Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Great Soy Controversy

Soy. Talk about a volatile subject. It seems everyone has an opinion about soy - a strong one. I am not one to readily jump into debates. Really, I flee conflict like one would flee anthrax... but I am going to share a few simple thoughts in hopes of clearing some confusion. If this post seems long, just remember I'll get back to light reading and recipes tomorrow!

You know from reading past posts of mine that I don't think very well of over-processed foods. The more food is altered, the more dangerous it becomes. Splenda is a case in point. I think margarine is another fine example, but I haven't posted about hydrogenated fats yet... you know me... these posts take time! But I digress...

The majority of soy products out there are highly processed. And the majority of studies on soy are conducted with highly-processed and/or GMO soy. But, here is a very pivotal point about soy: soy should not be consumed raw. In its raw state, soy contains anti-thyroid compounds, phytates and other components that make it difficult to utilize. For thousands of years, people groups in the far east have know these facts and have consumed their soy in a slightly fermented state. The fermenting or aging neutralizes the negative components of soy. Consequently, these people groups have benefited from the complete protein and nutritional profile of this little green bean.

What have food manufacturers today done with soy? Well, most often the soy beans are washed with alcohol, which destroys many of the phytonutrients and proteins in the raw bean. In addition, the soy beans are processed by heating to levels that further denature the remaining proteins. The result is a fractionated, over-processed "food" that has the potential to be very harmful to a body. As with most foods, when we take away the beneficial plant properties that are paired with other macro nutrients (such as protein) and micro nutrients (such as minerals), we are left with a product that our body cannot thrive on.

All that said, the most prolific argument against soy is "What about its estrogen-like effects?" The isoflavones found in soy are very similar to the human hormone estrogen. So much so, that they can interact with our body's receptors in place of estrogen. This is thought to cause harm to our body in throwing our hormone levels off balance and perhaps contributing to the risk of breast cancer. However, soy isoflavones are actually very weak compounds, 1000 times weaker than synthetic estrogens. When they bond with our body's estrogen receptors, they prevent other stronger estrogens from taking hold. Our diets, including our consumption of hormone-laden dairy and our exposure to plastics that leach stronger estrogen-like chemicals, have left us with very high levels of metabolically active estrogens. This excess can lead to an imbalance of hormones in our bodies, contribute to a host of endocrine-related problems, and are implicated in the increase in female cancers. It is thought that a moderate soy intake, with its weak isoflavones attaching to our estrogen receptors, would prevent some of the excessive stronger estrogens from taking hold.

Am I saying that we need to eat a lot of soy? Certainly not. No more than I would say we need to eat a lot of red meat or a lot of coconut oil or a lot of strawberries. The keys to nutrition are variety and moderation. Soy is everywhere in our food products, so we need to be wary of overuse. (And, on a side note, we also need to be extremely wary of more dangerous estrogens from commercial dairy and plastics.)

Am I saying that we might benefit from soy? The most recent studies show that moderate soy consumption leads to a variety of health benefits. For me, I see a huge benefit from the increase in bioavailable protein in my diet. This additional protein steadies my blood sugar, stabilizes my mood and gives me prolonged energy.

What about the studies that show negative effects of soy products? Well, first, the soy used in most of those studies was a highly fractionated and processed product, not a food. Second, the studies were done on rats who may have an intolerance to soy similar to dogs and chocolate. Remember, we are not rats. Third, the amount of soy injected into those rats is comparable to 2000 servings of soy for our body weight per day. Now who would eat that much soy? Really, who would eat that much of anything? I could certainly project that one would have serious digestive issues if one ate 2000 servings of strawberries... or some serious bowel issues if one ate 2000 servings of healthy, pastured chicken... not to mention metabolic difficulties with 2000 servings of anything.

What types of soy do I eat? I steer clear of as much soy as possible... except Shaklee soy. Why? It is the only soy product that I have been able to verify is safe for consumption. Shaklee uses an Identification Preserved Program to ensure that all their raw soybeans come from non-GMO sources. They do impeccable tests for purity. They have developed a processing procedure that removes the anti-thyroid and other anti-nutritive properties while keeping the delicate phytonutrients in tact, so we have the benefits of a whole raw food without the negative effects. Furthermore, they are they only company that has provided proof (or even a comment) about their soy processing when I have contacted them. I have called other companies and have been told that too many processing plants and suppliers are used to be able to tell how their product was processed or where their raw ingredients came from.

As I gave my word last week, I will now post my favorite, most beneficial breakfast: a simple shake made with Shaklee Vanilla Soy Protein and Orange Juice. Blend both ingredients together and drink. It's that simple. I find it very refreshing. It only takes three minutes to make! I usually have a few bites of granola or fruit that the children are eating as well. My children eat eggs for their morning protein... read about why eggs here.

I hope that this post has been beneficial. I don't really like opening up cans of worms, but I feel compelled to share my breakfast with you. I would love for it to be as helpful to you as it is to me.

Your Questions Answered... Agave Nectar

Today I'm answering a question from Christian Frugal Mom. Thanks, Janeen, for posting it twice. I keep all questions to answer as soon as time allows, but asking twice really gets me hopping! The question is "about agave nectar and any info you might have on it. I'm wondering if it's actually good or just more manufacturer hype."

When looking at a food product, the first two questions I ask are:

  1. What raw ingredients did the manufacturers start with?
  2. What processing has been done to morph the raw ingredients into this product?

Looking at Agave Nectar:

1. Agave Nectar comes from the juice extracted from several different species of agave plants. It is most often a product of Mexico. It has a low glycemic index and contains several minerals such as Calcium, Potassium and Magnesium. It is four times sweeter than honey and has a milder flavor. Sounds pretty good so far...

2. Once the juice has been extracted, it is heated so that the sugars are hydrolyzed. Keeping things simple, this just means that the long chain fructosans are converted to shorter fructose units. The processing increases the sweetness of the agave juice. Once it is hydrolyzed, the agave juice is filtered and then concentrated to form the Agave Nectar we see at the market. Unfortunately, the result of this processing is a sweetener that is very high in fructose - even more concentrated than High Fructose Corn Syrup in some cases. The concentration is dramatically higher than the fructose levels in whole fruits and fruit juices. Although the sweetener is low-glycemic, its effects resemble the negative health implications of High Fructose Corn Syrup.

The high concentration of fructose found in Agave Nectar is unlike any concentration found in nature. I don't think our bodies are designed to handle such rushes of sugar very frequently. Glycemic Index aside, this highly processed sweetener has the potential to wreak havoc on our pancreas and on our metabolism. While I don't think an occasional serving of Agave Nectar would wreck a body, the prolonged usage of this product might give us trouble.

Note: there is some variation in the processing. Some raw nectars have had their fructosans shortened using molds or bees instead of heat. Since there is not a definitive protocol for processing each brand, if you do chose to use Agave Nectar in moderation, call the manufacturer. Most reputable companies will provide you with processing information.

That's my two cents. We like to follow the principles outlined in What the Bible Says About Healthy Living... which leave us using sweeteners in their natural, unadulterated state. Did you know that Agave Plants were originally used only for making tequila? Before hydrolyzation, the juice wasn't sweet enough to be called a sweetener... sort of like maple syrup straight from the tree.

Mexico, Oaxaca, Field of Agave Plants for Making Tequila by Brimberg & Coulson
Mexico, Oaxaca, Field of Agave Plants for Making Tequila

By the way, I am working on a few soy posts. I hope to address the soy controversy in one post, give my Power Bar recipe in another and then my Peanut Butter Power Pops (kid friendly) recipe in the last. Thanks for showing me grace and patience here. We will be taking a spring break (AKA low-tech week) starting Friday, so I'll post as much as I am able this week and then pick up where I left off after our family time. In the meantime, I also want to get pictures of "5 Minute Artisan Bread" posted... Like I said, thanks for your patience. My hopes and aspirations often exceed my time allotment.

