Category Archives: Nutrition & Recipes

German Chocolate Cake Breakfast Bars

This mama has a major sweet tooth—the kind that has seen many a late-night trips to gas stations for Häagen-Dazs or Ben & Jerry’s when all the grocery stores were closed…well before I was ever pregnant. It’s the kind that has me dreaming of hot fudge sundaes, planning my days around my sweet treats, and marking the turn of seasons by the type of candy that hits the stores. (It’s candy corn season now—my very favorite!)

In constant combat with my sweet tooth is my commitment to good health and healthy eating. I’ve always noticed a strong link between what I eat and how I feel, so eating well has always made sense. This commitment, with my un-curb-able sugar cravings, means I’ve spent much of my adult life both trying to find healthier substitutes to my favorite sweets and attempting to rework my favorite dessert recipes so they’re a little less sugary and a lot more nutritious.

I’ve been somewhat successful. I’m usually okay eating a little chocolate sorbet or some dark chocolate instead of a triple dip chocolate chip cookie dough hot fudge sundae (although I just have to have one of those every now and then!) I even have my own hot fudge recipe that’s way lower in sugar but still high in yummy-ness for the days when nothing else will work. During my mid-afternoon slump, fruit mixed with Greek yogurt and a cup of unsweetened flavored tea or coffee (have you tried Green Mountain’s pumpkin spice?? Another seasonal favorite!) replace chocolate covered espresso beans and a Caramel Macchiato.

Still, I’ve found breakfast to be more challenging. All through elementary and middle school, I started my day with Lucky Charms or microwave pancakes soaked in syrup. In high school, I graduated to Pop-Tarts and bagels with jelly, and in college, I had every sweet thing imaginable available in the dining hall. For the last decade, I’ve been stuck on bars—Powerbar, Luna, Clif, Zone, Odwalla, Kashi…you name it, I’ve eaten one or two of them for breakfast over the last decade. I bet I’ve eaten thousands of bars in my lifetime and spent several thousands of dollars on them.

When I stopped eating soy and gluten a couple months ago, my bar options narrowed, and I couldn’t find anything I loved. Larabars all were too sweet for me, and other brands (Pure, Kind, and Bora Bora) only had a couple flavors I could actually stomach. (I pretty much hate all dried fruit, so you can see how this is limiting.) Plus, all of the new bars I liked were almost two dollars each! And so began my experimenting.

After reading through hundreds of recipes, I couldn’t find one that met my requirements. My goal was: soy free, gluten free, a decent amount of protein, no added sugar, lots of chocolate, a little coconut, no cooking/baking required, and high on the yummy factor. Finally, after several weeks of nights (after the kids were in bed) in the kitchen modifying and refining the recipe, I think I got something worth sharing with the world. Here goes:

German Chocolate Cake Breakfast (Dessert/Snack/etc) Bars

Ingredients:

1/2 cup chopped dates

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

2 scoops vanilla whey protein powder

3/4  cup + 2 T walnuts

1/2  cup unsweetened shredded coconut

1/3  cup unsweetened coconut milk

1 T cacao nibs

Instructions:

1)      Chop dates with a cutting board (if not chopped already).

2)      In this order, put cocoa powder, dates, protein powder, 3/4 cup walnuts (save 2 T), and coconut into food processor. Grind/chop until fine. (The order matters because my food processor sprays cocoa powder if I put it in last. Plus, having the dry ingredients surrounding the dates helps so the dates don’t get stuck on the blades.)

3)      Dump mixture from food processor into a bowl. Stir in coconut milk.

4)      Chop last 2 T of walnuts (in food processor or by hand).

5)      Stir in last of walnuts and cacao nibs.

6)      Press mixture into a 1.2 quart glass loaf pan.

7)      Cover and refrigerate for a few hours or overnight.

8)      Slice into 5 bars, and wrap each with aluminum foil.

Nutritional Info per bar (1/5 of recipe):

273 calories, 18 grams fat (5 saturated), 12 grams sugar, 7 grams fiber, 12 grams protein

For the past several weeks, I have been making a batch of these every Sunday night and cutting and wrapping them for the weekdays. I have a coworker/friend who is vegan who plans to try the recipe with vegan protein powder. And, my husband has been begging me to swap the walnuts and coconut for chunky peanut butter for a bar that suits his tastes. I’ll let you know how it goes. In the meantime, try it out yourself—as is or with substitutions. Then, drop me a line, and tell me what you think! Happy Sunday night!

 

Healthy Eating for Toddlers: Tips and Tricks

As with many other areas of toddler life, I think a little one’s eating habits and food preferences can be attributed to a combination of two main things: (1) the hardwiring of the kid and (2) what he or she is offered and how. People may try to tell you that your kid’s preferences for salty French fries or greasy pizza or sugary soft drinks are all your fault. But, it’s just not true. Humans are genetically programmed to prefer salty and sweet and rich, over plain or bitter. That’s just nature. Plus, different people like different stuff, naturally. Still, what we offer our kids, and maybe even more so how we go about doing it, has a huge influence on what they actually eat.

I’ve always been pretty mindful of what I put into my own mouth. Since pregnancy and nursing, I’ve paid even more attention to it. After all, what went into my body went into the peanut growing inside my belly and then into the breast milk that fed the most precious baby I had ever laid eyes on (Yes, of course, I know I’m biased.) Anyway, now that he’s no longer attached directly to what I eat, I’ve been putting the same amount of thought into what goes into my son’s mouth. I look at food as serving two main purposes. It’s (a) fuel for his busy days of exploring and learning and (b) the building blocks for his development. And, call me crazy, but I want high-octane fuel and Grade A blocks for my son. But, how to get him to actually eat the good stuff? That’s the challenge.

Admittedly, like the rest of us parents, I’m still learning. Still, in my experimentation, I’ve found several things that have worked. For now, at least. In case you’re looking for some ideas to get your toddlers to eat healthier, I thought I’d share. Here goes…

