Saturday, July 13, 2013

Healthy Pumpkin Spice Muffins You'll Love

It's a rainy, warm, and muggy day in July (translation - movie day!), but inside my house it may as well be November! I've got my cozy pants on, fall scented candles burning, and pumpkin spice muffins in the oven. I just ran out of the zucchini muffins my little one brings to school, so it was time to make another batch!

I like muffins because they are portable, don't necessarily have to be refrigerated during the day, and they are easy for kids to eat. But, muffins can also be a calorie and sugar bomb if you're not careful. I've adapted this recipe over time and now feel confident giving them to my kids as a sweet treat that won't send them into that crazed and dazed look that they get when they have too much sugar. 

Here's the recipe and the nutritional low-down so you can make some of your own!

Pumpkin Spice Muffins
Who says you have to wait for fall?

1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup bread flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs
1 tsp pumpkin spice
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup orange juice
1 cup pumpkin
1/4 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup raisins

It's Easy:
1. Mix your dry ingredients and wet ingredients in separate bowls, and then combine them, stirring just enough to combine them. Do not over-stir or your muffins will be too tough.

2. Spoon into greased muffin tins about halfway full. I opt for smaller muffins. We can always have another one, but its hard to undo eating a big one!

3. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Enjoy!

This recipe should make 14 muffins, and each has 112 calories, 4 grams of fat, 3 grams of protein, and 5 grams of sugar, most of those coming from the raisins. Please note that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends 12 grams of sugar each day for children. One of these muffins represents almost half of a child's sugar needs for the day. Take a look at a typical muffin recipe, note the amount of sugar called for, and consider where that muffins may fall in your child's sugar needs for the day!

To reduce the sugar in these muffins, do not use as many raisins.

Read more about sugar allowance in Sugar Shake Up: How Much Do You Need?

These muffins are sweet and simple, and I love that my kids love them. They made my house super cozy today and when paired with low-sugar yogurt or low-fat cheese, will make a great snack later in the week.

And, they make my house smell great!

Get out there and get healthy today, even if you bake muffins!

Saturday, June 29, 2013

And the Healthy Moms Go Wild!

I've got two kids, and my friends have even more. And maybe its because I am in the wellness industry, but it seems that every time I turn around, another mom is pulling her hair out in frustration over the same thing: junk food, and how it is e-v-e-r-y-w-h-e-r-e in our kids lives. They vent to me, and I vent back to them, and we're all saying the same thing: "Stop giving my kids junk food!!!"

It may just be me, but it seems like in the past year or so I spend a lot more time playing defense for my kids. At every turn, junk food in the veil of "treats" awaits. It reminds me of this blog post I read a few months ago, which may as well be the anthem for healthy-minded parents everywhere.

Camp. Vacation Bible School. Birthday parties. Vacation. Grandparents. Free cookies at the grocery store. Road trips. "Just this once." "Don't be so controlling." "Its not a big deal." It never ends - people want my kids to eat crappy food all day long, and they think I am over-reacting when I think that's a bad idea. But here's the thing - I am right.

Sorry, Charlie. Junk food is a major reason why our country is not only overwhelmingly obese, but getting sicker every day. Here's a clue to why.

And you know, I'm okay with my kids eating sweets once in a while. That's part of life and I don't expect them to never have a piece of cake or learn first-hand (because sometimes that's the only way you can learn) what happens when you eat an entire bag of gummy worms at once. But its not controlling, high-maintenance, over-reacting, or strict to try to prevent that from happening every dang day of your kids' life, or even every weekend.

It's good parenting.

And I would be so bold as to say that the opposite - consistently providing sweets, candy, known junk food, soda, juice, and other sugary and artificial foods to your kids - is bad parenting. There. I said it!

And I am worn out over it. I am wearing thin. I'm tired, my punches aren't as fast. My resolve is wavering. Because I am just TIRED OF FIGHTING. It would be so easy to let them sit and eat cookies all day long, trust me.

But they deserve better, and we are the ones to give it to them. We aren't doing them any favors by constantly offering junk food and assuming that a) they want it, b) that is all they will eat, and c) it's okay because they aren't overweight. Heart disease can begin as early as five years old, and chicken fingers are a major contributor.

I don't expect my children to live a monk's existence, but I don't think I'm being mean or elitist when I say no to fast food, juice boxes, the kid's menu, and candy as standard kid's fare. I hope that some day, my picky eater who wants to live on Annie's Chocolate Chipper granola bars and milk, will reach for an apple instead. All I can do is provide a good example and keep our standards high.

