Friday Favorites: Fit Family Activities

Round 2 of my Friday Favorites! I am taking a break from talking about food and clean eating and am talking about my true love: my family.  I am a mom of three, all autumnal babies: a 5-year old daughter, and 3-year old son, and an 11-week old son as well.  These tots–especially my oldest two–keep me plenty busy and plenty entertained.  Like any other mom, regardless of how old our kids are, I am also kept pretty insane thanks to these cuties as well.  They sure know how to push our buttons and fill our heart with love like no one else.

I am blessed with the world’s best career.  I am a high school teacher.  I may be on maternity leave for a few more weeks, but I know that it is like to be a working mom on a budget–both with our time and with our pocketbooks. I want to share with you some of the fun activities I do with my kids when the hours are short and the days or long. Most of these are free and allow me to share my interests and maybe a little fitness with my kids as well.

I am by no means reinventing the wheel here. We all know that kids love to ride bikes or go swimming or sled in the snow.  As moms, we have other tricks up our sleeves that keep our families busy or healthy or, simply, prevent our house from getting too messy. My husband often wonders why I spend most summer days playing with the kids elsewhere.  Less to clean!

Anyway, leave a comment with your favorite fun family activities so we have a growing list to tap into when needed.  Here is what the Bus clan loves.

  • Treasure hunts!
    • My kids and I enjoy two different types of treasure hunts.  When it is nice outside, regardless of the season, we will head out for a trek around the neighborhood with a list of “must-find” items and have a typical scavenger hunt.  The kids will create a pictured list, almost like a Bmeal on the goingo board, and we see if we can get a full line before we return home.  This fall, we had much luck finding cats and spider webs thanks to Halloween decorations.  My son loves putting swings on his board since he knows there is a swing set three doors down.  Have fun with this!  Sometimes, I’ll load the kids in our red wagon or jogging stroller, with breakfast or a bowl of ice cream or something, and just get a scavenger hunt moving because we have been in the house too long.
    • The second type of hunt, our real-deal treasure hunt, grew out of a funny story. One day, I was changing the sheets on my bed and had my comforter flung over the end of my bed.  My kids crawled underneath and started calling it their “pirate cave.”  Their obsession with Peter Pan Live! at the time may have been at fault–who knows!  Well, within 5 minutes, a cave wasn’t enough.  One of the kids said we should have a real treasure hunt. I thought about this for a minute and realized I could get a few quiet minutes if they had to stay in their cave while I prepped the treasure hunt. I filled two empty shoe boxes with some forgotten toys (You know what I mean, moms! Those Peppa Pig figurines they couldn’t do without a treasure mapfew months back that have spent more time under the couch lately?), hid it in the far reaches of the family room, and drew up a little map.  I may have also arranged the kitchen chairs and couch cushions to create obstacles, but that is unnecessary! The kids, and I, had a blast, were up and moving, and have designed their own for me and my husband as well. I even used this as a get inside from the snow before you get frostbite! ploy this weekend with a map that led to hot chocolate.
  • Playground obstacles & picnics
    • This is the easiest of all my suggestions and the one that involves the most fitness for you.  Next time you take your kids to the playground, make a little obstacle course or HIIT workout for yourself.  Do pull-ups on the monkey bars and stair steppers and calf raises on the steps. Is there a bench?  Tricep dips!  I’ll also run laps around the equipment, do jumping jacks, or jump rope while my kids play. They often like to chase me or run alongside, which is great to get their little bodies moving.  If your kids are anything like mine you will also get a decent arm workout pushing them on the swings for 15 straight minutes. Don’t let a work schedule get in the way of this fun activity, either.  On nights my husband works late, I’ll eat dinner when he gets home and my kids often have dinner at the playground while I get a workout in.  They love the picnic-aspect of it.  We are lucky to have a playground a few lots from our home, but don’t let proximity stop you!  On weekends or days in the summer when the temp is bound to get real hot real fast, we have breakfast playground picnics.  I promise that you will enjoy these as much as the kids. playground
  • Our bounce house
    • A few birthdays ago, we enlisted the grandparents in getting our daughter a bounce house for her birthday.  We went with a rather simple one, but the fun has not stopped.  I will set this up in our front yard–another upper body workout in and of itself!–and before long neighbors arbouncee over and everyone is bouncing.  My kids are staying healthy without even realizing it!  I’ll join them once in a while or do another HIIT workout in the yard, but mostly like to sit in a lawn chair reading a good book and soaking up their giggles.
  • Silly sports
    • I dread the days my kids are actually a part of competitive sports.  I fear the parent-politics of the sidelines and the imbalance between “in it to win it ALL” and “everyone gets a trophy.”  For that reason, I embrace silly sports for my kids. What I mean is, I give them the equipment, take them to the field or court, and just have a blast. No rules, no score, just silliness.  soccerWe are BIG fans of two of these in particular: soccer and tennis.  I can get an amazing cardio workout in running from goal to goal, ball or no ball, while my kids try to shoot soccer balls passed one another. We are lucky, again, that their is a huge soccer field across from our development. We head there right after school before the practices begin and just have a blast. Tennis is fun, too, because my kids will occupy themselves for long stretches just trying to make it over the net.  I can practice my serve (which is awful!) on a nearby court or even run the perimeter.  You can almost always find an empty or free court at local rec centers.  I sometimes think my kids’ favorite part of tennis is seeing who can pick up the most balls before it is time to head home.  tennis pat
  • The library
    • We love going to our local library.  It brings back memories of going with my mom when I was a kid! Maybe that fueled my passion for reading and writing.  Either way, this is a free and safe place to be regardless of the weather.  Most local branches have kids clubs, story hours, arts and crafts, etc., that make them even more fun, but we often go first thing in the morning or right after school and simply explore. My kids love checking out kids movies as well.  If your local library doesn’t seem very kid-friendly, check out a Barnes and Nobel near you.  They host story hours as well and often have Lego and/or train tables–and Starbucks!  One near by B&N has a Petsmart next door–even more free fun checking out the fish and animals! library
  • The zoo (my favorite!)
    • We have had a membership at the Philadelphia Zoo since our 3-year old was born, and I am obsessed with it. We go countless times over the summer and whenever we have a day off from school during the fall, winter, and spring.  Yes–even during a winter in the northeast.  Not all of the animals remain in their habitats, but there is still plenty to see.  Rainy days work well, too, because of all the indoor exhibits we often skip when the weather is nice.  Plus, the zoo is often less crowded on not-so-great weather days. zoo me.jpgWe get plenty of exercise moving from exhibit to exhibit and, since we know we will be back again, never mind if we don’t get to every animal each time.  Having the membership also allows us to go at various times of day.  Some animals are more active early in the day while different animals get moving in the afternoon.  We know many of the animals names and learn more interesting facts from the zoo keepers every time we go. A membership is a great gift idea, too; that’s how we got ours! tiger

