Healthy Living in the North

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Foodie Friday: More than Just a Pot of Soup

As kids, my sister and I spent many a summer day at my grandparents’ house in East Vancouver. We did all sorts of fun things – I remember lots of cards games with grandma, walks to the corner store and grocery shopping trips (turns out I’ve always loved grocery shopping), and helping out in my grandpa’s small but impressive backyard garden (he even had two rows of corn!). Sometimes my two cousins would also be there, which meant endless hours of make believe games, and our annual trip to the PNE for a day filled with rides (and a little cotton candy). But I think my best memories from those summer days came from time spent in the kitchen.

little girl sitting on grandpa's lap

Sitting on my Grandpa Bloudoff’s lap as a child.

My Grandma and Grandpa Bloudoff were of Doukhobor heritage, and this was reflected in many of the delicious foods they would make with us when we visited. We would set up assembly lines to stuff and pinch together homemade perogies, or help mix up the fruit filling for our favourite Russian fruit tarts. But one of my absolute favourite dishes was the borscht my grandparents made. As a kid, I can’t tell you why I loved it – it was just a vegetable soup. It was one of my favourite things to eat when I was at their house and I was so happy when we were sent home with jars of soup to eat later.

Fast forward to my early 20’s, when I decided I wanted to learn how to make this borscht. I had realized their borscht was different – it was tomato based, and didn’t include beets like many other borscht recipes I had seen. I needed to know their secrets! My grandpa didn’t have a recipe written down, so I convinced him we needed to spend an afternoon together where he cooked and I documented all of the ingredients and steps involved. Not only did I learn the recipe, but we also had the opportunity to reconnect as adults- all because of a pot of soup.

Both of my grandparents have since passed, and I’m so grateful to be able to look back on moments like these. Food really is that great connector of culture, relationships, and family. Now when I dig into a big bowl of my grandpa’s borscht, it not only fills my belly with hearty nourishment, but it fills me with family memories and makes me smile.

Grandpa’s Doukhobor Borscht (recipe from EvergreenEats.com)

bowl of borscht

One of my favourite dishes growing up was the borscht my grandparents made.

Makes 10 – 12 servings

Ingredients:

  • 6 cups water
  • 3 large potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 3 stalks celery, chopped
  • 3 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 1 cup green peas (fresh, frozen, or canned)
  • 796 mL (28 oz) can diced tomatoes
  • 2 large onions, diced
  • 1 small head cabbage, shredded or thinly sliced
  • 6 tbsp butter, divided
  • 1/3 – 1/2 cup fresh dill
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • sour cream or heavy cream, for serving (optional)

Directions:

  1. In a large soup pot or Dutch oven, cover the potatoes with the water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium, and cook until just tender.
  2. Transfer the cooked potatoes to a large bowl with a slotted spoon, leaving the cooking water in the pot. Mash the potatoes with 2 tbsp butter and 1/3 of the canned tomatoes.
  3. Turn the heat on the pot up to medium-high. Add the celery, carrots, peas, 1/2 the onions, 1/2 the cabbage, 1/2 the potato/tomato mixture, and 1/2 of the remaining tomatoes to the pot. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to a simmer.
  4. Heat a skillet over medium heat. Melt 2 tbsp of butter then add the remaining onions. Cook for approximately 5 minutes until translucent (do not brown them). Add the remaining potato/tomato mixture and remaining tomatoes. Cook another 5 min then add to the pot.
  5. Heat the remaining 2 tbsp of butter in the skillet, and add the remaining cabbage. Cook until soft, but do not brown, approximately 10 min. Add to the pot.
  6. Add fresh dill to the soup, season with salt & pepper to taste. Allow to simmer for 5 more minutes. Ladle into bowls and serve with a dollop of sour cream or drizzle of heavy cream if desired.

Notes: If you have other veggies hanging around your fridge or freezer, throw them in. Green beans, peppers, spinach…maybe even some beets!

 

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Foodie Friday: A quick and tasty fall meal (spinach & white bean soup)

Soup

A quick and healthy fall meal that makes for great lunch leftovers, too! Add spinach and white bean soup to your menu this week!

