Sweets & Treats for kids: My thoughts as a dietitian and mom

Tis the season to be jolly and eat…and eat…and eat some more.  The grocery store aisles are filled with treats galore, from flavored candy canes to marshmallow Christmas trees and chocolate snowmen-food brands really know how to lure you in!  But when it comes to kids and sweets, how much is too much?  and should we be allowing our kids to indulge in sweets during the holidays at all?

First I’ll share that when it comes to counseling adults and children, including my own, I don’t have a deprivation mentality and don’t think any food should be labeled as “bad”. Children should learn to develop a healthy relationship with food and as parents, we need to encourage this.  With that said, I see holidays as an opportunity to teach children that all foods could be included in an overall healthy diet when used in moderation.  Most times, when children have restrictions like “no sweets, no cookies, no cake”, they often seek it elsewhere and when faced with the opportunity to indulge, they easily will and then some!

Although parents insist that sugar is the cause for their child’s hyperactivity, it’s important to note that substantial body of research shows there is no link between the two.  However, sugar is linked to obesity and metabolic diseases like diabetes, but micromanaging your kids’ candy consumption may actually make them crave it more.  Now does this mean you should give your child a free pass to shove candy in their mouth, absolutely not!  Instead, be supportive and ask questions about how they feel after eating it and explain the importance of eating nutritious foods and how this can benefit them.  Children who eat loads of sugar tend to eat less healthy foods, so be sure to be a good role model and eat healthy foods along with your child and be sure to keep your fridge and pantry stocked with healthy, easily accessible foods such as a bowl of fresh whole fruits on the kitchen counter or a plate of veggies its dip in the fridge.

Recommendations for added sugar with children.  What’s the latest?

According to a scientific statement released by the American Heart Association in 2016, children should eat less than 6 teaspoons, equivalent to 100 calories or 25 grams, of added sugar daily with recommendations that advise children under 2 to not consume any added sugars from food or beverages.  By July 2018, most foods will require the newly designed nutrition facts label which includes a separate line showing the amount of added sugar in the product.  However, in the meantime, be sure to read nutrition labels, especially for snacks geared toward kids and be mindful of the amount of sugar they contain.  Stick with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, low fat dairy and healthy fats as the main sources for your child’s calories.  Regarding 100% fruit juice, according to a new policy statement issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics, fruit juice offers no nutritional benefit to children under age 1 and should not be included in their diet.  The new recommendations state that 100-percent fresh or reconstituted fruit juice can be a healthy part of the diet of children older than 1 year when consumed as part of a well-balanced diet.  Fresh fruit is also promoted versus fruit juice.  Here are the policy recommendations:

  • Intake of juice should be limited to:
    • at most, 4 ounces daily for toddlers age 1-3.
    • For children age 4-6, fruit juice should be restricted to 4 to 6 ounces daily
    • and for children ages 7-18, juice intake should be limited to 8 ounces or 1 cup of the recommended 2 to 2 ½ cups of fruit servings per day.
  • Toddlers should not be given juice from bottles or easily transportable “sippy cups” that allow them to consume juice easily throughout the day. The excessive exposure of the teeth to carbohydrates can lead to tooth decay, as well. Toddlers should not be given juice at bedtime.
  • Children should be encouraged to eat whole fruits and be educated about the benefits of the fruit as compared with juice, which lacks dietary fiber and may contribute to excessive weight gain.
  • Human milk or infant formula is sufficient for infants, and low-fat/nonfat milk and water are sufficient for older children.
  • Consumption of unpasteurized juice products should be strongly discouraged for children of all ages.
  • Children who take specific forms of medication should not be given grapefruit juice, which can interfere with the medication’s effectiveness. In addition, fruit juice is not appropriate in the treatment of dehydration or management of diarrhea.

Although it’s nearly impossible to get away from sweets and added sugars around the holiday season, it’s important to talk to your kids about how treats could be enjoyed in moderation.  You can also set an allowance for your kids on how much candy they can have.  For example, if you allow for them to have one piece of candy as a dessert after dinner, they will then see it as a dessert versus a snack.  I actually did this with my kids for Halloween. When they came home with a huge bag of candy, I stored it and made an agreement with them that they could choose one piece of candy from the “treat” bag to have as a dessert after dinner and some days they wouldn’t even ask for it at all.

As parents, we should lead by example and follow the same rules you’re setting for your children.  Teach them lessons about nutrition early one and they will carry it with them throughout their lives.

