The first words I hear after school are "I'm hungry, what can I eat?"
Can you relate?
Sometimes it's a simple question to answer because I'll plan for it and have snacks ready, or at least have a suggestion about what they can grab.
Other times though, not so much.
To really feel that sense of pleasure when you know the answer, you need to plan for it, and that is something that is true for everyone- no matter what kind of snacking style you're working with.
Starting with an inventory of what you already own is a great idea. It saves you time and money in the grocery store. It helps fight food waste which benefits the environment. Check your fridge, freezer, and pantry. Is there something in there that can be transformed into a snack?
I'm not saying my kids would eat all these snacks all the time, but taste buds change as we grow and I have no doubt that my picky second son will soon enjoy foods he currently turns his nose up at.
Preparing homemade snacks will, generally speaking, always be better for you then the processed snacks you can buy at the grocery store. If you can find a system that works for you, in the time you have, using your freezer to store snacks (such as muffins or cookies) or having a dedicated snack space in your fridge will go a long way to reducing or even eliminating the frustrations that come with having to prepare meals and snacks when you aren't ready to do so.
You can take these sorts of steps for your other meals, too. Spend some time thinking about what you can do with what you have. It's kind of like a puzzle to me, figuring out how to use what we've got. Sometimes it's easier than others, and remember that everyone finds themselves in an uncreative spot from time to time.
Happiness grows in tandem with planning. As uncertainty decreases and stress decrease, happiness steps in to take its place.
We’re using Nasturtiums in our house this week to help make our food taste good and look pretty, but the question that I hear from people is “why?” What difference does it make HOW your food looks? Isn’t taste the important part?
Well, sure. Taste is a HUGE part of your meals. But it is not the only consideration.
Something as plain and simple as a bowl of oatmeal can look appetizing or unappetizing, depending on how you dress it up. If my kids finally eat oatmeal, I know it’s going to be because it looks like it might taste good. There’s no way they’d be willing to try a bowl with oatmeal just slopped into it. But if I top it with some delicious blueberries, a sprinkle of cinnamon and toasted pecans, and maybe a drizzle of maple syrup, I’m almost willing to bet at least one of them would be willing to give it a try. And of course, my ultimate goal is to get both of them eating it.
There are differences of opinion, of course. This is strictly mine. But I find it a fun experiment to play with in our home. My oldest son in particular appreciates how good a food looks before he tells me how it tastes.
Think about the presentation between McDonalds and The Canadian Brewhouse. Both places serve burgers. But one is wrapped sloppily in a paper wrapper or cardboard box with fries spilling out of their wrapper on a plastic tray, and the other is plated nicely with a gently arranged salad or interestingly wrapped fries. They even have their signature Canadian Flag toothpick stuck into the top of the burger. You know which one looks more appealing and which one you’d rather eat, right? Most of the time the difference in price is overlooked because the perceived value is higher, in part due to how it looks when presented.
The next time you serve dinner, consider plating it in a way that makes it look visually appealing. You might be surprised at what your picky people are willing to try if it looks nice.
For an interesting article about this with more viewpoints and discussion, click here.
Have a great day, friends! If you haven't started following me on Facebook yet, please hop over there and "like" my page. I post interesting food and nutrition stuff on a regular basis and I'd hate you to miss out on my test kitchen recipes each Friday!
This week I'm playing with the Thai Basil that I am growing in my herb garden. We're going to run a late #testkitchen this week (today rather than yesterday if all goes well!), making Thai salad rolls for dinner tonight and a Vietnamese noodle soup with chicken and vegetables for dinner tomorrow.
But why bother? Why change to a different kind of basil? Why not stick with the old one that is known and loved?
Over the years I've observed there are 2 basic kinds of eaters in the world: people who can eat the same thing all the time and be perfectly content, and people who want to eat different things all the time and rarely eat the same thing twice. I don't think either extreme is healthy or sustainable. In our family, we encourage a bit of both for a few different reasons:
By now you all are used to me talking about incorporating a variety of different colours into your food but we don't usually emphasize reasons for different flavours. I'm going to hone in on one reason this morning: "...waking up your taste buds".
Raising a family of picky children with a husband who came pretty picky himself has been a journey for us. At the beginning of parenting small children I was completely unprepared for picky eaters. The idea of it was as foreign to me as living in full darkness half a year. When I was a child, if my mom put food in front of me, I ate it. To be suddenly faced with gagging, vomiting, tears, and the rest was bewildering.
