What’s For Dinner? Blackened Chicken Salad with Tomatoes, Avocado, Cucumber and Romaine


This is a super yummy, refreshing, light but satisfying, easy meal for those hot summer nights. Whether it’s a laid back weekend or a busy weeknight, this meal has become a staple in our house.

To make the chicken:

Use boneless skinless chicken thighs. Coat the chicken with a homemade rub co sitting of equal parts chili powder, cumin and paprika with salt and pepper to taste. I usually start with 2 Tbsp each and make a second round of needed depending on how much meat I make. Don’t be shy with the rub. The other night I made almost 4lb of meat so we could have leftovers for lunches and other meals.  You can either grill the meat or use a cast iron grill pan on the stove top. When the chicken is done either serve it warm on the salad or cool it down and serve room temperature. Personally, I like to cook it ahead of time because we are usually ot and about for the hours right before dinner.

The rest of the salad:

Chop romaine lettuce, tomatoes, red onion, cucumber and avocado into bite size pieces. For the dressing you can either use a basic dressing made of avocado oil or olive oil with chopped cilantro, salt and pepper or a chimichurri sauce as a dressing.

Mix it all together and enjoy!

My seven and three year old eat this same dinner except like most young children, they don’t like everything mixed together. We just separate everything (and they don’t really eat lettuce yet so we leave that out.)

That’s it, super easy!!!

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Back to School Lunchbox Ideas and Tips – Part 2

Well, after reading Part 1 I hope you all have some sort of container or lunchbox for your kids to transport all the yummy nutritious food you are about to make. Today we are going to talk about some general tips and ideas for basic lunchbox packing and some ideas for grocery shopping and prepping certain foods ahead of the start of a crazy week so you can have one or two more sips of coffee in the mornings. I’m all about doing anything that allows me to sit for one or two extra minutes with my hot cup of joe.

Tips & Ideas for Better & Easier Lunchbox Packing!

I want to open this post with a statement that might sound surprising to you. School lunches for kids DO NOT have to be this beautiful, amazing, every-day-is-different creation. If you’ve seen my Instagram feed (@therealisticlunchbox) or Facebook group (The Realistic Lunchbox) you might think I promote that philosophy a bit, but I post a lot of variety to give you new ideas and cater to different kid’s dietary needs and tastes. If you’ve found a healthy way to feed your kids at lunchtime and worry that it is a bit repetitive then STOP! Most young kids love repetition and don’t care. So, as long as they are eating healthy foods and there is some variety, then don’t worry. Let’s be realistic here.

So what does a well balanced healthy lunchbox look like?

Let’s break it down….

Veggies

At a meal that is not served at school I recommend a goal of half the plate being filled with veggies. However, at school, sometimes this can be tricky because kids have so little time to eat. Eating raw veggies can take a lot of time! So while I still think veggies should be present in a lunchbox, I’m also conscientious of time limitations. So pack a variety of colors, shapes and types of veggies but don’t overdo it. I am also a big fan of dips like hummus or a yogurt based homemade ranch dip to pair with raw veggies. This is an easy way to add some protein and healthy fats while making veggies more fun to eat. Some ideas for fresh veggies include:

  • Carrots/tri-colored carrots
  • Cucumbers (my kids love the mini crunchers because there is less “mushy” interior)
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Bell peppers/mini bell peppers
  • Celery
  • Snap peas
  • Kale (chips)

You can also pack veggies in a lunch with soups, stews, or salads. Veggies can be added to sandwiches, pasta or rice or quinoa dishes or even in smoothies! (Check out my recommended Squeasy Gear for smoothies and the Thermos Funtainer for soups and warm food in the prior post, Back to School Lunchbox Ideas and Tips, Part 1.)

Fruit

I have a love-hate relationship with fruit in regards to nutrition for kids. Everyone touts the benefits of fruit, and that’s true, but seriously, what kid doesn’t like fruit? I find this the easiest thing to get most kids to eat. And if you are one of the few parents whose kids don’t really go for the fruit…don’t sweat it. They’re not really missing out on much. They can get plenty of antioxidants from veggies and calories from other foods (with less sugar).

There are some fruits that don’t pack well in a lunchbox. Sometimes raspberries or watermelon (or other fruits with high water content or that are very soft) can get too juicy and squishy. The fruits with the least amount of sugars per serving are the berries, which also have high amounts of antioxidants. Be sure to buy organic for fruits (like berries) that are on the EWG’s Dirty Dozen list, which are the foods most heavily contaminated with herbicides and pesticides.

So pack the fruit (or don’t) but don’t worry too much about what kinds to pack. Just limit the fruit so your kids will eat some protein and healthy fats.

