JJ and I made strawberry and grape fruit skewers for morning tea today. I’ve blogged about making fruit skewers before, and it’s a fun activity we do together quite often. Somehow fruit on sticks is so much more fun!
And there’s also a bit of sneaky learning going on at the same time. She’s learning about fruit, their names, colours, textures. And she’s learning about basic food preparation.
She’s learning to be careful of the pointy end of the skewer.
She’s developing fine motor skills, hand eye coordination and mental concentration – all of which are precursors to writing.
I asked her how many strawberries she chose and how many grapes, which is great counting practice.
And she’s also learning about patterns. I tended to make skewers where the fruit were evenly distributed (strawberry, grape, strawberry, grape, etc), whereas JJ chose to use mostly grapes and only one strawberry. I didn’t instruct her – I just pointed out how we were making different choices, and both ways are correct.
And so she’s learning how to make choices, in situations where there is no wrong answer. This helps to develop her self-confidence.
We eat these wholemeal no-added-sugar pancakes for breakfast about twice a fortnight*. Yum! On the rare occasion when there are left overs, they freeze well for JJ’s preschool morning tea.
1 cup wholemeal self-raising flour
1 overripe banana (I keep a stash in the freezer)
Smidgen of oil or tallow for frying.
Defrost the banana. Add everything to a bowl and mix. Once combined, fry at medium heat.
You could get all fancy pants and whisk the egg or puree the banana before adding, but to be honest I don’t bother… This is a rough and tumble style recipe that I whip up at the spur of the moment. The banana flavour isn’t very strong – it’s there to replace the sugar.
Sometimes I’ll add some frozen blueberries to the mix, or sometimes I’ll add a second banana and a tablespoon or so of pure cocoa powder. Occasionally I’ll add chopped strawberries and a touch of maple syrup to the top, because I confess we have a weakness for maple syrup in the Banya household.
And just to add a touch of irony, I quite often use an icing sugar pen to draw on letters and numbers to the tops of the pancakes. (You need to wait until they cool somewhat otherwise the icing will melt too much.) Now I know this adds sugar to an otherwise sugar-free recipe, but it’s fun. Play matters, and if we can add a little bit of educational play to a healthy-ish breakfast, then we’re off to a good start to the day. 🙂
Here is a photo that I took late last year of some blueberry pancakes that have the letter “O” drawn on.
This was back when JJ first started showing an interest in learning letters, and we had an “O” day. We did all sorts of “O” things, like practising drawing the letter “O”, stamping with the octopus stamp, making an octopus outfit, eating Cheerios, reading from our alphabet books, and lots more.
It seems strange looking back on JJ playing on the balcony of our old place, basking in the summer’s sun.
Will it ever be that warm again?
*Yes I know that twice a fortnight is the same as once a week. But there is method to the madness. You see the buttermilk comes in a 600mL carton, so whenever we buy a carton we need to cook two batches before the expiry….
When JJ was starting solids, I did a lot of research on various food additives to avoid. I compiled my own “Do Not Eat” list of unhealthy additives and preservatives, which I still have jotted down on a post-it note in my wallet. I thought it might be helpful for others to share here.
14 Food Additives (and #numbers) to Avoid
1-6. Food Colours – in particular Tartrazine (102), Quinoline Yellow (104), Sunset Yellow FCF (110), Carmoisine (122), Ponceau 4R (124) & Allura Red AC (129)
A mixture of these colourings and the preservative sodium benzoate (211) affects children’s behaviour: the classic red cordial syndrome.
7. Erythrosine (127)
Increased chance of thyroid tumours.
8-9. Sodium Benzoate & Potassium Bezoate (212)
When combined with ascorbic acid (Vitamin C), both of these turn into benzene, a known carcinogen. Often found in soft drinks, flavoured mineral waters, cordial, fruit juice etc, many of which boast being good sources of Vitamin C!
