Tired of the same ol’, same ol’?

Friends and clients of mine often express that they get in (what I call) a food-rut. It seems to happen most when we get busy and stop planning our meals. We pick up the kids after work, rush home, open the fridge and say to our spouse “What should I make for supper?”; they reply “I don’t care”. So then we look for a few common ingredients to make any recipe that you can think of off the top of your head: stir fry, chili, mac and cheese….sound familiar?

My first maternity leave I was so overwhelmed by having this new little person to care for that I was not very organized or adventurous with our family’s diet. We still ate healthy and I cooked from scratch, but it seemed to be the same batch of recipes over and over again. We definitely got in a food-rut. My second maternity leave, I vowed to not repeat this, and made an effort to surf the web and watch cooking shows while the boys napped. I didn’t try a new recipe every day, but a few times a week and this seemed to help keep food interesting. It also helped our oldest (Nolan) try new foods, or to try foods that he didn’t like, in a new form.

I try to recommend this to my friends and clients:

  1. Try weekly menu planning – this helps keep variety in the diet to avoid the food-rut, keeps your meals well balanced, and can save you dollars at the grocery store.
  2. Pick one day or night of the week that your family is less busy. Use this day to choose one new recipe, shop for the ingredients, and prepare it for the family. If the family enjoys the new recipe, add it to your collection of favorites.
  3. If you’d rather not venture too far outside your comfort zone, or find it difficult to set aside enough time to prepare a new recipe start to finish then kick-it-up-a-notch! What I mean is choose a family favorite recipe and try a new or modified version of it. This is sure to help keep things fresh but also practical.
  4. If you find the concept of a new recipe too much, maybe try tackling a new food preparation or cooking skill. Once you have a new skill mastered, recipes will not seem so much of a stretch.

This weekend, my husband and I decided to try a new recipe AND to kick our mac and cheese recipe up a notch or two! Our recipe of choice: Spicy Fish Tacos! We typically do not fry anything in our house, but love to watch Eat St. where food trucks often serve some delicious-looking version of a fish taco. Nolan has never really liked fish other than a tuna sandwich, so I wanted to offer fish to him again in a new way. He loved this fish taco but with mayo and a smaller amount of sauce.

Last night’s delicious find: Spicy Fish Tacos adapted from Allrecipes.com

Spicy Fish Tacos

Ingredients

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup beer (we used Bud light lime)
  • ½ cup plain yogurt
  • ½ cup light mayonnaise
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, minced (seeds and ribs removed)
  • ½ teaspoon dried oregano
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon dried dill weed
  • ½ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper – We found 1 tsp too hot for the kids
  • 1-2 cups of canola oil for frying (so there is 1 cm of oil in your pan)
  • 1 pound cod fillets, cut into 2 to 3 ounce portions
  • 1 package of small whole wheat tortillas – I couldn’t find corn tortillas at our grocery store
  • 1/2 medium head cabbage, finely shredded
  • 2 hothouse tomatoes chopped
  • *Chopped cucumber would also pair nicely with this recipe for a fresh feel

Directions

  1. To make the beer batter: In a large bowl combine flour, cornstarch, baking powder, and salt. Blend in the egg and beer, then quickly stir into the flour mixture (don’t worry about a few lumps).
  2. To make the spicy sauce: In a medium bowl mix together yogurt and mayonnaise. Gradually stir in fresh lime juice until consistency is slightly runny. Season with jalapeno, oregano, cumin, dill, and cayenne.
  3. Heat canola oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet or cast iron frying pan. The oil is ready when you stick the handle of a wooden spoon in it and little bubbles form.
  4. Dust fish pieces lightly with flour. Dip into beer batter, and fry until crisp and golden brown. This takes only a few minutes. Drain on paper towels.
  5. To serve, place fried fish in a tortilla, and top with shredded cabbage, tomatoes, and dollops of the spicy sauce.

Happy Canada Day!

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Monday night madness!

Usually I feel as though there is a little Sunday night madness in our house: A busy weekend, supper, playtime, dogs barking, bedtime routine, getting the kids bags packed for the dayhome, lunches prepped for the husband and I, and prepping/planning tomorrow’s supper meal to avoid hunger cries when we get home…did I mention breathing? Sometimes it doesn’t seem like there is enough time for that. This weekend was the May long weekend, therefore, Monday night madness! My meal planning has been more of a challenge the last week or so due to my return to work, but I am sure we can all agree that every week can be considered a challenge when you are a family on-the-go.

