Shopping For Real Food At Costco

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IMG_7326 I can’t help but think of one of our favorite, supremely stupidly funny movies, Idiocracy, whenever I shop at Costco. It’s that en mass, everything in bulk warehouse idea, that conjures up images of flats of Coke and huge boxes of Doritos and other junk foods. But I love Costco all around; for their affordability, their awesome company values, including paying a living wage and staying closed on turkey day, and the fact that for the most part, they listen to their customers. They also keenly watch trends in the marketplace, and for the past couple of years, before I even began to pay much attention, they started bringing in more and more organically grown produce, natural products and even grass-fed meat. Even though I make it a point to try and support local farmers and farmer’s markets as much as possible, Costco, especially for a family of 5, is a fantastic way to shop and save money, and as it turns out, even a great place to shop for real food.

I definitely have a method to how I shop Costco now, and although my cart looks a lot different than it did a couple of years ago, I still manage to spend about the same amount of money there. Each time I post a photo of my cart on Instagram, readers are amazed at what the offering is. So today I thought I’d share some tips on how I shop, what I look for and what I generally tend to buy only at Costco.

Most Cosctos are generally arranged the same way, with the somewhat non-perishables on the outer perimeter, refrigerated items including meats and frozen items in the center, as well as snacks and clothing, books, and other novelty items.

The first thing I do when I enter our Costco, which is in Cypress, California by the way, is walk the outer perimeter, starting with the bread section. I buy either Dave’s Killer Bread or Alpine Valley. Next to the bread section at my Costco, are the bulk chips and snack bags of chips, so I will see what’s new and usually either get Skinny Pop, Angie’s Popcorn, or Kettle brand organic potato chips. And fine, I also pick up some wine and a case of beer too, since alcohol is right next to the chips at my Costco. IMG_7333

I then make my way towards the meat and refrigerated section. Items I always buy here are cheddar cheese, either Kerrygold or Tillamook, and I only buy our Kerrygold grass-fed butter here, as it is hands down the cheapest place to buy. I’ll see what they have in terms of fish that day, and if they have something wild and from the US, I’ll pick some up. Depending on my current inventory at home, and if I’ll be making it to another market soon, I may or may not pick up the organic chicken breasts they sell there, as they’re perfect for making chicken nuggets. But most of my chicken comes from either local places or Mary’s. I used to buy the grass-fed ground beef there too, but since I belong to a beef CSA now, I have plenty of local grass-fed beef. These organic chicken sausages were awesome and contained no added sugars, although I haven’t seen them back since buying them last month. And the Kirkland wild caught smoked salmon is so good! IMG_7335

Next to our refrigerated section, is our produce. I don’t buy a ton of produce at Costco, since we have great farmer’s markets and belong to a CSA, but I do love certain things from there and I swear they are the best. Watermelons, grapes, and cantaloupes are always perfectly sweet. They usually have some organic boxed greens I’ll pick up, and their organic 10 lb bag of carrots is a great deal, although since we got rid of our 2nd fridge, I can no longer fit them in our single fridge. The great thing about Costco is their produce is not only marked country of origin, as required by law, but because it all comes packaged, the farms and cities are usually noted on their labels as well. When produce is in season, I’ll notice that the majority of it always comes from somewhat local, California farms, so I happily purchase. Once fruits and veggies move past their season, then I’ll start noticing their origin is usually out of state or out of country, then I’ll usually skip it, unless it’s something like bananas, which you can only get out of country. The whole shopping local thing is all personal, but just wanted to share how I try to stay mindful of this, even when shopping at someplace like Costco.

Next to the produce section I visit the frozen section and if we are low, I pick up bagged organic berries, perfect for smoothie making, and a great deal. They also sometimes have things like frozen wild caught salmon, frozen organic brown rice, and a few other novelty items, but the prices on those aren’t particularly stellar, so I try not to waste valuable fridge and freezer space on those bulk items.

Drinks border our freezer and refrigerated section, so I’ll see what they have. My husband has grown addicted to Honest Tea, in his quest to kick soda, so if it’s on special I’ll pick up a case. I buy a case of organic drink boxes every few months for when we have play-dates and to put in the kid’s lunches on occasion, but mainly we just send them with water. I noticed last time that they even began carrying organic lemonade made with organic cane sugar, and it was a great price. The kids loved it. IMG_7322

The bulk foods section is where I really do some damage. There are several items in this section that I only buy at Costco, including organic maple syrup, organic olive oil, organic peanut butter and some organic grains. I always browse up and down these aisles to see what’s new, and will almost always find new or old grains to try, including quinoa and rice, oatmeal, pastas and even flaxseed meal. Since I make my own stock now, I no longer buy the Kirkland organic chicken stock, but when I did, it was always great and a good value.

Before I head out to check-out, I visit the snacks section. This is where the best ever baked apple chips are located, which only have 2 ingredients; apples and cinnamon. I occasionally buy other little packaged organic snacks, and also get Taylor the packages of seaweed, but for the most part, stick with simple. When I bring anything into the house that comes in a little package, the kids go nuts for it and I practically have to lock it up.

