Archives

Food & Recipes

Slow Cooker Taco Chicken Bowls

September 29, 2017

fullsizerender-25

First up in the “Week of Recipes” is this Slow Cooker Taco Chicken. My family loves this recipe and I love it because it’s so easy to throw together early in the day. Just toss together chicken, salsa, black beans, water and taco seasoning mix in the slow cooker, then set and forget. While I love the idea of making elaborate meals each night of the week, the reality is that easy and healthy is the name of the game and this recipe is certainly easy.

We actually served this dish for a group of college guys who came over on Sunday after church. I had plans to use the leftovers in another recipe, but with three college guys eating the meal, plus my husband, we had ZERO leftovers when it was all said and done. I set out a bunch of toppings, including sour cream, shredded lettuce, whole grain scoop style tortilla chips, shredded cheese and sour cream and let everyone customize their own bowls as they saw fit!

Slow Cooker Taco Chicken Bowls
Author: 
Recipe type: Entree
 
Ingredients
  • 2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 jar (16 oz.) mild or medium salsa
  • 1 can (15 oz.) black beans (undrained)
  • 8 oz. water
  • 1 packet taco seasoning mix
  • 1 bag whole grain scoop-style tortilla chips
  • 1 heart of Romaine lettuce, shredded
  • 1 cup shredded Mexican cheese blend
  • Sour cream
Instructions
  1. Combine chicken breasts, salsa, black beans, water and taco seasoning mix in a large slow cooker, stirring to combine all the ingredients. Cover and cook on HIGH 4 to 5 hours or LOW for 8 hours. Uncover and use two forks to shred chicken breasts* Turn slow cooker to warm and let stand, uncovered, 5 minutes to cool slightly.
  2. Spoon chicken mixture into bowls. Top with shredded lettuce, tortilla chips, cheese and sour cream.
  3. Store leftovers in a resealable container to use for next meal.
  4. *If you have a vegetarian in the family, you can portion out some of the black beans before shredding the chicken for a veg friendly option at this point.

 

Family, Food & Recipes

A Week of (TRULY EASY) Family Meals

September 28, 2017

screen-shot-2017-09-28-at-12-16-07-pm

When I took to Instagram to ask what YOU wanted to see more of on Espresso and Cream the answer was very clear: More easy, healthy, weeknight family meals. I get it, because the dinnertime struggle is real, isn’t it? The hours of 5-7 pm are the craziest, most stressful hours of the day, aren’t they? They are also the only hours my husband gets to spend with the girls during the week before bed time, and I have been craving a solution that makes that time less stressful.

And while I would love to reach for take-out some nights, we have very few take-out options in our small town and hardly any healthy take-out so cooking at home is a necessity. I have dabbled in meal-subscription services and meal planning services in the past, but I’ve been really frustrated by the amount of prep the recipes required and the generally complicated nature of some of the recipes. And don’t even get me started on services like Blue Apron… (so. much. chopping.)

But, if you’re trying to stay on a budget, you really do need your meals to be planned cohesively so that waste is minimized throughout the week and all your food is maximized. It’s great to go and pick out five yummy recipes on Pinterest, but if they aren’t cohesive you could be spending a LOT of money on all sorts of different ingredients and left with a lot of leftover food at the end of the week. Been there, done that.

And then I realized something: I am the solution. Well, not the solution, but I have the background and skills as a recipe developer and food editor to create the solution I have been craving. So last week I took 20 minutes to plot out and write down recipes I was already making for my family, and finding ways to utilize one day’s leftovers in a new way the next night and a really budget-friendly, EASY (truly!) meal plan was created.

So, starting next week I’m going to share an entire week’s worth of easy recipes. These are the type of recipes that my family makes on the regular but I’ve never shared because I told myself these weren’t really “recipes” and they were too simple to be blog-worthy. But that’s what we all really want, right? Recipes that require very little prep and are family-friendly. Since I’m a vegetarian, there are also tips in most of the recipes on how to make the recipe veg-friendly if you’re in a similar boat with both vegetarians and meat-eaters in your family.

Before I get to the meal plan itself, I wanted to share our strategy for the rest of the meals during the week aside from dinner. I usually make a large pasta bake with whole wheat pasta, ground beef, marinara and cheese on Sunday and portion it out for Joe’s lunches throughout the week. He eats the same thing again and again but doesn’t mind. I’ll include a clementine or other piece of fruit, a homemade treat (like a cookie) and some carrot sticks. It’s super easy! Since I work at home, I make a smoothie for lunch almost every day with protein + greens powder, almond milk, frozen banana, and peanut butter and Ainsley usually has leftovers, a PB&J with fruit and carrots, etc. And for breakfast we almost always have oatmeal with fruit and nut butter or eggs + toast.

