Beet & Sweet Potato Soup

Ever since my husband and I became parents (almost 11 years ago!) we've been celebrating Valentine's Day with a home cooked meal instead of going out. He's quite talented in the kitchen but he's not home in time on weekdays to cook. Valentine's Day is one of those holidays where he lets his cooking skills shine, and frankly, I love it. This year, though, we're sharing the kitchen and I'm making one of our favorites as a starter: this beautifully red, earthy and delicious Beet Sweet Potato Soup. 


Look at that color! This is Mother Nature at her best. Starting our special meal with a chock-full-of -vitamin soup is just perfect. Did you know that beets are loaded with folate (a B vitamin), potassium, fiber, magnesium and vitamin C? And sweet potatoes are an excellent source of vitamin A, vitamin B, potassium, manganese and fiber? It's a powerful combination!

My husband is the son of immigrants. He ate a lot of borscht as a kid, and while this isn't a traditional borscht, it's kind of related. The best part is, it's something we both love to gulp down. I may serve this in tea cups, because it's got the consistency of a smoothie, so why not drink it?! 
The prep takes about 10 minutes and it cooks for about 40 minutes. Pureeing takes about 5 minutes so this soup is ready in under an hour.

However you choose to celebrate, I hope it's festive. ❤

Here's what you'll need:
5 beets
2 sweet potatoes (I used the Japanese white flesh variety) 
3 tablespoons avocado or neutral oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 cups vegetable broth
2 cups water
1/4 cup fresh dill, chopped plus extra for garnish
Salt and pepper to taste
Optional: sour cream or sea salt yogurt to garnish

Here's how:
1. Peel the beets and sweet potatoes and cut into 2-3 inch chunks. I like to use gloves when I do this to prevent staining.
2. In a large soup pot, sauté the onions in the oil on medium heat.


3. After about 5 - 7 minutes, add all of the beets and sweet potatoes and season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir for 2-3 minutes so that the oil and onions are evenly distributed.


4. Add the vegetable broth and water and turn the heat up to high. Once boiling, reduce the heat to a simmer.
5. Add the fresh dill, stir, cover and cook for 40-45 minutes.


6. Purée with a stick blender. Sometimes you'll miss a spot and there will be a chunk of beet or sweet potato. That's ok. Life isn't perfect; soup doesn't have to be either. 😊
7. Taste and see whether it needs more salt or pepper.
8. Pour into bowls and garnish with dill (and sour cream, if using).


Food and Body Shaming. At Home and At Large.

I've recently read a bunch of articles on the topic of talking about healthy eating and the impact that has on kids. In my own home, we have a set of food values that we try to adhere to, and I do my best to talk about why those values are important to us. Whether it's for allergic, religious or other lifestyle reasons, people everywhere have food preferences and avoidances. My kids notice that other homes have different food rules, so I've been sure to discuss the importance respecting others. I think having an allergic mom and a kosher grandmother has been helpful for them to understand that people eat differently for a variety of reasons. 

Along these lines, I really enjoyed the four tips for instilling healthy habits in this article, by Sally Kuzemchak, aka Real Mom Nutrition. But here's the thing: it's a battle out there. Much as I try to keep our discussions about food focused on the positive, and emphasize that there are different rules in different homes and be aware of mixed messages, my kids live in the world with others who don't abide by those rules. 

is this lunch too big? too small? 

is this lunch too big? too small? 

My eldest, soon to be 9, has come home from school telling me that another child made her feel bad because her lunch was too small. On another occasion, there were comments that her lunch was too big. She's been asked why she gets vegetables in her lunch (the vegetables came back uneaten that day, and for several days after that). She's been asked why her desserts aren't bigger. And why she gets chocolate but not Cheetos. Then yesterday, I got an email from her teacher that a child in her class called her fat. She happens not to be even remotely fat, but that's not the point, is it? It's a disheartening reality that though we can do our best at home (which, mind you, is not easy), there's another battle out there that we have to prepare our children to address. 

Lunch at school is a social thing. I am proud to empower my kids to have a voice in their lunch so that they feel confident about what they're eating. But I feel sad when I hear about food shaming on either side of the aisle (too "healthy" or too "junky"). And body shaming? It makes me want to cry. At home, we say that being healthy isn't about what your body looks like. I like to tell my kids that in broad terms, good health comes from four things:
1. getting enough sleep
2. staying hydrated
3. eating a variety of foods 
4. being active

Luckily, my daughter didn't seem too bothered by the substance of this child's comment. She was more annoyed that he was badgering her throughout math class and concerned that she hadn't heard the teacher. It was a good opportunity to discuss both the hurtful impact that words can have and on the flip side, the concept of "sticks and stones."  But I wonder if I've addressed it properly. And how often to address it. The battle continues. It's imperative to be mindful of what happens both at home, and at large. 

So I wonder: what tips do you have to deal with food and body shaming? How have you responded when your children presented issues like this? 

Banana Oatmeal Bars: A Fast, Easy, Healthy Breakfast

'Tis the season to be hectic. 
I don't know about you, but amid all of the awesomeness of the holiday season, I'm just pooped. Truth be told, my husband and I are relieved when the kids want cereal with milk and a banana or toast with a banana for breakfast these days. My kiddos choose their breakfasts and lunches in advance, which certainly makes things easier for me because I don't have the added stress of thinking about what to serve (let alone dealing with an argument about it). That said, I still have to prepare and serve those meals and unfortunately, there are no holiday fairies that take care of that for me. 

It's times like these that make Banana Oatmeal Bars so very amazing. 

