Clean Lunch menu for April Week #4

my girl at last fall's District Cross country race.

my girl at last fall’s District Cross country race.

A full school week ahead, and an even fuller week of activities!  The most exciting thing this week, the school track meet is this Friday.  While for most kids, it is just an adventure outside the classroom and for some, they would rather stay inside the classroom, for my daughter, this is a day that requires a plan.  She is keen to make it all the way to the District meet, which is three meets away, and requires qualifying not only out of the school meet, but then out of the Zone meet.  This week, she told me, “I really want to go to the District meet.”  So, I said, “Then you need to have a plan, and a vision.  You know you can run fast.  You know you are strong and you know your body can do what you need it to do.  So now you need to make sure your mind knows what to do.”  That has been her work this week.  Getting that picture in her head of crossing the finish line first, at the school meet, and then doing it again at the Zone meet, and finally, seeing her name on the list of athletes going to the District meet, and feeling herself running fast and strong and confident.

Having a goal and a vision, is what turns dreams into reality.  Those visions keep us focused on what is important to us and where we want to go.

And my contribution to the goal?  Putting good fuel into that little gas tank!  So I have planned a menu that should take all of my kiddos to the top of their game.  Lots of healthy lean protein, veggies and fruit, complex carbs for great energy.


Monday: Wild Rice Salmon chowder, raw broccoli and carrot sticks,  fruit salad and cottage cheese, oatmeal pecan cookie

Tuesday: White bean and Tuna with kale salad, raw veggies with yogurt dip, banana and granola bites

Wednesday: Chicken and spinach wraps, apple, avocado chocolate pudding, carrot and celery sticks, cheese cubes.

Thursday: Turkey Hamburger soup, pear and grapes, cottage cheese, oatmeal pecan cookie

Friday: Chicken and tomato and feta wraps with yogurt, apple, yogurt with berries, dark chocolate coconut protein bars

Daycare Lunches:

Monday: Turkey Hamburger soup

Tuesday: Tuna sandwich with cream cheese and raw veggies

Wednesday: Chicken and brown rice with spinach

Thursday: Clean peanut butter and “jam” sandwiches, and Quick tomato soup

Friday: Salmon and veggie pasta salad. (I use yogurt and a teaspoon of honey rather than light mayo)

Happy and Healthy packing!

Make a great week!


Homemade Marinara Sauce

My husband loves pasta.  As a student and then a bachelor, he used a lot of bottled sauces from the grocery store.  In fact, he still buys them, because he “likes to have them on hand just in case”.  Just like 200 rolls of toilet paper and an extra 4 L jug of milk (some scars from childhood, I suspect…).  Well, once you start reading the labels on many of the jarred sauces, they really should be a “just in case” sort of thing, and not a regular menu item (lots of salt!!!).

So, when the kids were little, I started trying out recipes to make my own marinara.  It turned out it wasn’t too hard, just chop some onions, some garlic, add some tomatoes and fresh basil and you are all set.  I have made it with fresh tomatoes, frozen tomatoes and canned tomatoes (here is a link to make your own!).  Frozen are great when you have them on hand; fresh are a lot of work (with frozen ones, you are splitting up the work), and canned taste just fine too.  I make a large quantity of the sauce and then freeze it in canning jars.

Marinara Sauce for meatballs, pizza sauce, or for with seafood

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

3 medium yellow onions, finely diced (don’t use the food processor, the onions will end up bitter)

8-10 cloves of garlic, finely chopped (I use a razor-grater similar to this one)

2 whole roasted red peppers (you can use jarred ones, I roast mine in the oven, and then peel off the skin and then freeze them), chopped

6-28 ounce cans whole tomatoes in their juice (no salt added) or 4-5 litres of frozen tomatoes, thawed

10-12 fresh basil leaves, coarsely chopped

2-3 tsp salt flakes

1 tsp ground black pepper

1.Over mesh colander, strain cans of tomatoes, and break up tomatoes, removing any hard cores or bits of skin. Put sorted tomatoes back into juice.  Set aside

2. Heat olive oil over medium heat, cook onions (stirring only occasionally) until soft (5-7 minutes).  Less stirring will help the onions grow sweet with cooking.  Add garlic and continue cooking for 2 minutes, or until fragrant (don’t let garlic burn).

