Thursday, April 30, 2009

Wheat-Free Muffins, Grain-Free and Low-Carb too!

The recipe I am sharing today is a wonderful alternative for those steering away from wheat, grain or carbs. Whether you are gluten-intolerant or whether you just want to cut down on the amount of grain in your diet, this is a great muffin to try! We call these Love Muffins... only because my husband requested them... and he almost never makes specific requests... so I consider them an expression of my love for him... the extremely loving man that he is!

Love Muffins:

Blend together 12 eggs. I use some very healthy yard hen eggs from a friend of mine. See how dark the yolks are! (I am doubling the recipe here... some for now, some for later... these freeze well.)

  • 1/2 cup of melted butter
  • 1/2 cup of real milk
  • 3/4 cup of raw honey
  • 1 tsp of salt
  • 1 tsp of vanilla
Then, combine 1 cup of sifted Coconut Flour with 1 tsp of non-aluminum baking powder. Add these dry ingredients to your eggy mixture and blend until there are no lumps.
Note: you really want to start with sifted coconut flour so that you don't get lumps.
Second Note: you will be really surprised at how much the coconut flour expands. I think it must more than double its bulk as it absorbs the liquids.

Pour batter into greased muffin tins. (The recipe says it will make 24 muffins, but I have always made 12 really big muffins instead.) Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes or until the tops are starting to brown. They burn quickly! Take it from me, you don't want to let the time escape you!

This recipe is from the book Cooking with Coconut Flour: A Delicious Low-Carb, Gluten-Free Alternative to Wheat By Bruce Fife. The recipe comes with many variations. We have tried the Orange Poppyseed Muffins and the Cinnamon Raisin Muffins. But, since these are primarily for my husband and he prefers the taste of honey, we continue to make the basic recipe... our Love Muffin recipe.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

It's Strawberry Pickin' Time!

For local readers, it is strawberry picking time in North Georgia. This is where we will go to pick later this week. Hopefully, we will go three times before the season is over. We will pick several gallons each time... hopefully like 8 or 10 gallons each time! We load up our freezer when the berries are ripe, bursting with nutrients and flavor. Then we enjoy them all year round in our smoothies!

Sweet and Juicy Strawberries by David Carter Brown


Tuesday, April 28, 2009


Avocados by Jan-peter Westermann
Our family loves avocados. They are full of vitamins and minerals and are a good source of monounsaturated fats. Avocados support brain and nerve health while they contribute to healthy vision as well. They also contain beta-sitosterol, which helps maintain healthy cholesterol levels.

Avocados are a perfect baby food because they do not have to be cooked before mashing. They taste wonderfully creamy and compliment many other foods. We love them diced over fried rice or sliced into a salad. Or, on top of pita pizzas.

But, isn't it the pits to cut open an avocado only to find it black and bruised?!? Here's how I select an avocado so that my chances of finding it perfect are highest.
  • First, I don't buy avocados when they are completely ripe. If I do, they are almost always bruised.
  • I prefer to buy avocados when they are turning black and have little green on their skin, yet they are still firm to the touch. At this stage, they will ripen in only a day or two. And, if no child smashes them while putting them away, they usually are perfectly smooth inside.
  • Cut open an avocado when it is slightly soft to the touch, but not mushy.
  • If green (unripe) avocados are on sale, I set them next to bananas, so they will ripen nicely. They will ripen slower without the bananas and they don't seem to taste as divine. I have also heard that keeping them in a brown paper bag helps with ripening, but I haven't tried this method.
  • I don't buy the larger Florida avocados with the "Lite Avocado" label. They taste watery to me.
  • If your avocados get to the perfect ripening stage before you are planning to use them, you can store them in the refrigerator for two or three days to keep them ready.

While we eat avocados with all sorts of food, they are best known as the main ingredient in guacamole. We love good guacamole! We serve it with chips but it can also be served with vegetables for dipping as well.

AE's Best Guacamole:

  1. In a large bowl, mash two or three perfectly ripe avocados.
  2. Add the juice of half of a lemon. If you're using three big avocados, you might want to use the whole lemon. (I have used lime, and in a pinch, I have used orange. Each give a different flavor.)
  3. Add one minced garlic clove, salt and pepper to taste. We like ours peppery.
  4. Stir together until thoroughly mixed.
  5. Add in one finely chopped tomato or 1/2 a finely chopped red bell pepper.
  6. If possible, add in freshly chopped cilantro.
  7. Store the pits in the guacamole until you are ready to serve it in order to keep it fresh and green.
  8. Enjoy!

For more Works For Me Wednesday Posts, visit

Photo Credit:

Pita Pizzas

Last Friday my husband was with us all morning long. Since he is content to eat the same breakfast and lunch every single weekday, when he is home I really like to bless him by preparing something more exciting. So, Friday morning we had omelets and honeydew melon for breakfast. Then, for lunch we ate pita pizzas with avocado slices on top. They were absolutely delicious. Each of my children love avocado, which I will post about next.

I know that some of you readers are on wheat-free or strictly-soaked-wheat diets. I totally see how that is beneficial. However, we do eat whole wheat pitas when we have no homemade bread available. (I like to always be prepared, but alas, I am no supermom... even though I aspire to that!) I do hope to share some more wheat-free recipes soon, but today I would like to post a simple pita pizza recipe for those readers who can eat whole wheat.

It is wonderfully simple. Here goes:
  • Lay six uncut pitas down on a cookie sheet.
  • Spread a spoonful of salsa over each one.
  • Layer cheddar cheese over the top.
  • Bake until the cheese is melted.
  • Serve with thinly sliced avocados on top.
Is that too simple? It is quick and easy and breaks the regular sandwich routine... so I thought it was worth sharing.

A note on ingredients: You will want to read the labels in order to select pitas and salsa that contain only real ingredients and no added sugars.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Repercussions of Baby Food?

My youngest daughter, Tickle, is 20 months old. She is gifted with a unique sense of compassion and mercy. If anyone in the house displays sadness, she is the first to give out hugs. If anyone leaves something when they get up, such as shoes or a pencil, she will quickly return the item to us. It has been a joy to see her personality blossom. However, she is our pickiest eater. Hmmm.... Here's what I have been thinking...

