Fruit Snacks Redone

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We rarely eat fruit snacks. It is so hard to find ones that are healthy and not filled with artificial dyes, high fructose corn syrup, and 5 other ingredients that I can’t pronounce.

Huffington Post’s article: What’s In Your Fruit Chews? highlights a few ingredients. You can also simply take a look at what’s in Nemo Fruit Snacks.  Your average pack of fruit snacks is mostly sugar.  Not quite the healthy snack. Plus, they throw in artificial food dye which is proven to cause hyperactivity in kids. People can argue with it all they want, but look at the research and the facts. Almost every modern country except the U.S. requires a hyperactivity warning label on foods containing artificial food dye. The research is also strong on Yellow 5 containing carcinogens. 100 Days of Real Food does a nice job outlining reasons to avoid artificial dyes. They also wrote on Finding (and Avoiding) Artificial Dyes and did a campaign about Kraft Mac and Cheese .

But back to fruit snacks. They are fun! Who denies their kids the joy of fruit snacks?!

I get it, I really do.

Yet when I compare the 2 second happiness of gobbling down a pack of fruit snacks with the happiness from eating good food and feeling energetic and ready to have fun…fruit snacks don’t seem so necessary.

Plus feeding Noah fruit snacks never worked. I remember feeding him Toy Story fruit snacks when he was around 2 years old. He ate them in 5 seconds, then screamed for more, then ate those in 5 seconds, screamed for more, was impossible to redirect and was hungry again in 10 minutes. Clearly not working.

I haven’t bought them in a long, long time. We do buy fruit leather. While the nutrition facts box shows sugar, it’s coming naturally from fruit, not corn syrup. We tend to buy Stretch Island, which is available at most grocery stores. I try to pay 33 cents or less for each one.  I did buy Target’s brand of fruit leather awhile back. It was 10 cents each, so I stocked up.

I’ve been seeing fruit snack “recipes” popping up on Pinterest and a number of blogs that I follow. They use silicone molds to make the neat shapes.

My first attempt was a failure. I used juice and gelatin and honey. They tasted blah, like gelatin.

I combined a few different recipes to make our own. Mostly inspired by Sweet and Sour Gummy Snacks.

Fruit Snacks Redone

1 cup liquid (I use the juice of 2 lemons and then a strong colored fruit juice concentrate like grape.)

1 TB maple syrup

4 TB gelatin (I use Great Lakes, which has a lot of health benefits. I bought this through Amazon and have enough to last me a couple years.)

Whisk in saucepan over med-low heat until it starts to thicken. Pour into pan or silicone molds. Can be left on counter to set or placed in refrigerator or freezer to speed up hardening. Easy to pop out of the pan. Store at room temperature or in refrigerator.

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I bought a LEGO silicone mold! (I go shopping down Michigan Avenue in Chicago. What do I buy? A Lego mold. Pretty sure this illustrates how my life revolves around kids and food.)

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The kids loved them. Who doesn’t love biting the heads off of Lego men (or women)?

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I’ve also done stars and gummi worms. Worms are made from pouring the mixture into a small glass or baking pan. Let it harden and then cut into strips.

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Disclaimer: My kids DO eat commercial fruit snacks on occasion. If someone hands out fruit snacks at a party, Anna knows it is perfectly fine for her to eat the pack and enjoy it. She knows they are mostly sugar, but that it is okay to have treats like that every once in awhile. If Grandma offers Ethan a pack of fruit snacks, I am okay with it. We strive to make the best food choices that we can at home. If the 5% of the time when we are making food choices outside of our house are not ideal, that is okay. 

Pizza Two Ways

Required knowledge so you don’t lose your mind reading this:
Our family does best on a gluten-free diet. Noah requires an even more stringent diet, a grain-free diet.
Gluten-free = no wheat, barley, or rye
Grain-free = no wheat, barley, or rye, AND no corn, oats, or rice.
 

Remember those awful story problems in math? I feel like that is my life.

Andy, Becky, Anna, Noah, and Ethan want to eat pizza. Andy needs a gluten-free crust and regular cheese. Becky can have either a gluten-free or grain-free crust, but she needs goat cheese. Anna can have any crust and any cheese. Noah needs a grain-free crust and goat cheese. Ethan also eats goat cheese, but he needs a gluten-free crust. How many pizzas does their paid chef need to make?

