Category Archives: Recipes – Edible

Have a Snack: Caramel Popcorn in a Bag!

My sons and I were making this delicious recipe for caramel popcorn yesterday and I thought you might enjoy a fun snack on your holiday!  (Originally published 3/30/2009.)  Making popcorn is a great way to involve and discuss the five senses.  You can read more about the developmental benefits of cooking here, and check out this great post on cooking with kids from Simple Bites.


Cooking is a great activity to do with kids!  There are plenty of ways children can help with almost any recipe, but some recipes just lend themselves to increased interest and participation from your little culinary artists.  This is one of them!  Caramel popcorn… in a bag… in the microwave!  It’s almost magical! 

(*As with any recipe be sure to know the limits of your children and your facility’s policies for safety if applicable.  Popcorn in particular may not be suitable for certain children or allowed in specific programs.)

Start with 8 cups of popped popcorn in a large paper sack (grocery store size).  I’ve found that 1/2 cup of kernels popped in my air popper equals about 8 cups, or a little more.  (Typically I’ll sneak in some extra popcorn just to “stretch” the recipe.  That’s what growing up in a big family will do for you!)
In a microwavable bowl, combine:
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup Karo syrup
1/2 tsp salt
Microwave for 3-4 minutes, until frothy.
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp soda
Stir to combine well, and then pour over the popcorn in the bag.  Roll down the top to seal and shake to coat.  (When microwaving and shaking the bag, some of the melted butter will seep through.  Just be sure to avoid touching those parts, and particularly point them out to your little ones that might be shaking the bag.)
Microwave, the bag and all, for 30 seconds and shake again.
Repeat until you have done a total of 2 minutes in the microwave.  (The original recipe says 3-4 minutes, but that was always too much in my micro.  If you do 2 minutes and the caramel corn still looks too sticky and thick, repeat the 30 second micro and shake sessions until it looks well coated.)
When it’s done, pour the popcorn into a large bowl, and let it cool.  Enjoy!  (When we had it along with apple slices recently, the combination was a tasty caramel apple sensation….and it got some fruit in!)

Involving children in making this recipe, exposes them to math concepts as you measure together, motor skills as you both stir and shake, science concepts as heat changes the properties of matter, and certainly sensory experiences as they hear, smell, see, and taste their creation!  Cooking is a great cognitive activity in general as it demonstrates cause-effect and ordered procedures.  Most of all, it’s a great activity for bringing everyone together in a positive social interaction!


Photo by bgraphic.
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Snowy Ice Cream – Perfect for a Stormy Day

We’re crossing our fingers, hoping for a white Christmas this year.  Looks like we may end up with rain instead.  (We may just have to head for the mountains!)  For those of you with plenty of the white stuff in your local forecast, you might want to try this fun recipe for ice cream.  The main ingredient: Fresh, fluffy snow!  (Taken from this post appearing last year.)

On my first giveaway post, I asked readers to comment with their favorite snowy day activities.  Amber posted these instructions for Snow Ice Cream:

one of my favorite winter activities is making snow ice cream! we did this after the first BIG snow every year when i was a kid – it had to be a BIG snow because you don’t want to get pieces of grass or leaves in your ice cream. ( :


*fresh WHITE snow (heehee)

*a bit of vanilla extract

*a gob of half & half (milk will do)

*a smidgen of granulated sugar

*sprinkles (optional)

 instructions: mix the snow with the vanilla, half & half and sugar. put it in a bowl, top with colored sprinkles (it’s just so cute!) and eat it QUICK! ( :”

She definitely piqued my interest, and I just had to try it out with my own boys after our recent snow storm.

I started out by scooping some of the top layer of snow, and then leaving the bowls out to collect more of the snow as it fell.  You can see it was a substantial storm.  My bowls runneth over!  I brought them in and scooped off the tops into another bowl.  Once you start adding ingredients, you lose a lot of height, so you might need more snow to add back in!

I had ingredients waiting at the ready so that we could get right to work.  Following Amber’s instructions, we scooped, stirred, and tasted.

My boys were amazed as the snow seemed to magically turn into ice cream!

They said it tasted just like vanilla ice cream!  They probably would have said more, but their mouths were full.

This was such a fun activity!  It provided all of the developmental opportunities I mentioned earlier in this post about cooking with children, plus it’s a unique science experience as well as an activity your kiddos are sure to remember.

Incidentally, Amber is an AMAZING photographer!  So if you’re lucky enough to be anywhere near the Treasure Valley sometime (that’s around the Oregon/Idaho border, folks), take advantage of this little treasure!  And even if you’re not so lucky to be there in person, check out her inspiring website anyway!

