Instead of salad dressing (and a nut burger recipe)

I'm not crazy about salad dressing. I know that might sound odd coming from a vegetarian whose diet, some believe, is mostly salad (that, by the way, couldn't be further from the truth!). There are a few dressings that I like but I prefer to top my salads with ingredients that add value instead of just flavor. The contents of my salads vary quite a bit, but here are some of my favorite toppings (including a few recipe links):
  1. Hummus
  2. Guacamole
  3. Chickpea salad
  4. French green or black/beluga lentil salad
  5. Quinoa salad
  6. Raw nut burger
This burger recipe was inspired by Brendan Brazier's Thrive Diet. If you enjoy it, you can get creative by substituting different nuts, seeds, seasonings, etc. to create different kinds of nut burgers.

Raw Nut Burger
Serves 2-3
1/2 cup raw pecans
1/2 cup raw walnuts
2 Tbsp ground flaxseeds
2 Tbsp hemp seeds
2 Tbsp sesame seeds
2 Tbsp raw sunflower seeds
1 Tbsp coconut oil
1 medium carrot
1 garlic clove
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
Several leaves of fresh basil
Dash of sea salt
  1. Place all ingredients in a food processor and process until well blended and starting to clump together.
You can crumble this over your salad, form it into patties and eat raw in a wrap, or cook and eat the patties as a burger (fry until lightly brown on both sides or bake at 300° for about 15-20 minutes (flip mid-way).

Did you know...? Nuts and seeds contain monounsaturated fat. This good fat helps to raise your "good cholesterol" and improve your overall cholesterol ratio (HDL to LDL). Nuts and seeds are also a great source of protein, iron, and vitamin E.

Help for allergies and sinus issues

I have had allergies forever. Around 2000, I had a skin test for environmental allergens and, out of 60 items, I reacted to 57 of them. Chronic irritation from years of allergies along with a deviated septum (that was made worse by a broken nose that I suffered in a car accident in 2008), means that I have a stuffy nose (at least on one side) much of the time. After a few years of allergy shots and ten years of living in the same area, my allergies have actually improved quite a bit. This time of year still gets to me, though.

I don't like to take allergy or sinus medication. The side effects, including everything from a "duh" feeling to the munchies, are just not worth it to me and the medications never really seem to help anyway. I have found that sinus irrigation is quite helpful, though. When I've been outside a lot and allergies are really bugging me, I use a sinus rinse bottle. It also works well to help keep things clear and prevent sinus infections when I have a head cold. This thing is fantastic!

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This NeilMed kit includes the sinus rinse bottle (they also sell a neti pot version) and a bunch of sinus rinse saline packets. There are no drugs in the rinse packets- it is basically salt and baking soda. You can buy the NeilMed kit just about everywhere (drugstores, grocery stores, Target, Costco, Amazon.com, etc.).

I highly recommend using something like this first thing in the morning and about 30 minutes before bed when you are having allergy or other sinus issues. I also find it helpful when I have been outside for awhile and am feeling allergic to flush out the pollen, etc.

(I am not being paid to promote this product.)

Best banana muffins in the history of all banana muffins

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I converted a banana bread recipe into muffins today and they turned out so good that each of my kids ate two of them. That's no big deal for my almost-two-year-old, who will eat almost anything (I've seen him wolf down kale chips and ask for more!). But my four-year-old tends to be quite picky and he loved these muffins. These are free of "chunks" for my kids' sake, but you can add walnuts, raisins, blueberries, or other things if you like.

