Healthy baked chicken tenders

There’s nothing like a go-to chicken dinner recipe and this is totally my favorite.  Along with being delicious, this chicken recipe takes hardly any time to make — and is also healthy.

Cut the fuss and muss, along with an oil-spattered kitchen, by baking these chicken tenders in a hot oven. Easily tossed together in less than 30-minutes of cooking time, these tenders are perfect for a family friendly weeknight dinner. I serve with a crisp, green salad for the adults, along with some tasty yogurt Alfredo noodles for the tot (and, yeah, for us adults too). And just a quick tip — using a really good plain yogurt (Mountain High)  ensures you get seriously tender crispy chicken along with great tangy flavor. Go with a Greek-style or thick plain yogurt for best results.


1 lb chicken tenders

1/2 cup plain yogurt

1 tablespoon mustard

Dash salt and pepper

1/2 cup corn starch

1 cup Panko crumbs (or plain bread crumbs)

1 teaspoon Italian seasoning

2 tablespoons sunflower oil (or vegetable or coconut…)

What you do

Toss the chicken tenders in a plastic bag along with the yogurt and mustard. Give things a dash of salt and pepper and toss in the fridge for at least 20-minutes or up to an hour. If you like things spicy, add a few drops of your favorite hot sauce.

Mix together the corn starch and panko crumbs in another big zip-top baggie. Sprinkle in the Italian seasoning and you are ready to shake. Corn starch has less calories than white flower and crisps up wonderfully. You could also use whole-wheat  or almond flour instead.

Preheat your oven to 425˚F and drizzle the oil around a sheet pan. Take the happily marinated chicken from the fridge, toss a few at a time in the corn starch/flour and panko mixture, and then place on the sheet pan. Keep going until all are coated and ready to go.

Once coated, place on the sheet pan. Try not to cluster, which causes the tenders to steam and kind of turn out like mush. For extra crispiness, place the oil-coated sheet pan in the oven for a couple of minutes before adding the tenders. They’ll hit the pan with a sizzle, which is awesome.

Pop the chicken tenders in the oven and toast for 7 to 10-minutes and then flip. If your pan seems a bit dry, drizzle a bit more oil to help your chicken crisp. Cook for another 7 to 10-minutes, or until the other side is nicely browned.

This recipe makes enough to serve a happy family of four. 

*And I just made them again (1/20/14) and these tenders are still so good. A couple tips — use a non-stick baking pan, go ahead and crank the oven to 450˚F for a really crispy crust, and trust your oven! Don’t fuss and muss. Let them bake for seven to 10-minutes before flipping to ensure the crust doesn’t fall off and the coating is super crispy.

*Oh, and I wasn’t compensated by Mountain High in any way. I just absolutely love their product.

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Are you ready for some sangria?!

*I was not paid for this post, just provided with a bottle of sangria for tasting.

There’s no other way to say this — it’s been really hot here. We’re talking in the 90’s-can’t even go outside-don’t want to cook or do anything- kind of hot. I’ve been trying to stay cool in the yard with the tot and my laptop getting work done while she stumbles about in a swim suit spraying herself with the hose. So when this box showed up on my doorstep containing a vibrant bottle of sangria, I had a hard time waiting for the appropriate time of day to crack it open.

Just a reminder, I wasn’t paid for this post — just provided with a lovely bottle to taste test and then share my opinion. Eppa SuperFruit Sangria is a blend of real fruits, including blueberries, pomegranate, blood orange, and acai resulting in a wine that contains twice the amount of healthy antioxidants than a regular ol’ glass of red wine and only 120 per serving for about $12 a bottle.

And this sangria is certified organic.

The base is a Mendocino Cabernet and Syrah, made  just north of me, and creates the perfect compliment to the sweet fruits. As soon as I opened the bottle, I knew the wine was going to be tasty and wonderfully fruity. The bottle told me to pour over ice and enjoy with a slice of fresh fruit. Well, thanks, I will!

After my first sampling, the undercurrents of the wine was lovely with a fruity finish. Because the wine is combined with real, organic super fruit juice, the result is quite a treat, and definitely on the sweet side. I decided to use the sangria as the base for a lovely spritzer and topped my glass with a good shot of sparkling mineral water and a big slice of lemon.