Extra Credit: Andy, Noah, and Ethan only like pepperoni. Becky and Anna like pepperoni, green peppers, and roasted tomatoes. Ethan and Noah will pick them off if necessary. Green peppers cannot touch Andy’s pieces, because he WILL taste the drops of pepper juice they leave behind when the chef quietly pulls them off. How should the chef top the pizzas?

Oh wait, the paid chef does not exist.

You would think Andy going gluten-free means I finally can cook one thing that everyone will eat. Nope!

I could try to convince Andy to eat a grain-free pizza crust, but this man prefers to eat at minimum, half of a pizza. That is expensive. Plus, let’s be honest. There is no grain-free pizza crust that tastes even remotely as good as regular pizza crust. There is no surer way for Andy to quit gluten-free than to give him a grain-free crust and say, “Here’s your new pizza, honey!”

So we stick to gluten-free pizza crust for Andy and grain-free for Noah. Anna and I eat either one, depending on which male is inhaling his pizza the fastest. Ethan gets the gluten-free since he can’t handle too many nuts.

(Thinking this stuff through reminds me of Math Meets in high school. For some insane reason, I always got selected to go to those. Then I’d sit there reading word problems 15 times, making a guess, and embarrassing myself by getting an awful score. Sorry, Lakeside Math Team, I really should have resigned.)

You can buy gluten-free pizza crusts. They sell them in the freezer section and gluten-free section of most grocery stores. However, they easily run $6 for a regular size crust. Sometimes they sell pizza crust mixes. Those cost about $4. Making the recipe below costs me about $3.

Random notes of interest: Dominoes offers a small gluten-free pizza for $10. It is mediocre at best. If you’re in Milwaukee, Transfer has excellent gluten-free pizza. If you’re in Chicago, Gino’s has the worst gluten-free pizza I have ever tasted. If you’re in Crete, I recommend Aurelio’s gluten-free pizza.

Back to making pizza. We eat pizza at least once a week. It is a staple in Andy’s life. It is a requirement for his happiness. So finding a good gluten-free pizza crust was the very first thing I needed to master.

I’ve found one that meets his approval.

Our choices for pizza:

Gluten-free: The Best Gluten-Free Pizza Crust

Grain-free: Best Ever Crispy and Flaky Grain-Free Pizza Crust

I make a basic pizza sauce.

Then comes the cheese and toppings part! I’ll save the cow vs. goat cheese debate for another day.

Plenty of pizza means we are a happy family. It also means I can save some to put in Andy’s lunch instead of his beloved turkey sandwiches.

(Note: Noah was gluten-free, NOT grain-free, for almost 3 years. So I have a good amount of experience baking gluten-free. If you are new to this, I feel for you. It can seem overwhelming and impossible. Buy the premade crust or mix and don’t feel bad about it! You can even find gluten free Amys or Udis frozen pizzas! It takes time to learn the small things, like that your gluten-free pizza crust may be sticky and more like muffin-batter rather than a nice, smooth ball of dough. )

Big Change

Andy’s college friends tell the same (admittedly funny) stories about him every time they are together. Then they all remark about how much he has changed since he met me.

I politely laugh, but really the current Andy is the same Andy that I have known for 8 years. The same Andy who does. not. like. changes.

This is a man who ate Fudge Poptarts for breakfast every day from the age of 13 to age 29. The man whose lunch I pack the exact same every day. Turkey sandwich with only Roundy’s oven-roasted turkey breast. If I get the smoked or mesquite, he knows it. Pretzels, graham crackers, and cookies round out his lunch.

The biggest change he ever made was switching from a white bun to a whole wheat flat bread. (Although he did mutter about them being more like pancakes than buns)

In one month, Andy eats 30 hamburger buns, 60 sheets of graham crackers, 100 cookies, and 6 POUNDS of pretzels.

That is a lot of wheat.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Andy is not unhealthy. He is not overweight. He does not have chronic health problems. He is rarely sick.

He simply got tired of feeling tired – and listening to me remark how great I feel eating wheat and dairy free.

I am currently gluten-free, dairy-free, and mostly grain-free. I feel the best I have felt in my entire life. I am 25 pounds lighter. My chronic headaches are gone. I have more energy. I often say that eating this way costs two times as much, but feels ten times as good. It truly has been life-changing for me.

