“Mom, What’s For Dinner?”

Does that question strike dread in your mind whenever it is asked? We lead busy lives; our children lead busy lives.  Meals sometimes end up in the fast food drive through, which we know isn’t the healthiest or the most economical way to feed our family.  Meal planning doesn’t have to be daunting or difficult… I should know, I wrote the book on it.  Literally, I wrote a simple book on meal planning: “Mom, What’s For Dinner?”  It has many helpful tips and ideas, and a pull out menu planning worksheet and grocery list.

Meal planning is simply a system and, once we have a few weeks accomplished, we can rotate those meals through for the coming week with minor adjustments.   But there are basic principles that we follow to get our meals set up, our grocery list written and the food bought and then prepped.

Write down a list of family favorite meals: it is always gratifying to hear “I love this!” when we are preparing or serving the meal. Get family input: what have they wanted to try, or had at a friend’s? Gather recipes: this may mean from family members, friends, neighbors or even the Internet or television. Grab the calendar: like I said earlier, we are busy, and some of our meals may need to be grab and go, or waiting for us in the Crock Pot/Instant Pot.

Grab the worksheet: my book includes a colorful pullout worksheet for meal planning.  This can be copied and used for each week.  (Or use a spreadsheet or just a piece of notebook paper.)

  1. First, date the worksheet and determine if this will be rotated through again, and if so, label it Week 1.
  2. Classify the meals by marking which nights will be “eat out” or need it to be a Grab-n-Go and this will leave the remaining nights as our “sit down” nights.
  3. Fill in the dinner entrees; add in the veggies and side dishes.
  4. Fill in lunch meals next, utilizing leftovers or having our children help us plan what they will take for lunch or which days they will buy at school.
  5. Fill in breakfast. While we may think that we always just grab the same things for breakfast, these items need to be on our grocery list and who knows, with planning, we may get to try something new.
  6. Advance preparation makes us jot down items that may need to be prepped the day before, or thawed in advance.
  7. Complete the grocery list. My meal planning worksheet has a large grocery list on the back that includes many of the basics many of us tend to buy all the time… just cross out what you don’t need that week.

If you would like a copy of my book, with more of these helpful hints and tips, and the full color meal planning worksheet and grocery list pull-out, click here.  All profits from the sale of this book will be donated to Feed My Starving Children.

The Pros and “Pre”s of Gut Health

We all know by now that we should be eating probiotics to improve our digestion and overall gut health.  Many of us are eating yogurt, sauerkraut and kefir, and drinking Kombucha at times.  We may even be taking probiotics as a supplement on a daily basis.

Consuming probiotics is a good health habit to have, but there is also a lesser-known habit that benefits the probiotic activity we are trying to encourage in our gut: eating PREBIOTICS.  Prebiotics are a category of dietary fiber that we eat that mainly passes through the small intestine and is then utilized in the large intestine to improve our gut health and feed the probiotic “good” bacteria.  

It is important to note, that while there are many supplement options out there for pre- and probiotics, our body best utilizes these compounds from the foods that we eat.  This makes it essential to make some menu changes to our daily routine and include these foods.  Belly up to these foods!

The best and most practical prebiotic foods are:

  • Onions – raw or cooked, these are a great and tasty addition to everything we eat
  • Garlic – while raw is best and can be used in hummus or veggie salads, lightly cooking it in our recipes will also give benefits: add it at the end  of a recipe instead of sautéing first, as this will keep it more raw. 
  • Asparagus – we don’t often think of eating this raw, but it is a great addition to the veggie tray, and packs the best prebiotic punch, but lightly sautéed works, too
  • Jicama – best eaten raw, jicama sticks are readily available in the grocery store
  • Leeks – in the onion family, but with a milder, sweeter flavor, great on salads
  • Dandelion greens – chop some up in your next salad
  • Under-ripe bananas – the greener the better for prebiotic properties and more resistant starch

The best and most practical Probiotic foods are:

  • Yogurt – watch the sugar, try to eat the plain variety
  • Kefir – also watch the sugar, plain is better
  • Sauerkraut – the fermentation creates all that good probiotic bacteria we need
  • Kombucha – ditto on the fermentation benefits, and readily available bottled in several flavors
  • Apple cider vinegar – before you make a sour face, how about using it in a delicious salad dressing with healthy olive oil.

Planning to add these foods into our meals and snacks provides the factors that keep our digestion working at it’s best.

Honey Dijon dressing

1 clove garlic, minced
1 T Dijon mustard
¼ cup raw apple cider vinegar
2 T fresh lemon juice
1-2 T raw honey
½ cup extra virgin olive
Sea salt and pepper to taste

Herb Vinaigrette dressing

1 clove garlic, minced
¼ cup raw apple cider vinegar
2 T fresh lemon juice
½ cup extra virgin olive
½ tsp basil, parsley and/or oregano
Sea salt and pepper to taste

For either recipe: Place everything in a Mason jar and shake
Let stand for several hours before serving for flavors to blend


Happily Hydrated

We all know that we should drink water during the day and that water is good for us…but do we really know the vast benefits to drinking water and staying hydrated?

Our bodies are made up of about 70% water.  Every organ, tissue and cell in our body is dependent on water to function properly.  If we do not drink enough water we compromise the functions in our body and our cells and organs cannot do what they need to do properly to keep us healthy.

