dinner ideas.


Let’s talk about food!

I’m having lots of fun with it right now due to the challenge of eating seasonal produce from our garden and the CSA we joined. Right now my recipes reflect that and I plan our dinners around what’s harvested that week. I think I’ll share a few of our current meals throughout the summer, because it’s fun!

In the meantime, I thought I’d give you some tried and true ideas and recipes that we always come back to. I know I’ve mentioned many of them here and there on the blog, so I hope this isn’t too repetitive. I guess the good news is that means we’ve found a system that works!

Here are a few thoughts:

1. I’m a huge plan of meal-planning for the week, and I mean huge. Life is just less stressful when you know what’s for dinner. I like to think that knowing the plan and having the ingredients is what allows cooking to be fun.

I keep a running grocery list all week in my bullet journal (and we have a white-board on the fridge where family members can jot items we need), and around Thursday afternoon I tear my “grocery” flap from my bullet journal and attach it to the fridge with a magnet. I like having it in front of my eyes for a day or so to add last-minute things and transfer items from the white board, and begin to work on my meal plan.

My bullet journal is also helpful because I have a weekly meal plan list that I can add ideas to. So rarely do I start from scratch on Friday mornings. But either way, Friday morning is my time to firm up the meal plan for the next 7 days. Then the kids and I grocery shop Friday afternoon. I love having the house stocked with food before the weekend.

2. If you’re struggling to come up with your own dinner plan, I’d first sit down and do some brain-storming on paper.

What are your favorite family recipes?

What are you continuing to prepare but your family just doesn’t like?

Where do you feel stuck in a rut?

Then think of your dinners on a sort of two-week rotation. So if spaghetti is a hit, plan to have it once every two weeks. In our family we love a big pan of lasagna, but it’s pricey and labor-intensive — and let’s face it, not that great for you! — so I told the family I’ll make it once a month. I have that in a list that I can plug in.

The slow-cooker is your friend! I use it every single week in the winter for soup, and in the summer I use it for chicken or beef for tacos, and spaghetti sauce.

Now that you have some ideas, try grouping them into themed nights. Kids really get into the themes. I know I’ve mentioned this before on the blog, but in case you missed it . . .

How about this:

Monday: Pasta (in the summer), Soup (in the winter) . . . This means spaghetti would be a great fit here. Or you could try a Meatless Monday theme.

Tuesday: Taco Tuesday! or any sort of Mexican-themed food

Wednesday: Leftovers (we call it Waste-not Wednesday to be funny)

Thursday: For me this is either Indian food, which I try to make every two weeks, or a night to try a new recipe

Friday: Grill or homemade pizza (or even English muffin pizzas to keep it simple)

Saturday: we eat burgers with David’s folks

Sunday: Breakfast for dinner (muffins and eggs, fritatta, waffles, pancakes, etc)

3. I don’t typically plan an eating out night into the schedule. I’d rather have too many dinner ideas than too few and one can always roll over into next week if plans change.

We don’t eat out for dinner often because it’s expensive as a family of 6 and often it feels like more trouble than it’s worth with young children. I’d way rather spend money in our Eating Out budget on breakfast at the Soda City farmer’s market, which we do once a month or so. However we do enjoy meeting friends for dinner from time to time, and sometimes will order pizza.

4. After you’ve done a little brain-storming, copy your themes into your planner or calendar to help you when you sit down and plan dinners for the week. Now half your work is finished!

Every so often (usually when making dinner starts to feel stressful again), I look at my overall themes and then ask, “Where do I feel stuck in a rut?”

For me right now it’s Indian food. I have chicken curry and dal down pat (we make both with chapatti), but there are so many other delicious recipes I should be rotating in. So in my to-do list for this month I wrote, “Choose one new Indian recipe from our Aarti Paarti cookbook.”

5. Google and Pinterest help with new meal ideas too, but be sparing here. I’ve learned to stick with pinning simple recipes that I know I’ll actually make and my family might actually eat, and just search for a couple of new recipes at a time. My most trusted website for recipes is Simply Recipes.

Truly you can lose hours on pinning gorgeous food photos and come away without one single practical thing to show for it (says the person who has done that more times than I care to admit). If you rely on Pinterest for meal planning, it helps to regularly go in and purge/edit your categories of things you’ve never used or made.

If you’re struggling with dinners, try not to reinvent the wheel all at once. Ease into some new recipes — definitely don’t try more than one a week if you work lots of hours or have young children. You’re more likely to stick with a new habit if you take it slow.


6. My plan for new recipes is to bookmark the recipe I want to try, cook or bake it once, and then if it’s a keeper, print it out in black and white and stick it in my recipe 3-ring binder. I learned the hard way not to print a recipe until I test it out on my family! I add any notes/adjustments I made to help me out next time.

Using a recipe notebook rather than an iPad or computer means I’m not accidentally spraying my screen with lemon juice while cooking or being tempted to surf David’s Facebook page when I should be chopping onions (I mean, who’s ever tempted to do that!?).

I have cookbooks that I enjoy using too and I unapologetically dog-ear my favorite pages for easy reference.

7. My rule of thumb with cookbooks is to always check them out of the library first. If there are 5+ recipes I want to make, then I’ll buy it. This month I bought 100 Days of Real Food: Fast and Fabulous. There are so many recipes I’m excited to try, and I love that the author includes real food shopping lists from some of the top grocery stores.


8. Okay, food and kids.

I’ll keep this brief. Our kids have to eat what we serve them. Period. They aren’t allowed to complain about dinner, and they get a consequence if they do. They must say “please” and “thank you” and show gratitude for the person who prepared their food.

However, they don’t have to like it. We want them to be able to have their own opinions. They may not say any of the following, “Eew,” “Yuck,” “This is gross.”

