All You Need Is The Right Tool – 9 Best Kitchen Tools for Healthy Food Prep

imagesCAI5SIDKOne of the most effective ways to stay on track with a diet is to COOK AT HOME. But there’s more to a healthy kitchen than a well-stocked fridge and a pantry full of pre-portioned snacks.

My husband can fix almost anything. His favorite saying is “all you need is the right tool”. This is true when it comes to cooking healthy too. How you prepare and enjoy your meals matters almost as much as what you’re eating. The following are must-have items that will help turn your kitchen into a weight loss machine:

 

1. Food processor

You can purchase a mini or full-size processor for chopping or shredding vegetables, fresh herbs, and nuts with ease. It will also puree and let you sneak vitamin-rich cauliflower, broccoli, squash, and sweet potatoes into sauces and spreads or even soups. Whip up healthy hummus, pesto, and marinades, too. You can also try a handheld blender; they work well for smoothies.

 

2. Knives

Any smart weight loss program will call for plenty of vegetables, and a sharp knife will make all that cutting, chopping, and slicing much easier. Make sure you have a chef’s knife, a slicer, and a paring/utility knife, plus a sharpener (dull knives make prep work far less enjoyable). Armed with these, you can start your week off with containers full of red pepper strips, celery stalks, carrot sticks, and insert your favorite veggies here ____ for easy snacking. Embrace your inner Top Chef!

 

3. Downsize plates and glasses

Average plate sizes seem to be getting bigger and bigger. The bigger your plate, the more likely you are to load it up with food. Replace your 12-inch dinner plates with 9-inch salad plates, and then fill them up with high-fiber, low-calorie greens and beans plus smaller portions of healthy carbs and meat.

When it comes to glasses, Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab researchers found that individuals pour more of a beverage into short wide glasses versus tall narrow ones http://foodpsychology.cornell.edu/.  I always tell people not to drink their calories, but if you want to have a morning OJ or a Friday night cocktail, choose a taller, narrower glass (think Tom Collins instead of rocks). But for water, choose the biggest goblet you can find: Many people mistake thirst for hunger, so staying hydrated can help you avoid needless snacking.

 

4. Salad spinner

This kitschy tool lets you simultaneously wash and dry your greens. Spinach and lettuce will last longer if stored dry.

 

5. Mini zip-close bags or small tupperware type containers

Use them to hold individual servings of nuts, dried fruit, granola, cheese, and other easy-to-gobble items. There is nothing worse than mindlessly eating handful after handful right out of the bag, and before you know it consuming 100’s of calories in an otherwise healthy snack.

 

6. Oil mister

These gadgets allow you to add just a spritz of heart-healthy oil without overdosing on fat. Think avocado oil, grapeseed oil, olive oil. Mist veggies prior to roasting them, or add some flavor to salads. You should also keep your pantry stocked with nonstick cooking spray, which allows you to whip up everything from scrambled eggs to chicken breasts without butter or oil.

 

7. Micro plane grater/zester

Use this tool to grate small amounts of flavorful cheese into soups, salads, and more. It will also zest oranges, lemons, and limes which can pack in a lot of flavor without adding any calories.

 

8. Slow cooker

If you don’t like cooking but love coming home to a house that smells delicious, this is the tool for you. I am not a great cook… ask any of my friends, but I can rock a slow cooker. It’s hard to screw up any meal when a crockpot is your tool of choice.  Slow cookers can turn basic ingredients such as chopped vegetables, chicken, broth, and spices into low-fat, down-home comfort food. And if you have a hot, delicious meal waiting for you, you’ll be less likely to open the fridge and mindlessly snack while you wonder, “What should I make for dinner?”

