Dressing For Spring

Susanna DeRocco

Healthy Bodies, Happy Minds

beet salad

Mache salad with beets and pistachios topped with a lemon/olive oil vinaigrette

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As I sit here dreaming of spring and salads (and writing a piece on salad dressings), the sad fact remains that today is a cold, rainy day more cut out for soup than salad! Though the temperatures may seem otherwise, spring has arrived and the spring greens, early vegetables, herbs, ramps and roots mean new opportunities for creative eating. As you may be able to tell, I am certainly ready!

Whether you like grains, legumes or greens or a combination of all in your salads , there’s no denying that a great dressing can really make a salad sing.

A basic vinaigrette is generally two-parts oil (think extra virgin olive oil) to one part acid (think lemon or any kind of vinegar like apple cider, white wine, balsamic).  We tend to think of vinaigrette as salad dressing but is so versatile that you can drizzle a little over vegetables like steamed green beans or over roasted potatoes. You can even add a bit to broiled/baked/grilled chicken or fish.  Here are a few simple dressings that I love to use with all kinds of salads. With these quick and easy dressings at hand, you may find yourself passing by the store-bought brands! Don’t be afraid to make your own creation with grains, greens or protein based on a dressing you like!  Then please pass it along!

 Basic Vinaigrette

¼ cup lemon juice (or white wine vinegar)

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

¾ cup good extra-virgin olive oil

Coarse ground salt and pepper to taste

In a small bowl, whisk together all ingredients except olive oil.

Slowly add the oil, whisking until emulsified. You can also shake the ingredients in a jar (canning jars are great) or whirl them in a blender. Store in an air-tight container or jar and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks.  Shake again before using.

TRY ADDING:

1 teaspoon minced garlic or ½ clove, crushed

3-4 chopped scallions

1/8 tsp red pepper flakes

¼ cup finely grated parmesan or nutritional yeast

OR  SUBSTITUTE:

Balsamic or apple cider vinegar for the lemon/white wine vinegar

Basic Greek Vinaigrette

Another vinaigrette that we love is the base for this Greek-style quinoa salad.

Another vinaigrette that we love is the base for this Greek-style quinoa salad.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

½ cup red wine vinegar

1 cup (good) olive oil

1 tsp dried oregano

1 tsp garlic powder

1 small shallot, diced

salt/pepper to taste

Use this with:

Prepared quinoa, cucumbers, olives, grape tomatoes OR

Greek Chicken over Greens

Juice of 2 lemons

1/3 cup olive oil

2 tsp garlic powder

2 tsp oregano

1 tsp Dijon mustard

salt/pepper to taste

Cut chicken breast into 1 inch pieces (I usually use 4-6 whole breasts for this)

Marinate over night or all day (I have done this with only a 1/2  hour to marinate & it is fine)

Grill and serve as a salad over romaine with cucumbers, tomatoes, a bit of feta (optional) and a few kalamata olives w/dressing above or as a sandwich in 100% whole wheat pita pocket.

 The Flying Fish Sesame Soy Dressing  (from Food to Live By by Myra Goodman)

½ cup soy sauce

¼ cup unseasoned rice vinegar

¼ cup good olive oil

2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil

¼ cup brown sugar (or agave nectar)

2T water

* I also add toasted sesame seeds

Place all of the ingredients in a glass jar; seal lid tightly and shake vigorously until sugar dissolves.  Dressing can be refrigerated for up to one month.  Bring to room temperature before using.  Serve over romaine lettuce, mixed greens, or chopped Napa cabbage; add carrots, cucumber, toasted sesame seeds, chicken or shrimp…you can even add some Udon or Soba noodles!

Creamy Avocado Dressing

3T extra virgin olive oil

3T lime juice

1 ripe avocado

1/2 tsp salt

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 tsp hot sauce (optional)

Blend and enjoy!

‘Sweet ‘Vinaigrette

5 Tablespoons Balsamic Vinegar
3 Tablespoons good quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 Tablespoons minced shallot
1 1/2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 Tablespoons real maple syrup
1 ½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
Salt and Pepper to taste

Quinoa Salad with Sweet Vinaigrette (also yummy over greens; can add chicken or turkey bacon)

2 cups sliced, peeled peaches (about 3 peaches—can also use nectarines)–you can use grapes this time of year, as well
½ cup toasted pecans (toast raw pecans in a pan on the stovetop @ 5 minutes on medium heat)
*Crumbled goat or feta cheese (optional)

Method
Whisk together all 8 ingredients for Vinaigrette
Combine quinoa & remaining ingredients (except cheese, if using) in a large bowl.   Add vinaigrette a little at a time to taste.

Do you have a favorite dressing and recipe to go with it? We would love to try it!

Joyce’s Story

winter chal pic

Years ago when I met Melanie, I was about to turn 40 and wanted to be in the best shape possible on my birthday.  I signed up for Fit Mom classes, busted two-a-day workouts for months and hit my goal!  I was a beast and would thrive on being the strongest and best in all of the boot camp classes and noticed I was faster and stronger on the soccer field.  I never felt better.  Now, almost 7 years (and an extra 20-25 lbs) later, I was getting depressed at how tired and weak I was. I found myself struggling to do 10 push-ups when I used to pump out 30, no problem.  All I had to show of that former body was a picture of me in a bikini that I put on my mirror as a reminder of what I WAS. I thought those days were long over.

I gave in to the extra pounds as getting older and serious stress of the likes I have never known had gotten the best of me.  Usually carefree with no worries, the past four years had taken a toll on me…(cue the violins).  I had dealt (or maybe not dealt) with my sister losing her battle to cancer, my husband being diagnosed with an incurable cancer, my father becoming ill and most recently the loss of my step son’s wife to cancer.  I was not happy with how I felt and looked and THEN I ran into Melanie (AKA; super motivator), after she opened her new Thomas Moreland Fitness studio.  She encouraged me to come to her boot camp classes again and although I was very frustrated at my pathetic decline in strength during those workouts, I knew it was a step in the right direction to get my strength, endurance and body back.  But then I got discouraged by  not seeing quick results and stopped going.

She emailed me to tell me about the Winter Challenge that Susanna was putting together and encouraged me AGAIN to please join the group for a healthy eating challenge.  We would be learning how to plan ahead and focus on whole foods. This was just what I needed.  With the support of my awesome husband / personal chef (I can barley boil water) and with the support of the whole Winter Challenge group, I was more than ready to lose this stubborn weight and get ME back!!  The weekly recipes and guidelines from Susanna were great and everyone was so encouraging!  I am convinced a healthy diet is 80% of the secret to losing weight.  This program was just what I needed. The challenge had us eliminate wheat and dairy for the first two weeks just to see if those items were causing us any digestive issues. I thought I would never survive without eating cheese but found that actually cutting out dairy and wheat was simpler than I had thought. We had an option to add whole sources of wheat and dairy back in during week 3 and 4; I still have not included either back into my diet and am perfectly happy.  Cheese has nothing on me now!

