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My Dad’s Beef Stew Recipe Gets Me Every Time

My dad didn’t cook often when I was growing up, mostly because of his crazy work schedule.  But when he did cook, it was always with love.  There are a couple of things he still makes today and we all eat them up with glee when he does.  Of course, getting him to write down what he does is another story…

Thankfully, I put in a request for a few treasured recipes and am lately making his beef stew on repeat.  It’s probably the cold weather.  I love a good soup in the winter.  But the last two times I’ve made this it just hit the spot.  And the fact that my daughters gobbled it up as I was?  Well, that’s reason enough to make an extra batch for the freezer (like I did this week!)

dad miller beef stew recipe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The funny thing about this recipe is how ridiculously easy it is to pull together.  The “hardest” part is coating the beef pieces in flour and browning them in olive oil for a few minutes.  Talk about not needing lessons from Le Cordon Bleu!

Here’s what you’ll need:

Extra virgin olive oil

Whole wheat flour – enough to cover beef cubes

1-2 bags of mixed frozen vegetables

1 pound of beef stew cubes

1 large can of crushed tomatoes

1 T salt

1 T pepper

1 T basil

1 tsp parsley

1 tsp sage

1 tsp thyme

32 oz low sodium beef broth

Pour olive oil in the bottom of a large pot.  Enough to cover.  In a bowl or bag, place 1/2 to 1C of whole wheat flour and combine with beef cubes, lightly covering each piece.  Add this to olive oil, add all spices and brown meat.

Pour beef  broth into pot, add vegetables and crushed tomato.

Bring to a boil and let sit on low flame for several hours.  Before I give it to my daughters, I cut up the beef into tiny pieces, but leave the rest for my husband and I to enjoy.  Delish!

dad miller beef stew pic

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Quinoa Patties With Dipping Sauce, YUM!

{Written by Sarah}

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We are creatures of habit.  Everyday we wake up at the same time (or earlier if a certain someone climbs into our bed at 5:00AM), take a shower (or not), brush our teeth (always!), change diapers, get the kids dressed, make breakfast, drink coffee, drop the kids off at school, have lunch, take naps, make dinner, take baths, read books, go to bed.  I could probably do this stuff with my eyes closed by now.  In fact, most mornings I do.  As mundane as this daily routine might sound, the kids need it.  Try to remove just one piece of that puzzle and catastrophe may ensue.

Sure, my kids can deal with eating meals at different times of the day if need be and they put up with me dragging them to Target and the grocery store, but there is a laundry list of constants in their lives that they simply won’t budge on.  Certain things just need to be done a certain way or else they feel like their little worlds are crumbling.  To name a few, they each have to take their own placemat out of the drawer for meals.  It’s not acceptable for one to touch the other’s placemat.  No way.  They have to have their “loveys” in certain spots on their beds when they sleep.  They have to sit in certain spots on the couch, but I haven’t gone so far as to draw territory lines on the furniture.  YET.  They can’t, and I repeat CAN’T, skip naps.  They have in the past, and it’s not a good thing.  Meltdown city to the point of me expecting to see their heads spin and pea soup shoot out of their mouths.  They have to put their own socks and shoes on before we walk out of the house.  If I try to help I’ve most likely added another 15 minutes onto our estimated time of departure.  They eat the same thing for lunch everyday – avocado, pita, yogurt, and fruit.  This is obviously partly (or all?) my fault, but they love it.  As I’ve mentioned before, lunch is one of the only meals my middle son will eat, so why mess with a good thing?

We can go through two avocados a day because my kids love them so much.  I can’t be too upset over this because avocados have numerous health benefits, but let’s face it – they don’t grow on trees.  Well, they actually do, but not on a tree in our backyard.  Instead, we pay out the nose for them at the grocery store.  So I decided I’m going to try to mix up the lunch routine a little bit (if you could see me grimace as I typed that sentence) in an attempt to save a few bucks at the grocery store and to add some variety to our lives.  Nothing crazy, and I’ll probably still give them a little bit of avocado, but our avocado consumption is starting to get a little out of hand.  So kids, let me re-introduce you to quinoa patties.  Remember them?  You’ve had them for dinner before.  Fluffy, nutty quinoa with shredded vegetables and parmesan cheese formed into patties and pan fried until golden brown.  Sound good?  Mama thinks so.  So what do you say?  Let’s give our old pal the avocado a break, at least for the day, and think outside the box when it comes to lunch.

Here’s what you’ll need:

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  • 2 cups cooked quinoa
  • 1 carrot, shredded
  • 1 red pepper, shredded
  • 1 shallot, shredded or very finely chopped
  • Handful of spinach, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • ½ cup breadcrumbs (preferably whole grain)
  • ¼ cup parmesan cheese, shredded (again, please shred your own!)
  • Coconut or olive oil for pan-frying

For dipping sauce:

  • ½ cup greek yogurt
  • 3 T basil & oregano rice vinegar (or any other vinegar you like)
  • Pinch flat leaf parsley, chopped
  • Salt & pepper to taste

I prefer to shred my vegetables because I think it helps the patties stay together.  I think diced vegetables would be too large and would just fall out.  You can try either way though.

Shred your vegetables and sauté in some coconut oil for just a few minutes.  You just want to take the edge off the shallot and garlic and soften the carrots and pepper a bit.

Next, add the spinach and sauté for a minute or two until it begins to soften.

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Let the mixture cool, and add to quinoa along with the parmesan cheese and eggs.  Stir to combine, and add breadcrumbs.

You are ready to form your patties.  I used a cookie scoop to measure each patty.  Now this will seem almost like an impossible task when you start because the quinoa will want to stick to nothing but your hands.  My tip of the day: run your hands under the faucet in between each patty and you will have no problem forming them because the quinoa won’t stick.  Problem solved!

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I like to refrigerate them for a few minutes at this point to ensure that they stay together.  Go have a snack, watch some TV, or even clean up the mess you just made in the kitchen.  Or you could make a dipping sauce…

Whisk together yogurt, rice vinegar, and parsley.  Add salt & pepper to taste.

