Friday, October 28, 2011

70 Ways Sugar Can Ruin Health!

We've been talking about the sugar-feeding-frenzy that's about to start (hello Halloween). Anybody wondering, "So what's the big deal with sugar? If you use self-control, what's the problem?" Fair question, but misleading. When it comes to sugar, self-control doesn't offset the damage even a small amount can do to us. And that's why we want to continue the discussion--this time with the hard, cold truth about this addictive substance.

Some in my family (Alice talking now) think I'm a fanatic and even get annoyed and even angry when I climb on this soapbox. Oh well--I'm not gonna soft-pedal the issue any longer. Read on for what medical experts have found. This is a LONG post, so grab a cup of sugar-free herb tea, cozy-up, and read on. We pulled this straight off the Dr. Joseph Mercola website and hope he doesn't mind this lowly blog attempting to spread his message. This could be the most important stuff you read all week

In addition to throwing off the body's homeostasis and wreaking havoc on metabolic processes, excess sugar has a number of other significant consequences. Nancy Appleton, PhD, author of the book Lick the Sugar Habit, contributed an extensive list of the many ways sugar ruins health from a vast number of medical journals and other scientific publications. She says sugar:
  1. suppresses the immune system and impairs defenses against infectious disease.
  2. upsets the mineral relationships in the body causing chromium and copper deficiencies and interferes with absorption of calcium and magnesium.
  3. causes a rapid rise of adrenaline, hyperactivity, anxiety, difficulty concentrating, and crankiness in children.
  4. produces a significant rise in total cholesterol, triglycerides and bad cholesterol and a decrease in good cholesterol.
  5. causes a loss of tissue elasticity and function (hence, looking older before our time).
  6. feeds cancer cells and has been connected with the development of cancer of the breast, ovaries, prostate, rectum, pancreas, biliary tract, lung, gallbladder and stomach.
  7. increases fasting levels of glucose and can cause reactive hypoglycemia.
  8. weakens eyesight.
  9. causes problems with the gastrointestinal tract including: an acidic digestive tract, indigestion, mal-absorption in patients with functional bowel disease, increased risk of Crohn's disease, and ulcerative colitis.
  10. causes premature aging. In fact, the single most important factor that accelerates aging is insulin, which is triggered by sugar.
  11. is a precursor to alcoholism.
  12. causes saliva to become acidic, resulting in tooth decay, and periodontal disease.
  13. contributes to obesity.
  14. causes autoimmune diseases such as: arthritis, asthma, and multiple sclerosis.
  15. Sugar greatly assists the uncontrolled growth of Candida Albicans (yeast infections).
  16. encourages gallstones.
  17. encourages appendicitis.
  18. encourages hemorrhoids.
  19. causes varicose veins.
  20. elevates glucose and insulin responses in oral contraceptive users.
  21. contributes to osteoporosis.
  22. causes a decrease in insulin sensitivity thereby causing an abnormally high insulin levels and eventually diabetes.
  23. lowers Vitamin E levels.
  24. increases systolic blood pressure.
  25. causes drowsiness, decreased activity, and mental fog in children.
  26. increases advanced glycation end products (AGEs),which are sugar molecules that attach to and damage proteins in your body. AGEs speed up the aging of cells, which may contribute to a variety of chronic and fatal diseases.
  27. interferes with absorption of protein.
  28. causes food allergies.
  29. causes toxemia during pregnancy.
  30. contributes to eczema.
  31. causes atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease.
  32. impairs the structure of DNA.
  33. changes the structure of protein and cause a permanent alteration of the way the proteins act in the body.
  34. causes skin aging by changing the structure of collagen.
  35. causes cataracts and nearsightedness.
  36. lays the groundwork for emphysema.
  37. lowers the ability of enzymes to function.
  38. encourages Parkinson's disease.
  39. increases the size of the liver by making its cells divide, and it can increase the amount of fat in the liver, leading to fatty liver disease.
  40. increases kidney size and produces pathological changes in the kidney such as the formation of kidney stones. Fructose is helping to drive up rates of kidney disease.
  41. damages the pancreas.
  42. increases the body's fluid retention.
  43. hampers bowel movements.
  44. compromises the lining of capillaries.
  45. makes tendons more brittle.
  46. causes headaches, including migraines.
  47. reduces the learning capacity, adversely affecting children's grades and causing learning disorders.
  48. causes an increase in delta, alpha, and theta brain waves, which can alter ability to think clearly.
  49. facilitates depression.
  50. increases risk of gout.
  51. increases risk of Alzheimer's disease. MRI studies show that adults 60 and older who have high uric acid are four to five times more likely to have vascular dementia, the second most common form of dementia after Alzheimer's.
  52. causes hormonal imbalances such as: increasing estrogen in men, exacerbating PMS, and decreasing growth hormone.
  53. facilitates dizziness.
  54. increases free radicals and oxidative stress.
  55. significantly increases platelet adhesion in those with peripheral vascular disease.
  56. leads to substantial decrease in gestation in pregnant adolescents and is associated with a twofold-increased risk for delivering a small-for-gestational-age (SGA) infant.
  57. is an addictive substance and can be intoxicating, similar to alcohol.
  58. affects the amount of carbon dioxide premature babies can produce.
  59. causes the body to change sugar into 2 to 5 times more fat in the bloodstream than it does starch.
  60. promotes excessive food intake in obese subjects because it is absorbed so rapidly.
  61. worsens the symptoms of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
  62. adversely affects urinary electrolyte composition.
  63. impairs the function of adrenal glands.
  64. has the potential of inducing abnormal metabolic processes in normal, healthy individuals, thereby promoting chronic degenerative diseases.
  65. increases risk of polio.
  66. can cause epileptic seizures.
  67. causes high blood pressure in obese people.
  68. may induce cell death.
  69. encourages antisocial behavior in juvenile rehabilitation centers.
  70. dehydrates newborns.

