In the Kitchen: Donut Hole Acorns

I have a love hate relationship with the internet. On one hand we have this unfathomable connection to information which is great. As a researcher though, I strongly dislike the possibility of sharing an activity or recipe without giving credit where credit is due. Pretty much all of my activities and recipes are compilation from my own experience taking care of toddlers, research experience assessing & playing with children, something I have completely made up, or something I remember doing as a child.

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But this one, it’s just the cutest, I couldn’t pass up including it in the fall activity plan, but I have no idea where I found it. I literally saw a picture of these donut holes dipped in chocolate and I assume ground peanuts, and I just logged it away. If you google it now, there are like a gazillion trillion renditions of them. So, original donut hole acorn creator, I’m sorry that I don’t know who you are, but thank you for this adorable and fun fall food activity!

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My son started unboxing these while I stepped away for a second. It was a nice gesture, but I’m pretty sure he licked half of them as he set them out. Sorry to my husband, who is learning this now as he reads it. I forgot to tell him before he had his share.

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This recipe is super simple, I’m certain you have it figured out already without me even going through the process. So, I’ll just focus on the ways your child can get involved. First, have them pour in the peanuts (or whatever nut you choose) and push the button to get them ground up. Watch it a bit, I’m pretty sure we were about 1 second away from our own peanut butter! I handled melting the chocolate. I did about a half cup of chocolate chips (to dip 10 donut holes) and gradually melted them in 20 second increments at half power until it was nice and smooth. Assemble all of your ingredients, demonstrate one for your child and then let them give it a try.

By the time they are done you will have chocolate and peanut covered donut holes, and a chocolate and peanut covered child!

This is a great activity for kids. So many opportunities to be involved in the entire process, and to get that feeling of pride. They are getting fine motor, science, and cooking experiences all while having fun playing with you in the kitchen! You can’t beat that.

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Happy playing and enjoy your treat!

 

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In the Kitchen: Apple Pie Pockets

Well somehow I missed this post coming out a few weeks ago when apple pie pockets were planned, so I thought why not share it now on this free cooking and baking day! So, read this and then go make something yummy together!

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Preheat your oven to 400. Start by rolling out your pie crust- and when I say rolling out I mean unrolling, because ours was definitely from the store! I did stretch it out a little with the rolling pin to get a little more out of it. Now get your child involved (with your help) to cut out the pockets. We worked together with a pizza roller to trim the edges and make a square and then cut the dough into 4 large squares.

You could cut any shape you want though, circles, squares, rectangles, or using an apple cookie cutter to make an apple shaped pocket would be so cute! Just remember if you cut it out with a shape cutter you need a top and a bottom rather than folding the dough over.

Now, combine the apple chunks, sugar, and cinnamon together. Spoon about a tablespoon of the apple chunk mixture onto one half of the dough square and run a finger wet with water around the edge of the square. Fold over from corner to corner (your final product will be a triangle shaped pocket if you chose to cut out the square shapes) and crimp the edges of the dough to make sure it stays closed.

Bake for 15-20 minutes.

As you go through this baking process try to get your child involved in as much as you can. Have them scoop and dump the sugar and cinnamon into the apples, help them cut the dough, they can run their finger around the dough with water, fold it, and crimp the edges maybe with a little help from you! You can ask questions about what they think is going on, describe what you are doing when they really can’t help (ie. cutting apples and using the hot oven), help them taste the cinnamon and sugar on the apple chunks (it’s delicious!), turn the oven light on so they can watch the change, and continue the discussion when you finally get to eat your treat! Doing all of this, and making it their cooking activity will make it so fun and special for them, all the while they are learning so much!

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In the Kitchen: Applesauce

If you follow us on Facebook you already know that September is National Meals Month! (And if you don’t follow us on Facebook we’d love to see you there too! https://www.facebook.com/realmeaningfulfamily/)

Family mealtime is a topic that I am very passionate about, you could say it had a part in getting me to follow this path of parenting, family relationships, and child development. Regular family meals together is hugely beneficial for children’s outcomes, and it is such an easy routine to integrate into family life! 

