Lightened-Up Family Pizza Night

by in Cooking for Kids, Healthy Recipes, Kid-Friendly, October 12, 2016

Who says pizza can’t be a healthy meal? Although a store-bought slice of cheese clocks in at about 400 calories, you can make a healthy pizza-centric meal that is loaded with vegetables, dairy and whole grains. These easy tips can help you make to-die-for pizza — that your whole family will love — each week.

Choose a Night
Theme nights are fun, make planning meals easier and get kids excited to eat. Sample theme nights include Meatless Monday, Taco Tuesday and Pizza Friday. If you schedule pizza night for Friday, it’s a way to help reduce food waste, as most anything, like leftovers or extra vegetables, can be a healthy pizza topper. Scheduling also gives you time to stock your fridge with pizza essentials such as dough and cheese, or whatever else you choose to be on your pizza. Once you choose the night, then you have a few more decisions on how you’re going to build the pizza. Have your kids chime in on how they would like to make it more of a family affair.

This is the perfect opportunity to meet the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s recommendations to make half your daily grains whole. You can make your own 100 percent whole-wheat pizza dough, purchase whole-grain pizza dough from your market or ask your local pizza maker for an order of whole-wheat dough. You can also whip up dough made from legumes, like chickpeas, or that’s gluten-free. Other out-of-the box dough options include whole-wheat naan bread, whole-wheat English muffins or whole-grain tortillas. Read more

Market Watch: Kabocha Squash

by in Farmers' Market Finds, In Season, October 11, 2016

This lesser-known variety of winter squash is having its heyday at local farmers markets right now. Don’t be intimidated by its dark and rough exterior; inside is a gourd full of goodness.

Kabocha Facts
A Japanese variety of squash, kabocha resembles a squatty, dark green pumpkin. Its outer skin is rough and bumpy, but inside hides a vibrant pale-orange flesh that tastes like a cross between a sweet potato and a pumpkin. Kabocha also delivers in the nutrition department, offering plentiful amounts of vitamins A and C, folate, potassium and fiber.

What to Do with Kabocha Squash
Much like pumpkin and butternut squash, kabocha can go in a wide variety of culinary directions. As with many winter squashes, the biggest challenge is dealing with the tough outer skin. Peeling it won’t be easy, so it’s better to cut it open, remove the seeds, and peel away the skin after boiling or roasting — you can also make it in a slow cooker.

Once mashed or pureed, the squash yields an incredibly light, silky and flavorful flesh that permeates your senses with the smell and taste of fall. Use it as a main ingredient for soups and sauces. You can enhance its flavor with earthy accoutrements like sage, cardamom and cinnamon or take things in a completely different direction with citrus and coconut milk. Kabocha’s natural sweetness and creamy texture also work nicely in muffins, breads, pie, panna cotta and ice cream. Read more

Thai Peanut Spaghetti Squash Bowls with Shrimp

by in Healthy Recipes, October 9, 2016

There’s no denying it: Fall is officially here. Even though temperatures are still warm where I live, there is a definite change of season in the grocery store. I almost stopped in my tracks last week as I headed into the produce section and found giant displays of apples, pumpkins and squash of every color.

Not that I’m complaining. While I will always have a soft spot for colorful berries and heirloom tomatoes, there’s something extremely comforting about fall produce. These spaghetti squash bowls are the perfect way to welcome fall. Spaghetti-like squash strands, roasted broccoli, coconut shrimp and an addictive peanut sauce make for a lighter version of Thai takeout.

Once the vegetables are in the oven, this meal comes together rather quickly. To maximize prep time, I recommend making the peanut sauce beforehand, then marinating the shrimp while the broccoli is cooking. Just before the vegetables are set to be done, saute the shrimp, assemble and serve. You can serve these bowls as described, or use the hollowed-out spaghetti squash as a literal bowl. (Simply fill the cooked squash boat with roasted broccoli and shrimp, then drizzle on peanut sauce.) Either way, you’ll be rewarded with an unexpected and delicious way to enjoy spaghetti squash. Read more

Pumpkin Spice Waffles

by in Healthy Recipes, October 8, 2016

These waffles are brimming with pumpkin flavor, making them perfect for upcoming fall weekends. It’s also a great recipe to have on hand when you find yourself with extra pumpkin puree.

