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This 5-ingredient Chocolate Tofu Pudding is kid-friendly, simple to blend together, and makes a great protein-rich dessert or snack.

Last fall I hosted a free Try New Foods email challenge with more than 700 of you, tackling a new food each week and providing recipe ideas and encouragement. Some foods were easier than others. One week we tackled tofu.

And tofu was not so easy.

A lot of people struggled to find kid-friendly ways to prep it. I totally get it: Tofu is squishy. It’s bland on its own. And it comes out of the container as a unappealing gelatinous blob. But it’s also a stellar plant-based source of protein. So introducing it to your kids in different ways is well worth it.

You might also like: Chocolate Beet Cupcakes

As I was researching recipe ideas, I stumbled on this Mexican Chocolate Tofu Pudding from Mark Bittman. One of my boys isn’t wild about spice, and I found the level of cinnamon overpowering, so I tinkered with the recipe a bit and found something my teen is actually excited about when he spots it in the fridge.

How to make chocolate tofu pudding

First, be sure you’re using silken tofu. Tofu is sold in a few different varieties, including extra firm, firm, and silken. Silken tofu is the smoothest and works the best for sauces, smoothies, and desserts like this.

Melt the chocolate. I break up the pieces into a glass bowl and microwave on HIGH, heating in 30-second intervals and stirring between each interval until fully melted. Set aside.

Combine the silken tofu, maple syrup, vanilla, and cinnamon in a food processor or blender (I’ve tried both and they work equally well) and process until smooth.

While the food processor or blender is running, add melted chocolate mixture slowly and process until fully combined, stopping partway through to scrape sides with a spatula.

Portion pudding into six ramekins or small bowls. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. If you want to add a dollop of whipped cream, see the bottom of the post for an easy homemade version.

How to make kid-friendly Chocolate Tofu Pudding:Click to Tweet Is Soy Good For Kids?

Yes! Soy is a high-quality protein, which means it has the essential amino acids (protein building blocks) that we have to get from food. Soy protein may have other some unique perks too, like helping to lower “bad” LDL cholesterol levels.

Do I Have To Tell My Kids There’s Tofu In This Pudding?

Yes, I highly recommend it. Sneaking ingredients into dishes accomplishes a short-term goal (they eat the food and get the nutrient) but doesn’t do anything to actually help your child feel more comfortable with that ingredient. Tell your kids what’s in the pudding–or better yet, have them make it with you and talk about how cool it is that tofu can transform like this!

Easy Chocolate Tofu Pudding

This 5-ingredient Chocolate Tofu Pudding is kid-friendly, simple to blend together, and makes a great protein-rich dessert or snack.

  • 8 ounces good-quality chocolate (semi-sweet or milk)
  • 1 1-pound package silken tofu, drained
  • 1/2 cup + 1 tablespoons pure maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 pinch cinnamon
  1. Break up chocolate (if in large pieces) and melt. If using a microwave, heat on HIGH in 30-second intervals, stirring in between intervals, until fully melted. Set aside.

  2. Process tofu, maple syrup, vanilla, and cinnamon in a food processor or blender until smooth. While food processor or blender is running, add melted chocolate slowly and process until fully combined, stopping partway through to scrape sides with a spatula.

  3. Portion pudding into six ramekins or small bowls. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

I’ve made this with very dark chocolate and my teen and I both found it too bitter. If you go with dark chocolate, I would recommend adding an additional tablespoon or two of maple syrup to lend more sweetness.

Be sure to add the melted chocolate slowly. Adding it all at once can cause the pudding to have a grainy texture.

Use pure maple syrup (the only ingredient should be maple syrup).

Use pure vanilla extract (not imitation) when possible. 

How to Make Homemade Whipped Cream

This pudding is sweet and rich enough on its own, but if you want to add a dollop of whipped cream like I show here, here’s how to make it:

  • Chill a glass bowl, beaters, and whipping cream in the refrigerator until very cold.
  • Place 1/2 cup whipping cream and 2 teaspoons sugar in the glass bowl and beat on medium speed until stiff peaks form (when you lift your beaters out of the cream, the cream should be shaped in peaks that hold their shape, not drip off).
  • Serve immediately or store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 2-3 days.

The post Easy Chocolate Tofu Pudding appeared first on Real Mom Nutrition.

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Buying a share of a cow or hog can save money and time (and you’ll know exactly where your meat came from!). Here’s what you need to know about buying meat in bulk.

For several years, I’ve purchased beef in bulk from local farmers here in Central Ohio. And a few years ago, I started buying pork from a local farm family as well. I get a lot of questions about how the process works and whether it’s worth it. I’m sharing the details, so you can decide if it’s right for your family.

To help answer the biggest questions I get about buying meat in bulk, I consulted two of the farmers I’ve ordered from: Lyndsey Teter of Six Buckets Farm, where I get bulk pork, and Dee Jepsen of Dusty Rose Farms in Amanda, Ohio, where I’ve ordered freezer beef.

Six Buckets Farm in New Philadelphia, Ohio

What are the advantages of buying meat in bulk?

You know a lot more about your meat: “When meat is purchased in small quantities at the grocery store, most folks have no idea who raised it, how it lived or died, or the conditions where it spent its life. These things are more and more important as people start paying attention to our food system,” says Lyndsey. “People enjoy knowing that the animal produced for their table was raised by the same people who drop it off at their door, and they enjoy knowing their money will support the local economy.”

You can talk to the farmer directly: “People can get direct answers from the farmer that are not always on the meat label at the grocery store to questions about grass versus grain fed diets of the animal, types of grain used to feed the animals, how the farmer vaccinates his herd, or the type of medical program the farmer uses to treat animals that become sick,” says Dee. “Many of the misconceptions about eating meat can be asked to the farmer who raises the animal, and the customer can establish trust in the way the animal was raised.”

You always have meat on hand: You can’t beat the convenience of having so much in your freezer. When you want to make a meal, you’ve got a main ingredient on hand.

What are the downsides of buying meat in bulk?

You need extra space. Even sharing a quarter-cow or hog with another family can mean a lot of meat. If you have a small freezer and it’s already packed, buying in bulk may not be right for you.

