Main Nutritious Intent Website

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Tasty Party-Fare Makeovers

I love appetizers, dips and noshables as much as the next guy, but that doesn't mean I go hog-wild and offer my family and friends an artery-blocking buffet.  Here are some links to my favorite made-over recipes that are so tasty you don't miss the original:
  •  Spinach Artichoke Dip This recipe from Cooking Light is a real crowd pleaser.  Instead of the reduced fat cream cheese - try Greek Cream Cheese (cream cheese made from greek yogurt).  Serve with some whole grain pita chips or my favorite: Triscuits.
  • Chocolate Cherry Chunk Meringues This isn't necessarily a makeover recipe, but I wanted to include it as a good substitute for Christmas cookies or calorie-laden desserts.  Plus, I'm a sucker for chocolate, cherry and meringues!
  • Mushroom Polenta Canapes I love, love, love this appetizer!  It is fairly simple - but adds a lot of flavor and wow-factor to your party.  Plus it's low fat, decent fiber content make it a great savory substitution for any fried, battered, pie-crust-filled appetizer you pick up at the store.
  • Spring Rolls At 100 calories per serving - these beat the pants off of any fried egg roll.  Consider letting your guests help with the assembly - as it makes it more fun and efficient.  
  • Hot Bean & Cheese Dip Instead of going with a nacho-cheese dip for your southwest flavor-fix, try this recipe.  Loaded with fiber and lower in calories and sodium than store-bought ones.  Serve with veggies or whole grain chips.  
  • Sweet Chipotle Snack Mix Instead of putting out the candy dish - set this mix out.  Such as tasty flavor combination - enjoying healthy nuts and seeds never tasted so good.
  • Water  No this isn't a link . . . no recipe needed.  The best makeover for cocktails or party beverages is to not drink your calories.  You might want to provide some fun garnishes for the glasses:  Freeze cranberries on a skewer to use as a substitute for ice.  Lemon, lime and blood orange slices make a gorgeous garnish for the ultimate calorie free beverage.  
I had a makeover request for a buffalo chicken dip recipe.  While there are some variations in the different recipes out there - some of the constant ingredients involve cream cheese, sour cream and cheese.  So here are my tips to lighten it without losing it's flavor identity:  Go with a mix of reduced fat and fat free cream cheese (or greek cream cheese), swap out the sour cream for nonfat greek yogurt and go with a strong-flavored cheese but less.  For example: instead of using 2 cups of cheddar or colby jack cheese, use 1 cup sharp cheddar.  And if it calls for blue cheese - the flavor is strong enough that a little goes a long way, so the quantity is usually fairly modest.  Serve with celery and keep in mind that it is all about balancing portions.  Have some, but don't make a dip appetizer your entire meal.

Don't forget to set out plenty of fruit and veggie trays - and enjoy noshing on them the next day or two.  Have a healthy, festive and merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Christmas Cookies & Insurance Premiums

At a glance you may think that I've lost it.  Christmas cookies and insurance premiums may seem to have nothing in common, but hear me out.  At this time of year plates, boxes and bags of treats, cookies and goodies start showing up on our doorsteps.  Family, friends and neighbors (as well as ourselves) are busy baking this time of year.  Yet, we are trying to keep things in balance and not end the year with a extra pounds and the blood pressure that goes with it.  So what is the first line of defense against these holiday confections?  The break room at work.  Might seem like a good solution, but think it through a bit.  Now you can nosh at home and at work - and probably with greater variety since everyone else brings their treats to work as well.  Does this mean you should never share with co-workers?  Of course not, but don't make the office your dumping ground for mediocre calories.  We all get bored or tired at work, and a trip to the break room for a random cookie becomes just the ticket. . . to poor health that is.  Here are some alternative options:
  • Be selective - if you don't LOVE it, chuck it.
  • Be generous - with commercially wrapped items, donate them to a food bank.
  • Be patient - if it is your all-time favorite, freeze it and portion it out slowly over time.
  • Be thoughtful - always express appreciation for the effort and craftsmanship put into the offer, but be thoughtful of your co-workers and don't sabotage their healthy habits.
Remember that being gracious doesn't mean you have to consume every crumb.  Think about the health of your co-workers - if not from personal consideration, them from the effect that all those co-workers' extra pounds and ensuing health problems will have on your insurance premiums.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Winter Eating: Accentuate the Positive

I'm a big believer that good health comes from seeking out and choosing to focus on the positive - and I don't just the effects of your attitude or mood.  When it comes to good nutrition and healthful eating, if we sought out more positive, nourishing foods the empty-calorie, less-healthful foods would fall away into their proper place of "once-in-a-while" or "play" foods.
Often at this time of year, folks get downright touchy when it comes to food.  There is a lot of hype about how unhealthy holiday eating is and how much weight gain is inevitable. . . Nonsense! Stop focusing on the negative, defeatist view of food this time of year and start embracing all that is healthful, delicious and nourishing.  If we could stop agonizing over and guiltily replaying every bite of dip, chip or candy that goes into our mouths and instead made it our focus and goal to eat healthy, in-season produce, not only would we have a freer, lighter attitude, but the scale would most likely follow that same direction.  So in the spirit of ignoring the negative and focusing only on the positive, I'm dropping the "don'ts" and providing only "dos".