3. Add chopped roasted red peppers, and cook 5 minutes.  Add tomatoes and juice, salt flakes and pepper.  Bring to a low boil, turn heat down and simmer 45 minutes.

4.  Using an  immersion blender (or in batches in your regular blender), carefully puree sauce, making sure to break up any large pieces.  Add basil leaves.  Continue cooking 10-12 minutes.

5. Ready to serve!  Or store in airtight containers (I use glass canning jars, leaving adequate head room at the top for expansion), in the freezer for up to 6 months.

Makes about 5 litres of sauce.  I put mine in 250ml, 500ml and 1 litre jars so I always have access to the right amount of sauce for different types of meals (or numbers of people!).

A collection of hard work, including 4.5 litres of marinara sauce

A collection of hard work, including 4.5 litres of marinara sauce


7 days of 400-600 calorie suppers, when it’s not your turn to cook

If you are the primary person in charge of meal planning and preparation in your house, then you have control over what gets made, and what goes into it, and how it gets made.  But what happens when it isn’t your turn to cook?  Does it turn into take out pizza, or pasta with a jar of sauce? Do the salad ingredients get left in the fridge?  That happens at our house, although it can be perogies and chicken legs with frozen peas.

The first part is, what comes into the house.  If your pantry, fridge and freezer are stocked with healthy options (brown rice, barley, whole wheat pastas, canned beans, and cans of tuna or salmon packed in water, fresh and frozen vegetables and fruit, chicken breast, low fat pork chops, homemade stocks and vegetable based sauces), then you are well on your way.  But you still might be faced with those who are left in charge not knowing what to do with all of it, or any of it!

Step one: Teach your children (or your partner!).  Even your 5 year old can help get things going in a positive direction.  They can wash and tear lettuce or spinach for a salad.  They can set the table, to help ensure the family sits down together.  They can drain and break up canned fish for either pasta or salad.  The biggest plus here is that they are also more likely to eat the food that is being prepared if they are part of the process.  Older children can prepare salad or raw veggies, or steamed vegetables like broccoli or bok choy.  In our house, regardless of whether it is Dad or Mum preparing supper, it is the kids who are responsible for preparing the salad and the vegetables.

Step two: Make preparations easy.  I buy chicken breast and pork chops at the butcher, where they can be had individually wrapped.  This means that they are easy to get at, and you only use what you need (helps avoid over eating).  Sometimes, I also season meat ahead of time and store it in it’s own container in the freezer or fridge.  This means that a container of chicken breast or pork chops once thawed, can be ready to go on the BBQ immediately, without having to worry about what to season them with so everyone will eat them.  Keeping a couple of jars of homemade vinaigrette in the fridge helps too.

Step three: Make a plan.  Create a menu and then post it where everyone can see it.  Label it with names to that everyone knows ahead of time who is doing what, to participate in the creation of the healthy meal.  I even go to the extent of posting what might be for dessert.  (Fruit, yogurt, granola is typically what is available).  We keep everything balanced around the weekly schedule, so you know who is home and how many are eating, and when everyone else will be home.

Yes, all of this means some planning and preparation, but doesn’t everything?  A friend shared a quote this morning: “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail”  and we all know how hard those days are when we have failed to plan!

And if you are always the one to prepare the meals in your house, then you can also use these tips to create healthy, inexpensive meals even when you are pressed for time, or for planning for the days when you know you will be too tired to cook.  Knowing that your meals are easy, makes clean healthy eating even easier!

