A healthy way to start your day? Oats of course!

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Warm, creamy, yummy- and good for you! :)

Oatmeal- warm, creamy, yummy- and good for you! ūüôā

What is your typical breakfast like? Do you grab a quick bowl of cereal before running out the door? I used to eat cereal in the morning too. Here’s the thing though, that isn’t your healthiest option and here’s why. While it seems to be something good (and quick) to eat in the morning, cereal is loaded with fillers that add no nutrition, it’s processed which is never good, and has additives that can be harmful to your mood, behavior and biochemistry. And that is NO GOOD! Breakfast cereals can¬†also contain numerous chemicals, gluten, casein, trans fat, sugar, artificial sweeteners, high fructose corn syrup, and genetically modified flavor enhancing compounds. Yikes, none of that stuff is the kind of thing I want to put in my body!

So what do you eat when you want a HEALTHY START to your day, and you need it quickly too? Why, oats of course! Oatmeal or granola with oats is one of the best ways to start your day, and I will show you how to make it so that you can have a delicious, nutritious,¬†and quick breakfast. My daughters are obsessed with this meal, and ate it twice while they were home for Thanksgiving. It’s easy, warm, comfort food that’s healthy- win win! Oats are low calorie, one cup of oatmeal cooked with water has about 166 calories, add 40 calories if you cook them with milk (like I do), and if you top with fruit add another 40 calories. Oatmeal provides about 4 grams of fiber per cup, which makes it filling and adds to the satiety of oatmeal. It’s considered a low-energy density food, which means that there are relatively few calories compared to the bulk of the food. In a 2010 study published in the “Journal of American Dietetic Association”, people who ate oats in the morning lost weight and enjoyed a greater decrease in their waist circumference measurement than those who ate the same number of calories in a low fiber food. So are you sold on the idea of eating oats in the morning? Good! Then stick with me and I’ll show you how it’s done!

Gluten free oats are a must for my family!

Gluten free oats are a must for my family!

First, things first, it’s all about the oats you choose. There are different kinds of oats on the market, whole oats that still have their hard outer hull, oat groats that have their outer hull removed, steel-cut oats, which are roughly cut groats with an intact bran, and rolled oats, which are steamed, flattened groats. The less processed oats are better for you (naturally) so make sure to avoid instant oatmeal which has added sodium, and oatmeal with flavors added because it’s usually not added naturally. Something I didn’t know until my daughter had a gluten allergy is that NOT all oats are gluten free so I have to make sure to purchase gluten free oats for Danielle. However, I also have steel cut oats at home, they just require a longer cooking time, and I can’t make them when Danzy is in da houz!

Cooking the oats on the stove!

Cooking the oats on the stove!

I usually cook the oats on the stove using milk as shown in the above pic, however, if you don’t have time to cook the oats in the morning here’s a tip for you. Cook the oats in a slow cooker the night before! Take¬†one cup of¬†steel cut oats, 1 1/2 cups milk or if you’re dairy free you can¬†use almond milk, 1 1/2 cups water, 2 apples, peeled, cored, cut into 1/2 inch pieces, 2 tablespoons maple syrup, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 1 1/2 teaspoons of butter, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and FIRST SPRAY THE INSIDE OF THE SLOW COOKER WITH ORGANIC NONSTICK SPRAY (or¬†the oatmeal will¬†stick like glue), and add all the ingredients. Stir, cover, and cook on low for approximately 7 hours. But remember cook times can vary, so¬†if you have a programmable slow cooker make sure¬†to use the timer feature. You can put the ingredients in¬†your¬†slow cooker the night before and¬†awaken to the amazing smell of oats and apples! Either way you cook them, the leftovers store well in the¬†fridge and will even freeze well too.

Homemade applesauce mix in- it's amazing!

Homemade applesauce mix in- it’s amazing!

For me, the key to delicious oatmeal is the mix-ins ingredients with which I choose to flavor the oats. Pictured above is my favorite mix-in, my homemade applesauce. I shared the recipe in my previous post, “An Apple a Day- Makes Applesauce!”, and when added to oatmeal it tastes like healthy apple pie- scrumptious! Just add a few tablespoons of applesauce to your oatmeal (or more if you really like it, like I do) for great flavor with no sugar added.