And in the meantime, it would help if you'd quit offering him fruit chews.

Love ya! Mean it! :) Get out there and get healthy, even if I just annoyed you a little.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

The Birthday Watermelon

It's my birthday! I usually hate my birthday because of all the pressure to make it an amazing day to remember, when in reality it never measures up and just ends up being another day. But these days, I am so stinkin' happy with my life, truly carpeing the crap out of the diem every chance I get, that it kind of feels like every day is my birthday! That takes the pressure off and lets me relax a little!

Birthdays also used to mean a calorie coma, with all of the pressure to indulge in something sweet and sinful in the name of celebration. But you know I don't play that way. Its been over a year and a half since I gave up sugar, so birthday cake doesn't even tempt me anymore. But telling people that you're not going to have cake on your birthday results in a sonic thud of confusion and disapproval. 

I recently passed up cake at another birthday celebration, which prompted the question of how I would celebrate my birthday if I wasn't having cake. "With a party!" I replied. Silence. Apparently that was the wrong answer.

I'm already really hard to do nice things for, what with my compulsive martyrdom and chronic guilt complex whenever anyone tries to indulge me. So last year when my son asked if I really, truly wasn't going to have a cake for my birthday, he assured me that he and my husband could eat it all and I wouldn't have to eat any. Then he came up with a better idea: "I know! I'll make you a cake out of fruit!"

And that's how the birthday watermelon came to be. Sure there are plenty of adorable and impressive cakes made of fruit on Pinterest, but who has time for that? I popped a few candles into a quarter of a watermelon, listened to my favorite boys sing "Happy Birthday" (and debate mid-serenade on the proper placement of the cha-cha-chas), and made myself a secret wish. 

1. Buy a watermelon.
2. Put candles in watermelon.
3. Viola! You have yourself a birthday watermelon!

We ate together, I had a proper birthday treat, everyone felt appropriately ritualized, and I didn't have to eat cake.

It was the best idea ever, and I yesterday I bought my birthday watermelon for this year.

So what's the big deal about one measly piece of cake? Why don't I get over myself and live a little? Is one piece of cake really going to ruin my life? Am I so perfect that I'm not even going to eat cake on my birthday? No, it's actually the opposite. I can't handle cake on my birthday. I am not a one-piece-of-cake, one taste of ice cream, one square of chocolate a day kind of girl. I want a lot of it. I am a volume eater! Having just one piece is torture, and it might not ruin my life but it would screw up my weekend. I choose not to eat sugar because of how crummy it makes me feel. The sugar cravings that follow are just not worth it to me. Someday that might change but for now, my birthday watermelon was the sweetest treat I could ask for.

I didn't have a huge pile of chocolate for my birthday, which means I skipped the stomachache, the regret the next morning, and the "OMG why did I do that?" part of so many birthdays past. But, I still celebrated! I just celebrated my awesome life, not food. You can do it too. So get out there and get healthy, even if no one understands you!

And Happy Birthday. :)

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Bread Snob Bakery: Homemade Pre-baked Pizza Crust

Yes I eat green beans with my homemade pizza. You don't?
I'm going on a family vacation, and when we travel to the beach, each member of the family takes responsibility for one night of dinner. My night is Pizza Night! We love to each have our own little crust so we can put on what we like. Having your own little pizza is also great for portion control because you can't really go back for more. 

Easy peasy lemon squeezy. 

Except that I'm a bread snob, and I knew that I would want to make the crust myself. But, I also knew I wouldn't have time to do that on vacation. So I resigned myself to buying store crust. I went to the grocery store, found some "healthy" crust, and put it in my buggy. Then I took it out. Then I took it back off the shelf, looked at the list of ingredients, and sighed. I knew I needed to do this. I needed to get over it, suck it up, and go for convenience. Dang it. I put it in my buggy and walked on. But I couldn't do it. I went back, put the crust back on the shelf, and decided I would find a way.

I just cannot buy that crap.

Luckily, making my own crust and pre-baking it a little made it just like store-bought crust but without all the cancer and stuff. Now we can still have Pizza Night and I can still have vacation, and I can feel 100% awesome about the food my children and precious little nieces are gobbling up after a day playing at the beach.

Here's how I did it.

1. Start with the basic pizza dough recipe. Mix the ingredients, knead for three minutes, allow to rise in a warm place for about two hours or until double in size, and then roll it out onto a lightly floured surface.
  • 2 cups bread flour 
  • 1 cup warm water (140 degrees)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 1/4 tsp (or one packet) dry active yeast
  • garlic, italian seasoning, etc.
2. Separate your dough into five equal pieces. Because I am a portion freak, I got out my digital scale and weighed 100 grams each. This is going to be a 200-calorie crust.
All rolled out and ready for the oven!

