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10 Tips for Eating More Fruits and Vegetables

fruits & vegetables collage

In my efforts to eat more fruits and vegetables, I have noticed that there are times when the task is very difficult and other times when it feels practically effortless.  So, I started paying attention to what makes the difference and came up with this list.  Some of these strategies are more helpful for my family members, and others are more helpful for me, but when they are in place, I find that we all eat more of the good stuff!

1.  Keep the cutting board and knife clean and in easy reach.  Most fruits and vegetables require some prep work before eating, and if the cutting board and knife are dirty or hard to get to, the preparation becomes a large barrier to eating them.  On the other hand, if they are clean and available, I find that it’s usually pretty quick to chop up whatever it is I am planning to eat.

2. Snack on fruits and veggies before meals.  Yes, you read that right!  Most of the time we hear the advice to not eat snacks right before meals.  But I find that when I’m chopping produce for dinner, my kids will often ask if they can have some.  If I go ahead and give them some right then, they eat more than they would with the meal.  I’ve actually had to start buying extra bell peppers, because my youngest has been known to ask for so many that I haven’t had what I needed for the recipe! 🙂  However, my big exception to this is berries.  We have a strict “hands-off” rule for berries until the meal is served, because everyone loves them so much!

3.  Add fruits and vegetables to muffins and other baked goods.  This is a pretty common strategy, but it definitely needs to be included, because it works!  And every little bit helps.

4.  Make smoothies.  Another common strategy, I know.  But smoothies really are a great way to get in some less favored fruits and veggies.  Spinach and greens of course, but for my family even pineapple is not very well liked among the kids.  However in a smoothie, you can’t really taste it.  It simply adds sweetness and it is so healthy.  Smoothies are a perfect way to help my family eat more pineapple!

5.  Make extra.  White potatoes, sweet potatoes, and winter squashes are all vegetables that can be prepared in larger-than-normal batches, and stored in the fridge to eat for several days.  Or, they can be stored in the freezer for longer.  I like to make soups and freeze individual batches for me to have for lunch.  It’s so easy to just thaw and eat! (I like these two recipes: Butternut Squash-Apple Soup and Nutty-Sweet Potato Soup — however, I’m the only one around here who does, so that’s why I freeze individual portions).  Smoothies also freeze well, but they don’t thaw quickly.  Sometimes  I make a big batch of smoothie and put it in small tightly-sealed containers to pack in my kids lunches.  They thaw to just about the right consistency by lunch-time!

6.  Make a little extra.  For vegetables that don’t store well for a long time after they are cooked, I’ve learned to make just enough extra at dinner to have some the next day for lunch.  This way I don’t have to prepare a vegetable when I really want to just grab something, but I don’t have so much around that I have to throw it out later.

tooty fruity salad

{click image to view larger}

7.  Mix ’em up!  I love this story from the Friend Magazine (see image on the right).  The child is hungry and wants a snack, but when offered an apple, banana, grapes, and crackers he turns them down saying that he is tired of them all.  The mom responds, “how about tooty fruity salad?”  This gets the boys attention, and he agrees.  So the mom combines bite-sized pieces of the different fruits and the graham crackers to make a fruit salad.  And, of course, now the boy is very happy with his snack!  And this trick doesn’t just work with kids; it works for adults too!

8.  Keep it simple.  While mixing it up can be a great thing, on the other end of the spectrum is planning to “mix it up” so much that it becomes too much work.  For example, if I plan a main dish and a vegetable side for dinner that both require quite a bit of preparation, I will likely want to skip making the vegetable side when it comes time to actually make dinner.  So I often plan the simplest vegetables to go with dinner, or a more complex side with a basic main dish such as baked fish or chicken.

9.  Eat ’em first!  If the fruits and vegetables being served are not my favorite part of the meal, then I try to eat them first and get them out of the way.   Then I am free to enjoy the rest of the food.

10.  Keep ’em fresh! – I have a thing for wanting my produce to be really fresh.  The longer it sits in my fridge, the less likely I am to eat it or serve it.  It’s kind of a hang-up really, because sometimes it really is still fine to eat.  But in recognizing this about myself, I’m learning that prior to shopping for new groceries it is helpful to look in the fridge ask myself, “Do I have a clear plan for eating these (i.e. scheduled in an upcoming menu)?”  If not, I take some time to clear them out…either by eating them right away, preserving them for later (i.e. freezer), or getting rid of them (in the compost pile).  This way when I bring new produce home from the store, everything in the fridge is as fresh as possible, making all of it more appealing to eat.

