Modern Family Holiday Menus


What are you making for Thanksgiving dinner this year? If your answer is “reservations”, you are among the 33 million Americans who rely on restaurants for all or part of their Thanksgiving feast. According to the National Restaurant Association, Thanksgiving has become the number two busiest day of the year for eateries. (Mother’s Day is number one.)

Whether you’re doing the cooking at home, taking a dish to a gathering or making restaurant reservations for Thanksgiving dinner Atlanta area chefs offer delicious ideas to add an inventive and healthy twist to menu traditions. Move beyond the green bean casserole and be inspired by the vegetable dishes chefs create with seasonal produce. After all the mission of the very first Thanksgiving feast was to give thanks for a bountiful harvest. The menu at 103 West includes a butternut squash soup garnished with fragrant truffle oil and the turkey dressing is made with Granny Smith apples and fresh rosemary. Seasons 52 serves caramelized Brussels sprouts seasoned with crispy bacon, garlic and Parmesan.

Winter Salads

Salads are often overlooked in the parade of roasted turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy. A crisp and colorful salad perks up taste buds and lightens up the menu a bit. At Southern Art the kale salad is garnished with bourbon macerated mission figs, cherry tomatoes and pecans. The poached pear, watercress and endive salad at The Shed at Glenwood is topped with goat cheese and peanuts. Another inspiring salad idea for a Thanksgiving spread is 103 West’s Boston Butter Lettuce Salad with apples, celery, currants and toasted walnuts.

Modern Family Menus

From the head of the table to the kids’ table, there are bound to be a few folks at Thanksgiving gatherings this year who have unique dietary needs including vegetarian, vegan, nut allergies, gluten or lactose intolerance. So no doubt whoever’s cooking the meal will feel a bit challenged to please all of the pilgrims.

Watch Carolyn and Christine give thanks for naturally healthy Thanksgiving foods.

An easy idea for the big feast is to create a selection of ingredients so each guest can customize their plates depending on allergies or food preferences. For example, simply roast sweet potatoes and steam green beans then offer nuts, bacon crumbles, toasted breadcrumbs and shredded cheese on the side in little bowls. Just about everyone can enjoy a seasonal mix of roasted vegetables, even the kids who might claim to be “allergic” to parsnips and rutabaga.

Restaurants and caterers are used to adapting recipes for special dietary requests. Matthew and Lynda Phillips of ADAiRE Personal Chefs offer a list of gluten free side dishes on their catering menu for Thanksgiving. Need some ideas for the non-turkey eaters at the table? Vegetarians and everyone else would enjoy the lady pea and okra succotash or the Carolina gold risotto with autumn squash and sage featured on the menu at South City Kitchen.

 While Thanksgiving is not a day for dieting, it’s certainly smart to up the flavor appeal of holiday favorites with creative recipes that help keep the calories down. Use smart swaps such as Greek yogurt instead of mayonnaise, sour cream or whipping cream in all kinds of recipes from salad dressings to pancakes. Chobani has a great offering of holiday recipes in Chobani Kitchen.  I work with Chobani on some nutrition communications projects and love the fact that their Greek yogurt comes in 0%, 1%, 2% and now 4% milk fat varieties.

I love the seasonal flavors Pumpkin Spice and Cinnamon Pear as toppings on Pumpkin Pie!


Chobani’s yogurts for kids and tots in tubes and pounces are 25% lower in sugar than other yogurts marketed to children and since Greek yogurt is strained, Chobani yogurts for kids and adults is twice as high in protein as other kinds of yogurts. #client

 Yes, you can indulge without the bulge.

  • Fill your plate with your personal holiday favorites first. Don’t waste your calories on foods you can eat all year long.
  • Turkey and all the trimmings may be the draw, but remember the main event should be sharing time with family and friends.
  • Start a new tradition by taking a walk with family and friends after the big meal and serving dessert after the stroll. You’ll feel better and dessert will taste even better.
  • Give thanks that even dietitians believe Thanksgiving is not a day to diet. You may not lose any pounds over the holidays, but if you maintain your weight you’re doing great.



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Pecans: Pecan Pie and Beyond

Pecans More than Pecan Pie

 Traditional pecan pie may have met its match because creative cooks are introducing new ways to showcase pecans.

Soup made with pureed pecans and chipotle peppers

They can literally be used from soup to nuts. Gathered at a culinary event in the Serenbe Farms community south of Atlanta organized by the National Pecan Shellers Association (NPSA) professional chefs rose to the recipe challenge.


Think beyond sugar laden pecan pies and pecan praline candies. “Europeans often ask me ‘why is it you take such a healthy product and turn it into such an unhealthy product?’ so I’m very interested in the recipes developed here,” said Bruce Caris, of the Green Valley Pecan Company and chairman of the NPSA.



The second culinary challenge- rather than relying on perfect pecan halves – invent sweet and savory dishes using pecan pieces and pecan meal. “We need to educate culinarians how to use the lesser known pecan ingredients,” said Christian Hallowell, executive chef for Delta Air Lines.

Executive Chef Christian Hallowell, Delta Airlines

Pick up the Pieces



Some of the first recipes demonstrated by Leif Eric Benson, chef for Oregon’s Department of Agriculture included a soup of pureed pecan pieces flavored with chipotle peppers and roasted lamb with a topping of pecan pieces cooked with garlic and thyme.

Leif Eric Benson, chef for Oregon’s Department of Agriculture

Chefs, in a cook-off style contest worked together in teams at Serenbe’s Bosch Experience Center to create exciting new recipes with pecans and pecan products including pecan meal and pecan oil.

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“Pecan pieces are very absorbent and pick up the flavors of spices when cooking,” said Benson.


Other inventive uses in the culinary world include using pecan meal as a meat extender or substitute. “Pecans can be used as a protein ingredient and we made a meatless all pecan pate today,” said Hallowell. “You roast and grind the pecan pieces to make a plant based protein dish.”

How about a pecan inspired cocktail? I made ginger ale from scratch using fresh ginger root, added sugar and fresh lime juice and then used Cathead Distillery Pecan Vodka to create a Pecan Mississippi Mule!



Winning team: Trent Page, Google, Carolyn O’Neil and Keith Schroeder founder High Road Craft Ice Cream

Trent Page, chef for Google at the company’s You Tube headquarters, created a recipe for a miso pecan vinaigrette salad dressing using pecan pieces and pecan oil.But, when making menu changes affecting thousands of employees, he’s aware allergies must be considered. “You have to be transparent in menu signage because tree nut allergies are very serious,” said Page. Here’s a great resource on tree nut allergies


Of course we made dessert! Pastry chef extraordinaire Kami Smith of Dawn Food Products quietly worked her magic to create a pecan desserts including a sumptuous pecan bread budding!




Pecan Nut-rition


Pecans, like other tree nuts including walnuts and almonds, are an excellent source of heart healthy fats, are rich in protein and a good source of fiber as well as other nutrients including vitamin E and potassium. What sets pecans apart from the rest of the nut pack is that they are the only nut native to North America and compared to other tree nuts have the highest concentration of antioxidants. Pecans are a win-win for taste and health.


OK, now you can have a piece of pie!




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Wine with Your Veggies?

Wine Pairings for Vegetable Focused Menus

…you’ve just joined the hottest taste trend!

The restaurant trend reports are tumbling in with predictions for what will be “in” on menus in 2016. Topping the charts are vegetable focused meals. The National Restaurant Association puts “locally sourced produce” in their top ten. And food industry trend specialist Andrew Freeman says, “People want less animal protein and are requesting that veggies are ramped up to their fullest creative potential.”


That taste trend has already emerged on Atlanta menus as vegetable side dishes multiply and vegetarian entrees get more chef love. Along side the meat centric South African inspired cuisine at newly opened Cape Dutch, chef Philippe Haddad offers a vegetable curry with South African spices and butternut squash ravioli with a peri-peri sauce.



Even if you begin your meal at Cape Dutch with a bite of Biltong, traditional South African beef jerky, registered dietitian Sharon Palmer author of Plant-Powered for Life says you can practice ‘flexitarian’ eating by ordering the vegetarian entrée.

“It is hopeful to see the trends going on where meat is now at the side of the plate and veggies are front and center,” says Palmer. “Chefs are in love with farmers’ markets and post the farms where their produce hails from all the time. This has made an impact on consumers. Look at what’s going on with Brussels sprouts and cauliflower. They’re cool!”


