Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Hazel's Healthy Halloween

My 10 year old daughter was just looking through our Halloween picture books and told me this is her favorite. "Hazel's Healthy Halloween" has mixed reviews amongst parents (in fact, I remember my mom reading this to my kids once when she was visiting and she said, "Oooh, this is disgusting!") but we've always loved it.

I guess if you've grown up in the dieting era and have seen all the extremes that people go to in order to lose weight, you can see the humor in it. Hazel is an overweight witch who is invited to the Halloween ball and decides, after trying on many dresses that don't fit right, that she will go to fat camp to lose weight.

Hazel's regime and diet is so extreme that it's even understandably absurd to children. She does over a thousand reps of this and that and is only rewarded with cardboard replicas of her favorite, much-missed desserts. After a week at camp, she does lose the desired weight and fits into the sleek dress for the Halloween ball. (I love the rhythm and rhyme of "Hazel is greeted by Boris the Boar, he's never seen Hazel so lovely before.") When Boris asks her to dance, Hazel sees "the spread" over on the table with a giant cake in the middle and decides to go for the food instead of Boris. To which the narrator says, "Hazel, what manners! Don't you care? And look, your dress is beginning to tear." This is the part that grossed out my mom because it is pretty unsightly to see Hazel on the floor stuffing herself with cake, with her dress completely ripping around her stomach -- but I give her the benefit of being a witch -- she can be scary and horrible looking if she wants. She actually wasn't any *prettier* when she was slimmer :)). Anyway, the ending is where it all comes together.

The narrator says, "Dear friends, I'm sorry. It's no use pretending. This is what I call a happy ending." The narrator had given the reader the option of ending the book after Boris had told Hazel that she was so beautiful there at the ball. But the ending the narrator enjoyed was Hazel not starving herself for the man -- just being herself. Granted, she could have gone for the giant bowl of fruit off to the side of the cake, but it's still a fun look at the absurd means many go to in order to lose a few pounds for some special occasion, when it's not going to last as long as the habits aren't solid and sound. And how many of us have dieted to the point of just unleashing and making worse food choice in the end? Certainly, most children won't see any of that in the story, but they enjoy the rhyme, the story, the watercolor pictures and the humor of Hazel going a bit crazy at the end.

On the back cover, it reads:

"Gentle Reader:

Accept yourself the way you are
And you'll be happier by far.
Remember though, whatever you do,
That exercise is good, and
Too much food is bad for you."

I'd probably add in some little blurb about the difference in healthy and unhealthy foods, but it's true that too much food is bad for you, too. This book was written in 1988, a few years before my youngest daughter was born and that was pretty much the focus of dieting then at the time. Calories. Too many vs. really cutting back. I got this book when she was a baby in 1990 (because I sold Discovery Toys for about a year while managing apartments so I could stay home with my daughter). We get it out and read it every year when Halloween rolls around. It's still a family favorite after almost 20 years.

Monday, October 26, 2009

What to do for Halloween

Just the other day, I heard a friend say, "How can anyone NOT like Halloween -- it's centered around candy!" I'm sure that's how most kids look at it. I used to LOVE that we had candy in our home for at least a few days after Halloween. My mom never bought candy unless it was a holiday and even then, it was minimal. In our stockings, we got a candy cane along with a variety of nuts that needed to be cracked and an apple and an orange (in my dad's sock, no less). In our Easter baskets, we got some jelly beans. I used to look at my aunt's chocolate bunny each year with the hope that I'd get one someday (little did I know they were hollow and didn't have 1/2 the chocolate they appeared to have).

On Halloween, my mom bought candy to give to the trick-or-treaters and we'd get as much as we could as we went around the neighborhood. I had four brothers and we ate up the candy as fast as we could. I used to envy my friends who had Halloween in their lunch pails a week, two weeks, or even a month after Halloween was over. Ours was gone so fast.

Now it seems like Halloween candy is available before, during, and after in abundance. The stores start selling Halloween candy before school even starts. I used to be a sucker for holiday colored M&Ms -- I thought they looked so great in fall colors in a glass candy dish. At school, they have candy and a variety of sugary-spooky looking treats in the class and at the carnival (there's something so fun about seeing kids walk around the cake walk to "The Monster Mash.") I'm always impressed with the teachers who keep the candy to a minimum (or not at all) in their parties since they know the kids will get more than enough that night anyway. Our church often has a Halloween party too, as well as other activities with sugar "refreshments" at the end. Then there's the actual Halloween night.