I know life gets busy for everyone, so it has to first be a priority to have at least 3 family dinners together. And sometimes we need help with tips, tricks, and new ideas to keep dinner interesting for all of us! Here are some ideas for you:

  1. Visit http://www.fmi.org/family-meals-month/about for tips, recipes, and other resources to make regular family meals possible for your family. They also may have links to grocery stores and other companies in your area that have joined the Family Meals initiative. Will you accept the challenge of 1 more family meal a week for the month of September? Share your experiences with us on facebook with #FamilyMealsMonth.
  2. Get your kids involved in the kitchen with you! Getting to be a part of the choosing and preparation process oftentimes makes it more fun to eat dinner for our kids!
  3. The dinner table should not be a battle ground, it should be a warm place to land for our kids at the end of the day. Encourage your child to try each item on their plate, but let them have some control over the rest. It’s ok, even encouraged, to set boundaries, for instance my kids don’t get to eat nothing and then have a treat. We might say “Eat 3 bites of veggies and 2 bites of meat and then you can have…” I definitely don’t encourage forcing children to finish their entire plate! They need to feel and learn what it’s like to have enough food in their tummies and forcing them to finish all of their food may lead to overeating.

Talking about National Family Meals Month is perfect timing because today’s “In the Kitchen” activity is applesauce, which in my opinion is a perfect, fun and healthy, addition to tonights family dinner! Plus, it’s super easy, fast, and a great recipe to get your child involved!

Now, I got pretty fancy with our applesauce today… I used 2 kinds of apples, aaaaand i peeled them. I guess I was feeling super ambitious or something.

Once they were chopped up and ready to go I had both kids sprinkle on cinnamon, squeeze in honey, and pour the water.

Of course they both had very equal opportunities to add to the applesauce!

We let it simmer on the stove for about 20 minutes on medium heat, stirring occasionally. The time will depend some on how big you chopped your apple chunks.

We let the soft apple chunks cool for a bit, and then mashed them up with a potato masher. You could use a food processor, but I think mashing them by hand is a little more fun for kids.

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Yum! A healthy, fall inspired, side dish for tonights meal together!

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In the Kitchen: Apples and Peanut Butter

In this crazy Pinterest era that we live in, sometimes I post ideas like this and I expect that they might seem a little boring. But, that’s why this blog is called REAL. Meaningful. Family. Sometimes, when being real, we must recognize that not every activity must be picture perfect. Sometimes, we just need a healthy snack, and I thought to kick off the fall season we needed something with apples!

I attribute my love of this snack to the first time I remember having it. I was with my grandma and she cut up an apple and showed me how to dip it into peanut butter… I may very well have had it before, but grandma gets the credit to introducing me to it! Since then it is my go to snack to incorporate a healthy fruit but still make it a little fun.

Obviously your child can’t cut the apple, but they can enjoy getting the freedom of dipping it into their peanut butter, or other nut butter that is appropriate for your family. I haven’t met a child yet that doesn’t love to dip their food into something else!

Sit down and enjoy this snack with your child. Slow down and spend time talking over a simple snack. You never know ,they might remember this moment every time they eat apple slices with a scoop of peanut butter!

Happy Playing!

In the Kitchen: Sand Pudding

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After several sneaky licks from the bowl and a few stolen pinches of the ground up graham cracker we finally created our version of sand pudding today! This is a super fun recipe that I have seen popping up for a while now on other blogs. The recipes that I’ve seen look super delicious and presentation is absolutely adorable. A yummy summer treat in a bucket and a shovel to serve! Absolutely perfect for a summer potluck or having friends over. This week though I just need a recipe for something fun for my kids to make with me. I don’t want a lot leftover, and I want it to be slightly less sugary. So, to keep it simple for our purposes I’ve tweaked other recipes to do just that!

IMG_0187For the full list of ingredients and brief instructions go here.

First we combined about 9 regular graham crackers with 1 chocolate graham cracker in the food processor until it resembled sand and set that aside. If your child is feeling extra active you could have them pound some crackers in a zip top bag with a heavy spoon or ladle.

IMG_0194Then, we mixed the softened cream cheese and butter together until they were creamy, and in a different bowl we blended the pudding mix with the milk. Once that was nice and smooth we mixed together the cream cheese/butter mixture with the pudding. Finally, we folded in the whipped topping until it was well combined, but still nice and fluffy. If you can, try and give your child as many chances as you can for them to dump, stir, and mix!

