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After a year of tweaking my Paleo pancake recipe, I finally found the secret to delicious, grain-free, refined sugar-free pancakes that don’t turn into scrambled pancake – *#$*@%* – on my griddle. (There is no curse in Elvish, Entish, or the tongues of men for the treachery of banana/egg/coconut flour pancakes that stick to the griddle in a gloppy mess.) “So Brenda, what did you learn from your year of trial and error?” asked no one. Well, I’m going to tell you in great detail anyway, because it has been a loooooong process of discovery that must be documented.

Moist and Pliable…
The secret to pliable, easy to flip pancakes was right there in my gluten-free baking supplies: xanthan gum, which replaces the gluten in GF baking and keeps breads from being crumbly. To the Paleo purists it is off limits, but to those of us who prefer to eat our pancakes with a fork and not a spoon, xanthan gum is our friend (and is a totally benign ingredient, so I’m okay with it).

It also helps greatly if you cook grain-free pancakes in a generous amount of bacon grease or coconut oil. I usually start with the grease left on the griddle after cooking some bacon – oh yeah – and add coconut oil as needed to keep it greased. The other key ingredient is almond milk (unsweetened for a totally refined sugar-free pancake, or original if that’s what you have on hand), which helps to smooth out the batter and make it less eggy.

While making gluten free pancakes from scratch with grains for my family, I discovered that “regular” pancakes use both baking soda and baking powder. The baking soda makes them brown nicely, while the baking powder adds extra leavening. While most Paleo recipes shun baking powder – it contains cornstarch! gasp! – I find that adding it really makes a difference in making grain-free pancakes less dense and heavy. It also helps to lighten them up if you beat the eggs well in the mixer while making your batter.

Yet Healthy and Filling
I’ve made pancakes with just coconut flour, but I prefer to combine it with almond flour for better texture and less coconutty flavor. Coconut flour is full of fiber and good-for-you stuff, but almond flour is high in protein and lower in carbs, so the two combined provide a filling breakfast that will keep you energized until lunch (and keep cravings for carbs/sweets at bay, which is why this breakfast is a key component of my weight loss success).  You can make these with melted coconut oil instead of butter for a totally dairy-free option, but I prefer the taste/texture of pancakes made with melted butter (probably because the coconut oil starts to harden in the batter).

Full of Flavor with No Refined Sugar
I eat these tasty pancakes with a hint of sweetness every day, and add variety by topping them with whatever berries are in season (sometimes with a little canned whipped cream for a decadent treat). However, there’s so much flavor from the pure maple syrup, vanilla, cinnamon and bananas that I usually just spread a little butter on them and that’s it.

Grain Free Pancakes

Grain-free, Refined Sugar-free Pancakes

1 very ripe banana (brown peel)
1/4 c. unsweetened applesauce
1/4 c. unsalted butter, melted (for salted butter, cut salt to 1/4 tsp.)
1/4 c. pure maple syrup (I’ve used honey, but prefer the hint of maple)
2/3 c. coconut flour
1/3 c. almond flour (not almond meal)
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. salt (1/4 tsp. if using salted butter)
1/2 tsp. xanthan gum
3/4 c. almond milk (unsweetened for refined sugar-free pancakes)
Bacon grease and/or coconut oil for cooking

Break the banana into chunks and mash in the bowl of your mixer, using the paddle attachment. (If it’s not overripe, you may want to put your hands over the top of the bowl when you start the mixer, to avoid flying bananas that rain down like manna from heaven on your dog who is constantly underfoot in the kitchen precisely because of moments such as this.) When the banana is a thick puree, add applesauce. Mix in eggs, 2 at a time, beating until foamy after each addition.

Melt butter in a liquid measuring cup, then add maple syrup to the butter. (I just add syrup to the melted butter until it reaches the 1/2 c. mark, and stir it a little to make it easy to pour.) Add butter/syrup mixture to the mixing bowl and mix well.

At this point, I usually start cooking the bacon on the griddle. Mmmm…bacon.

Measure coconut flour and pour through a sifter into the batter. (If you don’t have a sifter, don’t worry, but it does help to incorporate the coconut flour without chunks.) Add remaining ingredients except almond milk and mix well. Slowly mix in almond milk. The batter will be thick.

Preheat griddle to 325 degrees (which is cooler than you’d use for regular pancakes, but because of the high egg content you need to allow more time to cook without over-browning). Spoon about 1/4 c. batter onto well-greased griddle, adding more coconut oil as needed, and gently spread out batter with the back of a spoon. (It will not spread on its own, like regular pancakes, so gently spread it out into a 4″-4.5″ circle.) When the outside edges appear dry, they’re ready to be flipped. They take a little longer to cook on the first side than regular pancakes, but quickly brown on the second side and are ready to be removed.

These stay soft and pliable in the fridge for a week and freeze well.  This recipe makes about 18 pancakes.

Reheating Tip: Since these are delicate on the surface, butter before you reheat them in the microwave to avoid tearing. In the fall, I like to skip the butter and top them with cranberry apple spread from Trader Joe’s, which only has 4 g. sugar per tablespoon. So good!

These buttery, brownie/chocolate chip blondie hybrid bars are absolutely addictive! Unlike most desserts, these grain-free goodies taste better and better each day after you make them, and will last for 3 weeks in an airtight container – if you can make it that long without gobbling them up.  (Mine last that long because I won’t share them with my kids. I gave them life; they can eat store-bought GF cookies.)

