Coping with sugar on Halloween an ongoing challenge

Halloween this year coincides with a full moon, which will set an especially spooky mood. Some of my most vivid childhood memories are from trick or treating on a dark, starlit night, and as an adult sharing the excitement in my own children’s lives as they let their imaginations run wild and are transformed by putting on costumes.

After almost every stop came the peek into their heaping treat bags to be sure they had enough candy and who may have more.

After some stops, trading would begin if a less desired treat was given.

I also treasure the sloppy and creative memories of pumpkin carving and the peaceful feeling of tucking in an exhausted Halloweener, fast asleep before we could even get the costume and face paint off.

I still have some fun with the visiting trick or treaters as they receive their treat bags. Their honest facial expressions will let you know if your treats are good or not.

This year we will have to get creative on delivering the treats to practise social distancing.

While it is realistic to assume that we may be consuming more treats than usual at this time of year, there are ways to help our body deal with the extra sugar. Drink lots of fresh water and consume extra fibre in your diet to help process and eliminate the sugar. Eating things like pumpkin seeds, ground flax seeds, hemp seeds and fresh vegetables and fruits can help.

Last but not least, consume healthy protein throughout the day.

These recipes incorporate some of the elements described above and are delivered in one-dish meals for greater convenience.

Slow Cooker Creamy Chicken Noodle and Vegetable Soup

A warm bowl of chicken noodle soup is so soothing, and the aroma while it is cooking is reassuring. Serve with fresh bread.

  • 3 medium boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • 8 c. low sodium chicken broth, divided 2 L
  • 2 tsp. minced garlic or a few dashes of garlic powder 10 mL
  • 1/2 tsp. dried oregano 2 mL
  • 3 large carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 4 ribs celery, chopped
  • 1/2 c. chopped onion 125 mL
  • 1 c. frozen peas 250 mL
  • 2 c. cream 500 mL
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 tsp. onion powder 2 mL
  • 1 1/2 c. egg noodles 375 mL
  • 1/4-1/2 c. flour depending on how thick you want the soup 60 to 125 mL

Instant Pot / pressure cooker method:

Place chicken in Instant Pot and add seven cups chicken broth, garlic, oregano, carrots, celery and onion. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Cover and set to pressure cook for 15 minutes if using thawed chicken, 25 minutes if using frozen. Use a natural steam release on the cooker once the time is up for 10 minutes, then use quick release to let the rest of the pressure out.

Uncover, set to “soup” setting and shred chicken with two forks.

In a medium bowl, whisk the flour into remaining one cup of chicken broth. Stir in heavy cream. Pour into Instant Pot and stir in peas and noodles.

Once soup is bubbling, cook for about five minutes longer or until noodles are tender. Taste, add salt and pepper as needed, garnish with fresh parsley if desired. Serve.

If you are using the slow cooker:

Place chicken in the slow cooker crock and add seven cups chicken broth, garlic, oregano, carrots, and celery. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Cover and cook on high for two hours (for thawed chicken, three for frozen) or low for six to eight hours.

Uncover and set to high (if it was on low). Shred chicken with two forks.

In a medium bowl, whisk the flour into remaining one cup chicken broth. Stir in heavy cream. Pour into slow cooker and stir in peas and noodles.

Cover and cook (on high) for 30 minutes longer, stirring occasionally. Taste, add salt and pepper as needed, garnish if desired and serve. Makes six servings. Source: www.lecremedelacrumb.com.

Cheesy Baked Vermicelli

As soon as the cool weather starts, I crave gooey cheese and pasta for comfort. This dish can be prepared ahead of time and placed in the refrigerator until it is time to bake, which is helpful on busy days. Delivering this casserole to the table is so satisfying as a cook.

  • 1 pkg. vermicelli pasta or thin spaghetti (spaghettini) 500 g
  • 1 c. grated Parmesan cheese 250 mL
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 lb. ground beef 454 g
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1/2 c. finely chopped mushrooms 125 mL
  • 1/2 c. chopped spinach 125 mL
  • 2 cloves garlic finely chopped (or 1 tbsp./15 mL garlic powder)
  • 1 tbsp. Italian spice such a oregano/ basil or a store bought mix 15 mL
  • 3 c. pasta sauce 750 mL
  • 1 1/2 c. water 375 mL
  • 1/4 c. chopped fresh parsley (I have a plant in my kitchen) 60 mL
  • 4 c. shredded mozzarella cheese 1 L

Cook pasta according to package directions for al dente, which is a boil for about three to five minutes (check the label).

