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So long, sugar

Low-cost, easy-to-make recipes can help parents avoid sending their kids to school with unhealthy snacks

Betsy Phinney has seen her 4-year-old daughter, Madeleine, crash. Not on her bicycle. Phinney is referring to the energy crash that comes after a sugar high.

That’s why Phinney carefully chooses the snack foods Madeleine eats, including the foods she sends with her daughter to preschool.

“The thing I try to avoid with her is sugars mostly,” Phinney says, referring to table sugar as well as high-fructose corn syrup, an ingredient prevalent in many processed snack foods. “She doesn’t need any extra energy. She’s got plenty.”

Many snack foods that find their way into school lunch bags – including granola bars, cookies and fruit snacks – contain high-fructose corn syrup, preservatives and other ingredients that concern proponents of whole-foods diets. In this era of convenience, even peanut butter and jelly sandwiches come pre-packaged.

Processed snack products are tempting to busy parents who might wonder how they have time to grocery shop, let alone bake anything from scratch. But there are ways to carve time in the kitchen to do so, say some parents, and there are recipes for homemade school-lunch snacks worth trying, says registered dietitian Claudia Hume.

“I see the diet histories that parents fill out” about their children, says Hume, who works with the Spokane County Head Start/ECEAP/Early Head Start program. “A lot of times it’s fruits and vegetables that they’re lacking, and sometimes milk is a problem, too.”

Two of her biggest concerns are seeing the large amount of sugary treats young children consume and how often they fill up on fatty, processed foods from fast-food restaurants.

“A lot of the processes (food manufacturers have) put in place have aided in the safety of our food supply, but you can definitely overdo it,” Hume says.

Part of Hume’s job is to encourage families to cook meals at home by sharing with them low cost, easy-to-make recipes. A brochure she created on healthy snack foods includes recipes for homemade granola, applesauce and bean dip.

Hume encourages parents to invite children to help prepare dinner, then send them to school with the leftovers the next day.

“If kids have been involved in making it, they’re much more likely to eat it,” she says. “Kids as young as 2 can help.”

Author Vicki Lansky, of Minnetonka, Minn., noticed in the early 1970s that many new parents – especially those who lived far from older generations in their families – struggled with what to feed their children. With input from mothers in her childbirth education group, she wrote “Feed Me, I’m Yours,” a spiral-bound cookbook with recipes for everything from homemade baby food to semihomemade fudgesicles.

Since then, more than 3 million copies of “Feed Me, I’m Yours” have sold, and Lansky went on to write 24 more parenting books, including “Taming of the C.A.N.D.Y. Monster,” with “candy” as an acronym for “continuously advertised nutritiously deficient yummies.”

Lansky says many of the foods widely available to parents now are dramatically different than the options she had when she wrote her first cookbooks.

“Kiwi fruits weren’t around, and yogurt was an odd health food,” she says. “That was before sippy cups and boxed drinks. The little (baby) carrots would have been wonderful to have.”

Lansky isn’t against giving children some processed foods. In fact, one of her favorite “grandma tricks” is to slice a hot dog four times up the middle so it looks like an octopus. But she advises against spending too much money in the center aisles of grocery stores.

“You can eat very healthfully from a grocery store by shopping the perimeter, staying away from the packaged foods and by not bringing your kids with you,” she says, admitting that the latter bit of advice is impossible for most families. “It’s hard enough avoiding my own temptations at the store.”

Lansky offers a few tips for making school lunch preparation fast and fun:

• Make a week’s worth of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at once and store them in the freezer.

• Fill one drawer in the refrigerator with healthy snacks and give children free access to it.

•Serve almost anything – cherry tomatoes, cheese cubes – on skewers or toothpicks.

•Pack homemade cookies with healthy ingredients, such as wheat germ and oatmeal, but decorate them with a few kid-friendly goodies such as M&Ms.

•Write love messages to your children on the skin of a banana’s peel using a ballpoint pen.

Betsy Phinney’s daughter, Madeleine, hasn’t been in school for long, but her mom already has acquired a few snack tricks, too.

•Whole wheat pancakes are a favorite, so Phinney makes extras on the weekends, stores them in the refrigerator and then sends Madeleine to school with one plus a small container of applesauce, yogurt, syrup or jam for dipping.

•Phinney often makes carrot-zucchini or pumpkin muffins, doubling the batch and freezing the extras.

