Low sugar 1st birthday cake/cupcake recipe

I want to share the recipe I created (with suggestions from others, of course) for my son’s 1st birthday cake.

I fall in between the people who don’t want their children to have any sugar, and those who are fine with a little sugar shock. We wanted him to have a yummy cake with some sugar, but not the normal, full amount.

This recipe is mostly sweetened by fruit, with only 1 tbsp of brown sugar in the cake, and powdered sugar to taste in the icing. The batter doesn’t taste as sweet as the finished product because the sweetness of the bananas and carrots comes out during cooking.

We went the route of cupcakes, but the recipe can be used for either.

I can’t believe my baby is turning ONE!!!

Let Him Eat Cupcakes

  • 2 cups oat flour
  • 1 tbsp wheat germ
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 3-4 ripe bananas (depending on size) – mashed
  • 1 cup applesauce
  • 1 cup shredded carrots
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 Tbsp coconut oil

Preheat oven to 350. Mix wet and dry ingredients separately, then combine. I made my applesauce with no added sweetener and skin left on. I also put my bananas and carrots (raw) in the food processor for easy shredding and mashing.

Bake for 18-20 mins, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

We iced our cupcakes with cinnamon-cream cheese frosting, but only added powdered sugar to taste.  It was roughly 1 tsp of cinnamon, 1/2 stick of butter, 1.5 containers of cream cheese, and 1/3 cup of powdered sugar.


In the land of milk and honey, what can I eat?

The other day, a friend and I were discussing how hard it is to decide between all the kinds of milk available. Shockingly, although there are at least 10 varieties to choose from in stores, new opinions are suggesting going for what is not available at your local grocery chain; raw milk.

Without getting deep into the discussion, suffice that we concluded there are well-researched opinions to support both sides of every food story, and not only when it comes to milk.

Every time you get ready to make a food purchase, you have to decide between organic vs. non-organic, GMO vs. non-GMO, gluten-free, fat percentages, real or artificial sweeteners, etc., etc.. It’s easy to worry that you are making the wrong decision when there are so many options, and it’s even more stressful when deciding what to give your baby.

The good news is, you don’t need to think so much. Let me do my best to simplify it for you, and you can determine from there how much more or less you want to put into it.

  • Less is more: Choose whatever is closest to its natural state. Avoid added sweeteners (even the artificial kind), salt, etc.
  • Fat is okay, in fact, lactose goes down better with a side of fat, so skip the fat-free dairy.
  • When to go organic: When you are going to eat the peel, and with animal products, to avoid pesticides, antibiotics and hormones.
  • What can’t be regulated should be questioned. Food that isn’t FDA approved may not be for a very good reason. It’s not because the government doesn’t want us to have what’s good for us. Be discerning.
  • Don’t feel like you have to spend a fortune. There are billions of families without the time or money to get picky about nutrition, and their kids turn out just fine.
  • A little salt and/or sugar won’t kill you or your baby. Just remember that sweet and savory cravings are learned, addictive behaviors. Learning to eat a little and be done is actually healthier than going without and then bingeing because it’s the forbidden fruit.

If you are obsessing about reading every nutrition label, although you are well-meaning, you have too much time on your hands. There are so many ways you are shaping your family, food only being one of them, and no one expects you to be perfect. Shoot to make healthy decisions 80% of the time, and don’t beat yourself up about the other 20%. Some families have no choice but to eat what they can get, so be grateful you lead a lifestyle that allows you to be picky.

My dad is forever telling me he learns new things everyday he doesn’t know how he got by without knowing for all these years. The same rule applies here. When we were kids, no one looked around for any of the labels that stand out to us now, and, for the most part, we turned out okay.

For more nutrition tips, click here.


Adventures in baby food

I’ve had people tell me they gained weight because they ate what they were feeding their children. What exactly are these people feeding their children?

The answer lurks in the children’s menu options at most restaurants. Typical fare includes a burger, grilled cheese, chicken fingers, macaroni and cheese, or a hot dog. Does anyone else find this mix of brown, beige, orange and yellow food a bit boring and processed? Sure, they can each have a (small) place in a child’s food repertoire, but they hardly represent a balanced diet.

I’ve never dealt with a picky eater, food allergies, or a two-year-old going through a phase where she won’t eat anything but bananas. I’m not judging; I’m just putting it out there that parents play a large role in shaping a child’s food habits. It’s important not to project our own likes/dislikes on to them when making selections, or to assume they won’t enjoy vegetables like they will fruit.

Somehow, we’ve been programmed to think babies can only be served bland food, and they will only want sweet options. In reality, they often want whatever we’re having, so be a good role model, or fake it to make it.

