Berry Good Advice

February 21, 2014

Chicken and BerrySaladAs Rachael Ray would say, “Yum-o!”

For a pile of greens and fruit, that salad looks darn tasty, wouldn’t you agree?

One of the biggest challenges people face in creating healthy, nutritious meals is matching the gastronomic allure of the high-fat, high-sugar, processed foods their taste buds are accustomed to.

One way to add color, taste and texture to meals is by tossing in berries. Each type offers a unique burst of fresh, sweet, tangy flavor, and the health benefits are equally unique.

Berry FactsNow for some recipe inspiration! To make the salad in the photo, mix blackberries, strawberries, kiwi, salad greens and diced chicken. (I topped mine with a dash of Makoto Ginger Dressing.) Here are a few more berry delicious ideas.

  • Top low-cal chocolate pudding (made with skim milk) with strawberries.
  • Add blueberries and sliced bananas to oatmeal.
  • Dip berries in melted dark chocolate.
  • Gently mash raspberries and mix into homemade lemonade or iced tea.
  • Mix cooked quinoa with toasted pecans, dried cranberries and fresh berries.
  • Add berries to a grilled cheese sandwich.

For more berry recipes, visit Check out Breakfast Berry Nachos and Raspberry Salsa!

What’s your favorite way to enjoy sweet berries?

Berry nutrition facts courtesy of


ID-10012919It’s autumn and the kids are back in school, but they aren’t the only ones who need healthy, balanced lunches to keep them energized and focused. If the mention of school lunches brings to mind baloney and processed cheese on white bread with a bag of greasy potato chips, a sugary snack cake and can of soda or—even worse!—tasteless institutional food served up by warty old women in hair nets, it’s no wonder people skip the midday meal.

Combine those unappealing images with the other excuses people give for not eating a nutritious noontime meal—no time to pack a lunch; good-for-you fare is too expensive; “healthy” means weird stuff like tofu and bean sprouts—and you see why lunch is a problem.

The truth is, adults and children benefit from eating well, but a balanced breakfast and lunch are especially important for students. Consider these facts:

  • The foods that contribute most to weight gain include french fries, chips, sugary drinks, red and processed meats, sweets, refined grains, fried foods, butter and pure fruit juice, according to a study published in the June 2011 New England Journal of Medicine.
  • The average American drinks one and a half 12-oz cans of soda per day; for men the average daily calories from these beverages is 175 while women take in 94 calories.
  • Projections for obesity estimate that by 2030, half of all Americans will be obese. Currently 35.7 percent of U.S. adults and 17 percent of children are obese, as reported by the Centers for Disease Control.
  • Overweight children are at risk for physical and psychological health problems such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease, sleep apnea, gastrointestinal conditions and depression.
  • Children who regularly eat breakfast demonstrate higher testing scores, less hyperactivity and better behavior than those who do not. Schools that upgraded the quality of school lunches found similar results: improved behavior and decreased absenteeism.

Think a healthy, satisfying, flavorful lunch is nothing more than an urban myth? Read on for myth-busting solutions.

Lunch Myth #1: That paper lunch sack means limited options.

Busted: Thermoses, ice packs and insulated containers solve the problem of keeping hot foods warm and cold foods chilled. Carriers and reusable containers come in all shapes and sizes so you can pack everything from salad dressing to sushi. The only thing limiting lunchtime fixings is imagination and preparation.

Lunch Myth #2: I don’t have time to pack lunch.

