Thursday, February 17, 2011

What's a serving size?

When purchasing food in the store you often look at how many servings the package contains so you know how long it will last with your family and what the nutritional information is, this only applies however if you follow the suggested serving size.

It’s tedious, I know, to measure your cereal in the morning or measure out exact portions for everyone at dinner time but it’s also very much worth it. Bigger portions mean more calories and even a small amount of extra calories can have a huge impact on your weight. Let’s say you are only taking in 300 extra calories a day, that’s two large handfuls of chips or a bar and a half of chocolate or seven strips of bacon, that little bit turns into 2 and half pounds of weight gain in a month. Not too bad for you? Well over a year that turns into 30 pounds of weight gain. All from just 300 extra calories a day.

The biggest complaint is that the suggested serving size is too small. My question to is: are you sure? Have you actually portioned out a serving, ate it, and still felt hungry? Try it out for a few days and see how you feel. Be sure you’re eating all the food you’re supposed to be like vegetables that are colorful, fruits, whole grains and dairy.

If you only cut back on portion sizes without eating whole meals it will be painful and you’ll walk around hungry. Instead of a big bowl of cereal for breakfast, have a serving size bowl with a piece of fruit and a hard-boiled egg.  For lunch instead of a sandwich with chips and pop, have half a sandwich with vegetables and dip, fruit and some flavored water.

All packages are required to have what the serving size is but that doesn’t mean they make it easy to figure out. Everyone has a set of measuring cups in your kitchen drawer but when the bag say’s: 5 oz or 3 grams or .25 liters you say “Screw that” and eat however much you want. I’d suggest buying a food scale, they’re inexpensive depending on the brand and features and last a lifetime. You can find lots digital scales for under $30, some even under $20, and non-digital food scales run $15-$20. Look at, or if you can’t find them at these prices at your local store (search for Food Scale).

For foods that might not come in packages here’s a short list of serving sizes.
Nuts: ½ cup
Leafy Greens (such as salad): 2 cup
Fruit or Vegetable Juice: 1 cup
Dried Fruit: ½ cup
Fruit or vegetables: 1 cup (or one medium sized fruit)
Rice and Pasta: ½ cup
Meat: 4 oz
Cheese: 1 oz

You’ll notice I haven’t included any of the “handy” guides that often accompany articles about serving sizes, such as “the size of your palm” or “a baseball” or “the size of a checkbook”. I find such helpful tips useless. My palm is different from yours which is different from my brothers. And a baseball size serving of fruit is easy to estimate when talking apples and oranges but when it comes to bananas things get tricky.

So try out portion sizes this week. Make sure you’re eating complete meals from all the food groups and have a glass of water with every snack and meal. 

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

What to do with leftovers?

Some day's you make a great big meal and then find out that Tom will be working late and Suzie is going to have dinner at a friends house, leaving you with all the food. Or the recipe you've made only calls for half a can of beans and you don't know what to do with rest of the can. 

Before you store think about how soon your family will eat them. Was the dish a big hit that might not make it past a midnight snack? Stick it in the fridge. Did no one even touch the vegetable side? Freeze for use at a later date. Are there only 3 servings of casserole left? Perhaps you could freeze them individually for heat-able lunches later that month.

I hate a fridge full of small containers that always seem to end up getting pushed to the back and going bad because either no one can find them or people aren’t sure what’s inside. Keep it simple by making sure that every item that goes into the fridge is labeled with it’s contents and date made. I like to keep a permanent marker and roll of masking tape in a kitchen drawer so I always have label-making materials at hand.

Labels let people know if this is the spaghetti from two nights ago or when you had it a month ago. With masking tape you can customize the size every time you need a label and since it removes without issue you don’t have to worry about ruining your Tupperware.

With just my son and I unless it’s a very small amount of leftovers, or something I can use in a meal later that week, I prefer to freeze any uneaten leftovers. Frozen leftovers keep longer and are useful if you’re feeling too tired to cook and don’t want to order in- simply defrost, reheat and eat!