So those are my “Friday Favorites” this week! Can you tell I am ready for the snow to be gone?! Please comment with fun outdoor or indoor activities that are family-friendly!

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Clean Eating on a Budget

My grandfather used to always say that you do not skimp on food.  If you’ll eat it and it is good for you, pay for it!  This is a good reminder for those of us trying to prepare clean, balanced meals for our families.  We see the canned soups and boxed mac and cheese and aisle packed with sugary cereals and think two thoughts: cheap and easy.  I hear ya. Sometimes, cheap and easy is what we moms crave most.  But I would like to encourage you to think beyond these two words.  Instead, think healthful and worth it!

Perhaps our initial shopping bills were higher than normal, but only slightly. I keep my grandfather’s words in my mind and realize that my family’s health truly has no price. Regardless, this concern is common.  In that past few days since I began publicizing my family’s rather-layered journey to health, I have received comments and questions touching on this very issue.  How much more do I have to spend to eat clean? We can’t really afford this!  I hope to show you that you can.

My best piece of advice? Meal planning!  I am–or was–a coupon girl.  I was not TLC-worthy extreme couponer, but I spent a half hour to an hour most Saturday nights scanning circulars, organizing coupons, and creating a very specific list for my husband’s Sunday-morning super market runs. Clean eating has taken away my beloved coupons almost completely, but I now fill my momerific Saturday nights meal planning quite strategically.

Through meal planning, you can uncover patterns in recipes and plan accordingly. Follow my four-step process (which makes me sound like a pro. Nope! Totally figuring this out as I go!), and maybe you’ll find clean eating will work for your family.

Step one happens well in advance. Scan sights like mine (shameless plug, I know!), CleanFoodCrush, Eat Yourself Skinny, Skinny Taste, Fit Foodie Finds, and HelloHealthy and bookmark recipes that are must-tries for your family. Find more than a week’s worth–at least 10-20 meals–so that steps two and three are most effective.

Step two requires you to examine the ingredient lists within your collection of clean recipes for your “must buys.” These “must buys” are the seasonings, spices, oils, flours, etc.–basically, the kitchen staples–most required for clean eating and the recipes you are interested in trying.  This will most likely be your biggest expense, but it is also an infrequent purchase.  Buy most of these once, and they should last at least a few months.

Some of my “must buys” included various pure extracts (for overnight oats and smoothies and coffee flavoring), sriracha sauce, chili paste and powder, coconut oil, and sesame oil. I bought organic for some and didn’t worry about it for others. Eating, like life, is about balance. You may also consider old fashioned rolled oats and whole wheat flour (if you are not a gluten-free household, coconut flour if you are!) and stevia if you bake and want to eliminate sugar.  I stick to sugar, but that is just me.  Purchasing an all-natural peanut butter and an all-natural almond butter is smart as well.  Sun flower seed butter is a great alternative for allergies. These go perfectly in protein shakes and smoothies and on top of apples or Ezekiel bread.  And don’t forget brown rice, quinoa (any variety), various beans, and low sodium broths or stocks to have on hand.  You’ll be surprised how many recipes call for any or all three of these. Plus, they work well in soups, which are a perfect way to achieve step four, described later on.  This seems like a lot, but as I already mentioned, these have legs and last quite a while!

