Healthy Halloween Treats!

Image

The weather is cooling off, leaves are starting to change, and pumpkin patches are open for business – Halloween is just around the corner! Whether it is your little one’s first Halloween or you’re a veteran of this night of pumpkins, glitter, and masks, there’s sure to be plenty of treats.

While the occasional Halloween treat never hurt anyone, the standard packaged candy can actually be a bit of a trick, piling on sugar and processed ingredients. If you are looking to throw a Halloween party or play date for your children and their friends, it’s easy to make healthy treats that are just the right amount of sweet and spooky. Kids can also jump in the kitchen to help create these yummy snacks, extending the Halloween fun!

Healthy Halloween Recipe: Spooky Strawberry Banana Ghost Pops

4 ripe bananas
½ cup unsweetened strawberry jam
1 cup unsweetened coconut
16 semisweet chocolate chips
8 dried cranberries
8 popsicle sticks

1. Peel your bananas and cut each in half

2. Cut a slit in the bottom of each banana piece and insert a popsicle stick

3. Wrap the bananas in plastic wrap and place in the freezer for about an hour, or until firm

4. As bananas are freezing, heat your jam on medium heat until it reaches a syrupy consistency

5. Dip the banana in the jam to coat it in a thin layer

6. Roll the banana in coconut or sprinkle it on by hand

7. Decorate your banana ghost with chocolate chips for eyes and a dried cranberry mouth

8. Repeat for all eight banana pieces

9. Place your bananas back in the freezer for fifteen or twenty minutes to firm back up – then your healthy ghosts are ready to go!

For some more fun recipes like “Snack-o-lanterns” and pretzel bones, check out this list from Spoonful (http://spoonful.com/halloween/best-halloween-recipes-gallery)

Written by: Amanda Dunham

Sources:
Ghost Banana Pop recipe – Tom’s of Maine blog (http://blog.tomsofmaine.com/index.php/healthy-halloween-treats-spooky-strawberry-banana-ghost-pops/)

Quick Guide to Fall and Winter Squash!

squash_Jitze Couperus_www.flickr.com_slash_photos_slash_jitze1942Photo credit: jitze

Ever wonder what the differences are between all those strangely-shaped types of squash you see at the store or farmer’s market? While all types of winter squash are fantastic sources of fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, potassium, and beta carotene, they each have their own flavors and textures suited to many different kinds of cooking. Plus, all the different shapes and colors provide a fun opportunity for young kids to learn and play with their food! Here’s a quick guide to choosing and preparing some common types of fall and winter squash:

acornsquash_www.flickr.com_slash_photos_slash_garyjwood
Photo credit: Gary J Wood
Acorn squash
Acorn squash, as its name suggests, is shaped like an acorn with firm, dark green skin. Peeling is somewhat difficult, but the peel is actually edible after cooking. The yellow flesh is moist, making this type of squash quite versatile for roasting, mashing, steaming, sautéing, or being used as a bowl for various fillings. The flavor is mildly sweet and complements many different ingredients. Acorn squash typically weigh 1-2 pounds and are about 4-7 inches long.

butternutsquash_JulianFong_www.flickr.com_slash_photos_slash_levork
Photo credit: Julian Fong
Butternut Squash
Butternut squash is named for its smooth, creamy, sweet and slightly nutty flavor. For the most flesh, choose one with a long, thick neck–and for more beta carotene, choose one that is more orange on the outside. The skin is not edible, but it is slightly easier to peel than other varieties. The seeds, on the other hand, are edible and can be roasted like pumpkin seeds. Butternut squash, like acorn squash, is also pretty versatile and can be roasted, pureed, mashed, or cubed and steamed.

cheesepumpkinlarge_wikioticsIan_www.flickr.com_slash_photos_slash_51004712@N08
Photo credit: wikioticsIan
Cheese Pumpkins
Commercially-made pumpkin pie mix is usually made from cheese pumpkins or another related variety, due to their smooth, creamy texture and high sugar content. Their name comes from their appearance rather than their flavor, and like most smaller pumpkins or squashes, they’re sweeter than their larger varieties. Cheese pumpkins are excellent for using in baked goods, roasting, or steaming.

