The Most Important Half of Your Plate

Dietitians often use the “Healthy Plate,”  combined with portion control, to help people plan healthy meals in order to help control their blood sugar, lower cholesterol and to lose weight.  The healthy plate is similar to the USDA’s “My Plate,” except that half of the plate is just vegetables, instead of fruits and vegetables.  The other half of the plate is divided evenly between lean proteins and high carb (and hopefully high fiber!) foods. Also, corn, potatoes, and peas  count as a starch, not a vegetable.  Beans and legumes count as a protein and a starch.  There you have it- the healthy plate in a nutshell!

How does the healthy plate method help with weight loss and blood sugar control? Vegetables are high in fiber, water, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, and very low in calories. As you eat more vegetables, you will naturally start eating less of the high calorie, high carb, high fat foods that contribute to chronic disease and weight gain when consumed in excess.

The main problem of the typical American diet, is that it is full of high fat proteins and highly refined carbs, with very little room for vegetables.   If you are like most Americans, as far as your diet goes, Incorporating more vegetables into your diet is the #1 most important thing you could do to improve your health and your family’s health. 

Since veggies are so important, I decided to share what eating the healthy plate way would look like throughout the day and give you some tips to get started.

Breakfast:

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Breakfast Burritos
  • Toss a handful of spinach into the pan while frying your eggs.
  • Toss in a handful of spinach or kale to your favorite Smoothie Recipe.
  • Make a Veggie Quiche with a potato crust instead of a normal crust.
  • Try Breakfast Succotash
  • Make a Breakfast Burrito: Saute onions, green and red peppers, and a diced sweet potato in olive oil. Heat until soft. Add black beans. Combine until heated through. Serve with avocado, salsa and cheese on corn tortillas.
  • Eating out? Get a veggie omelet!

Lunch: IMG_0303

  • Make a meal out of your salad. Salads are a great way to fill up on vegetables, but they don’t always fill me up. To make a salad a complete meal, add some lean proteins like baked or grilled chicken, a hard boiled egg or roasted chickpeas. Then add a high fiber carb, like cooked quinoa, corn or more beans.  For more filling power, add a sprinkling of sunflower seeds, almonds or avocado.
  • Add leftover steamed or roasted veggies from the night before to your lunch sandwich or wrap
  • Take vegetable soup or stew to work with you.

Snacks: Try Veggies and Hummus or veggies and dip

Dinner:  Veggie should be the main event at dinner time!

  • Start Dinner with a simple side salad
  • Sauté or Roast Fresh Vegetables to go with your dinner.
  • Steam frozen vegetables in the microwave, sprinkle with some cheese or your favorite dressing.
  •  Stir extra frozen veggies into pasta, rice or casseroles before cooking.
  • Scroll down for more inspiration!
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    Salmon, “fried” rice and roasted peppers, onions and zucchini

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    Salmon with steamed broccoli and carrots, and asparagus mixed with rice
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Vegetarian version of the healthy plate featuring roasted potatoes, zucchini and onions and chickpea, spinach and rice stir fry
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Baked chicken with roasted asparagus and carrots

What’s your favorite way to eat vegetables? Please post a comment! I’d love to hear from you!

You’ll Never Guess What Vegetable is in this Delicious Cake! (gluten free)

This cake is dense and rich, but not dry, and it has half the fat and sugar of regular cake. The secret ingredient? Sweet potatoes!

Sweet potatoes have been my favorite vegetable for a long time, so years ago, when I found this Sweet Potato Chocolate Cake recipe in a Reader’s Digest magazine I had to try it. I recently adapted it into a gluten free version and it tastes even better than I remembered!

For a stronger cinnamon flavor, I recommend Saigon Cinnamon instead of regular cinnamon. Saigon cinnamon has a lighter hue and a much stronger flavor profile. It’s found in the spice section at most grocery stores.