Each of the older three were fed real foods from the time they began solids. I cooked and pureed everything they ate. I started with fresh mashed avocado and banana. Then, I began to give them cooked vegetables like carrots and peas. Bit by bit I added more fruits and vegetables until they were eating just about every vegetable available. I gave them lots of plain homemade yogurt. Then I added in some soaked oatmeal and some brown rice. If a child didn't like a flavor the first time around, I kept giving it to them in small quantities. Soon they ate everything I served them. I waited until they were each a year old to give them ate any wheat, eggs or nuts.

Baby Being Fed Baby Food by Alexandra Grablewski
When Tickle, our fourth, was ready for solid foods, I prepared some for her myself, but often fed her store bought organic baby foods. She had a very slow digestive system and these seemed to move through her better. She was nearly a year old before her digestive system "caught up" to eating the same diet as her older siblings had. Until that time, she ate only six or seven vegetables, a few fruits and a few mixed foods. There isn't a lot of variety in organic baby foods! And, at that point, it was slow going in incrementally introducing new foods, wheat, eggs and nuts into her diet.

As we started introducing foods to her, she was much slower to accept them. Often, it was just more convenient to give her the baby food so that I could feed her more quickly. Now that she eats only what we eat, there are several things at which she turns her nose up. Could it be because she didn't get used to these foods until too late?

I have read that children's taste buds are very weak when they are babies. They will tolerate a wider variety of flavors because foods taste more mild. If introduced to them early, the flavors will be tolerable to them as their taste buds develop. On the flipside, if a baby is "older" the first time he tastes an avocado, the drastic flavor might not be tolerated.

Could this be what happened with Tickle? I could be speculating. However, I wonder if her taste preferences are a result of her limited diet as a baby. She only ate mild tasting baby foods until she was old enough to really balk at the more developed flavors. Just a thought...

Photo Credit: not a photo of Tickle

And the Winner Is...

And the winner of Green Goes With Everything: Simple Steps to a Healthier Life and a Cleaner Planet, by Sloan Barnett is... Shaka. Hoooraaaay!!!

(I will email you with the details, but if for some reason you don't get the email, please email me: ae at healthbeginswithmom dot com.)

Thank you to each of you who entered your name in my blog giveaway! I really appreciate you guys... I mean, where would I be without readers!

Friday, April 24, 2009

A Quick Note

Hello Weekend Readers!

For some very crazy reason, my internet browser has not been willing to open any Blogger or Blogspot pages today. Very puzzling. It might have even been frustrating, except that I went on a walk with my girls and sat outside to play in the sandbox with Tickle.

I had two composed posts in my head, but was not able to publish them due to the computer glitch. Next week, I will post about avocados... health benefits and how to select and prepare them... and about a current thought of mine specific to children's health. I am sorry the posting has been delayed!

In the meantime, please don't forget to enter your name in my very first giveaway... and spread the word to your friends as well! I will be giving away Green Goes With Everything: Simple Steps to a Healthier Life and a Cleaner Planet, by Sloan Barnett. Click here to enter.

Have a great weekend! Enjoy some vitamin D, I mean sunshine...
Amy Ellen

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Your Basic White Sauce, ETC

I'll start with the Etc. part today and then get to the Basic White Sauce. By the way, don't forget to enter your name in the Free Book Drawing.

Yesterday was Witzy's birthday... and we pulled off a fabulous celebration. I say "pulled off" because my life has been so scattered over the last few months, that I left a lot of the details until the very last minute. Thankfully, everything came together. She felt very, very loved... which is what every little girl needs, right?

As is our family custom, the birthday girl got to pick her meals for the day. She chose granola with milk for breakfast (of all wonderful things she could have thought up!) with organic valencia oranges on the side, and an egg of course. For lunch, she wanted cheese sandwiches, popcorn and FruitABu's, which are 100% fruit leathers, a very special treat. (Don't you love how she's keeping things simple?) For supper, she wanted homemade Macaroni and Cheese and Steamed Broccoli. In making the Mac n' Cheese, I used whole wheat Fusilli, a homemade cheese sauce, and bits of Hormel preservative-free ham. (This isn't normal fare, but you can read why we celebrate this way here.)

For her special dessert, she wanted a Raspberry Tart. I didn't have to look far for a recipe, because there was one I could use in my new cookbook. It was actually for Raspberry Cookies, but it worked well as a large tart too. It was a super simple recipe. Really simple, which I loved. The crust is ground up almonds, oats and wheat flour and is sweetened with maple syrup. The filling is an all-fruit raspberry jam. It was definitely sweet enough. The only thing I would change next time is that it called for Extra Virgin Olive Oil, which tasted too strong. I might try melted butter or coconut oil next time. Here is the final result.

And, here it is with a scoop of Breyer's Natural Vanilla Ice Cream. Or, is that two scoops?

And here is a bonus picture. My husband's birthday was two weeks ago and we made him a Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Pound Cake. It is pictured here with Breyer's Chocolate Chip Ice Cream, of course. Both of these desserts were made with natural sweeteners and whole ingredients.
Now, for the Basic White Sauce. As I was making the cheese sauce yesterday, I though about how one Basic White Sauce enables me to steer clear of MSG- and preservative-laden canned products. It has revolutionized my cooking. Every time I see a recipe that calls for a condensed soup or a jar of cheese sauce, I know I can still use the recipe by substituting a version of my white sauce. Making a white sauce is a really simple, empowering kitchen skill. Here's how:
  • For a medium thick sauce, melt 2 Tbsp of butter in a saucepan.
  • Add 2 Tbsp of flour. I regularly use whole wheat flour, but if I need it white I will use 1 Tbsp of Non-GMO corn starch.
  • Stir until smooth and bubbly.
  • Using a wire whisk, stir in 1 c. of milk or stock or a combination of both.
  • Cook until smooth and thickened. It will be a little bubbly, and at that point, you want to stop cooking it.
  • Once you have your Basic Sauce, you can add herbs, salt, pepper, mushrooms, sauted onions, chili seasoning, or cheese.
I use this basic recipe when making a sauce to pour over rice and chicken, in making the cheese sauce for Macaroni and Cheese, for making thickened soups... and on and on. I even use it to make a whole foods version of Hamburger Helper!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Earth Day Giveaway!

