Meat-Less Wednesdays: Animal Free Meals

I have been trying to cut back on animal proteins. This guy cow is probably happy about this initiative. And what better time than after Thanksgiving, when turkey is oozing from our skin. Don’t worry, I’m not going vegan on you, but to have chicken, meat, fish, eggs or cheese at every meal is a bit too much animal. By the way, “meat-less wednesdays” was just the name of my post until I googled it -it’s a whole movement!

Plant based meals are awesome. In addition to being lower in fat and calories and higher in fiber, plant based dishes are usually less expensive. Warning: a high fiber meal (beans and legumes) can make you bloated, so it may not be the best meal to have if you are planning on squeezing into your half-a-size too small jeans. And don’t we all have that pair.

Making changes is never easy. Start off planning two non-animal based dinners per week and take it from there. I try not to substitute meats for tofu because there is some research, though it’s still conflicting, on potential harms of high soy intake. And, since I can get protein from other sources like beans, grains and nuts, tofu is not a necessity.

Animal-less Suggestions:

1. Lentils. High in fiber, protein and iron. Choose green lentils because they have more fiber than red ones. You can get them pre-cooked at Trader Joe’s or make them yourself in about 10 minutes by boiling dried lentils in water following the packaging instructions. Mix into a cold salad with fresh veggies or serve  hot over sauteed sweet potatoes.

2. Quinoa. It’s a seed (and not a legume) that is very high in protein. It has a great nutty flavor and is a good substitute for rice and couscous. Hearty up a stir fry, soup or salad by adding in some quinoa.

3. Black bean or veggie burger. High in fiber, which will help keep you full for longer and regulate the bowels. Serve it on a multigrain bun with a side of baked potato wedges. Recipe to come once it’s perfected, the last attempt fell apart. Unless you have a good recipe you can buy pre-made. Read the labels because some veggie burgers are surprisingly not full of veggies and instead full of tofu and other fillers.

4. Portobello burger. Super easy and filling. Bake a portobello for 25 minutes in 350 degrees with a drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. When cooled, add roasted red peppers and caramelized onions.

5. Falafel. Make a platter if you don’t want the carbs from pita. You can bake falafel at home, but if you buy it ready made it’s likely fried so limit 1-2 balls. Add hummus and extra salad.

6. Hearty bean + veggie soup/chili. High in protein and fiber. Any combo of beans, grains, veggies is delicious. Great served with a slice of whole wheat bread + salad.

7. Cheese-less pizza or pasta. Sautee broccoli rabe and/or mushrooms and/or peppers with onion and olive oil and add onto whole wheat pizza dough. Tomato sauce is not needed, but add if you prefer. Whole wheat pasta or gnocchi with pesto and fresh cherry tomatoes are both great. Try cheese-less lasagna by baking thinly sliced eggplant or zucchini layered between tomato sauce, fresh tomatoes, sauteed garlic and onion. Adding some breadcrumbs on top gives a crunchy texture.

8. Vegetable sushi + edamame or steamed veggie dumplings. Kids love chopsticks. Remember, I said steamed not fried dumplings. Go for the low-sodium soy sauce. 

9. (Brown) rice n’ beans.  The beans provide the fiber and together they make a complete protein, which is a fancy way of saying that it provides all of the essential proteins that our bodies cannot make and must get from food. It’s my fav animal-less dish served with salad or steamed veggies. Stay tuned for the ultimate recipe.

10. Polenta with ratatouille or any sauteed veggies. Polenta is boiled cornmeal. Cornmeal is found in the grain aisle at most grocery stores if you want to make it from scratch, but I’ve actually only tried ready made polenta available at more specialty stores like Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods. I mash up the ready made polenta and mix in veggies. This is a great way to use whatever is leftover in the fridge. Most recent combo: diced eggplant, onions, garlic, red peppers, tomatoes. Here’s what ready made polenta looks like if you haven’t seen it:

I was planning on only having a list of 10, but I just thought of 2 more:

11.Veggie burrito night. Set up beans, brown rice, quinoa, sauteed onions, fresh tomato, lettuce, corn,  salsa (home-made preferable), hot sauce  in separate bowls with whole wheat tortillas/wraps. Have the kids assemble their own burrito/wrap/taco.

12. Smoothie. Instead of cow’s or soy milk try almond milk + banana+ strawberries + dash of chocolate syrup + spoonful of peanut butter.

