Getting back on (or staying on) track

How are your New Year’s health resolutions (or word-solutions) coming along? Are you still on track, or did you fall prey to “Fall of the Bandwagon Thursday” and “Fat Friday” (mentioned in an earlier post)? If you aren’t where you’d like to be, never fear! Here are some tips to help you get back on track. If you you are still cruising along, great job! You can still use these tips as motivators to keep doing what you are doing.

1) Realize change doesn’t happen overnight. You aren’t going to magically not want chocolate, sugar, coffee, or whatever it is you are trying to avoid more frequently. You won’t lose 15 pounds in a month (if you did, go see a doctor because that isn’t healthy). You won’t love getting up early to exercise for the first little while (or ever). Change takes time. Hopefully, you set goals for 2017, meaning you have ALL YEAR to accomplish them. Cut yourself some slack.

2) Focus on the positive little steps you make rather than focusing on any missteps. Even if your progress is two steps forward, one step back, you are STILL getting one step forward in the net. I also like to think of “good” and “bad” choices as two separate accounts rather than one. That way, a “bad” choice doesn’t negate any good. It just fills up the wrong bank. I still have my “good” choices accumulating.

3) Know when to quit. Did you make a goal to exercise and you hate every minute of it and every day is a struggle? Maybe that goal or that exercise program isn’t right for you right now. Be ok to give up on that AND pick a new goal or routine. (That AND is very important). Not every goal is right for every person at every time. Learn about yourself and figure out what is right for you right now. For example, I used to run quite a bit. I had hoped to start running again. But I never can seem to get myself out of bed for a run. A workout video is a struggle, but manageable. So, right now, running isn’t for me. It was in the past, and it may be in the future.

4) Find intrinsic rewards. Exercise (generally) makes you feel more energtic and happier. Eating healthy food (generally) makes us have a more positive outlook. Look for these rewards in your choices rather than just the numbers on the scale, the distances/weight/time improvements, etc.

Hope these tips help you no matter where you are on the goal track. Happy health!

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Peanut Butter Quinoa

Shortly after my husband and I got married, we put together a picnic dinner. I was so excited to make a delicious quinoa salad. We started eating, and I noticed my husband wasn’t eating any of my salad. I asked him, and he said he doesn’t care for salads like that. I had just bought a big package of quinoa, and I needed a new way to fix it. I found lots of recipes for casseroles or soups, but not many regular side dishes.

So, I finally took a salad recipe to make this side dish. And it turned out great. This is great with fish or chicken. Or stir in some chicken and make a meal out of it. Enjoy!

Peanut Butter Quinoa (Serves 6-8)

Peanut Butter Quinoa

1 cup uncooked quinoa or 2 cups cooked quinoa
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 rib celery, sliced thin
2 carrots, sliced thin
½ medium onion, diced
1 bell pepper, diced
¼ cup peanut butter
3 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
dash sriracha
½ teaspoon ground ginger

1. If not already cooked, cook quinoa according to package directions.

2. Heat olive oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet or saute pan. Add celery, carrots, onion, and bell pepper. Saute 5-7 minutes, until vegetables begin to be tender.

3. Mix together remaining ingredients in a small bowl. It is not essential that they combine perfectly. You can heat it in the microwave for 15-30 seconds and they will combine better.

4. Add quinoa and peanut butter mixture to vegetables. Stir and cook until well combined and all is heated through. Serve.

Nutritional Information (Amount per serving):

Calories: 172
Protein: 6 gm
Fat: 8 gm
Saturated Fat: 1 gm
Cholesterol: 0 mg
Carbohydrates: 21 gm
Fiber: 3 gm
Sodium: 253 mg

Recipe notes: You could substitute any vegetables you like. The “sauce” is pretty thick. You could add in some water or more soy sauce to thin it out more, if you like a saucier side. I liked mine fairly thick, almost like a fried rice.

Source: adapted from Ambitious Kitchen

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Q&A: Leg Cramps

Q: I’m pregnant and have been waking up every night with horrible leg cramps. My researching online says I maybe need more magnesium. Do you have any suggestions how to work this into my diet?

