Monday, May 25, 2015

Making a Healthy Diet Healthier

We're really trying to eat more healthfully these days, for a number of reasons.  One is that I recently found out that I have slight hyperthyroidism, which means that my thyroid is slightly overactive, and could lead to bigger things down the road.  We've also recently had a family member diagnosed with cancer, which is treatable, but has been a reminder to us that we could be doing more to support our bodies and prevent disease down the road.  Because of this, we're trying to be more conscious of how we eat, mostly by adjusting two categories.

Eating Less Refined Sugar
This one has probably been the hardest for me.  I didn't realize how much I craved sweets until I started cutting back on this.  I'm working to find some natural substitutes, but in the mean time, we've done several things.

1.  I am now eating oatmeal for breakfast about five days a week.  I make this up the night before with 1/2 c rolled oats, 3/4 c milk/almond milk/unsweetened coconut milk, a handful of dried fruit and a few tablespoons of nuts and seeds.  This has been really filling and cuts down on the sugar I was eating in muffins.

2.  When we do bake for breakfast, I cut the sugar in half.  I also try to choose recipes that are naturally sweet with bananas, winter squash, etc.  When I bake cookies, I cut the sugar by about a third.

3.  I splurge once a week and have something really decadent.  And I don't feel guilty one bit.  It's been great.

4.  We've been making smoothies several nights a week for dessert or to take on our walks, and it's been great.  I usually start with a banana, add some frozen fruit or berries, a scoop of unsweetened cocoa powder, cinnamon, and some flax or chia seeds, and it's really good.  We've also had fun adding in some of our fresh herbs like lemon balm (which is good for thyroid health) and mint.  This is also a great way to use up leftovers... winter squash, cooked rice, and avocados are all great in smoothies.

Eating More Whole Grains
We've been working to trim back on the all purpose flour in our routine and eat more whole grains.  Overall, this one has been easier, but also a little more expensive.  Here are a few ways we've tackled this:

1.  Brown rice or barley instead of white rice.  This has been a super simple switch and we really haven't minded the change.  There are a few dishes we still like white or jasmine rice with, like stir fry or fried rice, but in general, this has been easy.

2.  Whole wheat flour in place of part or all of the AP flour.  This is easier in baked goods and pancakes than loaf bread.  In cookies or muffins, I can easily substitute half of the flour as whole wheat.  In bread or pizza dough, I tend to go with about 1/4 whole wheat to 3/4 all purpose.  I have found some whole wheat pizza dough recipes I want to try, but haven't done it yet.

3.  Whole wheat flour tortillas instead of white flour.  These generally cost about $1 more a package, but the boys are still happily eating corn tortillas, so it's really not too bad.

4.  I've also been trying to incorporate more flax, soy, and alternative flours into our baking recipes.  These have to be done in much smaller amounts, but are easy and add a little more nutritional benefits.

These two things combined mean less blood sugar spikes, which means the whole body isn't working as hard.  The added fiber from increased fruits and veggies (another reason for the smoothies) also helps the body to process increases in blood sugar, as well as being really helpful nutritionally.  We're so looking forward to our CSA starting up again soon and having more local veggies to work with.

So, what about you?  Have you been working to eat more healthfully?  How are you making some easy switches?  I'd love to hear from you!

Friday, May 22, 2015

Making the Most of Your Garden

This spring and summer, I've been working hard to make the most of our garden space.  We've added more garden space, but also improved the space we have to make better use of it.  We're also working to do some smaller projects to boost how we use the space and beautify things.

We've added some more garden space out front simply by clearing out some weeds and filling in low spots with some dirt.  This will be an ornamental space that we'll keep low maintenance by mulching it well with newspaper or cardboard, and then free mulch from the landfill.  We'll transplant some forsythia bushes that have multiplied in the back, and fill in the space with some transplanted ground cover to crowd out weeds.  This will really finish off the front and make it a little more maintenance free because it won't have to be mowed in the summer.