It should now be crystal clear just how damaging sugar is. We simply cannot achieve our highest degree of health and vitality if we are consuming much of it. Fortunately, the body has an amazing ability to heal itself when given the basic nutrition it needs, and the liver has an incredible ability to regenerate. If we start making changes today, our health WILL begin to improve, returning you to the state of vitality that nature intended.

Sounds radical, huh? But that's the big deal--even used in moderation, it's just not good for us. It's lethal, like arsenic--would you ingest that in moderation? Now you understand why all the dither over this sugar-feeding-frenzy that's lurking at our doors.

Stay tuned--Monday we'll share your great answers to our earlier questions on how YOU control your sugar cravings and how you help your children manage that boatload of candy they'll be bringing home, come Monday night. Until then, let's be sure to make family dinner hour possible--we need all the good nutrition we can get!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Work Smarter, Not Harder and Save Time, Too!

While we're gathering your ideas on how to deal with the sugar-feeding-frenzy (keep 'em coming--we NEED them) that's on our doorstep, we thought we'd share 6 smart time-saving ideas today.

But before we get to those, we have another question we hope you'll help answer: What's your favorite and most effective way of keeping hardwood floors clean and shiny? We both have lots of hardwood and wonder if there's an easier way of managing them. OK, now, let's save some time:

  1. Lay your dishrag in the bottom of your sink before scrubbing any pots and pans. By setting the pot or pan on the dishrag, rather than straight onto the sink surface, you eliminate the need to scour off the metal marks that the pan can leave behind.
  2. When using your hand- mixer to whip up cream, make pudding, beat egg whites, or mix anything else that tends to splatter, mix inside a large paper grocery bag instead. Set the bag in your sink (this makes the mixing process ergonomically easier on your shoulder and arm), then place your mixing bowl with ingredients, down inside the bag. Reach down inside with your mixer and whip away. The beauty of this mixing approach is that all the splatters land on the inside of the bag and not on the back-splash, counter appliances, or on the bottom of upper cupboards. When done, either toss the bag or save for another use, then wipe your mixer clean and put it away. That's it--no wiping splatters off any surfaces!
  3. And speaking of paper bags, use them as funnels. A small paper lunch bag, with the bottom cut off, makes a great funnel for transferring large amounts of something (rice or other grains, beans, flours, etc.) into smaller containers for your kitchen cupboard storage. If want to divide that 30 or 50 pound bag of something into smaller storage containers (5 gallon buckets, for instance), use the same idea, only this time use a large paper grocery bag with the bottom cut off. Whichever size bag you're using, just push it into the mouth of your container and with your fingers, fan it out (inside the container). Paper plates make great funnels as well!
  4. When making noodle casseroles, consider tossing any veggies you're adding to the dish into the noodle water the last 3 to 5 minutes of cooking. This saves you dirtying another pan. The veggies cook nicely right along with the noodles. (For instance: We make a broccoli and tuna casserole, so we add our chopped broccoli just before we're ready to drain our noodles. The broccoli cooks crisp-tender, keeps its pretty green color, and it was all done in one pot. We also like to add broccoli and other veggies to our homemade mac & cheese this way as well.)
  5. When measuring honey for a recipe (molasses, agave, etc.), coat the measuring spoon or cup with butter (or another good fat) first. Then the sticky stuff just slides right out--quickly and easily.
  6. When cooking, keep your sink full of hot, soapy water and wash things up as you go. If you already do this, then you've probably noticed that preparing dinner this way makes for more family cooperation in cleaning up after the meal, because there's just not much left to do.
As always, thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts. Until next time, here's to working a little smarter, a little less harder, and saving some time so making family dinner hour possible is just that--possible!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Sugar-Feeding-Frenzy is About to Begin!

