Easy, Healthy Meals from Pantry Staples

Old Mother Hubbard
Went to the cupboard,

To give the poor dog a bone:

When she came there,

The cupboard was bare,

And so the poor dog had none.

 

Old Mother Hubbard couldn’t find a bone for her dog, but what do you do when your cupboard’s are bare and you need to get dinner on the table for your family?

This week has been extremely busy for me, as I’ve been working on an aggressive timeline for a manuscript submission, work has been filled with meetings and important deliverables, I’m planning the birthday party for my kids this weekend and both my kids will be in a wedding next weekend. Ack!! All of this translates to me not having an extra moment to go to the grocery store. As you can see from the picture, my cabinets are truly bare, which makes dinnertime a bit challenging.

I have a few tips for throwing together dinner when you are down to the bare nubbins in your pantry:

  1. Free choice night – My kids love it when I tell them that dinner is “free choice.” Everyone gets to choose their own dinner, which is either leftovers, peanut butter and jelly or grilled cheese. It not only makes life easier because I don’t have to cook, but it helps clean out the leftovers from the fridge.
  2. Breakfast for dinner – I love breakfast! It is my favorite meal of the day and I love making breakfast for dinner. Even if my pantry is bare, I usually have the ingredients to throw together pancakes and eggs. We pull out the big griddle and make Mickey Mouse pancakes with frozen fruit thrown in for added nutrition.
  3. Vegetarian Night – A dinner of rice and beans, vegetarian chili or spaghetti with tomato sauce can be filling and nutritious without meat. Try having Meatless Monday each week to get into the routine of a fiber filled dinner without meat.
  4. Staple Dinner – There are certain staples that I try to keep in the house, like flour, eggs, milk, bread, broth and canned veggies. Even if I can’t make a full grocery run, I’ll pick up a few items to get me through a couple nights of dinner. I love to make soup with the leftover wilted veggies in my vegetable drawer, along with a few pantry staples. You can even make a fresh loaf of bread to go with it with only a few ingredients.

 

Try this recipe below for a simple soup and bread dinner.

 

Chicken Noodle Soup

  • 10 cups chicken broth
  • 3 carrots
  • 1 large stalk celery
  • 3 cloves minced garlic
  • 4-oz. whole-wheat egg noodles
  • 4 cups shredded cooked chicken breast or 2 cans canned chicken breast (keep canned chicken in your pantry as a staple)

 

  1. Bring broth to a boil in a dutch oven. Add carrots, celery and garlic. Cook over medium heat for 20 minutes.
  2. Add noodles and chicken, simmer for 8-10 minutes.

 

  Easy Staple Bread Recipe

  • ¼ cup nonfat milk
  • 5 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 5 tsp butter
  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 3 cups flour (mixture of whole-wheat and white)

 

  1. Mix the yeast with water, per instructions on the packet.
  2. Melt butter in the microwave and add it, milk, sugar and salt to the yeast and stir it. Add two cups of flour to the mix. Stir, adding ¼ cup of flour every minute or so. Keep stirring until sticky and dough cleans the sides of the bowl.
  3. Knead for ten minutes, then shape into a ball, place in a bowl coated with nonstick cooking spray and cover with a cloth. Let sit in a warm, draft-free place for an hour.
  4. The dough will now be double in size, punch down and lay out on floured surface. Roll up and place in a bread pan coated with cooking spray. Cover and let rise for another hour.
  5. Bake at 400 for 30 minutes. Let it cool completely before slicing.
Do you have any go-to recipes for when your pantry is bare? Any tips for feeding a family on pantry staples? I’d love to hear from you!

Dreamy Creamy Healthy Banana Spilt

A heat wave is taking the country by storm, but no need to succumb to high calorie, fat-laden ice cream to cool off. Indulge in this decadent banana spilt to satisfy your sweet tooth and beat the heat. At the risk of being called blasphemous for creating a banana spilt ice cream without true “ice cream,” I think this banana spilt hits the spot. I replaced the ice cream with nonfat Greek yogurt for a creamy, lower-calore, lower-sugar, protein packed dessert! Top it off with fresh produce from the farmer’s market and you have a dessert worthy to take a seat at the breakfast table. I created this recipe for my new cookbook, Culinary Duct Tape: The Magic of Greek Yogurt, which will I will offer as an e-book very soon! Let me know if you are interested in ordering a copy and I’ll put you on the pre-order waiting list.

