Friday, 22 August 2014

Making Lemonade with Young kids

A refreshing drink, structured activity, unstructured sensory play and make your house smell lovely in the process. This is an example of how even a simple activity can be a treasure-trove of learning opportunities for a young child.

4 lemons
About 4 large spoonfuls of sugar.
Hand Juicer (you can use an electric one but this removes some of the fun of juicing the lemons
1 sharp knife (kept away from the kids obviously)
2 jugs (1 smaller 1 larger) (about 1 liter or 2 pints is a good size for the larger jug)
Mixing spoon
Towel (to wipe up spills)

 For the sensory play activity
Pot and stove (away from kids, obviously)
Shallow basin
Bowls, plastic knife, wooden spoon

Structured activity (making lemonade)

Before you start make sure no-one has any recent scrapes/cuts on their hands. Lemon juice really hurts if it gets into a wound (I forgot I had a small cut on my finger before setting this up).

Step 1) Bruise the lemons
Start out with just the 4 lemons. It is good to make a space either on a low table or the floor to do this (if you have carpets/ easily stained floors you may want to put down a plastic mat and have a towel handy). To get the most lemon juice out of your lemons you need to bruise the lemons to break some of the membranes inside. A good way of doing this is to roll the lemons on the counter top under firm pressure.  This is a fun exercise for children. Another way to get a similar result is to play “Ops I dropped a lemon” careful not to use too much force you are trying to bruise it not splat it everywhere.

Step 2) Cut the lemons.
 You need quite a sharp knife to do this so it is best done away from the kids and the knife put away afterwards. (Older kids may be able to do this under direct supervision).

Step 3) Setup
Now is the time to set everything up to make the lemonade. You need 2 jugs (1 larger, 1 smaller) the smaller one ¾ full of water), your cut lemons, a mixing spoon, a bowl of sugar, a tablespoon and the juicer.

Step 4) Sugar and water
Have the child spoon about 4 tablespoons of sugar into the big jug and then pour about half the water from the small jug into the larger jug (It is easier for a child to pour all the water in rather than stop at half so if your child is just starting to learn pouring having two smaller jugs may be better).

Have the child mix the sugar in with the big mixing spoon.
Quantities do not need to be exact. Expect some mess.

Step 4) Juice the lemons
I found the easiest way to do this is to start and finish the lemons off. So get the lemon on the juicer and give it a couple of light turns (so there is a groove in it), then let the child have a turn juicing (Hold the bottom of the juicer while this is happening or you will have a big mess). After each lemon have the child pour the Juice into the big Jug (that way if you do have a spill you won’t have lost all your lemon juice).

Step 5) Mix and taste
Mix again. Then spoon a small amount of juice into glasses and taste. Add more sugar/water as needed until it is good. Then drink.

Sensory Play activity
To prep for this cut the lemon skins away from the fruit and place half of them on a pot with some water. Cook on the stove for 5-10minutes (obviously this needs to be done with children far away, pots/ boiling water are a major source of childhood injury). (This will also make your house smell lemony fresh)

After cooked drain the water and rinse the skins under the cold tap until cold.
Place in a shallow basin along with the uncooked skins. You can also add some uncooked mandarin/orange skins for a bit of color. Put the basin on the floor and allow child to play (can also give them some extra bowls or a plastic knife to play with too).

Put the activity in front of the child, explain what everything is then step back and let them play by themselves.
Learning points/ discussion points.
There are many different things that you can use in this activity as learning and discussion points with your child. It depends on your child’s interests/ level as to which are the most important at the time. As child develops can repeat this activity and add in learning activities as appropriate. Some of the things a child can learn through this activity include:

Physical skills
Rolling, dropping, picking up, finding, pouring, stirring
Cutting (Advanced)
Feel of the lemon as it rolls
Smell the lemon
Taste the lemon, the lemonade and the sugar (Sweet and sour) how does the juice change when you add more sugar/ water?

Numbers and counting the number of spoons of sugar/ number of lemons
Pouring – fractions, ie half the liquid, empty halffull, full
How the sugar dissolves into the water.
How the water changes color with the sugar and the lemon juice
Large and small : the jugs are different sizes. The lemons are also most likely different sizes. Can line up the lemons and use them in order of size.

