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Why I Know That Loving My Husband is Good For My Kids

I tell my daughters I love them about 14 times a day.  They reciprocate half the time and ask for something (unrelated) the rest.  If they don’t spontaneously hug me and I try to go in for my own they will often give me a drive by hug and requisite cheek before rushing off to their next task.  I wait for and savor snuggle sessions in front of a book or TV show.  I know that even those might not last forever.

None of this phases me.

For as tiring and mind numbing child rearing can be, with it’s “sit stills, don’t put that in your mouth, leave your sister alone, why can’t you play nice together, go wash your hands, please don’t touch that, sit still, sit down, stay in your chair, be careful, you can do it, try again, time to clean up, help me please, bed time, come back here, get dressed, no, actually brush your teeth, be kind, make good choices, hold on, one second, I’m not an octopus, no whining, slow down, ” it is also full of the greatest, most rewarding feelings I’ve ever felt.  Untethered, sloppy, wholehearted, amazing.

Perhaps that’s why I look forward to and enjoy celebrating Valentine’s Day with my family.  It’s more of a day of family love than a chance for my husband and I to escape the madness (though, trust me, we do that too!  Regularly.).  This year, I’m doing something based on a wonderful idea I saw at Decorating by Day, where the blogger wrote things she loved about her kids and posted them on hearts that she taped to their door every morning beginning February 1st and ending with Valentine’s Day.

This is a very easy, no frills idea that I know will make me feel as good about my kids as it makes them feel about themselves.  I’m also planning to fill up my own bedroom door for my husband.  It doesn’t take long when we are “having a loud discussion” for our daughters to be right at our side, wondering why we aren’t apologizing or why we are upset.  Just as those moments make them sad or scared or nervous, I see their faces when we hug or kiss or hold hands and they light up.  In addition to showing them how much I love their daddy, I also show him, which is where all this family love started in the first place.  And in the rush of the every day, we all want to be seen and heard and loved.  Even married people who say things like, “oh, we’re still celebrating that?” when asked about this year’s Valentine’s Day plans.  (Yes, that’s what my husband said to me and we had a ridiculously good laugh).

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Slow Cooker Chicken Fajitas

chicken fajitasI tend not to discriminate against my slow cooker in warm months but I do love to spend some extra time with it on my counter on colder days. And boy, are these colder days! Perhaps I should enter myself in the slow cooker vortex?

In any case, I recently tried a slow cooker recipe from Food Family Finds that I love and tweaked a bit to avoid the seasoning packet and swap our chicken breasts for thighs, which are so much for flavorful and not that much more caloric (a common reason so many people devour chicken breasts).  Just a little cleaner and still very easy.  Here’s what I did:

Slow Cooker Chicken Fajitas

INGREDIENTS

1/4 C butter

2 C green peppers, sliced

2 C yellow onions, sliced

5-6 chicken thighs

1 T cumin

1/2 tsp chili powder

1 tsp paprika

1 tsp garlic salt

1/2 C mild salsa (so the kiddos will eat it!)

INSTRUCTIONS

1. Turn on slow cooker to low

2. Add butter, peppers, onions and chicken – in that order

3. Sprinkle seasoning and add salsa

4. Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours

5. Shred chicken and serve in tortilla with plain greek yogurt, and shredded cheese

If you’d like to print this out, click the title of this blog post and then “print and PDF” at the bottom of the article.  You can eliminate any unwanted text (like my “witty banter” at the beginning…) by hovering the mouse over the area you don’t want and clicking the red “click to delete”.  Enjoy!

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Megan’s Top 5 Super Smoothie Ideas (For Kids AND Adults)

smoothieMegan Monday articles are written by Megan Kalocinski, a Certified Nutrition and Health Coach.

So we’ve all been there – we know we should be eating as many veggies (and fruits, too) a day, especially the dark, leafy greens that offer so many vitamins and minerals.  However, if you’re anything like me (and my child), there are days when the thought of chowing down on a pile of kale or spinach is as appealing as banging your head against a wall.  Now don’t get me wrong – I love my veggies and greens, but there are some days where it just gets….well, old.  Or you don’t feel like eating or tasting them.  And now my son (who used to love eating cooked greens) will spit them out and act like he became possessed by some ungodly creature that is trying to exit his body through animated gagging tongue motions and spitting sounds.  In many cases, it would be easiest to just let it pass and not “force” my child to eat anything (obviously, this is not recommend, nor will you get very far…in addition to scarring your children for life about wanting to eat veggies and fruits).  I know there are theories out there that really discourage “hiding” food in other forms to get kids to eat it, etc.  While I understand this concept and definitely agree to it to an extent, as a former teacher, I also know there are “accommodations” to employ to meet a child’s needs (in this case, nutrition) in a way that works for him/her.  Um, not to mention that I feel on most days lately, I need to disguise fruits and veggies for myself to make sure I get what I need without getting bored or tired of eating “healthy.”  I have really found smoothies and juices to be an excellent way to pack a super nutritious punch while making it tasty, mobile, convenient, and well, easy to get into difficult eaters.  Sometimes, we just need to pull out the big guns to get the job done.  As a health coach, I’d rather see children (and adults, too!) getting their nutrients from whole food sources in a creative way like a smoothie rather than trying to force them to eat foods they may not like in the individual form.