Wine Pairing with Produce

A sea change from menus focused on meats and fish first to vegetables on center stage means morphing wine list suggestions too. At the Century House Tavern in Woodstock, known for locally sourced produce, general manager Jon Hayano suggests pairing the Butternut Squash Soup and Spaghetti Squash salad first course selections with brut Champagne.


“We often think of animal products such as cheese, red meat, and fish when it comes to wine pairing, but with plant foods you can also make beautiful pairings,” says Palmer. “Try pairing the seasonings and sauces with wine. A citrus sauce or Asian flavoring goes nicely with white wines; tomato and chili sauces pair well with red wines.”

Wine director and co-owner of Flyte World Dining & Wine Bar in Nashville Scott Sears, who is a vegetarian, says, “In general, when pairing wine with vegetable-based meals, you want a low-alcohol, low-tannin, not-overly-oaked, balanced wine.”

More Sip Tips from Sears:

-“Make note of the spice level. To balance the spice, select wines with a touch of sweetness to them, such as Riesling or Rose.”

-“Avoid highly tannic reds made from grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon to avoid the dry, course mouth feel tannin causes when it can’t bond with fat. Tannins can overly-emphasize any earthy favors present in the vegetable dish.”

-“The wine should add dimension to the dish without adding any elements that clash with the texture. Sparkling wine is a great option for just about any vegetable dish, as are bright, light, crisp whites.”








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Frozen Food Aisle is Hot!


For those who are concerned frozen foods aren’t as nutritious as fresh; I say “Let it go!”


That’s how we kicked off the segment on Atlanta & Company! Watch the segment here.


Freezing is “nature’s pause button” and preserves the taste, texture and nutrients in foods. Flash freezing at the time of harvest means fruits and vegetables are picked at the premium point for freshness and great taste. It also means nutrients are at their highest level. In fact studies show that some frozen fruits, including blueberries, are actually a bit higher in antioxidant and vitamin content as compared to fresh.

Nature’s Pause Button- Easy Frozen Flower Decoration

Frozen Foods Aisle Really Heating Up!

I was shopping recently for my favorite frozen foods staples (chopped spinach, lima beans, sweet peas, and individually quick frozen chicken breasts)  and I was amazed at the selection and variety of frozen vegetables and vegetable blends including vegetable blends with beans and grains. So fast and easy to prepare! You know how long it can take to cook brown rice so I like buying the frozen precooked packages of brown rice to quickly cook up on stove top or in the microwave oven. I love butternut squash and buy it fresh all of the time to roast in the oven, but I also keep packaged frozen butternut squash which is cut up into cubes to add to soups or to prep quickly as a dinner side dish.

Also, a big improvement is that frozen vegetables in cream sauce or cheese sauce seem to be on the wane. And there’s a new wave in chef-inspired frozen entrees such as Lean Cuisine‘s line of delicious and nutritious culinary creations such as Chicken Pecan with white and wild rice, pecans, sweet potatoes, apples and cranberries. One of my favorites is the Sweet & Spicy Korean-Style Beef.  To balance the meal just add some vegetables on the side such as broccoli florets or green beans. #balanceyourplate



Did you know that Lean Cuisine entrees have been pleasing palates for three decades? And guess what? Chefs and dietitians working together in the Nestle USA Culinary Center in Solon, Ohio have developed recipes to lower the sodium content from 1000 mg of sodium per serving to less than 600 mg per serving by adding flavors from herbs and spices. Now that is a win-win for taste and health!

Let’s Make a Pizza!

holding pizzaIMG_6796


Frozen pizzas are one of the most popular items in the frozen food aisle. I like buying thin crust cheese pizzas and topping with lots of vegetables to create a fabulous and balanced pizza meal. Toss a side salad for even more good nutrition and great taste.  Here are two ideas with DiGiorno Thin Crust Four Cheese pizza. #sponsored

Healthy dining advice on the pizza box tells us that one serving is one fifth of the pizza. Delicious by the way!


Taco Pizza – top with precooked ground  meat seasoned with chili powder, salt and pepper or a taco seasoning mix, place green pepper slices on top of the meat and bake pizza according to package directions. Top the cooked pizza with chopped tomatoes, salsa, avocado slices and fresh cilantro.

Tuscan Pizza– top the pizza with fresh mushroom slices and bake according to package directions. Top the cooked pizza with chopped canned artichoke hearts, sliced black olives, thinly sliced deli ham (optional) ,  and lots of arugula.

Here’s a great resource from Nestle USA that reveals 7 Facts why Frozen is Fabulous for taste, health, easy meals, reducing food waste and saving money.

The Lady of the Refrigerator Thanks You!

There are lots of recipes in The Slim Down South Cookbook that feature frozen ingredients including Tomato-Lima Bean Relish ( made with frozen lima beans ) and Sweet Pea Crostini, which is a hummus like spread made from frozen green peas, olive oil, lemon, garlic and salt and pepper. It’s an appetizing vibrant green color and a hit at parties. Top with feta cheese crumbles. For a holiday look and for vegans, top with pretty red pomegranate arils!





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French Lessons: Enjoy Your Food!

French Lesson with a Southern Accent:

With Liz McDermott and Beatrix Kondor. #girlsgoneworld #parisescape #joinus

How DO those French Women Stay So Trim? 


First, introducing the best worst souvenir in Paris.

Yes, I bought the chef’s hat that says France!

Watch the Video of French Lessons on Atlanta & Company

Now, let’s go to Paris!


To Marche to Marche!

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Bustling with shoppers, even in the rain, the weekly street market stretching along the Avenue du President Wilson in Paris was an eye-popping spectacle of peppers and pastries, spices and seafood, flowers and fromage.


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While I’m not used to finding fresh rabbit and blue lobsters in my supermarket at home, seeing these foods and more in the open-air markets of Paris was a big part of the foodie fun during my recent trip to the City of Light.



Visiting the Louvre and other must-see Parisian sites was on the list, but my travel objectives were motivated by mealtime.


My first lunch was a leisurely paced three-hour tour of tastes in the elegant Le Gabriel restaurant at La Reserve Paris Hotel and Spa quite near the famed Avenue des Champs-Elysees.



The elegant dining room draped in the soft light of a September afternoon…we knew we were in for something very, very special.

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Let the games begin!!!


Our first treat….surprising savory bites of foie gras in dark chocolate. Oh and some caviar.

Beatrix Kondor apparently happy with the Champagne pairing.


Then the delightful dishes just kept on coming…..

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The highlight of the culinary adventure was experiencing chef Jerome Banctel’s specialty dish of cocoa marinated pigeon (or squab) with the bird’s little feet intact served with organic buckwheat pasta.










Liz McDermott says, “We love an adventure!”

A cheese course preceded no fewer than three desserts including cloud-like marshmallows  with a tart sorbet of aloe and lime…..


….a wild strawberry creation under an envelope of strawberry glee…


…then a plate lined with hazelnut chocolate you scooped up with tiny brioche and sticks of meringue.


Wait! If this is how those French women stay so trim, I’m moving here!

More simply sensational scenes from the jewel box that is La Reserve Paris Hotel and Spa.

View into the Fitness Room



How about a swim? #swoon


City of Light Eaters

Paris fashions help you focus on fitness goals. #pretty


As author of the best selling book French Women Don’t Get Fat, Mireille Guiliano recommends bread, Champagne, chocolate and romance as key ingredients to a balanced diet and lifestyle.


I was willing to put it to the test and while in France take some time to observe the eating habits of French women.


A young woman who works at the Dior restaurant in St. Tropez told me that she was taught to eat slowly so that the meal is more satisfying. Dinner most nights might be a simple soup with bread, a piece of cheese and fresh fruit.

Portions are definitely smaller in France as compared to the U.S.

And the fashion sense is grande!


But that’s a good thing because it allows for a variety of more tastes.

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The multi-course lunch Liz and I enjoyed with our new friend, Marie Dumarest-Petavi, at the one-star Michelin La Table restaurant in the Hotel Lancaster Paris left me feeling satisfied and energized, not stuffed and tired.

An ample two-ounce portion of beef was paired with mushrooms and sautéed red grapes.

Our incredibly friendly waiter couldn’t wait to tell us he was a big fan of the Green Bay Packers!
Beautifully tender beef with mushrooms and grapes is a modern art form in cuisine and design.











One of the very special members of Leading Hotels o the World, The Lancaster Paris, was home to film legend Marlena Dietrich. You may stay in her suite of rooms if you want to feel like a movie star.

