Welcome to my Blog about Food and Well-being!

I am often asked to share my knowledge of food and recipes. After changing my diet four years ago from a typical "Western" diet to a mostly whole-foods and plant-based diet, I have seen incredible changes in my health and well-being. I have spent countless hours researching and love helping those who are ready to feel better. The underlying theme? YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT. Read on to find out more.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Food Allergies? 3 Reasons Why So Many Have Them

Twenty years ago, you rarely heard of gluten, dairy and peanut allergies in the U.S. Boy, how things can change. I'm not sure I know a single family who doesn't have at least one member allergic to some type of food or ingredient. I can only remember one child having a food allergy when I was a child. No one brought their own gluten free or dairy free pizza when they came to spend the night. No one brought a gluten free cupcake to a birthday party. Classrooms didn't have "peanut free" signs on their doors.

What's happening?

It would be great if the solution was obvious. Unfortunately, there are likely many factors contributing to the rapidly increasing food allergy epidemic. I say "epidemic" because few health-related issues have grown as rapidly as food allergies...in the U.S.

While we in the U.S. are finding gluten-free grocery aisles, menu options and even entire restaurants dedicated to serving only gluten-free fare, did you know no other country in the world has the same levels of gluten allergies? If you go to Italy, you will be hard-pressed to find a single child who can't eat pasta or bread. Go to China and no one there has ever heard of gluten allergies. In fact, many Asian countries use vital wheat gluten alone as an inexpensive meat substitute (seitan).

This has to make you think - is it genetics or is it something we're doing differently here in the U.S.? Hmmmmm. Take a look at our FDA and food supply and you'll quickly realize yes, we do things VERY differently here.

Take, for instance, our dependence on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). Monsanto and other food manufacturers believe by formulating a stronger, pest-resistant, heartier grain (typically corn and soybean), you can yield more usable grain and therefore manufacture more product. Even other crops, such as wheat, which aren't always GMOs are susceptible because they share groundwater and pollination from nearby GMO crops. It's becoming harder to quarantine non-GMO crops from the pollution of the GMO crops.

This leads me to the potential reasons for food allergies:

Other countries have banned GMO crops from being planted, even burning Monsanto crops that pop up. These countries have said, "NO" to bio-engineered food. Unfortunately, there are many reports of our FDA being corrupted by the big lobbyists, even having members who also sit on the boards of some of the worst offenders. GMOs are not naturally found in nature and are therefore considered foreign invaders in our bodies. Our stressed-out immune systems try to grapple with these new proteins humans have never ingested in the eons since existence.

Our country is obsessed with the convenience of processed foods. No other country has such a love affair with packaged foods. We pay for it with our weight (the most obese nation on earth), our disease (the most diseased industrialized nation on earth) and our allergies? When you mess with food and add unnatural (not found in nature) ingredients to preserve, flavor, color or enhance it, your body doesn't know what to do with it. These are in essence, foreign objects and your body's immune system attacks it. Over-stress the immune system and you get allergies - the body's natural response to foreign invaders.

We aren't eating what our bodies were meant to eat. A wise doctor once told me our ancestry matters immensely when it comes to what we eat. As our genes adapt over the centuries to our environment, so do our digestive systems. That's why an island culture can live 100+ years without ever eating a vegetable, only tropical fruits and seafood; while a mountain culture can eat mostly meats and root vegetables, and an Asian culture can survive off of rice and vegetables with little to no meat and fare just as well. 

We love new diets which promise weight loss, cancer prevention and longevity. The problem with all of these diets, such as Paleo, Atkins, veganism, etc is that one size does not fit all. One person may find the Paleo diet does wonders for them but that doesn't mean it will do wonders for you. Every person comes from a different genetic makeup and each body has differing needs. 

Beyond genetics, your body might need something a specific diet doesn't deliver and those needs could change over time. Here's a personal example:

I was vegan for years. I loved the way I felt and had no side effects other than increased energy, great digestion and general happiness. Then I got sick. Really sick. After months of tests, procedures and doctors, we never truly figured out what happened. All we knew was it started with a stomach bug and ended with 10% of my weight falling off in only 5 weeks time. Scary.