Smoothies are perfect ways to:

–          Incorporate many healthy foods into one serving.

–          Get your kids involved!  Kids (and adults, too!) think it’s fun to partake in making them.  Let them pick out ingredients, experiment with their own recipes (with your guidance, of course), put the ingredients in the blender or mixer, and create their own healthy masterpiece.  Studies show kids are way more inclined to eat more healthy foods if they are part of the preparation and decision-making process.  My toddler LOVES to hit the “on” button and turn the speed dial up on our Vitamix each day I make a smoothie.

–          Make “healthy ice cream”!  You can even freeze smoothies to make what I like to call “ice green” – my corny take on ice cream (my toddler thinks he’s eating ice cream, so I’ll be as corny as I want as long as it works!).  Freezing the smoothie for about an hour or so until it’s semi-frozen, but still “moveable” enough to scoop with a spoon really tastes like a great frozen treat!  You can even freeze smoothies into ice pop molds and freeze until solid to make an awesome and healthy alternative to conventional ice pops.

–          Try new recipes and not get tired of the same thing day-in and day-out.

Some tips when considering smoothies (especially for kids):

–          Drink your smoothie, too!  Not only for the added health benefit for yourself, but children learn from our modeling behavior.

–          When getting kids on board with trying these new concoctions (if they are not used to them…or the color!), make the description fun or name them: “Monster Juice” or “Super Slushie” (you get the idea; heck, it worked back in the day with Ecto Cooler!  Look how many kids drank that green juice because it carried the name of something from Ghost Busters…)

–          Try to use organic produce whenever possible, especially when choosing fruits and veggies off of the Dirty Dozen list. 

–          Try a different smoothie recipe each day to vary things up and keep taste palettes craving the healthy stuff without getting bored.

–          Serve smoothies in fun glasses or containers to get the kids excited about their “special drink.”  We even use those little drink umbrellas at times (when I’m desperate…hah!) or “straw clips” – find something like a trinket or charm you can attach to a straw to make it entertaining to drink out of.

–          Prep smoothie ingredients ahead of time to make committing to having one each day that much quicker and easier!  Berries and fruits like bananas, pineapple, and mango freeze very well and act as the ice/”slush” component in your smoothie.  You can use glass mason jars to put all of the dry ingredients in ahead of time and keep in the fridge or freezer so all you’ll need to do is dump in the blender and add your liquid.  I prefer using glass containers over plastic (even if BPA –free) because there is no chance of anything leaching into your foods.  Wash and cut up greens, fruits, veggies in one large batch and portion out.  This also makes it easy for kids to get involved!

–          When considering which liquid to use, I always recommend using clean, ultra-filtered cold water as a base, but if you are looking to add healthy fats and/or flavor to your smoothie, you can choose coconut water, nut milks, seed milks, dairy milk, etc.  Just please read labels on prepared items and check for unwanted ingredients like carrageenan and additives or preservatives that you don’t want to be ingesting each day.

–          Switch up and “rotate” your ingredients to a degree every day.  Eating the same foods day-in and day-out can actually be taxing on your digestive system and the enzymes required to break these foods down.  Rotating greens like kale for spinach, collards, etc. is a good idea, in addition to switching up the other fruits and veggies you use.  Eating the same foods every day can also create a type of allergy response in some people as well, which is another reason why “rotation diet” behaviors are important.  (This is a topic I can cover in a future article)

–          Try to have a higher veggie to fruit ratio, as you do not want to spike your sugar levels too much with too much fructose.  Yes, fruits are awesome and beneficial… but you want to balance those natural fruit sugars out with enough veggies (which have lots of water and fiber to slow the sugar metabolism, too!).

Here are some of my favorite recipes and variations (kid tested and approved!) to use when making smoothies:

  • Feel free to substitute any ingredient for allergy or taste-preference reasons
  • Parents like adding about a teaspoon of fresh ground flaxseeds and/or chia seeds to each smoothie to get added Omega and fiber benefits.
  • I personally don’t use juices (like apple or orange juices) as ingredients in my smoothies, as I’d rather you use the actual fruit because it’s full of fiber and its whole-food nutrients are intact versus being processed and full of sugar (which kind of defeats why we’d be drinking the healthy smoothie in the first place)

 

  1. 1.       Krazy Kale

–          about 3-4 leaves of fresh, washed, organic kale

–          handful of frozen organic berries like blueberries, raspberries, blackberries

–          1 organic banana (you can even freeze it… but take the peel off first before freezing!)

–          1 organic orange (any variety), peeled

–          1 tablespoon of organic coconut oil or butter

–          About 12 ounces of fresh, cold, filtered water

Blend in a blender and kids love the naturally sweet, creamy taste!

  1. 2.       Orange Creamsicle (Remember Orange Julius shakes when you were a kid?!?)