The bar pictured is 3 weeks old and still has a moist, buttery crumb and melt-in-your-mouth chocolate chips when heated in the microwave.

The bar pictured is 3 weeks old and still has a moist,       buttery crumb and melt-in-your-mouth chocolate chips when heated in the microwave.

Warning: Please consume responsibly. Since these are made with honey instead of sugar, and almond flour instead of high-carb flours, you might be tempted to pretend that these are “healthy.” Feel free to make them a regular part of your Weight Loss for 1 in a Family of 4  diet in small amounts for dessert – but not dinner.

Grain-Free Nutella Bars

10 T. butter, softened (1 cube + 2 T.)
½ c. Nutella (chocolate hazelnut spread)
½ c. honey
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 ¼ c. almond flour (not almond meal)
¾ tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. baking soda
1 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips
¼ c. mini semi-sweet chocolate chips

In a large mixing bowl, mix the butter, Nutella, and honey until smooth.  Mix in eggs and vanilla.  Add almond flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda.  Mix well.  Stir in chocolate chips.

Spread batter in a greased 9”x13” pan.  Bake 30 minutes at 350 degrees until done in the center.  (These will get dark around the edges because of the cocoa, but they’re not overdone.) Cool completely and store in an airtight container at room temperature. Reheat individual bars for 10-15 seconds before serving.

Dairy Free Chocolate Chip Blondie variation (based on this recipe): Substitute coconut oil for the butter, increase the honey to 2/3 c. and salt to 1 tsp., substitute ½ c. almond butter for the Nutella, and use Ghirardelli or Guittard semi-sweet chocolate chips (which are dairy free).

Keepin’ it Real…
While food bloggers tend to only share their success stories, we also have our share of epic fails. My most disgusting food fail – a 10 on the Gagometer scale – was my attempt to make gravy using potato starch instead of cornstarch.  Apparently, potato starch + turkey drippings = snot. My poor husband – who has bodily fluid issues – was traumatized, and at one point shrieked in horror, “It’s a dangler!”  My son, however, was fascinated by the gelatinous goo stretching from his fork to his plate and reveled in it’s grossness, as is befitting a 13-year-old boy.

"Its a dangler!"

“Its a dangler!”

Turn on the oven, friends, because in 30 minutes you could be devouring delicious, gluten free, garlic and rosemary bread sticks. Substituting almond flour for 2/3 of the flour makes them low(er) carb. Using some potato starch and tapioca starch makes them crusty on the outside, yet soft and chewy on the inside. (Since potato starch and tapioca starch are derived from root vegetables – tapioca comes from the cassava root – it’s technically grain free, if you’re looking for a Paleoish bread that actually tastes like bread.)  Adding Parmesan cheese to the dough makes the flavor amazing!  And did I mention that the smell is so divine that I want to go lick the leftovers so I don’t have to share them with my family? Excuse me…

GF Rosemary Bread Sticks

I’ve also used this recipe to make pizza crust that is crispy on the bottom, yet pliable, so it supports toppings without being floppy or crumbing to pieces. If you value self care, you will choose the optional step of brushing garlic butter on the edges of the crust at the end. My kids have decided that this is now their favorite pizza crust, and it’s probably because of the garlic butter.

Low-carb Pizza Crust

The only downside of the pizza crust is that it’s best enjoyed fresh from the oven – which means I just gave you an excuse to eat the whole thing. You’re welcome. When I tried to reheat some leftover pizza that had been refrigerated, the crust had absorbed the sauce and turned soggy. Perhaps leftovers could be frozen and reheated in the oven instead of the microwave for better success. Or you could go with the preferred method of eating the whole thing. Your call.  The bread sticks reheat well on subsequent days. The bottom crust becomes soft instead of crusty, but still tastes awesome – especially when dipped in olive oil.

(Pssst, if you’re interested in a weight loss plan that includes this pizza once a week, check out my “Weight Loss for 1 in a Family of 4” easy weekly menu plans. Yes, I lost about 20 lbs. while still enjoying pizza!)

Mmmm... low-carb pizza with garlic butter crust!

Mmmm… low-carb pizza with garlic butter crust!

Low Carb, GF Bread Sticks/Pizza Crust

Dry Ingredients:
1 c. almond flour
1/4 c. tapioca flour/starch (they’re the same)
1/4 c. potato starch (NOT potato flour)
2 T. Parmesan cheese (I used the kind from a can)
3/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
(For bread sticks, also add 1/8 tsp. garlic powder)

Wet Ingredients:
1/4 c. + 1 T. hot water (hot enough to dissolve the honey)
2 T. olive oil + more for topping dough
1 tsp. honey
1 tsp. apple cider vinegar
1 egg

Bread Stick Toppings:
Olive oil
1 tsp. dried rosemary, crushed between fingers
Fresh ground pepper
Parmesan cheese
1 T. melted butter

Pizza Crust Directions:
Cut a piece of parchment paper to fit the size of your baking stone/pan.  This makes a 13″ – 14″ pizza, so make the circle at least 15″.  Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  If using a baking stone (recommended), place it in the oven while it preheats. (If you don’t preheat your pan, the crust may not crisp as well.)

Mix together the dry ingredients.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients.  Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix together.  You should have a wet, sticky dough. Don’t worry if it seems more like batter than dough.

Place dough on the parchment paper and, using a greased spoon or silicone spatula, spread it out using circular motions, greasing the spoon as needed.  (I just spray my spatula with nonstick cooking spray when it starts to stick to the dough.) Spread it as thin as you can, with a raised ridge at the edge.  If desired, brush with a little additional olive oil.  (I skipped this step, but plan to do it next time.)

