Eating Healthy at the Movies

If you’re like me, you’re probably looking forward to seeing at least one Oscar contender or blockbuster movie before the end of the year.   While I must point out that engaging in activities that don’t involve sitting, such as bowling or dancing, confer more health benefits than sitting in a dark theater, I won’t fault anyone who wants to enjoy a good movie every now and then.  Since sitting in a movie theater doesn’t burn many calories, it’s up to you to make your movie-watching experience as healthy as possible.  And that usually means steering away from the high-calorie and high-fat options lurking at the concession stand.

Your best option for healthy snacking at the movies, if you can get away with it, is to bring your own snacks.  Good movie snacks meet the requirements of any healthy snack:  they contain fewer than 200 calories; are minimally processed; include fiber and protein to fill you up; and are low in sugar, salt, and fat.  You might also want to consider packing snacks that can be eaten quietly – you don’t want to be that person the entire theater can hear munching away!  Here are some good movie theater snacks to pack:

  • 2 cups air-popped popcorn with one tablespoon grated parmesan cheese
  • Homemade trail mix: two tablespoons almonds, one tablespoon raisins, and one teaspoon semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 15 Wheat Thins and a string cheese
  • Kashi granola bar and 15 grapes
  • ¾ cup high-fiber cereal
  • ½ cup whole grain pretzels and a hummus dipping cup
  • PB&J sandwich on whole wheat bread

If you must give into buying a snack at the theater, better choices include:

  • Unbuttered, lightly salted popcorn
  • Soft pretzel with mustard
  • Peanut M&Ms
  • Junior Mints

Since everything is jumbo-sized at the movies, try and keep calories down by eating before you go, so you’ll be tempted to eat less concession-stand junk food; ordering the smallest size possible (it’s okay to ask for “kid-sized”); sharing your treats with a friend; refraining from eating after the movie has started; and filling up with water to help you feel fuller quicker.

I hope you’re able to enjoy a few good movies, as well as everything else that goes along with the holiday season.  The WellMASS blog will be taking a break the next two weeks, but I’ll be back with lots of healthy tips in the new year!

Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Green Tea

I’ve been drinking a lot of green tea lately – and it’s not just because it’s getting colder outside.  Green tea is a nutritional powerhouse – a true superfood, if you will.  It contains extremely high levels of catechins, antioxidants that fight, and possibly even prevent, cell damage.  The catechins in green tea have also been shown to help stabilize blood sugar in diabetics and lower cholesterol and blood pressure.  Since green tea does contain caffeine (albeit in lower levels than coffee or soda), it’s best to limit your intake to less than five cups per day.   Green tea isn’t just for drinking, though – it’s also commonly found in powdered form (called matcha), which lends itself well to cooking and baking.

 Matcha- and Pistachio-Crusted Halibut

Ingredients
½ cup raw unsalted pistachios
1 ½ teaspoons matcha (green tea) powder
½ teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons dry breadcrumbs
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted, plus more for parchment paper
½ teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
4 5-ounce skinless Pacific halibut fillets or other firm-fleshed white fish

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400°.
  2. Place pistachios on a small rimmed baking sheet; toast until browned in spots, about 3 minutes. Let cool.
  3. Grind pistachios, matcha, and sugar in a food processor until nuts are coarsely chopped, about 15 seconds.
  4. Add breadcrumbs, melted butter, and lemon zest; process until combined (but not a paste), about 10 seconds. Season topping to taste with pepper.
  5. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper; grease paper with butter.
  6. Season fish all over with pepper.  Pat ¼ of nut mixture evenly on top of each fillet. Place fillets on prepared sheet.   Bake until just opaque in center, 8–10 minutes.

Recipe from Bon Appetit

 

Green Tea Infused with Apples and Cinnamon

Ingredients
3 cups water
1 green tea bag
½ stalk (bottom portion) lemongrass
3 apples, peeled, cored, and chopped
1 cinnamon stick

Instructions

  1. Bring water to a gentle boil in a small saucepan.
  2. Turn off heat and add tea bag.
  3. Bruise lemongrass with the back of the blade of a chef’s knife and add it to the pan. Let steep for 30 minutes, and then pour tea through a fine-mesh sieve into a clean saucepan.
  4. Add apples and cinnamon and bring to a boil over high heat. Turn down heat and simmer until apples are fork tender, about 6 minutes.
  5. Using a slotted spoon, remove and discard cinnamon stick and apples. Pour tea into cups or mugs and serve right away.  Serves 3.

