Layered Taco Dip

Football season has officially begun. That means baseball playoff time is about to start and hockey season is on its way. My husband and I enjoy fun game-day food and this 6+ layered taco dip is no exception. Don’t get scared it seems like a lot of ingredients when it’s 6 layers but believe me, it takes about 15 minutes to throw together. The layers are super easy and packed with tons of nutrients like heart healthy fats, protein, fiber, calcium, and a whole lot of vitamins.

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Here’s the deal, not everything that is low in calories is healthy and not everything that is higher in calories is unhealthy. Calories are not the measure of health. This recipe does not use fat free anything except the salsa, tomatoes, and lettuce that are naturally fat free. 🙂 The recipe uses real ingredients that provide your body essential nutrients it needs to improve your health.

I first took the cream cheese out of the frig and let it warm up a bit just so it was easier to incorporate into the Greek yogurt and taco seasoning. I added a touch of sour cream but you certainly don’t have to because the Greek yogurt does the job. Mixing in the taco seasoning, I whipped all of those ingredients together.

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The vegetarian refried beans went down into the dish first. It is a nice firm base and one of those power houses to this dish with tons of fiber and protein. I chose vegetarian because it has no saturated fat.

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The Greek yogurt mixture went on top of the beans. Salsa came next and is packed with lycopene, vitamin C, and many other vitamins and minerals. You can certainly use homemade salsa but I used canned for this recipe. Shredded romaine lettuce is one of the stars of the show and I put this on top of the salsa. It’s crunchy with a bold color, mild flavor, and a great source of vitamin A. Next came shredded cheddar cheese. If you wanted to lower the saturated fat in the recipe you can certainly leave it out. I personally don’t think it added much to the dish except a fun yellow color and a little bit of protein. After the cheese you can use your imagination. I used tomatoes, minced black olives, and avocado. You’ll see in the picture that half of it had all three and the other half didn’t have tomatoes or olives. My taste vs my husbands.

This is a fun dish that you can get creative with. If you wanted to go vegan you could omit the Greek yogurt and cream cheese and just use silken tofu with the taco seasoning likewise omitting the cheddar cheese and use dairy alternatives. If you wanted to add more veggies consider adding scallions, peppers, shredded carrots, or shredded zucchini. Go wild! Instead of refried beans you could do crushed black beans or hummus. Make as many layers as you want and try your own layered dip!

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Layered Taco Dip
Ingredients:
1, 16 oz can vegetarian refried beans
8 oz package of 1/3 fat cream cheese (neufchatel)
5 oz container of 2% Greek yogurt
1/2 packet of taco seasoning (without trans fats)
1/3 cup sour cream
8 oz jarred salsa (you can also use pico de gallo or  homemade salsa)
2 cups shredded romaine lettuce
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 tomato or 2-3 small tomatoes diced
2-3 tablespoons black olives (I used minced but use whatever you like)
1/2 diced avocado (if you are keeping this dip out all day mix the diced avocado with lime juice

Directions:
1. Spread refried beans on the bottom of a square or rectangle glass dish.
2. Mix cream cheese, Greek yogurt, sour cream, and taco seasoning in a medium bowl and spread over refried beans.
3. Place salsa over the yogurt mixture and sprinkle lettuce over the salsa.
4. Sprinkle the cheddar cheese evenly over the lettuce.
5. Add the toppings.

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Serve immediately with flour, corn, whole grain, or your choice of tortilla chips. You can also keep this refrigerated until service. Remember to keep it on ice during your party!

This recipe is gluten free (check taco seasoning), nut free, egg free

A Little About Amanda

I’m a registered dietitian with a love for food, cooking, recipe creation, and making eating better simple and easy to understand. Nutrition doesn’t have to be complex. I will simplify the confusing nutrition information you may hear, share some real life experiences, create simple yet healthy recipes, and give reliable and easy cooking tips to help improve the well-being of you and your family.

