From Our Kitchen: “Is It A Dessert Night?”

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Ahhh, summer is here! It’s Memorial Day weekend and right on cue, Mother Nature turned up the thermostat and rolled back the clouds.  And it’s Friday, so as some of you might know, this means, right on cue, we will be serving up dessert tonight in the Norwood household!

One of the easiest ways we started to slash sugar was by cutting out dessert during most days of the week. Early on while the kids were toddlers, B and I instituted a weekend-only dessert policy. (Funny fact about memories: My oldest “remembers” it as her good idea. I can live with letting her take the credit.) We felt it was important to restore dessert to its former role as an infrequent treat.

While helping us all eat better, it also cut out whining, begging and bargaining at dinnertime during the week. Bonus: I also learned to introduce new meals on weekends. With a “no dinner, no dessert” rule, the kids are more likely to try and eat new foods. One of my more brilliant parenting strategies, if I say so myself…

My kids love ice cream. What kid doesn’t? That’s their dessert of choice. We usually stick with the real deal: full fat, with the fewest ingredients possible, and a small portion.

But Brian and I are fond of fresh fruit with fresh whipped cream. You can make it however you like, but it takes only 10 seconds in a high powered blender (I use a Vitamix)!

Pour about a cup of whipping cream into the Vitamix, add about 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, and a teaspoon of maple syrup, if desired. Turn on LOW and quickly increase the speed to about 7. Watch carefully, and you will SEE when it stops sloshing around as a liquid at the same time you HEAR the change in the noise the blender is making. After only about 10 seconds, it’s done! Stop then, or you’ll have butter. Spoon it onto your fruit (red, white and blue in this case, of course) and indulge!

Have a wonderful long weekend, remember our fallen service members, and enjoy time with friends and family. God Bless America!

New “Nutrition Facts” Label, New You?

I read this New York Times article yesterday (March 20, 2016) about the newly approved Nutrition Facts Label, which will be required on most products by July 2018. Here’s the gist (and a picture, below) from the article:

  • the new labels will show updated serving sizes, to reflect more accurately the portions Americans are actually eating,
  • the calories will be listed in big print, and
  • there will be an “added sugars” line listed under carbohydrates.

new nutrition facts label 2016Hmmm…how do I feel about this? Well, I agree we eat bigger portions, and too many calories. We definitely eat way too much sugar. And I believe looking for added sugars is a big step in the right direction. But I think there’s a better, easier way to eat less and avoid sugar. Avoid most foods with labels whenever possible! Eat real, whole foods and eat more simply. I know it’s not always that simple for many people. But changing the Nutrition Facts label does nothing to make it easier, in my opinion.

I can see why they are increasing the serving sizes on labels, but I’m just not sure it will help anything. Americans eat bigger portions than the serving sizes currently reflect, so as it stands on the current Nutrition Facts label, we have to do math to figure out calories and all the other nutrients for the amount we eat. But are we going to eat less if the only thing that’s changed is we don’t have to do the math? (Actually, isn’t it possible if we don’t have to spend time on the math, we might spend the time we saved eating more?) Yes, we can see how much we are eating at a glance, but even without the math, the numbers are meaningless or easy to avoid for most people, aren’t they? I mean, who wants to worry about the math and the numbers anyway??? Sometimes I eat a handful of pita chips (one of my weaknesses) and I never even look at the label. Gasp. And I call myself a dietitian. If the numbers won’t stop me, who will they stop?

I actually found myself sympathizing with the soda industry camp when they said the rule to add the “added sugar” line lacks scientific evidence. Now, hear me out…there is plenty of evidence that sugar sweetened beverages are associated with obesity. I’m not saying you should drink soda by any means. (And BTW, who doesn’t know soda has a ton of sugar in it??? How is this label going to make a difference when people already know that and drink it anyway?) The main problem I see is that replacing products containing “added sugars” with products containing other forms of carbohydrate could be just as unhealthy as the foods containing added sugars. That is, the soda industry representatives are right in that the science does not support the idea that an excess of other sugars (or any carbohydrates for that matter) are any better for you than soda. For example, choosing a product full of “natural sugars” like 100% fruit juice and drinking too much of it is not a healthy choice. Choosing a highly refined white flour product, like bread or pasta, that has “no added sugars” is definitely not a healthy choice. And what about honey, maple syrup, and agave? The science doesn’t support choosing them more frequently than any other form of sugar. Focusing on “added sugars” completely misses the mark and doesn’t tell the complete story: that excess carbohydrates of any kind are likely to be bad for your health.

