Healthy Travel Snacks for Toddlers: Airplanes

Healthy Travel Snacks for Toddlers

The boys and I on the planeTraveling with toddlers can be stressful under the best of conditions.  You don’t need to add worrying about food to your to-do list.  And yet, you cannot travel with your toddler(s) without some fuel for their energetic and growing bodies and minds!  Never fear, here are some ideas for healthy travel snacks for toddlers that you can easily grab and go!

My Story

Akiva at the Airport

Akiva is 3 years old now, which is 36 months, and he has already been on 48 flights. He’s been on road trips and traveled on cars, buses, boats, and bicycles.  He’s been in taxis, on ferries, and on vans and of course has traveled on foot and in a carrier.  He’s pretty well-traveled.

Akiva is also an eater.  He’s about average when it comes to food – he is neither a child without limits (I know some of those) nor is he a picky eater for whom one mouthful is a meal (I know some of those, too).  This makes him very good for experimenting on.  My child, my (healthy travel snack) guinea pig. 🙂

Kids Need Healthy Travel Snacks

Homemade healthy cookies are our favorite airplane travel snack

Homemade healthy cookies are our favorite airplane travel snack

As adults, most of us do not snack much during the day.  Our bodies simply do not require a constant stream of fuel to keep us going.  (Of course because I am writing about snacks, now I want one!)  But children have smaller stomachs and have a lot of energy, which uses up their fuel more quickly.  They need snacks to get them through the day.

Kids are also growing and learning constantly.  Every situation is an opportunity to learn.  Going through the airport scanner is an adventure.  Riding on a bus without needing to be in a car seat is like a holiday in Rome.  But all that learning means kids’ brains are burning through their calories, which means they are going to get hungry.

And you cannot rely on airlines or airports to be able to provide healthy food.  Yes, there may be a “vegan” or “vegetarian” option, but that doesn’t mean it’s a “healthy” option!  Even vegan or vegetarian meal options can come packed with sugar and salt, not to mention lots of unnecessary oil.  Airport restaurants are no better: Airport restaurants are designed for convenience and speed, not health.  There have been times when I have had to scour a dozen airport restaurants and shops just to be able to find some plain, uncut fresh fruit.  That said, in a pinch many airports today are now featuring juice bars.  Fresh juice can be good fuel but fruit juice also packs a whopping load of sugar.  (If you are getting fresh juice for your child, try if you can to get vegetable juice.)  Better are smoothie bars (smoothies contain whole fruit, which means the fiber in fruit, which slows and steadies fruit sugar absorption, is still being consumed).

Of course the temptation is out their to ply your kids with unhealthy travel snacks.  It is so easy to justify.  “They deserve something special for this special occasion,” or, “I need to give them something delicious to distract them/keep them quiet/make them stop screaming their heads off on the plane so the United stewardess doesn’t kick me off.”

But travel is exactly the time when your kids need healthy food the most.  They need balanced nutrition to help keep their hormones and emotions well-balanced.  They need the extra energy to be able to handle all the new experiences. They need extra fluids to help keep them hydrated on airplanes.  They need foods that will calm them and enable them to sleep whenever possible to alleviate the fatigue of travel and overstimulation. They do not need added processed sugars that will give them sugar highs and lows, and energy bursts and crashes they cannot control.  They do not need salty snacks or snacks high in sodium that will dehydrate them further.  And our of courtesy for the people who own and have to clean your conveyance, they do not need really messy snacks.  (Or courtesy for yourself – when I flew United and Akiva dropped some sandwich crumbs the stewardess made me pick them up.  Of course, United Airlines is evil incarnate and should never be flown, so this probably should not come as a surprise.)

(Also, a musical interlude because I can’t help myself) 

Healthy Travel Snacks for Toddlers When You Fly

There are lots of healthy and delicious snack options, even when you consider that flying has lots of requirements: You don’t want anything too heavy because you have to carry it, or too big because it will take up too much room you need for carrying other things (like diapers and iPad backup batteries).  You also don’t want anything too fragile that will be crushed into an inedible mush or will make a big mess.  And of course you can’t bring anything liquid above a certain size if you’re traveling in America.  With all those parameters in mind, consider these snack ideas:

