Jan 222016
 
To health!

To health!

I completed the juice challenge! 5 days of nothing but juices. Generally, it went well! I was so busy making and drinking juices that I didn’t have much time to think about hunger or food. It was difficult to drink that much juice each day.

Each day was organized similarly: 1) drink lemon water, 2) make two juices for the day, divide each batch in half and drink 4 servings throughout the day, 3) have coconut water mid-morning 4) end each day with vegetable broth and the “pear pie” juice which is so sweet and delicious it tastes like a sinful dessert.

Each day started with warm lemon water.

Each day started with warm lemon water.

Each day ended with a Pear Pie smoothie which really tasted like a cookie.  The cinnamon was wonderful!

Each day ended with a Pear Pie smoothie which really tasted like a cookie. The cinnamon was wonderful!

Pear Pie Smoothie (I blended mine with frozen blueberries rather than juicing.)

Pear Pie Smoothie (I blended mine with frozen blueberries rather than juicing.)

Day One

Joe's "Mean Green" juice.  A classic.  I am probably the only one who is not crazy about this juice.  For a green juice, it isn't bad, just not my favorite.

Joe’s “Mean Green” juice. A classic. I am probably the only one who is not crazy about this juice. For a green juice, it isn’t bad, just not my favorite.

Ingredients for Sunny Citrus Beet Juice

Ingredients for Sunny Citrus Beet Juice

Sunny Citrus Beet juice.  I generally like purple juices.  This one wasn't bad but the grapefruit made it a bit sour for my taste.

Sunny Citrus Beet juice. I generally like purple juices. This one wasn’t bad but the grapefruit made it a bit sour for my taste.

Day Two

Ingredients for Morning Green Glory Juice.

Ingredients for Morning Green Glory Juice.

Morning Green Glory Juice.  This was my least favorite juice of the challenge.

Morning Green Glory Juice. This was my least favorite juice of the challenge.

Ingredients for Radiant AntiOxi Orange

Ingredients for Radiant AntiOxi Orange

The Radiant Anti Oxi Orange Juice to go (as I was on the way out the door to lessons for my kids).

The Radiant Anti Oxi Orange Juice to go (as I was on the way out the door to lessons for my kids).

Day Three

For this day, I got to test what this juice challenge would be like for someone with a full time job outside the home. We were spending the day skiing so I had to make all the juices the night before and store them in portable containers. It was a lot of work at night when I was tired but generally it worked out fine.

Ingredients for Carrot Apple Ginger juice, one of our family's favorites!!

Ingredients for Carrot Apple Ginger juice, one of our family’s favorites!!

Ingredients for Pear Power

Ingredients for Pear Power

Pear Power Juice, a curiously delicious mix of pears and basil....very gourmet!

Pear Power Juice, a curiously delicious mix of pears and basil….very gourmet!

Day Four

Ingredients for Chard Rock Cafe juice.

Ingredients for Chard Rock Cafe juice.

Chard Rock Cafe juice.  Not one of my favorites but the oregano was interesting to taste.

Chard Rock Cafe juice. Not one of my favorites but the oregano was interesting to taste.

Ingredients for Anti Aging Beet Grape

Ingredients for Anti Aging Beet Grape

Anti Aging Beet Grape Juice.  I liked it!  Sweet.

Anti Aging Beet Grape Juice. I liked it! Sweet.

Day Five

Ingredients for Calcium Rich Cucumber -- one of my favorite juices!

Ingredients for Calcium Rich Cucumber — one of my favorite juices!

I always make this one as a smoothie by blending the frozen pineapple rather than juicing it.

I always make this one as a smoothie by blending the frozen pineapple rather than juicing it.

Ingredients for Micronutrient Madness

Ingredients for Micronutrient Madness

Micronutrient Madness Juice.  You could probably make this more orange by peeling the cucumber before juicing.

Micronutrient Madness Juice. You could probably make this more orange by peeling the cucumber before juicing.

Unlike last time I did a juice cleanse, there was no nausea in the early days. I am not sure if that is a sign that I am getting healthier or if drinking electrolyte juices like coconut water and vegetable broth really makes a huge difference.

