Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Elmo and the "Super Foods" to the Rescue!

I just love Elmo. He's the furry, red friend to millions of preschoolers and their families---a star on Sesame Street. And now, Elmo is helping to bring nutrition education to that same audience. "Food for Thought: Eating Well on a Budget," is targeting the 15% of households in the United States that include children not getting the foods necessary to meet their basic nutritional needs because of economic difficulty. That's an estimated 9 million kids.

The Sesame Street Workshop is reaching out with this program by providing packets to these families which include a video featuring the "Super Foods:"  banana, cheese, whole grain roll, and broccoli---great new characters to meet. Viewers learn that there are "sometimes" foods and "anytime" foods, that it's OK to try new foods, and parents are provided help with suggestions of how to prepare healthy meals for little money. Elmo's video has the potential to help all families to start eating healthier, regardless of income.

This project certainly earns all my praise. In the U.S., it's now estimated that close to 40% of the calories consumed by children ages 2 - 15,  come from empty calories:  soda, sugary sweet fruit drinks, cookies, cakes, donuts....etc. Utterly amazing. It's no wonder childhood obesity rates are sky rocketing. Sesame Street Workshop's focus on both young children and their parents should increase the odds of making real changes in the eating habits of families.  Let's hope that using this media to get the message out will have an big impact on the health of every family. I say, bring on the Super Foods Team!

Let's hear it for Elmo!!!!  Yeaaaaahhhhh!!!!!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

My Thanksgiving Favorites

When my husband and I were first married 33 years ago, my old roommate gave us a subscription to Gourmet magazine. We were both foodies even then, though that term certainly hadn't been coined yet! Our first Thanksgiving dinner came straight from that magazine, and it included two recipes that I have made every year since, though they have been tweaked and lightened up along the way: Lemon Sweet Potatoes and Pumpkin Chiffon Pie.  

Lemon Sweet Potatoes

Scrub 4 pounds yellow sweet potatoes (Jersey Whites or other light
colored variety)
      Place in a pan with just enough water to cover them.
      Bring to a boil, then cook on low until tender, about 30 minutes.
      Drain well.
      Peel and place in mixing bowl.
      4 Tbsp. lemon juice (or to taste)
      1/2 tsp. salt
      1/4 tsp. white or black pepper 
      1 Tbsp. butter
      2 egg yolks
Whip until light and fluffy.
Lightly coat 2 quart casserole with cooking spray.
Place sweet potatoes into dish.
Decorate with thin slices of fresh lemon.
Bake at 325 for 45 minutes, or until steamy hot.

Pumpkin Chiffon Pie

Into bowl mix:
      4 Tbsp. butter, melted
      1 1/2 cups vanilla wafer crumbs 
            (Crush cookies in a gallon size zip lock bag with a rolling pin 
            or use a food processor.)
Pat into 10 inch spring form pan that has been coated with cooking spray.
Bake at 400 for 10 minutes, or until lightly browned. Cool.

In a small bowl, mix:
      4 tsp. unflavored gelatin
      1/4 cup Drambuie or water
Let soften for 5 minutes.
Stir gelatin over double boiler until dissolved.

In a large saucepan, mix:
      1 1/2 cups pumpkin
      1/2 cup evaporated skim milk
      1/2 cup sugar
      3 egg yolks (or 1 egg and 1 egg yolk)
      3/4 tsp. cinnamon
      1/2 tsp. ginger
      1/4 tsp. nutmeg
      1/4 tsp. allspice
      dash of salt
Cook over medium heat for 10 minutes.
Stir in gelatin mixture.

Beat together until soft peaks form:
      4 egg whites (can use egg white powder often found in the cake decorating section to prevent any
            chance of salmonella) 
      1/4 tsp. cream of tartar
Slowly sprinkle in:
       1/4 cup sugar

Fold into pumpkin mixture until blended.
Pour into shell.
Cool for 6 hours.