3. Roll each piece into a circle, the size of which depending on the thickness of crust you like. I am a volume eater, so I roll mine pretty thin so I can fit lots of veggies on top.

4. Place each little crust onto a greased baking sheet or baking stone and put back into a warm oven to rise for another 30 minutes or so. If you're feeling all fancy and stuff, sprinkle each one with garlic and dried basil.

5. After they have risen, preheat the oven to 350 degrees and bake them for about 10 minutes.
Out of the oven, ready for storage.

6. After removing from the oven, lightly brush with olive oil. Lightly. Olive oil is good for you, but it has a lot of calories!

7. Allow them to cool, and then store in an air-tight container in the fridge until ready to use.

In my case, I kept them in the fridge for about three days and then took them out for a test dinner. I added sauce, toppings, and cheese just like I would for store-bought crust, and put them in the oven for 10 minutes at 450. The result was absolutely perfect. I was so pleased with myself! I asked my family members about 15 times how they liked it until they shouted, YES, THE PIZZA CRUST IS GOOD CAN WE TALK ABOUT MINECRAFT NOW?

Yum! Can you tell which of these is mine?

I'll be baking up another batch this week for our beach trip, and I expect another great result. You don't have to buy store crust if you don't want to. Sure, baking these crusts takes some time and effort, but it is well worth it to have the convenience later in the week without giving in to junky processed food. Give it a try and let me know what you think!

Get out there and get healthy today, even if you have to plan Pizza Night.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

So What's the Deal with GMOs?

So what's the deal with GMOs? Why is everyone mad about them, why don't companies want us to know when we're eating them, and what's the big deal? Well, here's the deal.

GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organisms, which are plants or animals that have been engineered using DNA from bacteria, viruses, or other plants or animals. GMOs are man-made or manipulated to meet the increasing demands of the food marketplace. Since genetically modifying food makes it produce a higher yield, be more resistant to drought and infection, and better tolerate the addition of nutrients, this type of science makes a lot of sense for food companies because they can make more food faster, which makes them more money. And remember, food companies are corporations, not human health service organizations, despite the smiling pictures of friendly neighborhood farmers on their packages of chips.

But what's good for a corporate budget isn't always good for humanity. More evidence is showing increased health problems and environmental damage as a result of GMOs. When I say health problems, I mean that GMOs have been linked to thousands of sick and dead livestock and damage to virtually every organ studied in lab animals. The reason is because genetically modified food is not food. It is a food-like substance. And the human body was created to eat food, not food-like substances.

GMOs are so serious that most developed nations, including Australia, Japan, the European Union, and dozens more, restrict or ban the production and sale of them. Why has America not taken the same position? Read the second paragraph again.

The reason why people are up in arms about GMOs these days is because we are becoming increasingly convinced that eating food-like substance is bad for us, and that we have a right to know whether or not what we are eating is food. Back in the good old days, if you wanted to eat healthfully you could do what I did when I started eating clean: focus on fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains, and avoid packaged foods. With the prevalence of GMOs, even these foods may not in fact be foods.

A lot of people think that we have a fundamental right to know whether we are in fact eating food, or if we are eating something that looks a lot like food but is in fact a man-made product posing as food. But, the United States does not require GMOs to be labeled, which prevents us from knowing the origin of our food unless we grow it ourselves. There are some enterprising and hard-working people out there who are willing to do this, but it is not a realistic option for most of us.

So what's a food-eating human to do? Well, food companies might not be required to label whether their products contain GMOs, but a few organizations have done that research for us:

The Non-GMO Project was created to give consumers an informed choice. They verify products and list them so you can be aware of which boxes on the shelf contain food and which do not. Check the list of Verified Products on their website before you head to the store. 

If you forget that list at home, no fear! This handy phone app, Buycott, lets you scan a barcode and see whether it contains GMO ingredients. When GMOs stop being profitable, they stop being.

And, you can take action as well by signing the Just Label It petition. Seriously, folks, this is about our food. Its our sustenance. Its what we feed our kids, and what our future depends on. We will most literally and completely die without it. You have a responsibility for your own health, and if you're going to choose a battle, choose this one.

Now, a note of reality - just as with the certified organic seal, foods that are listed as non-GMO are not necessarily healthy for you. There is plenty of sugary candy food out there bearing the organic and non-GMO labels. GMO-free only means that it is pure, natural, and real. Not healthy. There is a difference.

