A favorite snack or Sunday night dinner at our house is popcorn. There are so many options on the market right now it is hard to know which ones to select for any health benefits. If you can pop your own in an air popper or on top of the stove you are going to reap the most health benefits. We use a microwave popper that you may or may not add any oil to before popping.
Popcorn is a whole grain and naturally has lots of fiber while being low in fat and low in calories. It is high in complex carbohydrates and gluten free. Popcorn is also a low glycemic food.
Popcorn offers many polyphenols found in plant foods which help rid the body of free radicals which damage cells and promote aging. Of all plant foods, popcorn has one of the highest concentrations of polyphenols, containing more polyphenols and antioxidents than most fruit.
If you are going to buy any of the pre-packaged popcorns available on the market, make sure to read the label carefully, pay attention to the serving size, and choose the most natural product you can without a lot of added ingredients and flavor additions. Consumer Reports recently did an article on the huge increase in demand for bagged popcorn if you are interested in seeing how these products lived up to their health claims.
I was recently visiting my daughter and she took me to a big new Whole Foods near her. I knew Whole Foods named “alternative pasta” as one of the Top 10 Food Trends for 2017 so I was interested in what they had as I am interested in cutting back on carbs and boosting my plant protein intake. Most people are familiar with eggplant lasagna using slices of eggplant in place of regular wheat lasagna noodles but now there are so many more options available. I found many spiralized veggies at Whole Foods that I could substitute for spaghetti – beets, broccoli, butternut squash, sweet potato, parsnips, etc. Spiralized cucumbers were available for salads. I think many of those are worth experimenting with for an added low carb, low calorie nutrition boost.
I also found pastas made from legumes such as chick peas and lentils. These were even more interesting to me. While a typical 2-oz serving of traditional pasta and lentil pasta both contain similar amounts of carbs and calories, legume pastas are packed with plant protein. For example, black bean rotini, which is made by drying beans and grinding them into a flour-like consistency then combining with water and forming into pasta shapes, has 14 grams of protein and 15 grams of fiber.
Pastas made from quinoa and kelp were also available. I am excited to try some of these alternative pastas in the next few weeks! I will still enjoy the regular pastas just like I have for many years but this will hopefully add a few more options into meal preparation that might not seem so heavy for Summer.
whole raw chicken isolated on white background
My sister just went to a cookbook class she belongs to and told me the demonstration that day was on Spatchcocking a chicken. That was a new term to me and thought it might be for some of you too. Basically it means to butterfly. You accomplish it by removing the backbone of a whole chicken then laying the chicken flat before roasting, grilling, or cooking in your cast iron skillet. The process makes for a chicken with a super crisp skin and moist meat in much less time than it takes to roast or grill a whole chicken without spatchcocking it.
It is quicker because it exposes more surface area to the heat. It should take about 15 minutes less time to cook through. Chicken has two different kinds of meat that cook through at two different temperatures. Breast meat starts to dry out at 150 degrees and dark leg meat isn’t thoroughly cooked until it reaches 165-170 degrees. By spatchcocking, both kinds of meat get done at the same time creating a juicier chicken. And since all of the skin is exposed evenly to the heat when spatchcocking, it all crisps up evenly.
So how do you spatchcock? Start by placing the chicken breast side down on your work surface. You can also do this in the pan you are going to cook the chicken in if you want. Starting at the tail end, cut along both sides of the backbone with sharp kitchen shears and remove the backbone. You can save the backbone to make your own chicken stock. Open the chicken up, turn it breast side down and push on it to flatten it. Cook at 400-450 degrees until your meat thermometer reaches 165 degrees when inserted into the thickest part of the leg meat.
I think it is an interesting process to try. Whole chickens are less expensive than buying cut-up chickens and this process should help get a flavorful dinner on the table more quickly!
