I Hadn’t Considered…A Pandemic

A few weeks ago I drafted a post about the massive amount of paper that flows into my home each day and how overwhelming it can be. Well, that topic swiftly became obsolete!

In a matter of days, we’ve entered a Brave New World of sorts on the homefront. We’re learning new terminology (social distancing, shelter-in-place, flattening the curve) as this narrative unfolds. All of us are having to adapt to a new reality at a somewhat maddening pace. It is no joke!

This is a sacrifice that is well worth the lives it is saving. But, it is still a sacrifice. Here are just a few of the changes that we’re experiencing at the dietitian’s home:

-E-learning for 4 kids (high school down to kindergarten, with a 3 yr-old running around for entertainment)

-Dad working full-time mostly from home, while mom works part-time from home

-Seven people in one home every day, all day!

-Each meal at home–That’s at least 21 meals in a day!

Gym Class to Start the Morning Off Right

It is a lesson in adaptation that can leave us feeling quite discombobulated. I alternate between moments of joy, when helping my kids in their learning or playing a game with the family, to moments of insanity, when trying to read all of the emails for e-learning or trying to figure out what day it is!

Yet, through all of this, I continue to see the silver lining. It has been so nice to not have to run 5 children to their numerous activities. While managing e-learning has not been easy, it has been really nice to be more intimately involved in what my children are learning. I have gained an even greater appreciation for the teachers in our district. They have done a phenomenal job putting out meaningful remote curriculum in a very short amount of time. We have been playing more games together as a family, as we’re trying to minimize the amount of TV time. We have cleaned out a lot of neglected spaces in our home out of both necessity (home school space!) and boredom. The kids are collaborating on jam sessions with the violin, cello, flute, and piano. I’m seeing that creativity can stem from boredom.

I know that others are in more stressful situations, as they are losing income and worried about what the future holds. We are trying to support those who need help if we are able. We will lose some income, but we are blessed with my husband’s work continuing pretty much as usual.

I am looking to this time as a reset. Perhaps we unnecessarily overload our schedules, making ourselves crazy in the process? We may need to reel in our commitments after this quarantine is over. Simplify. We should look at how we treat and support our most vulnerable at all times, but especially now. More and more opportunities will undoubtedly arise to help those in need, and it is up to us to rise to it. Pulling back further, we need to vote for those who support the experts and scientists. We should vote against those who lack an ability to be humble and admit when they are not an expert at everything and/or they put money above life.

With less time doing my regular job, I hope to blog more and plan to give you more tips on staying healthy and sane during these times. In the meantime, how are you adapting? What is driving you crazy? What silver linings are you finding?

Weeknight Meal Idea: Stir Fry

While I post a lot about cooking ahead and freezing meals, I do not use pre-frozen meals every night of the week. When we’re meal planning, I look at our schedule and determine which nights will afford me some (emphasis on some!) time to cook. I do have quite a few meals that I can efficiently pull together on those nights. One of my favorites is stir fry. Patch is vegetarian, so we do eat a good amount of plant-based meals. I speak with a lot of clients who are looking to eat a more plant-based diet, and I find that stir fry and other Asian meals are an easy way to integrate more plant-based dishes into their lives.

For one, many Asian dishes are naturally vegetarian. Secondly, they tend to include a lot of vegetables. And, finally, Asian cuisine integrates many fresh and delectable flavors. This can help those who are reluctant to eating vegetarian get over “missing” the meat.

In order to regularly make stir fry, I keep a few key ingredients on hand–these include: sesame oil, canola oil, soy sauce, garlic, corn starch (it will make sense later), and brown rice. These are all ingredients that will not perish quickly. Most can be purchased in bulk, if you plan to regularly make stir fry. From there you can include the fresh ingredients, such as tofu (or “tofood” as Elliot refers to it), veggies (bell peppers, peapods, green onions, mushrooms), lime, etc., in your weekly grocery list. It is also a great way to use up some veggies that need to be eaten from your fridge.

