Monday, January 30, 2012

Healthy meals for kids

At our house homemade from scratch  meals are the normal.  The most important factor in our meals is that they are healthy.  While I want to save money at the grocery store, I still make sure my children are eating healthy.  While sometimes I want a very quick to prepare meal, it still has to be healthy.

What are some tips I have for making sure your children are have good, healthy meals?  Let me share some ideas I have and also how you can get your child's help with the meal prep.

Breakfast:  For some breakfast is the trickiest meal.  Often children aren't hungry when they first wake up.  Some children need a little time to be up and awake before they are ready to eat.  If you have a child like that, make sure they are up a bit early if they need to leave for school in the morning.   That way they can be ready for breakfast before heading out for the day.  Or, if they have a bit of a bus ride ahead of them and are allowed  to eat on the bus, pack them something to eat on the way.  Another challenge at breakfast is that cereals  and other breakfast items marketed to kids are basically very unhealthy choices.  They are loaded with sugar and have little nutrition at all.  So what are some good breakfast choices?  Number one around here are hot cereals.  Oatmeal, Cream of wheat, Cream of rice (look for the whole grain variety!), oat bran etc are often eaten for breakfast at our house.  Another great breakfast idea is to make extra brown for dinner the night before.  Refridgerate the extras.  The next morning, reheat the rice and top with cold milk and a bit of sugar and cinnamon.  You can also add raisins or other dried fruit or fresh or frozen fruit as well.  Its really quite yummy and filling and nutritious too.   Children can package the rice extras the night before to help out.  They can also be in charge of adding a spoonful of sugar to the rice after its heated.  They can also add the fruit in.  Very young children can even do those tasks.  Children from maybe 7 or 8 can really get the breakfast  all on their own! 

Lunch.  if you are packing a lunch for school bound children the toughest thing is keeping from getting into a rut.  The same old peanut butter and jelly sandwich sure can get boring.  Try mixing it up by making other sandwiches or wraps.  You can prepare a little extra chicken for dinner the previous night.  You can use it to make a chicken salad.  You could also use the chicken to make ranch chicken roll ups (chicken, lettuce, cheese, ranch dressing and whatever other veggies your children will agree to! all rolled up in a wheat or other whole grain tortilla).  I like to make extra brown rice when I prepare it for dinner too.  The extra can go into the ranch roll ups as well.  This is especially good for children who will not choose to add veggies in their roll gives them a little extra nutrition and makes them more filling as well.  You can also use the extra chicken and rice to make a mexican inspired roll up.  I use chicken, rice, salsa and cheddar cheese.  I add in lettuce too.  Simple, yet, a big change from the peanut butter and jelly routine!  You can have children participate in adding ingredients to each tortilla.  Older children can help do things like peel vegetables and even slice them.  

Dinner.  The possibilities are endless here!  A rule I generally go by when planning meals for our family is that the majority of our dinner plate should be occupied by vegetables.  Also, I like to serve something like brown rice with our meals.  It fills everyone up but reduces the amount of meat they need to eat...which is not only economical but healthy too.  When I make dishes like Chicken and Rice casserole, I always substitute brown rice for white.  Brown rice does take longer to cook than white so I will cook it on the stove following the package directions for about 20 minutes, drain it and add it to my recipe just as you would white rice.  Dishes come out with more nutrition and fiber that way.  If I am adding something to a recipe that I am afraid my children won't like...I like to grind it up very small with the help of a food processor.  I always do onions that way because my children "don't like onions"... just don't tell them they eat them everyday but don't see them!  I do green pepper that way routinely, too, since some of my children turn up their noses to them.  If you don't mind ruining the "secret" that there are things like onions in the food, pushing the pulse button is a great way to have children "help" out with dinner.  Some of my younger children feel like they are a big help when they are my ingredient runners.  I give them the task of getting various ingredients I need, one by one.  Sometimes I put one of my older children in charge of looking ahead in the recipe and measuring out the quantities of all the ingredients we will need and have them sitting ready and waiting when I am ready for them.  When making things like a roux I often enlist the help of stirrers to stand and stir and wait for it to thicken while I accomplish other tasks to prepare the meal. 

Dessert.  Even desserts are often made healthier around here.  I often reduce the amount of sugar called for in recipes.  This is especially true in fruit type desserts.  Pies, cobblers, crisps etc are often very very yummy with as much as 1/2 the sugar cut.  I search for things like cookies that use things like oat bran or flax seed.  There are many healthy muffin recipes that use ingredients like those as well.   When I make a family favorite like rice pudding, I do so using the more nutritious brown rice.