For more wintry activities, click here!

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Filed under Learning through Play and Experience, Recipes - Edible, Snack Time

Five Fun Ways to Serve Up Some Pumpkin!

If you’re looking for some ways to make this week memorable for your little ones, try serving up some pumpkin!  You may want to use pumpkin as an ingredient (as in Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Bread) or use the pumpkin as the dish!  Here are five ways to serve up some fun, originally published on Halloween of last year!


I mentioned before that a pumpkin’s greatness is in part due to its hollowness. We’ve talked about floating pumpkins, pumpkin drums, and of course, Jack-o-lanterns, but perhaps best of all, a pumpkin can be hollowed out to create a bowl! You can use a cleaned out pumpkin to hold pre-made food, such as soups or a casserole, or you can actually cook in the pumpkin shell as well!  Here are five festive ways to turn your gourd into a gourmet dish!


1.  Apple Crisp!  I love making this Pumpkin Apple Bake recipe in the fall, cooking it up inside the pumpkin.  The children love using the apple peeler/slicer to help out.  I give the apples a head start by cooking them on the stove before putting them in the pumpkin and cooking it all together.  The pumpkin does soften a bit, but holds its shape as long as you don’t cook longer than 1 1/2 hours or so.  Take the opportunity to talk science and compare the cooked pumpkin to the uncooked pumpkin lid!

2.  Soups, Stews, and Chiles!  Cook up your favorite fall time soup.  Place it in a hollowed out pumpkin and serve it up from there!  Try out this delicious Potato Soup recipe or this tasty one for Chicken and Rice.  You could also use smaller hollowed out pumpkins as individual soup bowls!

3.  Shepherd’s Pie!  Because Shepherd’s Pie is basically cooked already, it doesn’t take long just to melt the cheese on top.  This helps keep your pumpkin from getting too soft.  Try this tasty recipe here.  (I omit chipotle chiles when cooking for the little ones.) 

4. Dips!  Whether you’re having something sinfully savory like this one, or going the healthy route with something like this, you can easily put your favorite dip inside a pumpkin, place it on a platter, and serve chips, veggies, or bread all around the pumpkin.

5.  I Scream!  OK, a little Halloween play on words.  Use small pumpkins to hold ice cream!  Serve up your favorite flavor with cookies on the side!


Whichever route tempts you most, start by cutting the top of your pumpkin off.  Jack-o-lantern style is usually a little too small. Don’t be afraid to cut off 1/4 to 1/3 of the pumpkin.  This gives a wider opening which makes it easier to serve food.  Hollow it out well, and then rinse.

Don’t forget to involve your children in this fun project!  Have your little ones help you hollow out your pumpkin and rinse it.  Let them help make the food to go inside as well.  (Read more about how cooking benefits the child’s development here.)  Serve it up for something truly memorable!  Don’t worry if you’ve missed Halloween.  Pumpkins are a symbol of harvest and a fun fall fixture! (Say that ten times fast!)

Enjoy a special pumpkin surprise with your little ones!

For more favorite fall activities, click here!
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Filed under Learning through Play and Experience, Recipes - Edible, science activity, sensory activity, Snack Time, Uncategorized

Fall Leaves and Gingersnaps! (Recipe at Bottom!)

We went on one of my favorite fall outings today!  Armed with a great book, some craft supplies, and a pile of snacks, we headed up the canyon near our house to explore fall in one of its best displays!

After throwing rocks and leaves in the river for a while (an activity you simply can’t skip over with my boys)  we gathered with some friends to read Leaf Man by Lois Ehlert.  I really enjoy sharing this book with children!  The illustrations are all made up of photocopied leaves.  It’s a fantastic creative collage approach that really gets kids thinking outside of the box.  After the story, we went for a little hike to gather some of our favorite leaves and bring them back to our picnic spot to create our own leaf pictures. 

Leaf Man (Ala Notable Children's Books. Younger Readers (Awards))

Using black cardstock as a background, similar to the dark background in the book, the children arranged their collections of leaves.  Some made people, others created monsters, while some simply arranged their colorful collections.  Once they were all in place, we sealed them down with a layer of contact paper.  The black background really makes those fall colors pop!  And as long as the leaves are dry, the contact paper seals them in, preserving them for years!  (You can read more about what I wrote on this activity here.  Apologies for the sub-par photo!)

And of course, we had to cap the activity off with some fall treats!  There are some snacks I just have to make every time the fall season rolls around, and gingersnaps are one of them!  Try a batch for yourself (the recipe’s at the bottom), and serve them up with some apple cider.  If you could taste fall, it would taste like this!

What are your favorite fall treats?