To keep these waffles on the nourishing side, I subbed in a half-cup of whole-wheat flour and cut down on the typical amounts of oil and sugar, which makes them slightly sweet, but still packed with pumpkin flavor. Since pumpkin puree can often weigh down baked goods, I also call for separating the eggs: beating the whites until stiff peaks form, then folding them into the prepared batter. This extra step creates light, crispy waffles, so while it may be tempting to skip it, don’t.

For a weekday timesaver, make a double or triple batch of these waffles, then freeze the extras for quick reheating during the week. Trust me, nothing says good morning on a crisp fall day like these pumpkin spice waffles. Chopped pecans and a drizzle of pure maple syrup are the perfect topping, but truth be told, I’ve been known to devour them plain, straight from the waffle iron. Read more

Nutrition News: Autumn Weight Gain, Salt Reduction, Kids and Online Ads

by in Food News, October 7, 2016

Adver-games exposed
Once upon a time, parents’ fears about advertising’s sneaky effects on their kids were more or less confined to TV ads. Nowadays food and drink companies are able to reach kids online in ways parents aren’t even aware of — and research indicates that exposure to these marketing efforts does influence kids’ consumption habits. Writing in the Washington Post, nutrition expert Casey Seidenberg ticks off a few of those methods. They include using “adver-games” featuring the products, directing kids to their products to retrieve “codes” and incentivizing them to invite their friends to play; using GPS tracking and notifications to push coupons and discounts to them on their phones based on their locations; using social media to track and reach them and encourage them to influence others in their peer network; and collecting and analyzing kids’ personal data via mobile apps to better target them and build loyalty. Creepy. Read more

6 Ways to Use Canned Pumpkin in Healthy Fall Meals

by in Healthy Recipes, October 6, 2016

If you’re daunted by the idea of cooking with fresh pumpkin, we can’t blame you. Splitting, gutting and skinning a whole gourd with nothing more than a carving knife and a large spoon to scoop out the seeds is a time-consuming process — and completely unnecessary when you have pure pumpkin puree on hand. Luckily, one-half cup of unsweetened canned pumpkin contains roughly 50 calories per serving, which means it’s a great way to add creaminess to your favorite foods for very little additional fat or sugar. Better yet, it’s a quick and convenient method for imbuing each bite of pie, quick bread or pasta sauce with comforting fall flavor. Here are five easy ways to work rich pumpkin puree into your favorite dishes, from classic pumpkin pie to cheesy pumpkin biscuits.

Pumpkin Cheesecake
This creamy cheesecake is packed with pumpkin pie flavor but with a fraction of the fat as the original; it’s made with reduced-fat cream cheese and Greek yogurt.

Read more

5-Ingredient Chicken Sausage with Braised Red Cabbage

by in 5-Ingredient Recipes, Healthy Recipes, October 5, 2016

While attending culinary school years ago, I learned how to make classic braised red cabbage with a lengthy ingredient list, including some foods the average cook doesn’t tend to keep on hand. But that doesn’t mean you should have to miss out on the comfort and deliciousness of braised red cabbage on any night of the week. A little sweet, a little briny, this fall-inspired dish will warm your tummy. The leftovers are even tasty when enjoyed cold when you’re super-hungry and in a hurry.

Red cabbage is a low-cal, low-carb vegetable, and an excellent source of vitamin C.

When selecting chicken sausage, look for “natural” varieties, which are widely available in stores now in different flavors, like apple. My favorite type of chicken sausage for this recipe is savory herb. I like to round out the meal with quinoa pilaf or garlic toast. Read more

Grapes for Dinner: Sauteed Chicken with Roasted Grapes and Onions

by in Healthy Recipes, October 4, 2016

This time of year, dozens of clusters of green and purple grapes take over the outside wall of my garage. I pop them into my kids’ lunches every day for weeks at a time and serve them again as an after-school snack. They also make an easy appetizer, set out in a pretty bowl with a hunk of good cheese. Inevitably, though, my family’s ability to eat endless amounts of raw grapes starts to wane. Before I know it, the fruit is spilling out of my refrigerator and I’m racking my brain to find new uses for it.

