Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Meal Planning Basics

Planning meals on a weekly basis can feel daunting, but it is guaranteed to save you time and money, reduce stress, and result in more nutritious and delicious food for your family. It has taken me a lot of practice to figure out just how to plan most of our meals for the week, and I have learned the hard way how lack of planning can make life much more challenging.  Before I had a family, meal planning didn't seem as necessary, however these days, I want to maximize time with my family and minimize time shopping and cooking while still creating nourishing, healthy meals.
Here are some basic lessons I have learned about how to efficiently plan your meals for the week, followed by a sample 5-day meal plan:

  1. Start with a protein for every meal, even breakfast! 
  2. Clean out your freezer: make room for doubling recipes to freeze for meals later in the week
  3. Stay organized: keep track of recipes that your family loves -- make a family cookbook. When you are planning meals for the week, start with the favorites, then add some new recipes for evenings when you have a little extra time
  4. Add food prep tasks to your daily ToDo List. If a meal requires prep like soaking or marinating, add it to your to do list.
  5. Double or even triple those recipes that freeze well. Eat some later in the week, and then you’ll have a meal for the following week!
  6. Consider ingredients for the next day. If you are chopping tomatoes for a dinner salad, chop extra for your morning eggs. 
  7. Be thoughtful about your grocery list. Go through each meal and make sure to get everything on your list. This probably takes the most amount of time and focus, but really saves time during the week. 
Here is a sample five-day meal plan from an average week in my house:

Day 1 (Sunday - big cooking day)
  1. Breakfast: coconut pancakes, sliced banana, bacon. Note: make extra bacon for BLT's the next day
  2. Lunch: big salad with canned salmon, veggies, nuts, seeds, homemade dressing
  3. Dinner: Roasted chicken with potatoes and vegetables. Note: make chicken stock that night and freeze half. Also on Sunday evening while the stock is simmering, I will often bake some sort of treat for the week like gluten-free cookies or coconut muffins. Strain stock and store before heading to bed. 
Day 2 (Monday)
  1. Breakfast: eggs, shredded chicken, salsa wrapped up in some lettuce leaves or whole grain wrap
  2. Lunch: BLTA (bacon, lettuce, tomato, avocado), plus a piece of seasonal fruit
  3. Dinner: Cottage pie, side of steamed kale with lemon tahini dressing. Note: saute extra ground beef for next day. Make 2 cottage pies and freeze one for later in the week or the following week.
Day 3 (Tuesday)
  1. Breakfast: smoothie (whey or hemp protein powder, green powder, coconut milk, berries, flax oil, chia seeds)
  2. Snack: apple with almond butter
  3. Lunch: Lettuce boats with leftover ground beef, sauteed mushrooms, salsa, avocado. 
  4. Dinner: Root vegetable cod casserole (make extra for breakfast next day), side salad
  5. Dessert: Maple teff cookies or coconut muffin from Sunday night. Note: after dinner, put 1 cup of brown rice and 1 cup of lentils in water to soak overnight 
Day 4 (Wednesday)
  1. Breakfast: Leftover casserole (fish for breakfast is delicious!). Note: if you can't handle the casserole, switch the breakfast with lunch here)
  2. Snack: Larabar
  3. Lunch: smoked salmon, goat cheese or humus, tomato, capers, on 2 rice cakes, piece of fruit, carrots
  4. Dinner: brown rice (simmered in chicken broth), lentils with carrots, onion, ginger, garlic (simmered in chicken broth), sauteed collard greens in ghee or grass-fed bacon fat, sausage. Note: I add all this in a big bowl and sprinkle nutritional yeast on top. The rice and lentils will not take as long to cook because they have been soaking. Make an extra package of sausage for the next morning. 
Day 5 (Thursday)
  1. Breakfast: 2 coconut muffins, leftover sausage, piece of fruit
  2. Lunch: Leftover rice and lentils, plus turkey cheese roll-ups in lettuce leaves
  3. Snack: Mary's Gone Crackers and hummus, carrots
  4. Dinner: Lamb burgers, salad. Note: make extra lamb burgers for lunch the next day
From this plan I would look at every recipe and make my shopping list. My son won't always eat everything I plan for our meals so I also keep a list of staples he will eat in case he isn't interested in what we are having. I try to avoid having to make something separate for him although it isn't always possible. I keep things like sliced turkey, broccoli, whole grain bread, and cheese on hand at all times. When you are finished with your shopping list, go through and add any staples you need as well. It is a good idea to keep a list of all your staples on the refrigerator, inside your pantry or inside a cabinet door. When you notice you’re running low on any item, add it to the list so that you’ll cover it all when you get to the store. 

I hope this helps. Please email me privately if you are interested in any of the recipes mentioned in the meal plan, or have any other questions about this post. 

