Leftovers for Lunch

So it has come to my attention that a few of you were under the impression that I was not going to blog anymore!! And I am here to say…not true! It is Wednesday, and here I am. I just meant I was going away from the dinner posts, at least for a bit, so as not to bore you all to tears.

For now, or until I think up another fascinating series, there will just be odds and ends, dinner success stories and/or failures, and other tidbits.

Today I am going to share a couple of my lunches that I thought were particularly nice.  I pack my and my son’s lunch most nights of the week, and definitely take advantage of leftovers.  And frankly I could use some ideas about what to pack for a kid who will only eat 2 types of sandwiches.  He does have a pretty broad range of foods that he likes, but not many that can be eaten cold other than the 2 sandwiches..anyone?  I need to do some internet searching.  I could send him all sorts of things that he wouldn’t eat, but the kid is running around all day at camp and needs to refuel, so I don’t think it’s really the right platform to be trying out brand new stuff.  Then again maybe he would eat it if he was starving and had nothing else to eat..hmmm.

Anyhow, my son and I both have a PlanetBox, which we absolutely LOVE.  They are a bit heavy for my son to carry, but it stays super cold with just the one small ice pack I think because it is metal.  So I guess that is a good trade off in terms of weight. The adult one has a bit more space and one less compartment than the child one, and comes with 2 great containers, one small one for sauce or dressing, and one glass container with a silicone lid that fits in the big compartment.  So here is yummy lunch #1:

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Big salad with green leaf lettuce, carrot, cucumber, roasted red peppers, 2 slices of leftover bacon, horseradish honey mustard dressing (homemade), leftover quinoa with a little butter.

And yummy lunch #2:

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Sliced turkey, cucumber, baby bell pepper, homemade hummus, leftover corn on the cob, and I think I had some rice crackers on the side.

And finally, yummy lunch #3:

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Leftover turkey meatballs, jarred sauce, rice spaghetti, corn on the cob (again! what can I say, it’s corn season..yummm), kale chips.

This was a kale chip experiment.  I notice that kale chips do not keep well; they get soggy very quickly.  On this particular day it was so humid they weren’t even crunchy by the end of the meal! So I packed them up and put them in the toaster oven at work the next day on the toast setting for just a minute or two.  They re-crunchified quite nicely!

And here is one last weekend lunch (also utilizing a lot of leftovers) which I thought was particularly lovely looking (and tasting I might add!):

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Leftover green beans, white beans, orange cherry tomatoes, baby bell peppers, carrots and my latest favorite quick dressing: olive oil, balsamic vinegar, a tiny bit of honey, nutritional yeast, salt, pepper, and garlic powder.

What’s your favorite way to use leftovers in a new meal?

Family Dinners, final edition.

So far so good in keeping the family dinner blog going. But I believe we’ve come to the point where you’d rather cut your toenails than read about turkey meatballs again.  Therefore this is the final edition, for now.

Things are not running as smoothly, however, in farm to preschool land.  I’ve had everything happen in only 1 weeks time since the markets started…from losing my assistant after 1 market day to having no farmers at all on what was supposed to be the first market at one center, to getting in a car accident for the second time in about 6 weeks while driving home from a market that was cancelled when we arrived to a closed child care center. Whew.  I just keep breathing and knowing it will all work out, and just riding the bumps in the road like I own them.  Just keep on keepin’ on. Before I begin, I didn’t really take any good pictures this week, so here’s one of my son buried in the sand at the beach, just for fun.  He stayed like this for a really long time.  A guy walking by almost stepped on his head.

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So here’s some dinners for this week:

Sunday: Meatballs (same recipe but with ground beef this time), brown rice pasta, homemade basil pesto, roasted radishes, sliced cucumbers, raw sugar snap peas.

Monday: I worked.  Leftovers for the boys.

Tuesday: Olive oil and Spike oven roasted chicken drumsticks, wild rice blend (Whole Foods brand- and they changed their recipe, it’s not salty anymore!), corn on the cob, honey glazed carrots, raw carrots.

My son helped me cook a little tonight, he boiled the corn and lifted them out of the water with the tongs.  He also helped cook the carrots, grate the orange zest over them, add the honey, and stir it up. Did he eat it? No sir.  Too bad for him, it was delicious.  You should try it.  It was my farmers market recipe this week.

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Wednesday: Quinoa Pizza Bites, marinara sauce, fresh mozzerella, roasted red pepper, and basil salad, black cerignola olives, sauteed broccoli, watermelon.