I lost a total of 7 pounds at the end of the juice cleanse, including 2 inches off my waist, which was a great reward for my efforts.

2016-01-15-juicechallenge-before-after

While juice cleansing may not be to everyone’s taste, there are a few things I learned from this experience:
1) Having a lot of water/fluid in your body really does decrease hunger.
2) It still continues to be a challenge to find time to cook healthy foods, whether juices or meals. No matter which healthy eating plan I try, I have to plan on at least 30-45 minutes per meal. Until there is an affordable fast food option for clean eating, I have to figure out how I can work more cooking time into my schedule.
3) Setting a good example for my children really did show results. When they saw me eating all this fresh produce, they were more tempted to try fruits and vegetables themselves. They discovered they liked Bolthouse Farms’ Amazing Mango juice, they juiced their own fresh orange juice and ate more butternut squash soup than I have ever seen them eat before.

Fresh squeezed orange juice!

Fresh squeezed orange juice!

My son began raiding the fridge for any products with sugar in them and decided he quite likes kefir!

My son began raiding the fridge for any products with sugar in them and decided he quite likes kefir!

Babies like Pear Pie smoothie too!

Babies like Pear Pie smoothie too!

We made this gluten free banana pumpkin bread.  The kids said it was not great but did eat it because it was the best "sweet" we had in the house.

We made this gluten free banana pumpkin bread. The kids said it was not great but did eat it because it was the best “sweet” we had in the house.

This child has never eaten so much butternut squash soup!

This child has never eaten so much butternut squash soup!

I wish I could say the juice cleansing was sustainable and I continued to juice and eat healthy after it ended. Unfortunately, once the restrictions were gone, it was back to feasting as usual! It is very hard to “juice” in the cold of winter. I think my best bet at this point is to try to plan out a week of soups. If I am following a prewritten plan, I seem to do much better than just winging it and “trying” to eat healthy.

So now for this weekend’s challenge…..a blizzard! I am finding it hard to take seriously all the snow drama. It is so over the top!

2016-01-20-snowdrama

2016-01-20-nbcsnow

2016-01-20-washpost-snowdrama

Sorry folks....all that's left is the skim milk and the fancy organic stuff.

Sorry folks….all that’s left is the skim milk and the fancy organic stuff.

Maybe this storm really will give us two feet of snow. Maybe it will paralyze everything for a week. But maybe it will also be less than predicted. Maybe we will be fine.

Let’s hope! Be warm and stay safe to those affected!

 Posted by on January 22, 2016 General Tagged with: , , , , ,
Apr 282014
 
Time to celebrate!

Time to celebrate!

Thank you for all the great comments and questions on my last post about the end of my Lenten healthy eating experiment! I will be getting to your questions soon. First, I need to take a short mental break from dieting to catch up on all the other things we have been doing.

First, I think it is only necessary to comment on all the wonderful foods we enjoyed on Easter. Just as “work hard, play hard” is a maxim many people aspire to, “diet hard, feast hard” is probably the corollary.

I spent almost all day on Saturday in the kitchen preparing for Easter.

Easter Egg Dyeing

Earlier in the week, my children decorated hard boiled eggs.  I found these egg painting kits at the dollar store and bought one for each of them.  It was a little hard to get the eggs in and out but other than that, they were easy to use and the paints washed off of skin easily with soap and water.

Earlier in the week, my children decorated hard boiled eggs. I found these egg painting kits at the dollar store and bought one for each of them. It was a little hard to get the eggs in and out but other than that, they were easy to use and the paints washed off of skin easily with soap and water.

Each child had a unique egg painting technique: here fingerpainting,

Each child had a unique egg painting technique: here fingerpainting,

My son prefers to mix all the paints together into mud-like colors and paint the eggs with that.  His brown eggs were actually quite beautiful.  My daughter said they looked like dinosaur eggs.

My son prefers to mix all the paints together into mud-like colors and paint the eggs with that. His brown eggs were actually quite beautiful. My daughter said they looked like dinosaur eggs.

This daughter preferred to paint in bold stripes.

