13 Healthy and Fun Snacks for Families

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We’ve all had those days where we were searching the pantry for something to satisfy a craving weather it be sweet, salty, or savory. This urge to snack is common among all ages, women, and men a like. Yet, sometimes we don’t always come up with the healthiest options.

Okay so ice cream, cookies, chocolate, and chips are fine every once in a while, but if we indulge too often we’ll end up packing on the pounds while filling ourselves with quick energy that doesn’t last.

So, I have put together a list of healthy snack options for the whole family that will satisfy your craving and leave you feeling satisfied.

Apples w/ peanut butter

Raw veggie plates w/ ranch dressing

Celery w/ cottage cheese

A handful of nuts

Dried fruits

Rice cakes (with your chosen topping or flavor)

Hard Boiled Eggs

Yogurt w/ granola or fruit

Cheese Sticks

Hummus w/ crackers

Pita chips w/ veggie or bean salsa

Popcorn

Pretzel Sticks

This is just a list to get you started. You don’t have to stop here. Finding new, creative, and fun ways to enjoy snack time as a family is a great way to teach kids about food while helping picky eaters try something new.

Think fruits, veggies, low-fat dairy, lean proteins, and whole grains as part of those snacks and you’re ready to go!

Not sure where to start. Below is a recipe to get you started.

Lady Bug Apples

Serves: 4

Ingredients:

2 apples cut length wise

4 Tablespoons of Peanut butter

Raisins or chocolate chips

Directions:

1.) Cut the apples length wise on a cutting board. Remove the stems and seeds.

2.) Place apples face up on a plate and spread Peanut Butter on them.

3.) Next arrange raisins or chocolate chips on top of the peanut butter to look like the black spots on the back of lady bugs.

Serve

 

 

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Decreasing Your Family’s Sugary Drink Intake

 

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At WIC I talk a lot to families with toddlers and also to pregnant woman about increasing water and decreasing soda, juice, iced tea etc…but a lot are not aware of the risks of drinking too much juice. The sugar in these drinks can:

  • Increase weight gain
  • Increase risk of cavities
  • Fill stomachs so kids are less likely to eat at meal times
  • Soft drinks in particular can increase risk of Type 2 Diabetes & other chronic illnesses (According to one study 1-2 cans of sugary drinks daily has a 26% greater risk of type II diabetes than those who rarely drink these drinks…)

These risks can also be applied to 100% and home-made “natural” juice because even if there’s no added sugar to these products there’s still a lot of natural sugar. And sugar is sugar is sugar.

For example, the nutrient label on 100% Apple Juice states 23 grams of sugar. To put this in perspective that’s about 5 teaspoons of sugar in a single cup!

For the most part, juice also doesn’t contain fiber which is found in whole fruits. Fiber slows sugar absorption into the blood stream so its impact on blood sugar is less than with juice.

Does this mean we can never enjoy juice again?

NO!

For adults one cup of juice daily is the recommended amount. For kids recommendations are based on their age group and put forth by the Academy of Pediatrics:

Infancy to 1 years of age: No juice (unless suggested for treatment of constipation, then 2-3 oz. of juice daily)

1-3 years of age: 4 oz. of juice daily

4-6 years of age: 4-6 oz. of juice daily

7 years and older: 1-8 oz. cup of juice daily

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9 Fun Ways to Get more Water

1.) Offer water with a splash of juice just for taste

2.) Add seltzer water

3.) Add lemons, limes, or other fresh fruits and herb/spices to flavor water (A personal favorite of mine is green apples with cinnamon stick)

4.) Pour juice into ice cube trays, freeze, and serve in water

5.) Buy sparkling water (I loved these as a kid and drank more water too!)

6.) Offer kids the small 8 oz. water bottles when going to the park

7.) Add frozen grapes or other frozen fruits like blueberries or raspberries

8.) Use fun cups for water (mason jars)

9.) Use funky straws

 

Cooking Matters

For this month I’m mixing things up. Instead of highlighting a kitchen tool that kids can use and a recipe I’m going to be writing about an organization I’m passionate about; Cooking Matters.

