Saturday, May 23, 2015

Quick and Easy Eggs!

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I am always looking for new creative protein sources.. cold cuts can get boring and you always worry about additives, nuts are not allowed at school, and beans are not all that high in protein. Eggs are my favorite go-to for quick breakfasts, lunches and dinners. This might mean scrambled eggs or “Egg in a basket” for breakfast, hard-boiled eggs or egg salad for lunch, or quiche or frittata for dinner. (No, not all of these on the same day!). Eggs contain about 6 grams of high quality protein and are rich sources of vitamins and choline, a key nutrient for brain development and cell membranes.

It can be tricky to choose which eggs to buy. You might see “natural”, “free range” or “organic” on an egg carton, but how can you tell which is best for your family (and the chickens!)?My most important agenda item is health, so I always look to make sure the eggs are omega-3 enriched.   What this means is that the farmer uses special feed for the chickens so that the eggs contain higher levels of DHA, an important omega-3 fat typically found in fish. Next, I try to support farmers who use humane practices.  Finding eggs that are “Certified Humane” or “Animal Welfare Approved” AND pasture-raised helps guarantee that the chickens were raised humanely. Yes, the eggs will cost more but they will taste better and generally be more nutritious too!

What do all those labels mean?
  • Conventional practice: Chickens can be forced to endure some pretty harsh conditions, and buying regular eggs (without any fancy labels) encourages these practices. The chickens are kept in tiny cages (often less than a letter-sized sheet of paper) and unable to move. They are often fed animal by-products. Generally their beaks are cut to reduce pecking and they are subjected to starvation to regulate the egg cycle. 
  • Cage-Free: Chickens are uncaged inside barns, but do not generally have access to the outdoors. These chickens will have a little more space, but are still potentially subjected to practices like beak cutting and starvation.
  • Free-Range or Free-Roaming: Typically, chickens are uncaged inside barns and have some degree of outdoor access, but this access can be quite limited. These chickens are still potentially subjected to practices like beak cutting and starvation.
  • Pasture-Raised: Typically, pasture-raised hens are kept outdoors for most of the year, and are kept indoors at night for protection. However, the term is unregulated so you still have to look for a quality company.
  • Certified Organic: Typically, chickens are kept uncaged inside barns, and are required to have outdoor access, but the amount of outdoor access can be quite limited. They are fed an organic, all-vegetarian diet free of antibiotics and pesticides. These chickens are still potentially subjected to practices like beak cutting and starvation.
  • Vegetarian-Fed: This means that the chickens were not fed animal by-products.
  • Omega-3 Enriched: This means that the chickens are fed a special diet including lots of flaxseed, which increases the content of the essential fatty acid DHA in the eggs.
  • Natural, Pasteurized and Farm Fresh: These claims are unregulated and meaningless
To find good brands in your area, check out this great review by which grades farm conditions with ratings from 5 (pasture-fed well-managed farms) to 1 (industrial-scale operations without meaningful outdoor access). Even with the best intentions, most of the brands I used to buy are in the lowest category, including Eggland’s Best, Land-O-Lakes and 4-Grain. Companies like Whole Foods 365 Organic, Trader Joe’s, Wild Harvest and Wegman’s  didn’t even score a 1. Look for the best quality eggs at farmer’s markets, food cooperatives and/or independently owned natural and grocery stores. For me,there are no 4-star or 5-star options close by, so I have had to content myself with 3-star rated Born Free or Pete and Gerry’s.

So next time you are struggling for ideas, just make a batch of hard-boiled eggs. I keep pre-made hard-boiled eggs in the refrigerator for quick kid-friendly snacks and lunch in a pinch!

