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Surviving Winter

Winter has been hitting full force at my house for the last week or so. Since it has been cold and snowy since October, more snow and cold is starting to get really old and discouraging. All of us are a little stir crazy. And last week was only the halfway point of “winter”, so we aren’t done yet.

One way I’ve discovered to combat these mid-winter blues is to have parties. Inviting guests over and preparing food can seem really overwhelming. But I’ve found it can be fun and gives you something to look forward to as well.

Last year, my husband and I started an annual formal dinner. We send out a formal invitation – usually just altering a template for a wedding invitation on Microsoft word. Everyone dresses up. We make “fancy” food and serve it on the best china. We plate the food and serve it in courses. It is a ton of fun. It can be a bit of work, but in the end, it is worth it. Here are some pictures from this year’s formal. Please don’t mind that the food pictures aren’t the best – I just snapped something quick on my phone rather than make my guests wait while I staged something nice.

Winter Formal

Beet Salad

Cheesecake

But having people over doesn’t have to be fancy. I wanted an excuse to hang out with some friends one day. So I had an early Galentine’s Day lunch this week. I kept it fairly simple – a couple kinds of quiche, salad from Costco, and simple chopped fruit. Brownies for dessert were a hit and easy to make ahead of time. When I’ve done these in the past, I often ask people to bring things – drinks, fruit, bread, etc. So then it is even less work for me. But it feels so luxurious to eat a real meal and sit down with friends during the week. Pro tip: make extra so you already have dinner for your family that night.

While the formal dinner wasn’t the healthiest meal I’ve ever eaten, we tried to make it a good balance. We served salad, vegetable soup, and veggies with the main course. My china dishes are a bit on the small side, which is great for keeping portions under control.

With my Galentine’s lunch, I made all the dishes something I would want to eat while being health conscious. Lots of veggies available in the quiches. Salad and fruit are easy, nutritious sides. You could skip dessert if you really wanted.

Remember, not everything has to be perfect. I was doing my laundry during the Galentine’s lunch. All the snow in the street made parking a bit crazy with 5 vans in my garage and driveway. Kids were running around and needed diapers changed. But we all still had a great time.

How do you combat the winter blues? Do you have fun entertaining ideas or traditions? I’d love if you shared them in the comments!

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The 4 F’s

Find a processed food

I’ve been thinking lately about my nutrition philosophy. If you’ve read this blog for any amount of time, you know in general I follow a “moderation in all things” approach. But what does that mean in everyday life? How do I practice that? As I’ve thought on that recently, I distilled it down to four “F” words: Fat, Flavor, Fiber, and Fresh.

Fat: What fat am I using? Could I substitute a healthier option in this recipe? In general, I like to use canola and olive oil. If I’m melting butter for the fat in a recipe, I’ll often sub in oil, unless I’m concerned about flavor. Often, I cut the fat in half compared to a recipe. When purchasing foods, does the “low fat” option lower the calories as well or just substitute something else for fat?

Flavor: How am I seasoning this dish? Can I substitute the salt for something else? Am I already adding a high salt ingredient – bacon, cheese, soy sauce – and don’t need additional salt? If it is a canned food, is there a low sodium option? There is a whole world of flavors out there besides salt. If you do need salt, see if there is a salty option like those mentioned before that adds salt AND other flavor.

Fiber: Is there a whole grain substitute? Could I add more vegetables? Carrots, celery, onions, and spinach are things I add in all the time to recipes. More veggies, and often my family doesn’t notice or care.

Fresh: When possible, choose the freshest item possible. So fresh, then frozen, then canned for vegetables/fruits. Could I make this frozen side or entree on my own and control the ingredients more? A few years ago, I made all my own bread products. That isn’t feasible for me right now as much. But I try when I can. Not only is making things yourself generally healthier, it is also often less expensive.

Hope these give you some things to think about as you work toward a healthier you in 2020!

What do you think about to keep your meals/snacks healthy? Share in the comments!

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New Year, new plans?

Hi everyone! I hope you are having a great start to your 2019. Mine is frigid cold, unfortunately. But otherwise, 2019 is starting good on my resolutions.

I’ve talked about resolutions on here A LOT before. I think they are great. I am still solidifying mine for the year. We traveled a bit for the holidays, so I’m starting some of mine today, the second. Some may start next week when my daughter goes back to school and life is in more of a routine. But it’s ok. Just pick any day and start.

Did you make any food or health related resolutions? This is my third year making the exact same resolution – only eat “treats” 2 days per week. The first year I didn’t do well. Last year, I did awesome until May then was pretty hit or miss (mostly miss) for the rest of the year. But that’s ok. I’m not perfect and never will be. But I can keep trying to be better. What are you trying to be better at in 2019?

