Fun Finger Foods for Toddlers

(I am tagging this entry as “silly Beard moment of the week”, when in fact it is awesome Beard moment of the week.  I apologize for any confusion.)

I have posted before about Bitsy Girl’s wonderful eating habits.  She really has never been a picky eater, and she has always loved the most random but nutritious foods like sweet potatoes and avocados.  Recently, though, she has grown a bit pickier about the things she puts into her body, especially things with different textures.  I know this is natural in toddlers her age; she is becoming so aware of colors, tastes, textures, and temperatures, and it only makes sense that she would prefer some over others.

Although I understand this change in her eating habits is natural, it is still a little frustrating.  Bitsy Girl has been pickier about what vegetables she will eat, and if given the choice between multiple foods, she will always pick the carbohydrate, then the meat.  Oh boy!  A meat and potatoes kind of girl.

A few weeks ago, Beard and my good friend’s husband were watching all of our children (so my friend and I could spend the day at IKEA; score!).  The two men were better at feeding preschool age children than I had expected.  It was that particular day that Beard taught our little toddling Bitsy Girl how to enjoy raw vegetables with dip!

Apparently dipping foods and eating them is very fun for young children.  Who knew?  Our daughter loves dipping baby carrots, cauliflower, cucumbers, and even some broccoli in ranch dip.  Both Beard and I eat veggies like this often, and I think that is part of the novelty for Bitsy Girl; she feels like a big girl who can dip and eat her veggies.

I know this method of serving veggies won’t necessarily work for all picky eaters, but it is worth giving a try.  So far we have only tried ranch dip, but I plan to try hummus and maybe even peanut butter (which I use to dip baby carrots in).  I could probably try other vegetables as well.

What methods do you know for getting picky eaters to eat their veggies?  Anything tried and true?

Green Update: A Second Chance

Folks, I don’t often post about our garden.  You’ll find there are just a few pieces here and there about what I’ve planted or maybe how terrible our garden is.  That is mainly because I am just a little ashamed of our garden.

For the past two years I have been gung ho about the initial weeding, preparing of soil, and planting in the spring.  I usually keep up with weeding for several weeks, but by the time the hot days of summer roll around, I find it hard to justify spending an hour in the morning fighting nature by plucking grasses and dandelions from my precious vegetable beds.

(I want to add the caveat here that for both of these summers I have been pregnant.  Not that this is an excuse, but I simply don’t have my normal energy while pregnant that I normally would.)

This year, our only surviving and producing plants from the initial spring planting were lettuce, carrots, tomatoes, and cilantro.  Although these are lovely, I had greatly missed fresh green beans, zucchini, squash, basil, cucumbers, and a few other things I threw in the ground.

In mid July I learned I might have a second shot at this year’s garden, and I posted about that here.  I selected some veggies that should fair well in our area planted in the dead of summer.

Thanks to the recent heat wave and plentiful thunderstorms, our garden is actually looking alive again!  It has been almost 3 weeks since the July planting, and already I have new bean plants, a few cucumber plants, some zucchini plants, and some butternut squash and pumpkin plants.  I cannot tell you how excited I am.

I spent yesterday morning weeding carefully around my new little plants, just dreaming of the sweet cucumbers and crunchy beans I could be enjoying in a few short weeks.

Honestly, I’m just glad this second planting actually worked!

Green Updates: July Planting

Last week I had talked about my great failures in gardening this year.  We had only successfully harvested lettuce and cherry tomatoes.  These are wonderful vegetables, but when you plant so many other kinds, it’s sad to bring in only these two.  We had harvested spinach and carrots much earlier in the season, but in my naivete I hadn’t planted very much of them, so we ate them up quickly.

What I had found out, though, is that I am able to replant a lot of the original vegetables this month and get a later harvest.  And oh boy that is exactly what I did.

I had a few of my raised beds covered in weeds, so with the help of my dearest Beard I removed all of the weeds and softened the soil for planting.  I read up on a few websites (namely to figure out which vegetables would survive and produce a crop starting this late in the season, then I made my selection.

