Lighten Up Hannukah

Lighten up the festival of lights. Clever pun, eh?

I love latkes, also known as potato pancakes. Well, I should re-phrase. I love my grandmother’s latkes. In fact, I grew up scarfing hers down that I don’t really like anyone else’s (apologies to the public). And because my grandma is awesome, she used to make them specially for me all year round so I never had to wait until December to eat these bad boys.

We all know those latkes and jelly donuts are going down, and maybe even some of the chocolate gelt (coins). But, there are ways to enjoy goods without feeling guilty. Follow the same guidelines outlined in the  Turkey Day Survivor’s Guide. Some include – work out that AM, go for a lot of greens and salads instead of heavier, cheese-filled pasta dishes, try lighter dressings, drink water before diving in for seconds, offer fruit along side the jelly donuts and give up soda, juice, iced tea and other sweetened drinks and save the calories for the good stuff.

Latkes

First, watch what goes on your latkes. They are so good by themselves, I am not one to add on the toppings. But if you must, go for low-fat sour cream or unsweetened apple sauce. The small sacrifices add up, I promise!

A traditional latke recipe, which yields about 1 dozen latkes, calls for: 2 cups potatoes, 1 tablespoon grated onion, 3 eggs, 2 tbsp flour, 1 1/2 tsp salt, and 1/2 cup canola oil. Help yourself to 1 or 2 (or maybe 3 or 4) of the traditional guys and then snack on some healthier alternatives as your 4th and 5ths, etc. I found this really good recipe on Wholefoods.com that replaces some of the potato with carrots and green onions. Plus, it has a lot less oil and eggs than traditional latkes. I made these a while back for a non-hannukah event – my man-friend’s B-day. They were really good.

Mine didn’t look as good as the ones pictured, and a few of them fell apart until I got the hang of it, but nonetheless they are worth re-making.

Mini Potato-Carrot Pancakes

Adapted from WholeFoods.Com

Makes 2 dozen

Ingredients

2 green onions, thinly sliced
1/2 small yellow onion, grated
2 large carrots (about 1/2 pound), peeled and grated
1 large russet potato (about 3/4 pound), peeled, grated and squeezed to remove excess water
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

1/2 cup light sour cream
1 small chipotle pepper in adobo sauce, minced ** the recipe calls for a spiced sour cream dip, but I served them plain and they were great.

Directions:

In a large bowl, fold together onions, carrots, potatoes, egg, flour, salt and pepper until well combined. Heat 3 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Working in batches, form each pancake by dropping about 2 tablespoons of the potato mixture into the skillet. Space pancakes about an inch apart, flatten and cook, flipping once, until deep golden brown and cooked through, 8 to 10 minutes total. (Add remaining 3 tablespoons oil to skillet halfway through.) Transfer to a paper-towel lined baking sheet to drain briefly. Serve with a teaspoon of flavored sour cream on each.

Nutrition: per serving (1 each): 60 calories, 4 gm fat, 1 gm saturated fat, 10 mg cholesterol, 125 mg sodium, 4 gm carbohydrate, 1 gm protein

Jelly Donuts (AKA Sufganyot)

Good news, baked donuts taste really good. But whether you go for fried or baked, be mindful of the size. Make donuts holes injected with jelly or mini donuts instead of humongously large donuts. Check out this mini donut pan from Norporo. It sells on Amazon.com for $9.00.

Jelly donuts and latkes are easy and perfect to make with kids. If you don’t want to buy a pan just for the occasion, improvise with what you have. I found this creative recipe on Bakinwithmykid.com. It is a donut recipe that calls for using a cupcake/muffin tin instead of a donut pan. The donuts come out looking like a mix of a muffin and a donut hole.

Baked Jelly Donuts for Hanukkah

Adapted from Bakinwithmykid.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prep Time: 10 mins  Cooking Time: 8 to 10 mins

Ingredients:
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
pinch of salt
1 egg (lightly beaten)
1 6 oz container of non fat organic vanilla bean yogurt
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 teaspoons lemon juice
2 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon+ 1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons butter (melted)
1 jar of your favorite jelly

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Toss the cinnamon and 1/2 cup sugar together and set aside. In a large bowl whisk together all the dry ingredients. In another bowl stir together oil, lemon juice, sugar, egg and yogurt. Make a hole in the center of the dry ingredients and pour the wet ingredients into the hole. Gently fold everything together until combined. Place batter in a plastic baggie, seal and cut off the corner then pipe dollops of batter into a greased muffin tin OR donut pan. Each muffin cup should only be 1/3 to 1/2 full. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool for a few moments and then flip over onto a cooling rack while still warm. Dip the tops of the donuts into butter and then sprinkle the tops with cinnamon sugar. Let cool slightly. Fit a pastry bag with the 1/2 round tip and fill the bag with jelly. Insert the tip into the end of each donut and pipe a squirt into each donut. Makes 12.

