Monday, December 30, 2013

New Years 2014 - Plank, Crunch and Squat Challenge! Starting the New Year off right!!!

I recently started a plank challenge with several friends on Facebook.  It was going great and so many of us were making progress with our core strength and the length of our planks, until I lost a battle with a pickle jar.  =/   Excuses, excuses, I know...but seriously...owww!

 Several days went by where I could put no pressure on my right foot and I lost the motivation and momentum to even keep all my "Plank Challenge Peeps" going.  =(  Turns out, most of them had been consumed with the holiday craziness and had forgotten anyway so that made me feel better. ;)

BUT, I loved the progress I was making, as did so many of those doing the challenge with me, so I decided to start again, January 1st!  I'm going to start this year off right, by focusing on my body, my health and getting into healthy routines.

Time for a new Plank Challenge!!!... but I'm adding in a couple more parts to the challenge for all to join in on, if they'd like!

Our new plank schedule is a bit more gradual than the last.  I noticed my back was getting pretty sore after a couple of the 30 second jumps, so I decided to find a challenge that was bit more gradual.  I also wanted the simplicity of having a single number to remember when it came time to add in squats and crunches (YES, you read that right,...we're adding squats and crunches if you're so inclined to try it out), as my days all run together because of my crazy schedule, and remembering one number is hard enough, let alone different numbers for each exercise.

Please note:  None of the pictures, nor the calendar, are my property.  Everything was found on Google doing various searches for this challenge and for proper vs. improper techniques.

INTRODUCING, our 2014 Plank (and crunch AND squat) Challenge calendar:

Looks easy, huh?!  We'll see how it goes!!!  ;)

Since I'm the one instigating this challenge, I want to be sure I cover my butt by first saying, if you have any injuries or problems with your neck, back, hips, shoulders, ankles, etc etc etc, please be sure to check with a professional before starting this challenge.  If you decide to do it regardless of what a professional (physician, therapist, etc) has to say, please, please, please, stop doing the challenge if you're feeling any pain, soreness, swelling, etc in any part of your body.

Here are some samples of the proper and improper ways to do the planks, squats and crunches.  Please be sure to check your technique and make sure you are doing them properly.  No good will come out of doing them improperly, and you will sorely regret not taking the proper precautions.  Believe me, I know from experience!!!!

Here is a proper plank:

Note that the arms are at a 90ยบ and the elbows are directly below the shoulders, there is no sag in the back, the feet are slightly apart, the head is looking down and slightly forward.  Alternative plank styles are out there as well (if you notice your back getting sore, try the modified one at the top of this next photo).

Level 3 is unnecessary...unless you're just rocking the planks and want a challenge.

Here is the proper squat:

Note that the upper portion of the legs become parallel to the floor and the arms are also parallel to the floor.

Here are some improper ways of doing the squat.  Check in the mirror to be sure your back, legs, etc all look the same as the picture above, and not like the ones below (other than the correct one below, of course):

And finally, for the crunches:

 Note that a crunch is just that, a crunch.  We're not bringing our head to our knees.  Focus on keeping the lower back on the floor, and be sure to not allow your hands/arms to add strain your neck.  One of the things people tend to always do is pull on their neck to help raise their back.  This is horrible for your body and can do more damage than you think.  Keep your abdominal muscles tight and just focus on using those muscles to raise your head/shoulders, whether it's an inch or several inches.  But do no more than your body allows.  NO STRAINING!

And just to show what the straining looks like...again, don't do this!

Let's have some fun with this and support each other through the full challenge!!!  Looking forward to 30 days of working hard together!!!   Enjoy tomorrow!!!  Day 1 will be here before you know it!!!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Juicing - Why, how, how much does it cost?

People ask me why we juice, all the time.  Here is a brief summary on why we juice daily.  Please know that we also eat mostly plant based so our meals are full of fresh fruits and vegetables, juicing is something we do once a day as a "kick-start". 

The amount of nutrients in the fruits and vegetables is a huge reason why we juice first thing in the morning.  It's an energy boost like no other.  We think of it like a super vitamin.  The fact that our bodies don't have to work on digesting/breaking down fiber and can focus solely on absorbing vitamins and minerals makes it a wonderful way to start the day (we still get more than enough fiber through the rest of our meals/snacks).  Within 20 minutes we're all up, awake and focusing/thinking more clearly.  Considering I have never been a morning person, and can now be up and moving by 6.30 with no caffeine, that is a miracle in itself. =)

When we have juice, we are having raw, uncooked/unheated, vegetables and fruits.  This means none of the micronutrients have been destroyed.  When the micronutrients have been destroyed, the composition, what the food is made up of, is completely changed.  It becomes a different food.   Juicing (and eating raw) ensures your body live enzymes, trace minerals, all the nutrients otherwise destroyed by cooking fruits/veggies.   Again, we typically don't fill our bodies with the amount of raw fruits and veggies in one meal, or for most people, in a whole day, that we can put into one juice.  Another thing, when we chew our foods, we don't fully break down the fiber enough for our bodies to absorb most/all the nutrients within the food.  By juicing, our bodies are able to receive more of the nutrients/minerals/micronutrients as the fiber is already broken down. 