delicata_dyogi_www.flickr.com_slash_photos_slash_30014417@N04
Photo credit: Dyogi
Delicata Squash
Delicata squash is a smaller variety of squash that tastes similar to sweet potato or butternut squash, and features colorful stripes across its skin. The flesh is smooth and moist, the skin is edible, and it all holds up particularly well to roasting or caramelizing. Due to a thinner and more tender skin, Delicata squash doesn’t keep as long as other varieties, but it can be stored at room temperature for about two weeks. When choosing some at the grocery store or farmer’s market, look for squash without any bruises or cuts.

hubbardsquash_small
Photo credit: Linda N.
Hubbard Squash
Hubbard squash is an extremely large variety with some specimens weighing in at 50 pounds! The skin is very bumpy and usually grayish-blue, but can also be seen in other colors. The flesh is sugary but mealy, so it’s best used for pie fillings or pureed. The flesh actually sweetens with age, so Hubbards can be stored for months in a cool, dry place to increase the sugar content before cutting. When choosing a Hubbard squash, pick one that feels heavy for its size and has a matte (not glossy) skin. Like many squashes, Hubbards can be difficult to cut through, so remember: if your knife becomes stuck, don’t try to pull it out! Carefully use a rubber mallet or meat tenderizer to tap the handle of the knife until it goes through.

kabocha__e.t_www.flickr.com_slash_photos_slash_45688285@N00
Photo credit: _e.t
Kabocha Squash (or Japanese Squash)
Kabocha squash is drier and denser than most types of squash, so it holds its shape well in liquids and is fantastic for soups or stews.  It can also be cooked like acorn squash (roasting, steaming, etc.), or paired well with Asian ingredients like ginger and sesame. The flavor is usually somewhere between pumpkin and sweet potato. When choosing a Kabocha, pick one that feels heavy for its size with a hard, rough, dark green skin; a more tender skin indicates a less mature squash that may not be as flavorful. Store in a cool, dry place for up to a month, or keep cut pieces wrapped in the refrigerator for 5 days.

spaghetti_whole_Forest and Kim Starr_www.flickr.com_slash_photos_slash_starr-environmental
spaghetti_open_Rusty Clark_www.flickr.com_slash_photos_slash_rusty_clark
Photo credit: Forest and Kim Starr (top), Rusty Clark (bottom)
Spaghetti Squash
Spaghetti squash is famous for its stringy texture and very mild flavor, making it easy to use as “noodles” to serve with various sauces and toppings, roasted or sautéed. Some parents particularly love using spaghetti squash as a way to sneak more vegetables into their children’s diet! When choosing one, the rind should be hard without any blemishes or spots, and the squash should feel heavy for its size. Spaghetti squash can be stored for several weeks at room temperature.

sweetdumplingsquash_wikioticsIan_small
Photo credit: wikioticsIan
Sweet Dumpling Squash
Sweet dumpling squash is another small variety that is excellent for roasting or presenting whole, filled with stuffing or soup. The skin is smooth and dry, with stripes similar to the Delicata squash. The flesh is yellow-orange and has a sweet, slight roasted corn flavor. Pick squashes free of soft spots, and they can be stored in a cool and dry area for up to 3 months.

turbansquash_dyogi
Photo credit: Dyogi
Turban Squash
Turban squashes are named for their unique, knobby tops, and can come in a wide range of shapes and colors, making them popular for decoration–but they’re also delicious! Some varieties have a slight hazelnut flavor, while most can be prepared in many different ways. Some of the most common uses are for stuffing or filling with soup, or using the flesh for pies. Turban squashes have a harder rind than some other types of winter squash, so if you have trouble peeling it or other kinds, try cooking pieces for 10-30 minutes before peeling the skin and returning to the oven.

What’s your favorite variety of winter squash? Let us know in the comments below!

Written by: Lauren Mesaros

Sources:

Soups for the (Pregnant) Soul

Fall+Stew+Baked+in+a+Whole+Pumpkin+by+Kitchen+Parade+2010-400
Fall is finally here and that calls for fluffy scarves, carving pumpkins and jumping in piles of leaves! Now that the we are actually experiencing autumn weather, it’s time to start cooking up those cold weather foods we all love. I’m talking about soup!

Soups are a hearty and delicious way to stay warm during the chilly season. For expecting mothers, homemade soups are a must! Easy to make, full of nutrients and delicious to eat – I like to think of them as a fall and baby “soup-er” food. I’m not talking about canned soups either, so put those cans back on the shelf and head over to the produce section. Did you know that most canned soups have BPA? BPA, or bisphenol A, is a toxic substance that if ingested while pregnant can cause birth defects, as well as other health problems. This chemical has been found to line the inside of canned foods, so if you must buy them please look for BPA free! (source: babymed.com)

Now back to the fun stuff – let’s make some soup! Below are a few recipes that are packed with nutrients crucial to expecting mother’s everywhere. Vitamin A, K, B, folic acid, fiber, calcium… the list goes on! They are also low in fat, and high in flavor. So bundle up, and pick a soup to soothe that expecting soul of yours.