It’s an upfront investment: You pay for 6-12 months worth of meat all at once, and some families don’t have the budget for a one-time payment. That inventory is so valuable that Dee says some families actually add their freezer and contents to their homeowners insurance plan. (My bulk meat stash is the first thing I think of if the power ever goes out!)

You might also like: What You Should Know About Grass Fed Beef

You won’t know the exact price when ordering: Because the Retail Weight is so different from the Live Weight (see the box “Terms You Should Know” at the bottom of this post), you won’t have an exact figure when you place your oder. But the farmer should be able to give you a ballpark.

You get many different cuts: This is either an upside or a downside, depending on how you like to cook. If you only want certain cuts (say, boneless pork chops or a specific kind of steak) bulk meat isn’t for you. When you buy a portion of a whole animal, you get lots of different cuts, some of which may not be familiar to you. “A few folks were disappointed when I denied their request for an all-bacon pig,” jokes Lyndsey. You may need to Google how to prepare new-to-you cuts of meat–or better yet, ask the farmer directly. They likely have loads of good recipes and tips.

Dusty Rose Farms in Amanda, Ohio

How much meat should I order?

The farmer should be able to tell you (roughly) how many pounds of meat you’ll get in a quarter- or half-share. For my family of four, I’ve typically split a quarter-cow or quarter-hog with a friend or two. That gives us each enough meat to last many months, and we split the cost.

  • According to Lyndsey, a quarter-share is typically 30-40 pounds of pork, a half-share is 60-80 pounds, and a full is 120-160 pounds.
  • According to Dee, a 1,000-pound steer translates to about 150 pounds of beef for a quarter-share, 300 pounds of beef for a half-share, and 600 pounds for a full.

Keep in mind that those weights include the bone and fat on the meat too.

Is buying meat in bulk cheaper than buying it at the grocery store?

In some cases, yes. Let’s say the price for your bulk beef order averages out to $4 a pound–that’s higher for typical ground chunk but a great price for steaks. “The law of averages works out for the customer in the end,” says Dee. You’re only paying the farmer and the processor, no middle-man costs of transportation or grocery store mark-ups, so that can mean savings.

In other cases, buying in bulk may not save you money over grocery store sale prices, but the value lies in knowing exactly where the meat came from and in supporting local farmers directly.

All about buying meat in bulk:Click to Tweet Does buying meat in bulk require a separate freezer?

Not necessarily, but it’s helpful! A chest freezer definitely makes buying anything in bulk more manageable. But if you only have a standard fridge-freezer, you can split a quarter-share with two or more families, so you still get local meat, just in a smaller amount.

Where can I find a farmer who sells freezer meat?

Ask at your local farmer’s market, butcher shop, or University extension office. When you reach out to a farmer, ask when they’ll have meat available. Unlike a grocery store, farmers don’t have meat ready year-round. For example, beef farms may only have calves born once or twice a year, and those animals won’t be ready until the following year, says Dee. So be prepared to wait for your bulk meat, in some cases several months.

What questions should I ask the farmer?
  • Are processing fees are included in the price or are they a separate cost? The farmer supplies the animal, but it’s processed into cuts of meat at another location. When I buy bulk beef, I pay the farmer one fee and the processor another. When I buy pork from Lyndsey, I pay her one fee that includes both.
  • How are the animals fed and raised? If grass vs. grain fed is important to you, inquire about that (read: What You Should Know About Grass Fed Beef). Ask about antibiotics and hormones or time spent on pasture versus a feedlot or confinement. Don’t be shy–farmers want their customers to have the right information.
  • Can you make special requests? When ordering beef, I can tell the processor whether I want ground beef formed into burgers, how thick I want the steaks to be cut, and what size (in pounds) we prefer the roasts. Lyndsey has her customers fill out an online form that asks about things like size of roasts, type of seasoning for sausage, thickness of pork chops, and whether we want some of the fat rendered into lard (raises hand).
  • If you don’t have someone who can split a share with you, are there other customers who might?
  • Do they deliver or do you need to pick up the meat?
  • Can you visit the farm?

What cuts of meat can I expect when buying meat in bulk?

When I’ve split half- and quarter-shares of cows with friends, here are some of the cuts we’ve gotten:

  • Ground beef and burger patties
  • Steaks including ribeye, sirloin, T-bone, and flank
  • Ribs
  • Roasts including chuck, arm, and rump
  • Stew meat
  • Brisket
  • An option to get items like liver, tongue, and soup bones

The shares of pork have included cuts like:

  • Sausage
  • Bacon
  • Pork chops
  • Roasts including bone-in loin, Boston butt, and shoulder
  • Spare ribs
  • Ham
  • Option to get items like liver, heart, soup bones, and lard
How to buy the cow (or hog): What you need to know about buying meat in bulkClick to Tweet What else should I consider before buying meat in bulk?

Since the quality or grade of beef can vary between animals, there’s no way for the farmer to know the exact grade the meat will be (that’s done at the plant when the meat is chilling). The farmer can typically tell you whether the animals will grade Select, Choice or Prime, but cannot guarantee or label his animals when they sell it live, says Dee.

“If you want heavier marbled meat, you can ask the farmer to help select that for you. Some animals will never grade Prime based on their genetics and feeding program, so it wouldn’t be fair to expect Prime graded meats from certain types of animals, or from certain types of farms. Most farmers can give a range of where their animals will grade. They might say things like ‘high choice to low prime’ or ‘somewhere in the Choice range’.”

And FYI: According to Dee, her customers regularly wish they had ordered more burgers and ground beef, so keep that in mind too!

Terms You Should Know When Buying Meat in Bulk

Lyndsey explains some of the lingo you may hear when ordering bulk meat:

  • Live Weight:  The weight of the live animal as it arrives at the processor.
  • Dressed or “Hanging” Weight: This is the weight after the animal has been killed and gutted at the slaughterhouse.This is a very frequent way that a farmer will sell shares of an animal. Feet, head, skin and certain organs may or may not be included in this weight depending on which processor is used.
  • Retail or Cut Weight: This is the weight of the actual cuts of meat that arrive at your door, sometimes sold in bundles with a range of sizes.
How long can I keep meat in the freezer?

