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Friday, September 28, 2012

Product Review: Puckerbutt Pepper Co.

Puckerbutt Pepper Company.  Could a company name get any more unique?  If you are a fan of spice and heat, this company is a must try.  This is one of my top favorite local companies for natural and healing food.  Puckerbutt Pepper Company specializes in all things pepper! It is local to Rock Hill, South Carolina, which happens to be minutes away from where we live in Charlotte, North Carolina.  That is how I met the founder and owner, Ed Currie, and fell in love with his products.

I actually met Ed a year ago at a local Italian Festival.  We both had vendor booths at the festival.  Of course, you know me, if there's a food booth with good-for-you freebies, I'm there sampling and talking to the owners.  A year ago, Puckerbutt's booth only had a few salsa options and some spicy mustards.  After eating about 10 samples and chatting with Ed for a bit, I went on my way with a jar of his homemade spicy mustard in my hand.  I thought how cool it was to meet a fellow entrepreneur with a passion for creating delicious immune-boosting food.

Wish you could see how bright orange 'Shoot That's Hot' is.  I ate too much!
Fast forward to this summer, when we met Ed again at the same Italian Festival.  In fact, our booths were neighboring this time!  We recognized each other right away, and I moseyed on over for some more samples of his delicious salsa.  But WOW, I was instantly blown away with his table display.  Not only did he have his mustards and salsas, but over the past year Ed had expanded his Puckerbutt Pepper product line by probably 10 fold. He added absolutely the most fantastic array of hot sauces I have ever seen or tasted!  I'm not kidding, you have got to check out his website and just read through his list of hot sauce flavors!  They range from mild to extremely hot (or in Puckerbutt terms, 'stupit hot') and are rated on a heat index for you.  They come in beautiful, bright, natural colors from the organic whole food blend of ingredients.  I love the variety of oranges, reds, pinks, yellows, and greens.  And each flavor blend of hot sauce has its own fun name.  My top four favorites are "Shoot That's Hot," "Red Hot Cherry," "Payton's Hot Strawberry," and "Yellow Fever."  You've got to love a company with a sense of humor!  : )
Deep red color of the 'Red Hot Cherry' blend.
I love everything that Ed makes.  His salsas are fresh and extremely flavorful.  His mustards are so good!  A perfect holiday gift if you ask me!  I see he just introduced pure pepper puree.  And, you can also get organic pepper seeds, of an insane variety selection, from Ed.
You can see the purity in his products.  All organic, no fillers or thickeners, just food.
The reason I wanted to share Puckerbutt Pepper Company with you is Ed's mission for delivering health through peppers.  Peppers are one of God's most amazing healing foods.  Peppers contain Capsaicin.  Capsaicin is considered the "Holy Grail" of healing compounds because it can offer so much in healing the body.  It has been shown to relieve headaches, reduce inflammation, relieve sinus pain, promote weight loss, decrease blood pressure, prevent stroke, and in Ed's case, prevent heart disease.  You can read more about how Ed's personal health choices resulted in Puckerbutt Pepper Company on his website.  After years of growing peppers for his personal use to heal his body from any risks of family predisposition to heart disease, Ed decided it was time to share his pepper variety and expertise with his community.  It started out as a small production, with only neighbors and friends benefiting from his kitchen creations.  Eventually word spread and demand for his unique and superb blends of pepper salsas and hot sauces grew.  Puckerbutt Pepper Company is now much more than a locally owned business.  Ed's products can be ordered online, shipped world wide, and have been sold as far overseas as Germany and England!

You can find Puckerbutt Pepper Company online and on Facebook.  Be sure to watch some of their pepper taste testing videos on their Facebook page (hilarious stuff!).

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Pumpkin Spice Pudding

It's another "double feature" Wednesday!  Our usual Wordless Wednesday picture posted earlier this morning.  I also have to share my latest dessert recipe for Pumpkin Spice Pudding.  I couldn't wait another day (and neither could some of you over on the Facebook page)!  It is that good.