Fall Chowder: Corn, Turnips, Pumpkin, Carrots and Onions bring together this deliciously creamy soup!

  • In a deep pan, sauté a 1/2 cup chopped onions in a little olive or coconut oil. Add in 1 sweet potato cubed, 1 carrot peeled and sliced, 1 cup vegetable or chicken stock and 2 tablespoons of organic butter. Bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cover, cooking 15-20 min.

    Slowly stir in 2 cups coconut milk, and 1 cup frozen corn. Season with pepper, parsley and oregano (fresh herbs are best!). Whisk in 4 tablespoons flour and 4 tablespoons COLD water. Bring to a boil again, whisk ingredients until creamy then remove from heat. Enjoy!

This next protein packed soup is filled with quinoa, kale, and beans that is sure to fill you up and boost your energy!

  •  In a medium stockpot, sauté 2 cloves chopped garlic, and 1 chopped zucchini in a little olive oil. Add in 1 28 oz. can chopped tomatoes along with 2 cans of water. Season with salt, pepper, turmeric and bring to a boil. Lower heat and cook for about 20 minutes, uncovered, stirring occasionally. Add in 1 cup tricolor quinoa, and cook covered an additional 15 minutes.
  • Add in 2 cups chopped and stemmed kale, 1 can cannellini beans and 1 package nori strips. Bring back to a boil and cook for about five more minutes. Garnish with some fresh rosemary and voila!

Happy souping everyone!

Written by: Leana Varvella

7 Tips for Washing Fruits and Vegetables

Image
Photo credit: Jim Belford

In our fast-paced lives, sometimes it’s difficult to choose fresh produce options and take the time to prepare them, let alone wash them properly. But washing is a crucial step in maintaining the safety of our food, especially since most of it has traveled across many miles and passed through many hands before finally reaching our plates.

Taking a few extra seconds to cleanse your produce of bacteria and other potentially harmful microorganisms is easy to do if you have a few different options to choose from. Here are seven tips for washing various fruits and vegetables:

1. Wash your hands first! It seems like a no-brainer, but it’s also easy to forget. Many foodborne illnesses are the result of cross-contamination from unclean hands, rather than from the food item itself.

vegbrushes
2. Firm produce with peels, such as apples or cucumbers, are a good candidate for scrubbing with a produce brush underneath cool running water. This can help loosen and remove dirt more effectively than water alone. Produce with grooves on the surface, such as cantaloupe, are especially important to brush because of the microorganisms that can become trapped in each cranny. Produce brushes come in all different shapes in sizes, but any basic brush with stiff bristles will work.

3. Always wash the outside of your fruit or vegetable, even if you don’t eat the outer portion–for example, melons, kiwi, or squash. Bacteria from the surface of the food can enter the edible portion while slicing, or become cross-contaminated on the cutting board.

4. For softer produce like berries, rinse and toss repeatedly in a colander under cold running water until evenly washed.

5. For firm produce, another method of washing is to mix one part vinegar (can be either white or apple cider vinegar) with three parts water, then either spritz or soak your produce and let them sit for about ten minutes before rinsing with water alone. The acidity of the vinegar kills bacteria while the rinse afterwards gets rid of the strong vinegar flavor and remaining debris.

6. Greens can be more difficult to wash due to their layers and texture, so letting them soak in a bowl of cold water helps loosen dirt and other microorganisms before rinsing under the faucet. You can also use the vinegar mixture, but this may effect the texture of some leafy greens. Blot dry with paper towels or use a salad spinner to remove excess moisture.

7. What about the produce washes you find in bottles at the store? The FDA doesn’t recommend these products, and some research has shown that they remove the same amount of bacteria as distilled water, making their comparatively high cost not worth it.

Enjoy your fresh produce to the fullest by making sure it’s as clean and safe as possible. Even little ones can help–let them explore the different textures as you show them how to rinse!