Another small garden space was added where we put in the stone patio under our deck.  This space is along the foundation, but is fairly narrow, so I'm going to try to fill it in with perennial herbs and some ornamentals, like hostas, blazing star, sage, and bronze fennel.  I'm trying to go for a variety of leaf texture in this bed, and I think this mix will all be really pretty together and will give flowers throughout the season.  I still need to add some newspaper mulch, compost, and free mulch from the landfill to this bed, but I think it will look really good when it's done.  We plan to get a little creative with this bed and edge it with recycled wine bottles, which will require a small trench being dug and then inverting the bottles in the trench.

In trying to make the most of our existing space, we've started a lot of herb seeds in places this year.  I started cilantro from seed in the garden, and it's just started producing.  We also planted garlic in the fall, which we're looking forward to harvesting next month.  Some raspberries were transplanted to a raised bed, and we allowed some wild blackberries to flower in some unused spaces this year.  I'm also working harder to harvest our perennial herbs, mostly sage, mint, chives, and lemon balm, throughout the season, so that we can dry and freeze them for use throughout the year.  I also experimented with making dandelion tea this spring, and found I really liked it (and it's really high in vitamin K, which is good for eye health, and has many anticancer properties).

We worked last weekend to add a step barrier to the end of our gravel and stone path to help keep the gravel from invading the yard.  This was made with some bits of leftover railroad ties we had from building the retaining wall a few years ago.  We also used some found rocks to edge out the bottom of our central flower bed, which looks really nice now.  Next week, we plan to visit a friend's garden, where she regularly splits perennials to share with us.  And it's always such fun to see her gardens, and we're looking to little man's first trip out there.  And we plan to finally get our rain barrel installed this year so that we can really use it, instead of watering things with potable water.

I'm also looking forward to painting our exterior doors this summer.  It's a small project, but I think it will really make our house pop, and will bring together the flowers we have in the planters along the entryway.  I'm also thinking about putting some bulbs in our larger containers in the fall so they'll be ready to bloom in the spring.

I'd love to hear what you're doing in your garden!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

May Menu Plan

This month is all about anticipation of our CSA starting in June.  We're also taking advantage of strawberry season and stocking up the freezer with yummy fresh berries.  We're looking forward to restocking the freezer with berries and fresh produce this summer from our garden, the CSA, and the farmer's market.

We also have a little fruit monster on our hands, so we're having to increase our grocery budget to accommodate that as well as our desire to eat a little more healthfully (we were already pretty good before).  We're planning to make fresh fruit smoothies, popsicles, and pureed soups for the freezer with our new Ninja blender.  (Thanks to the in-laws for the birthday/anniversary gift early!)

We're also looking forward to the Duke intern from church joining our family for the summer later this month.  It'll be another mouth to feed, but we love doing it and it's so good for little man to have someone new to interact with around the house.

You'll notice a breakfast for dinner theme in our menu.  We love breakfast foods, but they're often too much work (i.e. more dishes) for weekday meals.  So we reserve them for dinners.  This time of year, our friends' chickens are laying really well, so we're getting lots of wonderful fresh eggs to use in meals.  Breakfast eggs are easier to fix than quiche, though we love that too, and usually breakfast for dinner comes together pretty quickly, which means we can spend more time outside together as a family in the evenings.

So, without further ado, here's this month's menu:

Breakfasts:  breakfast burritos, oatmeal, eggs and grits, whole wheat banana muffins, winter squash muffins with pumpkin seeds and raisins, strawberry coffee cake, egg and cheese sandwiches on homemade bread

Lunches:  egg salad sandwiches or wraps, leftovers, black bean salad with barley, homemade yogurt with granola and fruit

Dinners:  winter squash pancakes with eggs and fruit, dinner salads with hard boiled eggs, dried fruit or fresh, and cheese, quesadillas with refried beans and avocado, roasted turkey with broccoli and herbed rice pilaf, turkey tacos with squash and greens, french toast with bacon and fruit, roasted root veggies with barley and herb butter, tomato basil soup, meatball sandwiches with fresh fruit, breakfast for dinner (roasted potato hash browns with yummy blue and red potatoes from the farmer's market, fried eggs with garden chives, grits, and fruit or sauteed peppers and onions), beef and cheddar pie with rice pilaf

I'd love to hear from you!  And a happy belated Mother's Day to all the moms, "adopted" moms, and women longing to be moms out there!