They may say, “This isn’t my favorite” or “I don’t prefer this.” But not immediately when they sit down to eat or when they hear of tonight’s dinner. First they have to say “thank you.”

I used to really take it personally when they didn’t like my cooking, but I’ve learned to develop a thicker skin. Now I tell them, “You know what? I know which meals you love and which you don’t. I know most of you dislike brussels sprouts. But there are some foods we eat as a family that are fun and some we eat just because they make us healthy and strong. As your mom, it’s my job to help you grow healthy and strong and try new things.”

We have lots of treats as a family. I regularly make cookies and muffins and banana bread. They get a bowl of cereal with their green smoothie most days for breakfast. They get peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch often. So I don’t mind making them eat healthy dinners.

I also read somewhere that it can take kids 10-15 tries of a new food before they begin to like it, so David and I don’t apologize about asking them to keep eating a small helping of something they don’t prefer.


9. Having said that, I really work hard to make food my family likes. As a recovering picky eater myself, I really do try to be compassionate, especially toward the kids who have texture issues. I still struggle with that.

David and the kids are allowed to tell me when there’s a recipe they just plain don’t prefer to ever eat again, and I delete it from my running idea list. This Tamale Pie was a recent one I just stopped making because no-one liked it but me. We do tacos or taco salad of some sort almost weekly because they are a fave.

10. So to sum it up, my last tip is to work to find a balance between challenging the people in your house to embrace new (especially healthy) foods, but also to compromise when it comes to personal preferences. For example, I truly think I could be a vegetarian. Meat just isn’t important to me. However, my family does not feel the same way.

So we just aren’t going to be vegetarian in this household. I fought that battle for awhile and realized it was silly — and only caused me more stress. We experiment with meatless meals often, for our health and our budget and the environment, but we plan to go on eating meat around here.

After watching way too many documentaries and reading way too many cookbooks, David and I finally settled on saying we don’t want our eating habits to have any label. I eat mostly gluten free, and we try to always move in the direction of adding fruits and vegetables and cutting out processed food. But for our family labels feel restrictive and that stresses us out. Barring any allergies or healthy issues, we aren’t going to be all of any one thing.


And now, a few dinner ideas:

Here’s our favorite lasagna recipe. Just like my momma taught me, I sub cottage cheese for the ricotta, and pre-cooked pasta for the uncooked.

We love slow-cooker chicken or barbacoa beef tacos. I use the Against All Grain recipe from my cookbook for chicken (photo at the top of this post), but there are plenty online. You can also serve either over rice with lots of toppings or as a taco salad. If you have the foresight to whip up this Cilantro Lime sauce to serve with it, your family will love you forever (I tone down the spice in it).

Quesadillas with sauteed veggies or leftover grilled chicken are a great idea for Mexican night

I know summer isn’t the best time for soup, but this White Chicken Chili is probably our all-time favorite soup.

It’s summer, so you should add Bruschetta to your regular rotation (it’s meatless, so less expensive!). Trader Joe’s ciabatta loaf is my favorite for bruschetta (but any heavy, crusty bread will do) and make sure to buy the real mozzarella that comes in a ball.

Speaking of summer, how about BLT’s? My kids adore bacon and mayonnaise enough that they’ll suffer through the lettuce and tomato part.

The grill is your friend. We brine our chicken first if we’re grilling, and always make a double batch so we can use it to top salads, serve the kids for lunch, or make quesadillas.

Pesto pasta is a hit with everyone in my family but one. Actually here’s a rule of life: even if you make something absolutely amazing, there will be one person in your house who hates it.

As for sides, unless it’s a one-pot meal, we always have at least one veggie. Summer is perfect for corn on the cob. Lately I’ve done a lot of chopping and roasting with herbs: white potatoes, sweet potatoes, brussels sprouts, zucchini. Google the veggie you plan to roast for instructions, but it’s super easy (especially if you spread parchment paper on the cookie sheet first).

If you want to make more use of your slow cooker, how about this roast chicken? You can also roast a pan of veggies, buy a loaf of crusty bread, and voila!

Alright friends, there you have it!

Hey, I know making dinner is hard. Shopping on a budget is hard. Keeping your family healthy and at least somewhat interested in the food you make is hard. It really helps me to look at it as a fun challenge (How can I get Judah to eat more veggies? Answer: zucchini bread!), but there have been seasons when it’s been a dreaded chore.

And if nothing I’ve said helps, do you know what my solution to all your cooking woes is?

That’s right! A book!

If you need a little jump start of fun inspiration, my go-to book is Dinner: A Love Story by Jenny Rosenstrach. She’s so down to earth and fun and the photos are pretty. Check it out from your local library, or just buy it. I first read it years ago and still use her recipes.

Happy cooking!

the veggie box.


One of our favorite things to do together, both as a couple and as a family, is to cook and bake.

For several years now, we’ve been trying to move in the direction of a healthy, whole-foods based diet. This doesn’t mean we’re health nuts, and it doesn’t even mean we buy everything organic. You’ll find cereal and store-bought bread in the pantry, and the kids have peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch most days.

David’s good at helping me be inspired to make and eat healthy food but not let it take over my life. I had a friend once advise me, “Instead of obsessing about what to cut out of your diet to make it healthier, just focus on adding good, whole foods, bit by bit.” So thanks to her inspiration we now have green smoothies for breakfast and we make salads for lunch. We make the kids smoothies and they eat veggies or fruit as a side at most meals and often for snacks.

Of course it’s our job to see that they eat a relatively balanced diet, but what I really want to do is inspire my kids to enjoy good food. This is hard. Often I’m discouraged at the dinner table when I make a fresh, healthy meal and the kids labor through it (they don’t have to like it, but can’t make rude comments. so we hear a lot of, “I don’t really prefer quinoa”).

