Summertime! For those of us who don’t get to spend the whole summer on a beach being lazy, especially those who have kiddos who are bored even though they don’t want to be in school, I’d thought I’d write about cool things to make for lunches. It’s too hot to eat heavy and who wants to heat up the kitchen with a lot of stove use? But, we also don’t want to eat out all the time – at least, I hope you don’t! And, getting the kids involved is a good way to teach them about where food comes from and how it gets from farms to your table, not to mention instilling a practical skill they will have for life.

Moving past PB&J or cheese sandwiches or hotdogs, what are some interesting and fun lunch ideas that don’t need a lot of heat? Wraps. Rollups. Pasta salads. Sloppy Joes. Kabobs. Tostadas. Salad-in-a-jar. Tacos. Zucchini pizzas. Panini. Keeping in mind what foods your kids like and what you think they might try if presented with a fun chance, all of these ideas could work well. You’ll want to keep these ideas in mind as you prepare for other meals and shop for ingredients. I also will make lunch out of unexpected leftover bits and bites, and many of these ideas lend themselves well to that. Will some of the lunches for the week need beans? Cook extra or make sure to have canned ones on hand. Making mini-pizzas? Be sure you have extra of your favorite marinara – homemade or bought – and cheese. Tortillas? Check. Fresh carrots and cucumbers and lettuce and other veggies? Check. Cooked chicken, either leftover from a dinner or rotisserie chicken from the store makes it easy? Check. As with planning dinner menus, it helps to have all the ingredients available. Then all ya gotta do is prep and eat!

Depending on the ages of the children, if you have any around, they can be assigned various tasks to help. Older kids may want to help plan or even dream up their own ideas, and certainly help with prep and any cooking. Younger kids can help assemble and even chop and slice – good way to teach safe knife handling. Little ones can help add ingredients you have prepped and measured, stir, and help assemble. The results may not be as pretty as the pictures but will taste just as good!

Most kids like pasta, and a cold pasta salad can be a fun dish to prepare, and a good way to get some veggies in their mouth they may think they don’t like. It seems raw veggies, especially cut into fun shapes, are more tolerable to reluctant tasters. Italian-style dressing is common but may not be to kids’ tastes – maybe a creamy, ranch type dressing would be better liked. Sure, pasta has to be cooked but it’s minimal and if you plan extra when making another meal, you’ll have it ready to mix.

Skewers (cold kabobs) of favorite and not so familiar items are fun. Roll up sliced turkey or ham and cut into 1” pieces, do the same with soft cheese slices like provolone or cut small cubes of some cheddar or Monterey jack. Prep items the eaters will like or you think they might like, such as cucumber or zucchini slices, grape tomatoes, folded up lettuce leaves, pitted olives, and even grapes or strawberries. Choose foods that will slide onto a wooden skewer easily. Put these in small bowls and let the kids build-your-own-kabob, no cooking needed! You can turn wraps into rollups if you layer the contents well, using hummus or similar consistency spread as first layer. Once you’ve layered the wrap, roll it tightly, and then cut into 1” wide slices. So maybe hummus, slice of turkey or ham, slice of cheese or shredded cheese, maybe young spinach leaves or some shredded lettuce, a bit of shredded carrot or other veg. Just don’t use large chunks – they don’t roll well or stay rolled up well.

Tacos and pizzas don’t have to be hot, or have meat that requires cooking. These pizzas will be a little messy to eat but fun. Slice a day-old, whole-grain baguette or a medium zucchini into 1/4-3/8” slices. Top each slice with a bit of marinara, a bit of shredded cheese, and maybe an olive or halved cherry tomato. You could add some finely chopped herbs, like basil or oregano too. Pizza! Tacos could be fresh (less crumbly) or dried small tortillas, with maybe some cold leftover chicken or leftover beans and rice, some salsa, and other taco toppings of diner’s choice. Again, put the toppings in small bowls and let the kids build-your-own-taco, no cooking needed!

If the children are salad eaters it can be fun to make a salad in a jar (or one pint translucent plastic tub for picnics). Put the dressing in first, then layer the preferred fixin’s in, with the first one being something that can touch the dressing without damage. (So I wouldn’t start with lettuce.) Use lots of colorful veggies is various shapes  – orange carrots cut in tiny cubes, purple cabbage thinly sliced to show off its curls, dark green spinach to contrast with lighter green lettuce, red bells in skinny strips, etc. Put the lid on, store in fridge until lunchtime. Shake the jar to mix the dressing around, and now all that’s needed is a fork.

Here’s a vegetarian ‘sloppy joe’ recipe. Requires little cooking, and does well in a crockpot. In addition to being different from what a sloppy joe usually consists of, serve this mix in a pita pocket to make it even more interesting. Also, it makes a lot as written, so maybe this helps out for a pool party.