–          1 or 2 organic oranges, peeled

–          1 peeled, frozen banana

–          If no dairy allergy, you can use 1 cup of plain yogurt, milk, or kefir

–          If preferring not to use dairy, you can use 1 cup of a nut or seed milk

–          I cup cold, filtered water (if using just yogurt…this will add liquid so the smoothie will blend better)

–          ½ tsp. of pure vanilla extract or scrape the inside of 1 vanilla bean

–          Add some ice cubes if you want a more thick or frozen-type smoothie

Blend well in a blender and enjoy!  This also makes an awesome healthy ice-pop or “ice cream”

  1. Super Sweet Super Spinach Smoothie (a perfect way to pack a ton of healthy ingredients into something picky eaters normally wouldn’t touch!)

–          1 cup frozen or fresh pineapple cubes

–          1 or 2 tablespoons of chia seeds

–          About 2-3 handfuls of fresh, organic spinach

–          1 peeled banana (preferably frozen)

–          1 teaspoon organic coconut oil or coconut butter (which is a little creamier than coconut oil)

–          For an added zing and vitamin c power-punch, 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

–          1 cup cold, filtered water

–          If not using frozen fruit, add ½ cup-1 cup ice to make it more thick and “frozen” (about 5-10 ice cubes)

Blend all ingredients together on high in a blender and enjoy!  Spinach is surprisingly sweet in smoothies and is easily disguised when combined with fruit.

  1. 4.       Avocado Apple Awesomeness – This is a perfect way to deliciously get healthy fats and fiber into a glass!

–          1 or 2 cored and sliced organic apples (it doesn’t matter which type; you can even combine different varieties!).  Leave the skin on for added fiber and antioxidant boost. 

–          1 peeled and pitted avocado

–          1 cup plain, unsweetened almond milk (preferred; or you can use another type of plain, unsweetened nut or seed milk).  You can also just use 1 cup of cold, filtered water!   

–          About 2-3 cups/handfuls of loosely-packed organic spinach

–          2 teaspoons (preferably raw) organic honey (local if possible to help with allergy-fighting/immune-boosting properties) OR coconut sugar **DO NOT USE HONEY IF CHILDREN UNDER THE AGE OF 1 WILL BE CONSUMING

–          You may want to try this variation if your kids will like it, but you can add a dash of fresh ginger for a flavor zing and digestive and immune-boosting aid.

–          You can also try adding the juice of a small lemon to add some citrus zing and vitamin C

–          If you prefer your smoothies thicker or icier, add about 5 ice cubes

 

  1. 5.       Berry Blast

–          ½ cup frozen organic strawberries

–          ½ cup frozen blueberries

–          1 frozen banana

–          1 cup organic spinach or 2 organic kale leaves

–          1 cup of any liquid you prefer: nut milk, seed milk, dairy milk, water, coconut water, etc.

Blend all ingredients together on high in a blender.

What are some of your favorite smoothie recipes or ideas?  What are some funny smoothie stories (or disasters!)?  Please share below!  Perhaps challenge yourself to making and drinking as many smoothies this week or month as possible.  You’d be amazed at how great you feel once you incorporate these healthy staples into your daily diet routine.

Megan Monday articles are written by Megan Kalocinski, a Certified Holistic Nutrition and Health Coach and Owner/Founder of Empower Nutrition & Health Coaching, LLC. Megan educates and empowers women, men, and children of all ages to learn the true ins-and-outs of “feeding the brain with knowledge about the best foods, products, and habits for one’s body” in order to reach optimal health and wellness potentials. Visit her website today to learn more: http://www.exponentialhealthandwellness.us or feel free to send her an e-mail at: megan@empowerhealthcoach.com.  Follow Megan on Twitter and like her on Facebook!

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Graham Cracker Crusted Chicken Fingers

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Despite the plethora of articles regarding the chemicals in chicken nuggets and chicken fingers, kids LOVE them.  It’s a shame we even call it “chicken” when studies of various brands have shown that they are less than 50% actual chicken, the rest is made up of not so appetizing things like blood vessels, nerves, fat and muscle mixed with msg, salt and artificial flavors. Hungry yet?  Me neither.  I have made various kinds of chicken fingers at home with various types of breading/coatings, but this week my husband suggested that we crush some graham crackers and mix them with bread crumbs to get a crispy crust (since the sugar in the graham will caramelize much better than regular bread).  We tried it and it was a HUGE HUGE hit.  So much so, that we didn’t have anything left over.  Not. One.Piece. The chicken was crispy on the outside, moist inside and the hint of sweetness was just perfect.  Even if you have award winning picky eaters at home, you have to try this simple recipe.

Graham Cracker Crusted Chicken Fingers

3-4 Chicken Breast

2 eggs

1/2 cup milk

1 cup plain bread crumbs (white or whole wheat)

3-4 Graham Crackers

2-3 Tablespoons of Olive Oil or Coconut Oil

Salt to taste

Cut chicken cutlets into 1/2″ strips (I use a heavy duty scissor).  Season with salt.  In a bowl, beat eggs and add milk.  Place graham cracker in a zip lock bag a crush with a rollin pin or wooden spoon.  Mix graham cracker and bread crumbs in a bowl.  Heat oil in a large frying pan on medium heat (I use coconut).  Dip chicken in egg mixture then roll in crumb mixture and add to pan.  Cook for 4-6 minutes on each side, or until desired crispness.

