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Healthy Living: Pumpkin

PumpkinsIt’s that time of year for all things pumpkin.

I know you’ve seen the jokes about Pumpkin Spice everything (have you seen the new pumpkin spice M&M’s candies?), but pumpkin deserves the hype it gets this time of year.

Pumpkin (not the spiced latte version) is rich in antioxidants and vitamins. Technically a gourd, pumpkin is low in calories but abundant in vitamin A and flavonoid antioxidants such as lutein, xanthin and carotenes.

Pumpkin is recommended by dieticians to control cholesterol and help in weight reduction (again, not the candied variety). Pumpkin is full of vitamin A, vitamin C and vitamin E, and has a lot of minerals like copper, calcium, potassium and phosphorus. In addition, pumpkin seeds are a great source of dietary fiber and monounsaturated fatty acids, which are good for heart health. Pumpkin seeds are also a wonderful source of protein, minerals and vitamins. Nutritionally, 100 grams of pumpkin seeds account for 559 calories; 30 grams of protein; 110 percent RDA of iron; 4,987 milligrams of niacin (31 percent of RDA); selenium (17 percent of RDA); zinc (71 percent) and no cholesterol.

Pumpkin can be baked, braised, stewed, simmered, pureed, steamed, roasted and eaten in almost any way you can imagine! If you haven’t already hopped on the pumpkin bandwagon, take a hayride with this awesome vegetable this fall.

Healthy Living: Purell Hand Sanitizer

Purell Hand SanitizerWhen my kids went back to school last week, the item at the top of each school supply list was “Purell Hand Sanitizer.”

Back-to-school means germs, germs and more germs, and Purell Hand Sanitizer helps fight the germs that might be spread from kids with colds touching the pencil sharpener then to other kids.

Purell Hand Sanitizer was invented in 1988 to help reduce the spread of germs in the healthcare and restaurant industries. There needed to be an effective way to stop the spread of germs, and keep things sanitary when soap and water were not readily available.

Purell Hand Sanitizers are effective at killing 99.99% of most common germs, and have been available to the general public since 1997. I think it’s been on every school supply list of ours since then.

My teacher friends keep bottles everywhere in their classroom. I have one on my desk at work, as does my co-worker. There’s Purell Hand Sanitizer dispensers in most public restrooms. I haven’t been into a commercial kitchen since I stopped waiting tables in college, but I imagine they’re found there as well. I have a travel-sized bottle in my purse.

Used correctly, Purell Hand Sanitizer will help keep you germ-free this fall and winter.

Healthy Living: Grilled Peaches

Grilled PeachesOne of my favorite healthy treats in the summertime is grilled peaches.

They’re a perfect summertime dessert or a healthy snack. Peaches are about 50 calories per fruit and have zero fat. They’re full of antioxidants and phytochemicals. They have lots of vitamins A and C, which are good for your skin. Peaches are also said to reduce anxiety! They have a diuretic effect, which is good for the kidneys and bladder.

Plus, they’re super-easy to grill.

Grilling a peach caramelizes it beautifully, bringing out all its natural sugars. If you use local honey, you get added sweetness and a crisp crust on your peach.

Slice your peach in half. Remove the stone. Brush cut-side with local honey. Place on grill, cut-side up, over medium heat; grill until it begins to soften. Flip over to cut-side, and grill until there are char marks and the honey has caramelized.

Serve immediately.

Healthy Living: Greek Chicken Pita

Greek Chicken PitaFueled by the introduction of two new restaurants in my city recently (one Greek and one Mediterranean), I’ve been cooking with lots of fresh flavors this summer.

Lots of cucumbers, fresh tomatoes, basil from my garden, lemon, red onion and meals that are more “small bites” instead of heavy feasts.

It reminds me of my visits to the Amalfi Coast of Italy. The air is clean, the water is clear, the views are stunning and the food is some of the best in the world, in my opinion. Breakfast one morning was figs drizzled in local honey with whole-grain bread, freshly baked of course, and a selection of local cheeses. Then, lunch was a platter of olives, cured meats, cheeses, grapes and crostini. But dinner! Oh my! Dinner was a roasted chicken, fresh tomatoes and cucumbers with just-picked oregano leaves, a block of feta cheese topped with slivered onions and drizzled with olive oil and lemons picked from the trees in the grove next to the hotel. It was sublime.

This dish reminds me of that meal, and even better, you can pack it for lunch.

Greek Chicken Pita

1 (6 1/2-inch) whole-wheat pita, cut in half to make pockets
3 oz cooked chicken breast, boneless, skinless and cut into 1-inch cubes
1/4 medium tomato, chopped
1/4 cup cucumbers, chopped
1 Tbs red onions, chopped
1/4 tsp dried oregano
1 Tbs fresh lemon juice
1 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup romaine lettuce, shredded
2 Tbs crumbled feta cheese (about 1/2 oz)

Combine chicken, tomatoes, cucumbers and onions in a large bowl. Whisk olive oil and lemon juice to combine. Add oregano and stir. Fold into chicken mixture and gently add cheese. Stuff into pita halves with romaine lettuce. Serve immediately.