Slide a rimless cookie sheet under the parchment paper to help transfer the crust to the hot baking stone/pan.  Bake 8 minutes, then add toppings.  (I used Prego pizza sauce, Hormel Nitrate-Free Pepperoni, Falls Brand All Natural Hot Italian Sausage, mozzarella, white cheddar, and shredded Parmesan.) Bake 8 minutes more until cheese is bubbly and starts to brown.

For The Most Awesome Crust EVER: Melt 1 T. butter with a dash or two of garlic powder and brush on the edge of the finished pizza.  Pizza AND garlic bread sticks! Sooooooo good.

Bread Stick Recipe:
Follow the above recipe, adding garlic powder to the dry ingredients. After spreading the dough/batter into a 10-in. circle, use a spoon or spatula to press a few indentations into the dough. Drizzle with olive oil, letting it pool in the indentations. Crush rosemary between your fingers and sprinkle over the dough. I used a coarse-grind pepper grinder to lightly top the dough with pepper, then sprinkled a light coating of Parmesan cheese on top.

Bake 10 minutes at 425 degrees. Melt 1 T. butter and drizzle over the top. Use a pizza cutter to cut into strips or wedges and serve immediately. Store any leftovers refrigerated in an airtight container for up to a week, and serve warm with olive oil for dipping.

Keepin’ It Real…
Not all of my experiments turn out so well.  Here’s my first attempt at making grain free chocolate chip cookies.  The taste is spot on, so I will definitely be trying again, but they’re a bit…thin.

Grain Free Cookie Attempt

Grain free chocolate chip cookie…pieces.

What Love Is

Yesterday, I wrote a version of 1 Corinthians 13 that reflected my view of what love looks like for me as a mom.  Oh, it was very creative and well thought out. This morning I erased it. Sure, I could try to describe for you what love should look like for a mom, but the truth is I’ll probably fail to meet those expectations by lunchtime.  The danger in comparing ourselves against a list of criteria meant to artificially define holiness is that we have one of two responses:

  1. Look at how good I am, according to that list. I must be a “good Christian.”
  2. I fall short of that list, so God must be disappointed in me. I should try harder, but what’s the point? I’ll never be good enough.

The first trap is self-righteousness that does away with the need for God (until our world falls apart or we blow it in some way). The second trap is legalism, attempting to define our worth in God’s eyes by our works and ability to follow our rules. Thankfully, we who are in Christ Jesus are saved by grace and no longer live under the “law” – which includes all my good intentions and “shoulds” that I’ve tried to live up to.  Grace is the doorway to freedom in Christ, but many devoted Christians refuse to walk through it because we can’t accept that God could love us as we are.

This morning, during my precious quiet time with Jesus, I was reminded that God is love.  To live a life that is characterized by love simply means staying connected to the Source of love. Rather than striving to live up to a list of expectations, the only way I can truly love others is to keep my eyes fixed on the One who gave up the riches of Heaven to die for me because he loved me while I was still in the depths of my sin.

So instead of sharing with you what I think love should look like, based on 1 Cor. 13, let me tell you Who love looks like.

God is patient, God is kind. God does not envy, he does not boast, he is not proud.  God does not dishonor others, he is not self-seeking, he is not easily angered, he keeps no record of wrongs.  God does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. God always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

God never fails.

To be filled with love is the same as being filled with the Holy Spirit, God’s gift to those who have surrendered their lives to Jesus Christ, because God is love. Do you want to know how to love others; how to be an effective parent, spouse, member of the Body of Christ? The answer is not in doing more and serving more and working harder to please God. He already loves you. All we need to do is come before him daily with a grateful heart, asking him to fill us with his Spirit, and thanking him in advance for loving us and providing us with everything we need to live a fruitful life. For “the fruit of the Spirit is LOVE, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).

The trick is to not go back to the legalism of trying to define what “fruitful” looks like according to the world’s standards, or even well-meaning Christian definitions like the one I tried to write (or all those inspirational quotes on Facebook that constantly remind us that we’re falling short in some area where we really should BE MORE AWESOME).  Oh, I know the fear that creeps in when we dare to preach grace because “someone” might use it as an excuse to break the rules! Dear one, let God be the judge.  He made the rules, and he chose the way of love and grace and mercy when we didn’t deserve it.

God is love. Will you let go of the guilt of not measuring up and allow him to love you today?

 

If your child has illegible handwriting well into elementary school, struggles with spacing, has an awkward pencil grip, can’t seem to put his thoughts down on paper, and shuts down when you put a worksheet in front of him even though he may know all the answers, there’s a good chance his struggles with writing may be caused by dysgraphia, a lesser known learning disability.

When people ask me why we chose to homeschool, I often site the heavy emphasis on writing in public school that made learning drudgery and homework overwhelming for my son, since he couldn’t keep up with all the worksheets (in first grade – how sad).  With my son’s permission, I’m going to share with you our journey over the past 5 years of homeschooling, what a typical school day looks like for the writing-averse, and how he’s gone from hating writing to loving it.

