Comfort baking with a healthier twist

By Elise Harlow, clinical dietitian at CHOC Children’s

With more free time on our hands this summer than most, many of us have turned to baking to provide some comforting treats for ourselves and our families. Baking at home is not only a great way to experiment with new recipes, but also a good time to get the kids in the kitchen. Having your kids bake with you in age appropriate ways can help them learn to cook, get familiar with new foods and maybe even practice some math and reading skills by helping follow a recipe. Most comforting treats do a lot to satisfy our soul but little to satisfy our nutrient needs. Here’s some recipes for comforting treats with a twist so we can feel both satisfied and nourished!

Whole wheat banana bread muffins

This banana bread muffin recipe uses mostly whole wheat flour with a small amount of white flour. By using whole wheat flour, you get an added fiber boost!

Yields: 12 muffins

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 5 tablespoons melted coconut oil
  • ¼ cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 large egg whites, at room temperature
  • 1 ½ cups mashed very ripe banana (about 3 large bananas)
  • ½ cup chopped walnuts, optional

Instructions:

  1. Position an oven rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees F. Line a 12-cup muffin pan with paper liners. Whisk together the whole-wheat flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder, cinnamon, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl.
  2. Whisk together the coconut oil, brown sugar, maple syrup, vanilla and egg whites in a separate medium bowl until well combined. Stir in the mashed banana. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and stir until combined. Stir in the chopped walnuts if using.
  3. Fill the lined muffin cups about three-quarters of the way with the batter (a generous 1/4 cup in each; see Cook’s Note). Bake on the center rack until a cake tester or toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean, about 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool 10 minutes, then remove the muffins to a wire rack to cool completely.
  4. Cook’s Note – when measuring flour, spoon it into a dry measuring cup and level off excess. Scooping directly from the bag compacts the flour, resulting in dry baked goods. A cookie or ice cream scoop makes it easier to portion the batter.

Recipe courtesy of Food Network

Vegan banana bread

For those of us running low on butter and eggs, this vegan banana bread recipe is for you!

Yield: 1 loaf (8 servings)

Ingredients:

  • 1 ¼ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3 very ripe bananas, mashed (about 1 ¼ cup)
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • ½ cup plain soy-milk yogurt (Note: if you do not need this recipe to be 100% vegan, you can use regular plain yogurt)
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line the bottom and two long sides of a 9-by-5-by-3-inch loaf pan with parchment, leaving a 2-inch overhang on each long side, and lightly coat with cooking spray.
  2. Whisk the flour, baking soda and salt together in a medium bowl. Whisk the bananas, sugar, yogurt, oil and vanilla together in another medium bowl. Gently fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients with a rubber spatula until the batter just comes together (it’s OK if there are lumps). Transfer the batter to the prepared loaf pan and bake until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 55 to 60 minutes; tent the loaf with foil if it is browning too quickly. Cool the loaf in the pan on a wire rack for 30 minutes, then lift it from the pan by the parchment overhangs and cool completely on the rack. Store the loaf in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days.

Recipe courtesy of Food Network

Blueberry pancakes

These pancakes use oatmeal instead of flour for extra fiber and protein, and the blueberries add some e extra vitamin C.

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 2 ripe bananas
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ cup quick oats
  • ½ cup blueberry

Instructions:

  1. Mash bananas in a large bowl until smooth. Mix in eggs and vanilla until well combined, then mix in oats. Fold in blueberries carefully.
  2. Heat a skillet to medium and add in a scoop of the pancake batter. Smooth out to form an even layer. Cook for about 2-3 minutes until you start to see bubbles releasing from the top of the batter. Flip and cook until the other side is golden brown, about 1-2 minutes.
  3. Garnish your pancakes with your favorite toppings! (We used Greek yogurt, granola, fresh blueberries and maple syrup.

Recipe courtesy of Tasty

White bean chocolate chip cookies

Don’t let the beans in this recipe scare you! By using these mild tasting beans, there is less butter and more fiber and protein than regular chocolate chip cookies.