Mini Funfetti Pancake Muffins

I love baking for my son’s kindergarten class.  The other night, I was brainstorming ideas and thought of Ethan’s favorite foods-one of which is pancakes.  So I decided to make these mini “puffins” pancakes + muffins (I totally didn’t coin this term and can’t tell you exactly where I heard it first (which was a while ago) but cute and clever right?).  Mini anything is super cute and perfect for little hands. So if you don’t own a mini muffin tin, you need one!

Just running off this recipe for bit to let you know that it’s always a great idea to create fun names for recipes and foods for kids.  Kids actually prefer foods with fun names!  According to my favorite professor in the field of nutritional science, Brian Wansink, “cool names make for cool foods” and it’s true! Try it with your kids!   According to one study, 186 4-year olds were given regular carrots and on other lunch days, they were given the same carrots with the cool name “x-ray carrots” and on these days, they ate twice as much!  So the next time you’re giving your child a vegetable or new food, give it a fun name and it may spark their interest to give it a try!

Ok back to this yummy recipe!  I added in sprinkles and finely shredded carrots, which also add a hint of sweetness and of course including a vegetable in with a typical breakfast food is a win in my book-especially if the kids love it!  My 2 year old ate 5 of these for breakfast, topped with cream cheese!  and one of the kids from my son’s class said everyone ate them up.  I love when children (my own and others) eat and enjoy what I bake or cook.  It make my heart happy.


2 cups whole wheat flour

1 cup oat flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons pure maple syrup

2 1/2 cups milk or dairy alternative

1 tablespoon vinegar

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 eggs

4 tablespoons butter, melted

1/3 cup finely shredded carrots

1/2 cup sprinkles, divided (I used India Tree sprinkles made with vegetable colorants)


  1. Preheat oven to 400F.  Line a mini muffin tin with liners for easy clean up.
  2. Combine flours, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl.  Whisk well.
  3. In another bowl, combine milk and vinegar and allow to sit for a few minutes.
  4. Add in eggs, maple syrup and melted butter just until combined.
  5. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. Stir with a spatula just until combined.
  6. Fold in the carrots and then stir in the sprinkles.
  7. Using a small spoon, pour into muffin liners.  Top off the muffins with a couple of extra sprinkles.
  8. Bake for 10-11 minutes.
  9. To prevent sticking, let cool before removing from the liner.


Homemade Granola

I love granola.  It adds a great layer of texture to your parfaits, frozen yogurt or even as part of a trail mix.  But some store-bought brands are laden with added sugar.  This homemade granola is delicious! only sweetened with maple syrup (honey works too), no refined sugar and totally customizable to your own taste preferences.  I’ve been experimenting with cooking temps and times for the perfect granola for a while and finally found it!  This recipe is adapted from Alton Brown’s granola recipe.  It is literally the best cooking temp/time I’ve found! This recipe makes a large amount of granola which can be stored in an airtight container or portioned out in individual ziplock bags.  Although homemade granola can last for a few weeks, I’ve heard that freezing it can extend the shelf life.  It’s also a great recipe to put in mason jars and give as little gifts for the holidays!

This recipe was so easy to make that my 2 year old did most of the work!  So be sure to get your kids involved in this one and if you’re concerned about clean-up, try doing the prep over a piece of parchment paper lined on the kitchen counter or table and use a large cup to place all dirty utensils in.  Super easy clean-up!


3 cups gluten free rolled oats

3/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut (depending on how coconutty you like it)

3/4 cup sliced almonds

1/3 cup pure maple syrup

2 tablespoons honey (optional, I’ve tried this with only the 1/3 cup maple syrup and it was great..but if you prefer it a little sweeter, add the honey)

1/4 cup coconut oil

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 cup raisins


  1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees F.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the oats, nuts and coconut.
  3. In a separate bowl, combine maple syrup, honey, oil, and vanilla.
  4. Add liquid to dry ingredients and mix well until oats are coated.
  5. Pour onto a parchment lined baking sheet.
  6. Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes to achieve an even color.
  7. Remove from oven and transfer into a large bowl.  Add raisins and mix until evenly distributed.  Allow to cool before storing.
  8. *Note: mixture may seem a bit wet upon taking it out of the oven but it will crisp up once it cools.

Cheesy Baked Ziti Bolognese

As the cooler weather approaches, I totally crave warm comfort foods.  Baked ziti bolognese has always been a family favorite-that delicious combination of pasta, cheese and ground turkey is so satisfying.  To take it up a notch, I used Banza chickpea pasta ziti which boosts the protein and fiber of this dish!  My older son isn’t a fan of any sauce with meat, so I make him a meatless marinara sauce and he eats a full bowl full of Banza pasta (it’s honestly his favorite pasta!).  With 5 main ingredients plus Banza ziti, this recipe couldn’t be any easier!  Give it a try and I promise you will love every bite!

