Want to eat more vegetables? Start roasting them!

Easy changes for health

You might wonder why the cooking method would lead to eating more vegetables, but trust me – it does!

Since I started roasting veggies vs steaming them, we’ve upped both the quantity and variety of vegetables we eat as a family. It’s a small change that brings healthy benefits.

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Roasting brings out the flavor of foods in a way that steaming can’t.  I toss the veggies with olive oil and season with kosher salt and black pepper.  Often, I grab a seasoning blend instead of the salt and pepper.  Montreal Steak seasoning is one of our favorites.  Sprigs of fresh thyme or rosemary are wonderful too.

When it comes to types of veggies to roast, the variety is as endless as the produce department.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts

 

It only takes about 15 minutes for many types of vegetables to roast.  Some potatoes and winter squash will take closer to 30 minutes.  I heat the oven to about 425 degrees, give or take.  It’s not an exact science, so don’t worry about getting it wrong.  If you want them to roast faster, turn the oven a bit hotter and cut the veggies a bit smaller.

I’ve found that vegetables I didn’t think I even liked are now favorites.  Things like green beans and brussels sprouts taste much, much better when roasted.  We also love combining several different types of vegetables on one pan.

Quick roasting (15ish minutes) options include:

  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Broccoli
  • Green Beans
  • Zucchini and yellow squash
  • Tomatoes (grape, cherry or larger varieties that are quartered)
  • Red bell peppers
  • Cabbage
  • Eggplant (although I admit we haven’t tried this one yet)

Roasted Butternut Squash or Sweet Potatoes

 

Best Ever Roasted Squash or Sweet Potatoes

Veggies that need longer roasting (30ish minutes):

  • Onions, quartered
  • Garlic cloves
  • Celery
  • Fennel
  • Potatoes
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Butternut squash
  • Beets
  • Carrots
  • Parsnips

What are your favorite vegetables to roast?

P.S.  Since we’ve been talking about making small changes for health, I wanted to share with you a new program I found.  Jen from Healthymoving.com is doing a 30 Day Healthy Moving Challenge during the month of September.  Jen is a yoga teacher.  I’ve been a member of her site for a while now (used to be called Stay at Home Yoga).  She has recently rebranded to Healthy Moving and is really promoting that we don’t need to make lots of time for exercise in our lives, we just need to get moving.  

This really speaks to me, because I work at my computer and also do a lot of driving each week.  All of that leads to lots and lots of sitting without much moving.  As part of the 30 Day Healthy Moving Challenge, Jen is going to be teaching us to create a dynamic work station, where we get to move around instead of just sit.  

I’m really excited for the things I’ll learn during the 30 days of September.   It’s so much easier to make small changes for better health, than to try to fit in an hour long workout.  If you’d like to join me, click here!  The challenge starts in September.

 

This post contains affiliate links.  I only share things that I truly like and that I think you will too.

 

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Easy Changes for Health – Kefir Smoothies

kefir smoothie

 

My favorite way to get healthy is to make small changes that add up for a larger impact.  I’m not inclined to sign myself up for a marathon, but I have started walking nearly every morning.

It’s unlikely that I’ll do a complete overhaul of my eating habits (although I did try the Whole 30 once).  I’d rather make small changes that are easier to keep up with.

One of those things is adding kefir to my snack rotation.

What the heck is kefir, you may ask?

First, let me just say that it actually tastes pretty good.  The description I’m about to give you may turn you off of trying it, but stick with me.  Despite the description, I do enjoy these smoothies and I think you will too.

Kefir is fermented milk.  It’s a little like a thin, drinkable yogurt, but it’s not yogurt.  It’s possible to make kefir at home, but I haven’t tried that.  Instead, I buy Lifeway brand.

lifeway kefir

 

I’ve found it at Walmart, Meijer, Costco and Aldi.  Aldi has the best price on the quart size bottles.  Costco carries the individual bottles at a price just a bit more than Aldi.  (This post isn’t sponsored, by the way.  I’m just sharing a product I’m loving.)

