Just the word “burrito” conjures up thoughts of high-calorie, high-fat fare that has no place on a blog about healthy eating. But, burritos should, quite frankly, be a staple on every healthy menu. It all depends what you stuff inside that tortilla. First, choose your wrap — there are so many healthy wraps to choose from: regular flour, whole-grain, low-carb and even wheat-free tortillas made with grains like quinoa. Next, you can choose a bounty of fresh and wholesome ingredients to cram inside before you roll up. Burritos aren’t deep fried and not necessarily baked (though you can bake them as I’ve done below). That means they make quick and easy meals for any day of the week. In fact, I often make burritos with leftovers from the fridge (cooked rice, veggies, fresh salsa and cooked chicken or steak). I like baking my burritos because it melts the cheese and lightly toasts the tortilla, giving the outside a bit of a crust and a lot more flavor.
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Yes, sautéed spinach is fabulous. Kale chips are fun. A crisp Romaine salad is especially refreshing on a hot day. But the health benefits of leafy greens are numerous, and to eat more of them you’ll have to think outside the produce box and get creative with those nutrient-dense leafy greens. Check out these tips for a variety of greens, including bok choy, mustard greens, chard, kale, spinach and beet greens.
• Add chopped or sliced greens to spring and summer soups for the last 30 seconds of cooking.
• Drizzle warm balsamic vinaigrette over green leaves to wilt (warm the vinaigrette in the microwave).
• Fill steamed leaves with fresh mozzarella cheese and slices of fresh tomato or roasted red peppers and roll up; drizzle with olive oil before serving.
Traditional Italian polenta is basically porridge made with cornmeal, water or stock and patience; sometimes lots of patience because, for the best results, the cornmeal needs time to absorb the liquid and fully cook, which brings out the sweet corn flavor. The cornmeal can be ground coarse, medium or fine, but traditional Italian polenta is never instant or precooked and packaged in tubes. Polenta can become a healthy cook’s best friend because it’s endlessly versatile – you can serve it as a side dish or top it with meatballs and gravy, braised chicken and tomatoes, or grilled vegetables and a shaving or two of Parmesan cheese. You can also prepare firm polenta that’s then cut into squares or wedges and baked or grilled.
A few tips for the perfect polenta:
• For soft polenta, the ratio is typically 5 to 1 (liquid to cornmeal); for firm polenta, the ratio is around 4 to 1.
• Bring your liquid (water or stock) to a rapid boil and slowly whisk in the cornmeal; whisk constantly for the first minute or so, until the mixture thickens.
• Reduce the heat to low and allow the polenta to bubble/sputter gently for the entire cooking time.
• Stir every 5-10 minutes while cooking.
• Always check the liquid level and don’t allow the mixture to become too thick (it won’t cook properly).
• Depending on the cornmeal you’re using, allow up to 1 hour for fully cooked polenta (it may take less, but play it safe).
It’s a shame calamari is relegated to the deep fryer most of the time. Also known as squid, protein-rich calamari boasts a sweet taste and firm texture when prepared properly (overcooked calamari is overly chewy calamari). One 3.5-ounce serving has just 92 calories, 1 gram of fat, 16 grams of protein, and 56% of your daily recommended intake for iron. It’s also brimming with calcium, dishing up 28% of your daily recommendation. Problem is, a typical serving of restaurant-prepared calamari, AKA breaded and fried, can have up to 900 calories, 20 grams of fat and almost 2,000 mg of sodium. That’s HALF of your recommended calories and fat and your ENTIRE sodium quota for the day.
Worry not – you can enjoy all the health benefits of calamari by preparing it yourself – pan-seared with a Thai-inspired sesame-soy peanut sauce. And don’t worry about searching for calamari in a store far, far away – if you can’t find it at the seafood counter, it’ll be in the frozen foods section in most grocery stores nationwide.
