Wednesday, January 28, 2015

German Kraut and Potatoes

Do you have family food traditions? We have quite a few, or at least I think. I have lots of memories of both of my grandmothers making certain things and my mom making special foods for special times.

Although we don't have German ancestry anywhere in our family, I grew up eating and LOVING Sausages and Sauerkraut. We would go as a family to Oktoberfest and my mom would bottle her own sauerkraut at home. (She and my dad even made their own sausages one year, but I was much too afraid of them to eat them. Which was fine with my parents, More for them!)

So when we had a special birthday boy at our house request for his favorite dinner - Bratwurst and Sauerkraut, I knew that I was bringing that boy up right!

But as it would happen, his birthday fell on the absolute busiest day of the week. The day where I pick the kids up from school with snacks packed in the car and bags with karate equipment, toys for the little kids during singing lessons and homework packets. When was I ever going to find the time to make the big birthday dinner when we got home right at dinner time?

I found this slow cooker recipe for German Kraut and Potatoes, I made it in the morning and it was very very easy prep. The resulting dinner was so dang delicious! My parents went bonkers over it, (my mom even cheated on her "diet" for it - although it was Not unhealthy) If you are a fan of these type of food - you absolutely need to try this. It is fantastic, and we'll for sure be having it again much sooner than the next birthday request. - Then again, My mom's birthday is next month - so maybe we Will be having it then.


5 medium potatoes, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 large yellow onion, cut into 1/4 inch slices (I left mine nice and long)
1/2 green bell pepper, chopped
1 can (bottle) 16 oz sauerkraut
1 lb reduced-fat smoked sausage, cut into 1 inch pieces
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon black pepper


Layer the potatoes, onion, bell pepper and sauerkraut in a slow cooker. 

Brown your sausage slices in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Remove with a slotted spoon and add to your slow cooker. 

Combine the brown sugar, garlic powder, and black pepper in a small bowl; stir to combine. Sprinkle evenly over the sausage. (That you placed on top of your layer vegetables. 

Cook on low heat for 8 hours. 

Helping Snacking Become a Healthy Habit

We do a lot of snacking here at our house. Between lessons and classes, after school and before games, there are a lot of hungry bellies. We have some karate classes that start right at 5 and I need to make sure the boys have snacks before they go, so they can have the energy to have fun and do their best. The thing is, I need to make sure that it is absolutely the best snacking possible.

We are reforming couch potatoes. We are in the process of making Better choices and overcoming some pretty bad habits. There have been days and times where my kids have grabbed a bag of chips and sat in front of the tv and demolished the whole thing. There will most probably been days like that still, but I would like them to be very very rare.

The youngest of my big kids turned 12 this month. That is an important age in our culture / religion and so we went to buy him new church clothes. Dress clothes aren't foreign to him - he wears a uniform to school, but I really wanted to get him something nice. Being the youngest of 4 older brothers - he gets a lot of hand-me-downs. With our finances he really has to have a lot of hand me downs. So we went shopping for dress clothes - something that would make him look really sharp.

He is a bigger kid and he has gotten bigger since school has been back in session and summer play has ended. I started out guessing at sizes and we just kept having to move up and move up. When we went school shopping he was right on the border between the largest of the boys sizes and the smallest of the men's sizes. This time, we were not just into men's sizes, but what I felt were large men's sizes. It was all I could do not to just break down and sob in the dressing room.

I didn't want to label him or take this special day / time and taint it with any unhappy memories. He is a very tender-hearted kid and I only want to build him up and strengthen him. We ended up having a wild day of it and I think lots of happy memories were made.

But a while after that, he came to me and said he wanted to make some changes in his life. He knew I was worried about him putting on a little weight and he wanted to make some changes. He is such an amazing kid and I want to help him reach those goals. And that is why it is SO important to me to help him do this the right way! I don't want him eating celery steaks for dinner and starving himself during school days. He needs to know that food is NOT the enemy and taking care of yourself only brings good things into your life.

So I made and printed up a list that I put on our family message center of healthy snack ideas for him. He wanted to make plans for himself that I felt were unrealistic and too strict (especially for a growing 12 year old body and brain!) I don't want him to be hungry or feel like there are things that are "bad for him" that he would be happier if he could have. Plus, I know that there is no bigger weak food choosing time than when you are standing in front of the fridge or pantry with hunger pains and no idea what to eat.