Vegetarian Sloppy Joes
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large white onion, sliced
2 medium carrots, or 1 large, shredded
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons chili powder
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 cups cooked pinto beans
1 large red bell pepper, diced
1 8-ounce can no-salt-added tomato sauce
2 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce or tamari, or Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2-1 cup water
2-3 cups very thinly sliced green or purple cabbage
1 medium zucchini, diced
1 cup corn, fresh or frozen (optional, I omit this)
3 tablespoons mustard of choice, or to taste
Salt, black pepper to taste

Preparation
Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion; cook, stirring occasionally, until starting to
brown, about 8 minutes. Stir in carrots and garlic and chili powder; cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 15-30 seconds. Remove from heat; stir in vinegar and scrape up any browned bits.
Coat a 6-quart slow cooker with cooking spray, if desired. Mix the tomato paste with 1/2 cup water until smooth; add remaining water a bit at a time if mixture is too thick. Add this mixture and the rest of the ingredients to the slow cooker. Stir to combine.
Cover and cook on High for 1 hour or Low for 2-3 hours. The cabbage should be well cooked. When done to your liking turn the cooker off. Check the seasoning, adjust to taste.
Serve on buns or in pita pocket bread.

Note: If you sauté the onion/carrot/garlic in a large stove top pot, you could add the rest of the ingredients to it instead of a crockpot. Heat to low simmer for 30-40 minutes and check for consistency. This method may require a little additional water.

[Modified from http://www.eatingwell.com/recipes/vegetarian_pinto_bean_sloppy_joes.html]

 

Now I was saying how kids like pasta. Disclaimer here – I have not tried this! But it seems so easy I thought I’d add it.

5 Minute Homemade Mac and Cheese
1/2 pound cooked pasta of choice (we used small shells)
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup whole milk
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1. Place pasta, cheese, milk, salt and pepper into a microwave safe bowl. Stir to mix. Cover lightly with plastic wrap and microwave for 3 minutes. Stir and microwave for an additional 2 minutes. Stir until creamy and smooth. Serve immediately.
Makes 4 servings

[http://picky-palate.com/2012/02/20/5-minute-homemade-mac-and-cheese/]

 

Anyway, I hope this gave you some creative ideas for cool, easy lunches, whether you are feeding kids this summer or not!

20160607_summer cookingIt’s hot. It’s humid. The AC can’t keep up in the hottest part of the afternoon. Even the pool water gets warm. It’s even too hot to eat, much less cook something. But who wants to go out for dinner every night? Not this health coach!

If you’ve read some of my other posts, you’ll know I cook a lot and make most of our meals. We might eat out twice a week. I live in the Valley of the Sun, or the Pit of Hell as my daughter calls it in summer. We do get hot in the summer; in fact as I write this the forecasters are promising 117 as tomorrow’s high (update: it only got to 113). Welcome to June, lol! So what to do when you don’t want to heat up the kitchen? Sure, salads are always an option and we eat lots of salads year ’round. Cold soups, maybe? The grill is there, but ya gotta go outside to use it – it’s cooler in the kitchen! Here are a few ideas to help.

1) Pesto Pasta. Buy (or make) fresh pasta. It cooks in just a few minutes, less than half the time of dried pasta. Yes, you still have to get the water boiling but it takes less overall time. Or if you are not opposed to using a microwave, pasta cooks up pretty well there. Drain the cooked pasta and add dollops of fresh homemade pesto or use my favorite- Kirkland Signature Basil Pesto (from Costco, amazingly good). Pesto is easy to make and also requires no cooking. Or for a change from basil pesto try this one, Cilantro Walnut Pesto: http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/RCP02334/Cilantro-Walnut-Pesto.html. Serve the pasta with a small salad, or do like I do – add some fresh spinach, small pieces of broccoli (fresh or frozen), and some peas (fresh or frozen) to the pasta while it cooks and finish the same way as above. It’s a complete meal.

 

2) Gazpacho. Now, there are probably as many recipes for this as there are for winter’s favorite – chili. But here is mine, with no cooking required. Get a nice artisan loaf of bread from the farmers market or bakery and serve with good olive oil and a splash of balsamic vinegar to dip the bread.

In a large pot (you won’t be cooking but it makes a good mixing container!), pour in one bottle (64 oz.) of Trader Joe’s Low Sodium Garden Patch Vegetable Juice, or similar product of your preference.

Add:

1 diced cucumber or zucchini – no need to peel if organic (but do wash!)

