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This Friday, October 24th, is National Food Day, a day to inspire us to change our diets (if they need changing) and focus on the obesity issue our nation is facing.  It also touches on the need for improved food policies like reducing hunger, improving food access and promoting fair working conditions for farm workers.

 

food day

 

Why A Special Day?

 

Studies have shown that each year our nation spends billions on obesity-related illnesses and more children are becoming obese at a younger age, primarily due to unhealthy diets.  In many cases, a lack of education about the basics of healthy eating–how to select and prepare healthy foods are the culprit of this problem.  National Food Day strives to get communities to come together and organize activities that will put Americans on the right path.  Such activities include cooking lessons or planting a vegetable garden.  More than 4,700 events in 50 states celebrated Food Day 2013–see how it will be celebrated this year near you.

 

As I mentioned, healthy eating is a great way to celebrate National Food Day and to get you started, I’ve pulled together three vegetarian recipes from Fruits & Veggies–More Matters’ featured healthy plates.  I’ll start with this Bell Pepper and Vidalia Onion Strata with Fresh Salsa.  This is a savory recipe for your breakfast dish packed with fresh veggies and is only 240 calories–a great way to start the day!

 

 

bell pepper strata

 

Lunchtime is ideal for this Garden Cannellini Bean Salad, which is still light, yet provides enough protein to get you through your afternoon.  The beans and other veggies also are packed with valuable fiber.

 

bean salad

 

Caramelized Mushroom and Vidalia Onion Risotto is ideal for dinner.  Mushrooms add a “meaty” texture without the calories or fat of meat.

 

mushroom risotto

 

I hope you’ll try one of these healthy dishes or make one of your own favorites this coming Friday and join me in celebrating National Food Day.

 

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It’s National School Lunch week and and for me it’s an opportunity to help parents make their child the “star” of the cafeteria lunch table.  So often, that lunch you pack your child can go uneaten, traded for something else or thrown in the garbage at school.  Why not pack a lunch that your child will crave and make him the envy of his peers?  The best part is it’s simple and nutritious!

 

 First, start with a bento box or container with different sections for the various items you’ll be packing.  This container serves two purposes–first of all, it keeps the flavors/juices from mixing (bread from getting soggy, etc.) and it is an important part of the presentation.  We want to make the lunch look appealing to your child, something really interesting and fun, and separate compartments for each food group helps with this goal.  Below is an example of a basic bento box with a toasted cheese sandwich as its entree.  Note how the remaining sections are filled with healthy snacks like fruit, seeds and few pickles.  The sandwiches are cut into stars to further make the lunch more interesting for the child.

 

bento box

 

What if you’re little one doesn’t like sandwiches?  Not a problem!  Bento boxes are great for other items as depicted below.  This parent stacked lean ham and cheese together with mushrooms and tomatoes on fun stars and heart skewers for her child.  She added cubed watermelon and yogurt to complete the lunch.

 

 

non sandwich bento

 

If you have a picky eater, this way of packing lunch can be an ideal way to get them excited about eating.  Think “finger foods” like this example below.  Low fat cheese and crackers with lean ham is provided on one side.  The other is packed with baby carrots, celery sticks and strawberries.  Your child will feel like she’s snacking rather than eating a meal even though all the nutrition is there.

 

finger foods
Photo Credit: Wendy Copley/Wendolonia.com

 

Extend the creativity to small snacks as well.  I love this idea below used on the regular zip-lock bags to make them fun for your child.  This example shows grapes and goldfish, but I’d prefer grapes and something more nutritious like nuts or seeds(more fiber and protein).

 

butterfly snacks 2

 

I hope these ideas will help you create a healthier lunch for your children and one they will want to dig into each day.