Noah has been unable to eat wheat for 4 years now. Andy has watched the rest of us eat gluten-free, but he has never joined us. He eats a Standard American Diet (SAD) of hamburgers, pizza, chicken tenders, and white pasta. Gluten-free would mean taking away, or at minimum, changing his favorite foods. He always felt he couldn’t do it.

I really thought that if Andy ever went gluten-free, it would have to be out of solidarity with Noah.

Surprisingly, he did it for himself, which I now realize is an even better reason.

Andy often complains about just “not feeling right”. (Typical male description) Usually it means he’s lethargic, unmotivated, and wants to take a nap. (I love Andy dearly. He’s a great husband and father. This is NOT meant to insinuate otherwise. It simply explains part of what motivated him to go gluten-free. He has given me permission to write this. 🙂 )

He wondered if he would feel better without wheat, too. I have always told him that I will gladly put in the effort in the kitchen for him to go gluten-free on one condition: He must commit to it 100%, no cheating, for 30 days. If he’s only going to halfway do it, we shouldn’t spend the extra money. I did not want to do the extra work to make gluten-free lunches only to have him sit and eat a bag of pretzels that night.

Well, September 2, Andy went gluten-free.

Anna, the family nutritionist, excitedly packed away all of the wheat items in our house. Pretzels, crackers, cereal – all out of sight.

Honestly? I secretly thought he’d quit within 48 hours.

The first week without wheat is awful for me. I go through a miserable detox stage where I crave breadsticks like crazy and am super crabby. I had warned him about this.

Well, this is Day 4 and he is going strong.

He hasn’t had the awful detox stage that I usually have. I’m super thankful for that!

Today he said that he didn’t know how to describe it, but he just feels “lighter” – that his stomach feels lighter.

So all in all, 4 days in, zero wheat. He claims he feels better. I see him happier and more energetic. He hasn’t come home from work wanting a nap.

Now, both of us readily acknowledge that there could be some placebo effect and that after 30 days, he may decide that wheat does not bother him. But it’s worth trying for a month to see what difference it makes.

If you know Andy, you know that it will take him feeling A LOT better for him to give up late night Pizza Hut. So I’m not too worried about a placebo effect.

I’m pretty sure the fact that he tackled a dead animal under our porch after supper and now grabbed a gluten-free beer and sat down to watch football says it all.

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He’s signed on to this gluten-free thing. For real.

Food on the Go

This summer we spent a number of days at the beach. Here’s what I packed as our lunch:

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Carrots and roasted red pepper hummus

Celery and sunbutter (like peanut butter, but made out of sunflower seeds instead of peanuts)

Peaches

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The kids love dipping carrots and celery. They make people out of them. A big blob of sunbutter on top of celery is a bride with long hair, a scrap of hummus on the end of a carrot is an old man, etc. 

Packing food for the kids used to overwhelm me. Now I’ve learned to keep it simple. It doesn’t need to be a perfect meal. It simply needs to be enough food to keep them running!

Ethan’s Chocolate Chip Birthday Cookie

Ethan turned 2 1/2. We celebrate half birthdays with cake and a little gift. Cake is next to impossible for us. I challenge you to find a cake recipe with no eggs or grains! 🙂

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So we’ve turned to the big chocolate chip cookie cake. I tried Chocolate Chip Cookie Cake from Real Sustenance last month for Noah’s birthday. It worked, but he ended up with a stomach ache. I think maybe from the sugar? It was easy and tasted great, so I would definitely recommend it if you’re not as sensitive as Noah!

This time I went with Paleo Porn’s Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe. (No worries, there’s no porn on the site. It just features great food photography .) This recipe had no grains or eggs, and also used honey and maple syrup as sweeteners. It worked perfectly! I put all the dough on parchment paper on a pizza pan to make one big cookie. It baked up beautifully, tasted wonderful, didn’t fall apart, didn’t make anyone sick. It was a winner.

I made the frosting out of grain-free powdered sugar, butter, and coconut milk. I buy the powdered sugar and canned coconut milk at Trader Joe’s. We don’t use much butter, so I generally buy Kerrygold from Woodmans. Kerrygold is an Irish butter made with milk from grass-fed cows. It is definitely more expensive, but I feel comfortable feeding it to Noah. I also have no reaction to it. Usually I cannot handle conventional dairy products.

