Posts tagged ‘tips’

Abs are Made in the Grocery Store

There is a popular saying that goes, “Abs are made in the kitchen, not the gym,” referring to the fact that our body composition depends as much if not more on our food choices than the amount of exercise we do. However, I think that phrase needs some revising. I truly believe that the choice happens at the grocery store, not the kitchen. If you buy healthy foods, you will eat healthy foods! Keeping tempting snack foods and indulgences out of the kitchens makes it much easier to make healthy choices when it is late, you are tired, or the stress of the day makes you want to eat everything in sight! But how do you conquer the grocery store and leave with only healthy purchases? This is what my best friend asked of me, so we took a field trip to Trader Joe’s to learn some healthy grocery shopping basics. This is the advice we came up with for filling your grocery cart with healthy food on a budget.

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1. Shop the perimeter of the grocery store. This is the oldest advice in the book when it comes to healthy grocery shopping tips, but it really works! The real food – like fruits, veggies, dairy, and meat – tends to be located towards the periphery of the store. The tempting snack foods, desserts, and prepared frozen meals tend to be located in the center aisles. While necessary ingredients are located in the center as well, the bulk of time should be spent perusing the outskirts. The 80-20 rule applies here. 80% of your time and grocery budget should come from the perimeter, while the other 20% is dedicated to the shelf stable centrally located necessities.

2. Stock up with fruits and veggies, and try at least one new produce item each week. The most common comment I hear from friends is that they don’t buy fresh produce because they are afraid of not being able to use it and wasting food. I have found that the more produce I have in my house, the more I am forced to make healthy choices for that exact reason. It is easier to choose an apple for a snack when you know you have to eat the fruit before it goes bad! It may take a few weeks and a little playing around with how much you can realistically eat within a week, which may mean a few up front weeks of spoiled veggies or sad fruits. However, it is worth the experiment in the long run! If this really is an issue, then frozen fruits and veggies are still an excellent option. Simply look for things that are flash frozen, have no added salt or sugar, and will maintain texture and flavor after being frozen.

Trying new things is also crucial here – you may find new favorites and will never know unless you begin to expand your horizons! This will also break you out of boring produce ruts and help to ensure that you get the full range of nutrients in your diet.

3. Focus on whole grains. Make sure that your bread is made with 100% whole wheat flour, choose whole wheat crackers and wraps, and look for items like quinoa, brown rice, old-fashioned oatmeal, and other unprocessed grains. White grains turn more quickly into sugar and are only for a treat, but often hide in products marketed as whole wheat or healthy. Be a label sleuth and a grain snob – it is for your health.

4. Read the labels! And don’t just stop at calories and fat. While counting calories is important for weight loss, there are other important items to consider. Serving size is key – my friend picked up a package of chicken taquitos and exclaimed, “Oh, only 110 calories!” That may sound ok until we looked at the serving size and realized that it is per tiny taquito, which would not make for the most filling lunch.

Ingredient lists are also good to peruse – anything with a laundry list of ingredients or with lots of hard to pronounce chemical names is probably something to steer clear from. Another important line to read is sodium. Anything with more than 10% of the RDV of sodium is probably not worth it – you can add salt if your taste buds need it, but you can’t take out the hidden salt. High sodium foods are not heart healthy, and also lead to water retention, which can be discouraging for dieters. The last place to look on a food label is the carbohydrates section. You want high fiber foods, since they help with satiety and help, well…. ya know. You also want to avoid added sugars, which I learned during my challenge, are everywhere!

Now take the reading labels example as a whole: my friend was choosing between 2 different types of bread. Both were 100% whole wheat, no weird preservatives, and similar in calories (110 vs. 80 per slice). Many dieters would stop there and choose the lower calorie bread. However, we looked down and noticed the 110 calorie option had 3x the amount of both fiber and protein, making it more nutritious per calorie and therefore the better option. Reading food labels is important!