As I tried to rebuild my body from the trauma, I realized a vegan diet wasn't going to cut it. I needed to rebuild lots of muscle that was consumed when my body fat was depleted. When my appetite finally returned and I could eat more than a banana, I tried going back to the vegan diet but felt terrible - weak, malnourished and depressed. I began eating lean meats and goat dairy and slowly my weight began to increase, as did my energy and strength.

As much as I loved being vegan, I knew my body well enough to know it was telling me it needed more than plants. While my diet is still primarily plants, I do still eat organic chicken, fish, venison and goat dairy several times a week. It isn't my main course like it was when I was a child, but 4-6 oz of clean, organic meat has done wonders for my body and I'm stronger than ever.

I tell you this to encourage you to listen to your body. What works for a friend may not work for you. The most important thing to remember, no matter what diet or food habits you pledge your allegiance, is EAT WHOLE FOODS. No diet in the world can tell you processed food is better for you than real food found in nature. This means you should buy ingredients, not convenience meals. Yes, you will be in the kitchen more but you'll be in the doctor's office less. 


P.S. A few little girls came over today to help me and my daughter with a new cookie recipe I wanted to try. All 4 girls said they liked the cookies and would make them again. Good news for you moms - the recipe has NO sugar, NO oils, NO eggs, NO wheat, and NO nuts! So check it out on my Recipes link and here's to allergy-free Banana Oat cookies!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Great Summer Recipes and Tips for Making Summer Cooking EASY

I love spring and early summer because produce seems to be so much more vivid than other times of the year. Everything is brighter, sweeter and more flavorful. I am a huge proponent of eating seasonally so now is the perfect time to load up on fresh veggies and fruits! Farmer's Markets are the best way to get seasonal produce, much of which is organic and picked within days of sale so they have the most nutrients.

Here are a few ideas for summer eating:

  • Keep your fridge stocked with cut up melons, berries, and greens. Eat alone or make a smoothie remembering to use 3 parts veggies to 1 part fruits and add the juice of half a lemon or lime to brighten the flavors. See my Recipes page for a great green smoothie recipe. 
  • Keep avocados, tomatoes and limes on hand for instant healthy guacamole. Spread it on sandwiches and wraps, toss it with blanched kale, or use it the old-fashioned way as a dip. Avocados are the most protein-dense fruit and lowest in sugar. Although high in calories and fat, they contain heart-healthy fats.
  • Make or buy hummus - lots of protein and fiber fill you up. (See Recipes page)
  • Keep preservative-free deli meats in fridge for quick sandwiches or roll-ups.
  • Make pestos (see Recipes page) and toss with pasta or veggies, spread on sandwiches, or add champagne/rice vinegar to make a great salad dressing.
  • Make your own popsicles! Kids love popsicles but store-bought is usually loaded with sugar or artificial sweeteners and colors. I love the Zoku popsicle maker because you can whip up a batch in 10 minutes! (See Recipes page)
  • With warm weather settling in, eat lighter foods that require little cooking. Cool foods actually cool you from the inside, so think salads, gazpacho, sushi rolls, sandwiches and wraps over longer cooking recipes like stews, hot soups, chilis and heavy meat dishes.

Need more inspiration? I enjoy having the Food Network on TV in the background while I'm doing housework, cooking or working on a project. I often see recipes which inspire me and get me out of my cooking rut. This weekend, I tried a citrus pesto by Giada which was divine. It used fresh basil, lemon and orange - all of which are plentiful in the summer. She used swordfish, but my grocery store didn't have it so I substituted tuna steaks. You could also use it with chicken or shrimp.

We had friends over for Memorial Day and I made pulled pork sliders. This recipe is an old favorite and serves a crowd or makes wonderful enchiladas with the leftovers. It comes from Martha Stewart. I added it to my Recipes page, so be sure to check it out. 

I served the sliders with my own recipe for potato salad (see Recipes page). Even though I've never made potato salad before, one of our guests who happens to own his own restaurant told me it was the best potato salad he's ever eaten! I took a recipe I found online, changed up a few ingredients and added some of my own. That's what's great about cooking - you can take any recipe and make it your own.

Summer is also a great time to get your kids involved in cooking with you. I don't know a child who doesn't like to create things and play with their food. Even the youngest child can stir, roll dough and add ingredients to a recipe. Older kids love to use knives (with supervision, of course) and learn the basics of making an omelette, spaghetti, quesadillas, etc.