Last week, we had another grandson. That brings my total number of grandchildren to 13. It also means that it is time to make my traditional baby gift for the family. I like to prepare and freeze meals for the family. I plan enough meals to feed the family for an entire month. I know what you are thinking, but it isn’t as much work as it seems. When I make a recipe, I divide it up into amounts that the family will eat in a single meal. I may get 4 meals out of a pan of lasagna. I use disposable pans to eliminate dishwashing. Lasagna or other casseroles can be put into disposable loaf pans. I tightly wrap the pans and put all cooking instructions on the foil. This allows either mom or dad to bake dinner. The meals can be taken out of the freezer the day before and allowed to thaw in the refrigerator overnight for quicker cooking. Sometimes, the day doesn’t quite go as planned and the family decides mid-afternoon that they want a frozen meal that same day. No problem, simply cook the meal one and a half times as long as a thawed meal.
I also make some rolls or garlic bread to accompany a meal. These too can be easily thawed or cooked at meal time. I like to make rolls from scratch and then freeze them before baking. The rolls can be thawed and baked while the rest of the meal is baking. Fresh rolls and a home cooked meal can make life with a new baby so much easier.
About a month before the baby arrived, I asked my daughter just what food they might enjoy after baby number three arrived. This way, I can prepare and purchase ingredients as I see them on sale. They can purchase vegetables or other fruits and salads to accompany the meals and have them on hand. This is a project that I do while staying with the new family and helping out with meals and cleaning after the baby arrives.
I thought you might like to see some suggestions for foods that work well for new families.
- Chicken noodle casserole
- Pepper Steak
- Beef and noodles
- Beef Stroganoff
- Breakfast casserole
- Tater tot casserole
- Cheesy potatoes
- Beef pot pie and chicken pot pie
This is not a complete list of appropriate foods, just foods that are popular in our family. I can’t wait to get started.
As we spring morphs into summer, one of the things that seems to disappear is time. Kids’ track meets, sports practices, and ballgames become more frequent and family dinner time seems impossible. We all know that a drive-thru dinner is not good for our health or our wallet. At AnswerLine, we looked at the subscription meal services as an option and we know that various grocery stores are offering help making freezer meals. The trick is to find something that works well for your family and the time you have available.
One summer the parents of my daughters softball teammates banded together to make pot luck dinners. She had a game nearly every weeknight and Saturday. The JV team had to be there by 5:30 pm. which didn’t leave much time to get the family fed and our daughter ready and to the ball diamond. Our solution was to take meals to the ball diamond that parents and siblings of the players could enjoy before the games. Parents took turns providing the main dish and side dishes. It wasn’t too hard to make one dish or to pack the portable gas grill on game days. Everyone enjoyed the meals because when you only need to prepare one dish it is easier to make something special. But even a simple picnic can be packed when the timing of a game or practice makes meals at home impossible. Enjoying a meal together, even just sandwiches and fruit, after a game or practice can make it seem special.
Another possibility would be to make a list of the quick and easy meals that your family enjoys. Some families love the breakfast at dinner time meals. It doesn’t take long to scramble some eggs or make omelets. Add some fruit, vegetables, or toast and you can have a balanced meal ready in a flash. If you make a list of the simple meals you enjoy, you are able to shop so that the ingredients you need to have on hand will be there when you need them.
You can also take advantage of some quick tips to make preparing those meals faster. Consider chopping and freezing some onions in advance. The thawed onions will be soft and really best used in cooked dishes, but if you chop and freeze them in thin layers in a freezer bag, they will be easy to measure and use when cooking in a hurry. You can also double the amount you make on a night when time isn’t a factor and freeze the extra. Defrost in the refrigerator during the work day and enjoy on a busy night.
Don’t forget the slow cooker during the spring or summer either. Sometimes we think it is only for making some great soup or stew on those cold winter days. The crock pot can make your dinner while you and the family are out for the day and it can keep the house cooler when used instead of the stove. Our friends at Spend Smart. Eat Smart. have some great recipes. Check out their entire website for some great information. They even have an app for your smart phone to make grocery shopping easier.
Just a little bit of planning in advance can keep your family and your wallet healthier. Enjoy!