If you skimmed through this list, the main things I only buy at Costco include Kirkland organic maple syrup, which we use as a sugar replacement in most recipes now, Kerrygold grass-fed butter, Alpine Valley organic bread, Kirkland organic peanut butter, and Kirkland organic olive oil. These products are all great and very affordable in bulk in comparison to purchasing at a regular store.

My main advice at Costco is to not get overwhelmed, walk the perimeters and get familar with the store, and if oyu don’t see enough orgnaic or natural food options at your Costco, speak to your store manager.



Nutty Baked Granola

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Nutty Baked Vegan Granola

I’ve been making Gwyneth’s simple 3 ingredient granola for over a year now, and interchanging quinoa and oats on a rotating basis. The kids love the simplicity of the oats version, and I love the earthiness of the quinoa version, and while the age old motto “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” usually runs true, I did feel like adding a little something-something to our typical plain granola, and so made this one. Plus, it seems that the plain granola goes a lot quicker, and having some add-ins helps to stretch the quantity out much more.

Truth be told I haven’t tasted a whole big chunk of this lovely stuff yet, since it does have sugar, but I did taste a pepita just to make sure it baked up well, and the little nibble I got was amazing. The kids are loving it too, and have been serving it for breakfast, as well as packing it in lunches alongside a little dipper of yogurt.
Nutty Baked Vegan Granola
To get nice big chunks, follow the same method I use for the quinoa granola, and gently press it together and down on the baking sheet, so that it forms together in one big piece. Then, when done baking, you simply break off big chunks. Of course some chunks will crumble into little pieces, but that’s okay.

Since many granola is made with butter, which requires an additional step of melting on the stove, I decided I wanted to stick with the idea from It’s All Good, of using olive oil in place of butter, which can easily be whisked with your sweetener, requiring no additional heating steps. One less thing to do is always nice in my book. Plus, using olive oil instead of butter makes it perfect for vegans, or those trying to watch their animal product intake.

Can’t wait to dig into a big bowl of this stuff soon! Baked Granola

Nutty Baked Granola
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
A versatile recipe that can be made using a variety of add-ins, is vegan friendly, and can be gluten-free. Recipe adapted from 100 Days Of Real Food.
Author:
Recipe type: Breakfast
Cuisine: American
Serves: 8
Ingredients
  • 3 cups rolled oats or quinoa flakes, if sensitive to oats
  • 1 cup raw cashews
  • ½ cup raw pepitas
  • 1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • ½ tsp ground nutmeg
  • ½ tsp ground cloves
  • ½ cup maple syrup
  • ⅓ cup olive oil
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • sea salt
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper
  2. Mix all dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl
  3. Whisk olive oil, maple syrup and vanilla in a separate bowl
  4. Combine the olive oil mixture with the dry ingredients and stir to combine
  5. Spread onto the baking sheet, pressing down so that the granola sticks together
  6. Bake for 60 to 75 minutes
  7. Allow to cool, and break granola into small and large chunks.

 



DIY Geometric Necklace

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Geometric necklace DIY

In the summer heat I always find it a bit of a challenge to accessorize. Daunting a scarf is no-go in 101-degree temperatures. Bulky jewelry also starts to feel heavy and uncomfortable. For this summer I wanted to craft a couple quick and easy pieces of jewelry that I could wear with lots of outfits so I made this DIY geometric necklace that was so light-weight I forgot I was wearing it! It’s also very fashionable, neutral, and just overall very cool.

What you will need:

Geometric necklace DIY

– 1″ to 3/4″ wood blocks

– a drill with a drill bit big enough to fit the end of your necklace through it

– painters tape

– craft paint and a paint brush

– a necklace chain

Geometric necklace DIY

Step 1: The first step is to turn those cute little wooden blocks into beads. To drill a hole, I firmly held the block against a piece of scrap wood and drilled a hole completely through the block. For each of the blocks I drilled the hole in at a different angle so that each bead hangs at a different angle on the necklace.

Geometric necklace DIY

Step 2: Next, I wanted to add some simple details to each bead. I taped off sections of the bead at funky angles using painters tape.

Geometric necklace DIY

Geometric necklace DIY

Step 3: Then, with craft paint, I painted the taped off sections of the bead. A couple coats of paints did the trick.

Geometric necklace DIY

 

Step 4: Once the paint completely dried I removed all the tape, revealing clean geometric lines that make each bead unique and interesting.

Geometric necklace DIY

Geometric necklace DIY

Step 5: For the final step I simply strung the beads on my necklace chain!

Geometric necklace DIY

Geometric necklace DIY



Daily Style Holding Onto Summer

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IMG_7518 Skirt – Anthropologie; Classic Button-up – J. Crew; Sandals – Red Valentino; Necklace – Anthropologie

Those who live outside of Southern California, brace yourselves for a lot of complaining from those of us who do reside here. September is when Summer really starts around here, and while some parts of upstate New York can expect to receive some snow flurries this week, we will be sweating it out in 105 degree heat. The official first day of Fall is September 23rd, but we won’t see leaves fall until at least late October. IMG_7516 IMG_7521 This means, you may still see me in some short skirts and light sundresses for a few more weeks. Consider it some outfit inspiration for next Summer.
IMG_7535 Hope you all had a great weekend, no matter what your current weather condition may be.