Yield: about 2 ½ dozen cookies

Ingredients:

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • ¾ cup packed dark brown sugar
  • ½ cup cooked or canned cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
  • 2 large eggs at room temperature
  • 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. In a bowl, beat together butter and sugar until smooth and fluffy. Meanwhile, put the beans in a food processor; add the maple syrup and puree until very smooth.
  3. Add the bean mixture to the creamed butter in the bowl of the stand mixer and beat on medium speed until completely smooth, stopping and scraping down the bowl with a rubber spatula several times, about three to four minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well between additions; add the vanilla and mix until combined. Scrape down the bowl. Don’t worry if the mixture looks curdled; it will smooth out when you add the dry ingredients.
  4. Meanwhile, sift the flour, baking soda and salt together into a bowl. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the flour mixture and mix until just combined. Remove the bowl from the mixer and stir in the chocolate chips. Drop heaping tablespoonfuls of dough onto the prepared pans, spacing them about 2 inches apart. Bake until the cookies begin to turn golden around the edges, about 10 to 12 minutes; do not overbake. Remove the cookies from the oven and cool for at least 10 minutes on the pan before transferring them to a rack to cool completely.

Recipe courtesy of Food Network

Brownies

This brownie recipe uses less butter than standard recipes. The secret is the applesauce, which you would never guess is in there and provides extra vitamin C and fiber!

Yield: 16 brownies

Ingredients

  • ¼ cup butter, softened
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking cocoa
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 cup applesauce

Topping

  • ½ cup chocolate chips
  • ½ cup chopped walnuts or pecans
  • 1 tablespoon sugar

Instructions

  1. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar. Beat in egg. Combine the flour, cocoa, baking soda and cinnamon; gradually add to creamed mixture and mix well. Stir in applesauce. Pour into an 8-in. square baking pan coated with cooking spray.
  2. Combine topping ingredients; sprinkle over batter. Bake at 350° for 25 minutes or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack. Cut into squares.

Recipe courtesy of Taste of Home

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Recipes to make with kids during quarantine

By Kristin Cheng, registered dietitian at CHOC Children’s

Current shelter-in-place orders have changed so much about our day-to-day lives, including how we navigate cooking. Many families are eating at home more often, making shorter grocery trips, and finding more creative ways to utilize limited ingredients. This extra time with kids at home can serve as a great opportunity to involve your little ones with hands-on cooking and meal prep.

Get out your chef hats! Here are some of our favorite kid-friendly recipes to transform your quarantine days into a fun family activity —with a delicious treat as a bonus:

No-bake frozen yogurt berry granola treats

yogurtcups

Ingredients:

  • 4 tablespoons peanut butter
  • 4 tablespoons honey
  • 2 cups granola
  • 2 ½ cups Greek yogurt, any flavor
  • ½ cup berries or dark chocolate chunks for garnish
  • Mint for garnish, optional

Directions:

  1. Heat peanut butter and honey in the microwave for 30 seconds, or until melted.
  2. Pour into a medium sized bowl and stir to combine with granola.
  3. Divide mixture evenly into 12 lined muffin cups. Press firmly to the bottom.
  4. Top each cup with yogurt, divided evenly.
  5. Garnish with toppings of choice.
  6. Cover tightly with foil and freeze for at least two hours.
  7. Keep frozen and thaw for a few minutes before eating.

Recipe courtesy of Tasty.

Mini egg frittatas

minieggfrittatas

Ingredients:

  • 8 large eggs
  • ½ cup whole milk
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ⅓ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup fillings of choice: finely chopped or sliced ham, chicken, mushrooms, bell peppers, onions, spinach, olives, parsley, tomato

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
  2. Spray two muffin tins with nonstick spray.
  3. Whisk eggs, milk, black pepper, and salt in a large bowl.
  4. Stir in cheese and desired fillings.
  5. Pour mixture into each muffin tin to about ¾ full. This will allow some room for the egg to puff up.
  6. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until the egg puffs up.
  7. Use a rubber spatula to remove the muffin cups from the tin.

Recipe adapted from Food Network.

