Thursday, June 21, 2012

English Muffin Pizzas

Whether you need a quick lunch or a substantial snack, English muffin pizzas are always a hit. You can let the kids help make them, or you can assemble them yourself ahead of time. They're easy and yummy, and you can make them very healthy, too, by choosing healthy toppings like vegetables and low-fat meats.

English muffins
Pizza sauce (or plain tomato sauce)
Mozzarella cheese
Toppings (sausage, pepperoni, green peppers, tomatoes, olives, artichoke hearts, chicken, etc.)

Preheat your oven on the broiler setting. Slice the muffins in half and lay them out on a cookie sheet. Spread sauce on each muffin and sprinkle cheese and toppings on top. Place the cookie sheet in the oven under the broiler, and watch carefully as the cheese melts and begins to brown. If you walk away for long the cheese and toppings might burn. Remove them from the oven and let them cool for a couple of minutes before serving.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Water Activities to Beat the Heat

It's hot outside! It's a great day to slather on some sunscreen and get wet. Here are some fun outdoor water activities to banish boredom and cool everyone off.

  • Water Relays. Divide the kids (and adults who want to get wet) into two teams. Each team needs two buckets: an empty one across the yard and a full one at the starting line. Use a marker or piece of tape to draw a line several inches from the bottom of the bucket. Each team must transfer enough water from their full bucket to the empty bucket to reach the line. Give each team a plastic cup with three holes poked in the bottom. The holes will add some challenge, encourage them to run fast, and help them cool off by getting them wet.
  • Water Balloons. Kids will think of all kinds of games to play with water balloons, but here are a few activities to get them started. Have them catch the water balloons with something other than their hands, like an empty milk gallon jug or a plastic bucket with a handle. Try playing hot potato. Another fun game is to set a bucket in the middle of the yard and assign one child to be the Bucket Guard. Give the Bucket Guard a plastic baseball bat. Everyone else wants to earn points by tossing water balloons in to the bucket, but the Bucket Guard fends them off by hitting the water balloons with the plastic bat.
  • Squirt Bottles. Squirt bottles make for misty water fights. You can also use squirt bottles for a very silly game involving shaving cream. Pair the kids up and put shaving cream on one partner's face. The other partner has to wash the shaving cream off her partner's face with the squirt bottle--no hands allowed! It's a race to see whose face can clean up the fastest.
  • Water Bombs. Water bombs are those small sponge-like balls that you can get at dollar stores in the summer. They usually come in obnoxious neon colors. Fill a bucket with water and drop a bunch of water bombs in it so they'll be saturated. Divide up the kids into two teams and have them stand at opposite ends of the yard. Place the bucket in the middle. When you yell "Go," the kids run up to the bucket and throw the water bombs at the opposite team. If you're hit, you're out, and you have to sit on the sidelines. The last person remaining is the winner.
What other games do you know that keep kids happy and cool on hot days?

Friday, June 15, 2012

Reducing Sugar: Reversing the Too Sweet Kids' Diet

The University of Calgary recently conducted a study to investigate kids' diets. They found that more than half of the foods marketed to toddlers contained at least 20 percent of their calories from sugar. Many of these foods are considered staples: yogurt, cereal, and snacks. Turns out, the low-fat craze that began in the 1990s prompted food manufacturers to replace fats with sugar, so now we're seeing sugar show up in places it's never been before: salad dressing, hamburger buns, pretzels, chips.

Sweeteners, from agave nectar to high fructose corn syrup, all behave the same way in the body. The liver metabolizes fructose, and too much sugar puts added strain on the liver. Too much sugar stimulates the liver to trigger fat production, which can boost belly fat and cholesterol levels. This is heavy stuff. What's a parent to do when sweetened foods are all around your child?

Here are some simple things you can do to reduce your kids' consumption of sugar:

  • Limit fruit juice to one glass a day. Although fruit juice contains vitamin C, your body reacts to it in the same way it reacts to Kool-Aid; it's a too-quick dose of fructose for the liver to manage well.
  • Avoid other sweetened beverages. A can of soda at a barbecue every now and then won't cause much damage, but multiple servings of soda every day leads to obesity and dental problems.
  • Look for unsweetened foods. Buy natural applesauce instead of sweetened applesauce, canned fruit that doesn't contain added sugar, and plain yogurt. 
  • Keep your kids active.  Exercise slows down the liver's cycle and allows less fat to enter the bloodstream.
  • Don't ban sweets. Banning sugar altogether will only make your kids crave it. Instead, aim for moderation and healthy alternatives.