Banana Split

•1 banana

•3 Tablespoons Greek nonfat yogurt

•3 of each raspberries, blueberries and cherries

•2 teaspoons sugar-free chocolate syrup

 

Slice banana in half lengthwise. Place in dish and top with three tablespoons of greek yogurt. Top each scoop of yogurt with berries. Drizzle with sugar-free chocolate syrup.

 

My kids absolutely loved this and felt extra special eating it from a banana spilt dessert dish. Give it a try and let me know what you think!

Healthy Back-to-School Lunches

Can you believe that school is starting back in five short weeks? My baby is going to Kindergarten and my special little boy is going to be in 4th grade! Where does time go? If you need tips for packing healthy back-to-school lunches, check out my guest blog post on Color Wheel Meals. Check out Color Wheel Meals for awesome vegan and raw food recipes, tips and e-books. You definitely don’t want to miss Samantha’s Raw Vegan Ice Cream Sandwiches. Yum-o!

I’d love to hear what you think! Do you have any healthy school lunch ideas? Do your kids prefer cafeteria food or a home-packed lunch?

Healthy Lunch Series Tip #3: Make Edible Art

I hope you are enjoying this series of blog posts on making healthy lunches for your kids. If you missed the first two posts in the series, make sure to check out Everything Tastes Better on a Stick and Cookie Cutters Are Your Friend.

Today’s tip revolves around something I definitely struggle with: creativity. Making edible art may seem like something from Cupcake Wars, but you don’t have to be a professional chef or an artist to play with your food.

Take for example these cute little pepper sailboats (picture above) that I made from a sliced orange pepper, hummus and baked pita chips. These took minutes to make and required no more effort than serving them separately, but this creative design got my son to actually try hummus. He discovered that he likes hummus, but under normal circumstances, he would have never tried it.

My daughter and I made these butterfly apples together and this was a fun way to include fruits and veggies in a simple snack. I showed her how to put it together at home and she had fun showing her friends how to assemble her creation during lunch.

 

 

 

 

Another fun project your kids can assemble during lunch are food faces. Pack a variety of fruits and veggies to make the face and your kids will have fun using their creativity to put it all together.

 

 

 

 

 

I came up with this little trick one snowy day in January and have been using it ever since: Brussels Sprouts Snowmen. My kids love these and it is so easy! Just saute brussels sprouts with a little olive oil and sea salt and place three on a tooth pick. These stay together even in a lunch box and tastes good hot or cold.

There are tons of other fun designs you can make with your food. Visit Craft Gossip, Incredible Edible Crafts or Family Fun for more creative food ideas.

Do you have any creative ideas for making food fun for your kids? Feel free to post a link to your site, blog or picture on the blog! I’d love to hear from you!

 

Convenience vs. Healthy Choice

I’ve been counting down the days for summer, because for the first time ever, my kids will be in day camp. I love spending time with my kids more than anything in the world, but after the past three summers of having them hang around the house, saying “I’m bored” approximately 3,000 times a day while I try to work,  it was time to make a change.

We went out last night to buy all of the supplies for camp: sunscreen, bug spray and lunch items. Sounds straightforward, right?

Not so much. My husband and I had a debate about convenience vs. healthy lunch in the meat aisle.

He grabbed ten packs of Lunchables, threw them in the cart and said, “Done.”

I said, “We cannot give them a Lunchable everyday.”

“Why not?” he asked.

“Because it is not healthy.”

He said, “It’s cheese, turkey and crackers. How bad can that be?”

“They are full of fat, sugar and salt. I research and write about how bad this crap is on my blog. If we buy these, I will not practice what I preach.”

If you don’t know how bad lunchables are, read Out to Lunch, which grades nine pre-packaged lunches. You may ask, “how can cheese, turkey and crackers be that bad for you.” Consider that Kraft adds starch to the cheese slices, hydrogenated oil and high-fructose corn syrup to the crackers and sodium nitrate to the turkey. This small meal, which would only fill up the tiniest of tummies, has 19 grams of fat, 9 grams of saturated fat and 900 grams of sodium.

After I stood on my soap box and recited all of this to my husband, he came back at me with something that resonated louder than the shocking ingredients on the label, “You always say you are busy and don’t have time. Why are you making this hard on yourself?”

He had a point.

So in my moment of weakness under the glow of fluorescent lights in the grocery store aisle, I bought Lunchables, a bag of apples, yogurt and gasp….fruit roll-ups.

I caved.

When given the choice between convenience and the healthy option, I chose convenience. I don’t feel great about it, but it sure feels good having that extra thirty minutes in the morning to spend time with them instead of stressing myself out in the kitchen prepping lunches.