I’d say David and I are pretty healthy eaters, but it’s hard to man-handle our kids into being healthy eaters. We keep junk food out of the house for the most part and they have to eat some of everything we serve for dinner.

But I understand what it’s like to be a kid and want sandwiches and cereal and ice-cream. I don’t want to have anxiety over food, and I definitely don’t want my children to.

All of this to say, I hope that our kids see David and me buying and enjoying good food, and learning to be creative with eating it. I hope they see that we love to cook together. I hope they taste lots of different foods — multiple times. I understand that their taste buds will grow and change over time. I hope that as they help their grandparents with the chickens and help us grow a small amount of what we eat, they’ll develop an appreciation for where our food comes from and feel part of the process.

I hope to continue to grow on this journey myself.


And so enter: the veggie box, which is quickly becoming a Soda City Farmer’s Market sensation. For 10 dollars you can fill a cardboard box with as many fruits and veggies as you’re able to — just look for the stand with the long line of people snaking around the block.

Not all the vegetables and fruit are local to South Carolina; I try to ask questions and keep my eye out for the obvious exceptions (pineapple, bananas). I still buy those things at the supermarket, but want as much as possible to save room for the local, in-season stuff in our box.

The above photo is two boxes’ worth of food. We found that one box wasn’t quite enough the week before for a family of six. I wanted to see if we actually ate all the contents of two boxes in one week, and for a couple of the things it was closer to two weeks. But they kept in the vegetable crisper, and we did it! We ate everything and didn’t throw any of it away. Now we buy one or two boxes depending on what our week looks like, what we’re getting from our own garden (not much in this 100-degree weather), and how many meals we will be eating at home.

I’m always looking for healthy food ideas from my friends, so thought it might be fun/helpful to list out for you what we did with all of it.

1. 2 heads of kale – morning green smoothies (recipe below)

2. Spinach – mixed with lettuce for salads, green smoothies

3. Radishes – salads

4. Mushrooms – Frittata with mushrooms, bell pepper, grated Parmesan, and fresh parsley


5. Corn on the cob – side dish for dinner

6. Cherries – gobbled up for snacks

7. Blueberries – snacks, smoothies, topping for granola

8. Carrots – side for lunch, snacks with hummus

9. Romaine lettuce – Lunchtime salads!

10. Sweet potatoes – baked , topped with butter and cinnamon and served as a side dish

11. Broccoli – side dish with dinner (and all the kids’ favorite vegetable)

12. Peaches – Peach cobbler! Also snacks


13. Bell peppers – Frittata, pizza, salad toppings (we’re getting peppers from our garden now too)

14. Zucchini and squash – the amount you see above made a side for two dinners, sauteed with butter, salt and pepper, leftover corn cut from the cob, topped with chopped fresh basil (sadly all my kids’ least favorite veggie. and they really hate mushrooms. (although not a veggie))

15. Tomatoes – sliced on David’s homemade pizza

We’ve loved our weekly box of produce. I enjoy seeing the kids help choose it and discover new fruit, like cherries.

What I don’t like is the overwhelming crowds of people at the market (although I love how well it’s doing!), and was happy to find out through my MIL that our veggie stand opens at 7:00am. If we arrive between 8 and 8:30 the line isn’t too long yet, so we can zip in and zip out. Some mornings we linger and buy coffee at Indah and snow cones and an enormous cinnamon roll. There are so many delicious things to eat at Soda City that have nothing to do with our veggie box! ūüôā

Here’s to everything in moderation!



Smoothie recipe (adapted from Thrive, by Brendan Brazier)

Makes 2 large glasses (these are rough estimates, we eyeball the proportions):

– 2 cups ice and water
– 1 banana
– 1 apple
– big scoop raw hemp powder
– scoop raw cacao powder
– spoonful tahini
– 2 cups kale or spinach
– handful of berries if we have them
– splash of unsweetened almond milk
– if it’s not sweet enough or we need more volume we add a couple of pitted dates or another banana
– Blend well

two-week dinner plan (warm weather).

Many of you have been asking for help with dinner ideas. It seems “What’s for dinner?” is the dreaded question we all share. Because I love you all, here’s a two-week rotating meal plan.

My family doesn’t mind eating the same¬†dinner¬†twice a month; I don’t think yours will either. Also, preparing five full meals each week is a bit ambitious, I know. Typically I plan and shop for four, which gives us two nights of leftovers and one for eating out/take-out. Click on the title for a link to recipe.

Please don’t let my added¬†notes overwhelm you: just think of them as a¬†boost¬†if you need it. The best thing about meal plans is that you can list and shop for them at the beginning of the week, but then you’re free to switch dinners around night-by-night depending on how much time you’ve got or what you’re in the mood for. Virtually all these meals take under an hour to prepare. A glass of wine or an ice-cold La Croix turns dinner-prep into an event, even if you have little people running around.

One final thought: the most important lesson I’ve learned as a cook is to be free to make substitutions. I am a serious rule-follower, but living overseas forced me to learn a different way of relating to recipes. Ingredients¬†my recipes called were regularly unavailable. This was so good for me, and has given me freedom not to panic when I’m missing a spice or herb. I nearly always reduce the amount of meat called for in a recipe and increase the veggies (the exception is burgers and steak!). It may taste a little different, but that’s the fun of cooking as opposed to baking: freedom. Please let me know if you have any questions! You know I love talking food. Happy cooking!

Week 1

Photo credit

Day 1. Basil chicken curry and rice (I rotate with Cauliflower Chickpea Curry for a vegetarian version)
Chicken thighs are less expensive. Find Garam Masala in Whole Foods or an Indian supermarket and replace all of the spices listed with a good-sized tablespoon of it. I add 1 tsp. turmeric too. Or you can just use curry powder! I often cook, scramble eggs, and saute with ghee but you can use butter or oil. Throw in your family’s favorite veggies, we switch up them up often. I always make basmati rice and add¬†a spoonful of ghee to make it silky.