Kefir comes in plain or various berry flavors.  I prefer the flavored.  Actually, I’m not brave enough to try the plain.  I even add to the sweetness of the berry flavor by blending half a frozen banana with it.  Of course, the flavored varieties aren’t quite as healthy as the plain, but I think it’s a lot healthier for me.  The reason, is I’d never drink the plain, so I’d miss out on the health benefits altogether.  At least with the flavored type, I get all the good probiotics and other goodness, even if it does come with a bit of added sugar.

Benefits of kefir

Because it’s fermented, kefir is full of probiotics – many more than are found in yogurt.  This is a real boost for gut health, but it also brings a lot of other benefits too.

This article goes into more details on the benefits, but here’s a quick list for you.

~ The probiotics are good for you gut and can help restore good bacteria after illness.  It’s also good for people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

~ It boosts your immunity to viruses and infections.

~ It builds bone density.

~ Some studies show it helps both allergies and asthma.

~ People who are lactose intolerant can usually drink kefir with no problem.  In fact, there’s evidence to show that it will help people who deal with that.

~ There have been lab studies that show kefir fights cancer in animals.

~ There are only about 100 calories per cup.

It’s been easy to swap out my morning or afternoon snack for a kefir smoothie instead.  I just blend half a frozen banana with 1 cup of kefir.  If I don’t have the banana already frozen, I add a cube or two of ice to the blender.  Easy!

I’d love to know if you’ve tried kefir and what you think of it! 

 

 

 

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No Heat Dinners

No Heat Dinners to keep the kitchen cool

When I was little, we didn’t have central air in our house. My parents had a window unit air conditioner in their bedroom window that cooled their room and the short hallway to a bedroom my sister and I shared. During one especially hot summer, we would set up the card table in the bedroom to eat. It was just too hot to eat in the kitchen.

And the meal of choice was Chef Salad. Cool iceburg lettuce, chopped cucumbers, tomatoes, lunch meat, sliced American cheese all topped with Seven Seas Green Goddess dressing or maybe Russian dressing.

Side note: Remember that Green Goddess Dressing from the 70s? I think it disappeared for a while, but now Kraft is selling it. I haven’t tried it since I was little.

Chef salad still makes a great dinner on a hot evening, but there are some other good no-heat meals too.  Here are a few that will keep you and the kitchen cool.

gazpacho done

 

Gazpacho

This cold soup is full of garden veggies.  It’s a great way to use all that zucchini!

tomato-sandwich

 

Tomato Sandwich

Admittedly, this is a pretty light meal for dinner.  But if you’ve got garden fresh tomatoes, what else do you really need in life?

Peach Chutney Chicken Salad

Peach Chutney Chicken Salad

This 15 minute recipe calls for using homemade peach chutney that you’ve already frozen.  You can skip that and use store-bought chutney instead.  Or go for this Chicken Salad recipe with grapes and pecans.  Use rotisserie chicken to keep it cool and quick.  (The photos on that post are old and not great, but the recipe is wonderful.)

tuna tomato salad done

 

Summer Time Tuna Salad

There’s no mayo in this version.  Instead the tuna is served over sliced avocado with plenty of tomatoes and other goodies.  This is one of my favorites!  It’s quick and easy to make too.

What are your favorite no-heat dinners to beat the sweltering summer heat?

 

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When illness derails even your simplest daily plans – survival mode meals

Survival Mode Meals

I’m going to be honest – the last month has been stinky.  I’ve been dealing with a virus along with migraines twenty out of the last twenty five days, including one episode that lasted for over 48 hours.  I bet you’ve had times in your life when illness (yours or someone close to you) takes all your energy, leaving nothing for even the most basic routines.  I’m not even dealing with anything series or life-threatening, but it still saps all my resources.  I can only imagine that when the diagnosis is more serious and severe, it would all take an even bigger toll.

It’s discouraging and disheartening.  The whole time the Eat at Home Challenge was going on, I was struggling to get dinner for my family or some days, to even make it to the table myself.  My plans of sharing our meals on Instagram and creating new recipes fell by the wayside.  Even the nights I did make dinner, I didn’t find enough energy to take photos.

It left me feeling like a bit of a hypocrite as I encouraged others to make meal plans and eat at home, while we were making do with quick runs to the grocery and more restaurant trips than normal.

But it also made me realize that there are seasons in life when focusing on meal planning and cooking is not the right timing.  That’s the season I found myself in and maybe that’s where you are (or have been) too.