This sangria would be perfect at any picnic or gathering — or for a fun night hanging with the ladies. And it would also be a great base for making tasty cocktails any time of year. Here’s another cocktail suggestion from Shape. Wondering where to pick up a bottle? Whole Foods carries the wine, but if you don’t have one near you, check out their store locator to find a bottle near you.

Chicken-n-dumplins (or something) soup

Yeah, my tot is sick. She’s had that hacky cough and a little drippy nose the last few days. I’ve doused her in orange juice, fresh fruit smoothies, and tons of yogurt to help her system work through her wee sickness. I even made a big pot of chicken soup, which she had no interest in at all, but I enjoyed eating while knowing I was deflecting all her little cold germs.

But instead of just making any ol’ boring chicken noodle soup, I made my own dumplings (and chicken stock — but that’s for another day) for a really rich and sick-busting soup/stew/thing. Okay, I’ve never actually made this style of “dumplings” before, but after this first try, I’m hooked.

What I learned is the thinner you roll the dough the better and the longer they simmer the softer they’ll be. In fact by the third re-heating they were seriously delicate and wonderfully tasty. I’ve adjusted the recipe for cooking time…


1 small onion

2 big carrots

3 stalks celery

3 big cloves of garlic

1 slice of lemon

1 teaspoon olive oil

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon Italian seasoning

8 cups chicken stock

1 pound chicken

2 cups flour

3/4 to 1  cup milk

2 tablespoons butter or shortening (or schmaltz)

1 teaspoon sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Seasoning to taste


Start by chopping your carrots, celery, and onion about the same size and add to a large pot. Dice the garlic into small chunks and toss in too. Give everything a drizzle of olive oil and top with a sprinkle of salt and Italian seasoning. Let hang out over medium-low heat until the edges of the veggies just start to brown.

Now toss in the slice of lemon (you’ll love the flavor this adds!) and the chicken stock. Let things come to a simmer and then add your chicken. Let bubble until it has poached through.

Remove the chicken and let the stock and veggies continue to bubble while you make the dumplings.

Mix together the flour, milk, baking powder, sugar and salt, and then cut in your fat. I used homemade chicken stock for making my soup, so had quite a bit of schmaltz skimmed from the pot to use. But butter or shortening work wonderfully too.

Once the dough comes together, give a quick knead on a dusted counter top and then roll as thin as possible. Use a pizza cutter to cut squares from your dough and then gently slide into your bubbling cauldron of happiness.

While things are bubbling, shred the now-cooled chicken and add to the soup. Here’s where I wasn’t patient enough — after about 20-minutes I ladled myself up a bowl and ate it quite happily with an extra dash of salt and pepper. The dumplings still had a bit of a bite to them, but they still tasted wonderful.

BUT, the next day, after letting the soup come to a nice and hot boil, the soup tasted even better. So my suggestion would be to cover your soup and let it gently simmer for at least 30-minutes after adding your dumplings — you could probably let them go even longer. Then give a taste test, adjust seasonings as needed, and ladle yourself up a bowl.

*If your stock is too thin for your liking, thicken with 1/2 cup milk and 1 tablespoon flour mixed nice and smooth. Slowly drizzle into the soup while stirring and watch as it instantly thickens.

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Constructivism and your child

Now that the tot is three, so many things have changed. She can talk her way through temper-tantrums explaining to us specifically why she is screaming and ranting, run that much faster away from us while we yell her name (desperately), and determine for herself if she’d like to nap or not (which is not so great for any down time for me). Sure, she’s also developing in amazing ways and exploring all the new things her brain and body can do, but it really seems so many of those things turn into a reason to have a toddler/parent show down.

And, during those moments, I try to take a few deep breaths and remind myself she’s a toddler and her behavior is typical. She’s also learning from the world around her, so setting a positive example is essential. It’s also pretty important to take a step back as the parent and give the child a chance to explore and learn from mistakes.