 

9. Spices

A fully stocked spice cabinet lets you add flavorful, calorie-free punches to food. You’ll save on fat and sodium, too. Staples include:

Basil for pasta and veggies

Bay leaves for flavoring stocks, sauces, and stews

Cayenne pepper (red pepper) for a spicy kick

Cinnamon for hot cereals such as oatmeal or in baking

Crushed red pepper flakes to add heat to spaghetti, soups, sauces, marinades, and meats

Cumin for chili or Asian, Latin American, and Middle Eastern foods

Dill for fish or potatoes; mix with low-fat yogurt or sour cream for a vegetable dip

Garlic powder for any recipe that calls for garlic flavor

Oregano for tomato-based sauces as well as stews and vegetables

Rosemary for lamb, chicken, potatoes, stews, sauces, vegetables, and fresh breads

Rubbed Sage for chicken, turkey, stuffing, and pork chops

Thyme for hearty roasted or baked dishes as well as vegetables

October – Think Popping Popcorn!

Yep, October is also popping popcorn month. Did you know popcorn counts as a whole grain? One serving of whole grains equals three cups of popcorn.

Popcorn is the only type of corn that pops. Each kernel of popcorn contains a small drop of water stored inside a circle of soft starch. When harvested, popcorn is dried so that it contains between 13.5-14% moisture, the amount it needs to pop. The soft starch is surrounded by the kernel’s hard outer surface, the hull, which has just the right thickness to allow it to burst open when enough pressure builds inside.

As the kernel heats up, the water expands, creates steam, and cooks the starch inside, turning it into a liquid mass. Pressure builds inside and finally it reaches a point that breaks the hull open. The contents inflate and spill out, cooling immediately and forming the shape we know and love.

Here is a super cool web site all about popcorn: http://www.popcorn.org/. You can watch popcorn popping in super slow motion at the Popcorn Board’s Web site And check out more fun facts, trivia and recipes while you’re there!

The Foolproof Way To Get Back On Track When You Blow Your Diet

I was at the gym today on the treadmill listening to the two guys next to me lament about their ups and downs of weight loss. One of the guys had lost over 100 pounds several different times, which also means that he has gained over 100 pounds several times.

There is nothing as overwhelming as seeing that scale start to creep up. It happens to everyone, but how far you let the creep continue is up to you.

Scale creep happens because of the small, daily decisions, ones that you thought were just a big dinner, or a skipped workout were explained away in your mind as isolated incidents. But they are not. The little things add up, and they can add up fast if you don’t pay attention.

Gaining weight back is a similar path to how you took the weight off. When you lost one or two pounds a week, you made daily accountability decisions and choices that resulted in weight loss. Maybe it was your daily or weekly weigh-in on the scale, maybe it was your big salad for lunch, or pulling out your jeans to see if they fit yet. All of those little changes, those small decisions added up to your weight loss.

Gaining weight back follows a similar pattern. Remember, you didn’t lose the weight in a measured exact way of three pounds per week every week, and you don’t gain it the same way. It usually starts with one little trigger.

The Fourth of July bash and your birthday only a week apart … YIKES. One little trigger, for example an over the top meal: a big steak, baked stuffed potato, a little of the crab appetizer and the chocolate cheesecake, topped with drink after drink in celebration. You feel so lethargic the next day, which I call a food hangover, that you break your normal oatmeal/blueberry morning and you have a cup of coffee and a croissant just to function the next day and curb your food withdrawal.

Since you “messed up” breakfast, you say “screw” it to lunch and have the pizza you’ve been missing. Once you’ve had the pizza for lunch, you think, might has well have the fried chicken for dinner because I’ve totally blown it. What’s one more meal?

Maybe your scale ran out of batteries and you don’t have that accountability that you’ve been so diligent about when you lost weight. You just stop weighing in because you no longer have your scale. Two weeks go by and you’re so scared of seeing what that number will be, you go another week without weighing in. Three weeks turn into four and the pounds continue to pile on.

It can be as simple as wearing comfy sweats for 4 days in a row. They feel so big and roomy, that you eat an extra muffin and you think, wow, I must be doing great because everything still fits! (I’ve done that one myself, many times, then I finally “wake up”, pull up my jeans and say, ughh!!!! What was I thinking!?!??).

It’s all those little decisions, the same daily decisions you made when you were losing weight, that result in adding the pounds back.

The most FOOLPROOF to get back on track is to commit to one good day.