IMG_0373Chocolate Sweet Potato Cake Recipe

 Dry Ingredients

  • 1 cup Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Flour One to One Blend
  • 1/2 cup Oat Flour (Pulverize oats in a food processor to make flour)
  • 1/4 cup Almond Flour
  • (Can substitute 2 cups regular flour for the above flour blend if not making cake gluten free)
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp Saigon Cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Wet Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup oil
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 11/2 tsp vanilla
  • 3 Eggs
  • 3oz Unsweetened Baker’s Chocolate
  • 1 TB butter
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk (substitute 1/2 cup milk mixed with 1 tsp vinegar)
  • 2 Medium Sweet Potatoes (1 lb) (peeled, chopped into 2 in chunks and boiled)

Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting

  • 1 8oz block of 1/3 less fat cream cheese (neufchâtel) at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 2-3 cups powdered sugar (adjust for desired thickness)
  • Chopped walnuts and chocolate chips (optional)

Directions:

  • Pre-Heat Oven to 350. Prepare 2 8inch round cake pans by spraying with non-stick cooking spray.
  • Boil sweet potatoes until soft. Drain and set aside.
  • Mix dry ingredients together in a bowl. Set aside.
  • Combine oil, vanilla and sugars in a mixing bowl. Beat in eggs, one at a time.
  • Puree cooked sweet potatoes with buttermilk in food processor, until smooth.
  • Melt unsweetened chocolate with butter (in microwave or in double boiler on stove.)
  • Fold in dry ingredients with wet ingredients, alternating with sweet potato puree and melted chocolate.
  • Pour batter into prepared cake pans and bake for 30 min or until toothpick inserted into cake comes out clean. Let cakes cool 10 minutes in pans, then remove onto cooling racks.

To Frost: Let cakes cool completely before frosting. Top first layer with frosting and then sprinkle with chocolate chips and/or walnuts if desired. Layer second cake on top of first frost all sides of cake. Sprinkle with cinnamon and more chocolate chips and walnuts or decorate as desired. Store leftover cake in the refrigerator to keep fresh.

Do you have any favorite ways of hiding vegetables in baked goods? Let me know by posting a comment! And let me know if you try baking the cake!

Almond Poppyseed Muffins (gluten free)

Growing up, one of my favorite treats was my mom’s Almond Poppyseed Muffins. She would let me and my twin sister help her mix up the batter- butter, sugar, flour, sour cream, almond extract and poppyseed.  They would smell heavenly when they came out of the oven, and would be devoured as soon as they cooled.   I recently tried make a gluten free version of these muffins using Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free 1 to 1 Baking Flour. 

When baking anything gluten free for the first time, especially when it comes to my favorite recipes, I’m always a little anxious to see if it’s going to taste as good as the original. I recently had a failed pizza crust baking experience that was pretty disappointing, so I was really hoping these muffins would turn out.

I wasn’t disappointed!  They were just as good as the originals, and according to my husband, tasted even better the second day!  These muffins are light, fluffy, slightly sweet and they have a mild nutty flavor from the poppyseed and almond extract.

IMG_0276Almond Poppy Seed Muffins

Ingredients:

  • 1 3/4 cups Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free 1 to 1 Baking Flour
  • 2 TB poppyseeds (some spices may be contaminated with wheat so be sure to check the manufacturer’s’ website)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 cup sugar (reduced from 3/4 cup sugar in the original recipe), plus sugar for sprinkling on top of muffins
  • 1/2 cup softened unsalted butter (1 stick)
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup light sour cream
  • 11/2 tsp almond extract

Directions:

  1. Combine flour, salt, poppyseed and baking soda in a bowl. Set aside.
  2. Cream butter and sugar in a mixing bowl until light and fluffy.
  3. Add eggs, then sour cream and almond flavoring to butter and sugar mixture.
  4. Gradually beat flour mixture into butter mixture until well combined.
  5. Fill well greased muffin tins 3/4 full and let muffins sit on the counter while oven is pre-heating to 350.
  6. Sprinkle each muffin with a light dusting of sugar.
  7. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until toothpick inserted in muffins is clean.
  8. Makes 1 dozen muffins.

