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Thursday, April 26, 2012


A friend has extended a challenge I cannot refuse.  Can I feed a family of four for a week for $100?  I had been thinking about this very idea when my friend and I talked about this issue.  Many families are cutting their budget wherever possible and food, though necessary, is no exception.  Families are turning to fast foods or processed foods which are very cheap but nutritionally a black hole.  They feel they cannot afford "more expensive" wholesome foods.

I agree that food costs have risen tremendously and that fresh fruits and vegetables are often costly.  Though I live in a rural area, most of the crops grown are row crops like soybeans, cotton and rice.  The last few years have seen an increase in farmers' markets with locally grown produce.  However, the prices at most farmer's markets are fairly high as well.

So what are the rules of this challenge?  Starting Monday, I will feed my family breakfast, lunch and dinner for seven days and try to stay at $100.  I have a break in that my husband eats lunch at work 4 or 5 days a week but my kids take their lunch every day.  I will still serve 28 breakfasts, at least 23 lunches and 28 dinner meals.  That works out to about $1.27 a meal.  I admit this is a big challenge and I'm not sure I can do it.

My family rarely drinks soda, so that is another break in the budget.  To further save money, I will use the sales circular from Kroger to very carefully plan meals.  I have been looking through my cookbooks for recipes with few, cheap ingredients.  That means my family will probably have oatmeal, bean soup or egg frittata to eat next week.  I also plan to stretch meat to cover more than one meal.  For example I may use 1/2 a roasted chicken in a pasta dish one night and the rest of the chicken to make chicken salad for lunches.  I will buy whatever fresh vegetables or fruit is in season, or whatever canned and frozen veggies offers the best price.  I will NOT buy processed or fast foods for a meal.  Our meals will not be different from what we usually eat however.

I am not including pet food in this challenge as I have 7 animals but mostly because many families don't have pets.  I also have a couple of animals with sensitive digestive systems and I will not upset their stomachs to buy cheaper food.  Cleaning up animal barf is not part of the challenge.  I don't mind trying cheaper generic brands for my family as the quality should be the same.

So next week should be very interesting.  I love a challenge and will try my best.  Hopefully we will all learn something.  I'd like to add a quick update on my couponing efforts to save money.  January was my last "good" month.  Since then it seems like there has been a dramatic drop in the coupons I can find to use.  March was my worst month yet with only $15.25 in coupon savings.  Most of the coupons I see are for processed foods I don't use, or cleaning and toiletry items.

So check back Tuesday to see my menu and my first grocery receipt.  I will shop on Monday and Thursday as always.  Also, you may want to read my blog on this week for a very interesting look at the state of American health.  I think you'll be surprised.          

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Making Smoothies At The Health And Wellness Expo

I'm happy to report that there were no cooking accidents this weekend at the HMG Health and Wellness Expo this past weekend.  Since I was using a blender, I did have a few nightmares that something spectacular would go wrong.  After all, I did heat up the oven once at the first Expo I did with the oven manual in it!  Fortunately, there was no fire.

As always, I enjoyed "cooking" even though making smoothies hardly qualifies as more than food prep.  Just goes to show that eating healthy doesn't need to involve complicated cooking!  I made four different smoothies, three of which have been featured before on this blog.  All seemed to be well received, even the spinach smoothie.  In fact, an eight year old girl said it was her favorite!  Add a bit of protein powder and a smoothie can be a good breakfast, lunch, dinner side, dessert or snack.  Just remember to keep the added sugar to a minimum with maybe a bit of honey.  There really is plenty of sugar in the yogurt, fruit or a splash of orange juice.  I avoid smoothies at fast food restaurants or even those from the grocery as they are usually calorie and sugar laden affairs, negating any nutrition.

                                            Making the banana, peach, buttermilk smoothie.

Assembling the infamous twinkie tree.  If it doesn't grow, if you can't harvest it, or it doesn't run or swim or fly, do you really want to eat it?

I'm also going to share the final recipe I made on Saturday.  This smoothie isn't for everybody as it has approximately 600 calories.  I created this smoothie for my daughter the swimmer because she needed to gain weight.  So if you know someone who has been ill or who trains so hard that they need the extra calories, this is a great tasting smoothie.  The rest of us need to look away.