Day 2. “Taco Tuesday”: Ground beef and black bean tacos, or black bean and corn burritos¬†(I just wing it with a burrito recipe but I included a link for you if you want)
Have you seen The Lego Movie? If so, you understand the¬†need for Taco Tuesday in our household. I use 1/2 lb. of ground beef and fill it out with black beans and mix in homemade¬†taco seasoning. ¬†Add sauteed onions and bell peppers, chopped tomatoes, cheese and sour cream if you want. Sometimes we’re craving a can of El Paso Traditional Refried beans topped with cheese (don’t read the ingredients). Yum.

Day 3. Quinoa veggie “fried rice”¬†or Quinoa Bowl topped with an egg fried over-medium
The quinoa fried rice is awesome; I follow the recipe to the letter. Quinoa bowls are a great way to use up leftover veggies in the fridge, or our personal favorite toppings are carmelized onions, roasted broccoli (sometimes my garlic burns, so I sub garlic powder), and sauteed spinach, topped with freshly grated parmesan, salt, pepper, a squeeze of lemon and drizzled with olive oil.

Note: if you’re intimidated by quinoa (pronounced “keen-wah”), don’t be! It’s as easy as rice to cook and I love it so much more. I miss couscous from my gluten days, but this is a great substitute. I learned from Gwyneth Paltrow (as if we’re buddies, right?) to reduce the amount of water the recipe on the bag calls for, and after cooking, top saucepan with a paper towel and then the lid for 5 minutes to absorb steam and make the quinoa nice and fluffy.

Day 4. Chicken tenders on a lettuce salad
¬†I serve it deconstructed for the kids with the honey mustard dipping sauce and veggies on the side. You may remember from this post¬†that¬†in leiu of salad dressing, David and I now exclusively top our salads with¬†a generous drizzle of extra virgin olive oil (we love the Tunisian olive oil from Trader Joe’s), lemon juice, salt and pepper.

Day 5. Grill: Burgers, corn on the cob, caprese salad (sub whatever veggie is in season), or sometimes we do steak and Pioneer Woman crash hot potatoes with roasted broccoli instead.

Week 2

Photo credit

Day 1. Slow cooker roast chicken with roasted carrots, potatoes (or sweet potatoes), make broth with the bones afterwards

Day 2. Middle Eastern turkey burgers
This is a whole-family favorite and one of the reasons I love Gwyneth Paltrow’s latest cookbook, It’s All Good. I choose either ground turkey, lamb, or beef, depending on what’s on sale, and we make them indoors on our grill pan. Serve with side salad and her yogurt cucumber dipping sauce.¬†We like¬†these¬†burgers bun-less — however,¬†adding buns and topping with cucumber slices and yogurt sauce would be dreamy.

Day 3. Breakfast for dinner:
Option 1: Egg casserole and chocolate chip muffins
Option 2: Pancakes and bacon
Option 3: banana bread and scrambled eggs
Option 4: Bacon, egg, and cheese sandwiches on English muffins
The point is: there are tons of options! Sub GF versions if needed.

Day 4. Greek Quinoa Salad topped with sliced Grilled chicken
No need for sides: it’s a full meal!

Day 5. Bruschetta
A favorite, simple summer time meal. We pick up a crusty baguette or loaf of ciabatta from the supermarket, slice and put it under the broiler with olive oil and rubbed with garlic. Add a thick¬†slab of mozzarella (the kind that you buy in a ball), and topped with chopped tomatoes mixed with salt and pepper, olive oil, and sliced fresh basil. This is one of the meals I most miss being gluten-free. GF bread just doesn’t have quite the same effect.


In 2007, the year¬†Judah was born, I was sitting in our little book-lined office in our condo in Lititz, PA, surfing the internet, clicking away on our giant Dell desktop computer, and I stumbled upon a blog called Orangette. I’d never read a food blog before, but I knew immediately this blog was special. I loved the quiet, crisp photos. I loved the descriptions of food. I was instantly compelled to jump up and try one of the recipes: stove top black beans with onion and cumin.

That began my love affair with food blogs and also sparked a desire to learn how to cook simple, tasty food from scratch, and I’ve followed Molly Wizenberg on Orangette from time to time¬†through the years since. When her first memoir, A Homemade Life, came out, I devoured it.

This year her second book came out: Delancey, named for the pizza restaurant she and her husband opened in Seattle. I mentioned it to Pat over email when we were planning our trip and she said, “Delancey is in my neighborhood!” Sure enough, the little restaurant and it’s next door bar, Essex, also owned by Molly and Brandon, are just a few¬†blocks from Pat, Cathy, and Annie’s street in Ballard.

David and I both read Delancey before we came, and we loved the book, not least because — believe it or not — there are some similarities between starting a restaurant and starting a church. I laughed my way through the memoir¬†because in many ways, Molly and Brandon’s marriage feels like David’s and mine: both the fun and the exasperating parts.¬†And so it was that on Thursday night the¬†seven of us walked to Delancey for pizza.

This week I asked Pat if she had to¬†choose one ethnicity of food to eat for the rest of her life, what her choice¬†would be. And she said it’s an impossible decision¬†because so much of the food we’ve tasted is the memories surrounding the meal — where we were, who we were with, what season of life we were in. You can’t pull the flavor of the food out of its experience.

I thought of that all week, thought how right she is. Our meal at Delancey was magical, not just because I love pizza. It was everything. It was discovering Orangette seven years ago as a brand-new mom who could barely cook a real meal. It was reading Molly Wizenberg’s memoirs and coming to think of her as one of my favorite writers.

