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Saturday, January 28, 2012

Planning a healthier menu during the week

I never imagined when I started writing this blog how much fun I would have. This has been a valuable learning experience for me.  With my hectic schedule dinner would typically be whatever healthy menu option I could throw together in the least amount of time.  During the week I am so busy that there is limited time to spend fussing in the kitchen.  I am typically bringing 1 of my 3 kids to an activity and madly rushing to the gym to squeeze in my evening workouts.

My approach has been to research recipe ideas and plan a menu.  Then I spend the weekends in the kitchen experimenting with recipes when I have more free time.  I typically write about my experiences in a blog entry the following week.  I have realized that with a little preparation and planning it is possible to prepare more meals in advance.  I don't want to fall in the trap of eating unhealthy foods because it is what is "easier" or "more convenient". 

I think that much of the difficulties families face is that with both parents working outside the home it is very difficult to find the time to prepare healthier meals.  It is much easier on a busy night to hit the McDonalds drive thru for burgers and fries.  It is important to think about how much better you will feel when you are eating healthier.  Remember that your daily decisions will impact your health in the long run.  I don't want to get old gracefully.  I want to stay young!

Tips on Planning Healthier Meals
  • Decide what meals you would like to prepare for the week
  • Plan a grocery list to include the items you need for those recipes
  • If possible prepare food on the weekends to freeze for later use
  • Stock up on fruits to grab as quick healthy snacks
  • If you need to buy more of an item than is needed for a recipe, try planning additional meals using the same ingredient
  • Focus on a menu that most of your family will enjoy to keep things simple

Friday, January 27, 2012

Pecan & Gorgonzola Greens Salad

I served this salad with the Mustard Glazed Chicken.  It was very easy to prepare and tasted great with the Light Balsamic Vinaigrette.  As pictured, each serving has approximately 160 calories.  This recipe appeared on the WebMD website.

Pecan & Gorgonzola Greens Salad

4 cups escarole, washed and torn into bite size pieces
4 cups baby arugula, washed and patted dry
1 head fennel bulb, thinly sliced
1/4 cup pecan pieces, toasted
1/4 cup crumbled Gorgonzola cheese
1/4 cup dried cranberries
4 Tablespoons Light Balsamic Vinaigrette


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Toast the pecans for approximately 10-15 minutes or until lightly browned.

Seperate a mixture of the escarole, arugula, and fennel bulb slices evenly into 4 seperate bowls.  Top each with pecans, Gorgonzola, and cranberries.  Drizzle a tablespoon of the Vinaigrette into each bowl.  Yields 4 servings at approximately 160 calories.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Mustard Glazed Chicken

I tried this Mustard Glazed Chicken recipe (Cooking Light Magazine) and served it with Gorgonzola salad and fresh berries.  I substituted Sugar Free Syrup for the Maple syrup. As prepared, the chicken has approximately 276 calories/serving.  I posted the recipe for the Gorgonzola salad in a seperate blog entry.

Maple Mustard Glazed Chicken

2 Teaspoons olive oil
4 (6 oz) boneless and skinless chicken halves
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup fat free chicken broth
1/4 cup maple syrup  (I substituted sugar free syrup)
2 teaspoons fresh thyme
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 Tablespoon cider vinegar
1 Tablespoon stone ground mustard

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Heat a large skillet over medium high heat.  Add oil and swirl to coat.  Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper.  Add chicken to pan and saute for 2 minutes on each side or until browned. 

Remove chicken from pan. Add the broth, syrup, thyme, and garlic to the pan. Bring to boil and scrape the pan to loosen the browned bits. Cook for 2 minutes stirring frequently. Add vinegar and mustard. Cook for 1 minute stirring constantly.

Return chicken to pan and spoon mustard mixture over the chicken. 

I don't have an ovenproof skillet so I placed the chicken breasts in the mustard sauce in a pyrex dish.  Bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through. 

Remove the chicken from the pan and let stand for 5 minutes. Return the chicken to the skillet with the mustard mixture and cook over medium heat until the liquid is syrupy, stirring frequently. Serve the sauce with the chicken.

While the chicken was baking, I cut up some fresh berries to serve with the meal.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Oat Bran Blueberry Pancakes

Last weekend I made some oat bran blueberry pancakes for my family.  I followed a healthy whole grain recipe made with whole wheat flour, wheat germ and oat bran (adapted from Pinch my Salt).  My family really enjoyed these pancakes.  They were so delicious for a minute we had forgotten we were eating healthy!  One serving with sugar free syrup as pictured has approximately 343 calories. 

