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Debra Caffrey is the Education E-newsletter Editor for FredParent. She also writes, blogs, and assists with events. She is the proud mom of 8-year-old Aidan. She is passionate about cooking, meal planning, and smart grocery shopping, and is excited to share her ‘Practical Pantry’ with you.

 

Practical Pantry

Easy Mix and Match Lunch Bowls!

Though it feels like I might literally live in the kitchen sometimes, I still dislike the trendy term “meal prepping” regarding cooking. I feel like it might intimidate folks about how much time it takes to whip together some healthy and yummy meals, especially for weekday lunches.

Meal prepping for the entire week ahead is all the rage these days, but I don’t think it always has to be that ambitious or extreme. That said, a little thought about what you might like for lunch in the days ahead goes a long way. I’ve found that lunch is the meal that often gets forgotten about the most, even for the most vigilant meal planner. In the past, I’d take the time to diligently menu plan for each dinner and remember all the snacks, breakfast items, and school treats to add to the grocery list, but I’d always forget that I needed to eat lunch every day myself! These days, I’ve learned to incorporate weekday lunch ideas when I sit down to menu plan, and it’s been a fool-proof way to guarantee I am not standing in front of the open fridge wondering why there’s nothing for me to eat. Having a battle plan for lunches keep things interesting, eliminates the monotony of that same ol’ sandwich, and ensures that you aren’t reaching for unhealthier impulse buys at the drive through. And it is much more economical to plan!

If a peanut butter and jelly sandwich is your typical preferred lunch scene, that’s fine! But nothing beats a comprehensive lunch bowl because it is so healthy and well-balanced. So, what is a lunch bowl? It’s kind of a loose term describing a mishmash of components that hit lots of healthy and nutritional notes. Ideally, there is a grain, veggies, protein, perhaps a sauce or dip, a garnish, and lots of texture and contrasting flavors. Does that sound overwhelming? Please don’t be scared – healthy grain-based bowls are easy to prepare and usually involve minimal cooking technique. Best of all, the components you plan to use can be prepped ahead of time and you can make enough to enjoy a few days in a row (or to share between family members).

So how do you build a tasty lunch bowl? All you have to do is make and keep a handy list of your favorite components and mix and match as you like to create endless possibilities. Here is a quick list to get you started!

Grainsgrains

• Brown rice
• Couscous
• Quinoa
• Jasmine or basmati rice
• Farro
• Barley
• Wild rice
• Soba noodles

 

greensVeggies

• Avocado
• Carrot
• Cucumber
• Leafy greens (kale, fresh spinach)
• Sweet potatoes
• Beets
• Edamame
• Radishes

noodlesProteins

• Hard boiled eggs
• Grilled or rotisserie chicken
• Tuna
• Tofu or tempeh
• Shrimp or salmon
• Chick peas, black beans or other beans

sauces in spoonsSauces and Drizzles

• Greek yogurt
• Tahini or soy sauce
• Your favorite vinaigrette
• Sriracha or sweet chili sauce
• Green Goddess dressing
• Light mayo or extra virgin olive oil

avocadoToppings/Garnish

• Toasted sesame seeds
• Chia seeds
• Sliced almonds
• Chopped scallions
• Crumbled feta or bleu cheese

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Grilled Salmon Tacos with Spicy Mayo

When the weather takes a turn for the better and spring has sprung, I can feel my mood lifting! Even better, I can feel my stomach growling because it means it’s finally time to start eating outside again! Dining al fresco is one of my favorite things to do, especially when our backyard grill is involved. Some people may think barbecuing is a seasonal affair, but we use our grill year-round to help create healthy and delicious grilled components to our meals. In fact, I’d say we grill items at least four times a week, which can get very interesting in the snow and 30 degree temperatures!

Whether you fire up the grill year-round like us or prefer to use it only during the warm months, it’s important to remember that the grill isn’t just for more indulgent meals like hamburgers and hot dogs. Most of the healthier meals we prepare for dinner are grill based. It’s amazing how much flavor and deliciousness come from throwing veggies and proteins on the grill. One of my favorite types of meals to prepare is a make-your-own burrito, taco or fajita night where many of the components are fresh off the grill. These grilled salmon and veggie tacos are a perfect illustration of how dynamic and complex flavors can be achieved by grilling. It’s like dressing up a basic taco night to the extreme!

