snack time pm

You’ve heard the news… unprocessed food is IN. Processed junk is OUT! As a follow-up to my tips for not eating processed food, here are some snack ideas to make your life easier.

SNACK WARM-UP: The number one easy, quick, filling, nutrient-rich, tasty snack is…

apple sandwich pm ants on a log pm

FRUITS AND VEGGIES WITH NUTS AND SEEDS – With endless variations and different consumption mechanisms, this is what you can fall back on when everything is moving too fast. A pear with a handful of cashews… nothing could be easier. My gym owner carries around carrots. Like whole carrots. And then eats them when she’s hungry in the car. In her words, “every meal doesn’t have to be a party in her mouth.” My kids eat apple slices dipped in peanut butter most days of the week. I always have what I need to make myself ants-on-a-log (celery with almond butter and raisins). Sunflower seed butter is a great option when nut allergies are a concern. I attempt to be as seasonal as I can with my fruit and veggie purchasing. So right now we are all enjoying apples, pears and persimmons with almonds and pumpkin seeds.


popcorn pm

POPCORN - Dress it up or dress it down, popcorn is a cheap crowd pleaser. It is pretty much a given that if I’m entertaining kids at my house there are empty bowls of popcorn strewn throughout the house. I use lots of coconut oil in my stove top popcorn popper and am generous with the seasonings at the end. This is my favorite popper that I’ve used and abused for YEARS: Wabash Valley Farms 25008 Whirley-Pop Stovetop Popcorn Popper (Affiliate link).

tomato feta pm

TOMATO, FETA, BEAN, BASIL SALAD – Who knew this salad could be so easy and so portable? It may look more like lunch (because it could be), but it also is my most recent FAVORITE afternoon bite to get me through the afternoon slump and on to the evening. You simply chop up a tomato (I find Roma tomatoes to be the most portable), cube an ounce of feta cheese, chop up a few leaves of basil, then layer it all with a quarter cup of drained and rinsed beans. Drizzle some balsamic vinegar over the top and add a pinch of salt and pepper if that sounds good.

And check it out, you can manipulate this salad into hundreds of versions: swap the tomato for cucumber, swap the feta for goat cheese, cottage cheese, parm shavings (or omit the cheese altogether), swap the beans for whatever bean you have that you like (or omit altogether), swap out the basil for any other fresh herb like cilantro, parsley, oregano, change the balsamic to another kind of vinegar or to olive oil, or to hot sauce.

energy bites pm

ENERGY BITES - These are a kid favorite, and though the recipe calls for peanut butter, I’ve made all mine with almond butter. I also skimp on the honey a little and use the mini chocolate chips or raisins. Go to the recipe by Gimmesomeoven, you’ll be glad you did.

hummus boats pm

HUMMUS BOATS – I’ve made a lot of hummus in my day, but the moment it showed up in a “boat” my kids went crazy. It may look fancy, but it is really not. I simply use a melon baller for the cucumber and take the smallest amount out. I simply remove the stem from the mushroom. I simply cut the bell peppers a little wider than usual. Plop on the hummus (my go to recipe can be found here) and serve.

cider jellies pm

APPLE CIDER JELLIES - My son made these the other day without much help from me after I hollered the ratio of one cup liquid to one tablespoon Great Lakes gelatin. We had apple cider from our recent trip to the apple orchards near us, and just like that these snacks were invented. Bring one cup of a sweet juice to almost a boil, stir in the gelatin until dissolved. Take off the heat, pour into a mold (the more flexible the better to get them out), and place in the fridge for an hour or so until hardened.  Pop out of the molds and enjoy!

ferments pm

FERMENTED SNACKS - Probably the number one thing I’d recommend to most people working on ditching processed foods would be to make choices that improve gut health. A great place to start is to incorporate probiotic, fermented foods into your snack routine. My choices include, kefir smoothies, kombucha drinks, fermented pickles, fermented sauerkraut, and yogurt parfait. Quality matters with these snacks. You need to do the research to make sure you are making or purchasing items that truly improve gut health. Pickles with added corn syrup or vinegar are not working for you. Store bought kefir and yogurt with added sugar and “natural flavors” aren’t great options either – you must read the labels. There are great brands out there for these items, but there are MANY brands that are not so great.


So tell me, what real food snacks are big in your life? I’d love to hear them!

Looking for more info on going “unprocessed?” Check out this link to the post with my tips for getting started!

It’s October. Let’s Enjoy Treats, Not Mindlessly Gorge on Them. We Can Do This!

pumpkin blog ready

Welcome to October. This past week I had a little a-ha moment and wanted to share, in case it resonants with you as well.

Last weekend I made a few homemade treats for my husband’s birthday. It was so fun and so easy because I used ingredients that included sugar, flour and cream. With these ingredients everything was basically guaranteed to turn out dreamily (and it did!) I made brownies, cookies and chocolate ice cream – all the birthday boy’s favorites.

