Category Archives: Cooking Tips

A Clean Eating Family

Trying to stick to a clean eating diet when the rest of your family is eating the same non-healthy diet that they know and love is setting yourself up for failure. It is nearly impossible to stay with it.

So . . . why not get everyone on board and become a clean eating family? When there is no junk food in the house to tempt you, it will be a 1000 X’s easier to stay with a healthy, unprocessed food diet.

The $64,000 question is – how do you get the entire family on board with such a dramatic change?

Hold a Family Meeting

After you have seriously considered and answered the two questions in the previous post – Get Started with Clean Eating, call a family meeting and lay all your cards on the table. Share with them the WHY and WHAT of this new proposed way of eating.

Explain why eating clean, healthy, unprocessed food is so important and why you want to make this change as a family. When you talk about it in a dedicated, passionate way, conveying how important it is to you (and to them) – and ask for their support, there is a good chance you will get it.

A Gradual Change Is Best

Going cold turkey as a family could create too much resistance. It may be more effective to make the change in stages, beginning with small changes at first.

For example:

  • Grill some chicken and fix a big salad, but also offer hot dinner roles with butter and jam – then, for dessert, serve fresh sliced strawberries sprinkled with Stevia and a dollop of fresh, lightly-sweetened whipped cream.
  • Make your next batch of spaghetti sauce with grass-fed beef hamburger and serve with whole-wheat noodles. Add some sliced cucumbers, avocado and tomatoes as a healthy side, but keep the garlic bread for those who want it.
  • Make Spanish omelets with cage-free eggs, stuffed with real solid chunk, grated cheese and topped with salsa made with onions, bell peppers and tomatoes, plus your favorite Mexican flavorings. Serve with rich 12-grain toast and real butter.

Encourage your kids to take at least a couple of bites of each new healthy dish. If they do not like it, don’t force them to eat it. They will eventually come around.

Create New Family Favorites

After each meal that includes a new dish, take a vote. Find out what they like and what they don’t like. It won’t take you long to find new family favorites and start creating a list. From that list, you can develop other dishes. It is a great opportunity to use your creativity.

Once you have a few solid dishes that work for the family, they (or their variations) can be the center of your meals. Be sure to use the same process with finding favorite clean snacks – and keep plenty of the healthy favorites readily available. (BTW snacks are actually easier.)

Include one fruit or vegetable as part of each meal. Encourage the kids to eat fresh fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds for snacks. Always have them on hand and prepared for easy snacking.

Remember, even small amounts of healthy food quickly add up and slowly begin to replace the processed junk. It won’t be long until junk food becomes a faint memory of the past.

Practice the 80/20 Rule

Every step toward incorporating clean food into your family’s diet is a step in the right direction.

Every meal does not have to be 100% clean. The 80/20 rule works very well in this situation. Make it your goal to have at least 80% healthy foods in every meal. The other 20% can be a little off, when necessary (just don’t let it expand beyond that).

It is also OK if the kids have cake of pizza at a birthday party. The goal is to build a different attitude toward food and make an overall improvement on the family’s diet and lifestyle – an overall move toward healthier living.

Necessary Staples for Clean Eating

The only way you to ensure that you eat healthier on a daily basis is to keep the right kinds of foods in your pantry, cupboards and fridge. You must make it easy to fix clean meals and snacks by keeping your kitchen well-stocked with necessary staples for clean eating.

When there is nothing available to prepare a good meal, it is far too easy to run to McDonalds, or order takeout, or even make a quick trip to the grocery stores for frozen dinners.

To help you avoid that problem, below is a list of staples you should always have on hand for quick and easy clean meals.

Dry Goods

Brown rice, quinoa, oatmeal, corn meal and grits in your pantry will help you prepare quick and easy, clean, nutritious breakfasts and side dishes.

You also want to have a good supply of potatoes, onions, fresh garlic and an assortment of spices to aid in preparation of tasty dishes.

For snacks . . . keep a supply of clean corn tortillas, tortilla chips and popcorn. (Just be sure to read the labels carefully to make sure the ingredients are clean. My term is “pure” meaning no additives.) And . . . always have plenty of raw, unsalted nuts and seeds.

Dried fruit is excellent for snacks and a nice addition to morning cereal along with seeds and nuts (or nut butter). It does not spoil as easily as fresh fruit, it is filled with nutrients and fiber and easy to pack for lunches and recreational activities.