You're probably aware that the sugar-feeding-frenzy is about to begin--it starts with Halloween, continues with Thanksgiving, moves into Christmas, and doesn't even come close to tapering off until after Valentine's Day.

And when we talk sweets, you'd have a tough time finding anyone that loves them more than me (Alice, that is--I'm the one writing today--Jeanne is getting ready to go out of town to tend grandchildren). I've probably eaten my weight in Snickers Bars several times over. I can polish off an entire box of Krispy Kremes solo, in no time flat. And Halloween always found me shamelessly sneaking my kids' candy (the candy bars and caramels specifically).

As the kids got older they caught on that "something was rotten in Denmark," so since my source dried up, I would deliberately buy more bags of Snickers than I intended to hand out Halloween night, so that I'd have all this left-over stuff that someone had to take care of--and I was the someone. I remember years when I'd done nothing but eaten candy all day, the day after Halloween, and would slip into such a sugar coma that I could barely function. Come dinner time, I think I just sort of motioned to the peanut butter jar and mumbled something like "Every man for himself tonight."

Pathetic, huh? True though. And this leads me to today's topic, in the form of two questions:
  1. How do you control your sugar cravings--and
  2. How do you help your children manage their pillowcase-load of Halloween candy during the days after the event (besides eating it yourself, I mean)?
In other words, what do you do so you and your family don't overindulge, binge, get sick, do stupid stuff like I use to? I'm sure there's lots of wisdom out there that we all could benefit from--so please share. I'd throw out a few tips, but duh, I don't have any on this topic, so we're really relying on YOU! And as always, here's to making family dinner hour possible--and let's hope come the day after Halloween, it's more than peanut butter!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Green is Good

Just because it’s green doesn’t mean it isn’t good. Green drinks are worthy of a try. If you haven’t tried green drinks, you are probably associating them with either the strength of Popeye or something slimy.

One thing is for sure, they are good for you and by adding fruits and vegetables together you take away much of the vegetable flavor. For instance, I don’t like the taste of wheat grass but put it with some pineapple or orange juice and it tastes great! I personally love these green drinks and most people who want to be healthy are willing to give greens a try. Greens are loaded with nutrients.

It is important to remember that our bodies need five servings of fruits and vegetables everyday. That’s not five of each; it is a total of five. If you love fruit, it might be easy to eat five fruits a day, but you need to balance them out with vegetables so you get all the nutrition your body requires.

These green drinks, after a short period of time, will make your body feel super great! If you are a beginner at juicing, I suggest that you add more fruits to the green drink to make them sweeter. You may also want to start by drinking a little at a time so your body doesn’t over react to the change.

It is also a help to share this juicing experience with a friend who lives close by or someone you see on a regular basis, so you aren’t overwhelmed and you won’t waste what you can’t drink. You will soon come up with your own favorite recipes by tailoring these drinks to fit your needs and tastes.

Having someone enjoying getting healthier with you is not only motivating but it also allows you to try more variations. You can keep the drinks in the refrigerator for three or four days. If your juice thickens as it sits in the refrigerator just add more fruit juice or a little water to it. Carrot juice is the exception; it should be drunk in the first two days. Carrot juice will emit a gas if not drank in a timely manner that could make you sick.

Collard greens are rich in calcium and loaded with Vitamins A and C. Collard greens are extremely good for you.

Green Cabbage is loaded with Vitamin K, bone health Fiber (insoluble), promotes healthy gastrointestinal tract, and an excellent source for weight maintenance. Cabbage is also very low in saturated fat and cholesterol.

