Pajama Party Breakfast

When enough time goes by without throwing a party, I start to get a little antsy. Opening my home for entertaining is one of life’s greatest pleasures for me, but this past school year when I was working quite a few hours outside the home, my usual flair for party planning necessarily fell by the wayside. Now that I’m home freelance writing, however, and my kids are home for the summer, hosting events is finally a possibility again. So I was super excited this past week to have friends join us for a Pajama Party Breakfast.

I’m enormously blessed to be a part of a circle of friends who are all moms of kids at the same school. For three years now we’ve made time to hang out monthly (including the In-Home Yoga Ladies’ Night on the blog). During the summer we also regularly get together with our kids. It’s been wonderful to have a built-in group to go swimming with, exchange babysitting with–and invite over for parties!

This Pajama Party Breakfast was the perfect casual get-together for summer vacation. Everyone was instructed to come in their PJ’s bright and early for a big meal and some fun and games. About a dozen kids ended up coming, and judging by the fact that everyone stayed until lunchtime, I’d say it went over well!

Even though our version was a kids’ party, you could easily adapt this party idea for just about any group. Here are the details of our morning!

The Food

I wanted the food at our PJ party to accommodate all our guests, some of whom have food allergies, so I was careful to create a menu with gluten and dairy-free options…as well as both healthy and just-for-fun choices. Our menu included:

Red, White, and Blueberry Overnight French Toast

This bursting-with-berries, deceptively easy overnight French toast made for smooth sailing the morning of the party. Recipe here.

Apple Cinnamon Overnight Steel Cut Oats

When guests are arriving at 8:30 in the morning, overnight prep is where it’s at. In addition to making French toast ahead of time, I put these apple steel cut oats in the crock pot the night before the party and woke up to their amazing cinnamon-y smell the next day. This recipe is one I’ve used for ages from The Yummy Life–gluten-free, dairy-free (made with almond milk), and a delightfully nourishing bowl of comfort.

Fruit Trifle

Because it’s healthy, and because I make one of these at basically every party I ever throw.

Milk jug donut treats

Why, thank you, Pinterest, for such a whimsical idea for serving milk and donuts! These adorable treats were a huge hit.

Bacon

With nine boys in attendance, this breakfast meat disappeared in SECONDS.

And, obviously…

Ain’t no way we’re having breakfast without coffee. (And orange juice.)

Decor and Activities

Fruit vases

At an event centered around eating, I always love incorporating food into decor. The appealing look of citrus stacked in glass lends a pop of bright color and a sense of freshness to any breakfast spread.

Newspaper coloring

When I think of the classic hallmarks of a leisurely breakfast, I think of lounging over coffee and the newspaper. (Though I’m sure kids in this day and age probably won’t have memories of comics in the Sunday paper, or Saturday morning cartoons, for that matter.) In the spirit of perusing the Sunday paper, I thought it would be fun to cover my dining room table with newspaper, especially the comics, and let the kids color all over them.

I mean, hey, when do they ever get the chance to draw all over the table?

The newspaper also served a double purpose as a tablecloth. (A much-needed one, as it turned out, when my son spilled a full cup of orange juice.)

Custom Crossword PuzzleContinuing the Sunday paper theme, what else is fun in the newspaper? The crossword puzzle, of course! For our party we had not just any crossword, but a custom one created on Education.com. To go with the theme of both breakfast and our kids’ school, I made sure to include clues they would know the answers to, like the name of our neighborhood pool and what grade a certain teacher teaches.

The girls about to start their puzzles.

Toothbrush to take home

Since after breakfast most people feel the need to brush their teeth, toothbrushes seemed like a most sensible take-away from this party. (I happen to brush my teeth before breakfast, but I know I’m a weirdo.) If nothing else, it’s always nice to have an extra toothbrush lying around, right?

 

With this event behind us, I can say I would totally host another Pajama Party Breakfast in the future. For a birthday or special celebration, it offers the sleepover feel without the hassle of an actual sleepover.

I’m pretty sure these kids would do it again, too. 🙂

Red, White, and Blueberry French Toast Casserole

As far as food goes on the Fourth of July, it’s always the cookouts and barbecues that get all the glory. We think of char-grilled hot dogs and hamburgers, bright yellow corn on the cob, and wiggly-jiggly Jello salads served at lunch or dinner. Rarely do we think of breakfast as an opportunity to make (and eat) something patriotically themed. Well, it’s time to change that! This Red, White, Blueberry Overnight French Toast features a mix of raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries in a sweet-but-not-too-sweet custard that will start your Independence Day off right.