Recipe from Nature’s Market Basket magazine, November 2014, p. 19.

Have a Stress-Free Holiday Season!

If your first reaction to the title of this post is, “That’s impossible!,” you’re not alone.  The holidays are a stressful time for many people, and they impact many aspects of our lives – financial, emotional, social, physical, and spiritual, to name a few.  While I don’t have a magical solution to get rid of your holiday stressors, I do have some ideas on how to manage them – and your life in general – so they don’t seem like stressors at all.

My main solution to managing the stress that accompanies this time of year is to make my everyday life as happy as possible by enjoying everything good that comes along with the season.  Since this is such a busy time, it’s also helpful for me to simplify my life and make time to take care of myself – because, after all, what fun will the holidays be (for me, and everyone around me) if I’m sick, tired, and all-around miserable?  Below are a few strategies I’ve used to manage my stress around the holidays, as well as a few new ones that I’m planning on trying this year.  Here’s to a happy, healthy holiday season!

 

  • Aim for at least 30 minutes of low-impact exercise each day. Exercise produces endorphins, feel-good hormones that help counteract the negative effects of stress.
  • Purchase – and use – a yoga DVD. Yoga is a great way to relieve stress, and you can do it in the comfort of your own home!  If you’re new to the yoga world, try starting with the Hatha form of yoga, as it involves slow and controlled movements and is easy for beginners.
  • Go to bed one hour earlier than normal. Not getting enough sleep can leave you tired (obviously), cranky, hungry, prone to emotional eating, and more likely to get sick.
  • Make your beverages decaf – and non-alcoholic. Coffee and alcohol are stimulants, which means they can make you jittery and disrupt your sleep patterns, so you’re less likely to have a restful night’s sleep (see above).
  • Take a relaxing hot shower or bath for 20 minutes. Hot showers relax your muscles, while in turn relaxing your mind.
  • Spend time doing one fun activity or hobby that you enjoy. Remember to take care of yourself, too!
  • Get a massage. See above.  What better way to take care of yourself than by getting a relaxing massage?
  • Shop smart – go to the mall during the week instead of the weekend to do holiday shopping. A trip to the mall is a lot less stressful when the stores aren’t crowded!
  • Perform deep breathing exercises. Like yoga, deep breathing will help reduce your stress levels.  All you need to do is take a few deep breaths from your belly (making sure that your belly goes OUT as you breathe in, and it goes back IN when you breathe out) to instantly lower your stress level.
  • Make a list – and check it twice. This time of year can seem overwhelming.  Make a weekly list of everything you want or need to do, no matter how quick or insignificant the task may seem.  You’ll feel more organized and less frazzled once you start checking off all your accomplishments!

Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Fennel

Fennel, a close cousin of celery and anise, is currently in season (which explains why I’ve recently seen so many recipes that include it!).  It is a good source of fiber, Vitamin C, and potassium, and can be used as both an herb and a vegetable.  If you like the taste of black licorice, you’ll love fennel – use it to add an unexpected burst of flavor to salads like the one below.

Barley, Fennel, and Beet Salad

Ingredients
2 cups cooked barley (from about 2/3 cup dried)
1 thinly sliced fennel bulb
2 thinly sliced small golden beets
½ thinly sliced small red onion
¼ cup chopped toasted almonds
¼ cup torn fresh mint
¼ cup olive oil
3 tablespoons Sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar
Black pepper, to taste

Instructions

  1. Toss 2 barley, fennel , beets, onion, almonds, and mint in a large bowl with olive oil and vinegar; season with pepper to taste. Serves 6.

Recipe from Epicurious

MassHealth Employees Paddle Their Way to Wellness

One of the best parts of my job involves visiting agencies all across the state and learning about the fun and healthy activities Wellness Champions have organized for their employees.   Lots of agencies host healthy potlucks and have weekly walking clubs, both of which are great ways to get lots of employees involved in wellness.  However, a few agencies and worksites hold a special place in my heart for the truly unique wellness activities they offer.  One such worksite is the MassHealth Electronic Document Management Center in East Taunton.  Led by Wellness Champion Lori Rodrigues, EDMC employees participate in a Kayak Club at nearby Lake Rico.

