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5 Healthy and Creative Halloween Party Foods

October 6, 2015

By Nikki Cecala

It’s difficult to come up with healthy, satisfying treats for children at Halloween parties, so I recently took on the challenge. Not only did I try to find amazing recipes for all ages to enjoy, but I also tried to make the food so appealing that the kiddies would beg for more!

These recipes were the biggest hits for the eyes and the taste buds. Bring these fun treats to your child’s classroom Halloween party or to the family bash you’re throwing this year.

BOOnana Pops

5 Healthy and Creative Halloween Party Food | Boonana pops, recipe and photo via Amber's Recipes | Banana pops covered in white chocolate with chocolate chips for the eyes and mouths of the ghosts.

Photo and recipe via Amber's Recipes

Ingredients and materials:
Skewers (sharp edges trimmed) or wooden or plastic treat sticks
Bananas (one banana will give you two pops)
White chocolate
Raisins or chocolate chips

First, slice the banana in half. Insert the skewer or wooden/plastic stick into the thick end of each banana half. Place the bananas on wax paper or a plate and put in the freezer for at least three hours.

Once the bananas are frozen, place the white chocolate in the microwave (30 seconds) or in a pot on the stove to melt. Stir it frequently. I recommend putting the melted white chocolate in mug so it’s easier to dip the banana into. Dip the bananas in the white chocolate one at a time and then place on the wax paper.

Quickly add the chocolate chips or raisins for the eyes (and mouth if you prefer) before the chocolate hardens. When finished, place back into the freezer until ready to serve.

Frankenguac

5 Healthy and Creative Halloween Party Foods | Frankenguac, recipe and photo via Dine and Dish | Frankenstein's face is made of guacamole, with blue corn chips serving as hair, sour cream as eyeballs, and olives as pupils and the mouth.

Photo and recipe via Dine and Dish.

This is a fun and quick recipe.

Ingredients:
A batch of your favorite guacamole
Handful of blue tortilla chips
2 tablespoons sour cream
¼ cup sliced black olives

First, make sure you have a rectangular platter. Spoon the guacamole onto the platter using a flat-edged rubber scraper to shape the guacamole.

Place the blue tortilla chips near the top of Frankenstein’s head with the triangle tip pointing downward. Add two dollops of sour cream a few inches under the chips onto the guacamole for the eyes. Place a sliced black olive in the middle of the sour cream eyes, with the hole of the olive facing down.

As for the mouth, I recommend looking at a picture of Frankenstein to get the idea. Push sliced olives with the rounded edges facing up into the guacamole.

Bloody Brains

5 Healthy and Creative Halloween Party Foods | Bloody brains made with cauliflower and beet hummus. Recipe and photo via Jeanette's Healthy Living

Recipe and photo via Jeanette's Healthy Living

Scare the kids with this healthy treat!

Ingredients and materials:
1 head cauliflower (cut into florets)
Virgin olive oil
Salt
Ground pepper
6 roasted beets
¼ cup roasted pine nuts
Balsamic vinegar
Parchment paper

Preheat the oven to 425°F. Toss the cut up cauliflower with the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place a piece of parchment paper onto the baking sheet. Roast the cauliflower for about 20-30 minutes or until tender.

In a food processor or blender, combine the roasted beets and pine nuts, blending until the nuts are finely ground. Add olive oil and vinegar and blend again until smooth. Use a spoon to smear the roasted beet hummus or “blood” on a plate and top with the “brain,” (the cauliflower).

Dracula’s Teeth

5 healthy and creative Halloween Party Foods | Dracula's dentures are made of cookies, marshmallows for teeth, red-tinted vanilla frosting for gums, and slivered almonds for fangs. | Photo and recipe via The Girl Who Ate Everything

Photo and recipe via The Girl Who Ate Everything

This was super fun to make. While it’s more delicious than healthy, you can vary the recipe to swap a gluten-free version of the cookies if needed.

Ingredients:
1 package refrigerated chocolate chip cookie dough (or your favorite cookie recipe)
½ cup red-tinted vanilla frosting
1¾ cup miniature marshmallows
Slivered almonds

Prepare cookies as directed on package or according to your favorite recipe. Once the cookies are cooled, cut each in half for 48 halves (assuming you make 24 cookies). Then, frost the bottoms of all the cookie halves.