A: Ouch! That is no fun. I had leg cramps with my second pregnancy, and I can remember how much those hurt.

The hard fact is that no one 100% knows why leg cramps happen, because there are lots of things that can lead up to them. Here are four common nutrients that are suggested or that I have seen be helpful. The good news is that many of these are found in the same foods (another reason it can be hard to identify exactly the cause/solution). Also good news, the same answers apply to pregnancy leg cramps or non-pregnancy related leg cramps.

1) Magnesium. As your researching suggests, magnesium is commonly recommended for leg cramps. In general, good sources are nuts, dark leafy greens (like spinach), and whole grains.

2) Potassium. Potassium rich foods are bananas, citrus fruits/juices, potatoes, tomatoes, yogurt, and dark leafy greens.

3) Calcium. Calcium rich foods are dairy products, dark leafy greens, and broccoli.

All three of these nutrients are part of normal muscle function. If one is depleted, it can cause cramps. Since all three work together, it can be hard to know exactly which one is missing, unless you are on a specific medication that we know depletes that nutrient.

4) Water. Water requirements in pregnancy can be hard to determine. You need a lot. Most say at least 8-10 cups a day, others will say up to 16 cups. I personally found that if I was better hydrated, my leg cramps went away. It’s hard, because we tend to not drink water late in the day so we aren’t up in the night using the bathroom. But I’d rather have to go to the bathroom than be up in pain.

Good luck! Hope this helps!

Have any nutrition questions? Need help with meal planning or a special dietary need? Send your questions to me at kimberlykmarsh(at)gmail(dot)com, and I will answer them in upcoming posts!

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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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Cheesy Vegetable Chowder

I hope you’ve had a great 2016. Every year has its ups and downs. But hopefully the ups were high enough to offset the downs. I wish you all a Happy New Year this weekend.

One quick recipe to end the year – vegetable chowder. Hopefully it will be helpful in clearing out your fridge of any remaining holiday foods. And keeping you warm, as I see the forecast for many early next week is rather cold.

I’ve been tweaking this recipe for awhile, and I’ve made most of my batches with leftovers from holiday veggie trays, cheese trays, etc. It is great for just cleaning out the fridge and pantry, which is great any time of year. Enjoy!

Cheesy Vegetable Chowder (Serves about 8)

Cheesy Vegetable Chowder

4 cups low sodium vegetable (or chicken) stock
4 cups vegetables, chopped (broccoli, carrots, celery, cauliflower, zucchini, etc)
1-2 cups small diced potatoes
2 tablespoons no salt added butter
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
¼ cup flour
2 cups milk (preferably skim)
¼ teaspoon black pepper
¼ teaspoon fresh thyme (optional)
2 cups shredded cheese (something more flavorful than mozzarella)

1. Heat stock to a boil in a large stockpot. Add potatoes and other long cooking vegetables (carrots, celery). Add other vegetables sporadically so they all finish cooking about the same time (total time, 15ish minutes).

2. When the vegetables are almost done, heat butter in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic and saute for about 3 minutes, until translucent. Add in flour. Stir for 1 minute. Add in milk, pepper, and thyme, stirring frequently. Cook for a couple minutes, until beginning to thicken.

3. Add milk mixture to vegetable pot. Cook until desired consistency (about 5 minutes or so). Remove from heat and stir in cheese until melted throughout.

Nutritional Information (Amount per serving):

Calories: 236
Protein: 13 g
Fat: 12 g
Saturated fat: 8 g
Cholesterol: 36 mg
Carbohydrates: 20 g
Fiber: 2 g
Sodium: 491 mg

Recipe Notes: Sorry the recipe is a bit vague in places. It really depends on what vegetables you have, how big you cut them, and how crunchy/soft you like your veggies in the soup. If you have leftover cheese slices from a cheese tray, just crumble them up or dice them up small. They’ll melt faster that way than in slices.

