Warm and Cozy Hot Chocolate

We have an icky bug floating around the house. It’s just a cold, but there are five of us. And when we have an icky bug, it can take weeks to run it’s course through our family. We still have a few sniffles, but we’re almost in the clear. The little one started it all. She missed school last Friday because of it. And of course they had something special planned that day. It breaks my heart when they’re sick. It’s worse when they miss an event they’ve been looking forward to all week because of it. This called for a little extra mommy lovin’.

So I had to re-create “warm and cozy day” at home. Especially since she was fighting a cold. We made hot chocolate from scratch. I haven’t bought that stuff in the packets in over a year.  We used to always have it around. So now when I make hot chocolate, it’s extra special.

While I prepared the hot chocolate, she picked a spot and arranged our picnic blanket and her stuffed “aminals”. She came to the kitchen several times. She’d grab my hand and lead me into the living room and ask “Is this okay?” They are unbelievably cute when they’re three.

The cookies were Trader Joe’s Highbrow Chocolate Chips. We don’t normally have this kind of thing in the house, but they were leftover from an event over the holidays. I was saving them for an emergency, and this seemed like the right time. The warm, creamy hot chocolate and those crispy cookies were perfect together. She forgot all about school.

“Uh oh. I had a little accident Mommy.” No problem. I worried that the all that chocolate would keep her from napping, but she slept soundly. The fever never came back after that. I doubt it had much to do with our warm and cozy hot chocolate, but who knows. I let her believe it was the cure.

Warm and Cozy Hot Chocolate

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups organic whole milk
  • 1/4 cup organic sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • pinch of  sea salt
  • 2 ounces good quality dark chocolate (or 1 square)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon organic virgin coconut oil
  • splash of organic heavy cream or half and half (optional)
  • marshmallows are optional

Method:

  1. Heat milk in a small saucepan over low heat.
  2. Whisk in the sugar, cocoa powder, vanilla extract, coconut oil and salt until dissolved.
  3. Stir in the chocolate until melted.
  4. Remove saucepan from heat and allow to cool slightly or add a splash of cold heavy cream or half and half, or a dollop of whipped cream. Throw in a few marshmallows if desired. Makes 2 servings.

I decided to add the coconut oil not just for a little more flavor, but to make it a little extra nourishing for my feverish lil’ pumpkin. And to strengthen my immune system, just in case I was next… I was.

Coconut oil has been used for centuries to treat illnesses.

The human body converts lauric acid into monolaurin which is claimed to help in dealing with viruses and bacteria causing diseases such as herpes, influenza, cytomegalovirus, and even HIV. It helps in fighting harmful bacteria such as listeria monocytogenes and heliobacter pylori, and harmful protozoa such as giardia lamblia. As a result of these various health benefits of coconut oil, though its exact mechanism of action was unknown, it has been extensively used in Ayurveda, the traditional Indian medicinal system. (from organicfacts.net)

I also had some homemade almond flavored whipped cream leftover from the a few nights before. Whipped cream is ridiculously easy to make from scratch. A cup of organic heavy cream, a few tablespoons of confectioners sugar and some almond extract, all whipped together with a stand or handheld mixer on high speed until thick and creamy. You can substitute with whatever extract you prefer. Store bought whipped cream isn’t anywhere near this good.

I doubled the recipe so I’d have enough leftover for the other two when they came from school. Friday treat!!

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Naples and Exploring Natural, Organic Markets and Restaurants

Naples. Naples. Naples. I can’t wait to go back. As I mentioned in my previous post, we were in Florida visiting my sister last week. We decided to drive three hours and spend a few days in Naples during the work week. We stayed at the Best Western Inn & Suites which was highly rated on every site we checked. I can confirm that it was definitely a great place. The kids were thrilled. They were expecting the usual one-room-with-two-beds hotel room and had no idea what a “suite” was. (We’ve stayed in them before, but apparently they don’t remember.) It had a separate bedroom, large bathroom and small kitchen. The living area was nice and roomy all the rooms were very nicely furnished and decorated. There was a balcony with a couple chairs and a table. It was screened in, which was nice. Though the view was just of the pool and adjacent building… hey it was Florida. The pool is surrounded by lush, green trees and plants and brightly colored tropical flowers. So our view was what I’d call “tropical rain forest”. Oh and the building was made of beautiful stones, not some drab brick or stucco. I wish I had taken a picture. The first morning I woke up and looked out the sliding glass doors I felt like I was in paradise.