Spinach is high in Vitamin A, and is a good source of calcium, iron, magnesium, riboflavin, and Vitamins B-6 and C. The plant compounds in spinach may boost your immune system.

Kale is considered to be a highly nutritious vegetable with powerful antioxidant properties and is anti-inflammatory. It is actually from the cabbage family. It is high in:

· Beta carotene: powerful immune booster and antioxidant

· Vitamin C: another powerful immune booster and antioxidant

· Lutein: an antioxidant that can help lower your risk of developing cataracts and macular degeneration and lowers the risk of cardiovascular diseases

· Zeaxanthin: another antioxidant that helps protect your eyes from ultraviolet damage.

· Calcium

Green Drink 1

3 cups of juice (orange or pineapple)
16 ounce bag of baby spinach
1 banana
2 Tablespoons Cod Liver Oil (Orange flavor)
1 handful sprout

Blend together.

Green Drink 2

3 cups apple juice
1 large avocado
2 large bananas
1 Tablespoon flax seed meal
10 ounces spinach or 3 kale leaves

Beat at high speed for 3 minutes or until everything is smooth and well incorporated.

Dr. Oz Green Drink

2 apples cored
2 large handfuls of spinach
1 celery stock
½ cup chopped parsley
1 thumbnail of fresh ginger (peeled)
1 lemon (juice only)
1 medium cucumber

Place ingredients in a blender, add 4 ounces of spring water or a handful of ice cubes, then, puree quickly for one minute. Optional ingredients:

Another cucumber

Monday, October 24, 2011

Easy, Affordable, and GREEN Kitichen Sanitizing

Let's talk about an easy, affordable and environmentally friendly (green) way to clean and disinfect your kitchen (the entire house, actually):

Have you heard of GSE--Grapefruit Seed Extract? In the years since its discovery, grapefruit seed extract has been tested and validated by the FDA, USDA, the Pasteur Institute in France, and numerous physicians. The active ingredient of grapefruit seed extract is non-toxic and is synthesized from the seed and pulp of certified organically grown grapefruit. The process converts the grapefruit bioflavonoids (polyphenolics) into an extremely potent compound that is being used to kill strep, staph, salmonella, E. Coli, candida, herpes, influenza, parasites, fungi, and more.

GSE has been proven in laboratory tests to be 10 to 100 times more effective as a disinfectant than chlorine, colloidal silver, and iodine.

Because of all this research that shows how powerful (it's a natural anti-biotic, anti-fungal, anti-protozoan, anti-viral, antiseptic) and safe GSE is, and because we find bleach objectionable, we now clean and disinfect exclusively with GSE.

And we're in good company. Grapefruit Seed Extract also is becoming the disinfectant and sanitizing agent of choice for many hospitals and clinics throughout the U. S. In the laundry, it rids linen of fungi and bacteria--just ten to fifteen drops of GSE added to the final rinse water disinfects a large load of laundry. They add it to their carpet shampoo machines--just ten to fifteen drops per gallon in the reservoir is effective in killing staph, strep, aspergillus, salmonella and many other pathogenic organisms that are present in carpet.

This amazing product is even used to clean fungus and mildew off swimming pools and birdbaths. So it makes perfect sense, then, to use it as the disinfectant of choice when cleaning our homes and sanitizing our kitchens. Here's what tells us GSE does and how to do it:

  • Toothbrush Cleaner: Stir 5-10 drops of NutriBiotic GSE into a glass of water. Submerge toothbrush for 15 minutes (or leave in between uses). Rinse toothbrush before using. Change water and remix every few days.
  • Vegetable/Fruit or Meat/Poultry Wash: Sink washing - Add 30 drops of NutriBiotic GSE to a sink full of cold water. Briefly soak any vegetables, fruit, meat or poultry. Spray washing - Add 20 or more drops of NutriBiotic to a 32 oz. pump sprayer filled with water. Spray on any vegetables, fruit, meat or poultry.
  • Dish and Utensil Cleaning Additive: Add 15-30 drops of NutriBiotic GSE to sink dish washing water or to final rinse. Add 15-30 drops to automatic dishwasher with detergent or to final rinse.
  • Cutting Board Cleaner: Apply 10-20 drops of NutriBiotic GSE to cutting board and work into entire board with a wet sponge or dish cloth. Leave on for at least 30 minutes. Rinse with water.
  • All Purpose Cleaner: Add 30-60 drops of NutriBiotic GSE to any 32 oz. pump sprayer filled with water or cleanser. Kills mold on all surfaces.
Alice bought her bottle at our local natural foods store (Good Earth), but if you don't have a natural foods store near you, you can get it off the Dirtworks site--4 oz for $19.95. While that might seem expensive, it's not--this bottle has lasted her over a year now. She mixes the 15 to 30 drops of GSE in a large pump-type spray bottle with about 10 drops of essential oil (lemon and peppermint are favorites, which are antiseptic as well) for a lovely fragrance. She adds water to the top, shakes well, and voila--she has a powerfully effective cleaner/disinfectant that is safe for children, pets, and even food.