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Meal Train

When our son was born, the most amazing, comforting, and supportive network of friends and neighbors got together and set up a "meal train" for us. For an entire month (or maybe more) we had dinner brought to us five to six nights per week. This was absolutely fantastic and allowed us to focus on our new family rather than what was for dinner and how we would even manage to get ourselves to a store. There are some great websites out there that offer easy-to-use formats for making the necessary arrangements such as Sign Up Genius and Keep and Share. We put a cooler on our front patio so folks could just leave the food in there in case we weren't home, or trying to catch some precious sleep. Mostly, we were excited to see our friends and looked forward to the visits. Ever since then, I have tried to quickly jump on the bandwagon of bringing food to new parents, since we appreciated it so much.

This of course led me on a search for recipes that were easy, delicious, nutrient dense, that you can make a lot of in case there are family members visiting, siblings, or just to have extra to freeze after the meal train stops coming. Recently, a family at my son's preschool had a new baby and I of course jumped on the opportunity to sign up for meal delivery. The call for meals didn't state any food aversions or preferences, but it was requested that there be enough for a family of four. While perusing my favorite sources for healthy, real food-based recipes, I came across this one from Nourished Kitchen. If you aren't familiar with this blog, you should be! Jenny's blog and website are full of amazing recipes, tips, cooking videos, courses, and food news.

I chose this recipe because it is filling, nutrient-dense, freezable, has lots of healthy fats, vitamins, protein, iron, doesn't contain any grains or gluten, and will likely appeal to a broad range of ages.

Cottage Pie with Mashed Yams

1 lb grass-fed ground beef
1 cup homemade beef stock or store bought organic beef broth
1/4 cup cream from grass-fed cows
3/4 stick good-quality butter (the higher fat content the better)
1 large onion, chopped
1 cup frozen peas
1 cup diced carrots
2 medium sized yams or sweet potatoes
3/4 cup shredded grass-fed sharp cheddar cheese
1 T arrowroot powder
1 T finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 tsp dried thyme
2 T organic tomato paste (Bionaturae as it comes in glass jars)
1 tsp organic Worcestershire sauce
real sea salt and crushed black pepper to taste

  1. Bake yams in a 375 degree oven for 30-45 minutes or until soft when pricked with a fork. Peel yams, discarding the peel and mash them with 1/2 stick butter, 1/4 cup cream and a dash of salt in an electric mixer. When the yams are nicely mashed set aside.
  2. In a large cast-iron pan saute onions and carrots in 1/4 stick butter on medium heat, stirring until onions are translucent and carrots are slightly browned. Add in ground beef, breaking up meat into small pieces with the back of a wooden spoon. Stir occasionally until beef is cooked through, about 10 minutes.
  3. Pour in beef stock, Worcestershire sauce, rosemary and thyme, stirring to incorporate and turn heat to low. Allow the liquid to reduce a bit, about 15 minutes or so. Add in the peas, and sprinkle the arrowroot on top. Briskly stir to prevent the arrowroot from clumping, then continue stirring gently until the sauce has thickened, less then 5 minutes. Add in salt and pepper to taste. Remove pan from heat, turn oven to 375 degrees.
  4. Spread mashed yams evenly on top of the meat and veggie mixture. Sprinkle cheese over the yams. Bake for about 25 minutes or until cheese is bubbly and starting to brown.

Possible variations:
Try using small pieces of broccoli instead of peas
Add a big handful of spinach


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Gluten free latkes!

It is the first night of Chanukah and I am looking forward to making latkes! However, I am still trying to stick to my low-gluten goals. I feel so much better when I don't have gluten in my diet. If you would like to know more about this topic, please email me privately.

I did a quick search online for some gluten-free latke recipes and pieced this one together. I will have to let you know how it works tomorrow, since I haven't actually made it yet! If you try it yourself, please let me know how it goes:

Gluten Free Potato Latkes

Makes about 15 latkes
  • 3 huge organic russets
  • 1 organic sweet potato for sweetness
  • 1 organic yellow onion
  • 1/3 cup brown rice flour
  • 3 large eggs whisked
  • Salt and pepper to taste (be generous)
  • Grass-fed Ghee for frying (or Red Palm Oil)
  • Organic applesauce (best option is to make your own)
  • Whole milk yogurt or sour cream from grass-fed cows
  • 1 bunch of green onions
Peel (or don't peel, I won't peel mine) potatoes, cut in half and place in cold water (to keep them from turning brown and to remove some of the starch). Let soak for about 30 minutes. Peel skin off onion and cut in half. Use grater setting on food processor and alternately push through potato and onion.

Place it all in a colander (inside a larger bowl) lined with a clean dish towel and squeeze the life out of the potato/onion mixture to get the liquid out.  It will be messy, but keep going until they are pretty dry.

Empty out the liquid.  Dump the dry potato/onion mixture into the bowl and add in the flour and eggs and seasoning.   Mix well.

