Archive for the ‘cooking’ Category

I have been wanting to make changes to how we are eating as a family for a while now.  For a long time, we were eating a nearly vegan diet, but life happens and we got off track.  In part, we had family members living with us while they worked to get settled here after moving from another state.  Then, my meat loving husband came home from the road and got a local job.  Soon, life became busy and I found it easier to just go back to the processed foods we gave up before.

Fast forward to today, I am not happy with my weight.  Nor am I happy with the way we are eating.  Thankfully, my husband is completely on board with me changing our diet back to a mostly vegetarian one.  The exception being that about once or twice a week, we might have some fish or other lean meat like grass fed beef.

With the way we had been eating, the kids were wanting to snack a lot.  Not because they didn’t have a good meal, but simply because we only ate the basic 3 meals a day.  With an average of 5-6 hours between meals, the kids got hungry.  This led to unhealthy snacking habits.  Instead of just wanting a little something to hold them over until the next meal, they would eat a much larger amount.  With the vegetarian diet, we eat 5-6 times a day.  It ends up with eating a small meal or healthy snack every three hours.  This allows us, including the kids, to not feel hungry from one meal to the next.  By having the meals and snacks scheduled, we have far less snacking issues.  They know that a snack or another small meal is coming, so are not fussing for anything.

One of the keys to making this work is that I am planning out all meals, including snacks for each day.  I am making healthy snacks to replace any unhealthy choices.  Where before the kids had a pantry shelf that contained a few snack options, they will now only have the one snack planned for that time.  This alone will help us out a lot.  Pookie is a kid who loves to graze between meals.  He goes into the pantry room and searches out something that he wants to eat.  It is frustrating at times.  Since the entry to that pantry doesn’t have a door, I sometimes want to buy a baby gate just for the pantry’s entryway.  I have raised older children and never had one who loves to eat the way Pookie does.  Think a teenage boy in a 6 year old body.  Funny thing is, he and Little Miss are thin like their Daddy’s side of the family.  I know that unless I can teach the kids to eat healthy now, there is a chance that the eating will become a problem later in life.

So, I started checking around.  Pookie is a carb fiend. He loves them.  Doesn’t matter what it is, bread or potato, he loves them.  I decided that the best choice that will fit the entire family is to do carb cycling.  We will be alternating between a day of having low/no carbs and a day of moderate/high carbs.  With this in our meal plan, along with eating smaller meals more often each day, it is a great way of eating for all of us.  The more frequent, smaller meal is something that is often recommended to those who are diabetic.  It keeps their blood sugar levels more consistent.  Both of my mother’s parents were diabetic, so that is always going to be a concern to watch out for.  With me wanting to lose some weight, the meals/snacks will help keep my metabolism at a good rate as well.  The one part that will take more effort for me is the high protein portion of the eating plan.  Some days, I will be using quinoa as a protein source.  On low carb days, I will be making a low carb protein bar, protein shake, or eggs to provide the protein that day.  The kids love the protein balls that I make using peanut butter.  I will be making a batch of those soon as well.

Something funny that happened with the kids today was that Little Miss was eating a chunk of lettuce as I was putting together our salads for lunch.  Pookie started following her around the room as though she were the Pied Piper and gesturing to her to give him a bite of the lettuce.  Such a good indicator that the kids will enjoy this new way of eating.  On a different note, I have been thinking about all the belly issues that kids like Pookie often have.  In blogs and autism related websites, I often read that kids with gluten issues will often crave them.  Pookie has never been diagnosed as having gluten intolerance or other problems by a doctor.  I have often noticed that he becomes very gassy when he eats too many carbs that are gluten based.  Too many is a relative term.  For him, it means that he can get gassy just from eating a plate of spaghetti.  I tested my theory once by making him spaghetti squash with the exact same spaghetti sauce as I typically use.  On that day, he did not get gassy.  Yet, when I made spaghetti with pasta, he did get a gassy belly.  For that reason, I think that the carb cycling will benefit him as well.  When he does get carbs, they will primarily be from sources that do not include gluten based flour or grains. If this helps him with his belly, then that is just one more plus to the decision.

