loradownie

Healthy Holiday Strategy


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This past weekend was chock-full of get togethers with family and friends. And what does a fun get together inevitably bring? Yup, delicious food. And lots of it.

I offered to bring a dish to each shin-dig and guess what I discovered in the process of putting those dishes together? My sometimes 5-10 lb weight gain over the past holiday seasons (from Halloween to New Years Day) can be mostly attributed to picking. I am a picker. Not a casual picker - I'm a hard-core picker. While I cook, I taste food. Yes, this is a good habit if you want to make sure what you are creating tastes good, but I go beyond the little taste tests. I EAT. Especially if I cook when I'm really hungry. I'll serve myself a "little" bowl of this and a "little" bowl of that. Before I know it - I've consumed a few servings of the dish I'm meant to pass or eaten 2-10 cookies I was supposed to share. Then I'll go to the party and eat again. Why am I doing this to myself!?

Honestly, I never noticed how bad of a habit this was for me until 7 days ago. And as I reflected back to holiday seasons of years passed, this is the main reason why I start off the new year feeling crummy: it's not a lack of willpower or discipline, it's a lack of mindfulness. The sure fire way to gain weight each and every holiday? Enter the season without mindfulness and without a plan or strategy.

Think of a scenario where you are most vulnerable to mindless eating. Is it in the kitchen while you are cooking/baking, at the buffet line at those Holiday parties, at the office with the endless stream of treats? Start to become aware of where your mindless eating occurs. Then declare a full-on war.

Decide which one (or two or all) of these scenarios describe you most - I've provided a simple plan of attack for each. But of course, you know your body and mind the best. Devise the best strategy and then move forward fully prepared for what lay ahead:

The Hard-Core Picker

Are you a hard-core picker like me? Do your little tastes turn into bowls of things? Do your nibbles turn into noshes? Here's your plan of attack:

1. Do NOT cook or bake when you are hungry. If you are setting out to cook or bake the day away or make something that has things you KNOW you will want to chow down on, have a snack before you even start. Eat a bowl of granola with some greek yogurt, some fruit and nut butter or even fry an egg and have some toast. A 10 minute snack break will save you 100s of calories later.
2. Find the foods that you are least mindful about or that taste the best to you and allow yourself a few tastes - then start a.) packing up as you go b.) throwing things in the freezer (ex: biscotti ends) - just move them out of site...out of mind.
3. Don't open ingredients until it's time to pour them into the recipe (ex: choco chips).
4. A tip from a reader! Make a cup of your favorite tea or dark hot cocoa as a special treat before you start. This is your treat now. And what you are creating is your treat for later.


The Holiday Junkie

Are you a holiday junkie? Do you start partying like a rock star at Halloween and don't stop until New Year's Day because, well, it's the holidays, baby!? Do you just go from one party to the next and tell yourself "Ah, it's the holidays" and never stop to think about how you celebrated them yesterday and the day before? Here's your plan of attack:

1. Realize that "The Holidays" aren't three months long. They are 3-4 days: Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day & New Years Eve. Give yourself a licence to celebrate the true holiDAYS and stick with your typical healthy lifestyle the rest of the time (80%-90% whole food eating).
2. Stick with your typical exercise routine - or even ramp it up a bit. Don't look at this as a three month vacation.
3. Find a few recipes that are healthier versions than your old standbys. Bring those to get-togethers and stick with what you brought.
4. Eat BEFORE you go to parties. Like a full on healthy meal. Then have just tasty bites of the foods at the party - and enjoy every last little morsel.
5. Keep a drawer of healthy snacks at the office to make walking by that 13th tray of cookies that much easier.

The Sluggish Celebrator

Many times around this time of year (less daylight, germs at every turn) we find ourselves tired more, sick more and turning to the quick, easy energy boost: sugar! It's so unfortunate that we are more suseptible to sugar cravings during the time when sugar is around every corner. If you start to get sluggish around this time, here is your plan of attack:

1. Get REST. We've all heard it a thousand times, but for good reason: it's true. Even though there are many parties and late night celebrations, make sleep a priority for you and your family. Sleep will allow your body to fight off colds, flu and sinus troubles, and give you the energy you need to get you through the day and to say no to the sugary treats that suck the energy stores we have remaining.
2. Boost your immune system and your energy levels: Eat tons of veggies and fruit. Eating sugar lowers your immune system - the opposite of what we need this time of year. Give your body a boost instead with natural cold and flu fighting foods found in nature. They give your body the energy it needs to stay healthy and strong. Be sure to get proper levels of Vitamin D!
3. Exercise. Movement will help you sleep better, will help your body stay strong as it fights off sickness and fight off stress.
4. Create a holiday priority list. Some become overwhelmed with the seemingly endless to-do list that comes with the holidays. The truth is, it doesn't have to be stressful and filled with activities and "things". Create a top 5 list of what matters most to you during this time of year and focus there. The rest will follow or fall off the list. That's ok.


