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Archive for the ‘Cooking’ Category


With most of us being concerned about time, money, and health, I have a simple and very effective solution to saving yourself gobs of each. Stop eating out. Oh yes, I did just say it. Just knock it off! Adopt the habit of grocery shopping and eating at home. Start making those “special occasion” celebratory meals at home, and suggest more potluck events. Pick out a fancy recipe and splurge on the expensive foods needed for putting together the special occasion meals. You will still save money, and when you get good at it, you will save time as well. While it takes some discipline at first, once you get the hang of it, you’ll wonder why you wasted so much of your precious resources on eating out in the first place.

Eating at home is a right of passage that used to trickle into the brains and bodies of succeeding generations for many millennia. It was a significant way in which families bonded by sharing cooking lessons, and sharing stories about their lives. The mental stress, physical health problems, and emotional stress, like loneliness, anxiety, and depression, that we see in our society today is no coincidence. It didn’t just happen to us. While there are many correlations, one of them we can associate with confidence is the loss of ritual and sanctity around family meals. Just what did we think we might gain when we stopped spending precious time caring for ourselves and others with lovingly prepared foods? Now, we are spending much of our time eating on the run, hardly noticing whether the food we are putting into our mouths is medicine or poison. If you are single, invite friends over. I did this all throughout college, in fact. I cooked to relieve stress (and also over-ate, filling out like a puffer fish). First, this allowed me to learn experiment with cooking something more than salads and macaroni. Second, it helped me form friendships, since I often tossed gatherings so that we could all eat together. As the saying goes, she who feeds you her food also feeds you her heart (just ask my sweetie if this is true).

If you’re still thinking swapping eating out for eating in sounds old-fashioned and austere, I say “Oh, to the contraire, for cooking at home is extraordinaire!” First of all, if you’re inviting friends and neighbors over, you’re expanding your social bonds, which are increasingly (and ironically) threatened in the “Age of Connection”. Second, eating alone or in cars, although common, really aren’t healthy. Eating and cooking with others is fun and fulfilling. If you want, add a bottle of wine or microbrew and some great tunes or interesting, light conversation to the mix. You might just find yourself dancing, singing, and laughing your way through your meal prep. Your entire bottle of wine will cost less than a glass of wine at your neighborhood restaurant (stick to the thrifty wine – we’re keeping this practical!).

I’ve pretty much stopped eating out at any restaurants, with occasional exceptions. Not only is it very expensive, but the restaurant’s priorities (profits) are usually in conflict with my priorities (health). And hats off to the restaurants who do wisely care about its consumer’s and the environment’s health by supplying organic, fresh, and nutritious ingredients. But at these places, the dining bill for two meals might be half the price of my grocery bill. Even healthy sounding foods are often high in added sugar, fat, and salt, making it a not-so healthy option. Reasons to EAT-IN:

  1. Restaurant and processed foods HIJACK your brain. The food science industry has spent billions of dollars investigating the psychology and physiology involved in which foods make us tick. Sugar, fat, and salt light up our pleasure centers in similar ways to cocaine and heroine lighting in an addict’s brain. This makes it very hard for us to turn down tasty foods, especially in restaurants that don’t offer satisfying and healthy alternatives. Food addiction has become a very real, novel phenomenon. Those who are most susceptible to these addictions are those who eat processed foods. To understand more about this fascinating topic, check out this article and read the brilliant book,”The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite”, by David Kessler, the former FDA Commisioner.
  2. You have more control over ingredients. Prepared foods are layered repeatedly with sugar, fat, trans-fats and salt. This is considered a hidden cost in terms of its health consequences and associated long-term costs. It prompted the Menu Education and Labeling Act, which requires restaurant chains to disclose calories and fat. However, calorie disclosures are sometimes underestimated  the calorie and fat content can vary wildly, due to the way chefs may vary in cooking processes.
  3. Cooking your foods at home is better for your waistline, no matter how careful you might be in restaurants: Women who eat out more than 5 times per week are shown to consume an additional 300 calories than women who eat out less frequently.  By these standards, it would take just over 11 trips to the restaurant to earn yourself an extra pound of fat. We are frequently deceived by perceiving that manipulated and unhealthy restaurant foods are actually fresh and healthy. Research also shows that dads attitudes toward eating at home vs eating out significantly impacts their child’s perceptions.
  4. Eating at home is less expensive: Average Americans eat out 4-5 times per week, much of it being a convenience food bite (slice of pizza + soda, sub sandwich, and drive-thru’s). This can add up to serious expense! My average bill at an average-priced Thai, Indian, or Vietnamese restaurants is as follows:  $10 entree + $2 drink + $4 tip = $16 meal for one.  If I bring my sweetie with me (he has to eat also!), the bill jumps to $32. If we want to splurge on an entree or dessert, add another $6. Now the bill is at least $38. If we eat out 5 times per week with the average bill being $32, we shell out  $160 per week, $640 per month. We’re not finished though because we’ve only eating 1 out of 3 meals we are going to eat today, and zero snacks. This also isn’t counting latte’s and other coffee drinks, which are $2-$6 a pop.

