Real Fruit Popsicles

Last weekend I took Carli to pick strawberries for the first time this season. Unfortunately, most of the berries were either not ripe enough or very close to being too ripe. It’s early in the picking season so hopefully later this spring there will be a better selection. Carli loves to fill up her bucket, so we had a pretty good quantity of strawberries to bring home that were only edible for a few days. 

I decided to freeze most of them to put into smoothies later on. I recently purchased Popsicle molds from Amazon and had promised Carli we would make our own popsicles soon. I thought it may be fun to try and make popsicles out of some of the fresh strawberries that were starting to become over-ripe. It was something my two year-old could easily help me with, and it was pretty cool to teach her how to make something with one of the freshest ingredients possible- fresh fruit that she picked from the ground herself!

First, I sliced the strawberries into small pieces. Then I let Carli fill each mold to the top with the berries.

After the molds were full with strawberries, I added lemonade to the top of the molds to fill the spaces between the berries. I froze them overnight, but they only took about 4 hours to set.

They were definitely a hit! I felt good about letting her eat them for a treat the next afternoon- much lower in added sugars than the popsicles you would find at the grocery store. Another option would be to add yogurt instead of lemonade to hold the berries together- we are going to try that next time! Maybe I can trick Carli into thinking it’s ice-cream.

 

 

Here’s some other combinations that may be worth trying:

Kiwi, peaches and strawberries with fruit juice of choice (dilute the juice for less sugar)

Strawberries, blueberries and raspberries with vanilla yogurt or grape juice (this would be perfect for a Memorial Day or 4th of July treat!)

Blueberries and Greek yogurt

Oranges, pineapple and grapefruit with orange or pineapple juice

What I feed my family

Usually when people find out that I’m a dietitian, they immediately think that my family’s meals consist of gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan, all organic foods. Then the excuses pour in covering their own eating habits- as if I’m judging them because they happen to be holding a slice of pizza.

I’m not judging you, I promise. I eat pizza too! I also don’t eliminate any type of food from my family’s meals (yes, we even eat gluten) and have always been an advocate for balance. I work in a facility for kids with special needs, and ever since feeding my own child and working with kids professionally, I’ve developed a pretty big interest in child nutrition. I’ve changed the way my family eats because of it, but also try to be careful to not be too restrictive with food. I want my kids to have a healthy attitude around food, not label foods “good” or “bad” and to be able to make their own choices about healthy food as they get older. Having recovered from an eating disorder and having body image issues growing up, it’s also important for me to protect my own girls from thinking the only way they can eat healthy is by dieting or eliminating food groups. My goal for feeding my family is to create a positive environment around food, one that doesn’t cause my kids to feel guilty or deprived in any way.

We don’t have any food allergies in our family, which I consider to be a blessing. I know families with kids who have multiple food allergies and have to completely eliminate allergen-containing foods, which can make preparing and cooking meals quite difficult. Obviously in these situations, families have no choice but to follow diet restrictions. Typically this works best if the whole family is involved, instead of just making the child with the food allergy eliminate what is causing the flare-up. So for example, if a child has a gluten intolerance then it would be best for the whole family to be gluten-free. This would avoid issues with cross-contamination as well. Other than for food allergies and intolerances, I don’t recommend for families to follow diets that are highly restrictive. It’s just not necessary and it’s much easier for kids to get the nutrition they need by allowing them to eat a variety of (nutrient dense) foods. Not a variety of junk food though!

So here are the simple guidelines I follow when feeding my family. We stick with them 90% of the time.

Fruits and vegetables are big at every meal. I’ll admit, I’ve been struggling with this lately, especially with the vegetables. My first trimester this time around has been much worse than my last pregnancy- and still seems to be lingering! Vegetables have been tough for me to stomach lately, but thankfully as my symptoms are starting to fade I’m slowly starting to crave those veggies again. It’s interesting though, I’ve noticed that it was much harder to get my family to eat vegetables when I was doing a horrible job of eating them myself. Eating healthy really is a family effort! Kids do by example and I’ve seen this play out over the past few months.