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Step three is a week-to-week meal plan. Take the time to figure out what meals best overlap. In other words, what fresh, perishable ingredients can be used in multiple recipes.  Find two recipes that call for half a yellow onion and make them two nights in a row. This is not only health-conscious and wallet-conscious, but earth-conscious as well.  I will share a sample weekly plan later.  Plan your shopping list with these fresh, overlapping ingredients in mind.  I also suggest weekly purchases of nonfat plain Greek yogurt, unsweetened plain almond milk, avocados, berries, bananas, lemons, and garlic cloves.

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Step four is more fun.  I am have decided to dedicate Saturday to ridding my home and my fridge of all that remains.  I have yet to find a meal plan that causes no excess.  On Saturdays, I vow to cook as much of it up as I can.  This is a fun way to experiment with different recipes and to save some money on the process.  My household fell into the Friday or Saturday take-out trap.  We are saving money and eating better now that we do this. You can read more about how we are managing this in my blog post “Out with the old; in with the new.”

We are still in the early stages of our clean eating journey.  I have a lot to learn–and will admittedly see how well I keep this up when I return to work post-maternity leave.  But we have developed such keen habits already.  I am confident we have now made this our lifestyle rather than a fad diet.

What does this look like in my household?  Here is a look at this week’s meal plan (recipe links included when possible) and how the ingredients overflow.

  1. Sunday: My husband’s famous chicken fried rice (Want this recipe? Leave a comment asking for it!)
    • fresh ingredients: brown rice, chicken breasts, carrots, zucchini
  2. Monday: 21 Day Fix-approved Meatloaf Muffins
    • fresh ingredients: lean ground beef, carrots, celery, yellow onion
  3. Tuesday: Carrot soup with Beef Stir-fry
    •  fresh ingredients: lean beef, carrots, zucchini, mushrooms
  4. Wednesday: Healthy Baked Quinoa Chicken Parm
    • fresh ingredients: chicken breasts, mushrooms, yellow onion, green pepper,
  5. Thursday: 21 Day Fix-approved Kung Pao Chicken Meatballs with Mashed Cauliflower
    • fresh ingredients: ground chicken, yellow onion, cauliflower
  6. Friday: Zoodles & leftover meatballs
    • fresh ingredients: zucchini
  7. Saturday: Leftover creation!
    • I’ll have some onion left over as well as some pepper and sweet potatoes from a dish I am making to bring to a brunch that morning.  I’ll probably defrost some chicken tenderloins and saute it all with some cannellini beans.
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Prep from Monday’s dinner

Some notes:

  • We only used celery in Monday’s meal, so I’ve been packing it in the kids’ lunches as a snack with some pb for dipping.
  • What do I eat for lunch? The previous night’s dinner!  I also buy avocados weekly and have a 1/4 of one on a slice of Ezekiel toast and a protein shake if not enough of dinner is left.
  • Breakfasts? We love overnight oats! Lots of recipes to be found!  We also like green smoothies or protein shakes–my kids included!

Best of luck! Please comment below with any tips you may have.  I also encourage you to check out the “contact me” page so I can get to know you better.  What info would you like me to blog about? 🙂 I am also organizing a FREE clean eating challenge group for mid February.  Want to try it for 5 days? I’ll coach you through! Let me know on the “contact me” page as well!

A Name that Means Powerful

I am an English teacher.  This may explain my love for names and their meanings, or might just be an excuse for when I search for a connection between a character’s name and his or her role in a story. Read any Jodi Picoult novel or even my blog’s name-inspiration, To Kill a Mockingbird, and you may do the same.  This name-personality connection transcends literature, at least in my experience.

My husband and I believe that a name ties intrinsically to an individual’s personality, thanks to our two oldest children. Our daughter, Kayden, is stubborn and strong-willed and physically tough.  She stands up for herself and asserts her role in most situations.  She is smart, creative, and spiritual.  Her name, or its origin, Kaden, means “fighter.” Our second child, our son named Paxton, wears his heart on his sleeve.  He loves hard and fast and finds the most harmony through cuddles, sleep, and quiet. Pax, which means “peace,” fits him perfectly.  Of course our daughter has many tender moments while our son can flare a temper, but, at their cores, our children embody their names.

This weighed heavily on my mind as we searched for the perfect name for Baby Bus #3. I am the type

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Christmas Morning 2015

of pregnant woman who needs to know two things in order to mentally survive the last few months of pregnancy: I need to know the gender of the baby and I need to know his or her name.  I am not one willing to wait for that delivery room “It’s a [fill in the blank]!” surprise, nor am I content to simply tell “Baby” to stop kicking my ribs. I need to know this child, to imagine him or her fully–name and all–for my belly-bonding to really take shape. Skylar, meaning “scholar”, was a possible girl name. She would fit in to her big sister’s love of school. Or maybe Asher for a boy, which means “blessed and happy,” would make a fitting addition.

These thoughts left us completely after our anatomy scan.

About half way through this pregnancy, my husband and I ventured to the OB for an ultrasound and consultation with one of the doctors.  These scans had gone routinely with my first two pregnancies, so I wasn’t worried. I made two different envelopes–one for a girl and one for a boy–so we could have an immediate gender reveal with our two kids upon returning home, and off we went.  I wasn’t thinking about how different this pregnancy had been already, from on-going queasiness to slower weight gain to a consistently achy sciatic nerve. I wasn’t thinking that this appointment would be any different than the two anatomy scans we’d had before.  I wasn’t thinking we had anything to fear.