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Side note:  If you haven’t tried seasoned rice vinegar, you are truly missing out.  It’s by far my favorite kind of vinegar.  There are so many different flavors to choose from as well.  Pick some up on your next shopping trip.

After your patties have chilled out in the refrigerator a bit, you are ready to pan-fry your patties.  I had to do mine in two batches.  Heat some coconut oil in a pan, add patties, and fry on each side for 4 to 5 minutes or until golden brown.

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Serve with dipping sauce.

These patties are the perfect size for little hands to dip.  They are crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.  So good, in fact, I would even serve them as finger food if I were entertaining (like I ever do that, but…)

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MEGAN MONDAY: Weary of Dairy? And Then What?

milkWeary of Dairy?  And then What?

Going dairy or gluten free these days seems to be all the rage, especially with babies and children.  Humans are huge consumers of dairy products (and what I mean by dairy is anything made from cow’s milk)… from milk to cheeses to all kinds of products being made from milk protein stabilizers and additives (many times as bases to keep flavors in-tact of certain products).  The problem is that lactose, one of the primary sugars in cow’s milk, and casein, one of the primary proteins in cow’s milk, are both added to a wide variety of foods; lactose is added for flavor while casein is often added for emulsification, texture and protein supplementation.  The attached table (SOURCE: www.whfoods.com) contains a list of some of the foods where casein can be found. As you will note, it is found in a variety of diverse food products. Therefore, the only way to tell for sure whether it is added to a food product is to read the food label.

Processed foods that may contain   casein

Bakery   glazes

Breath   mints

Coffee   whiteners

Fortified   cereals

High-protein   beverage powders

Ice cream

Infant   formulas

Nutrition   bars

Processed   meats

Salad   dressings

Whipped   toppings

 

Interestingly enough, the human race is the only known species on the planet to drink another species’ milk.  Hmmm.  Even more interesting is what was once considered the “perfect food” is now raising many eyebrows in regards to perhaps being the culprit of many allergic responses in children and adults… from rashes to gastrointestinal mayhem, to eczema and recurring cases of strep and ear infections.  www.whfoods.com stated a great summary differentiating allergy/intolerance response versus a dairy sensitivity:

                Dairy allergy

Food allergies are reactions that involve the immune system. Typically reactions to the casein in dairy products will involve a full-fledged immune response, manifesting as specific as a skin rash, or as general as fatigue. What happens during an allergic reaction is that your immune system cells treat the certain “offending” molecules, casein for example, as if it were foreign and dangerous. Some immune system cells will bind to the offending molecule in the food, triggering a cascade of physiological events that will activate other components of the immune system. This would then harness chemical messengers such as histamine to ‘alert’ the body that there is ‘danger’. Inflammation and the creation of immune complexes that disrupt normal physiological functioning may ensue as a result.

Dairy intolerance

Yet, as noted above, an allergy may not be the only culprit if you have a negative reaction to a certain food such as dairy. Unlike allergies, some adverse reactions to food do not involve the immune system. These types of responses are called food intolerances with lactose intolerance being the most common food intolerance in the United States, affecting as many as 30% of adult Americans. Individuals who have lactose intolerance are sensitive to the milk sugar lactose that is found in dairy products. This intolerance may occur because they do not produce enough of the digestive enzyme lactase, which functions to break down lactose in the small intestines. If the lactose does not get digested it makes its way into the large intestine, causing a host of symptoms, including flatulence and/or diarrhea.

Here is an awesome link explaining how the body would “attack” a dairy product in the body if an allergy or sensitivity was present: http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=faq&dbid=30

Some common allergic responses that point a finger at dairy include:

  • Bloating/gas
  • Stomach ache
  • Rash
  • Itchy skin
  • Stuffy nose
  • Excessive mucous production (and dairy causes the body to produce more mucous in the body regardless of allergy/sensitivity, which is why if you or your child is sick, lay off dairy!)
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Eczema
  • Irritability
  • Sluggishness
  • Headache

OK, so what if you suspect you or your children (or any other family member) could suffer from a dairy allergy/sensitivity?  Practical tips – how to test for dairy food reactions

For a two-week period, eliminate the following: (based on READING FOOD LABELS!!!!)

  • casein-containing foods
  • lactose-containing foods
  • all pure dairy products (including      cow’s milk, cow’s milk yogurt, cow’s milk cheese, and cow’s milk ice      cream)
  • processed foods containing milk      solids, casein, sodium caseinate, caseinate, or lactose.

After the two-week period, begin to reintroducing dairy-containing foods into your meal plan. Start with organic low-fat cow’s milk, organic skim cow’s milk, or organic nonfat cow’s milk, and just try about 4 ounces total at two different times during the day.

On the following two days, go back to your dairy-free meal plan, and wait and see if you experience any of the reactions you noticed before you removed dairy (the two day rule). If not, introduce another dairy-containing food that you would like to keep in your meal plan, for example, organic cow’s milk yogurt. Stick with the highest quality and least complicated product when you conduct your test – for example, try 4 ounces of a plain, nonfat organic yogurt rather than a flavored product or a product containing fruit on the bottom. Follow the two-day rule again. If you still experience no problematic reaction, you may want to go on and experiment with a non-dairy food that contains dairy protein, like a soymilk cheese that contains casein.

The process is time-consuming, and it takes a lot of patience! But it is still the best way to decide if dairy is a problem for you or not.