Today is Earth Day (and Witzy's birthday)! To celebrate the occasion, I am giving away a copy of Green Goes With Everything: Simple Steps to a Healthier Life and a Cleaner Planet, by Sloan Barnett. I have posted a video about this fabulous book before. The subject matter is not Global Warming or Saving the Polar Bears. Instead, in this unique "green book," Sloan takes a very revealing look at how environmental toxins from plastics, pesticides and other sources effect our health. She gives simple, powerful steps for creating a healthy environment for your family.

I am very pleased to give this book away in hopes of helping your family go "healthy green." Here are the simple entry rules:

In order to be included in the random drawing,

  • Post a comment with your name for one entry.
  • Become a follower or subscriber of this blog for a second entry. Tell me you subscribed or followed in your comment. If you are already a follower or subscriber, tell me in your comment.
  • Post a blog entry on your blog about my giveaway (and comment to tell me that you posted) for a third entry.

I will close the giveaway on Sunday, April 26th at 11:59:59 pm, and will announce the winner in my Monday post.

For a few of my previous thoughts about "healthy green" check out these posts:

Happy Earth Day, Amy Ellen

Simple Changes -- Salad Tips

Raw vegetables are a crucial part of a healthy diet. They contain enzymes and phytonutrients that do not survive the cooking process. In our family, we try to include raw foods at each meal. For breakfast, we eat fresh fruit or fruit in our smoothie. For lunch, we eat apples, carrots and all kinds of other fresh, raw foods. For snacks, we eat raw seeds and (some) raw nuts.

Since I've started a "Simple Changes" topic, here's a simple, yet very nutritious change you can make... add a salad to your suppers! A salad is the quickest, easiest way to include fresh, raw vegetables on the supper table. But, making salad night after night can be tiresome. I've felt that way exactly... tired of making salad. Here are some tips that work for me:
  • Invest in a Salad Spinner! Wash an entire head of lettuce, then spin it dry. After using what you need for your supper salad, store the rest in the salad spinner. It will stay nice and fresh... and the next few nights you won't have to wash lettuce again!
  • Grate a whole pound of carrots in the food processor, and keep it to add to your salads throughout the week. Carrots keep for about five days in an air-tight storage container. Keeping them on hand means convenient salad additions without having to wash the food processor over and over.
  • Raw beets can also be chopped and stored in an airtight container for up to five days. You might be pleasantly surprised at the flavor of a raw beet versus a canned or overcooked beet.
  • Use frozen corn and peas in your salad. These are simple salad additions. I buy bags of organic frozen veggies. When I am making a salad, I put handful or two in a strainer and run them under warm water right before I toss them into my salad. They thaw quickly and do not need to be cooked.
  • Throw in a handful of raw sunflower or pumpkin seeds for crunch.

Unfortunately, some salad vegetables like tomatoes, bell peppers or cucumbers will need to be cut fresh, but having your lettuce and carrots ready will help considerably. Adding a supper salad is a simple way to add a significant amount of health to your day.

For more Works-For-Me Wednesday tips, check out

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

On Being Frugal and Budgeting

I have received several budget questions lately. Economizing is a high priority these days. Realistically, we have to balance our desire to be healthy with the resources we have available.

I don't know how I want to approach these questions yet. I hesitate to share my specifics... yet. I think it would be most appropriate to share some of the strategies that I use first.

Let me start by saying that I am no Budgetary Queen. We got through grad school with two children and no debt by God's grace and by this rule: "We don't have it, so we won't spend it." These days the accolades for budgeting in our family go to my brilliant husband who can shuffle numbers in his head so quickly it makes my head spin... and I was a math major in college!!! But I digress...

Here are a few thoughts to get this topic started:

Buy food in bulk or from co-ops. We buy our chickens, beef, milk, cheese, butter, grains, popcorn, nuts, seeds, dried fruits, beans, honey, oils and other baking items this way. Unfortunately, this will require larger sums of money up front. In order to make this possible, we have a separate bulk food budget. This way, a $300 meat order doesn't immobilize the grocery budget for the month. We set aside for the big bulk purchases. That being said, our grocery budget is smaller. I buy less at the store, so I have less allotted to spend there.

When you grocery shop, keep a lookout for Sales, Closeouts and Manager's Specials. Because natural foods have a shelf life, they are marked down more often than heavily processed foods. If possible, pair these specials with coupons for an even deeper discount. Here's an example of this. Last time I was at the store, I saw that the quarts of Organic Stonyfield Farm Yogurt were a week from their due dates. They were marked down to $2.19. I had coupons for $1.00 off each quart, so I bought a few for $1.19 each. I usually make yogurt at home, but this was even cheaper than I could make it! And I needed a new starter anyway...

Besides the extreme specials, stick to your meal plan and grocery list. It is very tempting to pick up a few extras each time you go to the store. These will add up dramatically. Just buy what you need. If you plan for snacks, you will not be as tempted to pick up the extras.
I say stick to your list, BUT, as mentioned above, always keep your eye open (and a margin in the budget) for amazing deals. I always meander through the natural foods, produce, and organic meat section looking for deals. If I notice a good price on something I know we will need, I will go ahead any buy up as much as possible. I do not do this with items we do not regularly eat. But, for example, when I saw organic apples for $1.49/pound, I bought 10 pounds. Apples keep for a long time and we eat them almost every day. Every time I went to the store for more than a month, I didn't have to buy apples at the higher price.

Plan a whole foods, budget meal night. (More on this in a future post.)

Make as much as possible from scratch. It seems that there is an organic equivalent for almost every boxed food on the market. These products may be preservative or chemical free, but they are often loaded with organic sugars. And they are not cheap! While sometimes, like tonight, convenience is necessary, organize your week so that you have the time to cook and bake. Doing so is healthier and cheaper... even though it requires diligence... which, I remind myself is a virtue to be highly sought after... so, I continue to remind myself, DON'T give up!