DIY pizza

homemadepizza

Ingredients:

Pizza dough:

  • 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
  • 1 cup warm water (120°-130°F)
  • 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour, plus some extra for rolling dough
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil

You can also use any premade 12” pizza crust, pita bread or naan bread as a crust substitute.

Toppings:

  • ⅓ cup tomato sauce
  • 2 cups shredded mozzarella or Monterey Jack cheese
  • 2 cups toppings of choice: mushrooms, bell peppers, zucchini, onion, olives, tomatoes, jalapeno peppers, pineapple, pepperoni, chicken, ham, basil, garlic, artichokes, etc.

Directions:

  1. Add yeast and water to a large mixing bowl. Stir once to activate yeast and let it sit for five minutes.
  2. Add flour, salt and olive oil. Mix until a dough is formed and knead on a floured surface for two minutes.
  3. Place in a greased bowl and turn to fully coat in oil. Cover and let it rise for 20 minutes.
  4. Preheat the oven to 400°F as you wait for the dough to rise.
  5. After 20 minutes, place the dough on a flat surface and roll into a 12” circle. Place on a 12” greased pizza pan.
  6. Spread tomato sauce evenly on the crust.
  7. Sprinkle cheese evenly atop the tomato sauce.
  8. Add desired toppings.
  9. Bake for 20 minutes or until the cheese is bubbling or turning brown and the crust is starting to crisp.

Recipe adapted from Food.

Spring rolls

springrolls

Wrap:

  • 2 oz. rice vermicelli
  • 8 rice wrappers (8.5” diameter)
  • 8 large cooked shrimps – peeled, deveined and cut in half or 1 cup cooked chicken, shredded
  • ½ cup raw carrots, chopped
  • 1 ⅓ tablespoons fresh Thai basil, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons fresh mint leaves, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 2 lettuce leaves, chopped

Fish sauce:

  • 4 teaspoons fish sauce
  • ¼ cup water
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons white sugar
  • ½ teaspoons garlic chili sauce, optional

Hoisin peanut sauce:

  • 3 tablespoons hoisin sauce
  • 1 teaspoon fine chopped peanuts

Directions:

  1. Boil water in a medium saucepan. Boil rice vermicelli for three to five minutes or until al dente and drain.
  2. Fill a large 10” plate with a thin layer of water. Dip both sides of the rice wrapper for one second on each side to soften. Lay wrapper flat on another clean plate.
  3. In a row across the center, place two shrimp halves (or shredded chicken), a handful of rice vermicelli, carrots, basil, mint, cilantro and lettuce. With the row laying horizontally, fold the bottom side inward, followed by the left and right sides. Slowly roll the wrap upward to seal completely.
  4. Mix sauce ingredients in two separate small bowls.
  5. Dip wraps into sauce and enjoy!

Recipe adapted from Allrecipes.

Zucchini fries

zucchinifries

Ingredients:

Fries:

  • 2 zucchinis, cut into 3-inch pieces
  • 1 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • ½ cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 eggs

Dip:

  • 1 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons fresh chives
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 425°F.
  2. Cut zucchini into 3-inch pieces.
  3. In a large bowl combine panko breadcrumbs, parmesan, garlic powder, basil, salt and pepper.
  4. Whisk eggs in a shallow bowl.
  5. Dip zucchini in eggs, coating evenly, and then toss in bread crumb mixture.
  6. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
  7. Bake for 15-20 minutes, flipping halfway.
  8. While fries are baking, combine all dip ingredients in a small bowl and set aside in the refrigerator.
  9. Dip and enjoy!

Recipe courtesy of Taste.

Berry banana smoothie

berrybananasmoothie

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup frozen mixed berries
  • 1 frozen ripe banana
  • 1/2 cup low-fat vanilla yogurt
  • 1 cup milk, or dairy-free alternative
  • 1-2 tablespoons honey optional

Note: if using fresh fruit, add ice

Directions:

  1. Add all ingredients into the blender and puree until smooth. Serve immediately.

Recipe adapted from Food Network.

