Simple Cakewalk Ideas

It’s that time of year again! It’s cakewalk season at many schools! I will admit it – when I see the cakewalk memo in my daughter’s school bag I let out a big ol’ sigh. It’s not because I am opposed to cake walks, but because I am not a talented cake decorator and I hate the idea of disappointing the hundreds of little faces who walk from cake-to-cake trying to decide where to put their tickets. 

Simple Cakewalk Ideas.png

If you’re not familiar with a cakewalk, it’s a school fundraiser where a bunch of cakes and cupcakes (typically bought or baked by parents) are lined up on tables typically in a gymnasium. The kids walk around looking at all of the cakes and cupcakes, and then pay for tickets to deposit in the bags or boxes belonging to the cakes they hope to win. Once all of the kids have done this, tickets are drawn and kids win cakes! Usually it’s one cake/package of cupcakes per kid.

The pressure is on to get the cake with the most tickets!  

Or is it?  

I have learned over the years that most kids don’t really care what the cakes or cupcakes look like – especially the younger kids. What they do care about is the amount of chocolate, candy and sugar the cake has! The more the merrier! 

Having said this, it doesn’t alleviate the pressure as much as it should for me. I would love to be a talented cake decorator, but I am anything but! Every time I see a cake walk memo my mind spins with ideas of what I should create versus what I CAN create. I would love to be that mom who can create a life size minion cake that looks so realistic that you expect it to talk (this cake actually existed at one of my daughter’s cake walks – that mom is one heck of a cake decorator let me tell you!). 

I know some parents purchase baked goods and I believe that is great if that works for them because for me, it’s all about participating. I, however, like to bake (it’s the decorating part I loathe). So, I try and bake something “attractive” for each cake walk. The first couple of years I would bake a cake similar to what you see below from the blog of Mrs Rachel Brady. A simple chocolate cake with chocolate icing and Smarties as polka dots. Perfect.

Easy chocolate birthday cake via  Mrs Rachel Brady

Easy chocolate birthday cake via Mrs Rachel Brady

Then my daughter mentioned that many parents make cupcakes and break them into four containers with six cupcakes each or six containers with four cupcakes each. Genius! This means there are more “cakes” for the kids to win and covers off any parents who may not have contributed. So, now I make cupcakes. 

My standby, “Oh crap, I forgot the cakewalk is tomorrow!” cupcake is ‘worms and dirt.’ It’s the chocolate cupcakes and chocolate icing or crumbled up cookie topping with gummy worms. Quick and simple to make and a hit with the younger kids (so I hear anyway).

This year I wanted to venture out of my comfort zone. I asked on Twitter if anyone had thoughts and made it clear that cake decorating it not my forté. It was recommended that I check out Pinterest, but the only cakes I ever saw on there were way out of my talent-league. But then someone sent me a link to cakewalk cake ideas on Pinterest and right away I spotted something I could do! It was simple, fun and cute!

The little piggies cupcakes were so easy to make and when I dropped them off the students collecting the cakes thought they were adorable! I can see myself making these again for the next cakewalk. 

Simple Cake Walk Ideas - Little Piggie Cupcakes

Suffice to say, I have learned to accept that I will never be the minion cake-making parent. Instead I am proud of myself for contributing something to every cakewalk my daughter has been a part of and that I made something that hopefully made a kid smile. Albeit, sometimes that kid is my own because she notices there are no tickets for my contribution and chooses to put her tickets in to win it. ;)

Are you a talented cake decorator? What are your favourite cake walk ideas?

The New Canada’s Food Guide: Encouraging Healthy Eating

The new Canada Food Guide was released on January 22, 2019, and before its publication there was a lot of speculation surrounding what foods would be eliminated and what foods that were previously highlighted would be minimized. In truth, the new Canada’s food guide encourages healthy food choices. They want Canadians to, "make it a habit of eating a variety of healthy food each day."

What does this mean? It means eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grain foods and protein foods – including protein that come from plants. It also means limiting highly processed foods (note: they do not say to avoid them altogether, but to eat them less often and in small amounts).

The picture on the new Canada’s food guide shows a plate half-filled with vegetables and fruits, with the other half split between protein foods and whole grain foods. Gone are the graphics for milk, yogurts and meats. Instead, meat protein shares its space with protein from nuts, tofu and legumes.

