Austin Healthy Food Review

Hello Austin, TX!! I have missed you and your delicious food and fun activities!

A little over a week ago I flew out to ATX for McGraw Hill Publishing. In case you missed it, here was my IG pic of “lunch” on the plane. Cheers to packing for travel! Despite a speedy layover I still got 2 servings of fruit, 22 g of protein and 14 g of fiber in for lunch.  

I landed early around 1 but had to wait for the McGraw hill pre-planned transportation to the hotel for about 30 min – not easy! I was so eager to get there and be outside. It was 20 and windy when I left Philly and 81 here. Enough said.

I knew I would have very little time Friday & Saturday due to the planned schedule so as soon as I got to the hotel, I checked in, exchanged my boots for flip flops 😎 and got walking… to Whole Foods Flagship.  🙈 Continue reading

Spice Up Your Life! Flavor without the Salt and Sugar

For many people, Halloween marks the start of a loooong holiday season. While we should first remember that holidays are just that, a single day, I know that everyone is tempted during November and December by the overabundance of foods and snacks we should have in moderation, and excessive high calorie beverages. Thanksgiving is fast approaching, so I thought it would be fitting to make my next post of the holiday season about how to decrease the salt and sugar in food by adding flavor in other ways! Instead of all of the sodium and sugar, you can add so much nutrition with the antioxidant powers in spices and herbs.

While sodium is often demonized for its impact on high blood pressure, the truth is many people do not see a blood pressure impact due to salt consumption. That doesn’t mean it isn’t impacting your health though. The minimum sodium recommendation is 1500 mg per day and most Americans are eating closer to 4000 mg. At this level of intake, research shows a negative influence on bone health, kidney health and even type II diabetes risk. Foods you may not expect to be very high in sodium include cheese (sorry, that is why it’s your favorite type of dairy), packaged bread and dough, and meat. Another hidden source? Those low calorie frozen meals that claim to make you “lean”, “smart” and “healthy” and attract your attention with their green labels. Healthy choice soup at 100 calories per cup? Sounds great! With the 1300 mg of sodium? Not so great!

I don’t think I need to convince you that most people need to reduce their sugar intake, too! The American Heart Association recommends adult women consume no more than 25 grams, or 6 teaspoons of added sugar each day and that adult men consume no more than 38 grams, or 9 teaspoons, of added sugar each day. For reference, one container of Yoplait strawberry yogurt has 26 grams! The average American adult, according to NHANES data is eating over 20 teaspoons each day. Imagine how much higher it gets during the holiday season! This does not just effect your waistline but is also linked to mood disturbances, depression, altered appetite, headaches, skin problems, and poor attention span.

I am a self-proclaimed foodie and love not only cooking and food but also baking and treats. Here are some tips on how to lighten up your favorite dishes while reducing your sodium and sugar intake. Attached are some fact sheets on the health benefits of herbs and spices, too.


Use low sodium broths in soups, stews, and even mashed potatoes. If you live near a Trader Joe’s, their low sodium vegetable broth has more flavor than any full sodium broth on the market! I have tried many!

Reduce salt in recipes by half and add extra garlic and/or pepper

Switch to using a pepper grinder to have a stronger flavor so you don’t miss the salt

Don’t use salt substitutes! Real salt is better for you than the chemicals in the substitute!

Use 100% pure maple syrup or honey instead of sugar to sweeten holiday side dishes

Try new fresh herbs to heighten flavor


Use only ¾ of sugar listed in recipe and add an extra teaspoon of vanilla extract

Omit salt if the recipe calls for baking powder or baking soda

Use organic granulated sugar It isn’t bleached like white sugar so you are getting more nutrients

Swap brown sugar for coconut sugar + 1 tablespoon of molasses (both are more rich in vitamins and minerals)

Use 100% pure maple syrup or honey to sweeten

Add cinnamon and ginger to your holiday recipes for festive flavor instead of topping with sugar

Here are 3 holiday recipes of mine. The first is a great soup that you have have as a holiday app or on a cold day, the second a Thanksgiving side dish and the other a nice party snack or treat.

