Sweet Flavors on Top

I’m going to squeeze into the confessional with Little Sis and admit that I too really like the taste of sugar.  When I was a kid I would walk to the drug store with my 1$ and a few pennies so that I could purchase and consume ten $.10 goodies of the candy or gum variety.  I could put a whole Big Buddy in my mouth.  Having a mouth this big came in handy when teaching elementary school, but a mouthful of cavities and a tendency to mood swings have not helped me in life at all.

Little Sis offered a very yummy low-sugar treat option called Awesome Oatie Bars yesterday and I am going back to the breakfast table today.  I have always loved breakfast, probably because it has the most options for eating dessert as the actual meal.  Who doesn’t love that?

Let’s be honest, pancakes are yummy, but that’s mostly because they are a vehicle for maple syrup or honey.  Maple syrup and honey are both natural, right?  That’s good, right?

Well….I wish they were not still sugar, but chemistry tells us that they are both still sugar with the negative physiological impact (albeit minus some leftover chemicals from processing and nasty effects on the planet).

So what to put on top of all of the healthy pancake recipes we’ve offered?  Mind you, I’m not giving up my real maple syrup completely but options are good.  I find that when I try new things and open myself to options, more often than not I appreciate the new and different taste rather than missing the Ka-Pow of the expected and much loved taste of sugar in its myriad of forms.  For more on Ka-Pow see Abstinence Makes the Taste Grow Stronger.

So here are a couple of alternatives to place on your pancakes or French toast, or hot cereal, or yogurt, or to dip carrot sticks in or…. don’t you love options?

First off, another confession, I swiped this idea from Little Sis who has apparently made a coffee creamer from similar ingredients.  I’m guessing she’ll share that with us at some point.  But for now I offer you 2 maple syrup / honey substitutes : Date Cream or Apple Drizzle.

Date Cream
Place whole dates in your blender (I used a Vita Mix, you may need a powerful blender for this) up to about the 1 cup line.
Pour almond, soy or cow (I used unsweetened almond) milk to cover
Whip it good.  (Any DEVO fans out there?)

I do love the action shots.

Seek the creaminess level that your heart tells you is right Grasshopper…

i.e. add a little more milk of your choice until you get a consistency that you think will be moist enough for whatever you are putting it on.

I was originally planning to add just a little maple syrup or honey to this mix, but then I tasted it.  WOW!  I will have to be careful not to just make this and eat 3 pounds of it, because dates are not cheap and 3 pounds of anything will show up on me somewhere… and usually NOT where I would have directed the placement of extra flesh.

Take this creamy, sweet substance and pour it on other stuff!

On hot cereal (totally unsweetened except for the topping which is hard to see as it is beige) YUMMY!

or on pancakes.

Or on a spoon or your finger : )

Idea #2 was to just make some raw applesauce, and make it a little thin for moisture and drizzling purposes.

Apple Drizzle
Find some nice, or if you have a few to dispose of, cruddy apples, and chop them up in sizes appropriate to the estrogen level of your blender.  My blender is a Vita Mix…. very high estrogen level!

Nice thing about high estrogen blenders is less need for chopping.  I could have left them bigger than this but there is a splatter factor involved in large chunks, especially when using low amounts of liquid.
(Note I left the skins on – why waste good nutrition?)

I used half of a large apple and one small apple without cores.

Add about a Tablespoon of water and start the blender on low.

Add water as needed to get the stuff spinning and pourable.

It looks pretty in the blender – kind of cosmic… Could it be a vastly dense apple vortex that is slowly pulling everything in to its center?  How can a black hole, or in this case and apple hole pull things in when the universe is expanding?  And if the universe itself is expanding, shouldn’t I be able to open my mind enough to try something new on pancakes?  Who knew an expanding universe could be so inspiring?  Sorry, I’ll get back to the Apple Drizzle now…

To the pourable apple mixture I added 1 teaspoon of maple syrup and a pinch of salt.

It was awesome as applesauce and I think it would be great on pancakes or French toast as well.

And one last action shot to demonstrate the thickness I settled on (more water would make yours runnier)…

Dates and apples both have sugar, but not as much as maple syrup or honey!  Plus you’ve added other nutrients by grinding up whole foods.  Win win and truly yum yum.  Try these ideas with other fruits and let us know what you come up with!

As far as getting your child to try ‘sweets substitutes,’  I have had luck with a few techniques:
I try not to emphasize that the new item is sweet – it can only fall short of the cupcake he received for a classmate’s birthday at school on the Ka-Pow Sugar Richter Scale (KPSRS).