I have been looking on Pinterest for healthy snack and lunch ideas.  The Bento lunches are a great idea for our meal plan.  You can always find ideas that use foods other than a sandwich.  I love how versatile the ideas are.  A Bento with rice can be made with quinoa or brown rice in place of the more starchy option of white rice.  Sure, you may not be able to make the cute shapes with it, but it is much healthier.

The best part is that you can get your kids involved.  At the store, give them some healthy options and let them choose what snacks sound good to them.  Once home, allow them to help measure out and pack the snacks into their baggies or containers.  Getting kids involved will help them to be less picky about eating the healthier snacks.

One idea that keeps popping up for me is to get some small serving size containers and fill them with fresh fruit or other snack item.  These can be stored in the refrigerator or on the pantry shelf, depending on the item.  Preparing the snacks ahead of time can be as simple as getting a box of the snack size baggies and filling them,  A snack size baggie will hold about 1/2 cup of food.  This is a typical serving size.  If what you are preparing has a 1 cup serving size, just use the sandwich baggies.  Here is a partial list of what we can put into our snack size baggies.

Trail mix
Homemade granola bar
Grapes or berries
Cut up fresh fruit such as a melon
Homemade Gorp
Pretzels (gluten free)
Homemade baked corn chips
bite size pieces of cheese
veggie crisps (see recipe below)

Homemade Veggie Crisps

These are one of our favorite snacks of all time. The instructions for the various vegetables are very similar. Just start checking them after 1 1/2 hours to test to see if they are crisp enough for your tastes.  This is a basic recipes that I have seen on so many websites that it is hard to know who originated the recipe.

Bag of frozen green beans, thawed and dry
Olive Oil
Sea salt

Toss the green beans in a bowl with just enough olive oil to coat them. Spread the green beans onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt.

Place the baking sheet into a preheated 225*F oven. Bake until crisp, about 4 hours.

For veggies like very thinly sliced zucchini, sweet potatoes, carrots, and beets, sprinkle the sliced veggies with a very small amount of salt to draw out any water (carrots won’t need this step). Let set for 10-15 minutes. Blot off the water and place the veggies onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Lightly brush the veggies with olive oil. If using seasoning, add it sparingly. They won’t need salt since you already salted them in the earlier step. Just remember that dried vegetables will shrink, which will intensify the flavor of the seasoning. Place into preheated oven and let bake about 2 hours or until as crisp as you want them.


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I love to pre-plan my monthly menus. I find that this not only makes life easier for me on a daily basis, but it is a huge help in my food costs each month. One area that I always seem to forget is planning out our lunches. Each week, lunchtime is a meal that we just grab something from the pantry. Rarely have I planned ahead. I am making changes to that though.

On Pinterest, I have become hooked at searching the kids’ Bento lunch ideas. Have you seen these cute meals that some parents put together? They are absolutely adorable! Now, our 8 year old daughter is giving all the expected girlie responses to the pictures. Our son, not so much. The basic ideas though are great.

I went to Dollar Tree and found some 3-sectioned round plates with lids in their food storage container aisle. These are as large as a standard dinner plate and about 1 1/4” deep. I ended up buying 5 of them with plans to buy 5 more next time I am at the store. All I will need to make these a perfect option for packed lunches on our outings is to buy an insulated food bag like those found in grocery stores.

I designed a planner form to use for pre-planning the lunches. I based the design upon the layout of the sectioned plates I purchased. I added an extra space in the largest section where an optional 3rd side dish or other item can be placed. The plate chart looks like this:

The first form that I made is a simple one that is pretty generic for any Bento style container with 4 sections total. The form gives you ample room to record lunch ideas 5 days which include a main dish plus up to 3 sides. The second form is more of a chart with the plate graphic for each weekday. You can fill in the plates with the items you will be packing. The bottom portion of both forms includes a shopping list for recording what you will need for each week’s lunches.

