What I have loved and learned this summer

Ahh, summer vacation.  Longer days.  Change from the regular routine. No school, no homework, vacations and day trips. A slower season with time to make slower food, have longer conversations, and learn together .

Now school starts in a week, and we figured out the pitfalls and benefits of this vacation thing.  Here’s a few things we love that seem to benefit both our brains and bodies.

Big Breakfast:  I love breakfast, and it’s a great meal for teaching kids kitchen skills.  French toast, scrambled eggs, omelets, and home-made granola are some of our favorites. I love the slower mornings because the kids can make it, we had time to deal with the inevitable messes, and we can sit down together and enjoy their creations.  

John’s specialty- french toast!

Remember the adage “breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, dinner like a pauper”?  Summer is the season to do it!  This is also the time of day we worked on Scripture reading and memory.  The kids’ minds were fresh, we post the verse of the week above the table for everyone to say together, and the big kids and I take turns reading our Psalm of the day then singing our hymn of the day during cleanup.  It’s been a great way to start each day, and something I want to maintain even in the school morning crazies.

Scheduled Snacks:  Along with the looser schedule can come boredom munchies.   The downside of an open kitchen floor plan is that kids are constantly in view of the kitchen and food, which lends itself to mindless eating.   As much as I naturally love grazing throughout the day, it can lead to tooth decay, poor food choices, and weight gain.   We had an afternoon snack at three-ish, along with our three solid meals.  This was their schedule during the school year, so I knew they didn’t have to be eating all day.  If kids asked in between meals they could always grab a drink of water or a banana and wait an hour or so until the next time we sit down to eat together.  This saved so much time on snack prep and cleanup, as well as helping them develop a healthy appetite for meal time.

Pre-prepped fruits and veggies:  Every time I chop carrots, celery, cucumbers, or peppers I have a cutting board and knife to wash, dry, and put away.  If I pre-chop these veggies and store them in glass-lock containers it is easy to pull them out for lunch or snacks and serve along nut butter, hummus, or dip.  If I have to do the extra washing (can you tell I don’t like doing dishes?!) I’m more likely to pull out crackers than veggies.  I also love having them pre-cut to add to my daily salad.  

And I finally figured out a new way to cut a watermelon that works well for those with little mouths or no front teeth!  I slice it lengthwise in half, then cross-section into sticks rather than wedges.  I usually just chop the rest into cubes and store them into the fridge for snacks or watermelon icees later.

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you can see the “sticks” versus the usual wedges

Leftover lunches:  No packing school lunches!  I love the ease of serving a few dinner leftovers for lunch.  Or mixing it up for “choose your own adventure” lunches in which they pick which leftovers they wanted to eat.

One last week of summer to savor- enjoy!

Three bites at 3pm:  my experiment on managing the afternoon slump

A couple months ago I attended the Momheart conference with Sally Clarkson, and she made a point that really resonated with me.  As she spoke about moms’ need for quiet and rest during the long day, she mentioned her quiet afternoon cup of tea that gave her the strength to make it through dinner prep, extracurricular activities, and and the busyness of the evening with a joyful heart.

Three o’clock often found me scurrying around trying to finish up a few things and lamenting that I didn’t have time to finish everything on my to-do list before lugging my preschooler out the door and to the school to pick up the “big kids.”  A quiet cup of tea sounded lovely.  But was it reasonable?

Another routine we have generally kept this year is periodically having junk food treats as part of our after school snacks.  The kids have loved getting access to the cookies made on rainy weekends or leftover holiday candy, and they don’t beg all day when there is a designated time. Works well for them when paired with something nutritious. But for me?  I’m usually unpacking backpacks, sorting important school papers, and prepping dinner, so even when I eat a few bites of candy or chocolate something I tend to toss it in my mouth and swallow it and forget.  No savor factor.

