Wholesome R.D. Mom

Making Nutrition a Way of Life


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Q and A: Greek Yogurt

Reader Question:

My son loves yogurt, especially Greek Yogurt. Organic Greek is hard to find. He prefers the flavored varieties but the amount of sugar is crazy! Do I just stick to plain Greek yogurt and flavor it with syrup/honey/vanilla/fruit/granola or is there a better option?

Answer:

Greek yogurt is a great source of protein (with a whopping ~23 grams per 8oz) and calcium for growing kids and can be found in a multitude of varieties (whole, 2%, fat-free, light….etc) and flavors. So how do you choose a healthy Greek yogurt with all these choices?

Lets take a step back for a moment and talk about shopping for food (in general). I typically keep an eye out for 2 things on a food label:

1.) A short list of ingredients. 

2.) Ingredients with a known source (and no, a test tube or lab doesn’t count). For example, if we take a look at yogurt we know that the ingredient “milk” comes from a cow, “cane sugar” is derived from sugar cane (albeit processed)….etc. What about natural flavor or aspartame? Can you tell me where those came from? EXACTLY! Now, this is a general rule and won’t work for everything, but it’s important to know where your food (and ingredients) are sourced, so it’s all part of a learning process.

When we look at plain yogurt, it almost always fits the bill! So yes, it is typically one of the healthiest options. However, it doesn’t appeal to everyone’s tastebuds. So what can you do to jazz it up?

-add a touch of honey or maple syrup and a few drops of your favorite pure extract (vanilla, lemon, almond, coconut….etc) for flavor. Maple syrup and vanilla is our family’s favorite (I also make sure to use the alcohol-free extracts if I’m not baking with them as they have a smoother flavor profile).

-stew some berries or apples with cinnamon in a saucepan on the stovetop (to pull out the juice and soften the fruit), let the mixture cool, store it in the fridge and mix it into the yogurt as you like (you can also puree the mixture).

-mix in a dallop of your favorite pure fruit jam.

-mix together plain yogurt and fruit yogurt to cut the sweetness in half.

-pulverize some dehydrated fruit (strawberries, mangos, etc) and mix it until you reach your desired taste.

-top with granola, toasted chopped nuts, or crushed homemade graham crackers.

Of course, Greek yogurt can also be used in many recipes for dressings, dips, marinades and baked goods and as a substitute for sour cream and mayo as you may see in some of my recipes.

In the real food world Greek yogurt should be made with just 2 ingredients: milk and live cultures.  However, once you begin reading labels you will soon discover that many Greek yogurt brands on the market contain a slew of other unnecessary ingredients.

One of these added ingredients includes sugars: Milk, in its natural state, contains sugar. For example, plain Greek yogurt contains about 6-9g of sugar per 8oz (1 cup). Additionally, if the yogurt contains some sort of fruit it will have a higher sugar content (as fruit naturally contains sugar). So don’t panic when you see the number of sugar grams. Rather, look at the ingredients label and pay attention to the added sweetener and the form it is in. Some of these added sweeteners include (in which I would consider descending nutritional order): fruit/fruit juice/fruit concentrate, honey, cane sugar, agave, fructose, high fructose corn syrup or even artificial sweeteners (stevia, sucralose, aspartame).

Now, I never like to make anyone hyper vigilant about every single thing that is put in their mouth, as balance plays a very important role in health (both physical and mental). However, I do believe in educating the consumer so that informed decisions can be made.  So, what might be some other aspects to look for in a Greek yogurt?

Is the yogurt organic? The organic label would imply that the product is GMO-free, as certified organic products cannot contain genetically modified organisms. Additionally, an organic label would ensure that the milk used to make the yogurt was not derived from cows given antibiotics (which can interfere with the effectiveness of human antibiotic use). So now I want you to ask yourself whether this is important to you.

Additionally, some so-called yogurts are disguised as “Greek” through the use of milk protein concentrate. This highly processed ingredient is often used to boost the protein content of these “yogurts” and to create that Greek yogurt mouth-feel (even though the yogurt has not gone through the traditional straining process). Why? Well, because “Greek-style” yogurts are cheap for food manufacturers to make and sadly, they are in business solely for a profit.

Now think back to my formula for choosing food products:

1.) A short list of ingredients…….and

2.) Ingredients with a known source.