It was getting on a plane and flying thousands of miles across the country to Seattle, which I’ve dreamed of for so long. It was staying with Cathy and Annie in their actual house — which we’ve only ever seen pictures of. It was all of us¬†strolling¬†together down the sidewalk right in their neighborhood and standing in front of a restaurant I’ve read about and seen photos of.

It was the heirloom tomato and basil salad and the ice-cold glass of Washington hard cider and the 12-inch pizza pies, simple with the thinnest, crispiest crusts, with all-local toppings (the grilled zucchini and anchovy was my favorite). It was sitting in the little dining room, surrounded by laughter and smiles and friendly staff, remembering stories of plaster-scraping and pizza-oven assembling, and cement-floor staining that went awry.¬†It was seeing Brandon Pettit walk out from the kitchen to laugh with friends sitting¬†two tables over and feeling so proud for him, for what he’s done here in Ballard. I wish him and his family all the best.

Our dinner at Delancey is truly one we’ll never forget.


healthy snacks.

Our two-month gluten and dairy-free experiment went well. We noticed some positive changes in health and behavior. However, a negative is that we discovered we were eating a ton more processed food: crackers, cereal, energy bars, gluten free cookies.

So this month we’re trying to move back toward what I’ve decided to call a “sane diet.” Not one hundred percent gluten-free or dairy-free (although I have to be totally gluten free), but instead focusing on eating real food. Food we make from scratch. Food whose ingredients we can pronounce. Food without lots of added sugar.¬†The kids can have bread sometimes, but right now it’s David’s homemade sourdough bread.

Then when we’re out we let them out whatever is served. We’re going to try this method for a couple months and evaluate.

My focus for now is on healthy snacks. Snacks are hard: not just for my kids, but for me. I’ll be the first to say I’d way rather reach for a rice cake with peanut butter or a Pamela’s¬†Whenever bar than veggies or fruit. David and I both know snacks are our weak spot, so we’re trying to work on keeping them out of the house. And if¬†I want something sweet I can pick a recipe from one of our grain-free cookbooks.

There’s no magic way I’m going about this except for telling the kids that when we have snacks at home, they’re healthy snacks. Yes they hate it. Yes they complain. But in the end, if they get hungry enough, they eat it.


I found this snack tray idea somewhere online, and so far it has worked great. Okay, not great in that Judah and Amie eat everything in here, but great in that this is their morning snack option. I make up a batch of hummus at the beginning of the week, then chop veggies for the snack tray around 9:00 a.m. and keep it in the fridge. There’s no arguing, no requests for me to make a snack; this is it.


Afternoon snack has been great fun. I got this sliced apple idea from Against All Grain, and the kids love it (so do I). Amie and I like¬†crunchy almond butter spread on apples and Judah prefers¬†peanut butter (just make sure your nut butters don’t have corn syrup or added sugar). They add their own raisins. And yes, sometimes I’m definitely too lazy to make fancy slices and the apples still taste great.


Here’s today’s snack tray with grapes and almonds. I always wondered why my stomach hurt after eating almonds, but then learned about soaking them to remove the phytic acid. Now I feel great and since¬†they’re a little softer, Amie gobbles them up by the handful. The other positive side of snack trays is that David and I end up munching on¬†whatever’s left over at the end of the day instead of picking up chips and salsa.


A¬†friend sent us this cookbook: Eat Like a Dinosaur, and¬†Judah especially has latched onto it. There’s a story you can read to kids about why it’s important to eat healthy (or to “eat like a dinosaur”) and somehow it just clicked with him. He still asks for treats, but is much more positive about eating veggies and fruit than before. Lots of great ideas in the book too: it has transformed our lunch habits. But more on that another time!

I hope all this isn’t overwhelming. I’m just trying to take baby steps, but take them consistently. A friend told me she made the goal of making afternoon snack a healthy snack for her kids. That’s perfect. Just start somewhere, one thing at a time and don’t feel bad about not overhauling everything at once. It’s way better to make a small, lasting change.

Happy snacking!


Summer is my happy place. The hotter the better.¬†I feel like my soul goes into hibernation in winter and now I’m myself again. I can just breathe better in shorts and flip flops.

Great news: I’m working on a summer reading list for you. In the meantime, here’s what we’ve been up to lately:

IMG_6470Afternoons at the park. Before the humidity of our South Carolina summer gets too brutal.

Afternoons at the pool. As of last¬†week, both our kids are swimmers and let me tell you what, it’s life changing. After 6 1/2 years, I’m here to tell you the pool is once again relaxing.

IMG_6522Growing radishes. Today my daily salad consisted of lettuce, cherry tomatoes, a banana pepper, and radishes from our garden and it was marvelous. I love that David is finally living his dream of tending his very own plot of earth.

IMG_6536Getting bummed out. We tried to take a Family Beach Day in Charleston last Thursday, but blew a tire on I-26 near St. Matthews. It would take too long to explain the events that followed, but suffice it to say, we returned home 6 hours later without seeing the beach — but we did have a new tire. Kids were disappointed. Adults were disappointed. It was a rough day.

Purchasing consolation toys. We may or may not have done some retail therapy at Wal-Mart in Orangeburg after the Great Tire Fiasco and bought ourselves¬†our kids Lego sets. Amie was so proud of her first ever Legos (why didn’t they have cute girl Legos around when I was little?).

Freezing strawberries. In the last two weeks we picked 30 lbs of strawberries from Cottle Farms and froze most of them for smoothies. My ever-frugal husband calculated that it saved us $100 to pick and freeze our own.

IMG_6478Making strawberry basil frozen margaritas. And because I promised you more recipes, here’s the recipe we love:

Strawberry Basil Margaritas (Serves 2)

1 Cup strawberries (we use frozen for an extra-icy drink)
3 oz. Tequila
1 TBSP Triple Sec
1TBSP sugar (or you can use honey)
1 Cup ice
10 fresh basil leaves
Juice of 1/2 lemon (about 1 TBSP)

Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Garnish with a basil leaf. Taste and adjust ingredients to your preference.

