Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Move is Complete!

   I was finally able to successfully move my blog to its own site!  If you've been reading, you know I had to change the name.  You can now find me at http://happyhealthymama.com/.  I hope you like the new name and look.  Come on over!  Remember to subscribe to get email updates when I post.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Listen to Your Body

    On a recent trip to my parent's house, I was going through some of my old stuff.  I found a journal from my senior year in high school.  In this journal was a list of resolutions for the new year.  Check out the list from my 17-year-old self:

1.  Eat healthier foods--no pop
2.  Practice b-ball MORE!
3.  Exercise MORE!
4.  Keep priorities straight ALWAYS

     Interesting for a young girl, right?  What really surprised me was my focus on healthy eating and living; I really don't remember thinking about it at that age.  Clearly, though, I did.  I guess even then I knew how important it was to eat right and take care of your body.
     This got me pondering t the evolution of thinking I've had about how I define healthy. I was definitely on the right track at age 17 with the pop thing, but I'm sure my overall view of healthy eating involved counting fat grams with no thoughts about processed foods or putting toxins in my body.  Remember the days when low fat=healthy?  Gummy bears?  They're low fat!  They're good for you!
    Over the years I have tried numerous diets.  It's kind of ludicrous when I think about it.  Sometimes my motivation was to lose weight, other times I guess it was mainly curiosity.  Let's take a look at my diet days:

Body For Life:  My first year out of college, my roommate and I did this one together.  We couldn't resist those transformation pictures.  That could be us!  We'd get up early and do the weight-heavy workouts before going to work and tried to follow the 6-meals-a-day plan.  I loved the Sunday free day--eat whatever you want!  I'm not sure how long we hung with it, but I know we didn't make it through the whole program.

Calorie Restriction:  The next year I moved to Arizona.  My new roommate was ultra-fit and skinny and I always felt awful when I couldn't fit into her jeans.  I watched how she ate and figured it worked for her, so I might as well mimic her habits.  I'm ashamed to admit I started drinking Slim-Fast shakes for breakfast and sometimes also for lunch.  Then, a sensible dinner.  "Sensible" means a Lean Cuisine frozen dinner, right?  For me it did.  This plan just didn't work for me.  Clearly I wasn't getting enough fresh foods, but also I couldn't handle calorie restriction.  I'm just too hungry of a girl.  So I'd often binge snack between my shakes.  Not good.

The Atkins Diet:  The following summer I spent too much time eating out and not enough time in the gym and this resulted in an 8 pound weight gain.  I wanted to lose the weight quickly and knew several people who'd lost weight with the ever-popular Atkins Diet, so I gave it a try.  I stocked up on meat, eggs, and cheese and hoped for the best.  I lasted all of 2 days and I was done.  I was seriously a lethargic thug.  Not only do I like my carbs, it's clear my body needs them.  I have no idea how anyone does this diet for any length of time.  I ended up losing the weight the old-fashioned way:  lots of extra trips to the gym.

The Zone Diet:  This one came about a year and a half after the Atkins debacle.  I had a serious boyfriend, soon to be fiance (now husband), and we did this together.  I can't remember what spurred me to want to try it, but I don't think I was wanting to lose weight.  I may have just been intrigued.  Better than the Atkins try, I lasted 2 whole weeks on the Zone Diet.  I had to buy my first kitchen scale in order to carry out this diet--that should have been my first clue that this one wasn't going to last long-term.  I actually learned a lot from reading the book and started some good eating habits as a result of this diet, but trying to perfectly combine my foods was just too much for me.  Plus, I felt there were too many restrictions.  I mean, really, butternut squash and sweet potatoes on the unfavorable carbohydrate list?  Those are too good to restrict!

Vegan:  Shortly after my mom was diagnosed with cancer and I got serious about learning about nutrition, I tried to go vegan "cold turkey" (no pun intended). I was not ready for such a drastic change.  I did start trying more vegan dishes, but I quickly downgraded to vegetarian (see below).

Vegetarian:  Discouraged that the vegan diet was so difficult for me, I decided that I would go vegetarian and only eat cheese in moderation.  I stopped drinking cow's milk, but did continue to use butter some.  I didn't find this difficult.  The hardest thing was getting my husband to be supportive when I wanted to stop cooking meat for dinners.  He called all of my new dinners "great side dishes, but not a meal".  My vegetarianism lasted about 4 months.  Then, I got pregnant.  With pregnancy came horrible all-day sickness (can't accurately call it morning sickness in my case) and my eating was limited to what my body would allow.  Given that I couldn't tolerate important vegetarian protein sources, like beans, I started eating meat again.  That was almost three years ago and I haven't gone back to totally vegetarian since then.