Remember that the holidays are a time to be with friends and family and food should be a part of that community experience. It should be pleasurable. It should be a time to savor traditional favorites that bring us back to our childhood. Eat your grandma's famous pie or your Aunt Lucy's iced sugar cookies, but slow down, enjoy each bite, and try to gain so much satisfaction from one serving that you just don't see the need for more. It's tough sometimes, but the more you practice mindfulness, the easier it becomes. And, think how your pants will fit just as well on January 2 as they do today.

If you have any other scenarios or helpful tips, please share them in the comments. Together we can fight back and make this time of year what it should be: a time to be happy, healthy and helpful to others.

loradownie

Packing Healthy Lunches {Part 3 of 3}

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As promised, I'll wrap up this series with some recipes that bring together everything we covered in Part 1 and Part 2. But I have to say, if you read over Part 2 - you will have found many simple recipe ideas included throughout the post. Whether it's making a small change like using lettuce instead of bread to make a sandwich or sending along soup or a smoothie instead of a sandwich, pick out a few of these ideas and run with them. Also, use the food category listing as an inspiration for trying a new protein, grain and healthy fat.

I have to admit, I have a love/hate relationship with recipes. On one hand I think they open the door to endless opportunities to step out of our comfort zone and try something new, but I also fear they hold us back and make us second guess our instincts and intelligence in the kitchen. Making sure you have a full list of recommended ingredients and measuring everything perfectly can take up valuable time. I believe it's better to trust yourself and just practice the skill of cooking. Just taste as you go, and it will be delicious. And if it isn't, don't give up. Try again. ;)

Ultimately, it's about keeping it simple and reasonable. To begin, focus on what your child already enjoys. Then look for ways to introduce new things. It's not about overwhelming yourself and trying brand new recipes every day but about trying to make food fun and delicious. By adding a new ingredient into an existing family favorite, you allow children to bypass their initial fear of a "new food". For example, my daughter loves granola (most kids do!), so I always use it as a vehicle to introduce new dried fruits, nuts and seeds. So far, she has tried coconut, dates, and pumpkin, sunflower, sesame and chia seeds - she now loves them all (well, for today anyway!). By building on one of her favorite foods she showed a willingness to try something different. This tip can be applied to ANY recipe. Just think of ways of adding a new ingredient to existing favorites (like adding different veggies to pasta salad, adding a sprinkle of ground flax seed to pb&j, make a fruit salad and include fresh figs, etc.) and build on it throughout the school year.

Also, I want to point out that the internet is an invaluable tool. There are so many amazing recipes and resources available to us! The resources below are a collage of the sources I've discovered and vetted on your behalf. So, next time you are shopping - throw that new vegetable or grain into your cart, you will find a great recipe online once you get home and don't sweat it if you don't have everything on the ingredient list. Use your creativity to guide you and just look at the recipe as an equation.

I recently taught a cooking class focused on homemade lunches and snacks, and I chose recipes I feel really build on this principal - you can start with the basic recipe and practice with new flavors. I can say the recipes I'm sharing here are tried and true! The ones we prepared ended up passing the test with some children who declared they wouldn't like them at the onset of the class. ;)

I've included a great sandwich, snack, wrap, salad, and soup recipe. AND a list of links to resources with over 100 creative, easy ideas for recipes and inspirations! Just remember to try to incorporate variety into your routine and foods from our five categories each day! I wish you the best this school year and would love for you to stop by and share your successes (and challenges) throughout the year. Good luck and trust your gut! 


Snack & Lunch Recipes:


Egg Pesto Melt (declared the class favorite!)

Ingredients
1 large egg
1 tablespoon pesto
1/2 teaspoon canola oil or butter
1/4 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
2 slices whole wheat bread

Preparation
1. Whisk the egg and pesto in a bowl.