However, I firmly believe food should not be a fight. Ever. We determine what foods go on the table so we fully control what response we will get. We can talk more about this a different day.
Suffice it to say, providing different flavours to ourselves and our families can allow us to enjoy different foods while we are out and about at various times in our lives. Like it or not, most of us enjoy meals at places other than home. We can't always control what's for dinner, and so it makes sense to train our taste buds.
And that is it for today, friends. If you enjoyed this post, share it! Help me grow my business by getting my name and brand known! Tune in tomorrow on Facebook for a discussion on reverse meal planning and if you haven't "liked" my page yet, please do so- I don't want you to miss anything!
All the best!
It wasn't until I was an adult that I tried both avocado and kiwi; the former because I didn't know avocado was a food (more on that to follow), the latter because the fuzzy brown skin, bright green fruit, and tiny little seeds were a little too odd for me to move past.
In both cases, my mom was the cause behind both the food avoidance and acceptance.
As parents and caregivers, we model so much more than how to balance a bank account, fold bath towels, or make beds. The way we approach food becomes deeply ingrained in our children as well. The more we model an open acceptance to try new things, including food, the more our children will move into their own adulthood with a spirit of adventure.
When I was a child, my mom had the most amazing green thumb. She had houseplants flourishing in every corner and on every table. She was particularly fond of avocado plants and always had them rooting and growing in glasses of water on the kitchen counter.
I didn't know avocados were food! My mom would buy one, toss the meat, and root a plant. It wasn't until I was 21 years old and out for dinner with a friend that I found out what that green stuff was when I ordered a taco salad and he told me to eat it.
My mom enjoys eating avocados now! But it took a few years for her to develop a taste for them.
When I was not quite as old, around 18, she forced me to eat a kiwi. She described the taste as a cross between a strawberry and something else, which was a good enough description at the time. She told me I was old enough to try it and made me eat some with my eyes closed so the appearance of it wouldn't put me off. Of course she was right. They are delicious. But I wouldn't have tried it if she hadn't made it happen.
We're the great influencers of the people around us. Food is a journey for all of us and we don't all have to like the same things. But I want to encourage you to try new foods and expose your family to new foods, spices, flavours, and presentations. The more variety in our diet, the healthier we will be. No one food group can satisfy our body's nutritional needs any more than a single bar of soap can support a lifetime of personal hygiene.
It might help to have a routine in place to bring new foods into the house. Perhaps a "new month, new food" tradition- the first day of each month a new food comes home to be tasted. To help foster ownership, try having everyone in the household take turns picking the new food to try. Perhaps a recipe search or a call for suggestions on Facebook will help. Whatever you choose to do, it's never too late to adopt a more adventurous palate. Your health, and the health of the people around you, can only benefit.
Enjoy your day, friends.
It's always a little hard to say goodbye to our carved pumpkins. A couple of years ago we left them as "nightlights" in the boys' bedroom until they went off and then threw them away. This morning, however, our friendly pumpkins will be kissed goodbye and diced up for dinner, with good reason: pumpkins are a super source of nutrition. It's cold and flu season, and because pumpkins have their fair share of vitamin C, they help our bodies fight infection.
Sharing vegetables with kids is a marvelous way to support their nutritive needs, and the beta carotene in pumpkins will help their eyesight. They are a versatile vegetable and if hitting #halfyourplate is your goal, this is a wonderful vegetable to get you there. Preparing pumpkin ahead of time makes it a quick meal starter. Toss frozen pumpkin chunks into soup, casseroles, and stir fries. Slice fresh pumpkin thinly to make skillet chips. Add pureed pumpkin to mashed potatoes, turnip, or rutabaga. Make pumpkin themed muffins and loaves, or hide it in gingerbread cake if your people aren't a fan.
Don't forget canned pumpkin. It's just as good for you, though not quite as versatile. You can find it in the baking aisle because pumpkin pie is a seasonal favourite. Before you buy it, however, check the ingredients label. It should read "100% pure pumpkin", or something along those lines. They may tell you what kind of pumpkin is in the can, and that's fine. But many pie fillings come pre-sweetened or spiced, and you want to avoid those ones. Controlling your added ingredients is an important consideration for health when cooking, baking, and eating.
