Healthy cooking for busy moms – pasta with pesto

Wonder what to cook on a hot summer evening after working all day? Pasta is your go-to dish. Look at the nutritional value of pasta: a serving has 13 gr. of protein. A daily protein intake can be 10 gr. In short, one serving of pasta – and you can skip meat!

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Now, let’s add some blended basil, green onion and parsley, olive oil and lemon juice – and you got yourself a symphony of vitamins and minerals. (Tip: add water to make pesto less think. Salt to taste).

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Healthy Eating Tips for Busy Moms

This is my 1 million dollar invention, and I am happy to share it with you! But not without a story…

As the story goes, anytime my mom, who learned to cook pasta in the South of Italy, would visit me in the US and after tasting any brand of a store-bought tomato sauce, she would lovingly call it “ketchup.” I thought my mom turned into an unnecessarily picky Italian housewife, but then I visited Italy and tasted Italian pasta with tomato sauce…

 

The secret of amazing Italian pasta sauce – is to use only tomato juice, olive oil and salt. In August-September families in the south buy about 50-100kg of tomatoes, put them through an industrial-size grinder and then boil the crushed tomatoes with added olive oil and salt. The result is almost sweet and watery sauce “sugo” that they bottle and share between the family members. Even store-bought sugo will be of a clear red color without any spices! Why? Wait for it……because depending on the pasta type, the person who cooks will add the “correct” spices to customize sugo to the pasta shape. Plain boiled sugo made from ripe tomatoes has a very neutral taste. IMG_0191

So, I recreated the sugo process at home. As a result, I have not used a store-bought tomato pasta sauce from a jar for over a year now, which means I control sugars, additives, food coloring, and preserving agents. There can be a dozen of variations, but this will start you off. Total prep time is 10 minutes.

1. Add pasta in a boiling water (100 gr per person). Let it boil for 10 minutes.

IMG_01922. While it is boiling cut 2-3 tomatoes with some onions and fresh herbs.

3. Blend it all together with a teaspoon of salt. IMG_0194

4. Drain water from pasta, return the pasta to the pot and add fresh sauce to the pot.

 

IMG_01955. Variations by season. In winter I boil sauce; in summer I don’t.

6. Variation by taste. Try adding either red or yellow bell pepper. The color change is terrific! Or experiment with herbs. Have fun!

7. Variations to make it healthier: add blended Flax seeds or other seeds.

 

Healthy Eating for Busy Moms: Breakfast

Kids healthy breakfast idea is….pancakes! If only I could reasonably take credit for inventing pancakes 🙂 No, I can not. However, I can share my “busy mom”  version of homemade pancakes. Yes. Homemade. I simply do not trust hydrogenated and dehydrated ingredients in store-bought pancake mixes, especially when there is another way to make pancakes super-fast every morning.

IMG_0219Are you worried that homemade pancakes may be not healthy enough? Well, let’s compare them to pop-tarts, morning cereals, yogurt and other store-bought-and-factory-made breakfast options. Carbs are present in all, but in homemade pancakes you can control sugar levels, and you can use organic dairy ingredients. Besides, this is kids breakfast, not a supermodel’s meal.

Bad news: the recipe that I paste below is difficult, and you must follow it exactly. Good news: this batch lasts 3 days in the fridge. So, you can feed the kid for 3 mornings. My husband is making a batch the night before while I do the bed-time routine. Often he doubles the recipe, and it lasts 5 days. We do not keep batter longer than that. Even though it does not spoil (we have tested it daily during the past year), pancakes become less fluffy with each passing day. So, take your pick: you can just make fresh batter every 3 days.IMG_0218

Here is the pancake recipe, exactly as I make it:

First, place 2 tablespoons of butter in a pan on the stove and turn it to halfway between “Lo” and “2.”

Second, take two eggs and separate them with your hands into two bowls (yolks in one, whites in the other).  Add a heaping tablespoon of sugar and some salt (no more than 1/4 teaspoon) to the yolks and mix them well with a fork.  Then beat the whites until they stiffen a bit.

Then take 1 cup of flour and put it into a large bowl.  Add 1 and 1/2 teaspoons of Baking Powder and 1/2 teaspoon of Baking Soda.

Put the egg yolks and 1 cup of milk into the bowl with the flour and use the whisk to mix it together.  Keep an eye on the butter, it should be melted by now and you can turn it off.

Then add about 1/3 cup of sour cream (or plain yogurt) and mix.

