Good Cheer and The Pregnancy Diet

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It’s that time of year. The time when we bake cookies and fudge and tasty pies. The time when the workplace break room is littered with holiday candy and plenty of chocolate. It’s a time when it feels almost obligatory to feed the sweet tooth. But what if you’re pregnant? Does pregnancy give you an eat-all-you-want pass with the holiday sweets? The short answer is no. But then again, as with most anything, it’s all about balance.

We as midwives make nutrition an important part of the care we offer pregnant clients. It’s the hallmark of good prenatal care. To help pregnant women navigate this holiday season, we asked a seasoned midwife/educator/author to share her tried and true pregnancy diet, a diet based on a modified American Diabetes Association (ADA) diet, with specific portion sizes and an accompanying chart. The best part? Desserts are not off-limit, although one piece of pie could blow a lot of the small, allowed portions.

Juliana Van Olphen-Fehr, CNM, PdD, retired director of the Shenandoah University nurse-midwifery program and author of Diary of a Midwife, spent an entire prenatal visit on nutrition when she had a combination home/hospital practice. Clients often joked that subsequent prenatal visits were diet confessionals; some tried to hide ice cream cones from her view when running into her outside of appointments. The nutrition prenatal session left its indelible mark on the pregnant women she served and the Fehr pregnancy diet was a hallmark of her successful practice.

Recently, we asked her if her opinion on the optimal pregnancy diet had changed all these years later: “No. Not one bit…. You are what you eat, so when you’re pregnant, so is the baby [what you eat]. What your job is, when you’re pregnant, is to nourish that body and really make sure that the body inside you will grow up to be an incredible and productive human being.”

Dr. Fehr frames the pregnancy diet in both biological and historical perspectives. Our brain requires glucose. “It doesn’t use protein and vitamins. Glucose is it. And now the pregnant woman has two brains and one is really changing fast. It’s growing and it’s interested in getting all the nutrition it needs.” Yet, historically, humans’ access to sugar was seasonal and typically fruit, or at the very least, lactose, another sugar, from a cow’s milk.

“Humans were designed to survive despite the lack of access to sugar. That’s what we were meant to do, because [historically] we didn’t have it. The problem is that evolution takes thousands of years to develop. We now have so much access to sugar; we are inundated with it. We need it. We crave it.”

But at some point the pancreas won’t keep up with a contemporary intake of sugar. And that creates problems for both the baby and the mother.

Every day a pregnant woman needs grains and carbohydrates to offer the brain the sugar it needs. But the trick is to keep track of serving sizes and amounts. A pregnant woman and her growing baby needs:

  • 9 servings of carbohydrates
  • 9 servings of protein
  • 3 servings of milk
  • 3 servings of vegetables
  • 6 servings of fruit
  • 5 servings of fat

And the serving sizes are small: 1 ounce of meet or cheese, 1 egg, or 2 tablespoons of nut butter meet the protein serving requirement. And nut butters also count for 2 of the fat exchanges. Vegetable serving sizes are ½ cup cooked or 1 cup raw. One half of a bagel, 1/3 cup cooked lentils, 1 small potato, or 2 cups cooked pasta meet the carbohydrate serving size requirement.

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So where does that leave a pregnant woman during the holidays? A little bit of good math, planning, and awareness go a long way. Enjoy that pie, but be mindful of the carb, dairy, fruit, and fat exchanges. Enjoy that piece of fudge, but pull back on your dairy and fat servings for the remainder of the day. And be sure to fill the rest of your day with all of the nutrients that are most important for you and your growing baby. You’re eating for two. Two brains, two pancreases, one of each that are still growing and developing. A good diet is an investment in your own health and in the long-term health of your baby. Cheers!

