Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Enjoy A Healthy Thanksgiving On A Budget

The other day, I was talking with some friends about our Thanksgiving traditions and what we always make and what time of day we like to eat our giant dinner.  One of the best things about Thanksgiving  dishes is that they can be made from inexpensive ingredients, but that doesn't mean they need to be unhealthy and healthy doesn't need to be boring!
Some of you will be purchasing your Thanksgiving meals and some of you will be receiving donated meals.  The recipes I am including in this blog uses ingredients that are probably already in your kitchen and the foods you would likely find at any Thanksgiving dinner.
Even if you don't try these recipes on the actual day of Thanksgiving (or if that's the story you're telling your family), they are good to have on hand to make dinnertime a little healthier.  If you have your children help out with preparing these dishes, it will be more likely that they will eat it and will learn a healthier way to prepare a meal.

Healthy Green Bean Casserole


1.5 pounds of green beans (or 3 cans drained) cut into 2 inch pieces
1 cup sliced mushrooms or 1 can drained (optional)
3 tbsp flour
1 cup skim milk
2 tbsp cottage cheese
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, thinly sliced into circles
1/2 cup whole wheat or Panko breadcrumbs
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
3 tablespoons water

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Bring water to a boil in a large pot. Boil green beans until al dente - about 5-6 minutes. Drain and set aside.
In a separate pan, saute onions in 1 tablespoon olive oil until they're soft. Remove and set aside.
In the same pan, add mushrooms and saute until soft. Add in enough flour to coat the mushrooms. Next, pour in the milk, whisking as you pour. Add cottage cheese, parmesan, salt and pepper and whisk until the cottage cheese melts. Add the green beans into the mushroom sauce and stir to combine.
In a bowl, mix onions with breadcrumbs, parmesan and water and stir to combine.
Spray a casserole dish with non-stick spray and pour in the green bean mixture. Top it with the onions and bake uncovered about 25 minutes.


Friday, October 21, 2016

Feeding Your Garden the Natural Way With Garbage

Growing your own garden can be very rewarding when all is going well and your plants are producing like they should.  Sometimes, though, your garden may need a little boost and an easy and inexpensive way to do this is to make a compost bin.
Composting involves using what would normally end up your garbage can into a nice fertilizer for your soil.  It is regularly used in organic gardening because it is a healthier option than using chemicals that affect the quality of your food.
There are many options for composting.  If you have a yard, you can build your composting pile in a small corner, away from where you like to sit outside.  Start by placing digging up soil so the worms can get in, then top with twigs or straw so that air can flow through and water can drain.  If you will be using a container, be sure there are holes on the bottom for water drainage and then place your twigs or straw inside the container.  You should add worms to your container, which would be a fun family activity!
You will want to layer your composting materials, alternating wet and dry ingredients.  This will help the garbage break down more completely.  Once a week, you will need to turn these materials with a shovel or gardening tool and sprinkle with water.  If you add soil to the top of your compost, it will help to keep the garbage smell to a minimum.
Cover your compose pile or bin to keep in moisture and heat.
OK, so what exactly goes into the compost pile?  Here is a list of common kitchen scraps and yard waste that can be used:


Fruit and vegetable scraps
Corn cobs
Crushed egg shells
Shredded newspapers
Grass clippings
Wood chips
Toilet paper rolls
Coffee grounds
Tea bags
Chicken manure

Here is a list of items that should not go in your compost:


Diseased plants
Bleached or glossy paper
Pet waste
Cat litter
Dairy products

After 4-6 months, your compost should be ready to use.  It will have a nice crumbly texture, much like soil and can be added straight into your garden.  You will see how your garden will benefit from the nutrients and your children will learn how to use garbage in a creative and useful way!

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

A Strong Breakfast Builds a Strong Body and Mind

Remember the excitement that goes on in the house during the first days of school for younger children?  Everyone is up early and ready to start the day and that usually lasts for about a week or so.  Now that we are well into the school year, that excitement may have worn off a little and you may find yourself trying to keep yourself together while getting everyone out of the house.
On a perfect morning, everyone would be up and dressed on time, no one would have lost a shoe, and all of the schoolwork would be in the backpack.  That would be in a perfect world, but those mornings can be hectic and when it comes to breakfast, sometimes we find ourselves scooping handfuls of sugared cereal into plastic bags for the kids (and maybe yourself) to eat on the way to school.
Studies have been showing and proving that good nutrition is a very important part of a child’s ability to learn and pay attention in school.  They have also shown that children are not getting the nutrition they need and one of the reasons, among many others, is the lack of time to prepare a full breakfast each morning.
If your child does not receive breakfast at school, that is one extra step in your morning that can cause stress.  One solution is to make healthy, inexpensive grab-and-go breakfast foods and the best part is that you can get the kids to help you out.  It will be a fun learning activity for them and they will be more likely to eat it if they helped to make it.
This recipe uses ingredients that are easy to find and usually EBT and WIC accessible.

Breakfast Muffin Cups:

12 whole eggs
3 cups chopped vegetables (vegetables left over from weekend dinners work well too)
½ teaspoon table (iodized) salt
¼ tsp onion powder
¼ tsp black pepper
½ tsp Tabasco (if desired)
½ cup reduced fat cheddar cheese
(you can also add 1 cup cooked brown rice)

Preheat oven to 350

Beat eggs and add in other ingredients until well-mixed.  Grease the cups of a muffin pan and pour 1/3 cup servings of the mixture into the muffin cups.  Bake for 25 minutes or until the center is set. 

