Thursday, May 31, 2012

Being active in nature makes kids healthier

By now you've probably figured out how much I love infographics. But this one is the best I've seen in a while! It's called Children and Nature: Being active in nature makes kids healthier. As a teacher who works at an environmental education center (for one more week!), the facts in here are great. I printed a copy and laminated it, to put up in my new classroom!

The two most stunning facts:
  • Kids spend more than 7 hours a day with various electronic media.
  • Children have lost 50% of unstructured outdoor activity over recent decades. 
But fortunately:
  • Children living within 2/3 mile of a park with a playground can be 5 times more likely to have a healthy weight.
  • Children who spend more time outdoors are less likely to be overweight by 27-41%.
The link to the printable pdf is here.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

From Scratch: Homemade pizza

Until a few years ago, I didn't make any food from scratch. The most complex meal I made was adding cooked broccoli to macaroni and cheese made from a box. But eventually, I learned skills for making meals from scratch, gradually adding more and more whole foods into my diet, and eliminating most processed foods. Processed foods are pretty ubiquitous though, and it takes a lot of time and effort to eliminate them. (I don't think I'll ever have time to eliminate them completely...but it's a noble goal.) I've decided to start a little series on the blog called From Scratch. Each month I'll choose a food that I often buy premade, and attempt to make it from scratch!

This first recipe comes from a close friend of mine, who recently taught me to make pizza from scratch. It takes more time than frozen pizza, but the result is so much more delicious. Below is a recipe for homemade pizza crust and sauce. I also included some good topping combinations to put on top of your from-scratch pizza!

From Scratch Pizza Crust

Note: The key to perfect homemade pizza is a really hot oven (500+ degrees) and a nice big pizza stone. This recipe also calls for a pizza peel, which is the large wooden flat thing that chefs in fancy kitchens use to slide the pizza in the oven. Having one of these makes it easier, but it's not essential to make pizza crust. This dough recipe is adapted from Simply Recipes, but you can really use any dough recipe you like.
  •  1 1/2 cups warm water
  • 1 package active dry yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)
  • 3 1/2 cups bread flour (or all-purpose flour if necessary)
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 2 t salt
  • 1 t sugar
Put warm water in large bowl. Sprinkle yeast on top and let sit for five minutes while it dissolves. If yeast isn't dissolved after five minutes, give it a stir. Add flour, olive oil, salt, and sugar. Stir to mix, then knead until it turns into a dough ball. Coat a large bowl lightly with olive oil. Place dough ball in bowl, and roll it around so it gets coated with olive oil. Put plastic wrap over bowl, and let rise in fridge overnight. This helps improve the flavor. If you don't have enough time, let it sit for at least 90 minutes.

When you are ready to make the pizza, take the dough out about fifteen minutes before and let sit on the counter at room temperature. Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Shape dough into a ball, coat lightly with flour, and let rise on floured counter. Use a rolling pin to roll out the dough into a flat, thin circle. (The thickness of the crust is up to you. Make it as thick or thin as you like!) If it doesn't stretch well, let it sit for a while longer.

Sprinkle a generous amount of cornmeal on the pizza peel. Then fold the pizza dough and place on the peel. Add the toppings on the pizza, and slide the entire pizza off the peel onto a pizza stone. Cook until the crust looks browned and the cheese is sufficiently melted, somewhere around ten minutes.

Dustin's From Scratch Pizza Sauce
  •  1 12 oz. jar whole tomatoes, drained
  • 2 large cloves garlic, diced
  • 2 generous tablespoons tomato paste
  • a few pinches of salt, pepper, and oregano (or more to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil, or 2 teaspoons fresh basil, chopped
  • Lots of black pepper
  • Tiny pinch of brown sugar
Add one tablespoon olive oil on medium-high heat. Saute garlic until fragrant. Add tomatoes and cook until soft. Add tomato paste and taste to make sure it tastes thick and tomato-y. If not, add more tomato paste. Then sprinkle on salt, pepper, oregano, basil, and pepper. Add a tiny pinch of brown sugar and stir. Let sit until ready to spread on pizza.