Easy Quick Egg Salad
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon mustard
  • Salt and pepper
1.       Place eggs in a pot and add enough water to cover eggs by at least one inch
2.       Bring the water to a boil
3.       Remove pot from heat and let the eggs sit in the hot water for 11 minutes
4.       Remove eggs from hot water and place in a bowl filled with ice until cooled
5.       Peel the cooled eggs and mash
6.       Mix together mayonnaise and mustard; combine with the eggs
7.       Add salt and pepper to taste

Curried Vegetable Egg Salad
  • 6 eggs
  • 3 Tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 3 Tablespoons plain yogurt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1 cup diced vegetables, carrot, celery or bell pepper
  • 2 Tbsp chives
  • 1/2 teaspoon curry powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
  • Salt and pepper
1.       Place eggs in a pot and add enough water to cover eggs by at least one inch
2.       Bring the water to a boil
3.       Remove pot from heat and let the eggs sit in the hot water for 11 minutes
4.       Remove eggs from hot water and place in a bowl filled with ice until cooled
5.       Peel the cooled eggs and mash
6.       Mix together mayonnaise, yogurt, lemon juice, lemon zest and curry powder
7.       Combine vegetables, eggs and mayo mixture and stir
8.       Add salt and pepper to taste

And for your enjoyment, here is my failed attempt at creating a "beautiful" star-shaped egg with one of those Japanese egg molds! This is where you take a boiling hot egg and peel it as fast as you can (while burning your fingers), then you smash the hot egg into an egg mold:

Voila! Beautiful, no? Look at those pointy ends, and nice smooth shape! :)

Monday, November 10, 2014

Finding a Good Hot Dog

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Kids love hot dogs, but can they be included in a healthy diet? If so, how do you find a good one? Most hot dogs are full of additives, fillers and nitrates. Studies have shown that eating processed, smoked, cured or salted meats like salami and hot dogs is associated with higher levels of colon cancer and other cancers. Another study conducted from the Harvard School of Public Health suggests that eating just one serving a day of processed meat (the equivalent of a single hot dog or two slices of salami) was associated with a 42% increased risk for heart disease and a 19% increased risk for diabetes, while eating unprocessed beef, pork, or lamb was not linked to a higher risk.

Why the difference in risk? It is believed to be due to the much higher levels of sodium and nitrates contained in the processed meats. This means that minimizing sodium and nitrates are important when making your selection.

What should you look for when choosing a hot dog:

Natural nitrates: The jury is still out on sodium nitrite or nitrates. These compounds are used in processed meats to help extend shelf life. Some studies suggest that they can react with meat to produce nitrosamines, which have been linked with increased risk of gastric and esophageal cancer, and can possibly cause DNA damage leading to other health concerns. Other studies suggest that getting nitrates from vegetables (particularly celery and beets) may be linked with decreased blood pressure. I think until more concrete evidence is in, you should look for hot dogs with naturally derived nitrates, like celery powder. Applegate farms products are an example and can be found in most grocery stores.

Lower sodium: While hot dogs will never be considered a low-sodium food, some brands can contain over 500 mg per hot dog! The 2010 Dietary Guidelines recommend that most people reduce sodium to less than 1500 mg per day so that is 1/3 of your daily amount in just one hot dog! Look for brands with 370 mg sodium or less.

Organic: Organically raised animals are not treated with antibiotics or hormones. Farmers use antibiotics and hormones to speed up how quickly they can raise animals, and in less hygienic conditions. Organic also ensures that the animal feed is non-GMO food grown without the use of pesticides.

A simple list of ingredients: "good" hot dogs should not include fillers like wheat, soy or corn, artificial flavorings, artificial coloring or preservatives. These additives reduce the nutritional content of the hot dog and could be associated with hyperactivity and obesity.

To research the brands out there, we got to taste test all the hot dogs I could find on the market with natural nitrates to find the best:

Our favorites:

1) Fearless Uncured Franks (reviewers found these the best of the bunch but nutritionally they are too high in sodium for regular consumption)

Calories 130, Fat 9 g, Sodium 480 mg, Protein 8 g
Ingredients: Pork and Beef, Water, Salt, Dextrose, Mustard, Paprika, Garlic, Sodium Phosphate, Celery Powder, Nonfat dry milk, Spices

2) Pineland Farms (reviewers: too crunchy!)