Through the concept of constructivism, a child is encouraged to learn through determining his own path of knowledge and individual process. Each child is different and special, just like their learning, and constructivism supports the idea that we construct our own understanding of the world we live in through generating rules and ideas based on individual experiences and trail and error. With the learning theory of constructivism, there are no flash cards or standardized tests. Instead, the child is supported to follow her instinct and create her own knowledge and strategies for understanding and learning.

Um, what the heck is constructivism? Don’t worry, it’s nothing to freak out about – and you might find learning about constructivism benefits you and your child. So, here are some facts…

The history of social constructivism leads us back to Lev Vygotsky and his social theories of learning. His studies found that a child often successfully accomplished new tasks while working in collaboration with an adult instead of on his own. This does not mean the adult is teaching the child how to solve problems, but through the act of the adult engaging with the child the learning experience improves and offers the child the ability to refine thinking and perform effectively. It is the idea of “can do” versus “cannot do,” and offering the child opportunities to change to the “can do” attitude with supportive, individual adult input.

By combining the idea of social and cognitive constructivism, the child is able to develop in positive ways. Social constructivism emphasizes the learning a child accomplishes through interaction with others and outside experiences. Cognitive constructivism is based on a child’s developmental stages and individual learning style. As stated before, each child is different and when her specific learning style is determined, her ability to learn is enhanced, especially when adults are able to fine-tune teaching to fit her specific learning.

Teaching with Constructivism

The educational system is not conducive to comfortably support constructivism in the mainstream classroom. But, there are small things educators, and parents, can do to support a child’s learning and development through constructivist theory. It is thought that most educators view learning as an objectivist theory, with the belief that learning exists outside of the bodies of learners residing in books and other educational documents. This leads to curriculum being based on teaching the child through textbooks instead of through experience. Through constructivism, the main way of learning is the senses, causing the brain to build a full understanding of the surrounding world. This leads us back to the understanding that each child is an individual creating separate unique responses and experiences.

With testing being the popular way to determine a child’s knowledge base, constructivism encourages the concept of experience and interaction. The process of learning through doing and engaging is the goal. Also, understanding each individual child’s prior-knowledge is key, used to build and grow adult interactions and teachings. This encourages greater bonds between adult and child and deeper educational experiences resulting in higher knowledge and self-esteem.

Ways to Integrate Constructivism

Introducing constructivist theory may seem like an unattainable goal for the classroom, but educators can make a difference through making simple changes and a bit of extra time. Parents can benefit from doing the same thing, creating a positive environment where the child is encouraged to explore and build his knowledge base through constructive ideals.

Take time to talk: It’s challenging in a bustling classroom to cover topics required by state standards of learning and maintain requirements of the school, but shortening lectures and book study and adding more interaction and discussion is one way to offer each student the opportunity to take part in learning. Including activities that encourage the student to apply their existing knowledge and real-world experiences promotes constructive learning. A healthy class debate is always a wonderful way to talk things out and hypothesis new ideas and problem solving.

At home, take time to talk through problems and encourage conversations at the dinner table, discussing new and exciting topics. And, don’t forget to ask lots of open-ended questions!

Doing is learning: Get out of the classroom and use those senses for learning! This goes for the home environment, too. As a population, we get caught up with the Internet and other social media as ways of entertainment and education. That big, heavy textbook has been replaced with surfing the interwebs. Turn to the great outdoors, along with real-life social interactions for learning and growth. Taking students into the real world to test their ideas and knowledge benefits constructive learning and understanding. Encourage a group discussion to finish the lesson after the out-of-classroom experience. And, parents can do the same by getting out of the house for a simple nature walk.

Ditch your expectations: Constructivism is not about test results and rote learning but about developing the child’s senses and understanding of the world around her. Find ways to encourage that learning through doing activities that are free of set limits and end results. Allowing a child to experiment with open-ended activities encourages creativity and self-esteem. If talking about weather systems, have students create a colorful weather collage. When discussing architecture, brainstorm as a group ways for building better covered bridges. Not only is the child developing her brain in amazing ways, she is pushing her senses to the limits learning more about his strengths and weaknesses and then making adjustments. Offering pre-tests allows for the teacher to gain understanding of student’s existing knowledge, aiding in creating educational lesson plans.

At home, direct open-ended questions without pressure on expectations. Use language focused on learning instead of results, such as grades, to instill confidence.

