Saturday, November 28, 2009

Advent Calendar Giving Actitives

Advent Stockings

My husband and I have three goals for our children, to raise them to be healthy in spirit, healthy in body and healthy in mind. Usually my blog centers more around the "healthy in body" topic, but today I'll share with you something I am trying this year to help achieve the other two goals; we are going to do advent stockings.

So much of a child's Christmas is about getting that I want to be purposeful about making ours just as much about giving.

Here is the plan. Each day we will do three things. 1) We strung 24 small stocking on the wall. Each day they will pull out a piece of paper that lists an activity that focuses on doing or giving something each day. 2) They will get a small piece of chocolate from their normal advent calendars and 3) We will read one story from the Advent Storybook.

I am really excited about this and thought I would share what we have planned. My children are 2.5 and 4.5 so the activities are centered around those ages. Here is the initial plan:

December 1 - Make Angels to Hang over the Nativity Set
December 2 - Buy 2 Ducks through World Vision
December 3 - Thank a Solider
December 4 - Make a Gingerbread House
December 5 - Gingerbread Puppets @ the DIA
December 6 - Purchase Gifts for Little Boy from our Church Ministry
December 7 - Make Christmas Card for Maltese Family and Send it.
December 8 - Make Banana Bread for Church Staff
December 9 - Deliver Banana Bread to Church Staffers
December 10 - Give Money to Salvation Army Bell Ringers
December 11 - Make Cookies for Neighbors & Sunday School Teachers
December 12 - Bring Blanket to Whole Foods
December 13 - Wrap and Bring in Present for Boy from Church Ministry
December 14 - Bring Baby Bottle to School Christmas Program
December 15 - Deliver Cookies to Neighbors
December 16 - Go to the Store and pick out a gift for daddy
December 17 - Pick out a gift for each other and make a card
December 18 - Donate Food To Rochester Area Neighborhood House
December 19 - Write Thank You Notes to Sunday School Teachers
December 20 - Deliver Thank You Notes & Cookies to Sunday School Teachers
December 21 - Get Our Dog a Christmas Gift
December 22 - Go Downtown to See The Big Bright Light Show & Have Pizza for Dinner
December 23 - Paint a Christmas Ornament
December 24 - Make Grandma & Grandpa their Christmas cards. Help wrap the presents.

So that is the plan. As you can tell, many of the things we are doing are specific to Metro Detroit, but you could easily substitute local activities specific to your location.

No Sugar November - Results

I did it...or at least came pretty close.

There are two times when it is nearly impossible to avoid eating sugar:

1) When you are eating at someone else's house (even when you avoid dessert): Because sugar is in basically everything, I would have had to bring my own food wherever I went all month. That is a little too much for me to think about right now. I know I had sugar when I had a sandwich at a friend's house, bacon in mashed potatoes at my mom's house, and stuffing and bread at thanksgiving (and the stuffing I ate at a Whole Foods Cooking Class) but I am not about imposing inconvenience on my friends and family.

2) When you are sick. My daughter was very sick at the beginning of the month. Never took her to the doctor, so I don't know what she had but I took Elderberry Syrup that has glucose in it to boost my immune system along with some oscillococcinum that has sugar in it.

and Ohh there is one more 3) Thanksgiving day. Although I told myself that I was going to skip the dessert on Thanksgiving, when the time came I just couldn't resist a piece of homemade cherry pie. It was good and worth it. One other failure, I ate a veal nitrate-free hot dog. After I finished, I thought to myself, wow that was sweet and when I checked the package sure enough, it had cane juice in it. Really? Even hot dogs? Incredible!

As I initially said, I was doing this as a health test, not to lose weight. And in case you were wondering, I didn't gain or loose weight. I stayed the same. Here is what I noticed during my little experiment:

* It was really hard in the beginning. If I had been doing it for any other reason, I would have given in and eaten sugar within the first 3 days. But I really wanted to see if I felt different without sugar.

* My sugar cravings diminished over time. In the beginning it was really really hard to not think about what I wasn't having. By week three, it was much easier.

* I never realized I had such a Pavlovian response to sugar. Two times my kids ate ice cream while I was doing this and the whole time my mouth was seriously salivating over the ice cream. It was a very strong response that really surprised me.