As with many convenience items on the market, the pita pocket section of the grocery store has blown up. Sizes ranges from regular to mini to super mini (such as Itsy-Bitsy). You can find pre-cut or whole pitas and varieties include white, whole wheat, multi-grain, high fiber, cholesterol-free and more. Obviously, pita pockets make an excellent vehicle for housing healthy sandwich and salad fillings, but might there be culinary possibilities beyond the obvious? Of course! Read on:
Ground turkey has a reputation for being a very lean meat, but that’s only the case if you choose ground turkey breast. Unless otherwise specified, the dark turkey meat and skin gets mixed in with the light making it fattier than you may think.
A 4-ounce cooked turkey burger (made from a combo of dark and light meat) has 193 calories, 11 grams of fat, 3 grams of saturated fat and 22 grams of protein. It’s an excellent source of niacin and selenium and a good source of vitamin B6, phosphorus and zinc. Choosing ground turkey made from only breast will have 150 calories, 1.5 grams of fat, and 0 grams saturated fat. Since it’s so lean, it can end up being too dry and not-so-tasty.
Undercooked ground turkey has been associated with salmonella, so make sure your turkey burger is safe to eat by cooking it to 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Check that the proper temperature is reached by using a thermometer.
It seems “truffle fries” are super trendy these days. No surprise, they’re downright amazing – crisp, golden-brown French fries with hints of earthy truffle oil. Problem is, they ARE French fries after all, which means they dish up about 300 calories and 20 grams of fat per 3-ounce serving. And let’s not forget, the fries aren’t the entrée; they’re often served as bar snacks or alongside chicken, steak and fish. The good news is, you can make your own truffle fries at home in a snap. You can even add Parmesan cheese and still have better nutritional numbers than the one you’ll see on restaurant menus. Check it out – these gems are incredible.
Food Network Magazine compared some fiesta favorites — did your Mexican-food favorites come out on top?
Red Sangria vs. White Sangria
WINNER: Red sangria. Red wine is loaded with resveratrol, a compound in the skin of grapes that is thought to be good for the heart. White wine has none of this, plus many white sangria recipes call for fruit juice and sweet liquors, so they typically end up with higher sugar counts.
Yellow Corn Tortilla Chips vs. Blue Corn Tortilla Chips
WINNER: It’s a draw. Blue corn chips are often labeled as all natural, so people assume they’re the better choice. But the FDA doesn’t regulate the use of that term. In fact, the two varieties have the same number of calories and grams of fat. And because most of the sodium is added, the health factor depends more on the brand than on the color.
Cotija Cheese vs. Mexican Cheese Blend
WINNER: Mexican cheese blend. Ounce for ounce, these taco toppings have the same number of calories (about 100) and similar levels of fat and protein. But cotija cheese has three times as much sodium, giving Mexican cheese blend the edge.
The ever-expanding frozen-foods section of the grocery store has no shortage of affordable vegetables and vegetable combinations. Sliced green beans, peppers, onions, carrots, broccoli, spinach, peas, corn, soybeans/edamame, and vegetable medleys abound. Since most frozen vegetables are harvested at their nutritional peak, don’t relegate them to boring, steamed, side dishes. Some ideas to inspire you:
• Nestle into potato and cheese casseroles (like scalloped potatoes) before baking; add ham, chicken, turkey, or cooked shrimp to make a complete meal
• Add to egg and cheese frittatas, quiches and omelets
• Puree into hot and cold dips and serve with whole grain crackers and pita triangles
If you eat seared tuna exclusively when dining out because the thought of making it at home intimidates you, fear no more. Searing fish is a very simple process. Actually, the most important aspect is the quality of the fish. Start with the best and the fish does the rest. Ahi tuna, also known as yellow-fin, is moist, supple and best served when lightly seared on the outside, leaving the inside tender and downright raw in the middle. Because the fish should be raw, not rare, you must start with the very best, sushi-grade ahi. If you can’t find high-quality ahi, save this recipe for another day. As for nutrients, tuna is widely known to be rich in protein and Omega-3 fatty acids, which help prevent inflammation, regulate blood pressure and protect against cardiovascular disease.