A Wholesome Start: Vegetarian Toddler Nutrition

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A vegetarian diet can support the healthy growth of toddlers and preschoolers – if it is done right. Since these years are key when establishing eating habits for life, it’s important to give your toddler a solid foundation, especially if you choose a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle. Kids who can learn to appreciate and enjoy greens, fruit, and grains at a young age are going to be set up for a lifetime of solid eating choices.

According to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine,

Children raised on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes grow up to be slimmer and healthier and even live longer than their meat-eating friends. It is much easier to build a nutritious diet from plant foods than from animal products […] As for essential nutrients, plant foods are preferred sources because they provide sufficient energy and protein packaged with other health-promoting nutrients such as fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals.

Below are some helpful tips and information of key nutrients that are important to remember when feeding your budding vegetarian.

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Key Nutrients in a Vegetarian Diet:

Protein – found in beans and legumes, grains, tofu, tempeh and other fermented soy products, nuts and nut butters, dairy, eggs

As long as he is eating a good mix of greens, beans, and veggies, your toddler’s protein intake should be sufficient.

Vitamin D – fifteen minutes of playtime in the sun every day; also found in milk and fortified milk replacements

Calcium – found in green leafy vegetables, sweet potatoes, almonds and almond butter, milk and yogurt, calcium-set tofu, fortified milk substitutes (soy, coconut, almond), fortified orange juice

Iron – found in whole grains and cereals, dried fruits, beans and legumes, green leafy vegetables, fortified cereals

Try to pair plant-based foods containing iron with foods containing vitamin C (citrus, tomatoes, fruit, and more) as it promotes iron absorption!

Zinc – found in whole grains, nuts, beans, hard cheeses, tofu, fermented soy products

Vitamin B12 – eggs, dairy products, B12-fortified nutritional yeast, fortified milk replacements, fortified cereals

B12 is one of the few nutrients that isn’t easily found in a varied, wholesome plant-based diet, but is crucial for growth and development. If your toddler loves dairy, her B12 intake should be fine – if not, consider fortified foods or a supplement.

Fiber – found in whole grain breads and cereals, legumes, fruit, vegetables

We all know a diet high in fiber is good for adults, but it fills up small toddler tummies quickly and may cause children to feel full before eating enough. High fiber foods should also be high in calories, or try lower fiber foods like fruit.

Fats – found in nuts and nut butters, avocados, tofu, hummus, oils

Healthy fats are important for growth and brain development. Aim to provide monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (avocado, nut butters, tofu) and linoleic oil (canola, flaxseed, soy products).

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Helpful Tips:

The key to success with a vegetarian diet is mindfulness and planning!

Make every bite count – pack in plenty of protein, vitamins, and good fats.

Keep things fun by offering a variety of foods and introducing new ones frequently.

Toddlers are experts at mimicking. Make sure you’re eating your greens, too!

A well-balanced vegetarian diet contains things like nuts and fruit. Be sure to limit choking risk for toddlers by grinding nuts, halving or quartering grapes small fruits, and finely cutting vegetables and fruits – and of course, always supervise consumption of these foods!

Be sure to maintain regular checkups with your pediatrician, and listen to their recommendations.

Written by: Amanda Dunham

Sources:

Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine

Vegan Society

Vegetarian Nutrition

Modern Mom

Squash Spotlight: Butternut Squash!

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Photo credit: Veronique

Last week we featured a post about different kinds of fall and winter squash. This week we would like to highlight one in particular from that list, one of the most popular and versatile varieties mentioned: butternut squash!

Butternut squash, with its bright orange flesh full of carotenoids (a group of antioxidants), is an excellent source of Vitamin A–about 148% of your daily recommended intake for only half a cup! It’s also high in Vitamin C, fiber, manganese, potassium, magnesium, and the anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids. Plus its sweet, smooth, slightly nutty flavor makes it a winner for the tastebuds!