  • Muffins – Muffins can be savory or sweet.  I often make savory muffins loaded up with fresh veggies like carrots or zucchini.  You can also add toppings/fillings to savory muffins – Vegemite, hummus, and tahini are our favorites.  Sweet muffins can be used as a yummy treat to distract kids without needing to give them a sugar rush.  I load mine up with fruit juice pulp – the extra fiber helps slow down sugar absorption and releases energy more smoothly, which is exactly what kids need!  You can also bulk up sweet muffins by spreading them with natural 100% peanut butter.  Muffins also hold their shape pretty well, even if they get a bit bumped around.
  • Oatmeal – If you need a good morning snack, oatmeal travels very well.  Snack sized servings should pass through security just fine (although I have never had a problem with food for my “baby”).  I make steel-cut oatmeal and load it up with chia and flax/linseeds, fresh and dried fruit, coconut oil, and make it creamy using rice milk.  Non-dairy oatmeal travels really well and with all the fruit in it, it tastes so great my kids never care if it’s hot or not.  (Some airlines will be happy to warm it for you though if you ask.)
  • Fresh Veggies & Dips – Fresh vegetables and dips are a great snack combination for kids.  Try cutting up celery, capsicum/bell pepper, broccoli, cauliflower, cucumber, and carrots.  Kids can snack on these on their own or dipped in something like hummus, tahini, babaganoush, beetroot dip, or red pepper dip.  If you’re in America, though, you will have to bring just a small enough portion to be able to get through security.
  • Peanut Butter and… Anything! – Maybe it’s wrong of me, but I do bring peanut butter when I travel.  It’s a nutritious food with healthy fats and proteins that give kids good fuel.  It’s great as a dip or as a spread.  Of course you can make the traditional peanut butter sandwich or spread peanut butter on two crackers and slap them together.  But you can also spread peanut butter on all sorts of things.  Use peanut butter to fill celery logs (you can stick raisins in to give it some sweetness), or slice apples thinly and make peanut butter apple “sandwiches.”
  • Fresh Fruit – Fresh fruit is sweet, juicy, and nutritious.  Choose a travel-friendly fruit like apples or oranges as opposed to bananas, which squish easily.  You can also cut up fruits like apples, pears, and peaches and put them in a disposable or reusable plastic container.
  • Crackers – I make my own vegan gluten free crackers from vegetable pulp, but you can also buy some really healthy crackers as well.  Crackers give kids the chance to crunch on something and are easily eaten by them on their own, freeing you to tend to younger kids or just to relax a bit.  Veggie pulp crackers give kids extra fiber to help keep their digestive tracts running smoothly and conventional crackers made of grains and/or seeds give kids needed carbohydrates.
  • Cookies – I pack lots of healthy homemade cookies for a treat when we travel.  In our house, cookies are a special pre-naptime treat, so when the cookies come out my kids usually settle in for a rest right away.  I have a couple different kinds of cookies I make, one with oatmeal and fruit and the other with oats, whole wheat flour, fruit, and carrots.  Either way, I know my kids can have cookies guilt-free, with whole fruits and no added processed sugar.
  • Dried Fruit – Dried fruit is my secret weapon.  My kids think of dried fruit as candy, which a lot of it is.  Dates are sweeter than most candies you can buy and tamarind is more deliciously sour than sour candy. Drying fruit concentrates its sugar and flavors.  When my kids are crying out of control on the plane, dried fruit inevitably quiets them down.  It also keeps them chewing hard during takeoff and landing, when they need to chew to equalize the pressure in their ears.

Happy Travels!

I hope these snack ideas make it feel easier for you to travel by air with your toddler.  Healthy travel snacks don’t have to be hard to make or find, they don’t have to be complicated, and they can be toddler friendly.

Healthy Sweet Juice Pulp Muffins/Cupcakes

Healthy Sweet Juice Pulp Muffins/Cupcakes

Fruit Pulp Muffins

My husband has been doing a juice fast recently, leaving me with a massive amount of juice pulp.  Although most of the pulp has been vegetable pulp, he has provided me with some fruit pulp, which I’m excited to use.  There are so many ways to use fruit pulp!  Add it to oatmeal, mix it with yogurt, and even mix it into cookies.  Today, I decided to use some to make some sweet, fruity muffins.

Fruit pulp

What is the difference between a sweet muffin and a cupcake?  I kind of consider them to be very similar, but there are some differences.  Muffins, even sweet ones, are not too sweet, whereas cupcakes tend to be much sweeter.  Muffins are also more dense while cupcakes are a bit more fluffy.  I also tend to think that cupcakes come with icing on top, while muffins do not.  Therefore, this recipe is for muffins but I include instructions how to alter it to make it into cupcakes.

Ingredients in mixing bowl

These muffins are great for breakfast or as a snack.  They are only slightly sweet so they satisfy kids’ desire for a sweet flavor without giving a sugar rush.  (They do not contain processed sugar.)  The size of muffins is inherently a good serving size for sending in a school lunch.  Because they are made with whole wheat flour, they are actually a really healthy (and slightly sneaky) way to get kids to consume whole grains.  Because they are made with fruit pulp, they are not as sweet as if you made them with whole fruit – most of the fruit sugar goes out with the juice.  Yet, they still give the flavor of the fruit.  As a bonus, the fruit pulp is very high in fiber, which too many kids today don’t get enough of.  They don’t have too many ingredients and none of them are too hard to get ahold of (except possibly the juice pulp, if you are not juicing on your own).