Yes, we do use a lot of rice around here!   Its reallly a win win!  Its healthy, filling, and inexpensive.  Now is a great time to enjoy rice, too.  Uncle Ben’s has launched an exciting national contest called Ben’s Beginners!  You could win $20,000, along with a $50,000 grant towards a cafeteria makeover for your child’s school. In addition, you will also be able  to appear on The Rachael Ray show! Uncle Ben’s is calling for parents with children ages 5-12 to submit a 2-3 minute video of you cooking a rice-based dish with your children. For more info on the contest, please check out Ben’s Beginners on Facebook!  Hmmm...I think I can do this!

Cooking anything can be a challenge when you are a busy mom like me.  It takes a lot of time to plan meals, shop for food, prepare the meal, serve the meal, clean up after the meal.  Often it feels like my whole day is going from one meal to the next.  Once one is completely cleaned up after, its time to start the next!  Having a large family of children (ages 13,10, 7,4,2 and infant) makes it further challenging.  Finding things that everyone will enjoy and keeping it healthy as possible is a struggle at times.  Knowing that I am doign the best possible for my family makes it all worth it, however! 

“I wrote this blog post while participating in the SocialMoms and Uncle Ben’s blogging program, for 6,000 My SocialMoms Rewards Points. For more information on how you can participate, click here.”

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Tips for save winter driving

I am very happy this is a mild winter here in Ohio.  We have only had a couple small bouts of snow and we are nearing the end of January.  That's pretty unusual for around here.  I don't like being cold.  I don't like wet boots coming in the house.  I don't like wet dog feet from trips out in the snow.  I REALLY don't don't like DRIVING in the bad weather conditions, like when there is snow on the ground.

To make me feel more at ease when I am beind the wheel during snowy conditions, I follow some simple tips to make my driving more safe.  Here are some I would like to share with you:

First of all, do I really have to even have to go out?  I ask myself that when I look out and see snow or know snow is coming.  Most of the time things can be post poned.  Errands, shopping etc can wait.  Appointments can be rescheduled.  Most often roads will be cleared and good for driving within hours if the snow has stopped.  Readjusting my plans by a few hours is certainly worth a safer, more relaxing ride.

Next, make sure you are driving around on good tires.  It really makes all the difference to have tires with good tread while facing snow and icy conditions.  Slipping and sliding is not a good feeling while driving.  It can often be totally avoided by keeping your tires in good repair.

Also, make sure your windshield washer fluid is plenty full.  Driving without a clear view of the road and other things around you is dangerous at all times, even more so when conditions are bad.  As you drive on wet, snowy salty roads your windshield will become dirty quickly, sometimes every few seconds.  A good supply of windshield washer fluid will run out fast.  Make sure you check it often.

Don't let your gas tank run on low.  You want to make sure that if you were to go off the road you have enough gas to run the heater at least on occasion while you wait for help.  Also, if weather conditions get bad while you are out, it will take you longer to get to a destination and possibly reduce your gas mileage too.  Driving with a tank on empty could leave you stranded if you run out.

Drive at ta speed YOU feel comfortable and safe at.  Don't worry about those few vehicles that fly up on you and feel the need to pass.  Don't be pressured by tailgaters to pick up your pace.  If the roads are slick and you feel well under control driving 40 in a 55 it.

Think twice about passing slower vehicles.  Perhaps they are right to pick driving at a slow speed in view of the conditions.  Even if they are being too over cautious and driving way slower than necessary, to pass you will have to accelerate quickly.  This could cause loss of control especially if you end up doing so at an area that is a bit more icy or snow packed.  Passing usually only saves you seconds anyways.  Notice how often cars will zip past you and end up stopped one car length ahead of you at the same traffic light!

Make sure you have emergency supplies with you at all times.  Warm blankets for everyone normally with you in your vehicle.  If you are not going to wear boots and hat and gloves when you go out, pack them in the car in case the need for them arises.  Also, have an extra pair of socks and gloves int eh car in case you get wet trying to free yourself from a jam.  You can switch out socks and be much warmer.  A few snacks for the kids are also a good idea.  It will help them pass time while waiting for a rescue and will save you from hearing a lot of whining "I'm hungryyyyy" at a time when your nerves will be shot already.  Make you keep your cell phone...well charged...with you too.  I know to most people these days that seems silly to even have to say...most people would grab their cell phones before pants when leaving the house these days...but for me my phone is not important and I do often forget it!

