Thursday, August 30, 2012

Healthy Zucchini Muffins or Bread the Fruit of our Harvest

We started a modest kitchen garden in the early spring by going to Home Depot in April and selecting a variety of seeds that interested the twins.  They chose carrots, summer squash, pumpkins, cucumbers and I added a tomato plant and a blueberry bush.  I also introduced them to cilantro and basil which are two of my favorite fresh herbs.

The children planted their seeds in clear plastic cups with small drain holes in the bottom.  They carefully watered and watched over them.  They were rewarded with quick roots, and soon after came the first leaves.  As the temperatures warmed up we carved out a small garden area, prepared the soil and planted their "little babies." Our veggies were a little slow to grow because they didn't get enough sun in our garden patch (note to self for next year).  However in mid-August we finally harvested our first zucchini and some small carrots.  We had our first one in a yummy shrimp stir-fry so the kids could see it in a more natural form.  Once we had several squash at once and a small bunch of baby carrots it was time to make zucchini bread.  I searched around for a healthier recipe and none of them seemed just right so I took a couple of different recipes and created one that worked great for us.  We have been nibbling all morning.  

To add some extra interest for the kids I decided to use my William Sonoma Railway Cake Pan.  Once the twins saw me drag that out of the back of the kitchen cabinet I had their full attention.  

I did all the grating for the muffins by hand because I do not have a food processor.  I used two average  size squash (approx. 9 inches).  The kids can help grate the larger pieces under adult supervision.   

Here is the recipe I used: 
Harvest Healthy Zucchini Muffins
2 medium zucchini (about 2 cups) (optional we added a little carrot to fill the 2 cup mark)
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup canola oil
1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour (I like King Arthur's)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup low fat milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cloves
optional: chocolate chips or dried fruit
1.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Prepare baking pan or muffin tins with non-stick spray or butter.  Dust the pan with flour make them easier to remove after baking.
2. In a large mixing bowl add the zucchini, sugar, egg, oil, and applesauce.  Mix throughly.  Next add the flours, baking powder, baking soda and combine carefully.  Add the milk, vanilla, cinnamon, and cloves and mix until blended.  

3. Add your optional items if you wish.  We didn't add any on this batch.

4. Pour the batter into your pans.  It should be thin like cake batter.  You will have to adjust your bake time based upon the pan you use.  Our train pans bake for 20 minutes at 350 degrees. Use a toothpick to check for doneness (should come out clean).  
Our train muffins came out with tall rounded tops so we cut the rounded parts off and ate some of them so that the trains would sit flat.     

These are so delicious and have so much less sugar than most of the recipes I reviewed.  Enjoy your garden, farmer's market or grocery store veggies today!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Back to School Season-Visual Morning Chart

We have been enjoying a leisurely summer without any early morning activities therefore the twins and I have developed a slow morning routine.  As we wind into the last few weeks of summer for my preschoolers we will have to tighten up the routine.  My experience has been that when my kids feel that they are aware of the expectations and have a sense ownership of the responsibilities they are more likely to complete the necessary tasks in order to get out the door on time.

I recently updated their morning routine chart to reflect our current needs.  It could be varied to meet your childrens' needs and ability levels.  An idea for older children would be to add a column with a digital or analog clock to add a skill and keep the kids on schedule so they get out the door for carpool or bus pick up.

I purchased a box a clear plastic sheet protectors and use them for a variety of purposes with the kids.  I slide the visual schedule in the plastic sleeve and keep it where each child can see it (on bedroom door).    I also keep a wipe off marker or wipe off crayon on the bookcase shelf (not in reach until we are ready for it to prevent undesirable wall decor).  As they complete the task they get to mark it on the chart.  This makes my kids feel very important and develops ownership for the process.

If you would like a copy of this chart tell me what you think in the comments section and I can email you a word document copy of Apple Pages document.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Fun With Paper Mache

My daughter especially loves crafts.  I have to keep coming up with ideas to harness her need for structured and creativity.  This time around I went outside my safety zone and decided to enter the world of paper mache.

First I looked around the house to see if I had the needed materials.  I came up with 3 round balloons left over from a birthday celebration.  Next I checked the flour, salt and water off the list.  Strangely, the hardest piece of the puzzle for me was newspaper.  I read news articles online and don't get a daily paper anymore.  Then the light bulb went on...packing paper! We had packing paper left over from our move.

The paper provides a great opportunity for your kids to strengthen their fine motor development.  Depending on the age group they can either tear the paper into small pieces or cut it into small pieces.  The beauty of it is that it doesn't matter what the paper looks like as long as the pieces are appropriately sized for the balloon you chose.  I had 10" balloons and 1-3" pieces.  I cut some and the twins did some just so we would have plenty before we were knee deep in paste.

I didn't have an exact recipe for the paste I simply added about 1 1/2 cups of flour to a bowl and slowly added a little water at a time till I got a consistency of thin pancake batter.  I added 1 tablespoon of salt to help dry out the paste and prevent mold.

We took our project outside so I wouldn't worry about the mess I knew we were about to create. I had the bottoms of two milk jugs that were left over from another project that I used to hold the paste and paper pieces, but any shallow bowls or pans will work.  Our original plan was to also cover the toilet paper rolls too but the kids tired out a little at the end.

 I found that it worked well for the twins to dip the paper in the paste and then smooth it onto the balloon with the paint brushes.  That helped to make sure that the paper got a more even coating of paste.
 I would suggest using smaller balloons then we did for the 3-4 year old set.  They loved this project but they did tire out a bit towards the end so I helped them push through so they would have a finished product.
 It is important to make sure the whole balloon is covered with multiple layers, but I would not do more than 4.
This was a great time for us just to spend being messing and working together.  I value these special opportunities with my kids.  They really couldn't do anything wrong.  When the wind kicked up a little I moved our paper pieces into a bucket I found in the garage to keep them from blowing away.
Finally after the final pieces were attached we left them to dry in the garage for 2 days (they were probably good after one day but I wanted to be sure so I waited an extra day.  They were so excited for the next step PAINTING!
Considering that the twins are almost 4 it made the most sense just to let them free paint.  Older children could paint them pink for pigs, black and white for cows, yellow for ducks, etc.  The paper rolls (TP or paper towel) could be sliced by a grown up to add on for feet, or a pigs snout.  I was going to make one that was going to be a hot air balloon with the paper towel roll cut to form the basket below.   
These were such a hit with my kids that they decided to hang them up and use them as decorations for their daddy' birthday.  We did not pop the balloon inside yet because my kids love to touch everything and I was afraid the might squish them before they made it to the display area.  Also the balloon know made them easier to hang.

This is a great project for children of all ages because the older they are the more creative and skilled they can be.

Please leave your comments and suggestions below.