NEW YORK (AP) — Is the anti-obesity message finally getting through?
A marked drop in the obesity rate among preschoolers in the U.S. has researchers and parents pointing to a variety of possible factors.
Among them: public-awareness campaigns to get parents to serve healthier food to their children; a drop in soda consumption; healthier menus at fast-food chains; more access to fruits and vegetables in some neighborhoods; changes in government food aid; and longer breast-feeding, which is often associated with improved weight control.
"We're not done yet, but this does show that parents really need to be the commanders of their own ship and manage the food environment for their kids at home," said Keith Ayoob, a registered dietitian and associate professor of pediatrics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx.
The glimmer of hope was contained in a government report issued Tuesday that showed that the obesity rate among children 2 to 5 years old dropped by nearly half over a decade, from 14 percent to 8 percent. That is encouraging in part because obese preschoolers are more likely to be obese as they get older.
Overall, though, both adult and childhood obesity rates have been flat in the past decade, and dietitians, weight experts and doctors warned that the problem is not going away.
"This is the problem of our generation. We are starting to make some progress, but there's really still a lot more to do," said Scott Kahan, an obesity treatment and prevention specialist and public health researcher at George Washington University.
For example, while first lady Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" campaign and other efforts over the past 10 years have raised awareness, stumbling blocks remain for the poor and for working parents.
"They know their children should be more active, but it's hard for them to get them to the park. They're tired, and it's complicated," said Sarah Barlow, director of the Center for Childhood Obesity at Texas Children's Hospital in Houston and an associate professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine. "It's an ordeal to get out of the house."
Here's a look at the changing health-related landscape that may have contributed to the drop in preschool obesity:
PARENTS SETTING THE EXAMPLE
Sherlyn Pang Luedtke, a parenting coach, said parents can improve their children's eating habits, even if their own were less than stellar.
"I was raised eating fried eggs and rice almost every day for breakfast," said Luedtke, who grew up near downtown Los Angeles and now lives in the suburban San Fernando Valley.
She and her husband have a 9-year-old son and a 4-year-old daughter, and the family sticks mostly to vegetarian fare.
"We have smoothies with greens, flaxseed and blueberries with breakfast. We eat whole-grain products," she said. "We feel great about our health choices that we model for our kids."
Lyndsay Meyer is a first-time mom of a 16-month-old son, living just outside Washington, D.C. She and her husband have not fed their child any processed sugar. His first birthday cake was made with bananas and applesauce. They feed him only whole foods and try to stick to organic ones.
"It's growing increasingly difficult, though, as he makes friends and goes to parties or on play dates," she said. "It's also difficult to go out with him because most places don't offer good, healthy food for toddlers."
Consumption of carbonated soft drinks has been in decline in the U.S. since 2005, said John Sicher, editor and publisher of the news and data service Beverage Digest. It has decreased from 10.2 billion cases a year to 9.2 billion.
In 2004, the average American drank 52.4 gallons of carbonated soft drinks a year. In 2012, that was down to 43.8 gallons. Consumption of bottled water has grown consistently over that period.
Between 1999 and 2010, daily calories from soda consumed by 2- to 5-year-olds decreased on average from 106 to 69, according to the government.
McDonald's, Dunkin' Donuts and other chains have changed their menus in recent years. They haven't stopped serving Big Macs and french fries, but they are offering more foods to appeal to health-conscious diners, such as apple slices in Happy Meals, egg whites for breakfast sandwiches and whole-grain bread.
(Many restaurants over the past decade have also eliminated artificial trans fats, but that's because they clog arteries. It is not clear to what extent they contribute to obesity.)
Changes in the federal Women, Infants and Children program, which provides food vouchers for the poor, may also be encouraging healthier eating. The changes — instituted in 2009 — eliminated juice from infant food packages, provided less saturated fat and made it easier to buy fruits and vegetables.
Women are breast-feeding their babies longer, according to government figures. And some researchers believe breast-feeding helps children regulate their intake of food, thereby lowering their risk of obesity later on.
Of infants born in 2010, 49 percent were breast-feeding at 6 months, up from 35 percent in 2000. The breast-feeding rate at 12 months increased from 16 percent to 27 percent during that time period.