Busted: Of all the excuses, this is probably the easiest to solve. Again, it will require preparation, creating new routines and sharing accountability. Here is the action plan:

  • Streamline the morning process by either packing lunch the night before or preparing components for quick assembly.
  • At the beginning of the week, portion out components (fruit, veggies and dip, crackers, sliced cheese, pretzels, trail mix, etc.), stock up on individual servings of bottled water or juice and other items such as fruit cups, make and freeze sandwiches (good option for PB&J), clean and slice veggies for salad and sandwiches, put leftovers in microwave-safe containers, etc. During the week, each person, even a kindergartener, can put these items together in less than 45 seconds.
  • Divide and conquer! Involving the kids not only reduces the workload on Mom and Dad, it teaches them how to make good food choices, promotes self sufficiency and empowers them to take control of their eating habits. Time and again, nutrition experts tell parents one of the best ways to encourage a picky eater or introduce new foods is by letting the child participate in the selection and preparation process.

Lunch Myth #3: I don’t have time to calculate whether or not my lunch is healthy.

Busted: Healthy doesn’t mean complicated. Healthy means providing selections from each of the food groups: fruits, vegetables, grains, protein and dairy. A few other healthy rules of thumb: Portions should be age-appropriate. Fats and sweets should be limited. Look for whole grain products and lean protein. If you’re still stumped, use this handy mix-and-match school lunch planner.

Lunch Myth #4: Healthy foods are too expensive.

Busted: In 2012, researchers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture evaluated the cost of healthy food as compared to unhealthy food using three different price metrics. In two of three assessments, healthy foods were found to be less expensive than unhealthy foods. You don’t need to shop at specialty stores or buy organic produce to eat healthy. Use the WURL acronym to determine whether or not a food choice qualifies as healthy:

as in whole wheat

as in not prepackaged and not containing artificial ingredients

as in the food item’s natural form

Low fat/sodium/sugar
as in minimal fat, sodium and sugar

Lunch Myth #5: My picky eater won’t eat healthy food.

Busted: Reframe this challenge by identifying your picky eater as a selective eater. Sure, he might prefer chocolate chips cookies to an apple—who doesn’t!—but you may be overlooking healthy foods he does like. Do some investigating to come up with a list of nutritious options for your child and build his lunch around these choices. Another strategy is to find or create healthy versions of his favorite unhealthy foods. While experts encourage parents to introduce their children to a variety of foods, don’t bring this battle to lunchtime. It’s okay if you child has PBJ on whole wheat with strawberry yogurt, a banana and carrot sticks every day.

Lunch Myth #6: Healthy foods are boring.

Busted: It was Ruth Burke who said, “Only boring people get bored.” If you truly want to enjoy a healthy lunch, it takes nothing more than a bit of creativity. Use these prompts to get your creative—and salivary—juices flowing.

SWAP Wheat bread with: pita bread, bagel, whole wheat waffles, corn tortillas or crackers

Iceberg lettuce with: spinach, arugula, romaine, cabbage, butterhead lettuce

Mayo with: hummus, spicy mustard, mashed avocado, tzatziki, ricotta cheese

MIX Combine healthy ingredients to create flavorful sides and entrees such as three bean salad, chili, wraps, pasta salads, flatbread pizzas, veggie dips, etc.
ACCENT Experiment with spices, herbs, flavored oils and vinegars, and other condiments such as grainy mustard or salsa to jazz up lunch. Toss in toasted nuts or dried fruit to layer in flavor and texture. Add richness to foods with a bit of low-fat evaporated milk, yogurt or low-fat sour cream.
SPLURGE Sometimes it takes just the slightest bit of decadence to take a meal from okay to ahhh! Maybe that means spending $5 for out-of-season blackberries or drizzling caramel sauce over banana slices or drinking bottled mineral water with a slice of lime instead of tap water.

Got a favorite healthy brown-bag lunch or strategies for creating healthy lunches? Share your ideas with other readers.

Image courtesy of Felixco, Inc. /

I always admired those insanely organized mothers who packed school lunches the night before. You know who I’m talking about—those moms who include creative love notes they’ve created with colored markers and stickers.

I’m one of those moms who rolls over at 6:30 a.m. and prays there is enough bread left in the package for one more sandwich. That should give you a fair idea of what my kids are eating at lunch time.