The pizza bites were delicious, I will definitely make them again but go lighter on the salt.  My son took a teeny nibble and said they were delicious, but didn’t eat any more.  Just 4 slices of watermelon.  Nothing else.

Have you had cerignola olives? My fave.  Huge and not too salty.  Might be good for a kid’s first olive.

I’ve been working on mastering broccoli with garlic and oil like they do in the Italian restaurants.  Here’s my method–cut a head of broccoli into florets, saute the garlic for a couple of minutes in olive oil. Add the broccoli and about 1/4-1/2 cup of chicken broth.  Turn the heat up pretty high, cover the pot, and let it cook about 5 minutes.  Test for doneness–should be tender crisp and still bright green.  Season with salt and pepper.

Thursday: I worked late-ish and the boys went out for burgers.

Friday: Chicken sausage, quinoa, peas, apple slices

Saturday: Frozen chicken nuggets (yes we eat them, but only the Bell and Evans white meat, real uncooked chicken ones), kale chips, watermelon, sliced cucumber.

OMG best kale chips I have ever made! I used half a huge bunch of regular green kale, removed the stems, tore them into large pieces, washed, and dried them in my salad spinner.  I tossed them with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, a drizzle of honey, about a tablespoon or 2 of nutritional yeast, and some salt and pepper. I laid them out on a cookie sheet and cooked them for about 10 minutes on 375 degrees.  They do better on a little less hot, but thats what the nuggets needed.  I would do them on 325-350 under normal circumstances.  Flip them once during cooking and watch them CLOSELY! There is only a few moments leeway between them being limp, chewy and underdone, being perfectly light and crispy, and being burnt and bitter.

For more family dinner ideas, check out this post, or this one, or this one, OR even this one.

And please feel free to share YOUR family dinner ideas here, obviously I’ve run out.

Family Dinner Week 4

So we were away all weekend and came back late Sunday night.  I had guests in town, and I was working on another project etc etc etc, which left me zero time to plan or shop or cook.  So all bets are off this week as to how the meals will turn out.  I had some stuff hanging around and some meat in the freezer and my incredible talent of being able to create a decent meal from a seemingly empty refrigerator.  I did finally manage to get to TJs on Tuesday, but don’t think the planning phase is going to happen this week.  So here goes.

Monday: Had to work.  Boys went out for pizza.

Tuesday: Grilled chicken breasts, curried grilled cauliflower, guacamole, salsa, blue corn chips, sliced cucumber, cherries.

I just seasoned the chicken breast with Spike and olive oil and they came out nice.  I think I have finally learned not to overcook chicken breast after overcooking about 6,236 chicken breasts over the past 10 or so years.

The cauliflower had incredible potential.  I wanted to do something a little different so I tossed the florets with some olive oil, curry powder, salt, and black pepper.  I grilled them in a grill basket and they were looking really nice until I turned up the heat at the end just to finish them a little more and something caught fire inside the grill and pretty much ruined it and gave a really bitter flavor to the cauliflower.  But I would try this if I were you, it would have been delicious I think, had it not caught fire. Doh.

AND score a silent point for me, my son actually ate and loved cherries tonight after trying to persuade him to eat them for many years.  I was eating them and conspicuously (though not intentionally) spitting the pits out onto my plate.  This struck my son as funny and he grew curious and agreed to try a cherry.  He was pleasantly surprised that not only was it great fun to find the pit in his mouth and spit it out, but that cherries are also incredibly delicious.  He said he loved them, and I simultaneously cheered silently while also sitting on the edge of my seat hoping he didn’t choke on the pit.  It was good times.

Wednesday: Frozen fish sticks (TJs), homemade tartar sauce, pasta, leftover homemade pesto, salad bar (romaine, carrots, sugar snap peas, almonds, raisins, roasted red peppers).

Another shocker from my boy–I can’t even remember the last time he ate a fish stick, and he just bellied up to the table and ate 4 of them without even batting an eye or making a comment.  Like he’s been eating them forever. I also haven’t served them in months either.  But there ya go. Crazy.

Salad bar is a big favorite in my house.  I used to serve salad all together in one big bowl, but my son would never touch it.  Now I serve it all up separately-lettuce in one big bowl, and all the toppings in small bowls around.  This way my son can pick and choose what he likes. It makes a little more dishes but is otherwise just as easy to prepare.  Looks nice too!

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Thursday: Pulled pork in the crock pot, brioche rolls, potato chips, broccoli slaw, sliced cucumber, sliced apples.

I am just learning to like pork products other than bacon, and this pulled pork is super easy and yummy.  I like to dip mine in a little barbecue sauce too.