I have opted to start my week with a slow cooker meal so that there are plenty of leftovers and we can use up some brown rice from the other day. My husband loves sausage…loves shrimp…and loves chicken. Need I say more? Jambalaya is such a great conduit to use up odds and ends, while making a balanced meal. However, it can become a meal high in fat and cholesterol if you don’t shop wisely. Choose lean chicken breast (trim any extra fat), compare sausages to find one with less fat and salt (mine was 4% fat, 11% salt – occasionally you may do better with a turkey sausage), and go easy on the shrimp! Adding extra veggies, pairing it with brown or whole grain rice, and portion control are also important to keeping this meal out of the red. There are a lot of great recipes on the internet! I am partial to The Food Network’s recipe ,but I always seem to make some modifications to fit what I have to use up, accommodate what my family likes, or boost the nutrition wherever I can. Here is my adaptation for your slow cooker:

JAMBO JAMBALAYA

Ingredients

  • 2 large boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 375g MSG free Kolbassa sausage, diced
  • 1 796ml can no added salt diced tomatoes (or 3-4 large fresh tomatoes if you have)
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 1 orange bell pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 1 jalapeno, ribs and seeds removed, diced * can include the ribs/seeds if you like your jambalaya extra spicy
  • 1 ear of corn, remove niblets with a knife
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  • 1 cup of no added salt canned black beans, rinsed
  • 2 – 4 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 tbsp dried oregano
  • 2 tbsp Cajun seasoning
  • 2 teaspoon hot sauce
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 454g frozen peeled and cooked shrimp, thawed
  • Serve with cooked brown rice (1/2 cup is one grain serving)

Directions

In a slow cooker, combine chicken, sausage, tomatoes, onion, green pepper, orange pepper, corn, celery, jalapeno, and chicken broth. Stir in oregano, Cajun seasoning, hot sauce, bay leaves, and thyme. I usually dice my chicken and put it in a food-safe container, and mix all my other ingredients together in a second container the night before so that I can transfer them to my slow cooker in the morning.

Cover and cook on LOW for 7 – 8 hours or on HIGH for 3 hours. Stir in the thawed shrimp then cover and cook until the shrimp is heated through This should be about 5 minutes. Discard bay leaves. Makes 8-12 servings to be spooned over brown or wild rice. It is also a freezer-friendly recipe so you don’t have to eat all the leftovers at once.

Happy Monday!

Melissa Lachapelle, Registered Dietitian

Oh let the sun shine in…

Today is my last day with my kids before I go back to work. Sigh… the weather is rainy, dreary and unmotivating. BUT since it is my last day I have vowed not to waste it! Nolan has been asking to make chocolate chip muffins. I thought, well, I am going to find a recipe for carrot chocolate chip muffins to boost the nutrition factor, but I soon realized we had no chocolate chips. To his disappointment I called grandma to ask for her yummy carrot muffin recipe. However I realized there was a lot of sugar and fat in it so I have since made a few adaptations (sorry mom!).

As I hope to encourage the sun to come out, I have called this my sunshine muffin recipe:

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups dry plain instant oats
  • 1 1/2 cups pecans, unsalted
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp baking soda dissolved in 1 tbsp water
  • 1/4 cup ground flax
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 1/2 cups grated carrots (~3-4 medium size)
  • grated rind of 1 orange (~2 tsp) & its juice (~ 2 tbsp)

Instructions:

In a food processor grind the oats and pecans until it is a mealy texture. You can add in the baking powder to ensure even distribution. In your mix master beat the oil, eggs, applesauce, and sugar together until well mixed. Then add the vanilla and baking soda/water. Once combined, add the flax, flour and oat/pecan mixture. Lastly add your carrot and grated orange juice and rind. Spoon mixture into paper lined muffin tins. Bake in preheated oven at 375 degrees for 16 minutes or until golden brown and tooth pick comes out clean. This recipe makes 18 muffins.

Nutrition facts per muffin: 200kcal, 20g Carbohydrate, 12g fat (keep in mind these are healthy fats),  5g Protein, and 3g Fibre just to name a few (using Dietitians of Canada Eatracker Recipe Analyzer).