Week In Review

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cooking-in-the-kitchen The past couple of weeks have been a turning point for me, and I finally feel like things are settling down, and I’m catching up. You don’t really grasp how different things were, until they have changed, and to see my progress in health, reduction of stress, and increase of sleep over the last couple of weeks has been awesome. I’ve been writing more extensively about what’s been going on with me, over on my Babble column, so below I share some of my most recent posts where I’ve shared my struggles and accomplishments recently. And apologies if it sounds like I’m being overly-dramatic or as someone else noted, even self-congratulatory, but I think we all struggle more with a various number of things than we ever let on in social media, and when we’ve finally turned a corner, we tend to get a little pumped.

With that being said, one of the first big steps I took towards slowing down my mind, and becoming a bit more productive, was to take Twitter and Facebook off my phone. Please note, the original title of the article was 5 Ways My Life Improved When I Took Facebook & Twitter Off My Phone. My editor changed it to I Took Facebook and Twitter Off My Phone, and I’m a Better Mom For It. Wildly different meanings and insinuations don’t you think? I was a little miffed, as the last thing this was about was making me a better mom, and the last thing I want to do is spark more mommy wars. Rest assured ladies, I’m still a flawed, imperfect, sometimes shitty mom, I just happen to be getting a few more things done these days. Consequently, I think the click-baiting title helped it to get picked up by ABC News, so what do I know about online journalism?!?

When I realized that my constant fatigue wasn’t just a case of being a mom, and how I sought to get some help.

How I Changed My Life In 14 Days. Besides taking Twitter and Facebook off my phone, I’ve done a few other small/big things that add up to big results, and I’m truly feeling better as a result of all them. Please note, my life is essentially the same, I’m just more rested and less stressed, which is I guess, sort of life-changing. Would any of these help you?

Lastly, Is The Homemade Dinner An Obsolete Concept? A recent study somewhat suggests so, but is it really time to give up the struggle to get dinner on the table? Or do we just need to find a better way?

Speaking of finding a better way, does anyone have an recommendations for a good cookbook or site that offers healthy, read no canned condensed soup, crockpot recipes? Next week, our schedules change quite a bit since Taylor will be starting swim practice and meets 3 days a week. It’s a big jump for our family and I’m thinking crockpot meals will help. Thanks in advance!

I read a lot of news articles this week, but didn’t find anything particularly juicy to share with you, but I did love this: Celebrities Read the Mean Tweets You Write. Now, if only we could all laugh out our own critics!

On my wishlist this week are 2 new books: 100 Days of Real Food and another cookbook, Danielle Walker’s Against All Grain: Meals Made Simple

In case you missed it this week, details of the 21 day cleanse I’m currently doing, on day 12 and going strong and truly feeling so much better!

Lunchbox review and questions answered, as well as plenty of ideas for healthy kid’s lunches.

Novica giveaway, 2 winners will each win a $75 Novica store credit!

Alright, back to finishing up my weekend project, switching out all the hangers in my closet to matching ones. I picked up these Real Simple” target=”_blank”>Real Simple ones from Bed, Bath and Beyond, and I looooove them! My organized inner-self is so happy!



Potato Nachos Plus A Novica Giveaway

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Novica1 A few months ago, Novica reached out to me to see if I could write a few pieces for their blog, to help promote their product offering. I jumped at the opportunity because I tremendously respect what they’re doing, and the items they sell are truly beautiful. You can read in detail about Novica’s mission here, but basically, they help connect artisans from around the world, pair them a fair price for their goods, and in turn help connect them with the global marketplace. Not only does their business model help support and foster sustainable local economies around the world, but they also help to preserve artistic traditions so they don’t get buried in the sands of time. Truly awesome, awesome stuff. I was more than honored to share some of their goods with you today, and at the bottom, there will be a giveaway you can enter. And yes, Novica is affiliated with National Geographic, so even more reason to love them.
Novica2

In return for my time in writing and creating posts for Novica, they gifted me a shop credit, which I was excited to apply towards some serving ware, and the clutch you saw in yesterday’s post.  I chose these beautiful dipped pieces from an artist named Victor Hugo Lopez, who specializes in hand-carved wood serving pieces. You can read each artists’ profile when you are browsing their site, and learn more about their craft, their hometown and even their family. Each piece is lovingly wrapped with care when it arrives, along with a personalized tag that tells you about each piece. Truly amazing thought and details that goes into these orders. Novica3

When my serving pieces arrived, I immediately thought “Mexican” for dinner! And so I made some potato nachos, which are really making me hungry right now considering I’m two weeks away from being able to devour this deliciousness!  Novica4

Making the potato nachos are relatively easier and somewhat healthier since you’re not using fried chips. I sliced my potatoes perfectly in an food processor which made my life a lot easier, but you can cut these into steak wedges and they would work just as well. Simply toss with some olive oil, salt and pepper, and then bake at 400 for about 15 minutes. I like to set the broiler on high and let them brown up just a bit, for about 2-3 minutes, being careful not to burn them. Novica5

Serve alongside standard nachos toppings like lettuce, tomato, cheese and salsa for a meatless Monday version, or add some sliced chicken or ground beef to make this a heartier meal, but really the vegetarian option is plenty filling on account of the potatoes. Novica6 The generous people at Novica are offering my readers a giveaway. 2 winners will receive a gift credit to Novica, valued at $75 each. To enter, simply follow the prompts below, and I’ll announce the winner next Friday September 19th. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway



Daily Style – 20th High School Reunion

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IMG_7385 Dress – Nordstrom; Shoes – Shoemint Faith; Clutch – Novica

A few weeks ago I attended my 20th class reunion. I wasn’t entirely sure what to wear since it wasn’t going to be much more than a cocktail hour, and wanted to look nice but didn’t want to overdress, or look like I was trying too hard. So I landed on this dress I got a few months ago for my birthday and felt just fine. I think it was a good sign of maturity that I didn’t feel the need to buy something new, even though I did try on a few things, nothing was cute enough to justify a purchase of another dress when I already had this cute one at home. IMG_7393 IMG_7409 I styled it a bit differntly with newish heels and a clutch I received from Novica last month. I love the clutch and the concept of Novica and what they’re doing over there. I’ll share more tomorrow about this division of National Geographic, as well as a recipe and giveaway, so please visit back tomorrow. IMG_7394 Happy Wednesday, it feels good to be back here again on a regular basis. Three posts already this week, who am I?!? IMG_7404



The Great Lunchbox Debate

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lunch-6 I’m convinced that finding the “perfect” lunchbox for kid’s school lunches is the same as finding the perfect stroller; perfect doesn’t exist so you just try to find the best one out there. I embarrassingly spent a lot of time this summer reviewing several different lunchbox systems before I took the plunge and invested in a Planetbox. Before doing so, we had been using Ziploc bags for a couple of years, and then last year we used the Easy Lunchboxes and the Goodbyn. I wanted more of a bento style system though, so my search began. If you want a quick breakdown of all the most widely used systems by weight, size, and how much each holds, visit Wendolonia’s site, as that’s the first thing I did. For a breakdown of how each works though, with the positives and negatives, read on.

We have 3 systems, and all are great, with the Planetbox leading the pack, followed by Easy Lunchboxes and then the Goodbyn. I try to keep the kid’s lunches simple each day and don’t do elaborate animal faces and other food art, but do go for variety, as I notice the kids eat more and better with a nice variety. No doubt about it, the food just looks more appealing to their senses than a smooshed up sandwich in a bag, even though they may taste the same. I feel like these kids are like pampered royalty sometimes, considering the lunches I grew up with, but since they don’t buy lunch, never have and have zero interest in it, I figure I may as well make the best of the situation. Read on for a review and breakdown of each system.

Planetbox Rover
The creme de la creme of lunchboxes, I’ll start with the positives before I give the honest downsides of this behemoth.
Positives: Made of stainless steel so it lasts for years as confirmed by countless reviews, has no questionable plastics, for those still concerned about non-BPA plastic, essentially good for the planet all around. Compartments are a great portion size for preschool through elementary kids, and larger compartment containers allow for bigger servings for adults, as I found the lunch I packed for myself to be a bit small. The lid pretty much locks everything into place so food doesn’t jumble together, although it makes no claims to be leak-proof. Still, food stays pretty well intact and therefore remains looking nice and fresh, and appealing to kids. I can confirm that my own kids are eating more of their lunches than they ever did before just because the foods don’t touch (Syd has a real issue with this), and they remain looking pretty! Several compartments also means you can offer a lot of variety, which also has a lot to do with why kids tend to eat more. For the most part, the flat and long ice pack sold separately work quite well at keeping the Planetbox nice and cold, and the lunchbox carrier, also sold separately, is pretty slim lined and fits inside both my kid’s small and larger size backpacks. lunch-3

Negatives: The Planetbox is definitely an investment, as it’s pricey. Once you buy the lunch holder and ice pack, you’re in about $60. I tried 3 other standard size lunch pails we have here at home, and none of them fit the odd size of the Planetbox. I’m sure you can search high and low, and find one, but it would probably be large and bulky, so I shelled out the additional $10 for the lunch pail. The thing is heavy too, so if you’ve got really little ones, they may have some trouble transporting the thing! It weighs almost 4 pounds with the food and ice pack inside, which doesn’t seem like a lot, but for little kids it packs a punch. I just had to order Taylor a rolling backpack because in 4th grade she is so bogged down with books she couldn’t carry it all ha! As far as size goes, it is slim lined so they fit into one of our drawers stacked on top of each other, but if space is an issue, this might be a hindrance. The bit and little dippers the Rover comes with are great for separating out foods and limiting “cross contamination” for the really picky kids, but they are awkward and a pain to open, I fumble with them continuously. And they each come with a silicone ring to help keep them somewhat leak proof, and they always manage to fall into the kids food, or I can’t get the dang thing out of the little one especially. If it falls into Syd’s applesauce or hummus, he’s done, won’t touch it, but Taylor doesn’t care. IMG_7688

Overall Review:
While the Planetbox is expensive and bulky, if you can swing it, it’s a great investment, as I have noticed a remarkable difference in how much food my kids eat, and the variety. Clean up, despite the annoying little dipper, is a breeze, and I’m amazed at how cool the food stays, since my kid’s lunches sit outside until lunch time. However, if you’re concerned about cost and price, read below for a couple of other good options. lunch1

EasyLunchboxes
Similar to the Ziploc containers, these are a bit more slim lined and come with different colored lids to help keep track of kid’s lunches, I’ve been very happy with our Easy Lunchboxes and was surprised to see them hold up so well over the school year last year. lunch-9