The tastiest butternut squash will feel heavy for its size and have a matte skin rather than a glossy skin. (A glossy skin is a sign of having been picked too early, and the flesh likely won’t be as sweet as a full-grown squash.) The squash can be stored in a cool, dry place for up to three months, while cut squash can stay fresh for about a week in the refrigerator if well wrapped. For a gourd with the most flesh, choose one with a long, thick neck. For slightly more beta-carotene content, pick one with skin more orange-colored than the rest.

Butternut squash can be prepared in many ways through roasting, toasting, puréeing, grilling, stuffing, or adding to casseroles or baked goods. In South African cuisine, butternut squash is commonly used in soups or grilled whole and seasoned with spices like nutmeg or cinnamon. Another common method is roasting, simply by cutting the squash in half lengthwise, lightly brushing with oil, and placing cut side down onto a baking sheet to bake for about 45 minutes. The seeds can also even be roasted like pumpkin seeds.

Here’s a favorite way to enjoy butternut squash that even the littlest members of the family can eat! Smooth, creamy, easy Butternut Squash Soup!

2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 medium carrot, chopped
1-2 medium potatoes, cubed
1 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cubed
1 (32 fl oz) container vegetable stock
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Heat the oil in a large pot and cook the onion, celery, carrot, potatoes, and squash for about 5 minutes or until lightly browned.

2. Pour in just enough vegetable stock to fully cover the vegetables, and bring to a boil. Then reduce heat to low, cover pot, and simmer for 40 minutes or until all vegetables are tender.

3. Pour soup from pot into a blender and blend until smooth. Return to pot, then add as much of the leftover vegetable stock as needed to reach the desired consistency and heat through. Season with salt and pepper and enjoy!

What’s your favorite way to cook butternut squash? Share your tips in the comments below!

Written by: Lauren Mesaros

Sources:
Recipe adapted from Butternut Squash Soup II

Tofu Tips!

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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

Exposing & Explaining: Tricks to Healthy Snacking Habits

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Did you know 25% to 33% of daily energy intake among adolescents is from snacking? That’s a pretty big part of their diet! With childhood obesity rates growing each year, it is the parents’ duty to educate and teach their children healthy eating habits. Let’s face it, packaged snacks are EASY! Most of them are cheap too, which doesn’t make it any easier to not buy that pack of Oreo’s your kids are pulling on your pant leg for. Unfortunately, most packaged snacks and products are extremely processed and have no nutritional value. How do we get our kids to want good snacks, like fruit and veggies, and not want the bad stuff, like chips and cookies?

The trick to getting our children to become healthy snackers is something I like to call Exposing & ExplainingE&E has worked for me many times in the past (it even works on adults!) and is so simple to do, that you’re probably thinking “Wow, that’s it?”. Yes, yes it is. A lot of us adults know a decent amount of nutritional information, and if we don’t know something then we can just look it up on the internet. The point is, we are educated and know an apple is better for you than a bag of chips. But you’re children might not!

1: Exposing: Let your children know what a Big Mac is, what a Twinkie is, what a bag of cheese puffs are. If you as a parent show your children all sides of the food industry, they won’t be as curious as if they did not know what something was. Chances are they are going to be invited to birthday parties where chips, cupcakes, pizza, candy etc. are available. The chances of them choosing to eat those foods go way down if they already know what they are vs. a child who has no idea what a Laffy Taffy is. I’m not saying to feed your kids these foods, but just to expose them and get them familiar with what we have available on this planet. Take the curiosity away!

2: Explaining: Once that curiosity is gone, just briefly tell your kids why that food is “icky”, unhealthy or why we don’t like it. Refrain from using the term “bad”, because you want them to make their own decision on why the food isn’t good for them. Categorizing a food as “bad” lets them know it isn’t good, but it doesn’t tell them WHY. For example, if I was trying to get a child to choose an apple over chips I would first tell them I don’t eat chips because I don’t know where they come from, and are made with chemicals my body cannot digest. Then I would ask them back: Would you want to eat something that was made with chemicals? Putting it in a question makes the child think and decide for themselves. State basic facts as to why things are healthier than others, rather than just saying this is healthy/not healthy.