Friday: I went out with the girls! Rejoice. Boys had pasta and meatballs.

Cherry update: The night my son tried a cherry he said that he would like to eat cherries every day for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  When I served them again a day or two later, he looked, declared his love for cherries and didn’t eat a one.  I’m not sure he’s had one since that night.

Family Dinner Week 3

This was a very hectic week indeed.  And have to say that when I am not around, not a lot of dinner cooking gets done. Even if I leave plans.  Oh well.

So without further ado, and because my time is so limited this week:

Monday: I was out at a meeting and then meditation class, the boys went out for pizza.

Tuesday: Homemade turkey meatballs (they were so good last week I had to do it again, though I have to admit they weren’t as good this time, maybe because I left out the parmesan), homemade pesto (with basil that I grew myself-yahoo!), brown rice spaghetti (the one from Trader Joe’s is really quite good!), blanched broccoli from the farmers market.

I blanched the broccoli quickly in the pasta water before I boiled the pasta, then threw it in a bowl of ice water to keep it nice and green and still a little crisp.  My former broccoli lover still didn’t eat it…

Wednesday: Homemade beet hummus (it was so good, I don’t know why I buy hummus, it’s never very good), tortilla chips, bread, leftover broccoli, cut up carrots, celery, and radishes, avocado.

For the hummus I used 1 can of garbanzo beans, 1 small roasted beet, a few tablespoons of tahini, the juice of about 3/4 of a lemon, 1 clove of garlic, a glug of olive oil, fresh chives and parsley, and salt and pepper.  I’ve never been able to get my son to eat beets but he loved this hummus, it was a gorgeous hue of red/pink and was delicious too.  He loved it! He also made himself a broccoli and carrot sandwich. Ha.

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Thursday: I was working and husband was away, so I had to pack up lunch AND dinner for my son at the sitters house.  Whew.  At least I got in lots of fruits and vegetables.

Friday: Annie’s gluten-free mac and cheese, fresh mozzerella, roasted red pepper and basil salad, roasted beets, roasted asparagus and carrots, roasted radishes, corn on the cob.

This was a clean-out-the-fridge night meal.  We are going away tomorrow and didn’t want to waste all those beautiful vegetables! I have to say I never thought of roasting radishes, and it was SO delicious.  I will definitely do it again.  I like radishes but only in small amounts, and I can never use them up before they go funky.  I can’t remember where I saw the recipe, but it was so simple.  Slice the radishes thin and throw them in a baking dish with a tablespoon of butter and some salt and pepper. I roasted mine on 375 (though most recipes call for a bit hotter) and when the butter melted I just stirred it around a bit.  I roasted them til they were soft and shrively and a little brown, probably about 25 minutes.  Yum.

Another week of family dinner, and a recipe (sort of)

Well, I’ve been managing to keep up with my weekly meal planning so far, and even writing it down for you all! I sincerely hope some of you are getting some good ideas from it.  I’d love to hear what you are making too. We can all use some new dinner ideas once in a while (or all the time).  I’m working on taking some pictures too, for your viewing pleasure.  But don’t expect any fancy schmancy food styling with cute colored napkins or anything.  Ain’t nobody got time for that ’round here.  So without further ado, here are last week’s meals:

Sunday: Homemade turkey meatballs, penne pasta, jarred Sauce, roasted asparagus, carrot sticks, watermelon.

These were possibly the best batch of meatballs I have made in a while.  I should probably write down the recipe for you guys one of these days, but I think it comes out best when I wing it! I will try and give some basic instructions here and hope you can have great turkey meatballs too!  I think it had a lot to do with the pile of fresh herbs I put in..I am growing fresh herbs in front of my house, and they are doing well.  Maybe I do have a green thumb after all!

So I served a lot of choices this meal, which isn’t always the case.  I happened to have some carrot sticks left over from lunch, and watermelon that needed to be eaten up, so I put it out there, still in the containers from the fridge.  We’re not fancy, and sometimes a few extra choices are good for a picky little one.  Though this is one meal he’s pretty into.

Ok meatballs–1 or a little more pounds of ground turkey thighs, a big squish of tomato paste, 1 egg, about 1/4 cup of breadcrumbs (I used Ians gluten free panko), about 1/4 cup of chopped fresh herbs (I used oregano, basil, parsley, and chives), some garlic powder, onion powder, salt, pepper, and a dash of cinnamon.  Roll those puppies up and put them on a parchment lined baking sheet, bake for about 20 minutes on 375, turning occasionally.