This list is by no means inclusive of all fruit! I try to buy in season but it’s hard sometimes when the kids just want their favorites!
  • bananas
  • Apples
  • Cantaloupe
  • Clementines
  • Kiwi
  • Grapes
  • Strawberries
  • Raspberries (these can sometimes get squishy in lunches)
  • Blueberries
  • Melon
  • Olives
  • Avocado
  • Mango

Protein

Whether you and your kids are vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free or have other dietary trends, ALL kids need protein and plenty of it. Make sure there is an adequate source of protein in each meal for your kids. If possible, buy grass-fed, pastured organic meats, dairy and eggs. Also look for lunch meats or preserved meats without nitrates or nitrates. Read more about how and where to buy good quality meat and fish (and what not to buy) at foodrenegade.com and foodbabe.com. Or make your own lunch meats, read more at thenourishinggourmet.com.

Here are some ideas for protein sources:

  • Cheese/cheese sticks/cheese stick wrapped in salami or ham
  • Cream cheese/cream cheese and salmon/cream cheese and cucumber sandwich (on sprouted whole grain bread or between whole grain crackers like a sandwich)
  • Banana and nut butter (chocolate hazelnut/almond/cashew/sunbutter/peanut butter/etc) on a sprouted whole grain tortilla (rolled up) or on sprouted whole grain bread
  • Greek yogurt (with honey/maple syrup and/or fruit and/or granola) or as a base to a dip
  • Bacon
  • Hard boiled eggs
  • Cottage cheese
  • Salami/ham/turkey/chicken strips/other meats (can be on a sandwich or as a side to crackers and cheese)
  • Mozzarella balls (as a side or on a skewer with other food)
  • Jerky (beef/turkey/salmon/bison)
  • Hummus
  • Roasted chickpeas

Healthy Fats

Fats usually don’t stand alone (unless you are eating a stick of butter or drinking some coconut oil?) They are often packaged safely, protected from oxidation, within whole foods like seeds, nuts and animal meats. Here is a basic list of foods that contain healthy doses of fats for active, growing kids. Don’t fear the fats! Kids (and adults) need fats to grow up healthy, build strong cells, grow smart brains, and by eating a healthy dose of fats with protein and non-refined carbs we will hopefully provide the next generation with a much lower risk of diabetes, heart disease, obesity and many other ailments contributed to by diet and lifestyle. Since toxins are stored in fat, choose organic or clean sources. Read more on the truth about different fats and whether they are healthy for you in this article from Harvard.

  • Avocado/guacamole
  • Salmon or tuna (dried/smoked/fresh/canned)
  • Olives
  • Coconut
  • Eggs (egg yolk)
  • Nuts and seeds like pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, almonds, walnuts and pistachios (also as nut or seed butters)/ muffins or bars containing nuts/seeds)
  • Full Fat yogurt
  • Cheese

General Lunchbox Packing Tips

Keep it Realistic! Our kids will likely have 20 minutes or less to eat their lunches, and that is being generous for some schools. For this reason I recommend:

  • NOT packing foods in multiple containers. One (or two) easy to open containers saves time.
  • Show some love for the veggies but not too much! Packing half a lunchbox of raw veggies that take forever to chew isn’t always the best idea for a limited lunch time. You can always put out a large plate of raw veggies as an appetizer before dinner when the kids are whining for food. (They will also eat more veggies when they are presented first!)
  • Don’t pack things that the kids have to assemble before eating.

Balance. Make sure to pack a well balanced lunch so that your kids can concentrate better at school. When kids are hungry or have fluctuating blood sugar levels from inadequate or poorly balanced meals they show increasing behavior problems, attention probables and can’t retain or focus as well. Does your lunchbox contain a protein source, some fat, veggies and possibly some fruit? Chances are that it’s balanced then. Chips, crackers, bread, etc are all extras in my opinion and those are the easiest things to pack. First focus on the protein, fat and veggies and then fill in the rest as you feel your kid needs.

Visually Appealling. People eat healthier when presented with colorful, vibrant, well presented foods. Try to add color with various veggies and fruits, use accessories like muffin cups or silicone pods to present foods in a more organized way, use fun accessories to jazz up some foods, or use a smaller Lunchbox to make it seem full. Large empty spaces can detract from an otherwise appetizing lunch.

Choice & Challenge. Try to pack most foods that your child loves or really likes so you know they will eat it but also pack a few new foods, foods that they’ve seen other kids eat and are interested in or foods they see at the grocery store that they ask about. While lunch at school isn’t really the best place to present a plate of completely new foods, sometimes it can be fun for them to experience a new food with friends (or they can laugh about it together and wonder what the heck mom/dad packed….)

