Category Archives: Healthy living

Lunch bag: Healthy No-Bake Peanut Butter Balls

peanut butter balls

My 4-year-old’s preschool asks parents to pack healthy snacks that feature at least 2 food groups. This being my first year packing anything resembling a school lunch, of course I’m going over the top looking for fun, healthy snack ideas she’ll eat. This has been my first great victory: they’re easy, she loved helping me make them, they travel well, they’re not messy, & even My Husband The Suspicious Of Anything Labeled “Healthy” gave them his stamp of approval.

  • 2 cups quick oats
  • 1 cup Rice Krispies
  • 1 cup flaxseed meal
  • 1 cup mini chocolate chips
  • 1 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 2/3 cup honey
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • 2 Tbsp. coconut oil
  1. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl, mixing gently to not crush the cereal, until well coated.
  2. Use a tablespoon or soup spoon to scoop out tablespoon-sized portions & roll them into balls between your hands. Place them on a parchment- or waxed-paper-lined cookie sheet.
  3. Refrigerate for 1-2 hours. You can serve them now, or place them in a Ziploc bag in the freezer to portion out in your kids’ lunches. They’ll keep a week in the fridge or a few months in the freezer.

Original recipe here.

Linked up at Mommy Solutions

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Double-chocolate avocado whole-wheat muffins.

That’s quite a mouthful of a title, isn’t it? Let’s give them a tastier (i.e. not healthy-sounding) nickname: Happy Chocolate Muffins. Or something.

muffinsWho else has a picky eater in their house? My 15-month-old is ours. She won’t drink milk, so we’re still nursing (even at night – woo-hoo!), & though she’s consistently at around the 90th percentile for height, over the past 6 months we’ve seen her weight drop from 50th… to 30th… to 14th. One month we learned she lost a pound. Yikes! So under doctor’s orders I’ve been trying to find creative ways to incorporate the healthy fats she’s not getting from whole milk or the many foods she won’t eat into foods she will eat. I plan to post some of the tips & tricks I’ve been learning in the near future, but in the meantime, here’s my latest discovery:

Using avocado instead of butter or oil in baked goods.

Huge revelation!

Avocados are amazing. According to WebMD, “Avocados are a good source of fiber, potassium, and vitamins C,K, folate, and B6. Half an avocado has 160 calories, 15 grams of heart-healthy unsaturated fat, and only 2 grams saturated fat. One globe contains more than one-third daily value of vitamin C, and more than half the day’s requirements of vitamin K.”

So after one particularly scary weight check at the doctor’s office, I bought an avocado on sale & then asked my friends on Facebook for ways to sneak it into a picky toddler’s diet. I got tons of great ideas! Smoothies, mashed with bananas (that worked, like, once), & baked into stuff. One friend sent me the recipe below.

On the first try, these were tasty… if a little dense. The original recipe called for using all whole-wheat flour. The girls didn’t seem to mind, but, my husband said it tasted like a “chocolate bran muffin.” I remade them last night with half whole-wheat, half all-purpose, & they were an even bigger hit! If you’re concerned that your kids (or your husband!) will suspect & thus not eat the “healthy” muffins, start with the proportions below; then, if you want to make it healthier, gradually increase the proportion of whole-wheat. And don’t say anything about the avocado; you can’t taste it, & it’ll just give them a reason to turn up their noses at these. There’s no point if they won’t eat them, right? I also added flaxseed for more healthy fats, omega-3s, lignans, & fiber.

The original recipe was for mini-muffins, but since I don’t have a mini-muffin tin (what?!), mine are regular-sized. Mini-muffins are a perfect size to put in your little one’s lunchbox when school starts next month.

  • 2 Tbsp. flaxseed meal (pour into 1-cup measuring cup before adding the flour & then fill the rest with the flour)
  • 1 1/3 cup (minus 2 Tbsp.) all-purpose flour*
  • 1 1/3 cup whole-wheat flour*
  • 1/2 cup plus 1 Tbsp. cocoa powder
  • 1 Tbsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 large, ripe Hass avocado
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1 cup chocolate chips (if making mini-muffins, use mini chocolate chips)

* The original recipe calls for all whole-wheat flour, but my family is more likely to eat them this way.

  1. Preheat oven to 375. Spray wells of muffin tin generously with cooking spray. (I tried using papers, but they stuck like crazy. So don’t be like me.)
  2. Sift together dry ingredients.
  3. Beat the avocado & sugar together around 3 minutes, or until smooth. Isn’t that beautiful?avocado
  4. Beat in liquid ingredients. Slowly add dry ingredients, stirring until incorporated.
  5. Fold in chocolate chips.
  6. Spoon into wells of muffin tin. Bake for 18 minutes for regular muffins, or 15 minutes for mini-muffins. Makes 2 dozen regular muffins or 4 dozen mini-muffins.

