Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Best Cookbook Ever!!!



Do you have a go-to cookbook? I have had several through the years that I have enjoyed, but a few weeks ago I ordered and received a cookbook that seriously rocks my world unlike any other! I am so in love, I cannot even begin to tell you....okay, I guess I will tell you :)! But first the backstory:

Almost exactly 3 years ago I went to see a nutritionist. She gave me the cookbook The Whole Life Nutrition Cookbook to aid me in my dietary goals. I have enjoyed this book thoroughly through the years as well as their blog. The authors, Alissa Segersten and Tom Malterre, are a couple with 5 kiddos. They both have nutrition degrees from Bastyr University. And they work together so beautifully to come up with amazing recipes that are both delicious and healthy! On their blog (and also found in their new cookbook) is my favorite recipe which I talked about on here before. 

Through the years, my eating habits have continued to evolve. Though most of the information that has led to the changes I have made did not come directly through the Nourishing Meals website, I feel that their philosophy of eating now probably captures mine better than any other diet, cookbook or website. I have known for a while that they were coming out with a new cookbook, and when it came out it took everything in me not to jump and buy it right away. I didn't have the money to buy it at the time and thought I would wait patiently to get it for Christmas. But finally I couldn't wait any longer and I bought it!

In the short few weeks I have had the Nourishing Meals Cookbook I have made several recipes. And every single one is amazing!! Among them are:
  • Mini Quiches with a Sweet Potato Crust (dairy free w/option to add cheese)
  • Coconut Banana Breakfast Cake
  • Breakfast Potatoes
  • Sourdough Teff Bread (I will admit I am still working on this recipe - I think I am messing something up :) )
  • Coconut Flour Biscuits
  • Asian Chicken Salad
  • Lean, Mean and Green Rice Salad
  • Sloppy Joes
  • Slow Cooked Beef Stew
  • Chicken Pot Pies (w/Coconut Flour Biscuits for the grain-free option; pictured below - sorry the pics from my phone did not turn out well)
  • Dairy-Free Macaroni and Cheese
  • Avocado Mayonnaise
  • Deep Dish Apple Pie filling (I didn't have time to make the crust, but the filling was yummy!)
  • Chocolate Walnut Brownies (I used carob instead of chocolate and they were so great!)



Here are some of the things that I love about this book:
  • It is whole food's based. No junk, and it includes plenty of veggies!
  • They take a really healthy balance on grains. I have struggled between different views on grains and phytic acid. They address this issue in their book and recommend soaking to decrease phytic acid, as well as advise eating some meals grain-free, but they also recognize the benefits of phytic acid. They do offer several grain free recipes for those avoiding grains. 
  • Speaking of their grain free recipes - they have a few recipes using coconut flour (and some with almond flour, but I don't use almonds much because I don't digest them well). And seriously they are so superior to any other recipes I have used for coconut-flour products. Wow! I use coconut flour quite a bit and I am thrilled to have some higher quality recipes.
  • I feel they have a great balance between meat-based recipes and vegan/vegetarian recipes. They also emphasize eating pastured meats, which is great! I often feel torn between grain-free Paleo, the Weston A. Price philosophy of eating, and also raw vegan as I enjoy aspects of all of these diets. I feel that this cookbook includes the things I love about each of them and has recipes that fit into each category.
  • Important for our family - all of their recipes are GF and dairy free (though a few include optional dairy additions). 
  • They have a section on preserved foods which excites me because I am trying make more fermented vegetables. 
  • They have a very large section full of healthy desserts! I am especially anxious to try their mint chip ice cream. 
Well I could go on and on, but hopefully you get the gist. If you are trying to live out healthy eating with your family, I really cannot recommend this cookbook enough. There are over 300 recipes, tons of helpful information on eating healthy and general nutrition and it includes some beautiful pictures of their recipes. Really my only complaint about this book is that I don't have enough time to make all the things I want to!

If you are interested, you can purchase it here on Amazon!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

My Favorite Summer Meal, Plus Black Bean and Mango Salad Recipe




As the summer weather will be quickly passing us by, I am trying to enjoy the food of summer as much as possible while I still can! What can beat (food-wise) all of the wonderful fresh fruit and vegetables, the fresh salmon, and more. Speaking of salmon, I really can't think of a better summer meal than one including fresh, wild Alaskan salmon. I feel so good after I eat it. During the summer we eat it once a week, though we try to eat it regularly throughout the year as well. Trader Joe's has really good prices on frozen salmon and that is where we usually get it in seasons other than summer, but it doesn't nearly taste as amazing as the good stuff we can get in summer.



Last night we had what is probably my all-time favorite summer meal. Fresh wild salmon, rice and a black bean and mango salad. Yummy! Please excuse my photos as I am still a newbie to photography, but hopefully from them you can get the gist. You might notice we are eating white rice instead of brown. I am still looking into this more, but one of the diets I am very interested in (The Perfect Health Diet) advocates for white rice over brown because it has a lower natural toxicity level. Because my kids love white rice that is what we have been eating lately. I personally prefer brown but I am going to be buying the book for this diet and reading more on what they have to say on the topic. What I really like about the Perfect Health Diet is that it is a Paleo-style diet but also maintains that we have a need for some "safe" starches. They allow for white rice, potatoes, sweet potatoes and tapioca. I am not adhering to this diet completely, and I know for sure I don't agree with every element of it, but it has been helpful as a guide as we have sought to decrease our grains/starches yet not eliminate them completely.

Alrighty, now that I have successfully taken a major side track off of my subject, back to our meal from last night. Here is my black bean salad recipe. I have made many different variations on it through the past couple of years. You can do it with corn, avocado or any variety of veggie and or fruit you like. This also makes a great side dish for a potluck!


Black Bean and Mango Salad

  • ~2 C black beans (or 1 can)
  • ~2 C cut up mango 
  • 1/2 C diced yellow pepper
  • 1/8-1/4 C chopped green onion
  • 1/4 C chopped cilantro
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tsp apple cider vinegar (we have citrus issues, but you could use lemon or lime juice instead)
  • salt to taste
  • Optional: 1 avocado cubed (sometimes I do this instead of the yellow pepper)
Mix up all of the ingredients and serve!





Monday, August 13, 2012

A Tale of Two Pancakes



Like many families, ours has a tradition of making weekend pancakes. I think we have been doing this for about 9 years now. We started with your typical Bisquick recipe, then moved onto homemade soaked whole wheat pancakes and waffles. When we went gluten free I searched the internet for a recipe I could use and came across this fabulous, and easy, recipe. We use buckwheat for it and I will write the our modified recipe below. These pancakes were such a hit in our house, and so easy and inexpensive, that we ended up making them twice a week...or should I say my husband Nik made them :). Yay for hubbies that cook!

Now that we are trying to do a little less grains we are only making the buckwheat pancakes once a week and once a week I am making coconut flour pancakes. I searched the web for good recipes and have now tried two. The first ones ended up way too dry but the second recipe yielded really great pancakes. Check out the original recipe here. I will write my slightly modified recipe below. 

While the buckwheat pancakes are the bigger hit with the kids, they do enjoy the coconut flour ones too. The coconut flour pancakes are quite a bit more expensive to make (how do you beat the price of cheap whole grains?!) but they are my personal favorites. They are super high in protein because of all the eggs, and I can give them to our baby who we have been keeping off of grains.

So if you are looking for a new pancake recipe, give one of these a try and let me know what you think! As usual, all of these are gluten, dairy and sugar free!

Blender Buckwheat Pancakes (Serves our family of 6) - from Sue Gregg's recipe, link above


Stage 1


  • 3 C buttermilk or cultured dairy alternative (we use coconut or rice milk and include 2 Tbsp of pomegranate juice in the 3 C to sour)
  • 4 Tbsp coconut or olive oil
  • 2 C raw buckwheat groats

Blend the above 3 ingredients on high for 3-5 minutes. We have a vitamix so blending for about 1-2 minutes seems to be sufficient for us. Let sit overnight.

  • 4 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
Stir the above 3 leavening ingredients in a small bowl.