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Busy Mom Lifesaver #3: Strategic Cooking

Strategic cooking? What’s that? When you’re short on time, it helps to think about the big picture and come up with a strategy. You want to avoid eating out, you want food that tastes good, and you want to have food that involves minimal preparation, right? I love to cook, and when I have time, I am happy to spend hours in the kitchen making an elaborate meal. But, most days, I just want to get some food on the table and get it there quickly. I learned a long time ago that with a little forethought, I could cut a lot of time off of my cooking, save quite a bit of money, and make sure my family ate food they liked. Without this planning, we’re like most people – it’s 4:30pm, and we turn to each other and ask, “what’s for dinner?” Nobody has any ideas and next thing you know, we’re getting Thai food.

image-7One solution that has worked well for my family has been freezer cooking. Frozen assets, freezer cooking, once-a-month cooking, planned overs — whatever you call it, thinking about cooking this way has been a Godsend for me. It took me many years of being a grownup to figure this one out for myself and try it. Once I did, I was hooked.

The first time I did once-a-month cooking was about 10 years ago. It was a rather long and arduous process, but the result was a freezer full of great meals for my family, a bundle of financial savings, and a huge load of stress taken off of my plate. I think I was about 7 months pregnant with my youngest son when I did once-a-month cooking the first time. My motivation was to put away meals to help keep my sanity during postpartum (good plan). Over the years, I’ve gotten pretty good at doing the freezer meals, and now it goes pretty quickly, so I wanted to share with you some ideas to make the process easier and some resources for freezer meal recipes.

Day 1: Plan and Prepare

I usually break up freezer meal cooking into two days. One day of planning and preparation and one day of actual cooking. You’re going to need to set aside some time to gather your recipes and figure out what to make. Sometimes, you can just make your own favorite meals in bulk and divide them up and freeze them. Other times, you’ll want to follow some sort of freezer meal cooking plan. Whatever you’re planning to do, take some time up front to do some planning.

My absolute favorite freezer cooking site is 365 Days of Crockpot. I love how she has it so beautifully organized. The shopping lists are wonderful. The recipes are made in assembly line fashion so it goes very quickly. She lays it all out to the point where you put your bags in the loaf pans, and then her instructions say “2 T Tomato Paste in bags 3, 6, 7,10, 13, 18.” This page has a video that explains her method. You’ve got to see it! I absolutely love it. Her meals are quite good, too. If you want to try out her method, I’d recommend starting with these:

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In addition to doing one of her plans, I also like to make up some of our go-to meals like meatloaf, taco meat, and meatball mix. Now that I use the Instant Pot for my spaghetti and meatballs, I don’t precook the meatballs. Instead, I have the meatball ingredients mixed together so that I can just defrost it, form it into balls, and put it into the marinara sauce in the Instant Pot. It cooks for 5 minutes at high pressure and 10 minutes pressure release.

Go shopping

Once you’ve gathered your recipes, it’s time to make your grocery list. This is not a time where you’re going to want to be making trips to the store in the middle of your cooking, so make your list and check it twice…three times. Go get your shopping done.

Make sure you have plenty of zip top bags, aluminum foil, labels, and permanent markers. I took a tip from one of the freezer cooking sites online and use loaf pans to hold the baggies of ingredients when I’m doing my freezer cooking. This holds the upright and open, ready to receive the next ingredient. I got mine at the dollar store and I save them just for freezer meals.

Clean and De-Clutter

Clean out your freezer. Toss all of the old freezer-burned veggies and meat. Make some space for all of your new meals!

Clean your kitchen top to bottom. You are going to need every inch of counter space for this job. You probably will need to expand your project onto the kitchen table too. Clear off the counter tops of any unnecessary items. Empty the dishwasher and sink. Put everything away. Sharpen your knives and get ready to cook!

The Big Day!

Get some help

I personally recommend having a helper (or a few) when you do once-a-month cooking, especially if this is your first time doing it. There’s a lot of work involved, and having someone help you with it will make all the difference. It’s a great time to teach kids organizational skills and cooking skills.

