Sunday, March 29, 2009

Sunday Roast Chicken Dinner Can Speed Up Your Week

One of my favorite dinners is roast chicken for many reasons. It's not only delicious and perfect for a Sunday dinner, but buying a whole chicken is budget-friendly. I bought this 3 lb organic whole chicken for $5 and it made 6 meals for the two of us, which is 83 cents per serving! I cooked the chicken with onions, celery, carrots, and turnips.

Making a roast chicken is best on the weekend because of the long (2-hr) cooking time. The advantage is that you can have a ready-made meal in the refrigerator for quick lunches or dinners. Here is how to do it.

On Sunday
  1. Roast the chicken and veggies.
  2. Carve chicken and serve for dinner. Store leftover chicken in a separate container from the vegetables. Use the bits of chicken from the carcus and set aside for your lunch the next day. You can use these bits for chicken salad sandwiches, chicken and greens salad, or in a quick soup on a weeknight.

Easy Roast Chicken and Vegetables

  • 3 lb whole chicken
  • 6 cups root vegetables you have on-hand (onions, carrots, celery, potatoes, turnips, or parsnips)
  • 1 tbs minced garlic
  • 1/2 tsp spanish smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 2 tbs chopped thyme, divided
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley (or dried)
  • 2 tbs olive oil, divided
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Need: meat thermometer + roasting pan


  1. If frozen, defrost chicken by filling sink with cold water. Let it sit for approximately 1 hour.
  2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  3. Coat roasting pan with cooking spray.
  4. Rinse chicken and pat dry. Place chicken on a cutting board and rub 1 tbs olive oil on the skin. Season with smoked paprika, 1 tbs fresh chopped thyme, and salt/pepper. Set aside.
  5. Chop root vegetables and slice onions. Place veggies in the roasting pan. Stir in 1 tbs olive oil with garlic, herbs and reserved thyme.
  6. Place chicken on top of the vegetable mixture.
  7. Cook in the oven for 1 hour.
  8. Turn the chicken over and stir vegetables and cook for one more hour.
  9. When you pull the chicken out of the oven, use a meat thermometer to check the temperature. Keep the thermometer away from the bone for accuracy. The chicken should be 170 degrees.
  10. Do not carve right away! Set aside for 10 minutes so the juices stay inside the skin.
  11. To carve, use a sharp knife and cut off the breast, thighs and wings. My advice is to follow the bone. Or if you need more advice, check out this how-to video from PBS.

More ideas to spice up the roast chicken: I've tried many other methods that you may want to try.

  • Make a wet rub and spread under the skin on the chicken flesh.
  • Slice lemons and place under the skin to keep the meat moist.
  • Fill the body cavity with salt/pepper, chunks of onion, garlic, herb sprigs, oranges, or lemons.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Try this Easy, Make-Ahead Healthy Snack: Banana-Oat Energy Bars

Bananas are very nutritious and portable enough for snacks on the go. We get bananas in our produce box every time, but unfortunately, Aaron I really don't like to eat raw bananas. I've found a way to use them up by freezing them for smoothies, making banana bread, or energy bars.

I really like the banana energy bars and it only takes 10 minutes of prep and bakes in just 25 minutes. In that short amount of time, you can have 12 servings. That is a great value of time!

Try these energy bars for a snack with milk before/after a workout. They pack easily to have on-the-go. Check out my previous post for more ideas on packable snacks. They are sweet enough for kids to enjoy. I've given these to my friends and family and everyone really likes them.

Banana-Oat Energy Bars
12 servings

1 cup mashed ripe bananas (use 2 large)
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup honey
1 tbs vegetable or coconut oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg
1/2 cup flour
2 tbs ground flaxseed
1 1/4 cup regular oats
1/4 cup chopped walnuts or roasted sunflower seeds
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Combine dry ingredients (flour - salt)
  3. Beat bananas through egg at medium speed in a stand mixer until blended.
  4. Add oat mixture to the banana mixture.
  5. Spread mixture in 8-inch square baking pan coated with cooking spray.
  6. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes. Cool completely.
Serve/Store: Cut in 12 equal servings. Wrap in wax paper in plastic resealable bags and store in the refrigerator. The bars last up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Vitamin D Major Contributor to Optimal Health

Vitamin D is essential for good health, especially for healthy bones and heart, and your body’s ability to absorb calcium. A recent study, published in Archives of Internal Medicine showed that 3 out of 4 Americans are deficient in vitamin D. The body doesn’t synthesize vitamin D on its own so people could either take supplements or get appropriate sunlight exposure for their skin tone per day.

The problem is that many people forget and stay in the sun too long without SPF protection, which damages the skin, your body’s largest organ. And for many, sunlight is hard to come by, especially in the winter months and is proved insufficient north of the 42 latitude region from December through February. There are other factors that minimize vitamin D with the sunlight aborption method such as smog, season, time of day, or cloud cover.

