Quick & Easy Veggie Side Dishes

About a year ago, Chad left on a business trip and I was left to figure out what to cook for dinner for several nights. The problem was that my cooking skills were limited. We had been eating Paleo for about a year, and he did all of the cooking. While he was gone, I did manage to pull together some gluten-free meals for the kids, but they end up being processed foods with minimal nutrients.

That same week, the girls and I were treated to dinner by my friend, Kimberly, a busy mom whose husband was also traveling. When I saw my kids gobble up the colorful fruits, vegetables, and roasted chicken that she had prepared, I was motivated to face the challenge of cooking a healthy dinner for my family.

A few days later I was trying recipes from Everyday Paleo and teaching myself the basics. After about a year of following recipes, instruction from Chad, and lots of practice cooking Paleo dinners, I’ve mastered a few quick options (they’re too easy to even be called recipes) that have become family favorites.

Sweet Potato Chips

Peel a sweet potato and slice it in half. Place the flat half on the thinnest setting of a mandolin slicer and slide across (carefully!) to create thin chips. If you don’t have a mandolin, use a sharp knife and try to get the slices as thin and even as possible.

Take 2 to 3 tablespoons of coconut oil and heat in a skillet on medium heat. When the oil is hot (not smoking), place the sliced sweet potatoes in the oil. The thinner chips will cook very quickly (1-2 minutes per side). Flip over the chip with tongs when the edges begin to look golden brown. Cook 1 to 2 minutes per side and place them on a paper towel next to the pan. Sprinkle the chips with sea salt and cinnamon.

If you cook a big batch of these, use them for kids’ lunches, snacks, or this Everyday Paleo Spanish Tortilla recipe.

Kale Chips

A bunch of kale from the grocery store or local Farmer’s Market is a weekly staple for us–cost-effective, loaded with nutrients, and versatile. While I love kale sautéed and cooked like spinach, my girls gobble up kale chips. Charlotte recently said kale chips were her favorite vegetable.

Wash a bunch of kale and remove the leaves from the stems. Discard the stems, dry the leaves with a paper towel, and chop the leaves into chip-sized pieces. Toss the leaves in a bowl with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Use as much oil as you would if you were tossing a salad.

Place the oiled leaves on a cookie sheet. I baked mine in an oven with the rest of my dinner at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes. (a higher temperature like 400 degrees also works for about 12 minutes) The chips are done when the edges are brown, not burnt and the leaves look crispy. Sprinkle with some more sea salt, if desired.

Carrot Chips

This is one of the veggies Kimberly prepared the night she hosted us for dinner. It has become a quick and easy option that is my go-to veggie when I know we are going to walk in the door starving. If I already have a protein cooking in the slow cooker, this side dish can be made in 5 minutes.

Boil a small pot of water. Using a bag of carrot chips from the produce department of your local grocery store, put 1 to 2 handfuls of chips in the boiling water with a teaspoon of honey and a pinch of salt (if desired). Boil chips until tender (about 3 to 4 minutes) and top with some grass-fed butter.

These are also great for sneaking veggies into some lunches at home. Add them to   school lunches if your kids like cold and crunchy carrots.

Serve any of these side dishes with a fruit salad and a healthy protein to make a delicious and easy Paleo meal.

Feel free to share your quick and easy family favorites in the comments below.

Advertisements

Our Secret to a Delicious Liver Burger

Last night we grilled our homemade Paleo burgers and when I sliced into mine and saw juicy deliciousness running onto my plate, I knew we had a recipe that I was ready to share.

You may remember that Chad and I began a quest to incorporate organ meat into our diet after I realized that my hair loss may be caused by nutrient deficiencies as a result of my adrenal issues. Organ meats, especially liver, contain loads of Vitamin A, which was the main ingredient in the vitamins that were helping my hair grow again. See this post for more details.

We have consistently been eating beef liver for about 4 weeks, adding it to our weekly burgers. Each week Chad tweeks the recipe a bit working toward the right blend of flavorful juicy-ness that hides any metallic taste of the liver. As we enjoyed this nutrient dense meal last night, we discussed what we believe to be the secret ingredient to creating a moist and flavorful burger that contains both grass fed beef and beef liver.