Now it’s time to assemble! Instead of using a cute bucket for our treats, I went a bit simpler and used some clear little colorful bowls that I found for a dollar at our grocery store. We alternated a layer of pudding mixture followed by the “sand” and then repeated so that the sand was on top of the finished product.

The nice thing about this treat is it’s cute, it’s fun and easy to create and there are lot’s of dumping, stirring, and mixing jobs which are perfect ways to get children involved! Plus, it’s pretty tasty too!

Happy playing!

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I had strict instructions to leave the “sand” in the top bowl tall!

In the Kitchen: Zoo Animals in Grass

IMG_0060I have a little one with a birthday coming up, and for some reason it is this birthday that I always feel like a visit to the zoo is the right activity. I don’t know why, but I pick the hottest time of the year to go to the zoo! So, this is why the zoo animals on grass activity ends up here!
IMG_0055Soften your cream cheese and have your child help you mix in the green food color. Once your cream cheese is ready, pull out the graham crackers and let your child smear their green “grass” (cream cheese) onto their cracker. Then, they can stand up the animal crackers in the grass. They can dig in and eat it, or have a little pretend play time!

Let’s talk about what is going on in this activity:

Fine motor: From the smearing of the cheese to the perfect placement of the little animal crackers, your child is getting a great fine motor workout! There isn’t much for you to do to enhance this, it just happens! That’s the best form of learning.IMG_0056

Colors: This is a great chance to talk about what color you are using, what green things you see, is it someone’s favorite color? Think of ways to relate what you are doing to your child’s life. For us, it’s daddy’s favorite color. So I might say, “Look it’s turning green. It’s daddy’s favorite color, like his shirt! What else is green?” If your child is older they will probably say something like “Grass!” or “My tractor!” If your child is younger they might not answer right away, so you could offer prompts or simple answers yourself. Remember, it takes a toddler and preschooler longer to process something you have said or asked, so give them enough time to think about it, AND to think about a response.

Pretend play: You might need to demonstrate this, but what a fun way to play with their food a little bit! Have the animals move around on the cracker. Maybe they talk to each other or make animal sounds. Whatever your child chooses to have their animals do, they will have a blast playing zoo with their crackers!

Happy Playing!

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In the Kitchen: Red, White and Blue Cupcakes

I usually send out cooking and baking activities on Friday, but I couldn’t wait for this one. It’s just so tasty and so perfect for the 4th of July weekend!

You can’t beat a light, delicious dessert like this and it can be super hands on for your child!

Cooking is messy and you want it to taste good, so it’s easy to get tense while doing a cooking activity with your kids. If cooking and baking activities end up not so fun for you, here are a few tips for making this a little more relaxed.

  1. Let this be their treat. I find when I just let it be something fun for them to do, not something I’m going to take to a potluck or serve to guests, I don’t care as much about the process.
  2. Expect spills. Obvious right?! It’s going to be a little messier than when it’s just you. I don’t have fixes for this other than it will be clean eventually!
  3. Give clear instructions and expectations. If your kids are like mine there are going to be plenty of fingers stuck into the bowl to try and sneak a taste. It drives me nuts! Try to give clear explanations about what they are allowed to taste and what they are not.

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Start out by mixing up the cake. If there’s ever a chance to dump, stir, or pour let them try to do it. Angel food cake is nice because it requires a lot of mixing, and then the folding.

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Folding is a little more technical. I demonstrated how to do it to my kids and let them try, and then I gave them a hand and they didn’t mind me helping out.

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With cooking activities you could always let them try for a minute and then tell them that you are going to do it for a while too. It is for them to get to try and have fun, but it doesn’t have to be a free for all. Try to find a balance between making it their activity, but also helping to get it successfully done.

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When you have it sufficiently mixed, grab a big spoon. This is a good way to let them scoop it out into the muffin tin. We were going for monster cupcakes!

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Our cupcakes ended up baking for about 10 minutes less than the package instructions called for (don’t bake them as long as the box says because those instructions are for a cake).

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While they are cooling, you could take that opportunity to mix up some fresh whipped cream. We talk about that here.