 

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Happy October everyone!  You know what that means–rich autumn colors, crisp fall days and cool weather are upon us.  This is the time of year when I begin to seriously start cooking up some comfort foods like soups and stews.  It just so happens that October is National Chili Month and the autumn weather is the perfect time to enjoy a bowl of spicy chili.  Typically, we think of the traditional beef chili, made with a tomato base and most often beans are added.  However, I’d like to share two other chili options that are just as delicious and a bit healthier than the classic version.

 

White Chicken Chili has become quite popular in recent years and this particular recipe is especially easy.  It’s got only five ingredients yet is packed with flavor.  Shredded chicken breast, chicken broth, Great Northern beans, ground cumin and salsa verde (a salsa made from tomatillos, garlic, lime juice, jalapeno peppers and onions) are combined to create a delicious blend.  Top this chili with diced avocado, shredded cheese, fresh cilantro or sour cream.

 

white chicken chili

 

Chili is an excellent vegetarian choice as can be seen by this recipe for Pumpkin Chili with Black Beans and Garbanzo Beans.  There are a ton of vegetarian chili recipes available (6 bean, bean and sweet potato, etc.), but since it is October I loved the idea of adding a little pumpkin.  This version uses vegetable stock, canned tomatoes and pumpkin puree as its base.  Then, onion, garlic, beans and spices are added to complete the recipe.  Garnish this dish with some chopped green onion.

 

Pumpkin bean chili

 

Of course, if you want to stick with your tried and true old fashioned chili recipe, you can always improve the nutrition content by adding more veggies like extra beans.  For example, instead of just the standard kidney beans, try adding black beans and garbanzo beans too.  To reduce the calorie and fat content, instead of using ground beef, do what I do and use ground chicken breast.  Add even more nutrition by including healthy toppings like diced tomatoes, chopped avocado or minced onion.  And, remember that chili makes for a great “Game Day” dish as you cheer your favorite team on to victory!

 

 

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October 1st is World Vegetarian Day and if you or someone in your family is considering making the switch to a vegetarian diet, it’s important to get all the facts about this important lifestyle decision.  First and foremost, a well planned vegetarian diet is a healthy diet that does provide all the necessary nutrients your body needs.  The key is making sure that you supplement new foods that will provide specific nutrients you would normally get from eating other foods (i.e. meat).  For example, beans, seeds, nuts and tofu are ideal sources of protein that one would normally get from eating meat.  Depending on how restrictive a diet you have, depends on how much more planning you must do to ensure you’re getting all the nutrition your body requires.

 

In terms of restrictive diets, there are different types of vegetarians.  All vegetarians eat vegetables, fruit, grains, nuts, seeds and beans, but some do not eat some or any animal products.  Here is a list of the different types and what they will eat:

 
  • Lacto-ovo vegetarian – will eat dairy and egg products.
  • Lacto vegetarian – will eat dairy products, but not eggs.
  • Ovo vegetarian – will eat eggs, but no dairy products.
  • Pesci vegetarian – will eat fish.
  • Semi vegetarian – will eat fish and poultry.
  • Vegan – will only eat food from plant sources, no eggs, dairy products or honey. 
 

Fruits & Veggies–More Matters has more information about vegetarian diets and the “at-risk” nutrients you should pay attention to when planning your diet.

 

 

Cooking vegetarian dishes doesn’t have to be boring either! There are plenty of delicious recipes available and many that are quite popular.  Just think of some common entrees like Pasta Primavera, Veggie Stir Fry over Brown Rice or Spinach Lasagna.  Here is a great recipe from The Mushroom Channel for Mushroom and Caramelized Onion Tacos.  This recipe is part of their Meatless Monday campaign and it’s perfect for a weeknight–simple and easy to make.  Plus, everyone loves tacos!

 

Mushroom Tacos

 

If you’re looking for something a little more decadent, maybe worthy of Sunday dinner, try this recipe for Butternut Squash Stuffed Shells with Sage Browned Butter.  In addition to the butternut squash, the shells are stuffed with ricotta cheese and fresh spinach.