I have just scratched the surface here, but these are my top strategies for balancing health and a budget. As I turn this topic over in my mind, I will come back to this subject. Thanks for your comments!

Oh, and a note on last night's Black Bean and Sweet Potato Burritos. I was amazed. First, I was amazed at the flavor... this was GOOOOOD (and EASY) food! I used dried cilantro instead of fresh, and I used soaked beans instead of canned. But everything was perfect. Then, I was doubly surprised at how my children loved them... my children who don't like sweet potatoes :)

Monday, April 20, 2009

Rave Reviews

Have you ever gotten a gift that left you giddy? My sweet mother was here for the weekend, and she gave me an early birthday present. (My birthday isn't until June... she was thinking ahead!) She gave me a new cookbook... am I a nerd for getting giddy over a new cookbook?

This is all about possibilities. I almost can't see straight there are so many tasty possibilities ahead! You see, with most cookbooks I can only use about 20% of the recipes... and those few still have to be tweaked into "whole foods" recipes. It is rare for me to find a really useful cookbook... because, even when recipes include real foods, they are often rigorously time consuming or call for exotic and expensive ingredients.

Enter my present. My fabulous new cookbook. I mentioned it was coming out a while ago, and now that I have my hands on it... well, you get the picture. It's called What the Bible Says About Healthy Living Cookbook. I can't wait to try the Gyros recipe... wonderfully spicy meat without the preservatives. And the recipe looks very simple. There is also a peanut and coconut encrusted chicken recipe I'll be trying... and this is book going to enliven my baked fish!

Let me give you a little background information. I have blogged about the book What the Bible Says About Healthy Living before. This book was pivotal in shaping my earliest thoughts about health. Well, it took me from a complete ignoramus to knowing enough to significantly change my health. If you are looking for a book that lays foundational, easy-to-understand nutritional principles, make sure to read this book.

The cookbook is based on the principles laid out in the book. So, for those of you who already know the whys and hows of whole foods, you will thoroughly enjoy the simple, yet exciting AND nourishing, recipes in the cookbook. For those of you who are looking for a good primer on health, I suggest getting both the book and the cookbook... so that you can do something with what you learn, of course.

And, while I'm giving reviews, I would like to make a third recommendation. This is a cookbook and a textbook all rolled into one cover. If the first two books in this post are Health 101 and your Lab Class, Nourishing Traditions is Health 201. It is loaded with helpful, challenging nutritional knowledge. However, even though it is a cookbook with real ingredients, I have only been able to use about 30% of the recipes... due to the time factor and the exotic, expensive ingredient factor. That would be the only drawback... It is very much worth the read. And the recipes I use from this book are fabulously nutritious and tasty.

I will be cooking from What the Bible Says About Healthy Living Cookbook as much as possible over the next weeks. I'll let you know how the Black Bean and Sweet Potato Burritos turn out... and whether the children like them too.

Friday, April 17, 2009

A Day in the Life

The Family Meal by Bernardus Johannes Blommers
The Family Meal

I am looking forward to writing this post. I have had it in my head for a while, but have been waiting for the right time. Today is the day. You see, on this Friday afternoon, after the week I've had, there is simply no way I can even begin to write something even quasi-intellectual. Today I will write about what we eat in a normal day.

Breakfasts usually consist of a combination of the following foods: smoothies, yogurt, fresh fruit, granola, eggs, toast and real milk. We also have pumpkin bread, banana bread or some kind of muffins, but not as often as the children would like. More times than not, we have smoothies with granola sprinkled in and a boiled egg on the side. I make sure to give my children protein EVERY morning. It's good for their growing bodies and their budding brains. While the children eat an egg on most days, I have a protein shake. On the weekends, I try to make special things like waffles, pancakes or omelets.

Lunch has to be simple in our house. There is so much going on in the day, we have to basically do lunch without thinking. We alternate between cheese toast or sandwiches and peanut butter sandwiches. I try to keep homemade bread on hand, but we will eat whole wheat pitas if we need to. We fill out the rest of the meal with fresh fruit and vegetables. Apples, oranges, carrots, celery, bell peppers, cucumbers, sugar snap peas... every simple fresh food. I try to keep these things washed and ready in the fridge so that Rainbow or Witzy can easily put them out for everyone. I usually make the sandwiches while I make breakfast, so often I can have one of the girls put out lunch entirely on their own, while Spiderman serenades us on the piano. If the children are unusually hungry, we have popcorn, nuts and raisins or non-GMO corn chips (occasionally). This fare is so simple, if we are on the run, we can just eat it in the car.

On weekends, I try to make something different for lunch. We eat quesedillas, grilled cheese and homemade tomato soup, veggie and hummus stuffed pitas, salmon salad, something fresh and yummy.

Supper. I like simple. I like quick. But healthy isn't always simple and quick. It is nice to have a stash of recipes that are healthy, simple and quick. The rest of the time, my strategy is to have a plan and be diligent to follow through with the plan, even if I'm worn out come supper-making time. (Remember Phil. 4:13. I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me.) Here's my plan:

Monday - Cook a crock pot chicken. Serve the chicken with lots of vegetables and a Frugal Meal Extender. Save the stock for another supper and half of the chicken pulled off the bone for another supper too.

Tuesday - Tuesday is a busy day, full of activities. On Tuesdays I make something quick with a salad. Homemade Pizza. Salmon Broccoli Pasta. Baked Fish. Quiche. My version of Fried Rice.

Wednesday - Wednesday is our Frugal Food Night. I will be posting about this in the near future. This night is usually Beans and Rice, Black Bean Soup, Beans and Cornbread or some variation on these incredibly frugal whole foods.

Thursday - I use the second half of the chicken to make something that will last for two meals. I guess the key to making 1/2 a chicken stretch is to double all the vegetable ingredients.

Friday - On Fridays I usually make something with beef (or lamb or bison). We really like Pakistani Kima, from the More With Less cookbook. I also make Sally Fallon's meatloaf or chili, taco skillet, burritos, or when my children beg enough, a whole food version of "Hamburger Helper."

Weekends - Leftovers. I purposefully cook enough during the week so that I can take a cooking break on the weekends.

