Making Mealtime Easier

Maybe it’s just me, but mealtime is SUCH a pain. I feel like I’m always running out of ideas and now that the girls are in school full-time, afternoon and early evenings around here are really hectic.

I need a plan. A meal plan to be more specific.

There was one summer when I did a great job of planning meals and buying groceries ahead of time. Mealtime was much less stressful and much more pleasant then. So why did I stop? I’m not sure. Things got busy, as they do, and I got out of the habit.

One of my goals for the new year is to reduce the stress I’m feeling. To help with that, I’m going to stop making things harder for myself. When I don’t have a plan (for dinner, among other things) I feel more stress than I need to. So it’s meal plan time!

I’ve found several options for meal planning that I want to share with you. Some are more involved than others, so if you’re interested in making your own meal plans, you should be able to find something here that will work for you.

  • Erin Rooney Doland, author of Unclutter Your Life in One Week [my review], has a weekly meal plan template that includes breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks and a place for a grocery list. Also, has a new sister site called Simplifried. According to the website, “Our goal is to make feeding yourself and your family as painless as possible.” Naturally, I’ve already subscribed to their updates.
  • Ivory at Little House in the Suburbs introduced me to Say MMM, which is a web-based meal planning application. If you prefer your tools automated, Say MMM may be the way to go. Even better? It’s FREE!

To solve the mealtime hassle in my own home, I’m going to set aside some time each Saturday to discuss meal options with my family. From there, I’ll make a list of lunches and dinners for the week and compile my grocery list. On Sunday, I’ll make a trip to the store and buy all of the supplies I need.

I’ll still have to cook amidst the chaos that often accompanies the dinner hour, but I do think that knowing what I’m making and having the ingredients on hand will make the whole event less stressful for me.

How about you? Do you plan your meals ahead of time? Do you think it’s made your life easier?

Photo Credit: gordasm

What Is Wrong With High Fructose Corn Syrup?

High fructose corn syrup is one of the main ingredients in almost any processed food. You’ve probably heard nutritionists and environmentalists say it needs to be avoided. There’s a popular commercial running on television involving two mothers at a birthday party laughing about all the hype and insisting that in moderation, high fructose corn syrup is a “natural,” wonderful thing. It should be noted that this ad is sponsored by the Corn Refiners Association.

So what’s a person to do? Believe HFCS is evil and try (possibly in vain) to avoid it, or roll with it and accept the fact that it’s in nearly every factory made product we consume?

I’ve done some digging and hopefully what I’ve found will help you make more informed choices for you and your family.

The Primary Question

Is high fructose corn syrup worse for us than sugar?

The Answer

We’re not sure. Some studies have been conducted, but many have been deemed flawed or not comprehensive enough. For sure, more research needs to be done.

Other Questions

What is high fructose corn syrup?

According the the Mayo Clinic online,

High-fructose corn syrup is a common sweetener and preservative. High-fructose corn syrup is made by changing the sugar (glucose) in cornstarch to fructose — another form of sugar. The end product is a combination of fructose and glucose. Because it extends the shelf life of processed foods and is cheaper than sugar, high-fructose corn syrup has become a popular ingredient in many sodas, fruit-flavored drinks and other processed foods.

The reason that high fructose corn syrup is cheaper than sugar is because of huge government subsidies that go to growers of corn.

So What’s the Big Deal?

The bottom line is that high fructose corn syrup is simply another form of sugar.  Marion Nestle, author, food policy expert and professor (she holds a Ph.D. in molecular biology and an M.P.H. in public health nutrition) writes, “Biochemically, [HFCS] is about the same as table sugar (both have about the same amount of fructose and calories) . . .”

But here’s the problem, Nestle adds, “[high fructose corn syrup] is in everything and Americans eat a lot of it—nearly 60 pounds per capita in 2006, just a bit less than pounds of table sugar.   HFCS is not a poison, but eating less of any kind of sugar is a good idea these days and anything that promotes eating more is not.”

So what are we to do?

1. Read labels. This is one of the most important things you can do. HFCS is in nearly all processed foods. If it’s the first, second or third ingredient, then there’s a lot of sugar in that product. It’s probably best to skip it.

2. Eat more real food. Go for foods that don’t come with an ingredients list.

3. Avoid sodas. These drinks are notoriously high in HFCS.

4. Be aware that it’s very difficult to consume sugar “in moderation” if you don’t know how much you’re eating. Start paying attention to what’s in the food you eat so you can make more informed choices about your sugar consumption.