After a 10 year career as a clinical, outpatient, and corporate dietitian I hung up my heels and strapped on my flip flops. Life changes when you have 3 kids 4 and under. Don’t worry, two of those are twin babies. Amidst this crazy stay-at-home-mom and wife life, I have the opportunity to run this blog, cook for my family, and still provide nutrition education. I thank God every day that He blessed me with this fantastic life.

When I’m not cooking, eating, or thinking about food I enjoy traveling and being active outdoors! I love seeing new places, meeting new people, kayaking, hiking, being a beach bum, and spending time with my family. If it’s football season I’m watching the Steelers, if it’s hockey season (when isn’t it?) I’m cheering on my Penguins, and during baseball season I enjoy raising the Jolly Roger for the Pittsburgh Pirates!

Lactation Energy Bites

For all the breastfeeding mamma’s out there who need some energy and more milk, there are some foods that can help increase your milk production. They are called galactogogue(s) (ga-lacto-gog). I was successful breastfeeding my daughter for about 9 months and my twins for about 5 (I was a pumper with them). I dreamed of going longer with both but I have no guilt because I tried and they got some important breast milk early on in their lives. I’m also not a pusher of breastfeeding, although I think it’s important, I totally understand why people choose not to (or in some cases can’t for various reasons). Heck, our ancestors used wet nurses when a woman couldn’t nurse…no the baby didn’t starve, they just used a woman who was a breastfeeding machine and that was awesome!

In any rate I super support the breastfeeding mamma and I wanted to share the lactation energy bites that I made while trying to nurse my twins.

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1 cup quick oats (can use old fashioned too)
1/2 cup toasted coconut
1/2 cup ground flax seed
1/4 cup chia seeds
3/4 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (can grind them up too)
3/4 cup peanut butter
1/3 cup honey

Mix, refrigerate, ball them up, and enjoy!

NOTES: many recipes call for brewers yeast. At the time I didn’t have any on hand but would have sprinkled some in as well. Also if you or your baby has a nut allergy you can opt for sunflower or soy butter. If you or your baby have issues with dairy check the chocolate chips (you can find dairy free chocolate chips that taste amazing!). Gluten intolerance? Check your oats and opt for ones that specifically say they are gluten free!

Galactogogues include:

  • Oatmeal
  • Flax seed
  • Brewers yeast
  • Garlic
  • Fennel
  • Fenugreek
  • Water (not technically a galactagogue but you need it!)
  • Mother’s Milk tea (a combination of some of the above herbs)

Another way to keep your milk supply up is to keep your stress low! I know it is a hectic time with a new baby (or 2) and trying to feed them well but step back and enjoy the beauty of life! Don’t forget to eat either. Dad’s or other support system providers, FEED THESE WOMEN! They are doing enough work by producing milk, give them calories through healthy meals. Remember, they need 500 extra calories to breastfeed adequately (more for twins and multiples). Three meals a day plus snacks are needed to get in these extra calories.

Final Thoughts: I’m nowhere near an expert on breastfeeding and I love to give credit where credit is due! If you need help with breast feeding, contact a Lactation Consultant. They are educated and the experts on breastfeeding. Find one here: International Lactation Consultant Association. A huge shout out to Shannon, my IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant) who was there for me and my daughter with her tongue tie and my twins! Thank you!

Calories don’t exist on your birthday and other things I want you to know

With all the fixes and diets and guilt about food there are some things I want you to know about eating to simplify your life. These are just a few things I’ve picked out from a list a mile long, but are my favorite. Enjoy!

