Archive for January, 2016

Make time for family dinner: It’s good for your body and soul

Tuesday, January 26th, 2016


We all yearn for moments like the Norman Rockwell illustration of a family sitting around the dining table, enjoying their meals, laughing and spending time together. Sometimes those moments seem like fairy tales in hectic lives filled with endless activities and deadlines. Yet researchers are learning more and more about the importance of family meals relating to good nutrition and better health. Family meals aren’t just good for your body; they’re good for the soul.

Researchers at Rutgers recently evaluated results from 68 previously published scientific reports that analyzed the association between children’s health and family mealtime. They looked at how the atmosphere or frequency of family meals correlated with the consumption of healthy foods versus unhealthy foods. Their review showed numerous benefits to children associated with having frequent family meals, including increased intake of fruits, vegetables, fiber, calcium-rich foods and vitamins. In addition, the more a family ate together, the less children consumed dietary components thought to be harmful to health.

Additional studies showed that:

* Supper can be a stress reliever for working moms. A 2008 Brigham Young University study of IBM workers found that sitting down to a family meal helped working moms reduce the tension and strain from long hours at the office.

* The family dinner table is a great setting for getting kids to try new foods. A 2003 study in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that more exposure to new foods will teach kids to like different foods. Frequent family dinners provide the perfect opportunity to introduce a variety of healthy foods.

* It’s more budget-friendly to gather around the dinner table for a meal. The average cost for a meal in your kitchen is approximately $4.50 per person versus $8 per person outside the home. Do the math – eating in is better for your budget.

Making family meals happen in real time

Today’s over-scheduled lives may make it more difficult to get a meal on the table for family dinners, but there are many shortcuts you can take to reduce the stress and enjoy your time together. Many people are turning to companies like Kansas City Steak Company that provide ready-to-cook meals right to your door. From scrumptious ribs to succulent roasts, steaks, ground beef, poultry and seafood, family meal time is as easy as bake and serve.

“We find that more customers are seeking Bake and Serve Gourmet products so they can enjoy more time with family and friends and less time in the kitchen,” says Ed Scavuzzo, president of Kansas City Steak Company. “It’s never been easier to get a meal on the table without the fuss.”

But family meals can be as simple as ground beef patties, a salad and some fresh fruit. “It’s all about time spent sharing stories, sharing events of the day or just quiet time together,” says Scavuzzo. “The meals bring everyone to the table, but it’s family time that brings them back.”

Making family meals a priority

It’s easy to plan ahead for more family meals together. You can keep meals simple by sticking to nutritional basics and following a few tips:

* Purchase ready-made sauces, seasonings or marinades and add chicken, beef or seafood for a great main course.

* Cook on weekends and double the recipes. Roasts, soups and casseroles are great options to freeze, thaw and enjoy for a great, healthy family meal.

* Stock staples in your cupboard and freezer. Frozen meats and vegetables are easy to thaw and use at your convenience. Rice and pasta take just a few minutes and round out any meal.

* Fresh fruit and yogurt make healthy, flavorful desserts in just a few easy steps. Be sure to tuck away a sweet dessert or two for those special occasions.

The next time you reach for your car keys or the phone to order take-out, reach into your freezer and cupboard for meals that are good for your family and your soul.

Entertaining ideas for going Greek (yogurt)

Tuesday, January 26th, 2016



“Even if you’re not a fan of Greek yogurt’s distinctive flavor for snacking or breakfast purposes, you can still tap the health benefits of this popular dairy product,” says Laurie McNamara, author of the blog Simply Scratch. “You can incorporate Greek yogurt into a variety of recipes by using it to replace less healthful options like sour cream and mayo, or less nutritionally powerful ones like regular yogurt.”

The approaching holidays are a perfect opportunity to begin incorporating Greek yogurt into your family’s diets – and your entertaining menus. It’s possible to reap the health benefits of this super food in every course of your holiday meals.

