Monthly Archives: February 2012

Shop Around The Perimeter

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You might have heard of this phrase before.  It’s a new approach that teaches about how to change your food shopping routine to make your cart well-balanced, cheaper, and of course, HEALTHIER!!!

The next time you walk into the supermarket, take a minute to study the layout of the store. You will notice that all major food groups are located around the perimeter of the supermarket. It may look a little like this: to one side is the fruit and vegetable aisle, followed by the meat, deli and seafood counter, turn the corner and now you are looking at the long side of the supermarket in which one side is stocked with all types of meats, maybe some frozen seafood as well. Turn the corner again and now you are facing the dairy aisle, followed by the bakery/bread section. Everything else in between the aisles in the center of the supermarket are foods that I like to call “shelf life” foods.  These are foods that you can store on the shelf of your pantry and they can lurk in there for years and still be edible.  Majority of these foods are loaded with preservatives, trans fats, sugar and /or sodium., these are the key ingredients that allow these foods to stay “fresh” for long periods of time.  Doesn’t it scare you that the macaroni and cheese box in your pantry may out live you one day??  (But don’t get me wrong, there are some foods that have a home in the center aisles that are actually very healthy, provide convenience and help you save some dollars as well…keep reading 🙂 )

Sticking to the method of Shopping Around The Perimeter will ensure that you choose foods that are fresh, wholesome and closest to its original form.

Don’t know where to start? Try this shopping list that follows the “Shop Around The Perimeter” philosophy:

Fruit and Vegetables:

Buy fruit that is in season for better quality and price, and you can never go wrong with the following items: apples, bananas, oranges, pears, berries, broccoli, peppers, mushrooms, carrots, onions, garlic, sweet potato, cucumber, tomatoes, romaine lettuce, tofu (sometimes found here or in the dairy section)

Meat and Seafood counter:

skinless, boneless chicken breast, minced turkey or chicken, extra lean ground beef, salmon/tilapia/flounder or shrimp, sliced low sodium turkey or chicken breast, sliced low sodium ham

Dairy:

low-fat milk, low-fat cheese, low-fat yogurt, eggs, tofu (sometimes found here or in the vegetable section

Bread:

Whole wheat or whole grain bread/tortilla wraps/sandwich wraps/bread rolls

I recommend you venture down these specific aisles to collect the following food items: 

Pasta/rice aisle: brown rice, whole wheat pasta, tomato sauce

Canned foods aisle: tuna fish in olive oil or water, canned fruit with light syrup, canned veggies with low sodium, canned beans with low sodium (if low sodium is not available, simply rinse the food items under running water in a colander)

Cereal aisle: oatmeal, whole grains, breakfast cereals with less than 7g sugar per serving and more than 3g fiber per serving, Peanut Butter, whole grain crackers

Frozen Food aisle: Frozen vegetables ( no sauce), frozen berries (no syrup

Household aisle: you don’t eat any of these items so go crazy 😉

Condiments: Olive oil, vinegar, salt (to be used in moderation, please), pepper, your favorite dried herbs for cooking and flavoring, sugar (to be used in moderation, please), mustard, ketchup, low-fat mayonnaise, jelly/jam

My final thought: If you must purchase foods in between aisles that I have not recommended above, PLEASE be smart about it and read the nutrition label and ingredients list. Choose foods that are low in sodium (less than 250mg per serving), low in fat (less than 3g saturated fat per serving), and low in sugar (the lower the better!). The less ingredients the better and always remember to choose foods closest to its original form!

HAPPY FOOD SHOPPING!

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Presto Pasta Salad

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One of my biggest pet peeves is buying loose leaf lettuce and by the middle of the week, it has become wilted and slimy.  Rather than make another trip to the supermarket, I like to whip up this super easy and fast-to-make pasta salad, not to mention it is super healthy and deelish!  All you need to do is look inside your crisper and see what veggies you have lying around….I always tend to have cucumber and tomatoes, so I use these two veggies often.  You can add whatever your heart desires, its your salad.  Another thing I love about this salad is that you can use it as a side dish, being that it has both a starch and veggies, or you can make it into one big meal and top it with some lean protein (chicken, fish, tuna, etc). 