Look at this crazy purple carrot!

Look at this crazy purple carrot!

Monday: Mexican sweet potato and black bean bake, salad bar (green leaf lettuce, cucumber, bell peppers, shredded cheddar cheese, cherry tomatoes), guacamole, salsa, sour cream, blue corn chips.

This dinner did not work out so well.  I planned this without realizing that it needed to bake for about 50 minutes total, and didn’t get home until 5:50, and for some crazy reason, I was still determined to make it.  So we had some guac and chips and then had bath and hang out time.  The sweet potatoes were STILL not cooked, and I ended up having to cook the dish for an extra 30-40 minutes.  So we ate extra late and frankly I didn’t enjoy it that much, so I won’t share it with you here.  Lesson learned; don’t try to bake sweet potatoes into a casserole, roast or steam them first.  By the time they were finished the corn tortillas in the dish were dry in some spots and mushy in others, and the cheese in the dish was dried out.  Blah.  All that waiting for mediocre results.  Oh well, you win some, you lose some.  We still sat together and ate, so thats cool.

BUT I did find out that if you cut plain corn tortillas up into quarters and bake them at 375 for about 10 minutes, turning once, they get pretty crispy and delicious! Throw a little salt on them and you have a non-fried, non-packaged tortilla chip! I will definitely do this again, because I have an incredible weakness for tortilla chips, and can easily eat WAY too many in one sitting.  I haven’t gotten into making my own corn tortillas, though that is definitely on my radar…

Tuesday: Spicy Sesame Honey Chicken in a Crock Pot, Basmati rice, peas, strawberries.

This was great because it was all done when we got home.  However, I think it would have been better with the sesame and scallion garnish.  No time for garnish tonight.  Next time I would change the sauce up a bit I think; more honey, less tomato, add ginger, maybe a little mirin or sherry.  And if you have the option I would stick with the recommendation to cook 5-7 hours, I cooked 8 and warmed for a bit, because thats how long I was gone. And it was a tiny bit overdone.

Wednesday: Dinner out.

Thursday: Homemade burgers from the freezer, whole wheat buns from TJs, frozen french fries, not sure if there was anything else, but like to think there was a fruit or vegetable served. I work Thursday nights so I’m not home for dinner!

Friday: Scrambled eggs with fresh chives, bacon, toast, pepper jack cheese, salsa, avocado, sliced oranges, honeydew melon, cherry tomatoes, strawberries.

The fruits and veggies were all things that were already cut up and needed to be end-of-the-week eaten.

Where I have been! (and a week of quick meals)

Let me apologize for the long delay in keeping up with my blog.  I know some of you have come to enjoy and look forward to my posts, and well, I’ve been slackin’!  Where have I been??  Well, I’ve been busy and distracted in a few different respects, and I’m trying to make my way back here to my writing, because it is so good for me in many ways.

One big reason for my absence is that I started a full time job a few weeks ago, and have been transitioning into the life of a full time worker bee + mom + wife + house cleaner + laundry doer + dinner cooker etc etc etc.  Whew, it’s a lot.  But I am happy to have found a job that I truly love and feel blessed to get paid to do it!

What is this job, you ask? I am managing a Farm to Preschool grant for the Child Care Council of Nassau. Yes, I get to work with kids and farmers and food every day, and a bunch of nice people too!  I am going to be running 3 farmers markets beginning in July that will be located at 3 child care centers during dismissal times, when the parents are coming to pick up their children. We are focusing on underserved areas of Long Island, and hoping to not only increase access to fresh, local produce for the families and staff of these child care centers, but also to help them increase their consumption of fresh produce by making it as affordable as possible, and at the same time educating them on how to cook new vegetables.  I am so thrilled to be able to head up this project.

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Another part of the project involves gardening with the children at each center and I spent 3 mornings last week at Home Depot purchasing soil and other various garden tools.  Now, gardening is definitely not my strong suit (I have killed many a plant in my day), but I’ve just been flying by the seat of my pants as I figure it all out.  I have been stumped several times, like when I opened up the packet of lettuce seeds and realized how SMALL and how MANY of them there were!  How many to put in each hole?? Certainly not just one?  How many can you plant in a 2 foot by 1 foot space? Hmm, no idea.  Well, since I was planting with 4 year olds, and there were only moments to spare to answer all of these questions, they all ended up in the ground, and I guess we’ll see what happens!! It is great fun to be able to share this experience with the children, and I can’t wait to see what comes up.  I hope something comes up, and I sure do hope they will eat it too!

