Archive for the ‘ Snacking ’ Category

Marketing Junk Food to Kids

Tuesday, December 9th, 2014

In an effort to stop marketing unhealthy foods to children and curb childhood obesity in America, the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) recently asked five candy companies including Tootsie Roll Industries, American Licorice Company, Haribo of America, Perfetti Van Melle, and The Topps Company to join the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI).

According to CSPI, letters to the five candy companies were also signed by prominent organizations including the American Heart Association, the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, The Yale Rudd Center, Prevention Institute, as well as other physicians and public health experts.

On the plus side, CSPI reports that three of the nation’s largest candy companies—Hershey, Mars, and Nestle—already belong to the CFBAI, a voluntary self-regulation program founded in 2006 and administered by the Council of Better Business Bureaus (BBB).

As described on the BBB website, the CFBAI “is designed to shift the mix of foods advertised to children under 12 to encourage healthier dietary choices and healthy lifestyles.” Currently, the three biggest candy companies in the United States—The Hershey Company, Mars, Incorporated, and Nestle USA—currently participate in the initiative. More than a dozen companies including The Coca-Cola Company and Burger King Corporation have also signed on.

According to Maureen Enright, Deputy Director, CFBAI, as part of the initiative, candy and other companies voluntarily agree to use CFBAI’s uniform nutrition criteria to govern what foods are in child-directed advertising (CFBAI covers advertising on TV, radio, print, on the internet, and in mobile ads and apps) or do no child-directed advertising. Currently, CFBAI participants that make candy, including Hershey, Mars, Nestlé and Ferrero, don’t advertise directly to children.

In a press release, CSPI notes that according to both the National Academies’ Institute of Medicine and the American Psychological Association, children under age eight aren’t mature enough to understand the persuasive intent of advertising. The press release states that, according to the Institute of Medicine, television food advertising affects children’s food choices, food purchase requests, diets, and overall health.

I fully support this initiative as well as the encouragement of CSPI to have candy companies (and all food companies, for that matter) to do more to protect the health and well being of children. I’m all for anything we can do to better the environment to encourage kids to eat more healthfully and moderately, especially since kids fall short on many foods including fruits and vegetables and whole grains and tend to over consume foods made with solid fats and added sugars (collectively, these are called SoFAS according to current dietary guidelines).

According to national survey data, kids’ between the ages of two and eighteen consume an average of 646 calories from SoFAS—or about one third of their total calorie intake. Current guidelines suggest up to five to 15 percent of daily calories from SoFAS. For a child or adolescent who consumes anywhere from 1,000 to 1,800 calories daily, that’s about 137 to 161 calories, the amount you’d find in 5 to 6 Hershey kisses.

Besides focusing on advertising of unhealthy foods to kids, I strongly believe that we have to rethink our ubiquitous access to such nutrient-poor foods. Why is it that so many checkout counters at places ranging from gas stations to electronic stores are decorated with shelves of candy wrapped in colorful wrappers? And what about all those coolers, many also at checkout counters, packed with sugary beverages? And vending machines…they’re everywhere, and they’re usually packed with a range of snack foods, many of which fare more like dessert (fortunately, those with 20 or more locations are now required to follow new federal calorie labeling guidelines).

It’s hard to resist the urge to buy impulse items, and what parent hasn’t given in to their kids’ demand for something at a checkout counter or vending machine at least on occasion? It seems to me that besides limiting or altogether obliterating candy and other nutrient-poor food advertisements, especially those that are geared to impressionable children, we also need to have rules about what and how stores sell food.

You might argue that businesses of all kinds have a right to sell what they want and to position such items where they want. But isn’t it wrong on some level to sell candy and other such items at a store that’s not really in the business of selling food? Or to sell food on low shelves, at eye level, where it entices kids? If we are going to make any progress in helping to teach our children to eat well, we need to create an environment—not just at home, but outside the home—that doesn’t sabotage practicing healthy eating and lifestyle habits and teaching them to our kids.

CSPI has been extremely successful in many of their initiatives, and I hope this latest attempt to get candy companies to step up to the plate to limit potentially harmful advertising of less than healthy foods to children catches on. I’m not sure the rules will ever become mandatory, but achieving this would at very least be a big step in helping our kids eat and live more healthfully.

What’s your opinion?

Image of chocolate bar with caramel via shutterstock.

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Why You Should Eat Dessert Today

Monday, December 8th, 2014

This is a guest post from Jenna Helwig, Parents’ food editor and brownie fanatic. 

Disclaimer: Today we will be taking a break from our regularly scheduled, healthy eating programming on this blog to discuss… dessert. Now, of course, dessert should only be an occasional treat, especially for kids. So don’t consider this post license to run wild. Understood? Good.