Emphasize the other flavors and that it is yummy.  Describe the snappy cinnamon, or delicious apple flavor, or you know how you like dates?…. You’re going to love this date cream, it’s soooo good.

So let us soldier on in the quest to bring sugar consumption for ourselves and our loved ones to a manageable and healthy level.  It is indeed an on-going battle.  For me, the battle rages the strongest at the breakfast table.

Breakfast in Bed

Rolled Oats

“How do you feel about oatmeal, buddy?”

“I feel yes about oatmeal.”

“You mean you want some right now?”

“No, I mean oatmeal is yes.  Especially with a little syrup.  And it’s warm and makes my stuffy nose clear up.”

So there you have it folks, the word from the experts on oatmeal is YES.

For the last day of the pre-Easter season, I want to return to Sugar Busting that breakfast bowl.  Have you re-visited oatmeal yet?  REALLY?  In my last oatmeal-related post, I pointed out to you that oatmeal is WAY cheaper than boxed breakfast cereal, that it packs much more of a nutritional wallop, and that it is WAY lower in sugar than most options.  What I failed to point out explicitly is that a serving size for oatmeal is also much smaller because of the whole expandy thing when cooked with liquid.  So when the serving size on the carton says 1/2c, that is actually a reasonable quantity for a person.  Boxed cereals often say 1/2 to 3/4c, which as Big Sis pointed out the other day, is not enough cereal for most reasonably hungry people; I’m pretty sure that’s not even enough for my 5 year olds.  So all of the nutrition and price differences are actually that much bigger.  One serving of oatmeal is a true serving, with less than one gram of sugar.  One serving of Frosted Flakes, on the other hand, is only 3/4c, and has 11 grams of sugar; so if you eat more than 3/4c, like say 1.5c, that’s 22g of sugar.  That’s just 1g shy of a Nestle Crunch Caramel bar. How’s that for a nourishing breakfast?

Not sure you eat that much cereal? I wasn’t either until several years ago when my husband and I were both following a Weight Watchers program. Nothing gets you honest about quantity faster than measuring every flipping bit. I’m not going suggest that you do that, because frankly, it’s annoying, but just for the sake of reality, you may want to measure that morning cereal just ONCE to see how much you are really eating. Then take a look at that label and see how it pans out for you. If it’s more than 5 grams of sugar (a serving of oatmeal with one teaspoon of brown sugar), then perhaps the time has come for an oatmeal revelation.

My Low-Tech Crock Pot

Here I am making the case for oatmeal again, and this is when you say: “It takes too long,” which is where we left off last time. I pointed out that it takes between 5 and 12 minutes to cook oatmeal. To which you say: “You don’t understand what it’s like around here in the morning.” And I say: “But wait, there’s another answer… how’d you like to wake up to breakfast that’s already made?” Five minutes of nighttime prep and you can be in low-sugar oatmeal heaven in the morning. How, you say? Our old 1970′s friend, the Crock Pot. Oh yes, the Crock Pot.

For hot overnight oatmeal, I prefer to use steel cut oats as they hold up to the long low heat better, in my opinion. Steel cut tend to be slightly more expensive than rolled oats, but if you DON’T get the ones in the fancy can (which is lovely, I agree), the price difference is less. I can buy them in bulk for the same price as rolled oats, so if you have a store with a bulk section, this might be a good option for you as well. There are also plenty of folks who used rolled oats in crock pots and recipes online abound. For either type, basically you mix it all up the night before and give it 7-8 hours to cook and voila, it’s hot and delicious, waiting for you. You can’t get much easier or faster than that, friends.

SIMPLE OVERNIGHT STEEL CUT OATS

  • oil for pot
  • 2 cups steel cut oats
  • 8 cups liquid – I mixed mine half water, half almond milk
  • cinnamon or nutmeg to taste

VERY lightly oil the bowl of the Crock Pot.  Add ingredients.  Stir.  Cook for 7-8 hours on low.  When you open the lid, it may not look like yummy oatmeal, but this is a result of the long low cook.  Give it a stir, and voila, there’s your hot oatmeal, ready to go.  Serve with preferred oatmeal toppings.  Here’s where you say: “THAT’S IT?!”  And I say, “Yes, that’s it.”  Many people like to cook apples, dried fruit, nuts, whatever, in with their oatmeal.  We tend to like the texture that these items add when put in individual bowls in the morning.  This also allows for more individual choice (pretty much a necessity with two five year olds). Delish.

