Garden Fresh Snacks for Children

Vegetable Kebabs

If you planted a garden with your child earlier this year, she’s probably been eager to sample the results. Now is the season for fresh garden snacks with children.

Eat Foods Fresh and Raw

Fresh fruits and vegetables straight from the garden can be such an intense taste experience that they become lifelong memories. I remember very well trailing after my mother through our garden, tasting as we went. In particular, I always remember biting into a tomato. I don’t like tomatoes, and that is the only time in my young life that I remember voluntarily eating one. I just remember how incredibly good it felt to bite through the sun-warmed flesh of the tomato before the taste exploded through me. This one little fresh fruit (or vegetable, depending where you want to come down on that issue) is the anchor for all of my other childhood garden memories.

Now, without giving it much thought, we’ve put our mostly likely garden snack foods next to our main doors near our house. Because our herbs are next to the door we use most frequently, my children often stop to eat mint or fennel on their way inside. We have planted grapes by our front door, but they are only two years old and aren’t fruiting yet. I like to picture guests snacking on our grapes as they wait for us to answer the door.

Walk through your garden with your child and see what there is to sample and taste as a snack.

Choose Dark Vegetables for Micronutrients

We know dark, raw vegetables provide phytonutrients that help our bodies repair damage on a cellular level. For our smoothie series a while ago, we focused on the 5-7 color categories that fruits and vegetables can be divided into, each category rich in a particular set of phytonutrients.

Dark blue and purple foods can contain anthocyanins, which contain antioxidants that help protect cells from damage. From Sour Purple Blast Smoothie.

Carrots in particular are an incredible source of Vitamin A—or, rather, provitamin A carotenoids that can form Vitamin A. Alpha carotene is a cancer fighter, and beta carotene promotes repair of damaged DNA. You probably know that beta carotene will help your eyesight, which is related to this repair function. From Earth Orange Smoothie.

Green plants have chlorophylls, which play an important role in photosynthesis—capturing energy from sunlight and converting it into chemical energy. The phytonutrients in our smoothie included the carotenoid lutein, which works with zeaxanthin (both from raw spinach) for eye health. From Easy Green Smoothie.

As you are planting your garden then later strolling through for a snack, keep in mind that a variety of colors means an abundance of vitamins, minerals, and micronutrients.

Quick Vegetable Kebab Snack

It’s cooling down. My children have been requesting hot snacks and lunches, so it is time to put together simple, warm foods. They do like raw vegetables, but one of the ways we create variety straight from our garden is with quick grilled vegetable kebabs. My children love crunchy grilled vegetables, and it’s a great alternative to fried foods.

  • Garden vegetables – Use whatever you have in your garden, like zucchini, tomato, onion, sweet pepper, and summer (yellow) squash.
  • Oil, vinegar, and spices for marinade
  • Skewers – We use metal skewers because they are easiest to reuse.

Rather than buying anything special for this snack, it’s an adventure for a young child to go out into the garden and eat what he finds. Collect vegetables early in the morning, then prepare a marinade using oil, vinegar, lemon juice, mustard, salt, pepper, and any herbs you collect. Cut up the vegetables into large, bite-sized pieces. Place the marinade and the vegetables in a container for 2-3 hours. Shake it around to be sure that the vegetables are coated.

When it is time for a late morning snack, help your child skewer just a few of each kind of vegetable. Vegetable kebabs are wonderful grilled, but we try to keep snacks simple since we’re only cooking a small amount of food. We broil until the zucchini starts to steam and brown because we like the texture of the crunchy crust outside and the hot, soft inside.

I love the idea of simple snacks from the garden because it makes such a profound connection for children. They help grow the food with their own hands. As they eat and enjoy the foods in simple ways—either raw or just cooked but still recognizable—they begin to realize how much power they have to care for their own bodies and their expanding world.

Image © Michael Zysman | Dreamstime.com

Boost Immunity with Foods

Elderberry juice boosts immunity

You may have heard that this is a particularly tough flu season. Simple actions like choosing healthy foods can boost the immunity of yourself and your family to give all of you the best chance of fighting off flu and colds.