Looking for a quick and tasty meal to whip up this fall? This spinach and white bean soup is a personal favourite of mine simply because it is quick to prepare and makes for easy lunches throughout the week. Also, it’s delicious!

Kidney beans are a healthy and cost effective way to add extra protein into your diet. Just remember to rinse off canned beans under water first to remove the excess salt. Add in all the extra veggies and you are left with a fibre- and protein-packed meal that will leave you feeling full and satisfied.

This recipe calls for orzo, which is a small pasta similar in shape to rice. It can easily be substituted for any other small pasta (or quinoa) that you might have in your kitchen.

Spinach & white bean soup

Adapted from Damn Delicious

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 cup chopped fresh spinach (or 1/2 cup frozen)
  • 6 cups low sodium chicken stock
  • 1 can (15 oz) white kidney beans, drained & rinsed
  • 1 can (28 oz) diced tomatoes
  • ½ cup uncooked orzo pasta
  • 2 tsp dried thyme
  • 2 tsp dried basil
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add onions, celery, and carrots and cook until soft (approximately 5 minutes). Add in garlic and stir one minute longer.
  2. Add in chicken stock, tomatoes, and herbs (thyme, basil, and bay leaves). Bring to a boil.
  3. Stir in orzo. Reduce heat and simmer until orzo is tender (approximately 10 minutes).
  4. Stir in kidney beans and spinach. Cook until spinach is wilted. Remove bay leaves before serving and add salt and pepper to taste.

Enjoy!

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Foodie Friday: Lentil Soup

food; healthy eating; nutrition

Batch soups make delicious meals – and can cost only pennies a serving!

As a single mom, I understand the value of a dollar and how expensive food has become. However, I don’t let this stand in the way of preparing and serving healthy food. With a little effort, I manage to stay on budget while not sacrificing nutrition and flavor. Here are a few tips I find helpful:

  • Read the flyers to find out what’s on sale. Make sure you know if it really is a good deal or just regular price.
  • Plan your meals ahead of time, so you only buy what you need.
  • Try a vegetarian meal, like the recipe below, once a week as meat is often one of the most expensive grocery items.
  • Buy foods that are in season; they are usually cheaper and tastier!
  • Make a grocery list and bring it to the store with you, to prevent impulse buying.
  • Buy only what you need. If you are a small family, the huge bag of potatoes really isn’t a deal if you throw out half.

Try this family favourite: my 4-year-old daughter loves this thick smooth soup with crackers or a biscuit. This soup is budget friendly with a per pot cost of about $2.24 or per serving cost of $0.22.

Food Fact: Lentils come in red, green and brown; they are easy to use as they don’t require pre-soaking. Lentils are an excellent source of fibre and a good source of protein, magnesium, potassium and folate.

Lentil Soup
(Makes 10 1-cup servings)

  • 2 cups dry lentils
  • 10 cups of water
  • 1 ½ tsp. salt
  • ¼ tsp. pepper
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 whole cloves
  • dash cayenne
  • 1 large carrot
  • 1 large onion
  • ¾ cup celery
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • ¼ cup butter or non-hydrogenated margarine

In a large pot combine lentils, water, salt, pepper, bay leaf, cloves and cayenne. Bring to a simmer. Cut up carrot, onion and celery into small pieces. Combine the vegetables, with the garlic and butter/margarine in a small pan and cook for 10 minutes; add to lentils. Simmer everything for 2 hours. Discard the bay leaf and cloves. Put soup through a blender or use a hand blender to puree. Enjoy!

For more ideas, the Dietitians of Canada has some great budget-friendly cooking tips.

What are some of your great and affordable meal ideas?

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Foodie Friday: Waste not, want not! A simple guide to making the most of your garden harvest

Do you have more carrot tops than you know what to do with? Try using them in a tasty pesto (see recipe below)!

This will be my fourth year to reap the benefits of a backyard garden and I feel like I’m really starting to get the hang of things out there! This year I’ve noticed myself becoming somewhat fixated on the amount of garden waste I have (which also makes me wonder if I’m slowly turning into my mother!). In past years I just tossed my surplus into the compost pile without a second thought, but this year I find myself wondering if there is a way to salvage some of that waste from the heap. As my garden output kicks into high gear, I’m going to need a plan to help me minimize the waste this year; I hope it will help you reduce yours as well.