  1. Calories do not count on your birthday. It’s your birthday! Just celebrate another year of life that God gave you! Go out to eat, get what you want most (not what has the least amount of calories), and for the love of food, eat cake or pie or ice cream or whatever gets you going for your birthday. Celebrate! Now, the days before and the days after should be like any other day but on your day, stop worrying and seize the moment!
  2. Be picky about what you eat. Listen, if you don’t like something don’t waste your calories on it. Seriously. There’s nothing less satisfying than eating a dull rendition of food just to eat it. Yuck. I don’t care if that bran cereal has 25% of your daily fiber needs if it is gross, get your fiber from somewhere else throughout your day. Similarly if its really high in calories but tastes bad, don’t waste those calories!
  3. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. If the diets you’ve been on in the past do not lead to life long weight loss THEY DON’T WORK. Sure they help you lose weight temporarily but if it is not feasible enough for you to stick with it for the rest of your life, it wasn’t a good diet and it didn’t work. An overall healthy diet, that is feasible for you to do for the rest of your life, is the secret to well-being.
  4. Choose one thing about your diet to change at a time. Instead of saying “I’m starting my healthy diet today” and doing a complete 180 revamp, just choose one change to focus on and stick with it. Once you have that down, move on to your next goal. Work on each goal for about 1 week until you feel confident that you can put something else on your plate. Having 3-4 changes in a month instead of 10 changes all at once is a lot easier to chew on. I call that the diet snowball or the nutrition snow ball. I don’t take all the credit, my husband coined the term 🙂
  5. Find what is motivating you from the inside. So you want to eat better. So what? What are you wanting from your diet? What about a better diet is important to you? It probably has nothing to do with diet and everything to do with what you find important in your life. THAT will keep you motivated. Write it down and put it in places where you will see it. Refrigerator, dashboard, computer at work, bathroom mirror, or make it the wallpaper on your phone.

A healthy diet or lifestyle isn’t about a bunch of rules, it’s about what works for you for the rest of your life. Change should be gradual. Start with what you want, make small changes to get to your goals, make sure your changes are feasible to continue for the rest of your life, don’t eat just to eat, and for the love of food just enjoy your birthday without worrying about calories!

Final thoughts: fad diets, exercise programs that “sell” nutrition, and people who claim to be experts are the quint-essential food rule makers. RED FLAGS!

Challenge – set a small goal for yourself this week. Want to drink more water? Pick an amount to strive towards. Want to eat breakfast instead of skipping it? Find something you enjoy eating (my personal favorite is hard boiled eggs!). Want to fit in more veggies? Start by having a serving for lunch and for dinner. Before you know it you’ll be a master at the change you’ve made and can start making more!

Simply Eat Better

There is so much information out there about how to eat, what to eat, and when to eat. The do’s, don’ts, rules, regulations, and laws are just enough to make you crazy! Much of the nutrition information out there isn’t even from someone legit. Side note: I’m not here to call out the fakes although some days I would like to, I’m here to give you feasible and educated information so that you can work through it to find whats best to move your health forward.

There’s no cookie cutter right way or wrong way of eating. There’s no perfect diet and that’s the great thing about nutrition! It’s always a journey to be better, to eat better. I don’t want to tell you what to eat, I simply want to give guidance and recommendations letting you choose what to change.

Here are 10 simple guidelines for a better diet:

  1. Eat less. Even if that’s all you change, just eating less will improve your overall health because chances are you eat more than you should. This not only helps with weight management but studies show that being overweight or obese increases the risk of heart disease and cancer. Try smaller plates, keeping food in the kitchen instead of on the table, and ordering smaller sizes at restaurants.
  2. Eat more often. Eating every 3-4 hours helps to keep you from getting ravenously hungry and lets your metabolism run smoothly. Small nutrient rich snacks in between meals are key. Think about foods like nuts, seeds, yogurt, string cheese, fruit, and veggies.
  3. Slow down. Enjoy the flavors of your food. It should take you 15-30 minutes to eat a meal. As a mom of  twins and a four year old sometimes when I give that advice I think HAH yeah right! But seriously food should be savored not scarfed. When is the last time you truly smelled, tasted, and felt what you were eating? Food is as much for nourishment as it is for the soul.
  4. Eat more vegetables. The recommendations are to eat at least 3 servings daily. If you can get more than 3 servings that is AWESOME! Eat up! 1/2 cup cooked or 1 cup lightly steamed or raw are considered servings. Lunch and dinner are perfect for vegetables but there’s no stopping you from sauteing mushrooms and spinach with your eggs for breakfast or crunching on some snap peas with hummus for a snack.
  5. Eat just enough fruits. Shoot for at least 2 daily. Local seasonal fruits are packed with nutrients and super delicious! Blueberries in the summer, apples in the fall, tropical fruit in the winter, strawberries in the spring. Head to your local farmers market for the best deals and watch the sale adds in your grocery store for budgeting.
  6. Work in some whole grains. Don’t box yourself into just whole wheat. I mean, wheat is fine but branch out a bit! Think about barley, farro, buckwheat, quinoa, corn, brown and black rice…the list could go on! Whole grains provide tons of fiber, protein, and B vitamins. Get as whole as possible!
  7. Forget the fat fear. Fat should not be avoided! Especially plant fats. Eat avocados, olives, oils, nuts, and/or seeds regularly. Animal fats like butter, sour cream, and cream cheese are fine in small amounts. Try to buy organic animal products when possible. That’s a post for another day!
  8. Spice it up! Instead of adding a ton of salt to food try herbs and spices. I’ve used Gourmet Garden’s guide when trying new ones http://www.gourmetgarden.com/en/herb-guide.  I think it’s the most helpful pairing guide out there.
  9. Love the legumes. Beans, peas, and lentils are packed with protein, fiber, and nutrients. Not only are they amazing for your health but they are budget friendly. Legumes go great in soups, salads, and side dishes. Because they are so high in protein you can use them instead of meat!
  10. Go to a dietitian and talk about your nutrition goals. When looking for the best nutrition advice do not go to a doctor, chiropractor, “nutritionist”, health coach, or any other self proclaimed nutrition guru. I promise that I have made right so many wrongs from past clients that have gone to these people about their diets first. Interested in seeing a dietitian, check out: http://www.eatright.org/find-an-expert. Look for the credentials “RDN” (Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist), “RD” (Registered Dietitian), “LD” (Licensed Dietitian), or “LDN” (Licensed Dietitian/Nutritionist).

Diet isn’t a four letter word. Diet is simply what you eat day in and day out. Having a love hate relationship with food is no way to live. Enjoy food and be comfortable with it and around it. Health and wellness isn’t about torturing your body, starving yourself, avoiding food, and guilt trips. It’s about saddling up for a delicious adventure that will take you from where you are to a healthier you.

Final thoughts: I don’t know where each and every one of you are at on your journey through the wide world of nutrition but I do know this: I’ve been a dietitian for over a decade and I’ve talked to many people. The ones who are willing to take the guidance, take action, take the steps to improve their diet, and take accountability for choices are the ones who continue to progress towards a healthy eating pattern.

Nutrition Challenge: this week take a look at your diet and decide what you’d like to change about it. Work on one change that is most important to you.

Healthy Kitchen Must-Haves

Eating well requires meal preparation. That means I need to have quality foods in my pantry and the ability to prepare them. There is a list of food and kitchen items that are essential in my kitchen and I wanted to share. If you are new to the cooking world or maybe are wondering what a healthy kitchen could have to offer, here are some of my favorites.

Food Must-Haves (besides the typical foods on a grocery list…)

  1. Fats and oils. This is number one because they get a bad rap but these are essential for healthy living. From canola and olive oil to organic butter and vegan butter spreads these are a staple in my kitchen. The best oils include canola and olive but also include grape seed, avocado, and walnut oils. I like canola oil for its mild taste, high omega-3 content, high cooking point, and price tag. Grape seed oil is a close second but the price tag makes me shiver a little. It’s great for a special occasion or recipe. Olive oil is a power house in the heart health world packed with mono-unsaturated fatty acids. Great for finishing dishes like salads and pastas, not so great for cooking at high heat. Organic butter (or pasture raised/free range if I can find it) is an essential in my house. It works great at higher heats, wonderful for adding a pop of flavor to dishes, and doesn’t have the additives that some butter-like spreads have. Vegan butter spreads are also a staple in my house but mostly for buttering breads and throwing a little in steamed veggies.
  2. Herbs and spices. I cook with herbs and spices daily whether it goes into eggs for breakfast, salad dressing for my lunch, or any number of them flavoring dinners these are a staple. The top herbs I use are parsley, cilantro, chives, oregano, and basil. My spices of choice are black pepper, turmeric, paprika, cayenne pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ground ginger.
  3. Variety of vinegars. I. Love. Vinegar. Balsamic, white balsamic, red wine, white wine, apple cider, rice, champagne, the list can go on! I haven’t met a vinegar I didn’t like! I use vinegar daily. Mostly in salad dressings, marinades, and pops of flavor in sauces. There are specific vinegars I use depending on my mood and the dish. Apple cider is my most used. This is so versatile and so good for your body! Balsamic is more for sweet/savory dishes. Red wine is used a lot in Greek and Italian cuisine. Rice is a sweet vinegar that I like to add to salads and various Asian dishes. For a fancy vinaigrette dressing I’ll pull out the white balsamic, white wine, or champagne vinegar and add some fresh herbs!