Lean proteins are in every meal, but in smaller portions than the fruits and vegetables- unless my husband is making his own plate. I make a lot of salmon- I’ve been craving it lately, so sometimes  make it as often as 3-4 times per week! At least once a week I try to do a vegetable protein instead of an animal protein. When seasoning foods, I use as little salt as possible. Typically I find herbs and spices to season my meat so that my family’s salt intake is limited. It’s very easy to consume an adequate amount of salt without adding it to food, and most Americans get a lot more than is recommended. I want to train my kids’ palates while they are young to appreciate the natural flavor of foods- without doctoring it up with all the sugar, salt and fat that the food industry does.

 

I don’t leave anything out when it comes to carbohydrates. We eat bread, potatoes, rice, pasta- if it’s a carb, we aren’t afraid to eat it! I buy whole grains as much as possible for the added fiber (and less processing) and avoid foods that are “instant” (such as instant potatoes, etc). I read the ingredients carefully to avoid buying foods that are loaded with MSG, high fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oils. As long as the carbohydrates we are eating aren’t heavily processed (and have an exorbitant amount of salt, sugar and fat), they are healthy for our bodies. We are an active family and our cells need the energy that only carbs can provide!

 

When it comes to dairy, my husband is the only one who will drink cow’s milk. I prefer almond milk, and so does Carli, so that is what we typically drink. She gets most of her calcium intake from organic yogurt and cheeses. Dairy is one food group that I will almost always buy organic- along with fruits and vegetables we eat the skin off of.

I don’t buy sugary drinks. No juice, no soda, no sweet tea. I’m a recovering diet coke addict (I still have slip-ups every now and then) and my husband is working on his diet soda intake and trying to replace with unsweetened tea. All Carli drinks is water because it’s all we’ve ever offered to her. If she is at a birthday party or a holiday party at school and juice is being served, I let her drink it there. I don’t want her to feel excluded and this doesn’t happen often. At home, it’s always water and it’s what she asks for. I grew up drinking kool-aid and it took me a long time to appreciate the taste of water. I’m glad my two year old already loves it!

I rarely serve dessert. At the end of a meal if we want something sweet, I always have some fruit cut up. If we are having friends over for dinner or it’s a special occasion like a birthday, I’ll have some sort of dessert available to serve. I try to limit our sugar intake like I do salt. The more sugar we eat, the more our brain craves to get the same sugar fix it did before- it’s literally like a drug! You can read more about that in an older blog post I’ve written here. I used to be super strict on my daughter’s sugar intake when she was younger, but then felt as if I should lighten up and let her enjoy more sweets like other kids do. I’ve seen the outcome- she’s a sugar monster now! Even though I let her enjoy treats at her preschool parties and when grandparents visit (I’ve learned it’s their love language, and no matter how hard I try I will never win that battle), I keep sugar out of our house as much as possible to limit her intake at home. It’s the one thing I guess I would say I “restrict” but I don’t label sugar as being “bad.” It’s just something we limit.

Generally speaking, limiting processed foods and consuming high quality “whole” foods is the best way to feed your family. Taking the focus off of calories and fat grams and putting it on the quality of food you are eating is best for feeding your body. From what research shows and what I’ve seen in my own professional practice, families who are active on an everyday basis are going to be healthier than those who follow crazy diets and are inactive. By active, I don’t mean going to the gym 5 days per week. That’s great to do, but you have to be continuously active. Get the family off the couch and go for a bike ride. Get your kids outside to play. Limit screen time for the entire family. If you are continuously moving your body, I guarantee it will be much easier to stay at a healthy weight and have a healthier body and mind.

