Wednesday, September 19, 2012

School Lunch Ideas

School is in! For my oldest, this marks the beginning of many years of going to school all day, 5 days a week. I thought I was ready. My sweet child is handling it like a champ. I am not. Day 1 was was a half day. Day 2 was a really long day for me. It hit me that his teacher now sees him more than I do. She is now a huge influence in his life. I'm lucky: I actually like her! I will manage. I will get used to the new routine. I enjoy watching my kids grow and gain independence. Eventually I'm guessing I'll wonder how I managed when they were home all the time.

Another struggle of going to school all day...lunch. I've watched enough of Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution to know school lunches contain a lot of well, crap. On the other hand, we do live in a district where it seems they are trying to do some of the right things and if I let him eat the school lunches he just might try some new things. It's funny how they are more willing to try new things at other places. At the end of the day, he made the decision for me and reminded me how much they pick up. He assumed I would be sending him with lunch based on some of my comments/actions in the past (I hope they weren't too over-the-top). Excellent! Decision made.

Now begins the struggle of what to send. I've read ideas from other mommy-bloggers, but for some reason it seems they normally involve girls who willingly eat fruits, veggies, and even salads (no joke)! Make no mistake: I subject my kids to fruits and veggies on a daily basis and we even have fun times picking these things out at the store or the CSA, but for the most part, they don't eat them. (My younger one does eat most things fruit, but not my older guy.) Also, the first few days I sent him with his lunch, I sent a little more than what he would normally eat and it wasn't enough. He came home with an empty lunch box, stating that he was still starving afterwards.

Below is a list of the foods I've come up with so far this year to send in his lunch. These might not work for every kid, but maybe it'll give you an extra idea or two. My child loves sandwiches! If you have other ideas, please comment with those as well. I think we can all use as many ideas as we can get on this one!

  • Pizza Rolls (think like a cinnamon roll only with pizza ingredients, not the store-bought mystery meat frozen variety)
  • Mac & cheese (healthy brand, without the coloring & such. I like Crazy Bugs, but was just told those aren't cool for school)
  • Sandwiches rolled up in flatbread (filling & fun, with nitrate-free deli meat)
  • Sandwiches in whole wheat pita pockets
  • Quesadillas (melted cheese between 2 tortillas)
  • Veggie Rotini with a little olive oil
  • Hot dog "squids" (nitrate-free, cut the hot dog, insert dry whole wheat noodles & cook per noodle directions, see pic)
  • [Jury still out on this one, as the rice paper turned chewy, maybe I'm doing something wrong???] Sandwiches rolled in rice paper (think spring roll: buy the paper & some noodles at the oriental store, get the paper damp, put whatever ingredients inside you want, along with the noodles & roll it up)
Along with these "entrees" some of the sides I've included are the few fruits he will eat, raisins, peanut butter cracker sandwiches, hummus cracker sandwiches, veggie chips and cashews. All along with a couple Hershey Kisses and a little note from mom that I couldn't resist!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Spaghetti Sauce & Enticing Pizza Rolls

Before I got married and learned to cook, I lived on chips & salsa; turkey sandwiches; canned soup; and occasionally pasta with Ragu. I have not gone back to look up the potentially harmful (or not) ingredients in the sauce. Maybe there are a few... maybe there aren't any, but it turns out sauce is very easy to make and if I can eliminate the processing, I will. I make a bunch and freeze it in mason jars, which tend to be close to the amount I want each time I use it for something. I use the same sauce for spaghetti, lasagna, home-made pizza, ziti and pizza rolls.

My cousin introduced me to pizza rolls. She mentioned having them for dinner one Thanksgiving (we had the traditional meal for lunch & she wanted to make something easy for a dinner-snack). Not realizing there was a type of pizza roll that was not made of mystery meat in some fried & frozen pocket thing, I was horrified. I didn't want to offend her, so I went with it. Imagine my surprise when the pizza rolls turned out to be more like home-made cinnamon rolls, except with pizza ingredients. These have turned into a staple at our house and they don't last long. I dread the day my boys are teenagers and I have to make 2 batches to keep up with their appetites.