According to the FDA, frozen foods can keep indefinitely (I’ve used my freezer meat stash for up to a year), but here are their guidelines for best quality:

  • Bacon: 1 month
  • Sausage: 1-2 months
  • Pork Chops: 4-6 months:
  • Steaks: 6-12 months
  • Roasts: 4-12 months

Six Buckets Farm in New Philadelphia, Oho

At the time of this post, Dusty Rose Farms is not taking any orders for freezer beef.

Photos of Six Buckets Farm courtesy of Six Buckets Farm

The post All About Buying Meat In Bulk appeared first on Real Mom Nutrition.

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School food CAN be tasty, healthy, and appealing to kids! Here’s how one mom changed things for the better at her kids’ school.

My friend Wende Hageman is a school food champion.

She would probably laugh off this label, waving it away with an “Oh, please!”

But that’s what she is, so I wanted to tell her story.

Before I do, please know this: I don’t think school food is simple, that the whole beast of an issue–tangled up in politics and red tape–could instantly be solved if more people were like Wende. Every school is unique and faces different challenges.

But one person can make a difference in their community.

About three years ago, Wende took a part-time job in the cafeteria of her children’s parochial school to help foot their family’s tuition bill. A year later, the longtime cafeteria manager retired, and Wende was asked by the principal to be the next manager.

Leading the school kitchen meant she could make changes, big changes–the kind she had always wanted to see, not only as an employee but also as a parent with kids eating school food every day.

So little by little, she did. She took risks, she rocked the boat a little, and she chose the hard path instead of the easy route. And a funny thing happened: More kids began to buy school lunch, and the cafeteria started to turn a small but meaningful profit.

Wende is the cafeteria manager at St. Michael School, a Catholic K-8 in Worthington, Ohio with approximately 400 students. She has a team of four part-time staff (parent volunteers, trained in basic sanitation, also help serve lunch). The school is part of the National School Lunch Program, which means they rely on USDA funds. Her goal, like all cafeteria managers, is to increase lunch participation, because that means more funding for her operation.

But she had other goals too, like nudging students toward fresher, less processed foods, getting their palates used to whole grain bread, and expanding their horizons to more adventurous meals and cuisines. “It’s a sure thing to serve pizza every week, but I’d rather do something creative and fun,” she says. “We know kids are capable of eating things beyond pizza.”

You might also like: Why You Should Care About School Food (Even If Your Kid Packs)

Being part of the National School Lunch Program also means they have to follow the USDA’s nutrition standards for school meals, which call for more vegetables and whole grains. “It can be challenging to plan menus around it, but the intentions are good. These are the things kids should be eating,” she says. “It can feel difficult to put beans on the menu each week, but you want your child to be at a school where they put effort into a healthy lunch.”

Though the federal government is now allowing schools to opt out of some of the rules (like more whole grains), Wende has no plans of going backward. All of their pasta is whole grain. Ditto for flatbread, bagels, and crackers. “It was a rough road for a little while,” Wende says. “But our students are used to it now.” It helps that the healthy options from her vendors have improved so much. The day I visited, they were using up extra whole grain tortillas for baked cinnamon chips as a treat with lunch, and the kids happily gobbled them up (I had some too, and they were yummy!).

Here are some of the other changes Wende has made:

She put in a salad bar. This had been a long-time request from the principal, school board, and parents, and Wende did the research and legwork to make it happen. She hired a staff member to prep and manage it, and up to 40 students (plus a few teachers) pass through it each day. They stock an array of fruits, veggies, and toppings and the most popular are diced chicken, hard-boiled eggs, and banana peppers. “Student are getting a lot more servings of vegetables because we’re letting them take it on their own,” says Wende. “Kids make pretty good choices when left to their own devices.”

She stopped frying food. The cafeteria was still using a deep fryer for foods like chicken nuggets, fries, and onion rings just before Wende became manager. She worked to find baked versions of these items instead, figuring out how to get a crispy texture and good taste. They made the transition slowly, and did hear from parents and students who weren’t fans of the change at first. She likes to remind parents that although school lunch is an important part of the students’ day, kids eat many more meals at home. “If you want to fry food at home, that’s fine, but your child’s school should not be doing it,” she says. “We should be setting an example for healthy living.”

She phased out canned fruit. They still occasionally serve canned mandarin oranges and pineapple chunks, but she reduced their canned fruit usage by 80 percent in favor of fresh. “I’m spending so much money on fresh fruit, but it’s worth it!” she says. Because the cafeteria is making a small profit, it means she can buy items like fresh red grapes and tastier varieties of apples, like Fuji and Gala instead of less expensive Red Delicious.

How One Mom Became a School Food Champion:Click to Tweet

She stopped serving pizza every week. No doubt, pizza is a slam dunk. But Wende was convinced that students could learn to like a whole lot more—and she was right. Case in point: Their Toasted Ham & Cheese Flatbread, served with cucumbers, hummus, and a pear, is becoming just as popular as the pizza.

They still serve pizza and chicken nuggets, but less often (about once or twice a month). “The easy way would’ve been to continue serving chicken nuggets, fruit cocktail, and pizza all the time,” she says. “But we feel a responsibility to our students. This is the fuel for the rest of their day. We want them them to feel good from eating a healthy lunch, so they can run around on the playground and be ready to learn when they return to class.”

She added new menu items. Wende phased out unpopular meals like meatloaf and Salisbury steak and replaced them with trendier fare like Asian bowls, wraps, and street tacos. “I thought that if I took risks updating menu items and actually asking students what they wanted to eat for lunch, we might be able to develop a lunch menu that was healthy, popular and made enough money to allow us to pay workers a little better and buy higher quality, fresher food,” she says. Another recent addition: Chicken and Waffles with southern green beans, corn on the cob, and warm peach cobbler. It meets all the nutrition standards, is visually appealing and delicious–and best of all, is a hit with students.

