Friday, January 31, 2014

Why Not Diet Soda?, Preschoolers with Food and Getting Off Your Own Case: Friday Tips, Tricks and Inspiration

I love to make beautiful meals for my kids and dear hubby, but sometimes I lose heart. It is extra work and I do have to get up pretty early. Case in point, today their healthy lunch (whole grain crackers, baby carrots, low-fat cheese cubes and orange "smiles") all got plopped into zip lock bags and dropped in their lunch box. Not too romantic.

For years I have maintained that people enjoy their food more when it's attractive. Once I found a study that showed kids eat best when there are a variety of colors on their plate  - sort of the opposite of what most parents think.  All of these thoughts lead to my tip of the week, aesthetics matter.  The author of a recent study posted this summary article recently which indicates that kids don't really only want food from McDonald's, they want cute food.

I do have tons of cute bento boxes, food cutters, spiralizers, and other tools. I am recommitting to sending not only healthy lunches, but cute ones.  It's worth a head start the night before and getting up a bit earlier. They're worth it!

Some bad news for those of you who, like me, crave the sparkle. You may need to double-think that diet soda. The trick of the week is one that actually works against us, not for us. I long ago made the switch to diet soda to save my teeth and my waistline, but it turns out, it may only be saving my teeth. We have largely stopped buying soda for home -- it's not really food -- but I do enjoy the occasional treat. No more. My water "mit gas" will now be restricted to sparkling water. ( I may enjoy the occassional Izzy Esque, though. Real fruit and no sweeteners, what a concept!) This article (not the first I've read) reminded me that the chemistry of diet soda may actually be tricking my body and making my insulin resistance worse. Oops. I'm done!

Finally, it's good to bear in mind that we are human and moderation is really important.  There is no such thing as perfect eating and I was truly inspired by this article on the same. I am working really hard on eating healthfully and providing healthy meals for my people, but sometimes, we just need to relax. Honestly folks, we can't be perfect. Have a look at this article and let me know your thoughts!

Have a healthy and happy weekend!

Monday, January 27, 2014

Another Low Fat Fest - It's Menu Plan Monday!

Good Monday!

This week's menu is all my family faves in low-fat versions.  We are loving our beautiful beef we purchased last week. Oh, it is so good. I had to add breakfasts back into my plan this week since I noticed my kids are eating a lot of cereal since I took them off!

Breakfast Tacos and Fruit
Boiled eggs, toast, milk, fruit
Mini zucchini quiche (half recipe makes 12 cupcake sized)
Yogurt and bananas
Pancakes or Waffles, Bacon (by popular demand!), fruit

Taco Cupcakes with salad
Egg salad on lettuce, crackers, refrigerator pickles (any kind)
California Roll in a Bowl
Meat cubes, cheese cubes, pasta with pesto, grape tomatoes, olives, grapes
Chicken curry, cuke raita, brown rice Tiffin

Homemade Mac-n-Cheese, 
Zucchini and carrot "fries," some type of fruit
Crockpot roast beef, potatoes, green veg
Lighter Baked Ziti (Recipe Below), Green salad, dressing
Baked Corn Dogs, coleslaw, Berry Fool (sweetened yogurt, layered with berries, topped with crushed cookies) We use chicken dogs to save our hearts and waistlines!
Beef Tips, Mashed Potatoes, fresh veg (whatever is on hand)

Baked Ziti by Cooks Illustrated (March 2009)
I have adjusted a ingredients to reduce calories.
8 Servings, 8 WW+ points

2 large egg(s)   
2 tsp olive oil   
5 clove(s) (medium) garlic clove(s)   

28 oz canned tomato sauce    (or Sub in 4 cups good homemade marinara  sauce for both tomatoes and oregano)

14 1/2 oz canned diced tomatoes   
1 tsp dried oregano   
3/4 cup(s) basil, chopped   
1 tsp sugar   
1/2 tsp Pepper, Black Ground, To taste   
8 oz part-skim mozzarella cheese, Cut into 1/4" pieces (about 1 1/2 cups)   
¾  cup(s )low fat milk   
2 tsp cornstarch   
2 cup(s) 1% low fat cottage cheese   
1 pound(s) cooked pasta   
3 oz parmesan cheese   


