Parenting

On being the magic maker

This Christmas, for whatever reason, I’ve been putting extra pressure on myself to make the season truly magical for my children. Maybe it’s because they’re getting older. Maybe it’s because we’re going on vacation right before Christmas and there will be fewer presents under the tree. Maybe it’s because I finished my clinical a month ago and now I have an extra six hours a week to fill. I don’t know. But I have been doing some crazy, stupid stuff, all in the name of making this the BEST CHRISTMAS EVER for them. For example:

1. We have five advent calendars.
Not one, not two, but FIVE. NO ONE NEEDS FIVE ADVENT CALENDARS. Not even my Christmas-present deprived children. They each have the traditional chocolate one. Then there’s one we hang on the wall that has activities, candy, or small presents for each day. Then there was a Tsum Tsum one that was on sale at Target and who can resist the tiny Tsums? Not me; and definitely not my children. Finally, we have a set of Advent ornaments that I filled with candy and hung all over the tree. Kind of like the Elf, you have to find a new ornament every day. Don’t get me wrong, my children LOVE all these calendars and it makes waking up in the morning so much more exciting when you know you’re going to get to eat a bunch of chocolate for breakfast. But I have to admit I went a bit overboard. It’s like Sophie’s choice though—for next year, which would I eliminate?

2. I offered to host two Christmas parties, two weekends in a row.
HOW STUPID AM I? I love the holidays and I love hosting parties and I feel like Christmas is the perfect time to do it. I get nervous about inviting people to my house—what if they don’t come? But at Christmas, I’m not the reason to come over. CHRISTMAS is the reason to come over. Christmas cookies, Christmas music, Christmas presents, Christmas wine. COME TO MY HOUSE AND I WILL MAKE ALL OF YOUR CHRISTMAS PARTY DREAMS COME TRUE. Seriously. But while I’m getting better with my whole depression/stress/anxiety thing, hosting is still a little bit nerve-wracking for me, as I found out last night when Chris and I tried to assemble 11 tiny graham cracker gingerbread houses at 9 o’clock at night LIKE THE TOTAL CHRISTMAS PARTY AMATEURS WE ARE.

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3. I planned a vacation the week before Christmas.
Do you know what happens when you’re going out of town for a week right before Christmas? You have to get all your shit done EARLY. I was done shopping by December 1st. Done wrapping by the 9th. My cards went out the week after Thanksgiving. Our tree was up the week before. We actually have outside lights on our bushes that I didn’t have to nag Chris to put up. I’m not bragging here, I’m saying the holiday rush came a bit early to the Smith house, and now that it’s over I have to spend this week packing for our first family vacation to the Happiest Place on Earth. Then when I get back I’m hosting Christmas dinner. WHY DID I DO THIS TO MYSELF WHY?

It is all worth it, though (something I need to remember when I’m frantically running from grocery store to grocery store looking for milk chocolate stars). Sam is super-into our Elf, Peppermint, and if he wakes up before CJ, he waits so they can go down together and find him. Then he has to tell me where Peppermint is hiding, then bring me into whatever room to show me, just to make sure. CJ is old enough now that he remembers a lot of our little traditions, whether it’s asking me to bake a certain kind of cookie or checking on whether we’ll have ham again for Christmas dinner this year. I get such joy out of seeing their joy; I love making them happy. I love bringing the Christmas magic to them, making this season as special as I can. When they grow up, I hope they can look back on our Decembers with fond memories, and a true love for the magic of the Christmas season. And I hope that some day between now and then, I’ll find a way to be a little more relaxed this time of year.

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Eating

17 Easy swaps to make your diet more Weight Watchers-friendly

My beautiful, sweet, amazing friend just told me she joined Weight Watchers, and I found myself wanting to do everything I could to help her make the most of it. Having to completely overhaul your diet can be so discouraging, especially if you’re someone who thought she already ate pretty well, like I was. So I wanted to pull together this list of foods as a quick reference for anyone who’s trying to improve what they eat.

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1. Instead of cow’s milk, try nut milk.
The disappointing thing for those of us who grew up drinking cow’s milk with every meal is that it’s not the healthiest, nor is it low in Weight Watchers SmartPoints. A cup of 2% milk is 5 SmartPoints, while a cup of cashew milk (my current favorite) is 1 SmartPoint. I use cashew milk in my coffee because I’ve found it to be creamier than almond or coconut milk, and I actually prefer it to cow’s milk now.