Then drain and rinse with cool water. Place the cooled pasta in a large mixing bowl, toss with oil, the Parmesan cheese and then the two beaten eggs. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 F (180 C).

Meanwhile, in a large skillet, cook beef until lightly browned, then add the onion, mushrooms, spinach, garlic and spices.

Saute until tender, four to five minutes. Stir in pasta sauce, water and parsley, set to a low simmer for an additional eight to 10 minutes.

Prepare a 13 X nine inch (33 X 22 centimetre) baking pan and place half of the pasta mixture on the bottom. Top with half of the meat sauce and then half of the mozzarella cheese. Repeat layers.

Cover with foil and bake for 40 minutes. Uncover; bake until cheese is melted, 15 to 20 minutes longer. Let stand for about 10 minutes, then cut and serve. Source: adapted from www.simplyrecipes.com.

Slow Cooker Autumn Chili

When I asked my family what their favourite one dish meal was, chili was the hands-down winner.

It hits the spot as the weather cools down, and it is a great way to incorporate garden and field harvest. Add in lentils and vegetables to boost fibre and to make the flavour enticing.

Some of my eaters say they do not like onions, but really they have been eating them chopped up very fine for years.

For a more substantial meal, serve the chili over creamy mashed potatoes.

  • 1 tbsp. oil 15 mL
  • 1 lb. ground beef 454 g
  • 1 c. chopped onion 250 mL
  • 1/2 c. finely diced peppers 125 mL
  • 1/2 c. finely chopped fresh mushrooms 125 mL
  • 1/2 c. grated carrot 125 mL
  • 1 tbsp. garlic powder (or minced fresh garlic 1 tsp./5 mL) 15 mL
  • 1/2 c. rinsed, uncooked lentils 125 mL
  • 19 oz. can diced tomatoes (not drained) or 2 c. home canned 540 mL
  • 19 oz. can red kidney beans, drained 540 mL
  • 14 oz. can brown beans in tomato sauce 398 mL
  • 2 tbsp. chili powder 30 mL
  • 2 tsp. paprika 10 mL
  • 1/2 tsp. salt 2 mL
  • 1/4 tsp. black pepper 1 mL
  • dash cayenne pepper, if desired
  • 1 tbsp. brown sugar 15 mL
  • fresh hot mashed potatoes

In a large skillet, brown the beef, then add vegetables and garlic, saute until tender.

Add the mix to the slow cooker.

Then add the lentils, tomatoes, beans, spices and sugar.

Stir and cover. Cook on low for six hours.

Serve over mashed potatoes, if desired. Serves eight.

Just Like Starbucks Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffins

  • 1 1/2 c. flour 375 mL
  • 3/4 c. sugar 175 mL
  • 1 tsp. baking powder 5 mL
  • 1 tsp. baking soda 5 mL
  • 1/4 tsp. salt 1 mL
  • 1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice 5 mL
  • 1 1/2 c. pumpkin puree 375 mL
  • 1/4 c. butter, melted/cooled 60 mL
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract 5 mL
  • 1 egg
  • Cream cheese filling:
  • 4 oz. cream cheese, softened 125 g
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract 2 mL
  • 1 tsp. flour 5 mL
  • 2 tbsp. sugar 30 mL
  • 1 tsp. milk 5 mL

Preheat oven to 350 F (180 C) and prepare a muffin tray.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and pumpkin spice.

In a separate bowl, combine the pumpkin, melted butter, vanilla extract and egg.

Combine the wet mixture with the dry mixture and stir until just combined.

Fill muffin liners with batter about three-quarters full.

To make cream cheese filling: Place all ingredients into a bowl and combine.

Using a piping bag or Ziploc bag with corner tip cut off, add a dollop of cream cheese mixture to the muffin cups. It will sink slightly into batter.

