Planning healthy habits

Did you ever notice how difficult it is to eat healthy when hunger strikes? Your little one wants a snack; you go to the kitchen and start looking around. Often we find ourselves in this situation. The key to keeping it healthy is planning. I know! We’re all busy. In the spirit of spring cleaning and getting organized, consider organizing snacks with a snack station.

Inspired by Realsimple.com, today’s idea is a grab-and-go snack stashes.

Using a larger bin – consider Tupperware, something that can be cleaned easily – place a variety of snacks that can be mixed and matched for treats. You can use snack size sandwich bags to portion out orange slice, baby carrots, celery sticks, pepper slices. You can even rotate these treats to showcase whatever is seasonal, like berries. Include grapes, lunch meat roll-ups (like turkey and Swiss of ham and cheddar), yogurt, string cheese and, for dipping, a jar of peanut butter and hummus.

Make a habit of refilling your snack station one day a week, say Sunday night. Once it’s ready, you can tell your kids to grab something when you’re busy without worry. And, you can pick up a small bag on your way out to the many baseball and soccer games going on. Those chips are tempting, but not the best option for your little one – or you.

How will you personalize your snack station?

Veggie hide-and-seek

Are your little ones eating enough veggies? They probably aren’t specifically asking for extra peas and carrots. That could change by hiding them.

Investigators at Columbia University recently gave this a go. They enlisted 68 elementary and middle school children and gave them two samples to try. One was labeled broccoli gingerbread spice cake and the other simply gingerbread spice cake. The kids didn’t know the cake was the same but they loved the gingerbread spice cake that didn’t have broccoli in the name.

While children were more likely to eat products that didn’t have veggies listed on the label, doctors did encourage parents to introduce their children to a variety of vegetables to find one they like. Then the hiding won’t be necessary.

Let’s give it a try with sweet potato cupcakes with toasted marshmallow frosting. Thanks to Better Homes and Gardens and Lovin’ From the Oven for the recipes, respectively.

Ingredients
For the cupcakes
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
16 Tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
1½ cups sugar
3 large eggs
17 oz. sweet potato puree
½ tsp. vanilla extract

For the frosting
8 large egg whites
2 cups sugar
½ tsp. cream of tartar
2 tsp. vanilla extract

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two cupcake pans with paper liners. In a medium bowl combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon; stir together with a fork and set aside.
  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in the eggs one at a time, scraping down the bowl after each addition. Mix in the sweet potatoes and vanilla extract, beating just until combined. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the dry ingredients, mixing just until incorporated.
  3. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared cupcake liners. Bake for about 18-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool in the pan for 5-10 minutes; then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
  4. To make the frosting, combine the egg whites, sugar and cream of tartar in the top of a double boiler. Heat the mixture, whisking frequently, until it reaches 160 degrees with an instant-read thermometer. Transfer the mixture to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Whisk starting at low speed and gradually increasing to medium-high speed until stiff, glossy peaks form. Mix in the vanilla until combined. Frost cooled cupcakes as desired.
  5. For a fun extra touch, you can use a kitchen torch and garnish with a sprinkle of brown sugar, if desired.

Mac and Cheese surprise

All kids love macaroni and cheese. Well, not just kids… let’s be honest. Cheese and noodle casseroles started appearing in medieval cookbooks – so yeah, you’re not alone in a love for this wonderful dish. Even Thomas Jefferson was a fan, serving “macaroni pie” at a state dinner in 1802. The recipe by today’s moniker appeared in 1824.

But it doesn’t need to be a completely unhealthy meal. With this Food and Wine recipe there’s some good news: mixing carrot puree with the cheddar cheese creates a wonderful source of vitamin A while reducing the amount of fat in the recipe. And, it’s still tasty.

 

Ingredients

3/4 pound carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
Zest and juice of 1 navel orange, zest removed in strips with a vegetable peeler
Salt
3 cups penne rigate (9 ounces)
3 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (1 1/2 cups)
1 Tbsp. chopped tarragon
Freshly ground white pepper

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a medium saucepan, combine the carrots with the zest and juice and 1/4 cup of water. Season with salt and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer over moderate heat until the carrots are very soft, about 30 minutes. Discard the zest. Transfer the carrots and any liquid to a blender and puree until very smooth.
  2. Meanwhile, in a large saucepan of boiling salted water, cook the pasta until al dente. Drain the pasta, reserving 1 cup of the cooking water.
  3. Return the pasta to the pot. Add the reserved water and the carrot puree and cook over moderate heat, stirring frequently, until the pasta is coated with a thickened sauce, about 5 minutes. Stir in three-fourths of the cheese and cook, stirring, until very creamy, 2 to 3 minutes longer. Stir in the tarragon and season with salt and white pepper.
  4. Transfer the pasta to a medium baking dish and top with the remaining cheese. Bake until the cheese is melted and lightly browned, about 20 minutes. Let stand for 5 minutes before serving.

Coffee Cup Cake

Have you been using your mugs for coffee, tea and hot cocoa? Boring!

In five minutes that cup could be holding delicious, super hot coffee cake. This could be a fun weekend morning treat to make with your kids. Even better, there’s no fighting. Everyone can make their own and personalize it. Do you love cinnamon? Add in some extra. Top it off with some fresh berries from the local farmers market.

Making a five-minute breakfast cake in a cup has been extra popular on Pinterest lately. We’re using a recipe is by the lovely ladies at PrudentBaby.com. It’s also great because it allows you to start your morning with a classic without facing days of leftovers.

