Category Archives: easy meals

Putting it on the Plate with PICKKA – Summer Fiesta Black Bean Salad

The Summer Fiesta Black Bean Salad is great on its own or as a topping for a baked potato!

Welcome to Putting it on the Plate with PICKKA.  Today’s featured recipe is Summer Fiesta Black Bean Salad.  I decided to use my “Shop to Lose” app for the iPhone to choose the ingredients for this dish.  The Shop to Lose app contains a “smart shopping list” which analyzes and screens grocery store foods based on my weight and health objectives, as well as those of other family members.  It’s a great way to ensure that my pantry items are healthy for me and my family.

I am glad I chose to use “Shop to Lose”* because I discovered something new that I would not have considered otherwise.  My recipe calls for black beans – not a product that I would consider to have many variances between brands.  But, my “Shop to Lose” app brought to my attention that the sugar content between my choices differed slightly.  One had no sugar and the other had 1 gram.  What is nice about the “Shop to Lose” app is that it highlights why a product is a good choice or a bad choice under the nutrition label displayed on the app.  It will tell you if the product is low in sugar or high in fat, for instance.  That is how I discovered the sugar difference – and I thought I was pretty savvy at deciphering nutrition labels.

I think you will find today’s recipe to be very easy to pull together at the last minute because many of the items are pantry staples.  It is also very versatile.  You can serve it as a side dish, use it to top baked potatoes (as I did), or add it to a bed of whole-grain rice for a healthy meal.  It it a great dish to pass at potlucks, barbecues, and picnics too!

Summer Fiesta Black Bean Salad

Ingredients:

1 (15.5 ounce) can of whole kernel corn, drained

1 (15 ounce) can of black beans, drained and rinsed

1 small green bell pepper, seeds removed and chopped

1 small red bell pepper, seeds removed and chopped

1 medium onion, chopped

1 clove of garlic, minced

3/4 tsp ground cumin

2 TBS lime juice

2 TBS olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

Preparation:

In a medium bowl add corn, black beans, bell peppers, onion, and garlic.  Drizzle olive oil and lime juice over mixture.  Sprinkle with ground cumin.  Stir until mixture is coated.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Serve.

*Click here to download the “Shop to Lose” app.

Try this recipe and come back and tell us how you served it, we want to know!

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Filed under barbecue, easy meals, healthy food, homemade meals, iPhone apps, PICKKA, picnic, picnic recipes, Recipes, Shop to Lose, side dish

Sweet and Savory Saturday – Star Spangled 4th of July Fruit Platter

Celebrate the 4th of July with this simple patriotic display of fruit and cheese.

Simply patriotic – that’s the message conveyed by this quick and easy way to present fruit and cheese during your 4th of July celebration this year. Choose from an array of your favorite fresh fruits that naturally boast the colors of our great flag and serve them with a sweet and tangy lemon-coconut dip (recipe below) for that extra kick.  Complete the array by adding bite-sized cubes of different white cheeses, such as monterey jack, white cheddar, and mozzarella and you will have the perfect appetizer or after-dinner snack to serve to your guests.

Lemon-Coconut Fruit Dip

Ingredients

2 (6 ounce) containers of low-fat lemon yogurt

1/4 cup reduced-fat sour cream

1/3 cup unsweetened coconut flakes

3 TBS candied lemon peel

1 TBS honey

ground nutmeg (for garnish)

Preparation

Combine yogurt, sour cream, and honey in small bowl.  Fold in lemon peel and coconut flakes.  Garnish with a sprinkle of ground nutmeg.  Transfer to serving tray.

What is your favorite way to celebrate the 4th of July?  Share with us, we want to know?

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Filed under 4th of July, dessert, easy meals, fruit, healthy food, picnic recipes, Recipes

Putting it on the Plate with PICKKA – Lemon-Olive Oil Tuna Noodle Casserole

This healthier version of tuna noodle casserole relies on a lemon-olive oil dressing rather than a heavy cream base for flavor.

I came across the idea for this healthier version of tuna noodle casserole a few years back and, after a few tweaks here and there, have used it ever since as one of my “go-to” recipes when I’m in a pinch.  Most of the ingredients are staples found in the pantry and ice box so it is easy to throw together when you are short for time. 