Don’t Chuck It! Encourage your kids to never throw away their uneaten lunch. This allows you to see what they are eating, or not eating. This can be incredibly helpful information! We went through a period when my Kindergartener was having some behavior and attitude issues at school and home. As I saw his lunchboxes come home I realized that he wasn’t really eating anything, only some veggies (yeah, I know, he’s a bit abnormal in that sense). I was packing a well balanced lunch but he was so focused on talking with his friends and getting to recess that he just wasn’t eating much lunch. We had a couple weeks of sporadic conversation about how our bodies feel based on how and what we eat and he started to make the connection. After that, things went much smoother on the eating lunch front and on the behavior front. Also, if your kids bring home their lunch leftovers they can eat it as an afternoon snack. Less wasted food and you don’t have to prepare an extra snack!

Be Prepared. Prepping a little bit on the weekends can really help reduce the morning chaos. Some people like to make lunchboxes the night before, and some don’t but either way you can prep these foods like these for lunches ahead of time:

  • Boiled eggs
  • Bacon
  • Kale chips
  • Healthy muffins
  • Avocado chocolate balls
  • Granola or energy bars

Grocery Store Tips

Fresh produce and fruit is something you are going to have to buy at least once a week but there are some packaged foods I’ve found to make life a lot easier (and healthier) when it comes to lunch packing. Here are some of my favorite premade/packaged foods available at grocery stores or online. You will find most of these pictured in my Instagram feed.

  • Lara bars
  • Cocoroons (by Sejoyia foods)
  • Terra chips
  • Seaweed snacks
  • Coconut date rolls (Whole Foods bulk section)
  • Roasted chickpeas
  • Aussie bites (founds these at Costco)
  • Epic meat jerky
  • Somersault sesame bites
  • Dried fruit
  • Figgy Pops
  • Sprouted whole grain bread, tortillas and crackers
  • Dang coconut chips (tons of flavors!)
  • Go Raw Cookies
  • Nature’s Bakery Fig Bars
  • Way Better Snacks chips
  • Late July chips

And lastly, some favorite treats (some are healthier than others) but none contain artificial sugars, flavors or colors.

  • Chocolate covered colored sesame seeds (Trader Joes)
  • Bitsy’s Brainfood Smart Cookies
  • Yum Earth gummies
  • Chocolate covered coconut
  • Dark Chocolate
  • 365 brand gummy stars

Do you have some lunchbox tips to share? Feel free to leave comments and pics! You can also follow me on Instagram (@therealisticlunchbox) or on Facebook (The Realistic Lunchbox) for frequent posts of the lunches I pack, along with healthy eating ideas and recipes.

Back To School Lunchbox Ideas and Tips – Part 1

Admittedly, I’ve had a recent love affair with Instagram. It’s so easy to snap a shot of my subject, tweak a little filtering and editing, say a couple words and bam, you’ve got a post of your amazing creation sent out to the world. And apparently people like me on Instagram. #stillbogglesmymind However, a friend I’ve known for years sent me a message and basically requested this post. At first I was like, “Seriously? I have no time for that…” but then I got to thinking….I kind of owe it to my followers. I mean, how else can I expect them to be brilliant at making lunches like me if I don’t break it down for them? Ok, just kidding. I’m really glad she asked for this post and I hope you will be too.

Here’s what we are going to talk about in a multipart series.

  1. Gear – the things I use most to transport, contain, refrigerate and accessorize my lunches.
  2. Grocery List – my favorite pre-packaged and fresh healthy and natural lunchbox foods found at the grocery store or online.
  3. Prep – some foods you can make at home to pack an extra nutritional and yummy punch in your lunchboxes and some minimal prep tips for making your week of lunch packing easier.
  4. Tips – golden nuggets I have gleaned over the years that I’m finally throwing down into a list to help make lunch box prep easier.

Gear

Lunchbox or Container

As you can see from my Instagram Feed (@therealisticlunchbox) or my Facebook Page (The Realistic Lunchbox) I have some favorite Lunchboxes that I use repeatedly. I’d love to try others but if you don’t see me mention one here it’s because if I buy another lunchbox my husband will withhold my credit cards. Here are the ones I have with pros/cons so you can possibly extrapolate to other lunchboxes.

PlanetBox

I own their mid-size, the Rover, and it is hands down my FAVORITE, also the most expensive (this fact being the top of my husband’s CON list!). I bought the first one as my first son entered Kindergarten and we are now in 2nd grade with the same one and going strong! Another great thing about the PlanetBox is that the lid closes to seal all the compartments completely. No leakage. This is important when packing… let’s say a sandwich and raspberries. No one wants soggy bread. Lastly, my favorite feature is the way they designed the compartments. They are so easy to fill to make a balanced lunch that LOOKS good. I would say my only con for this lunchbox is that you can’t send warm/hot foods (well you can but they won’t stay warm/hot!)

