Bone Broth: What’s up with that?

Bone broth has popped up as one of the latest ‘superfoods,’ and while I try not to elevate any one food too highly, there isn’t much to dislike about it.

Bone broth is made by simmering bones and meat for an extended period of time, and leads to a liquid higher in protein and minerals than traditional broth or stock. While all three liquids are good sources of protein, they do differ slightly in preparation and nutritional value.

Think of them in this order, which also reflects the cooking time and ‘intensity’ of the finished product: broth, stock, and then bone broth. Broth is made by simmering meat and may include some bones, and is cooked for 1-2 hours. Stock is made primarily of bones, but may contain some bits of meat stuck to the bones, and is simmered for closer to 4 hours. Bone broth is made of the same ingredients as stock (bones and some small scraps of meat), but is simmered for at least 8 hours and sometimes for more than 24 hours. Cooking for that long allows the bones to soften and release minerals and produce gelatin from the tough collagen found in the animal’s tendons and ligaments, which is what differentiates bone broth from traditional broths and stocks. For both stock and bone broth, it’s recommended to roast the bones prior to simmering to improve the flavor of the liquid.

Bone broth is high glycine, a nonessential amino acid (which means our bodies can synthesize it from other nutrients, unlike essential amino acids, which must be consumed in our diets) that promotes digestion, helps regulate blood sugar levels, provides antioxidant protection and may even aid in promoting better sleep. Proline is another nonessential amino acid found in bone broth that is required for the production of collagen in our bodies, which is important for the health of our joints. Additionally, proline plays a role in strengthening the muscles of our heart. Both proline and gelatin (found in bone broths) may improve our skin health as well, as collagen is what gives our skin its elasticity and ‘youthfulness.’ Gelatin may also be beneficial for those trying to improve their gut health, as it coats the intestinal lining.

Collagen and gelatin are essentially the same thing, as they both contain the same amino acid (i.e. protein) profile; collagen (sometimes called ‘collagen peptides’) is simply a more processed version of gelatin. When bones are simmered for long periods of time, as is the case with bone broth, gelatin is released. Both gelatin and collagen are produced by drying, and can be purchased in the form of powders and added to liquids. The biggest difference between the two is that gelatin gels, and collagen does not. For example, gelatin can be used to thicken soups or stews or to make homemade jello, while collagen powder will simply dissolve and remain a liquid, making it a better choice for adding to hot beverages or smoothies. Because collagen is broken down further than gelatin, it may be easier for some to digest.

Making bone broth is as simple as saving up some bones and then popping them into your Instant Pot. Bone broth can be made with beef, chicken, turkey and even fish bones. We often grab a rotisserie chicken for busy weeknight meals, and I always save the bones in a plastic bag and pop it into the freezer. Once I have a few of them, I make my own broth! If using a slow cooker, place bones into the ceramic insert and cover with water (about 4 cups for each carcass) and cook on low for 24 hours. If using an Instant Pot (or other electric pressure cooker), place bones into metal insert, cover with water and set for 120 minutes using the ‘manual’ setting. Adding aromatics (carrot, onion, herbs, etc…) is optional; aromatics will add flavor to your broth but could also add bitterness due to prolonged cooking, or compete with the flavor you desire when using your broth in the future. Also, roasting bones prior to simmering is recommended but optional as well. Once the cooking time is finished, allow the Instant Pot to release the pressure gradually and strain the liquid before pouring into containers. Broth can be refrigerated up to one week, or frozen.


Back-to-School Basics: Food Edition

In just a few short weeks, kids will be boarding school buses and moms everywhere will be jumping for joy…but not before school supplies have been bought, book bags have been packed, and school lunches have been made. As a natural-born writer and honors student, back-to-school shopping for supplies was my favorite part of summer. But my lunches? I didn’t give them a second thought. Thankfully, my mom made sure we had (relatively) healthy lunches each day.

Build a Better Breakfast

The typical American breakfast rivals dessert in terms of sugar content. One Pop Tart contains approximately 17 grams of sugar and only 2 grams of protein. A Toaster Strudel pastry is only slightly better, with 11 grams of sugar and 3 grams of protein. But, how often does anyone eat just one of either of those? So, two Pop Tarts contain 34 grams of sugar and only 4 grams of protein. One half cup of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream contains 28 grams sugar and 5 grams of protein—arguably a ‘better’ choice than two Pop Tarts!