And one final suggestion for GSE use: If you make green smoothies, add 8 to 10 drops to your smoothie each day--grapefruit seed extract is a terrific immune booster. That's how safe it is--we can actually ingest it!

So when the meal is over and it's time to clean up the kitchen, put a family member in charge of spraying all cleared surfaces with this super disinfectant. A quick wipe-down, and everything is clean, sanitized, and ready for the next meal. This easy-to-use cleaner is safe for all surfaces, too--even marble, granite, tile, wood, etc. So here's to keeping the kitchen sparkling and sanitized each day as we make family family dinner hour possible!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

A Money-Saving Resource!

We think about you all the time, wondering how we can TRULY help you with your goals to consistently get dinner on, save money doing it, and do it all easily. The saving money part leads us to a quick tip today:

When you really need something, try shopping at This is a 25-year-old company that deals in closeouts, overstocks, 2nds, cosmetically blemished items and irregulars--all are top brand names. Their typical discount is from 35%-75%. Alice has been coming to them for all sorts of things (clothing, sportswear, sports gear, shoes and slippers, bedding, bath, furnishings, rugs, luggage, backyard, pet supplies, games, electronics, and kitchen) for years now and loves this company.

So with her experience behind us, and at risk of sounding like an infomercial, we thought we ought to let you know about Sierra Trading Post. (We don't work for the company, there's no kick-backs or $$ remuneration for us recommending them--this is just an honest, "Hey, did you know about..." message.) As far as things for the kitchen, they feature glassware, cookware, tableware, flatware, knives, stoneware, cutting boards, kitchen linens and table linens, aprons, spice mills, cannisters, serving bowls, and so on and so on--all at super discounted prices.

For instance, Alice just recently ordered a lightweight silk top to wear under her dressy clothes as an added layer to counter all the frigid air conditioning she finds herself in. It was regularly $40 and she paid $19.95 + $3 shipping. The quality is terrific and she's happy as a clam--a warm clam now.

Another example? They carry Wusthoff knives and knife sets at killer prices. Pictured is their scissor set that retails for $80. They offer it for $49.95, but with the 35% off coupons they're always sending their customers, the cost of this set could be around $32! This is typical of their products and how they do things.

Their customer service is superb and their return policy is exceptional. If you're needing something for kitchen or otherwise, you might check them out. The money we save, however we save it, is one way we can have more for buying quality foods (organic, for instance) for our meals. So here's to saving on necessary purchases as we make family dinner hour possible!

Friday, October 21, 2011

There's More to Pumpkin Than Pie!

When you think of pumpkin, do you almost instantly think of pie? Us too. At least we used to. NOW we go beyond the pie thing to casserole container, punch bowl, snack holders, and table decor. Now when we think pumpkin, we think PARTY because there's way more to pumpkin than pie!

And since harvest season is here and Halloween is on its way, we thought you'd appreciate knowing what else can be done with the lowly pumpkin. But whether you're throwing a party, or just want to hold a special dinner this fall, let the pumpkin jazz things up for you.

Due to three things, a pumpkin can be an excellent casserole dish. First, because of the thick rind, it's a sturdy container, even after being baked. Second, because the flesh has little to no taste on its own, it compliments whatever is put inside it. Third, because of the unending variety of sizes you can find, there's a pumpkin out there that's right for any number of servings you want to bake.