I recommend using whole wheat pasta.  Before you start to move the mouse towards the little X on the upper right corner of the screen, let me try to sell you on it- and if you still refuse to use it, then go ahead and use the regular pasta.  Whole wheat pasta is full of fiber and even protein, not to mention important vitamins and minerals such as B vitamins, magnesium and selenium…this has HEART HEALTHY written all over it.  Besides, whole grains and wheats are proven to aid in weight loss and maintenance in which they allow you to feel fuller longer.  But what about the taste??? Okay, I’ll admit it- when I first cooked whole wheat pasta, I thought I was chewing on a piece of cardboard, but I did not give up!  Use these tips when cooking with whole wheat pasta:

  1. Over cook the pasta.   Now is not the time to be preparing al dente pasta.  If the instructions tell you to cook it for 14 minutes, cook it for 17 minutes.  Test a noodle every minute or two after the instructed cooking time and once you feel it has reached the desired texture, you can drain the batch and enjoy.
  2. Whole wheat pasta doesn’t like to be lonely- give it some friends! Add protein, veggies, beans, etc, to give the entire meal more texture.  This will divert your taste buds from the starchy-ness of the pasta and enjoy all the flavors and textures of the entire dish.
  3. Throw in a pinch of salt to the water before boiling to give the pasta a little bit more flavor. 

The key ingredients for this salad are:

1 cucumber, chopped

2 tomatoes, chopped

Cheese (I love to use feta cheese, but use whatever is lurking in your fridge, no need to run out of the house and buy stuff you already have in the fridge)

1 cup dried Whole Wheat pasta (spirals, penne, shells, or bow ties)

1/2 can chick peas

2 TBSP olive oil

1/4 cup white vinegar

1 tsp dried Basil

salt and pepper to taste

Yields 4 as side dish, Yields 2 as main meal

Dressing

  1. Pour 1/4 cup white vinegar in a bowl.  Add salt, pepper and basil. Mix together.
  2. Add 2 TBSP olive oil and whisk together.  Set aside.

Salad

  1. Boil water with a pinch of salt, add whole wheat pasta once water is boiling. 
  2. While you are boiling the pasta, get chopping on the tomatoes and cucumber; add to large bowl.
  3. Take cheese and cut into small cubes to make about 1 cup.  I used feta cheese and I found it easier to break it apart with my fingers…its a dirty job but some one has to do it!  Add to large bowl.
  4. Take can of chick peas, drain and rinse under cold water to remove excess sodium.  Add to large bowl.

(looking good so far…and so colorful!)

5.  Once pasta is cooked to desired texture, drain and rinse under cold water.  Add to large bowl.

(who better to determine desired texture than our very own food critic, Dora! He gave it two talons up)

6.  Add dressing to salad, gently toss it all together and enjoy!

Versatility

Be adventurous and add ingredients to make this salad an experience!

Greek Salad– simply add some kalamta olives, lemon juice and crusty turkish bread, top with grilled chicken breast

Mexican Salad– use montery jack or cheddar cheese instead of feta, black beans instead of chick peas, add cilantro if available and top it with a grilled chicken breast or grilled shrimp (look through your pantry/fridge- corn, low fat sour cream, avocado, hot sauce, chiles, onions, etc…all of these could be great additions to this salad)

What will your Presto Salad be today?

Feeling home sick? Cure it with a recipe!

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It has been four months since I have moved to Australia.  This life altering decision has been awesome, to say the least and an experience I will forever be grateful for.  Moving across the world has its pros…and it also has its cons- HOME SICK!