Stage 2

  • 2 eggs
  • 4 Tbsp ground flax seeds

Add eggs and flax to the blender and blend on high for 1-3 minutes. Again, for us with the vitamix 1 minute is usually enough. Then add the leavenings you you mixed together the night before and blend just enough to incorporate thoroughly. Cook in waffle iron or griddle for pancakes. 


Coconut Flour Pancakes (makes about 2 dozen) - slightly modified from cheeseslave recipe, link above

  • 8 eggs
  • 4 Tbsp ground flax seeds
  • 3/4 C water
  • 3/4 C coconut oil, melted
  • 3/4 C coconut milk
  • 6 tsp honey
  • 4 tsp salt
  • 3/4 C coconut flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder

Mix eggs, flax seeds, water, coconut oil, coconut milk, honey and salt. Mix coconut flour and baking powder and coconut flour separately then add to the wet ingredients and mix thoroughly. Batter will be very thick. Spoon batter onto heated and oiled skillet to cook. 






Thursday, August 2, 2012

Our Cloth Diaper Journey



Prior to having children I Never, and I mean NEVER thought I would use cloth diapers. I started my first baby on disposables without even a second thought about it. She was a month or two old when a friend shared with me that she would be using cloth diapers for her soon-to-be-due son. Honestly, I thought she was crazy! Who uses cloth diapers?! But the more she told me about these diapers she had found the more intrigued I became.

She was going to be using Fuzzi Bunz, a very popular brand of what are called pocket diapers. These diapers have a wonderful soft fleece lining on the inside that absorb quickly and dry to the touch, making them more comparable to a disposable. They have pockets in which you place a triple layered terry cloth insert. They can hold quite a bit. And in theory the cleaning is supposed to be quite simple. I am not sure why, but my friend hooked me and I started researching right away and by the time my daughter was 6 months old she was a Fuzzi Bunz wearer.

My love for these diapers was very short lived as I right away came across problems. Feel free to ask me if you are interested in hearing more, but the short of it is that these diapers don't absorb the way they are supposed to if you have a build up of detergent on them, so you don't want to use to much detergent. But if you don't use enough detergent they don't get clean. Absorbency issues and stink issues were a common problem for me. I am extremely stubborn and wanted to make them work so I stuck with them, troubleshooting the entire time, through 3 children. I had seasons with each of the kids where life was just a little too tough to be washing dirty diapers all the time and I resorted to disposables. But for the majority of each child's time in diapers we used the Fuzzi Bunz. We saved a ton of money and more than that I loved knowing they we weren't adding too much to the land fill and that my baby had something quality touching his tooshy, but I wouldn't say I was ever completely happy with this particular diaper.

Because we had such a rough first year with our fourth child James, I put him in disposables. I tried to find a natural diaper (not sure how great they really were though). We even tried to do cloth for a little bit but it was short lived. But since I finished pumping I started thinking of going back to cloth. I had some new Fuzzi Bunz I purchased on sale before James was born, as well as some used ones from a friend. I gave them a wash to get them ready but the same absorbency issues arose and I decided, no more Fuzzi Bunz! I can't believe I stuck them out so long. I had heard a ton about simple prefolds and different covers. I hated to make a change with just a year of diapering to go, but I decided to give them a try. And thankfully the expense is a whole lot less than Fuzzi Bunz so I was less worried about wasting money (though I will have to sell my Fuzzi Bunz to recoup some of what I spent on them). So here is what I am using now:
  • Cloth-eez prefold diapers from Green Mountain Diapers
  • Thirsties Duo Wrap which I purchased from Amazon
  • Rockin' Green detergent for soft water 
So far I love these diapers. They are inexpensive and easy to use and wash, and I don't have to worry about the absorbency problems I had with the Fuzzi Bunz. I can reuse the covers as they easily wipe clean. The main pro that the Fuzzi Bunz had over these is that they dry to the touch, which decreases chance of rashes. But as long as I change James frequently enough I am hoping this won't be an issue. 

If I were to know what I know now from the very start, I would probably do the same prefolds with a wool cover. Wool is a great material plus it has self-cleaning benefits. But there seemed to be a bit of a learning curve to wool covers and I didn't feel like it was worth it being so close to being done with diapers. But if you are earlier on in the venture and are considering cloth diapers I highly recommend checking wool covers out!

I will keep you posted on how it goes with our new diapers. I am just a couple of weeks in so stink issues could still definitely arise, but hopefully they will work for us this year. My kids were all potty trained by age 2 so I do hope that James will only be in diapers one more year. Which brings me to one last plug - if you are truly interested in being environmentally conscious, you might want to consider potty training your kids at an early age (for those of you with kids :) ). No matter what diapering choice you make, the quicker you potty train the less impact your diapering will have on the environment (because even with cloth diapers you are still using up extra water and energy to wash them). I will write a post about our potty training experiences, but I am convinced the most children are fully capable of learning to use the toilet earlier and quicker than we give them credit for. 

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Our Natural Cleaning Products





Natural cleaners entered our home about 4 years ago, and I can't even remember how I got started on them. While I would love to say that I made the switch to "green" cleaning products to be more earth-conscious and healthy, I think I was more motivated by the desire to save a little money. It was the same thing with switching over to cloth diapers. But as a result I have become much more conscious of how all of our decisions in regard to the products we use can affect both the environment and our health. For me it feels really great to use products that work well (I personally find the products I use now to be way more effective than their commercial counterparts) and are also not dangerous for my children who want to help clean or my one year old who might go exploring under the sink.

When I first got started with natural cleaners I used a basic cleaner made up of half vinegar, half water. And then I added a little tea tree oil as a disinfectant. After a while I got lazy and started using Simple Green, which I have since learned is actually NOT a very green product. I have since dumped it. About 6 months ago though I got back on track with making my own products. I don't know what got into me but  one day I just got up and revamped our whole cleaning system. I put together a basket for each bathroom and for the kitchen in order to have everything easily accessible for each place when I am cleaning. This also allows for more easy on the spot cleaning. I cleaned out all of our old spray bottles to reuse with my homemade vinegar cleaner. I put a bottle in each basket along with a bottle containing just plain water. I also put a tupperware container full of baking soda in each basket, along with a cleaning sponge and a cleaning rag. Lastly I added to each basket a little dark spry bottle that I filled with hydrogen peroxide. Here is a summary of what products I use for what chores:

Basic Cleaning: I use a mix of 1/2 vinegar, 1/2 water with a few drops of essential oils. I use this in a spray bottle to clean counter tops, floors, bathroom fixtures, the microwave, etc. Instead of using paper towels I use cleaning cloths made by Casabella and e-Cloth. I started out with the Casabella cloths and then my friend Catherine introduced me to e-cloths on her blog. I like them both quite a bit but am considering trying out another brand. I will keep you posted on that! 

Stainless Steel Appliances: For these I either use the vinegar spray or just a spray of plain water with the e-cloths specialized for stainless steel, though I have found that the general e-cloths work fine too. The same would work for non-stainless steel appliances.

Sinks and Bath tubs: For these I use plain old baking soda and a scrub brush. It works great! This will work just fine on grout and tile as well, though our tub is in desperate need of a re-grout job so not even the greatest product can save us at this point! But to clean basic mold and mildew in bathrooms you can use the vinegar spray or hydrogen peroxide. If memory serves, I have heard that vinegar can wear down grout though, just FYI.

Mirrors and Windows: All I use here is water and the cloths from e-cloth intended for windows. It does take a little bit of elbow grease to get the windows and mirrors clean, but they are gleaming afterward!

Floors: We have porcelain tile floors in the kitchen and bathrooms. To clean them I will either use the vinegar cleaning spray with a rag or I will use my floor steam mop. I love my steam mop but the handle is broken so it is a little harder to use right now. Steam mops are a great way to clean and disinfect though!

Blinds and Basic Dusting: My least favorite chore is dusting. I use these dusting gloves. They make things soooo much easier!

Toilet Bowls: I either use baking soda with vinegar or the leftovers we still have of Clorox green toilet cleaner (which I am not even entirely sure is truly green - we won't buy more after we use it all up).

To disinfect or clean mold on windows I use hydrogen peroxide. I bought a couple of little hairspray bottles (the bottle needs to be dark for hydrogen peroxide) and dumped out the hairspray and cleaned them out. Then I filled with the hydrogen peroxide. I use this on door handles or other things I want to disinfect. For the mold on windows I first use the vinegar spray with a paper towel and then follow it up with the hydrogen peroxide.