 

Now let’s suspect that there IS a dairy allergy detected for your and/or your child(ren).  Do you hide under a rock and cry realizing that much of the food you love and enjoy (and is available all over the world) needs to be avoided?  Another huge issue is what kind of milk do parents give their children if cow’s milk is not an option?  Nut and seed milks are widely popular now… just check out the “alternative milk” aisle in your store… (yes, they exist…gasp!).  Milks such as rice milk, hemp milk, almond milk, and coconut milk (and now all kinds of combinations of every nut/seed/plant known to man seems to be available).  I, myself, found myself staring at row upon row of seed and nuts milks the other night when I went to Whole Foods.  My son Lucas just turned 1 and he does not fare well with dairy.  I am choosing not to give him cow’s milk as he transitions off of breastmilk and formula, namely because of the horrible gas, diaper rash, and eczema on his facial cheeks he gets whenever he eats any form of cow’s milk.  Instead, I am going to give him an array of hemp, coconut, and almond milks.  These milks are just as nutritious….and they conveniently come in non-refrigerated containers…..but after investigating these choices further, I felt like I was duped….sort of.  These cow’s milk alternatives ARE healthy… but in which form you choose makes all the difference.  Milk in containers contain many additives that are NOT healthy and here is a bit of info you should know about them if you decide to choose these types of milk or currently use them in your home (SOURCE: The Healthy Home Economist):

Organic coconut milk, almond milk and other nut and seed milks are common purchases at the health food store by those with dairy allergies.  Usually, these people are savvy consumers who know enough nutritionally to avoid soy milk with its endocrine disrupting isoflavones and gastric inflaming phytates.  Rice milk is also steadily declining in popularity as it is really not much more than a glass of sugar water nutritionally speaking.

Organic, unsweetened coconut milk and almond milk in cartons seem like great alternatives at first blush, but are they really as “healthy” as people believe?  Taking a look at the labels can be shocking: most brands contain the same dangerous additives that should be avoided for foods consumed on a daily basis. 

  • Vitamin A Palmitate is added, the synthetic version of Vitamin A.  Many people feel you should avoid synthetic versions of Vitamin A.  Most multi-vitamins contains some form of synthetic A, including the so called “whole foods” multis.
    • Synthetic vitamins are the chemical mirror images of the real, natural versions.  They can cause imbalances over time   Even small amounts of the synthetic fat soluble vitamins like Vitamin A can prove toxic and should be strictly avoided!
    • The Organic Consumers Association warns that isolated vitamins such as those produced synthetically cannot be recognized or metabolized by the body in the same way as the natural version.
    • Large doses of natural vitamin A are well tolerated by the body as established by researchers decades ago, however.  Traditional diets contain 10 times or more of the RDA of this nutrient with no ill effect.  However, synthetic vitamin A is associated with birth defects and bone fractures.

 

 

  • Another additive in these organic cartons of alternative milks is Vitamin D2.  Vitamin D2 is a form of the wonder vitamin that you should take great pains to avoid.
    • In all known cases of Vitamin D toxicity where the dose was intentional, Vitamin D2 was the culprit.  By comparison, Vitamin D3 is much less toxic and requires an enormous or even an accidental dose to produce any toxic effect.
    • Vitamin D2 is manufactured industrially by irradiating yeast.   It is dangerous for D2 to be added to any food product particularly if this product would be given to children, where toxicity symptoms would appear at much lower dosages.

 

You probably feel like stabbing daggers in my eyes right now for enlightening you with this info if you were relying on alternative milks for you and/or your children.  So now what!??!  What DO you use if cow’s milk and now these awesome milk alternatives aren’t all that “healthy”?  No fear.

 

Healthy Alternatives to Coconut Milk and Almond Milk in Cartons

 

Nut and seed milks should be healthy and they can be if they are produced at home without these dangerous additives.  Here is another awesome post by The Healthy Home Economist describing in detail on how to easily make these healthful beverages yourself:  http://www.thehealthyhomeeconomist.com/the-three-best-substitutes-for-a-child-allergic-to-milk/.

 

Another viable solution would be to even use  organic coconut milk in BPA free cans http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B001HTJ2BQ?ie=UTF8&tag=theheahomec0a20&linkCode=xm2&camp=1789&creativeASIN=B001HTJ2BQ .

 

While I may not be a favorite to the dairy industry after writing this article, I hope it at least shed some useful info for you in deciding whether or not dairy is best for your family, and if you need an alternative, which ones are the healthiest ones to choose.

 

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Make Burritos With Your Kids This Weekend!

{By Guest Blogger, Sarah}

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Before my husband and I had children and before we made the move from Brooklyn to the suburbs, Sundays were about brunching, nursing a headache from that extra cocktail the night before, reading the newspaper, napping, and doing whatever the heck we wanted to do.  Oh, the lives of twenty-somethings.  Now we are well into our thirties, and these days Sundays are about pancake breakfasts, wiping snotty noses, changing dirty diapers, and trying to finish a cup of coffee before it gets cold.  I can microwave a cup of coffee at least three times before finishing it because kids have the strange ability to distract you from things.  Important things like caffeine.  The nerve!

By the time Sunday comes around I am just plain tired from the week.  “How could a stay-at-home mom be tired?” you ask.  Taking care of kids full-time is more mentally exhausting (remember my whole brain needs a break thing last week?) than physically exhausting.  I can run laps around the block with the kids, I can do pull-ups on the monkey bars, and I can practice yoga poses along side them, but the mental exhaustion? WHOA.  By the time Sunday comes around I have explained to my oldest son that 15 is FIFteen, not FIVEteen (I know, Jackson, it would make more sense if it was, but…) approximately 202 times, I have sung my kids’ favorite songs approximately 357 times, I have broken up 439 fights, I have explained the importance of sharing approximately 9,523 times, and I have said “no” approximately 5,895, 201 times.  TIRED.  I’m constantly, teaching, playing, singing, dancing, picking up, cooking, changing diapers, and the 2,689,214 other things moms do, so it’s easy to get caught up in the monotony of daily life and forget about the fun.  KIDS ARE FUN!  That’s why we have them, right?  The weekend is when I get to have more fun with the kids because my husband is home more, so a fun activity is in order to snap me back into the joys of parenting.