Introducing constructivist theory into the home or classroom is easier than one might think and offers fantastic benefits for both child and adult. So get out there and do some open-ended activities!

Get it Guide: Kicking some butt


There’s no denying the holiday season added extra jiggle to my already gelatinous middle.  As it is I’ve barely got enough time in the day to get the basics done, which means putting aside a few moments to work out hardly ever happens. And stepping on the scale is out of the question. So when my latest Get it Guide Guru post was to try out some new fitness DVD’s to ring in the New Year, I was ready.


I describe my fitness level as: okay.  I’ve got several pounds hanging around that wouldn’t be missed.

I exercise: 20 minutes 3 times a week (sometimes). Hey, I’ve got a toddler – that’s a work out.

My usual reaction to fitness DVD’s is: Boring.

Keep on reading, or head on over to Shine, to see which fitness DVD’s I checked out – and if I’m still using any of them….

Continue reading

Quinoa, kale and white bean soup

The first day of winter is right around the corner which means cooler weather along with the holidays and all those cookies and treats and parties and stuff.

I already have a nice amount of jiggle-in-the-middle. I don’t need any more.

But a girl’s gotta eat, right?

My days get pretty hectic balancing the tot and work stuff. Sometimes I don’t eat lunch until 1:30 or so when she has her “nap,” and then the adults eat dinner around 8ish. The tot eats lunch around 11:30 and dinner at 5, and sometimes I’ll have a some fresh fruit or yogurt with her during her meal times. By the time the husband gets home around 6:30, I’m famished.

Yeah, I know we are eating pretty late, but I’m not about to have dinner on the table when the husband crashes through the door. The tot is a mess and, as it is, only gets about an hour with her daddy before she conks out.

So, for now, that’s our eating schedule.

Having a really healthy and filling lunch helps me get through the day – and to stay sane and not fall apart and forget things.

(I still forget things.)

Kale is in season and I’ve always got quinoa in the house – you know how much I love it (here, here, here…). I dug around and discovered a couple of cans of white beans and a few containers of vegetable stock and realized I had the mixings for a super healthy, high protein and fiber soup.

What you need

3 cloves garlic chopped

1 small onion chopped

1 tsp vegetable oil

1 tbsp butter

1 c quinoa

6 c vegetable stock

2 15 ounce cans of white beans (you can use any kind – cannelloni, great northern, navy…)

1 c rinsed and chopped kale

1 tsp balsamic vinegar

1/4 t salt

Additional salt and pepper to taste

How you make it

Start by getting a large stock pot heating over medium-high heat. Add your chopped onions, garlic, butter and oil and let simmer for a bit. You want the onions and garlic to pick up some color – but we’re not talking blackened, so make sure to stir every once in awhile.

Now you can sprinkle everything with the salt and then add the quinoa. Feel free to rinse it first (I don’t but others swear by it) and stir the quinoa together with the onions and let toast up for a minute.

Turn down the heat to medium, add the vegetable stock, stir, then cover with a lid.

That’s it.

Simmer for about 10-minutes or until the quinoa have evolved into small swirls. Now open, rinse and drain one of the cans of white beans and add to the soup. You can also add the rinsed and chopped kale along with the balsamic vinegar. Pop the lid back on and keep simmering.

Open up that other can of beans, rinse and drain, and then mash with a fork until those beans resemble a paste. Add them to the pot and then stir the soup until everything is looking tasty.

You can simmer the soup until the kale is tender, which takes an additional 5-to 10 minutes, and then serve with a sprinkling of salt and pepper – or a couple of shavings of parmesan cheese.


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Peer pressure and the brain

Even my toddler is starting to succumb to peer pressure. Sure, she’s just two, but I see her following along with the big kids at the play ground and being coerced into trying the slide even though she’s not really ready for it yet. Luckily I can jump in and rescue her, but know, in just a blink of an eye, she’s going to be out there on her own dealing with peer pressure and need to prepare myself for helping her down that path.

Throughout life there are many times when outside influences change or influence decision-making. The young child has inner motivation to learn and explore, but as a child matures, finds outside sources to be a motivating force for development. Along with being influential in positive ways, there are moments when peer pressure can be overwhelming and lead a child down a challenging path. And peer pressure is a real thing – it is not only observable, but changes the way the brain behaves.