Here, grilled veggies are really the star. Grilling greens develops a rich and deep taste, transforming ordinary produce into something totally crave-worthy. Salmon is a superstar lean protein chock-full of good-for-you nutrients, and its hearty texture makes it stand up well to grilling. Even the tortillas get in on the grilling fun and benefit from a bit of yummy charring. And when you pair these rich and flavorful fixings together with the cooling, contrasting relief of spicy mayo, it’s perfection and a lovely meal to enjoy right on the patio!

Grilled Salmon Tacos with Spicy Mayo

Serves 4

Ingredients:

4 salmon filets
Juice of one lime
3 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
Salt and pepper, to taste
½ pound tomatillos; husked, rinsed, and halved
1 bunch scallions, trimmed
8 small flour tortillas
2/3 cup mayonnaise
2 teaspoons Sriracha or hot sauce of your choice
One avocado, diced into small cubes
2 plum tomatoes, diced
¼ cup Cotija cheese, crumbled

Directions:

  1. Heat grill to medium-high.
  2. Mix two tablespoons oil with lime juice, salt and pepper. Pour over salmon, turning to coat. Place salmon on grill grates and grill approximately 4-5 minutes on each side until flaky. Remove and chop into small chunks.
  3. In a large bowl, toss the tomatillos and scallions with remaining oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill until tender and nicely charred, 8 to 10 minutes; transfer to a cutting board and roughly chop into smaller pieces.
  4. Grill the tortillas until slightly charred; 1 to 2 minutes per side.
  5. In a small bowl, whisk the mayonnaise and Sriracha or hot sauce.
  6. To serve, line the tortillas with salmon, tomatillos, scallions, avocado and tomatoes. Spoon mayo on top, then sprinkle with Cotija. Enjoy!
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Healthy Snack Ideas for Busy Moms

As frugal a grocery shopper as I like to be, I admit I still suffer from “my kid doesn’t have enough snacks!” anxiety despite knowing he has plenty. I’m sure I’m not the only one that can go overboard with making sure family members are extremely well-stocked in the snack department. And as for making sure we have enough snacks for road trips and days out at the waterpark or amusement park, my backpack looks like I’m preparing for a natural disaster, though we barely wind up needing half. Seriously, what’s up with that? I think it’s just our nature as parents to nurture and make sure our loved ones are well-fed and taken care of. But here’s the tricky part: during all of this attention to detail, do we sometimes forget about our own snacking and food needs? I love my meals, but when it comes to snacking, I used to never have anything for myself. And, at least in my house, when mama’s hungry, mama’s not happy.

I’ve learned over time that worrying about my in-between meal snacking is essential, and I plan for this while making my grocery list and shopping. Then, I’m cared for as much as my family members. Since health is a top priority, I stock up on nutritious options so I’m not standing in front of the pantry eating Cool Ranch Doritos out of the bag to hold me over until dinner. If this sometimes-inevitable mom struggle sounds familiar, here are my go-to nutritious and effortless snacks. They’ll fill you up while you’re on the go and accommodate your self care and health goals!

Pistachios

pistachiosPistachios are my absolute favorite nut to eat, and I could seriously eat a pound at a time if I didn’t control myself! All nuts provide loads of healthy benefits, including tons of fiber, health-friendly fatty acids which keep your cholesterol levels in check and essential minerals. Nutrition and medical experts recommend having a handful of nuts daily. I love the way nuts fill me up, mostly due to their great combination of fiber and protein. They satiate hunger and hold me over until mealtime. While all nuts are good for you, what I love most about pistachios is they are lower in calories than other types of nuts, yet high in protein. They are also a rich source of potassium and vitamin B6. And simply, they are absolutely delicious and mild enough to snack on with ease!

Hard-Boiled Eggs

hardboiled eggsEggs are a great source of protein and are low in calories. Hard boiled is a fabulous option since you can cook a ton in advance, and they last a long time in the fridge for easy snacking. I boil a bunch of eggs for the week ahead, and then my husband and I gobble them as-is, in salads, or for a quick breakfast before work or the gym. They are an easy addition to the “protein pack” Bento lunch I often prepare for my husband with almonds, grapes, carrot sticks, cheese and granola. Despite what was reported years ago, eggs are actually good for your cholesterol. They provide good monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats to your diet.

Hummus and Pita Chips

hummusI adore roasted garlic hummus and seasoned pita chips for an afternoon snack. Any type of hummus is an excellent alternative to fattier dairy-based dips and spreads because chick peas (or whichever type of bean your favorite hummus uses) provides tons of fiber and protein. Chick peas are also very high in folate, which is great for expectant moms, and it may have cancer-fighting abilities.