While these muffins aren’t “healthy” per se, since they are full of butter, sugar and refined flour, they make for a fun treat! I’m still figuring out ways to incorporate whole grains into gluten free baking, as most of the gluten free flour blends are very low in fiber. Suggestions are welcome!

 

Breakfast Succotash

Hot Breakfast Succotash with corn, peppers, onions, bacon and spinach!

Last Saturday, I really wanted a hot breakfast, but we were out of eggs! I remembered a wonderful dish my mom used to make with leftover corn sometimes during the summer, and decided to try making it with a few upgrades (i.e. more veggies!).  I like this recipes because it’s quick, easy, healthy, gluten free, and delicious! Plus, I can’t think of a healthier way to sneak in some bacon. =)

Ingredients:

  • 4-6 Slices of Bacon
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 bell pepper (red, green or orange)
  • 1 cup frozen corn (or fresh corn shaved off the cob)
  • handful of raw spinach
  • Shredded cheese for topping ( I used taco mix cheese)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Cook bacon until crispy, drain grease and pat bacon dry. Set aside.
  2. Saute onion and pepper in a little olive oil, salt and pepper until translucent and slightly soft (About 10 minutes).
  3. While onions and pepper are cooking, crumble bacon into bite size pieces.
  4. Add 1 cup frozen corn, and a big handful of chopped spinach, and cook until heated through.
  5. Top with bacon and shredded cheese.
  6. Season with pepper and salt.
  7. Enjoy!

Serving Suggestion: Served with roasted potatoes or fried eggs. I used peppers, onions and spinach, but you could throw in any other veggies you have on hand too, like asparagus zucchini. For a more filling meal and extra fiber, try adding 1 cup of rinsed black or pinto beans and top with salsa!

What are some of your favorite gluten free breakfast recipes?

 

Easy 5 Minute Crepes (gluten free)

IMG_0232I love this recipe because it’s simple, easy and doesn’t require any expensive baking mixes or hard to find flours. It takes 5 minutes to prepare and is nutritious and delicious! Serve topped with powdered sugar, cinnamon and fresh berries!

Easy Gluten Free Crepes Recipe

(Makes 3-4 large crepes)

Crepe Ingredients:

  • 2 oz Light Cream Cheese
  • 2 Large Eggs
  • 1/3 cup Gluten Free Oats
  • 1/3 cup low fat milk
  • 1/2 tsp Gluten Free Vanilla extract

Combine all ingredients in a food processor or blender (I made mine in my Ninja Bullet). Pour batter onto hot griddle prepared with non-stick cooking spray. When batter starts to bubble on the pan, flip crepes over. Leftover batter can be stored covered in the fridge for the next day.

Serve crepes with powdered sugar, cinnamon and mixed berries!

3 Tips to Make Any Recipe Healthier

As a dietitian, it pains me just a little bit to ever follow a recipe completely, without trying to make it healthier with a few tweaks. Here are a couple tips and tricks I do on a regular basis to make recipes a little bit healthier.

Tip: Use a blend of half whole wheat and half white flour for everything. 

Nutrition Boost: Increases dietary fiber. Substitute half the flour in a recipe for whole wheat flour. This works well for pizza crust, muffins, cookies, bread, pancakes and coffee cake. Everything will be a little bit denser, but still just as delicious! I wouldn’t do this for cakes or delicate cookies, since it might make them too crumbly.

Tip: Reduce the sugar by 1/2 of what the recipe calls for. 

Nutrition Boost: Baked goods will have less empty calories. I do this for breakfast foods, like rolls and muffins and quick breads, like pumpkin, banana bread and zucchini bread. When cutting the sugar in half, you can sprinkle to the top of the baked goods with a little cinnamon and sugar or lemon and sugar glaze for an extra pop of flavor. Not feeling super confident to start altering recipes?  Try my 20 Minute Cinnamon Biscuits or Cinnamon Baked Oatmeal which have already been tweaked for you!