Spurred by her interest in kayaking and desire to make exercise a social event, Lori started the club last July:

“When it comes to being healthy, I am always looking for new ways to be active, so when a coworker shared her love of kayaking with me, the decision to start a kayaking club was a no-brainer. What I love most about kayaking is the overall effect it has on mental health, which provides a relaxing workout. Kayaking can be peaceful, meditative, or even exhilarating! It is also a great way to clear your mind. Starting the kayak club at the EDMC has been a fun social activity that will continue to grow!”

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Lori recruited her fellow kayakers through word of mouth and clever emails that touted the benefits of kayaking (Did you know that you can burn over 200 calories just by kayaking for 30 minutes?).   Although only a handful of employees participated in the club’s first outing, word of mouth spread quickly at the EDMC, and the club soon grew in size.  Some of the participants already owned their own kayaks and were eager for an opportunity to take them out.  Others were new to the kayaking world and ended up renting kayaks to try their hand at the sport.

So far, the Kayak Club has met three times at various locations throughout the area, and, although kayaking season has come to an end, Lori plans to start the club back up again next Spring.

Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Parsnips

Parsnips are root vegetables that are closely related to carrots.  They’re in season right now, so you’ve probably seen them in your grocery store’s produce department.  Maybe you were unsure of what they were the first time you saw them – I’ll forgive you if you mistook them for a funny-looking carrot that you didn’t know how to incorporate into a meal.  Parsnips can be substituted for carrots in many dishes, but they also have a unique flavor – and nutritional profile – of their own.  Parsnips are low in calories and a good source of fiber, Vitamin C, and folic acid.  I like making parsnip “fries” that I slice into small rectangles, flavor with a little olive oil and whatever seasoning combination I’m in the mood for, and bake at 425° for 25 minutes.  Parsnips can also be used in stir-frys and even added into mashed potatoes!  Here, they’re pureed into a healthy winter soup.

Roasted Parsnip Soup

Ingredients
2 pounds parsnips, peeled and woody core removed
2 pears, peeled and cut into eighths
1 small yellow or white onion, peeled and cut into eighths
1 tablespoon canola oil
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 cup balsamic vinegar
2 ¼ cups reduced-sodium chicken broth, or vegetable broth
2 ¼ cups low-fat milk

Instructions

  1. Position rack in lower third of oven; preheat to 450°F.
  2. Toss parsnips, pears, onion, oil, and pepper in a roasting pan. Roast, stirring every 10 minutes, until very soft and starting to brown, about 40 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, boil vinegar in a small saucepan until syrupy and reduced to about ¼ cup, 10 to 14 minutes. (Watch the syrup carefully during the last few minutes of reducing to prevent burning.) Remove from the heat.
  4. Puree half of the parsnip mixture with broth in a blender until very smooth; transfer to a large saucepan.
  5. Puree the other half with milk until very smooth. Add to the saucepan.
  6. Reheat the soup over medium heat, stirring often, about 5 minutes.
  7. Gently reheat the balsamic syrup if it has become thicker than syrup while standing. Ladle the soup into bowls and drizzle with the balsamic syrup. Serves 6.

 

Recipe from Eating Well magazine, November/December 2008 

Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Turkey

With Thanksgiving on Thursday, I thought it would be appropriate to feature this week’s most popular food as today’s Healthy Ingredient.  Yes, turkey is healthy – it is a good source of iron and many B vitamins, including B6, niacin, and riboflavin.  When selecting your slice(s) of turkey from the Thanksgiving table, be sure to choose white meat, without any skin, to keep fat intake to a minimum (most of the saturated fat in turkey can be found in dark meat and the skin).   You probably have a favorite way to cook turkey for the Big Day, so here’s a recipe for the day after, when you need a little help getting rid of all those leftovers.

Turkey Samosas

Ingredients
1 ½ cups finely chopped leftover cooked turkey
¾ cup leftover mashed potatoes
½ cup cooked pumpkin pie filling from leftover pie
½ teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon curry powder
Pepper, to taste
1 package frozen puff pastry, thawed but refrigerated
1 large egg

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Using a food processor, grind 1 cup turkey for about 5 seconds. Transfer to a medium bowl.
  3. Add the remaining chopped turkey, potatoes, pumpkin pie filling, cumin and curry powder. Season with pepper.
  4. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the puff pastry dough ⅛-inch thick. Using a 3-inch round cookie cutter, cut out 32 disks, gathering the scraps and rerolling.
  5. Place 1 tablespoon of turkey mixture on each disk. Dampen the disk rims with water and fold the dough over into a half-circle, pressing the seams with a fork to seal.
  6. Beat the egg with 2 teaspoons water. Place the samosas on 2 nonstick baking sheets and brush with egg wash. Bake, switching the pans halfway through, until golden, about 25 minutes; serve warm.  Makes 16 servings.