5. Keep a well stocked pantry. Having staple ingredients on hand when the fridge seems empty will help you avoid the take-out temptation. Bulk grains, pastas, beans, low-sodium canned tomato sauce, and frozen veggies are helpful and can be thrown into a quick meal, like rice and beans or pasta with vegetables. Vinegars and herbs are also helpful for adding flavor and interest to a simple meal, without high cost, calories, or sodium. Having healthier quick-fix meal options, like low sodium soups or healthy frozen entrees instead of boxed mac and cheese and high sodium options, is also important for nights when things are too busy to cook.

6. Never shop hungry. If you are hungry, you will fall victim to end cap sale items, junk food treats, and impulse buys. Shopping on a full stomach will help you focus and make the best choices at the store.

7. Use a list. Some people go to the extreme with meal planning and lists, but I take a looser approach. In order to shop the sales, I make a bare bones shopping list: 3 types of fruit, 5 types of veggies (2 leafy green, 1 starch, peppers, mushrooms), bulk grain, bread, yogurt, eggs, etc. This allows me to choose what looks best that week or what is on sale, while still allowing me to have the essentials for meals throughout the week.

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With these guidelines in hand, my friend was able to conquer Trader Joe’s and emerge with bags of healthy food! Together, we brainstormed healthy lunches, picked up fruit for healthy snacks, and compared a lot of labels to pick the best products. We both learned a lot and had fun in the process, but who wouldn’t have fun with this little guy smiling back at you the whole time?!

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Question: Do you have anything to add to this list? What is your grocery shopping style?

Sources: WebMD and RD.com

May 25, 2012 at 12:00 pm 2 comments

Tips for Meatless Eating

Even though I might be struggling without cheese, I am still the person who has the most knowledge about a vegan diet out of the 4 of us. Not wanting anyone to fail, I sent along some things to remember during our month of veganism. Even as a vegan, you should be getting enough protein and feel full after meals. You should eat tons of veggies, not just vegan junk food. And it is okay to treat yourself every once in a while! Here were my initial tips:

1. Find good dairy replacements. Unsweetened vanilla almond milk is my personal favorite for cereal or oatmeal in the morning. So Delicious also makes a coconut milk creamer that is a much better option for coffee (non-dairy milk tends to coagulate and get kinda funky…) For butter, Earth Balance and Smart Balance Light are both vegan. There are vegan options for other things (yogurt, cheese, mayo) but these tend to be pricey. However, there are the alternatives out there if you are really getting a milk craving!
2. You can still eat dessert! There are plenty of packaged vegan goodies out there, or you can choose healthier options like all-fruit frozen bars, or even whole, dried or baked fruits.
3. Get enough protein. Even as a vegan, you want to be satisfied by your meals. There are plenty of great non-tofu protein options – beans, nuts, seeds, etc. Have a bit of protein at every meal or snack to stay satisfied throughout the day. Stir in a bit of peanut butter to your morning oatmeal, top your lunch salad or pasta with beans or add hummus to your sandwich, pack 10-20 almonds (a normal serving size) with your apple for a snack, and make sure your dinner entree has some form of protein. Quinoa is an excellent dinner grain that doubles as a protein. My favorite high protein dinner is quinoa, black beans, corn, edamame, red onions and lime juice.
4. Check labels. Most packaged goods list allergens, and milk and eggs are commonly listed allergens. A quick scan of the bottom line of the ingredients list is often helpful to determine if something is vegan or not.
5. Have fun and focus on all of the things you can eat! There is a whole world of fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, beans, and grains to be explored. Focus on all of the fantastic things you can and have eaten in a day, rather than obsessing over the things you have given up.

Question: Do you have any advice to add to that list?

January 5, 2012 at 7:00 am 1 comment

How to Win the Weight Loss Battle

Before leaving for the wedding weekend on Thursday, I got to attend a lunch talk by Joan Salge Blake, a registered dietitian and professor at the Sargent School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences at BU. I have heard this same talk twice before, but she always has so many excellent points that I come away with at least one or two new ideas each time! Her talk was entitled, “How to Win the Weight Loss Battle” and focused on the obesity epidemic, potential reasons why weight is becoming such a problem, and strategies to help people make small changes. Here are some of my favorite tips from her lecture:

You have to move more! But don’t reward your hour-long walk with the dog or half hour at the gym with an extra serving of dessert! She has a client vignette that cracks me up every time: an older man had reached a plateau with his weight loss, so she recommended that he walk the dog for 45 minutes every night before dinner. He did, came back and only had lost 1 pound. Frustrated, he exclaimed, “I did exactly what you said, and only lost 1 pound. The dog, on the other hand, lost 11! What gives?!” She later got him to own up to his extra serving of dinner each night because he thought he burned it off walking. So be careful that you aren’t overcompensating for calories burned!

