Fat is not a 4 letter word

Fat has gotten a bad rap, but to tell the truth, not all fat is equal and not all fat is bad for you! Here are 5 good things about the food group we love to hate, or hate to love, or something like that.

  1. Fat protects our internal organs, and helps us to maintain a steady body temperature.
  2. Omega 3 Fatty Acids are essential, meaning we must get them from the foods we eat. They can be found in cold water fatty fish, breast milk, walnuts, and some infant formulas. Omega 3s are important in the health of our cell membranes and they can reduce the risk of heart disease. One Omega 3 in particular, DHA,  is extremely important in the brain development of infants and maintenance of brain tissues in adults.
  3. Omega 6 Fatty Acids are also essential. They help with the clotting of blood which is very important if you cut yourself by accident. These can be found in eggs, poultry and vegetable oils.
  4. Monounsaturated fats can reduce cholesterol levels. These fats are found in olive oil, sunflower oil, pecans, pistachios, almonds, sesame and sunflower seeds, eggs, dark chocolate, and certain cheeses (like Parmesan).
  5. Polyunsaturated fats also can reduce cholesterol levels. These are found in cold water fish and plant oils, such as flaxseed oil.

Fats should still be eaten sparingly and some fats should be avoided altogether. Trans fats or partially hydrogenated oils are fats that have been altered to have a longer shelf-life. They can increase LDL’s (bad cholesterol) and decrease HDL’s (good cholesterol) and increase your risk for cardiovascular disease. Trans fats are found in baked goods (read the label), margarine, and fried foods. A food label can say 0 trans fat if the food has less than 0.5 grams of trans fat. Read the ingredients list. If any of the ingredients start with “partially hydrogenated,” that’s trans fat.

 

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Foodie Friday: Brown Bag Special

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To keep with our theme of “back-to-school,” let’s talk about lunch. Some schools have excellent lunch food, but many kids (and parents) prefer to bring their lunches with them. As parents, we all want our kids lunches to be healthy and safe, but we also want them to be EATEN. If your kid is picky like mine, you know how frustrating it can be to throw their food away on an almost daily basis. Here are some tips for making lunches healthy, safe, and interesting for those precious kiddos, while staying organized for your own sanity.

Keep it Healthy and Safe

  • Brown paper bags are cheap and convenient, but will not keep your precious baby’s lunch safe because many schools will not have a refrigerator for lunches brought from home. An insulated lunch box/bag with ice packs is a much safer option for keeping lunches at the proper temperature.
  • When certain foods stay between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit for too long, bacteria have the opportunity to grow to an unsafe level. It’s easy to put an ice pack in an insulated bag to keep foods cool. It is much more difficult to keep hot foods hot, so it is best to only include foods that are eaten at room temperature or cold. If you do find a container that will keep foods hot, try it out at home first by placing hot food in, waiting four hours (or the amount of time between lunch packing and lunch time) and then test the temperature using a meat thermometer.
  • Include a protein source like meat, nuts, or nut butters. Check with your school for policies about peanut butter. Some schools may prefer that it not be included due to allergies.
  • Include a fruit and a vegetable.
  • Include one dairy product- cheese, yogurt, or milk. * If you choose cheese slices, make sure the package reads “cheese” and not “cheese food.” Read the ingredients list to see if it is made from milk. Not all American cheese singles are made equal.

Keep it Fun and Interesting

Instead of a plain old sandwich day after day, try mixing it up. If you do make a sandwich, a fun surprise would be to cut the sandwich with a large cookie cutter in a kid-friendly shape. Here are some fun lunch ideas for kids:

  • Wraps: Anything rolled up in a tortilla is fun and easy to eat. Wraps are great because there are a variety of different tortillas available, and they can be filled with just about anything you want. Some of my favorites are
    • Hummus wraps- a nice helping of hummus spread on a whole wheat tortilla with lettuce, cucumber, and tomato.
    • Cream cheese roll-ups: Cream cheese spread on any variety of tortilla and rolled up with your child’s favorite veggies. Carrots, cucumbers, and bell pepper strips work well. The fun thing about cream cheese roll-ups is the infinite variety. Different flavors of cream cheese, different veggies and different tortillas keep this one interesting.
    • Deli meat, mayo or mustard, and cheese wrapped up in a tortilla.
    • If your child likes salad, wrap up a salad.
    • Tuna wrap
    • Chicken salad wrap
    • Pizza wrap- as long as your little one will eat it cold, wrap up some pepperoni, mozzarella cheese, and marinara sauce in a tortilla.
  • Tuna or chicken salad with crackers or some type of roll (dinner roll, sweet roll, crescent roll)
  • Ham sushi- wrap pieces of cheddar or colby-jack cheese with ham or another lunch meat so that it looks like sushi.
  • Salad with hard-boiled egg, tomatoes, and bite-size chicken pieces

Keep it Organized

There is a simple formula for a well-balanced lunch box.
Protein source + Grain + Fruit or Veggie + Somethin’ Special + Drink
To keep all of this quick and easy, it might take some time up front.