Check out this beautiful stir fry that I pulled together last week for dinner.

So pretty!

All of these veggies were sitting in the fridge and would have gone south had I not used them soon. This wok has been so useful! I bought it on a whim about 6 years ago, and we use it multiple times a week. It is also a great place to make oil-popped popcorn!

The veggies with some of the cooked tofu. (I forgot to take a pic of the rice.)

In addition to the veggies, I made the tofu using this recipe from thekitchn.com (one of my favorite sites for recipes). I then served it with a side of our favorite brown rice. So, this meal hits all of my “nutritious” check boxes. It has lean protein, a variety of veggies, and whole grain. And, everyone devours it! What are some of your go-to weeknight meals?

I Hadn’t Considered…Socks

I often think about situations I hadn’t considered prior to having 5 children.  This is not to say I would reconsider having them–they are my everything!  But, goodness, sometimes it’s a lot!

My first consideration in this theme are socks.  Yes, socks!  The socks are everywhere!  They are in the couch, they are under the chairs, in the kitchen, on the stairs, tucked in cubbies in the mudroom, in sheets, the bathroom, you name it!  I’d like to do a calculation on the number of potential places my dear family puts their socks: 7^x.  I believe it would come out to infinity!

And, despite the socks being everywhere, when it comes time to wash and match these socks, their partner is nowhere to be found.  What?!  So many socks and so few matches.  My mother periodically tries to help us with with our sock problem.  She will sort all of the socks, pulling aside the multitude of single socks.  She then coordinates them by color (blues, blacks, whites, pinks and reds).  There is hope that these long lost socks will find their match.  But, often the story ends in heartbreak.  The single socks never find their long lost partners.

I must consider how long to hold on to them.  Should I wait another month in hopes that it’s long lost partner with miraculously reveal itself?  Or should I cut my losses and let it go?  And, what if I get rid of it, and the match appears–devastating!  The baby socks got me the most.  I still have some that I hope will find their buddy.

In the meantime, we are swimming in socks!

Let me know if you see any matches!

And, a warning to my children’s friends: Don’t leave your socks at our house!  They might get caught in the vortex.

What aspect of parenting caught you off guard?  I’ll be sharing more of mine!

Batch cooking…reboot

You have all likely read about our family’s Cook-a-palooza weekends.  While we love these endeavors, and reaping the benefits of a freezer full of home cooked meals, we have taken a slightly different approach to our freezer meal prep.  We had planned on a big cook weekend several months back.  Sadly, my mother-in-law became very ill.  We decided to postpone for some time, as we wanted to focus our time and energy on spending time with her.  Nonetheless, the demands of a large family do not stop.  And, this fall was no exception.  We were stretched very thin.  And, not having at least some pre-prepped meals made things trickier.  Patch suggested that instead of a huge cook weekend, we do a few hours of batch cooking every other weekend.  I said, “Sign me up!”

We opted to have just one of us prep the meal, leaving the other to handle other duties–shuffling children around, laundry, homework, breaking up fights, etc.  You know, all the exciting tasks of that go along with parenting five children.  It made the task less overwhelming, as we only needed to scale up and purchase ingredients for one recipe, instead of many.  Additionally, it is easier to carve out a few hours every few weeks, than a whole weekend every few months.

So far we’ve made soup, meatloaf, lasagna (vegetarian and meat), and lemon/caper/butter/onion sauce (goes on fish, chicken, tofu, and more).  Some upcoming meals we’re planning to make are whole wheat waffles/pancakes, crock pot ready enchiladas, and power bites.  We’re trying to cover various meals and snacks.  Each time, we make at least 10 meals worth of that item.  This method should help us to save money (we’ll need to shop less each week), save time (I’ll have a few meals ready-to-go each week), and stress less.  We’ll keep you posted on this ongoing project.