ENJOY!

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15 Fun, Healthy, Kid-Approved Ideas for Your Super Bowl Party

Slide1With the Super Bowl right around the corner, we like to make the big day as much fun for the kids as it is for the adults.  Here are 15 of our favorite food and fun ideas:

Crispy Chicken Bites – quick, easy, delicious.  These small bites are a favorite around my house all year, but especially during parties.

Kale Chips – Have your kids tried kale chips yet?  Don’t let the fact that they are a leafy green fool you (or your kids).  You may be surprised how quickly these disappear.  YUM!

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Holy Guacamole and Skirt Steak Tacos – Guacamole is such a kid-friendly staple that I sometimes have to make a “spicy” version to ensure that my husband and I get some of our own.  Steak tacos are a great, make-it-yourself option for a party setting as well.  Let the kids get involved with making their own dinner.

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Mini Taco Cups – Put those taco chips to good use and fill them with taco fixings!  Kids love eating with their hands and this makes another build-it-yourself party meal.

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White Pizza With Arugula – Put a fun twist on a standard pizza with this white pizza recipe.  Every party deserves a little something unexpected.

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Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese – Dress up this family favorite with this antioxidant and phytonutrient powerhouse.  Butternut squash is a healthy, delicious alternative and you won’t miss ALL that extra cheese for a second.

Fruit and Veggie Snacks – FACT*: Fruits and veggies that are fun to look at are usually more fun to eat (*based on years of kitchen table observation…)

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All Things PLATE ART – While we’re at it, let’s make ALL the food fun!  Nothing says “it’s a party” like a peanut butter banana waffle butterfly.  Check out this page for more football inspiration.

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Black Bean Brownies (That Fooled My Husband!) – Yes, it can be done.  And no one will ever know.

brownies

 

 

 

 

 

Slow Cooker Chicken Fajitas – Who doesn’t love a slow cooker recipe any day of the week, but this delicious recipe makes party prep so much easier.

Baked Sweet Potato Chips – Set these chips out of the table and watch the kids ask why they’re orange.  Then watch then devour each and every one.

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Super Bowl Games for Kids – Kick off the pre-game festivities with one of these fun games that get the whole party involved.

Football Crafts – Have the kids makes some pom poms or a football paper chain to decorate the party room.

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Make Your Own Party Mix – Try this homemade chocolate-cherry mix as an alternative to Chex mix this year.

Snowman Veggie Tray – Christmas might be over, but the snow fall is not.  The kiddos will love this frosty inspired tray and the parents will love the healthy options it features.

Nachos – baked chips, organic cheese, delicious veggies – What Super Bowl party would be complete without some nachos?  Use organic cheese, real, whole ingredients and nothing should stop you from enjoying this party treat.

nachos

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Lessons Learned from Martin Luther King Jr

mlkHow the Teachings of MLK Can Help Pave the Way

Megan Monday articles are written by Megan Kalocinski, a Certified Nutrition and Health Coach.

In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday today (and the real reason why most of our nation has a day off from work and school), I wanted to highlight some of his most notable quotes and teachings in a way that have influenced the way I and others have interpreted our work in striving to help individuals fight for and achieve their best health.  Whether you are a mom wanting to choose healthier snacks for her kids, or you are on an all-out quest to eliminate every ounce of “unhealthy” out of your life, something is inspiring you inside to step outside of what has become the “norm” in our country, and sadly, across the globe in many places.  Granted, I write this from the perspective I now have after fastidiously studying about how obesity, Type II diabetes, heart disease, cancer, digestive disorders, allergies, anxiety disorder, intolerances, and other chronic ailments and diseases impact more people than not in the world today.  I have also been affected in numerous ways by several of the aforementioned – whether it be things I personally suffered from (and got sick of taking medication for), or watching and caring for family members or friends who battle(d) such misfortunes.  I understand that genetics play a role and some of these things are out of our control – to an extent. Chemicals, genetically modified organisms, processed foods, unhealthy food choices, lack of affordable healthy food options for most people, and what I feel is a complete corruption of the safeguarding of our agriculture, pharmaceutical, environmental, and even our healthcare industries plague not only our nation, but now our world.  I know I must sound like a radical extremist by stating those opinions, but sadly, there is truth in it, and so many people are not aware of it (not to their own fault; it’s so easy to be misinformed and misguided, thanks to the persuasive and all-pervasive marketing of big-money firms and industries who aim to keep the majority of people “in the dark”).  So what does all of this have to do with MLK, one of the world’s most influential civil-rights activists, and his notable quotes?

Well, let me start with the first quote I chose: The question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be… The nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.”  Many times, I feel like I am precariously stepping out on an unpredictable proverbial limb when I share what I know about the current state of our nation’s health.  I am sometimes met with shear skepticism (namely the rebuttal, “Well, if our government allows it, it must be safe, otherwise why would it be on the shelves of our stores?”), and other times, some people probably just think I am a pain in the butt because what I am sharing is so out of their comfort zone of what they know and do on a daily basis.  Although I don’t normally consider myself an extremist, perhaps the work that is done in this country (and world) by those who want to help spread the word about things that are slowly sickening and killing us as a whole could be viewed more positively if thought of in MLK’s terms.  I’m OK with considering myself as a creative extremist, and so should you if you follow this path.  After all, King also stated, Almost always, the creative dedicated minority has made the world better.”