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2. Instead of eggs, try egg whites.
This is a hard one to swallow, especially in baking, where the egg yolk lends chewiness and fluffiness to cookies and cakes. But, an egg is 2 SmartPoints, and THREE egg whites are 1 SmartPoint (1 or 2 egg whites are 0 SmartPoints). When a recipe calls for two eggs, I usually use one egg and one egg white. For omelets I try to use all egg whites; when I’m making waffles or pancakes, I stick with egg whites. You can buy egg whites only now; they’re in a carton next to the eggs in the Dairy section.

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3. Instead of mayonnaise, try light mayonnaise or vegan mayonnaise.
My personal favorite mayo substitute is Just Mayo Light. 1 T is 1 SmartPoint versus 1 T of regular mayonnaise for 3 SmartPoints. I don’t use it often, but light mayo a lifesaver in things like summer pasta salads, and it’s great for adding 0 points of flavor to a turkey burger.

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4. Instead of sour cream, try fat free Greek yogurt.
I’ve been doing this for a while as I’ve never liked the idea of sour cream (it says “sour” right there in the name!) and I find fat free Greek yogurt to be a great substitute. I like putting fat free Greek yogurt on my chili, quesadillas, even on fruit crisp. At 3 SmartPoints per cup, it’s a huge savings over regular sour cream, which packs 21 SmartPoints for the same amount.

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5. Instead of ice cream, try Halo Top.
HaloTop is kind of an anomaly to me. I have nothing in my formerly full-fat life to compare it to. It’s icier than regular ice cream, but if you let it sit out for a few minutes (or microwave it, like I do), the consistency improves. The flavors are a little sharper, like the Vanilla, which was a little too sweet for me, or the Chocolate, which somehow tasted powdery. I love the Mint Chocolate Chip and Birthday Cake, though. And at 2 SmartPoints for half a cup, you can’t beat it. Most of my favorite regular ice cream flavors are 8-10 SmartPoints per half cup, and if you’re doing Weight Watchers don’t even LOOK at one of those cute little containers of Häagen-Dazs—more SmartPoints than you would believe!

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6. Instead of a Starbucks Frappuccino, try a coffee protein shake.
I shared my copycat Frappuccino protein shake recipe a while back, and while I’ve been heavily into the peanut butter protein shakes these days, that one will always be a favorite. It measures up at 4 SmartPoints, while a Grande Mocha Frappuccino with 2% milk is 21 SmartPoints. Try my protein shake, or better yet, try making your own!

7. Instead of Bisquick, try Kodiak Cakes Power Cakes Flapjack and Waffle mix.
I use ⅓ cup of Kodiak Cakes mix for my morning waffle, which costs me 3 SmartPoints. I top the waffle with enough fat free Cool Whip and mini chocolate chips that I don’t really care how good it tastes, so while I’d prefer to be making my traditional Bisquick recipe (5 SmartPoints per ⅓ cup), this one is fine. Plus, the protein in the waffle keeps me full until lunch, something Bisquick never did.

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8. Instead of sugar, try honey, maple syrup, agave, ripe bananas, sucanat, or stevia.
There are so many good sugar substitutes, and so many bloggers who are using them to make incredible recipes. Check out any recipe from Chocolate Covered Katie and you’ll see what I mean. Sally’s Baking Addiction also has this AMAZING recipe for banana chocolate chip muffins that uses only bananas and agave for sweetness. They taste exactly like chocolate cake. I know, I know, I’ve said it before. But please go make these—SO YUM.

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9. Instead of flour tortillas, try an Ole Wellness Wrap.
I love a good quesadilla, and while I’ve definitely gotten away from frying mine in butter, I still want a wrap that tastes good. The Ole Wellness Wrap doesn’t have the same fluffiness as a flour tortilla, but it’s close, and at only 1 SmartPoint per wrap (versus 4 SmartPoints for a medium flour tortilla), you can afford to eat more than one!

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10. Instead of regular pasta, try whole wheat.
This may seem like a big jump for some of you, but once the pasta’s cooked and sauced, it’s hard to tell the difference between whole wheat and regular. Both clock in at about the same amount of points (5 SmartPoints for 2 oz uncooked whole wheat penne vs. 6 SmartPoints for 2 oz uncooked regular penne), but whole grains are healthier for you and take more time to digest, which means you’ll stay fuller longer. Seriously, this is an easy switch and as a grownup, you should have already been doing this anyway.