Spaghetti Sauce
1/2 onion, chopped
3 Tbsp olive oil
4 garlic cloves (I use a press, but you could chop)
1/2 cup pureed sweet potatoes* (or carrots which will make it not as sweet)
2 Tbsp basil
1/2 Tbsp thyme
1/2 Tbsp oregano
2- 28 oz cans crushed tomatoes
14 oz can tomato sauce
3 or 4 Tbsp sugar (we like it sweet)

Saute the onion in the olive oil 2 minutes or so. Add the garlic & saute another minute. Add the sweet potato and herbs and saute another minute or two. Add the rest. Bring to a boil, cover & simmer for 30 minutes. Salt to taste & add more herbs if desired. It's good in the refrigerator for 1 week. It can be frozen up to 6 months.

*sweet potato: prick the sweet potato, wrap it in 2 layers of paper towels (2 layers is key) and microwave for approximately 4 minutes depending on the size. If its soft, it's done. If not, add 30 seconds. Let it cool, peel off the skin and puree by putting it in the food processor. You may need to add a tiny bit of water.

Pizza Rolls
While making the dough for regular rolls,* add:
1 Tbsp Italian seasoning or a combination of oregano and basil
1/2 cup parmesan

When the dough is ready for the rising stage, roll it into a large rectangle (approx. 12" X 18")
(If you forgot the seasoning & parmesan above, you can sprinkle it on at this point.)
Spread spaghetti sauce on the dough (as much or little as you like)
Add the pizza ingredients that you like (I normally do half pepperoni & half cheese)
Roll it up like a log.
Cut it into 12 slices & place the slices in a greased 9X13 pan.
Let rise for an hour.
Cook per the roll directions.

Note: sometimes I add the cheese to the top instead of inside. I also just froze a few of these for an easy school lunch in the future.
*I normally use this roll recipe substituting butter for shortening & using half regular flour & half wheat flour.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Mama's Got Back...and Hips

After I had #1, my back hurt. Perhaps it was because I spent the first 5 months of his life trying to soothe him via rocking, standing & bouncing, going for walks, etc., etc. Mostly what I know is that one day I woke up with my back in such a sorry state that it hurt to breathe. It was time to do something about it. I went to a physical therapist who gave me exercises to strengthen my back. However, if I skipped a day or two I would completely relapse. It was as if I couldn't hold onto the muscle I was trying to build for more than a day. She told me to have X-rays to ensure there wasn't more wrong. I did. There wasn't. My time with the therapist ran out (according to my insurance) so that was that for a while.

When I was pregnant with #2, I again woke up one day and my back was out. I suffered through it & was up and around again after a couple days.

Following #2 my back was still in sorry shape, but that's life, right? I'm a mom with 2 little guys under 3 and I'm bound to have issues. I'd get the occasional massage and life would be good again...for a bit. Then I finally felt up to getting back into shape so I started running. My ankles started hurting. Yes-ankles! I am feeling old. Then the knees. Mind you-I wasn't even running far or much. Nothing like before kids. I found I had to do Yoga at least once a week to keep my back in a manageable state. As it was bound to, it eventually went out again. This time I went to a chiropractor. He started looking at my feet & declared that I over-pronate. Next thing I know he's talking orthopedic shoes. Yikes! However, he's also talking about a plan of stretches & exercises to get me where I need to be and it occurs to me that I should go to a physical therapist instead since my insurance covers physical therapists (and not chiropractors).

Enter physical therapist (aka the angel). He immediately starts looking at my hips. Turns out one of them is rotated back, rendering that leg shorter than the other, which is leading to the back and knee issues. After a series of awkward stretches and movements, he gets my hips back into place. I feel good as new! The problem with me is that my joints move easily so I regularly pop back out, but it's relatively easy to pop me back in again. I've gotten stronger and I've also found it helps to sleep with a pillow under my leg so I don't pop out as often as I used to. Sometimes I can even get my hips to pop back in on my own.

I share this story because I can't tell you how many women I've run into who have the same issue. I also have run into a number of women who are having issues like the ones I was having & have yet to find the physical therapist who correctly diagnoses the problem. I hope that this post finds its way to a few women that really benefit from it! If you have problems, determine if one hip bone is higher than the other when you lay down. If so, find a good physical therapist! When we feel good, it sure helps as we strive to be perfect (or maybe just decent) moms!

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

And the Appendix Must Go!

I previously had this huge fear of my appendix bursting and my not being anywhere near a hospital since I typically try to be 'tough girl' when in pain, so I thought I'd share a little insight gained with all of you from my unexpected surgery a little over a week ago.