Rainbow fruit kabobs

rainbowfruitkabobs

  1. Cut an assortment of fruits. Some examples include pineapples, grapes, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, watermelon, apples, tangerines, honeydew, cantaloupe, kiwi and bananas.
  2. Arrange fruit on skewer sticks.

Bugs on a log

bugsonalog

Ingredients:

  • Celery stalks, cut into 3” pieces
  • Spread: peanut butter, Greek yogurt, or hummus
  • Toppings or “bugs” — raisins, cranberries, blueberries, peas, black beans or diced peppers

Directions:

  1. Place desired spread along the groove of celery stalk.
  2. Top it off with “bugs” of choice.
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A dietitian’s tips on flexible meal planning during COVID-19

By Alexia Hall, clinical dietitian at CHOC Children’s

Trips to the grocery store, while essential, are not the first thing anyone wants to do right now. Knowing in advance what is in the pantry and using some helpful meal planning tools will make good use of the food ingredients you have on hand, allow for less shopping overall and dramatically decrease food bills.

Stifling to a cook’s creativity is the sometimes-overwhelming amount of clutter in the back of the pantry. Multiples of similar items are often bought on sale to save for a future meal. Also, highly possible are the extra purchases made while caught up in the “fever” of the first few weeks of social distancing. Sometimes a disorganized pantry can be years in the making and may even result in a few science projects hiding in dark corners! In any event, a messy pantry makes it tough to figure out what to cook. The first order of business is to figure out what is there and establish some order. Once that is done, the internet abounds with ideas on what to do with the odd can of beans or the lonely mushrooms and wilting spinach hiding in the back of the fridge!

To help with taking an inventory, some find it easiest to just take everything out and spread it around the kitchen counters. Food with expired dates should be tossed. Products that have “sell by” or “best if used by” dates on them are different from expired dates. According to the USDA, sell by/best by dates are not an indicator of the product’s safety, while expired dates are a safety indicator. Manufacturers use “best if used by” dates to help consumers and retailers decide when the food is of the best quality and whether the taste or texture could be affected if dates are past due. These rules apply unless it is infant formula, which should always be tossed if any of the recommended dates have passed. When in doubt, or when it is unclear what type of date is on the package, err on the side of caution and throw out if past the date.

Here are some examples of commonly used phrases, according to the USDA:

  • A “Best if Used By/Before” date indicates when a product will be of best flavor or quality. It is not a purchase or safety date.
  • A “Sell-By” date tells the store how long to display the product for sale for inventory management. It is not a safety date.
  • A “Use-By” date is the last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality. It is not a safety date except for when used on infant formula.
  • A “Freeze-By” date indicates when a product should be frozen to maintain peak quality. It is not a purchase or safety date.

After tossing out the old and expired items, combining all like items in single packages will also help to control clutter. If there is large number of any one item, such as a case of beans, consider leaving just two cans with the oldest expiration dates in the pantry and storing the rest in a box in a closet or a garage. Clearing away these extras will help to easily see what is on hand and it will also allow for planning in a more focused way.

Tips for taking a pantry inventory:

There are a variety of free or paid smartphone apps, such as Pantry Check or Cooklist, that will keep track of pantry items, as well as organize grocery lists and favorite recipes in a highly functional way. Some of these apps have the ability to use the phone camera as a barcode scanner to drop items into the inventory. There are also a variety of free printable forms online to help you take a pantry inventory. Any method chosen should keep track of the following basics:

Pantry

  • Baking supplies such as flour or sugar
  • Broth
  • Beverages
  • Canned goods
  • Fresh items such as fruit, bread or tomatoes
  • Grains such as cereals, rice, pasta or quinoa
  • Herbs and spices
  • Oils and vinegars
  • Sauces and mixes

Refrigerator

  • Dairy
  • Alternative dairy
  • Cheese
  • Condiments
  • Eggs
  • Fruits
  • Lunch meats
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Vegetables

Freezer

  • Desserts
  • Fish
  • Frozen fruit
  • Frozen vegetables
  • Meats — beef or pork
  • Poultry — chicken or turkey
  • Pre-made meals (note the type and date)
  • Bread

Remember to spell out the quantity and type of each item to help give the inventory list the useful information needed. This new completed tool will help to use non-perishable items in an efficient way, limiting grocery store visits to just the produce aisle while efficiently using the items already in your pantry.