What would you do?

I’m going to find some easy, fast, healthy convenient lunches to pack for camp and I’ll share them with you on the blog. Please share ideas that you have! I’d love to hear your suggestions. In the meantime, my kids will enjoy their sugar and fat filled lunch.

Healthy Homemade Strawberry Ice Cream

This weekend my home town, Fort Mill, celebrated with their 2nd annual strawberry festival. My son sang with the school choir at the festival (well, actually he lip synched because he felt embarrassed) and my daughter had her picture in The Herald while petting a sheep at the petting zoo.

Between the strawberry recipe contest and the fresh strawberries sold on site, the focus of the event is all about the strawberries. Fort Mill is home to Springs Farm, which has the BEST strawberries. I feel so lucky that we have a strawberry field right across the street from our neighborhood. This weekend we plan to “pick-our-own” strawberries, and I will blog about the experience, but today I wanted to provide you guys with an amazing homemade strawberry ice cream recipe.

We picked up a gallon of freshly picked strawberries and set out to make our own homemade ice cream. I love ice cream, but most store-bought ice cream is either full of fat, calories or chemicals. They get their flavor from extracts rather than fresh fruit, so their nutritional value is minimal.

My homemade strawberry ice cream recipe is extremely simple with only four ingredients and the focus is on the fruit

And when you hear the health benefits of strawberries, you will want the focus to be on the fruit. Strawberries have the 3rd highest level of antioxidants among all U.S. foods, including spices, fruits and vegetables (based on common serving sizes.)  The polyphenols in strawberries also play a major role in regulating blood sugar. Strawberries also have anti-inflammatory properties, which contributes towards their role in lowering one’s risk of developing heart disease and cancer. One cup of strawberries has only 43 calories, 136% of daily value for vitamin C and 3 grams of fiber. Give this delicious recipe and try and let me know what you think.

Homemade Strawberry Ice Cream

  • 4 cups strawberries
  • 1 can fat-free evaporated milk
  • 1 can fat-free sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 Tbsp vanilla extract

Directions

Freeze the ice cream canister for several hours prior to preparing the ice cream. Hull the strawberries and puree with a hand blender. Combine milks, strawberry puree and vanilla extract. Pour into ice cream canister and prepare according to your manufacturer’s instructions.

Digging for Ways to Teach My Kids About Nutrition

Researchers with Saint Louis University found that children who were served fruits and vegetables from a homegrown garden were more than twice as likely to eat the required five servings a day as those who rarely or never ate homegrown produce. In addition, children who grow up eating fresh-from-the-garden produce are more likely to enjoy the taste of fruits and vegetables over other foods, see their parents eating fruits and vegetables and eat a greater variety of produce.  Read my full blog post for Working Mother magazine, Digging for ways to teach my kids about nutrition for more info.

I’d love to hear what you think!

 

 

Artichokes: Chock full of goodness

Did you know that vegetables are the number one food eaten in homes during the last three Super Bowls? The NPD Group market research firm that tracks Americans’ eating habits found that while pizza, beer and wings are popular, vegetables top the list. I was thrilled to finally read a positive statistic about Americans’ diets.

This year we decided to have a healthy Super Bowl spread, incorporating lots of fruits and vegetables. I made a lightened up version of spinach and artichoke dip and it was a huge hit! The typical spinach and artichoke dip is filled with mayonnaise, sour cream and cheese, making it a heart clogging indulgence. This light version allows the spinach and artichokes to take the lead.

Can you believe that I had never cooked with artichokes before? I have to admit that they appear a bit intimidating. All of those leaves and layers make it look like a porcupine baseball. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to eat the leaves or peel it like an orange. So, I went the easy route and bought the frozen artichoke hearts for Trader Joes.

I am glad that I gave artichokes a try because this odd vegetable is actually chock full of vitamins, nutrients and health benefits.

