Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Dr. Praeger's Review - Perfect for Quick Baby/Toddler (or Mommy!) Meals

Note - I have no affiliation with Dr. Praegers and was not sponsored, compensated, or provided free product for this review.  This is strictly my own opinion of food products that I purchased of my own accord, with my own money, that I'm providing as a PSA for my busy mom friends :)

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Now that C is eating solids, mealtime just got more complicated.  In the days of baby food, it was easy to pop a few cubes of homemade baby food puree out of the freezer, warm them up, and presto!  Dinner!  

When I plan ahead, it's not much harder to prepare finger foods for C to eat for lunch or dinner than it was with the purees; on Sundays, I normally prepare all of his food for Monday and Tuesday, and on Wednesday, I prepare his food for Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.  On the weekends it varies; often, he eats what we eat, or sometimes if we're going over to a friend's house (or if we're eating out somewhere that's not particularly healthy), I find myself needing to prepare a quick meal for Carter that we can take with us.  Similarly, in Blair's busy season (which was SEVEN MONTHS this year), he's not home for dinner so I don't cook ever as often, since it's just me and C.  I'm totally fine having popcorn or Greek yogurt for dinner, but I still want to feed C something healthy.  



THANK GOODNESS a mom friend introduced me to Dr. Praeger's!  I'm not advocating feeding your child frozen food for every meal, but on the whole I feel pretty good about this brand of frozen products.  So far C has loved every single thing we've tried (and I have too, since I try everything before I feed it to him), and I feel good about the ingredients.  Dr. Praeger's slogan is "where you recognize all of the ingredients", which is HUGE for me as a mom.  I didn't feed C anything from a package until he was over 10 months old because I hate how "processed" most packaged foods are.  However, I read all of the ingredient labels on these products before I buy them and feel comfortable that they are made only of ingredients I recognize.  Granted, they're still processed, but at least they don't have any weird chemical-y ingredients....for a quick/convenient dinner option, it has to be better than Kraft Macaroni & Cheese or hot dogs :)

All of Dr. Praeger’s products are low in cholesterol, have no preservatives, no trans fats, no or low-saturated fats, and no MSG.  Many of their products are vegetarian, vegan, gluten free, and/or GMO Free.  They don't always carry them at your regular grocery store (Kroger doesn't carry any of their products; Tom Thumb and Target only carry 1 or 2 items, and not the ones I typically buy).  However, they usually carry them at Sprouts, Trader Joe's, and Whole Foods.  They are usually in the same freezer section as the other "veggie" burgers (think Boca Burger, Morningstar, etc.)

Here are our favorites:

California Veggie Burgers



"We put the carrots, zucchini and edamame right where you can see and taste them"

These are my favorite - I think they taste like the filling inside an egg roll (which is random).  Of all the veggie burger flavors we've tried, these cook up the most firmly in the microwave (they probably all do well on the stovetop, but some of the flavors get soggy in the microwave).  I've never been a veggie burger fan before, normally because they try too hard to mimic regular hamburgers.  These are nowhere close to that - you can actually see the chopped up vegetables in them (it looks, and tastes, nothing like a regular hamburger).  

Ingredients:
Carrots, onions, string beans, oat bran, soybeans, zucchini, peas, broccoli, corn, soy flour, spinach, expeller pressed canola oil, red peppers, arrowroot, corn starch, garlic, corn meal, salt, parsley, black pepper .

Kale Veggie Burgers


"Packed with quinoa, kale and 9 other vegetables, this is one great tasting burger."

 These are my 2nd favorite flavor of veggie burger and a good way to get in kale and quinoa!  I always read ingredient labels and often (especially on food marketed for babies/toddlers), I am frustrated by the fact that something will be labeled "kale and quinoa", but when you check the ingredients, the first ingredient is apples or pears (or anything other than what the label on the front says), because they're trying to make it more palatable for kids (aka sweeter).  I like that I not only recognize all of the ingredients in these, but that the first ingredient is ACTUALLY KALE! (since ingredient labels list the ingredients in descending order of predominance by weight - so the ingredient listed first is the highest ingredient).  These are slightly more soggy than the California burgers when cooked in the microwave (can't vouch for the stovetop version) but hey, what do you expect from cooked kale?

Ingredients:
Kale, cooked quinoa (quinoa, water), cooked brown rice (brown rice, water), expeller pressed canola oil, cooked millet (millet, water), onions, carrots, spinach, sweet potatoes, potato flakes, roasted corn, red peppers, water chestnuts, roasted zucchini, broccoli, rice starch, roasted garlic, parsley, salt, black pepper.