600 Calorie Smoothie
1 serving of chocolate Carnation Instant Breakfast*
1 cup 1% or skim milk
1 banana
1 serving of protein powder*
1 to 2 Tbsp. peanut butter
Blend all ingredients in a blender until smooth.  *Depends on the kind of protein powder you buy as to how many scoops make a serving.  Also, Carnation Instant Breakfast comes in tubs or envelopes so check the package for a serving size.  You can also add 1/2 cup Greek yogurt for more protein and calories.

I make a lower calorie version of this for myself occasionally.  Blend 1 banana, 1 cup skim milk, 1 tsp. of peanut butter and 1 serving of Carnation Instant Breakfast or 1 serving of chocolate Slim Fast until smooth.  Makes a decent breakfast or lunch once in awhile, certainly better than a granola bar and a cup of coffee.  

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Food Intolerances, What Can I Eat?

This is probably a question that pops up immediately when someone learns they have a food intolerance.  Changing one's diet to eliminate a common food such as milk or wheat can be daunting.  Eating with the rest of the family who does not share your intolerance is frustrating.  It is hard watching my family order shrimp, scallops or lobster these days and knowing that I really shouldn't no matter how much I'd like to join them.

First, you need to decide how bad your symptoms are to you and whether you can tolerate small amounts of the food.  For example, my sister is lactose intolerant but a small scoop of ice cream on a piece of pie is ok.  A milkshake would mean an evening of misery.  If you do not have a food allergy or you have not been diagnosed with Celiac disease, it is not life threatening to eat the problem food.  You might be able to eat baked goods with eggs in them but not an omelet or to have a slice of toast once a day.  You will probably go through a period of experimentation and education as you learn more about your body and what it can tolerate.  It would be helpful to keep a food diary of what you eat and how you felt later.  If you have an allergy or intolerance to more than one food, then bless you!

You will also benefit from a trip to the bookstore or library.  There are countless books on gluten free diets, vegan diets and everything else.  Don't forget the handy web to find further information.  Next, you should start to eliminate processed foods from your diet.  Processed foods contain a whole host of bad-for- you-things anyway so this is a good thing.  However, it also means that you must be committed to preparing most of your own food so that you can control exactly what goes in it.  If you do buy any processed foods, you must be vigilant about reading the labels.

If you have a problem with gluten, your diet will be mostly fruits, vegetables and protein.  There are probably some grains you can tolerate like quinoa or oats.  You might eat yogurt and fruit for breakfast, have a nice salad for lunch, fish and a couple of vegetables for dinner.  If you are lactose intolerant, there are other milk substitutes and lactose free milk, though they can be expensive.  You can even find frozen treats that are made with coconut milk and taste just as good (I've tried them!) or you might have sorbet.

There are also many alternatives on the grocery shelves these days and even whole stores and bakeries that cater to people with food intolerances and allergies.  You can buy gluten free bread and cereals to fill that void.  Some of these foods may be found in the organic or health food section of your regular grocery store.      

Open your mind to the possibilities and don't focus on the limits.  This is an opportunity to clean up the whole family's diet by getting rid of junk and processed food they shouldn't be eating anyway.  (Just keep that one to yourself and be sneaky about it!)  Once you begin to feel better, you will not miss your old diet.

I'd like to mention that I will be preparing healthy snacks at the HMG Health and Wellness Expo on Saturday at 9:45.  Come on out and spend some time learning more about good health!  As always there will be plenty of activities for the kids, including an awesome exhibit where you can walk through a giant body and learn about the organs.  

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Food Allergies And Food Intolerances

It seems I have quite a few friends with food allergies, food intolerances and sensitivities these days.  I just finished an article for Midsouth Latino magazine on the subject and learned quite a bit.  To my great sorrow, I suffer from an allergy to shellfish.  I didn't develop this allergy until I was an adult and it is getting worse.  It started out with just shrimp but has progressed to scallops and now I've been warned not to eat other shellfish as well.  Of course, I love shellfish, not to mention it is worrisome that I could have an anaphylactic reaction someday.  (See my recent article on on anaphylaxis.)

Let's sum up the difference between food allergies and food intolerances.  A food allergy is an abnormal response to food triggered by the immune system.  Food intolerance is a digestive system response to the inability to digest certain foods such as dairy.  Food allergies can be life threatening but an intolerance just makes you feel miserable.  Eating even the smallest amount of the troublesome food can set off an allergic reaction but those with food intolerances can often eat certain quantities of the food before having a problem.  It is important to know the difference between the two in order to treat the problem properly.  If you have a food allergy, it is important to avoid the food all together.  You must also avoid the particular food with a food intolerance unless you are willing to put up with the symptoms.