Then we had a few people over and we ate them. The end.

It should be the end, right? That’s how treats work in the perfect world:

  • There is something celebratory going on.
  • A person lovingly makes a special food using pronounceable ingredients.
  • A group of people come together and enjoy the treat in accompaniment with other fun activities.
  • And then we move on in our lives back to nutrient-rich conscious eating for our health.

But this is October, so that’s not how treats will roll out for most of us.

  • We will be bombarded with little packaged candies in every house, school and work cubby,
  • Pinterest-worthy Halloween themed treats will be at every event (big or small), and
  • Pumpkin spiced sugary hot drinks will somehow be desired and easily obtained every day.

I encourage us all to make this October the month we evaluate our mindless treat eating and drinking habits.

  • If you don’t feel like your energy is as high as you’d like it,
  • if your immunity is not as strong as you would like it,
  • if your belly is not as tight as you would like it,
  • if your mood is not as peppy as you would like it…

… then you may wish to experiment with turning treats back into what they were designed to be: a special celebratory accompaniment to other fun activities made and consumed with happiness and love. If consuming a treat won’t make you feel wonderful in every way, then SKIP IT!

If you love baking, hot sweet drink consuming, and the smell of pumpkin spice, then use your powers for good and make beautiful, autumn-y, cleaned-up, nutrient-rich, real foods using ingredients that build us up and power us forward. Here are a few of my recommendations:

Pumpkin Spice Mini Muffins from the Gracious Pantry — I use whole eggs or flax “eggs.” Egg whites are so 2000.

Pumpkin Spice Granola from Sally’s Baking Addiction — I say ditch the egg whites and use two extra tablespoons of coconut oil.

Upside Down Apple Tartlets from Elana’s Pantry found on Rubies and Radishes — Just go look at these. They are beautiful!! (I haven’t made them, just drooled on my computer over them.)

Pumpkin Spice Creamer from Coconut Mama — I don’t even like coffee and this looks yummy. I’m going to add it to my Chai tea!

Healthy Halloween Treats on Pinterest — There are SO many great ideas for ways to incorporate Halloween into your food without sky-diving out of a plane into ProcessedFoodTown and/or SugarVille. If you have the time, energy and creative spirit to throw a little holiday fun into your October, then I say you do it! And this Pinterest link leads to hundreds of ideas to get you started.

candy rain This is what SugarVille and ProcessedFoodTown looks like when the candy rains down. ;)

Enjoy October everyone!


Interested in the Lean.Green.Kitchen’s Halloween Manifesto? You’ll find it here:

Halloween Manifesto  Halloween Manifesto

Nectarine Ice Cream (non dairy, refined sugar free)

nectarine ice cream The first month with our new ice cream maker (affiliate link) was so much fun. I made fantastic vanilla, chocolate, and mint chocolate chip ice cream and wooed my friends and family. It was so splendidly summer, but once you have a little homemade ice cream, you then want it all the time. And there it was in the freezer calling my name each overly warm evening.

So I came up with this EASY recipe to clean up my ice cream act and celebrate the nectarines all around me without all the sugar and cream! It’s especially good with a few chocolate chips on top!

NECTARINE ICE CREAM (non dairy, refined sugar free)


  • 6-8 super ripe nectarines (the one’s you can get at the farm stand for super cheap because of their ripeness), roughly chopped
  • fresh squeezed lemon juice from 1/2 of a lemon
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1 13.5oz can coconut milk


  1. Place the chopped nectarines in a bowl or Ziploc bag and squeeze the lemon juice over them. Allow to sit at room temperature for 20 minutes or so.
  2. Puree nectarines with maple syrup and coconut milk in blender.
  3. Refrigerate puree.
  4. When chilled, pour into ice cream maker. Soft serve consistency was achieved after about 25 minutes in the ice cream maker.
  5. Enjoy at soft serve consistency or place into the freezer for harder ice cream texture.

I would guess this would work with peaches and apricots as well. And you could play with add-ins too, like chocolate chips, nuts, shredded coconut, etc. Report back if you make something great!

nectarine ice cream

Kids Clean Up: Taco Bell’s Pintos and Cheese

Taco Bell Beans

We are very due for a Kids Clean Up here at the Lean.Green.Kitchen. Since I’ve been working on perfecting my pinto bean recipe, I thought we could clean up one of my childhood fast food favorites: Taco Bell’s Pintos and Cheese side dish. The creamy beans, zesty sauce and flavorful cheese come together to make a filling, cheap grab-and-go snack or side. So the challenge is to duplicate this full flavored item while maintaining the thrifty quickness.

What We Are Cleaning Up


Taco Bell Pintos and Cheese Ingredients:

Beans: Pinto Beans, Soy Oil (Trans Fat Free Shortening With TBHQ And Citric Acid To Protect Flavor), Seasoning Blend (Salt, Sugar, Spice, Beet Powder [Color], Autolyzed Yeast Extract (Contains Gluten), Sunflower Oil, Maltodextrin [Corn, Potato, Tapioca], Inactivated Yeast, Corn Flour, Natural Flavors, Trehalose, Modified Corn Starch And Less Than 2% Silicone Dioxide As A Processing Aid).