It was actually a relief when I figured out that dysgraphia was the root of my son’s resistance to doing worksheets, not belligerence or laziness.  He naturally loves to learn, and since we made developing a love of learning one of our top priorities for elementary school, it quickly became obvious that we needed to separate learning from writing.  I made accommodations for him in his other subjects by:

  • limiting worksheets to one a day, for grammar practice only
  • switching to oral spelling tests (using lists from The Natural Speller)
  • allowing him to dictate his math work to me, meaning he would solve problems aloud while I wrote down what he said
  • using vocabulary flash cards, games (like Bananagrams, Great States Jr., Math Bingo) and computer programs (like Spelling City, online math games) instead of worksheets for extra practice
  • testing his comprehension of what he read by letting him give oral reports or simply discussing what he learned

Handwriting During the Elementary Years
When he did do writing, our focus was on the mechanics of writing.  Since his printing was atrocious, I gave up on trying to correct the damage that was done during his public school years and turned my attention toward teaching him to correctly form letters in cursive (since it’s easier to train the brain to do something new than to undo patterns that have become entrenched). We waited to learn cursive until 4th grade, and used the Handwriting Without Tears book.  I tried to make it fun by emphasizing the artistic aspect of cursive, showing him various ways to form the letters and letting him choose what worked for him.  For the most part, we skipped capitols since I prefer printing capitols anyway. His daily worksheet was done in cursive and required to be legible, but learning took place in other courses through the means outlined above.  We also used special graph paper for math to help him keep his numbers properly lined up in columns, since dysgraphic kids also have trouble with letter and number spacing.

As for creative writing, we did very little unless initiated by him.  I used the book, Draw Then Write, to encourage writing practice in a fun and interesting way, since he liked how-to-draw books.  He would follow the directions for how to draw an object (animal, car, etc.), fill in the background to make it a picture, then write a few sentences about his picture.  He was allowed to do creative writing in printing, and I didn’t bug him about his lettering, but did require him to use proper capitalization and punctuation.

Because writing was so uncomfortable for him during his elementary years, we just focused on practicing cursive and writing grammatically correct sentences.  My husband and I both love writing, and we wanted our kids to share our love of writing, so it was difficult for me to keep writing on the back burner for so many years, but our patience has paid off.  My only regret is that I stopped letting him dictate stories to me to type (like he did when he was little) because I wanted to encourage him to write them himself, which he never did.

Writing During the Middle School Years
In 6th grade, I had him go through the keyboarding lessons on the Free Typing Games website. (There are also really fun games for practice, if you don’t mind all the ads.) Learning how to type, with proper fingering to speed up the process, was a game changer last year.  All of a sudden, writing was about getting his thoughts down on paper, instead of physical torture.  Experts don’t know why keyboarding is easier for kids with dysgraphia, but it is.  We still focus on one handwriting assignment each day, but are finally free to explore longer writing projects by using the computer to type them.

I’ll admit, waiting until middle school to start teaching writing can make you feel a little anxious and behind the curve, but Julie Bogart, author of the Brave Writer program for homeschoolers, has helped put my fears to rest.  She points out that writing should first and foremost be about putting your thoughts on paper (not trying to figure out what your teacher wants you to write), and emphasizes creative writing before teaching expository (essay) writing. I also read The Little Book of Talent, which emphasizes mastering foundational skills before moving on to more advanced skills.  So my writing goals for 6th grade were to simply master writing interesting, grammatically correct sentences.  I let my son choose 10 of his vocabulary words to type into sentences, which he loved since he’s naturally creative and expressive.

Our Current Homeschool Day/Week for 7th Grade 
Here’s roughly what our regular studies look like right now, with a continued emphasis on learning through non-written means (mostly on the computer), handwriting practice, and beginning to explore creative writing.

  • Spanish through the Rosetta Stone program on the computer
  • Pre-Algebra through the Teaching Textbooks program on the computer
  • Spelling lists from the Natural Speller, with mostly oral tests and occasional written tests (writing the spelling word only, but using it in a sentence orally)
  • Grammar/proofreading practice on IXL.com (where you can do up to 20 questions on their language arts program a day for free)
  • Independent study on various science and history topics of interest through reading library books and watching educational videos on Discovery Education Streaming (including favorites like Mythbusters!)
  • Family Read Aloud (he sometimes reads, sometimes follows along while I read from our family’s favorite series, The Heroes of Olympus, a continuation of the Percy Jackson series)
  • One writing exercise/project per day
  • Weekly classes (P.E. through our city’s Rec Center, science lab on various STEM topics, and cooking class with Mom!)