Hopefully this list will lead to everyone in the family choosing snacks that are a little bit better. Hopefully it will do the same in your family too.

25 Healthy Snacks for Kids

Healthy Snacks Celery
Reviewed by Sharon Denny, MS, RDN
When a snack attack strikes, refuel with these nutrition-packed snacks (you may need the help of an adult with some of these snacks).
  1. Parfait: Layer vanilla yogurt and mandarin oranges or blueberries in a tall glass. Top with a sprinkle of granola.
  2. Inside-Out Sandwich: Spread mustard on a slice of deli turkey. Wrap around a sesame breadstick.
  3. Rocky Road: Break a graham cracker into bite-size pieces. Add to low-fat chocolate pudding along with a few miniature marshmallows.
  4. Mini Pizza: Toast an English muffin, drizzle with pizza sauce and sprinkle with low-fat mozzarella cheese.
  5. Spread mustard on a flour tortilla. Top with a slice of turkey or ham, low-fat cheese and lettuce. Then roll it up.
  6. Sandwich Cut-Outs: Make a sandwich on whole grain bread. Cut out your favorite shape using a big cookie cutter. Eat the fun shape and the edges, too!
  7. Banana Split: Top a banana with low-fat vanilla and strawberry frozen yogurt. Sprinkle with your favorite whole-grain cereal.
  8. Apple Pie Oatmeal: Make one packet of microwave oatmeal with low-fat milk. Mix in ¼ cup unsweetened applesauce. Sprinkle with apple pie spice or cinnamon.
  9. Mix together peanut butter and cornflakes in a bowl. Shape into balls and roll in crushed graham crackers.
  10. Microwave a cup of tomato or vegetable soup and enjoy with whole-grain crackers.
  11. Fill a waffle cone with cut-up fruit and top with low-fat vanilla yogurt.
  12. Sprinkle grated Parmesan cheese on hot popcorn.
  13. Peel a banana and dip it in yogurt. Roll in crushed cereal and freeze.
  14. Spread celery sticks with peanut butter or low-fat cream cheese. Top with raisins.
  15. Stuff a whole-grain pita pocket with ricotta cheese and Granny Smith apple slices. Add a dash of cinnamon.
  16. Mix together ready-to-eat cereal, dried fruit and nuts in a sandwich bag for an on-the-go snack.
  17. Smear a scoop of frozen yogurt on two graham crackers and add sliced banana to make a yummy sandwich.
  18. Microwave a small baked potato. Top with reduced-fat cheddar cheese and salsa.
  19. Make snack kabobs. Put cubes of low-fat cheese and grapes on pretzel sticks.
  20. Toast a whole-grain waffle and top with low-fat yogurt and peaches.
  21. Mix together low-fat cream cheese, mixed dried fruit bits and shelled sunflower seeds. Spread on a toasted English muffin.
  22. Blend low-fat milk, frozen strawberries and a banana for 30 seconds for a delicious smoothie.
  23. Make a mini-sandwich with tuna or egg salad on a dinner roll.
  24. Sprinkle grated Monterey Jack cheese over a corn tortilla; fold in half and microwave for 20 seconds. Top with salsa.
  25. Spread peanut butter on apple slices.

Dip It! 10 Bonus Dippable Snacks

  • Dip baby carrots and cherry tomatoes in low-fat ranch dressing.
  • Dip strawberries or apple slices in low-fat yogurt.
  • Dip pretzels in mustard.
  • Dip pita chips in hummus.
  • Dip graham crackers in applesauce.
  • Dip baked tortilla chips in bean dip.
  • Dip animal crackers in low-fat pudding.
  • Dip bread sticks in salsa.
  • Dip a granola bar in low-fat yogurt.
  • Dip mini-toaster waffles in cinnamon applesauce.

Download your own list here! 

Monday, January 26, 2015

My Favorite Bread

There are only a few foods in this whole world that I love as much as yummy bread. Good bread just seems to elevate the most simple meals, it adds that extra special something to mundane dinners and heck! it is dang delicious all on its own. 