2. Heat the oil in a pan over medium heat. Pour in the egg mixture.

3. Allow the egg to cook for one minute, using a rubber spatula to gently pull the egg away from the sides of the pan so the rest of the liquid egg can continue to coat the pan and cook.

4. Using the spatula, fold the outside parts of the omelet inwards into a square shape (to fit the bread).

5. Remove the square-shaped omelet to a plate, place a slice of bread topped with half of the shredded cheese, cheese side up, in the pan. Top with the omelette, remaining cheese and slice of bread. Cook for 1 minute on each side until golden.

5. Serve or allow to cool and pack in a lunch bag.

Source: Weelicious.com

  

Easy Apple "Crisp"

Organic apple sauce
Cinnamon
Your favorite granola - packed separately. Here is my favorite granola recipe.


Grain Salad 

2 cups prepared barley, bulgur, quinoa or brown rice cooled (see instructions below)

½ cup crumbled feta cheese or small cubes of your child’s favorite cheese

1 seedless cucumber, small dice

2 medium tomatoes, seeds removed, small dice

1 carrot, cut into small strips


Vinaigrette (recipe below)

Optional: ½ cup chopped basil, cilantro or parsley

Mix all ingredients with vinaigrette, top with chopped herbs.  Scoop into serving cups.

Vinaigrette Recipe:

6 tbsp olive oil

Juice from 1/2 lemon

Squirt of Dijon mustard

Salt & Pepper to taste

Place all ingredients in jar with a lid and shake until combined.



Asian Chicken Wraps

Rotisserie chicken or 2 cups cooked organic chicken, shredded
1 Tbsp sesame seeds
1 Tbsp honey
1 cucumber
2 carrots, peeled
1 cup snow peas (roughly 3 oz)
1/3 cup cilantro leaves
1 cup cooked noodles (angel hair, spaghetti work well or rice noodles)
Juice of 1 lime
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil (optional)
1 head Bibb lettuce
 Prepare the chicken: Toss chicken with sesame seeds and honey.

Prepare the veggies: Slice the cucumber into thin strips. Use your vegetable peeler to cut the carrots into ribbons. Slice the snow peas in half. Toss veggies with the cilantro, pasta, lime juice, and soy sauce.

Assemble the wraps: Take a small serving of chicken and a small serving of the prepared veggies and place them in the center of a lettuce leaf. If packing for later, wrap the lettuce separately in a damp paper towel to maintain crispness. Assemble immediately before eating.

Adapted from: http://www.parenting.com/article/chicken-lettuce-wraps-recipe



Quick "Hummus" 

1 medium chopped yellow onion

3 large cloves garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped

3 tbsp EVOO

2 15 ounce cans white beans, chickpeas  rinsed and dried or 2 c. steamed/shelled edamame

Juice from 1/2 lemon

¾ tsp sea salt

1. In a medium saucepan, sauté the onion and garlic in the oil over moderate heat until soft, about 3-4 mins. Stir in beans and salt and cook for 4-6 mins more.

2. In a food processor or blender, process on high for 1-2 mins until smooth. Or, hand mash in the pan. Add lemon juice and stir.

3. Serve warm or chilled with crackers, veggie sticks or sandwiched in bread, tortilla, or lettuce wrap. Can be refrigerated up to 4 days.



Sweet Corn Chowder

(Tip – buy corn in season, cut it from the cob and freeze for this warm fall soup)

3 tbsp olive oil

2 cups chopped onion

2 cups fresh corn kernels

½ cup diced red bell pepper

½ cup chopped red potato

¾ tsp sea salt

1/8 tsp cumin

3 cups water

2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley

1. In medium saucepan, combine oil, onions, corn, red pepper, potato, salt and cumin.  Sauté over moderate heat for 5-7 mins.

2. In a blender, combine 1 ½ cups of the sautéed vegetables and water. Blend on low for 10 seconds. Poor back into pan with reserved vegetables and simmer for 10 mins.

3. Serve or pour into thermos for packed lunch.

Source: Healthy Cooking for Kids, Shelly Null




Additional resources:

Real Simple: 19 Healthy Snack Ideas

Whole Foods: Back to School Recipes

WholeLiving: School Snacks

WholeLiving: Kids Lunch Ideas 

Environmental Working Group: A Guide to Buying Healthy Food on a Budget 

Weelicious: School Lunches

Super Healthy Kids

loradownie

Packing Healthy Lunches {Part 2 of 3}


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In Part 1 of this series I kicked things off by looking at why a healthy lunch is so critical for children of any age. In this article, instead of just diving into a few recipes, I thought it would be helpful to take a look at what a "healthy and balanced" lunch looks like and some strategies for getting a lunch in the bag during the week.