Batter for fruit pulp muffins

The fruit used to make the pulp was a mix.  It was at least 50% strawberry, but also included a mix of grape, plum, and nectarine.  Really, any mix of fruit would work.  Of course it will change the flavor of your muffins dramatically, but that’s okay.  It means that every time you make this recipe it will be new and fun.

Sweet Fruity Muffins

This recipe makes approximately 2 dozen mini muffins and 6 regular size muffins.

Ingredients

1 cup fruit pulp (from juicing)
1 cup rice milk
1 free range egg
1 tbsp organic agave nectar (or honey)
1 cup self-raising whole wheat flour
1/4 tsp baking soda

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 175 C/350 F forced fan setting (increase by 10-20 degrees C if not using fan force).
  2. Mix together wet ingredients.
  3. Sift together dry ingredients
  4. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and mix well.
  5. Put in greased or lined muffin tins.  You can fill them to the top as these are muffins and don’t rise much.
  6. Bake until golden and a toothpick inserted comes out clean.  Let cool before serving.

Variations

  • To turn these muffins into cupcakes, do three things:
    1) Add 1-2 teaspoons baking powder (to give them the extra lift they need)
    2) Sweeten them extra with an additional 1-2 tbsp agave nectar
    3) Top them with healthy frosting or icing!
  • Add extra flavors for a new dimension.  A few drops of vanilla not only gives a nice vanilla flavor but also gives the sensation of increased sweetness.  Other essences work, too, such as almond extract or even rum extract.
  • Add spices.  Depending on what kind of juice pulp you’re using, you can pair it with certain spices that work well together.  For instance, if you are using pear or apple pulp, consider adding some cinnamon or nutmeg.  Grapes go well together with cinnamon, star anise, and cloves.  Strawberry and banana is surprisingly good with flavors like orange zest and Chinese five spice.

Fruit juice pulp mini muffins ready to go in the oven

These muffins were an absolute hit in our house.  It is almost worth it to make more juice just to get the pulp!  Enjoy – and let me know how yours turn out!

Fruit juice pulp muffin

Healthy 100% Whole Wheat Hamantaschen Cookies (Parve!)

Healthy 100% Whole Wheat Hamantaschen Cookies (Parve!)

Boys excited for healthy, yummy hamantaschen

Purim is a Jewish holiday celebrating, as usual, the Jewish mantra: “They tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat!”  In this case an ancient king of Persia was ruling over much of the Jewish population during the first exile.  His top advisor, Haman, was vainglorious and when Mordechai, the Jewish spiritual leader of the time, refused to bow to him, he was so incensed he convinced the king to permit a decree that all Jews be killed on a certain day.  To choose the day, Haman drew lots (purim in Hebrew).  Unbeknownst to both Haman and the king, Queen Esther was actually Jewish.  She interceded with the king and exposed Haman’s evil plot.  The king hung Haman and his ten sons and issued a decree allowing Jews to defend themselves against his previous decree.  Once again Jews survived in the face of overwhelming anti-Semitism!

Mixing together ingredients

Step 3

 

Today, Jews celebrate this holiday with a variety of customs, one of which is to make “hamantaschen,” triangular shaped cookies.  Some say these represent the three cornered hat Haman wore.  Other people say that they are “ha-mun taschen,” translated from Yiddish as “the poppyseed pockets” in reference to the most traditional filling.  Regardless of what the history of hamantaschen are, they are delicious.  And who doesn’t love a holiday where the tradition is to eat lots and lots of cookies?!

Mixing together hamantaschen wet ingredients

Step 3

 

Of course, having a holiday centered around sweets does present a problem for parents who want to inspire healthy kids.  Just preventing kids from having cookies and sweets would be difficult to say the least, as well as potentially backfiring when they are exposed to such foods away from you.  Also, for Jewish people who want to raise their children with a sense of tradition and love of the beauty of the religion, it would be counterproductive to prevent kids from partaking of one of the most delicious traditions.

Sifting together dry ingredients for healthy hamantaschen

Step 4

 

My solution is to come up with a cookie that is healthy and tasty, but without processed white flour or processed sugars. Even a Google search for “healthy hamantaschen recipe” turns up the usual unhealthy suspects: Eatingwell.com‘s recipe calls for sugar, white flour, canola oil, and butter, while Food.com‘s “low fat” hamantaschen recipe still calls for a half a cup of butter (as well as sugar and white flour).  So I decided to come up with my own healthy hamantaschen recipe – one that is not only parve but can also be converted to be vegan if you substitute egg replacer.

Mixing together hamantaschen dough

Step 5

 

Now your kids can enjoy cookies just like all their friends and still be eating something healthy and good for them!

Healthy whole wheat hamantaschen

100% Whole Wheat Hamantaschen

Please note that the recipe below is for a very large number of cookies – approximately four dozen.  You may want to cut amounts in half to make a more reasonable number… or just freeze the extra for a treat throughout the year!

