A few weeks ago, I mentioned that I rarely ate fish growing up. However, fish is a favorite of my children. We usually eat it for dinner once a week.
You may be wondering if I am worried about my children being exposed to mercury in the fish I feed them. The answer is no because I choose fish that the EPA and FDA have designated safe to eat including cod, pollock, salmon, and tilapia. This chart has great advice on the appropriate types and amounts of fish for children and pregnant women. It is safe for children ages 2 years and older to eat one or two servings of fish per week. Eating fish may even have lifelong health benefits. These include brain function and prevention of chronic disease.
Adding fish, or any food, to the menu at home can be tricky. Family members of all ages may not be comfortable with new foods. Here are some of the things I try:
- Stick with it for the long haul. The more they see the food, the more likely they are to try it (and like it). It may take weeks, months, or years, but they will eventually try it.
- Serve it with other things they like. Favorite side dishes can make a new food more appealing. * Serve it as part of a mixed dish. Our Fish and Noodle Skillet is a great way to include fish with other tasty foods your family members may like.
Try adding fish to your weekly menu. Let us know how it goes!
If you have a child in school, chances are you hear a lot of concern about food allergies and protecting children from exposure to their allergen. People can develop allergies to many types of food. However, eight foods are the most common allergens. They include:
- Tree nuts (walnuts, almonds, pine nuts, brazil nuts and pecans)
- Wheat and other grains with gluten (barley, rye, oats)
Allergies can be scary, particularly for children who are less likely to know what is in their food. Learning how to read a food label for allergens can help you feel more in control. Here are some steps to follow to check a food label for a common allergen.
- Check the ingredients list on the package. Scan the list for the allergen. Sometimes the manufacturer will even highlight it with larger bold text.
- Sometimes an ingredient will be listed with an uncommon name. For example, a label may say ‘albumin’. This is part of an egg and will often include the word ‘egg’ in parentheses since egg is a common allergen.
- At the bottom of the ingredients list, there may be a statement that calls out the common allergens in that product. For example – ‘Contains: Milk, Eggs and Soy’
- Lastly, a product may not include an allergen in its ingredients list, but is processed on equipment that also processes a common allergen. In this case, the manufacturer may include a statement like this. ‘Processed in a facility that also processes peanuts and tree nuts.’ This allows the consumer to know that there is a risk of tiny residual particles of that allergen being in the product unintentionally.
If you have tips for managing a food allergy, please share them with us on our social media this week!
As a parent, it is easy for me to look at the 2-1 of the 5-2-1-0 Campaign and think, “That is not possible”. The 2 stands for 2 hours or less of screen time per day and the 1 stands for 1 hour or more of physical activity per day. However, the more I think about it, I know that this goal is possible for us.
We have just come out of a long winter and I am pretty sure that there were days when my children were watching TV or playing on the tablet for more than 2 hours and they were not physically active for an hour. However, as the weather has warmed up and as I have watched my children enjoy spring, I am realizing that we can meet this goal now, and that we have likely been meeting this goal in the past. It turns out that my children want to be active. Lately when they get home from school they ask to play outside instead of play a game on the tablet. This does mean that I need to set my things aside and go outside also because my youngest is not old enough to go out on his own yet, but this is ok because I need the fresh air and physical activity too. It is so fun to watch them run around, climb, and explore our neighborhood.
As the weather warms up, I hope that, little by little, our screen time will go down and our active time will go up. We probably will not be perfect on this goal, but I am looking forward to summer walks, bike rides, and trips to the park. Will you work on this goal with me to encourage all of our children (and ourselves) to be more active?
For some great ideas on reducing screen time and increasing active time, check out this section of the 5-2-1-0 Campaign website.
Sometimes I enjoy cooking with my children and sometimes I do not. Depending on the recipe and the cooking skill we are working on it can be a lot of fun or it can be frustrating. It is almost always messy. Regardless of how it comes out, I know that it is important because they are learning valuable skills.
My children are currently 2, 5, and 7 years old. That means they have vastly different abilities in the kitchen as well as different interest levels and attention spans. So, I need to match up each child to recipes that work well for them. Below I have broken down some age groups and matched them up with recipes that would work well with children in those age groups.
- Two years old: children this age are good at washing fruits and vegetables. They also like to help with set up and clean up. My little guy loves to set the table and, at the end of the meal, he
uses his little broom to help sweep up.
- Three years old: children this age are good at pouring and dumping ingredients. They can also help with clean up by putting dirty dishes in the dishwasher or the sink.
- Try making Banana Oatmeal Bread with your three year old. They will enjoy pouring all the ingredients into the bowl.