LaLa Lunchbox banana oatmeal bars

These things are so easy to make, my kids do it themselves now, which frankly is one of the greatest holiday gifts ever. One batch makes 9 bars in our house – but it can make 16 more if you cut them smaller. My kids generally eat two apiece with breakfast. With just four ingredients, they're simple to prepare, quick to serve, and full of healthy goodness. Trifecta! In fact, putting two of these on a plate with some fruit is even easier than serving a bowl of cereal with milk. These bars also make for wonderful snacks! They're dairy free, gluten free, vegan and naturally sweet thanks to those super ripe bananas. 

Download the image below and add it to your LaLa Breakfast Food Library and/or your LaLa Lunchbox Food Library so that your mornings are just a teensy bit easier. Feel free to reach out with any questions you might have about that. 

Banana Oatmeal Bars

LaLa Lunchbox banana oatmeal bar ingredients

3 super ripe (aka brown) bananas
2 cups of rolled oats (not instant)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon salt
* optional: 1/2 cup of one of these: dried cranberries, raisins, nuts, pumpkin seeds or chocolate chips

How to:

1. Preheat oven to 350. Line an 8×8 dish with parchment paper.
2. In a mixing bowl, mash the bananas until they are smooth.
3. Add the oats and mix to combine.
4. Add the vanilla extract and salt and mix until the ingredients are evenly distributed.
5. Pour into baking dish. Bake for 25-28 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes and enjoy.

Here are some other recipes you might like: 
Banana Sweet Potato Muffins
Banjo Muffins
Oatmeal Muffins
Banana Pancake Kebabs

Let's keep in touch! Follow us on Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook and Twitter to see what we're up to! 


Union Square Farmer's Market

The Union Square farmer's market is one of my favorite places to visit in the City. The people watching is out of sight: some folks stroll through (especially tourists, families and caregivers with young children) and others race through at breakneck speed (like those who work in restaurants and have to quickly get specific ingredients back to the kitchen). 

The people who come to Union Square to sell their foods are uniformly friendly and willing to answer any questions. For example, I spoke with a cheese monger about why his cheeses were not organic. His animals are not fed hormones ever but if an animal gets sick, it is given antibiotics to get well. During that time, the milk from that animal is never used in the production of cheese but because of the administration of antibiotics, his cheeses are not able to be labeled organic. 



My kids love going to the farmer's market to see what's in season and to have little snacks along the way. On our most recent visit, the kids and I devoured over a pound of sugar snap peas and a pint of super sweet tiny strawberries. 


Here's just a small sampling of our farmer's market bounty. I'm going to use the rosemary later this week to season a white bean salad with roasted garlic. We'll fly through those eggs in a day or two (most likely scrambled) and the rest of the produce will be eaten raw. It's really hot outside today so I'm particularly excited to have fresh, wonderful foods that don't require my oven. 

Roasted Black Beans and the Healthy Lunch Challenge

You know that phase when kids start counting and then they delight in counting all the time? My son is there now and it's incredibly entertaining. He's super excited to count to 20 these days and, while he skips 17 every single time, it is amazing to hear him sing out his numbers. Though he doesn't truly understand quantity, addition or subtraction in the formal sense, he can see that ten grapes are more than 5 grapes, and if his big sister reaches over and takes one of his four strawberries he can count that he now only has three. Math and food are a thrilling combination. 

Our Healthy Lunch Challenge plan

Our Healthy Lunch Challenge plan

Enter Crunch a Color, the Healthy Eating Game. It's an award winning card game that families can play together to encourage nutritious eating. The cards have colors, food lists, cute drawings and point values and the person with the most points wins. But there's deeper learning here; avocado and green grapes are both green foods but avocado gets 10 points and green grapes get 5. That makes for interesting conversation. My kids love to compare and it's pretty neat to see my daughter helping out her little brother with the tally (after the whole "haha, I win" bit is done, of course).

When Jennifer Tyler Lee, Crunch a Color's creator, asked me to be part of the Healthy Lunch Challenge, I was thrilled. My daughter chose the lunch below that features three colors, a protein, a healthy grain and no processed foods. We planned it using LaLa Lunchbox so I was sure to have everything I needed on hand. 

This lunch features a delicious and healthy new food that we are crazy about chez moi: roasted black beans! YUM. My daughter calls it black bean popcorn thanks to its satisfying yet light crunch and practically begs for it on a daily basis. We packed this lunch together and snacked along the way. Aside from the roasting time for the beans, this took less than 10 minutes to prepare.

Check out this deliciously colorful and balanced lunch!

crunch a color.JPG

3 colors: Green celery, Orange carrots and Red raspberries
Protein: Black beans (two ways: roasted and pureed into an easy dip)
Healthy Grain: toast crust from whole wheat bread
We always pack lunch with water (5 points extra) bringing the total points to 55!

I used half of one can of black beans for roasting and the other half to make a black bean dip that was finished in three minutes. I cut carrots and celery for dipping and added the toast crust (affectionately called Toast Crust Dippers in my house) that I cut from the bread of my anti-crust son. My daughter grabbed and washed a handful of raspberries and voila! Lunch is complete! 

Here's how we made the roasted black beans:

black beans, ready for roasting! 

black beans, ready for roasting! 

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Open one can of black beans. Rinse and dry them with a paper towel. Spread half of the can onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and drizzle with olive oil and a scant sprinkle of salt. Roast in the oven for approximately 35 minutes or until crispy. 

Here's how we made the black bean dip:

Ingredients for black bean dip

Ingredients for black bean dip

We poured the other half of the beans into a bowl and then added: 
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh chopped cilantro
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1/4 teaspoon of ground cumin
Juice of 1/2 lime
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
* note: I initially intended to add fresh garlic but changed my mind at the last minute.  This dip can be made with either, depending on your penchant for garlic flavor. 

Using a stick blender, blend all of the ingredients until smooth.

Enjoy and happy lunching!