  • Pack in the Pomegranates

    Pomegranates are not only tasty (and thanks to youtube - a snap to seed), but they are packed with fiber and vitamins C, K, folate and potassium.  Top a toss salad with these edible jewels, mix into a fruit salad, or sit down with a bowl and spoon.
  • Go Nuts

     Nuts are a good idea any time of the year, but they seem to make regular appearances at party and festive occasions.  So enjoy all that fiber, vitamin E, magnesium, iron, calcium, protein and heart-healthy fat.  Studies indicate that people trying to lose weight have greater success when they include nuts into their daily diet.
  • Remember Root & Orange Veggies

    Roots and squash are in-season and the ultimate comfort food on a cold, wintry day.  Whether you go for oven roasted carrots and parsnips with garlic and rosemary, or a steaming bowl of butternut soup - these veggies provide fiber, vitamins A & C, plus lots of antioxidants such as carotenoids.  Also, winter squash contains pectin which reduces inflammation.  So while their saturated colors are a feast for the eyes, the nutrients are a feast for your body. 
  • An Apple a Day

    There are so many varieties and ways to incorporate apples into our diet this time of year.  Sliced apples work great in salads, on grilled cheese, or sauteed over french toast. Apples are packed with antioxidants and fiber - particularly pectin - which help reduce inflammation, risk of heart disease, cancer and help maintain a healthy weight.  So make it a goal to eat an apple a day.  
  • Keep Citrus in Circulation

     We all know that citrus is a great source of vitamin C, but aside from boosting our immune system.  However, citrus does much more than that.  Hesperidin is a flavonoid found in citrus that improves cholesterol and triglyceride levels and protect against heart disease.  Limonoids are antioxidants found in this tangy fruits that protect against many types of cancer.  Plus, since citrus is high in fiber and water, it makes it a natural weight management superstar.

    Make December and the rest of the winter season a time for "dos" not "don'ts" and enjoy the health that comes from better nutrition and less stress.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Chill Out! Freezer Meals & Strategies to Make Cooking a Snap

After blogging about the freeze-able breakfast burritos, I've received requests for more freezer meals and ideas.  I love that folks are wanting to do more in-home cooking and eating!  So let me start by giving a few freeze-worthy ideas to make meals easier.  Watch out for future blogs on specific frozen meal recipes.

Problem:  I'm a real breakfast-lover, but find I don't have the time in the morning to prepare some of my favorite breakfast foods so I end up grabbing a granola bar or cold cereal.
Solution: Put breakfast on your dinner menu then cook extra.  Some great breakfast foods that freeze well are pancakes (I prefer to reheat them in the toaster), french toast (toaster reheat as well - gives a little crispness to the edge so it isn't so soggy) and crepes.  Make sure that when you freeze these foods, you do so in small single serving bags.  This keeps you from having to chip off a single pancake from the solid lumpy stack.  Zip-top sandwich style bags work great for this - toss a couple pancakes, slices of french toast, or folded crepes in and stack in your freezer.  Nothing jazzes up a Tuesday morning like a hot breakfast.  You can toss them in the microwave for a few seconds to thaw, then finish in the toaster (with the exception of crepes - they heat quickly in the microwave, top with a little homemade jam (another freezer staple), add a glass of milk and a banana and you're good to go!
Another option is hot cereal - this freezes well when cooked so whether you go for steel-cut oats, teff or wheat berries, cook up a batch then freeze in single-serving, microwavable containers.  A minute or two on high and you've got a stick-to-your-ribs breakfast without waiting 30 minutes for the grain to cook.

Problem: I crave a hot lunch, but don't have the time to cook in the middle of the day.
Solution: I always recommend leftovers for lunch.  Not only does it give you a hot lunch that is more likely to be a good balance of grain, veggies and protein, but it also reduces food waste and cost.  However, if you're not big on traditional leftovers - think hot sandwiches, quesadillas and burritos.  No, I'm not talking about the cheap burritos you lived on in college. Again, using dinner as the ideal prep time, try making a few extra grilled cheese & ham sandwiches.  They defrost well in the microwave, then finish them in a toaster or a few seconds in a grill pan.  This will crisp up the outside nicely while the microwave helps get the inside delectably hot.  Try something a bit more exciting, like a little chipotle, monterrey jack and some grilled onions and peppers for a southwestern twist on the classic grilled cheese.  There's also my favorite - caprese grilled cheese - fresh mozzarella, slice of tomato and plenty of basil.  Same theory applies to quesadillas - add in some black beans, a little salsa or maybe some shredded pork or chicken.  A few seconds in the microwave and a quick flip in a hot skillet or grill pan and you're set to go.  Burritos follow the same plan as the breakfast burritos in the previous post.  When you put them on your dinner menu, make sure you have enough leftover to wrap up some refried beans, pepper jack cheese, smoky salsa and maybe some sauteed corn and onions.  Perhaps you'd rather go with a more southern style - mash up a can of baked beans, add some shredded bbq pork and a little cheddar cheese, fold up burrito style, wrap in foil and freeze.  A couple minutes in the microwave and you've got a burrito a good sight tastier than those college standbys.