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11. Instead of white rice, try brown.
Same idea as above; the less processed the food, the better it is for you. 1 cup of medium-grain brown rice is 6 SmartPoints, while 1 cup of medium-grain white rice is 7 SmartPoints. Again, the difference is negligible, so why not choose brown rice?

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12. Instead of Butternut bread, try Sara Lee 45-calories & Delightful.
The switch here was life-changing for me. I love wheat bread, but Butternut’s Honey Wheat is 2 SmartPoints per slice, while a slice of Sara Lee 45-calories & Delightful Honey Whole Wheat is only 1 SmartPoint. This may not seem like much, but saving two points makes a HUGE difference when you’re making a sandwich and want to add many other delicious things besides bread, like meat, cheese and mayonnaise. After I discovered Sara Lee Delightful, I could finally relate to Oprah and eat bread every day without feeling guilty.

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13. Instead of chips, try popcorn.
Chris and I used to share a bowl of Chex mix every night on the couch after the kids went to bed. After that we’d have ice cream, or maybe some wine. While I love Chex mix and pretty much all kinds of chips, I knew I couldn’t keep up the habit on Weight Watchers. A cup of original Chex Mix is 8 SmartPoints, while a cup of light butter flavored popcorn is 1 SmartPoint. I realized that all I really wanted when I was eating Chex Mix was crunch and salt. Popcorn satisfies my cravings just as well, and for a lot fewer points!

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14. Instead of your favorite frozen pizza, try DiGiorno Thin & Crispy.
Pizza is soooooo many SmartPoints, and as a result I’ve only had it twice since I’ve been on Weight Watchers. Before you start feeling sorry for me, you’ll be glad to know I recently discovered DiGiorno Thin & Crispy pizzas. Their Tomato Mozzarella with Pesto is only 12 SmartPoints for HALF, which is just about what one slice of a normal pizza would be (oh, how I miss you, Papa John’s!). Plus, it actually tastes good.

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15. Instead of hot dogs, try chicken dogs.
A regular hot dog is 6 SmartPoints which is fine for dinner, but I’ve found they don’t really fill me up and I usually want at least two. Two hot dogs plus buns would cost me over half of my daily SmartPoints budget. So instead I eat Trader Joe’s Uncured Chicken Dogs, which are only 1 SmartPoint each. I’m actually full after eating only one, and my kids love them too.

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16. Instead of regular bacon, try center cut bacon.
I don’t eat bacon often, but when I do, I don’t want it to cost me too much. Center cut bacon is only 1 SmartPoint for TWO slices, compared to regular bacon at 8 SmartPoints for two slices. It definitely makes a difference when we have breakfast for dinner (or heck, bacon at breakfast), and it’s healthier for all of us.

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17. Instead of store-bought cakes/pies/brownies/muffins/donuts, try homemade.
If you follow me on Instagram you know I bake a lot, and that’s because I love me some sweet treats. What I don’t love is how many points they are! My favorite scone at Starbucks is 19 SmartPoints, and I used to eat that for breakfast with a White Chocolate Mocha (23 SmartPoints!!!). So while I haven’t figured out how to bake a lighter scone, I think I’ve mastered muffins and bars. If you’re looking for a place to start, I recommend these Unbaked Cookie Dough bars, these Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Blondies, and these Peanut Butter Banana Muffins.

Anything you would add? Let me know in the comments below!

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Eating

The only Puppy Chow recipe you’ll ever need

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Growing up I did swim team in the summers, and for every meet one of the mothers would make puppy chow. I remember eating it from fold-top plastic baggies in the hot afternoon sun, licking my fingers after the chocolate melted and then jumping in the pool to cool off. This snack is connected with some of my favorite summer memories, and while it’s not the healthiest, is something I’ve been making a lot for my kids this year.

For my recipe, the key is to use Crispix, a brown paper bag, and more chocolate than you think you need. I did use reduced-fat peanut butter, but other than that, none of my ingredient choices are even a smidgen healthy. I hope you enjoy it as much as we do!

Pammie’s Puppy Chow
Yield: About 12 cups
5 SmartPoints per ¼-cup serving

1 12-oz box of Crispix cereal
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips (one 12-oz package, or more if you like!)
¾ cup reduced-fat peanut butter (such as Jif)
1 stick butter
1 tsp vanilla
3 cups powdered sugar, divided
Paper grocery bag

Pour Crispix into a large bowl (I used two big Tupperware containers). In another bowl or glass measuring cup, melt chocolate chips, butter, and peanut butter in the microwave for 1 minute. Stir. If still lumpy after stirring, continue to microwave in 15 to 30-second intervals until melted. You want the consistency to be very thin so it will cover as much cereal as possible. Stir in vanilla. Pour chocolate mixture evenly over Crispix and stir gently to coat all the cereal with chocolate. (This will be nearly impossible, but do your best.) Set aside.