Heat the oil until a tiny bit of the mixture sizzles when dropped in.  Scoop about ¼ cup for each pancake, smash into round-ish patties and fry over medium heat until nicely browned and flip – same for the other side.  If the oil is not hot enough, the potatoes will absorb the oil and just be greasy – and if the oil is too hot not only will it make the oil go rancid but the potatoes will be black on the outside and the inside will be raw. If your oil starts to smoke, throw it out and start over.

Serve with a dollop of cream and sprinkle with green onions. 

Friday, November 12, 2010

The One, The Only, Almond Milk!

I absolutely LOVE fresh almond milk! Almond milk is so incredibly easy to make, contains healthy fats, is high in antioxidants, high in easy-to-digest calcium, and it tastes delicious. I add it to smoothies, homemade granola, or just chug it straight for a refreshing quick fix.  The only downside of fresh almond milk that doesn't contain a bunch of other crap like the commercial products, giving it a shelf life of about 4 to 5 days. Luckily, it is so easy to make you can have a batch of almonds soaking every 5 days, no problem.  

Why is it important to soak almonds overnight? Because almonds contain phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors, which inhibits the absorption of important nutrients and minerals. Soaking overnight removes the tannins and phytic acid increasing the digestibility of the milk.

I will cut to the chase here. If you need more reasons to make your own almond milk, send me an email. Otherwise, give this recipe a try -- you will not be disappointed! 

Tip: purchasing a nut milk bag will make this simple recipe even easier

Yield: 1 cup of soaked almonds makes about 4 cups of almond milk. 

1 cup of organic raw almonds
3-4 cups of filtered water
3-5 dates or 1 tablespoon raw local honey

• Soak 1 cup of almonds overnight 
• Place the almonds in a blender along with 3‐4 cups of water (you do not need to remove the skins).
Blend the almonds for 1minute.
•  If sweetness is desired, add 3‐5 dates or a tablespoon of honey within the blending
• Strain milk through a nut milk bag or a couple of layers of cheese cloth into a bowl or through a sieve (this may result in a little bit of almond fiber in the milk
but will sit to the bottom of your jug/cup).
• Store in a glass jar in the refrigerator for up to 5 days


Thursday, October 14, 2010

5-minute weeknight dinners?

One important aspect of being a nutrition consultant is having the ability to offer healthy options that are within reach, given each individuals circumstances. I completely understand that even the 20-minute dinner is not an option for everyone.

I recently received some feedback from a friend that although she found the 20-minute dinner recipes I offered in a previous blog posting titled "5 Nights of 30-minute (or less) Dinners" intriguing, even that is not an option for her family. My same friend told me that when she read the recipes and got to the word "chop", I had lost her. Both her and her partner work corporate jobs, they are lucky to be able to pick up both their kids from school and daycare by 6 pm. What do you do when you have two little ones, everyone is exhausted and needs to eat? Friend, I hear you, understand, and feel it is my duty (and pleasure) to offer some suggestions. However, if you are not willing to spend even 5-10 minutes assembling a meal, it is out of my jurisdiction. Eating real food does require some preparation and thought, but can still be fast and easy.

Disclaimer: I have sworn under oath (not really) that I will not recommend to any clients that they use a microwave oven. That being said, whenever I say "heat using your preferred method", I realize that some people will use a microwave, no matter what I say. Personally, I use a toaster oven and heat some frozen things in hot water in a pot on the stove (like frozen veggies). If you would like to know more about microwaves and what they do to your food, please email me privately.

For my uber-busy parents, people, and families, this is for you:

1. When buying frozen vegetables, make sure that they are organic and do not contain any other ingredients

2. Buy a weeks worth of meat on Sunday, put the first two days worth in the refrigerator and the rest in the freezer. The only planning ahead you will have to do is remember 1 day ahead of time to move it into the fridge. Yes, this requires a bit of planning, but it will save you tons of time during the week, I promise. However, the recipes in this posting do not require any freezing of meats, yay!

3. Canned fish is your friend! There are some really delicious and sustainable varieties of canned salmon available. Just make sure it is wild and Alaskan. Experiment with other types of small, cold water fish as well. I love wild sardines and mackerel on a hearty salad

4. Grocery shop at some point on the weekend! Do not start the week with an empty fridge

5. Make a few bulk items on the weekend, if you can. Make a big pot of brown rice, whole roasted chicken, or big pot of chili. Freeze servings of brown rice and chili for later in the week. Use chicken early in the week for salads, sandwiches, roll ups, etc...

6. Shred or slice up some raw veggies and store in the fridge. I will often send a few carrots, cucumbers, zucchinis, and some cabbage through my food processor with the shredder blade and store in individual containers to be used throughout the week. I also slice up celery and carrot sticks and store in a glass container of water in the refrigerator. When you are a working parent, these are the things that matter. Toss shredded items on salads or noodle bowls to add some crunchy, raw veggies to your meal

These meals are listed in order to minimize taking anything out of the freezer.