Even better, they’re cooking more of these meals from scratch. Not every school has the staff to make that happen, but since Wende does, she’s made it her goal. “I’m trying to do it the old fashioned way,” she says. All the soups are homemade. In fact, the cook’s homemade chili is so good that kids went home and told their parents–who called the cafeteria for the recipe.

As a mom, Wende also knows firsthand that some children need time. “Children need to try something more than once,” she says. She typically serves a meal four times before going back to the drawing board.

She started doing tastings. Wende and her team implemented “Tasty Tuesdays”, when they serve a brand new meal (voted on by the students). One day it was Chicken Tortilla Soup with Rainbow Salad, another a Chipotle Bowl with chicken and brown rice, and another Sweet Teriyaki Chicken with Veggie Fried Rice and Edamame, plus a fortune cookie. And even kids who don’t choose to buy lunch that day can sample the new meal.

She eliminated the snack bar. It was stocked with USDA-approved “Smart Snacks” like whole-grain and fat-free chips and ice cream—and it made money. It was practically a lunchroom institution, says Wende. But she decided to take a chance and see if they could survive without it. “I knew it was an easy way to make money, but was it a good choice? It seemed like marketing to children, and I didn’t like how that felt,” says Wende. “Parents can feel free to pack a fun-size candy bar in their child’s lunch box, but I didn’t think it was the school’s role to provide that. Parents can pack a bag of Doritos for their child, but the school shouldn’t be the one selling it to them.” She hoped she could replace the revenue by serving high-quality, fresh food and hoping more students bought lunch.

Reaction from students (and parents!) was mixed at first. But ultimately, everyone got along just fine without it. “I heard nothing more about it,” says Wende. “Except for one parent who said to me recently, ‘I miss those ice cream bars!”

She rebranded. Fun labels can make a difference for students. She renamed the baked beans “Cowboy Beans” (and jazzed them up with tomatoes, onions, and spices). When they dubbed their whole grain pasta “Spooky Spaghetti” for Halloween, they doubled their sales. They also reworked a Pioneer Woman recipe for Cincinnati Chili and served it on baseball’s opening day, with Grand Slam Spaghetti, Batter Up! Breadstick, Cheer ’em on Chili Beans, Pop Fly Pear and Catchers Mitt Milk.

She helped the cafeteria go greener. They instantly reduced waste (and costs) by getting rid of straws. They’re also transitioning from plastic utensils to actual flatware. And the school administration worked with the cafeteria to start recycling water bottles, juice boxes, and milk cartons, thanks to an effort from the principal and school wellness committee.

She started promoting healthy choices. “I think one of the most meaningful changes that Wende has made is the educational piece on nutrition for the students,” says parent Maria Elliott, who serves on the school’s wellness committee. “Whether it be from posters, letters sent home, bulletin boards, or discussions as the children walk through the lunch line, Wende helps children and their families understand the WHY of healthy nutritional changes she has made.” Wende also notes that she’s seeing more classes come down to the cafeteria for tours and to talk about food and nutrition.

“The biggest most meaningful change, I feel, is she is truly teaching these kids that whole grains, fresh fruit, raw and cooked fresh veggies, paired with a variety of proteins is a tasty way to eat,” says parent Talia Cromwell, also on the school’s wellness committee. “She’s introducing many new fruits and veggies to our kids that we as parents are hesitant to do. It’s challenging to buy something different, clean it, cut it up, pack it only to have your kid complain about it and bring it back home to you untouched–we’ve all been there. The positive pressure of peers eating the same foods alongside them allows kids to truly enjoy the food for what it is.”

She invested time building trust. Wende focused on getting honest feedback from students and parents. They began handing out food samples and menus at the school’s open houses. The student council polled students on what they liked (and didn’t) about school food. After finding out that kids didn’t care for the salad dressings, she switched to a pricier name brand–which boosted salad bar sales.

“The best source of new ideas is the students,” says Wende. When she asked a group of seventh grade boys what they’d like to see on the menu, they asked for hard-shell tacos. She’d never considered it because of possible breakage and mess issues. But she tried it anyway–and now it’s a crowd favorite.

The St. Michael School lunch ladies: (L-R) Joan Pavliga, Amy Murtha, Wende Hageman, Kayla Palmer, and Katie Preston

But probably the most important thing Wende did at her school was to change the conversation about school food. “I think there are so many misconceptions about school lunch, that it’s low quality food served grumpily,” she says. “People think it’s not up to the same standards they have at home. I want my staff and school parents to be proud of what we’re serving. I want it to feel like home and be food we would serve at home ourselves.”

And it’s working: Lunch participation is up. “Parents will come up to me and say, ‘This isn’t what I expected’,” she says. They’re grateful that they can feel good about the school lunch and not have to pack. If we can make parents’ lives easier, we’re happy to do it.”

Wende says she could never have made all these changes without her fellow “lunch ladies”. “They are the ones supporting my crazy ideas, coming up with some of their own, brainstorming new menu items with me, and actually cooking the new meals,” she says.

She also credits the school’s principal for being on board. “She allows me so much freedom and creativity and is an endless supporter of wellness ideas and constant improvement,” says Wende. “I’m so fortunate that she has given me so much room to take risks and allows so many fresh produce trucks to make multiple deliveries every week!”

As for what’s next, Wende’s plans include doing a thorough evaluation of food waste on lunch trays. She’s hoping to start composting. And of course, she wants to make even more menu items from scratch. Also on her wish list: A fun piece of new equipment–maybe a panini press.

But her biggest wish is pretty simple: For the kids to fondly remember her, the kitchen staff, and school food in general. “Everyone has memories of their childhood lunch ladies,” she says. “We want to be remembered as caring, smiling faces with good, healthy food. Even if your child is not a typical lunch-buyer, we might interact with them at some point during their school years. It’s okay with me if your child would rather have a lunch packed from home, we all have preferences regarding food, and we completely respect that. But if it falls on the floor or gets left on the school bus, I want your child to remember how we welcomed him into the lunch line with warm, yummy food when he was sad. Or how we made her a PB&J sandwich when she said she didn’t like what we were serving. The lunch ladies just want your child to have a good afternoon and be ready to learn when they return to class.”