This daughter preferred to paint in bold stripes.

The gorgeous finished eggs!

The gorgeous finished eggs!

Menu

My menu of Easter foods was eclectic. The children had some sweets picked out that they wanted. I wanted to make a traditional Greek Easter bread as a reminder of my heritage. For the main courses, however, I tried to choose clean eating recipes so that we would have at least a few healthy things among all the treats. Some of the recipes I had been eyeing during my diet.

Greek Easter Bread

I used this recipe from Chow for my Greek Easter bread:

Two spices used in Greek Easter bread are mahlepi (mahlab in Arabic), an aromatic spice made from the seeds of a cherry and mastic, the sap of the mastic tree, known as the "tears of Chios."  I found them at our local Mediterranean foods shop called "Nile Market."

Two spices used in Greek Easter bread are mahlepi (mahlab in Arabic), an aromatic spice made from the seeds of a cherry and mastic, the sap of the mastic tree, known as the “tears of Chios.” I found them at our local Mediterranean foods shop called “Nile Market.”

Zesting an orange for the Easter bread.

Zesting an orange for the Easter bread.

Kneading the dough with my daughter.

Kneading the dough with my daughter.

The braided dough awaiting final rising.

The braided dough awaiting final rising.

Meatballs

I was trying to think of a healthy family-friendly dish that we could all eat. Meatballs were an easy choice. I used this recipe for turkey meatballs from actress Jessica Alba that was posted on Martha Stewart’s website. I liked that they had some vegetables snuck inside of them.

I used a bit more vegetables than the recipe called for.  My children saw me making these and vowed that they would not eat them.  Fortunately, once they tasted the finished product they changed their minds.

I used a bit more vegetables than the recipe called for. My children saw me making these and vowed that they would not eat them. Fortunately, once they tasted the finished product they changed their minds.

Bunny Cupcakes

I saw an adorable picture for cupcakes decorated like rabbits on a recipe website. It seemed that it was just a piece of clip art and there were no specific instructions how to make them. I used a store-bought package of carrot cake and made it into mini-cupcakes. We decorated them with store bought cream cheese frosting, marshmallows, colored sugar and mini Reeses pieces. The children helped and loved this project!

The girls worked hard on the decorating while their brother worked hard on tasting all of the candy toppings.

The girls worked hard on the decorating while their brother worked hard on tasting all of the candy toppings.

The bunny cupcakes in progress.

The bunny cupcakes in progress.

The Cake

Just after I started my healthy eating diet, my daughter requested that we make a rainbow layered cake. I looked up some ideas online and found that we would have to make 7 layers of cake all tinted the colors of the rainbow. I was not thrilled with this idea. Soon after, we were shopping at the grocery store and my daughter found a “spring” cake with two different colored layers: one pink and one yellow. This seemed to satisfy her rainbow cake notions so we bought the cake mix to make for Easter. It sat on the counter for weeks and my daughter continually reminded me that we needed to make it. When finally the day came, she was so excited!

The cake mix!

The cake mix!

Frosting the layers.  We didn't go to the trouble of properly leveling the cake so the layers were even.  We just did our best to frost it and put it together the best we could.

Frosting the layers. We didn’t go to the trouble of properly leveling the cake so the layers were even. We just did our best to frost it and put it together the best we could.

My daughter's decoration for the top of the cake.

My daughter’s decoration for the top of the cake.

This caked ended up being quite a source of hilarity (and stress) for me. This cake went through several iterations before it was eaten.

What happens when you leave a 2-year old alone with a cake.  He put his fingers all over the top!

What happens when you leave a 2-year old alone with a cake. He put his fingers all over the top!

My attempt to repair the cake before my daughter saw her brother's damage.

My attempt to repair the cake before my daughter saw her brother’s damage.

The Meals

Breakfast: preparing for the sugar infusion to follow with a mango smoothie and grain-free granola.

Breakfast: preparing for the sugar infusion to follow with a mango smoothie and grain-free granola.