Okay, now on to the sweet stuff:

As food editor at Parents, I get a lot of emails reminding me that it’s National This Day or National That Day. Truthfully, I’ve never been moved to post until now; when I learned today is National Brownie Day I couldn’t help myself. If it were magically decreed that I could only eat one type of sweet for the rest of my life I would choose brownies, no question.

While history doesn’t record definitively who made the first brownie (and come on, people, isn’t this something that should be in textbooks?), it seems like the chocolate-y treat was invented either in Chicago in 1893 or Boston in 1906.

The beauty of living more than a century later is that we have so many brownie options to choose from, from store-bought to homemade, gluten-free to all-out decadent. (I am going to ignore those folks that prefer cake-y brownies. If you want a cake-y brownie, just have a piece of cake!) Here are my favorites:

If you like your brownie with a crunch open a bag of Brownie Brittle. This crispy, chocolate-y treat is available in four yummy flavors, including my favorite, Mint Chocolate Chip. Even better, you can now get Brownie Brittle in single-serving bags to make portion control more likely (although I can’t guarantee it). You will probably see Brownie Brittle a lot more in the coming weeks—or your kids will—since the brand is partnering with the new Paddington movie out in January.

If you are craving an ooey-gooey, indulgent brownie check out Beverly Hills Brownie Company, which ships across the country. Look for the S’Mores, Movie Mix, and Cream Cheese varieties. They make a great holiday gift!

If you want a gluten-free brownie buy a mix from Cup4Cup, the gluten-free baking line. I love these brownies so much that this is my go-to mix, even though I eat gluten with wild abandon. Available online, at Williams-Sonoma, Sur La Table, or select Kroger stores.

If you love a classic DIY brownie check out our recipe. With only eight pantry ingredients, you can have these beauties on the table in under an hour.

If you want a knock-your-socks-off homemade brownie, look no further than this recipe from Dorie Greenspan, author of the recently released Baking Chez Moi and my all-time favorite baking book Baking: From My Home to Yours. I don’t really know Dorie, but I feel like we’re on a first-name basis. Her voice is so chatty, her directions are so clear, and her recipes are so darn good. These brownies are no exception.

So join me celebrating National Brownie Day today. I will enjoy a square of Dorie’s brownies, and maybe a bite or two of some of my other faves. After all, National Brownie Day only comes once a year.

How will you observe National Brownie Day?


Chocolate-Cherry Brownies
Makes 25 squares

This is a one-bowl recipe: Everything is mixed in the bowl you use to melt the chocolate and butter. It’s a simple recipe, but even simple recipes have rules. For the brownies to be the best they can be: Melt the butter and chocolate together in a large bowl set over simmering water and stay close (remove the bowl when the chocolate is just melted or even only almost melted). Leave your eggs in the refrigerator until you’re ready to use them (cold eggs give you a smoother batter). And don’t overbake the brownies—it’s better to remove the pan from the oven a minute too early than a minute too late. Because of the chopped chocolate in the batter, the brownies won’t set until they cool, so a tester needn’t come out completely clean and dry.

2 tablespoons fruity red wine or cranberry juice

2 tablespoons water

1 cup moist dried cherries or dried cranberries

10 ounces) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces

¾ cup sugar

2 large cold eggs

½ teaspoon fine sea salt

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line an 8-inch square pan with parchment or foil and butter it.

Pour the red wine (or cranberry juice) and water into a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Add the cherries or cranberries and cook over low heat until the fruit is plump and the liquid has been absorbed, about 3 minutes. Turn the fruit into a bowl and set aside to cool.

Measure out 6 ounces of the chocolate and coarsely chop it. Finely chop the remaining 4 ounces.

Put the butter in a large heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water and scatter over the coarsely chopped chocolate. Heat the mixture until the chocolate is just on the verge of melting completely; you don’t want to heat the chocolate and butter so much that they separate. Remove the bowl from the saucepan and stir; you’ll have a thick, shiny mixture.

Working with a flexible spatula, beat in the sugar. Don’t be discouraged when the batter goes grainy; it ends up fine. When the sugar is incorporated, beat in the eggs one at a time—give the eggs a little elbow grease and you’ll have a heavy batter that will have regained some of its glossiness. Mix in the salt and pepper, then gently stir in the flour, mixing only until it disappears into the batter. Stir in the cherries or cranberries and any liquid that has accumulated, then add the finely chopped chocolate. Scrape the batter into the pan and smooth the top as best as you can.