Sensory play

There are lots of things that the child can do with the skins in sensory play. The aim of the activity is that it is unstructured and children explore by themselves. Some kids may have no interest in it and that is ok too. Kids can feel the difference between the soft squishy cook pieces and the hard uncooked pieces. They smell different too. The uncooked skins smell more strongly. They can use their plastic knife to cut or tear the pieces. Can mix with a spoon or separate groups into bowls. The cooked bits can squish between fingers. While they do not taste great tasting them will not hurt.



Monday, 11 August 2014

Artificial sweeteners are making you fat

'Diet soft drinks are definitely not for people trying to loose weight.
 It is interesting that in a world of 0 calorie foods and drinks we as a nation appear to be gaining weight. I have always seen weight loss/gain is an equation (energy in – energy out = weight gain). Therefore, one would assume if you replaced a 200 calorie cup of juice with a 0 calorie soft drink you would lose weight. So why is there not an epidemic of skinniness with all these low calorie products?
I decided to do some research.
 What I found was that far from helping in weight loss,  ‘diet’ drinks may actually contribute to weight gain. 
How can something with 0 calorie make you put on weight? It does not make sense.
It all has to do with appetite.
Out appetite is what keeps us the weight that we are. For the majority of people appetite allows us to stay within a relatively stable weight range (slowing increasing as we get older[1]). Appetite is also the reason why many people put weight back on after a diet (and then some usually). One is able to fight ones intrinsic appetite for a time while one is losing weight, but fighting it for the rest of ones’ life can be incredibly draining[2].
Another thing that points to appetite (i.e. how much we eat rather than the calorific value of what we eat) as the cause of obesity is the “French paradox. The French diet is relatively high in ‘bad foods. There is lots of saturated fat, yet the rates of obesity are a lot lower than the United States. Why? One of the simplest reasons is while they may eat proportionally more high calorie foods, they eat smaller amounts[3] .
So the key to maintaining a healthy weight is Appetite. So why do some people have bigger appetites than others and what role do artificial sweeteners play in appetite?
It has been shown that one of the key players in appetite is sugar. Sugar increases the ‘tastiness’ of food and can actually be addictive triggering the same neuronal pathways as serious drugs of addiction like cocaine[4]. So why would taking sugar out of something make us fat? Because it is not actually sugar that does this, it is sweetness. Our tastebuds are fooled by the sweet messages and the pleasure centers are activated. But our stomachs are not fooled by these imposters[5]. This means the sweetness sends a signal to the brain stating “eat more” whereas the stomach sends a signal stating “there is nothing in here keep on going”. It is confusion between the messages between the brain and the stomach,  that may encourage us to overeat
How it is the sweet taste that actually stimulates appetite was elegantly shown in an experiment where men were given artificial sweeteners as a drink or in a capsule. When they were given 280ml sweetened water their appetite for other foods increased, wheras when they were given in capsule form with 280ml plain water (so the sweetness was only released on arrival to the stomach) there was no change in appetite[6].
Other experiments have shown that changing from regular to diet soft drinks either has little effect on weight or increases weight (Yan, 2010 cites multiple examples) . Consumption of sweetened drinks by young children (I wonder how a study giving these things to children got through an ethics committee, but anyway…) was shown not to significantly decrease total calorie consumption, but make them more picky about what foods they would eat[7] (i.e leading to preference for less nutrient dence foods and thus paving the way for problems in the future) (sugar sweetened drinks decreased calorie consumption in the next meal and also made them more picky).
One theory as to why people may actually gain weight on by consuming zero calorie sweetners is that the disconnect between sweetness and actual calorie rewards teaches out brains that sweet does not equal calories. Therefore when we actually consume a calorie containing sweet item our brains tell our appetite that it does not have calories and we should continue eating[8].
Therefore one of the key ways to reduce appetite is to decrease the sweetness of ones diet. ‘Diet’ drinks do exactly the opposite of this. The research is quite clear. They do not help decrease appetite and will not help in long term weight loss. (since many of the studies proving this were done quite a while ago it seems a bit misleading that they are still allowed to market them as diet products).
Next time you are feeling thirsty and want something ‘diet’ go for a cup of water, or an unsweetened cup of tea or coffee. If you must have something sweet have a glass of juice. Don’t reach for the ‘diet’ drinks, all that the ‘diet’ is, is clever marketing. It will not help you achieve sustainable weight loss.

