Weaning them off white pasta

My husband typically does our Costco shop once a month.  Although now that the kids are bigger, and our students eat at home much more (much healthier!), those Costco shops are up to twice a month, something that doesn’t bother him at all!

I make the list, and off he goes.  Typicaly, he gets what is on the list (I won’t go into the extras that sometimes come home as that is worthy of another post for another day!).  This time…

…He returns with the car loaded with items… He and my daughter bring them in, while my son and I put things away… 3 4L jugs of milk, feta cheese, fresh strawberries, frozen strawberries, low fat cheese, sprouted grain bread, laundry soap, toilet paper, white pasta, salsa, peppercorns…wait, white pasta??  I hold it up and give him a questioning  look over my glasses.  He huffs, “That was all they had, and the list just said “Pasta” ”

We have been together for almost 15 years.  We have been eating whole grain pasta for almost 15 years, not strictly, but mostly.  He loves tortellini and I have yet to find it made with whole grain flour, so it shows up on the table from time to time.  When we met, he virtually lived on pasta, jarred sauce and salad, oh and peanut butter and jam sandwiches.  At the time, I was fascinated by this man who ate salad every night, and only bought whole grain breads, and natural peanut butter, didn’t eat mayonnaise or margarine,  yet consumed such vast quantities of white pasta.  He was healthy and fit:  he walked or rode his bike to work everyday, swam at the YMCA pool twice a week, and at 5’10”, he weighed about 180lbs.

My mindset had always been if you could buy the whole grain version of something, why would you bother with the white?  I still often think, why even bother making the white version, if you can make a whole grain version?  Of course as an adult, I realise that for big companies, it isn’t about making what is best for people, it is about making what will make the most money.

I wasn’t raised eating whole grain pastas, or using whole grain flours.  Growing up in the 70s and 80s, typically the pasta in our house was white.  Although my mother (who also preferred whole grain breads, and cereals, like oatmeal) always bought spinach noodles for her lasagne or for making pasta salads.  My stepmother always bought whole grain breads for herself and white bread for my father.  As children, the choice of bread was ours, so the option was always there.  I can tell you we never got to have Wonder Bread, even though we asked for it!  But the pasta was always white.  My Auntie, however, lived in Ottawa, and whenever we would go to visit her or stay with her, she would take us shopping at the Herb and Spice Grocery.  Shopping with her, always left me thinking, “I love this. When I am older and I do my own groceries, I am going to shop this way.”  As an older teenager, I learned that my uncle (brother of the Auntie in Ottawa) ground his own flour, and for the most part didn’t eat meat (except when he came to our house).  We ate well, home cooked meals, lots of vegetables and fruit, not a whole lot of processed stuff, but a long way from a whole grain diet.

When I moved out on my own, I lived in the city, and discovered that grocery shopping in the city gave way more options, than a suburban community.  I spent hours on Saturdays, poking around different neighbourhoods, finding all sorts of exciting ingredients.  I taught myself how to prepare dried beans, and learned that chili didn’t have to be ground beef and kidney beans.  I shopped in China town in Montreal, and tried different vegetables, and different types of noodles.  Soba noodles, rice noodles, Chinese egg noodles.  Every weekend was a different food adventure.  The girls I worked with were from different areas of the city, and different Nationalities.  On Friday nights on pay weeks, we would go out for supper together sometimes.  We went to a small Chinese restaurant where no one spoke English to us, but the food was incredible!  We ate Ethiopian food with our hands, sitting on cushions on the floor. We went to a Greek restaurant where one of the girls ordered everything for us and the evening (and the food) didn’t end until after midnight.  And this is how my love affair with food began.  It was also when eating whole grains truly became a way of life.

My husband has never balked at eating whole grains.  He has always eaten whatever I cook, with no complaints.  When our children came along, we fed them whole grains right from the start.  Brown and wild rices, whole grain pastas and breads, barley, spelt, and more recently quinoa.  I remember taking my (then) 10 month old daughter with me for a lunch date with a friend.  I had ordered Quesadillas, which came with a side order of rice.  I had brought vegetables for my daughter to eat, and thought I would give her some of the rice (she loved rice!).  It turned out she loved “brown rice”.  I laughed when she turned up her nose at the white rice, and spit it out.  And in reality, why would you eat plain white rice if you are used to the nutty taste of brown?