Some seasons call for survival mode.

Here are some things that have gotten my family through this (hopefully) temporary situation.  Maybe some of these ideas will help you too.

1.  Be kind with yourself.

It’s okay to cut things out of the calendar, pare down the housework to bare minimum, and have the easiest dinners ever.  This season of illness and recovery are temporary.  There will be a season of thriving later on when you can get things back the way you like them.

2.  Fall back to your easiest meals.

If you find something you or a family member can easily make and that is tolerated on a sick stomach, it’s okay to have it regularly.  There’s no prize for variety in this season.

3.  Don’t worry about big grocery trips.

I usually shop once a week and try to keep extra trips to a minimum.  During the last month though, we’ve made more grocery stops than I can count.  It just wasn’t possible to think through what we might need or want more than a couple days out.

4.  When you start to feel better…

~ Make a plan for simple meals.  The slow cooker is your friend, as it can be loaded in the morning when energy is higher.

~ Set backs happen.  Try not to get discouraged as you recover.  Focus on the progress you’re making.  If you need to grab food from a restaurant one night, it’s okay.

~ As your energy returns, try making something simple to stock the freezer.  I made a double batch of meatballs the other day and put half in the freezer.  It made me feel like I’d accomplished something and we have something easy and homemade for later.  You can do the same by doubling a favorite casserole or soup recipe.

I’d like to know what has worked for you as you pull back together after a “survival mode” time.

 

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Slow Cooker Hacks to Make it Really Work for You

Using a slow cooker is such a time saver in the kitchen.  There’s nothing as satisfying as knowing your dinner is prepped, cooking and will be ready to eat when you are.  But it’s possible to get even more use from this appliance.  Check out these tips to really up your slow cooker game.

5 Hacks to Make Your Slow Cooker More Awesome

1.  Cook more than one type of food in the slow cooker at a time.

By using foil to wrap different parts of the meal, you can cook a whole meal that retains separate flavors.

using foil in slow cooker

BBQ Chicken Dinner in the Slow Cooker

Ham and Hash Brown Casserole

Try this method with steak, smoked sausage, pork chops or chicken.  Add packets of potatoes, sweet potatoes, butternut squash…  Top with corn, peas, green beans, broccoli… And season each packet a little differently, if you like.

The possibilities are endless.

2.  Make your slow cooker smaller.

If you’ve got a large crockpot, but need to cook a small quantity of food, place a small casserole dish inside the crock.  This makes the inside much smaller, which keeps your food from overcooking.

3.  Add a timer to make it programmable.

slow cooker and timer

DIY Programmable Slow Cooker isn’t a perfect system.  It won’t switch off to a warm setting when the cooking time is up, but it does work for things like overnight oatmeal.

4.  Make it easier to clean with one of these three methods:

Line it with foil – Lynn from Lynn’s Kitchen Adventures lines her slow cooker with foil to make clean up easier.

Use a plastic liner.  We use these on vacation.  I don’t mind cooking on vacation, but no one wants to scrub a dirty crockpot.

Spray with cooking spray before adding food.  This really does help the clean up process.

5.  Cook with a water bath for things like cheesecake or oatmeal.

Pouring some water around the bottom of a dish set inside the slow cooker creates a water bath.  This prevents foods from drying out or getting overcooked.  It works great for things like cheesecake and oatmeal.

Slow-Cooker-Chocolate-Cheesecake-with-Pretzel-Crust

 

P.S. Don’t forget to sign up for the Eat at Home Challenge!  Find out more here.

P.P.S. We’re also having a Facebook Party with prizes on July 16!

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Join the Eat at Home Challenge!

Challenge_Blog

 

I’m really excited today to invite you to join the free, two week Eat at Home Challenge!  It’s easy to get off track with meal planning and dinner making.  The next thing you know we’re hitting the drive-thru too often or we get in a rut of making the same meal over and over again.

I’ve got help for you though!  Sign up now to be part of the Eat at Home Challenge.  It starts July 16 and will be full of tips on meal planning, pantry stocking, quick cooking, and grocery shopping tips.  The goal is to eat at home for at least six dinners a week for two straight weeks.  This is a great time to build the eat at home habit and take control of dinner time before school schedules start again!

Pop over here and enter your email to join the challenge!