Our ultrasound tech was super social throughout most of the appointment.  She pointed out everything she could, hid the screen when confirming gender, and asked us sweet questions about our two other children.  With about 5 minutes of the scan remaining, though, that changed.  She became quiet and hyper-focused.  I assured myself she was merely concentrating on keeping the baby’s gender a surprise for our family reveal.  I smiled at my husband and enjoyed the little printout she gave us before she ushered us down to the exam room where we would meet with one of the OBs. Mike and I were so full of joy from seeing the baby and hearing the heartbeat that my husband and I didn’t expect the mood to so suddenly shift upon the doctor’s arrival.

When the doctor entered the exam room, the same doctor we had for our middle child’s anatomy scan, my husband and I could sense the tension.  She sat down on a stool beside the exam table and began listing all that was good: the baby’s skull is forming well, there is no cleft palate, the baby has ten fingers and ten toes, the fluid levels are strong, etc. She was being so specific to tick off every single success of our baby’s development, so careful to hit every positive base that we just knew we were bracing for a “but.”  And it finally came. “But the ultrasound tech noticed a shadowy area in the baby’s right lung,” she said. “We would like you to see maternal fetal specialists so they can use their big boy ultrasound machines and check it out. Maybe it is just a shadow. Do you have any questions?”

My husband and I looked at one another and I immediately said “no.”

She continued anyway. “What it could be is something called a CCAM, a lesion in the baby’s lung.  But MFM will check it out and let you know for sure.  These usually shrink and eventually disappear–if that’s what it is.” And then she sent Mike and me to reception to make our next appointment.

We drove home almost silently. We psyched ourselves up for the fun we were about to have: boy or girl? We pushed those 4 maybe-letters from our minds.

Kayden and Paxton greeted us at the door as soon as we pulled in the driveway.  When they opened the envelope revealing this baby, Baby Bus #3, was a boy, Kayden began a triumphant “yay!” and Pax repeatedly asked us what this meant. We smiled, then hugged one another and the kids and my mom and immediately retreated upstairs to do the dreaded Googling.  Google CCAM and, most likely, the first site you’ll come to is from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.  You’ll learn that CCAM–or congenital cystic adenomatoid malformation–is the most common lung lesion found in fetuses and children and that the outcomes vary greatly. Depending on the size, positioning, and effect on the four chambers of the heart, each baby afflicted with CCAM takes his or her own path to recovery, if recovery is possible. One word came up again and again: cancer. This knowledge, this information is why I said “no” when the OB asked if I had questions. I didn’t want the worry of what might be wrong until we met with the specialists and had a true diagnosis.

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Baby Bus #3 says, “Don’t worry, Mom. I got this!”

The diagnosis was true, though. I could see it the second the ultrasound tech placed the wand to my belly. What normally looks like blank, black space in the baby’s chest cavity looked like cotton, like white smoke.  Like it didn’t belong.

We were at our first MFM appointment two weeks after the initial scan.  That doctor, who was caring and honest and paternal, told me not to get too emotional. “You worry about the baby, and I worry about you.  So don’t worry!”, he insisted. “We will see you in 4 weeks and check the size of the CCAM then. If it shrinks, which most do, you will have nothing to follow up with.  If it remains this size or, more unlikely, grows, we will refer you to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.” My husband and our families encouraged me to think positively.

Four weeks.  I hardly ate.  I tried my best to internalize my nerves and to enjoy my summer home with my 2-year old son and 4-year old daughter, but in the quiet moments–when one or both was napping or they were engaged in their own play–my mind went crazy.  When my mind went crazy, my fingers searched for answers. I read blogs and message board and the websites of countless hospitals. I began to learn more about fetal surgery and EXIT surgery and hydrops and lobechtomies than any woman creating life should learn about.

Four weeks–and the most upsetting doctor’s appointment yet.  “There,” I said to my husband, as I pointed out the snowy mass in the baby’s chest. “Can’t you see it?” He could.  It was still there, plain enough that we didn’t need the ultrasound tech or MFM specialist to confirm it.  I began to cry, silently, staring at the dropped ceiling so as to avoid eye contact with my husband or the tech. One sweaty hand clutched one of Mike’s while I kept the other tucked behind my head, fingers crossed. I focused on breathing deeply, keeping my tears away, being strong for this precious little baby who looked so much like his brother via ultrasound that it made my heart ache even more. When the scan was complete, the tech led my husband and me to a consultation room and immediately brought in a monitor to check my blood pressure. “They didn’t do that last time,” Mike said. “They are worried about my blood pressure,” I explained, “checking for hydrops.” I didn’t have hydrops, which was the only good news of the appointment.

“We have a problem” were the first four words that came out of the MFM specialist’s mouth as he entered the consultation room soon after.  Not “Hello, I’m Doctor So-and-so.” Not “How are you feeling, Mom?” Nope. We have a problem.  From there, I half-listened, half retreated into my own thoughts as he detailed that the CCAM grew quite a bit and that the baby was also measuring small, particularly in his femurs. More to Google. More bad stuff to read.  More worry.