So those are my cleaning basics. I have found that having the right products can make cleaning quite a bit more fun! And seriously, this route makes cleaning so much cheaper! The cleaning cloths might seem expensive at first, but keep in mind that they last for years and seriously reduce the need for paper towels. So they pay for themselves pretty quickly - not to mention they are better for the environment and do a FAR better job cleaning than paper towels do.

Monday, July 30, 2012

My Attempts At House Cleaning




I finally have stopped pumping milk for James and now I am catching up on many things that I wasn't able to do this past year. Cleaning is one of them! Before I had children I had a weekly cleaning time where I cleaned my entire house pretty thoroughly. After our first child Elise came that weekly time quickly vanished, only to be replaced with occasional cleaning times as there was need. I don't think our house has ever gotten super dirty, but as we have added more children and the time I have available to clean has simultaneously decreased, so too has the condition of our home. It is overwhelming!

Well, now a weekly couple hours of cleaning is not very realistic. However, my husband sent me an article a couple of years ago that talked about organizing the house into different areas and cleaning in one area for 15-20 minutes each day of the week. The idea is that you could get your whole house clean over the course of a week. Such a great idea! As I tried to figure out how to do this in my house I quickly realized there was no way I could clean my entire house in 5 or 6 15-minute slots. At least not at this point. So I improvised and divided my house into 4 zones, with the plan that I could focus on one zone each week. It would take one month to get the entire house thoroughly clean, but hey, that would result in more cleaning than I was doing at the time. I made this beautiful colored graph and everything and was so excited to get started. But, it never happened! I was probably pregnant or something and I just couldn't implement the new plan.

Fast forward to today. Now that I am not pumping for 2+ hours a day, I have a tiny bit more time (most of which is taken up with the kiddos) to actually get some cleaning in. So for the past three weeks I have been implementing my two-year old plan. And I really love it! Now it remains to be seen if I can stick with it, but at least this is a great start. The first week I thoroughly cleaned the kitchen, pantry and laundry room. Last week I did the dining room, living room, and my daughter Elise's room. This week is the office, entry way, boys' room and downstairs bathtub (the rest of that bathroom gets cleaned weekly because we host a community group for our church). The fourth week of the month I will clean the master bedroom and bath and the baby's room. Some things still need to be cleaned more regularly (like the sinks, counters and kitchen floors), but usually those just take a few minutes here and there.

Keeping a clean house can make an impact on overall health. Lots of dust in the air, as well as mold and mildew have the real potential to harm our bodies. However, if we are using toxic chemicals to get rid of dust, mildew and mold, we are setting ourselves up for even more harm. Over the past few years I have slowly transitioned to using natural cleaning products. There are so many reasons I am excited about this! Next time I will share with you some of the things I am currently using to make cleaning safer and easier in my home!


Thursday, July 5, 2012

Chicken and Biscuits Recipe



I LOVE chicken pot pie! Seriously love! I remember the first time I went to a Marie Calendar's restaurant and got one of their amazing pies with the perfectly flaky crust and rich chicken and veggie filling. Oh yum! When Nik and I got married his mom gave me a pot pie recipe that I made regularly. It was one of our favorite dishes, always served with tons of cold cottage cheese. Now that we are gluten and dairy free that meal is a distant memory for sure. However I have made lots of variations through the years to try to keep it alive in some form. I have tried several gluten free crusts but none were real winners, and I wasn't crazy about the ingredients anyway. In the last few years I have opted to just make a pot pie filling and serve with biscuits. Now that we are trying to do less grains, I have been making the biscuits out of coconut flour. They are pretty sweet so the flavor is a bit different than traditional biscuits, but they are still really tasty.

Now in the past this dish has not been the biggest hit with my kids. I was always so surprised that they didn't love it! I remember always being such a fan as a kid. I think the big issue was that they prefer not to have their food all mixed together. When I made this a couple of days ago it was the first time they seemed to enjoy it. Finally!

I am going to be really honest - this is not the quickest of meals to make. Nothing about it is too tricky or complicated, but it involves a lot of cutting and chopping and a few different pots. As I look over the recipe I keep feeling like it shouldn't take so long, but every time I make it it ends up being a little more involved than I thought it would be. Part of it is that pulling all of the chicken off of the bone and cutting it up is really time consuming. So this is not something I make too often. This week I made a bigger amount and we had this two nights in a row to make all of the work worth it.

Last thing to mention before getting to this recipe - from the picture it looks really potato-heavy and lacking in chicken. We were half way through dinner when I remembered to take a picture. My son had the fullest and neatest plate so I took a picture of his meal, but he had already eaten most of his chicken. So the picture isn't super accurate :).

Chicken Pot Pie Filling with Biscuits

Ingredients:

  • 1 Whole Chicken, cooked, meat removed and cut up (I have the butcher cut up the chicken into 8 pieces for me) - I cook mine at 350 degrees for 1 1/2 hours.
  • 8 medium-sized carrots, sliced
  • 4 large red potatoes
  • 3 stalks celery, sliced
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, mashed
  • 4 Tbsp butter or palm oil
  • 2-3 C frozen peas
  • 2 C chicken stock
  • 2 Tbsp thickener (I used arrowroot starch, but you could use any flour or starch)
  • 1/2 tsp thyme
  • 2 tsp salt (or to taste)
  • 1/2 tsp pepper (or to taste)

Directions: 

  1. Steam the carrots and potatoes in a large pot until fork tender. For me this takes about 20-30 mins, depending on how small I cut the veggies.
  2. While the carrots/potatoes are steaming, melt butter or palm oil in a large stock pot. Add onion, celery and garlic and saute until tender. Add the thyme.
  3. Once the potatoes and carrots are done add to the onion mixture. Add the frozen peas as well.
  4. Mix the thickener in with the chicken stock and stir to incorporate it completely. Then add the stock to the stock pot. Bring to a soft boil and then reduce heat slightly, stirring until thickened. 
  5. Now add the salt and pepper to taste. 
  6. Serve over biscuits of your choice. Here is the recipe I used. I made the recipe times 1 1/2 to make enough biscuits for two nights. (You will have to scroll down the page to find the biscuit recipe. I feel like these are way to sweet so I cut the honey in half.)








Monday, July 2, 2012

Surviving a Road Trip With Kids



Whew! It has been a long few weeks, but I am finally getting back to writing! Our family went on vacation to Idaho a couple of weeks ago. When you have a family with food sensitivities, in addition to one on a whole foods diet, vacations end up looking quite a bit different than the typical eat out as you go vacations. After all of the menu planning, grocery shopping, food preparation, packing and other things that went into our vacation I sincerely needed another break to recover from all of the work :). But it was soooo worth it. We had a great time and made many beautiful memories! 

Our Idaho vacation involved a 6-7 hour car trip each way. We have done a few car trips with the kids over the years, and thankfully they have all gone really well. Of course we have had the occasional kerfuffle, like Joel getting overheated and throwing up in the car (note to self: keep air conditioning on in the back of the car during road trips!), but our kids for the most part are awesome travelers. I am sure most of it is just good fortune (and a lot of prayer!). However there are a few things we have done to try to make the road traveled a bit smoother. So in memory of our wonderful trip I thought I would share our travelling tips!

Have Plenty For Them To Do

I am sure most parents already do this, but every time we travel we make sure the kids bring a backpack on the trip loaded with activities they will enjoy doing. A day or two before we leave I have the kids bring me their packs and choose their favorite coloring books, reading books and toys. We just stuff their packs as full as possible. I give them each a ziplock bag with their own crayons or colored pencils for easy access. I don't allow markers in the car. For our 3 year old Erik I keep his bag in a place where I can access it so I can pass toys back to him. I need a pretty good pile of things since he tends to drop things along the way. Oh, and I must not forget that they also have their favorite blankets and stuffed animals with them to keep them occupied! One must never travel without those :)!