When they are cooled and ready assemble with fresh or store bought whipped cream, sliced strawberries and blueberries! Delicious and patriotic. Enjoy!

Have a playful day!

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In the Kitchen: Fresh Whipped Cream

This is a fun way to make whipped cream. Of course you can just buy it in the can… delicious. Or have your mixer do all the work for you… still delicious. Or, you can have your kids do it by hand. Did you know you can shake up whipped cream? It turns into a great way to get kids active at the same time as making a delicious treat.

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Pour heavy whipping cream into a small container with a lid. It could be a glass baby food jar or a small plastic container. Something that is easy for your child to hold onto and shake. I added a little drop of vanilla into ours, put the lid on, and then let them shake. It takes a while, so it’s ok if your child starts but needs a little help to finish. It’s hard work for them! I ended up finishing my 3-year-old’s cream, but he had fun getting to try. In the end it’s fun to open it up and show them how it changed!

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Happy Playing!

In the Kitchen: Strawberry Popsicles

IMG_0313I can’t think of a more summery type of treat than a popsicle! I love making these because they are incredibly easy, my kids get super excited to have them, and they are really healthy! My kids are fruit monsters, they devour it no matter what form it’s in, but these are so much more fun than plain old strawberries! So, I love that they are basically just eating a serving of fruit!

The only extra tool required to make these is a popsicle mold. I found our small one at our local grocery store. I know there are molds that are way fancier than ours, but these have done the trick and they are a nice manageable size for little hands when they are done. If you don’t have molds, pick up some small paper cups and popsicle sticks at the grocery store (you might just need to delay putting the stick in until the mixture is stiff enough to hold it in place).

IMG_0316To start off hull the strawberries (take the tops off), and gather your sweetener of choice (we use honey), and your food processor or blender. Now you can call in your helper! My kids took turns dropping the strawberries into the blender and then they each got to squeeze in a little honey. Ours might be a little sweeter this time around… they really took their honey squeezing duties seriously!

Now you can blend it. It’s up to you and your little one how chunky or not chunky you want it. It seems like kids as a rule tend to like less chunky. Once you’ve got it to the desired consistency take a taste to make sure you’ve got it just how you want it. When it is good pour it into the molds (or paper cups), put the tops on, and set into the freezer. Let freeze for 1-2 hours or until frozen through and enjoy!

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IMG_0324Now, I like doing it this way because it is soooo easy. Blend some fruit with a little sweetener and freeze! You can’t beat that! The sky is the limit with these popsicles. You could do more kinds of fruit or a different fruit all together. You could puree the fruit and then fold into yogurt and freeze and have fruit and yogurt pops. I once heard of a dad who basically made a super healthy smoothie with fruit and kale and froze that as a popsicle! I think that’s a great idea too! So, if you want to keep it simple like us, you can. Or you can get creative and throw in all kinds of stuff!

We can’t end without talking about what is going on here!

Cooking activities are just the best to do with kids. I’ve never met a kid who didn’t get super excited to help in the kitchen! So it’s fun, that’s the most important part when doing things with toddlers and preschoolers! Then, there are almost always opportunities for fine muscle movement. In this case they are picking up strawberries, squeezing in honey, and think of the control it takes to hold onto a measuring cup to pour into the popsicle mold. I helped my son, but he still used a lot of his own control to pour in the mixture.

IMG_0326Making popsicles is also a chemistry experience. Isn’t that crazy!? Anytime you take a substance and change it’s properties, like baking or freezing you are doing science. Of course, we never expect toddlers to walk away from an activity stating to us scientific properties! It is more just a conversation about their popsicle. It could sound something like this, “Remember we mixed up the strawberries. Now look what happened! They are different now. They frozen and so cold! They are going to be a tasty treat to help us cool off after we play outside.”

Remember no matter what you are doing, the best addition you can make to an activity is talking, describing, and asking questions. Ideas are: point out the texture of the strawberry or the stickiness of the honey. Talk about what is happening while you blend it. Taste it and talk about what it tastes like. Pour it into the molds and explain why. Then when you set them into the freezer, give a simple explanation of what is going to happen. It doesn’t need to be formal, or teacher-y, just a simple conversation while you work together. Most of all, just have fun together!