I served this up yesterday at a fun pajama party breakfast (soon to be blogged) that my kids and I hosted for a group of friends. As one item on a menu of several breakfast dishes, it was so nice to know that I could put this French toast casserole together quickly the night before and not stress on the morning of our event. All it really takes is a loaf of French bread, cubed and layered with frozen berries in a baking dish like so…

Then, whisk together a quick milk-and-egg mixture with a bit of brown sugar and a hint of cinnamon, stash in the fridge, and pull out to bake when you’re ready!

Our young guests–a dozen or so elementary-aged kids–certainly approved. And with just a half cup of sugar in the whole 9 x 13-inch pan, I felt pretty good about feeding it to them, too. For a special occasion breakfast treat, this comes in at a surprisingly modest 240 calories per serving (before maple syrup, anyway).

So if you’d like to spruce up your Fourth of July festivities by starting early in the day, don’t forget to whip up your Red, White, and Blueberry French Toast Casserole the night of the Third.

Have a wonderful Independence Day!

Check out these other Fourth of July recipes from A Love Letter to Food!

Red, White, and Blue Berry Cheesecake Parfaits

Dysfunctional Family Recipe Salsa

Fresh Blueberry Ice Cream

Garlic Herb Potato Wedges

Mexican Street Corn Dip

Pavlova with Fresh Berries

Mediterranean 7-Layer Dip


Print Recipe
Red, White, and Blueberry French Toast Casserole
Bursting with berries, this French toast casserole is a special occasion breakfast that takes next to no time to prepare!
Course breakfast
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 55 minutes
Passive Time 3 hours
Servings
Course breakfast
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 55 minutes
Passive Time 3 hours
Servings
Instructions
  1. Grease a 9 x 13 inch baking pan with cooking spray. Slice French bread into 1-inch chunks and spread half of them in the pan. Sprinkle half the berries on top. Repeat with the remaining half of bread chunks and berries.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together milk, eggs, cinnamon, vanilla, and brown sugar until smooth. Pour over bread, pressing down the top with a spatula to help bread soak up the milk mixture.
  3. Cover and refrigerate at least 3 hours (overnight is preferable). Bake in a 350 degree oven for 50-55 minutes. Serve with maple syrup.
Recipe Notes
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How I Started Freelance Nutrition Writing (And So Can You)

You may have noticed that things have slowed down a bit here on the blog over the last several months. The reason behind this actually has to do with something really good–and something, in a sense, blog-related. See, I’ve been doing freelance nutrition writing, and a lot of it. Since I’d rather post quality than quantity on the blog, that means my posts here have gotten fewer and further between. Here’s a little bit about how it all came about, along with some tips for other nutrition professionals interested in getting into the world of freelance writing. (And to my handful of regular readers: Don’t worry, I’m still keeping the blog going with recipes and down-to-earth nutrition info!)

Some backstory:

Last August, our family spent almost three months in Germany. During this time, I wasn’t working (unless you count steadily “working” my way through innumerable varieties of German beer–oh, and I was also looking after my kids). Being very new in my career as a nutrition professional, I still hadn’t really determined what path I wanted to take. When you go through any traditional dietetics education, the party line from your program of study is that you have three options for employment: clinical, food service, or community nutrition. (Can I get an amen, RDs and DTRs?) While I knew I didn’t want to work in the clinical or food service settings, I wasn’t exactly sure what my career in “community” (aka public health) nutrition would look like. I did know, however, that my first position out of school would be temporary, that I wanted something part-time, and that I had always loved to write. My English minor back in college meant I had at least some education in doing so reasonably well.

Returning home from Germany, I decided to take a stab at freelance writing to see how it went. Initially, it barely even crossed my mind to start writing nutrition content. Instead, I began with something even closer to my heart: my own journey as a Catholic Christian. My cousin, who is a freelance writer in New Mexico, had turned me on to a couple of websites primarily aimed at Millennial Catholics, Busted Halo and Amendo. Armed with my backlog of blog content and one lonely article I wrote for my church’s Women’s Ministry page, I pitched Busted Halo’s editor, calling myself a freelance writer. I asked if they’d like to publish the story of a foolish decision I made as a young adult. I didn’t really expect to hear anything back–I mean, who was I kidding with this whole “I’m a freelance writer” pose?–but much to my surprise, the editor emailed me back with an acceptance!