Ethan requested a snowman on his cake. So we frosted it, and added snowflakes and chocolate chips.

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The kids loved this cookie cake. I’m really not sure what it was, but they were obsessed with it. They went on and on about how each of them wants the same thing on their birthday. It made enough for us each to have a small piece on Ethan’s birthday and then again the next day. Happy birthday, little boy!

Grocery Shopping: Trader Joe’s Edition

I shop at Trader Joe’s (TJ’s) about once a month. Today Noah had a doctor appointment up near TJ’s. Things I love about TJ’s:

  • Kid- friendly: my kids love finding Millie, a blue and yellow stuffed parrot that is hidden in the store (if they tell the cashier, they get a sucker), free samples (usually includes a “safe” drink, so it’s fun for Noah to try something new), and they have kid-sized carts.
  • GMO status: Almost everything in TJ’s is their own store brand. They have committed to not using GMOs in any of those items.
  • Affordable: Bananas at 19 cents each, uncured bacon for $2.99/lb, almond meal for $3.99/lb, and a two pound bag of non-GMO tortilla chips for $2.99 ? There’s no other store that beats those prices.

A few cautions:

  • Out-of-stock items: TJ’s does run out of stock of items. I’m not really sure why this happens. I would think they could figure it out. Maybe they’re trying to make me come back more often? 🙂 Anyways, the problem is that they disguise that they’re out! For example, they were out of almond butter and chocolate chips today. Instead of seeing an empty spot on the shelf, they simply crowd the other items into that spot. So I end up standing there for 5 minutes staring at the baking section thinking I’m losing my  mind because I can’t find the chocolate chips – only to realize they’re out of them.
  • Ingredients: It’s still important to read the ingredient labels. It’s tempting to think that since it’s Trader Joe’s, the ingredients won’t be questionable, but that’s not always the case.

So, here’s what we picked up today: IMG_0242 Almond meal: Ground almonds, often used in paleo baking or for breading meat. At $3.99/lb, I couldn’t make my own almond meal for this price. It is best kept in the freezer to avoid going rancid.

Raw sunflower seeds: TJ’s prices on seeds and nuts are terrific. I usually buy nuts there, but I didn’t need any this time. I grind sunflower seeds in a coffee grinder. I then add it to smoothies or use in baking. One note of caution: do not use sunflower seed flour in recipes involving baking soda. Your baked good will turn green. IMG_0234 Coconut Water: Your natural Pedialyte or Gatorade: an electrolyte-replacing drink with high potassium, yet none of the sugar and artificial dyes of Gatorade. We have not tried this before. I bought it to keep on hand for when Ethan gets fevers.

Roasted Red Pepper Hummus

Uncured Bacon Ends & Pieces: At $2.99/lb, this is the sole reason I started going to Trader Joe’s.  We love this bacon! I always buy 4-5 packs. IMG_0245 Organic Powdered Sugar: Your typical powdered sugar contains sugar blended at high speeds with corn starch to create powdered sugar. This is a problem for Noah because it contains corn. I was thrilled to see that TJ’s powdered sugar uses tapioca starch instead of corn starch. Corn is a grain, tapioca is not. While we don’t use much sugar, it’s nice to be able to frost a cupcake every once in a while. 🙂

Cocoa Powder: Simply because it’s cheap. IMG_0244 Suckers: Free of artificial food dyes! I keep some of these in my purse so if the kids are offered treats, I can easily trade Noah (or all 3 kids) a gluten-full treat for these. I’m paying $2.99 for about 30 of them. IMG_0243   Almond Milk: Unsweetened, vanilla-flavored. This is our current go-to almond milk (until I get a Vitamix and can make my own!). We use this in place of regular milk.

Light Coconut Milk: We use this in smoothies. While we prefer full-fat coconut milk, it is very expensive. This light coconut milk is simply coconut milk and water, so we’re using this until I find an affordable source of full-fat coconut milk. We do occasionally buy coconut milk in cartons like the almond milk, but we prefer the taste of canned and avoiding the additives. The cleaner Noah can eat, the better. IMG_0238   Banana Chips

Plaintain Chips: Noah’s grain-free substitute for tortilla or potato chips. He dips them in salsa or eats them plain. He LOVES these.