I love the idea of having the written planner for the lunches. Each week, I will be able to have a set plan that I can work from throughout the week. Even though we homeschool, I can still prepare the lunches the night before and have them ready to go the next day. When we have an outing, these pack and go lunches will be a huge benefit. We can continue to eat vegetarian foods in spite of a lack of vegetarian choices at the venues we go to. The packed lunches will also be healthier and cost less than eating out at a fast food or other restaurant.

Just as with my weekly dinner menus, I will save the menus that I put together. This gives me a ready supply of ideas. Typically, when I use my weekly dinner plan sheets, I have a selection of 8 different weekly menus. When I plan m monthly grocery shopping, I choose 4 of the weekly menus and that will give me a month’s worth of meals. Each planner sheet contains a grocery list for that specific week’s menu. Having the lunch planner will make the shopping for lunches a lot easier. Just as with the dinner plans, I can see at a glance what groceries will be needed. When making out my shopping list, I combine the grocery lists from each planner form onto a single grocery list.

You can download a free copy of the Lunch Menu Planner for your own use. I ask that you do not repost the link to the download to your blog or try to pass off my forms as your own. Please refer people back to this blog post to access the download if you want to share it.

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Over the past few months, Pookie has been having more trouble with a gassy stomach.  We had already cut dairy from our family’s diet due to 3 out of 4 of is being lactose intolerant.  Now, we are looking towards doing a trial period of eating a gluten-free diet.  The hope being that it will ease Pookie’s stomach.

Only problem is that gluten-free breads that I have tasted in the past are like trying to eat styrofoam. No flavor and the texture is not very good. 

So many gluten-free cookbooks have bread recipes but the flour mixes are what makes or breaks the finished product.  I am hoping to find a bread or recipe that makes a loaf similar in texture to a loaf of bread made with wheat flour.

Anyone have a favorite gluten-free bread recipe, flour mixture recipe, or store bought flour mix?

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Homemade Play Dough

It is that time again. Thinking about little gifts to make for kids. Nearly every child I know likes play dough. I have had requests to post the recipe that we use. Here is the recipe. All ingredients are easily found in the kitchen pantry. The finished product smells just like the store bought. Note: you can scent and color this by adding a packet of kool aid but I wouldn’t recommend it if your child likes to eat play dough.

Homemade Play Dough

1 cup flour
1/4 cup salt
2 Tbsp Cream of Tartar
1 cup water
1 Tbsp oil
Food coloring

In a saucepan, mix all ingredients. Heat over a medium heat stirring constantly. When mixture thickens and begins to clean the sides of the pan, remove from heat. This process takes about five minutes.

Turn mixture out onto a lightly floured table and knead as you would bread until no longer sticky. Let cool completely. Store in an airtight container.

Typically, this play dough will last over a year if stored correctly.


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Little Miss made homemade noodles for the first time yesterday. She did such a great job! Here is the recipe:

Homemade Noodles

1 cup flour
1 egg
Pinch of salt

Place flour in a bowl and make a well in the middle. Add the egg and salt. Mix together adding a little water at a time until you have a soft dough.

Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead until not sticky.

Roll the dough thin, about the thickness of a dime.  Cut into strips about 1/4″ wide.

Dust the cut noodles lightly with flour to prevent sticking together. Spread out on table or in a pan to dry or cook immediately. 

Recipe makes enough noodles for about 4 servings if used as a side dish or added to a soup.

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Ever since our son, Pookie, was diagnosed with Classic Autism Disorder, I have read many emails and posts regarding the problems that many with autism have with gluten in their diet.  Up until recently, our son seemed to not be affected by it.

For nearly 2 years, he refused to eat any type of meat other than salmon.  He loved baked salmon as well as the salmon caked that I made using cooked quinoa in place of the bread/cracker crumbs.  About a year ago, he suddenly began wanting a taste of various meats that were made at mealtimes.  He still loves to eat the vegan diet, but also enjoys a taste of meat now and then.