That brings us to where I am today.  I have comfortably settled into a place where I have learned a few important lessons.  #1:  I don't want to be a dieter.  Diets suck.  #2:  There isn't a diet out there that will work for everyone.  Every body will respond differently to different eating patterns.
    I need to listen to my body and figure out what works for me.  This is what I have done and how I've gotten to the way I eat today.  I would describe my current "diet" (aka-the way I eat) as primarily whole foods and plant-based.  But I'm not a vegetarian or a vegan.  Sometimes I eat meat, sometimes I eat other animal products, but mostly in moderation.
   I believe my body knows what it needs.  If I am craving meat, I'll eat it because it may mean I need some iron, or B12, or whatever other nutrients you get from meat.  I have to be careful, though.  Sometimes my body tells me it is craving a Cinn-a-bun original, in which case I have to tell my body to take a hike, literally.
   Because I listen to my body, when I was craving some bacon the other day I was happy to buy this:

It had to be turkey bacon because I don't eat pigs. I watched a documentary about a pig farm a few years back and just can't do it, plus pigs eat their own poop.  Seriously.
    I know as far as meat goes, processed meat is about as bad as it gets.  So I was excited when I found this product--uncured, minimally processed.
   I used the bacon to make a BALT sandwich, Bacon, Avocado, Lettuce, & Tomato.  With a spread of grapeseed oil vegan mayo on toasted whole grain bread, it was just what I needed.  (Oh, the irony of using vegan mayo on a sandwich with bacon...)

The question is:  now that I've gotten my bacon fix, what am I going to do with the rest of the package?  Freeze it?  Because I listen to my body I know I will not be eating bacon sandwiches 5 days in a row in order to finish up the unused portion.

Friday, September 10, 2010

How We Roll

  Summer is winding down and our crazy travel days are behind us, at least for a little while.  I thought I'd share some pictures of the food we bring with us when we travel.  It's so easy to forget about healthy eating when we travel.  It's easy to say, "Ah, I'm on vacation, it's okay to eat whatever for a few days".  And you know what?  I think flexibility is great and indulging in our favorite not-so-healthy foods once in a while is okay.  But overall, I feel better when I eat what my body is used to--wholesome, quality foods.  I really don't want to waste my splurges on convenience store snacks or fast food when I'm on the road, either, so for me, a little planning goes a long way when we are traveling.  We always travel with our cooler and snack bag when we are doing car road trips.  For air travel, we obviously can't bring a cooler, but we do bring healthy, dry snacks.
Here's a peek at what we brought on our last trip:
Veggie chips-for a processed food, they are not bad. All real ingredients, no artificial ingredients or preservatives, and no hydrogenated oils.  
Just Peas and Just Corn-love these snacks.  
Lara Bars-These bars are the best! Only 2-4 ingredients in each bar and so good.  Meghan asks for them all the time.  They are perfect for traveling.  
Homemade Oatmeal Cookies-Gotta have our treats! :)
Roasted Pumpkin seeds-roasted with a little oil and salt.  

For the cooler:

Organic plain yogurt and organic cheddar cheese-because getting organic food where we were going is not easy (nearly impossible).  
Sugar snap peas and shelled edamame-mostly because I didn't want them to go bad while we were gone.  They made great snacks and lunch accompaniments.  
Organic fruit-perfect for snack and meals. 

We also brought some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for our lunch stop.  Can't go wrong with a little PB&J.  

So this is how we roll when traveling.  Even though when we're on the road we probably eat our worst, planning ahead and bringing some good food helps us keep it a little healthier.  

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Light & Flavorful Dinner

    I got a text message from Tim yesterday afternoon letting me know he was having a late lunch and asking me to plan for a light dinner.  What I put together was definitely light, but big on flavor.  It's amazing how roasting foods can bring out such complex and deep flavors.  And I just love roasting foods because it's so easy and hands off.  My easiest dinners involve roasting.  A 30 minute meal, this dish is so simple, yet so good.  I'm pretty sure it's going to become a go-to meal for me.  If I don't forget about it, which I often do with new recipes I try.  ;-)

Roasted Chickpeas, Cauliflower, and Tomatoes with Herbed Couscous 

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 heaping tablespoon fresh oregano, chopped
2 cups cauliflower florets, cut into small pieces
1 (15 1/2 ounce) can chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
10 1/2 ounces super sweet yellow cherry tomatoes (if you can't find these, regular cherry tomatoes will work)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 cup couscous
1 1/2 cups water
1 tablespoon fresh oregano, chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons vegan margarine or butter, optional
1-2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons golden raisins, optional

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Lightly oil a baking sheet.