Photo Credit: Allposters.com

Monday, March 30, 2009

Guide to Buying Organic

"The growing consensus among scientists is that small doses of pesticides and other chemicals can cause lasting damage to human health, especially during fetal development and early childhood. Scientists now know enough about the long-term consequences of ingesting these powerful chemicals to advise that we minimize our consumption of pesticides." Environmental Working Group

I am a very strong proponent of buying organic. However, with a family of six on one income, I know buying organic isn't always possible. I have found EWG's Shopper's Guide to be very helpful in prioritizing my organic buying. They have included a Dirty Dozen (foods that are the highest in pesticides and most important to buy organic) and a Clean Fifteen (foods that are the least contaminated and therefore okay to buy conventional). Check it out...

Friday, March 27, 2009

Non-Toxic Oven Cleaning... For Your Health!

Did you know that commercial oven cleaners contain Sodium Hydroxide? This hazardous ingredient can burn skin or eyes on contact. More importantly, fumes can burn lung tissue and mucus membranes. Sound scary? Given that chemicals can stay suspended in our indoor air for as long as a week -- long after their odor dissipates -- this should raise serious concern. Take a look at this site by the National Institute of Health.

This is what the Material Safety Data Sheet says about a leading brand of Oven Cleaner:
  • Inhalation: Causes burns on contact.
  • Eye Contact: Causes burns to eyes on contact.
  • Skin Contact: Causes burns to skin on contact.
  • Ingestion: Harmful if swallowed. May cause burns to mouth, throat and stomach.
Yikes! Doesn't sound like stuff I want wafting around our home... So, I figured I would try a non-toxic oven cleaner. I was a little intimidated. You see, I will have lived in this home for four years this summer. AND I HAVE NEVER CLEANED MY OVEN! I use it nearly every day. Like I said, YIKES.

I used Shaklee's Scour Off Paste, one of the safe cleaning products in their Get Clean line. These are totally chic... and they work. The label says "It even cleans burnt-on food in your oven. And doesn’t burn off your nose hairs in the process." It smells like cherries... how pleasant.

So, here are my pictures. Keep in mind, I'm not a perfectionist. When my husband and Spiderman came home, and my mother called on the phone, and I brushed Spiderman's teeth, and Witzy got up for a bathroom break, and I stopped to read an important email, and I got distracted by six other things, and I had rinsed my hands and dried them too many times, I was ready to be done... even if things weren't spotless. I hope the pictures show that non-toxic oven cleaning is possible... more so for those who clean with uninterrupted vigor!

This door was speckled blue. What is all that burnt orange anyway?

Who knows what cooking disasters these were...

This is a close up of something that once was edible...

So, it can be done. If you are interested in reading more about Healthy Clean... click my "Household Toxin Exposure" Label. Lots of interesting thoughts and resources there...

Thursday, March 26, 2009

On a Personal Note

Do you ever find yourself cutting corners on your own health while still making maximum efforts for the rest of your family? That is exactly where I found myself this week.

You see, I thrive on a protein shake for breakfast. On the mornings that I drink a protein shake, I can tell a big difference in my day. I am less forgetful and edgy, more energetic and creative, and am truly able to better nurture my littles.

Going without my protein shake for a while, I saw a change in my metabolism too. Did you know that when we skip meals, our bodies will naturally curb energy consumption just in case the fuel might be needed later. Consistent, light meals are the best way to keep our metabolisms at their peak.

Protein shakes take about three minutes to make. Simple enough, right? So why have I been cutting that corner? I have been eating a few bites here and there while I make breakfast and do lunch and dinner prep. In my mind I'm saving time because I'm not sitting down to eat. I get some extra time to work, and then I sit down to do Bible Time when the kids are finishing up their food. While the few moments of extra work time seem profitable, I am really doing myself (and my family!) a disservice.

Have you heard the southern slang cliche' "If mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy"? I've never really liked the phrase, but honestly, I can see it bears some truth. If this mama isn't being healthy, it really effects her family.

I have started being disciplined about my breakfast again. It is worth 3 minutes! Are there areas of your health-life where you might be cutting corners? It all comes back to "Health Begins With Mom!"

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Second Update on "5 Minute Artisan Bread"

So, for those of you who are keeping up with my progress in perfecting a 100% whole wheat version of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day... here goes.

I made my second master recipe on Tuesday evening. This time, I wanted to bake all the bread within 24 hours so that it would be only mildly soured. The 24 hours would allow plenty of time to properly neutralize the phytic acid, but leave it tasting more palatable for my littles. Last night I baked four loaves of bread and two batches of dinner rolls... in about five minutes of work time!

Good News :) It tasted marvelous. The bread had a perfectly soured, but not too snappy flavor! The kids and I enjoyed rolls with our breakfast and cheese toast for lunch. This bread makes GOOD toast... or, if you're talking to Spiderman, it's "GYOOD!"

Bad News :( The bread didn't rise very much at all. If I recall correctly, last week's bread was lighter, even if it was sour enough to bite! I know that sourdough artisan breads can be a little dense... and we are used to eating whole grains which are never fluffy like marshmallows... BUT, I would have like to have a bit lighter of a loaf.

Thanks for sticking with me here. I will give it another go next week. Maybe I didn't do the "gluten cloak" thing just right... maybe I didn't slash the dough deep enough... maybe this... maybe that. Like I said, thanks for sticking with me... this kitchen adventure will payoff when I arrive at a reliable method.

Soon, very soon, I will publish my tips for how to make six loaves of healthy, soaked, whole grain bread with very little time sacrifice. Doesn't that sound like a dream!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Healthy Children's Lunches

We all want healthy children, right? Our goal is to raise children who will choose a healthy lifestyle for themselves. Part of raising healthy children is teaching them to make good choices about food selection. Realistically, we are not going to plan our littles' meals forever! So, the sooner we help them make their own wise choices, the better.

The teaching process can be fun! How about starting by preparing lunches with your children? Make it a family project! By giving your children a part in selecting and making their school lunches, you...
  • Ensure that they will eat what you send!
  • Provide a setting for talking about food groups and nutrition.
  • Help to teach how to make healthy choices.
  • Take an opportunity to have fun in the kitchen with your child!

Here is a simple plan of action:

  1. With your children, make a list of foods that they would want to take to school (and a few they need to learn to like). Help your children with variety.
  2. With your children, categorize your food ideas into fruits, vegetables, dairy, proteins, complex carbohydrates, and healthy treats.
  3. Let your children plan a series of balanced lunches choosing foods from each category. Please don't forget the fresh veggies and fruits!
  4. Do your grocery shopping accordingly.
  5. Each evening, let your children help in putting together their lunches. You may want to do some preparation in advance so that each evening is more simple.

Here are some packable options:

Vegetables that are easily cut and bagged, such as carrot sticks, celery, bell pepper, cucumber, grape tomatoes and sugar snap peas. Of course, you want to work with what your children like WHILE stretching their preferences gradually.

Vegetables and Fruit

Fruits that travel well, such as apple slices, pear slices, grapes, tangerines or clementines, plums and berries. I didn't include bananas because I have memories of bruised bananas in my lunch bag... eeewww. Unless fruit snacks are made with 100% whole fruit, I would stay away from them entirely. Even when they are 100% fruit, they should really be considered a treat.