Step 1: Identify a surplus

I don’t know about the rest of you gardeners out there, but I’m drowning in carrot tops and beet greens. How I never knew that carrot tops were edible (and tasty) is beyond me, so I set out to use some of those up.

There are a few ways you can deal with a surplus, depending on what you’ve got. Did you plant more green beans than you can reasonably eat? Are your strawberries taking over your fridge shelves? Was your yield of tomatoes far beyond your expectations? The first step to reducing your waste is identifying what you’ve got.

Step 2: Come up with a plan

Is there any question the internet can’t answer?! Once you know what you want to use up, a good google search should yield you a number of solutions to deal with your surplus. One solution I loved and will definitely do next year, is succession planting. I can’t eat two rows of radishes all at once, so next year I’m going to plant a second row two weeks later. Here are some suggestions that you can use now:

  • Blanche and freeze vegetables such as peas, green beans, and beets.
  • Shred zucchini and freeze for muffins and breads.
  • Make a tomato sauce or try your hand at sundried tomatoes.
  • Use up herbs or carrot greens in a pesto (see recipe below!).
  • Thinly slice greens (beet greens, kale, etc.) and toss into salads or freeze for smoothies.
  • Can, pickle, or preserve fruits or vegetables.

Step 3: Tackle!

One of the most challenging parts of this equation is finding the extra time to spend in the kitchen. Make sure your plan fits into your time budget – if you’ve only got 30 minutes you probably don’t want to tackle pickling beets, but might be able to whip up a quick pesto with a food processor. Consider getting a group of friends together for a ‘canning’ or ‘freezing’ party to make the work go quicker.

grilled shrimp and pesto

Try this pesto drizzled over grilled shrimp or use it to dress up a salad or sandwich!

Step 4: Enjoy the fruits (or vegetables) of your labour.

I’ve included the recipe I used for a carrot top pesto; it’s adapted from the Food Network. I drizzled it over some grilled shrimp but it would also be great mixed into a salad dressing or as a sandwich topping or even plopped on to a nice bowl of soup.

Carrot Top Pesto

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup packed carrot leaves
  • ½ cup packed parsley leaves
  • ¼ cup roasted cashews or pine nuts
  • 1 clove garlic
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • ¼ cup parmesan cheese
  • Kosher salt, to taste

Instructions:

  • Pulse the carrot leaves, parsley leaves, nuts and garlic in a food processor until coarsely chopped.
  • Slowly pour the olive oil in with the machine running to form a paste.
  • Pulse in the parmesan and kosher salt.
  • Store in an airtight container for 1-2 weeks, or in the freezer for up to 6 months.
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Foodie Friday: It’s Time to Celebrate!

This Foodie Friday, I want to take the time to celebrate. August is always a time of celebration in my life, since my birthday happens this month – tomorrow in fact!

August is a time of celebration for me-including my birthday!

We won’t talk about how many of those birthdays I’ve had to date – let’s just say there have been more than a few. August is also a great time to celebrate all of the local food in season here in BC. From cherries to Saskatoon berries, corn to zucchini, there is a huge variety of vegetables and fruits to suit everyone’s tastes. But this August, I also want to celebrate something a little different. Today is my  15th Foodie Friday post on the Northern Health blog, and it is also my final post as I move on to a new chapter in my life.

Foodie Friday has been an amazing series to contribute to on the Northern Health Blog. I love sharing my passion for food and cooking, and this has been a great way to reach out and share those recipes and stories. Taking a look back at my previous posts, I’ve definitely shared some of my favourite go-to recipes, including:

Just looking back on all of those makes me a little hungry. Hopefully I’ve been able to inspire you to get creating in your own kitchen, by either making one of the recipes I’ve shared, or recreating a family favourite you had forgotten about.

I did realize one thing looking back on my Foodie Friday posts – I’ve never shared a dessert recipe! Which seems crazy, because my love of cooking all started with baking and making desserts for family holiday meals. So I think it’s only fitting that this celebration post be a dessert recipe – that just so happens to use some seasonal produce that you might not expect. Happy cooking everyone!

brownies on counter

This chocolaty brownie recipe uses some seasonal produce you might not expect!