Oat Bran Blueberry Pancakes

1 and 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1/4 cup wheat germ
1/2 cup oat bran
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons light Brown Sugar (I used Splenda)
1 and 1/2 cups lowfat milk
1/2 cup fat free Sour cream
2 eggs
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 and 1/2 cups blueberries

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together whole wheat flour, wheat germ, oat bran, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and brown sugar (or splenda).  Set aside.

In a medium sized bowl, mix together milk, sour cream, and eggs.   Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients stirring until just combined.  Stir in oil and blueberries.  Let batter sit for 10 minutes.

Scoop batter onto preheated and greased skillet.  I used nonstick cooking spray with just a little amount of vegetable oil.  You will know when to flip pancakes when the edges are dry and bubbles are starting to form on the batter.

Yields 5 servings at about 343 calories/serving.  Enjoy!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Pumpkin Soup

Yesterday was a cold and blustery snowy day in Buffalo and my family was in the mood for soup.  I tried this Pumpkin soup recipe I saw in the book "SuperFoods RX" by Steven Pratt, MD.  It is a book I recently borrowed from the library which focuses on how certain foods are much better than others for our health and are the secret to a long and healthy life.  Pumpkin is low in calories, it is a great source of vitamin A, and is also high in fiber.  One serving of this soup as pictured has approximately 100 calories.  I served it with thinly sliced apples and a dollop of plain greek yogurt.

Pumpkin Soup

2 tsp. olive oil
2 cups leeks, white part only, washed and cut into 1 inch slices
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
2 carrots, cut into 1 inch slices
1 medium green apple, peeled, cored and cut into 1 inch cubes
Two 16 oz. cans unseasoned pumpkin puree
1 sprig fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
1 tsp. salt
1/2 to 1 tsp. black pepper, according to taste
1 tsp allspice
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
7 cups vegetable broth
1/4 cup frozen orange juice concentrate, thawed
3 TBS. greek or plain yogurt for garnish
1 medium green apple, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced for garnish

Chop the leeks, onion, carrots and apple.

In a large soup pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat.  Add the leeks, onion, carrots, apple, pumpkin, thyme, bay leaf, salt, pepper, allspice, and cinnamon.  Cover and cook for about 10 minutes stirring once or as needed until the vegetables begin to soften.

Stir in the vegetable stock and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to medium low and simmer uncovered for about 45 minutes or until the vegetables are tender.

Remove from heat and let the mixture cool for about 15 minutes.  Discard the bay leaf and the thyme sprig.  Working in batches transfer some of the mixture to a food processor or blender and process until smooth.

Pour the soup back into the pot and cook over medium heat until the flavors blend.  Season as needed with salt and pepper.  Add orange juice concentrate if necessary.  I never added the OJ but this ingredient was incorporated in the recipe.  Add more vegetable stock to obtain the desired consistency.

Ladle the soup into bowls and garnish with dollops of plain yogurt and thinly sliced apples.  I added a spoonful of Splenda to my soup to sweeten it just a bit.  My husband actually preferred the soup as is.  Adjust the flavor to suit your own personal preferences.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Important factors to consider before joining a gym

This week I had an important decision to make.  I love where I have been working out, the fitness facility is great.  What more could I ask for? It is close to home and the instructors are top notch.  But it's frustrating because the fitness club hours are so restrictive and with my busy schedule it simply has not been meeting my needs.  With 3 kids, a job, and continually running from one activity to another, I was frequently missing workouts.  Their early closing time during the week (9 PM) and limited class schedule on the weekends was not working for me.  I am going to miss my favorite Zumba class, it was the one class I really looked forward to every week.  The instructor is an incredibly motivating and energetic person.

But you know when you join a gym it will not work if it is not convenient.  I basically forced myself to go whenever possible and have been committed to exercising 4-5 days per week.  However, it was adding an unnecessary level of stress to my day. Life is difficult enough without the worry of making it to the gym before it closes.

So here are some important factors to consider before signing a contract to join a fitness facility.

Is it close enough to your home or work that you will make the effort to go at least 3 or 4 days a week?

Are there enough fitness classes to keep you motivated to stick with your workouts?

Are the monthly membership fees an expense you can afford in your budget?

Do you have the ability to terminate your membership if you should move or relocate from the area?

Are the hours that the gym is open convenient and will you be able to make it there during the day before it closes?

Do you prefer to work out alone and/or at home that this might not be the best option for you?

Have you spoken to your doctor about important medical or health concerns which might have an impact on your decision?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Almond Crusted Cod

I prepared cod last weekend and used crushed almonds mixed with fresh parsley as a substitute for unhealthy fried breading.  I served the fish with stir fried broccoli, red peppers, mushrooms, and onions.  Each serving of cod as prepared has approximately 200 calories.