Your Immune System

Your immune system defends your body against disease by ridding your body of foreign invaders. Your immune system is not a constant, though. Your actions can boost or inhibit your immunity. If your body is already struggling because you are tired, for example, you will have more difficulty fighting off a cold.

The simplest way to boost your immunity this winter is to understand which foods provide your body with the nutrients it needs to function well.


Basic Immunity-building Pantry

Foods help your immune system through the vitamins, minerals, and micronutrients that help the system function. The most important immunity building vitamins are: Beta carotene (increases number of cells fighting infection), Vitamin C (increases white blood cells and antibodies), and Vitamin E (increases B-cells that destroy bacteria). Immunity building minerals are zinc (helps white blood cells reproduce quickly) and selenium (increases fighting cells). Don’t run out and buy a supplement pill, though. You can get all of these vitamins and minerals in food.

Stock your pantry with colorful fruits and vegetables. Carrots and sweet potatoes have beta carotene. Citrus has vitamin C. Blueberries, cranberries, pomegranate seeds, cherries, and other dark blue, purple, and red fruits are high in antioxidants, which reduce inflammation. Elderberries are particularly good for helping you fight colds and flu as an antiviral an antioxidant. Mushrooms have selenium and many other minerals an vitamins. Garlic is a great flu fighter with antioxidants and other immune-building properties.

Choose a variety of proteins. Beans, nuts, fish, and lean meats can all contribute toward your immune-boosting diet. Almonds provide vitamin E. Salmon is rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Sunflower seeds have selenium, as do many nuts, whole grains, and seeds.

Add herbs and spices to your foods. Medicinal herbs, like echinacea, goldenseal, and astragalus, are all immune boosters that fight viruses or increase the efficiency of white blood cells. You don’t want to add these to your foods, though. Culinary spices, like cayenne, oregano, and ginger, are also bacteria fighters. Use them fresh if you can, but use them in any form. Even black pepper can give you a little immune boost.


Every Day Foods

The range of immunity building foods is broad. It wouldn’t make any sense for me to tell you that only 5 or 10 or 50 of them are best for you because there is enough variety for you to choose your favorites. Still, I am going to suggest a few foods that will help you build immunity every day.

Smoothies. Start your morning with smoothies. Add dark fruits and vegetables, almond milk or yoghurt as a base, a few ice cubes to make it cool and reduce the intensity. That’s it! Just choose a colorful collection every morning.

Soup. With lunch, have a cup of soup every day. Chicken or vegetable broth both make a good base, but make sure you add garlic, perhaps ginger, lots of herbs and spices, and a few colorful vegetables.

Salad. With dinner every night, have leafy greens. Spinach and romaine lettuce are both very nutritious. Choose your dressing carefully. Better yet, make your own from olive oil, vinegar, and herbs. Each of these gives you a little boost. Maybe sometimes you have cooked kale with cider vinegar instead, but make sure you eat leafy greens every day.

Whole Grains. If you are going to eat cereal or bread, make them rich and nutty. The variety of grains, nuts, and seeds will help you over time.

Doesn’t that seem simple? It is. Boosting your immunity really isn’t difficult to understand or to do. These choices are easy to make every day, and the benefits build over time.


Keep in Mind

Avoid processed ingredients like white sugar and bleached wheat flour. Just avoiding those two will help you avoid many processed foods that have been drained of most nutritional value.

Get enough sleep. Yes, that isn’t a food, but rest is important enough to the healthy functioning of your immune system that you can undermine all of the good work you do with nutritious food by not getting enough sleep. Sleep for your health.

Image © Photooasis | Dreamstime.com

Pinning Your Way to More Creative Food

Rainbow Fruit Skeweres

Over the past month or so, I’ve become the cooking star of my family. My husband is usually the cook, but I tell him, “Oh, I’d be happy to help,” then I whip out some idea that I found on Pinterest and everyone is so happy to see exciting, new foods that we haven’t tried before.