For breakfast, I used two recipes from Dr. Sandra Cabot’s website:

The mango smoothie is delicious and the granola smells awesome but tastes a bit bland. Still, if you are doing clean eating, you just crave the fats in the nuts and it has a nice crunch.

Then, it was time to indulge!  We had so much candy it looked like a candy factory exploded in our house!  Here, an Easter bunny Kit Kat for my Kit Kat loving daughter.

Then, it was time to indulge! We had so much candy it looked like a candy factory exploded in our house! Here, an Easter bunny Kit Kat for my Kit Kat loving daughter.

Easter isn't complete without Peeps!  Here: party cake Peeps for my marshmallow loving daughter.

Easter isn’t complete without Peeps! Here: party cake Peeps for my marshmallow loving daughter.

We sliced into the finished Greek Easter bread.  It has the same dense crumb I remember from my grandmother's recipe but a totally different flavor.  This bread was more citrus-inspired with the orange zest.  It was very delicious, though!  My grandmother used anise (a licorice flavor) which I will have to try next time.

We sliced into the finished Greek Easter bread. It has the same dense crumb I remember from my grandmother’s recipe but a totally different flavor. This bread was more citrus-inspired with the orange zest. It was very delicious, though! My grandmother used anise (a licorice flavor) which I will have to try next time.

The bunny cupcakes were delightful treats.  They were small and it was shockingly easy to devour handfuls of them.

The bunny cupcakes were delightful treats. They were small and it was shockingly easy to devour handfuls of them.

For lunch, my husband and I were both ready for a break from sugar.  All of these are clean eating recipes.  We had lamb chops with two types of salad.

For lunch, my husband and I were both ready for a break from sugar. All of these are clean eating recipes. We had lamb chops with two types of salad.

For lunch, I chose all clean eating recipes. For me, it was important psychologically to associate clean eating with celebration and not just as a sort of dieting punishment. Clean food can be extraordinarily delicious.

All of these lunch recipes were winners. We enjoyed them all!

For dinner, we had Jessica Alba's meatballs along with a simple salad of kale, cabbage and carrots with the leftover balsamic lime vinaigrette.  Everyone devoured the meatballs, including the children!

For dinner, we had Jessica Alba’s meatballs along with a simple salad of kale, cabbage and carrots with the leftover balsamic lime vinaigrette. Everyone devoured the meatballs, including the children!

After asking me about it all day, it was finally time to cut into the Easter cake.  By this time, the cake had gone through another decorating iteration.  My daughter (the chef) decided that it should be covered in Peeps and chocolate eggs.

After asking me about it all day, it was finally time to cut into the Easter cake. By this time, the cake had gone through another decorating iteration. My daughter (the chef) decided that it should be covered in Peeps and chocolate eggs.

As I was cutting the cake, my daughter kept saying, "Please let it come out right!  Please!"  When she saw the slice had the layers just like the picture on the box, she was elated!  The Peeps made it even better too!

As I was cutting the cake, my daughter kept saying, “Please let it come out right! Please!” When she saw the slice had the layers just like the picture on the box, she was elated! The Peeps made it even better too!

As you can see, our Easter was thoroughly delicious!

Did you make anything special for your Easter celebration? Please share in the comments.

 Posted by on April 28, 2014 General Tagged with: , , , ,
Apr 242013
 
Stroller skating . . . a variation on our daily walk.

Stroller skating . . . a variation on our daily walk.

When one person in a family adopts healthy diet and exercise routines, a funny thing happens . . . the effect spreads to the rest of the family. If that family member also happens to be the main cook and food provider for the family, the impact is especially strong.

There is a saying that children learn in 3 ways . . . by example, by example and by example. You can hardly expect your children to eat well or exercise when you, the parent, don’t.

In my household, my healthy eating habits last month didn’t really encourage the children to eat salad (wouldn’t that have been a miracle!) but it did get them thinking about which foods are healthy. They also liked to police which foods I could and could not eat when I was on my diet.

But there were a few changes my children were open to . . .