    For about $75 per week, I can fill my fridge and cupboards with fresh, organic foods for two, which will provide every meal and snack we need. This is less than half of what it costs for me to eat out. The only processed foods I regularly buy are sliced bread, nut butter, cheese, almond milk, yogurt, tortillas, chocolate and occasionally, Trader Joe’s tamales or organic, whole grain pizzas. That’s it! The bulk of my purchases are whole vegetables, whole fruit, beans and grains. I cook and pre-slice food in batches to help make eating at home a snap. I make occasional splurges when I want without guilt because, when compared to the average American’s cost for eating out, I’m still ahead.
  5. Eating in and preparing your own foods  is both time and cost-effective. If you don’t know how to cook, or aren’t very good at it, start with Mark Bittman’s book, “How to Cook Everything”, or one of his other 8 cookbooks, where he offers extremely simple and intuitive ways to start cooking without stress.  You can score zillions of free recipes from his website too. He offers a vegetarian book as well, which I purchased as an I-Phone app. Another great resource for getting the entire family involved is “What’s Cooking with Kids”

Remember, bonding happens in more ways than only over food. Friends invite friends to “catch up over lunch”. As an alternative, I’ve begun suggesting that we meet up for a walk, instead. It feeds two bunnies with one carrot, so to speak, because I save money and get my exercise. My friend and I both could probably use the opportunity to reduce our stress by exposing us to natural elements, such as sunshine, bird chatter, and fresh smells.  Our minds will expand and relax in this environment. Unlike eating in a restaurant, walking will improve our health, reduce our expenditures, and help us stay active so that maybe we won’t need to go to the gym tonight. Whenever I’ve suggested this, friends respond enthusiastically. We can pick a spot where one or both of us hasn’t visited before and experience something new for 30 minutes or so. How’s that for a healthy alternative?

So now, it’s your turn. What are your hurdles to cooking at home? What are you afraid of around home-cooking? What suggestions or inspirations do you have to share with others to help more of us eat in? Why do you think eating at home, versus in a restaurant, could be valuable to our time, our money, and our health? Please comment and then share this post with others whom you think could use a nudge.

Thanks for reading and sharing.
Affectionately,
Frances
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Sweet Potato Burrito

While scouring my fridge in search of ingredients for the perfect breakfast, I felt uninspired with the boring usuals: eggs, cheese, lettuce. Hum. But alas, the sweet potatoes from the night before caught my eye and helped drive me to this new culinary creation (for my tastebuds, anyway). The sweet potatoes and blue cheese perform brilliantly in this flavorful symphony. Because the sweet potatoes were already prepared, the ingredients were simple to toss together. Mikey’s feedback was, “Mmmmm. Good compliment of flavors!” I took it as a good sign that he ate his breakfast slowly with his eyes closed.