Close-up of Cut and Uncut Fresh Fruit

Dairy choices may include cheese sticks or yogurt cups, or a thermos of real milk. (The cheese might end up on a sandwich, of course.) It is quite simple to make your own yogurt at home. Adding some all-fruit jam to homemade yogurt is the best way to avoid the highly sugared store bought options. Or, purchase plain yogurt and add in the all-fruit jam. If you freeze yogurt in child-sized portions, it will be thawed and cold for lunch without a cooler.

Protein choices can include, nut butters, cheese (again), a boiled egg, chemical-free lunch meats, or even hummus. (Hummus is a favorite here -- My kids love anything for dipping their vegetables in!).

Complex Carbohydrates are usually the whole grains we use to make the proteins portable. Kids especially love their sandwich items wrapped up in whole grain tortillas... so much better than sliced bread! Other options are pita breads, whole grain rolls or even whole grain bagels.

Treats may include Granola Cookies, trail mix with a few chocolate chips and plenty of nuts, or popcorn. The key here is to try and balance all sugars with plenty of protein. Also, by staying away from prepackaged snacks and desserts, you will be avoiding most preservatives and non-food ingredients.

We want to keep things simple, but don't skimp on variety. Children will keep their interest in healthy foods longer if it stays exciting (and if you give them choices along the way). Sometimes a bean burrito, a turkey roll-up or a hummus and veggie stuffed pita sounds so much better than a peanut butter and honey sandwich, right?

Personal Note: I am a homeschooling mom, so my kids and I all work together to put our lunches on the table. These lunch projects have been a very useful learning tool! I've adapted my at-home practices to fit school lunches because of a friend who asks "how can I help my son be healthy, even at school?" If you have any suggestions about packable, wholesome foods that your children enjoy, please comment to leave your ideas for my sweet friend!

Photo Credits: Allposters.com

Your Questions Answered... Splenda and Xylitol

This is the question of the week. It seems like everyone wants to know: What about Splenda?

I mentioned Splenda in my post about Natural Sweeteners. Since there is so much controversy on the sweetener, there is an over-abundance of information to wade through. I found the most thorough and supported information on Splenda at Mercola.com. (Keep in mind, while I find a lot of really great information at Mercola.com, I can't support it all!)

It all boils down to the fact that sucralose (Splenda) is a chemical and not a food. It has been shown to reduce healthy bacteria in the digestive tract by 50%. It has also been shown to increase the pH of the body, which in turn leaves room for more harmful bacteria (like Candida) to flourish. In addition, it contributes to an increased body weight... interesting since it is found in so many "diet" foods. I guess 0-calorie isn't all it's hyped up to be.

Other side effects reported by http://www.truthaboutsplenda.com/ are:

  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Migraines Seizures
  • Dizziness
  • Blurred vision
  • Allergic reactions
  • Blood sugar increases
  • Weight gain

Here is the rest of the story for those interested in more reading. Be sure to check out the other links Mercola lists.

Second Question: What about Xylitol?

For those of you who haven't heard about Xylitol yet, it is a sweetener derived from natural sources, most commonly birch trees. It is also found in raspberries and plums. It tastes as sweet as sugar but has 40% fewer calories. Xylitol it is not absorbed into the bloodstream as other sugar products are. Consequently, it has very little effect on our blood sugar levels. It simply tastes sweet and then passes through our system.

Xylitol has also been shown to be effective in cavity-prevention. It is in our toothpaste and in our favorite children's vitamins. European studies have demonstrated its ability to reduce ear infections as well. This is due to Xylitol's anti-bacterial properties.

Although Xylitol is marketed in health food stores, I have not tried it in my kitchen. It seems to be a bit pricey, as is Stevia. If any of you have used Xylitol in your home, please comment to let us know what you used it in and how you liked it!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Making Unwholesome Food Inaccessible

Do you remember my Making Wholesome Foods Accessible post? This is step number one in giving your family a healthier diet: Make Wholesome Foods Accessible. If the good stuff isn't relatively easy to reach for, we reach for the junk instead. And, if the children don't have some good options, they will beg for the junk instead too!

Preparing healthy foods will take some time commitment. Don't worry, it doesn't have to drain your whole life. But, realistically, it will take some additional time. Most often, foods that are nourishing are not as convenient as boxed, prepackaged foods. Except for maybe bananas and berries. My suggestion is to set aside a chunk of time each week to do some preliminary food prep. Doing so will make nourishing foods more accessible... and will prevent resorting to less nourishing processed foods.

Mixed Berry Delight by Peggy-Thatch Sibley
Mixed Berry Delight

All that being said, here is a corollary:
Make Unwholesome Food Inaccessible

Make the commitment to stop bringing unwholesome foods home. You can do this! Before you grocery shop, make a meal plan -- even for snacks. Write your shopping list only for the items you need for your meal plan. Sticking to your list will ensure that you have everything you need for the week!

Naturally, we are not going to starve ourselves (or our children!), so when there are no chips, boxed cereals, cookies or snack mixes to quickly pull out of our pantry, we will have to follow the healthy meal plan. We will have to pop popcorn, make pita chips, bake cookies or make trail mix. It does take a bit of extra effort. That is why it is so beneficial to have a set aside time to prepare these things in advance, as much as possible.

Have you made a plan for this week's meals and snacks? I will be working on mine and doing my grocery shopping later this evening. If you don't already have a plan in place:
  • Create a plan for a week's worth of meals and snacks.
  • Shop according to your meal plan.
  • Leave the unwholesome stuff and the store.
  • Soon after shopping, spend an hour or so preparing some foods.
  • Be joyful you've taken another healthy step!
  • Get ready to do it again next week!

Do you have a wholesome, quick snack that you could share with everyone? Please comment and add your great ideas!

Photo Credit: Allposters.com

Thursday, March 19, 2009

In The Beginning...

Ultimate Blog Party 2009

I love this Blog Party... so many blogs to read... so little time. Thank you for stopping by! I appreciate your time.

Health Begins With Mom... It all started like this... I have been a Wellness Consultant for two and a half years. In that time, I have met a lot of people. A lot of really overwhelmed people. And the most common question I hear is: "Where do I start?" I have spent a lot of time answering this one question.

First, I ask more questions to find out where each mom is coming from - that makes a difference in what steps you take first! After chatting for a while, listening to moms tell their stories, I have learned that most of us are in the exact same place:

  • We want to feed our children a healthy diet.
  • We want to create a healthy living environment for them.
  • We need to keep ourselves fueled for all the work we do in taking care of everyone else!
  • And we want to be a good economist in the process.

This blog was created so that moms can have a frequent dosage of Health Help. I include some tips, some recipes, some information, and lots of encouragement. Making change is not easy! And making progress is so much easier with companionship along the way... that's why I'm here!

I'd love to hear from you. Please comment to let me know more about you!

I posted my blog's purpose here: Why Health Begins With Mom?

Read more Ultimate Blog Party Posts at: 5MinutesForMom.com

Your Questions Answered... My Produce Box

I will be spending the rest of my day away from my computer at a Health Fair. I am looking forward to meeting people interested in being healthier! Before I leave, I want to answer a question I've heard from multiple readers. The questions boils down to: "I would love to have an economically viable source for organic vegetables! Where do you get your Produce Box?"

We are very blessed to be in the right place to purchase this biweekly produce box. It is full of a variety of organic fruits and vegetables at a price comparable to conventional produce at a grocery store -- far cheaper then organic at the market! This is one huge way we are able to keep our grocery budget down. It helps for two reasons. First and most obvious, we are able to obtain a great deal of produce much cheaper than if I were to pick the items up at the store. Second, we find that I purchase less at the grocery store since we "have to eat" so much produce. Good for our health. Good for our budget.

What about where you are? Our box comes from a Global Organics Co-op. They have numerous groups in the Southeast. Unfortunately, they don't have an online listing of local co-ops, but you can call 877.952.1198 for a drop near you.

