, allergies are very common, especially in younger children as their immune system develops, and most children will grow out of them before they reach age five. There are several types of foods that spark an allergic reaction in children, today we will go over a list of these foods, recognizing the wide range of symptoms that are accompanied by eating these foods, and what you can do to protect your little one in the case of a reaction.

Common Food Allergies
Allergic reactions are caused when your body comes into contact with a substance that it cannot tolerate and it produces an immunoglobulin antigen to the substance. The immunoglobulin antigen binds to the food, and then the  body’s histamines and other chemical reactions take over, causing the itching, sneezing, swelling, rash and redness that are common symptoms of food allergies. Food allergies are different from food intolerance, like lactose intolerance, because in the cases of intolerance the histamine reaction is not produced.

Several types of foods can cause allergies in young children. Here are a list of the most common:

  • Cows Milk
  • Peanuts
  • Soy
  • Wheat
  • Tree Nuts (walnuts, pecans, cashews)
  • Shellfish (shrimp, lobster)
    Allergies can also be caused by other foods such as vegetables, meats, legumes and seeds, but these are less common and usually less severe. The common allergens offer less of a chance for outgrowth by your child, but can be easily maintained by avoiding the food item, and having an antidote ready in case of contact. Reactions to perservatives and chemicals added to foods can be mistaken for allergies, but actually being allergic to a specific type of chemical is very rare.

Some of the symtpoms that may occur when your child is exposed to a food that they are allergic to are:

  • Redness of the skin
  • Itching
  • Swelling
  • Excema type rash
  • Hives
  • Bloating
  • Difficulty Breathing
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach Upset
  • Loss of conciousness

Although some of these symptoms may seem pretty bad, the most extreme cases are rare, and if you keep an eye on what your child is exposed to you should have a pretty good idea of a problem before anything serious happens. As always, consult your pediatrician if you have any concerns about foods that your child consumes, and make sure that any issues you may have are followed up on. There are a series of tests that your doctor can perform to diagnose any allergies that your child may have, including shots, topical application, and even just munching on a possible allergen. It is recommended that you keep a food journal to track your childs exposure to different foods and possbile reactions.

When an allergic reaction does occur the first thing to remember is to nnot panic. It could be possible that your kid comes home from school or daycare swollen like a water balloon, and itching uncontrollably, but you have to keep it together for their sake. If your child has already been diagnosed and your doctor has prescribed you a medication to suppress the histamine reaction, administer the dose immediately, and keep an eye on your kid for a return of the symptoms. If the medication does not work, or you feel the symptoms are too severe, like difficulty breathing, take your child to the closest emergency room, where they can administer a series of shots to stop the reaction and combat the symptoms. A very serious allergic reaction is known as anaphylaxis, and requires emergency medical assistance.

Now you might be feeling that Mommy urge to put your child in a bubble, and never let him eat anything except water and crackers. While this may work in some third world countries, it isnt healthy or appropriate for your child. Exposure to a wide range of foods is healthy and normal, and most allergies dissappear by the time they reach kindergarten. Kids that eat a wide variety of different foods and easily try new things learn to adapt better as adults and are generally healthier.  Avoiding foods that are possibly dangerous to your child isnt always easy, but there are some steps you can take to help:

  • Talk to your child about the certain foods and explain why he or she can’t have them. Most kids will avoid anything that chronically makes them feel bad, and teaching them about all of the different allergens that they might be exposed to is a good way to make them more aware of what they put in their mouth.
  • Let your child’s teachers, daycare staff, and school nurses know about the allergies. That way if anything happens and you are not around they will have a good idea of what to do in the event of a reaction.
  • Try not to have the items in your pantry. Its tough when your husband or other kids love peanut butter, but your baby feels left out because of an allergy. There are a lot of substitutions you can make for certain foods, so experiment and see what everyone can compromise on.
  • Teach everyone in your house, immediate family, and anyone who your child may come into contact with, like play groups, friends houses and church groups, what to do in case of an exposure. Make sure they are aware of what your child can and cannot have, and give them the name and number of a doctor to call in case something happens.

Dealing with allergies is tough, but if everyone works together it can be alot easier than battling it alone. Encourage your child to eat right and try a little of everything, and don’t be afraid to try new things.

Mornings are tough on any family, especially when it’s the beginning of the school year and routines are still hard to settle into. Finding the time to make a healthy and delicious snack that you know your kids will love is almost as hard as finding the socks that your dryer eats. Thankfully, most kids not only love, but beg for cereal in the morning, and there are hundreds of quick and easy ways to make great snacks and even full meals using just a few handfuls of your favorite morning munchable.