Well, the Nutrition Facts label is merely a tool, not an education in nutrition. If you have a drill, you won’t necessarily know how to hang a picture. If you have a better Nutrition Facts label, you won’t necessarily know how to eat well for better health. So, I hope to help your understanding of nutrition more than a Nutrition Facts label alone ever could. Yes, there are times when you can’t or don’t want to eat whole, easy real foods. I get that. But I also get–and I’m sure you do, too–that changing the Nutrition Facts label is not enough to change the health of Americans.

The good news is we have all the information we need on the Nutrition Facts label as it stands. When I do buy products with labels, I skip over the calories on the label. Because if you are choosing the right foods (real, whole foods and fewer refined carbohydrates and sugar), you will automatically lower your calorie intake and feel satiated, without counting calories. I do linger at total carbohydrates, and fiber and sugars for a minute to assess the quantity and quality of carbohydrates, but I would argue the ingredient list is the most useful part of the whole label.

  • If a product has many ingredients (say more than about five, according to Mark Bittman in Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating), I avoid it.
  • If it has products that I feel are harmful, I avoid it. For example, any sources of trans fat.
  • If a product has ingredients I feel are unnecessary like food coloring or preservatives (especially if I can’t pronounce them) or if there’s an alternate fresh version that eliminates those ingredients, I avoid the product and choose the fresh version. For example, I never buy bottled lemon or lime juice; it takes only a minute to squeeze a lemon or lime with my handy citrus squeezer gadget, and it tastes better.
  • If a product has any of the 50+ names sugar goes by, I generally avoid it or when necessary only eat it once a month (or even less frequently). For example, my kids love baked beans, so if I don’t have time to make them from scratch, I buy one can and add a can of drained and rinsed pinto beans to them to make it go further. But again, it’s very seldom that we have baked beans. Ketchup and mayo are the condiment exceptions, I could try making my own, but until then, we don’t use enough ketchup or mayo to worry too much about the sugar they contain.

So, the bottom line is this: I wouldn’t wait with bated breath until July 2018; you can start now choosing whole, real foods and using the ingredient list to make better choices in the grocery store.

From Our Kitchen: Chicken Parmesan

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Thanks to my day of rest on Mother’s day, I’m starting the week off way behind on my meal planning. Anyone else have that problem? A day of rest means double time the rest of the week. Whether it’s meal planning, work, laundry, errands…I’m sure I’m not the only one. Oh well, the break was nice while it lasted!

But who am I kidding??? I often let Monday slide by before I get my act together. Especially if it’s yet another rainy dreary day. Then I rally as only a good procrastinator can. Yet, despite the sophisticated flavors I try to serve up daily, even on weekdays, my meal planning is hardly elaborate or time consuming. You might be surprised to learn you don’t even need an app for it! But make no mistake, I believe planning ahead–any way you feel comfortable–is the key to serving easy, delicious real food. And your method of planning doesn’t have to take too much of your time, if you have a variety of go-to meal options up your sleeve. (Note the new, ever-expanding recipe index tab at the top of the blog!)

So, for me, meal planning is low-tech and old school. (I may know what you’re thinking. Just stop–I do at least keep all my recipes in Evernote, which I highly recommend. It comes in handy to check a recipe for ingredients while grocery shopping, particularly if you’re winging it, which I don’t recommend…) In fact, my meal planning generally consists of a dry-erase board on the fridge with usually no more than four meals planned at a time and scrawled in a hurry. Why four? I try to plan for slow cooker meals or leftovers at least twice a week, on our busiest weeknights. And I leave one meal open for one of these options: letting my mood decide, eating out, or–my personal favorite–letting B cook when time allows and the mood strikes.

However, tonight we have gymnastics, B works late as usual, and I didn’t plan on a slow cooker meal or leftovers…so whatever we are going to have has got to be easy! Naturally, I thought of this simply delicious baked chicken parmesan. I hope it can come to your rescue, too.

