Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Guaranteed Life-Saving Breakfast

This morning I was rudely awakened by a screaming toddler and Paul lying said screaming toddler onto the bed next to me, while stating, “I can’t deal with her right now, I have to get ready for work.” To which I may or may not have replied with a squinty-eyed look of confusion with a dash of anger at having been awoken this way; I went to get a bottle and then I changed her diaper and tried to get her back to sleep, seeing as how it was 6:30 in the morning and I usually sleep until at least 8. The bottle soothed her, but did not put her back to sleep, and alas, I was forced to get up, cussing under my breath (or not so much under my breath) all the way to the bathroom then kitchen.

You’d think I was used to being woken by a screaming baby by now, but I was just particularly tired this morning since I’d been dealing with Lily being sick the last three days, plus all the excitement of Hurricane Irene. Luckily we were barely affected by the stormy weekend weather, but Hurricane Lily had made her mark for sure. Anyway, I’d been hoping to get a little more sleep than I had been, but I quickly got over all my feelings of bitterness and exhaustion after I had this tasty energy-packed, life-saving (and husband-saving) breakfast!

Yogurt and granola with raspberries, banana and blueberries topped with flax seed, coconut and honey, plus a few Berry Blossoms courtesy of Lily :)

Fully Loaded Yogurt Bowl

½ cup plain organic yogurt
½ cup granola
½ or 1 banana, sliced
¼ cup raisins
Handful of blueberries and raspberries
1 tbsp flax seed
1 tsp honey
1 tsp shredded coconut

Scoop yogurt into bowl then top with granola, followed by fruit, honey, flax seeds, and coconut. Mix well if desired or go ahead and eat as is! You can use any combination of fruit that you like and other add-ins like nuts. I typically just use whatever fruit I have available; banana with mixed berries is always good, but peaches and apples are great too. The base of any good yogurt bowl is the yogurt (duh), granola, and fruit; after that, you can just toss in whatever you desire.

The breakfast Lily and I enjoyed the other day. I add coconut milk to my coffee instead of cream for it's natural sweetness and extra calcium. Try it next time and you'll see a pleasant difference!

It’s as simple as that! Add a green smoothie or cup of coffee to the mix and you’re good to go! All clouds of sleepiness will be lifted and you’ll be ready to start you’re day. And it only takes about 3 minutes to make!

I’d like to say many people eat this kind of breakfast in the morning, but it’s more likely that pastries and cold cereal are devoured along with sugared coffee, if anything is devoured at all since statistics say that many Americans skip breakfast. I know my husband often does, as much as I’ve begged him to eat something before heading to work in the past (I have since given up), although from what he’s told me sometimes he does get an egg sandwich from the deli or a donut from the office (hence my prior complaint). He is not alone in this world of 9-5ers who barely have time for a cup of Joe, let alone a bowl of granola and fruit.

I’ve always made it a priority to eat in the morning, even if it does have to be cold cereal (there isn’t anything wrong with that, but it won’t get you through the morning like a fuller meal will). The fact of the matter is I will be very cranky if I don’t eat since I get that way when my blood sugar is low. But, if you are someone who normally doesn’t eat in the morning and doesn't even have 3 minutes to spare on putting something like this together, you can make this yogurt bowl to-go the night before by placing it in a travel-ready container. I wouldn’t recommend eating and driving, but while waiting for the train during your commute, you could probably eat most of it then finish the rest at your desk!

Lily is big on this type of meal too, although this morning she was a little picky, I guess due to still feeling a little under-the-weather, but I did get her to eat some blueberries and cereal even though she passed up the yogurt and banana. Your little one will definitely enjoy this breakfast in any combination and at any age, and can be blended for babies ready for solids. Please note that babies younger than 9 months shouldn’t eat berries due to possible allergic reactions, and yogurt should wait until they’re at least 6 months unless otherwise stated by your child's doctor.

Adding the flax to your yogurt bowl- or just about anything you eat for that matter –is a sure way to get a boost of omega-3s and fiber, and they're particularly great for bone and heart health (and brain, of course, with the omegas). Studies havealso shown flax to help in preventing cancer, diabetes and inflammation, and also in lowering blood pressure. Flax seeds are wonderful and a little bit goes a long way. They can be added to just about any baked good or cereal, topped on veggies, ground for breading on meats and tofu, topped on salads…the possibilities are endless!

