GMO’s – Good or Bad?

I recently listened to a very interesting podcast about bananas on Freakonomics. It highlighted how modern farming techniques have made producing bananas fairly inexpensive. Bananas are one of the most popular fruits in the world. However, this plentiful fruit is at risk of extinction due to a fungus. This risk is partly due to our production efficiencies that make it so affordable.

The podcast highlighted something I hadn’t thought of before. You go to the grocery store. How many kinds of apples are there? Probably at least half a dozen. How many kinds of bananas? One. The whole world (for the most part) consumes one variety of banana. However, this variety is threatened by a fungus that could literally wipe out all the banana plantations. For THIS variety of banana.

Interestingly, some scientists have found a solution. They have successfully modified the DNA of some banana plants to be resistant to this fungus. The scientists have put one gene from a wild banana plant into the current banana plant used and found that it is immune. One gene. Brilliant, right? Except, this hasn’t taken on like wildfire because of the widespread concern over GMO’s in our food.

Now, I’m not telling you that you have to be for or against GMO’s. I think everyone is entitled to an EDUCATED opinion. But I would strongly encourage you to learn more about what we actually do and do not know about GMO’s related to our food supply.

It reminds me of a speech I heard from a food scientist years ago. He talked about how as healthcare professionals we (often) tell people to stay away from food additives. But then we complain about the cost of fresh foods and it being unavailable for all people. He pointed out you can’t have it both ways. The scientists came up with the additives to lower the cost of food and increase availability.

I just think it is important to understand both sides. You don’t want GMO bananas? That’s fine. But don’t complain when they are basically non existent or very expensive in a few years.

For the record, I don’t have a firm opinion on GMO’s. I think there is a lot of information out there, good and bad. And a lot we don’t know yet. I just post here to remind us that when we form one opinion, we have to accept the ramifications.

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Spinach with Feta and Craisins

The weather is beautiful at my house. We spend all day outside, or at least it feels like it. It’s the perfect weather to start grilling. My biggest menu planning failure is planning side dishes. I think as far as “grilled chicken” and MAYBE a starch, like potatoes or rice. But vegetables? I often just wing it with what is in my fridge/pantry.

For me, this spinach is perfect because it uses ingredients I usually have around. And it is really quick and easy, a must for this time of year. It is full of flavor and different textures which makes it a winner all around. Enjoy!

Spinach with Feta and Craisins (serves 4)

Spinach with Feta and Craisins

18 ounces fresh spinach
¼ cup water
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
⅓ cup pine nuts
½ cup craisins
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
¼ cup crumbled feta cheese

1. Place spinach and water in a large bowl. Cover bowl. Microwave until spinach has decreased in volume by half, about 3-4 minutes. Remove from microwave and keep covered for 1 minute.
2. Transfer spinach to colander and press out excess water.
3. Heat oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic, nuts, and craisins. Cook, stirring constantly until garlic and nuts are beginning to LIGHTLY brown (watch carefully to not burn).
4. Add spinach. Toss to coat. Keep stirring until combined, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Sprinkle with vinegar and feta. Serve immediately.

Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook

Nutritional Information (amount per serving):

Calories: 225
Protein: 7 g
Fat: 14 g
Saturated Fat: 2 g
Cholesterol: 8 mg
Carbohydrates: 24 g
Fiber: 4 g
Sodium: 209 mg

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Pan Fried Tilapia with Curried Greens

Two for one today! Here is a super simple, quick dinner that we all need right now. The fish is as simple as they come but still incredibly simple. Try different seasoning blends (preferably salt free or low sodium) to mix it up. The greens are a great side to try out strong flavored greens. Experiment with different leafy greens – I love mustard greens, but chard and collards are also excellent here. There is an entire world outside of kale.

Happy eating!

Pan Fried Tilapia (Serves 4)

Pan Fried Tilapia

4 tilapia fillets
1 teaspoon lemon pepper
1 tablespoon canola oil

1. Lightly season fish with lemon pepper (or desired seasoning, see note).
2. Heat oil over medium-high heat in a medium-sized skillet. Add fillets. Cook for 4-6 minutes per side, flipping once. Cook until fish flakes easily – internal temperature of 145 degrees.