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Of course life in Paris comes with a hefty serving of walking and many days we racked up six kilometers on a Bea’s fitness app.


Add to that the breath-defying 284 step climb up the Arc de Triomphe and running to catch Metro trains and Paris measures up as a great getaway for food and fitness.






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Lose Weight While You Sleep!

Get Enough Sleep and Get Moving: Keys to Weight Control Success


 Lose weight while you sleep! You may have heard health claims such as this connected to nutritional supplement or fad diet advertising. Well, it turns out that there may be some truth to the promise that getting a good night’s sleep can help with weight management. Research presented at annual Food and Nutrition Conference (FNCE) of The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics held in Nashville, Tennessee this year included studies on the effect of sleep deprivation on food intake. Bottom line: the less you sleep the greater your odds of weighting more. Registered dietitian Devon Golem, professor at New Mexico State University explained that lack of sleep can disrupt the hormonal regulation of appetite leading to increased total calorie intake and intake of high-fat, high-sugar foods.


“When you’re exhausted you’re not making the best decisions about what to eat,” said registered dietitian Tamara Melton, program director and clinical instructor at Georgia State University and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “You might seek out high calorie comfort foods or snack often to stay awake. Plus you may be too tired to exercise.”

Another excess calorie source: when most sleepy folks reach for caffeine they’re not ordering black coffee. It’s more likely to be the higher calorie specialty coffee drinks with cream and sugar. Choose low calorie sweeteners and fat free milk to lighten up coffee drinks that perk you up.

Melton said asking patients about their sleep patterns is an important part of a nutrition appraisal. “People are trying to look at all things in their life that affect their health holistically.”


How much sleep is healthy? According to the National Sleep Foundation adults should get between 7 to 9 seven hours. Meanwhile, the national daily average is 6.5 hours. “Sleep deprivation is an epidemic in the US,” said Katherine Finn Davis researcher at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

Shedding Light on Shedding Weight

Not saying that 1000’s of years ago we were more fit…but this is motivating!

The continuing battle against rates of obesity in the US was a big focus for nutrition professionals at FNCE. There’s good news and bad news here. “I think we’re at a turning point,” said Dr. William Dietz of George Washington University. “In the last ten years we’ve seen no significant difference in the incidence of obesity.”

Some states including New Mexico and Mississippi have even seen declines in obesity rates.

Beth Hubrich, MS RD of the Calorie Control Council, Dr. James O Hill of University of Colorado during FNCE 2015.

“It’s sort of leveled off,” said Dr. James O. Hill, Director of the Center for Human Nutrition at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center. “Is it something we’re doing right? I don’t even think we’re close to knowing.”

Hill pointed out that while diet and exercise plans work well to help people lose weight, the real challenge is helping them keep it off for the long haul. “We are wildly successful at losing weight but also wildly successful at gaining it back.” So research on obesity treatment has turned to the psychological components of mindset and motivation to help dieters find their individual purpose for weight loss goals. “It’s like a light switch going on,” said Hill.


Co-founder of the National Weight Control Registry, which follows over 6000 people who’ve lost weight and kept it off permanently, Hill is the author of State of Slim.

He says weight control is no longer a simple math problem of balancing calories in with calories burned through physical exercise. Anyone who’s ever walked on a treadmill and seen how long it takes to rack up 100 calories will be happy to hear this. Hill said, “There are so many positive side effects of physical activity. Exercise does way more than burn calories. It helps regulate appetite and metabolism. It’s more than calories in and out.”


In other good nutrition news presented at FNCE, fruit and vegetable offerings on restaurant menus are up 28% since 2010. But, registered dietitian Elizabeth Pivonka of the Produce for Better Health Foundation says overall consumption of fruit and vegetables in the US has sadly declined 7% since 2010. Not to be disheartened she says there are pockets of improvement, “Millennials are eating more vegetables than five years ago.”

By Carolyn O’Neil, MS RD, author of The Slim Down South Cookbook and nutrition advisor to Calorie Control Council




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Low Country Shrimp Boil Skewers

Shrimp Boil Skewer


Recipe from The Slim Down South Cookbook by Carolyn O’Neil, MS RD

Shrimp Boil Skewers

Fall in love with the flavors of Fall! Warm up with a Low Country Boil featuring shrimp, sausage, corn and potatoes. #lovethsouth #slimdownsouth

Get the flavor of a shrimp boil without the mess—or the calories! These skewers are perfect for a backyard party and already portioned for you.


Makes 24 servings

Hands-On 30 min.

Total 1 hour


24 (6-inch) wooden skewers

2 Tbsp. butter

¾ cup finely chopped red bell pepper

½ cup finely chopped sweet onion

1 garlic clove, minced

2 cups fresh corn kernels (about 4 medium ears)

½ to ¾ tsp. Creole seasoning

¼ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar

¼ cup Old Bay seasoning

24 baby red potatoes (about 1 lb.)

½ lb. smoked sausage, cut into 24 slices

24 peeled and deveined, extra-large raw shrimp (about 1¼ lb.)


  1. Soak skewers in water 30 minutes. Melt butter in a medium skillet over medium heat; add bell pepper and next 2 ingredients, and sauté 4 minutes. Stir in corn and Creole seasoning, and sauté 3 minutes. Remove from heat, and stir in parsley and vinegar.2. Bring Old Bay seasoning and 5 qt. water to a boil, covered, in a large stockpot. Add potatoes, and cook, uncovered, 10 minutes. Add sausage, and cook 3 minutes. Add shrimp; cook 3 minutes or just until shrimp turn pink and potatoes are tender. Drain.

    3. Thread 1 potato, 1 shrimp, and 1 sausage piece onto each skewer. Arrange on serving plates or a long shallow platter. Spoon corn mixture over skewers.

    Serving size 1 skewer CALORIES 78; FAT 3.7g (sat 1.6g, mono 1.5g, poly 0.3g); PROTEIN 5.3g; CARB 6.3g; FIBER 0.7g; CHOL 38mg; IRON 0.4mg; SODIUM 165mg; CALC 19mg


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Fine Tuning Cruise Fare

Ahoy there from the Sunny Med!


Hello from the Nieuw Amsterdam, one of the elegant ships of Holland America Line, as we sail on a 12-day dream cruise from Venice to Barcelona with many exciting and beautiful ports of call.

View of the Nieuw Amsterdam from one of the ship’s tenders. Port of Kotor in Montenegro.

On the Menu Out to Sea


Small plates are making big waves in cruise ship cuisine. From tiny dishes of mozzarella with fresh tomato or hummus with feta cheese, dolmades and olives, an artfully arranged selection of tastes from breakfast to late night snacking is set out for passengers dining casually in the Lido Market on Holland America Line ships.

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There’s no shortage of comfort food favorites such as roast beef and mashed potatoes and vacation treat foods including burgers and fries.


But gone are the serve yourself steam table vats and buffet style trays that passengers used to fill to capacity.

How about a Mediterranean meze plate?


Now at each step of the way from the salad bar to the hot entrees, members of the culinary team smile and place what you want on a plate and hand it to you.

The salad bar is a fresh cornocopia of creative ingredients

Prettily packaged sandwiches such as chicken salad with arugula on freshly baked multi grain bread take the place of a deli concept where you’d typically stand in line.
There are three distinct dining advantages here.

-Fewer people handling the food improve food safety. -Portion control allows passengers to enjoy a wider variety of tastes and decreases food waste. -And because the culinary staff create and garnish the plates they look much better for your vacation food photography.

Foodies at Sea

My recent vacation on the Nieuw Amsterdam to celebrate a rather big birthday served up a bucket-list Mediterranean itinerary and a peek into current cruise fare philosophy.

So much fun to dress up at night and enjoy dressed up dishes.


I took notice that menus afloat from the elegant Manhattan Dining Room to made-to-order thin crust pizzas on the pool deck reflect dining trends ashore.


There’s a sushi bar in Asian inspired Tamarind and shared platters of salumi and pastas at Italian themed Canaletto.

Popup dinners such as a special evening of dishes from famed New York restaurant Le Cirque add more glamour to gourmet meals in the Pinnacle Grill.

Lobster salad with grapefruit is a Le Cirque classic.
Lobster salad with grapefruit is a Le Cirque classic.

Specials on the Distant Lands menu connect to the local cuisine of each port of call. While docked in Dubrovnik, I sampled Croatian foods onboard including pastry stuffed with seasoned beef, meatballs with coriander sauce and a flaky cheese pie called Burek Sa Siron.

