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Thursday, July 20, 2017

Cooking Therapy: Just What the Doctor Ordered

We spend loads of money and time on all sorts of therapeutic activities from physical therapy to gym memberships to visits with family or individual therapists.  What if there was one activity that could incorporate the benefits of all these therapies, could be done in your own home, with your entire family and provide a meal to boot? We'd all be scrambling to get our hands on such a magical elixir.  The truth is that this therapeutic wonder-cure is sitting dormant in your home - in your kitchen to be exact.  Here are some reasons to take up cooking therapy.  

Physical Therapy 
A lot of physical therapy is all about movement to allow you to participate in activities of daily living.  Think about the act of cooking.  You have to leave the couch, the controller and the console. It requires you to bend, reach, stretch, lift and twist. And if you cook like a ninja, you could burn all sorts of calories! 


Mental Therapy
Cooking is edible meditation. Mindfulness in the kitchen helps you focus on the moment so that you can't fret over earlier mistakes or what-ifs.  Stress and anxiety numb our senses, but cooking enlivens them.  Consider the sensory experience of the smells, taste, touch, sound and visual aspect of food and cooking.  

You can't help but be caught up in the process of the moment and let future worries fall away.  It is also practice at letting go of perfectionism - rarely does a recipe turn out just as it looks on Pinterest.  But adjusting expectations is a type of therapy in itself.

Emotional Therapy

Cooking is comfort, and a very effective way to work through grief or heartache.  It is a wonderful creative outlet that provides a very real, tangible sense of accomplishment.
  
Unlike other chores, it carries its own built-in reward system - eating! Cooking also helps people feel good because it allows us to nurture other around us.  The physical, mental and emotional experience of cooking boosts self-esteem.

Family Therapy
Cooking with a partner or family members requires communication, cooperation and compromise.
Eating a meal together as a family leads to healthier habits as children become adults.  Family meal-time promotes better grades, less high-risk behaviors and eating disorders and better relationships between parent and child.  

So no more excuses that you don't have time to cook.  An hour in the kitchen for some physical activity and 2-3 therapy sessions is a serious bargain!


De-Stressing Your Diet

In spite of the so-called conveniences of our technophilic world, we seem to be more stressed out and suffer more anxiety, fear, depression and unhappiness.  Often people use food to medicate the negative symptoms of our hectic lifestyles instead of using food to prevent and blunt the effects of stress in our constantly hyped-up lives.

Here are healthful tips to de-stress your diet:

  1. Limit or avoid alcohol and caffeine.  

    There may be a short-term calming or boosting of energy, but both substances leave you altered, edgy, nervous and interfere with sleep.  Cutting those substances out of your routine may take a little patience and determination, but the benefits of a more stable mood and energy level will make a huge impact in your ability to cope with and reduce stressors. If you're looking for a bit more motivation to cut the caffeine, keep in mind that when your body eliminates caffeine from your system, your serotonin levels take a big dive.  Caffeine also blocks certain chemical pathways needed to make serotonin, so the more caffeine you consume, the less your body can produce it's own serotonin. In a nutshell, dependence of any kind means stress - chemically and mentally.  
  2. Balancing your diet with some protein, some complex carbohydrates and a generous amount of fruits and veggies will reduce stress on many levels.
     Firstly, your body will have enough nutrients for optimal metabolism and healing and overall health.  Secondly, a high-plant, low-processed diet naturally leads to a healthier weight, lower blood pressure and less mental stress over your body and health.  
  3. Don't fear carbs.  
    The macro and other popular diet crazes lead some people to strictly limit or eliminate carbohydrates.  While it's good to limit the amount of refined flours and sugars, remember that not all carbohydrates are created equal.  Your body and your mind run on the preferred fuel of carbohydrates, so having adequate amounts of complex carbohydrates is essential to maintaining not only your energy and feeling satisfied at meals, but also is needed in the production of more stable levels of serotonin (as opposed to the peak and crash serotonin mode that comes from downing sugar). 
  4. Consider probiotic-rich foods.  Not only is there some evidence of a link between probiotics and lower anxiety, but the majority of the serotonin receptors are found in the gut, so a happy gut means a happier you all the way around.  
Don't forget to slow down, enjoy and find satisfaction when you eat.  Mindful eating ensures that you have a pleasant, relaxing, stress-relieving breaks multiple times throughout the day.  