Bake the brownies for 27 to 29 minutes, or until the top is uniformly dull; a knife inserted into the center will come out almost clean. Transfer the pan to a rack and cool until the brownies are just warm or until they reach room temperature.

To unmold, invert the brownies onto a cutting board and peel away the parchment or foil. Turn the brownies over and cut into 25 small squares.

Excerpted from BAKING CHEZ MOI, © 2014 by Dorie Greenspan. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.

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Greek Yogurt Recipes Your Kids Will Love

Monday, November 10th, 2014

If you’re looking from some new, healthy, kid-friendly recipe ideas using the ever-popular Greek yogurt, you’ll enjoy this guest post by registered dietitian Toby Amidor. A mother of three, she’s the author of the terrific new cookbook, The Greek Yogurt Kitchen: More Than 130 Recipes for Every Meal of the Day. Read on to learn about the nutritional perks of this versatile, easy to use food and to find a few of Amidor’s delicious recipes to incorporate it into family meals your kids are sure to love.  

After writing an entire cookbook on Greek yogurt, my nine-year-old daughter is now obsessed with the high protein dairy delight. She was my avid taste tester for many of the recipes and now I seem to be preparing her favorites on demand! But if you think Greek yogurt is just a snack, think again. There are many other ways to enjoy it.

The Nutritional Benefits

Greek yogurt is less watery than traditional yogurt because it is strained to remove the whey. This results in a yogurt that has a thick, creamy consistency and rich flavor. Greek yogurt also has about 40% less sugar, 38% less sodium, twice the amount of protein, and less lactose than traditional yogurt. It also contains live and active cultures, many of which act as probiotics.

Incorporating Greek yogurt into your child’s healthy eating plan can help them meet the USDA’s recommendations to have 3 daily servings of dairy each day.

Oh, the Versatility

There are so many kid-friendly ways to enjoy Greek yogurt that go beyond the yogurt cup.

Blend It

Kids love smoothies, but oftentimes they don’t know how healthy the ingredients in their smoothie really are! Greek yogurt not only adds a ton of good-for-you nutrients, it also adds frothiness and a thicker texture kid’s adore.

Mama’s Berry Smoothie

Serves 1

Prep time: 5 minutes


1 ½ medium bananas, peeled and frozen

½ cup frozen raspberries

½ cup frozen blueberries

1 cup fresh whole strawberries

½ cup nonfat milk

¼ cup nonfat Greek yogurt

2 tablespoons honey


Place ingredients in blender; blend until smooth.


Serving size: 6-fluid ounces


Nutrition information per serving: Calories: 116; Total Fat: 0 grams; Saturated Fat: 0 grams; Protein: 3 grams; Carbohydrates: 27 grams; Fiber: 3 grams; Cholesterol: 0 milligrams; Sodium: 23 milligrams


Dip It

A 2013 study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that kids were more likely to eat their vegetables when they dipped them first. The study looked at pre-school aged children who told researchers that they enjoyed eating their veggies when paired with a favorite flavored dip compared to eating a veggie without a dip or with a plain dip. The results found that 31-percent of kids liked a veggie alone compared with 64% who liked a veggie when it was served with their favorite dip.

Researchers from the Center for Childhood Obesity Research at Pennsylvania State University conducted a second experiment where they found that kids ate significantly more of a veggie they disliked or previously rejected when it was offered with a favorite reduced-fat herb dip compared to when it was offered without any dip.

Greek yogurt makes a delicious base for many dips, including my Mango Guacamole.


Mango Guacamole*

Serves 8

Prep time: 20 minutes


2 Haas avocados

Juice of 1 lime

1 serrano chile

1 clove garlic

½ medium red onion

½ medium red bell pepper, seeded

¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro

½ cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt

½ teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 mango, peeled and cut into ¼-inch dice


Slice the avocados in half lengthwise and remove the pits. Scoop out the flesh and place it in a medium bowl. Add the lime juice.

Halve the serrano chile lengthwise. Discard the seeds and cut the chile into 1/8-inch dice. Mince the garlic. Peel and finely dice the red onion. Slice the bell pepper in half, discard the seeds, and cut into ¼-inch dice. Add the chile, garlic, red onion, red bell pepper, cilantro, yogurt, salt, and black pepper to the avocado in the bowl, and stir to combine. Using a sharp knife, cut the avocado into a small dice. Gently stir the mango, and serve.