Nutritional Information (amount per serving):

Calories: 143
Protein: 23 g
Fat: 6 g
Saturated Fat: 1 g
Cholesterol: 58 mg
Carbohydrates: less than 1 g
Fiber: less than 1 g
Sodium: 60 mg

Curried Greens (Serves 4)

Curried Greens

1 tablespoon canola oil
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 large bunch greens (collards, mustard, kale)
½ onion thinly sliced
2 tsp curry powder
1 tsp sugar
1 (15.5 oz) can light coconut milk
2 tablespoons lime juice

1. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high. Add ginger, garlic, greens, and onion; saute 3 minutes, until greens and onion begin to soften. Stir in curry powder; cook 30 seconds.
2. Stir in sugar and coconut milk; cook until reduced by half, about 6 minutes, stirring frequently.
3. Stir in juice; reduce heat to medium, and cook 2 minutes. Serve.

Nutritional Information (amount per serving):

Calories: 282
Protein: 4 g
Fat: 28 g
Saturated Fat: 22 g
Cholesterol: 0 mg
Carbohydrates: 9 g
Fiber: 2 g
Sodium: 26 mg

Source: adapted from Cooking Light

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Leftovers

I think I’ve waxed poetic about the beauty of leftovers before. But I feel like it bears repeating.

There are so many great things about leftovers.

1) Delicious lunches that take little time to put together. As you put food away after dinner, portion it into containers so it is ready to grab for lunch the next day.

2) A no brainer dinner. We have leftover night every Tuesday. My kids LOVE it because they feel in control of what they eat. They (with guidance and some rules) can choose whatever leftovers they want for dinner. I don’t have to plan it. I don’t have to cook again. I don’t have to clean up much. Wins all around. (This does mean we don’t eat any leftovers for lunch until AFTER Tuesday night though, so there is that trade off.)

My husband calls it the “best of” night. Here’s my plate at leftover night recently. It’s pretty random: lasagna, lo mein, pork chops, and mashed potatoes/turnips. But it was yummy!

Leftover night

3) Some food tastes better with time. The minestrone soup I love tastes WAY better as leftovers. Something about sitting makes the flavors better. Many people swear by assembling an entire lasagna then letting it refrigerate for a day or so before baking to improve the taste. (Real caveat: some foods DON’T improve with time or reheating. Seafood is a particular culprit I can think of in that category.)

4) Saves money. You are throwing out less food. You are buying less food (less stuff for lunches or dinners, depending on how you use them).

5) Simplifies other meals. Just this last week, I was grilling chicken for dinner one night. I saved one piece aside to make pizza later in the week. I always double up on soup or spaghetti sauce recipes and freeze the extra. Super simple meal in the future.

Like I said, I LOVE leftovers. However, there are some rules for being safe with leftovers.

1) All leftovers should be reheated to 165 degrees F. This is easiest with soups or sauces – if it’s bubbling throughout, it’s good.

2) Food needs to be cooled quickly. Don’t stick a giant pot of soup in the fridge to cool down. Put it in smaller containers. If possible, don’t put the hot pan in the fridge. Transfer things to a new container that isn’t hot.

3) Wrap leftovers well. This will prevent bacteria in the air from getting in there.

4) Leftovers should only be kept for up to 4 days in the fridge, about 3-4 months in the freezer. The USDA does say frozen foods will last longer but will lose moisture and flavor after that amount of time.

5) Leftovers of leftovers? The USDA says it is safe to refreeze previously frozen leftovers IF you heated it to the appropriate temperature of 165 degrees F. I probably wouldn’t recommend this due to loss in quality of product.

Do you like leftovers or loathe them? Share in the comments!

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Apple Chicken Salad

Lunch is one of the hardest meals of the day for me. I want to eat healthy, preferably without cooking. I don’t want to use up my leftovers most of the time. I want something quick. And obviously, it has to be delicious.

Various types of chicken salad have become a bit of a go to for me. I can use it on crackers, as a sandwich, as lettuce wraps, or on a salad. It gives me several days of lunch with one day of effort. All wins. And it is tasty.

Apple Chicken Salad (Serves 4)

Apple Chicken Salad

1 can of chicken, drained well
1 apple, chopped small
¼ cup walnuts, chopped
2 tablespoons blue cheese
¼ cup mayo
2 tablespoons dijon mustard

1. Mix all ingredients until well combined.

Nutritional information (amount per serving):

Calories: 165
Protein: 11 g
Fat: 10 g
Saturated fat: 3 g
Cholesterol: 19 mg
Carbohydrates: 8 g
Fiber: 2 g
Sodium: 335 mg

Recipe notes: There are lots of ways to serve this, as I mentioned above.