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Healthed-up banana walnut pancakes.

pancakes

If you were to ask my 4-year-old what she wants for dinner, you’ll almost always hear one of three things: pizza, spaghetti & meatballs, or pancakes. I try to indulge these requests, but those foods aren’t exactly healthy most of the time, so I try to smarten them up a little. We almost always have ripe bananas & walnuts, so I found this recipe & thought of ways to make it a little more nutritious. Whole-wheat flour, flaxseed, & Greek yogurt add fiber, protein, & omega-3s important for developing bodies.

My little girl was so excited that when she blessed the food that night, she said, “Thank thee that we can have banana walnut pancakes.” Frozen & then defrosted, Eggo-style, in the toaster, these babies just put me in contention for Mom of the Year when I told her she could have pancakes for breakfast on a weekday. They’re even tasty without syrup if you need a quick, hearty, on-the-go breakfast for the kids. I make a few without the walnuts for my 1-year-old so she doesn’t choke, & she prefers them without the syrup.

This is our new go-to pancake recipe; I hope it’ll become yours too!

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup whole-wheat flour (if desired, do 1 cup each of all-purpose & whole wheat)
  • 2 Tbsp. flaxseed meal
  • 2 Tbsp. sugar
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk (make this by pouring 1 Tbsp. white vinegar or lemon juice into a large measuring cup, then fill to the 1-cup line with regular milk & let sit 5 minutes)
  • 3 Tbsp. butter, melted & cooled (I stick it in the freezer a few minutes)
  • 1 large egg, slightly beaten
  • 1 cup Greek yogurt
  • 2 small ripe bananas, smashed with fork
  • optional: milk for thinning batter
  • walnuts, roughly chopped
  1. Whisk together dry ingredients in a large bowl. Set aside.
  2. Make your buttermilk in a large (4-cup or so) measuring cup. Add butter & egg; mix well. Stir in yogurt.
  3. Make a well in your dry ingredients, then pour in the liquid ingredients & stir a couple times. Just before it’s combined, stir in bananas. Batter will be lumpy. Don’t overmix. Optional: add a little milk to thin the batter if desired.
  4. Heat a griddle on medium-low to medium. Spray with nonstick cooking spray & use a 1/4-cup measuring cup to pour batter onto your griddle in 4-inch circles. Then sprinkle walnut pieces onto the pancake batter.pancakes
  5. When large bubbles begin to appear, flip the pancakes & cook until golden on the other side as well. Remove to a warm plate lined with a paper towel & keep warm.
  6. Repeat with remaining batter (don’t put walnuts in all of the pancakes if you have a child under 3), spraying the griddle between every batch or two.
  7. Enjoy with maple syrup, or just plain! Freeze leftovers & toast in the toaster (use the “frozen” setting if you have one) for breakfast!

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Vegan for carnivores: Easy creamy tomato basil pasta.

My good friend posted the link to this recipe months ago & raved about its tastiness. I was intrigued, so I pinned it, but I never mustered the courage to actually make it.

Because it’s vegan.

creamy tomato basil pasta

Vegan is a dirty word in our house of meat-eaters. But it looks just so tasty, right?

So one day I took the plunge. I had a backup plan in place–a jar of pasta sauce hiding at the back of the pantry–that I considered employing even as the mixture was simmering. How could cashews possibly make a sauce creamy?

But it worked. Oh boy, did it work. Rich, tomato-basil-garlic heaven. & it was easy!!! Now I understand why my friend raved about it. Fellow carnivores (or at least omnivores), please don’t make the mistake I did & wait forever: make this immediately.

Note: while the original recipe says this makes enough for 2 servings of pasta, I’ve coated a whole pound of pasta in it & it’s worked great. I also add a little more tomato flavor.

  • 2 medium-sized ripe tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup cashews
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp. tomato paste
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 2-4 cloves garlic (I use 2), minced
  • up to 1 tsp. salt, or to taste (if you’re not using raw cashews, they’ll have a bit of salt on them already, so you won’t need as much)
  • water or wine, to thin the sauce if desired (I didn’t)
  • 1 tsp. black pepper
  • 1 cup fresh basil, finely chopped (if you, like me, don’t buy fresh herbs often, the small plastic package of basil that hangs out in the refrigerated part of the produce section is just enough for this recipe)
  • up to 1 lb. of pasta of your choice
  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Meanwhile, chop the tomatoes & toss them, seeds & all into your blender. Add the cashews, water, & tomato paste, & puree until smooth.
  2. Add the pasta to the boiling water & cook as directed. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large saucepan on medium-low. Add the garlic & saute a couple minutes, taking care not to burn it. Add the contents of the blender. Bring it to a simmer; add the salt.
  3. Let it simmer 4-5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add water or wine to thin if desired.
  4. Remove sauce from heat; stir in pepper & basil.
  5. When pasta is done cooking, rinse, drain, & return to pot. Slowly add the sauce until it looks coated enough for your taste. Stir & serve immediately.
  6. Leftovers refrigerate & reheat well!

Aside from the tastiness, healthiness, & easiness of this recipe, The Toddler Who Won’t Eat Anything ATE THIS!!!

yum!

WIN!

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5-fruit* muffins for your Munchkin’s lunchbox.

