snacks

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If you’ve been following Bloom for a while you’ll know that I like to make a lot of my children’s snacks. I do this to maximise the nutrients in their snack choices whilst minimising less desirable nutrients such as salt, sugar, fat and refined carbohydrates. 

For young children who need to eat regularly, snacks form a large part of their daily diet and should really represent our major food groups as much as possible, not something just grabbed in haste to fill a hole.  

Now no one likes to be a slave to their kitchen, so when I bake for the lunchboxes I do large batch cooking and freeze. I look for recipes that include ingredients from our key food groups like fruit, vegetables, wholegrain cereals and seeds (or nuts if your school permits them). I’ll often try and reduce the sugar too. If you need some inspiration you might like to try our green seed slice or coco cranberry bliss balls. 

Even with great planning and preparation there are still weeks where I might find I have nothing on hand, or I just don’t want to or have time to cook. In these situations I turn to a selection of pre-packged snacks from the supermarket that still offer plenty of nutrition. I also like to alternate my home cooked choices with purchased snacks to mix things up a bit and ensure the kids don’t get bored of the same old thing.

To help you make smart choices in the supermarket we’ve come up with this list of Bloom approved snacks.

1. Roasted nori sheets – These are a great source of iodine. 1 small 8g packet provides 30% of a young child’s daily iodine requirement. It should be noted that these are very high in salt but as the serving size is so small (8g) the total quantity of salt consumed is small. 

2. Fruit/Raisin bread  I’ve always got a loaf in my freezer. Sure it has some added sugar, but most of the sugar comes from the added dried fruit. It’s low GI, filling and has around 120 calories per buttered slice (1 slice is plenty for a recess snack). Tip top have alsohave a wholemeal Raisin toast and that’s got my tick of approval

3. Cheese and Crackers -I’m not really a fan of the pre-packaged cheese and biscuit packs as they cost a fortune. Even when you’re low on time you can still still grab a handful of crackers and cut a slice of cheese (or a cheese stick if you really need to). Not all crackers are created equal though. You definitely want to focus on buying a wholegrain variety (look for those with at least 4g of fibre per 100g) and with a sodium content less than 400mg/100g (harder to find). 

My top picks would be Ryvita wholegrain crisp breads (I’d suggest breaking two in halves as they are larger), Vita-Wheat crisp bread range and crackers (note these all exceed 400mg of sodium/100g,but most are under 500g/100g) and the Mary’s Gone Crackers range (although please note these are a more expensive option). 

Team with your child’s preferred cheese and you have a filling snack option high in fibre, B vitamins, Omega 3 fatty acids (from the seeds), calcium, phosphorus and magnesium.

3. Roasted or puffed Chickpeas and Fava Beans

The crunchy texture of these products will appeal to many kids. 

They come in plain (lightly salted), as well a variety of other flavours.  I love that they come in individually wrapped portions so you can simply grab and chuck into the lunchbox. They also hit the mark for fibre content, sodium and overall calories, not to mention they also count towards your child’s daily intake of vegetables!

4. Popcorn

Another option that’s sure to be a hit with most kids that is filling and high in fibre. I’d recommend you check what type of oil your popcorn is cooked in (or better yet go for air popped, although many kids may find this too bland) and avoid any cooked in palm oil (a saturated fat we want to avoid). 

Also look for those with a lower sodium content, ideally less than 400mg per 100g. I’d also stay away from any of the sweetened varieties, children don’t need the extra sugar in these products. 

My pick would be CobsR natural sea salt variety. I buy it in the large packs and portion it out to save money, but if you’re really low on time you may prefer the individually packed option.

5. Coles “buddy” dried fruit and seed packets – with a few varieties on offer there should be something here that most kids will like. Some varieties contain “fun” foods like mini marshmallows and chocolate buds. This personally doesn’t bother me and I find the inclusions of some fun foods in a trail mix makes it more likely my kids will eat the whole thing. 

