Calling all fall fanatics: some links worth sinking your teeth into

Yesterday morning, I met up with a friend from Oxygen Fitness Studio for coffee. Both of us were anticipating our first cup o’ pumpkin spice joe of the season.

While we wandered around the shop, coffee in hand, I came across some cinnamon-scented pine cones. This immediately made me think of my dear D.C. roommate and close friend, Jackie. Each fall, she bought a bunch of these pine cones to place in a bowl on our dining-room table. I’ll never forget the cozy scent that permeated our two-bedroom apartment. She also baked the best pumpkin chocolate chip cookies, which she so sweetly shared with me. I didn’t like to cook or bake six years ago, so I don’t think I returned the favor as often as I should’ve!

I’ve always admired Jackie’s ability to find pleasure in the simple things, among many other traits, so her love for all things fall rubbed off on me. She also has this amazing ability to meter her intake of Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Lattes – a skill that I used to seriously lack until my weight loss journey began in 2012. Last fall was my first PSL-free fall. I’m all about moderation, but, when moderation exposes me to temptation, my strategy shifts to avoidance.

Before fall begins (unofficially next Tuesday, after Labor Day, and officially September 23), I’d like to share links to a few healthier pumpkin recipes, which aren’t your typical pumpkin pie or pumpkin roll. I can’t wait to try these throughout the season!

  • Pumpkin Protein Shake (from Love Grows Wild): My family, friends and clients know how much I love my daily meal-replacement shake, which I drink for breakfast. I drink the chocolate flavor to help with curbing my cravings, but I think that this recipe is worthy of switching things up!
  • Skinny Pumpkin Overnight Oats in a Jar (from SkinnyTaste): I really got into overnight oats a couple of years ago. The process of preparing them is similar to cooking with a crockpot: you can fix and forget them while they “cook” – well, in this instance, soak. They’re also great for grabbing and going and look adorable in a mason jar. I prepare mine in mini Pyrex bowls. I haven’t had them in more than a year, so I look forward to reintroducing them to my diet with this recipe!
  • Pumpkin Spice Protein Pancakes (from Dashing Dish): A local diner has some stupid-awesome sweet potato pancakes, so I’m curious how pumpkin measures up! You can’t go wrong with the calories per serving!
  • Healthy Maple Glazed Pumpkin Muffins (from Pinch of Yum): I like that Lindsay follows the rule of halves with this recipe – half of the sugar, oil and bleached flour (half subbed with whole wheat). While the glaze sounds amazing, I plan on eating them without.
  • Healthy Pumpkin Zucchini Chocolate Chip Bread (from Ambitious Kitchen): It’s been a hot minute since I’ve had zucchini bread!  However, the stuff I’ve had before lacked pumpkin and chocolate chips. Monique not only shared how she lightened up this recipe using honey (you could also try maple syrup), minimal oil and almondmilk, but she also shared an important message, which I’ll sum up with my favorite quote: “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”
  • Simple Pumpkin Soup (from Minimalist Baker): Since my recent discovery of my love of kale (yes, I know I’m very late to the party), the garlic kale sesame topping really piqued my interest. If I like butternut squash soup, I assume that means that I’ll also like pumpkin soup, seeing as both are squash with a similar consistency and color.
  • Low Fat Pumpkin Cheesecake (from Recipe Girl): I love everything about the name of this recipe. Low fat. Pumpkin. AND Cheesecake. I’m thinking that this may go really nicely with my mother-in-law’s amazing pecan pie at Thanksgiving.

For a comprehensive list of pumpkin recipes, check out 50 Pumpkin Recipes from SkinnyTaste).

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Healthier version of the 90’s kid’s favorite lunch food

Click here to watch our August 16 segment on WJBF News Channel 6!

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School has started in many places, but it’s never too late to rethink what we’re packing in our kids’ lunches.

While nutrition is my first priority when it comes to choosing what to eat, I’m all about reducing the barriers that keep people from eating healthfully. I do that by making food that is affordable and convenient (aka quick and easy) to make.

When cooking for kids, sometimes it’s important to consider a third criteria: food has to look fun and colorful!

I can hear the eyes of every parent reading this roll.

Stay with me!

Kids also love finger foods and being involved in putting them together. Before I go any farther, I want to make three things clear. Although I’m not a mother yet:

  1. I’m not recommending that kids play with their food.
  2. I believe in raising kids to be flexible and adaptable while being free thinkers.
  3. What I’m about to show you IS NOT A KIDS’ BENTO BOX! (Google it. I dare you.)

Soapbox moment: I’m not a fan of these or other Pinterest creations, despite being an overt perfectionist. I don’t like what they do to the covert perfectionists out there. Instead of finding enjoyment in crafts that bring their kids joy, covert perfectionists approach such things with a tremendous amount of pressure all in the name of competing for their kids [and sometimes other parents’] praise, which ends in extreme guilt. After all of that work and stress, this type of perfectionist is left feeling like their kid’s jumbled-up Bento Box.

CRUSHED.

*Steps down from soap box*

Back to my point about kids loving finger foods…

Food for kids must be fun and colorful for this reason: While at school, kids are left to their own devices to eat what they’re going to eat at lunchtime. If they don’t eat their lunch, then they don’t get proper nourishment. This not only impacts their physical health but also their mental health – their ability to learn.

When I was a kid, one particular lunchtime favorite captured hearts through its affordability and convenience: Lunchables. However, they were a public health nightmare for their poor nutrition profile, which includes saturated fat, processed meat, excess sodium and the laundry list goes on.

Somehow we survived, but I don’t want to settle for that for my own kids – in more ways than just health-wise! While I’m going to be a working mom someday, I want to take the time to show my kids that they’re worth my extra effort with putting together a thoughtful meal (within reason, of course). Here’s an example of one that hits all of the marks: affordable, convenient and fun/colorful! It’s a win-win!

Mini English Muffin Pizzas

Serves 1

Ingredients:

  • 1 toasted open-faced whole wheat or multi-grain English Muffin

I eat light multi-grain.

  • ½ cup homemade pasta sauce

There are a lot of quick and easy recipes out there. If you must use store-bought sauce, watch out for sodium and sugar. The recommended daily allotment for sodium for most children is about 1,500 milligrams. The recommended daily allotment for sugar for children ages 1-4 is no more than 25 grams, and the recommended daily allotment for children and adults age 4 and older is no more than 50 grams. A serving of red sauces is typically ½ cup, but always check that first when comparing labels.

  • 2 Tbsp. part-skim reduced-fat mozzarella cheese

Additional toppings (optional):

Vegetables:

  • 2 pinches of bell pepper, diced
  • 2 pinches of mushrooms, diced

Protein:

  • 2 Tbsp. lean ground turkey (93 percent lean/7 percent fat), cooked, one on each half
  • 2 Tbsp. reduced-sodium/nitrate-free ham, diced

Instructions:

  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a small baking sheet with aluminum foil, and spray it with oil. Slice the English Muffin in half, and place it crust side down on the baking sheet. Bake or toast until toasted (about 10 minutes). Remove from oven and allow to cool. Once cooled, place in container.
  2. Package the sauce, cheese and additional toppings separately, and the rest is up to your child!

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