Snacks, Snacks and More Snacks

I think this is the key to our travelling success. I give the kids several bags of snacks and keep them eating throughout the whole trip. This helps in two ways. Number one it negates the need to stop for lunch or dinner because instead of stopping to eat we just snack through our meals in the car. But this also keeps the kids sooo happy. Whenever they start getting really bored or stir crazy we let them dig into another snack bag. For this trip I did the same basic things on both the way there and the way back. We had organic green smoothies (loaded with calories to fill the kiddos up) in their stainless steel straw cups, carrot sticks, lunch meat slices, grapes, popcorn, and these homemade granola bars as well as a banana each. (For the granola bars I did slightly less honey, which made them a bit crumbly, and I also used soaked and dehydrated nuts & seeds). I also had large bottles of water for them to keep them hydrated. I found that I had just enough food to last for our 6 hour trip. If we had a longer drive I definitely would have needed more food bags!

Family Quiet Time With Video Reward

Because we still have young nappers in our family we need to have a time of quiet in the car so they can sleep. We usually keep it to about an hour and as a helpful incentive they can watch a short video in the car afterward. We are NOT normally bribe advocates, but I think that car trips can qualify as an exception to the rule. We usually do this toward the end of the trip, as we try to keep the video watching to a minimum. I also save their favorite snack for the video time. So if you wanted to try this out but don't have a DVD player in the car you could just use a special snack as a reward.

We didn't do this on our last trip, but in the past we have played games like rock, paper scissors and I-Spy or we have sung songs (singing Christmas carols together is so fun if you are travelling around the holidays). As far as keeping baby happy goes, I don't have much of a strategy. We just pray a lot and hope for the best. Thankfully our baby James is located in the very center of the car and I think he was just so happy to be with the whole family that he was content for the majority of the trip. I had plenty of pacifiers handy and a bag full of toys and small board books to pass back to him though.

So for those of you with young kiddos, what are your strategies for keeping the kids occupied in the car? For those of you without kids, what do you do to keep yourself content during a long car ride? I would love to hear your thoughts! Oh, and if you want a grain free granola bar, you really should try out that recipe I put up the link for. It really is yummalicious!

Monday, June 4, 2012

How A Movie Changed My View of Meat




Growing up I ate your average commercial meat. I gave up red meat and pork for a season while I was in college, but otherwise I have been a true American carnivore. However, for most of my life, I never considered the issue of meat quality. I figured people either ate meat or they didn't, and maybe there were some healthier cuts of meat for meat eaters to choose. But the thought that there were vast differences between the quality of meat from one animal to another based on their conditions...it just never entered my mind. Here is how our thinking about and consumption of meat has changed through the last several years...

How we started eating better meat quality

Years ago, when I first started making major changes to our diet, I began introducing free range chicken into our meals. I had read about the value of eating free range, organic meats, and also eating grass fed beef. It felt overwhelming to think of making all of those changes, and at the time it felt like a huge leap financially. We had been eating conventional chicken breasts from Costco and the price just couldn't be beat. Changing to free range chicken not only was a price change, but to make it more economical I was making entire chickens instead of just breasts. I had never before handled a whole chicken so it was a completely new experience for this newbie chef! I continued purchasing conventional beef for the time being as to not completely overwhelm myself or my sweet hubby who was a little perplexed by all of the changes I was suddenly making to our diet.

Anyway, after a couple of years we started dabbling in a little bit of organic chicken and organic beef, as well as grass-fed beef on rare occasions. Then I found a great supplier for grass-fed ground beef that had great quality but also beat out the other prices I could find. So that finally became a staple in our home. And then I landed on buying free range chickens from Whole Foods. Though I didn't always buy the organic chicken, the quality of the chickens' lives were pretty good there and it meant more to me to have high quality of life than to have an organic chicken being raised in poor conditions.

How Food Inc. solidified things for us

It was around this same time that my husband Nik and I sat down to watch the movie Food Inc. At this point in our journey the information we learned was not completely new to us, yet it was still shocking! This movie introduces you to the reality of what we are eating as a nation, the life conditions of most of the animals our country consumes, and some of the sad politics behind it all. While it covered much more than just the topic of meat, that was one of two topics that left the greatest impact on me. If I wasn't completely floored to feed my family well before (and I was), I sure was now!

For me the movie Food Inc. completely solidified my convictions to eat quality meat. While I "knew" that free range was better, it was not really until I saw the conditions of most animals that people in our country consume that I understood how vastly different the quality of life can be from one animal to another. And I came to realize that the title "natural" says absolutely nothing about the quality of life of the animals. Before this movie I just did not think enough about the realities of where my food came from. My new understanding was painful for me on two points. One, it was hard to see that these poor animals are living such horrible lives. It was just wrong! Second, even though we didn't eat that kind of meat anymore, I had to swallow the truth that for most of my life I did eat that kind of meat.

A righteous man cares for the needs of his animal...Proverbs 12:10a

Now that I have resolved to only eat quality meat, what does that mean? For me that means we only eat meat that comes from animals raised on healthy farms with space to roam and where they are treated with care and respect. The animals are also not given hormones or antibiotics. And how do I know what the living conditions of the meat we eat are? Well, I find out. I either look up the farms online to get information and talk to the farmer's directly, or I buy from Whole Foods which gives an animal wellness rating to all meat they sell. For the most part we eat organic now, but as I mentioned above, especially after seeing the movie, I would personally place the animal's quality of life above organic if I had to choose. My convictions have become so deep that if for some reason we weren't able to afford the kind of meat I am talking about, I would rather do without. And to make eating the kind of meat we do eat more affordable, we do a few vegan dinners a week because it cuts down on how much meat we need to buy. We are still not able eat my absolute ideal chicken (pastured chicken from our local Farmer's Market is $6-7/lb for a whole chicken), but the chicken at Whole Foods is really an amazing second best option.

I highly recommend that you watch this video if you have not already seen it. It is available on Netflix along with Food Matters - another movie that has the potential to forever change the way you see food. If you are eating conventional meats right now (which is pretty much all that is sold at your typical grocery store like Safeway or Albertsons), I warn you that it would be hard to watch this video and then continue eating the same way. So be prepared for change, or at least some change in the way you think about food!

What to do if you feel compelled to change but can't foot the bill

If you haven't noticed, I am a very budget conscious person. I think this is because I am constantly living in the tension between the convictions I carry regarding what we eat and the realities of what I can actually spend. I think that with some sacrifice most folks could afford to make some productive changes regarding their food quality. And in general I don't think most people put nearly a high enough value on eating quality foods. I do believe that we are what we eat. However, most of my friends have budget limits. So if you do find yourself wanting to increase your meat quality but just don't know how to make it work with your wallet here is what I would suggest...
  1. Start slowly. If you have a Trader Joe's nearby they have great Free Range chickens for a slightly more affordable price. I have researched their Ranger Chickens and the main review I read on the farm that raises them had a lot of positive things to say about the conditions there. 
  2. If you don't have a Trader Joe's you can search local butchers and local food co-ops. Price things out and see if there is a step up you can make that won't overwhelm your budget too much. Remember, you might be able to find quality chicken that is not organic. This is at least a step in the right direction. 
  3. Consider eating less meat so you can afford better quality. Just be conscious that your family gets in enough protein if you do this. 
  4. If you decide you just cannot increase your meat quality, I would suggest the same thing as #3 - at least reduce the amount of meat you eat. Conventional meat, aside from being from animals raised in horrible conditions who are therefore not very healthy, can also be loaded with antibiotics. The less of this in your system the better.
(Photo provided by FreeDigitalPhotos.net)






Thursday, May 31, 2012

My Current Favorite Meal




A couple of months ago I was in search of a simple and inexpensive meal option for our family. I turned to one of my favorite websites and scrolled through their many recipe options and landed on a rice and lentil dish. I own this blogger's cookbook and they have a very similar recipe in there that I had tried in the past. I liked it but it wasn't something I was anxious to make again. I decided to give this a try anyway. It is a curried recipe and I was slightly concerned because my children are not huge curry fans like Nik and I are. So I decided to enlist their help in making the meal, hoping that their investment would help increase their enjoyment in eating it. Did it ever!

