Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Are you resolving to lose weight in 2015?

Here’s a compendium of resources to get you started on a healthy path in the New Year:

The food part:
  • Recipes, recipes, recipes – lots of tasty dishes that are low in calories can be found here.
  • Holidays and parties can be challenging. Here’s how to get through one of the first big party days in the new year, the Super Bowl.
The exercise part:

  • How many calories are burned by different kinds of exercise? Find out here.
  • Even if you’re a desk-sitter at work, you can get in some exercise.
The motivation part:
  • Greatest problem ever – what to wear while you’re losing weight.

Here’s to a happy and healthy 2015!

Photo courtesy of Ed Donahue and used under Creative Commons

Monday, December 08, 2014

Go easy on yourself when entertaining during the holidays

Are you planning to host a holiday party? Are you crazy?

Okay, you may or may not be crazy. If you’ve already signed on to do this for friends, family, co-workers, etc., do it right. Here’s a quick list of ways to keep your holiday hospitality flavorful and fancy free, and even light on calories if you so wish:
  • There are many ways you can incorporate dishes with low-calorie sweeteners into your holiday soirees. Some tempting seasonal items include:
  • You don’t have to make everything from scratch!! Plan to buy some already prepared food, or have a potluck-style dinner. Put those guests to work!
  • Doing a bunch of appetizers? There are some awesome frozen appetizers, things that would probably be a huge hassle to make on your own. Throw some of those in with your homemade options.
  • Make a quick cheese tray with three different cheeses, crackers, some nuts and fruit. Easiest thing ever.
  • Making mashed potatoes? Don’t peel those suckers first. Save time – and enhance nutrition – by keeping the peels on.
  • Can you make it in advance without sacrificing quality? Do it!
  • Oven space can be at a premium, so look for opportunities to cook outside the oven. Crockpots are great for parties for this reason. Or make it in advance (see above) and warm up in the microwave.
  • I simply cannot stress this one enough: If you’re doing the cooking, assign someone else to do the cleanup.

Good luck with your holiday entertaining!

Photo courtesy of Brittney Bush Bollay and used under Creative Commons

Sunday, November 23, 2014

I love Lifetime and Hallmark holiday movies

I have a confession to make: I love Lifetime and Hallmark holiday movies. Not sure what it is about those formulaic flicks, but I just can’t get enough of them this time of year. The plots are generally so simple, and loosely based on more classic holiday stories like “A Christmas Carol” or “Miracle on 34th Street.” This list does a hilarious job of outlining the standard tropes of these movies.

Even with the silly clich├ęs, though, I’m still hooked. I suppose, watching those movies is like snuggling with a warm, familiar blanket. I can pour myself a cup of piping hot chocolate (like this yummy-looking peppermint hot chocolate), or maybe some egg nog, or mulled wine, turn on the Christmas tree lights and the gas fireplace, and float off into a winter wonderland of cheesy romance.
I especially enjoy the ones that feature the “real” Santa Claus. I saw one recently that featured an up-and-coming Santa (named Nick, obviously) who needed to find a wife before Christmas. (He was taking over the holiday from his dad, the real Santa, but had to have the spouse in place first, of course.) I saw another that had Santa and Mrs. Santa approaching one of their milestone wedding anniversaries. Only Santa forgot the anniversary, so Mrs. Claus ran off to Vegas. Vegas!!

Another thing I like about these movies is that you get to see 80s and 90s actors you haven’t seen in a while. What’s Steve Guttenberg been up to lately? Why, it appears he’s in this movie. Good for him! What about Daphne Zuniga? Ahhh, there she is in this movie with Jay Mohr – I always liked them.
If I’m really lucky, there will be a Dolly Parton movie. Dolly is only just my favorite celebrity of all time. In 2013 there was a Dolly movie on Lifetime called “A Country Christmas Story,” and seeing that was a highlight of my holiday season.

(Note: My husband has asked me to state for the record that he NEVER watches these movies with me.)
So if you find yourself in the middle of a stressful season, I recommend tuning out the obligations and errands by turning on one of these cable TV movie classics.

This looks like a good one!

Monday, November 17, 2014

The big food day is coming – tips for eating right and avoiding stress

Thanksgiving. A day set aside for giving thanks, spending time with family, watching parades and football. But for some, it’s a day of stress about cooking and overeating. I’ve made, and eaten, many Thanksgiving meals over the years, and while I’m certainly no expert on avoiding all stress or fattening foods that day, I have compiled an informal list of turkey day hacks that make it a little easier to eat better and relieve at least some of the pressure.

Gobble Gobble!

The actual bird

To brine or not to brine. Or maybe a dry brine?
Invert bird, then turn it over halfway to maximize juiciness.
There are so many different, and sometimes conflicting, ideas on the best way to roast that Tom. Here are my quick thoughts:
  • I would gently recommend that a fresh turkey is generally better than a frozen, if you can swing it. No judgment if you can’t, I’m just sayin’. Sometimes you have to order the fresh birds in advance, so if you haven’t done that already, you better get cracking.
  • I’m not going to say deep fried turkey doesn’t have its charms. But if you are trying to watch your weight and come away from this meal not feeling like a Thanksgiving Day parade balloon, deep fried may not be the best way to go.
  • I don’t need to repeat the advice on giving your Tom plenty of time to defrost in the fridge, do I?
Here’s a different take on a holiday turkey dish that’ll save you the trouble of cooking the whole bird: Turkey cutlets with cranberry pear sauce

Or no bird

You know, you really don’t have to do a turkey. You can make ham, beef tenderloin, chicken or other poultry, or any other roast beast that may be easier to make than a turkey. At past Thanksgivings we’ve done a combo of turkey (usually just the breast) with grilled pork tenderloin, or one year, smoked brisket. Here are a couple of light recipes for gobbler substitutes that still give off a festive holiday vibe:
And you don’t even have to have any meat, if meat isn’t your thing. There are some awesome options for vegetarian main dishes, like mushroom lasagna, stuffed acorn squash, pumpkin risotto, winter veggie shepherd’s pie. I made a yummy (decadent) butternut squash lasagna once that was out of this world.

