Monthly Archives: April 2013

Healthy Snacking Made Easy

A few months ago, I started seeing these boxes showing up in the mail room at work. Then, within a matter of days, a couple of my friends posted pictures of them on Facebook. I was intrigued, so I decided to Google what the heck a “Nature Box” was.

Photo via

Picture healthy, all natural snacks delivered right to your home or office each month—everything from granola to raspberry bars to pretzel bites—and you have Nature Box. I decided to give it a try because I figured I could use some healthier snack options at work. As it turns out, my entire family wanted in on the goods! And I have no problem with my daughter snacking on any of it because I know it’s made of natural, healthy good stuff.

The boxes start at $19.95 a month, which is the size I signed up for. In my first box, I got Lemon Meringue Waffles, Italian Pretzel Bites, Raspberry Bars, Taj Mahal Snack Mix, and Banana Bread Granola. I was expecting almost sample sizes of each item, but I actually got full-sized packages (about the size you’d expect if you bought the same items at Trader Joe’s). There wasn’t anything we didn’t like in the box, and my husband especially loved the Taj Mahal Snack Mix. The Raspberry Bars (kind of like Fig Newtons) were my fav.

If you’re trying to eat low carb, this might not be your best option. But if you’re just looking for quick, easy, healthy snacks for you and/or your family, then I would give Nature Box a shot. It is actually not a bad deal considering what you get in each box. I know my family will be eagerly awaiting our May box!

Teacher Appreciation Gifts

I originally posted this last year, but since I know so many parents are starting to think about those end-of-year gifts, I thought it was a good time to re-post. Cheers!

It’s that time of year again when children’s eyes glaze over in class, teachers are fervently counting down to the last day of school, and parents are scrambling to throw together cute teacher gifts. Since my mom is a teacher, I know just how much those little tokens are truly appreciated. To help out those of you who are currently racking your brains for brilliant ideas, I’ve pulled together some of my favorite gifts that I’ve put into my “when Olivia is in school” file.

Apple Cupcakes
From make and takes
Slap on some red frosting, a green gumdrop leaf and a pretzel stem, and you’re good to go!

Summer Tote Bag
From The Lovely Cupboard
Help your child’s teacher really relax this summer with a tote bag full of fun magazines, a beach towel, sunglasses, flip flops. . . all the necessities for soaking up rays at the pool or beach!

Bucket of Hugs
From Little Pumpkin Grace
Pick up some cute containers in the Dollar Spot at Target, fill them with Hershey’s Hugs, and attach cute little tags. Done and Done!

Potted Plant
From Giggles Galore
A cute idea, with or without the additional gift card. If you don’t want to bother with the hand painted ruler, you can just spray paint the entire pot with chalkboard paint.

Strawberry Pickin’
From eighteen25
I LOVE this because it’s just so stinking adorable. Fill a strawberry crate with assorted strawberry goodies (soaps, candies, candles, fresh strawberries) and add the little sign. Perfect for summer!

Thirst for Knowledge
From Tatertots & Jello
You can find these plastic straw cups for pretty cheap at TJ Maxx and Marshalls. Have your child write a personal note to his or her teacher and put the note along with a gift card to Tropical Smoothie, Jamba Juice, etc. inside. You could even include some of those single serving lemonade packets.

Wise Owl
From Lisa Storms
This is definitely for the crafty mama. Fill this little owl bag with homemade cookies, candies, whatever you want. So sweet!

Apple Rice Krispie Treats
From Gourmet Mom On the Go
Use a package of Jell-O for coloring, Tootsie Roll Minis for stems, and a #68 icing tip (or other leaf tip) for the leaves. Package these four to a box and tie with green ribbon or yarn!

Family Fun: Rolling Sushi

If you’re looking for a fun activity that the whole family can get involved in, try a family sushi night. We are a sushi-loving family; so when my brother recently taught us how to roll it ourselves, I was thrilled to find that it was surprisingly easy.

Not into raw fish? No big deal! You can make veggie rolls (avocado, cucumber, and cream cheese are my daughter’s favorite!), use imitation crab meat, or roll your sushi with cooked fish like shrimp tempura.

What you’ll need:

Bamboo sushi mat
Plastic wrap
Sushi rice (cooked and cooled- we used this recipe, which was perfect)
Nori seaweed sheets
Large bowl of water
Sharp knife

Sushi fillings (sliced thin and vertically):
Sushi-grade tuna or salmon
Imitation crab meat
Cream cheese
Green onion
Hot chili mayonnaise (if you like spicy rolls)
Tempura flakes

Pickled ginger
Wasabi paste
Soy sauce

1. Wrap your bamboo mat with plastic wrap to make clean-up easier.

2. Lay a piece of the nori seaweed at the end of the mat and top with a small handful of the sushi rice. Press and spread the rice to cover the seaweed and then carefully flip it over. Tip: the sushi rice will be very sticky, so use the bowl of water to dip your fingers and keep the rice from sticking to your hands.