I use flax quite often, although I don’t think I’ve mentioned that here before. When Lily started eating solids, it was recommended by my mother-in-law and sister-in-law that I add ground flax meal to her cereal and breast milk, and I’m glad I heeded their advice. Omegas are especially vital to helping a baby’s brain development as you have probably read or been told by your child's pediatrician if you have a good one, so go ahead and pick up a bag and just sprinkle it right on your baby’s or child’s cereal- they probably won’t even notice a difference in taste or texture, but if they do, they will get over it eventually. 

Save this recipe for your own "too early" mornings, and hopefully it will rescue your husband or screaming child from getting his/her head chopped off ;)

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Frozen Summer Treat!

I’ve been wanting to post a tried and tested summer treat recipe, but hadn’t really hit any goals that I thought were worth sharing. I made a few different flavors of popsicles, but none were exciting or even tasty enough to gab about, and the ones that did taste good weren’t exactly healthy. I got an ice cream maker last spring and did some experimenting with that, but really the best flavors were the classics- vanilla and chocolate –and whenever I did come up with a flavor that was anything other than those, it was only because I used a flavor extract like mint or orange. In other words, it would be lazy of me to post a recipe for such things.

But, then, I remembered an old frozen treat from my childhood that I didn’t only enjoy eating, but also enjoyed making myself. It could be messy, but fun, and my mom was usually more than pleased to make these with me, because besides being delicious, there were actually nutritious qualities to it too. Many of you will probably know this one, but I wonder how many have actually ever made…

Chocolate-covered Frozen Bananas

2 bananas, cut in half
¾ cup chocolate chips
2 tbsp coconut oil
Extra toppings choices: shredded coconut, chopped nuts, granola, chopped dried cranberries or cherries, sprinkles, chopped espresso beans, etc.

Stick a popsicle stick or chopstick or whatever you have available to use for a handle into the bottom of each banana half, length-wise. Place the halved bananas on a tray or plate in freezer and freeze for at least 30 minutes. When the bananas are close to ready, melt the chocolate chips and coconut oil in a small saucepan or in a Pyrex glass in the microwave on high for 30 seconds. Mix until smooth. Remove from heat, then get the bananas out and carefully dip them into the chocolate, covering them, then lay on a piece of parchment paper on a tray or plate to put back into the freezer. Sprinkle with toppings of your choice. Put them back into the freezer for another 30 minutes or until set (may not take very long depending on how cold your freezer is). Best to enjoy these bananas outside under the sun!

And there you have it- a sweet, yet healthier option to store-bought popsicles and they don’t take very long to make, with little effort to boot. If you have kids that are of an age where they can handle dipping bananas into chocolate without dumping it all over themselves, they will enjoy helping you with this, and also getting to apply their very own toppings. Baby can obviously enjoy some mashed up bananas, but for an extra treat, add some shredded coconut topping. Toddlers can enjoy this at your discretion, as you may not want to give them chocolate yet or their teeth may be sensitive to the cold.

As everyone knows, bananas are super-healthy and incredibly versatile in many recipes. They are loaded with potassium, protein, vitamin B6 and vitamin C. Bananas help to improve cardiovascular and kidney health, and even contain a lesser-known prebiotic compound called fructooligosaccharide, which helps the body absorb nutrients such as calcium more efficiently, thus promoting denser bones.

One thing I’ve always noticed bananas are good for is as the perfect on-the-go snack for a burst of energy. I eat them just about every day either right out of the rind, sliced up on whole wheat toast with peanut butter and honey, in freshly-made smoothies, or in desserts such as the frozen bananas and caramelized with frozen yogurt (or vanilla ice cream!).

Since I’m also talking about chocolate here, I want to bring up a lesser-known plight that is taking place mainly in Africa that involves the way cocoa beans are harvested. Many children are forced into cocoa bean harvesting- which is very hard labor –either because it is the only way they can make money for their families, or far worse, they are often kidnapped and forced to work as slaves. They work for hours on end in the blistering sun, usually without breaks and without eating or drinking anything. Children reportedly as young as 8 years old are doing this work. And, even though many of the major chocolate companies like Nestle and Cadbury say they are doing their part to only use Fair Trade cocoa beans, it is incredibly difficult to track just where these beans are actually coming from (like a “blood diamond”).  Furthermore, many farmers in these impoverished countries are being taken advantage of and not receiving fair wages from the yields they provide.