By replacing the heavy cream base of the traditional tuna noodle casserole with a lemon juice-olive oil dressing, the saturated fat content of this meal can be reduced.  Although I am an advocate for using whole-grain pasta, for this particular dish I wanted a milder tasting noodle that would not compete with the other flavors.  Therefore, I used my Evincii/PICKKA’s “Eat This?” app for the iPhone to help me find a satisfactory alternative.  After entering my health objectives, I started scanning pasta products.  To my suprise, my choice for a milder tasting pasta fell into the “Good Choice” category as did its whole-grain counterpart.  I was content with my choice and felt reassured that it was a healthy alternative.

Lemon-Olive Oil Tuna Noodle Casserole

Ingredients

1 (14.4 ounce) box of farfalle pasta, cooked according to package directions

2 green onions, chopped

1 small yellow pepper, chopped

3/4 cup frozen peas, cooked according to package directions

1 (12 ounce) can of solid white albacore tuna packed in water, drained and broken into pieces

1/3 cup shredded parmesan cheese

Lemon-olive oil dressing (recipe below)*

Preparation: 

Rinse cooked pasta in cold water and drain.  Place pasta into a large bowl.  Add yellow pepper, green onion, peas, and tuna fish.  Mix to combine the ingredients.  Pour lemon-olive oil dressing over pasta mixture and toss to coat.  Sprinkle with parmesan cheese.  Serve with whole-grain bread.

*Lemon-Olive Oil Dressing:  In a small bowl wisk together 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil; 3 TBS lemon juice; 3 crushed cloves of garlic; 1 tsp white vinegar; 1/2 tsp of sea salt; 1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper.

What is your favorite way to eat tuna fish?  Share with us, we want to know!

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Filed under easy meals, Eat This?, healthy food, healthy pantry staples, homemade meals, PICKKA, Recipes

Putting it on the Plate with PICKKA – Easy Father’s Day Dessert

A broiled peach topped with reduced-fat ice cream makes for a healthier, yet sweetly satisfying, dessert.

I decided to get a little “peachy” with the Father’s Day dessert this year.  My choice? Broiled peaches with reduced-fat vanilla ice cream.  Why? I wanted to make something that could be prepared in individual servings to prevent overindulging on leftovers later (as would happen with me and a pie).  Yet, I wanted the dessert to be satisfying enough that there wasn’t a residing feeling of being “cheated” out of dessert.

I used my Evincii/PICKKA “Eat This?” app for the iPhone to help me find the right ice cream and granola for my goals.  My first choice for ice cream fell into the “Not Too Bad” category.  I wasn’t pleased with this.  I wanted an ice cream that fell into a healthier category because the main course would be higher in calories because of the special occasion.  Therefore, I used the “View Healthy Alternatives” option of the app and found an ice cream that was categorized as a “Good Choice.”  Next, I used my “Eat This?” app to find granola.  My choice fell in the “OK Choice,” but I saw on my app that three other consumers gave it a five star taste rating.  Because only 1 tsp would be served to each individual, I decided it was an acceptable choice, especially since other purchasers indicated it was tasty.

I decided to use fresh peaches, rather than canned.  Although most of the recipes that I have come across for broiled peaches require you to sprinkle sugar and/or butter on the peach halves prior to broiling, I decided against it.  I chose to rely on the natural sweetness of the peaches combined with the creaminess of the ice-cream to give appeal to this dessert.  Therefore, I broiled the peaches “au natural.”  Here is how I prepared the dessert:

Ingredients

  • 3 medium ripe peaches, cut in half, pits removed, and skin left on (use more peaches if serving more than 6 people; figure a 1/2 peach per person)
  • Reduced-fat vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt (enough for one scoop per person)
  • Reduced-fat Granola (1 tsp per person)
  • Cinnamon (enough for garnish)
  • Honey (about 1/2 TBS per person)

Preparation

Preheat the broiler.  Wash and pat dry peaches.  Carefully slice each peach in half and remove the pit.  Place peaches, cut-side up, on broiler pan lined with aluminum foil.  Place in the oven about 3 inches from the heat.  Cook until juices start to bubble and peaches are browned (about 3-5 minutes).  Remove from the oven.  Let cool for 3-5 minutes.  Place peaches on individual dessert plates.  Scoop reduced-fat vanilla ice cream on top of each peach half.  Sprinkle with cinnamon and granola.  Drizzle honey over the top.  Serve immediately.