Fudgy Double Chocolate Zucchini Brownies

Makes one 8” by 12” baking pan (24 brownies)

Ingredients:

  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1 Tbsp vanilla
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 cups shredded zucchini (no need to peel)
  • 1 1/2 cup chocolate chips, divided
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
brownies and knife on counter

Cool. Cut. Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line an 8” by 12” baking pan with parchment paper. Set aside.
  2. In a stand mixer, beat the eggs until fluffy and pale yellow.
  3. Add in the sugar, applesauce, and vanilla. Mix on low speed until combined.
  4. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. Add gradually to the wet mixture, using low speed, so you don’t have flour flying everywhere. Once combined, remove from stand mixer.
  5. Stir in zucchini, 1 cup chocolate chips, and walnuts (if using) into the batter until combined. Spread into prepared baking dish, making sure to get the batter into the corners. Sprinkle with remaining ½ cup chocolate chips.
  6. Bake for 25 – 30 minutes. The shorter time will give you a more fudgy consistency. Cool on a wire rack. Cut into squares and enjoy!

Note: If you don’t have a stand mixer, you could also using a hand mixer or just a good ol’ wooden spoon and elbow grease!

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Foodie Friday: rolling into the summer season

I don’t know about you, but my taste for certain foods has been changing lately with the increasing temperatures. Longer and warmer days mean that my desire for fresh salads and cold items is definitely increasing. No longer am I craving hearty stews or soups!

The longer days are also bringing a lot of my friends out of hibernation. It seems like everyone is getting out much more and getting together for more barbecues and potlucks. I must admit, this sometimes leads to accidentally staying up a little later because of the prolonged sunlight, too.

When friends and family get together, I find it’s always fun preparing and enjoying meals together. This creates space to connect and learn new ways to create delicious meals. If you have children, including them in meal preparation develops cooking skills and also teaches them how to make healthy food choices. If you like to combine making and eating dinner with hanging with your pals, or you’re looking for a fun, healthy recipe to make with your kids, boy do I have an idea for you!

salad rolls, peanut sauce

In fact, I have two words for you: PEANUT SAUCE. Pair that with some salad rolls filled with whatever your heart desires and you have a fun, tasty, and healthy small meal or side dish for you and yours. My favourite peanut sauce recipe is the Orchid Lime Dressing recipe from the Whitewater Cooks with Friends recipe book. Once you try this, you will be hooked! Look for the Whitewater Cooks books at your local library! While this is one of my favourites, peanut sauce can be made with as few as 3-5 ingredients and can be a great addition to your pantry survival kit, too!

P.S Do you have a peanut allergy in your family?  Feel free to skip the peanut sauce and consider sweet chili sauce instead! Check out the most recent issue of Healthier You magazine for information on how to connect with an allergy dietitian by dialling 8-1-1.

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One dietitian, one month, and 28 recipes: lessons learned

When I look at a recipe that calls for a long list of ingredients, specialized kitchen equipment, and various intricate steps, I understand how Harry Potter might feel in his potions class: any misstep could spell disaster!

Fortunately, that was not (totally) my experience with my Nutrition Month recipe challenge. In March, I set out to try a month’s worth of Foodie Friday recipes from the Northern Health Matters blog. In total, I tried 28 new recipes, and am I so proud to share that there were only a few disasters!

What did I learn?

