No-Bake Bean and Peanut Butter Treats

I don’t know about you, but there’s no way I’m going to celebrate Valentine’s Day without chocolate. I usually go overboard on candy, so this year I devised a plant-powered, not-too-sweet treat as a vehicle for just enough chocolate to satisfy me. And that’s saying a lot!

No-Bake Bean and Peanut Butter Treats are perfect for everyone in the family because they are delicious, energizing, and heart-healthy.  Little hands can form the dough into hearts, or, if they prefer, balls. The best part is that these treats are ready in about 30 minutes!

No-Bake Bean and Peanut Butter Treats pack oatmeal, peanut butter, and beans to energize and satisfy.

No-Bake Bean and Peanut Butter Treats

Makes 18 hearts or balls

1 cup oatmeal, uncooked

1 15-ounce can white beans or chickpeas, rinsed and drained

1/2 cup creamy peanut butter

1/3 cup pure honey or maple syrup

1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1/3 cup dark chocolate chips (vegan and gluten-free, if desired)

3 tablespoons finely chopped peanuts

Place all the ingredients except the chocolate chips and peanuts in a food processor.  Blend until the mixture is well-combined, about 3 minutes, pausing to scrape down the sides of the processor.  Leave the dough in the food processor and refrigerate for 15 minutes.

Place the dough on a large cutting board and press into a 9-inch square that’s about 1/2-inch thick. Use a medium heart-shaped cookie cutter to cut the dough.*  Combine remaining dough and press into a 1/2-inch thick piece. Cut dough into hearts until you have 18. Place hearts on a wire cooling rack on top of a cutting board.

*Note: You can also shape the dough into 18 balls. Dip half of each ball into the melted chocolate and coat with peanuts. Place on wax paper to harden.

A glaze of melted dark chocolate chips provides just enough to satisfy a chocolate craving without excessive sugar.

To decorate, melt the chocolate in the microwave or in a double boiler.  Glaze the hearts with the melted chocolate. Sprinkle with chopped peanuts.  Allow the chocolate to harden before eating, or not! Refrigerate any leftovers.

Sprinkle with chopped peanuts and these treats are ready to eat! No baking necessary.

 

 

 

 

 

How to Eat to Beat Digestive Problems

Today’s topic: gut health. I know, I know, kind of gross, and not something you bring up in polite conversation. Well, maybe it should be. If you’re among the millions of Americans who suffer with uncomfortable gastrointestinal (GI) tract symptoms on a regular basis, you’ll want to know what Kate Scarlata, RDN, LDN, the co-author of The Low-FODMAP Diet Step by Step, A Personalized Plan to Relieve the Symptoms of IBS and Other Digestive Disorders, has to say about getting relief.

One in four of us have tummy trouble on a regular basis, and an estimated 25 to 45 million Americans suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).  IBS causes gas, bloating, cramping, pain and altered bowel function. The low-FODMAP way of eating is based on an approach created by researchers at Monash University in Australia. According to Scarlata, research shows that up to 75% of people with IBS can get relief from their symptoms by following a low-FODMAP diet, which may also benefit those with other GI conditions, such as celiac disease (along with a gluten-free eating plan.)

One in four Americans suffer from tummy trouble.

When it comes to digestive woes, the authors know what they are talking about. In addition to providing the latest research about personalizing a FODMAP plan and 130 delicious recipes, Kate and her co-author and recipe developer Dede Wilson, discuss their own experiences in the book. Kate had a major intestinal resection nearly 23 years ago that resulted in debilitating digestive symptoms.  Dede was diagnosed with IBS in 1990.  Both have successfully used the low-FODMAP diet to manage their issues.

Here’s more from my interview with Kate.

What are FODMAPS?

FODMAPs are a group of certain carbohydrates (sugars and fibers) found in higher levels in many everyday foods, such as apples, garlic, traditional yogurt (not Greek), and products made with wheat. Because some people can’t properly digest them, FODMAPS can pull water into the small intestine, and they are rapidly consumed by gut microbes (the bacteria present in the gut), which results in excessive gas production. If you have a sensitive gut, water and gas can contribute to symptoms of bloating, alteration in bowel habits, and pain.  Additionally, the microbes that feed on FODMAPs create compounds that may also play a role in the symptoms of digestive distress.

Peanuts and walnuts are on the low-FODMAP food list.

Why did you write this book? 

I co-wrote the The Low-FODMAP Diet Step by Step because I wanted IBS patients to have an easy-to-understand approach to following the low FODMAP diet.  I have created ways to make the approach less daunting and realistic through my work with thousands of patients to implement the low-FODMAP diet.

What do you want people to know about a low FODMAP way of eating?

