Keeping as Healthy as Possible Through the Holidays

This is undoubtedly the hardest time of year to keep up a healthy diet. It would be that way no matter what, with foods getting heavier in the winter, holidays coming up, people dropping baked goods in the work break room, etc. We’ve also got three birthdays in the span of a week and a half in December, so we’ve got to throw birthday cakes and special meals (read: pizza, always pizza) into the mix. When it comes to staying healthy, we’re starting from a pretty huge deficit. Here’s some things we try to do to stay as healthy as possible.

1) Don’t sweat it too much

This may seem counterintuitive, but I think the more you worry about whether you’re doing it all right, the better chance you have of doing it all wrong. Accepting that there are going to be some slips gives us license to focus on the things we can do better at going forward, rather than beating ourselves up for having slipped up in the past. I know I’m going to have a cupcake and some pizza at my son’s birthday party, and that’s ok. It’s a special occasion, and I don’t have to officiously refrain from treats to prove my commitment to health.

2) Don’t let occasional slips justify further slips

We’ve all been here, right? Maybe we’re having a busy morning and we run to the drive through instead of making a healthy breakfast. After that, the decision to have gotten an unhealthy breakfast means the day’s already written off, so why not grab some fast food for lunch and take out for dinner? Maybe we haven’t all been there. But I know I go there sometimes. My mind is always looking for excuses to get treats. These excuses seem reasonable to a mind that’s just looking for any reason to get some unhealthy food in me, but seem laughable afterwards. So we try to make sure to pack lunches in advance, have easy on the go breakfast options available at home, etc. We want to let ourselves know that there is always an easier option than forgetting all of our own rules.

3) Keep eating a ton of vegetables

Whatever else, just keep putting a ton of vegetables in everything. If nothing else, they’re super good for you, and you’ll feel better about yourself for having eaten them. Even if we’re making a heavier dish, we’ll usually try to load it up with some extra veggies. It helps make more servings of the meal, and each serving is a bit healthier than it would otherwise be.

4) Be that guy: leave cupcakes in the work break room

Don’t be afraid to leave sweet treats in the work break room. Turnabout is fair play. If Kevin from Accounts Receivable can leave a whole damn box of truffles on the table where you have to prepare your lunch, taunting you, mocking you, then you can bring some pirate cupcakes from your son’s birthday party to sing their siren song to Kevin.

Pumpkin Donut Holes

The other day made pumpkin bread, and we had some leftover batter. We decided to experiment a bit and make some pumpkin bread bites. Once we tasted them, we realized quickly that they were actually more like pumpkin donut holes. Also our very pedantic daughter told us they were donuts, and who can argue with a stubborn two year old who is busy licking chocolate off as many treats as she can get her hands on?

Pumpkin Donut Holes: A Treat Whose Time Has Come

It’s pumpkin season, as we all know. I’ve heard that being into pumpkin stuff is “basic,” but those scare quotes should tell you that I’m old enough to not fully understand what basic means. Also, I don’t care because pumpkin stuff is delicious. Please also hold off on criticizing yoga pants and scarves and whatever else you might feel other people are enjoying too much.

Where was I? Oh, right: pumpkin donut holes. If the name isn’t enough to convince you that you want these, then just look at a picture of Jocelyn putting some chocolate on them.

Pumpkin Donut Holes

These came out great. They’re soft and crumbly and delicious. If you like pumpkins or chocolate or things shaped like acorns (note: do not eat actual acorns, they’re pretty gross), then these are for you.

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cup pumpkin purée
1 cup coconut sugar
1 Tsp vanilla
1 Tsp pumpkin pie spice
2/3 cup coconut oil, melted
1 Tbsp chia seeds mixed with 3 Tbsp water
1 1/2 Tsp baking powder
1/2 Tsp baking soda
1/2 Tsp salt
2 1/2 cup spelt flour

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350° F. Mix all of the ingredients together in a medium bowl. Place into a prepared tray (ours was a fall-themed cakelet/mini-muffin pan). Bake for 30 minutes.