What will you be serving for dessert this Father’s Day?  Will you use your “Eat This?” app to help you find the right ingredients?  Share with us, we want to know!

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Filed under dessert, easy meals, Eat This?, Father's Day, Father's Day Dessert, fruit, gourmet, healthy food, homemade meals, low-fat, men, PICKKA, Recipes

Nutritional Supplement or Glorified Candy Bar?

Whole foods are best, but when you are constantly on-the-go, that option is not always possible.  Enter meal replacement bars – the go-to source of nutrition of many that has gained in popularity in recent years.  And, for good reason – when you are about to debunk and are faced with choosing between an empty calorie, high-sodium, fat-ladened meal from a fast food restaurant or an enriched energy bar, the latter choice wins out.  Care needs to be taken, however, when choosing the best meal replacement bar for you.  With all of the different choices on the market today, this can prove to be a challenge.  How is one to know if their bar of choice is a good supplement to their diet or just a glorified candy bar?

Manufacturers of supplement bars strive to reach different consumer targets.  Usually, the label tells all.  Descriptors such as “low-carb,” “high-performance,” or “high-fiber” give an indication as for whom the bar is made and what nutritional “needs”  it is intended to meet.  Supplement bars basically fall under two main categories – meal replacement and performance.  Subcategories within these would include bars engineered to meet the needs of different gender and age groups (e.g., women, children, etc.,), and/or those individuals with special dietary requirements/preferences (e.g., “vegan,” “organic,” “gluten-free,” etc.,).

When choosing the best bar for you, consider the following:

  • Who are you buying the bar for? You? Your child?
  • What are your goals? Are  you looking to increase exercise performance? Do you want to build muscle mass? Lose weight? Run longer?
  • Is the bar to replace a regular meal or to act as a nutritional supplement in your diet or your child’s diet?

The descriptions below of what to expect from the different categories of bars may help you to select the one that meets your needs and goals.

Meal Replacement Bars

  • Individuals interested in using supplement bars as part of their weight loss program want to ensure that the bars provide a nutritional equivalent to what would be achieved by consuming a small meal composed of whole foods.  These bars should contain fiber (at least 3-5 grams) to provide a sense of fullness.  Diet bars should be relatively low in fat (no more than 5 grams), contain a moderate amount of protein (10-15 grams), and should be enriched with a third of your daily requirements for vitamins and minerals.
  • When choosing a bar that will be a nutritional supplement to fill-in any “gaps” that may be in your or your child’s diet, be wary of claims such as “real fruit,” “yogurt,” etc.,.  Read the label carefully because the source of “fruit” may actually be from juice concentrates and high-fructose corn syrup rather than real pieces of fruit.  And, the form of yogurt present typically does not contain the live, active cultures that help with digestive and immune function.  Also, use caution when deciding upon meal replacement bars that are dipped in chocolate or have chocolates swirls on top.  These “extras” usually come with a price – added sugar and fat in amounts that equate or exceed those found in candy bars.
  • To round out your nutritional needs or those of your child, serve a piece of fruit, some yogurt, or a glass of skim milk along with the meal replacement bar.

Performance Bars

  • Although there is a range, performance bars can contain a higher caloric content than diet bars targeted for weight loss in order to meet the increased energy needs of an active individual.
  • Supplement bars that target bodybuilders tend to have the highest protein content, around 20-30 grams.  Choose a bar that lists high-quality protein (whey, casein, or soy) as one of the main sources.
  • Athletes who are looking for an energy bar to consume prior to a moderate- to high-intensity workout should look for one that is high in carbohydrates (around 25-40 grams).  Avoid bars that are high in fat and fiber which can interfere with digestion and cause gastrointestinal distress.
  • Endurance athletes looking for a supplement bar to be consumed during a prolonged exercise session (longer than an hour) would benefit from bars that are high in quick digesting carbohydrates (glucose).  Ideally, these individuals want to consume 30-60 grams of carbohydrate per hour of exercise.
  • Energy bars consumed post-workout should be relatively high in carbohydrates (30 grams or more) to replenish energy stores and have a moderate amount of protein (10 grams) to aid in muscle tissue repair.