Pecans- my favorite nut!

Pecans- my favorite nut!

My next favorite mix-in for my oatmeal is nuts, specifically pecans. Pecans are my favorite nuts and I add them to many of my recipes. I chop them and add a sprinkle to my oatmeal. The nuts add a nice crunch and additional fiber and protein too. Definitely a healthy add-in!

Love, love, love raisins!

Love, love, love raisins!

Another flavorful and healthy add-in is raisins. Organic raisins add natural sweetness, fiber and iron to the oatmeal. Plus I love when I put them in the oatmeal and the heat and moisture makes them plump up and get really juicy. So very good!

A great addition to oatmeal!

A great addition to oatmeal!

I love adding maple syrup to oatmeal instead of sugar. It adds a deep, rich flavor that I think tastes better than sugar and goes well with the cinnamon rich applesauce that I’ve already added to my oatmeal. As you can tell we like maple syrup so much that we used it all that morning!

It's a honey of a mix-in!

It’s a honey of a mix-in!

Honey is another great addition to oatmeal. It definitely adds a natural sweetness that substitutes for sugar and tastes light and sweet in the oatmeal.¬†It is always my go-to natural sweetener as I discussed in my post, “A Honey of a Cure!”. Try it, you’ll like it!

I always add a pat of butter to my oatmeal for decadent richness!

I always add a pat of butter to my oatmeal for decadent richness!

Butter is another essential for my oatmeal. It adds a creaminess to it and in my opinion nothing else adds that same richness that butter does. And now that we know butter is good for us as I wrote in my past blog post, “Fat doesn’t make you Fat!”, I can eat my butter and be happy! It’s a yummy mix-in!

Spices like cinnamon and nutmeg add tons of flavor and are good for you too!

Spices like cinnamon and nutmeg add tons of flavor and are good for you too!

Don’t forget your spices! Cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, etc, can add substantial flavor to your oatmeal and are non-caloric. It’s like loads of flavor for zero calories! I always add cinnamon to my oatmeal (and many other things as well). It really gives it a warmth that makes it delicious.

So that’s how I make amazing oatmeal! I make it either on the stove or in the slow cooker, but it’s¬†super both ways¬†thus it really doesn’t matter how you cook it. Make sure you don’t use processed oatmeal with artificial flavors, and make your mix-ins healthy and flavorful without adding sugar if possible. Let me know what mix-ins you like to use. You’ve got it now? Ditch the cereal and eat oatmeal. It will help you to live a life of vitality- like Valerie!

The best fall breakfast ever!

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Jacsy enjoying my Apple Cinnamon Pancakes last weekend!

Jacsy enjoying my Apple Cinnamon Pancakes last weekend!

Hello, wonderful readers! I have a great one for you today! This is a breakfast I’ve been making lately and it is¬†THE quintessential fall meal. It’s delicious and warm- just what you need for this time of year. It’s an easy peasy way to make apple cinnamon pancakes¬†and eating this in the morning will make your day complete!

I've included the recipe for my dear friend Chris' applesauce so you can make it if you don't already have it!

I’ve included the recipe for my dear friend Chris’ applesauce so you can make it if you don’t already have it!

Ok, I have to admit that this isn’t my healthiest recipe since it starts with a pancake mix, and this mix is not a whole grain mix, which I normally insist on. My Honey brought it home one day and while I was disapproving at first,¬†I have to admit that it makes delicious pancakes. Plus, the apple and¬†pecans¬†in it ups the fiber and nutritional content so that helps.¬†Additionally, when paired with an egg and bacon, you get your protein which is so important for energy,¬†and helps to balance¬†the empty carbs.¬†Just remember, everything in moderation, so don’t eat these every day or have 16 of them at one time and you’ll be fine! If you use a whole grain pancake mix it would be even healthier so do that and you can eat guilt free!

Main ingredients needed for Apple Cinnamon Pancakes!