Sauce: Modified Corn Starch, Maltodextrin, Paprika, Salt, Tomato Powder, Onion Powder, Spices, Garlic Powder, Yeast Extract (Contains Gluten), Extractives Of Paprika (Color), Xanthan Gum, Malic Acid, Caramel Color,Ascorbic Acid, Citric Acid, Trehalose, Natural Flavors, And Less Than 2% Silicon Dioxide Added As A Processing Aid.

Cheese: Cultured Pasteurized Milk, Salt, Enzymes, Annatto (Color), Anti-Caking Agent.

That’s a whole lot of yuck for a dish so simple, in my humble opinion! So I cleaned it up and have been enjoying my version ever since.

Pintos and Cheese Clean-Up

Beginning with the pinto beans, the best way I’ve found to have these ready to go, is to make a big batch of them in the crockpot for use all week long. (They can also be frozen for use later, if the batch makes more than you need.) I have tweaked a recipe I found many years ago by Little House of Veggies and it produces a pinto bean very close to the texture of the Taco Bell version.

Creamy Pinto Beans Recipe


  • 2 cups dried pinto beans (plus water for soaking overnight.)
  • 5 cups water
  • 1 medium onion, diced small
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3T tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1T cumin
  • 1t coriander
  • 1t chili powder
  • 1t garlic powder
  • 1t garlic salt
  • 1t salt
  • a few cranks from a pepper grinder or 1/2t ground pepper
  • 2 bay leaves


  1. Soak pinto beans overnight. Drain and discard soaking water.
  2. Place all ingredients in a crockpot and heat on low for ten hours.
  3. When finished, gently mash beans with potato masher to get to desired creaminess.
  4. Serve or cool to store in the refrigerator.

Preparation Time: 10 minutes

Cooking Time: 8 hours

Makes approximately 6 cups of beans.

Enchilada Sauce Recipe

Next we need a mild but flavorful enchilada sauce to pour over the top of our beans. This recipe from The Gracious Pantry is easy and makes a lot! You can plan out other fun enchilada sauce uses to go through all of it. The ingredient list is: olive oil, whole wheat pastry flour, chili powder, tomato sauce, water, ground cumin, garlic powder, onion powder. I made a half batch and it still made a quart of sauce! Find the recipe here: The Gracious Pantry Enchilada Sauce.


All we need now is to put it together with some cheese! You can use your favorite cheese (I used a local firehouse jack cheese that was super zing-y!), a cheese substitute (to make it vegan) or skip the cheese altogether and go for other fun toppers. I’ve added cilantro, radish slices, blue corn chips, sour cream and green onions to mine over the past few weeks.

You can also wrap it all up in a tortilla and have a Cleaned-Up version of a Taco Bell Bean and Cheese Burrito!


I think we hit this one out of the park. This is something cheap and easy that I can store in my fridge all week and pull out as necessary for a snack or a base for a quick meal. It is kid approved and can be jazzed up to make me happy too.

Taco Bell Beans

Pintos and Cheese might go really nicely with this Mexican Caesar Salad. Check it out!

Mexican Caesar Salad  Mexican Caesar Salad

Another crowd favorite meal with similar flavor profile and crockpot ease is the Crockpot Taco Soup. Have you tried this one?

Taco Soup  Crockpot Taco Soup

Kids Clean Up! The Shamrock Shake

Healthy Shamrock Shake Recipe

It is March and in the past that meant two things: 1. Time to celebrate my birthday and 2. Time to get my annual Shamrock Shake from Mickey Dees. Now-a-days it means: 1. Time to celebrate my son’s birthday and my birthday and 2. Time to get some ice cream to make my own healthy Shamrock Shake recipe.

What is a Shamrock Shake?

A Shamrock Shake is a minty green milkshake made famous by McDonalds and sold only during the month of St. Patrick’s Day (March 17th). It is not a healthy treat. It’s pretty disgusting. It contains 54 ingredients, most of them are chemicals from a lab and refined sugar or sugar-like products. It contains 820 calories and most horrendous to me, 115g of sugar. That is over 27 teaspoons of sugar which equals about a 1/2 a cup of sugar!!

This infographic by the Huffington Post lists out all the ingredients in an easy to view format. I highly encourage you to check it out real quick: What’s Really In That Shamrock Shake?

How can we clean this up? There are a few options here, depending on what level of splurging you are interested in and your dietary preferences. I’ve come up with three healthy Shamrock Shake recipes to meet your needs.

And the secret ingredient for that fun green color is… nutrient-rich fresh spinach. It adds color and you can’t even taste it! Boom, this Shamrock Shake just got a rocket boost to planet good-for-you.