Cheerios of any variety and Cinnamon Toast Crunch has been a staple in my house for years. Something about the wholesome goodness of those little O’s and the sweet warm crunch of the cinnamon squares just makes every day a little brighter. These next two recipes will inspire you to go far beyond the traditional bowl, milk and spoon, with plenty of  tweaks to customize for picky eaters and allergens.


Cinnamon Nut Crunch
French Toast

This recipe is perfect, and because it take just 10 minutes to bake, you can be up, fed and out the door in no time. The sweetness and texture of the cereal and nuts over the soft warmth of the whole grain bread soaked in egg is just incredible in the morning, and I’ve never met a kid who didn’t like French toast. This recipe makes enough to serve 3 people but can easily be doubled or tripled.

You Will Need:
3 eggs
¼ cup of milk
½ tsp ground cinnamon
5 or 6 slices of whole grain bread
1-3/4 cup of Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal
1/4 cup of sliced almonds

Heat oven to 450*. Beat eggs, cinnamon, and milk together in a shallow bowl. Pour the  cereal and sliced almonds into a small Ziploc bag and crush gently, a fun task for the youngest in your family.

Coat both sides of the bread in the egg mixture and then press the cereal mixture into the bread. Lightly grease a cookie sheet and line up the slices of bread on the sheet. Bake the French toast in the oven for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the cereal and bread is golden brown.  Serve as you would regular French Toast with syrup or honey and butter.

ALLERGIES: WHEAT, ALMONDS, EGGS, MILK, CINNAMON

Some pretty obvious changes that you can very easily make to this recipe; substitute a different kind of nut for the almonds or eliminate them altogether. Sprinkle brown sugar over the freshly baked Toast. Use a French baguette or challah bread for a more classical variation.
The whole grain bread and almonds will help to keep your kids focused and alert during the school day, and the super easy addition of the yummy cereal makes a good breakfast a great one. This is a recipe that your kids can easily learn to prepare themselves with just a little help from mom with the oven.

**********************************

 

Cheeri-ola

My mom made every variation of this snack since I was old enough to pick up a Cheerio and put it in my mouth. We called it Cheeriola because it wasn’t quite Cheerios and it wasn’t quite Granola. It can be made in huge batches on Sunday night, prepackaged for the whole week Monday morning and save you lots of time when assembling school lunches or thinking about a scrumptious after school snack. It’s also a great recipe to show your kids, teaching them the use of a mixer, a cookie sheet and a timer.

You will need:
1 egg*
¼ tsp salt
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
3 cups of Cheerios any variety
½ cup of chopped nuts
½ cup of instant oats (optional)
1 tbsp honey

*To get started, let me show you a great way to quickly and easily separate egg yolk and egg white, because this recipe only requires the egg white. Crack your egg, but keep the two halves upright with the contents of the egg split between them. Over a bowl, carefully switch the egg yolk back and forth between the two halves of shell until all the white is in the bowl, and only the yolk is left in the shell. Toss the yolk, or do what my grandfather use to do, swallow it whole…. :-/

Anyway, first thing you have to do is make the coating for the Cheeriola. Preheat your oven to 350*. With your mixer on high speed, beat the egg white until it is frothy, meaning a whole lot of bubbles. When it reaches that stage you can slowly beat in the brown sugar and salt and cinnamon.

Keep beating at a high speed until the mixture is a beige color and very smooth and glossy looking, it doesn’t take very long.

Gently add the cereal, nuts and oats into the egg mixture, and mix until everything is evenly coated. Line a cookie sheet with wax paper or very lightly spray it with cooking spray.

Spread your Cheeriola in the thinnest layer possible onto the wax paper and bake in the oven for 12 to 15 minutes. After it is baked take the entire sheet of wax paper with the Cheeriola still on it and set it aside, away from the heat. Drizzle the honey over the top and let it cool for 30 minutes.

The end result is a slightly browned and sweet smelling snack that is delicious any time of the day, and great for after school because it will fill you up until dinner.

 This is so simple to make, and if you keep it in a sealed container in the fridge it can keep for a week. You can mix other things with it like candy pieces or whole nuts and use it as trail mix, or even pour warm milk over it and eat it like oatmeal.

Allergies: EGGS, WHEAT, MILK, NUTS, OATS

If you like the little glass cups that I use to measure and display ingredients click HERE for a look at Williams-Sonoma’s site. I also bought my mixer from them.

For more great recipe ideas and cereal nutrition info click HERE.