If your child has just gone back to school or just started school for the first time, you may be scrambling to get in the swing of packing snacks and lunch 5 days a week.  My son just started nursery school so I’ve put together a few quick items you can pack in the lunch box and feel good about!

1) Pre-Packaged Apple Slices – Brands like Mott’s sell containers of pre-sliced and packed apple slices that are just 30 calories a serving.  The apples don’t go brown, and since it’s a smaller portion than a whole apple, it’s perfect for younger kids who may get bored with a whole apple or not be able to bite into an apple yet.

2) Hard boiled-eggs – Eggs are a great snack food because they are unprocessed and are loaded with protein for energy! Here’s an easy snack you make at the beginning of the week and portion out into small containers and keep in the refrigerator.  I peel the hard-boiled eggs before-hand so all my son has to do it take a bite!  Ziploc has small reusable containers that aren’t expensive that are perfect for an egg or a portion of trail mix.  If by chance your kid accidentally throws it out, you won’t be heartbroken.

3) Healthy Cookies – Every kid wants to open his lunch box and see a sweet treat!  How about healthy cookies?  Just three ingredients: quick oats, ripe bananas and walnuts make baking cookies super easy!  The kids can even help you make them.  If your child’s classroom is nut-free, you can swap out the walnuts for mini-chocolate chips.  Skinnytaste.com has a great recipe for Healthy Cookies to get your started.

And finally, to avoid the boring onslaught of sandwiches, I suggest you invest in a good insulated container. My son isn’t really accustomed to eating sandwiches so I bought a type of Thermos so I can give him a “hot lunch”.  I opted for the Lunchbot after surveying some moms because it’s got a wide mouth and BPA free.  So far I’ve packed my son brown rice with chicken sausage in here, tortellini with turkey meatballs and broccoli, and even mac & cheese. Having this container opens up lunch to be more than a boring old sandwich!  Best of luck with your snack packing!

 

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Family at the dinner table at the Thanksgiving day.

Warning: Not My Family

If you’re planning on getting out of town this holiday season and don’t want to fall victim to unhealthy choices and unplanned weight gain, check out these tips to stay the course this holiday season!

Usually, I’m in town for the holidays because most of my family is right here in New York.  It makes it a bit easier to handle the holiday temptation, because after 1 day it’s back to reality.  But this year we are actually headed overseas for 9 days which include the mega holiday Thanskgivikah!  We’ll be out of our element for the whole time.  I definitely don’t want to derail all my progress for 2013, so I wanted to come up with some tips for those of us who want to stay the course during this holiday season.

                       How to Feel Good and Choose Wisely This Holiday Season

1)      Prepare food ahead of time – It’s not the sexiest tip in the world, but it works!  Plan snacks for the car like trail mix or sliced veggies.  I love sliced bell peppers with hummus.  If you have a small cooler bag, fill it up with snacks so that you don’t have the urge to stop at the rest area quite as often.  I use my cooler bag all the time for car trips because we can also keep our water bottles chilled.  But it’s also great for packing snacks that are elevated beyond pretzels and chips.  Take the time, you will be glad you did when you don’t have cheesy powder all over your hands from Cheetos.

2)      Avoid the “Meal Deal” – You may be forced to stop at a rest area if your trip is long enough and if you’re flying you’ll definitely be faced with fast food in the airport.  Since I’m one of the dozen people on the planet who don’t like French fries, I usually avoid the “meal deal” at fast food restaurants naturally.  I encourage you to do the same.  Get the sandwich of your choice and then opt for water or seltzer and a side salad.  Wendy’s has some of the best side salads that I’ve tasted, but they are becoming ubiquitous in the fast food world to offer you more healthy options.  By steering clear of the “soda, burger, fries” routine, you’ll feel lighter and be happy you got in a serving of vegetables from your side salad.

3)      Drink plenty of water – Staying hydrated is key to feeling satisfied.  If you are hydrated, you are less likely to overeat.  Sometimes our body is thirsty but we interpret that as hunger and eat calories we don’t need.  Especially if you are flying, make sure to drink water as often as you can.  Airplanes are known for dehydrating us both inside and out (ladies may want to put on extra moisturizer), so plan accordingly.  Bring your reusable water bottles and don’t be afraid to ask for refills.  Having your own water bottles on hand is also eco-friendly and cost-friendly (no more paying for bottled water!).