One goal many people have is to meal plan better. Meal planning is GREAT for your budget, your daily stress level, and your health. You eat more healthful foods if you plan it out. However, planning can be a chore. I do it every week, so I know.

One solution many seek are either menu services or meal delivery services. I tried out Hello Fresh recently, so I thought I’d give a quick review here. (I previously reviewed Blue Apron here.) I am not sponsored by Hello Fresh. I used a discount coupon I got in the mail, but it was a generic coupon code. Hello Fresh doesn’t know I am reviewing them and did not give me anything to do so.

Hello Fresh Review

I was fairly impressed with the different recipe selections they had. It seemed a wide variety and food my kids would eat. When the box arrived, I felt like the ingredients were good quality for the price I paid. Of the recipes I got, I’m sharing today about the Cherry Balsamic Pork Chops with Garlic Herb Couscous and Roasted Broccoli.

And the food…

Hello Fresh Cherry Balsamic Pork Chops

was delicious! I was actually pretty impressed. I’m not always a huge fan of couscous, but this was really good.

Pros:
– The food was good. Close to restaurant quality. Not an average weeknight dinner for us.

– It was fast and easy to make. This recipe in particular was pretty quick and straightforward. I even felt like it worked well. Pork and I have a hard time, but I felt like it cooked in the amount of time it stated (I often find I need to cook pork much longer than suggested cooking times to reach appropriate temperatures).

– I could make this again. I liked that I know exactly how much of all the ingredients were included so I could easily make this on my own if I wanted. Blue Apron was not that way, which I found frustrating. I wouldn’t keep ordering the same thing from a service, so I like getting the recipe for myself.

Cons:
-Price. Hello Fresh is at least $7 per serving. I try to budget around $10 per DAY at my house. I’m not always successful. But more than half of that at dinner kills me.

-Serving sizes. I personally found the serving sizes a little odd. The pork chops and veggies were good sizes. The couscous was a little scarce for 4 servings at my house (and 2 of my servings are little kids). But that just may be my house. A relative of mine says she serves 6 people fine off of 4 serving boxes.

-What is it saving you? Meal box services always kind of confuse me. They provide 2-4 dinners per week. So…I still have to plan and grocery shop for all the other days and meals. To me it just doesn’t move the ball enough to be worth the money. If that doesn’t phase you, great! Go for it!

Hope you are having a great new year! Let me know in the comments your experiences with Hello Fresh and any resolutions you have for 2019!

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Mediterranean Diet and Mental Health

Well, you know how I’m always saying not to give up if you slip up on your resolutions? That’s why I’m here! I had the goal to post every week this year…and I missed last week. I’m sorry. It was crazy. But I was doing lots of nutrition thinking.

I had the opportunity to speak at a community event on mental health, specifically on nutrition and mental health. That is a pretty broad way to look at things. For example, eating a cookie seems like it would be good for my mental health when my kids are being crazy in the afternoon. Anyone else?

My focus was more on clinical mental health issues. Turns out, research in both depression and Alzheimer’s disease has shown some benefit to a Mediterranean diet. Overall, the research just shows that a “healthy” diet is good for our brains. Surprising, I know. But the Mediterranean diet has done well in several studies I found and is a generally accepted healthy eating plan. I thought I’d highlight some points of this diet plan today.

1) Primarily a plant based diet. Think whole grains, beans, fruits, vegetables, nuts. This is NOT a low carb diet. But it does steer away from refined sugars.

2) Focus on healthy fats, particularly olive oil, avocados, and nuts. This is NOT a low fat diet. But research in several areas has shown that a diet high in fat BUT high in healthy fats is good for us.

3) Eat fish at least twice a week. Eat little red meat, focusing more on fish and poultry. Fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel, albacore tuna, and arctic char, are great for our heart and circulation. Avoid fried fish.

4) Get plenty of exercise. This has immediate benefits for your mental well being as it releases endorphins that make you feel good.

5) Enjoy meals with friends and family. Slow down and savor your food and the dining experience. Often, you can find that you eat less when you eat more slowly. Just be careful to not slow down and sit at the table SO long that you keep taking seconds, thirds, etc.

6) Optional: drink red wine in moderation. Some health benefits have been shown with drinking nor more than 5 ounces of wine per day. However, most health professionals do not encourage ADDING drinking to your diet. Just drink with a purpose if you already do drink.

Below are some Mediterranean diet friendly recipes from this site. I’ll be back tomorrow with a simple breakfast idea. Enjoy!