Now enjoy that slice of pizza and get that body moving! 😉

 

 

Monday Meals with Carli- Chipotle Burrito Bowls

There is only one problem with the area we live in. No Chipotle. For miles. Nick and I are pretty much obsessed, and sorry but Moe’s just doesn’t quite cut it for us. I decided to try and recreate their burrito bowls for our Monday night dinner, and I am so happy with how they turned out. Even Nick was impressed, and he’s pretty critical when it comes to Mexican food. This is most definitely one of our new family favorites.

I had a lot of little jobs for Carli to do, but there was also a lot of prep work beforehand (cutting vegetables, getting spices ready) so I did all of that while she napped. It can be tedious to make everything from scratch, and honestly I don’t usually have the time to do this often. I really want Carli to learn about all the ingredients that go into the foods we typically eat, so I’m trying to take the time to walk her through that on the nights we cook together. This might sound like a lot of work, but I promise it’s really not bad. And so worth it in the end.

For our burrito bowls we had the following parts to prepare:

  • Cilantro lime brown rice
  • Mixed veggies
  • Black beans
  • Chipotle chicken
  • Pico
  • Guacamole

These bowls are dairy-free and gluten-free, and can be made vegan if you omit the chicken. If you follow a Paleo plan, omit the beans and you are good to go.

First we started with the rice, it takes the longest. To make enough for our family of 2 and a toddler I cooked 1 cup of brown rice. We had plenty leftover, which is what I was hoping for (easy Tuesday lunch!) To cook 1 cup of rice, add 2 cups of water and steam until all the water is absorbed. While the rice is cooking, go on to the chicken.

She takes her jobs very seriously

For the chipotle chicken:

It’s all about the spices. If you don’t like spicy, I would recommend cutting the chili powders in 1/2. If you love spicy, you may want to add a little more. The rub is really easy to make. Just mix the following ingredients together:

  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp chipotle chili powder
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 Tbsp lime juice
  • salt and pepper to taste

I cut two chicken breasts into small chunks and marinated in the chipotle rub for about 30 minutes. While this is marinating, go on to the pico and guac.

Admiring her work

When I was ready to prepare this meal, I already had the tomatoes, red onion and cilantro chopped and ready to go. This made it really easy to just mix everything together- especially since I was cooking with a two year old. If you don’t have the time to prepare these from scratch, they are easy to find in the grocery store. Even though it requires a little more work, it’s cheaper to prepare fresh, and I prefer the taste better as well.

Pico:

  • 2 roma tomatoes, diced
  • 1/4 cup diced red onion (I used about 1/4 onion)
  • 1/4 jalepeno, seeded and diced
  • 5 stems cilantro, finely cut
  • 2 tsp lime juice
  • salt to taste

Taste testing- kid approved!

Just mix everything together- YUM!! The guacamole is easy too. Just mash the following ingredients together:

  • 2 avocados
  • 1 roma tomato, diced
  • 2 tsp lime juice
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp cilantro
  • 1/4 red onion, diced

Carli had the most fun preparing the guacamole. I’ve started to let her cut soft vegetables with a butter knife and she loved cutting the tomato (with my help). I let her use her hands to mash it all together- she was so proud of the part she did “all by myself!!”

By this time your rice should be about done cooking. You’ll want to let it cool for 20-25 minutes. While it’s cooling, begin to cook the mixed veggies, black beans and chicken. I had the veggies cut up beforehand as well to save some time.

For the mixed veggies: 

  • 1/2 green pepper, sliced thin
  • 1/2 red pepper, sliced thin
  • 1/4 red onion, sliced thin
  • handful of mushrooms

Throw these in a pan with a little bit of olive oil and saute to your desired tenderness. While these are cooking you can work on the chicken as well. Just placed the marinated chicken you prepared earlier in a frying pan and cook until heated through, stirring frequently. During this time I also had the beans cooking in a small saucepan.

 

Finally the last step is finishing the rice. Once the rice has cooled, mix in 1/4 cup fresh cilantro (chopped), 1 tsp minced garlic, 1 tsp salt and 3 Tbsp lime juice.