Place six marshmallow teeth around the curved edges of 24 halves. Place the other frosted cookie half on top of the marshmallows. Insert two almond slivers in between the teeth for fangs. If the fangs do not stay put, dip the tips into the frosting.

Pumpkin Fudge

5 healthy and creative Halloween party foods | Pumpkin fudge recipe via Blissful Basil.

Photo and recipe via Blissful Basil

Did you really think I was going to give you five recipes and not include pumpkin? You can decorate this fudge how you please after it’s made, but here is the basic recipe that is “vegan, gluten-free, paleo, and free of refined sugars,” according to Ashley at Blissful Basil.

Ingredients:
½ cup of coconut butter (NOT oil)
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons canned pumpkin purée
3 tablespoons maple syrup
2 tablespoons creamy almond butter
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
Fine grain sea salt

Place all the ingredients in a medium saucepan over slow heat. For 3-5 minutes, whisk constantly until everything is melted.

Using coconut butter, grease a small container (3x5 or 4x6) and pour the mix into the container. Freeze for one hour.

Remove the block of fudge from the container by turning it over and tapping until the fudge releases. Cut the fudge up into small slices and store in the refrigerator (for soft fudge) or freezer (for firm fudge).

What are your favorite healthy Halloween recipes? Share with us in the comments below.

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5 Ways to Celebrate World Teachers’ Day

October 1, 2015

By Jessica Vician

5 Ways to Celebrate World Teachers’ Day | Honor your child's teacher with one (or more) of these 5 easy ways to say thank you on World Teachers' Day. | Illustration of a tree of knowledge courtesy of UNESCO.

On Monday, October 15, we celebrate World Teachers’ Day. With UNESCO’s 2015 theme, “empowering teachers, building sustainable societies,” we will honor the great impact teachers have on our society.

Your child’s teacher is more than just a teacher for a class or for a year, but a teacher who can help change the world for the better through their teachings. According to UNESCO’s website, “teachers are not only a means to implementing education goals; they are the key to sustainability and national capacity in achieving learning and creating societies based on knowledge, values, and ethics.”

Celebrate them on World Teachers’ Day with one (or more) of these five ways to say “thank you.”

  1. Send your child’s teacher an official World Teachers’ Day e-card. UNESCO will post it on their website and send as an e-postcard on October 5.
  2. Write a thank you note from both you and your child. On the top half of the card, tell your child’s teacher how much you appreciate his or her efforts, expertise, and patience. Express the value of what the teacher does for your child and how his or her work impacts the world. Read this article if you need suggestions on what to say.

    On the bottom half of the card, ask your child to write his or her favorite thing about the teacher or the classroom and say “thank you.”
  3. If your child is in middle or high school and has multiple teachers, ask him or her to write a short thank you note to each teacher and deliver it before or after each class on Monday. A brief recognition and expression of gratitude demonstrates to each teacher that they are important and valued.
  4. Email the students’ parents in your child’s class and ask each person to donate a few dollars to get the teacher flowers or a plant. Through crowdfunding, no one will need to spend much money.

    If the florist is too expensive, visit your local nursery or home improvement store and purchase a plant, pot it yourself, and drop it off at the school. It takes a little extra time and effort, but will save you and the other parents money on delivery services.
  5. Send an email to the principal, copying the teacher. Tell the principal how helpful the teacher has been over the past month or so and share the qualities both you and your child appreciate the most. This public acknowledgement honors the teacher while letting his or her supervisor know you appreciate the work.

These are five simple ways to express your and your child’s gratitude for his or her teacher. Celebrate World Teachers’ Day by taking a little extra time this weekend to prepare one of these recognition gifts and send it to school with your child on Monday.

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4 Fun Ways to Develop Your Toddler’s Fine Motor Skills

September 22, 2015

By Ana Vela

4 Fun Ways to Develop Your Toddler's Fine Motor Skills | As infants enter the early toddler stage, we tend to focus on major milestones like crawling, walking, and running (gross motor skills). But fine motor skills are equally as critical. Here are 4 fun ways to develop those skills. | The author's daughter plays at a park.

All photos courtesy of Ana Vela. 