A Reminder to Practice Kindness

The other night we were out running errands and we got a little peckish. We decided to stop for dinner at a new pizza place. It was pretty casual, seat yourself, and honestly, we’ve taken our kids to much less casual places and not had a problem. We’ve been taking the kids out with us since they were tiny babies so they know how to behave. Even now that they’re out of high chairs, they know not to get up and run around and yell and scream. Occasionally we bring coloring books or things to keep the kids occupied, but most of the time they’re just happy to chat. As we sat down, a couple at the table next to us rolled their eyes, mouthed “Three kids?!?!?” to each other, and walked away to another table.

Small Cruelty Can Have a Big Impact

So I spent what was supposed to be a nice meal completely miserable. I committed the unforgivable sin of taking three kids out in public instead of just locking ourselves away until they’re 18. I snapped at the kids more than usual because I was obsessing over any infringement on perfect behavior, which was completely unfair to them. They weren’t on their best behavior, but they were sitting reasonably quietly and not running around or screaming. They didn’t ruin anyone’s meal or hurt anyone.

I get that kids aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, and that’s fine. I don’t think everyone should have kids. Some people aren’t meant to be parents and that’s fine. Some people don’t want to be parents, and that’s fine too. People don’t have to take their kids out either, if they don’t want to. You know best what works for you and your family. That’s the thing. These people don’t know us, and they don’t know our kids. All they know is that we’re a slightly bigger than average family and felt that that gave them permission to judge us cruelly and openly.

Kindness Matters, and It Has to Go Two Ways

Mom-shaming is hurtful, and there’s no reason for it. We’ve become a society full of people super eager to judge parents at every turn. Let’s be real: we’re all just doing our best to raise good kids in a tough world. We should all cut each other some slack and try every day to be a little kinder than the day before, or at least a little less judgmental.

We all judge other people. None of us can help doing so. But we can control what we say to people, with our words or our looks. We can extend understanding to people who may be having a tough day. A kind look, a held door, a smile, these gestures are small and easy, but they can help make people feel better as surely as a snide remark or a pair of rolled eyes can make them feel worse.

Black Friday – Daddy and the Young’uns

Grandpa and Mommy hatched a plan to take Watson to see Coco today (in accidental cosplay, since Watson basically always wants only to wear skeleton clothes). This was a good plan, but it also involved me finding a way to occupy Vivi and Freddy for several hours in suburban New Jersey.

Let me go off on a tangent for a hot second about driving in New Jersey. I’m allowed to do this because I lived here for a decade. I earned this. Anyway, in short, driving in this state is uniformly a nightmare. This is the only place in existence where you can pass within 100 feet of your final destination but still be 2 jughandles, 3 traffic lights, and 10 minutes away. Drivers from here will defend this state against these criticisms, but have no answer for why their purportedly superior system has gained no currency outside of the Garden State’s borders.

So anyway, Vivi and Freddy and I have wound up having a super lo-fi, still very fun afternoon. We walked around Target for a while and marveled at the fact that every department had televisions for sale. Vivi pointed out Santa Claus and Christmas trees and Star Wars. Fred leaned on Vivi for moral and physical support in the cart. Then we picked up a pair of happy meals (not the healthiest, but it’s a nice treat for the kids), and we’ve spent the last hour or so just hanging out in the back of the van being silly and laughing and eating food that’s not great.

Sometimes it’s easy to forget that kids aren’t hard to please. If I need to kill a couple of hours, there are worse ways than this. We’re gonna go pick up the rest at the movie theater in a few minutes, and while I’m sure they’ll have had a great time, they also won’t have a couple of cheap happy meal toys, so who’s the real winners?

Tips for a Waste-Free Thanksgiving

1. Downsize the Turkey

We’re not turkey eaters anymore, but obviously a lot of people are. When we did eat turkey, we always got one that was too big and ended up throwing away at least half of it. Either we couldn’t eat it all and it ended up going bad in the back of the fridge, or we’d freeze it and forget about it until it was covered in freezer burn. Whichever way our leftovers went bad, it was just a super sad situation. If you don’t have too many people, there’s no requirement to roast a whole turkey. You can roast a chicken, or if you really want turkey, you can just pan roast a breast.