Observational Learning

As a young adult, observational learning plays a part in development through observing and then doing. A child sees another child playing a game in a certain way and having success, so the observing child tries the same behavior. Alburt Bandura was a leading researcher in this area. His famous bobo doll studies found that the young child is greatly influenced by observing other’s actions. When a child sees something that catches his attention, he retains the information, attempts to reproduce it, and then feels motivated to continue the behavior if it is met with success.

Observational learning and peer pressure are two different things – one being the observing of behaviors and then the child attempting to reproduce them based on a child’s own free will. The other, peer pressure, is the act of one child coercing another to follow suit. Often the behavior being pressured is questionable or taboo, such as smoking cigarettes or drinking alcohol.

As adults we can rehash our “firsts” and the times something new was explored or experienced. Often there were others tagging along for the ride – or egging the behavior on.

You know what I’m talking about…

Peer Pressure and the Brain

Recent studies find that peer pressure influences the way our brains behave, which leads to better understanding the impact of peer pressure and the developing child.

According to studies from Temple University, peer pressure has an effect on brain signals involved in risk and reward department, especially when a teen’s friends are around.  Compared to adults in the study, teenagers were much more likely to take risks they would not normally take on their own when with friends. Brain signals were more activated in the reward center of the brain, firing greatest during at risk behaviors.

Peer pressure can be difficult for young adults to deal with and learning ways to say “no” or avoid pressure-filled situations can become overwhelming. Resisting peer pressure is not just about saying “no,” but how the brain functions. Children that have stronger connections among regions in their frontal lobes, along with other areas of the brain, are better equipped to resist peer pressure. During adolescence, the frontal lobes of the brain develop rapidly, causing axioms in the region to have a coating of fatty myelin, which insulates them and causes the frontal lobes to more effectively communication with other brain regions. This helps the young adult to develop judgment and self-control needed to resist peer pressure.

Along with the frontal lobes contributing to the brain and peer pressure, other studies find that the prefrontal cortex plays a role in how teens respond to peer pressure. Just as with the previous study, children that were not exposed to peer pressure had greater connectivity within the brain as well as abilities to resist peer pressure.

Working Through Peer Pressure

The teenage years are exciting times. The young adult is often going through physical changes (um, yeah, puberty), adjusting to new friends and educational environments, and learning how to make decisions for themselves Adults can offer a helping and supportive hand, which may not always be happily accepted, to young adults when dealing with peer pressure by considering the following:

Separation: Understanding that this is a time for the child to separate and learn how to be his own individual is important. It is hard to let go and allow the child to make mistakes for himself, especially when you want to offer input or change plans and actions, but allowing the child to go down his own path is important. As an adult, offer a helping hand if things go awry and being there to offer support is beneficial.

And don’t toss out, “I told you so.”

Talk it Out: As an adult, take a firm stand on rules and regulations with your child. Although you cannot control whom your child selects as friends, you can take a stand on your control of your child. Setting specific goals, rules, and limits encourages respect and trust, which must be earned in response. Do not be afraid to start talking with your child early about dealing with peer pressure and educating about ways to resist peer pressure, which builds confidence in your child to say “no” at the right time without feeling guilt or loss of self-confidence.

Stay Involved: Keep family dinner as a priority, make time each week for a family meeting or game time, and plan family outings and vacations regularly. Spending quality time with kids models positive behavior and offers lots of opportunities for discussions about what is happening at school and with friends.

If at any time there are concerns a child is becoming involved in questionable behavior due to peer pressure, ask for help. Understand that involving other’s in helping a child cope with peer pressure, such as a family doctor, youth advisor, or other trusted friend, does not mean that the adult is not equipped to properly help the child, but that including others in assisting a child, that may be on the brink of heading down the wrong path, is beneficial.



Brainy foods for your kids

© Sarah Lipoff 2011

Kids are not going to come running when you offer them a brown bag lunch filled with brain food. But parents can sneak brain-tastic treats into their kid’s lunch (without too big of a fuss from either parent or child), and aid in boosting a child’s brainpower and learning abilities.