Written by: Lauren Mesaros

Sources:

Grain Spotlight…Buckwheat!

buckwheat_www.flickr.com_slash_photos_slash_ervins_strauhmanis

Photo credit: Ervins Strauhmanis

As more people have begun adopting gluten-free diets due to allergy, intolerance, or other health-related reasons, alternative grains have experienced a boost in popularity. One of these is buckwheat, which, despite the name, is not related to wheat at all. The “fruit” of the buckwheat plant is actually more like a sunflower seed, with one seed inside a hard outer hull. Buckwheat flour is made from the white, starchy endosperm, and kasha (or buckwheat groat, as it is sometimes called) is the hulled, crushed whole grain most commonly used in cooking. The flowers of the buckwheat plant are also very attractive to bees and are used to make a dark honey.

Like many grains, buckwheat is a good source of protein and fiber, providing about 5.7 grams of protein and 4.5 grams of fiber per cooked cup. Buckwheat is also high in manganese, a micronutrient needed for many chemical reactions throughout the body. Some studies have shown that diets containing buckwheat and other grains are linked to a lower risk of high cholesterol or high blood pressure. These effects are partly due to buckwheat’s supply of flavonoids, which act as antioxidants and also help to prevent excessive clotting of blood platelets.

 If you’re looking for a gluten-free alternative or just want to experiment with another nutritious grain, there are many ways to use buckwheat in cooking and baking. Buckwheat flour can easily be a substitute for regular white or wheat flour in muffins, breads, cookies, or as a thickener for soups and sauces. You can even grind your own at home using whole buckwheat and a spice or coffee grinder (ideally one with at least 200 watts of power, as buckwheat hulls are harder than other grains). The flour should always be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator, while the grains can be stored in an airtight container in any cool, dry place. 

 The cooked grains can be used as a plain or seasoned side dish, as a hot breakfast cereal with milk, or as a replacement for rice given the similar texture and cooking methods. They’re an excellent addition to soups, cooked or cold salads, stuffings, stir-fries, or any other dish you would like to add some complex carbohydrates and protein to! 
 
Buckwheat can even be made into baby food: just thoroughly whisk together over low heat 1-2 cups of water for each 1/4 cup of buckwheat flour. For older babies or toddlers who can chew, try a kasha cereal by boiling 2 cups of water, adding 1 cup of kasha and returning to a boil, then reducing the heat to low to let the mixture simmer for about 15 minutes as you stir occasionally. This can be served on its own or easily mixed with fruit, fruit purees, or milk.
 
One of the most common uses of buckwheat around the world is for buckwheat flour pancakes. Here’s an easy, vegan, gluten-free recipe!
 
Vegan Gluten-Free Buckwheat Pancakes
1 cup buckwheat flour
1/2 cup white or brown rice flour
2 tablespoons ground flax
2 tablespoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon date sugar (or other sweetener)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 cups soy milk (or other non-dairy milk)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
 
1. Sift the buckwheat flour and mix together with all dry ingredients.
2. Add the milk and vanilla and mix well.
3. Let sit for about 10 minutes, then add any fruit or nuts as desired.
4. Pour about 1/4 cup of batter onto a greased griddle or pan and flip the pancake when bubbles form on the surface. Cook until golden brown on each side.
 
 
What’s your favorite way to cook with buckwheat?
 
 
Written by: Lauren Mesaros
 
Sources:
Recipe adapted from Helyn’s Healthy Kitchen

Tips for Cooking With Toddlers!

Image

If you’re like many parents, just the title of this blog post is conjuring up images of spills, various sticky splotches all over the counter, and powdery white flour covering every surface and every inch of your toddler after she knocks it over. Combine this with sharp objects and hot surfaces, and it’s easy to see how cooking with your little one might not yet seem like the best idea.

But while there will most likely be some messes along the way, studies show that children who are involved in preparing their food tend to make healthier choices and are less likely to be picky eaters. Toddlers imitate behavior more often in their stage of life than at any other stage, providing a perfect window for beginning to teach them the basics of food, kitchen safety, and self-confidence in making healthy choices.

Here are some simple ways to get your toddler involved in the kitchen!

Start with a spoon. Stirring dry ingredients, liquids, or batters is one of the easiest tasks for a toddler to try. Your steady hand may be needed to keep the bowl from tipping, but offering a spoon or whisk with a thick handle will help your toddler achieve better coordination.

Work with water. Younger toddlers who love playing with water will enjoy this tip. Show her how to hold fruits and vegetables under the faucet, scrub them with a produce brush, then gently dry them off. (Also model the importance of hand-washing before cooking!)