6. Weetbix mini breakfast biscuits – These multi-pack biscuits have just over 1 teaspoon of sugar per packet but best of all they have 2.8 g fibre, more than most other snack biscuits on the market. They are also fortified with iron and a range of B vitamins. Bel vita also make a similar biscuit however with 3 teaspoons of sugar per biscuit they are my second choice, although I it should be noted that they contain more fibre at 4g per packet.

7. Milk boxes/Smoothies – Devondale mini milk boxes are a perfect option to deliver a hit of calcium (and protein) to your child’s lunchbox. As they are long life milks you don’t have to worry if they get warm during the day. My kids are happy to have plain milk but I do also give them flavoured ones to mix things up a bit. The Devondale Moo flavoured milks have around 1 tsp of sugar per 100g which is not overly bad given that this product also contains lots of other worthwhile nutrients. Sippah straws are another quick option to pop in the lunchbox with a thermos of plain milk and contain less than 1/2 teaspoon per straw. Nudie also released a range of long life brekkie smoothies last year in flavours such as banana and mixed berry. They are sweetened with maple syrup and have around 1.5 teaspoons of sugar per 100ml. 

8. Fruit straps – There are a few different options on the market now, for example The “Fruit Wise” and “Bear Yo Yo’s. Both brands are made from 100% dehydrated fruit with no added sugars or fillers. Per serve these products contain about 1/2 the calories of a fresh piece of fruit. Most people don’t find them as filling as eating fresh fruit (because the water content has been removed from them) and of course being quite sticky they aren’t a great option for your child’s teeth. I wouldn’t make this your every day fruit option but they’re a reasonable back up. 

9. Date and seed based bites/bars and protein balls – eg Kez’s kitchen lamington bars. These are made from dates and seeds and have nothing but real ingredients added. If you are buying these sorts of products check the ingredient list and try and avoid those with added sweeteners such as honey or  rice syrup. Most of these products are quite pricey and I feel you could make a similar version yourself for much less but for those busy times they are a handy option.     

10 Messy Monkeys – Out of all the flavoured savoury snacks/biscuits on the market for children these would probably be my pick. They are high in fibre (2g per serve) and don’t contain artificial flavours or flavour enhancers, the salt and fat content is however quite high (as are many other similar products in this category). My biggest concern with savoury salty snacks for children is that it tends to program their taste buds to want more salty highly flavoured foods and these flavours aren’t found in natural whole foods. That’s not to say that I’d never buy these snacks for my children but I certainly limit them to occasionally and where possible I try to buy plain varieties of biscuits. 

11. Mini dips and baby cucumbers – we love the Obela mini dips for the convenience of their grab and go size!  Keep and pack of baby cuqs (cucumbers) on hand and have you have a super healthy snack prepared in 30 seconds!


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Have you ever sent out birthday party invitations, with a polite little “Let us know if you have any food allergies” at the bottom, only to be faced with a wave of responses you weren’t expecting? 

Well – keep calm, and carry on. With a little know how, feeding kids with food allergies is totally manageable – and actually kind of fun! Here’s our go to guide to keep you on the right track…

Start by making a list of the kids with allergies, and those ingredients that you need to avoid. Then decide what party food you will make and buy, and match them up. At the end of your food planning, make sure there are at least one or two safe options available for each child on the list.

You can generally cater the needs of the kiddy crowd, including those with common allergies, with a few simple staples. Fruit kebabs or platters, fruit juice icy poles, fairy bread (with milk free bread and milk free margarine), plain potato chips or crips, and popcorn made with only oil, salt and or plain icing sugar are a good start. 

The main event however, the birthday cake, can be the tricky one to cater. And in this regard, cupcakes can be a lifesaver. You can substitute out different ingredients easily, and make a few different batches for different kids if need be.

If you’ve got a favourite cupcake recipe you want to use, try these modification tips:

Gluten free or wheat allergy? 

Use a premix gluten/wheat free flour (like Bob’s Red Mill, Vitarium, Schar, FG Roberts or Woolworths brand), and ensure you use pure icing sugar or a gluten free icing mixture for your topping, as many icing mixtures contain a small amount of wheat flour.

