10 Steps to a Healthier Halloween

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Halloween kicks off the string of seasonal holidays where food imbalance and overindulgence is at an all-time high. Make this Halloween more about the tricks and treasures than the sweet treats, and discuss openly the importance of making healthy food choices. Following are 10 easy tips to implement during the holiday season, starting with Halloween!

  1. Prepare an extra-nutritious dinner of a good lean protein source, plenty of fresh vegetables and whole grains for you and your family. Fill up on healthy foods before hitting the streets to trick-or-treat, avoiding the urge to consume far too much sugar.
  2. If you will be handing out candy to your neighbors, choose a brand like Unreal to give rather than the traditional Hershey’s. Unreal makes all sorts of delicious candy varieties that are every bit as tasty as other brands without all of the chemicals and preservatives. “No artificial stuff, grass-fed dairy, no GMO’s, gluten free, no corn syrup, traceable cacao.” Check out their website and pick some up at your local grocer.
  3. Pillow cases are for pillows- prepare your kids with smaller treat collectors, then feel okay about them filling it 75% full.
  4. Think outside the raisin box. Instead of candy (or raisins) hand out tricks and toys! Visit Archie McPhee’s or a Dollar Store for stickers, erasers, bubbles, removable tattoos, pencils, bouncy balls or any other small toys you can creatively come up with. This is sure to add some fun to the night without contributing to the $2 billion in candy sales estimated for this Halloween. Eeeek! Now that’s scary!
  5. Power trick-or-treat. Incorporate a little physical activity to balance out the sugar consumption and tucker out the kiddies in time to hit the hay. Take the long way, take a few laps around the block or race from house to house.
  6. Bring a water bottle and drink while you’re gallivanting around. This will also curb the appetite for snacking.
  7. Out of sight, out of mind. Let your children choose 5 candies to consume when they get home, then save the rest to disperse as treats for good behavior or dessert. Avoid the inevitable begging for the candy by hiding it away in a closet and only bringing it out for trade or treat time.
  8. Donate extra candy. Many doctors and dentist offices set up donation centers to turn in excessive candy. Teach children the importance of giving when they have plenty to share.
  9. Create an exchange program. 10 pieces of candy for a toy they’ve been wanting or a fun, recreational outing. Let them use the candy as currency for healthier treats.
  10. Skip the candy and trick-or-treating all together. Let your kids dress up and take the to buy a special toy or go to a fun community event.

And above all else, the bonus #11… Set an example for your children, coworkers, family etc. Limit your consumption of sweets and practice your healthy lifestyle habits throughout all of the fun events!

Besides candy, what is your favorite part about Halloween?

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Seasonal Superfood Spotlight: Pumpkin Seeds!

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Don’t be too quick to toss the seeds after carving your pumpkin or making fresh pumpkin pie this fall! Pumpkin seeds are the richest plant source of the mineral zinc on the planet. Zinc is a vital nutrient in immune system support as well as the health of the digestive system and prostate. Just 1 3/4 oz of pumpkin seeds provides 3.2mg of zinc, over 1/3 of the recommended daily intake. In addition pumpkin seeds have a diverse antioxidant profile and are a great source of vitamin E. To maximize the benefits from these tasty seeds, I recommend eating the shell and all. The richest source of nutrients is concentrated in the membrane (endosperm envelope) that lines the inside of the shell, so it’s best to eat the fibrous husk as well. .

Try this Cilantro and pumpkin seed pesto over steamed vegetables and brown rice for a fantastic autumn supper. Or check out this recipe for strait up pumpkin seeds with a kick! Injoy!

      Cilantro and Pumpkin Seed Pesto

Ingredients:

2 cups chopped fresh cilantro

1 cup chopped fresh parsley

3 scallion, chopped

4 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped

1 tsp ground cumin

1/2 cup coarsely chopped pumpkin seeds

2 TBS water

1 TBS fresh lemon juice

2 TBS extra virgin olive oil

Salt and white pepper to taste

Instructions:

  1. Chop garlic and let sit for 5 minutes to enhance its health-promoting properties while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
  2. Blend all ingredients in a food processor or blender. Add olive oil a little at a time at end. You want the pesto to be blended yet not smooth. It is best with a little texture. Serve at room temperature. Do not heat it.

 

Split Pea and Ham Soup from Scratch

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I Love Autumn! It is by far my favorite season. So much so that I like to think the 3+ weeks I held out on being born was in order to celebrate the big day on Autumnal equinox. Yup, September 22nd was a splendid day to come into the world! (And ya gotta love the early 80’s. They would never let you choose your birthday nearly a month past your due date these days!)

I love the changing colors of fall, the rusty oranges, bright golds and fiery reds. I love the fashion of the cooler sunny months, too. Tall boots and tights, layers of sweaters and scarves. And boy do I love the autumn foods! The warming quality of root vegetables, hearty greens and savory baked goods fresh from the oven.