Yes, it’s the candy of meats. A Paleo staple and my favorite food. BACON! Well, actually we used bacon’s snobbier Italian cousin–Pancetta. Pancetta is pork belly meat that is salt cured, seasoned with such spices as nutmeg, fennel, peppercorns, dried ground hot peppers and garlic, then dried for at least three months (source: Wikipedia). We love pancetta’s delicious richness and flavor, and we find that it pairs well with many meats and vegetables. It is more expensive than bacon and harder to find, but well worth the search, in our opinion. We buy ours at our local meat market where we pick up all of our grass fed meats, beef liver, and fresh fish.

After many attempts at getting this recipe just right, we can safely say that incorpoarting fattier meats like sausage and bacon/pancetta adds the juicy-ness that is difficult to get in a typical grass fed burger, and the rest is in the cooking:

Recipe

This recipe made 2 larger adult and 2 medium sized burgers for our kids. It was the perfect amount for our family, as our appetities tend to run on the higher end.

1 1/4 pound grass fed ground beef

1/4 pound beef liver (grass fed preferrably)

1/3 pound pancetta or bacon

4 large Italian sausage links (without casings)

1 whole egg (we use pastured eggs)

1/2 TBSP fresh basil (when chopped)

1 TBSP Worcestershire sauce

1/2 TBSP spicy or regular mustard

1/4 tsp olive oil

1 tsp sea salt

1 tsp pepper

1/2 tsp garlic powder

1/2 tsp cumin

1/2 tsp chili powder

1/2 tsp paprika

1/2 tsp cardamom

1/4 tsp nutmeg

Combine meats–we used the grinder attachment from our Kitchen Aid mixer to grind ground beef, panchetta, sausage, and liver. If you get the liver in a frozen piece (1 pound or 1/2 pound pieces are easiest to work with), thaw it slightly and slice off about a 1/4 pound. If you don’t have a grinder, chop up the liver and pancetta/bacon as small as possible and mix with other meats.

To the meat mixture, add the whole egg, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, olive oil, and spices and mix vigorously with a large fork and form into a large ball. Place the ball of meat into a large bowl and let it sit in the refrigerator for a minimum of 20 minutes. Form into patties appropriately sized for your family and grill over a hot fire for 4-6 minutes on each side, according to how you like your burgers cooked. Chad’s grilling tip: do not touch or press the patties while they are grilling to keep the juices in tact.

Serve on a bed of lettuce and top with avocado and/or your favorite burger condiments.

Health Update

I have always felt that Charlotte and my health issues stemmed from a lack of nutrients. As soon as we began the Paleo diet and consistently ate nutrient dense foods, we immediately felt better–I had more energy and Charlotte’s eye contact and sensory issues improved.  

As we have made a conscious effort to eat nutrient dense organ meats, our overall energy level has continued to improve. I have seen an improvement in recovery after exercise as well as a decrease in PMS symptoms. Charlotte’s sensory and social issues continue to lessen. While we are still working on sleep issues with her, we are confident that she is becoming stronger and more nutritionally sound every day.

Just this week Mark Sisson did this post on nutrient deficiencies and listed Autism Spectrum Disorder as a symptom of Vitamin B12 deficiency. Vitamin B12 can only be found in animal products, and we have seen a tremendous decrease in Charlotte’s Autism-like symptoms as we have incorporated more B12 into her diet through grass fed and pastured rasied meats. See this post for more information.

If you decide to try the recipe, please give us your feedback in the comments below.

What’s for Dinner?

I used to try to do everything right. I was a perfectionist in many ways, always trying to do things just right so that I would not be judged too harshly or fail at anything. Then I had kids and that didn’t work so well anymore. Trying to keep a clean house and have well-behaved kids while being a perfect wife was an unreachable goal that only led to anxious and negative thoughts.

