Simple 3-Ingredient Fruit Leather

Jai and I went strawberry picking yesterday, our first of the fruit season. It was his first-time strawberry picking, though he went peach picking with me last year. He seemed to enjoy himself, although he stayed in his carrier the whole time which isn’t a bad way to spend the time: comfortable transportation AND food service? Yes, please.

This bodes well for blueberry picking because the farm we go to has tall bushes that are out of reach for little ones. He may be able to grab a few while he’s on my back and if he doesn’t, he won’t be bored while I pick.

I snuck a couple of (rinsed) berries to him while he was back there and he seemed to be a fan, though he was more into eating them once we got home.

Strawberries have an extremely short shelf-life, so I had to come up with some ways to preserve them beyond a couple of days. We got huge bucket-full so I needed to think of something quick.

Jai is on a fruit leather kick so I decided to make some from the fresh strawberries. I hunted around for some recipes and settled on this one, but I made my own modifications to veganize and help naturally sweeten the leather some more.

I’ve written up my modifications below, but do check out Momables for other great healthy eating ideas for little ones.

berrypicking

Jai’s first berry-picking experience. He was the official quality control agent: my shirt-back can attest with all the strawberry stains.

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“Leftover” Quinoa Stuffed Peppers

Quinoa is a power-protein seed and a favorite in our household.  But with any sort of “grain,” you can make too much of it by accident for a recipe or find that you have boring leftovers that need sprucing up.

I am a person that can’t have the same thing too many nights in a row, so when I have extra quinoa in the refrigerator, something needs to be done with it to make it interesting again.

With that in mind, below is a delicious vegan recipe I came up with to handle extra cooked quinoa. It’s also a fantastic make on its own – no need to wait for leftover quinoa.

Leave a comment with your thoughts and modifications to the recipe below.


“Leftover” Quinoa Stuffed Peppers

MM-Closeup-Stuffed-Red-Bell-Peppers-with-Spinach

Serving Size: 6

Ingredients
3 large red peppers, sliced lengthwise and de-seeded
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 small white onion, finely chopped
1 Tablespoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt (omit if you are making low sodium)
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1 (14.5 ounces) can diced tomatoes, drained and juice reserved
1 Cup vegetable broth
1/2 Cup cooked quinoa
1 (16 ounces) can vegetarian refried beans
Large handful from 1 (5 ounces) package fresh spinach
1/4 Cup Nutritional Yeast (optional)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Using 1 Tablespoon of olive oil, coat the bottom of a 9 x 13-in glass baking dish and arrange the peppers with the skin down.
  2. Roast peppers in the preheated oven until tender for about 30 minutes. Dab the excess liquid that collects in the peppers with a paper towel. Leave the oven on.
  3. While the peppers are roasting, use the remaining olive oil, heat skillet over medium heat and cook the onion until translucent and softened. Add garlic, cumin, salt, black pepper, and chili powder to the onion; cook and stir until fragrant (about 1 minute).
  4. Mix in tomatoes, vegetable broth, and cooked quinoa to the onion mixture; stirring occasionally. Cook until everything is heated through (about 6 minutes) and some of the liquid has cooked off.
  5. Stir in refried beans and cook until the beans incorporated into the mixture (about 3 minutes). You want this to have a thick consistency (not too soupy), but you also don’t want it to be too dry, so allow to simmer for a few minutes or add in reserved tomato juice to get the desired consistency.
  6. Add in spinach, stir until it just wilts. Remove from heat.
  7. Spoon the mixture into the roasted red peppers, top with nutritional yeast.
  8. Bake in the oven until the pepper gets crispy around the cut portions, about 20 minutes.

 

Notes

  • To reduce the spice level, use only 1/4 teaspoon of chili powder.
  • To increase the spice level, add a chopped, deseeded jalapeno to Step 4.
  • Add in 1 Cup of frozen sweet corn to step 5 with the refried beans to get a sweet contrast.
  • To make non-vegan version: substitute chicken broth and a shredded Mexican cheese blend for the vegetable broth and nutritional yeast respectively. Add any chopped leftover chicken as well.
  • Leftover white or brown rice will work as a nice substitute for the quinoa.