Croatian traditional dishes served with view of Croatia!
Croatian traditional dishes served with view of Croatia!

Chefs’ cooking demos and mixology classes add extra entertainment for food lovers on board.  After completing a series of four mixology classes you get a diploma!



Nice work guys!
Of course I joined the class!!

Galley Ho!

A behind the scenes tour of the ship’s gleaming galley leads guests everywhere from the dishwashing to dessert stations.



I learned that 137, 000 pounds of fresh vegetables are consumed by two thousand guests in a typical week.


Oh, and nearly 1700 pounds of butter.


“At the start of the week passengers eat a lot because they’re excited about all of the choices,” says Martin Van Winden dining room manager of the Niew Amsterdam’s Pinnacle Grill “Then we do see a decline in food consumption as the cruise continues.”

The elegant Pinnacle Grill on the Nieuw Amsterdam.


Ship Shape

Special diet requests and food allergy concerns are taken seriously with gluten free choices and creative vegetarian fare such as barbecue tofu with creamy grits one day for lunch.
While there’s a fabulous fitness center and spa on board, my chosen exercise was taking the stairs instead of the elevator.


When you walk up and down from deck 2 to deck 11 a few times a day it’s a work out. Especially when realizing you’re looking for a place that’s aft when you’re at the stern so have to walk another five minutes. Then you forget something in your stateroom……we racked up a lot of steps!


There were 2300 passengers on board for the 12-Day Mediterranean Romance Cruise on the Holland America Line Nieuw Amsterdam.



Actually the liveliness of this shared community at sea added so much enjoyment to the journey.  Traveling with my friend Liz McDermott, we never felt that any space was crowded or had to wait for a drink! We even got to meet Captain Edward G. Van Zaane for a special tour of the bridge.

Did you know there are no paper navigation maps anymore? But still a tradition of handsome Captains at sea.

Now, how about a recipe from Allen and Antonio, our favorite bartenders and the “professors” of the mixology class series on board? Bon voyage!


Chocolate Martini

Garnish chilled glass with chocolate sauce in swirled pattern

Shake 1 oz Vodka with 1 oz Creme de Cacoa White in a cocktail shaker with some ice.

Strain and pour into the glass.

Enjoy and you’re on your way to earning your very own bartender certificate.


Stay tuned as we set sail for more foodie destinations on shore in my next blog post.

A cruise is a great way to explore and discover the traditional foods, exemplary eateries and exciting markets in ports along the way.

Liz and I stumbled upon one of the best lunches of our lives at the tucked away and affordable Dior restaurant in St. Tropez. More to come……

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Active Travel a Healthy Trend


While there are still plenty of vacationers looking for ‘find me a hammock’ rest and relaxation time, the real action in vacation planning includes a lot of action. Paddle boarding, hiking, biking, kayaking, hot air ballooning to hot yoga.

“I call it the kale, quinoa and cardio trend in travel,” said Jack Ezon, president of New York based Ovation Vacations. “Fitness is a huge part of their daily life so they want it to be part of their vacation life. We hire guides to jog with clients in the morning to see the city,” said Ezon. You don’t even have to pack your fitness gear. Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, for instance, provide guests with workout shoes and clothes through a partnership with Reebok.

On The Go


Ezon joined a panel of travel advisors attending Virtuoso Travel Week held recently at the palatial Bellagio Resort in Las Vegas.



Billed as ‘fashion week’ for the luxury travel industry nearly five thousand Virtuoso members including travel advisors, tour operators, tourism officials, hotel and cruise line executives met to talk shop, swap business cards and share top trends.



Active travel is popular for all age groups. Look out; grandma wants to go zip lining now.


“Even older clients are not looking for sedentary travel. They want adventure,” said travel advisor Tony Huffman, chairman of Huffman Travel. Cruising on big ships is still big business but ‘excursions cruises’ on small luxurious vessels that get closer to Mother Nature are becoming wildly popular.

Food and Travel

Gastronomic adventures are high on the high-end travel list too. “Food is the most important beyond anything.

Does the Bellagio Resort have great food? You Bet! These are salads with romaine, avocado and bacon.

They want to experience local flavors with a cool vibe,” said Kelly Grumbach, travel advisor with Quintessentially Travel. “If they’re going to be stuck on an island for a week it’s not just about menu options. It’s the quality of the ingredients and being creative.” For health conscious baby boomers and older travelers Huffman says, “Sauce on the side is a food group.” But Grumbach who plans trips, often very last minute, for the millennial age group says, “It’s a high maintenance generation. They want gluten free, want or don’t want diet drinks in their room, demand no bread basket at their table and might add they’re allergic to feathers.”

My idea of wellness. It was 102 degrees F in Vegas. You don’t walk!

Making it a bit harder for travel advisors ( yes, we used to call them travel agents) plan a wellness focused vacation is the fact that not everyone has the same vision for wellness. That’s why Anne Dimon of Travel to Wellness  created a questionnaire for travel planners to use, “Some people might want to meditate and eat vegetarian foods while others define wellness as walking tours by day and fabulous meals paired with wines at night.”

Seeing friends is good for your health. Hello John Romfo of The Resort at Paws Up in Montana. That explains his fashions.
Seeing friends is good for your health. Hello John Romfo of Resort at Paws Up in Montana. That explains his fashions.
Paws Up has been doing active travel since the letter A was invented. Giddy up!
Paws Up has been doing active travel since the letter A was invented. Giddy up!

With all of the on line resources to plan (or implode) your own vacation, it’s important to note that travel advisors (AKA travel agents) are busier than ever. Matthew Upchurch, chairman of Virtuoso said, “It’s the hottest new thing that never went away.”


Fashion footnote: Vegas has the best worst souvenirs!


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Commonly Eaten Food are Super Foods, too!


How does a food become super? It’s amazing to me how many times I read about the powers of a new nutritious ‘super food’. It could be a tiny berry from the South America, a rare wild green foraged from the forest floor, sea algae selected by whales or an ancient grain discovered by archeologists. Are they super interesting? Yes. Could they be super high in antioxidants or other vital nutrients? Yes. Do they taste good? Maybe. Are they a practical part of our everyday diets and menu plans? No.

As a registered dietitian what matters to me are criteria that matter to the majority of us looking for good tasting healthy foods. These are the foods ‘super’ in a few important categories: super tasty, super easy to prepare, super nutritious, super easy to find and super affordable.

Here’s a video round up of Super Foods for All on NBC Atlanta and Company.

Super me and Christine Pullara, host of Atlanta & Company
Super me and Christine Pullara, host of Atlanta & Company

Super Food for All

From peaches and peanuts to rice and beans and foods we drink such as tea (green and black tea) there are many commonly consumed foods that provide great taste and health benefits. Taking a closer look at one example of what I consider to be a ‘super’ food let’s peel back the layers on the humble onion.


First off, onions are fat free, sodium free and low in calories but provide a big flavor punch in a wide variety of recipes from all over the world. One medium onion -one cup chopped- contains only 64 calories. Nutritionally, onions are a good source of vitamin C, fiber and the mineral potassium, which is important for blood pressure control. Research has linked onion consumption to lower rates of heart disease, diabetes and certain cancers. One of the natural phytonutrients in onions, called quercetin, has anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties linked to fighting disease. Other vegetables contain quercetin too but since onions are often consumed in higher volumes on a regular basis in so many foods from soups to salads to sauces and stews, the onion is a more powerful vehicle for this healthy compound.

Onion World

Red, white, yellow or purple onions come in a huge variety of sizes and sweetness.

“You’d be hard pressed to find a vegetable with more versatility from raw to caramelized or pickled onions are unique in the vegetable kingdom,” says Kim Reddin who blogs as Onionista for the National Onion Association. “Onions are eaten all around the globe. In fact when I look at an onion I picture a map of the world.”

Just learning to cook? Reddin says novice culinarians at home or in school programs should grab an onion. “An onion is a great teaching tool. They’re inexpensive so you can use a lot of them to practice knife skills, how to sauté and other basic cooking techniques.”

Onion Myths

Yes, they’re tasty, healthy and a kitchen staple. But, they’re not ‘super’ at fighting the flu as falsely claimed. Based on a myth that dates as far back at the 1500’s placing a cut raw onion in a room will not attract germs in the room. And if the fear of bad breath steers you away from raw onions, try following it up with a bite of fresh parsley. “I wish they still garnished plates with a sprig of parsley,” says Reddin. “It’s not just a decoration you know. It was there as a palate cleanser and to aid digestion.” Parsley, the new super food?