Check out some of these articles about whole grain pastas and making good choices for yourself and your family.

Why whole grain pasta is a better choice

Weaning off of white flour

Is Smart Pasta really “Smart” ?

However, if everyone in your house is used to white pasta and white rice, and white flour, it is hard to get them to switch! Why?  For the same reason my daughter wouldn’t eat white rice.  We “like” what our mouths and bodies are used to, we are creatures of habit.  So then, if you have made up your mind you want your family to eat a healthier diet, how do you get them to switch?  You are the one who make the meals, and does the grocery shopping, but if “They” won’t eat any of it, what do you do? It can get expensive to keep making healthy meals that no one wants to eat.  Ideally, the best thing to do, is have a family meeting, get everyone on board, clean out the pantry and start fresh.  Well, ideal maybe, but not always realistic!

Piling on the vegetables is a great way to make pasta a healthy meal.

Piling on the vegetables is a great way to make pasta a healthy meal.

Here are some suggestions to get you started:

1. Go half and half for your pastas.  Mix up the rotini or the linguine.  Using a homemade sauce that everyone likes and is familiar with will take the pressure off the pasta.  Then over a couple of weeks, make it a greater amount whole grain to white, until your white pasta is depleted.  Then serve it up as just whole grain.  Try this easy kid friendly sauce with your next pasta meal.

2. Make it a side rather than the main meal.  Move away from making pasta the center of attention.  Make a pasta salad (toss leftover Greek salad with whole grain farfale) and serve it as a side dish.  Here is a great link for healthy pasta side dishes: Delish

3.Try something new together.  Find a new pasta recipe and try it together as a family.  This way everyone isn’t “expecting” the regular flavours of a known meal, but rather trying something new.  Here is a great idea for a new recipe: Stove Top Fideos.

4. Don’t give up.  Eventually they will be on board.  But don’t make a fuss about what is not eaten.  Just like when children were little, keep the rule of “this is what is for supper.  You don’t have to eat it, but the next meal is at breakfast time.”  Not as easy to do with teenagers, and adult males, as it is with little ones.  But for the most part, if you are making a strong effort to bring healthy whole grains into your kitchen, and you persevere, you will get there.  And they will eat the whole grain pastas (and flours and breads).  Remember how powerful your example is.  If your children see you eating healthy foods and making good choices, they will follow.  Here are some more great tips for helping your family to make healthy food choices.

And what to do with that package of white pasta?  My first instinct was to hand it to him and tell him to take it back.  However, instead I used the “half and half” guideline (although I think it was more of a 2/3:1/3 ratio) and I made sure to add lots of veggies to the sauce and salads!


Happy packing!



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


Menu Plan to get us through the Last Crazy Week!

    June is a crazy month around our house…Never mind that Teacher Rob is up to his eyeballs in marking (stuff that should have been handed in in February, March and even some from November!), preparing for report cards and all that, but it seems that every activity that goes on all year, wraps up in June.  This week wraps up a few things, but that makes for a bit of a crazy week, what with Athletic Banquets and Dance shows, baseball games and gymnastics, Fun Day at school, doctor’s appointments, haircuts.

    Why, then, on what feels like the craziest week since Christmas (darn good thing Christmas is in December!), have I decided to defrost the freezer??  Well, first of all, it is finally warm enough to want to have the freezer open all day!  And, more importantly, the freezer is almost empty (well, it is empty, now!).  Normally this is a chore I leave until August (we just eat down what is left in the freezer in July, and then defrost in August).  However, April and May were so crazy busy, that we ended up “eating down” the freezer in May instead of July this year.  So, before I fill it all up again, I figured I had better get it defrosted.  It did make it easy to plan this week’s menu tho’!  Just went through what was left (that I had transferred to the smaller freezers) and made a menu!
So…What will we eat this week?  Things that will lend themselves to leftovers for lunches, I am hoping…Well, except for maybe the pork chops, since there are only 5 of those!