Soft Gingersnaps

1 1/2 cups sugar

3 eggs

3/4 cup molasses

1 1/2 cup oil

1 1/2 tsp. salt

1 1/2 tsp. cloves

3 tsp. ginger

3 tsp. cinnamon

3 tsp. soda

6 cups flour

Mix the sugar, eggs, molasses, and oil.  Then add in the salt, soda, and spices and mix well.  (Or for you Martha Stewarts out there, go ahead and sift the salt, soda, and spices with your flour.  I’m just not that ambitious!)  Gradually add the flour and mix until a consistent dough forms.  Form into  balls and roll in sugar.  Place on a cookie sheet and flatten slightly with a glass.  Bake at 350 for about 8 minutes.  Makes about 4 dozen large cookies.

Top photo by silgluck.

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Filed under Create, Field Trips, Learning through Play and Experience, Recipes - Edible, Uncategorized

Book Activity: Pete’s A Pizza

Pete's a Pizza

William Steig’s books are always clever and unique.  Pete’s A Pizza is no exception.  This book, published when Steig was about 90 years old, is based on a game he used to play with his own daughter decades earlier.  The character in the story, Pete, is disappointed when the rain spoils his plans.  His dad however, turns the day around by pretending to turn Pete into a pizza.  The typical steps for making pizza take on an imaginary element (checkers for tomatoes, paper for cheese) and soon evolve into tickling and chasing until Pete, of course, is happy once again.  It’s a fun read, and one that obviously invites some light-hearted participation!

Pizza Makers

Extend this book into an activity by simply following along with the game!  Make pizzas out of children by following the same steps in the book (especially the tickling part).  You could even write out a step-by-step recipe based on the book, increasing story recall.  Add your own spin as well, introducing other toppings or silly procedures.  Story acting is great for increasing literacy skills like comprehension as well as vocabulary as the children use new words and concepts they heard in the story.

Make it Real

Of course, this book is a great starter for a real pizza making activity as well!  (Combine the two by making your own pizza, and playing the game above while you’re waiting for it to bake!)  Pizza making is a sure-fire winner with little ones!  Make a big pizza together, or give each child a small pizza to customize to perfection.  Cooking together is great, as it increases the likelihood the children will actually eat the food, since they have some ownership in it, while it also promotes a wide variety of developmental skills.  Here’s how I go about turning the kitchen into a gourmet pizzeria.

Start with the dough.  I used to use a pizza dough like this one, which is great, but I was in a pinch and running late one day so I decided to use my usual soft pretzel dough recipe, since it doesn’t require any rising time.  I have to say, I think I actually prefer the pretzel dough!  Besides being faster, it’s a little more dense and chewy, which I like.  So try either one, depending on your preference — light and soft or dense and chewy.  The children love to work the dough, kneading and rolling to their hearts’ content!  It’s loads of fun, but it’s also great for the small muscles in their hands!

Now the sauce.  This is what makes it or breaks it for me.  With a little research and a bit of tweaking, I’ve come up with our family’s favorite pizza sauce.  This recipe makes one quart.  So I usually make a batch, use half on our pizzas, and put the other half in a jar in the fridge and save it for the next pizza night, or use it on pasta for a quick lunch for my boys.  So here goes:

Incredible Pizza Sauce

In a saucepan combine:

3 (8oz) cans of tomato sauce

3 Tbsp sugar

3 tsp extra virgin olive oil

3 tsp garlic salt or granulated garlic

3 tsp good Italian seasoning

1 tsp lemon juice

1/2 cup water

1 can tomato paste

Mix well and simmer for about 15 minutes.

And of course, the toppings.  Create an assortment of toppings and let children experiment with their own favorite combinations.  At our house, we need cheese (I mix Mozzarella with Colby Jack), ham, pineapple, and olives.  That gets pretty much everybody in one way or another.  Find what components meet the needs of your group, and arrange them salad bar style.  When everything’s ready, bake it at about 425 degrees for about 10 minutes (give or take depending upon the size).

I’m sure this kind of pizza would have cheered Pete up as well!

Pizza photo by Moi Cody.

You might also enjoy Welcome to the Pizza Shop!  Prop Ideas for Preschool Dramatic Play.
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Filed under book activity, Building Readers, language activity, Learning through Play and Experience, Recipes - Edible, Snack Time

The Preschool Pirate

It could be all this writing about imaginative play that has got me thinking about pirates.  Or maybe it was my 4-year-old’s comments about “the pirate species”.  (“You know mom, guys with eye patches and swords – the pirate species!”)  Either way, I thought I’d share some pirate fun with you!

