Getting a Dehydrator!

Getting a Dehydrator!

Our new dehydrator full of its first fruits!  You can see my kids were so excited to try them they wouldn't even let me take a photo!

Our new dehydrator full of its first fruits! You can see my kids were so excited to try them they wouldn’t even let me take a photo!

I’ve finally gotten a dehydrator!  I’ve been wanting one for years and finally hubby bought one for me as a belated birthday present.  Truthfully, it’s as much a present for him as it is for me – he loves dehydrated food to take with him on his many camping/hiking expeditions.  Plus, the dehydrator can be used to make all sorts of exciting healthy snacks for the kids.

What Dehydrator to Get?

Dehydrated apple slices

Truthfully, I only have the one and have only used a few dehydrators in my time, so I can’t recommend a particular brand.  It’s worth checking online to see reviews.  To me, the most important factor would be how reliable it is: does it dehydrate evenly at the expected temperature and is it going to break down?  The answer to the first question should be “yes” and the second should be “no.”  Everything else is a perk, so whether you want to spend extra to get a fancier model dehydrator is entirely up to you.

Some dehydrators offer fancier features.  One of my favorite features is a timer, which is handy when you’re dehydrating stuff for long periods of time.  However, if you don’t go for this option (which we ultimately did not), you can always use a standard wall timer to turn off the dehydrator when the time is up.  Other features include special trays for dehydrating more liquid ingredients like fruit puree or yogurt.  But if you don’t have the right tray inserts, don’t fret: a piece of parchment paper will work just fine.

You will also be able to decide what shape of dehydrator you want.  Some are round and some are square or rectangular.  I have used both and by far prefer square or rectangular machines.  Round machine trays have a hole in the middle.  Aside from your fruit leather coming out looking like a very flat donut, it’s harder to cut nice even strips.  I like the dehydrators with square or rectangular trays that make it easy to evenly arrange produce in neat rows, and to slice fruit leather or yogurt into strips.

Another detail to consider is what kind of tray to use.  The trays in our dehydrator are made of sturdy plastic that is dishwasher safe and easy to clean.  However, the holes are quite large, which means you need an insert or parchment paper to dehydrate smaller items like berries or peas.  Other dehydrators have finer, more mesh-like trays, which are good for dehydrating smaller items, but which are also much more difficult to get completely clean.

Finally, you have to consider the size of the dehydrator you want.  Today, you can get little dehydrators with just 3 or 4 trays that can sit on your countertop, or you can opt for a giant industrial-size model with 16 trays that might have to sit on your kitchen floor.  Some models allow you to add or subtract trays so you can purchase extras if your original turns out not to have enough.  Consider how often you will be using your dehydrator.  If you plan to use it for small amounts frequently, then perhaps a small model will be sufficient.  But if you want to preserve large amounts of fruits and vegetables or you have a lot of hungry kids looking for healthy and delicious snacks, then you’ll want a bigger model.  A bigger dehydrator will also be good for people who have bumper crops of produce periodically during the year: during those times you’ll want to preserve as much as possible, but during the times when you’re not using it, you can put your big dehydrator away.

Dehydrating Fruit

Dehydrated kiwi fruit and nectarine

Of course as soon as I opened up the dehydrator’s box, I immediately set to work slicing up some fruit to put in it.  I filled most of it with sliced apples but also threw in some kiwi fruits, peaches, and a stray nectarine.

Most fruit should be sliced about 1/4 inch thick and be placed peel side down (bananas should be sliced slightly thinner).  I have a mandolin that slices apples the perfect thickness.  I picked mine up super cheap at Kmart, so if budget is an issue for you a cheap mandolin won’t break the bank and will save you lots of time.  Soft fruits like peaches, bananas, and kiwi fruit, however, are more easily sliced with a knife.

Be careful not to slice fruit too thin.  I tried that once in a desperate attempt to get my apples to come out crunchy (this won’t happen with a dehydrator – you need a freeze dry machine to get nice crunchy apple chips without cooking the heck out of them).  If you slice fruit too thin, it sticks to your dehydrator trays and is unpleasant to try to get off.  Fruit shrinks as it dehydrates and a very thin slice will turn as thin as the finest paper (even to the point of being able to see through it) if you don’t leave some thickness to it.

