Archive for the ‘ The Scoop on Food ’ Category

5 Smoothie Secrets from The Blender Girl

Wednesday, October 15th, 2014

This is a guest post by Jenna Helwig, food editor at Parents.

My daughter and I are smoothie junkies, and judging by the proliferation of smoothie cookbooks and smoothie shops we’re not the only ones. Thankfully, this is one addiction that can be super-healthy for kids and adults. A classic smoothie of fruit and milk, either cow’s or non-dairy, provides a boatload of vitamins, fiber, and protein (if you’re using cow’s milk). But with a few tweaks, we can get even more nutritional bang for our buck—without scaring off the kids.

For ideas on how to make our smoothies even more healthy, but no less tasty, I turned to Tess Masters, a.k.a. The Blender Girl. Tess recently published her first cookbook with 100 gluten-free, vegan recipes including several smoothies. Even better for us smoothie fanatics is her new app, also called The Blender Girl, which is available through the iTunes app store ($4.99). The app features 70 recipes with a new one added each week. Tess kindly shared a few of her top tips for parents.

Tess Masters, a.k.a. The Blender GirlTess’s Smoothie Secrets:

  • Fill your freezer with frozen berries, mango, peaches, pineapple, bananas, and—yes—cauliflower, broccoli, peas, and carrots. These combine for sweet delicious flavors, creamy textures, and beautiful bright colors.
  • One cup of mild leafy greens like spinach, romaine, and kale will go into any sweet blend undetected. Add vibrant crimson characters like cranberry, pomegranate, and grape juices, and beets, berries, and red grapes for a vibrant color rather than a murky brown. Or go in the other direction and hide the dark greens in chocolate smoothies that combine milk, cacao, and banana.
  • Unsweetened purees like pear and apricot, as well as pumpkin butter and applesauce are great flavor and nutrition boosters in smoothies.
  • Frozen vegetables make excellent sneaky additions to smoothie. Our taste buds are temperature sensitive and veggies are a lot milder when they’re frozen. In small quantities, you won’t even taste them. A quarter cup of frozen cauliflower, broccoli, peas, spinach, and carrots goes into most sweet blends undetected.
  • Make murky-looking green smoothies more appealing to children by adding 2 to 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder plus 1 to 2 fresh or frozen bananas for a delicious chocolate milkshake.

Ready to put this advice into action? Try this sweet and creamy recipe from Tess’s new app. Tell the kids there’s kale blended in, or just call it a banana smoothie. Remember what you named it, though, because your kids are sure to ask for it again.

Tastes-Like-Ice-Cream Kale SmoothieTastes-Like-Ice-Cream Kale Smoothie

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup raw unsalted cashews, soaked for up to 4 hours (if you have time)

1 cup torn-up curly green kale leaves (1 or 2 large leaves with stalk removed)

2 ripe bananas, fresh or frozen

1 tablespoon pure maple syrup, plus more to taste

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups ice cubes (a little less if using frozen bananas)

Put all of the ingredients into your blender in the order listed and puree for about a minute, until smooth and creamy. Tweak flavors to taste (you may like a bit more kale or sweetener).

Makes 2 servings

Find more smoothie recipes perfect for breakfast or an afternoon snack.

How to Eat Healthy: Raising Nutrition-Smart Kids
How to Eat Healthy: Raising Nutrition-Smart Kids
How to Eat Healthy: Raising Nutrition-Smart Kids

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Do Your Kids Really Need to Eat Breakfast?

Thursday, October 9th, 2014

Do Your Kids Really Need to Eat Breakfast?

This is a guest post by Parents staffer Michela Tindera.

We’ve all heard it before: “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” But in the mad dash of school day mornings–making sure everyone is awake, dressed and on the school bus or in the car on time–completing all of that and providing a well-balanced breakfast can be a challenge worthy of an Olympic medal.

So, when a recent New York Times blog post asked the question, “Is Breakfast Overrated?”, many rejoiced to find that two studies published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reached the conclusion that, well, maybe breakfast isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.

But what about all of that research that says the opposite (“Skipping breakfast may increase coronary heart disease risk,” “Children who skip breakfast might raise diabetes risk”)? To settle the issue, we asked a couple of registered dieticians (and moms!) to find out just how this info applies to you and your family.