What to Look for in all Supplement Bars

  • The fat source should primarily come from mono- and poly-unsaturated fats such as whole-grains and nuts (e.g., oats, almonds, etc.,).  Avoid bars high in trans and saturated fats.
  • Limit bars sweetened with sugar alcohols which can lead to gastrointestinal upset.  Instead, choose bars that are sweetened with natural sugars (e.g., fruit purees, honey, etc.,).  Avoid bars made with high-fructose corn syrup and/or have simple sugars listed as the first or second ingredient.
  • Carbohydrates should come from complex sources (e.g., whole-grain oats, wheat bran, etc.,).  Avoid bars made with unrefined grains (e.g., white flour).
  • The protein should come from quality sources such as egg, soy, whey, and casein.

Meal replacement and performance bars are a convenient source of energy and can have a place in your and/or your child’s diet when chosen wisely.  Care should be taken to avoid going “overboard” on supplement bars.  Since many can contain mega amounts of carbohydrates and proteins, you are at risk for consuming more calories than you expend, which can lead to weight gain.  If you are considering using meal replacement bars, meeting with a dietitian can help you find the best one for your goals and nutritional needs.

Do you eat meal replacement bars?  Which ones are your favorites?  Share with us, we want to know!

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Sources for more Information

MedicineNet.com “Meal Replacements: Choose Those Bars and Drinks Carefully,” Zelman, K.

Running Times Magazine, April 2007, “Raising the Bar – How to find the best energy bar for you,” Eberle, S.G.

“Kids and On-the-Go Nutrition,” Gavin, M.L.

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Filed under children, diet, easy meals, energy bars, nutrition, nutritional supplement, snacks, weight loss

Putting it on the Plate with PICKKA – Chicken Salsa Soup

Using mostly canned ingredients, this "homemade" Chicken Salsa Soup can be made in a flash.

Several years ago, I visited a good friend with my one year-old son to have a “play date” with her five month-old son.  I vividly remember those days of trying to balance work and family life while being pregnant with my second child.  To me, at the time, it was a big accomplishment if I could have the diaper bag stocked and ready-to-go; so, when I arrived to her home and saw that she had homemade soup cooking on the stove for our lunch I was in awe.  I thought, “How was she able to do it?”.  Her secret was that she used mostly canned products.

The recipe she gave me for her Chicken Salsa Soup is one that I still use to this day.  Over the years, I have tweaked it to make it healthier.  To make this last batch, I chose to use my Evincii/PICKKA “Eat This?” app for the iPhone to see just how well I was doing with my health makeover of the original recipe.  I entered in my health objectives and scanned the barcodes of the products.  For my cheese selection I fell in the “not too bad” category, and although I could have found a cheese brand that put me into the “very good choice” I decided to keep my original selection because I knew it would taste better.  I was happy to see that my salsa selection fell into the “very good choice” category.  After reviewing the comments of the “Eat This?” app for my product selections, I think my health makeover of the original recipe was a success.  The recipe is as follows:

Chicken Salsa Soup

Ingredients

2 12.5 ounce cans of premium chunk chicken, drained

2 10 3/4 ounce cans of reduced-fat cream of chicken soup

1 11 ounce can of corn niblets, drained

1 15 ounce can of black beans – drained and rinsed

1 16 ounce jar of salsa or picante sauce

2 cups of skim milk

1 small chopped yellow onion

1/4 tsp garlic powder

1 TBS cumin

1 TBS lime juice

2 cups shredded reduced-fat cheese (chedder or mexican-style)

Preparation:

Combine all ingredients, except for the cheese, in a large stock pot and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally.  Reduce heat to low and add the cheese.  Stir frequently and cook until the cheese is melted.  Serve with whole-grain tortilla chips (Note: you may wish to garnish with extra shredded cheese, a dollop of reduced-fat sour cream, and chopped chives).