Best banana muffins in the history of all banana muffins
2 large ripe bananas
1/2 cup applesauce or another banana
1 1/2 tsp rum extract
1 tsp vanilla extract
2/3 cup sugar (note: these muffins are pretty sweet, so you could reduce this quite a bit if you don't like super-sweet muffins)
1/4 cup oil (I used coconut but canola works too)
~1/2 cup non-dairy milk (soy, rice, almond, hemp, etc.)
2 heaping Tbsp soy flour (this is to add protein but it is ok to sub another flour here if you don't have soy flour)
1 3/4 cup whole wheat flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
Dash of fresh grated nutmeg
  1. Preheat oven to 350°. Mash the bananas in a small bowl and add applesauce, both extracts, sugar, oil, and milk. Mix well.
  2. Combine the flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a medium bowl. Add the wet ingredients and gently stir until combined but don't over-mix or your muffins will be tough. Add more milk of the batter is super thick (it should be thick but not cookie-dough thick).
  3. Spray a muffin pan with non-stick cooking spray and fill the muffin cups level with the top. Since this is a converted loaf recipe, I found that it make only 11 muffins. Your mileage may vary. Bake for 20 minutes or until they are lightly browned and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
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A similar recipe that I created a while back: Caribbean vacation pancakes

5 quick weeknight meals

One of the things that I hear over and over again from people is how hard it is to fit meal planning and preparation into their busy schedules. I am no exception as I often find that I'm trying to come up with a quick dinner idea around 5pm. I try to keep the staple ingredients for my "go to" quick meals on hand for nights like that. Sometimes I'll cook a batch of rice, quinoa, or other grain to have on hand as well.

Here are a few of my favorites:

1. Tacos - Sauté 1/2 an onion with 1 clove of garlic until the onion starts to brown. Add 1 can of black beans (rinsed well) and your favorite seasonings (I use coriander, lime juice, and chipotle chile powder). Chop some lettuce, tomatoes, and avocado and warm corn tortillas on a griddle over medium heat. Serve with your favorite toppings (salsa, lime, cilantro, etc.).

2. Fried rice - Lightly brown 1/2 pound firm tofu, set aside. Sauté 1 cup of sliced shiitake mushrooms in 1-2 Tbsp olive oil over medium heat until softened. Add 4 cups brown rice (cooked), lots of black pepper, about 4-6 cups of fresh spinach, and 1/2 cup frozen peas. Cook until the peas are heated through and the spinach is bright green and wilted. Add the tofu, 3/4 cup chopped green onions, 1/2 cup toasted pecans (chopped), 2-3 Tbsp soy sauce, and 1-2 tsp toasted sesame oil.

3. Pizza - I make pizza crust in my bread machine a couple of hours before dinner. When it is time to cook, I just have to roll out the dough, add the toppings, and bake. For a thin crust pizza, I use this recipe. Try substituting whole wheat flour for a thicker crust or "00" flour for a really stretchy, smooth, tender, authentic Italian dough.

4. Tempeh sandwiches - Thinly slice tempeh, marinate for a few minutes in your favorite sauce(s), and brown over medium heat. I like toasted bread, sprouts, avocado, red onion, and Annie's Goddess Dressing for my sandwiches. These are great with sweet potato oven fries on the side. For fries, peel and slice sweet potatoes into fries. Toss with olive oil and your favorite seasonings (or just salt and pepper). Roast at 425° for about 15 minutes, flip them, then brown on the other side for 10-15 minutes (watch them closely, they burn fast!).

5. Gnocchi with pesto cream - Vegan gnocchi can be hard to find so I usually pick up a couple of packages when I do see it in the store. It cooks super fast (like 3 minutes) and my pesto cream sauce is the perfect addition. Sometimes I use this vegan alfredo and add roasted red bell peppers (from a jar) instead. This is great with roasted broccoli or asparagus (toss with olive oil, salt, and pepper and roast at 400° until it begins to brown), and a vegan caesar salad on the side.

What are your favorite "go-to" meals?

Four ways to use kale

Kale is probably my favorite "leafy green". It is a multitalented veggie in that it can be prepared in a ton of different ways and it is loaded with vitamins, minerals, and all things good. Or, as I tell my kids, it will give you big strong muscles! 

Here are four very different (and delicious) ways to use kale:

Sautéed kale
Ingredients:
1 bunch of kale, washed and chopped
Olive oil
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 Tbsp lightly toasted sesame seeds (I toast them at about 250° in the toaster oven- watch them closely, they burn fast!)
Soy sauce or Bragg's Liquid Aminos, to taste
Lemon juice
Pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)

1. Heat 1-2 tsp olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and sauté until just starting to brown. Add the kale and sauté until bright green and somewhat tender.
2. Add soy sauce or Bragg's (be careful, Bragg's tastes very salty!), a squeeze of lemon juice, red pepper flakes, and sesame seeds. Cook for about 1 more minute.