LunchBots

(Quad on top, Cinco on bottom)

The first lunchbox we owned for kids was the “Quad” and it’s quite durable – we are approaching 4 or 5 years with this one. I love the size for toddlers and preschoolers but it’s a bit small for an elementary school appetite. I’m a big fan of the fact that it’s stainless steel and not plastic, and like the PlanetBox it is dishwasher safe. We still use this one quite frequently for my 3 year old (as you will see in my feed). Most young kids like their food separated and not touching so the Quad accomplishes this well. However, I do have a few cons for this one. First, the lid is sometimes hard to open (maybe because we dropped the lunchbox a few times??) Also, the lid is not attached to the body (one more thing to misplace…). The compartments are NOT sealed, so sometimes moisture from one food goes to visit another food and the result is not appealing.

Bentgo Kids

We picked one of these up at a garage sale (#winning) so we couldn’t pick the color but my 3 year old son doesn’t seem to mind the pink/purple! Same as the LunchBots Quad, I love the size of this lunchbox for toddlers and preschoolers and the many small compartments. Unlike the LunchBots Quad, this one seems to seal the compartments quite nicely. Also a pro for me is the attached lid BUT it’s not super easy for small kids to open and close well. Sometimes I get the lunchbox coming back in the lunch bag only partially closed which means….total mess if he didn’t finish his lunch or if I packed cottage cheese 😳. My biggest issue with this lunchbox is that it is plastic. Yeah, I don’t care if it’s BPA free or not, there are so many different types of plastic and most of it touching food is not great. Today it’s “BPA is bad for you” and tomorrow it will be another type of plastic that will slowly kill us. #notafanofplastic

U Konserve

(UKonserve divided rectangle is on the right, Thermos Funtainer on the left)

I actually have the divided rectangle and the “round nesting trio” pictured above. These containers are very affordable, fairly easy to open/close for little hands, made mostly of stainless steel, and dishwasher safe. My complaints for the divided rectangle is that it’s too small for an elementary lunch and the divider seems to shift sometimes (it’s meant to be removable and movable). The nested trio I use for snacks.

Plastic Divided Containers

I found these simple plastic divided containers on Amazon. 4 containers cost me about $16, so very affordable in my opinion. As you know, I’m not a big fan of plastic, but sometimes it comes in handy. I use these containers for certain outings or summer camps when I know that I would blow a gasket if my child lost a more expensive lunchbox and the odds of getting it back were close to zero. I also use them when we need something lightweight, like for hiking or carrying it around all day. The compartments don’t seal 100% and it’s a bit sketchy as to whether they get closed up tight after a meal. They are a great option if you are a family that likes to make multiple days of meals at once and store them in the fridge. (Also pictured is a silicone Squeasy Gear bottle which I will talk about under Accessories).

Lunch Bags

Well, not much to say here other than make sure you can fit the lunchbox and/or containers in it with room for an ice pack! PlanetBox lunchboxes are a hard fit for most of the lunchboxes you will find. I just buy their brand and have been pretty happy with them. And make sure the lunch bag fits into the child’s backpack!

Ice Packs

Gotta have one. Try Target. They seem to have all shapes and sizes. I would recommend saving some money this way instead of buying the ones that are brand specific.

Accessories

Yay, the fun part! While I don’t recommend going crazy with accessories (kids will spend more time taking them out of the food then actually eating the food) I do think a few here or there can really make a child smile or be more engaged with their food. Heck, I even managed to quiz my child on spelling words without using technology and while miles away from him. Stumped? Just wait. Here are some of my favorites….

Bento Food picks So many options here. Just check out Amazon for a variety of choices. My favorites are listed. Food picks are great to dress up a strawberry into a little strawberry creature or to simply make mini skewers of olives and cheese (or anything else you want to string together.) It can add a lot of variety and creativity to how foods are presented in a lunch box. Kids are much more likely to eat an olive on the end of a cute eyeball pick then one that’s not! (Here you can see a few of the bento eye food picks…)

CutezCute Bento Eyes Design Food Pick (Set of 10), Black/White https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00HQXU194/ref=cm_sw_r_oth_tai_l56Nzb8089G5V

1 X Japanese Bento Cute Food Pick 100 pcs – Clear and Slim by JapanBargain https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0011NDYYO/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_tai_6jfOzbRZ5NNA4

Torune 26 Piece Japanese Bento Accessory Food Pick Letter Set https://www.amazon.com/dp/B002BHHHUQ/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_tai_7kfOzbPN9A90P

Silicone Muffin Cups (round/rectangle/square/star) These are great to add divided spaces to lunchboxes with larger compartments. While they won’t work for things with high liquid content, they are perfect for the toddler or child who doesn’t like their food groups touching. (In this lunchbox I used a green star shaped silicone muffin cup).

