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Published: 7/2/2005

Cool foods for kids

BY KATHIE SMITH
BLADE FOOD EDITOR

With the sizzling temperatures outdoors last week, even kids were staying indoors to avoid the summer heat. When you're indoors, it's a great time for kids to learn about food and even try a cooking project.

For example, four favorites - potatoes, ice cream, watermelon, and cook-outs - could yield interesting and doable projects for kids to soak up an afternoon of fun.

Last winter, the United States Potato Board developed a poster to help teach adolescents about nutrition fact labels. The back of the poster included How to Read a Nutrition Facts Label, Nutrition Know-How Crossword, and Health at Home with a recipe for a twice-baked potato. The poster was distributed to 80,000 fifth through eighth-grade teachers in the country. For the same information, and to download activities from the Dig This! Read the Label: It's Good for Your Body poster, visit www.healthypotato.com.

While the twice-baked potato is an easy recipe for kids, potato nachos also provide a healthy dose of potassium, vitamin C, and fiber. In fact, potatoes are very high in potassium.

Traditional nachos are crisp tortilla chips topped with melted cheddar cheese and chopped chiles, usually served as an appetizer; sometimes additional toppings such as ground beef, onions, and olives are added.

Introduce potatoes into the concept and top with many of the same ingredients for delicious Potato Nachos served with salsa, guacamole, and sour cream, if desired. These are easy to make and can be a version of potato skins. Line the baking sheet with nonstick aluminum foil for easier serving. (See recipe on Page 2.)

For younger kids, the Mint Chip Monster is a "no bake" treat for special occasions. (Everyone deserves a cool treat in the heat of summer.)

Start with a chocolate-covered, cream-filled snack cake cut crosswise and filled with a scoop of ice cream. Design eyes with marshmallow topping and chocolate candies, then squirt chocolate syrup to create "legs." (For the cake, try a Hostess Ding Dong, a Little Debbie cake, or make your own cupcake.) Note that the size of a small scoop of ice cream is about a 1/2 cup or the size of a tennis ball. This treat may be made ahead and frozen.

Ice cream has calcium, but not as much as milk, cheese, and yogurt contain. For maximum nutrition, stick to the basic flavors (chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry) and avoid the high-calorie, high-fat, pricey products.

For more ice cream recipe ideas for kids, check www.icecreamusa.com.

When doing a children's kitchen project with watermelon, a seedless variety is easier to use.

Seedless watermelons are hybrids. In a typical watermelon field, roughly 25 percent of the plants are seeded varieties and 75 percent are seedless types, according to the National Watermelon Promotion Board.

Seedless watermelons contain small white "seeds," which are empty seed coats. These plants will never produce seeds. As for seeded watermelons, an average 15 to 18-pound melon contains 500 to 1,000 seeds.

Watermelon is bursting with lycopene, about four times as much as a medium-sized tomato; it also has a hefty 25 percent of the daily value of vitamin C, and is a rich source of vitamin A.

When supervised by adults, kids can create fun shapes with watermelon using cookie cutters. First, adults should slice a 1 to 2-inch thick round of watermelon and place it on a flat plate, cutting board, or baking sheet (preferably with sides). Then hand out the cookie cutters and let the kids enjoy the flavor of their creations.

For another watermelon treat, make watermelon freezer pops with chunks of watermelon added to watermelon puree and freeze.

For fun activities, food information, and even suggestions on how to grow a watermelon for kids, visit www.watermelon.org and access kids and teachers section to download fun pages and projects.

Here's an idea that's great for a summer cookout, camping in the backyard, or even baking in the oven. For a new twist on hot dogs, roll thawed frozen dinner rolls in a 14 to 15-inch rope and twist around each hot dog 4 or 5 times. Grill on long skewers or bake in the oven.

For dessert, toast marshmallows to eat or make s'mores with graham crackers and pieces of plain chocolate.

For the big kids (teens and adults) and back in the kitchen, a Vidalia onion blossom is a delicious appetizer or snack. Bake a Bloomin' Sweet Vidalia Onion by skewering each onion with two wooden skewers to form an "X" just above the stem end. With a sharp knife, cut down through top of the onion to skewers and cut into eighths. The skewers prevent the knife from cutting through stem end. Place the onion in a nonstick baking pan. Sprinkle with bread crumbs. Drizzle lightly with olive oil and roast at 350 degrees for 15 minutes or until onion "petals" being to blossom and unfold. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese and bake 20 minutes or until tender. Points of the onion will darken. Serve with a dipping sauce or salsa.

Onions are sodium free, and provide dietary fiber, vitamin C, vitamin B6, potassium, and quercetin which is a phytochemical - a substance in plants that may protect against cancer and other diseases.

Summer may sizzle, but your kitchen can yield fun foods for all ages.

Kathie Smith is The Blade's food editor.

Contact her at: food@theblade.com or 419-724-6155.



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