I decided to write about this topic because this month my fiancee and I are incredibly busy preparing for our wedding on February 3rd. This past week has been consumed with coordinating our wedding party and trying to tie up loose ends. We’re both excited and anxious at the same time. Anxious about the flow of the days events and that all goes smoothly, but we are looking forward to the day and the week long vacation afterwards. We both need one!

Long story short it wouldn’t be feasible to be experimenting with recipes and kitchen tools suitable for the blog this month. So, what is Cooking Matters?

Cooking Matters is a non-profit organization that is part of the Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry Campaign since 1994. They are committed to teaching families, children, and teens about healthy food through cooking and connecting them to nutritious food in high risk areas of food insecurity.  Though some participants mistakenly think the program is a cooking class it is really a nutrition program. The classes have students participate in nutrition education lessons on a variety of topics such as:

  • How to read the nutrition label
  • Difference between Saturated and Unsaturated Fats
  • What is a whole grain?
  • Sugary drinks
  • Shopping on a  Budget
  • Making low cost, nutritious meals

Cooking Matters Set Up

Each lesson is taught by a Nutritionist while the cooking part of the class is taught by a Chef/Cook. There’ll also be other volunteers there to help out as the Nutrition/Cooking Assistant.

The program itself runs as a 6 week program where participants meet with instructors once a week usually after or during school hours. It’s usually 2 hrs. in length and each participant receives a bag at the end of the lesson that includes a copy of the recipes  used and the ingredients to cook them at home. At the end of the 6 week program each participant gets a certificate of completion and a bag of goodies including the recipe/instruction book used during the class, a cutting board, a Cooking Matters bag, and a cheese grater or other cooking implement.

In addition to cooking/nutrition classes they offer store tours where they will take a group through the store to give you tips for shopping on a budget, how to read nutrition labels, and compare unit prices. There’s even an app called Cooking Matters. You can download the app for free through the apple store. The app comes with cool recipe ideas and nutrition facts.

Cooking Matters Partners 

Cooking matters often partners with community organizations in the area like WIC, SNAP, Headstart, after school programs, and others to bring classes to your community. Follow this link to see the list of areas they commonly serve.

I had the opportunity to work with Cooking Matters as a volunteer on a couple of occasions before I got a job at WIC. They’re goal and mission to help families learn about nutrition through cooking combines two of my passions which can help to explain why I’m looking forward to being able to volunteer for them again in the future.

To Learn More: 

If you or your family would like to get involved in Cooking Matters follow this link.

5 Tips for Transforming Kids Favorites into Healthier Alternatives

Working at WIC I talk with lots of parents whose kids often eat foods high in sugar, salt, and fat. Most of these foods are frozen, fast foods like hamburgers, chicken nuggets, french fries, or mac and cheese.  While these are okay on occasion it is not recommended to have on a regular basis. This is because foods high in sugar, salt, and fat can increase weight, make it harder for kids to keep up with classmates, and increase chronic disease like diabetes.

I enjoy talking with parents about ways to transform these fast food favorites into healthier alternatives that both children and parents can agree on. The struggle I, and many other Nutritionists, face though is how to guide parents into behavioral change that is long lasting.

Some struggles parents and caretakers face are finding time to prepare healthy meals while working full time, kids who are picky eaters, and financial struggles that limit the foods that one can buy.

A few days ago I came across an article from the public health practice group affiliated with the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. This article summarized a recent survey given to parents about whether or not they believed they were offering their children healthy foods. What saddened me about the article is that only “1 in 3 parents reported feeling like they’re teaching their kids healthy eating habits”.

For these reasons, I decided to share some tips that could help put healthier versions of kids favorites on the table without all the fuss.

1.) Swap out ingredients for healthier ones

For example, if a recipe for Mac & Cheese calls for enriched white pasta use whole wheat instead. Have someone with Celiac’s disease or a wheat sensitivity? Use a whole grain based pasta . Whole wheat & whole grain offer more fiber, nutrients, and iron than enriched or white pasta does.

2.) When you can, prepare ahead of time. 

When making home made chicken nuggets a base bread crumb recipe can be prepared a head of time with the families favorite spices and stored in the cabinet for later use.

3.) Choose lean meats.