This meal , called Curried Lentil and Rice Casserole, was an absolute hit! Everyone loved it! I think I have mentioned somewhere in a post or two that I get bored very easily and don't enjoy eating the same thing for dinner very often. However, I am making this meal today for the third time in a little over a month. I am not sure exactly what it is, but it just works. The flavors are delicious, the texture is perfect. I highly recommend that you give it a try!





Because the recipe does include rice and lentils, which I normally soak, I modified the instructions a little to include soaking. This sounds a bit complicated, but it was the easiest way I could figure to do it.
  • The recipe calls for 5 C of water. For one of those cups I had a Tbsp of apple cider vinegar plus enough water to make 1 C and added it to the rice to soak. I soaked the rice starting early in the morning. 
  • For the lentils I added about 3 or 4 C of water (including a Tbsp or 2 of the apple cider vinegar) and soaked overnight. 
  • When it was time to make the meal I calculated how much water the lentils had soaked up by subtracting the residual soaking water from the amount I started with the night before. 
  • Then I rinsed the lentils and added them and the rice (with the rice soaking water) to the casserole dish with the other ingredients. And then I added enough water to bring the total liquid amount (including the 1 C I had soaked the rice in and the amount the lentils had soaked up) to 5 C.
Again, I realize it sounds complicated, but it ended up working out okay and I was so happy to have a dish with properly soaked rice and lentils! I did make two other simple changes to the dish:

  • I added about 1/2-1 Tbsp honey because I love for my curry to have a bit of sweetness to it.
  • I added a cup of peas. 
She recommends removing the cover to the casserole and cooking an additional 20-30 minutes at the end to let any excess liquid cook off. I found that with my modifications this extra time wasn't really needed for me. If you try it, let me know how it works out for you! And if you want to try it with my modifications and have any clarifying questions feel free to ask!




Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Evidence of Growth



Aren't newborn babies the most precious things? I love how delicate and tiny they are! And yet there is such huge delight we take in their growth and development. Though I have often heard it said, and have probably said it myself, "oh can't you just stay little?!", deep down we don't really want that. For we know the growth and development of a baby is good and right.

Growth in our lives does not stop though when we reach our full physical statures. I love how in this life God leads us through many different journeys of growth and development. If we are open to and aware of even just some of the ways He is at work in our lives, life need never be dull. I personally find so much encouragement from moments when I can see that I am not at the same place that I was in the past. This is not that I need to feel I have grown in order to feel that I am valuable and loved...quite the contrary. I know that it is because of His love for me that God brings me along to greater places of health and maturity.

Recently God gave me just a glimpse of how He has grown me in the area of my emotional well being. Several days ago I had to get a bunch of cavities filled. That is a fun  :/ story in of itself, but I digress. The night before I was to go in to get them filled I was so upset. Not only was I bummed I had to go through the process of getting them filled, I felt like such a failure for allowing these cavities to form in the first place. I try to take such good care of my body - how could this happen? Hubby spent that night comforting me as I lamented my reality.

Now years ago, my woes would have seeped into every fiber of my being. I would have had a very hard time falling asleep. The situation would have been circling through my mind all night, probably even invading my dreams. Upon waking, those nasty cavities would have been the first thing to enter my consciousness, and I would have been filled with anxiety all morning.

Is that what happened to me though? No! Through the journey of having children God has dramatically changed me. He has used the pains and trials to slowly teach me I am not in control of life and that worrying over things I cannot change does not help. I still have a LONG way to go, but I don't worry about half of the things I used to. Each day is full and tiring enough without worrying about anything that is not directly in front of me. I would dare say I am often too tired to worry!

That night my head hit the pillow and I had already forgotten about the cavities. I woke up the next day and they were not a thought. I pumped milk for James and fed James while Nik fed the other kiddos. I then ate some breakfast myself, cleaned the kitchen, played with James, read some stories to the children. Then I put James down for a nap and went to get dressed when Nik said something about the dentist...

Dentist?! Oh, right! I had a dentist appointment and had to leave like really soon! Not only was I not fretting about the dreaded dentist appointment, I had COMPLETELY forgotten I even had an appointment! Now this might not seem like the biggest thing to you, but let me tell you - if I am at all stressed out over something, I do NOT just forget about it like that. Or at least that used to be the case :).

I had to laugh over the whole situation! On the one hand it was a blatant reminder of my terrible case of mommy brain. On the other hand it was a beautiful reminder of the awesomeness of my wonderful Lord who has changed me in ways I could never have imagined possible. Fear and anxiety have at least a little less hold on my life and I am more free now to enjoy the moments of my days than I ever was in the past. I might be a bit of a mess as a mommy of 4 (and clearly in need of a day planner that I consult every morning) but thanks to this journey I am on, I am also a slightly more emotionally healthy one!


Thursday, May 24, 2012

Stretching the Grocery Budget - trade-offs





Today I am going to wrap up my posts on grocery budgeting by discussing trade-offs. I don't know where you find yourself today, but I find myself limited. I am limited in so many ways, but in regard to how we eat I am very limited in #1 money and #2 time. This is honestly not meant as a complaint - it is just a reality most of us must deal with. As I have mentioned before, we have made sacrifices in our budget to make more room to spend on quality food. But we all have our limits. As a family of 6, being already tied to a mortgage, having costs for homeschooling our children, etc., making things work on one income can be challenging. If you don't have to concern yourself with limiting your monthly grocery bill I am sincerely glad for you! What a blessing! But for those of us who do have a limit, let's talk about how to navigate some tough decisions to make the budgets we have work.

As I mentioned in my last post, in order to truly eat according to what I do believe would be 100% ideal I would have to sell a kidney or something. I wish that we could eat all organic, pastured grass-fed meat. I would love to eat only organic pastured eggs. I would love to eat all organic local produce, and more of it. I wish we could do a full GAPS diet for a year or two and maintain a diet lower in grains than what we currently consume. I have racked my brain time and time again for ways to get more for our money and ways to increase our budget, but we simply cannot at this time afford to do all that I wish we could do in regard to healthy eating. I feel like we are blessed and have a decent amount to spend on groceries - it is just that eating super healthy is also super expensive!

So how do I do the best I can with what I have? Well, I have to decide what is really important to me when we make our grocery lists each week. There is a lot to consider here, but here are a few of the things I think about:

  • Is my bottom line simply inexpensive and easy food? OR
  • Am I willing to make things from scratch if it will cost less? How much am I willing to make? 
  • Does 'organic' matter most to me, or am I more concerned with price or with buying local to support the local economy, even if that means eating conventional produce and meat instead of organic? 
  • Is the quality of meat I eat of most importance (e.g. animal welfare conditions, organic), and am I therefore willing to fudge on the quality of other foods or simply eat less meat so I can afford the best meat possible? 
  • Or is it more important to me to eat less grains and more meat, even if the meat I eat is not as good of quality? 
And the many questions go on.

Now these are some of the questions I consider when trying to make our budget work, but if you find all of the things I am thinking about overwhelming, please remember this is just where I am at on my journey. We are all at our own places on our own journeys, and it is a process (see "getting healthier in baby steps"). But I bring up these thoughts because they can be helpful things to consider when deciding where to put one's money each week. I want to make very informed decisions when it comes to what I buy. Something does have to give, but I don't want to just be a victim of lack of knowledge or circumstance. I want to make an informed choice regarding what I prioritize and what I settle for.

So what matters most to you when it comes to what you eat? What are you willing to trade off and what are you not willing to trade off in order to eat within your means?


Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Moderation, Moderation, Moderation!

My next post was going to be on making tough decisions when figuring out your grocery budget, but I just read an article today that has me very...what is the word...ahhh, I can't think of a word! Let's just say I am very motivated to write about one thing - moderation! The article was written by one of my favorite bloggers. I don't agree with everything she says, but she has some great informative articles and they always prove to be thought provoking. Today's article focused on the danger of green smoothies. If you are not very familiar, these are smoothies made with fruits and fresh raw darky leafy greens. Her argument is that because dark leafy greens contain high levels of oxalates and oxalate toxicity can cause multiple problems throughout the body, they should in general be avoided, consumed only maybe once or twice a week and cooked in butter which is said to improve absorption of the minerals in the food.

