You Be The Judge – (with Organic Trail Mix Treat Recipe for Kids)


From Lisa Barnes

I am a mother and a children’s cookbook author. The latter does not always make me very popular at my son’s preschool functions, play dates at the park or birthday parties. There’s always a “look” when the children’s food comes out, then a barrage of excuses, explanations and apologies from other parents. Let me just say, I am not judging your child’s food or your cooking and eating habits. Really, I’m trying not to look. Although my son likes to point certain things out with questions like “Why is he eating that?” “Is that junk mom?” “Why don’t we have ____?”

At my son’s preschool open house, I overheard one mom ask another if she knew about my book. She said no and inquired about it. After that I got lots of comments and laughter about how I shouldn’t come to their houses because I wouldn’t approve of the food in the fridge.

And it’s not the majority of parents that laugh or make comments. I talk to plenty of moms and dads who are like minded in their desire to instill healthy eating habits for their children and choose organic foods. We often swap stories, recipes and advice. Some even come up to me to show off their child’s lunch bag or snack.

It’s not about approval. Of course I would like every child to be offered fresh, healthy organic foods. I think good food is every one’s right and parents have an obligation to teach their children about food (where it comes from, how it grows, how it’s made). But I would never offer unsolicited advice or recipes, nor do I have the time to inventory what’s in every child’s lunch at the park.

So if you see me during lunch or snack time, please smile and say hello – there’s no need to hide the lunch box. In case you ask for a healthy snack item, here’s an idea for a quick and easy treat.

Trail Mix Treat, from The Petit Appetit Cookbook

Trail mix is a great choice for on-the-go snacks, and packing in school lunch boxes. This is so easy – just choose your child’s favorites (cereal, dried fruits, seeds and nuts) and the entire mix will be eaten. If your child is allergic to nuts or attends a “nut free” school, feel free to substitute or double up on another favorite.

1 cup toasted O’s or favorite cereal

½ cup organic raisins

½ cup dried organic cranberries

½ cup chopped, organic raw almonds

Mix all ingredients in a bowl. Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

Yield 2 ½ cups.
(Always watch children when eating nuts and raisins, as they are potential choking hazards.)
Lisa Barnes is author of The Petit Appetit Cookbook and lives in Sausalito, California.
Photo Credit:
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Want S’More? (with Graham Cracker Recipe for Kids)


From Lisa Barnes

In an effort to overcome being considered the “healthy” mom (and not stigmatize my son), I made s’mores for my son’s preschool class. Kind of a large departure from my usual healthy treats, but let me explain. It wasn’t the Hershey milk chocolate, trans fat laden graham cracker, kind of s’mores. It was a semi sweet fair trade chocolate, homemade (heart shaped) graham cracker cookie treat. The childhood favorite with a gourmet, healthier twist. One of the teachers was surprised about not bringing milk chocolate, but I explained about the antioxidant benefits of dark chocolate. I didn’t go all out with homemade marshmallows (just ran out of time), but I did find a trans fat free version and bought mini ones. Mini because kids like getting more of something (4 minis seem like more than 1 large).

I was a bit intimidated coming in to the classroom. I feel like this is the teacher’s turf, and I too have lots of learning to do. I’m used to teaching parents and they are not as honest with their thoughts or critiques (at least not to my face). Of course I teach my own children and sometimes their friends in the kitchen, but this was a group of 16 children.

They put together a great campfire (made of construction and tissue paper) and the children sat around putting marshmallows on sticks (recycled from a tree that went down in the neighborhood) and “roasting” them. Very cute. Then I helped them assemble the s’mores on cooking sheets for me to bake in the teacher’s oven. I worried some kids wouldn’t like them as some said “I don’t like the chocolate melted”, “I don’t like marshmallows” and “I eat the chocolate separately” (my own purist son). The teacher told me “it’s not about the end product, but the activity and the journey with children”. I did learn something. I know how much fun my own son has cooking with me, so being part of a group would be no different – whether they’re playing in a home kitchen or around a make believe campfire. I appreciated the reminder and look forward to going back.

Maybe I’ll try something healthier next time – hummus anyone?

Here’s a recipe for homemade graham crackers minus the trans fats of many of the processed, store bought varieties. Roll them thinner for crisp grahams or thicker for a cookie version.

Greatest Graham Crackers from The Petit Appetit Cookbook

1 cup organic graham or whole wheat flour

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

¼ cup unsalted butter

½ cup honey

¼ cup organic milk, plus 1 tablespoon extra for brushing

Preheat oven to 400 F. Combine flours and baking powder in a medium bowl. Cut in butter until consistency of cornmeal. Mix in honey; dough will still be lumpy. Mix in milk until a stiff dough comes together.

Roll out dough on a liberally floured surface to ¼ inch thickness. Cut into squares or use cookie cutters to make desired shapes. Prick each cracker with a fork and brush with milk.