4)      Get Active! – If getting to the gym isn’t in the cards while you’re away consider adding in some activities that get you up and moving.  Take a walk, go hiking, or play hide and go seek with the kids.  Any activity that gets you off the couch will help you feel better once it’s time to sit down and eat that third serving of stuffing.  If you can get to the gym, do it!  Bring sneakers and go for a new class.  I’m planning to go to a Bikram yoga class while I’m out of town to see how they do it overseas as part of my “touristy activities”.  Last but not least, cue up any number of the DIY workouts on you tube and do it in your hotel room or host’s basement.  Even 10 minutes a day will be worth it.  Remember working out not only burns calories, but it also de-stressed you and raises your endorphin levels which might be just what the doctor ordered if your family is like the family in any holiday movie (read: crazy but lovable).

5)      Cook When You Can – If you’re at a family member’s house for the holidays maybe they’d be happy to turn over the kitchen responsibilities to you for 1 or 2 meals.  Cook up meals that you can easily double, like Turkey Chili, so you can have plenty of leftovers in the fridge.  This way you can avoid eating out for 3 meals a day and have some healthy meals among the pumpkin pie ala mode.  Just be prepared to also tackle the clean up!

Enjoy your holiday season!

Alphabet made of many fruits and vegetablesIt’s the never ending battle with every meal I serve to my 2 year old son, Dylan.  How do I get him to have more vegetables?  I want to make sure and get him interested in these foods early so that he will love them and always have them as a part of his diet.  But even for me, a health coach, it’s hard to figure out how to add in all the good from vegetables.  This is why I came up with 5 easy tips!

I’m speaking mostly of adding in vegetables (vs. fruit), because in my health coaching practice I encounter many people who have 2 servings of fruit a day but practically zero vegetables.  Adding in vegetables is one of the easiest and quickest ways to better your health, and it’s a tip I give a lot of health coaching clients when we first start working together.

I find most people don’t eat as much veggies as they should for 3 reasons:

1) vegetables are more expensive

2) vegetables are boring / I don’t know how to cook them

3) I don’t like salad

All of these fall under the umbrella of “I don’t know why vegetables are important”.  We’ll get to that in a moment.

I’ve eaten and served my fair share of meals that are vegetable deficient.  Sandwiches come to mind, countless bowls of pasta with meatballs, even pizza.  I love all these foods, but they are seriously lacking in the vegetable department.

So why are vegetables so important?

The make you feel full, they provide fiber and countless vitamins and minerals.  Plus they are a non-animal derived food which makes them more sustainable to the environment than eating meat.

I always do my best to buy organic vegetables because they taste better and if I’m going to eat and serve veggies I want the best!  The definition of organic when talking about food is, “Simply stated, organic produce and other ingredients are grown without the use of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, genetically modified organisms, or ionizing radiation. Animals that produce meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products do not take antibiotics or growth hormones.” (Taken from www.organic.org).

But, sometimes there aren’t organic versions available in the grocery store or your budget won’t allow for it.  This is a handy guide you can use when shopping that outlines what’s called the “Dirty Dozen” – the list of the MOST contaminated fruits and vegetables (so you know to always buy those organic) and the “Clean Fifteen” highlighting the LEAST contaminated crops.  Take a look here! You can even download a wallet guide or an app for your phone here: (download a copy of the wallet guide).  With these handy list’s you can have the knowledge to decide which produce you can buy the regular version of and which you should really try to get organic.  Of course the best organic vegetables are the ones you grow yourself!  If you have a garden, think about planting your favorite vegetables next time.  They will be the best you’ve ever tasted!

Sadly, I live in Brooklyn where I don’t have a garden, but not to worry, here are the tips!

5 Easy Tips for Getting More Vegetables  into Your Family’s Diet

1)   Incorporate vegetables and/or fruit at every meal.  Add in veggies at breakfast and you’ll notice how much fuller you feel.  You may not need that 11am snack anymore!  Also, adding in vegetables at breakfast with your usual 2 egg omelet often means you can have 1 egg and still feel as full as when you’d have 2 without the added veggies.