Recently I wrote a blog post about cauliflower and mentioned I was looking forward to trying cauliflower pizza crust. Well, I tried it! And I really liked it! I will definitely make it again. The cauliflower was very easy to grate manually. Once it was grated and after doing a little more research, I opted to dry it out in a pan on the top of the stove rather than microwaving it and squeezing it dry. I was very pleased with how that worked. The cauliflower was not browned but nice and dry and easy to work with. I added one egg as I didn’t want it to taste too “eggy” and some parmesan cheese. I pressed it out onto a parchment paper lined baking sheet being careful to keep the thickness as even as possible so there would be no areas that were over browned or burned. After baking it separately for several minutes, I removed it from the oven and added my toppings then returned it to the oven for several more minutes. It turned out to be a very healthy and flavorful pizza entrée that did not leave me with that “oh so full” feeling you can get with a traditional carb crust. Another AnswerLine colleague is trying the cauliflower crust and is also experimenting with zucchini and eggplant crusts. We’ll keep you posted!
It seems, for me at least, life gets busier and busier yet I still want to eat healthy. I have decided to add more smoothies into my diet to help boost my intake of veggies and fruit. I prefer them over juicing fruits and vegetables as you get more fiber in a smoothie. I would not typically eat spinach for breakfast but I really enjoy it in a smoothie!
Depending on what your smoothie ingredients are, you can probably make them in your current blender. The average blender will usually hold enough to make two servings. There are “smoothie” blenders on the market that are narrow at the bottom thus sending a small volume of foods up and then down toward the center of the blender blades rather than up the sides and back down and there are also the bullet type blenders, i.e. Magic and Nutri. When adding liquid to your smoothie try to have the amount come about half way up on the ingredients in the blender. That will help everything “blend” properly and if it is too thick you can always add more liquid or pour the smoothie into a bowl and top it with additional fruits, nuts, oats, etc.
A basic smoothie recipe would include ½ cup fruit – fresh or frozen; ½ cup veggies – fresh or frozen; 1 cup dairy; and any “extras” you want to add as flavor boosters. The advantage of using frozen fruit is you don’t need to add ice. Frozen fruit also helps thicken the smoothie without diluting the flavor. It is easy to have berries, peaches, bananas, etc on hand in the freezer which are all common smoothie ingredients.
It is best to use dairy – milk or yogurt – as the liquid to add some protein to the smoothie. Many people, me included, add protein powder as well. Juice has a lot of sugar in it that is not necessary to add. Some protein and a little fat will fill you up longer, take longer to digest, and slow your sugar consumption. Greek yogurt, unsweetened almond milk, avocado, nuts, and nut butters all are good choices to add protein and a little fat.
Smoothies should be consumed immediately after making rather than making them and refrigerating for a later time. Some fruits, because of their acid content, can curdle the milk if left too long before drinking. If you have leftovers, you can pour them into popsicle molds, or other containers, and freeze for a treat.
Smoothies may not always satisfy me the same way solid food does but I find they have a place in my diet. I can control the portion size depending on if I use them as a meal replacement or a snack and they encourage me to eat more fruits and veggies!
Are you looking for ways to slash the amount you spend for groceries? Here are four simple, conventional steps to cut the amount spent for groceries without compromising on nutrition or health:
- Plan Your Meals. Always go to the grocery store with a plan. Begin by planning meals for a week and grow that to a month. The website, http://moneysmartfamily.com/recipes/ is a good place to start with this venture offering recipes and tips. A shopping list is a must. Consider using frozen fruit and vegetables as opposed to fresh and adding occasional meat-less meals in your plan. Moneysmartfamily.com also offers a preprinted list of all the things to buy which also serves as a mental cue to check stock items making sure the amount needed is in your stock. Use your leftovers wisely.
- Shop the Deals. Watch the weekly sales ads. Buy in a larger quantities if it makes sense to keep it on your shelf or in your freezer when you spot a deal. Be aware of expiration dates and rotate your stock so that it is used in a timely fashion. Be savvy with coupons and buy only items that fit your plan. Consider discounted “must-go” food items; grocery stores usually mark down products, produce, and meat when they get close to their sell-by-date. These discounted items are still perfectly safe for you to purchase.