If you are outside the Southeast, the first place to look is LocalHarvest.org. Unfortunately, most CSAs are not as cheap as the co-op I participate in, but it is worth doing some investigation to find a suitable source near you. Ask around at your local health food store. Also I have found that homeschoolers often organize these co-ops, so perhaps you could ask at the library for possible homeschool contacts. I know this seems like a very indirect way, but if you really want cheap, organic produce, it is worth the investigation. Oh, by the way, people have found me through my librarian!
Remember too that growing your own produce is a huge budget booster! We have had success with patio plants in the past, but are not in a location where we can grow a large garden. More on patio gardening in future posts!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Parmesan, Kale and Portabello Quiche

Last night's supper tasted so fantastic! I thought you might like to see the recipe. I'll call it Parmesan, Kale and Portabello Quiche. Even the kids loved it.

The next few days will be extremely busy. A friend and I are doing a health fair tomorrow afternoon, so I needed to prepare a meal last night for Rainbow to heat up on Thursday evening. I will also be doing a health event in Asheville, NC on Saturday, so I will be preparing another meal tonight that Rainbow can put on the table. She is able to make a nice garden salad, so if I leave leftovers, she will only need help pulling the food from the oven. What a blessing! My family can still eat healthily while I'm away... as long as I think ahead!

I made this recipe to serve 12 hungry people (or six hungry people twice). I usually make crustless quiches, and this time around I used an 8x8 pan and a 9x13 pan. If you were going to make this recipe with a crust, you would need to use three pie plates. Keep in mind, you can always freeze quiches!

Here are the ingredients I used:
  • 2-3 Tbsp EVOO
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 2 large portabello mushrooms, stems removed and chopped
  • 1 bunch of kale, washed and chopped (any greens would do)
  • 16 yard eggs
  • 1/2 cup real milk
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 3/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. pepper
  • cheddar cheese for the top, totally optional
I started by sauteing the onion in EVOO (that's extra virgin olive oil). Then, I added two chopped portabello mushrooms. After letting this saute for five minutes or so, I added the bunch of chopped kale.
While the vegetables were cooking, I beat the eggs, milk, Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper in a large mixing bowl. When the vegetables were moderately soft, I stirred them into the egg mixture. After pouring the quiche mix in my two sprayed pans, I sprinkled the quiches with cheddar cheese. Honestly, the quiches didn't need the extra cheese; I did this simply for my kids. Thinking ahead, I may use this recipe to make mini quiches for a brunch. I would not add the extra cheese for adults :)

Bake at 350 degrees until the middle is set and the edges start to brown. I baked these for about 30 minutes. If your quiches are deeper, you will need to extend the baking time.

These quiches were so delicious! I would have had thirds (!), but I wanted plenty for tomorrow night. I served the meal with a garden salad and "5 Minute" Cinnamon Swirl Bread. Which reminds me: one very nice thing about the 5 Minute Artisan Bread is that it is so moist it doesn't need butter!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

St. Patrick's Day: Be Green, Be Healthy!

I try to keep the scope of this blog rather narrow. I want everything published here to encourage moms toward helping their families be healthier. So, this is not the place to discuss Global Warming or Saving the Rainforests. But, there is one aspect of "being green" that is inseparable from our family health.

Think about this with me. The same toxins that pollute our environments pollute our bodies too! Did you know that one out of every three cleaning products is KNOWN to cause human health or environmental problems? (Source: EPA) Keep in mind that only about 20% of chemicals developed in the last three decades have been tested for effects on our health. (Source: EPA)

The EPA also states that
Traditional cleaning products can contain harmful chemicals that can cause
cancer, reproductive disorders, major organ damage, and permanent eye damage. Other common health problems associated with cleaning chemicals include asthma
and other respiratory ailments, headaches, dizziness, and fatigue.
Making the switch to "green" products has been a very simple step for our family. And I'm all about simple steps! We use Shaklee's full line of Get Clean products. Shaklee has a fifty year environmental heritage and was the nation's first Certified Climate Neutral company. In two and a half years of cleaning with these products, there hasn't been anything I couldn't clean greenly. I'm about to tackle my oven... that I've NEVER cleaned... stay tuned for before and after pictures of this feat!

For previous posts about the effects of Cleaning Chemicals on our health, read:

Monday, March 16, 2009

Update on "Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day"

I have been experimenting with the "quick" bread making procedures from the book Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. Wouldn't it be nice to only spend five minutes each day for a warm loaf of soaked bread? (Why "soaked"? Read this.)

I made my master dough recipe last Thursday. It seemed way too wet, even though the book says it will be wetter than "normal" dough. I wanted to try my best to follow the instructions this first time around, so I didn't add more flour. Resisting the temptation took an abundance of restraint on my part :) I am using freshly milled whole wheat. I think that because it has not settled in a bag, it is measuring differently.

I have baked two loaves of bread and two batches of dinner rolls. The bread smells absolutely delicious when baking! It has a very pleasant sour smell... like real sourdough from a quaint village bakery. The bread holds together and slices much nicer than other "soaked" breads I've tried in the past.

I would say the only drawback so far is the bite. The book says that the master dough will keep in the fridge for two weeks. But by Sunday in our home, the children were making their opinion known: "This bread is biting me back!" The bread, even though it is sour, makes fantastic cheese toast!

I will be trying a new master recipe this week. I think this time I will add a cup or more of additional flour and I will bake all of the loaves within 24 hours of "soaking." I might even try freezing some of the additional dough. Stay tuned for the finale... I will keep working at it until I get a reliable 100% whole wheat, soaked bread recipe. It will be a quick and HEALTHY way to eat fresh bread! And, the book includes all kinds of exciting variations like herb dinner rolls, soft pretzels, pizza dough, bagels and more!

Is Your Seafood Safe?

Not everybody loves seafood, but it can be a very beneficial dietary addition. The consumption of fish has been associated with a reduced risk of heart disease. Fish is rich in Omega 3 and other long chain fatty acids (the healthy fats), is an excellent source of fat-soluble vitamins A and D, and contains an abundance of macro and trace minerals. But fish can be potentially dangerous, especially for pregnant women and children.

If my memory serves me correctly, I was pregnant with Witzy when my husband found this useful Calculator from GotMercury.org. Since then, I've used it to "check" the types of fish we eat for their level of mercury contamination. It has been a really useful tool... not only because it has revealed which types of fish to stay away from, but also because it shows which fish are healthy choices.

Visit this handy page and bookmark it! Especially if you are pregnant or are nursing, take the time to check the most common fish you eat on this calculator. Oh, and another good thing... you can enter your child's weight to see danger levels for their size as well.

Friday, March 13, 2009

We are a Boxed Cereal Nation

I really hate to post this. I mean, boxed cereal is so perfectly convenient! But since we all care deeply about our children's health, I am going to stick my neck out here. I might step on some toes... but keep in mind, I love boxed cereal too. It's tough to give up! Especially when breakfast needs to be fast! Maybe the soaked granola solution I posted yesterday will soften the blow a little...

We need to stop feeding our children processed cereals. You and me both.

For this post, we are going to set aside the added sugars, BHT, flavors, colorings and other preservatives. We are just going to look at what happens to grain when it is high-heated. Stick with me here... I will give some other solutions in addition to the soaked granola.

