Monday, December 10, 2012

Holiday food fun for children and teens | Your Healthy Child

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Holidays generally mean special foods and more time with family members. Cooking and food preparation can be fun for children, especially when it involves seasonal foods or projects that are appreciated by others. Some can even be used as gifts. Even better, is that many of these foods can also contribute positively to health.

Fun food ideas mean finding ways to creatively season or prepare a more traditional food. Air-popped popcorn, nuts and seeds are all healthy snacks. To make them special, children/teens can add their own touch by tossing them with additions like herb mixes, curry powder, Parmesan cheese, chili powder, onion or garlic powder, cinnamon, cloves, etc. These can be made into snacks for the family or packaged as gifts in creative wrappings.

Holiday cookie cutters can transform whole grain bread into a fun shape for sandwiches, french toast, or just toast. They can also be used to cut out pancakes. How about cutting out the center of a piece of whole grain bread with a cutter, placing it in a pan that is lightly greased, putting in a whole egg or scrambled egg, and cooking till the egg is done.

Muffins or muffin tops (baked in a muffin top pan) allow for a wide range of healthy ingredients, such as ground oats or whole grain flour/cereal, dried or fresh fruit, applesauce, pureed vegetables (like canned pumpkin or squash, zucchini, etc.), ground nuts/seeds, yogurt, buttermilk, etc. Try cutting back on the sugar and instead, sweeten with fruit, sweet spices like cinnamon/cloves/nutmeg/allspice, vanilla or almond extract, lemon or orange zest. A seasonal flavor that can warrant a lot less added sugar, might be to add a little light eggnog as part of the wet ingredients.

Ever made soft pretzels? These are fun because you can shape them creatively ? like into a holiday candy cane or star. Try using some ground oats or whole grain flour in place of some of the white flour. You can also add some orange zest for flavor.

A fun breakfast idea would be an oatmeal buffet. The kids can choose and prepare what ?add-ins? are set out that family members can choose to add to their hot cereal. Oats are a really healthy, high-fiber food. When made with milk instead of water, oatmeal or oat bran contain protein and calcium as well. Possible healthy add-ins might be assorted dried fruit, applesauce, cut up fresh fruit, assorted nuts/seeds (may be some pomegranate seeds), assorted sweet spices (see above), orange zest, or any other healthy options.

Yogurt is another healthy food that can be turned into a season treat. A yogurt bar can contain add-ins similar to oatmeal. It can also be used to make smoothies that remind us of the holidays. Try making a smoothie with low-fat vanilla yogurt, cocoa, a little low-fat milk, and part of a peppermint stick. It tastes like a treat but contains a good amount of protein and calcium. How about an eggnog smoothie made by adding a little eggnog and nutmeg to the yogurt and milk?

If your children like pumpkin pie, have them make a smoothie with low-fat vanilla yogurt, a scoop of canned pumpkin, some low-fat milk, and assorted sweet spices (again, see above). Canned pumpkin can also be added to pancake batter. They can then top the cooking pancake with apple slices made into a creative design. Flipping the pancake then cooks the apples and can be inverted onto a plate, showing off their creative talents.

Other beverages that bring out the holiday theme, while still providing healthy nutrients, are warm cocoa with a peppermint stick or warm milk with a little eggnog and sprinkle of nutmeg. Homemade pudding is another way to incorporate nutrients into a treat, with similar flavorings as above used to make it. Warm cider is another cold-weather beverage. Kids can help by shaking in cinnamon, allspice, and cloves plus a squeeze of lemon and enjoy the delicious scent it makes throughout the house.

Pomegranates are a fascinating fruit. Their seeds provide a refreshing, crunchy burst of flavor. They can be added to yogurt, cooked whole grain cereals, salads, cooked grains (like brown rice, quinoa, barley), and many other foods. The fun part for kids is getting the seeds out of the fruit. An easy way to do this is to make about four slices in the skin top to bottom . Place the whole fruit in a bowl of cool water. With your hands under the water, peel back the skin and pluck the seeds out of the fruit, allowing them to sink to the bottom. The pulp will float to the top of the water and can easily be removed. By doing this process under water, hands do not become stained red.

Familiar with the story of ?Stone Soup?? Villagers each contribute an ingredient to a large pot until a tasty soup is created. Kids can help empty the refrigerator of leftovers or add other ingredients that can be thrown into the pot. They can then decide what seasoning to add (herbs, curry, cumin, others?;). The same process can be used to fill a slow cooker and after several hours, like magic, a delicious soup or stew is created.

Who does not like peanut butter ? even the birds. As your child is consuming a peanut butter sandwich for lunch, have them put some peanut butter on a pinecone or other natural object, and then roll it in some bird seed. Hang this natural ornament near a window so children can watch the birds enjoy their holiday treat.

So bring the joy of home cooking and the fun of creating special foods for family and friends to your children this holiday season. It will really add to the quality time your family spends together while providing them with some healthy nutrients.

Pam Stuppy, MS, RD, CSSD, LD, is a registered, licensed dietitian with nutrition counseling offices in York, Maine, and Portsmouth. She is also the nutritionist for Phillips Exeter Academy. Visit for more nutrition information, some healthy cooking tips, and recipe ideas.


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