7 days of Healthy Meals when it’s not your turn to cook

Day 1: Baked Yam rounds with grilled chicken breast and steamed broccoli  (season your chicken breast ahead of time so they are ready to go out of the freezer, use leftover broccoli for Day 5)

Day 2: BBQ Pork loin chops with spinach salad and brown rice (brown rice can be cooked in the morning while you are getting ready, then it just requires a microwave to heat it up in the evening, make double batch of rice and cook 2 extra pork chops for Day 5))

Day 3: Baked Salmon fillets (seasoned with salt and pepper and a tsp of dried oregano, baked in a 375F oven for 15 minutes, make 2 extra salmon fillets for tomorrow supper) with mashed potatoes and green salad

Day 4: Salmon wraps (leftover salmon with left over green salad in whole wheat tortillas), raw veggies and fruit salad for dessert

Day 5: “Fried” rice with pork and veggies (using leftover brown rice, pork chops and broccoli, add frozen mixed veggies and two green onion, cook rice in skillet with a TSP of grape seed oil and a 1/4 cup of chicken broth, add 1-2 tsp soya sauce to taste.  Add one-two scrambled eggs or egg whites if you want)

Day 6: Mini homemade pizzas with raw veggies (whole wheat pitas, homemade marinara sauce or low sodium tomato sauce, grated mozza and parm cheeses with left over chicken, or some chopped ham, sprinkle of dried oregano if using plain tomato sauce and chopped green onion)

Day 7: Greek salad, grilled chicken breast and baby potatoes.  (I think this is my favourite meal of all time, and since once upon a time, my hubby was shy to cook baby potatoes, I used to make them in the morning or the night before, and then he would just have to saute them for a minute or two in a couple of tsp of olive oil and sprinkle them with oregano).


Apple Spice Protein Bars

Good morning!

This was supposed to make it on the blog last week, and wow, I am not even sure where last week went!  It passed us by so quickly.  On Wednesday night, driving home from skating with my daughter (we have a 30 minute drive home), she said, “Mumma, is it really Wednesday night already?”  and I said, “Yes.”  Her reply (between mouthfuls of hamburger soup that was her supper, since she skates until 7:15), “Huh, no week has ever gone this fast before.”  Oh, just wait, little one!  They only go faster.

In spite of how fast last week went, I did find time to make two batches of these protein bars.  The first batch was from Tosca Reno’s “The Eat Clean Diet for family & kids”.  My daycare monkeys loved them.  My own kids and my husband were on the fence.  They all agreed that they didn’t have enough flavour.  I had to agree with them, and I think the agave syrup was the reason, that and the quantity of spice used was very safe.  (I often find this with recipes that call for cinnamon or nutmeg).  So, I tried them again, doubling the amount of spice used, and adding sunflower seeds and dried cherries, and this time, my own kids enjoyed them.  My husband said they were fine.  He also said the lemon bars were “fine”.  Last night at his mum’s, he told her the supper was fine.  I told him that for an English teacher, his vocabulary was largely lacking in the area of description.  So, then after 14 years together he says, “I don’t like coconut.”  Well, I guess that is a topic for another day, that and the fact that he still goes out and buys macaroni and cheese in a box, at least the last time it was Annie’s.

There is no coconut in these bars, but I did put toasted sunflower seeds and chopped dried cherries in them.  And they are better than fine!  They are delightful!

Apple Spice Protein Bars

1 cup Vanilla IsaPro or other vanilla protein powder

1/2 cup spelt flour or almond flour

2 cups rolled oats

1/2 cup oat bran

1/2 cup ground flaxseed

1 tsp sea salt

2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp allspice

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1/4 tsp ground black pepper

1/4 cup apple butter

1/3 cup Maple syrup (if you have medium grade or dark amber, use that, if you only have light, use that)

1/4 cup coconut oil, melted

1 TBSP pure vanilla extract.

1/2 cup chopped dried cherries

1/2 cup toasted sunflower seeds (you could add slivered almonds if you wanted too or instead of)

Preheat oven to 325F.  Lightly spray 9×13 pan.  If you own a Pampered Chef large bar pan, don’t use it, as it is too big!