There were two separate pools and hot tubs (both nice) and they served a continental breakfast… which was nothing to brag about. I think I ate two hard boiled eggs while I was there and only to sustain me. They had white toast, waffles, apples, juice, cereal, oatmeal – nothing I want my family to eat in the morning. Haleigh usually ate toast and an egg. Linsey and London ate questionable waffles with “pancake syrup” (not to be confused with 100% Real Maple Syrup). I had a stash of organic apples, so we skipped their conventional ones.

Just a word about “pancake syrup” and sweeteners… Pancake syrup is usually made of corn syrup, sometimes high fructose corn syrup (sometimes both), and artificial coloring and flavoring and other disgusting additives and preservatives. (Click here for Aunt Jemima Ingredients and Nutritional Info.) My kids prefer it over real maple syrup which baffles me. At home Brian, London and I use the real the thing. I have made the girls pancake syrup the way my mom did when I was growing up – sugar, water and artificial maple flavoring – but won’t be making it again when this last batch is gone. We don’t use it much anyway and they’ll just have to learn to like the real thing, or go without. Luckily they also like fresh fruit and even peanut butter on their morning pastries. 100% Maple syrup is better for you than pancake syrup, but it’s still sugar. We rarely eat pancakes or waffles  anymore because I don’t believe they are healthy. Once you add the syrup, they pretty much become pastry. Newsflash: Pastries aren’t good for you. Pastries are a rare treat at anytime of day, especially breakfast.

I also don’t buy refined sugar at all anymore. We use mostly raw, local honey and 100% pure maple syrup for sweeteners when needed. I also use sucanat (whole cane sugar) or muscavado (unrefined brown sugar), which I get at a health food store, Healthy Home Market, and very rarely (mostly Brian’s coffee) we use evaporated cane juice. I usually buy organic and fair trade certified sweeteners. All of these cost more than refined white table sugar, of course. But we still spend less on it than we used to, because we eat so little of it – which is the way it should be really. I cut sugar out completely or at least by a third in almost every recipe.

While we were in Naples, we decided to kick typical vacation food to the curb and attempt to eat what we would if we were at home. To our complete surprise, we were right next to Naples version of Healthy Home Market, Nature’s Garden. And they had a cafe that served cold sandwiches, salads and a few hot dishes (chicken, rice and soups). We ate lunch there, twice. We tried to eat at a local restaurant that serves fresh, local and organic foods, but we were too late and it was a little more upscale than we expected. Not the kind of place you take three young kids on vacation. We ended up the Cheesecake Factory (blech!) that night. (Click here to see my review on Urban Spoon.)

Also across the street, though we didn’t get to explore it until the morning we checked out, was a group of stores called Food & Though 100% Organic Market. There was a small, boutique-like clothing and bedding store, gardening center, grocery store and cafe (wish I had known about this earlier in our stay). The organic clothing and bedding store was something new for me. I found my new favorite t-shirt – a 100% organic cotton “Eat Local” t-shirt. I would love to buy the bedding, but WOW! Not. Cheap. Eventually, I’ll replace all of ours, but that will take some time and planning. I also bought several packets of organic, heirloom seeds from the gardening center. I planted them yesterday!

The beach and the people in Naples were fantastic. What a melting pot. It was refreshing to be around such a diverse group and in such a beautiful place. In fact, many of the families we encountered weren’t even speaking English. Spanish, French, Italian, and others I can’t name. It truly felt like we had stepped into paradise.  We arrived late in the  afternoon on Tuesday. We had planned to walk out on the beach for a quick look and then go out to dinner. But after stepping out onto the beach, we changed our minds. We went and grabbed some sandwiches from that Nature’s Garden, ate and changed into our bathing suits. It was the best decision ever. We stayed to watch the beautiful sunset. When the sun finally disappeared completely, the people on the beach oohed and aahed and broke into applause. It was worthy.

After exploring Naples’ and Tampa’s natural, organic markets and restaurants, I realized that I have not done this enough in our own home town. I’m sure Charlotte has similar shops, and I know they have several restaurants I’d like to try. I mentioned that I was going to explore more of these stores in Charlotte to Brian and his response was, “I’m already ahead of you.” He found an app on his phone that lists “natural” places in Charlotte. At least once a week I plan to check out a new place. I may try the Healthy Home Market on East Boulevard this week. I’ve been to the one on Independence, but I’m thinking the East Boulevard store might have more to offer. We’ll see.