So, if you run across a yogurt containing any other ingredients such as fillers (corn starch, maltodextrin), colorings, flavors (even natural flavor), stabilizers and preservatives those varieties should then take a back seat….need I say more?

Also, it’s important to remember that fat is not your enemy. A little bit of a full-fat yogurt will keep you much more satiated than a fat-free variety. Although, this can be a personal preference, you should base your buying decision on your current health status and your typical yogurt consumption. For example, I believe a full-fat yogurt on an occasional night is definitely a pure delight. Now if I were a regular consumer or had elevated lipid levels I might rethink the full-fat variety. Do you get my drift?

So there you have it! I’m hoping that you can confidently buy a yogurt that suits you and your family (as we all differ with regards to health, monetary resources, stances on GMOs and product availability). Or if you want to take it one step further, you can make your own yogurt in the comfort of your home…..but that will be saved for a different blog post.

With all this being said my family tends to stick with plain yogurt (spruced up with a touch of maple syrup and pure alcohol-free vanilla flavor) with the occasional fruit yogurt here and there. Some of our current favorite fruit yogurt brands include: Maple Hill Creamery, Wallaby Organic and Siggi’s. Additionally, on a side note, if you ever have a question about a product or an ingredient always feel free to call the company and inquire. As a consumer you have the right to know!

 

 

 

 

 

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Chocolate Lovers Donut (grain-free, nut-free and dairy-free)

Last week, our area of North Carolina had a cold spell, leaving us with an inch and a half of sleet. This may not mean anything to you, but to North Carolina, it means we need to shut down the state. No school, no mail delivery, bare grocery store shelves…..and ultimately, no sanity for many parents. I’m being a little facetious, as I actually had a great time being cooped up in the house with my wonderful and crazy family. Because we didn’t have the usual morning hustle and bustle of having to get ready for school, packing lunches or grabbing a quick breakfast, we hung around in our pajamas all day (until we wanted to play outside on the ice), made some special treats and drank lots and LOTS of hot cocoa.

One of the mornings we decided to revisit a recipe I had left behind months ago…..a recipe for chocolate donuts. The recipe was yummy the first time, but needed a few tweaks to make it become an easy, go-to recipe that I’d be willing to share. This recipe ais grain-free, nut-free, and dairy free (depending on the type of chocolate used). However, I can assure you that even the pickiest of eaters with no dietary restrictions (eh, eh, em……my husband) enjoyed them! I am definitely a chocolate gal and often crave chocolate donuts. Therefore, I’m a happy lady to have a recipe to satisfy those times…..oh, and to share a little treat with my kiddos who would demolish the whole batch if they could. We hope you enjoy these delectable chocolate donuts as much as our family does.

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For the donuts:

Ingredients: makes 6 large donuts or 24 mini muffins (“donut holes”)

  • 1 large greenish-yellow plantain
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon (optional, but it helps to hide the mild plantain taste)
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 3.5 oz semi-sweet chocolate or dark chocolate (often times 1 bar = 3.5 oz) OR you can use a heaping 1/2 cup of chocolate chips (my favorite brand is Enjoy Life which are allergen free)
  • 2 Tbsp coconut oil
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda

Directions: 

  • Preheat oven to 350° F
  • Peel the plantain and place it in a high speed blender along with the eggs, vanilla, cinnamon and salt.
  • Blend until the mixture is smooth.
  • Melt the chocolate and the coconut oil (or butter) together on the stove or in a microwave. Note: I have even skipped this step when using mini chocolate chips by just placing them whole in my Vitamix (just make sure you don’t forget the coconut oil).
  • Add the baking soda to the plantain mixture then spoon the melted chocolate and coconut oil into the blender while on low until the mixture is uniform.
  • Pour the donut batter into a mini muffin tin (for donut holes) or a donut pan.
  • Bake for approximately 15 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean (the time will be slightly longer for the donut pan).