Calories 140, Fat 12 g, Sodium 390 mg Protein 8 g
Ingredients: Beef, Water, Sea Salt, Natural Spices, Turbinado sugar, Paprika, Celery juice powder, Onion powder, lamb casing

3) Nature's Rancher (reviewers: these tastes like bacon!)
Calories 190, Fat 16 g, Sodium 340 mg, Protein 7 g
(with all that fat no wonder these tasted like bacon)

Ingredients: Beef, Water, Sea Salt, Honey, Evaporated cane syrup, Mustard, Nutmeg, Pepper, Allspice, Ginger Paprika, Onion Powder, Garlic Powder, Celery Juice Powder, Lactic acid starter

4) Applegate Beef Hot Dogs (nutritionally these are the best, but reviewers found them too salty)

Calories 70, Fat 6 g, Sodium 330 mg, Protein 6 g
Ingredients: Beef, Water, Sea Salt, Paprika, Dehydrated Onion, Spices, Nutmeg oil, Celery powder

Who knew my investigation would lead to this... The WINNER:
5) Applegate Naturals (the best tasting and while you can never say a hot dog is nutritious, this one had lower levels of fat and sodium)

Calories 110, Fat 9 g, Sodium 360 mg, Protein 7 g
Beef and Pork, Water. Sea Salt, Paprika, Spices, Garlic, Onion, Celery Powder, Cayenne Pepper, Black Pepper, Coriander, Mace, Ginger, Lamb Casing

Fear not, creative lunch-packer... on top of this thorough review of hot dog options, I also got to try out a fancy new gadget. This Japanese hot dog cutter supposedly makes easy work of hot dogs, carving them into fun spirals and octopi... 

The verdict: 20 minutes of squashed hot dog results in an unimpressive spiral half and one squashed hot dog beyond repair. Do not waste your money!  

So does this mean that you can eat hot dogs every day, or even every week? No. But, with some careful consideration, you can have them for an occasional indulgence.


Monday, September 1, 2014

Choosing a Lunchbox Right for You!

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Tomorrow marks our first day back to school, so welcome back everyone to homework nagging and the drudgery of packing lunches! The start of school for us means new clothes and of course new backpacks and lunchboxes. I am often at a loss for the perfect lunch container. I try to avoid plastic, but the lightweight convenience is hard to beat. I have tried stainless steel but worry that they have trouble opening the containers. I purchased a new silicone lunch container just a few months ago, which I thought was going to be the perfect lunchbox, but it ended up being too large... Listed below are a few of the lunchbox options I have tried with the pluses and minuses for each:

Easy Lunchboxes

BPA-free sturdy plastic divided compartment containers. Each container has a large container, medium container and small container.
I love the sizes of the compartments and lightweight sturdy construction, but am not crazy about the fact that it is plastic leaching who knows what into my children's food.
The Yumbox is new on the block, but looks like it might become a new favorite. It has divided containers, opens easily, and the most exciting part, each compartment seals tight, so you can fill with dips or yogurt.


Stainless steel single and divided containers in a variety of sizes.
I love the fact that it is not plastic, but the container I have is pretty small and can be difficult to open. I worry that they will not be able to get it open in the school cafeteria.

Laptop Lunches

BPA-free sturdy plastic containers with a variety of small compartments and containers to encourage creativity.
I have always loved the idea of these but the price-tag has kept me from jumping in. I have quite a few friends who love the fact that all the containers inspire them to be creative, but are not crazy about the fact that some of the containers do not have lids.

Go Green Lunchbox

BPA-free plastic divided container with water bottle.
This looks like a great option to me, although once again I am not crazy about the fact that it is plastic.

Planet Box

Stainless steel segmented tray, folds in half to close.
I loved the idea of this lunchbox since it seems so similar to the divided tray above but in stainless steel. I will have to get one and report back.

Smart Planet Silicone Meal Kits

Collapsible silicone divided compartments with lid.
I thought this was going to be my answer, since it is a divided lightweight container similar to my favorite plastic box, but the compartments are so large I feel compelled to pack more food than my kids can eat.