5 Super-fast weeknight dinners

Monday:  Tilapia fish tacos. Make these on Monday with the Tilapia you bought on Sunday, since it doesn't keep.  Heat a stack of corn tortillas in the toaster oven, drizzle tilapia with olive oil and grill in a pan about 2-3 minutes on each side until flaky. Add shredded cheese, cabbage or some argula, avocado, frozen corn, a can of organic black beans, and your favorite salsa

Tuesday: Beef bowl: my favorite new noddles are the Gluten Free Vietnamese Brown Rice Noodles by Star Anise Foods, they seriously take 3-5 minutes to cook once you get the water boiling. While waiting for the water to boil, quickly seer some skirt steak, slice up and add to bowl of noodles. Toss with sesame oil, soy sauce, sesame seeds if you have them, and add some of those shredded veggies you put in the food processor over the weekend (cucumber, carrots, cabbage)

Wednesday: Omelette: scramble three eggs and add to an egg pan with some butter, cook for 3 minutes. Add some cheese and veggies, fold in half, cook for another minute. 

Pre-cut, frozen, organic veggies work just fine. Try asparagus spears, broccoli, or bell peppers. Sprinkle with chives and cilantro

Thursday: Quick nori roll: warm up some of that already-cooked brown rice you made over the weekend. Spread it out on a sheet of nori, spread some avocado, pre-sliced carrot, cucumber, canned salmon, and a handful of sprouts or other nutritious leafy green of your choice. Roll it up and dip it in some soy sauce. A crowd-pleaser for sure!

Friday:  Lentil soup, sausage, and spinach: If you aren't able to get to your local pasture-based butcher like Marin Sun Farms, Applegate Chicken Apple Sausage is likely your next best bet. Heat up the sausage, toss it into a pot of canned Amy's Organic Lentil Soup, add some frozen organic spinach, and serve.

Protein Shopping List
Canned salmon
Chicken apple sausage
Skirt steak (make extra for a sandwich or salad topping for the next day)

I would love your feedback! Please let me know if you found this post helpful, or have any questions.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Delicious Energy Nuggets!

You just have to try this recipe! I made this recipe as an experiment, and it actually turned out delicious. My husband and my 2.5 year old both think they are yummy. These are a great balanced treat to have when you need something satiating and nutritious. Honey gives you a quick boost, combined with healthy fats (coconut and sunflower seeds) for long-lasting energy. These nuggets are an excellent source of omega 3's and protein.

You may be asking yourself could this be true? Can you get all of that in something that actually tastes good to? Apparently, you can. Here is how:
Warm coconut cream and oil in warm water so it is liquid enough to work worth. Combine all ingredients in a glass bowl (except for sunflower seeds). Let sit for a few minutes until it begins to harden enough that it can be rolled into small balls. I was able to make about 10 balls using 1/4 cup base measurement. Spread ground sunflower seeds or shredded coconut out on a plate and roll balls to coat. 

Lay balls out on a small plate and set in refrigerator for at least one hour before eating. Keep unused energy balls in a sealed glass container in the refrigerator. 

A great snack in between meals, delicious treat for kids or lunches, pre-workout energy source. You can munch on these delicious treats just about any old time, and enjoy the benefits. 

Monday, August 23, 2010

Electrolytes and hydration

This post is about electrolytes, roughly how they work, and why they are important. This is dedicated to my good friend who asked me if I could explain to her about how electrolytes relate to hydration. I bowed my head and told her I could not explain it and it has been bugging me ever since.

The body loses salt through sweat. Foods we eat contain mineral salts, which form electrolytes. These electrolytes dissolve in the bodies fluids and become present in urine, blood, and the fluid inside and around our bodies cells. They are essential for the bodies nerve, muscle, and heart functions (which is why muscle cramps are associated with loss of electrolytes).

Electrolytes are actually electrically charged and cause electrical pulses that make the bodies cells contract. Kidneys filter electrolytes from the blood and keep the levels at a constant. Hormones also keep electrolytes in balance. The electrical charges go through compounds such as sodium, potassium, magnesium, and chloride and these charges support your heart and blood vessels. The sodium controls the amount of water in our bodies, potassium controls nerve and muscular systems, and calcium builds bone frame and teeth.

The most common electrolyte imbalances are in sodium and potassium. Both conditions can result in an array of serious health conditions such as; kidney disease and dangerous changes in heart function. In a nut shell, to minimize stress on your body it is wise to replace your electrolytes when you are in situations that cause you to sweat a lot. Symptoms of electrolyte loss include muscle and/or abdominal cramps, light headedness, nausea, and confusion.

What are the best ways to replace your sodium and potassium? Two of my favorites are coconut water and mineral broth. Coconut water is nature's Gatorade. 10 ounces of coconut water contains 650 mg of potassium (15 times more than a banana), 25 mg of magnesium, and 35 mg of sodium. Read more about the history and benefits of coconut water here.

Looking for a boost of energy? Try this amazing mineral broth recipe from Recipes & Remedies for Rejuvenation Cookbook by Dr. Edward Bauman.

