Make Your Own Salad Dressings – A Simple Way to Eat Healthier

If you’re looking for just one way to eat a healthier diet, I encourage you to look into making your own salad dressings.  Here are our favorites along with the links to the recipes:

These are so easy to make, so fresh, so delicious.  I like making big batches of the dressing mixes to have on hand.  Then all I have to do when we’re out of salad dressing is grab the mix and stir it into the other ingredients.  This gives us healthy salad dressings in just a few minutes.  We’ve been eating a lot of salads lately, so making salad dressing has saved us a lot of money and kept us healthier too!

Make Homemade Mixes With Real Food Ingredients

I’d really like to come up with a Caesar Salad Dressing too.  Anyone have a good one to share?

Making Whole Wheat Quick Mix

On my agenda this week:  Get out the Whole Wheat Quick Mix and make use of it!

I decided to scrap our Friday night menu plan last week and make Quick Mix Pancakes, eggs, and fruit instead.  Easy, and perfect for a laid back Friday night.  My guys love it when I make breakfast for dinner.  Since I used my Quick Mix, which meant that making dinner took only a few minutes.

I have some strawberries and kiwi in the fridge so I think I’ll also make a Quick Mix Fruit Pizza.  Click on the picture below to grab the Quick Mix recipe, plus many recipes you can make with the mix!

Also, take note that Tropical Traditions, my favorite source for the palm shortening I use in this quick mix is offering a great deal today (hurry!).

Whole Wheat Quick Mix

Have You Tried Making This Amazing Peanut Butter Yet?

You will love how delicious this Homemade Super Creamy Peanut Butter is.  If you haven’t tried it yet, do it!  Our family eats it by the spoonful. :)

Here’s what D’Ann said about the peanut butter this week:

I am truly in love with this recipe!  I simply scoop the palm shortening into the food processor with an ice cream scoop that equals 1/4 cup, add the maple syrup, salt and lastly the nuts.  I whirl it for 5 minutes, and the end result is pure yummy magic!  I make 3 jars at a time and just store them in my pantry.  I’ve never had an issue with it going or tasting bad.  I also store mine in the cabinet, and it spreads and acts like brand name pb.  My family is in love. :)

Super Creamy Peanut Butter

Sounds like a great kitchen project for this weekend, huh?  Find the recipe here.

Easy Fruits and Veggies On the Go

Last weekend, we headed out of state to a weekend-long basketball tournament for our boys.  It was two and a half days full of hotel continental breakfasts, fast food, and other treats.  Weekends like that can be a lot of fun.  At the same time, we knew our stomachs would start to rebel after a meal or two of white flour, white sugar, and grease.  In an effort to give us some good nutrition in the midst of ice cream cones and burgers, I packed as many colorful fruits and vegetables as I could.

While I was getting it prepared the morning we were to leave, it occurred to me how pretty it all was.  Out came the camera.  After all, I had plenty of time for food photography in the midst of laundry, packing, and making last minute preparations, right?

Fruits and Veggies On the Go 2

I made good use of my Pyrex dishes with lids.  These travel well, and keep fruits and vegetables from getting squished.  They all stack nicely together in a cooler, and keep the food fresh.  I simply stuck a few ice packs in and around the food containers, and it all stayed chilled and nice all weekend long.

My encouragement to you with this post is to think outside the box a little bit as you pack fruits and veggies for travel.  Before just a year or two ago, I didn’t really think beyond packing apples and carrots.  Those got old after a while.   Then I started noticing what other families had packed to eat during games.  Oh, there are so many great options!

For this round of travel, beyond apples and clementines, we washed, prepared, and packed 2 pounds of strawberries to munch on, grape tomatoes, sliced cucumbers and ranch dip, and sweet peppers.  We also had a few applesauce and peach cups packed with spoons.

Fruits and Veggies On the Go

While we enjoyed our fair share of restaurant food, we were able to counter it with nutrient-filled food too.  This was especially important, we felt, for our boys who were playing hard and sweating all weekend long.  They needed energy and nourishment!