The symptoms for a food allergy start within a few minutes to an hour of eating and include:  itching around the mouth, difficulty swallowing or breathing, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, hives, asthma, dizziness or anaphylaxis.  Symptoms for a food intolerance include nausea, stomach pain, gas or bloating, vomiting, diarrhea and headaches.  You can treat the symptoms for a food intolerance with over the counter products but with a food allergy, you may need to take an antihistamine if you accidentally eat the food or use an EpiPen and get immediate medical help if the symptoms are severe.  Always carry an EpiPen if you've previously had an anaphylactic response.

Celiac disease is a serious genetic disorder in which people are unable to eat gluten which is found in wheat and other grains.  Gluten causes an autoimmune reaction and the body produces antibodies that harm the small intestine, preventing absorption of nutrients.  Celiac disease can be life threatening if not treated.  The only treatment is to eliminate gluten from the diet.  Symptoms include: diarrhea, constipation, weight loss, chronic fatigue and malnutrition.  Others may experience some of these symptoms but not intestinal damage when they only have a gluten sensitivity or allergy.
Food allergies and food intolerances are on the rise in this country though scientists aren't exactly sure why.  In developing countries where hygiene may be poor, people die from infectious diseases but health problems such as obesity, asthma and allergies are seldom seen.  So early and more frequent exposure to bacteria may actually protect the body against certain health problems.  Also, people in developing countries eat a mostly vegetarian diet that is locally grown which may further protect them from allergies.  It may be that our high fat, high sugar, low fiber diet may be playing a role in allergies as well as diabetes and heart disease.

Food intolerances present complex issues, among them the question "What can I eat?".  It isn't always easy to eliminate a food group from your diet.  For instance, dairy and gluten are found in many products that seem harmless.  Thursday I'll offer a few suggestions that may help.      

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Leftover Ham, Continued

It's 5:30 a.m. and I have no business being up.  I'm sleepy, grumpy and dopey, that makes me three of the seven dwarfs.  Getting up because of someone else's schedule sucks.  But that doesn't help with leftover ham, does it?  At this point, I could just stand in the open refrigerator, cramming some ham in my face but that isn't very nice and doesn't feed anyone else.  Besides, my gastritis has flared up and I don't feel like eating anyway.  Now that I'm through complaining, I have a really great recipe for the rest of that leftover ham!

I saw this recipe on though I did not follow it faithfully.  I simply adapted the recipe to suit our taste.  This was super easy and I happened to have all the ingredients on hand, even the cabbage.  That is what a well stocked pantry will do for you; makes it easier to cook!  I admit I don't always have cabbage on hand; I happened to have cabbage from a meal plan that got changed slightly when someone else made cabbage and brought it to dinner.  I do try to keep onions on hand and a wide variety of canned goods like beans, corn, tomatoes, tomato sauce, etc.  So when I decided to ditch my original menu plan for the leftover ham in favor of this recipe, I didn't have to make a special trip to the store to do it.

NOW for those of you who think, "My family would never eat cabbage!", don't skip this!  My kids have learned to like cabbage when I learned to cook it better.  Cabbage is one of those vegetables that blends very nicely in dishes, to the point that you don't realize what it is.  I promise you that if you try this and don't tell everyone what is in here, they probably won't know.  My family scarfed this right down last night and would have eaten more.  The key is letting the vegetables and ham brown nicely.  Don't be afraid to brown vegetables; it brings out the most wonderful flavor!

Ham With Corn And Cabbage
2 cups chopped ham
2 cans no salt added whole kernel corn, drained or a bag of frozen corn thawed and drained
1 small head of cabbage, chopped
1 onion, coarsely chopped
1 to 2 tsp. garlic powder
Heat 2 or 3 Tbsp. of olive oil in a large nonstick pan.  Add onion and cabbage and cook, stirring only occasionally so it will begin to brown.  When the cabbage mixture starts to brown a good bit, add the ham, garlic powder and corn and mix well.  Let this continue to cook about 30 minutes, stirring only to prevent burning while you read the paper, help the kids with homework, whatever.  This dish is great because it cooks itself with little help.  When it has browned well, add a dash of pepper.  No salt needed as the ham is salty enough.