Wash and scrub and cut into 1" chunks (leave skin on):

2 cups yams
1 medium potato
1 cup zucchini
1 cup cabbage
1 cup green beans
2 cups celery

Slice into strips:

1 cup collard greens
1 cup onion

Coarsely chop:

1/2 tsp fresh parsley
1/2 tsp dill weed
1 clove garlic

Add whole:

1/2 cup flax seed

Place ingredients in a large pot with a lid. Cover with filtered water, just to the level of the vegetables and add:

6 slices fresh ginger root
1/4 cup or more of seaweed (dulse, nori, wakame, hiziki, kombu)

Bring the water to a boil, then turn down and let simmer for 3-5 hours.

You will be amazed at the energy boost you get from a mug of this delicious broth, enjoy!

Sources:; Discovery Health; Bauman College Forum; Running Times Magazine, November 2009.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Cocounut Flour

I have recently discovered the amazing taste (and benefits) of using coconut flour. This may not be new for some of you, but I am pretty excited about it. I have been trying to reduce my gluten consumption due to it's inflammatory properties. I do not have a sensitivity that I am aware of, but I do find that eating less gluten means less useless carbs and more useful carbs, more energy, and overall better food choices. By eating less gluten, I naturally eat more whole (less processed) foods resulting in more nutrient-dense food choices. For more on eating an anti-inflammatory diet, check out this great book by Jessica K. Black, N.D., The Anti-Inflammation Diet and Recipe Book.

I have replaced a lot of my wheat-based flours with other types of flours that don't always produce the same results. However, this past weekend I experimented on my family with gluten-free coconut pancakes. I just used the basic recipe from the back of the Bob's Redmill Coconut Flour and combined it with Brown Rice Flour, added a mashed banana, and fried the pancakes in pancakes in coconut oil.

Coconut flour is the fiber from the coconut meat after the oil has been extracted. It is high in dietary fiber and protein, and gluten free.

If you have questions about the benefits of using coconut products, gluten, or inflammation, please contact me directly.

Give this recipe a try and let me know what you think!

Coconut Banana Pancakes -- yum!
1 cup brown rice flour
1/3 cup coconut flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon raw, organic sugar (or substitute, I think honey would work fine)
2 tablespoons coconut oil
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups whole milk, plain yogurt
1/2 to 1 whole banana mashed (depending on your taste)

Mix together dry ingredients in a medium bowl. Add oil, eggs, banana, and yogurt, blend with a hand beater until just blended. Texture will be a little thicker than regular pancake batter, but cooks up fluffy, I promise. Pour batter onto medium hot griddle sprayed with coconut oil cooking spray or butter. Cook until underside is nicely brown, flip, and brown the other side.

Give it a try and let me know what you think! It was a huge hit in my (somewhat skeptical) family.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

What's in season?

Have you been to the Farmer's Market lately? New, delicious fresh foods are rolling in, and melons are sure to arrive very soon. I recently had a honeydew from Whole Foods that was out of this world. An interesting tidbit that I learned on an NPR show today, is that EBT cards (formerly known as Food Stamps) can be used at Farmer's Markets! How civilized is that? I was so happy to hear of this news, but of course this is largely underutilized benefit likely due to lack of funding to advertise the program. The Ecology Center in Berkeley has a great page on their website about EBT at Farmer's Markets, including a Guide for Market Managers to help get their Market set up to accept EBT cards.

A quick tip I have to offer about making the most out of your available dollars to spend at the Farmer's Market is: start with making a quick round through the whole market making mental notes about prices for items, especially items that are abundant and in season. Don't be afraid to compare prices, and make sure the quality is comparable (with a taste or two). Try not to just dive right in and start buying, get a lay of the land first and figure out what seems reasonable. I am also guilty of the instant gratification of arriving at a market and immediately inhaling a bag of blueberries, only to discover that there are much cheaper ones right down the way.

On that note, I thought it a good time to talk about what is fresh and delicious at the Farmer's Market right now. Here is a list of your best choices with a recipe to follow. Enjoy this bountiful (and fruity) time of year:

  • Tomatoes
  • Eggplant
  • Watermelons
  • Zucchini
  • Corn 
  • Berries of all kinds
  • Melons (June-November)
  • Peaches
  • Nectarines 
  • Plums
  • Pluots
Watermelon Salad with Jalapeno and Lime 
Source: Vegetarian Times Farmer's Market Cookbook, 2010

This is a simple and delicious way to cool down on hot days, but still hold on to a little bit of that heat! Watermelons are a great source of Vitamins A and C, and contain minerals such as calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium ( They are low in calories, but should be eaten with a fat source (such as cheese or nuts) to slow down the digestion of those sugars. I would add 3-4 tablespoons of feta cheese to this dish, or eat a small handful (10-12) nuts as a chaser. 