Sadly, I have had a really hard time mastering good bread. I think the world of bakers who are able to just whip the stuff up, and grandmothers and moms everywhere who don't even get out a recipe, but just mix up a dough by feel and it turns into that warm, crumbly, crusty goodness that is just a loaf of love to me. 

But I have discovered the Amazing technique that is Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes. 

Here is the basic recipe with tips / how to, and all brand new videos! 

It is Very very similar to one of the most popular recipes that the NY Times has ever published. 

3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting
¼ teaspoon instant yeast
1 ¼ teaspoons salt
 Cornmeal or wheat bran as needed

In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add 1 5/8 cups water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.

Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes.

Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.

At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is O.K. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.

Get a few practice loaves in and the get ready to bake your valentine up something really special. 

Friday, January 23, 2015

Some Thoughts on Self-Care

I have been having a blog post bounce around in my head for a little bit about self-care. It is getting to be the end of January and most of us have given up on our giant resolutions to change the world (and ourselves). The mid-winter blahs have deeply set in and we are in the season of self flogging. Nothing says the end of January and "Hello" to February like how much you are hating yourself.

I wanted to write an amazing post about how to take care of yourself in great, healthy ways, but tonight as I sit down to write... I am feeling A LOT more like, "Just don't nuke yourself and you'll be doing alright!".

We are having a crazy week at our house. (a bit more so than usual) A small redecorating project has taken on a life of its own and is holding my entire family / household hostage!! My kitchen has been buried for 6 days now. I have my daughter's entire contents of her closet / drawers on my bedroom floor. (and since she is 2 1/2 this means that half of them have been worn for roughly 30 minutes and then discarded. I have laundry piling up, moods souring, and patience winding down. How about a little bit of self-care.  HAR HAR!!!!!

I was going to write a wonderful post that talked about instead of treating yourself with food (even "healthy" food) rewarding yourself in other ways. Like a long bath or a pedicure, Perhaps a long walk or a new download of a favorite song. But instead, I am feeling a bit more like we should talk about when things aren't going so well.....  perhaps it is best to NOT eat the entire leftover birthday cake that has been calling to me all day saying things like, "chocolate mousse and chocolate butter cream frosting Will make you feel better --- sooooo much better".  (Birthday cake is a LIAR!)

Not only is it not good for you, but eating (or drinking) things like that only make things worse. Caffeine, sugar and chemicals do not just create bad behaviors in children - Look in the mirror honey. I used to wonder why I was so completely out of control at 4:30pm most days, yes, it has to do with kids and responsibilities and all that, but I can promise you, it isn't being helped by my 4:00 coke and a snickers bar.

I developed the habit a really really long time ago, of rewarding myself with a Coke when things were going good. And then it quickly became a pick-me-up, and then a consolation. None of those choices are good ones, and to be absolutely brutally honest - None of those are choices that I want my children to be making. If it isn't a choice that I want the people that I love and take care of to be making.... Is it one that I should be making for myself. (Don't I want to love and take care of myself too?)

This has been a rough week, some of them just are. There is no way around it. Lots and lots of things in our lives happen to be out of our control. And when those crazy unforeseen things happen to us, Let us make the best of what we can by controlling the things that we Can control.

I have felt a little bit like one of my small kiddos when they are washing their hair and they rub their eyes... "AHHH I have Soap In My Eyes".... (rubs eyes with soapy hands!) - "Waah, I have Soap IN my eyes," Continuing to rub hands covering with bubbles in eyes. "Someone is Putting Soap actually INTO my Eyes!".  Goodness Gracious, I have to stop and take a deep breathe and say to myself - do not make this worse.

Give yourself the best tools to cope with the situation. Help yourself to BE your BEST self to deal with the situation. And when you come through it with flying colors.... or drag your beleaguered self across the finish line - you can start a new happy of wearing your wildest socks to celebrate.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Lasagna Soup - Create a Soup

In a crazy fit of I'm-not-busy-enough motherhood, I signed two of my kids up for martial arts. They absolutely adore it. I love that they are getting their little butts active. It is wonderful on all levels except one...... The classes are 4 nights a week and they start at 5pm. That is absolutely exactly dinner making time. Everyday when 4 o'clock rolls around and I am starting to urge them to get a snack and get their bags and equipment packed, I think to myself "This is insane!" Karate, Snacks, Dinner, Hungry kids, "Hangry Babies" (hungry + angry = hangry).

