Halloween Boo Breakfast

Boo!

Did that scare you?

No? Well it's probably a good thing that neither of us is on edge then. Because one thing you don't need to worry about scaring me with is the amount of candy our kids will soon be seeing.

As a registered dietitian and mom of two, I am well aware that with the start of this holiday season and namely Halloween comes A LOT of candy. And although it might surprise you, I am actually okay (or at least at terms!) with it. That's because my main goal in raising healthy eaters is for them to establish a healthy relationship with all foods, including all of the sweets stuffed into their little plastic pumpkin pales.

In my ideal world, all families would hand out jack-o-lantern satsumas and mummy-wrapped boxes of raisins. But in the real world? That's just not happening, even in my home.

That's why I think the sticky subject of sweets this time of year needs to shift less on if/whether and how much candy our kids eat (remember, that's THEIR job!) and more towards what, when, and where we allow sugar to be offered (since that's OUR job!).

 

When my sweet friend Ashley over at The Littles and Me asked if I wanted to do a Halloween Boo Breakfast for our monthly collab, I couldn't resist. I can talk about sugar and managing "forbidden foods" all day, how much sugar is recommended, how we can help curb our kid's cravings for it, and the most common concerns I see with how parents handle sugar. But what I really want to highlight this year is how we can assume a healthy, balanced approach to the Division of Responsibility in feeding - even at Halloween.

Halloween Boo Breakfast

It starts with determining what, when, and where our kids will be exposed to the sweet stuff.

By planning for fewer added sugars in the foods you offer your family everyday, you are opening up more margin in your kids diets for a few sweet treats when offered elsewhere. You are acknowledging that they will likely be eating more sugar than their tiny tummies need elsewhere and planning meals and snacks at home accordingly. You are making wise food choices that both fuel and fill your kiddos, so when candy is around, you know they aren't scarfing it down because you didn't do your part to feed them properly. Above all, you are embracing the joys of Halloween and helping your child learn how to healthfully and happily to do the same.

This all starts with Halloween Boo Breakfasts like this one!

With seasonal flavors, wholesome foods, and zero added sugars, make your tiny monsters this Boo Breakfast and you will both start the festivities feeling good.


Boo-Nana Smoothie

Ingredients:
1 small container pumpkin yogurt (I used Siggi's)
1 ripe banana
1 Tablespoon ground flax seeds
1 Tablespoon pumpkin puree
4 ounces unsweetened almond milk

Healthy Boo-Nana Smoothie for Kids

Instructions:

  1. Add ingredients to blender.
  2. Turn on and blend until well mixed.
  3. Serve in a spooky glass and enjoy!
 

Note:
I found these cute glass cups with lids and straws at Target in the dollar section (score!). I just added googly eyes and an "O" mouth on it myself, or you can use the ones Target has already pre-printed fun Halloween images on. Ashley also shares in her Boo Breakfast decoration ideas how you can make an easy, disposable cup option on the spot, so check out how here


Spooky Spider Web Pumpkin Pancakes

You can use any pancake recipe you prefer for this recipe. Just make sure it is thin enough to be squeezed out of the container to create the spider web. I chose this festive, pumpkin recipe below minimally adapted from @lunchesandlittles.

Ingredients:
1 ¼ cup gluten free flour
2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup milk or milk alternative
¼ cup unsweetened applesauce
2 Tablespoons coconut oil, melted
¼ cup + 2 Tablespoons pumpkin puree

Spooky Spider Web Pumpkin Pancakes

Instructions:

  1. In a large mixing bowl, add all of the dry ingredients. Stir until mixed, then set aside.
  2. In a small mixing bowl, add milk, applesauce, melted coconut oil, and pumpkin puree. Stir until well combined.
  3. Add bowl of wet ingredients to large mixing bowl with dry ingredients. Stir until ingredients are mixed.
  4. Using a small plastic squeeze bottle, transfer pancake batter from large mixing bowl to squeeze bottle. If coconut oil has hardened at all in the mixing process, run it under hot water for a few minutes until it liquefies again.
  5. Preheat a large griddle or pan to medium heat. Use additional coconut oil to coat, as needed.
  6. To make spider webs, start by squeezing pancake batter in the shape of a large plus sign ("+"). Going diagonal over those lines, squeeze pancake batter into a large "X". Use squeeze bottle to then connect the end of the lines with small little inverted lines of pancake batter. Add a center circle between the center axis and the otter "webbing."
  7. As pancake begins to brown and batter starts to bubble, gently flip pancake using a large spatula.
  8. When pancakes are cooked, remove from griddle/pan and put on plate. Decorate with a plastic spider and serve!
    This recipe is AMAZING as is. Even for my syrup-loving littles, we found the stand alone spider web pancakes were totally satisfying without any added sweetener (mixed in or on top)! Encourage your kiddos to enjoy the spider web and smoothie without syrup to save some of that added sugar for all the other sweets being offered at other events.
 

Note:
I found our squeeze bottle at the dollar store. You can also use an old ketchup bottle thoroughly washed out, or get ones like these off of Amazon (affiliate link; item shown below). If the tip is too narrow to let the batter pass through, just cut a slight bit off until you are able to squeeze easily. Below are affiliate links to my pancake-making arsenal. As always (see my legal page here), using these links doesn't cost you anything extra. The small commission earned just helps Veggies & Virtue to provide more fun ideas like this one!

Halloween Boo Breakfast Menu Idea

Make it a More Festive Affair!

Be sure to find the BOO-tiful breakfast set-up that Ashley over at the Littles and Me shared. You can see from the image below, these decorations and easy to use printables are perfect to go with the Boo-Nana Smoothie and Spooky Spider Web Pumpkin Pancakes from above. So hop on over to the Littles and Me to get these Halloween Boo Breakfast decoration ideas and free printables!

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Wishing you and your little pumpkins a very happy and healthy Halloween!

The Most FAQs of BLW

This post is sponsored by Regalo. Thank you for the Regalo Easy Diner Hook On High Chair and for the opportunity to share this information with my audience. Please note, this post also contains affiliate links. As always, all opinions are my own.

It was almost exactly a year ago that I was in my kitchen starting Baby Led Weaning (BLW) with my second daughter. Having used BLW with my first daughter as well, I had a growing interest in how this approach to infant feeding had evolved into one that more and more families in the States are starting to adopt as well.

That's why when my best friend scheduled a visit to Texas right at her daughter's 6-month milestone, I was eager to know if and how they would be introducing solids. As their visit got closer, it was a delight to know my friend wanted to initiate BLW while they were here. What a treat for me to help her with!

This post includes many of the FAQs that came up both with my friend and as submitted by many fellow moms. I hope the content below will be a helpful starting place when it comes to starting solids with BLW - both at home and when away.

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Just because my child is 6 months old, can I assume they are ready to start solids?

Although most organizations recommend starting solids at or around 6 months (as discussed in an article shared here), there are other considerations to keep in mind before jumping into BLW.

When an infant is spoon fed purees, some parents may hastily assume their infant can already handle food since it requires less coordination of their gross, oral, and fine motor skills to be spoon-fed purees versus self-feed soft table foods.

Some signs of readiness that matter particularly with BLW, however, are for an infant to show the developmental signs of readiness to self-feed (as shared in a post here and here). When an infant shows adequate head control, core strength, the ability to open their mouths to food, loss of tongue thrust, and the fine motor skills necessary to self feed, a parent can safely and effectively move forward with BLW. Ensuring these developmental milestones have been met before starting solids allows the infant to focus more on exploring the food and self-manipulating it towards their mouth, as well as the actual act of eating.

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When traveling, can I just hold my infant in my lap to feed them? I would prefer not to worry about toting along a high chair.

For ease's sake, this is an understandable question most parents ask.

Without wanting to pack even a traditional chair-topper "portable" high chair, it can be tempting to feed your infant from your lap. This is not recommended, however, for a few reasons. One, it is important that your child is in a safe and secure location. Part of the autonomy developed with BLW is your child's ability to self-feed (in a safe way). Your securing them into a high chair allows them to lead this process, regulate the pace of feeding, and gain coordination in doing so from a seat.

Further, it is important that you are always able to see your child's face as they eat. In order to ensure safe feeding practices and prevent choking, parents need to be able to supervise their child. Attempting to do so with an infant seated in your lap, most often facing outward with their back to you, would be both awkward and ineffective. Lastly, the more support you can provide your child while eating the better (that goes for all ages!). Offering an adequate back rest, base, and ideally spot for feet allows your child to have the reinforcement they need to successfully self-feed.

For a safe, affordable, and compact option, the Easy Diner Portable Hook On Chair satisfies the needs parents have while traveling. It comes in a bag where the chair easily breaks down and lies flat, slim enough to slide into even that outer zipper area of a suitcase. The chair then reassembles easily so that you can securely attach it to any table or counter (assuming there is no lip underneath). We used our Hook On Chair often when traveling with littles and appreciated how easy this set-up worked when having to pack all the items needed for infants. Possibly what I appreciate most though is that this Hook On Chair is not exclusive to travel.

Even with a more traditional high chair in our home, I can't imagine our infant years with each child not having a Hook On Chair. Similar to how the Learning Tower is a mainstay at our island, hook on chairs were their vehicle for "at the counter" engagement until they became big enough to stand at a learning tower like stool. This made me more pleased with my purchasing this for travel, as I was able to extend its life at home on the counter, to complement the traditional (non-portable) high chair that stayed table side.

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Besides making sure my child is safely seated, how can I prevent them from choking? It seriously freaks me out.

One of the best things parents can do prior to starting BLW is to educate themselves.

Many parents hesitate to allow their child to self-feed through a BLW approach out of fear for their child choking. While this is a valid concern and one every parent should heed with caution, it is also one that can most often be minimized with a proper understanding of what BLW is, when to start, what foods to include plus which foods to avoid, and how to prevent choking. Often, parents confuse choking with gagging though. To better understand this question and others, I shared a post on here that highlights how parents need to:

  • Avoid choking hazards
  • Offer safe finger foods
  • Minimize distractions while eating
  • Understand what gagging in infancy really is(includes a video of what to look for!)
  • Recognize choking early
  • Educate caretakers on CPR readiness
  • Run a finger swipe test when a meal is finished

A few of my other favorite resources for parents to consider in order to better familiarize themselves with BLW and the associated safety precautions include this flagship BLW book as well as a newly released book called, Born to Eat. A couple of online infant feeding classes specific to BLW that I also highly recommend are those by Registered Dietitians Megan McNamee at Feeding Littles and Jessica Coll of JessicaColl.com.

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What are some of the best foods to start BLW with?

