Posts Tagged ‘kids’

What to do with produce before it goes bad

There are few things I hate more than buying a bunch of fruits and vegetables  and finding them pushed into the back of the refrigerator 2 weeks later rotting and turning to mush.  Many of my most well-intentioned eating plans have ended just that way.  Here are a few tips for keeping up with your produce.

1.  Know what’s in season and plan meals accordingly.

You’re going to go to the grocery store in summer and see tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers dirt cheap in the summer.  Make sure you plan your meals to include lots of these ingredients.  This is the time to have homemade salsa, cold pasta salads, black bean salad (see yesterday’s post), and other such creations.  Likewise, you’re going to see winter squash, sweet potatoes and other root vegetables later in the summer.  If you match your meals to the seasons, you will lessen the risk that what looks good in the grocery store has no use at home.  As an added bonus, changing your meals with the seasons builds variety into your diet.

2.  Hang a list on your refrigerator of the produce you bought and what you plan to do with it.

A magnetic pad with a couple suggestions might keep you from forgetting that there’s a quart of strawberries in the bottom drawer.  As an added bonus, the kids might remember to eat some too.

The green sheet is my plan for the fridge. Now I’ll be reminded of what produce I need to eat.

3.  Have a few go-to recipes that use up lots of ingredients.

The other night, we made pasta and sauteed vegetables for the simple reason that we needed to use up lots of produce.  I had peppers, yellow squash, zucchini, mushrooms, onions and broccoli that were all looking a little rough.  We sliced off the ugly parts, ran the remainder through the slicing blade on the food processor, and ended up with a butt-load of vegetables for sauteeing.  The keys to making it good are don’t overcook them and be generous with the seasoning.  I seasoned ours with garlic powder, salt, pepper, an Italian blend, and a few drops of hot sauce.  Also, I sauteed in red wine instead of oil.  It made for a good Sunday lunch and a couple of good lunches at work too. When I ran out of pasta, I spooned the reheated mixture into pita bread.

For fruit, try a smoothie.  The key to a good smoothie is a banana–it makes it creamy.  Whenever a banana starts to turn brown in my house, we peel it and put in a plastic bag in the fridge.  For your smoothie, add whatever fruit you have on hand.  The other night we used a half bag of frozen mixed berries, cantaloupe, pineapple, a half an orange my son didn’t want to finish, and enough soy milk (or fruit juice) to cover it in the blender.  I froze the leftovers and ate them for breakfast.  It was like having ice cream for breakfast.  All our fruit goes into the freezer when it starts to get mushy or overripe.  It makes a great smoothie that way.

Off to the Farmers Market!


A Little Relief–Kids in the Kitchen

Let me show you something amazing. 

I know it doesn’t look like much, but I think these three little list will make my summer much easier.  In case I haven’t bellyached enough in previous posts, I work full-time, have four kids and two dogs, and live in a 1,000 square foot house.  Neither luxury nor time abound in my life.  On top of all that normal aggravation, I have made the commitment to be as vegan as I can be.  It’s not easy.  Being as vegan as I can be means that I can’t just pop a Stouffer’s lasagna in the oven or pour a bag of Chicken Voila in a skillet.  We can’t drive through Arby’s and get the 5 for $5 deal on the way to ball practice.  I can’t complain about it too much because it’s a commitment I made by choice and generally I’m very happy with the results.  However, on a busy weeknight, it’s difficult.

So, I have devised a plan and you’re looking at the beginning of it.  Last weekend we did something brilliant–we told two of the kids to decide what they wanted to fix for dinner.  They looked up recipes online and in magazines and wrote up their shopping lists.  I added their lists to my grocery list and got all their ingredients for them.  Then, I wrote down what we’d be eating for the whole week.  Now, when someone meets me at the front door 2 nanoseconds after I get home from work and asks, “What’s for dinner?”  I don’t have to blink.  I just read the plan straight off the fridge.

If you would like to engage your children a little more in dinner, I have a few tips.