Sweet Potato Chips: We use these in place of tortilla chips or potato chips. Sweet potato chips can be tricky. Always check the label to make sure that they only have sweet potatoes (plus oil and salt)! Many brands use a combination of sweet potato and corn or potato, yet label them as simply “Sweet Potato Chips”. At $1.99/bag, that’s a better price than I can get at a regular grocery store. IMG_0241 This photo includes many of the above items, yet also a few new ones:

Sunflower Seed Butter: The boys cannot handle too many nuts, especially Ethan. So this is our nut-free butter. TJ’s brand does contain added sweetener. I try to avoid added sweeteners in our nut butters, but TJ’s is cheap and we love the taste of it. We’re not perfect with everything. 🙂

Tomato Basil Marinara Sauce: At $1.79, this is more money than I usually pay for store-bought pasta sauce. However, we all love the taste of this sauce. The kids have been not-so-thrilled with spaghetti squash lately – and I have a ton of them growing in the garden – so I decided to splurge on a good sauce to get them back to eating it.

Tortilla Chips: Noah does not eat these. The rest of us eat these while he eats plantain chips. While we strive to all eat the same thing, we would go broke if we all ate plantain chips ($2.99 for a tiny bag). And since gluten-free grains don’t bother the rest of us, we get these. I love that I can get a huge bag for $2.99 that is GMO-free. I did pick up some produce there, but nothing special. I generally avoid their meat, dairy, and frozen sections due to higher prices.

Now you have more information than you ever wanted.

Chocolate Covered Bacon

Going to the Wisconsin State Fair is a big deal for my husband. He’s gone just about every year of his life and plans to keep it that way.  Corn on the cob, fresh-squeezed lemonade, giant cream puffs, Kohl’s dairy milk stand – the food traditions are half the fun!

Noah loves the fair, but fair food does not love him. This year I decided we would find some new fair food.  I talked to the kids about it and mentioned how the fair has other great food we can try instead of our usuals. We could try chocolate covered bacon! Or frozen chocolate bananas! Just because we can’t have the usual fair food doesn’t mean we can’t have any fair food!

Or does it?

The Wisconsin State Fair puts out a list of gluten-free foods. This is only moderately helpful to us, since most of the foods on the list contain dairy or corn or potatoes or . . . you get the idea. It also lists things like “Maple Syrup” and “Honey”, which clearly are not items I can buy for Noah to eat right there. Anyways, I should have looked at the list before I opened my mouth about bacon and bananas. While I was happy to see bananas on the list, chocolate covered bacon was mysteriously absent.

Oh no.

Nothing like building up your child’s food dream of chocolate covered bacon only to have to tell him, for the billionth time in his life, that he can’t have it.

So I decided to play it safe.

I announced to the kids that we can’t buy TOO much fair food, so we’ll make some at home! (That sounds good, right?)

We made chocolate covered bacon for breakfast.

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Pretty straightforward: Put bacon on skewer, bake in the oven, coat it with chocolate, and eat! I melted the chocolate chips with a scoop of coconut oil, which worked wonderfully. I did give the kids green smoothies to drink while we waited for the chocolate to harden.

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We only coated one side of the bacon with the chocolate. It was breakfast, after all. The kids added almonds, coconut, or sea salt on top.

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Delicious and crisis averted!

Until the next crisis arises. Also known as this kiddo and the potential that the chocolate covered bananas will be coated with peanuts…

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Cookies!

Noah rarely has cookies. He gets the occasional grain-free muffin or cupcake, but I’ve never been big on attempting cookies. I was feeling guilty, so I made Ginger Cookies this past week. (I substituted cinnamon for the fennel and pepper in the recipe. I was pretty sure fennel and pepper would not count as cookie flavors in Noah’s eyes.)

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(pictured with chocolate chip cookie)

Then yesterday Anna was lamenting the loss of all her favorite foods. She was rather dramatic about it, considering she’s not the one with the allergies. “We never eat ANYTHING good anymore! I can never bake ANYTHING!” – all in true 6 year old girl fashion. I suggested she look through our Paleo cookbooks and pick something. “No, that’s never going to work! Everything has eggs!”

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Find something with 1 or 2 eggs, and we will make it work. She chose a classic: Chocolate Chip Cookies.