Enter the burrito.  We need to eat dinner, obviously, so what’s more fun than recruiting the kids to help make burritos?  I’ll tell you what – eating said burritos.  I could eat a burrito for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day for the rest of my life and be perfectly happy, although my waistline would beg to differ.  By making burritos at home I’m able to control what goes in them, so the kids and I can create healthier versions of take-out burritos that are loaded with cheese, sour cream, and that are the size of your forearm.  Plus, the kids love to help in the kitchen and it gets them excited about eating what they created.  Fun!

Am I the only one that finds food-themed nights fun?  I also find organizing to be fun, so maybe we shouldn’t party together.  Although we may not agree on what’s fun, I bet we will agree on how yummy these burritos are.  I bet your kids will too.

Here is what you will need:

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  • 2 cans of beans (I like to use 1 can of black beans and 1 can of pink beans)
  • 1 cup of water
  • Brown rice
  • I bag of frozen sweet corn
  • I can of tomatoes (mine are a Mexican version with cilantro and lime)
  • Tomato paste
  • 1 tsp. Cumin (not pictured above)
  • Onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • Jalapeno (ribs and seeds removed), chopped
  • Bunch of scallions (white and light green parts)
  • Greek yogurt
  • Limes
  • Cheese (I like to use Monterey Jack)
  • Tortillas (not pictured above)
  • Salsa and avocado for serving

Note:  I mentioned before that my family likes spice.  If yours does not, simply omit the jalapeno and use plain tomatoes.  Moving on…

First things first.  Make your rice and rinse your beans.

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Next, sauté the onion, garlic, and jalapeno until soft.

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Add cumin and a few squirts of tomato paste and sauté until fragrant.

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Add tomatoes and scrape up any bits on the bottom of the pan.  Next, add your beans and water.  It will look a little runny at this point, but it will thicken up as it simmers for 5 to 10 minutes.

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Add the corn and scallions.  See, nice and thick.

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Time to make the yogurt sauce.  Add the juice of 2 limes to a few spoonfuls of yogurt.  Add salt to taste.

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Do yourself a favor and shred your own cheese.  It’s really easy to do in the food processor if you don’t feel like doing it by hand.

Next, set up your assembly line and enlist the help of your burrito builders.

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Build your burritos!  Layer rice, filling, and cheese on a tortilla and top with a drizzle of the yogurt lime sauce.

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Now roll!  Look at those little hands…  Fun!

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This recipe made 10 burritos with a little rice and filling leftover.  These freeze really well, so wrap the uneaten burritos individually and put them in the freezer.  They can be reheated in the oven at 450 degrees for about 15 minutes.

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Best part?  Serve with some salsa and avocado.  EAT!

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Don’t Give Kids (Gummy) Fruit Snacks And Tell Them That They Are Healthy

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A few weeks ago, I was at a three year old’s birthday party and one of the mom’s began talking about her visit to the dentist with her 3yr old and how upset she was that the dentist had found two cavities.  She stressed how obsessive they were about brushing her teeth, often three times a day, even flossing, and that the culprit was Tom’s of Maine toothpaste.  She went on to say that you need to buy a “stronger” toothpaste, like Crest or Colgate, that Tom’s just didn’t work.  My kids use Tom’s (with flouride) and they have great teeth, so I suspected it had something to do with the toddler’s diet.  Another parent probed a bit and asked if she eats lots of sweets — the mom said “No, she doesn’t even like fruit, the only sweet I give her are a few pouches of those healthy gummy fruit snacks everyday”. BINGO! Gummy fruit + tooth enamel = trouble.  I am not anti Gummy Fruit Snacks, they are certainly better than a Jolly Rancher (though I still love that artificial watermelon flavor, yum), but they are definitely not a replacement for fruit or any other nutritious food.  The names are misleading: “Organic Fruit Snacks” or “100% Real Fruit Snacks”; and those companies have very clever marketing tactics such as “contains same amount of vitamin C and 5 oranges” or “made from a 1,000,000 apples” etc.  And as much as kids would love to believe that they can eat a pack of gummy fruit and skip the five oranges, we, as parents, should not be endorsing that.

A recent Fooducate post makes an excellent point, “Want to give your kids candy?  I’m fine with that, give them candy. Don’t give your kids candy and tell them that it’s healthy. Or that’s it’s fruit”.  I couldn’t agree more.  Sweet treats are fine in moderation.  We should not expect our kids to live on lentils and kale alone, but don’t use anything as a replacement for fruit or any other whole food.   If they hate real fruit, try dried fruit, fruit purees mixed with yogurt or oatmeal, frozen fruit in a smoothie, freeze pureed fruit in ice pop mold.  Kids need the fiber and phytonutrients from fruit. Gummy/Fake fruit snacks usually have less than half a gram of fiber (versus several grams for a serving of fruit) and no phytonutrients.   The concentrated fruit juice congealed into a jelly like candy is hardly enough to tick the Five A Day box.  I think its very important that kids to learn to make good choices about food, and we (parents) need to keep reminding them of those good choices; and maybe the 150th time you present them with an apple with peanut butter for a snack, they will actually say yes!

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USDA Issues “Competitive” Food Rules – Your Chance to Be Heard

lunchtrayWEBRESw_copyrightRecently, the USDA issued a long-awaited list of “competitive” food rules.  These are rules aimed at the food that is available in schools outside of the federally subsidized school meals.  Vending machine and school store food, for example.

The highlights of these rules are outlined neatly by Bettina Elias Segal, with the Huffington Post.  She also has blog called The Lunch Tray that covers all of these issues regularly.  The full article is available here.  But a summary of the main highlights are:

Under the new rules, foods sold at school outside the meal program must:

– Be either a fruit, a vegetable, a dairy product, a protein food, a “whole-grain rich” grain product (50 percent or more whole grains by weight or have whole grains as the first ingredient), or a combination food that contains at least 1⁄4 cup of fruit or vegetable; OR

– Contain 10 percent of the Daily Value (DV) of naturally occurring calcium, potassium, vitamin D, or fiber.

The hype surrounds the 60 day “questions and comments” period, where people just like you and me can leave comments on this proposal.  HERE.  I wonder how many comments “big food” companies will make?