The fun thing about BLW is the options of what to offer your infant are truly endless. When first starting out though, there are a few foods that most feeding experts and pediatric dietitians particularly prefer. These include those that are nutrient-dense and offer nutritional benefits to complement a diet of predominantly breastmilk and/or formula. Some great first foods include:

  • Avocado: Raw; cut into 1/8 lengthwise to offer long strips
  • Baked sweet potatoes: Baked whole; cut into 1/8 lengthwise to offer long strips. May cut strips in half so they are a fist-and-a-half long.
  • Eggs: Scramble into pieces large enough for infant to hold in their fist or boil to make an egg salad they can scoop with their fingers into their mouths.
  • Yogurt: Choose a whole milk, plain flavored yogurt. Don't fall for "Yo-Baby" as an ideal choice for infants. Give them a small, safe spoon to use or allow them to use their fingers to self-scoop.
  • French Toast: Using breastmilk and eggs, soak whole grain bread (free from whole nuts or seeds on the crust). Cook until golden brown and then cut into 2 inch strips. For additional flavor, you may also add other items into the milk and egg mixture, including flavors like cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, applesauce and/or plain, canned pumpkin.
  • Peanut Butter: Using the yogurt or french toast ideas from above, introduce peanut butter by swirling it in until well mixed with yogurt. Or, thinly smear onto a warm finger-like strip of french toast.
  • Steak: Cooked medium to medium well so it is juicy and tender. Cut into fist-and-a-half long strips. Do not add any salt-containing seasonings or marinades; may season with any other herbs or spices, however.

For more ideas on how to offer fruits and vegetables for BLW (including specific instructions for how to cut and cook), check out the post I shared here.

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How do I know if a food is safe to offer my baby?

In general, there are three rules of thumb parents starting BLW should know.

One, offer a "finger-like" strip of food. More specifically, give your child strips of food that are about one-and-a-half lengths of their fist. Visually, this means that even with a good grasp on the food item, your child can still have some sticking out to eat from. This helps your child to learn how much they can safely handle in their mouth at one time. This also gives parents a safe target for the most appropriate shape of foods to offer children ages 6-8 months old, before their pincer grasp develops (closer to 9 months of age).

Two, do the "smoosh test" (my technical term here). If you are ever in doubt about if a food may or may not be safe for infant self-feeding, press it firmly between your pointer finger and thumb. Similar to how a ripe avocado would "smoosh" when pressed in this way, a safe food should be soft enough should do the same. This allows infants, even without teeth, to firmly gum their foods in a way that smooshes them down to an almost pureed like texture.

Three, avoid foods that could break off easily into small pieces. Such foods may create a small choking hazard that could block baby's airway. Such foods often include raw fruits and vegetables that are hard, crunchy, or overly firm (think carrots, apples, raw broccoli and cauliflower). For any of these foods, find other ways to serve them either cooked (to a consistency that meets the smoosh test) or finely chopped and added into another food item (like muffins, pancakes, sauces, etc.).


Are there any foods I need to avoid all together with BLW?

In short, yes. While there are some obvious foods, such as those that are choking hazards, there are also ingredients that are best avoided in infancy. In a post I shared here, the following foods are best avoided: added salt, added sugar, and choking hazards. The best foods to encourage are those that include iron, zinc, vitamin D, and fats, especially omega 3s.


What do I do if the food feels too slippery for my infant to pick up on their own?

With BLW, one of the best known tricks for this is to roll any slippery food item (like mango) in almond meal or oat cereal (you can also use infant rice cereal). This will cut down on how slippery the item is while also giving a little nutritional boost to whatever makes it into their mouth.

One reality to learn how to embrace in this season though is that of messes. Particularly with BLW, it is messy! The self-exploration of foods at this age will end up all over. That isn't something to try to tame or discourage though. Infants ability to explore new foods, textures, and feelings in both their mouths and hands (and likely hair!) gives them valuable experiences to store when learning new foods. Instead, find things that make your life easier like bibs that actually stay on (this one and this one are two of my faves), a splat mat (or old bedsheet!) to catch what falls, as well as a sustainable system for cleaning up after your messy kid.

The removable insert in the Regalo Easy Diner Hook On Chair is an ingenius addition to this portable high chair. Unlike some of the other hook on chairs we have used or seen, this allows parents to remove the main insert on the chair where food may have fallen and made a mess. While the straps and chair itself will still need a nice wipe down after each meal, I appreciate how I could remove this piece of the chair without completing disassembling and washing the whole thing.

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Do I need to space out foods or use the "wait rule?" My child does not have a family history of food allergies.

Research shows that parents with children who are not at increased risk for food allergies do not need to wait 3-7 days between the introduction of different foods. For families with a history of food allergies, speak with your pediatrician about what the preferred approach is and how much time they suggest you take between introducing new foods. Otherwise, the more foods and flavors you can introduce early on, the more likely you are to spur your infant on as an adventurous eater.

For families who find themselves in the kitchen and/or cooking often, this is another one of the reasons I love and encourage Hook On Chairs at the counter. Having your young child at a safe and yet close distance as you cook with you affords a naturally opportunity to get kids in the kitchen from infancy onward. It also reminds parents that starting your infant on solids isn't so much about the calculated effort of what single ingredient food to offer and when, but rather engaging them in the foods, flavors, and feelings that a variety of foods offers them at even an early age.

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Is there a feeding schedule I should follow?

When introducing solids, most experts recommend that you start offering foods at one meal a day and gradually increase the frequency for when complementary foods are offered until your child begins to join in on three main meals as well as 2-3 daily snacks. This develops over 4-6 months however, from the time solids are introduced until 10-12 months when your child begins to get a better grasp on self-feeding (literally). Follow your child's lead as they begin to show more of an interest in food and ability to self-feed. Then you can begin to include them in more family meals and snacks to support their growing needs.

The key here to remember is that whatever you offer your infant is intended to be complimentary. Starting BLW does not replace breastmilk nor formula, but rather is intended to help compliment it by adding important nutrients, flavors, and textures to your child's growing diet.

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The Big Picture of BLW

Transitioning your infant to more of a schedule for WHEN to serve meals and snacks, while also factoring in WHAT foods you offer them and WHERE you will serve them (like in a Hook On Chair) begins to set the stage for any new parent to adopt the Division of Responsibility in feeding.

As the most highly recommended feeding approach to use with children of all ages, I respect how Baby Led Weaning equips parents early on in what their role is with the Division of Responsibility in feeding while also respecting their child's role - even in infancy. The Division of Responsibility is something that is sorely missed in most infant education materials and often goes unheard of until later on when parents may begin to struggle with signs of picky eating. Instead, practicing this approach with your child from an early age makes maintaining a Division of Responsibility in your home a more natural transition when it comes time to feeding a toddler.

For this reason and all the answers we worked through above, I am so grateful to have gotten my best friend "hooked" on BLW as well as the Regalo Easy Diner Hook On Chair. Being from a family I know loves to cook and travel, I know my best friend's daughter could use this as a portable way to engage in meals, snacks, and the cooking process for years to come!

A special thanks to Regalo for this opportunity to share some of the FAQs for BLW, as well as for providing us with the perfect portable seat for my best friend's 6-month old to use during their visit. A special shout out to both Baby Tay-Tay and her mom, as well. You both did such a great job starting BLW in a safe and enjoyable way. Thank you for letting me be a part of your feeding journey!

Room on the Broom Snacktivity

I'm not sure why I just can't help but see a book and imagine a snactivity to go along with it.

Get it: snack + activity = snactivity. So clever, I know. But I am totally claiming this and running with it.

Because while I know many of you loved the "Read with Recipes" I did over the summer in collaboration with Days with Grey and The Mama Workshop, I am building off of that basis to bring you this month's book and snacktivity:

Room on the Broom

 
 

I had actually never heard of this book until Beth and Ludavia suggested it for this month's collaboration. I ordered it and quickly saw why it will become a new seasonal favorite in our family as well.

Since I am not the educational expert on this book, I will leave all of that to BethLudavia, as well as Alison and Tara. Be sure to read all the way to the end of this post for links to their activities for this book! For now, here is the "how to" for this month's snacktivity! The recipe is a kid-friendly, fun way to strength story time and snack time with simple yet healthy staples.

Room on the Broom snacktivity
 

Room on the Broom Snacktivity

Serves 2

Room on the Broom snacktivity

Ingredients
1 large carrot, peeled
2 cheese sticks, wrapper removed
6 chives, uncut
6 long pretzel sticks (optional)*

*For a whole-grain, nut-free pretzel option, we found some extra-long pretzel sticks that come in small snack packs at Sam's club. One snack pack would make about 20 broomsticks!

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Instructions
1. Carrot "Broomsticks"
With your peeled carrot and a parent's help, remove the top stem section and pointed end. Cut in half lengthwise, so the carrot's center is lying flat on the cutting board. Cut lengthwise again 4-5 times until you have several long strips of carrot. With these, lie each carrot strip on its side so that you can remove the rounded outer side. This should make the section of carrot a large, long rectangle. With the carrot, then create your "broomstick" handles by cutting these larger carrot rectangles into shorter ones with a square diameter. Once you have six carrot "broomsticks," set aside.

2. Cheese "Brooms"
With you cheese sticks and a parent's help, cut the cheese stick in three equal parts. Using a sharp paring knife, cut an "X" on one end of the cheese piece. On the other end, use paring knife to cut a tic-tac-toe board half way up the length of the cheese piece. This will leave you with an "X" on one end (to later enter the broomstick in) and nine small sections of cheese on one end (to later "fan out" like a broom). Repeat on the remaining pieces of cheese until you have made six cheese "brooms." Set aside.

3. Assembling the "broomsticks"
Using either your carrot broomsticks and/or in combination with long, pretzel sticks, gently insert the "broomstick" into the "X" on each cheese piece.

4. Final touches
Using a long, uncut chive, lie it flat and place the complete broomstick (broom + stick) onto the chive so that the chive is about just barely below where the broomstick meets the broom. Gently tie is, then use the paring knife or kitchen sheers to gently cut off any excess. Repeat with eat broomstick.

5. Make the broomsticks ready to fly
Gently fan out the base of each cheese piece where the cheese was sliced into nine sections. Then share and enjoy your snacktivity while reading the story, "Room on the Broom!"


Creative learning activities to make this snacktivity even better!

For more activities from this month's Room on the Broom collaboration, please be sure to check out each of the awesome ideas below!

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Ludavia over at The Mama Workshop came up with these darling little paper plate witch hats, paper bows, and craft stick wands to do a scavenger hunt. Find out how to make your own by seeing her activity HERE.

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Beth over at Days with Grey always does an amazing job breaking down any story so kids can learn to retell it using everyday craft items you probably already have on hand! Check out her cute popsicle stick activity HERE.

Tara over at Little Pine Partners has the most creative ways of using nature to teach core concepts to kids. I love the two activities she came up with using clothespins and story stones for Room on the Broom! Find them HERE.

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Allison over at Yoga Pants & Pearls gives us this great sequencing activity (plus printable!) to put together our own little broomsticks. She also includes how you can use the broomstick for a painting project too on her post HERE.

 

Thanks for joining us this month!

To be in the know each month when we do a Read with Recipe Snacktivity, be sure to sign up for my newsletter so you get them straight to your inbox!

Happy Fall, and remember -- there's always Room on the Broom (plus room for snacks!).