So three bites at three.  I get my cup of tea, and/or three bites of something I love.  Toblerone.  chocolate chips and almonds.  One day I just wanted a banana with peanut butter, or if I have been working out hard a favorite protein shake.  The key for me is to sit down and enjoy it.  To be still and thank God for what I have, savor whatever flavors and textures I am enjoying without distraction, and thus to refresh my body and soul a bit before the after school crazies.  Because did I mention swim team just started?

Would you believe it works?  Because I actually taste and enjoy these treats, I don’t crave them as much at night.  Because I know I will treat myself in the afternoon, I can say no throughout the day.  Because it is only three bites of something great for my soul but not necessarily for my body, it doesn’t hijack my healthy eating plan.   Most importantly, I feel refreshed for my kiddos when they come home.

Sally Clarkson was right on with her afternoon tea recommendation for moms.  And adding a little chocolate just makes it that much sweeter.

Our Easter sunrise tradition

 On weekends I love to take an early morning run.  Wake up just before dawn, slip on my shoes, and head out into the cool, heavy air, down the dimly lit streets.  I hit the dirt path and lake area right when the light breaks over the horizon, filling the sky with pale pinks and yellows and oranges as the sun burns up the misty dew.

This Sunday I will skip the run for something even better.  We will celebrate as a family, as we have done for over a decade each Easter morning.  And as my family did when I was growing up as well.

Every year there is a steaming thermos of hot cocoa and a bag of bagels.  Fluffy cream cheese, raspberry jam, and wet wipes to clean little chins.  Sam and I will have our travel cups of coffee and a big blanket for sitting while we wait. And read.  And eat.

Then early in the morning, while it is still dark, we gather our family and walk to our spot.  Just as the women went to the tomb two thousand years ago.  The load is a bit heavy, and the dark is a bit troublesome – just as it was for them.  But we have hope and light hearts.  We know how this story ends.  They had heavy hearts and no headlamps.

We spread the blanket and sit down, just as the sky brightens.  We read  Mark 16, then Luke 24, and then John 20.  We read the story of the most magnificent Son Rise, so long ago, that rocked the world and forever changed that fate of humanity.  The rock, the angel, the empty tomb.  We pour cups of hot cocoa to warm us in the chilly air.  We pass out bagels; the hole in the middle reminding us of the empty tomb.  We spread them with both cream cheese and jam.  It’s best that way.  And the sun will rise.

Pack List:

  • blanket
  • headlamps
  • wet wipes, paper plates, napkins, knives to spread jam and cream cheese
  • sliced bagels
  • raspberry jam or fruit spread
  • whipped cream cheese
  • hot cocoa
  • Bible with post-it notes in John 20, Luke 24, and Mark 16

 

 

Eating and exercising while traveling

This weekend is the final Momheart Conference with Sally Clarkson, and I am so excited to go!  The last two have been so informative and encouraging to me as a mom and I’m sure this will be no different.

However, what has been great for the mind and soul can be rough on the body.  Conferences in general are like that.  We sit for long hours, sipping coffee with cream and sugar or iced tea with artificial sweeteners as the speakers go on.  The meals provided often have more fat and salt than we are used to, leaving us feeling sluggish for afternoon and evening sessions.  So back to more coffee.  Meals out tend to be at a restaurant and I’m not opposed to that – there are some great restaurants out there – but once again it’s back to making good choices (salad or veggies vs chips) and not mindlessly consuming the huge portions while happily chatting with friends.

I generally go for a run in the mornings while at a conference – this year I’m changing up the movement plan.  My sister and I are going to stop at a park midway through the drive (it’s over 4 hours) and enjoy a long hike.  I’ll do some pilates once there, and go for a fun run the second morning and a short swim in the afternoon.

Breaking up workouts into mini-sessions like this keeps me more alert and less sore for those longer sitting sessions.  I’m finding in my regular life of no gym membership but walking kids to school, short bursts of running with my 4yo as she bikes, and sometimes a round of strengthening and stretching in the afternoon I feel better than I did with a one hour workout in the morning and sitting at work all day.

And then the food.  Must balance out the fat and salt and coffee with some protein, fiber, fresh fruits and veggies, cultured dairy, and healthy fats.