The most important point about the low-FODMAP approach is that is it a three-part nutritional intervention. The first part is a two to six-week elimination phase where high-FODMAP foods are taken out of the diet.  The second part is the challenge, or reintroduction, phase. During this phase, FODMAPs are systematically added back to the diet to help you identify which FODMAP sources trigger symptoms, and which FODMAPs do not. The third phase is the integration phase, when tolerated FODMAP foods are slowly added back to the diet.

The goal of the low-FODMAP approach is to eat the most varied and enjoyable diet as possible while maintaining good symptom control. However, balance is important. Cutting out too many foods on the low-FODMAP diet may also reduce some healthy microbes in the gut.  We encourage the challenge and integration phases of the low-FODMAP diet so that you can follow an eating plan with as much variety as possible to maintain symptom relief and keep your gut healthy.

Yes, Chocolate Chunk Cookies are on the low-FODMAP diet menu! You’ll find the recipe in book.

You mention in the book that digestive disorders are on the rise. What are your thoughts on why this is happening?

In my opinion, we are seeing an increase in digestive issues due to a complexity of environmental changes including the broad use of antibiotics and antimicrobial sprays and detergents, manipulation of the food supply with use of high fructose corn syrup (a concentrated source of FODMAPs) and food additives. For example, emulsifiers in highly processed foods such as ice cream, salad dressing, and mayonnaise, cause gut inflammation and altered gut microbes in animal studies. Pollution, stress, and other factors also alter and disturb the balance of microbes that inhabit our gut and support health.

What your gut bacteria say about your health

Do you think it’s difficult for people to be properly diagnosed with IBS and other digestive disorders? 

In America, talking about gut health is often viewed as taboo. Although our views on talking about it is slowly changing for the better, I do feel many patients would rather suffer in silence than address their GI symptoms with their doctor. A recent study revealed that primary care doctors fail to ask about GI symptoms quite often as well during physical exams, which further compounds the problem.

How to talk to your doctor about digestive issues

On a scale of 1-10 (10 being the best), how exciting is the evidence about the effects of what you eat on digestive health and overall wellbeing? 

I would say we are at about a 10+ in this area! The evidence continues to mount daily that the gut is the window to health. What we eat impacts the trillions of microbes that live in our intestine. We know these microbes affect our chances for chronic diseases including diabetes, obesity, non alcoholic liver disease, and depression.  It is a very exciting time to be a dietitian interested in gut health…and I truly believe all dietitians should be watching the research closely so that they can best communicate findings to patients and other consumers.

You mentioned a low-FODMAP diet as a way to manage colic in infants. What’s on the horizon?

There are so many new studies looking at how FODMAPs may affect health. A 2017 study showed that when breastfeeding moms of infants with colic decreased their FODMAP intake, the infants’ colic symptoms decreased. While more research is needed about the effect of mom’s diet on colic, the study offers hope to parents. Another interesting study looked at how the low-FODMAP diet may help reduce inflammation in the body. Inflammation can give rise to chronic conditions including heart disease and cancer.

 

 

Eat to Conceive: Food and Fertility

Chances are, you’re familiar with someone struggling with infertility, and you may not even know it. About 15% of couples have trouble getting pregnant, which makes infertility quite common.

I wrote about infertility in Expect the Best, Your Guide to Healthy Eating Before, During, and After Pregnancy, and while I’m aware of the stats, they don’t convey the fact that women who face fertility issues may experience shame.

Talking more openly about infertility can help to ease a couple’s burden, and hopefully, reduce bad feelings about a condition that is not their fault. Registered dietitians Elizabeth (Liz) Shaw and Sara Haas, also a chef, have taken the lead in this regard in the Fertility Foods Cookbook, 100+ Recipes to Nourish Your Body. I spoke with Liz about book, which is full of amazing recipes, one of which I prepared, and feature below.

Elizabeth Shaw, MS, RDN

Why did you write this book with Sara?

I always knew that I wanted to write a book, and when I realized that there was a need for a fertility foods book, I reached out to Sara Haas, a friend that I had made online through our mutually-exhaustive experiences with infertility. After asking Sara for her opinion about my book idea, she told me that she wanted to work on a fertility book, too! Two heads are better than one, and so began our book adventure. We took the opportunity to tell our uniques stories and struggles with fertility, and to let our audience know that they are not alone.   

Chef Sara Haas, RDN, LDN

A healthy body weight improves fertility in women and men

What makes a food a fertility food? Do fertility foods differ from other foods?

While fertility-fueling foods are certainly no different than other wholesome, delicious foods, there are some principles of an eating plan conducive to conception that are important to consider. We recommend plant-based eating. You don’t have to eat a vegan diet, or severely restrict animal foods, but the bulk of your plate should be plant-based. We discuss ways in which combining healthy fats with whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and plant-based proteins, such as soy and legumes, creates a plate that promotes fertility, giving couples a sense of control over a condition that sometimes feels so out of their control.