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Build a Healthier Sundae Bar

 While ice cream may be a year-round favorite, the dog days of summer practically scream for ice cream.  Here are a few tweaks you can make to your Sundae Bar to keep the nutrition high without sacrificing any flavor. 

Consider frozen yogurt, or at least a shorter ingredient list.  A lower-fat frozen yogurt can save 50 calories per serving, and there are loads of flavor possibilities out there.  Whatever you choose, take a look at the ingredient list – you want it to be fairly short and understandable. 

Chocolate syrup instead of hot fudge saves calories as well, better still, make your own:

Homemade Chocolate syrup:

1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
dash salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract

In a saucepan, whisk together the cocoa and sugar.  Add the water and salt, whisking over medium heat until boiling.  Boil for 2 minutes, then remove from heat and add the vanilla extract.  Store in refrigerator.  Makes approximately 2 cups (16 servings)
Serving size: 2 Tbsp.  60 calories, 1.8 g fiber,  12.6 g sugar



Forget the strawberry or pineapple toppings and serve diced, mashed or pureed fruit with a drizzle of honey.  This can save 70 calories per serving. 
 
As always find creative ways to incorporate fruit into your sundae bar – a grilled peach half makes a tasty base for your Sunday – fanned out strawberries or berries on skewers make attractive additions that entice your guest to enjoy nature’s dessert. 


And consider the scoops and spoons you use as serving sizes – a smaller scoop means a more moderate portion.  And when it comes down to it – that is what dessert is all about, balance and moderation for fun, once-in-a-while foods. 

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Deconstructing Salad: Tastiest Main Dish Ever!


Salad is an ancient idea, but it’s taken a while to come into it’s own in America.  Salads aren’t just for side dishes or rabbit food anymore. Here are three tips to step up your salad game and bring it into the main dish spotlight.

Following the Choose My Plate guidelines of ½ produce, ¼ grains and ¼ protein makes for a great main dish salad recipe.  Keep the backbone ingredients healthful and balanced, and the smaller, cameo-type ingredients such as dressings and toppings in balance and you’ll have a nutritious meal to get excited about.

Here are three simple but satisfying salad recipe ideas to demonstrate this pattern:


Caprese-Cobb Panzanella Salad

Toss together:
2 cups chopped tomato or halved grape tomatoes
1 cup torn basil
2 cups stale bread cubes (torn and toasted is my favorite)
1/2 cup fresh small mozzarella balls (perlini)
2 hard boiled eggs chopped
2 slices crisp bacon crumbled
Toss with vinaigrette of your choice and drizzle with balsamic glaze.




Chicken, Barley and Edamame Salad

Toss together:
1 cup roasted or grilled chicken, bite sized
1 cup cooked whole grain of your choice (barley, quinoa, brown rice, or bulgur work well)
1 cup broccoli florets
1/2 cup red pepper chopped
1/4 cup sliced green onions
1 cup edamame
Toss with your favorite asian dressing or mix a little soy and honey with a basic vinaigrette and toss.  Serve over a bed of greens.









Vegetarian Tex-Mex Salad

Toss together:
1 cup grilled corn cut off the cob
1 cup black beans
1/2 cup chopped red pepper
1/2 cup sliced radishes
1/4 cup sliced green onions
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
2 cups mixed greens
Toss with your favorite southwest dressing, or combine equal parts salsa and vinaigrette.  Serve with toasted corn tortillas or corn chips.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Avoid Summer Nutrition Pitfalls

While summer seems ideally suited to optimal nutrition with all the in-season produce available, we often drop the ball when it comes to our eating habits in the summer.  Here are a few tips to keep your health on track during some of the most action-packed months of the year.  Here are some things to consider when it comes to your summer nutrition:


Make a plan:
School’s out, kids are home and to your dismay, they want to be fed. . . all the time!    Use this to your advantage and involve your children in planning meals and snacks.  Making a menu and using it to plan your grocery list will save plenty of grief at mealtime.  Good nutrition doesn’t just spontaneously happen, you have to have a plan in place. 
And while you’re at it, plan to involve your kids in meal prep during the summer so they can learn some much needed life skills before they’re on their own.