Keep in mind, however that some vitamins are lost in the drying process and watch your portions – ½ C of dried fruit equals 1 C of fresh fruit – so don’t overindulge.

Learn to read labels and buy dried fruits with “no sugar added” – this can be difficult when looking for cranberries, bananas, and pineapple because sugar is often added to enhance the flavor and protect it from spoilage. Sulfur dioxide is another common ingredient that is used for preservation and to prevent discoloration – avoid this, as well.

If you’re including whole grain products in your diet, keep whole grain flour and pastas on hand in the pantry. When you have the correct baking ingredients available, it is much easier to bake up some quick breads; homemade bread and other baked goods.

Of course, for all you pasta lovers – keeping whole wheat pasta, sauce and some vegetables always make for a quick weeknight dinner.

Be careful with spinach pasta – preferably make you own. It does have flour in it; so, when you make it, you can control the ingredients.

Dairy and Eggs

Always keep plenty of “cage-free” eggs in the fridge. Boil a dozen or so and keep them handy for easy snacking. Eggs are so versatile they can be enjoyed for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks.

If you plan to include dairy in your diet – which I definitely do – stock the fridge with butter, raw or whole milk, plain Greek yogurt and clean cottage cheese. I also keep a supply of pure hard cheeses for easy snacking

Vegetables and Fruit

Now – down to business – to the core of your diet – fruits and vegetables. As you know, vegetables do not have a long shelf life except for root veggies (carrots, beets, turnips, radishes, jicama, and potatoes).

As a backup, keep quick-frozen and canned vegetables to use whenever you run out of the fresh variety. Just be sure to buy pure vegetables with no salt, sugar or other additives.

Have a little fun and ignite your green thumb. Start growing your salad bowl. Lose leaf lettuce is fairly easy to grow, along with other vegetables. In fact, quite a number of foods can be produced either on your windowsill or on a well-lit kitchen surface. For more information check out the Organic Consumers Organization website. At a minimum, try an herb garden. 

Image by akodisinghe
Image by akodisinghe

Apples and oranges have the most stable shelf-life when it comes to fruit. My go-to for a fruit supply is to keep a variety of frozen berries in the freezer, which can be thrown into the blender for a quick smoothie snack (or breakfast). Bananas can be frozen, as well, but should be used fairly quickly.

I often buy fresh berries in bulk and freeze them myself. Just be sure to use them within a couple of months so they do not go bad. Flash frozen fruits from the grocery store have a longer shelf life as long as you keep them frozen.

Meat and Fish

Finally – let’s look at a few ideas for meat and fish.

My preference is keep a good selection of grass-fed ground beef, ground turkey and a few bags of free-range chicken in my freezer. That gives me versatile options when I’m out of fresh meat or can’t find good options at the grocery store meat counter.

You should also keep canned tuna or canned Alaskan salmon on hand as a back up to be used occasionally when hard-pressed for time and ingredients. Both are excellent for salads and sandwiches. They can be added to pasta sauces of even as a pizza topping.

The canned Alaskan salmon is much better for you than the fresh “farmed” salmon. As for tuna, I don’t recommend that you eat it all the time, but it is a good ingredient to have on hand when you need it.

Quick Classic Meals with Quinoa

When you cook your first batch of quinoa, you may end up with a mountain of it sitting in your fridge, which is not uncommon. No one ever expects a small amount of dry quinoa to make so much. As a result, it is very easy to cook far more than you need for your first quinoa meal.

However, this is actually a good thing. This delicious, protein-packed tiny seed will quickly become one of your go-to staples. It is easy to plan several meals in advance and prepare quick classic meals with quinoa in a matter of minutes when you have plenty of cooked quinoa on hand.

For busy people who are dedicated to serving nutritious meals, but have limited time to do so, having quinoa cooked and ready in the refrigerator is a definite plus. By following a few simple and basic steps, you can quickly transform quinoa into healthy, classic meals for your family.

Let’s look at some of your choices for quick classic meals with quinoa:

Salads

Image by charlotteLake
Image by charlotteLake

Quinoa is wonderful in salads. Because of its chewy yet crunchy texture it is a new and interesting contrast to more common salad ingredients.

One thing I like to do is warm-up the quinoa and mix with cold ingredients such as cooked shrimp, avocado, and onions.