Ingredients

4 eggs
1/2 cup organic coconut oil (melted)
1 cup agave nectar
2 tsp vanilla extract
4&1/2 cups whole white wheat flour (I used regular whole red wheat flour and I would definitely recommend using white wheat instead for these cookies!)
2&1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda (bicarb soda)
1/2 tsp salt
(a few teaspoons of water may be necessary)

Instructions

  1. Gather all ingredients, including filling for your cookies.  This dough dries out especially quickly because it is whole wheat.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 F/175 C/160 C fan forced and line cookie trays with baking/wax paper.
  3. Whisk together eggs, coconut oil, agave nectar, and vanilla extract.  If you choose to add wet seasonings like zest (see variations below) add those now too.
  4. In a separate bowl, combine dry ingredients well: flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. (And spices if you are using – see variations below.)
  5. Mix the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients, stirring slowly with a wooden spoon, until you get a crumbly dough.
  6. Knead the dough until you get a smooth dough, adding teaspoons of water if the dough is too crumbly to come together smoothly, or tablespoons of flour if dough is too tacky to be easily worked.  Be careful to knead dough until it is just smooth, as overworking the pastry can make it tough.
  7. Separate the dough into 4-6 balls.
  8. Select one ball and roll it out flat on a floured surface using a lightly floured rolling pin until it is 1/4-1/8 inch thick.  Be prepared to work hard here – whole wheat flour is harder to roll out than white flour.
  9. Use a 3-inch cookie cutter or the rim of a 3-inch glass to cut out as many circles as possible.  (Do not use a smaller size or you will not have room for filling!) At this stage I skip to step 11 – I fill and bake as I go to avoid the dough drying out. If you choose to cut all circles first, cover unused circles with a damp cloth or dish/tea towel to avoid drying out while you roll out the rest.
  10. Gather the scraps, add to the next ball of dough and repeat process until all dough is used up.
  11. Place one teaspoon of filling (I recommend healthy plum butter filling) in the center of each circle.
  12. Fold one side over the edge of the cookie, slightly covering the filling and pinch on one end.  Fold the next side, overlapping on the pinched corner and pinching down to seal.  Each of the three sides should have one end over another side and the other end under another side.  This over-under-over-under-over-under strategy will keep your hamantaschen from coming open while baking.  If your dough is too dry, add a tiny drop of water or beaten egg to help it stick (I do this by dipping my finger in, shaking off drops, and then spreading a very thin layer on the offending area).
  13. Place finished hamantaschen on your prepared lined baking sheet/tray. My oven is small so I fit 12 on each tray, but a bigger tray can hold about 20.  They do not need to be widely spaced because they do not expand much.
  14. Bake in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes or until cooked through and lightly golden.
  15. Cool cookies completely on a wire rack before transferring them to a Ziplock bag or plastic container for room-temperature storage.  Cookies can also be frozen.

Variations

  • For slightly sweeter cookies, add an extra 1/3 cup agave nectar.  I like mine to be less sweet so I have a slightly reduced amount of sweetener.
  • For a different flavor to your cookies, substitute other flavors for the vanilla extract.  Almond extract is a good one and the thought of using a rum extract is extremely tempting to me.
  • For another way to get a different flavor into these cookies, add in zest or spices.  A couple of teaspoons of lemon or orange zest would be lovely.  Or mix in some spices, such as cinnamon or chai spice.
  • To make it easier for yourself, substitute self-raising whole wheat flour for the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in this recipe.
  • For a more elastic dough that is easier to roll out, consider mixing in a few tablespoons of vital wheat gluten during step 4 above.
Hamantaschen dough rolled out and cut into circles

Step 9

 

Hamantaschen with filling

Step 11

 

Step 13

Step 13

I hope you and your healthy, inspired kids enjoy this delicious recipe! Please let me know how they turn out… and have a happy holiday!

Boys eating healthy whole wheat hamantaschen

Nestlé Removes Artificial Colors and Flavors: But that won’t Make Candy Healthy

Nestlé Removes Artificial Colors and Flavors: But that won’t Make Candy Healthy

Today, Nestlé USA announced that it will remove artificial colors and flavors from all of its chocolate candies by the end of 2015.  This is in response to consumer concerns and a massive push to “go natural,” using highly processed animal, vegetable, and mineral sources for colors and flavors, rather than chemical compositions.  But don’t rush out to buy a bunch of candy bars for your kids – this move is NOT going to make their candy any healthier.

I am actually not convinced that the natural flavors and dyes will be any less unhealthy than the chemical version.  As with most foods, anything so excessively processed loses its nutritional benefits and can acquire unhealthy side effects.  Okay, so most of these ingredients have not been so thoroughly studied, but we have enough examples of other highly processed foods to go off of: fresh-squeezed sugarcane juice versus white sugar, whole grain fresh-ground wheat versus white flour, etc.  White sugar is also “all natural” but that doesn’t make it good for you.  So don’t let this deceptive advertising move distract you from the real issues at hand.

