Thinking outside of the (lunch) box

This fall a big change is happening for my family. My daughter starts kindergarten in September. Although she has attended day care on occasion, most of her care to this point has been at home with the help of our extended family. Having a child in school presents a couple of challenges that make me exceptionally grateful for naturopathic medicine and my awareness around the importance of wholesome food.

eat-real-food

So, I’m sure it comes as no surprise that healthy meals are always a big focus in my life.

With the first day of school around the corner I’ve had to do some outside of the box thinking as to how I can pack a kid-friendly, healthy meal that travels.

Let’s begin with a few general tips about healthy meal planning.

1) Involve the entire family in meal planning, grocery shopping, and meal prep. Kids who engage in the kitchen activities are more likely to eat the meals that are prepared and have better long-term eating habits!

2) Set time aside to prep and batch cook so there’s less to do throughout the week. I like chopping all my veggies into sticks for snacking or grating a few cups of purple cabbage, carrots, and celery to easily toss into salads, wraps, or stir fry. Things like quinoa, hummus, energy balls, salad dressing, overnight oats, yogurt bowls, soups, chilli, sauces, etc. can all be made several days in advance or even frozen for long-term storage.

3) Plan ahead. This is THE KEY to healthy eating. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Live by it. If you have time and are making a lovely, nourishing meal think about ways the leftovers could be incorporated into the next day’s lunch or supper. Make a plan for a week or at least 2-3 days in advance (and stick to it).

kids lunchbox 1

Here are some great ideas I hope will help inspire healthy, creative, and most importantly delicious lunch boxes!

Overnight chilli or pasta sauce
– Place all chilli ingredients in slow cooker overnight and in the morning, simply fill a thermos with the goodness. Send with toasted spelt pita chips.
Note: My daughter has turned against the texture of some of the veggies we put in sauce and chilli, so I do appease her by using a hand immersion blender or our Vitamix to create a consistent texture. When making chilli, I simply add the beans after blending.

Boost your Sandwich
– Add sprouts
– Use lots of veggies such as shredded cabbage, carrots, and celery
– Include “real” meat (ideally high quality, local/grass-fed/free-range) or wild fish
– Try using mashed avocado or hummus instead of mayo
– Be choosy with your bread, go for ancient grains like spelt and kamut. Many local bakeries offer options like this OR wrap it up with lettuce or a sheet of seaweed!

Super Salads
– Get creative! Anything goes when it comes to salad (aka Goddess Bowls!)
– Add lentils, chickpeas, or beans for protein
– Vary the greens (and use more than one kind at once!)
– Toss in fruit and veggies!
– Pump up the volume with seeds, sprouted grains, or sprouts
– Modify the ingredients for less sophisticated palates and wrap them up in a spelt pita or brown rice wrap

Pack a punch with pasta
– Switch up the noodles for black bean or lentil varieties for added protein and fibre
– Try a veggie noodle using a spiraler (zucchini and spaghetti squash are naturals for this!)
– Make your own sauce (we load ours with veggies and then blend it to please our daughter’s texture preference)
– Take every opportunity to add in veggies, like in this Mac and Cheese

Snacks
– Hummus and veggie sticks
– Energy seed balls (of course being mindful of no-nut policies)
– Cheese and crackers
– Smoothies to go-go
Popcorn!
– Wholegrain rice cake with pumpkin seed butter, hummus, or avocado
– Plain, full fat yogurt with chia or ground flaxseeds, topped with berries, cinnamon, and a splash of honey or maple syrup
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Water
– We’ve all heard about the dark side of fruit juice and I recommend avoiding it. In my experience, when juice is not available kids will drink water! Send them to school with a cool, stainless steel canister and encourage them to refill throughout the day!

Let’s face it, eating clean, wholesome foods takes preparation. But I think you and your kids are worth it. I hope you do too!

Happy lunchbox packing!

Happiness Begins In the Gut

The gut and the brain are connected. Maybe that sounds odd to you but in recent years the gut-brain connection has become a hot research topic. Studies like this one highlight the importance of a healthy gut flora and the benefits of probiotics on mood and brain function. There’s evidence to suggest healthy gut flora levels improves our ability to cope with stress and are an effective option to treat depression and anxiety.