Kitchen Must-Haves

  1. Sharp Knives. A good set (3) of sharp knives can be the difference between quick preparation and keeping all of your fingers and tedious cooking and stitches. For real you just need 3…a chefs knife, paring knife, serrated knife. They must be sharp, if not buy yourself a sharpener. Hand wash to keep sharp. You’ll thank me, I promise!
  2. Stainless steel pots and pans. Get rid of your non-stick stuff. As soon as it scratches the non-stick companies do not promise that it is safe anymore…take a look. Is it scratched? Then it’s probably not safe. Replace one pot at a time unless you have a budget for a new set of pots and pans. I have a variety of different brands of stainless steel pots/pans and I like them all for different reasons! It may not look fancy but I’m a simple kind of girl 🙂 Use healthy oils to cook with and if the pot gets burnt on the bottom (which it shouldn’t if you are paying attention while you cook) just use a bristled brush or a scour pad to clean.
  3. Wooden cutting board(s). Instead of the plastic stuff or the glass cutting boards that can make your sharp knives dull invest in some good wooden cutting boards. These do not dull knives and they stay a lot longer than plastic. Sure you can’t wash them in a dishwasher but a little soap and brush will get them clean quick. Side note: I do not cut meat. If you do just have 2 cutting boards an animal protein one and a plant one.

Those are the six items that I truly cannot live without in my kitchen. I build my healthy meals around these items every day!

Final thoughts: make sure you have some staples in your pantry and basic kitchen tools so that you have the ability to cook a variety of healthy meals for you and your family. Shop for discounts, head to a thrift store or yard sales for kitchen tools…I have found some great deals! I have a can opener that I got before graduate school at a yard sale and she’s still opening cans of beans for me 10 years later!

Challenge: think about the staples that you have in your pantry. Are they beneficial for your health?

Body Image

I swore that I would be as open and honest with you as possible. Here it comes. Any dietitian will tell you they either struggle with body image issues or are currently struggling with their body image. Unfortunately we are the experts in food and nutrition and that means we should know exactly what to put in our bodies to make us look like we know what we are doing. Well guess what? We are human and we are living life just like everyone else. We have body image issues just like the rest of the millions of women and men out there…the struggle is real.

Here’s the deal. I had twins 7 months ago. What a truly significant blessing it was/is to have these little guys in my life! I also have a 4 year old who is just as spunky as she is cute. I will never blame my body image issues on my children. It’s not their fault. [Side note if you are blaming your children for the way you look, stop right there and re-evaluate those thoughts and what you are saying to your kids about that.] Throughout both pregnancies I gained an appropriate amount of weight for each a singleton and a twin pregnancy. Not surprisingly I don’t look like I did when I was 25 and this week, for some reason, I’m really bothered by that.

I was heavily convicted today about my self talk. As a Christian I want to ensure that how I’m portraying myself would be the same way Jesus would portray me. At one point this week I referred to the size of my clothing as “fatty”. I’m ashamed! That is the same exact thing I counsel my patients not to do and here I am being super negative towards my body. Here’s what I was convicted of: God loves my body so much and I felt Him wondering why I didn’t love it the same. I’m pretty sure if God could be offended, He was at that point. HE MADE ME!!!!! I was basically bullying my body, the body that God has created specially for me, in this time, at this moment. She ran circles around the boys in the neighborhood as a little kid. This body has hiked mountains and walked down the aisle to her best friend at their wedding. She carried 3 healthy babies and mourned for another. This body has taken me through 33 years of life and has yet to let me down. Why would I treat it with such disrespect? This body is a temple and I have been verbally vandalizing it.