I winced at the 3 cups of almond flour (grocery budget, grocery budget), but said okay. Usually I insist on halving the recipe, but she wanted to do it by herself. Me writing in all the new measurements somehow takes away from her independent baking fun.

So I quietly mixed ground flaxseed with hot water (egg substitue), set it on the table, and let her do the rest. Thankfully, she let Noah be her assistant.

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In other words, I’m not 100% sure they followed the recipe exactly.

The cookies turned out better than I remembered. They were flat, but I attribute that to the egg replacement.

The kids ate some for snack time. I packed the extras in the freezer. They keep great and taste wonderful frozen!

Most importantly, Anna felt like all was right in the world again.

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The linked recipe is the same one as in the cookbook Make It Paleo, one of my favorites.

Turkey Dinner – Noah style

Turkey dinners have a few basic requirements:
Turkey
Gravy
Mashed potatoes
Rolls
Corn

Turkey is pretty straight forward. I just have to read the label to make sure that the “solution” does not contain any wheat. I haven’t found any that contain wheat, but you never know what food companies will do.

Gravy? I throw out the gravy packet that comes with the turkey.While it tastes wonderful, it contains wheat. I learned to make my own gravy. I used to think making gravy was really difficult. It’s not that bad! It just takes some patience and attention. I follow Simply Recipes gravy instructions, except I substitute tapioca starch for the corn starch.

Honestly, side dishes are the most challenging part of a grain-free diet for me. Rolls are definitely out. At first glance, mashed potatoes are out. Then I remembered seeing recipes for faux mashed potatoes using cauliflower instead of potatoes. This idea always repulsed me, but we’ve been working hard on having everyone eat the same meal. I was stuck on side dishes, so I decided to give it a try. First, it was much easier than I anticipated! Steam cauliflower until tender. Toss it in a food processor with some salt, pepper, garlic, and a few tablespoons of butter. Blend until creamy. That’s it! As for my “potatoes”, the texture was similar to mashed potatoes. Perhaps a bit more liquidy, like when you put too much milk in mashed potatoes. The taste is a bit different from mashed potatoes, but not awful, especially with gravy. I think I could get used to it. Anna and Noah both enjoyed them. Ethan tried them but was not a fan.

Corn is currently out for us, so I just picked a different vegetable side dish. Rabbits ate our carrot tops, so I’ve been pulling up our baby-size carrots. They taste great! Earlier this week I tried Roasted Cumin Lime Carrots. They looked just like the photo, which was exciting, but we did not like the combination of flavors. So this time I simply roasted them with oil, salt, and pepper. Much better results!
(Confession: I also roasted a few chopped beets from our garden. It was our first time eating beets. The kids said beets are okay, but not very good.)
Turkey, gravy, mashed cauliflower, and roasted beets and carrots. Works for us! I was going to offer peaches to fill out the meal more, but the kids were eating the veggies great on their own!

July 28 Weekly Menu

Sorry I disappeared for a little while! We went on vacation for a week. Then I suffered with horrible allergies last week. I am finally feeling a bit more like myself.  So back to food…

Here is what we will be eating for the rest of the week.  Of course, I add or subtract things depending on what works each day.

Breakfast – all served with smoothies
Bacon x2
Leftover baked ham
Celery with nut butter (rice cakes for the rest of us)
Hot cereal (soaked oatmeal for Ethan) x2

Lunch – all served with fruit and raw vegetables
Turkey soup
Ham roll-ups
Celery with nut butter
Taco salads
Fajitas over Cauli-rice
Leftover chicken thighs

Supper – all served with apple or pear sauce (probiotic and supplements mixed in)
Baked ham, Sweet potato fries, Green beans with bacon
Smoked paprika chicken thighs, stir-fried veggies
Turkey and gravy, Roasted carrots, Cauli garlic mashed potatoes
Leftover turkey, Green beans
Beef and broccoli over Cauli-rice
Pizza! (I will update when I decide what crust to try this week)

Snacks
Fudge Babies
Chocolate Mousse (blend frozen bananas + avocados + cocoa)
Chia seed pudding (coconut milk + chia seeds + flavoring)
Watermelon slushes (blend watermelon + ice + lime juice + mint leaf)
Chocolate banana bites  (frozen banana slices dipped in melted chocolate)
Fruit leather