Saturday, February 27, 2010

Practical, Quick Tips for First Time Moms like Me!

I started this blog to share practical tips to save time and money for a healthy lifestyle. Since I'm a first-time mom (38 wks today and there's my pic; 2 weeks to my due date), I've collected an amazing amount of practical advice from my friends, coworkers and family and I'm happy to share. I woke up early this morning thinking about all the advice I've been given and have taken, which made me realize that I should share it with you! Being very pregnant now, my bump is a conversation starter! It's a common link that so many parents enjoy remembering the time when they were expecting the arrival of their children.

Twitter is such a great resource for me! If you build a following of other Twitter users, you can ask them for resources and tips. Since you can respond so quickly with messages, people are willing to share! A couple weeks ago, I posted a tweet about wanting advice on what to put under my desk to relieve my swollen feet. After a minute, my coworker (who follows me on Twitter), turned around and said, "why don't you request a footstool?" Sometimes, you're moving a mile a minute and don't think of the easiest solution, right?! I asked my facilities manager and, boy, did she deliver! The next day, I had a really nice footstool under my desk to prop my feet up!

A midwife I follow on Twitter told me this morning to enjoy the "lull before birth now" and says that I should rest up, nest down and relax. That's tough to do for a high energy girl like myself, but my body is telling me to do it.

Aaron and I are on the same page that we only want to have the right amount of "baby stuff." We live in a family-size house now, but we want to avoid clutter of stuff that we'll never use. Our plan has been to prepare in stages. I'll give you a perfect example. Most expectant moms at this point in pregnancy have their nurseries COMPLETE (or nearly done). Not us....on purpose. Our baby is going to sleep in our room in the beginning so we're preparing what we need to bring her home: car seat, co-sleeper (bassinet for the side of the bed), a glider to nurse, a changing table. We have started by painting the nursery, but we're more focused on the essentials.

First-time mom/dad practical advice: So now, here is wonderful gems of practical tips that I've received from my coworkers, friends/family, and Twitterverse. My goal is to ask for referrals and tips from experienced parents because these are road-tested, right?!

  • Prepare you and your partner for birth with a Doula and Lamaze classes: Hiring a doula, birth attendant, was very important to both of us because I'm planning to avoid medical interventions during labor and birth. Doulas are skilled with comforting techniques that can help you through a more efficient labor (by using gravity and movement to your advantage) and help you avoid c-sections. My doula will come to our house so I can labor at home as long as possible. My doctor suggested laboring at home where I'm most comfortable until I'm in active labor, since I'm having a normal and healthy pregnancy (here's what I did to prep). Aaron came with me to Lamaze class, which was taught at my hospital by a mid-wife/nurse. I feel very confident and empowered to have this knowledge and support. One dad of 2 kids told me that he and his wife were surprised how much time they were alone at the hospital during their baby's births. Being first-time parents, we feel reassured having a doula there to helps us through the process.
  • Don't overbuy until you know what your baby prefers: I heard this from a mom (of 4) about bottles, but I think it applies to many things! This experienced mom says to buy several different single bottles to see what your baby will prefer before you buy the 10-12 bottles you need! I got a bottle from a friend and she said that her son never liked it. Babies are finicky I've heard they refuse some bottles all together. Instead, I'll confirm which bottle she likes and then buy more. I plan to buy a total of 10-12 bottles. I verified this by more parents and asked ahead by how much daycare wants on-hand so that is my total number.
  • How many bed sheets do you REALLY need? 3: This way you have sheets for (1) on the bed, (2) dirty, and (3) clean and ready. I've heard this consistently from friends - thank you Twitter and Facebook!
  • Buy diapers in moderation: A dad of 3 told me that kids grow so fast that you might get too many of a certain size before you can use them! I'll have to judge how many my baby will go through in a day and estimate how many to have on-hand without overdoing it.
  • Check with your daycare provider before you invest in cloth diaper supplies: This one came from my hubby. He was right! Our daycare will only allow disposable diapers and wipes so thankfully we waited to buy the cloth diaper supplies that I was planning originally.
  • Figure out your maternity leave plan at work EARLY: This was my mistake! I should have pressed my HR admin to tell me ALL the specifics for our company's maternity leave in the beginning instead of a few weeks before my due date. It turns out I had many misconceptions from the website and from conversations with her early on so now I'm reworking my original plan. I found out that my company's Short Term Disability that is posted on the benefits section of the Intranet has a key phrase "up to" 12-weeks benefits and we don't get the full 12-weeks for maternity. They told me that their insurance provider relies on HR to explain the actual benefits (in my case 6 wks). Big difference! The good thing is that my company's culture is extremely flexible and supportive of parents and my manager and I have come up with a plan that works for both of us! My lesson was to push HR to get all the details very EARLY in your pregnancy so you have time to prepare financially for the leave.
  • Ease your baby (and yourself!) into daycare before you go back to work full-time: I thought this was great advice from moms and my daycare! I'm planning to work from home 4 wks before returning to the office. I will take the baby to the daycare at about 6 wks for a visit and then for the last 2 wks, I plan to take our baby to daycare for 2 days to ease her into her routine so she's not shocked in on the first day. The daycare provider also advised me to take a blanket that has "my scent" on it so she can smell me while I'm not there. BTW, I got a REFERRAL for this daycare from Aaron's coworker who has had 3 kids there. We evaluated two referrals and found this one was more affordable, but still flexible with different work schedules (part-time and full-time options).
  • Try your daycare route/schedule "pre-baby" while you're still working: Since I haven't gone on maternity leave, I tried the evening routine. Our daycare closes 6pm and while it's only 10 minutes from our house, I work across town in downtown Indy. I went twice this week to take a tour and sign up for the daycare and drove there twice after work. It made me realize that it's more practical to do an earlier work day (drop off at 7am) so I can be sure to leave at 5pm to be at daycare before they close. On the occasion that I have a later meeting, I'll pick up the baby earlier and then settle at home for the meeting or have Aaron pick up the baby. He gets home before me anyway so we should arrive at home at the same time to have "family time" at night.
  • Errands with a little one: A mom suggested to park close to the shopping cart return area so you can pull the baby out of the car and directly into a shopping cart. Then after shopping when you have to load your car and pack the baby, you won't have to go far to return the cart. That shopping cart can be used to your advantage. Great idea!
If you have tips to share or questions that you want me to find answers to for first-time moms, please add your comments here!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Ham, Broccoli, and Cheese Breakfast Casserole for Feeding a Crowd