2. Amp up the Veggies

If you’re not wedded to turkey, you can also just make a million sides. Let’s be real: the sides are the best part of Thanksgiving! We get our vegetables from Hungry Harvest, so we avoid waste by rescuing produce that’s too ‘ugly’ for stores (but honestly, most of the produce is perfect). We find out what we’re getting a few days in advance, and then we plan how to make the most of our box. Last year we made mashed potatoes, corn pudding, green beans, sweet potato gratin, fried brussels sprouts, and the obligatory cranberry sauce. Since we were using the produce we would have gotten anyway, we also didn’t spend any extra money for our Thanksgiving feast.

3. Save your scraps

We keep a bag tucked in the freezer door to save veggie scraps. Once it’s full, we put the scraps in a big pot, cover them with water, add herbs and garlic to taste, and simmer on super low for a few hours until we have a perfect veggie stock. You can use the stock right away or freeze it to use later. Thanksgiving is a perfect time to do this, and you can even throw scraps in the slow cooker and have stock ready in time to make gravy. If you have a turkey, do this the next day with turkey bones instead of veggie scraps.

4. Leftovers Can be for Anytime

I know some people don’t love leftovers. It definitely gets old eating the same meal over and over again for a week. That can drive anyone to give up and order a regrettable amount of Chinese food that just makes the leftover problem worse (not that we’re speaking from experience, we just heard this from a friend). One way to repurpose Thanksgiving leftovers so they still feel fresh and fun is to have them for breakfast. Toss some turkey in an omelet, make mashed potatoes into cakes and top them with a poached egg, or make one of our favorites: sweet potato pancakes topped with cranberry sauce. Just pop ¾ c mashed sweet potatoes with 1 ½ c pancake mix, 2 T oil, and 1 c. water.

We hope these tips help you and your family and friends have a beautiful zero-waste Thanksgiving! Keep the tips coming and let us know how you’ll fight food waste this holiday!

Vegan Bacon Breadcrumb Roasted Brussels Sprouts

We are late comers to the roasted Brussels sprouts game, and we’ve got to make up for lost time. I never had them growing up because my mom hated them. Jocelyn’s mom had a habit of calling them “little green balls of death,” which you can guess means they weren’t a favorite.

Brussels Sprout Soda: A Bad Taste in My Mouth

One of my only Brussels sprouts experiences before recently was actually not with Brussels sprouts at all. Jones soda makes special holiday packs of sodas that aren’t meant to be drunk so much as endured. A friend brought their Thanksgiving pack into the office for a taste test. The last one on everybody’s list was Brussels sprout soda, and it was without exception the worst drink I have ever tasted. It was so awful that it warned me off of the vegetable itself for over a decade.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts: The Best Taste in My Mouth

But guys, I was so wrong. Once we discovered the power of roasting, we realized we didn’t have to dislike any vegetable anymore. They’re all pretty much delicious when they’re prepared properly. And oh brother, let me tell you, these roasted Brussels sprouts are about as proper as it gets. They’re brown and crispy, and they’re topped with crunchy brown breadcrumbs and salty, smoky vegan bacon. If you’re on the fence about Brussels sprouts, get off of that fence. It’s cold outside. Fences aren’t comfortable to sit on. Rethink your sitting strategy. Also, have some food.

Breadcrumb roasted Brussels sprouts

Ingredients:

1 lb quartered Brussels sprouts
1/4 cup lemon dressing
1 Tbsp vegan butter
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1/2 cup vegan bacon bits

Directions:

Toss the sprouts with the lemon dressing. Roast at 450° F until brown. I like them to be super crispy, so I usually leave them in as long as I can. Melt the vegan butter and mix with the breadcrumbs and vegan bacon bits. Broil for 2 minutes, until the breadcrumb mixture is golden brown and you just can’t help but yank them out of the oven and dig in.

