Van’s New Products Review and Giveaway

One of my family’s go-to brands has been Van’s Natural Foods for as long as my daughters and I have been gluten-free….going on 6 years now. You can check out our review of their waffles and french toast sticks at this link, if you haven’t tried them yet.

We recently tasted some of Van’s new products and wanted to tell you what we love about them…

First: their new cereals. They are really good. Simple as that. We tried both flavors: Cinnamon Heaven and Honey Nut Crunch. They are a little smaller than Chex squares and have a nice, crispy texture that doesn’t soak up milk too fast like other cereals do. Sometimes I expect Cinnamon cereals to be too sugary, but both kinds have just the right amount of flavor— not overpowering yet not too subtle. These cereals are tasty, substantial and give us long-lasting morning energy, which is especially important for kids.

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I am guessing some of the reasons for this “staying power” is how much fiber and whole grains are in these cereals.  According to their website, Honey Nut Crunch cereal is packed with 19g of nutrient-rich whole grains (Cinnamon Heaven has 17g) and both have 5g of fiber per serving. When it comes to fiber, my family can never seem to get enough, so this is a welcomed addition to our “regimen of regularity.”  🙂  Below is their nutritional information. Both cereals are Non-GMO Project verified and free of top allergens.

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Be advised that, despite the name, Honey Nut Crunch does NOT contain nuts. While I doubt anyone with nut allergic kids would buy this on account of confusing their kids, I still wanted to make sure you knew… For more info. on allergens, see their FAQ page.

Now, on to Van’s crackers:

One word, “WOW.”

We took a few boxes of these crackers up to Maine with us last month and enjoyed them on our trip. This photo below was taken a minute before a huge bald eagle flew over our heads and caught a big seagull down by the water! Anyhow, after things calmed down we had a really nice picnic on this rock and enjoyed these crackers with cheese, turkey and pepperoni on them. They held up great and tasted even better.

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My opinion:  These are by far my favorite crackers to date. If I’m eating crackers, I’m putting cheese & other toppings on them, so I prefer the larger square ones: “The Perfect 10” and “Fire Roasted Veggie”, the latter of which is probably the most “adult” flavor. Besides the great taste and texture of these crackers (every single kind) I love the fact that they are soy-free. This 42 year old doesn’t need her hormones messed up any more than they already are, so soy-free foods are key.  🙂

IMG_9791My girls enjoy them topped w/ cheeseball spread (above), dipped in dill dip, or stacked with deli cheese and meat, as a sandwich alternative. But they prefer just snacking on the smaller ones which are more kid-friendly (they are currently the most-requested school snack), especially Van’s “Say Cheese!” crackers. They are the closest thing we’ve found to Cheez-Its, and have a very similar crispiness and cheesy taste, and are also available in snack size bags for your convenience.

As you can tell in the comparison shot below (no, I’m not a hand model, thank you very much) the smaller ones are thinner and crispier than the larger ones, so they both serve their purposes well.

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Here is information on Van’s “Say Cheese!” crackers from their website. The other flavors are all dairy free…

Screen shot 2013-10-10 at 8.07.01 AMIf you really want to knock your g-free kid’s socks off, try this new take on chicken fingers, using Van’s “Say Cheese!” crackers as breading. We tried this recipe last week (it’s a winner) but ate it before we remembered to take a picture, so this one is courtesy of Van’s:

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If you’ve had bad luck with crackers so far and are starting to think that all gluten-free products still taste and feel like eating cardboard, then you’re in for a real treat!  The flavor and texture of all of these crackers is right up there with the best of regular crackers, gluten-free or not. Seriously. Try them. You’ll love them…

If you don’t win the below giveaway, just head to your nearest Walmart, Safeway, or Sprouts store to pick up these products for your g-free kiddo.  You can also join the Van’s E-club which keeps you up to date on new products, and makes you eligible for special offers and coupons. And don’t forget to Follow Van’s on Facebook for plenty of kid-friendly, gluten-free meal and snack ideas.  This is one company you can count on to keep coming up with great new products!

And now for the giveaway:  TWO random winners will each win THREE “FREE PRODUCT” COUPONS (cereals, snack bars or crackers: retail value up to $4.49 each) courtesy of Van’s Natural Foods. 

To enter, simply leave a comment below, letting me know which of these Van’s products you think your g-free kid will love the most.

Giveaway ends at midnight on Sunday, October 20, 2013. Then the 2 winners have 24 hours to get back to me, otherwise new names will be chosen. U.S. and Canadian residents may enter. Good luck!