Get out of YOUR rut and try new recipes! Try to cook as many meals as possible - eating out is almost always more fattening, expensive and less natural than what you can prepare at home. Yes, drive thrus are easier and okay occasionally, but don't make it a habit. Your kids need to know how food impacts their health and if you're constantly eating fast food burgers and fried chicken tenders, how will they ever learn to eat veggies or care about the sodium and fat intake? We have to teach them those foods are okay in moderation, but the bulk of their diet needs to include fresh veggies, fruits, whole grains, nuts & seeds, and lean meats. Sorry, french fries and chicken nuggets don't count!

Monday, April 21, 2014

When Does "Organic" Matter? Top Foods to Buy Organic

Organic foods are everywhere these days and because there is so much demand, the price for most of these items has steadily declined. Consumers are more aware of the pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers used on the foods we ingest and serve our families. Buying organic can cost more, so it may help to know which foods are the worst offenders so you can focus on those.

Organics doesn't necessarily mean healthier
There's been a lot of buzz in the news lately about research showing organic foods are no healthier than conventionally grown. Here are a few points I'd like to make about this claim:

  1. It's not that organic foods have more nutrients than conventional foods/produce, but that they DON'T contain potentially hazardous chemicals, hormones, antibiotics, etc.
  2. Organic processed food is still processed and isn't as good for you as whole, real food.
  3. Organic cane sugar and evaporated cane juice still has the same number of calories and inflammation capacity as conventional sugar
  4. You still need to read labels because sometimes food manufacturers will claim they are organic but only have a few organic ingredients
Organically-grown foods mean they are not genetically modified (non-GMO), were not sprayed with conventional pesticides or herbicides, and the animal was not given non-organic food, artificial hormones or antibiotics.

The TOP foods buy organic
  • Corn (if not organic, it is 99% likely to be genetically modified)
  • Soybeans (edamame and tofu) (if not organic, 99% likely to be gmo)
  • Berries (strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries)
  • Grapes
  • Apples
  • Greens (lettuce, kale, collards, chards, spinach, mustard greens, watercress, etc)
  • Tomatoes
  • Cucumbers
  • Peppers (bell peppers, mostly)
  • Cilantro
  • Parsley
  • Carrots
  • Garlic, Onions and Potatoes (if not organic, they are sprayed with a sprout inhibitor called Bud Stop that prevents naturally-occurring sprouts to form)
  • Green onions
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Peaches
  • Plums
  • Pears

  • All meat, poultry, eggs and dairy (non-organic meats/eggs/dairy can contain high levels of antibiotics, hormones and GMO because these animals are fed GMO corn. "Natural" means NOTHING.)
  • Buy all fish WILD CAUGHT (farm raised means they can be fed GMO feed, injected with food dyes to make salmon look pink and kept in tanks vs the wild)
  • Deli meats and bacon (if you can't find organic, at least buy "Preservative free" which means no nitrates or sulfates are used to preserve it)
  • Grains (rice, bulgur, spelt, barley, millet, amaranth, etc)
  • Seeds (quinoa, sunflower, chia, sesame)
  • Nuts (coconut is the exception)
  • Coffee
  • Any product containing corn or soy (including corn, canola and vegetable oils)
  • Oils (olive, grapeseed, avocado, coconut sesame and walnut oils are great alternatives to corn, canola and vegetable oils, but if you must buy those, buy organic)
  • Flours 
  • Breads
  • Tortillas 
  • Chips (especially corn-based and those fried in corn, canola or vegetable oils)
  • Cereals
  • Oats
  • Granola/cereal/energy bars
  • Soy sauce and tamari sauce (both are made with soy so you want it non-GMO)
  • Dried fruits
  • Fruit juices
  • Nut butters
I hope this cheat sheet helps you save pennies where you can and invest where you should. If your grocery store doesn't carry these items, start asking! The more demand, the better chance you'll see it. 

I confess, I go to a couple of grocery stores because my main store often doesn't have a few of my items, especially tortillas, flours and grains, but I stock up and freeze if possible. I always encourage you to buy locally through farmer's markets, community supported agriculture (CSAs) or grocery stores that carry locally grown produce. 