I did all my grocery shopping at our local Walmart Supercenter and paid roughly $65 for all the ingredients for the meals themselves. And trust me – we had plenty of leftovers at the end of the week when it was all said and done! Enough to freeze or eat for lunch the next day. It was the first time in months that I didn’t get to the end of the week and feel like my fridge was totally barren. We ate well, I was NOT stressed at dinnertime and we stayed on track with our grocery budget.

MEAL PLAN
Monday // Slow Cooker Taco Chicken
Tuesday // Easy Three Bean Chili with Beef + Kale
Wednesday // Sweet Potato Chili Bake + Kale
Thursday  // Mediterranean Chickpea Salad with Pita
Friday // BLT Salads and Homemade Bread (I love Pinch of Yum’s recipe, which you should start the night before)
Saturday // Eat down the fridge leftovers!

GROCERY LIST // (for roughly 4 servings at each meal)

Produce
3 medium sweet potatoes
1 pkg. hearts of Romaine lettuce
2 bunches of kale
1 English cucumber
1 medium yellow, red, or orange sweet pepper
4 medium ripe tomatoes
1 lemon
Mixed greens (optional)

Meat
2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 lb. lean (at least 80%) ground beef
12 oz. bacon

Canned
1 can (28 oz.) crushed tomatoes
2 cans (15 oz. each) chili beans in sauce
1 (16 oz.) jar salsa
1 package taco seasoning
2 (15 oz.) cans black beans
1 (15 oz.) can white beans
1 (15 oz.) can chickpeas
1 jar kalamata olives (need 1/3 cup)

Dry
1 package whole wheat/whole grain pita bread
2 bags whole grain scoop-style tortilla chips

Dairy
8 oz. feta cheese
1 (8 oz.) container sour cream
2 bags shredded Mexican blend cheese or cheddar cheese (2 cups)

Pantry Items
Olive oil or grapeseed oil
Butter
All-purpose flour
Salt and pepper
Salad dressing of your choice for BLT salad (we like poppyseed and balsamic vinaigrette mixed 50/50)
Spices (cumin, chili powder, smoked or regular paprika, onion powder, dried oregano)
Garlic (for ease, I like the pre-minced garlic in a jar)
Brown sugar

Other Items We Bought
Yogurts (Fage 2% for me, flavored Chobani for Joe and Ainsley)
1 gallon 2% milk
1 gallon unsweetened almond milk
18 eggs
Sparkling water
Applesauce pouches
Peanut butter
Whole grain bread
3 or 4 avocados
3 or 4 apples
1 package clementines
2 bunches of bananas
Frozen raspberries and/or blueberries
Rolled oats
Trail mix

Uncategorized

Favorite Books // Summer 2017 Edition

September 25, 2017

img_5569

I’ll be the first to tell you I’m an avid reader who has fallen off the wagon in recent years. I used to devour books as a child and young adult, but motherhood pushed reading anything long-form to the back burner unless it was a book about sleep training, potty training, or something so very practical that I needed to know to move forward in my parenting journey.

A couple months ago I started reading The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod (more on that later…) and one of the things I loved the most about the book was the emphasis on making reading part of your daily (early) morning routine. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that after reading The Miracle Morning I also happened to complete a handful of other books, and for someone who has been stuck in a start-stop pattern with book reading that’s really saying something!

My biggest tip if you want to get back into the habit of reading books would be to make small goals, like reading just 5 or 10 minutes per day, and easing into reading again. I got stuck telling myself that I didn’t have time to read, because I had the misconception that I needed to have an hour to read if I was going to really get into a book. But the truth is that I don’t know if I’m going to consistently have an hour to read for the next 10 years while raising little kids, so I’m biting off small chunks. Also, although I much prefer hard copies of books, in this season of life, having books on Kindle and the Kindle app on my phone is more practical. Then, instead of reaching for my phone to scroll social media when I have down time, I’m more likely to open my Kindle app and read a few pages instead.

Here’s what I’ve been reading lately!

1. The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod (free on Kindle)
Like I mentioned above, The Miracle Morning was the book that jumpstarted all my new reading. I’m already a morning person by nature, but this book was an awesome read that encouraged some really wonderful, new practices into my morning routine and gave it additional structure and purpose.

2. The Magic of Motherhood by Ashlee Gadd
If you’re a mom, chances are you’ve read at least one of the beautiful essays on the blog Coffee + Crumbs. I’m always encouraged by their site and podcast and this book is no different. It’s a collection of essays about motherhood that had me feeling all the feels. I cried so many happy/sad tears while reading this book that Joe was worried about me. I would highly recommend this as a gift to the new moms or expecting moms in your life!

3. Grace Not Perfection by Emily Ley
The Simplified Planner creator, Emily Ley, is a mom of three little kids, including a set of twins who are Ainsley’s age. I loved her book – which is not only beautiful but also a really encouraging, heartfelt read about finding time for what truly matters and giving yourself grace in the journey of motherhood. She had me laughing, nodding in agreement and even crying at times.