For the chocolate coating:

Ingredients:

  • 1.75 oz semi-sweet chocolate (1/2 of a 3.5oz chocolate bar) or 1/4 cup chocolate chips
  • 1 tsp coconut oil

Directions: 

  • Melt the chocolate and the coconut oil on the stovetop or in a shallow microwave safe bowl in the microwave.
  • Dip the top of the donut into the melted chocolate (the warmer the chocolate the thinner the coating, the cooler the chocolate the thicker the coating)
  • Place frosted donuts on a baking sheet or large plate and place in the refrigerator for the chocolate coating to harden.
  • Store the donuts in a airtight container in the fridge and let sit at room temperature before serving.
  • Lick your fingers and the bowl but make sure you get rid of the evidence!

 


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Orange Creamsicle Mini Muffins

What happens when I ask my daughter what she want to make with me in the kitchen? She looks around the room, finds something that inspires her, then decides to work that into her world of what she knows she likes. In this case, she found some organic oranges sitting on the counter and she immediately blurted out, “orange muffins!” This was so strange to me, because although my daughter loves muffins, she is not fond of oranges. So I thought about it for a few minutes and decided that this may be a good way to re-introduce her to oranges.

I try to make muffins that contain some kind of whole grain (or other high fiber grain-free flour) with a good protein content as my kids tend to crash and remain hungry after downing a refined carbohydrate muffin that is full of sugar. So I experimented with some ricotta in this recipe and kept the sugar down to a minimal amount while still hoping for a semi-sweet muffin. Additionally, when making baked items or pastries I often use whole wheat pastry flour as it is 100% whole grain and allows for a much lighter texture than whole wheat flour (even white whole wheat flour). I typically find organic whole wheat pastry flour at Whole Foods  (365 brand) and sometime purchase it online through Vitacost (Bob’s Red Mill brand). I would definitely consider it my go-to flour aside from coconut flour.

For our initial trial of this recipe my daughter decided to add mini chocolate chips to the batter. Both my kids felt like they were eating cupcakes and loved that variation. However, the next time we made them we added dried cherries which were also delicious. I can imagine these would be awesome with mini white chocolate chips and dried cranberries or fresh blueberries, yum. The possibilities are endless, so let your kids decide 🙂

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Ingredients:

  • 1 c. whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 c. granulated sugar (organic)
  • 2 tablespoons grass-fed butter or coconut oil (you can also sub your favorite oil as I like to bake with Walnut oil), melted
  • 2 Eggs
  • 1/4 c. ricotta cheese
  • 1/4 cup fresh squeezed orange juice (equals about 1 medium-sized orange)
  • Zest of 1 organic orange
  • 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • Your choice of: 1/4 c unsweetened and unsulphered dried cherries (I buy mine at Trader Joes). Or you can substitute any other dried or fresh fruit of your choice or add a little surprise with 2-3 Tbsp of mini chocolate chips.

Directions: 

  • Preheat oven to 350° F
  • Sift together the dry ingredients:  flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
  • In a separate bowl mix together the sugar, butter, eggs, ricotta, orange juice, orange zest and vanilla.
  • Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix until fully incorporated.
  • Gently fold in the dried cherries (or other add-ins that you have chosen. My kids love the mini chocolate chip version of course).
  • Spoon batter into a mini muffin pan lined with mini baking cups (I use the following liners as it helps to avoid losing half the mini muffin to the pan or the liners and it also helps tremendously with clean up: http://www.ifyoucare.com/product/fsc-certified-baking-cups-fsc-c005046). Fill each liner about 3/4 full. (makes 24 mini muffins)
  • Bake for ~15 minutes or until a toothpick can be inserted in the center and come out clean.
  • Wait for the muffins to cool a bit and dig in.

We’ve also tried these with a dollop of cream cheese “frosting” (organic cream cheese, a small drizzle of pure maple syrup, a splash of freshly squeezed orange juice and some orange zest) which was absolutely delicious! Make sure you taste along the way and make it the way you like it!

YUM!

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My general rule of 5 ingredients or less (that are pronounceable and have a known origin)

We had a science birthday for my son where we conducted experiments, made organic munchable molecules (various cut up fruits, whole wheat pretzel sticks and cheese cubes), created milk art and ended with a grand finale of diet Coke and Mentos “explosions” which, by the way, are pretty awesome!