[1] Dariush Mozaffarian, M.D., Dr.P.H., Tao Hao, M.P.H., Eric B. Rimm, Sc.D., Walter C. Willett, M.D., Dr.P.H., and Frank B. Hu, M.D., Ph.D Changes in Diet and Lifestyle and Long-Term Weight Gain in Women and Men, N Engl J Med 2011; 364:2392-2404

[2] Mann, Traci; Tomiyama, A. Janet; Westling, Erika; Lew, Ann-Marie; Samuels, Barbra; Chatman, Jason Medicare's search for effective obesity treatments: Diets are not the answer. American Psychologist, Vol 62(3), Apr 2007

[3] Rozin P, Kabnick K, Pete E, Fischler C, Shields C. The ecology of eating: smaller portion sizes in France Than in the United States help explain the French paradox. Psychol Sci. 2003 Sep;14(5):450

[4] Ahmed, Serge H.; Guillem, Karine; Vandaele, Youna, Sugar addiction: pushing the drug-sugar analogy to the limit , Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition & Metabolic Care:

July 2013 - Volume 16 - Issue 4 - p 434–439

[5] Qing Yan Gain weight by “goingdiet?”Artificial sweeteners and the neurobiology of sugar cravings Neuroscience2010 pp.101-108.

[6] Black, RM, Leiter LA, Anderson GH, Consuming aspartame with and without aftertaste: differential effects on appetite and food intake of young adult males. Physiol Behav, 1993;53: pp459-466.

[7] Birch LL, Mcphee L, Sullivan S, Children’s food intake following drinks sweetened with sucrose or aspartame: time course effects Phisiol Behav. 1989 Feb; 45(2):387-395

[8] Smeets PAM, de Graff, C, Stafleu A, Van Osch MJP, Van der Ground, J. Functional magnetic resonance imaging of human hypothalamic responces to sweet taste and calories. Am J Clin Nutrition.  2005; 82:1011-1016

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Almond 3 ways dessert

A vegan desert using homemade almond milk and the 'waste' meal together.
time. Makes about 6 small servings. It will take a day and a half to make from scratch, or about 2 hours if you use store bought milk and meal.


1 cup whole almonds (Or 1 cup almond milk plus 1/2 cup almond meal and 12 whole almonds)
3 tablespoons sugar
3 Tablespoons shredded coconut
Vanilla essence

Special equipment required

Food processor or good blender

Muslin cloth or coffee strainer (muslin works better)

step 1) Making almond milk

First you need to soak the almonds. Rinse 1 cup of almonds and then cover with water and place in the fridge for approx. 24 hours. (anytime between 12 to 48 hours is ok, the longer you leave them the creamier the milk).

After the almonds are soaked remove a few soaked almonds and set aside. These are now technically activated almonds (these will be for putting on tops of your desserts so 2 per person is good).

Put the rest of the almonds in the blender with 2 cups of water and blend until the almonds are all diced up into a fine meal.

Line a strainer with either a couple of layers muslin cloth or a coffee strainer paper and put the wet meal on top (you can also use a very fine sieve). The milk should start to drip out through the cloth. If you are using muslin you can squeeze the milk out.

You should get between 1 and 2 cups of milk back (depending on how good you are at squeezing the water out). Remember to keep the wet almond meal as we will be using that later.

Step 2) Making the pudding

Going to be working with 1 cup of almond milk (as you should be able to get that amount easily from the almonds).

Put in a saucepan over high heat and add a couple of drops of vanilla essence and 2 tablespoons of sugar to the milk. Stir with whisk until all the sugar has dissolved.

When the milk is hot and the sugar is dissolved (but before it gets to a boil) add the cornstarch. Add 2 teaspoons very slowly and whisk in.

Bring to boil while whisking. Boil for about 20 seconds. Custard should thicken.

Spoon custard into serving bowls/ glasses and put in the fridge to set.

Step 3) Dried almond meal topping

Take approx. ½ cup of the wet almond meal. Mix in 1 tablespoon of sugar and 4 Tablespoons of shredded coconut. (If you are using store bought dry meal you will need to add a couple of tablespoons of water to wet it to help it come together).

Gently spread out over some baking paper and put into a warm oven (about 160deg Celsius or 300deg Fahrenheit). How long it will take depends on how much milk you managed to get out of the meal and how evenly thinly you spread them out on the dish. Check on them every few minutes and remove from oven when they are starting to turn golden around the edges and dry (about 5-15minutes).
Using a spoon move the meal around on the baking paper to stop it sticking then put aside until ready to put desert together.

Step 4) Putting together

After about 2 hours your custard will have set.

Put a spoon of the dried almond meal topping and a couple of activated almonds (the soaked almonds) on top and serve.

This is best put together right before serving to keep the meal crunchy.