I wish I could say the same about wine (we also eliminated added sugar altogether and alcohol) but I found it wasn’t hard to cut back on wine (during the week) either.  I am so happy with the results that the healthy eating challenge along with daily workouts have provided me. I’m really motivated by my new eating habits from the Winter Challenge and seeing the weight drop helps me to be motivated to get stronger! I am down 10lbs and hope to lose another 10 (or dare I say 15) by the end of May!  I am going to Mexico for a wedding in May and that is certainly a motivating factor and I look forward to rocking a bikini once again while there!    Here are the top five things I learned from the challenge:

#5       Keeping hydrated helps me to feel full

#4       Eating healthy (whole food) meals and snacks gives me energy and stops the 2:30 sleep slump!

#3       Even someone who has trouble boiling water (me) – can make a tasty crock pot dish!

#2       I can survive Monday through Thursday without wine and cheese!

#1       Nothing tastes better than seeing the number on the scale go DOWN!

Thank you Melanie and Susanna for always being so supportive and encouraging!

 

Soup, There it is!

Susanna DeRocco

Healthy Bodies, Happy Minds

This time of year I could live on soup!  Honestly, I could live on soup year-round. I love that soups are so versatile. Once you have the basics, you can literally  leave one thing out or throw something else in and create your own masterpiece!  I can easily serve these as an entire meal for my family, pack leftovers to school or work for lunch or freeze extra to enjoy at a later date.  Here are a few soups that make an appearance in our house along with a basic vegetable/chicken stock recipe. With not much planning (many of these ingredients keep for awhile in the fridge or pantry–Mother Nature has planned for that this time of year) you can have some warm, satisfying soup ready relatively quickly!

Below are a few items I always try to keep on hand this time of year in case a snow day means a day at  home.  If you don’t have some of these, don’t let it stop you from creating something warm and satisfying!

soup ingredients

Produce: Carrots, onions or leeks, celery, fennel, garlic (can be jarred but I like fresh), sweet potato/potato, butternut squash

Pantry: Boxes of beans, chopped tomatoes, vegetable/chicken stock, jar of roasted red peppers, seeds/nuts, brown rice, brown rice noodles,  farro

Freezer: Peas, corn,shrimp

Spices/dried herbs: Bay leaves, oregano, paprika, basil, oregano, etc

Easy Butternut Squash Soup

butternut squash soup pumpkin seeds

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is an amalgamation of three different recipes. It is really flavorful and hits the spot topped with some spicy toasted pumpkin seeds!

Ingredients
2T olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, roughly chopped
2 20-ounce packages (2-1/2 pounds) pre-cut butternut squash (if using fresh squash, you’ll need one large squash or 7-8 cups cubed)
2 carrots, peeled and diced (can buy pre-cut)
4 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled (can use jar)
7 cups vegetable (or chicken) stock
salt/pepper to taste
2 T champagne vinegar (if you don’t have any, make it anyway!)
6 Fresh thyme sprigs
1 1/4 teaspoons minced fresh sage
1 bay leaf
toasted pumpkin seeds for garnish (optional)

Method

In a large stockpot over medium heat, warm the oil.  Add onions when warm and sauté until clear.  Add squash, carrots, and parsnips.  Cook stirring occasionally until vegetables are slightly tender and warmed through, about 5 minutes.  Add the chicken or vegetable stock, salt, pepper, vinegar,  thyme, sage and bay leaf.  Bring mixture to a simmer and cook until vegetables are soft; about 20 minutes.  Remove bay leaf and thyme sprigs and puree the mixture with an immersion blender until desired smoothness (I like to have something to chew on) or alternatively, cool the soup slightly, then purée in a blender in batches, making sure to leave the hole in the lid open to allow the steam to escape.)

Cheater’s” Chicken Soup

Nothing beats chicken soup from scratch, but if you have a few ingredients on hand, you can poach some chicken (or pick up a rotisserie chicken), shred and add it to this soup and there you go! You can even purchase the pre-cut mirepoix (onion, carrot, celery–many stores have it already prepared) and have it ready to go in no time!

mire poix

Ingredients

1T olive oil

2 leeks, chopped, use white and light green areas only (can use regular or green onions if you don’t have leeks!)

3-4 carrots, peeled and chopped

3-4 celery stalks, chopped

1/2 fennel bulb, chopped (if you don’t have this, make it without fennel and use 4 parsley stalks)

2 bay leaves (dried)

8 cups chicken stock (homemade or 2 boxes store bought)

2-4 poached chicken breasts (or 1 rotisserie chicken, pulled)

12 oz.Whole wheat pasta or brown rice, prepared using package directions

Method

Heat oil in heavy large saucepan over medium heat.
Add leeks, carrots, celery and fennel & bay leaves and cook until vegetables begin to soften, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes.
Add chicken stock and bring to boil; reduce heat, cover and simmer until vegetables are all tender; about 15-20 minutes.
Add chicken to the soup and simmer a few more minutes
Season with salt and pepper.  Add brown rice or whole wheat pasta to your bowl, pour in soup and serve!

Chesapeake Bay Crab Soup (based on a Bon Appetit recipe)

Eating this on Christmas Eve is a tradition in our house, but it is great for a wintry treat (I know crab meat is expensive–you can buy claw meat to save $!).

Ingredients
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
4 ribs celery, chopped
3 carrots, peeled and chopped
16 ounce can Italian plum tomatoes
4 cups chicken broth
1 cup clam juice
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 large potato, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1T Old Bay Seasoning (more or less to taste)
1 cup frozen peas
12 ounces lump crab meat
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
1/2 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
Method
Heat oil in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and carrot and cook until vegetables begin to soften, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes.
Add tomatoes with their liquid; break up tomatoes.
Add chicken broth, water, clam juice, wine, potato, Worcestershire sauce and Old Bay Seasoning.
Bring to boil; reduce heat, cover and simmer until potatoes are tender, about 12 minutes.
Add peas to soup and simmer 2 minutes.
Add crab meat, parsley and hot pepper sauce.
Simmer until crab meat is heated through, about 1 minute.
Season with salt and pepper and serve.
Vegetable/Chicken Stock
If you don’t have some of the vegetables (fennel, parsnips) or have different herbs (dill, etc), don’t let it stop you from making this!  Use what you have; it is sure to be delicious!
stock for freezer
Ingredients
1 whole chicken, (if making chicken stock; I use organic) or chicken carcass (from roasted chicken)
3 large yellow onions, unpeeled and quartered
6 carrots, unpeeled and halved
4 stalks celery with leaves, cut into thirds
4 parsnips, unpeeled and cut in half, optional
1 bulb fennel, cut in half
20 sprigs fresh parsley
15 sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves 
1 head garlic, unpeeled and cut in 1/2 crosswise
2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons whole black peppercorns
Method
Vegetable stock: Strain contents of pot through a colander and discard solids. Use right away or pack in containers and freeze up to three months
Chicken stock: Place the chicken, onions, carrots, celery, parsnips, parsley, thyme,  garlic, and seasonings in a 16 to 20-quart stockpot. Add 7 quarts of water and bring to a boil. Simmer, uncovered, for 4 hours. (*If using a whole chicken, remove chicken after 2 hours and retain meat. Place bones back in the pot and simmer 2 more hours). Strain the entire contents of the pot through a colander and discard the solids. Chill the stock overnight. The next day, remove the surface fat. Use immediately or pack in containers and freeze for up to 3 months. Here is a link to making a less complicated version in the crock pot; it doesn’t make as much, but it is super simple!