Finding recipes for what you have on hand:   

Once everything is out on the counters, it might be easy to look at the ingredients and plan meals around them, finding a use for each one. Alternatively, here are several other sites that allow for an online recipe search that filters for the ingredients on hand:

  • Allrecipes Dinner Spinner — a free mobile phone app for both Android and iPhone that allows filtering ability as well as the ability to create custom collections to organize, store or share recipes
  • Fridgetotable.com — a website that allows you to select a main ingredient and add other popular ingredients according to what you have on hand
  • MyRecipes.com — offers the ability to search through the recipes in the Cooking Light magazine
  • Supercook — a website and app that allows you to add the main ingredient in the search area and then sort the results listed by the highest-rated recipes or the percentage of users who would make it again
  • Tasty.co — set filters for ingredients, mealtimes and dietary restrictions
  • Yummly.com — recipe recommendations personalized to your tastes, a digital recipe box, a shopping list, and an option for grocery delivery

Making up a recipe on the spot with the ingredients on hand is also an option, depending on the family’s tolerance level of different flavors. Using a few specific tips to modify basic recipe templates can easily work out. Consider these three ideas:

 Soups:

Soups are great because they are an easy way to use up vegetables on hand while pairing them with animal or plant-based proteins for a complete and balanced meal. One of the most important tips to making a good soup is to “sweat” the aromatic vegetables first. Onions, garlic, ginger or celery should be sautéed in a little olive oil before adding the broth, tomatoes or water. This softens them and releases their aromatic flavors. Cooking the more fibrous vegetables in the broth first and then adding the more tender vegetables at the end (such as dark leafy greens that require less cooking times) will help to ensure that all vegetables are finished cooking at the same time. Raw meats and pastas can be added for a long simmer time to cook in the broth or can be added precooked at the end.

Slow cookers:

One beautiful thing about slow cooker dinners is the “fix it and forget it” idea. One tip is to brown the meat before adding it to the slow cooker, which can increase the overall flavor of the dish. Just like soups, you can add a variety of vegetables according to what you have. Place the longer cooking, more fibrous vegetables like potatoes, carrots and other roots at the bottom of the slow cooker where they will have the chance to cook faster. Add fresh herbs close to the end of cooking times to keep their flavor fresh. On the other hand, consider cooking large batches of chicken, beef or pork in a slow cooker with just mild flavors like broth, salt and pepper so that they can be easily divided into batches and modified later for more specific flavors.

Frittatas:

Why not have breakfasts for dinner? Frittatas are so easy to make and are a perfect use for any fresh or frozen vegetable. It’s a good idea to precook vegetables before adding the eggs, as the raw vegetables will release too much water and won’t cook fast enough before the eggs are done. A good ratio to use is about four eggs to each cup of raw vegetables. Consider sautéing the vegetables in an ovenproof pan and cooking off or draining any excess liquid. Once tender, add your spices and salt and pepper. Add the whisked eggs and then finish cooking in the oven watching closely for the frittata to puff up, being careful not to overcook. Do not add fresh herbs or tender tomatoes until the dish is out of the oven.

A note about making substitutions:

You may need to get a little creative if you are trying to use what you have instead of going to the store. Here are a few substitutions to remember:

  • Italian seasoning — substitute with pantry staples such as oregano, basil, parsley, salt and pepper.
  • Buttermilk — mix 1 cup of any regular milk, or nondairy milk, with 1 tablespoon of vinegar or 1 tablespoon lemon juice, and wait 10 minutes for the milk to curdle.
  • Eggs — ¼ cup of applesauce, ½ banana or other fruit puree will do as a substitute for each egg, and so will 1 tablespoon of chia seed soaked in 3 tablespoons of water for five minutes.
  • Olive oil can be substituted for butter in a 1:1 ratio, though flavor considerations are important depending on what you are making.
  • When it comes to spices, experimentation is fine, but you should start with small doses and increase to your taste slowly. You can always add more later, but it is impossible to take it out if you have added too much.