Fancy Crock Pot Feature for $4.

A Note On Crock Pots: There are a variety of Crock Pots and slow cookers on the market and you can spend very little or a whole lot. There are also LOTS of people who have Crock Pots in the back of their cabinets that they don’t use. Ask around, see what you can dig up. But wait, you say, the new ones have timer functions and all sorts of other cool features. To which I say, yes, they do and you will pay for it. Unless you’re planning on doing a WHOLE lot of Crock Pot cooking (which I do), I’d like to suggest that you consider my ridiculously simple solution: the cheapest Crock Pot you can find with one of these  little numbers.  Four dollar wall timer.  Worked like a charm.  So if you have an old Crock Pot, your Aunt Martha has an old Crock Pot, or if you’re lucky like me and attended a White Elephant holiday party with a bunch of younger folks who couldn’t imagine the utility of a Crock Pot, slap that timer on there and you have breakfast in bed (because you could actually cook it in your room, you know) ready to go.  Hot Diggity!

Reducing Sugar One Teaspoon at a Time

All of this health information and all of this negative focus on sugar may leave you feeling a little overwhelmed… or maybe throwing your hands up and saying, “What can I do?  Bad and nasty sugar is everywhere!!!” (And I like it!!)  Well, I like it too, but I used to be so inundated with it that nothing tasted sweet to me unless it was ridiculously sweet.  You may find that cutting the sugar out a bit at a time will not be missed as much as you think.

Here are some suggestions for cutting the pernicious sugar in your life.  (I will be employing the thesaurus function as I describe sugar in this post – just a warming.)  As Little Sis suggested in Lessons From the Cereal Aisle, you can work on a single item at a time (like cereal).  Set a goal for how much destructive sugar you are comfortable having in your bowl.  One teaspoon?  Two teaspoons?  One teaspoon is about 4.5 grams of nasty sugar and two teaspoons is about 9 grams, so if you are comfortable with 9 grams of insidious sugar in your cereal, make sure all of the cereal in the house is less than 9 grams for the amount you would have in your bowl.  (Often serving sizes are very small in the nutrition information)  I can’t say that I’ve ever been satisfied by 1/2 cup of cereal in the morning!

You can do this with other items as well.  Find flavored or fruited yogurt that has less harmful sugar than other brands.  This is very difficult, although Greek yogurt tends to have less.  We used to buy a brand called Cascade that had 16 grams of appalling sugar (still almost 4 teaspoons!) which was the lowest I could find at the time.  Try the mixing approach that Little Sis suggested for cereal.  Mix half plain and half flavored or fruited yogurt to cut the dreadful sugar in half.  Even better, buy plain and fresh fruit, dried fruit and/or nuts, cinnamon or vanilla.  Cinnamon is naturally sweet and can also be used on cereal to reduce the need for ghastly sugar as a sweetener.  And if you need to add some terrible sugar to make it palatable, I bet you can get away with less than the 5 – 8 teaspoons found in most 6oz. containers of yogurt.

Look at the beverages you are drinking.  This is a huge place to reduce your horrific sugar intake.  Please stop drinking soda, vitamin water and other sweetened beverages.  Really.  There is 10 and more teaspoons per can of soda.  I know, it’s easier said than done… here are some things to try:

  1. Cut back.  Just reduce by one a day for a set period of time.  Then reduce by another.  If you’re only drinking one sweetened beverage a day (and personally I think this includes juice as well), then cut it in half.  Something of a waste of money, but hey if you replace the other half with water at least you’re not spending more!
  2. Mix it.  Especially juice is easy to water down a little – or soda water down which gives some nice bubbly as well.  Can’t say I’ve tried watering down soda, but if you want to make a smaller serving seem bigger, serve it over LOTS of ice.
  3. Find something new.  Water is your best choice, but if you find some herbal tea that you like, you can make a big batch, refrigerate it and drink that instead.  It will have some flavor.  If you have to add a teaspoon per 8 or 12 ounce serving you are still cutting back.

Find substitutions for the cruel sugary things in your life.  Here is a recipe we are using to replace granola and energy bars which can also be loaded with spiteful sugar.