Here's what to do:
  1. Cut the top off, thoroughly clean out the seeds and fiber.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  3. Fill with your favorite casserole mixings. We like a hamburger and rice casserole.
  4. Replace the top you cut off (it becomes the casserole lid) and bake this for about 1 1/2 hrs, or until the rice reaches your desired softness.
  5. For the table, you'll want to set the baked pumpkin on a tray--sometimes the rind can be pierced (it is now on the soft side) when serving and can result in a little leaking.
And the same things that make a pumpkin an excellent casserole dish also make it an excellent punch bowl. Again, just cut the top off and clean it out well and you're ready to add your drink ingredients. Some folks like to line their pumpkin with a glass bowl. We've never done that and our punch has always been terrific. A fun touch is to lay dry ice on the bottom. When the drink is poured in, mist and fog float up and add a certain scary touch to the meal. Lots of laughs!

Along this same line, a pumpkin can serve as a festive bottled drink holder (a twist on the ice bucket idea).

Pumpkins also make unusual and attractive snack holders. Find the right sizes to hold your bags of chips and dips. Cut the tops off, clean them out and fill. So the chips don't get soggy from the moist pumpkin interior, we line those meant to be chips-holders with either aluminum foil or plastic wrap. Then you can go one step further and line with a large napkin that drapes outside the pumpkin. For those meant to hold dips, you can either just add the dip (the pumpkin won't infringe on the taste one bit) or line the pumpkin with a glass bowl. Either way works fine.

A large pumpkin, with top removed and insides cleaned out, makes a lovely container for a centerpiece. We like to plop a beautiful potted chrysanthemum into a pumpkin and use this to decorate our serving table.

Little pumpkins--pumpkinettes, we call them--make darling candle holders. Remove the stem and cut a space the size of your candle, then insert. They can also be hollowed out, carved a little, and used to hold votives. Very pretty!

Finish the decor with a few scattered fall leaves strewn amongst the candles and around the centerpiece, and you've got a stunning table at little to no cost.

Whether it's Halloween you're focusing on, or the wonders of fall and the harvest season, or you simply want to hold a special meal for your loved ones, remember that there's more to pumpkin than pie as you make family dinner hour possible this next week!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Go Healthy with "Legal" Soda Pop!

Here we are, looking at another weekend. We love weekends and we approach them with such anticipation. It's a nice break from the rat-racy routine of the week, and they're a perfect place to insert some traditions.

For instance, the weekend is the perfect time to cook as a family. We get everyone in the kitchen, assign some part of the Saturday or Sunday meal to everyone participating, and away we go. Let the fun begin. It's a nice tradition.

Another thing about weekends--we usually have some "fun" food goin' on (pizza, hamburgers, popcorn, etc.)--another nice tradition. And this leads us to today's topic: "legal" soda pop.

We're all about healthy eating, for sure. So we're always on the lookout for good-for-you treat ideas and ways to healthify that pizza, hamburger, popcorn, etc. And since most of us like our soda pop once in awhile, it was one of the first things we focused our healthifying energies on.

What IS "legal" soda pop? (You oughta put us in your will for this...) It's Arrowhead or Perrier mineral water (sometimes called sparkling water) with fruited ice cubes. (We especially like Arrowhead and Perrier because they have no added sodium.) You get the same whizzy-fizzy bang-bang that traditional carbonated sodas give you, but without all the crap (can we say "crap?"). Instead of drinking sugar, HFCS, or some artificial sugar substitute found in diet sodas (aspartame, sucralose), phosphoric acid, caffeine, and acesulfame-K, you can have a good-for-you drink loaded with vitamins, fiber, flavor, and taste! And going "legal" is a fairly easy way to help our children lower their daily caloric intake--the calories are minimal in this nutrition-dense drink. Cool, huh?

All you do is puree fresh fruit (frozen works when fresh fruit season is over, which it just about is), then pour the puree into ice cube trays and freeze. When the cubes are solid (a couple hours), pop them into plastic freezer bags. These fruit cubes will keep for several months, but that'll never be an issue because they don't stay around very long.

Then when folks want their soda pop, get out the cubes and put 5 or 6 in a glass and let them melt just a smidge. When they're on the soft side, pour your mineral water. There'll be fizz, so just keep the bottle with the glass and keep refreshing your drink. I'm actually sipping some apricot "soda" even as we speak.

Blueberries, strawberries, peaches and nectarines, apricots, kiwi, mango, raspberries and blackberries, make excellent fruit cubes.