Appetizers

What holiday buffet – or other occasion, for that matter – would be complete without a veggie tray and dip? Store-bought dips are often loaded with preservatives, sugar, salt and/or fatty ingredients. Making your own is a great way to reduce fat and calories, amp up nutritional value and ensure fresh, organic flavor.

McNamara has partnered with Simply Organic, purveyors of quality organic seasonings, to create ideas for serving Simply Organic Greek Yogurt Dip Mixes. Dips made with Greek yogurt add zest to vegetable platters, and can be a healthier complement to more decadent treats like chips and pretzels.

The dip seasonings can also pair with Greek yogurt in other appetizers, too. “If a recipe calls for regular yogurt or sour cream, you can substitute Greek yogurt,” McNamara says.

Try this recipe for a flavorful dish that can work on an hors d’oeuvres table or as an appetizer on a buffet.

Spinach and bacon-stuffed mushrooms

Ingredients

1 package-(16 ounces) baby portabella mushrooms (about 20 baby bellas)
 1 1/4 cups plain nonfat Greek yogurt-
 4 tablespoons-turkey bacon, cooked and crumbled (about four slices)
 4 tablespoons-finely shredded 2 percent milk Colby Jack cheese
 1 package-Simply Organic Zesty Spinach Dip Mix
 1 1/2 teaspoons-fine bread crumbs

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and spray a large glass baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.

Remove stems and scrape out gills of mushrooms with a spoon, being careful not to puncture caps of mushrooms.

In a large bowl, combine yogurt, bacon, cheese and dip mix until evenly mixed. Stuff mushroom caps with yogurt mixture, and sprinkle with bread crumbs.

Place mushroom caps in baking dish and bake for about 20 minutes, until the filling is hot and bubbly.

Entrees and sides

Think of all the dishes that call for sour cream, milk, heavy cream or regular plain yogurt. From mashed potatoes and chicken salad to soups and marinades for meats, Greek yogurt can replace those less healthful ingredients, allowing you to reap its health benefits while making the flavor subtle (or even undetectable) and enjoyable. And you don’t need to confine yourself to Greek recipes; Greek yogurt works regardless of a dish’s ethnic origins.

Here’s a recipe from Simply Organic in which Greek yogurt cuts the fat in a traditional Hungarian classic:

Smoky chicken paprikash

Ingredients

2 -8-ounce chicken breasts, skinless and boneless
 2 tablespoons-ground flax seed
 1 tablespoon-all-purpose flour
 1/4 teaspoon-smoked salt
 1/8 teaspoon-cayenne
 1/4 teaspoon-finely ground black pepper
 1 tablespoon-smoked paprika, divided
 1/2 teaspoon-garlic granules
 1/2 -white onion, chopped
 1/2 -red bell pepper, chopped
 1/2 -yellow bell pepper, chopped
 1/2 cup-sliced mushrooms
 1 -tomato, chopped
 1/2 cup-chicken broth (made with chicken flavored broth powder)
 3/4 cup-non-fat plain Greek yogurt
 1/2 teaspoon-lemon juice
 1/4 teaspoon-cornstarch

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and spray an 11-by-7-inch baking dish with non-stick spray.

Combine ground flax seed, flour, salt, cayenne, black pepper, 1 teaspoon smoked paprika and garlic granules in a small bowl.

Dredge chicken pieces in dry mixture and place in non-stick pan. Surround chicken breasts with onion, red bell pepper, yellow bell pepper, mushrooms and tomato. Pour chicken broth over chicken and vegetables, then evenly sprinkle vegetables and chicken with remaining smoked paprika.

Cover baking dish with aluminum foil and bake for about 30 to 35 minutes or until done. Chicken’s internal temperature should be at least 165 degrees when done.

Combine Greek yogurt and lemon juice in a saucepan. In a small bowl, whisk together cornstarch and 1/2 cup liquid mixture from baking dish. Stir into yogurt and lemon juice and cook, stirring constantly, until slightly thickened, about five minutes. Pour yogurt sauce over chicken and vegetables.