For an even easier, quick dinner, just add fresh salad greens, tomatoes, cucumbers and any other veggies you enjoy. You can even toss in left-over chunks of roasted chicken for non-vegetarians, then sprinkle with a tasty vinaigrette. In a few short minutes you have a fresh and colorful meal in a bowl. A slice of warm, crusty French bread with real butter finishes it off beautifully.

Another option is a salad without the greens. Mix the quinoa with garbanzo beans, avocado, and red onion. Top with a light drizzle of the juice of one lime and high-quality extra-virgin olive oil. This hearty salad makes a full meal in itself. This is the type of salad that can be made from ingredients already in your kitchen – making it a nutritious meal that can be tossed together on days when there is so little time.

Enhance the Basic Breakfast

With quinoa you can create a high-powered protein pick-me-up from a basic breakfast. You can either add quinoa to your oatmeal or replace the oatmeal completely. The protein will give your metabolism a jump start and keep it going all day.

Scoop a nice-sized serving of cooked quinoa in a bowl, add a little raw milk, honey and a dash of cinnamon and enjoy a creamy breakfast treat. You can also add a few slices of banana, fresh blueberries or diced strawberries. Either of these takes less time that it does to prepare instant oatmeal and both are more nutritious.

If your family is like mine and loves breakfast muffins, Use your imagination and whip up a batch with quinoa. It adds texture and a nice little pop to an ordinary breakfast muffins. If you need ideas and directions Martha Stewart has some great recipes you can try.

Patties of All Kinds

The extra quinoa you have in your fridge can used to make healthy delicious patties for any meal. The only limit is your imagination.

  • For breakfast – Try mixing cooked quinoa, leftover corn-on-the-cob (cut off, of course) and eggs. Or mix with finely chopped onions, green peppers, fried lightly in a little butter and served with your eggs.
  • For lunch – Combine cooked quinoa in a bowl with eggs, garlic, onions, Parmesan cheese, and some bread crumbs. Form into patties and cook for a nutrition-dense lunch.
  • For dinner – Make Southwestern-flavored patties with onions, garlic, and chili powder to go with your Fajitas or serve with black beans for a vegetarian-style dinner

Risotto

Risotto is a popular creamy, rich-tasting rice dish. It can also be made with quinoa for a lighter, but still creamy, nutritious version of this popular Italian comfort food.

This is a classic choice for your supply of cooked quinoa. Simmer the cooked quinoa slowly in broth, adding additional broth (a ladle at a time). Stir continuously until broth is completely absorbed. Add chopped chives, Parmesan cheese, and butter to the creamy mixture for a delicious quinoa risotto that even the pickiest eater will appreciate.

Sweet Treat

This may be a surprise, but quinoa makes a wonderful substitute for old-fashioned rice pudding dessert. Use your favorite recipes for this traditional dessert and simply replace the rice with cooked quinoa. It is sweet, delicious and filled with nutrients.

Cook Ahead

Cook a big batch of quinoa and keep it on hand in the fridge. It is a great basic food to keep at your fingertips for quick and easy preparation of nutritious meals.

When you are faced with the question, “What should I fix for dinner (or lunch or breakfast)?” you don’t have to go far. With a little creative thinking, you can turn a mountain of cooked quinoa into a culinary creations for any meal that will please the entire family.

Quinoa for Healthy Weight Loss

Quinoa – often mistaken for a grain – is actually a seed from the Goosefoot Family. If you were to allow the seed to spout, it would produce dark leafy greens very similar in appearance to spinach (which comes from the same family).

This ancient Incans in South America were aware of the phenomenal health benefits the seed provides; and fortunately, for us, its nutrient value has once again been discovered and is being marketed throughout the U.S.

Quinoa is not only tasty, it is a nutrient goldmine – rich in protein, vitamins, and minerals. Any meal that contains a quinoa dish will leave you feeling happily satisfied rather than deprived, which makes it an ideal diet food. Because of this characteristic, it has gained popularity as a grain alternative in many weight-loss programs.

Why use quinoa for healthy weight loss?

Weight Loss Highway Sign
Image by Kbuntu

Adds Nutritional Value

We all know that Popeye’s strength came from spinach, which was not a far stretch of the imagination since the nutrient value of spinach is well-known. Quinoa seeds are from the same family and contain all the essential amino acids, making it a complete protein.

It is also a good source of magnesium and calcium, iron, and vitamin B 12 (which is essential for energy production and weight loss). The family of B vitamins control the body’s ability to synthesize nutrients efficiently. When you are lacking in Vitamin B, it works against your body’s natural ability to control weight.