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How to do Road Trip Picnics – where to stop and other tips to make them easy

Road Trip Picnics

 

We’ve been talking picnics all month.  We’ve covered Day Trip Picnics and Vacation Home Food.

This week, let’s talk about road trip picnics.  I really like to pack our lunch for our first (and sometimes, last) day of travel.  We prefer our own sandwiches to fast food, especially when traveling.  A couple of my kids deal with car sickness and it really helps to have control of the food choices.  Not to mention that it’s much cheaper to pack.

I won’t talk too much about what to pack.  We’ve covered that pretty well already.

I do want to share some tips I’ve learned and I’d love to hear yours too!

Where to stop for a road side picnic.

When you’re on a long trip, trying to get where you’re going, you don’t want to spend a lot of time looking for a place to eat.  Convenience wins big over scenic views in this case.

Rest stops are an obvious solution.  Many of them have picnic tables.  We’ve found that as you enter most states, there are Welcome Centers that tend to be a notch above regular rest stops.

Tip: It’s nice to have a roll of paper towels to use as place mats or even to sit on if the benches aren’t the best.  Although, the adults tend to eat standing up to counteract all the hours in the car.

Eating in the car.

We’ve found it’s best to get out for a break, but there are times when it makes sense to eat in the car.  If it’s raining, you may want to skip the picnic.  Heavy traffic occasionally makes it hard to to stop.

Just in case you end up needing to eat while driving, pack the cooler where an older child or adult can get to it.  Have that person pass out the lunches and drinks.

Tip: For snacks like boxes of cheese crackers or grapes, small paper cups work great for handing out individual servings.  These are also easy for the driver to eat from.

Strategically splurge on treats.

If you’re looking at 8-15 hours in the car, you can bet you’re going to need a few treats.  Here are a few things that have worked for us in the past:

  • DumDum lollipops and Jolly Ranchers – It’s fun to choose a flavor and the small candy lasts a while too.
  • Planned afternoon breaks that involve purchased treats like soft drinks, coffees, or even ice cream.
  • Treat bags – When the kids were little, I would pack a bag of small games, toys, stickers, etc.  I tried to aim for one treat per hour.  Some of the most successful items were masking tape, pipe cleaners, dry erase markers (to use on the windows),  and blank notebooks.  The car was usually a mess when we arrived at the destination, but everyone was was (relatively) happy.

I’d love to hear your tips!

Many of us will be hitting the road this summer for long trips.  Share what works for you and your family in the comments.

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Substituting when you can’t find the product a recipe calls for – Jalepeno Chicken Taco re-do

Sometimes companies come out with new products and recipes get created around those products.  Then a while later the products get pulled or you just can’t find them.  Or maybe you’d just really like a homemade version.

What to do?  Substitute!

Depending on the recipe and product this can be really easy or a bit more challenging.

Recently, I made Creamy Jalapeno Chicken Tacos, but I couldn’t find the jalapeno cream cheese.

Slow Cooker Creamy Jalapeno Chicken Tacos

 

Instead, I used plain cream cheese and a small can of diced jalapeno peppers.  It was a simple fix and the result tasted great.

Here’s another example.  We love the sauce packet for this Sweet Korean BBQ Haystacks recipe:

Slow Cooker Sweet Korean BBQ Haystacks

 

But I really wanted a homemade version that would be close.  This Korean Taco recipe comes very close to the same taste:

Slow Cooker Korean BBQ Tacos

 

Cream of…Soup Substitutions

Canned cream soups can be substituted with a good white sauce.  There are lots of ways to vary the flavors of white sauce so it fits your recipe.

white sauce how to make

 

Try to get close enough when making substitutions

Sometimes it’s not possible to get the exact flavor without the product.  I know a lot of people have been frustrated while trying to make this Creamy Pina Colada Pie.  Pina Colada jello is not easy to find.

PinaColadaPie

 

Try Island Pineapple jello instead.  It won’t be the same, but it will be close.  Or use any other flavor of jello that catches your fancy.

What are some ways you’ve made substitutions for products lately?

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Take Your Own Food on Family Vacation

Packing Food for a Family Vacation

 

We’ve got a family trip planned for Asheville, NC.  Instead of eating out every meal, I’ve planned a menu for eating most of our meals at the house we’ve rented.