I am always on the lookout for new meal ideas. If something strikes my fancy, I'll see if I can tweak the recipe to make it fit our diet choices. So, even though I have this "outline" I am not tied to it! I do make a meal plan every week and shop with my list in hand. This way, I have everything I need for all the meals. And, since we keep a lot of fresh produce, I can't skip cooking or the food would go to waste!

Another weekly event is a baking night... or so I try. I usually make a 1/2 gallon of yogurt on Monday or Tuesday morning. Then, usually on Wednesday night, I will bake breads, muffins, power bars, granola, tortillas or other goods. Knowing this night is coming, I can set things out to soak and I can make sure to have all the ingredients I will need. I do not bake everything each week. The strategy is to make 2-3 batches of each item when I make them. This way I am only baking 2 or 3 things per baking night. That seems to keep things manageable for me (and my girls!).

I hope you have enjoyed this mindless post as much as I have enjoyed writing it! Please comment to share what meal strategies save you time and keep you cooking healthy foods.

Photo Credit:

Thursday, April 16, 2009

How Do I Know If I Need a Multi-Vitamin

I used to think a good diet was enough. For several years, I thought our family could get all of the vitamins and minerals we needed from food alone. We ate an even more stellar diet than we eat now, but it still wasn't enough. If you haven't yet, you can read my story here.

Diet is very important. Supplements are just that -- supplementary to a good diet. I can see my family benefiting from the vitamins we take. What about you? Do you need a multi-vitamin? Good question. From my observations, I rarely meet someone who is getting all the necessary nutrients from today's depleted food sources. Here are a few questions that might help you find the answer to that question:

  • Are you like nine out of ten Americans who don't eat the recommended five-a-day of fruits and vegetables?
  • Have you been pregnant or nursing in the last year and a half? If so, your body is still rebuilding!
  • Do you eat convenience or fast foods because there isn't enough time to use all whole foods?
  • Do you eat any "artificial" foods because they are low in fat, reduced calorie or just plain cheap?
  • Do you purchase conventional foods because organics are too expensive? Keep in mind that organic foods contain 4-40% more nutrients than conventional foods.
  • Do you eat any white flour or white sugar products?
If you answered "Yes" to any of these questions, you might benefit from a high-quality nutritional supplement. (I have to say "might" because I am not a health professional... nor do I pretend to be one online :) )

For my previous thoughts on supplements take a look at these posts:

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Simple Changes

As I talk with friends and acquaintances about health, I often hear discouragement and a sense of defeat. There is so much information! So much to know! While there are some big, important steps that require commitment and even lifestyle-change, I'd like to share a few that are more simple. If you make enough simple changes, they will add up to better health.

It is my intention to make "Simple Changes" a frequent topic. For those of you who already practise these things, keep up your effort! For those of you who are newly embarking on your health journey, commit to these small efforts. In time, you will be able to amazedly look back on how far you have come... and how far you have brought your family as well.

I have dozens of these simple changes in my head right now, but I am going to limit myself to sharing just three today. If I shared them all at once, it wouldn't seem very simple, would it?

The first simple change that comes to mind is to buy Natural Peanut Butter. Skip the Skippy. Pass on the added sugar and hydrogenated oils. Read the labels and select a peanut butter that is as basic as peanuts and salt. Some brands add extra peanut oil. We use the Kroger brand. Since we know we eat it frequently, we buy A LOT when it goes on sale. The sale prices are actually better than any bulk prices I have found. If you have the means, you could even go for Organic... but make sure to read the label because several organic brands add in organic sugar!

As you make the commitment never to bring home unhealthy peanut butter, decide to bring home healthy jam as well. There are several brands of jams and jellies that contain only fruit and fruit juice concentrates. When we eat jam, or when I use marmalade in cooking, we use brands that do not add extra sugar or preservatives. Really, fruit is plenty sweet as it is! Most often, we eat our peanut butter with honey since it is more cost effective. (A growing family has to be frugal!) But, we really enjoy fruit spreads as well. Again, if you have the means, organic is even better.

Third, and last for today, find a healthy substitute for white pasta. There are several whole grain pastas available in markets these days. You could opt for whole wheat pasta, but I would recommend eating it in moderation since unsoaked whole wheat can cause digestive trouble. There are also rice, kamut and other grain blend choices. If your children are still getting used to whole foods, you might want to select a half white, half wheat variety for a time. I find that organic pastas are often on sale for as cheap or cheaper than other brands. If you know you will be buying it, you can stock up while you can save money. Or, if you prefer to limit carbs, we often bake a spaghetti squash and use the strands in place of pasta. This is one of the very few ways my children enjoy squash!

I look forward to posting some more "Simple Changes." I like simple. There is so much else going on in our lives... healthy needs to be as simple as possible! Do you have simple change ideas? Please comment to share them with us all!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Totals Are In!

Congratulations to Noel of Bloom Where You're Planted! As my most frequent commenter, she has just won a collection of three new flavors of SoBe Life Water Beverages. Noel, thank you for your loyalty!

My thoughts after sampling: These drinks are actually pretty decent. They are sweetened with Stevia and taste pretty good as well. Moderation is the key though... any sweetened beverages should be consumed in moderation.

Note: I posted this right before bed. As soon as I was still enough to think, I remembered one more thing. The two very close runners up in this race, who deserve a big thank you as well, are Martha of Fly Away Birdie and Teresa of Life, Homesteading and Everything. Thank you for your enjoyable additions to this blog!

Another fun note: I have an Earth Day giveaway up my sleeve... so stay tuned!

Meal Planning and Frugal Meal Extenders

Meal planning is an endless pursuit. A mother cannot "wing it" if she wants to provide consistently healthy meals for her family. I'm all for "winging it" at times, but those meals are exceptions. I encourage you to plans meals and stick to your plan. Being deliberate is the best way to consistently nourish our families.

I'd like to share a few thoughts about meal planning today. When I start to think up a meal, I begin with a high quality protein. Our children's growing bodies need lots of good protein (and we adults do too!). Protein does not always have to be meat, but each meal must have a combination of animal and vegetable proteins so that our children consume sufficient "growing material." In our house, we eat meat, poultry or fish about three or four days a week. The other days are vegetarian proteins.