  1. Make sure he is hungry. I can thank my doctor for this one. When I was trying to wean my son off my boob and pique his interest in other foods, I was nursing him about every two hours. My doctor suggested to spread him out to 3.5 or 4 hours and to offer him other foods before my breast. My son went from hardly interested in anything, to hungry enough to try it all! Even now, months later, if I feed him less than 3 hours apart, he’s not into eating much of anything except his favorites (mostly dairy).
  1. Fruits and veggies first. This is kind of a no brainer. I mean, think about it. As an adult, if I have both pizza and salad in front of me and I go for the pizza first, I end up not having room for the salad. The same applies to kids. Offer what you want them to eat while they’re super hungry, and before you offer the things that they prefer and that will leave no room for the healthier foods.
  1. Keep all favorites out of sight until nothing else is going down. This goes along with the last one. My son’s favorite food (well, maybe I should say “ingestible thing” because it’s a beverage) is milk. If he even sees the white stuff in his peripheral vision when I open the fridge to pull out something else, it’s all over. It’s the only thing he wants. I make sure to hide it while I’m offering him the things I want him to eat first. (Not that milk is unhealthy, but as I’ve said before, my son would eat only dairy if he could. And, one cannot live on milk, cheese, and yogurt alone…unless he never wants to poop again. Enough said.)
  1. Let him feed himself. I said this months ago when I wrote about my son’s aversion to all baby food. My Jacob will eat a whole cubed kiwi off a fork–that he holds and uses himself. Yet, he will press his lips together and shake his head if I’m the one bringing it to his mouth. At this age, my son is all about independence, learning new skills, and especially being praised. Feeding himself taps into all of these, so it works.
  1. Plan for messy…at least sometimes. I must admit that I am just not that mama—you know, the one who is totally relaxed when her kids get disgustingly dirty. I can’t stand messes. They stress me out. Still, I remind myself that they are an important part of the learning process. It’s one way toddlers explore and discover. When I’m feeling a little less high strung than usual (sometimes this requires a glass of wine), I just let my son go with his messy self. I give him his own spoon and plastic bowl of yogurt or oatmeal. He smashes it, dumps it on himself, puts his hand in the bowl, and sometimes even makes some into his mouth. And, he’s learning…and eating healthy stuff…so I’m okay with it (or at least telling myself I should be.)
  1. Make it a game. I don’t fully understand this one…but my son is slightly obsessed with feeding me. He giggles when I take a bite that he puts in my mouth, and he’ll eat whatever I eat when we play this game. One for me, one for you; those are the rules. Try it with yours and let me know…
  1. Make food into shapes. I mentioned in a previous post that my key to de-constipating my son is making balls of crushed dates and nuts (scroll to the bottom of the post for recipe). He just likes balls right now. Soccer balls, baseballs, Nerf balls, and yes, date/nut balls. Hey, whatever works, right?
  1. Colorful is cool. One of my son’s new favorites is watermelon. (I have to share with you that he calls it “may-yay.” I’m such a proud mama with all his new words lately.) He just likes to look at it. He watches intently as I cut into the bright green shell and reveal its bright pink goodness. He points at whole watermelons at the grocery store, and at cubed pieces in a glass container in our fridge. I think he just likes color: not only is he eating canteloupe, zucchini, bright yellow spaghetti squash, blueberries, strawberries, and watermelon, he’s kicking for them. He’s pointing at them. He likes to hold them and see them. Eating the rainbow of foods is just a bonus.
  1. Healthier is okay when healthiest is not working. We all know that whole, unprocessed, natural foods with no additives are what we’re supposed to be eating. But, in a world where far yummier things exist, those ideal foods are just not going to be eaten 100% of the time. Sure, they’re packed with sodium, but my son loves veggie burgers, turkey sausages, uncured, organic all-beef hot dogs, and many other healthier-than-fast-food-but-not-as-healthy-as-fresh-picked-from-the-farm foods. And, I’m totally okay with that. I know parents who say that the only thing their kids will eat is McDonald’s or frozen chicken nuggets and French fries. While I can empathize to some extent, I just wonder if they’ve tried something in between Mc-ee-dees/Tyson and plain Brussels sprouts. Here are some compromises that have worked for us:
  • Whole grain versions of bread, crackers, bagels, tortillas, English muffins, pasta, rice, cereal, etc.
  • Healthy, prepared foods: there are healthier (natural/organic) versions of everything, including nuggets and fries—look in the health food isle of your grocery store or at your local health-food store
  • Adding a little butter or sprinkling a little salt on the things that won’t go down plain. Yes, I know that saturated fat and sodium aren’t great staples, but a little bit can go a long way when they make the vitamin-rich broccoli appealing.
  1. Change it up. I don’t know if this is just my Jacob or all toddlers…but my son gets tired of the same things. One day, he’ll love, love, love oatmeal, and the next day, he’s pushing away the spoon and saying “all done” before he takes his first bite. (He says this phrase just perfectly now…I’m beaming at the words even when he’s pushing away the food I’ve just prepared.)
  1. Eat whatever you want him to eat in front of him. I have gotten my son to try all sorts of odd, healthy things this way. One of Jacob’s favorite (newish) lines these days is “moh-uh-dat” (more of that), which he says while pointing to whatever I’m feeding myself. He has tried and liked black olives, hummus, and several spicy, curried Indian and Thai take-out dishes this way.
  1. Be persistent. For me, this sort of goes along with the last one. In spite of my husband’s revulsion to their smell, I eat hard-boiled eggs daily. After about ten or so times of asking me for a bite and gagging, one day, my son took a bite of my egg and said “moh” (more). He eats an egg (which he now calls “yay-guh”) almost every day now.
  1. Don’t offer it  (or have it around as an option) if you don’t want him to eat it. To me this is another “no-duh” sort of statement with toddlers. I’ve heard parents say, “once I introduced donuts and pizza, my kids never went back to cereal or sandwiches.” No offense, but…seriously?? I’m not saying never feed your children fast food, because I know whether it’s you on a rough night or grandma and grandpa buttering them up, it’s going to happen sooner or later. But, don’t keep doing it. The majority of kids won’t starve themselves. If I offered Jacob greasy, fried things all the time, he would definitely take them. I just don’t have much of them around. Again…um. Duh.
  1. Don’t eat it in front of him (or let him see it) if you don’t want him to eat it. With my son at least, if he sees almost anything, he wants to put it in his mouth. The problem is that keeping unhealthy things out of his sight is way easier said than done. And, unfortunately, the hard-boiled egg story I just told also applies to mommy’s favorite salt and vinegar potato chips. After several “whuzzat”s (what’s that?), followed by opening his mouth and gagging to the flavor of them on his tongue, my son acquired a taste for their tangy exquisiteness. No kidding. (Thankfully, I have found a healthier alternative: Pop Chips. Just as delicious, but with less fat and fewer calories.) To fully disclose, I should also mention that Jacob became a huge fan of hot fudge (I have a good recipe and make it too often at home) and McDonald’s ice cream this way. (This tip applies to mama’s time of the month and is evidence of her dietary weaknesses…what can I say? If you are stronger than me, please ignore tip #14.)
  1. Prepare foods in advance. Too many times, I’ve been caught empty-handed with a fussy toddler screaming for food. When I can, I make oatmeal and rice; chop fruits, veggies, and cheese; and fill plastic (BPA-free!) bowls of dried cereal, freeze-dried fruit, and whole grain crackers on Sundays before the craziness of the workweek sets in. This way, if I need to grab something quick, I’m armed.
  1. Have something quick on hand even when you haven’t prepared anything. Unfortunately, my little guy is losing interest in Cheerios (which used to be one of my favorite, simplest things to give him.) My new go-to’s, when he’s screaming in hunger and I don’t have anything prepared, are string cheese and Pirate’s Booty. Again, they are not the healthiest things in the world, but they are not the worst. Plus, they buy me time while I prepare the healthy stuff.