2)   Buy organic where possible because it tastes better and is better for you.  I always tell clients a story about the first organic banana I ever tried.  It was literally the most delicious banana I’d ever had.  Before then I didn’t even really LIKE bananas!  When you buy organic vegetables they will be the best you’ve ever tasted and that makes you want to eat them more often, it’s that simple. 

3)   Swap your boring old potatoes for greens like kale or spinach.  Yes, potatoes are technically a vegetable, but they are a starchy one and they are also delivery vehicles for some very fatty toppings (sour cream, butter, oil, cheese) that can really derail your health and weight loss goals.  Try a new green vegetable instead.  Spinach is very easy to sauté with garlic and olive oil for a nice side dish or try kale, everybody is doing it! 

4)   Try Meatless Mondays so you can build your vegetarian repertoire of meals. The best thing Meatless Mondays has done for me has made me think about vegetarian dinners once a week.  I’ve gotten to try so many new recipes that I otherwise would never have made.  I’ve roasted eggplant, stuffed mushroom caps and made a traditional Middle Eastern egg dish called Shakshuka.  It’s become a fun thing we do together every week rather than eating more of the same old boring stuff. 

5)   Use fruit and vegetables as the base for snacks throughout the day.  The most filling snacks are ones that give you both protein and fiber.  The fiber component can definitely be a fruit or vegetable.  Think about dipping an apple in peanut butter for a more satisfying snack than peanut butter on a cracker or piece of bread.  Another favorite in my family is pepper slices or cucumber slices with hummus for dipping. 

Try these tips for incorporating more vegetables into your diet and share your favorite vegetarian dishes in the comments section below!

This Girl is on Fire!

September 18, 2013

What a lovely fridge!

What a lovely fridge!

Here it is – the long awaited Family Plate newsletter!!

It includes one new recipe, information on my new group program, and much much more!

Please check it out and subscribe to stay up to date!

Cookin’ it, Old School

September 16, 2013

Remember back in the day when mom or grandma would spend Sundays at the stove making delicious homemade food for an early 3pm dinner?  The smell of onions and garlic sauteing in a large pot with a drizzle of olive oil.  The cans of tomatoes lined up like soldiers waiting to be poured into the pot and turned into a velvety tomato sauce for pasta. Perfectly formed meatballs sizzling away in a frying pan ready to be dunked in the sauce and turned into little balls of heaven.  Those are some of my memories of being at my grandma’s house on a Sunday.  We (being Italian-American) always had pasta with sauce on a Sunday.  There was usually a little salad to go with it and white wine for the adults.  I used to ask to “taste-test” a meatball, to make sure there were good.  My grandma always gave me one ahead of dinner, usually with a crust of Italian bread to dip in the extra sauce. It was a wonderful routine.  Sauce, bread, meatballs, getting a piece before everyone else – it was heavenly!

Marie and her Grandma Marie, 1981

Marie and her Grandma Marie, 1981

My grandma is cooking sauce and pasta up in heaven now, so I don’t get to scam early meatballs from her anymore.  I do have to put dinner on the table for my own family every night (not just Sundays) and I think a lot about the traditions that I grew up with and how different things are now.  My grandma was retired and had all day to cook, whereas now most of us moms are working out of the home and have so much more to juggle.

Marie and Grandma Mary, late 90's

Marie and Grandma Mary, late 90’s

To make sure the weeknights are about healthy eating and not ordering Chinese food, I earmark a few hours on Sunday afternoon to get some cooking done.  This allows me to simply re-heat and eat during the week when things are crazy as we are coming home from work and picking up my little one from daycare.  It’s the only way I can get a home cooked meal on the table 5 nights a week.  My strategy every week is to make 3 different meals that we can have for dinner and/or lunch and that usually gets us through 4 days.  Since we are a small family of 2 adults and 1 toddler, usually making meals for a family of four lasts us for 2 meals, at least.  Then I plan one meal that I will make and serve on the same night.  That could be a crock pot dish (that I can leave cooking during the day) or something that is a 30 minute meal.