If one good day seems overwhelming , commit to one good meal. Just one. If you have already blown breakfast, then make your lunch your “on track” option … something that will give you energy, make you feel great, and give you the confidence that you can do it. Often, just one positive decision, one good lunch, one good run, can give you the jolt you crave to shake it up and get you back on the track of losing the weight. You don’t drown by falling in the water. You drown by staying there. Get out of the water and get back on track!

My No Junk Food Journey – Want to Come Along?

 

I wrote this post as a participant in the Eat, Play, Love blog carnival hosted by Meals Matter and Dairy Council of California to share ideas on positive and fun ways to teach children healthy eating habits. A list of other registered dietitians and moms who are participating in the carnival will be listed at the bottom of this post or can be found on Meals Matter.

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If you are reading this on my website, you have probably figured out that I have a thing for fitness and nutrition… okay more of an obsession really.

I also have a shocking secret. I am not proud of this, but it is time for me to come clean. My kids eat Popsicles for breakfast. (I know… GASP) Breakfasts and snacks have become a free for all of low nutrient, high fat, high calorie foods. I still have control over lunches, and they are packed healthy. Dinners are okay too, but I am verging on a short order cook… something I swore I would NEVER DO.

I have been guilty of buying way too many snacky foods, which of course becomes the kid’s first choice food.

But, change is a comin! I decided to throw out every snack food that was unhealthy and replace it with healthy choices. Not a single unhealthy snack is left in our house.

I am the boss. I am the gatekeeper of the food.  Theses are my new daily affirmations, as I embark on the ‘no crappy food zone’ plan.

Being obsessed with my own nutrition, I must practice what I preach.

Kids will eat what’s available. That’s why I must control the supply lines. Kids can’t eat what is not there. A side bonus is that I will not be tempted by the kid’s rice crispy treats anymore (I know… another GASP).

If you want to join me on my no junk food journey, here’s what we will do:

1. Work fruits and vegetables into the daily routine. Be sure you serve a fruit or vegetable at every meal.

2. Make it easy for kids to choose healthy snacks by keeping fruits and vegetables on hand and ready to eat. Other good snacks that my kids love include low-fat yogurt blended with some low fat milk to make a shake/smoothie, peanut butter and apples, or whole-grain crackers and cheese.

3. Choose whole-grain breads and cereals so kids get more fiber. Don’t be fooled by kids’ cereal marketing. Read the ingredients.

4. Be sneak by adding chopped broccoli or green peppers to spaghetti sauce, or mix grated zucchini and carrots into casseroles and soups. Pureeing is also a great way to add veggies. Pureed sweet potatoes go un-noticed in Mac-n-Cheese or chili!

5. Limit sugary drinks, such as soda, juice, and fruit-flavored drinks. Serve water and low-fat milk instead. Make the “juice is for play dates only” rule.

6. Don’t be a short order cook. Repeat… Don’t be a short order cook.
No separate meals.  Keep serving healthy choices until they become familiar and liked.

We can do this.  No Junk Food.

Do you have a shocking secret that you want to share?

Don’t stop here! Join the carnival and read other Eat, Play, Love blogs from dietitians and moms offering the best advice on raising healthy eaters. And if you don’t get enough today, for more positive, realistic and actionable advice from registered dietitian moms, register for the free, live webinar Eat, Play, Love: Raising Healthy Eaters on Wednesday, May 18.

