Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Back to School: Cooking and Fundraising

As the school year gets under way, parents are asked to contribute at seemingly every turn. One way I don’t feel nickel and dimed during back to school is to make sure I save up and turn in my Box Tops for Education.

Betty Crocker just released a Special Edition cookbook with new recipes using Box Tops products, plus a certificate for 10 bonus Box Tops.

The cookbook is pretty basic, with great visuals like how to tell if your risotto or polenta is cooked properly. But it also has a vegetarian section; the baked chimichangas were a big hit in my family.

And that recipe was also one of the lower calorie recipes, with a tweak so they are baked, not deep-fried.

The healthier remakes are offered on desserts (lower cal brownies, a must) and savory dishes. And ‘heirloom’ recipes, Betty Crocker classics like baked brie, with cranberries, are presented along with more modern ones; here, the brie is topped with walnuts and fig preserves.

And there are many options for busy back to school nights, with slow cooker recipes that you can start in the morning, or 20 minute recipes you can throw together at night.

Best of all, when you get that phone call during dinner asking if you can give some money to school, you can say you already did. 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Healthy Eating for Back to School

Urban legends abound about children who choose salads over brownies, but most kids, left to their own devices, will opt for the sugary, fatty option every time.

Even my children, raised as vegetarians – as they point out, ice cream and chocolate don’t have meat.
And as my youngest heads back to school, and we confront late sports practices, piano lessons and other afterschool activities, I start hunting for healthier convenience foods.

Kidfresh has a new line of frozen meals, with vegetables ‘hidden’ inside. The cheese quesadillas have carrots blended in and the ravioli tomato sauce includes butternut squash and carrots.

Even the chicken nuggets (which my niece sampled) have undetectable cauliflower mixed in.
Kidfresh also uses no artificial ingredients, flavors, colors or preservatives.

My kids are past the hiding vegetable stage, though I still make puttanesca sauce with a bunch of chopped spinach or kale. If you puree greens in a spicy tomato sauce, they take on the tomato/olive/hot pepper flavor and if anyone spies a little green, you can always say it’s parsley.

How do you hide vegetables in your kid’s food? Comment below for a chance to win a coupon for a free Kidfresh meal.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Back to School - and International Vegetarian Cooking

Those of us with school age children often have to curb our travel once the school year starts, Yes, there is Christmas break, February break for NYC public school students (aka the ski week) and Spring break, but we don't like to travel over Passover and Christmas is one of the most expensive times to travel. So we stay put more during the year, and I cook more. 

Luckily, I curbed my wanderlust with The Healthy Voyager's Global Kitchen, a vegan cookbook with recipes from around the world. Author Carolyn Scott-Hamilton, a travel writer, TV host and nutritionist, has vegan takes on a wide variety of international cuisine, form conch fritters (made with oyster mushrooms, which have the right chewiness) to Palak Paneer. You wouldn't even know that tofu subbed for cheese unless you made it.

But the point isn't to trick carnivores. The book offers vegans (and vegetarians like me, who might use regular mozzarella in the mushroom pupusas) recipes for often elusive foreign dishes. I love to try local food specialties when I'm traveling, but I'm often limited in my choices in meat-centric countries. 

With The Healthy Voyager's Global Kitchen, you can travel and not leave your dietary restrictions behind.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Fitness Challenge: Spin in Puerto Rico

Renting a car in Puerto Rico left us spinning our wheels, but we cycled for fun in a spin class at La Concha Resort. The state of the art gym has a limited number of exercise classes, one of which is a weekly spin class.

The bikes were not exactly current, but they did have clip on one side for cycling shoes and toe clips for those in sneakers. There were only four of us (there are about 8 bikes total) but we got a good cardio workout.

The instructor mixed the usual blend of jumps, sprints and uphill climbs into the 45 minute class and I calculated that we burned up enough calories for one poolside drink.

Those who like to spin in dimly lit rooms wouldn't like the sun-splashed studio where we had the class, but I'm not really a fan of the candle-lighted nightclub spin experience.

Really, what I wanted to do was bike outside; a bike lane ran down the middle of the street in front of our hotel - but the one bike store nearby was closed for vacation the entire time we were in Puerto Rico.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Hand Sanitizer a Mom can Love

Look around at a restaurant sometime. People sit down, touch a menu that others have handled, pick up bread with their hands and start eating – all without washing their hands.

I always make a trip to the restroom, but if there’s no soap, or I’m on the run, I use hand sanitizer.

Of course, this comes with its own perils. Many hand sanitizers are harsh and chemical based, leaving your hands dry and unpleasant smelling.

So I was eager to try out Mother’s Therapy Organics, a gentle cucumber scented hand sanitizer made from lavender plus organic aloe, Echinacea and goldenseal. The sanitizer moisturizes while it cleans; there also a heavy duty Germ-fight’n hand lotion, perfect for keeping next to the sink.

Although I am well past the diaper bag stage, my puppy has outdoor bathroom needs and the sanitizer is great for carrying around after that.

Right now, the products are only sold online, but I bet as demand grows, it will be more widely available.

Fitness Challenge: La Concha Resort

We didn't go to Puerto Rico to exercise, but we had our own version of Jersey Shore once we got there: gym - beach -pool.

The fitness center at La Concha Resort offered the perfect way to stay in shape. The large gym, overlooking the spectacular beach, had a studio for classes, cardio machines with their own screens (though the televisions weren't working) and just about everything else you needed for a complete workout.

Stability balls, bosu balls, free weights, weight benches, clean mats, body bars and weighted balls were all in top notch shape. There were also weight machines, soft towels, and apples for after your workout.

Although the luxury resort was sold out when we visited, the fitness center was never too crowded - it is open 24/7 and was somehow spotless every time we stepped in.

And as you can see from the photo above, although we couldn't watch TV while we were on the elliptical (and there were also headphones in case you forgot yours) the view more than made up for it.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Education Apps

My oldest daughter learned to read by picking up picture books and following along as I read to her. She ‘broke the code’ just after her 5th birthday, a week or so before beginning kindergarten.

This was not in the dark ages – she turned 22 yesterday – but it is nearly a generation removed from today’s learning apps, educational videos and programs designed to push kids along and get them reading faster.

I recently tested out a cool iPad app, Learn with Homer.  This phonics-based program has 30 lessons, all free from iTunes. Of course, there is also paid content, like books and games, that you can download, but just sticking with the free stuff is a great way to engage kids and get them on a path to learning to read.

Learn with Homer has several different areas, all easy to navigate: Learn to Read, Discover the World, Story Time and Clubhouse. I loved how kids could record their voice, and draw – and the kids I saw playing with the app clearly loved it, too.

The activities are designed for kids ages 3-6. Often this encourages parents to push even younger kids to try it out, but resist that urge and save this for the correct demographic. The developers of Learn with Homer are educators and they are correct in their assessment of the age recommendation.

The last thing you want to do is frustrate a too-young child.

How did your child learn to read? Let me know and enter to win a gift card worth $25 towards Learn with Homer apps.