Place muffin tray into preheated oven to bake for about 18 to 20 minutes.

Remove from oven and allow to cool two to three minutes before removing from tray.

Makes 12 muffins. Store in the refrigerator. Source: www.thecookingchicks.com.

Pumpkin snickerdoodles

This cookie is a nice change from our usual chocolate chip. The pumpkin adds seasonal flare, fibre and nutrition and the spices warm us up. Serve with milk or tea or coffee.

Cinnamon-sugar mix:

  • 1/4 c. sugar 60 mL
  • 1 tbsp. cinnamon 15 mL

Cookie dough:

  • 1 c. butter, softened 250 mL
  • 3/4 c. sugar 175 mL
  • 1/2 c. brown sugar 125 mL
  • 1 tbsp. vanilla extract 15 mL
  • 1/2 c. canned pumpkin (not pie filling) 125 mL
  • 2 3/4 c. flour 675 mL
  • 1 1/2 tsp. cream of tartar 7 mL
  • 1 tsp. baking soda 5 mL
  • 1 1/2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice 7 mL
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon 5 mL
  • 1/2 tsp. nutmeg 2 mL
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cloves 2 mL
  • 1/2 tsp. salt 2 mL

Note: If you do not have pumpkin pie spice on hand, make the other spice measures heap up in the measuring spoon to compensate.

In a small bowl, stir together 1/4 cup sugar and one tbsp. cinnamon and set aside.

Preheat oven to 375 F (190 C) and lightly grease or line a baking sheet.

In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugars.

Add vanilla and pumpkin and mix well.

Add flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, pumpkin pie spice, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and salt and mix until well combined.

Use a cookie scoop or a tablespoon to make one dough ball. Roll in the cinnamon-sugar mixture, then place on prepared baking sheet at least three inches apart.

Use your fingers to gently shape the dough ball so that it is taller than it is wide. *This is important to keep the cookies nice and thick and prevent too much spreading.

Bake for eight to 10 minutes. I like mine under-cooked a bit for a super soft and chewy texture. They will continue to cook on the baking sheet while they cool. Allow to cool for five to 10 minutes on the baking sheet before transferring to a cooling rack.

Store at room temperature in an airtight container up to five days. Makes three dozen cookies. Source: www.lecremedelacrumb.com.

Here are some alternatives to sugary or zero nutrient treats:

  • Sugar-free chewing gum, like Spry cinnamon or spearmint or PUR gum, made with an all-natural sweetener Xylitol, not artificial sweeteners. Ask in your local health food store, local grocers or pharmacy for gum sweetened with Xylitol, which is scientifically proven to have oral health benefits.
  • Chilled water bottles or sparkling fruit juices. Kids are thirsty while out Halloweening and these options are better than a pop. If a pop is a must, try Zevia, a carbonated beverage sweetened with stevia, a sugar alternative.
  • Read labels and buy foods that contain less than four grams of saturated fat, less than four grams of sugar and more than four grams of fibre, such as individual packs of whole grain chips or snack-sized popcorn. Fibre will help to stabilize blood sugar after consuming sugar.
  • Fresh juicy mandarin oranges. I once had a little trick or treater bypass the chocolate bars being offered to her after spotting a bowl of fresh mandarins on the table. She politely asked to switch her chocolate for the orange.

It can help to not make a big deal about all of the junk your children have in their bags. In a few days the excitement fades, making it easier to turn their attention from the candy. Remember, we always want what we cannot have.

Looking for COVID-19 coping stories

The past six months have been strange, disruptive, freeing and lonely.

How have you coped?

What have you learned or what are you now doing differently?

Please share your experiences, stories and thoughts with us.

A draw for a gift basket of Canadian-made products will be made from all the entries on Dec. 7.

A sample of reader replies will be shared in future columns.

Please send your Coping With COVID Ideas to team@producer.com or mail to:

The Western Producer,
1000-3530 Millar Ave.,
Saskatoon SK,
S7P 0B6

All entries must be received by Dec. 7.

Jodie Mirosovsky is a home economist from Rosetown, Sask., and a member of Team Resources. Contact: team@producer.com.

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