  • 1 box Banza ziti
  • 3/4 lb ground turkey (I used a mix of dark and white)
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 28 oz canned Italian crushed tomatoes (I used San Marzano)
  • 8 oz shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste


  1. First, you need to make your bolognese sauce. Set a large sauté pan over medium

heat and add 1 tablespoon olive oil.  Season the ground turkey and brown for about 5-7 minutes.

  1. Add in the garlic and onion and sauté for another few minutes.
  2. Add the crushed tomatoes, season with salt and pepper and let the mixture simmer for about 30 minutes.
  3. As the bolognese simmers, cook the Banza pasta in boiling water with a bit of olive oil (which I always use to prevent pasta clumping) until just al dente (about 8 minutes and be sure to cool a piece and do a taste test to be sure). Drain pasta and set aside.
  4. Return the pasta to the pot and mix together with the bolognese sauce. Add in 1/2 of the mozzarella and mix well.
  5. Pour into a large baking dish and sprinkle the remaining mozzarella.  Bake for 25 minutes until the cheese begins to brown and bubble. Serve immediately.

Chicken Hot Dog Mummies

How cute are these hot dog mummies? Made with 2 ingredients! 🌭 Trader Joe’s Chicken hot dogs and 🥐crescent roll dough! Since it was a rainy day here in NYC, we spent it indoors and of course I had to figure out some activities to keep my boys busy. What better than to have some fun in the kitchen! Recipe adapted from Betty Crocker’s crescent mummy dogs, link below (but I skipped the cheese since my kids aren’t fans of it and used chicken hot dogs).  When kids help in the kitchen, they are more likely to eat what they’ve helped to create and my kids gobbled these little mummy dogs up!  Serve with your little one’s favorite dip!


1 can crescent roll dough

8 chicken hot dogs



  1. Heat oven to 375°F.
  2. Unroll dough; separate at perforations, creating 4 rectangles. Press perforations to seal.
  3. With a knife, cut each rectangle lengthwise into 10 pieces, making a total of 40 pieces of dough. Slice cheese slices into quarters (1/2 slice cheese, cut in half).
  4. Wrap 4 pieces of dough around each hot dog to look like “bandages,” stretching dough slightly to completely cover hot dog. About 1/2 inch from one end of each hot dog, separate “bandages” so hot dog shows through for “face.” On ungreased large cookie sheet, place wrapped hot dogs; spray dough lightly with cooking spray.
  5. Bake 13 to 15 minutes or until dough is light golden brown. Serve with ketchup and/or mustard for dipping!

Spooky Apple Mouths

I LOVE Halloween!  but I’m always looking for ways to make healthy Halloween food crafts, especially since I want to show my kids that it isn’t all about candy! My kids and I have been getting creative today with some fun Halloween inspired food crafts 👻🎃! Here is one that is super easyyyy and requires only 3 ingredients! Spooky Apple Mouths! Who knew pistachios could make sure scary teeth! Be sure to get your kids to help with this one!! They will have even more fun eating something they made 🤗 plus it’s made with healthy ingredients and no added sugar!

Here is what you need:

* 1 apple 🍎 sliced into thick slices (like as shown in this photo)

*sunflower seed, almond or peanut butter

*pistachios (cut each pistachio into quarters, so you have 4 “teeth” per pistachio)


1-spread apple slices with nut butter.

2-carefully place pistachios in a row with pointy part sticking up.

3-place another apple slice on top and turn it over so the points of the teeth face down.



Rediscover the FUN in education!

With the school year in full swing, there is no better time to help your child rediscover the fun in learning.  I’ve partnered with education.com to share this fun printable maze that you can share with your little one!  Now you may be thinking “how does a maze help my child learn?”  It’s not secret that kids love to play games and as parents, we want those games to be educational.  Mazes are a fun way for kids to enhance their trial-and-error abilities and test their logical reasoning.  In addition, mazes are a great way to help strengthen fine motor skills, problem solving skills and the ability to focus on completing tasks.

My oldest son just started Kindergarten and I’ve been searching for online resources that provide excellent education materials that can be easily printed and education.com totally fits the bill.  Education.com has a huge collection of Kindergarten resources to help your child in his or her first year of school and beyond.

Click here to download one of the many fun mazes provided by education.com and one that my 5 year old just loved working on! Be sure to download the following link that includes the answer key.



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