1 green bell pepper, chopped

4-6 green onions, sliced

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 stalks celery, chopped

1 Tablespoon minced fresh parsley

1 Tablespoon minced fresh cilantro

1/2 Tablespoon minced fresh oregano [or 1/4-1/2 teaspoon dried]

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon paprika

5 Tablespoons red wine vinegar or sherry vinegar

2 Tablespoons olive oil

1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar

Stir to mix well. Refrigerate several hours before serving, stirring occasionally.

 

3) Celery Soup. Yes, this is great served hot but also quite good cold. Very satisfying and light, just what your overheated body wants. Serve with a small, simple side salad if your diners want something more.

2 potatoes, average size, diced

4 cups celery, cut in chunks

3 cups water

1 1/4 teaspoons salt

1 Tablespoon cooking oil (not coconut)

1 cup finely minced onion

1 cup finely minced celery

1 teaspoon celery seed [not celery salt, celery seed]

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup milk [can use unsweetened plant milk]

Ground pepper to taste

Finely chopped parsley for garnish [optional]

 

Put first four ingredients in large pot with lid, bring to a boil, then turn heat down and simmer about 15 minutes. Make sure potatoes are well cooked to avoid gluey soup. Puree and return to pot.

While potatoes are cooking, heat oil in skillet and sauté the minced onions and celery, the celery seed, and 1/2 teaspoon salt until tender but not browned.

Add the sautéed onion-celery mix, the milk, and the pepper to the puree when it is ready. You can serve it hot, or let it cool, refrigerate, and serve cold. Either way, sprinkle chopped parsley on top of soup as garnish.

{Adapted from Light Cream of Celery Soup in Mollie Katzen’s Moosewood Cookbook}

 

4) Speaking of simple salad… If you do grill something outdoors and want something cool to accompany it, try this salad. It’s also good served with the Celery Soup above. It can be just enough all by itself or with a bit of drained canned tuna mixed in for a light lunch.

Use Quantity of each item to fit number of servings and whether it’s side salad or main dish

Blend of torn lettuces [I use leaf, iceberg, spinach.]

Thin sliced cucumber

Halved grape or cherry tomatoes

Thin sliced green onions

Toss these together. Also toss in the tuna if using. Then in a lidded jar, add 1-2 Tablespoon(s) olive oil, 1 Tablespoon rice vinegar (it’s milder than white vinegar), 1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice, 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard, 1/4 teaspoon salt, dash black pepper; shake very well. If making a large salad you will need to increase these amounts proportionately. Pour over salad and toss.

 

5) Another good summer salad is this Black Bean Chicken Salad. Not a chicken salad to spread on sandwiches – it’s a green salad that has chopped cooked chicken added; chicken is optional, I often make this one without. If you do want chicken in it, some leftover from a grill outing would be good here.

Salad: ~ 6 cups torn lettuce [I mostly use leaf lettuce, and mix in fresh spinach if I have any.]

1 1/2 cups cooked chicken, chopped [optional]

1 1/2 cups cooked, drained black beans -or- 1 15 oz. can, drained

1 cup chopped, seeded tomatoes or halved cherry tomatoes

1 cup chopped bell pepper, color of your choice

1/2 thin sliced sweet or red onion

Dressing: 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar

1 Tablespoon organic canola oil [or other mild oil, olive oil has too much fruitiness for this, imo]

1 Tablespoon fresh lime juice

1/2 teaspoon grated lime zest

1 garlic clove, chopped

1 teaspoon chili powder

Salt and black pepper to taste

Put all dressing ingredients in a small blender or food processor and process until mostly smooth.

Pour over salad and toss to coat.

 

I hope you enjoy these cool summer dining ideas. Let me know if you do, and how you liked them!

 

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

20150602_On the roadFinally, in most parts of the country, signs that summer will actually arrive are popping up! In my neck of the woods, we thought we were going straight from winter (such as it is) to summer but then spring decided to show up, so we were coasting into summer. Now I think it’s here!

And summer for many of us means – travel! Road trips! Seeing the sights!

And summer for some of us means – travel! Business trips! Seeing customers!

Whether you travel for pleasure or for work, sticking to a healthy diet can be tough. Less access to healthy choices at groceries, less ability to store and prepare your own foods, and few healthy options at restaurants. On top of that, one’s exercise routine may get derailed, as may other self-care practices. I did a fair amount of business travel the past couple of years and my daily routines and habits always suffered. I found it easy to make excuses to myself and to justify not sticking to my plans. I was too stressed, too busy, too committed to business partners’ schedules. Then I’d go away on vacation and again justify not sticking with my routine. Got excuses? I did!