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I’ve also been doing a little nutrition counseling with adults these days, and many of my clients have asked me for resources to help them create healthy, quick meals that their children will eat too.  So I had an idea.  Since I’ve gone back to work, I’ve found that making a plan and shopping on the weekend is the only way to get dinner on the table each night in a short amount of time.  Since I spend an inordinate amount of time looking at new recipes and trying them out, I thought it might be helpful to share my weekly plans with you all, along with the results, good or bad.

SO here goes.  First you should know that I use an amazingly wonderful website called Plan to Eat.  It is a subscription service, but I think it is worth every penny.  The site has an online recipe book so I can save any recipe I find on the web right to their site, organized into categories.  Then there is a drag and drop weekly planner where you can drag recipes from your list in the sidebar right onto the day you want to make it.  There is also a shopping list, which I don’t use but probably should, and you can access the whole site through an app on your phone.  It’s really great in helping me get organized, as well as be able to view a recipe easily while out and about.  Anyhow, you can plan every meal and snack if you like, but I just plan out the main dishes and sometimes side dishes for dinner.  Usually I just wing the side dishes if it will just be a vegetable roasted or steamed, or salad, or fruit, or sometimes I leave that part open and see what needs to be used up.  Since it is farmers market season now too, it is good to leave the sides a bit flexible so I can just pick up what looks good at the market.  But having at least the main dish planned is essential.  I also have to say that my crock pot (a recent purchase) has become incredibly helpful in getting food on the table fast.  Crock pots are all the rage these days too, and you can find tons of real food crock pot recipes online.

So without further ado, this was my plan from last week, and how it went:

Monday: Black beans and rice, guacamole, salsa, blue corn chips, cut up cucumber, carrots, bell peppers.

The black beans were from a crock pot black bean soup recipe I made for Cinco de Mayo and froze.  They were delicious.

Tuesday: Flank steak on the grill, seasoned with Spike (do you know about Spike? It’s a great seasoning blend), frozen french fries, steamed green beans.

The green beans were a fiasco, they were TJ’s non-organic bag of green beans and they smelled and tasted like maple syrup once cooked, and looked super weird.  One of the only times I told my son NOT to eat a vegetable.  They got tossed.  I think I had some sliced cucumber in there too.

Wednesday: Whole chicken in a crock pot, Annie’s mac and cheese, sauteed kale with red onion, watermelon.

This chicken is a great recipe from 100 Days of Real Food.  I’m a big fan of the blog, check it out if you haven’t.

Thursday: Dinner out.

Friday: Creamy chicken and wild rice stew,  bread, butter, salad.

Yum, this soup was delicious.  I will definitely make it again.  Super quick, prepped everything into the crock the night before (did this also with the whole chicken on Wednesday) with the exception of the leftover cooked chicken, then all I had to do was pop it into the cooker in the morning.  My husband added the chicken when he got home and turned the cooker back on high for about 20 minutes.  I also used homemade broth which I cooked all day on Thursday with the bones I had leftover from Wednesday’s chicken.  If you check out the whole chicken in a crock pot recipe, she explains how to do this.  It works, it’s easy, it’s delicious, and nutritious.

This is one meal I felt certain my 4 year old would not eat.  I mean, he likes chicken, rice, and the occasional soup mostly of the chicken noodle variety, but it was creamy and smelled a little ‘interesting’ from the wild rice.  I kept that idea to myself of course though, and sure enough, he agreed that he would like to try some in his bowl.  I put in a tiny bit and he tried and said he liked it.  He asked for more, which I gave him, but he didn’t eat it.  Oh well, it’s a good start, so maybe next time he will actually eat a bowlful, or 3 bites.

 

Raw nut flour!

Hopefully I have inspired some of you to make your own nut milk at this point. I was surprised and delighted when even my brother in law (definitely not the nut-milk making type!) asked me for the recipe!! I have used all types of nuts so far; cashew, almond, pecan, and hazelnut to be specific.

At first I was throwing away all the pulp that I strained out with my nut milk bag.  But it seemed like such a waste, and I had read that you could save it and use it elsewhere.  So I started tossing the wet chunks into my food dehydrator for 24 hours or so and they came out looking like this:

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You should know that I have a super cheapy Ronco food dehydrator, which actually works quite well.  But your dehydrating time may vary.  You could probably also do it on a very low temp in the oven, but I haven’t tried it.

I wasn’t exactly sure what I was going to do with them all, but I just kept chucking them in this container every few days.  Today I was finally inspired to make my favorite chocolate chip cookies that call for blanched almond flour.  I put the dehydrated nut pulp chunks into the dry canister of my Vitamix and whizzed it all up until it made nut flour. Raw almond/pecan/hazelnut flour!!