As our infants enter the early toddler stage, we tend to focus on major milestones such as crawling, walking, and running (gross motor skills). We may not put as much focus on fine motor skills, which can be equally as critical.

Fine motor skills involve the movement of muscles in smaller actions. According to Baby Center, “it's equally important that kids work on their fine motor skills—small, precise thumb, finger, hand, and wrist movements—because they support a host of other vital physical and mental skills.”

I’m fascinated in watching my 15-month old develop these skills. She gets frustrated when trying something new at first, but with my persistence, encouragement, and modeling, she will eventually pick it up. And I love seeing her glow with pride when she learns.

There are many ways you can help your child develop fine motor skills while integrating them into your everyday activities. Here are some of my personal favorites to do with my daughter:

4 Fun Ways to Develop Your Toddler's Fine Motor Skills | As infants enter the early toddler stage, we tend to focus on major milestones like crawling, walking, and running (gross motor skills). But fine motor skills are equally as critical. Here are 4 fun ways to develop those skills. | The author's daughter stacks blocks.

Play with toys.
Use stacking blocks to encourage your child to grab the block and carefully coordinate stacking them on top of each other. This will take several tries, but it’s amazing how soon your child will stack them to a nice height! Other great toys are large puzzles with knobs on the pieces, stacking toys, and Legos.

4 Fun Ways to Develop Your Toddler's Fine Motor Skills | As infants enter the early toddler stage, we tend to focus on major milestones like crawling, walking, and running (gross motor skills). But fine motor skills are equally as critical. Here are 4 fun ways to develop those skills. | The author's daughter plays with cymbals.

Enjoy music.
I sing songs to my daughter that use hand motions, such as “The Wheels on the Bus” and “The Itsy Bitsy Spider.” Through many attempts, she now knows how to follow along on her own. She also has a musical instrument set, which has encouraged her to grab more difficult instruments such as the cymbals. She couldn’t pick them up properly at first, but now she can hold them successfully between her thumb and fingers to bang them.

4 Fun Ways to Develop Your Toddler's Fine Motor Skills | As infants enter the early toddler stage, we tend to focus on major milestones like crawling, walking, and running (gross motor skills). But fine motor skills are equally as critical. Here are 4 fun ways to develop those skills. | The author's daughter eats her food with a spoon.

Encourage independent eating.
Although I hate messes, it’s important to teach your toddler how to eat on their own. Demonstrate how to hold a spoon, scoop up some food, and place it in their mouth. Sounds simple, but a lot of complex finger, wrist, and hand movements are involved.

4 Fun Ways to Develop Your Toddler's Fine Motor Skills | As infants enter the early toddler stage, we tend to focus on major milestones like crawling, walking, and running (gross motor skills). But fine motor skills are equally as critical. Here are 4 fun ways to develop those skills. | The author's daughter picks up a soccer ball.

Encourage physical play.
We live in Chicago and have a limited amount of nice outdoor weather, so when it’s warm and sunny, we spend a lot of time at parks. Help your child learn to climb, slide, and maneuver around the playground and obstacles. I’m also teaching my daughter to play with a soccer ball by picking it up and trying to kick it.

All of these activities are beneficial, but most importantly they are fun and entertaining for your toddler. As discussed in the YOU: Your Child’s First Teacher books, use positive reinforcement to encourage your child to keep trying and celebrate their successes.

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Seeking Santa Claus: Help for Christmas

September 17, 2015

By Jessica Vician

Seeking Santa Claus: Help for Christmas | If you struggle to afford Christmas presents for your kids, register for these Christmas assistance programs in October or November. | A box of toy donations awaits their giftees!

It’s only September, but some stores are already putting out Christmas decorations. If you are one of the many families who struggle to afford Christmas presents each year, thinking about the holidays can be especially stressful.

While health and quality family time are more important than presents, it’s still nice to be able to provide a little something to see your child smile that day. Now is the time to seek out Christmas assistance programs, as several organizations require registration as early as October.

Use this list to get started:

Toys for Tots
Toys for Tots, operated by the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, aims to provide children with a new toy for Christmas. Through that toy, they aspire to deliver hope that will help these children become “responsible, productive, patriotic citizens.”