  • I am actually quite terrible at following recipes (no, really) – but that can be okay if you have a higher risk tolerance! I’m sure that in home economics class we were taught to read through the whole recipe first, get all the ingredients together, and then get started. Apparently I approach cooking with a little more abandon. This sometimes resulted in …er… surprises.
  • I am very good at recipe modifications – this is a skill that can really come in handy! Got a 25 lb bag of dried kidney beans lurking in a closet? Great – sub them into every recipe that calls for beans! Forgot to buy the wheat germ? Just skip it! No grapes at the store for the broccoli salad? Just use baby tomatoes!
  • Combine my recklessness with recipe prep and my penchant for recipe substitutions, and small disasters do happen. Consider, for example, the “oatmeal bites” incident of March 30th. I liked the Power Cookies that I made to share on Dietitian’s Day, so I decided to whip up another batch for my book club meeting. I got to the step about the applesauce. No applesauce. No problem – I have canned plum puree! Then the recipe called for orange juice and rind. No oranges – but I have lemon! Look at me go! In my self-congratulatory state, I completed the rest of the required steps, popped everything in the oven, and promptly realized I had forgotten the sugar. After trying to sweeten the cookies with little chocolate sprinkles that didn’t stick and looked mildly suspicious, and knowing I couldn’t show up empty handed, I finally desperately rebranded these cookies as “oatmeal bites.” Groan, I know. However, we did discover that my oatmeal bites were lovely topped with the chocolate covered banana slices someone else brought to the meeting. Saved!
  • Some recipe modifications don’t work. For example, one should not consider the Grilled Caesar Salad recipe if one does not, in fact, have a grill. I should know. Baked lettuce is just sad. However, the dressing is lovely!

    salmon loaves

    The salmon loaves were made mini by cooking them in a muffin tin.

What recipes would I make again?

Despite a few small but edible disasters, the recipe challenge was a fun experience and my family and I were really pleased with the majority of the recipes we tried. Realistically though, 28 recipes is simply too much to incorporate into the regular repertoire, so below I have listed a few that I am most likely to make again. No surprise, the simpler recipes are the favourites! And true to form, I modified many of these recipes, and have indicated that below as well. Enjoy!

Great simple recipes calling for less than 10 ingredients:

  • Potato Leek Soup – I liked this so much I made it twice! (I skipped the milk.)
  • Hugwiljum (Salmon Soup) – Throw 6 ingredients into one pot, boil and simmer! Yes! (I used canned salmon.)
  • Salmon Loaf – Simply yummy. (I cut down the cooking time by using a muffin tray instead of a loaf tin.)
  • Roasted Root Veggies – This recipe is already so easy and versatile.

    baked oatmeal, berries

    Baked oatmeal made for a nutritious (and picturesque!) breakfast.

Delicious baked goods that feature foods from 3 or 4 food groups:

Other items that I will use to (hopefully) impress dinner guests

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Are “picky eaters” just “eaters in training”?: Tips to help build kids’ food acceptance skills

Child eating a cherry

Kids are often unsure about new or unfamiliar food. With time and practice, they can learn to eat a variety of foods.

It’s lunch time. You prepare a meal and sit down to eat with your kid(s). They eat all of the [food x] but leave [food y] completely untouched. What’s the deal? Is it always going to be like this? Why can’t they just eat a bit of everything? How do kids go from here (“rejecting” certain foods) to there (accepting a wide variety of foods)?

Come on a little trip with me!

Imagine you take a trip to an unfamiliar place. Somebody presents you with bread, cheese, and a bowl of … green, lumpy, semi-solid something. They gesture for you to eat it. You hesitate. You feel anxious. You don’t know what this is – you certainly don’t feel like eating it!

Stay on this trip with me. Imagine now that you eventually learned to like that green, lumpy, semi-solid something, and now you even look forward to when it might be served again! Whaaaat? How could it be? How did you come to accept, and even like, that food?

It could look like this:

First, you looked to see that other people were actually eating it. But you looked at the “semi-solid something” and decided that you were not yet ready to try it. The next week, it was offered again, and now it was a little less scary. Maybe you poked at it with your spoon. Later, you gave it a sniff. Then, you stuck your finger in it. Maybe someone told you what was in the dish. Maybe you had the opportunity to see it being prepared, and you even got to help. Eventually, you put a little in your mouth but then spit it into a napkin. You decided it was tasty, and that you wanted a little more of this … broccoli soup or green jello or guacamole or whatever this dish is in your mind.

Back to reality. Think of a time when you learned to like a new food. What helped you to learn?

Kids are often unsure about new or unfamiliar food. With time and practice, they can learn to eat a variety of foods. We can help to make this learning process feel safe.