What does this photo have to do with our batch cooking day?  Envision this: I’ve just completed making 12 full size lasagnas.  With our large Peapod order came a large amount of dry ice.  Patch felt compelled to utilize said dry ice.  He decided to make dry ice ice cream.  I agreed, assuming it would be a neat learning opportunity for the kids.  Well, as soon as he dropped the dry ice into the cream/sugar/fruit concoction, it “exploded” into this.  There’s never a dull moment here!

Bailey

I grew up a “cat person.”  When I was around 5 or 6, I began asking (begging) our mom if we could get a dog.  She seemed reluctant, but said, “Maybe.”  To my astonishment, shortly after, she told my brother, sister, and me that we were in for a surprise.  She drove us to my Aunt Janie’s house, and told us that we were getting a kitten.  Apparently, she was not quite up for the commitment of a dog, but had decided we could handle a cat.

We crept into my Aunt and Uncle’s garage on the South Side of Chicago and saw several adorable kittens.  We chose a pretty black and white one and named her Misty.  While I was excited about the kitten, I was still a little miffed that she wasn’t a dog.  My mom said that we would do this for now, and maybe someday, when Misty wasn’t with us any more, she’d consider a dog.

Misty lived 21 years.  In that time I came to appreciate cats.  Misty and I were never close pals, but I liked her sass.  She would swat at people as they came into our home from her perch on a ledge near the door.  She hissed once in awhile.  But, as a whole, she sat around, looked out the window, basked in the sun, and minded herself.

Jump forward to my early 30s.  Patrick and I have three young girls.  He grew up with dogs.  He envisioned a raucous home with kids and pets.  After much discussion, we decided we would get a dog.  We chose Maeve.  She has been the sweetest, most obedient, if not sometimes needy dog.  She is great.  That said, she was a lot more work than a cat in the beginning.  I recall a few frustrating times when I was worn out and the last thing I wanted was to worry about training a dog.  But, that faded and she became a seamless member of our family.

About 2 and a half years ago, Abbie began asking if we could get another dog.  Now, this was shortly after I had delivered our youngest (and 5th) child.  I was stretched thin and not ready for any more commitment.  But, Patrick asked if I could entertain the idea for the future.  I said, “Maybe.”

Eventually, as we do in marriage, I compromised.  I said that if Abbie could demonstrate a serious commitment to caring for another dog over an extended period of time, I would consider it.  Over several months, she walked Maeve consistently.  She played with her and she fed her.  She was willing to do what it took, which I was impressed with, as she was only in second grade.

Patrick felt that she had demonstrated enough commitment for us to deliver on our end of the promise.  I agreed.  Though, honestly, I had not fully and completely thought through the commitment.  See, I’m the one who is at home the most.  I am home with the kids most days, and I work at home on the other days.  So, while committing to a pet was for the whole family, much of it would fall on me.  This may sound crazy, but this didn’t actually hit me until it happened.

Patrick’s family had grown up with Airedale terriers.  They are stately dogs with a true terrier personality–so I’d heard for years.  However, I’d never fully and completely understood what that meant.  I would learn!

We discovered that an Airedale breeder was in Whitewater, WI where we have a family lake house.  We purchased a puppy and drove up last April to surprise Abbie.  She had no idea where we were going, but learned she was getting her puppy when we pulled up to the house.

After the excitement of bringing the puppy home, naming her (we quickly decided on Bailey), and getting her settled, reality set in!  Bailey was rambunctious.  She was smart.  She had a lot going on in her little mind.  I’d leave her in our mudroom to find every shoe pulled out, the woodwork chewed on, toys mauled, and the wall scratched.  I became frustrated quickly–realizing I was not equipped at that time to give this puppy what she really wanted.

She would play with Maeve relentlessly.  Which Maeve grew tired of shortly.  There were numerous occasions when I nearly threw in the towel and said we would need to find her a new home, as it was too much.  She was very smart, she was very energetic, and I often felt I had little more to give.

