I'm a HEALTH NUT! Not the soaked and sprouted almond kind, but I am fascinated with health and wellness. I'm an ACE Certified Personal Trainer, Health Coach and Fitness Nutrition Specialist, Balanced Body Pilates Instructor and Pre/Post Natal Exercise Specialist. I have over 10 years experience training and teaching fitness and nutrition classes in Northern Virginia. As a HOKIE, I graduated from Virginia Tech with a BS in Bio-Medical Engineering. That is where I met my husband, Bobby. We now live in Ashburn, Virginia with our 2 children, Aaron and Maya, and our rescue pup Pippin. As a mom and an active member of the community I am passionate about educating people on whole food nutrition and how to live a healthy lifestyle. I can show you how eating real food and exercising can dramatically improve your health - with out using up all your time or money!
I grew up celebrating Saint Patrick’s Day as though we were 100% Irish! If I actually did the genetic testing I’d say 1/16 would be lucky, but it’s all in the heart, right?
Every March 17th, or there abouts, my Mom would make our traditional St.Patrick’s Day meal
Irish Soda Bread (in the same electric bread warmer with the yellow top with black spots, circa 1960-something)
and, don’t laugh – Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream Pie in a Chocolate Cookie Crust. Green, not Irish, but my Mom’s favorite flavor!
I love to share this holiday tradition with my family, and I love time-saving-kitchen-hacks! The Instant Pot saves hours of crock pot cooking and infuses the flavors to the beef and vegetables.
We are a family of 4 and make this recipe that serves 8-10, and wish every year that we had made more! The ingredients are simple and inexpensive, but I recommend getting good quality beef, it matters.
Instant Pots come in different sizes. If the vegetables don’t all fit into your pot, cook them in batches. Just remove the cooked vegetables from the liquid and add the remainder.
This a great dish for cold nights when you want something different than the traditional beef and beans chili. This recipe can be made on the stove top or in an Instant Pot pressure cooker. If making in a Crock Pot slow cooker, you will need to saute ingredients first and then transfer to slow cooker.
This recipe is gluten and dairy free as written and can be made vegetarian by swapping chick peas for the ground turkey.
We all know that sugar is far from a health food. It rots our teeth, makes our kids hyper, leads to diabetes and a ton of other health issues. But, like many things, it’s all in the dose, right?
Eating sugar in moderation isn’t harmful, is it?
I don’t think it is. A cookie or ice cream cone is not going to hurt most people. This is where the dose matters and sneaky sugars start to add up to negatively effect our health.
Food manufacturers add sugar to foods for 2 reasons
#1 – To make shelf-stable food taste better
#2 – It’s CHEAP $$$$
When foods are processed and packaged they have to be shelf stable to survive the shipping and storage conditions and not spoil sitting on the shelf for months or years until their expiration date. Natural foods, the way they come from the ground are far from shelf stable. You’ve seen rotting produce in the grocery store, maybe even in your refrigerator at home.
Sugar is cheap! I won’t dive too deep into lobbyists or subsidies, but sugar is a commodity that is inexpensive for manufacturers to add to their products. ((notice I didn’t say “FOOD.”))
Ok, but processed and packaged foods have an ingredient label and that would say “SUGAR” as an ingredient, right?
And, the Nutrition Facts label would list it as grams of “SUGAR,” right?
Yes…and no. Sugar has MANY different names. You can even think of a few different types of sugar you may have in your pantry:
Sugar (white, cane sugar)
That isn’t even counting the chemically derived sugars that are made in a lab. Here is a good list from Cynthia Thurlow on some of the Sneaky Sugars you may find on Ingredient Lists:
Items in packaged food Ingredient Lists are listed by weight in the food. This is where use of a WIDE VARIETY of “sugars” comes in handy. Manufacturers can use multiple different types of sugar so each one is in a lower quantity and therefore moving on down on the LOOOOONG list of ingredients.
A well informed consumer knows to flip the box and read the list on a granola bar, box of cereal, tub of yogurt or even jar of pasta sauce before tossing it into their grocery cart. They scan the first line or two and if they don’t see “SUGAR” figure, oh, it’s a good, “low-sugar” choice. Maybe…maybe not. Look for these other pseudonyms and all the other ingredients before making that choice.
Well, all these sugars would add up to grams of sugar on the Nutrition Facts label, right? Again, not always so clear, but getting better.
The Nutrition Facts label lists Total Sugar and Added Sugar. Added sugar separates out the naturally occurring sugar. In applesauce for example; there is naturally occurring sugar in the apples themselves, but…if they add sugar or corn syrup to further sweeten it, that would come under Added Sugar. Beginning to make sense?
I want to share an example that drives home ALL the points I’ve made thus far about SNEAKY SUGAR.
Frosted Flakes Cereal vs. NutriGrain Cereal Bar.