Disclaimer: Van’s sent me free products to try for this giveaway.  I only promised an honest review and was not compensated in any other way. Opinions are my daughters’ and my own.

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Paintings for Kids: Easter’s Most Important Symbol

IMG_6617Bunnies, eggs & candy — oh my!  While I’m all for enjoying the goodies of Easter, a very important symbol get lost among all of the fun aspects of this Christian holiday — the cross!  So for the past 5 years or so, I have made it a point to have my daughters make people cards with crosses on them, to remind them of the most important part of Easter — that Jesus Christ triumphed over sin and death. Here are some of the cards they’ve been making since they first began to draw and paint…

IMG_6635This year they made 8.5 x 11″ paintings and added paper strips for a collage effect, which you saw in the first photo above…

Here is how they did it:
First, my girls added a few drops of water to all of the watercolor ovals on their paint palette (see below) so that the colors would be nice & juicy and ready to use.

Next I used masking tape around the edge of the paper to both (1) adhere the paper to the cardboard so it wouldn’t get all bendy once wet, and (2) to create a 1/4″ border around the edge of the paper. Then I cut pieces of tape and stuck them down for the crosses and hill top (smaller pieces to form the curve). The idea of the tape is to keep the paper white underneath, once you peel the tape off later…

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Then I gave my girls both wide, flat brushes and had them brush the whole page with water. Then they started adding paint and letting the colors blend together, making sure they painted right up to the tape edges. We also added table salt to the wettest, most colorful areas of paint. That makes for some fabulous effects when it dries!  Let your kids experiment with this…mine love to!

Depending on what kind of paper you use to paint on (the thicker quality, the better), you may or may not be able to just leave it “as is” once you unpeel the tape. My original intent was that they would turn out like (A) below. Unfortunately some of our paper came up in pieces when we took the tape off. To cover this up, we made hand-torn paper strips that were the same width as our masking tape marks. I am actually glad this happened because I like the extra texture (B) the paper strips added!

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Below are how their paintings turned out after all of the paper strips were glued on. The brown crosses were made by dry-brushing some paint onto the strips before they were glued on. I think the white paper stands out the best on the sky backgrounds, though.
IMG_6604Lastly, we glued the paintings onto some bright construction paper which gives it a more “finished” look… My girls kept their favorite one (hey, our house needs decorations, too!) and the others were given away as Easter gifts to family.

IMG_6630I hope you will find the time to make something similar with your child. Here is a link I just found if you would like to further explore meaningful quotes and Bible verses about Easter.

Wishing you & your family a blessed Easter weekend with safe travels and relaxing times…

~Katie

Cupcake templates: a mini giveaway for your gluten-free kid, plus a fun awareness idea!

A few months ago I picked up a handful of “baking templates” which I had found at a local Michael’s store. Since most of us are making gluten-free cupcakes for our g-free kids, I figured we could all use something new to decorate them with…

Does your g-free kid love cupcakes? Are you looking for a way to help spread awareness? Then here is the perfect answer: host a cupcake party!  The National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA) and Pamela’s Products have collaborated on this idea, so find out more, be inspired and get out there and make a difference!

Decorating cupcakes with these templates is something your g-free kid can definitely help with. She can begin by holding the template flat while you show her how to sprinkle in the sugar (or nonpariels) evenly to fill up the template. Then, once she understands how it works, you can hold the template while she does the sprinkling. Wait until you see her pride and excitement when you take the template off and show her the final shape!

Tips: these templates work best on flat frosted surfaces, so if your cupcake it too rounded on top, slice off some of the cake part to make it flatter. Then put your frosting on as flat as you can, with more around the edges to build a more even surface. Also,
try these on frosted brownies, cookie cakes or regular cakes.

7 lucky winners will receive (for their g-free kids) a set of 3 different cupcake templates as shown in the first photo above, along with a personalized note from a children’s book author and illustrator. (me)  🙂

I like to keep my giveaways simple by just requiring a comment below (instead of making you “like” me on Facebook and twitter for extra entries). However, I would appreciate more followers on social media (this will only help this site get bigger and better) and for you to help me spread the word about gfreekid.com. So, if you like what you see here, please tell people about it. Thanks!  🙂

That being said, this giveaway is still simple:  All you have to do is comment below, answering these questions: What does your family do to help spread awareness, and which cupcake or cake mix/brand/recipe is your favorite?

Giveaway will end Monday, March 19th at midnight. Winners will be randomly chosen and emailed with notification. If I don’t hear back within 48 hours, other winners will be chosen to replace them. GOOD LUCK!  🙂   -Katie

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Snyder’s Gluten-Free Mini Pretzels: Review, Ideas and Giveaway!