Today I manage my household much differently and have realized the value of our family’s priorities. I learned to say No more often and lower the unreachable expectations for my kids and myself. I still struggle with micromanaging all of it on some days, but for the most part I’m better about enjoying my kids and being a mom.

When we adopted the Paleo diet, we fell into a simpler rhythm and a lower stress lifestyle. It may be difficult to believe that giving up convenience foods can make life easier, but it does. Living Paleo can actually complement a low-stress lifestyle and free you from many other demands. When life is focused on food and family time, there isn’t a lot of time for hectic over scheduling. If you must be home to prepare and clean up dinner, feeding the family takes priority, and you find a way to get it done. Everything else seems not as important.

When I get overwhelmed with being a mom and wonder if I’m doing enough to raise happy and healthy kids, I step back and know that if I get a Paleo dinner prepared and on the table each night, then I know I’ve done a lot of things right.

We focus on our Health. Grass-fed meats, salads, and quality vegetables fuel our bodies after a long day of school, play, or work. Our girls don’t eat food that comes from a package or box. We’re providing them valuable nutrients that are improving their current health and laying a foundation for a healthier future.

We express gratitude. We have recently begun a nightly prayer in Thanks to God before we eat. It gives us a moment each day to be grateful for the journey that we are on toward better health and success in meeting Charlotte’s needs. It’s very sweet to hear the girls thank God for each other, their friends, and their school.

We enjoy the meal. Each Paleo meal is full of nourishing vegetables and proteins that taste delicious. It’s safe to say that Dana is becoming quite the Foodie, understanding and appreciating the flavors and textures of foods while cleaning her plate every night. In addition, the girls are learning to value the time it takes to prepare a meal in consideration of everybody’s needs and tastes.

We feel great. If you are currently eating Paleo, then you understand how great it feels. An increase in energy is generally the first positive response most people feel when they begin the Paleo diet. The girls have energy to carry them through their day, have fewer meltdowns before dinner, and generally have better behavior.

We treasure the time together. In the busy-ness of school, homework, activities, and travel, we have one opportunity each day to connect and talk together. Even though our kids are young, they are busy with their own interests. So when they ask me 500 times throughout the day, “What’s for dinner?”  I like to think they are looking forward to the meal and time together as much as I am.

When I advocate eating Paleo, it’s a simpler and healthier lifestyle change. With a focus on family and healthy eating, everything else falls to being less important. We plan to all be home in the dinner hour to come together and finish our day as a family. When we worry less about doing everything for everybody and concentrate on healthy meals and time together, we know we’re doing something right.

Pictured above: The Bacon Chicken recipe from Paleo Parents

Paleo School Lunches

Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 12 noon, I pick up Charlotte from her preschool classroom for the day. I walk by a table of 10-12 adorable preschoolers who are eating their individual lunches brought from home. Yesterday I counted 3 plates with macaroni-and-cheese, and typically there are at least 2 plates of leftover pasta and endless sandwiches with various flavors of bread. Please don’t get me wrong, I am not judging these food choices–I just take a quick glance to see where the rest of the world is with feeding their kids, and while I do see some fruit and meat, most of it is non-Paleo and processed.

It occurred to me yesterday as I watched Charlotte walk around the table and glance at her friends’ meals, many of which were unrecognizable to her, that parents have many obstacles to face when packing the morning lunch box–busy mornings, budget constraints, picky eaters, multiple children, etc.

While I certainly don’t have all of the answers, here are some things that work for us when it comes to packing the mid-day meal.

The Lunchbox

After reading about these on Everyday Paleo, we broke down and bought a Planet Box lunchbox for Dana for this school year (1st grade). While we successfully packed Paleo friendly lunches last school year, I got really tired of washing and packing plastic containers and lids, and dealing with plastic baggies. We splurged (they are a bit pricey) on the box, the cover with pockets for ice packs, and the containers.