Below is a picture of a bunch of produce that I preserved by freezing one day, prior to restocking the fridge.  From left to right (clockwise) there are cut up bell peppers (to add to soups), mushrooms (for stroganoff), celery (to make chicken stock), apples (for smoothies), orange-lime-aid (drank right away), lime zest and orange zest (for adding extra flavor to food), and spinach which I blended with water and froze in an ice cube tray (to add to soup or smoothies).

freezer food collageThese 10 strategies really do work when I take the time to implement them.  In fact, I’m glad to publish this post today, because I need the reminder!  Hopefully they can be helpful to others who may want to include a few more delicious and healthy fruits and vegetables in their diet too!!

What are your favorite strategies for eating more fruits and vegetables?

{note:  click here for top picture source…I made a collage of several of the pictures}

Recipe: Coconut-Curry Chicken

I made this Coconut Curry Chicken on Sunday for my family and it really hit the spot!  The recipe comes from my sister-in-law who is a great cook.  She has enjoyed eating a dish called “Chicken Panang” at a Thai Restaurant, and was determined to learn how to make it at home.  So after a little research she found this recipe from “Real Simple Magazine.”

Ever since my college days I have loved curry, and when she first shared this recipe with me, I wondered what adding coconut milk would do to the flavor.  Well, I found out that it doesn’t taste *coconutty* at all, but instead it just lightens up the curry flavor, making it better.  I still love regular curry too, but I really love this dish!

DSC00041

Coconut Curry Chicken

For the sauce:

  • 1 can coconut milk (light or regular)
  • 2-1/2 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 2-1/2 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt

Combine above ingredients in a small bowl.

Then, in a wok or skillet over medium-high heat, add:

  • 2 Tbsp olive oil (heat for 30 seconds)
  • 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (more if you like spicy, up to 1 tsp)
  • Grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 2 Tbsp curry powder
    • Stir-fry until fragrant, about 15 seconds

Add the coconut-milk mixture and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally.  Reduce heat and cook until the sauce thickens slightly, about 1-1/2 minutes.  If you prefer, you may make the sauce ahead of time and store it in the refrigerator while you prepare the rest of the dish.

For the Rice and Stir-Fry:

  • 3 cups uncooked Jasmine rice (or your favorite rice)
  • 4 chicken breasts, cut into chunks
  • 1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
  • 2 carrots, cut into circles (optional – not part of the original recipe, but I like adding them)

Prepare rice as directed.

Stir-fry chicken in a little olive oil over medium high heat until cooked through.  Remove from pan.

Stir-fry the carrot slices for about 2 minutes.  Add the bell pepper slices and stir-fry until tender-crisp.

Return chicken to pan and add sauce.

Heat through and serve over rice.

————————

If you like curry there is a good chance you will like this dish. It is one of my favorites!

note:  I have made a few minor changes to the original recipe. 

Canning Tomatoes (in October!!)

