Many often start the new year enthused to get up and get going, try new things, amp up their routine and charge into adventures. But it’s also the middle of winter, and winter is for slowing down, recharging and reenergizing. Just like the fields and gardens are taking a rest, so can you. Food can be a fantastic means for relaxation while also providing nutrition that you and your family need.
Soups are great for so many reasons. There’s something about a meal that was cooked slowly, simmering on the stove as all those flavors meld together, that allows you to relax and enjoy, slurping lazily to your stomach’s content. They’re often simple to make with whatever you have on hand in the pantry. Soups also make great leftovers as they usually taste even better the second day. And you can cover just about all the food group with a soup – vegetables, grains like rice or barley, proteins like beans, lentils, fish, chicken or red meat, or even dairy if you want something like a creamy butternut squash with an herb yogurt swirl or cheesy broccoli soup. And soups are also excellent for hydration at a time of year when we often aren’t mindful of drinking enough.
Give yourself a chance to relax by taking the night off from cooking a big meal and put together a cheese board with fruits, nuts, olives, pickles, sliced peppers, crackers, maybe some salmon or turkey, and, obviously, a few cheeses, whatever you have in the fridge. This is actually a favorite for our whole family, and can be just as nutritious as a full meal.
A tea party might be a nice afternoon activity that gives you and the kids a chance to sit and relax and not create a huge mess for you to clean up afterwards. Obviously don’t give your child black or green or other caffeinated teas, but simple fruit flavored teas like blueberry, raspberry or peach are safe, along with ginger or mint. Read labels to make sure you know exactly what is in the tea, and I always make the tea weaker than what I would normally drink, steeping it for just a couple minutes. Or simply add honey (for children older than 1 year) and lemon to hot water for a mock tea (this is also helpful for soothing children when they catch a winter cold).
Culinary dietitian Manuel Villacorta suggests a Chamomile milk tea with honey and cinnamon to unwind at the end of the day. He says by using milk instead of water, “the flavors from the tea steep into the milk and provide that flavorful chamomile tea latte. Instead of just sipping on tea, you will be enjoying a simple evening snack since the milk provides protein and carbohydrates.” Villacorta says to heat a cup of milk, not allowing it to boil and then steep two bags of chamomile tea (use just one bag for kids) in the milk and add a teaspoon of honey and sprinkle cinnamon on top.
Warm milk may be relaxing, but there is no data on whether milk helps you sleep like it has long been said to. Some research has found that tryptophan (in doses of approximately 1 gram or more), an essential amino acid found in milk (approximately 0.1 g/cup) and other protein-containing foods, may have a calming effect. This may be because tryptophan is a precursor to the brain transmitter, serotonin, found to influence sleep, mood and mental fatigue. However, the small amount of tryptophan in a cup of milk (eight ounces) is probably not enough to influence sleep, but it may remind you it’s time to relax, plus it has other benefits.
Recently, my daughter started requesting “hot milk”. I’m not sure where she got the idea, but I was happy to oblige. Now, when I notice that she’s getting a little wound up or not settling down when she needs to, I’ll warm her some milk and often add things like honey or maple syrup, vanilla, and pumpkin spice or some cinnamon and nutmeg, something to make it special. I like to whisk it to make it nice and frothy. Just the act of wrapping your hands around a warm mug and taking a few minutes to sit and sip a warm drink can be relaxing. Plus, you can feel good knowing that milk provides 13 essential nutrients.
Have you heard of Moon Milk? You can find a great deal of recipes out there with a variety of flavors, but a couple of kid-friendly recipes from gotmilk.com include Smores Moon Milk and Strawberry Moon Milk.
Smores Moon Milk
1 cup milk
1 oz marshmallows (about 2 large or 18 mini) plus more for topping, if desired
Crumbled graham cracker and warm chocolate sauce for topping.
If using large marshmallows, cut each one into several small pieces. Combine marshmallows and milk in a small saucepan over medium heat.
Stirring frequently, warm the milk just until marshmallows are completely melted, about 8-10 minutes.
For a toasted marshmallow topping, place marshmallows under the broiler for a few minutes until they are golden brown, keeping a close eye on them to make sure they don’t burn.
Pour warm marshmallow milk into a warm mug and top with toasted marshmallows, graham cracker crumbles and hot fudge, if desired.
Strawberry Moon Milk
1 cup – real dairy milk
1/2 cup – fresh strawberries
1/4 teaspoon – ground ginger
1 tablespoon – brown sugar
Pinch Himalayan salt
In a blender, mix all the ingredients. Pour mix in a small saucepan.
Heat until the milk is steaming and just about to start simmering. Pour into a mug, and enjoy!