Friends often ask me how I find the time to bake or cook with 2 kids. A few secrets: 1. Do your dishes and clean your kitchen before you start – this helps make clean up quick while your food is baking/cooking. 2. Have all your ingredients on the counter before you get your child ready to help. 3. I have Hayden in his highchair with a snack so he can’t get near the oven and I can focus more on what Nolan is doing to keep him safe. 4. Have a sink of soapy water ready so you can wash your hands easily and frequently. 5. Have patience. I am not going to say that things always go perfectly. There are times when one cries for your attention, and one makes a mess. It has taken me all year to “not sweat the small stuff” and there are still times when I struggle to balance it all. We did have some fun this morning making the muffins and taste testing them, and luckily there weren’t any tears 🙂

Happy baking!

Budget Savvy Part 1: My top 10 tips for menu planning

There is nothing like tax season to make one re-evaluate one’s finances. I am always amazed at how money comes in but never seems to be around for very long. Before my husband and I had kids, we spent a lot of money on groceries. We rarely shopped the sales, ate whatever we felt like (still healthy of course), and shopped hungry. We developed some pretty hard habits to break! Since we’ve had kids, we are much more budget conscious, flyer savvy, and try very hard to have a snack or meal before we shop. I will admit that we still struggle to keep the grocery bill down, but it is a work in progress. There are so many variables to consider that make it challenging to create a concrete shopping list, and actually stick to it!

As we approach the month of May, I am challenging myself this coming month to menu plan more (meaning actually write it down – I often “plan” in my head, but that seems to get lost when I’ve been distracted and 5:30pm rolls around and we are starving!). I also want to refine my pantry needs,  make better grocery lists, and try to stick to my new grocery budget as we try to save a little more money for a trip next year. The next few posts will discuss menu planning, grocery shopping and food budgeting. I would love to hear your tips and tricks on any of these topics as we can always learn new things, and give ourselves a pat on the back for what we already do well!

My top 10 tips for MENU PLANNING

  1. Take inventory of your cupboards so you know what you have to work with to start menu planning. This will help create your grocery list later and help reduce food waste by using what you already have paid for!
  2. Check for weekly sales. Our grocery flyers tend to come on Friday, so I often use my weekend to plan and shop based on what is in the flyers.
  3. Plan your menu incorporating vegetables and fruit that are in season. In season vegetables and fruit are usually cheaper, more available, more local, and the quality tends to be better. If you really like those blueberries in the months when they are not in season, you will pay a pretty penny unless you buy frozen when they are on sale!
  4. Consider your family commitments for the week. You are not likely to make that meatball dinner when both kids have soccer that evening. You just won’t, so don’t kid yourself! Instead, plan a lighter meal for the nights you have less time, or utilize your slow cooker! I probably use mine once per week on my busiest night. As mornings are busy, I don’t usually pre-plan what we have for breakfast. I always keep cereal, bread, peanut butter, eggs, and a variety of fruit on hand and let my boys choose what they would like to have.
  5. Consider the likes and dislikes of your family. I have a whole room of picky eaters here, so it is rare that you will find mushrooms or honeydew on our menus, but that being said I have still offered them to my kids in hopes that they will like them even though my husband and I don’t.
  6. Think about texture, taste, and colour. A white fish served with potatoes and steamed cauliflower is nutritious, but it lacks varying texture, colour and plate appeal. Kick things up with colour!
  7. Variety. Need I say more? There is nothing worse than a menu that has chicken every day. We love chicken in our family (so there is a lot of it), but even we can get sick of it if it is every day. Variety is especially important to make sure that the menu provides a variety of nutrients: vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, fat, protein, fibre, and all the micronutrients too!
  8. Try new recipes. Even when we menu plan, we can easily get stuck in a rut if we use the same menus over and over and over. Pick a day of the week when you can try a new recipe to keep things fresh! I usually try new recipes on Saturday or Sundays as I am more organized, more relaxed, and have more time to get the kids involved.
  9. Once you have a rough draft of a menu (even if it is only supper meals you plan for), there are a few things you should try to check. The key to developing a healthy family menu is to think about BALANCE. My rule is always to have 3 or 4 of the food groups per meal, and 1 to 2 per snack. Even if I don’t formally menu plan, I always think of balance for every meal I offer my family. With 3 well balanced meals and a few healthy snacks daily, this can help ensure your family members get the nutrition they need for the day.
  10. The last check: consider the needs of your family members in comparison to Canada’s Food Guide to Healthy Eating. With Create My Food Guide, you can customize your guide to your likes/dislikes                                                                 i.e. My needs: 8 Vegetables/Fruit, 7 Grain products, 2 Milk products, 2 Meat/Alternatives.
Breakfast 1-2 Fruit