Mix everything together and be prepared to be amazed. Healthy AND delicious!!

Monday Meals with Carli

Mondays are tough for us. My husband works an early morning shift, comes home to sleep for a few hours, and then has to go back into work around 10PM to work through the evening. This is after he has been working all weekend. The nice part about it all is that he gets almost 4 whole days off until Friday evening, but by Monday afternoon I’m going crazy trying to find ways to keep our toddler entertained.

Carli is only two, but is fascinated with cooking and loves to be with me in the kitchen. She even goes to the extent of finding cooking shows on Amazon Prime to watch, and can’t get enough of them. I’ve tried to get her into Mickey Mouse and the other typical shows toddlers are attracted to, but the kid isn’t interested! She has always been a great eater, but is at the age where she is starting to form an opinion about what she wants to eat and is getting picky. Not terribly picky, but enough that we are having to find creative ways to get her to sit down and eat a meal with us. One of the best ways to get little kids to eat a variety of foods and to eat healthy is to let them be involved. Carli likes to know (along with most other toddlers I’m sure) that she is somewhat in control of whatever the task at hand is- whether is be eating, playing, or learning something new. I thought I would start putting her interest in cooking to good use and let her be a part of making dinner on Monday nights. It’s been a win-win for both of us. She is learning about new foods and is getting to be more involved with the meal she is about to eat, and I get to test and try out new recipes. We sample the dishes together, add and take away ingredients to make it better and the end result is a dish that both of us have created that’s healthy and full of fun new flavors.

I’ll try to post our Monday meals each week. This has been a fun experience so far and something we both look forward to. Tonight our recipe tonight involved chicken, mango (a fruit Carli has had but not often), whole grains, broccoli (her favorite vegetable) and kale (a new vegetable for her). I’m trying to introduce new foods to her through this experience and it’s grown her interest in trying new foods. I look forward to sharing our Monday meals with everyone!

Mango Chicken with Whole Grains, Kale and Roasted Broccoli

**This recipe serves 2 people (or 2 adults and a toddler). You may want to double or triple the recipe**

First we started with the sauce. If you like your foods to be spicy I would add the crushed red pepper. To make it more kid-friendly I would remove the crushed red pepper- Carli doesn’t like spicy foods so I had to re-make the entire sauce recipe once she tried it so that she would eat it. Both versions are good!

 

For the sauce:

  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 mango (chopped into cubes)
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 3 T brown sugar
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 tsp ground ginger

Heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and saute for about 2 min, until brown. Add the remaining ingredients. Turn the heat down to low and let simmer.

While the sauce is simmering, cut 2 chicken breasts into cubes. Heat 2 tsp of olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Add the chicken and cook until brown. Add the chicken to the sauce mixture and continue to let simmer.

Next, prepare the grains. I used 1/3 cup quinoa, 1/3 cup millet and 1/3 cup buckwheat. Bring 2 cups of water to a boil. Add the grains and reduce heat to simmer. Cover and let simmer for 15-20 minutes or until all of the water is absorbed.

While the grains are cooking, prepare the broccoli and kale.

For the broccoli:

  • 1 broccoli head, chopped
  • 1 tbsp melted coconut oil (you can use any oil you have)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • salt and pepper to taste

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl mix all the ingredients together. Place mixture on baking pan and bake for 15 minutes.

For the kale:

  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups fresh kale, broken into small pieces
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper (omit if you don’t want it to be spicy)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Heat olive oil in pan, add garlic. Saute for 2 minutes. Add the rest of the ingredients and stir. Cover and let simmer for about 5 minutes.