* It was awesome to see my kids encourage me. My dad was teasing me trying to tell me that the homemade caramel he made didn't have sugar in it and my son (4 years old) said "Momma I think Grandpa is trying to trick you, I know you are trying not to eat any sugar." When we walked into Maggie Moos to get the kids ice cream at the mall, my daughter (2 years old), put both of her hands to her head in dismay and said "Ohh Noooo. Ice Cream has a lot of sugar in it Mama." I assured her that I would skip the ice cream, but she could still have hers. I think I will make this a yearly thing, although probably not in November again. It was a great conversation starter for the kids.

* Not to get too personal, but my luteal phase is usually too short. This time it was as long as it should be.

* My energy was more constant throughout the day. I didn't have the usual lows of tiredness.

* Although I have been eliminating sugar slowly for the past six months, I was surprised how much I had to still say no too. Mainly desserts when at other people's houses. At first it was hard, but by the end sitting dessert out is a lot easier than I thought it would be.

From doing this I learned that I can give up sugar and feel better when doing so. I honestly don't think one month is long enough to fully realize the benefits of no sugar, so I plan to watch my sugar intake and keep it low over the coming months.

Week 20 Summary & Review

Here is what we got week 20 and how I used it.

Apples - We at them for snacks throughout the week.
Brussels Sprouts - Brought them to my mom's house to go with our Halloween Dinner.
Acorn Squash - I baked them and pureed the flesh and froze it for use during winter.
Cabbage - A Cabbage Salad
Red Onions - Used for cooking through the week.
Mixed Greens - Made Salads through the week.
Beets - Roasted beet salad with walnuts and feta. It was GOOD!!!

And that brings to a close the 2009 Share Season of Maple Creek Farm. 

If you found this share interesting, please sign-up for their share program for 2010 if you live in their delivery area.  They are offering two share sizes in 2010.  A 20-week share to feed 1-2 people for $400 or a 20-week share to feed a family of 4 for $750.  All the 2010 share details can be found on their blog.  

You may think that sounds like a lot of money for 20-weeks of produce, but I can assure you that the produce is top notch.  Produce from even the best grocery store cannot compare.  And if you still think this seems expensive.  I suggest you watch Food, Inc. to get an idea of what "cheap food"  really costs you, our society and our environment.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