Tip: Use Olive Oil for cooking sautéing, baking or roasting meats, grains and vegetables. 

Nutrition Boost: Improve the balance of heart healthy fats in your diet. Even if a recipe calls for something to be sautéed in butter, I substitute most or all of the butter for olive oil. Why olive oil? Olive oil is high in heart healthy monounsaturated fats, is easy to find, and lends a mild and pleasant flavor to most savory dishes. If you really want that buttery flavor, melt just a tablespoon of butter into the dish at the end.

What are your favorite ways to improve recipes? I’d love to hear from you!

The Great Smoky Mountains

Note: I wrote this before the deadly fires in Tennessee, which have burned over 17,000 acres of land destroyed entire neighborhoods and hundreds of buildings, and killed at least 13 people so far.  Many of the views shown below have been marred by those fires. If you would like to help the people affected by the fire, please consider donating to the Red Cross, The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee, the Dollywood Foundation or read more about other ways to help here

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the creation of the American National Park System, one of the country’s greatest investments.  Since before we got married, my husband and I have talked about visiting all the national parks in the USA.  We finally visited our first National Park together this fall. For our first park, we decided to go to  Great Smoky Mountains National Park, located near Gatlinburg Tennessee. The drive from Maryland to Tennessee, via Lynchburg, was a treat in itself. The beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia are home to Shenandoah National Park, which we hope to visit sometime soon.

Smoky Mountain National Park, which lies on the border of Tennessee and North Carolina, was designed for motorists to enjoy, and as such is a very handicap accessible park.  Even if you never left your car, you would still get to see beautiful views on the park’s main byway, Route 441. We enjoyed both driving through the park and hiking in the more remote areas. Here are some views from the road!

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View from the Scenic Route 441
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View from NewFound Gap Parking Lot

 

Some of the best views in the park can be seen from the observation tower on Clingman’s Dome, the highest mountain in the park at 6,643 feet elevation. To reach the observation tower, you have to drive to the Clingman’s Dome parking lot, and walk a paved but steep half mile to the observation tower. Once you reach the observation tower, which looks like it belongs on the set of Lost, you walk up a concrete ramp to the observation deck, which features 360 degree views of the park.

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View of the ramp leading up to the observation tower at Clingman’s Dome
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View of Smoky Mountain National Park from Clingman’s Dome Observation Tower.

Sadly, the view from the top is often obscured by air pollution, resulting from a combination of weather patterns and emissions from nearby power plants, and automobiles. The dead white trees in the pictures below are casualties of the hemlock woolly adelgid, an invasive species from Asia, which can kill large stands of trees in just 2-4 years. Read about the National Park’s efforts to stop the Hemlock Wooly Adelgid here.

The Smokys are part of the Appalachian mountain chain, some of the oldest mountains in the world. During our stay at the Smoky’s we hiked along some portions of the Appalachian trail, which cuts through the park. Due to the 85″ of rain received annually, the Smokys are also one of the most biodiverse areas of the world, featuring over 19,000 identified different species of plants and animals. On the hikes that we did, I often felt like I was walking through an ancient rain forest due to the lush vegetation and tricking streams and brooks we passed by. The Great Smoky Mountain National Park is truly an American treasure!

On our first day at the park, we hiked Chimney Tops, an iconic park, known for the steep, bare rock summits at the top, which look like chimneys from a distance. Sadly, Chimney Tops is where the fires that recently destroyed large areas of the park and heavily damaged local communities around the park are thought to have been started. I’m sure it looks much different than it did 2 months ago.

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View of Chimney Tops Summit from the trail.
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View looking up to the summit of Chimney Tops, near where the wildfires started. I wonder what it looks like now. =(

*Please consider donating to one of the organizations listed above to the help the Smoky Mountain Communities recover from the devastating fires that occurred over Thanksgiving week.