Week 5 Challenge: Eat at Home

I love eating out. As a mom, I appreciate when a meal is prepared, delivered, and cleaned up for me…all I have to do is make a decision on where I want to go and what I want to eat. I like two types of restaurants…the old trusted places that serve my favorites and the new age modern farm to table type restaurants. I like different, ordering things I’ve never tried before, or what the wait staff thinks is awesome (they usually are pretty good judges). But eating out can get you in trouble with your weight management goals.

A lot of calories are hidden in the large dishes restaurants prepare. If you don’t remember anything else from this post remember that fat, sugar, and salt adds a lot of flavor so restaurants put a lot in their food. Why is that important? Making a similar dish at home can cut calories, fat, sugar, and salt, and quite possibly portion sizes, obviously helping with your weight management goals.

What does this mean? It means eating more homemade meals. It means cooking at home and preparing meals. For some of you this is scary. You’re busy, you have a full time job, you are a mom, father, you’re single and it’s hard to cook for one, you have a hectic schedule…I know, I get it. Not so long ago I was a wife, mom, and worked full time at a job I absolutely adored. Now I’m a full time stay at home wife/mom to an amazing husband and 3 beautiful children. Life is busy…and I have no doubt life will continue to be busy…for many years.

Even though life can be hectic I get so much joy out of making a delicious and healthy meal for my family. Since we have 3 little ones we don’t eat out much. We do get take out every week as a treat (mom doesn’t cook on Friday) but we save a lot of money and calories by eating homemade the other days.

Healthy cooking doesn’t have to be difficult, expensive, or time consuming. Cooking well does take some meal planning, grocery shopping, recipes (or ideas), and some kitchen equipment but it’s not as hard as you think!

So what are the real benefits of eating homemade food rather than eating out all the time?

  1. Saves you money. Sure the health benefits are there but if we are talking real life, it’s so much cheaper to make your own food than going out to eat.
  2. Less fat. Restaurants add butter, margarine, trans-fats, saturated fat, fat fat fat. Fat adds flavor…a lot of delicious flavor. At home you should definitely add fat to your food but use oils like canola, olive, grape seed, etc.
  3. Less salt. We eat too much salt. A lot of salt. Restaurants add salt because it tastes good. Even in while cooking pasta restaurants salt their water heavily.
  4. Less calories. From large portions to more fat and more sugar, eating out can pack on the calories! Cooking at home you can control the calories by cooking well and watching your portion sizes.
  5. It’s a good way to bring families together. From meal planning, to grocery shopping, and finally meal preparation cooking at home can include every member of the family. Kids can be an important part of eating well and kids tend to eat healthier if they are involved in meal preparation. Check out Eat Together PA for great tips!

Think about how much you eat out. Keep in mind breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks that you buy “out”. You don’t have to totally cut it out just cut back. Make it a goal this week to eat in (or pack from home) more than you eat out.

Weight for the Holidays

During my nutrition counseling days I used to be busy seeing people…right after the holidays. My dietitian friends and I used to joke around that no one goes to a priest right before Vegas, they obviously wait until after. Same for us…after the “holiday binge” people want to lose weight as their top New Years resolution. Here’s the thing…if weight loss is your resolution every year then whatever you’ve been doing isn’t working. I’ll be doing a series on weight loss for the New Years so stay tuned. Right now we aren’t talking about resolutions we are talking about managing your weight during the holidays.

Do you get nervous that you’ll gain weight during the holidays? Do you know you’ll gain weight during the holidays and just go “all out”? Have you ever thought that you weren’t in control of what you eat, especially around the holidays? Do you feel guilty about what you eat during the holidays because it may affect your weight loss/management goals?

If you answered YES to any of these question, this blog post is for you!

I consider the nutrition-holiday season, the time period from right before Halloween (when all the candy comes out) until New Years Day. You buy Halloween candy starting in September but you eat a few bags before trick-or-treat night. The Halloween candy that you have leftover after trick-or-treat lasts until Thanksgiving and then right after the Thanksgiving feast we move right on in to Christmas parties, cookies, candies, cakes, pies, snacks, drinks, celebrations, etc, etc, etc. See where I’m coming from? From September to January many people eat more calories than they do the other months of the year leading to weight gain.

On the other hand, what does a little Halloween candy hurt, why can’t I enjoy a Thanksgiving feast, who doesn’t eat a lot at Christmas parties? Sure…enjoying this time of year is great but over-indulging for a few months or weeks at a time can lead to unwanted weight gain. What steps can you take in order to feel good about what you’ve been eating but also enjoy these foods that come out once a year? Read on my friends…

Halloween is long gone and Thanksgiving is behind us, let’s focus on what you can do now until Christmas to manage weight.

  1. Eat regularly. Have a balanced breakfast in the morning, eat lunch, have nutrient rich snacks throughout the day, and a dinner with grains, lean proteins, and veggies. When it’s time to celebrate, you’ve eaten well all day so enjoy the party.
  2. Limit liquid calories. Calories from alcohol add up quickly and they do not fill up your stomach and satisfy hunger. The recommendation for healthy alcohol consumption is 1 drink for women and 2 drink for men per day. Keep in mind that other beverages have calories too. Eggnog, sodas, fruit punch, flavored coffee drinks, and many others are loaded with sugar and some even have fat.
  3. Give yourself limits that are set before all hell breaks loose. I love Christmas cookies. Like I would rather eat Christmas cookies with milk all day long than eat anything else. Because  I dream about doing that (perhaps someday when I’m 80), I set a limit for how many cookies I can have in a day during the season and keep to that. It allows me to have cookies but not an entire dozen 🙂
  4. Remember your vegetables. Instead of filling your plate with tons of carbohydrates (cookies, pies, cakes, potatoes, stuffing, corn…) and proteins (ham, turkey, cheese, meats…) fill up half of your plate with veggies (salad, green beans, brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower…). If you going to a potluck bring a veggie tray or a big salad. The party guests will love it!
  5. Instead of the holiday season revolving around food remember what it is really about! The birth of the Savior, showing the love of God by being kind, and gathering with friends and family. Our family LOVES games and we enjoy gathering around the tables after dinner to play, laugh, enjoy each other, and have a great time together.

Look, focus on managing not losing weight during the holidays. Keeping your weight the same is just as successful as losing weight when you are surrounded by tempting foods. You’ve got this! You can have control of what you eat. Knowing what you ultimately want and keeping your mind focused on that goal is the key. During the holiday season what is your goal?

Remember to stay tuned in January for the New Years Weight Loss Challenge! I’m so excited for it and I hope you will be too!

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

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!

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!