In a large mixing bowl, combine all dry ingredients (including dried cherry pieces and sunflower seeds), and mix well.  In a smaller bowl, combine wet ingredients and mix well.  Add wet to dry and mix well to combine.  I used my stand mixer and after 5 turns, removed the bowl and finished with a rubber spatula.  Place mixture into the prepared pan, and spread and press down to smooth out.  Bake for 30 minutes or until golden and firm in the middle.

Let cool for 15 minutes in the pan, then cut into 16 bars (approx 1 1/2 x 4 1/2 inches).  Freeze with layers of parchment in between bars, so you can grab and go whenever you need them.


Happy Packing!


Clean Lunch Menu for January Week #2


Last week, we had one big hit in this house, and it was the chicken strips (and the chicken strips used in wraps with lettuce, tomato and yogurt dip, even my picky 11 year old who prefers to only eat broccoli, cucumber and carrots in the vegetable department).  The loser in our house was the pizza muffins, even my daycare sweeties didn’t really care for them.  So if anyone out there has a great recipe for pizza muffins, please share!  I would love to try again.

Here is the lunch menu for week #2 of 2013: Check back this week for recipes for Black Bean and Chicken tortilla soup, and whole wheat macaroni and cheese with peas and roast chicken.  There will also be a great Rice bowl recipe (with origins in the White Water Cooks, for anyone familiar with the Ski Hill or the cookbooks) for supper that you prepare in the morning and then at supper time, your family builds their own bowl.



Monday: Chicken and Brown Rice soup with whole wheat naan and hummus, raw veggies, banana cinnamon muffins, apple and pear

Tuesday: Turkey and Cream Cheese and Veggie pinwheels, chocolate chunk banana bread, applesauce and orange slices

Wednesday: Black Bean and Chicken tortilla soup with some Que Pasa Blue Corn chips on the side and salsa for dipping, vanilla yogurt with frozen berries, and a pear.

Thursday: Whole Wheat Macaroni and Cheese with peas and Roast chicken; ginger cookies, raw veggies and orange slices

Friday: (at my daughter’s request): Homemade Tuna snackables: Small tupperware container of canned tuna seasoned with honey mustard, raw veggies, and two wasa bread crackers (or other whole grain crackers).  Banana Cinnamon muffins, fruit salad.

Daycare Lunch:

Mostly the same as the big kids, except for Wednesday and Friday

Monday: Chicken and Rice soup with Naan

Tuesday: Turkey and Cream Cheese pinwheels with raw veggies

Wednesday: Homemade Chicken Strips with brown rice and broccoli

Thursday: Whole Wheat Macaroni and Cheese with peas and Roast chicken

Friday: Homemade Tuna Snackables

Homemade Tuna snackables came about because my 9 year old was asking me to buy the Tuna snacks she spied at Costco.  I said no, but that we could instead make our own (with the 6 cans of tuna we had just put into our basket).  She agreed with me that she might not like the dressing that came with the pre-made Tuna Snacks.

See you soon!