Instead of preparing hamburgers with ground beef try ground turkey or canned salmon instead. White meats or fish have less saturated fats than red meats & are a healthier alternative.

4.) Bake instead of fry.

When my clients tell me they fry their plantains I suggest they bake/broil it instead. This tip can be used for a lot of foods that are usually fried such as chicken nuggets, french fries, and hamburgers.

5.) Substitute or Add Vegetables

The other day I came across a Mac & Cheese recipe that incorporated squash! Adding veggies or substituting alternative ones can add fiber, vitamins, and minerals to foods that are traditionally high in calories and low in nutrients. This can also work for picky eaters. Other ideas can be sweet potato fries, kale chips, or baked carrots/parsnip fries.

 

Put your Family’s Best Fork Forward

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Image courtesy of marin at freedigitalphotos.net 

It’s that time of year again. This March is the annual National Nutrition Month, which means that all month long nutrition professionals will be hitting up social media surrounding this month’s theme: Put Your Best Fork Forward! It’s an initiative built up around the main message of the 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans that says, it’s  not a singular food that makes the difference but entire meal plans made up of a variety of different foods working together.

The theme Put Your Best Fork Forward reminds us that healthy eating and living is only small changes built up over time. You don’t have to do something drastic, go on that special diet, or lose 20 lbs for a better, more healthier you. Instead it’s all about building good habits that’ll last a life time! (That includes exercise just as much as it is what we eat.)

Healthy habits, just like anything else, begins in the home  with what you cook for your family and yourself everyday. Your children will learn from the habits you build, so starting mindful eating habits right in your own home is the best place to start!

And this is exactly where I started when thinking about what would be this month’s blog post. At first I didn’t know what to write about, then, while cooking with my boyfriend, it suddenly occurred to me that the simple dish of sauteed vegetables and cashews could be the base of any dish.

It’s always hard coming home from work after a long day and not having anything prepared. It’s even harder to come home with the daunting task of whipping something up to eat when it’s 6:30 pm at night! What I needed was a quick dish that could be accomplished in 30 minutes or less. For many of us that would include frozen meals, I know it has for me many times and I’m a Nutritionist! But, my boyfriend Michael had whipped up this quick vegetable dish that can easily be built upon within 30  minutes. The best part was that the meal was only vegetables, spices, cashews, and a little olive oil. Talk about a marriage of antioxidants and healthy fats working together in perfect harmony.

My boyfriend’s a genius!

That being said I was quick to propose to him the idea for this blog and if I could share his recipe with my readers. Success! The downside though is that the recipe would have to be prepared ahead of time on a weekend and then frozen in containers for the rest of week. Other than that you could defrost the vegetable mix, add your own spices, meats, fish, or just add brown rice or whole wheat noddles for a variety of meals in 30 minutes or less. Just make sure the rice is cooked ahead a time. Batch cooking is how you get home cooked meals when you work 5-6 days a week.

Here is the basis of the recipe:

3 Sweet Peppers diced (Try for yellow, red, & orange)

1/2 c. of diced onion

1 c. of celery chopped

1 1/2 c. of chopped or matchstick carrots

2 c. of unsalted cashews

2 tablespoons of olive oil or another oil of your choice

Your choice of spices

Directions:

1.) Wash the fresh produce in a colander. Afterwards place on a towel to dry.

2.) On a cutting board dice all the vegetables except the matchstick carrots. Place aside.

3.) Place a wok of skillet on the stove. Turn it up to medium heat and add all the vegetables w/ 1-2 tablespoons of oil. Add cashews last. 

4.) Put a cover on top of the vegetables and let cook until vegetables are tender. 

Now that you cooked dinner you have more time to gather round the table with your family. Happy National Nutrition Month!

 

5 Steps to Preparing Creative Lunchboxes Everyday

It’s that time of year again. With the last days of summer looming in front of us it’s time to start thinking what to pack for school lunches.

Whether your the reason for reading this article is to learn more about packing nutritious school lunches or just to get some new ideas I’m glad you’re here. Today I will go over 5 quick steps to creating creative lunchboxes.