Most people fear that giving up “obvious” protein sources like meat will keep them feeling hungry. But all of the suggestions above when eaten with the right sides will fill you up. Please let me know if you experience otherwise.


Do It Yourself (DIY): Oatmeal

Ah, the wonders of oatmeal. This little girl seems to agree.  It’s usually associated with breakfast, but it’s great as a snack or for any meal, especially on a cold day. Oatmeal is a whole grain high in soluble fiber. And, it’s a good source of the B vitamin thiamine and iron. Soluble fiber is beneficial in a few ways. First it absorbs water in our bodies which slows digestion, making us feel full for longer (helpful in weight control and maintaining stable blood sugar). And, it helps lower cholesterol by removing the “bad” cholesterol (LDL) out of the body. According to Quaker,  3/4 cup of oatmeal each day can lower cholesterol. The research is so strong that the FDA approved the label claim that it can reduce risk of heart disease when combined with a low-fat diet.

Kids can sometimes be scared of oatmeal because of its mushy texture. Great, a perfect opportunity to get them involved. Because if you haven’t picked up on one of my main themes = if kids prepare the food they are more likely to eat it. A fun activity is an “oatmeal bar” – have kids set up cups of fruit, spices, add-ins, natural sweeteners (honey/maple syrup). Make a big batch of oatmeal on the stove and have everyone add in their own toppings.

Types of Oats:

All oats are whole grain meaning they have all parts of the oat gran including the bran, endosperm and germ. But they can differ in taste, preparation, cooking time and nutritional value.

Steel cut/Irish: Inner portion of the oat kernel is cut into small pieces by steel rather than being rolled.  It has a nuttier flavor and is and chewier than rolled oats. It takes longer to prepare because of its minimal processing. Cooks in 15-30 minutes on the stovetop.

Rolled oats/old fashioned: Inner portion of the oat kernel is rolled into flat flakes with heavy rollers, then steamed and lightly toasted. Cooks in 5 minutes on the stovetop.

Quick-cooking rolled oats/quick oats: Rolled oats cut that are cut into small pieces before being steamed and rolled to cut down cooking time. Cooks in 1-2 minutes on the stovetop.

Instant: Rolled oats that are pre-cooked and dried, then sodium is added as a preservative. Just add boiling water and does not require cooking.

Nutritional Comparison of Quaker Oats (per 1.5 oz dry = single portion packages):

Rolled/old fashioned: 159 Kcal, 4.3 gm fiber, 0 mg sodium, 1.1 gm sugar

Steel cut/Irish:   159 kcal, 4.3 gm fiber, 0 mg sodium, 1.1 gm sugar

Quick oats:  159 Kcal, 4.3 gm fiber, 0 mg sodium 1.1 gm sugar

Instant (Maple & Brown Sugar): 160 Kcal, 3 gm fiber, 270 mg sodium, 13 gm sugar

Surprising, huh? Instant oatmeal is much higher in sodium and sugar and lower in fiber. Another case where you can thank salt for being a preservative in pre-cooked goods. I was surprised when I learned that those with high blood pressure should avoid instant oatmeal because of added sodium. My vote? Any type besides the instant. Really, rolled, steel cut and quick oats are nutritionally comprable, they just differ in cooking time and taste.

Since I’m the barrer of bad news on instant oatmeal, it’s only fair I provide some alternatives. Making oatmeal from scratch is really easy, I promise.

Do It Yourself Oatmeal:

1. Buy either rolled, steel cut or quick oats. I like the flavor and texture of steel cut best even though it takes a little longer to make.

2. Follow instructions on the label for amount of liquid, oats and cooking time.

3. Substitute water for fat-free milk if you don’t eat much dairy and need to boost calcium intake.

4. Add in flavorings of your choice: cinnamon, vanilla extract, dried fruit, fresh fruit, teaspoon of peanut butter (similar to hummus, I try PB with everything), teaspoon of natural sweetener like honey or maple syrup.

If you’re not ready to part with instant, you can still make a healthier choice if you buy unflavored package and add in your natural sweetener or fresh flavors. This way YOU can control how much sugar goes in.

Have leftover rolled “old fashioned” oats? They’d go perfectly in this  cookie recipe.

