Tuesday, February 24, 2015

10 Ways to Help Kids Eat Fruit & Vegetables

So, yes, that is a picture of my children in a moment of pure delight. No, we did not inspire this delight by saying, "Smile and say 'Hooray for vegetables!'" They're great kids and they usually eat fruit and vegetables quite willingly, but I would have to suspect that aliens had taken over their little bodies if the thought of eating vegetables actually made them this happy. Still, as I say, to varying degrees, each of my three kids is a reasonably agreeable fruit and veggie eater. And when I hear from other friends whose kids would rather eat a green Lego than a green vegetable, I feel pretty thankful. Recently I had a conversation with one such fellow mom. For awhile now she's been wracking her brain to think of effective ways to get her little ones to eat anything but bread and cheese. Since I'm studying nutrition (and since we've had our share of healthy food struggles in our house, too) I tried to give her some ideas to implement. I figured it I shared my thoughts with her, I might as well share them on the blog as well. Some may seem obvious, and they may not work on every kid, as every child is different, but I'd say they're worth a try!

1. Start early. This one is especially for those parents with really little ones. Even from their first meals, kids are getting acclimated to what's "normal" eating in your household. Start with fruits and vegetables as a given at every meal.

2. Be a good example. As a parent, you set the tone for the way your family eats. Why should your kids eat healthy foods if you don't? Model what you want to see in them. 

3. Fun presentation. This may be the most effective one for my kids. They go BONKERS for fruit slices on skewers, "ghosty bananas" (half bananas with two chocolate chips for eyes), or their names written with carrot sticks. Entire studies have been conducted on the effectiveness of fun presentation for getting kids to eat well. There are a million ideas at your fingertips on the Internet. This also correlates with...

4. What's in a name? This takes a little creativity but can make a difference. What would your kid rather eat: vegetable soup or Swamp Soup? (Maybe even Swamp of Dagobah Soup if your kids are Star Wars fans.) How about Green Mountain Salad instead of spinach salad? This works on adults, too, by the way, which is why we'd rather order Hand-Tossed Tuscan Kale Salad than just a kale salad.

5. Dipping sauces. Here's another element of fun, plus a measure of perceived control for kids. If a child can make her own decision about which condiment accompanies her veggie--Ranch? barbecue sauce? ketchup?--she'll feel more autonomous. In the presence of ketchup, my kids can't help but make every long cylindrical food item into a Darth Maul light saber (ketchup on both ends). Just make sure they eat the actual vegetable, not just the sauce, like a certain 3-year-old in my house.

6. Variety of preparation. Your kid doesn't like raw beets? Neither do I. Different preparations appeal to different people. Since kids often gravitate toward sweet tastes, roasting vegetables to bring out their inherent sweetness may please their palates. Sauces, honey, bread crumbs, cheese, and other toppings can go a long way to make vegetables more appetizing for little ones. 

7. Not just for dinner (or lunch). In our house, the general trend seems to be fruits at breakfast and lunch, vegetables at dinner. It's an unspoken cultural rule that serves no real purpose. There's no reason why fruit can't turn up on the dinner table, or why vegetables can't make a cameo at breakfast. And don't forget snack time! Apples with peanut butter, sweet peppers with hummus, or fruit smoothies can pack fruit and veggie servings in when they go missing at mealtimes.

8. Mix, don't hide. While I don't agree with the idea of hiding fruits and vegetables in kids' foods, I do believe serving them incorporated into mixed dishes can help them go down easier. Casseroles, quiches, and pizzas are great items to pack with veggies.

9. Offer choice. "Would you rather have carrots or peas tonight?" "Would you like strawberries or apples in your lunchbox?" Every kid likes to choose for himself, as evidenced by the chorus of "I want the blue plate, not the pink one!" and "I want waffles, not toast!" that reverberates through my kitchen on a daily basis.

10. Keep trying! Remember that even adults have personal taste preferences. So your kid isn't a fan of carrots. That's okay. There are plenty of other fish in the sea...or vegetables in the produce aisle (and fruits!).