My favourite addition is to, “make water your drink of choice.” There is no substitute for the healthiness and necessity of water. We are mostly made from water, so it’s no wonder we should be focusing our beverage choices on water as opposed to sugary and artificially-flavoured drinks. 

The new Canada’s food guide also focuses on healthy eating habits. It encourages you to use food labels, and to limit foods high in sodium, sugars and saturated fats.

In a fast-paced world, the new food guide encourages us to take our time to eat, plan what we eat and involve others in planning and preparing meals. This is especially important for families.

As a registered dietician, and mother of three young children, Cathy Richards believes eating healthy as a family does not have to be time-consuming or difficult, and she’s happy to see that the new food guide recommendations support the scientific evidence on diet and health.

The focus is on whole foods and it’s presented in an easy to understand format. A visual of the plate makes it easy for my clients to understand how they should be aiming to balance a meal. I really like the interactive nature of the website for the guide, as it makes it a fun activity for families to explore together by trying new recipes or incorporating the tips around mindful eating.”

Food marketing to kids is also a very relevant concern and Cathy is, “happy to see some direction for parents around this. The research supports cooking at home more often and eating together as key health behaviours to prevent obesity in adulthood. To be honest, I haven’t been referring to Canada’s food guide with my clients for years but with this new addition I’ll definitely be directing more of my clients there to explore the website and learn with their families.” 

Canada’s food guide website has many healthy recipes the entire family can enjoy preparing and eating together. The guide also has tips on how to eat healthy anywhere as well as outlines nutritional needs based on age and life stages.

Canada's food guide has changed, but it has changed because with the many food options available to us in grocery stores, online and in restaurants, it can be confusing to know what eating healthy really means. After all, “healthy eating is more than the foods you eat.”  

For more information on the new Canada’s food guide, visit their website. You can even download an educational poster and post it on your fridge as a reminder of what it means to eat healthy.

Food and beverage marketing to children: Changing the trend

We all want what’s best for our children—especially when it comes to their health and nutrition. So, why is keeping junk food out of the house so difficult? Where are children learning about the food they eat and the beverages they drink? Did you know children are being marketed to on a daily basis?

As parents, avoiding advertising and marketing for children and youth can be surprisingly difficult. Marketing is everywhere: television, video games, online, in movies, endorsed by characters and celebrities, and even on packages and labeling of products.

Marketing to children

What is marketing?

By its very nature, marketing is designed to persuade people into purchasing a product or service. For influential young minds, this persuasion can lead to unhealthy food and beverage choices.

Food and beverage marketing to children

Healthy food and beverage choices start in childhood, and unfortunately children learn a lot about both through marketing.

Every time a child turns on the television they are exposed to a variety of marketing messages. Before the age of five, most children can’t tell the difference between an advertisement and a television show.  Manufacturers and big brands recognize how easily influenced children and youth can be, and invest a lot of money to create marketing messages they feel will influence a child’s dietary decisions.

If a child sees a marketing message for a particular beverage a child will, more than likely, ask their parents if they can have that particular beverage—healthy or not.

Ottawa Public Health is working hard to help parents and their children learn the difference between healthy dietary choices and marketing ploys. Armed with the right knowledge and resources, parents and children will be able to make healthier and more informed dietary choices.

Eating healthy - marketing food and beverages to children

What can parents do to help change the marketing trend?

Parents need to do their research on products and read food labels. Just because something says it is 100% natural does not mean it is made with natural ingredients. Eat fresh foods as much as possible, and when shopping for packaged goods, look for products that have reduced salt or sugar and no trans fats.

Parents can also help educate their children on what marketing means and help their children differentiate between learning something new and trying to be convinced to buy something.

It can be hard to say to no to junk food, but teaching moderation and offering alternative, healthier options is a step in the right direction.

Food and beverage marketing to children

Marketing regulations

With growing obesity rates in children, it has become the mission of public health organizations to create stricter policies and regulations concerning the marketing of food and beverages to children and youth.

In Canada, the Federal government is constantly working to introduce restrictions on the marketing of unhealthy food and beverages to children and youth. These regulations include improving the information found on food labels.