Nutrition Facts
Serving size: 1 pepper half
1 Serving: 170 Calories; Fat: 6 g; Sat. Fat: 1 g; Protein: 7 g; Fiber: 7 g

Bonus Recipe – Vegan Nachos

This recipe will leave you extra filling for 3 more peppers. If you don’t want to make another batch:

Ingredients
Leftover quinoa stuffing
1 (4.5 ounces) chopped green chilies, drained
Tortilla Chips
Vegan cheese good for melting (or shredded Mexican cheese blend)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 F. Line a baking pan with parchment paper and top with a layer of tortilla chips.
  2. Mix in green chilies to the quinoa mixture.  Just before putting into the oven, sprinkle a layer of the stuffing and top with your favorite vegan cheese.
  3. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the cheese has melted. Serve with your favorite salsa.

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Checking In: Adapting Eating Habits

One of the primary goals of this blog was to track my eating and exercise habits and see how it would help me manage my MS. I have found that some of the adjustments were easier to make, but there were other adjustments that were harder to maintain because of temptation or certain physical needs not being met.

I am still struggling with certain aspects of my diet, but after doing some research, I realized that it is more important to listen to my needs in a modified way than deny my body something it needs to refuel or heal from training.

Original Eating Intentions & What Worked

My overall intention was to drop all meats, dairy, gluten, sugar, and alcohol while maintaining a clean eating diet. The hope was it would manage my MS symptoms until I restarted my medication within the next year.

I started off strong, finding I had no problem dropping each food group week-by-week. I found that my weight would also drop because I was making healthier choices, and I was feeling somewhat better overall. MS symptoms abated and my neurologist was happy with the changes.

What worked best was dropping sugar, dairy (milk), and gluten; I found that I have issues whenever one of those items sneaks into my diet, intentionally or not. If I have cane sugar, my neck seizes up and I get a massive headache for the duration of the day; if I have milk/cheese, I find that I feel bloated and get a stiff neck; and if I have gluten, I find that my joints pop more and another stiff neck.

Clearly, my body does not like these food groups and so continuing to keep them out of my diet is to my benefit. I don’t know if it is an allergy per se, but there is a definite sensitivity correlation.

I am also happy to keep fried foods out of my diet as well, but this is mostly because of health reasons. I am still concerned about keeping high-cholesterol foods out of my diet and fried foods are unnecessary. I want to walk into my yearly physical with a low blood cholesterol level this year.

What Didn’t Work & Adaptations

I am in desperate need of protein.

I liked the idea of being plant-based for ethical and health reasons, but it was easier to maintain a vegan diet before Jai. When I was younger, I could spend a lot of time preparing high-protein foods that checked off all my nutritional needs, but between chasing Jai around the house and coping with fatigue, I really don’t have the time or energy to spend hours in the kitchen.

I found that I was sneaking meat-based proteins into my diet and when I “cheated” I didn’t cheat with “good” foods. It would be a high-fat beef dish or chicken that was smothered in salt/ high-calorie sauces.

So to stop this trend of making unhealthy choices, I’ve decided to reincorporate certain types of fish, chicken, and egg dishes back into my diet. Salmon is high in Omega-3 Fatty Acids which is good for brain health and chicken/eggs for running proteins.

I have decided not to re-incorporate any red meats, beef or otherwise. I will have the occasional “cheat” day, but by removing red meat from my diet I am eliminating a major inflammatory source that could affect my MS exacerbations.

Future Eating Habits

My diet will still be mostly plant-based, but once a week I will incorporate some sort of meat-based protein that will help satisfy any nutritional cravings I am feeling and prevent me from lapsing into unhealthy choices.

I have also hit a bit of a weight plateau and I suspect not being kind to myself with my eating habits is a source of sabotage. While I am a normal weight by BMI standards, I want to lose a little more to be solidly within the normal BMI range. By being more honest and adapting my diet to my individual needs I should start seeing my weight starting to drop again to a satisfactory number.