20 Ways I Get My Kids to Eat Healthy

People often ask me how I get my kids to eat "healthy food."  I have a 4-year-old son and a 2-year-old daughter.  Here is a list of what tips that work for our family:
  1. Have the Right Attitude.  Approach each meal with the mindset that your kids will like what you serve.  Don't mention new ingredients, just let them try them themselves.  If they do respond negatively, keep the positive feelings going and talk it up.
  2. Make your Kids a Part of the Process.  Let them pick things out from the grocery store produce department.  Recently, my son saw Parsnips and wanted to get some because he had seen them on Curious George.  I had never cooked with them, but figured we could give them a try.  We all really liked them!  If I had left grocery shopping decisions up to me we never would have tried them.
  3. Start with Small Portions of New Foods.  If you are trying something new that you know will take a few times for them to start eating a full portion of, give them a very tiny portion so they can easily follow your directions to "eat it all."  Serve it with a big helping of a side dish that you know they enjoy.  Up the serving of the new item the next couple of times you serve it so they are increasingly expected to eat more.
  4. Serve New Foods at the Right Time.  Our kids always have the choice to eat all their dinner or not eat it and be hungry.  Sometimes I serve new things at lunch where this rule is a little more lenient in our house.  
  5. Serve New Food Several Times.  Recently I posted my recipe for Tomato Soup with Alphabet Pasta.  The first time I served it to my kids, they had one bite.  The next time, two bites.  The third time, 1/2 a bowl.  And now when I make it, they look forward to it and follow up with a "yummy that was good.  Make that again Mama."
  6. Make Trying New Foods Fun - Have a taste-test of the week time.  Grab a few new foods and let them try them.  Allow them to tell you what they do and don't like about the new foods. They could start a food journal if they know how to write.  Or they could draw pictures of the new food if can't write words yet.  Use your words and positive attitude to talk up new foods "Guess what guys?  We get to [don't save have to] try some new soup soups today.  You guys are really going to like it because it has chicken in it"
  7. Cook with Your Kids. My kids like to cook with me.  There are a lot of things that a 2 and 4 year-old can do to help while cooking.  My kids help me measure, dump the ingredients in the bowl, get the ingredients, put away the ingredients, wash a bowl, mix things and cut up ingredients (mine love to use a plastic knife to cut the carrots into chunks before I put it in the food processor).  You need to set ground rules.  Before we start I always say to them "what is the most important park of cooking?" they answer "listening."  "And what happens if you don't listen?" I ask.  "We get down." Meaning they have to get off the chair next to the counter and don't get to help anymore.  You may have to follow through on this threat a few times before cooking with them gets pleasant.  
  8. Teach them Where the Food Comes from.  Take them to a local farm.  Help them make a list of questions to ask a farmer at the farmer's market.  Plant a garden with them.  Search the internet for fun activities that will work for your family.
  9. Watch Cooking Shows with Them.  Talk about the ingredients.  Ask them what they think looks good.  We are big fans of the PBS channel Create.  My kids really like Lidia's Italy.  She goes places to see how the food is grown/made and then makes something from it.  If they like the looks of something that was made, I find the recipe and make it for them or with them.
  10. Have Discussions About Your Family's Food Choices.  Explain to them why you (and they) eat healthy food.  When they do have "junk food" and you notice that maybe they aren't feeling too well, start a discussion about how they feel.  Start with a question, not a lecture.  "How are you feeling after all that candy?  You think you might be crying because you are tired from eating all that candy?"
  11. Reinforce their Healthy Eating Habits.  Whenever we measure my kids, I say "wow, you must be eating all your vegetables, because you sure are growing"
  12. Don't Buy Food with Cartoon Characters on the Box.  Generally speaking, food with a cartoon character on it is pretty likely to contain a lot of sugar and/or sodium.  The food industry is working on programming us to eat more.  Cartoon Characters are only one more part of the psychological process they use to program our kids.  This is similar to Michael Pollen's rule: "Don't Eat Food that Makes Health Claims"
  13. Don't Assume What Foods they Will or Will Not Like.  I never liked fish when I was a kid.  For awhile, I assumed my kids wouldn't either.  But I picked up some Salmon at Whole Foods and baked it and they both LOVED it!  I am not crazy about unsweetened kefir.  But it is the only thing my daughter drinks besides water.  Had I imposed my own tastes on my kids, they would have missed out.  Yes, sometimes this means gagging down an ingredient that you don't like to set an example and get them to try it.
  14. Let THEM Pick Out the Foods they Don't Like.  If they don't like a specific ingredient in a dish, let them pick it out, but make them pick it out.  If they are young, they won't be very good at it, so they will miss some, eat it and get used to it.
  15. Try New Varieties of Foods.  I've been wanting my kids to eat raw salad greens for sometime, but whenever I bring up the fact that they should try eating some salad It is not met with excited anticipation.  Last week I told them "I know this great lettuce that kids like.  Do you want to try it?"  My son said, "sure."  So I picked up some mache salad.  And served it with some grapes and they really liked it.  
  16. Mache & Grape Salad for Kids
  17. Promote the Food in a Dish you Know They Will Like.  Sometimes if I serve something new, my son will say "I am not eating that." I tell him "really? Why not?  You like carrots, you like chicken, you like crust and you like peas.  All that stuff is in there.  You will really like this Chicken Pot Pie."
  18. Accept that they Won't Like All Foods.  As much as I would like my son to eat oatmeal with the rest of the family, he simply doesn't like it.  He's tried quick oatmeal, old-fashioned oatmeal, steel cut oatmeal - all several times and he never has grown to like it.  I have accepted that he doesn't like it and he can have a banana or piece of sprouted bread for breakfast.  I don't like EVERY food I taste, so why should he?  He eats almost every food I put in front of him, oatmeal isn't going to be one of them.
  19. Name it or Shape It.   Yesterday my kids weren't too excited about the prospect of eating Beet Risotto, so I renamed it Red Rice and used some cookie cutters to shape it into their favorite shapes, a pumpkin and a heart.  If food manufacturers can do it, so can you! 
  20. Beet Risotto in Shapes for Kids
  21. Model What you Want Them to Eat.  Your kids won't eat healthy if they see you eating junk all day.  So ask yourself before you eat that second cookie.  "Would I let my kids eat this?"  If the answer is no, don't eat it.  This question helped me cut out a lot of the junk I used to eat when my kids weren't looking.
  22. Be Patient and Realistic.  These things take time.  I've been at this since my kids started on solids.  Sometimes we have a bad month where they don't want to eat anything new.  That's ok.  Take a month off and re-eat the healthy foods you know they like.  
What are your favorite tips to get your kids to eat healthy foods?

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Vegetable Tomato Soup with Alphabet Pasta

Eden Foods Vegetable Pasta

I am a big proponent of using recipes from the back of boxes and packages.  I think that companies want their ingredients to shine through so why wouldn't they provide you with a recipe that was top notch?  This attitude helped me stumble on the recipe for Creamy Alphabet Tomato Soup that I saw on the package of Eden Foods' Vegetable Alphabets.  I modified the recipe, because I am not a big fan of soy.  But it is really yummy, the kids and hubby like it - a lot!  It will come in very handy if you have a hand blender, but a regular blender will do, you just have to work in batches.