What goes into a nutrient-rich mid-day meal?

We've grown up hearing we need to "eat a balanced diet", "eat from the major food groups", etc. But what does that actually look like?

Let’s look at food from the perspective of these six categories:

1. Water
2. Protein
3. Grains
4. Fruits
5. Vegetables
6. Healthy fats

It's great to strive to incorporate at least one food from each category for lunch and/or snacks (of course, some foods span a couple of them). Toward the end of this article, I’ve provided some types of foods in each of these categories and how they can fit nicely into a lunch box. I think having an A la’ carte list like this makes shopping and choosing new foods much easier. By throwing some items from each group into your cart (or market bag) each week you can be sure you will be creating balanced meals. Print out the list below or copy and paste it into a note on your phone so you always have it handy.

Okay, so at a high-level the list below covers WHAT types of foods to pack, let's talk strategies for how we can realistically make this happen:

1. Take it easy on yourself!

Ease into it. We all have many other responsibilities in life. If it only seems possible to pack lunches twice a week, then do it twice a week. If you need to take short cuts, take them and then look for ways to incorporate more home cooked dishes and snacks as the year goes by. The point is to pack as often as realistically possible - not to drive yourself crazy with making everything from scratch right out of the gate.

2. Planning is KEY

I wish that by just reading (or writing) this post our healthy lunches magically made and packed themselves, but that's obviously not going to happen. So the only logical next step is to sit down and write up a plan. This is so helpful with all meal prep. Determine a day of the week when you will sit down and write down your meal plan. For me, Saturday is the day since I do my shopping either Saturday or Sunday.

Remember, your plan doesn’t have to include 5 unique lunches each week. Have 2-3 ideas and then morph the ingredients later in the week. For instance, if you make a batch of hummus on Monday for snacks, smear it on tortillas and add some veggies for sandwich roll-ups later in the week. Or if you make a big pot of soup over the weekend, include a cup of soup with lunch on Monday. Roasted chicken and turkey can be made into chicken salad or sprinkled over a little salad.

The good news? Once you have a few solid weeks planned out - just start rotating them and sprinkle in some new foods here and there. Also, share the menu with your children, post it on the fridge and start talking about it before it happens. Have them help in the planning and shopping. If they feel a part of the decision making process they will be more likely to try new foods.

3. Buy a lunch box that get you thinking “out of the box”

  - Have you seen bento boxes and compartment boxes? They are the coolest things! They are great because you can think of the food categories mentioned above and somewhat compartmentalize your planning 

  - If you don't want to go down the bento box path, think small containers instead of baggies for salads, veggies, fruit, nuts/seeds and cool/hot thermoses for smoothies or soups. This cuts down on waste and makes you think about foods, other than a standard sandwich, that fit into the containers. Here is a great list of container systems.

  - I found a nice container system at Rubbermaid.com that comes complete with an icepack that fits snug with the containers to keep them cold. I’ll be adding a small Thermos and little water bottle in the next week or two.

4.  Spread out the work load

There is no reason one person has to do all the work! Assign weekly/daily lunch duties to each family member: this week mom makes two homemade snacks, today dad will make a salad and the hummus wraps, Jr. washes the fruit and puts the lunch containers in the dishwasher everyday after school. Get everyone involved!

5. Make it fun

To get out of the sandwich rut you need to get creative!

- Use a soup, salad, smoothies or leftovers as the main dish
- Use non-traditional methods to make a sandwich:
         - Make a lettuce wrap
         - Use wholegrain crackers instead of bread
         - Use tortillas or sandwich wraps to make sushi style sandwiches

- Build variety into your routine:
 - Try to not purchase the same lunch ingredients two weeks in a row. Throw a vegetable in your cart that you or your children may have never tried. Trust your instincts and don’t feel you need a recipe for everything you make. Go with the flavors your family loves and let your imagination go!

 - Go with a culinary theme one week a month: Indian, Italian, Asian, Mexican, etc. Let the theme run through all of your meals that week and talk about the geography, cultural differences, etc. of your theme country at dinner time! Have your child with you when you google your theme country and find new recipes to try.