Here are some things to try to support your kids to learn to eat a variety of foods:

  • Make the same meal or snack for everyone. Sit and eat together. Seeing others eat a food is a great way to learn about it.
  • Offer new foods with familiar foods. If they are not yet comfortable with one food, kids can eat from the other items at that meal or snack.
  • Serve new foods over and over, without pressure or praise. Kids may need to see a food 15 to 20 times before they decide to eat it.
  • Be honest about what you are serving. Kids need to experience foods in order to learn.
  • Teach your kids to politely turn down food they aren’t yet ready to eat.
  • Respect tiny tummies. Serve a small amount to start and allow seconds. Kids’ hunger and appetite change from day to day, meal to meal.
  • Involve kids in growing and cooking food, and in packing their lunch.
  • Praise kids on their table manners, not on how much or what they eat.
  • Expect that in time your “eater in training” will learn to accept a variety of food. They will learn at their own pace.

For more information, see: Coaching Kids to Become Good Eaters and The Picky Eater.

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Foodie Friday: You, too, can enjoy healthy, home-cooked meals during the work week!

Being both a mom and a dietitian, cooking nutritious meals for my family is definitely at the top of my priority list. But it’s not always easy. During the work week, I find it especially difficult to find enough time to prepare and cook healthy, well-balanced meals. Did I mention I live 30 minutes out of town and have to pick up a toddler on the way home? Or that by the time we get home, my son and I are usually starving, tired, and often hangry*? (*See definition below).

Slow cooker recipes are a fantastic, convenient way to bring nutritious homemade meals to your family dinner table.

I’m only a couple years into this whole working-mom-juggling business, but along the way, I have picked up some tricks that help my family put together yummy meals that include at least 3 out of 4 food groups most nights of the week.

Here are some tips I’d like to share:

  • Plan out your protein options for the week. I have found that taking stock of the proteins in my freezer/fridge and having a general idea of what I will make each night takes away a lot of stress. Proteins like beef, pork, moose, chicken, and turkey take 2-3 days to thaw in the fridge (depending on the cut) and require a bit of forward-thinking. Fish and seafood thaw much quicker, usually in a day or less. Eggs are always my go-to if I don’t have anything thawed and ready to go.
  • Prep vegetables on the weekend (or on your days off if you work weekends). Chop up a variety of your favorite vegetables, place in them in a container or bag, and store in the fridge. Now they’re ready to throw into your recipe or eat raw. Our favorite vegetables include bell peppers, carrots, broccoli, cucumbers and spinach (bought pre-washed, no prep required). I usually chop up onions, too, because I cook with them a lot.
  • Keep an assortment of frozen vegetables on hand. Especially in the winter, I make sure to have a variety of vegetables in the freezer. Frozen vegetables are just as nutritious as fresh ones and can be steamed or microwaved in 5-10 minutes. Season with olive oil plus lemon pepper (or other herbs) and voila!
  • Invest in a slow cooker. If you haven’t yet discovered or purchased a slow cooker, I highly encourage you to consider it. I like to toss whatever it is I’m making into the slow cooker insert the night before, store it in the fridge overnight, then just plop it into the cooking vessel and turn it on before I leave for work. I also use it to cook just the protein portion of our meal, like a whole chicken and then add vegetables and a side dish separately. Or I use the protein for making soups and stews (see recipe below for one of my favorite slow cooker stews).
  • Plan for leftovers. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of leftovers. But I have to admit that having them at least one night out of the week makes good sense. I also like freezing individual portions of leftovers to pull out for last minute/emergency purposes.
  • Keep it simple. Life is hard enough – let’s keep cooking during the work week simple, colourful, and fun.

I personally feel that if we are eating homemade food most of (and not necessarily all of) the time, then we’re on the right track. Not only will your wallet thank you for cutting down on take out and eating out, but you’ll be setting a great example for your loved ones.

Have some tips to add to my list? Please share by commenting below!