Positives: First off, these containers are affordable, making them a huge plus in my book! I love that these containers are stackable, therefore great if you’ve got limited space. The lids are color-coded, which if you’re packing several kid’s lunches at once, and they all have something different, you can easily keep track of them. There’s not a lot of little compartments, but the one large compartment can easily be modified with inserting silicone baking cups, or the EasyLunchboxes “Mini-Dippers” , which at 2.5 ounces, hold a good amount of liquid or a few berries/raisins, etc. The whole system is leak-proof, including the small little dippers, and the lids are really easy to remove, although don’t pop off easily. Because these containers are plastic, I find that they don’t stay quite as cold as I’d like them to, even with an ice pack, so foods like string cheese wither pretty quickly, even in cooler weather, but overall they do okay for regular sandwiches and produce items. Because of the one large compartment, these are also good for adult lunches, making them a nice system for the whole family to share. And as I said above, ours are over a year old and still going strong. Also, all parts are machine washable, top rack only, and they fit into most standard lunch pails.IMG_7691 , which at 2.5 ounces, hold a good amount of liquid or a few berries/raisins, etc. The whole system is leak-proof, including the small little dippers, and the lids are really easy to remove, although don’t pop off easily. Because these containers are plastic, I find that they don’t stay quite as cold as I’d like them to, even with an ice pack, so foods like string cheese wither pretty quickly, even in cooler weather, but overall they do okay for regular sandwiches and produce items. Because of the one large compartment, these are also good for adult lunches, making them a nice system for the whole family to share. And as I said above, ours are over a year old and still going strong. Also, all parts are machine washable, top rack only, and they fit into most standard lunch pails. lunch-8

Negatives: While made of BPA free plastic, some may still have some concerns about the plastic breaking down over time, and the plastic can hold the scent of strong smelling foods for a period of time. The only other real drawback for me and these lunchboxes, is that the main compartment is too large, so if I want to pack more of a variety, I have to use a couple of more containers, which is more stuff to wash, but it’s not the end of the world.  lunch-4

Overall Review:
I would say if you’re interested in trying out more bento style lunches, and need some new containers for the family, this is a good place to start, as you can test the waters for not a lot of dough. Make sure to get a set of the EasyLunchboxes “Mini-Dippers” though.

Goodbyn Bynto Food Container

Positives: Brightly colored and made of really sturdy BPA plastic, these are affordable lunch box options for both kids and adults, as the 3 compartment system holds plenty of food. They also sell little Goodbyn Stickers
to help customize each lunchbox, and recently started selling insert containers to make these more of a bento style lunch box. They’ve held up nicely over the last year, although we admittedly don’t use them as much as our other lunch box systems. These are pretty leak-proof, the foods don’t touch and stay in place, and these are dishwasher safe, top rack only. lunch-7 lunch-5

Negatives: The individual containers are pretty large, holding too much food for my kids really. I’ve solved this problem by using separate inserts and such, but it adds up to a lot of washing of little parts. The lids are sort of cumbersome, as they’re hard to really get on good, you need to give them a good push on all sides to get them to pop close. The containers, while they fit into one another, don’t collapse down as you can see, so they aren’t great for saving space, as 2 Goodbyns are taller than 4 Easy Lunchboxes. They are also somewhat big, and while they do fit into our Garnet Hill lunch pails, it’s a tight fit and we can’t squeeze anything else in there, so they may not fit into all lunch pails. I really wanted to love these ones, but I just don’t. IMG_7692

Overall Review:
While many people love this container, it’s not our favorite, but is certainly a sturdy and affordable option, especially for older kids who naturally eat a lot more and don’t care much about a variety of pretty foods all separated in neat little containers.

There’s a myriad of other options out there. The Yumbox Leakproof Bento Lunch Box Container looks amazing! The original bento style system is affordable, compact and leak-proof, holding a variety of foods for young kids. It holds less than the Planetbox, making it ideal for younger children, but I’ve ordered one just to try it out. Their new Panino system looks great for older kids though.

Overall, the kids love their Planetbox, I just wish it wasn’t so dang heavy and expensive. If you know your kids will love this kind of lunch and have had your eye on the system but have been hesitant, I would say go for it; it’s an investment but it really does make packing lunches kind of fun, if that’s even possible. And the kids actually take a greater interest in packing it than they ever did with our other lunch boxes.

But, if you’re not sure if it would get much use, try a less expensive option like the Easy Lunchboxes or the Yumbox Leakproof Bento Lunch Box Container
. My kids only eat lunch from home, and have never even bought at school, nor do they want to, so we’re in this thing for the long haul, might as well make it fun and as easy as possible.

I hope this review helps and answers a lot of questions, if I’ve missed one, leave a comment and I’ll add it in!



21 Day Cleanse

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21-Day-Cleanse I woke up last Tuesday and decided to start a cleanse, and that was that. While the decision came easily and my mind was made up with absolute certainty, I didn’t really just wake up out of the clear blue sky and decide to do this. 2013 was in many ways a great year for me. Family life was good, work was good, and to help improve things, our whole family started eating better. For a good portion of time, I felt a lot of really positive effects from changing how we ate, and benefited from a lot of self-education about diet and nutrition. Things were moving right along, even though we dealt with a couple of hiccups along the way; including recurrent strep for both Syd and I. As you know, Syd had his tonsillectomy in November 2013, and even though I had already dealt with about 4 cases of strep that year, his ENT assured me that by him getting his tonsils removed, my strep issues would most certainly go away. I felt hopeful.