Sweet Potatoes

sweet potatoWho says veggies are only for lunch and dinner? I eat sweet potatoes as snacks regularly—they are my favorite veggie! Fortunately, they are super healthy. High in fiber, potassium and beta carotene, sweet potatoes are super easy to prepare. I poke a few holes in one with a fork and microwave until tender. Since they are low in calories and fat, adding a dollop of butter won’t make you feel too guilty, either!

String Cheese Sticks

string cheeseOK, so these are usually a kid-friendly purchase at the grocery store, but I have my fair share of low-fat string cheese to hold me over between meals too! And I don’t feel guilty about it at all since a little bit of cheese is healthy for those of us consuming dairy products! If you stick with skim-milk-based choices, string cheese is a great source of protein and calcium (which we ladies need to make sure we’re getting enough of as we age), as well as a host of other important vitamins and minerals. It’s also excellent for on-the-go snacking, picnicking, and when you just don’t have time for much else!

Chocolate Milk

chocolate milkA glass of milk with a squirt of chocolate syrup is OK! It’s one of my favorite snacks post-workout, and experts agree milk is a great way to promote recovery after exercise. Not only does milk provide calcium needed for healthy bones, but it’s a great source of protein, which is essential for the muscle growth and repair that occurs after a strenuous workout and strength training. You can reap the nutritional benefits without the calories and fat by sticking with low-fat milk. Personally, I find that this type of protein intake fills me up and keeps me satiated for quite some time, making it an ideal snack!

Remember, when you’re not taking care of yourself, it’s hard to take care of others. If we go too long without eating, the result can be unhealthy binge eating, poor food choices, too much sugar and empty calories and unnecessary money spent. As busy moms, it’s more important than ever to take the time to plan for our own meals and snacks so we are fueled properly to take on the challenges of motherhood and everyday life in a healthy and happy way!

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Bad Day Brownies

The newness of the start of the school year had dissipated. In its place, the predicted crop of small issues that arises once a routine is established and the novelty of something ends.

We expected that fifth grade was going to include a lot more homework. There would still be unbearable classmates, the feeling of inferiority during recess football, debates about how much Fortnite could be played on a school night and the everyday clashing with Mom while trying to establish tween authority and independence. What the 10-year-old boy may have not realized during this phase (will he ever?) is that when he has a bad day, I do too!

It’s hard on us as parents when our children have yucky days; even more grueling when issues last longer and take more time to get resolved. With little ones, we can ease boo-boos with kisses, unwind after a long day snuggling together with a picture book and reassure teething babies in a rocking chair and with a lullaby. But as little ones grow into big kids that suddenly wear deodorant instead of footy jammies, shun our physical affection while heading to the bus stop, and know their problems grow more nuanced, complex, and tricky the bigger they get, it gets harder to help them through things.

Enduring difficult times and having rotten days are a necessary part of growing up, but as a parent, you find yourself starting at square one again—unsure of what approach to take to ease the unfortunate pangs of growing and the loss of innocence along the way. Sometimes, there simply may not be any easy answers, and that realization is part of growing up that we as parents of older children face. When anyone in my household is having a bad day, my instincts always turn to one answer that always works—food!

Listen, we all need to eat healthy and provide nutritional meals to our family. This is a huge priority in my household. But sometimes...sometimes we just need some ooey, gooey rich brownies to embrace us after a long day! After a particularly tricky morning for my son, I returned to the house after saying goodbye at the bus stop thinking only one thing, “I need to make some brownies.” Sometimes when you’re a big kid and you are carrying the weight of growing up without much success, you need a little chocolate, a little indulgence, and a little reminder that there are still people waiting at home for you with some comfort, sugar and unconditional love in the form of a big fat, frosted brownie. Sometimes, that’s what we all need!

Debra’s Bad Day Brownies

Batter:
• ¾ cup unsalted butter, melted
• 1 cup white granulated sugar
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 3 eggs
• ¾ cup + 2 Tablespoons cocoa powder
• ¾ cup flour
• ½ teaspoon baking powder
• ¼ teaspoon salt
• 1 cup walnuts, chopped
Frosting:
• 6 Tablespoons unsalted butter
• 5 Tablespoons cocoa powder
• 2 Tablespoons honey
• ½ teaspooon vanilla extract
• 1 ½ cups confectioner’s sugar
• 2-3 Tablespoons milk

Heat oven to 350 F. Grease an 8-by-8-inch pan.