Ipow Thicken Silicone Cupcake Baking Muffin Cups Liners Molds Sets,24pack https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00N4ONBGY/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_tai_f-6NzbYPAVM1D

PlanetBox Silicone Pods These can be purchased through PlanetBoxes website and they are SO helpful to create more compartments if wanted. **NOTE – they also fit perfectly in the LunchBots lunchboxes! Here you can see a yellow and green pod along with two orange silicone muffin cups.

Small containers with silicone lids I use the ones from PlanetBox that come with the lunchboxes but there are other brands that make similar small containers for dips or salad dressing or yogurt. Make sure they fit in your lunchbox (this is why I like PlanetBox – they come custom made for that lunchbox and work seamlessly together). This is also a great way to reduce your waste and get away from all the individually packaged disposable containers. #reuse #reduce

Here you can see a large Planet Box Dipper (silicone lid not pictured)

Squeasy Snacker Silicone Squeeze Bottles These come in a 3oz or 6oz size and are AMAZING for young kids and toddlers. They do a pretty good job of preventing messes when drinking (my 3 year old figured out the only way he could make a mess was to use it like a squirt bottle but other than THAT method they are pretty much mess-free!) They are dishwasher safe or very easy to hand wash and it’s food grade silicone! I like to make my popular chocolate spinach smoothie and put that in there as an accessory to a lunch. (The kids have no idea how much spinach I can hide in there!) You can also use these to make a homemade version of prepackaged versions like GoGurt. This will cut your child’s sugar intake by at least half! Here is a green 6oz Squeasy Snacker…

Thermos Funtainer For soups or dishes you want to send warm for lunch. 10oz size. (Funtainer is pictured on the right, with leftover Chipotle.) You heat the food first and then add it to the thermos. It’s easy to open, perfect size for kids and keeps the food nice and warm!

Random Small Dinosaurs Huh? Uh, yes. You know those tiny dinosaurs that kids get in party favor bags or as prizes? It doesn’t have to just be dinosaurs, any small toy can be used to add some pop to a lunchbox. I don’t use these things everyday but once in a while I do and son feels like he found a treasure in his lunchbox. I’m starting to think my 7 year old is a little “over it” but the 3 year old just loves the days I put a small dinosaur or planet or lego guy in his lunch. Go search your kids’ toy boxes and let your imagination go wild! (And wash the toys first! 😜)

I hope this gives you some great ideas! Making homemade lunches in reusable containers for your kids gives you the chance to offer them a balanced, nutritious meal to power their bodies and brains, saves you money (even after forking over the big bucks for the perfect lunchbox!), and reduces waste in the environment. It even saves them precious time by not having to wait in line to get a school lunch. With the average American child getting 20 minutes or less for lunchtime, these minutes saved is a big deal! Not to mention you can have a visual on how much and what they are eating for lunch.

Stay tuned for the next posts in this series. We still have a lot to cover!

What’s For Dinner? Slow Cooker Chili Spiked with Veggies

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I love chili on a cold winter night, coated with gooey cheese and steaming in the bowl. After I graduated from nutrition school I began to see the potential in adding more nutrition to everyday meals. Hence, “Chili Spiked with Veggies” was born. It’s the perfect marriage between comforting, warm, tasty chili and healthy veggies. Even better, you can make the whole thing in the crockpot and it only takes about 15-20 minutes (depending on how fast you chop!)

Slow Cooker Chili Spiked With Veggies

  • Servings: 8-10
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Equipment: Slow Cooker, 7 quart

Ingredients

  • 2-3 pounds ground beef, buffalo (grass-fed) or turkey
  • salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 10-12 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 yellow onions, diced
  • 1/2 cup chili powder (use 1/4 cup for kids or those who don’t like a lot of “heat” to their chili)
  • 2 Tbsp ground cumin
  • 1-2 tsp cayenne pepper (again, use less for less spicy flavor)
  • 2 cans (each 28oz) diced tomatoes with juices
  • 2-3 small zucchinis, diced
  • 1 bell pepper, chopped in small pieces
  • 1-2 carrots, diced
  • 4 cups (32oz) beef, chicken or vegetable broth
  • 2 cans (each 14oz) kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 Serrano or jalapeño pepper, minced (optional)
  • sour cream or grated cheese and chopped green onion or chives optional for garnishing

Directions

Brown the ground meat over medium-high heat either in the slow cooker insert (if it is OK to be used on stovetop – mine is and I love this function!) or in a skillet. Season with salt and pepper while cooking. If using a high fat content meat you may want to drain off some excess fat.

Reduce heat to medium, add the garlic and yellow onions to the meat and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 3-5 minutes. Add the chili powder, cumin, and cayenne and cook for 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes with their juices, zucchini, bell pepper, carrot, and kidney beans. Add the broth and stir to combine.

Transfer the slow cooker insert to the base, or spoon the ingredients from the skillet into the slow cooker. Cover and cook on high for 3-4 hours or on low for 6-8 hours.