You can do a lot with a whole pumpkin. A very common way to deal with them is to place them in the oven and roast them, as I've detailed here. I also discussed dicing them and freezing them raw- that is the future of these pumpkins. In fact, I'd made dinner with pumpkin processed this way about a year ago, and that's what we're eating for dinner tonight, pictured here:
It's a good thing pumpkin is so flexible, because in addition to our carved baby pumpkins, we have a big one we didn't get to. My freezer will be full...and that means I have to start baking. I think I foresee a month of pumpkin-themed meals coming up! Perhaps a pumpkin-spice cookbook? Maybe a private Facebook group with new recipes and challenges each week. Do you have any ideas for me? Drop me a line!
In the meantime, my #testkitchen today will be a pumpkin-spice steamed milk. My lucky newsletter subscribers will be the first to receive this delicious gem. Want in on that? Just fill in your details and the rest will follow.
All the best, friends. Welcome to November!
When I was a kid, the best part about Halloween was all the candy, mostly the chocolate. Am I right? We didn't get a lot of sweets in our home, so getting all of that at once was a bounty that couldn't be beat.
I still love chocolate, but I usually lean towards the darker stuff nowadays. And hands-down the best part of carving pumpkins, besides the fun of designing, is getting all the pumpkin seeds. Roasted pumpkin seeds are not only a tasty treat, but loaded with health benefits.
Here's the recipe I use now when roasting pumpkin seeds. I've tried variations, but always go back to plain old salt. It seems like a lot of salt in the water, but they don't end up too salty, though that's a personal preference and you can change it if you wish. An important thing I can tell you is make sure they are roasted all the way through. One year I thought they were done, but once sealed up in a container they went soft- and moldy after a couple of days. You want to roast all the moisture right out of them.
They fill that craving for salty snacks, but unlike chips, are loaded with fibre- so a little goes a long way, and you won't eat too many. They have magnesium, which helps control blood pressure, and zinc, which is a key component in enabling your immune system to work efficiently, among other benefits. Omega-3's for those of you who don't like fatty fish, and L-tryptophan, the fabled amino acid that converts to seratonin and helps with sleep- and who doesn't need more restful sleep?
Roasted pumpkin seeds are full of protein and potassium- more potassium than a banana! And they aid in prostate health, so eat up, gentlemen!
Happy Halloween, friends! Enjoy your treats in moderation!
Leftovers get a bad reputation. I don't know if it's because so many people just put out the same food as the night before and get bored, or because they get left in the fridge and forgotten about until they go bad, but let me encourage you to reclaim your leftovers. Add a little flair to your leftovers to help your food budget flow a little more smoothly.
This morning I made my first ever food video (I promise, I'll get better!) after trying to decide what to do with our leftover pizza ingredients from dinner last night.
As you can (sort of) see, there's not a lot left. A little pizza sauce, a few slices of meat, a few chopped peppers and onions. And no mozzarella. My usual go-to meal when I only have a little bit of this and that left is soup, so that was an option. I could always cut up another pepper, add a can of tomato sauce with loads of garlic and oregano, and have a reasonable facsimile of pizza in soup form. I also considered loaded pizza baked or roasted potatoes, and a casserole of sorts was taking shape in my mind. In the end, though, I decided to send my oldest to school with a pizza grilled cheese sandwich, which is what you see in my video. I made sure to cool it to send it to school with a freezer pack, so maybe not quite as tasty as hot, but still a delicious lunch. I'll probably eat one for lunch too, actually.
When you've got a pile of leftovers, consider how you can change them up to make something else. Dinner tonight is again leftover-based. A month ago or so I cooked a pork loin, sliced the leftovers, and froze them in meal sized portions- these are my meal starters. To a baggie of pork loin slices I am adding leftover brown rice from dinner a couple of nights ago and creating a yellow pepper, spinach, and yellow curry cream sauce. It's going to be delicious! And quick. I like quick. Quicker than sitting in the drive-through window and ordering dinner, then driving home to eat it. Definitely tastier and better for you, too. I will have dinner on the table tonight in about 15 minutes, because the rice and pork are already cooked.
Varying your foods exposes your family to different flavours in a nutritious way. You've probably heard "Variety is the Spice of Life", and it's true even when related specifically to food. We need a variety of foods in our diets to achieve the most nutrition naturally, and many spices have their own specific health-supporting properties. We definitely need as many supporting players as possible this time of year when flu and cold season starts up in full swing.