How to Make Meal Times More Peaceful with Kids

Creating more peaceful family meal times in just three steps

Written as a collaboration with Australian family dietitian Kate Wengier of Foost.

 

Family mealtimes (where at least one adult eats with the children) is one the most powerful things you can do to help your children become adventurous and colorful eaters (AKA less fussy with food!). Family mealtimes not only help kids nutritionally but also socially and academically!

By allowing children as young as two years of age to serve themselves and choose what they put on their plates, you empower them to have trust in their own abilities to self-select and self-regulate their appetite, hunger, and fullness. In giving them this newfound sense of control over if/whether and how much they eat, family meals can be a winning set-up for feeding kids, including your pickiest of eaters.

But how do you get children both to the table AND to stop squirmy and complaining?

This post provides three steps for more peaceful meal times:

  1. Create a before the table routine (transition period)

  2. Manage your own exceptions at the table

  3. Have a few table 'rules' 


 
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STEP 1: Create a before table routine (transition period)

For older children, give a 10 and 5 minute warning before meal time. This allows them to wrap up their homework or activity. If they are not engaged in something at the time of this heads up, invite them into the kitchen to help prepare the final aspects of the meal. 

For younger children, they may already be at your ankles asking when dinner will be ready. To help with this, get them engaged in getting the meal ready but do not seat them at the table in advance. If your child struggles to sit at the table through a meal, it is better to engage them in other ways like practicing life skills such as carrying items to the table, placing napkins at each spot, or adding spoons for a family style meal while you get the meal on the table. The five minutes spent engaging them in setting out the food may be the only five minutes they will stay seated for a meal, so use that time wisely and reserve it for once food has already been served.

For kids of all ages, especially those who may be more apprehensive to new foods (i.e. "picky"), offer them sensory play before a meal. While "working up an appetite" is always good with getting kids hungry for a meal, waking up their senses prior to sitting them down to eat a meal may also help improve if/whether and how much they eat. Having simple sensory items like a bin of rice, dry beans, cornmeal, or just water with a few scoops, funnels, or toys can further get them ready for a meal. While a large tub works well for this, see Ashley's favorite DIY sensory table here.

 

STEP 2: Manage expectations

Be clear about expectations. Don't feel bad saying that meals are not only about eating but also about togetherness. Tell them you expect them to join their siblings and/or family for meals whether they choose to eat or not. Then, be sure they are also well aware of the expectations after meals. If they get up from the table, the meal is over. If they get hungry, they will need to wait until the next planned meal or snack. This helps them to learn the cause and effect of listening to actual cues of hunger and fullness, without getting the easy out to just have snacks or graze more later after they chose to prematurely get up from the table. Then stick to these, calmly and yet confidently at meal times. This is all part of establishing a Division of Responsibility with feeding and creating a successful feeding environment.

Be realistic about how long they should stay seated. Most kids can handle 2-5 minutes seated at the table per year of life. If it is a meal they're not into, it's usually on the lower end and vice versa with a meal they are enjoying, they will usually stay a bit longer. So for a two year old, expect 5-10 minutes as an age appropriate amount of time they can sit at the table. For more tips on how to keep your kiddo seated at the table, visit this post.

Manage your own expectations. If you have planned a family meal that you know includes at least 1-2 items your child tends to prefer, then be at peace with whatever amount of food they choose to eat (if any). Don't expect your child will consistently eat those foods nor try a bit of everything offered. Instead, rest assured that you have done your job by the time the meal is served. You are then helping your child do their job by fostering a feeding environment that allows them to determine if/whether and how much they eat. You can learn more about how to use the "Love it, Like it, Learning it," approach here.

 

STEP 3: Have a few table 'rules'

You don't have to eat but you come to the table and sit with us. As shared above, make sure your child(ren) understands that family meals are about more than just the food. Teach them to enjoy the social experience of a shared meal, even if they choose not to eat or express very little appetite.

Don't be rude to food. This is something that you want to teach your children while they are young and in the comfort of your own home, so that as they get older and out into other food settings, they remain polite and respectful -- even when offered meals they may not be big fans of.

We don't use the words, "I don't like it" in our family. It is completely normal and age-appropriate for children to not prefer every food we put in front of them. Families need to change their language though when it comes to avoiding such foods. Instead of allowing your child to use "I don't like it" for any item they choose not to eat, train your family to change their language to "I am still learning it." With this, you open up a whole host of opportunities to help you child learn to like this new or non-preferred food.

Turn the screen off. Distractions at meal times are not only takes away from family time, but also have been shown to create less healthful food choices and take attention off of if/whether and how much they eat. Encouraging mindfulness in eating at an early age is an important feeding skill to empower them with so that they learn to pay attention as they eat, listen to their bodies, and then regulate appropriately for their appetite (or lack thereof). So make family mealtimes a time to practice mindful eating and to enjoy each other's company. Turn off the TV and pop mobile phones away. Instead, find out what fun things happened that day. Did something exciting or funny happen? Did they help anyone today? Did anything sad happen? 

Create a pressure free zone. One of the underlying principles to the Division of Responsibility is to create a positive feeding environment -- meaning it is pressure free. part of that is knowing when you should or shouldn't say something about if/whether and how much your child may be eating. If you find yourself tempted to pressure or prompt your child to eat a certain food or amount, stop yourself. It is better to say nothing than to speak up in a way that creates unintentional but perceived pressure on your child.

Try serving meals family style. Rather than pre-serving meals on plates, pop the meal in the middle of the table and let the kids serve themselves. Give them the tongs, they will love it! This is great for them taking responsibility in their own eating but also good for fine motor skills. Where possible, deconstructing the meals can help too. Think, un-tossed salads with dressing on the side, putting pasta noodles with the sauce served separately on the side, or build your own tacos to make meals more appealing for kids.

Eat with your children. This doesn’t have to be the whole family, but try and have one adult eating with the kids. Although this can be hard for some families at dinner time due to late working hours, you could try having a half dinner with the kids and eating the other half later when your spouse is home. Breakfast or weekends are other great opportunities to try and get the whole family at the table


Here's to More Pleasant Meal Times!

Try and follow these three steps for creating happier, family mealtimes. Let us know on social media @veggiesandvirtue and @foost.au what worked for you!

 

To happy, colorful eating,

Ashley and Kate

 

Peanut Free Play Dates (plus snack ideas!)

I admit, avoiding peanut-containing products is not something I think about personally on a day to day basis. I must eat gluten-free and was dairy- and soy-free while breastfeeding our oldest, but peanuts have thankfully never been a key food for concern with our family.

As we all get back into the swing of the school year though, peanut-free foods naturally get pushed to the forefront of all our minds (and rightfully so).

With an estimated 1 in 200 kids having a peanut-allergy (according to Kids with Food Allergies), we are seeing more and more peanut allergies in the average classroom. More so, each of us are meeting families whose lives are impacted by keeping their child with food allergies free from harm in a variety of environments. Although school is an obvious place for us all to start, there are other ways we can continue to extend our support to these families by establishing peanut-free environments and allergen-safe activities.

That’s why my friend Ashley, over at the Littles and Me, and I want to highlight how you can host an allergen-friendly play date with peanut-free snacks!

 
Peanut-Free Snack Ideas for Play Dates
 

Any of us with young kids know that play dates are the social gatherings that spur young friendships and create community around our kids.
We want these for ALL kids, don’t we?

Whether you are a parent of a kid with food allergies or not, I know all of our answers are emphatically “yes!”

Play dates should be an undeniable rite of passage for our kids and one we as parents work hard to protect – even if that means going peanut-free.

That’s why this post is going to go outside of the classroom to consider how else we can support kids with food allergies. Imagine a fellow peanut-free parent’s peace of mind if their kid could enjoy a playdate “just like everyone else” – free from fear over an anaphylactic occurrence.

Let’s make that happen together, as families supporting families with food allergies.

In this post, we will highlight what are the best peanut-free foods to offer, how to take proper precautions to ensure a peanut-free environment, and how to talk to your kids about food allergies and their friends.

Although these suggestions can be added inspiration for peanut-free lunchbox ideas as well, here is what you need to know specifically about hosting a peanut-free play date.

A special thanks to my peanut-free mom friend, Beth over at Days with Grey, for her taking the time to review and give firsthand feedback on this post! She shares another valuable post on peanut-free parties here.

How to pick peanut-free foods to offer at play dates

Want to find your own peanut-free snack ideas for a play date? Follow these tips when shopping for safe, peanut-free snack foods. Children’s allergies can vary in severity but the following five steps can help ensure the proper steps are taken to eliminate peanut-containing and/or cross-contaminated products.

  1. Always check the ingredients list and product label for peanuts. Don't assume because a food doesn't naturally contain peanuts that it isn't cross-contaminated through manufacturing. Check for the statement “Contains: Peanuts” beneath the list of ingredients. This is required by the federal Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA).
  2. Look for an advisory statement. This may include a statement that reads, “may contain peanut” or “made in a facility with peanut.” While these are voluntary, it is good to avoid any item that may contain traces of peanuts when planning your peanut-free playdate.
  3. Contact the manufacturer. As stated on SnackSafely.com, "due to flaws in US labeling rules, it is impossible to tell whether a product is safe from the label alone." For this reason, it is best to check the company’s website or call the company’s customer service to see if the food item is manufactured in a peanut-free facility any time you are in doubt. Sometimes, one item in a product line is safely “peanut-free” and another item from the same company is not; so when in doubt, reach out to the company to clarify.
  4. Use peanut-free resources. Still feeling unsure about safe peanut-free snack ideas? Consider downloading a free, peanut-free guide like this one for a list of peanut-free food options that is updated often.
  5. Stay up to date. A product’s peanut-free status can change frequently, so never assume an item that was peanut-free still is. Check labels, call the manufacturer, ask the child’s parent, or use a reference guide to keep up with which items are safe to offer.

Looking for tried and true peanut-free favorites to offer at play dates? Here are 12 of our favorite go-to's!

  1. Bitsy's Brain Food Smart Crackers and Cookies
  2. Stonyfield Whole Milk Squeezers (serve frozen for an extra fun treat!)
  3. Pirate’s Booty
  4. Skinny Pop
  5. Sargento cheese stick
  6. Late July Organic Multigrain Tortilla Chips
  7. Mary's Gone Crackers Original
  8. Partake cookies
  9. Made Good Granola Bars
  10. Any of the items from EnjoyLife
  11. Bananas (fruits with peels are preferred!)
  12. Oranges (fruits with peels are preferred!)
 
snack safely infographic.jpg
 

How to take proper precautions to ensure a peanut-free environment[

  1. Thoroughly clean all equipment. If preparing any foods at home, be sure to thoroughly wash and clean ALL equipment from cross-contamination, including items like knives, cutting boards, and counter tops. When in doubt, avoid using kitchen appliances that are harder to clean like toasters, blenders, or other items that may have been used previously with peanut-containing foods.
  2. Plan ahead. If you know you have a peanut-free play date on the calendar soon, try to avoid offering peanut-free items in the days preceding. This helps to lessen the chances of cross-contamination while giving you plenty of chances to clean counter tops, booster seats, kids tables and chairs prior to the play date.
  3. Communicate openly. Parents of children with food allergies tend to be among the most educated resources out there on establishing safe and peanut-free environments, so show your support by seeking out their input on anything you have questions about. Nothing reassures a parent (whose child is peanut-free) more about the upcoming play date than you showing you care and concern to keep everything as safe as possible.