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Digesting Advice to “Avoid Processed Foods”


I’ve decided to avoid giving nutrition advice that includes the phrase “avoid processed foods.” There are many popular terms we use to describe the foods we eat that beg for a better definition. Baking bread, making yogurt, canning tomatoes and turning cucumbers into pickles all require a process. So, you can see that throwing out the term ‘processed’ foods to refer to foods that are perceived to be ‘unhealthy’ doesn’t always apply.

In fact, certain food production processes can actually boost nutritional content such as adding calcium to orange juice or whole grains to pasta. Other processes such as freezing vegetables help to preserve vitamin content at the time of harvest. “The term ‘processed foods’ evokes a wide range of assumptions and beliefs about what is a healthy food,” says lead Connie Weaver, PhD, Distinguished Professor and Department Head, Nutrition Science, Purdue University. Weaver, a member of The American Society for Nutrition, contributed to a statement on the nutritional benefits of processed foods published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The statement concludes that making food selections based on nutrient composition and not extent of processing is a better way to determine nutrition adequacy.  For instance, compared to fresh tomatoes, which are higher in vitamin C, canned tomatoes have a higher concentration of disease fighting nutrients such as lycopene and beta-carotene.

Processing History

“Maybe processed food isn’t such a bad thing after all,” concludes food historian Rachel Laudan, author of Cuisine & Empire: Cooking in World History. Here’s an excerpt from one of her articles in the publication Gastronomica discussing the mealtime merits of processing foods:

“So to make food tasty, safe, digestible, and healthy, our forebears bred, ground, soaked, leached, curdled, fermented, and cooked naturally occurring plants and animals until they were literally beaten into submission. They built granaries, dried their meat and their fruit, salted and smoked their fish, curdled and fermented their dairy products, and cheerfully used additives and preservatives—sugar, salt, oil, vinegar, lye—to make edible foodstuffs.”

Clean Eating

“Clean” is another popular term today meant to imply a ‘healthier’ food product or restaurant dish has very few ingredients. But, Julie Miller Jones, PhD, professor of foods and nutrition at St. Catherine University in St. Paul, MN points out that additional ingredients can improve a food’s health profile, “If we add more of an oat fiber called beta-glucans to oatmeal and other foods we can double the cholesterol lowering power.” Talk about cleaning things up.

Adding ascorbic acid (better known as vitamin C) helps preserve the freshness and safety of many packaged foods. But, when it comes to frozen vegetables, for instance, I say go for the ‘plain Janes’ and not the ones with added calorie and fat boosting butter and cheese sauces.

If you’re trying to find foods higher in fiber or a particular vitamin or are cutting back on the amount of sodium or sugar in your diet, the Nutrition Facts label on packaged foods is still the best tool for seeing what’s inside. Label reading note: ingredients are listed in order of prevalence on packaged foods.

Nutrition education, it seems, is a process too.

WebMD recently posted a very helpful and comprehensive article examining the pluses and minuses of marketing foods with so-called “clean labels”.  Simplifying things in an attempt to cut through the clutter of consumer confusion can really complicate the situation.  I say if an ingredient has a scientific name I want to know, especially if it best describes the ingredient.  Again, Ascorbic acid is Vitamin C.

Want something that sounds more natural so you can be sure it’s safe? Well, don’t forget that snake venom is natural too and olive oil is a processed food. Which do you want in your salad dressing?

So on we go. The more you know, the more you can eat.



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Nantucket Oasis for Summer Food and Wine



Nantucket Island, thirty miles from Massachusetts’s mainland, is a summer vacation oasis of grey-shingled cottages surrounded by green lawns, blue hydrangeas and pink roses.


Sailboats bob in the harbor and sea birds soar overhead. The leisurely pace is a simple mix of bike rides and beach days. But, the summer fashions are lively with splashes of nautical stripes, Lily Pulitzer’s eye-popping prints and the iconic pink known as Nantucket red.

It's not pink. It's Nantucket red.
It’s not pink. It’s Nantucket red.

Happily, the island’s summer menus are as lively as the landscape and the lifestyle. Pineapple salsa and jalapeno cilantro slaw brighten up the fish tacos at the White Elephant’s Brant Point Grill. Dinner al fresco on the ocean view deck at Topper’s in the elegant Wauwinet Inn features an appetizer of marinated Jonah crab with pickled cucumbers, lemon drop melon, fresh dill and edible nasturtium flowers.


“My favorite thing about food on Nantucket is that local chefs embrace the local farmers,” says registered dietitian Liz Weiss who is a family nutrition expert and co-founder of “The fish are locally caught and chefs pair dishes with farm fresh produce and herbs.”

Liz Weiss and I in her fabulous kitchen in her Nantucket summer home. FYI: the island doubles as a ping-pong table.

At Topper’s I enjoyed a pristine piece of halibut served with squash, roasted eggplant, and Nicoise olive vinaigrette.

Weiss chose raw blue fin tuna with artichokes, basil and Bartlett’s Farm tomato preserve. She said, “There are so many farms here and I think local produce really brings out the best in seafood. It’s just more fun to eat.”

So what does a seafood-loving dietitian say about New England’s on-just-about-every-menu lobster rolls? “Well there’s usually a lot of mayo in the dressing and butter on the toasted roll, but I say it’s OK to splurge on vacation,” said Weiss. “You can always go on a longer bike ride.”


A lighter version is available on the menu at the Brant Point Grill at the White Elephant where you can skip the roll and ask for the succulent lobster salad splurge served with a green salad.


My stay at the White Elephant Village was a retreat within a retreat with elegant modern suite, a super comfy bed, sparkling pool and even more sparkling friendly staff. You can hop on a complimentary bicycle to explore the town or (my choice) greet the day sipping  coffee with a fresh baked pastry and pretending to read the New York Times in the spacious lobby.

Who needs the beach? Must less sand at the White Elephant swimming pool. (:

Another Nantucket nutrition tip from Weiss – vacation time can be the best time to introduce kids to seafood. “I have found that picky eaters are more apt to try new flavors with the positive peer pressure and excitement in a restaurant.”

Yes, that’s a white elephant at the White Elephant!


In the Pink

angel sand

Rose wines, more popular than ever this summer, are perfectly paired with seafood and the pretty pink color of lobster.

Liz and I enjoying sunset at Topper's at the Wauwinet Inn
Liz and I enjoying sunset at Topper’s at the Wauwinet Inn

“The dry roses of France are light and crisp and compliment the richness of lobster,” said Atlanta based interior designer Liz McDermott; another vacation friend and Nantucket fan.



The pale orangey pink of Whispering Angel rose from Provence – which seemed to fill the majority of wine glasses at sunset on the island – was also a perfect match for the Nantucket red shorts, pants and sweaters worn by so many visitors enjoying this gourmet summer getaway.







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Greek Yogurt’s Got Protein Power


Greek style yogurts are taking over the dairy aisle…and apparently the airline aisles! Photo above is my snack on Delta Airlines flight to Syracuse, New York. You’ll learn in a minute why on earth I was flying there in July!

The rich and creamy texture of these strained Greek yogurts combined with the win-win of their high protein and low fat content are driving demand as consumers seek foods that meet taste and health expectations.


“Greek yogurt has two times the protein as compared to regular yogurt,” says Rob Post, senior director of nutrition and regulatory affairs for Chobani.


Here’s Rob at dinner seated next to my registered dietitian colleague and nutrition writer Bonnie Taub-Dix. Dr. Post is one of the great minds who built the MyPlate nutrition icon at the US Department of Agriculture’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion. 

Ah ha! I flew to Syracuse because one of Chobani’s two processing plants ( the other one is in Idaho ) is in the tiny western New York town of New Berlin.


I was invited by Chobani with a group of other registered dietitians and nutrition writers and food bloggers to meet, greet and eat our way to better knowledge about the nuances of making Greek yogurt. That, of course, started down on the farm.


Look at this state of the art ( the girls love the milking merry-go-round ) Rotary Milking Parlor at Sunnyside Farms in Scipio Center, New York.  600 dairy darlings are milked per hour in a ten minute round trip per cow. No antibiotics are used, unless an animal becomes sick and is then removed from the milking crowd. So, it’s in the dairy men and women’s plan of best practices to keep the cows healthy with good food (grass, alfalfa, corn, citrus pulp, canola seeds and more), plenty of clean water and fresh air. The dairy barn was open on the sides allowing  fresh breezes from the rural hills beyond to flow through the area.

