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.

SNICKERS® Bar

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

Check out the ingredient list: MILK CHOCOLATE (SUGAR, COCOA BUTTER, CHOCOLATE, SKIM MILK, LACTOSE, MILKFAT, SOY LECITHIN, ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR), PEANUTS, CORN SYRUP, SUGAR, MILKFAT, SKIM MILK, PARTIALLY HYDROGENATED SOYBEAN OIL, LACTOSE, SALT, EGG WHITES, CHOCOLATE, ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR. MAY CONTAIN ALMONDS

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.

146

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.

Advertisements

Leftovers? Hard Boiled Eggs 5 Ways!

Growing up as a young child in the late 60’s and 70’s, snacks were pretty simple.  There was a lot of grape jelly Wonder Bread, buttered saltines, sliced bananas in milk and, of course, hard-boiled eggs. My mother had four children to tend to, and in those days, snacking didn’t receive the attention (or advertising) it gets today.

And as Easter approaches, I start thinking about those hard-boiled eggs. Definitely one of the least processed food items of my youth.  Eggs offer a fair amount of protein and vitamin D.

file5681298361896If you’re flooded with hard-boiled eggs over the upcoming holiday weekend, here are a few tasty ways to put them to use:

1. Breakfast or snack.  I know, obvious.  But they are so great to have on hand for a quick breakfast, to pack in a lunch, or snack on after school with a grind of salt and pepper.

2. Deviled.  This is the one dish I take to an event that is always well received. Simple to make.  A food processor is handy here, and I found a cake decorator at a yard sale to do the filling. This is the recipe I use.

31OQ+3yo0TL._SY450_

Makes those deviled eggs look almost too good to eat.

3. On salads.  When I add sliced egg, garbanzo beans and pumpkin seeds, salad becomes a one dish meal.  Love this slicer.

41676YQ4Y9L._SX450_

4. Egg salad sandwiches.  Comfort food for me.  Dice up a few eggs. Add mayo or an oil based dressing. Mix in whatever you like. Fresh herbs, olives, celery and onion all work well.

0025. Frijole Mole.  Another type of egg salad I chanced upon in Barbara Kingsolver’s book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.  Click the link to get the recipe.  It calls for green beans and lots of basil, but these days I use broccoli and cilantro because it’s what I have.  I prefer diced red onion, raw, for color and crunch. Delicious on bread, sandwich style, or with crackers and veggies.

What’s your favorite way to use surplus Easter eggs?

Hippity, hoppity...  Easter's on its way.

Hippity, hoppity… Easter’s on its way.

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!

The Week in Lunch

It’s Friday!  Since I have lunch on the brain, I thought I might send out the pictures I took of Sam’s lunches last week.  Leftovers definitely figured into the equation but so did fresh fruits and vegetables.

Monday Sam had leftover whole wheat pesto pasta with Parmesan cheese, chopped red cabbage, sliced apples and almond butter for dipping.  Aside from a little knife work, there was little to prepare.

Monday

Monday

Tuesday was pizza pockets day: whole wheat pita bread spread with jarred pasta sauce and layered with cheese slices.  I put them on a hot pan to crisp the outside (which keeps them from getting soggy) and melt the cheese inside. If I have spinach, I chop some up and throw it in before putting the pockets over heat. We were out of all fruit except bananas, so in they went with a little cinnamon on top.

Tuesday

Tuesday

Since Tuesday is my shopping day, I was able to stock up on the basics for Wednesday. The menu included an almond and apple butter sandwich on high fiber whole wheat bread, a sliced pear, leftover roasted brussel sprouts and yogurt (the plain variety, flavored at home).

Wednesday

Wednesday

Valentine’s Day fell on Thursday.  Notice the dark chocolate candy?  It’s not a typical lunch box treat but, hey, I never said I was perfect.  Anyway, the day’s entrée was a cheese and avocado quesadilla on a whole wheat tortilla.  Carrots are easy–especially if you buy the ready-to-eat “baby” ones.  And kiwis are great this time of year.  Sam calls them “green strawberries”.

Thursday

Thursday

Friday is pizza day at school.  Sam complains they taste dry this year because they are making them with 100% whole wheat flour.  And yet he still asks for lunch money in the morning.  I’m intrigued.  I think I’ll take a field trip to the school cafeteria to check it out.

