Thursday, June 28, 2012

MyPlate Birthday and Recipe Review

MyPlate, the government’s replacement for the food pyramid, is celebrating its first birthday with a revamped website that includes new resources and recipes, as well as tips for celebrating events with healthier food and by including movement and exercise as part of the festivities.  You can find the links to the celebration resources and more, including the place to wish MyPlate a Happy Birthday by clicking below.

A year ago I promised to review the original recipes from the MyPlate site when I wrote my post about the change.  You can find their original recipes here.  So, in honor of MyPlate’s first birthday, I present my reviews of the salads from their original recipe list.  So far, we have liked everything we have tried.  I explain my adjustments for each recipe below, if any.

As I mentioned last year, we like the Outtasight Salad (page 5).  We use whatever fresh vegetables and fruits we have on hand, usually doubling the amount to two cups each.  The more vegetables and fruits, the less noticeable the greens are, and my children prefer the salad this way.  Also, fresh pineapple is our choice over canned.  And for the dressing, we leave out the vinegar, keeping the dressing thicker and creamier, so it can coat the chunks of vegetables and fruits.

We usually eat this as a light lunch, with nut butter or cheese toast.  Leftovers make a good side salad for dinner.

The Fire and Ice Watermelon Salad (page 9) is a refreshing and new way to eat watermelon.  I really like the kick of the dressing, but my children prefer to eat the fruit mixture without the dressing, so I just reserve it on the side.  We were almost out of white vinegar the first time I made this, so I used half white and half apple cider vinegar.  You could probably use all apple cider vinegar too, although I have not tried that yet.

This recipe makes a lot, so you may be eating this watermelon for a couple of days; it is good as a snack, or a luncheon side dish.

We have also tried the Bulgur Chickpea Salad as a side dish (page 10).  I actually prepare my bulgur off the stove, using warm water.  I use fresh parsley instead of dried, and shredded carrot instead of chopped.  This dish offers an interesting flavor combination that is light and fresh, perfect for summer.

These last two recipes are great ways to use the green onions we grow on our windowsill.

If you have tried any of the MyPlate recipes, let us know how you liked them.  You can find additional new recipes and resources at this page.  With so many links, I have plenty of new recipes to try, so look for more reviews in the future!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Peach Harvest

Due to a mild winter, our peach tree bloomed a couple of weeks early this year, so we have been harvesting peaches a few weeks earlier than usual.

One of our favorite ways to use our peach harvest is to can our own fruit cocktail.  I had hoped to make significantly more fruit cocktail this year than last year, but my kids and husband ate some of the organic fruit I bought before canning day, so I made nearly the same amount: three pint and a half jars plus 4 pint jars (17 cups) versus the eight pint jars I made last year (16 cups).

I used exactly the same fruits as last year: peaches from our tree, apples, and pears.  However, this year I forgot to add the lime juice, so we won’t try to save a jar to see how long it keeps (acidic environments are less likely to spoil).  We opened the final jar from last year a couple of weeks ago, and it was just as good as the day we made it.  I doubt this year’s jars will make it to fall.  My girls love our homemade fruit cocktail; maybe we’ll make some in winter with other fruits.

You can find the link to the fruit cocktail recipe, as well as the Peach Salsa and Peach Popsicles we made both this year and last year at this post.  I opted to puree all of the peaches for the popsicles, because the diced pieces were really hard to chew from last year’s batch.  That post also discusses the nutrients found in peaches.

I repeated a recipe from last year that I did not include in that post: Spiced Peaches by Dorothy from her blog Shockingly Delicious.  I like to call these sweet and sour peaches; however, they do not taste like the red stuff you will find in a Chinese restaurant.

I also made a great Peach Barbecue Sauce by Katie from So Tasty So Yummy that I served with her Chick-fil-a Chicken Nuggets.  Although I haven’t tried making variations of this sauce yet, I bet it would taste great even without the peach.  We have been eating this sauce with grilled meats and even with baked potatoes.

And, I made a version of Katie’s Peach Oat Muffins that I found highlighted on another blog through the Secret Recipe Club Dorothy and Katie both participate in.  Here is the other version.  I actually merged the two versions, but I'm sure these muffins will turn out great whichever recipe you use.  We definitely liked them.

Finally, I made a Peach Custard Pie using this Good Housekeeping recipe for Nectarines.  The custard part is really good, but we used the last of our crop and the peaches tasted sour.  I think this is because we harvested most of those peaches before they were ripe in order to keep the birds from getting them all!