10-11. Sodium Nitrite (250) & Sodium Nitrate (251)
Both listed as “probably carcinogenic to humans” by the WHO because they can be converted to cancer-causing nitrosamines in the stomach, which increase the risk of gastric cancer. Found in processed and preserved meats, including frankfurts, salami, bacon and ham. Nitrates and nitrites prevent the potentially deadly botulism poisoning, so processed meats that are labelled nitrate and nitrite free are risky as well. The WHO advises “moderate consumption” of preserved and processed meats.
12. Calcium Propionate (282)
Has been linked to migranes and behavioural and learning problems. Used in some breads to prevent mould.
13. BHA – butylated hydroxyanisole (320)
Listed as “possibly carcinogenic to humans” because it causes cancer in the forestomach of rats (an organ that humans don’t have). Found in margarine, spreads, salad dressings, it is an unnecessary additive used by lazy manufacturers. It can easily be replaced by safer chemicals or just left out altogether.
14. Palm Oil
Not a health issue per say, but more of an environmental one. Palm oil is used in an alarming number of food products (one in four!), as well as soaps and cosmetics, but is often listed under the generic “vegetable oil”. Increased acreages of oil-palm plantations have dramatically reduced the wild habitat of the Sumatran orangutans and Sumatran tigers (both endangered species). Please sign this petition encouraging the Australian government to change labelling laws so consumers can make informed buying decisions.
A Further 4 Food Additives (and #Numbers) I’m Keeping an Eye On
There are mixed reports for these additives, but they are still worth watching to see how members of your family react:
15. Annato (160b)
Natural colouring that is allergenic (although no one in my own family has shown an allergy as yet). Found in margarine, smoked fish and cakes.
16-17. Sulphur dioxide (220) & other sulphur preservatives (220-228)
Can trigger asthma attacks. Used as a preservative in wine and dried fruit. We don’t eat a lot of dried fruit, so I haven’t noticed a difference in my children, but Mr Banya appears to be intolerant. He’s recently switched to preservative-free wine (and is enjoying an improvement in how he feels the next morning!)
18. MSG – monosodium glutamate
Asthmatics and other people sensitive to MSG may suffer short-term headaches, flushing and numbness (although no one in my family is asthmatic or sensitive to MSG as yet). Used in many foods including packet soups, flavoured noodles, sauces and savoury snacks.
You might as why companies put this junk into their products?
Well, many additives are used to enhance appearance or to prolong shelf life. Sugar and salt are the two most common preservatives, but unfortunately they set off a chain-reaction. Sugar and salt both change flavour, so flavour enhancers are needed to bring the flavour back to “normal”. These flavour enhancers usually change the acidity, which means acidity regulators need to be added as well, and so on… This chain reaction of additives and preservatives as an unfortunate side-effect of getting packaged foods to market – which is great for manufacturers, but not so great for consumers…
What should you eat instead?
I’ve written about our approach to food, and our healthy food habits here. As a general rule, I try to eat fresh foods (with no ‘barcode’) that are high in fibre and low in sugar. If I’m buying packet food, then I check the labels. We’re not fanatical about it – exceptions are made – but where possible I try to make healthy choices, and keep party food for parties…
You can also find some of our recipe ideas on our Food for Kids page, most of which are additive-free.
I wrote this letter to you weeks ago, and with all the packing up and moving house, I hadn’t a chance to actually post it. So Bee, here is your 7 month letter, only a few days before your 8 month birthday…
Dear Baby Bee,
You’re slowly becoming mobile. You can now roll around the floor every which way, and you are starting to commando crawl for up to a metre. Sometimes you get up on your hands and toes and hover, obviously frustrated that this isn’t having the effect that you are looking for.
You can’t get yourself into a sitting position yet, but if I sit you down, then you can stay there unsupported, with a few wobbles that you can correct yourself. (Although you will fall at the slightest push, so I have to be careful that your sister doesn’t give you too many cuddles.)
From sitting, you can pick up and play with toys that are very close by, and you can also flop forward onto your tummy if you want to commando crawl over to a toy that is a little further away.
I try not to sit you very often though, because I’d rather you to practice your crawling and hopefully learn to sit up on your own. But apparently you’ve decided that being horizontal is not cool, and have started to shriek like you’ve been abandoned whenever I lie you down on the floor, even if I’m sitting right next to you.