 

How to talk to your kids about food allergies:

  1. First, educate yourself more on peanut allergies by learning more at Kids with Food Allergies.
  2. Practice how to talk with your kids about food allergies with sample ideas here.
  3. Show your child this episode of Daniel Tiger on food allergies.
  4. For older kids, consider this lesson plan from Arthur’s “Binky Goes Nuts: Understanding Peanut Allergies” for a fun and interactive way to engage your kids in allergy education.
  5. Talk with the family beforehand to let them share about their food allergy in a welcomed, warm environment.

Time to (safely) Snack & Play!

With "safe snacks" and manufacturing practices constantly changing, this is something that requires our ongoing attention to. By partnering with our children's friend's families and food companies, however, we can establish a safer environment for children with food allergies.

 
allergyfriendlyfallplaydoughkit_thelittlesandme.jpg

For more ways to make this an extra-special allergen-friendly play date

 

Be sure to hop on over to Ashley's allergen-friendly play dough pack at theLittlesandme.com.

25 Easy Ways to Include Veggies in Your Little's Lunch

Disclosure: This post is sponsored by Sneakz Organic. As always, all opinions and recommendations are my own. For more on my disclosure policy, please visit my legal page.


I know a lot of us parents struggle with what veggies to include in a lunch box without defaulting to baby carrots and dip each day. While that is a fine option, older kids may get burnt out of that offering and younger kids likely can't (safely) crunch their way through it.

That's why I have created this list.

With 25 ideas for how to include a variety of vegetables in each lunch box, you could literally offer a different option each school day of the month! I know this list will help to spur on some new ideas, get you out of a "what to offer" rut, and help your family shop for some fun new offerings this school year.

Be sure to grab my FREE shopping list at the end of this post with the brands I like for each of the products recommended, as well as all the recipes for the items listed.

25 Easy Ways to Include Veggies in Your Little's Lunch

So without further ado, here is a collection of kid-friendly veggie-based food options that are perfect for packing in lunchboxes -- safe for even those who are still learning to crunch and munch through raw veggies!

 

10 Effortless Ideas that Require Minimal to No Prep:

Frozen Peas: Try tossing frozen veggies in and letting them thaw before lunch time.

Grated Carrot Straws: Raw carrots are a choking hazard in kids under four, so consider buying grated carrot straws for your kiddos to try instead.

Freeze-Dried Veggies: You can find these most easily online in single veggie varieties or medley packs.

Kale Chips: You can make your own or buy them pre-made to increase the shelf life a bit.

Cooked (or Jarred) Beets: You can roast your own or buy those that are pre-cooked and in vacuum-sealed pouches.

Baked Sweet Potato: Bake whenever the oven is already on for something else and then keep it in the fridge to have all ready to dice up and add to a lunchbox.

Zoodles: Spiralize your own veggies, or take the shortcut and buy premade ones! Serve raw or cook quickly then include al-dente in a lunch box

Peek-a-boo Sugar Snap Peas: Create a slice down the spine of sugar snap peas so that your little one can open them up and play peek-a-boo with all the peas inside! I promise this novelty trick works wonders.

Canned Corn: Buy the no-salt-added organic corn and you can literally drain and send it as is! No rinsing or cooking required.

Sneakz Organic Milk: If you are already in the habit of sending a juice or milk box instead of just water for a beverage, consider tossing in a box of Sneakz Organic. With a 1/2 serving of vegetables in each milk box, this is an easy, unexpected way to get carrots, cauliflower, sweet potatoes, spinach, and beets in your kiddo's lunchbox.

 
25 Easy Ways to Include Veggies in Your Little's Lunch.JPG
 

5 Ways to Include Leftovers:

Roasted and Steamed Veggies: Make extra steamed or roasted carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini spears, etc. to include in the lunch box the next day.

Cauliflower Rice: Sick of sandwiches? Include cauliflower rice with a leftover grilled meat and veggie kabobs.

"Would-otherwise-go-to-waste" Veggies: Have veggies that went untouched on your child's plate the night before? Add them to a egg frittata recipe or serve them up as mini egg muffin cups.

Rainbow Spring Rolls: Use rice paper to roll up a variety of veggies in a spring roll for dinner the night before, then send extra rolls for lunch the next day. For a bonus, tuck in some avocado or include a dipping sauce on the side.

Smoothies: Do you have a little extra green smoothie or cauliflower smoothie? Include in a pouch or leak-proof squeeze container.

 
omielife takeover muffin tin monday.JPG
 

5 Recipes for Cold Favorites

These are awesome recipes you can prep ahead and enjoy throughout the week. Or, store some in an airtight container and stash in the freezer for another week when you run low on veggie-rich options or ideas!

Carrot Muffins: These are a staple in our house!

Zucchini Muffins: This one just came out in a cookbook I am drooling over...so good

Fruit and Veggie Mini Muffins: This recipe is such a smart way to get 

PB&J with Beet Berry Jam: Use a non-nut butter if your school requires it, but just don't forget to get those beets in your berry jam as a sweet way to boost the nutrition in this kids classic.

Apple + Kale Toddler Puffs: Seriously so easy to make and yet they maintain that light, airy texture toddlers love!

 
25 Easy Ways to Include Veggies in Your Little's Lunch (2).JPG
 

5 Recipes for Heated Favorites

I know a lot of parents and kids wish they could have warm, comforting favorites sent for lunch -- especially as the school year progresses and weather starts to cool down. That is why I was SO excited to receive a OmieBox this year (affiliate link). With a space to keep warm foods warm, this lunchbox opens up a whole new world of opportunities, including kid-friendly ways to offer vegetables!

Hidden Veggie Mac n Cheese: Get that go-to orange color of mac and cheese without all the processed ingredients, but rather from REAL veggies!

Spaghetti: I love spaghetti sauce as a flavorful, family-friendly staple for getting veggies in. Add to whole grain or bean-based noodles, or put on top of zoodles!

Tomato Soup: this is perfect to serve with a side of grilled cheese

Tater Tots: These tend to be a toddler favorite for their soft texture and starchy taste. Consider baking up some of the more natural, nutrient dense "tots" or buying pre-made "puffs" that have sweet potatoes, or kale, or a combo of veggies!

Cauliflower Pizza: I am kind of amazed how well my kids (who notice ANYTHING "different!") took to this pizza crust alternative! Make your own or buy premade.


Want the grocery list for these products PLUS all the recipes for the items listed?

Healthy Carrot Muffins

These have long been a favorite of mine. Initially adapted from a recipe I found here, I have loved made these time and time again. They were a fave while burning calories breastfeeding (err...exclusively pumping), and now, I am introducing them to our newly one year old too.

The first time they were offered, she ate two (normal-sized)! So I think it is safe to say these will be a hit in our home for breakfast, snack time, and on the go.


Healthy Carrot Muffins

Gluten-free, dairy-free, peanut-free, refined-sugar free

Yield: 15-18 muffins or 30-36 mini muffins

Ingredients:

Dry Ingredients:

1 1/4 cup almond flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon

Wet Ingredients:

3 eggs, whisked well
2 very-ripe bananas, mashed well
1/2 cup almond butter
1/3 cup honey
1 tsp pure vanilla

Fold In:

1 cup grated carrots
1/2 cup raisins


Instructions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line muffin tin with paper or silicone muffin liners, or brush muffin tin with melted coconut oil. Set aside.

2. In a large mixing bowl, add all dry ingredients. Mix well.

3. In another large bowl, add all wet ingredients. Mix until well combined and semi-smooth.

4. Add wet ingredients to dry. Stir until combined, then fold in carrots and raisins.

5. Use 1/4 cup scoop to add muffin batter to prepared muffin tins. Fill about two-thirds full.

6. Bake for about 18-20 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

7. Allow to cool on a cooling rack, then enjoy!


Notes on Ingredients:

For infants under one, use agave or real maple syrup.

For carrots, grate in a food processor (if available). If not, buy whole, large carrots. Wash well then grate on a cheese grater (no need to peel). Or, you may buy pre-grated (matchstick) carrots and fold in per the recipe. 


How to Bath-Cook this Recipe:

1. Prepare as instructed above, multiplying each ingredient by the intended number of batches (i.e. 1/2 cup almond butter per batch; for 2 batches, use 1 cup almond butter).

2. After fully cooked, cool completely on cooling rack. Transfer to freezer (on cooling rack or sheet pan) to flash freeze (for ~30 minutes).

3. Remove from freezer and transfer to freezer-safe container. Store extra batch(es) in the freezer until ready to eat. Then, thaw and serve.


Products I Used (affiliate links):

$116.37
$6.94
$8.99 $16.99
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Want to get all set to make this recipe?

Scroll to the footer of this page to get your free grocery list printable! Or be sure to pin the recipe image above so you can come back to this recipe later.

7 Ways to Keep Your Child Seated Through Meals

Whether it be on my live workshops or through parents submitting their inquiries, one of the most common questions I get asked is how to get squirmy kids to stay seated at the table.

Does this sound familiar?

"I have issues getting my 4 year old to feed himself.  He is easily distracted and just won't sit down and eat his full meal. In the end, he will only finish his plate if my husband or me feed him ourselves. How do we get him to take a few more bites on his own before he is halfway out of his seat?"
"Lately, my 2 year old twins will get in their booster seats, be all ready to eat, then barely touch their plate and say "all done!" and want down. I don't want to pressure them to eat, but then I don't know if I should just be allowing them to suddenly decide they're done without eating much. Any advice with this?"
"My 3 year old son wont even sit down unless he loves whats being offered. How do I get him just stay seated?"

No matter the age or gender of your child, wrangling kids to "just sit and eat" is no small feat.

That's why in today's post, we are going to talk about how to get your child to both sit AND stay seated, how to set them up for success in the process, and what you as the parent can do to maintain a Division of Responsibility at meal times with even the squirmiest of eaters.

7 Ways to Keep Your Child Seated Through Meals

7 Ways to Keep Your Child Seated through Dinner

1. Don't seat your children until it is time for the meal.

This will help them to not be waiting for the meal in the only five minute window you may get with them to actually stay seated and eat. Instead, be as prepared as possible when it comes to meal times. Have a gauge on when the meal is truly "almost ready," and then engage them in a pre-meal routine like washing hands and finding their seats. You can also include them in helping with meal time routines in other ways like carrying over silverware, napkins, setting the table, or even any final food prep based on their ages and abilities.

2. Be clear about expectations.

Don't feel bad telling your child(ren) that meals are not only about eating but also about togetherness. This helps them to learn their are expectations for them at meal time and you will help them adhere to those boundaries. Share with your child that you expect them to join their siblings and/or family for meals whether they choose to eat or not.