- Four years old: children this age are good at peeling oranges, bananas, and hard cooked eggs; kneading dough; and mixing with a spoon.
- Try making Creamy Egg Salad Sandwich with your four year old. They can peel the eggs, dump the ingredients into a bowl, and mix everything together.
- Five years old: children this age are good at cutting with a blunt knife, cracking eggs, and measuring ingredients. My five-year-old daughter’s favorite way to help in the kitchen is measuring.
- Try making Our Favorite Chicken Noodle Soup with your five year old. They can peel the carrots, cut the celery, and measure out the water, seasonings, and noodles.
- Six years old: children this age are developing their reading and writing skills, so they are good at writing grocery lists and starting to follow recipe directions.
- Older children: as children develop their reading and cooking skills they can become more independent in the kitchen. My oldest son is seven years old and is usually the first child awake
in the morning, so he has started preparing simple breakfasts on some mornings while I am helping the younger ones get ready for the day.
Remember that kitchen skills are cumulative, so what was learned as a two or three year old carries on into their older years. I especially like this when it comes to having extra helpers at clean up time!
Our April recipe of the month is here – Fish and Noodle Skillet. This is a variation of one of our favorite Spend Smart. Eat Smart recipes – Ramen Noodle Skillet. This recipe is made nearly the same way with the exception of cooking fish in the skillet with the vegetables instead of adding pre-cooked meat toward the end of the cooking time.
My children really like this recipe for several reasons:
- They love the ramen noodles. Ramen noodles are fun to look at and they are fun to eat. For this recipe, the ramen noodles need to be broken apart before they are added to the pan. This is a great job for children to help out with.
- They love fish. Even if you are not a fish lover, this recipe is a great way to get your fish in. The fish is mixed in with the noodles and vegetables, so it does not have that “fishy” flavor some do not like. Mixing the fish with noodles and vegetables also makes it more filling, so it saves you money.
- They love the leftovers. This recipe tastes really good when it is re-heated and served for a quick and easy meal the next day. Re-heating meals in the microwave is another way children can help out in the kitchen. They can push the buttons on the microwave and learn to identify their numbers at the same time.
Try our Fish and Noodle Skillet today and find your own reasons to love it.
This week in our series on getting kids involved in the cooking and shopping, I’m going to share some tips for getting kids involved in grocery shopping. When I was grocery shopping with my 4-year-old daughter recently, I was thinking what I might share in the blog. As she was pushing the little cart she was using, I was thinking, children might look cute pushing those little carts but as a parent, sometimes they are my worst nightmare. Funny thing is, when I was back in the office and reading through some past blogs, I shared those same thoughts in a blog about grocery shopping with my son 5 years ago when he was 3! I’d encourage you to read that blog for ideas to get younger kids involved when grocery shopping.
Today, I’d like to share a couple of ways older kids can be involved with grocery shopping.
- Use our grocery budget calculator. The online calculator provides the weekly and monthly amount your family needs to spend for nutritious meals on USDA’s Low-cost Plan. To use the calculator you will need the age, gender, and number of meals eaten away from home for each member of your household. You and your child can then compare this to how much you spend on groceries. The online calculator provides tips on how to reduce your grocery bill if you are spending over that amount. It also provides ideas if you are spending under that amount. This activity can help children better understand the cost of food and why it’s important to not waste food. If you’re not sure how much you spend on food, we have resources for tracking your food expenses.
- Download and use our Spend Smart. Eat Smart. app. Older kids who have cellphones can download our Spend Smart. Eat Smart. app to use in the store. Or you can let them use the app on your phone when they are shopping with you. Kids can enter information into the unit price calculator to help you determine which item is the better buy. Or they can look up information about different produce in the store using our Produce Basics to help you determine how to select produce and how you might prepare it at home.
Next week in our series we’ll share a recipe kids can help make.
One thing I feel I do a pretty good job at is letting my kids help in the kitchen. Even though it takes a little more time and there are a few more messes, it is fun and I know my kids are learning important skills. On the other hand, one area I don’t take the time to get them involved in is meal planning. Once in a while I will ask them to pick between a couple of choices but that’s about it. Meal planning is definitely a skill I want my children to have as adults, so now is the time!
Just like with cooking, getting kids involved in meal planning may mean it takes more time but it’s time you can spend together and your kids will learn valuable skills, including how to plan a balanced meal. And since they are helping to plan the meal, they may be more likely to eat what is served.
Want to give this a try with me? Here are some tips you and I can both use to get our kids involved with meal planning.
