Monday, December 15, 2014

Dinnertime Challenge-Part 2

I'm back to offer three more fan favorites for feeding the fit family.

One good way to discover dinner ideas is to have dinner at someone else's house. My kids are more polite in the presence of company, so I can never be sure if they truly love the meal and it's worth trying at home, or if they know they would be in huge trouble if they said "Yuck" at someone else's dinner table. If kids go back for seconds, though, I know it's safe to adopt the recipe. Here are three examples where they went back for seconds.

Pulled Pork Sandwiches

My sister-in-law often makes pulled pork sandwiches for family gatherings. Now we eat these at home on a regular basis (in fact is cooking my slow cooker as I type this). What I like best about pulled pork is you can use leftovers the next night for pork tacos.

There are various versions of simplicity for this meal, but they are all pretty easy. The most simple is this:

Pork Shoulder (as much as you need for your family, plus enough for leftovers)
BBQ Sauce or ready made sauce packets for pork such as Frontera or Red Fork
Sliced onions (if you even care to take that step)
Hamburger buns and/or tortillas

Put pork in a slow cooker and pour about a 1/2 cup of bbq sauce or the sauce packet on top. Most important step: TURN SLOW COOKER ON! Cook for 6-8 hours.

If you have a bit more time, I found a great recipe--Grandma's Easy BBQ Pork--in The Primal Blueprint Cookbook that rocked my world, and is in my opinion, worth the few extra steps.

1 tablesppon olive oil
4 lbs of pork shoulder roast (bone in has richer flavor)
1 small onion
1/2 cup ketchup (the book includes a recipe for homemade ketchup, too)
1 cup water
1/3 cup vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon celery seed
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 bay leaf

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Brown meat on all sides in oil over medium to medium-high heat in a flame-proof casserole or Dutch oven. While the meat is browning, combine remaining ingredients and stir. When meat has browned, remove from heat and pour mixture over the meat. Cover with lid or foil and bake for 2 1/2 hours. (This is forgiving if you need to cook longer, it will only shred easier). Check halfway through baking time, adding a small amount of water if necessary. Once done baking you can pull the meat apart and mix with the sauce.

Serve with hamburger buns and bbq sauce one night and tortillas and salsa the next!

Tia Laura's Meatballs

My dear friend Laura, who has made the blog over the years as we were once ironman-training partners and now get together for relay races sporadically, can make a killer lasagna. My kids asked me to make her lasagna, which I did, but not up to the standards set by Tia Laura. However, I have managed to reproduce her meatballs to their liking. They are wonderful, fun for the kids to make, and part of an enjoyable, complaint-free meal. I use this industrial-size recipe (makes about 5 dozen), then freeze leftover meatballs for easy access. If you don't want to freeze for later, cut the ingredients in half. Disclaimer, the recipe is hardly exact because I make this by feel.

4 lbs ground beef (or 2 lbs beef plus 2 lbs ground mild italian sausage)
2 cups ish bread crumbs
3 eggs (enough to help the meat and crumbs combine)
1 cup ish pesto
Sprinkling of grated parmesan

Mix well, roll into 2-inch balls and place an inch or two apart on a foil-lined or sprayed cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes, turn over and bake another 10 minutes.

Place meatballs on top of your favorite noodle (or spaghetti squash or bed of kale, this is yum, I promise, but not recommended for the kids as they will surely balk) and sauce and devour.

Easy Chicken Strips

After watching Food Inc., I can't buy frozen chicken nuggets at the store from the major chicken producers. Just can't. But my kids, like all kids, love chicken in that nugget or strip form. I sought out a few recipes and then mashed them up to make my own. Kids love them, ask for them, and don't seem to miss the chicken industry nugget.

The recipe that follows is definitely not as easy as ripping open a bag of frozen chicken nuggets, but they are easy enough that they’ve become a staple at our house. They are easier if you have children old enough to help you with the dipping and dredging. The kids love that part and that frees me up to stay focused on cooking, and not burning, the chicken.