The most popular pins on Pinterest are Food & Drink. This doesn’t surprise me. My friends, family members, professional colleagues, and even nonprofits I follow all seem to pin food. The appeal of food is very visual, and clear photographs make it easy to create cooking tutorials without too many words. Food is a winner on Pinterest, and I think my family have actually benefitted from my newfound interest in pinned food.

I’ve made great improvements in lunches for my children. Since they are homeschooled, we face the need for a decent lunch together every day. I try to keep them from eating a giant pile of one thing (the way they eat when they cook for themselves) by introducing very small portions of several things on their plate. Pinterest has helped me make a few minor changes that keep them interested in lunch.

We have already tried Zucchini Tots. These are a great, quick alternative to frozen shredded potato snacks. Add shredded zucchini, onion, cheese, bread crumbs, and egg then pour into a mini muffin tin. I give each person several tots for lunch then freeze the rest. When they want a snack, they have a homemade snack ready to heat up.

I met Hasselback potatoes for the first time on Pinterest. By slicing a potato every 1/16-18″ across, without slicing all of the way through the potato, then drizzling with a bit of oil, the potato opens up and crisps up as it bakes in the oven. My family has had potatoes this way several times since my discovery.

My husband just walked in with wonton wrappers, so tomorrow we are going to try mini wonton tacos. Press one wanton wrapper into a muffin tin, add whatever taco ingredients (or, really, anything else) you like, and you end up with a finger food that has crunch and flavor.

Over the weekend, I made the rainbow fruit skewers above for a family reunion—a nice counter to all of the sugary foods. This is a great example of an image that makes sense in a flash. It doesn’t take a recipe or a lot of concentration to realize that I organize fruit by color to attract potential eaters.

Still on my list for this week are bell pepper egg flowers. My kids love sunny-side-up egges. I am going to use 1/4″ slices across several colors of sweet peppers as molds for eggs. The shape is so beautiful, and the yolk becomes the center of the flower.

Those were just a few of the foods that caught my eye. I keep one Pinterest board for items that I plan to make. Once I make each food, I comment on the pins to let my followers know how I liked the recipe.

Set up a board for foods you think your children will like, foods you want to save for the holidays, foods that can help you keep lunches healthy. Keep the sugary, fantasy foods on another board entirely so you won’t be tempted to mix them.

Whether you are the dreamer, who finds good food and shares with others, or the doer, who creates good food and uploads for others, eat well!

Don’t Panic Picnic Plans

Easy family picnic

Do you have this fantasy of yourself as an organized, creative mother who makes all of the recipes you pin on Pinterest and packs a balanced, organic picnic for every trip out?

Don’t panic!

As the holiday weekend approaches, chill out and realize that your kids will love anything you choose to call a picnic. Take your regular dinner outside and eat on the lawn. It’s a picnic! Take cheese and crackers to the park. That’s a picnic, too. When it is 100°F outside and you have a red air warning, spread a blanket on the floor in the living room, and call that a picnic. You don’t have to drive an hour into the wilderness with a full meal packed in a specially designed basket with matching flatware. Yes, it would be nice, but don’t worry about the details too much.


Nice to Have

A Blanket. If you have an outdoor blanket that you can spread on the lawn then easily wash afterward, you’re set. No blanket? Just choose a spot with picnic tables.

A Basket. Sure, it’s nice to have a basket with every little thing tucked into its tidy pocket. It you have it, take it. If you don’t, put some tough plates and forks into a canvas bag. The basket may be iconic, but it isn’t necessary.

Drinks. This is a must. It doesn’t have to be wine or juice or anything more than water, but bring the drinks.

Finger Foods. Clean and dry. Though not essential, its easier to picnic on foods that don’t spill or get your fingers all messy.

Room Temperature. Hold the mayo. If you are going to be outside for a while and you don’t have the basket that fits ice packs to keep everything cold, skip the foods that spoil or wilt quickly.