If your pantry is well stocked, open a can of tropical fruit to serve with dinner.  If you are really organized, make quick rolls by combining 1 cup Bisquick, 1/4 cup melted butter and 1/2 cup non fat plain yogurt or sour cream.  Grease a 6 cup muffin pan and divide dough.  Bake about 12 to 14 minutes in a 425 degree oven.

It was a fine dinner.      

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

What To Do With Leftover Ham

I may be weird but I love leftovers.  Having leftovers in the fridge means anything from a nice lunch to a dinner I don't have to cook, to a dinner partly fixed.  We had the most lovely Easter dinner Sunday evening and of course, leftover ham.

The weather has been glorious lately and we have been eating outside on our deck as often as possible.  Our deck overlooks a field that slopes down to a small lake.  We can usually see my neighbor's horses, geese, the occasional ducks and hear plenty of frogs.  In the early evening as the sun goes down, the water just sparkles.  We linger a long time as no one wants to leave such a peaceful scene.

I have several recipes to share this week, including the carrot recipe I tried Sunday.  It was incredibly simple but everyone agreed it was excellent.  My sister provided the ham, which she served as is, no other additions.  I also stir fried some sugar snap peas and made coconut cupcakes with pineapple filling.  Pat also made sweet potato cornbread which is the most delectable concoction.  I wish my Dad was around to have a piece.  He was such a cornbread connoisseur and I wonder what he would have thought about adding things like broccoli and sweet potatoes to cornbread.  I think he would approve.

My sister left me with enough ham for two meals so I was excited.  Yesterday I poured over recipes until I found one that sounded good.  It was so good that my daughter asked if she could have the leftovers in a thermos for her lunch at school today.  It was not complicated and the additions of lemon juice and zest gave a twist to the flavor.  If you've got some leftover ham, try this.

Pasta and Ham in a Lemon Cream Sauce
2 cups chopped ham
2 cups frozen green peas
12 oz. bow tie or your favorite pasta
zest of one lemon, preferably Meyer
1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 cup cream or half and half
1/2 cup skim milk
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
3 shallots chopped
2 Tbsp. butter
1 cup chicken broth
Bring water to a boil in a large pot for the pasta.  Cook pasta as you start the sauce.  Drain and set aside.  Sauté shallots in a large skillet in melted butter over medium heat, about 5 minutes.  Add chicken broth and let simmer a few minutes.  Add cream and milk, ham, cayenne pepper and peas.  Return to a simmer until peas are heated through.  Stir in cooked pasta and parmesan cheese, then the lemon zest and juice.  Season with salt and pepper if needed.  (Remember the ham is pretty salty.)  Makes 4 to 6 servings.

If you would like the carrot recipe, check out on Wednesday.  I will publish it there this week.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Wow!  There has been so much health information released lately and I'm trying to absorb it all and pass it on to my readers.  I spend many hours watching the news and reading to keep updated on the latest because I realize that many of you can't devote that much time.  I then try to break it down into manageable, understandable pieces.   Being educated is one key to staying healthy.

That said, I have to share an unusual experience with you.  I will try almost anything though I'm not quite up to bear Grylls' standards.  While recruiting neighbors for a neighborhood cleanup project, I had the chance to get to know one of my neighbors better.  The area I live in is very wooded and houses are far apart, making neighborly interaction a bit difficult.  In our conversation, one topic led to another and after hearing that I write health related articles, he asked if I'd ever eaten raccoon.  Though my father hunted and I've attended my share of wild life dinner banquets with him many years ago, I couldn't say I had.  Being a very friendly man, he promised to bring me some the next time he and his wife cooked one.

Yesterday was the big day.  My neighbor brought me a pot of what he called goulash but I'd call pot roast.  I heated it up and tried it on my unsuspecting family.  (Cameron was gone and has yet to participate in my experiment, but shhh, don't tell him!)  Grace being fresh from swim practice and ravenous, dug in and immediately pronounced it delicious, quickly followed by Barry.  I watched them, amused.  "Do you even have a clue what you are eating?" I asked as Barry commented on the strange bone on his plate.  He looked up.  "Possum?"