Problem: I want to serve my family more home-cooked meals and less take-out and processed foods, but I simply don't have the time or energy to spend 1-2 hours in food prep after work. 
Solution: Make the freezer and the crockpot your friend.  Ok, I'll save crockpotting for another day, but simply having some things prepped and in the freezer make pulling dinner together a snap.  Here are a few things I love having in my freezer for that last minute dinner plan:
  • Browned, ground beef.  Buy it on sale, take 30-45 minutes on a weekend and brown it all up.  I freeze mine in 1 cup quantities (about 1/3 pound).  Then I can pull it out and after 1 minute in the microwave I can toss it into spaghetti sauce, add taco seasoning for taco night, or layer it with frozen veggies and use my Sunday leftovers of mashed potatoes and gravy to pull together a quick shepherd pie.  (Microwaving each component as you go and layering them hot cuts the baking time down to less than half.)  Sloppy joes take mere minutes when the hamburger is browned and ready.
  • Shredded pork, beef and chicken.  Crockpots come in very hand here.  Having a few different meat options makes it easy to pull together enchiladas, taco salads, exotic salads (like teriyaki pork, black bean and mango) and hot sandwiches. 
  • Never make just one.  At any given time I have lasagne, chicken pot pie, shepherds pie, enchiladas and sloppy joes in the freezer.  I always make two and freeze one, while making sure to write the cooking instructions on the foil so that my kids can easily pull it out and get dinner going if I find that I'm running a little late.  
If you've got some good bread in the freezer, some cooked meat, frozen veggies, and shredded cheese - you can pull together a myriad of meals from as many cuisine types without the long cooking/prepping time.  The key (as it is with everything successful in life) is planning it out in advance and taking some time on a weekend or evening to get your building blocks in place, then put your menu down on paper.  After all, decision making takes up a large chunk of meal prep time as well.  Good luck and good eating!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Don't Bake Your Apples - Crockpot Them!

I love baked apples.  They smell and taste like fall, plus they are loaded with lots of health benefits. There might actually be something to the phrase "an apple a day keeps the doctor away."  But I don't always have an hour to wait for them to bake in the oven when I'm ready for an afternoon snack or a dessert for dinner.  My solution?  Crockpot.  Yep - take 5 minutes in the morning, and they are ready and waiting for you anytime that afternoon or evening.  Here's what it looks like:
Slice and core your apples and place them in your crockpot.
Put a small (1/2 teaspoon) amount of butter in the center of each apple half.
Sprinkle with brown sugar and cinnamon.  (I love cinnamon and it has wonderful health benefits - so I don't skimp on this step.)
Cover and turn crockpot on low heat.
You can look, but don't take off the lid.   You'll love the way your house smells as the apples cook.
When you're ready - they are waiting for you in all they gooey, apple-ness.  There's a cold front moving through my area tomorrow - and I know what I'll be putting in the crockpot that morning!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Avoiding the Thanksgiving Food-Coma

We all have experienced the painful effects of overeating at a holiday meal – the dreaded “food coma” and even though we all know that we should listen to our body and  stop when we are satisfied, we somehow end up revisiting the food coma every year.  There are few strategies you can put in place to help you enjoy a meal-centered holiday without ending up sprawled on the couch with your pants unbuttoned. 
1.    Put your favorite Thanksgiving foods on the menu before or after the holiday.  Knowing that you’ll see your favorite foods again can prevent “now-or-never” bingeing. 
2.     Eat a decent breakfast – don’t go into Thanksgiving meal starving because excessive hunger leads to overeating.  
3.     Try to keep your Thanksgiving plate balanced: ¼ meat, ¼ grains, ¼ starch.  Start out with normal-sized portions and keep second helping to your absolute favorites.  
4.     Make visiting a priority – slow down during the meal and enjoy some conversation.  This will allow your body time to register when it is beginning to be full.  
5.     Plan some fun physical activity after the meal.  Knowing that there is a family football game or even a walk around the block after the meal is cleaned up not only aids digestion but also gives one more reason not to push our eating over the brink. 