They didn’t though, and about 3 weeks ago, I dealt with my 7th case of strep throat since August 2013, and 10 total cases of strep in the past 18 months. 2014 has been a bit rockier than previous years, with kid’s activities increasing, the demands of Art’s job increasing, and while Hayden is still a relatively easy child, as he neared 2, normal child development behavior fell in line. All in all, we just all seem to have a lot more on our plate, and for the past 6-9 months I have been continuously exhausted, more so than just typical “mom” fatigue. I had consistent insomnia where at least 4-5 nights a week I would be up for the day at 3 or 4 am, never falling back asleep. I would count down the minutes till Hayden’s nap, and have zero energy to be productive during that precious 1.5-2 hour window. I would dread school pick-up, and the ensuing homework, activity, and dinner prep routine. And oh the back aches I’ve experienced this year; they’ve been debilitating.

I’ve been exhausted before, but usually a good night’s sleep would cure most of what was ailing me. But this was relentless chronic fatigue that was clearly affecting my life. Not only was I struggling to juggle work and typical house duties like paying the bills (on time), but I couldn’t concentrate, finding it took me hours to complete something that would normally take me half the time. My creativity nose-dived, I had constant writer’s block, and while I didn’t feel depressed per se, all this lack of productivity definitely affected my overall mood and self-esteem. I wasn’t just being lazy because I needed a break; I felt dead tired and wanted to work, create and be productive, but just couldn’t. And zero energy meant a vicious cycle ensued where I would  be too tired to cook or prepare a good lunch for myself, so I would snack, and then wouldn’t have any energy from food, so would be even more tired, and on and on. While I was still buying great, wholesome foods and was still strictly avoiding processed and fast food, consuming healthy food alone doesn’t have the same positive affects as continuing with healthy habits.

So when the most recent case of strep knocked me down hard for a few days, I knew I needed to make some serious changes, and I started by going to see an ENT. My doctor’s appointment helped a lot and will get into that later after I get some test results back, but in addition to a few other simple changes I’ve made over the last few weeks, deciding to go on this cleanse has been a big part of me recapturing some of my health.

Cleanse Details
21 day cleanse, mostly following the detox program outlined in It’s All Good, which is based off of Dr. Junger’s Clean Program. There are a hundred different cleanse and detox programs out there, but I chose to do this one because I am already so familiar with the background, principles, recipes and I don’t have to worry about supplements or any other add-ons. In the mornings I drink a pressed green juice with some combinations of greens, cucumber or celery, an apple, lemon and some ginger and herbs, or if my stomach is feeling a little acidic, I juice a less acidic drink like beets, apples & carrots along with some ginger. The juice is my breakfast. Then for a morning snack I have some nuts or an apple with some nut butter, or maybe a pear. For lunch I have a lean protein along with some vegetables, or a ton of veggies over some grains like brown rice or gluten-free pasta. In the afternoon I have another drink as my snack, either a smoothie or a pressed juice. Then for dinner a repeat of lunch, although I’ve been finding that as long as I have some protein in the evening, and not just a strictly vegetarian meal, I am less hungry closer to bed time and it helps with my urges to snack. And that’s it, no snacking in between, which when I pay attention, I do a lot of mindless snacking. Finishing the kid’s meals for them, picking at food when I’m preparing meals, leaving me less hungry at meal time, or pushing off meal time so much that I wind up starving, and then reach for the junk (even though my junk is pretty clean, like basic potato chips, it’s still pretty empty calories); basically all the typical stuff we urge our kids not to do.

Elimination Details
Foods I’m eliminating from my diet include: dairy, soy, red meat, shellfish, caffeine, alcohol, nightshades, wheat, gluten and sugar. While there are widely varying degrees to which people and science can and do proclaim these things are either all good or horrible for us, most can agree that these particular set of food categories can be extremely taxing on our digestive system, causing a lot of our bodily energy to go towards digestive work. When you eliminate these hard-to-digest foods, you free up much of the energy wasted on initiating immune responses. This PDF explains the reason why each category is part of this elimination diet, and while a lot of the medical jargon can easily be googled, I can’t say I agree that these foods need to be eliminated on a continual basis for every person. I’ll most likely go back to eating wheat and limited dairy, red meat, caffeine and alcohol. I will most definitely be watching my sugar intake more closely going forward though.

Why this Cleanse?
One of the important points that came out of my meeting with my ENT was learning that I’ve been living with strep this whole time, and never getting rid of it completely. This means my body has been constantly fighting to stay well, an easy reason as to why I’ve been so dang exhausted this year. She has me on a cleansing protocol to help clear out the infection, without the use of antibiotics and definitely without the need for a tonsillectomy myself, which is brutal at my age. For this I am so thankful and appreciative! While my ENT did not personally recommend a cleansing diet, after a LOT of research, I decided it wouldn’t be a bad idea to help restore gut health after all the doses of antibiotics over the past year, and give my body a chance to rest and reset, and reduce inflammation (hello backaches!). This cleanse is pretty close to those following an Autoimmune Protocol Diet, and while I have not been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, and probably do not have one, the principles behind AIP diets are definitely beneficial to those suffering from chronic infections.