I posted this question last week to see if people could guess which had more sugar. The votes were heavier for the Frosted Flakes. I understand why, too. The adjective “Frosted” in the name implies COATED with sugar. The prefix “Nutri” implies nutritious breakfast bar, not to mention all the creative labeling;
Strawberries implying real fruit
Whole Grain and Good Source of Fiber
You would think this breakfast bar was like a bowl of oatmeal with sliced strawberries, in bar form. Not quite – NOT. AT. ALL.
Truth – by the numbers – see the info on one serving size below.
The NutriGrain bar has MORE total sugar, MORE added sugar and LESS fiber than the Frosted Flakes.
Let the effect of food label marketing versus reality sink in….
Now let’s go just a bit deeper and check the Ingredient Lists. The length of the lists alone is eye opening. The Frosted Flakes list Sugar – one form, one name. The NutriGrain bar, I did you a favor and highlighted the Sneaky Sugars – 8.
The take away?
Read labels, don’t be fooled by marketing and branding tricks.
Check the Nutrition Facts for total versus added sugar, though it’s really all just sugar.
Check Ingredient List for lengthy lists of chemical-sounding names and watch for sneaky sugar pseudonyms.
And enjoy that ice cream cone or homemade chocolate chip cookie for the delectable dessert it is. Moderation not depravation – make your choice and don’t be fooled.
I want to thank everyone that replied to my posts and voted and commented on which they thought had more sugar and the great questions that inspired me to dig deeper in this blog post. And to Cynthia Thurlow for sharing such a helpful graphic. Check her site, social media and podcast for more great information on the real issues with sugar.
Fried rice is an easy dish to clear out little bits of left over vegetables in your refrigerator. Toss in some cooked rice and protein from egg or left over meat and season with soy sauce and you have a complete meal in one pan!
Of course, I have to UP the veggie content and give it a fully plant-based spin!
Here’s my formula for Fried Rice – remember the goal is one pan complete meal.
Base: Rice, Riced cauliflower
Protein: ground or diced chicken, turkey or pork, scrambled egg, tofu or tempeh
Vegetables: think COLOR – this is your opportunity to bring visual appeal to the dish. Shredded carrot or broccoli, edamame, green peas, sliced snap or snow peas, even green onions.
Feel free to get creative and use what you have and like.
Cauliflower Fried “Rice”
2 cups cauliflower “rice”
2 cups basmati or jasmine rice, cooked
1 T avocado oil
1 cup edamame
1 cup shredded carrot
1/2 cup chopped green onion
1 block Tempeh, diced
1 lb firm tofu, cubed
2 T soy sauce/aminos or soy alternative
2 t toasted sesame oil
Heat avocado oil in a large pan at medium heat. Add tempeh and 1 T soy sauce. Cook stirring frequently to brown.
Add tofu and stir to crumble and combine.
Remove tofu and tempeh mix to a separate bowl.
Add the cauliflower rice and broth to the pan. Stir to combine and cover. Cook to soften, stirring occasionally.
Once cauliflower rice is cooked add the rice and vegetables. Stir to combine. Cover and cook 3-4 minutes.
Add the cooked tofu and tempeh. Add the remaining soy sauce and sesame oil.
Serve with sriracha sauce if you want to heat it up!
I wanted a separate batch for me with out the Basmati rice – but they look and taste the same!
A family member introduced us to this idea a few years ago and while the soup was a HIT! It was made with ground beef and a cheese sauce with heavy cream and grated cheddar, maybe some onions with the ketchup and mustard and that was about it. The high fat content made this soup very rich and though it was decadent, it also sat heavy in the stomach causing a little tummy-trouble.
I came up with a lighter version that is just as tasty, with the same cheese-burgery flavors, but doesn’t weigh you down. I swapped ground turkey for the beef, added vegetables like green pepper and celery and an unbelievably tasty and simple bean-based cheese sauce for the cheddar and heavy cream.
I made the sauce and soup from the same pot and pureed the sauce in the Vitamix so the only dishes were the one pot and blender.
To serve, you can top with shredded cheese, chopped pickles, even shredded lettuce and diced tomato for a full cheeseburger effect! I served mine over a BIG bowl of greens.
If you wanted to make this a Veterarian/Vegan soup, replace the ground turkey with Plant-based meat like Beyond Meat, chopped tempeh, tofu or chickpeas.
You will not need all of this sauce for the Cheeseburger soup, use the extra as topping for vegetables, filling for enchiladas or a cheesy dip!
3 cups cannelloni beans
1 cup onion, chopped
4 T garlic, crushed
1/4 c hemp seeds (or Parmesan cheese)
1 T butter
1 T olive oil
1/2 t salt (to taste)
1/4 t white pepper (to taste)
broth to water to thin consistency
Heat butter and oil and add chopped onion. Saute to soften and add garlic. Saute 2 more minutes.