IMG_0217Then pour in the melted butter and mix while you pour… or just pour it in and be sure to mix well.

Then dump in the egg whites and mix well.

Put the pan on the stove and turn it on to about 4… let it heat up first before you start making the pancakes.  This way the pancake will not stick as much, although the first one will stick a little bit no matter what.  There is no need to add oil or butter to the pan…

 

 

Healthy Eating for Busy Moms: Breakfast

A healthy breakfast option for adults is a smoothie. IMG_0206No, not from a store or a cafe, but homemade. Why? You will cut on unnecessary sugars and add foods high in energy, which will help you to last until lunch. Obviously, no one has time in the morning to peel fresh fruit, so consider my prep tricks.

IMG_01971. I buy 4-5 pounds (2 kg) of fresh strawberries at a farmer’s marker on Friday. I wash all berries, clean the leaves, and divide between 5 plates. First plate we eat same evening fresh 🙂 Second plate I leave in the fridge for breakfast. The remaining plates of berries I freeze. Depending on how much berries you buy and how many people are going to have a smoothie – you will have to divide berries into your portion sizes. IMG_0198

2. First thing in the morning – take 1 plate of berries out of the freezer, leave it to thaw for 10-15 before blending it.

 

3. Add flax seeds. Find your portion. Mine is a modest teaspoon.

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4. Add bananas. I use 2-3 for 2 people. Bananas make smoothie sweeter.

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5. Add oats. I use about a cup for 2 people. Oats will give you energy. Do not use any Kellogg’s sugary invention, but just grain. If a smoothie gets too thick, add water.

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6. For variations try adding other types of berries.

 

 

Healthy Eating for Busy Moms

Veggie soup is my go-to dish, especially in summer. How fast do you think you can make a fresh veggie soup? As fast as it takes you to peel and chop the veggies because soup really cooks itself. Let me show you my classic veggie soup in 3 easy steps.

Carrot, Potato, Celery, Red Cabbage

Carrot, potato, celery, red cabbage

Step 1. Peel and cut veggies you have in the fridge. DO NOT use any broth from the store. Why do you want cane sugar, canola oil, molasses, carrot concentrate, added flavors, or dehydrated onions??? Just take your fresh onion, carrot, etc. and forego dehydrated cane syrup or powdered flavors.

Step 2. Put tougher veggies in the pot first. Cover with water no more than 1 inch above the veggies. Salt generously. Leave it to boil for 5-6 minutes.

Add water just barely to cover veggies

Add water just to barely cover the veggies

Tender veggies and herbs

Ripe tomatoes, green onion, parsley

Step 3. Add the tender/fragile veggies and herbs. Leave to boil for 2 minutes. Turn off the heat. Let it cool a bit before serving.

To experiment with taste try adding one or all of the following: oregano, olive oil, a bit of lemon juice or apple vinegar, more salt :), pepper, sour cream. Try different veggie combinations: broccoli, peas, zucchini, pasta, red beans, and what not. It will always be a new experience and taste for your family.

 

Healthy Eating for Busy Moms

Secret #3: Soups! Soup is the best friend for busy moms because they cook themselves. You can make them for dinner and have leftovers for your lunch at work. There are two kinds of soups that you should consider. First – legume-based (pea, lentil, beans). Second – all veggies. Lentil and pea soups take 30-40 minutes to make. Beans cook minimum 1,5 hours.  Pre-soak grain the night before to cut the time by 50%.

Day 1. Before going to bed put legumes in a pot, cover with water. (takes 2 minutes)

IMG_0184Day 2. Switch the water in a pot, and bring it to boil. As soon as it boils, add: onion, carrot, and salt. Cook until lentils are tender (20 minutes). Add parsley, cumin and coriander.

Day 3. Have leftovers? Try blending the soup. To add variety to the taste of soup – try adding some lemon juice. (5 minutes)

 

Blended Lentil Soup

Blended Lentil Soup

Legume Trivia: Red Lentil is super food, which makes it my favorite soup. It has folate, copper, manganese, iron, protein, B1, B6, zinc, potassium, etc, and it is low in calories. So, you can eat a lot of it without gaining weight. It tastes even better the next day.