  • Today (Saturday): My version of Italian Pasta Bake (a recipe a friend got from “All Recipes”, but the pound and a half of cheese was something I just couldn’t do, so I made many changes…see the recipe at the end of this post), and Caesar Salad.
  • Sunday: This is the Dance show, so I am not cooking!  We will be out at Rehearsals all morning, and then the show!  Out for dinner we go!
  • Monday: Salmon Pasta Salad, with broccoli and cauliflower and Santa Fe Salad.  And mocha iced vanilla cake for dessert (because I found some icing from a few weeks ago in the freezer!) …Tuesday lunches will be turkey Santa Fe wraps, because I have just enough turkey breast in the freezer to make lunch wraps for everyone, but not enough for supper!)
  • Tuesday: Baked Chicken and and rice casserole (for daycare we are having chicken and rice for lunch, so I just make double the rice and the chicken, and then make the casserole in the morning so it just has to go in the oven when we get home from school…Means it is ready just in time for everyone to eat before heading off in 5 different directions.
  • Wednesday: Crust less Salmon and spinach quiche (and if the boy turns up his nose, he can always have leftovers)
  • Thursday: “Make your own Sandwich night”, not everyone is home over the supper hour, so there will be leftovers and fixings for sandwiches, but you are on your own (yes, even if you are seven, altho there will be a grown-up to help you cut things and run the toaster)
  • Friday: Lamb burgers on the BBQ wrapped in whole wheat pita, with Greek salad and tzatziki, and Greek roasted potatoes if you’re lucky~

And on Saturday, I am out for a 10 year reunion of our Baby Group, so the family will be foraging without me!  I will be dining with my fellow mums on appies (from some lovely take-out menu!  I believe Greek got the vote) and enjoying wine and grown-up chitchat that will no doubt revolve around school PACs, baseball schedules, social housing developments, School fun fairs and who still won’t eat what (and any camping plans that may have been made for the coming summer)… 10 years…Wow!
A quote from the Invitation:

“…1 Baby Group
11 Fabulous Women
13 Girls & 10 Boys

175 Children’s Birthdays
22 First Days of Kindergarten (1 still to come)
10 Houses bought & 13 moves made
1 Broken arm
Hundreds of visits from the Tooth Fairy (sometimes on the second night cuz she was busy)
Zero divorces (that deserves a party itself)
A thousand nights camping (over half in the rain)
Unknown bottles of wine consumed
A million memories made…”
Should be a wonderful evening!  I love the “zero divorces” statistic…
The promised recipe…

Turkey Pasta Bake
1 tsp canola oil
1 lb ground turkey
1 coil homemade kielbasa (from the butcher, you could use the one from the grocery store), half chopped, half sliced thin
2 small onions chopped fine
1 medium sized red pepper, chopped fine
salt and pepper to taste, 
1/2 tablespoon dried oregano
1 14 oz can crushed tomatoes
1 14 oz can diced tomatoes (no salt)
1 6 oz can tomato paste 
1/2 tsp salt, 
1/4 tsp pepper
2 cups cottage cheese, or low fat ricotta cheese, 
1/2 cup steamed spinach (or one package, thawed, of frozen chopped), drained
1 300g package of low fat grated mozzarella cheese for sprinkling.
1 12 oz package short whole wheat pasta (I used penne)
1. Grease 9×13 lasagna pan.
2. Mix cottage cheese, spinach, and salt and pepper, set aside.
3. In large saucepan, heat 1 tsp canola oil, brown ground turkey, add onion and red pepper and cook until soft.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Add chopped kielbasa (leave sliced for the end), canned tomatoes and oregano.  Mix well, continue cooking on medium low for 20 minutes, stirring frequently.  Taste and season as needed.
4. Drain pasta, return to pot.  Add cottage cheese mixture and stir well.  Spoon into prepared lasagna pan.  Spoon sauce over noodle mixture, and stir in.  Sprinkle mozzarella cheese on top and garnish with sliced kielbasa.  Cover with foil and bake in 375F oven for 30 minutes.  Remove foil and continue baking (now at 425F) for 5 minutes, or until cheese is bubbly and beginning to brown.  Remove from oven (with oven mitts!) and let stand for 10 minutes before serving.
Leftovers make great lunches!

Happy Packing!

(My apologies if you read through this before and it was missing half the directions…I came back to re read it and see how it looked and realised, that again, blogger had deleted a portion of the post!)

