Cool as a Cucumber

Summer in northeast U.S.A. is the go-to season for healthful, colorful, and delicious fruits and vegetables and a time when families and friends tend to gather regularly for graduations, weddings, picnics, and backyard barbecues. What better way to celebrate being in the company of people you love and feeding yourself well than planning a party of your own?

Living Room Picnic

Creating a menu doesn’t have to be stressful or sinful when you dish out whole, fresh ingredients—served buffet-style—with homemade dressings and dips on the side. Not only will your plates be visually appealing and packed with high-quality nutrients, but you won’t have to break a sweat putting everything together.

Much like designing any healthful meal, the same rules apply: more variety and colors mean more vitamins and nutrients. Include a mix of animal- and/or plant-based proteins (skinless chicken breast, tenderloin, lentils, black beans, and tofu are great options), carbohydrates (brown rice, corn, and quinoa are versatile grains; Swiss chard, beet greens, and eggplant are nutrient-rich vegetables), and healthy fats (think walnuts, ground flaxseed, and olive oil).

Avoid heavy sauces and let the natural goodness of your bounty speak for itself. To start, make a light, but flavorful, marinade or rub for your protein dishes from a complementary blend of dried and fresh herbs and spices like cumin-chili-cilantro or dill-mustard-yogurt. Next, toss up a simple salad of different colored veggies like thinly sliced summer squash and heirloom tomato over leafy greens. Whisk together a light dressing of lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, salt, and pepper. For dessert, consider macerated fruit like peaches and blueberries drizzled with honey and white balsamic vinegar. (Check out Foodily or Yummly for other great recipe ideas.) This entire combination of foods alone offers a beneficial dose of many vitamins and minerals—like manganese, vitamins C, K, and A, dietary fiber, iron, and antioxidants—to support your body systems.

Consider the following:

  • Plan and prepare accordingly by asking your guests or estimating of the number of vegetarians and non-vegetarians attending your party.
  • Serve ingredients separately to accommodate those who may have special diet requirements so they can build their own meals. Label each dish so guests don’t have to guess or ask, “What’s in this?”
  • Provide take-home items. Leftover containers will encourage your guests to continue eating healthfully after they’ve left your party. Stack printouts of your recipes on the buffet table so they can try their hands at creating their own versions at home or include recipe links in a thank-you e-mail a few days after the event.

When the party’s over, revel in the fact that, quite possibly for the first time for many of your guests, nothing was off-limits. Not only will you have enjoyed great company, but you will have served healthful fare to your grateful guests who may want to know when they can come back for more!

[Versions of this article were written for and published on YoffieLife.com on September 1, 2014 and DishWithDina.com on August 13, 2015.]

A Salad a Day

Eating healthfully does not have to be a difficult feat of strength and will. In fact, I encourage you to create a simple salad every day based solely on ingredients you have in your house or can easily grab at your local grocer and dump into a bowl.

I have been having so much fun with Mason jar salads lately. (Yes, food nerds like me think salads are fun.) Originally, my meal planning and prep work used to take up half a day every Sunday. I would divide all my ingredients into their own containers so I could mix and match and assemble a variety of veggie-friendly meals for myself during the week. But, lo and behold! I became a Mason jar salad convert.

Mason Jar Salad

My Mason jars are extra large (32 oz) and light green, but you could go for the clear, smaller version if you’re slowly working your way into the meal prep and veggie lifestyle. Assembly is easy, but requires some thought as you don’t want your fragile, leafy greens sitting in a puddle of dressing for three days. HurryTheFoodUp shows you how to properly structure your salad and TheMuse gives you lots of ideas about the kinds of foods you can integrate into your salads, so play around and experiment with different flavors each week. Try to always have a protein (chicken or chickpeas), a carb (sweet potatoes or carrots), and a fat (avocado or walnuts) in your combo. When you’re ready, you can simply shake up your salad and eat directly out of the jar or shake, dump everything into a bowl, and toss in a handful of croutons. Ta da!

Mason Jar Avocado

For more information and ideas about how to get lots of veggies and other yummy, good foods into your daily meals, check out my previous blog post “It’s Easy Being Green…” And please leave a comment below and share with us what’s been working for you or what you’re struggling with. We’re here to help make healthful eating as easy as possible!