And probably my #1 lesson/tip/trick:

  1. Realize that sometimes even the best-intentioned efforts fail. Just like everything else during this wonderful period of toddlerhood, attempts to get my son to eat healthy don’t always work. When he’s teething, really tired or cranky, or for reasons unknown to me, there are times that a meal is just plain (whole, organic, white) milk. And, I’m okay with that. It’s the big picture, not one meal, that makes for that fuel and those building blocks I mentioned earlier.

Let me know if you have any other suggestions! I could always use more, especially during those times when tip #17 is the only one I can apply. Cheers to happy and healthy toddlers!

 

 

Killing two birds with one ball: Two gross stories and a healthy recipe

I’ve had two rather minor, but still pretty annoying, health issues going on in my house lately. And, I think I’ve found a solution to both. Here’s the run down:

Bird #1

I’ve mentioned before that Jacob never quite took to baby food. In spite of countless attempts of everything made for babies, nothing really worked…unless I mixed it with yogurt. In fact, my son has never discriminated against anything in the dairy department. Cheese of all kinds, yogurt of any flavor, and milk are, by far, his very favorite foods. I even can sneak a whole jar of baby vegetables (peas, carrots, or green beans) into an equal amount of yogurt, and he eats it the same. Milk with a liquid vitamin (Polyvisol with iron is what we use) goes down no differently than its white, less nutrient-dense counterpart.

Anyway, as you can imagine, a toddler cannot live on dairy alone (even if it includes a bit of pureed veggies and a shot of vitamins)…especially if he plans to have regular bowel movements, that is. (Sorry for the TMI—I realize that not everyone is as comfortable discussing poo as I am. You should definitely stop reading now,  or at least scroll down to the recipe if you fit into that category, because this post is going to get more disgusting before it gets better.)

Generally, constipation has not been a huge issue with Jacob because, as I said, I can mix veggies into his yogurt. Plus, he’s interested in lots other foods and especially in trying at least some of whatever I’m eating. If I feel he needs to “get things moving”, I eat fruits or veggies or something else fibrous in front of him. He always ends up pointing, asking “uhzzhat” (“what’s that?”), and opening his mouth.

Lately, however, Jacob has begun a boycott of sorts. He refuses any food that he cannot feed himself. This translates into a limited menu of foods that include only those he can (a) grip with his tiny fingers, (b) stab to get onto his own little plastic fork, or (c) scoop up with one of his toddler spoons and make to his mouth without dropping or spilling it all. Mealtime has become a much longer and messier process, and it’s been especially difficult to travel (which we often do on weekends in the summer). His bowel movements have become few and far between. On a bad day, for him, going number two has been a combination of grunts and screams. For me, it has meant either rubbing his bottom nearly raw in attempt to remove the spackle-like substance stuck to it, or having to stick my fingers up his backend to dislodge rock-hard poo that got caught in the exit on its way out. Not fun. Quite horrible actually.

In case you are not grossed out enough…

Bird #2

My husband has been telling me for a while now that I belch like a sumo wrestler. I don’t know if there is such thing as a sumo-wrestler style of belch. However, the imagery sort of speaks for itself. If something coming out of the mouth of someone like me (barely 5 feet tall and about 115 pounds) can paint the picture of obese men bouncing around a ring, then something is very, very wrong. And, it’s true—for the past several years, I’ve had some serious Revenge of the Nerds: Booger/Snotty burping contest quality stuff going on. (Again, sorry for the grossness of this post, but I’m trying to get my points across.) A few years back, I felt so bloated and so much pressure in my chest that I had a bunch of tests done: an upper endoscopy, tests for allergies, and several other related exams. The doctors couldn’t figure out what was going on. Neither they nor I ever really did.

And then there’s my belly. Again, I don’t have a weight problem. I never have. I eat what I consider healthy and exercise regularly for many reasons. Still, now, well over a year after I gave birth, I still look pregnant some days. I get asked if I’ve got another on the way about once every couple of weeks, no joke. And, that’s from the people who lack the tact to hold back from asking the question. I’m sure dozens of others are thinking it. I would be.

When I told a friend of mine about my sumo belching and non-preggers-but-looks-preggers belly, she said “duh, you have a food intolerance.” She suggested I take soy and gluten out of my diet. And, here I am, a few weeks into this soy-free, gluten-free eating plan, and it’s actually going pretty well. One of the biggest challenges has been finding substitutes for the Luna and Kashi bars in my diet, which have both soy and gluten and of which I used to eat about four a day! In attempt to find a good replacement, I’ve been experimenting with various ingredients to create something sweet, portable, and healthy to replace all the bars in my life. (I tried this before with a chocolate covered bar, but those don’t keep too well in the summer.)

In the process of my experimentation, my son has been fascinated with my creations (mostly, I think, because they are in the shape of balls, which he happens to be semi-obsessed with lately.) Thankfully for the two of us, the product of my science is something that works for my sweet tooth and soy-free, gluten-free diet and that is perfect for pushing the poop through his body and all the way into his diaper—minus his grunts or my fingers as pliers.

So, I thought I’d share. Here ya go. Drumroll, please…gluten-free, soy-free, vegan, raw, super yummy…

No-Bake Muffin Balls

Ingredients

1/2 cup dates (packed well into the measuring cup)

1/3 cup raw cashews

1/3 cup raw pecans

2 T raw coconut flour (it’s just coconut ground into flour)

1 t cinnamon

2 t alcohol-free coconut extract (vanilla or other extract works too—alcohol free is key)

2 T water

Instructions

  1. Throw the dates and nuts into a food processor until they are chopped fine.
  2. Toss the date/nut mixture into a bowl with the coconut flour and cinnamon; mix.
  3. Stir in extract and water.
  4. Roll into 1-inch balls. (It makes about a dozen.) I wrap mine individually in plastic wrap or foil (or first plastic wrap, and then foil) so I can take them wherever I go. I’ve found they keep outside the fridge (wrapped as I have shown above in plastic wrap and in a sealed container) for about five days. They probably keep much longer in the fridge.

Nutrition info

Per ball (1/12 of recipe): 75 calories, 4 g fat, 1.5 g protein, 1.5 g fiber.