Super Greens Veggie Burger 


"With 6 kinds of greens, quinoa, ginger and a hint of cayenne pepper, you’ll see why this burger is so Super."

These are pretty good but a definite 3rd because they are quite soggy when cooked in the microwave.  They were also my least favorite flavor of the 3 I've tried.

Ingredients:
Collard greens, cooked quinoa (quinoa, water), kale, swiss chard, turnip greens, mustard greens, spinach, expeller pressed canola oil, potato flakes, onions, apples, arrowroot, cooked teff (teff, water), parsley, roasted garlic, ginger, salt, hemp protein, black pepper, cayenne pepper, coriander.


My local grocery stores only carry 4 varieties of the veggie burgers, although the Dr. Praeger's website lists 10 flavors.  I have not purchased the 4th flavor that my store carries, the Black Bean burger, because the first ingredient (i.e., the largest ingredient) is "Non-GMO textured soy protein", not black beans (they are the 2nd ingredient, though).  I don't know what textured soy protein is but I'd rather stick with the ones that are made of vegetables and quinoa.

Lightly Breaded Fish Fillets

"Wild caught whole Pollock fillets lightly coated in seasoned breading."

I know, these are basically glorified fish sticks.  But at least they commit to what kind of actual fish it is (pollock), as opposed to "miscellaneous" and it's wild-caught (not farmed).  I cooked this on the stovetop and I'm pretty sure the fish inside the breading was raw until I cooked it (not pre-cooked like most frozen breaded fish).  They make an actual fish stick version, as well as a kids' version (shaped like fish), as well.

Ingredients:
Pollock fillets (wild), breading (unbleached wheat flour, yellow corn flour, corn starch, yeast, sugar, salt, dextrose, garlic powder, onion powder, spices), expeller pressed canola oil.

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That's all we've tried so far, but I've been impressed with the taste, quality, and ingredients on all of these products so far.  I'm surprised how many products they offer, looking at their website, since my stores seem to carry so few (or no) different varieties.  I'll be keeping an eye out for additional varieties in different grocery stores I visit, hoping to try a few more!

C loves these and will happily eat an entire veggie burger or fish fillet for lunch or dinner.  I normally serve it with some veggies on the side (avocado chunks or steamed green beans, carrots, or broccoli, which I always have in the freezer). 

Have you tried Dr. Praeger's products?  Let me know what you think!



Monday, July 6, 2015

Baby 101: Babyproofing

Babyproofing....how can it already be time for that?  We started the babyproofing process when C started crawling (mostly just outlet covers), and now that he's pulling up, we finished (for now) the babyproofing process this weekend.
When I say "babyproofing", I'm referring to REALLY dangerous things that could seriously injure or even kill a child (mine or a guest's), like electricity, chemicals, and heavy furniture.  As we discovered this weekend, there is still a lot of breakable stuff in our house at kid-level, it's just not stuff that will seriously injure them....so that is an ongoing process that we are correcting as we identify those issues.  However, I sleep better at night knowing that most of the MAJOR hazards in my house have been babyproofed.  

I read about 76,356 Amazon reviews on babyproofing products before making my purchases, so I consider these well researched. :)  I spent about $200-250 in total, which I consider to be well worth the peace of mind that it brings me (note that we do not have any stairs, so this did not include baby gates).  There are definitely less expensive options available, but I wanted 1) convenience for how we use our house, and 2) high quality (if we're going to go to the effort, I want it to work!)  Everything was easy and quick to install ourselves.



1.  Outlet covers

Every US household with a baby has dozens of these outlet covers, I'm sure of it.  I remember them from my old childhood, and they haven't changed much!  We use 2 different solutions to keep C's fingers out of the electrical outlets (see #2 below); we use this type for the outlets that we never use.  I'm sure that 99% of families use these on all of their outlets, but I didn't want to always question whether I remembered to put the little plastic thing back in the outlet after I finished vacuuming, so we don't use this style of outlet cover on the outlets that we routinely use (more on that below).  

This particular brand of outlet cover (Mommy's Helper) fits firmly in the outlet and takes some effort to remove.  I read a bunch of Amazon reviews of other brands in which reviewers said their baby could easily remove the plastic outlet cover, totally defeating the purpose of having them in the first place, so I went with this brand instead.  