Heralded as one of the greatest health foods you can eat, dark leafy greens are a HUGE component of many healthy diets out there. We have been consuming green smoothies about 5 days a week with our lunches for quite some time now. However, because organic dark leafy greens bunches cost $2.50 where I buy them (I haven't been willing to make an extra trip somewhere just for cheaper greens :) ), I don't buy a whole lot of them. I figure each member of our family consumes at most 2-3 full servings of greens a week. I also have been aware of the oxalate issue for a while which also factors into us not eating an insane amount of greens. My biggest concern with oxalates is that they inhibit calcium absorption. So I did my research a while ago and we only consume greens with lower oxalate levels, namely collard greens and kale.

Of course I read this article though and thoughts go through my head like, "Gee, should we stop the green smoothies. What could I replace them with?" And then I read a comment on her blog that captured what my sentiment so often is when I read about the "dangers" of a given food. Basically the reader was saying, "So...what CAN we eat?" Here is a list of some of things I have read about that we should steer clear of or eat insanely small amounts of:

- Grains and beans (as well as nuts and seeds) - because they are high in phytic acid
- Fruits - because of their high fructose level
- Starchy vegetables
- Dairy (unless it is raw, which is EXTREMELY pricey) - because unless raw it lacks the enzymes that help digest it well. Some diets though say NO dairy at all, even if raw
- etc.

After a while you really do start asking, "What can I eat?" And then throw the grocery budget into the mix. This bleeds into what my next post will be about, but when I consider the list of no nos, I am left with items that are extremely expensive. When faced with all the information I have gathered I have a couple of options. I can just say it is insane and disregard all of it. Problem is that I find a lot of merit in what I have learned. I could try to follow all of the dietary guidelines I have come to agree with (though it is tough to figure out who to agree with), but then I would have to sell a kidney to pay for groceries. Or I could do what I have done - adopt the principal of moderation.

My father-in-law was just telling us the other day about how the Native Americans ate things in their diet that were "toxic" to their systems. But they were just fine eating them because they only ate them seasonally. It is the build up of the toxins over time that is harmful. With the availability we have of almost all foods year round, seasonal eating is something few people do. I sure haven't gotten in to the habit, though I would love to. But I figure the next best thing is to eat all things moderately. Having food sensitivities has helped me with this because I have learned it can be the overuse of a certain food that can cause us to become sensitive to it in the first place. I figure if we don't eat too much of any one thing and something we are eating is in fact bad for us - well at least we weren't eating too much of it! Furthermore, it won't be too hard to replace because we aren't fully dependent on it. I will not claim my thinking is for sure correct, but given all I have learned this is what I believe is the best decision right now for my family, and that is to stick to a whole food diet and eat things in moderation as much as possible.

So should we ditch the greens? Who knows?! Maybe that would be best, maybe not. But instead of freaking out and worrying about either getting an oxalate overload OR missing out on the amazing benefit of greens, I choose a middle road. I will keep eating them as we are - in moderation. And I am NOT going to worry about it!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Stretching the Grocery Budget - miscellaneous tips




Over the last couple of years I have been on dozens of blogs out there reading up on different tips for eating healthy on a budget. And I have to say, most have been a let down. Deep down I think I was hoping for some miraculous tip that would revolutionize our budget.  That "miraculous" tip just doesn't exist though, or if it does I sure haven't found it! So those different sites did have a lot of helpful information, it was just my expectations that were off. That being said, I don't imagine the things I have to share on stretching the budget will revolutionize things for you. But maybe one or two of the things that have saved us will help you! Below is a random list I compiled of things that have benefited us through the years:

* Buy 1/2 or 1/4 cow or find local farmer to get meat in bulk. We did this last year and got an AMAZING deal. Our beef was not certified organic, however my brother-in-law is a food inspector for the state of Washington and had inspected this farm. They didn't use any pesticides on their feed or hormones on their cattle and their cows were all grass-fed. We were very happy with the purchase!

* Buy a whole chicken. This gives you the best price for the meat, plus you can make your own stock from the chicken (as pictured above). Do you know how pricey organic chicken stock is? This is a huge saver plus is far more nutritious! You can also use the fat off the top of the stock to saute veggies in.

* Buy meat on the bone and make stocks from the bones. You can also freeze the bones and make stock later if you can't get to it right away.

* Buy extra meat when you find sales and freeze it. An extra freezer by the way is an excellent investment!

* Eat vegan or vegetarian some nights. This honestly makes our budget doable since our meat choices are not cheap!

* Make your own foods from scratch. Yes this is time consuming, but it does get easier. I bake in bulk and freeze to save on time. Making our own bread has saved us a ton through the years, and honestly our homemade bread is soooo much better than store bought. If you have tried store bought gluten free bread you know that it isn't that great!

* Take advantage of the bulk bins at your local health food store. Bulk prices are usually a lot better than pre-packaged grains, beans, etc. We especially love buying our spices in the bulk section. This way we can get just what we need and don't have to invest in a whole spice jar that will go bad before we have used it all. I do highly recommend only getting what you need when shopping the bulk section, unless it is something you for sure use regularly. In the past I would buy extra thinking I would use it and so often it would just go to waste.

* Use frozen produce sometimes. While I mostly use fresh produce, frozen is not a terrible second option. It can often help with the budget and is nice for those times when you need something easy to prepare.

* Write weekly menus and grocery lists. I have been doing this for years and it eliminates so much waste! Everything I purchase has a specific known purpose so I don't have to worry about it not getting used. This also reduces that stress which comes at 4pm when you realize dinner is fast approaching and you don't know what to make!

* Take inventory of your fridge and pantry before going shopping. So many times I have purchased things that I already had and had forgotten about. Taking inventory can also give you ideas of what to cook using things you already have on hand, which will cut down on your grocery list.

* Check out your local farmer's market or consider joining a CSA for your produce. I love these options as they support the local farmers and result in fresher food. However I have not myself found either of these options to be very cost effective in Seattle. In fact they are some of the pricier ways to go. But I continue to keep checking them out and you definitely should give them a try if you haven't - you might find an amazing deal!

I am sure there are more things that have saved us through the years, but I will leave it with those few ideas for now. But please feel free to add on to the comments any ideas that have helped you stretch out your grocery budget! Next time I am going to share about some of the tough decisions to consider when navigating through your grocery budgets.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Stretching the Grocery Budget - know your stores






Writing this series on grocery budgets sure motivated me last week! I got all inspired to try a little harder to keep exactly to our budget this month. I knew this would be a hard month to not go over budget because we had a super large Costco bill as well as a co-op bill (I only order from our co-op every other month, so this was a biggie), and we are celebrating two birthdays in our family.  Nevertheless, I proceeded to go over my weekly menu and grocery list and change things and slice items until it seemed my list for this week would help keep us in line for the month.

I hadn't finished doing so and celebrating my success for more than maybe an hour before I got an email reminder that we signed up to provide the dessert for our weekly community group this week. That normally wouldn't be too big of a deal, but I realized that since we would be celebrating birthdays, one being my son Erik's, I wanted to make a nice birthday cake and an allergen-friendly one at that. So I looked up the recipe for the chocolate cake I made for Elise's birthday last week and added a couple of things to the grocery list. Then hubby added a couple of items to the list that he had just run out of. And of course I realized I had left off a couple of important things I needed for our meals and for baby who is just starting to eat more solids. Sigh. There went my amazing, and inexpensive, grocery list!

Thankfully we didn't spend much money on groceries last month so I think it will even out, but the whole situation made me simultaneously very irritated and very amused. For the sake of my health though I think I will let go of the irritation and hold on to the amusement!

Well, even though I am clearly far from an expert on food budgeting, this week I am still going to share the few things that have helped us keep our monthly costs as low as they are (our monthly bill could easily be much, much higher). The first thing that has saved us money, which is what I am talking about today, is learning which stores carry the food we eat for the best prices. This might seem like a no-brainer, but I have to mention it because I think it has played the biggest role in us keeping our budget down. For me, being able to find the best stores involved 3 basic steps. I will be honest, the steps I am listing below took a bit of time and effort. However, they have paid off over time by saving us a lot of money!

1) I thought through all of my different options of where we could purchase our food items. This involved listing the different stores that were within a distance I was willing to drive, checking out online stores, and asking others were they found good deals. For me in Seattle the list of options included places like Safeway, Trader Joes, QFC, PCC, Amazon, Costco, Grocery Outlet, etc.