If you'd like to experiment with building your own spice blend for Garam Masala (what we in the west mostly call curry), I found this delicious-sounding recipe online this morning during my search for internet treasure. I have created in-house blends for many of my favourite spice mixtures, and sometime in the next while this will be something I experiment with. In the meantime, though, I have a brand new package of store-bought to use up, and we all enjoy eating it.
Happy Friday to you, friends! What's for dinner at your house tonight?
Have I mentioned how much I enjoy oatmeal? I was busy all morning, and didn't feel like making any real effort for my lunch. From the banana, this meal gave me protein and fibre, carbohydrates and fat, vitamins A, C, E, and K, as well as a bunch of B Vitamins. The oatmeal gave me additional protein, fibre, carbohydrates, and iron. The toasted nuts and nutmeg were an added abundance of nutrition and flavour. It's easy on the budget, and warm and comforting -baby, it's cold outside! So for me, oatmeal for any meal is a win/win!
It's a long weekend for us here, in Canada- Thanksgiving! The kids get an extra, extra long weekend off- they have no school today through Monday, so while I've welcomed the break from stumbling out of bed to get them off to school, I also have a bunch of things to get done- appointments, grocery shopping, cooking and baking, and so on. They're getting fed but other then that are pretty much on their own- I think they know if they complain about nothing to do they'll be put to work!
Our local grocery store had amazing deals on produce today. I was able to pick up 10 lbs of carrots and potatoes for next to nothing, along with a large bag of naturally imperfect sweet peppers. The rest of today will be spent catching up on laundry, housework, cooking, and baking. I've got a large pot of potatoes already on to steam, followed by a pot of carrots. I have plans to make a potato, carrot, and seafood chowder this afternoon for lunches this weekend, and I'd like to bake a hazelnut eggnog loaf tomorrow. We get spoiled with Thanksgiving dinners at both my mother's homes so I'll save my turkey for another time.
It was -7*C this morning when I woke up today, which is 19.4*F for my American friends. There was frost everywhere and they are saying there is a potential for snow this weekend. It seems like the perfect weather to turn on the stove and make the house fragrant and warm.
What are your plans this weekend? I wish you the best!
Last week I found out my second son has very low iron. His doctor has requested he start on a supplement, but we're going to have to build up to a full dose. The first day I dosed him with 3/4 of a dose and he had wicked stomach pain, and the day after that for the whole weekend an upset stomach. I *think* that was due to a bug that was making the rounds, but just in case I decided I should slowly introduce it to his system.
He isn't as bad an eater as he used to be, but he eats little amounts, and gets tired of eating. I won't generally force my kids to finish what's on their plates, because they can tell if they're still hungry or satisfied better than I can. I know I fill up quickly, but get hungry often, and we all know our own cues the best. I remember being forced to finish my plate or even to have seconds, and how it made me feel. I won't do that with the boys.
Still, I haven't been very proactive over the last year at making sure there's enough time between his calcium rich foods and his iron rich foods, and about making sure he's actually eating enough iron. He's very much a dairy kid, but some studies have shown that consuming calcium at the same time as iron means that the iron isn't absorbed as well when it comes to short-term. It's also important to plan out a good source of vitamin C to co-mingle with the iron. It helps assure higher iron absorption.
For the last several months our son has been complaining really non-specifically about how he's feeling. "I just feel really terrible" he'll tell us. He'd complain of feeling dizzy, or headache, pain in his legs, and so on. Our doctor sent us home with a blood test requisition and after some schedule juggling we finally have our answer. In part to being a little eater who is also picky, combined with massive growth spurt over the last year, we have this to reconcile.
Common signs of anemia in children (as well as adults) include paleness, weakness, and fatigue. He has great big circles under his eyes and is often tired. He has been prone to frequent infections over the last year- ear infections, throat infections, an eye infection, and plain ordinary colds. Other signs, such as bleeding and sensitive gums and a loss of appetite has also be present. Our doctor suspects that his leg pain and frequent headaches are related to low iron as well. A couple of websites with more information on symptoms and treatment include the Mayo Clinic as well as Children's National.
Our course of treatment will be slow and steady. It's much easier to maintain good iron levels than play catch-up, so I've adopted these rules for our family as a whole. To be honest, I've always tended toward anemia, and I know how terrible he really must have been feeling. 20 years ago I had mono, and my iron count was at a 6- he's at a 9 right now. I remember the exhaustion, dizziness, and overwhelming need to sleep.