Turkey Day Survivor Tips

I found a lovely video to demonstrate some of the food craziness that goes down on this holiday. You may have heard of the turducken (chicken stuffed inside a duck stuffed inside a chicken), but have you heard of a turbaconducken? Only in America, eh…

Now for the survivor tips. I’m not gonna sit here and tell type you not to eat 5+ courses, skip seconds, avoid stuffing and dessert because, well, that’s unrealistic. But, I will give you some effortless tips to make your meal a little healthier for you and the family.

1. Make it colorful. Incorporate fresh salads and veggies (see previous post for recipe ideas) to at least get in some low calorie, high fiber and vitamin choices to balance some of the heavier foods.

2. Avoid adding sugar and sweeteners to foods that don’t need it. Carrots and sweet potatoes (hence the name)  taste so sweet and delicious when roasted with a little salt, pepper and herbs. No need to find recipes that call for adding brown sugar, honey or maple syrup.

3. Lighten up salads. Since you will give into your cravings for certain things, try to cut  the sugar and fat in salads and dressings. Make a simple light vinaigrette, lemon + mustard dressing or hummus thinned with water, lemon juice and olive oil instead of the creamy, cheese- based, mayonnaise and sugar rich dressings. Avoid salads that call for candied nuts or even dried fruit, which can add about 130 extra calories per 1/3 of cup.

4. Have at least 1 fruit based dessert (try these chunky cinnamon balsamic apples)or an eye catching fruit plate to add to the spread of chocolate cake, pumpkin bread and pecan pie.

5. Serve olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette with bread (preferably whole wheat) instead of heart-clogging butter.

6. Look for a stuffing recipe that is full of veggies (peppers, celery, apples). Try for some ideas.

7. If you plan to serve a lot of grain dishes like rice, couscous, quinoa then have more non-starchy veggies and limit the number of dishes with starchy veggies (yes that means corn, squash, potatoes).

8. Use the opportunity to cook with kids and involve them in preparation and table setting. Show them what a pumpkin looks likes, so they learn it’s more than just orange mush from a can.

9. Eat SLOWLY. Chew. Talk to your aunt. Yes, it can be that simple. If you pay attention to the food in your mouth rather than just robotically picking up the next piece on your fork it will give you a chance to digest and you will eat less. Give yourself at least 5 minutes before diving in for seconds.

10. Don’t eat the skin! It’s all fat, and not the good kind. Look what I found on University of Illinois Extension’s site. Choose your piece of the carving wisely. The info is based on a 3.5 oz piece of turkey:

11.Stay hydrated. Our bodies often confuse hunger for thirst. Make sure to drink water before, during and after the meals. Before getting up for leftovers have at least a half a cup of water. And, this is definitely the day to cut out soda, juice, iced tea and lemonade.

12. While you’re cooking, get a’ moving. Every step counts.

Happy Thanksgiving! 

Banging Thanksgiving (And Everyday) Sides

Nothing makes me happier than a colorful table filled with tons of colorful plant based dishes. I am totally okay with stuffing, bread, butter, oil, meat, dessert as long as there is a fair amount of healthy, light, veggie-based sides to balance out the meal.  Tis’ the season to be sharing, so let me share some of my favorite sides (and 1 soup that I love too much not to include) that I would make at any meal and definitely on Thanksgiving. Most of these recipes are easy, but between the peeling, chopping and roasting they are time consuming, which is why advance planning is key because they shouldn’t, or couldn’t possibly be made at once.

Commission kids to help with all of these recipes and involve them in the feast preparing. Let them be the peeler (age permitting), refrigerator/ingredient go-getter, time keeper, herb pull-aparter, spice adder, veggie washer, dressing mixer.

1. White Bean Butternut Squash & Rosemary Soup

Adapted from Barefood Contessa/Ina Garten cookbook. I substituted chicken broth for vegetable broth + water; added butternut squash; will turn out more orange when adding butternut squash

Serves 6

  • 2 cans white cannelli beans (sorry I made canned goods an exception here)
  • 4 cups yellow onions
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon dried rosemary
  • 1 quart veggie broth + 1 quart water
  • 1 butternut squash (or 1 package pre-cut), peeled and diced into very small pieces
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  1. In large stock pan, sauté onions in olive oil until translucent, 10-15 minutes
  2. Add garlic and cook over low heat for 3 more minutes
  3. Add drained and rinsed white beans, rosemary, stock/water, butternut squash – cover, bring to a boil, then simmer, stirring frequently for 30-40 minutes or until squash is soft
  4. Use immersion blender (or place in food processor) and blend until coarsely pureed