When you go to the store, select a variety of options recognizing that babies are developing their palates from a blank slate. When you go out, ask for a side of something healthy, rather than ordering your little one something from the limited children’s menu. If you need something steamed longer so it’s softer or prepared without seasoning, just ask. Most restaurants are very accommodating.

I know I can order an adult entrée that includes salmon and potatoes, request a side of avocado, and share that with my son. It’s exciting for him because he gets to share with mommy, and I know he’s getting lots of good nutrition from it. Nutrition is a fun way to learn colors, too, seeing as how we should all eat a rainbow.

My 9-month-old has already enjoyed all of the following foods, and I’m sure I’m leaving some out:

  • Avocado
  • Banana
  • Oatmeal
  • Greek Yogurt
  • Sweet potato
  • Butternut squash
  • Lentils
  • Beans of many kinds
  • Raisins
  • Millet
  • Barley
  • Apricot
  • Potato
  • Salmon
  • Bison
  • Quinoa
  • Cauliflower
  • Mango
  • Cottage Cheese
  • Edamame
  • Hummus
  • Broccoli
  • Rice
  • Coconut Milk
  • Kale
  • Carrot
  • Green Beans
  • Peas
  • Zucchini
  • Pears
  • Peaches
  • Blueberries
  • Raspberries
  • Prunes
  • Tilapia
  • Chicken
  • Kiwi
  • Beef
  • Cherries
  • Apple
  • Chia seeds
  • Almond butter
  • Egg
  • Cheese
  • Strawberry
  • Spinach
  • Beets

I hope you read this as me suggesting fun options and ways to make food fun for your child. As I’ve said before, I consider myself very knowledgeable and able to advise on nutritional habits, but I’ve only got nine months in the saddle as a parent.

My son isn’t going to eat only perfect, healthy options all the time, but I want to teach him healthy food is just as fun as less healthy options, and there’s a necessary balance.

I’m always looking for new recipes to offer him, so please share your own fun family food options!

Do you need to cut out gluten?

With all the buzz about going gluten-free, clients are always asking me if they should cut it out of their diets. I’m not a doctor or an expert on the effects of gluten, but I’ll share my answer in hopes that it can help those of you wondering the same thing.

What is gluten?

Gluten is the protein content in wheat. For a visual, it’s what makes dough gooey and stretchy.

Why do some people need to avoid it?

Celiac disease is the true, diagnosed intolerance to gluten. Anyone with celiac disease has to cut out gluten because it attacks their bodies.

There is a large amount of research suggesting harmful effects of gluten on the body, both mentally and physically; however, just as not everyone is allergic to peanuts, not everyone responds negatively to gluten.

Think of gluten as you think of dairy. There are reasons some people should not have dairy, and the reasons differ in severity. Some people will have a life-threatening allergic reaction, some are lactose intolerant so their stomachs will be upset by it, and some people have problem skin due to dairy. Then, there’s the whole slew of people who can eat all the dairy they want with no ill effects. 

How do I know if I need to cut it out?

Assess how you feel eating your current diet that contains gluten. If you feel well, have energy, don’t experience digestion issues and can concentrate easily, you’re doing fine and should keep up whatever you’re doing. If you can’t tick all those boxes, do a trial removal and see if any of them fall into place.

Things to consider:

Going gluten-free is not a fad diet to get you skinny, and gluten-free foods aren’t magically free of fat and calories; only gluten.

As with anything, too much of a something is not good, but if you don’t experience any ill effects, removal of it entirely isn’t necessary either.

Do your research, but also do a self-check. If you don’t have a negative response to gluten, eat it in moderation, just like everything else.

You stopped growing up (height), now stop growing out (weight)

I use to be able to eat anything I wanted and not gain an ounce.” I’ve heard this phrase a million times from clients frustrated with what they consider age-related weight gain.

It’s maddening to go from a slender teen with a lightening-speed metabolism to a pudgy adult, while maintaining the same diet and lifestyle.

Why does this happen?

Part of it is metabolism, which correlates with muscle mass. (Read about that here.) The other part is that you need to relearn how to eat.

Allow me to explain.

When we originally learn to eat, as children, we are growing up.. as in height, and we need more calories to utilize as building materials. Imagine building a skyscraper (or, if you’re short like me, a ranch-style house). You need materials galore to keep stacking story upon story; however, once the structure is there, you don’t need anymore beams, and you can only fit so much furniture.

Your body is the same as a building. Once the initial structure is complete, you don’t need to keep supplying the same amount of materials, or, in the case of your body, calories.

Once you’re done growing up, the same amount of calories will only serve to grow you out. Make sense?

Most of us stop getting taller around the end of puberty. I haven’t grown an inch since I was 12 (cue tiny violin).