Dehydrating fruit should be set at 135 degrees Fahrenheit (57 degrees Celcius) (strict raw foodists should not set it to be above 118 F or 48 C).  If you’re doing what I did and putting in multiple types of fruit, check that they all take approximately the same amount of time to dehydrate.

Healthy Food for Kids from the Dehydrator

Dehydrated peaches

Dehydrated fruit is a perfect healthy snack for kids.  They will love it if you give them a small bag of dehydrated fruit as a school snack.  Dehydrated foods keep for a long time as well, so you can do big batches and then vary what fruits you give your kids.  Apples one day, kiwi fruit the next. Or mix them up and give your kids a bag of healthy mixed fruit. Yum!

You can also mix other foods in with dehydrated fruits.  Add some nuts, pretzels, or puffed cereals to create a trail mix free of excess salt and processed sugar.  A snack like this is perfect for kids on the go, especially if they’re being rushed from one after school sport to the next.  Fruits give your kids healthy sugars, nuts have beneficial protein and fat, and cereals contain carbohydrates that provide energy more slowly to sustain your kids.  Sprinkle a little bit of Himalayan salt onto the nuts to replenish needed electrolytes.

Dehydrated vegetables can also make other everyday foods more exciting.  Dehydrated tomatoes, for instance, can really add some life a salad or pasta dish.  And of course the concentrated flavor in dehydrated vegetables makes them into tasty snacks.  (Plus, you can use your dehydrator to make healthier potato chips – don’t tell the kids!)

Have Fun with Your Dehydrator!

In the coming weeks I am sure I will get up more posts about the healthy snacks I am experimenting with in my new toy.  The most important thing is to have fun.  It’s a great opportunity to get your kids involved.  Find out what fruits they would like to try dehydrating, or have them blend up their own unique combinations for fruit leather.  If you do your shopping in the market, let your kids each choose a few pieces of fruit to dehydrate for snack that week.  Getting a dehydrator could become one of your most exciting purchases!

Juicing for Kids: Choosing a Juicer – Citrus, Centrifugal, or Masticating?

Juicing for Kids: Choosing a Juicer – Citrus, Centrifugal, or Masticating?

If your kids love juice but yesterday’s post has made you rethink giving them so many liquid calories, there is a solution: Juice it yourself!

Juicing at home retains many vitamins and minerals that are lost when commercially produced juice is stored in bottles for a long time.  It also avoids added sweeteners, preservatives, colors, flavors, or other nasties big corporations hide in their products.  It’s pure, natural, delicious, and – most importantly – nutritious!

But before you start contemplating which delicious juice combo to make first, you kind of need to have a juicer.  But which one to buy?

In our house, we keep two: a citrus juicer and a masticating juicer.  Sure, our masticating juicer can juice oranges and the like, but I love having a citrus juicer for quick and easy orange juice in the mornings, freshly squeezed lemon juice for a spontaneous summer lemonade, or fresh lime juice for Mexican or Asian dishes.

Breville Citrus JuicerSo, my first recommendation would be the Breville 800CPXL Die-Cast Stainless-Steel Motorized Citrus Press.  Ok, I know that at just under $200 it is on the pricey side, but I have tried more than a half a dozen citrus juicers and none of them were even close to being in the same category as this one. It juices citrus fruits in – literally! – seconds. And the parts come apart super easily for cleaning.  If you rinse it off as soon as you’re done, cleanup will take you approximately one minute.  The stainless steel parts are also really sturdy and well-crafted. I’ve even run them through the dishwasher. I have no idea what the manufacturer’s recommendation on that is, but mine has held up like it was bought yesterday. In fact, I’ve had this juicer for over 2&1/2 years and I’m thrilled with it.  I can’t emphasize enough how much I adore my citrus juicer.  That’s not a sales pitch. That’s pure, unadulterated honesty!

But what if you want to juice something other than citrus? That’s great!  Getting a juicer than can handle anything you throw at it is essential if you want to produce healthy juices your kids will consume.  And if you want maximum nutrition for your kids, you’re going to want something that can juice greens and other veggies.

The traditional type of juicer is called a centrifugal juicer.  This is basically a metal disc and mesh filter that spins really fast to use centrifugal force to separate juice from pulp.  This is the most common type of juicer and also the cheapest and most widely available.  We used to own one until we upgraded to a masticating juicer.  A masticating juicer, also known as a cold press juice extractor, which first crushes and then presses the fruits and vegetables.  Fortunately, masticating or cold press juicers are becoming more widely available and prices are coming down, too.

