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May is National Salad Month and with the warmer weather here, there’s no better time to give your oven a rest and enjoy a lighter meal.  When we typically think of “salad,” we think of a traditional side salad or green salad.  I encourage you to experiment–don’t forget that salads include fruit and can be expanded to include protein, which make delicious entrees. 

 

A salad can be a nutrition powerhouse.  To boost the nutrition of your salad, think about adding color and texture.  Start with the greens and instead of using only iceberg lettuce, try mixing in darker greens like spinach, kale or red leaf lettuce.  Add your favorite veggies for flavor and crunch–cucumber, tomato, shredded carrot, radish, red onion and baby peas are a few options.  Fruits and a sweetness to your salad. Try citrus fruit like Mandarin oranges and grapefruit or go with sliced strawberries or fresh raspberries as a topping.  Don’t forget the protein.  Beans like garbanzo, black or pinto beans add protein, fiber and flavor to any salad.  Low fat cheese or a lean meat like fish or chicken breast is also a great addition.  Nuts and seeds also make a terrific topping, adding crunch and flavor.

 

One of my favorite entree salads is a Cobb salad made by a local restaurant.  It consists of Romaine lettuce topped with grilled chicken breast, diced tomato, crumbled blue cheese, avocado, bacon and topped with a balsamic vinaigrette.  This past weekend I decided to replicate the salad at home, making a few tweaks to make it a bit healthier.  I added some red leaf lettuce and mesclun greens to the Romaine lettuce.  I substituted gorganzola cheese since my family prefers it and it has a similar flavor.  Instead of regular bacon, I used lower-fat, thin-sliced, turkey bacon.  I grilled the chicken breast  and added the avocado and tomatoes just like the restaurant version.  It turned out beautifully and my family loved it–I’ll definitely make this again!

 

salad (2)

 

Fruits & Veggies–More Matters has a long list of salads in their recipe database from which to choose.  Sweet to savory, entree salads to side dishes, there’s something for everyone.  So lighten up now that summer is upon us and find your favorite salad!

 

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Many of us are trying to reduce the amount of sodium in our diets.  In fact, the U.S. dietary recommendation is not to consume more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day.  High sodium diets can be linked to greater risk of high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke.  It’s important to remember that many pre-packaged foods contain hidden sodium so your best bet is to prepare your own side dishes and entrees whenever possible in order to control your sodium intake.

garlic and herbs

If you tend to rely on the salt shaker for flavor, I’ve got some tips to make this transition easier.  First off, I’m not going to lie–for the first week or so, you’re going to have a bit of an adjustment.  What you don’t realize is you’re basically used to the flavor of salt–not so much the flavor of the different foods you’re eating, but the salt you’re putting on them.  I think after you’re over the initial hump, you’ll be surprised at the variety of flavors different foods have when they aren’t masked by the salt shaker.  That said, here are ways to add flavor and bring out the natural flavors of your food:

  • Citrus Fruit – Lemon and lime juice and/or zest can be used in place of salt to season chicken and seafood dishes or vegetables.
  • Herbs – Basil, oregano, cilantro, thyme and dill are just a few herbs to consider.
  • Spices – Think cumin, chili powder, ginger or curry powder.  These flavors will make you forget about the salt.
  • Garlic and Onion – Sauteed garlic and onion will add even more flavor to your dishes without the sodium.
  • Cooking Methods – Roasting and grilling are terrific ways to bring out the flavor of foods.  Try throwing some chicken on the grill after marinating in a bit of olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice and herbs.  Do the same with some veggies!

lemon

Fruits & Veggies–More Matters even has a few featured health meals that are low in sodium, 480 mg of sodium or less per serving.  Pesto Chicken Vegetable Kebabs features chicken and veggies like zucchini and bell peppers over brown rice.  Grilled Steak & Peppers Salad w/Pears is a perfect summer entrée.  Vidalia Onion & Tomato Salad w/Grilled Tuna is another warm weather dish, ideal for a hearty lunch or light dinner.  With a few changes, you can significantly reduce the amount of sodium in your diet, making it healthier and more flavorful!

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May is Celiac Awareness Month.  According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, 1 out of 133 people in the United States is affected by Celiac Disease.  People who suffer from this are frequently believed to have an allergy to gluten, a protein found in wheat.  Actually, sufferers have an auto-immune reaction to gluten, which triggers the classic symptoms including abdominal cramping, bloating, diarrhea and weight loss in more serious cases.  The treatment for this disease is the strict adherence to a lifelong gluten-free diet.