The biggest change is making sure there are 2 hours on either side of the iron-rich food that are dairy free. We are spacing out his snacks and meals as best as we can to give his body as much time to absorb iron as possible.
Breakfast includes dairy- a glass of milk and yogurt if he wants it, among whatever else he'd like to eat. I certainly don't want to add calcium deficiency to his life!
Morning snack during the school week is a cheese string (dairy). When he's home from school, morning snack is another opportunity for an iron boost: some apple slices (Vitamin C in one of the few fruits he eats) and some iron-rich cereal such as corn bran or plain cheerios.
Lunch during the school week is a cold little homemade hamburger with apple slices and water, or if we have leftover meat from the dinner before that can easily be cubed up and sent to school to be eaten cold, he'll have those. Always apple slices. We aren't joining the milk program at lunch this year so I can keep dairy away from his lunch break.
After school snack is a peanut butter sandwich with apple juice- there is some iron in peanut butter and bread, though not a large amount.
Dinner is usually another iron-full meal. I try to combine heme with non-heme sources with our dinner as well as other sources of vitamin C besides apples- vegetables, usually, though I often add a couple of different fruits to his dinner plate as well- a strawberry, a few blueberries- to try to get his tastebuds into new flavours.
Bedtime snack incorporates dairy as well, if he wants it, usually a glass of milk or some yogurt.
The biggest challenges for me are remembering what time it is we last ate dairy, and getting dinner ready to eat early enough so he doesn't stay up too late to have a snack. A bedtime snack is a requirement for him because he struggles with an over-production of acid. He's really stepped up to the plate, so to speak, and is trying hard to take his medicine and eat enough of his dinner. He's at the right age to understand cause and effect, so he definitely knows how bad he'll keep feeling if we don't get his iron level higher. We're going to get another blood test early in the new year to confirm that we're going in the right direction.
Iron is tricky, because too much too soon is a problem as well. I'm going with the tortoise and the hare: slow and steady wins the race.
It's also made trickier, because he's somewhat picky. Here are some of the common and best sources of iron. The ones he'll eat are bolded, so you know what I'm working with. Here's a couple of websites so you can do your own research: WebMD and Huffington Post.
And that's my story today, friends. Has anemia had an effect on your life or on the way you eat? Let me know in comments here, start a conversation on my facebook page, or please message me privately! I look forward to hearing from you.
Travelling with kids puts a new spin on "hangry".
I know in my last post I discussed why food shouldn't be the "cure all". I still stand by that. However, after a couple of long days of travel with some significant meltdowns I'm more aware of the signs of low blood sugar related tantrums. Experiencing them first hand gives me a new appreciation for teachers who work with these little balls of energy all day, every day.
Some common signs of blood-sugar related "hangriness" include:
Filling up with high glycemic foods (such as the above examples) doesn't keep them happy for long. These foods typically lack fibre, which means they digest quickly and can leave the person feeling worse than before. This is due to an insulin spke that occurs after ingesting foods that are high in refined carbohydrates- white flour and loaded with sugar are the usual suspects.
I'm writing this as much for me as for my readers. We had a long drive here, which means a long drive home. Avoiding similar hangry outbreaks will make a much more pleasant drive.
Some of the ways we can avoid these types of meltdowns begin with common sense. I did pack snacks for the kids between stops, but most of them began and ended with high-gi foods- I know better, but they're so much easier to pack and distribute in the car. I think there is room for easier snacks- let's be realistic about the trials of long car rides- but if we support those higher in refined carb foods with a good variety of healthier choices, the sugar spikes and insulin crashes will be significantly reduced.
My plan for the way back has shifted as I think about it. We'll probably follow the same path we took to get here, which means being on the road for about 7 hours the first day, and 10.5 the second- 9.5 of that is driving time, with a few breaks scattered throughout. We have a plug-in cooler, which we'll load up and store on the seat between the kids if we can. We will stock it with sliced whole-grain cheese and meat and plain old peanut butter and jam sandwiches, sliced apples, cheese strings, baby carrots, snap peas, and yogurt. We'll throw in some nuts and raisins, dry cheerios, and bottled water, too. For the less than stellar choices they can eat a granola bar, crackers, or snack bags of potato chips.
On our way down we stopped at whatever random town we were passing through when we were hungry, which meant we ate at Tim Hortons, Wendys, or McDonalds.
Hopefully the way back is more relaxed and less hangry than the way here! What have your experiences looked like?
Enjoy your weekend, friends.