Category Archives: O’Neil on Eating

Montana Meatloaf Recipe

Montana Meatloaf: best. meatloaf. ever.

img_7188 Sometimes the best souvenirs are memories of uniquely wonderful dishes that add a delicious dimension to travel experiences.

This veggie packed meatloaf recipe created by Executive Chef Josh Drage of The Ranch at Rock Creek is beautiful when sliced revealing jewel like pieces of carrot and celery.

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Take a bite, close your eyes and ‘taste travel’ to the ranch lands of western Montana.

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Thank you to Gena Berry of Culinary Works for translating chef’s measurements into home cook lingo.

 

The Ranch at Rock Creek Montana Meatloaf

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Ingredients:

1 teaspoon, olive oil

1 shallot, minced

2 carrots, peeled, 1/2″ dice

3 stalks celery, 1/2″ dice

1 medium onion, peeled, 1/2″ dice

1 large egg

1/2 cup part skim ricotta

1 shake hot sauce

1 teaspoon, salt

1/2 teaspoon, black pepper

2 teaspoons fresh thyme, stemmed and chopped

¼ cup breadcrumbs

1 lb. lean ground beef

 

Directions:

In a large sauté’ pan, heat oil and sauté’ shallot until soft and starting to caramelize.   Add carrots, celery and onion and cook until just softened. Remove from the heat and let cool.

In a large mixing bowl, lightly beat the egg with a large fork, stir in the ricotta, hot sauce, salt, pepper and sautéed vegetables to combine. Add the breadcrumbs and ground beef and gently stir until well mixed.

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Form the mixture into a slender loaf and bake on a sheet pan.

 

 

 

 

Bake at 350 degrees, uncovered, until a meat thermometer reaches 160°, about an hour.

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Let the meat loaves rest a bit, then slice using a serrated knife into once inch thick slices. Serve with roasted new potatoes garnished with fresh thyme.

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More on the Ranch at Rock Creek.http://www.ranchatrockcreek.com  From trout fishing to taking a spin on the mountain bike parked outside your door, this getaway is the essence of ‘glamping’!

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Stay in the main house or tuck away into the tented suites complete with footed bathtubs and a fire pit to warm your feet next to the gurgling creek steps outside.

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This western Montana Relais & Chateau property is an outdoor lover’s western adventure and luxe lover’s fresh air pampering all under the same big sky.

 

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CLEAN EATING: 3 Diet Resolutions to Skip!

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It’s time to stretch on the spandex, hit the gym with folks who look like they’ve never been there before ( or in a long time )- bless their hearts.

In fact, YES, bless their hearts because no matter what it take to get back on board with health and fitness enthusiasm- good for you!!!

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But, here are my Top 3 New Year’s Diet Traps to avoid:

 

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#3. If I buy the foods on the 2017 Trend List I’ll be so much healthier this year. 

jackfruitNo, jack fruit probably won’t change your health. But, it might affect how much change you have in your wallet. Often, these ‘super fruits’ are super expensive.

January is citrus season.

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Eat more affordable in season delicious and nutritious oranges, grapefruit and add flavor to cooking with freshly squeezed lemon and lime.

#2. I’m going to cook more at home and avoid eating out. 

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Well, that depends what you’re cooking.

Restaurant meals can be very healthy and in fact, in May 2017 all restaurant chains ( with 20 or more outlets ) have to provide Nutrition Facts information on menu items so you can see what you’re getting into when you order the deep fried calamari or double fudge brownie cake. Or that the hamburger you really want has fewer calories and fat grams than the entree salad you thought you should order. (:

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Back to cooking at home; good idea!

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Thank you Chef Josh Drage, Ranch at Rock Creek for best Meatloaf Ever!

Get everyone in the family to learn to add more vegetable to all meals, even meatloaf! This recipe from The Ranch at Rock Creek in Montana is one of my all time favorites because the meatloaf includes big jewel like pieces of carrots, mushrooms, and leeks.

RECIPE FOR MONTANA MEATLOAF: Scroll down below! OK it’s written by a chef, so measurements are in weights. But the ratios work for smaller batches, too.

 

Learn to season with no calorie flavors such as salsas, vinegars, mustards, hot sauces, herbs and spices.

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Potato Salad from Peru is made with olive oil and lemon juice, not mayo.

The Slim Down South Cookbook: Eating Well and Living Healthy in the Land of Biscuits and Bacon is great place to start building your healthy cooking skills.

slsds_cover(My recipe below for Shrimp and Grits-(see recipe posted below).. is just one of many easy and delicious weeknight meals in The Slim Down South Cookbook.)

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peach-dishAlso, jump into a fabulous new healthy food trend- home delivered meal kits such as Peach Dish, based in Atlanta featuring southern grown foods but shipped locally and nationally.I’m working with Peach Dish as one of their registered dietitians to provide nutrition information and healthy cooking tips.

Now drumroll…..my favorite New Year’s Diet Trap to AVOID!!!

#1.  This year I vow to NEVER eat ice cream or French fries EVER again!

Hey, good luck with that. Chances are by Super Bowl Sunday you’ll be knee deep in nachos.

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So, rather than making huge promises that will be a huge burden to keep, make small, measurable changes. For instance, when I enjoy ice cream after dinner I’ll serve myself two small scoops in a bowl and top with fresh strawberries or blueberries. I honestly love French fries, so I’ll allow myself to enjoy them once a week- especially if they’re really good! Try mustard ( no calories ) with fries, as opposed to ketchup (lots of sugar).

And as always remember that The More You Know, The More You Can Eat!

Happy and Healthy New Year Friends! Carolyn O’Neil, MS RDN ( French fry lover, especially shhhhh dipped into Champagne.)

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Shrimp and Grits from Southern Living’s The Slim Down South Cookbook, by Carolyn O’Neil, MS RDN

 

Makes 6 servings

Hands-On 25 min.

Total 30 min.

 

Parmesan Grits:

½ tsp. table salt

1 cup uncooked quick-cooking grits

½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

½ tsp. freshly ground pepper

 

Creamy Shrimp Sauce:

1 lb. unpeeled, medium-size raw shrimp

¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper

⅛ tsp. table salt

Vegetable cooking spray

1 Tbsp. olive oil

1 Tbsp. all-purpose flour

1¼ cups reduced-sodium fat-free chicken broth

½ cup chopped green onions

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice

¼ tsp. table salt

¼ tsp. hot sauce

2 cups firmly packed fresh baby spinach

 

1. Prepare Parmesan Grits: Bring ½ tsp. salt and 4 cups water to a boil in a medium saucepan; gradually whisk in grits. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, 8 minutes or until thickened. Whisk in cheese and pepper. Keep warm.

2. Prepare Creamy Shrimp Sauce: Peel shrimp; devein, if desired. Sprinkle shrimp with pepper and ⅛ tsp. salt. Cook in a large nonstick skillet coated with cooking spray over medium-high heat 1 to 2 minutes on each side or just until shrimp turn pink. Remove from skillet. Reduce heat to medium. Add oil; heat 30 seconds. Whisk in flour; cook 30 seconds to 1 minute. Whisk in broth and next 5 ingredients; cook 2 to 3 minutes or until thickened. Stir in shrimp and spinach; cook 1 minute or until spinach is slightly wilted. Serve immediately over grits.

Serving size ½ cup grits and about ⅓ cup shrimp sauce CALORIES 235; FAT 6.1g (sat 1.9g, mono 2g, poly 0.6g); PROTEIN 19.1g; CARB 25.2g; FIBER 1.4g; CHOL 119mg; IRON 3.3mg; SODIUM 74

MONTANA MEATLOAF:

The Ranch at Rock Creek Meatloaf

Ingredients:
• 5# ground beef
• 1100g (2.5#) carrot
• 550g (1.25#) celery
• 550g (1.25#) onion
• 300g (10oz) shallot
• 500g (2 cups) ricotta
• 1 ¼ cup bread crumb
• 4 large eggs
• 20g (.75 oz) salt
• 5g (.2oz) black pepper
• 5g (.2oz) fresh thyme
• 5g (3 shakes of) Tabasco
Directions:
Sauté carrots, celery and onion until just softened.
Sauté the shallots separately and cook until sweet and almost caramelized.
Mix all ingredients in the stand mixer until just combined.
Cook off a test piece and check seasoning.
Split into two or three loaves making them long and slender, the same width all the way down.
Bake on sheets, leaving space between each loaf.
Bake at 325-350 degrees uncovered for 45 minutes.

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Easy Holiday Side Dishes

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It’s the holiday season with lots of festive get togethers. Hope you’re ready to put on your sparkle and get those parties!

But as an invited guest you may generously ask the host, “What can I bring?”

If their answer is “Why don’t you just bring a side dish?” I’ve got you covered.

Here are some great tasting crowd pleasing recipes that just so happen to be super easy to prepare. I created a buffet of EASY HOLIDAY SIDES for NBC Atlanta & Company.

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And if you shop at ALDI food markets, they’re super affordable too. Have you ever been to and ALDI? No frills, but all fabulous.

ALDI is a great place to buy holiday essentials like fresh seasonal produce and organics, dairy, gluten-free foods, USDA choice beef and bakery items, priced up to 50 percent less than at other traditional grocery stores.

Disclosure: I’m working with ALDI this holiday season to get the word out on their great food products, award winning wines and all you need for holiday bash. Find lots more tips, inspiration and recipe ideas at ALDI Holiday Hub. 

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Look at this Holiday haul! Everything including the wine!

First Side Up! Twice Baked Butternut Squash

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Cut a butternut squash in half, bake and then scoop out the insides leaving enough skin to create your ‘boat’. Mix mashed butternut squash with honey goat cheese, …well hold on…here’s the recipe from ALDI Holiday Hub website.

