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Entries in FitMamaEats (163)

Saturday
Oct042014

Thank God for Crock Pots and Trader Joe's

I'm embarrassed to say that's pretty much the summary of my first experience with a 10-week CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program that was offered through my workplace. As a member, you purchase upfront a whole season of fresh produce from a local farm, which helps the farmers pay for costs related to running the farm. I love eating all vegetables, so I couldn't think of anything better than to receive a weekly box of colorful seasonal local produce. I'd just skip that section of the supermarket and plan my recipes on whatever was in the box. I'm a nutritionist and blogger after allI should have done this a long time ago!

Photo courtesy Brigham and Women's Faulkner Hospital. Onsite farmers market selections.

I didn't want to shell out the $440 upfront and neither did my coworker Eileen, so we decided to pay half and divvy up the weekly box. Week 1 was a delight. Opening that box and seeing vibrant strawberries, delicate carrots, butter lettuce, ears of corn. There was real dirt on everything! The slug in the lettuce affirmed this was farm-fresh. Wow I hadn't tasted real carrots like that since I was a child. Carrots nowadays have a bitter chemical taste. These were crisp and sweet. Same with the lettuce, which I devoured in one sitting. Week 2 offered strawberries again, though quite tart this time. Herbs that I didn't recognize. And more lettuce and carrots. But the carrots weren't sweet like last week's. We ate through most of the produce except the herbs, which wilted and turned yellow in two days, so they got thrown out. Weeks 3-6 I looked forward to seeing the box but became discouraged when I saw greens and herbs that were already droopy. I couldn't eat it fast enough. There was a lot of washing of dirt, chopping the greens, and peeling the beans.

Weeks 7-9 I actually started dreading the box. Hot peppers that I couldn't eat, unfamiliar herbs that looked like grass, purple-spotted beans. One week I forgot to take out of the box some beets that my husband enjoyed. He blamed me when he saw they'd molded. I'd been throwing out half the produce in the past few weeks. Oy vay, so much guilt.

Last week was our final box and Eileen and I silently rejoiced (she'd had the same problem as me). She was ready for it to end; there were just too many things that we would never purchase otherwise and didn’t end up eating.

The valuable lesson I learned is that my lifestyle is not CSA-friendly. Some crazy days I'm at the hospital 12-14 hours. Even if I work my usual 10 hours, I have to rush out to pick up my son from aftercare, then head home with 3 hours for us to eat dinner, do homework and wind down for bed. The CSA box arrived on Wednesdays, mid-week when I couldn't manage a cooking fest. 

Week 10 had lots of plum tomatoes and potatoes to add to my mountain of tomatoes and potatoes from the previous weeks. To celebrate the end, I attacked it all with a knife, chopping and throwing everything in my crock pot. I added my favorite soup, Trader Joe's Low Sodium Creamy Tomato, spices, and olive oil, simmering everything down and then serving it with Trader Joe's turkey meatballs. Not bad at all. I've been eating that stew for the past five days for lunch and dinner and I do feel good about it. 

My parents enjoyed some items I begged them to take. But overall I'm a failure because of all the waste I created. I couldn't handle even half a box. So humbling. The reason I'm sharing my failure is to give any readers who haven't tried a CSA to think seriously before jumping in. The downsides are that you will likely receive a lot of stuff you'd never buy in the supermarket, in large quantities. You need to be adventurous, find recipes, and be determined to use all the produce within a week (you can't stuff them into the produce drawer because guaranteed you'll forget they're there). Also I was disappointed that the CSA produce didn't always taste better than supermarket stuff. If your lifestyle is like mine but you want to support farmers and eat local produce, find supermarkets that purchase from your community's farms, or frequent farmers markets where you can choose items you know you'll use. Or else dig out your crockpot ๐Ÿ˜€.

I found some comfort in reading a similar perspective on CSAs in the Boston Globe, with a few interesting solutions described at the end.