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Veggie-ful Slow Cooker Salsa Chicken

As I've alluded to in the past, I'm not really into the hiding-vegetables-in-your-kids'-food trend. In my book, the ideal is for kids to learn to enjoy the veggies themselves, if humanly possible. Hiding vegetables in an unsuspecting child's dinner puts feels a bit like a sneaky parlor trick, and I'd rather not feel like a con artist when putting dinner on the table. But sometimes a recipe comes along that so effectively incorporates vegetables in an unexpected place that I find it fools even me. This slow cooker salsa chicken does just that. I would not normally put carrots and celery into a salsa-based dish (would you?), so when I first tried this recipe, I was a little wary. Carrots and celery in combination remind me of soups or pot pie, something warm and brothy and probably originally from the East Coast--certainly not anything Mexican. So it's kind of shocking how seamlessly they blend into this tomato-y, chili-spiced shredded chicken. Makes me wonder where else I could add veggies without them being overpowering (and without them being "hidden" to fool unwitting children).

Another other reason I love this recipe (in addition to how easy it is--did I mention that, too?) is its all-purposeness--it has made appearances in burritos, wraps, nachos, and on salad at our house. I'm even contemplating making a dessert with it--bad idea? It's pretty much perfect for one of those days you know you want something homemade but can't be home for very long to get it ready. Give it a try. You won't be disappointed with its spicy-yummy goodness, and your kids, if you have them, won't be freaked out by its subtle vegetables (especially if you wrap it up in a tortilla--that's not too sneaky, right?).

Veggie-ful Slow Cooker Salsa Chicken
(Adapted from Sparkpeople.com)


2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breasts or tenderloins
2 Tbsp. taco seasoning (preferably homemade--see here for an easy recipe)
1 c. salsa
1 c. petite diced tomatoes with green chilies (fire-roasted are especially good!)
1 c. onion, diced
1/2 c. celery, diced
1/2 c. carrots, shredded


1. Place chicken in the bottom of a 6-quart slow cooker. Season on both sides with taco seasoning.

2. Layer salsa, diced tomatoes, onion, celery, and carrots on top of the chicken. Cook on low for 6-8 hours, or on high 3-4 hours.

3. Remove chicken from slow cooker and shred. Return to slow cooker and drain the liquid from the entire mixture with a fine-mesh strainer. Serve with tacos, nachos, tostadas, wraps or in a taco salad!

Serves 8.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Extra Dark Brownies with Sea Salt and Lime

I have an important question for you. Are you ready for your brownie world to be rocked? "But Sarah," you may say, "my brownie world does not need to be rocked. Brownies are already one of nature's most perfect desserts. And when I say "nature," I mean the Betty Crocker box mix you can get for $1.25 at Target." And you would be right. Brownies in almost any form are pretty consistently amazing. But sometimes even a classic can be improved--or if not improved, at least expanded upon in new and different ways for a little delicious variety. That's exactly what this stunningly flavored dessert is about. A dose of extra flaky salt on top and a deep undertone of lime elevates these beyond anything you can get in a box mix. To me, they'd be the perfect rich follow-up to a Mexican dinner. 

I will tell you, though, you do have to love dark chocolate to love this recipe--these brownies are so dark they probably go around brooding. In fact, they're probably reading Edgar Allen Poe in their basement right now. Then they're going to turn off all the lights and watch A Clockwork Orange.* I'm just telling you. They're dark

*Or, in this case, A Clockwork Lime.

Extra Dark Brownies with Sea Salt and Lime
(Adapted from TheKitchn.com)


6 Tbsp. butter
4 oz. bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 scant c. sugar
3/4 c. all-purpose flour
1/4 c. cocoa powder
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1 lime, juiced and zested
2 oz. unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
1/2 tsp. flaky sea salt


1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line an 8x8" glass dish with parchment paper, leaving extra paper on two sides for removal after baking. (Alternatively, spray thoroughly with cooking spray.)

2. In a medium saucepan, melt butter and bittersweet chocolate over medium-low heat. Stir until smooth. 

3. Remove pan from the heat and add sugar, flour, cocoa powder, eggs, vanilla, and kosher salt, mixing until combined. Add lime juice and zest as well as the unsweetened chocolate until all chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. (You may need to return the pan to the stovetop, depending on how much the batter has cooled.) 

