Thursday, February 25, 2010

Organic Produce

I received a phone call the other day from a child care provider who was wondering if I had any tips for saving money on organic produce. She said she was dedicated to serving organic produce to the children in her care because she was worried about the pesticides on conventionally-grown produce. I thought I would share the information that I gave to her in case anyone else had the same question.

The first thing I want to emphasize is that eating ANY type of fruits and vegetables is better than NOT eating them at all. In other words, if you only have the choice of conventionally-grown produce, the nutritional value you get from these foods far outweighs any potential negative effects of the pesticides. That said, my favorite tip for saving money is to concentrate on buying organic for those fruits and vegetables that have the most pesticide residues. The Environmental Working Group has put together a nice list of the "Dirty Dozen" fruits and vegetables that you should buy organic if possible. These fruits and vegetables have been shown to have the most pesticide residues. They also have a "Clean 15" list of fruits and vegetables with the lowest levels of pesticides on average. If you didn't have the money to buy all organic produce, the "Clean 15" would be the products to buy conventionally-grown. They estimate that people who eat the "Dirty Dozen" fruits and vegetables consume an average of 10 pesticides a day, and those who eat the "Clean 15" fruits and vegetables ingest fewer than 2 pesticides daily. You can find their lists at:

Some other ways you can save money on organic produce include shopping at farmer's markets, or joining a CSA organic farm program. CSA farms allow you to "join" by buying a share in their farm. You will then receive a food basket each week in the summer containing whatever they grow. You pay for the share up front, so the only risk to you is if their crops don't do well or are damaged by hail or something like that. You can find out if there is an organic CSA farm in your area on this website:

Note: the CSA farms listed on this website are not all organic. If that is what you are looking for, make sure you inquire about that before you buy your share.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Story time

I wanted to share a resource with you today that you might not be aware of. The National Food Service Management Institute (NFSMI) has a "Care Connection" section on their website which can not only give you some great ideas for cooking with children, but also nutrition education lessons. You will find some creative ideas for books you can read to your children, followed by a snack to make using the same "theme". You can download these lessons and print the pages out, or even watch an online video lesson!
Have fun!

Here is the link to this resource:

Friday, February 19, 2010

Crockpot Oats

I just love steel cut oats for breakfast, and I especially love breakfast that is ready when I wake up in the morning! I thought I would share my favorite recipe for crockpot oats, one that I fix quite often in the wintertime. Some of you may already have this recipe because we included it in the latest Wildwood monitoring unit, but I just couldn't resist posting it here for those of you who aren't on our Food Program.

Steel cut oats are minimally processed oats that usually take quite a long time to cook (about 45-50 minutes). This can often be a messy process because they often boil over (at least they do for me, maybe because I am usually doing other things while cooking and I sometimes walk away from the stove- ha ha). I just love using this recipe because I don't have to monitor the cooking process! You can find steel cut oats at most regular grocery stores now in the hot cereal section. You can also often purchase them in bulk at many health food stores. Don't use regular "old fashioned" or quick oats for this recipe.

Nutrition bonus- oats are a nutrient-rich food and a great source of soluble fiber!

Crockpot Oats
1 cup steel cut oats
4 1/2 cups water
1 Tablespoon butter (optional)
cooking spray

1) Spray the inside of a 2 quart crockpot with cooking spray (this makes for easier clean-up!)
2) Place the oats, water and butter (if using) in the crockpot.
3) Cover and cook on LOW overnight or for 6-8 hours.

Makes 8 servings. Each serving creditable for 1 bread/bread alternate at breakfast for 3-5 year old children.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Resources for Physical Activity Ideas

Action for Healthy Kids just posted a link to their GameOn toolkit that I want to pass along to all of you. There are several websites listed that have some great ideas for "stretch breaks" for children. You will also find some suggestions about ways to incorporate physical fitness into your daily schedule. The "Stretch Break for Kids" link even has a free download for kids with 20 stretching activities and computer animation to go along with each stretch.