This school year is going to be different. My kids still won’t be getting any love notes, but at least their lunches will be filled with healthy fixings. My secret weapon is this handy-dandy mix-and-match lunch planner. Pick one item from each food group, as recommended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, pack and go! So easy even a kid can do it…hey, that’s an even better idea. That way I get to sleep until at least 6:35 a.m.!




Whole Grains


Apple slices

Orange wedges





Kiwi slices

Pear slices


Melon chunks

Canned fruit

Carrot sticks

Celery sticks

Broccoli florets

Cucumber slices

Lettuce leaves

Cherry tomatoes

Bell pepper slices

Cauliflower florets


Green beans

Chicken breast





Boiled eggs

Nut butter

Veggie burger


Nuts & Seeds


Brown rice









Sandwich rolls*

Pita bread


*Whole wheat or whole grain

String cheese

Low-fat milk


Soy milk


Cheese slices

Cottage cheese

Ricotta cheese

 Still not sure what to pack? Here’s a week’s worth of lunches to get you started.






Sliced boiled eggs stacked on whole wheat crackers

Cherry tomatoes

Strawberries topped with vanilla yogurt

Cold Rice & Chicken Salad (brown rice mixed with diced chicken breast, celery, bell peppers, carrots and raisins

Orange slices

Low-fat pudding

Sliced apples and celery sticks dipped in peanut butter


String Cheese

Veggie Wrap (whole wheat tortilla smeared with hummus, layered with mixed veggies and rolled up)

Diced banana mixed with cottage cheese, drizzled with chocolate sauce

Lettuce Wraps (deli turkey, cheese slice and diced veggies rolled up in lettuce leaf)

Trail Mix (whole grain cereal, dried fruit, peanuts)


What your favorite healthy lunch?

At our house, the autumn harvest includes a Halloween haul of bite-size chocolate bars, suckers, gumballs and sugar-laden goodies. It’s junk we don’t normally keep in the house so when it is around, I get the urge to splurge. A bit of research on the calorie count of Halloween candy reveals it doesn’t take much to blow your diet.

Here are the numbers for three of the most popular Halloween treats.

  • Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup – regular size 231.8 calories; miniature 36.1 calories
  • Snickers – regular size 280.3 calories; fun size 80.8 calories
  • Kit Kat – regular size 217.6 calories; fun size 51.8 calories 

PicMonkey CollageMore: Visit the CalorieLab for more candy calorie counts.

Candy is loaded, no only with sugar, but other artificially manufactured ingredients you body is better off without. Don Hinson even sang about it in the Halloween hit Riboflavin-flavored Non-carbonated Polyunsaturated Blood.

It’s not really a question of should I or shouldn’t I indulge but how to avoid dipping into my little ghosts and goblins’ spooky stash. My treat for you this Halloween is a list of strategies to avoid food choices that will only haunt you later.

  • Stock up on “healthier” treats like dark chocolate, chocolate-covered raisins or pistachios.Pumpkin

  • Store candy and other treats out of sight, and stash chocolate in the freezer.

  • Instead of taking children trick-or-treating, host your own Halloween bash and offer fun treats such as homemade popcorn balls, trail mix and caramel apples.

  • Give away surplus candy or—heaven forbid!—pitch the yucky stuff. (Does anyone really eat those taffy nuggets wrapped in black and orange?!)

  • Calculate how long you’ll have to exercise to work off those Skittles or M&Ms.

More: calculates how much exercise for specific treats.

How do you say BOO! to scary temptation? Add your tip to the list!

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles /

Although Flexitarianmany Americans are familiar with the concept of vegetarianism, only a small percentage of individuals identify themselves as non-carnivores. A 2012 Gallup survey reported only 5 percent of Americans consider themselves to be vegetarians, a decrease of one full point from a similar survey conducted in 1999. An even smaller segment of the population—2 percent—report being vegan.