But, then things changed.  She began to mellow.  I had a great conversation with a groomer who related a similar situation she’d experienced with her terrier.  She had also nearly given up, only to realize that things got better and she loved her dog.  I was feeling the same way.

Bailey and I had become pals.  Sure, she’d still counter surf sometimes and run under our front couch to her “naughty spot.”  But, she’d also hang out nicely in my room while I worked.  After the kids went to school and when I took a break from working, I’d play catch with her, and she was always game.  She had also become well-trained with sitting and eating treats very carefully.  She had made her way into our hearts.

But, she would still run sometimes.  If she heard the click of the door handle, her drive to run and play was irresistible.  It was Sunday morning, and we were headed out the door to church.  The kids opened the front door, and she escaped.  Patrick and Abbie were on it immediately, as they’d been many times.  Abbie grabbed her treats, and Patrick grabbed a favorite toy.  She took off down the block and the walked closer to entice her back.  She circled back and Patrick nearly had her, but then she darted off and ran straight for the busy street.

She was hit immediately.  The car didn’t stop, but the family behind did.  They drove Patrick and Bailey to the vet 3 blocks away.  I learned of the situation after I heard Abbie come home hysterical.  Not knowing how badly she’d been hit, I was hopeful she’d be okay.  Patrick called and told us to come.  We frantically gathered everyone in a haze and drove up to the animal hospital.  I looked inside the hospital and saw the look on the face of one of the front desk attendants.  Her face told me Bailey’s fate.  She looked upon us coming in with pity.  She knew dogs that came in in that condition didn’t make it.

We were funneled into a private room and told they were attempting CPR.  In a few short minutes, we were informed she did not make it.  They said we could say goodbye.  The kids were shocked and heartbroken.  Abbie was angry and devastated.  Eleanor was quietly crying.  Maddie was scared to look at her.  Noah was crying and Elliot was not sure exactly what was happening.  As I walked into the room, the lack of energy was painful to see.  This dog that had been extremely boisterous, lay quiet.  She looked perfect.  As I looked around at my kids all I could think was how precious life truly was.  It can be taken in an instant.  I prayed quietly for Bailey, but also for them and the grace that is their lives.  I couldn’t imagine…

Losing Bailey has been hard, but it has also been a demonstration of the grace and support around us.  The outpouring of condolences was so amazing.  Her death has sparked conversations about faith.  She has helped us recenter on what is important.  She has helped us learn that sticking to a commitment (especially when it proves to be challenging) can reap great rewards.  Bailey’s legacy will not go unnoticed.  She taught me more than I ever imagined she would.  She missed her first birthday by one day.  But, she packed in a lifetime of love, naughtiness, and joy into her “nearly” one year.

Miss you Bailey!

Baking in the Vortex

We experienced unprecedented cold temperatures in Chicagoland last week, which meant no school for the kids!  They had 3 days off–yikes!  Needless to say, it threw us a little off kilter.  We did our best to keep entertained, be civil to each other, and not spend too much time on screens–not an easy feat, when the kids are drawn to them like magnets.

I’m not going to lie and say it was bliss, but we did have some fun.  Highlights included fun cold-related science experiments, as well as some baking.  I managed to finally use a very special gift that Patrick gave me about 6-7 years ago.  It is a beautiful springerle rolling pin.  I loved it when I received it, but never used it.  It has been displayed in our dining room cabinet, but we did not enjoy it to it’s fullest until now.

This springerle rolling pin is a good representation of my procrastination.  I tend to procrastinate when something is not perfect–perfection paralysis.  I will put something off if the circumstances are not perfect.  But, I am trying to break this habit, as I am finding it suppresses joy.  We could have used the springerle pin a multitude of times to create cute little cookies–baking together, teaching the littles how to read recipes, measuring, watching the imprints on the cookies take form, spending rich time together.  It’s pitiful to think that it sat glumly on a shelf for so long.

I am working to shed my inclination to wait until my surrounding circumstances are in perfect order before stepping forward.  After 36 hours of being trapped inside, Eleanor, Noah, and I were beginning to suffer from cabin fever.  I looked over at our china cabinet and saw the pin.  I declared that we needed to make some cookies, and we got to work.