Desserts

Cakes, bread puddings, pies – even cookies – practically any holiday dessert can work with Greek yogurt as an ingredient. Vegetarians and vegans have been replacing eggs with regular yogurt for years, and Greek yogurt is an even healthier substitution. Generally, if your recipe calls for a cup of creme fraiche, sour cream, mayonnaise or cream cheese, you can substitute a cup of Greek yogurt. It’s also a great-tasting, creamy and healthier alternative for homemade frozen yogurt.

Includes recipes.

Time-pressed in the kitchen? Rediscover pressure cooking

Wednesday, January 20th, 2016



You may recall your mother or even your grandmother talking about using the pressure cookers of old, sometimes with unexpected results. A pressure cooker uses steam to cook foods. Available in stovetop or electric models, they both work on the same principle: foods and liquids are placed inside a pot that has a pressurized chamber, and the steam transfers heat to the foods. The pressure builds up inside the pot to cook food at a high temperature, while allowing the food to retain its moisture and nutritional value. When cooking is complete, the steam can be vented using a release valve, before the lid is opened.

Recently, pressure cookers have evolved to include many built-in conveniences and safety features that simplify the cooking process. Today, more home cooks are taking advantage of these cooking marvels, not only because they cook foods faster than most conventional methods, but also because they bring out the delicious flavor of foods and preserve inherent nutrients.

Today’s advanced pressure cookers can be used to prepare anything from meats and main courses to fresh vegetables, potatoes or even desserts. And because they cook foods faster, they use less energy, providing a “greener” way of cooking. In short, a pressure cooker enables a user to prepare recipes in less than half the time, while locking in flavors and preserving vitamins and minerals. This means a pot roast, sweet potatoes, or even cheesecake recipe worthy of Julia Child can be done in record time, making pressure-cooking perfect for busy weeknight meals. -

Manufacturers are increasingly taking the guesswork out of pressure-cooking with intuitive features that make it easy to prepare delicious, nutritious meals in a flash. For example, Calphalon’s 6-quart Stainless Steel Pressure Cooker has a cover that locks on with the touch of a button, and a pop-up pressure indicator that makes it easy to monitor cooking times. The cooker also has a pressure release dial that lets you select from multiple settings for cooking, and to safely release the steam after you’re finished.-

If you’re new at using a pressure cooker, here are some general tips to get you started:

* Cut foods evenly: Uniform pieces cook most evenly.

* Don’t overfill: Aim for a pot no more than two-thirds full of food. Be sure to use the recommended amount of liquid called for in the recipe.

* Adjust spices: Flavors are more concentrated with this cooking method, so you may want to reduce the amount of spices you use in your favorite recipes.

* Brown meats first: For especially tasty pressure-cooked meats, sear and brown the meat before placing it in the pressure cooker to obtain the best flavor and texture.

* Secure the lid: Make sure it’s properly closed and locked before you begin cooking.

* Experiment with recipes you love. Try cooking in incremental stages, starting with the shortest recommended cooking time; you can always cook for a more minutes if needed.

* Consult the manufacturer’s manual: Read and follow the instructions for the specific model you purchased.

School lunch vs. bag lunch: What’s best for your kids?