There are a few brands that are taking greater strides to ensure they know where their cocoa beans are coming from, brands like Dagoba, Newman’s Own Organic, and Endangered Species all use organically grown beans which are also Fair Trade. Click this link to learn more about how they are certified and to see other brands that use organic and Fair Trade cocoa beans.

I don’t want to plant a guilt trip on anybody- I mean, how awful is it to have to worry if kids were breaking their backs over the cocoa used to make the delicious Godiva truffle you’re about to enjoy (sadly, they most likely were!). This issue only very recently came to my attention as it has received very little coverage in the news, like most child labor issues do, and I’m sad to say coffee beans are effected similarly. So, even though Fair Trade and organic brands do tend to cost a bit more than Hershey’s and Folgers, if you can afford it and want to make a difference, indulge your sweet tooth with a bar labeled Fair Trade Certified and/or Slave-Free to ensure you are not giving money to the types of people who would put children’s well-being at risk just to make some money.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

A Green Smoothy for Picky Eaters of Any Age

One morning I looked in my kitchen and was pleased to see my husband had done a good job grocery shopping job the night before. I’d gone to bed early due to…just being tired!...and missed him when he got home. I gave him a call to let him know I appreciated it, and then he mentioned the organic spinach he’d gotten and suggested I make green smoothies for Lily and myself. And I figured, why not? I had almond milk, bananas, peaches and honey, and really, that plus the spinach is all you need to make a green smoothy that doesn’t taste like grass!

Delicious Green Smoothie

1 cup almond milk
1 cup spinach (or other green such as kale)
1 banana, broken into chunks
1 peach, chopped (or other sweet fruit, such as an apple or ½ a cantaloupe)
1 tbsp honey (stevia can also be used)

Put all ingredients into blender; a good technique is the layering technique, which would go: banana, spinach, peach, honey, almond milk. Blend until smooth. Pour into glasses (or sippy cups). Enjoy. It’s that easy!

How good does that look?

I was even surprised at how great this tasted, and we’ve been drinking them ever since. Tastes much better than those powdered shake mixes, that’s for sure. You can use just about any greens and sweet fruit, but always keep the banana to give it that thickened quality. If you want it even thicker, add a few spoonfuls of yogurt. If you use sweetened almond milk, then you can leave out the extra sweetener if you want (depends on how sweet you and your child like it!).I like also like to keep it vegan so it's healthier, but you can definitely use cow's milk or soy milk instead of almond, but if you haven't tried almond milk, you may want to- it's a really good alternative to conventional milk.

It’s really that simple. And most kids like green things that look weird thanks to Nickelodeon, and are unlikely to be turned off by the color. So, don’t let on if you think it’s weird then they might follow suit and not taste it. There was definitely a time I couldn't imagine drinking any "green" drinks, even the thought of wheatgrass turned me off. But, one day I gave one a try (I think it was by Naked) and liked it, then gave wheatgrass a go and that wasn't so bad either, and now I don't have any issues going green with my beverages!

Health food stores and gyms offer energizing smoothies as an alternative to coffee and sugary carbonated drinks, but they are very simple to make at home, and less likely to hurt your budget! Don’t be fooled by places like Jamba Juice though- their drinks are full of hidden sugars and fillers- mainly in the free “Boosts”. Just have a look at their menu. On this menu, sugars are not listed in the Boost ingredients, but if you see the menus they have available at the registers, you will be shocked at how much sugar goes into them (at least they were listed when I used to buy Jamba on the regular years ago, so things may have changed). They have also been criticized for using artificial flavors, although I could not locate any reliable source for this on the internet, but I wouldn’t be surprised since the colors are so bright.

But, anyway, enough with dissing Jamba Juice. Truth is, the drinks are delicious and still better for you than soda, but quite pricey too! So, if you have a few minutes, make your own fruity energy drink at home. They are chock full of vitamins and minerals without having to add anything synthetic; you don’t even need to add any vitamin powder unless you want to take your vitamins that way, but in my experience, those types of drinks always just end up tasting gritty because the powder never dissolves properly (and I’ve tried quite a few of those types of powder supplements).

Greens are super good for you and mixing them with fruit isn’t as icky as it sounds. In fact, have you ever had a strawberry and spinach salad? You’d be amazed how great that combo is! Here’s a little bonus recipe from one of my favorite magazines.

When experimenting with smoothie recipes, if you find a combo you really love, please share in the comments! Thanks for reading!
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