2. Spicy Lentil & Sweet Potato Salad

Little Bites Original (after some experimenting of course)

                                              Actual pics taken from my dining room table

Serves 6-8

  • 5 medium sized sweet potatoes, diced into small 1″ cubes. Leave skin on to keep the fiber and vitamins
  • 1/2 yellow onion, diced
  • 1 lb cooked lentils or about 2 1/2 cups  (I used 1 package of Trader Joe’s ready to eat lentils and heated in boiling water as instructed on package)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (up to a tablespoon if you like a kick)
  • Few sprigs of fresh thyme
  • Olive oil
  • 1-2 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
  • Salt & pepper to taste


  1. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees
  2. Place diced potatoes on baking sheet or in thin pan, coat with 1-2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon pepper, 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper, thyme (as much removed from springs as possible). Cook in oven for 25-30 minutes, gently stirring once or twice, until potatoes are soft (but still maintain structure). Allow them to completely cool
  3. While potatoes are in oven, heat 1 teaspoon of olive oil in frying pan. Add onions and cook on low-medium heat until translucent but not mushy, about 2-3 minutes.
  4.  Add cooked onions, lentils, 1/2 teaspoon salt into large bowl
  5. When potatoes are completely cooled add into lentil/onion mixture. Drizzle 1 teaspoon of balsamic vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon more of cayenne and additional salt and pepper to taste. Mix gently. Add additional 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar if needed

3. Roasted Maple Horseradish Beets

Adapted from & the lovely AviG

Serves 4-6

  • 1 + 3/4 lb medium beets (3 + 3/4 lb with greens), stems trimmed to 1 inch
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons bottled white horseradish (not drained)
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons cider vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper


  1. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees
  2. Wrap beets in foil and roast until tender, about 1 hour
  3. When cool enough to handle, peel beets and cut into eighths (will dye fingers), then transfer to bowel
  4. In skillet, add oil, horseradish, syrup, vinegar, salt & pepper over moderate heat
  5. Stir in beets and boil, stirring occasionally until liquid in skillet is reduced to about 1/4 and beets are coated, about 4-5 minutes. Tastes delicious served room temperature

4. Roasted Carrots

Adapted from Barefoot Contessa/Ina Garten cookbook. So simple, yet so good. Reminds me of carrots from chicken soup.                                                                                                                                     

Serves 6

  • 12 carrots peeled
  • 2 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon fresh ground pepper
  • 2 tablespoons minced dill (I’ve also made them with dried rosemary and fresh thyme, all are good)


  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees
  2. Slice carrots diagonally 1 ½ thick slices, if carrots are thick cut them first in half lengthwise
  3. Toss in bowl with olive oil, salt, pepper
  4. Place on baking pan in 1 layer, roast for 25 minutes
  5. Halfway through cooking (~15 minutes), pull out oven rock, add in dill and quickly mix with carrots

5. Stuffed Mushrooms

Little Bites original (sorry I don’t have a pic, I haven’t made them since starting the blog)

Serves 10-12

  • 10-12 baby portobello or white, stems removed, leaving caps. Clean well, but gently, using paper towel (water will create a water/runny product)
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced into small pieces
  • ¼ large red onion, diced
  • Olive oil
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Salt & pepper


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. Line baking sheet with 1 teaspoon olive oil or cooking spray. Place mushrooms on pan, cap facing up. Pour a dash of balsamic on each cape. Bake for 25 minutes.
  3. While mushrooms are baking, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in skillet, add onions, peppers, teaspoon of salt and peppers, cook until soft, about 3 minutes on medium heat. Add spinach cook until wilted, 1-2 minutes
  4. Take mushrooms out of the oven and stuff the filling inside each cap. Place back in oven for 3 minutes

6. Kale & Brussel Sprout Salad

Adapted from Appetit

Serves 8-10

  • ¼ cup fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon minced shallot
  • 1 small garlic clove, finely grated
  • ¼ teaspoon salt + pepper
  • 2 large bunches of kale (~1.5 lb total), discard center stem and thinly slice leaves
  • 12 ounces brussel sprouts, trimmed, finely grated or shredded with knife
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil


  1. Combine lemon juice, Dijon mustard, shallot, garlic, ¼ teaspoon salt and pinch of pepper in bowl. Stir to blend. Set aside to let flavors set.
  2. Mix thinly sliced kale and shredded brussel sprouts in large bowl
  3. Slowly whisk olive oil into lemon juice mixture. Season dressing to taste with salt and pepper.
  4. Add dressing to kale/brussel sprout mixture. Add additional salt + pepper to taste.