For reference, I ordered 2 packages of 36.  Keep in mind that you only need them for the floor-level outlets, not those at counter-level in bathrooms, kitchens, etc.  I also put them in the spare outlets on power strips.


As mentioned above, I did not want to keep track of those little plastic plugs for outlets that we use regularly.  This includes outlets in which something is normally plugged in all the time (lamps, mostly), as well as outlets that don't ALWAYS have something plugged in, but I use frequently (namely, the outlet in each room that I plug the vacuum into, as well as the outlets we typically use for cell phone chargers and plugging in the laptop).  These "safe plates" are a slightly more expensive solution than the plug-style outlet covers (#1 above), but only marginally so, and totally worth it for the convenience factor (in my opinion).  You actually replace your existing electrical outlet covers/plates with these - they are super easy to install with 1 (provided) screw.  

It has a spring-loaded little door that keeps the outlet closed when not in use; when you need to use the outlet,  you just slide it to the side to expose the outlet and plug in your electrical plug.  When you pull the plug out, the little door will automatically close again due to the spring-loaded feature.  That way, you don't have to remember to put the little plastic plug back in, and you can worry a little less about baby unplugging something and trying to stick their fingers in the hole (since the plug-style outlet covers don't solve this problem - they're only installed on the outlets you're NOT using).  

So far we have been really happy with these.  We have a total of 11 of these in our house.  Keep in mind that these only work with the standard round electrical outlets; they don't work on the rectangular GFCI outlets (although those are usually at counter height).


Cabinet locks were one of the babyproofing items with the most variation among the options - there are a million different styles, including the plastic latches, the magnetic latches, the plastic sliding locks, and these.  Since our cabinets are fairly new (from a kitchen renovation 4 years ago), I did not want something that required drilling into the cabinets, which most of the latch (magnetic or plastic) style locks required.  I like the ease of the plastic sliding locks, but after trying one out I could tell that the hard plastic would scratch the surface of my white-painted cabinets over time.  

We ended up with these Kiscords cabinet locks, which are basically a white shoelace with 2 plastic sliders that lock the shoelace taut around the knobs (you have to push a button to release the plastic sliders, and there are 2 of them, which reduces the risk that your baby successfully unlocks these).  We just started using these this weekend but they seem like they are easy enough to use and definitely won't damage our cabinets, since they're a soft shoelace material.  The cord definitely isn't long enough to be a strangulation concern, in case you're worried about that.  Keep in mind that these ONLY work for round "knob" style cabinet pulls...they will not work on handles (the same company makes another product for that style of cabinet pull, although I can't attest to them since I haven't tried them).  

We have 8 of these, mostly in our kitchen (under-sink cabinet with cleaning products and other cabinets with breakable items near ground level), as well as the cabinets under the sinks in all of our bathrooms (more cleaning products).


Our living room has a raised fireplace hearth made of brick - full of sharp edges for C to accidentally fall on.  Luckily, we don't have any other baby-height furniture with sharp edges (our coffee table has rounded edges).  We bought this Safe Edge and Corner Cushion pack in the "coffee" color, which matches the color of our fireplace brick well.  It comes with a big roll of padded cushion for straight edges, as well as 4 "corner" padded pieces.  It adheres with peel-and-stick 3M adhesive (provided), and was easy to cut to size for our fireplace.  C has already started pulling up/climbing on the brick, so I am glad we installed this early! 


This is a problem that our parents didn't have to deal with when we were kids, since TVs were giant boxes that weighed a hundred pounds.  Now we have monstrous TVs in our homes that balance on a teeny little stand, which is sturdy enough until you have a child pulling up/climbing on the furniture.  A TV is super easy to tip over (I've caused them to teeter myself at friends' houses just bumping into their furniture!)  According to www.safekids.org, every 3 weeks a child dies from a television tipping over. Over the past 10 years, a child visited the emergency room every 45 minutes because of a TV tipping over. Per the Consumer Product Safety Commission, a TV can fall with the force of thousands of pounds. That is 10 times more powerful than being hit by a NFL lineman.  Yikes.  

If your TVs are all wall-mounted, you're fine.  However, if you have flat-screen TVs on furniture (dresser, entertainment center, etc.), you need to secure them to prevent them from tipping onto a little one.  You use the same holes that you would use to wall-mount your TV, so you don't have to drill into the back of your flat-screen TV (don't worry!)  You anchor the other end of the strap to either the piece of furniture the TV is sitting on or the wall behind the TV (we anchored our TVs to the furniture).  Again, I read Amazon reviews of several different brands of these TV anti-tip straps; there were cheaper options but reviews mentioned them being made of flimsy plastic and not being confident that they would really work in practice.  