Let someone know when you are going out and where you are going too.  If you live in a rural area, like us, there is often gaps in cell coverage and miles before houses.  If you were to need help it might not be easy to get.  If someone knows where you went and how long you expected to be gone they can investigate should your arrival be delayed for some reason.

For peace of mind and good financial reasons, make sure you good car insurance.  Accidents do happen, and frequently in bad weather, make sure you are prepared with an option like Esurance.    
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Those are just a few tips I have.  Most of all, just remember to be smart and safe each time you travel no matter what the road conditions and weather conditions may be!

“I wrote this blog post while participating in the SocialMoms and Esurance blogging program for 8,000 My SocialMoms Rewards Points. For more information on how you can participate, click here.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Healthy Snacking with Pretzels!

A new year is here and that means a lot of people have made that same old resolution lose weight, to eat healthier, to make better food choices etc.  Is that you?  Can you do it this time?  Can you stick to that decision?

Making better food choices, eating healthier and losing weight all involve making healthy snack choices.  Even if you eat healthy meals and exercise, all is lost if you make unwise snack choices.  So what can you do to ensure your goals are met and kept?

Whatever snack you choose, remember to watch portion sizes.  Don't sit down with a whole bag, box or container of your chosen snack.  Remove a portion, place in a bowl, plate etc and then eat it.

Speaking of portion sizes, make sure you read the labels and find out exactly what a portion size is suppose to be.  Also, compare labels while you are still in the store to pick the best option out there.  Check fat content, calories and nutrition content to get the most "bang" out of what you eat.

If you crave salty sort of snacks that you would find in the chip aisle, look for baked versions of your chosen snack.  There are baked potato chips, tortilla chips, and other baked favorites as well.  And remember, pretzels are always a baked option!  Also, when in the chip aisle, look for whole grain options of your favorite chips.

There will always been occasions when you splurge on snacks and go outside your normal diet guidelines.  Try to plan ahead and make sure you eat very carefully throughout the rest of the day to make up some calories.  You may even want to follow up the next day skimping on calories, again, to help make up for that big splurge.

So I mentioned pretzels earlier.  Pretzels make a great healthy snack option.  I love Snyder's of Hanover Pretzels. 

They have some great pretzel options for your various snacking moods. They even have gluten free choices and organic varieties.  My 2 year old loves the chocolate covered varieties!  Loves them.  And I have to admit, I also love chocolate covered pretzels.   All my children love the pretzel sandwiches.  Pretzels with peanut butter smeared inside...definitely a winner!  The flavored pieces are pretty AMAZING!!!  I like the honey mustard best.  My 13 year old loves the buffalo wing ones.  The other children love the cheddar cheese ones. When we visit the snack aisle we could really leave with a cart full of these!  I could eat and eat the butter snaps.  Not like your regular pretzels, these have a great buttery taste to them.  Trust me, its great. 

Like I said, I enjoy honey mustard pretzels.  Here is a recipe to make up your own in case you can't find Hanovers at your store. 

  • 1/4 cup margarine or butter
  • 1/4 cup honey mustard
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • several dashes bottled hot pepper sauce
  • 10 cups small pretzel or large sourdough style pretzels broken into pieces 
  • Melt margarine or butter in a small saucepan. Remove saucepan from heat and stir in honey mustard, Worcestershire sauce, garlic powder, and hot pepper sauce. Place pretzels in a foil-lined 15x10x1-inch baking pan  .Pour mustard mixture over pretzels; toss gently to coat. Bake in a 300 degree F oven for 25 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes. Spread on foil; cool

I  also like to make Peanut Butter Chex Mix with Pretzels in it.

10 cups cereal (Chex, Cheerios, etc)
2 cups pretzels
2 cups raisins
3 cups nuts (peanuts, almonds, etc)

⅔ cup natural peanut butter
½ cup unsalted butter
1 cup brown sugar
½ cup light corn syrup

Preheat oven to 250o.  Mix cereals, pretzels,  peanuts, raisins, and nuts in a large oven-safe bowl or roasting pan.  Melt peanut butter, butter, sugar, and corn syrup in a small saucepan over medium heat (or in a microwave-safe dish).  Stir constantly and heat until bubbly around edges.  Pour over cereal mix and stir.  Bake for 15 minutes.  

Everybody snacks but snacking doesn't have to mean the end of your healthy habits!  Remember  Snyder's of Hanover for some great healthy pretzel options!  

Like them on facebook!

I wrote this blog post while participating in the SocialMoms and Snyder’s of Hanover blogging program, for 6,000 My SocialMoms Rewards Points. For more information on how you can participate, click here.