SchoolFamily Voices

Join our bloggers as they share their experiences on the challenges and joys of helping children succeed in school.

SchoolFamilycom and Meal Makeover Moms Present Healthier Mealtime Choices—And a Special Offer

“Hey Mom, what’s for dinner?”

Deciding what to make for dinner is a challenge in many households with young children, especially on busy weeknights. With school the next day, kids need a nutritious evening meal to get through their evening homework, especially after vigorous sports activities and other extracurricular events.

But…what can you make for dinner that’s quick, nutritious, healthy (or at least healthier), and that’ll actually be eaten by the kids?

And it's not only dinner, of course. Getting kids to eat something for breakfast before flying out the door is critically important since healthy food fuels their ability to learn and focus. Offering them a sugary Pop-Tart with empty calories isn't the answer—even if that's the only thing they say they'll eat. 

School lunch is another matter. If your kids hate the gruel handed out in the school cafeteria (though more and more schools are offering attractive and nutritious fare these days), what can they take for lunch that's healthy, portable, and tasty? 

As part of SchoolFamily.com’s Recipe Share, we’ve partnered with the Meal Makeover Moms. The “Moms” are cookbook authors and registered dietitians Janice Newell Bissex, MS, RD, and Liz Weiss, MS, RD, and they’ve made it their mission to give traditional recipes a makeover by reducing calories, fat, sodium, and more, and yet still keeping the food tasty enough to win over the pickiest of young eaters.

Their latest cookbook, No Whine With Dinner, features 150 healthy, kid-tested, mom-approved recipes, and 50 amazing tips from readers for getting picky eaters to try new foods—especially vegetables.

One of my family's favorites so far (I'm making my way through the cookbook!) is the recipe for Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins. It's an easy recipe to make and I love the fact that it calls for whole wheat flour and wheat germ. If I'm really honest, I'll admit I especially love that despite the "healthy" ingredients, my food-finicky teenage daughter grabs one of these muffins in the morning for breakfast and enjoys another when she gets home from her after-school activities. Whole wheat flour? Wheat germ? These ingredients would typically elicit a "yuck!" from her.

Are you hungry yet? Good! Because in a special offer, SchoolFamily.com readers can purchase No Whine With Dinner at 30 percent off the list price—and get free shipping—by ordering the book here and using promo code FS2011.

For more on the Meal Makeover Moms, follow their weekly podcasts at Cooking With the Moms or their blog at The Moms' Blog.


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Everyday Ways to Help Children Practice New Skills

Now that school is in session your young child is learning new skills every day.  Here are some simple ways to reinforce and practice those skills as part of your family’s routines:


  • Count backwards. While warming something in the microwave for 60 seconds, let her count down the numbers out loud. This practice helps backward counting skills become more automatic.


  • Make him a smart shopper. Take him with you on your next trip to the grocery store. Beforehand, make a list together to practice writing skills. When you are in close proximity for a particular item on the list, let him use visual and letter skills to find it. If he’s having difficulty, try the “getting warm” technique!


  • Play “I Spy:” While driving to school, sports practice, dance lessons, etc., have her find particular letters or numbers on street signs, houses, license plates, and more. She can shout, “I spy!” when she finds the items.


  • Create a Mini-Chef:  Together read recipes or directions, and make recipes that are easy to make with kids. Explain unfamiliar words such as “sift.” This reinforces reading and vocabulary. Let him help measure ingredients for mixing. This shows how things go in sequence. When the food is cooked, let him help divide items into parts for math skills practice. Or, group warm cookies into sets of five to count the total, and then have him practice subtraction: “How many are left when we both eat one?”


  • Watch sporting events together. Have her read aloud the numbers on players’ shirts. Count the number of on-field or court players. Watch the game clock to see how much time is left. Count down together when the clock has less than a minute left. Estimate the final score, and see how close her estimate was at the end of the game. 


Learning is a natural part of life.  By having your child pay attention to simple daily activities, you create a treasure trove of teachable moments!

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Weeknight Dinner’s No Problem With Versatile “Simple White Sauce”

Everyone should learn how to make an easy, simple “white sauce.” Also called “gravy”—and similar to a roux or remoulade in fancy French circles—the uses for this sauce include everything from a topping for mashed potatoes to a key ingredient in “Gourmet Salmon Remoulade.” (Not that I’m ever that fancy around here.)

The beauty of a white sauce is that it grows up to become ANYTHING you want it to be. If you are hankering for a homey potpie some weeknight, simply doctor up the sauce with some salt and pepper, and add some parsley. If you and your kids are feeling a bit of a “fiesta” coming on, enlist the kids' help, add Tex-Mex-style seasonings, and bake up some yummy Creamy Chicken Enchiladas. Really, the sky’s the limit for whatever your imagination can dream up when it comes to experimenting and changing the ingredients to create new favorite family meals.

