Wednesday, April 4, 2012

What I Ate Wednesday--Veg it Up!

     Today I am excited to be part of another "What I Ate Wednesday" blog hop, hosted by Peas and Crayons

     This month the challenge is to add an extra cup of veggies to the menu every day. I love this idea as it goes right along with the plan my partner and I implemented about 18 months ago to improve the quality of meals in our home. Following is the story of how our menu has changed over that period of time, but if you're just interested in the pics of "What I Ate" (featuring highlights of what I've served over the last couple of days) then please feel free to scroll to the bottom. :)

     My two oldest children, Piper and Otis, suffer from Celiac Disease (gluten allergy.) Unlike the rest of us, people with Celiac often have intestinal damage that makes it difficult to absorb all of the nutrients from their food, which means it's more important than ever to make sure that every meal they eat is packed with the most health benefits possible. I had gotten into a bit of a rut with meals, I was spending a lot of money buying gluten-free alternatives to gluten-containing foods like pastas, crackers, cereals, breads, and cookies etc. That's all fine and good, but my focus was off. With all the money I was spending on these gluten-free alternatives, there was little money left for the local and/or organic fresh fruits and veggies I wanted to buy, or the healthy non-hormone meats and dairy I preferred. The kids' diet was becoming carb heavy, and I'm sorry, you can fortify breads with all the vitamins you want...I just don't think it's the same as getting those same nutrients from fresh, good quality produce. What the kids were getting in the way of veg, meat, and dairy were not of the caliber they deserved or needed. Not only that, but their diet consisted of little dietary fiber and on the other hand was loaded with sugar. Bottom line, I wasn't doing right by my kids, it wasn't that I didn't want to I just wasn't being mindful enough about our meals and I needed to shift my perspective a bit.

     Clearly something needed to change. My Fella was super helpful in this area. We sat down together and decided what our priorities were. He helped me see right away, that just because the kids were on a gluten-free diet, it didn't mean that we had to spend lots of money on alternative foods. My top priority was to maximize the nutrient content of every meal. Most of the foods with the highest health benefits were gluten-free anyway: fruits, veggies, meats, nuts, dairy, legumes. And we could make up for the lack of gluten grains with the many naturally gluten-free grains out there...which we buy, cook and serve in a whole grain form, such as brown rice, quinoa, millet, and amaranth. As for the fun things that every kid deserves to enjoy once in awhile, we special ordered a 50 lb bag of Bob's Red Mill Gluten Free All Purpose Flour (Bob's Red Mill All-Purpose Gluten-Free Baking Flour, 22-Ounce Packages (Pack of 4))from our local coop market. We realized that it was far less expensive to buy it in bulk than in the 1 lb bags we were used to buying. Now when the kids want pizza, muffins, pancakes, or bread we bake it ourselves. Dry cereal, which was once a staple has been all but removed from our menu, because while it's tasty and easy, it's not actually that cheap or filling or nutritionally packed. Now we usually have it once a week (Friday mornings, it's a quick and easy breakfast for the last day of the school week!) This simple change made room in my pantry and my wallet for my other priority: organic whole foods.

     Lastly, we committed to making sure that every meal met these three criteria: fruits and veg, protein, fiber. From there, I just took it one plate at a time. It wasn't hard for me to begin adding veggies to lunch and dinner, I was already a big fan of Jessica Seinfeld's Deceptively Delicious recipe books, so adding "hidden" veggies into the meals was a no-brainer, on top of that, adding salad, fresh chopped veggies, or a cooked vegetable side to the plate was easy. The biggest sticking point for me was breakfast. I couldn't wrap my head around a breakfast with vegetables. The first time my Fella suggested we cook up some fresh green beans in olive oil and garlic to put on the kids breakfast plate next to their scrambled eggs I looked at him like he had three heads. I know, right? It sounds really yummy and healthy...fine. But, I couldn't wrap my head around it. That sounded like dinner food. Maybe not the eggs, but the cooked green beans. I don't know why, but this was hard for me to get used to. Not because I didn't think it was a great idea, but because I had made these compartments in my mental menu for what foods were appropriate for certain times of day. It was painfully hard for me to think outside the box when it came to breakfast, it literally didn't occur to me to even consider any of the veg in my fridge when searching it's contents for breakfast ideas in the morning, but since, I have been known to serve a garden salad at breakfast along with the other foods on their plates. When I feel like I want to ask "Why would I serve this for breakfast?" I remember my Fella's answer the first time I asked him, which was "Well, WHY NOT??"