Combine melted butter, sugar and vanilla with a stand mixer on medium speed until well blended. Add eggs, beating after each addition. Add cocoa powder and continue to mix. Add flour, baking powder, and salt, beating well to combine. Fold in walnuts with spatula until well incorporated. Pour into prepared pan and bake about 30 minutes or until done and an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Remove from oven and cool completely.

To make the frosting, beat together butter, cocoa powder, honey and vanilla until thoroughly blended. Add confectioner’s sugar, then add milk one tablespoon at a time until desired consistency. Spread atop the cooled off brownies, cut into squares and enjoy!

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Make Your Fridge Work for You

refrigerator2The new year is a great fresh start for most of us to get organized and think about ways we can streamline our lives to function more efficiently. I’m not a huge New Year’s Resolution kind of girl; rather, I have found that creating routine cleaning and organization goals for set periods (like writing down on my monthly schedule to dust the blinds and change the air filters) works best for me. For others, a pile-up of disorganized stuff or unattended household projects is a great motivator to get in gear!

Whatever your habits, the refrigerator may be a place on your to-do list of things in the home that may need a bit of a New Year’s makeover. The fridge often becomes a victimized vortex of all your perishable purchases instead of an appliance that should be efficient and useful. And even when we keep it clean, placing items and food in inappropriate spots in the fridge can lead to waste and rot. Ultimately, you want your refrigerator to work for you—a tool that not only keeps things fresh but also aids in your success with meal planning, cooking and saving money.

So let’s get it in good shape! Start by taking every single thing out of your fridge, tossing whatever it super expired and/or disgusting. Wipe down all shelving using warm water and bleach, including all the cracks and crevices where dust, spills and food particles have settled. Once everything is nice and clean, use these guidelines to replace and store your items efficiently to ensure that nothing goes to waste again!

The Door

The fridge door is a few degrees warmer than the interior cabin. It’s also subject to the most temperature instabilities due to how often it’s constantly being open and shut. Therefore, never store your highly perishable items here like eggs, milk or other dairy. Store condiments like salad dressing, marinades, jams, jellies, bottled water and even juices here.

Upper Shelves

The upper portion of your fridge has the most consistent temperature, but it’s warmer than the lower shelving. Therefore, you may still want to avoid putting highly perishables there like milk, other dairy, and uncooked meats. This is a good place for things that won’t spoil, like ready-to-eat food items, beverages, herbs and leftovers.

Lower Shelves

This is the best place for foods that are very susceptible to spoiling and harmful bacteria. You’ll want to keep your raw meats, seafood, eggs and dairy here. Remember to place a “catch” container underneath raw meat packages in case of leaks. Nothing is worse than finding out that raw chicken juice has spilled all over the rest of your items!
Deli/Meat Bin: This drawer exists for a reason—it is often one of the coldest spots in the unit, making it perfect for what it was meant for: deli meats, cheeses and bacon.

Crisper Drawers

It’s important to separate most fruits from veggies, as some fruits emit ethylene, a chemical that may wilt vegetables prematurely. The low-humidity bin is perfect for most fruits like apples, peaches, pears and avocados. The high-humidity drawer is better for your veggies like broccoli, cauliflower and carrots. Also, though you should wash your produce before using or eating, it’s important not to do this too soon, as extra moisture can cause these items to wilt and rot prematurely. Save the washing for right before use.

Some Other Guidelines

Besides item placement, it’s important not to overcrowd your fridge so that air flow is efficient. Remember that most shelving can be adjusted height-wise, so you can fit taller items in the appropriate spots even if you don’t think you can.

To be sure you are not wasting what you buy and store, it’s imperative to inventory your fridge regularly, perhaps even twice a day. This isn’t hard! Just take a glance in there every once in a while, making sure you move high-priority items that need to be eaten soon to the front. You can even choose to have a “need to eat soon” bin so that your family knows what needs to be eaten right away, like berries, yogurts, and other soon-to-expire food.

Lastly, when meal planning and making your list for the grocery store, inventory your fridge first! Do you have a half-used jar of hoisin sauce you don’t know what to do with? A bag of shredded red cabbage that still seems OK? Plan your meals around these items to ensure you are not wasting food and money. Your refrigerator should be like a living, breathing instrument in your home, not just a place to store and collect impulse buys. Make it work better and for you today!

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For new and expectant mothers in the Fredericksburg area, Postpartum Support Virginia stands as the help and support for women and their families who are experiencing postpartum depression. Founded in 2009 by Adrienne Griffen, Postpartum Support Virginia offers one-on-one support, free peer-led groups, a robust site of information including screening and diagnosis overviews, fact sheets, and training sessions.

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