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Filed under easy meals, Eat This?, healthy food, low-fat, PICKKA, Recipes, soup

Simply Sunday

Welcome to Simply Sunday here at the Health and Food Forum’s Blog.  Today’s topic is “Healthy Kitchen Staples.”*  A well-stocked kitchen can help you meet your weight management and nutrition goals.  Packing your cupboards and icebox full of healthy food staples will provide you with the needed ingredients to prepare well-balanced, nutrient-dense meals.  A sufficiently prepared pantry can also aid in the creation of quick meals and snacks for those hectic, on-the-go days.  The healthy staples that you should have in your kitchen include:

Healthy Pantry Staples

  • Dried Beans:  These supply your body with protein, complex carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins, and minerals.  Furthermore, they are relatively low in fat and contain no cholesterol.  A diet that is abundant in this healthy staple can help to decrease cholesterol levels, improve blood sugar values, and lower the risk of certain cancers.  Dried lentils are a good choice if you are short on time because there is no need to soak them overnight before they can be cooked.
  • Whole-Grains:  The fiber content of this food group can help with weight management by providing a sensation of fullness with a consumption of fewer calories.  Whole grains are a low-fat source of protein and complex carbohydrates.  Quinoa is a good choice, especially for vegetarians, because it is a complete protein (contains all eight essential amino acids) and is a good source of iron.
  • Healthy Oils:  Although you should not consume a high-fat diet, your body does require a certain amount of fat to carry out numerous metabolic processes.  The type of fat you consume is important for optimal health.  You will want to stock your pantry with oils high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats and low in saturated fats.  Extra-virgin olive oil is a good choice because it has been shown to improve cholesterol levels and to protect against heart diseasae.
  • Spices:  Spices are an excellent way to add flavor to dishes without adding extra salt, sugar, and fat.  Cinnamon has been linked to improved fasting blood sugar levels in diabetics.  Sprinkle it over your morning oatmeal or use it as a flavoring for roasted nuts.  Turmeric has anti-inflammatory properties.  Use it to flavor brown rice or other whole-grain dishes.
  • Canned Tuna:  Albacore tuna fish is an excellent source of protein and contains heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.  Purchase low-sodium cans of tuna and rinse with water prior to consuming to reduce sodium content.  Mix a can of tuna fish with whole-grain pasta for a quick lunch.
  • Canned Tomatoes:  This pantry staple can be used to make salsas, sauces, and soups.  It also makes a great topping for baked potatoes and omelets.  Thanks to the lycopene content, canned tomatoes offer protection against certain cancers (lung, colon, breast, prostate, and skin) and they have been linked to a reduced the risk of heart disease.
  • Nut and Seed Butters:  A great source of protein, nut and seed butters can be spread on whole-grain bread, mixed with hot cereal, or used in sauces to top whole-grain noodles or rice.

Healthy Icebox Staples

  • Soybeans (Edamame):  Soybeans are an excellent source of protein, unsaturated fat, and fiber.  Edamame can be tossed in a mixed-greens salad or eaten alone as a healthy snack.
  • Frozen Fruits and Vegetables: These icebox staples are a great source of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals.  They also help with weight management due to their fiber content.  Frozen fruit can be used to make smoothies and frozen vegetables can be added to soups and sauces.

Healthy eating requires planning and preparation.  By keeping your pantry and icebox stocked with staples that can be easily and quickly turned into meals, you increase your chances of adhering to a healthy lifestyle.

*Today’s post was adapted from Simply Fit’s “Kitchen Staple Essentials for the Physically Active” posted on November 5, 2009.

Resources

The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods, 2005, Murray, M

“How to Build a Healthy Pantry For Busy People,” December 8, 2008, Van Sunder, T.

Food for Fitness, Eat Right to Train Right, 2004, Carmichael, C.

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Filed under easy meals, health, healthy food, healthy pantry staples, nutrition