Ingredients

Cake
1 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 egg
2 Tbsp. sour cream
Vanilla
¼ cup flour
1/8 tsp. baking powder

Crumb topping
1 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. flour
1 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon 

Instructions

  1. Start with a coffee mug. Using a small one will result in a cake that puffs over. A taller one will allow you to really dig in. Whatever you prefer – or have lying around the house – make it happen.
  2. Add a tablespoon of butter. Then soften, don’t melt, it in the microwave. This should take 5 to 10 seconds.
  3. Stir in 2 tablespoons of sugar until it’s fluffy and creamy. Then you can add egg if you’d like. Without egg, the cake will by more crumbly. You can add a whole egg or break the egg into a ramekin, stir it up and split it between two cups of coffee cups.
  4. Stir in 2 tablespoons of sour cream and a few drops of vanilla. Be sparing with the vanilla.
  5. Stir in ¼ cup of flour and 1/8 teaspoon of baking powder.
  6. If you want crumb topping – which, let’s face it, is the best part so of course you do! – use a separate bowl or ramekin and put in 1 tablespoon of butter, 2 tablespoons of flour, 1 tablespoon of brown sugar and 1 teaspoon cinnamon. Then, using your finger, mix it all together.
  7. Since you’re coffee mug cake mix is finished, top it off with your new crumbly mix. Then, start it in the microwave for 1 minute. Then, do it for 10 second increments until the cake is cooked to your liking.
  8. Then, enjoy! It will be really, really hot! So be careful. Little hands may need to put something like a towel around the coffee cup at first.

Orange Smiles with a Jelly Twist

Most children have stuck an orange slice in their mouth and smiled. The peel making a comical smile is a childhood favorite. And, since slices of citrus will always be a healthy snack, this tradition will continue. In the spirit of April Fool’s Day this weekend, let’s add a twist to this favorite with blood orange jelly smiles. This can be made with any kind of citrus – like tangerines or navel oranges. Choose whichever your kids will try. But the blood oranges offer the most dramatic look. Consider serving these side-by-side with real slices of blood oranges. See if anyone can tell the difference!

 

Ingredients

6 blood oranges
1 packet of plain gelatin
Sugar or honey (optional to taste)  

Instructions

  1. Buy a sack of blood oranges.
  2. Get some plain gelatin. (You can find this in the baking aisle near the regular Jell-O.)
  3. Cut 6 oranges in half. (You can always multiply this recipe to make more.)
  4. Squeeze out the juice. Here’s where this project can be a little tricky. You want to squeeze out as much juice as possible without damaging the orange peel. Consider using a traditional manual juicer. Go slowly and twist each half so it’s as clean as possible.
  5. Scrape out any extra strings or flesh. Again, you want the peel intact, so if you can’t get everything out, it’s OK. A little extra orange flesh won’t mess this up.
  6. Put each orange peel shell into a muffin tin to hold them steady when you pour in the gelatin.
  7. Soften the gelatin. Measure 1/4 cup cold water in a glass measuring cup. Sprinkle 1 packet of plain gelatin into the water and let it sit.
  8. Heat the orange juice to boiling. Measure out about 3/4 cup of the juice. Also, this is where you can add a little sugar or honey, if you want to sweeten the juice. Taste and sweeten as needed. Bring the juice to a boil.
  9. Mix gelatin and juice. Take the boiling juice off the heat and whisk in the gelatin. Pour the juice and gelatin mixture back into the glass measuring cup.
  10. Fill orange peel shells. Fill each orange peel cup with the gelatin mixture, and put the muffin tins into the fridge to cool. The orange jelly will need 2-3 hours to set completely.
  11. Trim, slice, and serve! The filling should firm up and be quite stiff. Once it is hard enough, slice into wedges.

Edible adding machine

Calculators are easily found today. Most cell phones have them actually. Who needs to count or do math on their own? Hopefully you’re little one. Why not make the experience a fun – and of course tasty – one?
TheHokeyPokeyKitchen.com has created the solution in this fun, edible food activity by creating an edible abacus.

Also called a counting frame, an abacus is used for arithmetic. More often used in Asia, abaci are often constructed with a bamboo frame with beads sliding on wires. Originally, beans and stones were used in groves in sand or tablets of wood, stone or metal. The abacus was used centuries before written number systems were adopted – and well before calculators were kept in the same machine used to text, tweet and make phone calls.

Around the world this tool is still used in preschools and elementary schools as a teaching aid in the numeral system.
The Greek abacus was a table of wood or marble, pre-set with small counters in wood or metal for mathematical calculations. The normal method of calculation in ancient Rome, as in Greece, was by moving counters on a smooth table. Originally pebbles were used.
Around the 5th century, Indian clerks were already finding new ways of recording the contents of the Abacus.
In Japanese, the abacus is called soroban, imported from China around 1600. The 1/4 abacus, which is suited to decimal calculation, appeared circa 1930, and became widespread as the Japanese abandoned hexadecimal weight calculation which was still common in China.
As a simple, cheap and reliable device, the Russian abacus was in use in all shops and markets throughout the former Soviet Union, and the usage of it was taught in most schools until the 1990s. And today, you can make your own with tasty treats.

Ingredients
One long French baguette
Blueberries
Red grapes
String cheese
Honeydew
Cantaloupe
(Or your favorite fruits and veggies. Make sure everything is washed before getting started)
Five skewers, wooden or metal

Directions
1. Take the baguette and cut it into three equal pieces. Use the middle piece for the base and the other two as sides for support.
2. String the fruit and cheese, cut into 10 small pieces, onto the skewers.
3. Place the skewers between two of the pieces of bread

Make sure to snack on the extra ingredients. Creating a helpful math tool can make you work up an appetite.