Weekly Writing Activities

  • Monday Copywork: Julie Bogart helped me see the value of doing copywork once a week with the sole purpose of focusing on the mechanics of writing.  I did not do copywork in the early elementary years because it would have felt like torture, but now that most writing is done through typing, copywork is doable.  This is mainly when we practice cursive now.  I have him copy down a Bible verse that has been helpful to me each Monday in a special journal just for recording verses (which I hope will become a valuable keepsake). I also encourage him to memorize his verse each week, and share with him why this verse is meaningful to me.
  • Tuesday Word(s) of the Day: He loves our Word of the Day vocabulary practice because this is when he gets to focus on writing an interesting sentence.  I copy two new vocabulary cards from a workbook I found at the thrift store, and challenge him to use it in an interesting sentence on the back and illustrate it.  He’s allowed to print, so the focus is on correct grammar and punctuation, as well as proper use of the word in as creative a way as possible.  When he’s finished, he files his words alphabetically in a file box.  When we finish this book, we’ll move on to the SAT vocabulary words.
  • Wednesday Family Free Write: Since my husband works from home on Wednesdays, we do this as a family after breakfast.  We set a timer for 5 minutes, announce the topic, then everyone writes.  Afterward, we take turns sharing, with my daughter (the youngest) going first and my husband (the funniest writer) going last.  By allowing them to read their work, I get to enjoy hearing their story without the distraction of getting hung up on proofreading mistakes, so this has been really enjoyable for all of us. Once again, it was Julie Bogart who introduced me to the concept and importance of the 5 min. free write, and she’ll even send you daily writing tips if you sign up on her website! Sometimes I use her writing prompts, and sometimes I pull ideas from Rip The Page: Adventures in Creative Writing.  The benefit of the free write is that it allows you to develop your unique writing voice and try different techniques without the burden of having to polish every story.  Sometimes the kids want to finish a story they started, and so I try to allow extra time for creative writing.  But sometimes they don’t want to, and that’s fine.  The benefit of doing it as a family is that they get to hear more advanced writers (in a non-competitive way) as an example of the kind of writing they’re working toward. I’m already seeing my son’s unique writing voice develop, which is exciting.
  • Thursday Note-Taking or Writing Project: This day is flexible, depending on what we’re studying.  Sometimes, the kids will spend time typing a story they’re working on.  Last fall, my son spent 2 months working on an 8-page Lego Christmas story for his cousins, complete with pictures of Lego creations he created to illustrate it!  It was a huge accomplishment for him.  I helped with some proofreading, but did not make any rewrite suggestions (also on the advice of Julie Bogart).  When the kids work on their own stories, my focus is on proper sentence structure – the foundation of writing – and breaking it up into logical paragraphs (the next step).  However, since Christmas we’ve also begun preparing to take notes through the use of listening guides that accompany some of the videos on Discovery Streaming.  I basically just give them a worksheet to jot down answers on as they listen to the video (and reward them with M&Ms).  Because it’s a video, not a lecture, we can control the speed of delivery of the information, so we can pause it if the kids need more time to write before moving on.  I’ve also let them choose a topic to study through reading and watching a video, and encourage them to jot down notes before giving an oral report later.  I don’t look at their notes, but try to encourage them to see note-taking as something of value to them, not me.
  • Friday Dictation: This is also new this semester, on the advice of – you guessed it – Julie Bogart (who is, apparently, my mentor).  However, I’m primarily focusing on the listening aspect of dictation, and keeping it light and fun through the use of mad libs.  The kids each fill out half of the list of words needed (which has the added bonus of reviewing the parts of speech) and are required to write legibly in either in printing or cursive.  Then I give them a copy of the story with blanks for them to fill in as I read the story with their words.  They love this and have no idea that it’s practice for filling in listening guides!

You may have noticed that I switched to “they” partway through my list.  Yes, I have a daughter who is in 5th grade.  She does the same work as her brother (because she can, not because I’m pushing her to do advanced work), although she does a little more writing for spelling because it helps her learn.  She is not dysgraphic, and does lots of extracurricular writing because she loves to write.

Next year, we will begin essay writing on topics of interest to the kids.  There will be plenty of opportunities to develop their research and report writing skills in high school.

Love of Learning Is the Key
If you have a dysgraphic child, I just want to encourage you to relax. The “standards” and benchmarks imposed on kids in public school are not indicators of what your child has to do at each age.  When you step back and take the long view, there is plenty of time to prepare your kids for essay writing before they leave for college.  What matters most is that they develop a love of learning. In fact, by not requiring my kids to write a report on every book they ever read, they fell in love with reading.  By not requiring endless science worksheets or reports on field trips to children’s museums, my kids fell in love with science.  By spending lots of time engaged in discussion instead of doing reading comprehension worksheets, my kids have become articulate speakers (based on comments from their Sunday School teachers, orthodontist, strangers at the dollar store…). Just because the public school system relies on worksheets to measure knowledge doesn’t mean that’s the best way to learn.

So don’t push your child to write everything if he’s resistant or give up hope that he’ll ever want to write.  Yes, it’s hard to be patient and not compare our kids to others, but all kids have strengths and weaknesses.  Don’t let one weakness become the focal point of your child’s education, whether it’s writing, math, reading, or whatever.  Just focus on helping your child enjoy learning, stretch himself a little each day in his areas of weakness, and celebrate each little milestone.  That’s really what this post is about; I’m celebrating a child who previously hated writing and now begs to do creative writing before school.

Just keep loving, hoping, and asking God for guidance and patience. (Oh, how I’ve prayed for guidance and patience every day!) I give all glory to God for helping me find the resources mentioned above at just the right time for just the right price, and for giving me patience beyond what I thought I was capable of before I started homeschooling. He will help you, too!

A year ago, I was struggling with overwhelming cravings for sweets and carbs, bloating every night, and frustration over having gained 20 lbs. (welcome to middle age), among other things. It was a relief to discover that grains – including gluten free grains – and refined sugar were the main culprits behind most of my issues. My digestive distress has actually been a blessing because it motivates me to eat healthy or suffer the consequences. However, for those who don’t have obvious digestive issues, but still want to lose weight and be free of cravings, a substantial diet change can be daunting. (Can I get an “amen” from the gluten-free choir?)

Why is it that we get motivated to eat healthy, and perhaps even attempt a “Whole 30” diet cleanse in January, but at the end of the month go right back to eating processed foods and all the junk we know we shouldn’t eat? There’s a reason they call processed foods “convenience foods.” If you look at the typical Paleo blog there is just nothing convenient about all the prep necessary to rely on fruits and veggies for your carbohydrates. Those of us juggling the demands of busy schedules and kids need to be able to balance nutrition with time constraints and different eating requirements. (No, my skinny-as-a-rail son does not need a low-carb diet!) However, there is a healthy way to lose weight and keep it off without spending hours (and money) at the gym or making weight loss the only priority in your life.