Way back before I went gluten-free almost 5 years ago, my husband and I used to be huge Snyder’s of Hanover (regular) pretzel fans. I remember eating Snyder’s pretzels when we started dating in 1989! Our favorite snacks were their sourdough hard pretzels, pretzel rods and sourdough nibblers. Once I went gluten-free I thought I would never enjoy another Snyder’s pretzel again — that is, until the day I discovered their Gluten-Free Pretzel Sticks back in 2010.

Ever since, our family has been their #1 group of fans — I’m the kind of #1 fan (in my own mind) of their pretzels that I feel like I’m almost a stalker or something. 😉 I honestly think that we’ve gone through one bag almost every week since we first found them at our local Wegman’s store. Even my dog begs for them and my non-gluten-free husband loves them! We bring them everywhere as snacks, and just really appreciate and enjoy their taste, texture and lack of weird after-taste (that you get with other brands of gluten-free pretzels).

So you can imagine how excited I was to find out that my favorite pretzel company just came out with a new shape…Snyder’s Gluten Free Mini Pretzels. My daughters and I couldn’t open our first bag fast enough. We almost ate the whole thing that same afternoon, eating them both plain and dipped into hummus.

They taste just like our beloved GF pretzel sticks — buttery “regular pretzel” taste with the perfect amount of salt — but we are really enjoying this new shape and texture. It’s funny how Snyder’s can make another product using the same ingredients (click here for ingredient list) but how they seem “new” to us all over again. Their texture is a little different, but in a very good way… These mini pretzels are thinner and a bit crispier than the sticks. Something about the shape, size and taste of them makes me feel like I’m eating just plain regular pretzels, taking me back in time to the days when I could have any pretzel in the world. I can honestly say that I would keep eating these pretzels even if I could ever go back to eating gluten-free. They really are that good. (And, like the sticks, the minis are also dairy-free, casein-free, egg-free, and low-fat, by the way.)

With St. Patrick’s Day and Springtime coming soon, we came up with a few simple ways to make the following cute, little salty-sweet treats, using both minis and sticks…

Sweet & salty shamrocks:

Sweet & salty dragonflies:

Simple flowers:

and M&M buttons & nonpariel buttons:

For all of the above, we preheated the oven to 400 degrees, arranged pretzels and placed colored melting disks or chocolate disks with nonpariels (round sprinkles) on top. Melt them in oven for 30-60 seconds and place in freezer to harden. The buttons only take about 30 seconds but the others take around 60 seconds to melt enough. Because ovens differ, I would suggest you do a little trial and error until you’re able to get them to melt enough to stick onto the pretzels so they don’t fall apart. I brought a big tray of these to my grandma’s 90th birthday party yesterday and they all disappeared without anyone realizing they were g-free!

Here are some other sweet ideas I found in case you’re interested:

I ask you:  Who better than Snyder’s to make our favorite g-free pretzels?  (Now in 2 different shapes!) Which other company makes gluten-free pretzels right here in the good ol’ U. S. of A?  None that I know of — other brands are imported. The fact that they are Certified Gluten Free (with that sight-for-sore-eyes logo printed right on the bags) is a huge plus, too, and I commend them on making the effort. Also Certified Gluten-Free are their Multigrain Tortilla Chips in their EatSmart Naturals line. And they also offer 100 Calorie Pretzel Stick Packs now, too. Next I am pulling for them to make gluten-free pretzel rods!

By the way, please be sure to tell your child’s supporters how readily available and inexpensive ($2.99 for an 8 oz. bag at my Wegmans) Snyder’s gluten-free pretzels are. I don’t know how many times my kids have been to parties that have regular pretzels sitting out as a snack, when (had the host known about Snyder’s GF) maybe they would have been willing to just put GF ones out instead. It’s a simple way to make g-free kids feel “thought of” and included.  🙂

Now for the giveaway: Snyder’s of Hanover has generously agreed to give away 1 full-size (8 oz.) bag of their new Gluten-Free Mini Pretzels to 10 lucky, randomly-drawn winners. All you have to do is comment below, saying what you and your g-free kid are looking forward to doing with Snyder’s new pretzels: Making a special treat with them? (If possible, include link to online recipe);  Eating them plain?  Dipping them in something? (If so, what?) Let’s share some ideas and inspiration…and if you’re already a Snyder’s fan, feel free to add reasons why you prefer their pretzels over others. Giveaway ends at midnight on Monday, March 12th. If winners don’t respond by Wed. March 14th, new winners will be picked to replace them. Good luck!  -Katie

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Keep coming back for more things for g-free kids, and don’t forget to check out the photo album and kids’ stuff page!