Good luck and reply to this blog with questions!

Monday, March 31, 2014

Best Kitchen Gadgets to Make Your Life Easier and Get You Cookin'!

People often ask me what they need in their kitchens to either inspire them to cook more often (because we know ain't no cookin' like home cookin'!) or to help them speed up the process. Here are my best suggestions and items I use regularly:

  • Vitamix Blender - there is no substitute. There's a reason why they call them "SMOOTHIES" - they're supposed to be SMOOTH. No other blender on the planet can get your smoothie as perfectly smooth as Vitamix. It's worth the $ and Mother's Day is coming up, so....Vitamix does SO much more than smoothies and there are cookbooks that come with it to get you started. You can make soup in the Vitamix! It even heats it up! Sauces, dressings, marinades, dips, sorbet, snow cones, puddings...and the best smoothies EVER. 
  • Hand-held citrus juicer. I use this daily. I got mine at the local grocery store. I add lemon and lime to lots of things, but always to my morning smoothie and water. Citrus brightens up anything, has added vitamin C and is a miracle worker if you get kidney stones. If you eat lots of kale, spinach, strawberries and other produce high in  oxalates, lemon juice counters the calcium buildup to prevent stones from forming.
  • Zester (or Microplane). This is great to add lots of flavor from the rind of citrus. Add lemon/lime/orange zest to sauces, marinades and dressings for extra citrus flavor. The zester can also be used to fine-grate garlic, ginger and Parmesan cheese. Just watch your knuckles!
  • Large, wide wooden bowl. If you eat salads, this type of bowl is perfect for tossing without losing the contents. I like using tongs to toss. It makes salad prep so much easier.
  • Salad Spinner. I know this is so 80s, but salad spinners are a must. No one wants soggy salad. They're cheap and pull all of the water out of greens, herbs, etc.
  • Silpat silicone mats. These are the rubbery-feeling mats made of silicone that are used to line baking sheets to prevent sticking. I use these daily instead of foil-lining sheets (aluminum is no bueno). Nothing will stick to it, not even shredded cheese, melted sugar or any baked goods. 
  • Wooden spoons. Wood resists bacteria, are inexpensive, can withstand high heat and clean easily. Just don't put them in your dishwasher or let them soak for long.
  • Cast iron skillet. Nothing browns food better than cast iron. If you want a perfect crust on your brussel sprouts, salmon, chicken, pork chops, corn bread or fish, use cast iron. It heats evenly and stays hot for a really long time, so food stays warm (that's why restaurants often serve cornbread and fajitas in cast iron skillets). If you're low in iron, use cast iron skillets, particularly when cooking high acid foods like tomato-based foods, as it will pull iron into your food. Don't use soap when cleaning and lightly oil after it's cleaned and cooled to keep it "seasoned" so it stays non-stick.
  • Enameled cast iron. I'm talking about Le Creuset-like pots and skillets. Like their non-enameled counterparts, they heat evenly and stay warm forever but are naturally non-stick, are perfect for slow cooking (they really aren't meant for high heat like regular cast iron) and look pretty from oven/stove to table. I use these mostly when making soups, chili, stews and beans.
  • Zoco Popsicle maker. My kids love popsicles and this little gadget makes it super simple to make our own, which means way less sugar, no preservatives or artificial food colors/ingredients, and a heck of a lot cheaper than store bought. Buy the cookbook with it and you'll be making the best popsicles you've ever had. It only takes 5 minutes to freeze! My kids love making the coffee, coconut, and s'more recipes!
  • Knife sharpener. Every good cook MUST have sharp knives. Dull knives tear or smoosh the flesh of produce, cause accidents and make prep work take lots longer. I love the kind that you hold with one hand and swipe the knife through a slit with the other. I sharpen my knives weekly and they glide through everything like butter.
  • Fine-mesh sieve. If you eat various grains, some are so tiny they can slip right through a regular sieve. These sieves are usually cone-shaped and can be used for rinsing but also for filtering/straining, like when making almond milk.
So there you have my top gadgets I use the most in my kitchen. There are so many more out there and going down the kitchen aisle of a store can be overwhelming. These are great items to have readily accessible. What are some of YOUR favorite kitchen gadgets? Share my replying to the blog!