This weekend, we hosted 4 good friends from Chicago. We had some great laughs and at one point, I laughed so hard that I couldn't even speak and my eyes were tearing up. Those are fun times! Since I'm 37 weeks pregnant, I was trying to think of meal options that are easy to manage with my low energy, but would feed all 6 of us easily. For Saturday night dinner, I made beef and bean chili in the slow cooker and served it with all the fixings and a simple green salad with homemade vinaigrette.

Then on Sunday morning, I made an easy Ham, Broccoli, and Cheese Egg Casserole and served it with Raisin and Maple Bran Muffins and sliced fresh strawberries. Lots of egg casserole recipes I've seen are covered with fatty pork sausage, tons of cheese, and bread that you have to soak overnight. Those are great for special treats, but this version is really easy to make in the morning. Even better, you can use the baking time to prep the rest of the breakfast (see serving suggestions below). The entire casserole averages about 1 egg per person and since yolks carry lots of nutrition, I forgo the mix of egg whites and whole eggs. Check out my previous post about the nutrition of eggs.

Ham, Broccoli, and Cheese Egg Casserole (Serves 8)

  • 3 whole wheat tortillas
  • 16 oz bag frozen broccoli florets
  • 8 oz low-sodium ham diced
  • 1 cup shredded extra sharp cheddar cheese
  • 8 whole eggs
  • 1/2 cup low-fat sour cream
  • 1 1/2 cups 1% milk
  • 1/2 tsp dry mustard
  • 1/4 tsp each salt and pepper
  • Defrost frozen broccoli in the microwave. Coat 9'x13' baking casserole dish with cooking spray. Line the bottom of the dish with 3 tortillas and place them so there is no gap on the bottom to form the crust.
  • While broccoli is defrosting, dice ham and shred cheese (if needed).
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Slice broccoli in small pieces and spread broccoli and then ham evenly in the casserole dish. Sprinkle shredded cheese evenly.
  • Whisk eggs, milk, sour cream, dry mustard, and salt and pepper. Pour egg mixture over evenly on the entire casserole dish.
  • Bake in the oven on 350 degrees for 40 minutes, until the eggs have set.
  • Cool for 10 minutes before cutting and serving.
Serving suggestions: While the casserole is baking, you can set the table and prepare the coffee, tea, and cut fresh fruit for your guests. Fresh fruit and toast are simple sides for this breakfast entree. Serve the egg casserole with hot sauce and sour cream for your guests to enjoy!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Quick Veggie Side Dish in Minutes: Sugar Snap Peas

Tonight, I worked later than I expected and then Aaron called me and told me that he was going to have drinks with his coworkers and he would be home later. I knew that I had to rush out to get the dog from her daycare before they close (Bena loves it, by the way!), run to Trader Joe's to buy food to host our weekend guests, then get home to cook dinner for myself. All this running around is pretty normal for our lifestyle, which is of course is why I started this blog to share my time-saving times...but you get the picture. I got home after 7pm and I had to make a very quick and healthy meal. I picked up artichoke ravioli and sugar snap peas in a bag for dinner.