6. Think of lunch as an opportunity to try new foods:

Without parents hovering over them, kids tend to be more adventurous. Also, if you pack the same foods for everyone in the family - call a “new food day” and everyone tries it and you discuss what you thought at dinner that night.


Food Categories:

Here are our food categories I mentioned above, including ideas for incorporating something from each category at every lunch. The great news - many foods fall into a couple of categories so it's easy to cover your bases:

Water:

Yes, it gets it’s own category because it is that important. Most humans actually push through the day dehydrated. Children need to have water accessible at all times and should sip throughout the day. Have a little water bottle in their backpack and let them know they should drink at any point they want throughout the day.

Also, many fruits and some veggies have high water content!

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Proteins & Grains (it's hard to talk about them separately!):

Grains            

Grains actually span two food groups by offering a good source of protein! Try to keep the grains whole when possible - they will give your kids vitamins, nutrients, fiber and a load of sustainable energy to get through the day. Of course the first food that comes to mind when we mention grains is bread, but there is an entire world waiting for us in the bulk grain aisle. Bread is fine, but whole grains are better, such as rice, millet, quinoa, bulgur and buckwheat. These whole grains make great cold salads (or are wonderful in soups). Also, oats and oatmeal are great for snacks (muesli, granola, and granola bars). There are TONS of great recipes using these grains online. Google is a lunch-packer's best friend ;) And I'll share a few in my next post.

Cooked grains keep very well. You can prepare larger quantities of grains and simply reheat with a little oil or water later in the week. i like to make a double or triple batch and eat it in different ways for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Each time you go to the store buy a new grain and experiment.

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Beans                                                                   

Contain a more complete set of amino acids than other plant foods. Use dried beans (or canned are fine) that are a smaller, like split peas, chickpeas, mung and black bean - they cook faster. To make them easier to digest, soak dried beans overnight prior to cooking. Great in cold salads, soups or pureed/mashed for sandwiches/dips.
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Soy             

Soybeans are the most difficult beans to digest. People traditionally eat baby soybeans known as edamame, tofu, or ferment the soybeans and make tempeh, miso and tamari so the body doesn’t have to work so hard to break it down.

Edamame makes a great quick snack and can be purchased frozen in the organic section. For a twist, roast it with some olive oil, salt and your child’s favorite seasoning or simply steam and sprinkle with sea salt.
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Nuts       

Generally considered a fat, not a protein, nuts and seeds provide a great source of protein and healthy fats because they contain vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. Peanuts, which are actually legumes, are far higher in protein than any nuts. Experiment with adding a small handful of walnuts, pecans, almonds, sunflower or pumpkin seeds in each lunch, or throw together a quick trail mix with shredded coconut and different dried fruits.
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Leafy greens  
             
I can see the eye rolls now...but it can be done! ;) Broccoli, spinach, kale, collard greens, bok choy, romaine lettuce, and watercress all contain some protein. Leafy greens are the one food highly associated with longevity because they contain major sources of magnesium, iron and calcium. They are also packed with Quercetin, a bioflavonoid with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anticancer properties. Talk about super foods! What better way to get As on that report card? ;)

Try to incorporate them into lunch a couple times a week. Maybe a small side salad, finely chopped spinach in a quiche or make a green smoothie and pour it in a thermos. ;)
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Meat            

Chicken, turkey, lamb, beef, buffalo, so many different kinds. Try different kinds to discover what works best for you and your child. If making meat for dinner, reserve a small portion for lunches. Sprinkle over salads or include in wraps.
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Egg            

Quick, practical, inexpensive protein source. Make a batch of hard boiled eggs on Sunday and use them for breakfast, snacks, lunches during the week. Or make a frittata or quiche and use for a couple of lunches.

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Dairy             

Find the right type that suites your family - if dairy suites your family: cheese, cottage cheese, buttermilk dressing (for dips), yogurt (without too much sugar or additives), or butter.

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Honey

Protein from bee pollen and royal jelly digests easily and has many other nutrients. Drizzle over yogurt, add to dressing or dips.

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Fruits & Vegetables:

Most children love fruit, but as we all know, vegetables can be a challenge. At first, stick with your child's favorites (carrot sticks, tomatoes, cucumbers, etc.) and then begin to slowly incorporate new ones. Remember, all of them count! If you make a turkey sandwich, add some romaine and sliced cucumbers. If you make a burrito, add sauteed carrots and roasted peppers.