Then, be sure they are also well aware of the expectations after meals. If they get up from the table, the meal is over. Gently remind them that if they get hungry again after getting up, they will need to wait until the next planned meal or snack. This helps them to learn the boundaries of structured meal and snack times (while also giving you the opportunity to reinforce them). A set pattern for meal and snack times encourages kids to become more discerning before bouncing out of their seats. By reminding your child(ren) of the message that the kitchen will be closed until the next meal or snack time, kids learn to eat when food is offered (because grazing later will not be allowed). Again, this helps them to learn the cause and effect of what happens when they prematurely get up from the table.

If I get out of my seat --> The meal is over --> I won't get to eat again until the next meal or snack

3. Be realistic about how long they should stay seated.

Most kids can handle 2-5 minutes seated at the table per year of life. If it is a meal they're not into, it's usually on the lower. If it is a meal they are more fond of, they will usually stay a bit longer to allow them more time to eat and enjoy it. For a two year old, that means you can expect them to sit for 5-10 minutes. For a 3-4 year old, 15-20 minutes is a reasonable amount of time to work towards them being able to stay seated.

Remember that this can take some work, however. If your four year old struggles to sit at the table for more than five minutes, you will need to work your way up to a longer stretch using some of the other tactics covered here.

4. Don't use pressure as a tactic to get them to stay.

Even parents who are committed to using a Division of Responsibility in feeding approach can fall prey to pressuring their child to eat as a tactic to keep them seated. This creates new issues besides just wanting your child to sit through a meal though and is highly discouraged. Remember that the goal is not for your child to clean their plate of take X number of bites of XYZ food. You are training your child in valuable life skills and helping them to succeed in the social etiquette of a meal, so that as they grow older they can politely participate in more family meals and outings.

5. Practice in the peace of your own home.

If eating out with your child is an issue, consider working on the flow of a meal at home. Play pretend in a toy kitchen or using children's dishware at the dinner table. Let your child pretend to be the server and you as the guest, then trade roles. Role model the behaviors you expect your child to do at meal times and then reinforce how your family is to behave while at restaurants. Home is the perfect place to practice. There is no pressure to perform and your demeanor as the parent is much more relaxed during "pretend" than at a usual meal or outing. By using pretend food, this also allows you to positively reinforce the meal time behaviors you want your child to repeat using plastic, mess-free food!

6. Probe their curiosity to buy a little bit of time.

If your child says "all done" almost immediately after they sit down, try to get them "over the hump." Initially, they are testing your boundaries to see if you will allow them to leave the table. Once you have reinforced the expectations at a meal (that they will stay seated politely), redirect their attention and energy to help them succeed at staying seated. Talk about the learning it foods that have been offered and yet not yet tasted or touched. If your child has already decided s/he is finished eating, don't pressure any "polite bites." Instead, try to get them to learn the other foods by asking probing yet non-pressure questions like: which one is softer, your raw carrot or cooked green beans? What do they smell like? Do they smell the same, or different? What color is your chicken? Do you see any spices or sauce on it? Do the spices/sauce seem sweet or salty (almost always gets them to at least lick it) and so on.

Do this in a fun and conversational way. This turns a "sit your bottom in the seat and eat!" statement and forced feeding environment into one that emphasizes a positive feeding dynamic of togetherness and exploration, even if little gets eaten.

7. Make sure they are seated properly.

Often as kids get too big for a highchair, they transition to a chair that is too big for them. Consider using a booster that allows their feet to rest on the chair also, or put a stool under the table that their feet can rest on. These added areas of support can really help kids maintain better meal time behavior and thus eat better. Additionally, consider keeping your children strapped in to either high chairs or boosters for as long as possible (ideally until about age three). This helps keep age-appropriate restraint in place, which once removed (or no longer used) is harder to reinforce strap-free. For more information on how to properly position your children for meal times, the best resource I have found on this subject can be found here.


Establishing a New Normal

By taking the lead on how you approach your child's constant attempts to get up from the table, you can quickly establish a new normal. There is no need to chase your child down, beg them to take another bite while they're half way out of their chair, or taking a plate into another room to feed your child in front of the TV. Instead, it is up to you to find productive tactics that aid in the establishment of a positive feeding environment -- none of which is occurring when we can't get out kids to sit still.

So try the above approaches and let me know how they work!

If your child still throws up a fight, politely excuse them and remind them that that type of behavior is not allowed at the table. Don't get wrapped up in their drama, but calmly redirect them to another area and continue with the meal. If you establish the boundaries and stay consistent with what, when, AND where meals are offered, they will learn how to live within those age-appropriate and loving limits.


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How to Feed a Toddler at Meal Time

How to Feed a Toddler at Meal Time

Do you ever wish you could give a few cliff notes to your spouse, parents, in-laws, nanny, or another caretaker on how to maintain a Division of Responsibility when feeding your toddler at meal time? This is it. Your short guide of must-knows!

My Favorite School Lunch Supplies

The very first posts that I shared on my Instagram account were those of my oldest's lunchbox when she started Moms Day Out in the Fall of 2015. At that point, I was a young mom, feeding my first kid, and still very much figuring out the ins and outs of not only packed lunches but also picky eaters.

Since then, I have packed hundreds of lunches and learned a lot along the way. I have found products I loved, realized which ones are unnecessary and which are essential, and come up with an arsenal of the best lunch packing supplies.

So if you are doing some back to school shopping for items to use in your child's school lunch, check out my recommendations below. You'll quickly see which are essential, as well as get a bit more insight on the extra special product additions we enjoy.


For most of us moms, we were raised on the good ol' Ziplock bag. In my case, I can recall my parents always wrapping sandwiches in plastic wrap and otherwise using those plastic bags that folded over the top for everything else (instead of zipped). Rarely was there a tupperware tossed in and even then, it was most definitely not compartmentalized.

As a kid, I remember thinking how "all the cool kids" got zip-top bags in their lunch and envied those over my "fold over the top" types. Now, there are so many items to redefine what makes a "cool lunchbox." What is most ironic about it though, is many of the items shared below are intended to make packing school lunches EASIER on your, not the other way around.

So check out the items I share under each of the following steps to see which items I recommend you stock up on for this school year. Then, be sure to snatch the coupon codes (where available) so that you can save a bit more on your back to school shopping!

The Best Back to School Lunch Packing Supplies

 

The Best Back to School Lunch Packing Supplies

Please note that some of the following lunch packing supplies include affiliate links. These do not cost you more money, but help Veggies & Virtue continue to grow and offer you fun free resources like this post. For more on my disclosure policy, please visit my legal page here.


Step 1: Add Food

To pack a lunchbox, you don't actually have to have a bento box or lunch box (although I highly encourage that you do). While other approaches to packing lunches have worked for generations, I have to say I am 110% on the bento box band wagon.

Bento box systems (like Yumbox) or compartmentalized tupperware containers (like EasyLunchboxes) are seriously sanity savers. Instead of opening up, filling, and sealing several little containers or bags for your child, you can put everything that is needed in one single container and call it lunch. Not only does this waste less, but it gives you an obvious platform to pack a lunch from.

 
best lunch packing supplies yumbox

Yumbox

This is the bento box we have used since my oldest's first day of school. She is now 3.5 and still uses the same Yumbox we bought for her first year of Mom's Day Out in the Fall of 2015. I shared a previous product review of the Yumbox here if you would like more product details. Since the time of this review, we have also added the MiniSnack and Tapas boxes to our lunch packing arsenal and love each of them in their own ways. I recommend these lunchboxes to anyone who wants a high-quality, long-term lunch-packing solution.

For 20% off your order (in the month of August), use code YUM20 when ordering on Amazon (affiliate link) or www.yumboxlunch.com.

 

EasyLunchboxes

Okay, so these are amazing. Awhile ago, we had bought something similar to this by Ziplock brand. However, they were hard to find and when we went to buy more, they had changed the design. Since a cluttered tupperware closet doesn't make anyone excited about packing lunches, it drove me to find a new solution. That's when I found EasyLunchboxes. They are a super cost-effective option for anyone who likes the basic premise of bento boxes, but chooses not to spend quite as much on anyone single box.  My husband and I have been using the classic colored EasyLunchboxes for over a year now, but we just got a new set of the EasyLunchbox brights (which I love)!  EasyLunchboxes also has some mini dippers as a great way to include small containers of sauces and dips that won't spill (as EasyLunchboxes are not leak proof).

 
best lunch packing supplies easy lunchboxes

So whether you have several kids, like to pack a few days worth of lunches in advance, or want one system your whole family can use, THIS is your box. It is universal enough for a little in Mom's Day Out, a preschooler or school-aged child, a stay-at-home mom, and working dad to all have their lunches packed and ready for where ever their days take them.

To order, visit on Amazon (affiliate link) or http://www.easylunchboxes.com/welcome.

 
best lunch packing supplies omiebox

OmieBox

Full disclosure - this is a brand new bento box to us this school year. However, it helps answer a problem I hear a lot of parents having: I need more ideas and options outside of just cheese and crackers or cold sandwiches. With its design, the OmieBox is able to hold both hot and cold foods while keeping them at their intended temperatures. Considering we have packed only cold lunches for the last two years, I am already certain this lunchbox will have a new place in our lunch packing routine. I have loved playing around with it so far and am excited to start sharing what I pack it in soon.

For 15% of your OmieBox, use this link (affiliate link).

Stasher Bags

If you aren't convinced that a bento box or reusable lunch box system is what you want this school year, there are some reusable bags by Stasher that may be your school lunch packing solution. These work well in addition to a packed lunch or in place of the bento/lunch box solution all together.

For 15% off your order, use code VIRTUE15 when ordering at www.stasherbag.com.


Step 2: Add Fun

I know some parents who won't use a cookie cutter in their kid's lunch if their life depended on it. Then there are others who use egg molds everyday to shape the most elaborate bento boxes. I like to think I fall somewhere in between depending on the day. Sometimes I keep it SUPER simple (especially since our second child came along!), and other times I get a bit more festive and utilize fun options to flare up my girl's packed lunches. Here are a few of my favorite fun add-ons!

best lunch packing supplies pickease

Pickease

Fun and yet functional, Pick-ease are kid-safe pokers that take your traditional toothpick to a new level. With a design intended for small hands and a dishwasher safe material, these are age-appropriate and economical additions to any lunchbox. They make getting small items out of bentos even easier on kids, plus they may help picky eaters get more excited about what's being offered - all because they get to poke it to pick it up (i.e. they don'd have to touch it!).

For 20% off your order, use code VEGGIES20 when ordering at on Amazon (affiliate link) or www.pick-ease.com.

Muffin Cups

When you want to create barriers between different foods (due to preference or to prevent something from getting soggy), using silicone muffin cups can be a great way to go. With a variety or shapes and sizes, these are an easy way to design your own bento box in any sized or shaped container.

 

Cookie Cutters

The options for cookie cutters are endless but we have found a few that are our favorites for year round use (affiliate links).