And how I got to now…

After the success of my first pitch (and the thrill of seeing my first article in print), I craved more. Here and there, I’d send off a pitch, often into the echoing void of a general submissions inbox, never to hear anything again, but sometimes to a “yes” from a real human being. Pretty soon I made a pact with myself: Every day I wasn’t working–which was one to two days a week–I would pitch a new publication. I read a quick e-book called Make Money as a Freelance Writer, which encouraged new writers to make a list of all the topics you’re an expert in, as well as topics you merely have an interest in. I decided I could comfortably focus on nutrition, general health and wellness, parenting, and spirituality…and maybe some other random topics I just find fascinating, like forensic investigation and 19th century German poets. But, you know, less often.

Over the next few months, I pitched like a mo-fo. Setting aside my deep distaste for unsolicited social interaction, I rattled off cold pitches to dozens of magazines and websites. I emailed local dietitians to see if I could write their newsletters or other content for patients, and I sent out an ad for my services on my local Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics chapter’s email listserv. The mornings I didn’t work, I’d go for a walk or a bike ride to clear my head and generate story ideas, then sit down to research a good publication to send to, and off my pitches would go. From September of 2017 to the end of that year, I sent out 40 pitches and received 8 rejections, 14 no-reponses, and 18 acceptances that turned into publications. When I read somewhere that new writers often have around a 10-20% acceptance rate, I felt my hard work had paid off (but those 8 rejections still definitely stung!).

How I get my gigs

At the end of 2017 came what I think of as my big breakthrough: Paid regular work. That December I was offered a weekly contributor position for the women’s lifestyle website Brit + Co’s Health section. Shortly thereafter, a dietitian hired me at a respectable rate to write her monthly newsletter. And in May of 2018 I was hired on to contribute regularly to fitness guru Chalene Johnson’s blog on her 131 Method website. Between these ongoing projects, a monthly kids’ cooking class I teach, and a few other articles every month or so, I was able to quit my in-person job–and am now making double to triple the hourly rate my job paid, while working fewer hours.

So how did all that happen?

Once again, I really have to give my cousin credit. She referred me to numerous Facebook groups where editors post calls for pitches–which I often answered and sometimes ultimately landed. (I also asked others in these groups for editor contacts when I couldn’t track them down). Then a couple of dietitians told me about even more Facebook groups where I found work. For awhile, I also regularly searched through Craigslist and Upwork for writing gigs–getting one decent food-related copywriting assignment–but have since decided pitching my own content is the better route for the type of work I’m looking for.

If YOU want to get into freelance nutrition writing

Maybe you’re a dietitian or DTR interested in getting started with writing, like I was less than a year ago. Judging from the responses I got when chatting with other nutrition professionals at a conference just last week, I believe many RDs and DTRs are drawn to this relatively obscure area of dietetics practice. After all, why shouldn’t we be the ones to give the public reliable health information? Journalists may have great skill in reporting on food and nutrition, but they don’t have the kind of in-depth knowledge a licensed nutrition professional can offer.

Here are my top pieces of advice if you’re looking to start freelance nutrition writing:

  • If you don’t have a blog, create one–even a lil’ dinky one–so you have a landing place for editors to see your writing.
  • Create social media pages for your blog and invite friends to like them. Post often, whether it’s your own blog articles or anything you find intriguing in the realm of food and nutrition. If you post interesting stuff, your following will grow.
  • If you’re in private practice, write your own monthly newsletter. Or offer to write one for a dietetics practice to build up experience and content.
  • Offer to blog for free (for awhile) for local food, nutrition, or restaurant websites.
  • Get into Facebook groups about general and nutrition-specific freelance writing (email me for examples!) These are where you’ll find editors issuing calls for pitches.
  • Search Craigslist and Upwork for nutrition-related writing gigs.
  • Pitch like a pitchin’ fool! And, if possible, don’t pitch to the general submissions email address you find on a publication’s website. Do a little more digging to get the email of an actual editor. (Try Twitter, LinkedIn, or ask in Facebook groups.) You’re much more likely to get a response from a real person.

The work is out there. And with your experience as a nutrition professional, YOU can be the one most qualified to get it. I can tell you, it’s a pretty sweet deal when you do!

10 Things You Didn’t Know About Protein

Of the three macronutrients the human body needs to survive, you could make a pretty strong case for protein being the trendiest these days. After all, you don’t see products like “fat powder” and “carb shakes” flying off the shelves, but replace that first word with “protein” and people go nuts. (I feel like I’m missing a pun opportunity here–please feel free to jump in.)

The reason behind protein’s popularity as a supplement seems to be its ability to build muscle–as well as the body’s disinclination to store it as extra weight. While it’s known for bulking up muscles, protein actually does a whole lot more than just pump…you up.

Let’s revisit A Love Letter to Food’s “10 Things You Didn’t Know About” series to uncover some fascinating facts about this critical component of human nutrition.