Nutritional Information: Calories Per Serving: 245, Calories from Fat: 99, Fat: 11 g, Trans Fat: 0 g (2 g Saturated Fat), Cholesterol: 43 mg, Sodium: 302 mg, Potassium: 269 mg, Carbohydrates: 20 g, Fiber: 3 g, Sugar: 2 g, Protein: 18 g.

View this recipe to print or add items to My Shopping List.

Healthy Living: Sweet Potato Slices

Sweet Potato SlicesI’m a sucker for any recipe that promises a secret ingredient.

Case in point, this sweet potato recipe.

If I’m browsing online, I have to click the link to find out what the secret ingredient might be. Call it a compulsion, but I have to do it.

In addition, sweet potatoes are one of those foods I know I SHOULD love, but I haven’t quite made it that far. That ambivalence fuels my determination to find the ultimate sweet potato recipe as well.

When I clicked on this link, I discovered the secret ingredient was kettle corn seasoning! Brilliant! That perfect balance of salty and sweet on a potato that needs both salty and sweet, in my opinion. I loved the result even more because sweet potatoes are SO GOOD FOR YOU. They are oozing with vitamins and nutrients, low in fat, high in potassium and often called “the perfect food.”

I’ll make this one again.

Sweet Potato Slices
Serves 6

2 to 3 large sweet potatoes, about 1 1/2 lb
nonstick cooking spray
2 Tbs kettle corn seasoning
1 tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 400° F. Wash potatoes and slice into 1/2-inch rounds. Lay flat on a baking sheet covered with tin foil or parchment paper. Spritz with nonstick cooking spray, and sprinkle with kettle corn seasoning and cinnamon. Bake for 12 minutes or until tender on the inside and crisp on the outside. Serve immediately.

Nutritional Information: Calories Per Serving: 123, Calories from Fat: 2, Fat: 0 g, Trans Fat: 0 g, Cholesterol: 0 mg, Sodium: 41 mg, Potassium: 540 mg, Carbohydrates: 28 g, Fiber: 4 g, Sugar: 11 g, Protein: 2 g.

View this recipe to print or add items to My Shopping List.

Healthy Living: Back-to-School Breakfasts

Back to School BreakfastThere’s no disputing that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, especially for our kiddos going off to school each morning. Eating breakfast stabilizes blood sugar, revs up the metabolism, and gives the body and mind fuel for the day ahead.

The best breakfasts are the ones that combine protein and a complex carbohydrate.

Here’s a list of breakfast ideas that will get your child powering through the school day:

  • Whole-grain waffles spread with natural peanut butter
  • Steel-cut oats with Greek yogurt and fruit
  • A whole-wheat tortilla filled with scrambled eggs and some cheese
  • A toasted, whole-grain English muffin with Canadian bacon and an egg
  • Scrambled eggs mixed with veggies like onions, peppers and mushrooms
  • An egg white omelet with zucchini, tomatoes and cheese
  • A fruit smoothie with a slice of toasted Ezekiel bread
  • Egg “Muffins.” Mix 6 eggs, 1 cup baby spinach, 1 cup black beans, 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese and 4 ounces ham. Pour into muffin tins lined with cupcake liners. Bake at 350° F until set, about 12 minutes.
  • Breakfast roll-ups. Press refrigerated crescent roll dough into triangles. Top with sausage, ham or bacon, and scrambled eggs and cheese. Roll up; bake at 375° F for 8 minutes.
  • Peaches and cream: Slice peaches and top with Greek yogurt. Sprinkle with granola.
  • Oatmeal topped with blueberries and slivered almonds
  • Homemade granola bars
  • Yogurt parfaits. Layer yogurt, fruit and granola in a pretty glass.

Healthy Living: Make-Ahead Snacks and Meals

Make-Ahead Snacks and MealsMy friend, Anthony, has been on an amazing healthy eating journey.

He has a job where his weight is closely scrutinized, and he’ll be the first to tell you that a love of Raising Cane’s chicken was not good for his figure.

So, he set about to eat healthier and make a lifelong change. He started exercising and lifting weights, and he prepares most of his meals and snacks in advance. That way, he has something ready and doesn’t resort to fast-food chicken.

He posts a lot of his ideas on Facebook, and I studied one of the posts lately to get some ideas for myself.

Some ideas for healthy, make-ahead meals and snacks include:

  • Overnight oatmeal.
  • Freezer breakfast sandwiches (whole-grain English muffins, egg whites, Canadian bacon)
  • Breakfast bowls (egg whites, black beans, baby spinach)
  • Sliced apples with a cup of natural peanut butter
  • Sliced pears with a wedge of Laughing Cow cheese
  • Tuna in a baby pita pocket
  • 1/2 cup of granola with dried cranberries
  • String cheese with 1/2 cup grapes
  • Zucchini crisps
  • Mason jar salads
  • Prepared stir-fry bags – slice up meats and veggies; store in serving-size bags (separately) and stir-fry when you get home

Healthy Living: Whole-Foods

Whole-FoodsAs always, I’m in awe of and inspired by my sister-in-law and her family when we meet at the beach each year.