So while I had grand intentions to be gluten-free, sugar-free vegan, I am at this point a clean eating pescapollotarian that is gluten, dairy, and sugar-free.

I definitely recommend trying the diet shift, especially going slow through it so it isn’t a complete shock, but I am finding that it didn’t work as well for me at this point in time. I think once Jai is a little older I may have more time to focus solely on a plant-based diet again.

I don’t consider this giving up or losing – I consider this a win because I am accepting myself in this moment of time and doing what works best for my current needs.


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Chocolate Power Protein N’ice Cream

Whether you have a picky eater or an under-eater, it is sometimes important for your child to pack on some weight. That’s when we, as parents, turn to supplemental nutritional drinks and foods that are high in calories that will help them gain weight faster.

Jai recently had a nasty cold which suppressed his appetite and caused him to lose about one pound. At his age, this weight loss was less concerning, but he was already on the low end for his age range, thus causing him to be underweight. During the cold, he was only consuming liquids like breastmilk and water, so I wasn’t worried about him being dehydrated, but I wanted to make sure he was getting all the important nutrients he needed and his daily caloric requirements. I also wanted to help him quickly add that pound back on and maybe an extra one for good measure.

I went out and bought a name-brand nutritional drink for toddlers. I looked at the label and was not happy with how much sugar the product contained. He hadn’t had that much sugar up to this point in his life, but I was concerned about his need to gain weight so I bought the stuff.

He seemed to like it at first, but after a few sips, he rejected drinking more. I suspect it was too sweet for him. I couldn’t try it myself, but even Ash was unimpressed with the flavor.

We put him to bed several hours later. I had thought the drink had left his system, but the sugar and chemicals caused him to be a light sleeper and he woke up around 1am and screamed uncontrollably for about an hour (we tried to console him as much as we could). The only thing different about his eating habits that day was this drink.

We vowed never to do that again.

That didn’t solve my concern regarding his weight and need for nutrients and calories. I decided to experiment with what I had in the house.

I came up with a dense ice “cream” that uses fruit and maple syrup to sweeten it but has avocados and peanut butter as a means to heft up the calories and protein.

Because it doesn’t contain any dairy, this will be okay for your little one while they have a cold, the frozen nature of the treat will soothe throats but not increase mucus production. It is also a tasty snack, so it shouldn’t be hard to get them to eat it if you have a picky eater. You can find the recipe after the cut.

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Gluten and the Autoimmune Disease

Gluten is delicious. I love gluten. I love bread that is crusty on the outside yet chewy on the inside. I love bread-based sweets like donuts or kringles when I ate sugar.

While I love gluten, it can be problematic for people with autoimmune diseases and sensitivities like me, which is a huge disappointment for a consumate foodie.

What is Gluten?

“Gluten is a mixture of proteins found mostly in wheat, but also in barley, rye, and oats. These grains make up many of our breads, pastas, granolas, noodles, tortillas, and beers.” – Popular Science

In my previous jaunts into veganism, I became a huge fan of Vital Wheat Gluten (VWG) to make the ever versatile and ever tasty Seitan. Talk about overdosing on gluten.

If you don’t have any issues with gluten, I recommend either making seitan or going to a vegetarian restaurant with fake meat. Chances are it’s seitan and it’s mind boggling how similar to meat it is in flavor and texture. It’s perfect if you are a newly minted vegetarian/vegan and you still crave that meaty flavor.

Gluten, figuratively speaking, is one of the glues that binds the world together. In it’s various forms it helped civilizations grow and flourish when it was cultivated and it is in plenty of Western recipes that it has a solid place in our culture of eating.

For many people, gluten does not negatively impact or affect their health, though removing it from one’s diet is viewed as a means to promote weight loss. The science is still out as to whether cutting gluten from a person’s diet who doesn’t have an autoimmune disease is beneficial. But going gluten-free in recent years is the thing to do in order to promote personal health and well-being.

As an aside: I think being gluten-free falls into that category of: “if I think it works and I am seeing benefits from it, then it works.” I am not going to judge.

However, if you have an autoimmune disease, gluten can affect you differently and that’s what I want to examine further in today’s post.

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