1-2 Grains

1 Milk products

½ Meat/Alternative

½ cup cantaloupe

1 or 2 slices whole wheat toast

1 cup soy milk

1 tbsp. peanut butter on my toast

AM Snack 1-2 Grains

0-1 Fruit

1 homemade muffin

½ cup strawberries

Lunch 1 Fruit

1-2 Vegetables

2 Grains

½ Meat/Alternative

1 Milk product

½ cup grapes

Sliced chicken breast on 2 slices whole wheat bread, with tomato, lettuce and cucumber

 

1 cup soy milk

PM Snack 0-1 Fruit

1 Grain

1 small orange

4-5 crackers (*amount depends on the brand/type)

Supper 2 Vegetables

 

0-1 Fruit

1 Meat/Alternative

1-2 Grains or other starch

 

0-1 milk products

1 cup spinach salad

½ cup steamed asparagus

½ cup strawberries (dessert!)

1 small lean pork chop

1 medium baked potato

1 small whole wheat dinner bun

¾ cup yogurt (with my fruit!)

Night Snack Whatever I didn’t get that I need, but only if I am hungry. optional

A great resource put out by Dietitians of Canada is Eating Well Together Meal Planner. The first pages discuss menu planning with toddlers in mind, but there is a sample menu and a blank menu planning sheet included. Print it off and give menu planning a try this week!

Stay tuned next week where we will put your menu plan into practice by discussing grocery shopping tips and making your menu jive with your budget.

Happy planning!

 

Resources:

 

Not your grannie’s granola!

Well, the month of March came and went, and sadly I was so under the weather that I lacked all energy to do any writing or experimenting. But I am back, healthy, and ready to eat! Last night I multi-tasked. While browning my ground turkey for turkey soft tacos, I made granola. Granola, the word itself just sounds healthy. G-R-A-N-O-L-A….yummmm. But is it really? Store bought granola can be loaded with fat, sugar, salt, and ingredients we cannot pronounce, which really negates the health benefits of some of its ingredients.

This granola is packed full of good nutrition:

  • Quinoa provides a good source of fibre and protein to help regulate blood sugars
  • Oats are a great source of soluble fibre which helps to lower cholesterol
  • Canola oil and ground flaxseed are good sources of omega 3’s which are anti-inflammatory (*think heart health!)
  • Pumpkin seeds provide protein, fibre, and healthy oils (monounsaturated fats)

Here is my “Not your grannie’s granola” granola recipe!

  • 2 cups uncooked quinoa, rinsed
  • 8 cups old fashioned rolled oats
  • ½ cup toasted sesame seeds
  • 2 cups chopped or slivered almonds, unsalted
  • 1 cup pumpkin seeds, unsalted
  • 1 cup ground flaxseed
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • ½ tsp nutmeg
  • ½ cup applesauce, unsweetened
  • ½ cup honey
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • ¼ cup water
  • ¼ cup canola oil
  • 1 cup dried cranberries – substitute these with some unsweetened cranberries/blueberries/goji berries to reduce the sugar!

Mix all dry ingredients together. Mix all wet ingredients together in a small saucepan. Bring to a rolling boil. Add wet mixture to dry ingredients. Stir until well coated. Spread granola onto 2 or 3 non-stick pans or 3 pans lined with parchment paper. Bake in pre-heated oven at 325° F for 30-40 minutes, stirring the granola about every 7-10 minutes to ensure even baking. Keep a watchful eye so that it doesn’t get too brown or burn! Let cool then add in the dried cranberries. This can be stored in a food safe container for up to 1 week. This is a large recipe (~ 30 servings), so it is best to freeze half the granola either in meal size portions or a second large food safe container.