Over the past few months, I have noticed his cravings for bread, pasta, and crackers to have increased.  If given a choice, he will rather have any of those in place of a meal without wheat products.  Gradually, he developed a bad problem with gas.  I read online that the average person will pass gas up to about 14 times a day.  Unfortunately for our son, it is much more than that, especially immediately after eating wheat products.  I was most surprised when even a bowl of Cheerio’s cereal with almond milk caused gas.  After checking the ingredients, this predominately oats cereal also contains wheat protein (aka gluten) among the listed ingredients.  This had me checking further into the affects of gluten.

It turns out that many people who test negative for Celiac are sensitive to gluten.  It may not be as large of a problem as Celiac, but they do have some of the same symptoms.  One of these is a problem with frequent gas that has a very bad odor.  Unlike Celiac, there is no test for gluten sensitivity.  You have to find out the old fashioned way of going gluten-free for 2 to 4 weeks, then gradually reintroduce gluten into your diet.  If the problems go away after you have stopped eating gluten, only to return when gluten is reintroduced, you likely have a gluten sensitivity.

Starting this week, we are going gluten-free for a month.  Going to be hard to accomplish as gluten seems to be in nearly any of the “fun” foods that the kids like.  We already have to be careful with dairy do to my husband, Pookie, and I all having various levels of lactose intolerance.  This really is going to be a challenge.  I am searching out recipes that are vegan and gluten-free to have in our diet.

If it turns out that Pookie is doing better without gluten, then we will be changing our diet as a family to support him in this.  We do not believe in having a separate meal for one because they cannot eat what everyone else is having.  It also will prevent him from the upset & frustration of notbein gable to have the same snacks that his big sister is enjoying.

Oddly, I am looking forward to this adventure.  I believe that we, as a society, are consuming too much starchy foods anyways.  Having 1 set of Grandparents who were diabetic, I am especially watchful due to the sugars in starchy foods.  I am not looking to substitute a gluten-free bread for the typical one.  I may have a couple of recipes to use from time to time, however.  I plan to use a more raw-foods approach and make variations of the snacks and sandwich wraps that do not include a lot of bread or flour in their ingredients.

This diet change will be a new one for us.  It would seem that our family’s diet has been evolving over the past 6 years.  This is simply the newest phase of change.

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Today I made a recipe that I found online.  I had been disappointed in many of the air-dry clays due to how some projects would crack or the salt would come to the surface during the drying process.  This one is drying very nicely.  It is hardening and has a smooth surface.  The project that Little Miss and I are making is intended to be a gift.  The clay was formed into 1/2 inch size square beads that will be painted before being strung on a cord.

Here is the recipe:

Air-Dry Clay

1 cup cornstarch
2 cups baking soda
1.25 cups water

Mix all in a saucepan and heat over a medium heat. Stir constantly to prevent the cornstarch from settling in the bottom of the pan. It will be hard to stir at first, but gets liquid very quickly.

Cook about 5 minutes, until the mixture thickens to the consistency of mashed potatoes. It seems to stay liquid a long time, then suddenly thickens very fast. Remove from heat and let cool until just cool enough to handle.Place on waxed paper and knead a few minutes or until smooth. Once completely kneaded and cooled, we wrapped up the amount not being used in a project in 2 layers of plastic wrap to prevent drying.

Drying time for your projects depends on the thickness, but the recipe stated to expect it to take 48 hours to a week.  The 1/2 inch size beads were made about 7 hours prior to this post and are already hard with only the centers yet to dry & harden further.  A flat ornament cut out with a cookie cutter and about 1/4 inch thick would dry in about 24 hours, I would imagine.  To speed up the drying, I placed a wire cooling rack across a cake pan.  I had threaded the beads onto toothpicks to form the holes for stringing.  I laid the beads on the wire rack with the toothpicks straddling the wires so that the beads fit in between the wires and hung freely.  This eliminates the need to turn the beads over repeatedly during the drying process.
I am keeping this recipe handy.  For school projects, ornaments for the holidays, or for basic art projects like a coiled clay pot, this recipe will be the one I reach for first.  The ingredients are very inexpensive and the clay is very easy to work with.  It is soft enough to use for a toddler’s handprint, yet sturdy enough to use in freeform clay projects.
Hope that others will enjoy the recipe.

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