Hanging with the boys – Mr Banya and Mr Frequent Flyer
Your absolute favourite position remains however, to be held and carried around. This could be the onset of separation anxiety, except that you don’t seem to mind who is carrying you, as long as you are in the thick of things. We spent a week in Fiji earlier this month (Bula!) and the Fijian waitresses couldn’t get enough of you. Whenever we dined, you were handed around from person to person, and you LOVED it. Now that we are back, I’m starting to put you in the baby carrier more and more so that you are happy and I still have my hands free.
You’ve started swimming – both in Sydney and while we were in Fiji. You love it! Kicking and splashing. You don’t mind having your head under the water – you hold your breath, and come up relatively happy, gulping fresh air and blinking the water out of your eyes.
Staying cool with Mr Banya, Bananaman, Wifey and Miss Tequila Makes Me Easy
Just after you turned 6 months, after you’d finished transitioning from being swaddled arms-in, to arms-out, we moved your cot from beside our bed to your own room. (Technically it is both your and your sister’s room, but she’s taking longer to get used to the idea.) You’re sleeping fairly well for your day naps, particularly if the house is quiet. During the night, you wake up to nurse and/or put the dummy back in about 3-6 times a night. I’ve got a chair in there so I can nurse you in the dark. You only need about 5-10 minutes to nurse, and then I can put you straight back down and you resettle instantly. Usually I can get straight back to sleep as well.
Another thing I should mention is that you’ve developed an attachment to a little security blanket, which we’ve named Sir Tags-a-Lot, and you struggle to sleep without it. I’m really hoping that this attachment stays, because I think it will be helpful for you in your toddler years to have a special toy that brings you comfort.
Chillaxing on a remote Fijian island, with Sir Tagsalot, your dummy and some dry coral and a chunk of bread for toys…
Food-wise, you’re eating almost everything that what we eat now. You’ve had cheese, carrots, broccoli, broccolini, baby corn, green beans, wholemeal bread, peanut butter, soy beans, lettuce, cucumber, Weetbix, porridge, beef, chicken, pork, lamb, yoghurt, celery, crackers, oranges, apples, pears, mandarins, banana, chips, egg, fish, prawns, avocado, tomato, noodles, rice, corn tortillas, watermelon, rockmelon.
The only foods I’m intentionally avoiding are ones that are high in sugar, are very processed, are very spicy (hot) or include honey (botulism risk).
Munching on some steak. Nom nom!
So far, you like everything! Even strong tastes, like salad dressing. Because I’m not pureeing anything, most of it gets sucked on and then spat out. But judging from your nappies, some of it is going down.
There have been a couple of occasions where you’ve gagged, and once where you’ve vomited. I’m not worried about this – gagging and vomiting are natural responses to prevent food that is too big from getting too far back in your mouth. Actually, it’s reassuring to see that your gag reflex is working fine. (Note: Mr Banya and I have attended a Baby CPR and Choking course – something I recommend for parents and babysitters, regardless of whether they are doing baby-led weaning.)
This month you also got to meet some very lovely, funny, inspirational and super talented bloggers at the Digital Parents Conference 2013. Poor Mummy felt a bit bumbling, overawed, nervous, star-struck, being in a room full of demi-gods people that she reads and looks up to, but you seemed happy to take it all in your stride. You were passed around from blogger to blogger, many of whom were missing their wee bubs back home, and did a great job of wooing everyone’s hearts.
On the second day of the conference, I was listening to a panel discussion on ‘The Myth of Having It All’, while you jollied yourself rolling around on the floor. Discussions were centring on what “all” means. It got me thinking about choices. Your father and I are both taking work breaks at the moment so that we can be with you and your sister. This means sacrifices in other areas, but they are areas that we are willing to forsake.
Meanwhile, Kylie Purtell from A Study In Contradictions was watching you from the other side of the room, and tweeted “@Danya_Banya your blogger baby is the all I’m hoping for“. And you know what? She’s right. You are my “all”. At least, you are one of my “alls”. And I wouldn’t wish it any other way.