1.)  USDA MyPlate

It’s back! Before preparing a lunchbox it helps to use MyPlate as a visual (http://www.choosemyplate.gov/). Imagine how you would divide your plate into four sections: Veggies, fruits, protein, and grains. Include dairy as an option as well. Then choose foods for the packed lunch in the above order.

If you’re family is vegan or doesn’t consume dairy then think of possible alternatives such as soy, almond, or rice milk. Dark green veggies, tofu, and some seeds also contain the bone-building nutrients found in dairy.

Planning your child’s lunchbox this way keeps you focused on healthful options to include and will also minimize choosing less healthful options. Although, a treat every now and then won’t hurt.

2.) Be Creative

If you’re like me then most likely lunches will include sandwiches everyday. This can become boring after awhile.

What I would suggest is to search lunchbox ideas on the computer whenever you lack for ideas. Here are some to get you started:

  • Leftover turkey or chicken salad w/ a side salad
  • Homemade pita bread or English muffin pizza
  • Fruit, crackers, and cheese (my fav!)

For more ideas follow this link: http://www.5dollardinners.com/31-days-of-school-lunchbox-ideas/#_a5y_p=2302145

3.) Staple Foods

Check your pantry for food staples. These include any common ingredient or food that can be made up into many different dishes such as beans, rice, canned veggies or fruit, and pasta. (Remember to rinse canned veggies to rid yourself of the extra salt.)

In addition, try buying foods that are easily packed such as carrot or celery sticks, grapes, or seeds.

4.) Food Safety

Lunchboxes have their own rules for preparing foods safely so as not to leave food in an environment where bacteria can multiple and cause harm. Usually, food can be kept safe above or below this temperature range: 40-140 degrees Fahrenheit.

Use ice packs and thermos to keep cold food cold and hot food hot for 2-3 hours. Or you can freeze water bottles and juice boxes. Insulated lunch boxes can keep temperatures constant until lunch.

For more specifics about what does and doesn’t need to be kept cold go to this web address: http://culinaryarts.about.com/od/safetysanitation/a/baglunchsafety.htm

5.) Make it a Family Affair

Get your kids involved in the preparation of their lunchboxes. This can be as simple as having them choose what foods from each food group to include in the lunch.

Blog Review: The Allergy Free Zone

Hello guys! I hope everyone’s summer is going great so far, I know mine is. This week I would like to spend a some time discussing The Allergy Free Zone blog at wordpress.com.

I chose to review this blog for parents/guardians who have kids with allergies. For them, navigating the kitchen becomes a whole new challenge. Not only do they deal with teaching their kids basic cooking skills like cutting, washing, or food safety but they also have to teach them skills that could possibly prevent them from having an allergic reaction. These skills may include reading an ingredient label, researching restaurants, and grocery shopping for those with allergies.

With this in mind the Allergy Free Zone is written by Stacy DeGrazia, a Food and Nutrition student at FSU. She had been diagnosed with allergies at 17 years old so she understands the struggle of finding her way through grocery aisles, restaurants, and colleges.

Her blog provides quick tips and helpful information to guide those who have recently been diagnosed with allergies. Her blog entries are well-organized. Topics include:

1.)  Allergy vs. Intolerance

2.) Grocery Shopping

3.) Celiac Disease

4.) Technology to help aid those with allergies

5.) Recipes &

6.) Navigating a college dining hall

DeGrazia covers these topics using her blog entries, a video, an infographic, and a podcast. She also offers some links to websites that provide allergen free recipes. You can follow her on Pinterest, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

However, her blog does have some faults. One of these faults is not clarifying that Celiac Disease is not an allergy, but an autoimmune disease where the body’s own defenses attacks itself due to consumption of gluten. I would’ve also liked to see more links to other allergy blogs and nutrition based websites for more detailed information.

Here is the link to her blog:

https://stacydegrazia44.wordpress.com

Feel free to peruse these other blogs:

http://cybelepascal.com/ (A mom’s blog about raising two sons with allergies. She blogs about recipes that are gluten/top 8 allergen free and simple allergy free swaps in baking.)

http://community.kidswithfoodallergies.org/blog (Organization to help parents/guardians of kids with allergies cope with them through recipes and articles that makes living with allergies a little bit easier.)