So this weekend, let's continue the tradition of serving up some fun family favorites, along with "legal" soda pop, as we make family dinner hour possible!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

8 Different Ways to Get Dinner on Thanks to Crock Pot Chicken!

We do hope we're not wearing you out with our long posts--but there's so much to talk about! Today let's shift gears a bit and move from stretching the grocery dollar to getting a meal on, quick like a bunny.

In the book, TIP-A-DAY GUIDE FOR HEALTHY LIVING (Melanie Douglass, R.D.), we found the best idea. We've used it to pull off a healthy dinner more than once. Try this:

Put one to two pounds of boneless, skinless chicken breasts in a Crock Pot and fill the pot about one-third full of water. Let the chicken cook on low for four to eight hours. Make sure the chicken is fully cooked (with no pink meat, clear juices only, and an internal temperature of at least 165 degrees.)

The chicken will be moist and tender, and you can shred it easily so that it's ready to go into any entree. And the resulting broth can be cooled, the congealed fat removed (if there is any), then strained if needed, and frozen for later use. We like to freeze broths in ice cube trays and then pop the frozen broth cubes into plastic freezer bags. Then when we need broth, we just take out the number of cubes we need for what we're fixing. Easy--no muss, no fuss.

From here, consider all the things we can do with this cooked chicken:
  • Sprinkle with Mrs. Dash or lemon pepper and serve with a steamed vegetable, whole grain roll and some fruit.
  • Add taco seasoning and make tacos.
  • Add enchilada seasoning and make enchiladas.
  • Add to a fresh spinach salad (with slivered almonds, shredded carrots, and tomatoes).
  • Add to your favorite casserole dish (brown rice and cream of chicken soup work well).
  • Add Alfredo sauce seasoning and cream and serve over fettucine for chicken Alfredo.
  • Mix with cooked whole-wheat noodles, veggies, and chicken broth for a hearty chicken noodle soup.
  • Add to Chinese frozen veggies and serve over rice for a pseudo stir-fry.
We're sure this list could go on. What are your ideas? Please take a minute and comment with any you might have. It's so helpful to share with each other.

And while we're on the topic of chicken, how about making our own healthy chicken nuggets? This is another idea from Melanie's TIP-A-DAY book. They have half the fat, no harmful trans fats, and only one-third the sodium found in the fast-food versions. Thus they're perfect for the kids--they love their nuggets, don't they? Here's her recipe:


1 Tbsp canola oil (or other healthy oil--sesame, olive, walnut)
1/3 tsp salt (we like pink Himalayan that we get at our whole foods store--lots of minerals and no fillers in it)
1/4 tsp pepper
1 1/2 C rolled oats
2 large egg whites
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Mix the oil, salt, and pepper in a bowl. Coarsely grind the oats in a blender or food chopper. Whisk the oats and the oil mixture together; then pour into a pie pan. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites for one minute.

Cut the chicken breasts into strips. Roll the chicken in the egg whites and then coat well with the oats. Grease a baking sheet with cooking spray. Place the chicken strips on a baking sheet, and then coat them with cooking spray. Bake 15 to 18 minutes, until the chicken is tender and the crust is golden brown. Let cool on baking sheet for 3 to 5 minutes.

So we might consider buying a family pack of chicken breasts, cooking some in the Crock Pot as mentioned above, and then using what's left for chicken nuggets. Both ideas are easy enough that our grade-schoolers and teens could take this on.

Tomorrow we want to tell you about a very cool idea for some customized, easy, and so affordable table decor--the kids will love this! Until then, here's to doing some clever things with chicken as we make family dinner hour possible!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Work Meal Magic with "Extenders!"