So, there ya go. They’re portable, healthy, yummy for mommy and kids, and they’re super easy to make. I think I have killed more than two birds with these balls. Let me know if you try them or if you have any ideas for additions or substitutions. I have a special variation with cocoa powder and walnuts that I’ll save for another day.

Until then, try out the recipe. De-constipate your kids. Have a ball.

 

Homeward Bound

To me, the best part about vacation is the break from routine. I stay up a little later to watch a movie or extend an evening out, or I jump under the covers much earlier because I don’t have to pack lunches, do laundry, or finish a bunch of other chores before the next day. A huge perk is I get to spend loads more time with my ever-changing little guy and my semi-neglected husband. Vacation also forces me out of my eating habits and exercise routines in both good and bad ways.

I get into patterns of pretty much the same meals and snacks at the same times every day at work and at home. Eggs, Luna and Kashi bars, string cheese, canned soup, baked (frozen) chicken tenders and sweet potato fries, and salads are some of my current daily menu items. Vacation often reminds me about other foods that I’ve forgotten exist. That’s a good thing when I rediscover broccoli or hummus or seared tuna…not so much, when memories of espresso brownies with fudge frosting and peppermint stick ice cream are revived. And, speaking of ice cream, I am all about it when I’m on vacation. In my world, ice cream is the thing vacations are made of. I guarantee you I will have a chocolate chip cookie dough hot fudge sundae this week. Maybe two. And, I can’t wait!

One other thing that vacations change for me is my workouts. Again, health-wise, it has its pluses and minuses. A change in my exercise rituals is a good thing because it’s nice to surprise my body with something different every once in a while. It’s a break for some of the muscles that get overused and a wake-up call to others that are getting rusty. My vacation exercise style is a not-so-good thing because I get a good amount of variety and weight training in my normal, non-vacation life. I’ve written about the weight-lifting, Zumba, kickboxing, and step-aerobics classes I take and teach and about all there is to love about exercise classes. They are totally what work for me in my day-to-day life. They motivate me to get to the gym, stay there for at least an hour, change up what I do, and keep me coming back for more. When I’m on vacation, I’m still motivated to be active. It’s just that I do what I prefer, which usually involves minimal weights and lots of cardio—because it’s vacation, and I do more of what I like on vacation.

For instance, this morning, I started the day with 45 minutes on the elliptical trainer at our hotel while reading my all-time favorite magazine, Women’s Health. That was the first time I’ve read a magazine in several months…possibly since my last vacation. That was also the first time I’ve hopped onto an elliptical machine in ages. It felt WONDERFUL!

Anyway, as you may have guessed, I’m on vacation. Yesterday afternoon when my husband got off work, we began the 12-hour journey by car from our home in Connecticut to my old stomping ground—Dayton, Ohio. We spend many vacations there with the friends and family I grew up with. In my books, fancy cruises to tropical islands pale in comparison to a good old-fashioned visit to my hometown. And, my husband and I agree we prefer driving to flying—because halfway to our destination, we splurge and stop at a hotel with a pool and premium cable (a luxury for us because we don’t have even basic cable at home). That’s where we are now.

Within the hour, we’re headed out for the second leg of our journey to The Buckeye State, the place I still consider home. I can’t wait to see my friends and family!

Fitting Fresh Fruits and Veggies into Your Life: Six Simple Tips

Yesterday, I spent 30 minutes on a park bench peeling grapes and feeding them to my 1-year-old son. As my hands got stickier and the pile of green peels turned brown in the sun, I thought to myself that I would never be willing to work this hard for my own grapes. Sure, I’ve been known to take my time digging chocolate chip cookie dough chunks out of a pint of Häagen-Dazs or picking M&M’s out of a bag of trail mix. But, when it comes to fruits and veggies, they practically have to jump in my mouth on their own for me to eat them. If I have to wash, peel, cut, and especially cook them each time I eat them, they’re not going to make their way into my diet very often.

We all know we are supposed to eat our fruits and veggies. More and more research shows that they keep us feeling and functioning well and protect us from cancer and other diseases. Plus, they help us maintain a healthy weight. However, few of us actually eat the recommended amount. The thing is, if we play the fruit and veggie game right, they actually can be super quick to squeeze into our day. Here’s how to do it without even cooking anything.

#1    NEVER put fruits and veggies (that you intend to eat fresh) into your refrigerator straight out of the grocery bag. (And definitely not in the bottom drawer or behind other more appetizing and unhealthy stuff!) Why? Two reasons: #1—procrastinating on preparation means they may never get eaten. #2—out of sight, out of mind! Here’s the deal: as soon as you get home from shopping, wash everything using a natural spray that removes dirt, germs, and chemicals (here’s the one I use: http://www.veggie-wash.com/).

#2    Put washed, whole fruits in a bowl in plain sight. This goes for apples, oranges, bananas, peaches, plums, pears, and nectarines. NOTE: only buy enough you and your family will eat in a week because they’ll start to spoil after that.

#3    Peel, chop, package, and store the rest on the front of a refrigerator shelf. Do whatever each requires so it is fully ready to eat. This means peeling and/or cutting peppers, cucumbers, mushrooms, carrots, celery, green beans, radishes, watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew, pineapple. Place in single serving containers or sandwich bags to grab and go when you’re on the run. No matter how you pack them up, make sure the containers don’t get pushed to the back of the fridge where you’ll forget about them!

#4    Have something healthy ready for dipping. In general, I don’t do plain, fresh veggies (although, if you can swing it, more power to you!) I’m all about dips. Here are three of my favorites:

Nut butters. I keep a jar of Skippy Natural peanut butter and a spoon in my desk at work. (Have you tried it? If not, check it out: http://www.peanutbutter.com/natural.aspx. Taste-wise, it’s the closest thing to the unhealthy stuff I ate as a kid, and it’s all natural. Seriously, give it a shot. It will not disappoint.) I spread it on celery sticks and apple slices. Sick of PB? Try almond or cashew butter.

Salsa, hummus, and guacamole. These aren’t just for chips! All three go great on veggies. Look for prepared dips with no preservatives and all natural ingredients. Trader Joe’s has some great options and different varieties of all three! Sliced mushrooms, cucumbers, snap or snow peas, and broccoli and cauliflower florets are some of my favorite dipping veggies. I’m not a huge carrot fan, but baby carrots or sliced carrots are good too.

Super quick Greek yogurt dip. Plain (unsweetened, unflavored) Greek yogurt is where it’s at. (My favorites are http://www.fageusa.com/products/fage-total-0-percent/# and http://www.chobani.com/). It tastes like a mild, sour cream but has way more protein and far less fat. I make my own dip in less than a minute by mixing this yogurt with dried spices (dill, parsley, garlic powder, onion powder, Italian seasoning, all-purpose seasoning, whatever I’m in the mood for) plus a little salt. It makes a tasty, easy dip for any veggie. If you favor sweet over savory, mix this yogurt with berries or banana slices for a rich and creamy dessert.