Tuesday, January 12th, 2016

New school lunch initiatives
Much attention has been paid to children’s health and there’s an increased awareness that lunch at school is a critical source of nutrition for students. New federal guidelines have been introduced to ensure that menus provide more whole grains, more fruits and vegetables and less fat and sodium. Thanks to dedicated efforts driven by schools, parents and the federal government, many positive changes are occurring.
“There’s a lot happening in the lunch line,” says Dr. Brian Wansink, researcher and professor at Cornell University. Wansink and Dr. David Just, researcher and associate professor at Cornell University, created Smarter Lunchrooms, a multi-faceted program that provides schools with tools that can improve children’s eating behaviors in the cafeteria. 
“It’s a common misconception that kids won’t eat healthy foods, but our work shows that not to be the case. We can encourage healthy choices in the way we present foods to kids,” says Wansink. He and his team have carefully studied the cafeteria line and how kids choose foods. The placement of foods on the lunch line, how foods are named on the menu and offering choices significantly affect which foods kids select. 
For example, moving fruit from a commercial bin to an attractive fruit bowl near the end of the line is proven to increase selection. “Banning favorite foods such as tacos and pizza from a cafeteria can backfire,” adds Wansink. “When kids feel restricted or forced into a decision, they rebel and may choose not to eat. Nobody wins in that scenario. We know a healthy lunch is necessary for good school performance.”   
Companies have stepped up to improve nutrition by creating new versions of kid-favorite foods that meet the new USDA school meal rules. Stir-fry, tacos, pastas and pizzas have become healthy fare as lower fat, lower sodium, whole grain versions have been introduced. For example, Schwan’s Food Service created Big Daddy’s(R) Cheese Pizza with a 51 percent whole-grain crust. It contains 25 percent Daily Value (DV) of calcium, as well as healthy amounts of potassium and protein, for less than 320 calories. Spicier sauces and more ethnic food choices are meeting students’ expanded flavor palates, too.
As of this fall, school lunches will also offer more produce, including dark green, red and orange vegetables, dry beans and legumes, all of which are nutrient-rich.  More farm-to-school programs add the option of locally grown produce for portions of the school year.   
Bag lunch betterments
Much like the cafeteria, the quality of a bag lunch hinges on what’s been chosen and eaten.  To paraphrase Wansink, it’s not nutrition until it’s eaten. 
One easy step to improve the quality of a bag lunch and the chance it will be enjoyed is to increase your kids’ involvement in the process. Have them help shop for foods and talk to them about which food categories make a lunch that makes a difference. Then have them help bag it up.    
Remember that drinks matter at lunchtime. Soda, fruit drinks, and popular energy drinks and sports drinks lack calcium and often contain added sugars. That’s a problem. Up to 90 percent of a person’s bone density is formed by age 18 and those school years are crucial for building bone strength to last a lifetime. Be sure to pack a calcium-rich drink.
New grains and new ways of making bread mean better whole grain bread choices are available for sandwiches. Breads can be soft and moist yet still deliver whole grain goodness plus, in some cases, enough nutrients to rival fruits and vegetables. 
Food safety is a big concern for bag lunches. Perishable foods need to be eaten within two hours if they’re left at room temperature and most brown bag lunches sit in a desk or locker for longer than that, turning them into bacteria havens and making them risky to eat. Home-packed meals need to be put in insulated, chilled bags that will keep foods in a safe temperature zone, sometimes for four or five hours. If your child isn’t keen on carrying an insulated bag (many older kids aren’t), or to reduce overall food safety risks, school lunches are an easy, nutritious fix.
Lunchtime is a highlight of many school days and an essential part of a productive one. Talk with your kids about what they eat and how lunch can help or hold them back from learning, running faster at recess or performing their best in after school activities. A healthful lunch will keep them fully fueled for the rest of their day.

Surprising ways hot tubs heat up relationships

Tuesday, January 12th, 2016

(BPT) – On average, working adults spend less than an hour per day socializing and relaxing, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistic’s American Time Use Survey. Yet a host of research – and common sense – tells us that spending time together in a social, relaxing way is essential to building and maintaining healthy relationships.

Recreating that spark or special connection with your spouse or significant other, free from the distractions of everyday life, isn’t as difficult as you may think. The answer can actually be found in your own backyard when you add a hot tub to your outdoor living space.

The therapeutic benefits of hot tubs are well documented – 79 percent of owners say they value the therapeutic health benefits their hot tubs present, according to a survey by the Association of Pool & Spa Professionals (APSP) – but many owners point to another significant benefit: the ability to spend more time with their partners.

Seventy-seven percent of owners say their hot tub is one of the few things that can truly take them away from the day-to-day stresses of life and allow them to reconnect with their partner.