To complete this as a breakfast on-the-go, add ¾ cup yogurt (plain or vanilla), and ½ cup fruit of your choice. This makes a hearty breakfast on the go for my husband, myself or even my 3 year who loves it!

Enjoy!

Nutrient Analysis: This recipe makes about 30 servings, which equals ¾ cup/serving. This provides approximately 275 kcal, 36g carbohydrate, 10g protein, 5g fibre, 50mg calcium just to name a few.

This recipe was analyzed using the Dietitians of Canada recipe analyzer at www.eatracker.ca. Check it out and see what your recipes provide!

Get the Real Deal About Your Milk!

When I was a teenager I would read a variety of teen magazines and collect the milk posters that pictured celebrities with milk mustaches. They were cool right? This was and still is a very powerful milk campaign that inspired me even at a young age to make sure I consumed adequate milk products. Milk campaigns now are targeting a wider audience and trying to show the health benefits milk can provide us, rather than simply associate milk with a celebrity. There is a lot of misinformation about milk on the internet, even some websites that are anti-milk. I have no agenda other than to provide credible and reliable nutrition information to my clients, and to you! I do believe that milk does a body good, and helps us to grow in a healthy way. It has 16 essential nutrients, it helps build strong bones and teeth, it is a great recovery food post physical activity, and may even play a role in weight management. For Nutrition Month 2012,  Dietitians of Canada has looked at the scientific evidence and come up with some common milk myths to bust.

MYTH #16. Cows’ milk is full of hormones and antibiotics.

THE TRUTH: Not true! Canadian milk meets strict government standards so it’s safe and healthy. Canadian dairy farmers give their cows the best diet and health care so they produce quality milk naturally. Growth hormones to stimulate milk production are not approved for sale or permitted for use in Canada. Just like humans, cows sometimes get sick and need medications like antibiotics. If this happens, the cow is identified and milked separately until she is healthy again. Her milk is properly disposed of for a mandatory length of time, to allow for the medication to get out of her system. Milk, organic and non-organic, is a safe, nutritious choice.

MYTH #17. Cows’ milk is only good for baby cows, not humans.
THE TRUTH: Cows’ milk is not just good for baby cows. Around the world, humans enjoy health benefits from the many essential nutrients found in milk. Milk is one of the richest natural food sources of calcium and, in Canada, an excellent source of vitamin D. Both nutrients are needed to build strong, healthy bones. Milk has other health benefits too. For example, as part of a healthy diet, milk might help protect against high blood pressure and colon cancer. Canada’s Food Guide recommends you enjoy two cups (500 mL) of lower-fat milk every day for good health.
*Just to make a note here, lower-fat milk is recommended for children 2 years and up. It is NOT recommended for children under 2 years of age unless recommended and supervised by a Registered Dietitian. Children under 2 years should be consuming higher fat milk (i.e. homogenized 3.25%).
MYTH #18. Pasteurization destroys vitamins and minerals in milk.
THE TRUTH: Pasteurization has little impact on the nutrients in milk. Pasteurization is a simple heat treatment that destroys potentially harmful bacteria sometimes found in milk. This is an important process that helps to make milk safe for Canadians to drink. It is not safe to drink unpasteurized (raw) milk because it might contain bacteria that can be harmful to your health. Pasteurized milk is a natural source of 15 essential nutrients, plus it’s fortified with vitamin D (raw milk isn’t). Drink two cups (500 mL) of lower-fat milk each day to get the calcium and vitamin D you need to help build and maintain healthy bones.
If you would like to read more information about milk and its health benefits, visit Alberta Milk.

So let’s raise our glasses and have a cup of milk today!

Busted!

 

Get the real deal on your meal! I love this statement as nutrition information is a plenty, but not all of it is from credible sources. Dietitians of Canada is dedicating Nutrition Month 2012 “to busting up popular food and nutrition myths by bringing truths to Canadians from dietitians, the food and nutrition experts”.

Dietitians of Canada has compiled a list of 39 popular food and nutrition myths to bust. Feel free to send me your thoughts on which you would like me to blog about. I currently have 3 friends that are pregnant (congratulations again!), so this one is for them!

MYTH #32 When you’re pregnant, eat up! You are eating for two.