Rant time (I promise it’ll circle back to the main point): I am sick and tired of pyramid diet and exercise schemes. I’m sick and tired of people talking about getting skinny. I’m exhausted just hearing what the next great eating plan, fad diet, shakeologizing, orthorexic (look it up), body image crushing, social media promoting, “health expert” has to say about how you should eat, what you should look like, or how amazing life is because you’re drinking an unknown substance before a workout. Listen, I know I’m offending a lot of people here and if the above is your thing and you stop reading at this point that’s fine but I encourage you to hear me out.

YOU DON’T NEED ANY OF THAT STUFF TO BE EXACTLY WHAT GOD MADE YOU TO BE

My body image issues are just like yours. Secrets out, I don’t need a magic shake, an expensive workout video, a wonder-pill, a diet of starvation and exclusion. I need to be filled with joy that God made me. I need to be healthy NOT because society says so but because God wants me to honor His temple by how I treat it. God led me to become a dietitian and I’m so grateful. I love my profession and everything we stand for. A diet that promotes overall wellness was never intended to make people skinny. A way of eating healthfully is intended to prevent disease and promote well-being. Sure, weight management is recommended to prevent many diseases and promote holistic wellness but it’s not the end-all-be-all. I’d much rather have an individual who is “overweight” that eats well, exercises regularly, manages stress appropriately, and loves their body as opposed to a person who is “skinny” starves themselves, exercises only because they ate something that had too many calories, is stressed out because they are worried about how they look, and hates their body. Don’t let the devil lie to you and say that the only thing that matters is how you look. It was a rough week and I don’t wish that on anyone.

Final thoughts: This isn’t a typical post for me. I just want to make sure we stop beating ourselves up over our body. These things are pretty amazing. Feed it well, not because you’ll look better but because you’ll feel better. Move your body more, not because your belly won’t hang over your pants but because it will ache less. Manage your stress, not because it’s cool to “have it all together” but because worrying less about the small stuff allows us to fill up on the little joys that make life so amazing.

Challenge: be good to yourself and others, be positive to yourself and others. Kindness matters. Be kind, be gentle, be brave, and do something great because in the end of life it is not going to matter how much you weigh, what size of clothes you wore, if you ate 100% organic or “clean” or how many burpees you could do…it’ll matter how you treated yourself and others. Jesus loves you just the way you are…He’ll meet you in whatever capacity you find yourself. Allow Him to fulfill your life, not food/exercise/materialistic stuff.

Garlic Lemon Green Bean Almandine

My aunt has huge gardens. She’s on vacation this week so my mom and I harvested tons of cucumbers and green beans. Thank you Aunt Nancy! In any regard we’ve been having a lot of cooked green beans and my daughter’s favorite, creamy cucumbers. Tonight for dinner I decided to try out something else.

Who doesn’t like a good green bean almandine? It reminds me of a fancy dinner but you know me, simple is the way to go! So here it is:

Garlic Lemon Green Bean Almandine

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound fresh green beans
  • 3 tablespoons organic butter
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1/4 cup diced onion
  • 1/4 cup slivered almonds (I buy whole almonds and just cut them with a knife – its cheaper)
  • salt to taste

Directions:

  1. Steam green beans until slightly crunchy
  2. While green beans are steaming, melt butter over medium high heat in a large skillet
  3. Cook garlic and onions until onions are transparent
  4. Add the slivered almonds to the skillet
  5. Place green beans over the butter, garlic, onions, and almonds
  6. Cook beans until desired texture and then season with salt to taste

NOTES:

  • If you don’t have fresh green beans, frozen works just fine
  • You can use canola oil or olive oil blend for cooking instead of butter

They came out fantastically! Crunchy yet tender. The almonds gave it a nutty flavor without being too over powering and the lemon and garlic gave it a zesty undertone. Refreshing!