2-3 chicken breasts pounded flat between two pieces of wax paper (let the kids do this, unless you need to take out your frustrations on raw meat), then slice into strips.
4 eggs beaten with a squirt of yellow mustard
Plate of flour for dredging
Plate of equal parts bread crumbs and grated parmesan cheese for dredging
Coconut Oil
Salt and Pepper

Heat the oil in a large skillet on medium high heat. Salt and pepper the chicken pieces then dip in the egg/mustard and roll in the flour. Dredge a second time in the egg/mustard and then in the bread crumbs/cheese. Cook in batches turning when lightly browned, about 3-4 minutes each side. If kids are helping, they can dip and dredge while you cook.

I like to keep all the chicken strips heated on a cookie sheet in the oven at about 250 degrees until everything else is ready to go.

Serve with a Caesar salad and you’ve got dinner!

Monday, December 8, 2014

The Gift of Go! Go! Sports Girls

As you can see, the Go! Go! Sports Girls make excellent stocking stuffers.
It's gift-giving season so I have to speak up in order to be heard through all the Holiday Hoo-Ha. If you're buying for little girls this year please consider giving a Go! Go! Sports Girl doll and/or book. Yes, it's true, I have a vested interested in the success of this brand, but if you've followed my blog for any amount of time you know I'm sincere in my mission to promote fitness for kids and there aren't many options for me to get behind.

If you need an unbiased source, look no further than the Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Awards, which bestowed all three of their awards: Platinum, Gold Seal and SNAP (Special Needs Adaptable Product) on the Read and Play doll/book sets. In addition, the Girls are one of Dr. Toy's Ten Best Toys for 2014 and Creative Child Magazine named it their 2014 product of the year. So, there's that. I'm pretty sure Santa approves, too.

There are limited stores that carry the dolls and books on the shelves (we hope with your support this changes in 2015). If you happen to be in the Minneapolis area, I'll be at a book signing at Tazzie Baby and Child in Victoria this Saturday, December 13, from 10 am - noon.

There are several online shopping options, including Amazon and, but has the entire line in stock.

The dolls encourage creative play through sport and the books show kids how lessons in sport can apply to life (and they're leveled readers too!). Good stuff for girls. Although I should add, my 5-year-old son loves the books and is quick to suggest new dolls--Football Girl, for instance. I'd love nothing more to see new sports added to the line, including dolls for boys, and more books, too!

Seventeen more days of Holiday Hoo-Ha. Tis the season. Enjoy your holidays.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Just 10 Minutes

It's December. It's dark. And this month is pretty demanding on our time. While I'm in the flow with D-words, let's add decadent, too.

About now is when we're tempted to skip the yoga class (too busy), the walk or run (too dark), and the exercises that keep your back feeling happy (too tired, I just want to go to bed already!). If not for the 18-month-old puppy that needs the exercise more than I do and writing this blog, sometimes I wonder how I'd stay active through December.

I know I'm not alone here. I have a friend with an erratic work schedule (no routine) and three kids between barely 7 and almost 4. She told me recently she lost her mojo. She hadn't exercised in weeks, she said, and didn't know where to start. I suggested she just do something, anything for 10 minutes. Take yourself off the hook for going to the gym; don't try to wrap your mind around a 30-minute run. Just do something for 10 minutes (and 5 is another acceptable place to start).

I got this text from her and it made me smile:

Getting permission to do less than she expected she should do was all she needed to get going again.

Need something to help you get going? Check out the 24-day Walking Advent Calendar that Katy Bowman is doing this month. Good stuff!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

How to Do a Family Thanksgiving Workout Without Losing Your Gratitude

Our family is fond of the pre-Thanksgiving workout. No surprise there; of course we are. I love that most every city in the country hosts a Thanksgiving "Turkey Trot." If there isn't one nearby, you can always create your own.
A flock of Thom Turkeys at last year's Thom Turkey Day 5K.
We did just that last year, complete with 5K course and race t-shirts. The kids were super excited about participating. Realistically, though, the most any of us can plan is a family walk before sitting around the dining table sharing what you're most grateful for.