The post How One Mom Became A School Food Champion appeared first on Real Mom Nutrition.

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Bottom drawer freezers can easily get unorganized and messy. Here are some systems and products to help you organize a bottom freezer.

When we remodeled our kitchen and bought a brand new, gleaming French-door refrigerator with a bottom drawer freezer, I figured I’d love it.

Then the drawer morphed into one deep, cold, random pile that I dug through every day to locate what I needed.

After too many years of digging, I finally came up with a system that works well for us. Maybe it will work for you too!

How to Organize a Bottom Freezer

1. Clean, sort & purge. Take everything out of your freezer (stash things in coolers to keep them chilled), wipe it down to remove spills and messes, and get rid of anything with freezer burn or that you no longer want.

2. Create zones: Using the plastic divider that our drawer freezer came with, I created one big section for dinner items: frozen leftovers, ingredients like chicken broth frozen into cubes, jars of homemade pesto,  chicken breasts, bags of frozen pasta. The other smaller section is for lunch items: the insulated lunch bags my husband and younger son use, cold packs for my older son’s lunch, and other lunchbox-friendly foods (like their favorite veggie patties). You could create zones based around meals or around like items, such as meats or freezer meals.

3. Corral items into bins: Putting two bins in the top, slide-out drawer of the freezer has been a game-changer. You can use bins for like items or items you frequently use together. I designated one bin for frozen vegetables. The other is for all the ingredients I use for smoothies and oatmeal, two things I make almost daily. Now I don’t need to root through the pile every morning for frozen fruit or chopped nuts, which makes the morning a little bit easier.

How to Organize a Bottom Freezer:Click to Tweet

4. Wrap packages with rubber bands: I roll each package down and wrap it tightly with a rubber band. This simple step instantly save space and makes everything feel neater and more manageable.

5. Use what you have: It goes without saying but actually using what you have in your freezer is critical to staying organized. If your freezer looks like you’re prepping for a zombie apocalypse, take stock of what you have and make a plan for using it. Grab my free Freezer Inventory Printable to figure out what you’ve got already, then use my free Meal Planning Worksheet to map out your week using some of those foods.

Products To Help:

I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for me to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

The post How to Organize A Bottom Freezer appeared first on Real Mom Nutrition.

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These Homemade Marshmallows are a fun project for kids and simple to whip up, no candy thermometer needed! A perfect treat for a cold day.

I’m not going to call these “Healthy Homemade Marshmallows”.

They’re MARSHMALLOWS, after all. They’re spongy clouds of sugar. I’m not going to sugarcoat it for you (see what I did there?): There are three different kinds of sugar in this recipe.

So why make them? Because it’s wildly fun and easy to make your own marshmallows, exactly the kind of cold Saturday afternoon project you need to get your kids away from Fortnite.

And homemade marshmallows don’t have synthetic food dyes in them, which is always nice (yes, packaged marshmallows contain Blue 1 dye).

Another perk: This recipe, unlike some others, doesn’t require owning or using a candy thermometer. Because I love simple.

You might also like: Homemade Hot Cocoa Mix

Here’s the step-by-step on how to make them:

First, line a 9×13 dish with plastic wrap so the wrap comes up all four sides. Spray the bottom and sides of the plastic-lined pan with cooking spray (yes, you’re spraying plastic wrap, trust me on this, marshmallows are sticky business).

In the bowl of a standing mixer, place ½ cup cold water and vanilla extract. Sprinkle three packets of unflavored gelatin over the water and vanilla and set aside. Let it stand for at least 10-15 minutes. You will wonder how this turns into marshmallows because this is what it will look like. Keep the faith!

In a medium saucepan, combine two cups sugar, 1/4 teaspoons salt, ¼ cup water, and ¾ cup light corn syrup.

This is the corn syrup I use. (And yes, it’s corn syrup. If you have issues with corn syrup for whatever reason, this is not the recipe for you.)

Cook this mixture over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until it comes to a full boil. Allow it to boil one minute.

Remove it from the heat and pour the mixture over the gelatin mixture in the mixing bowl. It will look all frothy and foamy like this.

Homemade Marshmallows (No Thermometer Needed!)Click to Tweet

Beat the mixture on high speed for 10 minutes. It will look brown at first, then will get lighter, until it’s eventually very white and glossy. This is a fun transformation for kids to watch!

Pour the marshmallow mixture into the lined and spray-coated 9 x 13 pan.

Smooth the top with a spatula that’s coated with cooking spray. Cover the pan with plastic wrap, but don’t let the plastic wrap touch the surface of the marshmallows, or it will stick. Let it sit for at least 4-6 hours at room temperature. I let this batch sit overnight.

Sprinkle a generous amount of powdered sugar onto a baking sheet, then invert the marshmallow slab from the pan onto the sugar, flipping to coat both sides of the slab with the powdered sugar.

Now the fun part! Cut the slab into whatever sizes and shapes you want. You can go traditional with squares using a knife or scissors. Or break out the cookie cutters. Coat each cut side of the marshmallows with, yes, even more powdered sugar (so they don’t stick together).

Drop them into mugs of hot cocoa. Store extra marshmallows in an airtight container. They’ll last for several weeks.

Enjoy!

Easy Homemade Marshmallows

  • 3/4 cup cold water (divided)
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 3 envelopes unflavored gelatin
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup light corn syrup (such as Karo)
  • 1-2 cups powdered sugar
  1. Line a 9×13 pan with plastic wrap so it comes up all four sides. Spray the bottom and sides of the plastic-lined pan with cooking spray.

  2. In the bowl of a standing mixer, place ½ cup cold water and vanilla extract. Sprinkle three packets of unflavored gelatin over the water and vanilla and set aside. Let it stand for at least 10-15 minutes.

  3. In a medium saucepan, combine two cups sugar, 1/4 teaspoons salt, ¼ cup water, and ¾ cup light corn syrup. Cook this mixture over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until it comes to a full boil. Allow it to boil one minute, then remove it from the heat and pour the mixture over the gelatin mixture.

  4. Beat the mixture on high speed for 10 minutes. It will look brown at first, then will get lighter, until it’s eventually very white and glossy. 