How Convenient

I often tell people that I’m very busy and important––busier than Oprah, if that’s even a relevant reference these days. Starting a private practice while finishing grad school and landing a lovely little part-time weekly gig as an in-house prenatal nutritionist at an ob/gyn office in midtown east (NYC/Manhattan) has definitely put a lot on my plate. It’s been three months since my last blog post in which I wrote about a 10-day hiatus I was taking from social media. In that time, half a dozen holidays and other celebrations have come and gone as has an entire season. But, as busy as I get, there has always remained one non-negotiable in my schedule: meal-planning.

Regardless of how much work I have to do, how quickly school assignment deadlines are approaching, or how little sleep I’ve gotten, I always carve out about half a day on Sundays to grocery shop, prep, and cook my meals––or, at least, the ingredients for my meals––for the week. It’s what keeps me in line for healthful eating…and sane during the week when I’m exhausted and don’t want to so much as lift a finger to point at food I want to eat. In fact, a recent study1 showed that at-home meal planning improved diet quality, nutrition and food variety, and weight status in over 40,000 people who participated in it.

Even with planning ahead, though, there are times when I forget to schlep my pre-made meals with me or want to treat myself to something different. The ob/gyn office is located where convenience foods abound, but meals in that area can be a little costly or might not be as healthful as I’d like them to be. Enter Eatsa, a “futuristic power bowl automat” (according to Gothamist) that serves up a wide variety of delicious, nutritious, customized, plant-based lunches, all for the pocket-friendly price of $6.95.

Burrito Bowl closed.jpg

The day I checked out Eatsa, I ordered the Burrito Bowl which packs in 25g of protein, 25g of fat (mostly the good kind), 89g of carbs (primarily complex), 17g of fiber (nearly 70% of a woman’s daily needs!), and only 9g of sugar (I’m assuming from the salsa and corn); however, the sodium was a little high at 1112mg (an issue for anyone with high blood pressure), and, at 653 calories, you’d really get your money’s worth as there’s enough food here to cover a meal and a snack for most people.

Burrito Bowl open

While I realize spending half a day cooking and cleaning in order to plan a week’s worth of meals might not be realistic for some folks, options like Eatsa are a wonderful––and affordable––alternative. Currently, this chain is only located in a few neighborhoods in NYC, DC, and California; but, hopefully, we’ll see an expansion soon to other places across the country.

And in keeping with the theme of another celebration that’s almost over, National Nutrition Month‘s “Put Your Best Fork Forward,” please check out the resources below to help you make the best decisions for times when convenience is of the essence:

References:

  1. Ducrot, P., et al. (2017). Meal planning is associated with food variety, diet quality and body weight status in a large sample of French adults. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 14(12), 1-12.

Summertime…and the Eating Is Easy

There’s always a great reason to be in the company of friends, but summer is the go-to season for healthful, colorful, and delicious fruits and vegetables, so why not plan a party to celebrate both?

Living Room Picnic

Creating a menu doesn’t have to be stressful or sinful when you dish out whole, fresh ingredients—served buffet-style—with homemade dressings and dips on the side. Not only will your plates be visually appealing and packed with high-quality nutrients, but you won’t even have to break a sweat putting everything together.

Much like designing any healthful meal, the same rules apply here. Be sure your party menu includes a good mix of proteins (skinless chicken breast, tenderloin, lentils, black beans, and tofu are great options), carbohydrates (brown rice, corn, and quinoa are versatile grains; Swiss chard, beet greens, and eggplant are nutrient-rich vegetables), and healthy fats (think walnuts, ground flaxseed, and olive oil). More colors mean more vitamins and nutrients.

To start, make a marinade or rub for your protein dishes from a complementary blend of dried and fresh herbs and spices like cumin-chili-cilantro or dill-mustard-yogurt. No heavy sauces here. Next, toss up a simple salad of different colored veggies like thinly sliced summer squash and heirloom tomato over leafy greens. Whisk together a light dressing of freshly squeezed lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper. For dessert, consider macerated fruit like peaches and blueberries drizzled with honey and white balsamic vinegar. This entire combination of foods alone offers a beneficial dose of so many vitamins and minerals—like manganese, vitamins C, K, and A, dietary fiber, iron, and antioxidants—to support many of your body systems. (Check out Foodily for some other great recipe ideas.)