The province of Quebec has already banned commercial advertisements specifically directed at children under the age of 13. Since this change, Quebec is the highest consumer of fruits and vegetables and has the lowest obesity rates for children between the ages of six and eleven.

To find out more information on how marketing influences the dietary choices of children and youth, and what steps are being taken to change these practices, visit Ottawa Public Health online.

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Disclaimer: This blog post is sponsored by the City of Ottawa (Ottawa Public Health).

Sweetener Swap: 5 Alternatives to Sugar

It’s so easy to reach for that sweet, inexpensive, white stuff when you’re mixing up a batch of chocolate chip cookies. White sugar is delicious! And no matter how healthy we become (some days… after many, many attempts), we will still prefer the taste of white sugar in our treats.

As parents, we can either accept sugar defeat, or we can try using a few healthier alternatives at home to drastically cut down the amount of sugar our family is consuming.

Photo courtesy of StockSnap

Photo courtesy of StockSnap

Here are 5 sweetener alternatives and the best ways to use them:

Honey

An obvious choice but hey, what other sweetener on the planet has enzymes, minerals, vitamins, amino acids and antioxidants galore, and is good for combating seasonal allergies and protecting your digestive system? I use honey in my kid’s treats a lot! Honey can be pricey to bake with, but it’s best not to heat raw honey to retain its incredible health benefits. Use it in ready to eat treats, such as drizzled on yoghurt, porridge, or toast with nut/seed butter, homemade lemonade and salad dressing.

Maple Syrup

Another sweetener choice is maple syrup. It also contains plenty of antioxidants and minerals like zinc, manganese, potassium, and calcium. It can be quite affordable too if you stock up at one of Ottawa’s farmers markets in-season. Whereas honey is best eaten raw, maple syrup is awesome in any way including baked goods, homemade granola, glazes for roast vegetables or BBQ ribs.

Ripe Bananas / Apples / Pears

You can’t go wrong with adding fruit. Diced or pureed, fruit adds a lovely aroma to baking and produces incredible moisture. Not to mention it’s just about the healthiest way to go. What better way to use up that spotty brown banana and half-wrinkled apple that your kid forgot in his lunchbox over the weekend? Sweeten smoothies, muffins, pancakes, homemade popsicles…get creative!

Photo by  Jennifer Pallian

Coconut Sugar

Before you say ‘I’m healthy, but not that healthy’, try coconut sugar in your coffee. It has a slight caramel flavour like brown sugar and no, it doesn’t taste like coconut. It’s another sweetener that is packed with awesome nutritional benefits and has a low glycemic index. Use it just like sugar in your coffee, tea, sweet bread, cookies or add a touch to your tomato sauce.

Dates

Don’t pass this one by. Dates pack a HUGE nutritional punch and can save your baking without compromising taste. Psst, moms... they help you metabolize proteins, fats, and carbs. Really! Quickly soak and finely chop dates (or blitz with a few tablespoons of soaking liquid), and add them in the same ratio as sugar to sweeten your baked goods. They are wonderful in your favourite baked treats, added to oatmeal or yoghurt, and as snacks for your kids and babies!

It’s hard to give up sugar, perhaps it’s unavoidable, but it’s not as hard as it seems to swap it out. Give these alternative sweeteners a try and you may find that one or all of them will work wonders in cutting down your consumption of sugar. Your kiddos likely won’t bat an eye at your sweetener swap and you’ll be one happy mama for it.

Post written by Tatiana Westberg.

What is an Instant Pot? And why I (finally) bought one.

Before Black Friday 2016 I had never heard of an Instant Pot. But that day my newsfeed was filled with posts about how great the Instant Pot is and how it saves people time and money—and how Amazon often puts it on sale. I didn’t buy my Instant Pot that day. I thought it was a trend like so many other kitchen gadgets out there, and I’m not one for fads.

Fast-forward to Boxing Day and once again, my newsfeed was filled with posts about Amazon’s great price on this product. I am an avid slow cooker user, and read that the Instant Pot could replace a slow cooker—this intrigued me. I was growing tired of how heavy my slow cooker is, and my tendency to overcook things in it. It was because of this that I decided to do some research on the Instant Pot. I quickly learned it is a slow cooker, pressure cooker, rice cooker and so much more—all in one.