7. Mustard Roasted Potatoes

Adapted from

Serves 10

  • Nonstick vegetable oil spray
  • ½ cup whole grain Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon peel
  • 1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
  • 3 pounds mixed 1 to 1 ½ inch UN-peeled red-skinned and white skinned potatoes, cut into ¾ inch wide wedges


  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees
  2. Spray 2 large rimmed baking sheets with nonstick spray
  3. Whisk mustard, olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, oregano, lemon peel and salt in large bowl to blend. Add potatoes. Sprinkle generously with freshly ground pepper and toss to coat
  4. Divide potatoes between baking sheets, leaving excess mustard mixture behind. Spread potatoes in single layer. Roast for 45 minutes, mixing occasionally, until crusty on outside and tender on inside

Uh- oh, all this blogging is making me hungry.

Pop by tomorrow to see the Nutritionist’s survival tips for getting through Thanksgiving.

In Egg’s Defense

I hope you all had an egg-cellent weekend. Sorry, couldn’t resist some nerdy nutrition humour. There is a lot of misinformation about eggs, so let’s do some myth busting.

Eggs are rich in protein, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. And, they’re really inexpensive source of protein, weighing in on average about $0.14 cents per egg.

Egg Whites are full of high quality protein, there’s  ~4 grams per white. And, it’s low in fat making it low in calories.

Egg Yolks holds a little less than half of an egg’s protein, having ~ 3 grams per yolk. In addition to protein, yolks hold the fat, in particular saturated fat and cholesterol, vitamins A,D, B12, folate, essential nutrients like choline and 2 antioxidants, lutein and zeaxanthin. Choline promotes memory development in infants, while lutein and zeaxanthin promote eye health. If you have seen the recent Similac commercials you’ll see they now add lutein, which is also found in breast milk, to promote infant eye health. So, although yolks have a bad rap, when eaten in moderation can actually be beneficial, especially to growing children.

Comparison of the calories and fat in a whole egg, egg white and yolk:

So, as you can see most of the calories and fat are in the yolk, but the yolk really only has 1.6 grams of saturated fat, which is not a lot when compared to the 6 gm of saturated fat in 1 oz (about 1 slice) of cheddar cheese. Eggs are often eaten with high fat foods like bacon, butter, cheese, so it is often thought of as a high fat food. If you are at risk or have heart disease, you have to be really strict with your saturated fat intake and the American Heart Association recommends limiting your intake of egg(yolks) to 2 per week.

Cracking the egg myths:

Fact: Eggs are high in cholesterol so they raise blood cholesterol.

FALSE. It’s well known that eggs have cholesterol, however dietary cholesterol has very little impact on blood cholesterol. Rather, it’s saturated fat, which eggs contain, that raises blood cholesterol.

Fact: Brown egg are more nutritious than white eggs.

FALSE. Eggshell color has nothing to do with quality, flavor, nutritional value or cooking characterists. The eggshell color is a result of  the breed of the hen.

Ways to eat eggs healthfully:

  • Omelette, scrambled, frittata with 1 whole egg + 2 whites + veggies (spinach, mushroom, shredded potato, peppers)
  • 1 whole + 2 whites on whole wheat bread or English muffin + pesto + low fat cheese (swiss) + tomato
  • Throw sliced egg whites on salad
  • Egg salad made with 1/2 whole eggs + 1/2 egg whites. Use lemon juice, mustard, olive oil or hummus instead of mayo. Add some onions, celery or peppers for healthy crunch

When to introduce eggs: 

The old school thought was to wait to introduce babies to eggs until 1 year of age due to risk of allergies. However the American Academy of Pediatrics revised their guidelines last year, stating that there is no strong evidence to support that delaying or early introducing foods has any impact on the development of allergies, and therefore it is safe to introduce as a “first food.” Many pediatricians will still recommend to wait, so follow your provider’s advice.

