The Candy Bar Alternative

The more I learn about sugar and how my body processes the stuff, the less I worry about the particular source–be it low glycemic coconut sugar or the demonized high fructose corn syrup (HFCS).

I definitely don’t go out of my way to eat products containing HFCS. I don’t keep it in my kitchen or cook with it, but I agree with the Nutrition Diva on this one.

We should be less concerned with the form sugar takes and more concerned about the quantity. Excessive consumption seems to be the American Way. I wrote about recommended levels of sugar intake in a previous postAll sweeteners should be consumed in moderation.

That said, there’s a ginormous difference between a homemade treat and a Snicker’s Bar.


This candy bar contains almost three-quarters of the recommended maximum amount of sugar for a teenage boy!


Definitely not real. Highly processed and not something I could make in my own kitchen. Not to mention a rather alarming amount of sugar.  I definitely wouldn’t send one with my teenager for quick energy before after school sports.

No calorie counting here!

No calorie counting here!

The question then is what can be sent that is easily portable, real and sweet enough to appeal to a teenage boy more concerned with taste than nutrition.

The inspiration for one of the sweet treats that can be commonly found in my son’s backpack came from a vegan cookbook I found at Costco. The Forks Over Knives Cookbook has an awesome dessert section and, with a couple of improvisations, the following recipe was born…

A Better Granola Bar

  • 1/2 cup peanut or almond butter
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup brown rice syrup (or honey)
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla and 1/2 teaspoon almond extract (can use all vanilla)
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8-1/4 cup uncooked millet
  • 2 cups whole rolled oats (not the quick kind)

Line the bottom of an 8×8″ pan with foil that extends up the sides. Lightly grease with cooking spray.

Heat nut butter and sweeteners together in a bowl in the microwave–just enough to mix easily, then stir together until smooth.

Remove from heat and stir in vanilla and almond extract, cinnamon and salt.

In a large bowl mix oats and millet with the syrup mixture. Stir well until oats are evenly coated. Use wet hands or the back of a wet spatula (water will keep it from sticking) to very firmly and evenly press the mixture into the prepared pan.

Bake at 350 for approximately 15 minutes–or until the edges look a bit browned. Cool to room temperature, remove from pan, remove foil and place in the freezer for at least 30 minutes before cutting with large kitchen knife (pressing straight down for a clean cut) into 8 equal rectangles.


To make it even more decadent, add 1/3 cup chocolate chips to the oat mixture before pressing into pan. Try chopped, dried apricots, toasted and roughly chopped almonds or whatever else appeals to you.

Perfect for packing! Only 3 teaspoons of sugar per bar.


Life Cycle of the Banana

There are two types of banana eaters in this world.  Those who eat them green and those who eat them ripe.  In our household, we make use of bananas over the entire color spectrum.  I buy them so green it makes my teeth hurt just thinking about taking a bite. Jim and Sam will only snack on them at this point.  When they soften and sweeten a bit, provided there are any left, I start slicing them for my morning oatmeal.

Not quite ripe!

Not quite ripe!

Occasionally, a few cross over to the Dark Side.  It’s the only fruit I know of that maintains its usefulness well past its prime. In other words, they blacken to the point of being only fit for mashing and blending. Sliced and frozen they makes terrific faux “ice cream” and “frozen yogurt”.  But ask anyone what to do with old bananas, and I’m fairly certain the answer will be the same.

Banana bread.

Recipes abound, but if you’re trying to shore up nutritional content, you can make a better than average version without a lot of fuss.  One that works equally well served with breakfast, tucked in a lunch box or presented as dessert.

The following recipe came together with the help of an old copy of the cookbook, Laurel’s Kitchen.  It was developed after I had mashed my bananas and before I realized that I was completely out of butter and eggs.

(Healthier) Banana Bread

  • 3 super ripe bananas
  • 1 small lemon, juiced
  • 1/3 cup oil
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour (or a blend with whole wheat pastry flour)
  • 1/2 cup untoasted wheat germ
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon

Mash bananas with lemon juice.

Whip oil and sugar well and mix in banana mixture.

Sift together all dry ingredients.  Then add to wet mixture.

Spoon batter into a small greased loaf pan and bake at 375 degrees for approximately 30 to 35 minutes.  If you slide a knife in the middle and it comes out with only a few crumbs attached, it’s done!