Shake One. ShamROCK Your Socks Off Shake: This one is for those interested in a cleaner but still classic Shamrock Milkshake. It contains dairy and the ice cream contains sugar. It removes the laboratory chemicals and over half the sugar and adds our secret ingredient for that important green color! I have found Straus Organic Vanilla Bean Ice Cream to be the cleanest “real” ice cream in stores around my house. Look at the labels and find one with ingredients you believe should be in ice cream! Or you could make your own with this beautiful recipe from Ted Allen: Vanilla Ice Cream with Honey.

Healthy Shamrock Shake Recipe

Recipe: ShamROCK Your Socks Off Shake


  • 4 medium scoops of high quality organic vanilla ice cream (about two cups)
  • 1 cup of whole organic milk (you could also use cream or half and half if you’d like it really creamy)
  • 3/4 teaspoon of peppermint extract
  • 1 large handful of fresh spinach


  1. Blend it all up in a blender.
  2. Serve in two glasses. Can be topped with fresh whipped cream and a few mini chocolate chips if you are really going for it!

Preparation time: 5 minute(s)

Number of servings (yield): 2

Shake Two. SHAMrock Non-Dairy Shake: This one’s for my dairy-free crew and uses vanilla coconut milk ice cream and almond milk as “sham” dairy. You can make your own “ice cream” with this delicious recipe from Coconut Mama: Coconut Milk Vanilla Ice Cream. It’s easy if you have an ice cream maker. Or you can buy coconut milk vanilla ice cream, but note that they usually have some added ingredients that you wouldn’t use at home (like tapioca syrup, fructan, acacia gum, sunflower lecithin, locust bean gum and guar gum). I used Julie’s Organic Non-Dairy Coconut Milk Frozen Dessert (Simply Vanilla flavored) for this recipe.

Healthy Shamrock Shake Recipe

Recipe: SHAMrock Non-Dairy Shake


  • 4 medium scoops (or about 2 cups) of vanilla flavored coconut milk non dairy ice cream
  • 1 cup almond milk
  • 3/4 teaspoon peppermint extract
  • 1 large handful fresh spinach


  1. Blend it all up in a blender.
  2. Serve in two glasses. May be topped with a little dark chocolate shavings or a mint leaf.

Preparation time: 5 minute(s)

Number of servings (yield): 2

Shake Three. Get Lucky Shammy Smoothie: This one’s for those of us looking for big flavor and no refined sugar. Lots of nutrients and still big green fun. Shoot, you could have this one for breakfast. In fact, I just did. :)

Healthy Shamrock Shake Recipe

Recipe: Get Lucky Shammy Smoothie


  • 8oz frozen ripe bananas (about 1 1/2 bananas)
  • 1/2 cup coconut milk (almond milk would also work)
  • 2 Tablespoons maple syrup (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 large handful of fresh spinach


  1. Blend it all up in a high quality blender.
  2. Serve in two glasses. Top with a mint leaf.

Preparation time: 5 minute(s)

Number of servings (yield): 2

Enjoy this beautiful month everyone! Hope you find pots of gold at the end of the rainbow and find time for a cleaned up Shamrock Shake or two.

Healthy Valentine Treats

Healthy Valentine Treat

What if this year, instead of gorging on chalky little heart candies and overly processed chocolates in little packages, you truly shared your love with others and made nutrient-rich healthy valentine treats?

They are easy. They taste better. They feel special. They look fancy.

You’ll have a smile on your face while making them, and your recipients will have a smile on their face enjoying them. Win win. Happy Valentine’s Day everyone!

Healthy Valentine Treats

Recipe: Black Cherry Chip Non Dairy Ice Cream


  • 10oz frozen bananas
  • 16oz frozen black cherries (divided)
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 2t vanilla extract
  • 2/3 cup dark chocolate chips


  1. In quality blender, blend all ingredients EXCEPT for 4oz of frozen black cherries and chocolate chips. Blend until smooth like soft serve ice cream.
  2. Remove “ice cream” from blender into a tupperware container.
  3. Put remaining 4oz of frozen black cherries into blender and blend on low for just a few seconds until black cherries get chopped up a bit.
  4. Add chunky cherries and the chocolate chips to the “ice cream” and stir in with a spatula.
  5. Serve immediately for soft serve (delicious!!) or freeze until hard for scooping (also delicious!!). Can be garnished with whipped cream, chocolate sauce, magic shell or a few more chocolate chips. Goes especially well with brownies and port.

Preparation time: 10 minute(s)

Number of servings: 6ish (I mean let’s be honest, two of us may have taken a whole batch down at one point. But I also made a batch and served six people reasonable servings with some to spare for later.)

Healthy Valentine Treat

Big love to the Smitten Kitchen – her delicious recipe for brownie cookies made a MARVELOUS accompaniment to this treat. We made little “ice cream” sandwiches that were delectable!