U is for…Unanimous

   When the liking of a food is unanimous in our household, I cheer!  Up until a year or so ago, the list was very short…Spaghetti & meatballs and chicken & black bean stir fry with broccoli and noodles were about it.  Yes, there were other things that my children would eat and loved: macaroni and cheese for example, or baked chicken with rice and peas, chicken quesadillas and grilled cheese sandwiches…But when I say Unanimous, I mean all of us, and while I will eat those things, they are the foods I make so that everyone eats, not necessarily because I like them. 
   As the parent primarily responsible for the food in our house (I am not saying Mother, because I know that in many homes it is the father or the grandmother, or the big sister who takes on this roll, and not necessarily the Mother), it isn’t very often that I make something just because I like it.  I make steak when it is on sale and we haven’t had red meat in a while.  Seafood however, I make because I am craving some.  And tonight, we will be having Seafood!  Again though, not because I am craving it or because it is what everyone likes, but because my Mum is here visiting from Montreal and she loves seafood. She is heading home in a few days and it would be nice if we could have it once while she is here. 
    The rest of the week, however, I am shooting for a “unanimously popular”  (where is my English teacher husband?  can I even say that?) menu….
-Spaghetti and turkey meatballs on Tuesday (Turkey Tuesday, don’t you know!)
-Caesar salad and baked chicken pieces on Wednesday (I can make both ahead of time and then we avoid the baseball game/dance class/soccer practice rush)
-Chicken Pot Pie (that I am making this afternoon) on Thursday (another silly day: Skating, baseball practice and gymnastics all requiring that folks be somewhere by or before 6pm and then some not home until 7 or 8pm).
-Pizza (frozen for now) and salad on Friday.

 Wednesday, Thursday and Friday lunches will all take care of themselves with leftovers, which means I really only have to “think” for tomorrow’s lunches.  But now, I am off to check the fruit situation for the week…Might just be heading to the grocery store AGAIN before the long weekend comes to an end.

Happy Packing!

Making it your own

The one plus to being sick with a kidney infection and sidelined on the couch for a few days was that I got to catch up on my magazine reading!  That, and watching “Oprah” (boy do I miss Oprah).  I pulled out back issues of “Clean Eating” magazine and re-read them.  It is my favourite “new” magazine from the past year.  I bought a few new food magazines ove the last year and some were quite disappointing.  But “Clean Eating”, well, I have 5 issues so far, including February 2011.  There is also a website, at least 2 cookbooks, a facebook page and who knows what else.  While I haven’t spent too much time on the website, I love the magazine and enjoy the updates that appear on my facebook wall from time to time.  Tosca Reno, the mind, body and spirit behind “Clean Eating” is quite an inspiration. 
One of my favourite parts of the magazine are the menu plans with matching grocery lists.  This has become my “go to” for the holes in our family weekly menus.  Some ideas are as easy as “Clean Tuna salad on whole grain toast with fruit for dessert”.  And when the alternative was frozen pizza and popsicles?  Well then, we are ahead on both nutrition and time for those nights when it seems like everyone has to be somewhere all at the same time and we have about 7 and a half minutes to get supper into them.
So, last night, feeling somewhat recovered and hungry enough to feel inspired by my recipe reading, I set about making supper from the February issue.  The recipe, “Clean Chicken and Waffles” calls for making whole grain and grated zucchini waffles (which sounded really good), but I just wasn’t up for getting out the waffle maker, so we had Kamut penne noodles with ours.  The chicken and veggies part called for Broccoli Rabe, brussel sprouts and mushrooms.  My crisper had regular broccoli, mushrooms and leeks.  The final change?  Smoked Paprika…
The kids came up from downstairs sniffing the air, “What smells so good?”  
“Your supper”, I answered.
“I’ll set the table!” my 9 year old grinned.  “Has the cat been fed?” asked my 7 year old.  The older girls began getting plates and glasses out of the cupboard.  Somebody made a jug of orange juice….
…Yes!  Jamie Oliver was right!  Smoked paprika is magic!  (the author of this blog warns readers that these results may not be typical and makes no guarantees that smoked paprika will have this effect on other families)
    And I was in such a good mood, I mixed the bit of leftover chicken and veggies with some leftover brown rice (from another meal) and made “Clean chicken and brown rice wraps” for today’s lunches!   Yum Yum yum!  (and cut up melon and pineapple, so not local!, with mixed frozen berries and vanilla yogurt to round out the lunch box).  I love a yummy lunch!
Happy Packing!

Find more yummy clean recipes at www.cleaneatingmag.com