Judy Dodd, a University of Pittsburgh assistant professor in nutrition and dietetics, said government programs and other services have encouraged breast-feeding by providing free or low-cost breast pumps, access to refrigeration and more offices with private, comfortable rooms where new moms can pump on the job.
"When a woman goes back to work, how does she continue to breast-feed? That's the biggest challenge I'm hearing, and there have been improvements," Dodd said.
ACCESS TO FRESH FOOD
A number of programs are giving people in poor neighborhoods more access to fresh and affordable fruits and vegetables.
For example, the Sproutin' Up program in Fort Collins, Colo., provided 2,500 pounds of locally grown produce for free to poor families last summer and will be back this year. Kids help grow the produce and run the farmers markets, telling their neighbors, "You have to try these! We grew these!"
"Everything is delicious, and there is a lot of variety," Marina Lopez, whose 11-year-old son Victor helps out with the program, said in Spanish through a translator, mentioning carrots, cucumbers and squash. "It's very important for parents to get involved with nutrition for their families."
This is the time of year when it feels like winter will never release its icy grip. Outside it’s cold and snowy and comfort foods – cheesy pasta, potato soup, rich casseroles – all sound delicious. Before we know it, we’ve packed on some pounds and are feeling more lethargic than energetic.
Boost your energy with these healthy snack ideas.
Here are a few healthy snacks that really hit the spot this time of year. They feed some of those carb cravings but pack plenty of nutrients to help boost your energy levels:
• Popcorn: Sorry, not the “movie theater butter” kind. We’re talking air popped or popped with just a bit of canola oil. Instead of butter and salt, try salt-free herb blends like Mrs. Dash.
• Salsa: With so many great varieties of salsa available, this is a snack that never gets boring. Try pairing it with fresh veggies or low fat, whole wheat crackers.
Carol Bliznik, Registered Dietitian at Franciscan St. Anthony Health-Crown Point talks about her favorite finds in the produce section: “Fresh produce is always best for your health and your budget. This time of year oranges, tangerines and clementines are delicious. Apples, carrots & celery sticks are always good. And I encourage people to branch out and try something new like jicama.”
Not sure what to do with a jicama?
At first glance, a jicama doesn’t look too appetizing. However, beneath its brown skin lies a crunchy, sweet veggie.
1. Jicama Combo: combine cubed jicama, a sliced cucumber and orange sections. Sprinkle with chili powder and salt. Drizzle with juice of half a lemon and mix well.
2. Toss in a salad: try a Jicama & Red Pepper Salad.
3. Saute it: Saute cubes of peeled jicama in a small amount of olive oil until browned. Add one small sliced onion, 1/2 red pepper cut into strips and cook until onion is translucent. Add 1/4 cup of water or broth and cook until jicama is tender.
4. Mix up your stir fry: Add jicama to a stir fry dish.
5. Roast it: Peel a jicama and cut into cubes. Toss cubes with one small chopped onion, a small amount of oilve oil, 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic, rosemary and parsley. Spread on a baking pan and roast at 400 degrees for one hour, stirring every 15 minutes.
6. Spice it up: Try a spicy Jicama-Orange Salsa at a party.
7. Jicama Relish: At your next barbecue, serve a Jicama Relish for burgers and hot dogs.
8. Jicama Chips: Peel the jicama and thinly slice. Arrange on a plate and toss with the juice of half a lime. Sprinkle lightly with salt, sugar and chili powder. Chill for 20 minutes and serve.
9. Jicama Slaw: Add peeled, julienned jicama to your coleslaw or make a Jicama Slaw.
10. Crudite Surprise: Peel & slice up some jicama to add to a fresh vegetable tray.
Source: permission from FruitandVeggiesMoreMatters.org .
A warm, comforting and healthy dinner.
When it is time to cook dinner, get the kids involved! The more involved kids are in selecting ingredients or helping prepare the meal, the more likely they are to eat and enjoy it. Try this recipe to warm up this winter.