Main ingredients needed for Apple Cinnamon Pancakes!

This is a quick and easy recipe that I made up a few weeks ago when I had a lot of applesauce that I had made and I wanted to use it up. So here is what you do, you start with a good pancake mix and instead of adding oil to it, I added¬†1/2 cup of my homemade applesauce and two tablespoons of apple cider. I also added 1/3 cup of chopped pecans and a teaspoon of cinnamon for additional yumminess (I don’t think that’s a word but oh well!). Then, I followed the rest of the recipe on the mix as usual.

Apple Cinnamon Pancakes sizzling in the pan! Yummm!

Apple Cinnamon Pancakes sizzling in the pan! Yummm!

As the pancakes are cooking up in the pan, I sprinkle a tad bit of cinnamon on the top of them to add a little more spice.

A plate of Applewood Smoked Bacon- AKA a plate of heaven!

A plate of Applewood Smoked Bacon- AKA a plate of heaven!

As the pancakes are cooking, I have already been frying the bacon in a separate pan so the bacon is finished approximately the same time as the pancakes. Then, I put the eggs in the same pan I just got the bacon out of and fry them in a teaspoon of butter, after draining the bacon grease. I leave the bits of bacon in there because I think it makes the eggs taste better.

I took the broken yolk egg, always the sacrificing Mom!

I took the broken yolk egg, always the sacrificing Mom!

Now here’s the best part, I take a bowl, put about a cup and a half of applesauce in it, microwave it for 1 minute or until warm but not boiling, and that becomes the topping for the pancakes. When the pancakes come out of the pan, I butter them and spread a bit of the warmed applesauce on top of them. The warm, sweet, cinnamony flavor on top of the buttery pancakes is one of the best things on earth! The delectable apples and cinnamon smell stays in your house most of the day which is an added bonus. If you don’t have homemade applesauce you can use jarred but it won’t taste as good as if you made it with your own, two hands. It’s definitely worth the time it takes! So that’s one of my favorite breakfasts lately and I promise if you try it you will absolutely love it. The applesauce and cider in the pancakes, combined with the warm applesauce on top of the pancakes takes the apple flavor to the next level in this dish. I hope you’ll try these. Let me know how you like them when you try them. They’ll make your day and help you to live a life of vitality- like Valerie!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An apple a day- makes applesauce!

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My dear friend and mentor, Chris, with Danielle when she was a fourth grader!

My dear friend and mentor, Chris, with Danielle when she was a fourth grader!

It’s definitely apple time, isn’t it? Cooler days and¬†crisp evenings make me think about fall, and fall makes me think about apples. Now we all know that apples are good for us, right? The saying, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away” came from the knowledge that apples are a healthy choice that we can enjoy every day for maximum benefits. However, I didn’t realize just how good apples are for us until I began to do research on the topic for this post. My research findings give me a new appreciation for apples¬†that I want to share with¬†you. I also want to show you a quick and easy applesauce recipe that was given to me by my dear friend and co-teacher Chris Dowling, who passed away too many years ago. I make her applesauce every fall in memory of her and because it’s DELICIOUS AND EASY.

So what’s in an apple that makes it good for us? Thanks for asking, I’ll tell you! Well first of all, apples are full of vitamin C, B complex vitamins, dietary fiber, phytonutrients, antioxidants, calcium, potassium and phosphorus. All of these important nutrients do some amazing things for us. One cool thing apples do for us is to help improve our neurological health thanks to an antioxidant called “quercetin” which helps our cells not to die off from oxidation and inflammation of neurons. Another thing apples do is to help prevent dementia because of that whole antioxidant keeping our cells from dying thing. That’s obviously a very good thing that apples do! Apples also help reduce our risk of stroke. In a study done over a 28 year period involving 9208 men and women, they found that people who ate the most apples over that period of time had the lowest risk for stroke. Wow! Would you like to reduce your risk of diabetes? Then eat three servings per week of¬†apples! In a study of 187,382 people they found that people who ate apples had a 7% lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes than those¬†who didn’t eat them. Another awesome thing about apples is they may help ward off breast cancer by eating one per day. Are all of these compelling reasons for you to eat an apple every day?! They are for me!