One thing worse than a food coma is food poisoning, s o be sure to:
  • not leave food out for more than 2 hours
  • use refrigerated leftovers within 4 days
  • if you can’t use leftovers that soon, toss them in the freezer and use within 2 to 6 months
  • always reheat your leftovers to 165 degrees F.
Fresh Living segment on holiday eating

Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Trick to Balancing Treats

Halloween is here again and that probably means your home has been inundated with miniature sized candy.  Does this mean it has to be a day of painful deprivation?  Of course not.  Here are a few tricks to keep the treats in balance:
  • Focus more on your good eating habits today - be sure to drink 8 glasses of water and try to get 9 servings of fruits and veggies in.
  • Stick to a regular meal schedule today - don't skip a meal in anticipation of treats tonight.  Halloween candy does not constitute a well-balanced meal.  
  • Plan out and enjoy the anticipation of your favorite treats.  Mindfully eating a few pieces of your favorite candy is much preferred over mindlessly eating whatever is at hand.
  • Prioritize your candy consumption.  Have a piece or two of only your very favorites.  It's not worth wasting calories on mediocre sweets.
  • Have a plan in place for leftover candy.  Whether you donate it to the food bank, toss it in the garbage or save a few favorites in the freezer for later enjoyment, make a plan and stick to it - don't leave it out on the counter to tempt you the next few days.  (Notice I didn't say send the leftovers to work?  Healthy eating at work is hard enough without a bowl of Halloween-dregs candy at every turn.
So yes, enjoying Halloween is definitely doable with a little planning.  I can promise you that there is a twix and a hundred grand bar (and maybe a mounds for the freezer) with my name on them out there today, but there is also a big water bottle, a banana, clementine, veggie soup and dried fruit & cereal mix out there with my name on them as well.  Happy, healthy Halloween!

Monday, October 14, 2013

The After-School Sandwich Bar & Grill

If you and your kids are tired of the same old routine for after school snacks, try opening up the After School Sandwich Bar & Grill.  Tap into your kids creativity and possibly their competitive natures by setting out some:
  • whole grain bread or tortillas
  • nut butters 
  • cheese slices
  • dried fruits (raisins, or berries)
  • sliced fruits (apples or mandarin oranges)
  • grill pan, sandwich press or toaster
When a half sandwich or quesadilla involves protein from nuts or cheese plus some fruit and the whole grain from the bread or tortilla, you've got a nutritional knock-out that is just the right size for snack time.   Plus you're kids may come up with some creative and gourmet combinations.  For example:
  • grilled whole wheat tortilla, colby jack and granny smith
  • toasted wheat bread, almond butter, mandarin orange slices and a few mini-chocolate chips
  • peanut butter, dried berry panini
Let your kids (and your own) creativity run wild and with very little prep or clean-up you've got a fun, new after-school snack to add to your repertoire. 
Find more tips on Studio 5: Art of After-School Snacking

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Going Green for Vitamin C

We all know that dark green foods are packed with nutrition.  And since it's cold & flu season, a lot of people start thinking about upping the vitamin C in their diet.  Well, green is the way to go for vitamin C - broccoli, kale, green peppers, and kiwi all contain fabulous amounts of America's favorite health-boosting vitamin.  But did you know that green tomatoes contain almost twice the vitamin C that red tomatoes do?  To me that means one thing: it's time to serve up some fried green tomatoes!  Don't worry, I'm talking pan-frying in just a touch of olive oil here, so no need to fret over the term fried.  This time of year as I get ready to tear out my garden, I hate the idea of wasting all those cute yet unripe tomatoes, so to me, fall is the season for this dish.  I cooked up a few for my lunch today (since the rest of my family fails to appreciate the culinary appeal of a tart, crispy-coated, green tomato slice). 
I love to mix a little BBQ sauce with some plain greek yogurt for a delicious dipping sauce.

If you're not sure you're quite ready for the southern dish of fried green tomatoes straight up, try them on a BLT.  I love the Fried Green Tomato BLT recipe from Cooking Light.  Whether or not you're getting vitamin C from green tomatoes or broccoli, be sure to load up your diet with plenty of fruits and veggies and you'll easily have enough vitamin C in your diet to face whatever winter dares to send your way. 

Monday, September 30, 2013

Getting the Real Story on Going Gluten-Free

There are a multitude of folks out there that are required to go gluten-free.  Celiac disease, gluten intolerance, and certain allergies make a gluten-free diet essential.  However, for anyone without a medical reason to eliminate gluten, my advice is this: don't.  Not only does it add a layer of complication to grocery shopping, cooking and eating out, but it carries a nutritional challenge as well.  Often it becomes difficult to meet fiber and certain vitamin requirements when gluten is eliminated.  Certain B-vitamins, magnesium and iron are just a few examples of nutrients that might be deficient in a gluten-free diet. 

Now, for those that struggle with a medical diagnosis that requires a gluten-free diet, here are a few resources and suggestions to get you started. 
As you start replacing foods such as tamari for soy sauce, and corn for flour tortillas, you may feel a bit overwhelmed.  Take heart - there are more gluten-free products out there than ever before.  Just be sure to read your nutrition labels so that you can make the most nutritious choices.  Just because it carries the label "gluten-free" doesn't mean it is a healthful choice.  Look for a high-fiber, low-sugar content.  And remember that it is vital that you keep the rest of your diet as healthful and balanced as possible.  That means really going for 9 fruits and veggies per day and eating low-fat, high-quality protein, and cooking more at home. 