Our next step was a visit to CHOP–after another 10 day wait.  At this point, I became so concerned with his size, I stopped exercising. I tried to eat more, but my stomach was so upset from my worries that I didn’t get much down.  My mindset and nerves cannot be providing the right environment for a healthy baby, I kept telling myself, and that guilt only made both worse.

We finally had a full day of appointments at CHOP: ultrasounds, fetal echo-cardiograms, an MRI, consultations with genetic counselors and nurse liaisons, and so on.  You name it, Baby Bus and I did it. It was a long, tiring, emotional day which ended with what I can only describe as a slice of comfort.  Mike and I met with a wonderful MFM specialist who confirmed the CCAM, ironically known as well as a CPAM, and explained to us that the baby’s lung is like a tree planted in a garage.  I am paraphrasing here, but he described to us that the roots don’t have room to spread out, so they’ll simply remove the garage–or, the bad tissue–and the roots will spread themselves out. He explained that this is done in one of three ways, depending on the severity of the lesion: through fetal surgery, EXIT surgery, or surgery at approximately 6 weeks old. The magic number was 1.0.  If the CVR (CCAM volume ratio) was greater than 1.0, fetal surgery was immediate.  If the CVR was close to 1, EXIT surgery was likely. If it was significantly smaller, infant surgery was necessary. Inside, I tried to mentally prepare for Baby Bus #3’s CVR.  I could see the lesions clearly and I was not medically trained. I knew it was going to be a number I did not like.

.21.

I was so wrong. With a CVR of .21 and the four chambers of the heart remaining in place and full, we could wait until we delivered our son at our own hospital, take him home, love him, and then bring him in for surgery weeks later. My heart swelled. Yes, his femurs were still measuring small, and his weight was a little below average, but his CVR was such a small fraction that those other issues failed to seem significant.

Mike and I drove over the bridge back to New Jersey with lighter minds and real smiles on our faces.  I could feel a sense of peace.  I also felt something break–a wall I had slowly built around me.  It seemed like almost from the start of this pregnancy, even before I knew of the CCAM, I was protecting myself and the baby from something.  I was more distant and more irritable, less patient and less open. For months, I hadn’t felt like me.  Now I did.  I knew we had a long road ahead, one that included weekly scans to check the baby’s growth and that eventually led to a lobechtomy on part of Baby Bus #3’s right lung, but I also knew that I was open to taking that road with my husband and my family and my friends.  I realized that I didn’t need my tears to stay silent and that I didn’t need to worry in my head. I could talk about it.  I could feel openly and honestly.

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Getting prepped for surgery

A few weeks later, Mike and I took our two oldest children to Disney World.  Aside from the 100 degree heat and my 7-month waddle, I enjoyed myself more than I could have a month before. Baby Bus #3 was strong.  He kept that CCAM from getting too big, I was sure of it. I continued to break down my wall.  I reconnected even more with my husband.  I laughed more genuinely with Kayden and Paxton. We had a brilliant, albeit exhausting, vacation as a family of 4.

School started, and our growth scans continued, but the CCAM had stabilized.  Before long, we didn’t even need the growth scans. Baby Bus #3 was suddenly in the 40th percentile for fetal size and I could enjoy the last 3 weeks of my pregnancy without visiting MFM. I must have made a pretty good home in there for him after all, because he overstayed his welcome and arrive on Veteran’s Day–4 days after his due date. A neonatalogist was on-call for the delivery, but this baby came out chubby and crying and ready to face the world, bum lung and all.

Within a week of that initial scan months earlier and the discovery that Baby Bus #3 was in fact a boy, I approached my husband as he paid bills online and told him we needed a name.  This baby needed a name.  I needed a name so my prayers were more real and my connection to him was more eternal. We started from scratch, throwing out all we had liked or loved or disagreed on before. We soon settled on it. A name that means powerful seemed most fitting, and Kellen sure lives up to it.

On January 8th, at 8 weeks old, Kellen had a lobechtomy.  The chief-of-surgery at CHOP removed the lower lobe of his right lung. He spent 24 hours in quite a bit of pain, unable to nurse, and connected to a chest tube.  By hour 25, however, he was nursing, smiling, powerful. Mike and I brought Kellen home for the second time on January 10th, one day shy of 2 months old. Many people said this type of journey is harder on the parents, especially on the moms, than it is for the babies. I believe them. I truly believe, though, that Kellen’s name embodies his essence–just like those of his sister and brother.

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Out with the old; in with the new.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t begin this post with a quick announcement: Go Broncos!  I am a lifelong Denver Broncos fan–even though I am NJ born and raised–and I am more than thrilled they are heading to Superbowl 50! 🙂  OK, enough of that…

I discovered this weekend had a theme. No, not Snow Storm Jonas. No, not mommy-needs-another-glass-of-wine because of Snow Storm Jonas. The theme of my weekend is “out with the old; in with the new.” I have turned Saturdays into a day dedicated to the “old” in my fridge and I took on a new business venture.  Let me explain.