The benefits of a plant-based diet have been well documented, raising the question, “Why are there so few vegetarians in America?” The answer may lie in the “morality” campaign waged by some vegetarians. “The argument against eating animals is powerful on ethical, environmental, and heath grounds,” states a 2011 article in Psychology Today. When surveyed, self-proclaimed vegetarians steadfastly pledged their dedication to legumes and lentils but admitted that behind closed doors they are noshing on chicken nuggets and sirloin. 

The number of Americans forfeiting cheeseburgers for tofu-burgers isn’t even holding steady; it is declining. Sidestepping the morality of vegetarianism and focusing on the nutritional benefits of a plant-based diet, I suggest we stop trying to convince Americans to go cold turkey when it comes to going meatless. Instead, let’s embrace part-time vegetarianism A.K.A. flexitarianism.

My challenge to non-vegetarians is this: consciously choose to go meatless one day a week. If that isn’t doable, aim for one meal a week. You might be surprised to realize you’re already eating vegetarian meals on occasion.

In case you need a few ideas, here are five easy meatless meals:

carrotSautéed veggie omelet

carrotWhole wheat pasta with pesto and toasted pine nuts

carrotGreek salad

carrot Kidney bean nachos

carrot PBJ sandwiches

Do you have advice on transitioning from carnivore to herbivore? Do you have a favorite vegetarian recipe? Share with other readers!

Image courtesy of BrianHolm /

ID-100202886More than half of all Americans—54 percent to be exact—over the age of 18 drink coffee, according to the National Coffee Association. On average, Americans drink three 9 oz. cups of java every day, usually in the morning.

Studies have reported that coffee may protect against a variety of illnesses and diseases including dementia, type 2 diabetes and different types of cancers. Fitness buffs also claim that a moderate amount of caffeine can enhance performance. But coffee loaded with sweeteners, cream and other tasty add-ons aren’t good for anyone.

Check out the shocking calorie counts for five popular coffee drinks.

330   McDonalds Caramel Latte with Whole Milk (large)

434   Cosi Double Oh! Arctic Mocha (12 oz)

450   Dunkin’ Donuts Iced Gingerbread Latte (large)

520   Starbucks Double Chocolaty Chip Frappuccino with Whole Milk and Whipped Cream (venti)

1,530   Cold Stone Creamery Lotta Caramel Latte, Gotta Have It Size 

Now take a look at the calorie count of homemade coffee drinks.

20   Coffee with 2 tbsp whole milk

42   Coffee with 2 tbsp half & half

91   Latte (6 oz. whole milk)

**add 16 calories for each tsp of sugar

Tack on the hefty price tag that comes with these drinks ($2-$6), and it’s easy to see your wallet and your waistline are suffering. Save money and calories by making coffee at home. Want to indulge? Follow these tips for a guilt-free cup of coffee anytime.

  • Skip the store-bought coffee creamer and sweetened your coffee with almond or coconut milk. For a truly delectable mug of steaming goodness, stir vanilla, coconut or almond extract into low-fat, almond or soy milk.
  • Add ground cinnamon or nutmeg to coffee before brewing.
  • Use low-fat evaporated milk for added richness.
  • Add chocolate syrup for java mocha.

If you’re out and about, and the aroma wafting out of the local coffeehouse is too tempting to avoid, stick to these calorie and cost saving strategies.

  • Order a small instead of a large
  • Ask for low-fat or skim milk
  • Add a few dashes of cinnamon or nutmeg
  • Skip the whipped topping

The 6 Worst Coffee Drinks
Coffee and Health: What Does the Research Say
Coffee by the Numbers
9 Amazing Benefits of Coffee

Image courtesy of Amenic191 /

Nothing says summertime like rolling out the grill and doing a little barbecuing. A word of caution, however. The typical backyard cookout can be a calorie-counter’s worst nightmare. Behind that slab of ribs and bucket of slaw lies more fat than you want to know about. Here’s a reality check for you:

Hamburger (bun) 279 calories 13.5 grams/fat
Bratwurst (no bun) 283 calories 24.8 grams/fat
Corn on the Cob (buttered) 115 calories 3.4 grams/fat
Potato Chips 150 calories 10 grams/fat
Potato Salad (1/2 cup) 217 calories 12 grams/fat
Chocolate Brownie 112 calories 7 grams/fat

Take the guilt out of grilling with these quick and simple changes.