IMG_6574Getting back into baking. David tried his hand at¬†homemade bagels this weekend and artisan bread yesterday. And I made Gwyneth Paltrow’s Flourless Anything Crumble with blueberries and oats instead of quinoa flakes. It was a hit and would be a great way to use fresh strawberries and blueberries this summer.

IMG_6570Starting the Great Room Switch. We’re going to move our¬†master bedroom into the school room, and David painted this weekend. We love our crisp gray walls. More photos to come.

Happy June!

quick and easy hummus.


Happy Friday! Thanks so much for your kind words about our diet experiment and especially thanks to two wonderful friends who volunteered to cook for my kids this week in order to give me a break. We’ve had a much better week, and I continue to be so proud of Judah and Amie.

Some of you have been asking me to post recipes, so I’m going to. I’ll admit that the thing that’s held me back is how self-conscious I am about my food photography. But if you can overlook my less-than-creative photos, I’m happy to post some of our family favorites, especially dinner recipes.

Today I’ll start with something really simple: homemade hummus. I never attempted this until we lived in South Asia and I was just dying for hummus. I made it a couple times but could never get excited about it.

But here’s the thing I’ve learned about cooking: you have to practice. Novel idea, right? Why do I understand that about other areas of life, and yet if a recipe turns out not great I feel like I should just toss it? I think that’s the biggest lesson I’ve learned over the past couple years: if I don’t love something I cook, I need to make it again. And again. And again. And tweak it every time, until it’s good.

In her book An Everlasting Meal, Tamar Adler says that a recipe is truly ready when you taste it and feel yourself compelled to take another bite. I’ve begun to apply that principle to everything from my daily salad to spaghetti sauce to hummus, and my food is starting to taste good!

I’ll never forget the day I simmered a big pot of black beans on the stove and tasted them a couple hours later, then immediately served myself a big bowl — at 3:00 in the afternoon. Of just beans. I have never, ever wanted to eat beans by themselves, but my beans were that good. Tamar Adler is right.

All of that to say, try this hummus. It’s so easy. And if you don’t love it, experiment. Add more lemon juice, more cumin, more salt. Or get online and find a recipe that’s totally different than mine. Don’t settle for just average hummus when it can be great. Most of all, have fun making it.

Quick and Easy Hummus

1 clove garlic
2 cans garbanzo beans, one fully drained, one with about half a can of liquid reserved (for your first couple times maybe reserve a whole can of liquid to make sure your hummus isn’t dried out)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp sesame seed oil (this is an economical way to replace tahini, and prevents a jar of tahini from expiring in your fridge)
Juice from 1/2 lemon, or around 1 TBSP lemon juice
Fresh ground black pepper to taste
Several TBSP extra virgin olive oil (it will help the flavor if this is good-quality olive oil, but isn’t absolutely necessary)

I put my garlic through the food processor first or use a garlic press, then add the beans with their liquid, spices and lemon juice, and process. I would start with just a couple drops of sesame seed oil because it’s very strong and add more if you want. Taste to see if the seasoning is right. The hummus should be thick but not overly dried out; if it is add more of the garbanzo bean liquid. Then turn on the food processor (you could use a blender instead), and add olive oil in a thin drizzle until the hummus is as creamy as you want it.

This is a great appetizer to make for a party or picnic or your kids’ school lunch. You could get fancy and roast your garlic beforehand or add roasted red peppers for a more complex flavor. We like our hummus with carrots, tortilla chips, or spread on crunchy gluten free toast with kalamata olives and David’s fresh-from-the-garden lettuce (micro-greens are amazing too).

If you’ve learned any improvements on this basic recipe, leave them in the comments for us all to enjoy!

kids and food.


A couple weeks ago I told you about my first year gluten-free.

Then last week I shared some of the things that David and I eat on a daily basis.

A question I get a lot is: “What do you feed your kids?” So that’s what I’ll talk about today.

And this is where you begin to see that I don’t by any stretch have it all together in the food department. It’s been one thing to make really big changes to my diet, and quite another to ask my kids to do the same.

At first when I sat down to write this post, all I could think of were the negatives of how I’ve failed in this area. But thinking through the details I do see some progress. For our family though, it’s felt very much like a one-step-forward-two-steps back kind of thing.

I’ve tried many different approaches to more healthful eating. I’ve done all of my own baking from scratch (bread,etc). I’ve made a homemade sourdough starter and used it in my baking. I’ve completely eliminated boxed cereal from our home and made the kids’ home-cooked breakfast each morning. I’ve taken Judah completely off dairy after his two asthma attacks.

I’m here to tell you in all honesty that I didn’t stick with any of those plans.

It’s hard, you guys. Food seems to be a constant battle in our house. Judah is a very picky eater and while I don’t think Amelie naturally is, she’s definitely influenced by comments her brother makes (what sibling isn’t??). Let’s just say dinner is not the finest hour in the Gentino household.

All of this to say, I’m still in the learning process. Here are a very few things that do seem to work, ¬†more or less, for us right now.

1. Fruit, veggies, or nuts for snacks. The only way this has worked is to literally make it the only option. I stopped buying snack foods for the kids. So if they want a snack, they’ve learned it’s got to be a healthy snack. This has gotten Judah eating fruit when he’d formerly only eat bananas. Neither kid even fights me on this anymore (although we may possibly have the most boring food house of all their friends). I don’t let them have any grains for snacks when we’re at home because they usually get those for breakfast and lunch already.

2. Reduce dairy. I haven’t completely eliminated it, although Judah solely uses almond milk on his cereal now. I did this the same way as above; just stopped buying yogurt, lots of cheese and milk. We do still have cheese from time to time — on tacos, as an occasional accompaniment to lunch, the occasional Sonic milkshake. But not every day.