Thursday night I went to my book club, where our gracious host served a yummy dinner, complete with these delicious cake balls that I couldn't get enough of! I should clarify: my book club is really an excuse to have a girls night. As you might imagine, sometimes we get a little carried away with the adult beverages. However, this particular night I only had one glass of wine. So when I woke up at 3 a.m. Friday morning feeling sick, I quickly ruled out alcohol as the culprit.

When I woke up my whole abdomen was cramping & hurt. It honestly felt like I needed to poop. But, I did poop & there was no relief. Then I started vomiting. I probably vomited every 20-30 minutes from 4 a.m. to 11 a.m.. Nothing was relieving the pain in my abdomen and I didn't have anything in me to vomit. Also, it was a deeper vomiting than anything I've ever experienced, like there was something in there my body was trying to get out. My next thought was food poisoning, but since I ate the same thing as all my girlfriends, I was able to rule that out as well. Around 11, I stopped vomiting & my pain lessened just enough that I was able to fall asleep for about 30 minutes.

Earlier in the week my running buddy mentioned that her sister thought she was having an appendicitis & the doctors told her it feels more like you pulled a muscle in your abdomen. They also told her that the real key is a fever. As the day went on, I realized the pain in my abdomen was starting to feel more like a pulled muscle, and it seemed to be moving from the center of my abdomen to the right. It was definitely more intense on the right as time went on. Around 7:30 p.m. I looked it up on the internet. I was having all the symptoms except the fever, but the website I visited indicated it could be as low as 99. I said multiple prayers that if I needed to go to the hospital, God would show me a clear sign. At 8 p.m. I took my temperature again & it registered 99. I told the hubby I was going to the hospital.

Upon arrival they immediately hooked me up with an IV. I must have had "dehydrated" written all over me. The doctor didn't seem convinced it was my appendix, but he did think it was a possibility. He said a CAT scan was the way to figure it out. It takes 3 hours to do a CAT scan, by the time you drink the stuff you have to drink & let it settle. Fortunately they pumped anti-nasea medicine into my IV so I was able to keep it down. The CAT scan revealed that I had a stone in my appendix, but they could also see that I didn't have any lacerations (yet) so it was up to the surgeon as to exactly how quickly he was coming up to take it out. It turned out to be noon the next day, though once they started giving me morphine, I didn't really care.

They did remove it via laprascopy, which is amazing! I have 3 very small incisions that can be covered by a bandaid. The worst part of it is that they pump you full of gas in order to create the room they need to work. My neighbor tells me it will take 2 weeks for my body to absorb all of this. I've had many bloated days since, and 1 in particular where I felt pregnant again. But, if that's the price, I'll take it! Anything is better than the way I felt that Friday!

Also, my prayers that God would give me a clear sign if I needed to go to the hospital worked! I went because my temperature registered 99. Upon arrival to the hospital my temperature was 97 and I never had a fever afterwards. I additionally wonder if the "stone" was really one of those cake balls I ate the night before. Perhaps I should've taken it a little easier on those!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Best Sugar Cookies Ever...with fun colors found in nature!

Its no surprise food dyes are bad for you. I even remember them talking about the red & yellow dyes when I was a kid. Reading the list of chemicals most harmful to kids has reinforced the fact that we should try to avoid them when we can. It's not terribly hard for me to avoid them in food at the grocery store (except at Halloween), but my real weakness? Frosting! Specifically, frosting for sugar cookies! I am fine making them with white frosting, but I've made them in fun colors previously so that's what my kids expect. When we start talking about making sugar cookies, they immediately start deciding what color they want "theirs" to be. Ugh! Do I take this happiness away from them too (as if the M&Ms aren't enough)? Or, do I look for alternative & natural colors found in nature? Clearly I try the latter since I'm blogging about it.

My ideas:
white=no dye (easy)
pink=beet juice or maybe strawberries if they are juicy enough (but, I have boys & they don't want pink)
purple=blueberry juice (I did this once with the witches hats, but they were really more violet)
green=spinach juice (dare I try it?)