The problem here is, you don't want to lose that happy, grateful feeling you're exuding in honor of the holiday in the effort it will take to get your kids to join you. Smiles, everyone! Smiles! Toting along sullen children who do NOT want to walk with their family will suck the gratitude right out of you.

I might have given you the impression that because I write this blog that promotes family fitness, my own children happily come along every time I snap my fingers to get out the door for physical activity. Not usually. Mostly never.

Getting my kids to go along (happily) on a Thanksgiving walk will take much cajoling, pressure, even bribery. Here are my suggestions if you need them.

1) If your children are under two, they are likely too young to protest, so go right ahead and buckle them into whatever device you need to carry, push, pull them along and enjoy the outing. Yes, natural movement advocates recommend letting them walk on their own as soon as they are able, but if you desire to go faster than .00345 miles an hour, do what you have to do to stay grateful.

2) If you don't mind lying, the younger children might rise to the occasion if you tell them you are going out to search for the Magic Thanksgiving Turkey Feather. Bring along a special bag, you know, just in case you find it. Wink. Wink. If you actually do find a turkey feather, you're on your own.

3) If you have a dog, use the dog. This will work any time, not just Thanksgiving. Appeal to the older kids by telling them the walk is for the dog. The dog needs exercise. Tell them that the dog is a family responsibility; walking the dog is part of taking care of the dog. Still protesting? Give them the choice: walk the dog or pick up dog poop. (If you can get them to do both you are a really good parent.)

4) As adults we know why we want that workout: we are making room for more pie. Plain and simple. This reasoning might not appeal to the younger set. What does? Make room for that. My hunch is the kids may want gluttony in another fashion: screen time. So allow it. Just not during the Thanksgiving meal.

5) Have a special guest or two joining you for Thanksgiving? Then by all means, make the Thanksgiving workout their idea. If you tell your kids Grandma or their favorite Aunt Cheryl want to go for a walk then they likely won't protest. They might give you the stink eye, but they will act like angels in front of special guests. Use it to your advantage.

If you can't manage the pre-meal family workout, there's always the post-meal family football game. Not into football? Make up your own active holiday tradition. How many push ups can you do without puking your pumpkin pie?

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Dinnertime Challenge

The dinnertime challenge: How to please all six of our palates. I've reverted to: You can't please everyone all of the time, only some people some of the time. The ones you don't please at the dinner table have not learned to keep their distaste to themselves and suffer through the meal politely. So far, that includes all of my children.

Despite the dinnertime challenge I haven't given up on our family meal. I try mightily to win these young taste buds over, but the fact remains there are few meals that create an air of excitement for all.

But there are those few that earn a four thumbs-up rating (as in they all eat them willingly and speak positively about what's on their plate). I am grateful to fall back on those few meals as often as I can, and I'm happy to share these recipes knowing full-well they may or may not bring you the same relief at the dinner table.

Chicken Pasta Salad (Deconstructed)

This recipe is derived from a deli recipe sold at a popular Twin Cities grocery store. I have perverted the recipe so badly, I don't think it's wise to give credit to the original. What's more, I have borrowed from a tactic used by Jenny Rosenstrach, author of the book and blog, Dinner: A Love Story (anyone suffering through the dinnertime challenge will appreciate her book), which is the "deconstructed" method of serving dinner to kids with picky palates. In this way, grown ups can have their meal all mixed up, and the kids can choose those ingredients they find less offensive and then have the satisfaction of keeping all food items on their plate from touching, or worse mixing together. But here's the real reason why I recently needed to deconstruct this meal: Because what children like one week doesn't mean they will like it the next. A few years ago I could always count on my kids to eat this pasta salad as is, all mixed up, but recently one child has denounced the celery, another the cherries, and yet another the nuts. Instead of dropping the meal entirely I salvaged it but letting them add what they DO want in their pasta salad.

One box of medium shell noodles (can use gluten-free if you can get away with it), cooked according to directions.
1 1/2-2 cups cooked shredded chicken
Dressing: 1 to 1 1/2 cup mixture of equal parts mayo and poppyseed dressing
Salt and pepper to taste.