It's not about being deceptive, but it's about combining foods in a way that is pleasing to a young palate. And do give up or be dismayed if something gets returned! It takes at least 5-10 tries before our taste buds come to an ultimate conclusion about a certain taste/texture.
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Healthy Fats:

Nuts and seeds:

·    Nut butters: tahini, cashew, almond, peanut
·    Nuts: pine, brazil, cashews, walnuts, almonds, pistachios
·    Seeds: chia, pumpkin, sunflower, sesame, flax (raw or toasted) and ground

Natural sources & oils: salmon, avocados, coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, flaxseed oil, and sesame oil
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I hope you found this information helpful! Next week I’ll link to a few recipes and share a few of my own that your kids (and you!) will love!

loradownie

Packing Healthy Lunches {Part 1 of 3}

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I have a first-time kindergartner at home, and she is getting ready to set off on her new adventure in less than 14 days, 10 hours (who's counting?). The beginning of this journey for her conjures many memories for me. In particular, the cafeteria experience.

School lunch is a funny thing, isn't it? Although it should be viewed as one of the most important parts of our child's day, our school system sees it much differently. From what I hear, kids get the fast shuffle now. They have to eat in less than 20 mins, and if they'd ever met my daughter they'd know she doesn't stop talking long enough to eat her meals in less than 60 min. I'm assuming the peer pressure and presence of not so healthy foods hasn't changed much either (especially given the disgusting photo of a school lunch my daughter's school presented a few weeks ago). Also, despite recent "progress" our government has made in making school lunches healthier - I think we are years away from seeing any real impact. So, I thought tackling the subject of packing lunches was worth more than a single post.

Today we'll dive into the importance of a balanced, healthy lunch. Within posts 2 and 3, I'll share tips and tricks to making it easier to get the food in the bag more days than not and some recipes that will get us thinking "out of the box". Of course, as the year chugs on, I'll add some updates to this topic and hopefully some new recipes!

First, let's take a step back and consider why healthy lunches & snacks are so critical for children of any age:

Children are learning new things daily and they need optimal fuel so they can focus and have sufficient energy to get them through the day. We are rarely taught this, but it couldn't be more true: every cell and system in our body is fueled by what we eat. Our brain function, energy levels, hormones, immune system, even behavior can be positively or negatively impacted by the presence or lack of nutritious foods. Our mid-day meal needs to contain optimal nutrition for this reason alone!
Especially with school aged children who do not get to rest throughout the day, they need a balanced variety of foods to keep them going strong. Let's face it. School is stressful. Even for a 5 year old. If you add an imbalanced diet to the stress equation than health can never be optimal. We all want our children to thrive (and learn as much as they can!). Why not give them the food that will empower them to do so?
Boost the immune system and lower the number of absences from school: Getting vitamins, minerals and plenty of fiber helps keep our digestion on track which boosts our immune system and our defense against illness. Obviously this is important in a classroom filled with germs. 
Eating healthy foods opens up a world of opportunities! It’s fun to try new things as a family. Think of it as going on a new adventure each time the family collectively tries a new food or recipe together. The possibilities are endless. Show children that you are packing the same foods for yourself, and agree that you'll talk about the tastes, textures and flavors of new items you include that evening around the dinner table. 
In Part 2, we'll talk about some things to consider when packing a balanced lunch (to carry out the things we touched on here) and some tips and tricks in efficiently and effectively executing our vision. Part 2 will be posted by the end of this week, so stay tuned!

loradownie

Book Review & Soup Recipe

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It's hard to squeeze in extra reading these days. School reading and lectures are eating up every spare minute. But, I made a exception for this one: French Kids Eat Everything by Karen Le Billon. I saw rave reviews everywhere and just had to see what all the fuss is about.

The book is a cross-cultural journey that spans thousands of miles and two food cultures that could not be more different. Le Billon details her and her family's experience moving from North America to a small French country village where she was amazed to find the children eating everything...happily. From beets to fish to pate'! During her quest to have her children fit in, she began to write down what she discerned to be 10 food rules the French live by. These are the guidelines all French families follow and the new rules her family eventually successfully added to their daily routine - it took them almost 12 months to get there:

1.) Parents, YOU are in charge of food education: To Americans, this may seem overwhelming, but the French receive loads of support from schools, extended family and their surrounding community (including their local farmers, fishermen and bakers).