Let completely cool on a rack (if you can wait that long) before slicing.  In the morning it’s good with a schmear of peanut butter or cream cheese.  Just sweet enough.

Good Morning!

Good Morning!

Baby Meets Butternut (and alternatives to rice cereal)

There’s a new baby in the house!

OK, so she’s not my baby.  But we are related.

Mia is my grand-niece.  7 months old and full of personality.  Just like her mother, Alex. They drove up today to pay me a visit.

Time to make baby food.

Admittedly my “baby” is now 13.  It’s been a while since I had to feed an actual baby. Today was my lucky day.

And with all the hoopla over baby rice cereal, it’s good to know that there are other stand-in grains that make good first cereals.  They’re easy to make at home.

All you need is a blender.

Pearl barley ground to a fine powder.

Pearl barley ground to a fine powder.

We adapted a couple of recipes from The Baby & Toddler Cookbook by Karen Ansel and Charity Ferreira.

We made grain cereal from pearl barley which is similar to a plump rice and packed with fiber.  I had some millet on hand as well.  It’s easily digested and loaded with B vitamins, amino acids and minerals.

Simply mix the cereal (created from blending a 1/4 cup of grain to a fine powder) into a saucepan with a cup of boiling water.  Reduce heat and whisk until smooth and water absorbed, about 5 minutes or so.

These cereals are wholesome first foods, but the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that partially breastfed babies–who get more than half of their food from breast milk–receive an iron supplement of 1mg/kg per day if they aren’t eating other iron fortified foods.

We also whipped out a butternut squash puree.  Making baby food is so ridiculously easy and requires so little work that it’s hard to see how Gerbers has stayed in business as long as it has.

So here’s a perfectly roasted organic butternut squash.  It was so large that I had to cut it in quarters to get my knife through it.  It was as easy as scraping the flesh out of the shell (after it cools!) and running it through the blender.  It was a perfect consistency although it could be thinned if necessary with water, breast milk or formula.

It’s a great first food for babies–full of lots of vitamins and beta-carotene.  Keep it stored in a covered container in the fridge for up to 3 days or freeze in ice-cube trays and store in plastic freezer bags for up to 3 months.

They're done!Mia is known for her discerning palate and is quick to send food back to the kitchen if it is not prepared to her liking.  We waited anxiously while she examined it for texture and color.

First encounter with butternut squash.

First encounter with butternut squash.

OK so far...

OK so far…

She loves it!

She loves it!

Meet the new poster baby for butternut squash everywhere!

What first foods did your baby(ies) love?

Friday Feature: Is It Spaghetti Or Is It Squash?

I bought a spaghetti squash at the market.  It sat on the counter for a couple of weeks, more as a fall decoration than a potential food item.  But then Thanksgiving came and went, and it was still there.  I figured it was do or die.  If I didn’t deal with the darn thing, I might end up throwing it over the bank in the backyard like I did with the one last year.

Using Carla Emery’s The Encyclopedia of Country Living as my guide, I found out just how ridiculously easy it is to create a delicious low-calorie replacement for angel hair pasta.

Step 1:  Throw the whole thing into a roasting pan and put into a hot 350 degree oven.  Prick the skin with a fork.  Bake for about 1 and a half hours or until a knife easily pierces the skin.

Hot out of the oven.

Hot out of the oven.

Step 2:  After it cools a bit (don’t want to burn your fingers), slice lengthwise and scrape out the seeds and the pulp.

ready to be seededStep 3:  Now the fun begins!  I used a large salad fork to literally rake out the “spaghetti” onto a plate.


Now you’re ready to dress it up for dinner…


  • Top with pasta sauce and freshly grated Parmesan cheese.
  • Stir in a little butter, salt, and pepper.
  • Pour on a little cream and stir in some  grated cheese.

Other suggestions include serving it with chili or in a casserole or stir-fry.  I like the idea of using it in place of lasagna noodles.

We had leftover squash which ended up in Jim’s vegetable soup the next day.  You can also cook and then freeze the “spaghetti” for use at a later date.

Lots of possibilities here!

I’ll be back the Monday after Christmas.  Have a Happy Holiday everyone!!!

5 Best Family Nutrition Blogs of 2012

I spent the entire morning yesterday in Powell’s Bookstore in downtown Portland.  They claim an entire city block.  The place is gargantuan.  I hunkered down in the cookbook aisle to drool over some really fabulous books.

