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.

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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!

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.
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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.

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A Sweet Treat You Can Love

We have been eating yogurt in this house from time immemorial.  I’ve cut back on dairy considerably since Jim became a vegan, but I’ll never give up yogurt (and kefir).  It won’t happen.  It’s part of a good breakfast, nice to send occasionally in the lunch box and makes a darn good dessert when the need arises (as it frequently does at our house).

One thing that has happened however, is that we don’t make that weekly trip to the frozen yogurt shop in town anymore.  I’m all about supporting local businesses–just not when it could be bad for my heart…and my waistline.

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With the popularity of self-serve yogurt shops, the temptation to fill up that cup can mean more than 50 grams of sugar a serving.  Before the addition of toppings.  Sheesh!  And I always have a tiny financial seizure when they announce the cost.  $5 for a bowl of yogurt? Really?!

So what do you do when you’re a “can-do” penny-pinching, anti-sugar obsessed mom? Why you make it–or something vaguely similar–at home!

Start with really ripe bananas.

Seriously ripe bananas are especially sweet.

Seriously ripe bananas are especially sweet.

Peel and slice them for the freezer.  They’ll blend easier if you only freeze them for a couple of hours.  Make sure pieces aren’t touching.

This gives you the option of putting them into a freezer bag for use later without them all sticking together in one glob.

Here’s the recipe we concocted:

Blueberry Chocolate Frozen Yogurt

  • 1 frozen banana
  • 1/2 cup frozen blueberries
  • 1/4 cup plain yogurt
  • 2 tsp. chocolate powder (unsweetened)
  • 2 tsp. maple syrup
  • 1/4 tsp. vanilla extract

Put it all in a blender or food processor.  Watch it turn into “frozen yogurt”.

Eat it before it melts!

Eat it before it melts!

This recipe made 6 ounces.  Using a free calorie tracking tool, My Fitness Pal, I was able to create the recipe through this application to determine the following nutritional information for a 3 ounce portion.  If you’re eating the whole thing, then double it:

  • Total sugars:  15.6 g
  • Added sugar:  4.4 g
  • Calories:  99

I use about 1 frozen banana with an additional 1/2 cup or more of other frozen fruit. Remember, like most recipes, this is only a framework.  Frozen bananas provide the base from which to work.  Try adding other frozen fruit besides blueberries.  Experiment with different extracts like almond and orange.  If your fruit is especially sweet, skip the added syrup/sugar. Try it with frozen bananas alone if you prefer.

There’s lots of options to go with those frozen bananas.  

  •  frozen peaches and almond extract
  •  chocolate powder and peanut butter
  •  frozen strawberries and shredded coconut

What combinations do you envision?

Imagine Yourself Sugar Free!

Let’s pretend for a moment that sugar is good for you–loaded with vitamins, minerals, essential amino acids and everything healthful.   A tall icy glass of cola with every meal (or orange juice if you prefer–they have about the same amount of sugar). Syrup drenching your french toast and sausage for breakfast.  Luscious ice cream sandwiches for lunch.  An evening repast of tender honey baked ham and maple glazed carrots.  And don’t forget a hot fudge sundae for dessert.

Can I get a refill?

Can I get a refill?

Enjoying the visual?  Salivating?  Good.  Because imagining that you are devouring all that sugar can actually reduce how much of it you consume.

Believe it or not, you can fool yourself into eating less of the foods you shouldn’t be eating.  It’s called habituation.  Thinking about your cravings can actually decrease your desire for them.  It sounds counterintuitive, but it works.  Check out more about the study here.

I’m speaking from personal experience.  Taking that pretend bite, chewing and tasting it (in my imagination) helps me say no thanks to the real thing.  Imagining can make a pretty good substitute for the actual experience.

At this point I know I need to limit my sugar intake.  And I need to help Sam be mindful of his.  The American Heart Association guidelines for added sugars were specific.  With only 6 to 9 teaspoonfuls of added sugar a day (and less for younger children), we have to be selective about when and where we’re going to consume them.

Here are 3 more ways we’re minimizing sugar consumption in our household:

  1. Drink water.  Or natural seltzer.  Add a lemon slice or some mint leaves for interest.  Cut the soda from your diet.  Number one way to reduce sugar.  
  2. Eat fruit.  When you need a snack, grab an apple.  Pack fruit in your child’s lunch instead of cookies.  Dried fruit (in small quantity) makes a great after dinner treat.  I love a piece of mango or papaya.
  3. Put the sugar bowl away.  Stop adding sugar to foods by the teaspoonful.  Squeeze lemon into your tea.  Add sliced banana to cereal.  Spices like cinnamon also help food taste sweeter.

What do you do to hold back the sugar tidal wave at your house?

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Pack an apple in your lunch.

Shhh… Use This One Trick for Healthier Cookies.

And now for a cookie recipe!

I know what you’re thinking. You’re wondering if I might be a little schizophrenic.  I’m blasting sugar’s reputation one minute and trotting out a baked sweet treat recipe the next.

Really, I can explain.

My son had invited two friends from school over to our house for a sleepover.  We’re talking teenagers. Tough audience.  Nice kids who would stare down a bowl of tofu chili with blood in their eye.  So I did the only thing I could think of.  I caved.  Frozen pizza.

Which left them wanting more, of course.  We’re talking 8th grade boys here.  They wanted dessert, naturally.  Apples and oranges were not going to placate this rowdy crowd.  It was a party of sorts after all.

So I made cookies.

This is a recipe I recently modified to make just a bit more nutritionally friendly.  I used a simple trick.  One you can use at home with your favorite cookie recipe.

Use 1/4 less sugar.  It works!  Use a quarter less sugar than your recipe calls for and no one will know.

My original recipe called for 3/4 cup of sugar so I used 1/2 cup instead.  I also cut the amount of chocolate chips in half in this version.

Here’s the end result:

Not So Bad Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies

  • 1/2 Cup butter
  • 1/2 Cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 1/2 Cups of rolled oats
  • 3/4 Cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/3 Cup millet (uncooked)
  • 1/2 Cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350

In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until fluffy.  Beat in egg.  Mix in vanilla.

Whisk next 4 dry ingredients together.  Add to butter and beat until just mixed.  Stir in millet and chocolate chips.

Bake on a greased cookie sheet for 9-10 minutes.

Those cookies were barely out of the oven before they were gone.  No need to mention that they contained less sugar and more whole grains than the average cookie.  My son loves the pleasant crunch of the millet and apparently the others did too because I heard nary a complaint.

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