I know!  I know!  It’s November now and people are not thinking about gardens, fresh tomatoes, and canning.  We just finished up Halloween and most people’s thoughts are turning to Thanksgiving, followed by Christmas.  But here I am, marching to the beat of my own drum, and writing a blog post about canning tomatoes. But I have a very good reason for this, and that is because I DID can tomatoes that were picked from our own yard just a couple of weeks ago — in October.  You see, I have a giant compost pile in our garden area behind our garage.  It’s not a bin, just a couple of large squares of land divided by a little fence-thing that I bought at Lowe’s.  My pile has to big because of the large amount yard waste we have, and I do not want to build a large container.  However, because it is out in the open, every year it grows lots of weeds. This year, I thought I would outsmart the pile and put a large piece of black plastic over-top of it, which is held down by bricks.  When I wanted to add something to the pile, I simply picked up a brick and the plastic and threw it in.  But you can see from the picture below that the pile was smarter than me.  Since it couldn’t send weeds out the middle, it just grew them out of the 4 sides and over the top of the plastic instead!   Compost Pile At one point, I considered pulling all of the weeds out, but then I noticed that a lot of them were tomato plant volunteers, and so I left them.  I thought to myself, “I’ll just see what they do.”  And this is what they did (lol!).  Not only did they take over the pile, but they started growing tomatoes!  Lots and lots of small green tomatoes. Well, it was September and I’m in Virginia so September can still be kind of warm at times.  My husband and I thought these green tomatoes might have a chance of turning red, so we waited, and waited, and some of them did turn red.  But most of them didn’t.  Finally, our temperatures were dropping and so my husband sent my daughter outside with the challenge to pick as many of the green (or red) tomatoes as she could find. Green Tomatoes 3 And while she did not exactly go willingly (spiders, and snakes, and bees – oh my!), once she got to work she found that it was not as bad as it appeared to be.  And this is what she brought to me…several bowlfuls of little tomatoes! Green Tomatoes I think the original idea was that we would let them ripen up on the counter, but with so many…well, something else had to be done. Tomatoes So (with my one sister’s help) I looked into it a little bit and found that people do make things out of green tomatoes.  For example, some people apparently make jam using fruit flavored jello.  (Who would have ever thought!)  And some people make salsa.  But after the initial internet search I decided to look into my canning cookbook that I have, simply because when it comes to food safety and canning, I trust this book.  I learned that I could simply can the tomatoes themselves (the same way people can ripened tomatoes) for sauce or something, but I ultimately decided on a recipe for green tomato relish.  So I separated out all of the red ones (look how many did ripen out there…in September and October!).  (Oh, and see the one little banana pepper she found too!). Green Tomato Relish (cooking) I had to go to the store for the onions and bell peppers that the recipe also called for, but here it all is in the pot after being mixed up and boiled in vinegar and sugar for a bit. Pressure Canner This is where I had to figure some things out.  I have a giant pressure canner which I have never used the “pressure” part of (I’m a little scared to).   But shortly after we purchased this pot we needed a new stove and bought a glass-top.  The canner has etching on the bottom of it that could scratch the stove so I’ve been a little uncertain as to how I would do my future canning. Well, it just so happens, that for emergency purposes, this summer my husband decided to buy this double burner in case the power goes out (with the idea to run it off of the generator).  And it occurred to me that maybe I could just put the pot on it! It almost worked too.  You would think that giant pot would tip the burners over, but it did not.  It is full of water in this picture, and the burners were very stable.  But the problem was that the water would not come to a boil.  I waited over an hour, and it just would not. Green Tomato Relish Water Bath So what to do, what to do?  I pulled out my largest pot and set it on my stove, and boiled the jars in there.  They rattled something fierce when I was sanitizing the jars, and after a quick internet search I learned that if you do not have a rack that fits your pot you can put several of the jar rings in the bottom of your pot instead.  And it worked!  They did not rattle nearly so much during the canning process as they had before. Since the cooking pot was smaller than the canning pot, I was only able to fit four jars at a time.  Really it was no big deal though, because I only had seven jars total.  Two batches, and I was done. Green Tomato Relish Ta da!  “Pickled Green Tomato Relish.”  Here is the recipe in case anyone else out there ever finds themselves with tomato plants growing furiously out of their compost pile in October!  🙂


 Pickled Green Tomato Relish

from “Complete Guide to Home Canning and Preserving

Ingredients

10 lbs small hard green tomates

1-1/2 lbs red bell peppers

1-1/2 lbs green bell peppers

2 lbs onions

1/2 cup pickling or canning salt

1 qt water

4 cups sugar

1 qt vinegar (5%)

1/3 cup prepared yellow mustard

2 Tbsp cornstarch

Yield: 7-9 pints

Procedure:

Wash and coaresly grate or finely chop tomatoes, peppers, and onions.  Dissolve salt in water and pour over vegetables in large kettle.  Heat to boiling and simmer 5 minutes.  Drain in colander.  Return vegetables to kettle.  Heat to boiling and simmer 5 minutes.  Drain in colander.  Return vegetables to kettle.  Add sugar, vinegar, mustard, and cornstarch.  Stir to mix.  Heat to boil and simmer 5 minutes.  Fill steril pint jars with hot relish, leaving 1/2-inch headspace.  Adjust lids and process.

Process times for pint jars:

0-1,000 feet altitude:  5 minutes

1,001-6,000 feet altitude: 10 minutes

Above 6,000 feet altitude:  15 minutes

{note:  I cut this recipe in half}

Chicken Tortilla Soup

There are tons of tortilla soups floating around out there, but the recipe I’m sharing today is different from any of the others I’ve ever seen.  What makes it unique is that it is seasoned with dried basil (as opposed to taco-type seasoning), and topped with mozzarella cheese – 2 very important and tasty details!  This soup has been a favorite of mine for about 20 years now.  It was given to me by a friend when I was about 20 years old (I’ll let you do the math on my age – as long as you promise not to tell! 🙂 )

Chicken Tortilla Soup

Ingredients:
1 medium onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
2 c. cooked chicken
4 c. chicken broth
3/4 tsp dried basil
1/8 tspg round red pepper (add more if you like it spicy)
salt and pepper to taste
1 (10-oz) can tomato puree
1 (15-oz) can diced tomatoes
Tortilla chips
Shredded Mozzarella cheese

Directions:
Saute onion, pepper, and garlic in oil.  Add chicken broth and other ingredients (except the tortilla chips and cheese).  Heat to a boil; simmer uncovered for 30 minutes.