Very Few Foods Contain Vitamin D: Oily fish: tuna, salmon, sardines, mackerel, and cod liver oils. Trace amounts are found in some mushrooms, egg yolk, cheese, and fortified food products.

Get your vitamin D for breakfast:
Try a toasted small whole wheat high fiber bagel, lowfat cream cheese with a dash of dried dill, 2 oz smoked salmon, 2 slices tomato, and a wedge of lemon. Delicious!

Check out the radio story on National Public Radio (NPR) from Morning Edition March 24, 2009 for more information.

The recommended daily allowance for vitamin D is 200 IU for most adults, but could be more, according to some research.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Maple Syrup is Not Just for Pancakes

This weekend I went to a maple syrup harvest event in the Amish country in Northern Indiana with Aaron and my in-laws. We took a wagon ride in the woods to learn about the process of tapping the maple trees to gather sap. Then we visited the Sugar House, where they boil down the sap to make maple syrup. The best thing about it is that it's all natural! The regular pancake syrup in the grocery store contains high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which has health risks. Check out my previous post about the risks of HFCS.

In finished form, maple syrup contains about 66% sugar, starting from the 2% sugar in the tree sap. They served a tasty pancake breakfast made with locally milled flour and local pork sausage and all the fresh maple syrup you want. It was a treat! But maple syrup is not just for pancakes. Here's a recipe that you can make for dinner and I have a great tip on using the left overs.

Spiced Pork Tenderloin with Maple-Chipotle Sauce
Courtesy - Cooking Light; Serves 4

1 pound pork tenderloin
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp dried thyme or 1 tsp fresh chopped
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp pepper
Dash allspice
1 tsp olive oil
1 - 3 1/2 ounce can of chipotle in adobo sauce (use only 1 chile + 2 tsp)
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 1/2 tbs chicken broth
2 tsp cider vinegar
  1. To prepare pork, combine first 6 ingredients; sprinkle evenly over pork. Place in a large zip-top plastic bag; seal and refrigerate 3 hours.
  2. Preheat oven to 375°.
  3. Remove pork from bag. Place pork in a roasting pan; drizzle with oil. Bake at 375° for 30 minutes or until a thermometer inserted in center of pork registers 155°. Remove pork from pan; cover and let stand 10 minutes.
  4. To prepare sauce, remove 2 teaspoons adobo sauce from can of chiles; reserve remaining chiles and sauce for another use. Add 2 teaspoons adobo sauce, syrup, broth, and vinegar to roasting pan, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Cook over medium heat 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Place pork in pan, turning to coat. Remove pork from pan, reserving sauce in pan. Cut pork into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Strain sauce through a fine sieve into a bowl; serve with pork.

What to do with the leftovers...

Spinach Salad with Pork Tenderloin, Pears, Blue Cheese and Maple-Chipotle Dressing

Whisk the extra sauce with a bit of olive oil until you have the consistency of salad dressing. Use the leftover pork for a salad with baby spinach, sliced red onion, olives, crumbled blue cheese, and sliced pears. You'll have a completely different meal with the leftover pork and maple-chipotle sauce.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Save Time and Money, Pack Your Lunch

Packing a lunch for work, school, flight or family outing is a convenient if you do a bit of planning ahead. Think of the last time you were at the airport. Would you rather have your favorite lunch packed for your flight or eat the random fast food in the food court? I'll take a homemade lunch anyday!

By spending a few minutes before you leave the house, you can reap huge rewards!
  • Save money by not eating convenience foods, which by nature of being "convenient" are priced higher.
  • Save time and hassle of waiting in long lunch lines, deciding where to eat, traveling to the restaurant, etc.
  • Be better to your body because convenient foods are often high in fat, calorie dense, filled with sugar, and in general offer little nutritional value.

Here is one of my favorite quick lunch salad recipes that you can make quickly the night before.

Mediterranean Tuna Salad (Serves 1)

2 cups baby spinach

1/2 6-oz can tuna in spring water, drained and flaked

1/4 cup kidney or white beans, rinsed and drained

4 Kalamata olives, sliced

1/4 cup sliced cucumber

1/4 roasted red pepper-halves, chopped

1 small tomato, chopped

1 tbs chopped red onion

1 tbs crumbled feta

1 tbs thinly sliced fresh basil

2 tbs roasted unsalted pepitas (pumpkin seed kernels)

Fresh cracked pepper

Vinaigrette Dressing:

Whisk together 2 tbs balsamic vinegar, 1 tbs olive oil, and 1 tsp Dijon mustard for a quick dressing. Note: I prefer less oil than traditional vinaigrette. Experiment with your quantities or make a larger batch ahead for several salads.