3. Place whatever fillings you want in your roll in the center of the seaweed. Using the bamboo mat and your fingers, roll the sushi, being careful to squeeze the completed roll tightly before unrolling the mat.

4. Dip the knife in the water and slice the roll in half. Continue to cut the roll into small pieces, dipping the knife in the water frequently to keep the rice from sticking to the blade.

My daughter loved helping me roll the sushi, though I took care of the cutting. But even more than making it, she loved eating the finished product. It was the best she has ever eaten sushi, and I really think it’s because she got to be involved in the process. It was a fun night for all of us, and we ate about $100 worth of sushi (in restaurant prices) for maybe $50—not bad at all!

Hugs to Boston

My heart aches for those in Boston who were affected by yesterday’s tragedy and especially for the families of those who are no longer with us. I am very grateful that all of my Boston friends and my friend who were running the marathon are all safe and sound. I only wish that everyone else was lucky enough to say the same.

Zucchini and Caramelized Onion Quiche

I really love quiche, but I had never made one until now. I’ll pretty much eat anything with caramelized onion in it, so this Cooking Light recipe seemed like a good place to start. I thought it turned out great and, after initially turning her nose up at it, Olivia eventually gave in and ate her whole piece. We had this dish for dinner, but it would also be a fantastic brunch option.

Zucchini and Caramelized Onion Quiche

1 refrigerated pie crust
2 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, sliced
2 tsp sugar
4 cups sliced zucchini
3 cloves of garlic, minced
¾ tsp kosher salt, divided
1 cup low-fat milk
1½ tbsp all-purpose flour
½ tsp pepper
3 large eggs
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese

1. Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add onions and cook until soft and translucent. Sprinkle in sugar, stir, and continue cooking until the onions are very tender, about 20 minutes. Allow to cool and then finely chop.

2. Preheat oven to 425°. Unroll pie crust and fit into a 10-inch pie plate. Bake the pie crust for 12 minutes or until edges are golden. Remove and allow to cool. Reduce oven temperature to 375°.

3. Heat large sauté pan over medium-high heat and add remaining olive oil the pan. Add zucchini and garlic, and sprinkle with ¼ tsp salt. Sauté 5 minutes or until zucchini is crisp-tender. Cool slightly.

4. Arrange caramelized onions over the bottom of the pie crust; top with zucchini mixture. Combine ½ tsp salt, milk, flour, pepper, eggs, and cheese in a mixing bowl, stirring well with a whisk. Pour the egg mixture over the zucchini and onions.

5. Bake the quiche at 375° for 35 minutes or until set. Allow to cool for 10 minutes before cutting. 

Toddler Spring Dresses for Under $25

I don’t know about where you live, but in DC it feels like we’ve jumped right over spring and landed in summer—it was 93° outside today! Luckily, we’ll be returning to true springtime temps by the weekend. With spring weather comes spring dresses for my little lady. She LOVES wearing dresses, but there’s no way I’m spending $50 on a dress she’s going to wear to daycare and get craft paint on. So I set out to find some seriously adorable (and affordable) toddler dresses. Here are five of my favs under $25!

Tea Protea Print Wrap-Neck Dress, $24.50

Target OshKosh dress, $15

Old Navy Pleated Sundress, $15

Gap Striped Terry Dress, $22.95

Carter’s Shift Dress, $13.20

5 Ways to Involve Kids in the Kitchen

There are several benefits to getting your kids in the kitchen and cooking. Aside from teaching them basic cooking skills, being included in the cooking process and seeing the ingredients makes children, especially picky eaters, more likely to want to try new foods. It also takes the mystery out of exactly what you put into those meatballs.

Even toddlers can help out with easy tasks, and it builds self-confidence for them to be able to contribute to a family activity. It goes without saying that all tasks should be simple and safe {nobody needs a two year old running around with a butcher knife}. Just prepare for a mess and allot some extra time for clean-up!

Use cooking as a teaching tool   Have your child measure out ingredients, count how many different vegetables there are in a dish, identify the color of each ingredient, practice spelling and reading using the recipe, and hone fine motor skills by doing some of the tasks listed below.

Give your little helper a job to do   Wash veggies, crack eggs, stir batter, mash potatoes, measure sugar, hand you ingredients, crumble crackers, tear lettuce, sprinkle seasonings, knead dough, snap beans—you get the picture.

Have a Make-Your-Own night   You can set all the ingredients out for everyone to make their own mini pizzas, taco salads, mac and cheese with mix-ins … it can be anything your child can easily build and put together.

Involve your child in the clean-up   It’s important for children to learn the whole process from cooking to cleaning to eating. Plus, it teaches them that cooking is just like playing with toys—you pick up when you’re done—which is a good habit to enforce early on.

Make it fun!   Get your little helper a child-sized apron, pick up a few colorful cooking utensils, make sure he has a safe way to reach the counter so he can work right next to mommy and daddy, play some fun music, and let go a little bit. It probably won’t be your most impressive culinary achievement, but the time you spend with your child will be totally worth it!