Here’s one of the recipes from the book that I tried and loved:

Chickpea Salad with Tahini Vinaigrette from the Fertility Foods Cookbook by Elizabeth Shaw, MS, RDN and Chef Sara Haas, RDN, LDN is easy, delicious, and can be served as an entree or as a side dish. It’s a plant-based recipe that everyone in the family will enjoy! 

Are fertility foods for women only? If not, would you explain why?

Absolutely not! It takes two to Tango, right? Although we specify in the introduction that the book is directed toward females, we include advice about food choices for men, and how some may be different than for women. While females who struggle with anovulatory infertility are encouraged to choose whole milk dairy products to enhance fertility, men are encouraged to stick with low-fat dairy. Slow-releasing carbohydrates, such as those found in whole grains, vegetables, legumes and soy, are good for both genders. One other interesting note is the research that suggests regular walnut consumption may help support male fertility in animal studies.

Walnuts may help support male fertility. They are also good for your gut health, and your partner’s.

Are there foods to avoid when trying to conceive and why?

While Sara and I certainly don’t want to discourage any food, we do recommend limiting added sugar, as well as reliance on highly-processed foods. Most highly-processed foods supply fewer nutrients than their less-processed counterparts. While nearly all the foods you eat, including plain milk, eggs, and lettuce, are technically “processed,” it’s possible to make better choices. For example, whole wheat bread is better for you than highly refined white bread, even though both foods are processed.

Don’t worry about engaging in a slice of birthday cake or other special occasion treats. Rather, focus on a fertility-fueling mindset most of the time. In addition, since those actively trying to conceive may become pregnant, we also recommended focusing on safer seafood choices, such as salmon, canned light tuna, and shrimp, and steering clear of fish that tend to be higher in mercury, such as King mackerel, marlin, orange roughy, shark, swordfish, tilefish (Gulf of Mexico), and big eye tuna (not canned) that is typically used in sushi.

This recipe from the Fertility Foods Cookbook is next on my list to try! 

Heavenly Chocolate Cake with Rich and Creamy Chocolate Frosting is gluten-free, vegetarian, and packed with far more protein, fiber, and other nutrients than regular chocolate cake.

In your discussions with those who are trying to conceive, what are they most confused about? 

One of the common misconceptions is that couples think they need to completely avoid carbohydrates, maybe because of the gluten-free trend.  (Men and women with diagnosed celiac disease should avoid gluten.) My job is to help educate people about the importance of including whole grains, many of which are gluten-free, in a diet that can help fuel fertility. I find once people recognize that they can become satiated, satisfied and at ease with a nourishing bowl of quinoa, mixed vegetables, and a delicious walnut sauce, their mindset about eating for fertility shifts. They start thinking of food preparation not as another chore but as a controllable way to fuel their fertility.

If you know someone who is struggling with fertility issues, check out BumpsToBaby.com, the support community that Liz started and runs. BumpsToBaby offers a free, closed group for those seeking health and support from others who are trying to conceive.

 

5 No-Diet New Year’s Resolutions

It’s a new year, and a good time to renew your commitment to healthy eating. Here’s my advice about how to do just that, without taking drastic steps that will derail your vows in a few weeks, or less. As always, think progress, not perfection.

Do. Not. Diet.

Let’s face it: diets suck.

Fad diets are tempting, but ignore their false promises, and focus instead on improving your eating pattern for longterm success. You’ve done it before, so you know that quitting every favorite food will not fly in the long run.

Food is fuel, and you must eat to survive. The best way to eat is one that you can live with, and doesn’t require “cheat days” to sustain. As my colleague Shelley Real so aptly puts it, “Eating isn’t cheating.”   

Read about one thing that can lead to a longterm healthy relationship with food. 

Eat to burn more calories.  

We nutrition experts encourage eating whole grains for their fiber, and other nutrients. But did you know that whole grains are also metabolism boosters? Whole grains include cereals, breads, grains, and popcorn. Eat at least three servings daily, or even better, make all of your grains the whole kind.

The only way to keep your resolutions.

Don’t play the numbers game.

Consider ditching the bathroom scale and the tape measure. Constantly taking stock of your weight can be a downward spiral, especially when weight loss doesn’t occur as quickly as you like. Focus on overall health instead.

Stop the shaming.

So you overindulged during the holidays. So what? Punishing yourself for past transgressions is pointless, and shame is a useless and harmful emotion. Good health isn’t an all-or-nothing endeavor.  Some days, weeks, and months are better than others when it comes to eating and exercising. Each day is a new chance to make better choices.

Discover how to get more Body Kindness.

Ditch the trash talk. 

There are certain phrases I never use, including “fat” (as it relates to body weight), “skinny,” and “clean eating” because they have negative connotations that contribute to a disordered relationship with food. “Guilty pleasures,” “cheat days,” and “detox” are not on my vocabulary list, either. Hopefully, if you stop using these useless phrases, you’ll improve your point of view about eating.