I don’t make cheesy or milk-based casseroles anymore, and if I do I use a dairy-substitute. And neither child drinks cups of milk anymore. I know you’re thinking, What about calcium? But from my research it’s much better to get calcium from broccoli and leafy greens than from processed dairy, which leads me to my next point:

3. Drink greens in smoothies. We finally bit the bullet and bought a reconditioned Vitamix blender last week. We’ve talked about it for two years now. We tried a used Champion juicer instead. We burned out the motor on our $30 Oster blender from using it so much. So we finally decided: Yes, it’s super expensive. But this is an investment for our health that we are just going to make.

So far, it’s been amazing. I promise you, there’s a big difference. Judah drank two green smoothies for breakfast this morning (with almond milk, chia seeds, frozen strawberries, banana, and cocoa powder to make it a “chocolate smoothie”). David made the kids and their cousins orange sherbet last week for an afternoon snack with two whole oranges, ice, and a little sugar. All four kids devoured it.

Oddly enough we can’t get Amelie into smoothies yet but I think that will change as she keeps tasting our Vitamix concoctions. My current goal is to have the kids eating smoothies and scrambled eggs for week day breakfasts.

You definitely don’t need to buy a Vitamix: Judah would drink smoothies before and lots of my friends’ kids do. But I can see already how it’s going to be much easier to hide healthy stuff in our smoothies and soup now because of the smoother consistency. My friend Tarah sells homemade raw goats’ milk kefir that I used for awhile and I’m going to start buying again. The kids think it’s yogurt in their smoothies and I want them to have the probiotics.

4. Talk about being healthy and strong. We have conversations with our kids about what kinds of foods make them “healthy and strong” and what don’t. It’s okay to eat some foods that don’t make us healthy and strong, but we need to eat more of the foods that do. That’s why we make them eat veggies every night at dinner. That’s why we do smoothies and healthy snacks. It’s neat to see them slowly (okay very slowly) begin using this line of thinking themselves as they taste foods.

So these are just a few tactics we’re using at the moment. One of my biggest fantasies at the moment is leisurely cooking a delicious and healthful dinner with a glass of wine, then sitting and eating it with no complaints. One day, maybe, we’ll get there.

Any advice from your house on getting the kids to eat healthier? I always welcome suggestions!

one year gluten free, part two.

IMG_2450In part one I described my first year gluten free.¬†I’ll keep this post practical and tell you generally how I eat these days.

The two single best food decisions I’ve made (possible even better than eliminating gluten) are:

1. Making a green smoothie or vegetable juice for breakfast


2. Eating a salad for lunch (read my daily salad post here)

In my humble opinion we as Americans way over-do it on eating grains and starches in general. Think about the typical American day: cereal or toast for breakfast, a granola bar for a snack, sandwich for lunch, pasta or rice or bread with our dinner. Then maybe dessert.

That’s a lot of grains. And by grains I mean flour (wheat or gluten free), oats, rice, quinoa, casseroles, fried foods. I’m not a nutritionist, but I’ve learned that our bodies convert grains to sugar, which causes our blood sugar to spike, then drop. They can result in that dragginess we feel mid-morning and around 1:00 pm. They cause weight gain, bloated-ness, other stomach issues.

I’m not saying grains are evil. Just that the Standard American Diet is way too grain-dependant and since most of us aren’t milling our own wheat, it’s processed grains we’re consuming which are even worse for us. They’re stripped of their nutrients and filled with more sugar (check the package of your loaf of sandwich bread) and preservatives.

I think this is the reason so many people struggle with gluten. Gluten is in everything. Everything processed, that is, because it’s not just used in bread flour, it’s used as a preservative. So some of our digestive systems are rebelling (maybe more of us than we think).

So. I’m not saying I’ve given up grains. But I started to become aware of how much of my diet is grain-dependant, and began making some substitutes. Once I did that I started noticing how dairy-dependant the American diet is, but that’s a post for another time.

Cereal with milk is my absolute favorite breakfast. David teases me because my favorite cereals are in his opinion the super boring ones: plain Cheerios. Wheaties. Rice Chex. I love cereal. The more boring the better.

But back in South Asia when I started becoming aware of my diet, I realized I was feeling sick every day right after breakfast. That’s when I started connecting the foods I was eating to my daily health (it sounds cheesy, but keeping a food journal for a couple weeks really does help show you what makes you feel good and what doesn’t).

So one of the best changes I’ve made is to start my day with fruit and vegetables instead of cereal or toast or oatmeal. I make a green smoothie with almond milk. Or juice vegetables. If I’m in a time crunch and can’t make a smoothie, I eat an apple with almond butter. I typically follow my smoothie breakfast with a handful of almonds to fill my stomach.

I’ve felt so much better since starting this breakfast habit, and every time I travel and let it slide, I notice a difference in my digestion and energy-level. David is not gluten free but he feels the same way and now starts his day with a smoothie.

I try to keep my morning snack grain-free too. I have some fruit or veggies dipped in hummus. Or a handful of nuts.

Then I eat a salad for lunch.

By following this regimen, I can eat a relatively normal dinner with rice or gluten-free pasta, sometimes dessert, a glass of wine, and feel fine. Our dinners include a large portion of veggies and a small portion of meat and are gluten and dairy free for the most part.

I definitely have a sweet tooth, but I’ve taken to eating a few squares of dark chocolate (60% or higher) instead of cookies or ice cream (thanks to my father-in-law for that idea).

Don’t get me wrong, I have my treats. I love brown rice cakes with natural (no sugar added) peanut butter. I almost always keep a loaf of gluten free bread in the freezer because I love extra-crispy slices of toast with eggs fried over-medium, or toast topped with avocado, crushed red pepper flakes, salt and pepper, and a drizzle of lemon juice.