Meatless Dinners… Every Other Day

A few nights ago we had a vegetarian dinner: roasted potatoes, pea puree with avocado and Trader Joe’s Organic Succotash (frozen mix of corn, edamame and red peppers).  I thought this would be a good time to break the news to the girls that we were going to eat meat free dinners every other day. You may have guessed that the kids (particularly Haleigh) were less than thrilled. Maybe I should let her watch an episode of “Kill It, Cook It, Eat It.” She’s an animal lover, but still a child who can’t resist things that taste good, no matter how it got on her plate or how it might negatively affect her health. Then there’s the the fact that eating less meat means she will have to eat more vegetables…

Brian is okay with it, but said he’d draw the line at vegan. Good. Because I do too. So we’ll see how it goes. I myself am going to try and avoid meat altogether on those days, but won’t try to persuade the kids and Brian to the same. My breakfasts and lunches are fairly meat free already, so it won’t really be that difficult for me.

I’m not going to be a stickler about it either. I mean if something comes up and plans change (we’re not eating at home or I have to make a last minute change) I’m not going to make things difficult for myself. And I don’t plan on avoiding all animal products (like dairy, eggs, lard, etc.). The main reason for this decision is that while it’s great that we’re eating pastured and grass fed meat, we’re still eating too much of it, in my opinion.

I’ve been studying a diet known as the WAP diet, which is based on the research of Dr. Weston A. Price. He was a dentist and during the 1930’s he studied nutrition to find answers to problems such as dental deformities and tooth decay. A lot of his research is still used for general nutrition today. There is even a non-profit organization dedicated to sharing his nutritional findings, the Weston A. Price Foundation.

He found that eating the things our ancestors ate leads to a healthy life (and nicer teeth) and eating a more modern diet of processed foods was not. (I know. Duh, right?)

The diet endorses the consumption of large quantities of nutrient dense meat, fat and bone broths – and to tell you the truth, a lot of the evidence is pretty compelling and has led to even more research and evidence. You probably already know that I don’t believe natural fat is a bad thing. Fats like olive oil, coconut oil (watch this clip from the Dr. Oz Show), lard, tallow and butter are good, real fats. However, I do avoid overly processed and genetically modified oils like Canola oil, vegetable oil, shortening and margarine. I won’t go into why America has the good fats and the bad fats mixed up, but you can read this long, but informative article from Men’s Health or do your own research. There’s plenty of information and evidence refuting this misconception, but people tend to overlook it because it is ingrained in our brains that fat is bad. It’s not.

Real fat is good for us and I don’t avoid it at all. As a matter of fact, I try to make sure there is some fat in every meal. If I’m not eating meat which already contains good fat, then I’ll add a little real butter, cream or milk, coconut oil, lard, tallow or olive oil. Fat lubricates organs (especially the brain, heart and skin). The brain especially needs fat to be healthy. The good fats help with nutrient absorption (which is why I add oil or butter to veggies), digestion, weight loss (it’s true – it satisfying and it takes longer to digest, so you eat less) and lowers LDL (bad cholesterol).   I think America’s fear of fat is a bit unreasonable.

There are some good things in the WAP diet. It basically suggests eating food the way our ancestors did – natural and whole. Some good advice from the diet includes regularly consuming nutrient dense broths. They are nourishing, and I’m trying to do this as often as possible. For centuries traditional meals have included a soup or broth course at the start of a meal. Everyone’s probably heard by now that drinking a glass of water before a meal helps fill you up so you eat less. I think broth does the same thing, but has the bonus of added nutrients. Fermented foods are also recommended in the WAP diet. They provide us with probiotics which are important for proper digestive function, a cornerstone of good health.

That said, my problem with this philosophy (or at least with what the proponents seem to be suggesting) is that it focuses so heavily on consuming meat and fat that the importance of fruits and vegetables feels lost to me. I believe there should still be a nutritional balance, which includes more vegetables than meat. So just like all the other diets I’ve studied (veganism, vegetarianism, low carb, high protein, etc.), it offers some good advice, but again – no balance. I’m no expert, but I’ve learned a lot, including to trust my gut when it comes to food. We eat a little meat, fat and carbs, a moderate amount of dairy and seafood and lots of fruits and vegetables.