LEMON KISSED CASHEW HEMP BARS (Raw, vegan, gluten and soy free)
Makes 12 bars (6 for a more generous snack)

  • 1 cup cashews
  • 1 cup pitted dates
  • 1/3 cup hemp seeds (I used pumpkin seeds as I didn’t have any)
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp lemon zest

Place the cashews in a food processor and process till ground up.  Add the dates and hemp seeds and pulse repeatedly.  Then, add the lemon and lemon zest and leave the motor on until the whole thing has formed a big, uniform, sticky ball.  Take a large sheet of saran wrap and place it over the bottom of a small baking dish. Press the mixture down into it, till it’s even in thickness.  Cover with another sheet of saran, and freeze for at least 30 minutes.  Unwrap the “dough,” lay the rectangle flat on a cutting surface, and cut into 12 bars.  Wrap up individually and store in the fridge or freezer till ready to eat. I’m not sure how long they’ll keep, but I suspect up to two weeks is perfectly fine, and longer if you freeze them.
I got this recipe from a great site called choosing raw : http://www.choosingraw.com/sweet-snacking-lemon-kissed-cashew-hemp-bars/

A few other places to reduce the amount of icky sugar in your diet:

  1. Reduce the amount you put in coffee.
  2. Substitute cinnamon sugar that is mostly cinnamon and used sparingly for jelly or jam.
  3. Eat a piece of fruit instead of drinking a glass of juice.
  4. Check labels and buy brands with less wounding sugar or make your own.

If you try to change your whole diet in a week you will more than likely go back to your old ways, or miss them terribly.  I have found that I do not miss my old diet because I feel better – so give yourself some time to make and FEEL changes.  You might even see changes in the mirror and on the scale.  For more info on changing your diet one teaspoon or one change at a time see Baby Steps & Baby Steps Add up to Big Healthy Steps.

Real Breakfast You DO Have Time For

Our week of Sugar Busting continues and we’re going to stay in that breakfast bowl, because honestly, there is a lot to do there.  Cold cereal is a wonder of the modern world.  It is fast.  It is easy.  And it is nutritious… well, okay, so that’s not always true.  In fact, in many cases cold cereal delivers a high sugar/low nutrition bang for a relatively large buck.  You may feel that you don’t have time for anything else, and I imagine that there many reasons that could lead you to feel that cold cereal or pre-packaged breakfast bars are the only realistic option.  I’d like to suggest that for 10 minutes of preparation, you could have a much healthier breakfast waiting for you in the morning.  C’mon, you know what I’m going to say, right?

OATMEAL

  • $3.99/42 oz = .10¢ per ounce
  • Less than one gram sugar
  • 4g dietary fiber
  • 5g protein

FROSTED FLAKES

  • $3.99/13 oz = .31¢ per ounce
  • 11 grams sugar
  • 1g dietary fiber
  • 1g protein

CHEERIOS

  • $3.69/14 oz = .26¢ per ounce
  • 1 gram sugar
  • 3 grams dietary fiber
  • 3 grams protein

Yes, of course, you were right, because what else could it be besides our old friend oatmeal.  Ok, so I’m not re-inventing the wheel here by suggesting that a little oatmeal might do you some good, but I think where food is concerned, so much of what we choose to do is driven by habit.  So I’m going to suggest that those of you who want to make affordable, healthy, real food, low-sugar breakfasts, give oatmeal another looky-loo.  Maybe you’re ready for an oatmeal habit.  No, not the packets that have all kinds of other bits besides oatmeal and cost a whole lot more, the plain old oatmeal in the cardboard container that you can turn into a drum when it’s empty (we try to keep things exciting around here).

There are MANY ways to prepare oatmeal, which is part of what is so great about it.  If you want to just give it a go for the first time since you were a kid, you should know that microwave preparation of a bowl of oatmeal takes approximately 5 minutes, including measuring.  Stovetop takes about 12.  I’m going to assume you can read the back of that cardboard box, but thought I would highlight how little time it actually takes.  My current favorite combination: 1/2c oatmeal cooked in 1c almond milk topped with a couple of chopped dates and walnuts.  Delish.  Not ready for unsweetened oatmeal yet?  Go ahead, give yourself a pinch of brown sugar.  If you stay under a teaspoon, you’re still under 5 total grams of sugar and you get the other goodies to go with it.  Cut back that sugar over time and let your taste buds learn how sweet a handful of raisins can be. Baby steps in the right direction have it all over standing completely still.

Still think it takes too long?  I’ve got some oatmeal shortcuts on the way.  And if you’re lucky, I’ll let you see the picture of the asparagus I picked from my patch.  YUM!!