Along with tasting good, food provides important energy for the body – which includes the brain. Filling lunches with brain healthy foods will give your child a jump-start on understanding those tricky math equations and remembering vocabulary words. Brain boosting foods work together to improve memory, encourage energy and brain function, along with keeping the body full of healthy nutrients essential for getting through the school day.

And brain-boosting goodies also do double duty by keeping the body healthy – especially during the cold and flu season.

You can’t beat that.

Get Your Child Involved

When your child helps pack her lunch, she learns about making smart food choices as well as basic cooking skills. It is also an opportunity to spend some quality time together. It’s the perfect chance to bask in some parent-child bonding. Spend a few moments chatting about how things are going in school, exciting activities taking place, and all the new friends being made.

While packing a brown-bag-brain-boosting lunch, explain to kids why certain foods are being included and for what reason. When your child is clued into why specific items are important, she can share her knowledge with others, potentially positively influencing friends to eat healthy, too.

Start Out Right

According to, breakfast is an important part of getting school aged children healthfully through the day. Offering scrambled eggs, whole-grain toast with peanut butter, or granola cereal with berries and yogurt will get things started right. But, following up with a healthy lunch is the best way to prevent that afternoon crash, alleviating potentially lowered attention span and general lethargy.

Sure, that might be due to an extra-lengthy movie on atoms or animals in the desert, but if your child’s had a nutritious lunch, she just might make it through without nodding off – and maybe glean some of that important information.

Stocking the pantry with healthy food items makes creating brain boosting lunches easy and sets a positive example for kids when selecting healthy snacks after school. Avoiding overly processed foods and opting for fresh items is a great start.

Healthy Lunch Options

Whole Grains

Boosting brainpower is as simple as switching over to whole grain bread or tortillas for making sandwiches or wraps. Using whole-grain pasta for lunch-box pasta salads also adds the extra nutrients needed for positive long-lasting energy. Whole grain food items are high in folate and other B vitamins that help improve memory function and are also full of fiber, keeping your child’s tummy full longer.

Create a healthy sandwich that offers a twist on the basic turkey and cheese by taking a whole-grain tortilla and spreading it with 1 tablespoon flavored cream cheese. Your child can help create her own flavored spread by adding 1 tablespoon of a flavoring of her choice such as some chopped chive, chopped dried cranberries, or even chopped black olives.

Next, place 3 or 4 slices of turkey breast on top of the cream cheese.

Now, your child can add other ingredients such as chopped lettuce, cucumber or tomato and then wrap.

Cut the turkey tortilla wrap into bite sized pieces and hold together with a tooth-pick, which keeps your child’s lunch box mess-free, and makes the bite-sized pieces fun to eat.

For an added brain boosting punch, sprinkle the cream cheese with 1 tablespoon of sunflower seeds or slivered almonds. Nuts contain omega-3 fatty acids, which encourage a happy brain.


Beans are high in just about everything that your child’s brain needs such as protein, thiamin for energy, vitamin B6 for normal brain function, and folate, which helps to create important red blood cells. Yes, most children are more familiar with the silly rhyme about beans than their health benefits, but packing beans in your child’s lunch can be just as fun.

Start by preheating the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.

Turn beans into a brain boosting mashed and crisp goodie by creating bean croquettes. Drain 1 15-ounce can of white beans and mix with 1 chopped garlic clove, ¼ teaspoon salt, and dash of pepper (and hot sauce if desired) in a medium bowl. Kids can help by using the measuring spoons and cups to properly measure and add ingredients and then mash the ingredients with a potato masher until chunky, but smooth.

Now, place 1 cup of whole-wheat breadcrumbs on a plate and scoop a large spoon full of the bean mixture (about the size of a golf ball) into the breadcrumbs, evenly coating the outside. Your child can help cover the outsides and then place the coated croquettes on a baking tray coated with 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil.

Continue rolling and placing the bean croquettes on the baking tray and then lightly press each ball so that it is slightly flattened, which will encourage even baking.

Place the bean croquettes in the oven and cook for 10 minutes on each side, or until evenly browned. Let cool and drain on paper towel before eating.