Bake crackers on ungreased baking sheets for 12 – 15 minutes or until golden brown. Remove pan from oven and let crackers cool about 2 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely.

Makes about 48 crackers.

Cut it out. Of course these can be cut to look like traditional store-bought graham crackers. However if you want something more fun (toddlers can help) use your cookie cutters to create desired shapes. Little hands love hearts, flowers and stars.
Lisa Barnes is author of The Petit Appetit Cookbook and lives in Sausalito, California.
Photo Credit: Lisa Barnes
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Dads and the Barbeque


From Lisa Barnes

How is it that every father loves to barbeque? Is there a special BBQ gene that men are born with? Or is it some right of passage given from father to son, generation after generation?

The first time I met my father-in-law it was 10 p.m. and he was outside grilling steaks in a parka in 35 degree cold. (There may have even been a skiff of snow on the ground). My husband was apparently given the BBQ password and doesn’t mind grilling when it’s raining (not a downpour, but a sprinkle). I’m not complaining (the food is yummy). I’m simply curious.

I didn’t see a ceremony, but now my almost 4 year old son loves to eat anything that comes off the barbeque. Most nights when I’m starting to prep dinner, my son asks “Is Daddy going to barbeque tonight?” My son’s favorite is steak and corn on the BBQ, but he also enjoys the act of barbequing. When they light the grill there’s a bonding while my husband scrapes and cleans. Then my husband pitches balls to my son while they’re waiting (they didn’t get the patience gene). Then they bring in the food and discuss how it went. They talk about flare-ups, smoke, the standing time and of course the grill marks. They’re very proud of themselves. I’m happy for less clean-up, tasty food and hungry boys.

It’s not just my family. I recently went to a gourmet tailgating cooking class at TWO Restaurant in San Francisco. The topic of gas vs. charcoal vs. briquette was very heated among the men and I heard about the “Green Egg” (apparently a BBQ, smoker and grill all in one), as well as many other grilling gadgets and accessories. Then the men’s eyes lit up once the beef and prawns were revealed.

So here’s to Dads! Whether they’re grilling grass fed beef, tofu or vegetables – thank you for cooking.

Surprise Burgers

1 pound lean grass fed ground beef or lamb
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
4 ounces goat cheese
1 teaspoon fresh chopped basil
1 teaspoon chopped chives

Optional Toppings:

4 whole wheat buns
4 organic spinach leaves
organic ketchup

Heat outdoor or indoor grill. Combine beef, salt, pepper and balsamic. Form beef mixture into 4 patties. Combine goat cheese, basil and chives in a small bowl, and mix until combined and creamy. Cut patties in half lengthwise, remove top half and stuff cheese mixture onto center of burger half. Place top of burger over stuffed half and pinch together so stuffing is encased.

Grill burgers over hot indoor or outdoor grill for about 5 minutes on each side, or until cooked through. Eat patties on own or in buns, with suggested (above) or favorite toppings.
Lisa Barnes is author of The Petit Appetit Cookbook and lives in Sausalito, California.
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Got (the right) milk?


From Lisa Barnes

We’ve all heard the slogan, “milk, it does a body good” – but what kind of milk? While some milk is fine for some, many others, especially children are allergic or intolerant from their first drink. An estimated 30 million Americans have some kind of lactose (the milk sugar in all dairy products) intolerance, and more than 100,000 babies are thought to suffer from milk allergies.There is a difference between lactose intolerance and milk allergies.

Children with lactose intolerance are deficient in lactase, an enzyme produced internally to break down lactose. This can result in stomache aches, gas and diarrhea. However children allergic to milk have reactions to some or all of the proteins: casein, whey, and lactalbumin. The adverse effects can cause gastric problems as well as skin issues such as rash, and eczema, and nasal distress such as runny nose and congestion. These reactions can come as soon as babies are breastfed (by mothers ingesting dairy products) or given milk based formulas. Babies are more likely to be born with a milk allergy vs. a lactose intolerance.

The good news is that most children outgrow a milk allergy by the age of 4, according to Paul Ehrlich, M.D., pediatrician, allergist and clinical assistant professor at New York University School of Medicine. Plus he says, “the more attentive you are to keeping milk out of your children’s diet, the sooner the allergy with go away.” Although this is not always easy as cow’s milk and other dairy products are in many processed and packaged foods under the ingredient names: whey, casein, lactalbumin, caramel color, and nougat, among others. Thus it is important to read labels to avoid reactions. Organizations such as the Food Allergy Network, as well as nutritionists can help you identify and steer clear of hidden dangers.

Today many people are asking which milk is the best choice for their families and children. Some households have more than one kind of milk (I know mine has organic fat free, organic 2 percent and organic vanilla soy)and milk alternative to satisfy different ages, dietary restrictions, and tastes. In addition to considering the various cow’s milk alternatives, many parents of children who can drink cow’s milk are buying organic brands to minimize the exposure of the hormone bovine somatotropin (bST) or recombinant bovine growth hormone (rbGH), which some pediatricians and nutritionists suspect as an agent of premature development in children. Another option some parents are choosing for their children and families is raw milk as some believe it is healthier than pasteurized and homogenized milks. However there is debate over the safety and quality of raw milk.

