Monthly Archives: December, 2014

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

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


  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

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


  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

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


  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

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


  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