Egg allergy? 

Use Orgran egg replacer and water in place of eggs. Some people use chia or flax eggs ( with ground chia seeds and water ) but the texture of this is often better suited to a muffin recipe with chunky ingredients rather than a smooth cupcake.

Dairy free? 

Use soy milk or rice milk, and a dairy/soy free margarine, like Nuttelex. TIP:  buy a new tub of margarine for the party to avoid any contamination with things like peanut butter or toast crumbs from the family.

And… remember to read all the food labels of your usual ingredients to check for the allergens your guests need to avoid!

In Australia, the 10 most common food allergies are to milk, egg, wheat, soy, peanut, sesame, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, and lupin. The recipe below can me modified to cater for them all if need be.

Bloom allergy friendly birthday cupcakes

-makes 12 large cupcakes

Cake ingredients:

2 cups self raising flour (regular or gluten/wheat free mix)

¾ cup castor sugar

¾ cup milk (or soy or rice milk)

125g melted Nuttelex margarine 

2 eggs (or 2 tsp Orgran egg replacer + 2Tbs water)

2 tsp vanilla essence

Icing:

4 cups pure icing sugar

1 cup Nuttelex

2-3 Tbs milk (or soy or rice milk)

1 tsp vanilla essence

Optional:

Food coloring, or try a more natural colour and flavour like raspberry or strawberry powder or cocoa powder.

Sprinkles, cachous, fresh or dried berries or other favourite decorations (remember to check the ingredients!)

Method:

Preheat oven to 200 degrees C

Line 12 hole muffin pan with paper cupcake cases or reusable silicone ones.

Sift SR flour and castor sugar into a large bowl, and make a well in the centre.

Add eggs/egg replacer, vanilla, your milk choice and melted Nuttelex into the centre and gently stir to combine.

Spoon into cupcake cases, up to about ¾ full, to ensure they don’t rise too high when cooking.

Bake for about 12-15 mins, or until just cooked through.

Cool thoroughly on a wire rack before icing.

Icing:

Beat margarine and vanilla together. Sift in icing sugar, adding in a little of the milk as you go, and your colour/flavour if using. Beat until evenly combined.  Spoon into piping bag and pipe on top cupcakes. Decorate as desired!

Cupcake decorations – Keep in mind any decorations you use may contain things like milk or wheat, so check labels carefully. Major supermarkets tend to carry items like sprinkles and cake confetti that are often suitable, or consider a non edible decoration like a paper topper that matches your party theme.

Remember when cooking for a crowd to be aware of cross contamination in the kitchen. When preparing foods, clean work areas, and use separate chopping boards, utensils and serving plates. Always remember to wash hands between preparing items too.

 ***

The other way to deal with food allergies, which is also totally acceptable, is to admit if you feel unsure or overwhelmed. 

Invite the parents of kids with food allergies to stay at the party to make sure their little one is safely included.  Many parents of children with severe allergies will do this automatically- stay on and keep watch, ask you what ingredients are in a product, or bring along some food of their own, and their medicine bag just in case. 

They wont be offended, they’ll appreciate you take their little one’s allergies as seriously as they do. And you will all have a great time, safely enjoying the celebration together!

Angela @ Bloom


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I’m starving” is a fairly familiar line uttered by children at the end of each school day. Consuming lunch up to three hours before pick-up, they no doubt are hungry. But how often do you provide an after-school snack only to find the munchkins won’t not eat dinner then ask for another snack again before bed? Frustrating isn’t it?

Most children aged under five need to eat every two to three hours. For older children, every three to four hours is sufficient. All children are born with the ability to regulate their appetite. They eat when they’re hungry and stop when full. 

Spacing meals and snacks helps children respond to their appetite. If children are allowed to graze all day, they are never really hungry – or full. Over time, this can erode a child’s natural ability to tune into their appetite, leading to issues in maintaining a healthy weight.  

If you’re offering a snack after school, consider when you are planning to serve dinner. If your children are returning home at 4pm and dinner is planned for 5pm, there’s little chance they are going to be hungry enough to participate. Two hours later at bed time, they’re certainly going to be asking for a snack again. 