What are your non-diet goals for 2018?

 

3 Mouthwatering Mini Dessert Recipes

They say good things come in small packages, and for me that means mini desserts. There is no way that I’m going to skip sweets, yet I don’t want a huge piece of pie or cake, either.  The first few bites of any food are the most satisfying, so why eat more than you need? Here are three pint-size creations suitable for entertaining, and for every day!

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Brownie Bites with Raspberry Chia Jam

Brownie Bites with Raspberry Chia Jam

Makes 24 brownies.

1 cup fresh or frozen plain raspberries

1 tablespoon sugar

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon chia seeds

1 15-ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained

1/4 cup canola oil

2 large eggs

3/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

2/3 cup semisweet chocolate mini chips

2 tablespoons sweetened flaked coconut

Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat a 24-cup mini-muffin pan with cooking spray.

Place berries in small saucepan and cook for 5 to 10 minutes or until the fruit breaks down. Using the back of a wooden spoon, mash the berries. Take the berries off the heat. Add the sugar and chia seeds, and let the mixture stand until thickened.  Place in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Place the beans and the oil in a food processor. Process on high until smooth, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the eggs, sugar, cocoa powder, and vanilla extract and blend well. Add the baking powder and salt and blend for 10 seconds more. Stir in the chocolate chips.

Pour the batter by rounded tablespoons into each muffin cup. Bake for 10 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle of a brownie bite comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack for 5 minutes, then remove from the pan and cool completely.

Top each brownie with 1 teaspoon jam and a few coconut flakes.

 

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Mini Pumpkin Mousse

Mini Pumpkin Mousse 

Makes 12 servings.

2 cups plain canned pumpkin

1 cup plain fat-free Greek yogurt

3/4 cup pure maple syrup

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

8 ounces frozen, thawed light whipped cream (or 1/2 cup heavy cream that’s been whipped, or cashew cream)

2-3 medium gingersnaps, crumbed (optional)

Place pumpkin, Greek yogurt, maple syrup, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and cloves in a large mixing bowl. Beat on high speed for 1 minute. Set aside 3 tablespoons of the whipped topping or cream, and fold what remains into the pumpkin mixture. Spoon the mousse into 12 small serving dishes. Chill until ready to serve. Top each with a teaspoon of whipped topping and crumbled gingersnap cookies, if desired.

 

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Peanut Butter Chocolate Cups

Peanut Butter Chocolate Cups

Makes 24 cups.

12 ounces dark chocolate

1 cup heavy cream

2/3 cup Greek-style cream cheese

1 cup powdered sugar

1/2 cup creamy peanut butter

mini chocolate chips or chocolate for shaving, if desired

Cut two clean, one-dozen empty foam egg cartons into separate egg cups to make 24 cups.

Melt the dark chocolate.  Place a heaping teaspoon of melted chocolate in each egg cup and tilt to evenly coat. Put egg cups on a baking sheet and freeze for 20 minutes.

Place cream in a large mixing bowl. Beat on high speed until cream forms stiff peaks, about one or two minutes. Do not overbeat.  Transfer cream to a medium bowl and set aside.

Add cream cheese, sugar, and peanut butter to the large mixing bowl.  Beat on high speed until smooth. Fold the whipped cream into the peanut butter mixture until completely combined and the mixture is uniform in color and texture. Refrigerate.

Take egg cups out of the freezer. Carefully peel the egg carton from the chocolate, keeping your fingers near the bottom.

To assemble, place a tablespoon or so of the peanut mixture into each chocolate cup and top with shaved chocolate.

 

 

Better-for-You Chocolate Holiday Treats

I love combining chocolate with dried fruit, or nuts, or both! My friends and family seem to like the idea, too.  They’re always so appreciative when I present them with these super simple, better-for-you treats, which make great holiday gifts.

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How to make healthier holiday treats

There’s no formal recipe for my healthier holiday treats. For each batch, melt 10 ounces of dark chocolate (I use dark chocolate chips)  in a double boiler. You can also melt the chocolate in the microwave. Use a large glass bowl to make room for other ingredients.

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When the chocolate has melted, add 2 cups whole or chopped nuts, dried fruit, shredded coconut, or a combination directly to the double boiler, mix thoroughly, and drop by large tablespoons onto waxed paper.

www.betteristhenewperfect.com

Top with festive sprinkles, if desired!

www.betteristhenewperfect.com

My latest obsession is macadamia nuts, dried cranberries, and white chocolate. Yum!

www.betteristhenewperfect.com

I prepare several batches of treats with a variety of ingredients.

www.betteristhenewperfect.com

When I need to be mindful of nut allergy, I make the dried fruit treats first and package them up so that they don’t come into contact with nuts. These are a raisin and coconut combo:

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Dip the apricots halfway in the melted chocolate.