Ever since Dave surprised me with a Vitamix this summer, I've really been into making raw and semi-raw recipes.  I can finally get the sauces and desserts and smoothies blended super smooth compared to our generic version of Magic Bullet that I had been limited to prior.  I have always loved using raw nuts as the bases of sauces, ice creams, cheesecakes, and so many other things.  Using raw nuts allows you to get the creaminess of dairy without using it.  I recommend to anyone on the Advanced Plan to eliminate dairy as much as possible because it is sugary and an inflammatory food, even in raw or organic form.  Using blended nuts is a fabulous way to enjoy rich and creamy dishes without dairy!  It also packs in extra protein and good fats!

For this recipe, I used soaked raw cashews.  Soaking nuts prior to use does a couple of things.  People do it mostly because it starts the germination process, making the nut more nutritious (just like sprouting a grain) and helps it to shed any impurities.  Soaking also allows the nut to absorb extra water and become softer, making them easier to blend up and provide a creamier texture.  For cashews, you should soak them for at least 2 hours, but I usually recommend about 6-8 hours for full on creaminess.  Then, rinse them under cold water until the water runs clear, and they're ready to use!

Pumpkin Spice Pudding
Makes 2 Servings

1 cup soaked raw cashews
1 cup organic unsweetened almond milk
1 cup organic pumpkin puree, chilled
stevia, to taste
1 Tbsp ground cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground ginger
1 pinch ground cloves
1 pinch sea salt

1.)  Add the soaked cashews (drained and rinsed) to blender.  Add a few Tablespoons of almond milk and begin blending.  Gradually bring blender up to High speed and begin streaming in the almond milk until a thick cream forms.  Continue to blend until completely smooth, almost the thickness of heavy whipping cream.

2.)  Add all remaining ingredients to blender and blend on Medium-High until well combined and smooth.  [I wait to add the stevia until the end, when it's smooth and combined.  Then I taste it and gauge how much stevia is needed.  It depends on how sweet your cooked pumpkin is, each batch is different.  I usually use about 1 tsp of Spoonable Stevita stevia, give or take.]  Spoon into serving dishes, top with a sprinkle of cinnamon.  Eat immediately or store in fridge until ready to serve.

Wordless Wednesday: September 26, 2012

Friday, September 21, 2012

Pumpkin Recipe Roundup

I can't deny it anymore.  Fall is here in full swing, and that means we must commence with lots of pumpkin consumption!  Here is a roundup of all my pumpkin recipes.  And yes, I will be having the Pumpkin Pie Smoothie very shortly for breakfast...with a little bit of coffee blended in.. :)

Pumpkin Recipe Roundup

Pumpkin Dip
Apple-Pumpkin Soup

Pumpkin Bread / Muffins (found in Season's Eatings Holiday e-Book)

Pumpkin Chili

Pumpkin-Coconut Soup

Pumpkin-Coconut Squares (found in Season's Eatings Holiday e-Book) 

Pumpkin-Coconut Squares
Pumpkin Pie Cheesecake

Pumpkin Dip (found in Season's Eatings Holiday e-Book)

Pumpkin Pie (found in Season's Eatings Holiday e-Book)

Pumpkin Pie Ice Cream

Pumpkin Pie Oatmeal

Pumpkin Pie Ice Cream
Pumpkin Pie Smoothie

Pumpkin Pudding

Pumpkin Spice Latte (a homemade wholefood Starbucks version!)

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds, 3 Flavors

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Four More One Pot Wonder Dinners

I am making an exception to our "Wordless Wednesdays."  I have too many recipes to share with you, and I need to honor someone extra close to my heart...

Yesterday was my son Austin's first birthday!  I am in awe of our little man each and every day as he is growing up and learning so quickly.  Year one has been filled with SO MANY great laughs, hugs, snuggles, and joyful memories.  I am so grateful that God gave us this bright, healthy, spunky little boy.  Happy birthday Austin!

We celebrated with a simple Advanced Plan vanilla cupcake, recipe found in my Kids Birthday Party e-book.  The frosting is whipped avocado with powdered xylitol (for Austin's cupcake I used powdered sugar, because babies cannot digest sugar alcohols).  Sunday is Austin's big 1st birthday party!  I'm excited to show you the little crafts and new recipes I have been working on for his celebration.  It's going to be a fun day, I can't wait!  I'll give you a recap next week! :)

More Quick Meals Using Spice Mixes

I have more yummy and QUICK dinner recipes to share that use the spice mix ingredients from our Spice Mix Party last month.  I'm only sharing my top favorites.  There were some dishes that didn't make the cut, so please try the ones I'm including below and in yesterday's post.  They are winners!  They're now topping my go-to list!