6 cups vegetable broth
2 cups water
1 (15 oz) can of white (cannellini) beans
1 (15 oz) can of diced tomatoes
2 carrots, thinly sliced
1 tsp Italian seasoning
1 beaten egg
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1 Tbl parsley
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 lb ground, low fat turkey
2 handfuls of fresh spinach, chopped
1/2 package of tubettini or alphabet pasta
In your crock pot combine the following:
6 cups broth
2 cups water
1 (15 oz) can of white (cannellini) beans
1 (15 oz) can of diced tomatoes
2 carrots, thinly sliced
1 tsp Italian seasoning
Now make some meatballs. In a large bowl combine:
1 beaten egg
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1 Tbl parsley
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 lb ground turkey
• Mix it with your hands until everything is incorporated into the meat. With your hands, roll small meatballs (think quarter to half-dollar size) and drop them into your soup.
• Cook on low for 7-8 hours. Or on high for 3-4. For the last 30 minutes of cooking time, put the heat on high if it wasn’t already, and stir in 2 handfuls of fresh chopped spinach and 1/2 box of small pasta. If you’re not home 30 minutes before dinner don’t stress: just take 15 minutes, stir in the spinach while you bring water to a boil on the stove. Cook the pasta and stir it in before serving.
As most kids celebrate a day off from school Feb. 17, the nation will mark Presidents’ Day.
While Presidents’ may not seem like the ideal day to host a party, it’s actually a great way to spend family time together and reinforce what they are learning in school.
Here are some ways to mark the holiday with kids, from serving patriotic food to playing president-themed games.
Don some detective hats and trench coats and make a game out of discovering things about presidents that aren’t necessarily covered in kids’ history books.
Debi Lilly, a party planner and owner of A Perfect Event, which serves Northwest Indiana and Chicago, said finding interesting facts about former presidents brings them to life.
“Kids love doing research, so start by making a list of the presidents, as long or short as you like, and find out fun facts about each,” she said. “From George Washington to Barack Obama, where is he from? What was his first job? What is his favorite food? Favorite sport? Kids can design their questions around their personal interests, making it more fun and interesting.
Decorate the house
Design a party around the presidents by decorating the table with photos in frames, or even paper maps with their hometowns and cities where they began their careers.
“Draw family portraits with their children and dogs,” Lilly said. “These details become busy craft parties, and decorate the table at the same time.”
Get creative by using just a few fun items as well from around the house.
“Add colorful red, white and blue ribbon wrapped onto pillar candles for pretty lighting on the table,” she said.
Have kids fill round rose bowl vases with water and add red, white and blue flowers, Lilly said.
Prepare festive food
Plan menus for that day’s meals based on a president’s favorite foods and drinks.
“Write them onto paper, then cut into the shape of your round glass plates,” Lilly said. “Set underneath for a custom presidential menu plate design.”
Red, white and blue sodas make the perfect drinks, and don’t forget to use any red, white and blue dishes to accent the party’s patriotic theme, Lilly said.
“Make mini parfaits with red, white and blue – raspberries, blueberries, blackberries and vanilla yogurt or frozen yogurt — are the perfect presidential day dessert,” she said.
Plan games based on what the presidents loved to do and play outside the office, Lilly said. For instance, if a president enjoyed playing cards, set up Go Fish tournaments throughout the day.
The White House Historical Association also suggests having kids write in their diaries for the day as if they were a first kid. They can write about the first day they moved in to the White House, or their favorite heroes that came to the White House to visit.
Older children may enjoy designing their own White House – adding their own personal touches based on what they enjoy doing.
At PBS.org, kids have the opportunity to print their own campaign posters, and usmint.gov has several games kids can enjoy online.
For more information on activities, go to whitehousehistory.org.
Coming together for a holiday meal is a wonderful tradition. But let’s be honest… if you have young children, or picky eaters of any age, those holiday meals carry just a little bit of dread. Trying new foods is important and wonderful – watching your child throw a tantrum in front of great-grandma isn’t so wonderful. In an effort to make the holiday table enjoyable for everyone, here are a few ideas and healthy recipes that will fill tummies and put smiles on everyone’s faces.
Start with something small
Even if you’re not planning appetizers for the adults this holiday, plan some for the kiddos. Holiday meals are often eaten at strange times of the day or take longer to prepare than planned and if you’ve got hungry kids waiting… you’re about to have cranky kids in meltdown mode. Plan ahead and have some of these ready for the little ones and the whole gathering will be happier:
• Cheese & crackers: Nice for adults and kids alike. Just make sure your tray includes some kid-friendly string cheese and cheddar. You could also use some holiday-themed cookie cutters to cut cheese slices into fun shapes.