Happy Hannukah!

And to those who celebrate Christmas…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Merry Christmas!

I hope you make these with your kids because these are  fun, healthy and freakin’ cute!

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Quinoa 101 + Spiced Quinoa & Avocado Salad Recipe

Gotta love kids. I watched this 10+ times. Every time I made an edit, I insisted on re-watching it.

Quinoa is grouped in the grain category because of its taste and texture. But, it’s actually an edible seed from a dark leafy plant similar to spinach. For those visual learners, this is a quinoa flower:

Quinoa is pretty much a nutrition power house. It has a higher % protein by weight compared to most grains. According to the USDA, 1/2 cup cooked quinoa has ~8 more calories compared to couscous and brown rice,  yet brings more protein, fiber and iron.  Unlike most grains like wheat, rice and oats, quinoa is a complete protein. Meaning, it has all of the essential amino acids (building blocks of protein primarily found complete in animal proteins), that our bodies cannot make and must get from food, making it a good option for vegetarians. And, it’s a good source of minerals like magnesium and phosphorus.

Quinoa is gluten and wheat free for all those allergy-ied and sensitivity-ied. Be on the look out for quinoa flours and pastas popping up on the market. Quinoa has a mild taste and fluffy texture, making it very easy to like because it tastes so darn good. And, my favorite part about it? It’s super easy to make (cooks only in 10-15 minutes compared to 30-40 minutes for rice).

Making It:

1. Rinse in small colander under running water – wash away the soapy foam that will appear.

2. Pour quinoa and water into a pot, it’s usually 1:2 ratio (1 cup quinoa to 2 cups water), cover, boil for 10-15 minutes until fluffy. You will start to see small white squiggles,which are just the outer germ rings, separatting from the seeds. Have no fear- they are harmless.

3. Now for the good stuff… Mix it onto anything. Substitute for any rice, barley or couscous dish. Mix with veggies, add any spices or herbs, why not some (low fat) cheese, throw in a salad or soup, add to a wrap, stuff into a pepper, mix with some honey, almonds and fruit for breakfast.

Now for a recipe. I wouldn’t dare post this without including a recipe to keep my dear friend and co-worker Jess reading.

Quinoa & Avocado Salad with Lemon-Cumin Vinaigrette Salad

Adapted from Fine Cooking (another fav)

Photos getting better, eh?

Ingredients:

3 tablespoon raisins (preferably a mix of dark and golden)
1 cup red or white quinoa, rinsed well
Kosher salt
1 large lemon
3 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1-1.5 teaspoon ground coriander  — pretty sure I added even more after tasting
1-1.5 teaspoon ground cumin  — pretty sure I added even more after tasting
2 medium firm-ripe avocados (6 to 7 oz. each), pitted, peeled, and cut into 1/2-inch chunks
3 medium scallions thinly sliced
Freshly ground black pepper
Directions:
1.In a medium bowl, soak the raisins in hot water for 5 minutes. Drain and set aside.
2. In a 2-quart saucepan, bring 2 cups water, the quinoa, and 1/2 tsp. salt to a boil over high heat. Cover, reduce the heat to medium low, and simmer until the water is absorbed and the quinoa is translucent and tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Immediately fluff the quinoa with a fork and cool to room temperature.
3. Grate zest from lemon and squeeze then squeeze as much juice as you can into a small bowl. Whisk lemon zest + juice, olive oil, spices, 1/4 teaspoon salt. Toss with quinoa, raisins and avocado. Season with pepper. Tastes really good room temperature or chilled.

Cracking the Whole Grain

Everywhere you go you hear whole grain this, whole wheat that. Everywhere you shop you see label claims of whole grain goodness. We all know whole grain is healthier than its white refined counterpart, but do you actually know what whole grain means? I get asked this question a whole lot.

Whole grain is literally a whole, or entire grain. That means it has 3 parts: bran (outer layer), endosperm (inner layer) and germ layer.

File:Wheat-kernel nutrition.svg

Bran: Highest concentration of fiber and iron, a good source of protein and B vitamins.

Germ: Highest concentration of protein and poly-unsaturated fat, good source of fiber, iron, B vitamins, omega 3 and 6 fatty acids.

Endosperm: Highest concentration of carbs, least amount of protein, iron, fiber, no B vitamins or fat = least nutritious part of the grain.

If you can’t guess where this is heading, refined white grains, like white bread and white flour, strip off the germ and bran layers removing the protein, fiber, iron, B vitamins and fat and leaving the endosperm, aka the carbs. That is why white bread  has very little nutritional bang for its buck. The fat and protein found in bran and germ can readily spoil, which is why companies thought to strip them away lengthening bread’s shelf life.

White bread isn’t “bad” for you in the sense that it has harmful ingredients. Rather, it is mainly carb with little vitamins and nutrients so it doesn’t have any benefits, making it essentially empty calories. Where as the protein, fiber, vitamins, iron and polyunsaturated fats in whole grains help lower cholesterol, ease bowels, increase satiety and can even have protective effects against certain cancers. 