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After everything was done and over I had 2 rolls of Mentos left. I was thinking that the kids might enjoy having a Mento on occasion (as we never buy them) and that it certainly wouldn’t hurt them……..after all, I used to eat these things nonstop as a kid (and they are in fact the “Fresh maker” which just might get rid of hummus breath and my run on sentences). However, after taking a look at the ingredients, I decided that the best place for the Mentos was the trash or in another 2 liter of diet coke solely for the sake of science!

Ingredients: sugar, wheat glucose syrup, hydrogenated coconut oil, rice starch, natural flavors, gum arabic, sucrose esters of fatty acids, gellan gum and Carnauba wax, Beeswax

I’ll stick to my general rule of: Don’t eat anything with more than five ingredients, or ingredients you can’t pronounce (or have no clue where they are derived). Also, why oh why do companies still use trans fats (which come from hydrogenated oils) after all of the evidence pointing to their health dangers?

Have you ever looked at a Nutrition Facts label or Ingredient list on a food product that you used to eat or had at home and made up your mind that you would NEVER buy it again? What was it and why?


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Pumpkin Muffins (gluten-free, dairy-free)

Who doesn’t love Pumpkin Muffins? One of my favorite pumpkin muffin recipes (that I have made or years) uses whole wheat pastry flour and is quite nutritious. However, this year I wanted to experiment and make a grain-free and dairy free version (as I have noticed I feel a ton better eating this way due to my autoimmune thyroid disease). So this week I made an attempt and I’m quite pleased with the result….not to mention my kids love them too! I have found that using some almond butter in the recipe tends to create a different texture than my typical coconut flour muffins (which I also love…but I know some individuals don’t care for the coconut flour texture). These muffins are once again a great balance of healthy fats, carbohydrates and protein which makes them great for breakfast or snacks.

 

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Pumpkin Muffins (gluten free, dairy free)

This recipe makes about 12 regular-sized muffins

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup unsweetened organic applesauce
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp pumpkin puree
  • 1/3 cup almond butter (I used unsalted)
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/4 cup coconut flour, sifted (I love this for the fiber content and the fact that a little goes a long way)
  • 1/4 cup pure maple syrup or local honey
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 Tbsp pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt (if using salted almond butter then reduce the salt to a scant 1/4 tsp)

Directions: 

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  • Combine the almond butter, applesauce, pumpkin, eggs, vanilla and maple syrup together in a bowl and mix well.
  • Add the coconut flour, pumpkin pie spice, baking soda and salt to the almond butter mixture and stir until blended (wait for a minute or two and then stir again as the coconut flour will absorb the liquid).
  • Use a 1/4 measuring cup to scoop the batter into a muffin tin lined with unbleached parchment muffin liners (The If You Care baking cups are my favorite as they take a lot of work out of the clean up process and you won’t have to worry about eating your muffin off the wrapper).
  • Bake for about 22 minutes or until the muffin rims turn a golden color. You can also utilize the toothpick method (put a toothpick in the middle of a muffin and pull it out. If it’s clean then the muffin is done. If the toothpick comes out dirty, with batter on it, the muffins need to cook longer).
  • Allow the muffins to cool and then dig in.
  • Store leftovers in the fridge.

These would go great with a light cream cheese topping made with organic cream cheese mixed with a drizzle of maple syrup and a bit  of pure vanilla extract. My family likes the flavor of cream cheese so I only use a little maple syrup, therefore, add as much as you need to get your desired flavor/sweetness…..just remember that it is sugar.


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Crock Pot Cider Applesauce (unsweetened)

I don’t use my crock pot very often as my family is not fond of the resulting texture of numerous foods (namely meat) and the fact that my husband, daughter and sometimes son, claim they have compartmentalized stomaches disallowing any mixed dishes in the house.  However, there are a few recipes that have forced me to hang onto this kitchen appliance…….and this Cider Applesauce Recipe is one of them. Not only is this Cider applesauce delectably healthy, but the cooking process creates a warm nostalgic Fall aroma that is so comforting. This recipe contains no added sugar as the apples and spices create a perfect blend of sweetness and a healthy comfort food that the whole family with love. So what are you waiting for? It’s apple season right now and Fall can never come too soon!