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Allow the treats to set for about 2 to 3 hours before packaging.

www.betteristhenewperfect.com

Would it be better to forgo the chocolate and eat plain nuts and dried fruit? Yes, that would be perfect, but not nearly as much fun.  I think my friends and family would be disappointed, and so would I!

Happy holidays!

 

13 Holiday Survival Tips from Nutrition Pros

It’s baaaack! The holiday season is fun, but overeating, drinking too much, and skimping on sleep is draining.  I speak from experience, of course, as my own self-care often takes a backseat to entertaining, cleaning, and shopping for gifts.  If you’re in the same boat, read on for advice from my nutrition expert friends on how to stay energized until New Year’s Day.

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What to do when you struggle with the urge to splurge

Ellie Krieger, MS RDN, TV personality and award-winning cookbook author:

At a holiday buffet, before you dig in, scan and plan. Check out everything that is being served and decide which options look best to you and which to pass up. Grab a plate and fill it mostly with healthy options (vegetables like crudite and salads, and healthy proteins like shrimp cocktail or chicken skewers) plus small portions of one or two must-have indulgent dishes. This way you will leave the party satisfied, not overstuffed.

Lindsay Livingston, RD, blogger at www.theleangreenbean.com:

Don’t put holiday foods off limits. In my experience it only serves to make you want them more. Instead, focus on moderation, and when you do choose to indulge, make sure you’re not doing it mindlessly. Sit down, focus on what you’re eating, chew slowly and enjoy the treat! You may find you’ll be completely satisfied with just a small amount!

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Toby Amidor, MS, RD, author of The Healthy Meal Prep Cookbook: Easy and Wholesome Meals to Cook, Prep, Grab, and Go:

The holidays are filled with all kinds of delicious food. Instead of going to any extreme– whether it’s avoiding everything or indulging in it all — choose two or three high-calorie dishes that you really love and serve yourself two heaping tablespoons of each. This way you can enjoy the amazing holiday food without feeling guilty for going overboard.

Katie Morford, MS, RD, blogger at Mom’s Kitchen Handbook:

For me, overdoing it leads to less enjoyment, not more, since it inevitably ends with a belly ache or a hangover. Yuck. I definitely indulge in holiday treats, but I’m choosy about which ones, and I keep the portions moderate. I also keep tabs on the cocktails, because it’s easy to lose track. I sometimes try to kill two birds with one stone and combine my exercise with holiday socializing, such as taking a walk with family after a holiday brunch, going ice skating with the kids, or taking the sled out for a spin.

Dawn Jackson Blatner, RDN, author of The Superfood Swap:

I still enjoy my favorite holiday desserts on actual holidays, but for all the days in-between, I satisfy my sweet tooth with dessert flavored teas. They have no calories and come in all sorts of delish seasonal flavors. Right now I’m loving: Chocolate mint, apple cinnamon and gingerbread. Do they really taste like dessert? No. Do they help control my sweet tooth? Yes. Plus, dessert teas make a great host/hostess gift!\

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What to do when you need a break from the seasonal chaos

Hillary Wright, MEd, RD, LDN, Director of Nutrition, The Domar Center for Mind Body Health:

Don’t be afraid to say no. It’s not necessary to attend every holiday event you’re invited to, nor is it your responsibility to host a party if it’s too much for you. Saying no allows you more time to relax, sleep, exercise, and cook healthy foods, and to get other holiday tasks accomplished. Plus, when you avoid some seasonal parties, you’ll probably eat fewer higher-calorie foods during December.

Read this if you’re feeling sad during the holidays

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Bonnie Taub-Dix, MS, RD, owner, BetterThanDieting.com, and author of Read It Before You Eat It:

To beat stress I highly recommend taking a bath with a side of candles and music. When was the last time you took to the tub? We all lead such hectic lives that often include a quick dip in and out of the shower in the morning before moving on to a busy day. By taking the time to submerge in warm water, you’ll sooth sore muscles and relax your mind. You’re worth this indulgent break!

Janice Bissex, MS, RDN, Cookbook Author and Holistic Cannabis Consultant at JaniceCooks.com:

To reduce stress, get outside every day during the holidays for a brisk walk. Bundle up if you need to and get moving! I also suggest yoga, whether it’s power yoga or more of a meditative class.

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What to do when your eating is out control 

Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, blogger at Real Mom Nutrition:

Make your home a safe haven. You can’t control what will be at parties, at your in-law’s house, or at the office. You know there will be dishes of candies and plates of cookies and buffets of rich foods and generally loads of goodies elsewhere. At home, make tempting healthy foods, like washed whole fruit, readily available–the fruit bowl on the counter is truly effective!