Let me know if you have more questions about high fructose corn syrup and I’ll do my best to find the answers. If you found this post helpful, please tell a friend and consider tweeting it and/or liking it on Facebook.

Green & Healthy Breakfast Ideas

The other day I wrote about smoothies and while I tend to drink them any time of day, I often incorporate them into breakfast because they’re yummy and they’re also highly portable.

There are a few other things I like to eat for breakfast and I find that when I do take the time for this important meal, I feel better for the rest of the day. I’m also less hungry and less inclined to go on a mad search for sugar-filled snacks mid-morning.

My goals with my breakfast choices are to include organics whenever possible, real foods (which is to say, not processed or packaged), something with protein and some complex carbohydrates. I’ve also been using more ground flax seeds. I’ve known for some time they they are good for us, but as I’ve been reading Tosca Reno’s books, The Eat-Clean Diet Recharged! and The Eat-Clean Diet for Family and Kids: Simple Strategies for Lasting Health and Fitness I’ve learned even more about the benefits of these little seeds. In addition to the heart healthy goodness attributable to the Omega-3s, Alpha-Linolenic acid (ALA), fiber and lignans in flaxseeds, these little powerhouses also act as a mild laxative to help keep our systems moving.

Now, onto the food. . .

3 Green & Healthy Breakfast Ideas:

Oatmeal + Fixin’s

I start with rolled oats (not quick oats). Often they are organic and usually they are purchased in bulk.

I usually cook them in the microwave with almond milk or water.

Then I add in 1-2 Tbs. of ground flax seeds, chopped walnuts, a drop or two of pure maple syrup, and some kind of fruit — blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, or chopped apple.

This breakfast is delicious and filling.

Eggs and Toast

I usually boil 1/2 dozen eggs (pastured) at the beginning of the week and keep them in the refrigerator.

In the morning, I toast two pieces of Ezekiel Sprouted Grain Bread and spread it with just a bit of homemade butter. Then I sprinkle some ground flax seeds on top.

If I’m eating at home, I slice one boiled egg onto a piece of toast and eat it that way. If I’m eating on the go, I simply eat the egg and the toast separately. I try to eat a piece of fruit as well, or make a simple smoothie of frozen fruit and a bit of orange juice and water.

Garden Omelet

This is a summertime favorite because I can grab vegetables right out of the garden or at the farmer’s market.

You can really make the omelet any way you want to. My favorite is very simple with only three ingredients:


Fresh spinach leaves

Chopped heirloom tomatoes

Sometimes, I’ll add in some feta cheese or other vegetables if I have them on hand.

It’s important to point out that I’m not a doctor or a nutritionist. I’m not suggesting that these ideas are perfectly healthy or that they will appeal to everyone. So far, though, they’ve been working well for me.

I’d love to gather more ideas for healthy breakfast foods. Please let us know what you eat for breakfast by leaving a comment below.

Photo Credit: Toobig4pond

Where Should Your Organic Dollars Go?

It’s hard to know where to spend your precious organic dollars. Fortunately, Environmental Working Group ( has just updated their Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce where they list the “Clean 15” and the “Dirty Dozen.” The Clean 15 are the least sprayed fruits and vegetables and therefore the safest bets if you want to skip organic. The Dirty Dozen are the 12 most heavily sprayed fruits and vegetables, so whenever possible, it’s best to buy these organic.

There are many reasons to avoid consumming pesticides, not the least of which is the often unknown impact of these chemicals on our health. According to an article on CNN Health, a recent study has found that “Kids with above-average levels of a common pesticide byproduct had twice ADHD risk.”

I’ll list the Dirty Dozen below, but the EWG has created a handy printable guide that will fit in your wallet. Click here to get it. Dr. Andrew Weil has come on board this year extolling the virtues of the Shopper’s Guide. You can watch a short video of his comments while you’re there if you’d like.

The Dirty Dozen – Buy these organic:

Bell Peppers
Grapes (Imported)

One way we’re saving money is by growing some of our own. For example, this year we’re growing strawberries, potatoes and bell peppers from this list. Good luck with your organic shopping. Let me know if there’s anything I can help with.

Photo Credit:

Organics on a Budget: What Matters Most

Most of us don’t have an unlimited budget to buy organic foods. While some prices on organic products have come down, for a variety of reasons, organics still command a premium price. This is one of the reasons we decided to grow our own organic vegetable garden last year, and why we’ll do it again this summer. I’ve written before about where to find coupons on organic products. Recently, I’ve learned that Mambo Sprouts is a good place to try, too.