Pour 2 cups powdered sugar over the Crispix mixture. Shake to coat, then pour it all into a brown paper grocery bag. Roll bag to close and shake back and forth until the cereal is completely covered with sugar (I recommend shaking over the sink, as some sugar will inevitably leak out). After a few minutes, check your progress. If there’s still lots of visible chocolate, add that last cup of sugar and shake again.

The brown paper bag really creates the magic here, so don’t skip it! The bag absorbs some of the grease from the butter, and as the sugar combines with it, it gives the puppy chow an amazing texture. I promise you’ll love it!

At the end of this process, there will be excess powdered sugar, so if you don’t like messes in the kitchen (like me), pour the Puppy Chow into a colander to “drain” the extra sugar. Then pour into bowls and serve, or pour into a clean Tupperware container and store. The Puppy Chow should last about five days on the counter, providing it doesn’t all get eaten first!

SmartPoints calculated using Recipe Builder on the Weight Watchers website.

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Eating

What I’ve been eating this week: Many things

Well people, I’ve had kind of an off week. I did a lot of cooking, but I didn’t do any bloggy things like take pictures of what I made. I was kind of sick; my almost two-year-old has a cold so I thought I was getting it too, but when I whined to my husband he didn’t think it was bad enough for him to stay home with me, so I powered through, which is a phrase I’ve come to loathe over the past few days. I’ve been napping when Sam naps, spending lazy mornings on the couch with him watching Sesame Street, and my housework has been sadly neglected, a fact which presented itself to me in the form of ants in my kitchen yesterday. Did you know Sam was afraid of ants? That he screams and cries when he sees them? And that we saw about fifteen of them yesterday before Chris came home early, which was a blessing I think only God could have bestowed on me. I was trying to make these delicious-looking chicken meatballs, and of course I didn’t allow enough prep time, but with Sam screaming about the ants (he calls them lady bugs, which is so cute when he’s not trying to climb up your body like it’s a human rock wall) and CJ begging to play on the iPad and these stupid meatballs that wanted me to grate the onion—have you ever tried grating onion? Here’s a tip: don’t. Use your food processor. I gave up after the first quarter of the first onion. And we ate chunks of diced onion. And we survived. But just barely.

Of course the first thing I wanted to make when I was sick was cookie dough. These Cookie Dough Pretzel Bites from Baked from a Box were amazing—I highly recommend them. They were so delicious I had to take them to work so I would stop eating them. After you taste them I think you’ll be surprised that they’re only 5 Points+ for two. YUM.

The meatballs I mentioned were the Polish Chicken Meatball Patties from (who else?) LaaLoosh. These were so delicious even the kids ate them. I served them with whole-wheat pita bread, but I think they’d also be good over whole-wheat couscous. 5 Points+ per 4-patty serving; bread or couscous would of course increase this total.

Have you ever made chicken in a crockpot? I almost tweeted about it: I finally cooked chicken in a crockpot and now my life is forever changed. Tender, flavorful, falling apart with a spoon.  It was amazing. And I felt so fancy with the special sauce and soba noodles in this recipe for Slow Cooker Asian Chicken from LaaLoosh as well. I highly recommend this. The leftovers were divine. 7 Points+ per serving.

The last semi-exciting thing I made were these Zesty Chicken Enchiladas from Real Simple circa 2009. I was lazy and didn’t make the sauce on these (you can sub a jar of salsa and a cup of cream for the homemade version), but I totally should have. They ended up tasting kind of bland. But don’t worry, I ate them anyway. They’re great with a little bit of fresh salsa or Pico de Gallo on top. These were also a bit of a splurge at 10 Points+ for two enchiladas.

I hope you enjoy these recipes as much as I did this week. Let me know what you decide to try!

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Eating

I need to emotionally eat

mini pie crustsI wanted to take some time to talk about the pleasure I derive from eating, and whether or not that pleasure can be measured against the pleasure I derive from looking in the mirror and feeling satisfied with what I see. I wonder though, is satisfaction with our figures even quantifiable? There will always be someone thinner, someone more toned, someone with a cuter outfit. I will always find a way to lose when I compare myself to someone else. So why all this hard work to look better if it’s not going to make me feel that much better?