I guess the take away message here is that making a healthy lunch is pretty easy and doesn’t have to involve a lot of convenience food.  It’s easier on the wallet and definitely better for growing bodies. It doesn’t have to be fancy. The challenge is getting kids to eat it. Serving healthy foods at home is the first step to getting kids to eat them at school.

What did you send in your child’s lunch today?

The Secret to Packing School Lunch

In a word?  Leftovers.

On occasion, I show glimpses of a type A, “Mother of the Year” persona and whip out lunch box specialties, but honestly, it’s usually about what’s handy.  And what’s at hand is what we ate for dinner the night before.

Soups, spaghetti, grilled chicken, even salad.  It all goes in if I’ve got it in the refrigerator.  If it’s meant to be hot, I might warm it up before packing so it isn’t stone cold.  Sam is happy to eat normally hot foods at room temperature (and so am I).  It’s along the same line as cold pizza.  Sometimes it’s just as good that way.

One family dinner that translates well to school lunch is the slow cooker Hoisin and Ginger Shredded Pork from the Kitchn.  It’s great on so many levels: easy to make (love my crockpot), flavorful and super lunch friendly.

Served over farro with salad and broccoli.

Served over farro with salad and broccoli.

I always sleep easier knowing that lunch is practically made.  And with a whole wheat tortilla, some leftover salad and few sprigs of cilantro, this pork wrap comes together in a minute.

006Add in leftover pan cooked broccoli, a sliced blood orange (Jim brought them home from a colleague’s tree) assorted nuts and, voila, a healthy lunch from home.

The lunch that prepares itself!

The lunch that prepares itself!

Do you send leftovers for lunch?  Which ones pack well for school?

Lunches From Home Less Healthy Than School Cafeteria Food

I’m having a really hard time digesting the latest news from the Children’s Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine.  Even the researchers themselves can’t believe it.

After studying lunches brought from home by 2nd graders in a Texas school district, they concluded that these lunches were less healthy (really?!) than those served up in the school cafeterias.

School cafeterias have, for years, taken their share of abuse for serving unhealthy, over processed foods and mystery meats with few fresh fruits and vegetables.  Images of styrofoam trays laden with an unappetizing array of monotone colored foods come to mind.

The reality, however, looks something like this:

Lunches from home were less likely to contain:

  • fruit  (45.3% vs. 75.9%)
  • vegetables  (13.2% vs. 29.1%)
  • dairy  (41.8% vs.70%)

Lunches from home were more likely to contain:

  • snacks high in sugar and fat  (60% vs. 17.5%)
  • non-100% fruit juice  (47.2% vs. less than 1%)

This is so surprising because in past studies, parents indicated that they could pack healthier lunches than the school would provide.  So what gives?

Researchers suggest that parents worry more about the fact that their kids are eating–not what they’re eating.  It’s true, giving our kids what they want is tempting.  And there are so many convenient prepared foods out there that will do just that and make the lunch assembly process about as easy as pie oatmeal.  But we also want our kids to be healthy. And that starts at home.  It’s our responsibility to teach them healthy habits now that will last a lifetime.

So what to feed them–that’s easy to put together during a morning of lost socks, misplaced homework and sibling squabbles.  Remember Harvard’s Healthy Eating Plate?  The one that shows exactly how much of our plates should be covered by the various food groups?  Just apply that concept to your child’s lunch as well.

healthy-eating-plate-700

Half of a home packed lunch belongs to fruits and vegetables.  A quarter of lunch should be lean protein.  And another quarter is for whole grains.

Does thinking about what to pack make you feel like your brain has been co-opted by an alien being?  Check out 85 Snack Ideas for Kids (and Adults!) from 100 Days of Real Food.  Most of these ideas are simple and easy to prepare–perfect for a lunch box.

Tip:  Let your kids weigh in on deciding what’s packed in their lunch boxes.  Give them a few healthy choices and you’ll have greater buy in.

Does your child bring a lunch from home or eat school lunch?  How does your child’s school cafeteria measure up?

Fresh fruit, tomatoes and cucumber, pizza with whole wheat crust.

Fresh fruit, tomatoes and cucumber, pizza with whole wheat crust.