Assembly:
Put tortilla chips in a bowl, ladle soup over them, then sprinkle the mozzarella cheese on top.

 

Chicken Tortilla Soup 3

Place the tortilla chips in the bowl first.

Chicken Tortilla Soup 2

Ladle the soup on top of the chips.

Chicken Tortilla Soup

Sprinkle the mozzarella cheese on top. Yum!

One final note:  The 10-oz can of tomato puree provides the perfect tomato-sauce consistency for this soup.  For awhile I had a hard time finding it, so I tried buying the bigger can and guesstimating the amount (freezing the rest).  Then I tried tomato sauce.  Now my stores sell the small tomato puree again, and it really is perfect.

Do you have a favorite recipe that you’ve had for years?

Thankful Thursday – A Season of Thanks Followed by a Season of Giving

We had our Stake Conference a couple of Sundays ago and a lady that I do not know sang the song “Because I Have Been Given Much.”  She had a really pretty voice and the version she sang was slightly different (in a good way) than the original. It was really beautiful!  I wish I had a video recording of it so I could post it, but since I don’t, you’ll just have to take my word for it.  As she sang the last line of the final verse, “thus shall my thanks be thanks, indeed” I thought to myself “isn’t it neat, that in our culture we have Thanksgiving followed by Christmas? A season of giving thanks followed by a season of giving to others.”

My Stake President gave us an assignment at the Saturday Night Session of Stake Conference. It was to do something nice for a neighbor. (I think he was hungry b/c most of his suggestions involved food 🙂 ). But he told about how his wife has many times taken brownies or pie to different neighbors on their street, and how that has helped them build positive neighbor relations.  He also said that sometimes they have included a CD of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in with their gift, and many recipients told them that it was their favorite Christmas CD to listen to!

So it is true – I “have been given much” in the way of a great family, good friends, good health, and all of my needs to be met.  And most especially because of my knowledge of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.  And so, as I (and we) give to others this Christmas Season, “our thanks will be thanks indeed.”

Following are two recipes that I plan to prepare and give to others in the next couple of weeks.  I’m going to provide a link for the first recipe, and type in the second.

Molasses Cookies

http://www.joyofbaking.com/MolassesCookies.html

Notes:
Our family loves these Molasses Cookies!  And I think they are a unique cookie to give to people, but they still seem “Christmasy.”  Our list is growing longer all the time of who we want to give these cookies to.  My kids’ teachers are included in that list!

Cranberry Salsa

Ingredients:
1 bag of fresh cranberries
juice of 1 – 2 limes (or juice and zest 1 lime)
1 bunch of green onions
1/2 – 2/3 c. sugar
1 small can of diced mild green chilis
1 cup of cilantro

Directions:
Pulse cranberries, green onions, and cilantro in a food processor to chop.  Combine in a bowl with rest of the ingredients.  Serve over a block of cream cheese with crackers.

Notes:
This recipe is from my sister-in-law.  She has made it many times as an appetizer for our Thanksgiving dinner.  It is super yummy!  (It’s also very good on turkey sandwiches!).  My plan is to make some, and put it in a pint-sized canning jar with a pretty bow.  Then I’ll add the jarred salsa, some cream cheese, and crackers along with the recipe together in a basket to give as a gift. (I’ll probably add a side-note stating that the salsa has not been “canned” and does need to be refrigerated!)

What do you like to give to your friends and neighbors at this time of year?

Some of my favorite red, orange, and green vegetables (and how I prepare them!)

One of my goals this month is to eat one serving of red, orange, or green vegetables every day.  So, I thought it would be fun to share some of my favorite foods in these groups, and a few ways that I like to prepare them.  Usually I choose the quickest option, but when I want variety, I’ll take the time required to prepare them a different way.

Apples (right now our family’s favorite apple is “honey-crisp,” but we eat all the kinds!)

  • whole
  • sliced (plain or dipped in peanut butter)
  • micro-baked (slice and put in microwave for about 1 minute; sprinkle cinnamon-sugar on top)

Pears

  • whole or sliced
  • diced, and cooked with butter, dried sage, and a little salt (then serve warm on a plate, sprinkled with some blue cheese) **this idea came from Sunset Magazine**

Cutie oranges

  • peel and eat.  yum!