The Best-Kept Secret for Raising Healthy Eaters, Maryann Jacobsen, MS, RD 
Feeding is Love, Jill Castle, MS, RD, LDN 
5 Quick Ways to Prepare Veggies with Maximum Flavor, Dayle Hayes, MS, RD 
The Art of Dinnertime, Elana Natker, MS, RD
Children Don’t Need a Short Order Cook, Christy Slaughter
Cut to the Point – My Foodie Rules, Glenda Gourley
Eat, Play, Love – A Challenge for Families, Alysa Bajenaru, RD
Eat, Play, Love ~ Raising Healthy Eaters, Kia Robertson
Get Kids Cooking, Jessica Fishman Levinson, MS, RD, CDN  
Kid-Friendly Kitchen Gear Gets Them Cooking, Katie Sullivan Morford, MS, RD 
Kids that Can Cook Make Better Food Choices, Glenda Gourley
Making Mealtime Fun, Nicole Guierin, RD 
My Top Ten Tips for Raising Lifelong Healthy Eaters, EA Stewart, RD
My No Junk Food Journey – Want to Come Along?, Kristine Lockwood
My Recipe for Raising Healthy Eaters: Eat Like the French, Bridget Swinney MS, RD, LD
Playing with Dough and the Edible Gift of Thyme, Robin Plotkin, RD, LD
Picky Eaters Will Eat Vegetables, Theresa Grisanti, MA
Putting the Ease in Healthy Family Eating, Connie Evers, MS, RD, LD
Raising a Healthy Eater, Danielle Omar, MS, RD
Raising Healthy Eaters Blog Carnival & Chat Roundup, Ann Dunaway Teh, MS, RD, LD
Soccer Mom Soapbox, Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD 
Teenagers Can Be Trying But Don’t Give Up, Diane Welland MS, RD
What My Kids Taught Me About Eating Mindfully, Michelle May, MD

Understanding Why Protein is Important to Weight Loss

Protein, protein, protein.  It seems like so much advice out there tells us to eat more protein if we want to lose weight.  This is actually great advice, but some of the articles make my eyes glaze over with all the technical reasons for WHY.

 I recently read an article on Fitbie.com that explained the ins and outs of protein, and you don’t have to have a masters in nutrition to understand it. 

 At any given moment, even at rest, your body is breaking down and building up protein, says Jeff Volek, PhD, RD, nutrition and exercise researcher. Substitute the word “muscle” for “protein,” and you quickly understand just how dynamic your body is, and how your muscle content can change considerably in the course of just a few weeks.

 Muscle doesn’t come just from pumping iron.  Muscle buildup is triggered by eating protein. In fact, every time you eat at least 10 to 15 grams of protein, you trigger a burst of protein synthesis. And when you eat at least 20 grams, that period of synthesis lasts about 3 hours—and that means even more muscle growth.

 Here’s a quick look at what those numbers translate into when they actually hit your plate.

 20-30 Grams of Protein

1 4-ounce ground beef patty

1 large chicken breast

1 4-ounce sirloin steak

1 large egg vegetable omelet with 3 strips bacon

20 large peel-and-eat wild shrimp

1 haddock fillet

1 6-ounce pork chop

1 6-ounce serving tempeh

10 to 15 Grams of Protein

1 fruit-and-yogurt parfait with granola

2 medium carrots with 1/2 cup hummus

3/4 cup chili con carne

1 serving spaghetti with meat sauce (10 ounces)

1 pouch chunk light tuna

1/2 cup oatmeal with 1 cup 2% milk

12 ounces low fat chocolate milk

6 ounces Greek yogurt

2 Tbsp peanut butter on whole wheat

 Most people end up eating the majority of their protein at dinner. That means you might be fueling muscle growth for only a few hours a day, probably watching TV before you go to bed. The rest of the day, you’re breaking down muscle because you don’t have enough protein in your system.

The single most important diet upgrade for people who want to lose weight is to eat protein for breakfast.  More on that in my next post.

Your FIT Plan

Eat protein at all three meals, which can include meats and eggs or other options such as cheese and milk. If you can boost your protein intake to between 0.5 and 1.0 gram per pound of body weight, this will preserve your calorie burning muscle mass. That means aiming for approximately 20 grams of protein at your main meals, with options like a chicken breast, a hamburger, or a fillet of fish. For each snack, eat at least 10 to 15 grams of protein, such as two hard-boiled eggs, an order of rice and beans, or even a classic peanut butter sandwich on wheat bread. And when in doubt, reach for milk or cheese.

 When it comes to snacks, we don’t usually carry around a grilled chicken breast, and the best sources of protein—fish, meat, dairy, and beans—aren’t quick and convenient to eat. When you’re on the go or too busy to cook, reach for one of these great “grab and go” protein snacks: 

Jerky

Raw Almonds

Protein Powder

Hard Boiled Eggs

String Cheese

Yogurt

Cottage Cheese

 Make a commitment to include protein in EVERY SINGLE MEAL, and you will start to really preserve your calorie burning muscle mass.

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