Going gluten-free may be challenging to be sure, but it is far from impossible.  With planning and practice you can achieve a healthful balanced diet in spite of your diagnosis. 

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Whole Grains: Improving America's Failing Grade

The title of this post may seem a bit harsh, but when America averages only 1 serving of whole grains per day instead of the recommended 3-5 servings, an "F" is the only grade possible.  So why do we care about whole grains?  With a whole grain, you get the bran, germ and endosperm - all three parts of the grain.  Those three provide a great balance of fiber, complex carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals.  Nutrients found in whole grains not only fuel your body, but also help prevent heart disease, digestive problems and help with weight maintenance.  With a few minor adjustments you can increase your whole grain intake and bring it back into the "A" range again. Try:
  •  Air popped popcorn for a snack - yes popcorn is a whole grain
  • Whole grain bread, cereals, and tortillas instead of their lighter counterparts
  • Corn torillas - remember corn is a whole grain
  • Steel cut oats, bulgur or cracked wheat hot cereal for breakfast
  • Whole grain pasta
  • Pearl Barley or Quinoa in soups
  • Cereals that are high in whole grain (check the ingredient label and make sure the first ingredient says whole _____ )
For more info on ways to increase your whole grain intake, check out this segment on Fresh Living:

Monday, September 23, 2013

Home-Cooked Meals Made Easy

Recently I was chatting with a friend of mine about how stressful it can be to cook when you are gone to work all day.  You don’t have to be a gourmet to enjoy the health benefits of eating home cooked meals, nor does it have to take hours of your already busy day.  Here are a few time saving menu tips. 
Frozen bread loaves or rolls. 
  • They have whole wheat and white and if you keep some in your freezer, you can pull some out in the morning, put them in a greased pan in your fridge, then when you get home from school, pull them out of the fridge, and when they look nicely raised, preheat your oven to 375 and 30 minutes later or so, you have fresh bread. 
  • If a loaf is too much for the two of you to eat, then try tossing 4 or 5 rolls into a loaf pan and letting it raise.  I might be a bit of a bumpy looking loaf, but will be just as tasty. 
  • You could also just put them in a pie tin and let them raise as separate rolls. 
  •  Also, you could put some rolls in the fridge in the morning, then after school, roll them out flat, and make individual pizzas.  This really is super easy – a bottle of pizza sauce lasts quite a while in the fridge, you can keep grated cheese and pepperoni in the freezer, and pull some out, sprinkle on your mini pizza dough and bake at 425 for 15 – 20 minutes.  You can even open a can of sliced olives, and keep the rest in the freezer, as well as pineapple tidbits and Canadian bacon.  

Pre-made pizza crust
  • For the times when you don’t want to roll out and deal with pizza dough, keep a boboli in the freezer.  Pizza is a great way to use leftovers: leftover taco fixings become Mexican pizza, leftover barbeque chicken = bbq chicken pizza, leftover bacon = blt pizza.  

Crockpot with leftovers planned into the menu
  • Pot roast with carrots, onions and potatoes is a great meal, but don’t chuck the leftovers.  Before you put that clean crockpot away, add some tomato juice, a bay leaf, a rinsed can of white or navy beans, maybe some pearl barley and a little beef broth.  Put that on low while you’re at work and come home to a hearty soup.
  • Toss some chicken breasts or tenders into the crockpot with your favorite barbeque sauce.  When you get home, add some fruit and a salad and you’ve got a great meal.  When cleaning up dinner, shred that chicken and put in the fridge for the day after tomorrow (you may not want 2 BBQ meals back to back).  Pull a pre-made pizza crust out of the freezer before work.  When you get home, top with BBQ sauce, shredded chicken, some frozen corn and Monterey Jack or mozzarella cheese.  Bake at 425 for 15-20 minutes.  Serve with a salad and you’ve got a delicious meal with very little effort.  

Salad Spinner
  • I’m not one to go for every kitchen gadget know to man (mostly because I don’t have the space).  But the salad spinner can be a very healthful gadget.  Whether you are buying a bag of salad, or harvesting your own from your garden, the salad spinner not only helps clean and dry the salad, but it is a great storage solution that will allow you to eat salad all week.   
  • Salad stays fresh for days and you can just pull some out to add to any meal.  For example: Monday you might want taco salad.  Keep the leftover greens in the salad spinner and the next day you can add a side salad to your crockpot chicken menu.  Maybe the following day you can have a salad-topped pizza (another use of the pre-made pizza crust).  And to use up the last of your salad, it might go into BLT wraps the following night. 