So forget “meatless Mondays”. We’ll be eating meatless dinners about every other day. More beans. More veggies and fruits. More uncommon foods like quinoa and tofu. Mostly homemade whole wheat pastas and breads to keep our carb count low. (Pasta and breads are processed foods, and when you are the one “processing” them you really learn to appreciate the work that goes into making them and probably won’t over indulge. Same goes with snack foods and desserts. Vowing to only consume what you are willing to make from scratch yourself will virtually end over consumption. Slow food, as opposed to “fast food”.) Wish me luck…

Cookies, Cookies, Cookies

I’m not so sure that the person that decided we should sell Girl Scout Cookies in January really thought this through. Why on earth would you choose to sell these yummy but… hmmm…  not-so-flattering-on-the-figure cookies in January. This is the month that that everyone is wrestling to keep their New Year’s resolution to be healthy. Why tempt them? Why not wait until March? By then, most of us have either given up, or have lost a few pounds and could stand to eat a couple boxes of these tasty cookies (all for a good cause, of course).

I love the Girl Scouts and pretty much everything they stand for. My girls and I have made some great memories and friendships that will last a lifetime. Camping, volunteering, learning… There are so many opportunities for me and my girls.

Haleigh helping out with breakfast at Camp Occoneechee.

But these darned, deliciously addicting cookies… The tradition began in 1917 when girls actually baked them at home, with their mothers’ guidance, and sold them to raise money for their troops. You know – a bake sale. Remember those? I’m not certain, but I think they are a thing of the past. I would so prefer home baked cookies made with real butter over the current ones. Why has America become so afraid of home baked goods? Is it germaphobia?  Many public schools even ban them! Sad really. So, I’m curious and noticed that there is a neat little feature in WordPress that allows you to create a poll. I’ve been wanting to try this, so here goes:

I’m sure logistically, home baked goods would be impossible given the current fear of foodborne illnesses, allergies and lawsuits. There are probably even rules and laws or at least policies against this sort thing (again – sad). I would prefer home baked goods over the processed ones any day.

That said, there is a great option for those of us that want to support local Girl Scout Troops and military troops, but don’t want to support another 2 or 3 pounds in the thigh area (or buttocks, belly, knees, wherever). I did buy a couple of boxes for the girls, but most of my boxes are going to be donated to military troops. These guys are active enough that they can stand the extra calories in exchange for a little taste of home, right? Win-Win-Win! If you want all or some of your order to go to the troops, just let your Girl Scout know. They’ll take care of the rest. Here’s an excerpt from hugsforsoldiers.org:

A Soldier serving in Iraq wrote to us:

The 988th Military Police Company Headquarters platoon out of Fort Benning, Georgia, would like to Thank You for the Girl Scout Cookies.  We have enjoyed getting a Taste of Home.  Our platoon enjoys the cookies on our down time after work or for a snack during our long days.  When we receive these gifts, we are grateful that people think about us and share with us the pleasures of the simple things, such as Girl Scout Cookies.  We appreciate your support.  It is a wonderful moral boost when you take care of us  The platoon has enjoyed the cookies and we all thank you for all your support.”


Seasonal Eating

Matthews Farmers Market, where I do the bulk of my grocery shopping, goes into official winter mode after the special Christmas market on Wednesday. I may have to branch out and visit some other local farmers markets to get us through our first winter of seasonal eating. It will be a challenge for sure. I’m already looking forward to spring when I’ll be eating vegetables from my own garden again and filling my bags at the farmers market with everything except leafy greens and root vegetables.

Mise en place for Rachel Ray’s Cod with Fennel and Onion: chopped Fennel, Fennel Fronds, Onions and Parsley and my addition, carrots (which I pan roasted separately).

I bought those REAL baby carrots from the farmers market last weekend. (Not those bleached and whittled down carrots you get in a bag from the grocery store.) Carrots are in season now, so we’ll be eating them more often. I have to admit it was a pain to wash all those tiny carrots. They were too small to peel, so I had to scrub each one with a produce brush. Sheesh! (But in the end it was worth it.) I only bought one bunch so there were only enough for us to have a few each. What was I thinking? This weekend I snagged two bunches, but wonder if I should have made it three… Anyway, here’s the finished product.

My version of Rachel Ray's cod with Fennel and Onion... with carrots.

 

Did you know that Trader Joe’s has a sustainable seafood plan. It won’t be in full effect until December 31, 2012 (bummer), but at least they’re working on it. It’s really hard to find quality, sustainable seafood. Here’s a quote from their website:

“In our efforts to offer seafood options that fit customer needs ranging from food safety and taste, to concern over the environment, we have established the following goal: all of our seafood purchases will shift to sustainable sources by December 31, 2012. This applies to all formats of seafood we offer: frozen, fresh, canned, etc.”