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That had hints of vanilla, cinnamon, and maple syrup from the nut milk mixture.  It was delicious and came out pretty finely ground. I did take the skins off the almonds after soaking because I don’t like how they flavor the milk.  So this might have made the texture of the flour a little finer, not sure.

My son and I made these cookies and they were deeee-licious.  Not so FODMAP friendly because they do have a little honey and coconut flour, but so so good.  Maybe I will try to make them over without those ingredients one of these days..

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In the meantime, save your nut pulp and make flour. It’s amazing! And nutritious! Some people have a beef with nut flour because it is such concentrated protein and fat, but I say eat the treats made with them on special occasions and only in moderation, and you will be just fine!

I’d love to hear what you do with your nut pulp!!?

 

Cinnamon Vanilla Almond Milk

Hello to all, and apologies for not having posted in a while! I have taken some much needed time to rest and rejuvenate over the past few weeks. First, I attended an amazing meditation retreat at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, and highly recommend getting there if you ever have the opportunity.  After that I spent a few days warming up in beautiful Puerto Rico, and experiencing some incredible nature in the rainforest.  I am back in the freezing cold now, and back in my kitchen, which I am grateful for.  There seemed to be a serious lack of fruits and vegetables in the parts of Puerto Rico I was in, and It will be a long time before I eat another fried plantain!

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A while back I posted about making my own cashew milk, which was incredibly delicious.  Well, since then I have embarked on a new diet to help improve my digestion.  I have been dabbling with the low FODMAP diet, and have read this book about it.  It was very informative, and though I haven’t been really strict with it, I have found that avoiding certain foods that are high in FODMAPs has been beneficial for me.

Unfortunately, both cashews and dates are high in FODMAPs, so I had to revamp my nut milk recipe.  I had previously tried almond milk but found it to have an unpleasant bitterness to it.  I have since discovered that removing the skins from the almonds seems to eliminate the bitterness.  I also tried pecan milk, which was good, but there was a lot of pulp to strain out.  So I wanted to share my latest almond milk recipe.  I have found that the addition of cinnamon is fantastic too.  After soaking the almonds, the skins slide off very easily.  It is a bit of a tedious task, but I think it’s worth it, especially when you have this guy helping you in the kitchen!

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Cinnamon Vanilla Almond Milk

(gluten free, dairy free, grain free, low FODMAP friendly)

3/4 cup raw almonds

1 teaspoon sea salt

4 cups filtered water

1-2 tablespoons maple syrup

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

In a glass jar or bowl, soak the almonds with sea salt in filtered water for 6-8 hours or overnight.  Drain, rinse well and and slip the skins off of the almonds if desired.  Combine almonds, 4 cups of filtered water, maple syrup, cinnamon, and vanilla in the  blender and puree for 1-2 minutes until a smooth consistency is reached. Strain milk through a fine mesh strainer, cheesecloth, or nut milk bag.  Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.

Feeding with Freedom; a series. Part 5: Dealing with Treats

The other day at lunchtime, I laid out the offerings along with a plate with 2 homemade cookies on it, one for my 4 year old, and one for me.  I don’t often serve treats with a meal since my son does not always ask for it, but I like to change it up and make sure that he does not become too preoccupied with sweets and treats.  He of course ate a cookie to start and vivaciously proclaimed that he was done. I asked him to make sure his belly was full and he said it was, so I reluctantly let him down from the table. Doh!  My plan had backfired, this time. Most of the time he will eat some of his meal, then his treat, then eat more of his meal.  But this day I guess he was not too hungry and the cookie was enough to fill him up. Oh well…I still think it was worth it.

My son has plenty of access to treats.  When I say treats, I mean foods that are high in fat and sugar, and fairly low in nutrients, such as chips, fried food, candy, cookies, and other sweets.  He knows he is allowed one treat per day (and there are occasionally more), and that he is able to choose what he would like.  Sometimes he asks for a treat, others he does not.  A “treat” to him can vary from ice cream to animal cracker to chips, and occasionally fruit, but this is still widely unacceptable as a treat to him. I’m working on it.  The important thing is that he knows he can have them (though I do limit portion size) often, which takes a lot of the value and importance of treats away.