Good pizza topping combinations
  • Portobello mushrooms, spinach, goat cheese (with pizza sauce as a base)
  • Roasted eggplant, spinach, feta, sun-dried tomatoes, plum tomatoes, caramelized onions, shredded mozzarella (with pesto as a base)
  • Tomatoes, fresh basil, fresh mozzarella (with olive oil as a base)
  • Onions, mushrooms, sliced tomatoes, shredded mozzarella (with pizza sauce as a base)
  • Artichoke hearts, garlic, spinach, red onion, black or kalamata olives, feta (with olive oil as a base)

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Eating healthy takes organization

I came to a realization the other day, while talking to a friend about eating good food cooked from scratch, and the realization was this: eating healthy takes a lot of organization. It really does. It takes a lot of effort, planning, and time. There are a million reasons why it's hard for people to eat healthy, but I think this is a big one. Thus, I have thought more about how I organize the way I eat. I'm certainly not a perfect eater, but these are some of the steps I try to take each week in order to make sure my diet stays healthy:

1. Make a grocery list. 
This one is huge. I used to go to the grocery store and just sort of buy whatever was on sale or looked appetizing at the time. Then when I got home, I would have no idea how to combine the ingredients to something tasty, so I would end up eating frozen pizza or the same three dishes every week (macaroni and cheese, peanut butter and banana sandwiches, and chicken pot pies). Looking up recipes ahead of time, and writing down all the ingredients I'll need, really changed all that, because now I have everything required to make better meals. Also, I keep my list on the fridge and add things to it whenever stock things start to run low (aka when we only have one jar of oats left, I write it on the list right away).

2. Store recipes somewhere so it's easy to pick out good ones.
I like to find recipes online and store them on my Pinterest. I also print the best ones out and put them in a binder that I can flip through when I'm making a list. Other people put sticky notes in their cookbooks on the pages with good recipes. Then look through these recipes when deciding what you'll want to eat that week. I usually pick out four recipes at the beginning of the week, and write the ingredients on the list.

3. Only buy what's on the list.
The other benefit of a list is that you can save money if you only buy what's on the list. That way, you'll only buy the food you need, and none of it will go bad in the fridge when it doesn't get used. Food waste is a huge money waste. A friend of mine sent me this article on how to prevent food waste. It talks about how to "tie your meals together" in order to prevent food waste. (For example, if the store only sells ground beef in one-pound packages, find two recipes that use a half-pound of ground beef.)

4. Make time for cooking. If you aren't going to have time, make sure you have leftovers or a premade meal ready.
I love cooking from scratch, but it does take a lot of time. I usually budget an hour to make the food and some more time to eat it and clean up, as well. Sometimes the recipes aren't that complex, but I still make sure I can set aside an hour to make the food. There are some nights, though (usually Tuesday nights for me) that I can't cook because I have too much else going on. Those are nights when I try to find a reasonably healthy "instant" meal to eat. Here are some awesome ideas for ten-minute meals. I also eat pasta with pesto and cherry tomatoes at least twice a month.

5. Throw away (or compost) food that is old.
Then your fridge or cabinet won't overwhelm you. You'll be able to see what you have, and what you need to buy at the store.

I'm sure there are many more ideas that help make eating healthy easier. If you have any ideas, leave them in the comments!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Recipe of the week: Red lentil dal

This isn't a low-fat meal, but it's delicious, pretty healthy, and cheap to make. I like to eat it with naan or over rice. Basmati rice is perfect and cooks in only 15 minutes! If you keep your cabinet stocked with these ingredients, this is a good meal to make when you've run out of ideas or don't have a lot of time.

Red Lentil Dal
  • 2 T butter
  • 1 T black mustard seeds
  • 3 T ginger, chopped very finely
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  •  2 cups red lentils
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • water
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
  • hot chiles, diced (optional)
Melt butter in pan and add black mustard seeds. When mustard seeds begin to pop, add chopped ginger and garlic. Saute until fragrant (only a few minutes). Add lentils, stir and cook until translucent (usually about two minutes). Add coconut milk, then add two or three cans of water (fill up the empty can of coconut milk with water). Add the salt and turmeric. Cook until soft. It usually takes around 20 minutes but could be longer. Stir and taste the lentils periodically to see if they are soft. If the mixture starts to stick to the bottom of the pan, add small amounts of water. Top with cilantro and chiles (optional), and enjoy!

Image credit: Cheryl's Nourishing Spoonfuls
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