Get out there and get healthy today, even if it means you have to get all up in arms about food quality. That battle is worth it, because you are worth it.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Long Weekends = Big-time Triggers. Here's how to stay on track!

Holiday weekends can be major trigger times for emotional and distracted eating. I used to spend three-day weekends in a no-man's-land of food, not sure where my structure was and how to keep that wayward Monday from turning the whole week into a mish-mash of bad decisions.

Here are a few tips that have always helped me stay focused: 

1. Wear a bracelet or a watch to which you can assign magical protective powers. When you reach out for food you don't really want or need, you'll see it and remember your goal. It just might be enough to keep your hands by your side. Or in your pockets. Or in someone else's. Or wherever they need to be to NOT be filled with food.

2. Become the party historian and stay busy with a camera. It takes two hands to take a picture (at least a good one) so keeping your hands full with photography duties is a great way to avoid standing around with a plate! Plus, you'll capture some great memories as well.

3. Drink lots and lots of water. Like, a gallon. Seriously! Get a water bottle, assign magical powers to it (I hereby decree that this water bottle will protect me from potato salad, cheese and crackers, and the third beer!) and then fill 'er up. The water will do wonders for your body since most of us walk around dehydrated anyway, and you'll quench at least some of your appetite as well.

4. Use a mantra. Your brain is the biggest fitness tool you have, and mantras are incredibly powerful when used correctly. Some popular ones are, "Nothing tastes as good as being healthy feels," or "I am worth it," or "I deserve better." A mantra should be personal and meaningful, so think of something that will actually help you stop mindless munching. Don't worry if it sounds stupid, you don't need to tell it to anyone else!

Remember, the goal of these tips is not to prevent you from eating, but rather to keep you eating healthfully, which means eating healthy food in appropriate portions. So if you're going to a friend's house, bring something you can eat without stress. If you're hosting a party, use your power for good and not evil. You know your limits. Don't tempt yourself unless you want to wreck yourself.

Have a great weekend, and a great Monday! Get out there and get healthy, even on a weekend.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Bread Snob Bakery: Homemade Bagels!

Well it is no secret that I am a food snob. Not a foodie, a food snob. There is a difference! I don't need fancy food, I just need good food! And, the height of my snobbishness is with bread. 

Bread these days usually can't even be called bread anymore. With dough conditioners and preservatives designed to extend the shelf life of breads, some of which have even been found to cause cancer, the bread aisle is probably the most confusing section of the grocery store. 

We deserve better bread! I love nothing more than a good burger (okay, maybe good pizza), but countless potentially epic cheeseburgers have been ruined by being served on a nothing bun out of a plastic bag. I pack my own homemade hamburger buns in ziplock bags to use in restaurants when I feel the bread is inferior. Yes it embarrasses my husband but I don't care. Its not like I wave it around and tell everyone! I'm cool, man, I'm just super passionate about bread.

Well you can read all about my homemade hamburger buns (which this week feature minced onion), but this week I am making bagels. I tried this last weekend and sent them to my husband's office on Monday. He came back with raving reviews so I am making another batch today for our Memorial Day weekend trip.

You'll need a bread maker! Here's the recipe:

1 cup plus 1 tablespoon water
1 tbsp honey
3 cups bread flour
1.25 tsp salt
1.5 tsp dry active yeast
You can also add cinnamon, onion, garlic, poppy seeds, whatever you want!

Put all of the ingredients into the bread maker and select the Manual or Bagel Dough setting. 

Ignore the time on the bread maker and take the dough out after 50 minutes with lightly floured hands and separate it into 10 equal pieces. 

Roll each piece into a ball and poke a hole in the middle to make a bagel shape. 

Place each bagel onto a greased baking sheet and allow to rise in a warm place for 20 minutes or until double. If the hole in your bagel has closed up, just poke it out again. No biggie.

Boil some water in a big pot (2 quarts should do) and drop three bagels at a time into the boiling water. You want to leave enough space for them to swim around freely. After 15 seconds, flip them over and let them boil for 15 more seconds on the other side. Then, remove with a slotted spoon and let dry on a baking rack.

Once they have all been boiled, transfer them back to the baking sheet and bake at 450 degrees for 8-10 minutes or until toasty on top.

Enjoy the aroma of good, simple, wholesome bread in your house for the rest of the day!

This process takes about an hour and a half from start to finish, with about 20 minutes of actual working time. You can do this. And more importantly, you should. Slow down, take your health seriously, and make time for better bread.

You deserve it!

Get out there and get healthy today - eat good bread!