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Carrot Tahini Soup

Spring is here. I’m so excited for the warmer weather, sunshine, and vibrant colors. Even in my food, I want more color. Fast food is also key, because we want to soak up the sun while we can, right?

This carrot soup fits all the criteria. Beautiful, bright orange. Full of fresh flavor. Easily on the table in 30 minutes. Even the kids loved it. Wins all around! Enjoy!

Carrot Tahini Soup (Serves 4)

Carrot Tahini Soup

1 tablespoon canola oil
1 large onion, chopped
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 lb carrots, chopped
3 cups low sodium chicken or vegetable broth
3 tbsp tahini
¼ cup chopped parsley
1 tsp fresh thyme
¼ cup unsalted cashews or peanuts, chopped
¼ cup plain greek yogurt

1. Heat oil in large saucepan over medium-high heat. Saute onion for 5 minutes. Add salt, paprika, garlic, and carrots. Cook for 1 minute.

2. Add broth. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for about 20 minutes, or until carrots are tender enough to blend. (Pressure cooker option: Cover, seal, bring to high pressure. Cook on high pressure for 7 minutes. Quick release pressure.)

3. Combine carrot mixture and tahini in a blender (or add tahini to pot off heat and use immersion blender). Beldn until smooth. Serve with a sprinkle of herbs, nuts, and 1 tablespoon yogurt on each bowl.

Nutritional Information (Amount per serving):

Calories: 237
Protein: 9 g
Fat: 14 g
Saturated fat: 2 g
Cholesterol: 1 mg
Carbohydrates: 22 g
Fiber: 5 g
Sodium: 810 mg

Source: adapted from Cooking Light

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Meal Planning Tips

A common complaint I hear from many people is that meal planning is hard/time consuming/frustrating/boring, etc. I told someone I didn’t love meal planning either, and she seemed shocked. “Isn’t that what you do for a living?” It’s true that I did learn a lot about meal planning in school. In ways, that only makes it harder for me, since I can think of more “rules”.

While I don’t always love meal planning, I don’t hate it. Usually my problem is having the right ideas to fit my schedule and budget at the time. Here are some tips I try to follow to make meal planning easier.

1) Don’t try to plan too much at one time. For me, a week is plenty. I plan to grocery shop once a week. Produce doesn’t last much longer that anyway. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t have more ideas than one week worth. I often have more ideas than days (or ideas that won’t fit my schedule for the week). File those away in your brain for the next time.

2) Have a set time you meal plan. Find a consistent day and time of day that works. I like to meal plan during breakfast or lunch. I’m a little hungry so I can think of foods that sound good. And I can multi-task doing it while I eat. This makes it feel like less of a time drain. Also, if you have a set time, it doesn’t feel like it is taking over your life.

3) Have a few “set” days. We have a leftover night every Tuesday. Breakfast for dinner is every Wednesday. I don’t have to think about two out of the seven days. Win! Maybe you do Taco Tuesdays or Meatless Mondays. Just having some parameters will speed things up.

4) Know your categories of foods. I like to have soup generally once a week. Then I know we’ll probably want Mexican and or Asian food. Fridays and Saturdays I like to have “weekend food” – pizza, sandwiches, burgers, faster foods to cook. Having those categories helps me know which types of foods I’m thinking about.

5) At the end, double check for repeats. This is a key step. I skipped it a couple weeks ago and ended up with 4 nights of chicken in a row. Whoops! This isn’t to say I might not repeat chicken in a week, but I try to space it out.

6) Look at food magazines and blogs in your free time. I know, I know. We don’t have free time. But instead of scrolling Facebook for the third time today, go check a couple food blogs you trust. Subscribe to a good food magazine for your lifestyle. I really like Cooking Light, but there are plenty of other great options. Just browsing these will file dinner ideas away in your brain. Seriously. Years later, I will suddenly remember a blog post I saw and wanted to try. If you use pinterest, actually USE it to help you plan your meals.

7) One idea to try, which may or may not work for you. Pick one blog or one cookbook or one magazine. Find all your meals from there. It is tricky, but it can save time flipping around endless places for ideas. When I’ve done this, I usually get about three recipes from the same place. My other two ideas are recipes I know and love.

8) Don’t try all new things. Keep some tried and true recipes in your line up each week. It is mentally exhausting to figure out a new recipe every night. Keep it real. Keep it simple.

Do you meal plan? I’d love to hear what you use to help in the comments!

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