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

Eat Like an Egyptian

For thousands of years, the people who lived along the Mediterranean coastline have been eating one of the healthiest diets on the planet–one rich in plant foods and healthy fats. This includes the ancient Egyptians who feasted on plenty of the same tasty foodstuffs that we eat today–including hummus, a popular dip, both then and now, made from garbanzo beans.

If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a great dip for pita or other breads as well as vegetable crudites such as carrot sticks, cauliflower florets and cucumber chips. It usually comes packaged in small plastic tubs found in the refrigerated section of just about any self-respecting grocery store. But, as with a lot of foods, it’s better homemade.

It’s a lot cheaper too!

A while back I cooked up a big pot of garbanzo beans. We eat a lot of hummus so I portioned these beans into bags slated for the freezer. I like to have them on hand so I can whip up a batch of hummus on a whim (or a request).

016

There are tons of recipes out there. You can easily mix it up by adding other ingredients such as roasted red peppers, jalapenos, roasted garlic or olives.

Here’s the basic recipe that we use:

Hummus

  • 1 1/2 cups cooked garbanzo beans
  • 2 T. tahini
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 2 T. water
  • 2 T. lemon juice
  • 1 clove chopped garlic (or more if you are so inclined)
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • paprika

Place all ingredients, except paprika, in a blender or food processor. Blend until smooth. Add additional water by the tablespoonful if needed until hummus is easy to spread and dip.  Sprinkle paprika generously over the top.

Can’t get much simpler.

011

Popular with the kids!

3 other ways to enjoy garbanzo beans:

1.  Add them to salads.

2.  Make soup.  Try this very simple Marcella Hazan recipe for a traditional Italian soup.

3.  Use as a vegetarian sandwich spread.

file0001551722268

Hummus. Fit for a Pharaoh!

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.

Friday Feature: Bulgur, It’s What’s for Breakfast

This afternoon, shortly before picking Sam up at school, I was in the kitchen cooking up…breakfast.  It’s true, I’ve been a little preoccupied with breakfast lately, but I’m not completely disoriented.  In fact, my sense of timing has never been better.  I’m ahead of the game.  Tomorrow’s breakfast is done.

Lucky for Sam breakfast bulgur makes a great after school snack too.  Admittedly, he regarded my offering warily at first.  But in the end, he scarfed it down in record time.

Not an especially mouth-watering name, but bulgur is really quite tasty and versatile. Bulgur, wheat that has been hulled, dried and ground, is a quick cooking grain frequently used in a middle eastern salad called tabbouleh.  But it is so much more than that.

020Turns out that bulgur (as well as many other grains) makes a great addition to the breakfast scene and is a simple and delicious alternative to oatmeal. The following recipe uses another handy kitchen tool, the rice cooker.  If you don’t have one, you can cook bulgur the traditional way, but the rice cooker gives you especially tender, fluffy results.

This useful machine is fitted with a round, removable, aluminum bowl.  A simple button turns it on, and it goes off by itself when your grain has absorbed all the added liquid.  It cooks basic grains in lots of different ways including risotto, pilaf, paella, and breakfast porridge (among other things).

Of course, you can cook grains without one–a pot with a lid will suffice, but the rice cooker makes perfectly cooked grains every time.  And clean up is about as easy as it gets. Keep your eye out for a rice cooker at yard sales or thrift stores.

012

Breakfast Bulgur

  • 1 cup bulgur
  • 1 3/4 cups water
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 T. brown sugar
  • 1 T. butter

Add bulgur to the bowl of the rice cooker.  Then add the rest of the ingredients–stirring to combine.  The butter will melt during cooking.  Cover and cook.

When machine switches to “OFF”, let bulgur steam on the warming cycle for 10 minutes.  Fluff with wooden spoon and serve nice and hot.

If you don’t have a rice cooker, don’t fret.  All you have to do boil two cups of water, add bulgur and other ingredients.  Cover and reduce heat to a low simmer.  Check for water absorption at about 10 minutes.