Following suit with that premise, The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”  It wasn’t easy making the changes I have made for myself and my family over the years.  Believe me – I get it.  Kids are some of the hardest critics to win over and get on board.  Habits form at young ages, and many adults have been living a life of preferences that are really hard to change at this stage of the game.  Along the way, much of what I was doing was scoffed at or I was viewed as “weirdo” for drinking green smoothies at work while others guzzled Diet Cokes at 8am (not that I am trying to make anyone feel bad if they drink Diet Coke at 8am, although it would not be something I would recommend for people to do).  However, the more research and learning I tackled, the more in shock I was over what I was doing to my body in the past, I thought was the “healthy” way.  With tweaks, eliminations, and slight changes here and there, it all surmounted to a huge positive effect.  I watched others around me make the same mistakes I did, and it pained me to stay quiet, which is why I went back to school to become certified to share what I know and try and help people and do nutrition and health coaching for a living.  While I try not to overstep my bounds and chime-in when I see when people may benefit from a pointer here and there, I feel like I am doing an injustice to anyone whom I stay silent with in fear of them rejecting what I may have to share.  It’s not my job to save them, and in some cases, some people may feel like I have no right to share such “help” – which is fine.  However, I often ascribe to what Dr. King stated: Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”  I obviously know that I cannot change the world myself or “fix” all of the health problems that exist today.  But to get out there and stay rooted in my teacher origins and do what I can is what I have dedicated my career to do, and I encourage every single person out there who has a fire inside to get out there and make any positive change for him/herself.  Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”

I think one of the greatest fears I have is that eventually, the industrialized and “modernized” human race is eventually going to get so far ahead of ourselves with our “developments” that we will not be able to sustain life for ourselves here on Earth, as radical as that sounds.  No matter what research or scientific study I read, our environment is so saturated with pollutants and material things that are crowding out the natural and normal functioning of our planet that even if we tried our hardest to cleanse our bodies of toxins, it’s nearly impossible.  That. Scares. Me.  What do our children have to look forward to?  Don’t get me wrong – civilization has come a painstakingly way with the positive developments created to make life easier and better – but at what cost for certain conveniences and profit?  Years ago when reading a book about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., one quote sharply stuck out to me: Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men.”  While King intended this quote to reference the use of weapons and the instance of war in areas across the globe, I think it can also pertain to the development of industrialized “advancements” such as GMOs, chemicals, an onslaught of pharmaceuticals, etc.  There are more artificial agents we put onto and into our bodies, not to mention the ones saturated in our immediate environment, that soon enough, there may not be an opportunity for what is deemed “natural” to exist anymore.  Many individuals in powerful positions in government and corporations are making incredulous decisions based on money rather than ethics, and unfortunately, the majority of the people on this Earth are affected without even knowing it – or having enough of a say.  It angers me that there are people are in power to be making decisions without properly conducting research on how this will affect mankind and the environment.  I certainly do not want to remain a by-stander in this situation, which is why I do what I do – I try my best to share what I know and to educate others about things they can do to make a difference for themselves, their family and friends, and future generations.  The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.”

Obviously, as stated earlier, I am passionate about what I do and believe in regarding the overall health of the population and environment, for this will directly impact us, our loved ones, and our children.  So many of us want the best for our children and subsequent generations, which is why if I can make even the slightest difference, I feel like I have succeeded.  Which is why you, too, should applaud yourself for any effort or action taken to make positive changes.  It’s very easy to become overwhelmed, which is completely understandable with all that we are tackling on a daily basis in our busy lives.  Times have definitely changed – and they will continue to change – but how we change with those times is what will make the ultimate difference.  Realize that you do have a voice; you do have a choice; and the power rests in your exercising both of those.  Whatever you do, don’t give up.  Whatever you want to achieve in life is attainable in some way.  It may not, all probably will not be easy, but without taking the initial steps, you will stay stagnant in your current state and have nothing to look back on.  All progress is precarious, and the solution of one problem brings us face to face with another problem.” 

Megan Monday articles are written by Megan Kalocinski, a Certified Holistic Nutrition and Health Coach and Owner/Founder of Empower Nutrition & Health Coaching, LLC. Megan educates and empowers women, men, and children of all ages to learn the true ins-and-outs of “feeding the brain with knowledge about the best foods and habits for one’s body” in order to reach optimal health and wellness potentials. Visit her website today to learn more: http://www.exponentialhealthandwellness.us or feel free to send her an e-mail at: megan@empowerhealthcoach.com.

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Yes, Even Our Dryer Sheets Are Toxic!

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When my kids were born, I switched to unscented, all natural, blah blah blah dryer sheets.  I thought I was doing the right thing, but apparently, I wasn’t.  Dryer sheets are loaded with chemicals, even the unscented ones. You can learn about the 7 toxic chemicals in dryer sheets here, but to sum it up: they are pretty scary, causing everything from headaches and nausea to central nervous system damage.  Yikes.  I love soft, fluffy towels, but I love my central nervous system more.