But I try not to let those snacks be all of what I eat.

I love the way I eat now and really don’t miss the food I used to crave before — the constant stream of cereal and cookies and crackers. Your taste buds really do change and you begin to crave food that both tastes good and makes your body feel good.

I feel inspired to try new things, but I also don’t beat myself up for backsliding every now and then. That’s the most helpful thing I learned from my nutritionist: “Don’t focus on cutting things out of your diet; instead put your energy into adding healthful foods.” David and I keep coming back to that principle when our diet starts to slide.

It all comes down to this: when we eat well, we feel well. It’s worth it.

I’ll be back next week to talk about how my kids like our whole foods diet (spoiler alert: they don’t).

one year gluten free, part one.

IMG_4889First gluten free donut, Charleston Market

At the beginning of March one year ago I became completely gluten free. I celebrated the occasion with bronchitis and two rounds of antibiotics. Well maybe it wasn’t a celebration so much as¬†motivation for finally removing gluten from my diet. It was a low point for me, low enough that I needed a big change.

So I made the change.

I’m not going to say it was easy. Especially since my family continued to eat gluten. I’d say there were several months of feeling generally bummed out about food and adjusting to spending a lot more time in the kitchen.

However. What made it all worth it was how instantly my health improved. Headaches cleared up. Congestion went away. My general feelings of achiness and sluggishness improved.

And I promise, gluten freedom did get easier. Over time your body loses its cravings for glutinous food (the hardest things for me to give up were homemade bread, pizza, cookies, and cupcakes). The more faithfully I stayed with my diet and felt my health improve, the less I minded not eating gluten.

I’ve learned tricks too, like to eat a meal right before I go to a party or dinner, and always carry snacks in my purse (almonds are a big favorite with me). I can honestly say I no longer feel sad at a birthday party when I’m the only person not eating cake.

I do let myself cheat sometimes. If there’s something I’m just dying to taste, I taste it. I’m not trying to win any awards here. But when I cheat, I always experience some sort of reaction. If I eat food with gluten in moderation it may only be a headache the following day. Several times I’ve gotten a migraine.

But here’s the shocking part, people. I’ve been a year gluten free and I’ve also gone an entire year without taking antibiotics. When I realized that I was so full of disbelief that I had to go back and check my calendar.

Do you know the last time I’ve gone a year without antibiotics? Not since high school at least. Maybe middle school. I’ve had chronic allergies and two to three sinus infections a year for as long as I can remember (and I do have to credit my mom for clipping an article about Celiac disease for me in college. You tried, Mom!).

I have a wonderful allergist in downtown Columbia, and I’m an anomaly in her office because I simply don’t need to come in anymore. Not only do I not get upper-respiratory infections anymore, but my daily, chronic allergies have all but disappeared. I almost never need to take Claritin. I’m able to keep my dust allergy under control without medication.

I’ve faithfully followed her directions and the directions of my nutritionist: replaced as many household chemicals as possible with natural alternatives (bleach was a big culprit), removed gluten from my diet, reduced packaged foods, began to eat more plants, reduced caffeine.

At each visit my doctor brings her office staff in to talk to me. She said, “Do you realize how rare it is in the United States for someone to radically change their diet for their health? At the very least people get defensive when I suggest it, some downright angry.”

I say, “I can believe that; I used to be one of those people.”

My health was in a bad place after we lived overseas. Even with big diet changes in South Asia the environmental allergies and antibiotic cycles pretty much wiped out my immune system. I felt a lot of relief just moving back to the States, but then I reverted back to most of my old eating habits.

After two rounds of bronchitis a year ago I knew I needed to change something again. This past year has been a process of making changes, figuring out what makes me feel better and beginning to feel healthier than I’ve ever felt.

I haven’t been to the doctor for an illness in a year. I’ve gotten two viruses and my body has fought them both on its own. For someone like me, who has struggled with a poor immune system for years, that feels like a miracle.

Part Two of this post will tell you the nuts and bolts of what I eat now, because I firmly believe the reason my health has improved so much isn’t just replacing everything that contains gluten with the “gluten free” version. ¬†Instead it’s been moving toward a whole foods diet filled with fruits and vegetables.

I’m excited about my diet now because I feel like it’s tasty, its sustainable (meaning it’s not so strict I get burned out and revert to my former diet), and it’s constantly evolving as I learn more.

I’ve done a little informal survey of my friends and family who have gone gluten free. I asked them what changes in their health they’ve experienced as a result, and if you knew some of the folks I asked you’d know they’re not the type of people to jump on the “food trend band wagon.”

Most of them experimented with a diet change with skepticism but also in desperation to feel better and were surprised with the results. I’m not saying this to convince you to go gluten free; but if you struggle with any of these symptoms you may be inspired to give it a try.

People I asked have reported big improvements in:


Acid reflux in adults and in children (able stop taking prescription medication)


IBS, GI problems

Behavioral struggles in elementary-aged son (agitation, sensory issues)

Less joint pain/inflammation/puffiness, both in under 50 and over 50 year olds

Skin break-outs (acne, rash, Rosacea)


Rheumatoid Arthritis

High cholesterol


Low energy/sluggishness

I’ll add this because it comes up a lot: dairy intolerances are also a big cause of allergies, upper respiratory infections, including ear infections, skin break outs, and stomach issues because dairy is mucus-producing. This is true for adults and children and I’ve had several friends who didn’t struggle with gluten but healed their allergies and ear infections by eliminating dairy. I’ve found the most success eliminating both.

Judah struggles with allergies and asthma and both are under control without medication by greatly reducing dairy in his diet (I haven’t had to eliminate it completely yet).

I’ll be back next week with a little more about what my gluten free diet looks like and some food changes our whole family has made.