And so in order to make this work I have resorted to using my slow cooking quite a bit more. That way the kids that are still at home between 5-7pm can eat a hot cooked meal, the kids who get home from lessons at 7 can have a nice dinner and I don't have to actually be standing IN my kitchen to make all that happen. (because I am not, I am standing in the Dojo).

I found this recipe for Lasagna Soup and it is KILLER!  I absolutely love the lasagna, but I hate to make it, and I think the frozen stuff is crap - you heard me - crap! So unless someone from the church group is going to be bringing me a giant pan of the stuff that they homemade this is the next best thing.

Here is what you need: Serves 6-8
1 lb ground beef  - I browned mine before
3 cups of beef broth
4-5 cloves of garlic, minced
1 TB dried parsley
1 TB dried basil
1/2 cup chopped onion
1, 28 oz can of diced tomatoes
1, 6oz can of tomato paste
1 cup V8 (or any vegetable drink)
2 cups uncooked shell pasta
1/4 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup of water

Optional topping- shredded cheese mixed with ricotta and italian seasoning. YES!! You want to make this!

1. First mix together the can of tomatoes, and tomato paste in crockpot.

2. Next add broth, beef, garlic, parsley, basil, onion, V8 and salt/pepper.

3. Cover and cook on LOW for 7-8 hours or on HIGH for 4-5 hours.

4. When 30 minutes are left of cook time, add in the 1 cup of water and noodles. Stir to combine. Put lid back on and continue cooking for 30 minutes.

If you like your soup to have more liquid,  feel free to add some extra broth and or water when you add the noodles.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Meal Planning - some fresh ideas

If I have learned anything (which I Totally HAVE) from Food $ense, it is the importance of Meal Planning.  Sure there are lots of other things to learn and to put into my life and habits, but this Meal Planning stuff is life Changing!

I am certainly not perfect at it, and I don't have the cute factor down in doing it, but I am ridiculously aware that if I don't do it, my life seems to fall right apart and people don't get fed - mom gets stressed and money gets wasted. All bad bad things of varying degrees.

I have come a long way from my first attempts, which were just post-it notes that I made while I wrote out the grocery shopping list, to pages that I printed out online with cute borders and lots of colors. I went back to just writing in pages of a notebook while waiting for church to start each week and at one point I even progressed to looking through the grocery ads that came out on Tuesday and meal planning then. If this teaches me anything it is that Meal Planning is a process. There really is not right or wrong way to do it, (unless you don't do it - and then That is wrong). Do what works for you and your family, but you have got to do it.

Lack of a meal plan means more stress on you, frazzled and naggy kids ("What's for Dinner?!?") a ballooning food budget, multiple trips to the store... anarchy in the kitchen! and eventually the dreaded trip through the drive-thru of defeat.

That was some pretty graphic imagery there. Let's talk about happy things - Like... Meal Planning. :)

Here are some of the BEST tips that I have found to help you refine and rearrange your plan to work for you.  It doesn't have to work for anybody else - just you, and just you right now. You'll probably have to tweak it a little when summer rolls around and then again when school starts back up again. It is a process, the only thing that matters is that you do it. ....    and onto the tips / tricks!!