Taste and adjust the seasonings with salt, pepper and more spices if desired. If you want even more of a kick to your chili, add an additional Serrano or jalapeño pepper (minced) to your chili for the last 15-20 minutes of cook time. Ladle the chili into bowls and garnish with your choice of sour cream, grated cheese, green onion and/or chives.

https://therealisticlunchbox.wordpress.com/

 

How to Make Simple Moong Daal


In this blog post I’m going to lean heavily on the fact that this blog is “realistic”…as in A) my kitchen is not large, commercial or perfect, B) my videographer is a 6 year old using my iPad (no fancy equipment or lighting here!) and C) I often have to cook with my kids because I’m the only adult at home with them and they have recently decided that they want to be a part of everything I do and can’t play by themselves anymore 😕. Although, I am happy when they are interested in cooking with me, it just adds an extra element or two. So, if you are possibly thinking that you can’t cook with kids, think again! It might be a little bit slower, messier and require a bit of prep beforehand but you will also be giving your children the gift of “real food awareness”. That cooking real food can be fun, yummy and healthy. They may not eat everything you cook at first….or much of anything, but the skills and memories they observe and acquire in the kitchen will stay with them forever. (Thanks for that Mom!) 

Ok, on to the reason you opened this blog post. If you don’t know what moong daal is (also known as mung daal), then it’s time I introduce you. Moong beans are legumes and are rich in fiber and folate. They also contain high amounts of protein, iron, magnesium, and Vitamin K. (1)  Moong daal is easily digested and therefore a great food for people recovering from illness.

Where to find moong beans? I shop at a local Indian market. Many “health food” stores and co-ops also carry moong (or mung) beans. This recipe uses the yellow kind (not the green ones). Often grocery stores can special order it for you as well. 


The Ingredients

1 Cup uncooked yellow Moong beans (also known as mung beans)

3 cups Chicken or Vegetable stock 

1 tsp sea salt

1/2-1 Onion – chopped finely

4 Garlic Cloves

2 tsp Turmeric

2-3 tsp Cumin seeds, toasted (toast in pan lightly on stovetop)

2 tomatoes chopped finely

Chili – totally optional (I leave it out when making this for my kids)

1/2 cup – 1 Cup Cilantro – chopped (more or less per your taste)

Ghee, or butter for frying


Directions

Soak the moons beans for 1-2 hours covered in room temp water with a spoonful of salt. If you are doubling or tripling the recipe, remember how much moong beans you started with because it will expand! 

Drain and rinse soaked beans. Based on how much moong daal you started with, triple the vegetable or chicken broth, add this and the turmeric and the sea salt with soaked moong beans to a large pot. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. 

—Here is a video – totally “realistic” of this step. https://youtu.be/Uh9_JYIGZ1g  3min 58sec long

While the broth/bean mixture is heating up, pan fry the onion, garlic, and cumin seeds for 1-2 minutes. Add tomatoes and fry a little more (3-4 minutes). 

—Here is a video – again, I’m in my post-yoga workout clothes 😳 – of this step. https://youtu.be/PEEraokdXLU. 4min 37sec long

Add this pan fried mixture to pot and let it all simmer together partially covered for about 45-60 minutes.

—Here is a short video of this step – the kids are almost over it at this point…are you? https://youtu.be/qnwmkQjgvuM  1min 08sec long 

When daal has achieved the desired consistency (which is tough to describe exactly but the beans will be starting to get “mushy” but still retain some of their shape) remove from heat and stir in chopped cilantro. 
Now you can enjoy the daal by itself or over rice to make it a complete vegetarian protein (assuming you used the vegetarian broth). Serve with naan or paratha (optional). This dish is also great as a side dish to compliment other Indian dishes.  




NOTES

*This dish is gluten-free, dairy-free (if you use ghee most people with diary allergies are fine with this but if you have an extreme allergy use coconut oil), nut-free, and vegetarian (if you use the vegetable broth).

**In the videos we quadrupled the recipe and froze most of the leftovers in 16oz freezer safe mason jars (great for an individual serving!) This is a great way to cook once for many, MANY meals. 

***If you are cooking with kids, remember to SOAK the beans 1-2 hours before you want to start cooking them, PREP EVERYTHING, and make sure your kitchen workspace is clear and clean. This will make it a much more enoyable experience!

****Video Credit to Tejus Vachani, age 6 and the Sous Chef is Kai Vachani, age 3


Sources

1 NutritionData.com


Kids Will Drink Their Greens In This!

This smoothie is delish. If your child likes chocolate and banana…they will love this. Oh yeah, and it has kale and spinach in it too. Win-win!  

  
This is how I made it.