Using up the items in the pantry will help free up space, both physically and mentally. Going through this cleansing process will eventually allow for more creativity and efficiency, and maybe even a little more freedom in the kitchen. Creating a flexible pantry will make a healthy lifestyle just that much easier to maintain and restock once social distancing requirements are lifted.

And finally, consider donations with any extras to a food pantry in your neighborhood, as most are very impacted right now. Making extra food items into gifts for someone less fortunate is another thoughtful way to make good use of these items.

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A registered dietitian’s tips for a healthy heart

By Carol Peng, a registered dietitian at CHOC Children’s

Increasing healthy lifestyle and awareness is a common theme in New Year’s resolutions. February is American Heart Month, and it’s a great opportunity month to focus on this resolution. Focusing on adopting healthy lifestyles can help prevent cardiovascular disease.

Here are six tips for heart healthy eating:

  1. Watch for portions and serving sizes –Using a smaller plate or bowl during meal or snack time can help limit food intake. Measuring cups and spoons can help us be more precise and intentional about the portions we are consuming.
  2. Increase fruits and vegetable intake –Fruits and vegetable are loaded with antioxidants, essential vitamins and minerals that truly nourish our bodies. They are also full of fiber to prolong the feeling of fullness.  
  3. Choose whole grain for more fiber – Fiber is proven to decrease bad cholesterol and prevent heart disease. If you have not already, perhaps this can be the year to try out some new grains like quinoa, barley, bulgur, farro or couscous. People with Celiac disease or gluten sensitivity have to be careful with wheat. Gluten-free products are recommended.
  4. Choose high-quality proteins – Good protein sources include skinless poultry, fish, eggs, legumes, nuts and There are biophysical and environmental benefits to choosing plant-based protein.
  5. Know your fats – Eliminate trans fats from your diet because they are known to increase bad cholesterol and put you at risk for cardiovascular disease. Trans fats are commonly found in fried foods and baked goods. sa Most trans fats come from processed hydrogenated fats, so avoid food products with ingredients such as partially hydrogenated oils. Choose good fats like monounsaturated fats such as olive oil or canola oil, or polyunsaturated fats that are, found in certain fish, avocados, nuts and Be mindful of how much fat is contributing to your daily total calorie intake.
  6. Limit sodium intake – The American Heart Association recommends less than one teaspoon of salt, 2300 mg of sodium in general, and ideally less than 1500 mg of sodium per day for adults. Sodium intake is associated with high blood pressure. To cut down on sodium intake, avoiding canned foods, frozen dinners and processed foods. Cook with fresh or dried herbs as a healthier alternative.

This month, we have the excitement of several events that may call for social gathering and planning. Here are some easy heart healthy snack ideas for your Superbowl Sunday and Oscar viewing parties:

  1. Crackerwiches – For these mini sandwiches with crackers, add a little bit of peanut butter and banana, or mustard with low-sodium canned tuna, on whole grain crackers.
  2. Yogurt sundae – Dress up a cup of low-fat yogurt (without added sugar) by topping it with crushed whole-wheat cereal, blueberries, strawberries or unsalted sunflower seeds.
  3. Dark chocolate duo – Dip half a banana in melted dark chocolate, then cool it in the refrigerator. Dark chocolate covered almonds is another good choice.
  4. Edamame with lemon – They are naturally low in sodium and easy to cook.
  5. Air pop popcorn – Air pop your own popcorn and toss it in honey and cinnamon for a sweet flavor or drizzle a little butter or olive oil and grated parmesan cheese for a savory flavor.
  6. Hummus dip – A plate with different vegetable and hummus.

As we settle into the new year, it is tempting to reach for those heart-shaped chocolates sold everywhere in beautiful bright red boxes around Valentine’s Day. While it does not hurt to indulge and reward ourselves once a while after a long day, it is important to maintain and sustain a healthy lifestyle and diet as we juggle many different responsibilities and roles.