• Fruit kabobs: supplies needed? Kabob sticks and fruit. Try grapes, strawberries and either melon or pineapple – all easy to slide on a stick. You could even put out the fruit in bowls and have the kids build their own snack. Two birds with one stone – an appetizer that stops growling tummies and occupies little hands!
• Cheese reindeer: it doesn’t just look fun, it’s healthy and delicious… in fact, you should probably make a few extras for the grow-ups: Laughing Cow Cheese for the head, twist pretzels for the antlers & red bell peppers for the nose.
Easy, kid-friendly dinner ideas
While I’m a big believer in having kids try new things and expand their tasting horizons, it’s not always feasible to do that on a day where the little ones are already feeling a bit overwhelmed. Add these easy options to your holiday dinner table – the kids’ table will appreciate it (and if the grown-ups want to sneak a few bites, that’s okay too).
Homemade baked chicken fingers
1 egg, beaten
3 Tbl milk
1 ¼ cups panko breadcrumbs
1 tsp dried thyme
½ tsp paprika
Dash of salt & pepper
2 Tbl butter, melted
1 ½ pounds boneless chicken breasts, sliced into ½ inch “fingers”
1. In a small bowl combine the egg and milk. In a shallow dish combine the breadcrumbs and seasoning. Stir in melted butter to breadcrumbs. Dip chicken fingers into egg mixture and then coat with breadcrumbs.
2. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Arrange chicken so the pieces are not touching.
3. Bake uncovered at 375 degrees for 30 minutes or until chicken is no longer pink.
A great recipe for holiday dinners for two reasons. First, it’s made in individual ramekins which makes the kids feel special. Second, those ramekins don’t take long to cook so you can pop them in the oven while your roast or when turkey is resting and being carved.
1 lb elbow macaroni
2 8oz packages of shredded sharp cheddar and/or cheddar jack cheese
1 ½ cups milk
1 tsp salt
1 tsp dry mustard
½ tsp pepper
¼ tsp nutmeg
½ cup parmesan
1 cup bread crumbs
1/2 stick of butter
1. Cook macaroni according to directions. Drain & set aside.
2. Lightly grease 8 ramekins (8oz each)
3. In a large bowl whisk together the shredded cheese, milk and seasonings. Add the macaroni and toss until well-mixed. Place macaroni & cheese in each ramekin.
4. In a small bowl, mix together the parmesan and bread crumbs. Sprinkle each ramekin with the bread crumb mixture and dot each with ½ tablespoon of butter.
5. Bake at 350 until tops are golden, approx. 20 minutes.
Bonus tip: Keep the kids busy and the wait for dinner will go even more smoothly. Go to the dollar store and buy some holiday coloring books and crayons. Or pick up some cardstock and markers and ask the kids to make name cards to decorate the table.
With Thanksgiving right around the corner, adults and children alike are already beginning to think about the day’s feast: turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes and cranberry sauce.
Local nutritionists agree that the holiday is a great time to get kids involved with the food preparation, and teach them quick and easy lessons about making healthy choices and portion control.
Monica Rojas, diabetes educator and dietician with Franciscan Medical Specialists, said encouraging kids to cook is a good way to get kids to try new foods.
“When kids cook or help with the preparation, they are more apt to try those foods,” she said.
Rojas said kids can start small by adding ingredients or rolling meatballs.
“It’s always good to have them do something with vegetables, since they’re more apt to eat that,” she said.
Kristal Markovich, a registered dietician at Methodist Hospitals, said cooking provides lasting memories for kids to have with their parents.
She said younger kids can put lettuce in bowls for salads or use cookie cutters to shape cookies, while older children can knead dough or chop vegetables.
“Parents are a big influence on whether kids will have healthy behaviors,” Markovich said. “It is important to start these healthy behaviors at a young age. Getting kids involved in the kitchen can help parents teach kids about healthy eating and give them a better understanding of how to prepare and cook healthy meals.”
It’s also good to talk to kids about choosing healthy foods and eating correct portion sizes, Rojas said.
Food safety is another important conversation to have, such as proper hand-washing techniques, heating and refrigeration regulations, Markovich said.
Rojas said each plate should include a serving of protein, starch, vegetable and fruit.