The “Mostly” Principle
I’ll spare you the details of my personal saga (because you and I both know there will already be many words in this post – if not, welcome to my blog), so to sum up:

  • Over the last 9 months I’ve lost about 20 lbs. and have kept it off, even through the holidays (while still enjoying small amounts of our favorite goodies).
  • I’ve mostly gotten rid of cravings for sweets and carbs (as long as I don’t eat grains or sugar during the day – if I do, it’s Hello Kettle Chips!).
  • I’ve mostly said good-bye to bloating and digestive distress that had become the norm over the past few years (caused by the above foods and legumes, including peanuts).
  • I’ve managed to do this by eating a “mostly Paleo” diet.

Are you catching a theme, here? The “Mostly” principle is what keeps me on track with healthy eating because I strive to eat grain-free, refined sugar-free most of the time. I try to consume mostly whole foods, but I do take advantage of some convenience foods. (Call me lazy, but I’m NOT making my own mayo or ketchup.) I cook from scratch most nights, but give myself the freedom to heat up a frozen GF pizza on nights when I just can’t bear to cook (like every Friday night). I don’t obsess over whether there is a gram of sugar in my salad dressing or turkey bacon, but focus on choosing the most healthy options that fit into my budget (because I live in the real world where organic foods are mostly too expensive). This is why my recipes are tagged as “Paleo-ish,” because I’m not a strict Paleo guru.

The freedom found in the “Mostly” principle is what has made my eating plan realistic for long-term success because the requirement of perfect adherence to a strict diet is often the enemy of a healthy, balanced lifestyle. The meal plan that has evolved is one that is sustainable for life in a busy, gluten free family of four who likes to travel, throw parties, and occasionally eat out.

The Weekly Meal Plan
What makes my eating plan sustainable is the simplification of menu planning by designing a 2-3 week meal rotation that allows me to fix the same food for myself as for my family, with just a minor tweak; I omit the carbohydrate side dish for myself and eat a larger portion of veggies. So simple! If I get bored and want to swap in another diet-friendly recipe, I just find the slot that matches the side dish I’m using and plug it in to that week’s menu. I can’t begin to describe what a huge time-saver this has been! It’s even become the framework for the cooking lessons I’m giving my son this year, since repetition of the same menus will allow him to watch and learn, then assist, then prepare each meal by himself. Score!

When you look at the meals on my menu you’ll probably be a bit surprised that this has been my “diet” because we eat normal, kid-friendly food. Each night has its own theme, and I’ll move the nights around to fit my schedule as needed (like switching a crock pot meal to a busy night). My menu is simplified because I keep any grains separate and low-prep, so my family can help prepare that side dish while I focus my efforts on the vegetable side instead. (Initially, you might want to skip the potatoes for weight loss. Doing so, I lost about a pound per week. Now that I don’t want to lose any more weight, I try to eat a serving of potatoes or yams each day.)

As always, all my menus are gluten free! So even if you’re not looking to lose weight or curb cravings, you can still simplify your menu planning with the easy-to-prepare, “normal people” meals at the end of this post! Since too much dairy can also cause digestive distress, most of my meals are also naturally dairy free, with the exception of a few made with butter or topped with a little Parmesan cheese. However, I use coconut oil or olive oil in most of my baking, unsweetened almond milk when needed, and cheese is usually optional.

Breakfast
Changing the way I eat breakfast has been the key to eliminating cravings. I can occasionally eat pizza or a small amount of grains and refined sugar for dessert in the evening as long as I avoid them for breakfast. The good news is that grain-free muffins taste great (especially the day after they’re made) and fill you up because coconut flour is high in fiber, as well as really good for you (and does not taste like coconut, although it does lend a distinct flavor to baked goods, which is why I blend it with almond flour). Sweetening baked goods with fruit and honey is not only more natural, it doesn’t cause spikes in blood sugar like refined sugar, so my energy level stays steady throughout the day. Plus, shopping is simplified because you only need 2 flours as opposed to half-a-dozen needed for gluten free baking! 

Grain-free Muffins

I make enough grain-free muffins or pancakes for myself on Monday morning to last for the week, then just reheat them for stress-free mornings. I usually have 2 muffins or pancakes with an egg or piece of nitrate-free turkey bacon (or both) and a small serving of fruit, like an orange wedge or handful of berries. If I’m fixing hashbrowns for my family, I may just have one muffin and a small serving of hashbrowns.

Lunch
The key to eating a satisfying, low-carb lunch is to fill up on veggies and fruit, and make sure you have some sort of fat if consuming a low-fat meat like chicken or turkey (i.e. olive oil, avocados, nuts or cheese, if tolerated). During the winter, I like to make a big pot of hearty soup once a week that’s full of veggies and meat with no grains, corn or beans. If you chose a canned soup, which tends to be mostly broth and not filling, toss in some frozen veggies and leftover meat when you heat it or just round it out with some raw veggies.

Turkey Vegetable Soup

In the summer, I ate lots of salads for lunch with leftover roast chicken, canned salmon, taco meat, etc. Cucumbers add a nice crunch as a substitute for croutons, and you can load up your salad with whatever veggies you like. I quickly grew tired of salads, though, and ended up preferring lettuce-wrapped burgers or leftover meat and veggies. For a quick and easy lunch, I’ll heat up a Jennie-O turkey burger patty with some taco seasoning, then top it with guacamole and chopped tomatoes or salsa.