  5. Pour the marshmallow mixture into the 9 x 13 pan. Smooth the top with a spatula that’s coated with cooking spray. Cover the pan with plastic wrap, but don’t let the plastic wrap touch the surface of the marshmallows, or it will stick. Let it sit for at least 4-6 hours at room temperature. 

  6. Sprinkle a generous amount of powdered sugar onto a baking sheet, then invert the marshmallow slab onto the sugar and coat both sides. Cut into squares using scissors or into shapes using cookie cutters, coating each cut side of marshmallows with powdered sugar.

  7. Store in an airtight container for several weeks.

The post Easy Homemade Marshmallows (No Thermometer Needed!) appeared first on Real Mom Nutrition.

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New braces can make your child’s teeth hurt. Wondering what to feed your kid while her mouth is sensitive? Here are 30 healthy foods for braces.

When my 14 year old got braces last week, I wasn’t prepared. For the pain, that is. The poor guy was in so much discomfort that he was up in the middle of the night holding an ice pack to his mouth while we watched Netflix for distraction (it helped!).

I also wish I’d been better prepared with food. He’s ravenous these days, and it’s hard enough to keep up with his appetite. Suddenly, so many of his favorite high-cal, filling foods (jerky, trail mix, dried fruit, crackers) were out of the question while he was hurting.

In case braces are in your child’s future, know that it’s typical for the teeth to be pretty sensitive in those first few days. To help you, I’ve pulled together a list of healthy foods you can have on hand for your child. Many of these worked well for my son and helped nourish him while he was nursing a sore mouth!

Get A Free Printable Of This List

Healthy Foods for Kids With Braces Sources of protein:
  • Eggs
  • Yogurt
  • Yogurt drinks & kefir
  • Veggie burgers and patties (meat can be stringy and chewy, these tend to be soft)
  • Tofu
  • Smoothies (try my Peanut Butter Breakfast Shake)
  • Soup & chili
  • Hummus and cooked, mashed beans
  • Milk (dairy or non-dairy, flavored and plain)
Sources of grains:
  • Oatmeal
  • Pasta
  • Whole grain bread and warm tortillas (you may have to cut off crusts from bread if very chewy)
  • Waffles (cut into pieces) and pancakes

New braces can hurt! Here are 30 healthy foods for sensitive teeth:

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We have a house rule that if you want to indulge in potty-talk, you have to do it in the bathroom. So I’m going to violate my own rule and talk about things that would make my boys giggle. All in the name of helping another person avoid the gas, bloating, and belly pain I used to have.

Several years ago, these chocolate-drizzled, fiber-enriched Fiber One bars were something I’d pick up occasionally to satisfy my sweet tooth. Then one day, I was chatting with a friend. and the topic of these bars came up. “I can’t eat those,” she said. “They make me bloated and gassy.”

Light-bulb moment!

I did a little research and learned that chicory root extract, the first ingredient in these bars, causes some people issues such as bloating, gas, and abdominal pain. I also realized that the whole grain Kashi cereal I’d been eating every morning contained it too.

What is Chicory Root?

Chicory root is a plant that’s commonly used as added fiber in many products.

While other fibers are broken down more slowly, chicory root is broken down quickly and completely by bacteria in the large intestine, which can trigger symptoms like gas, belly bloat, abdominal pain, and gut rumbling. Some people tolerate it just fine, but others (like me and my friend) don’t. People with IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) may be especially sensitive to chicory root.

What is Inulin?

If you think you might have trouble with chicory root, you should also check labels for “inulin”. Inulin is the kind of fiber that’s found in chicory root, as well as in asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes, onions, and garlic. Inulin is known as a “prebiotic”, which means it helps feed the healthy bacteria in your gut–which is a good thing, unless you’re sensitive to it like I am!

Inulin is used widely in products that are fortified with fiber, such as gluten-free and low-carb products, protein powders, and bars and cereals like the ones I mentioned. It not only offers extra fiber but also adds sweetness, so manufacturers can use less sugar. And inulin has a creamy “mouthfeel” (as they say in the food processing biz!), so it’s helpful to companies when making things like fiber-fortified ice cream and yogurt.

What foods contain inulin?

Leeks, asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes, onions, and garlic all contain inulin naturally. But as I discovered, supplemental inulin and chicory root are also added to a surprising number of processed foods to increase the fiber content, especially those billed as low carb or high in fiber.  The following foods may have inulin or chicory root on the ingredient list, so if you think you’re sensitive to it, check labels.

  • Protein powders such as Orgain and Vega
  • Some high-fiber cereals such as Kashi GOLEAN
  • Fiber bars such as Fiber One
  • Granola bars such as varieties of KIND and Nature Valley
  • Bread products labeled “low carb” like ThinSlim
  • Low-calorie ice cream such as Halo Top and Arctic Zero (chicory root is listed as “prebiotic fiber”)
  • Some yogurts such as Oikos Triple Zero
  • Fiber supplements, including gummies and powders
Which KIND bars Don’t Contain Inulin?

This is question I’ve gotten from a few people, so I reached out to the folks at KIND for the answer. There is NO inulin/chicory root in the following KIND bar varieties: Pressed by KIND (non-chocolate flavors), KIND Healthy Grains, and KIND Sweet & Spicy Bars.

How can you tell how much inulin is in foods?

Right now you can’t, but the ingredient list and Nutrition Facts Panel offer some clues. If you see “chicory root” or “inulin” listed in the first few ingredients (as in the Fiber One bars) you can assume it contains a decent amount, since ingredients are listed in order by weight.

If it’s a food product that doesn’t normally contain fiber (like yogurt or juice), look at the total fiber on the Nutrition Facts Panel. For example, if a yogurt contains inulin (and doesn’t have any other added fibers) and lists 3 grams of fiber, it likely has 3 grams of inulin in it.

Is inulin Healthy?

Yes. Inulin is a fiber, and both adults and kids get about half of what they need every day. Fibers like inulin can also help keep you regular, and constipation is a major issue for children and grown-ups.

Because inulin is a prebiotic, it can also help boost the amount of beneficial bacteria in your gut–and a well-balanced microbiome (the trillions of bacteria in your GI tract) can mean better overall health.