2.) Avoid emotional eating - no rewards, bribes, etc.: Yikes! This could possibly be the hardest rule for us North American parents to follow, but it's pretty clear why this rule is so critical. The French know they are building the foundation of their child's future food relationship. This one really hit home for me and I'm becoming more aware of when I do this and try to avoid it.

3.) Parents schedule meal times and menus & kids eat what adults eat: no more short-order cooking!

4.) Eat family meals together - remove distractions: cell phones, anyone? (guilty as charged)

5.) Eat your veggies: they focus on variety.

6.) You don't have to like it but you do have to taste it: it typically takes 5-10 tries of some vegetables before a child finds they like them. I think we Americans give up way too early. Wish I could reverse time with my daughter!

7.) No snacking! it's ok to feel hungry between meals: hence more likely to eat their meals (and their vegetables!).

8.) Slow food is happy food: as in eat slowly and mindfully.

9.) Eat mostly real food (treats are for special occasions): sugar cravings are a real problem in our country. I think our weekly, if not daily, intake of sweets is one major cause.

10.) Remember: eating is joyful - RELAX! In America, we associate food with guilt and pressure (pressuring our kids to eat their veggies). The French associate food with pleasure and teach their children to be adventurous. 

Although, I don't think I could live within the rigid confines of every French food rule, this book is truly an inspiration. Because the French take their food very seriously, they incorporate nutrition, etiquette and food education into into every aspect of their children's upbringing (at home and at school). It's certainly a model we could learn something from.

As Le Billon's family assimilated to French culture, she found herself trying any way possible to have her children try new things (and not be a source of embarrassment at social functions). One way she found great success was offering them vegetable purees - served as warm soups. It's funny since this seems to be the best way to get veggies into my own daughter! I think children (and adults!) like the smooth texture and rich flavor of pureed soups. And when you think about it - most vegetables can easily be turned into a delicious puree - from carrots to beets. 

My mother-in-law recently gave me an immersion blender and it has made making these soups SO easy. I wish I would have bought one years ago (you can find quality models for reasonable prices). I try to make at least one batch of veggie puree soup a week. We'll have it one night for dinner and then for lunch a couple of days throughout the week.

Here is my go-to recipe equation for veggie puree soup. Vi's favorite is cauliflower and Parmesan (she calls it cheesy soup - little does she know there is hardly any cheese in it!). That is the version pictured above (with a can of chickpeas thrown in). My mom used to serve soup at least twice every week, but she offset the mundane with something fun like cheese bread. This particular night, I had made some cheesy mushroom bread to go with our soup. Vi doesn't like mushrooms though, so hers was plain. Guess we haven't had her try mushrooms enough times yet... ;)

Delicious Veggie Puree Soup - it's an equation, not a recipe. Use your favorite veggies and keep practicing until you find the perfect equation for your family!

In a medium to large soup pot, saute (on medium-low heat) the following in 2 tbsp olive oil until soft:

1 medium onion (roughly chopped)

3 cloves of garlic (smashed)

Then add 1 or two (or double or triple the amount! There are no rules here. The more you add, the more soup you get) of the following vegetables - in a large, rough chop:




1 small head of cauliflower or broccoli (or one of each)

1 lb sweet or white potatoes (peeled)

1 lb beets (peeled)

1 lb carrots (not peeled if they are organic)

1 lb parsnips (not peeled if organic)

1 lb squash (peeled)

3 large leeks (chopped, place in large bowl with cool water and let soak for 3 mins, skim out of water with a large slotted spoon to leave all the sand and dirt at the bottom of the bowl)

3 large handfuls of spinach

Turn up the heat a little and saute' for 5-10 minutes and then add water or broth to cover by 1 in. Turn heat to high and bring liquid to a gentle boil and then turn down to a simmer and cook until veggies are almost fork tender. Then...

If you want to cut the flavor of the vegetable above or add more volume, add one of these less-hearty vegetables and some beans to thicken the soup (all optional):

1 large or 2 medium zucchini chopped

1 large or 2 medium summer squash chopped

1-2 cans or 2-3 cups soaked, cooked black beans, pinto beans or chick peas

Add a few sprigs of your favorite fresh herbs (thyme, sage, rosemary or oregano)

Simmer for a few more minutes and then blend mixer either with an immersion blender (right in the pot!) or a food processor (in batches).  Taste soup and add a handful of finely grated Parmesan cheese. If soup is not your desired consistency, add more water or broth if the soup is too thick or add more beans if it's too thin. Flavor with salt and pepper and fresh herbs.

