Thursday, April 30, 2015

A week of easy to assemble & low carb/high protein lunches

Ever since my husband turned 32 he's been all about changing the way he eats. This is extremely welcome news to me since I've been hoping he would kick his white-bread and pre-packaged 'cheese' habit for six years now! I thought maybe it was a fad- wouldn't last- but No! He's been sticking to it and actually really enjoying it. Our diet is far from perfect, but there are a few changes that we've made to start feeling better. I've had to get a little creative and Andrew's had to have an open mind as we navigate exactly how you're supposed to survive when over 50% of the foods you were eating on a regular basis are no longer on the menu. I'm not a nutritionist by any means but here are the small changes we've made:

1. Cut out the bread. Or at least cut it down dramatically. If we do have bread we try to make sure it's whole grain and in tortilla form. Of course who can pass up a pulled pork sandwich on a fresh baked roll from the Amish Market? Totally acceptable once in a while.

2. Increase fruits and vegetables. I looked at what I was spending on snack food. We were never terrible, but I would buy Andrew Tasty Cakes and the like quite often. I was spending a lot of money on sugary filler foods! So that got cut dramatically. I used to be afraid to spend $2.75 on a half pint of raspberries, but I decided to put the money I would have spent on junk food towards our fresh fruit and vegetable budget. A little difficult at first but well worth it. I typically make a huge fruit salad at the beginning of the week. I buy as much as $20 worth of fruits to put in. Right now our fruit salad for this week consists of pineapple, cantaloupe, strawberries, raspberries, a few oranges, apples and blueberries. Make sure it tastes really good and then you'll actually eat it! I throw a handful on the kids plates for almost every meal.

3. Increase the Protein. We aren't dairy free, so we get tons of protein from cheese, milk, and Greek yogurt. Obviously I do a lot of chicken, beef, and fish as well as beans and quinoa hidden in... everything. Whole chickens are perfect in the crock-pot on high for about 7 hours because we have the meat for dinner that night and then I can use the leftovers in the next night's meal. Really economical and extra easy.

4. Prep ahead for success. If I don't have healthy options available immediately/right in front of my face in a moment of weakness, I'm probably going to make a bad food choice. I'm one of those people that gets extremely grumpy when hungry, so I'll do whatever it takes to not feel gross and irritable around my family. That reason alone is enough to prep food ahead of time. You can prep 2-3 days of lunches at once and put them in a brown bag in the fridge so you don't have to think about what to make over and over throughout the course of the week.

The following super simple 'recipes' (no recipe needed, really) are ones that have become staples for energy sustaining lunches, breakfasts, and snacks in our house.

Ham and Egg and Cheese Bites

I'll start with these because they are perfect breakfast, lunch, or snack time food. High in protein, they give you the energy you need for your day. I preheat the oven to 375 degrees, place a slice of ham in each slot in a muffin tin, drop a little shredded cheese into the cup on top  of the ham, and fill 2/3 full with some whisked egg/milk. Bake for 15 minutes or until set. Just 3 of these fill me up in the morning, and I often put them in Andrew's lunch for a mid morning snack.

Wraps with Lettuce, Tuna, and Hummus

These are so good for you. Use whole wheat tortillas of rice paper wraps spread with hummus, then top with salad and tuna. Roll them up and wrap them tightly for a lunch time energy booster! I make enough of these for 2-3 days of lunches.

Peanut Butter Banana Smoothies

Yes! You can prep these in advance! I make three days worth of smoothies in mason jars and set them in the fridge to grab when I need them. Admittedly, there are about twenty five mason jars filled with food in my fridge at any given time. Mostly it's because I have them on hand since I love to can my fruits/vegetables in the summer, but they also save space compared to their plastic Tupperware counterparts. Almost makes me want to gag (seriously, ugh) at how Pinterest-y it is. 
For each smoothie you want one banana, a spoonful of peanut butter, two large spoonfuls of Greek yogurt, and enough milk as you need to make the mixture the correct consistency. I used to add some wheat germ, but Andrew though it was gross tasting so I figured I better leave well enough alone. :) Also feel free to sneak spinach in there! You really can't taste it.

The Quickest Chicken/Rice/Veggie Lunch EVER!

I cheat big time on this one. If I had time I'd prep my organic vegetables and cook my own rice, everyone. But you can't win them all and this is better than nothing. I prepare one frozen bag of chopped broccoli, one frozen bag of brown rice, and three frozen chicken breasts. All courtesy of Shop Rite or whatever your major grocery store chain is. Once all the ingredients are cooked, I layer them divided between three pint sized mason jars and drop a little teriyaki sauce on top. Not perfect, but it beats a lunch meat sandwich.

So those are my ideas... Most people might choose one or two of these to pack for work. Andrew takes all of them, plus a little cottage cheese and trail mix since he has a long day. It doesn't always happen over here (drive through McDonalds run JUST last week..."Here kids, who wants another chicken nugget?! Okay, Mommy's gonna throw it back to you, catch it, ok??? *kid drops it on the floor* Oh come on! You have to catch it! Okay the floor isn't dirty, pick it up...!") but eating well is definitely possible with a little prep work.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Why I let my kids get dirty

That's right, sometimes I allow my kids to get dirty. Super dirty. 
And guess what? They LOVE it.
Here's why:

Because its fun.

Because they're kids.

Because brown really is her color.

Because getting muddy means he's outside, not on the couch in front of a screen.

Because we have a bath tub!