“It is too early to say that we should stop eating breakfast,” Natalia Stasenko, R.D. and mom says.

Both studies only evaluated the role breakfast played in adults’ weight loss and energy goals, not children’s. And Stasenko adds, kids have an entirely different set of nutritional needs that breakfast can help to fulfill.

Cereal for Breakfast: A Good or Bad Idea for Kids? 

“Sometimes we like to take research on adults and apply it to children, but that doesn’t really work,” Jill Castle R.D., mom and author of Fearless Feeding – How to Raise Healthy Eaters from High Chair to High School says. “There is a lot of research out there on the benefits of breakfast for children.” Breakfast helps kids pay better attention in school and is another chance for kids to consume key nutrients they need to grow, like calcium and complex carbohydrates and healthy fats.

“Kids aren’t like adults,” Castle explains. “They’re not able to tell themselves that they can hold off to eat until after school. It affects their behaviors. They just get tired and can’t focus. And for a child in school, that’s one of the worst things that could happen. Adults have this mind over matter thing that kids don’t have.”

Try out these 20 school-day breakfast recipes.

Stasenko also mentions that because children typically sleep for longer amounts of time compared to adults, they are technically fasting for longer, and so breakfast could be more important on that end too.

So keep giving your kids breakfast. And to make it even more effective, Castle and Stasenko share a few of rules of thumb:

  • Always include a source of protein. “Eggs, yogurt, milk, deli meat – whatever your kids like best,” Castle says.
  • Skip the baked goods. “I cannot think of any disadvantages of a balanced and nutritious breakfast. But eating croissants with butter every morning worth 700 calories can compromise quality of diet, so what you eat for breakfast is very important,” Stasenko says.
  • Avoid serving the same breakfast back-to-back. “Always rotate the meals. An egg-based breakfast on Monday, fruit and yogurt-based breakfast on Tuesday,” Castle says.

Need some more inspiration? Give some of our quickest and easiest breakfast recipes a try!

Healthy Breakfast: 3 Quick Meals for Kids
Healthy Breakfast: 3 Quick Meals for Kids
Healthy Breakfast: 3 Quick Meals for Kids

Photo of girl eating breakfast courtesy of Shutterstock.

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You Won’t Believe How Many Children Go Hungry In America

Thursday, October 2nd, 2014

This is a guest post by Parents staffer Brooke BunceKids' empty lunchbox

Think back to the last time your child bellowed those oft-heard words, “I’m HUN-gry!” and how you reacted. You probably went to your fridge and reached for a piece of fresh fruit, baby carrots, or a cheese stick, or plunged your hand into the depths of the cupboard to find a snack (hey, we all do it!) to tide her over until the next meal.

But for some kids, “I’m hungry” isn’t just a tiny daily annoyance, but a persistent part of every hour of every day. The sad truth of the matter is that more kids go hungry in the United States than we would like to believe.

According to a 2012 United States Department of Agriculture report, 15.8 million children under 18 in the U.S. “lived in households where they are unable to consistently access enough nutritious food necessary to a healthy life.” Not having access to food is detrimental to any person, but children are especially vulnerable. Hunger affects children’s academic performance, their social well-being, and their overall health, among other things.

A recent comprehensive study about the state of hunger in this country was released by the hunger relief charity Feeding America, which revealed that 1 in 7 Americans turn to the Feeding America network for nutritional assistance. That’s over 46 million Americans, and 12 million children—an alarming number that continues to grow.

Many families struggling to feed themselves must make difficult financial decisions. Feeding America reports that 34 percent of the people it serves must choose between spending money on food or transportation. Twenty-seven percent of those surveyed had to choose between paying for housing for a month or paying to feed their family. When faced with such tough decisions, it’s easy to see why food banks continue to be strapped for donations.

The award-winning documentary A Place At The Table examines childhood hunger on a more personal scale. Through the stories of three different Americans, one mother and two children, different aspects and effects of hunger are hashed out. One of the major sticking points is that unhealthy food—which struggling families turn to first for its convenience and affordability—is taking its toll on the health of children. The film wagers that health issues caused by the lack of nutritious foods costs the U.S. $167 billion per year, a devastating amount of money that rises each year as childhood obesity rates shoot through the roof.