So for the someone trying to eat at home 3-4 times per week, the grocery list might look something like this:

            Bag of salad

            Bag of baby carrots

            1 container cherry tomatoes

            Couple (depending on family size) potatoes

            1 onion

            In season melon or fruit of choice

            1 package chicken tenders or chicken breasts (depending on family size)

            Small roast or small pot roast
          1 bottle barbeque sauce
          1 bottle salad dressing
1 can reduced sodium white or navy beans

1 can tomato juice or 1 can crushed tomatoes

2 cans reduced sodium beef broth

            1 premade pizza crust

            1 bag frozen whole wheat rolls (dough, not baked)

            1 bag shredded mozzarella cheese

            1 bag frozen corn

The menu & recipes would look something like this:

            Monday: BBQ chicken, salad, fruit & rolls

In the morning (3-5 minutes) – Turn the crockpot on high, put the chicken in the crock pot and pour ½ the bottle of bbq sauce over chicken.   Put rolls onto greased pie tin and place in fridge.  Before leaving for work, turn crockpot down to low. 
After work – set out rolls, preheat oven to 375.  When preheated, bake rolls for 20 – 25 minutes. Wash and spin bagged lettuce, wash cherry tomatoes and wash and slice melon (or fruit of choice).  Serve with chicken.  After dinner, shred the remaining chicken before putting in the fridge.

            Tuesday: Pot roast with rolls and fruit

In the morning (10-15 minutes) – Turn the crockpot on low, peel and cut onion into wedges, scrub and cut potatoes into large pieces.  Layer potatoes, ½ bag baby carrots, onion and top with roast.  Pour 1 can beef broth over, cover and let cook on low.  Set out rolls as before.
After work – Preheat oven, and bake rolls at 375 for 20 minutes.  Pull out fruit and serve with rolls and pot roast.  After dinner, shred pot roast before putting in the fridge.

            Wednesday: BBQ chicken pizza

In the morning – nothing!
After work – Preheat oven to 425.  Pull out premade pizza crust, spread with barbeque sauce, top with shredded chicken, some frozen corn and mozzarella cheese.  Bake 15-20 minutes until cheese is bubbly and pizza is hot.  Meanwhile, pull out the salad, top with cherry tomatoes slice or grate baby carrots.  Serve with pizza. 

            Thursday: Tomato beef and bean soup, breadsticks

In the morning (10 minutes) – set out rolls in a plastic bag and place in fridge.  Turn crockpot on low, add leftover pot roast & veggies, drained and rinsed beans, some frozen corn (maybe ½ cup depending on family size), can of beef broth and can crushed tomatoes or tomato sauce.  You can toss in a bay leaf, and black pepper or other seasonings according to your preference.  Cover.
After work – take roll dough out of fridge, roll each roll out into a long rope and place on a greased baking sheet.  Preheat oven to 375.  Bake breadsticks 20 minutes or until golden brown.  Serve with soup and any leftover fruit or salad. 

 There are certainly more ideas out there, but the point is to just start with something that will make eating at home a more convenient, delicious and healthy part of your routine. 

Friday, September 20, 2013

Caramel & Apple - Best Culinary Duo Ever!

There really seems to be something to the old adage, "an apple a day keeps the doctor away." It's amazing the amount of health benefits found in one of nature's most modest fruits.  I can't think of a flavor combination that I enjoy more than caramel and apples.  Plus, any time you can work a fruit into dessert, you're getting a bit more nutrition.  September seems to be the kick-off month for this autumnal delicacy, so I thought post my top 5 favorite caramel apple recipes.  

#5 Caramel Apple Cheesecake.  I am a cheese cake lover and so this is a natural canvas for most any of my favorite flavors.  Plus, this one is a Cooking Light recipe, so it is a bit on the lighter side.

#4 Caramel Apple Muffins.  Let me preface this recipe by saying I do tweak it a bit.  I use whole wheat flour instead of white flour and 1% milk instead of 2%.  It is definitely more of a sweet treat for breakfast, but works well when paired with an egg and some fruit.

#3 Apple Fritter Rings.  Yes, this one is fried.  I'm a dietitian and I eat fried foods occasionally and thoroughly enjoy them.  I really like these after a nice fall hike.  Granted, they don't have any caramel, but if you want to go all out - a light drizzle of caramel sauce would be a tasty touch.  Since I hate to fry foods (it seems like such extra work and mess), I don't make these often.  But you can bet that I get them at least once in the fall.

#2 Green Apple Frozen Yogurt or Sorbet with Caramel Sauce.  You can bet that I keep a sharp eye out at my favorite frozen yogurt shops for the appearance of Green Apple.  A little dish of that with a light drizzle of caramel sauce and I'm in heaven!  However, in the process of composing this post, I came across a green apple sorbet recipe that I most definitely will have to try.  Then I won't have to wait 11 months to have it again.

#1 Caramel Apples.  Yep - my all-time favorite is plain-jane caramel apples.  Sometimes I make the lovely yet hard-to-eat variety on a stick, but most of the time it is a bowl full of caramel next to a bowl full of cut up apples.  You can eat it fondue-style or fill your own bowl.  Nothing tastes more like fall to me. 
I love the using foil muffin papers for my caramel apples.  These are sprinkled with chopped almonds, cinnamon candies, toasted coconut or mini chocolate chips. 
So here's my quick, easy, no-fail recipe for microwave caramel.