 Can you read my handwriting on this list?  Me neither, so I’ll type it out here:

Friday/travel day:  snack on celery, apples, carrot sticks; lunch of almond butter sandwiches/hummus and chips, seaweed, and iced tea after hiking.

 I am loving a little wheatgrass powder or tea bags in my water bottle to add some flavor.  It helps me stay hydrated whether at home or away.  

 Friday dinner is at a restaurant – will choose something with protein and veggies

Saturday breakfast:  bringing oats and chia seeds to soak, greek yogurt and honey, and grapefruit to eat on the side.  Cool camping tip:  you can dump soaked oats and yogurt in a ziploc bag and eat with a spoon if dishwashing is too much of a hassle.

Saturday lunch:  provided at the conference.  They always do a lovely three-course meal that I am really looking forward to.

Saturday dinner:  out at a restaurant for soup and salad

Sunday:  heading to the airport at 4:30am means that this will be a quickie Belvita, coffee, Baby bel cheese light and fruit as we are driving.

Sunday lunch:  more fresh veggies, apples, and hummus and tortilla chips, after stopping at a state park for another stroll, of course!

 

 

 

What I am loving and learning this month

I love meeting up with friends and hearing about the latest conference, book, or podcast they have been loving.  I’m not getting any kickbacks from any of the below, but I thought I would share some of my recent faves and I hope to hear about a few others from you!

 

Food – Soup.  I want to do a post later on the benefits of soup, but right now, I’m loving soup for lunch and dinner.  Multiple times a week.   I can make it from leftovers, it is full of veggies and amino acids and flavor but packs a low calorie punch, and is super cheap depending on what ingredients are used.  Last night we had chicken tortilla soup with swiss chard from the garden…yum!

 Podcast – Natural MD Radio, hands down.  I first heard Aviva Romm during a webinar she did for dietitians, and since have enjoyed her book on kids and her blog.  I enjoy the way she empowers and educates moms to manage their own health and their kids’ health using food and herbs.   Her homemade cough syrup and garlic lemonade work well for our family – you can find these and other good tips in her free ebook.

Health book –  Move your DNA by Katy Bowman.  She also has a website as well that includes a variety of blog posts and videos on moving for overall health, not just weight loss.  I love her perspective and scientific arguments for moving your whole body throughout the day versus hitting the gym a couple times a week.  Beware – you may want to start walking barefoot and doing monkey bars with your kids after reading this.

MagazineCook’s Illustrated, because they have great tips and kitchen hacks in the beginning and amazing recipes from real food.  While I like eating healthy, I love eating good food with lots of flavor and this magazine has inspired me for two years and counting.

Bible Passage – Psalm 1.  OK, so it has nothing to do with nutrition, but does anyone else find that being tired + stressed = craving junk food?  More research is coming out on the health benefits of meditation and “mindfulness,” to control stress, improving eating habits, and improve cognitive function. For me, chewing, ie meditating, on the Word of God has been incredibly beneficial both spiritually and physically.  Our family is memorizing this passage together.  It’s a great way to work my brain while doing dishes.

OK, you will notice that Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are all missing here.  Is there something you think I would like to follow or learn about?  Let me know!

 

Why I celebrate Valentine’s (and a wheat-free Valentine’s day menu!)

  When I was a little girl we lived across the country from my grandma.  Yet each year at Valentine’s we received a little box from her with the same, predictable items in it:  tiny stuffed animal for each of us girls, a small box of chocolates, and her traditional, heart-shaped, pink-icing, double-layered lemony cookies.  I knew what was in that box each year, and each time it arrived in the mail I couldn’t wait to open it.

Fast forward to my college/career single days, and I still liked Valentines.  My grandma had passed away, so now it meant watching chick flicks and eating raw cookie dough with my friends and waiting until February 15 when all the chocolate went on sale.

Now I have kids.  And they love cookies.  And I love to make our traditional cookies which have next to no nutrition benefits but are oh-so-good for my soul, because they remind me of the love I have received in the past and make for special memories with my kids now.