There’s also some research showing that chicory root may help curb overeating and even help the body soak up more calcium.

How much inulin causes gas?

That likely varies by person. In some research, up to 20 grams a day is well tolerated. But in one study, adults did well with amounts up to 10 grams, but more triggered gas and bloating for some. Me? I’m bothered by the 10 grams in a single Fiber One bar. At a sponsored conference I recently attended, representatives from the Beneo Institute (they make supplemental fibers, including those containing chicory root) said you can build up a tolerance to inulin if you consistently consume it over time. They suggested starting with 5 grams a day (split into two 2.5 grams doses in the morning and evening) using a supplement form of inulin, such as a powder you stir into drinks.

Personally, since I get a lot of fiber in my diet anyway from fruits, vegetables, and whole grains (and have a pretty sensitive GI tract in general) I simply avoid products containing inulin or chicory root.

Is this ingredient giving you gas?

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This easy granola uses up whatever nuts and seeds you have on hand. It makes an easy, healthy breakfast or snack.

Starting fresh in January just feels right.

The minute the holidays end, I have an intense urge to pack up every speck of festive decorations, vacuum the whole house, and send at least ten bags of donated clothes and household items out the door.

And then there’s the kitchen: The overstuffed cabinets, packed fridge, and freezer that feels like a bottomless pit of cold, mystery items.

Recently I spent a week organizing those spaces and then figuring out how to use up all the odds and ends I had–so I could cut my grocery bill and waste less food overall.

A perfect way to repurpose half-empty bags of nuts and seeds taking up space in my pantry and freezer: A double batch of this easy granola. One hour of prep and we instantly had breakfasts and yogurt toppings for the next week or more.

You might also like: Double Chocolate Almond Granola

This easy granola is very flexible and forgiving, but here are a few recipe notes for you:

  • Use a combination of whatever nuts and seeds you happen to have. I’ve used walnuts, almonds, pecans, peanuts, and pistachios with this recipe.
  • I tend to use plain, raw nuts and seeds. If yours are already salted, consider reducing or nixing the additional salt the recipe calls for altogether.
  • If you use pumpkin seeds, opt for shelled seeds (called pepitas).
  • If you like smaller pieces of nuts in your granola, pulse them in a food processor or mini chopper first.

Eat this granola on its own as a snack, with milk for breakfast, or over yogurt. Enjoy!

Easy Granola

This easy granola uses up whatever nuts and seeds you have on hand. It’s lightly sweet and makes an easy, healthy breakfast or snack.

  • 3 cups old-fashioned oats
  • 1 cup chopped nuts (Whatever kind you have, such as walnuts, almonds, or pecans)
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened coconut flakes or shredded coconut
  • 1/2 cup seeds (Whatever kind you have, such as pepitas or sunflower seeds)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 stick butter
  • 1/4 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.

  2. Combine dry ingredients (oats through salt) in a mixing bowl.

  3. Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Turn to low and add maple syrup, brown sugar, and vanilla. Stir to combine and remove from heat. 

  4. Pour liquid ingredients over dry, mix well until everything is coated, and spread granola onto the baking sheet in an even layer. Bake for 45 minutes, stirring halfway through baking time.

  5. Allow granola to cool, breaking it up into smaller pieces. Store in an airtight container. Keeps for several weeks.

*Nutrition information is based on using walnuts and pumpkin seeds.

How to make Easy Clean-Out-The-Pantry GranolaClick to Tweet

The post Easy “Clean Out the Pantry” Granola appeared first on Real Mom Nutrition.

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These easy Ham and Cheese Pinwheels take just five minutes and three ingredients to make and are perfect for snacks and lunch boxes. 

I grew up eating a version of these that my mom folded into a genuine-looking pinwheels (I shared the how-to over on Mom to Mom Nutrition). I also shared how to make them on Instagram Stories one day and didn’t think much of it.

Until my friend Robin (of Robin’s Bite) made them, raved, and shared them on Instagram too. “Hands down, this is my family’s favorite snack,” she messaged me. “And it’s my most commented-on Instagram Story ever!”

So I figured I was practically obligated to share them here, in case they’re a hit with your family too.

My kids love these hot for weekend lunches and cold in lunch boxes. Trouble is, the pretty pinwheel shape I was making didn’t fit in their bento boxes.

So I tried a new tactic and now they work beautifully in their EasyLunchboxes and Bentgo Fresh box. And they’re just as simple and quick to make.

You might also like: 100 Lunch Box Ideas
How to make Ham and Cheese Pinwheels:

Open the package of crescent roll dough. I like the Annie’s brand which, unlike some others, doesn’t contain hydrogenated oils or synthetic colors.

Place the rectangles together to form one big rectangle and press the perforated edges together to seal. Layer on the ham and cheese and roll up, starting at one of the short ends.

Using a serrated knife, carefully cut into slices. I cut mine into eight pieces.

Lay on a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silicone baking mat to prevent sticking. They will spread a little bit while baking, so space them apart.

Bake for 12-15 minutes at 375 degrees F until golden brown and melty.

Remove to a cooling rack and serve warm. Or cool and refrigerate in an airtight container. Use within 3-4 days. (But good luck keeping them around that long!)

Easy Ham and Cheese Pinwheels for Lunch Boxes:
Click to Tweet

Other riffs you can try:

  • Pepperoni & provolone
  • Turkey & cheddar
  • Pesto & chicken
  • Thinly-sliced mushrooms and Swiss

Easy Ham and Cheese Pinwheels

These easy Ham and Cheese Pinwheels take just five minutes to prep and are perfect for snacks and lunch boxes.

  • 1 can refrigerated crescent rolls (I like Annie's brand.)
  • 8 slices deli ham (May need more or less, depending on size of slices.)
  • 8 slices swiss cheese (May need more or less, depending on size of slices.)
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

  2. Open package of crescent rolls and unroll onto a baking sheet or cutting board, placing the four rectangle pieces together to form one big rectangle. Pinch the perforated edges closed to seal.