How I’m Feeling
The first 3 days were terrible. Actually, day 1 started off strong, but by 4 pm I got a horrendous caffeine withdrawal headache, which feels like a really bad tension headache. Day 2 was horrible, I felt like I was in a fog all day in addition to the tension headache, and day 3 was more of the same. By day 4, I woke up feeling a ton better, and my day 5, I was feeling fantastic. Yesterday was day 6 and we spent the day at Disneyland in 100 degree heat, came home and cooked dinner, then went out to the market for a bunch of groceries, then came home and cleaned out the fridge and put all the groceries away. I can’t tell you the last time I felt that good and had that much energy. In a nutshell, I feel dramatically different than I felt this time last week, and better than I’ve felt all year. I’ve made a few other changes that have helped my mental attitude and helped me sleep better, which improves everything, but I’ll share more about htat later. With that said, me feeling fantastic may have a bit to do with the cleanse as well as a couple of other recent changes, but I know I can attribute a lot to the cleanse.

I’ve really only “dieted” a couple of times before, both after having Taylor and Syd when I was trying to lose the “baby weight.” The meal plans I followed back then, first Jillian Michael’s and then a protein and raw veggie diet recommended by my boot-camp instructor, left me feeling completely restricted and I mentally had a hard time sticking with it. This cleanse is the most intense eating plan I’ve ever followed, and yet I feel the best about it. I have cravings here and there, but they’re not super intense, and because I’m not restricting calories or portions, I don’t feel hungry. I think the fact that I was able to resist Disneyland corn dogs on this cleanse says a lot about the program, and my mindset. This time, I’m doing this for my health, not just to reach a number on the scale, and that alone makes a world of difference in my mental attitude.

And this is the part where I have to eat a little bit of crow. When I started this journey over a year ago, I didn’t anticipate that I’d ever be writing a column about wellness and nutrition. As you guys know, I have no formal training in this, all of which I’ve learned in the past year has been self-taught and I’ll be the first to admit that it has been a long and huge learning curve. Each article I write at Babble has to be backed with credible evidence, and I can tell you that in the world of health and nutrition, you can find proponents to support all ways of eating; Paleo versus vegan, whole grains versus grain-free, legumes versus legume-free; it’s ridiculous and exhausting trying to weed through the information. All this to say, you can find evidence to support any way of eating, and for a while there I tried too hard to figure it all out and figure out the “best” way. But really, the best way is what works for you. Of course there’s some things we can all agree on that are bad and good for you, but the jury is still out on whether grains really do cause problems for everyone, or only certain individuals, if people who don’t have Celiacs can be gluten intolerant, and if all can fully function on veganism. The same goes for elimination diets. I’ve made a few quips here and there about how you don’t have to eliminate whole food groups to eat healthy and be healthy. While I still firmly believe that if you’re consuming quality products, you can certainly be healthy on any type of REAL FOOD, I now see through my own experience, that there’s nothing wrong with testing the waters to see if eliminating certain foods will improve your health. I want to support anyone who’s trying to just live the best lives they can; it’s not my place to say what’s right or wrong. Lord knows scientists and doctors can’t even figure it all out!

I’ll continue the cleanse diet for another 2 weeks, and then slowly add back in foods to see how I do with them. I’m hopeful that the cleanse, along with some of the other changes I’ve made will allow me to go back to eating all these foods on the elimination list with no ill effects, but to be sure, I’ll slowly add them in one by one. Although I’m fairly certain I’ll dive head first back into a glass of wine.

Let me know if you have any questions! As always, thanks for your support guys! And of course don’t forget, if you want to follow along, join me on Instagram to get a glimpse of what I’m eating most days during the cleanse.



Homemade Water Kefir

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organic water kefir Fermented probiotic beverages are all the rage right now, and I am 100% on board! About a month ago I started making water kefir and it’s turned into a fun little hobby with health benefits. My family really enjoys the tangy, fizzy drink that is chockfull of probiotics and other nutrients.