4. Oh Crap Potty Training by Jamie Glowacki
Yes, this is a parenting book, a potty training book none the less, but it was such a helpful, funny read! Anyone who can make potty training both educational and entertaining gets all the kudos in my book. And if you’re even thinking about potty training your toddler, get this book sooner rather than later. Our potty training experience was so smooth and uneventful because of it.

5. The Wellness Project by Phoebe Lapine
Friends! You need to read this book. If you’ve ever wanted to live a healthier lifestyle and improve your wellness but also want to find a happy balance of still living life, I can’t recommend this book enough. The author, Phoebe, is a personal chef and blogger who spent a year in search of improving her health and overall wellness. I learned so much about gut health, stress management, and more. And I think anyone who is curious about how their personal care products impact their health will find that chapter particularly eye-opening.

6. You Are A Badass by Jen Sincero
I hated this book. And I don’t say that lightly. I know, it’s trendy and gets rave reviews all over the internet but I just couldn’t stomach this book. Although the author talked a lot about God and faith, her entire perspective on the topic was very mystical and hardly rooted in sound Biblical principles. It was very “rah rah!” “the power is within you!” and while that might feel good to read, and I’m all about empowerment, I think self-reliance is a slippery slope. Additionally, I felt the book was repetitive and light on actual content.

 

Family

Baby Sleep // Independent Crib Sleep

September 20, 2017

img_4482

I’ve been really hesitant to talk about the topic of baby sleep, despite the large number of requests I’ve gotten on the topic, because I’m afraid the second I talk about sleep my baby will decide she hates sleeping. That’s the way these type of things usually work, right? So I’ll preface this by saying that there are plenty of aspects on baby sleep that I don’t have mastered, but both Ainsley and Collins were/are babies who loved to sleep in their cribs and they both are now really great at putting themselves to sleep. So, without further preamble, let’s talk about how to get your baby to enjoy sleeping in their crib and go down easily!

To lay the groundwork, we are big believers in Babywise. Joe and I are both “sleep sensitive” individuals, meaning that we don’t do super well with very little sleep and thrive on some degree of routine. I also believe that babies and children need good, restful sleep for optimal health and brain development. Those two factors led us to Babywise and our implementation of a schedule at an early age for both girls.

When Ainsley was little I got frustrated and discouraged by the fact that I had lots of friends who didn’t follow a schedule and had babies who were sleeping through the night much earlier than my baby. I (wrongly) assumed that if I followed the book and a schedule that I would see the results in night time and nap time sleep. But, as moms know, A + B doesn’t always equal C. For us, the greatest benefit of Babywise wasn’t that our children slept longer stretches sooner than other babies, but that implementing the strategies made for very independent sleepers who were easy to put to sleep without a lot of extra “stuff” or routines.

Creating an Independent Sleeper 

Crib Sleep //
With both girls, we started them off in their cribs from day 3 and day 1 respectively. I know that goes against the AAP’s new recommendation, so that’s ultimately up to your own comfort level. It only took three days for me to realize that I couldn’t sleep with Ainsley in the room with us. Every noise or grunt woke me up and I found myself interfering too quickly when she wasn’t even awake but was going through a period of less restful sleep. For new moms, I should stress that there is a difference between true crying and fussing between sleep cycles. That will different from baby to baby, so give it some time and you’ll start to learn your baby’s cries and noises.

All that to say, the crib was a familiar and comfortable place for the girls from the start. I also found it easier to get them used to their cribs when they were very sleepy newborns rather than waiting until they were older and sleep became more challenging as they “woke up” from the sleepy newborn stage. With Ainsley, I let her take more naps on my chest or in my arms, but with Collins I just didn’t have the time with a busy toddler so she took most of her naps in her crib from the start.

Our Crib Set-Up //
-Black-Out Curtains
-Crib with nothing attached to it, no mobiles, nothing to indicate the crib is a place of “play”
-Baby snugly swaddled* (we liked this swaddle and this swaddle best)
-Sound machine running (we have one of these for both our girls)
-Once we were ready to drop the swaddle, we transitioned into the Zipadee-Zip since babies can safety be in one when they are able to roll

*The most recent safe sleep recommendations say to drop the swaddle at 8 weeks due to a rolling risk; we dropped it closer to 10 weeks.

Routine // Eat, Play, Sleep
As anyone who follows Babywise knows, the routine is Eat-Play-Sleep. They recommend that you feed baby, then allow them to have their awake time (which as a very little baby, will be pretty much non existent at first) followed by sleep. This prevents baby from getting into a “eat to sleep” cycle where they need to eat in order to fall asleep. Because, if they eat to fall asleep every time, when they are older your baby may have an eat-to-sleep association that results in more frequent night wakings.