•Madeleine recently began eating edamame, which are baby soybeans that come in an easy-to-open pod and contain omega 3 fatty acids, as well as a healthy dose of fiber and protein.

“She likes to crack open the pod,” revealing the beans inside, Phinney says.

•Another of Madeleine’s favorites is pasta with red sauce. Phinney cooks it in the morning and puts it in a small Thermos, so it’s still warm by snack time.

Phinney and her family aren’t purists, though. They buy a healthy brand of packaged granola bars for a convenient snack when hunger strikes in the car.

And Lansky, the author, urges parents to lighten up if they’re putting too much pressure on themselves about their children’s nutrition.

“The older I get, the looser I get,” she says. “Sometimes we’re our own worst enemies.”

Homemade Granola Bars

Courtesy of Spokane resident Heidi Hash. She wraps each bar individually in plastic wrap or foil so they are easy to grab on the go.

1/2 cup butter

1/3 cup sugar

1/3 cup honey

1/4 cup flour

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

2 cups crispy rice cereal

2 cups rolled oats

1 cup dried fruit such as raisins or cranberries

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 9-by-13-inch pan with nonstick cooking spray.

Melt the butter in a large pot over low heat. Remove the pot from the heat and whisk in the sugar, honey, flour, vanilla and cinnamon. Add the remaining ingredients.

Transfer the mix to the baking pan. Using a sheet of wax paper and your hands, press the granola firmly into the pan, packing it flat and with an even thickness.

Bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown.

Allow to cool for one hour in the pan before slicing into bars.

Yield: 12 servings

Approximate nutrition per serving: 239 calories, 8 grams fat (5 grams saturated, 31 percent fat calories), 3 grams protein, 39 grams carbohydrate, 20 milligrams cholesterol, 2 grams dietary fiber, 115 milligrams sodium.

Carrot-Zucchini Muffins

Courtesy of Spokane resident Betsy Phinney

2 cups peeled apples, diced or grated, or diced banana

2 cups grated carrot and zucchini

1/2 cup sugar or Sucanat

2 large eggs, lightly beaten (or 3 egg whites)

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1/4 cup applesauce

2 teaspoons vanilla

2 cups flour (1 cup unbleached white plus 1 cup whole wheat or some other combination)

2 teaspoons baking soda

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup raisins

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a muffin tin.

In a large bowl, combine the apples or bananas, vegetables and sugar. Add the eggs, oil, applesauce and vanilla and blend.

In another bowl combine the dry ingredients. Mix the dry ingredients into the wet ones, then add the raisins.

Fill the muffin cups two-thirds full and bake, 10 to 12 minutes for mini muffins or 20 to 25 minutes for regular muffins.

Muffins can be frozen and then defrosted when ready to be consumed.

Yield: 36 minimuffins or 18 to 24 regular ones

Nutrition per serving: Unable to calculate due to recipe variables.

Homemade Graham Crackers

From “Feed Me, I’m Yours,” by Vicki Lansky,

1 cup flour (graham or whole wheat)

1 cup bleached all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 cup butter or margarine

1/2 cup sugar

1/4 cup milk

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Combine flours and baking powder.

Cut in the butter or margarine until the mixture has the consistency of cornmeal.

Stir in the sugar. Add the milk to make a stiff dough.

Roll the dough out on a floured surface to 1/4-inch thickness. Cut it into squares and prick the dough with a fork. Brush with milk.

Bake the squares on an ungreased baking sheet for 18 minutes or until golden brown.

Yield: Varies

Approximate nutrition per 1-ounce serving, using whole wheat flour: 105 calories, 3 grams fat (1.5 grams saturated, 26 percent fat calories), 2 grams protein, 18 grams carbohydrate, 8 milligrams cholesterol, 1 gram dietary fiber.

Homemade Fruit Roll

From “Feed Me, I’m Yours,” by Vicki Lansky.

Either apples, peaches, pears, nectarines or canned pumpkin

1 teaspoon of honey for every piece of fruit used

Peel and core the fruit, chop it in small pieces, then blend it in a blender until smooth. Cook in a saucepan over medium heat for five minutes.

While it’s cooking, add the honey. Let the fruit mixture cool.

Lay out clear plastic wrap on a baking sheet. Spoon the mixture onto the wrap, staying away from the edges. Spread it as thin as possible.

