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

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

Back To School Fuel

School is back in session! Whether you are sending your tike off to pre-school, half-day kindergarden or 2nd grade you want to make sure they are ready to start the day. You don’t have to make a gourmet breakfast to fill up with the essential nutrients for prime learning, you just have to get creative. Check out some healthy, fun (and easy!) ideas below!

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Mug Cakes – What child wouldn’t want cake for breakfast? And guess what the best part is? It is filled with whole grains and protein with no added sugars so their brain is ready to work! Perfect for those hectic mornings we all have, it can also be taken on the go!

Try this chocolate nut butter mug cake (YUM!). Mix the following ingredients together:

  • 3 tablespoons oat flour
  • 1 tablespoon organic cocoa powder
  • 1 tablespoon almond/coconut flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • PINCH of salt
  • 1 egg white OR 1 tablespoon coconut oil (melted)
  • 3 tablespoons almond/soy/coconut milk
  • 1 tablespoon of your favorite nut butter

Once mixed, poor into greased mug (I usually spray some coconut oil) and microwave for 1-1:30 min. Eat out of the mug or slide it out onto a plate to make it fancy. Feel free to top with chopped nuts, berries and/or some greek yogurt!

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English Muffin Breakfast Pizza – A great way for your kids to create their own breakfasts! Toast an Ezekiel english muffin and top with whatever their little hearts desire! To get even more flavor, feel free to pop these bad boys in the oven until they are toasted to your liking! Some ideas to get you started are below.

  • Peanut Butter, Bananas, and a drizzle of honey
  • Cream Cheese, Apricot Reserves, and Almonds
  • Nutella, Strawberries, and Raspberries
  • Greek Yogurt, Blueberries, Peaches and a sprinkle of Cinnamon
  • Flavor Burst! Avoacado, Tomato, and Arugula topped with crumbled Feta and a touch of balsamic glaze

What are some fun ways that you play up breakfast in the morning? Let us know!

Written by: Leana Varvella

Photos: thenovicechefblog.com, chow.com

Crazy for Coconut Oil

coconut_oil

If you haven’t hopped on the coconut oil bandwagon yet, you are seriously missing out. The oil from this tropical fruit gives you benefits inside and out. From your hair, and skin to your digestive system and metabolism; even as a furniture or leather polish (whaaaat?!), it is clear that coconut oil is a true winner. Move the olive oil to the back burner, and toss the vegetable oils in the trash because we are going crazy for coconuts and here’s why you should be too:

Health Benefits

  • Increase Metabolism
  • Reduce Risk of Heart DIsease
  • Control Blood Sugar Levels
  • Support Healthy Intestinal Tract
  • Prevent DIsease

Beauty Benefits

  • Hair Smoother
  • Cuticle Softener
  • Makeup Remover
  • Body Oil
  • Lip Balm

Odd Jobs

  • Leather/Furniture Polish
  • Toothpaste
  • Homemade WD-40
  • Pet Paw Moisturizer

Using coconut oil is as easy as using any other oil when cooking. This oil is perfect for baking and sautéing, as it cooks well with high temperatures. And although this oil is from a fruit, it doesn’t have an overbearingly sweet taste so no worries about that! Coconut oil can be on the pricey side ($5-$8 per jar) but as you can see, it is well worth it! So what are you waiting for? Go out, get some coconut oil and you’ll be crazy for coconuts in no time!

Remember that coconut oil is still a fat and should be used mindfully. 2 tablespoons a day is enough to give your body everything this oil has to offer.

Written by: Leana Varvella

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.

 

Serving Tips For Homemade Purees

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Are you starting to make your own purees for the little one?  If so, here are a few tips on serving and preparation to help you out!

  • Serve the food no warmer than body temperature.
  • Use caution if you heat meals in the microwave. Microwaves heat unevenly and can create “hot spots”, so be sure to stir microwaved food well and let it sit for a few minutes before serving.
  • Only dish out the amount of food you think your baby will eat at that feeding. You’ll need to toss what’s left over because your baby’s saliva will get into the mixture and make it easy for bacteria to grow in the food.
  • Don’t sweeten your baby’s food. Babies don’t need any extra sugar. Never use honey or corn syrup, which can cause botulism, which is a potentially fatal food poisoning found in infants.
  • Use seasonings, as they are able to tolerate and enjoy a variety of flavors.
  • Refrigerate leftovers in an airtight container and use them up within 2-3 days. You can also freeze leftovers in ice cube trays or similar devices. After the cubes are frozen solid, remove them and store in plastic freezer bags. Fruits and vegetables frozen this way will last six to eight months. Meat will last one to two months.

Source: Baby Center

How To Introduce Solids To Picky Eaters

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Introducing solids into your toddler’s diet can be both frustrating as they tend to be fussy and resistant to trying new foods whether it is due to flavor, color, or texture.  Here are a few tips to help things run smoothly during this transition!

  • Structure your child’s eating so that they have three regular meals a day and two healthy snacks in between meals.  Making sure your child has set meal and snack times will help ensure they are eating when hungry while also avoiding grazing, which can cause children not to eat at meals times.
  • Serve a variety of good foods for your toddler to eat at each meal. When you offer a new food, simply place it on your child’s highchair tray without making a big deal about it. 
  • Introduce new foods one at a time and in small amounts. Instead of an entire meal of unfamiliar foods, offer a few of their favorite items with one new item. 
  • Try to schedule a new food when you know your child is hungry.
  • Use toddler-size portions. A serving size for a toddler is about 1/4 of a single portion for an adult. A serving of meat for a 1-year-old is about the size of the palm of their hand, and a serving of vegetables is only about 1 or 2 tablespoons.
  • Understand that some children’s palates are more sensitive than others. Some simply won’t like the texture, color, or taste of certain foods. That’s why a child might claim to dislike a food she has never even tried. Some children may reject a food because it reminds them of a time when they were sick or because they have some other negative association with it.
  • Resist the urge to offer sugary foods in an effort to get your toddler to eat more. You want to develop their sense of culinary adventure, not their sweet tooth!
  • Minimize distractions at the table. If a sibling is running around nearby or a cartoon beckons from across the room, your toddler may lose interest in the food being served. Try to make meals relaxed and quiet.