Try hands-on recipes. Baking recipes like breads and cookies offer a fun opportunity for toddlers to use their hands directly. Show him how to make little balls to put on the cookie sheet, or how to knead bread dough. The results won’t be perfect, but your little one will be so proud of his handiwork!

Remind them of dangers. This one’s pretty obvious, but reinforce that certain kitchen tools go “ouch” and that it’s not time yet to eat certain foods until after they have been in the oven.

Give them choices. Older toddlers will love making “big kid” decisions about their food, especially if they get to help prepare it. For example, ask if they would like banana slices or blueberries with their lunch, then help them use a butter knife to make the slices, or show them how to rinse blueberries under the faucet before putting them on their plate.

Start a simple routine. For cooking multiple recipes with your toddler over time, start a routine to give them something to look forward to and gain confidence in the kitchen. For example, mommy/daddy may always measure the ingredients, but your toddler can always dump the measuring cups into the bowl. Another routine can even be as simple as getting your little one a children’s apron. Besides keeping her clean, this can help serve as a cue for getting ready to cook together, and give her something of her own to use every time in the kitchen.

Have fun! It’s normal to be nervous about letting a toddler into the working areas of the kitchen for the first time, but as you watch out for his safety, try to relax and allow you both to enjoy the experience. Afterwards, you can even hand him a paper towel to help you clean up!

What are some ways you like to spend time with your little one in the kitchen? Let us know in the comments below!

Written by: Lauren Mesaros

Sources:
Organic Connections

Tofu Tips!

Image

Ahh, tofu! Known as a vegetarian’s go-to for some protein and also known as this weird looking white stuff that you pick up in the store and say “what the heck can I do with this?”.

If you’ve never eaten tofu, you should definitely start! Before I dish out some recipes, let’s do some Tofu 101. Tofu, according to wikipedia, is a food made by coagulating soy milk and then pressing the resulting curds into soft white blocks. It is filled with protein and iron, and low in calories and fat! The taste is pretty bland though, which means you must season or marinate it to give it any sort of flavor. The lack of taste gives you the freedom to make it whatever you may crave – sweet or savory!

There are a few types of tofu. We are only going to list the fresh tofu, and not the processed, because we should know by now that processed foods shouldn’t be in our diet! Fresh tofu consists of silken and firm.

  • Silken – Also referred to as “soft” tofu. This is a Japanese styled tofu because of the way it is molded through a silk cloth. It has a much softer, silkier texture than firm tofu and it crumbles very easily. Since it has an almost pudding-like consistency, it is often used in desserts, dressings, purees etc.
  • Firm/Extra Firm – The name says it all. Rather than being soft, it has a firmer texture due to the bean curds being drained and then pressed into blocks. This tofu is more commonly seen and can be used in stir fries, soups, bakes, scrambles etc.

Here are some super easy and super delicious recipes using tofu – great for kids and adults alike! As always, make sure to buy organic and non-GMO!

Chocolate-Peanut Butter Tofu Mousse

  • Puree 1 package silken tofu.
  • Heat 1/3 cup organic dark cocoa powder and 1/4 cup water in pot. Slowly add in 1/4 cup all natural granulated sweetener (I use maple sugar flakes or sucanat), 1 teaspoon vanilla, and 2 tablespoons of all natural peanut butter and stir until smooth.
  • Remove from heat, and add pureed tofu. Chill for at least an hour. Serve with any toppings you would like!

Crispy Tofu Nuggets

  • Preheat oven to 350. Spray baking sheet with olive/coconut oil.
  • Cut 1 package of firm tofu into nugget shapes of your choice.
  • Fill 3 bowls with: 1/4 cup white whole wheat flour, 2 eggs beaten, 1/4 cup favorite breadcrumbs.
  • Dip tofu nuggets into flour bowl, then egg wash, then breadcrumbs and place on pan.
  • Bake nuggets for 15-20 min, serve with favorite dipping sauce and enjoy!

Breakfast Tofu Scramble

  • Heat skillet over medium heat, coat with olive/coconut oil.
  • Chop desired veggies (peppers, mushrooms, spinach, onions, carrots etc.)
  • Cook veggies and 1 package soft tofu (crumbled) along with salt, pepper, and any other spices you wish for 6-8 minutes or until your liking.
  • Bonus: For on-the-go mornings, create a breakfast burrito with tofu scramble and ezekiel/whole grain wrap!

Written by: Leana Varvella