#5    Bring ready-to-eat fruits and veggies wherever you go. Just like My Buddy and Kid Sister–wherever you go, they go. To work, the park, the mall, everywhere. If you have them handy, you’ll be much more likely to grab them when hunger (or a craving for something way less healthy) strikes.  If you’ve already pre-packed them into small plastic containers or bags, grab berries, grapes, cherry tomatoes, carrots, bell peppers, cucumbers, watermelon, cantaloupe, or pineapple on the way out the door. Bananas and already washed (by you when you walked in the door from the store!) apples, pears, peaches, nectarines, or plums can be thrown into Glad bags and then into your purse, backpack, or briefcase. Place some whole fruit on your desk at work and more fruit plus veggies and dip in the fridge at the office. Don’t forget to pack some napkins or a fork for the sticky ones!

#6    Mix it up. I like to pre-package a variety of veggies together. The more color, the better. If I can find them, I buy orange, yellow, red, and green bell peppers; and blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries. My thought is: the more colorful, the prettier, and the more fun to eat! You can pre-make salads with a rainbow of veggies, or fruit salads in the same way. For a simple fruit salad recipe, click here and scroll down to the middle of the post.

With summer coming, why not add a little color to your life? Happy, fresh, healthy eating!

How Mommy (finally!) Lost Her Belly

I wasn’t one of the lucky ones when it came to losing the post-pregnancy pooch. I have friends who looked exactly like their pre-pregnancy selves within a month or two of giving birth. I remember attending breastfeeding groups where brand new mamas were wearing normal, non-elastic-waistband jeans within a few weeks of popping out their kids. My doctor even told me my stomach would be “back to normal” after two months. Yet, there I was, still looking six-months pregnant, six months after I had given birth. And, to prove it, just a couple months ago, I was approached by one of those completely tactless and nervy people who asked when I was due. (Who says that?!) And, it was totally uncool.

Sure, when I was pregnant, it was cute to have a little round belly. I would thrust my hips forward and lean back to show it off. For the first time in my life, I wanted a belly, and I wanted people to look at it.…

But then, out came baby. And suddenly, the belly wasn’t so cute when baby was on the outside in my arms.

What about diet and exercise?

And, yes, in case you’re wondering, I was doing all the right things—eating what I consider healthy and trying to squeeze in as much physical activity as possible, including weightlifting and daily ab work: crunches and planks, during baby’s naps. I even was down to my pre-pregnancy weight within about two months…but, I still had the belly. In fact, nearly eleven months post-childbirth, my stomach still stuck out. And, frankly, after almost a whole year of waiting for its reformation to its old self, I had given up. At this point, did it even matter? After all, baby was perfect in every way; a puffy and flabby belly was a small price to pay.

Still, although I never obsessed over my no-budge pudge, I also couldn’t avoid the weekly reminder when I taught my step aerobics class. When you have a job that requires you to wear head-to-toe spandex, you can’t help but face the imperfections in your figure! I just assumed Spanx of assorted shapes and colors would be permanent pieces of my wardrobe. Until…

Just say “no” to sweets

My husband decided we were going to do the whole Lenten sacrifice thing this year. Though we were both raised Catholic, neither of us is devout about it these days. We both give our thanks, and he pays his respects to a higher power as he’s paid to sing at various churches. Yet, we don’t practice most of the Catholic traditions. Regardless, we thought each of us giving up an unhealthy habit wasn’t a bad idea. He gave up red meat. For him, that meant no more Five Guys five times a month, a hiatus from hot dogs, ordering pizza without the pepperoni, and a break from beef burritos. As for me, I gave up sweets…sort of.

Instead of my post-lunch peppermint patties, mid-afternoon vanilla lattes, or after-dinner hot fudge sundaes, I found substitutes to satisfy my sweet tooth: a banana mixed with plain Greek yogurt, a Fuji or Mutsu apple, or a Larabar (a combination of mostly dates and nuts–see http://www.larabarstore.com/detail/LAR+45339 for my new favorite.) And, my plan was to have one treat of anything sugar once a week. This ended up being a huge (think family-size) espresso brownie with fudge frosting the first week (that probably made up for the majority of sugar and calories I consumed the whole week…but, hey, it wasn’t easy at first, what can I say?) The rest of the weeks, I had a vanilla latte every weekend. And, much to my surprise…

Drumroll, please…

Besides feeling a little better about my choices and reducing my sugar intake by a ton, my pants started fitting differently! By Easter weekend, I could wear some of my snug tops, pants, skirts, and dresses again without looking pregnant. And, yesterday, for the first time since eight months ago when I got back to teaching aerobics, I stepped into class without my Spanx (and did a little victory dance when a couple participants in my class asked if I had lost weight.)

So, there you go, that’s my true story. Now that Easter’s come and gone, we’ll see if I can maintain my healthier dessert choices. I do have to say though, that my belly is not exactly what it used to be. Looking at my largeness (see picture above–is there a watermelon in there?!) at 40 weeks, I’m reminded that my stomach has been stretched in ways I never would thought possible. It’s no wonder it’s the first thing to swell when my sweet tooth gets the best of me. And, I don’t even want to think about what happens to my mid-section if I have another kid. But, in the meantime, I think I can do this. If I can have a baby, eat my cake once a week, and have a flat (flattish) tummy too, then why not?

Official Survivor of Another Holiday without Husband or Family

Phew! Finally. Both kids are in bed, and mommy’s about to follow suit. I’m proud to say I made it through the holiday weekend, which, for me, started Thursday night. If you are a church musician or in close company with one, you know the madness of Christmas and Easter. For my husband, the hours upon hours of rehearsals and services (and the commutes to and fro) began on Thursday evening and ended late tonight (he still isn’t home). I’ve seen him about two hours total over the past 72 hours, and it’s been rough! That, on top of living hundreds of miles away from any family, can make the holidays, especially with a baby, challenging.

But, yes, we made it through..and with flying colors actually! Even Easter itself went pretty well considering I was limited on the family factor on a typically family-oriented day. I thought I’d share a few of the successes…

During baby’s morning nap, I made two dishes to bring to Easter brunch at a friend’s house. Without knowing how long baby would stay down, I started with a simple fruit salad, which is my standard response to bring-a-dish-to-share events. I vary the types of fruit I use, but this is what it looked like today…

Fruit Salad

Ingredients:

1/2 cantaloupe

1 medium green or yellow apple ( I used Mutsu)

1 medium red apple (I used Fuji)

1 lemon (or equivalent of lemon juice)

1 cup large green grapes—halved

1 cup small red grapes

6 oz pack blueberries

6 oz pack raspberries

Instructions:

  1. Wash all fruit.
  2. Cut cantaloupe into cubes and place in large bowl.
  3. Dice apples and add to bowl.
  4. Squeeze juice from half of lemon over mixture. Stir.
  5. Cut green grapes in half and add to bowl.
  6. Add red grapes and blueberries. Stir well.
  7. Add raspberries and juice from rest of lemon. Stir gently. *Because the raspberries are fragile, they should go in last after everything else has been mixed thoroughly.