This particular Sunday I was aching to try out a split pea and ham soup from scratch. One of the special treats of my childhood in northern California was when my family would drive the 6 or so hours down to LA to visit my oldest brother, Steve. Just my dad and I on a couple of occasions, my two sisters and I a few times. As I got older, I visited with my high school boyfriend once or twice as well. The highlight of every single drive down was our tradition of stopping at Pea Soup Anderson’s in Santa Nella. The best split pea soup around! It is perfectly seasoned, delicate and hearty, creamy and layered with rich flavors. And it is served with the most delicious warm pumpernickel bread and onion rolls, plus a small plate of all sorts of toppings… minced onion, sour cream, shredded cheddar cheese. Perfect!

The unfortunate part of growing up with an exquisite memory of a certain food is that it is nearly impossible to recreate such perfection. Particularly when it comes to something as simple yet easily underwhelming as pea soup. You know what I’m talking about if you have ever ordered a bowl of the green pasty stuff served in pretty much any chain restaurant anywhere.

So there I was, a lovely autumn Sunday at the Boyz Haus, ready to dedicate the better part of my afternoon to manifesting divinity in a bowl. Or at least something tasty I could dish up for lunch during the football game.

Success!! It barely seems right to call this a soup, however. The rustic blend of potatoes, carrots, celery and roughly shredded ham serves more like a stew. And you could use a knife to ration the refrigerated leftovers.

Also, just a side note, this is the perfect project for a chilly, rainy autumn day when all you want to do is be inside anyway. This hearty and wholesome kitchen creation truly does take about 4 hours, so get into it! I don’t recommend shortcuts on this one. The layers of flavor and the way they develop really does take time. Enjoy!

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Serves 6

Use a small 2 1/2-pound smoked picnic portion ham if you can find one. (I went to Bill the Butcher for mine.) Otherwise, buy a half-picnic ham and remove some meat, which you can save for use in sandwiches, salads, or omelets. The finished soup will continue to thicken as it stands but can be thinned with some water when reheated. To cut 45 minutes off the cooking time of the soup, simmer the ham 1 1/2 hours, then add the split peas to the pot. When the ham is tender, after about 45 minutes more of simmering, remove it and shred.

 

INGREDIENTS

            1
 smoked bone-in picnic ham (about 2 1/2 pounds)

4-6 
bay leaves

1 
pound split peas (2 1/2 cups), rinsed and picked through

1 
teaspoon dried thyme

2
 tablespoons olive oil

2 
medium onions, chopped

2
 medium carrots, chopped

2
 medium stalks celery, chopped

1 
tablespoon unsalted butter

2
 medium cloves garlic, minced

5
 small new potatoes, scrubbed and cut into medium dice

Ground black pepper

Minced red onion (optional)

Balsamic vinegar (recommended)

 

INSTRUCTIONS

1. Bring 3 quarts water, ham, and bay leaves to boil, covered, over medium-high heat in large soup kettle. Reduce heat to low and simmer until meat is tender and pulls away from bone, 2 to 2 1/2 hours. Remove ham meat and bone from broth; add split peas and thyme and simmer until peas are tender but not dissolved, about 45 minutes. Meanwhile, when ham is cool enough to handle, shred meat into bite-sized pieces (see illustration below) and set aside. Discard rind and bone.

2. While ham is simmering, heat oil in large skillet over high heat until shimmering. Add onions, carrots, and celery; sauté, stirring frequently, until most of the liquid evaporates and vegetables begin to brown, 5 to 6 minutes. Reduce heat to medium low; add butter and garlic. Cook vegetables, stirring frequently, until deeply browned, 30 to 35 minutes; set aside.

3. Add sautéed vegetables, potatoes, and shredded ham to soup; simmer until potatoes are tender and peas dissolve and thicken soup to the consistency of light cream, about 20 minutes more. Season with ground black pepper. Ladle soup into bowls, sprinkle with red onion, if using, and serve, passing balsamic vinegar separately.

All About Organic

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I have had a number of clients ask me recently about the importance of prioritizing organic foods. Since Organic is the fastest growing category in the food industry to date, it is clearly a topic that has made its way into mainstream conversation. U.S. sales of organic food and beverages have grown from $1 billion in 1990 to an estimated $22 billion in 2010, and are anticipated to increase an average of 18 percent each year from 2010 to 2015. This is a good indication that more of the population is recognizing the negative effects of pesticides, herbicides, ripening agents, animal antibiotics and other harsh chemicals on our bodies over time.

Many aren’t aware that there are literally thousands of chemicals approved by the FDA to be used on conventionally grown foods. These additives are often neuro-toxins- paralyzing the pest to eventually kill it.

Here are a few staggering facts provided by the Organic Consumers Association and the FDA.