  • On Sunday, wash and cut up all of your veggies and fruits. Pack them in individual containers such as snack size zip-top baggies or small plastic containers with lids. Store these all together in the fridge. You could buy small storage bins/baskets if  you want to get really fancy!
  • Buy individually wrapped cheese snacks/sticks or cut your own and package like the fruits and veggies. Again, store these together in the fridge.
  • Wrap your wraps, build your sandwiches, and box up your salads (or whatever main dishes you choose) You’ll need five (for five days) for each kid who will be taking lunches to school. Store these together in the fridge.
  • Do the same packaging with crackers or any other treats like cookies, dessert cakes, and the like and keep together in the pantry.
  • Be sure to stock up on individual juice boxes, bottles of water, or milk for drinks.

Once all of your prep-work is done, you or your kids can grab what they need from the fridge and pantry and toss their lunch items into their insulated lunch bags with an ice pack and they are good to go in a minute or less! If your kids are the ones who will be actually packing the lunch bags, put the formula on the refrigerator with a magnet, so they can remember what they are looking for.

Happy lunching!!

 

 

College Toolkit

This week kids are starting back to classes at Oklahoma State University. (I am too, but it’s just not the same when you’re only enrolled in one class and you own your own house in another town.) It really makes me nostalgic for my first days at OSU. It was ten years ago that I was just starting out as a Cowboy. I transferred in as a junior from Rose State College.

In my four years of full-time undergraduate school, I never lived in a dorm room. I spent my first two years in an apartment with my twin sister, and the next two in an apartment with non-family roommates. In all that time, I never had any tools. I was thinking about that last night. One time, I had to borrow a screw driver because the CD tray on my 3-disc changer stereo (I know, old) had gotten off the track and would not close. I also remember actually using a high-heeled boot as a hammer to hang a picture in my room!

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If you are reading this and you have a young family member or friend who is just starting college, or moving into their first apartment, give them the gift of a toolkit. After buying our first house, my husband was always putting tools where I could not find them- like the cargo area of his car. I finally broke down and bought my very own toolkit. It has a small hammer, two screwdrivers (phillip’s head and flat) a socket set, a small wrench, pliers, a tape measure, and a box blade. The whole shebang zips up into a neat little pink bag. It’s so me! Most college students won’t need a full toolkit. I have never once used the socket set or the box blade in my toolkit, and I rarely use the tape measure.

Here’s my list for the Essential College Toolkit:

Small Hammer
Phillips Head Screwdriver
Flat Head Screwdrivier
Multitool (optional)

You could purchase a nifty kit already put together, or you could just buy the essential pieces and make your own kit.  I suggest checking prices of the 4 individual pieces listed above and comparing those to the price of a ready-made kit. These tool kits would make great gifts for high school seniors entering college, house-warming, or wedding gifts! If you choose to make your own, be sure to buy some sort of caddy to store the tools. You could use an actual toolbox, a heavy shower caddy, or a shaving bag.

A toolkit is not exactly an exciting gift, but it is practical and would be used a lot. What kind of practical gifts do you like to give?

Foodie Friday: Quick and Easy Breakfast Ideas

Breakfast really is the most important meal of the day. It’s in the name: Break-Fast. It was named “breakfast” because the first meal of the morning is breaking the fast of the night. During the day we feel hungry and eat every few hours. At night we are sleeping for (hopefully) 8 hours, which is much longer than we would go without food during the day.