  While I wouldn’t recommend pirates as an overall “theme” for a preschool curriculum (not a lot of directly applicable learning objectives unless plundering is on your list)  it can be used to teach some great elements within another theme.  I like to add it in as a fun twist within another unit like water or oceans or something like that.  I personally like to add it in at the end of the unit, as a celebration! 

So whether you’re looking for ideas to use within a curriculum, or just some fun ways to play and learn with your little buccaneers, here are a few suggestions:

Make an amazing pirate ship from cardboard using plans and fasteners from Mr. McGroovy.  (This site is definitely worth checking out for a variety of prop ideas for dramatic play or a special event!)  If you’re feeling a little less ambitious, just grab a map, a telescope, and a compass, hop aboard your couch or bed and let imagination set sail!

Make a Pirate Snack Mix and use a variety of math concepts – as well as your taste buds!

Have a Treasure Hunt, or play this Treasure Task game!  Following those clues builds cognitive skills and really helps children get into the role of the swashbuckler!

Hunt for pennies in sand and shells in the sensory bin, or fill plastic eggs with pennies and bury them in a larger sandbox outside.  Builds sensory and large motor skills, and it’s loads of fun!  You could also hide beads as “jewels” and then bring them in for a stringing activity!

Read one of these great pirate books:

Shiver Me Letters: A Pirate ABC

Shiver Me Letters by June Sobel is quite possibly my favorite alphabet-based story.  Just fantastic!  Couple it with the Pirate Snack Mix, or bury small letters in your sandbox or sensory bin for a twist on the digging activity above!

Pirate Pete's Talk Like a Pirate

Pirate Pete’s Talk Like a Pirate by Kim Kennedy is such a fun read, full of wonderful vocabulary and great story structure.  Just be sure to use your full repertoire of narrative voices to bring each character to life!  (And don’t forget Talk Like a Pirate Day (September 19th)!)

How I Became a Pirate

How I Became a Pirate by Melinda Long (and illustrated by one of my favorites, David Shannon) is a fanciful tale of, well, how a boy becomes a pirate, of course!  An inside look at the life of a pirate, and a few reasons why it’s more fun to simply pretend!  Follow up with a treasure hunt, or by making a picture map of your room or play yard!

What are your favorite pirate adventures to share with your little scallywags?

Top photo by borja.

It’s nice to share with your friends…
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Filed under book activity, Building Readers, dramatic play, Learning through Play and Experience, Recipes - Edible

Dear Sweet Puddin’head

I’ve been working on some pretty comprehensive posts lately, so I decided it was time for some fluff.  LITERALLY. 

I give to you, one of the simplest and most versatile recipes in my repertoire, Puddin’head.  This tasty stuff results from the combination of pudding and whipped topping.  We’ve used it for quite some time in our house, as a frosting spread on cakes and piped onto cupcakes, a substitute for plain Cool Whip in desserts like this chocolate trifle, a hot chocolate topping, or a tasty filling in crepes or on waffles along with some fruit.  After referring to it for too long as “that yummy pudding-Cool Whip stuff”, my husband finally gave it its Twain-esque moniker, and it has stuck. 

This recipe is so simple, your little ones will love to help you out with it, and will likely volunteer to lick the spoon as well.  The directions are simple and completely open to tweaking.  All you do is mix one vanilla pudding packet with half of the milk called for on the package.  Whisk until it begins to thicken.  Then fold in one container of Cool Whip.  That’s it!  Use it in one of the many ways I described above, or eat it straight from the bowl.  (I won’t judge you!) 

After sharing this recipe with people they usually ask what sizes to use.  The answer – it doesn’t really matter.  I’ve used one large package of pudding and one large Cool Whip,  two small puddings and one small Cool Whip, one small pudding and one small Cool Whip, and virtually ever other combination you can imagine!  It’s always good.  More pudding in your proportion means more flavor and more density.  But it’s always good. 

As I said, tweaking is not only allowed, it’s encouraged.  I’ve used vanilla pudding, French vanilla, and even chocolate.  All delicious!  I’ve also blended cream cheese in with the pudding portion of the recipe.  Also tasty!  You can add coloring if you need to and it still works- and tastes – fantastic.

One puddin’head use I really love this time of year is as a filling for ice cream sandwiches.  Dollop or spread between two graham crackers, place them on a sheet and set them in the freezer.  Once they’ve firmed up, you can transfer them to an airtight container, separating layers with wax paper.  It’s a cool and tasty summertime treat!  Get fancy and press sprinkles into the sides or dip half of the sandwich in melted chocolate.  Whatever makes you happy! 

So kick back, relax, and add some fluff to your day!

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Filed under Learning through Play and Experience, Recipes - Edible, Snack Time