Almond Crusted Cod

4 cod fillets (about 4 ounces each, rinsed and patted dry, I used 2 large 8 ounce fillets)
1/2 cup sliced almonds
2 Tablespoons fresh parsley
Dash salt
1/8 tsp. paprika
2 teaspoons lemon zest
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.  Line a 13x9x2 pan with aluminum foil and spray with non-stick cooking spray.

Place the rinsed fish fillets in a single layer in the pan.

I used a mini chopper to chop the almonds and combined them with the fresh parsley.  This helped to grind the almonds into a fine coating for the fish.  Next, in a small bowl combine the almond mixture with the paprika and lemon zest.  Sprinkle the mixture over the fish fillets.  Use a spoon to gently press the mixture so that it adheres to the fish.  Sprinkle with pepper if desired.  Save the fresh lemon juice to drizzle on the fish when it is removed from the oven.
Bake the fish for 15 minutes or until the fish flakes easily when tested with a fork.  When removed from the oven, drizzle with the fresh lemon juice.

While the fish was baking in the oven, I stir fried some fresh broccoli, red peppers, mushrooms, carrots and onions to serve with the meal.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Banana Bran Muffins

I am in love with this banana bran muffin recipe.  The addition of the yogurt to the batter yielded a deliciously moist and flavorful muffin, also in thanks to the mashed banana.  I purchased Shiloh Farms Organic Unprocessed Bran and this recipe appeared on the back of the package.  This recipe yields 12 muffins at approximately 218 calories per muffin. 

Banana Bran Yogurt Muffins

1 cup boiling water
1 cup Coarse Bran
1/4 cup Honey
2 large eggs
1/2 cup oil
1 and 1/2 cups whole wheat flour ( I substituted whole wheat for unbleached flour)
1 and 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 cup plain yogurt (I used plain greek yogurt)
1/2 cup raisins
2/3 cup mashed banana

In a small saucepan mix bran and boiling water  Remove from heat and let mixture stand for 10 minutes.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Combine the honey, oil and eggs in a large bowl.  Add the whole wheat flour, baking soda and greek yogurt.  Stir in the bran mixture, raisins, and banana.  Do not overmix.

Spoon batter into paper lined muffin pan until about 2/3 full.  Bake at 350 degrees between for about 25 minutes.

Yields 12 muffins.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Challenges to Maintaining a Healthy Lifestyle

I think we all have weaknesses when it comes to sticking to a healthy routine.  I know what mine are.  Sometimes it is the little voice in my head telling me to take a break from the gym. Or just to have a taste of that sugary and tasty treat on the menu when I eat out. There are going to be times when we slip up.  Do not let these moments defeat or define you.  Simply make the most of it, move on and pick up where you left off. 

I will be honest.  I do not keep a food diary.  I think it is probably very helpful for many people especially as they begin a new diet plan. It helps to determine what your emotional triggers are and why you are eating.  When I first started to watch my weight, I ate many lean cuisine meals because I knew I would not be consuming too many calories.  As I became more confident I would maintain my weight loss, I have taken a more proactive role in preparing healthier meals for my family.  I consistently eat a similar breakfast and lunch every day.  I have found what works and I stick with it. My daily diet includes plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, lean healthy proteins, low fat dairy products, no junk food, no white flour, and strictly whole wheat flour breads and grains. I love cereals, but I monitor very closely the amount of carbs and sugar grams per serving.

I look forward to my occasional trips to the mall for Yogen Fruz yogurt.  The ladies behind the counter know me well and laugh when they see me coming.  And suprisingly they remember my order every time.  Coffee flavored yogurt mix with the no fat no sugar added vanilla, no dark chocolate added to the mix, and crushed almonds.  Yummy, I can taste it now! What's your favorite indulgence? 

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Spinach Stuffed Flounder

I just love to prepare healthy recipes with fish.  I especially enjoy the more mild fish varieties such as flounder, tilapia, and cod.  This recipe incorporates one of my favorite vegetables, spinach.  The sauteed vegetables and garlic gave this dish a lot of flavor without adding a lot of calories.  This recipe yields 4 servings at approximately 266 calories/serving. 

Spinach Stuffed Flounder

1 teaspoon light olive oil
1/2 pound fresh mushrooms, sliced
1/2 pound fresh spinach, chopped
1/4 tsp. oregano leaves
1 clove garlic, minced
4 fillets flounder (or other white fish such as cod or sole)
2 tablespoons sherry
1/2 cup part skim grated mozzarella cheese

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  I coated a baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.

Coat a skillet with nonstick cooking spray and heat olive oil at medium heat.  Add mushrooms and saute for about 3 minutes or until tender.

Add the fresh spinach and continue cooking over medium heat for about 1 minute until spinach is barely wilted.