Beginning Stages of Independent Sleep // Birth – 8 Weeks 
During the early days and weeks I would put the girls down to sleep awake but very drowsy in their cribs, swaddled, and then proceed to play paci-pong until they fell asleep. A paci is technically a sleep prop, but for both girls this worked well during the early days when they needed some way to soothe themselves but I didn’t want to feed or rock to sleep. Of course, there were plenty of times when the girls were little when I would end up holding them to extend a short nap or let them fall asleep on my chest or in the car seat. I’m just saying this as a general rule of thumb, aiming for at least a couple naps each day in their crib.

Around 10 weeks (8 weeks with Ainsley) we dropped the swaddle and the paci at the same time cold turkey. It made for a rough couple days with both girls, short naps and more night wakings, but it was well worth the effort in the end. We transitioned Ainsley into a Merlin’s Magic Sleep Suit after the swaddle, but that’s not approved for when they can roll, so with Collins we decided to go straight to the Zipadee-Zip and it worked like a charm. Plus, that’s one less thing to worry about transitioning out of since they can wear it until they are much older.

Cry-It-Out //
Eventually, with both girls, we did have to do small amounts of controlled crying to work through some sleep issues. It’s my personal belief that “self soothing” isn’t possible until babies are actually able to soothe themselves by intentionally bringing their hands to their mouth, moving around in their crib, etc. Others probably have different opinions on the topic, and that’s okay! To me, it just didn’t make sense to leave a small baby, swaddled and unable to do anything to “soothe” themselves, left to cry for any extended period of time.

Once Ainsley and Collins were transitioned out of the swaddle and could bring their hands to their mouth and move around in their cribs to find a comfy spot I felt more comfortable allowing them to cry in intervals of 5 to 15 minutes.

So, if I knew that baby was fed, changed, and tired, I would give them some time to work it out on their own. I would pick a time interval that felt comfortable for me, 5 minutes when they were on the younger side, and eventually longer as I got to know them and their patterns and needs more. If they were still crying after the set interval, I would go in and verbally soothe or pat baby on the tummy for 30 seconds and then leave and start the interval process again. Rinse and repeat until sleep happened. With Ainsley’s strong-willed personality it took more intervals that Collins who was an easier baby to sleep train, at least up to this point.

Night Time Sleep // Feeding Before Bed
Prior to working with a sleep consultant, our bed time routine was bath, jammies, book, bottle and bed. It was the only time of day when we fed a bottle right before sleeping. When we worked with our sleep consultant, she strongly recommended we mix up the routine so we weren’t feeding right before bed to prevent the eat to sleep association from forming.

Now (at 4 months) we aim for Collins to be awake at least 2 hours before bed time. About 30 minutes before bed time we give her the bed time bottle, followed by her bath, jammies/Zipadee, reading a book and prayers. Then we lay her down in her crib awake, kiss her on her forehead and say “Have a good night! Love you!” turn off the lights, turn on the sound machine and close the door. At this point she rarely cries at bed time but will fuss and wriggle around a bit and fall asleep.

Practice Makes Perfect //
Really, there is no magic to getting your baby to sleep easily and independently in their crib. It’s really just a matter of practice. Consistently putting baby down in their crib awake and allowing them to be comfortable with putting themselves to sleep, getting comfortable and familiar in their crib and room, etc. Like anything with kids, I’ve found it takes consistency and time.

I’m sure I’ll get some questions about WHY it matters to us that our kiddos go to sleep easily in their crib. Joe and I really want to prioritize our marriage and make sure we can still get away on date nights, weekend trips, etc. And for me, it’s much easier to leave the girls with babysitters and family if they are predictable and their sleep routine is easy for others to replicate – both for baby’s sake and for the sake of those who are caring for them. Plus, like I said earlier, restful sleep is a gift for everyone in our family when we can make it happen.

Like I said earlier, I’m not the expert on this subject. I recommend reading Babywise first, then seeking out resources like this amazing and thorough blog as well as the Babywise Moms Facebook Page for extra support!

**Affiliate links used when applicable 

Family, Fashion

Volumizing Hair Tutorial

September 18, 2017

img_4931
I’ve been asked time and time again to do a tutorial on how I get volume in my hair. I guess it seems second nature to me at this point, since I’ve been faking voluminous hair for years now. If you’re in the same boat as I am – where you love the look of voluminous hair but aren’t blessed with naturally thick, beautiful hair, or maybe you had a baby and you used to have beautiful hair but feel it’s now thinner and more lifeless than before, then this tutorial is for YOU.

Over the last year I’ve really become a product minimalist. The only products I used in this tutorial is this split end serum and this volumizing mist. And if you’ve been curious, my hair has really been thanking me for switching over to a new shampoo and conditioner than I can’t stop talking about. I personally use the Volume + Shape Shampoo and Repair + Nourish Conditioner.