On Friday, my brother encouraged me to watch a Netflix documentary, Chef’s Table, that featured New York chef Dan Barber.  Barber is a bit of a radical in the food industry; he takes an almost archaic approach to dining that, in the end, only makes food better.  He insists on using ingredients grown locally and seasonally to minimize the negative impact on the environment while upping the “yummy” in his kitchens.  He attempts to minimize food waste by sourcing his menus quite strategically.  Check out the episode to learn more. It definitely influenced me.

I’ve recently been making more of an effort to meal plan every Saturday and meal prep a bit every Sunday so that the mom-crazies are at a minimum, but this past week’s Saturday plan simply said “leftovers”. The kicker?  Come Saturday, we didn’t have any leftovers–or at least not the traditional leftover of a 1/3 of a pot of soup, a plastic container of some sort of pasta, and a half a Pyrex dish of a casserole. What I did have, though, were leftover ingredients. I decided to think like Dan Barber and make dinner almost entirely from these leftover ingredients. I heated a feIMG_6614w cups of chicken stock that were in the fridge and added a minced garlic clove and a dash of red pepper flakes.  Then I chopped up what remained from a bag of baby carrots, a half of an asparagus bunch, two or so handfuls of baby spinach leaves, and a half-can of white kidney beans. I paired this soup with some other on-their-way-out foods by toasting a piece of sprouted grain bread (check it out!  delicious!!) and topping it with a 1/2 a very rip avocado, a sliced up tomato on the vine, and a few slices of turkey bacon. It was a dinner fit for the Island of Misfit Toys–and it was scrumptious and clean and responsible.  I have decided to make this a trend for all Saturdays in my foreseeable future: use it so we don’t lose it.  I hope this challenge yields less waste, less Saturday-night takeout, and some yummy new recipes!

Now you know how I got rid of the old.  Let me tell you about how I embraced something new.

This weekend, I took a step that will financially benefit my family while personally benefiting me and, hopefully, countless other women. I am now an online fitness coach. As I’ve discussed in previous posts, I am currently participating in an online HIIT bootcamp. It has inspired me to step out of my routine.  It has inspired me to take a risk.  It has inspired me to do something worthwhile.  This new role combines many of my passions: helping and motivating others, living a healthy lifestyle, and providing for my family.  This is a big venture, but I have only positive vibes and know this will be a success.  Stay tuned for updates on this journey–and please let me know on the “Contact me” page if taking control of your fitness and/or nutrition is something you are ready to do as well. I would love to guide you and cheer you on as you meet your goals!

A fun fact about me: I have been a die-hard fan of The Killers since the “Mr. Brightside” days. A quote from their song “Be Still”, a track on Battle Born, fits not only the theme of this weekend, but also my hopes for these new adventures–my Saturday leftover challenge and my fitness business.  Wish me luck!

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Friday Favorites: Post-workout Snacks

Who doesn’t love a yummy snack after a good workout or a healthful but delicious dessert while catching up on your DVR?  I do!  And I’ve discovered a blog trend I am going to try: fun Friday favorites.  This week, I am going to share my favorite post-workout or after-dinner snacks.  These provide a nutritional boost and assist in recovery, plus each one contains protein and/or healthy fats that keep our metabolism revving while satisfying our hunger.

In yesterday’s post, I discussed the 6-week boot camp in which I am participating. I love it!  I’ve been focusing on HIIT training, which isn’t a new notion for me, but I am training in a way that targets my body more effectively. In addition to 20-30 minute HIIT workouts, I have been doing 20-30 minutes of cardio a few days a week.  I love to run (hoping to train for a 10k or half marathon this year!) and also love Turbo Fire!  This program is especially great for cold or snowy weather or when I am home with all three kids and can’t get out for a run. I haven’t had a gym membership in years; I don’t need it.  Don’t let a lack of membership be your excuse to ignore your health and fitness!  I’ll be sharing more specific fitness strategies and goals in the coming weeks, so please follow if that interests you.  I’d love to help you find the results I’m experiencing.

Back to my Friday Favorites. What are post-work out snacks or desserts I love? There are two easy choices that anyone interested in fitness already knows: protein shakes and protein bars.  I am currently nursing my 10-week old, so I stick with vegan chocolate protein powder, a cup of unsweetened almond milk, and a few ice cubes blended together. I’ll sometimes throw in a half a banana, a teaspoon of natural peanut butter, a few frozen strawberries, or even a 1/4 of an avocado.  Play around and find a combo you like! Protein bars are great to keep in your bag–or diaper bag–for those times when you have to run out for a school pick-up immediately after a workout or for when hunger hits on-the-go. But these are easy, common snacks.  My three favorites are more as follows:

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  1. Apples with protein peanut butter

Since I was a kid, I’ve loved having apples with peanut butter as a snack.  I can still picture my mom slicing the apples and smearing them perfectly with peanut butter while my brother and I sat at the kitchen table doing homework.  I could never quite distribute the PB as perfectly as my mom could. She could spread it so evenly over every surface of each apple slice; my attempts resulted in more PB on the plate or stuck to the knife than on the fruit. Moms are great that way, at creating food miracles, which is probably why I am finally a successful PB-apple spreader. My mom’s feat was especially skillful, though, since you couldn’t pay my mom to eat PB! Anyway, this snack was always the perfect pick-me-up after a few math worksheets and a vocabulary exercise.