Enjoy!  Let me know if you love these recipes as much as we do!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Giving Thanks and Taking Control

Ah, Thanksgiving. There's nothing quite like this holiday:  eating lots of food to celebrate having food.  It makes perfect sense in a environment where food is often scarce, but for most of us in today's American society, food is available 24 hours a day, and we can easily lose the focus of the holiday's original purpose. It does, however, create a time where we can gather with family and friend around the table.

For those of us who don't want to gain weight over the holidays, taking control of the Thanksgiving feast is critical. Focus is your key word for the week:

Focus on your head:
  • Focus on what Thanksgiving really means to you. 
  • Remember the "thanks" in Thanksgiving.  Be grateful for everything you do have in your life:  food, clothing, family, friends, health..and even life.
  • Write down 5 things you are grateful for each day this week.  Steer yourself away from focusing on what you don't have.
  • Tell someone "thanks" for something every day this week.
  • Do something for others. Donate food to a local food pantry, serve the homeless at a shelter, visit or call someone to cheer them up or just to talk.  
Focus on your food:
  • Eat breakfast.  Start your day right. Skipping only leaves you hungrier for pie.
  • Drink water throughout the day.
  • Eat small healthy snacks.  It's important to keep your blood sugar level in the normal range.  If you don't, odds are that you'll lose control around the stuffing.
  • Place a fresh fruit or veggie tray out for the entire group to enjoy.
  • Choose one or two things that you really want the most for your Thanksgiving meal.  Plan to have small or moderate portions of each---deprivation usually backfires. I plan to enjoy my lemon sweet potatoes and a piece of pumpkin chiffon pie.
  • Take tiny portions or skip the foods you don't care about as much, or ones that you can have any time. Eat what you will enjoy.
  • Make sure you can still see your plate when you look down on it.  This is a surefire way to exercise portion control.
  • Half your plate should be fruits and veggies.  The ultimate healthy plate goal!
  • Be mindful of your eating.  Sit down. Chew your food. Eat slowly. Enjoy how the food looks, smells and tastes.
  • Stop eating when you are full.
  • You control your food choices; don't let the food decide for you (or anyone else for that matter!)
Focus on your fitness:
  • Take a walk before and after dinner.
  • Play ball with the kids.  
  • Put on the Ninetendo Wii, or another gaming system, and play the active sports games with everyone.
Focus on your success:
  • At the end of the day, list all the wonderful things you accomplished.
  • Forgive yourself if you slipped up. It's not what happened that really matters, it's what happens next!
Happy Thanksgiving to All!!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Pumpkin Bread, Healthy Style

We have a request for a healthier version of pumpkin bread from MM follower Lbbls. Pumpkin, as we talked about yesterday, is a very nutrient dense food, so it's wonderful to find ways to enjoy eating it.  Unfortunately, many of our pumpkin favorites are also loaded with fat and sugar. The average pumpkin bread recipe is no exception.

Here's my Pumpkin Bread, and I guarantee some yummy results!

Pumpkin Bread

In a large bowl, whisk together until well mixed:
     2 cups sugar
     2 cups all-purpose flour
     1 1/3 cup whole wheat flour
     2 tsp. baking soda
     2 tsp. baking powder
     1 tsp. salt
     1 tsp. cinnamon
     1 tsp. nutmeg
     1/2 tsp. allspice or 1/4 tsp. cloves

 In a separate bowl, blend together:
     3/4 cup low fat buttermilk*
     1/4 cup canola oil
     4 eggs
     1 -  15 oz. can pumpkin

Add liquids to dry ingredients, and mix with a whisk until just blended, being careful not to over stir (it will get tougher the more you mix it.)

Pour into 2 loaf pans (9" X 5") that have been coated with cooking spray.

Bake at 350 degrees for 55 minutes.  Test for doneness by inserting a dry spaghetti noodle into the middle of the loaf, making sure it comes out clean.

Let rest five minutes in the pan, then turn out to cool on a rack.