Most recipes for grapes — jellies, jams and desserts — call for combining them with a lot of sugar. These uses also often dispense with the skins, which provide healthy fiber. Besides containing fiber, grapes are an excellent source of antioxidants known as polyphenols, which are associated with a reduced risk for developing several types of cancers.

To retain all that healthy goodness, it was time to think beyond dessert. That’s when I came upon the idea of roasting grapes to make savory compote. Bonus: That would help me sneak grapes into dinner too.

Roasting grapes at high heat intensifies both their flavor and sweetness. For balance, I mix them with a little balsamic vinegar, some red onion and a few sprigs of rosemary — an herb that grows just a few feet away from my wall of grapes. After they cook for 20 minutes in the oven, I’ve got a delicious topping for any type of meat. In this recipe, I’ve paired the compote with sauteed boneless, skinless chicken, which is low in saturated fat and an excellent source of protein, but this compote would also be a good match for pork tenderloin or chicken sausage. Leftover roasted grapes are tasty spooned onto rye crackers spread with goat cheese or ricotta cheese — lunch for the adult set. Read more

Kombucha: Good or Bad?

by in Is It Healthy?, October 2, 2016

With the exploding popularity of fermented foods, it’s likely that kombucha has ended up on your radar or even in your fridge. But is this drinkable fermented tea worthwhile?

The Good
A concoction of tea, sugar, fruit juice, bacteria and yeast are combined to create a pungent and slightly fizzy beverage. Homemade and store-bought versions require a jelly-like substance known as the “mother” or “scoby,” which introduces bacteria and yeast into the flavored liquid that’s then allowed to ferment. This drink is often touted for its tummy-pleasing probiotics plus numerous B vitamins. Some blends also include additional fiber and Omega-3 fats from add-ins like chia seeds, greens, herbs and algae.

The Bad
A potential downside of these drinks is the wide range of nutritional variation. Depending on the ingredients, calories can range from 60 to 160 per (16 fluid ounce) bottle. The fermenting process also creates a small amount of alcohol. Though they are desirable for their probiotic content, these beneficial bacteria are destroyed by pasteurization. Unpasteurized or “raw” varieties are available but could pose a food safety risk, as potentially harmful bacteria could grow in the liquid. For this reason, folks with weaker immune systems, including young children, elderly people and pregnant women, should steer clear. Read more

Greek Pizza with Pour-able Crust

by in Healthy Recipes, October 1, 2016

Yes, you really can make and bake homemade pizza crust in less than 30 minutes! The trick is whipping up a pour-able crust: Eggs, milk and salt combine with a cup of flour to produce a mix that can be poured right into a rimmed baking dish. Leavening is provided by the two protein-rich eggs. The final baked crust is chewy and satisfying.

For this pizza, I was going for a Greek theme, so I went for toppings like roasted eggplant and bell peppers; my cheese of choice was feta, and I grabbed a can of artichokes from the pantry. For a bit more flavor from Greece, I added mint and lemon as fresh toppings. (You’ll love the way a few squirts of acidic lemon juice brighten up the hearty flavors of fall all season long.)

While eggplant is often thought of as a summer vegetable, I love it when the weather gets cooler too. Its sturdy structure melts into stews and baked pastas, providing almost-creamy texture; plus, it beefs up the nutrition of nourishing autumn dishes with fiber, copper, folate, magnesium and potassium. Eggplant also contains flavonoids (antioxidants), which may fight against viruses and damaging bacteria. So it could be smart to add eggplant to your menus right as cold-and-flu season gets going.

Whatever you add to your pizza, just don’t ever try tossing this crust into the air before baking it! Read more