While we were gathering the necessary ingredients, Noah was excitedly inspecting the pin, when he dropped it, breaking off a small piece of the tip.  It is a purely decorative part.  And, while my initial thought was one of frustration that he broke it so quickly, I soon concluded that it did not impact it’s function, and we moved on.

We made a simple shortbread dough, delighted in the designs on the cookies, and waited for them to bake with excitement.  We enjoyed their buttery flavor and declared that they would be even better with a backing of chocolate.  It was a great way to spend the final hours of our polar vortex quarantine!

Staying Inspired–One Tip

As January begins to wind down, so does the motivation that many felt at the outset of the new year.  You’ve likely heard the stats concerning the failure of New Year’s resolutions–a large percentage of people fall off track by February.  How does one stay on track?

Making real, long-lasting changes in your health habits takes fortitude.  You will not be perfect.  You will fall off track.  However, change that lasts requires constant renewal of inspiration.  This can come from many angles depending on which habits you are working on modifying.

When it comes to diet, I have a tip for staying inspired.  It’s simple and it’s free (well, likely free).  I recommend going to your library and checking out several cookbooks that have appealing recipes.

Once you’ve acquired the cookbooks, you should take a few minutes to flip through them and pick out a few recipes that might work for you or your family.  Earmark them.

When you go to make your meal plan for the week, use a few of these recipes.  I don’t recommend using all new recipes, as that can be overwhelming.  But, pulling in a couple new ones each week can help make healthy eating appealing.  I then note the ingredients I’ll need to buy and add them to my list (or Peapod order).

If your library is like ours, there are rows and rows of cookbooks.  I also like to check out the latest releases.  There is truly of wealth of great ideas and inspiration in those books.  Additionally, if you are a visual person, cookbooks and a great way to visually motivate yourself.  If you were to buy them all, it would cost a fortune.  But, you can check out a bunch for nothing–just be sure to return them on time.

I love the America’s Test Kitchen books, The Pioneer Woman, the list goes on… I can check them out for weeks, then rotate.  It’s great!  It saves money and paper, while keeping you inspired.  It’s truly a win-win!

Do you check out cookbooks from the library?  Have you found any great ones lately?

 

The Dietitian’s Favorite Things: Citrus Squeezer

This will be the inaugural post of The Dietitian’s Favorite Things!  I plan to periodically write about cool tools, food and other household products, and anything that I find particularly useful and worth the money.  The tool that has the honor of being named first favorite thing is my Chef ‘n Citrus juicer.  (This is not sponsored.)

Why do I love this gadget?  I recommend seasoning fish, water, veggies, and other foods with citrus to add a fresh, appealing punch, with little to no calories.  This tool makes that process much easier.  It is well made, and easy to use.

Here are some recent examples of ways I used my juicer/squeezer:

  • Squeezed lemon over fresh broccoli that I had washed and cut up.  I then popped it in the microwave to cook it quickly with a little water at the bottom.
  • I used it to make this dressing for grilled kale.  So easy and delicious!!!
  • I squeezed lime into a marinade for salmon that also included soy sauce and some brown sugar.
  • I squeezed it onto some tilapia with some capers and butter.

Bonus!  The kids think it is really fun to use, and it’s an easy way to entice them into helping out in the kitchen.

Bon Appetit!

Balance

The idea that much of what is good for us lies in the middle has been resonating with me lately.  Much of what ails us is caused by too much or too little of a good or bad thing.  A few that come to mind:

  • Too much sunlight can cause cancer, but too little can lead to not enough Vitamin D conversion.
  • Too much exercise can lead to overuse injuries, but too little can lead to lots of negative effects (cardiovascular disease, depression, cancer, etc.)
  • Being too strict with your kids can lead them to rebel (some claim), while being too lax can cause them to be spoiled.
  • Too much work can cause stress, while too little work leads to boredom.