4. Pour batter into the prepared pan and sprinkle sea salt evenly on top. Bake 30-35 minutes. Brownies will still be a bit gooey--don't worry, this is what you want! Cool 15 minutes on a wire rack, then remove by lifting out parchment paper, if using. Garnish with more lime zest, if desired.

Makes 1 8x8" pan, approximately 16 brownies. 

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Herbed Stuffed Zucchini

What would you call these? Zucchini boats? Zucchini blades? Zucchini toboggans? Every time I make this herbed stuffed zucchini, I want to give it some cute, descriptive name that makes my kids more inclined to eat it. Not that my kids are very picky, I just think a dinner with such a unique shape deserves some fun imagery to go along with it. Often, the foods we eat for dinner come to us with no particular shape, kind of blobby. Don't get me wrong, some of my favorite foods are blobby. Like mac and cheese, or soup, or ice cream. Blob, blob, blob. As a matter of fact,

There, I said it. Don't tell my husband.

But, that being said, 

I guess basically what I'm saying here is 

Like you didn't know that already. 

These uniquely shaped zucchini skis combine savory herbs with ground beef on top of the tender-crisp crunch of the squash underneath. A sprinkle of Parmesan completes the taste profile for a delicious homemade dinner any night of the week. Round it out with a side of potatoes (garlic herb potato wedges, perhaps?) and you're good to go.

Herbed Stuffed Zucchini
A Love Letter to Food Original


4 zucchini
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped fine
2 cloves garlic
3/4 lb. ground beef
1 Tbsp. fresh rosemary, chopped fine
1 Tbsp. fresh thyme, chopped fine
salt and pepper, to taste
1/4 c. fresh-grated Parmesan cheese


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Cut the zucchini in half lengthwise and scrape out the inside, leaving about a 1/2 inch of flesh on the zucchini skin. Reserve 1 c. of the inner part of the zucchini you just scraped out and chop into 1/2 inch chunks. Set aside.

3. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic and sauté for 1-2 minutes, then add the reserved 1 c. of zucchini chunks and cook another 3-4 minutes. Add ground beef and cook until browned, about 7-10 minutes. Sprinkle in fresh rosemary and thyme and season with salt and pepper to taste. Cook and stir 1 additional minute to incorporate. Drain beef mixture if liquid is present.

4. Place zucchini halves on a greased baking sheet and stuff with ground beef mixture. (If you have extra of the beef mixture, you can either cook it alongside the zucchini or save it for another use, like shepherd's pie.) Bake in the preheated oven for 40-45 minutes.

5. Sprinkle with fresh Parmesan.

Serves 4.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Easy as Apple Pie Baked Oatmeal

In the continual effort to eat healthier, I'm always on the hunt for ways to work in more fruits and vegetables into our family's daily diet. Try as I might, the one meal that seems to elude me in this quest is breakfast. I'm happy to put berries on a waffle or possibly whip up a smoothie, but my imagination for fruit at breakfast seems to end right about there. So when I realized that baked oatmeal with fruit was a thing, I was pretty stoked. For awhile now I've been making this baked apple-cinnamon oatmeal with great approval from both my kids and my husband. It's basically as easy as baked oatmeal can get--mix all the ingredients in a baking dish and pop it in the oven for 45 minutes. You don't even need a mixing bowl. Fool-proof! Since I don't generally have 45 minutes to wait for oatmeal to come out of the oven on any given morning (who am I kidding, I barely have an extra 45 seconds on school days) I like to make it the night before and reheat individual portions in the microwave. So let's review: easy, unprocessed, filling, and full of fruit? I'll take that any day! 

Easy as Apple Pie Baked Oatmeal
(Adapted from Betty Crocker)


2 Tbsp. butter
2 2/3 c. old-fashioned oats
4 c. milk
1/3 c. brown sugar
generous 1/4 tsp. salt
1 1/4 tsp. cinnamon
Pinch nutmeg
2 apples, peeled and chopped


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. In a 2-quart baking dish, melt butter in the microwave. Add all remaining ingredients and mix well.

3. Bake uncovered 40-45 minutes.

Serves 6-8.