     Earlier, I mentioned that sugar was a big problem. In addition to the carbohydrate heavy meals, and lack of veg in our diets, it wasn't lollipops, cookies, and ice-cream that were loading us up with several times the recommended limit of sugar each day. Nope. It was those "classic" breakfast foods, the ones in my mental breakfast box, the only things I could imagine as "breakfast foods." The cereals, the muffins, the gluten-free waffles smothered in that delicious maple syrup we love so much in New England. Worse, it was the 6 oz glass of juice I offered with breakfast and the lovely organic, "fruit on the bottom" yogurt that I revered (we are BIG yogurt fans!) Several years ago I learned from our pediatrician that it is recommended that children get no more than 6 oz of juice per day because there is so much sugar, even in natural and organic brands and little dietary benefit. I was strict about it, but have since eliminated it all together. My current pediatrician and a nutritionist have both told me that there is no reason for a child to have juice ever. Water is so vitally important, none of us get enough, and juice is just a tasty treat. Now we have juice very infrequently as a treat or we have juice that I juice myself and is usually a combination of fruits and veggies. The rest of the time our liquid intake consists of water, milk or one of our favorite smoothies, or as mentioned home-juiced fruits and veg.

I call this one "Smoothie Mouth", baby Violet loves our  kale and avocado containing Super Hero Smoothies too! 

    As for the yogurt, I used to serve it OFTEN at breakfast and for snacks. I sort of had a love affair with the stuff and often would justify it's place on the menu by saying "But it's a source of protein and it's got live, active cultures!!!" Well guess what? Yogurt still rocks, and yes it can be a great source of protein and probiotics, but please...choose oh, so carefully. I began reading yogurt labels and comparing almost obsessively (it was fun actually) and would become giddy each time I found another brand that was even better than the one before. My criteria for yogurt before was that it had to be organic and made from whole milk (I'm a whole-fat fan.) My criteria now is to look for high protein and low sugar. I found that even some of the organic natural brands had the same or more sugar than those gross (sorry, that's my opinion) non-organic "yogurts" that have almost more corn syrup and gelatin than even dairy. When I found that the delicious organic yogurt drinks I loved so much contained very little protein and (brace yourselves...) 40 GRAMS OF SUGAR I was floored! My Fella checked some other labels in our house (i.e. my not-so-secret candy stash that I attack during PMS cravings) and found that drinking that one small bottle of yogurt loaded me up with the same amount of sugar in 3 (!!!) White Chocolate Peanut-Butter Cup Eggs. One of those drinks would put any child or adult way beyond the recommended sugar intake for an entire day! Tsk! Tsk! Tsk! 

     In my yogurt search I have found that generally plain greek yogurts have the highest protein content and least sugar. I sweeten them myself (putting myself in control of the sugar content!) with honey, or maple syrup, or fresh fruit (no sugar added.) One of my favorite ways to serve yogurt (and my kids love it) was suggested in Petit Appetit by Lisa Barnes (great recipe book for low sugar, allergen free baking) all you need is plain yogurt, a little lime juice, and a tiny bit of Agave Nectar. So tasty!

     Bottom line, our veggie content is WAY up, we enjoy lots of good whole grains, protien at every meal in the way of eggs, meats, well-chosen yogurt, and nuts, sugar is at an all time low on our menu and we are within budget. Woohoo!!! My kids growth and general health is better than ever and you know what? They never even ask for juice. With all the fun they get to have playing sports, dancing, riding bikes and enjoying their little kid lives due to good health and energy, I'm pretty sure that my original fear that depriving them of juice and tubes of neon colored yogurt would be like taking away the very joy of their youth was unwarranted. They are doing just fine and I feel a lot better too!

     Now for the pics: Here are some examples of what 
our veggie-filled plates have looked like this week...

 Breakfast: Hard boiled eggs, fresh carrots, fresh peach slices, water.

Lunch: Sambal Shrimp, Brown Rice and Steamed Kale with Nutritional yeast,

Dinner: Soft Tacos
combined--organic black beans, corn, 6 oz jar sweet potatoes (baby food), taco seasoning
layered over brown rice, fresh kale and cheese in a corn tortilla 

Wishing you health and "out of the box" thinking in your menu planning, 

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  1. Sounds like you're on the right track! This is super inspiring for me. As a vegetarian, I'm always looking for more ways to add fruits and veggies to my diet.

    1. I am so glad that you found this inspiring as a vegetarian! I am not a vegetarian, but I definitely lean that way!! :) I don't usually try to sneak extra veg in to things like tacos because I use so much fresh veg as toppings, but this week I asked myself that same question again "Why not?" so mixed that sweet potato puree into the beans and got a jolt of excitement at the thought of added nutrition! More veg is never a bad thing, right? ;) Thanks for stopping by!

  2. You are making me hungry. Never heard of that cook book by JS. Must check it out! Love the Easter egg in your blog name. CUTE!!

    1. Thanks, Stasha! We thought we'd add a little something festive to the banner this week :) I love the books by JS, hope you check 'em out!


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