Remove from heat and drain excess liquid from pan.  Add oregano and garlic to drained and sauteed vegetables and stir to mix ingredients.  Divide vegetable mixture evenly among the fillets and place in the center.

Roll each fillet around vegetables and seasoning mixture and place seam down in the baking dish.  Sprinkle with sherry and the grated mozzarella cheese.  Bake for about 15-20 minutes or until the fish flakes easily.  Recipe yields 4 servings.


Friday, January 6, 2012

Motivational Reasons to Lose Weight & Get in Shape

You have to admit you have thought about it. I mean what seriously could be better than to show up at your 20th year high school reunion and really stick it to the jerk who dumped you all those years ago?  Okay, maybe not, but I do think there are events in our lives which provide us with some serious motivation to lose weight and get in great shape.  If the outcome is positive and it causes us to make some well needed changes to our diet and exercise routine,  "All's well that ends well".  After all, we all would like to look our best in anticipation of an event we have been looking forward to.

Certainly one of the most rewarding parts of finding a balance between your activity level and diet is how much better you will look and feel.  It is important to consult with your doctor to make sure you are consuming enough calories and protein in your diet.  There are so many unhealthy approaches to losing weight and fad diets promising a quick fix.  It can be very frustrating and confusing not to be taken in by scams.  Expecially when it has been such a difficult and emotional process to lose the weight and keep it off.  It is very important to have a supportive network of friends and caring family who have your best interests at heart.

So for the year ahead here is hoping that you will stay healthy and well.    I will be happier in the spring when the weather warms up.  But honestly, we have been fortunate in Buffalo this year and the weather has been unseasonably mild.  I was taking long walks outside up until just recently, early December.  I will tell you it makes a tremendous difference in how much better I feel!

Hearty Black Bean Soup

I wanted to try a black bean soup in the Crockpot.  This recipe is a little spicy, but a great way to warm up on a cold winter day.  I served the soup with a grilled cheese quesadilla, plain greek yogurt (in place of sour cream), and chunky tomato salsa. As a garnish for the soup, I added a dollop of greek yogurt and sliced green onions. To make the quesadilla, I coated a frying pan with Pam cooking spray and grilled 1 whole wheat tortilla to which I added 1/4 cup fat free cheddar cheese, 1 TBS corn, 1 TBS chopped green onions, and 1/2 chopped slice of a cooked vege bacon strip.  As pictured, this meal is approximately 337 calories.  The soup has about 107 calories per serving. 

Hearty Black Bean Soup

3 medium carrots or 18 baby carrots, sliced
2 celery ribs, thinly sliced
1 cup chopped onions
4 garlic cloves minced
1 can (30 ounces) black beans, rinsed and drained
2 cans (14 1/2 ounces each) chicken or vegetable broth
1 can (15 ounces) crushed tomatoes
1 can Rotel Diced Tomatoes and Green Chilis (10 ounces)
2 tsp. dried basil
3/4 tsp. oregano
3/4 tsp. ground cumin
3/4 tsp. chili powder
1/2 tsp. hot pepper sauce (I used Tabasco Pepper Sauce, adjust to taste)
1/2 cup chopped fresh Cilantro
juice of 1/2 of a fresh lime

Chop the carrots, celery and onions.

I used my Kitchen Aid mini chopper for the fresh cilantro as this was easier than trying to hand chop it myself.

For the fresh lime juice I used a hand juicer which worked great.

Combine all the ingredients in a crockpot and cook on low for 9-10 hours or until vegetables are tender.  Yields approximately 8 servings at 107 calories.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Honey Bran Muffins

I wanted to prepare a healthy bran muffin to enjoy as a breakfast treat.  I tried this recipe which worked out well.  The recipe yields 12 muffins at approximately 156 calories per muffin.  I served the muffins with Polaner All Fruit with Fiber spread.  This spread has 35 calories per tablespoon and 6 grams of sugar per serving.

Honey Bran Muffin Recipe

1 cup Wheat Bran
1 and 1/2 cups Whole Wheat Flour
1/2 cup Raisins
1 tsp. Baking Powder
1 tsp. Baking Soda
1 cup Lowfat Milk
1/2 cup Honey
3/4 cups Natural Applesauce
1/4 cup Chopped Walnuts
2 TBS. oil
2 Eggs, beaten

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Line muffin tin with paper muffin liners.  Combine wheat bran, whole wheat flour, baking soda, and baking powder.  Stir the nuts and raisins into the flour mixture.  In a seperate bowl mix together milk, honey, oil and the eggs.  Add liquid mixture to the dry ingredients and stir until just moistened.

Spoon mixture into the muffin pan and bake from 15-20 minutes.  Enjoy!