Nestlé USA is not the first company to embrace a move toward the more natural.  Many companies are jumping on the bandwagon, eager to cash in on consumer concerns by advertising their products as “all natural.”  Recently, Arnott’s changed the formula of iconic Australian cookie Tim Tams to an “all natural” formula.  And while artificial colors and flavors are definitely linked to health concerns and child hyperactivity, removing them isn’t actually going to make these sweet treats any healthier.

Arnott's Tim Tams

The move to “all natural” has its pitfalls, too.  Take Arnott’s: Tim Tams now contain cochineal, a red dye made from crushed beetles.  This of course raises animal welfare concerns.  But more to the point: where Tim Tams used to be acceptable to people with dietary restrictions, now they are not.  Tim Tams are no longer vegetarian, vegan, and kosher.  They definitely contain dead animals.  But most consumers are unaware of changes like this, or they probably wouldn’t like it much.  Personally, eating cookies made with dead beetles sounds even less appealing than eating cookies colored with chemical dyes!

This has long been an issue in the kosher community.  In the United States, many foods come stamped with a certain icon to show that they are acceptable foods for those adhering to Jewish dietary laws. Many other people, such as those with food allergies or intolerances, vegetarians, and Muslims, also rely on kosher symbols to indicate that foods are safe for them to eat under their restrictions as well. However, the letter “K” is just a letter and cannot be trademarked.  Some companies stamp their products with the letter K to make it appear their products are kosher.  I will never forget the time I checked a Yoplait container’s ingredients list only to discover that cochineal (they list it as carmine) was an ingredient, showing me that their “K” was truly not kosher!  (Yoplait do still mark their containers with “KD” – kosher dairy – and list kosher gelatin as an ingredient; however, their use of this coloring renders their products neither kosher nor vegetarian – VERY SNEAKY!)  So sure foods might be more natural, but that doesn’t mean they’re not gross.

Nestlé’s switch to all-natural also won’t change the flavor or basic formula of favorite candies.  They are still going to be full of sugars and preservatives.  In its press release, Nestlé says:

“Nestlé is the world’s leading nutrition, health and wellness company and our commitment to remove artificial flavors and certified colors in our chocolate candy brands is an important milestone,” said Doreen Ida, president, Nestlé USA Confections & Snacks.

This made me simultaneously want to burst into hysterical laughter and cry piteously for the fate of humanity.  If Nestlé is the world’s leading nutrition, health, and wellness company, our kids are all doomed to die premature deaths because of preventable diseases.  Fortunately, I think this is just BS spouted by the president, who gets a super-sized salary (the VP gets nearly half a million dollars a year in compensation and the CEO of Nestle SA gets over $11 million dollars a year, so who knows how much President Ida is getting) for saying things that make good, if ludicrous, media sound bytes.

Let’s take a look at one of the 75 iconic treats set to undergo an “all natural” makeover.  Here are the ingredients of the revised Butterfinger, showing for instance natural annatto coloring rather than a chemical combo of Red 40 and Yellow 5:

CORN SYRUP, SUGAR, GROUND ROASTED PEANUTS, HYDROGENATED PALM KERNEL OIL, COCOA, MOLASSES, AND LESS THAN 1% OF DAIRY PRODUCT SOLIDS, CONFECTIONER’S CORN FLAKES, NONFAT MILK, SALT, SOY LECITHIN, SOYBEAN OIL, CORNSTARCH, NATURAL FLAVORS, MONOGLYCERIDES, TBHQ AND CITRIC ACID (TO PRESERVE FRESHNESS), ANNATTO COLOR.

Annatto coloring comes last on the list and, quite frankly, if my kids were eating this, the food coloring would be the least of my concerns.  My biggest worry would be that corn syrup and sugar are the first two ingredients (with molasses also on the list) and that ingredient number four is hydrogenated palm kernel oil.  This is coming from “the world’s leading nutrition, health, and wellness company.”  They are selling this garbage to our kids and presenting it as if, because of the natural flavors and annatto coloring, it is suddenly a healthy snack.  You have got to be kidding me.

Please, for the love of G-d and the health of the world’s children, do not give in to this ridiculous hype.  Sure, artificial flavors and colors are unhealthy, but do not allow yourself to become distracted from the fact that these are tiny, minor additives and the major ingredients of these foods are remaining incredibly unhealthy.  Giving your kids these candies will still be incredibly unhealthy and harmful to their health, no matter how natural their packaging says they are.