Ingredients (makes about 2 small child portions):

  • 1 banana
  • 1 cup chocolate coconut milk
  • 1/2 cup frozen spinach
  • 1 large or 2 small kale leaves (not baby kale – the big kind!)
  • 1 heaping teaspoon of raw honey
  • 1 Tablespoon of raw cacao (extra chocolate is always better!)

Blend in a high powered blender (we used a Vitamix) and enjoy immediately! Beware, your kids may ask for more.

As listed above this smoothie is dairy-free, gluten-free, peanut-free, nut-free, and vegetarian. 

This smoothie is rich in antioxidants, fiber, calcium and magnesium and even has some healthy fats from the coconut milk. If you are trying to get more healthy fats/calories in your child you could even throw in a teaspoon of coconut oil! If you want to add some protein you could always add some hemp seeds, or a nut butter if you don’t have any nut allergies. Since we had this smoothie as a side to gourmet grilled ham and cheese on sprouted whole grain bread we didn’t need any extra protein. Wow, that was a good lunch. My 3 year old ate and drank it all up! 

  

Enjoy! And don’t freak out when your kids ask why it’s a little green…tell them the truth – or not, it could always be a “monster” smoothie or green like “The Hulk”? 

If your child (or yourself?) is a little averse to drinking greens, start out with far less of the spinach and kale and slowly increase amounts as time goes on.  A little bit of veggies is better than nothing, and most parents tell me their kids eat close to nothing. Baby steps. Don’t try to conquer the veggie world with one smoothie!

Fast Food – The Lunchroom Chronicles

  

Today I made a surprise visit to my 1st grader at his shool during lunchtime. While he was so happy to see me and his little brother, I kept thinking about how little time the students get to eat. Lunch is set at 20 minutes, no more. And they’ve been arriving late to lunch (they go as a class) according to my son. At first I was dubious as to his truthfulness and perhaps thought that the reason half his lunch was coming home was because he was anxious to get to recess, but today I witnessed first hand how it went down.

I arrived at the front desk check in at 12:41 thinking that my 2 year old and I had better hurry since lunch starts promptly at 12:40pm. We started briskly walking towards the 1st grade class, which is on the way to the lunchroom, but then we saw that the class was still en route walking together to the lunchroom. Hmmmmm. We arrived at the lunchroom at 12:46. The kids now have 14 minutes left in their lunchtime. This is one reason I pack a lunch from home, to gain more eating time. I’m pretty sure that by the time the kids without home packed lunches sat down (after waiting to buy lunch) they had 10 minutes or less to eat. Gulp.
I understand that there may be reasons for why kids would only have 20 minutes to eat. For one, our lunchroom is incredibly small and so each grade has a separate lunchtime (we live in Minnesota – no eating outside for most of the year!). But my worries are hovering around the following questions. What are we teaching our children in regards to healthy eating habits? A school is place for learning, and not just academics. We could use the lunchroom to teach healthy eating habits (chewing your food properly, not talking with a mouth full of pizza, sitting and talking with friends leisurely, etc) instead of encouraging scarfing down food, not eating to satiety because lunch is over abruptly, etc). When I was in nutrition school, I remember learning the Japanese phrase, “hara hachi bu” (forgive my spelling!) which means “eat until two thirds full”. The Japanese were wise to know before science that it takes a bit of time for the stomach to tell the brain that satiety has been reached. But you can’t learn that if you are cramming food down your gullet just to get enough in there before lunch is over! The kids I saw weren’t even sitting for one minute after finishing eating. They were dismissed to the playground, rapidly packed up their half eaten food and raced off. Hmmmm, could these bad eating habits be related to portion control issues as adults? And what about digestion? So yeah, they managed to throw some food in their stomachs before running out to the playground, but your stomach can’t digest food on the go!  With the onslaught of stress related chronic disease in adulthood (and childhood), hasn’t anyone thought, “well, let’s change these disastrous health habits while we still can?” I see a connection here, maybe not the only answer to the problem, but definitely part of it.

What is your child’s lunchroom experience like? Do you agree that the school lunchroom is a learning opportunity? What eating habits do you want your child to acquire before adulthood?

I feel like there will be more chapters to The Lunchroom Chronicles…

Broccoli Pancakes

I am SO sick of my 2 year old (almost 3 year old) NOT eating veggies! His brother eats anything raw, and some cooked veggies but this little guy is a different story. I know I’m exaggerating, he does eat some veggies…smoothies, smoothies, Popsicles….wait, maybe he doesn’t eat that much? Well, we try, and I think we are doing OK, but just “OK” in my mind isn’t going to cut it. I mean, I KNOW the importance of veggies, both long term and short term. How intake of antioxidants and immune boosting nutrients can help him, how calcium can affect long term bone health, how….well, I could go on and on. This is the age old battle with toddlers, is it not?