Summer Squash Dressing
Makes 6 Servings

2 cups organic yellow or green zucchini/squash, diced
2 cups crumbled coconut bread
1/2 cup coconut oil or raw butter, melted
2 tsp dried sage
2 tsp garlic powder
1 1/2 cups cream of mushroom soup
2 eggs, beaten
1 onion, chopped
1/4 cup organic unsweetened almond milk
Sea salt and fresh pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Grease a 2-3 quart casserole dish.  In a large bowl, stir together the squash, coconut bread, coconut oil, sage, garlic, cream of mushroom soup, egg, onion, almond milk, sea salt and black pepper.  Transfer to prepared baking dish.  Bake for 40 minutes, until lightly browned.  Let sit 5-10 minutes before serving.

Ranch Parmesan Chicken
Makes 6 Servings

6 free-range skinless chicken breasts (bone-in is okay)
1/2 cup organic sour cream
1/2 cup Healing Cuisine Mayonnaise
1 Tbsp homemade ranch dressing mix
1 cup almond meal
1/2 cup raw Parmesan cheese, grated
1 Tbsp season salt (salt-free and MSG-free)
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp fresh black pepper

Wash and dry chicken breasts.  In a large bowl, stir together sour cream, mayonnaise, and ranch dressing mix.  Add the chicken breasts and use your hands to coat the chicken in the ranch dressing.  Marinade chicken breasts in the fridge for at least an hour or overnight.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Grease a glass 9x13 inch pan and set aside.  In a separate 9x13 inch pan, combine almond meal, Parmesan cheese, season salt, garlic powder, and black pepper.  Dip marinaded chicken (remove any extra dressing) in the almond crumb mixture, covering both sides evenly.  Place crumb covered chicken in greased glass baking dish.  Cover baking dish with aluminum foil and bake for 25 minutes.  Remove foil, and bake for another 15 minutes,  until internal temperature reaches 180 degrees F and almond crust is lightly browned.  We serve with steamed broccoli or roasted veggies.  P.S., this recipe also makes great chicken strips!

Slow Cooker Italian Chicken
Makes 6 Servings

6 chicken breasts (bone-in is okay, you can slice or cube the raw chicken, too)
3 Tbsp homemade Italian dressing mix
8 oz organic cream cheese, room temperature
3 cups cream of mushroom soup
2 Tbsp garlic powder

Add all ingredients to slow cooker and cook on Low for 4-6 hours.  If sauce is too thick, thin it with a little vegetable broth or almond milk.  We served over spiral brown rice noodles, but I'd like it with zucchini noodles as well.

Beef Stroganoff
Makes 4 Servings

1 1/2 lbs 100% grass fed top sirloin steak strips OR ground beef
4 Tbsp coconut oil
1 onion, chopped
8 oz mushrooms, sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
3 Tbsp homemade dry onion soup mix
2 Tbsp organic tomato paste
1 Tbsp arrowroot powder
2 cups organic sodium-free beef stock
1 cup full-fat coconut milk
Sea salt and fresh black pepper, to taste

In a skillet, heat the coconut oil over Medium-High heat.  Add the mushrooms and onion.  Saute until slightly softened and browned.  Remove to a plate.  Brown ground beef until no longer pink.  Return onion and mushrooms to pan.  Stir in garlic, dry onion soup mix, and tomato paste.  Reduce heat to Medium.  Sprinkle arrowroot powder over meat mixture and stir to combine until arrowroot is completely mixed in.  Add beef stock and  coconut milk, stirring thoroughly.  Sauce will begin to thicken as it comes to a simmer.  Reduce heat and simmer for about 5 minutes.  Remove from heat and let cool before spooning onto plates.  We serve over cooked smashed cauliflower, zucchini noodles, cauliflower rice or roasted spaghetti squash.