Directions for Lunch Packing:

Pack the salad in a large resealable container. I prefer the Tall Entree from Gladware. Pack the dressing in an Mini Round resealable container. Pack pepitas in a small snack plastic bag and assemble just before serving.

For more packable lunch recipe ideas, check out this article from the March 2009 issue of Cooking Light.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

15 Tips for Healthy Eating on a Budget

Through my gym, I get a free subscription to Experience Life Magazine. For a free magazine subscription, I get a ton of information and they have a good balanced view of health. In the March issue, there is a great article "How Healthy People Eat Cheap" and it gives 15 tips on eating a healthful, whole-foods based diet on a budget. I especially liked the ideas at the bottom of the article "Spendy vs. Savvy." I do many of these tips already. Check it out!

If I could add one more tip, it would be to buy produce and meat directly from a local producer instead of the grocery store.

  • Find a local butcher store: I buy hormone free meat from a high-quality local butcher store in Indiana when my husband and I visit his family. If you're in the Chicago-area, it's a short day-trip away (2 hr drive). Yoder's Meat Shoppe is in the Amish country of Indiana. Most of the meat is sold in frozen packages. I use a thermal bag to transport it home and I put it directly in my home freezer. We are already visiting the area so we're not going out of the way and the value is tremendous factoring in the price for the quality compared to city prices. The locally raised meat is processed on-site and the taste is unmatched!

  • Buy produce from a local farm or co-op: I have a service that use that delivers organic produce to my front door every other week for 1/2 the cost of buying from the grocery store. I use Timber Creek Farms, based outside of Chicago. With some of these services, you have to plan ahead and place your order one week prior to delivery. My order of a fruit box, veggie box, milk, bread, eggs, and cheese lasts for 2 weeks and I will only have to go to the grocery store for a couple of things that I need. With many of these services, you might have to be more adventurous and eat fruit or veggies that you don't typically.

Buying direct, locally and in-season can save you money and help you support family-run farms.

How do I establish a budget? When I worked as a financial planner, I advised my clients to come up with a spending plan based on their goals, priorities, and to realistically balance against short and long-term savings needs. From there, you can carve out a budget for your weekly grocery shopping.

Balance is the key to everything and to review the value that you gain from from the nutrition/energy versus the cost. If food is your body's fuel and maintaining a healthy body is going to keep you earning your living and doing the things you love, then it's all worth it!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Bena Berkey, the RedEye Cover Girl, Helps us Stay Fit!

Two weeks ago, Aaron was contacted by the Chicago Tribune newspaper because he manages a social group for Vizsla owners in Chicago. Vizsla's are becoming a rising star in the city, which is ironic because they are a hunting dog breed. Nationally, they are not a popular dog breed. The article was exploring why this urban group is interested in this hunting breed. A photographer came to our house and took some pictures. Then finally, on Monday March 9, I spotted Bena on the cover of the RedEye, a free commuter version of the Chicago Tribune distributed all over the city train and bus stops. It was exciting for us to see her picture on the news stands all over the city!

Last spring when Aaron was researching which type of dog would be good for our lifestyle, he found that Vizsla's are natural bird hunters, easily trained, athletic, and very attached to their owners.

Then, last June, we adopted Bena, which means "Pheasant" in Cherokee. Her parents are excellent hunters and she inherited the natural abilities. Last November, we sent her to a gun dog trainer and she learned very quickly. At ten-months, she's focused with hunting to "point" and retrieve, but very calm indoors. We live in a small 1,000 square foot condo in Chicago. Aaron takes her to the dog park every morning where she runs full speed for over an hour. Aaron discovered that she can pull you on a bike when she was only three-months old. She is very strong for her size. I'm very happy that Aaron convinced me to go for it!

The surprise for me was how active your lifestyle becomes when you are a dog owner. Think of all the outdoor activities you can do with your dog....
  • Running/jogging/speed walking
  • Biking with your dog on a leash
  • Dog beach to run on the beach and play in the water
  • Dog park and you can meet fellow owners
  • Hunting
  • Throwing a ball
  • Getting outside multiple times a day!

Clearly, dog ownership is a lot of responsibility and it changes your lifestyle, especially in an urban area. So it's not for everyone, but is really rewarding!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

New Reasons to Eat Eggs for Healthy High Quality Protein

Any of my coworkers or family will tell you that I'm a huge fan of eggs. On my honeymoon in Italy, for most of the trip, I craved eggs for breakfast because there not as common by the locals in the morning. I've noticed that if I eat eggs, especially in the morning, I have more energy, longer. On days when I workout at lunch, I try to eat eggs for breakfast. Eggs are perfect for any meal or snack.