When you're in a major hurry and don't have time to wash and cook a vegetable side dish on the stove top, sugar snap peas in a bag are a convenient and healthy option. I bought my bag from Trader Joe's for about $2.30, but I've also seen them at other grocery stores. The best part is that you can cook them right in the bag, without washing or chopping for only 2-3 minutes in the microwave. Check the instructions on your bag to be sure. These little, sweet babies steamed up exactly as directed. I added a tiny bit of butter, salt, and pepper and they were done in no time! Now, that's a winner! Each bag serves a family with about 4-6 servings.

Sugar snap peas are completely edible so there is no shelling involved! You can get 3 grams of fiber per serving and about 35 calories. On top of the fiber, sugar snap peas are a good source of vitamins A, C, and K and folate. Now that's a nutritional bonus since they cook so quickly, even in the microwave!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Happy Valentine's Day: Love Yourself and Stay Healthy

Today is Valentine's Day and the focus on everyone's mind is loving someone else. I think that's great, don't get me wrong, but one of my core values that I share with my husband is loving yourself. I've stated this many times in many different ways, that part of loving yourself is staying healthy and focusing on wellness. Preventing illness is more effective if you have a solid base of health. And in this life, we have ONE body and a tremendous opportunity to make healthy choices today that effect us tomorrow.

Yesterday, my mother-in-law shared her latest health assessment results with me. We talked about her lifestyle changes that she wants to make. She's only 55 yrs old and with three kids, one grandchild, and another one the way (4 wks!). She knows that making health differences will improve her quality of life so she can enjoy her family for decades to come. However, she is looking for resources to help her. I think she represents so many Americans out there. When I made the decision to change my lifestyle for clean living, I went searching for resources and the purpose of this blog is to share my tips, recipes, practical resources to help with clean living.

The results are really clear to me. I prepared my body for the journey of motherhood and it's paid off with a healthy pregnancy, free of complications. Check out my post for details. I know many complications are preventable and there is no question in my mind that my holistic wellness lifestyle has helped me maintain strong and healthy.
Even more proof. Check out this quote and blog post from about "Why People Really Get Sick." Dr. Mercola says in his interview he got into medicine with a mindset to prevent illness, while his colleagues were there to help sick people. To me this is the dramatic difference of approach. Wellness is your most powerful weapon to prevent illness!

"One of the key reasons why many people are getting sick with “modern-day” diseases like heart disease, cancer, obesity and diabetes is relying on processed food as their primary form of nutrition.

Ninety percent of foods Americans purchase every year are processed foods, and food marketers do a masterful job at making it seem like fast foods and junk foods are the obvious choice.

But these processed foods, are dead and devoid of any natural nutrition. The fact that they taste good is the culmination of a profitable science of artificial flavors and additives, without which most processed food would taste and look like cardboard." - Dr. Joseph Mercola, medical doctor and health researcher based in Chicago.

Eating a clean (unprocessed) foods helps you with higher quality nutrition found in nature, not from a manufacturing plant. That's always my inspiration to cook our meals and pack our snacks and lunches. I feel so much better. In the comments below, tell us your top blogs and health resources that help you.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Easy Slow Cooker Lentil Stew Great for Weeknight Entertaining

This month was my turn to host book club. I was really excited because we have just moved into our house and I have missed hosting events. Since we meet on a weeknight, I decided to make a slow cooker meal that would be very easy to serve a large group and cut back on the stress of hosting on a weeknight. Slow cookers are so convenient, energy-efficient, and such a time saver!

Slow Cooker Lentil Stew

Serve with brown rice and top with grated cheese such as Parmesan or sharp cheddar.

  • 2 cups dried lentils, washed and drained
  • 4 carrots, diced
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 3 stalks celery, diced
  • 1-14oz can tomato sauce
  • 4 cups water (or 2 cups water, 2 cups broth)
  • 2 tbs tomato paste
  • 2 tsp crushed garlic
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp Penzey's Northwoods Fire Seasoning (or smoked paprika, thyme, and cayenne)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • Night before: Fill slow cooker with rinsed lentils, diced onions, carrots, and celery. You can also add dry seasonings if you want. Keep the slow cooker turned off.
  • Morning: Add wet ingredients - tomato sauce, tomato paste, water/broth, and garlic. Turn on slow cooker on low for 8 hours.
  • Evening: Stir lentil stew and add more prepared broth to your consistency preference. Keep warm. Prepare brown rice and serve.
Give it a try and let me know what you think!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Great Packable Snack Idea: Individual Nut Butter Packets

I'm always on the lookout for nutritious snacks that I can pack away in my bag for travel or in everyday running around! I believe that having a nutritious snack on-hand helps you avoid eating a fast/junk food, which really doesn't do much for your energy. For example, the apples with caramel sauce option at some fast food chains is a treat, but not a nutritious snack because it contains high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Nutritionally, you're better off packing your own snacks, but even more reason--it saves you time! You don't have to go searching for food. If you treat your body well and in good health, your body will naturally be hungry after 3-4 hours. To keep your metabolism going, a healthy well-portioned snack gives you the energy boost to keep going.