Twice-Baked Butternut Squash

SERVINGS: 8 | COST PER SERVING: $1.12† | PREP: 10 MIN | COOK: 1 HOUR, 20 MIN

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 medium butternut squash, halved and seeded
  • 2 cups hot water
  • 5 ounces Happy Farms Preferred Honey Goat Cheese Log, crumbled, divided
  • 1/4 cup Friendly Farms Half & Half
  • 2 tablespoons Countryside Creamery Unsalted Butter, melted
  • 5 ounces Southern Grove Dried Mixed Berries
  • 2 teaspoons Stonemill Pumpkin Pie Spice*
  • Stonemill Table Salt, to taste
  • Stonemill Ground Black Pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 cup Southern Grove Chopped Pecans

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 425°F.

In a large baking dish, place butternut squash cut side up. Add hot water, cover with foil. Bake until tender, approximately 45 minutes to 1 hour. Remove from oven, discard water, allow to cool. Scoop out tender parts of squash leaving skin intact.

In a medium bowl, combine squash, 3 ounces of goat cheese, half & half, melted butter, mixed berries, pumpkin pie spice, salt and pepper. Stir until well combined. Scoop mixture back into squash skin, top with remaining goat cheese and chopped pecans. Bake until mixture is slightly firm, approximately 10-12 minutes.

Change oven setting to broil.

Broil until cheese is browned, approximately 5-8 minutes.

Recipe courtesy of Chef Morgan, ALDI Test Kitchen

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How about these Tomato and Goat Cheese Santas? Stuffed with garlic and herb goat cheese, they are an adorable addition to any holiday party and are pop-in-your-mouth easy to eat and delicious! Top a hollowed out cheery tomato with a grape tomato half as the hat! OK…it’s my secret holiday mission to get folks to eat more fruits and vegetables during the holidays…and all year long!

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If you’re going to build and bring a cheese and meat platter to a party don’t forget to add the fresh fruit to add good taste and good fresh seasonal nutrition. The gourmet cheeses including a white cheddar with cranberry and a beautiful brie cheese are from…you guessed it…ALDI.

Pears are in season right now and add a naturally fresh sweet taste to cheese platters. A included Anjou (brown) and Bartlett (green) pears to my platter on Atlanta & Company. Thank you USA Pears!

Oh, and to round things out….how about a little indulgence with teeny tiny bites of cheesecake and wonderful chocolate covered gingerbread cookies, too. The wines, a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, a Cabernet Sauvignon and Italian Prosecco are wines from ALDI’s award winning and super affordable wine collection.

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Ok let’s get to the party!!!! Happy Holidays everyone! And THANK YOU Mallory for your fab food styling skills! You made everything look sooooo great! More plaid please. (:

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Personal Chef for Busy Weeknights (in your freezer!)

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Weeknights are often busy nights with after school activities, late hours at the office and let’s face it America….the stress of fighting rush hour traffic just to get home.  The dream scene of a home cooked meal made from scratch every night is just that…a dream scene…so why not rely on your freezer as your personal chef a few nights a week?

Whether you’ve batch cooked and frozen entrees on the weekend, when you had a little extra time….or you simply reach in and find a frozen entree prepared by chefs in their professional kitchens…the freezer really is your best friend.  I’m happy to be a spokesperson for Stouffer’s where dietitians and chefs work together to come up with recipes that really are the win-win for taste and health. Their meals are freshly made and simply frozen.

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Stouffer’s Lasagna Meat and Sauce

Stouffer’s Lasagna with meat and sauce is certainly a family favorite and guess what? One serving contains 18 grams of protein and only 300 calories.

There are no preservatives because the freezer does the preserving!

Oh and now the ingredient label reads like a recipe with vine ripened tomatoes, freshly made pasta and real mozzarella listed on the package. It’s Stouffer’s new “Kitchen Cupboard” commitment to simplify recipes to include ingredients we all can recognize (and immediately start getting hungry!).

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Farmers Market Fall Salad

OK, you’ve dashed in the door. The lasagna is baking in the oven. Now it’s time to take a deep breath, hug the kids, get them started on their homework and toss a salad. Don’t want another boring salad? Then, I say, don’t make one. I have two recipes for easy to make and easy to love weeknight salads from my Slim Down South Cookbook that help you balance your plate.

I work with the good folks at Stouffer’s on their #balanceyourplate nutrition campaign.  Did you know that the majority of American families don’t eat the number of fruits, vegetables and whole grains they should for a balanced diet?

So let’s fix that by fixing a well balanced dinner.

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It’s fall y’all! So toss in some of fall’s deliciously crisp apples into a salad. Apples are a good source of vitamin C , potassium and fiber.

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Arugula, grapefruit, grapes and avocado salad

Or if you like grapes, cut them in half and toss into a salad with avocado and grapefruit segments. I like to top with crunchy sunflower seeds for even more good nutrition.

 

 

Here’s another way to #balanceyourplate. While the Stouffer’s Lasagna with Meat and Cheese is baking and starting to fill the kitchen with ‘I can’t wait for dinner’ aromas…..go back to your freezer and find frozen green peas to make a great sweet pea hummus.

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The kids ..and you…can dip carrot chips or whole grain crackers into the pea hummus ( another great source of fiber, potassium and protein) for a healthy snack to tide them over before you serve the lasagna and salad. Recipe: green peas in blender, a little olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and salt and pepper. Whirr, stir and serve. Smile.

 

So, using your freezer as a personal chef not only helps balance your plate, it helps balance your life because you’ll have more time to talk to the. kids, relax and enjoy those family meals on busy weeknights.

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Now, this is the way to celebrate good nutrition and great taste on any night!

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RECIPES FROM THE SLIM DOWN SOUTH COOKBOOK by registered dietitian, healthy foodie, Carolyn O’Neil

Farmers’ Market Fall Salad with Sweet and Spicy Dressing  

Hit the farmers market or your super market produce section for delicious seasonal vegetables. Can’t decide what to toss in a salad, toss it all in to celebrate your fresh finds.

Makes 8 servings

1 green apple, diced

1 red apple, diced

½ cup thinly sliced green onion

1 cup chopped baby kale

1 cup sliced Napa cabbage

1 cup sliced red cabbage

½ cup golden raisins

Sweet-and-Spicy Dressing

Makes 12 servings

Hands-On 5 min.

Total 5 min.

¼ cup lemon juice

¼ cup honey

2 Tbsp. hot sauce

2 Tbsp. canola oil

1 tsp. celery salt

¼ tsp. black pepper

Whisk together all ingredients in a small bowl. Store in refrigerator in an airtight container up to 3 days.
Serving size 1 Tbsp. CALORIES 43; FAT 2.4g (sat 0.2g, mono 1.5g, poly 0.7g); PROTEIN 0.1g; CARB 6.1g; FIBER 0g; CHOL 0mg; IRON 0mg; SODIUM 146mg; CALC 1mg

 

 

 

 

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Trim Your Tailgate

Hey Y’all it’s Fall!

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That means it’s time to start wearing boots, sweaters, leather and your team’s colors to sport at fall football tailgating parties.

It’s GO NOLES for me! Come on Florida State University ( where I received my BS in Foods & Nutrition, with minor in English). No I won’t tell you what year I graduated. Here’s a clue: bell bottoms and big hair were in fashion

img_6333But, woah! Flag on the field. No one wants to get ‘tailgate tummy’ by overeating (and over drinking) while hanging around with football friends at the tailgate. Ditto for football parties at home with fellow fans in front of the big screen.

How to TRIM your TAILGATE:img_6325

Smart Substitution Teams: Use Greek yogurt instead of (or halfsies ) sour cream or mayo based salads. I love the tart taste of plain Greek yogurt with fall salads with baby kale, shaved Brussel’s sprouts and good old cabbage that include the sweet taste of fresh apples and golden raisins.

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Smart Plays:  Choose bold flavors and smaller portions.  I really like succulent boneless, skinless chicken thighs on the grill. They’re smaller than chicken breasts, so even though they contain a bit more fat, they’re just the right portion for calorie control. You can prep before and take to the game or cook them up quickly during half time at home. My recipe for Honey Pecan Chicken Thighs from The Slim Down South Cookbook is delicious. And no bones to throw away when tailgating in the parking lot! I made tiny corn muffins with big flavor from pimento cheese, jalapeño and sun dried tomato garnish.

 

Think about Your Drink: 

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We love sweet tea in the South. And it’s a delicious thirst quencher for tail gating at home or away. But all of that sugar means all of those calories. So I like to brew Southern Breeze Sweet Tea at home, chill and bring to the game. ( or pour at home ). It’s delightfully sweet with zero calories and comes in regular, peach, lemon and raspberry flavors.

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Southern Breeze Sweet Tea boxes waiting in the wings to fly on NBC Atlanta & Company Click HERE to watch the segment.

I’m a spokesperson for Southern Breeze Sweet Tea and love that your brew this tea, it’s not like a messy (won’t dissolve) powder.

I jazz it up for parties ( Southern Breeze makers even want the recipe!) for a Cajun Lemon Sweet Tea. Brew Lemon flavor Southern Breeze tea, add a dash of Tabasco and top off with rum or vodka if you choose. It’s saves SOOOO many calories and tastes terrific. Garnish with sliced lemon.

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So rather than drinking your calories, you can enjoy a Pecan Sandie cookie for tailgate dessert.

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Fresh fruit on a skewer is another great way to get good nutrition into your game and it’s hand held easy.  Make sure to use hand sanitizers if you’re throwing the football around the parking lot before you dig into the tailgate buffet.

#Bonuspoints

Please follow my antics on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

@carolynoneil

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Tiny Wild Blueberries Deliver Big Nutrition

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 Good things come in small packages.

The same can be said of the tiny wild Maine blueberry being harvested this time of year on otherwise barren rocky fields.