My wonderful friend's recipe written by her! One of my most precious posessions!

My wonderful friend’s recipe written by her! One of my most precious possessions!

Every year Chris Dowling’s fourth grade classes made applesauce in the fall after a visit to the apple orchard. I was blessed to help in her classroom as she taught both of my daughters, to teach with her for 2 1/2 years, and to call her my friend and mentor. After she passed I made applesauce with my classes as well. This recipe is so easy even a fourth grader can follow it. I made some slight changes based on my feelings about sugar (remember sugar=bad!) which I’ll share with you now.

My ingredients are gathered. Let the peeling begin!

My ingredients are gathered. Let the peeling begin!

The first thing I do is wash the apples with Veggie Wash. I know we are peeling but I like to make sure no residue accidentally ends up in my applesauce. Oh, and I make sure that my apples are local and organically grown if possible. Then, I start peeling, and peeling, and peeling! I know some people have those fancy gadgets that peel and core apples at the same time and if you don’t want to peel then go for it. I don’t mind peeling apples though so that’s how I roll. I’ve also made this applesauce by not peeling the apples, just chopping them and throwing them in. I couldn’t tell the difference, but if you or your family is picky about peels (Like Danielle is) then get rid of them. What I do is peel 5 at a time, and while my hand is recovering from all of that peeling I chop the apples and add them to the crockpot. Then, I can make sure I don’t peel more than I need to. I also discard the core and seeds because no one wants to find hard core pieces and seeds in their applesauce!

After peeling the apples, chop them into small pieces to add to the crockpot!

After peeling the apples, chop them into small pieces to add to the crockpot!

After you’ve peeled and chopped a crockpot full of apples, then you can pat yourself on the back because the hard part is done! Peeling and chopping can be made easier by having helpers for that part of the chore. As they say, “many hands make light work” or in this case “many hands make yummy applesauce” but at any rate if you can browbeat, umm I mean convince your family to help you out with this activity, it will definitely be easier for you and go faster too.

Apples are in, ingredients added, and it's ready for cooking!

Apples are in, ingredients added, and it’s ready for cooking!

Now is the time to add the other ingredients and this is where I’ve taken a slight detour in the recipe. I don’t add sugar and here’s why. I think the applesauce doesn’t need the sugar, the apples are sweet enough on their own, and I always try to save calories when I can. I add a tablespoon of honey instead of the sugar, but you really don’t need any sweetener in there. If you want to skip all sweeteners I promise you won’t be disappointed! I add a hefty amount of cinnamon though because I really like the flavor of it in the applesauce. And then, guess what? That’s it! Cook the applesauce on¬†high for 5 or 6 hours and stir often. The reason I like to stir it is that when I lift the lid the most delicious aroma of cooking apples and cinnamon comes wafting out of the crockpot. It is a mouthwatering smell, let me tell you. Your entire house will smell like baking apples and cinnamon and it’s truly a wonderful thing.

The finished product- sooooo delicious!

The finished product- sooooo delicious!

Here’s the great thing about this applesauce, it’s so versatile. I use it as a warm sauce over vanilla frozen yogurt, as a chunky topping for pancakes, on top of oatmeal, or just by itself. It tastes good hot or cold, but I prefer it warm. I’ve sprinkled nuts on top of it which adds a crunchiness to it, and Danielle likes to top it with whipped cream. The possibilities are endless! Another great thing about this applesauce is that a half cup of unsweetened applesauce is only 50 calories! Wow, that’s great bang for your caloric buck! If you make Chris’ applesauce recipe let me know how you like to eat it. So now you know that apples are really good for you, that they’re rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, that you can avoid diabetes, breast cancer, stroke, dementia, and have improved neurological health by eating apples. I’ve also shared a quick and delicious applesauce recipe that I hope you’ll try at home some time. Eat an apple a day which will keep the doctor away, and allow you to live a life of vitality- like Valerie! ūüôā