7 Minute Caramel Recipe
1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup corn syrup
1/2 cup margarine
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
Place all ingredients in a large microwave-safe bowl and microwave for 7 minutes, stirring occasionally.  If the consistency isn't perfectly smooth after cooking, use a hand-held, stick blender and viola!  Velvety, caramel yumminess!

Friday, September 13, 2013

Demystifying the Milk Question

The majority of milk consumed in this country remains cow's milk.  However, milk alternatives are more prolific and popular than ever.  So how does one go about deciding which milk to drink? Hopefully this infographic helps you navigate to the choice that is right for you.  Remember when all is said and done, it comes down to taste.  If you don't like the taste, you won't drink it and all the nutrition information becomes irrelevant.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Camping Food: Tasty Convenience

I took my kids camping this past weekend and the food was a highlight.  Not only was it tasty, but a lot of fun to cook as well.  I made a big batch of breakfast burritos (inspired by my sister Sandi's recipe) and kept them in a cooler to be pulled out and tossed in the coals each morning for a heartier breakfast than plain cold cereal, mini-boxes.
Fill flour tortillas with scrambled eggs, cooked sausage crumbles, hashbrowns, cheese and salsa if you like a little zip.  Roll them up into small burritos and wrap in foil. 
Toss them into some hot coals to reheat.

Another camping hit was a variation on the biscuit-on-a-stick idea.  We bought refrigerator cinnamon rolls (the kind in a can) and roasted them on skewers over the fire and they were delicious!  Made for a great addition to breakfast or as a dessert over the campfire. 
A two-tined roasting stick worked well to hold the spiral rolls in place.

They were done after a few minutes over hot coals.

Drizzle with frosting and Yum!

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Art of After-school Snacking

Remember the story of Goldilocks - too small, too big, just right?  That is the goal when it comes to after-school snacking.  I remember coming home from high school and eating an entire quart of peaches (ah the joys of teenage metabolism), but one or two peach halves for my grade schooler may be too much.  So let me throw out a couple guidelines when it comes to after school snacking:
  • Keep it snack sized.  This obviously changes as your child grows, and may vary quite a bit from day to day as their appetite waxes and wanes.  But try to teach your child that a snack is just that - not a meal.  You should eat enough just to take the hunger away, not enough to feel full.   That way, they aren't hitting the pantry all afternoon, and they will be hungry again for dinner.  Remind them that they should be hungry again in a couple hours when it comes time for family dinner. 
  • Think beyond treats.  If we are to get in 9 servings of fruits and veggies each day, or follow the Choose My Plate guidelines, we should make half of our snacks fruits and veggies as well as our meals.  I generally let my kids choose their own snacks if they approve it with me, but I always let them know that the crackers, or the granola bar are fine as long as they eat a fruit or veggie with it.  
  • Add protein for those extra hungry tummies.  A spoonful of peanut butter, a piece of cheese or even some nuts can add that little bit of protein that active kids need to get them through gymnastics or soccer practice.  Even a glass of milk with their snack can do the trick.  The protein will sustain them longer than just carbohydrates will.
  • Stock up on smart snack options.  Whole-wheat english muffins, crackers or bread that provides 3 or more grams of fiber per serving will generally let you work some whole-grain servings into snack time.  Replace the cookie jar with a fruit bowl.  Keep fruits, veggies and water visible and handy.  Choose higher-fiber, lower-sugar cereals on hand for a great go-to snack.  Add in some fresh fruit and viola!
The internet is full of darling, cutesy, snack ideas for those willing to put the extra time and effort in.  But when it comes down to it, sitting down to listen to your child's day over a bowl of nuts and some grapes probably shows more love on an emotional and healthful level than the cutest cut-out cookies ever will. 