These Safety Innovations straps had great reviews and are made of sturdy straps with metal (not plastic) brackets.  They were easy to install into the wall studs with a stud finder, an electric drill, and an electric screwdriver and came with the required hardware (including multiple sizes of bolts depending on the size of the mounting holes on the back of your TV).  We tried to wiggle our TV after installing the straps and that thing does. not. budge.


Similar with the TVs, heavy furniture is a major tipping hazard, especially furniture with drawers.  If a child opens the drawers and tries to climb them (which they will, at some point), it changes the center of gravity of the furniture and makes it easy to tip over on them, even if the piece of furniture is heavy and seems otherwise sturdy.  We opened a lower drawer on our tall dresser and were shocked how little weight we had to put on the drawer (in addition to the weight of the drawer's contents) for the entire dresser to become unstable.  

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission:
  • 81 percent of tip-over fatalities occur in the home.
  • 2/3 of TV and furniture tip-over fatalities involve toddlers.
  • 42 percent of tip-over fatalities occur in a bedroom.
  • Every 15 minutes someone in the U.S. is injured by furniture tip-over.
This video shows you how easily this can happen:




Ikea includes anti-tip straps with all of their furniture, which is awesome.  For all of our other furniture, we installed these anti-tip straps.  They're basically the same concept as the TV straps (#5 above) except that you drill holes in the back of your furniture, rather than use the existing TV mounting holes.  You anchor them into wall studs for a secure hold.  After installing these, Blair was able to pull on the furniture with his full body weight without the furniture so much as even rocking towards him.  

We installed a total of 6 of these in our house (3 dressers, china cabinet, TV stand, and a desk with a tall hutch - basically every piece of furniture with drawers or shelves).  Note that you need 2 straps per piece of furniture; it is confusing that it's labeled a "2-pack", because that makes you think that it would secure 2 pieces of furniture, but no - you need both straps for 1 piece of furniture.


If your house has the standard spring-style, floor-level door stops (ours does), kiddos love to pull off the white rubber ends, which can be a choking hazard.  We replaced all of our doorstops with these Mommy's Helper solid doorstops; super easy - they just screw right into the existing hole from your old doorstop.  (I'm not sure why they're called "soft" door stops, because they are solid, hard plastic - but they do the trick without creating a choking hazard).

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If you live in a 2-story house, you'll want baby gates too....but I can't recommend those since we live in a 1-story house and don't need them!


Hope this helps!



Wednesday, July 1, 2015

From the Kitchen: Coconut Oil Popcorn

My friend Leslie introduced me to this recipe (if you can call it that) for making popcorn.  I LOVE popcorn but I'm not a big fan of the microwaved-bag variety...and previously the air-popped popcorn that I had made was dry and flavorless.  This coconut oil popcorn is delicious, easy, and health(ish)...coconut oil is better than using butter, right??  Don't worry, it does NOT taste like coconut (my husband is addicted to this popcorn and he despises coconut).  It tastes buttery, salty, and delicious!  We may or may not eat this popcorn, along with apples and cheese, for dinner....like once a week.




First of all, you need to introduce these things to your life:
Morton Popcorn Salt, 3.75 oz (Pack of 12)








Coconut Oil Popcorn


Ingredients:

1/3 cup popcorn kernels
1 tablespoon coconut oil (I use Trader Joe's)
Coconut oil cooking spray (I use Trader Joe's. Most grocery stores also carry the PAM brand)
Popcorn salt (I use Morton's.  You can also use regular salt - I like the ultrafine popcorn salt because it sticks well!)


Directions:

Put 1 tablespoon of coconut oil in a large glass bowl (mine is a Pyrex bowl).  Heat it in the microwave until the oil is melted, 30-60 seconds.  Add 1/3 cup of popcorn kernels to the coconut oil and swirl to coat the kernels.  Place in the microwave and cover with a vented lid or plate (This is important! You will have a giant mess in your microwave if you don't cover the bowl!)  Cook for approximately 3 minutes and 15 seconds (your microwave may require more or less time than mine....listen for the popping to slow down considerably).

Remove from the microwave using oven mitts (the bowl will be crazy hot).  Spray the popcorn with the coconut oil spray and immediately sprinkle with (a lot of) popcorn salt.  Cover the bowl and toss to coat, repeating as necessary for the desired amount of salt.