But mostly I can’t afford to fly to Portland to read books in a bookstore–even for the opportunity to browse books at the in store espresso bar–so I often turn to the internet.  There are plenty of really terrific blogs out there that provide lots of cooking and nutritional information which can accessed right from home.

They inspire me to raise the bar on family nutrition and give me plenty to think about.  I chose 5 of them for my end of the year favorites list.

They were chosen because they are readable, fun and informative.  From small to large written by informed individuals, food lovers and parents–these are the ones I come back to time and again.

See what you think.

Food For My Family     As a mother of four, home cook and photographer Shaina Olmanson knows something about feeding a family.  She features all kinds of nuggets: favorite recipes, of course, but also money-saving tips and time-saving secrets.  From indoor to outdoor, buying to growing–everything she shares is based on real food.  Check it out.

Fix Me A Snack     Cindy, a self-professed snack guru, has loads of fun creating healthy treats for her kids and passing along her ideas with plenty of snap and wit.  Her snack options include several categories: seasonal, personal favorites,10 minutes or less, and taste test (hands down my favorite). Plus she has 101 yogurt based snack ideas.  Beat that!

100 Days of Real Food     Lisa Leake details her family’s experience in cutting out processed foods.  And there’s plenty of support to help others do the same thing.  Besides lots of recipes and free meal plans, she’s not afraid to tackle controversial subjects and encourage meaningful dialogue.

Eating Rules     I wish Andrew Wilder was my next door neighbor.  I don’t know why…  I just like him.  His blog has great information on diet, nutrition and food.  It’s funny and smart.  There is lots of cool stuff here including Menu Mondays–his recommendations for healthier choices from lots of common chain restaurants.  What an inspiration!

Nutrition Over Easy     Monica Reinagel, presents intelligent, totally reasonable nutrition advice.  Plus she sings opera and has a great podcast, The Nutrition Diva.  As a licensed nutritionist, I trust what she has to say.

Care to share any of your favorites?

You Can’t Eat Shoes

I have a confession to make.  I collect cookbooks the way some women collect shoes.  It’s a problem because I’m running out of shelf space and because Jim rolls his eyes every time a book sized Amazon box arrives at our door.

While there are plenty of cooking websites online that I can and do turn to for inspiration, there’s nothing that can take the place of real paper.  I love my entire collection–from the tattered old copy of Laurel’s Kitchen I had in high school to my treasured How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman.

I happened to be at Whole Foods Market the other day with Sam and paused to look through a large selection of them on an end aisle (a marketing ploy that really works!).

The colorful cover of Cooking Light Real Family Food by Amanda Haas caught my eye.  I handed it over to the family food critic for a once over.  He enthusiastically agreed with my selection.

Here’s what we like:

  1. Use of photographs:  Every recipe gets a delicious looking full color picture.  Even the table of contents comes in thumbnail photos.  Great for your nonreaders…or anyone!
  2. Icons:  Haas employs icons to help you decide what to cook.  It’s easy to see if a recipe is vegetarian, can be prepared quickly, or is gluten or dairy free.  Love the Kids can Help icon which points out ways little hands can assist.
  3. Philosophy:  One Family One Meal Plan.  She focuses on menu planning, grocery shopping, budgeting, and simple cooking.  It certainly is a lot simpler if everyone eats the same thing.
  4. Recipes:  Lots of hits at our house.  Chili-Roasted Sweet Potato Nuggets (we’re becoming a household of sweet potato aficionados), Quiche Bites (pack in lunches!), Pumpkin Muffins, Cheesy Stuffed Shells With My Secret Tomato Sauce were all well received at the family dinner table.
  5. Readability:  Nicely laid out, attractive cookbook.  Recipes are preceded by a short informative introduction, easy to understand and nothing tricky in preparation.  Each is followed by full nutritional information. Nice.

My only regret is that the index is listed by main ingredient or type of food.  I often search for recipes based on the ingredients I have on hand.  Cabbage, for example, is not listed although there is a recipe for coleslaw.

To increase the nutritional content we’ve used brown rice and whole grain pastas and breads in place of the white counterparts.

If you’re looking for dinnertime inspiration, Amanda Haas, the founder of, has created a cookbook that helps parents make healthy and delicious family dinners happen.  Sam has requested the Pork and Mango Stir-Fry, and I still want to try the Chicken Divan.  We’re not done with this one yet.