Monday, August 19, 2013

Packing Smarter: A Better Brown Bag Lunch

Back to school time is here and not only does that bring a flurry of shopping for clothes and school supplies, but for school lunch fodder as well.  So how can you best encourage your child to pack a better home-lunch?  Try a few of these tips to keep those brown-bag contents out of the cafeteria trash can:
  • Child input - take your child shopping with you, or at least ask them what they would like to have in their lunch boxes.  If they choose it, they are less likely to chuck it. 
  • Be reasonable - try to balance health, nutrition and taste.  Just because my kids ask for a pre-packaged lunch kit from the store doesn't mean that I pack it for them routinely.  Instead, I try to encourage them to take something from each food group, and include some kind of treat or dessert item.  
  • Watch portion size - kids are often overwhelmed by adult portion sizes and refuse to eat any because it looks so overwhelming.  For example, you may grab 10-12 baby carrots for your lunch serving, but that may overwhelm a 7 year-old.  So ask your child how many carrots they think they'd eat at lunch and use that as a guide.  For my 10 year-old daughter, more than 7 or 8 small or 4 - 5 bigger baby carrots is doable.  
  • Balance convenience foods with whole foods - fun, prepackaged, snack sizes of crackers, dried fruits and other lunch items are fun to add into a lunch, but try to keep a balance of whole foods and processed foods.  For example: Sandwich (or half sandwich for smaller tummies), a bag of carrots & grapes, small snack-bag of crackers and a square of chocolate or cookie, milk or water.
  • Be beverage aware - milk or water are the best beverage options.  Milk provides protein, calcium and vitamin D, and water is always the go-to beverage.  Juices or punch add empty calories and extra sugar, so save those for once-in-a-while occasions.  
  • Think outside the sandwich - not everyone can eat, or wants to eat a sandwich at lunch.  Slightly outside that sandwich-box is the idea of wraps, or quesadilla type lunch items.  Other options that lie a bit farther outside that sandwich-box, are crackers and cheese, or even a bag of dry cereal.  Cereals that are high in fiber and low in sugar make a healthy main dish in a lunch bag.  It lasts a long time, doesn't need to be refrigerated and kids love finger food.  Pair it with some milk, veggies, and dried fruit and you've got a great lunch for picky eaters.   
Remember that kids portions sizes are smaller than adults - sometimes half the normal size depending on the age of the child.  Involve them in packing their own lunches and get their feedback on how their lunch went.  You might find that they need a little more or less of one thing or another.  The more feedback they give, the better chance you'll have to keep them from throwing away your food at lunch time.
I keep stacking drawers in my basement with lunch packing supplies.  They can choose a couple convenience items (crackers or applesauce) to add to their lunches.
Don't over-stuff your snack bags with produce - sometimes less is more when it comes to getting them to eat fruits and veggies.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Food & Emotion vs. Emotional Eating

Saturday morning I decided to put our initials into the pancakes forming our family's acronym with a special pancake love note for my husband.

Most of us understand that there are dangers associated with emotional eating.  However, emotional eating is distinct and separate from evoking emotion with food.  With emotional eating, healthy coping skills are lacking and food is used as an emotional salve, emotional numbing agent, or even a substitute therapist. 

Evoking emotions with food is a hallmark of good culinary culmination.  Chicken soup that is so hearty and soothing it transports you back in time to your grandma's kitchen, or eating a salad of heirloom tomatoes that have such vibrant flavor it takes you back to a warm August afternoon are just a few examples.  Food nourishes us in many ways, and nutritionally is just one.  Food also nourishes and sustains us in cultural, familial and historical ways.  So don't be afraid to communicate some emotion with food whether it be a love note written on a pancake, or passing on a favorite recipe to a friend.  In fact, the more we accept this connection, the less we will be tempted to abuse food with unhealthy, disconnected, emotional eating. 

Stay tuned for more info on my upcoming class series on healing the relationship with food. 

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Taste of Summer

I love summer for a bunch of reasons: flexible schedule with my kids, living outside, longer days.  But most of all, I love the taste of summer.  I love eating tomatoes with flavor, being a watermelon and raspberry junkie and I love how fresh produce deliciously infiltrates every meal and occasion.  Not only do all these fresh fruits and vegetables please our bodies, but our palates as well.  So whether it means being creative with your neighbors bumper crop of zucchini, eating straight of your backyard garden or hitting the local farmer's market, be sure to taste summer.  Here are a few of the ways I love tasting summer: 

My 4th of July dinner plate: local corn on the cob, caprese salad, crusty baguette, zucchini chips with watermelon and blackberries for dessert.

One of my all-time favorite desserts - a bowl full of raspberries sprinkled with mini, dark, chocolate chips.  Double Yum!

On my sister's night to cook she made a family favorite - Cambodian tacos.

No better time than summer to teach kids how to cook - especially with fresh produce.  My son and nephew made a main-dish salad as part of their Iron Chef (cousin edition) competition.
The winners with their appetizer, entree and dessert.
My daughter and niece were very close runners-up.  Produce figured into each of their courses.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Food Swaps & Other Healthful Tweaks

So many people fear eating healthy because they think that they'll have to throw all their favorite foods and meals out the window.  Not so.  With a little substitution and swapping, you can still enjoy delicious and festive food-occasions (and you won't miss those calories one bit). 

Here are some easy food-swap examples:

  • swap salsa for the chip or veggie dip
  • swap veggies & dip for the chips & dip
  • swap a green salad for the macaroni salad
  • swap fresh fruit for the frog-eye salad
  • swap angel food cupcakes for regular cupcakes
  • swap water bottles in the cooler for cans of pop
More food substitutions on my Studio 5 segment:

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

It's Ice Cream Season. . . Re-think Your Toppings

By swapping frozen yogurt for regular ice cream, homemade chocolate syrup for store-bought hot fudge sauce, and berries macerated (fancy name for tossed with ahead of time to get all juicy and yummy) in honey, you save 180 calories that one ice cream sundae! 

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