1.  Most importantly, be prepared to eat it no matter what it is.  After all, if you want great food, fix it yourself.  If you want a break from kitchen slavery, don’t bite the hand that’s feeding you. 

2.  Don’t expect them to be able to choose a recipe and follow it right away.  For a child that’s under 8, let him make sandwiches or a simple salad.  If you’re worried about knives, find a child-safe knife.  I have a couple of child-safe pumpkin carving knives that my kids used when they were younger that did the trick just fine.  Older kids can make just about any pasta dish (if you drain the hot water.)  By the time a child is 12, she should be able to follow a recipe off a box and then out of a cookbook or magazine.

3.  Don’t help.  If you’re in the kitchen overseeing every last step, they’re not really making it on their own.  If you’re doing all the hard parts or all the tricky parts, they’re not going to have the satisfaction of doing it.  Of course, you will have to supervise novices at the stove or pull a hot dish out of the oven.  But, that’s all.  Leave them alone and let them learn.  If you think they don’t know how to do something, then teach them one night when you’re cooking or write down specific instructions for the hard parts.

4.  Warn the kids ahead of time that they will have to clean whatever they mess up.  Naturally, when dinner is over, you’re going to help clean up the kitchen.  But, if the kids don’t go into it with the idea that they’ll have to clean up their own mess, you’ll be in trouble.  Besides, the point of this whole exercise is to make your life easier.  Cleaning up after a culinary tornado is not my idea of taking the evening off.

Our experiment has just begun, but we’re happy so far.  Last night we had a sugar snap pea stir fry and Israeli couscous compliments of our 14-year old.  Tonight we’re having arugula and peach salad, corn on the cob, and coconut milk ice cream compliments of our 12-year old.  Not bad, huh?

You need this chopper

My husband brought one of these home a year or so ago, and we’ve just loved it. 

Here’s why:

  • it’s safe enough for the kids to use.  Their hands never come in contact with the sharp edges.
  • it comes apart and goes in the dishwasher.  The top piece requires more attention, but it comes with a tool that cleans it out pretty easily.
  • the pieces are uniform.  I have had other choppers (like Pampered Chef’s, Styliss, the Slap Chopper, and a small electric one), but they’ve all given me a mixture of tiny shreds and giant hunks.
  • it comes with 2 different sized grates for smaller pieces.  One is good for a soup or salad.  The other is good for salsa.

I think my husband paid about $15 for it.  Well worth it.  I highly recommend you pick one up for yourself.

This is what it looks like in the box. Go ahead and get your sister one too while you're at it.

Let’s Have Soup for Dinner

I made this soup last night pretty quick, and it was awesome.

This picture is from But, my soup looked just like this, I promise!

I’ve always considered Roasted Apple and Butternut Squash Soup to sound like something pretty difficult, but it certainly wasn’t.

First, cut a butternut squash in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Put it cut-side-up in a baking pan.  Let 4 granny smith apples join it the exact same way, except peel it first.

You have to use granny smiths, or it won't be as good.

You can put this into a hot oven (425) for an hour or you can put this into a cooler oven (300) for a couple hours.  I opted yesterday for the cooler oven because I wanted to get some other things done.  The good news is that once you’ve done the roasting, you’re about 15 minutes from having dinner on the table.

When you think your squash and apples look pretty soft, chop up a medium-sized onion.  In a soup pot, saute the chopped onion in 3 tablespoons of oil, 3 tablespoons of brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon of cardamom, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 teaspoon of ground black pepper.  It will smell fabulous.  (If you’re having company or if you want to show off to neighbors, now is the time to invite them in.)

This is cardamom. Use it ground, of course. Don't leave it out. It's the cardamom and cinnamon combination that makes this soup great.

Turn the heat off your onions.  Scoop the flesh out of your butternut squash, and add the squash guts and apples to your onions.  Transfer all of the mixture to a mixing bowl.  (You’re going to blend up the soup in a blender and put it back into that soup pot to warm up for serving.)  If you’re vegan, you’ll need 5 cups of vegetable stock.  If you’re vegan-ish, you’ll need 5 cups of water and 5 cubes of chicken bouillion.  Blend a scoop of the mixture, 1 cup of water and a bouillion cube on high in blender or food processor until it’s smooth.  Pour it into the soup pot.  Repeat this process until all ingredients have been blended.