·         1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Whisk cottage cheese, eggs, and 1 cup Parmesan together in medium bowl; set aside. Bring 4 quarts of water to boil in large Dutch oven over high heat. Stir in 1 tablespoon salt and pasta; cook, stirring occasionally, until pasta begins to soften but is not yet cooked through, 5 to 7 minutes. Drain pasta and leave in colander (do not wash Dutch oven).
·          2. Meanwhile, heat oil and garlic in 12-inch skillet over medium heat until garlic is fragrant but not brown, about 2 minutes. Either use 4 cups good quality marinar or  [Stir in tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, and oregano; simmer until thickened, about 10 minutes]
·         Off heat, stir in basil and sugar, then season with salt and pepper
·         3. Stir cornstarch into Whole Milk in small bowl; transfer mixture to now-empty Dutch oven set over medium heat. Bring to simmer and cook until thickened, 4 to 5 minutes. Remove pot from heat and add cottage cheese mixture, 1 cup tomato sauce, and cup mozzarella, then stir to combine. Add pasta and stir to coat thoroughly with sauce.
·          4. Transfer pasta mixture to 13- by 9-inch baking dish and spread remaining tomato sauce evenly over pasta. Sprinkle remaining cup mozzarella and remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan over top. Cover baking dish tightly with foil and bake for 30 minutes.
·         5. Remove foil and continue to cook until cheese is bubbling and beginning to brown, about 30 minutes longer. Cool for 20 minutes. Sprinkle with remaining 2 tablespoons basil and serve.

As usual, I am linking up with for her Menu Plan MondayHave a wonderful week!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Luscious Low-Fat Menu Plan Monday

Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day! We will do something to commemorate the day, but first, thought I come up with a menu plan for this week.  We are having more beef than usual because we just got our side of grass-fed beef delivered on Friday.  Can't wait to dig in!  

This week we're focused on winter veggies, easy/early prep dishes and indulging one craving: Pepper had to have some Bo Luc Lac. The beautiful weather made her crave some spring food. 

My blog looks weird this week. I can't get the template to cooperate. I hope its not too distracting. 

Egg, Tomato and Avocado Tostados

Lemony Hummus and Goat Cheese with Homemade Whole Wheat Pita Chips
Classic Macaroni Salad with fresh veggies and cheese cubes (recipe below)
Korean Beef Skewers, (homemade Asian dressing in marinade) steamed rice,Lemon Zucchini Ribbons, apples [marinate the skewers overnight; the rest is a snap]

Grilled Shrimp Ceasar Salad (we use the classic ceasar dressing recipe and are sparing in application)
Slow Cooker Brisket, (9)  sweet potatoes, greens
Baked White Fish, Mashed Potatoes, fresh veg (whatever is on hand)
Bo Luc Lac (with tomatoes, greens and marinated watermelon radish)

As usual, I am linking up with for her Menu Plan MondayHave a wonderful week!

Friday, January 17, 2014

Everything Salad: Dressing and Dress-Ups - Friday Tips, Tricks and Inspiration

Woot, woot! It's Friday already! Time for some tips, tricks and inspiration. I have an active weekend of camping with the Littles planned so let me get this going and onto the activities! This week is all about salad.

I love salads. I love, love, LOVE them. In part, that's because over the years, I have acquired a few tips for seasonal salad dress-ups.

  • This time of year, I love to put pomegranate seeds and 1 tablespoon of toasted walnuts on my salad. It adds a yummy crunch for at a reasonable calorie cost. 
  • To make a restaurant or fast food salad into a meal, order a dry baked potato alongside and add it to the salad. (Be reasonable - if the potato is huge, use only half.) This is extra-good with creamier dressings.
  • If you are a fan of tart, add cranberries and turkey to your salad with a sweet dressing like poppy seed or sesame.
  • Cut corn tortillas into strips with scissors, bake at 350 until crispy. With corn, black beans and some salsa, you have a southwestern salad. Very nice with ranch. 
  • Another winter topping is cubed, roasted root vegetables. Roasted sweet potatoes and roasted turnips are both yummy and go well with any dressing. A balsamic dressing is a treat.
  • Beautiful watermelon radishes are perfect this time of year. Hard to find in a regular grocery, they are readily available this time of year in farmer's markets and organic farm-stands.
  • Marinated or pickled cucumbers, radishes, broccoli, or carrots (you name it, really!) make a wonderful addition to salad.  I'm going to marinate some of those watermelon radishes for my supper salad.

Do you dislike low-fat dressings? They have never appealed to me; something just isn't right. Here are a couple of tricks so you can have your dressing but with half the fat.
  • Make your own dressing whenever you can; it tastes so much better than store bought and dressings only take minutes (nay, seconds!) to make. You need less when you have more flavor. Try this simple dressing: 2 Tbsp oil, 3 Tbsp vinegar (try red wine or champagne vinegars), 1 Tbsp  water, a teaspoon of table mustard or dijon, fresh or dried herbs to your taste, a pinch of salt, a bit less of pepper, 1 clove of garlic, minced. Shake well.
  • Try the above dressing with balsamic vinegar and olive oil. If you store it in the fridge, the olive oil will coagulate, but when it warms up a bit, all will be well.
  • Dressings go farther if you your dress your salad and then wait at least 10 minutes before you eat it. The water starts to leach out of vegetables, dilutes the dressing and spreads the flavor around!
  • Dilute a full strength dressing to stretch the calories. If you like tangy dressings, add 1 part vinegar to 2 parts dressing, shake well (new calorie count 65% of original). Mix fat free sour cream in equal amounts to any creamy dressing. Fat free greek style yogurt works too but has a different texture. (50% of original calories)  Low-fat buttermilk works well too.  Brandy or sherry works well for clear dressings - in a 1 to 1 ratio. 
Finally, think of an old salad in a new way. A pretty salad is an inspiration to eat healthfully.  Here is my favorite salad recipe, packaged for easy travel to work or school in the photo below (also pictured at top).  Even my non-tuna-eating hubby loves this one. This recipe is for one serving but I quite easily multiply it by 6 for my family: 