Here’s another delicious cod dinner with turnip kimchi (thanks Mom), nori, broccoli and rice. I marinated the fish Korean style for about 15 minutes (soy sauce, Korean chili paste, a touch of sesame oil, green onions and garlic) then broiled it. The broccoli was steamed and then tossed with sesame oil, soy sauce, garlic, green onions, salt and pepper and red pepper flakes.

About once a week we have roasted chicken with seasonal sides. Last night it was steamed spinach with freshly grated parmesan cheese and yummy butternut squash risotto. (There is too much stock in this recipe though. I only used 3 cups). I usually rub melted butter or olive oil over the chicken, then fresh minced garlic (or garlic powder when I’m feeling lazy), onion powder, celery salt, salt and pepper and sometimes paprika or dried or fresh herbs. You can season it any way you want. Pastured chickens don’t need to cook as long as conventional chickens. About an hour (maybe an hour and 5 minutes at the most) at 375 degrees usually brings a four pound pastured bird to an internal temperature of 160 degrees, which is acceptable for a pastured chicken. Anything more and the breast will be a little on the dry side. A conventional chicken would probably need to be cooked about 15 minutes longer so that it reaches the recommended internal temp of 180 degrees. (Place the therometer between the thigh and breast when checking for doneness to avoid piercing the meat and letting those juices run out.)

I only buy pastured chicken these days. They’re better for you. They do cost more, which is why I hardly throw any of it away. Once we’ve eaten most of the chicken, I boil the leftover carcass (for about two hours with a couple tablespoons of vinegar) to make homemade, organic, pastured chicken stock and pick the remaining meat from the bones before tossing them in the trash. I don’t know how much organic, pastured stock would cost in the grocery store. I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen it. I usually get a couple quarts of stock each time. A quart of organic “free range” stock costs around $4.00. And just in case you didn’t know, free range isn’t the same thing as pastured. Pastured stock would cost more.

Burgers with Alton Brown’s Chipotle Smashed Sweet Potatoes ( 5 star recipe from FoodNetwork.com, but the chipotles were way too hot and overpowering – inedible, next time I’m only adding a few peppers) and broiled zucchini. Oh how I’ve missed you zucchini. I’ve been craving summer foods and this dish was inspired by that. The cranberries and sweet potatoes were seasonal (though I barely touched the potatoes) and the burger and zucchini hit the spot for my summer food cravings. This meal was the stand out favorite for the month. I remember trying a pork burger from the Harvest Moon Grille while we were on the Know Your Farms Tour a few months ago. I didn’t have enough ground pork for our family of five, so I combined grass fed ground beef and pastured ground pork with an egg and some barbecue rub that Brian and I mixed up. I know it sounds crazy (unless you love cranberries as much as I do), but I made cranberry mayo to go with it – two parts mayo, one part leftover whole cranberry sauce. It was a little on the pink side, but the sweetness complimented the burger so well. Brian was initially turned off by the color, but after tasting it he promptly stole half my mayo. (It was okay though. I thought that might happen, so I made twice as much.)

Holidays on Whole Food

First – It’s almost Halloween, so here’s a little treat: Organic Valley Dairy Coupons and Free Apples from Earth Fare and more Earth Fare Coupons.

I can’t believe Halloween is two days away. It seems fall just arrived. Then again, yesterday at the elementary school, there were leaves on the floor. You know fall is in full swing when leaves are blown and tracked inside buildings. This is my favorite time of the year!! I absolutely L.O.V.E. the holidays. I’m the one who starts listening to holiday music on November 1st, the one who almost can’t wait for Halloween to be over so we can get on with the Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years. Spending time with family, good will, holiday decorations and preparations, the music and traditions… I get goosebumps thinking about it!!

The next few holidays are centered around food, so of course this excites me! I’m looking forward to holiday cooking and baking with real food. But it does lead me to wonder how am I going to stick to my whole food, non-processed, no conventional meat, low sugar and refined carbs lifestyle at potluck family dinners? I was thinking of buying a free-range turkey from the farmers market, but changed my mind when I figured up the price. At $6.00 a pound, that’s about $120 for a turkey. I might spring for this once a year, if I knew that it’s superior quality and taste would be appreciated by someone other than me. And if it were served with equally fresh, local vegetables and sides to honor the bird.