Wordless Wednesday: September 19, 2012

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Spice Mix Party + 3 New Recipes

Take a gander at what a few girlfriends and I made at a Spice Mix Party we threw last month:

I'm not sure if we created the idea of a Spice Mix Party, but it sure was fun!  It all started with the realization of two Maximized mommy friends, Rachel and Jess, that pre-made spice mixes are A) SO convenient to have in the pantry, B) so gosh darn expensive, and C) commercially loaded with chemicals and preservatives.  Rachel and Jess decided to organize the spice night as a way to make delicious healthy spice mixes in bulk for $$$cheap.  When they invited me to be a part, you know I was in!

Read Rachel's account of our Spice Mix Party here!  She also lists our recipe modifications.  We had a blast cooking and mixing herbs and spices.  It was a fun excuse to get together to chat, eat, and let the kiddos mingle, too!

Here's what we made:  Dry Onion Soup Mix, Ranch Dressing Mix, Italian Dressing Mix, Taco Seasoning, and Cream of 'Something' Soup.  (In our case, we did cream of mushroom soup.)

You can make the spice mixes on your own, and still save money by making them yourself!  I also love the fact that we used organic ingredients, because conventional herbs and spices are loaded with pesticides and herbicides that concentrate as the herbs are dried.  Total, we each spent about $35 on the organic spice mixes and soups!  We each took home 2+ cups worth of each seasoning mix and 6+ 'cans' of cream-of-something soup, plenty to make months worth of tasty recipes!


I have waited to post about our spice party, because I wanted to share what I have been making with these new seasoning mixes.   I will share my latest recipe creations with you TODAY AND TOMORROW, so be sure to come back!  There are some great 30 Minute and One Pot Wonder meals coming!

Slow Cooked Beef Tips
Makes 6 Servings

2 lbs 100% grass fed beef tenderloin, stew meat, chuck roast or chuck eye, cubed
1 onion, sliced
2 cups organic mushrooms, sliced
1 1/2 cups homemade cream of mushroom soup
1/3 cup arrowroot powder, whisked into 3 Tbsp cold water
3 cups organic sodium-free beef stock
1/2 tsp onion powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp fresh black pepper
1/4 tsp paprika
1/3 cup homemade dry onion soup mix
3 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.  Add cubed meat, onion, and mushroom to a 9 x 13 inch pan.  In a large bowl, whisk the remaining ingredients together.  Pour over the meat and toss to coat.  Cover with aluminum foil and bake at 300 degrees F for 3 hours.  Do not remove foil until 3 hours is reached. Serve over zucchini noodles, cauliflower rice, roasted veggies, smashed sweet potato or cauliflower mashed 'fotatoes.'  (Can be prepared in slow cooker on Low for 6 hours.)

Honey Glazed Italian Chicken
Makes 8 Servings

3 1/2 pounds skinless free-range chicken pieces (I like to use thighs and breasts, bone-in is fine)
2 Tbsp homemade Italian dressing mix
1/2 cup raw honey

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Grease a large baking pan and set aside (or cover with foil/parchment paper).  Rinse chicken and pat dry with paper towels.  Lay chicken pieces evenly onto baking sheet in one single layer.  Warm honey in a small saucepan over Low heat or using a hot water bath.  With a fork, stir in dry Italian mix.  Dip and press the chicken pieces into the honey mixture, coating front and back, and place each piece back down onto prepared pan.  Bake for 50-60 minutes or until chicken is cooked through.  Serve with steamed or roasted veggies.

Cheesy Chicken Ranch Casserole
Makes 8 Servings

2 1/2 cups chopped frozen organic broccoli
1-2 cups frozen organic peas
6 Tbsp homemade ranch dressing mix
2 cans organic full-fat coconut milk
1 Tbsp arrowroot powder
2 cups shredded cooked free-range chicken
1/2 cup organic mozzarella cheese
1 cup raw cheddar cheese
sea salt & pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Blanch the frozen broccoli and peas in boiling water for 1-2 minutes, to remove ice crystals and slightly soften the outside.  Drain and shake as dry as possible.  Set aside.  In a large bowl, whisk together the coconut milk, cornstarch, and ranch dressing mix.  Stir in the shredded chicken, blanched broccoli, blanched peas, 1/2 cup of cheddar cheese, and sea salt/black pepper to taste. Transfer to a greased 3 quart casserole dish.  Layer the mozzarella cheese slices across the top and sprinkle the remaining cheddar cheese over the top.  Bake at 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes, until heated through and cheese on top is browned.  We serve ours over wide cut zucchini noodles.  Brown rice pasta would also be tasty.