Snacks

2013-04-23-crispywheats My eldest daughter is the biggest fan of Cheerios as a snack. She loves to eat it dry. We get the plain Cheerios but even the plain variety has a little sugar in it. I wanted to switch her to something that did not have any sugar in it because I figured that must be healthier. After some thought, I decided to try mini shredded wheats (the unfrosted, plain variety). Since my daughter had seen by example all the sacrifices I had made to eat healthier, she understood that eating healthier foods was important. So, she didn’t dismiss the idea out of hand and, to my great surprise, she liked them! She calls them “crispy wheats” and all of my children enjoy eating them as a snack.

What is the health benefit of this switch? Just like the Bisquick versus whole wheat pancakes question, it isn’t entirely clear cut.

2013-04-24-cerealcomparison

Cheerios have fewer calories and are enriched with more vitamins and minerals, especially iron and folic acid. Shredded wheats, however, have lower sodium, no sugar, more protein and higher dietary fiber. For now, we still buy both cereals. If nothing else, it helps to expand her notoriously picky palate.

Veggie Pasta

2013-04-23-macncheese For my 4-year-old fan of mac n’ cheese, she picked out herself a variety of mac n’ cheese from the grocery store shelf that claimed to have vegetables in the pasta! I purposely didn’t point this fact out to her and just said, “OK, that looks good!” and cooked it up for her. It cooks up exactly like regular mac n’ cheese. The only difference is that the pasta has cauliflower in it! We made the healthy version of the recipe on the box that has less butter and milk than the regular recipe. It tasted delicious and I noticed no difference between veggie and regular mac ‘n cheese. My preschooler loved it too!



*Note: There is a current petition in the blogosphere to have Kraft remove all food dyes from its mac ‘n cheese. From my own experience, my kids won’t eat mac ‘n cheese if it is not the right color, i.e. unnaturally bright orange. Nobody is pickier about what food looks like than kids! Note that Kraft responds that it already makes 14 different varieties of its mac n cheese that have no dyes or natural food dyes. So, there is a mac ‘n cheese for everyone!

What was the health benefit of this switch?

2013-04-24-macncheese

The health benefit is not as large as I would like but still an improvement. The cauliflower pasta has less sodium, three times the dietary fiber and is more enriched with Vitamin C, and iron. On the downside, there is more sugar in the veggie pasta and the calories are about the same. Mac n Cheese may not be the healthiest choice in general but if you are going to eat it you might as well go for the biggest nutritional boost you can get. There may be other varieties with even more nutritional content than the veggie version.

Milk

2013-04-24-skimmilk My children drink a ton of milk every day. Not chocolate milk, mind you, just the plain white stuff straight out of the milk carton. They drink soda only occasionally and rarely drink juice. Since they drink so much milk, I thought it might be a good idea to switch to skim milk from the 2% we were drinking. If nothing else, it saves a few calories for all of us as well as a few dollars at the grocery store, since skim milk tends to be the cheapest.

What is the impact of this change?

2013-04-24-milkcompare

The skim milk has fewer calories, fat and cholesterol but also less protein and calcium and (some say) more sugars. With the large quantities consumed in our house, the fewer calories probably has the edge for us but every situation may be different.

Recent research seems to say, however, that the fat content in the milk you feed your children has almost no impact on their weight and that, in some cases, low-fat milk could increase your child’s chances of being overweight or obese. Low-fat milk alone cannot cure other problems in your child’s diet and exercise program and full fat milk might help children feel fuller and eat less of other high calorie snacks.

Exercise

The other big change we made in our house was for me to start walking 1 mile a day with the children. My little one rides in the stroller and his big sisters take turns riding with him when they need a rest. Sometimes they run, sometimes they make me run, sometimes they skate or bike. When he can, my husband joins the fun and we all go together. It is a relaxing way to connect with the family. Since the children walk at an erratic pace, we are not going for aerobic intensity but it is helping everyone to relax and enjoy the outdoors.

Have you implemented any diet or exercise changes with your children? Do you find nutritional guidance as confusing as I do? Please share in the comments.

 Posted by on April 24, 2013 General Tagged with: , , ,
Apr 042013
 
My daughter's edible masterpiece.

My daughter’s edible masterpiece.