Common Sources of Sugar in Kids’ Diets (Part 2)

Common Sources of Sugar in Kids’ Diets (Part 2)

Yesterday, I wrote about some of the common sources of sugar in kids’ diets, but there was just too much to say, so here are the final three categories:

Problem: Bread

White bread is pretty much devoid of any good things for your child.  Sure, they might try to fortify it with vitamins, but they never fortify it with anything close to the amount of vitamins contained in whole wheat.  Plus, it is lacking in fiber.  And white carbohydrates like white flour and white rice break down directly into sugar in the body, and act like added, processed sugars.  And let’s not forget the biggest problem we’re discussing at the moment: added sugar.  You bet your processed white bread has plenty of added sugar.

But whole wheat bread is healthy, right? Not necessarily.  A lot of whole wheat breads are not 100% whole wheat and even those that are almost always have plenty of added sugar.  The fluffier and more tasty they are to kids, the more sugar content they are likely to have.

Don’t fool yourself that gluten free bread is any better.  A lot of gluten free breads are made with ingredients like white rice flour or potato starch – the same white carbohydrates that convert to sugar as white flour – and many do contain added, processed sugar, although it might come under different names.

Solution: Bake or Bakery

The best solution to the problem of not knowing what’s in your kids’ bread is to just bake it yourself.  Then you control all of the ingredients!  You can make it 100% whole wheat or rye and add healthy bonuses like seeds or even dried fruit.  Use honey or agave to feed the yeast (or make a sourdough loaf with wild yeast, which will happily feed on flour), and you don’t need much sweetener to feed the yeast because most yeast will happily eat some of the flour.  As a bonus, there are no preservatives or other added nasties in homemade bread.

Too busy to bake bread? Think again!! Buy a bread machine and you can make bread yourself in just minutes.  Most machines even have timers so you can put the ingredients in before you go to sleep and wake up to the smell of fresh bread for toast and sandwiches.  My favorite is the Breville BBM800XL Custom Loaf Bread Maker, although I have heard rave reviews about the Zojirushi BB-PAC20 Home Bakery Virtuoso Breadmaker. (Breville also sells lower models you can pick up for under $100.)  So far we’ve been using our Breville bread machine for more than a decade and it’s still working brilliantly!

Of course, you can still buy bread.  You just have to be really selective about what you buy.  90% of the time I bake my own bread, but occasionally when I do buy bread, I buy direct from a bakery where I know the owners and I can trust their ingredients.  I usually buy whole grain rye or black Russian bread, which my toddler calls “chocolate bread.”  One brand that has really impressed me is Ezekiel Bread’s sprouted grain breads, like Food for Life, Ezekiel 4:9 Bread, Original Sprouted, Organic. Sprouted grain breads offer a whole host of health benefits, including easier digestion and increased absorption of nutrients, plus more antioxidants and vitamins than normal grains could give you. They also offer a Brown Rice Bread that is Dairy,Gluten & Yeast Free!

Problem: Spreads

Peanut butter, jelly, jam, marmalade, spreadable cheese, cream cheese, butter, mayonnaise, ketchup, relish, salsa, pasta sauce, nutella, and marshmallow fluff are all common spreads for bread.  Of them, all except the cheeses and butter are full of sugar.  In fact, I’m pretty sure marshmallow fluff is actually made of sugar, and the worst sugar possible, at that! Holy high fructose corn syrup, Batman!

But most people are surprised to learn that spreads like peanut butter and nutella are chock full of sugar, salt, and oil.  Jelly, jam, and marmalade are usually 50% or more sugar.  Mayo, ketchup, relish, and store-bought salsas and pasta sauces often contain lots of sugar, even though they are “savory” foods.

The result is that you may think you are giving your child a healthy sandwich with peanut butter and jelly (protein and fruit, right?) but you are really giving them a huge dose of processed sugar!  And even though they are not full of sugar, spreadable cheeses, cream cheese, and butter are all huge sources of animal fats, proteins, and preservatives.  They may not be high in sugar, but they are still unhealthy.

But wait, what do I spread on my kid’s sandwich, then?!

Solution: Healthy Spreads

The best solution to the spread situation is to make them yourself.  I make my own ketchup, for instance.  Pasta sauce, salsa, and mayonnaise can all be made at home in a way that reduces or eliminates altogether added sugars.  (Although generally speaking, there’s really no healthy way to make mayo, you can make it healthier.)  By reading ingredients, you can also purchase some of these items in healthier form.  I actually love Follow Your Heart Original Vegenaise and I have to admit that I am a die-hard Hellman’s Mayo addict (we all have our vices, don’t we?), so that’s really saying something!

Living in Australia as we do these days, I have become a huge fan of Vegemite.  I actually have no idea how parents in other countries survive without it.  What the heck do you make sandwiches with?!  Okay, the truth is that Vegemite can take some getting used to if you’re an adult trying it for the first time.  It’s not my favorite food, but I don’t mind a Vegemite sandwich now and then… but my kids!  When we ran out of Vegemite two days ago, my toddler had a full-blown tantrum because he wanted a Vegemite sandwich so badly.  So yes, kids love it, especially if they eat it from a young age.  It is quite high in salt, so spread it very thin (my kids especially love it on veggie muffins), and it will give kids a huge dose of healthy B vitamins (which my vegetarian kids especially need).