There truly is no place like home.  I miss my family and friends the most and I love looking at pictures and reading emails about each and every one of them.  What I didn’t expect was how an impromptu meal could make me feel so close to home and reminisce on some of my favorite memories.  My best friend is Turkish, that means that for 17 years I have had the honor of being by her side and experiencing her ever lasting loyalty, friendship….and Mediterranean Cuisine.  I use to love walking up to her door and already smell her mom’s delicious cooking.  I remember sitting at their dinner table, surrounded by turkish conversations and turkish TV in the background and marveling at their colorful display of food- chopped tomato and cucumber salad, feta cheese, olives, fresh bread, beans, vegetables, lentil soup, meat dishes cooked with delicious spices…I think I just felt my stomach growl. 

It should have been no surprise to me to immediately think about my best friend and my favorite memories in her kitchen when I decided to be courageous and make Stuffed Peppers for the very first time.  Stuffed Peppers was one of my favorite dishes prepared by her mother.  Just to take my memory a little bit closer to home, I accompanied the stuffed pepper with a heaping side of greek yogurt.  Not the same as her mother’s homemade yogurt, but close enough to allow me to close my eyes and almost feel as though I am sitting in her kitchen all over again- minus the turkish TV  and my best friend’s amazing company 🙂

Here is my recipe:

Yields 4

4 red peppers

1 pound minced/ground beef or chicken or turkey

1 1/2 cups dry rice

6 mushrooms, chopped

1 large onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, chopped

1 cup tomato salsa

2 tomatoes, crushed

1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce

salt and pepper to taste

1 TBSP oregano

  1. Start cooking rice.  While rice is cooking, start preparing the mix.
  2. Cook chopped onions in a fry pan in oil until cooked through.  Add chopped mushrooms and cook for 3 minutes.  Add minced meat, herbs and Worcestershire sauce; when meat is 3/4 cooked, add garlic and continue to stir and cook. 
  3. Add crushed tomatoes, salsa and simmer for ~5 minutes or until meat is cooked through.
  4. Add cooked rice to mixture; remove from heat, mix and let stand. 
  5. Preheat oven to 200 degrees Celsius or ~400 degrees Fahrenheit.   Remove the tops of the peppers and the seeds inside.  Boil peppers in salted water for ~6 minutes. 
  6. Remove from water and begin stuffing each pepper with mixture until it reaches the top of the pepper.  Place each stuffed pepper on a tray lined with aluminum foil.  Bake peppers for 30 minutes, rotating half way through. 
  7. The skin of the peppers will start to char/burn- this is okay! When peppers are finished cooking, you will gently peel off this layer of burnt skin, which has given the peppers a yummy smokey, grilled flavor.  Serve with a dallop of greek yogurt and enjoy the memories (well, I will anyway…you just enjoy and make memories of your own). 

*Note:  you could bake the peppers and peel off the skin before stuffing them, but I found that the peppers provided better stability for stuffing before they were baked.  I am a rookie in the game of stuffing peppers so if you have any experiences with this, I’d love to hear it!

Investing in your health: You determine the cost!

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I am a firm believer in the saying “Your body is your temple”.  It is your home.  It provides you nourishment, energy, protection.  Every second of every hour of every day, your body is working hard to keep you alive and well.  Unfortunately, like an actual temple with time and age, your body can start to wear down and even fall apart.   It is essential that you provide all means possible to at the very least maintain your body, or even better…optimize your wellness potential. 

When I think of the word investing, I think of money.  Sure one can spend a fortune towards health and wellness…think of diet supplements, spa treatments, detox programs, pills, lotions and potions, etc….but the truth is, investing towards your health can cost absolutely nothing- it all depends on you!  The sooner you start to take action towards a healthier life, the better your body will function not only today, but for the rest of your life.  Just like one would invest in repairs and maintenance towards a temple so it has many more years to stand strong, you are doing the same for your body to ensure that it is working properly and will continue to do so.  Just how much do you worship your temple and what are you willing to do to keep it standing strong for decades to come?  The sooner you take action towards a healthier life, the less expensive it will become in the future.   Wouldn’t it be great to not have to spend money on medications, doctor visits, vigorous treatments and programs?  Investing in your health can cost nearly nothing and here are some key points on how to do so:

  • Exercise- you hear it all the time and there is a reason why you do.  Exercising most days of the week, for a minimum of 30 minutes per day can aid in weight loss, depression, and hyperglycemia and can reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes and osteoporosis….just to name a few.  Many people choose to hire personal trainers or join a gym, however some of us are not in a financial situation to do so.  Walking at a moderate pace is a great cardio option.  Don’t have time?  You can break this up into 15 minute increments.  Walk during your lunch break, walk your dog (they need excercise just as much as we do!), walk to the supermarket or the nail salon.  Bad weather? Find a mall that has walking programs before opening hours, find an exercise DVD or channel on TV, climb up and down the stairs, buy inexpensive dumbbells or exercise bands for resistance training.  Include your family! Play with your kids outside, take them on “nature walks” which is basically a walk around the block with a nature scavenger hunt: leaves, rocks, flowers, etc…, freeze dance (my personal fave), anything that keeps you moving!! If you have an excuse, I have a solution…give it to me! 🙂
  • Diet-  If you consume a diet that is based on wholesome, fresh, energy and nutrient dense foods, then your body will be full of energy and health.  A  lot of food companies will use health food terms and products as a way to make more money, which means higher prices.  We tend to forget that sticking to the general rule of thumb, “Fresh is best” and “Choose foods closest to its original form” is the best way to obtain a wholesome, healthy diet.  Stick to this very important shopping tip:  SHOP AROUND THE PERIMETER.   The next time you go shopping, take notice to the layout of the supermarket store.   You will find all major food groups along the perimeter of the store, all in its original form, all of it FRESH! Fresh fruits and veggies, the meat counter and section, fish counter, bread (whole grain preferably), and dairy.  The only isles I recommend you venture through are to collect even more fruits and veggies (canned or frozen for convenience and cost), spices (for flavoring)  and more whole grain products (brown rice, whole wheat pasta, quinoa, oatmeal, etc..) and of course, beans!  By using this method you will automatically replace at least half of your usual items in the cart with fresh, wholesome food items that will give you more energy and allow you to function better…for little or no additional cost. 
  • Mental relaxation-  I feel as though we tend to put this on the back burner a lot.  How many times do we wish for just a few minutes of peace and quiet…just a few moments of tranquility.  Some people pay for massages, a weekend getaway, or a spa visit.   But you do not need to shell out the big bucks for a moment to unwind and refocus.  Do the best that you can to include your favorite way to relax, even if it is just 10 minutes per day. Wake up 10 minutes earlier than your spouse and children and enjoy a relaxing tea or coffee in silence.  During lunch or a coffee break at work, go somewhere quiet and spend a few minutes alone…leave the phone behind!  (this sounds like a perfect opportunity for a walk…just sayin’).  Arrange a play-date for your children at their friend’s house…take this time to do something relaxing FOR YOU!  Don’t clean! Don’t cook! DON’T DO ANYTHING but relax.  Share this tip with your friends and return the favor :)Draw, paint, listen to your favorite music, meditate, yoga…do whatever you feel gives you a moment of peace and quietness.  My personal fave is sipping my favorite herbal tea outside without any disturbances. 
  • Pay it forward– think of one time that you returned a favor or volunteered some of your own time to do something great for someone or something else….how did you feel afterwards?  Have no shame when admitting that you felt really good afterwards.  I like to think of this little phenomenon as “taking care of your soul”.  It is a ‘feel good” feeling”that you feel deep within your gut, it over takes your heart and your entire body…it may even give you a little buzz.  Its a beautiful thing to be able to take care of not only yourself, but others as well.  Volunteer at a food pantry, soup kitchen or children’s hospital, help your friends and family in need- do their food shopping, provide a ride, be a supportive friend.  Reap the benefits of loving, positive energy and feel it radiate throughout the day. 

Hi Everyone!

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Thank you so much for visiting my blog.  It is about all things related to health, wellness and nutrition- mind, body and soul.  I am a registered dietitian so you can rest assured that my nutrition information is based on evidenced based research- only the best for the readers!  I welcome all comments, questions, queries, etc…I hope you enjoy my blog and furthermore, find it informative and useful.

Happy reading!

Michelle Serpas, RD, CDN