Crunch, zesty, flavorful
Crunch, zesty, flavorful

Final thoughts: I love taking typical foods and putting a twist on them. Sometimes my recipes are trial and error. I dream of a delicious BBQ sauce recipe that I don’t have to dump. It’s been a few years in the making. These green beans came out delicious in the first try and sometimes that’s the luck! Once you get the hang of cooking, making up recipes gets easier because you can go with the flow! My wonderful friend and dietitian side-kick Heather once said “baking is a science but cooking is an art” and it is so true! Cooking doesn’t require the exact amounts of anything for it to turn out delicious!

Challenge: make up your own recipe!

Quick Family Dinners

I do not have children in school yet but as a stay at home mom with 2 babies and a preschooler I need quick dinners. Let’s be honest, all the moms out there, we are surviving! I had a goal when I first became a mom and that was to feed my children the best that I could as often as I could. You see, as a realistic dietitian, I know that sometimes a fast food meal is completely acceptable because we are surviving but I don’t want to give my kiddos fast food as a norm. I also cannot afford to spend hours in the kitchen preparing gourmet meals because I have 3 kids 4 and under. So what do I do? I cook quick and healthy. I thought I would share some tips for making quick and healthy family meals along with a few recipes.

  1. Set it and forget it! Slow cookers are incredible. I swear a working mom had to invent this thing. When I’m doing a slow cooker meal I put the meat and the marinade in the crock the night before and then throw the crock in the refrigerator until the morning. My most recent slow cooker recipe was chicken breast, fresh tomatoes, and a McCormick spice mix (mojito lime) made like the directions on the pack. It was superb! The spice mix was great and except for the corn syrup was all spices and salt. I served it with corn on the cob and creamy cucumbers (sour cream and vinegar…more on the vinegary side).
  2. You go grill! I love using the grill…actually I love making marinades for the meat and veggies that my husband takes and grills. I make a wonderful adobo pork tenderloin that gets grilled. I use the adobo sauce from the canned peppers, lime and orange juice, splash of red wine vinegar, garlic, cumin, turmeric, some fresh herbs (whatever I’ve planted that season) and salt/pepper. I adapted my recipe from Eating Wells chipotle pork and I must say, since playing with the recipe I cannot give the precise measurements that I use but, wow…delicious every time! I would serve that with red skinned potatoes in olive oil and fresh herbs cooked on the grill and a delicious summer salad.
  3. Turn around turkey. Ground turkey is versatile. We add canned sloppy joe mix, taco seasoning (without hydrogenated oils), make turkey burgers and turkey meat loaf . I also add ground turkey to spaghetti sauce for a nice meat sauce and even do turkey meat balls. However you make turkey remember to incorporate whole grains and/or veggies to your meal to round it out.
  4. Fast cooking fish. Most fish cooks very quickly. Baked fish can be done in less than 30 minutes. Shrimp, mere minutes. Select only wild caught and sustainable. We’ll talk about more specifics on why in a later post but wild caught is better for the environment (and your body) and sustainably caught means we’ll have more fish in the future. In my usual meal planning holster I shoot for haddock, cod, tuna, salmon, and shrimp.
  5. Survival night. Yep we have a survival night. That can be anything from left overs to PB&J with cut up veggies or grilled cheese with tomato soup. Eating healthy doesn’t have to be gourmet. Make sure your meal is balanced with proteins, grains/starches, and vegetables…even if that means it is a salad and sandwich night.

Final thoughts: make sure your quick and easy meals have a protein (animal or vegetarian), grain or starchy vegetable, and a non-starchy vegetable. Fill your plate with that non-starchy vegetable and check out my blog on having a balanced diet for more information on what that means!

Challenge: make a meal plan this week using recipes that are quick, easy, and healthy!