It is especially important for children. Kids are better able to pay attention at school and learn when they have had a good breakfast. Unfortunately, back-to-school time is so hectic and getting into a new routine can be tough. Many families have little or no time to eat a good, healthy breakfast. Sometimes a piece of toast or a bowl of sugary cereal is all a kid will get when Mom is feeling hurried. Here are some quick and easy ideas for breakfast. Plan them when you plan your dinner menu and have a good breakfast every morning!

breakfast burrito Breakfast Burritos— The night before, brown some breakfast sausage until crumbly and no longer pink. Add in onions and bell peppers. In the morning, throw the sausage mixture in a skillet with one beaten egg per person. Fill flour tortillas with egg/sausage mixture and top with cheese and salsa. When I feel really rushed, I just use a slice of American sandwich cheese instead of shredding something from a block. *Serve with some cut fruit and milk.

biscuit sandwichesBreakfast Sandwiches– Whether you like homemade, canned or frozen biscuits, prepare them the night before. In the morning, fry one egg for each person. Split the biscuits and fill with one egg, some deli ham or turkey, and a slice of cheese. (Avocado would be good on this too) *Serve with a banana and some milk.
Eating uncooked or “runny” egg yolk has potential for salmonella poisoning. It is best to cook eggs over hard- or until yolk is solid.

yogurt parfaitYogurt Parfaits: Layer Greek yogurt and fruit in a small cup or jelly jar- Use whatever flavor of yogurt you like and whatever kind of fruit you like. Top with chopped nuts and granola. You can make these up in advance and store in the refrigerator for several days.

green smoothieGreen Smoothie:  Throw one cup of non-fat plain Greek yogurt in a blender with 1/4 cup canned pineapple, 1/2 banana, and a big handful of fresh spinach. Blend together  until smooth. Add a dollop of honey for a little extra sweetness. *Serve with some whole grain toast or a whole grain toaster waffle.

When planning your family’s breakfast menu, be sure to include some protein and some carbs in every breakfast idea. These are extremely important in keeping your kids from feeling hungry by 9:00 a.m.

 

 

Christmas is only 134 days away…

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I know, I know… You took a stroll through Hobby Lobby in June and rolled your eyes at the Christmas decor, already proudly displayed. Your Pinterest homepage is full of holiday ideas and recipes. You have Facebook friends who are already posting a countdown to Christmas, and you want to “unfriend” them for it… But just go with it.

I always start planning for the holidays in the summer. I usually start in June, but this year I had a baby in June and I am a little behind. I am just now getting started, but my husband is showing some interest in helping, so I’m sure I’ll still finish with very little stress.

This year, I will be hosting Thanksgiving dinner at my house. I don’t have a big house and my kitchen is decidedly tiny, but it’s still a good time. I have already planned the meal in my head, now I just need to write it down in my planning notebook. (Yes, I have a planning notebook. It makes all of this so easy! I found some free printable forms on Pinterest to help keep me on track: Living Well and Spending Less is a blog I often look at to help me simplify things. The author has a great holiday planning workbook that she has shared for free. She also has some other tips and insights into making life simple and peaceful. Check it out. You may look through it and find that some of the pages are useful to you and some are not. That’s okay, just print the ones you would use and stick them in a binder!) Back to Thanksgiving. This year I am keeping my menu simple and familiar. Last time I hosted, I tried a couple new recipes and they just didn’t turn out right. I am eliminating that stress by sticking with my childhood traditional dishes: turkey, my mom’s dressing, sweet potatoes, green beans with bacon and onions, a salad and rolls. It’s not about impressing everyone with new and different foods. It’s about enjoying the company of family and friends.

Now on to Christmas planning. Note that I said “planning,” not “decorating” –my  husband won’t let me decorate for Christmas until after Thanksgiving. I do this early planning (and shopping, too) so that I can fully enjoy my family and friends when the holidays actually get started. Every year it is my goal to be finished with my Christmas shopping by Thanksgiving. It is still a tradition to go shopping on Black Friday with my mom and sisters, but if I’m already finished buying gifts, I just get to go along for the ride and enjoy the company of my family.

  • I start by making a list of everyone I will be giving a gift to. Then Husbee and I sit down and figure out our budget by person. For example, we will be spending more on our own children than on our nieces, so we decide just how much to spend on each person (or group of people).
  • Next, I take my list and actually decide what to give to each person, keeping my budget in mind. I may make them a homemade gift, give a gift card, or go buy something. **Side note: My sisters and I stopped doing gifts a couple years ago and we do an ornament exchange. It’s a nice tradition that saves money. We don’t need gifts from each  other.
  • The next step is done simultaneously with the previous: Shopping! Because I start so early, I have the advantage of shopping around for the best price. I look online, I look in stores at my leisure and then decide where to purchase from, again keeping my budget in mind. I don’t make myself have every single gift chosen before I start this process of purchasing gifts. I have used several different forms for planning gifts. You can search the internet to find these, or you could just use some plain old lined notebook paper. Whatever works best for you! I really like the on that is included in the planning workbook from the link above. Whatever form you decide to use, be sure to write your allotted budget for each person next to their name and then write the amount you actually spent after you purchase their gift.
  • Once my gifts are purchased, I have to find a place to store them all before I am ready to put up my tree. I haven’t ever wrapped them early, but it’s not a bad idea- especially if you have left over wrapping paper from previous years. (You know it’s super cheap the few days after Christmas!) This part is difficult. I have always just stuffed them in a box in my closet, but now my older daughter is getting old enough to find them. I will either hide them in my attic or at work. (Don’t worry, she can snoop in my closet, but she can’t read yet!)

