Best Sugar Free Popsicles Ever – And How to Get your Kid to Eat Them

IMG_3301Got a blender and some left over fruit and juice?  Making healthy and delicious popsicles is the easiest thing on the planet. Getting your kids to eat them though may not be.  Why will your kid reject the delicious home made popsicle for one of those nasty colored sugar water things at the grocery store?  One word – marketing!  If you’re gonna get your kid to make those healthy choices you’re going to need a marketing plan of your own.

As any good marketer can tell you the food companies are spending millions of dollars researching how to make your kid believe without a doubt that otter pops are way better.  I’m not talking about ads either I’m talking about the color, the packaging and the name.  All of these things go into our perception of how food tastes and this determines our choices.

Packaging  Any chef will tell you that you eat first with your eyes and that’s where most food marketing starts.   It has been shown time and time again that if you give someone the exact same food in two different packages they will think one is better tasting than the other. I’m taking a tip from what the food industry has already figured out.  Kids love things in squeeze packages.  There is something tactile fun about pushing up those otter pops.  There are some reusable silicone ice pop molds out there, but in the end they scream “home made” to your kid, and you know that means “not as good” to them.  I found these amazing zipzicles at amazon and my frozen treat worries were over!  Kids love these things and as an added bonus they travel well.
The Name  Would a popsicle by any other name taste as sweet?  Apparently not.  Try this test.  Mix Orange and Pineapple juices and freeze them in your favorite popsicle mold.  Put two out on plates.  Tell your kid one is an orange pineapple popsicle and the other is an “arctic orange monster blast” or a “tropical pirate chiller.”  See which one gets chosen.  So experiment with fun names for your pops!

Color  Use lots of colorful fruits and juices to make your pops pop!  Kiwi and honeydew mellon will make a wonderful exciting green.  Pomegranate juice makes intense purple/pink and adds a lot of sweetness.  I wish I could make something blue somehow but it’s simply not a color found in nature…which is why we probably shouldn’t eat it!

 

Now to the recipe.  Really you don’t need one, just a few guidelines.  Toss some fruit and juice in your blender and freeze.  Apples tend to give an odd texture and the “pulp” part of the apple will rise to the top for some unappealing pops.  Make sure you have more juice than pureed fruit because again you’ll get a layer of fruit pulp at the top.  I make pops most Fridays with whatever left over fruit is sitting around.  When there is left over bits from breakfast during the week I just toss them into a zip lock back in the fridge for later blending.  Make any combo you like with whatever you’ve got laying around.  Here are a couple of my favorite experiments:

Tropic Blast Pops

1 ripe banana

1/3 cup orange juice

1/3 cup pineapple juice

1/3 cup mango juice (or some left over mango)

 

Chi Chiller

Almond Milk

Pitted Dates

Sprinkle of cinnamon

Sprinkle of cardamom

Manic Days and Cupcakes

IMG_4985It all started last Friday night when Miley woke up at 12:30 thinking it was morning.  Over an hour later I had her to sleep but it set us on a path of overtired, hyperactive, obsessive, demanding, and defiant days.  Today I spent my morning at physical therapy (had surgery on my foot a couple of months ago), then rushed to the store, rushed to pick her up at pre-school and take her to the doctor.  Thankfully she only had a cold and not strep or worse since she is allergic to all antibiotics!  On the way out of the doctor’s office she passed the drug store/gift shop and started the familiar begging for a toy.  I was not about to cave on my “we don’t get toys for going to the doctor” policy but to be honest after days and days of battling her on every single little thing I was just tired and didn’t want another fight.  So I distracted her with the first fun thing that popped into my head.  Making cupcakes.  Somewhere deep in my heart I still believe that baked goods supply happiness.  So, on a day where I hadn’t even had time to shower I was hauling out the kitchen aid and making the healthiest cupcakes I could muster on short notice.  I’m not at all a baker but I improvised from a normal cupcake recipe to make it a tiny bit healthier.  Tiny being the operative word.  There are actually much more wholesome gluten free and even sugar free versions but I didn’t have all the fancy non gluten flours on hand and I needed this to be simple.  I also believe that a bit of organic cane sugar every now and again won’t kill her.   This is still way better than a box mix or store bought cupcakes.  Plus we had the fun of making them.