Kale chips
My friend Erika at e-mealplanning.com just reminded me about kale chips and I've seen them resurfacing in the blog world lately as well. I first tried kale chips about 2 1/2 years ago at a vegetarian event. I must admit, they looked a little...ick. But, after one bite, I was hooked- they are so, so good!

Ingredients:
1 bunch of kale, washed, thoroughly dried, chopped
Olive oil
Sea salt

1. Preheat oven to 300°. Make sure that the kale is thoroughly dry and toss it with enough olive oil to lightly coat the leaves.
2. Roast for about 17 minutes, or until kale is lightly browned and crispy.
3. Add sea salt to taste and enjoy!

Red lentils with kale
Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups rinsed and drained red lentils
3 cups water
2 cups chopped tomatoes
1 Tbsp soy sauce
3-4 carrots, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
A few big handfuls of kale, chopped
About 1/2 or 1 whole onion, chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, minced
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
Pinch of red chili flakes
1 tsp dried basil

1. Combine rinsed lentils, water, tomatoes, and soy sauce and bring to a boil.
2. To save time, I use a food processor to chop all of the veggies (carrots, bell pepper, kale, onion, garlic, and jalapeno) very small. Add the chopped veggies and the rest of the ingredients to the pot of lentils. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes to an hour, stirring every once in awhile. Test for taste and add more soy sauce (or sea salt) or chili flakes if necessary.

Green smoothie
Substitute a couple of leaves of kale for the spinach in a green smoothie.

Did you know...? Kale is amazingly nutritious! It contains large amounts of vitamins K, A, and C, calcium, iron, and more!

Tempeh two ways

What is tempeh?
Tempeh, like tofu, is made from soybeans. It is more dense and grainy than tofu and contains more nutrients because it is made from whole fermented beans. A single 4oz. serving provides around 16-20 grams of vegan protein, 9 grams of fiber, and 15% of the RDA for iron. Even fellow vegetarians sometimes struggle with how to prepare and eat tempeh. Here are two ways that I enjoy it.

Tempeh salad:

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Makes 1 large or two small servings

4oz. tempeh cut into very small cubes or crumbled
Olive oil or cooking spray
1 stalk of celery, finely chopped
2 green onions, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 Tbsp fresh parsley, finely chopped
2 Tbsp sesame seeds
2-3 Tbsp vegan mayonnaise (I use Grapeseed Oil Vegenaise)
1/2 tsp dijon mustard
1 tsp lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Using olive oil or cooking spray, lightly brown the tempeh over medium heat. Set aside to cool.
  2. Combine remaining ingredients then add browned tempeh when cool.
  3. Serve over a large bed of spinach or lettuce (or a combination of greens).
Did you know...? 1/4 cup of sesame seeds contains 350mg of calcium (35% RDA) and 5mg of iron (29% RDA)!

Tempeh sandwich or wrap:

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  1. Thinly slice the tempeh. One serving is about 4oz. It will keep for a few days in the refrigerator if you want to cook enough for multiple days.
  2. You can marinate the tempeh, if desired, in whatever you like (a combination of olive oil, apple cider vinegar, and Bragg's Liquid Aminos works well). Marinating for just a few minutes is fine.
  3. Lightly brown the tempeh over medium heat with a little oil or cooking spray.
  4. The cooked tempeh can be used in sandwiches or wraps. It is great with avocado, sprouts, red onion, and a little Annie's Goddess Dressing!
Three great places to find more tempeh recipes:
101 Cookbooks tempeh recipes
VegWeb.com (search for tempeh to find recipes)
FatFree Vegan Kitchen (search for tempeh to find recipes)

