Gratitude Pumpkin

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We’re gearing up for a cozy Thanksgiving just as our family of four, but that only has us thinking all the more about what we’re thankful for or missing this year. One neat idea is to write down all the ideas your family can brainstorm… on a pumpkin!

As the kids came up with ideas (and mommy, too!), I wrote down all their words in permanent marker. Travis named favorites like Star Wars, friends and play dates. Don’t discount a toddler’s ability to name the things they love; that counts as the first step toward feeling grateful.

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Veronika also wanted to scribble with markers as I wrote, which meant our final pumpkin wasn’t “perfect”. But I loved this touch of reality on it.

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The resulting gratitude list was so simple but beautiful, and will make the perfect centerpiece for a Thanksgiving table!

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Exploring Pumpkin Guts

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Pumpkin carving is an obvious Halloween activity, but don’t neglect what a fantastic sensory experience the whole process is, even before you get to that spooky carved face. And that goes not just for toddlers, but for big kids, too!

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First, I set out our biggest pumpkins, along with newspaper underneath, a tray to catch all those insides, and a few zip-top bags. The kids had eagerly awaited this moment, as we’ve decorated smaller pumpkins here and there in anticipation. I invited them to explore the giant pumpkin first: the texture, the color, the smell, etc.

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Then we cut off the top (grown-up step!). Now, the lid is like a puzzle piece that kids could take off and fit on over and over again.

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Time to scoop! Pumpkins are fascinating inside, starting with those stringy guts and slippery seeds, and then scraping down to the firmer flesh. I spooned some of the insides onto a tray for Veronika to explore with bare hands.

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She also wanted to smell it!

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I also sealed some in a zip-top bag in case the goop made her squeamish, but she actually preferred the stuff on the tray!

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She also loved stirring through the mixture with our pumpkin scoop, which we could also tap against the pumpkin to play it like a drum!

Exploring Pumpkin Guts (9)At last it was time to carve. We shifted a bit from sensory mode to learning mode, because as I popped out the first eye, Veronika said, “A triangle! I want a square.”

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So now I was on the spot to carve a square nose!

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The final sense to explore in a pumpkin is taste of course. We rinsed the seeds (which easily separate from the stringy stuff). Pat dry, then toss with about 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1/2 teaspoon salt. (Note: We had one cup seeds, so use more or less oil and salt depending how many seeds your pumpkin yields).

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Roast at 400 degrees F for 10 to 15 minutes, then enjoy!

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Pumpkin Risotto

Pumpkin Risotto

If you’re looking for new pumpkin recipes to add to your seasonal repertoire, this savory recipe is a nice alternative to sweet pumpkin desserts.

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon Earth Balance butter
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
  • 1 minced garlic clove
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion
  • 1 cup canned pumpkin
  • 1 cup Arborio rice
  • 3 cups vegetable broth
  1. Heat the olive oil and butter in a 3-quart casserole dish over medium heat. Add the sage and garlic; cook for 1 minute.
  2. Remove the pan from heat and stir in the remaining ingredients. Cover, transfer to the oven, and bake at 350 degrees F for 1 hour.
  3. Stir before serving!

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Pumpkin Scented Rice Bin

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This was easily one of the prettiest sensory rice bins I’ve put together for Veronika. And it certainly smelled the best!

To prepare the rice, you’ll want to start the night before. I didn’t have orange food coloring, but I dripped in a good sized blob each of red and yellow, then added about 2 tablespoons of hand sanitizer. Add a bag of plain white rice, along with 1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice, and stir until it’s all combined.

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I ended up really liking the striated effect this achieved, since some pieces were more yellow, some more red, and some a perfect blend of orange. All the fall colors! Spoon the mixture onto a shallow tray so it can dry overnight.

In the morning, I laid out the rice for Veronika, along with pine cones and whole cinnamon sticks. Feel free to add other whole spices if you have them, like nutmeg or star anise.

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Veronika loved the bin right away, first wanting to get her hands on the cinnamon sticks. “Can I smell them?” she asked.

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I also added in a few orange pipe cleaners so she could thread the cinnamon sticks onto them, almost like long beads.

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Cinnamon bracelets!

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Then she started sprinkling handfuls of rice over the pine cones. She loved the sound it made!

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It was fun to bury the pine cones in the rice and then unearth them. And of course she paused often to lift the rice near her nose and take a deep breath in. There’s nothing better than the smell of pumpkin pie!

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This one kept her busy for a while!

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Halloween Countdown Day 19: No Mess Pumpkin Art

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Here’s a quick seasonal spin for a toddler to paint in a zip-top bag. This time, instead of plain paper inside the bag, I inserted a template of a pumpkin.

You can squirt in orange paint, but where’s the fun in that? Add a little blob of red and a little blob of yellow and it will become a lesson on color mixing, too! Now simply seal tightly and hand across.

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Veronika was so surprised when she touched the red paint and realized her hand wasn’t messy.

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Same thing with the yellow!

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Now she was doubly intrigued. She either used the flat of her palm for squishing the paint, or sometimes scratched at it, too.