Lay another piece of plastic wrap over the mixture and press down with a wide spatula to make evenly thin. Remove the top sheet of plastic.

Turn the oven to its lowest possible heat or just use the pilot light. Place the tray in the oven and leave overnight. Remove it from the oven when the fruit is completely dry. Roll up the fruit inside the plastic wrap as if it were a jellyroll.

When ready to serve, cut off a strip and remove the plastic wrap.

Yield: Varies

Approximate nutrition per serving: Unable to calculate due to recipe variables.

Homemade Vanilla Pudding

Courtesy of Spokane County Head Start Dietitian Claudia Hume

3 cups nonfat milk

4 tablespoon cornstarch

1/2 cup sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

Heat milk in a large, microwave-safe bowl. Meanwhile, blend the cornstarch, sugar and salt in a small bowl using a wire whisk. Remove milk from the microwave.

Gently whisk the dry-ingredient mixture into the milk until thoroughly combined. Return to the microwave and cook on high for six minutes, stirring twice, or until the pudding thickens.

Add the vanilla and stir until evenly blended. Remove from the microwave, place onto a wire rack to cool for about 10 minutes. Stir in the vanilla. Serve chilled.

Yield: 6 servings

Approximate nutrition per serving: 130 calories, less than 1 gram fat, 4 grams protein, 28 grams carbohydrate, 2 milligrams cholesterol, no dietary fiber, 161 milligrams sodium.

Maple Walnut Granola

Courtesy of Spokane County Head Start Dietitian Claudia Hume

3 cups rolled oats

1 cup wheat germ

1/2 cup chopped walnuts

1/2 cup raisins

1/2 cup dried cranberries

1/4 cup sesame seeds

1/4 cup maple syrup

2 tablespoons molasses

1 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.

Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and mix thoroughly.

Transfer to a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Bake, turning often with a spatula, until the mixture is golden brown, about 25 minutes.

Yield: 6 cups

Approximate nutrition per 2-ounce serving: 225 calories, 7 grams fat (less than 1 gram saturated, 26 percent fat calories), 8 grams protein, 35 grams carbohydrate, no cholesterol, 5 grams dietary fiber, 4 milligrams sodium.


Courtesy of Spokane County Head Start Dietitian Claudia Hume

6 large, tart apples

1 cup undiluted apple juice concentrate

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

For chunky applesauce, peel the apples, then core and dice them. Place the apple pieces in a large pan. Add the apple juice concentrate, then cover and cook over low heat, stirring often, until the apples are soft. Mash them slightly with a fork if desired, then stir in the cinnamon. Serve hot or cold.

For smoother applesauce, cut the apples into quarters and remove cores. Chop finely the pieces in a food processor. Transfer to a pan and add apple juice concentrate and cinnamon. Cover and cook, stirring often, over low heat until tender, about 15 minutes.

Yield: About 6 cups

Approximate nutrition per 1/2-cup serving: 82 calories, less than 1 gram fat, less than 1 gram protein, 21 grams carbohydrate, no cholesterol, 1 gram dietary fiber, 6 milligrams sodium.

Quick Bean Dip

Courtesy of Spokane County Head Start Dietitian Claudia Hume. Serve this dip with baked tortilla chips or use it as a burrito filling.

1 cup fat-free refried beans

1/2 to 1 cup salsa

Combine the refried beans with the salsa. Add more salsa for preferred consistency.

Yield: About 2 cups

Nutrition per serving: Unable to calculate due to recipe variables.

Pumpkin Spice Muffins

Courtesy of Spokane County Head Start Dietitian Claudia Hume

2 cups whole wheat flour or whole wheat pastry flour

1/2 cup sugar

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1 (15-ounce) can solid-pack pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)

1/2 cup raisins

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a large bowl. Add the pumpkin, 1/2 cup of water and raisins. Stir until just mixed.

Spoon the batter into oil-sprayed muffin cups, filling to just below the tops.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the tops of muffins bounce back when pressed lightly. Remove from the oven and let stand for 5 minutes. Remove the muffins from the pan and cool on a rack. Store cooled muffins in an airtight container.

Yield: 10 to 12 muffins

Approximate nutrition per serving, based on 12: 134 calories, less than 1 gram fat, 3 grams protein, 31 grams carbohydrate, no cholesterol, 4 grams dietary fiber, 178 milligrams sodium.


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