3 Tbs. lime juice
2 Tbs. olive oil
1/8 tsp. lime zest
2 cups seedless watermelon, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 jalapeno chile, seeded and sliced
1/4 cup basil or Thai basil, cut into thin strips
1 tsp. black sesame seeds (or white if you can't find black)
1/2 tsp. sea salt

1. Whisk together lime juice, oil, and lime zest. Set aside.
2. Place watermelon cubes in a single layer in a large shallow dish. Pour lime juice mixture over watermelon, and gently toss to combine. Cover, and refrigerate until ready to serve.
3. Place 5 jalapeno rings in each of the 4 shallow serving bowls. Mound 1 cup watermelon in center of each bowl. Divide marinade among bowls. Sprinkle each serving with basil, sesame seeds, and salt. 

Nutrition profile per 1-cup serving: 181 calories; 1 g protein; 15 g fat; 14 g carb; 1 g fiber; 10 g sugars. 

Monday, May 17, 2010

Start a cooking co-op!

A great way to minimize the number of nights per week you have to think about dinner, reduce the temptation to eat out, resort to poor food choices because you don't have motivation or resources to put something nutritious together for dinner, and save money, is to start a cooking co-op with family, friends, or neighbors nearby. You may choose to do it once per week, bi-weekly, or even once per month, depending on what your group agrees on.

How it works: you together with one to two other families of similar sizes, decide on a schedule, and one night when you prepare 
dinner for your family you double or triple your recipe, depending on how many people are in your coop. You can either deliver the meal that night, or make something that will be even more delicious the next night, like chili. Or, prepare something that just needs to be thrown in the oven for 22-30 minutes, like a enchiladas or shepard's pie. Here are some recipe ideas that are good to make in bulk, or keep well overnight (click on the links to see sample recipes):

Need more ideas? Contact me directly and I would love to pass more recipe ideas your way. As it turns out, somebody beat me to it and wrote a book on the subject. I haven't previewed this book yet, so I can't speak for it's content, but it probably has some good ideas for recipes.

Important tips:
  • ask participating members about any known food allergies, sensitivities, or dislikes
  • make a list and keep it on the fridge for reference
  • start a Google Calendar so everyone involved can check to see if there are any scheduling changes
  • pick one person's house where the food exchange happens. Or, the exchange can happen at each persons house on rotation at a set time. if you don't want visitors because it is a busy time, just put a big bin outside that everyone can leave their 
  • get the kids involved! My personal experience is that kids love to help cook. Let them contribute, then play a game at dinner guessing which family member made which item from your co-op meals
Here is an example of how it all works:

Three families The Berkley's, Arnold's, and Taylor's agree to do a cooking co-op. They have decided on a bi-weekly schedule, since all three families travel quite a bit, weekly seems a bit ambitious. They decided that Sunday is the best day to cook and exchange food, since everyone works and there are several toddler's involved, week night food exchanges could get complicated. Sunday evening around 5:00 pm each family cooks 1 large meal, some of which they will eat for dinner, and the rest they will package up for the other two families and drop off.

The Berkley's make turkey chili (with toppings on the side and some of the turkey reserved for the kids), the Taylor's make quiche and salad, and the Arnold's make enchiladas, unassembled. Now each family can decide how they want to deal with the meals. Sunday night it is wise to consume the most perishable, least freeze-able item first. The chili is very easy to freeze and should be put in the freezer and consumed later in the week. Sunday night everyone should probably eat the quiche and salad. Although quiche freezes well, salad does not. You can also decide to freeze the quiche and eat the salad with the enchiladas. For this example, let's say everyone eats the quiche and salad Sunday night, and the enchiladas the second night. The enchiladas should have detailed instructions on how to prepare them, and ingredients should be appropriately portioned. Here is what the weekly dinner menu could look like:

Sunday: quiche and salad (put chili in freezer, put any unconsumed portion of quiche in freezer)
Monday: enchiladas
Tuesday: cook at home your choice (take chili out of freezer)
Wednesday: chili (maybe add a side-salad)
Thursday: leftovers (quiche or chili), steamed veggies, baked sweet potato or potato, or rice
Friday: cook at home (start thinking about what you would make for this Sunday's dinner)
Saturday: family choice (eat at home, out, with friends, pick something up)

Doesn't this schedule look do-able? It takes a little planning ahead on the front-end, but you end up with 2-3 prepared meals that you don't have to think about.  And, the added benefit of potential leftovers for lunch the next day.

More tips: keep it simple and be mindful of nutrition. Try to ensure that each meal contains a protein, healthy fats, carbohydrate source, and contains at least 1 cooked and 1 raw vegetable if possible. You can always add a side salad, steamed or sauteed vegetable to any dish. If you add a side dish, you may be able to stretch any of the shared dishes for another night. Also, if there are kids involved try to ensure kid-friendly meals. If a meal needs to be assembled, some of the ingredients can be left out and served to the kids (ground turkey, cheese, veggies, sauces, etc...). If the main is likely not kid-friendly, try to give the family a few suggestions or extra ingredients for the kids. The whole point is so that the whole family's dinner is prepared for that evening.