Rotary Milking Parlor- take a spin!

We also visited the impressive processing plant where Chobani yogurt is made, flavored with fruit, packaged, and shipped.

IMG_2799There are many steps along the way and each of them included above and beyond safety and sanitation oversight by professionals especially trained in each and every position along the way. Each of us suited up in factory fashions to ensure we weren’t dragging in any dirt. Spotless processing equals safe dairy; very very important in a world where listeria monocytogenes can be hiding.  Chobani pasteurizes their milk to above regulation temperatures to ensure any lurking bacteria are killed.  Go get ’em!

Protein Power Points

Greek yogurt even beats eggs in protein power and with fewer calories. One cup of Chobani Greek yogurt contains 22 grams of protein and 130 calories. Two large eggs contain 12 grams of protein and 154 calories.

Muscles are beautiful. Now you’ve got my attention!

What’s so important about protein? More than just a muscle builder this major nutrient is the focus of important emerging research on weight control.

Heather Leidy, professor of nutrition and exercise physiology at the University of Missouri, leads studies measuring the impact of high protein diets (100-130 grams of protein per day) on weight management. “We see more weight loss and more fat loss”, says Leidy. “Protein improves appetite control and satiety. There can be a reduction in food intake of over 400 calories per day.”

Salad dressing with Greek yogurt dressing at The New York Pizzeria in New Berlin, NY. A Chobani staff favorite!
Salad dressing with Greek yogurt dressing at The New York Pizzeria in New Berlin, NY. A Chobani staff favorite!

Protein timing is critical too. Rather than consuming a huge steak for dinner, Leidy suggests eating about 30 grams of protein per eating occasion throughout the day. Snacks should provide protein too because they’re more satisfying for a longer period of time.
The kind of protein consumed impacts overall health, too. High quality protein foods containing all of the essential amino acids for building and repairing body cells are vitally important.

“Most people consume plenty of protein but we’re not really sure they’re getting high quality protein,” says registered dietitian and protein researcher Nancy Rodriguez of the University of Connecticut-Storrs.

“Animal foods such as dairy, eggs, meats, fish contain the twenty essential amino acids needed for numerous functions in the body.”

Savory Swaps
Yogurt is enjoyed mostly as a breakfast food with fruit or as a sweet snack but executive chef Tim Reardon of Chobani wants to help change that by popularizing savory yogurt recipes.



“You can easily substitute half of the mayo in coleslaw or chicken salad or the oil in a salad dressing with Greek yogurt,” says Reardon.


“As a marinade it tenderizes meats and adds moisture to baked goods,” says Reardon.

Hey look! A pizza recipe on a Chobani yogurt container!
Hey look! A pizza recipe on a Chobani yogurt container!

And by substituting Greek yogurt for mayo or oil or sour cream…..

you’re not only cutting calories in recipes, you’re adding good nutrition, too. 

You're welcome!
You’re welcome!
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BBQ in a Jar for Fast Fourth of July Recipe



BBQ in a Jar  from The Slim Down South Cookbook 


Serve this twist on a traditional barbecue dinner at your next family picnic with slices of cornbread on the side. Smoked pulled chicken or rotisserie chicken can be substituted for the pork.


Makes 6 servings

Hands-On 17 min.

Total 27 min.


½ cup sugar

½ cup apple cider vinegar

⅓ cup vegetable oil

½ tsp. mustard seeds

¼ tsp. table salt

¼ tsp. celery seeds

¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper

1 (16-oz.) package shredded coleslaw mix

1 (22-oz.) can baked beans in a sweet and smoky sauce

2 cups shredded barbecued pork without sauce (10 oz.)

9 Tbsp. bottled barbecue sauce


  1. Combine first 7 ingredients in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, and simmer 3 minutes or until sugar is dissolved.2. Place coleslaw in a medium bowl; pour hot sugar mixture over slaw, tossing to coat. Let stand 10 minutes.

    3. Microwave beans in a small microwave-safe bowl at HIGH 2 minutes or until thoroughly heated, stirring after 1 minute. Microwave pork in another small microwave-safe bowl at HIGH 1 to 2 minutes or until thoroughly heated, stirring once.

    4. Layer about 6 Tbsp. beans, ⅓ cup pork, 1½ Tbsp. barbecue sauce, and ⅔ cup coleslaw into each of 6 (1-pint) canning jars.

    Note: We tested with Bush’s Grillin’ Beans Smokehouse Tradition.

    Serving size 1 filled jar CALORIES 468; FAT 20g (sat 3.8g, mono 8.4g, poly 6g); PROTEIN 18g; CARB 57g; FIBER 5.9g; CHOL 40mg; IRON 1.7g; SODIUM 817mg; CALC 102mg

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Fitness Vacation a Deliciously Healthy Retreat


IMG_2500Summer vacations often mean a time to let loose and have fun with no particular goals except to drink cold beers at the beach or pool and read the latest popular page-turner.



But I chose an escape from the ordinary that required hiking shoes, work out clothes, and swim suits actually designed for swimming.

The Activity Pool: did you know exercise in water takes 25% more effort?
The Activity Pool: did you know exercise in water takes 25% more effort?
Craig Stuart of HYDRO-FIT led the water classes.
Craig Stuart of HYDRO-FIT led the water classes.

IMG_2629As a gift to myself in advance of a really big number arriving on my birthday in July, I spent a week at Rancho La Puerta in Tecate, Mexico.


The menu is vegetarian, except for seafood choices at dinner, and there’s no alcohol served with meals. But this was not about deprivation.

Actually, wines from Baja region are available at the Ranch's new Sol Bazar. The rose is pretty good.
Actually, wines from Baja region are available at the Ranch’s new Sol Bazar. The rose is pretty good.

Dinner is a perfectly portioned four-course affair with soup, salad, entrée and dessert.


One night the menu included spinach soup with toasted almonds and balsamic reduction, a roasted vegetable salad with walnuts, goat cheese and tomato oregano vinaigrette, Florentine lasagna with black lentil and yellow pepper sauce and lemon tiramisu with macerated berries.


“Great flavors allow us to enjoy food more while actually eating less, “ says Executive Chef Denise Roa, who oversees the Dining Hall and La Cocina Que Canta cooking school. All of the meals feature a bounty of fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs fresh picked from the property’s organic farm. “I believe that many people have forgotten or never experienced what food can taste like in-season and at its peak of freshness,” says Roa.

Chef Virginia Willis and the happy cooking school class at Rancho La Puerta
Chef Virginia Willis and the happy cooking school class at Rancho La Puerta

The guest chef at the cooking school during my week’s stay was Atlanta based Virginia Willis, author of the Lighten Up Y’all! Cookbook.


She led a group of eager guests through the garden to pluck cucumbers and edible flowers and then assigned us to re-create her recipes in the Mexican tiled kitchen.


I was on the Makeover Broccoli Mac n Cheese team. The recipe called for a calorie cutting one-to-one ratio of broccoli florets to whole-wheat pasta. Willis’ lump crab and celery remoulade recipe lightens up the dressing. “It’s OK to keep some of the ingredients you crave. I like to substitute half of the mayonnaise with low fat Greek yogurt and add some mustard and horseradish so there’s plenty of flavor,” advised Willis.


Dessert shines! Spa-ah Peach Cobbler
Dessert shines! Spa-ah Peach Cobbler

My fitness focused week at ‘the ranch’ is what I call a ‘slim-cation’ of satisfying, nutritious meals and busy days that began with an early morning mountain hike and included an entertaining mix of activities from Pilates and weight training to water aerobics and tennis lessons.

Ground hog day! Two mile minimum hikes each morning at 6:30. Already getting hot!
Ground hog day! Two mile minimum hikes each morning at 6:30. Already getting hot!
Work it!
Work it!
Tennis anyone?
Tennis anyone?

It helps to have a buddy at the Ranch. My good friend and registered dietitian colleague Janet Helm who blogs at Nutrition Unplugged was with me every step of the way as we hiked and tried new fitness finds including barre classes and pumped iron. Oh there was spa time too of course!

Fitness days and farm to table nights.
Fitness days and farm to table nights.

“Health is within everybody’s reach,” says petite and peppy 93-year-old Deborah Szekley, founder of Rancho La Puerta. “You just have to reach out.” During an inspiring evening lecture on aging, Szekley advised making a weekly schedule to plan and time for fitness and shopping for healthy foods. “I have maybe ten years left in my life and I’m excited about it. You have to value your time.”