 

Ingredients for Perfect Vanilla Cupcakes:
3/4 cup cake flour or unbleached all purpose flour

½ cup whole wheat pastry flour (this is a finer grind and is important to texture)
1 1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 large eggs
3/4 cup organic cane sugar  (read my post on stevia as a substitute and don’t do it.  I toyed with coconut palm sugar but that would have made them brown.)
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup melted butter or coconut oil or a combo.  I used a combo

1/2 cup buttermilk or (or 1/2 cup milk plus 1/2 teaspoon white vinegar or lemon juice- add acid to the milk then set aside for 5 minutes before using)

Step 1 – Combine the flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a bowl and set aside.

 Step 2 – In your mixer bowl beat the eggs with the whisk attachment  on medium speed for a 10-15 seconds.   Keep the mixer going and add the other ingredients.

Step 3 – Add the sugar

 Step 4 – Add the vanilla and oil

 Step 5 – Add half the flour mixture

 Step 6 – Add half the buttermilk

 Step 7 – Add the rest of the flour

 Step 8 – Add the rest of the buttermilk

 Step 9 – Pour into paper cupcake lined muffin tin(s)  Fill each cupcake tin about half way.   Mine makes oversized cupcakes so it made 6 perfectly.  It would make a dozen normal sized.

 Step 10 – Bake at 350 until a wooden toothpick comes out clean in the center.  It took mine about 20 minutes but my oven is a bit dodgy these days.  I’d set the timer for 12 for a fist look and then keep an eye on them.  Let them cook completely before frosting.  I just did the confectioner’s sugar and milk glaze with some pomegranate juice added for color.  If I had more time I might have opted for a peanut butter or creamed cheese frosting since those are at least adding a protein.   Sugar free frosting is yet another area I need to do more research in.

 I will try and play around with this recipe and see if I can substitute honey for all or some of the sugar.   Now mamma needs a cocktail.

Wiggle Hearts- Natural vegan sugar free jello in minutes

IMG_4959 My daughter is obsessed with Jello.  Unfortunately all those pretty colors from food dye and the super sweet flavor from sugar puts it on the big no way list for her.  So I set out to find a healthy alternative.  This recipe takes minutes to make, takes only 3 ingredients and is completely vegan, sugar free and dye free.  I’ve been looking for a healthy version of Jello for a long time and then I started playing around with agar agar in my experiments with molecular gastronomy.  Agar is made from sea weed so it’s completely natural and vegan.  Gelatin is made by boiling animal parts in water.  We are not vegan but the whole process for gelatin gives me the creeps so I’d like to avoid it.  Agar can be found on Amazon and at natural food stores.  It comes as a IMG_4962powder and will maintain it’s powder form until boiled.  It will dissolve at temperatures between 95 and 100 degrees but remains a gel at room temperature.  It solidifies much more quickly than gelatin, and dissolves more quickly than sugar so I find this much faster than making the stuff in the box.  This recipe makes a firm gel similar to knox blox we had as a kid.  If you want a slightly less firm gel just back off a bit on the agar.

My recipe gives the amounts by weight as we do in modernist cooking. We do this because cooking by weight is far more accurate and you will get more consistent results. I suggest you purchase a small inexpensive but accurate scale on amazon for this and other modernist techniques.   This is a link to the one I have.  It costs $8 and is available on Amazon Prime. AWS 1KG digital scale

Step 1 – Measure out 150 grams of white grape juice and 150 grams of pomegranate juice and place in a sauce pan.  Approximately 2 cups by volume.

Step 2 – place some parchment paper on your scale an zero it out (restart it).  Slowly put Agar powder on the sale until it reads 3 grams.  Approximately 1 tablespoon by volume.

Step 3 – Add the agar to the juice and bring to a rapid boil.  Allow to boil for 15- 30 seconds, stirring constantly.

Step 4 – Pour the mixture into a pyrex dish or glass pie pan and place in the fridge.

Step 5 – Wait till it is firm (about 15 minutes) and remove from the fridge.  Now simply use cookie cutters to cut out any shape you like, or use a knife to cut them into blocks or diamonds.

If you do this by volume and not by weight you may not get the same results but its fast to try again so just adjust the ratio till you find a texture you are happy with.

Avoiding Scary Sweets this Halloween

IMG_2111Halloween used to be my favorite time of year.  My daughter loves it and always has, but last year we she really went trick or treating for real and for the first time actually ate the candy.  Yikes talk about things that go bump in the night!  We didn’t realize it at the time but all those artificial sweeteners and food dyes put her over the moon (and not in a good way).  It wasn’t until we started connecting the dots on her behavior that we realized hyperactive aggression spiked after a big sugar fest holiday like that.