The reasons for hunger are complex and varied, but finding a solution doesn’t have to be. Small steps can make huge impacts. For one, Walmart has launched a new campaign committed to hunger relief in the U.S. The superchain is teaming up with General Mills, Unilever, Hormel, ConAgra Foods, PepsiCo/Quaker and Kellogg Company to help fund local food banks across the country. Visit through October 5 to vote for your local food bank or participating assistance agency. Fifty winning banks will receive grants for $60,000 each. You can also find out more about volunteering at a food bank near you during the approaching holiday season.

Now when your child complains of those routine hunger pangs, know that you can help them and the rest of the children across America searching for their next meal.

How to Eat Healthy: Raising Nutrition-Smart Kids
How to Eat Healthy: Raising Nutrition-Smart Kids
How to Eat Healthy: Raising Nutrition-Smart Kids

Photo of lunchbox via Shutterstock.

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100 Days of Real Food Slow-Cooker Recipe

Thursday, September 25th, 2014

100 Days of Real FoodThis is a guest post by Lisa Leake, author of 100 Days of Real Food: How We Did It, What We Learned, and 100 Easy, Wholesome Recipes Your Family Will Love! and founder of the blog 100 Days of Real Food.

When our family decided to cut out all highly processed food back in 2010 there’s one thing I learned fairly quickly: planning ahead is key. You don’t want to be caught at dinnertime with hungry, cranky kids and no idea what you’re going to feed them. So with weeknights now ruled by sports and other activities, it’s more important than ever to map out an easy and realistic dinner plan.

That’s exactly why I included a special section in my new cookbook dedicated to quick “Weeknight Meals.” We are a busy family too – I totally get it. And some of the recipes in that section utilize one of the best tools I’ve found when it comes to quickly getting a wholesome dinner on the table: a slow cooker.

 Find recipes for our favorite slow-cooker soups, stews, and chilies. 

I use my slow cooker to make everything from whole chickens (see recipe below) to homemade broth (that cooks overnight while we’re sleeping) to steak fajitas to hearty soups and even homemade refried beans. There’s nothing better than getting all the prep work out of the way early in the morning (or even the night before) and coming home to the smell of a delicious dinner!

So today, I’d love to share a fan favorite …The Best Whole Chicken in the Slow Cooker! If you’ve never cooked a whole chicken before this is the perfect place to start. It’s not only cost-effective, but super easy and so delicious.

100 Days of Real Food Lisa Leake

Carrie Vitt

The Best Whole Chicken in the Slow Cooker 
From 100 Days of Real Food: How We Did It, What We Learned, and 100 Easy, Wholesome Recipes Your Family Will Love 


  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 onion, peeled and cut into large pieces
  • 1 large whole chicken (about 4 pounds), giblets removed
  1. Combine all the spices in a small bowl and set aside. Place the onion in the bottom of the slow cooker.
  2. Rub the spice mixture all over the outside of the chicken. You can even put some of the spices inside the cavity and under the skin covering the breasts. Place the chicken breast-side down on top of the onions and cover the slow cooker. (There’s no need to add any liquid.)
  3. Cook on high for about 4 hours or on low for 7 hours, or until the chicken is falling off the bone. Remove the chicken pieces from the slow cooker and serve.
  4. When dinner is over, don’t forget to save the leftover bones and juices to make homemade stock overnight!

Makes 5-6 servings, depending on the size of the chicken.

Get more chicken recipes for the slow cooker!

Cooking How-To: Cutting Up a Chicken
Cooking How-To: Cutting Up a Chicken
Cooking How-To: Cutting Up a Chicken

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Are Eating Habits Set in Infancy?

Sunday, September 21st, 2014

Are kids’ diet habits set in infancy, as a recent New York Times article suggests? According to the article, the findings of several new studies published in Pediatrics suggest that, “Efforts to improve what children eat should begin before they even learn to walk.”

In one study, researchers looked at the association between bottle-feeding practices during infancy with maternal feeding style and children’s eating behavior at six years old. They found that bottle-feeding practices during infancy may have long-term effects on both maternal feeding style and children’s eating behavior at age six. Frequent bottle emptying encouraged by mothers during early infancy increased the likelihood they’d pressure their six-year-old child to eat enough and eat all the food on their plate. Also, high bottle feeding intensity during early infancy increased the likelihood mothers would be especially careful to ensure their six-year-olds eat enough. Based on the findings, lead researcher Ruowei Li, MD, PhD suggests breastfeeding as the first feeding choice for infants. She adds, “When feeding at the breast is not feasible, supplementing breastfeeding with expressed breastmilk is a good alternative, but special attention is needed for infants’ internal feeding cues while bottle-feeding.”