Put the cauliflower, tomatoes, and chickpeas in a medium bowl.  Add oil, oregano, salt, and lemon juice.  Toss to coat everything evenly.  Place on the oiled baking sheet and spread out so nothing is overlapping.  Roast in preheated oven for 20-25 minutes, until vegetables are starting to brown and tomatoes are starting to burst.

When there are approximately 10-15 minutes left in roasting time, start your couscous.  Allow water to boil.  Add couscous, oregano, lemon juice, and vegan margarine, if using.  Stir, then cover and allow to simmer 2-3 minutes until water is absorbed.  Fluff couscous with a fork and allow to sit for five minutes before serving.  Add golden raisins just before serving.

The vegetable portion makes 3-4 servings, while the couscous makes 4.  I had a little couscous leftover, but we ate up all the chickpeas and veggies.  I cannot even tell you how delicious these little cherry tomatoes were.  They burst in your mouth with tremendous flavor.  If you see the "super sweet yellow cherry tomatoes" in your grocery store, I highly recommend you give them a try!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Toddler Tuesday: Why I Choose Organic (and I think you should, too!)

   Before Meghan was born, I didn't buy much organic food.  I figured I was doing well to be eating a good amount of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and didn't think buying organic was worth the extra cost.  To be honest, I was blissfully ignorant at the time. I hadn't done my research and therefore didn't fully understand why buying food that was organically grown was so important.

   Then Little Miss Meghan came along and I started reading about baby and toddler nutrition.  What I've learned has completely changed my outlook.  Not only is buying organically grown food totally worth the cost, not going organic could be detrimental to my little girl's health.  That is not something I'm willing to live with.

Why Organic?

Foods that are organically grown are grown without the use of pesticides.  Pesticides are chemicals that are used to repel insects and pests.  They are sprayed directly onto most produce that is not labeled "organic".  It's not like you can just rinse the vegetable and hope all the chemical will come off, the residue remains and then is ingested by whoever eats that vegetable.  (The only time you can be happy your little one refuses to eat his veggies!)  These pesticides are dangerous and can have many long-term health effects, many of which are just being discovered.  If you choose organic, you can be confident that your child is not ingesting these dangerous chemicals.  There are other reasons to choose organic, but avoiding pesticides is the most compelling reason for me.

The Health Effects of Pesticides

Pesticides have been linked to a variety of health issues.  Children are particularly susceptible to pesticides because they have smaller bodies that can't handle the toxic load and they are still growing and developing.  Exposure to pesticides has shown an increased risk for:

  • asthma
  • reduced IQ
  • learning disabilities
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • childhood cancers, including leukemia, neuroblastoma, Wilms tumor, soft-tissue sarcoma, Ewing's sarcoma, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, and cancers of the brain, colorectum, and testes. 
This list was more than enough to convince me to go organic.  I couldn't bear to think that my choices at the grocery store could possibly contribute to Meghan's health in a negative way.

Baby Steps

It's no secret that organic foods are usually pricier than the non-organic variety.  I didn't go totally organic all at once.  In fact, there are still some foods that I buy that are not organic, and there are times when I can't totally control what Meghan eats.  (Like when we travel to someone else's house, for example)  I try my best to ensure the bulk of Meghan's diet is pesticide-free.  I started with the list of the "Dirty Dozen" and decided those foods would be on my absolutely-must-buy-organic list.  These are the top 12 foods that are found to be the most pesticide-laden.  This is a well-circulated list, but if you haven't seen it yet, here it is:

The Dirty Dozen

  1. peaches
  2. apples
  3. bell peppers
  4. celery
  5. nectarines
  6. strawberries
  7. cherries
  8. kale
  9. lettuce
  10. grapes
  11. carrots
  12. pears
There is also a list showing the "Clean 15", or the foods that have the least amount of pesticides.  These are the foods that if necessary, I'll buy non-organic.  

The Clean 15
  1. onions
  2. avocadoes
  3. sweet corn
  4. pineapples
  5. mangoes
  6. asparagus
  7. sweet peas
  8. kiwi fruit
  9. cabbage
  10. eggplant
  11. papayas
  12. watermelon
  13. broccoli
  14. tomatoes
  15. sweet potatoes
I have both these lists on my refrigerator as a reminder.  Any foods that aren't on the list, including whole grains, beans, and animal products,  I try to buy organic as much as possible.  Whether or not the food is organic, I always clean it well before eating.  