Nutritional Benefits: While our taste buds danced in delight, I also felt satisfied at that we were receiving 26 grams of high quality protein and 3 servings of vegetables. This meal meets 130% of omega-3 recommendations. It provides more than half of the daily recommended intake for fiber, and offers a balance of both soluble and insoluble fibers. On the down side, it contains 580 calories, over 900 mg of sodium, 450 mg of cholesterol, and 34 grams of fat. This can be a problem for some people who are restricting fat, calories, cholesterol or salt for specific reasons.  If you are  restricting these nutrients, you can replace the cheese with fresh herbs and spices, use water in place of oil, or share the burrito with someone else. However, for the general population, I believe this is a very healthy meal that packs a hefty dose of vitamins, minerals, healthful fats, and fiber. Most breakfast burritos won’t offer nearly the nutritional bang for your buck as this one does – see the nutrient composition at the end of this post. After enjoying this hearty burrito, I was left satisfied for hours without feeling a need to snack.  I hope you’ll try this recipe and offer your feedback.

Thanks for reading. If you like this post, please rate it “5 stars” and share with others!

Cheers to colorful, flavorful, nutritious food!

-Frances

Serves 2 hungry tummies

4 eggs (can exchange all or part eggs with firm tofu. follow recipe the same as if using 4 eggs, and maybe add some turmeric or curry powder)

1/4 cup shredded cheese

1 cup diced, cooked sweet potatoes (seasoned or unseasoned)

1/2 – 1 cup chopped fresh summer tomato

1 cup chopped onion

1 cup salad greens (suggestions: spinach, salad mix, kale, collard, or shredded cabbage)

2 medium-large whole-grain tortilla shells (can be substituted with great bread)

1-ounce Blue cheese crumbles

1 tbsp fresh basil, chopped

salt & pepper to taste

handful fresh cilantro (no limit here!)

4 Tbsp plain, low-fat yogurt (divided into 2 Tbsp)

Preparation – Assemble all ingredients on a clean counter space:

  1. Place your pre-cooked sweet potatoes in a microwaveable bowl and heat until comfortably hot while eggs are cooking.
  2. Chop onions, tomatoes, and basil.
  3. Shred cheese, if needed.
  4. Wash your salad greens and cilantro. Trim only the bottom of the cilantro stem. No need to pull every leaf from the stem.

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Saute’ basil, onion, chopped tomatoes, salt & pepper over med-low heat. When the onion becomes fragrant, whip eggs directly into the pan. Continue scrambling eggs. If the pan begins to dry, add water, 2 Tbsp at a time (will steam your food without adding extra fat). Remove from heat, add shredded cheese and cover with a fitted lid to allow cheese to melt.

While cheese is melting, arrange burrito shells on plates and top with salad greens. Divide egg mixture over burrito shells. Divide sweet potatoes among shells, placing to the side of eggs. Dollop yogurt along the side of potatoes. Top with blue cheese and handfuls of cilantro.

Suggestions for Grace: Give thanks to the farmers, truck drivers, grocers, earth, and mineral kingdom for contributing to your food. Or anything else you might like to say before eating your scrumptious meal.

Nutritient Breakdown (Approximate)

Thiamin – 0.29 mg – 27%

Riboflavin – 0.79 mg – 72%

Niacin – 1.41 mg – 10%

Vitamin B6– 0.53 mg – 41%

Vitamin B12 – 1.58 µg – 66%

Folate – 99.05 µg -25%

Vitamin C – 27.98 mg -37%

Vitamin D -1.58 µg -32%

Vitamin A – 2534.33 µg – 362%

Vitamin E – 4.81 mg – 32%

Calcium 378.27 mg – 38%

Iron 3.04 mg- 9%

Magnesium 63.72 mg – 21%

Potassium – 847.3-3 mg -18%

Zinc – 2.84 mg-35%

Omega-6 Linoleic 4.37 g -36%

Omega-3 Linolenic 1.43 g -130%

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In my world, every morning starts with a colorful burst. On average, I two – three servings of veggies or fruit at breakfast. If you consciously make an effort to start your day out with plant-based foods, you are well on your way to achieving – or possibly exceeding – the USDA’s recommendations of five servings per day. Personally, I think that five servings is meager and most people should be aiming for five – nine servings. This will help you manage your weight and arm you with defenses against chronic disease. However, if you are barely managing to swallow one or two servings, working your way up to five fruits and veggies is a great goal. You can start with my easy-breezy rainbow frittata with potatoes & avocado. I prepared the entire breakfast for two in less than 20 minutes.