Some items should never go in the freezer most importantly are lettuces and uncooked leafy greens, they will wilt and become useless, as well as eggs in the shell, which can explode or crack once the white and yolk freezes.

If you freeze an item before the expiration date it will stay good even after the date is passed.

When there are only a few servings leftover I like to freeze them individually rather than altogether, that way later in the week or month when someone wants a large snack or easy lunch they can reheat just enough instead of everything.

Don’t know how long your food will stay good once its put away? Check out these websites: gives a general list and how long they’re good for, is a thorough list including both more food and options on how to store them (room temp, fridge and freezer) plus some useful comments.

No matter if you use the fridge or freezer be sure to keep it clean! 

Monday, February 14, 2011


Picky eaters are not ideal. It can be cute when they're babies and spit out the mashed spinach, but when they're toddlers refusing their plate its tiring and once they're over 10 and refuse to eat what's been prepared you feel the urge to smack them but settle for not letting them have dessert. When it's an adult (husband, wife, relative) that wrinkles their nose it's even worse. 

You should always offer new and healthy foods to your picky eaters but some studies have shown it takes more than 7 tries for your child to actually take a taste of the new food. It's frustrating when they won't eat but you've just got to breathe and try again next time. Eat the healthy food while they're watching and they're likely to try it sooner. 

I offer all sorts of foods to my little picky eater and he'll usually try it but very often it's not in his mouth for long. The biggest headache for me is that he isn't consistent: one night he'll eat his chicken, the next he'll eat his peas, the third night the only thing he wants for dinner is a banana. Most the time however he will eat mashed potatoes so today we're featuring a side dish, that I think most kids enjoy, with a little extra nutrition tucked in. 

This recipe does contain more calories than a boxed mashed potatoes but you're adding more than 3 grams of fiber, more than 4 grams of protein, losing more than 1 1/2 grams of fat as well as taking out more than 330 mg of sodium! I think the trade off is worth it. 

Serves: 6
Difficulty: Easy
Prep: overnight +10 min Cook: 15-20 min
1 cup white beans (canned, any variety)
1/2 cup barley (soaked overnight)
2 large potatoes
1 clove garlic
6 T sour cream
½ cup water
2 T salt-free seasoning blend (such as Italian, poultry, Mrs. Dash, ect.)

1.Soak the barley overnight in 1 cup of water.

2.In a small saucepan mix the barley and beans with 1 ½ cups of water. Bring to a boil then let simmer on a medium-low temperature for 15 min.

3.Cut the potatoes into half inch squares and place in a second saucepan, add the garlic, cover with water and bring to a boil. Keep potatoes at a medium boil for 15 to 20 min. The potatoes are ready when they can be poked with a fork. 

4.After 15 min remove your barley and beans from the heat and drain off all the liquid. To the beans and barley add the sour cream and water.  With an immersion blender (or food processor or stand blender) mix until creamy (2-3 minutes).

5.Drain the water from the potatoes and add to the bean and barley puree. With a fork or spoon smash the potatoes into the bean mixture. Add the seasoning mix and stir until completely combined.

Makes 6 half cup servings.

For the comparison recipe we’re going with packaged potatoes, the sort where you add milk and butter and water and whip it together.

This recipe:                                     Packaged Potatoes:
Serving size: ½ cup                         Serving size: ½ cup
Calories: 191                                  Calories: 119
Fat: 2.9 g                                         Fat: 4.4 g
Saturated Fat: 1.7 g                         Saturated Fat: 1.1 g
Cholesterol: 5.3 mg                        Cholesterol: 1 mg
Sodium: 19.9 mg                             Sodium: 350 mg
Carbs: 36.1 g                                   Carbs: 17.7 g
Fiber: 5.3 g                                      Fiber: 1.6 g
Sugar: 1.2 g                                      Sugar: 1.5 g
Protein: 6.5 g                                   Protein: 2.1 g
Potassium: 776.4 mg                        Potassium: 344.4 mg

Sunday, February 13, 2011

How to Follow a Recipe

Here’s a secret: you don’t always have to follow a recipe word for word. It’s true! There are a few simple ways to tell which pieces you need to stick to and which ones you can tailor to your needs. Let’s take this weeks featured recipe for an example. First we start with the ingredients:

Quinoa, water, chicken thighs, egg whites, black beans, corn, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, pepper, dried rosemary.