I’ve used this sauce to make a thick, sausage gravy for dinnertime biscuits and gravy, without the huge amounts of pepper that come in store bought “country gravy” packets. (Yuck.) I also use it to make Homestyle Chicken Potpie and Family-Friendly Chicken Curry Over Rice—which my kids love.

Dinner will taste awesome if you start with a white sauce you make yourself (and can control for thickness, seasonings, etc.), rather than any cream-in-a-can.

So, now that you’ve got a simple white sauce…what’re you gonna make with it?!

Editor's note: Readers, let other SchoolFamily.com cooks know what you make with Carissa's recipe for Simple White Sauce! We'll share your recipe idea on our Recipe Share and here on our blog site. Send us your recipe using this Recipe Submission Form, and happy creating!




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Best Summer Salads For Potluck Gatherings!

Family reunions, neighborhood potlucks. and church gatherings. What do they all have in common? Don’t say crazy Aunt Erma. I’m talking about the food of course! Specifically SALADS, which are perfect for summer potlucks.

I know what you’re thinking: We’re all about the meat at these group gatherings, right? While camping and reunion-ing with my giant family (in the photo, that’s me in the middle with 4 of my 6 sisters), hot dogs and hamburgers reign king and queen. At block parties the meat-eating fare is more sophisticated: grilled chicken or even ribs might turn up and surprise you. While at church or school dinner nights; spaghetti bakes are common. But in my world there’s almost always baked brisket or tri-tip (a cut of beef from the sirloin) —YUM!  

Now that your mouth is watering, let’s talk about those salads? What to bring? Green salad? Pasta salad? Fruit salad? Because I certainly don’t want to bring the same thing as 6 other people (how embarrassing). So, here are the best of the best in my book.


My Top 5 Favorite Potluck Salads

1. Chinese Cabbage Salad. This is my new amazing FAVORITE salad. I plan to bring it to every potluck all summer long. Even my kids beg for this. Since I’m not a huge fan of coleslaw, but love cabbage, skip the sweet creamy dressing and go for a rice wine vinegar-style dish with lots of crunchy add-ins instead (BTW, toasting the sesame seeds, almonds, and ramen noodles in butter first will pretty much insure a blue ribbon win at your next group gathering. Fat free? NO.)


2. Broccoli Salad. My second favorite salad. The dressing is very simple: rice wine vinegar with a little bit of mayo and sugar. It’s easy to experiment with or dress up each time you make it—try different nuts, seeds, raisins, Craisins, bacon, red onion, green onions, apples, and all sorts of different cheeses. My special GoodNCrazy tip: Peel and slice the inside stalk of broccoli and toss in the salad; I’m surprised how much I like the “heart” of broccoli.


3. Green Jell-O With Cottage Cheese Salad. It shows where I’m from (Utah), but I’m a sucker for anything with cottage cheese in it. People put all sorts of wacky things in this type of salad. I’m happy with a few fruits (apples and pineapple), and adding whipped cream in with the Jell-O after it’s partially set.


4. Angry Taco Salad. This is the perfect way to use up leftover taco meat. The best variation I know for this salad starts with seasoned hamburger. Add shredded lettuce, cheese, tomatoes, and then top the mixture with a WHOLE bag of crunched up Nacho Doritos (YUM, huh?). Stir it all together and then… wait for it… the secret ingredient: add one-half to a whole bottle of store-bought French dressing. I’ll admit that the dressing threw me at first, but trust me and give it a chance. People will be all—“WHO made that salad?!” and “What’s the secret?!” And you can tell them…or not. (Recipe courtesy of my friend @AngryJulie!)


5. Acini de Pepe Salad (also known as Frog Eye Salad in my world). This salad is a staple at my huge family reunions. It’s like an Ambrosia salad with mini pasta dots, pudding, whipped cream, pineapple, and coconut. It makes a HUGE vat of salad and feeds literally hundreds of people.


So there you have it—5 fabulous summer salads. Now, share with me…what’s your favorite summer salad?


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Summer Reading for Youngsters Using Common Core Standards

Motivating your young child to read during the summer can be a challenge. Here are 3 easy ideas to keep your child reading all summer, while subtly reinforcing the Common Core reading standards.

  • Connect reading to projects or crafts: Encourage your child to read Two Blue Jays by Anne Rockwell and Megan Halsey.  This is an engaging story about students observing blue jays building a nest outside their classroom window. Then, help her make a simple birdhouse to hang in a tree in your backyard.  Or, have him read Maisy Makes Lemonade by Lucy Cousins, and help him set up a lemonade stand.


  •  Connect reading to family travel or other family interests: Together read Punky Goes Fishing by Sally G. Ward, before going on a fishing trip. Or, read The Little Airplane by Lois Leski before going on an airplane trip.