It’s really a bit odd how cheap whole turkeys are in the stores this time of year – $0.49 or even $0.29 per pound. A conventional 20 pound turkey will only set you back about $6 to $10. (If you have 10 to 15 guests, that’s $1 or less per person for the main protein.) Isn’t that just a bit strange? Especially considering the costs of feeding, raising and processing, packaging, storing and transporting a turkey? It’s life and all of the resources used to get it to your table is priced at $6 to $10. Really?

So what’s a whole-foods girl and her family to do at family gatherings? I’m not sure yet, but I’m open to suggestions. I know I’ll probably eat very little meat and dessert and try to pick out the most “whole-some” foods offered. I’m not sure whether the temptation will be too great. I don’t really miss that sort of food. I’m more worried that I’ll feel obligated to eat (or at least plate) the offerings so as not to offend anyone or draw attention to myself. The rest of my family, especially the girls, will eat with reckless abandon and take full advantage of the processed, sugar filled cornucopia. I wish I could say I have a plan for that, but I don’t  – yet.

I do have a plan for Halloween. I’m going to buy as much of their Halloween booty as they are willing to part with. I’ll conveniently remind them that they’re going to need money if they want to go see the new Harry Potter (coming out November 19th). We are usually pretty strict about how much they are allowed to eat daily anyway. (Between Halloween, Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Easter, our candy bowl never runs dry around here.) So limiting what they do keep, won’t necessarily be a problem.

But as for the rest, I’ll just take it in stride. I’m not the least bit worried that our new food philosophy will take the happy out of the holidays. The joy from it will easily overshadow little hiccups. We’ll cross each bridge when we get to it. While I would like to say my kids will make wise choices, they probably won’t. They’re kids. It’s my job to do that for a few more years…

Sleep Deprivation

This blog is about our healthy journey, which largely includes eating healthy. Most of my posts have been about food. This one isn’t. Our menu isn’t the only thing that has changed around here. While I do believe eating healthy is step one, you can’t stop there. Studies have shown that people who maintain a healthy weight, usually make healthy choices in all aspects of their life. Focusing on overall health, rather than just your waist line, will give you the weight loss you want and might even make it feel effortless. It did that for me. Don’t focus on the food-weight connection. It’s a smoke screen that will probably lead to failure.

I think the most important thing, besides eating well, is sleeping well. For me this was the thing that kicked me off that vicious yo-yo diet cycle and took me from “dieting” to healthier living. The light bulb went off when I realized that not getting enough sleep made me too tired to make healthy choices. I used to stay up until the wee hours of the morning. I was a self professed “night owl.” London, my sweet little alarm clock, usually woke me around 7 a.m., which meant I was getting about 5 hours of sleep most nights. (Apparently I wasn’t alone.  I’ve seen a facebook likey thing called “I stay up too late and then hate myself in the morning.” They have over 385,000 likes!!)

At some point I realized that I was cheating myself. I traded a few hours of sleep for a few hazy, tired hours in the middle of the night. BUT WAIT! THAT’S NOT ALL! In addition to those extra hours in the middle night, I also received, at no additional cost, one full cranky and unproductive day filled with guilt, which lead to feeling sorry for myself, all for one low price of just a few hours of sleep. I’d rationalize not eating or worse yet, eating prepared processed junk food to save time. It’s part of the cycle and studies have shown that sleep deprivation may lead to weight gain (especially in women). Here’s the cycle. You eat a lot of junk. You need more sleep. You don’t get enough sleep. You eat more junk.

Here are some side effects of sleep deprivation (from Wikipedia) :

So what is considered a good nights sleep? Everyone’s probably heard that we need 8 hours. But then some study showed that 8 is too many and 7 is the perfect number…? In reality the amount of sleep a person needs varies. There is no “perfect number.” Figuring out yours isn’t that difficult. I started out with 8 hours and then tried 7. Subtracting that hour made one noticeable difference. It was easier to get out of bed in the morning. I didn’t have that strong urge to hit snooze, roll over and go back to sleep. I also began to notice that I was naturally waking up just minutes before my alarm was set to go off. Any day that doesn’t start out with that atrocious “BEEP… BEEP… BEEP…” is already a good day in my book.

The only problem with all this, is that I didn’t want to give up those peaceful evening hours. The only sound as beautiful as a house filled with the joy and laughter of happy children, is a quiet house filled with the silence of happily sleeping children. So, I swapped those 3 to 5 unproductive hours at night for 1 or 2 really good ones in the morning. What a difference! I can’t believe what I’ve been missing all these years! It’s the same quiet, peaceful house, but now with a quiet, peaceful me. Serenity.

Here are some benefits of good night’s rest (from About.com):