Consider the following:

  • Plan and prepare accordingly by asking your guests or estimating of the number of vegetarians and non-vegetarians attending your party.
  • Serve ingredients separately to accommodate those who may have special diet requirements so they can build their own meals. Label each dish so guests don’t have to guess or ask, “What’s in this?”
  • Provide take-home items. Leftover containers will encourage your guests to continue eating healthfully after they’ve left your party. Stack printouts of your recipes on the buffet table so they can try their hands at creating their own versions at home or include recipe links in a thank-you e-mail a few days after the event.

When the party’s over, revel in the fact that, quite possibly for the first time for many of your guests, nothing was off-limits. Not only will you have enjoyed great company, but you will have served healthful fare to your grateful guests who may want to know when they can come back for more!

[A version of this article was written for, and first appeared in, YoffieLife.com on September 1, 2014.]

TEDxManhattan (Sat, 3/7/15): Changing the Way We Eat

If you’ve been keeping track of my Twitter feed or are a part of my LinkedIn network, you know that my boyfriend and I will be hosting a viewing party of the TEDxManhattan live-streaming event “Changing the Way We Eat” at our apartment in the East Village, New York City, on Saturday, March 7, 2015. As I did last year, I’m opening the invitation to anyone who follows this blog.

OTHER INFO:

  • Food will be provided (menu still TBD), but you can BYO food or beverages, if you wish.
  • Kids are welcome.
  • We have cats in case you are allergic.
  • This is not a fund-raiser/there is no charge to attend.

The entire event is from 10:30 am – 6:00 pm ET. Since we have a teeny apartment, we are asking everyone to RSVP by Wed, 2/25 for their preferred session(s), noted below, so it doesn’t get too crowded. (I’ll e-mail you our exact address after you’ve replied).

Session 1 (10:30 AM – 12:25 PM)
Introductions
Nikiko Masumoto – Legacy of three generations of Japanese American family farmers.
Anim Steel – Food justice.
Ali Partovi – What’s the real reason organic food costs more? (Hint: It’s not because it’s more expensive to produce.)
Stephen Reily – How do cities build platforms to help the local food economy achieve sustainability and scale?
Film clip: The Meatrix, re-make and re-launch of the hugely successful 2003 viral phenomenon
Michele Merkel – What is legal is not always right: Fighting for justice in rural America.

BREAK 12:25 – 1:35 PM (webcast offline)

Session 2 (1:35 – 3:35 PM)
Marcel Van Ooyen – Scaling up local food distribution to take it from niche to mainstream.
Robert Graham – Teaching doctors about the importance of food to health.
Stefanie Sacks – How small changes in eating can make big differences.
Joel Berg – The only real way to end hunger in America.
Dana Cowin – The power of ugly vegetables: Why ugly, bruised vegetables are the future of food.
TEDxManhattan Award Winner – Stephen Ritz, Green Bronx Machine. School. Kids. Community. Food. The educational community center Steve is building in a school in the Bronx.
DJ Cavem – Health education through art and hip hop music.

BREAK 3:35 – 4:15 PM (webcast offline)

Session 3 (4:15 – 6:00pm)
Henry Hargreaves – How end-of-the-world doomsday preppers are thinking about their food.
Film clip: Anna Lappe, Real Food Media Project winner
Shen Tong – The impact of venture capital money and investment dollars in the food system.
Kendra Kimbirauskas – The rift between the good food movement and the explosion of factory farms in the U.S.
Film clip: Regina Bernard-Carreno and Alison Cayne
Danielle Nierenberg – Why the food system will fall apart without women farmers.
Danny Meyer – Fine dining and chain restaurants: The evolvement and overlap of the two.

END 6:00 PM (webcast offline)

We look forward to sharing good food and conversation with you!

If you are unable to attend, but would like to learn more about the event or watch on your own, click here to visit the official TEDxManhattan website. Please feel free to post comments below about what you thought after watching the event.

Fishing for compliments

For the second year in a row, I shared kitchen duties with my mom for our family’s Christmas Eve dinner. My mom handled all the fish dishes (I’ve written about our Italian fish tradition previously here) and I was in charge of the rest, which included a variety of nutrient-dense, fancifully flavored, plant-based recipes. This year’s menu, like last year’s, combined old-world tradition with some new fusion fare:

  • Shrimp Cocktail (à la Costco)
  • Chard & White Bean Soup (I substituted sweet potatoes for new potatoes)
  • Wilted Greens Salad (I used plain, ol’ mesclun instead of mustard greens, but added Dijon to the dressing as a nod; I also threw in some chopped walnuts to add texture and offset the sweetness of the dressing)
  • Shrimp Scampi; Calamari en Brodo; Broiled Cod; and Linguine with King Crab legs (all recipes in Mom’s head)
  • Braised Kale and Carrot Stew (loosely inspired by this recipe)
  • Citrus Pound Cake w/Warm Citrus Salad (from the Dec ’14 issue of The Oprah Magazine)
  • Winter Warmer Cocktail (I don’t drink alcohol, but got everyone else nice and drunk on this)

I fare best when I eat vegetarian, but I don’t feel the need to make a show of it; I just like providing solidly healthful foods for people I love, especially when I know some of the day will include indulgences and sweets. Plus, it ensures that I’ll be getting my own fill of fruits and veggies…a true win-win.

What kind of foods do you eat and traditions do you follow for the holidays? Do you like to cook or share the cooking responsibilities with anyone in your family during special occasions? Feel free to post your comments below. I look forward to reading them!

TEDxManhattan (Sat, 3/1/14): Changing the Way We Eat

If you’ve been keeping track of my Twitter feed or are a part of my LinkedIn network, you know that I’ll be hosting a viewing party tomorrow, Saturday, March 1, 2014, for the TEDxManhattan live-streaming event “Changing the Way We Eat.” This may seem like a nutty move, but I’m very trusting of my readers, so I’m opening the invitation to anyone who follows this blog. I’m not crazy enough to post my exact street address here, but I’ll say that it’s at my apartment in the East Village, New York City.

If you’re interested, please click here to RSVP and I’ll send you the address.

OTHER INFO

  • Food will be provided, but you can BYO food or beverages, if you wish.
  • Kids are welcome.
  • We have cats in case you are allergic.
  • This is not a fund-raiser/there is no charge to attend.

The entire event is from 10:30 am – 6:30 pm EST, but you can drop by whenever your schedule allows and stay for as short or as long as you wish; however, if you’d prefer to join us for a particular session, here are the details:

10:30 AM – Session 1
Brian Halweil, Editor, Edible East End; Publisher, Edible Manhattan and Edible Brooklyn
Peggy Neu, President, The Monday Campaigns
Kathy Lawrence, Program Director, School Food FOCUS
Michael Rozyne, Executive Director, Red Tomato
Tama Wong, Principal, Meadows and More
Megan Miller, Founder, Bitty Foods
Steve Ritz, Founder, Green Bronx Machine
Andrew Gunther, Program Director, Animal Welfare Approved
David McInerney, Co-Founder, FreshDirect
Dr. Lance Price, Professor, George Washington University
Bill Yosses, Executive Pastry Chef, The White House
David Binkle, Director of Food Services, Los Angeles Unified School District

1:40 PM – Session 2
San Van Aken – Tree of 40 Fruits, Artist
Stefani Bardin, Faculty, The New School
Matt Moore, Family Farmer, Artist, Activist, The Digital Farm Collective
Maisie Ganzler, Vice President, Bon Appetit Management Company
Regina Bernard-Carreno, Assistant Professor, Baruch College, CUNY
Ann Cooper, Founder, Food Family Farming Foundation
Sunny Young, Director, Edufood Consulting
Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director, Food & Water Watch
Virginia Clarke, Executive Director, Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems Funders
LaDonna Redmond, Founder, Campaign for Food Justice Now
Alison Cayne, Owner, Havens Kitchen
Elizabeth Meltz, Director of Food Safety and Sustainability, Batali/Bastianich Hospitality Group
Nikki Silvestri, Executive Director, Green for All

4:20 PM – Session 3
Mitchell Davis, Executive Vice President, James Beard Foundation
Myra Goodman, Co-founder, Earthbound Farm
Kerry McLean, Director of Community Development, WHEDco
Saru Jayaraman, Co-Founder and Co-Director of the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC United)
Cheryl Kollin, Founding Principal, Full Plate Ventures
Clint Smith, Educator, Parkdale High School
Peter Hoffman, chef owner of Back Forty and Back Forty West
Chellie Pingree, Congresswoman, U.S. House of Representatives (Maine)
Kenneth Cook, President and Co-founder, Environmental Working Group
Tom Colicchio, Chef, Restaurant Owner, Head Judge “Top Chef”, Cookbook Author

We look forward to sharing good food and conversation with you!

If you are unable to attend, but would like to learn more about the event or watch on your own, click here or here. Please feel free to post comments below about what you thought after watching the event.