Though I haven’t read it, the book “Brain Wash” provides detailed information on the toxins in our environment and how they are linked to brain disease.  It’s impossible to rid our lives of all toxins overnight, but I have taken the approach of making small changes over time.  I have tackled most of my household cleaners, though I still use dryer sheets, conventional make-up and lots of other not so good stuff.  So my next baby step is to try a few of these dryer sheet alternatives:

1. Wool Dryer Balls – these work by lifting the fibers and softening clothes through gentle friction.  You can also add a scent by adding drops of an essential oil into the balls and replacing when needed.  You can use 3-4 in each load and they should last up to a YEAR!  Yes, ONE YEAR!  If you’re super crafty, you can even make your own — like this gal did.

2. Vinegar – Some people prefer to pour a bit of white vinegar onto their clothes during the washing machine’s rinse cycle. As with fabric softener, vinegar can soften clothes, and it has a mild anti-static effect. As a bonus, vinegar works well to get rid of mildew. (source: http://home.howstuffworks.com/dryer-sheets3.htm)

3. A ball of aluminum foil – Yep!  It worked for this blogger.

Hope this info helps!

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9 Tips For Feeding Little Kids

Screen Shot 2014-01-14 at 3.01.50 PMAs the co-founder of a healthy children’s food company, I am often asked what I feed my kids and how I deal with typical issues such as pickiness, requests for too many snacks etc.   Funny thing is that I totally do not have this feeding children thing under control…at all!  I often ask other people for advice and spend countless hours reading blogs and nutrition articles for ideas on how to do it.  This was all much easier when my oldest (twins) were young toddlers, but once they hit the big 3, it was an entirely new world, for all of us.  My son suddenly hated oatmeal, my daughter suddenly hated eggs, they both hated cooked carrots, but would eat them raw.   They started complaining about food while it was still in the process of being cooked by entering the kitchen and making comments such as “that smells yucky!” and “what’s that yucky poo poo smell?”.   Nothing like a toddlers sarcasm, while you’re trying to simultaneously  care for three kids under 4 and cook a meal, to throw you over the edge.

The past year has certainly presented itself with more food/feeding challenges than I was expecting, but I have learned a lot and now that they are about to turn four, it seems like we may have weathered the worst of the storm (well, at least that’s I hope).   Here’s what I do to stay sane.

1. Though I said I would never ever ever do this, I have made different foods for one meal.  I don’t do it often, but my son really dislikes oatmeal now, he has actually gagged when I asked him to taste “just one spoon” recently. Though, my daughter loves it and could eat it everyday.  So, there have been days where I feed two kids oatmeal and let the oatmeal-hater have a yogurt and a banana.  This was the only way to feed 2/3 of my kids oatmeal and prevent one from throwing up, soooo, I went for it.

2. I talk to them often about the food they eat, why they need it, what it does for their bodies etc.  I have found that while they are still unable to make the best decisions  (ie. if given the choice between salmon and a lollipop for dinner, they would choose the latter), they are aware and do question things more, like what is cotton candy made of and why is it blue.

3. Dips are my friend.  There is nothing like a dip to get kids excited about eating, so I use them often in order to get the job done.  I will cut an apple and serve with strawberry yogurt in a cute cup, cut a carrot into thin straws and serve with hummus or guacamole, I have even allowed them to put whip cream (organic only) from that crazy can on a bowl of berries, and they were over the moon.  It.works.everytime.

4. Though this sounds illogical, I do not use dessert or treats as reward for eating the healthy stuff.  I want to. I really do.  But all the research advises against it, so I have just trusted it and so far, it’s been ok.  We have had dinners where my daughter has eaten two spoons of pasta for  and is suddenly “sooo full she can’t eat another bite”, and while I may ask her to try to eat a little more so that her belly is not hungry at bedtime, I never threaten her with dessert; and even if she doesn’t eat any more, I still let her have dessert if she wants it (and she usually does).  I was afraid that this would become a habit and she would cease eating dinner and only eat dessert, but that has never happened.  The very next day, she ate her entire meal.

5. Soup is also my friend.  My kids are definitely not the pickiest eaters I have seen, but they (like most kids) have cut back on the list of the vegetables that they will eat in their whole form.  Soup allows me provide a variety of vegetables in a way the avoids texture and consistency issues.  I try to use seasonal vegetables and change it up every week so they a good variety, ie. butternut squash & kale; beets and sweet potato; cauliflower and corn.  I also add lentils to every soup I make in order to boost the fiber and protein.

6. Pestos – Pestos are a great alternative to traditional tomato sauce and you can make them easily with a variety of greens to pack them with nutrition.  Typically, I heat some olive oil in a pan, add a few cloves of garlic, add my greens (collard greens, kale, spinach, chard…whatever you prefer) and cook for 5-7 minutes.  I then place that mixture in a blender, add 1/4 parmesan, some walnuts or pine nuts and puree.  If too thick, I add chicken stock.  Pesto freezes really well too.