Healthy Valentine Treat

Raspberry Secrets

Simply buy beautiful dark chocolate chips and a box of raspberries. Stick a chip into each raspberry and serve! Shhhh… it’s a secret that something this good is this easy.

Healthy Valentine Treats

Chocolate Dipped Strawberries

These are so easy and decadent! Place a saucepan with an inch or so of water in the bottom on the stove top and turn on heat to medium-low. Place a metal or glass mixing bowl on top (to make a double boiler) and pour in 1/2 cup of dark chocolate chips and a tablespoon of coconut oil. Use spatula to stir around until the chocolate and oil are melted and incorporated together.  Turn off heat. Dip clean, dry strawberries into the chocolate to cover and place on parchment lined cookie sheet. Once you are finished dipping your strawberries, place the cookie sheet in the refrigerator for 20 minutes or so (until chocolate is cool and hardened).  Go crazy and sprinkle shredded coconut or mini chocolate chips over them to beautify them for the big day, prior to placing them in the refrigerator.

Want more ideas? I’ve been pinning like crazy over on Pinterest as I see Valentine’s food that fits my real food lifestyle. Check out my Valentine Food board.

Also, Almond (True Joy) Bark would be a pretty beautiful treat.

Healthy Treat

And there are a few more ideas on this old blog post all about Cleaned Up Treats.

Healthy Treat

And don’t forget Kids Clean Up Magic Shell

Healthy Treat

And Kids Clean Up Chocolate Sauce!

Chocolate Syrup


Hope you and yours have a super lovey heart day!! 

Clean Up! Elderberry Syrup Immunity Booster


Happy January 2014! Today we are going to dive into our first Kids Clean Up of the year, but let’s define “Kids” as anyone between the ages of 2 and 110 – kind of a broad definition, so hang with me. And I love to start these kind of posts out by declaring “I’m not a doctor! I don’t even play one on t.v.” As though you couldn’t tell. I’m just a blogger sharing some info I’ve researched and a recipe made of real food that I think you might like to try. Do what’s right for you! Talk to your health experts, whoever they may be! This is just a little information in case you haven’t heard of Elderberry Syrup before…

With cold and flu season really ripping through the cold land, taking down the big and the little with coughs and aches and worse, I have suggested to no less than 10 people this week to look into the benefits of adding Elderberry Syrup to their daily regimen to keep immunity levels boosted. They are wonderful conversations because I’ve got great answers to all their questions. Kids love the taste! A serving of a teaspoon to a tablespoon (depending on how big you are and how your immunity is holding up) a day contains big calcium, vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin B6, betacarotene, potassium, iron, antioxidants, anthocyanins! It’s antiviral! And anti-inflammatory! It’s a beautiful color! Delish on pancakes!

On a serious note, for those of us attempting to avoid the H1N1 flu virus moving through the Sacramento region, this statement I found at Mercola.com sealed the deal that my family would be consuming Elderberry Syrup each day:

Antiviral components of elderberry fruit extract were tested and found to effectively inhibit Human Influenza A (H1N1 virus) in vitro, possibly by blocking the ability of the virus to infect host cells. The extract was so effective, that researchers compared it with the prescription medications Amantadine and Oseltamivir (Tamiflu).2


So off to the natural foods store, right?? Well yeah, but bring your credit card. This stuff is expensive!! And I want four people to consume it twice a day?? Oh boy. Only one thing to do… let’s clean this up and make our own!

Here’s what we are “cleaning up” – Black Elderberry Syrup. Seems funny to be cleaning it up, since I would recommend this product and have used it successfully before. But even “good” products can be made “great!”

photo 3

Ingredients: Black elderberry, acerola fruit, sugar cane, water, natural flavor from lemon juice.


The recipe I used to make my own can be found in this completely EASY (six-minute) tutorial video put together by Mountain Rose Herbs. You owe it to yourself to watch this video and see the ease of this process. It’s called simmer stuff in water. Then stir in honey. That’s all.

I followed their ingredient list (elderberries, honey, cinnamon, cloves, fresh ginger) with the following changes:

  • I used 2/3 cup of dried elderberries, instead of 1/2 cup.
  • I used 1t of ground cinnamon instead of the cinnamon stick.
  • I used beautiful local raw honey from my favorite honey guy at the farmers market to add in all the extra benefits of local pollen and more antioxidants.

I made two cups (16 ounces) in less than an hour. I used 2/3 cup of dried berries from the (approximately) 3.5 cups in the pound size bag. ($19.75 for a pound from Amazon). The ginger, cinnamon and cloves I had from other things, but we’ll say they cost $0.50 for those tiny amounts. The honey was more expensive than usual because my farmers market honey guy only had the small containers left, instead of the bulk jars at a much better deal. But I was desperate and at the market at the end of the day, so my bad. $12 for a pint (–no judging–) and I used half of it. Advanced math here, my batch cost $10 and some change for sixteen ounces. (And could be done even cheaper with a more reasonable priced local honey).

photo 4

At $7.33 per ounce at Whole Foods, that much would have cost me $117 regular or $82 on sale. Now that’s a clean up!!