Tehina, hummus, guacamole, babaganoush, and mustard are some other great spreads to consider.  Make them yourself and you don’t need to worry about preservatives or additives.  If you’re buying them, check the ingredients carefully to ensure nothing silly like mayo or straight up sugar has been mixed in.  Busy parents need not worry: Tehina paste can be easily mixed up into a spread in small quantities in a minute or two.  (Plus, it is an amazing source of non-dairy calcium!)  Guacamole can be as simple as spreading mashed avocado on bread and sprinkling a tiny bit of lemon juice on top.  Hummus and guacamole can both be made in advance and frozen in small containers.  Their consistency might be slightly affected but if you mix them up and spread them on bread, nobody will ever be able to tell.  This makes it easy to whip up a big batch and rotate through various spreads for variety.  Babaganoush is a roasted or grilled eggplant spread that also freezes nicely.  For the healthiest and most delicious option, ensure you are using a tehina-based Israeli babaganoush recipe.  Olive tapenade, when homemade, can also be a delicious sandwich or wrap spread.  Olives are very salty, but they also provide a lot of health benefits, ranging from their high levels of antioxidants and phytonutrients to their heart-healthy oil to their anti-inflammatory properties.

Finally, there are the nut butters.  There is no reason why peanut butter needs to be so unhealthy!  Why they add oil to a nut that’s already rich in oil is beyond me.  And peanuts have a natural sweetness that needs no enhancement.  Choose a pure peanut butter with no added sugar, salt, or oil.  The ingredients list should only have ONE item: Peanuts.  No preservatives, stabilizers, or anything else.  Yes, it will separate, but mix back in the oil and you’ll be looking at a peanut butter that’s healthier than the garbage they market to kids these days.

Want some variety of flavors and nutrients?  Experiment with other nut butters.  Cashew butter is delicious and naturally sweet.  Macadamia nuts make a rich, oily butter.  Walnuts, brazil nuts, pecans, and almonds all offer very different health benefits that make peanut butter look wimpy.  Boost your kids’ nutrient intake by changing the types of nut butters you use.  Going nut-free for school? Try coconut butter as a spread.  The health benefits of coconuts are the latest rage, so go ahead, jump on the bandwagon!  Afraid your kids will stage a riot if you cut out their chocolatey nutella spread?  Replace it with a raw cacao spread sweetened with organic agave nectar.

Problem: Sugary Cereals

Most parents have no idea how much sugar is in their kids’ cereals.  When I pointed out to a friend that the second ingredient in “healthy” cereals like Cheerios or Rice Krispies (Rice Bubbles in Australia) is sugar, she was shocked.  She thought her kids were getting healthy cereals but they were getting sugar in their cereals.  To make matters worse, most parents allow their kids to sprinkle some sugar on top of these “bland,” “healthy” cereals, which compounds the problem.

And those are the healthy cereals!  Indeed, a lot of cereals marketed to a health-conscious or dieting subset are either full of sweeteners or are full of fake substitutes (which have their own health implications – but that’s a post for another day!).

Most cereals marketed to kids today are overflowing with sugar.  Parents might know a cereal is sugary, but do you know just how sugary?  I just picked one out of thin air (first one that came to mind – I didn’t go hunting for the worst offender).  Gluten-free vitamin-fortified Fruity Pebbles are 33% sugar.  33%!!!!!!!!  Am I the only one who sees a problem with this? I really hope not.  (And as if that’s not bad enough, Post Foods encourages you to use this cereal to make “treats” using 1 box of cereal, 6 cups of marshmallows, and 1/2 stick of butter. That’s 336 grams of sugar per recipe.)

Fruity Pebbles Nutrition Facts

9 grams out of every 27 gram serving is sugar. That’s 1/3 of the volume of the cereal composed of sugar. 33%!

Personally, I think marketing cereals like this to kids is positively criminal.  Yes, many parents do not know how much garbage they are feeding their kids, but with so much marketing and so little free time, it is unfair to place all the blame on the parents.  I hope the executives of these companies suffer terrible insomnia from their incessant guilt over slowly killing an entire generation of children.

 

Solution: Healthy Breakfast Alternatives

There are healthy cereals out there, but goodness are they hard to find.  Even the organic health-food cereals are generally full of sugar.  It’s positively shameful.  My favorite cereal is Vita-Brits. It’s like the popular Australian breakfast cereal Weet-Bix but without the added sugar. I have no idea how you could get this cereal in the United States.  It is entirely possible that it is impossible to buy a cereal with no added sugar in America.  If you find a commercially available cereal with no added sugar in the United States, PLEASE post in comments!