 

 

Picking a Good Training (accountability) Partner to Reach Goals

training partner

It’s cold outside….it’s dark…..your bed feels warm and cozy! Do you have what it takes to get up and go when everything seems against you?

The laundry is piled up, there are no groceries in the fridge and you need to pay bills! Do you have what it takes to focus on a workout and then tend to the never ending chores?

You are tired, pms- ing, hungover or have a slight cold! Do you have the willpower to get off the couch and get a workout in?

These things happen to all of us! What separates the successful from the unsuccessful is being held accountable! Having a good workout/accountability partner can make all the difference! Those days that you would have skipped, but showed up b/c someone was waiting for you, will add up to real gains. Those days when you just weren’t feeling 100%, but your partner believed in you so you worked harder, will add up to real gains. Having a good partner will absolutely help keep you motivated and help you stay on track!

Here are some rules to set in order to be (and have) a good training partner (Michael Matthews- Thinner, Leaner, Stronger 2012)

1. Show up on time for every workout and if you can’t avoid missing one, let your partner know as soon as possible.

2. Plan to go to the gym to train…not to catch up on the weeks’ events. Focus on your workout and be efficient- time is precious

3. Train hard and set a good example for your partner

4. Push your partner to do more than they think they can. It’s your job to motivate her to do more weight and more reps than she believes possible. (that’s where a good spot comes in handy)

5. Support your partner and take note of any gains (record progress)

6. Don’t let your partner get out of a workout easily. Reject any excuses that are short of an emergency or commitment that can’t be rescheduled. If your partner has to cancel, set up another time to train to get the workout in.

Some of these may seem harsh or unreasonable at first, but if you are able to adhere to these 6 points, I promise you will make great gains!!

 

Eating Your Way Around the Holidays!

Susanna DeRocco

The holiday season is filled with many wonderful opportunities to visit friends and family, to connect with friends old and new, to celebrate the season and the upcoming new year and…well…to eat.  The challenge for most of us is not the few special meals that punctuate the holiday season, but all of the in-betweens.  The cookies we bake that linger around. The sweets a well-meaning colleague bestows upon us.  The leftovers, the holiday parties, the increase in dining out whether while holiday shopping, visiting family or deliberately planning a special night out with friends.  The bottom line is that the challenge is often not about the actual holiday that we are celebrating but more about eating and drinking our way around and through the holiday season. Here are a few things to keep in  mind during this festive season.  The goal is to enjoy those special dishes, desserts, drinks and meals; not slippery slope  ourselves into feeling stuffed, sick and guilty. Try a few of these strategies to navigate the season in a special, but healthful way.

December 2014 Calendar Printable
1. ) Make choices in advance. Bust out your calendar and write down all of your events (print one out for yourself if you need to).  Choose which events warrant some sort of splurge (cocktail, dessert, indulgent side dish).  You do not have to have ALL of these at each event!  You have choices!  You will likely be going out more than usual anyhow, so make your choices wisely and then, by all means, enjoy them and don’t look back! Taking your grandmother to lunch? Write it down.  Holiday party?  Put it on the books.  Girls night out-holiday style? Log it in. Look up menus online and plan your meal beforehand If you are shopping all day and plan on dining out, find the healthiest option in your area and look that up in advance!  Planning on enjoying a lovely dessert?  Savor it and simply choose a lighter meal.  Looking forward to a cocktail?  Skip dessert.  Splitting meals, asking the waiter to box half and bring half and ordering steamed or naked vegetables as sides are all good options when your plan includes treating yourself.
2.) Plate smart. Start small; with regards to portions, that is. Even with regards to the plate.  Smaller plates mean less room for portion overload.   Load up on your vegetables first. They should make up half (or more) of your plate!Whether snacking or making your dinner plate, vegetables will not only keep you full of fiber but will provide the nutrients you need making you less likely to go for something else.  Dark, leafy greens (DLG’s) are especially important for helping curb sugary cravings. Next, make sure you have some lean protein on your plate.  Take small portions of items like stuffing, potatoes & creamy  sides. Tell yourself if you are really hungry, you can go back for more (see #12).  For example, on Thanksgiving, I know I am going to have stuffing, a pumpkin whoopie pie and a piece of pumpkin pie, as part of my meal.  And, get this. I am also going to have a cocktail. Boom. That sounds like a lot, right?  It is for me BUT on that day I still eat a healthy breakfast, exercise, eat lunch and load most of my plate with healthy & tasty vegetable sides first.  I keep the portions of stuffing, whoopie pie and pumpkin pie very small. I know I am going to have these things in advance, so I  make space for them and savor every bite. That way I am satisfied, don’t feel an ounce of guilt and don’t feel stuffed at the end of my meal!

3. ) The first bite is best.  Do you know that when it comes to flavor and satisfaction that our taste buds peter out around bite four?  What does that mean?  It means nothing is going to taste as good as that first bite!  If you are tempted by a decadent holiday dessert, have a bite or two and then put the fork down. Having that bite or two may just satisfy you. Nobody says you need to eat the whole thing! 

4.) Eat only what you love.  This ties into #3! If you don’t absolutely love something, don’t eat it! Choose homemade baked goods over store bought.  Choose small portions of special dishes so that you don’t feel deprived. I personally don’t love mashed potatoes, but I might use them as a vehicle for stuffing if they are on my plate. I don’t even bother with them because they are just added calories for me.

5.) Waste or Waist?  Worried about wasting food?  Did your mother-in-law slave over her famous (insert name of dish here) leaving you no choice but to finish it? Honestly, if you are eating food only because you don’t want to ‘waste’ it, you are not honoring yourself.  You are ‘waist’ing it, in my opinion. Choose yourself first and move along leftovers/sweets that are sabotaging your health and fitness goals. 

6.) Move away from the table. Don’t put yourself in a position to eat food because it is there.  Choose something from the buffet if you are hungry and then move into another room. If you are full but tempted by the dessert table, find a friend to talk to or grab a glass of water.

7.) Hydrate. Keep a glass of water in your hand at your holiday party.  This way you will actively keep yourself hydrated, be less inclined to overindulge in alcohol which leads to mindless eating (as described here). Keeping water in your car, in your purse while shopping and running errands and close at hand while baking or cooking not only keeps you hydrated, but means you are less likely to mindlessly nibble on things here and there.  Sometimes we think we are hungry when we are really dehydrated. If you need a reminder about why water is so important, read this.

8.)  Plan for a busy day. Make it a point to eat something prior to going to a holiday party or event.  Going out?   Bring a healthy side dish so that you know you will have something you can feel good about eating.  Have a small bag of nuts with some fruit on hand or a Lara Bar for a long day of errands.  Plan some simple meals or make and freeze meals now for weeks when you are strapped for time. When you have healthy options  in your car, purse, or crock-pot, you are less likely to reach that point of hunger where you may easily fall prey to the closest fast-food option.  Try to avoid pre-packaged, processed foods. Do not over-complicate your meals this time of year–the simpler, the better!