For insulated water bottles and food jars.
I love my food jar for packing hot lunches!

Best wishes for a fun-filled stress-free back to school!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

10 Easy Camp Lunch Ideas

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If you are like me, summer vacation doesn't end the need for packed lunches. Nope. Now my kids need lunches that can withstand the summer heat and enough snacks to keep them going through that long camp day. And with these sizzling hot temperatures and busier-than-ever days, who wants to think about packing lunches?? Not me! To simplify your life and mine, enjoy this list of easy summer camp lunch ideas:

  1. Sandwiches - Get out of your boring sandwich rut by choosing different breads (think rolls, mini-bagel, english muffin, pita, flat-bread or tortillas) and different fillings like feta or cream cheese and cucumber, scrambled eggs and cheese, nitrate-free turkey, chicken or ham, or hummus and vegetables.
  2. Three bean salad - My kids love beans, so an easy bean salad is always a hit. Blanch green beans and chop into 1 inch pieces, combine with a can of kidney beans and a can of chickpeas, some olive oil and a dash of balsamic vinegar or lemon juice.
  3. Fruit salad and cottage cheese - A nice crisp plate of fruit makes the perfect lunch for a hot day. Combine with a small dish of cottage cheese for protein and you have a perfect easy lunch!
  4. Pasta salad - Mix cooked pasta with copped veggies, tuna, hard-boiled egg, italian salad dressing, salt, pepper and a little mayo, or skip the tuna and egg and just use tortellini or small ravioli.
  5. Chicken salad - Take last night's rotisserie chicken and mix in a little mayo, salt, pepper, chopped celery and maybe even some cut-up grapes or green apple. Serve with crackers, pita bread or as a wrap sandwich
  6. Cheese and crackers - What kid doesn't love a lunch-time picnic?! Combined sliced cheese with crackers, veggie sticks and dip, and grapes.
  7. Eggs - From an easy hard-boiled egg to a leftover frittata, eggs make a great lunch-time source of protein. Mash up hard-boiled eggs with mayo, salt and pepper for egg salad or if you want to get fancy, serve them sliced over cooked asparagus or a garden salad.
  8. Waffles - Frozen waffles make a great easy lunch. Just toast, slice into strips and serve with a little container of syrup. You could make them into protein-packed sandwiches by topping them with nut butter (or sunflower butter) or serve alongside turkey sausage for protein.
  9. Grilled cheese - Fry up a ham and cheese / tomato and cheese sandwich, or broil up an English muffin pizza for a noon-time treat. 
  10. Burrito - Cook beans with sauteed garlic, onions, cumin, chili powder, salt and pepper (Hint: I like to make rice and beans for dinner and use leftovers for lunches). Then roll up a tortilla with rice, beans, cheese and salsa inside. Secure the roll with aluminum foil.
Happy Camping!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Crunchy Roasted Chickpea Snack

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I am always looking for new snack ideas outside the basic pretzels and apple routine, particularly snacks with some protein! My kids are tired of cheese sticks, hummus and yogurt tubes, so I always feel like I am grasping at straws... an egg? some almonds? I recently came across a recipe for roasted chickpeas that I thought sounded fun. Beans are great sources of fiber, protein, trace minerals and phytonutrients. Just a quarter cup of chickpeas provides 9 grams of fiber and 10 grams of protein, much more than those processed pretzels! What is particularly fun about roasted beans is the bite-size snacking and fun crunch they offer. Crispy, salty and full of flavor, they offer a great alternative to chips:

Crunchy Roasted Chickpeas
  • 1 can chickpeas (15 oz)
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  1. Preheat oven to 425
  2. Drain and rinse chickpeas
  3. Blot with a paper towel to remove moisture
  4. Combine chickpeas with oil, garlic powder and salt and stir well... Feel free to add your own seasoning combinations at this point. My kids are picky so I just stuck to the basics but these would be delicious with herbs, paprika or cayenne pepper!
  5. Spread the chickpeas on a baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes
  6. Stir, then bake for another 5-10 minutes if needed until crisp but not burnt

Kid Reviews
Thumbs up!
"These are much better than regular chickpeas!"
"Umm... kind of good, kind of bad...."