Maybe my memory is fuzzy, but when I went trick-or-treating, each grown-up at the door gave me one candy to eat. It didn't matter if it was little like a tootsie roll or not. We got one piece. Now the people at the doors give a handful to my children, even if it's the good chocolate! I'm amazed. Some people even give out full sized candy bars! Then there's those that set up BBQs and serve hot dogs or hot chocolate in the cold misty weather. I used to love that when I didn't care about what I ate.

About 4 years ago after trick-or-treating with my children, I went back to my friend's house in the busy neighborhood (we've always lived where there weren't trick-or-treaters, so we liked to go where we knew someone so we could come back to their house with our younger children to rest while the older ones kept running around with their friends). We often use this opportunity to dump out the candy bag, sort it into groups of chocolate, favorites, gross candy, toys, and whatever. We had sorted out the candy and I was eating the "good" chocolate right and left. It wasn't long before I had indigestion to the point of embarrassment. I started feeling sore-throatish and by the time we left, I wondered why I succumbed to eating sugar when I knew it wasn't doing my body any good. I was sick for the next few days (flu symptoms) and vowed to clean up my eating once and for all. That's when I explored with eating raw foods and saw tremendous improvements in my health.

That was the year I conquered my battle with candy and Halloween, but I've never been able to figure out how to convince my children to do the same. Some people let their children eat their candy the first night only, then throw it all out. I have such good memories of finally getting candy in the house when I was a child, that I struggled with doing that. Yet, I also have childhood memories of horrible allergies and severe asthma and frequent colds and flus. So how great is that? I don't want to contribute to their health problems if I can help it.

Here are a few things I've done. I'm not saying it's my ultimate. I wish they'd just be happy to do without candy like I am, but this is a start:

* Let them eat their candy for a few days, then tell them to choose their favorites to save for Christmas stockings and the rest gets tossed. They've been pretty willing to do this and don't really end up with that many favorites in the end. Maybe they get tired of eating it too since the candy fest begins before Halloween at school and church festivities. By Christmas, we end up using some of it for little gifts they get asked to bring to school (white elephants or Secret Santas), so very little of it ends up in the stocking).

* After Halloween, offer them a dollar a day for each day they can go without eating ANY sugar up through the end of November. They can use the money for their Christmas shopping. My kids have really enjoyed this tradition. They've even turned down pumpkin pie! They've gotten to where saying "No, thanks, we're not eating sugar" is pretty easy for them. Now to just stretch that out into the rest of the year.

* Talk to them more about what foods are good for them and why artificial foods like candy are so bad for their health. They seem to like the power of knowledge and see food through different eyes after our discussions, even if they don't always turn sugar down.

* Fix more homemade healthier versions of traditional fall treats to fill them up - - banana bread, zucchini bread, pumpkin bread, cooked apples, baked potatoes (we love those when it's cold!), whatever fruit is in season (especially pomegranates), berry/oatmeal muffins, green smoothies, spiced apple cider. Okay, I realize that green smoothies aren't traditional treats, but they're becoming that way in our home, thank goodness.

* Focus on non-eating ways to celebrate Halloween -- carving pumpkins, lighting the pumpkins or luminaries outside, cutting out bats and other decorations out of paper, making window art decorations, stuffing a scarecrow, singing songs (Gorkin was a Goblin by Tim Cain is a HUGE hit with kids), or just watching a movie together. Hocus Pocus is a family favorite, although that song Sara Jessica Parker sings creeps me out; my older girls used to love "The Worst Witch" -- corny, but fun; my boys loved the Magic School bus about the bats and sound. Or we get out an old sit-com like the Brady Bunch where the kids try to convince the realtor that their house is haunted so their parents won't sell it, or more obvious magical TV shows like Bewitched, The Addam's Family or Sabrina, the Teenage Witch. And the greatest of all Halloween kids movies ever made -- the Charlie Brown movie about the great pumpkin! So fun.

If you have any ideas to share, let me know. I know some parents don't have their children go out trick-or-treating anymore. I just love seeing all the children dress up and go from door to door. I love seeing how excited the people at the door are too to see the childrens' costumes. It's just such a fun community event. Maybe someday I'll move on from that, but for now, we'll continue on and try not to let the candy-eating go too far.

