Tag Archives: Food

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

Gum Drop Adventures

While enjoying some family time at the cabin (the memorable scene I wrote about here) my sister-in-law pulled out a brilliant activity that I thought I would share with you all here!  There were three very simple ingredients, and you don’t have to live near a specialty store to find them: 

  1. Gum Drops
  2. Toothpicks
  3. Imagination

One long table scattered with paper plates full of candies and toothpicks instantly brought 24 kids running to the table to stack, stick, and snack their way through a fun, creative activity!

The activity is wonderfully open-ended so it was enticing and engaging for everyone at the table, ranging in age from 3 to 16!

The kids had a blast creating everything from simple barbells and human figures to complex castles and cathedral-like structures.

They were all on summer vacation so I didn’t ruin the fun by pointing out that they were building fine motor skills, math skills like spatial awareness and geometry, and getting plenty of problem solving and science practice as they questioned and tested their many different attempts at structural integrity.

Simple supplies.  Open-ended exploration.  Tons of learning objectives.  And smiles like this!  Why not give it a try?

Top photo by Silvio Gabriel Spannenberg.

All other photos by the amazing Joan Taylor!
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Filed under Create, fine motor skills, Learning through Play and Experience, math activity, science activity

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

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

The Perfect Pretzel Recipe…..Really.

I have never found a recipe for big soft pretzels that I really loved.  They were too complicated to make with kids, or didn’t taste very good, or had the wrong texture.  Well, that all changed this last Christmas when my sister-in-law, gave me this little gem as part of a collection of recipes.  (I love getting good recipes for Christmas!)  I tried it out, and it couldn’t be easier!  The kiddos can help from start to finish.  Just mix your ingredients, shape your dough (letters, hearts, geo shapes, or the traditional pretzel knot), brush, sprinkle, and bake.  They’re so fast, but so good!   Here’s the recipe so you can find out for yourself!

Big Soft Pretzels

1 package (or 2 Tbsp) active dry yeast*

1 1/2 cups lukewarm water

1 tsp salt

3 tsp sugar

4 cups flour (Experiment with different types of flour and grains if you like – half whole wheat, half white; a little ground flax; go crazy!)

1 egg, beaten

Kosher salt for sprinkling

(*I like to use SAF instant yeast because it allows you to skip the dissolving step and add it straight to your dry ingredients.)

Dissolve yeast in water; add salt sugar and flour.  Knead by hand or at your mixer’s bread setting for 5-10 minutes.  Add flour as needed to reduce stickiness.  Divide into 6 sections for “mall-sized” pretzels.  Twist the dough into any shape; cars, letters, numbers, etc.  Place on greased cookie sheet and brush with beaten egg.  Sprinkle with kosher salt on top.  Bake at 425 for 15 minutes.

Besides being a perfectly delicious snack, making homemade pretzels with your little ones provides many developmental opportunities, mentioned here.  In particular, pretzels are a great fine motor activity as the children work the dough and roll it into shape.  If you want to throw in some math or literacy concepts by working on letter, number, or shape formation, forming them with pretzel dough is a great way to do it.  If they need some guidance, create outlines on paper and have them laminated for continued use, or just tape down some Saran wrap on top for a one-timer.  Once the children have created their “snakey ropes” they can lay them inside the outline to create the figure of their choosing.  Whatever the shape, these pretzels are a quick, easy, tasty treat.  Now there are three qualities to love in a pretzel recipe!  Thank you, Celia!

Top photo by metzga.


Filed under Building Readers, fine motor skills, Learning through Play and Experience, math activity, Recipes - Edible

Five Valentine Treats!

Looking for a tasty treat to make for or with your kiddos on that special day of love?  Here are five treats that will make the day memorable!

Heart Biscuits

Take your favorite biscuit recipe (try this one), favorite quick mix, or pop-tube of dough, cut them with a heart-shaped cutter and press red sugar sprinkles in before baking!  As Fancy Nancy would say, “Magnifique”!

Dipped Pretzels

Check out this blogger’s instructions for Valentine dipped pretzels!  I never realized before that a covered pretzel looks like a heart!  So darling and tasty!  You can do this activity with your kids and make some treats to deliver to their special friends, Grammy and Papa, or a secret Valentine! 

I made some today with my boys and we had a sweet science talk about changing states of matter as the bark was solid, then liquid, then solid again.  (We also had a talk about not double-dipping because their friends don’t want spit in their food.  Sadly, one batch was relegated to home-use only.  More for Mom!  I’m immune to spit!)

Valentine Trail Mix

Here’s a fun snack mix recipe to try out for a hearty snack.  If you have kids who will eat cashews, good for you.  If they (like mine) constantly nix the nuts, or if you’re worried about allergies, just omit or substitute with granola or a boxed cereal like Cheerios, Chex, or Life. 

Trail mixes are fun to make with the little ones because it’s just pour and stir.  Up the learning opportunity by pointing out the recipe and matching the labels to the ingredients.  You might even have the kiddos make their own batches in little baggies by setting out the ingredients in bowls along with a measuring spoon or scoop with each one.  On an index card next to each ingredient, write the ingredient name and a number, indicating the number of scoops to add to their baggies.  Fantastic pre-reading, numeral recognition, counting, and procedural practice!

Heart Hotcakes


I saw this recipe for rainbow pancakes last week and thought it looked like something my boys would do backflips for.  If they knew how to do  backflips.  Don’t tell them, but I’m planning on using this obviously brilliant idea of adding color to batter to make red heart-shaped pancakes for their Valentine’s breakfast.  Shhhh.  It’s a surprise.  (If you’re morally opposed to food coloring, go natural and add some raspberry syrup!)

Sweetheart Smoothie

Add strawberries to this Orange Smoothie for a pink drink!  Slice the remaining strawberries along the length of the berry to create strawberry hearts for a garnish! 

Have a tasty Valentine’s Day!

Click here for the developmental benefits of cooking with kids!

For more Valentine’s Day activities click here!

Heart Branch image by rknds.

Rainbow Pancake image by Amanda.

Strawberry image by marta.

All other vastly inferior images by me.


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

Fruity Scented Kool-Aid Playdough

I love cinnamon scented playdough, which I listed here, but I also love the fruity scent of Kool-Aid scented playdough!  Adding an extra appeal to the senses could hardly be easier!  Start with the Classic Playdough Recipe.  Add a packet of Kool-Aid to the water before adding it to the pan.  Ta-da!  Simple, right?  Now, if you already have a batch of playdough made up, you can also knead the powder right into the dough.  It takes a bit of time to get it mixed through, but because it hasn’t been cooked, the scent may actually be stronger that way.  Just be sure that the powder has been worked in completely.  You may even want to let it sit overnight to be sure that the powder has been fully absorbed. 

I recently kneaded some grape Kool-Aid (OK, it was Flavor-Aid, I’m a cheap skate!) into some leftover glitter playdough.  The color intensified and the smell was fantastic!  Some of the children even watched the transformation and were excited by it, asking for more Kool-Aid to mix into other playdough batches.

Adding a scent to your playdough takes a tactile sensory activity and adds another sense, making it multi-sensory.  It is appealing to the children, literally inviting the children to come explore as the scent wafts across the room!  It is also a great way to extend a familiar activity.  In addition to sensory development, playdough play enhances creativity and fine motor strength.

More from the “Exploring the Arts through Our Senses” unit here!

For more food-themed activities, click here!


Filed under Create, fine motor skills, Learning through Play and Experience, Recipes - Nonedible, sensory activity