Thursday, April 17, 2014

30+ Quick Dinner Ideas

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I was recently asked by a friend for easy quick portable family dinner ideas for busy nights. Whether you have soccer, baseball, homework or just get home from work with no time to cook, this is a common  dilemma. As a nutritionist with lots of dinner-cooking experience (cooking dinner was my daily responsibility since the age of 12 - and yes, I have failed since my kids can barely make their own cereal), I have a list of my favorite go-to dinners. Some of these are quick dinner ideas, some can be whipped up in minutes, others will require a few minutes advanced prep so you can be ready at game-time:

Pasta ideas:
  • Pasta with turkey meatballs (Make a big batch of pasta and freeze in small baggies for heating up just before game-time, then mix with warmed up frozen turkey meatballs and sauce and pack in food jars)
  • Pasta with meat sauce: brown ground turkey or beef and add to tomato sauce, serve over pasta.
  • Pasta with chicken and broccoli: saute thin strips of chicken until cooked, add broccoli and serve with pasta. You can buy pre-cooked frozen grilled chicken strips at Trader Joe's and make this in minutes.
  • Pasta salad: Mix pasta with chopped hard-boiled egg, canned tuna, cut-up veggies, a drop of mayo and some italian salad dressing. Serve cool.
  • Pasta carbonara: Cook pasta, Combine 2 eggs, 1/2 cup parmesan cheese and saute into pasta.
Slow cooker ideas (takes a little advance planning, but how nice it is to arrive home to a fully made meal!):
  • Grilled chicken Caesar salad: use frozen grilled chicken strips, parmesan cheese, and bottled Caesar dressing
  • Cobb salad: rolled up cold cuts, crumbled blue cheese and a hard-boiled egg
  • Antipasto salad: sliced cold cuts, cheese, pickled vegetables and olives
  • Taco salad: taco filling, cheese and chopped tomatoes
  • Caprese salad: tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, basil and/or spinach
  • Cold cut wrap sandwich with veggies
  • English muffin / egg and cheese sandwich
  • Frozen waffle/pancakes with nut butter sandwich
  • Burritos with rice, beans and frozen grilled chicken strips
  • Veggie burgers/ turkey burgers served on a roll or English muffin  (I just bought these great pre-made chicken burgers that we are all loving)
  • Quesadillas (broil open-faced tortillas topped with shredded cheese, beans or chicken as desired. When cheese is melted, fold over and cut into triangles)
  • Grilled cheese sandwich
If you have a little more time, try these 30 minute dinners:
  • Tacos: Brown ground turkey, add salsa, black beans and taco seasoning (I use McCormick brand). Serve with shredded lettuce, chopped tomatoes and cheese
  • Stir-fried chicken and vegetables: Saute thinly sliced chicken until cooked, add vegetables, soy sauce and minced ginger and garlic and cook until vegetables are tender (serve with warmed up frozen rice)
  • Baked breaded chicken (either homemade or Bell & Evans) and vegetables
  • Turkey sausage with peppers and potatoes (chop the potatoes, drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper and cook for 5 minutes in the microwave then add to cooked sausage and peppers for speed)
  • Pasta e fagiole (saute turkey sausage and add white beans, chopped spinach or kale and chicken broth, cook until tender and serve with pre-cooked noodles)
  • Curried lentils with spinach or kale, served with rice
  • Beans (black, pink or red) flavored with tomato sauce and taco seasoning, served with rice
  • Macaroni and cheese: cook noodles in evaporated milk and water, thicken with corn-starch and add a pinch of dry mustard and shredded cheese
  • Broiled fish or fish tacos (served with shredded vegetables, fish taco sauce (sour cream, mayo, lime juice and taco seasoning) and tortillas)
  • Ground beef stroganoff: Brown ground beef and add white wine, mushrooms and plain yogurt, serve with noodles
Happy eating!