Recipe from Every Day with Rachael Ray, November 2007

Take the Focus Off Food This Holiday Season

As a nutritionist, I love food – the healthier, the better (90% of the time, at least).  That being said, I also think it’s unhealthy to think about food constantly, to the point where cooking, shopping, and eating become chores and are no longer fun.   So, right before the biggest food holiday of the year, I thought it would be an appropriate time to help you think about focusing on something other than food!

Yes, Thanksgiving does mark the start of a month-long period of get-togethers that center mainly around eating.  And there’s nothing wrong with that.  In fact, I encourage you to attend these get-togethers and eat the foods you enjoy there.  What I don’t want you to do is obsess over everything that you eat, or feel like your whole world revolves around food for a month straight.  While the holidays are a great excuse to gather together over a big meal, they’re also the perfect time to engage in non-food-related activities with your family and friends.  Like most families, mine chooses to celebrate holidays with lots of turkey, mashed potatoes, and pie; this year, however, we’ll also be creating some new traditions that don’t involve food.  Here’s what’s in store for my family this holiday season; maybe you can try some of these ideas with your own family or friends to make holiday gatherings a little less food-centric:

 

  • Turkey Trots and Holiday Hustles. My husband has recently gotten into distance running, and he’s already signed up for a few holiday-themed races.  On Thanksgiving morning, the first thing on his mind won’t be turkey and pie; rather, he’ll be thinking about the five miles he’s about to run in the Feaster Five road race.  Not a runner?  Most local races allow walkers to participate as well.  It doesn’t matter how fast you run or walk; all that matters is you’re moving, and enjoying a holiday event that actually burns calories!
  • Getting Crafty. Dessert is a big part of holiday celebrations in my family.  And while we’ll still be enjoying dessert after our Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, we won’t be making a big deal of it.  This year, instead of gathering together for a full day of cookie-baking, the women in my family will be harnessing our creativity to make our own Christmas wreaths.  Getting the family involved in a holiday craft is a great way to get in the spirit, foster togetherness, and create something that won’t have an effect on your waistline.
  • Giving Back. My sister is passionate about volunteering, and she is looking forward to helping out at a local food pantry this holiday season.  While serving those in need does involve food, it’s in the most selfless sense.  Taking the time to think about what others don’t have, and all of things that you do have, is a great reminder of what the holiday season is really about.

Healthy Ingredient of the Week – Butternut Squash

If you’ve looked around the produce section of your local supermarket lately, you’ve probably seen lots of butternut squash lining the shelves.  Butternut squash, a close cousin of the pumpkin, is ubiquitous this time of year, and that’s not a bad thing.  Like other orange-hued fruits and veggies, it’s extremely high in Vitamin A and an excellent source of Vitamin C.  It’s also high in potassium and magnesium.  Pureed butternut squash makes a great substitute in any recipe that calls for canned pumpkin.  Although nothing beats the convenience of being able to buy and use butternut squash that’s already been pureed, cooking with whole butternut squash is almost just as simple.  However, a lot of people are hesitant to cook with whole butternut squash, because they believe it takes a lot of time to prep.  In reality, it only takes a little more work to prep a whole butternut squash than it does to open up a can or defrost a block of the pureed kind.  In order to prep a butternut squash for recipes like the one below, all you need to do is microwave a whole squash for 6 minutes, turning halfway through; peel it; cut it in half; scoop out the seeds; and then cut it into cubes.  You can also cheat a little by buying pre-cut butternut squash in the produce or freezer aisle (I won’t tell anyone if that’s the route you choose to take!).