Bunless Guacamole Burger

We drove across the country on a 2-week trip last spring, and survived on turkey “sandwiches” made with thick slices of oven roasted turkey (from Costco) as the “bread,” filled with guacamole (squeezed out of single-serve packets) and sliced tomatoes, wrapped in a lettuce leaf. These can be made ahead of time for lunch on the go. With a handful of carrots and an apple (plus a bag of chips for my family members), this lunch sustained us for hours of walking around Washington D.C. Another variation is to spread some Dijon mustard on one turkey slice, top it with sliced avocado and tomato, then put another turkey slice on top and wrap the whole thing in a lettuce leaf.

Snacks and Sweets and Feeling Satisfied
The key difference between the way I eat now and the way I used to eat is that I used to eat until I was “full;” now I eat until I’m “satisfied.” When you cut out grains (and initially, starchy veggies like potatoes) you’ll notice that you don’t feel full, in the sense that you’re stuffed and can’t eat another bite. But by filling a third of your plate with veggies, a quarter to third of your plate with meat, and a quarter to third of your plate with fruit, you’ll feel satisfied. You’ll walk away from the meal feeling like you’ve had enough to eat to sustain you for the next 3-5 hours, but you won’t feel uncomfortably full.

Chimichanga Beef, Zucchini and Pineapple

Chimichanga Beef, Sauteed Zucchini and Fresh Pineapple

If you do get hungry between meals, a handful of almonds and a piece of fruit or handful of carrots should get you through to the next meal. Lara bars are great, sugar-free, all-natural bars you can throw in the car for running errands. Now that I’m not trying to lose weight, I also snack on sweet potato/root veggie chips (from Trader Joe’s) because the inherent sweetness naturally limits my portion size. For dessert, I usually enjoy a handful of salted almonds with about a tablespoon of semi-sweet chocolate chips, since a little dark chocolate is good for you! If you crave ice cream, try the Dole frozen chocolate covered banana slices that come in convenient 4-packs. (When I serve the family ice cream, which was my go-to easy dessert for them over the summer, I sometimes pull one of these out for myself – and the kids get jealous!) But as I said, once you’re free from cravings, a little dessert with the family from time to time should be fine.

Dinner
I’ve linked recipes that are already on my blog, and will come back to this post in the future to add in links as I post more recipes. My plan is to post recipes for all the options below. If you don’t like a particular vegetable on my list, substitute one you do like! (Although I’d encourage you to try the roasted broccoli and Brussels sprouts before you dismiss them. Roasted veggies are amazing!) If the veggies listed aren’t filling enough at first, add a side salad to your meal and remember to include a serving of fresh fruit. During the winter, pineapples are reasonably priced where we live. A fruit salad made with pineapple, kiwi, and pomegranate seeds will end your meal on a sweet note. Diced pears with fresh blueberries or a mango/kiwi/blueberry combo also make good winter fruit salads.

2-3 Weeks of Meals Designed for Weight Loss for 1 in a GF Family of 4
(Serve with fresh fruit. Serve the carb listed to your family only.)

Day 1: Italian

  1. Spaghetti squash with meat sauce (ground turkey or beef in a homemade sauce or one from a jar)
    • Salad
    • Family Side: Brown rice spaghetti noodles (if your family doesn’t like spaghetti squash)
  2. All-natural Italian sausage (like Falls brand Hot Italian) with optional marinara sauce
    • Option 1: Serve meat sauce over thinly-sliced, grilled eggplant, topped with Parmesan cheese
    • Option 2: Serve sausage link with a side of yellow squash sauteed in olive oil with garlic, salt and pepper
    • Family Side: Garlic toast (buttered gluten free bread, sprinkled with garlic salt, cooked butter-side-down on a griddle or frying pan)

Day 2: Seafood

  1. Garlic shrimp stir fry
    • Frozen snap pea stir fry blend sauteed in olive oil with salt, pepper, and McCormick’s Garlic and Herb Seasoning; add thawed, frozen salad shrimp just before serving 
    • Family Side: Heat-and-serve rice or Seeds of Change Garlic Brown Rice and Quinoa
  2. Salmon burger patty (like Trident salmon burgers from Costco) or baked salmon (with olive oil, salt, pepper, and basil) with fresh squeezed lemon juice
    • Buttered peas and carrots or snow peas sauteed in olive oil with garlic, salt and pepper
    • Family side: Rice or quinoa

 Day 3: Chicken Comfort Food

  1. Homemade or Costco roast chicken
  2. Baked, grilled or sautéed chicken with olive oil & herbs
    • Roasted broccoli or asparagus
    • Family Side (optional for you): Mashed potatoes or yams (mash microwaved yams with butter, unsweetened applesauce, salt and a dash of cinnamon, and top with dried cranberries or chopped pecans)

 Day 4: Mexican 

  1. Taco salad made with leftover roasted chicken and salsa or ground turkey with taco seasoning (and whatever veggies you like)
    • Family Side: Tortilla chips
  2. Beef Chimichanga filling (made with leftover roast from day 7), crock pot pork taco meat, or fajita meat with zucchini, salsa, and guacamole
    • Serve Chimichanga or taco meat with sliced raw zucchini “chips” for scooping up meat
    • Serve fajita meat with zucchini, bell peppers, and onions sauteed in oil with salt and pepper, topped with salsa
    • Family Side: Heat corn tortillas on a griddle with shredded cheese and fill with meat, salsa, and guacamole (optional); for fajitas, fill tortillas with meat, veggies and salsa

Day 5: FREE NIGHT!