We love it! The quality is great. It’s easy to clean and use, and it’s a good size–it fits right in the backpack. We have used the box for various meals and snacks when we’re on the go, and people always comment initally on how cool the lunchbox is and secondly how healthy the lunch is. At the beginning of the school year, Dana was telling me that yard duties and teachers were coming over to check out what was packed each day. I keep her very involved in the choices for her lunch and at the end of her school day, she proudly tells me when she finished everything or lets me know when something didn’t work or hold up well.

The Goods

Truthfully, it’s very simple. I always have a couple of kinds of quality lunch meats on hand. We use a 1/2 pound to 1 pound of turkey, ham, and salami per week from the deli of our grocery store. I ask for ingredients from the deli clerk to check for any gluten fillers or MSG. If you are interested in nitrate-free meats, Applegate Farms has a good selection at Trader Joe’s.

Dana likes to roll her meat with some cultured cream cheese (not 100% Paleo), some grass fed Kerrygold cheddar cheese, or avocado. Because Charlotte is more sensitive to dairy, I use only avocado in her lunch meat.

If we have any leftover meat from dinner the night before, I use that first. This isn’t always an easy choice since the meat needs to be enjoyed cold and can change the texture and flavor of the meat. Nevertheless, Dana loves leftover pulled pork with homemade barbecue sauce and leftover grilled chicken in her lunches.

For the rest of her meal, Dana picks from an assortment of fruits (dried or fresh) that we always have in the house. I try to stick with locally grown (or at least domestically grown) seasonal fruits.Typically she chooses whatever is on-hand and fills the smaller compartments of the lunch box. She likes sunflower seed butter or almond butter on celery stalks (this is great in the long skinny compartment). We have recently been packing sunflower seed butter in the small container (buy separately) for dipping bananas and apples. In the picture above, we hollowed out some strawberries and filled them with the cultured cream cheese for a special treat.

I also keep a shelf in the pantry with dried Paleo-friendly foods that the kids can grab for a snack for school, home, or activity. This includes raisins, squeezable applesauces, fruit leathers, Lara bars, coconut chips, almonds, and pecans.

Charlotte and I typically eat lunch at home, but the times I have left Charlotte at school for lunch, she has gobbled up the turkey-avocado rolls and fruit.

Good Fat

I have found that the trick to making a lunch that keeps the kids satisfied with good energy for the remainder of their school day is including the fat. Using the avocado, coconut chips,  and sunflower seed butter ensures that they won’t run out of gas and be starving at pick up time. I would also include nuts and Lara Bars if they are allowed at your child’s school. Typically, Dana comes home, changes her clothes, and does her homework before asking for a snack. That’s how I know she eaten a breakfast and lunch that keeps up with her appetite and energy level.

Please share in the comments what your kids love to eat in their lunch.

Easy Does It–Liverwurst burgers

As promised, we shook things up with our normal food routine and added some organ meat to one meal this week.  See this post for the story of how my significant hair loss indicated a need for more Vitamin A, found abundantly in organ meats, particularly liver. The organ meat is typically not palatable but we vowed to try to make it work in our day-to-day Paleo meals and report back to you on how we did.

We decided to start right away, but truthfully I wasn’t completely comfortable with this experiment.  If I thought about it too much, I would have lost my nerve. So I decided it wasn’t too scary to pick up some processed pork liver in the form of Braunschweiger from our local grocery store. I know it’s not the quality grass-fed beef liver that really gets a you a bang for your buck, but baby steps.

 

 

 

 

The ingredients weren’t the greatest, but the number 170% (next to daily intake for Vitamin A) gave me the courage I needed to place it in my shopping cart.

 

 

 

 

My first attempt was gutsy. I choked down 2 slices and then placed a half slice on Charlotte’s lunch plate and told her it was a new kind of salami. She tried it and then set it right back down on the plate. 

 

 

 

 

Our next attempt was more thought-out. With some strategic spices, we’d sneak it into the weekly burgers that we grind at home with grass-fed meat and sausage.