As an adult, I’ve re-imagined this snack to better fit my workout and macronutrient needs. My husband and I love Shark Tank and discovered Nuts ‘N More after the company pitched on the show.  The high-protein chocolate peanut butter is delicious in my protein shakes, but I am obsessed with it smeared atop a few slices of apple.  This also works well as a late-night snack when cravings for chocolate can hit.  Remember, indulge once in a while!  There are many flavors to try, so see what works for you. Just make sure you give the peanut butter a good stir first.

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2. Nonfat plain Greek yogurt topped with berries…and mini chocolate chips

The average 8 oz. serving of organic nonfat plain Greek yogurt has 22 grams of protein.  That is a significant benefit to a person burning fat and building lean muscle. Top with berries and even a small sprinkle of mini dark chocolate chips (I add these on my cardio days as a little reward) and this is good enough for dessert.

I am an ice cream lover.  Thanks to my dad, I grew up having ice cream almost every night.  I can still see him standing at the microwave warming up a pint of Häagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream for a few seconds before settling on the coach to watch a Knicks game. I would often sit beside and have a scoop or two of something myself–a habit that followed me into adulthood and, especially, pregnancy.  I can now have a bowl of Greek yogurt instead to satisfy this childhood habit while staying on track.

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3. Apple Pie Oat Muffins 

The recipe for these muffins popped up on My Fitness Pal–the app I use to log my nutrition and fitness each day–and I immediately checked my kitchen for the ingredients.  I baked these yesterday with one substitution.  I used pumpkin pie spice instead of apple pie spice for two reasons: I happened to have it on-hand and I love it. I am a PSL girl, after all.  My 3-year old son helped me whip them up, which was fun and easy! East coast readers, this is a great recipe to try while you’re snowed in this weekend.  It will be the most delicious smell to come inside to after shoveling or sledding.

I had two for breakfast this morning (along with two slices of nitrate-free turkey bacon to make sure I reach my protein goal by the end of the day) and they were delicious.  I am keeping half of the batch in a storage bag in the fridge and the other half sealed well in the freezer.  My mother-in-law tried one last night and she approved as well! They are wholesome, clean, filling, and flavorful.

What are your favorite post-work out snacks? What clean desserts do you indulge in?  Let me know, and feel free to link to your own healthy snack posts so I can check them out as well!

 

Baked Chicken ala Yummy

I have a confession to make: I love chicken. That’s right, folks.  I am obsessed. This may seem like no big deal to you, but up until about a month ago I would have told you I don’t eat chicken.  I have never had the taste for it–unless if was processed and formed into a nugget and half-eaten by one of my kids and I snatched it up before scraping it into the garbage disposal.  When I’d make chicken parm for my family, I’d make eggplant for myself.  Chicken or fish at a wedding?  Fish, please.  This all changed at the start of 2016.

I am currently 2 1/2 weeks into an online fitness boot camp in an attempt to do the dreaded “lose the baby weight” thing.  I love working out and I love eating fruits and veggies, but I’ve also let being a mom–especially a working mom–break so many of my disciplined habits.  I became a perpetual snacker who hardly ate real meals, a woman who felt guilty leaving the house for even a 20 minute run, and a person who heard the slightest child-whine or baby-cry in the distance and immediately turned off any workout DVD I had managed to begin. Yes, I would have still considered myself fit and healthy, but I wasn’t as fit and healthy or happy as I could have been. I’d play outside with my kids and run with them in my double-jogger and enlist them to help me blend my morning green smoothie.  But, I was often tired. I lost my patience rather easily. I resented my husband’s longer hours at work. I was pretty normal.

This boot camp is changing all of that.  It allows me to find accountability, motivation, and mindfulness through a group of women all embarking on a virtual fitness journey.  It encourages me to workout and to invite others to join me, like my husband, sister-in-law, and my kids.  It inspires me to pay attention to my eating and to really make the most of it by eating clean.  I have lost 3 1/2 pounds since I started the boot camp, and I attribute this to a combination of regular workouts, a true support system, and smarter eating.

What does this have to do with chicken?  Just about everything.  My online fitness coach helped me realize that I was lacking protein in most of my meals. This caused me to feel hungry, to be sluggish, and to crave sweets. As I did my own research on foods rich in protein and lower in fat, chicken repeatedly appeared.  Turkey, beans, lentils, nonfat plain Greek yogurt–these were already favorites of mine.  But chicken? Bleh. I sucked it up, though, and found that when stripped down and incorporated into healthful, clean recipes, chicken may be my new favorite thing.  Need proof?  I am lunching on crock pot salsa chicken over mixed greens and avocado right now.

I am now a meal-eater.  My husband and I were revealing in that fact last night. I have nearly cleaned my plate at every meal since January 4th when this began.  I know my metabolism is revved up, but I am also not filling myself with needless snacks. I am incorporating protein in every meal as well, which keeps me fuller longer and helps my body break down the fats and carbs I do consume.  Last night’s dinner–which I am calling Baked Chicken ala Yummy–was a perfect example of all of my new habits coming together. I ate chicken. I finished my meal. I woke up still full. 🙂

In full disclosure, this is an old recipe I happened upon years ago, maybe from a cooking show or online, that I tweaked to make my own.  I hadn’t cooked in ages, though. When Mom doesn’t want to eat chicken, Mom hardly cooks chicken.  Perhaps the best part of this dish is just how yummy your house smells while you bake it, hence the name.