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Megan Monday: Eating Heart Healthy (Part II)

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* EAT HEART HEALTHY  – I’m saving the best for last.  This is the most important part of this article in terms of keeping your heart healthy, and adapting ANY of these eating habits will bring you one step closer to heart health.  Some tips from the Mayo Clinic (with some minor dietary tweaking from me):

Choose low-fat protein sources

Lean meat, poultry and fish, low-fat dairy products, and egg whites are some of your best sources of protein. But be careful to choose lower fat options, such as skim milk rather than whole milk and skinless chicken breasts rather than fried chicken patties.

Fish is another good alternative to high-fat meats. And certain types of fish are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which can lower blood fats called triglycerides. You’ll find the highest amounts of omega-3 fatty acids in cold-water fish, such as salmon, mackerel and herring. Other sources are flaxseed, walnuts, chia seeds and hemp seeds.

Legumes — beans, peas and lentils — also are good sources of protein and contain less fat and no cholesterol, making them good substitutes for meat. Substituting plant protein for animal protein — for example, a bean burger for a hamburger — will reduce your fat and cholesterol intake.

Proteins to choose Proteins to limit or avoid
  • Low-fat dairy products such as skim or low-fat (1%) milk, yogurt and cheese
  • Egg whites
  • Fish, especially fatty, cold-water fish, such as salmon
  • Skinless poultry
  • Legumes
  • Lean ground meats
  • Full-fat milk and other dairy products
  • Organ meats, such as liver
  • Egg yolks
  • Fatty and marbled meats
  • Spareribs
  • Cold cuts
  • Hot dogs and sausages
  • Bacon
  • Fried or breaded meats

Reduce the sodium in your food

Eating a lot of sodium can contribute to high blood pressure, a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Reducing sodium is an important part of a heart-healthy diet. The Department of Agriculture recommends:

  • Healthy adults have no more than 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium a day (about a teaspoon) MEGAN RECOMMENDS: 1,500 mg or less is optimal.  The more you cut down on salt, the less you will crave the taste.
  • People age 51 or older, African-Americans, and people who have been diagnosed with high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease have no more than 1,500 mg of sodium a day.

Although reducing the amount of salt you add to food at the table or while cooking is a good first step, much of the salt you eat comes from canned or processed foods, such as soups and frozen dinners. Eating fresh foods and making your own soups and stews can reduce the amount of salt you eat. If you have to eat prepared meals at times, look for ones with reduced sodium. Be wary of foods that claim to be lower in sodium because they are seasoned with sea salt instead of regular table salt — sea salt has the same nutritional value as regular salt.

Another way to reduce the amount of salt you eat is to choose your condiments carefully. Many condiments are available in reduced-sodium versions, and salt substitutes can add flavor to your food with less sodium.

Low-salt items to choose High-salt items to avoid
  • Herbs and spices
  • Reduced-salt prepared meals
  • Reduced-salt versions of condiments, such as reduced-salt soy sauce and reduced-salt ketchup
  • Table salt
  • Canned soups and prepared foods, such as frozen dinners
  • Tomato juice
  • Soy sauce

Control Portion Size:

How much you eat is just as important as what you eat. Overloading your plate, taking seconds and eating until you feel stuffed can lead to eating more calories, fat and cholesterol than you should. Portions served in restaurants are often more than anyone needs. Keep track of the number of servings you eat — and use proper serving sizes — to help control your portions. Eating more of low-calorie, nutrient-rich foods, such as fruits and vegetables, and less of high-calorie, high-sodium foods, such as refined, processed or fast foods, can shape up your diet as well as your heart and waistline.

A serving size is a specific amount of food, defined by common measurements such as cups, ounces or pieces. For example, one serving of pasta is 1/2 cup, or about the size of a hockey puck. A serving of meat, fish or chicken is 2 to 3 ounces, or about the size and thickness of a deck of cards. Judging serving size is a learned skill. You may need to use measuring cups and spoons or a scale until you’re comfortable with your judgment.

– Eat more vegetables and fruits (Megan says….most of your diet should be vegetables and fruits)

Vegetables and fruits are good sources of vitamins and minerals. Vegetables and fruits are also low in calories and rich in dietary fiber. Vegetables and fruits contain substances found in plants that may help prevent cardiovascular disease. Eating more fruits and vegetables may help you eat less high-fat foods, such as meat, cheese and snack foods.

Featuring vegetables and fruits in your diet can be easy. Keep vegetables washed and cut in your refrigerator for quick snacks. Keep fruit in a bowl in your kitchen so that you’ll remember to eat it. Choose recipes that have vegetables or fruits as the main ingredient, such as vegetable stir-fry or fresh fruit mixed into salads.

Fruits and vegetables to choose Fruits and vegetables to avoid
  • Fresh or frozen vegetables and fruits
  • (The Mayo Clinic had canned fruits and vegetables on here, but I took them off…)
  • Vegetables with creamy sauces
  • Fried or breaded vegetables
  • Canned fruit packed in heavy syrup
  • Frozen fruit with sugar added

– Select whole grains

Whole grains are good sources of fiber and other nutrients that play a role in regulating blood pressure and heart health. You can increase the amount of whole grains in a heart-healthy diet by making simple substitutions for refined grain products. Or be adventuresome and try a new whole grain, such as quinoa or barley.

Another easy way to add whole grains to your diet is ground flaxseed or chia seeds. Flaxseeds and chia seeds are small brown seeds that are high in fiber and omega-3 fatty acids, which can lower your total blood cholesterol. You can grind the seeds in a coffee grinder or food processor and stir a teaspoon of them into yogurt, applesauce or hot cereal.