Family Dinner Hour has been up and running for a while now, and we've been wondering if we've been clear about what it's all about--what our mission, vision, and goals are. Just in case we haven't, we thought a quick and concise overview would be good (so there'd be some rhyme and reason for you as to why we're talking about what we're talking about). So here's our deal--we have 5 goals with this blog:
  1. The first is to help us all create user-friendly kitchens (removing clutter and creating centers) so we'll be more inclined to work in them--and to enjoy the work as well. And when it's easier and more enjoyable working in the kitchen, we'll have an easier time getting the family dinner on.
  2. The next is to get the work organized and mobilized--to help us all do what we do quicker and in a simpler way. If we can work smarter and not harder--saving time and energy--then we'll have an easier and more enjoyable time preparing family dinner.
  3. The third goal is to provide ideas on how to stretch our grocery dollars so we'll have more money for the real, whole, healthy food family dinners need to be made from.
  4. Our fourth goal is to share fun ideas for attracting the family to the table--be it through pretty and fun table decor, an enticing menu, delightful table talk, etc.--so that family dinner hour becomes an important, on-going, and beloved family tradition.
  5. Finally, our fifth goal is to provide health information, product references, delicious recipes, and other resources out there (blogs, websites, etc.) that can help us in not just making family dinner hour possible, but in making a healthy family dinner hour possible!
With this said, let's continue the discussion on stretching the grocery dollar. For over fifteen years, Alice fed her seven children and assorted friends and neighbors, on less than $10 a month. Out of necessity they grew a garden, fruit trees, grapes and raspberries, and gleaned local fields and orchards at harvest time. Alice and her children canned and froze everything they could, and she could do everything with wheat but knit a sweater. They stored food and lived off of it throughout the winter and early spring. Then the routine would start all over again. And Jeanne wasn't much different when it came to stretching the 'ol grocery dollar. We both know how to stretch the nickel and make the buffalo moo, so to speak.

So with that background, here's what we want to share (and you're gonna put us in your will for this one!): Learn to use "extenders." The definition is in the name--it's anything that extends or stretches an existing ingredient. It's meal magic. Alice could feed 12 people handsomely on a scant 1 pound of ground beef because she would "extend" it.

Last week we talked about ground beef "gravel." Take that idea and add cooked, cracked wheat mush to the beef when you're browning it, and voila, you've extended your ground beef fixins'. Alice worked the family into this slowly (and unbeknownst to them, by the way--what they didn't know didn't hurt them, and even contributed to their health via more nutrient-dense food).

She started by adding just 1 cup cooked, cracked wheat mush to the beef. As time went on, the ratio grew to 1 pound beef to 4 cups cracked wheat mush, which is why she could feed 12 people from just 1 pound ground beef! You can do this because cooked, cracked wheat has little to no flavor of its own. It takes on the flavor of what it's with. And its texture is remarkably similar to that of cooked ground beef or sausage. Just add your seasonings such as taco, enchilada, sloppy Joe, etc., and no one knows the difference. This is a real $$ saver and health-booster!

Below is the recipe for basic cooked cracked wheat. And a time-saving tip: Rather than cook it on the stove-top, cook a big batch in the crock pot on low overnight, and in the morning it is ready for not just mixing into your evening meal-makings, but as a breakfast dish as well. It'll stored in a tightly covered container in the fridge for up to a week--a time-saving way to have plenty to insert into lots of dishes.

3 c. water

3/4 c. whole wheat kernels

1/4 - 1/2 t. salt

Place the whole kernel wheat into a blender and blend until most of the kernels are cracked (not ground into flour.) Slowly pour into the salted, boiling water and bring back to a boil. Once boiling, cover with a lid and reduce the heat to low. Allow to cook approximately 15-20 minutes until tender, stirring occasionally.

The other "extender" we rely on heavily is powdered or instant milk. We keep it in our storage and pantry. When a recipe calls for milk (bread rolls, puddings, white sauces, etc.), we substitute the dried milk so our jug of drinking milk can last longer. Alice also used to mix up a quart of powdered milk and pour it into the half-empty milk jug to extend the family's drinking milk, but they caught on, so the jig was up on that one!

But back to adding dried milk to your recipes: On the box of instant milk, the directions say one cup of milk = 1/3 C instant and 1 C water. With that in mind, we just add dried milk to the dry ingredients and add the water when we add the liquid ingredients. Make sense? It's quick, easy, and saves $$!

We conclude today's thoughts with recommendations for a couple neat websites and a terrific book. We've listed lots of websites and books at the side here, that are just super and we hope you go to them. But we found two websites recently that really apply to our efforts at stretching the grocery dollar. Take a look at The Prudent Homemaker, and Penny Pinching Diva and see if you don't find some great ideas and inspiration there.

And if you want a terrific book to get you started on the path to "greener" living and saving money as well, get THE FORGOTTEN SKILLS OF SELF-SUFFICIENCY USED BY THE MORMON PIONEERS. Religion aside, here's a group of people that knew how to be self-reliant during the worst of times and we'd be smart to cash in on their expertise and experience. (Cash pun intended.)

Well, we've got some really helpful and fun stuff ready for this week, so come on back, bring your friends, and let's keep stretching that 'ol grocery dollar by using "extenders" as we make family dinner hour possible!