Valeria Rech Mallett2

As we as parents all know, there are treats being served up everywhere we turn.  It is a major part of life and eating these days, especially for kids.  From birthday parties to school functions to sporting events and even just snacks, opportunities for kids to enjoy sweets and other low nutrient foods are (too) many. Our children can no longer live in the normal, every day world of being a kid without being offered treats.  These types of foods are designed to be extra salty, or sweet, or just the perfect mix of the two, that make us want to eat more of them than we need. Therefore, it is so important  to teach our children to navigate the world of treats in a balanced way, especially when we are not there to look over their shoulder.

Here are a few good guidelines for helping children develop a healthy relationship with sweets and treats:

  • Do not use sweets and treats as a reward.  Treats then become more valuable than other foods and hence more desirable.
  • Do not withhold treats.  By telling a child they must eat X, Y, and Z in order to get their treat, pressure is being applied, which sets a negative tone for the meal. To read more about pressure at mealtimes see Part 3 of this series.
  • Serve sweets and treats along with the regular meal.  Limit portion size, but allow your child to eat their treat at whatever point in the meal they like.  This also takes away a lot of the perceived value in the treat and lets children know that they are readily available.  In my case, it also prevents my son from rushing through his meal so he can have his treat.
  • Serve treat foods such as fries or chips with a meal on occasion, and allow your child to eat as much of them as they want.
  • Serve sweets during snack time in an unlimited amount on occasion (like a plate of cookies on the table) and allow your child to eat as much of them as they would like. This takes away the “forbidden” status of treats and sweets, and does not compete with other foods since they are served for snack.  Also, it doesn’t take too many times for a child to eat too many cookies to realize that more than a couple will just make their belly hurt!

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Using these techniques are especially helpful for the child who seems “obsessed” with sweets.  When sweets and treats are withheld, children become fixated on them and will often overeat treats when they gain access to them. By providing ample opportunities to enjoy treats in small portions, children can learn to regulate their intake and enjoy treats without becoming preoccupied.  The key here is small portions–provide opportunities to enjoy treats but do not grant unlimited access except on occasion. Making treat foods too readily available can lead to weight gain over time, and can also prevent children from learning to like more nutritious, whole foods.

The portion control used with treat foods may seem somewhat counterintuitive to the Division of Responsibility,      (read more about the Division of Responsibility in Feeding here) which allows children to decide how much to eat from what is offered.  Therefore, allowing a child to have unlimited sweets on occasion eliminates that feeling of “scarcity” that could develop around the controlling of treat portions.

Achieving balance when it comes to sweets and treats can be difficult, and will be different depending on the child and their liking for these foods. Children are born with an innate liking for sweets, but some just naturally have more of an interest in sweets than others. I have always been careful to not make a big deal about treats with my son, and I think this has contributed to his healthy relationship with them.  Depending on his mood, he will leave half a cupcake or other sweet uneaten when he’s had his fill, because he knows there will be more treats in days ahead. I have noticed his preference for sweets increasing as he gets older, and I am just trying to be aware, responsive, and calm about the whole thing.

The techniques here may seem a little different, and you may be doubting that they will work with your children.  I encourage you to try them out for a while and see if it helps to alleviate some of the special powers that treats and sweets seem to hold over our children.  I’d love to hear how you handle treats at your house!

Feeding with Freedom; A Series. Part 4: The Division of Responsibility

Sounds serious and perhaps a bit intimidating, doesn’t it? Well, The Division of Responsibility in feeding is actually a wonderful tool that is easily put to use in the feeding relationships we have with our children. It was created by Ellyn Satter, a dietitian, family therapist, and pioneer in feeding and creating healthy relationships with food and eating.

The Division of Responsibility in feeding is simple, but powerful:

  • The parent is responsible for the what, when, and where of feeding
  • The child is responsible for whether and how much to eat

I have touched on all of these subjects in the past three parts of my series, but wanted to introduce the concepts of the Division of Responsibility (also known as DOR) because I feel they are easy to remember, especially in the heat of the moment when everything is going a little not how you planned at the dinner table.

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When the DOR is adhered to, many of the questions that arise about feeding well are resolved.  The DOR can be applied to pretty much all types of children, from typical children to those with sensory disorders or physical feeding problems.  Of course each situation is unique, but the DOR is an incredibly versatile and effective set of rules to follow.