Because we're starting the day off well, we tend to all eat better for the whole day because it's been started in such a great way.  We all know if we start our day with donuts, we typically eat crap for the rest of the you start your day has a direct correlation to how you eat the rest of the day.

Juicing is a new craze, and of course, there is no sound evidence on how beneficial it is (or detrimental for that matter).  But, I see it like this, I'm starting my day with something so much better than a V8, a cup of tea, or a bowl of cereal.  (We will have granola with almond milk or fruit on the side if we're hungry and not feeling satisfied from the juice, but they typically hold me off until 11am).

Health wise, there are many proven cases of those who have had very serious medical problems, and their lives are turned around..."cured" of their ailments, just from juicing (if doing it properly).  The lifestyle change that it encourages (eating healthier) is enough to keep going.  My family has been juicing for close to a year and a half.  None of us have been sick in that time (*knock on wood).  My sons asthma and allergies are gone, none existent at this point, I am no longer dependent on allergy meds, I no longer get migraines, my ovarian cysts have disappeared, my children's eczema is gone, my husband and I have lost weight, and we all feel amazing!  Granted, we also switched to a plant based diet about 7 months ago, but between the two major lifestyle changes, our whole lives have changed.  We're less stressed, more energetic, patient, happy, lighter...I could go on.  Our daily beverages include juice (pure, fresh) and water.  Nothing else.  No soda, no milk, no store bought juice (of course we have treats - soda at a bbq/gathering/etc.)...all and all pretty amazing.

Another question I get is about the cost.  Now, I can't break down the cost of just my juicing produce alone as I shop weekly for our meals as well as juicing items.  But, for a family of 6, eating plant based meals, juicing every day, I spent less than $150 per week on groceries.  Most weeks only $110-$120.  It's not more expensive to live this lifestyle.  When I stopped buying boxes, cans, processed, frozen, etc, my grocery bill went down substantially.  It's about cooking real food and all the real food comes from the produce and grains/health aisles (did I mention my shopping time is cut in half because I only have two aisles to shop?). 

I've challenged many friends to buy a juicer and just try it for a week.  The worst thing that can happen, you don't like it and return the juicer.  BUT, out of every person I've encouraged and supported, not one single one has returned it and all still juice regularly!  =)

Check out my blog for some easy recipes (I will be updating soon as well).  All are family friendly as I have four kiddos to feed as well. =)

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Plant based eating - Forks Over Knives - Lasagna & Soups

All of our dinners for two weeks have been planned from the Forks Over Knives cookbook.  I highly recommend this book if you're looking to start cooking more health conscience foods.  The recipes are very easy, the ingredients, simple, as they're all plant based, and the meals have been wonderful.  While I've been trying to blog the full cooking experience for various meals, I get busy and at times can't give my full review, only a brief post about the meal and how awesome (or not) it was.

Here are a few of our recent meals, my opinions, and how the kids felt about them:

Spinach and Sweet Potato Lasagna:

I love the idea of this lasagna.  Love the cauliflower "cheese" and the layers, etc.  It really is an amazing variation to regular lasagna, but I can't do that much sweet potato.  I will make this recipe again, but next time I'll substitute a lot of the sweet potato for other vegetables (broccoli, zucchini, squash, etc).  I will also do a different pasta.  I like rice spaghetti noodles, but the lasagna noodles didn't soften up as well as they should have (being a no boil prior to cooking noodle).  The recipe calls for an artichoke lasagna noodle and I will be sure to find those next time (or just stick with the whole grain pasta that needs to be boiled before hand).   All and all, a keeper, with some adjustments. Kids were right on board with me in regards to too much potato and noodles being a bit hard.  The flavors were all really great, however, and we all ate it (for leftovers even) as it wasn't terrible by an means.

This was a Navy Bean and Potato soup.  It was absolutely delicious!  It had the zest of lemons in it, as well as leeks and it was AMAZING!!!  Another win for the whole fam!  Again, all of these recipes are from Forks Over Knives.

Thai noodle soup - YUM!  I sprouted the mung beans for the top, which was a fun experiment in itself.  The pasta in this dish was a rice spaghetti from Whole Foods and it was fabulous!   You wouldn't know it wasn't a white flour noodle.  Carrot, bok choy, mung beans, cilantro, lime, noodles and broth, SO GOOD!  Like a fancy ramen!  Again, win from the whole fam!  

We love soups, obviously!  So easy, and really filling!  We like to do a side salad if the soup is lighter, but most times and most of the recipes from the FOK cookbook are easily a filling meal in themselves!  Best thing about all these recipes, no fats/oils, all plant based awesomeness!!

Getting kids involved in the meal plans and cooking! Success!

Granted we're only our first week into this new "activity" I've forced on my children, they/we/I love it.  I meal plan on Sundays as that day works best with our schedule for shopping, etc.  I decided to get the whole family involved.  They each get one day a week (based on our schedules with sports, dance, music, etc) that they get to pick the meal, and help me cook.  It's so great as it eases my having to find seven meals that we'll all like, and I get to have that one on one time in the kitchen with them. 