Salade Ni├žoise


    2 cups mixed Greens
    2 tsp. olive oil 
    2 tsp. red wine vinegar
    1 tsp. Dijon mustard
    1 small potato, boiled and diced
    1 egg, boiled
    5 grape tomatoes
    2.5 oz. canned, water-packed tuna, drained (splurge on the good stuff)


      Boil the potatoes and the egg. Dice the potato and slice or quarter the egg. While the potato is warm, toss in one teaspoon of the olive oil. Set aside. Mix up the remaining olive oil, red wine vinegar, and Dijon, stir into the tuna. If serving, immediately, layer the greens on a plate or shallow bowl. Top with tuna; surround with egg, potato, and grape tomatoes. (Olives are typical in this dish but if you add them, don't forget to "count" them.) In the photographs, I've added cucumbers cubed and pickled overnight in vinegar (diluted) instead of higher calorie olives.

      Serving Size: 2.5 cups


      To transport for later enjoyment, put the tuna mixture in one container, the greens in another and have a third for the eggs, potatoes and tomatoes

Monday, January 13, 2014

Ribollita and Other Delights: It's Menu Plan Monday!!

How does Monday always come around so fast?  Well here it is and I'm back in my menus, linking up as usual with's Menu Plan Monday.

For the uninitiated, let me state that I cook low-fat, healthy, utilizing local and sustainable foods 90% of the time, year round. I make exceptions on the holidays but still try to be reasonable. This means we eat a lot of greens and root vegetables in the winter because that's what grows here in the cooler seasons. When feasible, I include calories and/or Weight Watcher's points plus values for my meal plans. Many of my linked recipes contain complete nutritional information.  If you post your menu plans in any type of public forum, please comment on the post so we can all share your inspiration!

My plan of coming up with several lunch and dinner choices worked well for me last time, so I am repeating the theme this week. We are taking the little ones camping for a night, hence the camping food!

Shrimp with Zucchini and Tomatoes (stir fried with garlic and a bit of oregano) (4 WW Points+), toasted whole bread with garlic and misted olive oil.
Spiral turkey dogs (camping day), green salad, baked orange rind muffins
Tuna salad on whole wheat toasted sandwich thins, salad with vinaigrette (5 WW Points+)
Turkey, egg and carrot Soboro bento, brown rice, fresh fruit
Crockpot Spinach Manicotti, sauteed seasonal vegetables, fresh fruit (I am still calculating calories on my low fat version of this dish!)

Ribolllita (a Tuscan soup with kale, beans and bread), green salad ( 5 WW Points+, 245 cal.)
Chicken Parmesan, whole wheat couscous, roasted root vegetables seasoned with sage (8 WW Points+)
You Won't Miss the Meat Chili with cornbread dumplings, coleslaw (camping night) (4 WW Points+) In the dutchoven, over a fire!
Baked white fish with Quinoa with sweet potato, zucchini, carrot and kale; Garlicky Green beans - (6 WW Points+)
Slow Cooker Roasted Turkey Breast and Potatoes; sauteed greens, roasted baby turnips (7 WW Points+)
Chili with cornbread dumplings

Friday, January 3, 2014

First Friday of Fourteen - Tips, Tricks and Inspiration

It's a very new year still and here we are with our plans and resolutions. Perfect time for some tips, tricks and inspiration, right?

First some practical tips for keeping those new year's resolutions:

  • Post your plans where you can see them
  • Even better, post them where your family can see them and garner their support
  • Have an honest check in every week on how you are doing and make a plan for going forward; adjust as needed and learn the difference between a mitigating circumstance and an excuse
You know this is absolutely true: there are no magic pills to lose weight and get in shape. So the first trick of the year is this, don't fall for any gimmicks, gags or snake oil salesmen! We are all going to meet our goals the same way, with hard work, perseverance, course corrections and a pinch of optimism.  

Speaking of hard work and perseverance, please meet my friend Mary Love. If she isn't an inspiration to you, I'll eat my hat!
Mary has lost over 100 pounds so far and has only 44 to her goal. No snake oil, no miracle pills, just perseverance, wise choices and a lot of hours at the gym. May we all work as hard as she has!

That said, let's get off the computers and on the treadmill. Happy New Year!