  1. Pizza – Seriously, take one day off and eat a REASONABLE portion of whatever you want with a side salad or raw veggies, or keep it low(er) carb with my homemade pizza crust/bread stick recipe that replaces 2/3 of the flour with almond flour.
  2. Visit a buffet restaurant (like Golden Corral or Tucano’s Brazilian Restaurant) and load up on meat, fruit and veggies. If you’re super serious about weight loss, make your soup for the week on this night, and make enough for dinner with leftovers for lunches.

Day 6: Burger Joint Food

  1. Jennie-O turkey burger patty or beef patty with whatever condiments you like, wrapped in lettuce (optional – this is just too messy for me, so I prefer to eat it with a fork)
    • Sweet potato fries and salad or raw veggies
    • Family Side: Bun (we use the heels of our gluten free bread for buns)
  2. Buffalo chicken (cubed chicken breast sauteed in olive oil with Lowry’s seasoned salt, pepper and parsley, served with buffalo ranch dressing)
    • Baked fries or sweet potato fries, salad or raw veggies
  3. Optional Party Food: Buffalo Chicken Dip with celery sticks for dippers (FYI, I now cut back the ranch dressing in the recipe to 1/4 c.)
    • Carrot sticks
    • Family Side: Tortilla chips (for scooping up dip)

 Day 7: Meat and Potatoes

  1. Crock pot roast cooked with onion, celery, garlic clove and carrots (discard celery and garlic)
    • Green beans
    • Family Side (optional for you): Potatoes in the crock pot with homemade gravy
    • Family Side Option 2: GF sub rolls for French Dip with cooking juices
  2. Grilled steak or pork chops with Monterey seasoning
    • Green beans
    • Family Side (optional for you): Baked potatoes

As promised in my Pledge to Blog the Truth, here’s a snapshot of our menu this week. You’ll see that it’s been tweaked (because of ingredients that needed to get used up) and is yet another variation on the menu above. The possibilities are endless! 

This Week's Meal Plan

Remember to check back for detailed recipes to go with my menu plan. In the meantime, just remember the “Mostly” principle and enjoy a happy, healthy new year!

Turkey Vegetable Soup

This hearty, flavorful without being spicy, soup is my go-to lunch most days during the winter.  It’s a dieter’s friend because it contains no starchy veggies or grains, but fills you up when served with an apple or other piece of fruit. Most canned soups are full of broth (and scary ingredients!), but this soup actually satisfies because it’s full of meat and veggies with just enough broth to call it soup.

It only takes about 25 minutes to prep, and 15 minutes to cook, but makes enough to last throughout the week.  I love cooking once and having lunches taken care of for the week!  I can pull this together for under $6 – local friends, ask me and I’ll tell you how – so it’s very economical.  If you don’t like or have on hand the veggies I use, just substitute your favorite veggies.  To save time and add variety, I’ve substituted frozen peas and carrots for the fresh baby carrots.  I’ve also used yellow summer squash instead of okra.  If you’re not carb-conscious, you can toss in some frozen corn or white beans.

Look at me, pretending to be a real food blogger with my ingredients picture. You're so impressed., right?

Look at me, pretending to be a real food blogger with my ingredients picture. You’re so impressed, right?

Hearty Turkey Vegetable Soup

1 T. olive oil
1 stalk celery, chopped
8-10 large baby carrots, chopped (or frozen carrots)
1 zucchini, quartered lengthwise and diced
1 lb. ground turkey (dark meat is perfect)
1 1/2 T. chicken flavor Better Than Bouillon
2 c. hot water
2 15-oz. cans diced tomatoes with onion and garlic*
1 can (10 oz. or 15 oz.) diced tomatoes with green chilies
1 c. frozen green beans
3/4 c. frozen chopped okra, summer squash, or a second zucchini
1/4 c. diced mushrooms, optional (fresh, canned, or freeze dried)
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper

*If you can’t find diced tomatoes with onion and garlic (mine are from Albertson’s), just use 2 cans of diced tomatoes and saute 1/3 c. chopped onion with the zucchini, adding 1 T. minced garlic for the last minute.  If you can find the canned version, though, it’s a huge time saver and has wonderful flavor!

Directions:
Heat a large soup pot at one notch past medium heat and add olive oil.  Saute celery and carrots (if using fresh carrots), and onion (if you can’t find the diced tomatoes with garlic and onion) for about 3 minutes.  Add zucchini and saute for about 4 minutes, until zucchini is lightly browned.  Season generously with salt and pepper.  (This step seals in the flavor and helps the zucchini keep its shape instead of turning mushy.)  If you’re adding minced garlic, saute it for about 30 seconds.  Remove veggies temporarily to a bowl.  (I just use the bowl I’ll be eating out of.)

In the same pot, brown the turkey until no longer pink.  Season generously with salt and pepper.  Don’t drain the juice that’s released by the meat – it’s not fat. Push the meat to the outer edge of the pot and let the juice pool in the middle. Add the Better Than Bouillon to the juice and stir until it’s dissolved.  Add water and canned tomatoes.  Throw in the bay leaf and bring the soup to a boil.  Stir in frozen veggies, mushrooms (if using), and the sauteed veggies.

Simmer 15 minutes, covered, or until veggies are cooked to your preference. Garnish with Parmesan cheese, if desired.  Serves 6-8.

 

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