What’s wrong with a little candy? I had it when I was a kid and I’m fine.  Two main things wrong with the candy that your neighbors will probably pass out this Halloween are HFCS and Food Dye or Artificial Coloring.

Why is food dye so bad?  Well here are just a few things that concern me:

#1 It is linked to health problems including cancer

#2 In the UK they are required to have a warning label on any food product containing food dye

#3 It is derived from petroleum

#4 It has been shown to increase hyperactivity in children

But these are just a few of the big reasons, there are so many more.  There is a wonderful article in 101 Days of Real Food/ that will give you shivers. The Huffington Post did a great article on halloween candy ingredients.

So what is a parent of a child who has issues with hyperactivity, allergies or sensitivity to food dye suppose to do?  

STARTING AT HOME
I’m starting by not passing out candy this year.  Partly because I want to practice what I preach and partly because if the candy is never in our house that’s one step ahead.  Instead I’m passing out glow in the dark spider rings, stickers and tattoos that I ordered on Amazon.  I think I ended up spending less on these than I have on candy in the past!

Here are several great non candy options.

Glow-in-the-Dark Spider Rings
Glow Bracelets
Halloween Stickers
Glow-in-the-Dark Halloween Tattoos
Glow-In-The-Dark Bugs

THE BIG TRADE IN THE BIG NIGHT
Halloween is right up there with Christmas in my book of amazing childhood memories. I’m not about to deprive my daughter of all that fantastic trick or tart stuff. My goal is simply to make sure she doesn’t turn into a monster by midnight! I have been talking to my daughter about her issues and we’ve come up with a plan.  I ordered halloween candy without artificial sweeteners or food dye from the Natural Candy Store and I will trade her for each thing in her halloween basket.  I know there will be some struggles and some upset feelings but I have stacked the deck with some really big treats I know she will love like cotton candy.  I will go ahead and let her have sugar, as long as it’s natural sugar and there are no food dyes.  I was able to take her to Disneyland (previously not the happiest place on earth for us) this past year without incident by taking my own cotton candy.  I know what you’re thinking sugar is sugar right?  Well what I can tell you is the difference I saw in her behavior.  When she gets processed sugar and artificial sweeteners she almost immediately starts begging for more and more and she craves sweets and carbs.  When I gave her the natural cotton candy, even though it was made from organic sugar, she didn’t do any of those things.  She was quite happy with the cotton candy and the freeze dried mango I had for her and we didn’t have a single tantrum all day.

Here are some alternatives to give your little angles that will keep the ghouls at bay.

Pretzels in fun Halloween packaging (it’s really all about the packaging!)
Surf Sweets gummy spiders, bears and worms
Yummy Earth fruit sweetened lollypops and candy

Easy healthy pumpkin muffins

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Active time: 30 minutes
Total time: 1 hour
Tools needed: mixer, muffin tins or silicone molds
Yields 24 mini muffins or 12 regular size muffins

In the fall my five year old and I like to make mini pumpkin muffins together. This recipe is really fast, easy and healthy while being the best pumpkin muffins I’ve ever eaten…seriously. I’ve always loved pumpkin muffins and for some reason I thought of them as healthy so I was astonished to see most recipes call for tons of sugar. Box mixes go even further by adding hydrogenated oils and chemicals to the processed sweeteners. I tried several no sugar versions and ended up adapting a recipe from one of my favorite websites Kitchen Stewardship. I played around with the spice mix to get just the right balance I like and added optional chia seeds and/or flax seeds for some omega 3.  I use a combination of butter and coconut oil for the best flavor and health benefit. They always turn out very moist and very sweet with just the right spice. Kids love making these and they are very easy so make it a project! They will love the muffins even more and take such pride in sharing them with friends.

1 2/3 cup whole wheat flour
2 Tablespoons ground flax seeds or chia seeds
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup raw agave
2 eggs
1 Tablespoon molasses
1/4 cup melted butter cooled to room temp
1/4 cup melted coconut oil cooled to room temp.
(Substitute with melted butter if you don’t have coconut oil)
1/4 cup cold water
1 cup organic pumpkin purée (about half a can)

In a stand mixer or large bowl combine all of the dry ingredients and spices. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix on medium speed till fully combined. Do not over beat or the texture will be gummy. Put them in greased muffin tins or silicone muffin molds. Bake at 325 for 15-30 minutes depending on the size of the muffins. They are very very moist so you can take a longer baking time but be careful because honey has a lower burning point than sugar so keep an eye on them. My mini silicone molds stay in for about 20 minutes.