Breakfast cereals that are puffed or flaked are made by a process which utilizes high heat and extreme pressure. The high heat destroys a great deal of the grain's naturally occurring nutrients. In addition, it causes the oils found in the grain to go rancid which in turn increases free radicals in our bloodstream. But more importantly, the high heat and extrusion denatures the proteins. Paul Stitt, in his book Fighting the Food Giants, describes the resultant proteins this way:

Proteins are very similar to certain toxins in molecular structure, and the
puffing process of putting the grain under 1500 pounds per square inch of
pressure and then releasing it may produce chemical changes which turn a
nutritious grain into a poisonous substance.
He further writes about a clinical trial in which rats were fed four different diets:
  1. plain whole wheat, water, vitamins and minerals
  2. puffed wheat, water and the same nutrient solution
  3. water and white sugar
  4. nothing but water and chemical nutrients

I am so sorry for these rats. The rats on the first diet lived over a year. The rats who were given water and nutrients lived 8 weeks. The rats consuming white sugar lived one month. And the rats on puffed wheat lived only two weeks, even though they were getting the same nutrient solution as the whole wheat fed rats. These results suggest that eating puffed cereal grains is more than a matter of not getting sufficient nutrients. These results suggest that there is something toxic about the puffed wheat.

There have been further tests. And none of them look good for processed cereals. These cereals actually have more adverse effects on our blood sugar than white sugar and white flour. In addition, they have been connected with behavior disorders, kidney, liver and pancreatic dysfunction and other nervous system disorders.

I wish I could sugar coat this (no pun intended). But this is only a brief summary of the shocking evidence. Perhaps in later posts I'll write more about boxed cereals. I think I've done enough damage today.

Just so I don't leave you on a bad note, here are a few ideas for cereal-less, yet still quick, breakfasts. My recommendation is to set aside a "prep" time when you make some of these things ahead so that pancakes can be popped in the toaster, etc on the go.

  • Soaked Granola with Milk
  • Smoothie with Granola Sprinkles; you could even make it a green smoothie!
  • Oatmeal; this can also be soaked overnight with one or two tablespoons of yogurt.
  • Eggs and Toast
  • English Muffins and fruit
  • Toaster Pancakes
  • Breakfast Protein Bars; most bars available in stores have a host of unwholesome ingredients. I plan to post my Protein Bar recipe in the weeks to come... stay tuned.

And, of course, I suggest a boiled egg with each of these (minus the eggs and toast, of course!)

If you have wholesome and quick breakfast ideas, post them in the comments! We all could use some fresh ideas :)

Thursday, March 12, 2009

How to Make "Soaked Granola"

Although whole grains are fantastically nourishing, they can also be very tough on our digestive systems. Grains contain phytic acid in the outer layer of the bran. This phytic acid can actually block the absorption of the minerals found in whole grains. In the process, it can lead to uncomfortable bowel symptoms as well. (To learn more on this topic, read Sally Fallon's Nourishing Traditions.)

However, there is a very simple way of preparing our grain foods in order to neutralize the phytic acid. By a simple soaking process, enzymes and friendly bacteria found in yogurt can "predigest" the grain for us. The soaking process also neutralizes enzyme inhibitors found in seeds and grains, making nutrients like B Vitamins more accessible.

One step at a time, right! If this information is new to you, don't fret. Take baby steps. Try substituting this granola for your current breakfast cereal and leave the next steps for later. The next steps will come... in TIME.

Soaking granola is actually quite easy. In the morning, mix together
  • 6 cups of rolled oats
  • 2 cups of whole wheat flour
Add 1 cup of yogurt. You might want to mix this with your hands so that all the grain is evenly wet. It will look like a clumpy mess.

Leave this mixture to "soak" all day long. You could also let this soak overnight if you were going to bake during the day. I like to bake in the late afternoon.

After at least 7 hours, break up any clumps with your hands and mix in the following dry ingredients:
  • 1 cup of unsweetened dried coconut
  • 1 cup of seeds (sunflower, sesame, pumpkin)
  • 1-2 cups of chopped nuts (almonds, cashews, pecans, walnuts)
Make a well in the center of the dry mixture, like this:

Pour the following wet mixture into the bowl:
  • 1 cup of oil. I prefer to use melted coconut oil (see my post on coconut oil), but you could use melted butter, EVOO or any other "healthy" oil.
  • 1 cup of honey
  • 1 Tbsp. salt (If your nuts are salted, you will want to reduce this amount.)
  • 2 tsp. real vanilla

Mix the granola until all of the ingredients are thoroughly wet. Pour onto two cookie sheets and bake at 250 degrees for 1 hour.

When the granola has cooled, scoop it into an airtight container. You'll see that I use the same lidded bowl in which I mixed the granola. Lastly, stir in 1-2 cups of dried fruit, raisins or dates. My photo doesn't have the dried fruit mixed in because my husband prefers his granola without. We sprinkle the raisins on once we scoop the granola into bowls.

This granola tastes great with milk. But my children love it best sprinkled over a bowl of thick smoothie. That is their choice breakfast. I have made many variations of this recipe. Here are a few additional thoughts.
  • If you want to reduce the oil, you can use 1/2 cup oil and 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce. This makes a "cakier" granola.
  • If you want to make granola bars, add two beaten eggs with the liquids and bake in a 9x13 pan at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes. Slice the bars while still warm.
  • If you want to keep it cheap, omit the nuts and dried fruit. We have eaten plenty of coconut/seed granola and it tastes just fine.
  • If you love cinnamon, add 1 tsp. with the dry ingredients.
  • If you want to use a dry sweetener like Sucanat, simply add 2/3 cup of water to the liquids and you will still be able to mix the granola together.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Chocolate Giveaway!

You all know I love real chocolate... so how could I pass this one up?

Shannon at Nourishing Days is hosting a Chocolate Giveaway... and this is the kind of chocolate you want to win :) Click here to enter the contest.

Cooking Whole Chickens

Have you ever looked at the price of organic, free range chicken packages in the store? YIKES! Buying healthier meats can put quite a strain on a budget. But, at the same time, commercially farmed chicken can put quite a strain on our body. I mean, we don't really do well with the extra antibiotics and vaccine ingredients. (For a complete list of what's scary about commercially farmed chicken read this.)

Here is what works for us:
I purchase whole chickens from a local farm operation. (Check out LocalHarvest.org for farms near you.) These chickens are much healthier than grocery store chickens, even though they are not as cheap as the whole birds at the market. They are much cheaper than the boneless, skinless packages though!
In order to make the meat go as far as it can, I cook one each week so that I have meat for three meals and stock for rice and soups. Making stock is important. There is more nourishment on a chicken than just the protein in the meat! Preparing a stock to use in other recipes will take advantage of the abundant minerals and other nutritive properties found in the whole chicken.
This may seem like a daunting process, but it actually is quite simple... as long as I remember to thaw out a chicken in time! I just put a chicken in the crock pot with plenty of pure water and let it slowly cook all day long. Vegetables may be added to give flavor and extra nutrition to the stock, but they won't be very palatable after the extended cooking.
At the end of the day, I debone my chicken and divide the meat. We usually eat 1/2 of the chicken with supper that night. And I use the other half in a casserole or other recipe that will give us enough leftovers for two complete meals. Keep in mind that this diced chicken can be used in any recipe that calls for chicken breasts. Last, but not least, I strain the stock and refrigerate it for other recipes as well.
Our chickens cost about $10 each. For three meals and plenty of nourishing stock, we figure it beats the packaged store chickens both for our budget and for our health.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Your Questions Answered... Grain Mill and Milk

Sarah commented to ask me two questions. Leave it to technology... but when I clicked to reply back to her comments, my computer opened up 30 of the same windows and I had to shut down in order to get it to stop opening more windows! Sadly, I've lost the comment and questions. But they were so worth answering! I'll have to post my two very brief answers:

What kind of grain mill do I use?
I have a K-Tec grain mill that I bought five years ago. It still works like a dream. But, it is very loud, and so I do my milling in the garage. I have been around Whisper Mills over the years. If I my K-Tec ever dies, I will probably buy a Whisper Mill. You'll laugh at this: before we bought the K-Tec, we had a Corona hand-cranked mill that I anchored to the coffee table with pads to prevent it from denting the wood. It was HARD work, but we had to make do with what we had! When I was pregnant with Spiderman, we finally scraped up the money for an electric mill. We were in grad school... we had to be very, very frugal!