We will make those cookies tomorrow, together, as we laugh and talk about whatever is on our hearts.  I will make heart-shaped salmon-salad sandwiches for lunch, because my girls love everything hearts right now.  We will have a “treasure hunt” and find a box of chocolates.  And then we will close the day with our traditional “spaghetti” and meatballs dinner.

Last night my hubby and I celebrated at a little Italian restaurant back in the Houston suburbs that we found nearly ten years ago when we first moved here.  It reminds of of Tarentelli’s in New Jersey, where we celebrated our first Valentine’s together.  Today we also ate out,  so I’m looking forward to balancing out the high-carb, high-fat outings and traditional cookies with some protein and fiber tomorrow night.

We don’t typically follow a gluten-free diet, but  I have fallen in love with my Veggetti slicer and  I can’t wait to substitute the long curls of zucchini for traditional spaghetti.  We are cleaning out the freezer, and I have a package of venison and a package of wild pig that I can grind up for the meatballs.

So, my wheat-free, lower-carb plan for tomorrow:

  • zucchini spirals sauteed in olive oil
  • homemade meatballs and spaghetti sauce
  • green beans with olive oil, tarragon, and salt
  • salad of course!
  • fondue-style fresh fruit dipped in chocolate sauce (chocolate chips melted with cream)
  • rose bouquet centerpiece
  • background music (Luigi Boccherini or Yo Yo Ma)

I love simple traditions that tell my family how much they matter.  I love the reminder that comes each year to do something sweet for loved ones.  I love keeping it simple but fun, so that we can look forward to it year after year.

  
Happy healthy Valentines to you and yours!

 

 

Chia Seeds -Why and How to add them to your diet

Remember Chia Pets?  Yep – it’s the same seed, but now it’s considered more of a super food than playful decor.  Officially the Salvia Columbariae or Salvia Hispanica L. (there are a few types with varying c0lors and nutrition profiles), it is a plant in the mint family that grows throughout South America and up through California and Nevada as well.  Production is increasing, prices are dropping, availability is improving, and I can now even find a good-size bag at my Costco here in the Houston suburbs for under $10.

Similar to flaxseed, chia is famous for its rich content of Omega-3 fats – roughly half of the total fat content depending on where it is grown.  It also is rich in protein, fiber, trace minerals, and phytochemicals such as quercetin.  Also like flaxseed, it gels and thickens when mixed with liquid if it sits too long.  Unlike flax, it does not have to be ground first but can be eaten straight up in granola, smoothies, and baked goods.  The seeds also stay good for about 2=two years, so it’s OK to buy in bulk.

My family LOVES chia “jam;”  thawed frozen berries mixed with chia and a dash of honey or raw sugar all blended up for a smooth texture or allowed to get into a consistency like fruit spread.  The tiny seeds look and crunch like raspberry seeds this way.  I like them in my protein shakes, in yogurt, or even in muesli or granola in the morning.  a couple bites of yogurt with chia jam before a run is a great pre-workout snack for me.

Be aware that if you or your kids have texture issues (two of mine do) beware that they may not like the “slimy” consistency in their shakes or cereal.   Also, taking a big spoonful and swallowing it is not recommended for those with swallowing issues – they could potentially gel up in your throat.

Chia “jam:” 

  •  Two cups frozen berries
  • 1/4 cup chia seeds
  • 1 tbsp honey or raw sugar if desired

(I sometimes add apples or pears for a little more texture)

  1. Cook fruit on stovetop or microwave until berries are just about boiling.

2.  Stir in chia seeds and sugar

3.  Allow to cool and gel for 5-10 minutes, then blend if desired.

 

  Add to whole wheat pancakes along with  yogurt, almonds, and flaxseed for a fiber and protein and antioxidant-rich breakfast!

Build a better salad

So how are those resolutions going for you?