Add onion mixture and all remaining ingredients to a blender and puree until smooth, adding water or broth slowly to thin the consistency.
2 T olive oil, divided
1 onion, diced
3 stalks celery, diced
1 large green pepper, diced
1 lb ground turkey
1/4 c ketchup
2 T mustard
2 t steak seasoning (like Montreal Steak)
2 c broth
2 c “cheese” sauce
OPTIONAL TOPPINGS: shredded lettuce, diced onion, diced tomato, chopped cucumber, shredded cheese or a GREAT BIG BOWL OF GREENS!
Heat 1 T olive oil in large stock pot. Add onion and saute until beginning to soften. Add celery and green pepper. Saute until vegetables are beginning to soften.
Remove the vegetables from the pot and set aside. Add another 1 T olive oil to the pan and add the ground turkey. Season with steak seasoning.
Cook and crumble the ground turkey.
When the turkey is completely cooked add the vegetables back to the pot. Stir in the ketchup, mustard and broth. Bring to a simmer for 5 minutes and stir in cheese sauce. Stir to combine and cook on medium-low heat for 5 minutes.
For the traditional St. Patrick’s Day dinner – my Corned Beef and Cabbage recipe…of course, made in the Instant Pot!
Corned Beef and Cabbage
4 lb beef brisket (NOT already seasoned)
1 onion, quartered
4 cloves garlic, crushed
2 t pickling spice
1 green cabbage, quartered or cut into smaller sections.
4 potatoes quartered
6 carrots, chopped into 2″ sections.
Place beef, onion, garlic and spices in instant pot and cover with cold filtered water.
Seal and set to high manual for 70 minutes and allow to naturally release pressure for 15 minutes.
Remove beef and all but 2 cups cooking liquid from the pot. Trim excess fat from beef and cut for serving. Set into crock pot on low to stay warm.
Place cabbage, carrots and potato into the instant pot.
Replace lid, seal and cook 5 minutes and quick release pressure. Place a towel over the lid to contain the steam.
Move cooked vegetables and all liquid to crock pot until ready to serve.
If you’re not a beef-eater you can enjoy the cabbage, potatoes and carrots roasted in an oven – since, honestly, they’re not as good cooked in vegetable broth as they are in the beef broth. Just sayin’.
If you want go to green – make my White Bean Falafel and add lots of basil, parsley or cilantro to the mix, or top with a homemade or prepared pesto.
This is a variation on my Chicken & Rice Burrito Bowl recipe. Quick and easy to throw together, easy to modify by adding chopped bell peppers or omitting the olives – adding fresh herbs like parsley or more heat with smoked paprika or chili flakes. Top with fresh parsley, Feta or Romano cheese.
To make ahead as a freezer meal toss ALL ingredients EXCEPT for broth into a zip-top freezer bag and freeze until ready to use. Defrost before cooking or add 3 min to Instant Pot cooking time or 1 hour when cooking in a slow cooker on high.
VEGETARIAN/VEGAN option: Swap out 2 cans (3 cups) of rinsed and drained chickpeas for the chicken. Be sure to use vegetable broth.
Greek Chicken & Rice
1 lb chicken (breast or thigh), cubed. OR 2 cans (3 cups) rinsed and drained chickpeas
2 cans of diced tomatoes with juice
1 medium onion diced
3 T crushed garlic
1/2 c olives (whole or chopped)
1 c rice (I used jasmine), uncooked
1 T dried parsley
1/2 T dried oregano
1/2 t smoked paprika
1/4 t chili powder
salt and pepper to taste (olives and tomatoes are usually salty – salt sparingly, I didn’t add any)
2 T olive oil
1 1/2 c broth (chicken or vegetable)
OPTIONAL: chopped bell pepper, chopped green beans, green olives
TOPPINGS: feta cheese, Romano cheese, fresh parsley
In Instant Pot on Saute setting heat olive oil on medium heat and add onion and garlic. Saute until soft and fragrant.
Add seasonings and spices and heat until fragrant.
Add chicken or chickpeas, stir to coat, cook 5 minutes.
Add remaining ingredients, stir to combine. Place lid and set to SEAL setting. Cook on MANUAL for 12 minutes, then Natural Pressure Release for 15 minutes. Vent remaining pressure and serve.
FOR FREEZER MEAL: Dump defrosted bag into instant pot and add broth. Same cooking instructions. OOPS!!! Forgot to defrost! It’s ok – beauty of Instant Pot! Break it up so it fits in the pot. Add the broth, seal the lid and cook for 15 minutes, NPR 15 minutes. Ensure chicken is cooked through prior to serving.
Serve: top with optional toppings listed above. I serve hearty comfort foods with fresh greens – Roasted Asparagus and a chopped salad for us!