This morning I replanted peppers, pole beans, carrots, spinach, kale, cucumbers, zucchini, sauce tomatoes, basil, oregano, and fennel.  I also planted pumpkins and butternut squash, but this was their first shot in the ground this season.  We had killed a pumpkin plant last year by planting it a bit too early, and it didn’t quite survive the beating it received from the Virginia sun.

I’ll be keeping you all posted with this second round of vegetables.  I can only hope we will be more successful than earlier in the season.

And if we are, I have some great recipes to share!

A Few Green Updates on a Usual Day Off

Somehow in central Virginia we have gone from very warm, humid summer weather back to  rainy, breezy spring weather.  I am not complaining, of course.  I am grateful for a short break before the real heat and soul-melting sun begins.

The recent bout of rain and cooler weather has meant wonderful things for our little garden.  After my a weeding extravaganza early last week, all of our food producing plants have had plenty of room to grow, and grow they did.

It looks like our strawberry patch will have another large harvest very soon.  It was covered in the familiar white blossoms, most of which have become green strawberries.  They’ll be ripe for picking in a few short days.

Our lettuce is actually having a second go around for this year’s early season.  Last year we had lettuce until about Memorial Day, then not again until late September.  It really doesn’t do well under the direct sun of summer.  Because of our cooler weather, though, some of the lettuce plants that had gone to seed have actually reproduced!  New lettuce plants have sprung up in the patch, giving me fresh green leaf lettuce again.

The zucchini and squash have been doing beautiful things, as well.  I see those tell-tale orange-yellow flowers already, and my mouth is salivating at the prospect of making my Nonna’s Patoli, an Italian zucchini fritter that I made in large quantities last summer due to our generous zucchini harvest.

Our final surprise this week was string beans.  We officially harvested our first three string beans this morning.  The plants themselves are doing well, and have been climbing the trellis Beard fashioned for them out of some pieces of old deck we had in our yard.

I’m glad to say that all of our garden successes (and failures) so far have come with them help of three very important things:  water, sunshine, and physical labor.  We do not use any chemicals to control our weeds, nor do we use a specific plant food to make them grow faster or bigger.

For weeding we just pluck weeds out as we see the little suckers stick out of the ground.  It’s hard work, and probably why organic produce is so darn expensive, but it’s worth it.  I know there isn’t anything unsafe hiding in our food.

We have started a compost pile in one of our raised beds, and I hope we’ll be able to use some of that nutrient rich soil next spring.  For now, though, we are faithfully adding organics and rotating it manually with a shovel.

Do any of you keep a garden?  What are you finding in your garden this week?


Fitting it All In

This is my final installment in my nutritional series.  Please check out the previous ones if you like this post.


For the past week I’ve been blogging about good nutrition to fuel your body.  I’ve touched on fiber, the low-fat craze, the meat/vegetarian question, and nutrition especially for pregnant and breastfeeding women.  Today I’d like to give some pointers on how to easily fit good nutrition into any lifestyle and on any budget.


1.  Have fruit and veggies convenient and available.  Our family has always kept most fruits on the counter because they do not require refrigeration.  Our regulars like bananas, apples, oranges, mangoes (unpeeled), and clementines are fine sitting on the counter staring us in the face.  When fruit is right there in your face, you are more likely to grab it when you are hungry.  The same goes for vegetables; have them and make them convenient.  If you don’t normally cook with vegetables, buy something fairly easy to use, like those tubs of washed baby spinach.  It’s easy to make a salad or sautee that up for a nutritious treat.  Baby carrots are also my best friends.  We are members of Sam’s, so we can buy 5 lb bags of baby carrots, and yes, we can eat them all before they go bad.  They are delicious!  For other vegetables (like peppers, broccoli, avocado, tomatoes) think about how you usually use them or may want to use them, and cut them or slice them when you have a few minutes.  Having a container of pre-chopped bell peppers means I am much more likely to throw them into a sauce than if I had to chop them after having already chopped the onions and garlic.