I served this with a side of zucchini spaghetti, so I’ll include those directions as well.

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Baked Chicken ala Yummy

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

A tasty, simple chicken dinner the whole family can enjoy!

Ingredients

  • 2 chicken breasts, cut thin (or 4 cutlets)
  • 1 slice nitrate free turkey bacon, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1 large garlic clove, thinly slice
  • 1 tomato on the vine, diced
  • 1/3 cup part skim shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1 lemon for juicing, halved.
  • 1 large zucchini, spiraled into spaghetti (I use the Veggetti)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray the bottom of a large baking dish with non-stick spray.
  2. Place the 4 cutlets into your baking dish. Top with bacon, tomato, and garlic slices.  Sprinkle evenly with cheese.  Squeeze the juice of one-half of the lemon over the chicken.
  3. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes uncovered, then cover with foil for another 20 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through and your home smells good enough to eat.
  4. During the second phase of baking, bring 3 cups of water to a boil. Add zucchini spaghetti and boil for 6-8 minutes, depending on the consistency you prefer.  Drain, and top with the juice of the other half of the lemon.
  5. Serve warm.  Enjoy!

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You can play around with this recipe in countless ways: use traditional bacon, eliminate the lemon juice and drizzle everything with olive oil, add onion as well, you name it!  Before I was eating clean and trying to avoid as many processed foods as possible, I would serve this with a side of pre-packaged mashed potatoes or refrigerated crescent rolls or something of that sort. I have really been able to eliminate much of these types of foods and feel less bloated and overall much healthier. Give it a try and I am sure you will have similar benefits.

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Please comment below with ways you made this recipe your own! Happy cooking!

Grilled Pork Chops with Caramelized Pears & Onion

I am having the most exhilarating day. The baby slept well. My “big kids” stayed in their beds until morning. I started today with my sun salutation.  Baby Boy and I ventured to Target and I had a non-fat vanilla latte from Starbucks. Now, I’m writing while listening to The Killer’s Sam’s Town album. And I’ll continue this happy feeling with a good total body HIIT workout and delicious lunch when I finish this post. But what I must also contribute to this day’s bliss happened last night: I made a yummy, easy, clean dinner.

Growing up, my younger brother often joked that I was a “fruitarian,” as I rarely ate much else. I’ve expanded my palate since childhood, but fruit remains a staple in my diet. That’s why this dinner is one of my favorites.  I am sure there are countless recipes for pork chops with or without onions and pears, but I make a stripped-down version that is simple to throw together in a pinch that also contains lots of protein and fiber, healthy fats, and a slew of potassium while being low in sodium.

I recently purchased a fruit and veggie wash that I used on the pear.  It only takes a few spritzes before you would do the normal washing of the fruit.  This rinses away the dirt and chemicals that may linger.  The pears I cooked with were not organic, so the spray gives me peace of mind, if nothing else.  Plus, pears always look dingy to me regardless of how delicious they are inside!

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Before I threw together this recipe, I had never eaten a pork chop in my life.  After having my daughter five years ago, though, I was tired of pretty much making two dinners each night–one that would satisfy my husband’s food loves and one that satisfied mine.  We were both stuck with the staples of our childhoods and the fear of what we convinced ourselves we did not like.  Having a baby and being a working mom gently nudged me towards more adventurous eating, and that meant trying pork. Serving it with my all-time fave, fruit, was the perfect first step.  Give this recipe a try–even if your house isn’t full of pork lovers.  The flavorful combination of the onions and pears enhances the “other white meat.”  It sure worked for me.

INGREDIENTS

  • 3 cups brown rice
  • 4 pork chops, the thinner and leaner the better
  • 3 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • black pepper, to taste
  • garlic salt, to taste
  • 2 pears, sliced 1/4-inch thick (I used 2 green D’Anjou pears as the hold up well.)**
  • 1/2 Vidalia onion, roughly chopped
  1. Prepare the brown rice according to package directions.
  2. Heat 2 tbsp. EVOO in a non-stick pan. Add onions and pears, tossing frequently. Cook over medium heat for 5 min., then lower the heat to low for another five or until both take on a caramelized brown color at the edges.
  3. Coat the pork chops with EVOO and season to taste with black pepper and garlic salt. Grill 3-4 min. per side, depending on thickness.
  4. Plate rice, then top with a chop and the onions and pears. Serve immediately.

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You could easily trade out EVOO for the oil of your choice and use regular salt instead of the garlic salt.  We enjoy the simple flavor each provides.  If brown rice is bland for you, try preparing it in a low-sodium chicken or veggie broth for some added flavor. This recipe is quite basic, so you can easily make it your own.  Let me know how you enjoyed it, or if you have any changes you found work.

**Don’t have pears on hand?  I’ve made this with apples and it is equally yummy!