He who fears the Lord has a secure fortress and for his children it will be a refuge.
Proverbs 14:26

Friday, September 5, 2014

Cooking adventures

Here's a look at my latest post on the cooking blog I share with some overseas friends.  It's been a while since any of us have posted, but I thought I'd start it back with sharing about my journey towards finding healthy and easy and do-able recipes for our overseas family.   You can click on "my recipes" in the top right on this blog or just go HERE.  Please let me know your ideas and any favorite recipes  and tips you have- especially for those of us trying to figure this all out overseas on a shoestring budget!

Here's my most recent post on the cooking blog:

Still here and still cooking- just never time to post about it!  We got back from several months of traveling this summer in severe need of de-tox from all the French bread and cheese and Belgian chocolate!

I'm in the middle of trying to revitalize the way our family eats as a whole.  In the past, I've been guilty of dieting myself but not really providing the healthiest of meals for my family in the process.  There are all sort of excuses to be offered not the least of which is the difficulty of getting certain "healthy" ingredients since we live overseas.  The bigger issue is not so much that exact ingredients aren't available but that foods that most diets suggest you avoid to lose weight- potatoes, pastas, white breads are the things that are available here in abundance at a reasonable price.  Meats overall are just so expensive that it's hard to build a diet around meats being a huge source of your protein.  On the plus side, produce here is typically less expensive and although not necessarily labeled as "organic", it's likely coming to you in it's truest form.  Meat, though expensive, is also quite fresh and doesn't have all the "junk" added to it that I'm reading about being added in American grocery stores.  (at least that's what I'm telling myself when meat that I bought 1.5 before and forgot to freeze or prep is already bad in the fridge...)

I am very thankful that no one in our family has any sort of allergies or food intolerances.  That allows me lots of freedom in the way I prepare our food.  On the flip side, it also makes me lazy on days when I'm just too tired or busy and the quick options aren't usually all the healthy.

I'm hoping that more planning on my part and a little more organization in the kitchen will help me not do the lazy, unhealthy thing quite so often.  Hopefully the result will be a healthier, happier family.  Again, we are so blessed to have no huge health issues that affect the way that we eat.  We do however have 2 family members over 40 (HOW?!) whose metabolisms seem to be on the decline, 2 teenagers who are learning to love cooking and have a desire to be healthy, and a school-ager and a toddler whom I want to lead in establishing healthy eating patterns and developing a love for all foods in their God created form.  I am not feeling led at this point to guide our family in completely giving up certain food groups or even types of food.  I'm still a bit old fashioned I guess in that I fully believe that moderation in all things food along with lots of water and plenty of exercise is key to good health.

My goal is to provide healthy meals for our family with food in it's truest form- I guess that's what many call "clean" eating or "real food"?  We're going to try and avoid processed food, stuff with mile long ingredient lists, cut back on sugar and ramp up on fresh veggies and fruit.  We're not going to be super strict with our rules because our lives at this point do not allow that.  Sure enough, as soon as I've gone 3-5 days with no sugar, we'll be invited to a neighbors and served chocolate cake and tea with enough sugar that's it's practically tea flavored syrup.  We're going to have a lot of grace with each other but the end overall goal is better health.  We may have seasons of no this or that just to see if it affects the way we feel overall.  Obviously my goals as a 40 year old needing to lose 5-10 pounds are different than the goals I would have for my teenage daughters who could give any teenage boy a run for their money as far as appetite size, and those goals are different yet again from my school-ager going through a pudgy stage but also hungry at every minute of the day, and with yet again different goals for my oh-so-finicky preschooler who most days doesn't seem to eat enough to keep a small bird alive.   I'm working on figuring out a way to help us all record our fruit/veggie intake, our water intake as well as keep a record of sweets and junk food with a goal of 1, maybe 2 treats a week, depending on the situation.

I decided that it might be fun (and helpful to me!) to record things that are successful, things that don't work so much and foods and recipes that I come across in the process.  There are SO MANY sources out there that it is beyond overwhelming to me, so maybe this might help some others who live overseas to narrow down the search and find things that are do-able for busy families.

Here are some cooking/shopping/prepping principles that I'm currently working with that I'm sure will change as I continue to figure things out.  These are things that are helping our budget as well as our bellies- at least that's the goal!

1.  Buying lots of fresh veggies and fruits means that I also have to allow prep time in the kitchen preferably on the day that I shop or at least the very next day.  I buy whatever fruits are in season (right now it's mangoes-yummy!) and chop them and freeze them in 1 cup portions for smoothies.  Also for smoothies, I've been buying tons of spinach and freezing it in 2 cup portions.  It takes a lot of elbow grease to get it clean sometimes but it's worth it!  I find that for us if I have carrots and cucumbers washed, peeled and sliced that it's instant healthy snack, and they are much less likely to sit in the fridge unused and get mushy and yucky in the veggie drawer.

2.  Meat also requires prep time.  If I do buy boneless-skinless chicken breasts (not regularly), I try and marinade it and freeze it the day that I buy it so it's ready for a quick fix.  I'll also try to season and brown ground beef to freeze and use for later or marinate red meat as well if I happen to find cuts that looks decent (doesn't happen often, unfortunately!).

3.  Stay on the lookout for local produce that is cheap and healthy that the family likes.  Cabbage in any form is cheap here and I've been surprised how much my girls love it.  Cauliflower in various forms is also a big hit.

4.  Take advantage of my girls love to cook and bake but channel it towards healthy things.  Maddie stocked us up last week on whole wheat pizza dough, and we have a favorite whole wheat dough recipe that is great for multiple things- Lebanese pizza crust, cinnamon rolls, dinner rolls etc.  I'm on the lookout for a few paleo bread recipes if I'm doing a no carb season and also whole wheat bread recipes for other times- things that I know don't have all the added junk of store brands.

(they are also great helpers when it comes to chopping/prepping)

5.  Dry beans cooked in bulk and frozen for use in soups etc is much cheaper than the canned version.     We do a lot of soups with red or white beans and hummus is a favorite around here as a dip for veggies or as a spread.

6.  Freezer to crock-pot meals are awesome and I'm always on the look-out for those.  Finding good ones has been a bit hit or miss but I'll share the ones that have been hits with our family.  I try to keep a stock of gallon sized freezer bags so I can get these prepped the day I get home from the store with all the veggies and meats.  I've found that the pre-frozen chicken thighs (much cheaper than breasts) are great in most of the recipes that I've found.

I'll add to this list along the way as we learn more and figure things out.  At this point everyone in our family is excited about healthier eating and I've been encouraged by my girls willingness to give new things a try.

Stay tuned for the recipes we tried over the past few weeks and the links to blogs and websites that have been helpful to me in planning.