Friday, November 29, 2013

Holiday Gift Ideas for 2013

As the holidays near, I thought I would share a list of some of my favorite gift ideas for 2013. Many of these are homemade and frugal. Please share your own favorite gift ideas in the comments section.

Skin Care

  • Homemade hard lotion bars are a favorite for many of my friends and family.  Hard lotion works wonderfully as an all-purpose moisturizer as well as for extra-dry spots such as winter-time feet. A few of my friends even use a dab of hard lotion to style their hair.
  • Homemade whipped body butter is an all-purpose moisturizer that is lighter than hard lotion and applies very smoothly and easily.  One good way I have found to store it is in a deodorant-type container; that allows for it to be easily smeared on legs, arms, or anywhere else. Whipped body butter would also make a great belly moisturizer for any expectant mothers. 
  • Naturally tinted balm for lips or cheeks is a wonderful girlie gift.  Although I've never been much of a lip-color-wearer, I like to use this colored balm on my lips for special occasions.  My daughter has never been allowed to wear any makeup (she is only 6 & 1/2 after all), but when I received this colored balm it was great that she could try it out too because the ingredients were so natural and safe. In typical 6-year-old fashion, my daughter used the balm on her lips, cheeks, and eye lids too.  The color looks very natural, so even on a 6-year-old it didn't look gaudy (although obviously she is too young to wear makeup on a daily basis). 

Homemade Candles

  • Homemade tallow container candles are made using rendered beef tallow as candle wax. Tallow was traditionally used to make candles hundreds of years ago, and makes for pretty white candles.
  • Homemade beeswax and coconut oil candles impart a light, sweet smell to the air. This tutorial shows how to make them (I used unrefined coconut oil instead of palm oil).
  • Pure beeswax candles clean the air, burn slowly, and smell wonderful.  You can make your own using this tutorial.

Nature-Inspired Gifts

  • Sock bird feeders attract the cutest little birds.  I love to hang one in a spot where I can watch the birds from my living room. 
  • Flower seeds can make a great gift for any young child.  We like to collect seeds from our own flowers and package them up to give as gifts. 
  • A field guide for the local area makes a wonderful gift for any nature enthusiast or child.  We love to use our National Audubon Society Field Guide for the Southwestern States whenever we find a new creature in our yard or for exploring in the desert.

Real Foodie Gifts

All of these recipes store well, which makes them great for gift-giving. They are all grain-free.

Grandparent Gifts

  • Photo albums featuring the grandchildren are always welcomed by grandparents.
  • Handprint or footprint ornaments are gifts that can last a lifetime. Paint some silver paint onto your child's hand or foot, then place onto a large glass ball ornament; allow to dry and then write the year and child's name with a silver Sharpie
  • Letters, stories, or pictures made by the kids are also among our favorite grandparent gifts. If they are too young to write themselves, type up a story dictated by your child and print it on nice paper; I like to leave a space on each page for my daughter to draw a picture to accompany the text.

What are your favorite homemade gifts?

Friday, November 22, 2013

Book Review - Food Ninjas: How to Raise Kids to be Lean, Mean, Eating Machines by Matt Stone

When I learned that Matt Stone had a new book about feeding children, I was very interested to read it.  Some of you may remember that Matt's Diet Recovery book was very beneficial for me in starting on the path back to adrenal health (after my total adrenal crash while on the GAPS Diet).  Matt's new book is Food Ninjas: How to Raise Kids to be Lean, Mean, Eating Machines.

This book is relatively short and to-the-point.  Readers who want more of a scientific basis for Matt's ideas would probably benefit from reading Diet Recovery or one of Matt's other books that delve into more scientific details. For busy parents, the length of Food Ninjas is perfect.


Are We Setting Our Kids Up to Have A Poor Relationship With Food?

One of the overarching themes of Food Ninjas is that we need to foster healthy attitudes towards food in our children. By overly restricting their food options or by forcing them to eat certain foods, we may create in our children a very unhealthy relationship with food. One way to tell whether or not a child has a balanced relationship with food is to see what happens when they go to a birthday party with the usual cake and ice cream. Do the kids binge, or are they content to have a little and go along to something else?  

The premise of Food Ninjas is that, by teaching our children to listen to their bodies' hunger and craving cues, they will learn to eat in a way that will be the best for them.  Rather than urging parents to strictly control their children's eating habits, Matt gives the surprising advice that it is better to let the children figure out what to eat.  Parents should still make sure their are many healthy options available, but they need not worry about or try to control access to other foods as well.

I find Matt's Food Ninjas to be a great dose of fresh air.  By forcing our kids to eat what we decide for them, and by restricting what the kids are allowed to eat, we do set our children up psychologically to want the forbidden foods an inordinate amount.  For instance, the more I try to control how much ice cream and candy my kids are allowed to eat, the more they want to eat ice cream and candy.  Matt makes a very good point that the best way for kids to look at foods is to have a neutral attitude about all foods, rather than feeling like they are being deprived of certain foods and forced to eat others, which subsequently creates in our children the desire to have more of the foods we restrict and to hate the foods we want them to eat.