9.)  Just say no. You do not have to go to each and every holiday event to which you are invited.  When you are feeling stressed by too much merriment, you know it is time to cut back.  The truth is, all of the fun and festivity can be downright depleting if you are trying to ‘do it all’.   Remember that the season is also one of peace.  Trading in the myriad of ‘events’ you have planned for a few special traditions makes them all the more special.  If you have children, be mindful that kids need to decompress and get some good rest as much as you do!

10.) Keep your exercise ‘appointments.’  That’s right. Go ahead and schedule your workouts in as if  they were doctor’s appointments because they are just as important! The cost for missing or cancelling?  Why only our good health and sanity!  Who can afford to pay that kind of price, particularly during the holiday season!  Let’s put it this way, how many of you have ever regretted working out?  Exactly. I can honestly say I have never regretted working out.  I have regretted missing a morning workout.  As an energizer, mood-stabilizer and immune-booster, exercise is the gift that keeps on giving!  Grab a friend, hold each other accountable and keep movement a top priority.

11.) Catch those Z’s .We have talked about the benefits and  importance of sleep many times.  Not only can lack of sleep contribute to weight gain, it can  also reduce the body’s ability to produce antibodies and to fight off common infections! Too little sleep promotes mood swings, irritability and general unhappiness.  When we stay up to bake that 25th batch of cookies, or hand-craft holiday cards, these things become stressful and are no longer any fun. Are you doing these things because they bring you joy or because you don’t want to disappoint anyone?  Be honest.  Then hit the sack–that extra batch of cookies will not even be missed!

12.) Check in with your bad self: Are you really hungry or feeling overwhelmed?  Do you need that snack or are you trying to procrastinate?  Keep the hunger scale in mind and never let yourself get to either end of the spectrum (ready to eat your arm off or stuffed and feeling sick).  Find activities that restore your energy.  Go for that walk, browse through a book store, whatever your pleasure (as long as it doesn’t involve spending more than you have and causing more stress); reward yourself for working hard.  Take five minutes for yourself  and do one thing you love each day.  Remember,” If Mama Ain’t Happy, Ain’t Nobody Happy!”

 The holidays and those special meals are a time to spend with family, give thanks and celebrate.  Give yourself permission to enjoy the meals with your family and friends.  If you focus on eating healthfully for the majority of the month, splurging a little on the holidays is okay. Splurging for two entire months, however, is another story!    Be aware of using the entire holiday season as an excuse to eat mindlessly, but do enjoy those special, traditional foods, without guilt! 

 

 

Have a Healthy and Happy Thanksgiving

thanksgiving

I love Thanksgiving! It’s a holiday the kids get to enjoy off from school, we get a break from working and running around, and can enjoy a day of family, friends, rest and good food!

Traditionally on Thanksgiving , my mom has spent literally all day,  and the night before, in the kitchen, preparing for a meal that last maybe 30-40 minutes. While it’s fun to hang in the kitchen with a glass of wine, preparing family favorites, I choose to make one or two family staples and also prepare some quick and healthy sides so I can also relax by the fire with that glass of wine! I love to cook, but I also try to remember that others really enjoy helping out too. Don’t be afraid to ask guests to bring a side to share or a pie for dessert!

Check out some of the recipes below that you may want to include in your dinner this year. Whether you are hosting or bringing sides to share, the recipes below are sure to please a crowd! I have not tried the turkey in a crock pot but the recipe makes sense to me. What a great option not only on Thanksgiving, but to use as lunch meat without all the preservatives!

Slow Cooker Turkey Breast Recipe (Snack Girl.com)

1 7.5 pound bone-in turkey breast or smaller
salt and pepper

Rinse the turkey breast and pat dry. Salt and pepper the breast liberally. Place in 6 quart oval slow cooker and cook on high for 1 hour, then set to low and cook for 6-7 hours.

Check with a meat thermometer for when the breast meat reaches 170 F or just let it go for the entire time.

There will be about 2 cups of liquid left in the slow cooker after the turkey finishes cooking. Defat and use for gravy or stock for soup.

Slice the turkey using serrated knife, moving back and forth fairly quickly to ensure a nice slice. At this point you can slice the entire turkey and package the meat in freezer bags for future lunches.

Four ounces (without skin) is 118 calories, 1.8 g fat, 0.5 g saturated fat, 4.7 g carbohydrates, 4.0 g sugar, 20.0 g protein, 0.6 g fiber, 55 mg sodium, 3 Points

Quick, tasty and healthy sides!

Maple-Roasted Sweet Potatoes VS high calorie Sweet Potato Casserole

roasted sweet pot

 

http://www.eatingwell.com/recipes/maple_roasted_sweet_potatoes.html

From EatingWell:  November/December 2007

Roasting sweet potatoes is even easier than boiling and mashing them. Maple syrup glaze transforms this ultra-simple dish into something sublime.

12 servings, about 1/2 cup each | Active Time: 10 minutes | Total Time: 1 hour 10 minutes

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces (about 8 cups)
  • 1/3 cup pure maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground pepper, to taste

Preparation

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  2. Arrange sweet potatoes in an even layer in a 9-by-13-inch glass baking dish. Combine maple syrup, butter, lemon juice, salt and pepper in small bowl. Pour the mixture over the sweet potatoes; toss to coat.
  3. Cover and bake the sweet potatoes for 15 minutes. Uncover, stir and cook, stirring every 15 minutes, until tender and starting to brown, 45 to 50 minutes more.

Nutrition

Per serving : 96 Calories; 2 g Fat; 1 g Sat; 0 g Mono; 5 mg Cholesterol; 19 g Carbohydrates; 1 g Protein; 2 g Fiber; 118 mg Sodium; 189 mg Potassium

1 1/2 Carbohydrate Serving

Exchanges: 1 1/2 starch, 1/2 fat

Tips & Notes

  • Make Ahead Tip: Cover and refrigerate for up to 1 day. Just before serving, reheat at 350°F until hot, about 15 minutes

 

 Lean Green Bean Casserole VS Grandma’s Green Bean Casserole

green beans

 

http://www.eatingwell.com/recipes/easy_green_bean_casserole.html

From EatingWell:  November/December 2011

Typical green bean casseroles bathe ingredients in a heavy cream sauce and top them with buttered breadcrumbs or cheese. Our healthier version saves about 160 calories and 12 grams of saturated fat compared to a traditional recipe.

8 servings, about 1 cup each | Active Time: 50 minutes | Total Time: 1 hour

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 pound green beans, trimmed and cut into 1- to 2-inch pieces (about 8 cups)
  • 2-3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon white or black pepper
  • 2 1/2 cups low-fat milk
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh whole-wheat breadcrumbs (see Tips) or 1/2 cup shredded or crumbled cheese

Preparation

  1. Position racks in upper and lower third of oven; preheat to 425°F.
  2. Toss green beans in a large bowl with 1 tablespoon oil until well coated. Divide between 2 baking sheets and spread in an even layer. Roast, stirring once and rotating the pans top to bottom about halfway through, until tender and beginning to brown, 20 to 25 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring frequently, until very soft and golden brown, 5 to 8 minutes. Add flour, salt and pepper; cook, stirring, for 1 minute more. Add milk and continue to stir, scraping up any browned bits. Cook, stirring, until the sauce bubbles and thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 4 minutes. Remove from the heat. (See Tips.)
  4. When the green beans are done, remove from the oven. Preheat the broiler.
  5. Transfer half the green beans to a 2-quart, broiler-safe baking dish. Spread half the sauce over the green beans. Add the remaining green beans and top with the remaining sauce.
  6. Combine breadcrumbs and the remaining 1 tablespoon oil in a small bowl (skip this step if you are topping with cheese).
  7. Sprinkle the breadcrumb mixture (or cheese) over the gratin. Place under the broiler and broil, watching closely, until the gratin is bubbling and beginning to brown on top, 1 to 5 minutes, depending on your broiler. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.