Add ins:
2 stalks celery sliced
1 apple peeled, sliced and diced
1-1 1/2 cups dried cherries, cranberries, raisins or whatever dried fruit your kids like
1-1 1/2 cups chopped pecans, walnuts or almonds nuts or whatever nuts your kids like

Breakfast Pizza

The newest addition to my dinner-time dilemma is something I call breakfast pizza. Breakfast for dinner is always a hit. Kids know pizza is a safe meal for them. Why not combine? I got the idea when I saw ideas for dough-free crusts. One included a crust made from thinly sliced potatoes. I tried this with left-over roasted potatoes and think it will work just as well with a bag of frozen hashbrowns. 

One bag of frozen hashbrowns, cooked according to directions (or leftover cooked, sliced potatoes)
Shredded cheese
Cooked sausage (I typically buy the pre-cooked frozen sausage that's easy to microwave)

Spread the cooked potatoes on top of a sheet of greased parchment paper. Make the crust thin like a pizza crust but thick enough that it will stay together. Bake at 400 degrees until crisp. Add cheese over top and continue baking until cheese melts. Meanwhile cook, crumble or slice the sausage and cook the eggs to your children's liking (my kids like them over easy and runny, go figure). Add the sausage and eggs, then cut into slices and serve.

Jalapeno Cheeseburger Quesadillas

This is the meal I might be remembered for at the end of life. This is thee meal my kids will come home from college asking for; the meal that gets a "Yeah!" when I tell them what's for dinner. Created out of a necessity to use ground beef before it turned green, my very own, West Texas influenced, jalapeno cheeseburger quesadillas (just drop the jalapeno if that scares you or the kiddos).

Cooked ground beef (I often use left over ground beef that didn't make it in the meat loaf, spaghetti, etc.)
Shredded cheese
Sliced red onion (three out of six in my family skip the onions)
Shredded lettuce

We use a panini machine to cook the quesadillas. I cook the onions for those who want them.

 The Boy wants only ketchup with pickles on the side.

This is a traditional cheeseburger option with lettuce, pickles and ketchup.

 Here is the I-Miss-Sonic's-Jalapeno-Cheeseburger version, with lettuce, jalapeno, and mustard.

Normally I make them all then keep them warm in the oven until we're ready to eat. Normally I don't serve a side with this, but on this particular night I cooked half a bag of frozen corn until charred, then sauteed it with diced zuchini, a little garlic and salt and pepper. Not a fan favorite with the kids, but a easy southwestern side for those who need and/or want a serving of vegetables.

Monday, November 10, 2014

5K Training Tips

Me with my first borns at the 5K start.
The 5K for our More Than Pink program is in the books. Everyone in this 3rd-5th grade program to empower girls to be strong inside and out (with the exception of two who had strep throat) finished a 5K. Some had run a 5K before, but most had not. For a young girl, 3.1 miles is a long way to go, especially so when it's cold and blustery out. But they were ready and finished with big smiles. Here's a page from our 5K training playbook:

1) Make sure you can walk 3.1 miles first. One of the first workouts we did was a nature hike. We brought along a list of 20 things we needed to find, similar to the nature hike I posted about last summer. We had so much fun looking for the items and were thrilled about what we saw: the snowy egret, the frogs, snakes, turtles, that it wasn't until mile two that they started asking, "Hey, how far are we going?" When we made it back to school and I announced they had just finished 3.1 miles they were surprised and convinced they could also finish their race.

2) Find support and be supportive. I have witnessed some special interactions watching these girls extend themselves to help each other. On our very first training run, the girls--without any prompting from the adult coaches--made a tunnel out of their arms as they finished and cheered for the girls who finished after them. At the end of our class sessions the girls had the opportunity to write something they needed to let go or something they wanted to share with the group. Most of these slips of paper included pats on the back and positive shout-outs for their fellow More Than Pink team members. Some people say that women don't support each other enough, especially in a professional environment. I hope these girls take this camaraderie with them into adulthood.