When everything is ready, place a scoop of the chicken with sauce on a plate, along with a spoonful of broccoli and kale. I tossed the grains with a little bit of olive oil and added about 1/2 cup of cranberries to it. I would recommend mixing everything together so the sauce covers the veggies and grains- it’s delicious! Aim for making 1/2 of each plate broccoli and kale, 1/4 of each plate grains, and 1/4 of each plate chicken. The nutrient density and color in this meal is amazing! Carli enjoyed the cranberries and and mangoes the most- “It’s candy Mommy!”

I hope everyone has a great week!

Healthy Summer Snacks

I love summer. Lazy and carefree days by the pool, late evening walks while the sun sets, and the smell of summer bbqs all make me wish that summer could last forever. Lots of summer activities, like anything else, usually involve eating. It can be so easy to snack out of a bag of chips while sitting by the pool or to consume a big bowl of ice-cream after a game of sand volleyball. Both choices that are convenient but not so healthy. When making a snack for Carli I try to include healthy components of each major nutrient much like I would when making a meal, but of course in much smaller quantities. That would include a healthy fat, a nutrient dense carb (fruit, vegetable or whole grain) and protein. Some of my favorite snack combinations have all three nutrients, some have just two. I encourage people to avoid having snacks that are purely carbohydrate. Here are some of our family’s favorite summer snacks, all nutritious AND delicious.

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  1. Avocado pudding– our FAVORITE! I usually serve this with a banana. It surprisingly tastes just like chocolate pudding. For some it may not be sweet enough, just add a little more honey if this is the case for you. All you have to do is blend 1 ripe avocado, 2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder, 2 tbsp honey or agave nectar and 6 tbsp almond milk.
  2. Carrot fries– I have shared this recipe with so many people and they love it! I serve this with apple slices and peanut butter or with Horizon brand cheese sticks. Just take a bag of ridged carrot chips or snack-sized carrot sticks, toss with a little olive oil and salt and bake at 350 degrees for 12-15 minutes.
  3. Chocolate chip and chia energy balls– another hit with a lot of our friends. Carli calls them her “cookies.” This snack has protein, grains and healthy fats. They are great to freeze and take on outings. These are our favorite to take to the pool and to places like the zoo or the park. All you have to do is whisk together 1/2 cup peanut butter and 1/4 cup honey. Then add 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1 1/2 cups oats, 1/4 cup chia seeds, 1/4 cup shredded coconut, 1/4 cup flax seed meal and 1/4 cup chocolate chips.
  4. Banana pops– these tend to be messy but kids find them really fun to eat. Just cover a banana with peanut butter and roll in granola or oats and chocolate chips.
  5. Crackers and hummus– Our favorite crackers to dip in hummus is a toss up between the Back to Nature brand whole wheat crackers and any of the Blue Diamond brand nut thins crackers (a great option for gluten free families).
  6. Yogurt with chia seeds and fruit added– Carli would eat yogurt for every meal and snack if I let her so we usually have this at least once per day. We do Annie’s brand whole milk yogurt (we also like the Stoneyfield organic whole milk yogurt squeezies for on the go). I eat this snack quite a bit myself but with a lower fat yogurt- I typically choose Greek yogurt for extra protein. The chia seeds add some extra healthy fats and the fruit we add is usually some sort of berry. We’ve been doing lot of strawberry and blueberry picking this summer, so we have an abundant supply for our yogurt!
  7. Avocado and pear pops– much healthier than the typical sugary popsicle and a great choice to cool down on those hot summer days. Just puree 2 avocadoes and 2 pears (skin removed) and place them into popsicle molds. Great for teething babies as well!
  8. Smoothies– another great cool-down snack. A great replacement for a milkshake! I make my smoothies with a handful of spinach, a mixture of fruit, almond milk, plus a tbsp of chia or flax seed. Sometimes I add PB2 depending on what fruits I add- banana plus PB2 is a great combo!

Here are my favorite fruit combos

  • Strawberry, blueberry and raspberry
  • Peach, banana, and strawberry
  • Mango and banana
  • Banana and blueberry

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Cheers to a happy and healthy summer!