She is only 4 months old, but I can’t wait for the day when Lily Rose can start cooking and baking with me. I am really looking forward to our little girl getting messy in the kitchen, laughing and licking icing, taste-testing and seeing how fun it is to make something with our hands, and a very useful Kitchen Aid mixer;) I loved baking with my own mother growing up, but like a lot of people, this love of cooking and baking disappeared for a time, and I lost interest as I grew into a teenager and got busy with friends and new hobbies. In university, cooking consisted of chicken fingers and Sidekicks. Later, while living in Japan, I preferred going out to enjoy the new and exciting cuisine rather than spend time trying to create it in my tiny kitchen. Then over three years ago, I was house-sitting for a friend’s parents and decided to try out their fancy mixer and make fun cupcakes for a St. Patrick’s Day party. I made Guiness cupcakes, and after two trials of Bailey’s butter cream frosting, I produced my first homemade batch of treats, all on my own. They were a hit, and I so enjoyed the experience that I started regularly baking cupcakes for friends’ birthdays, kids’ parties, and showers. I experimented with flavour combinations, tried new decorating techniques, and got that fancy Kitchen Aid mixer from my parents to further pursue my new passion. I even got paid a few times for creating my signature Bree Cakes. And I started to enjoy cooking again when I began my last blog, A Lighter, Brighter Life. I wanted to lose weight, and in reading other blogs and visiting other sites, I discovered so many delicious clean eating and healthy recipes I could replicate for myself. It was fun to test out lighter versions of my comfort food favourites, and discover new meal ideas I would never have discovered prior to my weight loss journey.
Among the sage advice given to me by my experienced mommy friends and family members, was the importance of cooking and freezing meals to have on hand when baby arrived. With the hectic days and sleepless nights of feeding, diapering and learning to care for a baby for the first time looming ahead, I took the advice to heart and planned out several meals to cook, and things to bake. I dove into this task and ever the planner, I tried to complete most of it by my first week of Maternity Leave. I was scared about labour, and nervous for life after baby, but for a girl who enjoys cooking (just not the clean up!) and really loves baking, this method of preparing for baby got me excited and more importantly, provided for a sort of calm before the storm. Cooking provides me this, a sense of relaxation: reading a list of ingredients, cutting and prepping, mixing, tasting and tweaking recipes, and watching something delicious be created from scratch. I also love how cooking and baking makes people happy: Jon’s big grin of approval as he tries a dish; my mother (a great cook in her own right) and family insisting that I make something again that they’ve especially enjoyed; my friends asking me for the recipe of a new treat I’ve mastered.
But taking time to enjoy the process of cooking and the ensuing reactions was not going to happen when Lily Rose first arrived: those first days and weeks were all about survival. While I tried to maintain healthy eating for most of my pregnancy, there is no denying that I indulged in quite a few cravings. So for the meals that helped make bringing home baby a slightly easier experience, I chose to balance the healthy versions of favourites with some not as healthy, but oh so delicious, treats.
First, the casseroles. I love skinnytaste.com: it has so many low fat versions of comfort food and family favourites. Mac and Cheese is at the top of my comfort food list, and while I love my mother’s Mac and Cheese, this Broccoli Mac and Cheese incorporates veggies and a low fat sauce that is surprisingly rich. My only suggestion is to add more of your favourite spices to this recipe (Jon loves spice so I often add chili flakes and paprika; I love garlic and how mustard enhances mac and cheese, so sometimes I go that route and add garlic powder and dried mustard; last week I finally tried adding the teaspoon of ground nutmeg so many people suggested and it was by far my best batch yet!). Another great site is thepioneerwoman.com. I discovered her on the Food Network, and love her delicious country-influenced recipes. Another childhood fave, when my mother was busy and she didn’t have time to make something from scratch, was Hamburger Helper. This Sour Cream Noodle Bake casserole brings back memories of the old staple, with sour cream and cottage cheese making it especially yummy.
For protein, I chose to make and flash freeze Turkey Meatballs so that I could add them to spaghetti (and now that I am trying to eat better to lose the lingering baby weight, hoping they go just as well with spaghetti squash). I followed the recipe and added in the grated carrot for added nutrition, and to practice sneaking veggies into baby’s meals, Jessica Seinfeld-style.
We eat of lot of soup, but need something to make it more of a meal, so I wanted to have biscuits on hand. I don’t think I am the only one who loves the ones at Red Lobster, so I searched online to try and replicate them. I am now obsessed with these Cheddar Herb Biscuits. I took the advice and flash froze them so that I could pop them in the oven to have with at lunch or as a Sunday brunch treat. Speaking of brunch (one of the best things in life!), freezing pancakes is also something I’ve done, and experimenting with healthier recipes became almost a hobby for me. My favourite are the Whole Wheat Banana Pancakes from 100daysofrealfood.com, but I suggest substituting pumpkin puree or blueberries for a seasonal switch-up.
Instead of relying on store-bought granola bars for snacks that were high in fibre, and also packed some protein, I baked muffins. First I went with fall flavours of pumpkin, cranberry and walnut for some very delicious and healthy Pumpkin Muffins. Next time I make these I’m going to substitute white chocolate chips for the walnuts, as my friend Joanne suggests, making these an even tastier treat! I also made Blueberry Muffins that use Greek yogurt, fresh blueberries and oatmeal for another hearty and healthy snack. And for my eventual chocolate cravings, I made a lighter version of a sweet treat, Pumpkin Brownies. Thanks go to my best friend Haley and her mother Colleen who first introduced me to this quick and easy, but equally delicious recipe. To make it my own, I add a lot of pumpkin pie spice and a some chocolate chips.
Cooking and baking were a passion before Lily Rose entered our lives, and now that life has settled down a bit, I am looking forward to spending a bit more time in the kitchen. This holiday season, I was able to get a good amount of Christmas baking done while Lily napped, but those treats and copious amounts of chocolate, cheese and wine did a number on my already squishy after-baby body. I am now on a mission to find even more healthy but delicious recipes, ones that don’t take ages to make, or rely on fancy ingredients. All this to help keep me healthy and happy while breastfeeding, allow me to slowly drop some baby weight, and make life as a new momma easier, and a little bit sweeter;)