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Crock Pot Cider Applesauce (No Sugar Added)

Ingredients:

  • 10 large organic apples (if using smaller apples, like I have seen at Trader Joes, I would recommend doubling the amount to 20 apples)
  • 1 Tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground gloves
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg

Directions:

  • Cut the apples into 4 slices (in half, then in half again).
  • Peel and thinly slice the apples, then place them into your crock pot (my 4 quart crock pot is almost full with this amount of apples).
  • Sprinkle all of the spices evenly over the apples.
  • Cover and cook on high until apples are soft (about 4 hours).
  • About half way through the cooking open the lid and stir the spices into the apples then cover again for the remaining time.
  • For a chunky applesauce you can whisk the apples or use a potato masher to break up the larger pieces when done. If you prefer a smoother applesauce feel free to use an immersion blender or puree it in a blender in small batches after it cools a bit.
  • Transfer it to recycled mason jars and keep refrigerated.

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A few ways we love to enjoy this Cider Applesauce are (oh, and we like it chunky):

  • On top of pancakes or waffles
  • Stuffed into crepes
  • Warmed in a bowl with a large dollop of vanilla Greek yogurt and a sprinkle of granola (this is when my kids think they are eating dessert for breakfast…..but how could I say “No?”)
  • As a side to accompany a delicious pork dinner.
  • As a late night snack and dessert
  • Mixed into muffins (or any recipe that might call for applesauce)
  • Anytime we darn well feel like it because it’s just that good!!!

 


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Homemade Organic Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream

This summer I broke down and finally bought our family a Cuisinart ICE-20 Ice Cream Maker (which also makes frozen yogurt and sorbet)….and it has certainly been a lot of fun! My son loves ice cream and has asked for it every birthday instead of cake…….so I knew he would be in heaven. Additionally, I like being able to customize flavors and control the ingredients in our ice cream. It’s not exactly healthy, but the cool decadent dessert  is a fun treat to splurge on every now and then. We have made some healthier versions of frozen yogurt and have not yet tried out a sorbet (that is next on my list), but this mint chocolate chip ice cream got an amazing 2 thumbs up by everyone in the family. I erred on the cautious side with the peppermint extract (as I know it can be strong) so I supplemented with a dark chocolate mint bar (Green and Black to be specific) to make up for some of it. The mixture below was simply perfect in flavor……subtle and not overpowering, but a definite minty delight. And our addition of spinach to tinge the ice cream green was a success (despite it not being depicted in the photo very well)! We sure hope you enjoy our rendition of mint chocolate chip ice cream.

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Organic Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream

Ingredients:

  • 1 c. organic whole milk
  • 3/4 c. organic cane sugar
  • 2 c. organic heavy cream
  • 1 small handful of organic baby spinach
  • 1/2 tsp. organic peppermint extract
  • 1 Tbsp arrowroot starch (this is optional, but I wouldn’t skip it. Please see my note below)
  • Pinch of salt
  • ~1/4 c. shaved Organic Green and Black Dark Chocolate Mint bar

Directions:

  • Before starting, make sure to place the freezer bowl of your ice cream maker in the freezer for at least 6 hours. I have been storing my bowl in the freezer so it’s always ready when I want to make ice cream, frozen yogurt or sorbet in the summer.
  • Place the milk and the spinach in a blender and puree until there are no spinach chunks left.
  • In a medium bowl, use a whisk to combine the newly blended green milk, sugar, and salt.
  • Once the sugar is dissolved, stir in the heavy cream, peppermint extract, and arrowroot starch.
  • Put the frozen freezer bowl on the ice cream machine motor base and add the paddle and the lid.
  • Turn on the ice cream maker and slowly pour in the mixture.
  • Let the ice cream churn for about 10 minutes. I always cover the top pour hole with a folded kitchen cloth to help keep the cold in and the churning time down.
  • In the meantime, finely chop (or shave) the dark chocolate mint bar until you have about 1/4 cup of chocolate shavings.
  • Once 10 minutes of churning has taken place take off the kitchen towel and add the chocolate shavings.
  • Continue churning for another 5-10 minutes or until the desired consistency is reached (with the kitchen towel on top of the pour hole my churning times were reduced by 5-10 minutes).
  • If not eating it right away (or if you desire a firmer consistency) store the ice cream in an airtight container in the freezer.

Note: I use the arrowroot starch as it works as a stabilizer and interferes with the formation of large ice crystals, helping to create a smooth mouth feel to the ice cream. Trust me, you will never make ice cream without it again!