Serving size: ½ cup


Nutrition information per serving: Calories: 116; Total Fat: 8 grams; Saturated Fat: 1 gram; Protein: 3 grams; Total Carbohydrates: 12 grams; Sugars: 6 grams; Fiber: 4 grams; Cholesterol: 0 milligrams; Sodium: 154 milligrams


Bake It

Better-for-you cookies, brownies, and muffins? Yes, it’s possible! Greek yogurt is a healthy substitute for butter found in most baking recipes. For each stick of butter a recipe calls for, use two tablespoons nonfat Greek yogurt and ½ stick of butter instead.


Trail Mix Cookies*

Makes 40 cookies

Prep time: 20 minutes

Cook time: 12 minutes


Cooking spray

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted

¼ cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt

1 cup packed light brown sugar

½ cup granulated sugar

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats

1 cup seedless golden raisins

1/3 cup unsalted shelled sunflower seeds


Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray and set it aside.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt.

In a large bowl, whisk together the melted butter and yogurt. Add the brown sugar and granulated sugar and stir until smooth. Add the eggs, one at a time, whisking until each one is incorporated, and then add the vanilla extract. Whisk until the mixture is light brown and thoroughly combined.

Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet, folding gently until combined. Using one ingredient at a time, fold in the oats, raisins, and sunflower seeds.

Scoop up 1 heaping tablespoon of the dough and drop it onto the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough, leaving about 2 inches between cookies. Bake until the cookies are golden brown and slightly firm to the touch, about 12 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling for at least 10 minutes before serving.


Serving size: 1 cookie


Nutrition information per serving: Calories: 97; Total Fat: 3 grams; Saturated Fat: 2 grams; Protein: 2 grams; Total Carbohydrates: 16 grams; Sugars: 10 grams; Fiber: 1 gram; Cholesterol: 15 milligrams; Sodium: 45 milligrams


*Recipes from “The Greek Yogurt Kitchen” by Toby Amidor. Copyright © 2014 by Toby Amidor. Used with permission by Grand Central Publishing. All rights reserved.


What is your favorite way to infuse Greek yogurt into meals?

Image of strawberry banana smoothie via shutterstock. 

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Packaged Pumpkin Snacks and Treats Kids Will Love

Thursday, October 23rd, 2014

This is a guest post by Karen Cicero, Parents’ Contributing Food Editor

Grown-ups love their pumpkin spice lattes, why not let kids in on the fun?

Packaged Pumpkin Snacks and Treats Kids Will LoveA couple of weeks ago, I sent out a Facebook blast to a bunch of my friends asking if their kids enjoyed the flavor of pumpkin. I was surprised to find out that most their children have never tried it, even in pie! Well, I had to fix that because pumpkin adds a wonderful natural sweetness to foods plus extra vitamin A.

Instead of pumpkin pie or even muffins, I wanted to see if they’d like the plethora of pumpkin-flavored products that spouted up in the supermarket this month. So I invited moms and their pumpkin-deprived kids to the park for after-school snacks, which also included maple products and healthier Halloween treats. I kept it informal; kids could try whatever they wanted then they could come back for more in between races down the slide or a round on the swings. By the end of pumpkin playdate, even the picky eaters tasted a lot of foods because they saw friends digging in and there was no pressure. What did they fall for? Plenty—check out their top pumpkin picks plus maple and Halloween faves.

Pumpkin Yogurt: I set out two brands, Noosa (which is a Target exclusive) and Chobani. The kids dug both. Noosa, the milder of the two, comes in an 8-ounce tub so it’s best to split between two kids or share with your child (a lot of moms at the playdate did this) or you could scoop out half and save the rest for the next day. Chobani’s Pumpkin Spice flavor is a little stronger presumably because it contains more pumpkin (it has 35 percent of the Daily Value of vitamin A in 5.3 ounces while Noosa has 8 percent of the Daily Value in 8 ounces.)

Food Should Taste Good Harvest Pumpkin Chips These all-natural tortilla chips are made with pumpkin, cinnamon, and nutmeg, boosting their vitamin A to 15 percent of the Daily Value in one ounce, about 12 chips. Moms were surprised that their kids liked these because the packaging and spices seem more grown-up, but I watched kids take these by the handful. We actually ran out!

Nature’s Bakery Pumpkin Spice Fig Bar My 12-year-old daughter is no stranger to pumpkin—I made her pumpkin baby food way back when before Sprout, Plum Organics, and Earth’s Best had packaged versions—and these mini whole-grain bars were one of her favorite items. A limited edition, they come in a bag of 48 with other flavors so they’re perfect for trick or treaters. You can find them everywhere from Whole Foods to Walmart.

Way Better Punkin Cranberry Tortilla Chips “A unique, fun flavor,” was how one 11-year-old described these chips, which are made with quinoa, corn, raspberry, cranberry, and, of course, pumpkin. Kids crunched and munched until the bowl was empty.