Here’s a list I created so you can get some fruits-and-veggies-on-the-go ideas at a quick glance:

  • Apples
  • Oranges or Clementines
  • Pears
  • Grapes
  • Cherries
  • Blueberries
  • Raspberries
  • Strawberries
  • Sweet Peppers
  • Grape or Cherry Tomatoes
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Cucumber Slices
  • Applesauce Cups
  • Peaches, Pears, Mixed Fruit Cups in 100% Juice
  • Fruit Leather

I would add bananas to the list, but have found that they get squishy quickly while being carried in bags from car to gym. What fruits and vegetables would you add to this list?

How to Store Fruits and Vegetables to Keep Them Fresh

We’re in fruit and veggie mode around here.  You are too, right?  I mean, I’m just assuming that while you’re reading this, you’ve got a slice of pear hanging out of your mouth.  That’s what I thought.  Okay, let’s continue.

How to Store Produce and Keep it Fresh

As I’m encouraging you to always have a great supply of fruits and vegetables on hand to eat and serve, many of you are asking questions about how to store them to keep them fresh.  I’ll share what I do, then everyone leave a comment to share what works best for you, too!

1.  Eat them.

First, I want to say that once you fill your cart and get home with loads of fruits and veggies, don’t hold back on eating them.  The surest way for produce to go bad is for it to get stuffed into the back corner of the fridge and forgotten.  Chow down.  Don’t hold back.  Ration if you must, but make eating this good stuff a priority.

2.  Don’t wash it until you’re ready to eat it.

While there are some exceptions that I’ll share below, this is particularly important with berries and lettuce.  As soon as I wash raspberries, strawberries, or blueberries – the countdown to mold and squish begins.  I try to only wash what we will eat for that particular meal or snack.  If we don’t eat all of the berries I’ve washed, I get them back out for the next meal or snack so that we can finish them off quickly.

Lettuce is best washed and prepared immediately before serving.  Don’t want to spend much time making salads before a meal?  Do what I do and let everybody tear their own lettuce while fixing a plate for dinner.  It’s fun, easy, fresh, and crispy.

3.  When you come home from the store with a variety of produce, serve the most delicate fruits and vegetables first.

Apples, oranges, and pears will stay good for several days if not weeks.  I always set out our supply of berries, peaches, and grapes first – saving our apples, pineapple, clementines, and the like until later in the week when the rest is gone.

4.  The refrigerator is your friend.

While apples, pears, oranges, and kiwi will be fine for a while on the countertop or table, refrigerating them will help them last even longer.

5.  However, the top shelf of your refrigerator is your enemy.

Never store produce on the top shelf of your fridge.  It gets too cold up there, causing these dainty beauties to freeze and get wilty.  The bottom shelf or the crisper drawer works best.

6.  Store prepared fruits and veggies in glass so you can see what you have.

There are some vegetables that will store well for a few days if you’d like to prepare them ahead of time (slicing cucumbers, carrots, or peppers; chopping onion or broccoli).  But be sure they are dry and air tight.  I love storing prepared veggies in glass dishes with tight lids.  (These are my favorite.)  That way I can see what I have, know how much I have left, and they stay dry and fresh.

What to do when produce starts to go bad?

1.  Eat it quickly.
2.  Make it into a fruit salad or tossed salad.
3.  Freeze it.  Berries, peaches, pineapple, mangos, and bananas can be washed, dried, sliced, and placed directly into a freezer bag for smoothies.  Vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, and green beans need to be blanched first.  Read how to blanch vegetables here.  It takes two minutes.
4.  Make bread.  Here are recipes for Banana Bread, Blueberry Muffins, Strawberry Bread, Zucchini Bread, and Apple Bread.  If only you could make Broccoli Bread.  Eew, just kidding.
5.  Scramble it into some eggs.  Mushrooms, zucchini, broccoli, onions, peppers getting soft?  Chop them up and sauté them in butter.  Add eggs, scramble, and you’ve got a delicious way to eat veggies.
6.  Throw it into soup.  Make it into fajitas.  Toss it into stir fry.

What are your greatest tips for keeping produce fresh and using it up before it goes bad?

Easy Ways to Eat Plenty of Fruits and Veggies ~ and Our Fruit and Veggie Challenge Check-In

How is the Fruit and Vegetable Challenge going for you?  Here’s hoping you loaded up your kitchen with lots of fresh and frozen produce and you’ve been enjoying a wide variety the past few days!