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In fact, the land in northern Maine where these short scruffy bushes grow is referred to as ‘the barrens.’

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About one third of the size of cultivated blueberries commonly sold in most supermarkets, Maine’s petite deep purple wild berries have been popping up on their own without human help for more than ten thousand years.

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Merrill Blueberry Farms is the first and only company to process organic wild blueberries for the frozen market.

“The plants are not fast growing but they’re long lasting,” says David Yarborough, wild blueberry specialist and professor of horticulture at the University of Maine. “I eat my way through the fields and have wild blueberries with oatmeal for breakfast every day.”

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David Yarborough also likes wild Maine blueberry ice cream.  So does Hannah Richards, mommy blogger and editor at Ethos Marketing.

To learn how wild blueberries are different from the tame (that’s what the US Department of Agriculture calls cultivated blueberries) I joined a group of food bloggers for an educational farm to table tour called “Blog the Barrens!”

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Regan Miller Jones RD of Healthy Aperture , Danielle Omar of Food Confidence and I visit Wyman’s of Maine.
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Liz Weiss, fellow dietitian and blogger at MealMakeoverMoms and I celebrate wearing blue in blueberry land! Blueberry fields forever.

We braved a little cold and rain but blessed the weather conditions as ‘good for the berries!’ and enjoyed wonderful meals together as we tasted and talked – it was all about the wild Maine blueberry.

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At Havana restaurant in Bar Harbor, wild blueberries find their way into blueberry butter, blueberry vinaigrette sauce for scallops, and blueberry compote for goat cheese cheesecake.  We were greeted with a wild Maine blueberry Mojito since Havana’s theme is a latin inspired menu.

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We also spotted a very famous and discriminating ‘foodie’ and fellow blogger…Martha dining right next to us at Havana.

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No we didn’t get a chance to chat but the Martha sighting had me craving more berries and appreciating the gorgeous views!

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The bartenders at the Bar Harbor Inn shakes up blueberry martinis and executive chef Louis Kiefer makes a variety of wild blueberry salsas.

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RECIPE: Wild Blueberry & Tomato Salsa 

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1 cup Wild Blueberries

1 cup quartered Cherry Tomatoes

1/4 cup diced Yellow Bell Pepper

Chiffonade of Fresh Basil Leaves

Pinch of Sea Salt & Cayenne

1 tablespoon honey

2 tablespoons Walnut Oil (or olive oil)

1-2 tablespoons of Fruit Vinegar (Champagne vinegar, Blueberry vinegar! or Red Wine Vinegar for instance)

Mix well and serve- great with tortilla chips (duh) or on top of grilled fish ( as in photo above)

WILD ABOUT WILD BLUEBERRIES IN MAINE!

It’s easy to find blueberry pancakes and blueberry ice cream on just about every menu in Maine. (And as a design on table linens and other decor) Let’s get another look at that wild blueberry ice cream!

IMG_8074 If they’re not using the state’s wild berry, I’m pretty sure they’d be run out of town.

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Yarborough explains that while blueberries grow wild in Maine, farmers manage the fields where they grow to control competing weeds and insects to ensure a healthy crop. This year will be a banner year for wild blueberries because the weather was ‘honeybee friendly’ during the critical pollination phase.

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Speaking of the harvest….there are mechanical harvesters but much of the crop today is still gathered as it has been for years…by raking the berries into a toothy contraption in back and forth motions so the berries tumble into the catch. It’s back breaking work and I had enough of it in five minutes. Cheers to those humble heroes who harvest our sweet crops!

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Big Nutrition, Small Berry

Wild blueberries offer banner nutrition too. Because the berry is tiny there’s more skin to flesh ratio so the wild blueberry is twice as high in fiber and much higher levels of antioxidants as compared to bigger cultivated berries. Registered dietitian Kit Broihier, who works with the Wild Blueberry Association of North America says, “Tiny is huge when it comes to nutrition. The wild blueberry has concentrated levels of nutrients that support eye, heart and brain health.”

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While the savoring of fresh wild blueberries is an annual celebration during harvest in Maine, the majority of the state’s crop heads immediately to the freezer. “It’s nature’s pause button,” says Yarborough. Freezing maintains the color, shape, and flavor of the fruit and creates a food product that’s available year round and worldwide.

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And studies show that freezing not only protects but actually increases the availability of nutrients in blueberries. You can find wild Maine blueberries in most supermarkets in the frozen fruit section. Or….you can head to the state of Maine for the late summer harvest next year. Besides it’s the best time of year to visit Vacationland.

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Big Love for Small Plates

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Big Love for Small Plates.

Whether the menu lists them as small plates, bites, snacks, starters or sides to share there’s healthy enthusiasm for dishes designed for do-it-yourself dining.  After years of coping with enormous restaurant servings, calorie counters are thrilled with the opportunity to savor smaller portions.

Atlanta native and novelist Patti Callahan Henry who walks daily for fitness and to unscramble plot lines says, “I do love the ‘small plates’ section because then I can get two of them.”
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Registered dietitian Toby Amidor likes the trend toward tinier too, “I always feel frustrated with places that don’t offer small, tasty food so this is the perfect answer for me!”

 

Not having to commit to one entrée for dinner appeals to diners in search of a variety of flavor experiences.  Patricia Tinsley, an Atlanta marketing professional, likes the small plate offerings at The Spence, “I never order entrees there so there’s more to linger over and make (wine) pairings with.”

Richard Blais is big on small plates at The Spence
Richard Blais is big on small plates at The Spence

Small Wonders

Little servings don’t necessarily mean less work for the chef.  The dim-sum style of service at Gun Show stars a parade of chef Kevin Gillespie’s small scale creations with large impact including plates of smoked pork belly with cornbread and marinated butterbeans and North Carolina trout with corn mousseline and shrimp salad. The good thing is you don’t have to decide which to have; you can order both and keep going.
Atlanta lifestyle author and consultant Kimberly Kennedy, says “I’m a fan of variety over the predictable meat and three. Each small dish is like art to be appreciated on its own merits.”
Millennials Morph the Menu
So what’s driving the trend away from the traditional trio of appetizer, entrée and dessert? Marketing experts say it’s the desire to lure in the millennial generation, representing twenty seven percent of the US population. Between 18 and 34 years old this slice of the populace pie has a high propensity for dining out.
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Let’s Share!

A report from the Center for Culinary Development says Baby Boomers known as the “me generation” have nothing on millenials because this younger crowd demands customization and flexibility.

Desserts are smaller too. Hey, get your own!
Desserts are smaller too. Hey, get your own!

Katie Chapman, 22, (my daughter) observes, “Baby boomers grew up when dining out was mostly a special occasion.

Katie ( center ) bonding with buds and bubbles.
Katie ( center ) bonding with buds and bubbles.

If someone orders his or her own dinner, it’s awkward to ask ‘Can I have a bite of your steak?’ We eat out as a way to socialize and have conversation and small plates open up the table for sharing.”

No big deal if you're late for dinner of small plates.
No big deal if you’re late for dinner of small plates.

Nina Hemphill Reeder, lifestyle editor for Upscale Magazine says she likes the flexibility of the grazing style menu, “Friends can come late and leave early and eat without throwing off the balance of a multi-course sit down meal.”

Tuna tartare for two or more.........
Tuna tartare for two or more………
The report also notes millenials favor fitness and understand more about healthy foods and ingredients than their parents or grandparents.  Bring on the quinoa, kale and hummus.
Downside of downsizing
The lobster mac’n cheese may come in a small ramekin but you’re still looking at a 500-calorie splurge. Atlanta dietitian Marisa Moore, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics says pick a variety of foods to balance your meal, “The good news is that there are often a number of vegetable dishes available from hardy greens and roasted vegetables to simple salads.”
Can't beat sharing the beet salad.
Can’t beat sharing the beet salad.

Amidor says, “Although the plates are small, several put together make a meal. Choose two to three small plates tops and spread the love by sharing with the table.”

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And good luck figuring out how to split the bill.

 

 

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Spring Sports: Put Nutrition in the Game!

 

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The daffodils are beginning to bloom and trees about to bud here in Atlanta.

 

Spring arrives mid-March, right after St. Patrick’s Day.

 

 

Green is good!
Green is good!

 

But the whole month is a celebration for eating right because March is  National Nutrition Month!!!

 

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The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics serves up heaping helpings of advice on food, nutrition and cuisine. This year’s theme is Eat Your Way, Every Day!

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A personalized approach to nutrition advice is the most successful plan. Take snacking, for instance.

Snacking between meals, whether it’s mid-morining or mid-afternoon is a way of life in the USA. As dietitians we like to say, “Make your snack count!” Choose healthy snacks that serve up good taste and good nutrition.

 

Who likes snacks!?
Who likes snacks!?

 

 

 

A lot of families are ramping up their snack attack because Spring sports are starting!

 

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He’s safe! That’s because his parents packed his sports bag with healthy snacks.

 

 

If your kids need to snack after school on their way to sports practice or after practice to tide them over  until dinner – then you might need a bit of coaching to help choose the healthiest snacks.

Snacks can help fill in nutrient gaps when you choose foods rich in calcium, fiber, potassium and vitamin A.That’s easy if you like granola bars with a carton of milk. Or baby carrots in a plastic bag to go.

 

granola bars images I’m thrilled to be working with Sunbelt Bakery to get the good word out on healthy snacking for families. The best news is that the right snack can not only be good for you – it tastes good and is ready to be on the go with your busy schedule.

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The granola bars in the photo below are one of my faves- chocolate chip! At only 140 calories each, they’re just the right portion size too. Their whole grain goodness comes from whole grain oats. Pair with a cup of low fat or fat free milk and you’ll add 8 grams of high quality protein to your snack break, too.