Breast feeding versus Bottle feeding

   It seems like this has a been a hot topic this week.  It caught my attention when I heard part of Brian Goldman’s program on CBC radio one earlier this week, “White Coat, Black Art” .  He was discussing the pressures put on new mothers to nurse their newborns, and that the message they were given was that they were failing as mothers (already!) if they didn’t nurse, but chose to bottle feed with formula instead.  Wow, did that resonate with me.
   We had been to the prenatal classes, and read the books.  And we were not “young” parents, as we were both 31.  We were prepared and my husband and I expected that I would nurse, and that would be the way it would go.  (We also thought we would use cloth diapers, but that is a story for another day).  Nursing was better for both Mother and Baby (and heck, formula was expensive!), so that was the plan.  Well, as most of you know, babies come with their own plans, and nowhere can you find those plans written down anywhere to read ahead of time.  So, we tried.  And we tried.  And we tried.  And because it wasn’t working, the maternity nurses said that we could stay another night at the hospital to get things figured out.  During this time, there were all sorts of hypotheses about why nursing wasn’t working…Maybe the baby was tongue tied?  Maybe there was something wrong with my nipples (yes, they were tired of being grabbed by big nasty maternity nurses and shoved into my baby’s little mouth).  I spent most of those first days in tears, which the maternity nurses wrote off as hormones.
   Our first trip to the Health Unit, the day after coming home from the hospital, and the public health nurse  weighed my little boy.  His weight was down a few ounces since we left the hospital.  More alarm bells!  Had I been feeding him?   How often?  Maybe I should pump.  So she brings out this big honking machine (it was blue) and said that I could borrow it for a few days.  She gave me a quick lesson in how to use it and then went back to focusing on our “lesson” in breast feeding.  More breast-grabbing, and holding my little boy’s head in her vice-like hands.  I hated her already, but had not voice to tell her what I really thought. 
   At home, my m-i-l was encouraging about the pumping, and told me stories about how she had been told “not to nurse” when her first baby was born, but she had anyway.  And it was so good that nursing was what was being encouraged nowadays.

   My own mother arrived two days later, and the first thing she did was send my husband out to buy a case of formula and some bottles.  In that moment, I was angry at her, but I think Rob was relieved.  We were all tired of the screaming baby.  And once I saw my little boy settle down contentedly with a bottle, I was grateful to her.  “You and your sister were bottle fed, and you turned out just fine.  Breast feeding is not the be-all end-all.”  Interestingly enough, once we started the babe on formula, he happily nursed and took the bottle, and started gaining weight, and he stopped screaming so much.  I nursed him until I went back to work when he was 11 months old.  At which point, he decided he didn’t want to nurse when I told him he had to, so he weened himself.
   When he was three and a half months old, we started attending Healthy Beginnings, a drop in program at the Health Unit for moms and babes under 12 months.  We went every Thursday afternoon right after nap.  There, I met some of the most amazing women ever.  Many of them I still see today (and that is 10 years for those of you who are reading this).  We were all first time Mums, and almost all of us were reasonably new in town, or at least we had not grown up in town and therefore didn’t have a tight network of friends right close by.  We became each other’s network and we shared sleeplessness (with someone other than our hubbies), first colds, first foods, labour and delivery stories, and of course, breast feeding experiences.  Especially the stories about the “Breast-feeding Not nice lady” (we have another name for her, but I won’t write it here).  At some point, we had all crossed paths with her.  And we had all been made to feel (by more than one of the PH nurses) that we were failing our children if we were not doing everything in our power to make breast feeding successful.  The facilitator of the group (an early childhood educator) asked us if she could take our comments back to the nurses who worked around her, and we agreed.  I don’t know if it made any difference or not.
   Two years later, when I was getting ready for my daughter to be born, I went out and bought a bottle and a can of formula and put them in my hospital bag.  Not because I wasn’t planning on nursing her (I was), but because I wanted to be in control of the situation and not be manhandled by some bossy nurses (don’t get me wrong, I know many amazing nurses, and our hospital has the best labour and delivery nurses anywhere, but past performance predicts future).  Needless to say, my “delivered in an hour, ten pound, three ounce turkey”, arrived ravenous, latched on in her first 5 minutes in the world, and according to the maternity nurses, “Could have given lessons”.   Still, at 7 days old, the PH nurse had another panic-bossy attack when my babe still hadn’t reached her birth weight (she was only 20 inches long, were we really concerned that she wasn’t back up to 10 pounds?).  Three days later, in the doctor’s office, she was back up over 10 lbs, and my doctor grinned when I vented about the nurses and their bossiness.  He took the weight chart and made a note and then went and faxed it over to the Health unit to satisfy the nurses that I wasn’t a bad mother, and that I had a lovely healthy baby.  Incidently, a few weeks later, at my daughter’s 4 month well-baby check and immunizations, I decided not to share with the nurse that my two year old had already fed her little pieces of sliced ham off of his lunch tray, and she had eaten them!