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I’ve consciously dropped a few, forgotten a few (gotta get them written down where I can see them regularly instead of in my journal!), and am holding strong on a few.  My kids are learning to cook once a week, my salad greens are just starting to sprout in the garden thanks to the lovely warm weather we have had, and I am eating salad.  Pretty much daily.  And I’m not sick of it yet.  Truthfully, I started this last year so it’s not a huge change, and I’ve learned a few things along the way.

A good salad starts with a quality base of greens, has a variety of fillers, and is paired with a dressing to match.

base:  I always have organic spring greens or spinach in the fridge.  Hopefully I’ll be able to migrate to garden greens soon enough, but for now I make my weekly trip to the grocery store.  Once a month or so I will buy a head of cabbage for my slaw-style salads.  One head of cabbage goes a long, long way…

variety of fillers:  There are days where I dump/rinse greens, add dressing, call it done.  That said, salads are much better when there is a variety of textures, flavors, and colors in them.  Can’t forget about eye appeal!

My standard savory salad has celery, carrots, and tomatoes and cucumbers.  Or some combo of the above.  For a tex-mex flavor I add avocado.  Sometimes I’ll add feta or parmesan to fancy it up.  Or eggs and bacon or salmon to give it a little more protein and flavor.  Roasted onions and purple cabbage give it a gourmet twist – especially with sunflower seeds and goat cheese.  I love goat cheese.

If I’m going sweeter I’ll use a spinach base and add nuts, craisins, and fresh fruit like apples or pears or peaches.  I also like goat cheese on my “fancy” salads.

Don’t forget about those crumbs in the bottom of the cracker or chip bags!  They make a flavorful, fun alternative to croutons.   Goldfish crackers also add a few smiles and colors, and may even convince the kids to eat it.  Panko and leftover toast can also go well with the right salad.

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dressings:  I like to have a couple of store-bought dressings ready to go at all times because they are so convenient and there are some really healthy, pure options out there now.  That said, many have extra sugar, fillers, and preservatives that I try to minimize and so I make my own most days.  The secret to making your own dressing is to blend oil, vinegar or another acidic liquid, and spices.  

That’s it!  greens, fillers, and top with a dressing you like.  I think it tastes best to stir or shake the dressing ingredients together, taste-test, then toss the dressing into the salad.  Using a bowl one size bigger than you think you will need – salad likes to jump out when tossed- stir the dressing into the greens and fillers until each little piece is covered.

 

Ready-made bagged salads are great inspiration; and a great alternative if you need to get dinner on the table fast.  I love HEB’s Asian slaw salad and Costco’s brussel sprout, kale, and cranberry blend with the poppy seed dressing.

Also,  I have found that my kids prefer salads that can be eaten with a spoon, so I chop or tear those leaves and veggies into bite-size pieces for the littlest mouth.   Think cole-slaw size. My older two can now eat regular-size greens with a fork, but my four year-old still prefers tiny pieces.

 

Recipes:  

My favorite slaw recipe is from Bon Appetit.  I love this dressing! It keeps for a day or so; a bonus since most salads don’t do well as leftovers.

tex-mex dressing:  1/3 lemon juice, 1/3 olive oil, 1/3 apple cider vinegar, a dash of salt and a dash of oregano.

fruity dressing:  1 part balsamic vinegar, 1 part apple-cider vinegar, 2 parts olive oil, 1 part jam.  Salt and add thyme or herbs de provence to taste.  Apricot, peach, and berry jams are my faves.  

Honey-mustard dressing:  Know when the mustard bottle won’t squeeze anything else out but you know there’s a bit in there?  Start with that.  Add a dash of vinegar, olive oil, onion powder, and a healthy squirt of honey.  Close the bottle and shake it up good.  Taste and adjust as necessary.  Label with a Sharpie so family members do not accidentally use it on their turkey sandwich.

For more inspiration on storing greens and making great salads, check out Jamie Oliver’s book Cook.  The rest of the book is pretty good, but the salad section impacted me the most.

What’s your favorite salad?