Doesn’t take much to get this going! Here’s an affiliate link to grab those dried elderberries from Amazon: Elder Berries Whole Organic – 1 lb,(Frontier)

If you are not eating honey at this time and are still interested in the benefits of elderberries, this link to the Nourishing Herbalist is a beautiful recipe for a winter immunity tincture that highlights elderberry. It’s another (much cheaper) option.

Let me know if you give syrup a try. Be well!!

The Real Deal Hot Cocoa

photo 5

Happy December Everyone!

I am so excited about this month. After spending the month of November minimizing and purging my home, it is time for the rewards! The uncluttered space motivates me to take things to a new creative place. Plus, I know where to find my stuff now. Mega-bonus.

One way this is manifesting is through our Advent Calendar tradition for the kiddos. In past years, we have phoned it in with a 99 cent calendar from Trader Joe’s with a little milk chocolate candy for each day.

This year I wanted to use it as a tool to connect with each other, create with each other, and give to others together. I’ve had many people ask what we are doing, so I’m sharing — please know that we are in beta-mode on all this. I’m sure by next year I will have many lessons learned.

photo 2

I bought little envelopes and holiday tape and the kids and I decorated the envelopes, you know, to build suspense. :) Then I brainstormed a million ideas and stared at our calendar for a very long time and plugged in the ideas I think we can pull off. I sealed the envelopes very loosely with the tape so I can do some last-minute switch-a-roos if I need to as the days get closer. Then I did the smartest thing of all! I typed each day’s activity into the calendar on my phone so I can be prepared for what is coming next. I know, brilliant and a bit out of character for me.

December 1st was a big success. The note said, “Dear Ones, Happy December! Tonight we will drink hot cocoa together and make paper snowflakes to decorate our front window.” Because it was the end of the kids’ Thanksgiving vacation, we took the time to make homemade marshmallows to go on top. (SO EASY AND REWARDING, NOT TO BE MISSED – Marshmallow Link!!) After dinner we got right to it, the kids were VERY eager. It was a lovely evening, and our front window looks quite festive today. The husband even pulled off a Darth Vader snowflake, receiving ample praise from the littles.

Here’s the recipe for the hot cocoa we enjoyed. It is a tweak on a recipe from The Gracious Pantry. I highly, highly recommend making your own cocoa – it is so far superior to the chemical ladened packets from the store and the questionable ingredient list in Starbucks.

Recipe: Real Deal Hot Cocoa


  • 4 cups milk (any unsweetened kind will work, I use organic whole milk)
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1 1/2 t cinnamon
  • 3 T high quality unsweetened powdered cocoa


  1. Put it all in a saucepan and heat it up over medium heat while whisking away until serving temperature.
  2. Pour into cups and serve (preferably with homemade marshmallows!!!)

Preparation time: 1 minute(s)

Cooking time: 5 minute(s)

Number of servings (yield): 4

photo 2  My marshmallow helper.

photo 1  Dusted them with cocoa powder!

photo 4  Crazy snowflake cutting action.

photo  Window is looking good! (We don’t get snow here, so this is our winter wonderland.)

photo 1

For those interested in ideas, here is what one might find in the envelopes over the next 24 days…

Hello Dear Ones. Welcome to December! Tonight we will drink hot cocoa and cut out snowflakes to decorate the front window.

Hello Dear Ones. Let’s make a paper chain to countdown to the big day!

Hello Dear Ones. Today we will make rosemary wreaths for your bedroom doors!

Hello Dear Ones. Hidden in the back room is a present for your housemates. Enjoy! [Mom Note: The housemates are our cats and the kids really want to train them, so they will get some cats treats and a dangling stick toy.]

Hello Dear Ones. Treat Time!! [Mom Note: These are strategically placed on nights the grown-ups have events and we need an Advent break!]

Hello Dear Ones. Let’s pull out the Legos and make Christmas themed stuff together!

Hello Dear Ones. It’s tree time! Let’s get one and decorate this house up!!

Hello Dear Ones. This evening we are going to eat pizza and cuddle up on the couch to watch the new Sound of Music movie together!

Hello Dear Ones. Christmas Book Time!! Boy picks the book and girl picks the spot for our reading snuggle.

Hello Dear Ones. Here is $10. It’s not for you. You’ve got to make someone else’s life better with it. Let’s talk about what we could do with it and then do it!

Hello Dear Ones. Let’s stay up late and watch Sing Off together!

Hello Dear Ones. It’s Origami night!! Let’s make Christmas craziness!!

Hello Dear Ones. Let’s make cookies together and wrap some up to give to others!

Hello Dear Ones. Today we are going on an adventure. It’s exciting and fun and awesome. Hope you are ready!!

Hello Dear Ones. Date Day with a parent. Might be a good opportunity to work on a gift for your bro/sis!!