Seven ways to combat cravings

Cravings can feel like the bane of your existence if you're trying to reduce calories or eliminate certain foods from your diet. I am not a believer in "going on a diet" to lose weight. In my opinion, you will be far more successful at managing your weight if you make permanent, healthy changes that feel good vs. temporarily depriving yourself of calories, carbs, or fat. Just the word "diet" make me cringe- I think of deprivation, cravings, and obsessions about things that are "off limits". A better approach, in my opinion, is to slowly make changes to your eating patterns that are sustainable. Think about what you can add to your daily diet (try new fruits, veggies, whole grains, recipes, etc.) instead of what you can "never eat again".
That being said, here are seven ways that I think are helpful for managing cravings:
  1. Know yourself and your triggers. Do you eat when you're bored or anxious? Do you always want something sweet after lunch or dinner? These are cravings that you can see coming, so be prepared with fresh fruit, dried fruit, or banana soft serve. For crunchy/salty cravings, try air-popped popcorn with a sprinkle of nutritional yeast, carrots and hummus, whole grain crackers, baked chips and salsa, or mixed nuts.
  2. Say yes. Have a small serving of what you love but make it the best quality that you can find. As far as I'm concerned, life just isn't life without chocolate. Instead of eating a Hershey bar, though, I buy really good quality dark chocolate. I only need a square or two to satisfy my chocolate monster.
  3. Eat often. Try to eat something every 2-4 hours. If you wait too long between meals, your blood sugar will be lower and your desire for sugary foods will be stronger. Also, you're likely to eat far more calories if you're ravenous every time you eat.
  4. Eat protein, fiber, and good fats. Foods that contain protein, fiber, and/or monounsaturated fat will fill you up faster and keep you feeling full longer than a meal or snack containing only simple carbs (sugar, white flour, etc.). For each meal or snack, choose a "vehicle" (wheat bread, whole grain crackers, brown rice, wheat pasta, etc.), a protein source (nuts, seeds, soy products, protein powder, beans or lentils, etc.), and include a bit of good (monounsaturated) fat (avocado, nuts and seeds, olive oil). We need some fat in our diets to aid in our absorption of fat soluble vitamins. Avoid saturated fat and trans fat (hydrogenated oil).
  5. Eat nutrient-rich foods. By choosing foods that are high in nutrient value you will be meeting your body's needs for for multiple vitamins, minerals, and essential amino acids. Eating "empty calories" (soda, white bread or rice, potato chips, etc.), adds no nutritional value. Those foods will likely leave you feeling like you need to eat more because your body is still craving the essential nutrients in healthier foods.   
  6. Eat what you want to crave. Have you heard people who have recently cleaned up their diets say things like, "I actually crave healthy food instead of cookies now!"? That reaction to eating a healthy diet isn't just psychological. Removing foods that make you unhealthy from your diet will make you feel healthier. It is like putting high quality gas in your car! Also, consider what happens when you overdo it on sugar; your blood sugar crashes shortly after the "sugar rush" and, in addition to feeling tired and irritable, you are likely to be craving even more sugar.
  7. Watch out for caffeine. Ever get shaky after a sugary breakfast with a bunch of coffee? A little caffeine is ok but too much can speed up the low blood sugar crash.
Coming soon: No, tempeh is not a city in Arizona. I'll share two ways to enjoy this healthy vegan protein!

My layered approach to fueling for exercise

With the overwhelming variety of sports supplements and foods available today, it can be difficult to figure out what to eat to fuel your workouts. Before considering gels, bars, or sports drinks, though, it is important to note that the best way that you can fuel your body for a workout is to properly recover from your previous workout. That recovery should include a healthy snack or meal (see suggestions below) and adequate rest. Hydration is key as well. If you are dehydrated, you'll feel sluggish.

How does our body use food as fuel?
Our bodies and our energy levels are fueled by glycogen. Sugars from the foods that we eat are converted by our bodies to glycogen. Glucose, the preferred fuel for many of our tissues (especially the brain), is the most rapidly converted sugar, therefore it provides us with quick energy. Our liver and muscle tissue can store enough glycogen for about 48 hours of normal activity. With strenuous exercise, our glycogen stores become depleted. Replenishing those is what will give you enough fuel for your next workout.