Joan Salge Blake, EdD, RDN, Clinical Associate Professor, Boston University and author of Nutrition & You:

Move up the holiday dinners to earlier in the day. Having your bigger meal during the earlier part of the day can help you avoid becoming so ravenous at the end of the day that you end up eating anything that isn’t moving. Eating earlier means you can also go for a walk after the meal, and before the sun sets.

Elisa Zied, MS, CDN, author of Younger Next Week:

How I survive and thrive during the holidays is by trying to stick to my regular eating and fitness routine as often as possible. When I treat myself, I keep the portion of indulgences such as cookies, cake and chocolate small. I also keep guilt out of the equation, because it’s a useless emotion. I also make sure to exercise during the holidays—and try to engage family and friends in physical activities so we can stay fit together. I walk outside often, even if it’s chilly, and try to fit in things like stair climbing, jumping jacks, lunges, squats and crunches whenever I can. Staying active aids digestion, keeps me feeling energized and strong and keeps stress at bay. It also helps me feel more productive and stokes my creativity so I can write better.

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What to do when you want to drink less alcohol 

Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, Director of Nutrition, WebMD:

Nobody has to know what you’re drinking. Alternate every alcoholic drink with a mocktail, such as sparkling water with sliced lime. When a drink looks like a cocktail, no one notices, and at the end of the night you will have reduced your alcohol and calorie intake by half. The best part is that you wake up in the morning feeling terrific because you didn’t ‘tie one on,’ and looking good because you’re well-hydrated. It’s a win-win!

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Rebecca Scritchfield, MA, RDN, HFS, author of  Body Kindness:

Forgive yourself! Just like every other human, you sometimes make mistakes. We tend to feel guilty over things we would tell our friends is no big deal. Let all the comfort, joy, and happiness in during the holidays; savor the moment and leave your calorie counters at home. Count hugs and special memories instead!

 

What to Do When You Fail at Meal Prep

Confession: My idea of meal prep is making a double batch of chili. I know that I should prepare more food on Saturdays and Sundays for the week ahead, but I can’t get myself to devote the time to that task, however worthy.  I am good at stocking my kitchen with nutritious foods and making healthy meals and snacks, so I figure I’m doing something right. Still, getting advice from a meal-prep pro couldn’t hurt.

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Searching for Inspiration

In my quest to improve my meal prep skills, I headed for Toby Amidor’s latest creation, The Healthy Meal Prep Cookbook. Not only does this registered dietitian and working single mother of three prepare delicious and nutritious food ahead of time, she found the energy to write about so that we can, too.

According to Toby, you (and I) should invest in meal prep because it saves time and money; it’s easier to control portions, which helps promote weight control; and you’ll avoid take-out food and processed products to get a meal on the table fast.

If you’ve never prepped meals before or want to be better at it, you can’t go wrong with The Healthy Meal Prep Cookbook.  There are more than 100 recipes to choose from, designed with simple-to-find ingredients, including Apple Walnut Loaf, Slow-Cooker Three Bean Chili, Arugula Salad with Salmon, and Mason Jar Key Lime Parfaits.

Have I mentioned the two-week meal plans for those interested in Clean Eating, Weight Loss, and Muscle Building? You’ll have no excuse not to shop for nutritious foods when you see Toby’s detailed ingredient lists to make following these plans a breeze.

Check out Toby Amidor’s blog! 

Now, that’s some kind of meal prep! Doesn’t this look delicious? Photo courtesy of Nat & Cody Gantz

Don’t let these meal prep myths hold you back from trying! 

Better, Not Perfect

Even if don’t completely embrace meal prep, nobody’s stopping you from enjoying Toby’s delicious recipes. That’s what I do! I’ve read The Healthy Meal Prep Cookbook, nodding my head in agreement at what Toby recommends, but the fact remains that while I like the idea of having meals ready to eat at a moment’s notice, I prefer more flexibility at meal time. (Read: I am in no way as organized as Toby.)

I have been feeding a family of five for years, so I do have some kitchen skills, which I allude to at the beginning of this post. I mostly know what I’m making during the week, and I shop regularly for food so I always have nutritious ingredients on hand.

17 Meals in Under 15 Minutes

Here are some of my favorite “fast food” ideas.

Breakfast/Snack

• Top a 2-ounce whole-wheat bagel with 2 tablespoons peanut butter, almond butter, or sunflower seed butter. Serve with 8 ounces 1% low-fat milk or fortified soy milk, and fruit.

• Spread 2 slices whole grain bread with 2 tablespoons sunflower seed butter, and top with 1 small banana, sliced, or 2 tablespoons raisins.

• Scramble 2 eggs and divide equally between a small whole-wheat pita pocket that’s been cut in half. Add salsa, a handful of spinach, and 1⁄4 cup shredded reduced-fat cheese, if desired. Pair with 8 ounces milk or fortified soy milk.

