Chef Ellie Maben talked to us at last night’s meeting about incorporating healthier food choices in your family’s diet. I wanted to share a few tips and tricks for those of you that couldn’t make it to the meeting! My notes are in italics.
* Plan your weekly meals in advance and use coupons to cut costs. Personally, I use eMeals because it matches up store sales to a weekly menu plan, and sends it all to me each Wednesday. Our family receives the Natural and Organic Meal Plan, and it does rely almost entirely on whole foods made from scratch. They have vegetarian, gluten-free menus, low-carb and low-fat menus, and you choose the store you want to shop at locally. I used a Dave Ramsey code, and three months of weekly menus was approximately $15.
* Stick to your shopping list! You can’t make unhealthy food choices if unhealthy food doesn’t live in your pantry. Keep good snack choices on hand for your family. Cut up fresh fruit and veggies in advance to store in the fridge, and offer cheese, yogurt and whole grain crackers before treats.
* To satisfy a sweet tooth, make smoothies or smoothie pops with ripe bananas, milk or yogurt, fresh or frozen berries, a little honey and a dash of vanilla (my kids don’t realize a difference when I sneak a handful of spinach in their smoothies, so long as there are blueberries to mask the green color). Ellie brought Tovolo Ice Pop Molds to show us. They come in fun shapes, like ice cream cones, and they are available on Amazon for $10-12. Ellie suggested the book, Pops!: Icy Treats for Everyone for recipes.
* Shop the outside perimeter of the store where most whole foods can be found; think produce, meat, grains and dairy. Become a label reader, and make conscious choices regarding the ingredients in your food. Look for excess sodium, added sugar or high fructose corn syrup, MSG in all it’s names, etc.
* If your children are too distracting while you are shopping, try to leave them at home. I prefer to bring my iPod and shop alone for a little “me” time!
* Buy whole grains in bulk at places like Kroger, Earthfare, Three Rivers Market, etc. and store them in your freezer in air tight containers. You will save a wad of cash, and everything will store for about a year. Add whole grains to foods your family already eats instead of going full-force; for example, oatmeal pancakes or chocolate chip cookies with whole wheat pastry flour and oatmeal. Use one piece of white bread and one piece of wheat when making a sandwich. Mix whole wheat pasta half and half with white pasta. Try tri-colored spiral pasta as a fun kid-friendly choice. Pick a new grain to try, like quinoa, and cook it one night per week for several months.
* Shop farmer’s markets if possible or plant a small family garden. If that isn’t feasible for your budget, ask your local grocery store produce manager to include more locally grown veggies and fruit to their store. Earthfare, Food City and Butler and Bailey are known to do this in our area already. Awhile back, I wrote two articles pertaining to organic and local produce; check them out for more information: Community Supported Agriculture in East Tennessee and Organic or Not.
* Pack your kids lunches a few times a week, or more if possible! Ellie brought the Laptop Lunch set to show us. It’s approximately $35 and comes with a lunchbox, carrier, drink container and recipe book. You can get just the lunchbox and recipe book for around $25.
* Make food fun! There were great ideas in the book Ellie brought: First Meals by Annabel Karmel. Add silly faces to open face sandwiches or pizzas. Use small vegetable cutters for cheese, fruit and veggies.
* Try to avoid cooking different meals for various members of the family. We have a long-standing rule that if you aren’t going to eat the dinner that was prepared, you may have a slice of bread with almond or peanut butter. I always prepare one vegetable side that I know the whole family will eat. Remember, that kids need to try a food at minimum TEN times before they will readily eat it and like it. Don’t give up after one attempt!
* Sneak veggies and fruit into breads, deserts, pasta sauce and smoothies! Check out The Sneaky Chef for ideas! After awhile, you will find your kids don’t even care that you add squash to muffins and spinach to smoothies. Mine know all my “secrets” now, and they are happy to gobble up the hidden veggies.
* Simplify your meals and try not to be a control freak. It is much easier to change your diet gradually, and you don’t want mealtime to seem like a punishment for the whole family. Although I use eMeals, I always keep a couple Newmans Own pizzas in the freezer and I always have things on hand to make Breakfast for Dinner or Grilled Cheese and Soup. The kids love asking for a “fun” night, and it stretches the planned meals out longer.
* Ellie suggested making a huge pot of brown rice, and storing it in the fridge for weekly dinners. I find that it’s easier to eat whole foods when I bake a big batch of muffins or pancakes once per week and freeze them. The same goes for chopping onions, carrots, etc. The less work I have each night, the more likely we are to stay on track, and not run out to Panera!
* King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking
* Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone
* The Sneaky Chef: Simple Strategies for Hiding Healthy Foods in Kids’ Favorite Meals
These are two of my favorites, that I use quite often in our kitchen.
* Moosewood Restaurant Simple Suppers
* Simple Food for Busy Families
* Brainy Brownies from The Sneaky Chef
* Morning Glory Muffins (Gluten Free Option, too) from Whole Foods Market^
* Buttermilk Quinoa Pancakes from Pen & Fork^
^These aren’t the exact recipes Ellie shared, I found links to very similar versions, so I wouldn’t have to type more!