And, voilá! Yummy fruit salad that serves 12 (comfortably, with generous portions.) And, the lemon juice keeps everything from turning brown. Even after sitting out on a dessert table for about 30 minutes, all the fruits kept their bright colors!

Dish #1 accomplished, and still not a peep from the baby monitor! Onto dish #2…

Zucchini Bake

I got this one from a friend and fellow blogger. You can find the recipe at http://primalbree.wordpress.com/2011/04/22/zucchinis-bake-and-sprinting/.

I have to be honest about this though. Although I had good intentions to stick with the original recipe, as is the norm for me and cooking, I kind of messed it up. This time, I’ll blame in on the EXTREME rush I was in due to the unpredictability of baby’s naps. Knowing it was only a matter of minutes before baby was up and needing to be fed, changed, and entertained, I was working as fast as possible!

Here are the amendments I made (under pressure) to the original recipe (link above):

  1. One intentional change: because one of the two families attending the brunch was vegetarian, I substituted veggie sausage (made mostly from soy) for the pork. (And, I believe this completely removed the primal-ness from the recipe. Bree, I hope you’re not offended!)
  2. After dumping one pound of the zucchini in my largest pan, the pan was full, and baby was stirring. In a pinch, I decided to half the zucchini.
  3. I totally forgot to heed the moisture reminder and did not paper towel the zucchini.
  4. Because I took out a whole pound of zucchini, I decided I needed to make up for the space; so, I added an extra egg. (Plus, I was excited about my newfound knowledge on the health benefits of eggs.)
  5. I used an 8” X 8” pan—because that’s all I had!
  6. I took it out of the oven three minutes early because it was browning (probably due to all the mistakes I made in the recipe!)

And, in spite of all those changes, it still came out AMAZING! Bree, I’m proposing a new name: can we call this “Never Fail Zucchini Bake”? (The only minor problem I had—again, likely due to my inability to follow a recipe—was it stuck to the pan. Next time I’ll butter it.) Everyone at the brunch (folks covering three generations starting at 10 months old) LOVED it! Thanks again, Bree, for sharing!

And, finally…

Tie-Dye Easter Eggs

Before we left for brunch, stepson and I finished coloring the eggs we started last night using a low-mess process I found online: http://familyfun.go.com/crafts/tie-dye-easter-eggs-670296/. (If you’re not into bowls of color that tip and splash, then try this one out. Basically, you place eggs in a colander in the sink, splatter vinegar on them for the tie-dye effect, add a drop of food color to each egg, shake, and then add a different color. Done.)

All of that before brunch and with mommy flying solo! Thankfully, I had food, friends, and a long walk to the park to help me recover from the morning flurry. I’m glad Easter only happens once a year!

The Truth about Bunnies and Eggs

Bunnies

“Is the Easter Bunny real or just some dude dressed in a costume?”

This question, posed by my 7-year-old stepson, is how yesterday evening began. My back was turned toward him as I pulled food coloring out of the cabinet so we could begin our adventures in egg coloring that I had told him would commence once baby was down for the night (7PM). And, so, there I was, frozen, not knowing exactly how to answer.

“What do you think?” was the best thing I could come up with as he stood there waiting.

“Well, my teacher says he’s real. That’s her hypothesis…her educated guess. Is she right?”

Kids?! Okay…hmmm…should I lie? What would his mom, his grandparents, his favorite auntie want me to say? (And, if any of you are reading this post, please fill me in.)

“What about your mom? What does she say about the Easter Bunny?”

“I’ve never asked her,” he replied quickly. I received the same answer when I asked about the opinions of Dad, Nana, Papa, and Auntie.

“Well, what do they say about Santa Claus? Have you ever asked them if Santa Claus is real?”

“No, I don’t have to. Santa Claus is real. But, we’re talking about the Easter Bunny. What about him?” Okay, so back to square one. I started picking up the food colors one by one and sort of shuffling them around, pretending I was too busy to answer him.

“Huh? Is he real or not?”

“What about other kids? What do they think?”

“They say he is real. Is he?”

I took the easy way out. “I don’t think I’m the best person to ask. Do you want to make these eggs or what?”

And, we did. Score one for stepmom. Sort of. At least I diverted his attention successfully and got out of it.

Before the above took place, I had decided to blog today on the health benefits of eggs. But, before I jump in, I thought I’d throw a question out to readers of this blog. That is, if you are out there? How did you, do you, will you approach the truth about the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, and the Tooth Fairy?

Eggs

But now, for the meat of today’s post (or the protein at least): eggs. For those of us who celebrate Easter, eggs are on our mind this weekend! Coloring them, cooking them for Easter brunch, or giving them to baby as a toy (okay, maybe that’s just me? Jacob has taken a keen interest in the way hard-boiled eggs spin lately, and I’m all about it. The more “toys” like these he finds, the fewer actual toys I need to buy.)

Anyway, I thought I’d do a little research on the incredible edible. Here’s what I found out when I took a closer look:

  1. Eating them is nothing new. People eating eggs is part of ancient history! Historic records show that humans have been domesticating birds and eating their eggs since 3200 B.C.
  2. Americans aren’t the only ones eating them for breakfast. Eggs are a common breakfast food around the world—not just in the United States. Canada, UK, Russia, Australia, Central America, France, Turkey, Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, and India all include eggs as one of their breakfast staples.
  3. They’re packed with vitamins and minerals. They contain at least 14 nutrients essential for our bodies to function, including iron, high-quality protein, and healthy fats—all of that for only 70 calories a pop.
  4. They’re good for our brains and eyes. The nutrients they contain help our brains function better and can help prevent macular degeneration.
  5. Their bad rap is not supported by science. This one gets a little technical. Eggs are high in cholesterol. However, only a small amount of that goes into our blood. The saturated fats and trans fats we eat affect cholesterol levels more than the cholesterol we eat. Tens of studies on the topic show that eating 1 to 2 eggs per day does not raise cholesterol or risk for heart disease or stroke.
  6. Having them for breakfast could help us lose weight. More than one research study shows that they keep us feeling full longer than other breakfast foods so that we end up eating fewer calories the rest of the day and in turn, lose weight.
  7. Eat one after a workout for strength and muscle repair. Eggs provide all of the body’s essential amino acids, which are responsible for muscle repair and growth.
  8. The yolk is where it’s at. This is for all you egg-white-omelet-ordering folks out there. Yes, the yolk has the cholesterol and the fat, but it also has most of the nutrients, including half of the protein.   
  9. Mamas should eat them. Egg yolks have lots of choline, a necessary nutrient for pregnant and breastfeeding women because of its effects on babies’ brain development and on preventing birth defects. Mama or mama-to-be can meet half of her daily choline requirement in just two eggs a day.
  10. Babies can eat them.  The old recommendation was that babies shouldn’t eat eggs or should only eat the yolk because the whites are highly allergenic. According to a new recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics, there’s no need to delay the introduction of allergenic foods. Unless baby has a history of allergies, he probably is fine to eat eggs. And, with all the nutrients (see #3 above) to foster baby’s health and development, he should.