“It is important to serve kids an appropriate portion of food on a plate and let them ask for seconds instead of giving it to them right away,” she said. “One of the most challenging things is proper portions for our society today, which is why obesity and diabetes rates are so high and continuing to grow.”
Markovich said it is important to encourage kids to have a colorful plate when they eat.
“Fruits and vegetables are an important part of the diet. Color is nutritious,” she said. “You want a colorful plate half filled with fruits and vegetables.”
Rojas said it is also important to stress to kids that Thanksgiving isn’t a reason to “pig out.”
“There is no reason to skip breakfast or other meals so you can overeat at that meal,” she said. “That’s a big no no, and it’s teaching kids the wrong way.”
Whether you’re looking to Pinterest or other websites for kid-friendly recipes, there are hundreds of quick, easy kid-friendly recipes to get kids excited about food. The website parenting.com even has healthy, kid-friendly recipes that can either be served on Thanksgiving or created from left-overs.
Thanksgiving traditions are often passed from one generation to the next. Whether via a family recipe, a morning football game or a favorite dish, sharing a piece of holiday history helps families stay connected.
“I think traditions are important to me as they are the roots of my being. They ground me. They remind me of the generations and the people who have passed through our tables through the years,” said Kathy Fox-Laskowiecki, a native of Chicago's East Side and Hegewisch neighborhoods. “I am very blessed to have shared and broke bread with so many people through my life. I hope that my children will remember always to give thanks to God and to help those that may need a warm meal, a place to hang out and feel the love that we have.”
Fox-Laskowiecki’s mother worked as a waitress and bartender and taught her family that not everyone is lucky enough to have family to share the holidays with. She opened their home to everyone who needed a place to spend the holiday and now Fox-Laskowiecki is teaching her children to do the same.
“There is always plenty of food at our table to have room for one more,” she said.
A Thanksgiving morning football game is the tradition that keeps another group of families together. The game, which dates back almost 90 years, has been played by four generations of families.
Colleen Ziemkowski, of Lansing, said that it all started with her grandfather’s Boy Scout Troop 520, which met at Southfield Methodist Church in Chicago. The troop had a father-son football game on Thanksgiving morning and her great grandfather took her grandpa. The first game took place in 1925.
As years passed, the game turned into a tradition with the original families meeting at 9 a.m. every Thanksgiving morning at Dan Ryan Woods, she said. They team up the “old men vs. young men.”
“Inevitably, the old guys claim they win every year and the young guys claim they win.”
Afterward, the men go to nearby bar where staff members are always expecting them and have turkey sandwiches prepared, a prelude to the Thanksgiving dinners they’ll eat later.
The original families included the Clays, Hansons, Hilpes and Petrowskis. Through marriages and over the years, they added the Ziemkowskis, Tennicotts, Staleys, Haggards and Konkols.
The Kline and Scott families moved out of state but still receive a phone call from their football buddies on Thanksgiving.
“You don’t bring people in. It’s a family thing. They’re real selective of who they bring into the football game.”
Her dad, husband, brothers and son now play with other groups of families doing the same and Ziemkowski said she knows the games will continue for at least another 90 years.
“Nobody questions it. You just show up and if somebody new shows up, that person is pretty special to be able to be a part of this.”
John Koza, a resident of Chicago’s Hegewisch neighborhood, said Thanksgiving is a special time for family to get together. He remembered, “when my parents got a little older, they would cook the main dish and then my brothers and I would bring the side dishes. When the parents died, everybody did their own stuff but it was good while it lasted.”
His family’s meal included turkey, prime rib and Polish sausage, a nod to their Polish roots. “My ma used to get salad dressing from Steve’s (Lounge and Banquet Hall in Hegewisch.)”
Koza said traditions are important because they reflect how older generations were and “how the family can stay together even though you change and get older.”
Donna Vega Raykovich, of Munster, said she spends Thanksgiving with four families. She - along with her husband, Timothy, and sons Timmy, 8, and Sammy, 4 - celebrate with her sister, her sister-in-law and her older nieces and nephews.
She wants her children to carry on the tradition that the holiday should always be filled with family and relatives. A special food their family shares is a stuffing that her husband’s mother made with a recipe from a close relative.