Nutrition

Per serving : 170 Calories; 7 g Fat; 1 g Sat; 4 g Mono; 4 mg Cholesterol; 23 g Carbohydrates; 7 g Protein; 5 g Fiber; 303 mg Sodium; 367 mg Potassium

1 Carbohydrate Serving

Exchanges: 1/2 starch, 1 1/2 vegetable, 1 fat

Tips & Notes

  • Make Ahead Tip: Roast green beans (Step 2) up to 30 minutes ahead. Prepare the sauce (Step 3), cover and refrigerate for up to 1 day; gently reheat until steaming before combining with the green beans.
  • Tips: To make your own fresh breadcrumbs, trim crusts from whole-wheat bread. Tear bread into pieces and process in a food processor until coarse crumbs form. One slice of bread makes about 1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs.
  • To add extra flavor to the cream sauce, at the end of Step 3 stir in 1 tablespoon chopped fresh herbs, such as thyme, sage or parsley. Or make it cheesy by stirring in 1/2 cup shredded or crumbled cheese, such as Gruyère, Swiss, Cheddar or blue cheese.

 

Garlic Mashed Cauliflower vs Mashed Potatoes

 

Garlic Mashed Cauliflower
recipe image
Rated: rating
Submitted By: AndiePhoto By: Paula
Prep Time: 15 Minutes
Cook Time: 10 Minutes
Ready In: 25 Minutes
Servings: 4
“Cauliflower ‘mashed potatoes’ are a guilt-free and delicious way to cut calories and add veggies to any meal.”
Ingredients:
1 head cauliflower, cut into florets
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 clove garlic, smashed
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon reduced-fat cream cheese
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black
pepper
Directions:
1. Place a steamer insert into a saucepan and fill with water to just below the bottom of the steamer. Bring water to a boil. Add cauliflower, cover, and steam until tender, about 10 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a small skillet over medium heat; cook and stir garlic until softened, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat.
3. Transfer half the cauliflower to a food processor; cover and blend on high. Add remaining cauliflower florets, one at a time, until vegetables are creamy. Blend in garlic, Parmesan cheese, cream cheese, salt, and black pepper.
AL RIGHTS RESERVED © 2014 Allrecipes.com Printed from Allrecipes.com 11/17/2014 

 

 

Deconstruction Zone: Meals for All Kinds of Eaters!

Susanna DeRocco

Healthy Bodies, Happy Minds

A common want-to-pull-my-hair-out complaint that I hear from people about dinner time is that there are only a handful of meals that everyone likes and eats together. While jelly beans, popcorn and toast may not be our ideal, cooking one meal is; deconstructing them is one way of getting there.  These ideas are not ground-breaking, but they may help you get through a busy week. These meals allow everyone to customize their own plates and participate in the same meal time, even though plates may look decidedly different. Below are four examples of meals that are simple and relatively quick (if you have done a bit of preparation and some planning) to put together. Your family can deconstruct and reconstruct as desired!

Baked Potato/Sweet Potato Bar:

bar with 2 potatoes

The combinations of toppings here are virtually endless–I recently had BBQ sauce, caramelized onions and lentils in a baked sweet potato and it was delish!  Here are some great ideas for a baked potato bar and a sweet potato bar!  Take your potatoes in a broccoli/cheese direction, top with frozen peas (defrost first!) and Parmesan, spice it up with a Mexican theme, enjoy with lentils & caramelized onions or with leftover chili.  You can bake the potatoes ahead for the week or make them in your crock pot via the recipe below:

Crock Pot Baked Potatoes

Wash potatoes (sweet or russet) thoroughly and poke some holes in them with a fork/knife.  Wrap in foil and place in the crock pot.  Cook on high for 3 to 4 hours or until potatoes are soft on the inside.  Cook up to 10 potatoes in a 6qt. slow cooker.

Make-Your-Own-Sandwich night:

Feeling bad about sandwiches for dinner? Well, don’t.  Sandwiches  are a great option for a busy night; they can be planned ahead or eaten on a whim.  The ‘make-your-own’ is the best part.  Does your youngest want a nut-butter and banana sandwich?  Great!  Go for it!  Your oldest wants to use up leftover chicken? Wonderful!  What? Someone wants pizza but you only have an English muffin, some jarred tomato sauce and a cheese stick? Have at it!  Are you downright dog-tired and just want some avocado on toast? Brilliant!  Bring it! You just have to make sure you have a few staples in the house to make this night come together. After sandwiches have been created, have everyone pick their own fruit and sit down together to enjoy your sandwiches. It is only one meal, two if they have had a sandwich for lunch, so don’t sweat it.  Sandwich night. That is all.

Eggs:

Eggs are an easy way to get a quick meal on the table! They make a pretty regular appearance at our dinner table in a variety of forms (frittata, hard-boiled, fried, over easy, scrambled).  Nourish Schools provided this recent run-down (dare I say it was egg-cellent?),which I could not have said better!

Taco Night:

Create a do-it-yourself taco bar.  Employ your kids to chop vegetables, shred cheese, get out bowls, heat up tortillas in the microwave, etc.  This is great for families that have meat and non-meat eaters (same goes for dairy).  You can eat the vegetables over salad, as a rice bowl, or in a tortilla/taco shell.  It is also great if you have any leftover grains like brown rice, quinoa or polenta or grilled vegetables to use up!  Plan ahead and make a double batch! The quick lentil recipe below makes a nice change if you are trying to cut back on animal protein (or on your grocery bill).  Some options are (you do not have to make all of these!):

  • Whole wheat tortillas (optional)
  • Taco shells
  • Ground turkey (using spice blend from lentil recipe below), leftover grilled chicken or grilled shrimp
  • Chopped greens like Romaine or spinach or a combination
  • Chopped red cabbage
  • Black beans (or any canned beans) or crock pot refried beans
  • Green or red jarred salsa (or fresh if you like)
  • Leftover brown rice (or other grain like quinoa)
  • Cut-up avocado
  • Lime, cilantro, garlic (I like to chop the garlic & cilantro and add a half of a lime to the avocado)
  • Greek yogurt
  • Grated Monterey Jack cheese
  • grilled vegetables (peppers, mushroom and onion)
  • sliced banana or jalapeno peppers or chilis
  • corn (fresh or frozen)
  • sliced scallions
  • sliced black olives
  • diced tomatoes
  • diced raw onion
  • crushed baked tortilla chips

Taco-seasoned Lentils

1 1/4 cups brown or green lentils (8 ounces)
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon chili powder
1/2 tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon sea salt (or more to taste)
1/2 teaspoons black pepper
Pinch crushed red pepper flakes (or none for sensitive palates)

In a medium saucepan, bring 1 3/4 cups water to a boil . Once boiling, add lentils, cover, and reduce heat. Simmer covered for about 20 to 25 minutes, until most of the water has been absorbed.