Source: adapted from my mom’s broccoli cheese soup recipe

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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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Meaty Lasagna

A few days after Thanksgiving, we had some people over for dinner. We had a still untouched pumpkin pie, so we served it for dessert. They commented they had never eaten homemade pumpkin pie before. I was astonished! Imagine my surprise when I told this story to someone else who admitted the same thing.

It reminded me of a time in college when one of my roommates was making lasagna for dinner. Another roommate walked in and said, “You can make lasagna? I didn’t know that. I thought you only bought it frozen.” Upon questioning her, her mom had never made lasagna which she attributed to picky eaters.

All of these experiences plus the holidays (when I know many people seem to eat lasagna) inspired me to make my lasagna recipe and share it with you. Everyone (including myself) thinks lasagna is hard. It’s really quite easy. It is a “little” time consuming. Only in that you need to plan ahead. But it is pretty hands off for most of that time. And it can easily be made ahead of time. Enjoy!

Meaty Lasagna (Serves 8-10)

Meaty Lasagna

1 lb Italian sausage
½ large onion, diced
½ cup diced carrots
2 cloves minced garlic
2 (15.5 ounce) cans no salt added diced tomatoes
2 (8 ounce) cans no salt added tomato sauce
1 tablespoons brown sugar
1 bay leaves
½ tablespoon dried basil leaves
½ tablespoon dried oregano leaves
1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
10 (or so) lasagna noodles (not the no boil)
1 (10 ounce or so) package frozen spinach
1 (approximately 24 oz) container ricotta or low fat cottage cheese
1 egg
⅔ cup Parmesan cheese
¾ cup mozzarella cheese

1. Brown sausage. Add onion and carrots. Sauté until onion is tender, about 5 minutes. Add garlic; cook for 1 minute.

2. Add tomatoes through black pepper. Stir to distribute seasonings. Bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer; cook for 20-30 minutes, until thickened to desired consistency. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary. Remove bay leaves before serving or blending.

3. While sauce cooks, cook lasagna noodles according to package directions. Before cooking, see how many noodles fit in your 9×13 pan (or lasagna pan). You will have 3 layers, so cook that many noodles.

4. Thaw spinach and squeeze out water. Mix spinach, ricotta/cottage cheese, egg, ⅓ cup Parmesan, and ¼ cup mozzarella. Set aside.

5. Preheat oven to 350.

6. Spread a very thin layer of red sauce in the bottom of your pan (9×13 or lasagna). Top with a layer of noodles. Top with a layer of red sauce. Another layer of noodles. Now a layer of the ricotta/cottage cheese mixture. Another layer of noodles. Top with a layer of red sauce. Sprinkle remaining Parmesan and mozzarella cheese evenly over the top.

7. Bake at 350 for 30-45 minutes, until heated through and beginning to brown slightly.

Nutritional Information (Amount per serving):

Calories: 355
Protein: 16 gm
Fat: 19 gm
Saturated Fat: 2 gm
Cholesterol: 29 mg
Carbohydrates: 30 gm
Fiber: 3 gm
Sodium: 264 mg

Recipe notes: You could use lean ground beef or turkey instead of sausage. I prefer the flavor of sausage. You could easily leave out the meat too for a vegetarian lasagna. You could also throw in a bell pepper to the sauce. This sauce is my basic marinara sauce recipe halved. I usually make the full recipe and just have leftover marinara to freeze. I think I slightly prefer cottage cheese, but that is because that is what I was raised on. Ricotta is yummy too.

If you want to make this ahead, assemble the lasagna. It can be covered and refrigerated for 1 day before baking. I’d increase the baking time to 45 minutes-1 hour then. Or, you could assemble it and freeze it. Then you’d bake it covered for about 1 hour, then uncovered for 30 minutes-1 hour, or until it is cooked through.

This might be a bit full for a standard 9×13 pan. Just keep your layers thin. I have a lasagna pan, which is a bit bigger. I love it. If you have a bigger casserole dish than a 9×13, use it.

Source: adapted from a family recipe

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