Divide and Conquer

Some people like the more focused parts of freezer cooking, like chopping veggies. If that’s their gift, have that person chop veggies. I have a few people in my family who are a little overwhelmed with the 30 loaf pans with open baggies on the countertop. They’re much happier to just chop the veggies. Great, chop veggies! My youngest likes to do labels. Cool, make labels! I, on the other hand, like managing the whole operation and keeping track of what goes into each bag. That’s my gift, so that’s what I do. There’s plenty of work to go around, and if you have kids old enough to babysit younger kids, or if you have kids old enough to help you with cooking, all the better. Now that I have older kids, I’m blessed to have two teens who have cooking skills that rival my own. Plus, my husband is every bit as good at this as I am.

Label, Label, Label

Once in a freezer bag or wrapped in aluminum foil and stored in your freezer, all of the meals look pretty similar. You absolutely have to label. I highly recommend double-bagging your meals and labeling the inner baggie. Then, put the cooking instructions on an index card and place it between the inner and outer baggie. When you defrost your freezer meal, remove the instruction card first so it doesn’t get wet from condensation, otherwise your instructions will likely become difficult to read. Another option would be to label and number the bags, and then keep a list of your meals separately with the cooking instructions. Either way, you need a plan for how you will keep track of what you have and how to cook it.

How you freeze it matters

If you lay a baggie of something liquid on a rack in your freezer, it will conform to the rack as it freezes and you’ll never get it out of there later. Trust me; it has happened to me. Freeze flat items on aluminum baking sheets and then stack them, preferably in a box so that they don’t fall out and land on your foot when you open your freezer door. Again, that’s happened to me. If you are using the loaf pan method, freeze things in the baggies inside the loaf pans, and then pop them out like ice cubes in an ice cube tray. You can store them like bricks in your freezer.

Think ahead about how you’ll be cooking the item you’re freezing. If something is going into a slow cooker and you’re not going to defrost it first, freeze it in a container shaped like your slow cooker. That way, it can defrost in the slow cooker. If you’re freezing a meatloaf, wrap it in aluminum foil in such a way that you can place the frozen meatloaf back into the loaf pan while it’s still wrapped. You’ll be able to defrost it like that, bake it, and then throw the aluminum foil into the recycling bin, eliminating the need to wash the meatloaf pan.

Planned Overs

Another solution for our family has been Planned Overs. It’s a different way to think about leftovers. I try to think ahead when I’m cooking. It’s enough effort to cook once, why cook twice, right? I learned a long time ago to cook more than we need at one meal and think about how we could use the leftovers while I’m making the first meal.

Today’s Rotisserie Chicken is Tomorrow’s Chicken Enchiladas and the Next Day’s Chicken Soup

Get a couple of rotisserie chickens and a bag of salad for dinner one day. Chop up the leftover chicken meat to use for the next couple of days.

For the chicken enchiladas, put half of the leftover chicken meat and a can of black beans in a skillet with about a cup of salsa and heat it up. Add a little sour cream and cheese, roll it into tortillas, cover with more salsa and cheese, and bake at 350°F until hot and bubbly. I usually serve it with salsa, avocado, sour cream, and shredded lettuce.

For the soup, I use this as a good opportunity to use up veggies on hand that are perhaps on their last leg. It’s basically a “clean out the fridge night.” Put the chicken bones into the Instant Pot with whatever veggies you like. Season with salt & pepper and some thyme. Add the remaining chopped leftover chicken, put that in there too. Cook in the Instant Pot on the soup setting or cook in the slow cooker on low all day. Remove the bones and serve.

Today’s Pot Roast is Tomorrow’s Beef Vegetable Soup

Chop up your pot roast leftovers (meat, potatoes, carrots, whatever). Put it in your crockpot (or Instant Pot) with some stewed tomatoes and a bag of frozen mixed vegetables. Add beef stock to cover. Season with salt & pepper and fresh rosemary. Cook in the slow cooker all day, or cook in the Instant Pot on the soup setting.