Healthy Eating for Busy Moms

Secret #2 – precook what you can, especially grains and even pasta. In my student years I got to work in expensive restaurants. Do you think you are getting all “just-made” meals there??? On a Saturday night during the dinner rush??? Busy moms are allowed to run their kitchens like expensive restaurants.

saladDay 1. Cook orzo pasta (or any small pasta) al dente. My husband cannot eat raw bell peppers, so I add chopped one into the boiling water for 2 minutes to make it tenderer. Drain, run cold water through it, and add olive oil. Put in the fridge. You can store pasta without sauce about to 48 hours. (Process takes 10 minutes)

Day 2. Chop your favorite veggies for salad. Add pasta from the fridge. Do not forget to sprinkle with seeds and nuts! Being vegetarian (vegan) means that you look for iron, magnesium, and protein in plants. So, seeds are your new best friends: they have true vitamins, minerals, oils, and taste. (10 minutes)

Healthy Eating for Working Moms

I have just translated my blood work results, and my plant-based diet really shines. For example, the “bad” cholesterol went down from 220 to 89 and so on. I shared with my dear friends some revelations of how amazing one can feel after adjusting just a few of eating habits, but everyone says in unison, “I am too busy for that.” So, I want to share some of my personal tips for those who honestly would love to try eating healthy, but too busy to cook from scratch.

IMG_0183Secret #1: During the transition stage – plan your meals ahead. Before your new way of cooking becomes automatic, try to “schedule” 3-4 days of meals ahead, and those dishes that take long time to cook – try to precook. For example, this is how I make hummus from scratch.

Day 1. Pour water onto Gorbanzo Beans before the day is over. Leave it to soak till tomorrow. (2 minutes)

Day 2. Put the pot with the beans onto the stove. Forget about it while it’s boiling for 30-40 minutes. Put in the fridge till tomorrow. DO NOT pour the water out. Keep it!

Day 3. Take the beans out and blend all hummus ingredients. Decorate and clean up. (10-15 minutes).

School Lunches in Korea

A heated debate was created when First Lady Michelle Obama took up an initiative of improving school lunches and steering the kids towards healthier diets. Working at various public schools in WI I observed firsthand what food is served at an elementary school cafeteria. I would name that food “an orange lunch.” Somehow the food would be orange in color – fried potato, pizza, hot dog, carrot, applesauce, etc. Some other colors could include green (for pees) and red (for pizza sauce).

This winter break I was running a winter English camp for elementary school children at a Canadian International School in Seoul. It is an expensive private foreign school with more than 90% of students being Korean natives. The school follows the curriculum of the British Columbia educational system. The lunches served for students were typically Korean. For two weeks I had a smile on my face trying to imagine what the American media would have said had this food been offered to American schoolchildren. Take a look at my photo gallery and judge for yourselves.

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Coffee place for moms

Most of us have been to Chucky-cheese or other places of this kind that offer indoor activities for kids. They would have been a perfect get-away for moms, except what is there for a parent to do other than run along with the kids and dive into a bin of colorful balls? Most parents end-up just standing next to a playground to ensure their precious one is not pushed, shoved or kidnapped. In Korea I have just found out an agreeable alternative to Chucky-Cheese where moms and dads also can do things that adults typically enjoy doing.

I was invited to a French-like coffee place “Olibollen,” located near Korean Folk Village (a famous tourist attraction of Korea in Gyeonggi Province). What surprised me most were the thoughtful amenities that this café offers to customers with kids, so that parents can enjoy some trendy cup of coffee in the company of adults while their kids are having fun with other kids. I guess what sets this place apart and gives it a more adult feel is the menu, which is awfully similar to an Altera coffee place in Milwaukee. The menu would satisfy even the pickiest of the hipsters with various types of coffee (hot, cold, blended, with/without add-ons), various types of teas, blended milk or juice drinks, and pastries. There are many tables in the quiet back yard of the café under a secure shade among the flowerpots. The menu and interior design gears more towards a studying student with the abundance of the coffee selection, yet it also has plenty to offer to entertain kids for a while. In the back of the café there is a glass-walled room of two levels with various toys, equipped according to the safety codes with soft cushions and childproof toys. There is a large selection of books on the bookshelves and a large magnet blackboard with magnet numbers, letters and shapes. Everyone who enters the sitting down or playing side of the cafe has to take off shoes. In other words, the café is really clean. As an add-on, every hour on the hour there is a cooking class for kids arranged in the area next to the kitchen. This cooking area is spacious and bright, and has plenty of baking equipment. Kids stand around a semi-circled table and the chef directs the process from the center. The cookies will be baked here and kept in the fridge until the parents are ready to leave. In short, I think this is a very fresh idea for a kid’s place where parents receive a major upgrade in menu and style.

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