Once I have selected a protein, I choose vegetables. Usually, this choice is easy for me since I have to use things from my produce box before they spoil. I can't skip the veggies. But, even if you don't have your vegetables selected for you, take the time to plan for a variety of vegetables and colors. The more the better!

With protein and vegetables selected, I usually add a "Frugal Meal Extender." Are your kids perpetually hungry? Mine are! Spiderman will ask for more food before he is finished with what he has! Active kids have huge caloric needs. After I provide for their protein, vitamin and mineral content, I look for cheap, but healthy, filler food. In our family, this could be brown rice, potatoes or homemade breads. I do try to make this additional part of our meal wheat-free since we usually eat wheat at lunch.

Potatoes by David Davis

All things considered, these "Frugal Meal Extenders" are most often starches. While some adults with weight loss intentions may be avoiding starches, they are an important part of a growing child's diet... as long as they are not refined starches. Conveniently, these fillers are the most frugal part of our diet. Without rice and potatoes, I don't think we would be able to keep our children satisfied within our budget!

I would love to hear your ideas for "Frugal Meal Extenders." Please comment to share with all of us!

Also, if you read my posts in a feed, you may be missing my "What's Cooking" sidebar. Monday through Friday, I post what I'm cooking for supper... and sometimes extras. I also keep an archive under the "What's Cooking" label. This may give you ideas for your meal planning.

Photo Credit:

Monday, April 13, 2009

Who Am I?

The most bizarre thing happened to me over our Spring Break. Well, I'm sure there are weirder things, but this was really amazing to me. Someone who found my blog using a search engine emailed me a question. Long story short, I found out that she lives just around the corner from me. Imagine that!

A cyberspace friend turning out to be a real-life neighbor sent my mind swirling. Who am I? Does what I write on this blog accurately represent who I am? If someone met me in real-life, would they recognize me as the same person who authors this blog?

Who am I? I am an introvert relying on the grace and strength of the Lord to be used as an encouragement in other women's lives. If you saw me at a library storytime, I would smile at you and your children. It would take several storytimes for me to strike up a conversation... unless you did first, in which case I would probably seem pretty friendly while inside I would be praying earnestly for words.

I'm glad to be back into the blogging world this week. My prayer is that you find encouragement here at Health Begins With Mom. I hope to reply to some of your questions this week, post a great recipe and start a new topic called "Simple Changes." I'm excited about this one. I know that "healthy" can seem so daunting... like climbing Mount Everest. While some health changes I write about are big (like baking homemade bread or cutting out boxed cereal), I want to share some simple changes too... small things that add up to big results.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

A Letter to My Readers

Hi! It's me again. I'm not really here though. I am still going low-tech. But I was thinking that you might benefit from an encouraging word this week. So I wanted to send you this thought:

Being healthy isn't always the most convenient thing. It isn't always the quickest thing. But, it is worth the extra effort. Giving your children the gift of health will reap rewards far into the future!

I was just starting my blog when I posted about this very eye-opening experiment. You've really gotta try it. And, when you do, please come back and share your results. I really want to hear! Click here to read about the What's In Your Vitamins test.
Keep on keeping on!
Be back next Monday,
Amy Ellen

Monday, April 6, 2009

Low-Tech Week

My dearest readers,

This week is Spring Break for our family. It could also be called a "low-tech" week since my husband and I will be offline. We will be using the break for family activities and projects... lots of joyful time with our dear children.

For those of you who have been reading my posts since I started last Thanksgiving, I truly appreciate your constant support. Your comments and emails encourage me so much!

For those of you who are new to my blog, I am posting a few favorites you can read while I am low-tech-ing it this week:

Also, if you have not yet read my "Wondering Where to Start" posts, check out the list at the top left of this page.

Off to cure my spring fever... peace and joy,
Amy Ellen

Friday, April 3, 2009

You Can Make Bread in 5 Minutes Too!

I am so eager to share this recipe with you! I have been baking our family's bread for nearly ten years now. In that time, I've tried a lot of different methods and recipes, including a few "soaked" and sourdough breads. (What is soaking grains?)

I can usually get a really nice, sliceable loaf of 100% whole wheat bread by using normal bread making procedures. However, I want to make a soaked loaf for its health benefits. I have had trouble with soaked breads crumbling before I can make them into a sandwich. Or, they crumble as you lift them to your mouth. In addition to sliceability, I also need a method that is quick. I'm here to tell you... making enough bread for my family takes a lot of time. Figuring on 8-10 sandwiches a day, that's 6 loaves a week! (My husband and Spiderman always eat two; Rainbow and I usually have one and a half... then the little girls... it adds up.)

I have been searching for a way to make enough sliceable, soaked bread for my hungry family WITHOUT bread baking commandeering my life. You can imagine my excitement with Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. Really, it took me 30 minutes over a 48-hour time frame to make four loaves of bread and rolls. It would take considerably less time if I wasn't grinding my own grain. I didn't believe the title at first, but after making the quick master recipe, this bread REALLY only takes 5 minutes.

One more thing before I get to the recipe. The book includes an abundance of really helpful information and a multiplicity of tempting variations. Being the practical-mind that I am, I've just zeroed in on the bread we will eat on a daily basis. I highly recommend purchasing this book both for the troubleshooting help and for the extra recipes. Personally, I am looking forward to trying out the bagels and pretzels!

For six loaves of 100% Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread, you'll need the following ingredients. You can cut this in half if you only want three, but bread freezes well, so why not six?

  • 3 cups of lukewarm water
  • 3 cups of lukewarm milk
  • 3 Tbsp. yeast
  • 2 Tbsp. plus 2 tsp. salt
  • 1 cup of honey
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp. EVOO (that's extra virgin olive oil)
  • 13 1/3 cups of whole wheat flour. Because my flour is freshly ground and not yet settled, I have had to increase this to 14 cups.

First, you are going to make your master recipe. In the following pictures, I used my mixer to combine the ingredients. Honestly, I probably won't use it again. There is no kneading to do, and the dough is really wet. So, it is more simple to combine the ingredients with a wooden spoon in the bucket I will use for storing the master dough. It is easy to mix by hand and then I won't have to wash all the parts of my mixer!