Today’s Tacos are Tomorrow’s Tamale Pie

Make up some taco meat. I generally use ground beef, but you could use chicken or pork or turkey. My recipe is pretty simple – ground beef, onion, seasonings, Ro-Tel tomatoes, cilantro, black beans. I like to make a lot of taco meat and freeze some, but I also will reserve some to make up a tamale pie. This is a simple and quick way to use up taco leftovers. Layer corn tortillas, taco meat, cheese, and salsa in a casserole dish. Top with salsa and a little cheese. Bake at 350°F until hot and bubbly. Serve with avocado slices and some sour cream or plain Greek yogurt.

Today’s Veggies are Tomorrow’s Frittata

Time to use up the veggies! This is great for a make ahead breakfast or Sunday brunch. For more detailed instructions, here’s a post I did about making frittata, but you can really just wing it. Gather whatever veggies you like – onion, zucchini, mushrooms, spinach, broccoli, tomatoes. I generally just use up the leftovers in my fridge. Rough chop them veggies. Using an oven-safe pan, saute your veggies, and then add 6-12 beaten eggs (depending on how big you want the frittata to be). Cook it like you would scrambled eggs until it is partially set, add some cheese, if you like, and then broil until the top is set. Basically, you’re cooking the bottom and then the top. Remove it from the oven, wait a minute, then flip it out onto a cutting board. Cut into wedges and serve. Or, let it cool and wrap it up for a quick breakfast for the next few days.

Today’s Pork Roast is tomorrow’s Pork Fried Rice

This is a great way to use up leftover meat and rice. It also works well with leftover quinoa. I like this with pork, but you could do this with leftover chicken or beef, too. Chop the leftover meat into bite sized pieces. Chop up an onion. In a large skillet, heat some oil and saute until translucent. Add the meat and cook until heated through. At this point, you could add some leftover peas, corn, broccoli, or other vegetables you like. Push the food to the edges of the pan. Beat 3 eggs and cook the eggs in the center of the pan. Once cooked, mix with the other ingredients. Add some soy sauce and sesame oil. Add cooked rice. Add more soy sauce and sesame oil as needed and serve.

Today’s Spaghetti and Meatballs is Tomorrow’s Lasagna with Meat Sauce

This couldn’t be much easier. You could even do this as you’re putting away your leftover sauce and meatballs, which would probably be faster and would eliminate having to wash the spaghetti sauce pan twice.

Heat up the meatballs and sauce in a large saucepan. Using a potato masher, mash the meatballs and break up the large chunks of meatball in the sauce. Add an extra can of tomato puree. Mix ricotta cheese, parmesan cheese, chopped spinach, an egg, and salt and pepper in a bowl. Layer sauce, then uncooked lasagna noodles, ricotta mixture, shredded mozzarella, sauce, noodles, etc. The final layer should be noodles, sauce, and then mozzarella. Cover and bake 1 hour at 375°F. Uncover and bake until the cheese browns and is bubbly. You want to be generous with the sauce since you’re using uncooked noodles. The noodles will absorb a lot of the sauce.

Today’s Meatloaf and Mashed Potatoes is Tomorrow’s Shepherd’s Pie

When you’re putting away your leftover meatloaf, chop it up into small pieces. The next day, put the meatloaf pieces in a baking dish, add some mixed vegetables and a can of Amy’s Cream of Mushroom Soup. Top with leftover mashed potatoes. I like cheese, so I add a sprinkle of sharp cheddar on top. Bake at 375°F until the potatoes start to brown and everything is hot and bubbly.

Now, time for me to start planning my next freezer meal adventure! Let me know how it goes for you. I’d love to know which sites you’ve found helpful and which recipes have worked for your family!

Busy Mom Lifesaver #1 The Instant Pot

I usually post about birth-related things. I suppose this is birth-related too, since I’d be hard-pressed to do my job without having some time-saving ideas to keep my family fed. If we don’t eat good food, we can’t stay healthy. In this series, I’ll share some of my mom-to-mom survival tips.

image (5)Often, if we don’t plan, we’ll do the usual fall back of “well, let’s just get take out” and that is (1) expensive (2) often as time-consuming as cooking (3) and usually not very healthy. Enter the Instant Pot.