Freshly washed.

Every year—or, sometimes, multiple times a year—I give my body a little break from processed foods, sugar-laden treats, and general overindulgences. My favorite recipes to follow for the past few years have come from the 21-day “Whole Living Action Plan.”

Being a vegetarian, I don’t find these changes too disruptive to my life since I already try to eat cleanly and follow a mostly whole-foods diet; but, like anyone else, I give in quite a bit to the junk dished out during the holidays and I have a raging sweet tooth to boot, so it’s nice to scale back to the basics right around when the time changes and I’m ready to begin my spring cleaning ritual, both inside and out.

Sweet Potato Before

Last night, I made a “clean” version of this roasted sweet potato soup recipe—no peppers, sherry, or yogurt. It was so silky smooth and delicious (thanks to my NutriBullet, which has officially replaced my blender at this point, btw). Having a rich, creamy soup like this felt so much more decadent than having to only down green juice after lemon tonic, which so many other “cleanses” seem to tout throughout their regimens.

Sweet Potato After

I am way more a fan of the Whole Living-type of diet adjustment than the liquid-only ones since it’s varied, nutrient-rich, and I never feel hungry. In fact, snacking is encouraged! To celebrate this, I made some hummus to keep on hand for the occasion. (If you’ve never made hummus before, it couldn’t be easier. It requires a few more ingredients than homemade almond butter, but it’s well worth it knowing that it came from your own heart and kitchen. Here’s a super simple recipe for you to try out.)

Let me know what kind of ritual you follow when your body needs a boost or if you’ve tried out the Whole Living Action Plan and how it’s worked for you. I look forward to your thoughts and comments. In the meantime, happy clean living!

Quasi-recipe: That’s bananas.

I’m trying my darnedest to chill out with the overconsumption of sweets these days for so many reasons, one of which that, now that I’m unemployed, I don’t have money to buy pants the next size up.

Enter: homemade banana “ice cream.”

Banana ice cream

I like mixing up the add-ins and encourage you to do so, too, when you try out this incredibly easy recipe (serves two):

Cut up 2 bananas in chunks and freeze. Place frozen chunks in a blender (this is my new go-to, btw). Add 1/4 c almond milk—or whatever kind of milk you prefer—or water. Add in 1 Tbsp ea cacao nibs and ground flax seeds1. Pulse until smooth, but not liquid. Serve with 1 Tbsp chopped pecans or your favorite nuts/toppings.

1I added these for a little power boost and they’re not awesome tasting on their own, so this is the time to hide some nutritional ingredients in your version: consider wheat germ or maybe even spirulina, although if you’re going with the latter, you might want to also toss in 1 tsp maple syrup.

Quasi-recipe: Aw, sugar, sugar.

For a reason that is of no business to you, yesterday, I had a major craving for a chocolate-layered hunk of chocolate sprinkled with chocolate-covered chocolate.  So, naturally, I plugged in my panini press and made this:

S'mores Panini

If you would like to make one of these, but don’t have a panini press, you can use a pan/grill pan instead. Just make sure it’s very hot and well-coated in oil or butter.  You only need to leave the sandwich on the pan for a few minutes (until everything melts and makes a disastrous, but oh-so-yummy mess), pressing down lightly on it with a large spatula, and turning it over once to crisp both sides.  When done, wait until the pan cools down before trying to lift it to your face to lick the mess off.

Here’s how I made my “S’mores Panini,” but, as always, you can use whatever ingredients work best for you:

I took 2 slices of whole wheat sourdough bread and brushed the “outside” of each slice lightly with grapeseed oil. Then, I smeared 1 Tbsp of my awesome, homemade almond butter on the “inside” of one slice, topped that with 1/2 of a Vivani dark chocolate bar broken into bits, then placed 4 marshmallows on top of the bar, then placed the second bread slice on top of the whole thing—oiled side up—and jammed it into my panini press (that’s what she said) for about 6 minutes.

It’s a very decadent dessert (or, in this case, lunch…who am I kidding?), topping out at about 600 calories and 30-plus grams of sugar.  I normally try to limit my daily intake of all sugars to 5% of my total calories, so this little treat definitely put me over, but it doesn’t happen often and it’s better than me punching a hole in a wall, which is what I was about to do before deciding to eat this instead.

Just writing about this is making me want to go make another one, but I’m too tired to burn off the calories, so enjoy yours without me and let me know how you liked it.