Threading is quite a complicated skill for toddlers and preschoolers. It develops their fine motor skills, hand eye coordination and mental concentration, all of which are precursors to writing. And learning to thread is fun! Especially if you combine it with morning tea.
1. Honeydew Melon Skewers
Here’s my 2.5 year old JJ learning how to thread onto a bamboo skewer. She found it easiest to anchor the pointy end of the skewer to the bench or plate, and push the honeydew melon onto the blunt end.
She did all of these herself quite easily.
When she’d finished, I asked her to call Mr Banya down for morning tea. JJ called out “Daddy, morning tea is READY. Honey-doo mey-on skews Daddy. What were you hoping for?”
2. Cheerio Necklace
We’ve also tried threading Cheerios onto twine. First I tie a Cheerio onto one end to act as a anchor, then let her thread away. This is a big jump in skill level. It really requires you to use both hands together. JJ can poke the twine through a Cheerio easily enough, but then it gets trickier when you have to swap hands in order to pull the Cheerio down the length of twine.
JJ spent ages but only got about half a dozen threaded. So we called this a victory and then I did the rest for her (in about 20 seconds because my own threading skills totally rock!) so that she could wear and eat the necklace as a snack. This task is right at her skill level at the moment, so I have a feeling we’ll be doing this every second day until she masters it, or until she shows signs of boredom or frustration.
(Cheerios have too much sugar for my liking, but I’ve not found had a chance to go searching for a healthier alternative. If anyone has any suggestions please let me know?)
3. Strawberry & Blueberry Fruit Necklace
A further extension is a fruit necklace. For this I tied a blunt wool needle to some twine, and tied a blueberry to the other end as an anchor. What makes this task more challenging, is needing to maintain a somewhat gentle grip on the fruit as you thread. JJ squished quite a few blueberries as she couldn’t concentrate on both things at once. I ended up making most of the necklace, whilst JJ watched (and ate up the supplies!)
As you can see, these were lots of fun to wear! And bonus that I got to tick this off my To-Do list. Although her top needed a good soak afterwards. 🙂
We’ve made these “Carrot, Sultana and Oat Muffins” dozens of times. But somehow the name was changed to “Muesli Bar Cakes” one day, and this new name has stuck. They have no added sugar (yay!), use lots of wholegrains (yay!), include vegetables (yay!), freeze well (yay!), taste great (yay!) and are easy to make (yay!).
We make these about once a fortnight, freeze them and then reheat one each morning to pop into JJ’s lunchbox or serve up as morning tea. It’s lovely to know that she’s had a bit of vegetable, wholegrains and general goodness before 10.30am!
If you are afraid of baking – don’t worry, these are seriously easy. So easy, that your toddler can make them with you!
The original inspiration came from here, but of course, I tweaked the recipe and instructions a bit to suit our tastes, dodgy oven and toddler-who-must-help-with-the-cooking.
Ingredients / Equipment
1 1/4 cup of sultanas (or other dried fruit – dried raisins and cranberries also work well)
1 Tbsp quinua flakes
1 Tbsp LSA (mix of ground linseed/flax*, sunflower and almond)
1 Tbsp oatbran
A sprinkle of chia seeds
1 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 cups traditional oats (using good quality oats will make a big difference)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/4 cup milk
Spray oil or butter for greasing
1 big mixing bowl
1 smaller bowl
1 toddler friendly bowl
2 wooden spoons
1 cup measure
Tbsp and tsp measuring spoons
sturdy chair that your toddler can stand on safely
(*Note: Linseed is called Flax in USA – they are the same thing).
Step 1: Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C / 390 degrees F. (My oven is not fan-forced, so you might want to reduce slightly for a fan-forced oven.) Step 2: Get all your ingredients & equipment out. You don’t necessarily need to measure out everything yet, but you do want to have everything, including this recipe, within easy arms reach (but out of reach of your toddler for now). Pre-grease the muffin tray.