THE TRUTH: Pregnant women are commonly told they are “eating for two.” In reality, you need just a little more food, during the second and third trimesters, to get enough nutrients and calories to support a growing baby. Two or three extra Food Guide servings each day are often enough. Aim to eat three balanced meals with nutritious snacks. To achieve a good weight for a healthy pregnancy and healthy baby, eat twice as healthy, not twice as much. Be sure to follow the advice of your doctor or Registered Dietitian for any special nutrition needs.
For reliable prenatal information visit Health Canada at http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/nutrition/prenatal
Until the next family meal!

Breakfast for supper?!

Earlier this week my husband was away for a conference, so there was little pressure to have supper meals preplanned. I occasionally like to switch things up and have a breakfast for supper type of meal. I find that breakfast is often my children’s best meal, so why not have a breakfast-like meal for supper they might be more inclined to eat? Now looking for inspiration…what to make? While on maternity leave I often watch the Rachael Ray Show for mealtime inspiration. That is not to say I make all her recipes as she presents them, but rather take note, and modify them based on what my family likes (or dislikes!) and what is in my fridge and pantry.

There was still little to be had in our fridge since last week’s breakdown, so ingredients were few and far between. It was waffle week on the Rachael Ray Show, yes! I always have flour, eggs and milk on hand! There were some really neat ideas presented on how to use your waffle iron for unconventional recipes (though some not so healthy). So I pulled out my twice used waffle iron and dusted it off. I opted to make a simple waffle, mostly due to the fact that Nolan (2yrs) is a picky eater and I knew he would like a basic waffle rather than something overly extravagant. When I told him I was making waffles he said “Mom, that is my FAVORITE!!!” and he shook in pure delight. I think he has only had a waffle twice in his life and at restaurants only, but I was rolling with it! I even had him help me pour the waffle batter onto the waffle iron (hand over hand of course) and he was that much prouder of our creation. Picky eaters such as Nolan (and most kids for that matter), are much more invested in what they are eating if they help choose it, buy it or make it. If you can find a way to get your kids involved in healthy cooking and healthy shopping, then the healthy eating part (and actual eating!) will take care of itself.

Here is our Waffles for Supper recipe:

Ingredients

  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 ¾ cup 1% milk
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 Tbsp white sugar
  • 4 tsp baking powder
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • ½ tsp cinnamon

Preheat your waffle iron. Beat eggs in large bowl with a whisk. Beat in all ingredients until just smooth. Spray your waffle iron with non-stick cooking spray. Pour mixture onto hot waffle iron. I found that 1/3 cup batter per waffle made perfect waffles. Cook until golden brown and serve warm with pureed fruit sauce – we made a warm strawberry sauce (no sugar added). This recipe makes 12 waffles. The extra waffles freeze great and can be reheated using your toaster.

Nolan's supper - this is a larger meal for him
My meal, with some pineapple on the side

Nolan paired his waffle with natural ham (nitrate and preservative free) and fruit. I gave him too much ham (1 full slice), but he loved the waffle cut into strips and the ability to dip them into his strawberry sauce. With leftover waffles to freeze and clean plates (even Hayden!), the dogs were disappointed there were no leftovers to be had!

Until the next family meal!

Powerful Peppers!

Probably one of my favorite meals is a fajita. I love a saucy chicken fajita with brown rice, a soft tortilla, and plentiful of peppers red, orange, yellow and green. I love them just cooked so they are slightly crunchy, juicy and definitely not limp!

Peppers are the definition of healthy, as they fit the description of the brighter the better in Canada’s Food Guide to Healthy Eating. A half cup (125mL) of sweet bell peppers is equal to 1 serving of vegetables. Peppers are low calorie, extremely low in carbohydrate, a source of fibre, and are packed with micronutrients! To name just a few, peppers are rich in Vitamin C (more than an orange!), Beta-Carotene and Lycopene which are important antioxidants that help to maintain eye and skin health, and have a role in cancer prevention among other benefits. Here is my fajita recipe packed with powerful peppers!