Tips: 

  1. You can make it faster by using pre-cut, organic veggies. For this fritatta, I used pre-cut broccoli from Trader Joes and potato wedges from Costco.
  2. Rather than making a special purchase of specific items, use what you have. If you don’t have broccoli, use spinach. If you don’t have fresh tomatoes, use canned or sun-dried. See where I’m headed here?
  3. This recipe is versatile. You can opt to scramble the ingredients or turn it into an omelet by flipping it halfway through. Or, you can opt to bake it at 350 degrees for 20-25 min, or until complete (test by inserting a knife or fork into eggs. It is complete when it comes out clean.)
  4. You may also notice my lack of salt in this recipe. The cheese contains a lot of salt, and the veggies carry their own flavors that can be lost with the domination of salt. You can opt to use spices and herbs, such as garlic, cilantro, chives, dill, or parsley to add a flavorful and nutritious punch to this meal.
I use smaller portions than most Americans are used to enjoying. Small portions are healthy, but you may need to adjust your recipe size if you think. 
Ingredients: 
4 large eggs
1/4 cup low-fat milk
1/4-1/2 cup shredded cheese
1 head of broccoli, chopped
1/4 cup purple onion, chopped or sliced
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 avocado, sliced
2-3 cups frozen potato wedges (free of trans-fats/hydrogenated oils, please)
ketchup, mustard for potatoes
canola oil for cooking     
1. Heat 2 tbsp canola oil in large skillet over med-low heat. You will need a fitting lid for a frittata. If you do not have this, prepare to either flip the eggs halfway through cooking (like an omelet) or scramble the eggs.
2. Combine eggs and milk and stir with a fork until blended. Avoid over-stirring.
3. Rinse broccoli, onion and tomatoes. Slice, dice, or chop them.
4. Lovingly pour egg batter into skillet. Sprinkle cheese and veggies evenly around egg mixture. Cover with lid (for frittata version).
5. While fritatta is cooking, prepare potatoes according to directions. 
6. Your frittata is finished when the eggs have cooked from top to bottom (by using the lid, you are trapping steam that is poaching the eggs and steaming the veggies) and the veggies are brightly cooked but not overdone.
7. Assemble avocado slices w/ potatoes and frittata just before eating.
Before eating, consider for the multiple systems that work in order to bring you this wonderful, colorful food. Give thanks for your blessings. Enjoy.
Thanks for reading!
Stay happy and healthy,
Frances
Tell me what you think. Please post your comments below!

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The foods you keep handy everyday will either support or deter your healthy habits. Bringing home cheetos, oreos, and koolaid clearly won’t support a nutritious diet that promotes healthy weight. Keep fresh foods around in a form that is easy for anyone in your family to grab and munch on. You can crowd out the less healthy snack options by opting to bring more of the nutritious goodies home and keeping them in plain sight. Here is a short list of easy snacks I keep available regularly in my household. For best results, allow yourself a few minutes one day per week to prepare these handy-dandy delights for the rest of your week.

  • Foods easily eaten by the handful: grapes, berries, cherry tomatoes
  • Sliced fruits: kiwi, melon, pineapple, pears, and apples with low-fat yogurt or a couple tablespoons of nut butter (it’s healthy, but mind the fat and calories, Friend!) 
  • On-the-go fruit: bananas, apples, homemade smoothies
  • Sliced veggies great for hummus or yogurt dip: Carrots, celery, jicama, cucumber, zucchini, bell peppers
  • Whole grain, low-fat crackers containing at least 3 g fiber, such as Mary’s Gone Crackers  (gluten-free) or Kashi
  • Sliced cheese
  • Popcorn (trans-fat free, please). Try these recipes for deliciously healthy versions.

For best results, be sure that these yummy foods are readily munchable. When you are hungry for a snack, chances are that you’ll grab the fastest foods available. These foods need to be in a ready-to-munch state, and they are more likely to be consumed if they are in plain sight. Invite consumption of fruits  by placing them in a bowl on the kitchen table or counter top. Keep cut veggies and other fruits handy at eye level and in clear containers in the refrigerator.

Have other suggestions for easy snack ideas? Please share them with the rest of us in the comments below.