In recipes that call for a certain grain you should stick with what’s specified as they can vary greatly in cooking time and texture.

In recipes that are savory dishes that call for water you can always use vegetable or meat stocks. It adds another layer of flavor- just be sure to use low sodium broths.

Don’t have the exact type of meat called for? No worries. Obviously steak or hamburger can’t be substituted for a chicken nugget recipe but let’s say you have boneless skinless chicken breast or maybe some ground turkey on hand, both could be used in place of the chicken thighs. Just be sure you’re substituting the correct amount! Instead of 4 thighs, use 2 boneless skinless breasts or 1 lb of ground turkey. Even easier is if you’ve got bone-in, skin-on thighs in the fridge: just de-bone and skin them yourself. It’s a little gross and will add prep time but no need to rush out to the store.

This recipe calls for egg whites but you could use two eggs or two servings of egg substitute.

When recipes call for canned goods like vegetables, beans or sauces you can always use reconstituted or fresh choices. If you don’t have canned black beans but do have dried beans, just cook up the right amount and continue on (be sure to calculate the extra time this would take) or if you’ve got a spare ear of corn in the fridge simply shave off the kernels and you’re good to go.

Spices are almost always optional. If you’d rather have some thyme or sage instead of the rosemary- switch it out. Have some fresh garlic? Toss it in instead of the powdered. Like the kick of cayenne? Add a pinch or two. The only times you need to follow the recipe’s called for spices is when you’re making ethnic specific dishes (Asian, Mexican, Indian, ect).

Keep in mind that whenever you change ingredients in a recipe the nutritional information changes too.  

Now let’s move on to the directions. Here is where there’s less wiggle room. You should always read over a recipes directions before starting to be sure you understand what to do when and that you have all the hardware (pans, utensils, ect) needed. In some recipes things happen very quickly and if you haven’t gone over the recipe previously you’re nuggets will be burning while you check the printout to see what needs to happen next.

Always follow the steps in the order they’re written and cooking times should never be messed with, unless you’re cooking beef to taste.

In step 2 of this weeks recipe there is use of a food processor. I know a lot of recipes that call for food processors and I also know they are not as common as cookbook writers would like to think. If you don’t have one don’t let that stop you from trying a great sounding recipe. You can always do small batches in your blender or mash it by chopping it into pieces. Both of these options take more time (especially using a knife) but produce similar enough results.

Cooking should be fun! If a recipe is too daunting or you’re only trying to please company it can turn into an exhausting process that you won’t want to repeat. If you’re feeling up to a challenge then go for a new recipe, if you feel like keeping it simple whip up some macaroni with cheese and hot dogs, if you’re completely wiped and want to order a pizza then do that- the most important part of dinner is eating with your family. Nutrition is important but not more important than the bonds that form when you take time to really talk and share a meal with your loved ones.

Just try to keep the takeout/order-in to once a week ok?

Saturday, February 12, 2011

What is Quinoa?

(Pronounced keen-wa) Quinoa is usually considered a grain but is actually a seed and a relative of leafy green vegetables like spinach and swiss chard- and you know how good those are for you. It is a complete protein and features a bunch of other health-building nutrients. Research on quinoa has been shown to help in numerous health issues including: migraines, hypertension, ischemic heart disease, breast cancer, childhood asthma, gallstone prevention, type 2 diabetes and many more. 

Easy ways to include quinoa into your diet include: adding to soup, use quinoa flour in cookies and muffins, or instead of oatmeal for breakfast try a bowl of quinoa. There are also products that use quinoa you can find in the health food section of your grocery store like pasta, crackers, and granola bars. 