 

 soccer Unknown

 

Meanwhile, back at Spring training…….kids are on the move and need fuel and fluids to keep them going.  Water is great of course but  fruits and vegetables provide good hydration, too.

Think of snacks as mini-meals with what I call a “Tasty Snack Trio” including:

Protein foods (cheese, milk, yogurt, hard boiled egg, hummus, slice of turkey or ham)

Whole Grain foods (whole wheat crackers, granola cereal on yogurt, granola bars )

Garden foods ( fruits, vegetables) TIP: always cut up fruit so it’s easier to eat. Apple slices will disappear while the whole apple may go uneaten.

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Pre-cut carrots are a great snack for all ages.
Pre-cut carrots, celery sticks, apples, and other fruits and veggies are great and easy snacks for all ages.

So how much is enough for a snack? Well, it depends on the age of the child and how active they are. Generally, I like to recommend about 150 calories for snack occasion. That places granola bars right in the sweet spot! Add a handful of grapes or easy-to-peel clementine orange ( which are in season right now! ) and you’re good to go.  Game on!

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Healthy snacks help kids win by fueling their bodies with good nutrition and energy they need

Portable Nutrition 

 Liz Janice Unknown

Meals on the Move is the name of the game for smart snacking for game or practice for the Meal Makeover Moms- registered dietitians Liz Weiss and Janice Bissex.

They Say:

–       Get kids hydrated before they head out the door by whipping up a naturally delicious fruit smoothie. Blend together 100% fruit juice, fresh and/or frozen fruit, and low-fat yogurt. For added protein, opt for Greek yogurt.

 

–       On-the-go snacks can include:

 

     Homemade trail mix with granola cereal, nuts, whole grain pretzels, dried fruit, and  maybe a few dark chocolate chips tossed in!l

      Low-fat cheese sticks, squeeze yogurts (go for Greek squeeze yogurts for more protein), mini fruit cups packed in juice or applesauce, hummus with pretzels or baby carrots for dipping, popcorn (it’s a whole grain!)

 

–       Pack along a homemade “sport” drink by combining your child’s favorite fruit juice with water and a few ice cubes.

 

Note on sports drinks: Make sure to read the nutrition facts label. They can contain just as many calories as a soft drink. They are not for guzzling. One cup ( 8 ounces ) is enough to replace electrolytes in young athletes who are practicing or competing rigorously. Still thirsty? Drink some more water.  Carolyn O’Neil 

 

 

The Home Team 

Make ahead meals make it easy on busy family nights.
Make ahead meals make it easy on busy family nights.

Having meals at the ready when you get home from a practice or game is ideal when both parents are at the side line … and not minding the kitchen stove.  Fast ideas from Liz and Janice, The Meal Makeover Moms include … 

–       Omelet made with sauteed veggies and low-fat cheese. Eggs are rich in protein and cook up in minutes.

–       Slow cooker: Load the slow cooker in the morning and dinner is ready when you get home!

–       Keep a well stocked pantry to make quick-assembly meals possible. One of our favorite fast meals – Drain and rinse a can of black beans, thaw some frozen corn kernels, chop up some leftover roasted chicken, and you’ve got the makings of a quesadilla. Top a flour tortilla with beans, corn, leftover chicken, shredded low-fat cheese, and BBQ sauce, fold in half, heat some canola oil in a skillet, and sautee  about three minutes per side.

Thank you: Liz Weiss, MS, RD and Janice Bissex, MS, RD are the dietitian duo behind the popular website,MealMakeoverMoms.com and authors of, No Whine with Dinner: 150 Healthy, Kid-Tested Recipes from The Meal Makeover Moms (M3 Press, 2011)

What about Dessert Mom?!

Crunchy Granola Fruit Bake is an EZ dessert for a busy school plus sports night. Place frozen blueberries ( you can use fresh but frozen are nutritious and ready when you are) in a baking dish, top with Sunbelt granola cereal and bake for 20 minutes. Top with frozen yogurt.  Yum!

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Go team!!!!

 

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Splurge a Little!

 

wink

Want to know the best way to “cheat” on your diet?  The secret is realizing that cheating is OK because everyone needs a little splurge every once in a while.

Nobody’s perfect and that’s especially true when it comes to eating a healthy well balanced diet.

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Nutrition experts say you have to plan for occasional splurges as part of the long-term plan. Atlanta personal fitness trainer, Beth Lewis, offers empowering psychological advice to her clients who need a boost, “Don’t mistake set backs with failure.”

 

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Success in meeting your fitness and nutrition goals means allowing yourself to skip an exercise class or eat a few too many potato chips and then get back on track. Being a goody-toe-shoes all of the time is just so boring.

So, since February is National Heart Health Month and March bringing the celebration of National Nutrition Month, I thought we should give ourselves a little love and understanding when it comes to setting and keeping goals to live a healthier lifestyle.

 

 

Choose dessert first

 

small dessert

Yes, that’s right. Life is uncertain so think of dessert first. I didn’t say eat dessert first! This strategy helps you plan the rest of your meal around the rich dessert you really crave.

At a restaurant, the waiter may think you’re weird asking to see the dessert menu first, but you need information on your destination before you can map out the meal. You’ve got to have a destination in life; you’ve got to know where you’re going.

 

Best shared with a few friends - bring out a few spoons!
Best shared with a few friends – bring out a few spoons!

So, if you know you’ve just got to have the chocolate cheese cake or coconut cake with pineapple ice cream then you will make sure not to start with the fried calamari appetizer or the creamy New England Clam chowder!

At home you may have your eye on a slice of  chocolate cake or bowl of caramel crunch ice cream, or both.  So plan for it and skip the cheese and crackers before dinner and forgo the extra ladle of gravy. Save yourself for your true love, dessert!

Picture This

A food diary or journal can help you keep track of your intake, so you won’t be caught going over your daily calorie limit. Research shows the most successful dieters do it and do it daily.

coffee and snack
Your journal notes don’t have to be super detailed, but do include the types of foods, estimate amounts and write down where you were and perhaps how you felt. This will give you an insightful snapshot of your relationship with the foods you love. No place or no time to write it down?

Text yourself a message or easier yet, take a photo of your meal with your phone’s camera. Registered Dietitian and nutrition researcher, Rebecca Reeves, of Baylor University’s Diet Modification Clinic says even the simplest notes scrawled on the back of an envelope are often enough to boost self awareness of diet habits and support successful weight loss.  Keeping track of what you’re eating will help prevent the mindless munching on chips while driving or gobbling candies while at your desk. Now you’ve got room for the treats you’re really craving.

 

 Accessorize Sensibly

 As fashionistas know, accessories can make or break a look; too many baubles, bangles and beads can ruin an outfit.

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The same goes for smartly dressing your dinner plate. For instance, think of blue cheese and bacon crumbles as accessories. They add flavor and flare to a dish, but too much just piles on unnecessary fat and calories. So, it’s not necessary to totally avoid the butter, gravy, cheese sauce and full fat salad dressings; just learn to accessorize sensibly. (Especially if you want to wear those skinny jeans.) For a sweet dessert or snack, add the nutty crunch of granola cereal as a topping for yogurt and fresh fruit.

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Seek Thindulgences

If it’s a punch of flavor you’re looking for to liven up a salad or grilled chicken and fish; learn to identify very low calorie ingredients, sauces and sides that perk things up (such as salsas, hot sauce, steak sauce, citrus, vinegar, herbs, spices) while keeping calorie counts down.

Accessorize a bowl of strawberries for dessert? Did you know chocolate syrup has only 15 calories per teaspoon?

 

 chocostraw

 

And why not seek out delicious foods that just happen to be nutritious? Chewy and crunchy granola bars are a great choice. Choose granola bars that are portion controlled and serve up healthy whole grains. Sunbelt Bakery’s tasty granola bars are made with whole grain oats and most varieties are less than 140 calories. They’re all made without preservatives or high fructose corn syrup so you can feel good about splurging on these sweet treats.

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Savor Flavors

 

If you’re going to splurge you should enjoy it! Choose really fine chocolates so you only need a few decadent bites. It’s quality, not quantity that counts. SunbeltBakery’s granola bars, granola cereals and fruit and grain bars are delivered to communities each week so you can savor their bakery-fresh taste.

 

 snack brain

A diet study conducted at the University of Rhode Island found that women consumed fewer calories and were more satisfied when they ate at a slower pace. Nutrition researchers theorize that it takes time for your body to process fullness signals so slower eating may allow time for fullness to register in the brain before you’ve eaten too much. Bottom line: By eating more slowly the women ate 70 calories less and said they enjoyed the meal more.  Whether your meal is a race or a ritual is just one facet of eating behavior that might impact food consumption.

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So, slow down and let your body and soul appreciate small portions of big tastes.

Now go ahead and find your favorite splurge food and work it into your plan for a healthy lifestyle.

 

 

 Disclosure for this post: I am thrilled to serve as the official Registered Dietitian for Sunbelt Bakery. Though I am compensated, all views and opinions expressed in this blog post are my own, and are based on my knowledge and experience as a Registered Dietitian. 

 

 

 

 

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Seeing Red for Happy Hearts

 

 Seeing Red in Healthy Foods 

 

 heart vegs

Red is the color of the month with the hearts and roses of Valentine’s Day and the American Heart Association’s annual Go Red For Women campaign to coax us to be good to our hearts.

 

Red hot fashions for National Heart. Lung and Blood Gala for Go Red For Women in NYC
Red hot fashions for National Heart. Lung and Blood Gala for Go Red For Women in NYC
So as long as we’re seeing red in February here’s a taste of the reasons why choosing foods that are naturally red are a good choice for good nutrition.

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Red Hot Healthy

From blue to green to red and orange pigments of foods are indications of the nutrients that lie within. (This does not include the many colors of M & M’s.)  The color map to good eating applies principally to plant foods. Individual pigments offer visual clues about various health promoting plant compounds called phyto-chemicals. Phyto is the Greek word for plant. That’s why you may have heard you’re supposed to eat a rainbow of colors.