Cloths. Bring reusable cloths. Maybe not absolutely essential, but going anywhere with children is easier if you have a few washable cloths and a spray bottle. We use ours as napkins then unpack right into the washing machine.

Individual Portions. You don’t need portions separated at all. You could pass around one container and share, but, if you want to serve individual meals, it can save space and make serving easier if you pack each person’s food in a separate storage container that doubles as a serving container. Lightweight, stainless lunch containers for school lunch easily double as picnicware.

Games. This could be as simple as a doll or a toy car for a young child, but we like to throw in a card game. It gives us an excuse to linger in our chosen spot. Of course, you don’t need an excuse. Just linger! Go for a walk. Just consider whether your children need enough entertainment to keep them occupied while the adults eat.

Utensils. If you bring finger foods, you don’t need utensils. If you do need utensils, bring reusable. It’s just too easy not to. Super lightweight bamboo utensils don’t add much bulk or weight to your basket or bag.

As in so many situations as a parent, you soon realize that you don’t need a bunch of extra stuff made specifically for one situation. If you have a long weekend coming up and you want to go on a picnic, just grab what you have and go. It’s an adventure. Your children will have a great time.

Image © Pavel Losevsky | Dreamstime.com

Chilled Summer Soups

Ingredients for chilled cucumber soup

Chilled summer soups are a great surprise for children asking for cool lunches as the days get warmer. “Anything that isn’t hot,” my children tell me, but enough salads already. Flavorful, cold soups from a variety of fresh vegetables are my answer.

You may already be familiar with traditional cold soups like gazpacho (tomato, onion, sweet peppers), borscht (beet), and vichyssoise (potato and leek). Don’t stick with traditional recipes, though. Beyond the traditional chilled soups, there is infinite variety. Use what you have. Clear out the vegetable drawer. Pull a few carrots from the garden.


Cold Soup Tips

  • Add fats and proteins. To make your soup a hearty, filling meal, add beans or dairy for protein and nuts or avocado for fat.
  • Get out the blender. A lot of cold soups are quite similar to smoothies. Cold soups don’t have to be smooth. I actually like smooth or slightly textured cold soups, but you can also leave the ingredients very chunky.
  • Vegan or raw. Though a lot of traditional cold soups start with broth, you can easily make that vegetable broth or avoid the cooking altogether and create 100% raw cold soups by blending savory flavors as a base.
  • Spice it up! I don’t particularly like sweet soup. I make sure that my cold soups are savory and flavorful. Even if you like fruit soups, spiking the flavors with hot spices can take the edge off too much sweet. Even radish or horseradish garnish can add a little kick to your soup.
  • Make the soup in advance. I like to let the soup sit in the refrigerator overnight so the flavors develop.
  • Chill the serving bowl. Keep the soup cool until the last spoonful.
  • Don’t serve too much at once. This goes for most foods, but I find it especially so with chilled soups. A little bit is a tasty treat, but too much can get cloying very fast. Serve a cup of soup with half a sandwich, and you have a meal with variety.
  • Freeze the extra. Rather than serving a cup of the same soup meal after meal, freeze it.
  • Add garnishes. One of my secrets to avoiding separate meals to meet varying tastes is to create a fairly plain base meal and let everyone add their own garnishes. Create your own garlic croutons. Snip herbs from the garden. Add sour cream or yogurt and swirl it into a nice design before serving.


Cold Cucumber Soup

My favorite cool summer soup is cucumber. The way we make it is a bit like liquified tzatziki (Greek yogurt dip).

2 cups vegetable broth
3 medium cucumbers – peeled, seeded, and chopped
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 Tbs fresh mint
1 Tbs fresh dill
1 tsp olive oil
1 tsp white wine vinegar or lemon juice
2 cups plain yogurt
Salt and white pepper to taste

Sometimes we saute the onions before blending, but you can also just put all ingredients in a blender and buzz until smooth.

Garnish with ground nuts, lemon zest, or fresh mint or dill.

Half serves a small bowl each for a family of four. Freeze the other half.

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