Diminishes the Empty Feeling

My guess is that at some point you have tried to lose weight and understand the feeling of deprivation that typically accompanies most weight loss regimens. That empty feeling stays with you during most of your waking hours and dealing with it is one of the biggest challenges of any diet.

Quinoa can be the answer. Dietary fiber and protein help the body feel full and satisfied. Since quinoa is rich in both, it is a great food for any weight-loss program because it helps the dieter feel full without eating a lot of calories – and makes it easier to reach dieting goals.

Has a Low Glycemic Index

Quinoa is low on the glycemic index, which helps control cravings.

High-glycemic Index foods create havoc with your blood sugar. As soon as you eat the food, your blood sugar spikes – then crashes, which causes the body to send a message to your brain that it needs more sugar and carbohydrates to raise your blood sugar back to normal (hence the cravings).

When you eat foods like quinoa that have a low-glycemic index, you help your body sustain slow and steady blood sugar levels and eliminate the cravings for sweets and carbohydrates. You do not tire as easily and you tend to eat healthier foods at regular meal times rather than snacking on empty calories.

Eliminates Worry About Calorie Intake

Great news! When compared to pasta, quinoa is lower in calories. One serving is only 170 calories. Three servings of quinoa has considerably fewer calories than one serving of pasta.

You can eat your fill with most quinoa dishes without worrying about consuming your entire calories in one meal, which can easily happen with pasta dishes.

If you are trying to lose weight, this is an excellent food to add to your diet.

Start enjoying your meals, feeling full after eating, and reaching your weight-loss goals.

 

Hot or Cold Breakfast?

Every busy mother knows that sometimes there simply is not enough time to prepare a hot breakfast. We have all been there. When it happens, it is so easy to pour a bowl of sugary cereal and call it a day. On occasion such a breakfast is not going to ruin your children’s health (or yours); but, as a regular diet, it is an unhealthy choice.

If you must eat cereal, at least choose those that are not completely loaded with sugar such as Grape Nuts or Shredded Wheat. And . . . also be sure to add some fresh fruit and/or raw chopped nuts into the mix.

I have written numerous times that breakfast is the most important meal of the day – and you probably agree with me – at least on some level. Which brings up the question – which is better a hot or cold breakfast?

Bowl of hot oatmeal breakfast cereal with fresh berries
Image by elenaphoto

There is a recent study which supports the theory that children who eat cereal each day are actually less likely to develop obesity than those who eat a hot breakfast. But, can you trust one report when there are many others that indicate cold cereal is not be the best choice.

The most important point is to ensure that your child (and you) eat something (hot or cold) – preferably something healthy. There are many reliable studies that indicate children who skip breakfast are more likely to become overweight and obese than those who eat breakfast – plus breakfast is critical to the cognitive development and learning abilities of children, as well.

Let’s take a quick look at both:

Cold Breakfast

  • In the heat of summer, a good whole grain cereal with cold milk can taste great.
  • Some cereals contain a good source of vitamins and fiber. However, the big challenge is to find a cold cereal that is NOT loaded with sugar.
  • On the plus side, whole grain cereals have less fat than a ‘traditional’ hot breakfast of bacon and eggs.
  • Some nutritionists recommend alternating cold whole grain cereals with the more traditional breakfast of bacon and eggs. This can help control weight as well as possibly reduce the risk of diabetes and heart disease when the sugar content is kept to a minimum.
  • There are many choices of cereal so be extremely careful about the ones you purchase for your family.

Hot Breakfast

  • Hot breakfasts are a great choice on cold days. They help warm the body as well as provide the energy needed to get through the morning.
  • Most hot  breakfast meals will have limited amounts of sugar or at least give you the option of controlling how much sugar is consumed because they are primarily prepared from scratch rather than poured from a box.
  • Hot cereals such as oatmeal also give you the option of adding other healthy ingredients you typically do not get in packaged cold cereals.

The bottom line in this debate is that everyone should eat breakfast – children, teens, and adults (and I am not talking about coffee and doughnuts).

The principles of good nutrition should be considered regardless of whether you are choosing hot or cold breakfast foods. Low or no sugar, controlled fat intake, and nutrient-filled foods – preferably dishes prepared from scratch will keep you in the healthy zone.

Make good decisions for your family when planning any meal and ensure longer, healthier lives.