If you need some new ideas for helping your kids get enough exercise, check out the toolkit link at:

Monday, February 8, 2010

Sweet Potatoes

Do you only think about sweet potatoes when Thanksgiving rolls around? If so, you might want to think about serving this "super" food more often. Sweet potatoes top the list of the Center for Science in the Public Interest's most nutritious vegetables for good reason! They are a great source of vitamin A and a good source of vitamins E, C, manganese, potassium, fiber, and some of the B vitamins. Best of all, sweet pototaoes are sweet and yummy. Kids love this bright orange vegetable, even when it is not buried in sugary melted marshmallows!

Here are some of our favorite ways to serve sweet potatoes:

Cover 4 peeled and cubed sweet potatoes in a partially covered pot until soft, about 15-20 minutes. Drain. Mash them with 1 Tablespoon of butter, a little milk, and a sprinkle of cinnamon.

Baked: Sweet Potato Casserole

2 medium sweet potatoes
2 Tablespoons dried cranberries
1 tsp. grated orange peel
¼ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
dash ground nutmeg
3 Tablespoons flaked coconut
1 Tablespoon tub margarine

Place the sweet potatoes in a saucepan, cover with water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat. Cover and simmer for 30-40 minutes or just until tender, drain. When cool enough to handle, peel sweet potato and place in a bowl, mash. Stir in cranberries, orange peel, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Transfer to a greased 1 ½ cup baking dish. Stir coconut into tub margarine, sprinkle over the top of casserole. Bake, uncovered at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes or until golden.
Yield: approx. 8, ¼ cup servings (depending on size of sweet potatoes)

Crediting information: 1, ¼ cup serving, is creditable for one serving of fruit/vegetable at any meal for 3-5 year old children.

Baked: Sweet Potato "Fries"
Peel 2 large sweet potatoes and cut into "french-fry" sized pieces (approx. 3" by 1/2"). Place fries in a large bowl and drizzle with 1 Tablespoon of olive or canola oil. Sprinkle lightly with salt. Toss until the fries are evenly coated. Place fries on a baking sheet sprayed with cooking spray. Bake at 425 degrees until browned, turning fries once so all sides cook evenly.

*Also, see the "sweet potato puffs" recipe on my 12/17/09 blog post.

If you are in a rush, you can microwave sweet potatoes. Scrub the sweet potatoes with a vegetable brush and poke a few holes in the skin with a fork. Microwave sweet potatoes for about 5 mintues, turning once during the cooking process (cooking time may vary depending on how many potatoes you are cooking and their size). Let the sweet potatoes sit for a few minutes before peeling and mashing.

When you are buying sweet potatoes, look for firm sweet potatoes with no signs of bruising or soft spots. Store them in a dry, unrefrigerated bin.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Whole grain goodness

I am always on the lookout for new whole grain recipes to feed to my children. As you know, MyPyramid recommends that we make half of our grains whole (in other words, half of the grain servings we eat in a day should be whole grains). Whole grains offer so many benefits, they are not only nutrient-rich but they also help fill children up. Additionally, since whole grains are digested more slowly they do not lead to blood sugar highs and lows.

I found this recipe in a cookbook but made a few changes to it. The cookbook I got it from called it "Seashells in the Sand" which I think is a very cute name that most kids will love. Sometimes I stir in a few steamed peas for some color. You can find usually find whole wheat couscous at some grocery stores or at health food stores such as Sunflower Market, Whole Foods, or Vitamin Cottage. Use regular couscous if you can't find the whole wheat. This recipe is quick and easy!

Seashells on the Seashore
1 cup whole wheat couscous
1 cup tiny shell pasta (preferably whole wheat)
1 Tablespoon butter or trans-fat free margarine
salt and pepper to taste

Place the couscous in a heatproof container and add 2 cups boiling water. Cover and let stand 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta until al dente, then drain.

Combine the cooked grain and pasta in a serving container. Stir in the margarine or butter until melted, then season with salt and pepper.