They say it takes at least one week to establish new habits. I made an effort to drink more water, which wasn’t difficult in the desert heat; especially since there were water sources everywhere on the property and stations with iced herbal teas.IMG_2483

Each afternoon there was a tasting of fresh fruit smoothies at the new juice bar by the activity pool.


Did I lose weight? Maybe a little.  But I gained a renewed spirit to prioritize my health for many more birthdays ahead.


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Drink Up Summer Fruits and Veggies

Ever feel like you are literally wilting when the weather’s hot?

wilted roseimages


We droop like a flower. But when the blossom gets a good long drink it bounces back to life and the same goes for humans who are properly hydrated.



Signs of dehydration include thirst, of course.

keep calm images

But, other symptoms are more subtle and can fool you into thinking you need sleep or an attitude adjustment. You might get a headache. You can become cranky, forgetful, tired, dizzy, and light-headed and your skin appears dry and wrinkly. This is not exactly the formula for summer health and beauty.


Remember the old adage to drink eight glasses of water a day? Well, the Institute of Medicine actually recommends women should consume 11 cups of fluid per day and men 16 cups.

Before you hit the water trough, note that these amounts include the water in all food and beverages we consume. Iced tea, milk, fruit juice and even hot coffee and soups all count as hydrators.

Cocktails may cool you down…but alcohol isn’t the best hydrator in hot weather. Make sure to mix in a few glasses of water at the bar.

It turns out that on average 80 percent of fluid intake is from beverages, but the other 20 percent is from food.
Drink Your Watermelon


Watermelon, a warm weather favorite, is 92 percent water. Two cups of watermelon serve up one and half cups of water. In addition, watermelon is a good source of the mineral potassium which is an important electrolyte needed for fluid balance, blood pressure control and heart health. So, watermelon is not only important for summer fun, it supports summer fitness.

The same goes for other high water content foods such as lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, strawberries, and citrus fruit. All of those summer salads and fresh fruit desserts can help you stay hydrated, too.


“I love going to local markets and seeing all of the fresh melons and berries,” says Atlanta registered dietitian Marisa Moore, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.


She suggests adding fruit to savory salads too. “Fresh fruit adds incredible flavor and juiciness to green salads. I love using peaches, blueberries and strawberries in salads.” Spicy fresh fruit salsas are a great accompaniment to fish tacos and grilled meats.
Do Not Stay Thirsty, My Friends
If you’re feeling thirsty then you’re already dehydrated. Sports fitness experts say instead of downing an entire bottle of water at once it’s best to drink small amounts of fluids throughout the day because the body is better able to absorb the water and use it more efficiently.

mkids Watermelon eaters 10a
And have another slice of watermelon.

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Summer Slimmers with Low Calorie Sweeteners and Carolyn O’Neil

Summer’s light and fresh menus serve up more foods cooked on the grill surrounded by salads. The problem is that “light and fresh” doesn’t always mean light in fat and calories.


Here’s a video of Summer Menu Slimmers and Shockers on 11 Alive Atlanta and Company with host Christine Pulara and moi cooking up solutions with low calorie sweeteners. Even BBQ ribs and a margarita!!


Here’s the recipe for Spare ribs with a skinny BBQ sauce slimmed down with Sweet n Low for summer from the super helpful The Skinny On Low website.

OK back to the story…..on slimmers and shockers.

These are beautiful salads chock full of summer’s slim-sational garden fresh ingredients.

Whether you’re tossing your own or eyeing the salad section on a restaurant menu, be wary of summer ‘blockbusters’. Many overly huge entrée salads aren’t a slam-dunk for summer slimming. Many weigh in around 1000 calories. Sides such as coleslaw, macaroni and potato salads are often loaded with mayonnaise. Mayo contains 100 calories per tablespoon. Opt for light mayo with 35 calories per tablespoon.

Most high fat salad toppings add about 100 calories per ounce. So chances are when you pile on the cheese, fried chicken, croutons, bacon bits and salad dressing you’ve probably eaten more calories than a large burger and fries.

Slimming Summer Menus:

  • Look for menus that take advantage of summer’s bountiful harvest of low calorie nutrient rich produce including tomatoes, cucumbers, field peas, peaches, basil, and all kinds of berries. Did you know that the vitamin C in fruit and veggies is essential for building collagen for healthy skin? Another summer beauty tip.
Sweet pea hummus has more fiber and fewer calories than chick pea hummus. Plus it’s prettier! From The Slim Down South Cookbook. by Carolyn O’Neil
  • Avoid cream based cold soups and go for choices chock full of vegetables such as gazpacho. Fruit soups, from melon to strawberry are delicious and nutritious summer menu additions, too.
  • Instead of ice cream or gelato, you’ll save hundreds of calories per serving by choosing frozen desserts made with low fat or fat free milk.

Sugar free frozen desserts made with low calorie sweeteners such as Sucralose are bathing- suit-friendly options as well. But watch the toppings. Choose fresh fruit when possible and skip the crushed candies.

  • Think about your drink. Count 400 calories per 8 ounces of a pina colada, margarita, or fruit daiquiri. Look for the ‘skinny’ mixers made with no or low calorie sweeteners such as sucralose or stevia. Stay hydrated in the summer heat and treat your taste buds by adding a little pizzazz to bottled water with sugar free flavor drops made with stevia. Great info on all sweeteners can be found on the Calorie Control Council’s fact filled website.

photo 1

Take advantage of the new innovation in computerized push button “free style” soda machines to easily find and select from a list of low and no calorie beverages choices.


Healthful grilling

These are NOT lean steaks. Marbling means high fat and calories.

At restaurants, don’t be fooled by the fire. Grilled meats and fish are often slathered with butter or oil so request that your order be brushed lightly with oil.

Sam Huff is a BBQ genius!

Leaner cuts of meat– such as a sirloin tip instead of a heavily marbled rib eye steak or pork roast instead of a pork chop- are lower in fat and calories but can be a challenge to cook. Sam Huff, chef and owner of Sam’s BBQ1 in Marietta, Georgia says, “Only rich folks ate high on the hog. Barbecue was for the tough meat cuts with long protein strands so poor folks had to figure out how to cook them slow and low.”

Another tip for tender meats is placing a pan filled with liquid in the BBQ cooker or under the meat on the grill. “It adds flavor and stops the dripping fat from causing flare ups,” say Huff. “I use whatever compliments. With pork I’d use apple juice, beef maybe some red wine and with chicken I use chicken stock.”

IMG_6209Dubbed the “grill sergeant,” Huff is one of five featured chefs at the annual Montana Master Grillers event held over Memorial Day Weekend at The Resort at Paws Up, near Missoula, Montana.

Such a natural. Saddle up cowgirl!

Billed as a 37,000-acre backyard barbecue, the weekend of Montana ranch meets fine food and drink includes activities such as fly-fishing, trails rides, and even a cattle drive.


Let the summer games begin!   Have a cookie!


Here’s a yummy recipe for Peanut Butter Cookies sweetened with stevia.

Perfect with a bowl of sugar free frozen dessert topped with summer berries!

icecreamphotoHere’s to a Slim-sational Summer!!!

Thank you to the Calorie Control Council for the recipes and the foodie facts on sweeteners. I’m thrilled to be blogging for The Skinny on Low Cal this summer.



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Feast for the Eyes

toastingimagesBeautiful spring weather calls for beautiful meals under the canopy of nature.
They say we eat with our eyes, but looks like we should be eating for our eyes too. Nutrition researchers are gazing into our orbs to illuminate the link between nutrition and eye health. Important diet discoveries go beyond eating carrots to see well in the dark.

Carrots still rank high on the eyesight saving menu but other heroes, perhaps even more important, are emerging from the farm. Scientists have set their sights on green leafy and deep orange or yellow vegetables such as spinach, kale, zucchini, corn, tomatoes, pumpkin, squash, carrots, collard greens and turnip greens.


The Lady of the Refrigerator dressed in a pumpkin. Fashionable and fabulous for eye health. Good looking and good for looking!
Pumpkin and the other foods listed above contain two natural carotenoid plant pigments called lutein and zeaxanthin. They are both potent antioxidants thought to protect the eyes against the damaging light waves that contribute to cataracts, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy and age related macular degeneration (AMD).

A study in the British Journal of Nutrition reports that lutein can reduce risk of cataracts by up to forty percent and a study in the Archives of Ophthalmology found that lutein may cut risk of AMD by thirty five percent. Lutein is also found in eggs, especially the yolk. So enjoy the whole egg for a whole lot of health benefits.