Grain products to choose Grain products to limit or avoid
  • Whole-wheat flour
  • Whole-grain bread, preferably 100% whole-wheat bread or 100% whole-grain bread
  • High-fiber cereal with 5 g or more of fiber in a serving
  • Whole grains such as barley and buckwheat (kasha)
  • Whole-grain pasta
  • Oatmeal (steel-cut or regular)
  • Ground flaxseed
  • Chia seeds
  • Hemp seeds
  • Egg noodles
  • Buttered popcorn
  • High-fat snack crackers
  • White, refined flour
  • White bread
  • Muffins
  • Frozen waffles
  • Corn bread
  • Doughnuts
  • Biscuits
  • Quick breads
  • Granola bars
  • Cakes
  • Pies

– Limit unhealthy fats and cholesterol

Limiting how much saturated and trans fats you eat is an important step to reduce your blood cholesterol and lower your risk of coronary artery disease. A high blood cholesterol level can lead to a buildup of plaques in your arteries, called atherosclerosis, which can increase your risk of heart attack and stroke.

The American Heart Association offers these guidelines for how much fat and cholesterol to include in a heart-healthy diet:

Type of fat Recommendation
Saturated fat Less than 7% of your total daily calories, or less than 14 g of saturated fat if you follow a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet

(Megan’s side-note: I have saturated fat from coconut oil as an exception due to the health benefits of coconut oil… and the saturated fat from coconut oil is processed differently in the body than other saturated fats)

Trans fat Less than 1% of your total daily calories, or less than 2 g of trans fat if you follow a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet
Cholesterol Less than 300 mg a day for healthy adults; less than 200 mg a day for adults with high levels of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol or those who are taking cholesterol-lowering medication

The best way to reduce saturated and trans fats in your diet is to ELIMIATE margarine and shortening and limit butter (at least it’s a real food).  You can also reduce the amount of saturated fat in your diet by trimming fat off your meat or choosing lean meats with less than 10 percent fat. (MEGAN’S ADVICE: limit red meat consumption as much as possible and try to eat more vegetables than meat in a meal).

You can also use low-fat substitutions when possible for a heart-healthy diet. For example, top your baked potato with salsa or low-fat yogurt rather than butter, or use low-sugar fruit spread on your toast instead of butter.

When you do use fats, choose monounsaturated fats, such as olive oil.  Polyunsaturated fats, found in nuts and seeds, also are good choices for a heart-healthy diet. When used in place of saturated fat, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats may help lower your total blood cholesterol. But moderation is essential. All types of fat are high in calories.

Fats to choose Fats to limit
  • Olive oil
  • Grapeseed oil
  • (MEGAN NOTE:  OMG… Mayo Clinic actually had MARGARINE on here….of course I wiped that off ASAP…[still gasping]).
  • Butter
  • Lard
  • Bacon fat
  • Gravy
  • Cream sauce
  • Nondairy creamers
  • ANY margarine and shortening
  • Cocoa butter, found in chocolate
  • Palm, cottonseed and palm-kernel oils

 

And here’s a list of some heart-healthy food superstars (and all of the fancy health terms described that accompany them, courtesy of WebMD):

Phytoestrogensare substances in plants (like flaxseed) that have a weak estrogen-like action in the body. Studies suggest that flaxseed lowers the risk of blood clots, stroke, and cardiac arrhythmias. It may also help lower total and LDL “bad” cholesterol and triglycerides, and even blood pressure.

Phytosterols are plant sterols that chemically resemble cholesterol — and seem to reduce blood cholesterol. All nuts and seeds, including wheat germ, have phytosterols.

Carotenoids are heart-protective antioxidants in many colorful fruits and veggies. Alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, lutein, and lycopene are carotenoids.

Polyphenols are another set of antioxidants that protect blood vessels, lower blood pressure, reduce LDL “bad” cholesterol. Flavonoid polyphenols include catechins, flavonones, flavonols, isoflavones, reservatrol, and anthocyanins. Non-flavonoidpolyphenols include ellagic acid (found in all types of berries).

Omega-3 fatty acids (found in fatty fish like salmon) and alpha-linolenic fatty acids (found in plant foods like walnuts) help boost the immune system, reduce blood clots, and protect against heart attacks. They also increase good HDL levels, lower triglyceride levels, protect arteries from plaque buildup, are anti-inflammatories, and lower blood pressure.

B-complex vitamins — like Vitamin B-12 (folate) and vitamin B-6 — protect against blood clots and atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries. Niacin (vitamin B-3) helps increase HDL “good” cholesterol.

Vitamins C and E are antioxidants that protect cells from free radical damage.  Magnesium, potassium, and calcium help lower blood pressure. Fiber-rich foods help lower cholesterol levels.

– Blueberries: Beta-carotene and lutein (carotenoids); anthocyanin (a flavonoid); ellagic acid (a polyphenol); vitamin C; folate; calcium, magnesium; potassium; fiber.

Cranberries, strawberries, raspberries are potent, too — for trail mixes, muffins, salads!

– Carrots: Alpha-carotene (a carotenoid); fiber.  Baby carrots are sweet for lunch. Sneak shredded carrots into spaghetti sauce or muffin batter.

– Spinach: Lutein (a carotenoid); B-complex vitamins; folate; magnesium; potassium; calcium; fiber.  Pick spinach (not lettuce) for nutrient-packed salads and sandwiches.

– Broccoli: Beta-carotene (a carotenoid); Vitamins C and E; potassium; folate; calcium; fiber.  Chop fresh broccoli into store-bought soup. For a veggie dip, try hummus (chickpeas).

– Sweet potato: Beta-carotene (a carotenoid); vitamins A, C, E; fiber.  Bake ahead of time for lunch. Eat au naturale, or with pineapple bits.

– Red bell peppers: Beta-carotene and lutein (carotenoids); B-complex vitamins; folate; potassium; fiber.  Rub with olive oil, and grill or oven-roast until tender. Delicious in wraps, salads, sandwiches.

– Asparagus: Beta-carotene and lutein (carotenoids); B-complex vitamins; folate; fiber.  Grill or steam slightly, then dress with olive oil and lemon. It’s a pretty side dish.

– Oranges: Beta-cryptoxanthin, beta- and alpha-carotene, lutein (carotenoids) and flavones (flavonoids); vitamin C; potassium; folate; fiber.