What should you cut out of your diet? Clutter. Just as you don’t want to junk up a nice home, you also don’t want to junk up your body. You’re a grown up now, and you should select a few really nice pieces, foregoing the stuff that just takes up space.

Refine your diet, sticking to whole grains, lean protein, vegetables, fruits, nuts, cheeses, etc.. Get rid of empty calories that only take up space on your plate. If you need more guidance, seek out a nutritionist to get you on the right track.

Expand your nutritional knowledge, and you’ll stop expanding your waistline.

Pie, it’s what’s for dinner.

Dinner Pie

Pie for dinner? Heck, yeah! We’re all adults here, which means we can make rash meal decisions, such as deciding to have a milkshake for dinner. (Yep, I’ve done it.)

Honestly though, this is not that kind of pie. The crust only makes you think you’re cheating.

When I made this for dinner last night, it was definitely a last-minute, what do we have to make a meal, kind of dish, but it turned out delicious. I used a leftover half of a cooked spaghetti squash, which was great because it cut down on cooking time, and the squash was already cooled so I didn’t have to worry about it cooking the egg prematurely. In case you’re wondering, I used the other half of the squash with an artichoke and lemon sauce from Williams Sonoma the previous night.

My husband returned from a trip yesterday and I originally thought we would eat out, but we were both tired from golf, travel and pregnancy (respectively), so I decided to scrounge around the kitchen so we could relax at home. My pie pans haven’t arrived yet from our last duty station, but a cake pan worked just fine. Suffice it to say, this dish is easy, can be made last-minute, and can be built from a wide variety of ingredients. As long as you have two refrigerated pie crusts, one egg, some cheese, and a small selection of vegetables, you can create this pie.

Just as I did, get playful with this meal and use what you have. Maybe you have different kinds of meat, vegetables or cheeses on hand. Perhaps you want to make it vegetarian. As long as you use some cheese and an egg for binding, and make sure to drain excess grease and liquid (avoid a soggy crust) before building your pie, you can make it your own.

This is one of those recipes that looks and tastes impressive, but is as easy as making a casserole. It’s also a great way to sneak in a boatload of veggies. I did not add salt and pepper. It simply didn’t require it.

To really dress up the plate, you could serve a mixed green salad on the side. It would be lovely for a brunch, lunch or dinner.

Dinner Pie

  • 2 refrigerated pie crusts (bring to room temp before unfolding)
  • 2 slices of bacon (chopped)
  • 1 chicken sausage (chopped) (I used one with feta and spinach in it)
  • 1 can of tomatoes with basil, garlic, oregano, no salt added (drained)
  • 1/2 tsp fennel seed
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cooked spaghetti squash (cool and de-seeded)
  • 1/2 cup sliced zucchini
  • 1/2 cup sliced/chopped sweet onion
  • 1/2 cup grated cheddar
  • 1/2 cup grated/shredded parmesan
  • 1 egg

Preheat oven to 350F.

Set out pie crusts to bring to room temperature. Do not grease pie pan.

Cook meat in a skillet. Add tomatoes, fennel seed and red pepper. Cook for 5 minutes. Drain excess grease and liquid. Let cool a bit so it won’t cook the egg when mixed in.

In a medium bowl, combine squash (I used a fork and knife cross-cut to help the spaghetti mix more easily), zucchini, onion, cheese and egg. Add in meat and tomato mixture. Pour mixture into first pie crust, press, top with second crust, cut slits in top, bake at 350F for 50 minutes.

Inside of pie before baking or adding top crust

Apple Coleslaw

Apple coleslaw is great because it adds a bit of crisp and sweetness to your average cabbage salad. My husband doesn’t like mayonnaise, and he enjoys this dish, but you can adjust the ration of mayo to mustard further depending on your own tastes. I just played around with the ingredients until I got the thumbs up from the hubs.

Light mayonnaise, and the use of mustard in place of some of the typical amount (most coleslaw calls for a cup of mayo), cuts down on the fat in this coleslaw recipe. You could also try using a little mayo mixed with greek yogurt to further adjust, but still keep the flavor that mayo brings to the table.

If you don’t have a sprayer to use with your lemon juice, just toss the apples with some lemon juice as you cut them so they don’t brown.

The response I received at the gathering I took this to was largely from people who don’t typically enjoy coleslaw, but enjoyed this variation.

If you ask me, adding in apples is always a bonus!

This was for a large crowd at a BBQ, so you could definitely cut it down.