Some locations cannot donate directly to single families, but rather to organizations that will then distribute the toys to those families. Contact your local Toys for Tots for the application deadline. For reference, the Chicago deadline is November 28, 2015.

The Salvation Army’s Angel Tree
You have likely seen a tree decorated with paper angels at your company or local shopping center over the holidays. These angel trees are part of the Salvation Army’s program that provides new toys and clothing to children at Christmas.

Donors choose an angel that has the first name, age, and gender of a child registered for the program and shop for that child, giving the gifts to the organizer to be delivered to the child in need.

Families typically apply in October and November, but please call your local Corps Community Center to get more information.

The Lion’s Club
Several Lion’s Club locations provide Christmas assistance for children as well. Contact your local branch in October to see if they provide help for children during the holidays.

Once you have reached out to an organization for help, set expectations for the holidays with your children early. You know them best and know what explanation will help, whether it’s about Santa or your family’s financial situation. Emphasize family time over gifts and focus on the true meaning of the holidays. If they understand that, then they will be grateful for the gifts they receive and for the time they get to spend with you and your family.

Tags :  earlyelementarysocialemotionalbudgetholidays
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Whistle While You Learn: How Learning Music Can Improve Your Child’s Brain

September 15, 2015

By Jessica Vician

Whistle While You Learn: How Learning Music Can Improve Your Child’s Brain | Learning to play music by age seven can help a child's brain develop stronger, help them learn a better vocabulary, teach them to focus, and more. | A girl practices guitar.

Music is a powerful thing. When we sing or play an instrument, it’s a form of expression. When we listen to it, it stirs up emotions and memories. From the song you listened to on repeat after your first breakup to the song you and your partner first danced to at your wedding, music is a key part of our memories.

Music can also teach our children valuable emotional and academic skills that they can’t learn in the classroom. It engages both the right and left sides of the brain—the creative and logical sides—and it helps children learn to focus, improves their critical thinking skills, and helps nurture their emotional maturity, according to VH1 Save the Music.

The earlier a child learns to play music, the more it will help his or her brain development. Playing music also helps children:

  • develop a better vocabulary and reading skills 
  • learn to focus, especially if they have learning disabilities or dyslexia
  • avoid alcohol and drug abuse

As someone who took piano lessons from ages seven to 14, I can personally attest to the importance of learning music. Here are several qualities and skills that I developed from it:

Confidence, Humility, and Modesty
I’ve never been the most athletic human. Growing up, my parents signed me up for sports to stay active. I also learned, in my mother’s words, “to be a good loser,” since my teams rarely won. So in fourth grade when our class learned to play the recorder, it was nice to finally excel in a fun, non-academic school activity.

I had been taking piano lessons for a year or two, so I already knew how to read music, which made it easy to pick up a new instrument. Finally I was one of the best students at an activity, which made me feel really good (the other students who excelled were also piano players, for the record). And of course, my mom was there to teach me modesty and how “to be a good winner,” too.

Hand-eye Coordination
I might be giving away my age here, but in sixth grade we learned how to correctly type on a keyboard. Once again, my trusty piano lessons came in handy. Since I had learned how to read music while making my fingers move to the appropriate key, I had unknowingly already nearly conquered typing. I was able to quickly learn the QWERTY keyboard and type efficiently—a skill that has saved me throughout my life, from churning out papers in undergrad to transcribing interviews when I worked in broadcast news.

Languages
Learning to read music was my first formal introduction to learning another language. Similar to language, the characters don’t offer much information until they are placed on the staff, when they become notes to read. A letter alone isn’t much, but when combined with other letters it becomes a word, which then becomes a sentence when combined with other words.

Reading and playing music at a young age developed my ability and interest to learn new languages. I studied French from seventh grade through college, can read and speak some Spanish, and between those two languages can figure out enough Italian and Portuguese for travelling. With English as my first language and music as my second, learning French was easier than if I had never learned a second language.

Ask anyone who knows how to play music if they regret learning. Much like having children, most people will tell you that it is one of the most rewarding things they have ever done.

Get your child started by listening to music and asking which instruments he or she is drawn to. Talk to the school’s music teacher about how to introduce that instrument into your child’s education. The school may offer a class or the teacher may recommend group or private lessons.

Your child will learn so much more than just a few chords. It will change his or her education, brain, and life.

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