Here is my version of their recipe for Creamy Alphabet Tomato Soup:

1 Tablespoon Eden Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 cup onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup carrots, diced
1/3 cup celery, diced
1 1/2 cup Chicken stock
28 ounces can of 
Eden Organic Crushed Tomatoes (FYI: their cans aren't lined with BPA)
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon 
Eden Sea Salt, or to taste
1/2 cup 
Eden Organic Vegetable Alphabets
1 cup heavy whipping cream (milk or half and half will substitute fine, it will just be a little less creamy)


Cook the pasta according to package directions, rinse, drain and set aside.

Heat the oil in a medium soup pot. Sauté the onions and garlic for 2 minutes. Add the celery and carrots. Sauté for 3 to 4 minutes. Add the basil, oregano, black pepper, sea salt and tomatoes. Mix, cover and bring to a boil. Reduce the flame and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes until the vegetables are tender. Puree the soup using a hand blender.  Mix in the cream and cooked pasta. Bring almost to a boil. Do not boil. Reduce the flame to low and simmer 1 to 2 minutes until the pasta is warm and serve.

Note: My kids like it when I pile the pasta in the middle, rather than mixing it into the soup as the recipe states above.

Creamy Alphabet Tomato Soup

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

No Sugar November

My next birthday goal (March 2010) is to kick my sugar habit.  I've been slowly chipping away at it for the past 6 months by doing the following:
  • Changing my relationship with food choices to something I do for my health rather than for my weight.
  • Educating myself about sugar and what it does to my body.  
  • Being aware of how my body feels after I eat sugar.
  • Finding healthy replacements, not artificial ones when I do feel like sweetness.
  • Omitting foods that don't have healthy replacements (granola bars, sugar in my coffee, cereal)
  • Reading labels to make sure there are no added sweeteners in the ingredient list.
These things have made a big dent in how much sugar I eat compared to six months ago.  I have noticed a lot of differences since reducing my sugar.  But now I am interested in what would change if I gave up all sugar for a month?  So that is what I am doing, November of 2009 is going to be sugar free for me.

To me a No Sugar November means: 
  • No sugar.  
  • No corn syrup.  
  • No sweeteners, fake or real, of any kind in the ingredients list of anything I buy.  
  • Naturally occurring fruit and milk sugars are OK.  
Those are the rules I made for myself.  Some of this will be easy for me (I haven't had Corn Syrup in a long time).  Some of it will be hard.

I think my biggest challenges are going to be:
  • Giving up my baked good.  I don't bake nearly as much as I used to, and what I do bake now, usually has raw honey or sucanat in it in place of sugar, but I think I will miss them.
  • Giving up raw honey.  I thought a long time to see what I was going to do about raw honey.  I believe that raw honey can be a great sweetener with health benefits, but for this month I will give it up.
  • Giving up my teaspoon of brown sugar in my morning oatmeal.
  • Giving up my occasional treats with friends and the kids.  
So why am I excited about "Giving Up" so much?  I think it is going to be fun to see all that I GAIN from giving up my bad sugar habits!

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Monday, November 02, 2009

Catching Fireflies $50 Giveaway

Catching Fireflies & Rochester Elevator

When I need a gift for someone I usually go to Catching Fireflies.  It is a local store in Rochester, Michigan; but they also have a location in Ferndale and an online store.

I shop there because they have unique items at a variety of prices for their respective age groups.  And even better, they offer free gift wrapping.  There is nothing I like more, than driving away with my present already wrapped and ready to go on the seat next to me:

Catching Fireflies Gift Bag - Ready to Go

I thought it might be fun to give away a $50 Gift Card to Catching Fireflies to one lucky reader.  You can use the card at their online store or at one of their Rochester or Ferndale stores.  As you can see from the pictures below, it is a very fun shopping experience.  My personal favorite sections are the kitchen section and the purse/jewelry sections.

Catching Fireflies Purse / Jewelry Section

Catching Fireflies Kitchen

To enter to win, all you have to do is comment on this post.  On Monday, November 9th I'll use to generate a random winner and the $50 Gift Card will be sent to you, just in time to buy a Christmas gift for yourself!

UPDATE 11/9/09 Contest is now closed.  We have a winner, Shannon from was comment number 20!

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