Planning the timing of meals and snacks ensures children sit at the table hungry and ready to eat. No one routine will suit every family. For some, serving an early dinner at 4.30pm will be the most successful way to ensure children are not over tired and able to successfully participate in the meal. For others, providing a healthy filling snack after school then serving a later dinner will work well. 

Learning to eat a healthy, balanced diet comes from role modelling. Try to plan a dinner time routine when at least one parent can eat with the children, most of the time.

As we all know, children have a tendency to be fussy. In my experience, snacks can play a large role in contributing to finicky eaters. Because snacks are often considered as something to eat quickly on the go, I find many children are eating nutritionally empty snacks, such as crackers, chips and packets of sweet biscuits. Poor planning is often the culprit. Because children have small appetites and are prone to fussiness, you really need to think of every occasion they eat as an opportunity to offer good nutrition. 

If providing an after-school snack works for your family routine, my top tip is to have planned snacks ready. Once the youngsters are helping themselves, you’ll find they invariably choose foods you don’t want them to eat and portion sizes can get out of control. An after-school snack should not fill them up completely but take the edge off their hunger so they maintain a healthy appetite at dinner. 

My top suggestions for after-school snacks that focus on the core food groups and deliver plenty of nutrition include:

Smoothies – Ideally, try to incorporate a vegetable (eg, a green smoothie – my family’s favourite includes frozen mango, baby spinach, 1 green apple, water and ice) but fruit-based smoothies are good (frozen strawberries, strawberry yoghurt, water and ice is always a hit).

Kale chips – I’ve never seen my kids devour more greens then when I make a batch of these. Simply tear the kale leaves from the stingy vein that runs through it, toss with a small amount of extra virgin olive oil and a little salt and spread evenly over a baking sheet. Don’t over crowd the tray or the kale won’t crisp. Cook at 120 degrees Celsius for 20 to 25 minutes. 

Grazing plate – Focus on your core food groups. I routinely offer wholegrain crackers, nuts, carrot, celery or cucumber sticks, nori sheets, cut up fruit and maybe a dip.  Many children don’t get offered nuts since schools are generally nut free. Nuts are high in essential fatty acids so remembering to offer them outside school is a must.

Still complaining they’re hungry? Remind them dinner is on it’s way and if the complaints continue, offer cut up vegetables, such as carrot, celery etc.

If you’ve stuck to your routine and your children are still demanding a snack before bed, ask yourself whether they truly ate well at dinner? If yes, offer a healthy snack. Nine times out of ten, I find that older children are asking for a snack because they haven’t eaten well at dinner. If you suspect this is going on, it’s ok to hold onto your child’s dinner until bed time. When they tell you they’re hungry, offer to heat it up again.

If you need more advice on fussy eating head here.

Julia x


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As we head into another term (How is it Term 3 already???), my mind always turns toward the dreaded lunch boxes, and I start to think about what new items I could add to keep things interesting. Don’t get me wrong, I quite like coming up with creative new ways to fill up my children‘s lunch boxes and meet their nutritional needs, but the monotony of making them day after day takes it’s toll.

I imagine most Mums (and Dads) probably feel this way, so in the interest of making everyone’s lives a little easier, I thought I’d share my latest finds and ideas to help keep your child’s lunchbox interesting! I’ve also created a cracker of a new recipe for you, my choc orange lunchbox truffles! And let me tell you, not only will your children love these, but they are a great accompaniment to your mid morning coffee!

Do your kids like sushi? Then why not try adding some Nori sheets to their lunchbox? They are a great source of iodine, vitamin A, vitamin C and magnesium. Here’s a tip: your local sushi shop might sell offcuts. I buy a huge packet from my local shop for just $1! Of course you can buy the large sheets from your local supermarket too.