[ Disclaimer: Snyder’s sent me free samples of their mini pretzels, as I could not find them available in stores at the time. The opinions I expressed are my own, honest feelings about their products and I was not coerced into writing a positive review.  🙂 ]

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Gluten-free Valentine’s Day cards, plus a mini kid-size giveaway!

Hello!  I normally won’t be posting every day like this but I have a few more things I want to get out before Valentine’s Day, and wanted to give you a few days to enjoy them…

G-free V-day cards!
My favorite site for coloring pages and cards is Activity Village. They’ve got everything imaginable except for gluten-free cards (in fact, I couldn’t find any anywhere) so what else could I do but create my own?  I pulled out my old marker pad and pens and went old-school for this post, drawing everything by hand. (I had to get off the computer for a few hours!)  🙂  So what I came up with is 4 little Valentine’s Day cards (with the help of dear ol’ Mom who helped me come up with some wording) — made especially for all the g-free kids out there. You can download the PDF here: 4VcardsHR, then print out copies of it for your kids to color, glue onto colored construction paper and give out for Valentines — or just hang in their room or on the fridge. Please let me know how your children enjoy these…I would love to hear what they did with their cards! (*Please note: the below preview won’t print out large enough — click on the blue link four lines above this for the printable PDF).

My first mini kid-size giveaway… I have a bunch of stuff like this that I’ll be giving away once in a while, just for kids. How often do your kids get things in the mail?  If yours are like mine: not often enough. These giveaways are just meant to give your g-free kid a little excitement by receiving a little surprise in a snail-mail envelope, along with a little note from a famous author (okay, maybe an unknown author)…  😉

If you’d like your child to receive one of these coin purses in the mail, please comment below with your favorite thing about this website and/or something you’d like to see here in the future. I’ve got 3 of both styles, so 6 winners will be randomly chosen by midnight tomorrow (Sunday, Feb. 12th). At that point winners will need to send me their mailing addresses and I’ll send them out. Stay tuned…

Next up are some wiggly, jiggly jello ideas for Valentine’s Day. Keep coming back for more things for g-free kids, and don’t forget to check out the photo album and kids’ stuff page!

Simple ideas for your special, little gluten-free Valentine

Valentine’s Day brings plenty of opportunities to make your g-free kid feel extra loved — as well as show love to others — around the clock. A little creativity, some thoughtfulness, a cookie cutter and a few other supplies can go a long way in making your g-free kid feel like a very special Valentine by the end of next week…

Here are some quick ways we make things seem “Valentinesy” (as we say) for the weeks surrounding the big day:

FOR THEM:  One of our “go-to” treats — for any occasion — is chocolate dipped marshmallow pops. These couldn’t be easier and I’ve never met a kid who didn’t love them. We make and send them in to almost every class party and my girls always say they were a hit. All you have to do is stick a skewer into each marshmallow, dip them in melted chocolate, add sprinkles, put on wax paper and set in the freezer. Just change up the sprinkles depending on the holiday and they are a festive addition to any occasion.

With your handy-dandy cookie cutter, make heart shaped pizzas. For these we just rolled out part of the dough and cut them out, then topped them individually. Or even easier — just make regular pizzas and use a cookie cutter after it’s cooled. Moms like me are always happy to eat the leftover scraps!  🙂

FOR OTHERS:  Make simple peanut clusters. Just fill cookie cutters up partway (depending on how thick you want them) with melted chocolate mixed with peanuts, decorate with sprinkles if you’d like, then let them set in the freezer for a while before you pop them right out.

Or let your kids make free-form peanut clusters, too!

FOR FUN:  Remember and repeat — life is not all about food. When each upcoming holiday nears, I let my daughters become designers extraordinaire… Decorations come up from the basement and I let them decorate this shelf in our living room however they want.

This is Lindsey’s most recent creation (she was sick that day and Morgan was somewhere else, so she was even more excited to do this one solo). Putting a bunch of decorations in one spot has a lot more impact than sprinkling them around the house, and my kids are free to revisit and rearrange as they see fit.

So many ideas, so little time… What are some simple things you let your g-free kid do for Valentines Day?  Do tell!  🙂

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*Also, please stay tuned for 2 special things just for kids:  4 Valentines Day cards for g-free kids to color (as soon as I finish drawing them!) and a mini kids-size giveaway. Should be up in a day or two… thanks!