Unfortunately, none of the above applies to eggs of the Cadbury or Reese’s variety. Sorry!

And, finally, in the spirit of Easter:

How to Make Perfect Hard-Boiled Eggs

I make (and eat) at least a half dozen hard-boiled eggs a week. Because I make them EVERY week, I’ve learned to perfect the recipe according to my tastes. Here’s what I do for an egg that is peelable, with a yolk that is never dry, green, gray, or stinky (well, okay, all hard-boiled eggs stink a little)!

  1. Place eggs (straight from the fridge) in a single layer in an uncovered saucepan.
  2. Cover them with one inch of cold water.
  3. Set the burner heat to high.
  4. As soon as eggs begin to boil, remove from burner, and cover the pan.
  5. Let eggs stand in hot water for 12 to 18 minutes depending on how you like them and how large they are (For me, it’s 12 minutes for large eggs—I like them a little soft in the middle—and 16 minutes for baby, who isn’t supposed to eat them soft.)
  6. Immediately run cold water over the eggs to cool. I run the water as I’m straining (to avoid cracking), then keep straining and filling the pot until the eggs are cool.
  7. Eat, refrigerate, or cover in pretty colors!

(Optional #8, give to baby to roll around.)

Happy Easter!

References and where to go for more info:

http://www.getcracking.ca/

http://ezinearticles.com/?What-People-Around-the-World-Eat-For-Breakfast&id=2572202

http://www.incredibleegg.org/egg-facts/basic-egg-facts/history-of-egg-production/from-ancient-times

http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/cholesterol/HQ00608

http://www.parenting.com/article/are-eggs-healthy-for-babies

A (Yummy but Healthy) Recipe for Breaking A Bar Habit

A good part of my diet lately consists of store-bought bars. As I have a major sweet tooth, am often in a hurry, and usually am trying to make some semblance of a healthy choice, bars are my go-to breakfast, snack, and dessert. I eat up to three a day:  Luna, Lara, Kashi, Zone—whatever I have on hand or whatever is in stock at the gas station on my way to work.

In saying I want to break away from bars, I realize that they aren’t really that bad—most of the ones I eat contain natural ingredients and a good amount of protein and fiber. However, in reflecting lately on what is healthy eating and the fact that I often spend over $20 per week on my bar habit, I figured I could maybe make some better choices…but what?

Well, I guess, my breakfast bar (my new favorite Luna bar—Chocolate Dipped Coconut—say my name! http://lunabar.com/products/bars/chocolate_dipped_coconut/) could be replaced with a hard-boiled egg and a banana, my pre-lunch snack bar (more Luna—this time Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough: http://lunabar.com/products/protein/cookie_dough/) could be replaced with trail mix or a couple string cheeses, and my post-lunch dessert mid-afternoon slump bar (moving into the Zone with dark chocolate strawberry: http://zoneperfect.com/products/ZonePerfect-Dark-Chocolate-Strawberry) could be replaced with an apple with peanut butter. But, let’s be honest: I understand my options, people. And, there are days I go for the real food—I bring yogurt, fruit, cheese, and nuts to work with good intentions. I just…like…bars, especially chocolate covered ones! When they’re handy, that’s what I eat.

But, instead of continuing to justify my habit, tonight, after I put baby to bed, I decided to explore other options—to make my own bar. I wanted something with protein, fat, and fiber to keep me full, but with chocolate coating on the outside to keep things yummy. After searching online for about 30 minutes, when nothing really was jumping out at me, I made up my mind to do a little experimenting. Fortunately, things worked out! Here’s what happened:

(Healthy!) Ingredients:

I forgot the eggs in the picture but not in the mixture!

1 cup sliced almonds

1/2 cup chopped walnuts

1/2 cup pecans

1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

3 eggs

1/3 cup almond butter

1/2 cup unsweetened dried blueberries

Canola oil cooking spray

3 cups (1.5 bags) of chocolate chips (I used Ghiradelli 60% Bittersweet Baking Chips)

(Pretty simple!) Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  2. Ground nuts (including coconut) in food processor until fine.
  3. In medium bowl, combine nuts with eggs and almond butter until a well mixed batter.
  4. Stir in blueberries.
  5. Spray 8” x 8” baking pan with canola oil cooking spray.
  6. Mash mixture into pan.
  7. Bake at 325 degrees for 15 minutes.
  8. Cool by either refrigerating overnight or putting in the freezer for an hour. (The goal is to get them nice and hard and cold so they don’t fall apart when you cover them with melted chocolate.)

    before the chocolate...

  9. Cut into bars. (I cut into 40 mini-bars. That’s one thing I’ve always disliked about store-bought bars—they all are roughly the same size, which of course I always finish, even if all I want is a taste of something sweet. With my own bars, I went with smaller so I have the option of stopping there.)
  10. Melt 1/2 of chocolate in microwave safe bowl (I do 30 seconds, stir with a fork, 30 more seconds, stir with a fork, and then a final 15 seconds.)
  11. Coat bars by dropping into bowl of chocolate and flipping with fork until covered.
  12. Place chocolate coated bars on wax paper until hardened. (Note: do not refrigerate bars after they are covered with chocolate—I did this with a few and the chocolate separated and turned into a weird texture. Room temperature—70 degrees at my house—hardened the rest just fine.)
  13. (Repeat steps 9 through 11 with second half of the chocolate)
  14. Eat now or wrap each bar in foil and take with you wherever you go!

I imagine you could get creative with this and add spices, cocoa powder, vanilla extract, or substitute different types of nuts or dried fruit….but these ingredients are what I had on hand. Please try this out and let me know what you think!

Oh, and in case you’re counting…Nutrition info:

Bite-size bar (1/40th of the batch): 128 calories, 10 grams fat, 3 grams protein, 2 grams fiber, 6 grams sugar.

And, one more thing, these taste great with coconut coffee! (That is, if you’re the kind of person who likes flavored coffee—I’m a HUGE fan!)