Another study found that infrequent intake of fruits and vegetables during late infancy is associated with infrequent intake of these foods at six years of age. The researchers concluded that it’s important for parents to find ways to encourage their infants to eat fruits and vegetables despite perceived barriers to produce intake.

Two other studies, also published in Pediatrics, unsurprisingly found some perils associated with sugar-sweetened beverage (SSB) intake. In the first study, infants who drank any amount of SSBs were two times more likely to drink them at least once daily at age six. Based on their findings, the researchers point out the importance of establishing healthy beverage practices in infancy.

In the second study, 10- to 12-month-olds who drank SSBs more than three times a week were twice as likely to be obese at age six than those who consumed none as infants. The researchers concluded that SSB consumption during infancy can be a risk factor for obesity in early childhood.

We all do our best as parents to raise and nurture our kids, which includes trying to feed them well, and help them meet their basic nutrient needs. I know I felt empowered when my sons who were breastfed would grow at each and every visit to the pediatrician. It made me feel great to know that my milk alone, at least for several months when they were exclusively breastfed, fed them. But as kids grow, like everything else feeding gets a little more complicated. Transitioning from breast milk or formula to “real food” can be a real challenge for many.

Also, since food is love in many cultures, learning how to feed your growing infants and toddlers enough, but not too much, to meet their needs can be easier said than done. This makes it even more important that parents learn and respect their children’s mealtime cues e.g. that they’re hungry or that they’ve had enough. I always say that if your kids’ trips to the pediatrician show they’re growing at a rate that’s consistent for him or her, it’s likely they’re at least meeting their calorie needs. If they’re moving too much in one direction or another on growth charts, that’s when it’s important to really consider dietary tweaks. In such cases, working even a few times with a registered dietitian nutritionist can help parents not only know what and how much their child needs but how to help them meet those needs without food fights.

As infants grow into toddlers and then full-fledged school-age children and become exposed to more and more nutrient-poor options whether at school or when on-the-go, things get even more complicated and challenging. But as the Pediatrics studies illustrate, it’s vital for parents to simply try to feed their children well starting in infancy. We can do this by exposing them to a wide variety of nutrient-rich foods such as fruits and vegetables (pureed or mashed), by eating with/in front of them, and by making mealtimes calm and pleasant.

While it’s ideal to start kids off on a nutritious path when they’re very young by offering to them a variety of nutrient-rich foods and to limit their exposure to empty-calorie, nutrient-poor foods and fast food, even when kids are older it’s never too late for parents to make some changes in the home and when on the go or at a restaurant to help the whole family move in a more healthful direction. Food preferences can still change and develop as children grow, and just because your child doesn’t like or accept a particular food at a young age doesn’t mean he or she won’t at age 12 or beyond. The key is to repeatedly expose children to a wide variety of foods and to keep discussions about eating and food positive and encouraging so that they feel enticed rather than pressured to eat well.

It’s also helpful to present foods in different and appealing ways, and to involve kids, even when they’re older, in shopping for, preparing, and cooking food. That can help them develop a love and appreciation for quality foods and healthy eating practices and help them develop skills that they can bring with them as they grow.

Keeping more of the foods and beverages you want your children to consume more of around the house and limiting their exposure at home to items like SSBs and other empty-calorie foods and beverages can also encourage healthier habits. Enjoying family meals can also help infants and all family members feel more connected to one another and even can enhance nutrient intake, protect against obesity, and have other health benefits.

Even if eating habits are at least in part set in infancy, that’s no reason for us parents to not at least try to improve what and how we offer foods and beverages to our children. Habits can be enhanced and tweaked at any age, and if we make more nutritious choices for ourselves in front of our children, and show them through our example the joys of eating moderately and mindfully, it’s likely that over time our children will internalize that. And hopefully, that will also encourage them to follow suit.

You can check out new nutrition guidance for 2- to 11-year-olds in a previous Scoop on Food post here.

How do you help your infants eat well and develop more healthful food and nutrition habits?

Image of girl eating watermelon via shutterstock.

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