Grapefruit

  • I used to simply cut my grapefruit in half, and eat it right out of it’s own “bowl.”  But then I had kids and realized that this was difficult for them to do.  So now I cut the segments out like method #1 shown here.  I do exactly as they show, except I place the fruit on the cutting board instead of in my hand, and I put the leftover membrane in my citrus juicer to squeeze out as much juice as I can.  **This is a little bit of work, but for me it’s worth it, because my kids (and I) love grapefruit!  And it packs well in their lunches this way (minus the juice).**

Sweet potatoes

Spinach

  • in smoothies
  • steamed briefly in the microwave or on stove-top (just enough to wilt it slightly), then with balsamic vinegar and blue cheese sprinkled on top (I learned this from a friend!)
  • raw, in salads
  • as a topping for some soups

Carrots

  • raw, dipped in ranch dressing.  Sometimes I make my own using this recipe.  (She doesn’t include salt, but I do add it to mine).
  • steamed or microwaved with butter, salt & pepper.  (This is my favorite way.  They are so naturally sweet!)

Broccoli

  • steamed or microwaved with butter, salt & pepper, and McCormick’s “Montreal chicken seasoning.”
  • sautéed with garlic and dried cranberries (added at the end)
  • broccoli salad (admittedly, this way of preparing the broccoli is not nearly as healthy as the others, but it is a fun salad to take to potlucks.  Most people really enjoy it!)  **my recipe is similar to this one, except that mine calls for just 1/3 c. sugar, half a red onion, and dried cranberries instead of raisins**
  • raw, dipped in ranch or added to salads

Acorn squash – once I bought one with a sticker on it with printed instructions on how to cook it.  Here they are:

  • micro-baked:  “Cut in half and remove seeds.  Cover with plastic wrap (I use waxed paper).  Cook on high 8 min or till tender.  Let set 5 min.  Flavor with butter, cinnamon, nutmeg, brown sugar, or dark syrup.
  • oven:  “Bake at 350 with cut side down in 1″ of water for 30 min or till tender.”

So, this is what I’m trying to eat every day this month.  Writing all of this out definitely makes me want to get in the kitchen and start preparing some of this yummy food!  How about you?  What are your favorite ways to prepare fresh fruits and vegetables?

Thankful Thursday & Vegetarian Chili Recipe

Today I am thankful for . . .

. . . good friends who invited L and me to be part of their “Letter of the Week” group.  Today we did “A is for Alligator.”

. . . the man who gave juice boxes to all of the young trick-or-treaters last week.  When we were trick-or-treating, L became thirsty.  Of course I was not prepared with any water or anything for her – not even in the car.  So I told her we wouldn’t be much longer and I’d get her something as soon as we got home.  But she persisted in saying how thirsty she was and even asked, “can we ask someone at the next house if they can give me something to drink?”  Being among strangers, I, of course, said “no.”  But it just so happened that at the next house a man put a juice box in her pumpkin basket!  When I happily explained what good timing that was, he said, “I like to give juice boxes to all of the little ones.”  She drank it all up right then; I guess she really was thirsty.

. . . the clear sky tonight.  I went to the grocery store after dinner, and noticed how clearly I could see the moon and the stars.  They were so bright tonight!

. . . My sister Felicia’s vegetarian chili.  I needed something fast and that used ingredients that I had on hand for dinner tonight, and her chili recipe was perfect!  It was easy and tasted great too!  Do you want to try it?  Great!  I’ll include the recipe below.  {I’m sure she won’t mind :)}

My Sister Felicia’s Vegetarian Chili (from “Get Cooking” by Mollie Katzen)

Ingredients:
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium red or yellow onion, minced
1 Tbsp chili powder
2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp salt
1 medium carrot, diced
1 medium stalk celery, diced
1 Tbsp cider vinegar
1 Tbsp minced garlic (about 3 good-sized cloves)
1 small bell pepper (any color), diced
3 15-oz cans red kidney beans (about 5 cups cooked beans)
1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes
1 15-oz can diced tomatoes
Up to 1/4 tsp black pepper

Directions:

1.  Place a soup pot over medium heat.  After about a minute, add the olive oil and swirl to coat the pan.  Ad the onion, clhili pwder, cumin, and 1/4 tsp of the salt.  Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes, or until the onion softens.

2.  Stir in the carrot, celery, and remaining 1/2 tsp salt, and reduce the heat to medium-low.  Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes, or until the vegetables are very soft.

3.  Add the vinegar, garlic, and bell pepper.  Cook for another 5 minutes, stirring often.  Meanwhile, set a colander in the sink and pour in the beans; give them a quick rinse and allow them to drain.

4.  Add the beans and the crushed and diced tomatoes (with all their liquid) to the pot.  Bring to a boil, then turn the heat all the way down to the lowest possible setting.  Cover the pot with the lid slightly askew and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes.

5.  Grind in some black pepper to taste, and serve hot.

What are you thankful for today?