Some sides on the side
  • For crying out loud, you do NOT need to peel the potatoes for mashed first. You’ll save time, and add extra nutrition, if you leave the peels on. Want fluffy potatoes? Use a russet type. Want creamy potatoes? Use a waxy type. To cut down on fat in this dish that normally screams for too much dairy, try using chicken stock instead of cream, and load up on fresh herbs for extra flavor. 
  • There are so, so many different ways to do dressing, or stuffing (I usually do a cornbread dressing). I’m sure you’ve heard the safety warnings that accompany stuffing the bird. I don’t think it’s worth the hassle, to be honest. Just put your dressing in a separate baking dish and call it a day.
  • You need some veggies, people. Green beans and Brussels sprouts are certainly traditional, and corn, beets, the ever-trendy kale and squash also taste great on the Thanksgiving table.
Here are some excellent light suggestions for sides, a few of which would be great candidates for making in advance, that use low-calorie sweeteners:
Bread basket

I like rolls at Thanksgiving. My husband doesn’t; takes up too much valuable stomach real estate that could otherwise be filled with turkey, he says. Nevertheless, they are common on this holiday. Here are some ideas for easy ways to make bread or rolls happen:
  • Want to bake something homemade that’s relatively easy and light? I recently found this really simple recipe for focaccia using pizza dough.
  • Or, what about biscuits? They go with everything. Try fridge or freezer biscuits.
  • Even easier? Let this be one of the things you buy. I’ll bet your local bakery makes awesome rolls, or there are some really awesome basic store-bought rolls.
How sweet it is

I saw a poll in a recent food magazine that confirmed pumpkin is the most popular Thanksgiving pie, followed by apple; pecan made the list, too. Growing up we always had pumpkin pie, and while I do love it, sometimes it’s fun to have something different. Here are some awesome recipes for health-conscious pumpkin pie alternatives using low-calorie sweeteners:

Ice cream or whipped cream as a topper? Sure, or you can substitute light frozen vanilla yogurt, or for something really different, try this vanilla ricotta cream.

What’s your poison?

Serving booze? Sparkling wines like champagne are comparatively light on calories, but are certainly festive for a holiday event. Light beers are also good and should satisfy the football-watchers of the day. But you also need to ensure you have plenty of non-alcoholic drinks on hand for non-drinkers or designated drivers. Coffee and/or tea with low calorie sweeteners are de rigueur; my holiday isn’t complete without Diet Cokes.

Here are some light recipes for non-alcoholic holiday beverages that use low-calorie sweeteners:
And there you go; my thoughts on making Thanksgiving a bit easier and a bit healthier. Now, if you want advice on surviving the holiday with your mother-in-law, that’s a whole other post …

Turkey photo courtesy of Don McCullough and used under Creative Commons

Pie photo courtesy of TheCulinaryGeek and used under Creative Commons

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

New home, fresh healthy habits

The stress of moving from one state to another combined with a mountain of work for both me and my husband meant that our family’s healthy living routine got a little off track for a while. But now that we’ve settled into our new home, we’ve been inspired to breathe new wholesome energy into our lifestyle.

For example, we just invested in new bikes and bike helmets for everyone in the family. Our old neighborhood in Atlanta was a bit too hilly for bike riding, but our new neighborhood is perfect for pedaling. The kid has already taken her new training wheels out for some spins; there are a lot of other bike-riding kids in our neighborhood to spur her on. Luckily, working from home gives me the flexibility to work in a ride here and there between other obligations.
Check out my new ride!

Also, our new town home is on a private closed road, so it’s pretty safe for our daughter to play outside with her new friends. Instead of coming straight home from school hoping to watch TV, our daughter now can’t wait to go outside and play with the neighborhood kids every day. That gets her parents outside, too (to watch her), and that’s healthy for us!

And the food: The moving month(s) meant a lot of food on the go, much of it not very nutritious. But we’re officially back to cooking in our great new kitchen (with a must-have gas stove), which means we have better control over what we eat. Plus, lately I’ve been working hard on maintaining my portion sizes, and I’ve noticed I feel better after meals when I do that.

Of course, cutting calories and healthy eating are already part of my daily routine. I’ve got my trusty Diet Cokes on hand, use low-calorie sweeteners in my coffee, and love to experiment with wholesome recipes, such as this one for stuffed pork tenderloin. Mmmmmm, pork tenderloin!

As I’ve mentioned several times before, there’s a ton of research to support how low-calorie sweeteners can contribute to healthy living. In June, the Calorie Control Council reported on a study that showed low-calorie sweeteners have a positive effect on weight loss and appetite control compared with regular sugar. The research findings indicated that participants who ate sugar instead of low-calorie sweeteners consumed more calories each day, gained more weight and fat while those who  consumed low-calorie sweeteners lost weight and fat, and were hungrier between lunch and dinner than those who used low-calorie sweeteners. Here’s a link to more on this one.

My family loves its food, and alternative sweeteners let us have our cake and eat it, too!