...and when they're thirty years old working full time jobs with bills and babies, 
they'll be able to look back and remember when it was perfectly wonderful to play in a puddle full of mud.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Making Orange Juice

This morning we were inspired by our cartoon on the Disney Channel. See- some good CAN come out of screen time! Some of the characters were making orange juice and instead of my kids sitting there watching an animated show about it, I thought "We can do that!" So I let them finish the episode and pulled everything we would need out of the kitchen.
I felt a little nostalgic, even, because we used my Grandmother's old-fashioned glass juicer that I've been holding onto. How cool to bring new life to something that may have been tossed away otherwise.
Let me say, the kids LOVED making the orange juice. It was the perfect project for them because they got to practice cutting, squeezing the juice, and pouring it into the pitcher as we went along. And at the end their faces said it all- they were unbelievably proud that they had done it all on their own. Of course now fresh squeezed orange juice is going to need to be a weekly tradition. They'll be sure of that. Another thing to add to my ever growing grocery list. :)

Monday, March 16, 2015

How to Make Candied Ginger

We've been getting a produce box from our co-op regularly and naturally there are some items I've never cooked with before... one of those is ginger. Only recently have I started warming up to it's taste in my food, and since I have I've noticed that it really seems to help with my digestion. These candied ginger bits have some serious bite! This is a money saving/preservative free recipe you can make at home for those bouts of indigestion.

Candied Ginger (and Ginger Simple Syrup)

3-4 Ginger Roots
1 cup of water
1 1/4 cups of sugar (plus extra)

1. Peel the ginger using a spoon to scrape off it's skin (much easier than a peeler or a knife)
2. Rinse the ginger, then slice into thin strips. They will mostly remain the same size at the end, so make them as large as you want the finished product to be.
3. Boil the water/sugar mixture, then add the ginger strips and reduce heat. Simmer for 25 minutes.
4. Remove the cooked ginger with a slotted spoon and place it on a rack or cookie sheet to dry (this could take overnight, it did for me) then roll them in extra sugar, if you desire.
5. Pour the syrup into a jar and save it in the fridge for mixing with seltzer to make ginger ale!

Monday, March 9, 2015

The Thaw

March... it's such a weird month. One day you're getting close to a foot of snow and the next it's sixty degrees. It's hard to believe this was yesterday, because the kids are so sick today. They caught some kind of stomach bug and haven't moved from their spots on the couch. But if you're healthy and up for some exercise, maybe a walk in the woods somewhere isn't a bad idea.

I had the kids practice 'noticing things.' For example, why is the bark peeling off of that tree? What animal do you think did that? What animal's footprints are those? I hear water, let's go find it.

This wooded area is just behind our house- and Spring is right around the corner! (hopefully feeling better, too)

Friday, February 27, 2015

Homemade Yogurt the Simplest Way Possible

Never in my life have a seen a group of people consume yogurt like my children. They like it in a bowl, in a tube, in their smoothies, on their clothes and well, THEY LOVE IT! I've tried all sorts of home made yogurt recipes from the farthest and most Godforsaken corners of Pinterest. I even bought a yogurt maker and all I got was gross curdled yogurt. It was a valiant effort- but there were gallons and gallons of wasted milk when all was said and done. So I did what any sane person would do: kept trying. As it turns out, the only recipe that has ever worked for me is the simplest- whew! I can handle that. There are TONS of ways you can make yogurt and people have very strong opinions on the right way and the wrong way to do it. Go figure that yogurt would be such a point of contention. But here's how I make it:

Ingredients (2):
2 Tablespoons of Yogurt with Live and Active Cultures
2 Quarts of WHOLE milk- this matters for the thickness of the yogurt.

Actually, that's all you need. :) So here's my method...

1. With the stove burner on low, pour the milk into a pot and slowly warm it to the temperature that you would serve a baby a bottle at. I do the 'wrist test' and if it feels right for a baby it is perfect to get the cultures in your yogurt multiplying- that's 110 degrees if you have a thermometer. I don't think you have to worry about scalding your milk prior to this step, as some other people suggest. Oh wait- I'm not here to debate the proper methodology of yogurt making. I'm just telling you what works for me. 
2. Whisk in 2 tablespoons of your starter yogurt. If the milk is too hot, it will kill the live cultures that are what turns milk into yogurt.
3. Pour the cultured milk into two quart jars and place them into a cooler.
4. Wrap the cooler up in a heavy blanket. This incubates them and keeps the temperature where it needs to be for your cultured milk to turn into yogurt.
5. Leave the yogurt in the cooler for 12 hours, somewhere room temperature (60-75 degrees). If you leave it in the cooler longer than 12 hours you will end up with a bit of a more sour yogurt, but that's your preference. 12 hours seems to be the perfect number for me. Heads up, if you start the process at 1 o'clock in the afternoon you're going to need to wake up in the middle of the night to unwrap your baby yogurt from its blankie and put it back to bed in the fridge. I already have three kids so I try to avoid that but its happened.

When your yogurt is done, it will still appear pretty liquidy. Give it a big stir and put it in the fridge. It will thicken up some but still be a little bit less firm than commercial yogurt. If you prefer, drain some of the liquid off by pouring your yogurt over a bowl draped with a cheesecloth. You can save the liquid that runs into the bowl and use it for baking. HAHA. Or you can throw it away (guilty). Don't forget you can save a half cup of your final product to use as a starter for your next batch.

We use our yogurt in smoothies before straining, and I serve it in bowls after straining. This is plain yogurt, so if you like sweetness without a ton of sugar you can squeeze in some honey or agave nectar, plus fresh fruit. You can also just add sugar!

If you have questions or need to trouble shoot, be sure to comment and I can try to help you. There are TONS of helpful solutions on Google ranging from using gelatin to dry milk. I have found making your own yogurt is a trial and error thing that I've invested a bit of time in, so if at first you don't succeed have a cry and try again.


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