Turn off the heat, then stir in tomato paste, chili powder, cumin, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, oregano, salt (or not), black pepper, and a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes.

What are some meals that help you satisfy all kinds of eaters?  We would love to hear your ideas!

 

 

 

12 Meal-Planning Motivators

Susanna DeRocco

Healthy Bodies, Happy Minds

Meal planning tips and tricks

“Motivation is what gets you started.   Habit is what keeps you going.” Jim Rohn

Planning and executing a week’s worth of meals that simultaneously take into consideration all of the various needs in any given household while also trying to keep them healthy, budget friendly and something everyone might entertain eating is tough work, my friends. As someone who has made my share of ‘meals-that-didn’t-fly, I know.

It. is. tough. work.

The thing is, the time and effort you put into planning yields huge pay-offs; saving money, eating healthfully, feeling relaxed (instead of crazed) are just a few that come to mind. While being motivated certainly helps, personalizing your system and making meal planning into a habit is what will ultimately keep you going (thank you, Jim Rohn).

Here are some tips to help you go from motivated, well-meaning meal-planner to confident, habitual meal-planner:

1. Keep it Simple. Contrary to what you may think, you do not have to create a gourmet meal!  We are talking about using simple, fresh ingredients to plan meals that will not put you over the edge.  Find your recipes from resources you trust like favorite magazines, cookbooks, websites, your recipe binder (see #7).  Make a list of ingredients you need from those recipes Buy them.  Make said recipes.  The majority of my weekday meals are recipes I have made before and know how to execute or have prepped/planned in advance. If you have a desire to try something new, aim for a night or weekend where you will have more time to experiment. 

2.  Make a commitment to yourself.

This is important. It takes 21 days to form your habit.  Make sure you set yourself up for success by creating a goal to meal plan and by sticking to it.  Bust out your calendar and take a peek at the week ahead.  Which nights do you have time to prep something simple?  Which nights will you have no time at all?  Plan for busy nights by using a crock pot, cooking a meal in advance or cooking extra portions and re-purposing the ‘left-overs.’  Start slow by choosing 2-3 nights (you can have leftovers for lunch) and keep moving!

3. Keep your pantry, freezer & refrigerator organized.

Wendy Keer's pantry

Organize by shelf in your pantry (i.e-baking goods), or by food in the refrigerator (i.e.-vegetables), keep oils and vinegar in one spot, etc.   Organize in a way that works for you.  This way you can cross-reference what you have, what you need, and what is on sale.  You also will avoid having five, partially-used bottles of rice-wine vinegar!

3. Chunk it out. Your time, that is.  Not only for meal-planning but for shopping, prepping and organizing.  When can you plan meals?  Is your shopping day also your organizing/prepping day?  What works for you?  Sundays are usually the day in my house where I am hard-boiling some eggs, baking/grilling off some chicken, cutting/roasting vegetables or making double batches of something (brown rice, quinoa, whole grain waffles) that I can either freeze or use throughout the week.  During the winter when days are short, I may even make an extra dish and freeze it for ‘one of those nights.’

4. Cook once, eat twice.

[soup2.jpg]

Okay, you don’t have to break Venezuela’s world record for biggest pot of soup, but I recommend living by this rule whenever possible! Roasting chicken on Sunday?  Have a chopped chicken salad on Monday night.  Or shredded chicken tacos. Or chicken tetrazzini. You see where I’m going.  If your kids don’t like ‘leftovers’, don’t call them ‘leftovers!” Having salad? Chop up a few heads of Romaine and keep it in a salad spinner–it will last a few days in the fridge! Making brown rice for a stir fry?  Make a double batch and keep in the fridge for your lunch or for another meal later in the week.  Same goes for soups, chili, stews and baked goods. Food nerd alert:How sweet is it when you realize you have an extra loaf of chocolate zucchini bread in the freezer?  It’s like finding $5 in an old pair of jeans. Cha-ching!

5. Have a ‘sure-thing”.

Spicy Shrimp Soup is great for sinuses!

Spicy Shrimp Soup is great for sinuses!

There are certain things I always have on-hand (lemons, garlic, olive oil, greens, frozen shrimp, brown rice, white beans, artichoke hearts, tomato/marinara sauce, herbs/spices).   I can always quickly make something with these ingredients.  Limited to eggs, spices and frozen spinach?  Try a frittata or make breakfast for dinner–this is always a hit in our house!

6. Have a go-to list of staples. Create a list on your computer of staples that you get each week.  That way you can simply add to your list instead of starting from scratch.  Here are seven different iphone apps that allow you to create and share lists, scan specific items into your list, and more.

7. Create a family recipe binder.

This tool is critical for me. I have recipes from my family, my friends, magazines, online, etc.  The recipes in the binder are tried and true ‘keepers’. I have a different file for recipes I’d like to try.  Full disclosure-this is not a picture of my binder!  My binder is old, food-stained and not pretty at all, but it works!  Some people like to have their recipes on a computer or saved on a particular website.  I have the recipes organized in clear sheet protectors so I can utilize both sides for recipe in a way that works for me (Breakfast, Sides, Chicken, etc.). You can organize your binder in a way that works for you.

8. Utilize a system.

A blank calendar, an app for your phone, a white-board, a chalk-board,  a meal-board like those found on Pinterest.  Find something that is true to your style and that you will actually use.  I use (drum roll please…) a piece of paper and a pen.  See? Now you know my secret.

9. Add a theme. “Fiesta Tuesday”, “Breakfast for Dinner”,  “Wacky Wednesday”.  Themes are fun!  Themes help you plan!   My personal favorite now that my kids are older is “YOYO–You’re On Your Own”!  If you have kids, let them create a theme/come up with a name!

10. If you have kids, bring ’em in! Create a list or menu and post it.  Allow your child to plan the menu one day/week (they will be more likely to eat it!) Grow, shop, cook with your child.  Not only are you giving them a life-skill, but including them in the process also means they are more likely to eat what they have helped plan.

11. Trust yourself. Planning is all well and good but life happens. When you suddenly find yourself in the throes of  ‘one of those nights’ unprepared, take a quick look in your pantry.  Chances are, you probably have some items on hand that will make a tasty meal.  Trust yourself to create something without a plan.  Yes, sometimes what you make will suck, but other times you will do a big ol’ fist pump because you have created something to add into your  ‘rotation.’  You can always plug the ingredients you have on-hand to one of my favorite websites,www.epicurious.com for ideas.

12. Keep trying. Planning meals takes time and effort.  It requires us to make time to plan, time to shop, time to organize, prep, and cook.  Keep plugging away to find a system that works for you!  Start slowly (plan 3 nights) and work your way up to having the week planned (enjoying one night out can be part of your plan!).  Finally, and I cannot emphasize this enough, find something that works for you.  My pantry, binder, & fridge are not “Pinterest worthy” but they work for me and get the job done!

Please add any meal-planning strategies that you use and find most helpful–we are tremendous resources for one another and don’t forget about the meal planning workshop on Thursday, October 16th from 7:30-8:30 pm at Thomas Moreland Fitness!  You can sign up right here!