Tonight I decided to take a stand. I WILL figure out a way that he LIKES to eat veggies. The force was strong with me tonight. And succeed I did. With the 2 year old. The 6 year old proceeded to critique the experimental broccoli pancakes like he was one of the “super tasters” (He’s NOT).

This was how it all unfolded.


I looked in my fridge and had lots of leftovers. These were the main veggies (plus the carrots which were getting old). I was wondering what to do with them….so I decided pancakes were a good idea.


I put it all in a bowl and mixed it together.


Then I pan fried it. Who DOESN’T like pan fried anything?!?


Finished product. The picture doesn’t do it justice. It is actually really amazing. But since my 6 year old “complained” I added some shredded cheese to batch 2….AH-MAZING. These will be in their lunches tomorrow.

 

Broccoli Pancakes

makes about 8 pancakes


Ingredients

1 cup finely chopped cooked broccoli

1 cup shredded raw carrot

4 eggs, whisked

4 Tbsp coconut flour (I’m pretty sure you could do any flour)

1/2 cup chopped onion

1 cup rice (pre-cooked), the one pictured here was leftover cilantro lime rice from Make Your Own Burrito Bowls

Dash of cardamom (because I can)

Salt and pepper to taste

Coconut oil for pan frying

(1/2 – 1 cup shredded cheese is optional)
Mix everything together, smack it into balls and squish in the pan to form pancakes. Fry on low-medium for 4-5 minutes each side.

That’s it. Now you and your kids are eating veggies.
This recipe is gluten-free, nut-free and dairy-free if you omit the cheese!=

Serve cold in lunches or freeze and toast when you want some more!

Sprouted and Toasted Pumpkin Seeds


Pumpkin Seeds  – also known as pepitas – are one of those things that I always forget about, suddenly remember how healthy they are and “why don’t I have any on hand?”, prepare them, and then can’t believe I forgot how amazing they taste! 

Pumpkins seeds are touted for containing high amounts of zinc and magnesium as well as vitamin E and protein. What does this mean for you and your kids? Zinc is great for many things, but heading into the school year I’m singing its praises as an immune booster. Magnesium is well known for its calming effects…your child’s teacher will praise you for this, and protein keeps bellies full longer so it makes a great snack.

How do you make them so scrumptious that your kids will not be able to say no to this nutritious snack? The key to unlocking the taste and health benefits is in the soaking so don’t skip this step…

Step 1: Soak seeds overnight (but no more than 24 hours) in room temperature water with a teaspoon of salt.

Step 2: Rins and pat dry. Combine with choice of oil and seasoning in a bowl. (See below for some suggestions). Coat seeds in mixture.

Step 3: Spread seeds one layer deep on parchment paper covered cookie sheet.

Step 4: Bake at 250-275 degrees F for about 30-40 minutes or until seeds start to turn a golden brown. Stir seeds every 10-15 minutes.*

Enjoy as a snack, over salads or cereal, or throw them in a lunchbox!


A Few Seasoning Combination Ideas (based on 1 cup of seeds used):

1) Cinnamon and Brown Sugar: 1 Tbsp butter (melted) + 1 tsp brown sugar + 1 tsp cinnamon + dash of sea salt

2) Sea Salt and Pepper: 1 Tbsp coconut oil (melted) + 1 tsp sea salt + 1/2 tsp pepper

3) Chili & Lime: zest of 1 lime + juice of 1/2 a lime + up to 1 Tbsp chili powder (depends on how spicy you want it) + 1/4 tsp sea salt

* This step is even better when done at a lower heat to preserve the nutrients – at 165/170 degrees – but many ovens don’t go this low anymore. Some studies say roasting above 200 degrees and more than 20min will damage some of the delicate oils in pumpkin seeds but on the other hand you won’t get the amazing nutty flavor. I find it hard to get the seeds to dry up and taste good in my (less than ideal) oven at temps lower than 200 degrees and less than 20 minutes.  

New Green Smoothie Recipe

  

I created  a new green smoothie recipe that I think is a winner, so of course I have to tell the world!


Ingredients

1 kiwi 

1 lemon (peel off) 

1 Apple (cored) 

12oz water 

about 2 cups loose spinach 

1 leaf kale 

  

Blend together in a Vitamix or other powerful blender.

Resut is 1 green smoothie packed full of Vit C (yes please I will take a dose of natural anti-inflammatory), folate (well sure I’d like to lower my risk for cardiovascular disease), antioxidants (let’s fight those pre-cancer cells), and minerals like calcium (🎶 dem bones dem bones…). It has a hint of a “green” taste but the sour of the lemon cuts it and the kiwi and apple add a hint of sweetness that is not too overpowering. I don’t like thick, sweet smoothies and this is almost more like a juice, but with the benefit of the fiber found naturally in the fruit and veggies. Raw fruits and vegetables provide your body with active enzymes and vitamins that are often destroyed by heat, so drink to your health!