Back to the nut butter packets...I bought these to pack in my bag for the hospital. When I go into active labor patterns, I'm going to make my way to the hospital with Aaron and my doula. This is my first baby, but from my research and knowing my body, I'll need healthy light snacks to keep my energy up. Midwives and doulas recommend that laboring women eat lightly and drink regular fluids to keep their energy strong during labor. I'm all over it! What else is in my snack bag for the hospital? ...Natural juice boxes, Horizon low-fat milk in a box, crackers, and trail mix. Plus, I know Aaron will forget to eat and having the snacks available for both of us will be very helpful!

These nut butters "Honey Peanut Butter" and "Maple Almond Butter" are all-natural and I plan to spread them on crackers or whole wheat bread. They were only $.79 at my local Whole Foods near the other nut butters. These small packages are convenient to add to your computer bag, travel carry-on, diaper bag, or purse! Don't forget to mix them before you squeeze them since the oil separates from the nut butter.

If you have a nut allergy, this is not the snack for you, but click here to find more packable snack ideas. If anyone has tried this brand, please let me know how they taste in the comments below!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Easy Cooked Apples in the Microwave with Endless Uses

My favorite fruit is clearly the apple. When Aaron and I got married in Nov 2005, our theme was granny smith apples with chocolate brown. I love caramel apples for a fun treat in the Fall and one of my favorite toppings for toast is homemade apple butter! When I want cooked apples for oatmeal, waffles, pancakes, granola and vanilla yogurt, or ice cream, I make cooked cinnamon apples in the microwave since it's so easy!

I made these apples this morning to put on top of my buttermilk whole wheat waffles that I made for breakfast. I topped my waffle with cooked apples and pecans with a bit of maple syrup. Aaron was shoveling all the snow in the driveway and the front of the house after shoveling last night, too! We got about 10 inches of snow yesterday and overnight so he was looking forward to a treat this morning!
Easy Microwave Cooked Apples for One:
  • Peel, core, and slice an apple. Place the apple in a microwaveable container with a top (like the one in the picture).
  • Sprinkle with apple pie spice or cinnamon and a dash of ground nutmeg. Add about 1 inch of water. Cover loosely with the top, but not completely sealed.
  • Cook on HIGH for 1 minute. Stir.
  • Cook on HIGH for 30 second intervals until the apples are done. The apples may overflow if you cook for longer. I've done that many times! :)
  • Your apples should be cooked after 2 minutes of cooking time. Drain the water from the apples and add a sprinkle of sugar/stevia extract/or drop of honey to sweeten, if desired.
  • Keep the top on to keep warm until you're ready to use the apples.
  • Enjoy!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Pizza Night Family Tradition Continues

Last week, I blogged about starting a new family tradition, Friday Pizza Night. Aaron and I thought we can carry into when we're raising our kids, now that we're just about 5 weeks away from our first baby's estimated arrival! What I didn't think about was this tradition was an old school Berkey tradition from Aaron's childhood, too! I posted last week's blog on Facebook and my mother-in-law was so excited to hear about this tradition because she says they enjoyed the same homemade pizza night when they were raising Aaron and his sisters. The visions I have of our daughter helping with the topping on a stool in the kitchen will come true, down the road and it will give a nod to her Berkey roots.

My friends told me after my post that they do Pizza and Family Movie nights or Friday Family Sushi Night. Those are fun traditions that the family can participate in and remember when they're older. Who knows maybe they will continue them when they have kids like we are now.

Tonight's pizza: I used the dough-in-a-bag from Trader Joe's and added marinara, mozzarella, little sharp cheddar, sliced of leftover spicy wine and garlic chicken sausages from Trader Joe's, defrosted frozen spinach, and slices of green olives.

Frozen spinach is a convenient way to bulk nutritional content in a meal and it's easy to store (freezer), defrost and use quickly. Frozen spinach is a great value at $2 for 1lb of frozen, organic spinach compared to fresh spinach options. Check out my previous post for how to use it in pasta.