Four more delicious dinner recipes coming at you tomorrow!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Wordless Wednesday: September 12, 2012

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

School Lunches Part 4: Healthy Recipes to Switch It Up

If you are just catching up, this is the fourth installment of our real food School Lunches series.  You can look back at Part 1: The Tools, Part 2: Nine Time Saving Tips, and Part 3: Menu Planning.  If you aren't already a follower of our Facebook page, you're missing out on some pretty great discussion and tips!  You'll want to click on over and join.  I welcome you to ask questions or share your natural living and real food cooking tips right on the wall to spark interest and discussion from everyone!

Now that you have all the tools and tips to prepare healthy whole food lunches in advance, saving you time and money, it's time to give you some fresh recipe ideas for packing school lunches.  Let's spice it up and keep your kid(s) engaged week after week!


We skip the bread all together in our house.  Instead, we use lettuce or kale wraps, turkey wraps, cucumber sandwiches, raw apple ring sandwiches, my almond flour tortillas, or these raw coconut wraps from Improveat.

*An important tip on lunch meat.
  You want to choose a Nitrite & Nitrate-free brand, also 100% free range or pastured turkey or chicken and 100% grass fed roast beef.  Ham is not included on the Core or Advanced Plans, and I recommend staying away from pork all together for many other health reasons.

Here are some ideas to go bread-free in the lunchbox:

-  Cucumber sandwiches or cucumber cups stuffed with salmon salad, chicken salad, or hummus

-  Cucumber sandwiches with sliced nitrite/nitrate-free turkey, raw cheese, and hummus

Make mini pizzas or cut homemade pizza into squares
-  Make mini pizzas using one of my grain-free pizza crust recipes, top with hummus or tomato sauce and roasted veggies

If you're anything like me, you stand by your classic chicken salad recipe.  Switch it up with chicken fruit salad (shredded chicken, segmented orange or grapefruit, sliced grapes, diced apple, diced pear, all tossed with homemade poppyseed dressing).  Serve in a lettuce wrap or over greens.

-  Cold turkey meatballs with cilantro-mint sauce served over greens or in a lettuce wrap.

Turkey wraps.  Now I know it sounds weird, but this combination is REALLY yummy.  Spread horseradish flavored hummus across free range deli cut turkey.  Lay down a lettuce leaf and a couple thin slices of cantaloupe.  Roll up and secure with a foodpick.

Black bean burgers are pretty good cold or room temp.  I like mine over lettuce with chipotle mayo.  Dave likes his sliced and wrapped in an Almond Flour Tortilla.

-  Grainless or sprouted grain waffles used as sandwich bread.  Slather with coconut butter, sunflower seed butter, unsweetened fruit preserves, organic cream cheese, apple butter, or apple sauce and make a sandwich!  Waffles can be made in advance and frozen.  Thaw in fridge overnight the day before you want to use them. 

Kids love apple sandwiches!
-  Apple sandwich from cored sliced apple rounds filled with almond butter, sunflower butter, coconut butter, raw honey, and optional raisins/oats/nuts/seeds.

Grain-free chicken strips or nuggets with chipotle mayo, homemade ketchup, or honey mustard dipping sauce.

-  Quinoa packs a lot of protein in a small serving.  Make a quinoa salad.  Mix in a variety of veggies or meat/poultry/fish and keep it exciting.  Some of my favorite quinoa salad recipes include: Quinoa Apple Salad, Mediterranean Salmon-Quinoa Salad, Quinoa Veggie Salad.

-  Instead of tuna salad (because tuna is not recommended on the Advanced or Core Plans), opt for wild caught Alaskan salmon salad.  2 cups Alaskan salmon, 1 diced green pepper, 1 diced cucumber, 1/2 cup chopped onion, 1/4 cup fresh mayonnaise, 2-3 Tbsp fresh lemon juice, sea salt, pepper; mix it all together with a fork.  Roll in lettuce wraps or spread over top salad greens.