For my daughter’s preschool Easter party this year, the teacher needed a volunteer to bring sugar cookies and frosting so the kids could try their hand at decorating. Although this is not my area of expertise, I offered to try to pull something together.

First, it was difficult to find any undecorated sugar cookies at the grocery store so I wasn’t able to purchase them. I looked up a recipe for soft sugar cookies online and came up with this one.

I used this recipe for the cookie base because I had some margarine I needed to use. If I were doing this again, I would look for another recipe (or at least another brand of margarine) because the margarine I used had trans fat in it, which we all should not be eating. Everyone thought the cookies were delicious though! (Since I was dieting, I didn’t actually taste them myself.)

Once I had the recipe, I needed a way to make cookies in the shape of eggs. Based on a tip here, I designed a template on the computer and cut them out of the dough. I grossly underestimated how much this dough would expand when baked so my cookies came out enormous! I would probably reduce the shapes by at least 25% if I were doing this again. One recipe made about 16 smaller egg cookies and 2 large ones (for teacher gifts).

It was at that point that I realized the little tubes of icing I thought I bought for the cookie decorating were not actually tubes of icing at all but food coloring gels! So then I needed to make homemade icing too!
I ended up making a hard sugar cookie glaze for each cookie. I attempted this recipe but had to modify it since there didn’t seem to be enough liquid in it. I ended up using about 2/3 cup sugar to 2 tsp milk and 2 tsp corn syrup. I also used vanilla extract instead of almond. The glaze dried fairly solidly in about an hour.

The iced cookies.

The iced cookies.

We experimented with trying to color this sticky glaze to decorate the tops of the cookies. This frosting is very thick and you can kind of splatter it on Jackson Pollack style.

Jackson Pollack inspired sugar cookie icing.

Jackson Pollack inspired sugar cookie icing.

This seemed a bit too difficult and messy for a preschool class to handle though so we looked for another option.
To make it easier for the kids to decorate the cookies, I read this tip (from the wonderfully named Chef Messy blog) about making a paintable frosting that you put on with a brush. (She also gives a recipe for Lion House sugar cookies that she recommends.)

I mixed up some colors. My colors could probably have been a little darker for better effect but I sort of liked the subtle pastel look. I tested out the frosting paints on some sample eggs for the teachers. They worked quite well! The hard sugar cookie glaze made a great “canvas” for the paints. It did not get punctured by the brushing.

The fun part is painting the cookies.

The fun part is painting the cookies.

I left the frosting colors in the fridge, covered in plastic wrap, overnight. The next morning, I was worried the frosting might have dried but it was still just fine.

We wrapped up the teacher cookies in some plastic and my daughter wrote an Easter message on each one. The teachers really loved these.

A sweet Easter gift for the hardworking teachers.

A sweet Easter gift for the hardworking teachers.

The teachers were really pleased with how easy this craft was to execute with the children and asked that I share the recipes so they could do it again.

The kids seemed really proud of their edible masterpieces. The teachers packaged them for transporting home by putting each cookie on a paper plate and then inside a large zippered plastic bag, which worked really well.

*I know we all probably don’t want to know this information but each huge decorated Easter egg cookie has about 325 calories. Not too bad considering.

 Posted by on April 4, 2013 General Tagged with: , ,
Jan 082013
 
Yucky brown bananas.

Yucky brown bananas.

One of my goals this year is to try to minimize our food expenses. No, we are not going on a starvation diet and no we probably won’t make many significant changes to what we eat. I just want to see if we can make better use of the food we have, waste less and maybe pick up some savings at the grocery store.

So, this week, I took my yucky brown bananas…..

2013-01-07-mixing

tossed in some ingredients on hand, following this recipe from Metrocurean but substituting Starbucks hot chocolate mix for the cocoa powder and plain Greek yogurt for the sour cream and putting it in the “Texas” muffin pan since my son had hidden the bread pans somewhere and . . . .

Chocolate banana bread muffins.

Chocolate banana bread (made in the Texas muffin pan instead).

Voila! These were devoured instantly. Decluttering through eating!

 Posted by on January 8, 2013 General Tagged with: , ,