Step 3: Add Love

Lunchbox Love Notes

There are a lot of times I feel like I channel my mom as a kindergarten teacher, and adding in little lunchbox notes is no exception. I think to all the notes she wrote and tucked into my lunchbox as a kid and what a warm reminder it always was of her love, presence, and support during the school day. With sweet messages of encouragement, words of wisdom, and the very sentiments we would hope stick with our kids at school, these are another addition I love to keep on hand. These cards also have fun facts on the opposite side, so you not only have double the options but also may be able to get two uses out of each if they come home unruffled.

For 20% off your order, use code VEGGIES when ordering on Amazon (affiliate link) or at www.sayplease.com.

Favorite school lunch packing supplies lunchbox love notes

Step 4: Add Labels

lunch packing supplies mabels labels

Mabels Labels

The fact that I have been able to use one single set of these labels since my 3.5 year old was born (because they're still on some of the first items I ever put them on) is just darn right impressive. In being cheap, I admittantly tried a few other brands since our youngest was born because I didn't realize what a difference there is between good vs bad labels! Now knowing and having had the frustration of labels that fall off with each wash, I am loyal and a big lover of Mabel's Labels.

For 10% off your order, use code VEGGIE10 when ordering on Amazon (affiliate link) or at www.mabelslabels.com.


Step 5: Add Bag

My personal favorite lunch bags are by Lands End. I love the matching soft-sided lunch bag and backpack combo they offer for the size, quality, and functionality of the set. Unfortunately, their patterns are limited and in a way not to my liking, so we went with another backpack and lunch bag for our youngest this year. Our oldest continues to use her matching set from Lands End though and it remains in excellent shape after two years in Mom's Day Out. The Lands End lunch bag fits the Yumbox Panino perfectly as well, which has made this our favorite bento box + lunch bag pair.

Another great option if you are going to use an EasyLunchbox is their lunch tote. EasyLunchboxes also shares ways to jazz up and personalize their lunch totes here, as well as a list of other lunchbag options that fit and the necessary dimensions here.


Step 6: Add Ice

These are my favorites (affiliate link). We have used these ones for going on two school years now and continue to be pleased. They work well, are a slim fit, and work in every lunch tote we've tried them in! We have never had an issue with them leaking, and they seem to stay cold for the course of our daughter's school day.


A Few Final Items You May Want to Add

A few of the other items that all parents may want to consider packing each day include a good leak-proof cup or water bottle and hand sanitizer or anti-bacterial hand wipes. Also, depending on if you send finger foods or a more involved dish, also consider along sending reusable silverware as well.


Off to School They Go!

So there we are. All packed and ready for another school year! I hope this round up of some of my favorites was helpful to you and will get you set up for a successful year of packing school lunches.

If you haven't done so already, be sure to enter our Back To School Lunch Packing Supplies giveaway over on my Instagram page!

I am teaming up with Yumbox, EasyLunchboxes, Lunchbox Love, Pick-Ease, and Mabel's Labels to give away all the lunch supplies you need to get started this school year! Giveaway runs from 8/16/2017 until midnight on 8/18/2017.

Build Your Own Taco Bar

Hey there, August!

If you have been following along with my "Read with Recipes" this summer (see June and July's posts here and here!), you know it is time for me to feature another favorite kid's story alongside Days with Grey and The Mama Workshop, as well as U Ready Teddy and Grace Giggles and Naptime for, "Dragons Love Tacos."

 
 

This is such a fun kid's story and one I had to make an obvious kid-friendly recipe idea out of: TACOS!

With this Build Your Own Taco Bar, you promote kids getting to serve themselves family style while also offering them an assortment of love it, like it, and learning it foods. By allowing your kid to build their own tacos, you also empower them to experiment and yet control the ingredients they want to eat.

Even if your kids only eat the tortilla shell and cheese (like mine did), keep this recipe in your meal rotation. By repeatedly offering a meal with such variety like this, your kids continue to see that tacos can be built, eaten, and enjoyed a variety of ways -- all unique to each family member's tastes and preferences. Since not all meals are as easy to customize as this without being a short-order cook, it is great to include opportunities like this if/when you can.

So get your copy of Dragons Love Tacos and dig into this recipe! I bought my copy at Half Price Books, but here is an affiliate link to order on Amazon if that's easier for you! This doesn't cost you more to use, but it does help Veggies & Virtue to continue sharing more ideas like this one each month! For more on my disclosure policy, please visit here.


Dragons Love Tacos Taco Bar with Kids

Build Your Own Taco Bar

Ingredients:

Taco Meat or Meat Alternative

For a ground taco meat:
1 small onion, diced
1 pound grass-fed ground beef
1/2 packet Trader Joe's taco seasoning (or taco seasoning of choice)
1  15-oz can tomato sauce, no salt added

For a meat-alternative:
1 cup lentils, rinsed
2 cups vegetable broth, low sodium
1 small onion, diced
1/2 packet Trader Joe's taco seasoning (or taco seasoning of choice)

Taco shells (or fresh tortillas)

Toppings
Shredded greens (we used romaine)
Shredded cheese (we used organic sharp cheddar)
Sliced baby bell peppers
Diced tomatoes
Diced avocado
Corn (we used canned, rinsed)
Black beans (we used canned, rinsed)

Of note: we found all of the above ingredients at Trader Joe's.

 

Build Your Own Taco Bar for Kids

Instructions:

1. To prepare taco meat, follow the instructions on the package of taco seasoning: lightly sauteing the diced onions, then adding and browning the ground beef. Drain excess fat, then add in the taco seasoning and the tomato sauce. Allow to simmer until all flavors have combined. Transfer into a glass dish until time to serve.

2. To prepare taco meat alternative, add the rinsed lentils, vegetable stock, diced onion, and taco seasoning to a crock pot. Cover and cook on high for 3-4 hours, or until all liquid is absorbed and the lentils are soft. Transfer into a glass dish until time to serve.

3. Set out all of the desired toppings in individual bowls with spoons. Allow each member to assemble their own taco with the desired toppings. Then sit back, eat, and enjoy!


Dragons Love Tacos Taco Bar

Products Used:

For the colorful bowls seen in these images of our family taco bar, visit Bobo & Boo on Amazon. These are our favorite snack bowls, but also they are ideal for "Build Your Own" bars like this taco one!

Disclosure: The following are affiliate links. Please see my complete disclosure policy here.


For More Fun Kid's Activities:

Visit each of the following for fun, engaging, and educational ways to also enjoy "Dragons Love Tacos" all month long.

Days with Grey: Website and Instagram

Days with Grey Dragons Love Tacos.jpg

The Mama Workshop: Website and Instagram

U Ready Teddy: Website and Instagram

u ready teddy.jpg

Grace, Giggles, and Naptime: Website and Instagram


That's a wrap for this month's Read with Recipes!

I hope you enjoy this meal idea and all the learning activities to engage your littles alongside it!

How to Feed a Toddler at Snack Time

How to Feed a Toddler at Snack Time

How to tackle snack time with simple tips for establishing real nutrition from a real mom. Free printable available!

The Summer's Best Pool Snacks

Disclosure: This post is sponsored by Sneakz. Thank you Sneakz for providing us with the assortment of milk options to enjoy at the pool this summer! This post also may contain affiliate links. For more on my disclosure policy, please visit my legal page.

 

Although I am all for packing picnics to take to the pool in our yumboxes, there is something to be said for the laid back, laissez faire attitude of eating an easy afternoon lunch or snack poolside.

That's why I came up with this complete list of healthy pool snacks for summer.

Complete with a grocery list to get all the suggested snacks, these items are some of my faves to toss in for a day at the pool.

So don't rush home for lunch and be sure to skip the sno-cones and nacho cheese sauce with chips at the lifeguard stand. Instead, keep some of these offerings on hand so you and your kiddos can enjoy swimming and the sunshine with a bit less stress.

the summers best pool snacks

The Summer's Best Pool Snacks

Here are a few keys considerations I kept in mind when selecting this summer's best pool snacks. For a free printable with all my favorite products to each of the recommendations below, download the free Summer Pool Snacks grocery guide!

Will it fuel?

What is the purpose of a snack? As discussed in my last blog post, the first goal is to fill in nutritional gaps. While this may seem to counter the typical snacks we pack or purchase for the pool, the ideas I share here each offer a bit more of a nutritional benefit than the average processed, non-perishable snack food.

Ideally, you want to pair at least 2-3 different food groups to make up a snack food that will fuel your children for longer. Depending on if the goal is to make this is a large enough snack to replace lunch or one that will just need to hold everyone through the afternoon until dinner, you can bulk up the variety and/or serving size of what you offer accordingly.

Think of easy combinations like these:

  • Personal nut butter squeeze packs with pretzels, apple slices, or straight from t he pouch!
  • Non-perishable hummus with veggie straws or snack packs of baby carrots*
  • Frozen grapes*, cheese sticks, and whole grain crackers
  • DIY trail mix with dried fruits like no sugar added mangoes, raisins, or freeze-dried strawberries plus no-sugar-added dry cereal and dry roasted nuts*
  • Pre-packaged pulses for a crunchy snack with more staying power (that's to the natural fiber!)

* Note that baby carrots, whole grapes, nuts, and some dried fruits may be choking hazards in kids under 4. Use caution, cut or quarter into smaller, more manageable pieces, or avoid completely.

 

Will it refresh?

Let's talk about hydration.

In my opinion, water is almost always the easiest, most economical, and effective hydration solution to offer kids between meals. We know though that kids often want something a bit more “fun,” especially when they likely see other kids at the pool getting Kool-Aid and Capri Suns. However, children should drink no more than 4 ounces of juice per day so I don’t recommend juice boxes as a norm nor poolside staple. Instead, use this as yet another opportunity to maximize the nutritional value of what is offered as a poolside snack while filling in nutritional gaps with the beverages you offer your little one.

Most kids need about 16 ounces of dairy products per day in order to meet their recommended calcium needs. Majority of us parents don’t want to deal with keeping milk cold though, nor packing it in an expensive thermos only to take it along and let’s be honest, likely lose it at the pool! That’s why I am especially happy about a new disposable, shelf-stable milk option I recently learned about: Sneakz.

If you have ever heard how chocolate milk is one of the best recovery drinks for athletes, you’ll also understand a bit of why I love these Sneakz organic milk for active days at the pool. With a 4:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein, this is a great beverage option to both refresh AND refuel your little swimmer. Plus, since most kids aren’t crazy about getting in their vegetables while splashing around with friends, Sneakz helps us moms out. With ingredients like carrots, cauliflower, sweet potato, spinach, and beets that are added into kid-favorite milkshake flavors (available in chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla), each 8- ounce Sneakz tetra pack has half a serving of vegetables.

Plus as I mention below, Sneakz are perfect to toss in the freezer and then use them as ice packs to keep our snacks cold. Icey and cool like a milkshake, and yet far more dietitian-mom approved than anything the ice cream man has to offer when he inevitably stops by the pool.

summers best pool snacks sneakz

Will it melt?