My baby hates baby food!

I remember the first time I offered Jacob something other than breast milk. Somewhere near his four-month mark, I mixed a teeny, tiny bit of organic, brown rice baby cereal in with my pumped milk. When I put the watery mixture on a spoon to Jacob’s mouth, he gagged. When I did it again, he cried. I decided he was too young.

A few weeks later, we tried again. And again. And again. We waited a few more weeks and then gave it another shot. No luck.

What the Experts Say

When I went online, I kept seeing that it takes babies fifteen to twenty tries of a food before a preference can be developed. I heard from my pediatrician and read in baby books that we were supposed to start with rice cereal thinned with breast milk, then thicken it, then slowly move on to pureed vegetables, and then fruits. We were to stick diligently to the same food for five days in a row before switching to a new one, to ensure he didn’t have an allergic reaction.

What Everyone Else Said

“Try mixing the cereal with fruit or sugar. Babies love sweet!” was one suggestion we heard over and over. Nope, not Jacob.

“Are you sure you’re starting out with the cereal thin enough?” Yep, nice and watery.

“Maybe it’s too watery? Have you tried making it a bit thicker?” Check…he hated that too.

“Have you tried giving him other baby foods? He probably just doesn’t like the cereal.”

And, so began the daily trials: pears, apples, carrots, sweet potatoes, green beans, squash, beef, chicken… We offered each new food several times a day in five-day blocks. I even tried making my own baby food. You name it; he wanted none of it. He responded with nothing but gags and cries. I kept thinking, “How is this possible? Baby food is made for babies.”

By the end of Jacob’s seventh month, I began to wonder if I was going to be nursing him for the rest of my life. What happens if baby only likes mama’s milk…forever? I laid in bed picturing him in junior high school pulling a baby bottle full of my pumped milk out of his lunch sack in the school cafeteria.

The Turning Point

As Jacob was approaching eighth months old, we went on vacation. I decided I was getting too stressed about Jacob’s non-eating habits, so I didn’t bring any baby food with me. In the small kitchen of our cabin in the mountains, I put a bowl of chopped salad vegetables on the table next to the Pack ‘n Play that Jacob was standing in. And, he began reaching for a red bell pepper cube. Just out of curiosity, I peeled off the skin and took a little corner of the pepper and put it to his mouth. He smiled, smacked his lips, and reached for more! When I tried a tiny sliver of cucumber, he did the same thing. Next it was cheese, and then the chicken I had sautéed to go on top of the salad. I sat and stared, bewildered. I thought to myself, “I’m breaking all the rules.”

Within that week, Jacob tried and liked tens of foods. And, if we kept giving him the same thing for more than a couple of days (to follow the 5-days-of-the-same rule), he got bored and stopped eating it.

Where are we now?

Four months later, Jacob still hates baby food. I’ve held onto several (not cheap, organic) jars I bought and will test one on him every now and again. His aversion hasn’t changed.

So, where are we with eating as Jacob nears his first birthday? Here are some of his favorite foods:

Oatmeal with cinnamon and milk

Cheese cubes dipped in hummus

Lentil Soup (homemade or from the can)

Plums (peeled)

Chicken cooked any way

Zucchini (cooked until soft and then sliced)

Broccoli (sautéed or boiled)

Whole wheat bread

Tofu

Yogurt

Whole grain basmati rice with butter

Pretty much anything on mommy’s plate, fork, or tongue

The Keys to Getting the Food Down?

It’s been quite the learning process, but here’s what has worked:

Eating with him. Whatever I’m eating, he wants to try it. Today, he ate several cubes of watermelon, almost a whole slice of the leftover whole wheat zucchini and parmesan pizza I made last night, about a third of my veggie burger, and about a quarter of my stir fried veggies. When he’s eating in his highchair, I pull up my own chair in front of him. He offers some to me sometimes before he’ll take his first bite. Almost always, if I eat it, he follows suit.

Letting him do it. Sometimes when I’m feeding Jacob from a spoon, he just refuses to eat. As soon as I switch over to foods he can feed himself, he’s back in the game. I don’t know why, but some days he simply doesn’t want any help.

I do it. There are other times when I know he’s hungry but he’s not picking up any of the finger foods I’ve offered. It reminds me of the feeling I have sometimes when my stomach is growling at the end of a long day and I can’t muster the energy to prepare myself something to eat. Every once in a while, I have to put a few pieces of food to Jacob’s lips before he realizes he wants it. Even less frequently than that, I have to feed him his whole meal.

Spicing it up. Seriously? Yes! Jacob prefers his oatmeal with cinnamon. He likes garlicky hummus, and lentil soup with lots of onions. I make a yogurt dip with cucumber and dill that he loves. If he doesn’t seem to like the plain version of something after I’ve offered it several times, I always try adding a little twist: cinnamon, a squeeze of lemon, a sprinkle of garlic, etc.

Giving him a mommy-size version. Diced pears, peaches, apples? Jacob’s face tells me “not a chance” every time. However, if I peel a soft pear or nectarine and give him the whole piece of fruit, he takes little baby bites until most of it is gone! (I make sure to stay close enough to keep my eye on what he gnaws off. Although Jacob has always spit out anything that is too big for him to chew, I realize he could choke.)

Yogurt surprise. One thing Jacob kicks his legs and squeals over is flavored yogurt: vanilla, banana, blueberry, peach—he gobbles them all up. With the many jars of baby food I had left from the first few painful months of trying to get him to eat, I decided to do a little experimenting. Funny enough, he’ll gladly eat some (not all) of the foods he absolutely refuses by themselves…if  they are mixed with yogurt. I can do a 50/50, veggie to yogurt mix with Gerber green beans or squash, and he’ll gladly accept.

The bonus of all this is:

  1. It’s no longer stressful to get Jacob to eat, and he still gets the nutrients he needs!
  2. I don’t have to buy or prepare separate foods for baby (although I’ve wasted a good amount trying to get him to eat it and will be giving away the rest he hasn’t touched.)
  3. It’s making me think a little more about my own eating habits. When I know Jacob is going to dive for everything I stick in my mouth, I want to make sure I’m making healthy choices.
  4. I see an end in sight to my nursing days. As much as I will likely hold onto breastfeeding as long as I can, it’s a comfort to know I won’t be pumping and packing my breast milk in his school lunches down the road.

Out of all the moms I know (including friends, coworkers, acquaintances, my mother, aunts, grandmother, and in-laws), not a single one had this issue, so I thought I’d share in case it hits home with anyone else. If you’re in my boat, give up on the baby food for a day and see if baby likes mommy food. You may be surprised. Who wants to eat mushed up everything anyway… even if all the other babies are doing it?