But, for day to day shopping, when you want to avoid as many pesticides and growth hormones and antibiotics as you can, where can you get the safest food for your dollar? Based on my own research, not scientific fact, the list below is where I’ve decided to concentrate my own organic dollars. I hope it’s helpful to some of you.


For produce, I stick with the Environmental Working Group’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce. They list the “Dirty Dozen” and suggest buying these organic:

  • Peaches
  • Apples
  • Sweet Bell Peppers
  • Celery
  • Nectarines
  • Strawberries
  • Cherries
  • Kale
  • Lettuce
  • Grapes (Imported)
  • Carrots
  • Pears

These particular fruits and vegetables are subjected to the highest levels of pesticides if traditionally farmed. You’ll get the fewest pesticides for your dollar if you focus on these. EWG provides a handy printable pocket-sized guide that you can keep in your wallet. You can read about their Shopper’s Guide and print it out here.


I’ll say upfront that I don’t skimp on meat. If that means I have to buy less of it, or bulk up meat-based meals with beans or other ingredients, I will. I believe it’s best to know where your meat comes from. If you can buy it locally, from a farmer in your area, all the better. The easiest way to locate sources is through farmers markets and visiting to find local farms and CSAs.


I buy organic, free-range chicken which means that the feed the chickens eat is free from pesticides and the chickens themselves are given no antibiotics. Farmers are not allowed to give chickens growth hormones, so while some packaging claims “hormone-free” chicken, that really is a given. I buy organic eggs for the same reasons.


Aside from the animal cruelty associated with CAFOs (watch Food, Inc. for more information), and the negative environmental impacts they create, I’m extremely concerned about the hormones and antibiotics given to cows and then eaten by us.

I buy only grass-fed/grass-finished beef that is hormone and antibiotic free. I used to watch for it to go on sale in the store, or cook beef less often to help with the budget. This year, we bought a bulk order of grass-fed beef from a local farm which really saved us a lot of money.


We drink cow’s milk and just like the beef from cows, milk is loaded with hormones and antibiotics. To avoid these, I buy only organic milk and dairy products. This is one that’s very important to me.

Canned Goods

I’m working to avoid these whenever possible. Soon I’ll be writing about BPA and why it’s a problem, but for now, be aware that nearly all cans are lined with it and it’s not good for you. The worst product to buy in cans, because of their acidity, is tomatoes. Unfortunately, there are few alternatives. Some companies (Trader Joe’s, for one) are starting to sell tomato products in Tetra Paks, which are a safe alternative, but they can be difficult to find.

One benefit of buying fewer canned goods is that alternatives can be less expensive. I buy many of our vegetables frozen if I can’t find them fresh. I stock up when there are sales and use coupons when I can. We also eat a lot of beans and there’s almost nothing less expensive than dried beans. It just takes a little bit more planning on my part to remember to soak the beans the night before I want to cook them.

It’s a work in progress, though. As was evident in the photos of my pantry, I do have quite a few canned goods (even tomatoes). But as I’ve become more aware of BPA, I’m slowly but surely working to reduce the number of foods we eat from cans.

To wrap up, in a nifty little list, here are the things I focus on buying organic. I buy other things that are organic when I can, but I rarely compromise on these. It’s worth it to me to sacrifice some things in order to feel better about what we put in our bodies. For us, cutting back on sugary soft drinks and expensive packaged foods has left more room in our budget for organics.

Buy These Organic

  • Peaches
  • Apples
  • Sweet Bell Peppers
  • Celery
  • Nectarines
  • Strawberries
  • Cherries
  • Kale
  • Lettuce
  • Grapes (Imported)
  • Carrots
  • Pears
  • Milk & Dairy products
  • Meat (Chicken, Beef, Poultry)
  • Eggs
  • Canned goods (best if organic, but try to avoid canned goods altogether — buy frozen or dried)

And another benefit I’ll mention before I sign off: organics taste better. Truly. I can tell a real difference in good, fresh eggs. I can also tell a difference in the milk and meat that I buy. There’s mounting evidence that organics may be healthier for us, too. As Barbara Kingsolver questioned in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, why is it that we are so willing to spend money on all sorts of things, but the main place we want to cut corners is on the food we put in our mouths?

Photo Credit: jekrub