  3. Layer on slices of ham to cover entire surface area. Cover ham slices with cheese.

  4. Starting at short end, roll tightly, jellyroll fashion. Slice carefully with a serrated knife into 8 even slices.

  5. Place slices on a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silicone baking mat. They will spread while baking, so space them with some room between. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until golden brown and melty.

  6. Remove to a cooling rack and serve while warm or refrigerate after cool in an airtight container. Use within 3-4 days.

I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for me to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

The post Ham and Cheese Pinwheels for Lunch Boxes appeared first on Real Mom Nutrition.

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This Instant Pot Turkey Soup is one of my family’s favorites, featuring lean, flavorful turkey cutlets and dumplings in a thick, lemony broth.

Thank you to the National Turkey Federation for sponsoring this post!

I am always cold.

Scratch that. I am cold approximately nine months out of the year. I’ve always been that way. Once the weather turns from brisk to icy here in Ohio, I start wearing a sweater over my sweater, and I still complain about being cold all the time.

Can you relate?

If you can, you also know that only two things seem to cure those chills: A hot shower or a bowl of steamy soup.

That’s why soup is on regular rotation here all fall and winter. This is one of my favorites. It features my favorite Martha Stewart dumpling recipe (with a couple tweaks), soft shredded turkey, and a thick, lemony broth.

For this Instant Pot Turkey Soup with Dumplings, I use turkey cutlets. If you froze leftover Thanksgiving turkey (you are a genius!), you can use that too.

I love how the Instant Pot infuses a cooked-for-hours flavor, but if you don’t have an Instant Pot, you can make this on the stovetop as well.

You might also like: Instant Pot Mac and Cheese
How to Make Instant Pot Turkey Soup with Dumplings

Turn the Instant Pot to sauté and heat the olive oil until hot and shimmery. Add the carrots, celery, and onion, and sauté for five minutes, stirring frequently. Add the thyme and salt and stir again, cooking for another minute.

Add chicken or turkey broth, bay leaf, and turkey cutlets, scraping any browned bits from the bottom of the Instant Pot.

Secure lid onto the Instant Pot, and set to Manual (high pressure) for 15 minutes.

Be sure the lever on the lid is set to “sealing”!

After the 15 minutes of cook time have counted down, let the Instant Pot go to natural release for five minutes. Then carefully (use a wooden spoon or cover your hand with a kitchen towel) turn the lever to “venting” and release the steam and pressure.

Very important: Keep your hands and face away from the steam as it releases, and wait until the float valve drops completely before opening the Instant Pot! I always open the Instant Pot with the lid facing away from me, almost like a shield, just in case it ever splatters (it never has, but I like to play it safe!).

You might also like: Whole Wheat No-Knead Bread (Using the Instant Pot!)

Open the Instant Pot, remove the bay leaf, and discard. Then remove the turkey to a cutting board and shred it (it should be very soft and tender), and return the shredded turkey to the soup.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt. Stir in the chopped kale and slowly add the milk, stirring with a fork, until it forms a thick batter (you may not use all the milk).

Set the Instant Pot to sauté and wait for it to almost come to a boil.

Drop the dumpling batter into the soup in one-tablespoon heaps (I use a cookie scoop for that job).

When all the dumplings are in, cover the Instant Pot loosely with the lid and allow the soup to cook for 10-15 minutes (it will boil), or until the dumplings are cooked through.

As the dumplings cook in the soup, the broth will thicken.

Stir in the fresh lemon juice and serve.

I’ve really enjoyed working with the National Turkey Federation this year because it’s opened my eyes to all the ways I can use turkey in recipes. It’s so nice to have another protein and flavor option to consider when planning my week’s menu.

For more recipe ideas using turkey, check out two of my family’s favorites, Baked Turkey Tacos and Grilled Turkey Kebabs, and visit Serve Turkey for a lot more!

Instant Pot Turkey Soup with Dumplings

This Instant Pot Turkey Soup with Dumplings is thick, satisfying, and quick and easy to make.

Soup
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3/4 cup diced carrots
  • 3/4 cup diced celery
  • 1/2 cup diced yellow onion
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 6 cups turkey or chicken broth
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 pound turkey cutlets
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Dumplings
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup cornmeal
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup finely chopped kale
  • 1 cup whole milk
  1. Turn the Instant Pot to sauté and heat the olive oil until hot and shimmery. Add the carrots, celery, and onion, and sauté for five minutes, stirring frequently. Add the thyme and salt and stir again, cooking for another minute.

  2. Add chicken or turkey broth, bay leaf, and turkey cutlets, scraping any browned bits from the bottom of the Instant Pot. Secure lid onto Instant Pot, and set to Manual (high pressure) for 15 minutes. Be sure the lever on the lid is set to “sealing”.

  3. After the 15 minutes of cook time have counted down, let the Instant Pot go to natural release for five minutes. Then carefully (use a wooden spoon or cover your hand with a kitchen towel) turn the lever to “venting” and release the steam and pressure. Very important: Keep your hands and face away from the steam as it releases, and wait until the float valve drops completely before opening the Instant Pot! I always open the Instant Pot with the lid facing away from me, almost like a shield, just in case it ever splatters (it never has, but I like to play it safe!).

  4. Open the Instant Pot, remove the bay leaf, and discard. Then remove the turkey to a cutting board and shred it (it should be very soft and tender), and return the shredded turkey to the soup. 

  5. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt. Stir in the chopped kale and slowly add the milk, stirring with a fork, until it forms a thick batter (you may not use all the milk). 

  6. Set the Instant Pot to sauté and wait for it to almost come to a boil. Drop the dumpling batter into the soup in one-tablespoon heaps (I use a cookie scoop for the job). When all the dumplings are in, cover the Instant Pot loosely with the lid and allow to cook for 10-15 minutes (it will boil), or until the dumplings are cooked through. As the dumplings cook in the soup, the broth will thicken.

  7. Stir in the fresh lemon juice and serve.

Instant Pot Turkey Soup with Dumplings w/ @serveturkey
Click to Tweet

I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for me to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

The post Instant Pot Turkey Soup with Dumplings appeared first on Real Mom Nutrition.

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