“Make-Once, Eat-For-Days” Lunches with Some Staying Power!

Susanna DeRocco

Healthy Bodies, Happy Minds

Quinoa/Corn salad

We took this quinoa salad on a recent camping trip…I used a corn salad recipe that we love and added the quinoa for some staying power! Have a vinaigrette that you love? You can do it, too! Combine the vinaigrette with a grain and some vegetables and guess what? You did it!

Ingredients

1 cup prepared quinoa
2 ears of corn, cooked/grilled and cut off the cob
2 medium tomatoes (or 3/4 cup grape tomatoes, halved)
1/2 cup small-diced red onion (1 small onion)
3 tablespoons cider vinegar
3 tablespoons good olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup julienned fresh basil leaves

Method

Rinse and prepare quinoa according to directions–I like to use vegetable or chicken stock instead of water. Cool quinoa. Mix together olive oil, cider vinegar, salt and pepper in a bowl and set aside. Once quinoa has cooled, add corn, tomatoes, onion, basil and mix in dressing. Add olive oil/apple cider vinegar by the teaspoon if it still needs some kick! Enjoy!

Greek-style Edamame Salad (adapted from Cooking Light, 2014)

Greek-Style Edamame Salad Recipe

Ingredients
2 cups frozen shelled edamame
1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon garlic powder
salt/pepper to taste
1 tablespoon chopped shallot or red onion
1 cup chopped English cucumber
2 tablespoons sliced Kalamata olives
@ 10 grape tomatoes, halved
* 2 tablespoons crumbled feta cheese (optional)

Method
Prepare edamame according to microwave or stove-top directions.
Combine oil, vinegar, oregano, garlic powder, salt & shallot/red onion in a medium bowl. Stir in edamame, cucumber, tomatoes and feta (if using).
Makes 4 servings. Enjoy 3 cups as lunch or enjoy 1-cup servings as a mid-afternoon snack or side-salad.

Turkey-bacon Salad w/Peaches & Pecans

Turkey bacon salad with peaches and pecans

Turkey bacon salad with peaches and pecans

 Vinaigrette
5 Tablespoons Balsamic Vinegar
3 Tablespoons good quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 Tablespoons minced shallot
1 1/2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 Tablespoons real maple syrup
1 ½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
Salt and Pepper to taste

Salad
6 pieces of cooked turkey bacon, crumbled
Chopped romaine lettuce (you can add some chopped red cabbage, mix in some spinach, arugula or some mesculun greens—all nice)
2 cups sliced, peeled peaches (about 3 peaches—can also use nectarines)
½ cup toasted pecans (toast raw pecans in a pan on the stovetop @ 5 minutes on medium heat)
*Crumbled goat or feta cheese (optional)

Method
Whisk together all 8 ingredients for Vinaigrette
**Combine turkey bacon and remaining ingredients (except cheese, if using) in a large bowl.  Place salad in bowl/container top with turkey bacon mixture.  Add vinaigrette to taste.

**I often put the individual ingredients in separate bowls and let people help themselves accordingly. Serving the vinaigrette on the side also allows for individual taste preferences.

Greek Quinoa Salad

Another favorite vinaigrette is the base for a Greek-style quinoa salad.

Another favorite vinaigrette is the base for a Greek-style quinoa salad.

Ingredients

1 cup prepared quinoa

1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

2 teaspoons minced fresh oregano

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt/pepper to taste

1 tablespoon chopped shallot or red onion

1 cup chopped English cucumber

1/4 cup sliced Kalamata olives

1 cup grape tomatoes, halved

1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese (optional)

 Method

Rinse and prepare quinoa according to directions–I like to use vegetable or chicken stock instead of water. Cool quinoa. Mix together olive oil and next 5 ingredients in a large bowl and set aside. Once quinoa has cooled, cucumbers, olives, tomatoes and mix in dressing. 

 

School Lunches: “Dready” to Think Outside of the Box?

Pizza Ezekiel Muffin

Ahhh. The beginning of the school year. The time of year I am equal parts ready for the boys to get back to school and some semblance of a schedule, yet also dread losing the somewhat more relaxed schedule (particularly with sports), and beginning the onslaught of paper, homework and general craziness that arrives along with the school year.  I call this feeling “Dready.”  That craziness includes the omnipresent, ever hovering, school lunch. I know, most of you would rather be tied to an ant hill and slathered in jam than resign yourselves to packing lunches every day. I get it.  Here are some ‘lunch lessons’ to revisit along with some links to many people far more creative than myself to help us along!  Do you hear Will Smith singing “Getting Dready With It?”  C’mon! Put your hands together and let’s get cracking on those lunches!

The basics: Keep in mind that each child is an individual; some kids can happily eat PB&J for lunch every day, some need variety and others are just plain overwhelmed by too many choices.  Overall, we want our kids to feel nourished, strong and energized throughout their day. Not ready to eat their arm off by noon. Here’s what’s going to help them:

Lean sources of protein: like beans, edamame, eggs, lean meats, yogurt, quinoa.   Since protein takes longer to digest, it keeps us feeling fuller, longer, which means having a source of protein in your lunch box is a good idea.  Protein is the ‘it’ girl right now. What? You haven’t seen the new protein-infused M&M’s?  Kidding.  There’s no such thing yet but don’t buy into all of the ‘protein’ hype. Your kids do not need a lot.  Use natural sources of protein like those listed above.

Healthy fats: like 100% natural nut-butters (also a good source of protein), avocado, unsalted nuts & seeds (pistachios, almonds, cashews, pecans, chia, flax, sunflower seeds) and salmon (though this may be tough in an enclosed lunch box!).  We need these fats for brain power and to help regulate hormones.  They also help us absorb vitamins like A, D, E, K.  Small amounts of healthy fats keep us feeling full and satisfied.  Sounds like a lunch-box winner!

Good sources of fiber and complex carbohydrates including a variety of fruits, vegetables, & whole grains like brown rice, oats, quinoa (also a good source of protein) & farro or breads made with 100% whole grains like wheat, oats, rye.  Including these will help keep your kids full and satisfied as well as provide sustained energy throughout a busy school day.  Plus, fiber helps things keep moving (just make sure to include water in that lunch box!).

How to do it:
1.) Deconstruct. Deconstructed lunches are perfect for kids who do not care for sandwiches, find themselves with ‘soggy’ sandwiches or who just like some variety. Some examples include:
•Un-sandwiches: Rolled-up turkey on toothpicks (nitrates/nitrites-free) and pita triangles. Pita triangles with a side of hummus. Include sides they can build on or eat alone like avocado, cucumber, cherry tomatoes, pickles, carrots, apple or cheese slices. Inside-out sandwiches like turkey wrapped around a whole-grain breadstick.
•Un-Salad: Start with a base of greens and include sides like leftover roasted chicken, beans, tuna, chickpeas, dried or fresh fruit, cut-up vegetables, nuts, seeds, hard-boiled egg.
•Un-Tacos: Pack beans (with or without cheese) or leftover ground turkey or your favorite ‘hot filling’ in an 8-10 ounce insulated Thermos. Make it into a salad with some Romaine lettuce or include a Garden of Eatin’ taco shell, whole grain tortilla or tortilla chips and some of your favorite sides (avacado, tomatoes, greens, cilantro, salsa, Greek yogurt, olives).
Un-Pizza: Whole-wheat pita bread, tomato sauce, grated cheese, toppings (peppers, olives, mushrooms). Keep in mind that the “pizza-style” Lunchable has over 100 ingredients!
•Un-Parfait: Plain Greek yogurt (add fresh fruit, vanilla, lemon zest), granola like Bear Naked ‘Fit’, cereal (high fiber, low sugar) roasted nuts/dried or fresh fruit.  You can even add some honey or maple syrup–chances are you are not going to add as much sugar as some of the fruit-filled on-the-shelf brands (can contain up to 30g of sugar for 1 cup!)
•Lunch Kebabs– fruit, cheese, leftover grilled chicken, raw or roasted vegetables, if you can name it, kebab-it!