 

With most Australian schools now “Nut Free” zones, our children miss out on this great source of essential fatty acids. Seeds offer the same nutrition and fats as nuts, so looking for ways to include them in your child’s lunchbox is a must in my mind. They’re also a great source of protein,  fibre, magnesium and phosphorus. If you’re short on time try the Coles range of “buddies”. They have several different varieties, each featuring dried fruit and seeds. Of course you can make your own too. I like to start with a base of puffed corn then add shredded coconut, cranberries, yoghurt covered sultanas, pepitas and banana chips. 

 

Wholegrain crackers or vegetable sticks with dip make a great lunch or snack. Coles mini avocado or hommus dips are a great option for those mornings where you just need  to grab and go. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These school holidays I’ve spent some time in the kitchen creating some new lunchbox recipes I hope you’re children are going to enjoy as much as mine. Below is my recipe for Choc Orange Lunchbox truffles. Enjoy! 

 

Choc Orange Lunch Box Truffles

13 Meedjool dates (pitted)

1 cup rolled oats

3 teaspoons coco powder

1 cup dried cranberries

2 Tablespoons of chia seeds

zest of 1 orange

3 Tablespoons of fresh orange juice

Add all ingredients to your food processor and blitz unit it comes together. Shape into small balls, then roll in coco powder. If coco powder is too bitter for your children you may prefer to roll in desiccated coconut instead. Store in an air tight container in the fridge. 

This post is not sponsored.


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Sugar. There’s been an explosion of interest over the past few years, but how many people actually know why we should be limiting it, and how much exactly should we be limiting our children to?

When I ask most parents why they believe we should avoid sugar I usually get answers such as “It’s bad for you” or “It causes Type 2 diabetes”, neither of which are really correct. With so much hype and hysteria over sugar, the real evidence and concern with it’s intake has been lost, such that people now think it’s mere consumption is going to do them harm.

Back in 2015 the World Health Organisation (WHO) released their Guideline: Sugars Intake for Adults and Children. You can read the full document here: http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/149782/1/9789241549028_eng.pdf?ua=1

This guideline specifically looks at what we call “free sugars” in our diet. That’s sugars (monosaccharides and disaccharides – e.g. glucose syrup, white sugar, brown sugar, rice malt syrup etc..) added to foods and beverages by the manufacturer, cook or consumer, and sugars naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates” (WHO, 2015).

This guideline reviewed all the current evidence (at the time of publication) as to why we should be avoiding sugar and went on to make recommendations as to how much sugar adults and children should be limiting ourselves to. You may be surprised to learn that the evidence for avoiding (or rather limiting) sugar relates primarily to obesity and dental caries. Sugar is often cited as a cause or risk factor for developing a wide range of diseases ranging from Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer. However the fact of the matter is that that evidence simply doesn’t exist (yet). What we do know is that overweight and obesity are independent risk factors for chronic or non communicable diseases such as Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some types of cancer. Going back to the WHO guideline, they found a MODERATE level of evidence that lower intakes of free sugars was associated with lower body weights in both adults and children. Please note that this does not mean that sugar causes you to become overweight or obese either. It simply means that people who consumed a diet higher in sugar, were more likely to have a higher body weight. The development of overweight and obesity is a complex issue and trying to narrow it’s cause down to one single nutrient is misguided, but that’s a discussion for another day.

The WHO guideline specifically recommends trying to reduce the intake of free sugars to 10% or less of your total daily energy intake (this is for both adults and children). There is a further recommendation to reduce it to 5% of total daily energy intake, however, the evidence for this recommendation was stated as WEAK, so for the purposes of this article, we will stick with 10%. I’ve represented this below as the number of teaspoons of sugar an “average” sized child with a light activity level, would need to limit their intake to each day.

So I wondered how I was fairing with my own children in relation to this guideline? I have always been well aware of which foods contain added sugars and done my best to limit their intake. I’m no sugar nazzi though, and my personal opinion is that if sugar is packaged up in a food that also contains many nutrients that are beneficial, then I’m fairly happy to include that food in our diet. We certainly limit our intake of foods that are high in sugar but offer little other nutritional benefit (think lollies, cakes, biscuits etc..). That said, we still enjoy a slice of home made cake, ice cream and chocolate in moderation. But day to day with my children’s typical diet, how was I really doing? Was I anywhere near the guideline, or had I totally blown it without even realising? I have to admit I was a bit nervous to take a closer look. Maybe I wasn’t doing as well as I thought I was?