-  Banana Sandwich.  Raw almond or coconut butter and unsweetened raisins sandwiched between a banana sliced in half the long way.


-  Berries covered with coconut cream instead of yogurt (the cream is at the top of the can of coconut milk, the thick white part).  This works well in the winter using thawed frozen berries.

-  Bean salad mixed with roasted veggies, olive oil, and herbs.  Or a more raw version, like my Black Bean Confetti Salad.

Beet Hummus
-  New hummus flavors (beet hummus, zucchini hummus, broccoli hummus, green herbed hummus, roasted red pepper hummus, roasted garlic hummus, cilantro-lime hummus, sweet potato hummus, artichoke hummus, sour cream & onion hummus, sun dried tomato hummus, guacamole hummus)

-  Veggie chips (sweet potato chips, kale chips, zucchini chips, carrot chips, avocado fries, beet chips)

-  Raw apple sauce by pureeing a granny smith apple, peel and all.

Caramel dip with sliced apples

Homemade Larabars or fruit leather strips

-  Protein packed healthy baked goods (check out my desserts section for ideas)

-  Egg bakes, like a sliced vegetable egg frittata

-  Make a nut butter alternative for dipping apples & celery.  Whip together softened coconut butter with sunflower seed butter, a little almond milk, and powdered xylitol in a stand mixer.  Stir in raisins (optional).

-  Egg salad can be switched up a couple different ways: Classic Egg Salad and Deviled Egg Salad. 

Strawberry-Kiwi Greens
-  Homemade 'Gogurts' or pushpops using these silicone molds (or these ones).  We own the first set.  You can create so many different flavors.  Add plain yogurt, fruit blended with yogurt, fruit & veggie smoothies, mango pureed with coconut, fruit chunks with Strawberry-Kiwi Dynamic Greens, protein shakes, Key Lime Pudding, Chocolate Pudding….so many options!

-  Organic frozen veggies, thawed overnight in the fridge.  I store bags of organic mixed veggies in individual sized servings so I can pull from the fridge easily without measuring the night before, ready for the lunchbox in the morning.

-  Fresh homemade salad dressings taste so much better than store bought.  Your child is more likely to eat their spinach, kale, or lettuce if it tastes good.  Try some of my favorite quick and easy dressing mixes: 9 Fresh Dressing Ideas, Creamy Cucumber Salad Dressing, Ginger Lime Dressing.


Thermos brand hot cups
Switch up the sack lunch with a hot soup or casserole.  Preheat the food AND the Thermos cup the in the morning.  Lunch will still be hot come lunchtime!  Remember, you can maximize your food budget by buying in-season fresh produce and freezing it for use later in the year, like the winter when fresh local veggies are scarce.  You also save time by making recipes in double or triple batches and freezing for later use.  I like to store individual servings of soups and casseroles in jars in the freezer for quick and easy lunches.  Some of my favorites to make now and freeze for later:

Chicken Minestrone - using extra vegetables or beans instead of pasta and whatever veggies are fresh and cheap!

-  Chili
, oh how I loooove chili!  I like to switch it up, making a different chili recipe every few weeks: Pumpkin Chili, White Bean Chicken Chili, Healing Cuisine Classic Chili, Turkey-Bean Chili, Texas Chili, Three Bean Chili, Quinoa Chili, Moroccan Chili.

Pacific Natural Foods organic soup
We get the Pacific Natural Foods brand of Roasted Red Pepper-Tomato Soup, the low sodium version.  It's Core Plan approved and from a brand I can trust.  It's a cheaper and easier option than buying my own tomatoes and making the soup from scratch.  I love that it's organic, especially because conventional red bell peppers are on the Dirty Dozen and conventional tomatoes are treated with some pretty bad pesticides!  And, the Pacific Natural Foods cartons are BPA-free, which is a step better than canned soups or other carton brands!