After muffins are cooled, you can store them in the refrigerator for one week or in the freezer for one month.  You can heat them in the microwave for 20-30 seconds or until warm to the touch.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Planting, Growing, and Gardening for the Preschool Child

Every Spring, I get so excited about the warm weather and being outside in the warm weather, that I always go out and get a pack of tomato seeds.  I have pretty good success with starting the plants indoors and then getting the plants outside, but after a few months, I notice that I’ve only grown one tomato.  Hmmmm… as much as I want to give up on it, I keep trying and I’m sure that next year, I will have hundreds of tomatoes.
That is not to say that all of my gardening attempts have been failures, and that is the fun thing about growing plants: you can always learn new ways of growing and when you have a healthy and productive plant, it’s very rewarding!
Gardening with young children is a great way to spend quality time together and to teach them that they can grow their own food.  Children are more likely to eat fruits and vegetables when they have participated in the growing process. 
There are many ways to grow a garden and they can be planted indoors or outdoors, in large plots of land or in small containers.  There are also many ways to start your garden.  Seed packets are usually inexpensive and can teach your child how plants are grown from the very start.  Some places, such as Friendship Trays, offer free seed packets to the public.
You can start your seeds indoors.  Choose plants that are easy to grow, such as basil or sage.  You can also try growing different lettuces and the children can pick the leaves for their salad.  You can use an empty egg carton or an empty yogurt container and fill the cups ¾ of the way full with potting soil.  Take a seed and have your child press it into the soil about an inch into the dirt and cover the seed with the dirt.  Sprinkle a bit of water into the cup each day and place it in the window sill or under a light to help it grow.  Have your child check on the seed each day to watch its progress.
When the plant gets to about 4 or 5 inches tall, fill a larger container (a large sour cream or cottage cheese container will work, just be sure to poke a few holes in the bottom so the water can drain) with soil and carefully turn the plant upside down into the palm of your child’s hand so the plant and roots stay intact.  Scoop a small well into the middle of the new pot of dirt and have your child carefully place the plant, right side up, into the soil.  Cover the plant up to the base of the plant and sprinkle it with water.  Place the container outside so it can get enough sun and have your child water the plant each day.
When the plant is large enough and has an abundance of leaves, you can harvest them to eat.  Have your child pick the leaves at the base of the stem.  Picking leaves helps the plant to sprout even more leaves.  If you are growing basil, you and your child can enjoy the leaves with spaghetti sauce or fresh tomatoes or you can make fresh pesto sauce for pasta.  I have included a recipe for pesto in this post.  If you are growing other herbs, such as sage, you can use them in salads or in soups or on meat.  Let your child get creative and he will think of growing and eating fresh vegetables as part of his daily routine!

Basil Pesto


2 cups fresh basil leaves
¼ cup olive oil (or another oil with little flavor)
2 cloves garlic
½ cup roasted nuts  (pine nuts are usually used, but you can also use walnuts or almonds)
1 tbsp lemon juice
½ tsp salt

Put all ingredients into a blender and blend until pureed.  Serve with bread or over pasta

Thursday, September 8, 2016

What Is The Meaning of “Empty Calories”?

When you are looking about nutrition and the way calories are used in your body, you may hear the term, “empty calories”, but what exactly does that mean?
Empty calories means that the foods you are eating have calories in them, but they do not add any value to your daily diet. 
When you eat a fruit, vegetable, nuts, or a lean meat, they all contain calories, but the body uses those calories right away as energy and very few of those calories are stored as fat.  On the other hand, when you eat foods such as potato chips, processed cheese, or candy, very few of those calories are being used by the body to give it the energy it needs to fuel itself, so after you have eaten these foods, the calories go into your fat cells.  When these calories are stored in your fat cells, they are held there for later use, but since most people continue eating on a regular basis, the fat cells continue to store these extra calories and then the fat cells start to get bigger and take up more space in your body, which is why your body actually becomes bigger as they are being stored.
Everyone knows that if a child is offered the option of chips or candy versus fresh fruits or vegetables, the child will more than likely choose the chips and candy.  If a child is denied these treats, it could result in wailing and idle threats, but stand your ground!  Make the fruits and vegetables available and visible as often as possible.  Tell your child that if he is truly as hungry as he says he is, he’ll eat the banana on the counter.  While it’s fine to offer a treat now and then, it’s important to keep in mind that you and your child need these nutrient-dense foods every single day in order to be healthy, strong, and focused.  I have included a fun fruit salad recipe that you can make with your child and have it on hand in the refrigerator.  When a child is involved in preparing meals, he or she is more likely to want to eat them!

Fruit Salad:

2 bananas
3 oranges
1 cup strawberries
1 cup blueberries
1 cup pineapple
Unsweetened coconut flakes (optional)

Wash strawberries and blueberries
Slice bananas, pineapple, and strawberries and place in the bowl.  Be sure to supervise children when using knives (many dollar stores sell plastic kitchen knives that are made for children).  Peel 2 oranges and pull apart the sections and remove the seeds.  Add the coconut and mix together.  Squeeze the juice from the 3rd orange and pour over the fruit and mix.
Put into the refrigerator and chill in an air-tight container.  When serving, measure the fruit salad into ½ cup servings.