Potato Leek and Kale Soup

Roasted Butternut Squash, Brussel Sprouts and Cranberries

Maple and Chia Candied Pecans and Walnuts


Fall Food Prep

I am writing this post specifically for my students. They have learned about the science of food and nutrition up to this point in class and this week, they are taught how to actually apply it to their life to be more healthful. The biggest complaint I hear about from students is that eating healthy food is too time consuming. I especially hear this from students who are also parents coming back to school. Just like studying outside of class requires time management, so does your meal plan! How can you possibly stay energized to take on school, work, exercise and family time without eating well? I know I wouldn’t be able to! So it all comes back to planning and preparation. Taking a few hours one day to prepare a couple of meals and ingredients for later in the week will make your life less stressful and will save time, money and energy later.

First, it is important to have a running grocery list at all times. I cannot imagine going to the grocery store without a list! {{How some people manage, I will never know}} For some of you maybe this is your first goal. Get accustomed to having a grocery list of things you actually need for the coming week. Put a notepad on your fridge or by the family computer to update when you realize you need something. Also, if you make a time saving rule that you won’t run back to the grocery store Monday-Friday, you will be sure to get everything you’ll need on that list. Oh yeah, and only put healthful nutrient dense foods on the list. If you only have nutritious foods in the house, you’ll only eat nutritious foods.

list2  list

Once making grocery lists is just a part of your lifestyle and you don’t need to give it a second thought, your second step is to make sure those lists actually correspond with meals you are going to prepare for the week. Start just by having a plan for dinner each night. This means that yes, you will choose what you will be eating for the coming week ahead of time. Ditch the excuse of “but what if I don’t feel like X on Wednesday”. If you have 4-5 meals planned you can move them around! This way you are going to buy only what you need and be much less likely to eat junk or order out. After planning dinners becomes part of your lifestyle, start to include breakfast, lunch and snacks in your planning.

Now, if you’ve gotten used to the organizational side of things on paper, that doesn’t mean it has been easy to throw those meals together each night. So this is what makes life the easiest: weekly food prep. Based on your family’s schedule, Sunday may not be the best day for you to prep so evaluate your week and pick whatever day is easiest for you. For me, it is Sunday so in the fall, I do all my food preparation while football is on (we are lucky enough that the kitchen is connected to the living area and I can see/hear the TV). This way, I get to pay attention to the games but instead of sitting on my butt, I check things off my to do list and make eating healthy meals and snacks easier the rest of the week. I know there is no way especially Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, that I am going to get a workout in and make a satisfying healthy dinner, so food prep has become a big part of my life. Below I have an example of a typical week of food prep in the fall. I think fall and winter are sometimes the easiest seasons for meal prep because of one pot meals like soup, chili, and even crockpot oats for the morning.

A couple of things that I do most weeks are prepping black beans and garbanzo beans from dry and baking potatoes and sweet potatoes. You can do both of these things at the same time. I prefer dry beans over canned because it is much more fresh and also easier than wondering if the cans are lined with BPA (since most cans are). Plus, its more economical. I usually prep 1/2 of a 1 lb bag but you could prep the whole bag if you have a big family or if you want to freeze half.

Since the oven is on, I typically maximize the space and energy being used by baking or roasting something else. This week I roasted brussel sprouts, cauliflower, carrots and onion. I also put a poblano pepper in to roast for hummus as well as a delicata squash and an acorn squash, each halved.

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Prepped & Drained Beans // Red Potatoes & Sweet Potatoes  // Veggies for roasting

While the beans were finishing up I started chopping ingredients for the soup & sloppy joes below. I was sure to chop enough onions and garlic for both of those recipes at the same time. I put some farro on the stove that I used to make this quick dish with it Wednesday night, and also used some for a salad during the week. When the beans were done, I started to make my potato kale and leek soup. With that going, I also started my cooking lentils for my lentil sloppy joes.

soup joes
Potato, Leek & Kale Soup            //  Lentil Sloppy Joes

Each week it is essential to have fresh fruits & veggies available for snacks at all times. We always rinse romaine & mixed greens and have a lot ready in a huge salad bowl in the fridge. In addition, I will chop carrots, celery and when we have them peppers and other veggies to dip into hummus as a snack. I make my own hummus too since its much more fresh. Red chili pepper hummus is my go-to but this week I used the roasted poblano and garbanzo beans to switch it up. I don’t have any hummus recipes on the blog but here are lots of simple ideas: hummus.