Baba Ganoush
Baba Ganoush

Hummus Pasta
Hummus Pasta

Grilled Salmon
Grilled Salmon

Fish Tacos with Spicy Slaw
Fish Tacos with Spicy Slaw

Roasted Red Pepper Hummus
Hummus Variations

Chicken Shawarma
Chicken Shawarma

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Diets to Avoid in 2017

The British Dietetic Association releases a list of diets to avoid every year. I found an article highlighting the top five. (link here)

I was slightly surprised at first to see Clean Eating as their number one choice. At its most basic form, clean eating is just avoiding processed foods and refined sugars. We should all be doing that. But as I read the reasoning, I totally agree. It isn’t great to classify foods as “clean” or “dirty”. Sometimes, we get it wrong.

Here’s an example. Recently, I was teaching a nutrition lesson to some cub scouts I work with (8 year old boys). I brought a bunch of toy food and had them sort them into the categories of MyPlate. They had no idea where to put French fries. When I told them it was a vegetable, they didn’t believe me. Once we talked through it, they understood. French fries are potatoes. Not the healthiest version of potatoes, but potatoes none the less. Potatoes aren’t clean or dirty. It is how they are prepared.

The idea of orthorexia nervosa mentioned in the article was also new to me. They defined this as an obsession with defining foods as healthy or unhealthy and eliminating the unhealthy ones. Most (I’ll admit not all) foods fit somewhere on the spectrum of healthy to unhealthy. It is hard to draw a line. Eliminating foods is not a solution I recommend. Moderation and control are better options.

Hope you enjoy reading these! Happy New Year!

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New Year’s Word-solution

It’s that time again. Time to review the year that is ending and make plans of how to make next year better. I’ve posted many ideas for setting goals in the past (here, here, and here). This year, I have two thoughts for you.

First, I recently started listening to Gretchen Rubin’s podcast “Happier“. Highly recommend it. She proposed the idea of having a one word theme for 2017 that all of your goals or resolutions revolve around. I think this is an awesome way of combining your nutrition and health related goals with your other goals for the year. As you might have guessed by the image above, I have chosen the word focus. I am constantly either multi-tasking or leaving something half finished because I’m distracted by something else only to come back later and realize I still didn’t finish the first task. Neither of these use my time efficiently. My goal this year is to focus on what I’m doing while I’m doing it. If I’m playing with my kids, I’m only playing. If I’m eating, I’m focused on what I’m eating and why I’m eating it. If I’m exercising, I’m focused on pushing myself. Several of the workout videos I’ve watched recently have mentioned, “If you are going to workout, make it count” or “If you are here, be here 100%”. It’s so true.

Let me know your themes or resolutions in the comments!

Second, I heard an interesting statistic. Apparently, data shows that the first Thursday in February is when all of us have fallen of the bandwagon of our health goals. It is when the decline in gym attendance and the rise in fast food intake intersect. The second Friday in February is the most popular day for fast food eating. So not only have we all fallen off the bandwagon, but we have no intention of getting back on (apparently). So this year, mark February 2nd and February 10th on your calendar. Don’t go out for fast food. Go exercise and eat a healthful meal. Your body and your resolutions will thank you. (Statistics from episode 3 of Tell Me Something I Don’t Know)

If you are hosting a New Year’s party, here is a link to recipes and tips for lighter cocktails. Enjoy and Happy New Year!

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Gingerbread Pancakes

Breakfast is a nutritionally important meal of the day. But I also find it to be an emotionally important meal. When I wake up on the wrong side of the bed, I need a good breakfast to help me turn my day around. And it really works. No bowls of cold cereal. I need warm food that makes me feel happy. I love easy ways to make breakfast seem special, since I usually don’t have much time on those days.

These gingerbread pancakes fit that bill. If you tried my gingerbread pancakes last year, these are even better.  Lighter and more fluffy.  Still great gingerbread flavor without being overpowering.  And no sugar in the batter besides molasses!  Hooray!

Gingerbread Pancakes (Makes 10-15 pancakes)

Gingerbread Pancakes

1 large egg
1 ½ cups skim milk
5 tablespoons molasses
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 ⅓ cups whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
⅛ teaspoon ground cloves

1. In a medium bowl, whisk together egg, milk, molasses, oil, and vanilla. Add dry ingredients. Mix until just combined.

2. Heat a griddle or non-stick pan to medium-high heat (350 if electric). Lightly spray pan with cooking spray. Pour about ¼-⅓ cup batter onto griddle for each cake. Cook until they start to bubble and bottom looks set. Flip and cook until browned.

Nutritional Information (Amount per pancake):

Calories: 110
Protein: 3 g
Fat: 3 g
Saturated Fat: less than 1 g
Cholesterol: 16 mg
Carbohydrates: 18 g
Fiber: 2 gm
Sodium: 138 mg

Notes: I prefer white whole wheat flour, but “regular” whole wheat flour also works here. As with all pancake batters, I find the amount of liquid is a little bit tricky. You can add more milk if you need a thinner batter.

Source: Children’s Museum Denver

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