When following the DOR, it is the parent’s responsibility to decide:

  • What is to be served at each meal or snack.  This eliminates the problems that arise when children are allowed to choose what they want to eat at every meal, since it is often the same foods.  Once the parent decides what is going to be served, the food is layed out family style, and the child is given the opportunity to choose from what is available.  It is up to the parent to determine whether there will be many or few choices at each meal, and may depend on the individuality of each child. It gives the parent the chance to serve a child’s favorites at times, and introduce new foods at others.  For more on making family meals work, see Part 2 of this series.
  • When each meal or snack will be served.  It is the parent’s job to make sure that meals and snacks are being served at regular intervals throughout the day.  Young children need 3 meals plus 2 snacks during the day, and some young children will need a third snack before bed.  Older children need 3 meals plus 1 snack, usually in the afternoon.  You decide what is best for your child, and whatever it is needs to take the same form each day. Nothing else should be served between meals and snacks besides water.  Children should come to know that if they choose not to eat at a given meal or snack that is OK, but that there will not be any other food until the next scheduled meal or snack.  This also assures that children are hungry when they come to the table to eat, which helps them to eat more balanced meals, and ultimately to be more open to trying new foods.
  • Where each meal or snack will be served.   Meals and snacks should be served in a place that is calm, clean, and reserved for eating, without distraction of TV or other electronic devices, ideally a kitchen or dining room table. Children should sit in a seat that is supportive and high enough for them to reach the table, and ideally have a place to rest their feet.  There has been some research that shows that children eat better when their feet are supported under the table instead of just dangling down.

When following the DOR, it is the children’s responsibility to decide:

  • Whether they will eat. As I have said in previous posts, all healthy children are born with the innate ability to regulate hunger and fullness.  Therefore, we must trust children when they tell us they do not want to eat or are not hungry.  By telling them they HAVE to eat, we are asking them to ignore their own body’s signals, which can lead weight problems later in life.  This one is hard for me because at dinnertime I often I know that my 4 year old IS hungry, but that he is overtired or saying he is not hungry for other reasons.  I tell him OK, but that there won’t be any other food for the rest of the night. Usually if I leave him be he will come around and end up eating once he gets over his crank fest.  As he is getting older, we are trying to encourage him to come to the dinner table just to sit with us even if he is not planning on eating.  This is hard for younger children, but should be encouraged when a child is able to at least sit, be social, and observe the food being served.  And they often realize that, miraculously, they are hungry!
  • How much they will eat of what is being offered.  Once the food is on the table, it is up to the child to decide how much he or she will eat.  Allowing a child to serve themselves from the family style bowl helps them to get in touch with portions, but they should not be made to eat what they put on their plate.  In order to avoid food waste and since my son can get caught up in the fun of scooping food onto his plate, I help him take a small portion and tell him he can always have more if he chooses.  It is also important to allow a child to eat only what they choose from what is available, even if it might not be our idea of a ‘balanced’ meal. We need to look at our child’s intake over a day or several days to determine if their intake is balanced.  Once we become involved in which foods children are selecting, we are applying pressure at mealtime. Similarly, by encouraging a child to eat one more bite of this or that, we are not only applying pressure, but again asking the child to ignore their own hunger and satiety cue. For more on pressure, see part 3 of this series.

Of course there are times when I don’t follow the DOR to the T.  This is real life.  To be perfectly honest, most of the time at lunch I give my 4 year old a couple of choices of what he would like to eat for his main dish, which is usually between leftovers, something else I have that needs to be eaten, or something he hasn’t already had the past 2 days. Then I lay out some fruits and vegetables and occasionally some sweets. This is it, nothing fancy or special, since it is just he and I for lunch.  And often I will eat something different, because, well, the leftovers need to be eaten.

But we sit together, at the table, and enjoy our meal.  There is no fighting, or bribing, or coercing. There is still the occasional whining and complaining, but usually not about the food. Sometimes he tells me he doesn’t like what there is to eat, and whines that he wants something else.  Most of the time I stand firm and tell him thats all we have to eat right now. And most of the time he will eat what is there.  Other times he has a true hankering for something else, and I give it to him.  Because this is real life.  And sometimes you just have a craving for something.

Some days he eats a ton and asks for more, and others he eats next to nothing. Oftentimes I know he is just excited to go back to playing, and I have to remind him to listen to his belly and decide whether it is full enough.  Sometimes he listens, and other times he doesn’t.  But that is life with a 4 year old.

I have to remind myself constantly that I am working on helping my son to truly enjoy a variety of food, and to have a healthy relationship with it. This is not about today’s lunch, or tomorrow’s dinner, but about a lifetime of taking true pleasure in the gift of nourishment.  Today I am doing the very best that I can in the situation, just as every other parent is too.  And that is all we can do.  Remember to be gentle with yourself, take time to implement changes, and expect change to come even slower than you thought.

Have you started using the Division of Responsibility?  How has it worked for your family?