What About Dairy and Meat?

I think it's just as important, if not more important, to buy organic dairy and meat.  If the animal product is not labeled organic, that means the animal most likely ingested pesticide-laden foods and is passing that burden on to you.  In addition, non-organically grown animals are often injected with hormones and steroids to promote rapid growth and again, those are passed on to the consumer.  Oh, wait, there's one more thing to consider.  Even if the animal products are labeled "Hormone and steroid-free", as some non-organic animal products are, those animals were still likely given an abundance of antibiotics during their life.  This causes problems for humans.  According to an article written by Marc Kauffman and published in the Washington Post, "Giving animals antibiotics in their feed can cause microbes in the livestock to become resistant to the drugs. People can then become infected with the resistant bacteria by eating or handling meat contaminated with the pathogens."  

   If you don't feed your family organic foods, I urge you to reconsider.  Although the price of these foods is higher, you can't put a price on a healthy child.  There are many ways to tweak your budget to make room for higher-priced, but higher-quality foods.  Are you already an organic family?  I'd love to hear your money-saving tips!  Please leave a comment and share how you have been able to make room for organic foods on a small budget.  

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Toddler Thursday: Healthy Cookies

Two toddler posts this week!  
I made a mistake last Easter.  I told someone that I wasn't planning on putting any candy in Meghan's Easter basket, but was going to fill it with little toys, bubbles, and stickers.  She was only 18 months old, hadn't had any sugary treats yet, and I wanted to keep it that way.  Then, somehow, the person made me feel like I was depriving her.  It wasn't intentional, but just something in her voice and subtle words had me questioning myself.  So at the last minute I decided to add a little something sweet in her basket.  I ended up with these:

To say she liked them would be an understatement.  The girl has definitely inherited her mom and dad's sweet tooth.  Check out the ingredient list:  

Nutrition Facts
Serving Size: About 9 Pieces
Servings per Container: About 7
Amount Per Serving% Daily Value
          Calories from Fat25*
Total Fat3 g*
   Saturated Fat0 g*
   Trans Fat0 g*
Cholesterol0 mg*
Sodium40 mg*
Total Carb.15 g*
   Dietary Fiber <1 g*
   Sugars6 g*
Protein1 g0%
Vitamin A0%
Vitamin C0%
Vitamin B625%
Folic Acid20%
Vitamin B1220%
*Daily value not established.
Other Ingredients: Organic Wheat Flour, Organic Evaporated Cane Juice (Organic Evaporated Cane Juice, Organic Corn Starch), Organic Sunflower Oil, Organic Raisin Paste, Organic Oat Flour, Organic Evaporated Cane Juice Syrup, Organic Cinnamon, Baking Soda (Sodium Bicarbonate), Salt, Leavening (Amonium Bicarbonate), Vitamin and Mineral Blend (Thiamine Mononitrate [Vitamin B1], Riboflavin [Vitamin B2], Niacinamide [Vitamin B3], Pyridoxine Hydrochloride [Vitamin B6], Cyanocobalamin [Vitamin B12], Folic Acid, Zinc Oxide, and Reduced Iron].
Free Of
Hydrogenated oils, genetically engineered ingredients, artificial flavors, colors, preservatives and pesticides.
Not bad, right?  Well, not great, either.  I like that there are no hydrogenated oils, GMOs, artificial flavors, colors, preservatives, or pesticides.  That's all good.  What I don't like is that the #1 ingredient is wheat flour rather than whole wheat flour and the #2 ingredient is evaporated cane juice (aka sugar).  These could be much worse, but I still wanted to try to make a healthy cookie alternative for Meghan since she is, essentially, a cookie monster since I introduced these at Easter.  
Meghan had fun helping me come up with the right combination of ingredients:
She's turning into such a ham! :-)  I asked her to "say cheese" and she put her hand under her chin like a super model!  

The first batch didn't work out.  I wanted to try to use up some garbanzo flour I had, but it just didn't taste right.  Too bad, because those would have been some seriously high protein cookies!  The second batch, however, was a big success.  I had to use 1/2 whole wheat flour and 1/2 all-purpose flour to get a better texture, but with the whole wheat flour and oats, these can definitely be considered whole grain cookies.  Meghan loves these, just as much as her beloved Earth's Best cookies it seems.  Do they taste as great as old-fashioned cookies made with all white flour, butter, etc.?  No.  But these vegan, healthy cookies, made with only pure maple syrup as a sweetener, are cookies you can feel good about eating.  