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When it comes to ensuring that you are able to provide you and your family good nourishment, many people are overwhelmed by the preparation involved in healthy eating. However, with a little organization and foresight, you can give promote healthy eating while saving yourself time and money. Here are some simple tips:

1.How much time will you have to prepare and eat your meal? If you don’t have time to cook breakfast on weekday mornings, prepare it the night before and have it ready to grab and go in the morning.

2. Think four meals/snacks ahead. This should account for your breakfast, lunch, and snacks. If you arm yourself with the food you’ll need to get through until dinner (2 meals, 2 snacks), you won’t be tempted to eat vending machine foods during your afternoon crash.

3. Cook your foods on the weekends and store safely in the fridge or freezer for easy meals during the week.

4. Use a rice cooker and a crock pot. I use my rice cooker for practically every grain, including oatmeal, quinoa, and millet. If I want oatmeal in the morning, I stage the entire set-up the night before. When I wake up, I hit “start” and forget about the oatmeal until it’s ready for me just before leaving the house. Crock-pots can cook for you slowly while you are away, and allow you to return home to a finished meal at the end of your day.

5. Pack tomorrow’s meals/snacks tonight. If you wake up late, your rush will likely cause you to leave the house without your day of nourishment, setting you up for stress on top of hunger and inadequate energy.

Please share your comments and suggestions for the rest of us!

Thanks for reading. Stay happy and healthy!

Frances

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My most memorable experience foraging wild food, was without question, when I was on a family vacation to Vermont. We made an entire wild meal out of freshly caught fish, wild mushrooms and wild blueberry pie. In college, I used to pluck the bushy dandelion greens and steam them down to eat with my rice and beans. I discovered tangy rose hips through my friend Aaron as it abundantly peppered the large bushes near my apartment. Recently, while visiting my former roommate Sarah, I discovered that the weeds she was fervently removing from her yard were not really weeds. In fact, she had dozens of chard and sorrel plants. They volunteered themselves, but because Sarah did not recognize them as food, she was overwhelmed by their prolific presence. Now, she can enjoy the sweetly tasting salad bowl growing effortlessly in her yard.

These are the highlights of my limited experiences in eating wild foods. If you are like me, I have not been educated enough to  eat many wildly growing plants because I don’t know how to distinguish the safe one from the deadly. When it comes to eating wild plants, distinguishing edible from poisonous is what can mean life or death.

I am happy to report, however, the discovery of a very well educated scientist who has made food foraging his life’s work and passion – John Kallas. Since Mr. Kallas is in the Seattle area this weekend, I will attend his workshops, where he will share the expertise he has gained in the 35 years of his studies. He has traveled, taught, and researched extensively to perfect his skills. My fiance and I had the pleasure of attending his book-signing/lecture tonight; it was insightful, thoughtful, and entertaining. Of course, we bought his book because its pages are lined with the skill and knowledge of an expert that has been distilled for the novice. It is filled with vivid and artistic photographs and scrumptious recipes that beg me to forage today so that I can re-invent my ordinary meals by adding wild foods. And since Mr. Kallas earned his PhD in Nutrition, he is able to provide the nutritional content of wild foods he teaches us to forage. What more could I ask for?

I’m hoping that you will check out his website too, and perhaps give his book a try.

Please comment: have you ever eaten wild foods, and what were they?

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March is National Nutrition Month, so please indulge me in sharing with you the many reasons why consulting with a Registered Dietitian (RD) is a SMART choice:

1. You have diabetes. Many people think that having diabetes means the end of enjoyable foods. The dietary restrictions can seem overwhelming, which is one reason why diabetics quit managing their diets. Unfortunately, diabetes is a very serious illness, and if not managed properly, the consequences can be quite serious: limb amputations, kidney disease, kidney failure, coma, and more. Your diet is an integral component to managing this disease well. Your RD will teach you about lifestyle management, such as weight loss (if needed) and physical activity. And best of all, your RD can help you continue enjoying many of your favorite foods safely, without sacrificing taste or nutrition.

For diabetic recipes, click here

For diabetic lifestyle tips, click here

Photo credit: http://www.marketonmain.co.za

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