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Family Meals for All Seasons

You may not think you have time to eat more seasonally. Managing busy weeknights, picky eaters, and a shortage of inspiration can make seem impossible to add anything else to the mix. Believe it or not, eating with the seasons can actually be a useful tool to help make healthy meals everyone will love.

What's In Season?

Find out what's in season in your region by checking state agriculture boards for a crop availability calendar. Many will post lists of produce from month to month like this one from my state of Connecticut.

Once you've figured out what's available, get out and explore the possibilities. Expose the family to fresh foods when ever possible. Hit up a local farmers' market or farm stand, see what local produce is available at your local grocery store, and when the climate allows getting your hands dirty in your own garden.

Eating with the seasons allows you to take advantage of the best ingredients at their peak of freshness and flavor. Since seasonal produce items travel a shorter distance to get to your plate, more of the nutrients remain intact. Part of the beauty of eating seasonally is the variety – changing up your options allows for exposure to a wide array of nutrients throughout the year.

Since some seasonal items have a short season, hold on to the flavors. Put 'em up to enjoy later in the year by freezing and making jams, sauces, soups and pickles.

Seasonal Delights

Each season has its own special foods and nutrients to offer. Here are some examples of nutrient-filled seasonal superfoods and family-friendly recipes to use them with.

Winter

Dried fruit is a terrific option especially in the winter months when options are less plentiful. Dried fruit is sweet as candy but packed with nutrients like fiber and iron. Raisins and a pinch of cinnamon make this bowl of oatmeal taste like a decent treat. For variety swap in other dried fruits such as cranberries, apricots or cherries.

Recipe: Cinnamon Roll Oatmeal

I've made oatmeal this way so many times I had to write up the recipe. It has all the sweet goodness of sticky bun, but it is a much healthier way to start your day. For easy morning time prep, make plain oatmeal ahead and store in the fridge. Microwave to reheat and then pile on the toppings.

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

4 teaspoons brown sugar

1 ½ cups rolled oats

¼ cup raisins

¼ cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Low-fat milk or soy milk (optional)

In a small bowl, combine cinnamon and sugar—set aside. Prepare oats with water according to package directions. Top with cinnamon sugar, walnuts, and raisins; stir. Finish with a splash of milk or soy milk, if desired.

Yield: 3 cups

Nutrition information per ½ cup

Calories: 143, Total Fat: 5 grams, Saturated Fat: 1 gram, Carbohydrate: 24 grams, Sugars: 13 grams, Protein: 3 grams, Sodium: 64 milligrams, Cholesterol: 0 milligrams, Fiber: 2 grams, Vitamin D: 17 IU, Calcium: 25 milligrams, Iron: 1.7 milligrams

Spring

Spring is an exciting time of year for produce – it's time to get the garden planted and head back to the farmers' market. I love to take my kids berry picking in the late spring. We snack on lots of berries right away but also try to save some for the freezer and this amazing homemade treat.

Recipe: Strawberry-Kiwi Fruit Leather

Commercially prepared fruit leathers are filled with highly processed sweeteners and even trans fats! This recipe is made from whole-food ingredients and keeps the sugar content in check. Take the kids berry picking and hold on to the tasty memories a bit longer. It is just as easy to double or triple this recipe but be sure to use separate sheet pans for each batch to get the proper thickness and cooking time. This recipe is a little time-consuming but most of the time is inactive. The hardest part will be waiting to dig in.

1½ cups chopped fresh strawberries

½ cup chopped fresh kiwi

2 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons honey

Preheat oven to 170°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat mat and set aside. Place fruit, honey, and sugar in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil and cook for about 5 minutes, then puree using an immersion blender.* Continue to cook over medium-high heat for an additional 10 to 15 minutes or until thick and syrupy; the mixture should be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Pour the hot fruit mixture onto pre- pared baking sheet and spread evenly into approximately an 8 × 12 inch rectangle. Place in the oven and bake for 3 hours. After 3 hours have passed, turn off the oven and allow to sit overnight. Cut into strips with a pizza cutter; roll up in a clean piece of parchment paper. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks.

*If you do not have an immersion blender, puree in a food processor and then return mixture to saucepan.

Yield: 12 strips

Nutrition information per 1 strip

Calories: 21, Total Fat: 0 grams, Saturated Fat: 0 grams, Carbohydrate: 5 grams, Sugars: 4 grams, Protein: 0 grams, Sodium: 1 milligram, Cholesterol: 0 milligrams, Fiber: 1 gram, Vitamin D: 0 IU, Calcium: 6 milligrams, Iron: 0.1 milligram

Summer

Nothing says summer like zucchini and fresh herbs, both are bursting with nutrients and the flavors of summertime. This dish also incorporates tomatoes and corn – more fresh produce filled with vitamins and antioxidants.