Related posts:

  • Comfort baking with a healthier twist
    By Elise Harlow, clinical dietitian at CHOC Children’s With more free time on our hands this summer than most, many of us have turned to baking to provide some comforting treats for ...
  • Tips for supporting your immune system through nutrition
    By Rebecca Janda, registered dietitian at CHOC Children’s While practicing good hand hygiene and following guidelines set out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are the best ways ...
  • Recipes to make with kids during quarantine
    By Kristin Cheng, registered dietitian at CHOC Children’s Current shelter-in-place orders have changed so much about our day-to-day lives, including how we navigate cooking. Many families are eating at home more ...

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Winter squash: Benefits, tips and recipes

By Kristen Miller, registered dietitian at CHOC Children’s

Winter squash appears in the supermarket during the fall and winter months. They come in many varieties and are often characterized by their thick, hefty rinds and bulky appearance. While the tough exterior may appear intimidating, it also gives the fruit a long shelf life. Winter squash can be stored in a cool, dry place for up to three months!

Various winter squash varieties share the health benefits of being  low in calories, fat and cholesterol and high in fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Three common winter squash varieties found in most supermarkets include acorn squash, butternut squash and spaghetti squash. Here are some of my go-to tips for choosing the right squash and preparing it, as well as a favorite recipe.

Acorn squash

Acorn squash has a distinct acorn-like shape and has a mild, buttery-sweet flavor. Choose acorn squash with a dull dark green color, firm rind and smooth exterior. Avoid any that are yellow or orange. The fruit is packed with nutrients, and is specifically high in vitamin C, thiamine and magnesium.

If the rind is too tough to cut, try microwaving for a short time to soften the exterior. Acorn squash can be roasted, sautéed, made into soups or even baked into pies.

Butternut squash

Butternut squash can be spotted by its bell shape and has a sweet nutty flavor. Choose butternut squash that has a tan-yellow rind. If you want a slightly sweeter flavor, choose one that is darker orange. But be careful, darker means riper! Make sure to check for soft spots or bruising, as this would indicate rot. The fruit is high in vitamin A, vitamin C and magnesium.

To make butternut squash easier to maneuver, cut the neck and work with the two halves separately. If you want to avoid the knife and cutting board all-together, many popular winter squash varieties, including butternut squash, can be found pre-peeled and cubed. The versatile nature of butternut squash caters to both savory and sweet lovers.

Spaghetti squash

Spaghetti squash has an oblong shape and a very mild flavor. The common supermarket varieties have a yellow rind. Choose a firm spaghetti squash that does not have any bruising. Once cooked, the flesh of spaghetti squash can be fluffed with a fork to form noodle-like strands that resemble spaghetti. The fruit is a good source of vitamin C, manganese and vitamin B-6.

Use the “noodles” mixed with your favorite spaghetti sauce for a vitamin-packed pasta alternative, turn the squash into a burrito bowl, or use in casseroles. See the recipe below for a savory dish that requires minimal ingredients and very little prep work!

3-Ingredient Twice-Baked Spaghetti Squash Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 spaghetti squash (medium size)
  • ½-1 cup pasta sauce (adjust according to preference)
  • ½- 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese (adjust according to preference)
  • Salt and pepper (to taste)
  • Optional: fresh garlic (fresh chopped basil , dried oregano or Italian seasoning)

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Carefully cut spaghetti squash in half lengthwise (before cutting, consider softening in microwave for a few minutes). Remove and discard seeds. Place spaghetti squash cut side down on baking sheet. Bake for 45 minutes or until a fork can pierce the shell easily.
  3. Remove from oven. With a fork, loosen and separate spaghetti squash strands from shell. Reserve shells.
  4. Place strands in a bowl. Mix strands with pasta sauce (and additional spices, if you wish). Spoon mixture back into the empty shell(s). Sprinkle with mozzarella cheese.
  5. Bake for 7-9 minutes or until cheese is melted, bubbly, and slightly browned. Spoon and serve directly from shell.

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