I think about these ideas when I am health coaching people.  A lot of times, someone is doing too much or too little of something, and I am trying to lead them towards the middle.  It’s safest in the middle.  It’s not terribly exciting, but it’s safe.

I find myself in a daily struggle to maintain that balance.  I know that I do best when I spend a good amount of time with my kids: teaching them, feeding them nourishing food, guiding them, playing with them, begging them to clean up their rooms.  But, after an entire day with them, I’m done!  I need balance.  I need time alone with a book or show that is not for kids.  I need to re-balance that scale.

I take the same approach with food.  I love dark chocolate, rich desserts, and gyros.  And, every once in awhile, a big plate of ribs hits the spot. But, after a day or evening of indulging, I’m all for some high fiber cereal with fruit–or as Patch refers to them: “horkin’ fiber chunks”.  It’s why I have no problem with you seeing me eat those deliciously greasy chupaquesos (an egg filled quesadilla with a cheese shell).

I find the same balance with my love of our great city (Chicago), while maintaining a yearning for a simpler country life.  I often wonder if I moved to the country would I get used to not having a TJ Maxx or Trader Joes only a few minutes away.  I’m not sure!  I get excited to check out a new restaurant in the city, but after two hours one way in traffic, I’m ready to head north to the green and open spaces in Wisconsin.  As soon as I cross the border, I breath easier.

When I think back to times in my life when I was not as happy.  A lot of the unhappiness stemmed from a lack of balance.  When I was working too much and not seeing my kids enough, having more money didn’t make up for the lack of balance.  I may not make as much money now, but the balance has brought happiness.

I guess the ancient Taoists knew what they were talking about when they came up with the concept of Yin and Yang.  This principle attests that there are two halves to every whole, and when one side dominates, the other works to bring the two back into balance.  This concept can be applied to many aspects of health and life, even if it is simple small steps in the direction of balance.

Are there areas in your life that you find are unbalanced?  What could you do to begin to restore that balance?  It might be as simple as going to a walk and enjoying some fresh air after a long day at work.

Watching these two sweet boys help out in the yard helps me feel balanced.

Why We Meal Prep

A couple weekends ago, we did another cook-a-palooza.  If you recall, earlier this year I wrote about how we plan, prep, and freeze a mass quantity of breakfasts, snacks, and dinners.  We spent a good deal of money at Costco in preparation for the endeavor.  And, it took the better part of the weekend to accomplish our goal and clean up from the chaos that ensued.  But, here’s where it gets good!  Guess what our bill was last week for groceries?!  Drum roll please…$54!  That is correct.  $54 for a family of 7.  In a quick 30 min trip to Aldi, I was able to get milk, fresh fruits and veggies, bread, nuts, some crackers, and a couple treats.

Not only did I save money, but I saved time.  I spent less time shopping for food.  I spent less time thinking about a menu and what ingredients I needed.  I spent less time prepping that food.  I spent less time cleaning up from the meal prep.  And, our family still ate home cooked meals all week.

Now, I will not sugar coat the actual weekend of cooking.  It is exhausting.  And, it’s messy.  See here for a heart-stopping, morning after shot:

That is not easy for me to share.  I still cringe at the site.  Anyway, the good news is, it looks much better now!

The kids’ involvement in the process is another positive aspect of this undertaking.  As our cooking day approaches, we pep talk them as if they are gearing up for a big game.  They understand that their contribution is critical for a successful day.  Their pride is palpable when we warm up a dish that they helped prepare.  It also makes it more likely that they will eat the food.

Our plan is to keep doing these days every few months.  We make enough food to get through 2-3 months with little daily meal prep.  It is one less worry on our plates–pun intended.

In case you are interested.  We made the following foods:

You may notice that many of these are repeats from the past, as they were hits with the family.  We made about 3-4 recipes (7 of some!) of each of these.  It is a lot of good food that I’m excited to enjoy with the family!