At the risk of sounding like an Instant Pot commercial, I’m going to tell you all about how I feel about my experience with the Instant Pot. Yes, there are links to the Instant Pot on Amazon.com so you can purchase one for yourself, and yes, if you use those links, I’m supposed to get some sort of kick back (although I have yet to see a penny from Amazon’s affiliate program) but other than that, I’m not being compensated for my endorsement of Instant Pot. This is all coming from my own personal experience with this wonderful kitchen gadget. Love this thing!

What is an Instant Pot?

The Instant Pot is a programmable electric pressure cooker. This video gives a good overview about how the Instant Pot works.

Why is the Instant Pot better than other electric pressure cookers?

InstantPot.jpgI had another electric pressure cooker and I liked it quite a bit. It got a lot of use. But, I had two issues that Instant Pot solved for me. First, the interior pot in the other pressure cookers had a non-stick surface. I’m not big on non-stick; I much prefer stainless steel. I have concerns about the safety of non-stick coatings, plus they just don’t wear well over time. Before very long, my non-stick inner pot started showing signs of wear. My other issue with the other pressure cooker was that the inner pot’s capacity was small. The new Instant Pot is available in an 8 quart capacity (yay!), which makes me very happy. I could make do with a smaller one, but having the flexibility of the larger 8 quart size is really nice.

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Other pressure cookers probably can do some of the things the Instant Pot can do, but the Instant Pot is marketed as being able to be used as a slow cooker (definitely replaced my crock pot, and my other pressure cooker did not have a slow-cooker function), yogurt maker, and rice maker. In my experience, I make better rice on the stove, so I’m sticking with that. Maybe I’m doing something wrong, but the rice I made in the Instant Pot turned out sticky. I haven’t tried making yogurt yet, but I really want to!

It’s super easy to use. It’s so easy, in fact, that my 15 year old son said he wants one when he goes off to college. He’s been using it for about a year now. He knows that he pretty much just has to put frozen food in it, set the cooking function, and walk away, so he feels confident he’d be able to pull off home-cooked meals when he’s living away from home. He sees the Instant Pot as the indispensable kitchen tool.

Aren’t pressure cookers dangerous? I’m afraid it will blow up.

That’s what I usually hear when I tell people my favorite kitchen gadget is a pressure cooker. Modern pressure cookers are really quite safe. The Instant Pot has 10 different safety features to prevent the pressure cooker horror stories we’ve heard our grandmothers share. Quite literally you just put the food in the pot, set the cooking type, and walk away from it. The pot brings it up to the proper temperature and pressure, cooks it for the appropriate amount of time, depressurizes on its own, and then keeps the food warm until you’re ready to eat.InstantPotSafety

Why would I want to use a pressure cooker?

The ultimate fast food. Food cooks in a fraction of the time it would normally take. Pot roast that would normally cook all day in a slow cooker takes about 1-1/2 hours. Fall-off-the-bone BBQ Baby Back Ribs – 65 minutes. Best Carnitas evah – 50 minutes. Paleo Kalua Pig Pulled Pork that normally takes 16 hours in the slow cooker – 90 minutes.

You also don’t have to babysit the food. Once you put it in the Instant Pot and set the cooking function, you can walk away and go about doing other things. There is no stirring, minding the temperature, making sure things don’t burn, turning it off when things are done, etc. All of that happens without you.

Pressure cookers save you money, too. You can take the toughest cuts of meat and by cooking them in the pressure cooker, they become fall-apart-fork-tender.

So, what do you make in the Instant Pot?

At first, I just tried some very easy things. I made pot roast in record time. The pot has a saute function, so I was able to use that to sear the chuck roast first. Then, I added the onions, liquid (half wine, half water), salt and pepper, and some fresh rosemary. Covered the pot, turned it to the “Meat” function for about an hour, and when it was done, I added the potatoes and carrots and cooked for 10 more minutes. Yummy!