Determine how you will handle cancellations/scheduling conflicts, because we are real people with real lives and things come up! If there are 3 families and 1 family can't participate that week, then the 2 families can decide that something is better than nothing, or wait and pick it up again the following week. Whatever folks agree on. Most importantly, have fun and eat good food together as a family!

Thursday, April 22, 2010


What inspired this post? I'll tell you what. It’s 10:30 am and I am not starving, but searching for a little something. That is me, the fast metabolizer, and maybe you too? Now that I have come to terms with this fact, I am ok with it, in fact, I embrace it because it gives me a reason to eat more food, which I LOVE doing. The trick with fast metabolizers is to eat the right foods, protein early in the day, not let yourself get too hungry (which usually results in making poor choices), and avoid blood sugar spikes and dips. What did I eat for breakfast this morning? I ate a serving (1/3 of a cup dry) of Bob’s Red Gluten-Free Rolled Oats topped with shredded coconut, flax seed, chia seeds, cinnamon, sunflower seeds, a few raisins, and a pinch of salt. It was delicious! Instead of waiting for lunch, which I could do but will be absolutely starving by then, I will have a snack now so when lunch time rolls around I can take some time to make a smart choice. Hmmmm, what should I snack on? 
Justin’s Organic Nut Butters have saved my life more than once. I keep them stashed in my work bag, my purse, and of course, the diaper bag. When I am out for the day with my son, I grab two (one for me and one for him). It is so important that mom remember to bring a snack for herself. 
What do I put it on? Usually and apple, celery or carrot sticks, or Mary’s Gone Crackers
What else serves as a good healthy snack? A handful of nuts and dried fruit. Make your own trail mix and experiment with different dried fruits, nuts, and seeds. Pumpkin and sunflower seeds both provide an excellent source of healthy fats and important nutrients to keep you energized and satisfied. Remember: fats and proteins take longer to digest allowing for a longer feeling of satisfaction. Carby and sugary items give you a quick jolt and then burn off, leaving you hungry, grumpy, and tired. Combine those nuts and seeds with some dried fruit and you are satisfied, fueled, and ready to move ahead. I try to make keep a jar full of random trail mix available at all times. 
What if you truly don’t have time for any of these things? If you have to bust out a bar, go for a Larabar. Larabars are made from real, whole foods. It’s the equivalent of that jar of dried fruits and nuts that you forgot to fill in your pantry. 
Now your tired of veggies, fruits, and nuts? Try a turkey cheese roll-up, a little yogurt with a few berries, or a hard-boiled egg if so inclined. The most important thing to remember is don’t let yourself get so hungry that you make poor choices. 
If you want to know more about why these snacks are good for you, nutrients they provide, or additional ideas for snacks that cater to your specific needs, contact me directly.
Tip: keep those dips available. Keep a jar of Raw Cashew Dip or Hummus (see previous posts) available in fridge at all times. Why? Adds protein to any carbohydrate, allowing for slower digestion and increased satiety. 

Tip II: There are some folks out there who forget to eat. It so important to keep your blood sugar levels steady throughout the day. If you forget to eat and you think you are a fast metabolizer, try setting your cell phone alarm to go off 4-5 hours after each meal. Or, more often to remind you to snack. 

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Five Nights of 30-minute (or less) Dinners

I am posting this because a friend asked me what to do when the parent who cooks gets home at 7 pm, and there is a hungry toddler and baby at home, and mom isn't going to be home for another 30 minutes! And, she will of course be starving as well. This is not the time to make to be making beef bourguignon and creme brulee. This is the part where you look at my list of 20-minute dinners that you printed out and attached to your fridge for some quick ideas. And, as always, improvise! 

#1 Tuna Melt
- add a warm cup of your favorite soup to the side. We keep boxes of Imagine tomato and butternut squash soup on hand, or a simple cup of miso will work great! 

12 ounces canned chunk light tuna, drained (see Note)
1 medium shallot, minced (2 tablespoons)
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon minced flat-leaf parsley
Dash of hot sauce
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
4 slices whole-wheat bread, toasted
1/2 cup shredded sharp Cheddar cheese

Preheat broiler
Combine tuna, shallot, mayonnaise, lemon juice, parsley, salt, hot sauce and pepper in a medium bowl. 