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As soon as our red and yellow started to mix, I pointed out that she was making orange. In retrospect, I should have added more yellow, as the red was definitely dominant. But we achieved a neat tri-color effect on the pumpkin.

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Note: Your piece of paper will be so saturated with paint that likely it will tear if you try and remove it from the bag. So this project isn’t a keeper, but it is fun in the moment!

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Halloween Countdown Day 8: No-Bake Pumpkin Pie

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What better way to wait out the anticipation before you can carve your pumpkins… than to eat them! This pie should successfully tide everybody over until jack o’ lantern time. Bonus points: the recipe is easy enough that even my two-year-old can help!

First, combine 1/2 cup non-dairy milk and 1 packet instant vanilla pudding mix in a container with a lid. Seal and shake. Fun!

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Pour the pudding mixture into a large bowl. Stir in 1 cup canned pumpkin pie filling. Fold in half a container of non-dairy whipped topping (such as So Delicious Coco Whip).

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Spoon the mixture into a prepared graham cracker crust (such as Mi-Del), then spread the remaining whipped topping on top. Veronika was eager to hold the spatula and help smooth out the top!

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But mostly, she wanted to taste-test every step of the way. She earns an A plus for making sure every step of the recipe was delicious.

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Pop the pie in the freezer for at least 2 hours and voila, a pie that never needs to bake.

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Your kids might think it’s Halloween magic!

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Interpretive Pumpkin Painting

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Veronika and I did a quick abstract art project today to help her paint her first “pumpkin”!

I love art at around age 2, because toddlers are just beginning to tell you what they’re drawing, even if you can’t always see it. So I thought it would be fun to guide Veronika through a jack o’ lantern painting. I set out watercolor paper along with orange and black paint.

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“A pumpkin starts as an orange circle,” I told her. Of course her pumpkin was going to be “abstract”, but she loved dabbing the orange on the paper.

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She quickly was more interested in black paint, pressing the brush firmly onto the paper, which almost made black triangles. So I showed black triangle eyes on my pumpkin!

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As she worked on her “pumpkin”, I worked on mine. Often, I find myself jumping in with my kids’ artwork, and this project was the perfect reminder to let her take ownership of her work.

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She told me she was drawing a black square, and we talked lots about shapes and colors as we worked.

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In the end, we had a perfect toddler pumpkin painting, and a mommy one to boot!

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Pumpkin Bread

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This easy pumpkin bread is full of sweetness, spice and veggie goodness. A slice is perfect for breakfast or snack.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup coconut sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 heaping teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened almond milk
  • 1/3 cup applesauce
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin puree
  • 1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
  1. In a bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and pumpkin pie spice. Set aside.
  2. In a second bowl, whisk together the almond milk, applesauce, and vanilla. Add the flour mixture and the pumpkin puree to the applesauce mixture, stirring just until combined.
  3. Spoon into an 8×4-inch loaf pan coated with cooking spray and sprinkle with the pumpkin seeds, pressing into the batter slightly. Bake at 350 degrees F for 55 minutes.
  4. Cool completely on a wire rack before storing.

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Want more veggies in your baked goods? Try carrot cookies or sweet potato pie!

Spicy Pumpkin Muffins

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This recipe makes generously sized muffins, perfect for hungry kids after school or for a great boost in the morning. The addition of molasses means extra B vitamins. Use nutmeg in place of the cloves, if desired, and increase the applesauce to as much as 3/4 cup if the batter seems too thick.

Ingredients: 

  • 2 and 1/2 cups flour
  • 2 and 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon cloves
  • 1/4 cup applesauce
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 1/2 cup agave nectar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin
  1. In a bowl, combine the flour, 1 and 1/2 teaspoons baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and cloves; set aside.
  2. In a second bowl, whisk together the applesauce and the remaining 3/4 teaspoon baking powder.
  3. Stir in the canola oil, molasses, agave, vanilla, and pumpkin.
  4. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, then divide evenly among the cups of a muffin pan coated with cooking spray.
  5. Bake at 350 degrees F for 27 minutes. Cool on wire racks.

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Pumpkin Mac and Cheese

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It’s not fall until you’ve made a pumpkin-flavored something, and this spin on mac ‘n’ cheese from High Five magazine is a great way to sneak veggies into your kids’ dinner!

Grown-ups: To start, cook 8 ounces macaroni pasta according to package directions; drain and set aside.

Meanwhile melt 2 tablespoons Earth Balance butter in a saucepan. Whisk in 2 tablespoons flour and 1 cup non-dairy milk. Remove from heat and let cool slightly.

Now the kids can join in! Whisk in 1 cup shredded Daiya cheddar…

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… along with 1 cup canned pumpkin, 1/2 teaspoon mustard, and 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg. Travis loved smelling and taste-testing the mustard and nutmeg!

Pour the pumpkin sauce over the macaroni in a 9×13-inch baking dish, stirring to combine.

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Bake at 375 degrees F for 25 minutes. Little sister’s onesie even matched!

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