Of course, there are other healthy breakfast alternatives.  Kids won’t die without cereal.  I think cereal is mostly a convenience food for parents.  But if you must give your child cereal, consider giving them a sugar-free muesli instead. Familia Swiss Muesli Cereal, for example, has no added sugar.  Neither does Alpen Cereal.   You can also make your own muesli.  That way you can add your own unique mix of grains, dried fruits, nuts, and seeds.  You can also include yummy spices like cinnamon and nutmeg, fresh chopped fruits, or even a sprinkling of agave nectar if your child still has a real sweet tooth.

Another great breakfast option is oatmeal.  You can make oatmeal on the stovetop really easily, in the microwave oven, or even overnight in the crock pot.  Add fresh banana to make it creamy and sweet, and mix in any types of fresh or dried fruit you like to make it sweet but still healthy.  You can also add chopped nuts and seeds, spices, or even fruit pulp from juicing.

Conclusion

Unfortunately, sugar really is in almost every food we buy commercially today.  It is a preservative, so companies have a strong incentive to use it liberally, as they can keep their products on the shelves longer with more sugar in them. This is why canned foods are often high in sugar and salt (I once had a woman get very annoyed with me one time when, after examining every canned food on the shelf, I could not find a single one with no sugar in it, and I then exclaimed in exasperation on how these vegetables were actually really unhealthy… meanwhile, she was trying to explain to her kids that vegetables in cans are good to eat. Oops? I somehow don’t feel guilty.).  Try buying snap-frozen veggies instead of canned ones, and boil up dry beans instead of just draining canned ones.

At the end of the day, almost every product on our grocery store shelves has sugar in it.  And it’s not just because it’s a preservative, but also because it’s a taste that has developed.  It’s an addiction we can’t kick – and the companies don’t want us to.  The reality is that if we want to inspire healthy kids, we have to let our voices be heard.  Buy the sugar-free products when they are available and make them at home when they are not.  Write to companies directly and tell them that we want more sugar-free options – and by “sugar-free” we do not mean “synthetic sweeteners!”  Write to our representatives in government and tell them we want a line included on all nutrition labels to show how much added sugar is in the food, so companies’ dirty tricks will be revealed for all interested consumers to see.

These are the changes we need to make to change our kids’ health and change their lives.

Reusable Pouches: Great for Cheap, Healthy Snacking!

Reusable Pouches: Great for Cheap, Healthy Snacking!

Recently I bought my kids (or possibly myself) a new present.  Reusable pouches!

Pouches of pureed fruit, vegetables, and yogurt abound in the stores now.  They are so much better than the traditional jars of baby food or cups of applesauce because they create no mess, they are easy to just toss in a purse or bag on the go, and they don’t require a spoon.  The biggest problems I have with the store-bought ones are that they are quite expensive and I can’t control the ingredients.  The fact that they create a lot of garbage into our landfills also bothers me.

Little Green Pouch with ways to fill it

Reusable pouches accomplish the same benefits but without any of those pesky downsides.  The only difficult thing for some mums to consider is the added amount of time they add to your day.  After all, you have to create something to fill them with, fill them, and wash them.  But really, I don’t think this creates all that much extra work.  If you buy ones that are dishwasher safe (like the Little Green Pouch I bought) they won’t really create extra work for you.  And you can always fill them with something easy like extra smoothie.  Really, tossing an extra banana and handful of strawberries in your blender in the morning won’t take you more than a few seconds.  Plus, filling the pouches (if you get the right kind, like the Little Green Pouch) is really easy.  Fill them with a spoon, a funnel, or a small pitcher. Whatever is easiest for you.  The best part is that if you have extra you can fill the pouches and then store them in the freezer until you need them.

Little Green Pouch full and empty, with the yogurt and pureed fruit I put inside

Yesterday I tried them out for the first time.  Firstly, they are very easy to fill.  I filled some using a spoon so I could make a mix of homemade plain yogurt and pureed fruit.  My mom filled some with just pureed fruit by pouring it in from the glass jars I use to store extra smoothie.

Akiva drinking from his Little Green Pouch

I rarely buy the pre-made pouches in the store, so my toddler already recognizes them as a special treat.  So when I offered him one for the first time, I’m pretty sure he would have eaten it no matter what it contained, so excited he was.   In fact, I couldn’t stop him from sucking on it even long enough to tell me if he liked it.  I guess that’s a good review!  (When he was done, he asked if he could eat his brother’s!)

In the process of filling the Little Green Pouch

I’ve also tried washing one in the dishwasher and it came out perfectly clean.  They will last better and longer with hand washing, but I am a sucker for convenience and doing dishes is at the top of my list of things I’d rather avoid doing.

The Little Green Pouch

I also filled some with pureed fruit and popped them in the freezer, where they are happily awaiting future use.

I give the Little Green Pouch a big thumbs up and I’m looking forward to using them all the time!