“It’s a special type of bread stuffing. That is something that is probably the most traditional of all the things we eat there at Thanksgiving,” she said. Her sister-in-law also brings another traditional family dish - chicken soup with little, homemade noodles.
“My husband’s mother always did that and we have that early on in the day or the night before.”
Food is an important part of Thanksgiving traditions for many families. Fox-Laskowiecki said she hopes one day her children will say, “we have to have green bean casserole because mom's grandma always did.” She said it’s like the can of cranberries she buys every year for the Thanksgiving table because her mom loved the cranberries.
“Even though we don't eat them, someone usually takes a spoonful, and, you know what, that makes me happy. And you know maybe my mom was right, and one day I will enjoy cranberries like she did.”
Pumpkins, apples, squash - Fall is a time of the year many chefs look forward to because of the bountiful harvests that produce appetizing dishes.
Whether it's a sweet tooth or a savory dish that satisfies your taste buds, here are some fall dishes families can enjoy making in the kitchen together.
A fall staple for many families is the caramel apple. It's also the perfect recipe to use your creativity, said Cheryl Molenda, president of the American Culinary Federation Chefs of Northwest Indiana.
"Caramel apples can be made with any number of toppings - chocolate, nuts, coconut, candies," she said. "I've had them with cinnamon Red Hots that were melted down and the apples dipped in them."
50 pieces of chewy caramels, unwrapped
4 popsicle sticks
4 medium-sized apples
2 tablespoons evaporated milk
After washing and drying the apples, insert a popsicle stick into each core.
Place the caramels and evaporated milk in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave on high, stirring frequently, for about 3 minutes.
Immediately dip the apples in the melted caramel mixture, using a spoon to cover the apples in caramel.
Place the apples on waxed paper and dribble any chosen toppings evenly over the apples. Let stand to harden, or refrigerate for 15 minutes.
Northwest Indiana has several places to pick apples, and apple crisp is an easy recipe for kids to make with the apples they pick.
10 cups peeled and sliced apples, about 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 cup water
1 cup quick cooking oats
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon baking power
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup butter, melted
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Place the sliced apples evenly in a 9-by-13-inch pan.
Mix the white sugar, 1 tablespoon flour and ground cinnamon together, and then sprinkle the mixture evenly on top of the apples. Pour the 1/2 cup of water over top the apples and mixture.
In a separate bowl, combine the oats, 1 cup flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda and melted butter together. It will form a crumbly mixture, which you will place evenly over the apples.
Bake at 350 for about 45 minutes.
Roasted pumpkin seeds
As family members are carving out their pumpkins this year, be sure to save the seeds inside. Roasted pumpkin seeds are a delicious snack on their own, but also can be sprinkled on top of salads and pasta dishes, said Alison Needham, author of "A Girl Defloured," a website that features gluten-free recipes.
Seeds from one pumpkin
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or to taste)
Scrape the seeds out of one medium sized pumpkin, separate from the guts and rinse the seeds well in a colander. Pour the seeds onto a clean dishtowel and rub dry.
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees, and place the seeds on a large, rimmed baking sheet and toss with olive oil. Sprinkle evenly with the salt, paprika and cayenne pepper.
Roast the seeds for about 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes, or until lightly golden brown and crunchy.
Store in an air-tight container.
Gluten-free pumpkin pancakes
There are countless pumpkin recipes available in the fall, but this one is not only spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg, it's gluten free for those restricted on a certain diet.
Want to impress your kids even further? Needham suggests shaping them into pumpkins or leaves by using a piping bag, bottle or zip-top bag with one corner snipped off.
2 cups all purpose gluten-free flour blend*
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1-1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon xanthan gum
2 cups milk
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
2 extra large eggs
2 tablespoons melted butter
chocolate chips (optional)
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Heat a griddle over medium low heat.
Whisk together the dry ingredients in a large bowl. In another bowl, whisk together the milk, pumpkin puree, eggs and melted butter. Add to the dry ingredients and whisk to combine.
Pour about 1 tablespoon of oil on the griddle and spread with a paper towel. Pour batter, a 1/4 cup at a time, onto the griddle to make dollar-sized pancakes. Top each with a few chocolate chips, if desired.
When the pancakes bubble and the edges look dry after about 3 to 4 minutes, flip and continue cooking on the other side for 2 to 3 minutes longer, or until cooked all the way through.