Needless to say, 1.5 months ago I bought an Instant Pot IP-DUO60 7-in-1 Multi-Functional Pressure Cooker, 6Qt/1000W and I haven’t used my slow cooker since.

Why I love the Instant Pot

1)   Quick meals

If you have a busy household, then you will appreciate the ability to have homemade chili on the table within one hour of your first onion chop (and it will taste as though it was cooking all day long—see below).

2)   Flavourful food

I have yet to make anything in my Instant Pot that isn’t flavourful and tasty; just as it would taste had it simmered in a slow cooker all day long.

3)   Healthy cooking

Just as a slow cooker encourages home cooking, so does the Instant Pot. I love being able to cook real food and having it ready in a minimal amount of time. The Instant Pot allows you to serve healthy meals without having to rely on packaged convenience food.

4)   The sauté feature

To be completely honest, I was sold on the Instant Pot from the moment I realized I could brown the meat and caramelize the onions in the same pot as I cook the chili—one pot cooking. This convenient feature saves time and dishwater!

The Instant Pot’s learning curve

Before I owned an Instant Pot I had never used a pressure cooker, so the functionality and capabilities of this feature confuse me. I am still not sure as to when I should let the Instant Pot “naturally release” the steam versus letting the steam out myself. I usually underestimate the time it takes the Instant Pot to naturally release the steam and the lid will not open (for safety reasons) until all the steam is released from the pot.

Also, the heat and pressure of the manual steam release is quite loud and forceful, so I advise against trying to have a conversation while doing this. I also suggest moving the Instant Pot away from kitchen cupboards since the hot steam can do damage. I have heard of some Instant Pot owners buying PVC piping to redirect the steam away from the cupboards—this is on my to do list.

Knowing how long to cook some meats and meals can be difficult to determine—also knowing it takes 5 to 10 minutes for the Instant Pot to heat up is helpful when planning to have supper on the table by a certain time. Luckily, the Internet is a great resource for timing, recipes as well as cleaning tips for the Instant Pot. There are many bloggers (my favourite is This Old Girl) as well as Facebook Groups devoted to the Instant Pot.

Tried and tasted Instant Pot recipes

With the exceptions of modern additions or changes, I have made the following Instant Pot recipes with great success! My daughter loved all of them. She prefers one pot spaghetti to the traditional kind now.

Chili
Hearty hamburger soup
One pot spaghetti
Apple spice steel cut oatmeal
Whole chicken

Instant pot steel cut oats

Instant pot steel cut oats

The recipe below is one of my own. I like my pork chops tender and this recipe makes them as tender as they get and my daughter likes her pork chops sweet—so this recipe is our go to when it comes to pork chops.

Kid Friendly Sweet Pineapple Pork Chops

4 pork chops, boneless
Salt & pepper

1 cup of fresh pineapple; cut into widgets
2 tbsp. of soya sauce
¼ cup of honey
2 tbsp. maple syurp
3 tbsp. Dijon mustard
½ teaspoon freshly grated ginger
½ teaspoon of cinnamon
¼ teaspoon of ground cloves

  1. Set Instant Pot to sauté and drizzle with olive oil to prevent pork chops from sticking.
  2. Season both sides of the pork chops with salt and pepper and place in the inner pot.
  3. Brown pork chops on both sides/
  4. In a small bowl, combine soya sauce, honey, Dijon mustard, maple syrup, ginger, cinnamon and cloves.
  5. Pour sauce over pork chops, covering them as much as possible.
  6. Lock cover into place; seal steam nozzle.
  7. Set to manual setting for 15 minutes.
  8. Naturally release pressure for about 5 minutes.

Serve with rice and your favourite vegetable. This recipe is at is says–sweet, so kids will like it. 

Many slow cooker recipes can be modified for the Instant Pot. Its pressure cooker capabilities are phenomenal and not as intimidating as your traditional pressure cooker. If you are unsure how your cooking skills will transfer over to the Instant Pot start with something simple like hard boiled eggs, which seems to be a popular stepping stone into the Instant Pot world.

Do you own an Instant Pot? What are some of your favourite recipes? I’m always looking for more recipes, so please share them in the comments below.