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.

image02Image credit – babble

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!

Butternut squash soup
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

7 Tips for Washing Fruits and Vegetables

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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

Fall Apples and Organic Homemade Applesauce!

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Photo credit: Skanska Matupplevelser

We’re already a few weeks past the official beginning of fall, which means there are lots of delicious, seasonal fruits and vegetables stocking the shelves at the grocery store and farmer’s market. One of these fall favorites are apples!

There are over 2,500 different varieties of apples grown in the United States, contributing to the average American’s consumption of 50 pounds of apples each year (with about 19 of those pounds coming from fresh, whole apples). Before Pilgrims brought over more varieties in the early 1600s from Europe, the only breed of apple native to North America was the crabapple. By the time the first commercial trade of apples began in the United States in 1741, they had already been an excellent food source for settlers due to their easy storage and long shelf life.

Apples are a great source of soluble and insoluble fiber, Vitamin C, and antioxidants. Unfortunately, they’re also a good source of residual pesticides. If you haven’t heard of the “Dirty Dozen,” it’s a list compiled by the Environmental Working Group showing the fruits and vegetables with the highest levels of pesticide exposure. Of the 700 apple samples tested, 98% were shown to contain pesticides–up to 48 different types! This makes apples number one on the Dirty Dozen list, thus also making them one of the best types of produce to buy organically in order to avoid exposure to pesticides that, in some cases, have been proven to cause health problems in humans.

So what’s a nutritious apple recipe for the whole family to enjoy?
Try Organic Homemade Applesauce!

Directions:

1. Take a selection of organic apples (feel free to mix different kinds), wash them thoroughly, then peel and core them. Cut into chunks.

2. Put apples in boiling water and let cook for about 10 minutes until tender, being careful not to overcook in order to retain as much of the vitamins as possible.

3. Rinse the apple pieces in cold water before putting into a blender or food processor. Blend until your desired consistency is reached, adding water as needed.

4. Add a little cinnamon (if your baby is not allergic), some other pureed fruit or vegetables (like mango, berries, carrot, or even pumpkin), or just enjoy plain!

Written by: Lauren Mesaros

Sources:
Environmental Working Group
Binghamton University
Forbes: Five Reasons to Eat Organic Apples

Sources of Plant Based Protein for Toddlers

Kenny Louie at flickr.com_slash_photos_slash_kennymatic
Photo credit: Kenny Louie

As young eaters begin their transition from milk and smooth textures to a variety of finger foods, it doesn’t take long to notice a toddler’s preferences in terms of taste, temperature, and texture. During this transitional phase when many toddlers may only accept certain foods (don’t give up!), many parents worry about whether or not their child is getting enough nutrients. One common area of concern is protein.

Studies have shown that babies between 12 and 24 months of age typically consume about 14-19 ounces of breast milk or formula per day, accounting for about 50% of the baby’s nutritional needs. The amount of protein typically found per ounce of breast milk is almost 0.4 grams, meaning the amount found in those 14-19 ounces usually ranges between 5.3 grams and 7.3 grams. Children between the ages of one and three years old need 0.55 grams of protein per pound of body weight each day. So what do all these numbers and measurements come down to? Basically, if the average 28 pound toddler needs 16 grams of protein every day, he or she is getting just under half that amount from milk or formula, leaving the other half to solid foods.

So where can toddlers fulfill the rest of their protein needs? Meat or dairy aren’t the only sources of protein available for this job. Here are five plant-based, high-protein foods with a variety of flavors and textures for new eaters to choose from!

1. Green Peas
In only half a cup, green peas provide 4 grams of protein, plus lots of Vitamin C, Vitamin A, and other vitamins and minerals. Peas are a fun finger food and easy to serve cooked whole or mashed and added to other soft foods such as mashed potatoes.

2. Cooked Oatmeal
Each half-cup of cooked oatmeal provides about 3 grams of protein, as well as plenty of carbohydrates. Many parents begin with warm cereal like oatmeal to introduce babies to semi-solid foods, but one important tip to keep in mind is to avoid offering sweetened oatmeal initially. This will help prevent a “sweet tooth” from emerging early on, and will help baby try a wider range of foods before craving the sweet stuff.

3. Brown Rice
Brown rice provides about 2.5 grams of protein for every half-cup, making it a great source for toddlers who may love eating the fluffy or sticky grains off their fingers. It may get a bit messy, but brown rice can be a tasty complement to nearly anything!

4. Avocado
Every half-cup of avocado holds about 1.5 grams of protein, in addition to plenty of the healthy fats they’re famous for. Avocado is also quite versatile–it can be served in slices, mashed in a bowl, or blended with many other foods, including baked goods! (Just swap some or all of the butter in a recipe for avocado!) The slight sweetness and soft texture appeal to many first-time eaters.

5. Hummus
One little tablespoon of hummus provides 1.2 grams of protein, making it the most protein-packed contender per serving size on this list! To avoid potentially irritating baby’s system with pre-made hummus that typically includes garlic (which some gassy babies may be sensitive to), tahini (a sesame product that toddlers at risk for a sesame allergy should avoid), and spices, make your own at home by blending cooked chickpeas, a little olive oil, and any other veggie you like that baby can eat. Show your toddler how to dip crackers or other finger foods in, and he or she will be thrilled to imitate!

Written by: Lauren Mesaros

Sources:
Baylor College of Medicine
KellyMom
Parenting Science