I get excited about the holidays every year. Because I plan so far in advance, I never feel stressed about it and that means it is a truly peaceful season for me.

Enjoy some comedic relief on a Wednesday!

Maxine & Christmas

Foodie Friday: Menu Planning

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Do you menu plan? I started doing this about seven years ago. I was still a newlywed and I was a young professional woman who didn’t have a lot of time to shop and cook. I worked weird hours at a hotel in downtown OKC and grocery shopping was my very least favorite thing to do. After one of my dreaded shopping trips, I was pouting about how much money I had spent when I realized we still didn’t have anything to eat for dinner! After that I decided I better start planning our meals and I have never looked back.

Over the years I have gotten better at meal planning (thank you Pinterest!) and I wanted to share next week’s menu with you:

Monday:
Oven fried chicken
Cornbread
Sliced tomatoes
Green beans

Tuesday:
Bruschetta Salmon (just pan seared salmon topped with a mixture of halved cherry tomatoes, basil ribbons, garlic, salt, and balsamic vinegar)
Texas toast
Southern Tossed Salad
** I had an out-of-this-world side salad at a restaurant in OKC, and have been recreating it at home: mixed greens, strips of red bell pepper, thinly sliced red onion, cherry tomatoes, and cornbread croutons (I will use leftover cornbread from Monday)  all tossed in blue cheese dressing

Wednesday:
Spaghetti in meat sauce
Texas toast
Caesar salad

Thursday:
Cream Cheese Chicken Chili
Rice

Friday:
WafflesFruit salad
Sausage patties

I’m getting hungry already! I hope this inspires you to start menu planning or to get out of a menu planning rut!

Tame Back to School Chaos

It’s that time of year again. Kids are heading back to school, which could mean chaos in your house! Cut down on that chaos by following a few simple tips:

  • Have each member of the family choose tomorrow’s clothes today. This means decide what to wear the next day, get it out and make sure it’s ready to wear (clean, pressed, and set aside). Be sure to include shoes and accessories such as hair bows or jewelry to avoid a search party to find your favorite blue scarf. ** I actually like to pick out and iron a full work week’s worth of outfits on Sunday. This works great for me, but might not work so well for younger kids or teens. Just do what works best for your family.

 

  • After homework is finished for the night, put all papers, assignments, books, etc. in backpacks and place backpacks by the door. Which door? The one you will be using to exit your home in the morning. Also make sure your purse holds  your keys, wallet, or whatever else you will be needing and place it by the door. If you have a baby/toddler, make sure the diaper back is fully stocked and place it by the door as well. Having everything together will save time in the morning, and ensure you don’t forget something.

 

  • Plan a healthy, quick breakfast. I know that when I don’t plan out my breakfast ahead of time, I end up skipping it or eating something really unhealthy from my toaster or a vending machine. The recipe below could be assembled the night before and placed in the oven when you wake up. It would be ready to eat by the time everyone is dressed with hair fixed/make up on. Just add a side of fruit, like some grapes or a banana!

Bubbly Breakfast Bake
1 pound of reduced fat breakfast sausage
1 tube of refrigerated biscuits
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1 small can of diced green chilies
6 eggs
Salt and pepper to season
1/4 cup milk
Start by preheating the oven to 350 degrees.

Add the sausage to a medium skillet on medium high heat.  Cook until no longer pink in the middle.

While cooking the sausage, cut each biscuit into 8 pieces and place in the bottom of a 9×13 baking dish sprayed with cooking spray.  Add the sausage to the pan, on top of the uncooked biscuits.  Sprinkle cheese on top of that, along with the green chilies.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg, salt and pepper and milk.  Pour the egg mixture over everything in the baking dish.

Place in the oven for 30 minutes or until a knife comes out clean in the middle of the dish.  Be careful, the cheese might make it seem like it’s uncooked egg but it’s just cheesy goodness.