Eggs are a high-quality protein and nutritionally-rich food for relatively few calories and comparative cost. The best options are organic, cage-free. Today, Dr. Mercola, health researcher, put out a very informative article on the health benefits of eggs. I encourage you to look at it so you educate yourself on these important facts. Here are some tips for making eggs quickly during the work week.


  • At night, crack eggs and store in an airtight bowl in the refrigerator.

  • In the morning, preheat a small skillet on medium heat. Coat with cooking spray. Use a fork to lightly beat and pour into the skillet. Scramble for egg burrito or cook omelet style for egg sandwiches.

  • Store eggs from the stove-top in an airtight microwaveable container that you can reheat by the time you get to work.

  • First, boil eggs on Sunday and set aside in the fridge for work.

  • For snacks, pair with an orange or your favorite fruit

  • For lunch, make a quick egg salad for a sandwich or make a chef salad with other lunch meat.

Making perfect hard-boiled eggs:

In a small saucepan, add 3-4 inches of water and bring to a boil on high. When water is "rolling" use a large spoon and drop in the egg gently in the water. I typically cook 4-6 at a time. Turn the heat to medium to maintain the boil, but not overflow. Set the timer for 15 minutes. Drain the water in the sink and cover with cold water. Add ice to stop the cooking process. Let cool and eat immediately or store in a bowl in the refrigerator for future use.

I find it's best to peel the egg when you're planning on eating it. To peel, gently push on the egg on a flat surface to crack the shell. It should be easy to take off the shell pieces. I try to eat them within the week for maximum freshness.

These are a couple of ideas that may work for you to help you save time, while eating a nutritious and energy-packed meal or snack.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Get Your ZZzzzzz.....

I think that sleeping is highly under-rated in our frantic culture these days. But, sleep is essential to our overall wellness. The benefits of getting adequate sleep are clear - brain concentration and focus, metabolic health, psychological rejuvenation, and preventing premature aging.

Today, my spin class my instructor emphasized the key contributing factors to improving your metabolic efficiency and the relative weight they carry in the big picture.

  • 20% - Exercise (combination of strength training & cardio)
  • 40% - Good nutrition (including water)
  • 40% - Adequate sleep

Then, I came across this article today that was interesting. It from an expert on MSN, Martica Hearner, about making time to exercise with a busy lifestyle. I really like her advice.

"Keep in mind that not only does sleep play a role, but some people are morning people and some people are night people. So how alert and energized you are during morning or evening workouts may depend on your natural biological rhythm."

So the key is it's all about knowing yourself. When you're trying to achieve lifestyle balance, focus on priorities is key. Your priorities help you logically where to spend your energy and time, while knowing your personal strengths/weaknesses and body conditions.

Go ahead....empower yourself to get some sleep. Now, I will take my own advice and go to bed!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth With Simple & Delicious Chocolate Cake

Last month, we cooked a meal with friends. My friend, Betsy, baked a perfect, super moist chocolate cake. She dusted it with powdered sugar and served it with cut strawberries that we brought. She shared her recipe with me and I made the cake for Valentine's Day dinner.

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 cup brewed coffee (or hot water)
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tbs powdered sugar

Mix dry ingredients together with the brewed coffee (or hot water). Add egg and butter. Mix well. Pour into a greased 8-inch baking pan (round or square). Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Test for doneness with a toothpick.Cool. Dust with powdered sugar. Cut and serve.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Breakfast Idea

Isn't breakfast one of the most important meals of the day? I think that's true because if you don't a proper breakfast, you might overeat at lunch or gorge on high-fat or high-sugar foods without thinking.

For people that exercise in the morning or at lunch, or even for people that can't eat a lot first thing in the morning, this idea may work for you. Consider flipping around your breakfast meal. Try a small snack when you wake up before you leave the house and then have a more substantial breakfast later at work or school.

For example, I wake up early and have a long commute to work. And most days, I workout at lunch, which means I won't eat lunch until 1:30pm. My breakfast needs to be substantial enough to give me the energy to workout at lunch and get me through to the afternoon without fainting. 5:45am to 1:30pm is a long time so here's a typical morning meal and snack.

6:15am Fruit Smoothie

  • 1/2 c milk, 1/2 c water, 1/2 scoop whey protein powder, and 1/2 banana or other fruit - strawberry, blackberry, blueberry, mango, peach, etc

9:00am Breakfast

  • Oatmeal with flax, apple/pear, nuts, and milk
  • Eggs (1 whole + 2 whites) with turkey bacon, lowfat cheese on toast
  • Avocado, tomato and lowfat cheese on toast with milk
  • Lean ham, tomato, lowfat cheese on a high-fiber bagel
  • Yogurt with granola, nuts, and fruit

You may want to adjust your meals to see which foods provide you the most energy and fuel throughout the day. These are examples that work for me. Also, if you are extremely active, you will need to increase your portion sizes based on your typical calorie count for the day.