Heat your soup on the stove until you’re ready to eat.  Our soup last night went great with a veggie pizza.  Even my kids loved it, and a couple of them are ungrateful bastards!

Here’s a better copy of the recipe, if you’d like to see it:

Squash and Apple Soup

Come, Let Us Reason Together

I am rereading The China Study.  I found that book to be so overwhelming that I’m just not sure that I got everything out of it the first time around.  However, before I get started, let me run a few thoughts past you and see what you think.

First, why is it that so many people are fat?  I live in the Deep South where we are famously fat and unhealthy.  I can go to the grocery store or the mall and see, without a doubt, dozens more fat people than thin.  On some sides of our metropolis, that is different.  But on the west side, where I live, obesity is the norm.  Why is that?  Everyone I know is on a diet.  Everyone I know talks about what they should and shouldn’t be eating.  More of them are setting goals and trying to do better all the time, but it just never materializes into long-term weight loss.  I know very few people who lose weight and keep it off.   I know very few people who manage their weight into middle age.  (I do know a few who are just naturally skinny.  I’m not counting them.  They’re some alien species whose purpose for existence is to make the rest of us feel like slobs.)  Most people in the circles I travel have accepted the idea that as you get older, you get fatter.  And, if you’ve given birth, don’t even bother trying to be thin.  It’s too late.  You’ve had kids.

Secondly, why are so many people sick?  Isn’t there a better way to live?  If we didn’t have the technology we have today that allows most of us to do our jobs and manage our lives from the comfort of our desk chairs or cars, how in the world would we survive?  Surely, our ancestors were not the weaklings that we are.  They would have become extinct.

Thirdly, and I may lose some of you here, is this how God meant for us to live and eat?  Watching your weight and staying healthy can easily become an obsession.  If fact, if you’re one of those, like I am, that gains a whole lot faster than you lose, you know that you have to be a little obsessed or you’ll blow up faster than you can say “I think my jeans shrunk in the dryer.”  But, did God design our bodies to be so susceptible?  I have to believe that we are supposed to be more like the animals who eat what’s available when it’s available and their bodies regulate themselves.  Anything else seems like a design flaw, and I don’t think the problems we have lie there.

So, with those questions in mind, I’m going to reread The China Study.  Last time I didn’t really know what I was getting into.  This time I’m going to pay closer attention.  If you have any interest in the field of nutrition or weight management, please read this book too so we can talk about it.  I’d really like to hear how this looks from some else’s point of view.  I don’t even care if you disagree with my opinions as we go.  I would just like to hear some reasoned, informed discourse. 

As I go, I’ll also be trying a few of the recipes I’ve found and reporting on my progress with them.  Plus, my husband wants to do a side-by-side vegan cheese taste off.  I’ll let you know how that goes too.

I Just Got Married and Didn’t Gain a Pound

I pass on the chicken and the steak.  I don’t have grilled cheese sandwiches even though I love them.  I skip ham sandwiches and just won’t eat if all that’s there is something made with beef or pork.  I resist the siren song of frying bacon.  So you wanna know why I think being vegan-ish is worth it? Here’s why.

Twelve days ago, I got married. 

He's got great hands, doesn't he?

For weeks before that we’ve been rearranging my house, merging his furniture into my rooms.  We have 4 kids between the two of us, and getting everything ready has been a chore.  To add to the complication, my house is 1,000 square feet.  Not much room for 6 people to live in 1,000 square feet.  However, we’re committed to keeping our finances simple and being debt free.  So the cheapest house we could live in is the one I already have.  We’ve worked really hard to make it fit our needs, and we’ve done a fantastic job, if I do say so myself.

four kids, one full bathroom

But, have you ever gotten really busy while you’re on a diet?  I would be willing to bet that nine times out of ten, you gained weight.  I know I always did.  Then I said, “Well, when things calm down, I’ll get back on track and get this weight off.”  But the law of entropy has something to do with chaos.  And, although I cannot remember that law, I’m familiar with chaos. Things rarely get calm enough for a long enough period of time for me to make feeding myself a part-time job.