What should I eat BEFORE exercise?
A pre-exercise snack should be easily digested. We need fast-burning carbohydrates to give us energy. Foods that are high in protein but low in carbohydrates are not easily converted to energy. Our bodies will work hard to digest those foods, taking much-needed energy away from our physical activity. Those heavy foods are likely to upset the stomach as well. I like to think of my pre-workout snack in layers:
  1. A fast-burning simple carb layer for quick energy.
  2. A slower burning complex carb layer for sustaining energy.
  3. A little bit of protein (5-10 grams) to keep my blood sugar even.
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Some snack ideas that contain all three of these layers:
  • Fruit and nut energy bars (e.g. Larabar), especially those containing dates
  • Whole grain toast with peanut, almond, or sunflower seed butter and a serving of fruit or a few dates
  • One serving of fruit and a handful of nuts
  • A smoothie containing banana, berries, protein powder or soymilk, and ground flaxseeds or chia seeds
  • Vega Sport Performance Optimizer (here and here) and toast with peanut, almond, or sunflower seed butter
  • Soy yogurt
  • Apple with peanut butter and oats (slice the apple, spread PB on the slices and dip them in rolled oats)
Dates are an excellent choice because they are high in glucose, which is easily converted to glycogen. I usually choose bananas or apples over other fruits just because I am sometimes bothered by the acid in some fruits.

Be sure to adjust your serving size according to your hunger level and the intensity or duration of the exercise that you will be doing. A snack that is too large may upset your stomach and the excess calories will be stored as fat. The body can easily convert glycogen to fat but not fat to glycogen!

What should I eat AFTER exercise?
Try to have a snack or meal within 30 minutes of finishing your workout. The meal should contain the same three layers: simple carbs, complex carbs, and protein but in slightly different amounts (slightly increase protein).

Some recovery snack and meal ideas:
  • Chocolate soymilk
  • Cup of lentil soup with brown rice and a serving of fruit
  • Green smoothie
  • High-protein cereal (e.g. Kashi Go Lean) with soymilk and berries or bananas
  • Chia yogurt snack
  • Oatmeal with added protein (see recipe)
  • Super pancakes with added protein and topped with fruit (skip the syrup)
If getting a meal in within the 30-minute post-exercise window will be difficult or impossible, have a portable, small snack ready (e.g. a banana, a few dates, an orange, a chocolate soymilk drink box).

Always keep in mind that what works for someone else may not work for you. Try different foods until you figure out what works best for you. Bon appetit and happy trails!

Think you don't like Brussels sprouts?

If you've only had steamed or boiled Brussels sprouts, I can understand if you don't care for them. Ick. However, I urge you not to give up on them until you give this a try! Roasting veggies in the oven brings out their natural sweetness and flavor and it may just change your mind.

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To roast Brussels sprouts:
Preheat oven to 400°F (204°C). Wash sprouts, trim the stems (if necessary), and cut them in half lengthwise. Toss them with a bit of olive oil (to coat) and salt and pepper to taste. Place cut side down on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper (or lightly oiled) and roast for 15 minutes. Turn sprouts and roast for an additional 10-15 minutes or until browned.

Did you know...?
...that a serving of Brussels sprouts (only 4 sprouts) contains 2g protein, 3g fiber, and 120% of the RDA of vitamin C?

Get roasting!

Race training and the Warrior Dash

I use MapMyRun with an application on my iPhone to record the distance, route, pace, etc. of my outdoor runs. Maybe someday I'll invest in a Garmin but, for now, this works for me (provided I don't put my iPhone in the same pocket as, what I think is, an "empty" Clif Shot packet...but THAT is another story).

I received this race promo from MapMyFitness this week and couldn't help but share the "Warrior Dash" with you:

Warrior Dash is the ultimate event for thrill-seeking athletes. This six-kilometer race is held on the most demanding and unique 143 acres of terrain the Midwest has to offer. Participants will take on 13 intense obstacles and celebrate their feat with music, beer and muddy shorts.

This sounds pretty crazy and maybe a little scary! I've heard of Muddy Buddy races, but this one takes it to the next level. From their website FAQs:

How do I train for Warrior Dash?
  1. Day one: run as far as you can. Go home. Day two: do the same thing.
  2. Find the dirtiest pond in your neighborhood and snorkel in it - in your slippers, without goggles.
  3. Practice your climbing and crawling skills at your local jungle gym. Ignore the small children and parental glares.
  4. Do not shower or shave for weeks in order to obtain a true Warrior look.
Who says exercise has to be boring?

