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Now that the weather is getting warmer (finally!), we can start spending more time outdoors.  One way to enjoy all beautiful spring blooms is by spending an afternoon in your local park.  Many of the parks in my area have walking trails, basketball courts and playgrounds so you can really make a day of your visit.  In order to really enjoy yourself, pack a picnic lunch so you won’t go hungry and also won’t be tempted to visit that pesky ice cream trunk that’s always so conveniently parked nearby.  Plus, it’s a great family activity!

 

The key to packing a great picnic lunch is making sure it’s portable and trying to stay away from things that can go bad quickly.  I try to avoid mayo-based salads since, if left out too long, they tend to go bad faster than other foods.  Of course I’m always looking to keep it healthy, while making sure it’s delicious.  I’ve done some research and found fun recipes that are perfect for taking along on a picnic lunch.  Let’s start with these Veggie Bars.  They remind me of a nutritious version of those decadent 7-layer dessert bars, but these are actually good for you.  You start with crescent rolls as the base and bake them.  Blend mayonnaise (I use light) and cream cheese (again, I use reduced fat) with some ranch dressing mix.  Spread on top of the crescent rolls and top with your favorite chopped veggies like red bell pepper, tomato, broccoli flowerets, grated carrot, olives, mushrooms, etc.  Cut these into bite-sized bars and they make awesome appetizers or snacks.  Since this recipe does contain mayonnaise and cream cheese, you’ll want to pack it in a cooler and keep it on ice rather than leave it out.

Veggie Bars
Photo courtesy of Mandy’s Recipe Box

 

A salad is always a great addition to any picnic.  However, you really don’t want to lug along a bowl of salad and then bother with mixing it and dishing it out, do you?  Instead, try assembling the salads ahead of time in plastic cups with lids as shown below.  Select your favorite salad ingredients like healthy greens, tomatoes, celery, mushrooms, onion, radishes, cucumber, bell pepper and add some protein like lean ham or turkey, low-fat cheese or some seeds/nuts.  Just leave a little room at the top and you can bring along the dressing to add right before serving.

cup salad
Photo courtesy of 24-7 Low Carb Diner Blog

 

I like the idea of serving wraps as a sandwich choice because they are easy to handle–they won’t fall apart and are great for transporting.  This Cucumber Ranch Turkey Wrap is a nice change from the usual ham and cheese choice.  Again, because it uses some cream cheese in the recipe, be sure to keep it on ice in your cooler until serving to prevent it from spoiling.

Cucumber ranch turkey wrap
Photo courtesy of Taste and Tell

 

What would a picnic be without something sweet?  Here is a spectacular idea for fresh fruit–cut up some fresh fruit (right now you can find berries are starting to come into season!) and pack them into a airtight container on ice.  Also pack some waffle cones and then when it’s time for dessert, spoon the fresh fruit into the waffle cones.  Sweet, nutritious and a hit all the way around!

fruit in cones
Photo courtesy of FrostMeBlog

 

I hope you try some of these fun ideas on your next picnic or at your next cookout.  I’ll be back next week with a few ideas for guilt-free appetizers.

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Dips are a great addition to your table.  Add them to your party menu, enjoy them as an appetizer or just prepare them as a snack for spring afternoon.  I know many of you are probably thinking that dips equate to blowing your healthy eating regime, right?  Not so!  There are plenty of lower calorie and fat options available, plus some that add lots of nutritious fruit and veggies in the recipe (and added bonus!).  Another healthy tip is to make sure you enjoy your dip with something healthy like a baked pita chip, cracker or, better yet, veggie stick like carrot, celery or cucumber chip.

 

One of the most popular dips is a 7-layer dip, but many of the versions out there are loaded with fat and calories.  This recipe for Healthy Mediterranean 7-Layer Dip is the exception.  Packed with a variety of veggies like tomato, cucumber, artichokes, olives and red bell peppers, this dip filled with fiber and nutrients.  Hummus, feta cheese and Greek yogurt are added as the base and provide both flavor and protein, while keeping down the fat content.

7 layer meditteranean dip
Photo courtesy of Cookin’ Canuk

 

Fruit dip is also quite popular and a flavor that is often used is peanut butter.  This recipe for Peanut Butter Apple Dip was created specifically for apples, but you can use it for other fruits like bananas and pears.  It’s really simple to make as it uses only three ingredients–peanut butter, Greek yogurt and honey to sweeten.  This is a terrific snack for your kids (minus any nut allergies of course).

peanut butter dip
Photo courtesy of Something Swanky

 

It’s hard not to find a menu selection for spinach and artichoke dip when you go out to a restaurant–almost any restaurant.  It’s that popular and it’s no wonder, it’s really that delicious.  Thankfully, there is a way to re-create this dish making it lower calorie.  This recipe for Hot spinach and Artichoke Dip has all the flavor of the original version, you’re simply using lighter ingredients like fat free Greek yogurt and part skim mozzarella cheese to reduce the fat and calories of the dish.  Spinach, artichoke hearts, chopped shallots, and garlic make this recipe a hit.