What kind of milk do we drink?
We buy certified raw milk from a dairy nearby us. We have been drinking "real milk" since Rainbow was diagnosed with failure to thrive at her one year check-up (2001). At the time, we were vegans but saw a need for real milk in our lives. Check out www.realmilk.com for more information about raw milk. It has been a desire of mine to blog about why we don't drink homogenized milk... there is so much to blog about! One step at a time, right :)

Making Comparisons

My sweet friend Tonya wrote a post entitled "Comparison is the Thief of Joy" last weekend. Isn't that so true? It's happened to me WAY too often!

Things are good when we are looking around objectively. We see other families and we say: "Yeah, that would be a good thing for our family. It's worth a try!" But things are not so good when we start comparing. We see the very same good things, and we say: "Oh no. I'm not doing it right." And joy is the first thing to go.

What's my point? I want to encourage you to think objectively about all the health information you see each day. Don't let it overwhelm you. Don't let it fill your heart with "Oh No's." Be realistic in your health goals. It is totally impossible to do it all at once. Totally impractical. However, we all have some learning to do. And we all can make helpful changes in our lives. The key is "one step at a time."

With each new recipe, with each new piece of information, consider if it is a reasonable next step for your family. If it is, tackle the change with gusto! If it isn't, let it go. And don't let yourself make comparisons.

I hope this blog gives you a fresh look at health without loading undue burdens on your already busy life. Some times in our lives call for drastic change. (I've been in a few of those and we did implement a lot of new things during those times.) Other times we just take baby steps. But either way, we want to keep learning.

Joy is an indicator of your focus. We have joy as we are following God's leading, but our hearts fill with worry and stress when we are following false expectations. Pay attention to your joy in the journey.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Health Rule of Thumb

If it won't spoil, don't eat it!

Have you heard that one before? I have read it in several places over the years. Last night, I saw it in a magazine article. Since the thought has returned to the front of my mind, I thought I would share it with you.

Think about the shelf-life of the food you eat. Can it sit in your pantry for ages without spoiling? Will bugs eat it? I have heard a story about a lone twinkie that was left on a windowsill in a simple experiment. Seven years later, not a single bug had attempted to eat it. And it looked exactly the same, although it was probably hardened. No mold. No fungus. It was still a twinkie!

While I have not verified that "legend," I've got another story I can support with evidence. A local friend of mine has an 11 year old Wendy's hamburger. The hamburger makes its home in a clear plastic take-out box (not air tight). At first glance, you might guess this burger is just a few days old. People are shocked when my friend reveals how long she has kept it! No spoilage. No mold. It would probably be a little tough if you dared to bite into it! But, the hamburger is still a hamburger. (Just in case you are wondering, my friend uses the hamburger as a visual aid for nutrition presentations. That's why she has it.)


We wouldn't keep a banana for 11 years. We wouldn't keep an avocado that long either. But, we could keep a box of cereal that long. It may be stale, but it would still be cereal. Staleness aside, think about your food. The rule of thumb suggests we eat only foods that would cease to be recognizable in 11 years (or less!). Otherwise, we are eating a highly processed or chemically preserved "food."

I would like to add another element to this rule of thumb. If the bugs won't eat it, leave it alone! Some foods naturally store well for long term. Beans, grains, nuts and seeds would be included in this group. We could keep wheat berries for 11 years, but without properly sealing them, the berries would become a feast for pests. We can learn something from the little critters. They eat real food. We should too.

Keep in mind, a "rule of thumb" is not a hard and fast rule. I can think of some exceptions. For example, Coffee Creamer spoils, but it is a highly processed and fractionated "food." I am sure you can think of more exceptions. But, as a general rule, "If it won't spoil, don't eat it!" can be a simple reminder to choose whole, natural foods.

Photo Credit: Allposters.com

Friday, March 6, 2009

On Birthday Food and Treats

Raising healthy children is a balancing act, in my opinion. It is totally impossible and impractical to "shelter" children from all unhealthy foods. The goal is to train a child's appetites to prefer foods that do the body good. Sooner or later, your child will make his own food choices. While we function in our parental roles, we have a threefold aim:
  • to teach the child enough about nutrition that he knows what is good and why;
  • to create a habits of eating healthily that will govern the child's tastes;
  • and to set apart "treats" as what they are - foods we eat on special occasions and not daily.
In our family, a birthday is a very special occasion. All throughout the day, we hold little celebrations. One special thing our children get to do on their birthdays is select the whole day's menu and their birthday cake. We allow them to choose foods that are not our normal fare, as long as the menu is still balanced. I listed out Rainbow's choices yesterday, and I'd like to make a few comments about them today.

You may have wondered about "Ants on a Log." Simple recipe here: spread natural peanut butter on a celery stick. Dot ants all down the peanut butter. And VOILA, you have "Ants on a Log." Is there a better way to eat celery? (Celery is not a favorite of mine, yet it is frequently in our produce box, so all suggestions will be greatly appreciated!)

For supper, Rainbow chose her favorite: Salmon Broccoli Pasta. This is a simple meal with very few ingredients. And, it takes less than thirty minutes, so it is a winner in my book! If your family wouldn't dream of eating salmon, you can substitute chicken.

Simple steps for this tasty dish:
  1. Cook 1 pound of whole wheat (or rice) pasta according to package directions.
  2. Meanwhile, saute 6 servings of broccoli in EVOO (that's extra virgin olive oil). Broccoli soaks up the oil pretty quickly, so you will need about four tablespoons.
  3. A few minutes before the broccoli is done, add four minced garlic cloves. Let the garlic cook for a few minutes with the broccoli.
  4. Add 2 cans of boneless, skinless salmon or about 12 ounces of leftover grilled salmon. Wild- caught salmon (and canned salmon) are still on the list of "safe" seafood, which reminds me that I want to write a post about toxin levels in different types of fish.
  5. Toss the broccoli/garlic/salmon with the cooked pasta. Salt to taste.
  6. Sprinkle with Parmesan Cheese.
After dinner, Rainbow chose to have a Cinnamon Roll Cake. This is a new one. Up until this birthday, she has creatively imagined a beautifully decorated cake. Is leaving behind frills and playfulness a sign of her increasing maturity? Maybe she just likes cinnamon rolls, right?

This cake is just a variation of my sweet rolls recipe. Instead of the usual rolling and slicing, however, I rolled a five foot long snake and flattened it with a rolling pin.

Rolling up this long strip of dough made one very large cinnamon roll! This is a picture before we added her candles. She loved it! It may not be conventional, but it was exactly what she wanted.

Did you notice the mess on my counter? YIKES! I make messes like that very often. This is only non-toxic cleaning product I have found that works powerfully on a doughy-floury-buttery surface.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Beverage Choices and the Chance to Make A Difference

I have been turning this over in my mind for a whole week. I can't seem to get away from it. I saw this challenge on Preschoolers and Peace last week, and I thought, "This is a brilliant plan!"

It works like this. You choose to sacrifice your daily beverages and drink only water for 40 days. Each day, you keep a record of what you would have spent on the beverages you normally drink. At the end of your 40 days, you donate the money saved to Blood:Water Mission in order to provide clean water to those who live in areas of Africa where water is not readily attainable. (The plan is to set aside March 1st to April 9th, but you certainly could start five or six days late and go until April 14th.) Sounds like a good plan, right?

