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Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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Tuesday, May 30

Gapers Block

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Every day as a kid after school, I would sit in front of the TV for a couple of hours and drink a large glass of milk with a Hostess cherry fruit pie and a pink Snowball. Dazed and somewhat in a stupor, I'd watch Jerry outwit Tom — yet again — while munching on my snacks. With all the Red Dye #40 that I ingested during those years, it's a wonder at all I was able to get out of elementary school at all.

As a parent, I have become more conscious about what I eat and feed my son. Knowing that "garbage in" will produce "garbage out," it just makes sense to me to forgo all the artificial snacks and "treats" that are targeted at children, even children as young as my son. Several studies and researchers have shown how artificial food additives been linked to how a child behaves. So what's a parent to do? While you're downing a slice of triple chocolate cake and your one-year-old stares at your wondering where her goodie is, what do you do?

Of course, I am a realist and know that I can't deprive my kid of dessert forever. I had to think of options out there for special occasions, besides the usual fruit. I am not a dietician, but I do know that natural foods, without added preservatives, artificial colors or flavors are best. Here are two recipes for homemade desserts which I don't feel badly about giving to my son.

Arroz con Leche (Mexican Rice Pudding)
This recipe is my variation on my mother's classic Arroz con Leche. Traditional Mexican arroz con leche contains no eggs, uses cinnamon sticks instead of powered cinnamon and is also more soupy than rice pudding — but if you prefer it thicker just cook it longer. I've added orange and lemon zests to the recipe because I find it gives the arroz con leche a wonderful, flowery aroma and taste. (Just don't tell my mother I add zest to her recipe, or else she'll kick my butt.)

1 cup of white rice
1/2 gallon of organic milk
1/2 cup of organic sugar
1 teaspoon of real vanilla extract (or vanilla paste)
2 medium-sized cinnamon sticks or 1 large one
1 teaspoon of orange and lemon zest
1 small piece of lemon rind

Wash your rice to get rid of any dust and debris it may have. In a large sauté or risotto pan, combine half of the milk, lemon rind and the rice. Under medium heat, cook the rice and milk until the rice is soft. Stir it every so often, so the rice doesn't burn or stick. The cooking of the rice will take between 35-40 minutes. If the milk has been absorbed and the rice isn't soft yet, add more milk.

Once the rice is cooked, remove the lemon rind and add the rest of the milk, the sugar, the vanilla, the zest and the cinnamon sticks. Cook an additional 20 minutes or so — or until the mixture has reached the consistency you prefer.

This recipe is very adjustable to whatever your taste is. If you prefer it less sweet, add less sugar; more vanilla flavor, simply add more. You can't go wrong; it is practically fool proof. Serve it either warm or cold.

The simplicity of the ingredients and using organic fruits, milks and spices makes this dish very child friendly — unless your child has dairy allergies, then it goes without saying. And even though it does have sugar, it is a natural sugar and you can sweeten it your taste. Be sure to remove the cinnamon sticks before serving this to a child.

Orange Mango Sorbet
One bag Trader Joe's Frozen Mango Slices
Organic Orange Juice

This recipe couldn't be easier, and it is ready in about half an hour. It's refreshing and a good alternative to ice cream.

Blend half a bag of frozen mango slices with enough orange juice to make a slushy consistency. Pour the mixture into an ice cream maker until ready to serve (about 20 minutes.) Here the juice serves as a sweetener, and the mangoes give it a mild tartness that's really refreshing.

You can also try other frozen fruits like strawberries or raspberries and use apple juice in lieu of orange.

The joy that a wonderful dessert can give you as child is something that I don't want my kid to miss out on. The key is to be aware of what ingredients are in foods I buy, and be selective of what I do give him, when he does get that special treat. With that in mind, there is no reason why he can't enjoy a delicious, sweet something every now and then.

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About the Author(s)

Alejandra Valera is a new mom and writer. If there's a baby- or kid-friendly place, product or event you think she should cover, email her at .

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