What are they ways we self-sabotage exercise and self-care routines and how do we avoid doing that to ourselves? We self-sabotage by creating excuses such as: lack of time, lack of facility, lack of motivation, stress. Whether family vacation or work travel, we can usually find too many things scheduled in a day and not carve out time or energy for a healthy workout. Or we can justify skipping that workout because “I walked a lot today” even though it was strolling and not aerobic in the least! We can say that the hotel’s workout facility just doesn’t have our favorite equipment. Or we can’t find a good space to sit for our daily meditation, or there is no bathtub for the bubble bath usually enjoyed after a long day.

How do we avoid these easy traps? Mostly by remembering why we work out and do self-care in the first place and how good we feel when our favorite exercise or practice is complete, and that a week of excuses can snowball into months of excuses. I work out because I want to take good care of this body, to go into old age in the best shape possible for this body, and to avoid the health problems that come with being out of shape. I know that if I skip too many workouts, I can too quickly lose the habit, the routine of working out; it makes it too easy for me to continue to not workout when I get home. So even if there isn’t space in my hotel room for my usual yoga routine, and I forgot my mat, I can improvise and get some parts of it done. Or maybe you like an elliptical and the hotel doesn’t have one but remember that it is good to mix up your workout from time to time so go ahead, get on that stationary bike instead. Perhaps you usually meditate in a nice, quiet place at home, but sharing the hotel room with someone means no nice, quiet place so maybe this is a good time to work on deepening the mind’s focus and creating that place in your head.

Eating well while traveling is not simple because it may be dependent on our companions and/or the location. Our healthy eating habits may not jive with our companions’ eating habits and – well, we tend to go along. It’s not the occasional break from healthy choices that hurts us – nothing wrong with a little indulgence! But if this happens a lot, then it’s not an occasional indulgence and can really derail progress toward goals. Or maybe you are a vegan or vegetarian and you’re in a really small town in the middle of cattle country.

There are ways to order healthier while traveling. First, you have to be motivated to stick to your eating plan, at least most of the time. (Keep in mind the first word of this phrase: “occasional indulgence.”) If everyone in your group wants to share a dessert, it would be impolite to decline a bite, unless, of course, you are diabetic or allergic to it. Second, use the knowledge you have about food and healthier options. Really peruse the menu and don’t be afraid to ask questions on the preparation. A lot of people have specific dietary requirements, so few places are offended when asked about cooking methods. Maybe you are that vegetarian in cattle country and decide to order a plate of side dishes. You probably want to know if the green beans were cooked with ham – ask! If most of the items on a menu seem to be fried, ask if there are options to that. Could they grill the chicken or steam the vegetables instead? Third, if you can have a room with a mini-fridge and microwave, find a grocery and buy some items for breakfasts and possibly lunches, depending on your daily schedule. This allows you to choose items that better fit your eating plan. Finally, maybe midday is a better time for that larger meal, and the evening meal then is a lighter one. This depends on the schedule for the day, but try to avoid two large, heavy meals in one day.

Here are some simple ideas for better options:

Breakfast – always have breakfast!

  • Oatmeal – great fiber provides energy and satisfaction; light on the sugar or honey!
  • Fresh fruit – not swimming in syrup
  • Eggs – good source of protein. Hard- or soft-boiled would have least cooking oil, but omelets or scrambled ok – hold the cheese!
  • Whole grain toast
  • Avoid:
    • Bagels
    • Pastries, muffins
    • Fried meats
    • Pancakes, waffles
    • Yogurt, unless plain – flavored has too much sugar

Lunch or your lighter meal of the day

  • Soup – skip creamy or cheesy soups
  • Salad of various vegetables – oil and vinegar dressing to avoid sugars, too much salt, artificial flavor/color; skip the croutons
  • Sandwiches/wraps on whole grain bread or tortilla – light on condiments; heavy on veggies; baked or grilled meat, if any
  • Soup & salad or half-salad & sandwich offerings for smaller portions
  • Avoid:
    • Appetizers
    • Fried anything
    • Edible bowls
    • Fast food Combos, Supersizes

Dinner or your larger meal of the day

  • Order the grilled or baked option of chicken, fish, or other protein
  • Al dente pasta with marinara-type sauce, not creamy or cheesy
  • Choose sides carefully – steamed or raw vegetables or a side salad
  • Consider sharing an entrée if they seem overly large
  • Avoid:
    • Appetizers
    • The bread basket – if filled with fluffy white bread or rolls
    • Fried anything
    • White potatoes, white rice
    • Charred food

Finally, be sure to bring some healthy snack options with you. I like to pack a small bag with a combination of almonds and walnuts, or I’ll put together a batch of my own trail mix. Fruit that travels well – apples, bananas, d’anjou pears, or cut fruit in a well-lidded container – is another good take along. This way you have something healthy handy and are less apt to grab a candy bar.

Safe travels!!