Red is easier to say than Anthocyanin and Lycopene
Red is easier to say than Anthocyanin and Lycopene

By eating a variety of fruits and vegetables from each color group, you have a better chance of getting a variety of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and other healthy compounds.

When you see red in fruits and vegetables it’s a sign that these foods contain the compounds lycopene and anthocyanin. These dietary good guys, classified as antioxidants, are associated with promoting heart health, protecting cells from damage, improving memory function, aiding blood sugar control and a lowering risk of certain cancers including prostate cancer.

 

Seeing Red is a Good Thing
Seeing Red is a Good Thing

 More Than 50 Shades of Red

 Reddish orange tones in foods such as red peppers and tomatoes are an indication that beta-carotene, another potent antioxidant, is also in the healthy mix. Generally foods with darker pigmentation are richer in antioxidants. So, a ruby red grapefruit would be higher in antioxidants than a yellow colored grapefruit.

 

All Citrus is Healthy but the more red the more of certain antioxidant nutrients
All Citrus is Healthy but the more red the more of certain antioxidant nutrients

Anthocyanins are also found in reddish blue foods such as grapes, red cabbage, radicchio, red onions, red skinned and purple potatoes. So enjoy all the shades of red.

The Produce for Better Health Foundation offers a lot of great information on the health benefits of enjoying fruits and vegetables. In fact, researchers estimate that there is up to 4,000 different phytochemicals in plant foods and only a small fraction have been studied closely.

That’s why, for example, it’s better to bite into a strawberry, which is an excellent source of vitamin C (even a dark chocolate covered one on Valentine’s Day) than to swallow a vitamin C supplement. Strawberries contain so many more healthy nutrients, some not yet even identified.
So much tastier than a vitamin pill
So much tastier than a vitamin pill

While we think about eating raw fruits and vegetables as the ultimate healthy snack, the red hued phytochemical lycopene is actually better absorbed after it’s cooked.

Cooking tomatoes ups the betacarotene bioavailability
Cooking tomatoes ups the betacarotene bioavailability

So marinara sauce, stewed tomatoes, tomato soup and even ketchup contribute to a heart healthy diet.

Red Hot Shopping List

Fruit:

Red apples

Blood oranges

Cherries

Cranberries

Red grapes

Pomegranates

Raspberries

Watermelon

 

Vegetables:

Beets

Red peppers

Radishes

Radicchio

Red potatoes

Rhubarb

Tomatoes

 

A Nutrition Note on Red Meat

beef 

Lean beef is redder in color than heavily marbled cuts with streaks of fat throughout. That means lean beef cuts such as filet mignon, sirloin and flank steaks are lower in saturated fats, total fat and calorie content and therefore a better choice for heart health.  There are 29 lean cuts of lean beef.

 

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Eat the Whole Thing!

My recipe for Georgia Pecan Confetti Quinoa with yellow squash, zucchini and carrots!
My recipe for Georgia Pecan Confetti Quinoa with yellow squash, zucchini and carrots!

 

Whether it’s snacking on a granola bar made with whole grain oats, ordering a whole-wheat hamburger bun or choosing the sushi made with brown rice, it’s getting easier to enjoy healthy whole grains in your favorite foods. Chefs and home cooks are giving side dishes a whole grain makeover too as mashed potatoes and egg noodles get pushed aside in favor of couscous, quinoa and whole-wheat pastas.

See the grains section? Make half your grains whole for good health.
See the grains section? Make half your grains whole for good health.

That’s a good thing since U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend that all Americans eat at least half their grains as whole grains–that’s at least 3 to 5 sixteen-gram servings a day for most of us. Nutrition advice to eat the “whole” thing is based on evidence that diets that are rich in whole grains and low in fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol can help promote proper digestion and reduce the risk of heart disease and some cancers. Whole grains may also play a role in insulin management and weight control when eaten as part of a healthy diet and lifestyle. So, whole grains have a whole lot to offer!
Had Whole Grains Today?
So, have you had your whole grain breakfast granola cereal today? How about a slice of pizza on a whole-wheat crust? If your answer is “yes”, then you’re doing pretty well – since according to The Whole Grains Council most folks consume only one serving of whole grain per day and over 40 % of Americans never eat whole grains at all!

But, that may be changing as whole grain options move to center stage for delicious meals and satisfying snacks. For example, all of Sunbelt Bakery’s tasty granola and fruit & grain bars have at least 4 grams of whole grains. Some have as many as 9 grams.

Chocolate Chip Granola Bar from Sunbelt Bakery with fat free milk - a great snack!
Chocolate Chip Granola Bar from Sunbelt Bakery with fat free milk – a great snack!

 

Also, all Sunbelt Bakery products are made without any preservatives or high fructose corn syrup. Their fun flavor varieties include chocolate chip and banana, and their Family Pack bars are just the right size for portion control. And because they are delivered to communities each week, Sunbelt Bakery’s snacks and cereals have a bakery-fresh taste. It’s great to feel good about this win-win for taste and nutrition!

What’s a Whole Grain?
Whole grains, or foods made from them, contain all of the essential parts and naturally occurring nutrients of the entire grain seed. A whole grain is made up of three layers–the bran, the germ and the endosperm. If the grain has been cracked, crushed, rolled or milled into flour and the proportions of the three layers remain the same, then it contains the same balance of nutrients found in the original grain seed.

 

Add a sprinkling of whole grains for fiber, fun and crunch. Yogurt with Sunbelt Bakery granola and berries.
Add a sprinkling of whole grains for fiber, fun and crunch. Yogurt with Sunbelt Bakery granola and berries.

What Counts as Whole Grain?
Some examples of whole-grain ingredients include buckwheat, bulgur, millet, oatmeal, quinoa, rolled oats, brown or wild rice, whole-grain barley, whole rye, and whole wheat.
All Sunbelt Bakery bars, for instance, are made with whole grain oats or whole grain wheat. One my favorites is Sunbelt Bakery’s Golden Almond Chewy Granola Bar. They’re only 130 calories and contain 6 grams of whole grains per bar.

Disclosure for this post: I am thrilled to serve as the official Registered Dietitian for Sunbelt Bakery. Though I am compensated, all views and opinions expressed in this blog post are my own, and are based on my knowledge and experience as a Registered Dietitian.

 

RECIPE:

“Georgia Pecan Confetti Quinoa”

 

Quinoa is a delicious gluten-free grain that cooks up light and fluffy like rice but contains more protein. This super side dish recipe featuring confetti colored sprinklings of orange, green and yellow veggies is flavored with garlic and rosemary. Crunchy Georgia pecans add even more great taste and nutrition because pecans are a super source of heart healthy fats and antioxidants.

 

By Carolyn O’Neil, MS RD co-author The Dish on Eating Healthy and Being Fabulous!

 

Yield: 6 half-cup servings

 

Ingredients:

2 teaspoons olive oil

½ cup diced carrots

½ cup diced zucchini squash

½ cup diced yellow squash

1 garlic clove, minced

2 cups cooked quinoa (prepared to package directions)

¼ teaspoon finely chopped rosemary leaves

¼ cup toasted pecan halves or pieces (reserve 2 Tablespoons for garnish)

 

Preparation:

Heat oil in large skillet and add carrots, zucchini, yellow squash and garlic. Cook until crisp tender. Fold in the cooked quinoa, rosemary and pecans. Season to taste with freshly ground black pepper and sea salt. Present quinoa on a large platter and garnish with additional toasted pecans.

 

 

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Nanjing Discovery: Books, Cooks & Looks

No bodyguards needed in Nanjing, but who doesn’t love a few escorts?

 

Just as most tourists to Italy choose Rome or Florence as their first time destination, most pick Beijing or Shanghai for their inaugural visit to China.
But, my first trip to The People’s Republic of China led me to discover Nanjing.  Never heard of it?
Well, either had I until I began my research which started with randomly flipping through On Demand and finding a recent movie called “Flowers and War” starring Christian Bale about the horrible 1937 Nanking massacre of 300,000 Chinese by the Japanese during World War Two.
Nanking, now Nanjing, suffered atrocities ranking among the worst in human history. And now I was going there, coincidentally the very week the city would commemorate the 75thanniversary of the massacre. But, there’s more to Nanjing than dark history.  Continue reading Nanjing Discovery: Books, Cooks & Looks
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Don’t Ban the Bon-Bons! Happy Healthy New Year!

If you’ve already banned bon-bons and sworn off French fries, I don’t need to tell you that New Year’s diet resolutions are among the most popular annual self-improvement declarations. 
My New Year’s Resolution is to swim more! 
But, the trouble with telling yourself you’re going to make big changes – whether it’s with food or finances – is that it only takes a few little slip ups and you’re back to your old tricks again.  
That’s why nutrition experts say don’t be so rough on yourself because adopting healthier eating behaviors takes some time. In her new book, The Food Lover’s Healthy Habits Cookbook, registered dietitian Janet Helm writes, “One recent study found that it takes an average of 66 days before a new habit becomes automatic. 
Helm’s Food Lover’s Healthy Habits Cookbook features expert tips from RD’s like moi! Page 205 folks on olive oil!!!
So commit to 30 days, then the next month will be much easier to sustain.”  She adds that long-term behavior change is the result of small victories and little daily tweaks.  For instance, when ordering a veggie omelet ask the kitchen to double up on the veggies and halve the cheese to shave off significant calories and add fiber and nutrients. 
Sometimes a new habit means continuing to enjoy the splurge foods you love, but less often. “Eat your special foods in reasonable amounts,” suggests registered dietitian Jill Nussinow.  “If you love cheesecake and eat it a few times a year, that’s fine. Love great croissants? Eat them occasionally, as in when you go to Paris or the best bakery around.”  You had me at Paris. 