In this clip the role of the gut and probiotics is discussed and it becomes pretty clear why the gastrointestinal system is commonly referred to as our second brain.

Fitting in Fermented Foods

Jarsoffermentedfood

We’ve heard it before, the importance of good bugs in a healthy digestive tract. Much of our immune system resides in the digestive tract and a balanced level of beneficial bacteria has been linked to reduce allergies and fewer colds, along with overall reduced digestive distress (such as gas, bloating, constipation, etc). More recent research is connecting positive gut environment with improvements in mental health, such as reduced levels of anxiety as in this study. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/01/04/gut-bacteria-mental-healt_n_6391014.html
For more detailed information on the benefits of balanced gut bacteria, check out a past post: “Let Them Eat Dirt”

Incorporating fermented and cultured foods in your diet is one of the best ways to promote good bacteria.

What exactly are fermented foods and how do they contribute to healthy gut flora? According to Sandor Katz, author of The Art of Fermentation, fermented foods are “the flavourful space between fresh and rotten.” Nice, eh? During the fermentation process, beneficial bacteria digest sugars and starches in the food and release lactic acid. It’s the lactic acid that prevents any unwanted organisms from growing. Just a few days of fermenting, et voila! A bacteria rich, health promoting food that also tastes great!

Common examples of fermented or cultured foods include sauerkraut, miso (soybean paste), Kombucha tea, natural yogurt, aged cheeses, and kefir.

Another wonderful thing about fermented foods is that it doesn’t take much to reap the benefits. As little as a few tablespoons of sauerkraut, 1/2-1 cup of kefir, or 2 cups of kombucha tea provide therapeutic benefits.

There are many resources on how you can make your own fermented foods, but if you’re not into fermenting food at home, many quality products are available for purchase online or at local health food stores.

Not all fermented foods are created equal. When purchasing fermented foods, be sure to follow these guidelines offered by Dr. Frank Lipman, MD:

Be a Smart Shopper – In Five Steps
To get the most active cultures be on the look-out for:
KEEP COOL: Fermented foods are full of live organisms that must be kept cool to survive, so buy only fermented items in the refrigerated section of the store

IT IS WHAT IT IS: Fermented foods will, not surprisingly, have the phrase “fermented” printed somewhere on the label, so make sure it says so.

PUT IT OUT TO PASTURE: Be sure the label does not say “pasteurized” – because the pasteurization process wipes out the cultures you need to help fortify your gut.

FERMENTED AND PICKLED ARE TWO DIFFERENT THINGS: …So don’t confuse the two – they’re not interchangeable. Pickled foods are exactly that – they’re pickled in liquids like vinegar or brine, but not fermented (unless it says otherwise on the label).

BUY ORGANIC: Look for fermented foods that are made from the best raw materials possible, namely those made from organic, non-GM or locally farmed produce. (Dr. Blake’s note: especially SOY products such as Tempeh and Miso)

Aside from promoting a healthy environment in the digestive tract, fermented foods are rich in antioxidants like vitamin C, have anti-cancer benefits, and support healthy blood sugar levels. This article details the benefits of sauerkraut. http://vitalitymagazine.com/article/ten-reasons-to-eat-fresh-unpasteurized-sauerkraut/

Adding a dose of fermented foods to your daily routine will go a long way in promoting a flourishing life.

A few of my favourite resources:

Fermented Veggie Recipes & Websites:
http://www.culturesforhealth.com/how-to-naturally-culture-ferment-vegetables
http://www.nourishingmeals.com/2012/02/how-to-make-lacto-fermented-vegetables.html
http://phickle.com (an entire site about fermenting!)

Yogurts and Cream (can be non-dairy)
http://www.nourishingmeals.com/2014/01/homemade-dairy-free-sour-cream-nut-free.html

Books:
Fermented foods For Health by Deirdre Rawlings
Delicious Probiotic Drinks by Julia Mueller
The Whole Life Nutrition Cookbook (features an entire chapter on cultured foods) by Tom Malterre & Alissa Segersten

Products:
Kartheins Unpasteurized Kimchi and Sauerkraut
Yogi Kombucha Green Tea