In recent years, going gluten-free has picked up some popularity by people who claim to feel better by reducing their gluten intake or those who may have some intolerance to gluten products.  Having had a co-worker who suffered from Celiac disease, there is a definite difference between someone who wants to reduce their intake and a true Celiac sufferer.  The smallest amount of gluten can trigger a reaction so it’s important for them to look closely at all ingredients of their meals to ensure everything is gluten-free.

Here’s some good news–fruits and veggies are naturally gluten-free and play an important role in creating nutritious daily meals.

While there have been a lot of alternative options to the traditional items (gluten-free flour, gluten-free pasta, etc.), sometimes it’s easier to plan your meals around foods that are already naturally gluten-free to start.  Here are a few ideas:

  •  Rice instead of pasta–Preferably brown rice as a base to stir fry or chili.
  • Spaghetti Squash!  That’s right–this veggie looks like spaghetti, but it’s gluten-free, not to mention it’s got just a fraction of the calories.
  • Potatoes are always a perfect “starch” option (and you get fiber with them!).  Who needs the bread or the pasta when you can roast, bake, grill or boil a potato?  And, don’t forget about sweet potatoes!
  • Beans are better–fiber and protein–they’re filling and so versatile.  Soups, salads, casseroles–the uses are endless.
  • Quinoa–a grain-like crop, which has grown in popularity is actually seeds that are naturally gluten-free and packed with nutrients.
  • Corn products–go for corn flakes at breakfast and corn taco shells or tortillas when dining Mexican.

Fruits & Veggies–More Matters even has some healthy recipes that are gluten-free ready for you to try.  Brown Rice w/Sizzling Chicken & Vegetables features broccoli, bell pepper, carrot and onion.  Just make sure the soy sauce is also gluten-free.  Even certain ingredients can sometimes have gluten hidden in them.

brown_rice_chicken_500

Grilled Chicken & Avocado Quinoa Pilaf  is one of our newest healthy plates and features quinoa as the “grain” choices.  Add some sliced oranges and you’ve got yourself a perfect meal for the grilling season.

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Finally, we’ve got Easy Oven Packet Caribbean Tilapia w/Pears & Carnival Roasted Potatoes.  Another healthy meal with colorful veggies that can be made any time of the year.

tilapia_500

With some effort you can reduce or, if necessary, eliminate gluten from your diet.  Let fruits and veggies make that transition easier while also adding needed nutrition to your daily meals.

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Now that the weather is finally starting to show signs of spring, many of us are breaking out the grill.  With Memorial Day right around the corner, there are plenty of backyard BBQ opportunities over the next few months.  I know the typical grilling menu consists of burgers, hot dogs, steaks and chicken, but have you considered mixing it up a bit this year with adding fruits and veggies to your next grilling event?

I’m not suggesting to omit the standard fare entirely–simply provide some alternative options.  Fruit and vegetables are delicious on the grill!  Grilling actually enhances their natural flavors and caramelizes the sugars in fruits.  Plus, it’s really simple.  Vegetables do best when brushed with a high quality oil and sprinkled with a few herbs or soaked in a favorite marinade.  Don’t limit yourself to the traditional grilling fruits and veggies either.  Smaller sized produce can be wrapped in foil or placed in a grill basket and then placed on a grill.

Something to remember is that fruit and vegetables do cook faster than meat so you’ll have to keep and eye on them and you won’t want to place them over a high flame or else they’ll end up charred.  If you’re using wooden skewers for kebabs, make sure you soak them well so they don’t burn while over the flame.  Some great veggies to use for kebabs include bell peppers, mushrooms, zucchini, onion, eggplant and onion.

For an interesting twist on a grill menu, try Grilled Mushroom Medley Pizza.  Different kinds of mushrooms, grape tomatoes and baby arugula make this a perfect dish for summer.

pizza

Dessert for your BBQ is simple.  No need to heat up your kitchen with baking, when the grill is ready.  A simple dessert idea is to grill peaches, add ricotta cheese and drizzle some honey over them.  You can garnish with a few fresh mint leaves.

peaches

Many fruits are delicious on the grill–pineapple, watermelon, apples and bananas just to name a few.  Don’t be afraid to experiment!

Check out this Insider’s Viewpoint article for even more helpful tips on grilling fruits and veggies.  Give it a go the next time you have guests and I’ll bet you’ll “wow” them with your culinary skills!  Happy grilling!

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