Letters to Santa – Unclear on the Concept

Last year we took Watson to see Santa at the local shopping center. Let’s just say he was less than enthusiastic about the idea. He’s always been a shy little boy, and the idea of getting up in a weird old beardy man’s lap didn’t sit well with him. Instead he ran around and observed Santa from afar. Watching. Waiting.

We’ve tried to float the idea with him this year, but he’s been steadfast in his refusal. He knows who Santa is, he knows what Santa is about, and aside from finding Santa’s handiwork on Christmas morning, Watson wants no part of him. Since a visit to Santa is out, we decided to get Watson to write a letter.

This was harder than we’d anticipated, not least because Watson simply doesn’t know what a letter is, at least in this sense. He knows the letters of the alphabet, but in this age of FaceTime and Skype, he has no reason to know what a letter is. He also can’t write anything but his name, which he dutifully wrote at the bottom of the letter.

So Jocelyn decided to take Watson’s dictation as faithfully as possible. She cleaned up a few of the bits where she had to stop him and clarify what the whole exercise was about, but on the whole the letter turned out quite well.

Watson's Letter to Santa

Dear Santa,

I want to write you a letter.
I will write an F.
I want to do a little F.
I want to give you one of my books.
Please can I have Kylo Ren’s lightsaber.
I want a different book, a book that is a Star Wars book. I will trade you my old Star Wars book.
Vivi wants a Cinderella toy. She wants a bed for Brianna.
Freddy might want a thing that is a new walker.
I want a pretend F.
You don’t need to bring anything for mommy and daddy.

Thinking of you,
Watson

Simple Lemony Vinaigrette Dressing

With all the morning sickness, any kind of strong flavors turn me off. Finding new recipes is kind of a nightmare since I never know what will set me off. We’ve been relying more on simple, easy to prepare foods and some old favorites.

This lemony dressing is easy to prepare, and a great topping for bowls or salads. This week, we tossed a couple tablespoons with some squash and roasted it for a tasty addition to grain bowls.

Roasted Squash

Ingredients:

2 Tsp mustard
Juice of one lemon
3 cloves garlic
3/4 cup olive oil

Directions:

Blend first three ingredients with a generous amount of salt. Drizzle in oil with blender running until it’s all added and dressing is creamy. Enjoy all over the place.

Keeping Healthy Through Changes

We’ve been absent from the blog a bit more than we’d like lately, and for that we apologize. We’re just ramping up into the busiest season of the year. Over two months we’ve got Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and 3/5 of the birthdays in our household. Jobs have been busy, with long hours and long commutes. Our older kids have developed the habit of waking up in the middle of the night to sleep in our bed.
What better, we decided, than to add a fourth child to the mix?
That’s right, as of mid-June or so, we’re upgrading from a family of five to a family of six! We don’t yet know if the baby is going to be a boy or a girl. Watson insists that we name the baby Cup (we’re trying to work with him on that). By this time next year the kids will outnumber us two to one.
This has presented us with some interesting food challenges.

1) How to stay healthy on a pregnancy diet

Now that Jocelyn’s pregnant, she’s had higher calorie intake needs and also high calorie cravings. We don’t want her trying to lose weight, but we also don’t want pregnancy to be an excuse for her to stop eating healthy. I also don’t want to let Jocelyn’s pregnancy be an excuse for me to gain weight. That has happened in each of her other pregnancies. It’s a lot more common than I would ever have anticipated.
To fight back against this, we’ve tried to make our lunches more modular. We still take the same thing, but Jocelyn takes an extra snack or an extra piece of fruit. Everything is packaged into individual servings, so we can just grab and go. This has definitely helped. We’ve also tried to be more laid back about eating out since it’s been so busy. We don’t want to force things and get stressed and fall off the wagon completely. Instead we splurge just a little bit here and there by getting some pizza, or going to Panera. It sure beats running ourselves ragged to make food at home every night, no matter how hard. Since we stay reasonably within our bounds when eating out, it’s easier to come back to earth once we reset.