Easy Ways to Eat Plenty of Fruits and Veggies

To encourage you on this journey, I wanted to share a few tricks I’ve learned to help my family get plenty of colorful, nutrient-filled, fruit and vegetable variety.  It’s obvious that you should be serving side dishes of fruits and/or vegetables at every meal.  But sometimes, that’s still not enough servings each day.  We often eat them for snacks, so that gives us bonus fruits and veggies.  But how about these ideas to get a wide variety and a large quantity:

1.  Make Stir Fry

Our favorite recipe is this one: Easy Noodle Stir Fry.  All four of my kids gobble this down, and there are usually three or four different vegetables included.

2.  Eat Salads Often

There are so many different variety of greens, and so many fun and delicious add-ins to a salad.  Homemade dressing makes salads amazing.

3.  Make Smoothies

There’s no limit to what you can toss into a smoothie.  (Okay, fine.  I wouldn’t blend in a piece of steak.  Tuna, maybe.  Kidding!  I’m talking fruit here.)  You can get several servings of fruit and even veggies (by adding spinach or other fresh greens) in a smoothie.

4.  Make Soup

Vegetable soup is an obvious way to get several servings in one meal.  But any soup can be a great veggie source if you just add them in.

What other ways have you found to get lots of fruit and vegetables servings into one meal?

How We Are Eating Lots of Fruits and Vegetables This Week

How is the Fruit and Vegetable Challenge going for you so far?  Hopefully you’ve been adding plenty of the good stuff to your shopping cart and to your plate.

We’ve had fun taking pictures the past two weeks of some of our yummy, fruit and veggie filled meals.  Chicken Salad on a One Hour Whole Wheat Yeast Roll with lettuce, cucumbers, sweet peppers, and grapes was such a delicious lunch several days ago!  It made me feel like it was summer time – except for the fact that it was below zero outside.  Details, details.

fruit and veggies jan 1

Once the kids saw me taking pictures that day, they decided to get in on the act!  Justus (age 13) decided to “build a masterpiece” with all the fresh goodies available for our lunch that day:

fruit and veggies jan 2

Not to worry, he had seconds, thirds, and fourths before leaving the table.
He is almost 14, you know.

Malachi (age 9) saw what Justus was doing and said that he would make a masterpiece too.  It is with much excitement that I present to you…The Grape:

fruit and veggies jan 3

After Malachi took his masterpiece picture and ate his enormous serving of grape, he created another pretty plateful:

fruit and veggies jan 4

I think we’ve been grape deprived.  Our family ate almost the entire bag I bought during this one lunch.  Why am I shocked?  Two teenage boys, a 12 year old boy, a 9 year old boy, and a hard working dad?  Of course we ate the whole bag.

One great way I find to include additional veggies in a meal is to add plenty of onions, carrots, and leeks in our homemade chicken broth.  Then, I blend them all up into the broth, making it smooth and rich in veggies.  It is so flavorful this way!  For one of our meals, I cooked rice in this kind of broth, which turns it orange (from the carrots blended in).  I added chicken and cream, much like this Creamy Chicken and Rice Casserole, and called it dinner.

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Here’s another meal we had last week with this good broth, Potato Soup.  There are veggies in the broth (not to mention all the other wonderful nutrients from the chicken bones), veggies in the soup, plus we all had a bowl full of salad before we filled our bowl with soup.

fruit and veggies jan 6

A great way to encourage my kids to eat fruit for snacks is to set out a huge bowl of options on our table.  Not only is it tempting, it really brightens up the kitchen!  Because I think that fruit on a table is a decoration (as well as food to be eaten, of course), I obsessively remove all produce stickers once I bring it home from the store.  A sticker on my kiwi is not cute or appetizing, in my opinion.

fruit and veggies jan 7

A few days ago I burned us some grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch.  Yep, I burned them all.  The phone rang, someone came to the door, I have no idea what else happened when it was sandwich flipping time.  Oh well, we all still ate them.  I put out a plate of fruit, plus we had tomato soup to dip our burnt sandwiches in.  Looks like we had about 20 left to go on this fruit plate.  Nice!

fruit and veggies jan 9

Usually I steam broccoli and carrots, but for fun, I decided to roast them to go with our meal of spaghetti.  Delicious!  I’m making it a goal to serve salads with almost every evening meal.  This is such a great way for us to get plenty of raw greens.

fruit and veggies jan 10

What delicious ways have you found to serve fruits and veggies this week?  We’ll check back in Monday to see how the Fruit and Vegetable Challenge is going for you!