Recipe: Summer Squash "Pasta"

Later in the summer I'm always looking for something new to do with the zucchini I have all over the kitchen counter. The whole house complains ("Zucchini again?!"), but they don't mean it. This dish is all about the flavors from the family garden. A Zyliss julienne peeler is my tool of choice for making easy strips of squash.

3 large zucchini, unpeeled

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved

1 cup corn kernels (preferably fresh but can be frozen)

¾ teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano

Using a vegetable peeler, strip zucchini into thin ribbons. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add zucchini, tomatoes, and corn; season with salt and oregano and cook until vegetables are slightly wilted and warm, about 5 minutes.

Yield: about 5 cups

Nutrition information per ½ cup

Calories: 44, Total Fat: 2 grams, Saturated Fat: 0 grams, Carbohydrate: 6 grams, Sugars: 4 grams, Protein: 2 grams, Sodium: 75 milligrams, Cholesterol: 0 milligrams, Fiber: 1 gram, Vitamin D: 0 IU, Calcium: 19 milligrams, Iron: 0.5 milligrams

Fall

Fall foods like sweet potatoes, winter squash and pumpkin are loaded with vitamin C, fiber and beta-carotene – an antioxidant vital for healthy skin and eyes. Pumpkin puree (not to be confused with sugary pumpkin pie filling) can be used for soups, sauces, and baked goods. My youngest daughter is truly obsessed with these muffins.

Recipe: Charlie's Double Pumpkin Muffins

Charlotte is obsessed with pumpkin muffins and there are no complaints from me. I created this recipe especially with her in mind, and I find myself making and freezing batches of these at least once a month. Pumpkin seeds make for the "double" pumpkin designation, but sometimes we just make them plain. They are also dynamite when you add a couple handfuls of mini chocolate chips to the batter.

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour

1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup light brown sugar

1 large egg, beaten

½ cup canola oil

1 (3-ounce) pouch carrot-applesauce (Trader Joe's "Crushers" recommended)

1 cup whole milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup canned pumpkin puree

Pumpkin seeds and sparkling sugar

Preheat oven to 375°F. Spray mini muffin pan with non- stick cooking spray and set aside. In a large bowl, combine flours, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt; whisk well to combine. In a separate bowl whisk together brown sugar, egg, canola oil, carrot- applesauce, milk, vanilla, and pumpkin puree. Add pumpkin mixture to dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Fill each muffin cup with 1 tablespoon of batter and sprinkle with pumpkin seeds and sparkling sugar. Bake for 12 to 14 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean from the center. Allow to cool for at least 20 minutes before serving.

Yield: 36 mini muffins

Nutrition information per Muffin

Calories: 77, Total Fat: 3 grams, Saturated Fat: 0 grams, Carbohydrate: 11 grams, Sugars: 6 grams, Protein: 1 gram, Sodium: 73 milligrams, Cholesterol: 5 milligrams, Fiber: 1 gram, Vitamin D: 1 IU, Calcium: 7 milligrams, Iron: 0.3 milligrams

Many recipes can be modified for any season. Toss seasonal goodies into kid favorites like soup, pizza, quesadillas and mac and cheese.

Recipe: Mac and Cheese with Vegetables and Chicken

This is an awesome mixed meal for little ones who are ten to twelve months old. Serve with fruit for a complete and well-balanced meal. I still make this (unpureed) for the entire family to enjoy.

½ cup broccoli florets

½ cup chopped carrots

3 ounces cooked chicken breast

¼ cup low-fat milk

2 ounces American cheese, shredded or chopped (Applegate brand recommended)

2 cups small-shaped pasta (such as stelline or orzo)

Cook pasta according to package directions and set aside. Place broccoli and carrots in a small saucepan and boil until very tender (about 15 minutes). Drain, reserving 1 cup of the cooking liquid. Transfer cooked vegetables and chicken to a food processor and pulse until well chopped; add a bit of reserved veggie cooking liquid if mixture appears too dry. Set aside.

Heat milk in a small saucepan until steamy. Add pasta and cheese; stir with a wooden spoon until well combined. Mix in chicken mixture and add more cooking liquid, if desired.

Yield: about 3 cups

Nutrition information per ½ cup Calories: 147, Total Fat: 4 grams, Saturated Fat: 2 grams, Carbohydrate: 18 grams, Sugars: 1 gram, Protein: 11 grams, Sodium: 157 milligrams, Cholesterol: 21 milligrams, Fiber: 2 grams, Vitamin D: 5 IU, Calcium: 78 milligrams, Iron: 0.6 milligrams

Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, ATC, author of the new release FIRST BITES: Superfoods for Babies and Toddlers (Perigee/Penguin Random House) is the nutrition expert for FoodNetwork.com and founding contributor for Food Network's Healthy Eats blog. As a registered dietitian and certified athletic trainer specializing in culinary and sports nutrition, White is an educator, a clinician, and most importantly, a mom of two. Learn more at www.danawhitenutrition.com and follow her on Twitter @DWNutrition.

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