- Minimize Grocery Store Visits. Frequent trips to the grocery store usually result in impulsive purchases. Attempt to cut your visits to once a week or longer; with a plan this usually is not hard to do.
- Pay with Cash. With cash in hand, you know exactly how much you can spend. This will force one to seek out the necessities or only the items on the planned list. The little extras are okay as long as they are part of the plan.
From PennyHoarders.com comes some not-so-conventional means of lowering your food bill. All of these options are available for free.
- Become a Nielsen Consumer Panel member. The Nielsen company will pay you to scan your groceries weekly.
- Inbox.com pays 10 cents for every coupon you print from their website.
- Buy common meats and meat cuts in bulk from Zaycon Fresh.
- Sign up for Pillsbury and Betty Crocker emails to received $250 in coupons and access to free product samples.
- Register with Kelloggs for $150 in coupons plus points for buying Kellogg products that can be turned into grocery money.
So regardless of whether you choose conventional or non-conventional options or some combination, you will save grocery dollars that can be turned into cash for saving, paying down debt, or for something fun.
Crunchy, chewy, chocolatey, fruity Granola Bars are an American snack and breakfast staple and favorite. In fact, granola bars are so popular, they even have their own annual day of celebration in January. Pitched as a healthy food (and they can be), the nutrition label often tells otherwise—most are little more than candy bars in disguise! Many are loaded with sugar and high fructose sugar and short on fiber and protein. The satiety value is low—in a short amount of time, hunger sets in again.
So how can you enjoy your favorite snack without leaving you hungry or wanting more? Here are a couple of ideas to up the granola bar game:
- Look for a better bar. Check the ingredients and nutrition label. Specifically look for bars that are high in fiber and protein, sweetened with honey or natural syrups, and include nuts, grains, seeds, and fruits.
- Make or concoct your own. There is an abundance of recipes to choose from. Groovy Granola Bars from Oregon State University is an easy recipe to get you started. Not only is it packed with fiber and protein, it also provides half of your daily value for Omega-3’s. Change it up with other dried fruits, nuts, seeds, and even a few dark chocolate chips. Coconut palm sugar can be used to replace the brown sugar without altering the flavor. However, the American Diabetes Assn cautions that coconut palm sugar but should be treat the same as brown sugar for those needing to count calories and carbohydrates.
We’d love to hear your granola bar story. Please share in the comments!
Avocados have been a great price at the grocery store lately. I love to make guacamole and cut them up to put on salads but there are many other ways that you can eat them. Here are a few suggestions to add more avocadoes to your diet.
- Slice and put on sandwiches.
- Add avocado to a homemade salad dressing.
- Mash it and spread it on toast.
- Use avocado instead of mayonnaise to make chicken salad.
- Spread on bagels.
- Use as a topper for baked potatoes.
- Add them to a smoothie.
Avocados are harvested before they are ripe so expect that they will be firm to touch at the grocery store. To tell when your avocado is ready to eat place them in your palm and they should yield to gentle pressure. Avoid using your fingertips to tell if it is ripe since that could cause bruising and dark spots on the inside. If your avocado is still firm and you want to use it more quickly stick it in a brown paper bag with an apple in it at room temperature. That will speed up the ripening process. Remember don’t put your avocado in the refrigerator until it is ripe. Once ripe they can be stored in the refrigerator for 2-3 days.
Once your avocado is cut and exposed to air it can start to turn dark. To help keep it from turning dark after you cut it sprinkle or brush lemon or lime juice or white vinegar over the exposed area. Then wrap with clear plastic wrap and store in an air tight container in the refrigerator. If it gets dark cut off the top layer and the green fruit underneath is perfectly fine to eat.
Hopefully these suggestions have given you some ideas on ways to add avocados to your meals. They are a healthy and tasty addition! For a few tips on cutting and peeling watch this video from the California Avocado Commission.