Spread 1/4 cup of the tuna mixture on each slice of toast; top with tomato slices and 2 tablespoons cheese. Place sandwiches on a baking sheet and broil until the cheese is bubbling and golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes. (source: EatingWell)

#2 Almond Crusted Chicken Fingers
- serve with steamed veggies

Cooking spray, butter, or ghee
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1/4 cup whole-wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 large egg whites
1 pound chicken tenders (see note)

Preheat oven to 475°F. 
Line a baking sheet with foil. 
Set a wire rack on the baking sheet and coat it with cooking spray, butter, or ghee
Place almonds, flour, paprika, garlic powder, dry mustard, salt and pepper in a food processor; process until the almonds are finely chopped and the paprika is mixed throughout, about 1 minute. With the motor running, drizzle in oil; process until combined. Transfer the mixture to a shallow dish.
Whisk egg whites in a second shallow dish. Add chicken tenders and turn to coat. Transfer each tender to the almond mixture; turn to coat evenly. (Discard any remaining egg white and almond mixture.) Place the tenders on the prepared rack and coat with cooking spray; turn and spray the other side.
Bake the chicken fingers until golden brown, crispy and no longer pink in the center, 20 to 25 minutes
Chicken tenders, are a strip of rib meat typically found attached to the underside of the chicken breast, but they can also be purchased separately. Four 1-ounce tenders will yield a 3-ounce cooked portion. Tenders are perfect for quick stir-fries, chicken satay or kid-friendly breaded “chicken fingers.”

#3 Lamb burgers!! 
This is officially my favorite burger recipe (source: EatingWell March/April 2010)

4 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 teaspoon lemon zest, preferably Meyer lemon (see Shopping Tip), divided
2 tablespoons lemon juice, preferably Meyer lemon
1 teaspoon honey, preferably orange-blossom honey
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon poppy seeds
3/4 teaspoon salt, divided
Freshly ground pepper to taste
1/4 cup unseasoned dry breadcrumbs, preferably whole-wheat
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
1 clove garlic, minced
1 pound lean ground lamb, preferably from the leg (see Note
4 sandwich buns, preferably whole-wheat
4 cups mâche (lamb’s lettuce) or coarsely chopped butter lettuce
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves

Whisk oil, 1/4 teaspoon lemon zest, lemon juice, honey, mustard, poppy seeds, 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper to taste in a large bowl. Set aside.
Combine breadcrumbs, chives, garlic, the remaining 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest, the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper in a medium bowl. Add lamb and gently knead until combined. Form into 4 patties.
Coat a large nonstick skillet with cooking spray and heat over medium heat. Add the patties; cook until there is just a hint of pink in the center, 3 to 5 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate; tent with foil to keep warm.
Meanwhile, warm or toast buns, if desired. Add mâche (or lettuce) and mint to the bowl with the dressing; toss to coat. Place the lamb burgers on the buns and top with salad greens (a generous 3/4 cup each).

#4 English Muffin or Pita Pizzas
- you know the drill, choose toppings your little one loves 

4 Whole wheat english muffins or pita pockets
1/3 cup of your favorite sauce (I use a can of plain organic sauce and add my own herbs)
1/2 cup shredded cheddar (or crumbled feta or goat cheese)
1/4 cup of small broccoli florets
1/2 cup of protein (sauteed ground turkey, beef, lamb, etc.. I use leftover burgers from the night before
Experiment with toppings. My kid loves a little shredded beet on his pizza.

1. Preheat broiler
2. Place pizzas on broiler pan and put in broiler for about 5 minutes - check frequently to prevent burning

#5 Make one night per week a regular meal night.
We usually declare Friday night pizza night. I always have dough available in the freezer, and we use whatever toppings we can find. Another fun one is breakfast night! We chose Friday's because we are often low on food on Friday, it's been a long week, and we want minimal cooking/prep. Breakfast night is great, you can apply the pizza theory to an omlet - add whatever you have left to the omelette. Any combination of cheeses, meats, and veggies, herbs, and even fish! I add canned salmon to my omelette for extra protein and omega 3's. 

Mom and dad can add a side salad or extra veggies to any of the above recipes for a complete meal. 

Shopping List
2 ounces canned chunk light tuna

1 medium shallot
2 lemons
flat-leaf parsley
loaf of whole-wheat bread
2 tomatoes
a block of sharp Cheddar cheese
Goat or feta cheese
sliced almonds (1/2 cup, buy pre-sliced)
whole-wheat flour
a dozen (or two) eggs
1 pound chicken tenders (or breasts, I always by 2 and put 1 in the freezer
poppy seeds
unseasoned dry breadcrumbs, preferably whole-wheat (use stale bread and make your own
fresh chives
1 bulb of garlic
1 pound lean ground lamb
4 sandwich buns, preferably whole-wheat
4 cups mâche (lamb’s lettuce) or coarsely chopped butterhead lettuce
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves
4 Whole wheat english muffins or pita pockets
Jar or can of your favorite pizza sauce
Jar or can of sliced black olives
bunch of broccoli
mushrooms (for pizza, if desired)
1 bag of spinach (for omelette, pizza, or salad
1 bag of salad greens (for sides on everything above
A box or two of your favorite soups (I like
Imagine box soups)

Poppy seeds (optional

Herbs and Spices
garlic powder
dry mustard

Dijon mustard
extra virgin olive oil
cooking spray, butter, or ghee