It’s Raining Spaghetti Squash

One of the best things about fall is the return of the spaghetti squash, part of the winter squash family. It varies in color on the yellow-orange spectrum. The darker the orange the more beta-carotene, a plant pigment with antioxidant properties that can be converted into Vitamin A, which helps promotes  skin and eyes health. True fact- if you eat too much beta carotene it can start tinting your skin orange. But don’t worry, you’d have to eat A LOT. Spaghetti squash is very low in calories. Compared to pasta spaghetti, it’s a nutrition rockstar. 1 cup of cooked spaghetti squash weighs in at about 45 calories, 10 gm carbs, 2 gm fiber compared to about 220 calories, 3 gm fiber, 43 gm carbs in 1 cup of cooked refined (white) spaghetti.

Not only is it good tasting and healthy, but it’s really fun to make.  Is it normal that I was excited to come home from work last night to make it? I still can’t get over how one squash turns into a pile of spaghetti. It’s magic. And being that I am in my mid-twenties and still find it fun, imagine what kids would think? For all those who have kids or little cousins or siblings, try to make it with them this weekend or next week (perfect T-giving side).

Steps to Spaghetti Squash

Look at that beauty

1. Heat oven to 375.

2. Cut squash in half, lengthwise – warning, man power and a good knife required.

3. Use a fork to remove the seeds (wait, before you throw them out re-use them in his  recipe).

4. Place the 2 halves on lighty greased baking sheet open side down.

5. Cook for about 30 minutes.  Depending on the size  of squash it could be as short as 25 or as long as 35 minutes. You are looking for a soft texture that can easily pierced though with a fork.

6. Cool for 10 minutes.


7. Keep the squash on baking sheet or cutting board. Using a fork, scrape lengthwise  along the squash pulling off the spaghetti-like strands.





Viola! Look how much 1 squash makes. Crazy right? That’s a whole-lotta squash.




Now do whatever you crave. You can eat it as is or throw it back on the stove and mix it with well, anything. Whatever would be good on spaghetti would be good on this. Try sauce, cheese (preferably low fat), sauteed veggies, roasted garlic, chicken, fish, turkey meatballs, beans, fresh herbs and spices. Add cumin and coriander for an Indian flare. Add part-skim mozzarella and tomato or pesto for an Italian style. Try feta olives and roasted peppers for Greek flavor.

The finished product

Last night I wanted simple, so I threw 1 1/2 diced tomatoes, 1/2 chopped onion and 1 garlic clove on a medium flame for 5 minutes, then added the spaghetti squash and mixed for 1 minute. Delicious.

Got Munchies? Ice Cream & Frozen Goodies Edition

Now that you are all increasing your fruit & veggie intake since reading my last post, it’s only fair we talk about ice-cream and other frozen desserts.

Here are the scenarios. You’re strolling down the freezer aisle and you your child sees the goods. The ice cream. Or while running errands  you “happen” to walk by the new ice cream store that opened in town. Myriads of colorful labels and flavors start infiltrating your brain. What do you do?

Ice cream is made of cream, which is essentially full fat milk plus some more fat, and sugar. Cream and other animal fats are saturated, heart-clogging fats. Ice cream’s one redeeming quality (other than being delicious) is that it has a proportionate amount of calcium to milk. While it may not be the most nutritious food, you can manage to incorporate it into a healthy diet. All ice cream is NOT created equal, and there are ways to make better choices that help cut fat, sugar and calories.

Survivor Tips for Ice Cream:

1. Flavors. The simpler, the better. Caramel swirl, mud tracks, cookies n’ cream, dolce de leche all add sugar, fat and calories. Better choices are coffee, chocolate, vanilla and strawberry.
2. Cup or cone. My vote is always for the cup. Cones = more sugar, fat and calories.
3. Portion. Keep it to 1 scoop if going solo, 2 scoops if sharing. And, there’s nothing wrong with ordering a kid’s cup.
4. Toppings. This is where it gets ya. Hot fudge, M&M’s, orea crumble (my fav), sprinkles, gummy bears… I think you know where this is going. Yes, they will all make your cup more unhealthy. If you must have crunch try crushed nuts or plain chocolate chips, preferably dark chocolate to get some antioxidants. Many stores now offer fresh fruit toppings (cherries in syrup do not count). Fresh bananas on vanilla ice cream tastes amazing.