Go Buy Vegetables! (and Fruit) ~ Will You Accept the Challenge?

We’re in the thick of winter, which means fresh produce isn’t always as easy to come by.  I long for a tomato that isn’t pitiful to look at and tasteless on my taco.  Alas, I will need to wait a few months for a tasty tomato.  In the meantime, there are loads of other great options.  (See this week’s shopping cart below to prove it.)

You might get sick of me saying it, but hey, you’ll really get sick if you don’t do it.  So I’ll keep encouraging and prodding because I just can’t help it:  Buy fruits and vegetables.  Eat fruits and vegetables.  It’s the easiest and best way to be healthier.

I have become more convicted than ever that:

1.  My family needs even more than I had been giving them.
2.  In order to eat more fruits and vegetables, I have to be very intentional about purchasing and serving them.  And
3.  It really is easy to always eat many fruits and vegetables each day.

How is it easy?  I now go to the store for the purpose of loading up on fruits and vegetables.  I fill my cart.  I go through check-out.  Then I have a counter-top full and a fridge full and a freezer full of fruits and vegetables.  Then we eat them often.  See how easy that is?

Go Buy Vegetables!

I have found that taking my boys to the store with me to help me pick out all the fruits and vegetables that look good to them has been very helpful to encourage them to crave and eat them!  (It’s also very nice because they can then help me load and unload and unpack it all too.  It’s a win-win.)

This week the boys and I filled our cart with: clementines, apples, grapefruit, pears, pineapple, raspberries, blueberries, cucumbers, grapes, avocados, broccoli, lettuce, spinach, mixed greens, carrots, sweet potatoes, kiwi, and one lone banana.  (We’re a little tired of bananas right now, but Malachi thought maybe one for a bedtime snack sounded like a good idea.)

This cart full will last us for about one week.  (We also have plenty of frozen veggies in the freezer.)  When I have a bunch of fruit and veggies on hand, I find that it is so fun to figure out fun ways to serve them.  It inspires me to set out a variety with each meal.  And just think of all the great nutrients we’re getting!

Okay, now your turn!  The next time you go to the store (which may be a few days for those of you who are snowed in!) – go with the intention of buying lots of fruits and vegetables.  Buy a variety, buy what looks delicious, and buy more than just a little bit.  You and your family need this!  Envision me sitting on your shoulder as you look at the kiwi saying, “Yes!  Get it!  And get that fresh spinach over there too!”  (Obviously, if I were sitting on your shoulder, I would also remind you to get butter while you’re there.)

On Friday, I’ll share pictures to show some of the ways we’re eating our cart full of fruits and vegetables.  Then next Monday, we’ll check in to see how this challenge went for you.  You have six days to get to the store, fill your cart, come home, and fill your belly.

Want to begin making your list?  Tell me in the comments section every fruit and vegetable that sounds good to you right now!

Chocolate Covered Vegetables: Staying Healthy and Balanced During the Christmas Season

chocolate covered vegetables

It’s the question everybody is asking this time of year: What is your favorite holiday vegetable?  Well don’t everyone speak up at once.  Celery?  Broccoli?  Ahhhh, I am simply overwhelmed with magical Christmas warm fuzzies every time I think about cauliflower.

Oh, for real.  Who gets excited about Christmas vegetables?  Unless it’s a jalapeno stuffed with cream cheese and wrapped in bacon.  Now we’re talking.

I giggle a little bit when I read magazine articles with encouragement about how to eat healthy during the holiday season.  “At holiday parties,” they say, “fill your plate with raw veggies and nuts.”  Spendid!  Let’s party! Fill me a plate of festive Christmas cucumbers!