Be Specific

Be Specific: I’ll only use a sprinkling of salt on the top of foods. OK, not as pictured!!!

Diet declarations such as “I’ll never eat ice cream again!” or “I’ll never eat out again!” are just way too broad to be believed. Helm advises being as specific as possible so goals are action-oriented. For instance, instead of “I’ll be more active” make the change to “Get up 30 minutes earlier so I can walk in the morning before work.” 

Be Specific: I will try to limit happy hour to one hour.


Or, let’s say you love southern foods. Rather than promising to back away from bacon and sweet tea, learn to enjoy southern flavor favorites in moderation.   At Buttermilk Kitchen in Buckhead, share an order of pimento cheese and house pickles with a few friends. Order the grilled chicken sandwich that comes with avocado, spinach, grilled onion and bacon but ask to skip the creamy ranch dressing.  Servers are happy to customize your iced tea by adding just a splash or two of sweet tea to take the edge of the unsweetened tea.  

Pimento Cheese on toast with house made pickles and tomato jam at Buttermilk Kitchen, Atlanta
Survey the list of side dishes to see that Buttermilk Kitchen owner and Chopped winner Suzanne Vizethan let’s you order a broiled half grapefruit for a naturally sweet and low calorie dessert.

Resolve to Eat More

While most folks think of nutrition improvements as a list of the things they’re not to suppose to eat, registered dietitian David Grotto has come up with the lists of food you should be eating more of to be healthier.  
Dave is who we call a “Guy-a-titian”
In his new book, “The Best Things You Can Eat” he ranks nutrient rich foods “For everything from aches to zzzz.”  For instance, rather than maligning the ingredients associated with causing heart disease Grotto’s top foods for lowering cholesterol fall into three categories – whole grains, berries and legumes.  Garlic, apples and oatmeal make the list too.  
Another happy side effect of eating more of these healthy foods is that they taste great and keep you feeling full while crowding out the junk foods and fast foods you may be trying to consume less of this year. 

Happy New Year, New You and New Healthy Things to do!

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Healthy & Tasty Air Travel Trends

Daughter Katie is a master travel ninja with great carry-on style and savvy.

 

Holiday air travel is notoriously challenging with throngs of passengers populating security lines, dealing with winter weather delays, jostling with fellow fliers to stow carry-ons, accepting an airline snack mix and eventually making it to their destinations.


Add hunger to the travel quotient and you’re really in for some unexpected turbulence. Happily there’s a renaissance in airport restaurant menus. I’ve been impressed with kiosks selling really good salads and sandwiches packaged to fly, sit down restaurants with freshly prepared foods and concourse newsstands with a nice selection of healthy snacks (even crudité of vegetables in the cooler with the bottled water.) And low and behold, if a sweet splurge is what it takes to make your travel day more bearable, A Piece of Cake has just landed on concourse A at Hartsfield –Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Now you can be the envy of the exit row while savoring a slice of red velvet cake with a carton of cold milk (fat free, there must be some digression). Atlanta based caterer Proof of the Pudding serves up on-the-go salads and sandwiches at two locations on concourse B and Wolfgang Puck’s (with locations in many US airports) kiosk is on concourse C.

The menus at E Bar on concourse E and A Bar on concourse A feature a terrific selection of cheeses and charcuterie with olives and whole grain crackers. Warning: fellow passengers will be impressed with your gourmet savvy so share a little.


Navigate Nutritiously

-Ask for OJ. The nutrients in orange juice help boost your immune system to give you a fighting chance to ward off cold and flu germs. Mix juice with sparkling water for a lower calorie thirst quencher.



– Snack Smart. Bag your own “sky trail mix” of nuts, dried fruit and granola. Sunbelt Bakery Granola is one of my favorites and is an excellent source of fiber. Healthy fats in nuts and stomach filling fiber in  dried fruit and cereals keep you keep going and if you make your own mixes they can be much lower in sodium than the airline’s salty snack mixes. Sodium plus sitting can lead to unwanted puffiness and ankle swelling.



-Easy Carry-on Cuisine. Granola bars and fruit & nut bars are easy to carry and even easier to eat when on the fly. Make sure to choose bars that just the right portion size; say under 150 calories. Sunbelt Bakery chocolate chip granola bars contain just 140 calories. 

– Concourse Cuisine. A salad is fine, but make sure it contains protein, such as chicken, turkey, ham, eggs or cheese to keep blood sugar on an even keel. Stress can drive blood sugar levels down way below normal.


Flight attendant! No, we are not dipping into our duty free vodka! 

– Alcohol at altitude. Your skin and your brain can get really dehydrated in a pressurized cabin. Alcohol accelerates dehydration. If it’s the end of long travel day and you want a drink to unwind, that’s fine. But make sure to double up on water with the wine.

Food on the Fly

Airport security rules prohibit liquids and “gel type substances” in carry-on luggage if over 3.4 ounces. (I always try to travel with a container of Greek yogurt but it usually ends up in the TSA trash.) Solid foods such as sandwiches, hard cheeses, crackers, fresh fruit and vegetables are allowed.

Holiday travelers take note that TSA rules state, “You can bring pies and cakes through the security checkpoint, but please be advised that they are subject to additional screening.” (Especially if it looks like a really good dessert.)

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Healthy Holiday Snacking


Carolyn with Tracye Hutchins of CBS Better Morning Atlanta 


Ok, so the online power shopping you did this week was more fingertip than physical so you’re burning fewer calories than battling crowds at the mall.  Stressful hours spent in airports or on the highway often mean grabbing fast food on the fly or snacking in the car to keep boredom at bay. The holiday season is here and presents many challenges to eat right and stay fit. So, this may not seem like the most ideal time to start a healthier eating plan- but it can be.
Ask yourself, “Is it really any different from the rest of the year?” Every
season brings its own temptations from Super Bowl Sunday’s nachos and beer to Fourth of July’s fried chicken and ribs. The best time to learn slimming strategies is when the landscape is fat with indulgent food choices.
Every Day’s a Holiday
Research shows that the most successful dieters — those who lose weight and
keep it off for the long haul — practice healthy eating and exercise habits all
year long. They don’t make big New Year’s diet resolutions. Instead, set
a time limit or portion limit. “I’ll eat fries only once a month.” Or
“I’ll eat ice cream in a small bowl.” Or a holiday version, “I’ll enjoy a big dinner out with the relatives, but I’ll have a bowl of soup for lunch.” 

Healthy snacks are a Tasty Trio: protein, whole grains and fruit or vegetable


Healthy Holidays
There’s no time like the present to begin new healthier eating habits even if you’re headed to a party tonight.  Help your hips survive the holidays.

 Parties Galore and what they wore! Carolyn and her Atlanta gal pals ring in the holiday season. 



 1. Freshen up your food life. Keep fresh fruit and other healthy snacks such as whole-grain crackers, granola bars, nuts and fresh veggies on hand. 

Sunbelt Bakery chocolate chip granola bars are only 140 calories – perfect portion size! 



A handful of pecans or almonds before heading out to a party or dinner can calm your appetite so you don’t dive in the minute you arrive. Look for healthier options on restaurant menus. While a friend chowed down on the bone marrow topped with quail eggs at The Spence the other night; I was delighted with a lighter plate of ravioli stuffed with wild greens and served with a small amount of pulled pork.

2. Recognize barriers. It’s going to be tough to say no to holiday favorites
like chocolate fudge and that creamy cheesy hot artichoke dip. Know your
splurge foods and resolve to enjoy them in small quantities. Use a small plate
to serve yourself. Research shows that your mind will think it looks like a lot
more food than the same amount on a large plate. 

Martini glasses are the perfect size for a perfect portion of yogurt topped with granola and fresh berries.


3. Enjoy the taste of eating right.Deviled eggs, steamed shrimp, roast beef and chicken on skewers often served at holiday dinner parties are all diet-friendly, lean protein choices. Feel free to add low-cal flavor with mustards, horseradish, cocktail sauce and salsas. Look for lighter versions of holiday faves such as low fat eggnog. 

 4. Start new habits. Keep a list of what you’re eating and drinking for a few
days. Be as specific as possible on types of foods and amounts. This snapshot will help you keep track of overeating. Write down your physical activity. Did you take the stairs instead of the escalator at the mall? That counts, too!

5. Have a plan. Eat breakfast. Schedule time to take a walk or go to yoga
class. If you’re going to a potluck, bring the salad or vegetable side dish. If it’s a three-hour car ride to Grandma’s, pack fresh fruit and a
turkey sandwich so you don’t have to stop at a fast food joint.
Save the calories to enjoy holiday treats when you get to Grandma’s. Successful
long-term weight control is a balancing act.

Keep in mind that most people gain about one pound over the holidays. 
That doesn’t sound like much, but if you don’t lose it, 
after 10 years that’s 10 pounds.
My Christmas Wish: to work out with Richard Simmons again!!

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Culinary Cocktails with Healthy Punch

“Hey who took my basil?” a chef might complain and the answer could be the bartender. Restaurants are raising the bar on the culinary offerings on cocktails menus with a ‘farm to table’ philosophy filling glassware, too.

The Hummingbird Cocktail at The Old Edwards Inn: vodka, broccoli, pea shoots and a dash of local honey.

Mixologist Thomas Keenan created 5 wellness cocktails for Old Edwards Inn
“The demand for fresh, seasonal food from the kitchen carries over to the bar,” notes

Nancy Kruse, Atlanta based menu trends analyst and contributor to Nation’s Restaurant News.  At Ammazza fresh basil is just as likely to end up in a crafted cocktail as on their Napoletana-style wood fired pizzas.  At Holeman & Finch Public House,mixologists are masters at blending bits of citrus and a hint of honey in cocktails with intriguing names such as “She” made with mescal, dry curacao liqueur, grapefruit, lime and tonic.