Hello Dear Ones. Christmas Book Time!! Girl picks the book and boy picks the spot for our reading snuggle.

Hello Dear Ones. Let’s watch YouTube and make some crazy Christmas Rainbow Loom Charms together!

Hello Dear Ones. Tonight is going to be crazy rad! We are going to look at lights. And there’s a twist, but it is a surprise!!

Hello Dear Ones. Treat Time!! And we get to wrap up a gift for your teachers together.

Hello Dear Ones. It’s Christmas Movie Night! Put on your PJs and enjoy some popcorn!

Hello Dear Ones. Crazy fun family night… Love you guys so much!!


It’s not perfect, but it is a wonderful start and suits us and our style real nicely. I even have a few envelopes that are empty so we can inject some spontaneity into the whole thing which is really our style. Like everything else on the Lean.Green.Kitchen site… I recommend taking the parts that interest you and leave the rest!

May you make the most of the final month of 2013.


This post is linked to Party Wave Wednesday at HolisticSquid.com!

Read more: http://holisticsquid.com/party-wave-wednesday-120413/#ixzz2mWYES12i

Kids Clean Up! Cheese Dip

cheese dip

Welcome to another installment of Kids Clean Up! Today we are tackling a Halloween holiday favorite… Cheese Dip! You know, the one made with the infamous Velveeta. It has been a part of Halloween tradition in my family for a very long time. Since “cleaning up” my food act a few years ago, Halloween is the one time of year that Velveeta has managed to get in my grocery cart.

This year I was ready to give it up – I just couldn’t buy it anymore, and worse share it with my kids and their friends. And then I ran into the Food Renegade’s recipe and nearly swooned. The only reason I didn’t swoon was due to having no faith it would actually taste good. Cheese dip made without the Velveeta? How’s that supposed to work? But it did…

What are we cleaning up? Classic Cheese Dip made by melting a Velveeta cheese chunk with salsa.

velveeta cheese dipVelveeta cheese dip

Ingredients: Milk, Whey, Skim Milk, Milk Protein Concentrate, Water, Milkfat, Whey Protein Concentrate, Sodium Phosphate, Modified Corn Starch, Salt, Calcium Phosphate, Dried Corn Syrup, Canola Oil, Maltodextrin, Lactic Acid, Sorbic Acid, Sodium Alginate, Sodium Citrate, Cheese Culture, Enzymes, Apocarotenal and Annatto.

Basically, Velveeta is a chemical cheese product that has been made in a lab. It’s a “cheese-like substance.” Kraft doesn’t share the process by which it is made, but it is clearly made by chemists in a laboratory. If you are looking for some science behind how they make it all melt-able, check out this article by Discover. Beyond the Frankenstein laboratory creep factor of Velveeta, I am also avoiding this product because it is made by Kraft, a company I don’t choose to support. Kraft Mac N Cheese (my daughter’s favorite restaurant kids menu choice) is made with several artificial food dyes ONLY WHEN MADE FOR CONSUMPTION IN THE USA. For example the version sold in the UK does not include artificial food dyes (the UK is phasing out allowing artificial dyes in food due to consumer pressure). Over 300,000 Americans have signed a petition asking for Kraft to stop using the artificial food dyes and give us the other version that tastes and looks the same, but they are not willing to do so. So I say BOOOOOO to Kraft. (Want to add your voice to the petition? Go here.)

Here’s the cleaned up version: Food Renegade’s Creamy Mexican Cheese Dip. I used organic cream, organic milk and organic cheddar cheese, plus egg yolk, arrowroot powder, diced tomatoes, a can of mild green chiles, salt and chipotle chili powder. All ingredients that I am happy to use in my kitchen! The process was completely do-able, and not very many steps, which I appreciated. (Especially since the Velveeta version is so easy.)

The result was a very smooth, silky cheese dip that tasted terrific. It actually tasted much stronger of cheddar cheese than the Velveeta version does, which was welcomed. Mine turned out a little thinner than Velveeta dip is, and I think when I do it again I will let the milk and cream warm with the thickener a little longer. I might also mix in a little of my favorite clean salsa to make it taste more like my family’s version, though I did enjoy the chipotle flavor. But enough about me…

My kids LOVED this stuff. I wondered if they would enjoy it because the color isn’t as bright as the Velveeta and the taste is a little more well-rounded and grown-up. Both of them can be very picky when it comes to foods like this, so I was happily surprised with their enthusiasm over this version.

It is very interesting to me how we often eat less of the cleaned up version of foods than we would of their processed version. This cheese dip was a great example. When the Velveeta version is out on the table, I can’t stop eating it. Each bite makes me want another bite as soon as I’m done. But with this cleaned up version, I had several bites and then felt fullish and done. The kids seemed to be the same way. Amazing what happens when you nourish your body with real food.