  • 7 nights a week is for superheros.  You look great in those tights, but you do not want to plan 7 "made from scratch" dinners. Plan a night of leftovers, Plan a night of sandwiches, Plan a night where you let your husband or the kids cook. 
  • Pack your pantry. and then cook from it. Dinner doesn't have to be a 12 course meal, and just because you are planning it ahead of time doesn't make spaghetti any less of a great idea!
  • Have a theme night. Taco Tuesdays, Pizzas on Fridays, Clean our the fridge Wednesdays, or put each family member in charge of helping and deciding on a certain night. Just like our breakfast for dinner Sundays, you can have Chinese food on Saturdays, Narrowing down your choices into themes not only makes decision making easier, but it established traditions and brings continuity and stability to your family dinners. 
  • Be a Weekend Warrior. Prep on the weekends, or shop on the weekends... Heck! Cook on the weekends and reheat during the week. Use the times that you have help around the house to your advantage. 
  • Plan Two-fers to your advantage. Nothing is quite an ingenious as cooking once and eating twice! Use that invaluable tool when you are planning. Today's crock pot pork roast can be pork street tacos for the day after tomorrow. Cook rice on Sunday and use it three times during the week. You have the oven on, you have the ingredients out, you'll be so darn glad you planned ahead and saved yourself the work. 
  • Have a Leftover Night. You bought it, you prepped it, you cooked it. You really should eat it - All of It! I grew up in a house where "leftover" was a dirty word. Don't let your kids grow up thinking that. Just because you already had it once doesn't not make it bad to eat again. You paid good money for that food and you worked hard to prepare it and make it delicious. It should be enjoyed - every last bit of it!! 
  •  Make a Master List of 10-20 Meals. Sometimes you forget the things you already know. I know it sounds a bit cliche, but my family adores spaghetti. But I sometimes forget to make it, or I think it isn't "fancy" enough. WHAT?!? Do I need to make my life harder? Keep a list of the things your family likes and be sure you keep those items on hand in your well stocked and beautifully organized pantry (SNORT!) If you kids like spaghetti, feed them spaghetti, you don't need to be forcing them to eat foie gras because you saw it on pinterest. 
  • Review your Family Calendar. Nothing stinks more than having dinner all planned and realizing you aren't going to be able to make it happen. If you have a busy night with soccer and lessons, plan a leftover night, or put something in the slow cooker. If you have a day where you are going to be home all day, plan something that might take a bit more time. Don't plan to make chili on the hottest day of the summer and if you can help it, it is probably not best to plan a grilling night on the one day this month that it is suppose to rain. 
But the most important thing about Meal Planning, is just that you do it. There are absolutely no right or wrong ways to do it, and something that works for one person might not work for you. But doing it Will change your life! Get out there.... get a scrap of paper from the bottom or your purse and write down Monday - Hamburgers with Sweet Potato Fries...... now doesn't that sound Good!!

Friday, January 16, 2015

Pancakes with Eggs and Family Time

I am not a huge fan of Sunday nights. They are busy days with lots of meetings and running around to-do stuff. The whole family seems to be going places and changing in and out of church clothes. While anybody who doesn't have a meeting they have to be do sorta sits around like a big blog of slugishness. I am not of fan of Sundays.

To make life easier on me, I started a long long time ago (before Food $ense was even a twinkle in my eye) I began Sunday Night is Waffle Night.  I am not a morning person at all - and therefore my kids don't get a lot of hot breakfast meals that are fancy. *Even on the weekends! I am lucky to get them fed at all if we have 9am church. - Who Needs Gum?!?!

So I started Waffle Night.  I made them from scratch to make them extra special and we would make bacon or sausage, sometimes eggs and juice and it was a really fun tradition. As life has moved on, and families and come apart and blended back together traditions have kinda come and gone with the winds. But I have restarted Breakfast for Dinner on Sunday nights. 

It probably seems strange to have the Big Sunday meal at night (instead of right after church), but see above about meetings - I have at least two boys who have responsibilities right after church. And I just wrangled kids (mine and also Not Mine) for 3 hours - I don't feel like worrying about whether the gravy is lumpy.  So our family time is Sunday night. 

It is an excellent time to reconnect before we all head out separate ways during the week. To talk about who is working late and who needs to be where and how are they going to get there. To let them know that no matter how much we run around, there is always a safe cozy place to come home to that is filled with love and hugs and giant pancakes made just the way they like them. 

So we did this Wild and CRAZY thing where we put an Egg INSIDE the pancake! Do we know how to party - or what?  We even threw some chopped up ham in there - Part-eeee!

My husband is the king of the giant pancake, he prides himself on being able to make them just huge and flip them without blinking any eye. I make small to smaller than "normal" size pancakes. I am a clutzy flipper but I tell my kids that they are "dipping size".

We saw these on a tv about crazy diner foods and both looked at each other and said, "We are making THOSE on Sunday night!".

They were super fun and the kids thought we were pretty cool in a crazy parent sort of way. That is about the best we can hope for nowadays. But it is wonderful to be all together and laughing and connecting and know that we have this time each week to be there for each other over our version of the big Sunday Dinner.