I think this is a spectacular opportunity, not just because your family will be a ministry to others in the world, but because forgoing choice beverages for 40 days could be revolutionary to your health! As in a Sugar Fast, going without reveals how our habits silently affect us. Since so many of our beverages contain sugar or sugar substitutes (and other unwholesome ingredients), we all would do well to eliminate them for a time. When the time is up, I challenge you to make a permanent change by only reintroducing them in moderation. Set a goal to make pure water 95% of your beverage intake.

Your Questions Answered... Sucanat, etc.

Good Morning!

Thanks for the comments and questions yesterday. I hope to post some thoughts on beverages later today, but I wanted to go ahead and answer the Sucanat questions.

First, Sucanat looks like very tiny brown pebbles. They are not crystals and are not uniform in size. You can find Sucanat at any health food store in the baking aisle in pound and two-pound bags, and in the bulk section for a bit cheaper (around $2-2.50/pound). Some grocery stores carry it in their Natural Foods Section. You'll have to check your local store. You can also buy it in bulk from Amazon or from Country Life Natural Foods. At Amazon, it is 3.32/pound, with free shipping. At CLNF, it is 1.75/pound plus shipping. I buy from CNLF, but I also purchase nuts, seeds, pasta and other items at the same time so the shipping is worth it to me.

Would I use Sucanat to sweeten tea. Nope. It has a brown sugary taste which works fine in Banana Bread and Granola but would be way to obvious in tea. I use honey in my tea. But honestly, I have found no natural sweetener that doesn't have a strong taste. Even stevia has a distinctive flavor.

Is Sucanat just sugar with vitamins? Good question. It is a sugar and will effect the body's blood sugar levels. They key is moderation. It is different than white sugar since it is a food which the body recognizes and can use. White sugar in its crystallized form is no longer a food but rather a toxin to the body. I call this an anti-nutrient because not only is it void of any benefit, it also robs the body of other nutrients in efforts to rid itself of the toxin. While Sucanat and other Natural Sweeteners are of little benefit to the body besides satisfying a sweet tooth, they are not toxins or anti-nutrients.

Hope this helps clarify!

Also, by way of note for subscribers who read my RSS feed, I post our dinner plans in a sidebar box each weekday. I have yet to figure out how to include this content in my feed. If you are interested in knowing what we eat from day to day, please check out my actual blog. Thanks!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Natural Sweeteners 102

On this installment of Natural Sweeteners (see my previous post for the first thoughts), I will discuss a few of the choices available at local markets and health food stores. Of course, I won't be able to cover them all. If I overlook one that you have a particular question about, please comment or email me so I can address your specific question. To refresh your memory on why we want to limit white sugar consumption, refer to my post on Sugar Fasting.

Local Raw Honey: I use honey often. I specify "raw" because honey includes several enzymes, plant nutrients, and antimicrobial factors that are destroyed in pasteurization. I specify "local" because honey imported from Argentina and other Central and South American countries contains traces of DDT. Honey can be used in a variety of recipes, but should not be given to infants under one year of age.

Sucanat/Rapadura: You'll notice that most of my sweet recipes include Sucanat. I find it very easy to substitute for white sugar since it is a granulated sweetener (as opposed to liquid honey) and can be replaced cup for cup. Sucanat is basically evaporated cane juice. It is very minimally processed and still contains the trace minerals and other nutrients present in cane juice. Rapadura is similar to Sucanat, yet it contains an even higher amount of nutrients because it is sun-dried. It is a bit pricier and so I only purchase it when I find a really good deal on it.

Other Organic Sugar Products: There are several other organic sugars on the market. It is difficult to keep up with them all! Here is a rule of thumb: if it is white, light or crystallized, it has been dramatically processed. After the processing, the known (and unknown) nutrient factors will not remain intact. Look for options that are dark and granulated in asymmetrical "blobs" rather than crystals. Date sugar is an example of this, but Turbinado or Sugar in the Raw are crystallized.

Maple Syrup: Maple syrup is a good option for pancakes! It is infinitely better than "syrups" made from high fructose corn syrup and artificial flavorings. But, pure maple syrup is expensive. We do keep maple syrup in the house and use it very sparingly.

Molasses: Molasses is another good option for sweetening things. It contains a great deal of minerals since it is actually the "waste product" of white sugar manufacturing. Molasses is the good stuff that's been taken out! Yet, it has a very strong flavor which limits its usefulness.

Stevia: Stevia is actually an herb and not related to the sugar family at all. All of the previous sweeteners I've listed must be used in moderation because they effect our body's blood sugar levels. We don't want to cause our pancreas to strike, so we limit all forms of sugar (especially white sugar because it is an anti-nutrient too). Stevia has very little effect on our blood sugar levels. However, it is an herb that should be used with caution as should all herbs. In the past it has been considered medicinal and has not been tested for safety as a part of a daily diet. We do use stevia in our Power Bar recipe since it is low-glycemic. But, I don't consider it an "eat often" food. By the way, people who are allergic to certain weeds may react to stevia as well.

Splenda: I don't believe this one has a place with Natural Sweeteners, but I would like to give my thoughts about splenda. Yes, as the advertisements state, it started out as sugar from a sugar cane plant. However, in order to process away the calories, all other nutrients have been processed away as well. Even more important, the actual chemical structure is altered. This should send up all sorts of red flags. It is not a food. It is not close to a food. It is closer to a plastic or other man-made derivative. I expect to read about devastating health effects of this artificial sweetener in years to come. It just hasn't been on the market long enough for the evidence to mount.

Yikes, this post got long! And I feel like I've only touched the subject. There will be another post to follow in the near future. I would like to mention more about High Fructose Corn Syrup and artificial sweeteners as well. If you would like further information about any of the sweeteners I listed above, please let me know and I will address them in greater depth.

Believe it or not, I am a very slow writer. Actually, I am a slow talker as well... which makes me really thankful for my patient husband who is willing to listen long enough for me to formulate the words for what I'm trying to say. As I was saying, I am a slow writer. And I REALLY appreciate your patience as I mull over a topic like this for the weeks it takes me to finish all my thoughts. Thanks for coming back for the rest of the story. I sincerely appreciate it.

A Blog Listing to Check Out

This is fun news! My little blog has been included in the Top 100 Healthy Mom Blogs by RnCentral.com. You might want to check out this listing for other helpful blogs. I have scanned a few that seem beneficial. I hope this resource is helpful!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

An Alternative to MSG-Laden Ranch Dip

Howdy Strangers! That's what we southerners say when we are just returning to technology after a rare snow storm that stopped life as we know it. Please excuse my absence. Who would have thought that in four short months of blogging, I would miss so many familiar "faces"?

Do you all remember a while ago when I posted strategies for helping our children get their Five-A-Day of veggies and fruits? So many of you commented that one way your children LOVED veggies was with Ranch Dip. While I know that some kids won't stand for a change, perhaps some of you moms out there will be able to substitute this additive-free recipe. (Thanks for posting it, Shannon!)

When you look at the recipe, you'll see that it starts with "Yogurt Cheese." At the outset, let me calm any fears you may experience when you read those words. Yogurt Cheese is not at all difficult to make. Simply pour whole milk yogurt in a tea-towel-lined colander and let it drain overnight. The whey will drip out and leave a "cream cheese" in the towel. Yogurt Cheese is a nutritious substitute for anything that calls for cream cheese. We love it as the base for a cucumber and cream cheese sandwich spread.

Have no fear! If you don't want to make Yogurt Cheese, you can simply substitute plain yogurt. Doing so will yield a "dressing" rather than a "dip," but the taste will be unaffected. Another option that may not be as healthy but is still healthier than ranch seasoning packets: use the list of spices from this recipe and add them directly to sour cream. This last option may be a good transitional dip for kids who might balk at a sudden change in their beloved ranch dip.