015

I like eating mine with yogurt, apples and walnuts.  Sam enjoyed his with milk, blueberries and cinnamon.  It is lightly sweetened, but a drizzle of honey or syrup can be added if desired.

Leftovers?  Put them in a container in the fridge and heat them up as needed all through the week!

001

The Science of Addictive Junk Food

What if I told you that overeating had a lot less to do with lack of willpower and self-control than you thought?  That weight gain and the subsequent diet related diseases of the day are partly out of our control?  Just who’s responsible, anyway?

There was a very interesting article in The New York Times a couple of weeks ago by Michael Moss, the author of the newly released book, Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us.

51b6gQj7R4L._AA160_

There’s lots of money at stake, and the snack food industry is heavily invested in keeping us eating more and more junk food–through the use of economics, chemistry and psychology.

So if you’re wondering why that Coke you’re drinking tastes so delicious, why we have skyrocketing rates of obesity and how on earth we became one of the fattest nations in the world, you need to understand the level of manipulation of our taste preferences.

If you’re interested in reading the whole New York Times article, know that it’s long.  Make a bowl of popcorn (the real stuff, not the microwaveable kind–unless you DIY) and get comfortable.  It’s a fascinating read in a cloak and dagger kind of way…  Here’s the story.

I don’t want to be manipulated.  I’m pretty sure that a choice between soda and a diet soda isn’t much of a choice.  And I don’t want to spend more to eat more, compromising the health of my family.

Here are 3 ways you can take control:

1.  Buy real food.  It’s the most important thing you can do. Choosing food that is as close to its natural state as possible means you can avoid all the “science” that creates frankenfood that doesn’t nourish us.

2.  Be a smart shopper.  Cruise the outer aisle of your grocery store. That’s where most of the real and minimally processed foods can be found. Steer clear of the displays at the aisle ends. They’re for high profit, heavily advertised items likely to be bought on impulse. Make a list and stick to it!

3.  Cook at home.  Using real food to cook meals at home allows you to control the flavor, freshness and nutritional content of the food your family eats.  You’ll enjoy your food more and save money to boot.

We already know we need to eat better, but even knowing that doesn’t mean it will be easy.  But it’s not hopeless either.  What do you think?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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!

Make or Buy: Flavored Yogurt

I’m not quite done with the subject of yogurt.  It didn’t feel quite right to cross it off the list of blog topics with just one teensy post about frozen yogurt.  The truth is, we eat a lot more flavored yogurt than frozen yogurt.  And while you can find hundreds of different kinds at the grocery store, much of them contain a scary amount of sugar…and in some cases, thickeners, added colors and preservatives.

Check out the list of ingredients!  This is yogurt?

Check out the list of ingredients! This is yogurt?

  Flavoring plain yogurt at home can make a healthy food even healthier.
018Here’s Sam’s favorite.

Lemon Yogurt

  • 1 cup plain yogurt (preferably low-fat or full-fat for best flavor)
  • zest of half a small lemon, washed well
  • 2 tsp. fresh lemon juice (love those Meyer lemons)
  • 1 T. maple (or agave) syrup
  • 1/4 tsp. vanilla extract

Whip it all together and let rest for a few minutes for flavors to meld.

Another well-loved recipe is a riff on one included in a book I picked up at our library’s used book sale, Fit Kids! The Complete Shape-Up Program from Birth through High School by Kenneth H. Cooper, M.D.

Chocolate Yogurt

  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • 1 T. maple (or agave) syrup
  • 2 tsp. cocoa powder
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Whisk together and let sit for a few minutes for flavors to meld.

Delicious and chocolatey, this makes for a nice after dinner dessert should one be needed.

Another good sweetener is 100% juice concentrate.  Remember that apples made the top of the Dirty Dozen list of most heavily pesticided produce, so buy organic apple juice concentrate.  And, of course, fresh fruit is the very best possible choice of all.

Eat it for breakfast or pack it in a lunch box, have it for a snack or dessert.  Easy enough for the kids to make themselves.  Pretty all around great.  Definitely make.

020