Now for the grain dictionary:

Enriched – Returning nutrients that were lost when the whole grain-ness was stripped away. The good ‘ole government mandates “enriched” breads and wheats to return the following vitamins/minerals: Vitamin B1 (thiamin), Vitamin B2 (riboflavin), Vitamin B3 (niacin), folic acid, and iron. Many companies have been adding back the fiber, though it’s not mandatory.

Unbleached / bleached – Categorizes if the flour has been subjected to a whitening process or not. Bleached flour goes through more processing and chemicals, so go for non-bleached flour. Whole grains are not bleached.

Multi-grain – Several types of grains were used in the product, like a mix of wheat and oats. It does NOT mean it’s whole grain unless the wheat specifically listed as 100% whole wheat on ingredient list.

Organic – Describes certain standards used to grow grain (type fertilizer, etc), but does NOT refer to how the grain was processed. You can have organic white bread.

Sprouted- Right now that is no regulated definition and it can vary based on company. A type of natural and raw processing that uses the enzymes of the grain to germinate, or sprout. Some studies show sprouting allows our bodies to better absorb some nutrients like the iron and B. It can only be considered whole wheat if the bran, endosperm and germ layer are all left intact, and in that case the label usually indicated “whole grain sprouted.”

Examples of whole grains: WHOLE wheat bread, WHOLE wheat flour, quinoa, oatmeal, brown rice, wild rice, bulgar, whole grain barley, popcorn, millet, whole grain buckwheat. All of the above are awesome. Next time you head to the aisles buy one that you’ve never tried before. I have a soft spot for homemade popcorn.

Reading label is key (C’mon peeps). Unless the ingredient list has 100% whole wheat flour, it’s not all whole wheat. Companies are so sneaky. Even “made with whole wheat” doesn’t mean  100% whole wheat. Even “whole grain” listed on the front doesn’t mean the whole product is made of whole grains without the “100% whole grain” marker.Other tricky words that do NOT mean whole grain: Durum, semolina, refined, stone ground, wheat berries, multigrain, cracked wheat, bran.



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 epicurious.com 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! 

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.

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.

You Say Hummus, I Say Chummous

Hummus is hands down one of my top five favorite foods both for its taste and its nutrition. It’s a delicious combo of chickpeas + tahini (crushed sesame seeds) + lemon and spices. However it causes an internal conflict on a weekly basis, if not more. I learned of the food in Israel where it is pronounced Chummous. But here it is pronounced Hummus.

This is going to be a total detour, but I cannot think of another way to explain the difference in pronunciation besides finding a random YouTube video of an Israeli saying the word:

And here is how us Americans pronounce it (and this video has a good recipe idea):

The few times I’ve attempted to pronounce it the correct Middle Eastern way I’ve gotten a blank face in return, so I retreated to the American version, which I am far less fond of but at least people will understand.

Ok, now back to what I really wanted to talk about. Hummus is relatively low in calories and fat and high in fiber and protein compared to other dips and spreads like guacamole, ranch dressing and any other cheese or mayo based concoction.

It’s got a reputation for being a dip, but it’s more versatile. I’m pretty creative with my food combos, which developed from a refusal to allow any of my groceries go to waste. Any food that is on its way to spoiling must be be used,  some way, somehow.

Here are some of the non-traditional and healthier ways to use hummus:
1. Base for salad dressing – thin it out with some water or apple cider vinegar.

2. Tuna, chicken, egg or potato salad – a flavorful and lower fat/calorie substitute to mayo (a “sneaky” way to incorporate some extra fiber into your kids’ tuna sandwiches).

3. Bagels and lox – who needs cream cheese when you got hummus. Skeptical? Try it.

4. Substitue for ordinary “empty calorie” non-nutritious condiments (mustard, ketchup) in burgers, wraps. I’ve even tried it with fries.

5. Binder for breading – instead of an egg, try hummus to keep your breadcrumbs on your fish or chicken.

Now, hummus isn’t just hummus. There are tons of brands and flavors with different ingredients and nutrition panels. I like the classic or garlic varieties. Choose more natural brands with an ingredient list you can recognize. I’m suspicious of the “…and other natural flavoring” line. If you can’t specify what these flavorings are, I don’t want it.

I compared 4 brands. A 2 tablespoon serving (c’mon who stops after 2 tbsp) weighs in from 40-70 calories, 1-3 gm protein, 1-3 gm fiber.

Abraham’s Roasted Garlic                                           Sabra Classic

                                             

Trader Joe’s Mediterranean Style                   Tribe Classic

             

My favorite is homemade (recipe to come), but Trader Joe’s and Abrahams are best in terms of taste and nutrition. Abraham’s is lowest in calories while TJ’s is highest in protein and fiber.

Stay tuned for hummus recipe.