It’s all a give n’ take. If you want a crazy flavor, skip the toppings or cone. And, you definitely want to lay down the law with your kids (and yourself) before going into the store. Because once you enter, all ration goes out the door. Negotiate. They can either pick 1 topping or a cone. Or, 2 topping if one is fruit. If they want 2 scoops, they need to share the second scoop with their mama or siblings.

While nothing can replace ice cream, there are some lower fat alternatives that taste good. Just as a general rule of thumb, when companies take out something tasty (fat) they usually compensate by adding in more of something else (sugar or stabilizers). So be careful; if I’ve taught you well, you will read the labels. 

Now for some good ‘ole label comparing (using my favorite frozen-yogurt and sorbet brands):




Choosing fro-yo or sorbet instead of ice cream saves you about 150 calories, 14-16 gm of fat and 9-10 gm of saturated fat per 1/2 cup. That’s a big difference. Sorbet tends to be higher in sugar (in this case by 1-5 gm) to compensate for the lack of fat. I like Sharon’s sorbet because it’s really just fruit + sugar + stabilizers. Benefits of fro-yo are its active cultures, which are the  “good bacteria” that help with digestion and its whey protein concentrate that make it higher in satiating protein. But remember, frozen yogurt and sorbet still have calories and sugar so try to stick with the survivor tips above.

Oh yea, and my thoughts on Tasti-D Light? Tastes like a bomb of chemicals melting in my mouth. I’d much rather sorbet, fro- yo or smaller cup of ice cream any day.

Getting In Your 5 A Day

Dedicated to Steve Jobs (entirely irrelevant to my blog, but must pay my respects)

Eating fruits and vegetables doesn’t have to be just eating fruits and vegetables. To keep you in the loop, the “5 a day” campaign changed its name to “Fruits & Veggies: More Matters” because the suggested servings of f&v (fruit & veggies) really varies based on age. Don’t get set on a number; rather try to have a fruit or veggie at most of your meals, and it won’t kill you to throw it into some of your snacks. Here are some non-tradition ways to up your intake:

1. Fruit in salad. Salad doesn’t always have to consist of the regular players. Experiment. Some of my favorite combos: 1. avocado + nectarines or peaches + scallions + corn 2.granny smith apple + beets + arugala 3. Watermelon +red onion + feta cheese. YUM.

2. Pasta. Always add veggies. Add fresh tomato or bell peppers into marinara, serve pasta with any stir-fry, add eggplant or fresh tomato to lasagna, throw in cherry tomatoes with pesto, add broccoli to cream sauce or puree cooked cauliflower into cream sauce.

3. Sandwiches. Lettuce (the darker the greens the more vitamins), tomato, avocado and grilled portobellos taste good on all sandwiches and burgers. Add some cucumbers if you like crunch. Peanut butter is rocking with sliced banana, fresh berries, raisins or home-made “jam” (throw some berries on stove; you don’t need sugar but cinnamon never hurts). Can’t go wrong with thinly sliced apples on top of your cheese sandwich.

4. Pizza. If veggie slice is unrealistic for you or your kids, make a “special” tomato sauce with pureed zucchini, peppers and fresh tomato that goes nicely under the cheese.

5. Ice cream or fro-yo. Add fresh fruit.

6. Chips. Buy apple chips (look for brands that don’t have sugar in the ingredient list, like Bare Fruit) or make kale chips. They’re both healthier baked alternatives to their potato counterparts. To make kale chips, take a bunch of kale, cut off leaves from stem and tear into small pieces, add 1 tbsp olive oil and a sprinkle of salt, put in 350 degree oven for 10-15 minutes until browned. It’s a good thing to make with kids.

7. Breakfast. Add apple, berries, melon, or banana into pancakes, cereal + milk, yogurt or oatmeal.

8. Poultry, fish, beef, tofu. Heat and then puree berries, apples, peaches, pears, nectarines for a thick, sweet sauce or make a fresh fruit salsa to go on your grilled or broiled protein of choice. Bake a whole chicken with fresh oranges or apples + some apple cider vinegar or orange juice. Dried fruits (apricots, prunes) add flavor, sweetness and moisture to beef stews and other slow cooked meats.