Chicken Parmesan

Total Time 40 minutes
Servings 4 to 6

Ingredients

  • 4 to 6 chicken breasts
  • about 1 cup of blanched almond flour
  • olive oil spray
  • 1 jar of Rao's marinara sauce this is amazing sauce, from Italy, with an all natural short ingredient list, but you could use another favorite of your own that doesn't contain sugar
  • about 1/2 cup of parmesan cheese freshly grated

Instructions

  1. Slice each chicken breast in half lengthwise, to form two thinner breast pieces. (You can pound it with a meat tenderizer, but I skip this for simplicity.) Or you can buy your chicken already sliced thin.
  2. Dredge each chicken breast in almond flour. Place in a baking pan. Spray lightly with olive oil (I use a Misto spray bottle) or use a pastry brush and dab olive oil onto chicken breasts.
  3. Top with about 2 tablespoons of tomato sauce. Bake for about 20 minutes.
  4. Sprinkle with freshly grated parmesan cheese (the real, aged, good stuff from Italy). Bake 10 minutes more or until chicken is done. We like to
  5.  

Recipe Notes


Credit: 
thewanderingrd.com

 


Serve with a roasted green vegetable like broccoli and a simple side salad.

 

From Our Kitchen: Slow Cooker Chicken Burrito Bowls

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Cinco de Mayo is always a fun celebration! I highly recommend this easy recipe for your weeknight celebration. Then you can spend your meal-prep time making B’s homemade guacamole (and/or fast fresh salsa).

He is well-known for his guacamole recipe–please comment if you’ve been lucky enough to have had him make you some! Everybody else, now is your chance…or you can try making it at home, but I guarantee it won’t be quite the same.

A few comments about this recipe:

  • This recipe is higher carb than we usually eat at a typical meal, but beans and brown rice are whole foods with better quality carbohydrates and fiber along with important nutrients, so we eat them sometimes. Plus this recipe makes a lot more than one meal for our family of 5 (at least 2 dinners and several lunch portions), so when also served on top of a cup or two of lettuce, the smaller portion keeps the carbohydrates in check.
  • You can skip the cheese and/or sour cream if you avoid dairy, but if you like them, use the full fat version. Whole-fat dairy tastes good and is less processed. A recent study suggests whole-fat dairy is associated with a lower risk of metabolic syndrome, a carbohydrate metabolism problem linked with obesity, diabetes and heart disease.1 Other recent research suggests people who use whole-fat dairy products are less likely to be obese.2
  • I don’t, however, recommend skipping the guacamole! Making it is easy if you have a food processor or blender, but buy it if you have to (or used sliced avocado to keep it simple). Guacamole is authentic to Mexican cuisine, but even plain avocado provides a smooth texture, is delicious and serves up some satisfying “good” monounsaturated fat.

Slow Cooker Chicken Burrito Bowls

These burrito bowls are hearty, delicious and practically make themselves! They are also versatile and toppings can be adjusted for each person's preferences for a stress-free family dinner.

Course Main Course, Slow Cooker
Cuisine Mexican, TexMex
Keyword chicken burrito bowls
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 6 hours
Total Time 20 minutes
Servings 12

Ingredients

  • 4 large split chicken breasts or about 2 pounds chicken breastsIMG_4857
  • 1 26.46 oz. box of chopped tomatoes (I like Pomi brand)
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder

  • 1 1/2 teaspoon cumin

  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 15 ounces black beans drained and rinsed (I prefer organic beans)
  • 1 cup brown rice
  • Optional Toppings

    • shredded lettuce
    •  chopped tomatoes
    •  shredded cheese
    •  sour cream
    • guacamole
    • salsa

    Instructions

    1. Place chicken breasts into large (6 quart) slow cooker. (Split chicken breasts provide more flavor and liquid than boneless; you may need to add a small amount of chicken broth if you use boneless.) Pour tomatoes, spices and beans over chicken. Cook on low 3 to 4 hours.
    2.  Add brown rice, stir and cook another 3 hours on low, or until chicken and rice is done. (If you won't be home until mealtime, cook rice separately and then add to chicken mixture before serving.)

    3. Remove chicken from slow cooker and remove meat; discard bones if necessary. Return meat to slow cooker and stir.

    Recipe Notes

    Serve meat mixture in a bowl over shredded lettuce and add desired optional toppings, including B's homemade guacamole or fast fresh salsa. These burrito bowls are great as leftovers, and freeze well.