Peek a Boo! I see you!


Lutein is important for the development of an infant’s eye sight (attention moms-to-be) and maintaining children’s vision health (eat your vegetables kids!).

Recipe note: since lutein and zeaxanthin are fat-soluble nutrients absorption is increased when consumed with a little oil. So it’s good to know that olive oil drizzled on the season’s fresh vegetables is good for your taste buds and your eyes. Yum! Here’s a delicious example from The Slim Down South Cookbook. The BLT Chicken Salad.


Focus on Foods
Other powerful antioxidant nutrients associated with maintaining overall eye health are zinc, vitamin C, vitamin E and beta-carotene.

Lutein/Zeaxanthin: kale, collard greens, spinach, turnip greens, broccoli, avocado, zucchini, peas, corn, Brussels sprouts, tangerines, dark leafy salad greens and eggs.

Beta-carotene: carrots, mangos, sweet potato, greens, spinach, tomatoes, broccoli, cantaloupe, kale, and apricots.

Vitamin C: papaya, citrus fruit, strawberries, tomato, mango, green peppers, and berries.

Vitamin E: almonds, wheat germ, whole grain breads, avocado, and greens.

Zinc: oysters, lobster, beef, poultry, pork, lentils, and whole-grain bread.

Source: USDA nutrient database.

Happily, many of the foods rich in nutrients good for our eyes are delicious additions to any meal and are beautiful to look at too.

Here’s the video!!! of Beautiful Ways to Present Beautiful Foods FOR our Eyes.

It’s all about placement on the plate.

Add Color and MORE….


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Menu Labeling: It’s Complicated

girlwithmenu The countdown to provide calorie counts and other nutrition information for menu items is in full swing for more than 250,000 restaurant locations nationwide. Faced with a December deadline set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) restaurant chains with more than 20 outlets are busily crunching the numbers to provide nutrition facts on their menus, websites and in-store signage.

“Menu labeling is the biggest advance in providing nutrition information to consumers since the law that required Nutrition Facts labels on packaged foods was implemented 20 years ago,” said Margo G. Wootan, nutrition policy director for The Center for Science in the Public Interest.

In addition to calories, written information on total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrates, sugar, fiber and protein must be available upon consumer request. The intent of the new law is to guide diners toward healthier choices on the menu.


Joy Dubost, registered dietitian with the National Restaurant Association says, “Many restaurant patrons have stated that menu labeling is important to them when dining out, and we also know that based on trend data consumers are demanding more healthful options.”

Nutrition by the Numbers

Seeing the facts right up front can help diners avoid calorie bombs or at least be forewarned of the waistline busting cost of indulgent dishes and drinks.


“What I like about the new legislation is that it holds restaurants accountable,” says registered dietitian Nicole King of the website Healthy Dining

How do restaurants come up with the nutrition numbers? The FDA allows several methods including the use of software programs based on nutrient data bases designed to calculate nutritional analysis for recipes, using nutritional information already calculated for recipes in published cookbooks or the more costly but most accurate laboratory analysis of individual items. King says, “And restaurants have to show their work when they provide documentation to the FDA so it’s clear what method was used.”

closeup picture of screaming businesswoman over white

It’s Complicated

Presenting the information to consumers is not always a simple task. Take a pizza restaurant for example. How do they list the nutrition numbers for all of the combinations of toppings and different kinds of crusts? King says, “It’s complex and cumbersome.”

Staff training is part of the new labeling law too to ensure that cooks follow the recipes. A liberal hand with the salt or mayonnaise in the kitchen will mean the numbers on the menu won’t match the dish being served.

“We have to remember this is hand crafted food not made to specs such as an Oreo where every cookie is exactly the same size. There are going to be slight variations,” says King.


Other challenges behind the scenes are happening behind the bar. From pina coladas to cosmopolitans, alcoholic beverages are included in the menu labeling law even though they weren’t part of the packaged foods labeling laws. That’s why you don’t see calorie counts on a bottle of vodka. “The alcohol piece was not regulated at all. But now cocktail menus have to list nutrition information,” says King. So now when you say ‘make mine a double’ don’t forget to double the calories too.


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Super Foods with Super Promises

lemonDrink lemon water to detox your liver, battle depression and dissolve gallstones!

coconut oil1

Consume coconut oil for shiny hair, clear complexion and a healthy heart!

green tea1


Sip green tea to lose weight and boost your immune system!

You may have heard these so-called ‘super food’ claims.

Yes, what we eat and drink certainly can help ‘cure what ails you’ and protect against ill health. But the temptation to promise a wee bit more than science supports is rampant in marketing messages and perhaps always has been.
Food fads and fallacies are widespread. Consider this sage advice.

“No subject lends itself more readily to misuse than diet. Fakers fatten and grow rich on gullibility of the public when it comes to selling ‘pointers’ to beauty and health. It is only through education conducted by individuals who possess a thorough knowledge of nutrition that such fakers can be denounced and their pernicious advice refuted.”

– Fairfax T. Proudfit, professor of nutrition at the University of Tennessee College of Medicine and author of Nutrition and Diet Therapy, first published in 1918.

Yup, 1918. I keep this old textbook on dietetics close to my desk. It’s been revised eight times and mine is the 1942 edition.


Nutrition science may have advanced by leaps and bounds since then, but truly the basics haven’t changed that much. Eat your vegetables, choose whole grains, seek out high quality protein, and eat a wide variety of foods to get a wide variety of nutrients. Limit sugar, fat and salt and remember to drink water to stay hydrated.

Way back when in Proudfit’s day, nutrition experts were concerned about under nutrition and vitamin deficiency diseases whereas today we’re focused on over nutrition and obesity related diseases including diabetes and cardio-vascular disease responsible for three out of five deaths worldwide.

Let’s get back to the lemon water.


Every tall tale includes a kernel or two of the truth. Here’s why each of these ‘super foods’ can be healthy additions to your diet.

Lemon Water- The nutritional advantage of drinking water flavored with a little lemon juice is that it provides some vitamin C and the mineral potassium which are important for good health. Adding lemon, orange or a splash of any fruit juice can help make water taste a bit better so that you might drink a bit more to stay hydrated.
Research shows that offering water that is cooled and flavored increases fluid intake.
Proper hydration aids in digestion and supports all bodily functions including support of heart health and the brain. When you are dehydrated you can feel lethargic and even cranky. So, if drinking lemon water helps you stay hydrated that’s a good thing for the body and the brain. Other than that, I see no miraculous health advantages for adding citrus to drinking water. And actually you should make sure that the exterior of lemons and any other fresh fruit is cleaned before slicing to prevent bacterial contamination of the drinking water.

Coconut Oil-  wow that’s a lot of usefulness! Hmmm….too good to be true? 

While coconut sure tastes good in a Pina-colada or a coconut cake, coconut oil isn’t all it’s cracked up to be as a ‘super food’ according to the US Food and Drug Administration. The FDA has issued warnings to marketers of coconut oil over misleading and unsubstantiated health and nutrition claims.

Coconut oil, like any fat, is a concentrated source of calories with 120 calories per tablespoon. And coconut oil is more than 90 percent saturated fat, the kind of fat associated with elevating blood cholesterol levels. By comparison, butter is 65 percent saturated fat. So using a bit of coconut oil to cook dishes such as Thai cuisine is delicious way to enjoy vegetables, but downing coconut oil by the spoonful won’t work miracles for your health.

Green Tea- Wow! you had me at “fights against aging.”


As registered dietitian trained to advise folks on food and fitness to achieve and maintain a healthy weight, I do like to recommend drinking unsweetened hot and iced tea because it’s hydrating, provides a non-caloric beverage and provides a gentle lift without the jitters often associated with drinking too much coffee. Green tea and black tea both contain the amino acid L-theanine, which research shows can help you feel alert and calm at the same time. That’s tea-rific!

Note that green and black tea come from the same plant- camellia sinensis. Matcha green tea, enjoyed in tea ceremonies in Japan, is more concentrated than other green teas so will taste, some say, a bit ‘spinachy’ with a strong vegetal flavor. So it’s an acquired taste.

Some of the health claims for green tea include information on the high concentration of antioxidants, but there are lots of foods that are rich in disease fighting antioxidants including most fruits and vegetables, nuts and other kinds of tea, too.


So, when you read about the ‘super’ effects of ‘super foods’ on your health, take a moment to digest the facts before you waste your money on empty promises.

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