9. Eggs. Veggie scramble, omelets or frittata. Spinach + mushroom is the bomb.

10. Baking. There are tons of recipes that substitute some of the sugar with bananas, applesauce, zucchini and carrots. Zucchini and pumpkin bread are my faves. Nutritionist Ellie Krieger has a ton of good recipes on her site that incorporate f&v into baking.

Canned Goods Canned Bads

There are very few no- no’s for me when it comes to food. But canned food, in particular canned produce, is one of them. I can tolerate canned beans, but I have zero tolerance for canned fruits and veggies. Among the list of things that skeeve me out, some of which include airplane barf bags, blackboard nail scratching, toothpaste left in the sink, canned corn is right up there. I know, I sound insane.

Canned Goods Aisle

Produce Aisle

This is how I see canned food: it started off fresh and was then pressure cooked to such high temperatures, imprisoned in tin walls for months, maybe years, with its only escape being with the use of special equipment. C’mon, that’s scary!  In addition to freaking me out, canned goods can be quite high in sodium thanks to the added salt used to preserve. And, the high temperatures required to kill bacteria during pressure cooking kills/leaches some of the vitamins. I’ve even seen sugar added to some canned veggies!

I get it, canned goods are cheap, quick and convenient especially when you have a family to feed. That’s why I’m going to offer an alternative. Frozen is better. Frozen produce better maintains its structure and vitamins, plus it tends to be salt-free, which is why it is generally a lot fresher, tastier and more nutritious. Rumor has it that frozen is even better than fresh because produce meant for freezing is picked in peak-ripeness, a time when it’s generally most nutrient-packed. But, because frozen produce still needs to go through processing (quick boil, flash freezing), my vote is with fresh.

Frozen veggies are just as quick and convenient as opening a can. Just pour into a strainer and rinse under very hot water for 1-2 minutes to defrost. A lot of brands pack the veggies in a steamer pocket that you throw right into the microwave, which is even better than boiling because it prevents water soluble vitamins, like vitamin C, from leaching out. Even though you can take my word for it, always look at the label  look for plain, unseasoned, non-sauced  frozen veggies with the ingredient list consisting of ONLY the fruit or veggie you are buying. Or, you can buy fresh and freeze at home. My mother (if you’re reading this, hey Mom) boils then freezes corn, so she always has on hand. Berries freeze well but get mushy when defrosted so they’re perfect for baking pies.

Unfortunately, I haven’t seen many frozen legumes or beans, but you can make a big batch from scratch and freeze. It is time consuming, but I have a great recipe I’ll post soon.

In terms of buying canned versus frozen soups, meats and sauces, neither is really great, but it really depends on the brand. Most frozen prepared foods I’ve seen are high in sodium and other preservatives. Again, it’s healthier and cheaper to just make some extra soup or meat and freeze it for a later date. But, if you’re in a bind, just read the labels, compare the amount of fat and salt and try to find the product with the shortest ingredient list with mostly ingredients you recognize.

If you insist on staying with the cans, there are a few ways to make it healthier. Buy fruit that has been canned in its own juice and not syrup. Sweet canned corn doesn’t refer to the natural sweetness of the corn; it means added sugar. And, to reduce the amount of sodium and other junk found in canned veggies, pour goods into a colander and rinse under fresh water for 1 minute.

Time for food safety quiz (how exciting):

Q: Why do cans dent or bulge?

A: When bacteria grow and breathe they release CO2. Cans don’t save any room for bacteria or its CO2. So, the CO2 and other gases begin to push out and expand. When you see a dented or bulged can it means the bacteria is liking whatever is inside and you should steer clear.

Kids In The Kitchen: Fun Cookin’ Gear

If the food itself isn’t doing the trick, entice kids into the kitchen using these whacky gadgets. They are made for kids, but is it wrong if I want them for myself (hint hint, my birthday’s coming up soon, well kinda…)?

They are a perfect gift for the holidays or for the next kid’s birthday party you go to. There is a high likelihood that the child you are purchasing for will have the lego, video game, or that new arts and crafts, but will they have a pair of woodpecker poultry shears? I think not.

Check out some of the goods by the Animal House line at Boston Warehouse. They were featured on a flash sale site, but you can also buy them at Boston Warehouse website. Thank my friend D for sending this our way.

If you don’t have kids, I bet you have a lil niece, nephew, cousin, sista, brother, god child, kid of a friend that should have a birthday coming up one of these days.

Too good not to blog about. I wish you a weekend full of fruits + veggies.