I want my kids to learn to cook.  To never have to depend on our crappy fast food chains to feed themselves.  I'm realistic, we all know they'll be making midnight runs to Taco Bell with their friends, (if they're anything like me at that age), but I like to think that them having the ability to cook and depend on themselves to make good food will give them some power to continue eating healthy even after leaving home.

Olivia's day was Monday and she chose a Cheezy Potato Soup from the Forks Over Knives cookbook.  She also chose to make a side salad with lentils and cabbage on it (because she loves it...yes, a 9 year old who loves cabbage and lentils).  We were all introduced to lentils and cabbage as a salad when we were on the Whole Living Action Plan Cleanse - here's the recipe that the whole family loved that has now inspired our salad making to be different :  French Lentil Salad   (Click on photos to enlarge)

The soup was delicious!   We decided to throw some of our extra lentils as a garnish as well!  The kids love being able to serve the food for each person in the family, to make everything look good when serving plates and setting the table.

Madison had last night for cooking and she chose a Penne with Spinach and Chickpeas.  Very good pasta dish, very simple flavors and something you can vary in so many ways.  She also made a spinach salad, and again topped it with lentils.  We make a homemade ranch that all the kids love.  A recipe I've created just from playing with the following ingredients:

Coconut Milk
Fresh Dill
Fresh Parsley
Garlic (fresh minced or powder)
Sea Salt
Fresh Ground Pepper

I can't tell you how much money we've saved from not buying ranch for the past 4 months!

(Sorry for the crappy quality of pics...I'll do better next week when I'm not so busy with work). =)

So, getting children involved = success.  I have a meal plan on the fridge with the list of each days meals, as well as which kid is helping me cook and the kids keep referring back to it, discussing what they chose, whose day it is, etc.  And, I'm getting help in the kitchen!!!  So great!  Definitely recommend getting your children involved!!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Latest Yard Project - Mason Bees

My cousin introduced me to these little guys a few days ago.  After sending me information and telling me about them, I was sold.  Little, non-stinging, bees for my plants and garden that spend 95% of their time pollinating (as they don't have to build a nest or make honey).  Honey bees have so many other important things to do so it makes sense to bring in some critters that will work solely for me! =)

Mason Bees are master pollinators and come in early spring.  You can build a home for them to nest in and they will naturally come your way, or you can go to bee supply companies and purchase them.  I went to Bee Thinking on Hawthorne in Portland to get mine.  They were $14 for 10 (so I purchased 2 packs at the suggestion of the "bee pro" based on my size yard and gardens.

Rather than buy a home and the reeds they have in store, we decided to make our own.  Just a few days ago I was able to come into a supply of bamboo, so I asked the "bee pros" how they felt about bamboo for the bee home and they said it would be perfect (as long as the reeds holes were large enough, which they are).

We built a basic bird house structure without the front.  Here are the photos of the steps we took to create our little bee house.

Madison's bamboo bee sign!  Love it! =)
More pics to come of the little critters after they've hatched and of it hanging on the fence by the garden.  Cross you fingers we're successful Bee parents. ;)

Wild Rice- Stuffed Cabbage Rolls from Forks Over Knives - A-Maz-Zing!!!

Last nights plant based meal was one I was questioning, but I HAD to try it out.  Result - loved by all! 

It was a wild rice mix with a very simple veggie and herb flavor, stuffed inside blanched cabbage leaves and topped with my homemade tomato sauce.  OMG, delish!!!  So light, but VERY satisfying and SO filling.  My kids were asking if they could take it in their lunchboxes today. =)

I don't even need to tell you how this one goes...just look at the pics (and GO BUY THE BOOK!!!)  =)  (They really should be paying me for promoting them so much.) ;)  (Click on images to enlarge).

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Two for Two on the Forks Over Knives meals - Buy the Book! Southwestern Mac & Cheese

Night two since purchasing the Forks Over Knives cookbook and this recipe was a hit with all six family members as well.  Southwestern Mac and Cheese!!!  Delish!!! 

I followed the recipe for the most part, other than the pasta.  Instead of whole wheat pasta, I used some brown rice/quinoa pasta that I recently picked up from Costco (definitely a great buy!).  The pasta didn't alter the recipe one bit and I will definitely be making this meal again!

First I made the "cheese" sauce.  This was made with onion, red pepper, roasted cashews and nutritional yeast.  This "cheese" sauce is similar to a nacho cheese sauce I've previously made and the whole fam loves it.    (Click on photos to enlarge)

The mix that went with the pasta was sauteed onions and pepper (no oil, just sauteed in their own liquid and a little water if needed to prevent sticking).

After cooking all the parts, this is the mix I had to add to the cooked pasta and the "cheese" sauce.

Ready for the oven.  =)

 Along side we made a simple salad with this new "Zesty Ranch" dressing I picked up at Whole Foods.  This Tessemae's brand is gluten free and vegan and very good.  Jason has the hot sauce from this same company and we used a little on top of our casserole.  Gave it quite the kick.   Delish!

Waa-laa!  Another home run meal from the Forks Over Knives Cookbook!!!   Highly recommend!