It’s typical for us to take food on vacation, if we’re staying in a place with a kitchen.  I’ve written a number of posts on vacation food before.  This post tells how to use dry ice to transport food a long distance.  We’ve done this a number of times when traveling to Disney World or the beach.

This time, we’ve got a short trip and it’s not too long of a drive.  We’re going to make do with coolers and plenty of ice for keeping the food fresh.

Here’s our menu:

Day 1: Travel Day

Breakfast at home

Picnic lunch on the way.  I’ll use the ideas I shared last week for packing this lunch.

Dinner at the house:

Day 2: Biltmore House for the girls, Whitewater Rafting for the guys

Breakfast:

  • Green Smoothies
  • Toast or bagels
  • Eggs for those that want one
  • Juice for people who won’t drink green things
  • Coffee – of course!

Lunch – This is included in the rafting trip.  The girls will eat at Biltmore House.

Dinner:

  • Slow Cooker Chicken Cordon Bleu Sandwiches – I’ll take my slow cooker and a liner to make cleanup easy.  I wanted something that would cook itself while we’re out enjoying the day.
  • Fruit
  • Salt and Pepper potato chips
  • Any leftover salad from the night before
  • Cookies and/or more s’mores

Day 3: Hiking and Exploring Asheville

Breakfast: Same as the day before

Lunch: Picnic lunch, hopefully eaten before, during or after the hike while sitting outside.  Stay away, rain!

Dinner: Restaurant in Asheville

Day 4: Travel Home

Breakfast: Same as before, but making sure to eat the remaining eggs.

Lunch: Most likely stopping at fast food place.

Four days of travel.  Three meals out.  Lots of money saved.

 

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6 Picnic Tips and Menu Ideas for a Day at the Zoo, Park etc.

6 Tips and Menu Ideas for a Day Trip Picnic to the Zoo or park

I’m a big fan of packing food for day trips.  It saves money and the food I bring is almost always better than what can be bought at our destination.

Here are my best tips for BYOP (bring your own picnic).

1.  Go with a standard plan

One trick I use for these types of outings is to pack nearly the same thing every time.  The big reason to do this is it makes spur of the moment picnics a breeze.  There have been times when we’ve woken up on a summer Saturday and decided to hit the road that morning.  I’ve been able to make a quick trip to the grocery for supplies, come home and pack it all up and be ready to go in less than an hour.  Buying our standard picnic fair makes this a no-brainer.

You can make it special by packing crackers, chips or cookies you don’t usually buy.  Grapes are a standard in our picnic, but they’ve gotten so expensive that they’re now a treat too.

2.  Try tortilla wraps instead of sandwiches

Tortilla wraps hold up better in the cooler than sandwiches made on bread.  They don’t seem as prone to squishing or getting soggy like sandwiches will.

3.  Pack sides that can double as snacks part way through the day

Mostly this involves making sure you’ve packed enough extras to go with your main course.  It’s fun to stop for a special treat, but it’s also nice to not have to purchase every snack and drink your family will need through a whole day.

We like a mix of healthy and not-so-healthy.  Grapes and baby carrots are our go-to healthy choices.  I like these because they’re easy to eat and not messy or sticky.  They hold up great in the cooler too.

We also like cheese crackers and some kind of packaged cookie.  Homemade cookies taste better, but store-bought handle being packed without crushing or smooshing.

4.  Avoid things that melt or get sticky

Cut fruit, frosting and chocolate are things that come to mind here.

5.  Keep beverages simple and pack plenty

When people get hot, they get thirsty.  You can save a ton of money just by having enough drinks packed.  We usually go with water, but juice boxes are nice to have too.

6.  Don’t forget plenty of ice for the cooler, napkins and wet wipes

Picnic Menu Options

Sandwiches/Wraps

Try turkey, beef, ham or hummus.

Add Swiss, provolone, cheddar or American cheese.

Lettuce and sprouts can be added when you make the wraps at home.  Tomatoes are best skipped or added later at the picnic site, because they tend to make thing soggy.

Savory sides

  • Cheese crackers
  • Chips
  • Carrot sticks
  • Celery sticks
  • Bell pepper strips
  • Pea pods
  • String cheese

Sweet sides

 

 

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