 

butternut squash stuffed shells

 

Even if you’re not looking to move your diet to a completely vegetarian one, try working in a meatless meal once or twice a week.  There are plenty of tasty options to choose and as an added bonus you may even see your grocery bill shrink a bit!

 

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Autumn is the season when root veggies are popular.  You probably enjoy preparing carrots, yams, potatoes, but how about parsnips?  In recent years I’ve seen an increase in recipes either featuring parsnips or incorporating them as an ingredient.  I’ve also found that they are more readily available in my local supermarket (especially this time of the year) than ever before.

 

 

Parsnips resemble carrots and are prepared in similar ways.  However, they have a sweeter flavor, especially when cooked.  These veggies are quite nutritious, they are a good source of Vitamin C, folate and fiber. In addition, parsnips are rich in potassium.

 

As I mentioned, parsnips can be prepared in many ways as you would carrots–baked, roasted, etc., but I wanted to share some really interesting recipes I found that used this delicious veggie in ways that were out of the norm.  Herbed Parsnip Fries caught my eye right away.  These “fries” are baked and a mixture of garlic, rosemary and sea salt gives them a different flavor than your average fry.

 

Parsnip Fries

 

Roasted Parsnip and Garlic Soup with Mushrooms is perfect for fall!  Right now you’re probably seeing a lot of roasted butternut squash soup or something similar, but this one has a slightly different twist.  This particular recipe is a vegan version, but of course you can substitute regular chicken broth in your recipe if you choose.  This dish really is packed with veggies–great northern beans are included, as are onion and celery (along with the main ingredients parsnips, garlic and mushrooms).

 

parsnip garlic soup

 

I personally love potato pancakes or “latkes,” so when I saw this recipe for Parsnip Pancakes I was intrigued.  It really makes sense since the parsnips have that signature sweet flavor.  Combine that with the onion and chives and the flavors blend incredibly well.

 

parsnip pancakes

 

I hope these recipes will give you some ideas to try this fall while parsnips are available and in season.  Or simply add them to your next root veggie roast, you won’t be disappointed!

 

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We celebrate Eat Dinner Together Week this week and for many families this can be a challenge.  Busy schedules that include work, school, sports practices, and other extracurricular activities, make it difficult to sit down together and enjoy a nightly meal.  I understand that gone are the days of Leave It to Beaver where June Cleaver had all day long to prepare dinner for her family.  The key to providing a nutritious meal is to be able to prepare something quickly or without much preparation.  Otherwise, you’ll be reaching for the takeout menu.

 
Thankfully, there are many options that don’t require a lot of cooking time or much preparation.  In fact, Fruits & Veggies–More Matters has an entire recipe section devoted to quick and easy meals, namely their 30 Minutes or Less section.  Select from entrees, side dishes, and desserts like Chicken Veggie Risotto or Spinach Pesto Pasta.  Pinterest has a number of quick family meal ideas as well–just be careful as some of these selections might not be quite as healthy.  I did narrow my search and found a few healthier choices, which I’m sharing with you below.
 

Here’s a great recipe for Oven Baked Fajitas using chicken and whole wheat tortillas.  I love that they also make the marinade in the morning, let the chicken, onions, and peppers marinate all day and then everything is ready to go when you get home from work.  Oh, and kids love the “hands on” of putting together their own fajita too!

 

fajitas

 
Here is a perfect one-pot meal for the cooler weather and one that is always a hit in my house–chili!  This recipe for Turkey Chili is prepared using your slow cooker or crock pot, one of my favorite kitchen appliances.  Seriously, there is nothing better than coming home, after a hectic day, and having dinner ready and waiting for you.  This recipe is packed with veggies–tomatoes, corn, peppers, black beans, and kidney beans.  Serve it with a side of corn bread and you’re set.
 

chili

 

I hope you’ll try some of these recipes and enjoy mealtime with your family.  While it takes a little effort, the payoff is definitely worth it.

 

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