Matt says that, when we allow our children to eat as much as they want of any food that is available, we allow them to become in touch with their bodies' needs.  This allows the children to naturally eat more of whatever they need at any given time through intuitive eating.  Sometimes the children's bodies may signal them to eat huge amounts of meat or ice cream or bread, other times their bodies may signal that that not much food is needed. For this to work, we have to have an innate trust that the body does actually know what it needs, and move out of the way to allow our children to get in tune with their bodies.


My Own Experience with Intuitive Eating

When I was recovering from adrenal fatigue in early 2012, I finally gave in to what my body wanted after reading Matt's Diet Recovery book. What my body wanted was ice cream, lots of ice cream.  I had been restricting my sugar intake for years, thinking this was good for me.  When I finally gave in and allowed my body to eat as much ice cream as it wanted, I was amazed.

My energy levels skyrocketed and I felt so much better than I had in months. Though I had to struggle with the urge to micromanage my diet by thinking about what was best nutritionally, once I started actually listening to my body the signals were very clear.  My body wanted 3 bowls of (mostly homemade) ice cream a day; over time, my body's desire for ice cream naturally decreased, so that by 2 months later I really didn't want more than 1 or 2 bowls of ice cream a week.  It was very interesting for me to watch this process and see that my body really did show strong urges for what was needed at a specific time, and that following those urges really did lead to better health. (And did you know that ice cream is actually a superfood?)

Could This Really Work For My Kids?

Although I have had good experiences with intuitive eating myself, I am still a bit skeptical that my kids could both find a natural balance of healthy eating by using Matt's techniques.  My two kids have dramatically differing food personalities. 

I think my son (age 3&1/2) would do totally fine with a free-to-eat-whatever-you-want environment, as he seems to have been born with a preference for healthy, balanced eating.  He loves meat, pickles and all things sour, fruit, some veggies, bread, salmon, and pretty much anything we put in front of him.  He loves dessert, but he also self-limits the amount of dessert he eats (often leaving some behind if there is too much in front of him). 

My daughter (age 6&1/2) is totally different. Although she has always been raised in a "real food" household with lots of homemade foods (including dessert), my daughter has always had a poor appetite and poor weight gain (although her weight gain and appetite have improved dramatically in the last year through constitutional homeopathic treatment).  It seems like her metabolism was broken from the start, possibly because of the placenta issues I had while pregnant with her, which resulted in her being only 4 pounds at full term. Because we've always had a "no dessert until you eat dinner" policy, she does eat her dinner most of the time now, but what she really wants to eat (and would eat more of) is ice cream, chips, roasted/fried potatoes, raw milk, and anything sweet (fruit, candy, chocolate). 

Early last year, when I had such success in kick-starting my own adrenal health through Matt's Diet Recovery program, I decided to let my daughter have free reign on her diet. For about 3 months, I let her eat as much ice cream as she wanted, and pretty much eat as much or little of our meals as she wanted. I was really hoping this would help her start to finally gain weight (at the time she was only 29.5 pounds and 5 years old). And I hoped that by letting her have as much sweets as she wanted, she would get to the point where her body was no longer craving sweets so strongly and move onto more expanded food horizons.  But, at the end of the three months, her desire for sweets had not diminished at all, and I decided to stop this experiment upon realizing that she was actually losing weight.  She had lost 1.5 pounds over that 3 months of being allowed to eat whatever she wanted, and given how small she was to begin with, I was not comfortable with her losing weight.

 Things might be different now, though.  As I mentioned earlier, over the last year my daughter has had great weight gain through her constitutional homeopathic treatment; her appetite is much better now and she wants to eat a wider variety of foods now.  She's gained 7 pounds in the last year (previously she averaged 3-4 pounds a year, and had lost weight for the six months previous to starting the homeopathic treatment), along with lots of other signs of improved health (such as far fewer illnesses). Since her metabolism and appetite are much more balanced now, I am interested to implement Matt's suggestions to see if my daughter can develop a more healthy relationship with food.  She is rather fixated on sweets and dessert, and I would like her to be able to feel more neutral about those foods.  My restriction of her sweet intake could certainly be part of the reason she wants sweets so much (since she may feel deprived from them from a psychological standpoint).

Food Ninjas is Worth Reading

Overall, Matt's Food Ninjas book is worthwhile reading for any parent.  Whether or not you agree with his conclusions, taking some time to really think about our children's attitudes and relationships with food is valuable. In the end, I want my children to naturally eat what their bodies need, and to not be fixated on what they can't have.

Do your children have a healthy attitude towards food? Or do they binge on candy whenever they get the chance?