We combined 1 pound of grass-fed ground beef with 1 pound mild Italian sausage and 7 ounces of pork liverwurst (Braunschweiger).  To the meat mixture, we added 1 diced shallot, 1 egg, the juice of 1 whole lemon, (1 TBSP salt), 1  TBSP pepper, 1 TBSP garlic powder, 1 TBSP Worcestershire sauce, 1 TBSP spicy brown mustard, 1 tsp paprika, 1 tsp chili powder. This makes 7-10 patties.

 

 

 

 

We combined all the meats using our grinder attachment.

 

 

 

 

 

We added all of the above spices and ingredients to the meats and formed patties.

 

 

 

 

We barbecued the patties for 2-4 minutes each side for rare burgers. A few of us had cheeseburgers.

 

 

 

 

We topped the burger with fixin’s and served ours with some steamed broccoli.

 

 

 

 

The results: definitely edible. I would dare to say tasty and delicious, but the processed pork liver was salty, making for a salty burger, especially considering we added additional salt to the meat. But overall, the liver taste was well disguised and the girls ate the their entire burgers without any problem, although we did give them a special treat in the form of some ketchup.

Next time we cook with processed liver, we will leave out the added salt. If we were to cook with real grass-fed beef livers, we would probably leave the salt in. Stay tuned for that post. I’ve hit a bit of a snag in my search for the real grass-fed beef livers. My source will not have them available until summer, so yesterday I casually asked the butcher at my local grocery store if he had any beef liver (like I do this all the time) and surprisingly he had a whole section of organ meats–beef heart and tongue, but no liver. I wasn’t brave enough to try the heart or tongue, but I did walk away from the meat counter with a promising feeling like I wasn’t the only one in the world eating offal.

It occurred to me that if you are new to the Paleo world, you may think eating Paleo means eating weird or different foods, so therefore we are weirdos and this diet is not for you. In order to show the awesomeness that Paleo is and that we really are pretty normal folks, I took some photos of some delicious Paleo meals we had over the weekend. 

Saturday night’s dinner was grilled Rib-eye steaks with peeled white potato french fries (fried in coconut oil), steamed artichokes, and grilled broccoli stalks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday morning’s breakfast was coconut flour waffles, eggs fried in grass fed butter, bacon, and fresh berries. (Thanks Gina for sharing the waffle recipe with us. We loved it!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday evening’s dinner was pasture-raised barbecued chicken with grilled asparagus spears and roasted cauliflower.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Look delicious? Feel free to comment or ask questions about these meals and for more great Paleo meals and recipes, check out the cooking blogs on the Paleo Community page.

Following my own advice–texture aversions

I had just finished posting the information on Recommendations & Advice about knowing which textures your child has aversions to, how to carefully incorporate new foods, and the importance of understanding their likes and dislikes. I had all of this information fresh in my mind, and then….I came down with a cold.

What does that have to do with texture aversions? Well, every Monday I make my girls a hot almond and pecan cereal. (Recipe courtesy of Sarah Fragoso here: almondcereal) I use my Blendtec and grind up apples, cinnamon, nuts, and water. I make a big batch and it usually lasts the first few days of the week. Typically, I run the blender a couple of times to make sure that I grind up any large pieces of nuts or apple.

This Monday I woke up in a NyQuil induced haze and forgot to run the blender twice. This resulted in large pieces of nuts and apples in Charlotte’s cereal that I was not aware of. This must have really grossed her out because yesterday she sat in her chair and stared at her cereal for a very long time before I grog-i-l-y noticed that she wasn’t eating. By this time the cereal was cold, and she was begging me to help her eat it. I prompted her to eat it herself and reminded her that there were no big pieces. She finished it reluctantly, and I didn’t think of it again.

Until, today. When the frustration over the cereal consumed her and defiance and back talk made it’s way into the discussion about finishing her breakfast. When I finally inspected the cereal, I did notice large pieces of textures that she does not tolerate well and used it as a teachable moment to show her how to pull the pieces out of the cereal with her spoon and place them on a napkin.

But….it’s too late…next week when I make hot nut cereal I will have to run the blender twice and to take the extra time to reassure her and show her that it is, indeed, safe to eat.