Apple Coleslaw

  • 4 apples ( I used 2 Granny Smith, 1 Golden Delicious, and 1 Red)
  • Lemon juice (just enough to spritz the apples to keep them from browning)
  • 1 stalk of celery, chopped
  • 2 stalks of green onion/scallion, chopped
  • 1/8 cup of red onion, chopped
  • 1 bag of craisins
  • 1.5 bags chopped cabbage with carrots
  • 2/3 cup of light mayo – or greek yogurt
  • ¼ cup Dijon mustard
  • 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/3 cup of honey
  • s&p to taste

Julienne apples and spritz with lemon juice. Put apples in a bowl with other chopped ingredients and half of cabbage. Mix liquid ingredients and add to bowl. As you mix, add in the remaining cabbage. Salt and pepper to taste.

Oh kale, sweet onion, and spaghetti squash, how I’ve missed you

When we were living in Italy, the three ingredients I missed the most were kale, sweet onion, and spaghetti squash. For all the fabulous ingredients I enjoyed there, these three were simply unavailable.

  • Kale is fabulous because it holds up better than spinach when cooked, and… you can make healthy chips with it. I’ve never seen my husband so excited about eating greens as when I make kale chips.

To make kale chips, rinse kale and tear leaves into chip size pieces. Toss with 1 Tbsp of olive oil in a  large ziploc or other container and spread into one layer on a cookie sheet. Sprinkle with sea salt, bake at 350F for 10 minutes, turn off the oven and leave in for another 5 minutes, remove and let sit for 5 minutes. They should come out crispy and delicious.

  • I grew up in Georgia and was spoiled by our endless supply of sweet onions from Vidalia. For those of you who don’t know, Vidalia is in Georgia. If it’s sweet, it comes from Georgia. Trust me. In Hawaii, they have sweet “Maui” onions, and they taste like home. I love throwing these on the grill, or using them in soups, salads, etc. to add a natural sweetness.
  • Spaghetti squash is nature’s answer to low-carb diets. How fabulous that God made a vegetable that acts just like spaghetti! You can find it in the produce section along with other squash varieties. It looks like a yellow, oval melon.

To cook spaghetti squash, pierce it like you would a potato for baking, place in an oven-safe, rimmed pan or casserole dish, and bake at 375F for one hour. When you remove it, it should feel soft. Slice the squash in half, scoop out the seeds, then scrape the insides with a fork. Everything but the skin will come apart like actual spaghetti. Use/top it with anything you would normally serve over pasta, or season with a little butter/oil and salt as you would a squash.

Make your own granola and protein bars

For all the healthy promises on the packaging of protein and granola bars, most of them are barely healthier than candy bars. They may be great snack options for professional athletes, but most of us aren’t going to burn enough fuel in a day to use up everything they’re packing.

Protein is good for you, as is oatmeal – the basis of granola; however, once you’ve baked them with tons of sugar, fat and chocolate, you may as well have just grabbed a Snickers bar. The fit person on the front of the box probably doesn’t actually eat the bars.

It’s just that protein and granola bars are so easy to grab and eat on the run, right? It’s exceptionally uncool of manufacturers to fake us out and load them with stuff we don’t need.

Thankfully, it’s really easy to make bars at home that have exactly what you want in them, and nothing else.

Homemade protein and granola bars

  • 1/2 cup nut butter (natural almond or peanut butter with no salt added)
  • 1/2 cup natural applesauce (no sugar added)
  • 1 Tbsp of coconut or olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt (for minerals)
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup organic agave nectar
  • 1/3 cut wheat germ
  • 1 1/3 cup rolled oats
  • 1/3 cup vanilla protein powder (I’m sure chocolate would be good, too.)

Optional ingredients: 1/4 cup coconut, 1/3 cup dried fruit

Combine all ingredients and press into greased (you can also line with parchment for easy removal without the spray oil) baking pan or glass casserole dish and bake for 35 minutes at 350. Cut while warm, let cool to harden. Keep refrigerated for up to 2 weeks.

Healthy Chocolate Mousse

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, here’s a treat you don’t have to feel so guilty about. My husband had this last night and was convinced it was normal, rich, chocolate mousse.

Normal chocolate mousse lists heavy whipping cream and butter as the heavyweights in its list of ingredients and takes almost two hours to make.

My healthy chocolate mousse only needs four ingredients (none of which is butter or cream) and is ready for you in less than 30 minutes. Now is the time when Charlie Sheen or that crazy bananas chick on the Bachelor (which one, right?) would say, “winning.”

Healthy Chocolate Mousse

  • 3/4 cup of semi-sweet morsels
  • 1/4 cup of skim milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 package/12 oz of soft, silken tofu (drained)

Melt your morsels in the microwave (about 1.5-2 mins) or a double-boiler. It’s okay if they aren’t all completely melted. Stirring it a bit will ensure they’re all ready to process. Process all ingredients until smooth. Chill for 15 minutes.

I serve this mousse with berries on top, but you can use anything or nothing on top. It’s delicious either way!

Don’t like tofu? No problem. You won’t even know it’s in there by the rich, delicious taste of it.