Keep cookin'! Spring is such a great time to get started eating healthier and the best way to eat healthier is to cook at home. Remember to get your kids and spouse involved! When they help, they are more apt to eat it! 

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The EASY Way to Eat Clean

Thankfully, "clean eating" is no longer considered a fad. More people are getting educated and buying clean foods, so much so, the large manufacturers are taking notice. General Mills recently announced Cheerios will no longer contain GMO grains! Hurray! Yoplait has commercials touting their yogurts as free from high fructose corn syrup or artificial colors. Yippee! There are countless new products on the shelves that are GMO free, organic, preservative free and no artificial ingredients. Finally.

Whether these companies and the others finally clued in that their artificial ingredients, preservatives and CRAP is making our country sick, or if they're just looking for a bigger audience for profit, the end result is we all win. The truth is, no other nation on the planet spends more on pharmaceuticals and health care than the U.S., yet our nation is among the sickest in all industrialized countries. It's no wonder when you watch this YouTube video about what they're spraying on our produce!

So what can you do? Spring is almost here and is a perfect season for new beginnings. I encourage all of you to think about your food, what you're bringing into your home to eat, where you shop and what ingredients mean. Don't keep telling yourself you'll do it "one day" or a little processed food is okay. That's like saying a few cigarettes a day don't matter. Everything you put in your body either helps it or harms it - nothing is benign.

I thumbed through Cameron Diaz's new book called "Body" recently. She worked with nutritionists, scientist and other experts to thoroughly explain what specific foods do to your body, what organs and functions are effected and how to maximize your full health potential. If you have a chance, pick it up. It's a great read with factual info on the science behind nutrition and your body.

In a nutshell, the book goes into detail about what I try to communicate on this blog - you are what you eat and when you put good food in, your body will repay you. Take the time to educate yourself about ingredients and make a commitment to make a change! Here are some easy tips to get you started on a fresh way of approaching what you eat and be sure to check out the new recipes I added to my Recipes page :

  • Join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) and/or visit the Farmer's Markets. CSAs are local farms that deliver fresh, seasonal, usually organic produce to your neighborhood
  • Eat the rainbow - choose a variety of fruits and veggies of all colors (organic is best) to ensure you're getting all of your vitamins and minerals - they all work together in perfect amounts, unlike lab-processed multi-vitamins
  • Cut back on processed foods (anything in a box, bag or can) and choose fresh ingredients instead anywhere you can
  • Read ingredients and choose products that have the fewest ingredients, ALL of which you can pronounce and know what they are
  • Buy only the freshest and least processed fish and meats as you can afford - organic meats mean the animal was fed an organic diet, not animal by-products that can contain flesh from diseased animals (this is much cheaper feed)
  • Buy only organic eggs (Farmer's Markets and CSAs are a great resource)
  • Buy fresh-squeezed juices or juice them yourself (most other juices are highly processed and lack the nutrients of fresh)
  • Invest in a good blender (I love Vitamix) and start making smoothies with fresh, organic veggies and a little fruit
  • Find new recipes using fresh veggies, whole grains and lean meats - buy new cookbooks, check out cookbooks at your local library or search online - there are some GREAT ones out there and I list a few on my "Resources" page 
  • Cook more at home to have more control over the ingredients
Post a comment to this blog with any questions you might have. We can all learn from and support each other. Coming "clean" may seem overwhelming, but just like anything new, once you learn it, it becomes second nature. It's the best thing you can do for yourself and your family!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

2014 - The Year of More FUN!

I'm back!
It's been months since my last post. To make a long story short, I was rather sick with a strange illness that was never fully determined (was it a trip to the Dominican? The sushi I ate just prior? Who knows.). It took me months to recover, required countless tests & procedures, and drove my sweet doctor crazy with all of my anxiety, but I am feeling GREAT after 4 months of misery. Praise God.

I learned so much through my journey, too much to detail in my little blog. BUT, I did want to share some revelations with you in the hopes that it will provide some inspiration.

1) Food is meant to heal and nourish, not put us in prison. 
Knowledge is hard to un-know. 

When I began researching food and ingredients, I discovered there was so much we as a consumer didn't know about our food. It was intriguing, frustrating and even angering. I was incensed so much crap could be put into our food supply and so little information was readily available. I read, studied and began this blog to share some of the info with you. What I didn't realize at the time, but now do, is you can become hyper-sensitive to it all and let it imprison you. That's what started to happen to me.