*or 4 fruits & a gourd, depending on how you choose to classify pumpkin.

School’s started for most everyone by now, & I know lots of moms are looking for tasty but healthy options for their kids’ lunchboxes. These muffins fit the bill: they contain five different fruits (as long as you consider pumpkins fruits), as well as almonds & whole-wheat flour. They pack a quick & hearty nutritional punch so your kids can get back onto the playground. They’re so hearty that The Munchkin can only finish half of one, so you may want to consider packing just a half muffin, or else making them in a mini-muffin tin & adjusting the baking time.

They’re also great for new moms because of their heartiness & ease of one-handed consumption. They were brought to me after The Mini-Munchkin made her appearance & I begged for the recipe, so that’s why you’ve got it here!

The recipe says it makes a dozen muffins plus 2 loaves; when I made a half recipe, it yielded not quite 18 muffins. You can choose how & if you want to divvy up the batter. As an added bonus, if you make a half recipe, you’ll have plenty of pumpkin left over in a standard can to make these delicious pumpkin chocolate-chip squares. Just saying.

  • 3 to 4 extra-ripe bananas, peeled & mashed (2 cups)
  • 1 cup pumpkin
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups whole-wheat flour
  • 1 Tbsp. baking soda
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. cloves
  • 1 cup chopped dates
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 1 cup sliced almonds
  1. Preheat oven to 350. Generously grease muffin tin &/or loaf pan(s). Combine bananas, pumpkin, eggs, & sugar in mixer bowl. Beat in applesauce.
  2. In a separate bowl, combine dry ingredients. Stir into banana mixture until just combined.
  3. Fold in dates, raisins, & almonds.
  4. Spoon 1/4 cup of batter into each muffin cup; pour remaining batter into loaf pans, if applicable.
  5. Bake muffins for 20 minutes or loaves for 60 minutes. Cool in pan 5 minutes, then cool completely on wire rack.

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{GIVEAWAY!!!} Give me your health & fitness ideas!

Anyone else getting inspired — or maybe shamed – by these amazing Olympic athletes? I just watched Rebecca Soni break her own world record in the 200M breaststroke. I, for one, could definitely learn a thing or two about dedication & healthy living from any one of these competitors.

While my cousins all competed in swimming & water polo, going to the Junior Olympics & getting college scholarships in the process, I…. was in the band. So athleticism is not something that I’ve exactly done all my life. And after kid number two my body’s not exactly bouncing back like it probably should be. So how can I get started when I’ve never really had a diet program or fitness routine?

That’s where SlimKicker comes in. It’s a calorie counter & game (similar to CalorieKing, for those of you who are more experienced with the whole healthy lifestyle thing than I am) that turns your diet & fitness goals into a level-up game. Earn points by tracking your healthy calories & completing mini health challenges like giving up chocolate for a week. Then snap & upload a photo of a cheat food — Magnolia cupcake, anyone? – or that killer pair of shoes you’ve been coveting, & when you reach the designated number of points for being good, SlimKicker reminds you to reward yourself! They also have forums & support groups with other like-minded people to help you reach your health & fitness goals.

Sounds pretty nifty, right?

What would be even niftier? This fantastic Pyle HR monitor & calorie counter!

leave a comment below with a fun, creative fitness or diet challenge you’d like to use in your SlimKicker regimen. They’ll choose their favorite, & the winner will get this fantastic to help you with your goals! Comments will be accepted until 9pm Eastern next Wednesday, the 8th.

I look forward to seeing your ideas & hopefully using some for myself! Good luck!

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Getting into the Olympic spirit.

I love the Olympics.

I love the athleticism, competition, the drama, & how for 2 weeks every 2 years (we’re thinking winter too) everyone becomes an expert. I love watching people from all over the world come together in the spirit of sportsmanship. And I love that this year I get to pass it on to The Munchkin.

Why are the Olympics so important? Why bother giving Olympic Fever to the rising generation? My friend Kalani wrote a fantastic essay answering that question. There are so many important lessons that athletic competition can teach kids: patriotism, the importance of working hard, how to be a good sport, & – perhaps most importantly in this age of rising childhood obesity – that moving is fun.

So I encourage you to let your Munchkins watch a competition or two with you this year to help them catch The Fever. Here’s how we’re starting with ours.

We’ve decided to let her stay up late to watch some of the Opening Ceremonies Friday, & have started getting her into the spirit by introducing her to the logo & the colors this week by decorating the apartment a little at Munchkin height. We made our own Olympic Rings into a paper chain, with The Munchkin telling me which color strip came next. After just one sheet of construction paper of each color, she had those colors down!

Next she drew her own Olympic Rings. Not a bad first attempt!

Finally, to help her learn a little more about the sports & the competition, I made up a quick medal count chart using clip art to illustrate each category. I had no idea there were so many! If you want one of your own, download it here. Get the medals here — you may need to add extra paper on the side for the swimming category, if it’s anything like 2008 was!

We have a couple other ideas too that I’ll be posting soon. How are you introducing your kids to the Olympics?

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