Making water kefir is much easier than I ever thought it could be. You might be familiar with milk kefir. The fermentation process is basically the same, except instead of lactose in milk, the beneficial bacteria uses sugar dissolved in water to create a delightful probiotic beverage. Milk kefir grains cannot be used to make water kefir, and vice versa. And milk kefir has way more probiotics and health benefits, but we like water kefir as a healthy alternative to soda. bubbly kefir water I purchased my water kefir grains from Cultures For Health. They come freeze-dried and require several days of rehydration to activate them. If you’re on the look out for kefir grains (water or milk) check local health food store bulletin boards, Craigslist, and through social media. I find people are more than happy to share. There are even Facebook groups where members share cultures and information about fermenting kefir, kombucha, vinegar, and other probiotic beverages.  water kefir grains The process is as easy as can be. Once it gets going you’ll have a new batch of water kefir every other day or so. I like to do a second fermentation which results in a bubbly “soda,” but that’s an optional step. It’s perfectly fine to drink after the first fermentation. using water kefir grains The kind of sugar and water used matter a lot. The culture readily consumes plain old white sugar, but requires more minerals to maintains the health of the kefir grains. Raw sugars such as evaporated cane juice, turbinado, jaggery, or sucanat are recommended. If I use white granulated sugar, I make sure it’s cane sugar, preferably organic. Honey has its own enzymes and other things that may interfere with the fermentation process, so it’s best to stick with sugar. Maple syrup and coconut sugar, or other natural sugars might be okay, but always let the grains rest and rejuvenate in plain sugar water occasionally or they might stop working or die off. I do know of people who have successfully used honey, maple, or coconut sugar effectively, but if you’re a beginner, start with sugar. organic evaporated cane juice It’s important to use filtered water. If the filter removes minerals, like reverse osmosis, they will need to be added back in. There are several ways to do that – adding 1/4 teaspoon of molasses, baking soda, or a pinch of sea salt (not all three) will add just enough minerals. There are also mineral drops available. Tap water often contains chlorine, fluoride, and even lingering pesticides which can harm the kefir grains. I have a reverse osmosis filter in my kitchen, which works fine, but I do add a pinch of sea salt in with the sugar and water for the added minerals. making-water-kefir Fermentation time varies a little, but typically 24 hours is sufficient for the first fermentation; maybe 48 hours if the room temperature is on the cooler side. It’s important to keep feeding those grains, so anything beyond 1-2 days may actually injure them. I know people who ferment for longer, but add a little sugar each day to keep the grains active. I did leave some to ferment for 5 days as an experiment and the grains recovered, but I wouldn’t let that become a habit.

A second fermentation is optional, but will result in a fizzy “soda” that is utterly delightful. The second fermentation is done without the kefir grains. They are filtered out and a new batch immediately started. For the second fermentation, fruit or fruit juice, herbs, or spices can be used to flavor it. I usually use about 1/4 cup of 100% juice for every 1 quart of fermented water kefir. The second fermentation is also 24-48 hours, but can be even longer depending on how fizzy you like it. The longer it ferments, the fizzier it will become. We’ve had some pop and bubble over like champagne. (My kids love that trick!) You can drink it right away or store it in the refrigerator. Ours never lasts longer than 1-2 days because we are always drinking it, but it should last 2-4 weeks even. Do be careful and “burp” the bottles so they don’t explode. I have only had that happen once because I forgot to stick the bottle in the fridge at bedtime and we woke up to a GIANT mess. kefir grains in jar Once you get going on the water kefir, it can seem a bit overwhelming. The grains will grow and reproduce. To halt the fermentation process for a short amount of time (less than a month), the grains can be refrigerated in the sugar water solution. Change the sugar water every so often, but the grains should be just fine. For longer storage, it’s recommended that the grains be dehydrated. Freezing is not recommended.

The water kefir should have a nice, yeasty or yogurt-y kind of smell to it. If it smells sulfury or “off” it’s best to toss it out and start with fresh sugar water. It’s very rare for mold to grow on the kefir. There might be strands of yeast, however, which is totally normal. yeast on water kefir Whatever you do, especially at this time of year, keep the jar covered with a cloth or paper filter to prevent fruit flies, ants, or other unwanted pests. Fruit flies are the biggest concern. They love the sweet, fermented liquid and will quickly take residence in an open jar. Cheesecloth is not recommended because the weave isn’t tight enough. I use pieces of flour sack towels and a rubber band. covered water kefir jar dissolving cane juice in warm water Scroll down for printable recipe and directions for making your own basic organic water kefir, at home. fermented water kefir

Homemade Water Kefir
 
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Cook time
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Learn how easy it is to make homemade organic water kefir
Author:
Recipe type: Drinks
Serves: 1 quart
Ingredients
  • 2-4 Tablespoons water kefir grains
  • 4 Tablespoons sugar*
  • 3½ cups filtered water
  • Optional (for second fermentation) - fruit juice, diced fruit, fresh or crystallized ginger
  • Equipment needed - quart-sized jar, plastic fine mesh strainer, piece of cloth or coffee filter, rubber band or jar ring
Instructions
  1. Wash and sterilize a quart-sized jar. Warm 1 cup of the filtered water and dissolve the sugar in it. Let cool to room temperature. Transfer to the jar, add kefir grains, and remaining filtered water. Cover jar with the cloth or coffee filter and secure with jar ring or rubber band.
  2. Place jar in a warm corner or cupboard away from direct sunlight.
  3. Allow to ferment for 24-48 hours; the water kefir will ferment more quickly in warmer temperatures and during the summer. Bubbles will be visible rising from the bottom to the top of the jar as soon as a few hours, but the longer it ferments, the bubblier it will become.
  4. Strain out the water kefir grains to make another batch. The water kefir can be consumed at this point, or bottled for a second fermentation.
  5. For second fermentation, transfer the water kefir to a bottle with a swing top. (Glass jars and bottles are preferred, but plastic soda bottles can also be used.)
  6. For flavored water kefir, add ¼ cup of pure fruit juice or diced fruit into the bottle then add the water kefir. Seal the bottle tightly. Let ferment an additional 24-48 hours. Crack the seal of the bottles at least once a day to prevent pressure building up. The kefir is ready to drink. Store in the refrigerator.