The cocktail menu at The Optimist raids the kitchen too with potent potables such as the gin based “Mother of Pearl” spiced with celery salt, black pepper, fennel frond and celery leaf.

The high art of high balls made with produce and herbs is perhaps best displayed at chef Grant Achatz’s TheAviary in Chicago where bartenders give cocktails four-star restaurant attention as they whisk, whir, stir, foam and shake spirits in what they call “a state-of-the-art drink kitchen.”  There’s even an ice chef on staff to create just the right cube, ball, shard or snow to compliment the cocktail. 

Drink Your Vegetables

A collection of culinary cocktails is on the menu with spa treatments at The Old Edwards Inn in Highlands, North Carolina. So instead of herbal tea or lemon infused spring water, spa goers can sip refreshing blends of beet juice, broccoli, cucumber, herbs and edible flowers with a little kick from vodka, tequila, rum, brandy or moonshine. Because the drinks are made with vitamin and antioxidant rich fresh fruit and vegetables they could be considered a health and beauty treatment and each drink calls for only an ounce or ounce and half of spirits, “We are trying to focus on flavor and nutrition with less alcohol,” says executive chef Johannes Klapdohr.

Farm to Bar Table
To Your Health

Since these hand-crafted and often pretty pricy cocktails are meant to be sipped and savored in a sophisticated setting registered dietitians like the trend because it encourages moderation in alcohol consumption. Dietitian Rachel Begun, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics says they’re drinks with benefits, “Cocktails made from fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs do deliver nutrients and are better options than drinks made from processed mixers both from a taste and nutrition perspective.” 
Drink Your Beets
There’s even a research study from the U.S.D.A’s Agricultural Research Service Department that shows treating strawberries and blackberries with alcohol boosts the fruit’s antioxidant activity.
Registered dietitian Cynthia Chandler is serving a holiday herb cocktail at her Thanksgiving Day feast made with tequila, lime juice and fresh sage, “Sage is a member of the mint family and is one of the oldest herbs used for both culinary and medicinal purposes and sage has been used to help digest heavy meals.” So here’s a toast to your health to help kick off the holiday season.  

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Balancing Act of Great Food and Good Nutrition

Nobody’s perfect, and that’s especially true when it comes to eating a healthy well balanced diet. “All these years and we still know that balance, variety and moderation are the keys to good nutrition and that includes enjoying occasional splurges,” says dietitian Jill Melton, editor of Relish Magazine. Melton and more than eight thousand nutrition expert colleagues meeting at The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics 2012 Food & Nutrition Conference in Philadelphia gathered to learn the latest research and sample the best new healthy food products.

How to find a happy balance between healthy living and enjoying great foods was the focus of a series of lively panel discussions held in the spacious and welcoming Nestlé́ exhibit booth designed to look and feel like a home.  Dietitians gathered around an oversized dining room table and spilled into the aisles to listen to leading nutrition experts and expert observers talk about the challenges of promoting nutrition through the lifecycle from infancy to the elderly.  Invited by Nestlé́, I served as the moderator for four fast-paced 20-minute chats and – woah – did I learn a lot!  First off – Nestlé́ is the world’s largest food company with a commitment to nutrition, health and wellness. 

Good Food, Good Life

Nestlé́’s headquarters is in Switzerland and is most associated worldwide with their wonderful chocolate. But did you know that Nestlé́ USA develops and distributes so many other popular leading brands including Lean Cuisine, Stouffers, Buitoni, Libby’s Pumpkin, Juicy Juice and Carnation Breakfast Essentials? Nestlé́ Waters hydrates and quenches the thirst of millions with such iconic brands as Perrier, Acqua Panna and S. Pellegrino, as well as Nestlé́ Pure Life purified bottled waters in the U.S. 

Nutrition Numero Uno

I learned more about the broad reach and respect for the Nestlé́ Nutrition Institute (NNI), too. NNI shares state-of-the-art science-based information and education with nutrition and health experts all over the world. And while most of us are familiar with their consumer brands – including childhood faves Ovaltine and Nesquik – Nestlé́ Health Science works with nutrition professionals to offer products for people with special health needs such as Boost, the nutritional supplement beverage for seniors who need a boost of protein, vitamins and minerals. 

Nestlé́ Professional, serving healthcare institutions, restaurants and schools, offers unique services, balanced products and valuable resources for the food pros specializing in away from home eating experiences.

Start Healthy – Stay Healthy

Now that you’ve glimpsed the scope of the company’s core mission to help people start healthy and stay healthy throughout life – here are some highlights from the hot topics of Nestlé́’s nutrition panels held during the 2012 Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Food and Nutrition Conference and Exposition held in Philadelphia.

Healthy Hydration

Officially titled “Nourishing Healthy Living: Nutrition Throughout the lifecycle, including healthy aging, super foods and balanced eating,” this panel discussion got right to the heart of the matter – how nutrition can make a difference in the support of good health throughout the lifespan – from infancy to the elderly to support wellness and when we’re not that well to help nurture us back to health.  

Each of the dietitians on the panel are experts in working with the elderly and in medical care settings so have been on the front lines of seeing health declines in patients that could have been prevented. One of the simplest yet most important observations is that many elderly patients are dehydrated.

“Some elderly people don’t know they’re thirsty and can end up in the emergency room by not being hydrated, which affects brain function,” says Carol Siegel, MS, RD, Head of Medical Affairs, Nestlé́ Healthcare Nutrition. Another challenge – the elderly are more at risk of dehydration because their mobility problems may discourage them from drinking water (they might not be able to run to the restroom!) and due to physiological changes.  

“The body becomes dryer as you get older,” says Val Wendel, MS, RD, LDN, Healthcare Channel Sales Manager, Nestlé́ Professional. Adding more nutrition to hydration – as with Boost beverages and Trio soups – can offer a solution. Wendel says, “Fortified soups and beverages provide an excellent source of nutrients and hydration.” 

Easy To Swallow Solutions

Simply sipping soup and enjoying a cool glass of water is a big challenge for folks with swallowing problems that may be caused by stroke or as a side effect of radiation. “Swallowing difficulties can increase the risk for malnutrition,” says Maureen Huhmann, DCN, RD, CSO Manager, Clinical Sciences, Nestlé́ Nutrition.

Huhmann, a specialist in oncology nutrition, described how the odorless starch-based thickener called Resource Thicken Up Clear is used to thicken liquids to help patients with dysphagia (swallowing problems).

Drink Up Before School Kids!

Kids are vulnerable to dehydration too. In fact, “64% of kids go to school dehydrated,” says Carol Savage, MS, RD, Manager, Beverages Division, Nutrition, Health & Wellness, Nestlé́ USA. So when you send the kids off to school, whether on the school bus or when helping them put on the seat belt in the car, hand them a bottle of water or a container of Juicy Juice. By the way, milk hydrates, too – even chocolate milk.

Think About Your Drink

The take home from this panel of nutrition experts: dietitians care about keeping folks healthy and hydrated and a lot of the solutions are pretty simple – and tasty! You just have to know the power of proper hydration to think about your drink.

Nestlé́ products like Nestlé́ Pure Life help address a hydration deficit occurring in the elderly and in kids,” says Chavanne Hanson, MPH, RD, LD, Nestlé́ USA Wellness Champion.

Mindful Eating

The second panel was packed with nutrition experts, including Dr. Barbara Rolls, Penn State University Nutritional Sciences Guthrie Chair, Dr. Wahida Karmally, dietitian and Director of Nutrition, Columbia University and Dr. Adam Drewnowski, Director of Nutritional Sciences Program at the University of Washington. Diving into the discussion about nutrition, cognition and mindful eating, Dr. Karmally, whose research focuses on pediatric nutrition, shared this important fact,

“Eating habits are established in the first 6 years of child’s life.”

And while most everyone agrees that nutrition is key to proper growth of body and mind, Dr. Karmally says the reality reveals big improvements are needed. “One in eight kids miss breakfast!”

In a hurry? I remember my mom giving me Carnation Instant Breakfast as I ran to catch the school bus. My favorite flavor is strawberry. I was always late because I couldn’t decide what to wear.

“Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and Carnation Breakfast Essentials offers a great breakfast substitute,” says Wendy Johnson-Askew, PhD, RD, MPH, Director, Public Policy, Nestlé́ Nutrition.

Breakfast, lunch or dinner – what family meals look like today is the research focus of Dr. Drewnowski, who says, “The family meal is evolving.”  That means the balancing act of sitting around the kitchen table versus running off to sports practices and all of the other dinner time distractions is shaping the family meal today. 

The good news is that Dr. Rolls, author of “The Ultimate VolumetricsDiet”, wants parents to know that the balancing act of good nutrition can include occasional splurges. “You can eat anything in moderation,” She says.  And snacking is AOK in her book, too. “Find your healthy snacking pattern.”

Foods for the Future

What’s really a lot of fun is when discussions about nutrition burst into enthusiasm about great tasting, healthy foods. Leading the surge in discussing Foods for the Future, Lucien Vendôme, Director of Culinary Operations for Nestlé́ Prepared Foods says “We must all be passionate about nutrition.”  Vendôme, who is the creative genius behind the recipe development for Lean Cuisine, Buitoni and Stouffer’s Frozen foods, shared that frozen foods offer a tasty, nutritious and convenient solution for busy folks and families. 

Registered dietitian Jill Melton, blogger and editor of Relish Magazine, notes, “We are a microwave generation.” So it’s good news when food companies such as Nestlé́ stock the grocer’s freezer with delicious and nutritious microwavable options.

Melton, who was one of the founding editors of Cooking Light Magazine, observed that the word ‘light’ used to have a stigma; folks just assumed light foods wouldn’t be as good. But today that’s changed, and light eating is appealing and sought after.