Most of us know not to bring a candy bar to the pool for a few reasons, one of which being the huge mess it'll make when our kids attempt to eat it in the hot summer sun. But even “healthy” granola bars with chocolate chips can still get unnecessarily messy.

That is why I have listed options here that are not only melt free, but also that offer a space-saving, dual purpose as preferred snacks and ice packs. The following items are perfect to throw in the freezer beforehand, use as temporary ice packs, and then enjoy as they thaw out before snack time.

  • Non-perishable milk boxes, like the ones by Sneakz
  • Yogurt tubes
  • String cheese
     

Will it compete?

This is important, even to a dietitian-mom like me.

How cool are the items you are bringing to the pool?

I have very little pride when it comes to if my daughter gets to eat what “all the cool kids have.” But I know firsthand that when I pack her lame, healthy snacks, no one really wins. Not only does it make those items available at the lifeguard shack seem that much more appealing (and yet off limits), but also my daughter ends up that much less interested in refueling and refreshing with what we have (AKA we are almost guaranteed a meltdown on the way home).

So while I want to instill in her an understanding of what snacks are smart choices, we can still have fun with and fully enjoy what options we do bring from home.

My main trick for this? Save novelty snack foods for when you are at the pool and have some competition.

I don’t often buy pre-packaged items for our girls because I know there are more cost-effective, healthy ways to make or serve them at home. But for the pool, I often take advantage of the individual yogurt squeeze tubes, personalized nut butter and pretzel snack packs, and a few other pre-packaged favorites like Sneakz milkshakes.

These almost always come off as more of a “treat” than the bowl of yogurt, nut butter from the jar, or milk from the jug our girls know to have at home. So having something that is a little extra special, allures kids away from the snacks we don’t want them having and back to the healthy choices we have packed up for them to eat at the pool.

 

Will it fit?

Every time we head to the pool I think how fitting it would be if I were an octopus. I literally need eight arms to carry all the towels, sun screens, floaties, diapers, random clothes, snacks and the hand of each kid as we cross the parking lot.

That’s why I love having a little tote to keep our snacks compartmentalized in. Not only is this an easy way to keep all the food together, but also tends something small and with a shoulder strap that our older kiddos can carry on their own.

 

Sunscreen, Snacks, Smiles

I hope this post helped you know what to pack for the Summer's Best Pool Snacks. If you would like specific product recommendations as to the brands and items I buy for each of the above, download this grocery guide!

pool snacks grocery guide

 

Happy summer to you and your favorite little swimmers+pool snackers, from Sneakz and me.

Summer Potlucks and Picky Eaters

Disclaimer: This post is sponsored by Regalo. Thank you Regalo for providing us with the Portable Activity Chairs to enjoy at all of our summer potlucks.

I would love to be the dietitian whose kid ate anything and everything at a good summer barbecue. From marinated meats to grilled veggies to an assortment of mixed pasta salads and fresh green salads, there are so many foods I love about summer...that my kids won't touch.

I recognize that I am not alone in this, especially after how many times I have seen parents carefully make a plate with the 1-2 foods their child *may* eat.

Besides the distractions of other kids making it hard to sit still and the foods that are likely prepared differently than what's offered at homes, kids -- especially picky eaters -- can really struggle with what to eat when at summer gatherings.

Our kids struggle is our stress. Am I right?

So let's lay down some ground rules for your next summer potluck.

Here is how to take your picky eater to a summer potluck (without stressing):

 

Follow a Division of Responsibility with Feeding (addressing  the WHO)

As I recommend as the #1 key to success in this free parent download, the first thing we as parents must do is recreate our attitude and approach to feeding our child(ren). If you aren't already owning your responsibility of feeding your child, that needs to be your first goal.
A parent's responsibility is the WHAT, WHEN, and WHERE their child is offered food.

By your assuming these responsibility prior to a public potluck, you set both your child and you up for a more enjoyable meal time shared with others. The following ideas address some ways you can help with the what, when, and where of what you're responsible for, so that your child is better able to succeed with their responsibility in eating.
A child's responsibility is the if/whether and how much they eat from what is offered.

 

Always bring something you know your kid will eat (addressing the WHAT)

Have you started working through the Love it, Like it, Learning it approach with your child (Key #2 in this free parent printable)? If not, prior to a potluck is a great time to give it a try. Because by bringing a dish to a potluck (or offering one when hosting) that you know your family/child LOVES (a "love it" food), you will then be able to rest assured that there is at least something for your child to eat at the gathering -- even if they are still learning to like everything else.

Of note: If you are bringing/serving more than one item, all of them don't have to be tailored to your picky eater. Just make sure that you are providing at least one option you know they will eat, even if it is just fresh cut watermelon. It should not be on the host to accommodate to your picky eater, nor should you have to stress at an otherwise fun gathering about if/whether and how much your child will eat. If you help work through the WHAT is being offering, if and how much they eat is on them.

 

Help your child adjust to the timing (addressing the WHEN)

The reality is, potlucks aren't always planned at the ideal time for every family when there are several people and one gathering place to consider. Sometimes the potluck may interfere with nap time and more commonly, they can run late and into night time. With each of these timing conflicts, the time in which your child gets to (or doesn't get to) eat may create issues.

So help your child from getting hangry by giving them a balanced snack ahead of time. Then when you arrive (or as guests have all arrived, when hosting), consider the timing of when others may be eating. If it is a casual potluck where food is out for the serving, serve your child a plate when you know they would usually eat. Waiting until too late can backfire as we all know, so instead, encourage fellow parents to come alongside you to feed the kids first so that they don't become excessively hungry. 

 

B.Y.O.B. (addressing the WHERE)

That's right: Bring Your Own Backrest!

So many times at group gatherings, there isn't enough room for everyone to sit. Unfortunately, this often encourages kids to graze and walk around while eating, only to leave a potluck without ever really eating anything of substance. Instead, bring your kids their own portable chairs like this one from Regalo. Unlike just lying out a blanket and expecting your kids to sit still and eat well, this chair from Regalo puts kids in a more upright position for eating at potlucks. Plus, we love how these Portable Activity Chairs by are compact and easy to carry with us to any potluck or outdoor event. It's also surprisingly easy to wipe down (or hose off!) so kids can sit and eat at it without us obsessing over the mess. I have found this portable activity chair to be especially helpful with feeding our youngest too. The weight limit for this chair is 50 pounds, so thankfully I know we will get several more years out of it even with our three year old. But it has proven especially convenient with our one year old! Although I love a good portable high chair, I can't always seem to find a spare chair to strap their portable high chair onto at potlucks. Regalo's Portable Activity Chair gives me the ease and accessibility of keeping my child safe while eating in one spot that I can easily make near me and amidst their friends.

Want to win your own portable activity chair? Enter here! Please note: Giveaway closes at midnight CST on July 21st, 2017.

Practice Family Style Meals in Advance (addressing the IF/WHETHER)

Most young children are used to their parents preparing them a plate and picky what goes on it. At places like potlucks where there may be a lot of unfamiliar foods that could make your picky eater uncomfortable, that means you will end up with only a couple of items on their plates (if you're lucky).

So set them up for success by practicing family-style serving. If you don't use this approach already, offer meals family style a few times before the upcoming potluck. This primes them to how meals can be offered at group gathering and gives them a sense of control over what they eat by being able to self-serve themselves. This is bound to minimize their fear over the uncertain foods being offered (i.e. the learning it foods) while equipping them with some age-appropriate autonomy to choose the foods they love or at least like from those being offered.

 

Don't call your kid a picky eater publicly (addressing the HOW MUCH)

Do you want to know one of the best ways to raise a picky eater? Keep calling them picky, especially in front of others.

The more your kid hears you identify them in this way, the more they will own this title. For example, if they know that you expect them to not eat, throw a fit, or expect an alternative to what is offered at the potluck, that is the persona they will assume publicly. Instead, don't say anything. Keep your attitude light and positive and more about the social aspect of time with family and friends than on the food your kid won't eat.

 

Time to Pack Up and Have a Potluck

Potlucks can be a great first exposure to informal social gatherings. They provide a natural, relaxed environment to train your kids in what is expected of them in such social settings. So help your child embrace these experiences from an early age, instead of expecting them to know how to adjust to out-of-the-norm meal times on their own. by applying a few simple techniques, don't be surprised if summer gatherings create less meal time stress and more feeding success.

 

Cheers to summer time and your chances to win this fun activity chair from Regalo!

Enter below to double your chances to win! Giveaway closes at midnight CST on July 21st, 2017.

Omelet in a Bag

Who else is a big fan of breakfast for dinner?

My guess is if you are a mom, you are! It is so easy, economical, and even for those of us who have picky eaters, we can usually win everyone in the family over with breakfast foods -- especially when you add in the novelty of having them for dinner!

That's why when my husband told me about this idea he saw on YouTube, I knew we needed to recreate this concept. Thanks to Vicki Bensinger's YouTube channel for this idea, info, and inspiration!


Omelet in a Bag

Omelet Bar Set-Up

Ingredients:
1-3 raw eggs (still in the shell) per person
Toppings of choice: raw or roasted zucchini, mushrooms, broccoli, asparagus, or bell peppers, spinach, diced tomatoes, chopped onions, shredded cheese, and any breakfast meat of choice (like bacon, sausage, chorizo, ham)

 
Omelet bar
 

Instructions:
1. Start a large pot of boiling water.
2. In a quart-sized* Ziplock freezer bag, crack 1-3 eggs per person. Seal bag and mash egg until well-scrambled.
3. Unseal Ziplock with scrambled egg. Add desired toppings. Reseal and mash again, until all toppings are well mixed in.
4. Make sure all air is removed from plastic bag. Gently place bag in the pot of boiling water. Turn down heat to maintain a rolling boil, and cook omelet for 15-20 minutes.
5. When done, remove omelet in a bag with tongs. Gently open bag. Probe the omelet with a knife to make sure it is cooked through. If not, reseal bag and return to boiling water for 3-5 minutes more.
6. When done, open Ziplock and pour the omelet from it onto plate. If preferred, you also may pour it onto a medium-hot pan or griddle to lightly crisp the outside.
7. Once cooked to desired doneness, garnish with avocadoes, salsa, and tortillas, or a side of potatoes and fresh fruit. enjoy!

*Note, you can use a gallon-sized freezer Ziplock instead if you would like a longer, thinner omelet. Just decrease the cooking time to 13-15 minutes. For more on the types of accepted bags, see the section titled, "A Note on the Safety of Heating Plastics" below.


Kids in the Kitchen

I love the idea of Build Your Own anything with kids, especially picky eaters. This is a great way for them to be exposed to a variety of options and ways for preparing the same item, while also seeing you as the parent role model a more adventurous spirit with what you include in your omelet. It also gives kids a sense of comfort and control around these foods though by allowing them to decide and manage if and how much of each ingredient they include in their omelet bag.

The more your kids become comfortable with this, ask them what new toppings they would like to put out and try! Encourage them to try even one mushroom, spinach leaf, or other learning it foods, and excite them about "trying to find it in the omelet" once it is cooked. Even if they don't eat it, this is a great way for them to realize they can politely pick out learning it foods. It also helps them realize that these foods don't destroy everything they touch!