Before we go, let’s talk chips real fast. Ideally, we’d all be making our own corn chips using organic corn tortillas and a great fat (like coconut oil or tallow). Gracious Pantry has a baked chip recipe I like, here. That may be more than some of us can do right now. This is especially true for me when we are having other people over, that’s just more chips than I can pull off! My recommendation for buying chips is to go organic to avoid GMO corn and GMO vegetable oils. I am not a fan of processed vegetable oils, so purchased corn chips are a fun treat food, not an every day food for me.

I’m not the only one who grew up on Frankenstein cheese dip, am I? Is there anything that is always on your Halloween menu?

cheese dipHere I am, stealing the cheese dip. Happy Halloween everyone!


Kids Clean Up! Flavored Yogurt

Flavored Yogurt

It’s time for another installment of Kids Clean Up! This week I have tackled my daughter’s favorite food — yogurt. And specifically, flavored yogurt. She would eat 14 Go-Gurts if I had them and would let her. This actually isn’t all that much, since each Go-Gurt seems to have about a tablespoon of yogurt in that little tube. What a waste.

Anyway… this clean up didn’t call for internet recipe searching, I had a plan. It just needed to be executed and tested. And tested. And retested. And tested some more. And not by my daughter. It turns out that this became our first Grown Up Clean Up, because I could not get enough of these.

Back to the beginning, here is what we are replacing: Flavored Yogurt

sunnyside front sunnyside label


I guess we can start with the two pluses I see here. One, there is actually at least a speck of boysenberry in this product (though I bet we’d all be astounded by how little it actually is). Two, it does contain live and active cultures which is what makes yogurt a health food. But the rest of this list is full of questions and ingredients that were selected for their cheapness over their quality.

How about this one:

activia front activa label


Can we take a minute to talk about “NATURAL FLAVORS?” This, the vaguest of terms, means that natural things (essential oils, plants, animals, trees…) are used in laboratories and turned into flavorings. For an over the top (but true) example, there could be castoreum in these products, because it is sometimes used as a flavoring for berries and vanilla. What is it? It’s the secretion from a beaver’s castor sacs, used to mark their territory. So, that’s gross, but more importantly to me, it’s a clear indication that the food industry is willing to put things in processed food and not be transparent about it. Because if BEAVER SAC SECRETIONS was written on the packaging of a yogurt container, many of us would probably skip it.

This yogurt also contains CARRAGEENAN which has been found to be a carcinogen (a substance that may cause cancer).

Let’s not skip this kid favorite:
gogurt front gogurt label

This ingredient list states: Strawberry Splash – Cultured Pasteurized Grade A Low Fat Milk, Sugar, Modified Corn Starch, Kosher Gelatin, Tricalcuim Phosphate, Colored with Vegetable Juice, Natural Flavor, Potassium Sorbate, Carrageenan, Vitamin A Acetate, Vitamin D.

I feel I’ve belabored these ingredient lists, so I’ll be brief on this one. There are no strawberries in this yogurt, which is called Strawberry Splash. That seems fraudulent. That’s all.

So here’s my recipe for making your own.



  • 2 Cup Frozen Organic Fruit of your choice
  • 2 Cups Organic Whole Milk Yogurt (you could even go crazy and make your own with this HOMEMADE YOGURT RECIPE)
  • 1-3T Local Honey
  • 1/2t Vanilla (optional – goes great with cherries)
  • 4 1-Cup Mason Jars or 8 1/2-Cup Mason Jars (or mix and match!)


  1. Heat frozen fruit and 1T of the honey in a small saucepan on medium-low heat.
  2. Bring to a simmer and heat until the fruit is nice and soft and gooey. Add in vanilla if you are using it. My mixed berries took about six minutes to be the consistency I wanted.
  3. Place about 1/4 cup of the mixture in the bottom of each 1-Cup Mason Jar or half that if using 8 1/2-Cup Mason Jars.
  4. Allow the fruit mix to cool a little before layering in yogurt (1/2 cup total per jar) and a few mini drizzles of honey.
  5. Chill in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

Preparation time: 10 minute(s)

Cooking time: 6 minute(s)

Number of servings (yield): 4


I’ll be frank. If my daughter was offered a Go-Gurt or this, she would take the flashy, chemically Go-Gurt. But then she’d be hungry after eating that minuscule amount of food in a tube and would happily eat my hearty version.

I’ll be double frank. The first time I made these (and when I took the photos) she did not like it. I realized later, that was because she didn’t stir it up so she was eating plain tart yogurt. My next batch I added in the extra drizzles of honey and -boom- she was all in.

Since we turned this into a Grown Up Clean Up, I will mention that as a grown-up who was raised on Fruit-On-The-Bottom yogurt (which is no longer the rage, apparently) I was able to stir mine and I inhaled the entire first batch in less than three days. Added some granola for a grab-on-the-go breakfast. Ate one after a grueling work-out. Had one for a late night treat while watching some Game of Thrones from the couch. And the last one while powering through a manic afternoon.

I will make these again and again. And my daughter and I can fight over them. Take that tiny Go-Gurt.