Here's a post that Dr. Fuhrman's wife wrote on this subject a few weeks ago. I wish I'd started as early with my children so they didn't even desire sugar, but I am where I am and I'm glad to be this far in my own journey with healthy eating. My hope at this point is that I can continue to teach my children by example and conversation the benefits and essential-ness (I know, I made up that word, but I can't think of a better one) of healthy eating so they can improve their eating ways as they grow up and teach their children from the start.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Wheat Recipes -- Peanut Butter Cookies -- Non-Dairy, Non-Hydrogenated, Unrefined

A few months ago, I promised a good friend of mine (Hi Chris!) that I'd give him my Peanut Butter cookie recipe, made with fresh ground whole wheat flour, unrefined sugar and non-dairy, non-hydrogenated butter. They're super hearty and very tasty! I'm finally getting to writing up the recipe and thought I'd share it with you too. One of my sons says that they taste like you're eating grass (I first thought he said they tasted like "rats" and was offended, but once he clarified, I figured grass wasn't half as bad as rats). He does eat them, though, and the rest of my family loves them (and so does Chris :)). They're a little more dense and crunchy than regular peanut butter cookies and they taste pretty wonderful, especially right out of the oven. (Well, actually, they're pretty good the next day too).

Basically, I sub wheat flour for white, unrefined sugar (evaporated cane juice and/or sucanat) for the white and brown sugar, and Earth Balance buttery spread for real butter or margarine (so as to avoid the dairy and the hydrogenated fat). It's what I do for most of my favorite cookie recipes and they turn out great.

Wheat Peanut Butter Cookies

1 cup Earth Balance buttery spread (or 2 Earth Balance butter sticks)
1 cup Peanut Butter (I use Costco's organic or Marantha)
1 c. evaporated cane juice (can be found in bulk in most health food stores -- sometimes they'll let you buy it by the huge bag and get a 10% discount)
1 c. sucanat (also in bulk food section of the health food store or in little pkgs. -- the pkgs. get pricey though. If either are very expensive, I just use 2 c. of the other sugar)
2 eggs
1 t. baking powder
1 1/2 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
2 1/2 c. whole wheat flour

Mix butters and sugars together first. Add in eggs, then the 3 small ingredients. Gradually add the wheat flour until blended well.

Form balls (or use a cookie scoop like Pampered Chef makes ) and place onto cookie sheet or baking stone. Press a criss cross with a fork to flatten out a bit. Bake at 375 for about 10 minutes until golden brown. Try not to eat too many!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Dehydrated Pears -- New Delight

About a month ago, I bought two lugs of pears from a pear farm. The one canned food my children will eat out of the jar is canned pears. So even though I've only canned apples before (successfully anyway, I've tried blackberry jam and it looked like juice), I decided to can the pears too.

I love dehydrating and thought I should dry some of the pears too. But I had this memory of bad textured, bland tasting dried pears from the store. This kept making me throw more pears into the pot for canning. Near the end, I decided just to dry one tray to see how different the pears might taste if I dried them, knowing that the store uses sulphur dioxide and who knows what else to mess up the flavor (and keep them looking less brown). I also dehydrated a bunch of peaches (since I KNOW how heavenly those are) and loaded the rest of the trays up with fruit leather *YUM!*

The surprise of the next day was that the pears were absolutely delicious. Really, really tasty. Nothing like the bland ones in the store. I cut mine thinner than the store's. Theirs seem to be 1/2 pear (although they don't look all that thick). I cut mine into maybe 1/4 inch slices, probably even thinner -- about 5 slices on each side of the middle of the pear, then little thin strips from the 2 sides left over.

I dehydrated them at about 106 degrees overnight and into the next morning. They're okay warm, but are really great cooled down. (I only mention that because peaches, apricots, and mangoes are super yummy warm too -- like eating pie out of the oven).

I was kicking myself for not using a whole lug of the pears to dry. But live and learn. I've bought pears at Costco twice since and have dried them. I took a picture before they went into the dehydrator the other night to show you the before and after, but you know what? I finished them off today before getting a picture of the after. Sorry! I'll add one on here the next time I make them. And for some agonizing reason, my before picture won't download from my camera right now, so I'll have to save that for later too.

Until then, try them for yourself. They're great to just have in a ziploc while out and about or just nice to have handy in the kitchen to nibble on. Such a sweet treat!