Spiced Maple Oatmeal Cookies

2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon all spice
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup unsweetened apple sauce
1/2 cup pure maple syrup
1/2 cup natural peanut butter

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper (for easy clean up!). 

In a large bowl, mix all of your dry ingredients.  (Rolled oats through all spice)  In a separate bowl, mix together the wet ingredients (vanilla through peanut butter).  Pour your wet ingredients on top of the dry ingredients and mix until they are well-incorporated and you don't see any dry spots.  

Using a tablespoon, drop the cookies onto the cookie sheets.  Using the back of the spoon, press the cookies down to flatten them.  

Bake in the preheated oven for 18 minutes, turning the pans 180 degrees once in the middle of the cooking time.  

Makes 28 cookies

All right folks, we are hitting the road again for a long weekend at the lake.  I'll be back on Tuesday.  Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Revisiting an Old Standby: Quick Stir Fry

 The December before I graduated college I was given my first cookbook as a Christmas gift.  It was like a big hint:  you're on your own now, baby, you better learn how to fend for yourself in the kitchen.  
I remember feeling all domestic as I leafed through the pages, trying to find the recipes that didn't intimidate me.  One of the first ones I tried was this, my favorite dinner throughout high school and college:  

Can you read that?  Yes, it is good old Fettuccine Alfredo.  This quickly became a standby dish for me, something I had in my regular rotation of  the few dinners I knew how to make.  It's difficult to remember a me who would eat this dish without thinking twice about what it was made with.  I don't recall what it was like to eat and not think about what I was putting in my body--but I actually lived most of my life blissfully unaware of the impact our diet can have on our health and well-being.  

As I got older and started learning more about nutrition, I had to change the way I cooked.  This has been a journey and I am continually evolving, but I do remember where I started.  When I first began trying to cook more healthfully, I made a lot, I mean a lot of stir-fry vegetable dishes.  My cooking repertoire didn't have much depth to begin with, but to limit it to what could be defined as healthy cut it down even more.  So I stuck with safe, easy stir-fry dishes.  So much so that one day my hubby exclaimed, "I don't care what you make, but please no more mixed vegetables with rice!"  To make matter worse, in those days I was working full time and often used frozen vegetables for my stir fries.  Bleh.  

So it's been a really long time since I've made a classic, Asian-style stir fry dish.  I was pleasantly surprised with the results and realized that I need to throw these kind of dinners back into the mix more often.  This is a quick and easy dish that makes a perfect weeknight meal.  

1 cup brown rice
2 cups vegetable broth/stock
2 tsp butter or vegan margarine (optional)
2 carrots, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon coconut oil
10 ounces sliced mushrooms
1/2 lb. sugar snap peas
1 cup edamame (thawed if using frozen)
sea salt 

for the sauce
1/2 cup vegetable broth/stock
1/4 cup coconut milk (lite is fine)
1/4 cup natural peanut butter
1 teaspoon curry powder
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Put your rice in a pot with the vegetable broth or stock and butter.  Bring the rice to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover, and allow the rice to simmer until it is soft and the liquid is absorbed.  (About 50 minutes for regular brown rice.  If you use par-boiled, the cooking time is cut down to about 30 minutes.)
When your rice has about 20-25 minutes cooking time left:   
Steam your carrots until they are crisp-tender.  Meanwhile:

In a large skillet, melt the coconut oil over medium high heat.  Add the mushrooms and saute until they are soft and reduced in size, about 8 minutes.  Once the carrots are crisp-tender, add them to the skillet and stir fry for about 5 minutes.  Add the snap peas and edamame along with a few sprinkles of salt and stir fry until everything is warm, about another 5 minutes.
To make your sauce, place all ingredients in a small sauce pan over medium low heat and stir.  When sauce is heated, it's ready.  Taste and season accordingly. 
When the rice is finished cooking, fluff with a fork.  Serve with a portion of rice, topped with the vegetables and a drizzle of the sauce. 

Meghan's plate looked like this:

Rice, carrots, edamame, and the sauce separate instead of together.  (Is this a toddler thing or just a Meghan thing?  She doesn't ever want her food all mixed together.)  I also gave her some leftover zucchini coins.  Next time I'll make sure we eat them all up on the first night because these were not great as leftovers.  Her favorite thing was the sauce.  She ate it with a spoon as if it was soup.  I had to convince her to dip her carrots, edamame, and rice into it.  

If you already have some cooked brown rice, this meal will come together even quicker.  This is one old standby I'm glad I revisited.  I'm pretty sure Fettuccine Alfredo will never be an old standby again.