10 Things You Didn’t Know About Protein

1. It’s not hard to get enough. The recommended intake of protein for adults is 50 grams per day. Surprisingly, you can get this much in two 3-ounce servings of chicken or two cups of soybeans. And yet, as of 2013, 50% of Americans reported wanting to increase protein in their diets. But you totally don’t need to do so because…

2. Protein deficiency is rare. (At least in the U.S.) Most Americans get too much, rather than too little protein–and that’s not really a good thing. A high-protein diet has been linked to kidney problems and heart disease. I was once at a conference with about 600 medical and nutrition professionals when the speaker asked the audience to raise their hands if they had ever seen a patient with a diet-related protein deficiency. One person raised her hand.

3. Several grains, vegetables, and even fruits provide protein. While most of us think of meat and other animal products as the protein powerhouses, other foods also serve as sources. Grains like quinoa, whole wheat pasta, and couscous pack a notable punch, and don’t discount fruits and veggies, either, as they can also contribute protein to your diet.

4. The difference between essential and non-essential amino acids: All on its own, the human body is able to synthesize some amino acids (the building blocks of protein), but not others. Those that the body can create are called non-essential, while those that must be supplied by food are deemed “essential.”

5. High quality versus low quality protein: This terminology doesn’t refer to whether you bought your steak at Whole Foods or the carniceria where it *might* have been cat meat. Also known as “complete protein,” high quality protein provides all nine essential amino acids, while low-quality, or “incomplete protein,” does not.

6. After water, protein is the most prevalent substance in the body. Yep. Since many enzymes and hormones are proteins, and protein is essential to the integrity of cells, you have a whole lot of it in your body.

7. Protein helps you feel fuller longer. I was recently in the grocery store when an ad came through on the speakers. “Product X is packed with protein, keeping you fuller longer.”

*record scratch*

Wait, what? For a moment, I was tempted to call up the producers of this ad and tell them off. “It’s not protein that makes you feel full, it’s fiber and fat!” Then I went home and did some research. Oops. Yes, protein does promote satiety. (For the record, so do fiber and fat.)

8. Protein promotes wound healing. When you’ve suffered a wound, your body needs all the help it can get to repair it. Extra protein in the diet rebuilds the tissue damage caused by wounds.

9. One gram of protein contains four calories. All proteins, regardless of their quality or what food that supplies them, provide four calories. So if you look on the Nutrition Facts label, you can determine how many calories come from protein in a serving of that food. (For example, 10 grams of protein means 40 calories.)

10. Protein digestion begins in the…: It’s a bit of a trick question to ask where protein digestion begins. Of course the teeth get things started by mechanically breaking down food (including its proteins), but the real digestive party happens in the stomach. Hydrochloric acid swirling through your gut uncoils the structure of proteins, preparing them for the rest of their transit through the digestive tract.

So…what questions do you have about protein? Ask me in the comments!

Sangria Granita

You know what this blog needs? More alcohol. And it could always use more desserts. Let’s get crazy and combine the two in a fruity, refreshing Sangria Granita.

If you’ve never had granita before, you’ve probably had something similar that goes by a different name–because it’s basically a grown-up slushie. In fact, there’s not even always anything “grown-up” about it. It pretty much IS a slushie…or, if you prefer another name name, a “shaved ice” or, for the truly refined, a “sno cone.”  With origins in Sicily, granitas can be found alongside gelato all over Italy (which explains why you might ALSO hear them called “Italian ice”). A dead-easy dessert, granita typically contains just water, sugar, and a flavoring. Add some freezing time and a few rounds of ice crystal-scraping and you have the perfect sweet to hit the spot on a hot day.

With summer on the horizon, this Sangria Granita might be just the light treat you need poolside or after dinner. This version starts with Merlot and the juices of oranges, lemons, and limes, but could easily be adapted to use other wines and/or fruit juices. Let me know which combination you think would taste best!

Print Recipe
Sangria Granita
A refreshing, light dessert that's perfect for summer!
Course Dessert
Cook Time 5 minutes
Passive Time 3 hours
Servings
Course Dessert
Cook Time 5 minutes
Passive Time 3 hours
Servings
Instructions
  1. In a saucepan, heat wine, water, and sugar to boiling over medium heat. Boil and stir one minute, until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and stir in fruit juices. Let cool.
  2. Pour mixture into an 9 x 13 baking pan (metal works better than glass for optimal freezing). Place the pan in the freezer. Remove after 30 minutes to scrape and stir the mixture with a fork so that flaky ice crystals form. Repeat every 30 minutes until frozen to your liking.
  3. To serve, scrape with a fork into individual bowls and serve immediately.
Recipe Notes

Adapted from Fine Cooking.

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