2) I window shopped the different stores. This step probably took me the longest because it was inconvenient. Once I had a fairly good idea of the kinds of food I was looking to buy, I would take trips to various stores, or check out websites for online stores, and compare and contrast different prices. I would often go somewhere with a food list in hand and just jot down the prices as I walked through the store. It would be very interesting to sometimes discover that one store might be very pricey overall, yet carry a couple of our main grocery items for the best price, making it worth the drive. Some stores that I thought would give me lots of good deals ended up just not being worth it for me. Point is, you won't really know until you do your research and check things out.

3) I landed on a shopping plan that was the most cost effective yet also maintainable. I am sure that if I wanted the best deals for every single food item we purchase, I could save a little more money by traveling to 5 different stores each week. But at that point it is simply not sustainable or even worth all the extra effort. I had to decide which stores were most worth me driving to on a regular basis, or worth the shipping if they were online stores. We do have quite the list of different places we purchase from, but our shopping plan is doable for us and I think overall we are getting the best possible prices.

Here the basic shopping plan I landed on:

Weekly I visit Trader Joe's and Whole Foods. I get most of our produce from TJs. I have heard many people say how terrible their produce is, but I have had pretty good luck with the things we eat, and their prices on organic produce are so great. I also get things like organic peanut butter, organic rice pasta and raw cashews there. The main reason I travel to Whole Foods is for our chicken and eggs. For the level of quality I decided I wanted on those items Whole Foods ended up giving the best deal I could find. I also get items from their bulk section, such as spices, dried fruit, dried beans, etc.

Monthly we make a trip to Costco. There we buy bananas, organic apples, canned beans (which I hope to make from scratch instead someday), organic quinoa, organic rice milk, etc.

Every other month I purchase from a co-op called Azure Standard, which requires that I pick up my order. I will write more about this another time, but it has saved us a lot of money over the past couple of years. We get our grains, nuts and seeds from them and various other items depending on their prices, which do fluctuate a lot.

Our other stores are online stores. For example, we purchase goji berries and coconut oil from Amazon. I get our raw honey and a few other items from Vitacost.com. We belong to Amazon's subscribe and save which gives us free shipping, and Vitacost gives free shipping when you order is more than $49.

Knowing the different stores you have available to you and which ones will give your family the best deals for what you eat is crucial to keeping the grocery budget down. If you  haven't already done so I highly recommend sitting down and taking some time to research your different shopping options and consider how a new shopping plan might save you some money. Tomorrow I will share a few other tips that have helped our family save!











Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Reality of a Budget





Do you have a grocery budget? Do you ever find it hard to stick to your budget? Do you ever find yourself not eating as healthy as you would like to because some foods are so pricey? I do (to all of the above :) ). I personally think that there is no getting around it...eating quality, toxin free whole foods is expensive. I have heard some people say that it isn't, but unless you are living off of rice and beans, I really believe it is near impossible to eat well on a super low budget.

We have made quite a few sacrifices in our overall monthly budget to make more room to spend on groceries. However, most months I find myself going at least a little over budget. (I do feel the need though to say we don't go into debt over it. God always provides, but point is that we spend a lot on groceries and often more than I plan to.) I don't buy fluff. I have lists and stick to them and don't buy superfluous things we don't need. But what we eat is pricey. I have such a longing to be wise and faithful with the money God has entrusted to us, and I also have a longing to be faithful with the bodies He has given us. One of my greatest regular challenges is to be faithful to both at the same time.

While sticking to our grocery budget has been such a challenge to me through the years, I also do believe that I have found ways to get great quality for as low of prices as possible. While I am sure there is room for improvement, I have done my homework and labored hard to learn how to spend our grocery money as wisely as I can. Next week I will share with you a few posts discussing some of the things that have helped us get the most quality bang for our buck that we can. I look forward to sharing with you some of what I have learned from our experiences!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Raising an Emotionally Healthy Child




There is quite an uproar over the latest TIME magazine cover isn't there? I admit I was a bit taken back by it when I first saw it. In the past days I have seen several posts and opinions out there regarding the article and the issue of attachment parenting - quite passionate opinions at that. I am not bringing up this issue in order argue a certain side, but rather to address what I think is the more important core issue in regard to how we parent, and that is the issue of raising a child who is emotionally healthy and secure.

My views on attachment parenting have shifted quite a bit through the years. I was once very opposed to it and am now much more open to it. But I don't think it is "the" way to parent. I have absolutely no problem with different parenting views out there, but what I do struggle with is the attitude some view points carry that they have the market cornered on how best to parent and the way they sometimes look down on those who don't share the same views. (I will admit that I used to subtly look down on those who had views different to mine :/ ). I don't know about how it was for other parents, but for us our children did not come along with instruction manuals. And I also don't know any parent who truly has it all together when it comes to raising their children. It is challenging, and sometimes downright daunting to raise a child. It puts the fear of God in me because one day I will have to give an account for how I have loved and cared for them.

As a follower of Jesus, for me I have come to learn that I often followed the parenting philosophy I had adopted to a fault. I was using it to replace God in my life as the guide for how to raise my children. I wasn't doing it on purpose, I just honestly believed that the philosophy to which I held was the godly way to parent (a little arrogant I realize, but just being honest). Through experience though I have discovered that parenting just is not as simple as following a guide that someone else has laid out for you. Isn't the goal after all to raise a healthy child, and not to just follow the rules of this method or that method. I have found that when I get so stuck on following what this or that book has told me to do, I am all of a sudden acting as if I am accountable to that expert and no longer to God. And I no longer am thinking for myself and relying on the Holy Spirit within me to guide me, but I am relying on someone else for how to raise my child.

As I said in another post in regard to deciding what kind of diet to eat, I am all for researching and learning from others. And I am not even against holding to a certain philosophy someone else has laid out. What I see as a problem is when we follow something so wholeheartedly (whether it be a certain diet or parenting philosophy) that it causes us to lose sight of the real goal. And for me the goal of parenting is to raise a child with whom I have a good relationship and who is healthy and secure in God. I guess I won't fully know how good of a job my husband and I are doing until our kids are grown and we see the fruit of our labor, but until then I know the best place I can be is not with my nose stuck in a parenting book (though I will continue to read some), but on my knees relying on God to lead me and cover my mistakes. Oh, how I love my children! Parents, may He all give us an abundance of grace each day as we endeavor to care for them!



Monday, May 14, 2012

Celebrating Elise's Birthday with Paleo Desserts



Well I find it amusing that last week I wrote about how we avoid sickness, and now my children are fighting mild colds for the first time in months. At the same time I am not super surprised because they have been loaded with sugar for the past week and a half. I almost never let my children have sugar. It just isn't part of our regular diet. However, with the celebration of many birthdays and events recently they kept getting offered special treats in situations where I struggled with saying no. Anyway, the little sweeties are now suffering the consequences and I continue to wrestle through the question of when to let them indulge a little and when to put my foot down.

On the day I am writing this they will also be eating birthday cake to celebrate my seven year old's birthday. My original plan for her birthday was two simple desserts that come from Paleo diet recipes. That means that in addition to being very lightly sweetened,  they are grain free. Both of these desserts are things I can feel very good about giving my children for a special occasion treat. The problem comes when they are already loaded down with sweet after sweet. What would normally be something very easy for their systems to tolerate I know will now just make them feel worse. But I can't deprive my sweet girl of birthday cake on her birthday. It will just be a very small slice this year and then NO sweets again for quite some time to let their systems recover!



I would like to share with you the link to one of the desserts I made for Elise's birthday in case you are looking for a healthier birthday treat for your family. This recipe is for a coconut flour cake. I made the cake according to the directions but used honey in place of agave and reduced it to just 1 Cup. I also omitted the orange zest since Joel can't do citrus. I made a coconut butter frosting sweetened with raw honey instead of the frosting listed. The original frosting is made from chocolate chips which have a decent amount of sugar and I really wanted no sugar if possible. Here is what I did for our frosting:

Coconut Butter Frosting

* I mixed 4 C dried coconut flakes in our food processor for about 15 minutes to get a creamy coconut butter.