Instead of pumping your kids full of sugar before their long day at school, consider a breakfast higher in protein and fat than what is typically found in breakfast cereals or granola bars. Aim for about 15 grams of protein at each meal for elementary and middle schoolers. Eggs, yogurt or meat should be an integral parts of a child’s breakfast. When buying yogurt, choose varieties high in protein and low in added sugars, or choose plain and add your own fruit. One egg and one ounce of meat both contain 7 grams of protein, which makes it easy to estimate how much your child is getting at each meal. For vegans and vegetarians, use organic soy and tempeh as meat-alternatives, or newer varieties of ‘protein nut milks’ for increased protein at meals.

Just because it’s breakfast doesn’t mean veggies are off the table. While V-8 juice (choose the low sodium variety) is a great choice as it provides a full serving of vegetables per half-cup, eating actual vegetables shouldn’t be disregarded. Baby carrots, sliced peppers, cucumbers, celery and cherry tomatoes are a great option in the morning. Pair veggies with some fruit or toast and a source of protein, like an egg. Or, blend spinach and kale into smoothies, along with a frozen banana and a source of protein, such as a plant- or whey-based protein powder.

Don’t forget about fat! Fat helps keep us feeling full longer than simple sugars, like fruit and white bread. Spread whole grain toast with peanut butter or mix avocado into smoothies. Because bacon is very high in fat, it’s not a great source of protein, but can (and should!) be enjoyed every once in awhile.

Breakfast Basic: 1-2 cooked eggs, 1 cup cut-up veggies, 1 piece whole grain toast with 1 tablespoon almond butter

Bento Box Lunches

These divided dishes are all the rage and make what I call ‘snack’ meals even more fun and festive! I often make ‘snack dinners’ if I’m solo in the evenings. An easy-to-pack bento lunch might include: deli meat rolled and secured with toothpicks (for protein), an apple (for carbs) and some nuts (for fat). Add in some blueberries and a cheese stick for variety and increased calories for older kids. Bento boxes are a great way to ‘think outside the sandwich’ without adding extra cooking or a lot of prep time. Simply get familiar with your macronutrients (carbs, fat and protein) and build a balanced meal.

I grew up in the time of NutriGrain bars and fruit-on-the-bottom yogurts, both of which were considered health foods. These days, it’s easy to find healthier items (i.e. fewer added sugars, fresher alternatives). While we shouldn’t eschew carbohydrates for fear of sugar (approximately half our daily calorie intake should come from carbohydrates), it is important to find higher quality carbs, like whole grain bread that is high in fiber, fresh fruits and vegetables, and plain yogurt.

No need to include an ice pack! Simply freeze a water bottle that will help keep food cold and thaw enough to drink by lunchtime.

Lunch Basic: 1 cup mixed veggies and hummus, ½ large apple, 2-3 slices deli meat, 1 tablespoon cashews

Balanced Dinners

Busy nights call for preparation! It’s hard to bust out the crock-pot when it’s still warm, so rely on cold dinners, like salads with chicken, or sandwiches. Cooking big batches of mains on the weekends helps, as leftovers can be eaten for breakfast, lunch or dinner the following days. Grill a few days worth of meat and veggies that can be used a variety of ways. Recently, I had a chicken with BBQ sauce, two kinds of sausages and cut-up cauliflower on the grill all at once, knowing I had some busy evenings ahead.

Dinner Basic: large salad with dried cranberries, feta cheese, sliced steak, and grilled pita bread

Interested in finding out more about building a better lunch? The East Aurora Cooperative Market is holding a ‘Lunchbox Workshop’ in the café from 4-5 pm Sunday, August 26. This event is open to the public and adults and children are welcome to attend. Sign-up using the event’s link, found on the co-op’s Facebook page. Attendees will bring home a completed lunch!

lentil pasta that actually tastes good!

You know I’m a pretty adventurous eater.  I’ll make black bean brownies and sneak greens into just about anything.  But, not all of the creations or products I try hit it out of the park, if you know what I mean.  Sometimes, beet pancakes taste a *little* too much like beets, and quinoa flour really does taste like dirt. Just sayin’.  (It does, however, do very well mixed with OTHER flours and with acidic ingredients, like plain yogurt or sour cream.  These Sour Cream Fudge Cupcakes are shockingly good.) Continue reading “lentil pasta that actually tastes good!”