Being vegan-ish worked differently for me this time.  I made the highest quality, lowest animal protein choices I could over the past few weeks.  When we went out for Japanese, I ordered hibachi vegetables.  When we got pizza, I ate the slices that were light on cheese and meat and heavy on vegetables.  When everyone wanted fast food for breakfast, I got oatmeal from McDonald’s.  When I needed to grab something quick, I grabbed nuts, dried fruit, ginger snaps or dark chocolate.  Did I eat perfectly? No.  Did I gain weight like I normally do when I take 3 weeks off from thinking about my food?  No.  Even though I ate 5 slices of my wedding cake and drank champagne and generally forgot about my “diet” for more than 2 weeks, the numbers on the scale stayed the same.

Why is being vegan-ish worth it to me?  Because I like not having to be obsessed with my weight in order to maintain it.

New Foods and Weird Veggies Make Eating Healthy Fun

I’ve been trying to switch to being vegan for about a year now.  It started last year when I read the book The China Study by T. Colin Campbell.

In that book he draws a clear line between animal protein and cancer, and he makes the claim that if you eat a whole food, plant-based diet you will never have to worry about your weight again.

Now, if you’ve read any of my blog, you know I don’t want to worry about my weight.  I don’t want to keep food journals or count calories or fat grams.  I don’t want to consult a workbook or have a support group.  I just want to eat and be thin.  Fueling our own bodies should be easy.  I already have a full-time job and a full house.  Dieting is like taking on another part-time job that doesn’t pay well.  When Dr. Campbell made his claim, I decided to give it a try.

Last April, we (my significant other and my two children) went totally vegan for 30 days.  I had no intention of us staying that way, but I wanted to explore how we would eat if we couldn’t fall back on lunchmeat, eggs and cheese to fill in all our gaps.  We found grains we liked (like quinoa and barley) and rice we liked (like Jasmine).  My biggest surprise was how much I liked beans.  I used to hate beans.

Quinoa is a complete protein. It is a powerhouse food. photo from

After 30 days, we decided we should stick with it.  We missed cheese some (especially feta on salads), and my son wanted cow’s milk for cereal (the rest of us prefer soy).  At the time, I hadn’t figured out how to bake vegan either.  We were still newbies.  But, here we are nearly a year later and we’re still trying.  And, we’re probably still newbies.  All of us have seen positive progress in our weight and health, and none of us want to go back to eating regular all the time.

I have noticed two things are key to my being able to maintain a vegan diet.  One is to eat beans every day.  I haven’t mastered this yet. I’ll have it going great for a while, but then I’ll run out of ideas and have to regroup.  When I’m eating beans, I feel great—satiated but never weighed down.  (My kids were reluctant to try beans until I read to them the story out of the book of  Daniel chapter 1 in the Bible where it is very possible, depending on the translation you’re reading, that Daniel asked for a vegan, bean-heavy diet.  After 10 days, he and his vegan friends were looking great.  My kids whined to me at first, but they were intrigued to find out if they could see the same results. J)

The other key is to experiment with new vegetables.  Have you ever had a kale salad or baked acorn squash?  Have you eaten fennel or pumpkin (in a pie doesn’t count)?  Collard greens and vinegar?    Jicama and yucca root? I have perused my produce section with new eyes.  As a result, we have a varied and exciting diet.

Kale Salad with Cranberries and Pine nuts. photo from

Being vegan has not been boring or expensive!  Vegetables go a long way and are cheaper than meat.  Beans and grains are filling and versatile.  There are more vegan convenience options than I realized, and many of my old favorites could be made over.  I don’t think everyone should cut out meat altogether like I have, but I think everyone should rediscover the joys of eating the food God made!

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