If you have a favorite peach recipe, I hope you will share it; I am always looking for something new to try.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Healthy Eating: How to Get Started

Last week, a friend of mine was discussing her quest to cut refined sugars out of her family’s diet, lamenting that she had a pantry full of processed foods that contained refined sugars.  She had watched this 60 Minutes report on the health problems related to sugar and the science behind sugar addiction (yes, sugar is like other addictions).  FYI, in this previous post about health problems related to sugar, I discuss additional concerns to those presented in the news segment.

I have mentioned on this blog several times that I try to feed my family homemade healthy meals using whole foods as often as I can.  Here is what I told my friend when she was overwhelmed by the task of eliminating sugar from her family’s diet.  You start off slowly, making a few of your own snacks and meals and move forward to the next stage once you have integrated one thing into your family meal habits.  While I would love to say that we never eat processed foods, we do from time to time.  Nearly everyone does, but a good goal is to minimize the processed foods as much as you can.  If you are wondering how to do this, keep reading!

So, how do you start?  There are several different options.  When I discuss healthy eating with my students, I tell them to pick one change and focus on that.  For example, if you are not eating salads nearly every day, start there; it’s a great way to get fresh food into your diet, and if you are pressed for time you can make one huge salad that will feed your family for a few days before you need to make another one.  Or, start by eliminating a particular processed junk food or drink, such as soda.

In her book The Unhealthy Truth, Robyn O’Brien explains her method, an 80/20 approach.  She suggests starting with twenty percent healthy meals or ingredients and working your way up until you reach at least eighty percent.  She offers other practical suggestions in her book and on her website.

Another way to begin is to choose a meal or snack time and focus on making that particular eating experience healthy every day, or at least Monday through Friday.  For example, start with breakfast.  Eliminate processed foods from your breakfast: no boxed cereals, pop tarts, frozen sausage biscuits, or microwave pancakes.  To make this easy for you, I’ll list a week’s worth of healthy breakfasts to get you started.  

Monday = oatmeal (old fashioned rolled oats, not instant) topped with fresh, frozen, or dried fruits, cinnamon, and plain yogurt.

Tuesday = boiled or scrambled eggs with whole grain toast and fresh fruit.  Throw some salsa on the eggs if you are inclined.

Wednesday = plain yogurt with fresh or frozen fruit, raw nuts, sunflower seeds, and cinnamon. 

Thursday = barley (cook the night before) topped with fresh, frozen, or dried fruits, cinnamon, and plain yogurt.

Friday = whole grain toast spread with natural peanut or almond butter and topped with sliced fruit.

Saturday = make pancakes or waffles with a whole grain flour.  Top with defrosted frozen fruit, raw nuts, yogurt, and/or raw honey.  

Sunday = omelet with mushrooms, zucchini, and salsa.  Fresh fruit.

Choose five of the suggestions above and try them out this week.  The other two days, eat some of the processed foods in your pantry so you don’t waste your money and your family doesn’t feel the change so much.  If your family is not ready to give up their breakfast bacon or sausage, serve them on the side.  Then, you can “forget” to make them one morning… see if they notice!

Here are some tips to make these meals easy and quick to prepare.

Cook oatmeal and barley (or another whole grain) the night before; when it is cooled, place the entire pot with its lid in the refrigerator and reheat it on the stove in the morning (stir some water into the pot).  Store leftovers the same way to serve as a snack or another morning.

Defrost frozen fruit in a bowl in the refrigerator overnight.

Pancake or waffle batter can be made the night before and stored in the refrigerator.  Freeze the leftovers tor another day; heat up frozen pancakes in the toaster.

Slice the mushrooms and shred the zucchini the night before.  Whisk the eggs with the salsa, mix the veggies in and store overnight in the refrigerator.

You are probably wondering: how do you keep track of what you need to do when?  I make a meal plan chart and refer to it throughout the day.  Write yourself sticky notes or set up a calendar; whatever works.  If you forget, it’s ok; these meals can be made quickly in the morning (except for the barley, but if you put it on as soon as you wake, it will be ready in time).  If you forget to defrost fruit, use fresh or dried.  We always have frozen blueberries, which are small enough to defrost quickly on the counter in the morning.

I would love to hear about your efforts, so don’t be shy with your comments or questions.  If you have other helpful ideas or tips, please share them with us!

P. S. Find a schedule of healthy lunch ideas here.

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