Water keeps our muscles, bones, tissues and organs functioning properly. Our body pulls water into the organ or tissue and flushes toxins out.  An easier way to understand this is to think of what we do when we need to rinse down a sink; we need water to move things away and down the drain.

Our body functions in exactly glass of waterthe same way, we need to take in water, which goes in through our digestive system and is then distributed through our blood to every part of our body.  This carries with it the good nutrients that we need and delivers them where they are beneficial and then carries away the toxins that result from our body processes.  If our blood is low on water, it makes that distribution and elimination very inefficient.

Our digestive tract is also dependent on water in the same way.  The water we drink mixes with the food in our digestive tract and works with the fibers in our foods to move those toxins out of our body.  When we are constipated, we are allowing the toxins and byproducts of our body processes to sit in our digestive tract.  Our body is designed to eliminate certain things, and plenty of water, along with a high-fiber, plant-based diet will do just that.

So how much water is enough?  Well the rule of thumb is that whatever we weigh in pounds, we should take that number and divide it in half.  This number is the ounces of water we need daily at a minimum:

For example: 140 pounds / 2 = 70 oz. of water; 70 oz. / 8 oz. = 8.75 glasses per day (8 oz. glasses)

Having a plan for consuming our necessary ounces of water will help us get what we need.  Keeping a refillable container with us, and knowing how many of those we need to drink in a day to meet our ounce requirements will simplify the calculation. When we are participating in activities such as swimming, tennis, walking running or golf, we will need to increase our hydration requirement to replenish whatever we lose to sweating.  Sports drinks should be reserved for use only when we have a very strenuous output of energy and sweat that would require some electrolytes. Otherwise, for most of us, plain water is the best along with a healthy snack after our activity to replenish nutrients and electrolytes.

Our water should be purified to remove toxins that are either found in our water, or added to our water when it is purified at the source.  Chlorine is added to our water to kill bacteria, but it is not good for drinking.  Fluoride has also been added for years to drinking water based on the thoughts that it would help reduce cavities in teeth.  What fluoride actually does is throw off the balance of other nutrients that are essential to our health, especially iodine.

Reverse Osmosis is the best way to purify our water for drinking and removing impurities and additives.

Lemon in our water actually helps alkalize our body and helps keep our digestive system moving.  I start my day with a large glass of water with fresh organic lemon squeezed in. The rest of the day, plain water is fine… if you have the opportunity to add lemon… great!

Stay hydrated, everyone!

Go With Your Gut

Seventy percent of our immune system originates in our gut…

The New Year is always a time when we evaluate, assess and determine if there are any changes we should make.  We often vow to be healthier, but we may be overlooking the biggest factor in our immune system, our gut. Over 70% of our immune system originates in our gut and therefore, if our gut is not healthy, we won’t be healthy.  We often overlook digestive issues year after year because we think there is no easy fix.  Do we consider heart burn, reflux, or intestinal distress problems as just a part of life?  That is only true when it is occasional. When these issues recur over and over, or are even part of our daily life, this is not normal.  There are medications we can take, both over the counter and prescription, but these usually just treat symptoms, and often don’t address the underlying cause of the issue.

Food intolerances are the biggest cause of intestinal distress and we may not even realize it. Gluten and dairy are the most common offenders, but each of us is different and things such as sugar, other grains and soy can trigger discomfort or worse.  When we eat foods that we don’t tolerate, it causes inflammation in the lining of the gut.  This makes our immune system compromised and causes both our intestines and our body to react.  The inflammationcan then be carried over into other areas including illness, eczema and arthritis.

Perhaps the best way to begin to address this issue is by keeping a food log so that when we experience an issue we can determine if there is a pattern of offenders.  Simply write down everything eaten at each meal for a week or two, also making note of any incidents of indigestion, heartburn, reflux, or intestinal distress.  See if there is a pattern of foods or situations that seem to result in an issue. If we already know certain food offenders, make this the year to make a change and repair the damage in our intestines and immune system.

Try eliminating foods that may have shown up in a pattern in our log, or remove the most common offenders for 2 weeks and then try adding back only one at a time to test a food, eat a very small portion such as a couple bites 2-3 times during that day and allow 24-48 hours to see if there is any reaction. The symptoms can be bloating, indigestion, constipation, diarrhea, headache, rash, or even other things. Write down any reaction. Eliminate the food again for 3-5 days and then test it one more time. If a reaction occurs again, it is most likely that you are intolerant to that food.  This doesn’t always mean that we can never eat that food again.  After eliminating it for a longer period of time, and working to heal our gut, an occasional meal including the food(s) may be fine.

While food intolerances may not be causing digestive problems for some of us, there are other key elements that all of us can follow to keep our gut healthy.  These are explored further in other posts

  1. Drink plenty of water.
  2. Eat plenty of fruits and veggies.
  3. Avoid excessive alcohol or caffeine.
  4. Eat probiotics.
  5. Eat prebiotics.
  6. Exercise regularly.
  7. Eat the right types and amount of protein.
  8. Be creative and adventurous with meals and meal planning.

So go with your gut, listen to what it is telling you, and you will be healthier in 2018. Happy New Year!