So now, on Sundays I’m cooking like a whirling dervish in my tiny kitchen to make sure our fridge is stuffed with healthy food.  It’s a far cry from my grandma slowly cooking a tomato sauce all day, but its our ritual and it works for us.  Once the weather gets colder, I’ll definitely be making more one-pot dishes like soups and stews (and tomato sauce) that will give my home the aroma of onions, celery and carrots simmering away.  Until then, this is my strategy.

Marie’s 5 Easy Tips on How to Fill Your Fridge with Healthy Food

1) Plan to cook 3 make ahead meals for the week.  

I usually pick one beef dish, one chicken and one vegetarian meal.  We normally eat Meatless on Mondays, so I cook the vegetarian meal for that and also for lunch leftovers.

To make the most use of my small kitchen I plan to make one dish in the slow cooker, one in the oven and one on the stove top.  That way I am truly cooking 3 things at once.  One of my favorite make ahead meals for the week is Organic Chicken and Brown Rice that only takes one pot to cook.

2) Decide on what snacks you will want and pre-make and portion those out

I like to make a bunch of hard boiled eggs for snacks and I even peel them so they are ready-to-eat, even on the go.  I put one egg in a small reusable container so they are portioned out and I can thrown one in a lunch bag every morning without thinking.

My other favorite snack is trail mix or plain nuts.  I also portion that out ahead of time into reusable containers so that I don’t overeat it.

3) Have salad ingredients on hand

We eat salad with lunch and also with dinner.  To jazz up a regular bag o’ salad, I add cucumber slices, orange and yellow peppers and red onion.  I dice all these vegetables on Sunday and keep them in a separate container.  Then when it’s time to serve salad I just combine them with lettuce and dressing – voila!  Bags of salad also keep in the fridge very well, so its great to have on hand in case you run out of make ahead meals.  You can always top a salad with a can of tuna and have a new meal!

4) Find one meal (usually one you can make without a recipe) to cook fresh during the week 

Even the most diligent of us will get tired of re-heating and eating, so plan one night where your after work/school activities are light to make a fresh meal.  For me, this is usually the night we have pasta or baked chicken.  Always aim for easy recipes that you know by heart (for the most part) so that this one meal a week is a joy and doesn’t stress you out.

5) Don’t forget about breakfast!  

Think through what you’ll need to make sure breakfast is part of the equation as well.  For breakfast we normally do smoothies or juices because they are so fresh and easy.  I bought reusable cups and disposable straws so that we can put juices in the cups and drink them on our way to work. The straws are sometimes a pain to clean, so I throw those out but reuse my cups.  If you like to have eggs in the morning there are some great recipes out there for make ahead quiches or egg muffins.  This time of year you could also enjoy a pumpkin oatmeal for breakfast that is make ahead and no-cook!

If this seems a bit overwhelming at first, I understand.  With my health coaching clients, I always tell them to pick the low-hanging fruit first.  Whichever of these rules seems the easiest to incorporate into your daily like, choose that!  Do that one for a week or two, get the habit down-pat and then add in another rule.  The other piece of advice is that you know your family best, so modify these accordingly to suit your needs.  The idea is not about following rules but about making your life easier.

What make-ahead meals do you like to make?  Please let me know in the comment section.

Happy Labor Day weekend!  It’s hard to believe that summer is coming to an end.  It was a wonderful summer filled with trips out of town, days at the beach and for me, finally breaking through my personal weight loss plateau!  Woohoo!

One thing I love to do in the warm weather is cool off  with smoothies AND juices rather than going for ice cream or milkshakes! I love to start the day this way.  Some of my clients were asking me recently what the differences were between blending smoothies and juicing.

Marie's Green Juice

Marie’s Green Juice

 

It also happens, that I’ve been invited to join the staff of OhioOutside.com as a health and nutrition contributor.   So I thought that my first article should tackle the subject of Juices vs. Smoothies head-on.  OhioOutside.com describes themselves as having a “passion to connect people to all things endurance sport and fitness related.”  Of course those running races and cycling need great nutrition and health information so they can achieve their fitness goals – that’s where I come in!  I’ll be doing monthly articles on various topics from a health and nutrition point of view. For September I’m writing on article on simple steps to healthier eating, which we could all use after the excesses of summer, amiright?

Please check out my article for the verdict on Juices vs. Smoothies and for 2 new recipes! Enjoy one more day of this lovely 3 day weekend! Click here to read the article

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