  • Set a Summer Reading Goal: Challenge your child to read 5 books a week.  Keep a reading sticker chart, and for each book read, add a sticker. When there are 15 stickers on the chart have a special reward for your good reader, such as an ice cream sundae or new beach toy.


 Other Fun Ways to Focus on Common Core Reading Standard:

• Have her tell you key details in the story.

• Have him retell the story to demonstrate understanding of its main idea.

• Talk about characters, setting, and events in the story.

• Compare and contrast adventures and experiences of the characters in the story.

Make meaningful reading part of your family’s summertime fun!


Editor's note: Another fun way to read with your child—while combining a fun activity—is to read the recipe for these Lemonade Cookies, which are easy to make, or choose other recipes to make with children from our Recipe Share.

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First Lady's 'American Grown' Book Promotes Family, School Gardens

Do your kids dislike most vegetables and some fruits? If so, have you ever considered helping your children grow their own produce by seeding, watering, weeding, and then harvesting their own garden?

 First Lady Michelle Obama says that’s just what it takes to get many kids excited—yes, you read that correctly: excited—about eating fresh produce. Her new book, “American Grown: The Story of the White House Kitchen Garden and Gardens Across America,” shows pages of colorful photos of vegetables and fruits planted, tended to, harvested, and eaten by schoolchildren.


Take Our Poll: Has your child been involved in cultivating a fruit/vegetable garden, either at your home or at school?


“When you grow your own vegetables and fruits, they taste really good,” Mrs. Obama told schoolchildren, who gathered at the White House in March for the 4th annual planting of the White House Kitchen Garden. “They taste better than a lot of stuff you’ll get in a grocery store, trust me.”

“My kids have done it,” she added, telling the children, “They’re not big fans of all vegetables, but if they help to work on it they’re much more excited about trying it out.”

During a promotional appearance this week on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” the First Lady demonstrated how easy it is to plant fruits and veggies from seed, accompanied by 5 children from Public School 107 in Brooklyn, NY. The school’s Sunshine Garden, which features produce grown in container gardens in the schoolyard, is featured in Mrs. Obama’s book.

P.S. 107 used a Lowe’s Toolbox grant, awarded through SchoolFamily.com’s sister site, PTOToday.com, to create the edible garden, and the school was also featured in a PTO Today magazine article on school gardening article in 2011.

Have you gardened with your kids? Has it helped raise their interest in—and consumption of—the produce they’ve grown? Any helpful hints you can share about the process for those who’d like to try it? And if you'd like some easy recipes to make with kids or recipes older kids can make themselves using your garden-fresh produce, check out SchoolFamily.com's Recipe Share.

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Cereal: Not the "Breakfast of Champions" For This GoodNCrazy Family

That’s right. CEREAL.

I am not a morning person. Instead I’ve taught my children the fine art of pouring milk and cereal. And I can’t figure out why they aren’t fond of it? I keep wondering: What kinds of kids don’t like cereal? (Mine, of course. That's them in the photo, smiling despite the cereal box in front of them).

I know there are amazing moms out there creating masterpieces of homemade goodness every single morning. They’re out there, waking at 5 a.m. to whip up a batch of scones, and sending their kids to school with whole-wheat heart-shaped sandwiches.

My own mom made breakfast for a family of 10 kids (that’s not a typo—I’m really one of 10!).  And she did it nearly every day. I often wonder why the early-to-rise and make-nutritious-breakfast-genes didn’t pass down?

Instead I keep the kitchen stocked in bagels and cream cheese to offset the cereal boredom, and plenty of PB&J for those (eek!) white bread sandwiches they make each day for school lunches. Come on…the loaf says “whole grain;” ’ that counts right? (Oh, forget it.)

I do own a few breakfast skillz. We simply eat breakfast for dinner! No. Not cereal; I’m talking the real deal—homemade waffles (chocolate waffles, orange-infused waffles or waffles with peaches and cream)! And choose-a-flavor-omelet night or pancakes spelled into kid names on the skillet. Oh, we have breakfast, don’t get me wrong, but we eat it when our eyeballs are wide awake and can truly enjoy it!

That reminds me. Have you ever had German Pancakes? We eat them for lunch nearly every Sunday, directly after church. Who doesn’t love eggs and lots of butter?! It’s become more than a tradition; it just is.

The weekend breakfast plan has been similar to the school week for years (I certainly need my beauty sleep on the weekend MORE than weekdays!). But recently, my 14-year-old daughter has decided she likes getting up on Saturdays to make breakfast for the family—especially if she has a friend sleeping over.

Maybe the “morning gene” skips a generation?!

Anyway, who’s with me? Breakfast for dinner anyone? I thawed out the frozen sausages and everything! You’re invited.




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Do you allow your children to watch TV or play on the computer before doing their homework?

No - 37.4%
Sometimes - 25.4%
Yes - 31.6%

Total votes: 4919
The voting for this poll has ended on: June 25, 2016