Then, I ventured out a bit. I tried just putting frozen chicken breasts with a jar of salsa in the Instant Pot. Yes, frozen. The Instant Pot will defrost the chicken for you. After the timer went off, I shredded the chicken with a couple of forks, added a can of black beans and some frozen corn, and then turned it to saute to warm up the corn and beans. Ta-da! Chicken and Black Bean Tacos!

Feeling more confident, I thought maybe I could convert some of my existing recipes to Instant Pot meals, and yes, that worked very well. Pulled pork, soups, and chili all worked great.

Then, I discovered there’s a whole community of over 100,000 Instant Pot lovers (“Potheads” as they call themselves!) on the Internet. They share countless recipes including cheesecake (seems to be an especially popular thing among Potheads), ribs, macaroni and cheese, Indian Butter Chicken, beef stew, and about a zillion other things. Pretty much, if you want to cook something in the Instant Pot, you can post it on Facebook, and some pothead will have a recipe for you.

My most recent Instant Pot win was cooking spaghetti and meatballs. Understand that spaghetti and meatballs is one of my specialties, so much so that my daughter asked for it for her 18th birthday dinner. It’s one of those things that my kids consider to be mom’s cooking at it’s best, and they consider the techniques used in making them to be sacred – nobody messes with mamas meatballs. I make marinara from scratch and normally, I’d make the meatballs and bake them in the oven while I prepare marinara sauce on the stove, then I’d simmer the meatballs in the sauce for about 30-60 minutes. Well, with the Instant Pot, I learned a whole new way to do it without compromising taste one bit. In fact, I hesitantly admit I think I like the recipe better. Now, with the Instant Pot, I prepare the marinara sauce in the pot on the saute function. place the raw meatballs in the sauce (it doesn’t even need to be simmering yet), and then cover and cook on high pressure for 10 minutes. By the time the pasta is cooked, the sauce and meatballs are done, and the sauce tastes like it has been cooking all day. My daughter is grown and doesn’t live at home anymore, so I’ll have to try it on her sometime when she’s home visiting. She’s the ultimate meatball taste-tester.

We’ve made the Carnitas and Kalua Pig recipes. Mainly, we’ve converted a bunch of slow cooker freezer meal recipes to Instant Pot recipes. That’s been a huge time saver. More on Freezer cooking in another blog post in this series!

 

Kim’s Veggie Frittata

2 T Butter or Olive Oil
3 Green Onions – chopped
2 Cloves of Garlic – chopped
2 Cups of assorted chopped or sliced vegetables (zucchini, mushrooms, asparagus, peppers, sundried tomatoes, etc.)
2 Handfuls of Spinach
1/2 Teaspoon of Thyme (or other seasoning of your choice)
Salt & Pepper to taste
12 Eggs
1/4 Cup of Milk
Cheese (feta, sharp cheddar, swiss, parmesan — whatever you like)

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Preheat your oven broiler. In a large oven-safe skillet, heat the butter or oil on medium-high heat. Saute onions and garlic, and add the assorted chopped veggies. Cook until veggies are slightly tender. Do not overcook. Add the spinach, and cook until wilted. Add seasonings. Whisk the eggs and milk, and add to the vegetable mixture. Stir gently and cook until slightly set. Add the cheese and stir to combine. Flatten out the mixture in the pan. Broil until the eggs are set and the top is golden brown. Remove from the oven and let sit for a few minutes. Loosen around the edges with your spatula to make sure the frittata will release. Place a cutting board on top and flip the frittata onto the cutting board. Slice into 6 equal wedges. Serve.

Tips: Change up the veggies, seasonings, and cheese as you like. This frittata reheats nicely in the microwave. I cut up the frittata and wrap the wedges up individually so I can quickly take a wedge with me to work to heat up for lunch.