2.  Buy real food.  And you will know what real food is when you see it.  It will require washing, maybe soaking, and usually some cooking, but it is worth it.  I promise that learning to make your own rice pilaf is so much tastier and healthier than the box of Rice-a-roni you’ve been serving.  The same goes with meat.  Buy pre-cooked, pre-seasoned meats means you don’t really know all that is put in your food.  Sure you could read the label, but who really knows what dextrose gum and xanthanol are anyway??


3. Buy whole chickens.  This is really to help in the budget area, but it is also so simple that no matter what our food budget has been I’ve always like to roast a whole chicken.  A whole organic chicken at our grocery store usually costs about $8.  I can either roast the chicken whole or cut it into pieces and cook it that way.  When budgets were very tight for us, Beard and I would survive on one chicken per week for the two of us.  We could have pieces of roast chicken one night, some shredded chicken in quesadillas or paninis another night, maybe a stir fry another night, and make some chicken soup with the bones.  The best part, the chicken is real and you know what’s in it.  And whatever you add to it is your own choice.


4. Stay away from reduced fat anything.  I learned this lesson all too well with peanut butter.  When a company advertises some food as low fat, typically all they have done is removed some of the fat and replaced it with sugar (or worse, processed syrups) for flavor.  Usually the reduced fat versions have nearly as many or just as many calories as the full fat version, but they simply won’t keep you full as long because it will spike your blood sugar and leave you hungry an hour later.  Do yourself a favor and go ahead and buy the full fat version of whatever you’re purchasing.  Your waistline and your taste buds will not be disappointed.


5.  Use whole grains.  This is almost a no brainer.  Experts have been saying to eat whole grains for more than a decade now.  The truth is whole grains have more nutritional punch than any of the white, bleached ,tasteless carbohydrate products you can buy.  when you’re bringing home a loaf of bread, make it whole grain (not whole wheat, that’s a misnomer), and cook with whole grain pasta.  Sometimes it may cost a little bit more, but your heart and your colon will thank you (they told me so, I promise don’t ask why bodily organs speak to me, but they do).


I hope this series was helpful to my readers.  Tomorrow we’ll be going back to our regularly scheduled programming.  Thanks for reading!

The Start of a Long Project and Manly Peeps

Where we live we aren’t able to put most plants in the ground until April 1st, and because I’m excited and impatient I’ve begun our garden in the kitchen window:

These are our tomatoes and cucumbers.  There are two trays of ten seedling spots; 16 of them are tomatoes, and only four are cucumbers.  Why yes, I am Italian. 🙂

If you can’t see what these are the left packet is long, thin, cayenne peppers (hot) and the right packet is sweet banana peppers.  Boy do I hope we don’t mix these up!

And these are my pretty plants.  🙂  The back packet is dahlias, and the front one is lavender.

In addition to these I’ve also got carrots, spinach, kale, rhubarb, and strawberries in the ground already (planted around March 1), since they can tolerate a frost.  I’ve got seeds to start pumpkins, zucchini, beans, cilantro, oregano, fennel, hollyhock, poppy, and chamomile (to be planted around April 1).  I may be mildly ambitious with this gardening business, but it’s for a good reason!

We grow this garden so that we can have some homegrown, organic vegetables.  I’m a firm believer that no tomato tastes better than the one you pulled off the vine just a few minutes before, and no herb flavors a dish better than the one harvested just before use.  Plus, growing some of our own food saves us some moola.  I’m a vegetable fanatic, and buying different kinds of veggies at the grocery store can get expensive.  I’m hoping we’ll save a bit of cash by growing our own.

I’ll be posting photos of our garden this week and I’ll post about progress we make along the way, and of course, I’ll post useful information I find out along the way.  Feel free to post comments and questions.

And now for our Silly Beard Moment of the Week:

Since it’s near Easter, I had to buy Beard his favorite Easter-time treat:  Peeps.  The store had a variety of colors, and I selected the two manliest colors I could find:  blue and yellow.  Upon informing Beard of this, he grabbed his beloved treats and gave me this pose:

“Now I just need a beer can.”