1. Download our 5-Day Meal Planning Worksheet. I like our worksheet because it has the food groups listed at the bottom so you can make sure you include a variety of food groups in your meals. As you plan your meals, have your kids tell you which foods are part of which food group.
2. Make a list of options. If you have younger kids, make a list of options based on what you have on hand and what items are on sale at the store. Then they can choose between options such as spaghetti or lasagna, broccoli or carrots. If your kids are older, they may want to help think of the dishes to make. Another option would be to plan the main dishes and have your kids choose which fruits and vegetables to have.
3. Have a kid’s night. If planning a week’s worth of meals with your kids sounds too overwhelming, choose one night that they can plan the meal. You can provide guidelines such as they need to include foods from three different food groups.
If your kids help you plan a whole week’s worth of meals or just one night, they will learn skills that they can use for a lifetime. Next week I’ll share some tips for how to get kids involved with grocery shopping.
Our March recipe of the month is Homemade Mac and Cheese. This recipe is an easier (and healthier) way to make a classic favorite, so it is a good way to get children involved with a meal. In the coming weeks, our blogs will focus on different ways that children can grow a love of cooking by helping out in the kitchen.
This recipe starts with cooking whole wheat pasta in boiling water. While the pasta is cooking, children can measure out the spinach into the bottom of a colander. Reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking water and then pour the rest of the water and the cooked pasta over the top of the spinach in the colander. Children can see how the spinach changes from raw to cooked simply by adding the hot water.
To make the sauce, you only need to put the cooked pasta and spinach back in the pot and stir in the remaining ingredients – cooking water, shredded cheese, plain yogurt, onion powder, and garlic powder. Children can practice measuring, pouring, and mixing.
The only thing left to do is eat. Enjoy!
How much should my child be eating? This is a question that every parent asks themselves. Unfortunately, the answer is not simple. The answer depends on the age of the child, whether or not they are going through a growth spurt, the health status of the child, and other factors that we do not even understand.
When I am concerned about how well my children are eating, I go to sources I trust. First and foremost is their physician. She has followed them since they were born, so she knows them, she has tracked their growth, she has documented their health concerns over the years, and we trust her. If you have major concerns about your child’s growth or eating habits, go to a trusted health care provider first.
If you are simply curious about how much your child needs to be eating or if you want to make sure your child is on track, I have two other sources you can trust.
First is the Ellyn Satter Institute. On this website, you will find many resources on how to feed your child and how to make mealtime enjoyable for everyone in the family. There are even suggestions for children who are picky eaters. At our home, we follow the Division of Responsibility in Feeding and it has worked for us.
Second is Choose MyPlate. On this website, you will find many resources on what and how much to feed your child. This website focuses on choosing a variety of foods from the five food groups – fruits, vegetables, grains, protein, and dairy. A general guideline that I try to follow is choose foods from three food groups at breakfast, four food groups at lunch and supper, and one or two food groups at snack times. On this website, you can check out each food group for a suggested amount that your child needs from that group each day. You can also find this information on the Spend Smart. Eat Smart. website in the Aisle by Aisle section.
Feeding children can be a challenge, but remember you are not alone. There are good resources out there to help you.
There is no way around the fact that cooking with children can be a little messy. Crumbs and spills aside, cooking with children is a great way to spend quality time and teach important skills like measuring, counting, fractions and following directions. Not to mention the fact that children will be more likely to taste something they helped to make. Below is a recipe roundup of dishes that are fun to make and eat with kids.
- Crunchy Apple Roll-up: This recipe is quick and easy to make for a simple snack or super-quick breakfast. Young children will learn how to measure ingredients, practice spreading peanut butter and older children can practice cutting the apple.
- Scrambled Egg Muffins: These delicious little egg muffins help you start the day off right. Children can practice cracking eggs and whisking them with a fork, measuring ingredients and dividing them between the muffin cups.
- Fruit Pizza: Fruit Pizza is perfect for a party or a special treat at home. The cookie crust will make your home smell delicious. Children can practice measuring and fractions with this recipe. Younger children can mix up the creamy sauce while older children can wash and cut fruit for the topping. We recorded a video showing this recipe being prepared with some little ones; we think you’ll enjoy it!
- Pizza on a Potato: We all love to customize what we eat to suit our tastes. Pizza on a potato allows you and your children to be creative in the kitchen. You can choose your favorite pizza toppings and add them to a baked potato for a complete meal. They can help you plan the meal and make a shopping list and when the time comes to cook, they can chop, measure and add their favorite toppings.
I hope you and your little ones enjoy the recipes above and that you have fun making them together!