Recipe: Slow Cooker Sausage, Bean and Pasta Stew

Adapted from the Food Network

Servings: 6-8

Ingredients:

  • 1 onion, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 3-4 carrots, finely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 8 oz dried white beans, such as cannellini, rinsed and picked over OR one 28-oz can of white beans, drained and rinsed
  • 6 to 8 sprigs fresh thyme, tied with a piece of kitchen twine
  • 454 g (1 lb) of your favorite sausage (4-6 links)
  • One 14.5-oz can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
  • 3 cups low-sodium chicken broth or stock
  • One 4 oz chunk Parmesan rind (optional) plus grated Parmesan, for serving
  • 1/2 cup ditalini pasta (or other small pasta such as orzo)
  • 2-3 large handfuls of spinach
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Crusty bread, for serving

Instructions:

  1. Spread the onions over the bottom of a 6- to 7-quart slow cooker and top with the carrots, garlic, white beans, thyme bundle, and sausage links. Mix the diced tomatoes with the broth and 3 cups water and pour over the sausages. Add the Parmesan rind if using.
  2. Cook on high for 4 to 5 hours or on low for 7 to 8 hours. Uncover the slow cooker, remove and discard the thyme bundle and Parmesan rind and transfer the sausage links to a cutting board. Stir the pasta into the stew and continue to cook, covered, until the pasta is cooked through, about 20 minutes.
  3. Turn off the heat. Cut the sausages into bite-sized pieces and stir into the stew along with the spinach, parsley, and vinegar. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with grated Parmesan on the side for sprinkling on top and crusty bread for soaking up the broth.

Tamara’s notes: I do step #1 the night before by placing the ingredients in the insert portion of the slow cooker and keeping it in the fridge overnight. Before I leave for work in the morning, I put the insert into the cooking vessel and turn it on.

*Hangry is defined as “being irritable or angry as a result of hunger”. It’s a real thing.

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Love your lentils!

Between the busyness of internship and a limited student budget, I’m always on the hunt for simple and affordable recipes. I often find that I turn to lentils since they can be used in so many recipes – both in addition to meat or as a meat substitute.

Why lentils?

Lentils come in a wide variety of colours including green, red, orange, yellow, brown, and black. They are mild in flavour, ranging from sweet to earthy. This variety allows them to be used in many dishes. Dry lentils store well in a cupboard or pantry, so you can buy them in bulk.

Lentils are great because they are a hearty and cheap source of protein, fibre, folate, and iron.

Speaking of iron, it is important to have good sources of iron in our diets every day. In our bodies, iron carries oxygen through the blood. Not getting enough can leave you feeling tired and cranky.

How your body uses iron

  • Iron from meat, fish, and poultry is easily absorbed.
  • Iron from other sources (eggs, beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, and tofu) is not as easily absorbed, but pairing these foods with foods rich in vitamin C helps the body absorb more of the iron.
  • If you don’t eat much (or any) meat, it is important to regularly eat a variety of plant-based sources of iron, such as lentils.

Basic lentil cooking

I find it helps to have a simple recipe for cooking lentils. That way, I can cook a big batch and add them to different meals. Cooked lentils can be refrigerated for 3-5 days. They also freeze well.

Cooking time for lentils ranges from 20-45 minutes, depending on the type. Check the lentil package for specific instructions, but the general process is:

  • Add lentils and water (use a 2:1 ratio; so for 1 cup of lentils, add 2 cups of water). Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until soft.
  • Remove from heat and strain

How to use lentils

Lentil soup in a bowl

Lentils are great because they are versatile, hearty, and a cheap source of protein, fibre, folate, and iron! Try them in Laurel’s simple lentil soup!

Laurel’s simple lentil soup

Serves 6

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 28 ounce can whole tomatoes, with juices
  • 2 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into ½ inch pieces
  • 1 bunch kale, thick stems removed and leaves cut into small strips
  • ¾ cup red lentils (uncooked)
  • 1 tablespoon thyme
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  • Dash of soy sauce
  • Dash of chili flakes
  • Grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

Instructions

  1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until they begin to soften, 3-4 minutes. Add garlic and tomatoes. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes.
  2. Add 6 cups water and bring to a boil. Stir in the sweet potatoes, kale, lentils, and thyme. Simmer until the lentils are tender, 25 to 30 minutes. Add salt, pepper, soy sauce, and chili flakes to taste.
  3. Spoon into bowls. If desired, top with the Parmesan cheese.

(Northern Health Dietitians love lentil soup. For more recipes, see here and here and here)

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