"No, but you are close.  It's raccoon."  They ate on, undisturbed by this announcement.  I, however, was having a bit of difficulty.  I was somewhat surprised by my reaction since I've eaten other strange meats like squirrel, rattlesnake and alligator.  I will not eat veal as I am opposed to the inhumane way it is raised.  I guess that is a double standard since many farm animals like chickens are raised in horrific conditions.  But I digress.

I finally did take a bite and it was good.  No gamey or weird taste; close to beef but much better.  I couldn't eat more than a few bites though.  I love raccoons; their cute, inquisitive faces, their shuffling gait and ability to climb trees.  I love cows too, especially milk cows with their large eyes and creamy coats.  Maybe that's why I don't care for beef?  Is it only a matter of time before I love chickens, fish and pigs?  Time will tell.

Anyway, the moral of this story, (is there one?) is to keep an open mind and to try new foods.  Don't insist that you don't like vegetables, try them prepared different ways.  Don't say you don't like a certain texture, take a tiny bite.  Don't turn your nose up at another culture's cuisine, try it before making a judgement.  Look at food as part of life's adventure.  That doesn't mean you have to eat meat if you are a vegetarian or something that truly turns your stomach, like insects.  Life has many experiences to offer, don't shut yourself off from them.

Have a wonderful Easter weekend with your family and friends.  And don't forget that Walk With A Doc is this Saturday at Joe Mac Campbell park, 9 a.m., starting at the playground.  Help someone get started on that exercise path and bring them out.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

BIG Announcement!

I just can't wait any longer to share the news.  My blog is about to become a website!  I have been frustrated that my blog isn't very user friendly (as have my readers!) so I have been working with a friend to make some changes.  Recently, I met Manu Nair who owns a web and Ap design business and talked to him about my blog.  Before I knew it, he had talked me into converting to a website. It will have many convenient features such as a very accessible recipe index and links to other helpful websites and blogs.  There will be a new section devoted to information on raising healthy children as well.  I hope the new design will also encourage readers to provide feedback and to share it with their friends and family.

The new website should be up and running within two weeks.  But don't worry, you can still find me at the same address; you will just be redirected to the website.  Just in case you don't know, I also write on Wednesdays for, a web page devoted to what's happening around town and run by those good folks at Occasions magazine.  You should check it out as I write something different for them, plus it is a great place to check for local news and movie listings.  I am writing for the new Mid-south Latino magazine monthly, a brand new magazine aimed at the growing Latino population and started up by my friends Alex Lorenzana and Susan Ishmael.  Mid-South Latino is published in both Spanish and English so it is a good resource for anyone trying to brush up on Spanish or trying to reach the Latino market.

I will be cooking again this year at the HMG Health Expo coming up on the weekend of April 21st thru 22nd.  I'm not sure of my time slot yet but I will be doing healthy snacks so stop by and get a sample.  Or stop by and see if I can work the blender.  Regular readers may remember my fairly recent disaster with broccoli soup and the blender.

As usual, Barry and I will be doing Walk With A Doc on April 7th.  We will start at the playground at Joe Mac Campbell park and walk a mile.  If you need a push and a friend to start your exercise program, come out and join us.  Barry will be happy to answer any questions as we walk.

I got my share of exercise yesterday as I walked and ran after my horses.  When I went to the barn, I was thinking what a beautiful day it was.  Then as I gazed around at all the wonderful spring greenery, I noticed my neighbor had two new horses which looked strangely like my Roxie and Gilly.  Slowly it dawned on me that they were MY horses!  First I thought I'd left a gate open and my neighbor Joe had captured my escapees and put them in his pasture for safekeeping.  I discovered however that the locked gate between our pastures was wide open.  I grabbed a halter and set out grimly.  Sure enough, I could walk right up to all of Joe's horses but my two had suddenly become wild again, never touched by human hands.  I spent over an hour chasing them all over Joe's field.  Finally Gilly ran back in his own pasture but Roxie wasn't giving up.  She made a tactical error by trying to escape through a wooded area only to be stopped by chest high briars.  She was wedged in tight and couldn't turn around.  Backing up was difficult as there was a fallen tree she had trouble stepping over.  I just laughed and watched her dilemma.  She would turn and look at me as if to say, "What do I do?".  Finally she had backed up enough that I was able to get a halter around her head and then I made her back right up through all that mess.  Captured, she was pretty docile again.  Both horses were steaming hot and wet so both had to get a bath to cool off.  I never did find out how the horses managed to open the combination lock on the gate.  Who knew hoofs could be so nimble?