Have a playful day!

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Cooking and Baking with Young Children

Is it just me, or are some of your fondest memories getting to cook as a child? But, does the thought of cooking and baking with toddlers make you cringe thinking of the mess?

Head to toe covered in flour and sugar,

                 eggs stuck on the ceiling…

                                           chocolate chips up the nose…

Of course it’s never that bad, and cooking and baking can be quite fun, even for us! There are two pieces of advice I have for you when you are cooking and baking with toddlers and preschoolers

  1. img_1221Before you start… mentally prepare beforehand and accept the mess. I’m being dramatic of course, but realize it is going to be messy, and messy experiences are good for our kids. Hopefully you’ll have so much fun that it won’t really be that big of a deal in the end anyway! And…
  2. Let go of the end result… commit this experience to your child’s learning and the experience you will have together. It’s also best to not count on your finished product being for something or someone- unless you are ok with imperfection. If it is an activity just for you and your child it will be easy to remind yourself that it’s ok if your Christmas cookies are too thick with tie die smears of frosting, or if your peanut butter balls look more like peanut butter blobs… the process is more important than the product!

Cooking and baking with young kids is such a rich and fun experience for them. I’ve never been around a young child who didn’t want to help in the kitchen. Let’s talk about some of the learning opportunities that take place in a cooking and baking activity…

img_1047Fine motor is probably one of the first I think of, from stirring a cupcake batter, rolling a cookie into a ball, or sprinkling in a pinch of salt, all of these activities are forcing those little muscles to work. These are the same muscles that they will later use to hold a pencil when they are learning to write. Let your child scoop, dump, pour, pinch, roll, squish, pat, tear, crush, mash, and shake as much as they can! Give assistance as it is needed for younger toddlers, demonstrate as needed for older toddlers, but then give them space to experiment on their own.
IMG_0271The next thing I think of is the sensory experience. It’s fun and important for kids to get messy every now and then to experience different textures. When you have the chance give your child the words to express what they are feeling… “that is so slimy!” “this peanut butter is sticky,” or “these crackers are really crunchy.” Also keep in mind that it’s really easy to get stuck in the mindset that sensory experiences are only those things that we touch, but keep in mind that sensory experiences can and should include all of our senses! Look for opportunities to point out something that you are smelling, like vanilla or peppermint extract, herbs and spices, or anything as it bakes in the oven. We can also have sensory experiences through what we are seeing, in things like colors and shapes. And of courseimg_1392 one of the more fun senses to explore while doing a cooking activity is taste! When it’s safe (ie. no raw eggs or meat, or anything that might be icky for a child’s tummy) try and see how individual ingredients taste, compare a little salt and sugar, lick the pudding bowl, or when you’re making cookies… that heavenly concoction of brown sugar and butter, right before you add the eggs, yuuuummmm!

Two of the less obvious experiences going on in a cooking and baking activity is early math and early science. You might be thinking I’m crazy to even talk about science and math for a toddler or preschooler, but keep in mind we are talking about the very early building blocks of these areas of learning. Even though we aren’t teaching our children what volume is, or how to use numbers in adding or subtracting, or the fact that they are really doing a science experiment by combining img_1388ingredients… they are gaining that experience every time they fill a measuring cup with flour, or a teaspoon with salt.   Every time they help or hear you count in the number of eggs, and every time they see their ingredients transform over time in the oven, they are making those connections in their brain that they can build on later in their learning.

I love when it’s Fridays and we get to do a cooking activity together- it always feels like we saved the most fun for last! My kids love it, and I’m not going to lie, I look forward to the treat that we get to enjoy just as much as my kids! I’m by no means a food blogger or professional cook, but I have done my best in adapting most of the recipes to combine things I grew up with, things I’ve seen over the years, and things that I’ve learned in my own cooking experiences. If it makes sense to use your cookie recipe instead of mine, by all means, use your recipe. What I have provided is part of a plan, just the springboard for you to add in things that are meaningful to your family. And remember, ultimately, aside from all of the learning processes going on in these activities, the main goal is that you both enjoy one another and create meaningful experiences that just happen to take place in the kitchen. Happy cooking!