Party Dip by Greg Brown

Please comment to let me know how you like this dip or dressing! Or, if you have a recipe for another healthy veggie dip, please comment with the link... don't all mothers need more strategies for serving veggies to our children?

Photo Credit: AllPosters.com

Sunday, March 1, 2009

What's Cooking -- March

I am creating this post in order to archive the content from my "What's Cooking?" Sidebar. The sidebar has been a successful element of this humble blog, yet I haven't figured out a way for Blogger to keep/update the content. So far I've lost nearly two months of information! So, I've decided to paste each day's entry into a monthly archive. Maybe these monthly archives of our family's meal plans will be helpful to someone. They will be a good reminder for me on those days when I seem stumped as to what we haven't had in a while.

March 31st:
Tonight I plan on preparing Baked Salmon with Mashed Potatoes and a Garden Salad for supper.

We received beets in our produce box again. I have heard of a salad with grated beets and carrots. I plan on looking this one up. It might be worth a try...

Also, we just finished the last of our "5 Minute Artisan Bread." I am very sorry to see it gone... it has such an addictive flavor! And, it is moist enough to be eaten plain. Love it! I hope to get another master batch soaking tonight. This time, I'll take pictures to post :)

March 30:
I've got to spend this afternoon in the car... picking up our produce box and running other errands. I am so thankful for leftovers on days like today!

A leftover note: I try to cook something new each day of the week. We keep leftovers for the weekend, or we freeze them. When I follow this plan, I get a break from cooking over the weekend and I also have a few things in the freezer for days like today when we need a meal in a hurry. If you want to stay away from Fast Food, a plan like this is so helpful!

March 27th:
Family Fun Night = Homemade Pizza and Salad.

I'm especially excited about the salad tonight because I have two perfectly ripe avocados. MMMMM... all six of us love a good avocado tossed into our salad!

On another note: last night's Cabbage Rolls were awesome! The kids separated the cabbage and filling, but the flavors were so delish that even they enjoyed it all... separate.

March 26th:
Tonight we are having Sally Fallon's Spicy Cabbage Rolls. (You can get her excellent cookbook here.) We haven't had these in several years, but I still have more cabbage from my produce box to use up.

Sadly, I will be using my very last package of ground beef tonight. I have gotten grass-fed beef from a handful of sources in the past, but am still looking for a better price. Do you have a good source for grass-fed beef? If so, please comment or email me! Thanks.

March 25th:
Things are happenin' in the kitchen again today! This week I'm trying to prepare a couple of batches of the foods we eat often. Today, I've got two batches of granola soaking. I will also be making Power Bars this evening.

Since it is Wednesday, we are having Beans and Rice... surprise, surprise!

March 24th:
There's a lot going on in this kitchen today! I've got a half gallon of yogurt culturing. Later this afternoon, I am going to be making all six loaves of bread from my "5 Minute Artisan" master recipe. I'll post on that later this week...

For supper, I will be making my version of Chicken Fried Rice. It's not fried. And there's not a lot of rice. I guess it is just my way of using A LOT of vegetables in one meal. We have tons of cabbage, carrots, onions and other greens to use.

March 23rd:
I have a chicken in the crockpot! We will eat a portion of it this evening and save the rest with the stock for meals later this week.

I will be preparing butternut squash, swiss chard and mashed potatoes on the side. The kids love for me to thicken some of the stock into gravy for their potatoes and chicken too.

However, they do NOT love butternut squash. It is a texture thing. I can't waste what came in our produce box, so I am going to dice it and steam it lightly. If I can time it right, the squash won't be mushy...

March 19th:
I'll be doing a Health Fair this evening. Rainbow will be reheating the extra Parmesan, Kale and Portabello Quiche and making a Garden Salad on the side. I am so thankful for her... she is such a bright, cheerful help to me! Thank you, Rainbow! And, thank you Witzy, for helping set the table too!

March 18th:
We will be having Beans and Rice for supper tonight. Those of you who read this sidebar regularly will recognize our normal Wednesday evening meal :)

Since I need leftovers for Rainbow to heat up on Saturday, I will be making a quick Bean Burrito Casserole with the extra beans and rice tonight. She will be able to heat up the casserole and make a salad while I am away.

March 17th:
We just received our produce box, and the choices for tonight are endless! I need to make something with easily reheated leftovers... so I think I'm going to make a Crustless Veggie Quiche with Salad.

I also baked the last of my "Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day" master recipe this morning. I got creative and made it into a cinnamon swirl bread. And it really only took 5 Minutes! We tasted a bit of it when it came out of the oven and are really looking forward to more with our supper!

March 16th:
We have not had fish in quite a while. I can't even remember the last time. So tonight, we are breaking from our normal chicken night for Baked Fish with Salad and Cowboy Potatoes.

Cowboy Potatoes... now there's a story! When Spiderman was only twoish, I roasted whole potatoes coated with olive oil and rolled in salt. The hot oven made the skins crispy, but the white inside was perfectly soft. He made a comment like: "These potatoes are so good I bet cowboys eat 'em!" The name stuck. They do remind me of potatoes cooked over an open fire...

March 13th:
Tonight I am going to make Chicken and Rice Soup with our very first loaf of "5 Minute Artisan Bread" on the side. I'll be adding chard, onions, carrots, mushrooms and maybe some other veggies to the soup. This meal should provide leftovers for the weekend... YAY!

An update on the "5 Minute Artisan Bread": I did the preliminary work last night. It seemed really wet, which might be due to the freshly milled flour. I am a little doubtful the loaf will hold its shape so I will be putting it in a bread pan. I am a very curious about the results though.

March 12th:
I know it's sounds a bit disappointing, but we are having leftovers tonight. I have several items that need finishing up in the fridge. No wasting, right! So tonight, it's a no frills supper.

Since heating up leftovers and steaming broccoli will not take much time, I plan on starting my first batch of "Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day." This bread is a "soaked grain" and it seems really simple. I'll let you know what we think!

March 11th:
Wednesday, as you know, is our $3 or less meal. Tonight, we are having black beans and rice.

I also have 1/2 a gallon of yogurt culturing and granola soaking. If "soaking" seems like an odd word choice, tune in tomorrow when I'll post my granola recipe with pictures!

March 10th:
I got the chicken cooking this morning, so we will be having part of that on a HUGE spring-salad for supper tonight. I have lots of vegetables to toss in too. With the weather as warm as it is here, we are all in the mood for a light and fresh meal.

March 9th:
ARG! In all of this past weekend's running around, I forgot to thaw out a chicken. I was not able to start my Monday Crock-Pot Chicken this morning. I like to cook a chicken so that I have meat for a few meals and stock for the week.

I guess I will have to pull something else together for supper tonight. I am thinking of making Macaroni and Cheese. I make this a few times a year -- and I think now just might be the right time again! I have taken a Southern Living recipe and made my usual aterations to make it "healthier." We have plenty of vegetables to steam for our side dishes.

March 6th:
Tonight I'm experimenting. We're going to have a rice and beef skillet dinner with asparagus. I have taken a Betty Crocker "Good and Easy" recipe and made several more healthful substitutions. Who knows, it could be worth making again!

March 5th:
Today is Rainbow's Birthday! This is the menu she has selected:

Breakfast: Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal, not the instant kind. Just good Old Fashioned oatmeal cooked with real apples.

Lunch: Cheese Sandwiches, Ants on a Log, Bar-B-Q Potato Chips (Kettle Brand), and Yogurt

Supper: Salmon Broccoli Pasta
Dessert: Cinnamon Roll Cake with Vanilla Ice Cream