 

 

My Nutrition Goals for 2016

These resolutions are nothing revolutionary.  Before the new year dawns I wanted to share a few habits I would like to incorporate this year for a healthier, happier family and me, as well as why it’s important.  Hope they help you too!

  1. Eat a salad daily.  Crunchy foods may be energizing, veggies are hydrating and incredibly nutritious, and since I started this I feel so much better.  However, a shot of wheatgrass makes an OK substitute on the days that life happens.
  2. Drink 10 oz water with citrus and a twist of salt each morning.  Something about that salt seems to help me absorb it better; maybe it’s because it’s less hypotonic?  I use the pink salt and literally one twist of the shaker and a slice of lemon or the end of my breakfast orange.
  3. Cook with my kids 2-3x/week.  Sometimes it seems like cooking is a lost art, and I want my girls to know how to roast a chicken, my son to to wield a knife and safely chop salad greens, and all of them to understand good kitchen hygiene and safety.  Following recipes as well as planning and prepping a meal is so useful in life.
  4. Make better lunches.  I love reheated leftovers for lunch, and so does my amazing hubby.  But sometimes my kids get shorted as I quickly throw something together for them that’s school-friendly (a couple veggies, a fruit, a protein, a starch and that’s it!).  I want to sprinkle a little more thought and love into their noonday meals as well.
  5. Grow it in our garden.  Yesterday my girls made a sweet little “salad” out of rose petals, chives,  collards, and african basil.  They specifically avoided the mesclun because it’s too spicy (in their opinions.)  I want them to know and recognize edible and inedible plants, and all of us to improve our phytochemical intakes by eating more produce right from the backyard.  And maybe one day these kids will like mesclun and radishes…

What are your new year resolutions/goals/plans?  Why are they important to you?

 

Happy 2016!

How to cook a pumpkin

The cool weather is here, Thanksgiving is next week, and then the great switch; fall decor is put away and the world will be decked out in red and green.

So what are you doing with that pumpkin? Yes, the decorative one, or the little pie pumpkin on your mantel.  We Americans think of this winter squash as decor or a jack-o-lantern, and  forget that it is just as edible as the acorn and butternut variety…unless it comes in a can.

Unless it’s rotten, consider cooking it!  Pumpkin is a powerhouse of vitamins A and C, potassium, and certain B vitamins; all nutrients that can support healthy immune function and energy levels this holiday season.

You have a few options, depending on the size, type, and if you want to roast the seeds.

  1. Place it in a roasting pan, prick a few holes (do this with all squash – it prevents the steam from building up and exploding in the oven) and bake at 350 for an hour or so until a fork goes in and out smoothly.  This works great for small pumpkins, but mine were to big.
  2. Cut pumpkin into pieces, remove seeds and strings, and place into a crockpot.  This may work well for smaller pumpkins, but mine was too big and it took more than the regular 4 hours.
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This is my least favorite method – it took over 4 hours on high and the pumpkin was not nearly as tender.
  1. Cut into pieces, remove seeds and strings, and place skin-side up in a roasting dish with a bit of water at the bottom.  I covered mine with foil. Bake at 350 for about an hour or until it is fork tender.  This method worked the best for us.
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ready to bake!

After the pumpkin is baked, allow it to cool, peel off the skin, and blend the edible part for use in soup, pie waffles… or to freeze for your next pumpkin recipe.


For the seeds, I rinsed and dried 3 cups of them, then stirred them up with a blend of 1 tbsp turbinado sugar, a couple shakes of pink salt, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, a dash of cumin and coriander, and a dash of cayenne.  I baked them for 5 minutes, then stirred, then 7-9 minutes longer (I had 2 pans going at the same time and the bottom pan took longer in my convection oven.)

When they were slightly brown I pulled them out, then mixed 1 tbsp water, 1 tbsp butter,  1 tsp honey, and  1 tsp brown sugar.  I microwaved this until it boiled, then stirred it into the seeds.  Sweet and spicy snack or appetizer!

What are you cooking with pumpkin this season?