Spinach and Artichoke Dip
Photo courtesy of skinnytaste.com

 

Finally, what can beat a dip made out of fresh fruit?  That’s what you’ll get with this recipe for Fruit Salsa with Cinnamon Crisps.  Apples, kiwis, strawberries and raspberries are combined to make this sweet and colorful salsa.  The cinnamon crisps are created from baking flour tortillas with cinnamon sugar (you can modify the recipe to your liking so that you add less sugar if you choose).

fruit salsa
Photo courtesy of Spend with Pennies

 

Enjoy these healthy dip options and try some of your own creations.  I’ll be back next week with some fun, spring picnic ideas.

 

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While many of us celebrated Easter this past weekend, there is another holiday that also began on Friday–Passover.  This 8-day holiday is celebrated by Jewish people around the world and commemorates their liberation by God from slavery in Egypt and their freedom as a nation under the leadership of Moses.  During Passover, consuming and keeping anything with leavening is forbidden.  This is why observant Jews must remove all bread products from their homes prior to the start of Passover.  During the holiday, no products containing leavening may be consumed.  You’ve most likely seen an increase in ads for matzo meal in your supermarket circulars right around Passover because of this, since matzo is an unleavened bread used during this holiday.

 

Aside from the traditional Sedar meal, which is celebrated the first night of Passover, there are some traditional foods households typically eat during this holiday since there is a restriction on eating any kind of bread product.  Chicken soup with matzo balls and matzo kugel are a few common favorites.  In addition, families enjoy a lot of spring vegetables as Passover falls during the spring months.  I have a few recipes I’d like to share that are perfect for a Passover celebration.

 

I love this recipe for Baby Carrots with Tarragon.  Delicious and beautifully presented, plus it’s simple to prepare.

Baby Carrots with Tarragon
Photo courtesy of Tara Donne for Delish

 

Gremolata Potatoes are anything but boring.  Seasoned with parsley, mint, thyme, lemon zest and red pepper flakes, these potatoes have a lively taste without all the fat and calories.

Potatoes
Photo courtesy of Sang An for Delish

 

Once you try Vegetable Kugel with Caramelized Leeks you won’t want to wait for Passover to have this yummy dish!  It’s made with a small amount of matzo meal, sweet potato, russet potato, zucchini, onion, garlic, eggs, and of course leeks.

Vegetable Kugel
Photo courtesy of What Jew Wanna Eat

 

I hope you enjoy these healthy and tasty dishes for Passover or anytime of year.  I’ll be back next week with some great ideas dip ideas for your next party.

 

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 One of spring’s plentiful veggies is broccoli and, in my opinion, next to the potato it is the most versatile vegetable available.  Raw or cooked, in casseroles, soups or salads, this veggie is always delicious.  And, broccoli isn’t short on the nutrition.  It’s high in Vitamin C and folate, a good source of dietary fiber and potassium–all great reasons to feel good about making it a regular part of your diet.

 

Need more convincing about just how versatile broccoli is?  Here are just a few easy, yet flavorful ways to enjoy this veggie:

  • In a stir fry
  • As a topping for your baked potato
  • Eaten raw with a low-fat dip
  • Shredded as part of a slaw
  • Added to your pasta with some oil and garlic–top with a little parmesan cheese
  • As a healthy pizza topping
  • Added to your morning omelet
  • Kid friendly–add a little melted cheese and watch your little ones devour it!

 

Broccoli is its own star as well.  I’ve got a few recipes for dishes, which feature this vegetable that are simple to prepare and healthy.  The first is Garlic Parmesan Roasted Broccoli.  Broccoli, garlic, olive oil and parmesan are all you need to make this dish.  Roasting the broccoli at high temps does the trick and you’re done!  This is a great recipe for busy weeknights.

garlic parmesan broccoli
Photo courtesy of Damn Delicious

 

Next, we have a Broccoli Quinoa CasseroleBroccoli is perfect for adding to casseroles since it holds up well when baking.  The quinoa in this recipe is a different twist and adds extra fiber and protein.  I also like that this version uses fresh spinach leaves and pesto, giving it a great Italian flavor.

broccoli quinoa casserole
Photo courtesy of Eat Good 4 Life

 

Finally, broccoli is a great addition to salads.  There are a lot of variations, but I really liked this Asian Broccoli Salad with Peanut Sauce.  Along with the broccoli, it has cooked edamame, green onions, peanuts and sesame seeds.  The sauce is made from peanut butter, rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, honey and sesame oil.

broccoli salad
Photo courtesy of Gimme Some Oven

 

Enjoy these recipes and I’ll be back next week with some healthy dishes for your Passover table.

 

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