The bean croquettes can be sent in a bag lunch accompanied with a yogurt dill sauce for dipping by mixing ½ cup thick Greek style yogurt, with 1 tablespoon chopped cucumber, and 1 teaspoon fresh or dried dill. Yogurt is high in calcium, which also helps to build healthy brain cells.

Colorful Fruits and Veggies

Along with providing a high-protein main item for lunch, kids need colorful fruits and veggies to encourage brain development, stay full longer, and provide the body with healthy minerals and vitamins. The darker the color of fruit or vegetable the brain-healthier – making blueberries, red peppers, strawberries, or carrots ideal side items for a complete brown bag lunch.

Have your child help wash, slice, and pack dark-colored fruits and vegetables according to color, encouraging their color-recognition as well as fine motor skills. Pair the fruits and veggies with a tasty dipping sauce made with a favorite salad dressing, hummus, or flavored yogurt.

Pack a couple of toothpicks for your child to spear the fruits and veggies and then dip, which not only makes eating fun, but also boosts fine-motor skills and hand-eye coordination.

Get in the kitchen and turn brown-bag lunches into fun and tasty brain-boosting creations!

Roasted summer veg quinoa

© Sarah Lipoff 2011

Our garden finally decided to be a garden and grow a couple of tomatoes and zucchini. This summer was a bit cooler than usual, so the rest of my stuff (peppers, herbs, artichokes) didn’t really take off. But, the other day, I had a good handful of happy stuff and while savoring the wonderfully fresh smell of my collection, I had an idea.

Roasted vegetable quinoa

You know I love quinoa (here, here, and here) and it really is a super-food often overlooked. It’s also not challenging to work with and is very versatile. This recipe is so easy and can be adapted for whatever veggies or flavors you like. This healthy side can be on the table in less than 30-minutes perfect for lunch as is or for a side dish at dinner topped with grilled fish or chicken.

And, it’s super yummy.


4 cups cooked quinoa

1 zucchini chopped

1 large tomato chopped

1 small onion or shallot chopped

1 cob of corn (corn cut from cob)

1 garlic clove sliced and diced

1 Tbsp olive oil

1 Tbsp fresh herbs chopped fine (whatever collection you like)

1 scallion

2 Tbsp balsamic vinaigrette salad dressing

1/4 teaspoon salt

Pepper to taste

How to make it

Preheat your oven to 425 F and start dicing up your vegetables. Grab your pre-cooked quinoa from the fridge and break up so there aren’t any big lumps and clumps. Not sure how to make quinoa? Just follow the directions on the box or check out these directions (although I never pre-rinse my quinoa – but go ahead and do that step if you’d like).

© Sarah Lipoff 2011

Place all your veggies and the olive oil on a sheet pan and give things a good stir. You can give everything a little sprinkle of salt, too. Pop those vegetables in the hot oven and let roast for about 10 to 15-minutes and then give a stir. Let them roast another 5 to 10 minutes and then remove from the oven.

Now sprinkle the quinoa over the vegetables and give another stir. Pop everything back in the oven for another 10 minutes and then remove.

© Sarah Lipoff 2011

In a medium-sized bowl, mix together the balsamic dressing, fresh herbs, additional salt and scallion. Carefully spoon the hot roasted vegetable quinoa into the dressing and give things a stir. Pepper to your liking.

Serve warm or enjoy cool. Either way it is fantastically good.

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Self-reliant preschoolers

© Sarah Lipoff 2011

“NO, I do it.”

Whether it’s walking up the stairs without holding someone’s hand, putting on (and selecting) her own clothes, or carrying the way-too-heavy grocery bags, my child has a case of the “no, I do-its.”

I’m so glad she’s excited about exploring her abilities and finds cleaning up her messes and putting her own clean and freshly folded laundry away. But that laundry ends up as a big clumpy pile in a corner of her room and the mess turns a bit messier from her cleaning efforts. While resisting my urge to do these things for my tot (and wondering why this I Can Do It attitude magically disappears on the potty-training front) I remembered an article I created for Funderstanding about self-reliant preschoolers.

I figured the article deserved a good re-read, especially because we are heading back to preschool in a couple of weeks. And, if you’ve got a toddler at home returning or starting preschool for the first time, you might find these ideas and insights helpful, too!