7. Baked goods – I am a much better cook than a baker.  I really didn’t bake much pre-kids, but now I bake weekly.  Kids love sweets and baking them at home allows me to control the sugar and boost the nutrition.  I add chia/hemp/flax seeds to nearly everything, including pancakes.  I replace white flour with whole wheat pastry flour, cut the sugar by at least 1/4 and replace any oil with coconut.  I feel much better about giving them a homemade chocolate chip banana muffin for dessert than anything store bought.

8. Tomato Sauce – Kids love tomato sauce and I always try to make super nutritious by adding pureed lentils.  It boosts fiber, protein and adds folate and many other vitamins.  If I am extra desperate for vegetable consumption that week, I also add pureed spinach…both are completely undetectable.

9. Mac & Cheese – I always have Annie’s Organic mac and cheese on hand for a quick fix. I make it healthier by adding either frozen chopped broccoli or pureed winter squash (Cascadian Farms).

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Swap the Pop – Top Picks for Healthier New Beverages to Try

flavored waterMegan Monday articles are written by Megan Kalocinski, a Certified Nutrition and Health Coach.

Let’s face it – if you’re anything like me, you have sampled all kinds of drinks throughout your life ranging from chocolate milk to Coca-Cola.  With sugar-consumption rates at a shockingly all-time high and trained/corrupt taste buds persuaded by chemical cocktails, it’s time to stop and take a look at what you’re drinking throughout the day.  Hydration is super important, and while we know that water is technically the best source of hydration (and believe me, I think that nothing really beats drinking clean, properly filtered water throughout the day), it can get a bit boring day-in and day-out for some folks.  Couple it with the finicky tastes kids have for things (not to mention needing to keep it healthy!), it’s important we have a few good alternative ideas in our arsenal.  We are bombarded on a daily basis with ads for coffee drinks, sodas, sugary sports drinks, flavored milk/milk-type drinks, etc… the selection (and their ingredient lists) can become very overwhelming…and totally loaded with sugar.  With the recommendation by one of my friends and favorite article followers, I am drafting this list of healthy drink alternatives for when the thought of drinking water all of the time, well, just, runs dry.  Here are a few quick, kid-friendly, super easy ways to incorporate (and even disguise….mwoo hah hah!) healthy and delicious drink ideas into your daily hydration routine:

1.Fruit or Veggie Flavored/Infused Water – This has to be one of the easiest ways to spruce up water and have it taste like a whole new world (plus adding some nutritional value!).  This is a great alternative to actual juices that you’d buy in the store, which are loaded with sugar (and in many cases preservatives and additives), but not loaded with actual fruit and/or veggies.

  • Try slicing some pieces of fruit or vegetables like strawberries, blueberries, cucumbers, lemons, limes, melon, grapes, etc.  I always recommend using organic when possible, for the skins, which have the most pesticide residue on conventional produce, will be immersed in your water (and well, that just isn’t something you want to be ingesting).
  • You can even make different combinations to create a type of water sangria (sounds awesome, I know) full of lots of different fruits that will add their own natural sweeteners (and vitamins!).
  • Get the kids (or reluctant loved ones) involved by allowing them to come up with combinations, help prepare the fruits and veggies, and track which combos they like best.
  • Using different and fun pitchers to put the water in (make sure it’s BPA-free!) and have a selection of different varieties available to choose from in the fridge.
  • Fill up your water bottles that you carry around with you and add the slices of fruits or veggies to the bottle to keep the flavor going with you.
  • Looking for an added sweet boost?  Try a few drops of Stevia to enhance the flavor a bit (but remember…. The sweeter your drinks, the more sweet cravings you will spark, which can sabotage trying to work on cutting out sweets in your diet).
  • Using frozen fruit or veggies tends to add more flavor to the water, for as these pieces dissolve, they release more flavor.
  • Cut up pieces of fruit and/or vegetables and put them in ice cube trays, fill with a little bit of water, and freeze to make fruit/veggie cubes.  Once frozen, these will pop out nicely and be easy to add to water or plain seltzer.  It also makes it easier to mix-and-match flavors without having to make whole batches of water (and this is particularly helpful for households with different preferences!)

 

2. Fun with Fizz – Try switching to plain seltzer for that added fizz (or use plain seltzer in the recipe listed above to make a fizzy-fruit blend).  Sometimes we just look for the fizzing sensation of carbonation (which is a reason why many people crave soda).  While I don’t recommend drinking lots of carbonated beverages because the bubbles of carbon dioxide actually create a gas build-up in your stomach and digestive system (and can actually interfere with your natural stomach acid balance), it’s ok to have as an occasional switch-off alternative.

  • While options are really limited, I recommend (if possible) to make your own seltzer by using a carbon-cartridge soda stream seltzer gun.  Buying a bottle of seltzer is obviously the easiest choice, but many times, manufacturers don’t use the cleanest sources of water and then they are sitting in plastic bottles for periods of time, so you can be ingesting BPA.  Obviously do what fits best for your household, but getting a seltzer gun may be a fun and practical investment if you really like carbonated beverages.  This way, you control the quality of the water being used and the container in which it’s stored in (plus it’s fun).