– Tomatoes: Beta- and alpha-carotene, lycopene, lutein (carotenoids); vitamin C; potassium; folate; fiber.  For a flavor twist, try oil-packed tomatoes in sandwiches, salads, pastas, pizzas.

– Acorn squash: Beta-carotene and lutein (carotenoids); B-complex and C vitamins; folate; calcium; magnesium; potassium; fiber.  Baked squash is comfort food on a chilly day. Serve with sauteed spinach, pine nuts, raisins.

– Cantaloupe: Alpha- and beta-carotene and lutein (carotenoids); B-complex and C vitamins; folate; potassium; fiber.  A fragrant ripe cantaloupe is perfect for breakfast, lunch, potluck dinners. Simply cut and enjoy!

– Papaya: Beta-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, lutein (carotenoids); Vitamins C and E; folate; calcium; magnesium; potassium.  Serve papaya salsa with salmon: Mix papaya, pineapple, scallions, garlic, fresh lime juice, salt and black pepper.

– Salmon:  Omega-3 fatty acids.  Grill salmon with a yummy rub or marinade. Save a chunk to chop for a pasta or salad later on.

– Flaxseed (ground):  Omega-3 fatty acids; fiber, phytoestrogens.  Ground flaxseed hides easily in all sorts of foods — yogurt parfaits, morning cereal, homemade muffins, or cookies.

– Oatmeal:  Omega-3 fatty acids; magnesium; potassium; folate; niacin; calcium; soluble fiber.  Top hot oatmeal with fresh berries. Oatmeal-and-raisin cookies are a hearty treat.

– Black or Kidney Beans:  B-complex vitamins; niacin; folate; magnesium; omega-3 fatty acids; calcium; soluble fiber.  Give soup or salad a nutrient boost — stir in some beans.

– Almonds:  Plant omega-3 fatty acids; vitamin E; magnesium; fiber; heart-favorable mono- and polyunsaturated fats; phytosterols.  Mix a few almonds (and berries) into low-fat yogurt, trail mix, or fruit salads.

– Walnuts:  Plant omega-3 fatty acids; vitamin E; magnesium; folate; fiber; heart-favorable mono- and polyunsaturated fats; phytosterols.  Walnuts add flavorful crunch to salads, pastas, cookies, muffins, even pancakes.

chia seeds: packed with Omega-3s, fiber, protein, and minerals.

spirulina and chlorella: these are supplements of green-algae superfoods that you can take to add super anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, protein, and blood-cleansing goodness to your life.  Some people like adding spirulina powder to smoothies, shakes, or raw cookie/dessert recipes.  If the taste is too drastic for you, Hawaiian Pacifica brand or Trader Joe’s makes a super easy tablet to swallow with your vitamins to get this added benefit.  Kids can take it, too!

turmeric: this is a spice native to India that has been used for centuries for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.  It’s considered a superfood that millions revere and add to their cooking daily.  You can add this spice as cumin, but I personally take a daily capsule of concentrated curcumin/turmeric powder to help keep inflammation down.

OMEGA-3 supplements: even if you eat fish, I highly recommend people to take a daily fish oil supplement, including children.  There are so many products out there…but I caution to use a high-quality brand to ensure you are getting ultra-purified fish oil to help prevent mercury and toxin poisoning from farmed fish or fish caught in polluted waters.  My favorite brand is Nordic Naturals, but any brand that ensures 3rd party testing and a seal from USP testing is usually safe.  I take over 3000mg of fish oil supplements a day to boost heart (and overall) health.

Vitamin D3: be sure to take a supplement to help keep your heart healthy.  Most Americans are deficient in Vitamin D, and although sunlight exposure is the best way to obtain Vitamin D3, it’s hard for many people who live in colder climates or work indoors.  15 minutes a day of sun exposure sans-sunscreen will give you 10,000IU of the vitamin.  Not only will it help boost heart health, but it cuts back on inflammation and it boost immunity and bone health.  Although the FDA says 400IUs a day is the recommended dose, researchers and doctors are now realizing that doses upwards around 5000 IU a day is optimal…and safe.  Be sure to take with fat, as it is a fat-soluble vitamin.

While there was a ton of information shared here, hopefully some of it will be useful in adopting some healthy DAILY heart-healthy habits.  Starting your children off as early as possible understanding how important it is to care for our heart (and bodies) will set them up for a lifetime of healthy habits that will be second-nature to them rather than a hassle when adults (and when it could be too late).

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My Favorite Easy To Make Desserts

While we don’t eat dessert every day, my three year olds are asking for it more often, and though I used to get away with just serving some fresh fruit, I now get the death stare when I try to pass fruit off as a “yummy” dessert.  They’ve wised up now.  They know the game.  I do have some ready made “go-to’s” like Granola Bites (of course) and Pro Bugs Frozen Kefir Pops, but I have been trying to make some homemade desserts where I can control the sugar and nutrition.  Here are a few healthy ones that I have tried.  They are all quick and easy to make, and all of them are absolutely delicious, for kids and adults!

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1. Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana Bites – These are OUT OF THIS WORLD!  When I saw this recipe, I literally made it the same day and we ate them all, the same day.  I used dark chocolate and added chia seeds to the peanut butter mixture.  If you have a nut allergy, use sun flower butter. Thank you Yummy Mummy for sharing this amazing recipe!

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2. Chocolate Avocado Pudding – I know, I know, it’s a tough one to imagine.  But trust me when I tell you that no one will even suspect the avocado! Try it with berries on top, or some homemade whip cream!  Delicious.  I followed this recipe and used agave as a sweetner.

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3. Stove Top Apple Crisp – A super easy dessert that you can make in a few minutes, I made it with apples and pears, sauteed them in coconut oil, and topped with a small scoop of vanilla ice cream.  We all loved it, check out the recipe.

What are some of your favorite, easy desserts?

