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.

Healthy Kitchen Shortcuts

I have 3 kids, 4 and under. Don’t be alarmed, two of those are twins. My goal as a wife-mom-dietitian is to provide the best food I can for my family. That means making healthy, homemade meals in between diapers, spit up, and toddler problems.

Cooking dinner tonight I came up with this blog post. You can read about me in my bio section but I like to get as fresh and as local as possible. But let’s get real, sometimes we are looking for healthy AND quick. Taking shortcuts has been my go-to since having children.

Here are the 5 quick and healthy items I keep in my kitchen always:

  1. Minced garlic. Yep, I buy the garlic in the glass container and I LOVE IT! Almost everything I cook has garlic in it. Any time I need a clover or two I get in my refrigerator, grab a spoon and boom, it’s done! Fresh garlic is delicious but when I need a time saver (which is daily at this point) I go with it!
  2. Diced frozen onions. Similar to the garlic, I could grow my own onions, dice, and freeze them and someday I will. But right now I need diced onions without having onion juice all over my hands when the babies are screaming. Frozen diced onions it is! This only works if you’re cooking, if you are making a dish that isn’t cooked (summer salsa, salads, etc) then use fresh onions.
  3. Frozen veggies of all types. When I’m making vegetable soup in the winter I buy frozen. If I have any fresh then of course they go in the pot but frozen is so much better than fresh in the winter. All year long I keep frozen broccoli and cauliflower bulk bags in my freezer. Corn isn’t a veggie but that’s also a staple frozen food that we keep on hand.
  4. Lemon and lime juice concentrate. There’s nothing better than fresh lemons or limes but in a pinch, concentrate can be a recipe saver. You can use the concentrate in any recipe that calls for lemon or lime juice so it works well in fish and chicken dishes, salsa, sauces, and tea.
  5. Quick grains like quinoa, farro, and brown minute rice. Quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) and farro (pronounced fare-oh) are whole grains packed with fiber, protein, and nutrients. All three of these power packed grains cook completely in about 15 minutes unlike regular brown rice or other grains that may take about an hour to cook. To flavor these up toast them in a dry pan first and then cook with vegetable or chicken broth or stock.

I’ve learned, after having twins, that sometimes shortcuts are A-OK and you have to be A-OK with the shortcuts. Cooking healthy doesn’t have to mean preparing a gourmet meal, using tons of ingredients or ingredients that you have to find at a specialty food store, or spending hours in the kitchen.

Final thoughts: We unfortunately do not live on a cooking show set where there are tons of fresh fruits, vegetables, herbs/spices, and any ingredient we so desire. Sometimes we need shortcuts to make our lives easier especially when cooking for our family day in and day out. Use some shortcuts to make your life simpler!

Challenge – if you are overwhelmed with cooking and menu planning for your family, figure out which shortcuts would work best for you and run with it! Share your shortcuts with us!

Simply Salad Dressings

Salads…mmm. I love salads. They definitely falls into my favorite foods category. I enjoy any kind of salad too – lettuce, vegetable, pasta, potato, fruit, bean…really, any! I think it’s the flavor combinations that I like. There’s nothing more delicious than a good salad dressing that brings out the best tasting salads. Not just any salad dressing but a good homemade

Sure, I have some store bought salad dressings in my refrigerator for parties and a good ranch dressing is a staple in my refrigerator to mix with buffalo sauce! My every day salad dressings are homemade. I like them better than any store brand plus it’s simple whole ingredients. Similarly to my mother, I don’t really have a salad dressing recipe but I’ll let you in on the delicious secret: as long as you have the basics, you can make a delicious homemade dressing yourself.

Here’s what you need:

  • Acid:
    • Vinegar – balsamic, red wine, white wine, even a simple apple cider vinegar works well!
    • Lemon/lime – fruitier salads pare well with lemons and limes.
  • Oil:
    • Canola: tons of omega-3 fatty acids
    • Olive: great source of mono-unsaturated heart-healthy fats
    • Other oils: grape seed, avocado, nut oils (walnut, almond)
  • Herbs:
    • My favorites: chives, parsley, basil
    • Others to try: cilantro, thyme, sage, rosemary, mint
  • Spices:
    • My favorites: turmeric, black pepper, paprika, celery seed, garlic
    • Others to try: coriander, cayenne pepper, chili powder, oregano, poppy seed
  • Salt:
    • Types: kosher, iodized, sea salt, pink hymalain
    • Salt substitutes: check with your doctor first but these go well in salad dressings
  • Sweet:
    • My favorites: honey and sugar
    • Other alternatives: agave, stevia, maple syrup
  • Others:
    • Dijon mustard makes an appearance in 90% of my homemade salad dressings
    • Mayonnaise is a great emulsifier and is a source of healthy fats
    • Spice/seasoning mixes: Mrs. Dash, Italian dressing seasonings, McCormick’s Salad Supreme. I may use any number of these depending on the salad and my taste mood at the time.
    • Fruit. You can make a great strawberry, pomegranate, blueberry, peach, or plum vinaigrette dressing just by simmering the vinegar with the fruits to get out the flavor.

Mix any of the above combinations based on your flavor profile.

Here is one of my favorite vinaigrette to make.

Amanda’s Herbed Vinaigrette

2/3 cup apple cider vinegar
1/3 + cup canola oil (I pour in a little over 1/3 cup and you could also use olive oil)
1/4 cup fresh parsley
1/8 cup fresh chives
2 teaspoons honey (more if you want to balance out the acidity…I like mine more acidic)
2 teaspoons dijon mustard
2 teaspoons minced onion (fresh or dried)
1 teaspoon oregano (I use dried)
1 teaspoons minced garlic (shortcut)
1/2 teaspoon salt (less if you have high blood pressure, CHF, or are sensitive to salt)
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon turmeric

Pour vinegar and oil into a salad dressing carafe (a mason jar with a lid would work). Place all herbs and spices in jar and shake. Let set for at least 1 hour to allow the herbs and spices to marry into the vinegar and oil.

Notes: you can also use white balsamic, white wine, or champagne vinegar for this recipe.

Pour over your favorite vegetable salad and enjoy!

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OTHER IDEAS:

  • Feta vinaigrette: red wine vinegar, olive oil, feta cheese, dried oregano, dried basil, salt, and pepper – goes great with a Greek quinoa salad or your favorite Greek tossed salad
  • Strawberry poppy seed vinaigrette: diced strawberries, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, poppy seed, honey, salt, and pepper – pairs well with a strawberry spinach salad

Final thoughts: It is important to have fat in your diet. If you are choosing store bought dressing (which is totally fine I have an array in my frig) make sure you select ones that do have fat. Fat free salad dressings tend to have a lot of sugar and other additives. Purchase regular salad dressings and just eat less!

Challenge: have fun with dressings! Make those fruits and veggies pop with excitement and flavor!