Season with some salt and pepper if necessary and serve with your favorite crusty bread or cover your crust bread with cheese and heat on broil for 2 minutes!

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loradownie

Green Goddess Dressing

GreenShirt-Lady-BG_555x389

I love dressings. I use them on everything. Traditional salads, grain salads, grilled or roasted veggies, or as a condiment on tacos, veggie burgers, and sandwiches. I've tasted some good bottled dressings, but nothing can replace a freshly made version. Also, when you make your own you have complete control of the ingredients...specifically the amount of sodium, the quality of the oil/fats, and you remove perservatives and wasteful packaging from the equation.

I plan to share a few basic recipes here that can easily be adjusted for what you have on-hand and according to your likes.

I give you one of my favorite dressings: Green Goddess, meets Pesto. 

Here's my take on this traditional, creamy dressing (minus the mayo and sour cream) with a hint of pesto-like ingredients, and some possible substitutes!

Green Goddess/Pesto Dressing

1 large bunch of fresh parsley, basil, or cilantro

1 cup washed spinach or kale (optional, but adds lots o' nutrients)

1-2 tbsp EVOO or canola oil

2-3 tbsp water (and possibly more to thin at the end)

1 large clove garlic

A few scallions, or chives

1 6 oz container plain greek yogurt

1/2 tbsp raw honey (optional)

1/2 cup toasted walnuts or pine nuts (optional, and yes, this is the pesto-esque part)

1 pinch of cayenne pepper (optional, of course!)

Salt & Pepper to taste

In a blender or food processor, pulse your choice of greens with the oil and water until broken down.

Add the remaining ingredients (except for the salt and pepper) and blend until smooth. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary and add water to thin to desired consistency.

I like to store my dressing in a jelly jar. Should store for up to 5 days in the fridge.



loradownie

Oatmeal Cookies

cookies - SW_Pamela+Webb

Who doesn't like a good oatmeal cookie, right?

I'm always on the lookout for healthy alternatives to old favorites. These cookies taste delicious and you don't miss the old stand-bys because there is so much going on in each bite! I'm slowly rebuilding my pantry with baking ingredients that are considered more whole and closer to their natural state. Although, baked goods could never be classified as truly "healthy", you can at least feel confident that you are eating a non-packaged treat, with no perservatives! And you can have complete control of the ingredient list.

Plus, when you pack your baked goods with power-house foods like oats (great source of magnesium - for bone health), dates (potassium), walnuts (brain food - packs a big Omega 3 punch and heart health protector), cinnamon (blood sugar regulator), raw honey, and organic coconut oil.

Did I just validate this treat? I guess I'll go have another... ;)

HN Nugget: these store well, and I like that this recipe doesn't make too many - it can easily be doubled if you need more. Even though they are "healthy", always eat treats in moderation. To help moderate myself, I usually make one sheet of cookies and freeze the formed dough balls for future baking.

"Healthy" Oatmeal Cookies

Ingredients:

Dry ingredients

1 cup whole wheat flour 
2 cups rolled oats
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp Cinnamon 
1/2 tsp Nutmeg (optional)
Wet ingredients

1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup organic oil (canola, grapeseed, olive or coconut) * you can also use some organic applesauce to replace some of the oil if you wish*
1 Tablespoon Molasses (if you have it on hand, otherwise just leave it out)
1 egg (beat with 1 Tbsp Water)
1 tsp Vanilla
Add-ins - add any tree nuts, chopped dark chocolate (loaded with antioxidants!), or dried unsweetened fruit you fancy.

I added:

1/2 cup dates (pitted and chopped)
1/2 cup walnuts
Preparation:

In a large bowl, mix all the dry ingredients together.
In a medium bowl, mix all the wet ingredients together. 
Mix the wet with the dry until just mixed. Add the dates and walnuts and mix. If the mixture seems too wet, add a bit of flour. 
Preheat the oven to 335 degrees (lower temperature due to the honey in the recipe which will burn more easily).
Drop by teaspoonfuls onto your baking sheet (recommend lining the baking sheet with parchment paper). Press down with a fork.
Bake for about 15 - 20 minutes or until golden on the bottom of the cookie. 
Adapted from: Whole Grain Gourmet