Snack wisely:
Plan, choose and shop carefully for snack foods.   Then, once you’re home, consider where they should live in your kitchen.  Keeping fruit in the fridge and cookies on the counter doesn’t set yourself up for success in the eating department. 
Keep some produce on the counter and maybe even some nuts.  Keep high-fiber, low sugar snacks at eye level in the pantry, and store the play-foods more out of sight so that it becomes an intentional choice, not just mindless munching.

Up your produce game:
One of the best ways to eat more fruits and veggies is to grow your own.  Even if you don’t end up with a bumper crop, it sparks interest in eating more produce.  It’s not too late to put some lettuce seeds in a planter or get a tomato plant in a pot on the patio if you don’t have traditional garden space.  Find a friend that is participating in a community garden and trade some weeding time for fresh produce. 

Don’t take a vacation from healthful eating:

Trips and travel can make good nutrition a challenge, but it is certainly possible to keep some good habits in place while on vacation. 
Don’t drink your calories, watch your portions while eating out and make an effort to get lots of fruits and veggies in during your trip. 

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Campfire Nutrition

Camping is a fun way to get away from the routine and pace of everyday life that can be a relaxing and healthy outing with the family.  You don’t want to come home from spending time in the great outdoors with garbage gut so here are some ways to keep the yum factor and the nutrition factor high on your next camping trip that are just as great in the backyard as in the mountains. 

The same nutrition rules apply: drink water, incorporate lots of produce, and minimize processed foods.

Breakfast
·      Omelets in a bag.  In a freezer strength, zip-top bag crack a couple eggs add some chopped veggies, a dash of salt and pepper and possibly a sprinkle of cheese.  Close securely; squish the bag and place in a pot of boiling water.  Boil for 10-15 minutes.  Serve with a whole grain English muffin toasted over the fire and some fresh fruit. 
·      Oatmeal.  Individual packets are very convenient for camping.  Be sure to choose unsweetened oatmeal and then after adding some boiling water, everyone can flavor their own oatmeal to taste with dried or fresh fruit, nuts and honey.  Add a serving of fruit and wash it down with some milk (shelf-stable is great for camping). 
Lunch
·      Sandwich or salad fixings are ideal for camping and the veggies can serve a dual purpose by moonlighting as a side for dinner, or an addition to a tinfoil dinner.  Don’t forget lots of veggies, fruits and plenty of water.  If your family would riot without some sort of chips, choose ones with a simple ingredient list and keep the portion sizes in check by choosing pre-portioned bags or portioning your own before you leave. 
Dinner
·      Tinfoil dinner.  Excellent and tasty way to incorporate lots of veggies into a meal.  Load up on a variety of delicious veggies (sweet or white potatoes, corn on the cob chunks, onions, peppers, mushrooms, carrots, celery, even spinach or chard) then add some lean protein (try a mix of beans for a vegetarian option), then season it up without overdoing the salt by using strong flavors like onion or garlic powder, smoked paprika, chipotle pepper, or your favorite herbs.
 
·      Hotdogs.  Choose your dog wisely – going with nitrite free, lower sodium options and putting it on a whole-grain bun, help keep the nutrition high.  Make sure to round the meal out with some tasty salad, fruit or fresh veggies. 
Dessert

·      Baked apples.  Carve the core out of an apple, fill it with some trail mix or any leftover oatmeal topping from breakfast, wrap it in foil and toss it in the coals for 30 or so minutes. 

·      S’mores.  Sometimes s’mores just have to happen or else the camping trip isn’t complete.  If this is the case for you, avoid extra jumbo marshmallows and stick with traditional sized ones.  Try to use a whole grain graham cracker – 2 g fiber per serving, and go with a darker chocolate that will be higher in fiber and lower in sugar.  The key is portion control.  Saving s’mores for after the meal will help keep this traditional camping dessert from derailing the healthiness of your camping experience.