Other Tips

This recipe is a GREAT way to use up random leftovers. Rather than tossing out the spinach that is on its last leg or the few leftover veggies that didn't get eaten, chop up and put out as optional toppings.

If including breakfast meats, be sure to look for those without added nitrites and nitrates. Instead, make natural bacon, ham, sausage, and chorizo a "sometimes food" that is eaten in moderation. For more information on processed meats, see this article on My Recommendations for Processed Meats.


A Note on the Safety of Heating Plastics

I admit, I was a bit amazed by how this worked. Having never done the more technical sous vide method of pressure cooking in a bag at a controlled temperature, this seemed like a fun way to make an omelet. However, the physics of how the Ziplock didn't melt when boiled did make me question a bit how healthy it was to be cooking our omelets in a plastic bag in hot water.

Generally, I am not a fan of heating plastics, so I recognize this is an exception to this rule. I do tend to agree with recommendations (such as those from Harvard here), stating not to heat nor store hot foods in plastics. Ideally, I recommend glass or ceramic as the ideal choice.  That is why almost all of my meal prep photos are shown using Pyrex Snapware. However, as an occasional novelty, I am curious:

Is using this boil in a bag omelet concept safe - especially when using with young kids?

Even though the Ziplock website states that their bags are BPA- and dioxin-free (see the ingredient list here), they may melt if in water that exceeds their melting point. Polyethylene plastic, which is typically used to make Ziplock brand bags, will start to soften at about 195 degrees Fahrenheit. If you put these bags in boiling water (around 212 degrees F), they will melt. So although the above instructions state to keep the water at a rolling boil, this may be pushing the temperature that is safe for Ziplocks to be exposed to. On the package, Ziplocks state they may be microwaved with a 1-inch vent.

According to Harvard's research on this topic, only containers that pass the test of leaching "the maximum allowable amount is 100–1,000 times less per pound of body weight than the amount shown to harm laboratory animals over a lifetime of use can display a microwave-safe icon, the words "microwave safe," or words to the effect that they're approved for use in microwave ovens." Since Ziplock freezer bags do state they can be used in the microwave, I would take this to mean that they may be used in high temperatures (ideally not to surpass 195 degrees F). Of note, many other types of bags (such as thinner, non-freezer-safe varieties and knock-off brands of Ziplock bags) may be made with lesser-quality ingredients that cause more concern for leaching when subjected to high temperatures. 

As always, use your best judgement. While I think our family will still use this approach on occasion, I am going to keep researching this issue prior to making this recipe a mainstay in our "breakfast for dinner" arsenal. I don't suggest cooking in plastic bags as the ideal way to cook all or even any foods, but considering how few plastics we use in our home and especially in cooking, I consider this a low-exposure and infrequent-issue in our household.


Products Used

I love our new Bobo & Boo snack bowls for a variety of uses, but this omelet bar set-up may be a new favorite! They are the perfect size for little hands at snack time, and they work perfectly when setting out a variety of toppings for Build Your Own Omelet Bar!

Please note the following links are affiliate links. These do not cost you any more to use, but in purchasing through these links, you help to support the efforts of Veggies & Virtue! For more info, please visit my disclosure policy.

 

Watermelon on a Stick

This is about as easy as they come, y'all.

But in this Texas summer heat, we cling to all of the cool summer treats we can find! That's why I love this one as a favorite fruit turned frozen. I am a big fan of it being a one-ingredient, no-sugar-added option. My older daughter loves that she can hold onto it one-handed post-bike ride without it dripping like a popsicle would. My younger one seems to most enjoy these as a flavorful remedy to ease the discomfort of teething.

However you and your family choose to eat these, take a few pieces from your next watermelon and turn them into these super simple and yet satisfying summer snack!

Watermelon on a stick

Ingredients:
Fresh cut watermelon

Instructions:

  1. Wash the outside/rind of water and pat dry. Cut the melon in half. With the flesh side down, remove the rind from the entire half.
  2. Once the rind is removed, cut several slices vertically and horizontally, until you have 20-30 separate, long "stalks" of watermelon. Be sure that each has enough of a buffer to hold onto a popsicle stick.
  3. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Gently insert a popsicle stick into each long piece of watermelon. Place each watermelon on a stick on parchment paper until you have the number of them you wish to freeze.
  4. Put the tray of watermelon on a stick into the freezer. Allow to freeze for 1-2 hours.
  5. Remove tray from freezer.Enjoy immediately, or transfer watermelon on a stick from the cookie sheet into an air tight container. Separate any that are being returned to the freezer with small pieces of the parchment paper.

DIY Froyo Push Pop

My kids are just like every other I have met. They LOVE those yogurt tubes you can buy at the store. They especially love them frozen!

So for a more economic option and one that I can have complete control over the ingredients with, we have started keeping a constant supply of these frozen yogurt push pops in our freezer.

Whether you pour in leftover smoothie to freeze or try the recipe below, I am sure your kids will be equally eager to eat this novelty DIY froyo push pop as they are the store-bought alternatives.

DIY Frozen Yogurt Push Pop

Ingredients:
1 cup strawberries, washed and hulled
1-2 Tablespoons honey (depending on desired sweetness)
Two 4-ounce containers of 4% strawberry-rhubarb @siggisdairy yogurt

Instructions:

  1. Quarter and then roughly chop strawberries into small 1/2" pieces.
  2. Put berries in a small sauce pan with honey. Heat on low until strawberries are soft/macerated. Remove from heat and let cool.
  3. Spoon yogurt into blender or food processor. Add strawberry mixture in as well, then blend/pulse until well-combined.
  4. Pour strawberry-yogurt mixture into push pop molds. Freeze for 2-3 hours, or until firm.
  5. Remove from freezer and allow to sit for ~5 minutes. Take off the top, push yogurt pop up, and enjoy!


Get creative! This recipe is versatile to make with any combo of seasonal summer fruits, fruit jam or compote, and a complimentary flavor of yogurt.
 

Note:
These molds are designed so the popsicles slides back down when not actively being pushed up. This can be challenging for little hands with weaker grips (i.e. under 3). To solve this, we use a chip clip as a clamp to keep it moving its way up as they eat! There is a disposable option as well though that this issue doesn't seem to happen with. Both are shown below!


Products Used (affiliate links):

$11.95 $15.95
$11.50

Chicken Marinade

This is my go-to chicken recipe when grilling out with friends.

Drumsticks and thighs always seem to be a hit with kids, as they're more fun to eat and juicier than white meats. Also, they're less expensive which makes this an entertaining big-win!

Marinade a batch the night before a big dinner gathering or the morning of. I guarantee you will have others asking you for this recipe when you do!

Best Chicken Marinade

Ingredients
6-10 chicken thighs (drumsticks work well too)
2 Tablespoons avocado oil
2 tsp onion flakes
1/2 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/8 tsp cayenne
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
Juice of half a lime
6 oz beer (I used a gluten-free beer or cider)
1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley
Salt to taste

Instructions

  1. Add all of the ingredients except the chicken to gallon-sized zip lock bag. Seal bag and mash together until all ingredients are mixed up.
  2. Add the chicken. Reseal bag and massage the marinade onto the chicken. Let the chicken marinate for at least a couple of hours in the fridge, overnight would be best to let the chicken absorb all the flavors. Ideally, flip the bag over every couple hours to make sure the both sides of the chicken get to sit in the juices to marinate more evenly.
  3. Oil the grill. Preheat to medium-high heat. Add the chicken then flip around 7-8 minutes. You can baste the chicken with excess marinade, if desired. Cook the chicken until the juices are clear and the internal temp reads 165 degrees.
  4. Remove from grill and serve!

Watermelon Ice Cubes

Can you believe it is already the start to another month?

That means, I am partnering up with Days with Greythe Mama Workshop, and the Littles and Me to contribute a recipe towards this month's Book Box activities.

This month we are reading through hands on play for the book, "The Watermelon Seed."

 
 

The Watermelon Seed (affiliate link) is such a darling book and so perfect for story time in the summer.

So pour yourself a pitcher of water and plop in some of these festive watermelon ice cubes! It will make a refreshing beverage choice that both you and your child can enjoy together without all the sugar of juice and other flavored drink alternatives.



Ingredients
2 cups fresh watermelon (without the rind)
The juice from one lime

Instructions

  1. Place the watermelon into a blender. Add lime juice. Blend until all watermelon is broken down.
  2. Pour into ice cube trays, or if using a fun-shaped option, spoon watermelon mixture in using a 1 Tablespoon measuring spoon.
  3. Freeze for 2-3 hours or until firm. Remove from freezer and take cubes out of mold, placing them in an air-tight container with parchment paper in between layers.
  4. To make the remaining batches, repeat steps 1-3 to make three batches of stars (using the suggested mold below).
  5. When it is time to enjoy, simply remove the air-tight container with all of these stars from the freezer, then add to a pitcher of still or sparkling water. Note they may melt quickly, so be sure to wait until it is time to serve to put these fun ice cubes into the water!

If you want to make these immediately and don't have time to order or go out to buy the star-shaped mold, no problem!

  1. Simply cut off the rind from the melon as you would for the recipe above, but then make large, thin slices. Lie the slices flat. Using a star-shaped cookie cutter, cut stars from the melon.
  2. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper, then put each of the watermelon stars on top of the parchment paper. If desired, you may add drops of lime juice to each star or wait and add it directly to water later.
  3. Place cookie sheet in freezer for a few hours, or until the time you need to use the stars. If preparing more than 4-6 hours in advance, you may consider transferring the stars to an air-tight container once frozen.
  4. When it is time to use these, remove from cookie sheet or air-tight container, and place into a pitcher of cool water. Note, these will maintain their shape in the pitcher of water longer than the frozen ice cube stars above, which is a nice option if you anticipate the water being left over for awhile instead of served immediately.

Products Used (affiliate link)

Frozen Yogurt Parfaits

FROZEN YOGURT PARFAITS

Ingredients:
1.5 cups granola
1/4 cup all-natural peanut butter
3 Tablespoons honey
4 containers 4% @siggisdairy (can use any flavors or brand of choice; need total of ~2 cups)
1/2 cup fresh berries (can use any berries of choice)

Instructions:
Heat peanut butter and honey in microwave for ~30 seconds, or until melted. Add granola to honey-nut mixture and stir to combine. Spoon granola mix evenly into 12 lined muffin cups, pressing firmly into the bottom. I used silicone muffin tins for this and it worked really well to pop them out once frozen. Scoop yogurt on top of each cup until full (about about 1/4 cup of yogurt per spot). Press fresh berries into the top of yogurt. Cover and freeze for 2 hours or until firm. Remove from freezer and let sit for 3-5 minutes to slightly thaw. Remove from muffin liner, and enjoy!

Note:
If you're a family who needs this peanut-free, swap out the peanut butter to an almond or cashew butter and choose a granola that's peanut free! Or, use a nut-free butter like SunButter or the Sneaky Chef's No Nut Butter.