Spinach, Kale, and Artichoke Dip

I’m a sucker for warm dips. From buffalo chicken, to crab, and spinach artichoke dip. There’s nothing better to eat on a brisk football Saturday or Sunday than a savory warm dip! I watch the Food Network a lot…by a lot I mean some of the cooks/chefs are no longer guests in my house but members of the family (Guy, I’m talking about you!). I’m inspired by their passion for food and cooking as well as their funny personalities. Lately I have been watching Nancy Fuller who has a show called “Farm House Rules”. Many of her dishes are high fat, calorie, salt, sugar, etc but the reason I like her is the love she puts into her food. The other day she was making spinach dip and it inspired me. I wanted to make a rendition of warm spinach and artichoke dip that is packed with nutrients, has a little less calories, and a little less fat but still tastes amazing!

When I’m creating recipes I take ideas from many different sources. Whether it is just general knowledge of food science and nutrition or it is various recipes that I have read I tend to tie all of that together and viola, a new recipe. I sent my husband to the store for these ingredients and let him run wild on the brands. I don’t usually have a specific brand that I’m attached to because I’m a budget shopper and try to select the least expensive yet healthiest option.

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Missing from the photo is chopped frozen kale.

In any rate I heated a medium pot over medium-high heat, added oil, garlic, and onions. I sauteed these until the unions were soft and began literally throwing in the other ingredients. It was pretty simple and took me about 10 minutes overall. I made it in a pot but you could also make it in a slow cooker for game day and keep in on warm the entire day stirring it once in a while. Notice my shortcut garlic and short cut onions. Those are staples in my house (check out my blog on kitchen short cuts).

Nutrition Lesson: Unlike a typical spinach artichoke dip I used Greek yogurt instead of sour cream, 1/3 less fat cream cheese (neufchatel cheese…an actual French cheese), and part skim mozzarella cheese. I do not like fat free options unless it’s yogurt or milk. Especially when something should have fat (sour cream is literally cream [fat] that has been soured) it probably needs that fat to be that product…follow me? All cheese needs fat to keep it together including cream cheese. If you completely take out an essential ingredient like fat you have to add other things to it. There’s way too many food additives in what we eat so my tip is either use an alternative ingredient (like Greek yogurt) or use the real deal and just eat less.

Back to the recipe. I enjoyed playing with this recipe. It was the first time I’ve made it and it turned out pretty good! The only changes I would make would be to add even more veggies including artichokes (probably 1 1/2-2 cans), cooked cauliflower, shredded carrots, and shredded zucchini. I think they would be fantastic additions to this and boost those antioxidants!

Spinach, Kale, and Artichoke Dip
Ingredients:
2 teaspoons canola oil
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/3 cup diced onion (add more if you like)
8 oz 1/3 less fat cream cheese
16 oz plain Greek yogurt
2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
16 oz shredded part skim mozzarella cheese
1, 14 oz can artichoke hearts in brine, chopped (save the brine)
8 oz chopped frozen kale (defrosted and drained)
10 oz chopped frozen spinach (defrosted and drained)
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
salt to taste

Directions:
Heat canola oil over medium high heat in pot. Add 1 teaspoon minced garlic and diced onion. Saute until onion is tender. Lower heat to medium – low heat and add cream cheese, yogurt, Parmesan cheese, and mozzarella cheese and mix well until cheese is melted. Add chopped artichoke hearts and the brine and mix. Place kale and spinach in the cheese mixture and mix. Sprinkle nutmeg, pepper, and salt and mix. Allow dip to cook until ingredients marry (about 5 minutes). Place in serving dish, slow cooker, or keep warm on the stove until service.

NOTE: this is definitely a make ahead dip! Make it ahead and keep refrigerated until the party. Take it out and place into a small slow cooker. Serve with whole grain tortilla chips (corn, wheat, mix of grains). Nutmeg may seem weird but it adds another dimension of flavor!

Dietary restrictions: this recipe is gluten free (get GF tortilla chips), vegetarian, nut free, and soy free

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Final thoughts: Eating healthy doesn’t mean sacrificing flavor or fun. This recipe isn’t the lowest in calories but it is better than the original and also provides some nutrients through the veggies, probiotics with the yogurt, and and protein with the cheese. Enjoy!

Challenge: even if you don’t make “healthier” versions of your game-day favorites, just simply eating smaller portions. This will help your overall health!