Twice Baked Sweet Potatoes

Whenever we had steak growing up, which was a special treat, we nearly always had twice baked potatoes to go with it. I absolutely love them, but I’m always looking for ways to make classic comfort foods a bit healthier. I decided to try making twice baked potatoes with sweet potatoes. Because the flavors are so different, however, the normal bacon, cheese, sour cream, butter mix-ins just didn’t seem to work. So here’s my take on healthier (and slightly more gourmet) twice baked potatoes.

Twice Baked Sweet Potatoes

5 medium sweet potatoes
¾ cup sliced mushrooms
2 cups fresh spinach
1 cup sliced onions
3 slices precooked bacon, crumbled (this is a healthier option than regular bacon—turkey bacon works too)
¼ cup plain Greek yogurt
2-3 oz crumbled reduced fat blue cheese
1 tsp sugar
1½ tbsp olive oil

1. Preheat oven to 400°. Place sweet potatoes on a baking sheet and bake for 45 minutes or until fork tender.

2. While the potatoes bake, heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add sliced onions and cook until translucent. Sprinkle in the sugar, stir, and continue to cook the onions until they are brown and tender. Once done, put the onions in a bowl and set aside.

3. In the same sauté pan, heat the rest of the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and spinach and cook until soft and wilted. Add the vegetables to the same bowl as the onions.

4. Remove the potatoes from the oven and allow to cool for a few minutes. Once cool enough to touch, slice each sweet potato in half and scoop out the insides, keeping the skins intact. Put the scooped out potato into a large mixing bowl.

5. Add the onions, mushrooms, spinach, yogurt, salt, and pepper to the scooped out potatoes and mix well. Fill each of the potato skins evenly with some of the mixture. Top each one with blue cheese.

6. Return the potatoes to the oven and bake for another 10 minutes or until the cheese is melted.

How Much is too Much Sodium for a Toddler?

In the March 2013 issue of Cooking Light, there was an article about watching your salt intake and ways to lower sodium. I’m always on the lookout for this type of thing since I know kids are really susceptible to having too much sodium in their diet. For example, I buy organic canned black beans because they have 15 mg of sodium per serving as compared to the 460 mg (!!!) per serving of regular canned black beans. Even the low sodium non-organic variety have around 125 mg of sodium per serving. Shocking that the “low sodium” beans have more than the regular organic beans, right? Precisely why it’s so important to look at the labels.

Anyway, I was planning on posting about this today anyway, but then Cooking Light published a newscast yesterday about sodium intake for toddlers and the timing was just too perfect.

It’s no surprise that processed and prepackaged foods, such as hot dogs, boxed mac and cheese, and cereals, are the big offenders when it comes to high sodium. But did you know that 75% of foods aimed at children were deemed too high in sodium by the study? I found that staggering (and sobering).

The study was conducted by the CDC and monitored 1100 different foods all targeted toward children ages 1-3 years. The study concluded that a food was too high in sodium if it contained 210 mg or more of sodium per serving. The recommended daily intake of sodium for a toddler is 1500 mg per day.

Aside from checking the labels on your canned beans, here are a few other ways to watch your family’s sodium intake:

  • If you buy frozen veggies, make sure they say no salt added.
  • Use kosher salt instead of regular table salt—it contains 25% less sodium.
  • Drain and rinse your canned beans, even the organic or low-sodium ones, to save even more in the sodium department.
  • Be wary of prepacked, prepared foods—convenient usually = LOTS of salt.
  • Try not to add salt to your food, especially for your kids, where possible. It’s totally fine to add as a seasoning, but just don’t overdo it.
  • Make your own or buy organic/low sodium marinara since it’s notoriously high in sodium.
  • CHECK THE LABELS! Even so-called “healthy” foods can surprise you—wheat bread, cottage cheese, and peanut butter are all known to be high in sodium.

Of course, cooking fresh, healthy meals is always a great way to watch what your family is eating and control the bad stuff!

Vegetarian Stuffed Peppers

We usually eat vegetarian a few nights a week, so I’m always on the lookout for recipes that are outside of the usual salad/pasta/quinoa rotation. I saw this recipe for vegetarian stuffed peppers and decided to try my own spin on it. 

Vegetarian Stuffed Peppers

2 green peppers
2 red peppers
2 yellow peppers
2 cups cooked brown rice
1 small onion, chopped
2 small tomatoes, diced
2 cups fresh spinach
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1 cup goat cheese crumbles
1 clove minced garlic
Olive oil

1. Preheat oven to 400°, and lightly spray a baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray.

2. Place the halved and seeded peppers cut side down on the baking sheet and bake for 25 minutes.

3. While the peppers roast, heat olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add garlic and cook for one minute.

4. Add onions and mushrooms and cook until tender, about 5-7 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes and spinach and cook for another 2-3 minutes.

5. In a large bowl, mix together the rice, vegetables, goat cheese, salt, and pepper.

6. After the peppers are done roasting, flip them over and fill each half with the rice and vegetable mixture.

7. Return the peppers to the oven and roast for another 5 minutes.