Here are three surprising ways hot tubs can add some spice to your relationship:

* No distractions

The relaxed atmosphere of a hot tub promotes meaningful interaction, owners reveal. Hot tub owners typically say they use their hot tubs as a way to connect, and 82 percent say they are extremely satisfied with the level of relaxation it provides. Relaxing together outdoors, enjoying nature and each other’s company without the distraction of ever-present digital devices, is a great way for couples to rediscover the things that drew them together in the first place.

* Stress soothing

Life can be pretty stressful. Countless studies tell us that too much stress is harmful on a number of levels – physically, mentally and socially. Common stressors such as money are leading causes of strife in marriages and even lead to divorce. The warm water and effervescence of hot tubs relieve stress and soothe sore muscles, allowing couples to refocus on what’s most important in their lives: each other.

* The vacation effect

Something about vacation spells romance for couples; more than one getaway has led to a new addition to the family nine months later. While taking a trip more than once or twice a year isn’t always practical – the average American family spends about $1,180 per person on vacation travel according to an American Express survey – a hot tub can create the vacation effect in your own backyard, and allow you to experience that special feeling of romance every day.

Spicing up your relationship begins with the right tub, and finding the right hot tub starts with a professional you can trust. APSP Certified Professionals adhere to the highest standards of service, performance and ethical conduct. Visit the APSP website to find a professional near you.

Lunch box 101: 10 nutritious tips and tricks for parents

Wednesday, January 6th, 2016



“A nutritious lunch provides important nutrients kids need throughout the day,” says Mona Rosene, registered dietitian with a master of science degree in nutrition, and nutrition research scientist for WhiteWave Foods. “For parents who think packing a balanced and affordable lunch is a chore, a little preparation can go a long way in making lunch box planning a breeze. Parents should focus on fresh foods and be label-conscious. With so many convenient lunch options, it’s important to check labels to avoid products with empty calories and little nutritional value.”

For parents on the go and on a budget, here are “Lunch Box 101 Tips & Tricks” from TruMoo Milk Boxes to help make lunchtime less stressful and more nutritious for their kids.

1. Instead of a juice drink pouch, opt for a flavored shelf-stable milk box, which provides all the benefits of milk including 8 grams of protein, vitamins A and D, and calcium, without high fructose corn syrup or any artificial colors or flavors found in many juice drink pouches. TruMoo single serve milk boxes are a great option. They are available in three flavors kids will love – chocolate, vanilla and plain low-fat varieties, and are free of artificial colors and flavors.

2. Try to include at least one item from each of the five food groups: grains, vegetables, fruits, dairy and lean protein, to help ensure a balanced meal.

3. For a time-saver, sandwiches can be prepared the night before. Put sandwiches in reusable sandwich boxes instead of aluminum foil to prevent them from getting crushed or soggy.

4. Bite-sized fruits and vegetables are an easy way to add a nutritious and fun staple to lunch boxes. For picky eaters, a favorite dip like low-fat ranch, peanut butter or hummus can help make sure those fruits and veggies quickly disappear.

5. Choose leaner lunch meats like chicken, turkey and tuna in water, or choose a hard-boiled egg, beans or edamame as great protein alternatives. This way, kids can get protein with less fat and calories.

6. Keep cold food cold and hot food hot – keeping foods at safe temperatures will prevent the growth of unhealthy bacteria. Ice packs and insulated containers are key.

7. Instead of potato chips, try something different with the same amount of satisfying crunch such as: baby carrots, whole wheat pretzels without salt or baked sweet potato chips.

8. Liven up the lunchbox with fun-shaped sandwich and vegetable cutters. Lunchtime should be fun for kids, and they’ll be thrilled to find a butterfly- or dinosaur-shaped sandwich in their lunch.

9. Use leftovers, but change up the presentation by putting meat on whole wheat bread or pitas with sliced tomato or create a rice bowl with leftover veggies and protein.

10. Variety is key to keeping kids happy at lunchtime. Avoid boredom by offering new meal and snack options daily or weekly.