3.       Herbal teas – Swap out sweetened, teeth-staining and caffeine-riddled iced-tea or hot tea with an herbal variety that’s naturally caffeine free.  This can also serve as a great     replacement for coffee for those of you trying to cut back (coffee is very acidic, which can lead to digestive issues).

  • In addition, for those of you trying to cut out caffeine, switching to just decaf tea or coffee is not always the healthiest option for several reasons – namely there is a chemical process that is needed to be undergone to remove as much caffeine possible (but not all is, so you are still getting some caffeine!). 
  • Herbal teas are tasty, lighter in color (so they won’t do as much damage on your teeth), and often nutrient-packed so you receive added health benefits like calming, immune-boosting, or digestive-aiding qualities. 
  • Many herbal teas (like chamomile, mint, and lemon) are safe to give to children, too, so you can make your own home brew of iced-tea and even add a splash of stevia, coconut palm sugar, or a little bit of local honey to sweeten it up naturally. 
  • Try to use organic tea when possible, for like produce, tea leaves are often saturated with pesticides or chemical conditioners that then become even more concentrated as the teas are dried.  You do not want to be adding this to your diet.  In most cases, organic teas are not that much more money than conventional teas.
  • My one word of caution is to steer clear of the mesh tea bags that look like triangular pyramids (they’re pretty fancy looking and becoming more popular).  I mention this because these tea bags are made out of a plastic mesh that contains BPA (the hormone-disruptor chemical) and is definitely released into your tea because the heat from the hot water releases this chemical even more.
  • You can even add fruit to your tea (instead of using water, as in the example above).  This will make for some tasty concoctions!

4.       Fruit Slush – If you’re looking for some texture or wanting the indulgence of a smoothie without taking in all of the calories, try making a homemade, refreshing fruit (or veggie!) slush by combining ice, some fruit and/or veggies (either fresh or frozen, and preferably organic), and clean, filtered water in a blender and blend until smooth like a slushie.  For a tad of added sweetness, you can add some stevia or local honey, etc.

5.       Honey, Ginger, Lemon Refresher – For a definite zing packing a vitamin punch, try creating a special brew of hot water, honey, lemon, and freshly sliced and peeled.  Let it steep for about 20-30 minutes before putting in the refrigerator to cool.  You can either strain it or leave the ingredients in the water, but you will be left with an invigorating ade that will add some vitamin C, immune-boosting goodness, natural energy, and soothing digestive help.

What are some of your ideas?  Feel free to share below!  Please share feedback on any of the suggestions above (or versions of) you have tried.

Megan Monday articles are written by Megan Kalocinski, a Certified Holistic Nutrition and Health Coach and Owner/Founder of Empower Nutrition & Health Coaching, LLC. Megan educates and empowers women, men, and children of all ages to learn the true ins-and-outs of “feeding the brain with knowledge about the best foods and habits for one’s body” in order to reach optimal health and wellness potentials. Visit her website today to learn more: http://www.exponentialhealthandwellness.us or feel free to send her an e-mail at: megan@empowerhealthcoach.com.

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Five Soups Your Kids Will Love

Soups

 

Soup has been the lunch du jour at our house since the polar vortex made a guest appearance in NJ.  There are so many reasons to love soup, especially when feeding little ones. You can make huge quantities and freeze easily; you can “hide” all kinds of healthy things like lentils and kale, and puree it into a smooth, creamy consistency; it takes 5 minutes to warm up and serve…you get the picture.  I make nearly every weekend and serve it at least 2-3 times a week for lunch. I have tried many, many recipes, some were huge successes, some not so huge… here are my kids absolute favorites.

1. Creamy Butternut Squash & Apple Soup – This one of my family’s favorites! The combination of apples, sweet butternut squash and creamy coconut milk is a real treat. I have made this recipe with roasted butternut squash when I have time to roast it and with fresh peeled, and both are awesome. I don’t use ginger because my kids are not fans, but I do add cumin.

2. Broccoli Cheese Soup – Broccoli is my children’s favorite vegetable, so this soup is is slam dunk for us, but because it mild and creamy, and you can add shredded cheese to it, even kids who refuse broccoli may just give a shot.

3. Sweet Potato, Corn and Kale – This a great recipe to follow as you can substitute just about any group of veggies as long as you use sweet potato as a base, and you can use any liquid combo, either water and a “milk”, ie rice, almond, coconut etc, or just a broth.  This soup is a great way to get 2-3 servings of veggies in at one meal and it purees so well that you can offer in a cup with a straw to make it more fun!

4. Creamy Tomato Soup – Another easy to make soup that kids love, especially with a grilled cheese sandwich! I love this Ina Garten recipe, but I do leave out the basil because I don’t always have it and I don’t want to mess with a good thing.  I also cut out the last step of passing through a food mill and just puree it.  This freezes really well for school lunches too!

5. Portuguese Chicken Soup – This is the chicken soup that I grew up on and still love.  It’s made with rice and has lemon and mint flavors, exactly what you need when fighting off a cold.  It’s also filling enough to be a meal.  Here’s is Emeril’s version of it, which exactly like mine except I add chopped carrots for extra nutrition.

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