It’s not that I disagree with that advice.  It’s a very good idea actually – to fill up on the good stuff so that you don’t over-indulge on the bad stuff.  But when I think about my favorite Christmas-time foods, the relish tray isn’t at the top of my list.  I eat those foods all the time, and praise God for vegetables.  But at Christmas parties?  Please pass the chocolate covered chocolate with a bowl full of chocolate for dipping purposes.

I kid.  I mean, obviously there needs to be some cream cheese with that chocolate.  And some chips.  With dip.  Okay then.

So what is reality, what can we do to stay healthy, and how do we maintain a good balance during this fun filled, food filled season?  Here is my chocolate-covered advice:

Save the Treats for Parties

You’ll likely be at plenty of events during the next several weeks that will offer tables laden with sugar.  Knowing this, avoid having lots of sugary foods in your own kitchen.  Instead, focus on eating plenty of healthy foods at home – yes, I’m talking about vegetables here.  Eat salads, eat good protein, blend spinach into your smoothies, eat all kinds of nourishing foods.  Your body will thank you for it, and you’ll enjoy the party treats so much more.

Sugar is Made to Be Shared

But wait.  What if you have goodies in your kitchen because you’re having fun making treats to share with others?  Awesome, that’s part of the joy of this season!  This gives you the opportunity to take a nibble or two of some of your favorite holiday treats, then package up the rest to give to others.

Make the Sugar Consumption Count

I say, if we’re going to have something sweet and a little bit naughty - for goodness sake we’d better swoon while we’re eating it.  Pass over the crumbly boxed cookies, and go for the gooey, decadent, dish of amazingness.  Why waste our indulgences on something that is just so-so?

Stop Eating When You’re Full

I think somehow many of us equate holiday time with over-eating.  What?  So we’re just planning on being gluttonous while throwing reason and self-control out the frosty window?  That’s silly.  Take small amounts of food, savor each bite, then when you are full, put down your plate.  Christmas is more merry when you don’t have indigestion.  (<– Someone should totally turn that sentence into a Christmas carol.)

Drink Lots of Water

Do I really need to elaborate on this one?  We always need to be sipping on water.  Even at Christmas.  Just do it.

May each of us enjoy a holiday season that is healthy, balanced, moderate, delicious, and topped with a caramel truffle.  I mean artichoke.  No, no.  I mean truffle.  It is Christmas, after all.

What is one of your biggest struggles with staying healthy during Christmas?  What would you add to this list as an encouragement to stay healthy and balanced during the holiday season?

Starting Our Mornings with Healthy, Quick Breakfasts

Whether you send your kids off to school early each morning, homeschool your kids, don’t have kids, have kids too little for school, have adult children living with you, have kids who are grown and living on their own (did I catch everybody?) – we all need a good breakfast.  Most of us need a breakfast that is fast and easy.  We’d also like it to be nourishing.  And filling.  And tasty.

So how can we get mornings off to a great start?

Have a plan!  It doesn’t need to be elaborate, it doesn’t need to take much time.  Simply think ahead toward what will be filling and nourishing for your family.  Make a list of some favorites.  Here are some of ours:

Pull it out of the freezer!  So many great (and inexpensive) breakfast foods can be made ahead of time and frozen for healthy convenience.  Some of our favorite breakfast freezer foods are:

If you haven’t tried freezing muffin batter so that you can quickly bake muffins without any effort, you’ve got to try it.  It’s my favorite time saving, freezer cooking method yet!

Make it the night before!  I have found that while I’m making dinner for my family in the evening, I often have a few extra minutes while I wait for water to boil, meat to brown, or vegetables to steam.  During those few minutes, I try to do some prep work toward our breakfast for the next morning.  Read more about this idea here.

No time to make breakfast in the evening?  How about after you get the dinner dishes cleaned up, you set out bowls, spoons, and Homemade Grape Nuts Cereal or Easy Homemade Granola?

What do you do to make healthy breakfasts simple at your house? 

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I can’t wait to reveal our new Let’s Do This! Getting Ahead in Your Real Food Kitchen eCourse and the {Healthy} Make-Ahead Meals and Snacks eBook on Monday!  With these resources, you’ll be equipped with loads of recipes that will help you get ahead, save money, and save time – all while feeding your family healthy food.  From breakfast to dinner to snacks – you’ll have all kinds of new recipes, ideas, and guidance to help you get ahead in your real food kitchen!