Last week we made cookies & these were the color options. My youngest picked purple. This time I used more juice & they actually turned out purple! Perfect! My oldest chose green (little did he know). This past summer I pureed some spinach & froze it in ice cube trays. Normally when I defrost one, there is juice. This time, there was no juice. So, I put the entire cube in the frosting. Now the frosting looks white with green flakes in it. It truly looks more like something you should be dipping a veggie in than something that you should be eating on your cookie. But I taste it & it tastes great! Just like normal frosting. There is so much sugar in it, you can't taste the spinach at all. Now for the true test: I tell my oldest that his frosting is more like white frosting with green sprinkles in it. He takes one look at it & says "no mom!" Then I give him a taste. "Ok mom!" Whew! They passed the test & my boys have thoroughly enjoyed their cookies. To top it all off: I feel like I just snuck some veggies into their systems. I LOVE IT!!! (It may be worth a note that the older these cookies get, the flavors are starting to come out. I couldn't taste the blueberries or spinach at all initially. Now its been 5 days & I taste a hint of them, though just a hint & I'm still fairly certain if you didn't 'know' you wouldn't taste the difference.)

Not to be a total bragger, but I do make the best sugar cookies. They aren't easy, but they are so worth it! That junk you buy at the store doesn't even compare. Here's the recipe:

Sugar Cookies
Mix together:
3 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp cream of tartar
1 cup butter (must be room temperature, sometimes I pop it in the microwave to soften (melting some of it))
2 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla

Stir it until it all sticks together & essentially forms a ball (this is the 'not easy' part-your arm will be ready to fall off by the time you're done). Refrigerate the dough 15-30 minutes so its not so sticky when you roll it out. When you do roll it out, you'll need to use a decent amount of flour to keep it from sticking. Bake 8-10 min at 400 degrees.

Butter Cream Frosting
1 box powdered sugar
1 stick of butter, softened
6 Tbsp milk
1 tsp vanilla
Mix it all together & add your favorite color found in nature's finest food & frost. Frost when the cookies are cool. Also, let the frosting harden a bit after you frost them & then you'll be able to stack them on a plate.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Easy, peasy cleaning without chemicals!

So, one of my good friends started selling Norwex. Its one of those things you buy at a party. Initially I knew it involved cleaning supplies & they were chemical-free. Right up my alley, except that I really dislike those parties. I always feel obligated to buy things & they are usually expensive, yadda, yadda. Fortunately for me I was unavailable for her first party or two (no joke). I continued to hear bits of info about it & heard ravings about just using water (no chemicals) with this cloth. Right up my alley, except I looked it up & its not cheap (for the record, I am a little on the cheap side). So, parties involved, expensive and if you're just using water, it's not really clean, right? I mean, where's the 'anti-bacterial' in that? I hate the chemicals, but I hate the idea of germs & bacteria even more. I try to limit our exposure to un-natural things, but I am human & I have my limits.

I finally go to a party. I learn the following:
1. silver is a bactericide (aka anti-bacterial agent)
2. these Norwex products are laced with silver
3. the main 'rag' is a microfiber cloth that picks up most anything with water

I'm still skeptical so I buy the very basic of items: enviro cloth, window cloth & dusting mitt. They arrive and I put them to work. OMG!!!
Fast-check (this is the part I missed until I tried it)

I cleaned my whole kitchen in about half the normal time. Scratch that. I probably actually spent the same amount of time because since it was so easy, I started looking around for new things to clean. Inside of the fridge, cabinets, all the appliances (which are stainless). You name it, I cleaned it!

However, I was still a little skeptical. It looks clean & it feels clean, but is it really clean? I watched my friend place a raw piece of chicken on a mirror & do a protein test on it. Before cleaning: test failed. After cleaning with her cloths: pass. But, I needed more. I did the natural thing & googled it. It took some digging to find info that wasn't directly from Norwex, but I dug I did & everything indicates this stuff is for-real. I've been using these items for about a month now & I can no longer live without them. If I could capture the before & after of my shower (my shower is all tile & the solution of how to best clean it has eluded me until now) in a picture, I would!

As for the cost...I can somewhat justify the fact that I won't have to buy chemical cleaners anymore, but how much do I really spend a year on that stuff anyway? Probably not a lot. But, the time savings is invaluable! The products that I have invested in so far are worth every penny if only for the amount of time they are saving me! Total bonus that they are chemical-free!

Here are a couple demonstrations if you want to see how easy these things are:

dusting mitt to clean a screen:
dusting mitt to clean blinds:
protein test after cleaning raw chicken:

Now, for the record: I do not sell Norwex nor do I intend to start. However, I will be having a party in the next few weeks so let me know if you are interested. If you don't live near me, you can order online or look up a rep in your area. It may be worth it to actually see some of these things in person if you're visual like me.

Happy cleaning!!!