Self-reliant preschoolers

As parents, we want to encourage our kids to think for themselves and make smart, positive decisions. But sometimes we get stuck on wanting things to be done to our own expectations and a helping hand is offered before the child can think or do something or themselves. And then there are those moments we become “helicopter parents,” where more time is spent focusing on directing the child’s behavior than nurturing it. The toddler’s developing brain is an amazing thing, and all these aspects play a role on how it advances.


Self-reliant behavior is the concept of encouraging one to feel confident, able to make decisions, and do things for themselves. Ralph Waldo Emerson spent some time contemplating the understanding of self and the importance of trusting one’s self-being. For parents of toddlers, this can be a challenging concept – especially when preparing for preschool. Taking the time to nurture the child’s growing abilities and interests can be overwhelming and exhausting. But it is an important step for creating self-reliance in toddlers and preparing them for what is to come in preschool.

Most preschoolers are expected to accomplish simple tasks throughout the day.  From putting on their own jackets to knowing their numbers and letters, a preschooler is inherently interested and excited with new tasks and concepts. Sometimes the simplest mission an adult might take for granted, such as selecting a spot to sit for lunch, can be a big challenge to a child. As adults, offering children the opportunity to build their self-confidence and self-reliance makes those moments a bit easier for the child, and often with wonderful results.

Helping your toddler

Before heading to preschool there are a few simple ways you can help your child build his self-reliance. Understand that this may be a frustrating time for everyone involved, but with some dedication, and a lot of patience, the outcomes speak loud and clear.

Encourage your child to do simple tasks on his own. As much as you might want to hurry things along and put those shoes on for your toddler, it is a good idea to let him do it himself – and the way he wants to. This means if he gets them on, but those shoes are on the wrong feet, do not correct him. While he is working through the task, offer lots of encouraging words as well as giving him some space. Instead of offering praise such as, “you are doing a good job, “ use direct words such as, “I am pleased you are spending so much time concentrating.”

Let your child make decisions. This does not mean letting your child be the decision- maker on big things, but encourage him to pick out his own clothes in the morning (even if things do not match) or select dinner one night a week. When your child feels he makes decisions that are respected and taken seriously, he is building his self-confidence encouraging his self-reliance. As the child ages, he will continue making smart decisions, helping to build a well-rounded adult.

Stand back. When your child is about to take a risk, stand back and watch what happens. Obviously, if your child’s well-being is in danger, step in and redirect his behavior. But if he is making the decision to try his bike without training wheels, maybe it is time to see if he really can do it. Preschoolers are daredevils and learning everyday what their bodies can and cannot do. By allowing your child to healthfully explore his abilities without hearing a constant, “NO,” he is learning you trust him and his decisions.

Give your preschooler responsibilities. Even young kids are capable of doing small tasks. Allow your child to be in charge of doing something he can do regularly, like wiping the table after the family meal. Kids like to feel they are contributing successfully to day-to-day living. His sense of accomplishment is his reward, and the more he understands this, the more smart decisions he will make, along with wanting to take on more responsibilities.

Be confident and model positive behavior. The first day of preschool is often hard on parent and child. Expect to endure separation anxiety at some point from your child. As an adult, model positive behavior and stay confident, even when feeling overwhelmed. Your child will be encouraged to do the same. Talk through concerns with your child before the first day including time for your child to share his worries, thoughts, and questions. By answering his concerns and talking out all his reservations, he is learning his thoughts are respected and heard, building his own self-confidence and understanding of what the preschool experience will be.

Trust others. Remember, the preschool teachers are there for help as well as others in your community. Encouraging your child to trust others builds his understanding of community and his role within it. When he sees adults sharing and communicating, he understands he should, too. This will build his ability to make friends, continue making positive decisions, and build relationships he will have for the rest of his life.

As a parent, and a preschool teacher, I have experienced the ups and downs of both sides of this topic. I am no expert, but have had wondrous results encouraging self-reliant skills in my own child, and many others. Take the time to spend some time with your preschooler encouraging his self-reliant skills and you, too, will see positive results both at school and at home.