Enchilada Chicken Stew

Quinoa Broccoli & Cheese Soup

Smoked Turkey Split Pea Soup

Tex-Mex Squash Bake

Homemade Hamburger Helper

Chicken & Dumpling Soup

Leek & Potato Soup

Do you have any tricks up your sleeve for switching up your child's school lunch?  Please share in the comments section or on our Facebook page!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

School Lunches Part 3: Menu Planning

I'm back, after a short hiatus last week.  Dave and I have been working hard on plans for our future Greensboro, NC clinic.  We are currently in the south Charlotte area (side note: I am SO HAPPY the Democratic National Convention is over!  Life can go back to normal for us all finally.  We live within a mile of the hotel where all the stuff was happening and the President was staying.  Sounds cool, but let's just say we were counting down the days...  Friday was a happy day!).  We are planning to eventually move north a couple of hours to Greensboro to open our Maximized Living health center and raise our family.  Plans are starting, more news soon as we know more details.  I am getting excited though!!  It's sounding like 2013 will be the year!

I'm happy to be back to finish up our series on Whole Food School Lunches.  This is Part 3 where we'll be talking about Menu Planning.  In case you missed it, you can find Part 1 and Part 2 here.  After this breakdown of how to plan your weekly menus with your child(ren), I'll share a few new recipes that will spice up the lunch box experience for your kid(s) to keep them happy and engaged.

Each month, I keep a tally of how many consultations I do with you guys and what types of consultations.  Lately, each month I am shocked by the outcome.  It used to be that what people needed the most help with was detoxification and customized recipes for allergies.  Now, since about January, you guys are coming to me for help with Meal Planning.  That is by far the most requested consultation I am getting from you.  Today I'm sharing some of my tips with you for free! I'm hoping some of today's post will help with your lunch planning needs.   And enjoy the two PDF templates for free as well.


I love it when a parent implements a meal planning routine with their child.  Not only are you teaching your kids life skills that they will use later in life on their own, but you are also opening the door for nutrition and health conversations.  You can help your child understand the importance of eating whole foods vs. processed foods, what it means to drink half your body weight in ounces, why sugary beverages can make you sick, and the differences between healthy proteins-carbs-fats vs. unhealthy options.

We're talking about planning lunches on a whole food, real food lifestyle.  Whether your child is following the Advanced Plan or Core Plan, or maybe you are in the baby step stage of just getting your family to eat whole foods.  All of today's tips will help you!  I would just like to explain that while balanced eating is very important (Protein, Carbs, Fat in each meal), it's not about calorie counting or measuring out exact grams or cups of foods.  When you are eating whole foods, simply make sure that each meal contains a Clean Protein, a Healthy Carb, and a Good Fat and you are set.  Your body knows what to do, and as long as you are eating enough for your body size (bigger portion for an adult, smaller portion for a child), you will stay full for 3-6 hours from meal-to-meal.


Pick a day that you and your child will sit down and plan your month's (or week's) worth of school lunches.  For us it is the last Thursday of every month.  Start by having your child tell you what he/she would like to see in their lunchbox.  It's important to send them off each day with a balanced meal.  I've created a Favorite Lunch Foods worksheet that you can fill out with your child (pictured below, download it here).  Ask them to list their favorite foods in each category: Clean Proteins, Healthy Fats, Vegetables, and Fruits.  Always include a bottle of fresh filtered water with every lunch (I like to use a Klean Kanteen).  Use this list of favorite foods as your crutch while planning the month/week's worth of lunches.

Favorite Lunch Foods Template
Once you have each child's favorites recorded, work together to mix and match the categories to create complete lunch meals.  I've created a Lunch Menu Template for you to use as your guide (pictured below, download it here).  It's in a weekly format, however I recommend planning your lunch menus out a month in advance.  This sets you up for success, giving you ample time to plan, shop, prep, and prepare.  You may find once you get the system down, that you can cook once a month and make enough food for the freezer to use in lunches for most of the following month.  Remember to refer back to my School Lunches Part 2 discussion on preparing lunch meals in advance.  Also, save each week's menu template after you fill it out.  Reuse it each month or every other month to further simplify the menu planning and save you time, or at least use it as a guide and make adjustments as needed based on seasonal produce!
Lunch Menu Planner Template


Decide to start today!
1.)  Do it.  As with any goal, the first step is making the commitment.  The second step is following through and doing it.  You can't just say you're going to do it, you must decide you will do it.  Set a date to start taking action.  Talk to your spouse and kids to get them involved in the meal planning process.  Have them help hold you accountable.