Artichokes are:

  1. A liver-cleaning food – The silymarin in artichokes help protect and nourish the liver
  2. Great for digestion and relieving gastrointestinal (GI) upset – In one study researchers found that 85 percent of patients experienced relief from stomach pain, nausea and vomiting when given artichoke extract.
  3. Excellent source of flavonoids which prevent the oxidation of LDL (bad) cholesterol
  4. Good for your eyes – artichokes are full of eye-friendly carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin
  5. Full of fiber for very little calories (6 ½ grams of fiber in one artichoke for only 60 calories)

Try out this recipe for light Spinach and Artichoke dip to give artichokes a try:

Spinach and Artichoke Dip

Ingredients

  • 1 bag Trader Joes frozen artichoke hearts (cooked and drained)
  • 1 bag Trader Joes frozen spinach (cooked and squeezed dry)
  • 2 cups 2% shredded mozzarella cheese
  • ½ cup non-fat plain greek yogurt
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 2 blocks fat-free cream cheese
  • Dash of salt

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 350
  • Process the artichoke hearts, spinach, garlic and salt in a food processor
  • Combine 1 ½ cups of mozzarella cheese, 2 Tablespoons parmesan cheese, greek yogurt and cream cheese in a bowl and mix well. Add the artichoke and spinach mixture – stir until combined.
  • Spoon mixture into baking dish and top with the remaining ½ cup mozzarella cheese and 2 tablespoons of parmesan.
  • Bake at 350 for 30 minutes

Did you serve healthy foods this year for the Super Bowl? Do you have light versions of your favorite dishes? Please share.

Chicken Cacciatore Made by a Cacciatore – Secret Family Recipe Lightened Up

Given that my last name is Cacciatore, you would think that Chicken Cacciatore would be part of our family’s regular repertoire of meals. However, traditional chicken cacciatore can be high in calories, especially when served over pasta, so I hadn’t prepared the beloved family recipe in years.

I bought fresh mushrooms at Trader Joes last weekend because they are one of the 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth. I originally planned to make a mushroom pizza, but I realized I didn’t have all of the ingredients. I scanned my cookbooks and my dog-eared, worn and stained family cookbook and tripped upon our old family recipe for Chicken Cacciatore. I decided to lighten up our version and make it in the crock-pot instead of on the stove.

The mushrooms took the lead in this recipe, which had my kids skeptical. Mushrooms are odd if you think about it. They are a fungus and they grow on organic matter, such as decaying wood and cow patties. They’ve been used medicinally in Eastern medicine for years. Mushrooms are able to absorb and safely eliminate toxins. Cremini (white button mushrooms) are packed with nutrients. One 5-ounce serving has 50 percent of the Daily Value for the cancer fighting mineral selenium, 40 percent of the Daily Value for riboflavin, 35 percent of copper and 30 percent of niacin, 20 percent of panthothenic acid, phosphorus, zinc and 10 percent of manganese and thiamin. Also, a new study in The Journal of Nutrition just found that cremini mushrooms reduce the severity of collagen-induced arthritis. That is just among many of the the health benefits of mushrooms which include:

  • Lower cholesterol levels
  • Protect against breast and prostate cancer
  • Protect against infections with their natural antibiotics
  • Boost immunity
  • Contribute to weight loss
  • Relieve arthritis

I was surprised when I read research that proved mushrooms can contribute towards weight loss because of their antioxidant L-ergothioneine. L-ergothioneine.acts as a metabolic energy enhancer and stimulates the breakdown of sugar in red blood cells and transports fat into the mitochondria of the cells where the fat can be burned for energy. This amazing transformation is exactly what those expensive weight loss pills promise to do, but don’t deliver.

My Chicken Cacciatore recipe is a great example of a traditional favorite made even better with healthier ingredients, quicker prep time and easier preparation for the busy working mom. This recipe only took me minutes to throw together in the crock-pot before work and my family has begged me to start making this every week. This recipe is also great for sneaking veggies in your diet. There are three servings of vegetables in this recipe; tomatoes, peppers and mushrooms. Quick, easy, healthy and perfect for the busy family on the go – You can’t ask for more! Try out the recipe and let me know what you think.

Cacciatore Family Chicken Cacciatore

Ingredients

  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 ½ tsp Italian seasoning
  • ¼ tsp red pepper flakes
  • 2 cups cremini mushrooms
  • 1 cup Trader Joes triple pepper mix
  • 1 can tomato sauce
  • 1 small can tomato paste
  • ¼ cup chicken broth
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp pepper
  • ½ cup parmesan cheese
  • Whole Wheat Penne Pasta

Preparation

  • Place the chicken breasts in the bottom of the Crockpot and sprinkle with salt and pepper,
  • Mix the tomato sauce, tomato paste and chicken broth together. Add the 2 cups of mushrooms, red pepper flakes and Italian seasoning and pepper strips. Pour tomato sauce mixture over the chicken breasts.
  • Cook on low in the Crockpot for 7-8 hours
  • Right before serving, cook whole wheat penne until al dente.
  • Serve chicken and sauce over penne and grate a bit of parmesan cheese on top.