My 9 year old daughter wanted to make cookies the other day…while we were waiting for a new oven to be installed. So we looked up some no-bake recipes. They all had 2 cups of sugar for about 2 dozen cookies – seemed a bit extreme. They also said NOT to use natural peanut butter because the cookies were too dry… I KNEW we could do better!
Health-ified no-bake cookie ingredients
We softened some dates in hot water for a few minutes and threw them in the blender with the milk (not pictured) and were able to cut sugar by more than half!
Health-ified No-Bake Cookies
1/4 c butter
5 dates (pits removed and soaked in hot water to soften)
3/4 c sugar
1/2 c milk (dairy or non dairy)
1/2 c peanut butter
2 t vanilla
1/4 t salt
3 c oats
1/4 c chocolate chips
Soak pitted dates in hot water to soften. Remove from the water and put in blender with the milk. Blend until smooth.
In a saucepan over med-high heat combine butter, date puree and sugar. Bring to a boil and stir for a minute. Remove from heat.
Stir in peanut butter, vanilla and salt until all melted and smooth.
Stir in oats and chocolate chips – which may melt if the mixture is still warm.
Scoop onto parchment lined pan or silicone mat and freeze 20-30 minutes or until firm.
Store refrigerated or frozen.
Makes about 2 dozen gluten, dairy, egg free cookies. You could use almond butter in place of peanut for peanut free cookies.
Oh what to serve or bring to Thanksgiving dinner that will be healthy and delicious? Get in a few extra veggies but not a traditional carrot and hummus platter or salad? Traditional Green Bean Casserole with the crunchy onions from a jar does NOT count. Sorry. Creamed Corn Casserole doesn’t either. Or the sweet potatoes from a jar topped with marshmallows!
Sorry to burst your bubble, but I’m going to give you 3 great options here that are easy to prepare, delicious and nutritious!
4 T butter or olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 ribs of celery, chopped
3 cups of riced (fresh or frozen) or finely chopped cauliflower
1 cup mushrooms, chopped
1/2 t dry sage
1 T fresh parsley, chopped
1 t fresh rosemary, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
may need up to 1/2 c broth (chicken or veggie)
In large pan with sides, melt butter or heat oil. Sauté onion. Add carrots and celery and sauté till soft. Add about cauliflower and cook about 8 min. Add mushrooms and season with salt, pepper, sage, fresh parsley and fresh rosemary.
Cover and cook 15 min. Add up to 1/2 c broth if it seems dry. Using frozen cauliflower rice brings more moisture. Serve warm and eat it up!!!
Roasted Brussels Sprouts
with Lemon Tahini and Roasted Red Pepper Sauces
Serving with two different colored sauces, white and bright red, adds color and variety and allows guests to customize their dish. When given an option to personalize kids of all ages get creative and are more likely to dive in!
2 lb Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved or quartered
2 T olive oil
1 t salt, 1 t pepper
2 garlic cloves crushed or 1 t garlic powder
Heat oven to 425° F.
In a bowl, toss the Brussels sprouts with the olive oil, salt, pepper and garlic. Spread in an even layer on a pan with sides.
Roast for 20 minutes or until pierced easily with a fork and browning on the edges. Toss every 5-7 minutes for even roasting.
Lemon Tahini Sauce
Juice of one large lemon
1 garlic clove minced
½ cup water
½ cup raw tahini
1 t maple syrup or honey
1 T and 1 t apple cider vinegar
1 ½ t tamari soy sauce
1 t coriander powder
2 T olive oil
¼ t sea salt, pepper
Combine lemon juice, garlic and water into a blender and puree for 15 – 30 seconds. Add all remaining ingredients and puree again until smooth.
Roasted Red Pepper Sauce
1 c jarred roasted red peppers, rinsed and drained
1/4 c olive oil
3 T sherry or red wine vinegar
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1/4 c fresh parsley, chopped.
1 t smoked paprika
1/4 t salt, pepper
optional: 1/4 c Parmesan cheese or 1/4 sour cream.
combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor and puree.
Marinated Vegetable Platter
Similar to the platter pictured above, select a variety of marinated vegetables of different size, color and texture. The variety draws in kids and picky adults that may turn their nose at traditional crudites. Select or prepare vegetables so that they can be picked up with a cocktail fork or small tongs and can be eaten in a bite or two with out cutting. You want your guests to eat it and not wonder how to do it with out making an embarrassing mess! Serve with a side of Marcona Almonds for crunch. Optional cheese: cubed feta or small balls of Mozzarella.
Some good options:
roasted red peppers, sliced into 1″ thick sections
sun dried tomatoes, drained and in halved or quartered.
whole artichoke hearts
hearts of palm, sliced lengthwise on the bias
variety of olives
marinated green beans
Giardiniara style marinated cauliflower and carrots – in bite size not finely chopped.
Happy Healthy Thanksgiving to you, your family and friends!