     There are many things that new mothers are told about the benefits of breast feeding, including how it can effect your child’s health later on in life (reduced risk of obesity, diabetes, etc).  However, you have to remember that if you made a choice to formula feed your baby because it was the best choice for you and your baby, then it is quite likely that you are going to think about what is best for your child in all areas.  Choosing to bottle feed doesn’t condemn your child to a life of fried foods and Saturday morning cartoons, unless you choose those things as well.  My formula-fed child has an incredible imagination, does well at school, is likely the skinniest boy in his class and has a great mind for mathematics and science.  He eats well and gets lots of exercise (and loves video games and the ocean).  My breast-fed child is a voracious reader, loves to perform and spend time with her friends.  She eats just about everything we feed her (including slices of ham!), hates video games and loves bugging her brother. 
  My recommendation is be true to yourself and let your love for your children and your own values guide your decisions.  Do your research, but make sure that you and your children are happy, healthy and loving life, because that is what will get you through.

Happy Packing!

E is for …Eating Well…

   And no, I am not referring to the magazine (or the website), but rather just that, “Eating Well”.  Eating healthy is only one part, one needs to eat well as part of eating healthy.  Life, to which eating is rather important, is too short to live on carrot sticks, celery and plain yogurt.  Well, at least my life is too short to live on that.  It is also how you eat…do you sit in front of the TV to eat?  Or do you gather your loved ones or your housemates and share a meal around the table?  Growing up, we almost always ate together at suppertime.  And when I think back to my fondest memories, so many of them are of the table.  In my family, folks have been known to sit down to Sunday dinner at 6:30 or 7pm and still be there at midnight.  Not necessarily still eating, (although you get the occasional person who goes back for that second piece of dessert while the argument gets a little too heated, or they are feeling like they have been sitting too long).  And it didn’t matter whose house you were at, my Auntie’s , my grandparents, my Dad’s or my Mum’s.  The party was at the table and in the kitchen.  I remember when my sister and I were young (likely 3 and 6 or maybe 4 and 7), and of course, we had been excused from the table to go and play.  We found “Aunty Hilda” in the kitchen (my grandmother’s sister).  I guess she had excused herself to the kitchen for a bit.  I don’t remember what we had done or said, but she thought that it was so funny.  She started to laugh, and she laughed and laughed and then she started to snort.  Well, all three of us thought that was just hilarious!  The more we laughed, the more she laughed, and the more she laughed, the more she snorted.  I have tears in my eyes right now, just thinking about it.  And, of course, we were able to enjoy this little exchange, because everyone else was engrossed in whatever was going on at the table.  I remember the loud din of the voices at the long table in the dining room right next to the kitchen.  How every so often one or two voices would rise above the others, when someone was trying to get their point across.  There was so much to learn around that table.  Sometimes what you learned was when was a good time to be quiet .  As I got older, I learned that if I was quiet, I would get to stay at the table long after I would have normally been excused.  This would lend itself to listening in on all sorts of grown up conversation.
   Gathering around the table for a meal helps children to eat well.  The conversation and connecting with family after a day away from each other keeps everyone at the table, and if you are sitting at the table and everyone else is eating what is in front of them, why not eat some too?  I has been my experience with my own children when they were very young (as they are only 7 and 9 now) that once they could join in the conversation at the table, the eating slowly ceased to be a battleground.  And one day, I realised that we had gotten through a meal of chicken curry and rice and salad,  and the food was gone, and no one had been excused from the table early for their behaviour and I didn’t have indigestion.  Peace!  Of course, not every meal was like that, and it still isn’t, but we are getting there. 

Here are some nutrition experts’ thoughts and suggestions on helping your children to eat well: Today’s Parent
Good food brings people to the table, and eating well, involves more than just the food.  The sharing of the preparation of the meal, and then the eating of it, and of course, the people sharing the food and themselves with each other.

Thanks for stopping by!

Happy Packing!

Another A to Z blog challenge link: The Eagle’s Aerial Perspective