The more I studied, the more rules I set to make sure I wasn't falling victim to it all. I knew better. I became rigid and inflexible with food choices in that I analyzed virtually every ingredient and meal. Unknowingly, food became a burden for me and caused stress because I didn't want to bend on any of my "rules." It pained me to see my kids eating junk food and I refused to buy Oreos or Gatorade and the like.

Stress, however, is worse for the body than the occasional fast food meal or orange sports drink. I was inadvertently harming myself, strangling the joy out of eating while I held steadfast to my rules. I suffered, my family suffered and my friends probably rolled their eyes (you know who you are!).

2) We have to give up some control.
Trying to have all the control is exhausting.

This is probably the hardest thing for me as a person, as a mom. If you're a mom, you're likely the boss in your house. You have to be in order to run a smooth home. If you're like me, you make the food choices in your home as well. If you eat healthy, you probably bring healthy foods into your home. Good for you! That's the goal. Teach your children to eat healthy by modeling it for them and not making junk food readily available. While I still believe in that sentiment, I now understand that I can't control everything, nor do I want to. 

It's stressful to worry about every thing your kids put into their mouths. You want them to put down the Coke and opt for water, but if they don't, does it make you squirm like it did me? Did hearing about contaminated ground water, GMOs or food dye make you feel helpless or overwhelmed about how to avoid it?

When I am in control, I feel like everything is going perfectly. But when there's a kink, which inevitably will come, I get stressed. My mystery illness was a perfect example. It was a 4-month long knot I felt would take every last inch of me. As much as I fought it, I was no longer in control. I had to give it up - to my many doctors, to my generous family and friends who cared for me, and most importantly, to my faithful God Who has ultimate control. 

All of the control I thought I had was mocking me as I lay in bed sick while the world passed me by. I felt like God was saying, "You think you control all of this? Your health, your life, your every breath is a gift from Me. Your food choices aren't what's going to save you. Only I can do that."

Wow. Wow and wow. My wonderful/Dr. of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (DAOM) recognized something about me within the first hour of meeting me that has had me thinking ever since. She said all of the passion I have for food (this blog, my classes, my cooking) wasn't coming from a place of love and joy, but a place of fear. She was right.

Yes, I love to cook and teach others about healthy eating, but I was doing it because at some level, I believed doing so would help me avoid all of the illnesses that come with unhealthy eating - and I feared illness. While whole foods are unquestionably healthier than processed foods, we only have so much control over what illnesses we may encounter. If you live long enough, you WILL get sick, no matter what you eat or don't eat. You can avoid many illnesses but not all of them. It's just part of life.

3) Have more fun.
Don't take food too seriously.

Life is short. If you're feeling good today, make it the best day possible and be grateful for every breath you take. We have no idea what will happen tomorrow, but if we live IN THE PRESENT and live our lives with gratitude, it will be more fulfilling. Food is fuel for the body but it's also meant to be enjoyed. 

I am a practical person. I have to have order to my life. I don't like chaos. But while I was home- bound for months, all I wanted to do was get out and enjoy life. I missed my old routine but most of all, I missed laughing with friends, trying out new restaurants with my husband, playing games with my kids and learning new things. We are always one day away from a diagnosis, an illness, an accident. All of my practicality was hindering what life wants to offer me - freedom, joy and fun. 

2014 - Another Chance
Each new year brings optimism and hope. 

Our family spent New Year's Eve with several families. We all shared our resolutions on paper, dropped them in a bag and then had to guess who's resolution was who's. My resolution was to "Have more fun and break some rules." No one guessed it was from me.

In 2014, I hope to take each day as it comes, enjoying the little things: a good night's sleep, energy throughout my day, a crackling fire in the fireplace, my daughter's laughter and my son's large smile, to name a few. 

I will cook with more joy and let the kids order a Coke next time we eat out. I won't stress about every ingredient, rather savoring the goodness of whole foods when we have the opportunity to eat them. I will continue to teach my kids and friends about healthy choices, but will embrace Frito pie with gusto (I'm actually making venison chili tonight - with organic corn chips - I can't forget all I've learned!).