My Training
I don't plan to be racing in the mud this year but I will be running a short race at the end of March (either 5k or 10k- I haven't decided yet). Then triathlon racing season will start for me in June with the first Tri for Fun race here in Northern California. I've been doing a lot of running in the rain so far and I'm looking forward to clear skies!

With so many sports drinks, bars, etc. available, it can be hard to decide what to eat or drink when you're ramping up your workout intensity and duration. I'll share some of my pre and post workout foods and drinks later this week.

Chia seeds

Nuts and seeds can be an excellent addition to anyone's diet. Not only are they a great source of vitamins, essential amino acids, and protein, but some (such as flaxseeds, hemp seeds, chia seeds, and walnuts) are also a good source of omega-3 fatty acids.

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Chia seeds have been around for a very long time but have recently started to become more popular because of their high nutrient content. If you have read Christopher McDougall's Born to Run, you might be familiar with "chia fresca" or iskiate; a drink made by the Tarahumara Indians that is said to help them refuel after endurance runs.

There are countless ways to use chia seeds: add them to salads, oatmeal or breakfast cereals, smoothies, or baked goods. They are small, crunchy, and a bit like poppy seeds. I invented a chia yogurt snack that I really enjoy. Here is my recipe:

Chia Yogurt Snack
Ingredients:
1 cup soy yogurt (cherry flavor is especially good but any will work)
1 heaping Tbsp raw cacao powder
1Tbsp chia seeds

Add all ingredients to a medium sized bowl and stir slowly until all of the cacao powder has been mixed in (to avoid it "poofing" out of the bowl). Then whisk like crazy until it reaches a pudding-like consistency. 

I noticed that chia seeds are now available in the bulk food section of my local Whole Foods Market. They are also available from various online sources including Amazon.

Super pancakes

We eat a lot of pancakes in our house. Mostly because my kids love them but also because they are pretty portable and it is easy to sneak in some healthy ingredients. I make my pancakes from scratch rather than using a mix, so it is easy for me to tweak the ingredients list. I am not 100% on-board with the "sneaky mama" approach to getting kids to eat healthy things as I believe that we should feed them how we want them to feed themselves later in life. If they know what they are eating, it will be easier for them to choose to eat that again. I do, however, like the fact that I can make a few changes to things to get more nutrition onto my kids' plates while they are young and growing.

Here is my basic pancake recipe plus a few ideas for upping the nutritional value.

Basic Pancake Recipe:
1 1/4 cup flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon (optional)
2 tbsp oil (your choice, try: canola, olive, coconut, melted margarine)
~1 1/2 cup non-dairy milk
1 tsp vanilla
2 Tbsp real maple syrup (optional but I like to add this because my kids don't use syrup and this makes the pancakes just a bit sweeter)

1. Combine all of the dry ingredients in a medium bowl (sift them if you wish).

2. Whisk together the wet ingredients then gently stir them into the dry. Don't over-mix or your pancakes will be like rubber!

Options:
My kids don't like pancakes with "chunks" of any kind (even fruit). So, instead of whisking the wet ingredients together, I put them in the blender. That way I can add things to the batter without adding any lumps or bumps.

For protein and iron:
  • Add nut butter (e.g. peanut or almond butter), sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, and/or hemp seeds to the wet ingredients and blend well.
  • Substitute soy flour for up to 1/3 cup flour.
  • Substitute a serving of protein powder for an equal amount of the flour.
  • Substitute ground flaxseeds (flax meal) and/or wheat germ for up to 1/3 cup flour.
  • Add blackstrap molasses for iron.

Adding fruits and veggies:
  • Add carrots, apples, bananas, berries, squash, applesauce, sweet potatoes, or other fruits and/or veggies to the wet ingredients and blend well. Bananas (especially really ripe bananas) work really well for this!

Anybody have any other sneaky pancake tricks?