 

 

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I Don’t Always Want to Play in the Snow With My Kids

snow

There.  I said it.  Don’t get me wrong.  I actually love winter.  I love the dropping temps, the first second and 14th snowfall.  I even love shoveling snow (ok, maybe not at 6am…).  But sometimes I just don’t have it in me for the battle of getting my 3-year-old monkeys bundled up and out the door for a chance to jump and throw and make a frosty out of the chilly manna from heaven.

Last week, we got 10 inches of snow.  My husband gets as excited about snow now as he did as a kid.  So, home early from work, he stole the last moments of daylight to get the girls bundled up for a snowy adventure.  There were screams of joy, there was jumping, there was even a song.  Then, it was time to get snow gear on.  When asked if I wanted to join them, I said, “I’ll go out tomorrow, I need to finish some work and make dinner.”  Darn.  What I was really thinking was, “It’s Friday at 4pm.  You are home.  I am free.  The last thing on Earth I want to attempt right now is getting 14 layers of clothing on my adorable, over-excited, squirmy children.  God speed.

I finished some work, I started dinner, I even threw in some laundry.  And. They. Still. Weren’t. Dressed.  Thirty minutes later.  Yes, THIRTY!  They were out the door.  By that point, my husband’s snow high had melted and he was on the brink of waging a full on snow ball fight.  Take no prisoners, little ladies.  I giggled as quietly as possible as I told them to “have fun.”

Sauntering back to the kitchen with my “I-told-you-so” grin, I glanced out the window seconds later and they were already having a blast.  A real, honest-to-goodness good time.  As if the pain of getting ready to get out were over.  I was, I’ll admit, a little jealous.  But I was enjoying my quiet too much to fall into the trap of family bonding.

So, the next morning, when we awoke to a lawn and neighborhood quietly tucked in to 10 beautiful inches, I took several deep breaths and looked forward to our first family sledding adventure.  Yes, it took forever (not 30 minutes, my darling husband…what was he DOING?!) and yes, we were all hot before we had to stuff ourselves into the car to find a hill in our new town.  But the moment we got out of the car and started falling on purpose, WITH purpose into the icy snow, we were laughing and laughing so hard I forgot all about how we got there.  In the end, we each took a successful few runs down the hill, threw some snowballs, made a Frosty, and enjoyed some steamy hot chocolate when we got home.  I might not always want to play in the snow with my children, but when I do, I never regret it.

For some other fun, family snow ideas, check out this list from DisneyFamily.com.

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Sarah’s “Kid Friendly” Crockpot Chicken Curry

{Written by guest blogger, Sarah}

I’m in a cooking rut, which I think has something to do with my cabin fever.  I love winter during the holiday season, but after the last string of lights comes down I’m all about spring, baby.  It’s mid-February and I’m over the 25 minutes it takes me to bundle up the kids and get them out the door.  I’m over wiping up the puddles of melting snow dragged in from outside that pool on the kitchen floor.  I’m over soup and meat that has been braising for hours.  Actually, I take that back.  I’m not over them, just a little tired of them.  I’m ready for light dinners, grilling, warm weather, and dining al fresco.

My cooking rut probably also has something to do with the fact that if I’m not grocery shopping, cooking a meal, or cleaning up after a meal, then I’m most likely thinking about what our next meal will be.  Food is always on my brain, and sometimes my brain needs a break.  That’s also my excuse for watching such quality reality shows after I put the boys to bed at night.  Kids want pancakes for dinner tonight?  Sweet!  Mama didn’t feel like cooking a big meal anyway.  The Real Housewives of (insert any city here) is on TV tonight?  Double sweet!  As much as my brain would like to hibernate for the rest of the winter and not be bothered until the farmer’s markets open, my kids still need to eat.  I can still watch crappy reality TV on DVR though.

It’s necessary for me to have a few “old faithful” dishes to pull out when I’m in the middle of a cooking rut.  These are dishes that aren’t time consuming, don’t require a lot of ingredients, and everyone enjoys (minus one, of course).  My version of chicken curry fits the bill.  It’s a little more involved than making pancakes, but not much, so my brain still gets a catnap.  I usually make this dish on the stove, but one of my sons had a doctor appointment this afternoon (um, at 1:30 during prime nap time), so I decided to make it in the crockpot so that I wouldn’t have to worry about dinner after we got home.  I know a crockpot may not seem very gourmet, but I consider it a necessity when you have kids.  Some days are so jam packed with running errands, doctor appointments, school drop offs/pick ups, and me playing referee that I don’t have the time or the energy to spend an hour cooking dinner.  Plus, cooking anything in a crockpot makes your house smell amazing.  Hands-off cooking, the smell of curry when I open the door, and a meal everyone will happily devour?  That’s a win in my book.

Now I know this it not a traditional curry.  It’s a kid-friendly curry.  If I were making this dish for myself I would probably kick up the spice, but since I’m cooking for a 10 month old as well I cut back just a tad.  I have a feeling he would probably eat it even if I didn’t cut back on the spice though.  I once served him plain chicken and sweet potato and he looked at me like I was crazy.  “You expect me to eat THAT?” My baby is the opposite of Silas in terms of his eating habits, although we all know that could change tomorrow.  I’m enjoying it in the meantime…

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Here is what you will need:

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  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 sweet potato, diced
  • 1 lb. chicken, cubed
  • 26 oz. chopped tomatoes
  • 14 oz. coconut milk
  • 1 to 2 T curry powder, depending on your family’s taste and your curry powder
  • Pinch cinnamon
  • ½ cup frozen sweet peas
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • Greek yogurt for topping

Combine everything in the crockpot and cook on low heat for 6 hours.  Add frozen peas to crockpot a few minutes before serving.  Serve over rice, quinoa, cous cous, etc.  Top with greek yogurt, which helps cool it down a bit in the event you add a tad too much curry powder.  Not that I’ve ever done that or anything.

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How about you?  What are some of your “old faithful” dishes?  Any suggestions that will help drag me out of my winter cooking rut?

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