Have Some Fun

Teaching the next generation to balance lighter choices with fun ‘splurge foods’ is an important goal for foods for the future.  And the lessons begin very early.

“The hardest transition for babies is from baby food to table food. Eating patterns begin to form at 18 months, and are set at two years of age,” notes Wendy Johnson-Askew, PhD, RD, MPH, Director, Public Policy, Nestlé́ Nutrition. Johnson-Askew also noted that one-third of kids’ calories come from snacks, so those snack choices should count towards good nutrition.

Balanced Eating

In the final panel, we get closer to ‘wear the rubber meets the road’ so to speak and that of course is the power of portion control, taste, enjoyment and the pleasures of the table.

While one of the USDA’s current nutrition messages to combat obesity is “Enjoy your food, but eat less,” Dr. Barbara Rolls, professor of nutrition at Penn State University, argues that the message should be to eat more of certain foods to fill up the plate. “People tend to eat a consistent amount of food. If you tell them to just eat less they don’t like it because they don’t want a plate that’s half empty.” Dr. Rolls’ research shows that eating more foods – which are higher in water content such as fruits, vegetables and soups – adds volume to the plate and satiety to support weight management.  

Easy Veggies

Making it easier to get more vegetables into meals, frozen vegetables and frozen entrees that include veggies offer simple solutions for complicated modern days.

“I always recommend mixing prepared foods with fresh foods,” says Katherine Brooking, RD, blogger, author, media personality and founder of Appetite for Health.  Blogger Colleen Padilla, known as Classy Mommy, says “Moms are always looking for more convenience.”

And with taste and style in mind Kristen Colapinto, blogger at Social Vixen, suggests, “One trick I use is taking prepared food out of their packages and placing on a plate to make it seem more presentable.”  I love this idea! Especially because I have a passion for pretty plates and even collect them at yard sales. Treat yourself and set a pretty table even when you’re smart to save time by choosing delicious frozen entrees.

Write it if you bite it!

Helping people keep track of what they’re eating and how much was discussed, and Katherine Brooking emphasized the power of the pen and recommends her nutrition minded clients keep a daily food journal. After a week they get a snap shot of where those extra calories may be coming from.  I say “if you bite it, write it.”

Dietitian Chavanne Hanson, MPH, RD, LD, Nestlé́ USA Wellness Champion, sums it up very nicely, “Pleasures, balance and understanding are core pillars of what Nestlé́ wants to convey to the marketplace.”

So, the delicious lesson learned  (and echoed throughout the four nutrition expert panels for Nestlé́) is to find a happy balance in your food life – seeking healthier options for every day and enjoying occasional splurges. Oh, and don’t forget to drink some water!

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Pleasures of Pantelleria

In the salted caper room at Bonomo and Giglio on Pantelleria

 

One of my favorite ingredients – whether sprinkled on pizza, tossed into a salad or paired with olive oil and lemon to adorn grilled fish – are capers.  Slightly sweet, mostly salty with a tangy bite capers add a bright note to many dishes.  

Caper plants clinging to the earth bound for Bonomo and Giglio 


Capers are the unopened flower buds of bushy plants that cling to stonewalls or are cultivated close to the ground. On the tiny Italian island of Pantelleria, off the coast of Sicily just 36 miles from the coast of North Africa, the volcanic soil and Mediterranean sun produce high quality capers prized for their flavor. “They are the best capers and I like them because they are cured in salt and not pickled,” says chef Piero Premoli of Pricci Restaurant. Premoli is featuring a menu of Sicilian dishes throughout October including a cured tuna with capers and the region’s classic caponata stew with eggplant and capers.
Olives, tomatoes, onions, basil and olive oil love in Pantelleria


Pleasures of 

Pantelleria 

If you haven’t been to Pantelleria or even heard of it, join the club.  I was invited by a non-profit food and nutrition organization called Old WaysPreservation and Exchange Trust to join a group of writers and culinary experts for a symposium to discover the island’s uniquely healthy food and lifestyle habits.  
It’s a desert out there. The island of Pantelleria gets very little rain fall. 
The rocky island is pummeled by the wind forcing olive trees, grape vines and caper bushes to lie low growing outward not upward. Citrus trees are cradled in walled gardens to protect the fruit.

“There’s still a little magic out there,” says Phil Meldrum of Food Match a specialty foods importer attending the symposium. “When you find something with a taste particular to that area it gives me goose bumps.”

 Pantelleria capers on freshly caught swordfish makes me swoon. 
Stone cliffs, stonewalls, stone buildings, and piles of stone create a harsh landscape surrounded by the crashing sea. Minimal rain means cactus blooms and bougainvillea blooms offer the only color. 

“It was frozen in time,” says dietitian Sharon Palmer, author of The Plant Powered Diet, “We had very little red meat. It’s primarily a plant based diet that’s nutritionally really balanced with carbs from pastas, healthy fats from almonds, olives and olive oil and dishes flavored with herbs, fennel and capers.”  
Sharon Palmer and I enjoying ‘studying’ nutrition on Pantelleria.
Other common cooking ingredients included eggplant, zucchini and tomatoes. Since cows were not a traditional part of farm life here, there is very little cheese and pasta dishes and potatoes are sprinkled with seasoned bread crumbs instead of parmesan.  
Just so you believe me. Pantescans add breadcrumbs to pasta.
Palmer notes, “We had traditional dishes handed down through the generations in an isolated farming environment so we had what they have there.” 
Even though there is a tradition of sweet cookies made in intricate patterns and shapes, the principal sweetener is made from reducing grape juice not refined sugar. 
“It’s nice that the healthiest traditional eating patterns happen to be the most delicious,” says Sara Baer-Sinnott, President of Oldways.   

Mediterranean Medicine

The health benefits of the Mediterranean diet – rich in vegetables, legumes, grains, nuts, seafood and olive oil – are well documented. Dietitian Kathy McManus, Director of the Department of Nutrition at Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston says, “Since this diet is not low in fat people enjoy the foods more, lose more weight and they tend to eat more vegetables because they can add olive oil.”  The Mediterranean lifestyle leads to longevity, too. 
Olive oil contains more than healthy fats, it’s rich in plant nutrients and antioxidants to promote good health.
Ligia Dominguez, MD of the University of Palermo says, “We want an active life in old age not frailty. The Mediterranean diet is high in antioxidants which can add years to your life and life to your years.”

Dominguez says being “kissed” by the sun for at least 15 minutes a day boosts vitamin D levels naturally and getting enough sleep is important too. “I took a nap every day in Pantelleria,” admits Baer-Sinnot, “It’s the joy of resting to reduce stress.”

Grape harvest bonanza during my stay on Pantelleria.


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The Italian Island of Capers, Olives and Wine

The gateway to discovery. Atlanta to Milan. Milan to Pantelleria.  

The Pleasures of Pantelleria. 
I’d never even heard of Pantelleria until I received an email inviting me to join a group of food writers, food purveyors and nutrition researchers for a trip with Oldways Preservation Exchange and Trust in September.
Oldways was founded to study and preserve the healthy ways folks used to eat and gather their food – from the mountains to the sea. 

Pantelleria. Don’t you just like saying it?Now find it. It’s an island off the coast of Sicily in the Mediterranean Sea not too far from Tunisia. This is about as south in southern Italy as you can get. There’s something irresistible about an invitation to someplace you’ve never heard of before. When I read that the island was famous for capers I replied to my hosts, “You had me at capers.”

Benvenuto!

Arriving alone at the slightly modernistic looking Pantelleria airport (most folks in our Old Ways group traveled from New York or Boston or LA through Rome) my 30-something taxi driver who spoke only “hello” and “thank you” English was quite busy chatting in Italian on his flip cell phone while we crossed the island past lots of rocks and cactus in bloom and sweeping views of the Mediterranean.

I took a photo of him and he smiled shyly. No, I don’t have a crush on you – I just haven’t seen anyone on a flip phone in a while. OK, on my best behavior. For now.

A tiny island of rough black, umber and grey volcanic rock soon softens to the eye with cascades of glorious flowers.

Purple and white bougainvillea abound.

 Stone walls are everywhere – Pantescan people are really good with rock. Tumbling out of crevices are long green tendrils that I soon learn are the mighty little plants that give us capers.  A little lemon and olive oil with this edible landscape and I’m ready to toss with pasta.
But, don’t be tempted to pluck a wild caper and sample – I’ll explain why later.

Caper plants spring boldly from boulders on Pantelleria.
This might be my favorite photo.
Sunset over the Mediterranean from my patio at The Mursia Hotel on Pantelleria. 

Alora, we arrive at the Mursia Hotel. The white washed building with a Moorish look  (we’re only 36 miles from North Africa here) rises above the black lava rock majestically without need of embellishment. Entering the breezy lobby my eye is drawn beyond the reception desk to what I had been dreaming of all day. A swimming pool. Palm trees were a bonus. It’s about 85 degrees outside.

Let me explain. The huge pool in the foreground is empty – an old pool once filled by the sea.
The new pool at The Mursia surrounded by palms and lounge chairs is nearer the hotel bar. Nirvana- a salt water pool.

So far the only Italian word I really like is “Alora!” which I think means OK or implies “what’s next?” or “then…”….which is like my favorite Spanish word “Entonces!” I will never work as a translator at the UN. But, I do know how to rally a group. “Alora! Time for a drink folks.”

Winery Owner Cologero Mannino of Abraxas offers up a taste of the island’s specialty – slightly sweet, nicely balanced  passito de Pantelleria wine.
How about another glass of wine? This is Italy. That’s better.
Alessandro Luchetti bound for Florida International University in January demonstrates his handsome host skills.
Starting to relax into the Mediterranean lifestyle. 
Stay tuned for the next post……as the pleasures of Pantelleria continue. 

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