Nothing passes through her lips that isn’t a whole-food.

She, my brother (her husband) and her three sons are the super-healthiest people I know. Fruits, veggies, whole-grains and lean proteins. Even for snacks. Even on the BEACH. (I hid my Combos in their presence). They snacked on grapes. Almonds. Pears. Peaches. Grape tomatoes. Water. Water and more water. They ate Greek yogurt for breakfast with homemade granola. They ate lettuce wraps for lunch with hummus and roasted red peppers. Their oldest son told my youngest son that white rice wasn’t as good as brown rice, but there was no need to be prejudiced (yes, that really happened).

They are pretty inspiring. I’m not sure where my sister-in-law’s drive comes from. When she makes pancake batter, it’s with ground quinoa instead of flour. She used to make and decorate sugar cookies, but those are too unhealthy, too. Now, while I’m more of an everything-in-moderation type mama, I applaud her values for clean and healthy eating.

Whole-foods, the ones God gave us, are the best basis of a healthy diet. Plants, fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and nuts are nature’s bounty that we were given to enjoy without processing and without alteration. Many studies have shown that a diet high in whole-foods is associated with a reduced risk of diseases such as cardiovascular disease, cancers and Type 2 diabetes. There are so many benefits to eating whole-foods.

One tip to buying whole-foods is to shop on the outer perimeter of Brookshire’s. Stick to the produce, meats and dairy sections.

Another is to read the list of ingredients in an item. If it’s under five, you might be good to go, but choose your ingredients wisely, too.

Her family rarely gets sick. Her three young boys do Kid Triathlons. She and my brother are lean, mean, parenting machines.

Enjoy your whole-foods and your healthy life.

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Healthy Living: Stay Hydrated

Stay HydratedWhile we’re at the beach and all through the summer months (especially in the South), it’s critical to stay well-hydrated. I, for one, don’t always notice when I haven’t had enough water.

Myriad studies have been done over the years to determine how much water your body needs each day. The answer actually varies a little, based on your activity level and various other factors, but experts agree that there is almost no such thing as too much water.

Water makes up about 60 percent of your body weight. It is critical in flushing toxins out of vital organs, carrying nutrients to your cells and providing moisture for the ears, nose and throat.

According to the Mayo Clinic, men need about 13 cups of non-caffeinated beverages a day while women need 9 cups.

Staying hydrated doesn’t have to be difficult.

Products like Propel Fitness Water and Dasani Sparkling Water count toward your water intake and add a pop of flavor that regular water doesn’t provide. You can add fruits and vegetables to your regular water for an infusion of flavor, as well.

On a day when you know you’ll be out and about a lot, running errands or going to fun outdoor activities, freeze water bottles the night before. The next day, put the frozen bottle in your car, and as you go about your routine, the ice will melt, leaving you with a cool, refreshing beverage on a hot day.

Healthy Living: Fresh Express Spinach

Rustic Grilled CheeseI was one of those rare kids who loved spinach from the get-go. When my mom would ask what vegetable I wanted with dinner, my answer was always an enthusiastic “spinach!” I still love it to this day and always, always have a bag of Fresh Express Spinach in my refrigerator. In fact, most days I eat it up to three times a day! I start at breakfast by adding fresh baby spinach leaves to an egg white scramble. Then at lunch, I use it in place of lettuce on my sandwich. At dinner, I mix spinach into butter or romaine lettuce for a salad. I love fresh spinach as a side dish to any meal. I gently sauté it until just wilted with a clove of freshly chopped garlic and finish it with a spritz of fresh lemon juice as soon as I take it off the heat. I LOVE this recipe idea from Fresh Express, as it combines so many of my favorite things!

Rustic Grilled Cheese

8 slices rustic country sourdough bread
4 Tbs Dijon mustard
4 Tbs honey
24 baby spinach leaves from one bag of Fresh Express Baby Spinach
8 slices prosciutto, thinly shaved
8 slices Baby Swiss cheese, thinly sliced

Heat panini press to medium heat, and spray with cooking spray (or you can use a grill pan on medium heat). Spread a thin layer of Dijon mustard on 4 slices of bread. On remaining undressed slices of bread, spread a thin layer of honey. Place 2 slices of Baby Swiss, 2 slices of prosciutto and 6 baby spinach leaves on 4 slices of bread. (Make sure each slice of cheese is on the side with the bread so it acts as the “glue” to holding the sandwich together.) Place the remaining slices of bread on the sandwiches. Grill the sandwiches until the bread is golden and cheese is melted.

Nutritional Information: Calories Per Serving: 393, Calories from Fat: 103, Fat: 11 g, Trans Fat: 0 g (7 g Saturated Fat), Cholesterol: 40 mg, Sodium: 978 mg, Potassium: 272 mg, Carbohydrates: 55 g, Fiber: 3 g, Sugar: 21 g, Protein: 21 g

View this recipe to print or add items to My Shopping List.

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