  • Trade mayo-laden sides, such as potato salad, for a fresh veggie comboFat BBQ drizzled with vinegar and oil.
  • Flavor burgers with jalapenos, roasted garlic or caramelized onions, and leave off the cheese and condiments.
  • Make veggies part of the main course (think “Portobello burgers” or shish-ka-bob). Increasing the flavor factor with spices and herbs will take veggies from dull to dazzling.Swap ice cream or baked good desserts for fresh fruit or frozen yogurt.
  • Replace buns with lettuce wraps – great for burgers, hot dogs, BBQ pork or shredded chicken.

Chicago Tribune: “Calorie counts of your favorite barbecue foods”

Image courtesy of marin /

YogaBeachIt’s official: Summer is here whether you are ready or not.

If you’ve been working out in anticipation of the arrival of June 21 and warm weather, congratulations. Keep up the great work.

If not, don’t worry. It’s never too late to start reaping the rewards of a healthy lifestyle. Kick-start your summer shape-up today with these six tips.

Lighten up your diet with fresh fruits and vegetables.

The season’s bounty of fresh fruits and vegetables makes it easy to create light but satisfying meals. In general, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommend adults consumer two servings of fruit and three servings of vegetables daily. Calculate the amount of fruits and veggies YOU need here.

Make the most of daylight savings time and warm weather.

The summer solstice is the longest day of the year, but there are plenty more to follow. Take advantage of the extra daylight and sunny weather to squeeze in time for a walk after dinner or dine al fresco.

Enjoy alcoholic beverages in moderation.

Hot summer days can create a powerful thirst, but alcoholic beverages are a poor choice to quench that need for liquids. Being out in the sun can also increase the effects of drinking so play it safe. Stay hydrated with water, ice tea and fruit juice. Save cocktails for a special occasion, and when you do indulge, choose a wine spritzer, sangria or beer.

Focus on the physical.

There’s nothing like the mental and physical high of a great workout. Dedicate some time to breaking a sweat and getting in touch with your body by engaging in physically-demanding activities such as gardening, hiking, biking or canoeing.

Relax and have fun.

Although summer may not truly be any less busy for you than the rest of the year, tap into the lazy days of summer philosophy. Make time to socialize, rest, and relax. Schedule activities with families and friends. Cultivating a positive mindset is critical for a balanced, healthy lifestyle.

Disconnect from technology.

Summertime provides an opportunity to “get back to basics.” Get outdoors and enjoy the simple pleasures of life: fresh fruits and vegetables as part of light, flavorful fare; strengthening and toning your body; nurturing positive relationships; and taking care of your mental, physical and spiritual wellness.

Image courtesy of MR LIGHTMAN /

Go green for Earth Day

April 22, 2013

FootprintsApril 22, 2013, marks the 43rd celebration of Earth Day. The initiative was founded by U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson in 1970, and it is considered the start of the environmental movement. Today, more than 1 billion people around the world participate in Earth Day activities, many of which have become year-round projects, spanning issues well beyond clean air and recycling.

What and how we eat is one of the factors that can increase or decrease our carbon footprint—greenhouse gas emissions. Our dietary choices contribute to our carbon footprint because of related elements such as fertilizer used to grow crops and energy used to process, transport and cook food. recently quoted studies that theorize “food system emissions could account for as much as a quarter of all human emissions (12% agriculture; 9% farming-related deforestation, 3% freight/refrigeration). The same article stated that a vegetarian’s “foodprint” is a third less than that of the average American and less than half that of a carnivorous eater.