       1) Put 2 tsp. vinegar or lemon juice in a measuring cup, and add non-fat milk until it gets to the 3/4
       2) 3/4 cup non-fat plain yogurt


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Pumpkin Perfect

'Tis the season for all things pumpkin.  You can easily find pumpkin pie, bread, donuts, muffins, lattes, and even pumpkin ice cream. The mouth watering aroma of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cloves are absolutely pumpkin perfect.

Pumpkin is a nutritional powerhouse, an incredibly nutrient-dense vegetable: it contains lots of healthy vitamins and minerals with relatively few calories. (A Twinkie is very low in nutrient density.)  At only 50 calories per cup, pumpkin comes loaded with beta-carotene and fiber, and is a good source of vitamin C, vitamin A, potassium, copper, manganese, and riboflavin.

The deep rich orange color of fruits and veggies is a clear sign that it's a rich source of beta-carotene. Pumpkin, winter squash, sweet potatoes, yellow, orange, and red peppers, carrots, cantaloupe, apricots, mangoes, and oranges are a few of the beta-carotene favorites. The deep greens of kale, turnip, beet greens, spinach and Swiss chard are also good sources of beta-carotene.

Beta-carotene acts as a pro-vitamin:  it is converted by the body into vitamin A as it's needed. Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin that helps form and maintain healthy teeth, bones, soft tissue, mucous membranes, skin and hair.  It's also important in maintaining strong immune and reproductive systems, and helps to promote good vision, especially at night. Since vitamin A can be toxic in large doses, eating foods rich in  beta-carotene is a great way to safely get plenty of A.  Other foods high in vitamin A include eggs, liver and fortified milk and cereals.

Beta-carotene is also a wonderful anti-oxidant, working to shut down the effects of free radicals and in doing so, likely reducing the risk of heart disease and some cancers.

Be careful when using vitamin supplements.  Avoid taking more than the RDA of 2300 IU for women and 3000 IU for men, as toxicity can result in extremely high doses.  It's a good idea to look for rich food sources of vitamin A and beta-carotene as the best and safest way to get your vitamin A.

Stay tuned for tomorrow's blog, when we take on pumpkin foods masquerading as healthy!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Healthy Flying

He was sitting there next to his wheeled carry-on suitcase, trying to balance a MacDonald's burger in a box, a red envelope filled with fries, a Starbuck's coffee and his cell phone, as his briefcase rested at his feet. It's tough at the airport. I don't fly very often, but yesterday I flew to Connecticut to help celebrate my mom's 80th birthday.  I did a little observing...

Airport travel is not easy for the health conscious. As I walked down the long hallway to the furthest possible gate the airline could have chosen for my plane, I could feel the nervous energy as people checked their watches and raced to different gates. Some people look exhausted as if they had spent the night on a previous flight, or stayed up half the night in anticipation of their travels the coming day. The last thing they are probably thinking about is making healthy choices!

Along with anxiety and fatigue, one thing is certainly a challenge: the food.  Not ever known for high quality dining, airports are filled with fast food stops and little stores offering a huge variety of candy, chips, crackers and soda.  And the prices.  Even if you wanted to make healthier choices, the price tags alone convince many that a Snickers bar is the way to go for a quick meal. That's really unfortunate. Remember, eating well makes a difference on how you feel mentally and physically.