So what milk or milk alternative should you buy? Here are some options. And no matter which brand or alternative you try, choose those with fortified calcium, magnesium and vitamin B-12, which makes cow’s milk such a nutritional giant. Here are some cow’s milk alternatives:

  • Almond Milk
    Not high in protein (only two grams per 8 ounces, as compared with 8 grams in cow’s milk) this naturally sweet beverage does have some beneficial fats and calcium. Because of the smooth and creamy texture it also works well for cooking and baking. Almond milk is not an alternative for those with nut allergies.
  • Goat Milk
    Coat’s milk has only slightly less lactose than cow’s milk, making it an inappropriate alternative to those with intolerance. However it does have different proteins from cow’s milk, so may be a good choice for some with allergies. Goat’s milk is slightly sweet and salty with a fat level and consistency similar to whole cow’s milk.
  • Rice Milk
    This is the least allergenic milk alternative, as it is suitable for children with milk intolerance and allergies. However it is lower in protein and much thinner in consistency than cow’s milk. Young children not getting enough protein from food sources, should not substitute rice milk.
  • Oat Milk
    Oat milk is high in fiber however low in protein. Oat milk has a slightly sweet taste and light consistency. It is highly tolerated by most kids who have soy, rice and milk allergies. However it is not acceptable for children with celiac disease or other wheat and gluten intolerances and allergies.
  • Soy Milk
    This is high in protein and the most popular cow’s milk alternative. If you’re a vegetarian, or if your baby has trouble digesting cow’s milk protein, the doctor may suggest a soy-based formula. Although between 5 and 30 percent of children with a cow’s milk allergy are also allergic to soy – thus it is not an option for everyone. Recent research and questions have arisen over soy’s phytoestrgen levels and possible link to interferance with children’s hormonal and sexual development. Some pediatrician’s caution not to give more than 2 serving a day to children.
  • When in doubt about milk, formula, allergies or intolerances, talk to your pediatrician or consult a nutritionist to help guide you to the safest choices for your family’s needs.
    Lisa Barnes is author of The Petit Appetit Cookbook
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Why Organic for Kids?


From Lisa Barnes

According to the US EPA Department of Health and Human Services, the greatest exposure to pesticides and chemicals is in a child’s first 4 years. This is why many advocate for providing organic foods for children whenever possible. Sometimes organic is more costly than conventional foods, due to the higher cost of growing methods, land conversion and raising practices. Consider the cost of health and well being, as well as a decision to support the environment – preserving water resources and preventing agriculture-related problems. The extra cost most likely outweighs the worry and concern you have of the possibility of harming your child’s health and development.

However if you can’t always buy organic you can lower your family’s exposure to pesticides by up to 90% if you avoid the 12 most contaminated conventionally grown fruit and vegetables. What The Environmental Working Group calls the dirty dozen:

• apples
• bell peppers
• celery
• cherries
• grapes (imported)
• nectarines
• peaches
• pears
• potatoes
• red raspberries
• spinach
• strawberries

Reducing Health Risks
Buying organic reduces health risks that can be attributed to commercial pesticides and herbicides. No matter how well you wash certain fruits and vegetables there are still remaining traces of potentially harmful chemicals. Babies’ bodies are much more vulnerable to pesticides because their brains and immune systems are still in a state of development. Also pound for pound, babies eat two to four times more fruits and vegetables than adults, and thus are exposed to a higher percentage of possible contaminants.

Increasing Health Benefits
A study at the University of California at Davis (my Alma matter) shows that organically grown strawberries, corn and blackberries are richer in cancer fighting antioxidants, sometimes 60% more, than the same conventionally grown crops. Other studies have proven the same for organically grown peaches and pears too. Researchers theorize that organically grown plants may produce more antioxidants because they have to work harder to fight off pests and disease, otherwise killed by pesticides and chemicals.

Reducing Nitrites
Some fruits and vegetables you’ll want to introduce to your child have high levels of nitrites, due to the fertilized soils in which they grow. The nitrite levels also increase when these food items are stored in your refrigerator.

High nitrite produce includes: beets, turnips, spinach, mustard, carrots, green beans, butternut squash, strawberries and cantaloupe.

Nitrites are difficult on a baby’s system, because their stomach acidity is too low to properly break them down. Over exposure can cause anemia, or encourage oxygen to be displaced into bloodstreams, resulting in rapid breathing and lethargy. Buying these items (see below) grown organically, will lessen exposure. If you buy high nitrite foods grown conventionally and make your own baby food, wait to introduce these foods until your baby is over 8 months old or buy these food items in jarred options (manufacturers are able to test nitrite levels).
Lisa Barnes is author of The Petit Appetit Cookbook
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