  •  1 ½ cups dry brown rice, plus 3 ½ cups water
  • 2 or 3 chicken breast cubed (I use 2 large ones – they seem to be getting so big these days!)
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp onion powder
  • 2 cloves fresh garlic finely minced
  • A pinch of hot pepper flakes or 1 chopped jalapeno optional (I usually use a jalapeno with ribs and seeds removed but today used the flakes)
  • 1 Tbsp chili pepper
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • ¼ tsp black pepper
  • 2 Tbsp cornstarch mixed with 1/4 cup water
  • 1 cup low sodium chicken broth
  • 4 bell peppers, sliced and halved
  • 6 – 8 whole wheat tortillas (or other variety)

First I start cooking my brown rice on the stove top. Meanwhile I cube the chicken breasts and cook with the garlic (and jalapeno if you have one) over medium heat with the olive oil. Then I slice and halve 4 peppers (1 of each colour if you like!). Once the chicken is just cooked I add the onion powder, chili powder, cumin, hot pepper flakes, black pepper, low sodium chicken broth, and cornstarch and water mixture. I stir the sauce to ensure no lumps then add the peppers and cook for an additional 5 minutes so the sauce is thick and bubbly. I often keep the saucepan lid half on for this so that there is more liquid released from the peppers for the sauce. *If I am strapped for time, I will use the Epicure fajita mix and a jalapeno, or another prepackaged taco mix that is 40% reduced sodium that you mix with water. Either can be added with the peppers near the end.

Occasionally I will offer black beans from a can (rinsed and drained) for some added fibre. I like to keep the rice and beans separate from the other ingredients, so people can choose how much they want of each ingredient.  Then you simply assemble your fajita in a tortilla as you please! This recipe serves 6 adult portions, or for our family 2 adults and 2 children for 2 meals!

Despite my 2 year old son being a picky eater, on a good day he will try a small fajita of his own (as long as there is ranch for dipping! haha). On a less than perfect day he will at least have the chicken or beans, rice and peppers separate on his plate.

Until the next family meal!

When life gives you lemons. . . make meatballs!

It has been a stressful year due to many unexpected expenses we have recently had while on Maternity Leave….first we had car issues (I could write a BOOK on this so I will not go on), then we had some plumbing issues, and then our washer and dryer broke. I thought we were free and clear for 2012, but now our fridge has gone bust. There is that saying that when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. In this case, I literally took my lemons and created a hodge-podge meatball recipe last night in an effort to use up as much of our not-yet-spoiled food in the fridge. It tasted great and all 4 of us were wanting more! Despite my family’s recent household mishaps, I am reminded of a sign I saw recently that read “Health is Wealth”. I am very grateful that my family is in good health, so I will stop complaining now and eat a delicious meatball!

Until the next family meal!

Trading Lemons for Meatballs

  • 2 lbs. extra lean ground beef (you could use lean ground pork, turkey or chicken)
  • ½ -1 zucchini, grated (mushrooms or carrots work great too!)
  • 1 bunch of green onions (~ 6), finely chopped
  • 1 cup of bread crumbs – now I typically make mine from stale bread and a variety of crackers – whatever you have left over at the bottom of a box, and add a little oregano and basil
  • 2 eggs
  • ¼ tsp pepper
  • 2 cloves of garlic, pressed or grated into a paste
  • Sauce: These meatballs are excellent with a homemade tomato sauce, mushroom sauce or in my case today I made a sort of sweet and sour sauce.
  • In a saucepan: squeeze the juice of 2 lemons, 1 cup of plum sauce, 2 Tbsp low sodium soy sauce, 1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce, ¼ – ½ cup honey, ¼ cup sesame salad dressing, 1 cup low sodium beef broth, and ½ cup water (which helps clean the sauce out of the bottles).

Preheat your oven to 350° F (thank goodness ours still works!). Line a baking sheet with tin foil. By hand roll 1 to 1 ½ inch balls. Place meatballs 1 inch apart.

Bake for 20 minutes or until tops are brown and slightly firm so the meatball will not crumble when handled. This recipe makes approximately 40 meatballs. Meanwhile mix all sauce ingredients in a saucepan and let reduce on medium heat for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. When the meatballs are ready, add to the sauce with tongs (so there are no extra fat drippings) and simmer on low-medium heat for an additional 5-10 minutes.

If you actually make 40 meatballs, I would consider 1or 2 meatballs for a child size portion, and 3 or 4 meatballs for an adult portion. I served mine with ½ – 1 cup brown rice (1-2 grains), a ½ cup steamed yams and 1 cup salad greens (2 vegetable servings).