To make the master recipe, mix the milk, water, yeast, salt, honey and oil in a 5-quart container (or the larger container you will store your dough in). If you don't have a mixer this big, don't worry because like I said, it's really easy to combine by hand.

Once the first 6 ingredients are combined, mix in the flour. Don't knead. Just stir until the dry ingredients have been thoroughly incorporated. The dough will be very wet. If you have experience in breadmaking, you will be tempted to add more flour. But don't. According to the book, a stiff dough prevents rising whereas a wet dough allows the yeast to create nice air pockets. And again, the book stresses: "Do not knead." Here is my mixer doing the job:

Once the dough mixture is all wet, you're done. Making the master recipe is that simple. Grinding my wheat took about 15 minutes. Measuring and combining the ingredients took about 5 minutes.

The next step is letting the dough rest. Cover, but not airtight, in a large container and allow to rest at room temperature for two to three hours. Here is my bucket... the book gives suppliers for nice containers made especially for dough storage, but I am just using a three-gallon bucket with the lid placed on top but not closed tightly. A five-gallon bucket might have done fine, but would be hard to put in the fridge. You'll see in these next two pictures that you need to have plenty of room for expansion!

You will know that the initial resting is done when the dough rises to a round top and then flattens again... like it popped. Here, it is still rounding up. It flattened just near the top of my bucket, which was covered until I snapped this picture.

After this initial rise, transfer your container to the fridge and let the dough soak for 24 hours to 14 days. It has been our experience that the dough gets more and more sour the longer you keep it. Because we like slightly sour bread, I use my master dough within 48 hours. But, it will keep for two weeks.

Once you are ready to bake your loaves (or loaf if you want to spend five minutes for a fresh loaf every day), spray your bread pans with EVOO cooking spray. Then, pull off a cantaloupe sized ball of dough. This is the only tricky part... you want to make a "gluten cloak". It's like your covering the dough ball with a layer of stretched dough. The dough will be pretty sticky, so use wet hands. To make the gluten cloak, "quickly shape it into a ball by stretching the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all four sides, rotating the ball a quarter turn as you go." Did you get that? I stretch the top layer of dough to underneath the ball, turn it a quarter turn, stretch the dough to the underside again, turn, stretch, turn and stretch to the bottom one last time. That is all the shaping you do. I couldn't take pictures of me in action here, but the picture below shows that the top is a smooth layer of stretched dough... and the underneath is not a pretty sight.

Leave the loaves uncovered to rise for one hour and forty minutes. They will not double in bulk as other breads do. You'll see below that mine have only risen slightly, but the bread still turned out considerably springy for a whole wheat sourdough loaf. The book says to slash the tops of each loaf with a knife. I have had no success with this. This time around, I only slashed half and I found that it made no difference in the end.

5 minutes before the dough is finished rising, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. When the rising time is up, place the loaves in the oven (before temperature is reached) and bake for one hour. If you desire a crispy crust, place a shallow pan in the oven when you preheat it. Then, pour a cup of water into the pan immediately after you put your loaves in the oven and close the oven door quickly. My children like a soft crust, so I skip this step.

These rolls were perfectly delicious right out of the oven. The loaves need to cool completely before slicing so they hold together when cut thinly. Here are our rolls... YUM-O!

And here are the four loaves of bread... I am still working on tearing off that cantaloupe sized ball uniformly! You can see that my loaves are not all the same size.

After you try this recipe, please come back to post your comments and thoughts. If you have a question about the process, I'll answer it as far as I'm able. Or, if you learn other tips, please share them with us! Like I said, this book is very helpful. While I've tried to provide you with a reliable, healthy bread you can conveniently make for your family, there are so many more "company breads" worth trying out too!

OOOh... and definitely try making cheese toast with this bread. Very tasty!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

What's Cooking -- April

Here are the "What's Cooking" archives for the month of April. I'll keep adding to the list as I update the column.

April 30th:
Tonight I am making the Chicken Pot Pie recipe from my new cookbook. It looks totally wonderful. It has a whole grain biscuit topping that looks pretty good too. The only thing I will have to change is the vegetables. Since I have lots of greens, I plan on adding some along with onions, carrots, beans and corn.

Side dish? That is the question. Salad again? I think so. Good thing we like salad!

April 29th:
After a long afternoon in the kitchen yesterday (power bars, Love Muffins, dinner, pulling meat off the chicken, then CLEAN UP), I am thankful for a simple night tonight.

We are having Black Bean Soup with a Garden Salad. How simple is that?

April 28th:
This morning I put a chicken in the crock pot. Tonight I will prepare some potatoes for a side dish... my kids love potatoes and they seem to fill the children's bottomless hunger. Then, I have an abundance of vegetables to choose from. I think with the weather being so warm, I would just like a salad... with my chicken on top.

This afternoon I also have to make power bars. If I get totally ambitious, I will try to make some Love Muffins too. If I do, I'll take pictures and post about this wheat-free muffin recipe.

April 27th:
I have got 1/2 a gallon of yogurt culturing... that is, I have warmed the milk and added the culture and the milk is now curdling.

Tonight I am picking up a produce box for me and four neighbors, so I will be serving leftovers once again. (Good thing I cook extra!)

Saturday night, I made a chicken and vegetable dish. Then, for my in-laws last night, I made a tortellini salad with asparagus. We will have both of those for supper tonight.

April 24th:
It is just me and the girls tonight so I am serving the leftovers from Witzy's birthday... right down to the leftover Raspberry Tart!

April 23rd:
I am making a recipe from my new cookbook tonight! We will be having Pecan and Coconut Encrusted Chicken with Kale, Carrots and Oven Roasted Potatoes.

April 22nd:
Today is Witzy's birthday. She has chosen to have homemade Macaroni and Cheese with steamed broccoli and a Raspberry Tart for dessert.

April 21st:
I will have a very busy afternoon today. I'm sure you've been there too. Days like today offer very little time for cooking. I try to plan ahead for these days.