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Have family dinner! As a kid, we used to eat dinner together as a family at least 5-6 nights a week, but that is becoming a thing of the past in many households. Even with busy schedules, for both kids and adults, it is still important to slow down and share food together. This gives time to only eat as much as you are hungry for, and also increases the likelihood of it being healthier food.

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Find life outside of the kitchen pantry. This is the only point that I slightly disagreed with Joan about. I think more people need to find life inside the kitchen. Cooking can be fun and simple; it is not that hard to eat healthy, and even easy to make healthy food taste good! The problem is that so many people are kitchen-phobic. Cook dinner, sit down with friends and family around the dinner table as mentioned above, and enjoy real food. Find life outside the pantry, the snack closet, the cookie jar, or whatever other food force enslaves you, and replace the time spent mindlessly snacking in front of the TV with a new movement based hobby, but find life inside of the kitchen to find new favorite healthy dinners.

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Remove the myth around frozen veggies. Many people think that it is only good for you if it is fresh, but that isn’t always the case. Many vegetables are picked early and allowed to ripen so they are fresh in the grocery store. Frozen vegetables are picked at their peak and then flash frozen, making them just as good as fresh. Plus, they are often pre-chopped and really convenient for easy weekday meals. Watch out for mixes that contain any sort of dressing or added salt, and stay away from canned. But eating frozen veggies on weeknights for convenience is much better than eating frozen dinners or fast food!

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Eat pasta in a 1:1 ratio. Joan is a NJ Italian, so she understands the “mangia” mentality about some beloved Italian American foods. Even if you aren’t Italian, who doesn’t love pasta?! The only problem is that it can be calorie dense without nutrient dense. Instead of eating 2 cups of cooked pasta (400 calories), eat a cup of pasta with a cup of cooked vegetables mixed in (250 calories). Same amount of volume, equally satiating, and an easy way to cut 150 calories from your meal. Similar to this idea, take some of the meat and cheese of your sandwich and replace it with veggies, and load up your omelets with veggies. Your stomach’s hunger signals respond to volume faster than calories, so be sure to satiate yourself with low-calorie, high-nutrient foods like fruits and veggies! Joan’s famous catch phrase: “They fill you up before they fill you out.”

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Eat on smaller plates. Standard dinner plates used to be 8 inches. Now they are 12. Most of us are not gourmets and will not leave a large rim around the plate for decoration. Instead, we eat with our eyes and fill our plates. Then we clear them, remembering times at the dinner table when mom wouldn’t let us leave food behind. This can lead to up to a 500 calorie increase in dinner! If we use smaller plates, we eat less but feel equally as satisfied after clearing our plate. Even more, you should use the plate method, newly adopted to replace the outdated food pyramid. If you divided your plate down the center, half should be fruits and veggies. The other quarter should be lean protein, and the last quarter should be whole grains.

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You gotta eat! A hungry person is a cranky person, and cranky people are far less likely to make healthy decisions. You need to eat 3 meals a day, but they should be smaller. In between meals, snack on whole fruits and veggies or small servings of air-popped popcorn. Look for things that are full of fiber but low in calories for snacks. Don’t let your day be a triangle, with all of your calories consumed at night. Space your meals pretty evenly throughout the day, and have protein at every meal to help you stay full longer!

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Breakfast is always the hardest for me to incorporate protein into. It is pretty natural to add beans to my salad, have quinoa at dinner, and ensure that I get protein at other points of the day, but it is not always so easy first thing in the morning. Recently, I have been adding a tablespoonful of peanut butter to my oatmeal, and that really makes a difference in staying full until my lunch break. This breakfast burrito is another great way to stay full all morning. It kept me full for 5 hours while running around all morning setting up for my best friend’s rehearsal dinner (more on the wedding soon!) Eggs can get a bad rep with dieters because they are high in cholesterol. The bigger problem than eggs, however, is that with eggs usually comes gobs of cheese. To keep this breakfast full of flavor without all of the added cholesterol, I filled it up with veggies and spices! In this breakfast alone there is a full serving of veggies, whole grains and proteins, and you won’t miss the cheese at all.