• Scramble 2 eggs with 1⁄4 cup diced mushrooms, and 1⁄4 cup shredded reduced-fat cheddar cheese. Serve with 2 slices whole-wheat toast, and fruit.

• Pair 1 hard-cooked egg with 8 ounces low-fat yogurt, 1 slice whole-grain toast, and fruit.

• Halve a cantaloupe or honeydew melon, remove the seeds, and fill with 1 cup cottage cheese or low-fat yogurt. Serve with a whole wheat roll.

Lunch/Dinner

• Microwave a medium white potato. Scoop out the insides and mix with 1 cup cottage cheese. Return the filling to the potato skins and warm in the microwave. Add a green salad.

• Top 1 whole-wheat pita round covered with tomato sauce with sliced part-skim mozzarella cheese. Broil until cheese melts. Serve with 8 ounces 100% orange juice.

• Make a quick quesadilla using two whole-wheat 7-inch sandwich wraps, 2 ounces chopped leftover chicken, and 1 ounce Monterey Jack cheese. Grill in a skillet. Enjoy with fruit.

• In a bowl, layer 1 cup cooked whole-grain couscous, 1 cup cooked vegetables, and 4 ounces cooked leftover salmon, or canned or pouched salmon.

• Arrange 4 ounces canned or pouched, drained tuna, 10 whole-grain crackers, and sliced red bell pepper, and enjoy.

My go-to fish meal: breaded haddock topped with a can of undrained chopped tomatoes and dried parsley with vegetables and whole grain bread. That’s dinner!

• Mix 1 cup canned reduced-sodium lentil soup and 1 cup cooked pasta or other leftover cooked grain such as farro, brown rice, freekeh, or quinoa. Serve with 8 ounces milk or fortified soy milk and fruit.

• Combine 1 cup canned white beans, drained, with 1 tablespoon olive oil and 4 ounces peeled and raw shrimp in a skillet. Cook until shrimp are pink. Serve with fruit or vegetables.

• Saute 1⁄2 pound 100% ground skinless turkey breast meat or 95% lean ground beef with chopped onions and 1⁄2 teaspoon ground cumin. Spoon cooked meat equally onto 2 whole-wheat tortillas along with chopped tomato, lettuce, and plain yogurt. (This dish serves two.) Serve with fruit or vegetables.

• Coat 4 ounces thinly sliced chicken breasts or tenders with flour. Heat 1 tablespoon canola oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Cook chicken for about two minutes on each side. Place chicken on a whole-wheat sandwich bun and garnish with tomato and lettuce, and avocado, if desired. Serve with 8 ounces milk and a piece of fruit.

• Quick fried rice: Heat 2 teaspoons canola oil in a medium skillet. Add 1 cup cold cooked white or brown rice, 1⁄4 cup chopped onion, 1⁄4 cup cooked peas or diced carrots or both, and 2 beaten eggs. Toss the entire mixture until the egg is cooked. Season with a dash of low-sodium soy sauce. Serve with fresh fruit.

• Place 4 ounces cooked shrimp, canned or pouch tuna, cooked or pouch salmon, cottage cheese, or tofu, on top of 2 cups chopped leafy greens and 1⁄2 cup grape tomatoes. Top with a mixture of 2 teaspoons olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Serve with  whole-grain bread or roll.

5 Stress-Free Family Meals

How to Shop for Must-Have Kitchen Staples 

Whether or not you plan your meals out to the last green bean, it’s a good idea to have nutritious foods on hand to rustle up healthy meals and snacks in minutes. Here’s a list that you can tailor to your needs.

A few must-have items from my refrigerator.

 

Refrigerator/Freezer Items

• Eggs

• Plain yogurt, Greek or regular

• Boneless, skinless chicken breasts

• Grated hard cheese, such as cheddar and Monterey Jack

• 95% lean ground beef

• Ground 100% turkey breast meat

• Low-fat cottage cheese

• Milk

• Tofu

 

Frozen staples I keep on hand.

How to take steps to get better at meal planning

• Frozen fish fillets, frozen shrimp

• Frozen plain fruit and fruit canned in its own juice

• Frozen plain vegetables and no-salt added canned vegetables

Recipe: Tuna Burgers with Smashed Avocado and Tomato are ready in 20 minutes!

Pantry Items

• Canned or pouched tuna or salmon

• Canned diced tomatoes

• Canned pineapple

• Canned beans, such as garbanzo, black beans, and cannelloni

• Whole grain cereal, bread (such as pita and Naan), and grains, such as pasta, quinoa, and freekeh

• Pasta (marinara) sauce and pizza sauce

• Peanuts, pistachios, almonds, walnuts, cashews

• Dried fruit, such as California raisins

• Peanut butter, almond butter or sunflower seed butter

Recipe: It takes just 5 minutes to make No-Bake Peanut Butter Cereal Bars

I couldn’t get by without foods from cans, jars, and pouches!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beyond Chocolate: How Cocoa Flavanols Support Health

This was written as part of my paid role in partnership with CocoaVia® cocoa extract supplement. All opinions expressed are my own.