Simple, right? That’s what I thought. Give it a try and let us know how it goes! Healthy snacking habits are only an E&E away!

Written by: Leana Varvella

Photo Credit: puregreencoffeeinfo.com

How To Get Your Kids Excited About Eating Healthy

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With the school year getting ready to kick off yet again, it is important to get the kids back into the swing of healthy eating after a summer filled with BBQ’s, play dates, birthday parties, and vacation meals.  Here are a few tips to make getting those fruits and veggies back into the routine less stressful and more enjoyable!

  • Have regular family meals. Knowing dinner is served at approximately the same time every night and that the entire family will be sitting down together is comforting and enhances appetite. Breakfast is another great time for a family meal, especially since kids who eat breakfast tend to do better in school.
  • Cook more meals at home. Eating home cooked meals is healthier for the whole family and sets a great example for kids about the importance of food. Restaurant meals tend to have more fat, sugar, and salt. Save dining out for special occasions.
  • Get kids involved. Children enjoy helping adults to shop for groceries, selecting what goes in their lunch box, and preparing dinner. It’s also a chance for you to teach them about the nutritional values of different foods, and (for older children) how to read food labels.
  • Make a variety of healthy snacks available instead of empty calorie snacks. Keep plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grain snacks, and healthy beverages (water, milk, pure fruit juice) around and easily accessible so kids become used to reaching for healthy snacks instead of empty calorie snacks like soda, chips, or cookies.
  • Limit portion sizes. Don’t insist your child cleans the plate, and never use food as a reward or bribe.

 

Scented Patriotic Play Dough

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Happy 4th of July!! Looking for an indoor activity to keep the kids occupied?

Here is a quick and easy project for kids of all ages!  Even better is that this recipe is so simple that they can even help you by adding the flour and water to the bowl so they can feel involved!

Patriotic Play Dough

1 cup water
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
1/4 cup salt
2 pkgs of Kool-Aid mix (choose 2 of the same flavor) OR 1/2 oz of liquid Kool-Aid
4 tsp cream of tartar
1 cup flour

Preparation:

  • Mix water, oil, Kool-Aid dry mix or liquid and salt into a medium saucepan.
  • Cook until salt is dissolved and then add in flour and cream of tartar.
  • Mix well until it forms into a ball, remove from heat and let cool completely before handling. Enjoy!
  • *You’ll need to make this recipe twice – once for blue (Kool-Aid ice blue raspberry) and once for red (strawberry or cherry). To make the white scented, try 2-3 drops of essential oil or a clear extract such as peppermint; add in after the play dough is cooked and cooled. Knead well.

Source: http://www.motherhoodonadime.com

What Better Way To Enjoy Play Time Outdoors Than With A Nature Color Hunt?!?

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With the warm weather finally here, our little ones want nothing more than to play outside most of the day.  You can use this time to turn play time into a learning experience as well by having a nature color hunt!!  The tray is easy to make and can be used several times! While children enjoy learning about colors in books, when they are actually able to apply their knowledge to real things that they can touch, it helps them retain the information!  Here is what you need to do.

1. Take an ice cube tray or egg carton and then take scissors to cute small squares of different colored construction paper or you can take acrylic paint and do the same thing to the bottom of each section in the carton.

2. For younger kids choose colors that you know they have a chance of finding a match. You can use primary colors that are easy to find outside and for the older children, you can add a few colors that might be more challenging.

3. Start finding things to match. Start off by choosing a color with your child and both go looking, if they have a hard time finding a match find one, and go to it but don’t announce you have found it, simply help guide them. If they still can’t pick up the object and have them match it in the tray.

4. Continue working together or if they prefer to work independently, just observe and see if there are specific colors they tend to have difficulty with so that you can work with them after.

5. After you have made all your matches, discuss what objects they found, what they are used for, how they feel, how they look, etc.  Turn the nature hunt into a true learning experience for everyone!