~ FDA currently lists about 6,000 additives and chemicals that are deliberately added to our food supply. Including chemicals used in food production, that number rises to 12,000-15,000.

~ 2 billion pounds of pesticides a year are sprayed on vegetable crops.

~ The average American consumes his/her body weight in additives/ chemicals per year.

~ In conventionally raised meat and dairy, hormones and antibiotics are administered to animals to stimulate unnatural rates of growth and protect against the infection rampant in industrial feedlots. This is causing startling hormone changes in humans and “superbugs” resistant to antibiotic treatments.

 

In addition, I found it interesting that the Corn Refiners Association is currently trying to legally change the name of  “high fructose corn syrup” to “corn sugar’” or “corn nectar” on food labels. This speaks volumes to the intention of hiding harmful ingredients on food labels to keep consumers ignorant in their purchases. I mean, corn nectar? That doesn’t sound so terrible, right? There are lots of examples of company practices like this one. Learn how to read labels on your food and be informed about the ingredients.

Following is some helpful language that has been developed to inform consumers about exactly what is going on in the products they are purchasing: “100% organic” must contain only organic ingredients. Foods labeled simply “organic” must have at least 95% organic ingredients. And foods labeled as “made with organic ingredients” must have at least 70% organic ingredients by weight or fluid volume, excluding water and salt. One helpful way to be an informed shopper is to ask the grower of your produce. This is why I love farmers markets so much. Often times I will find that the farmers have not sprayed their crops with chemicals, but are unable to call their goods organic because the process to get certified is so incredibly time-consuming and expensive. Many are even currently working on the steps for certification, so it helps to spark up a conversation, know what you’re purchasing and support your small local farms.

Next, I’ll share some specifics, the dirty dozen and the clean fifteen. Below are the top twelve foods to consider splurging a few extra bucks on and purchasing organic. Due to the way these foods are grown, the specific pests that seek them out and/or the texture of their skin, they are significantly higher in harmful chemicals at the time of consumption than others. Please note, the list is in order of highest residue remaining, and tests are run after the foods are thoroughly washed and/or peeled depending on how they are most-often consumed.

~~ Dirty Dozen~~

Peaches/Nectarines: The highest rating of chemical residue is found in peaches and nectarines due to their soft, fuzzy porous skin.

Apples: One batch of test performed on apples by the FDA detected 36 chemicals, close to 50% being neuro-toxins.

Bell Peppers

Celery

Strawberries: Strawberries are the most heavily treated crop in the U.S. covered with an average of 300 pounds of chemicals per acre. The average treatment rate for all crops is 25 pounds per acre. It’s surprising that strawberries are not at the top of the list.

Cherries: Cherries grown in the U.S. have three times more pesticide residue than imported cherries.

Pears: 4% of domestic and 10% of imported pears exceeded FDA approved levels of chemical contamination.

Grapes (imported)

Spinach: One study conducted by the FDA found spinach to be one of the most commonly tainted crops. Some of the pesticides used on spinach are the most powerful toxins available.

Lettuce

Potatoes: Potato growers have reduced their use of pesticides a bit in recent years, but spraying heavily for pests like the potato tuber moth is still common.

 

~~Clean Fifteen~~

  • Onion                                                                       ·   Avocado
  • Sweet Corn                                                            ·   Tomato
  • Broccoli                                                                   ·   Asparagus
  • Sweet Peas                                                             ·   Sweet Potato
  • Cabbage                                                                  ·   Eggplant
  • Papaya                                                                     ·   Watermelon
  • Mango                                                                     ·   Pineapple
  • Kiwi

 

These foods are lowest in harmful chemicals and/or are often peeled at time of consumption, so residue is left behind on the parts we don’t ingest. Of course, if it fits into your budget, it is always beneficial to purchase organic as much as possible. More and more it’s becoming imperative to vote with your dollar. Supply and demand. If we are purchasing more organic products then manufacturers will be more likely to convert their growing practices and produce organic. This is a good thing for our bodies and the environment.

And lastly, the response I get most often from clients regarding Organic products is that it is too expensive. Here’s some food for thought:

~ Organic farmers don’t receive federal subsidies like conventional farmers do.

Therefore, the price of organic food reflects the true cost of growing.

~ The price of conventional food does not reflect the cost of environmental cleanups that we pay for through our tax dollars.

~ Organic farming is more labor and management intensive.

 

Also, in terms of our health:

~ #1 cause of bankruptcy is health/ medical related

~ In 1960, Americans spent 19% of income on food and 5% on healthcare. Today, we spend 9% on food and 17% on healthcare.

~ Americans spend less on food, as a percentage of income, than any other country, in the history of earth.

(Most countries in Europe 17-18%, developing countries 50%)

 

Hmm.. Perhaps if we spent our hard-earned money on more healthful ways of living, we could reduce the need for such high healthcare costs.