* I then added about 1/4 C raw honey, 1 tsp vanilla and about 2 Tbsp cocoa powder (mostly to produce a lightly brown colored frosting) and mixed thoroughly.

* My frosting was a little do dry so I added coconut milk to get to my desired consistency.


If I were to do it again I would use this process for making the coconut butter and then mix in the other ingredients. I think this would have produced a smoother frosting. Ours still tasted delicious though!

Anyway, there you have it for our special birthday cake recipe. This was my first time making this cake and I will for sure make it again for future birthdays. It was moist and tasted amazing! Let me know if you try either of these recipes and what you think!

UPDATE: I wrote this over the weekend and now I am very thankful to say that the kids' colds seem to have been very uneventful and very short lived! I still think we'll steer clear of sweet treats for a while though :).



Thursday, May 10, 2012

What is a healthy diet anyway?

Have you ever looked at different diets, or ways eating, and noticed that there are many differing opinions out there concerning what actually qualifies as a healthy diet? No matter how you or I eat, there will always be someone out there who will tell you that you aren't eating the way you should. Eat more meat. Don't eat any meat. Eat at least 4 servings of grains per day. Grains are bad. All food should be eaten raw. Don't eat any fat...You get the point.

So who gets to decide what "healthy" really is? Is it this doctor or that nutritional professional? Ultimately I believe God is the one who determines what is and is not healthy because He created food, but we each have to take responsibility for our own health and figure out what our goals are regarding how we eat and care for our bodies. Once we know our aim we can actually make steps toward that goal. Without an aim or goal we will be stuck.

As I have walked this road of intentionally considering the state of my family's health, my aim has become more clear. What is my aim? Well, most basically it is to be healthy in so much as my body is working the way it is supposed to.With this goal, my plan of action in regard to diet is to get things out of our kitchen that have toxins in them and load our bodies down, and to get in things that are nutrient dense and life giving. I am not living 100 % according to my ideals. However, I am heading more and more in that direction with time. And when I consider whether or not to eat meat or grains or how to prepare foods, I always want to bring it back to my goals and whether eating a certain food fits within the scope of what I am aiming for.

What are your health goals or aims? Have you considered what it means to you to be healthy and how to best navigate toward those goals? Because when it comes down to it no person or diet philosophy can really tell you or me what it means to eat healthy or live a healthy lifestyle. They can give us very helpful information and guidance (I am all about researching and learning from other experts), but what if that person or philosophy is wrong? Will they suffer the consequences (good or bad) of the lifestyle we live? No, we will so it is important we figure out what we want and believe and make the choices that can help bring us there.


Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Tips for Avoiding Sickness




I seriously dislike that moment when I feel sickness coming on. Or worse yet, when one of my kiddos wakes up with a runny nose or congestion. Then those thoughts come, "is he sick? Is everyone else going to get it now?" Change the congestion up with a stomach bug and I if I am honest panic is my most common reaction. I can think of few things I dread more than a home filled with nausea and vomitting! Can you relate at all? (It is funny because as I write this Erik has a runny nose, his first in almost half a year. Although I think I can point to the sugar he has been allowed to have this past week as at least part of the culprit. Sugar is not our friend! But I am getting sidetracked...).

As a mom I often feel this pressure to keep my kids healthy by having the best nutrition possible. There is this tension I live with. In my gut I know that constant sickness is a signal something is not right and I want to do all I can on my end to raise a healthy strong family. Yet I have learned through the years that even when I have all the plates spinning so to speak, I still need to trust God to protect us and no system of health is full-proof. So many things play into having strong immune systems -strong healthy guts, healthy whole food diets, plenty of rest, lack of stress, environmental factors, etc, and I simply cannot control each and every factor all of the time. This fall for example I was eating very healthy and yet was sick for weeks on end. I was breastfeeding/pumping for my youngest and my body was wiped out. I even got a staph infection. I was such a mess. I finally got to a healthy place and have been healthy since, but it is proof that diet alone will not keep sickness at bay.

While we cannot control everything and guarantee complete health in our homes, there are many things we can do to boost strong immune systems in our home. Today I'll share with you some of the supplements to our diet that have made a difference in keeping my family healthy. Although it is hard for me to point to what specifically has made the difference, and these things have not become my guarantee that we won't get sick, when we are consistent with the following we seem to be able to keep sickness at bay most of the time:

1) High dose probiotics. We take these every morning. The older two children can swallow their pills and for our youngest two I mix his probiotic capsule into their morning drinks. One tip on probiotics that I learned from my naturopath is that it is best to be consistent with the probiotic you choose. Your body adjusts to the blend of strains you are on and if you are changing brands up a lot it can be counterproductive. I am wanting to switch brands but plan on doing so this summer when we are less likely to get sick. Seems like a safer time to make a change.

 2) High dose of Vitamin D3. While Vitamin D is already a recommended supplement in the medical world, I personally needed a much higher amount than is recommended to raise my D levels to an optimal place. Blood tests are the best way to know where your Vitamin D levels are and how much supplement you should be taking. See this for more info.

 3) Beet kvaas. This is a fermented beet drink and is loaded with natural probiotics. It is so good for your gut. However, my kids really wouldn't touch this as is so I make a drink that has 1 part organic apple juice (this is the only time we drink fruit juice), 1 part water and 1 part kvaas. I add in some coconut oil for fat for the kiddos, mix it up in our vitamix blender and serve it for breakfast a few times a week.

 4) Hydrogen peroxide ear drops. I found this tip on Dr. Mercola's website. When we are exposed to a nasty bug or one of the kids seems to be coming down with something, we all get a few drops of hydrogen peroxide in each ear. I have everyone lay on the floor and put the drops in one side and then tell them a story or they watch a show while the drops sit for about 5 mins. The drops bubble up in the ear which tickles them a bit but they have learned to be good about staying still. Then we dump out the drops and do the other side. I am convinced this has dramatically decreased the spread of any illness within our home.

5) Good sleep. We get the kids to bed at a good hour every night and the youngest two get good naps in every day. Keeping rested helps so much!

I have heard of other supplements and tricks that help ward off sickness, such as elderberry syrup or garlic, but so far the list above has been working well for us. We might not be able to control every factor to having strong health, but I hope you will be inspired that there is a lot we can do to help!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Buttery chicken and Tomato Pasta




Although I am currently trying to reduce our family's grain intake, we still have a pasta dish usually once a week or every other week because pasta is simple and the kids love it. When I was a kid I used to love pasta served with just a bunch of butter. So boring right? But it used to hit the spot. Anyway, several months ago I was searching for a creamy, buttery dairy-free pasta recipe and just couldn't find anything that would scratch my itch for buttery pasta. So I developed the following dish although I am not sure if it is really "buttery" or just creamy. This recipe has a few different steps but is actually pretty easy to prepare and qualifies as a quickie meal in our home.

Buttery Chicken and Tomato Pasta

Ingredients:
* 3/4 - 1 bag brown rice penne pasta
* 1/2 onion diced
* 2 cloves garlic, crushed or finely diced
* 1 C organic unsalted chicken broth
* 1 Tbsp. arrowroot starch (Bob's Red Mill sells this)
* 1 Tbsp nutritional yeast flakes (found in bulk bins at health food store)
* 1 tsp salt
* ~1 1/2 C grape tomatoes, halved
* 2 C. cut up cooked chicken
* 1 C frozen peas
* 4 Tbsp olive or palm oil, divided
* Ume plum vinegar to taste

Instructions:
* Begin to cook pasta. Meanwhile add 1 Tbsp oil to small skillet. Saute onions and garlic until onions are tender. Set aside.

* Add broth, nutritional yeast, arrowroot and salt to a pyrex measuring glass. Mix thoroughly. Set aside.

* When pasta is done add peas to pot (an easy way to defrost them :) ), then drain reserving a small amount of water. Return pasta, reserved water and peas to pot.

* Add broth mixture, onions & garlic, chicken and tomatoes to the pasta. Cook on low heat until the sauce thickens, stirring well. Add 2-3 Tbsp oil, mix in and serve. Season with pepper & ume plum vinegar to add a saltier taste if desire.

This feeds our family of 2 adults and 3 little ones.