Step 3: Call forth the toddler! Have her stand on the chair so she can see and participate. The area immediately in front of her should be clean and clear. If your toddler is too young to be trusted up on a chair, then perhaps set everything up on a low table or floor so she can still participate safely. Of course, well away from the oven though! Step 4: Grate the carrot into the big mixing bowl. Your toddler can help, by holding on to the other end of the carrot while you grate. Put some grated carrot in her toddler friendly bowl, and let her eat some as you go. Talk about the colour, texture, taste. (If she looks like she’ll eat the whole thing, then grate the second carrot so you’ll have some for the recipe. I have used two whole carrots grated from time to time, but you might want to start with one and work up to this amount…)
Step 5: Put 1 cup of sultanas into the big mixing bowl and the other 1/4 cup into her toddler friendly bowl. Grab the wooden spoons, give one to your toddler and together mix the carrot and sultanas. She’ll probably be eating half out of her bowl, and half out of the big mixing bowl – that’s OK.
Step 6: Mash the banana in the small bowl with the fork. Add to the big mixing bowl, and do some more mixing. Step 7: Measure out 1 Tbsp of quinua flakes, and have your toddler help you to pour it into the big mixing bowl. Mix. Repeat for the 1 Tbsp oatbran, and again for the 1 Tbsp LSA. Sprinkle in some chia seeds. Measure out 1 tsp ground cinnamon. Have your toddler smell it. (I find saying “smell with your nose” helps her to understand what smell means). Have her help you add it to the big mixing bowl and mix. If she’s been picking bits out of the big mixing bowl to eat up until now, that’s OK. But now is the time to try to get her interested in eating what’s in her toddler friendly bowl instead.
Step 8: Add approx 1 1/2 cups of oats. You can just use the 1 cup measure and wing it – there’s no need to be exact. Your older toddler can help you to pour this into the big mixing bowl and mix. For younger toddlers, see if you can distract them and finish off the rest of the recipe yourself. (Actually by now younger toddlers have usually lost interest anyway).
Step 9: Explain to your toddler that this next step you need to do yourself. She can “watch with her eyes, but not touch with her hands”. Crack the egg into the same small bowl that you used to mash the banana and use the fork to lightly whisk. (No need to add to the washing up!). Talk about where eggs come from. Add the 1 tsp vanilla essence. Add the 1 1/4 cup of milk (roughly measured is fine).
Step 10: Pour the liquids into the big mixing bowl and get your older toddler to help mix. The mixture will look quite dense and wet. (They shouldn’t really be eating out of the big mixing bowl at this point due to the raw egg…)
Step 11: Spoon the mixture into the already greased muffin tray. Your older toddler can help with this. These muffins won’t rise at all, so you can fill all the way up to the top. Once all the mixture is spooned in, you’ll likely have some liquid left. Find the ones that look the driest and pour the mixture in – can’t waste all that goodness! Flatten down the tops of the muffins so that any dried fruit showing are mostly inside the mixture rather than sitting on top, to avoid them burning.
Step 12: Bake for about 50 minutes. They should still be a little bit moist in the inside, but not “wet”.
I know, they look terrible, but looks can be deceiving – these are seriously dense, moist and yum! Oh and healthy too 🙂 Take the time to notice how proud your toddler is that she made these Muesli Bar Cakes “all by herself”!
Best eaten still slightly warm from the oven. But they can totally be frozen and defrosted again in the microwave, ready to pop in their lunchbox.
Yum! So yum that she wouldn’t stay still so I could take a non-blurry photo 🙂
I’ve also tried this recipe with grated zucchini instead of grated carrot. (See photo below). These still got eaten, but not as vigorously… I’ve also tried this recipe as flat bars instead of muffins, and again, didn’t go down as well. But, you could try these variations and see which your toddler prefers…
The oatbran, LSA, quinua and chia seeds are non-essential. They are added to make the muffins healthier, rather than tastier, so you could leave them out if you want to.
Quick oats are probably not a good substitute for traditional oats in this recipe. Quick oats are less healthy than traditional oats. If you did want to use quick oats, then you would need to reduce the amount of liquid and the cooking time. I’ve never tried this recipe with quick oats, so you would need to wing it and see how you go.