3) Work your way up. Most of the girls had already run a mile in gym class so we knew that was our base. We set out to cover one mile, then a mile-and-a-half. We did a mile-and-a-half again, then two miles. We did two miles again, then two-and-a-half miles. We did two-and-a-half miles again, then 3.1 miles. As Dori says: Just keep swimmin' (or running, in this case).

4) Shake it up (because girls ages 8-11 love that song). In between those running workouts we explored other routes to fitness: a yoga class, hula hoop class and sessions with the high school dance, softball and basketball teams. Even if you love running, your body benefits from moving in new and different ways. I love running, but I don't love only running all the time.

5) Challenge yourself. One of our favorite workouts was a game called Train. We had groups of 4-5 girls run in a line around the soccer field. When we blew the whistle, the girl in back would run to the front of the line and set the pace. Someone from each group wore a pedometer and the group that took the most steps was the winner (of bragging rights). This was one of our most challenging workouts, but also a lot of fun; a speed workout dressed up as a game (and one that would be fun for the family too, hint hint).

6) Write down your goal and share it. Before the race everyone wrote down their goal on a piece of poster board. The girls made their goals public, which has the effect of making them come to life. Plus, when your support system knows what you want to accomplish, they can help you get there or remind you of what you want if it becomes less important to you (say when you don't feel like training or when you feel too tired to go for it).

7) Race. That's all. This part is easy. Just show up at the starting line. Do your thing and then own your finish.

This particular 5K was far from my fastest, but will be memorable and gratifying for different reasons, namely that I helped usher girls across a finish line that really is so much more than a 5K. It was a doorway into world where they believe in their aspirations, hard work, and capable bodies.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Flashback: Fall Funk

Every year. It gets me every year. Instead of writing about it (again) I'm just going to flash back to the post I wrote in 2010.

November 1, 2010
Fall Funk

Here I am again, closing in on the impending time change feeling like my energy, productivity level, ability to stay on task and overall enthusiasm (even for the fun stuff--hello exercise!) has hunkered down in the nearest cave for impending hibernation.

It happens every year (and apparently I write about it every year). I hit the proverbial wall as the days get shorter. Fall literally feels like it falls on me, knocking me over. I want to look up and say, "What the hell?" I shouldn't be surprised and yet every year I begin October thinking I'm going to be able to outwit the darkness. By November I'm flailing. "You can't go over it, you can't go under it, you just have to go through it."

So I do, or at least I have in years past. Despite the appeal of slothfulness at this moment, I'm trying to remember how it is I get through it. So far, my list includes:

1. Give in. But only for a week. I give the finger to my alarm clock and otherwise slack off in any way as is possible for a mother of four. The highlight of my slackerness, which I allowed myself last week, was stealing a nap one afternoon while my son napped. Yes, it felt very indulgent.

2. Reintroduce myself to the dark. I do have to function before the sun gets up and after the sun goes down. That alarm goes back into commission and I use any motivation I can to get out of bed. I have discovered, in doing this, that the sunrises from my new house are spectacular and are, in fact, worth getting up for.

3. Keep exercising even when I don't feel like it. What can I say. I just don't feel like it. I know better, though. I know that if I can just move a little here and there, I will remember that exercise will be the light for the long winter months.

4. Avoid ruts. Especially when it's dark, you don't want to find yourself in a rut. Two years ago I switched it up with dancing, last year I signed up for tennis lessons. This year I'm still undecided. I plan to hit a new class at the gym tonight and try a masters swim class on Thursday. I seem to muster up motivation for something new. It better be good...

5. Stay out of the Halloween candy. For the love of Hersheys, we have waaaaay too much sugar in the house for me after our four trick or treaters hit the road last night. Let it be known I have raided the candy bags and am now searching for a way to get rid of it. The Butterfingers, like sleeping in, provides only temporary, fleeting gratification, not long-term satisfaction. Still, I allowed myself the splurge, now it's time to move on.