Question: What is your favorite take-home point from Joan’s talk?

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High Protein Breakfast Burrito

serves 2

3 eggs

1 tbsp milk

3/4 cup black beans (half a can)

1/2 yellow squash

1/2 red pepper

2 whole wheat tortillas

2 tbsp salsa

1/4 tsp cumin

salt and pepper to taste

Dice the red pepper and yellow squash. Coat a frying pan with cooking spray and saute the vegetables over medium heat for about 4-5 minutes, until they are soft. Add the black beans and cumin. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs and milk together. Pour over the vegetables and scramble. When eggs are mostly cooked, add the salsa. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Spoon half into each tortilla, roll, and serve warm.

September 5, 2011 at 7:50 am 5 comments

Lose those Leftovers

I have a love/hate relationship with leftovers. On days when I don’t have time to cook, open the fridge as I am famished after a long day of class or work, and find forgotten leftovers from a few days ago, I am totally in love with them. However, I am not such a fan when I totally forget about them and then food goes to waste, or when I have so many that I feel guilty cooking a new meal. My biggest problem, especially when cooking for one, is that I get bored with eating the same thing day-in and day-out. Therefore, being creative with my leftovers has been key for my leftover enjoyment!

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Take, for example, the frittata I had made earlier in the week. The frittata, cut in 8 pieces, could have served anywhere from 4-8 pieces depending on what you serve it with and how hungry everyone is. Because of the bigger earlier meal and the veggies on the side, my family only managed to make it through half of it. Therefore, we had a few frittata pieces left in the fridge this week. For two breakfasts, I reheated the frittata with a slice of cheese on top – eggs for breakfast isn’t too creative, but then I wouldn’t have the same dinner two times in a row this way. For the last piece of frittata, I broke it into pieces and threw it on a sandwich thin with some leftover caramelized onions that I had made for the pizza and some black bean hummus. That made a fantastic picnic lunch at the beach yesterday. Protein packed to keep me full, and easy to eat without any seagull attacks. Three ways, and three meals, to eat a frittata!

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Another trick I have found is using leftovers to make my own freezer meals. Especially during exam times at school, I barely have enough time for all of my work let alone grocery shopping and cooking as well. (Don’t even talk to me about laundry during these weeks!) However, I don’t want to sacrifice healthy eating, so I love being able to reach into my freezer and pull out my own homemade frozen meals. When doing this, it is important to freeze away single servings, or else you have to thaw the entire portion and eat it within the same few days. (It is not advisable to continue to thaw and re-freeze food). Some recipes are more amenable to this than others, but experiment with some of your favorite family-sized meals to see which ones are best when saved for later.

Question: How do you use up leftovers? Do you repurpose them, or eat the meal as you originally serve it?

June 11, 2011 at 10:35 am 6 comments

Learning to be a Better Baker

I am not a great baker. Many people find this odd, since I love chemistry and love cooking. But I simply do not have the patience that baking requires. To get a cake or a cookie or some other sweet treat just right, it requires a lot of precision, accuracy, and attention to detail. I would rather be managing 3 pots on the stove and eyeballing spices and ingredients than precisely measuring and timing my recipe. Luckily, my friend is a much better baker than I am. He is the one who hosted the fantastic dinner party, and outdid himself yet again with these great cakes. It was a great learning experience for me – I picked up some tips and tricks that I can share here – as well as an amazing finished product! I am inspired to try my hand at some more dessert recipes on my own now!