Disclosure: Matt Stone did provide me with a free copy of the Food Ninjas ebook (normally priced at $2.99) when I asked if I could review it for this blog. 

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Sunday, November 3, 2013

Our Top 10 Nutrient-Dense Breakfasts, Including How to Fry Eggs in Cast Iron

I've always loved breakfast.  As soon as I awake, I always feel a strong desire to eat breakfast.  And since first-thing-in-the-morning is the best time of day for us to homeschool, our breakfasts need to require little time or effort to prepare. Because I periodically make large batches of make-ahead breakfast items, getting breakfast on the table during the week is very quick and easy.

Our Top 10 Nutrient-Dense Breakfasts

These are the staple breakfast items in our home.  Most of these require preparation ahead of time.  I usually spend an hour or two each weekend making breakfast and snack items for the coming week.

  • Applesauce Spice Custard Cake: This is my husband's favorite breakfast.  It is smooth, creamy, a little bit tangy, and wonderfully spiced. This can be served warm or cold, and it works for GAPS, Primal, gluten-free, and grain-free diets.
  • Homemade Freezer Waffles: Smeared with butter and drizzled with maple syrup, this is our version of a classic breakfast.  These waffles are made from soaked whole grain and are gluten-free.
  • Mushroom and Cheddar Quiche: This quiche is an absolute favorite of my 3-year-old son, and the rest of us love it too.  It is great for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, and it works for GAPS, Primal, gluten-free, and grain-free diets.     
  • Pumpkin Pie Clafoutis: In the Fall and Winter months, we particularly enjoy eating pumpkin pie clafoutis.  I use my homemade pumpkin puree to make it, but canned pumpkin works well too. This recipe works for GAPS, Primal, gluten-free, and grain-free diets. 
  • Cinnamon Raisin Bread: This bread is soft, moist, and delicious! We usually eat cinnamon raisin bread as toast, with either a smear of butter or butter/cream cheese/honey on top.  I make a double batch of this bread, then slice it and freeze it in single servings so it is quick to prepare in the morning. It works for GAPS, Primal, gluten-free, and grain-free diets.
  • Fully-Loaded Toast (or Waffle): Both of my kids love to eat "fully loaded" toast. It is made by topping toasted white sourdough bread with butter, cream cheese, peanut butter, and jam. Since my daughter doesn't yet tolerate gluten well, we make hers a Fully-Loaded Waffle instead.
  • Fried Egg with Toast: My favorite breakfast includes a slice of toasted white sourdough bread, slathered with nutrient-dense butter, with a fried egg (or two).  For a side dish, I'll sometimes enjoy some tomato, avocado, or bread and butter pickles along with the toast and egg. My method for perfect fried eggs is as follows:
    • I like to cook my eggs in a well-seasoned cast iron skillet. The trick to preventing the eggs from sticking is to melt plenty of butter in the skillet, swirl it around well, and then add the eggs once the skillet is rather warm. Do NOT add eggs to a cool cast-iron skillet, else they will stick! I use about 2 tsp of butter per egg. 
    • Fry the eggs over medium heat in the melted butter. To make sure the yolks won't break, wait to flip the eggs until the whites are well set.  I then give the skillet a gentle shake to loosen the eggs before flipping them. 
    • I have one very small cast iron skillet that is perfectly sized to fry one or two eggs, and with a quick toss of the wrist I can flip the eggs without having to dirty a spatula.  My kids love to watch me do this, and they call it my magic trick.  If you're not feeling brave enough to flip eggs in that way, use a plastic spatula instead. (Flipping eggs is one of the rare uses for my nylon spatula; I prefer not to use plastic in any heated applications, but I find that my metal spatula breaks the egg yolks very frequently.)
    • As soon as I flip the egg(s), I turn off the heat and let the eggs cook for just a few seconds in the residual heat left in the skillet. Don't leave them too long, else the yolk will cook completely.
    • Sprinkle some celtic sea salt over each egg before serving.
  • Maple Banana Yogurt: My kids enjoy maple banana yogurt for breakfast. It is made by simply topping sliced banana with plain whole milk yogurt and a drizzle of maple syrup over the top. This is grain-free, gluten-free, Primal, and can be used for GAPS by just substituting honey for the syrup. 

  • Homemade Cookies: Homemade cookies make a wonderful breakfast, and my daughter especially likes to have cookies for breakfast. Since they are homemade and loaded with healthy ingredients such as butter/coconut oil, unrefined sweeteners, and pastured eggs, these cookies are a wonderfully nutritious breakfast treat any day of the week.
  • Egg on a Waffle: One breakfast we all enjoy (and sometimes eat for lunch, too) is a homemade waffle smeared with butter, topped with a fried egg, and drizzled with maple syrup over it all.  This unlikely combination is absolutely delicious!

What are your favorite breakfast foods?

This post is part of Traditional Tuesdays, Fat Tuesday, Natural Living Monday and Mostly Homemade Mondays!

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