2.) Include Old Favorites
•Quesadillas (black bean, corn & cilantro; cheese & spinach; avocado& cilantro) add side of salsa, tomatoes, corn, etc.
•Peanut or other 100% natural nut butter with bananas & honey, apples, mashed berries or no-added-sugar jam.
•Pizza “roll-ups”- Whole grain or sprouted grain tortilla with tomato sauce, cheese, vegetables.

3.) Try New Twists

Apple peanut-butter sandwiches with carrots, popcorn and apple spice muffins (baked ahead of time and frozen)

Apple peanut-butter sandwiches with carrots, popcorn and apple spice muffins (baked ahead of time and frozen)

•Apple & Peanut butter sandwiches with all kinds of ‘fixin’s’ (dried fruit, seeds, oats, brown rice crispies, ).
•Make PB&J ‘sushi’ by smearing the ingredients (and any add-ons listed above) into a whole-wheat wrap. Roll, cut and pack into ‘sushi’ size bites (my son loved this).
•Use a large, leafy green lettuce as your “wrap”. Romaine, bibb lettuce, collard greens and swiss chard work well! Stuff with hummus & mixed vegetables, savory vegetable quinoa, white bean dip and veggies or other fillings you enjoy!
•Spread nut butter, honey, & fresh fruit between two whole-wheat waffles.

4.) Include Hot Lunches. This is a great way to utilize leftovers! I have one kid who will not eat anything at room temperature and one who will be ‘that kid’ in college who eats “anything for a dollar!” Invest in a good insulated 8-10 ounce thermos. My ‘hot-meal’ kid maintains that all of his lunches have remained, at the very least, warm.

Soup hits the spot on a cool fall day

Soup hits the spot on a cool fall day

•Soups
•Leftover rice & Chicken/Stir Fry/Pasta & Sauce
•Pork/Chicken BBQ & Brown rice
•Quinoa patties out of leftover quinoa (or quinoa & veggies)
•Roasted sweet potatoes with cinnamon and maple syrup or roasted vegetables with lentils & savory spices.
•Baked potato with favorite toppings
•Bean/chicken/turkey chili & corn bread

This oatmeal bake!

5.) Create A ‘Snacking Box‘:
•The European: whole-grain crackers, cheese, fruit, nuts, a square of dark chocolate
•The Bento Box: vegetable sushi, steamed edamame, rice crackers, fruit, nuts

Lunch frittata

6.) Salads!  Grain  salads like bulgur, quinoa (ok, it’s technically a seed), freekeh, wheat berries and farro can go in any flavor direction you like!  Green salads, bean, salads, vegetable salads, oh, my!  Use animal protein like chicken (or don’t)!  So many directions to take this (for you and your kids)! *Kids cannot have glass in the cafeteria, however.

7.) Add a theme. I have talked about this with meal planning, the same goes for lunch. Themes are fun! Themes help you plan! Encourage your kids to create a theme/come up with a name! Some could be:
Breakfast for lunch: “Wacky Wednesday” or “Freaky Friday”-Pre-make and freeze whole grain waffles, pancakes or french toast (you can cut these into ‘sticks’) and pack sides like Greek yogurt, Bare Naked Fit granola, homemade trail mix, or applesauce. Pack oatmeal in an insulated container with roasted walnuts, blueberries, 100% maple syrup and banana. Pack leftover frittata (great for cleaning out the fridge of wayward vegetables and perfect for breakfast, lunch or dinner) as seen in the first photo on this page.
Taco Tuesday: see Un-Taco listed above
Mambo Monday: Whole wheat/brown rice pasta salad with cucumber, beans, carrot, olives, tomatoes. Dress with olive oil, lemon juice and sea salt/ground pepper and your favorite spices.
Waste-Free Wednesday: Try to pack a lunch without any trash. Include a reusable napkin, a reusable water bottle reusable containers like these and silverware from home, if needed.

Finally, here are some general tips–some you may remember from Meal Planning 101–that may help:

Utilize a system.

Lunch frittata

We use various Lunchbots containers in our house. I like these containers because they are a visual reminder of what we need to pack. Even if you don’t like the system, there are some great lunchbox ideas on their website. There are many other systems (also with great lunch ideas on their websites) including: Laptop Lunches, Ziploc (BPA-free) Divided Containers, Goodbyns, Lunchsense, PlanetBox and Packit. A good insulated food thermos is also key. They usually run @ $20 (I have yet to find one that is not made in China, however).

Have a plan. Make lunches the night before (heck, one of my friends makes three days’ worth of lunches!), utilize a crock-pot, have go-to recipes to utilize ‘left-overs’, freeze sandwiches–they will defrost by lunchtime, freeze home-made smoothies or applesauce in containers like these (I got this idea a few years back from www.100daysofrealfood.com), or have a recipe swap for new ideas.

Get the kids involved!

Griffin makes grilled cheese sandwiches and freezes them to pop into his lunch box.

Griffin makes grilled cheese sandwiches and freezes them to pop into his lunch box.

You have heard this before. Involving your kids means they’re invested. Create a list or menu and post it. Allow your child to plan the menu one day/week (they will be more likely to eat it!) Grow, shop, cook with your child. Last but not least, have older kids (gasp) make their own lunches! Not only are you giving them a life-skill, but including them in the process also means they are more likely to eat what they have helped make and plan!

Look for creative resources. Here are a bunch of sites I have used for inspiration but remember that whole foods themselves are beautiful enough. If you are really interested in making your lunches stand out without much work, you can include silicone liners as dividers (the heart shaped liners in my pictures are from Target) or use some cookie cutters to make sandwiches more interesting. If spending the time punching out shapes of fruits and vegetables or taking a cookie cutter to your kids’ sandwich is going to put you over the edge, here’s some advice:DON’T DO IT! Yes, there are some beautiful and creative lunches out there, but if creating them is not an enjoyable experience for you? Bag it. Yes, you may have to make lunch, but you do not need to create more stress for yourself!

Making lunches is something we have to do at some point. It can be arduous and it may never be ‘fun’ but we can make it easier on ourselves by getting creative, planning, getting our kids involved, and coming together to use our most valuable resource: each other!

After all, as quoted by Ron Atchison (okay, from a card I found at Trader Joe’s, but who cares?) “What are we here for, if not to help one another?” Let’s hear about some of the lunch ideas and strategies that work for your family!