Eat Low Carbon, a program developed by Bon Appétit Management Company in 2007, offers these five tips for a “greener” diet:

  • Don’t waste food
  • Consume “seasonal” and “regional”
  • Reduce your intake of beef and cheese
  • Eliminate use of processed, packaged food items
  • Avoid purchasing air-freighted food such as fish and fruit


If you are patting yourself on the back because you’re already an environmentally friendly eater, see if you can go even greener with these clever suggestions.




If you brown-bag it … …trade throw-away wrappers for reusable containers.
If you buy produce from a local farmers market … …plant a garden.
If you rarely eat out and fix meals at home… …use a crock pot or the grill instead of the oven to save energy.
If you’ve swapped high-fat beef for leaner meats like chicken… …go vegetarian twice a week (or more).


Measure your carbon footprint here and learn more ways to protect Plant Earth.

Test your knowledge about planet-friendly food via this interactive quiz.

Did you know meat and dairy have the worst environmental impact? Learn more by taking the EWG’s Meat Wiz Quiz.

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Image courtesy of Digitalart /

Spring clean your diet

April 14, 2013

For 62% of Americans, spring cleaning is an annual tradition, according to the American Cleaning Institute. While you’re washing your windows and sprucing up the house, take some time to spring clean your diet. Eliminate the obstacles standing between you and a healthy, well-balanced, nutrition-packed, easy-to-manage lifestyle.

The first place to start is the kitchen itself. Is this space well organized with room to work or are the counters cluttered with a week’s worth of mail and crammed with appliances you never use? Is the décor bright, fresh and inviting? You don’t need to remodel the kitchen, but go through and see what changes can be made to create a room that is pleasant and appealing. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Clear the countertops so you have ample work surface
  • Eliminate any unused, unwanted appliances, gadgets, knick-knacks from counters, cupboards, drawers and closets
  • Store frequently used items where you can get to them easily
  • Set up a small CD/MP3 player so you can listen to music
  • Make sure lighting is sufficiently bright
  • Wipe down walls and cupboards
  • Invest in tools and supplies needed for healthy meal preparation: non-stick cookware, a solid cutting board, decent knives, microplane zester, measuring utensils, salad spinner, blender, steamer.Tip 2

Next, purge your fridge and cupboards. Throw away processed food, outdated items and anything with freezer burn. Wipe down the inside of both the freezer and refrigerator, and wash out the bins.

Now that you’ve spring cleaned your cooking environment, you’re ready to stock up on healthy cooking staples. Here are a few basics to keep on hand:

Extra virgin olive oil
Vinegar (white, apple cider, balsamic)
Peanut butter
Spices (crushed red pepper, cumin, Italian seasoning, cinnamon, ginger)
Vanilla extract
Canned tomatoes
Reduced-sodium broth
Canned beans
Brown rice
Honey/Natural sweetener
Dried fruits
Skim milk
Cheese (feta, cheddar, Parmesan)
Frozen vegetables/fruit

The last phase of spring cleaning your diet is to evaluate what you’re actually putting in your mouth. What food/beverage items should be ousted and replaced with better alternatives? Don’t overwhelm yourself. Here are three easy swaps:

  • Replace soda, kids’ packaged drinks, and maybe even fruit juice if it’s being guzzled by the glassful, with water. For tips on how to consume more water, click here.
  • Exchange all bleached-flour products with whole-grain alternatives.
  • Trade sugary desserts for fresh fruit, frozen yogurt or home-baked goodies.

To put a real shine on your spring cleaning efforts, set aside some time to revamp your eating and cooking mindset and habits. Make nutrition a priority by practicing making healthier decisions. Develop a list of go-to “healthy” meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Set yourself up for success by keeping fresh, filling, flavorful foods available and ready to enjoy.

Are there other changes that could be made during spring cleaning for a better diet and healthier life? I welcome your tips and suggestions.

Image courtesy of Digitalart /