Remove to a serving tray, cover with foil and set in the oven to keep warm while you make another batch. Serve hot with warm maple syrup or whipped cream and chocolate chips.
*To make all purpose gluten-free flour blend: Combine these ingredients (store leftovers in pantry): 3 cups brown rice flour, 2-1/4 cups sorghum flour (also called sweet white sorghum flour), 2 cups tapioca flour (also called tapioca starch), 3/4 cups sweet rice flour (also called glutenous rice flour), 3/4 cup potato starch (not potato flour), 1/4 cup cornstarch, and 3 teaspoons xanthan gum.
I will never forget the first time my oldest had a school Halloween party. It was held on the day of Halloween and I signed up to help at the party. I showed up with a bowl of grapes and placed a sign next to it that said “Zombie Eyeballs.” It looked awfully lonely on the table next to the caramel apples, bowls of candy, rice krispie treats and cookies. The next table over was overflowing with treat bags filled to the brim with candy brought from some of the kids in class. My daughter hadn’t even gone trick-or-treating and we had enough candy and desserts to feed an army of children!
I’m not a Halloween scrooge. I like fun-size snickers as much as the next person (perhaps even more), but it does seem like the sugar has gotten out of hand at school parties and Halloween get-togethers. I know I’m not the only one who greets this holiday with a slight dread of future dentist bills and sugar crashes. With that in mind, I’ve put together a list of healthy Halloween treats that are fun, fresh and satisfying.
Fun (and healthy) Halloween Treats
You don’t have to be a master chef to serve something that fits the Halloween theme and is still healthy. Here are some ideas ranging from “super simple” to “prep the night before.”
A bowl of grapes with a sign that says “zombie eyeballs.”
Jack O’Lantern Veggie tray:
A veggie tray using mostly baby carrots laid out in the shape of a jack-o’lantern.
Halloween Ham & Cheese:
Using small cookie cutters, cut out slices of cheese and deli meat in the shapes of ghosts, pumpkins and bats. You could also do this with sandwiches.
Fill clear, plastic gloves with popcorn. Opt for homemade popcorn over microwave for the healthiest option. Popcorn is a great fiber-filled treat when it’s not loaded up with artificial butter flavoring.
Cut a red-skinned apple into small wedges. Spread a small amount of peanut butter and sandwich two of the wedges together. On the skin side of the apples, stick raisins in the peanut butter for the crooked teeth. Now it looks like the lips and decayed teeth of a goblin! Note: If you make ahead of time, coat any exposed flesh of the apple with a little orange or pineapple juice to keep apple from turning brown.
Peel and cut bananas in half. Add chocolate chips for eyes and a mouth. Serve as-is or frozen. You could also insert a craft stick in the base to make them easy to handle.
Pumpkin Pie Dip:
A creamy dip that’s great as an appetizer or dessert. Since it’s low-fat and loaded with vitamin A, it can be a favorite all year long. As seen in "Appetite for Life" the new cookbook from Stacey Antine, MS, RD, who boasts 40,000 success stories and more than 100 easy, kid-approved recipes.
- 6 ounces reduced-fat cream cheese, room temperature
- 1/3 cup plain nonfat Greek yogurt
- 1 can (15 ounces) pure pumpkin (not pumpkin pie mix)
- 2 tbs agave nectar
- 2 tbs packed brown sugar
- 2 ½ tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp ground allspice
- 1/4 tsp ground loves
- ¼ tsp ground nutmeg
- 1/8 tsp sea salt
In a food processor, combine cream cheese and yogurt; blend until smooth. Add pumpkin and remaining ingredients except fruit and pretzels; blend until well mixed.
Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or up to four days. Serve with sliced fruit and/or pretzels.
Makes 32 servings (2 tablespoons per serving)
Nutrition facts per serving: 25 calories; 1.5 g fat (1g sat fat, 0.5g mono, 0g trans fat); 5mg cholesterol; 3g carbohydrate (1g fiber, 2g sugar); 1g protein; 25mg sodium; 45% Daily Value (DV) vitamin A; 2% DV vitamin C; 2% DV calcium; 2% DV iron.
P.S. At that long ago Halloween party, guess whose container was the only one completely emptied? Mine. Those kids gobbled down the grapes. They really do like healthy snack alternatives.