Butternut Squash and Parmesan Bread Pudding

Ingredients
3 cups (½-inch cubed) peeled butternut squash
Cooking spray
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
1 garlic clove, minced
2 cups 1% low-fat milk
1 cup (4 ounces) grated fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, divided
¼ teaspoon black pepper
⅛ teaspoon ground nutmeg
3 large eggs
2 large egg whites
8 ounces (1-inch) cubed day-old whole wheat bread (about 9 cups)

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400°.
  2. Arrange squash in a single layer on a jelly-roll pan coated with cooking spray. Bake at 400° for 12 minutes or until tender. Remove from oven; reduce oven temperature to 350°.
  3. Heat oil in a medium nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion; sauté 5 minutes or until tender.
  4. Add garlic, and sauté 1 minute. Remove from heat; cool slightly.
  5. Combine milk, ½ cup cheese, pepper, nutmeg, eggs, and egg whites in a large bowl, stirring with a whisk.
  6. Stir in squash and onion mixture. Add bread, and stir gently to combine. Let stand 10 minutes.
  7. Spoon into a 2-quart baking dish coated with cooking spray. Sprinkle with remaining ½ cup cheese.
  8. Bake at 350° for 45 minutes or until pudding is set and lightly browned.

Recipe adapted from Cooking Light magazine, October 2004

Looking for Ways to Shop Healthier? NutriSavings Can Help!

If you’re trying to make healthier purchases at the grocery store, you may not know where to start, as grocery shopping can be a pretty overwhelming task by itself.  If you’ve ever sought out advice on how to shop healthier, you may have received one of the following basic tips:

  • Shop the perimeter of the store. The healthiest foods are often kept in the outside aisles; most junk food lurks on the inside shelves.
  • Make a list – and stick to it. It’s harder to deviate from a plan to purchase healthy foods if you’re prepared.
  • Don’t shop hungry. When you’re hungry, you’re more likely to eat with your eyes and give into impulse buys for unhealthy items.

These tips are a good starting point toward making healthier grocery store purchases, but they leave a lot of room for error, as it can sometimes be difficult to determine which foods are actually healthy.  If you need some assistance in this department, WellMASS can help.  If you are one of the first 5,000 people to take your Health Questionnaire at https://wellmass.staywell.com by December 19, 2014, you’ll qualify for a 6-month subscription, beginning January 1, 2015, to NutriSavings, an online nutrition education and grocery discount program that will provide you with all the information you need to make truly healthy purchases at the grocery store.  NutriSavings is an innovative program that’s not available to members of the general public – it’s only available to those VIPs who take their Health Questionnaire!

The concept behind NutriSavings is simple – users register their grocery store loyalty cards, and every time they make a purchase with those cards, that purchase is scored for its nutritional value, and healthier options are recommended.  Prior to each shopping trip, users also have the ability to activate a plethora of exclusive money-saving offers on wholesome food and beverage items and access  over  150 healthy recipes and practical tips from nutritionists, as well as earn cash-back rewards just for purchasing healthy items.  The money earned from purchasing items will be available for transfer to users’ checking or PayPal accounts.  By using NutriSavings, you’ll not only receive information to help you make healthier purchases, but money for doing so!

Several local grocery stores participate in the NutriSavings program, including Shaws, Star Market, Stop & Shop, Roche Brothers, Hannaford, and Wegmans.  If you shop at any of these stores, you can register your loyalty cards for one or all of them.  If you don’t have a loyalty card, the NutriSavings website provides directions on how to obtain one.  If your grocery store of choice is not currently in the NutriSavings network, you can still take advantage of the program by searching through an online database of over 100,000 products to pick out healthier choices prior to a shopping trip.  As mentioned above, the NutriSavings website also offers hundreds of healthy recipes and nutrition tips.

If you have a smartphone, you can download the NutriSavings app, which will give you instant access to nutrition scores and information via its barcode scanner, so you won’t have to wait until after you’ve made your purchases to find out how healthy they are or if there are better choices.

I’ve been using NutriSavings for around six months, and I can’t believe how much I have learned about the foods that I buy.  As a nutritionist, I know a lot about food, but I don’t always have the time to read labels and ingredients lists as thoroughly as I’d like.  NutriSavings does the hard work for me and provides me with easy-to-understand scores and quick nutrition facts about the items in my grocery cart; seeing that I’m making the right choices, and earning money for doing so, certainly doesn’t hurt, either.

If you’d like to learn more about NutriSavings, WellMASS will be hosting a webinar with Paul Gilpin, NutriSavings’ Director of Business Development, on Tuesday, November 18 at 10:00 and 1:00.  There is no need to RSVP for the webinar; simply log onto http://lifemasters.readytalk.com and call 1-866-740-1260 and enter access code 7243537.  If you can’t make the webinars, or want to hear more about my first-hand experience with NutriSavings, feel free to send me an email.

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