Hamilton Beach 67608A Big Mouth Juice Extractor, MetallicIf you’re on a tight budget and opt for a cheap centrifugal juicer, you’ll need to consume your juice right away to get the most vitamins and minerals from it – what remains of them.  That’s because the high speed spinning of the mechanism creates heat, which destroys most of the enzymes that make fruit and vegetables so healthy.  Of course, if you plan to use the juice for cooking, such as making your own tomato sauce or ketchup, then that won’t matter. But if you want to make fresh juice to replace the commercially bought kind your kids are currently consuming, a centrifugal juicer is definitely not the way to go.  They also don’t process greens very well, can’t handle nuts, and produce less pulp (which is great for using in other recipes – stay tuned!).  Nevertheless, if you do want a super cheap juicing option the Hamilton Beach 67608A Big Mouth Juice Extractor clocks in at under $50, which makes a good first try buy for the family who can’t afford a more pricey model and is just experimenting with juicing for the first time.  After all, you can always upgrade!

Breville 800JEXL Juice Fountain Elite 1000-Watt Juice ExtractorIf you still want a centrifugal juicer and you actually have a larger budget, then get the best centrifugal juicer you can.  The Breville 800JEXL Juice Fountain Elite 1000-Watt Juice Extractor gets good reviews, although for just slightly more money you can upgrade to the Breville BJE820XL Juice Fountain Duo Dual Disc Juicer, which includes an extra disc capable of processing berries, bananas, and other soft fruit.

Yet oh, masticating juicer, how I must sing your praises!  Here are the top things a good cold press juicer can do:

  • Maintain maximum nutrient and enzyme content
  • Efficient juicing of leafy greens (more on this in subsequent posts – trust me, you’ll want a juicer that can handle these!)
  • Makes almond, cashew, or other nut milks
  • Makes nut butters
  • Makes sorbet(!)
  • Makes pasta(!!!!)
  • Produces lots of pulp you can use in other recipes
  • Run very quietly

With all of these benefits, it makes great sense to invest the extra money in a better machine.

clean up time! Click here to get one for yourself – trust me when I say it’s worth every penny!!

Avancer Cold Press JuicerFor Australians and New Zealanders: This is the Avancer Cold Press Juicer. This is the juicer we use at home. At just over $100, it’s probably one of the cheapest masticating juicers on the market. (Click on the link or picture for an additional 5% off!) However, we find that it is great quality. It juices almost anything with ease and produces plenty of pulp, which we then repurpose.  It also has dual direction control, which allows you to dislodge stuck fruits and vegetables without taking it apart. It also comes with an apple corer/slicer that makes slicing your apples for juicing very easy.  The benefit is that Avancer is a great company with amazing customer service and our juicer came with a three-year warranty – a long time for an appliance!

Breville BJS600XL Fountain Crush Masticating Slow JuicerFor those in other parts of the world or with more money to spend on a good juicer, try the Breville BJS600XL Fountain Crush Masticating Slow Juicer.  Coming from Breville, which is famous for its juicers, it is a high quality juicer.  It’s also a bit better with soft fruits and vegetables than the Avancer Cold Press Juicer.  Like the Avancer Cold Press Juicer, the Breville BJS600XL Fountain Crush Masticating Slow Juicer comes with dual direction functionality. However, it only carries a 1-year warranty.  For heavy juicer users, this is not the best because heavy users frequently end up burning out their machines eventually and one year is not a secure guarantee.

Omega J8006 Nutrition Center Juicer - Black and ChromeAlternatively, try the Omega J8006 Nutrition Center Juicer. It’s in the same price range as the Breville but boasts a stunning 15 year warranty!  It also has other fun features like an optional pasta attachment and there are a lot of tutorials online featuring unique ways to use this juicer.  It definitely has a following! It boasts of an impressive variety of functions, including chopping garlic and herbs, grinding spices, grinding coffee, extruding pasta, producing nut butters, and making baby food.

Hopefully you have found this guide helpful and you now have an idea of what juicer (or juicers!) you’d like to buy. Juicing at home will revolutionize your kids’ health and open up a world of healthy cooking options.  Just wait until I tell you how to make homemade sugar-free ketchup that tastes better than store-bought!