2.)  Shop strategically.  Pick a day to do your grocery shopping that works best for you.  For me, it's Sundays after 3pm.  Consider your schedule, then cross reference it against how busy your farmer's market or grocery store may be at that time.  Sometimes it's better to wait until later in the day to shop.  Also, consider your market's schedule.  Ask the store manager when they receive fresh shipments on produce.  And stay flexible with your shopping list.  If you're planning on romaine but the spinach looks better, go with the spinach.

3.)  Consume perishables first.  When putting your weekly meal plans together, send your kids off to school with the most perishable items first so nothing goes to waste later in the week.  In my house we have salads or lettuce/kale wraps on Mondays and Tuesdays.
Grade your efforts to make improvements.
4.)  Grade your efforts.  When your child brings their lunch box home, have them grade how they liked their lunch.  Have them write a grade, A-F, on the weekly menu planner or use a number system, 10-1.  This opens the door for communication about what they really did or didn't like about that day's packed lunch.  Together, you can make adjustments for next week.

5.)  Budget smart.  Budget your time, budget your money.  Using a monthly planning system allows you to buy foods in bulk to save the most money.  You'll also spend much less time planning one day a month rather than every single day.  Plan to use Sunday dinner leftovers in Monday's lunch.  And when certain foods are on sale, like chicken, avocados, or cauliflower, buy a bunch and freeze it for later in the year.  You can even make double dinners and freeze the 2nd portion for lunches later in the year.
Seasonal foodpicks add pizazz!
6.)  Looks count.  Make an effort to keep the packed lunches looking attractive.  A variety of food colors each day is a great start.  You can also include fun freezer packs (I like these ones by Rubbermaid, get a few to switch it up!) or use decorative items like cookie cutters to shape the cheese/fruit/veggies or foodpicks like this one or this one with a fun toppers.  And, your child is never too old for an encouraging note, a picture, or a funny drawing from you included in their lunchbox.

7.)  Variety is key.  Planning ahead means you'll have time to add variety to your kids' lunches.  Throw in a few new foods each week that are not on your child's Favorite Foods list.  If you're dealing with a picky eater who is likely to throw out the new food before trying it, instead try introducing new foods at dinner time first.  You can keep a watchful eye while your child responds to the new food.  Then open dialogue about including it in their lunches in the future.

8.)  Stick to the plan. 
Map out your shopping list in detail to avoid buying processed foods or high sugar content foods.  When shopping, stick to your grocery list for your kids' lunches.  You don't want to forget anything that could compromise the week's menu.

9.)  Establish portion size.  For many parents, it's trial and error to figure out how much food is enough for your child to get through the day.  Growth spurts, extra activity during the school day, and many other things can impact how much food a child needs during the day.  Roll with the punches and continue to try your best to meet his/her needs. 

Larger size compartment lunchbox.
10.)  Design a template.  Depending on the age of your child, they may need more than 1 serving of Protein, Carb, and Fat at lunch time.  This is true especially for Middle School and High School age kids.  Talk with your child about how much food they need during the day, and together design a template to follow for preparing the lunches.  Some kids may need as much as 7-10 different food items to take enough food in to match their growing adolescent body.  For larger size lunches, you may need a bigger bento type box, or two of them, or something like this stackable style Ecobox.

11.)  Schedule baking day.  If you set yourself up for success, it will come more easily.  Schedule a day or two times during the week that you will bake lunch and snack items.  For me, I do our family's shopping on Sunday evenings.  Tuesday mornings once a month are for baking and making freezer desserts.  I actually only bake once or twice per month, making enough to store in the freezer for the rest of the month.  Putting the date on your schedule specifically for baking will encourage you to get it done.

12.)  Be mindful of allergies. 
This is a good tip not only for the safety of others, but to ensure your child is eating only the food that you packed for them.  Talk with your child about how food allergies make it particularly important that everyone eat their own packed lunch.  If a fellow student has a food allergy that you don't know about, something in your lunch could trigger a reaction.  Eat what mom or dad gave you and only that, no trading.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Wordless Wednesday: September 5, 2012

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