Look for quinoa in the baking or health food section of your local supermarket. Two popular brands that sell quinoa are Arrowhead Mills, and Bob's Red Mill. You want to store quinoa in an airtight container. It will keep for a longer period of time if stored in the refrigerator.

If you can't find quinoa locally visit one of these websites where you can get a pound of quinoa for less than $5 (before shipping): , , .

For more detailed information on this super food visit: worlds healthiest food: quinoa . 

Friday, February 11, 2011


My son LOVES chicken nuggets. He's had them from all the major fast food chains and thinks they're all equally delicious. And I hate to admit it but I mostly agree with him: they are pretty good taste wise, but health wise I cringe and try to keep these outings to once or twice a month. He's a picky eater and because he eats these so well I wanted to incorporate them into our diet more often, but without all the fat and calories and maybe even with a little bit extra goodness snuck in. 

With this recipe you’re cutting out: 125 calories, 14 grams of fat, 301 mg of sodium, as well as adding fiber and a little more protein to your diet. Pair it with a salad or baked sweet potato fries and you have a meal that's as delicious as it is healthy. 

I'll admit: the texture is a little different and there's no breading, but I've yet to meet a child that cared about either. So when you have a little extra time this week try it out for yourself or on your little ones and let me know how it goes. 

Difficulty: easy-medium
Serves: 6
Prep: 20-50 min, Cook: 20 min
½ c Quinoa (dried)
1 c Water
4 Egg whites
¼ c Black beans (cooked or from can)
¼ c Corn (fresh or from can)
4 Chicken thighs (boneless, skinless)
2 tsp Black pepper
2 tsp Onion powder
2 tsp Garlic powder
2 tsp Rosemary (dried)
2 tsp Mustard powder
1 pinch Salt

   1.  Bring water to boil in a small saucepan. Once boiling stir in quinoa, lower temperature cover and let simmer for 15 min.
2   2. While the quinoa is simmering add the rest of the ingredients into your food processor and blend until the chicken resembles a paste.
3     3. Check the quinoa at 15 min, the water should be completely soaked up into the grain (like when you cook rice). Take out of the pan and let rest in a small mixing bowl for 5 min to cool down, add the chicken mixture and stir until combined.

You now have two options: continue on to step 4, or let the chicken and quinoa mixture set in the fridge for 30 min to firm up for easier shaping (if you make this ahead of time simply put it in the fridge until you’re ready to cook dinner). Letting the mixture cool down helps later when trying to shape your nuggets, if you don’t care that they aren’t the iconic nugget shape feel free to start cooking as soon as you’re done mixing.
      4.Heat a large non-stick fry pan on the stove with a small amount of oil. If your mix has been in the fridge dip your hands in cold water or flour and shape into walnut size balls, then flatten to ¼ of an inch thick and place in hot pan.

If your mix hasn’t set in the fridge take a generous spoonful (about 2 tablespoons) and place in hot frying pan, use the back of your spoon to pat the nugget into the general shape and so it’s ¼ of an inch thick.
      5. These nuggets need just 1-2 min per side. Once their browned flip them over to the second side when it’s nicely colored take them out and place on a paper towel. When cooking chicken always check to make sure that the product is being fully cooked.

You should get 30 chicken nuggets, 5 per serving.

So why should you go through this trouble? It all comes down to nutrition.

This recipe                                            National Brand (frozen)
5 pieces per serving                               5 pieces per serving
Calories: 145                                         Calories: 270
Total Fat: 3 g                                         Total Fat: 17 g
Saturated Fat: .5 g                                 Saturated Fat: 4 g
Cholesterol: 38 mg                                 Cholesterol: 40 mg
Sodium: 169 mg                                     Sodium: 470 mg
Potassium: 185 mg                                  Potassium: --
Carbs: 15 g                                            Carbs: 15 g
Fiber: 2.4 g                                             Fiber: --
Sugar: 1.5 g                                            Sugar: --
Protein: 15.4 g                                          Protein: 14 g

This recipe is also a good source* of niacin, phosphorus, riboflavin, b-6, and iron.

*has at least 10% of your daily nutritional value.