I present to you my 4 yr old’s intake on a typical kindy day. All of the free sugars he consumed are listed in bold.

Breakfast: Rolled oats and 1 tsp of honey with reduced fat milk and a glass of unsweetened orange juice


SUGAR: 4 teaspoons

Lunch box: coco cranberry bliss ball, apple + carrot muffin, wrap with roast chicken, carrots, cucumber, rockmelon, plain milk and an apple (to be shared at fruit time)


SUGAR: 2.5 teaspoons

After kindy snack: Strawberry smoothie (frozen strawberries, strawberry yoghurt, water), he also then asked for another coco cranberry bliss ball

SUGAR: less than 1.5 teaspoon

Dinner:

Spaghetti Bolognese, bread and olive oil spread and a fruit platter (he only ate the watermelon)

SUGAR: none

Total: just under 8 teaspoons

Well I have to say I was pretty relieved to see that I’d just made it under the 10% guideline, but I certainly hadn’t made it any lower! I’d also have to admit they we certainly do have “blow out” days from time to time where my child’s sugar intake would be much higher. For example earlier this week I treated the family to a homemade dessert of chocolate self saucing pudding which I served with 1 scoop of ice cream. A dessert like this would have around 3 teaspoons of sugar in it.
I have to say on the whole I feel pretty happy that I’ve got my child’s typical diet fairly much where I want it to be. Sure, I could improve a little by not offering orange juice at breakfast, but he enjoys this and the vitamin C also helps him absorb the iron from his oats (a serve of whole fruit would offer the same benefit).

Calculating your child’s sugar intake is tricky business. It was difficult for me and I’m a dietitian! That’s primarily because our food labels don’t currently require manufacturers to separately list added or free sugars independent of any naturally occurring sugars. So at home, rather than focus on how much sugar your child is currently consuming I’d focus on just minimising fee sugars where you can.

If you want to try and reduce your child’s sugar intake my top tips would be:

1. Watch your child’s intake of sweetened beverages, don’t offer soft drinks or cordials, keep juice to no more than 1/2 a cup per day (unsweetened at that), alternate offering sweetened milk drinks with plain milk or sweeten with fruit (smoothie style)

2. Reduce your intake of processed/packaged snacks – most store bought snacks have a surprising amount of sugar added. Better to make your own and experiment with reducing the sugar content of some of your go to recipes

3. Avoid sugary breakfast cereals and opt for wholegrain “plain” varieties, rolled oats, weetbix and shredded wheat biscuits are go to’s in our house.

3. Keep occasional food as just that, occasional

4. Read labels on the food you buy. Ingredients have to be listed from most to least, if sugar is high up on the list you probably want to avoid it.

On that note, maple syrup, honey, rice malt syrup, glucose syrup, coconut sugar and rapadura sugar are all sugar. Yes some contain more glucose and others more fructose (or other mono or disaccharides), but they ALL need to be counted as sugar. You may have noticed a surge in popularity of so called natural or less refined sweeteners in the community. I see many recipes labeled as either “sugar free” or “refined sugar free” only to see they contain a LOT of honey or maple syrup. Whilst it’s true that many of these “natural” sweeteners do contain other nutrients (for example 100ml of maple syrup contains 89mg of calcium and 1.6 mg of iron amongst other things) whereas white refined sugar offers nothing beyond its carbohydrate content. The point I’d make, though, is that if we are actively working on trying to reduce our intake of sugars, I wouldn’t be focussing on these products for adding extra nutrients into my diet. They are also very expensive. Whilst I do personally use of these “natural” sweeteners, I do so more out of taste more so than for any nutritional benefits they confer. That said, it you can afford it, there’s no harm using honey or maple syrup as your sweetener of choice at home.

How do you think you’re fairing with your child’s sugar intake?

Julia @Bloom x