Want to make homemade pumpkin treats? Check out our favorite pumpkin and squash recipes.

barkThins Dark Chocolate Pumpkin Seeds Any product that describes itself as “snacking chocolate” deserves to be tested. And it didn’t disappoint: Thin pieces of dark chocolate were stuffed with crunchy pumpkin seeds. The kids who got to try this liked it for sure, but, honestly, the moms didn’t want to share.

Packaged Pumpkin Snacks and Treats Kids Will Love

365 Everyday Value Maple Gingerbread Sandwich Creme Cookies A Whole Foods exclusive, these 75-calorie sandwich cookies have a pretty strong maple flavor. But that didn’t stop the kids. One little guy described them as “pancake cookies.” Too cute!

Boom Chicka Pop Organic Maple Sea Salt Popcorn We actually got a sneak peek at this flavor, hitting shelves in early 2015. It will be worth the wait. In the meantime, try another flavor like Sea Salt or White Cheddar.

Annie’s Homegrown Halloween Bunny Graham Packs The company’s whole-grain chocolate and honey crackers are paired together in mini packages perfect for Trick or Treaters. Kids loved that they were Halloween colors—the honey flavor looks orange thanks to a little annatto extract. Each box contains 24 packs.

Surf Sweets If you’re looking for colorful, dye-free Halloween candy that’s made in a nut-free facility, it actually exists! The company’s “Spooky Spiders,” gummy-like candy, were a huge hit as were treat packs of organic fruity bears.

One final tip: When you’re shopping for pumpkin or maple-flavored foods, be sure to look at the ingredients’ lists. Some products I ran across didn’t contain any actual pumpkin or maple syrup or had artificial food dyes to change their color. And that’s a little scary.

How to Make Pumpkin People
How to Make Pumpkin People
How to Make Pumpkin People

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Alison Sweeney’s Advice for Pleasing a Picky Eater

Tuesday, August 26th, 2014

This is a guest post by Brooke Bunce

Actress, reality TV host, writer, and director are just a few of the roles Alison Sweeney has on her extensive resume. Add mom of two, cook, and US Highbush Blueberry Council brand ambassador to the list and that definitely constitutes a packed schedule.

That said, Alison knows better than anyone how to make healthy eating a part of her busy day. She and her husband David were able to get nutritious meals on the table for Megan, 5, and Ben, 9, without too much of a fuss—that is, until Ben decided he didn’t want what his parents were preparing for him. Instead of discipline, Alison took another route.

“I challenged him to get an appreciation for how hard it is to make a dinner. He ended up preparing dinner the next night—and it was delicious! He did such a good job,” she says.

Now, both Ben and Megan play an active role in dinner prep at the Sweeney household, though it isn’t always easy to achieve culinary harmony. Fortunately for the rest of us, Alison recently shared a few of her tricks for those times when your kid’s taste buds just won’t budge.

Plan Ahead

On trips to the grocery store, Alison and her husband pick out tons of fresh fruits and veggies to keep on-hand at all times. Then, they take it one step further: “If you have fruit at home and set it in a bowl at the front of the fridge, washed and ready, it looks delicious and it’s ready to go,” she says. “Every time I put a bowl of blueberries or grapes in the fridge, they’re gone instantly.” With produce at the ready, it’s easier to keep kids away from convenience foods like bagged potato chips.

Give it a New Angle

If your kids aren’t enthusiastic about a certain food the first time they try it, don’t give up completely. Alison tries different cooking methods when reintroducing foods that her kids didn’t like initially. Or, she finds a new way to dress up ordinary produce, such as coating matchsticks of veggies in cornmeal for a healthy spin on French fries.

Assign Everyone a Job

When cooking becomes an integral part of family time, it encourages participation in the kitchen and trying new foods, Alison says. Reimagine meal prep as a positive outlet for little ones’ energy; assign simple tasks to the kiddos while adults handle the more complex duties. “If we can change the attitude [around cooking], it can be really fun,” Alison says.

Get Kids Invested

Including kids in every step of the process—from gathering fresh produce to sprinkling in seasonings—gives them ownership over their food, which makes them more willing to eat it. “We had a tomato plant in our backyard when Ben was little and he would pluck tomatoes right off the vine and eat them like apples, “ Alison says. Ben also helped collect fresh herbs for dinner, too.  “When they feel like it’s their dish, then they really love eating it.”

Picky Eaters: 3 Ways To Encourage Healthy Eating
Picky Eaters: 3 Ways To Encourage Healthy Eating
Picky Eaters: 3 Ways To Encourage Healthy Eating

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