I hope and pray each of you have a healthy, FUN, joyful 2014. Send me any questions or ideas for blogs and I will keep passing along info, tidbits and recipes that will hopefully equip you with knowledge. What are YOUR resolutions? Share them with me!

Friday, August 16, 2013

Oh Boy, Here We Go Again...What to Pack in School Lunches

I can honestly say the thing I dread most about the start of school isn't waking up early again but figuring out what to pack in the kids' lunchboxes. It would be so easy to throw a Lunchable and a juicebox into the sack, but those of you who know me know I would more likely do a herkie when the school bus drives off the first morning of school.

Every end of summer, I begin to feel that anxious pit in my stomach that I have to come up with healthy lunch ideas the kids will actually eat. I have several cookbooks and websites dedicated to this endeavor but I inevitably fall into a slump by spring. Never fear though! I have some ideas to share that hopefully will get you at least a few months into the school year.

Things to consider:

  • Prepackaged foods are generally higher in fat, sodium, sugar, preservatives, food dyes and mystery ingredients than anything you could make at home
  • Your kids need a healthy breakfast and lunch to keep them going throughout the school day = limit processed foods, sugars, and sodium
  • Your kids likely won't eat something they've never tried before so consider experimenting at dinner and snack times to see if they'll actually eat it at lunch
  • Keep the dialogue open with your kids by asking them what they'd like to bring to lunch, then see if you can work with them to make it healthier if needed
  • Get organized! Purchase fun lunch box organizers like Lunch SkinsBento Boxes, and Pack It Lunch Bags 
  • Make a plan. Look at your week and see what days would be most suited for a certain type of lunch. Maybe sandwiches on Mondays, salads on Tuesdays, veggies and crackers with dips on Wednesdays, wraps on Thursdays, and burritos on Fridays.
Just a few lunch ideas:
  • Salads can be fun, especially if you put them in a mason jar. Layer ingredients and seal with the lid. All they have to do is shake! See this LINK for a quick how-to.
  •  Sandwiches are usually pretty safe bets but over a week's time, that can be alot of bread, cheese (if you use it) and meats (if you use them). Either cook and slice your own meats or buy preservative-free deli meats. Try to limit sandwiches to a couple per week, even if only to encourage a more diverse palette. If you limit/avoid bread, just roll the deli meat or use a lettuce leaf as a wrap. Try different nut butters with honey or fruit-only jams.

  • Cut up veggies with dip (hummus, black bean, msg-free Ranch, etc) are usually well tolerated and add a serving or two of veggies to your child's diet.
  • Cut up or whole fruits (with yogurt dip, nut butter or honey, if desired) work well but keep the skins on. Most of the fiber is found in the skin.
  • Wraps are usually a hit with most kids. Consider using lettuce or even collard greens if you can get your kids to eat them instead of flour tortillas which are usually full of preservatives. Fill them with all sorts of things from preservative-free deli meats and cheeses, to black beans/corn/salsa or cucumber/sprouts/carrots/olives/hummus. Get creative!
  • Don't forget the leftovers!
  • Frozen Tamales - Whole Foods sells several types of tamales my kids love, like the vegan black bean, sweet potato-pecan and shredded chicken with lime. Be sure to check the ingredients because often conventional brands use lard, tons of salt and preservatives.
  • Frozen Burritos - when I'm in a pinch, I go to Amy's frozen burritos or Evolv or even Whole Foods 360 brand. Again, check ingredients. Skip any with artificial ingredients, lots of sodium or preservatives.
  • Frozen veggies - you can usually find small, individual packets of edamame that most kids love. Try frozen lima beans (packed with protein and fiber) or green peas with a pat of butter and a dash of salt
  • Fried rice made the night before with leftover rice and frozen mixed veggies, a scrambled egg and a dash of tamari/soy sauce
  • Black beans and brown rice topped with avocado (soak in lime), salsa, and cilantro served with organic corn tortilla chips
Check out websites for inspiration! I could list a dozen here, but all of you know how to use the Internet and search for your own new favorites. Adapt recipes as needed and be sure to make note of the ones your kids end up liking. 

There are so many ideas and I am sure many of you have some of your own. PLEASE SHARE if you do! Just comment on the blog so all can see! Good luck and here's to a healthy new school year!