This time around, I have something stored in the freezer for just such a day as this. I found some organic sprouted grain crust frozen pizzas for 70% off at Kroger the other day. They were marked down for closeout. I guess not that many people want a sprouted grain crust. One is chicken and feta, the other is tomato and basil. YAY... for affordable yet healthy freezer food!

We will have a large garden salad on the side too.

April 20th:
Do I dare??? My mother gave me a wonderful cookbook yesterday (more on this in my post), and I simply can't wait to try out some of the recipes! I'm not going to make the usual Monday Crock-Pot Chicken... the very Monday after I posted my cooking routines! I am itching to try something new.

I am thinking of making Black Bean and Sweet Potato Burritos. The "Do I Dare" question arises because my children dislike sweet potatoes every way except Sweet Potato Fries or Sweet Potato Muffins. Would they like these burritos? Do I dare try this recipe out? It sounds good to me... but.

I have all the ingredients, so I'll give it a go... and I'll make a side dish that they just love.

I will also go ahead and cook all the sweet potatoes I have at the same time. On Baking Day, I will make Sweet Potato Muffins.

April 17th:
Tonight is our 10th Wedding Anniversary! I am making the not-so-frugal, but greatly-loved Chicken Parmesan. Most of the chicken we eat is meat from a whole chicken, but I found some Organic Chicken Breasts on BIG SALE at the grocery store. We will have a garden salad as well.

For dessert, which we have on special occasions such as today, the kids and I have made a Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cheesecake! YUM-O. The good thing about peanut butter cheesecakes is that they are already brown, so using a natural sweetener doesn't change the appearance.

April 16th:
Unfortunately, we are down to the very last selections of meat from our freezer. I am still looking for a good source for grass-fed beef.

Since I can't waste good food, even if I don't prefer it, we will be having venison tonight. I am going to use it in Black Bean and Vegetable Chili. Hopefully, all the flavors will mask the gamey taste. Tonight I will add mushrooms, onions, zucchini and chard to the chili. Yes, my children will eat greens in their chili. I chop everything very small.

I still have lots of salad vegetables from my produce box, so Rainbow will make a salad for us to have on the side.

April 15th:
As it is Wednesday, we will be having beans and rice tonight. I know... it doesn't seem too exciting, but the children gladly eat it... and we save a lot of money on this Frugal Night!

April 14th:
I am baking Salmon tonight. Since the green beens looked the neediest in my produce box, we will have them tonight too. I also will be serving Carrot and Beet Salad and more oven-roasted potatoes. The kids can't get enough of them!

April 13th:
For yesterday's Easter Luncheon, we had Roast Lamb with Oven Roasted Potatoes, Carrot and Beet Salad and Sugar Snap Peas.

Tonight I will be turning the leftover lamb into a skillet stew to serve with steamed brown rice. It is such a rainy day here, so stew seems like the comfort food we will all appreciate.

April 4-12:
Since this is our Spring Break week, I won't be cooking according to my normal routine. We even get to go out a few times! The meals I will prepare here at home will be as simple as possible, yet still made with whole foods. Here are some of my ideas for next week:

  • Preservative-Free Hot Dogs with Homemade French Fries (my kids LOVE this treat!)
  • Layered Dip (Taco-seasoned Beef, Beans, Guacamole, Lettuce, Tomatoes, Bell Peppers, Olives, Cheese) with Non-GMO corn chips
  • Spaghetti with Meat Sauce and Salad
  • Breakfast Burritos
  • Salmon Broccoli Pasta

April 3rd:
Today is my husband's birthday! He is truly an amazing man. My children are privileged to have such a loving father. And I am beyond blessed to have such an understanding husband.

We are baking a Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Pound Cake for this celebratory occasion. I will make some healthier alterations to the recipe, but it will be a special treat for us... with Breyer's Chocolate Chip ice cream on the side.

And, tonight --- we are going out for supper! YAY! I don't know whether going out is more special for my husband or for me... looking forward to a no cleanup evening.

April 2nd:
Tonight we are having "Taco Skillet" from a recipe I saw in an ad for Campbell's Tomato Soup. I don't use a can of soup. I've tweaked it so that I can make it without any processed foods. It is a family favorite... and really simple on nights when I've got late afternoon engagements.

We will have a large garden salad on the side too.

April 1st:
The challenge tonight is coming up with supper using only produce and pantry items. I have the goods from my box on Monday, but I haven't been to the grocery store for quite a while. I may be able to fit it in tonight, but not before supper.

So, I think we will be using some homemade chicken stock to make a vegetable and rice soup. If I get my act together before Ballet this afternoon, we should have "5 Minute Artisan Rolls" for dipping.

Papa's Power Bars

If you are looking for a seriously nutritious snack... the kind of snack that gets you through a tough afternoon with enough energy for the evening too... then this is the right recipe for you.

I developed this recipe as a solution to my husband's need for a high-protein, low-glycemic, energy-enhancing, tasty-snack. It is not a frugal food, although compared to store bought energy bars, it is cheaper and contains more protein per serving. The children and I often eat a more frugal version of this recipe (Peanut Butter Power Pops... recipe coming soon), but we consider it a great treat to eat some of these bars... they are very delicious.

Since we often call my husband Papa, we named the bars "Papa's Power Bars." We wrap them individually so he can take one with him each day. We used to label each with an encouraging scripture as well. (We need to get back into that habit.) Witzy helps me wrap each of these, and she does it with extreme love and devotion. Maybe the love gets sealed in there too!

These bars have about 18 grams of protein and cost about $1.25 per bar. This amount of protein is unmatched, and the cost greatly depends on whether you purchase the ingredients in bulk. Here is the recipe for 16 bars:
This is really simple. Get ready. Mix the first five dry ingredients together. Melt the oil and peanut butter in a saucepan. Add the stevia and vanilla. Stir the wet mixture into the dry mixture. Spread in a 9x13 pan. Refrigerate until set. Slice into 16 bars.

Ideally, you want to store these in a non-plastic container in the fridge. If you are eating them on the go, you'll want to wrap them individually as we do.

Note: These must be stored in the fridge. They get messy when they melt.

Okay, so this recipe sounds really easy... but it took a lot of trial and error to come up with a recipe that would meet my requirements, hold together and taste GOOD. I hope you enjoy it!