Healthy Tips for the Airport:
  • Bring your own snacks. I brought along little snack baggies filled with small servings of roasted almonds and dried cherries.
  • Avoid greasy foods, and opt for less fatty selections. Heavy foods can be uncomfortable as they try to digest while you're in the air.
  • Wear comfortable walking shoes or sneakers.
  • Walk if you have time. I had enough time before my flight, so I avoided the tram and the moving sidewalk and chose to put my own foot in front of the other to get more exercise. On longer flights, be sure to get up and walk around to ensure good circulation.
  • Buy a bottle of water as soon as you can. Airplane travel is dehydrating, so be sure to hydrate often. They won't let you bring your own through the security gate.
  • Buy fresh fruit.  I was thrilled to see apples, oranges and bananas available at the counter where I purchased my water.
  • Choose your coffee wisely. Those fancy coffee drinks can have more calories than a Whopper. Stick to plain coffee or order drinks with non-fat or soy milk and be sure to say, "no whip!" You can lighten up many of the drinks by choosing sugar-free syrups. I enjoyed a skinny-skinny vanilla latte---non-fat and sugar free.  It was delicious.
  • Stretch. I went through my neck stretches as I sat waiting for the plane.  Muscles like to tighten up on those long flights...stay loose.
  • Use anti-bacterial hand gels often.  Lots of people on that plane means lots of airborne germs. My sister had antibacterial wipes that she used to clean off all surfaces around her once she was on board.
  • Healthy drinks in flight. Try fruit juice or tomato juice to add a little nutrition to your trip.  I enjoyed tomato juice, while my sister ordered cranberry juice and seltzer water.
  • Relax.  Release your tension and enjoy the flight!
It was a good flight and I arrived feeling great...a wonderful way to start off a family reunion and birthday celebration.

What are some of YOUR hints to air travel health?

Monday, November 1, 2010

Vegetarian Meals

Denise asks, "What about meals for vegetarians?"

Good question! Vegetarians should use the same basic guidelines for menu planning. The only difference is in the source of protein for the meal.

Vegetarians differ in their eating preference.  Vegans are strict vegetarians and eat no animal products at all.  Lacto-vegetarians enjoy milk products but no other animal products, ovo-vegetarians will choose eggs only, and lacto-ovo vegetarians will consume both milk products and eggs but not other animal products. A semi-vegetarian will choose an occasional fish or poultry serving but avoids all other meat.  A pescetarian adds fish to the otherwise plant based intake.

Protein (blog post, 7/31/10) is made of 22 amino acids (AA.)  Think of a long plastic chain made of 22 different colored rings. Each ring represents a different AA.  Eight of these AA are unable to be made by the human body, and are called essential amino acids. The other 14 are non-essential; the body can provide its own.  All animal products such as meat, fish, eggs, poultry and milk, are complete proteins, which means they contain all 22 AA. Plants, as a rule, are incomplete proteins;  they are a bit shy of a full chain.  Having all 22 amino acids available everyday is critical to nutrition and health.

Soy (tofu, tempeh, edamame, soy milk, soy nuts) and quinoa are exceptions to the rule.  They provide a complete source.  Other good veggie protein sources include dried beans, lentils, nuts and seeds. Fair sources are found in wheat, dried beans, lentils, corn, and rice.  All of these are incomplete proteins.

It's important that vegetarians be aware of where their protein is coming from.  If there is a daily intake of soy, quinoa, poultry, milk products, fish or eggs, there is no problem-- all 22 AA are supplied.  Vegans need to mindfully choose a variety of plant proteins in addition to whole grains, corn and rice each and everyday to be sure they are getting all of the essential amino acids.

Referring back to "Plan Those Meals!" (blog post 10/31/10) two of the meals are easy for vegetarians to enjoy, and some need a little tweaking.
  • Load Your Own Baked Potato: Vegans will omit the cheese or use soy cheese, and will not add the salmon or tuna.
  • Burritos: Perfect. Vegans choose soy cheese or none.
  • Chicken faijtas, Chicken Chili:  Omit chicken, cheese and yogurt.  Add:
    • beans
    • porta bella mushrooms 
    • cubed eggplant
    • soy crumbles (frozen food)
  • Spaghetti.  Omit meat.  Add:
    • soy crumbles
    • firm tofu
    • porta bella mushrooms
    • eggplant
  • Meatloaf.  Try a recipe for a veggie loaf, or eat a Morning Star Farms spicy black bean burger instead (I love these!)
  • Vegetarian Chili (blog post 12/26/09) This one is so good and so filling. My husband just made it last night--yum!
Veggie meals can be so delicious, colorful, and nutritious, too.  Higher in fiber, too.

What's your favorite vegetarian fare?