Sunday
Aug102014

Cook Smarts: Making You an Expert on Veggies

Jess Dang contacted me recently to share her site Cook Smarts, a company whose mission is to help home cooks lead healthier lives and have great experiences in the kitchen. Dang believes that simple home cooked meals can be a source of health, happiness and community, so she created Cook Smarts to offer educational tools like infographics, how-to videos, recipes, and even a meal planning service. I'm sorry if the rest of this post sounds like one big ad but know that I wasn't paid; I just absolutely love the site and will be sharing it with everyone who needs a little veggie help or is intimidated by their kitchen.

First of all Dang's story is unbelievably inspirational. She contracted Hepatitis C as an infant from a blood tranfusion, but of which she was unaware until making a blood donation. The disease progressed until college when her doctors advised her to undergo a year of intensive treatment with debilitating side effects, or risk developing other severe conditions. She vowed that if she made it to age 30, she would do something to help others lead healthier lives. She is now 32 and carrying out her mission through Cook Smarts.

When I checked out the site, I immediately loved the easy to read infographics and videos that showcase vegetables. I'm a veggie freak (drool over them, crave them, seek out restaurants that serve them, etc.) but not many people grow up with fond memories of vegetables; even if they do it's usually only one or two special vegetables dishes. I love how Cook Smarts highlights all vegetables and gives you the basics on how to store and prepare each vegetable in just the right way so you bring out its best flavor. Below are a few examples, but check out the site that has dozens more free cooking resources. The meal planning service costs $8 per month, providing recipes that can be tailored to special needs (gluten-free, paleo, vegetarian), nutrition information for each recipe, short how-to videos, and grocery lists.

This guide shows when to buy veggies, how to cook them, and in what types of dishes they work best:

This one reminds you which ones to use first before they spoil: 

And one of my favorites, a chart for kids to track which veggies they've tasted and liked...or not! Ellyn Satter, an expert on childhood nutrition and picky eaters, says that it can take 15-20 exposures to a new food before a child will accept it. So don't give up after one sour face:

Finally, don't miss their helpful videos like this one on how to make a vinaigrette. I've been sharing a similar 60-second recipe with my clients that makes a tasty sodium-free salad dressing, marinade, or light sauce for plain rice or quinoa. I've tried so many salad dressings that are too fatty, too spicy or too saltyoverall just too overpowering for greens. This easy healthful dressing is light but perfectly enhances a salad, cooked vegetables or grains.

Thursday
Jul312014

A Homemade Version of Go Lean Crunch

Here's Alexa Aguiar's take on one of my favorite cereals. 

I've been craving something healthy and crunchy and thought I could replicate Kashi's "GOLEAN Crunch!" granola cereal. I also wanted it to have enough protein to sustain me throughout the day. So here's the recipehigh in protein, low in fat, and no sugar added (if using Stevia). It's going to be a new favorite of mine! 

I used TVP (textured vegetable protein), which I realize isn't a household ingredient but it provides a nice crunch and good protein content, and is inexpensive. Bob's Red Mill is the brand I used, purchased at Ocean State Job Lot for less than $3.

Cinnamon Crunch "Kashi" Granola Cereal 

Ingredients

1 cup TVP

4 cups puffed barley (may substitute gluten-free oats, puffed rice or puffed corn if desired)

2 T flax seeds

2 T chia seeds

1/4 cup sweetener (I used Stevia packets but maple syrup, honey, agave, and sugar would all work well)

1/2 tap salt

1 tap cinnamon

Any extras are up to you! Try nuts, dark chocolate, coconut, and seeds of your choice.

4 egg whites*

Directions

  1. Combine all dry ingredients into a large bowl and mix until incorporated.
  2. Whisk egg whites in a seperate bowl and add into the dry ingredients. Mix everything together.  
  3. Place on a foiled and oil-rubbed baking sheet and pat down firmly. Bake at 350 F for 10-15 minutes, break apart and flip over granola to brown the other side for another 10-15 minutes.

*The egg white is the secret to chunks and clusters! Once baked, it is completely undetectable and acts as the binding agent rather than flour.

Makes 10 servings.