You’ve probably heard that dark chocolate has potential health benefits, but chocolate itself is not a health food.

 

The perks of eating chocolate on a regular basis – besides it’s great taste – has less to do with the darkness of the chocolate and more to do with the level of cocoa flavanols it provides.

The what?

Cocoa flavanols are beneficial phytonutrients found only in plants. Cocoa contains a unique blend of flavanols that’s unmatched by any other food on the planet. Cocoa flavanols work with your body to maintain healthy levels of nitric oxide, which helps maintain the flow of oxygen and nutrients to all parts of your body, supporting overall health.

So, if you’re eating chocolate to improve your well-being, what you’re really after is the cocoa flavanols in great enough amounts to produce results. But in traditional cocoa processing, which includes fermenting, drying and roasting of beans, many of the flavanols that are naturally present in the cocoa bean are destroyed.

I was a bit surprised to find out that unsweetened cocoa powder, which I have been adding to yogurt, smoothies, and oatmeal for years, actually has varying flavanol levels, and that flavanol levels are not listed on the food label so there is no guarantee that they are present in beneficial amounts.

How Many Flavanols For You?

The concentrated cocoa extract in CocoaVia® supplement is made using their patented Cocoapro® process, providing 375 milligrams of cocoa flavanols per serving, which is found in one CocoaVia® stick pack or three CocoaVia® capsules. CocoaVia® supplement supplies the greatest concentration of cocoa flavanols of any cocoa extract supplement today, and numerous scientific studies have demonstrated that these flavanols promote healthy blood flow from head to toe.*

CocoaVia® powdered stick packs can easily be added to milk, hot or cold coffee, juice, sports drinks, smoothies, oatmeal, yogurt, and iced tea, or used in a variety of recipes.

Right now, I am loving Chilled CocoaVia® Mocha!

Do you use CocoaVia® supplement? What’s your favorite way to enjoy it?

*This statement has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

Maple Walnut Pumpkin Donuts

I love coffee-shop donuts as much as the next guy, and maybe more. I don’t eat them often because while they taste good going down, donuts usually bother my stomach afterwards. When I crave a hunk of sugary fried dough, I turn to my Maple Walnut Pumpkin Donuts instead.  These baked treats offer way more – and far less – than typical coffee shop choices.

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Maple Walnut Pumpkin Donuts are baked, not fried, for less fat and fewer calories.

Donuts, including all the variations on pumpkin and maple that are populating coffee shops right now, offer little in the way of nutrition. Most store-bought donuts are fried, which jacks up the calorie and fat content.

Here’s how a Maple Walnut Pumpkin Donut stacks up to a glazed pumpkin donut from a national coffee shop chain. It has:

• 212 calories vs. 360 calories

• 1/3 the total fat, and only 1 gram saturated fat (vs. 10 grams of saturated fat found in the coffee shop donut)

• 3 times the dietary fiber, thanks to whole wheat flour and pumpkin puree

• 64% of the Daily Value (DV) for vitamin A, primarily from pumpkin. The commercial donut has just 2% of the DV for vitamin A, which tells me there is very little pumpkin puree in their recipe.

• Nearly 900 milligrams of potassium, about 20% of the DV, again, mostly from the pumpkin.

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Maple Walnut Pumpkin Donuts use whole wheat flour.

Maple Walnut Pumpkin Donuts*
Makes 12

1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
2 large eggs
1 cup plain pumpkin puree (I used canned.)
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup plain fat-free Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons milk
1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350˚F. Coat two standard donut pans with cooking spray.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger.

In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs, and add the pumpkin, 1/2 cup maple syrup, vanilla, yogurt, and oil. Mix until well combined.

Add the pumpkin mixture to the dry ingredients and stir until combined. Don’t overmix.

Spoon the batter into the donut pans, filling to about 1/4″ shy of the rim, and making sure the center post is clear.

Bake for 12 to 14 minutes. Remove donuts from oven and allow to cool, in the pan, for 5 minutes on a wire rack. Remove from pan.

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Make the glaze. Sift powdered sugar into a small bowl. Add the 2 tablespoons of maple syrup and the milk, and stir until smooth. Frost each donut and top with walnuts.

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Per donut: 212 calories; 7 grams fat (1 gram saturated fat); 36 milligrams cholesterol; 220 milligrams sodium; 35 grams carbohydrate; 3 grams fiber; 5 grams protein

*For less added sugar, omit the glaze, and add the walnuts to the batter. If desired, coat warm donuts in maple sugar or a sugar-cinnamon mixture.

Want more pumpkin? Try this Pumpkin Spice Smoothie!

 

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