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We made two 6-inch vegan chocolate cakes with the recipe from the Flour cookbook. For anyone who lives in Boston, go to Flour bakery and try this cake now. It is very low-fat, containing just a small amount of canola oil, but you would never be able to tell that the cake is low-fat or vegan because it is so moist and fluffy! If you aren’t lucky enough to live near Flour, check out the recipe here. Some tips and tricks for cake baking, courtesy of Vince:

  • Use a kitchen scale to weigh the dry ingredients, since they tend to be compressible and cup measurements can be variable.
  • Also, sift the cocoa powder into the dry mixture, since the powder has a tendency to clump.
  • Make sure that the oven is fully preheated before putting your cakes in, and don’t open once your cakes are in (you’ll let all of the heat out!)
  • Allow the cakes to cool in the pan for a few minutes so that they are cool enough to handle, but don’t let stay in the pan for longer than necessary or you will get stickage.

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While the cakes were cooling, we got started on a mixed berry mousse, to fill one of the cakes, and a light meringue, for icing. A mousse can have several variations using cream and eggs, but we kept with a light variation using whipped cream and egg whites. We used frozen berries to make a fruit puree, which added such great flavor to the filling! We used most of the mousse to fill one of the cakes, and saved the rest for later. The recipe we used is at the end of the post. Mousse can be served on its own, or can be frozen in individual dishes for a great ice cream alternative! Vince didn’t believe me that this would work, but I convinced him to let me experiment and the frozen mousse turned out great! Some more tips:

    • When whipping cream for whipped cream, it’s all in the wrist. The idea is to incorporate a lot of air into the cream, and so it is more about a quick, upswing rather than a stirring motion. Plus, keeping the movement just in the wrist makes you tire out less quickly!

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  • When whipping egg whites, you want to beat them until they are just stiff enough to make soft peaks, but you don’t want to overbeat them. Once you add the sugar, this will stabilize the egg whites and allow you to beat them further. Then you can continue to beat until you get stiffer peaks.
  • Folding is a good way to incorporate ingredients without losing air. Make a quick cut down the center and gently sweep the ingredients together. You don’t want any compressing motion in order to maintain the body of the mousse.
  • While you can get away with a improvisation and a few basic tools in cooking, equipment for baking is much more important. If you are serious about baking, invest in a variety of pan sizes and shapes, parchment paper, a scale, a candy thermometer, a spatula spreader, a hand mixer, etc. Having the tools makes an incredible difference in the outcome of your finished baked goods.
The meringue icing we made used the same simple syrup and egg white technique. We simply increased the number of egg whites from 4 to 5, and added the flavor we wanted for each cake (vanilla for the berry mousse filled cake and espresso powder for the other chocolate). This will not harden like your classic meringue cookie, but will make for a simple, light and not to sweet icing for your next cake.

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In the final product, I can take credit for approximately 3 things. I successfully whipped the cream for the mousse. It took me forever and my arms burned by the end, but I whipped that cream! I also came up with the idea to sprinkle the coffee-infused cake with a little cocoa powder for decoration – a brief moment of artistry and creativity. Lastly, I was there for moral support, ingredient grabbing, and assistance. Vince was the master baker – he knows so much about baking techniques, flavor pairings, and is a great cake decorator too! I think I make a pretty good baking apprentice, but am not so sure about flying solo. I am looking forward to experimenting in my free time this summer!

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Mixed Berry Mousse
4 tsp (12 g) unflavored gelatin
12 oz frozen mixed berries, thawed and pureed
400 ml chilled heavy cream
4 3/4 oz (135 g) sugar
2 1/4 oz (65 g) light corn syrup
4 egg whites (approx. 120 g)
Strain pureed fruit. Mix gelatin into half of the pureed mixture to let start to form. Whip heavy cream in a separate bowl to make whipped cream. In another bowl, beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Meanwhile, over medium heat, melt sugar and corn syrup with 3 tbsp water. Allow to heat until it reaches 235-240 degrees F, called the soft ball stage on a candy thermometer. Slowly drizzle the sugar syrup into the egg whites while beating, but do not let the syrup hit the beaters directly or it will splatter! Once all of the sugar has been incorporated, continue to beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Fold in the gelatin-fruit puree mixture. Then fold in the whipped cream, using care not to lose any air. Serve alone, as a cake filling, or as a unique frozen dessert.

May 21, 2011 at 9:00 am 4 comments


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