2) How to work around food aversions

The more difficult problem is working around Jocelyn’s food aversions. She’s had trouble with strong flavors. There are things we’ve stocked up on that are no longer any good for her, and we’re scrambling to find replacements. This morning I packed some falafel-spiced crunchy chickpeas as a snack. They’ve long been a favorite of ours, but Jocelyn smelled them and couldn’t handle the spices. The good news is there’s more for me (seriously, they’re delicious), but we have to work to find snacks she can stomach.
The tougher food aversion problem is figuring out how best to work with all of the ingredients in our Hungry Harvest box. This is a nut we haven’t always cracked successfully, but we’re working on it. Food aversions can be swift and severe, and we can never predict what they’re going to be. In those cases, we’ve got to be adaptable. Either we preserve the offending foods, or prepare them so I can eat them and Jocelyn can stay away. It’s a challenge, and it keeps us on our toes.

3) How to make sure kids eat healthy (or at least try healthy foods…or at least have healthy foods sit in front of them for a while)

Finally, we’ve been working hard to teach our kids how to eat healthy. We could feed them chicken nuggets and grapes every night and they’d be happy, but they wouldn’t be learning about new wonderful foods from all around the world. The problem is that at their ages, they’re almost never actually ready to try new wonderful foods. It’s a struggle to get them to try food they’ve already tried and liked, let alone to try new stuff.
We don’t want to instill any kind of neuroses around food, so we don’t require that they clean their plate to be excused. We do make sure they know the dinner we make is the dinner they get. They don’t get special accommodations. If they go to sleep and wake up hungry an hour later, they can have some of the food they refused. It can’t be an excuse to eat the food they wanted in the first place. So far this has been broadly unsuccessful, but these things take time.
We’ve been more lenient with treats, especially since we’re overflowing with the Halloween surplus. They don’t have to finish their whole dinner all the time to get a treat. Usually we just make sure they try a bite or two of the new stuff on their plate before they get one. We want to leave open the possibility that they might just really not like something, at least for now, and reward the willingness to explore and be adventurous with their taste.

Spaghetti Squash Bake

We like to use spaghetti squash as a sort of healthy alternative to pasta. Not that pasta isn’t healthy, per se, but we always have a temptation to eat so dang much of it. This spaghetti squash bake functions kind of like a pasta casserole, with its tomato sauce and vegan parmesan topping, but it’s not too heavy. Most of all, it’s super tasty.

Spaghetti Squash Bake: A Healthy Dinner that Feels Indulgent

The nice thing about this is that it’s pretty hands off and easy to make. Nothing requires careful tending, just a little bit of work on the stove and in the oven and you’re set! It also reheats beautifully for work.

Now I know as well as the next guy that spaghetti squash isn’t the same as pasta. The consistency isn’t the same, the flavor isn’t the same, etc. That’s why I almost always insist on recipes that douse it in some kind of sauce. The squash soaks up that nice flavor, and baking it in the sauce softens it even a bit more, so you lose most of the crunch that can sometimes go along with spaghetti squash and distance it from bona fide pasta.

Spaghetti Squash Bake

Ingredients:

1 medium to large spaghetti squash
1 medium onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp + 1 Tsp olive oil
2 15-oz cans tomatoes, whole or diced
1/2 cup cashews, soaked for a few hours
1 cup pecans
2 Tbsp nutritional yeast
1 Tsp salt

Directions:

Roast or microwave the spaghetti squash. Which one you choose depends on how much time you’ve got and how much your kids are screaming.

To make the tomato sauce, cook the onion and garlic in 1 Tbsp of the olive oil on medium high heat in a medium saucepan until the onion is translucent. Add the tomatoes, reduce the heat to medium, and cook until thickened. Once the tomato sauce is done, blend it with the soaked cashews. Mix the tomato-cashew blend with the cooked spaghetti squash in an oven safe baking dish.

To make the vegan parm topping, place the pecans, nutritional yeast, remaining olive oil, and salt in food processor. Blend until everything looks crumbly and delicious. Sprinkle the topping onto the squash in the baking dish and bake at 350° F for 20 minutes.