I mean, I think I’ll feel a little better if I can get myself back into my skinny jeans. I might be a little less winded when I walk up a flight of stairs. I might even look good in clothes again. But will it be worth denying myself the pleasure of numerous bowls of ice cream on the couch after the kids have gone to bed? Will it be worth driving by the Dunkin’ Donuts on my way to work and not stopping in for a Cappuccino Blast? Will it be worth saying no to a third pancake on Sunday mornings?

For me depression, eating, and staying at home are deeply connected. I have always been somewhat of an emotional eater, and last summer, those long days of being home started to wear on me. When I was sad, I ate. Chocolate made things better. And after one bite, I just wanted another, and another. I think eating is one of life’s great pleasures. The combination of flavors in your mouth, the sweet and the salty, the crunchy and the creamy—there is so much to ENJOY about food. I love it. I love it all.

I think eating too, can take an emotional experience and turn it around. Ice cream after breakups was so ubiquitous on TV and in the movies when I was growing up I never knew if spooning chocolate gelato right out of the pint was something I wanted to do or something I was supposed to do because every other heartbroken girl in America was doing it too.

We eat to forget after rough days, we eat to celebrate after good days. Going out to dinner in and of itself is sometimes reason enough to justify ordering dessert. Limiting this seemingly limitless (there’s food in the house all the time, I’m in the house all the time, and hey, no one’s watching except my toddler, and he’s not telling) pleasure then, has been a feat of near-impossibility for me. Learning when to say when is a skill that I’m still mastering. I’ve had to completely change the way I feel about food. There’s no more Coke on pizza night. Pasta is sacred, and now it’s all whole wheat. Don’t even get me started on brown rice.

All this is to say that maybe for me, this is the beginning of truly long-term weight loss. My first epiphany, if you will: change everything you thought you knew about food. Then learn to love the new rules.

Wish me luck.

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Eating

What I’ve been eating this week: Desserts

It’s no secret that I like my sweets. One of the biggest reasons I chose Weight Watchers was because I knew I could still eat my beloved chocolate—I just had to eat less than I normally would. And I have to say, moderation is the biggest thing I’ve learned on this diet. In the past, I’d eat an entire candy bar in one sitting. Now I know a piece or two is enough, and knowing that—knowing which bite will be my last—helps me feel more satisfied than hoovering an entire bag of cookies ever did.

So, here are some of my go-to desserts:WW Desserts

  1. Pepperidge Farm Milano Cookies, 2 Points+ per cookie
  2. Nature Valley Granola Thins, 2 Points+ per thin
  3. Cupcake, store-bought, any flavor, 5 Points+ (I am not picky on flavor, just YUM)
  4. 6 White chocolate covered raisins, 1 Points+ (I usually eat these after lunch. Also, you should know that I buy mine at Aldi.)
  5. Homemade chocolate chip cookies, 3 Points+ for two
  6. Skinny Cow Heavenly Crisp Candy Bars, 3 Points+ each

 

When I really want to indulge, I turn to these:

 

WW Indulgences

  1. Ben & Jerry’s Peanut Butter Fudge Core Ice Cream. Half a cup, or approximately ¼ of the pint, is 8 Points+. Which is a lot, I know. But people, I just had to try this. Chocolate and peanut butter are two of my favorite things, and they went and put them into ice cream and added adorable little peanut butter cups. I ate a serving on the couch one night and felt content that I’d tried it, and have since been pressing the rest onto my husband and kids.
  2. The Pioneer Woman’s Mocha Brownies. If you halve the frosting recipe, make these in a 9×13 pan, and cut them into 40 pieces, each brownie is only 5 points. And they’re so rich, the miniscule square that this produces is really all I need. I usually end up making these for a work party and save a few for myself to eat over a couple of days.
  3. Oreo Milkshakes. I have long been a fan of Oreo shakes, ever since I started going to Ed Debevic’s in high school, where they’d bring both your shake and its leftovers in a silver cup. I blend four Double Stuf Oreos, a ½ cup of skim milk, and two cups of light vanilla ice cream. This recipe serves two, for a total of 10 Points+/serving. You could divide again so it would serve four and your Points+ total would only be five, but then your little milkshake glass wouldn’t be full and you might be sad about it later.

So that’s it! I hope you enjoy some of these little indulgences—and really, indulge! You deserve it. It’s so hard to eat healthfully all the damn time. And if you’re out of points and still craving something sweet, just stuff some grapes into your mouth. Lots of grapes. Trust me.

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