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Chopped veggies                  Roasted Poblano   Poblano Hummus

Now what do you do with this stuff during the week?

I always have garbanzo beans leftover after making hummus. My husband loves them plain as a snack but I prefer to add them to salads.

Black beans are also something we add to salad (below w/ avocado) and one day I added to half an acorn squash w/ farro, brussels & hummus and brought it to work for lunch (left below). On Thursday I made a half batch of quick black bean soup. Again, no recipe on the blog but here is a crockpot one (aka throw ingredients in and its done in 8 hours without you doing anything else).

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Potatoes are generally eaten by us alongside veggie packed omelets or with black beans and topping of choice (salsa, hummus, guacamole). Obviously possibilities are endless with this food so do what you wish (other than adding butter, bacon, sour cream, cheese etc). I often have sweet potatoes right out of the fridge as a pre-workout snack after work. You could also throw this recipe together quickly.

The roasted carrots, brussel sprouts and cauliflower were added to salads this week but could easily be thrown into a tortilla wrap or omelet for a meal too. I even dip brussel sprouts in hummus as a snack! I also mixed the brussels with farro in a pan with some garlic and olive oil and added them to one half of delicata squash for dinner one night. I liked it so much it became lunch at work the next day too.

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As mentioned above I used most of the farro for my farro fried rice, and it should be self explanatory that you eat the kale soup for lunches and dinners. The sloppy joes have recommendations for serving within the post itself.

For other ideas on food prep, head over to the blog of another Registered Dietitian, The Lean Green Bean who has lots of posts on the topic!

Hope this is helpful and feel free to leave comments and questions below!

Maple Roasted Butternut Squash, Brussel Sprouts & Cranberries

There are SO many possibilities with a butternut squash and below is a great option for a Thanksgiving side dish. We’ve been enjoying it at our Thanksgiving table for at least 6 years now!

This colorful and flavorful dish gives you a feeling of fullness without packing in lots of excess fat or sugar. Plus, it has Brussels sprouts, which I literally could eat everyday! In addition to standing alone as a side dish, this recipe is perfect over a green salad with your preferred source of protein.

Need more healthy, but delicious Thanksgiving recipes? Check out this easy Refined-Sugar Free Cranberry Sauce, Butternut Squash and Leek Soup, and Black Rice and Squash Bowl.

Roasted Butternut Squash, Brussel Sprouts & Cranberries (GF, V, DF)

  • 1/2 medium butternut squash (roughly 3 lbs), de-seeded, peel cut off and flesh cubed into 1/2 inch pieces**
  • 1/2 stalk Brussel sprouts / about 30 pieces, halved or quartered
  • 1- 1 1/2 cups fresh cranberries
  • 1 Tablespoon avocado oil
  • 2 Tablespoons 100% Pure maple syrup
  • Ground pepper and salt to taste

*Purchasing tips: it may look funny but buying an actual stalk of brussel sprouts means lower cost, and possibly higher nutrient content since you won’t slice and dice the veggie until very close to consumption. Same goes for buying a whole squash versus pre-cubed.

**You can cube & freeze the other half of the butternut squash to use at a later time, or double the recipe if you’ll have lots of Thanksgiving guests

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  • Prep vegetables and, if desired, slice cranberries in half.
  • Mix brussel sprouts and squash with the cranberries in a large bowl.
  • Drizzle oil and maple syrup over mixture and season with pepper and salt. Toss well.
  • Place mixture into 2 large baking dishes (If you use 1 you may have to cook for longer) and place in the oven.
  • Bake for a total of 35-45 minutes, depending on your oven, stirring every 10 minutes.

Real Ingredients with Real Benefits:

Eat a 1 Cup serving of Butternut Squash and you’ve hit 4x your Vitamin A needs for the day as well as half of your needs for vitamin C! You’ll even get Vitamins E and some B vitamins from this nutrient powerhouse as good amounts of magnesium and potassium. The carotenoids & bioflavonoids in butternut squash are known to boost immunity and work as antioxidants that support the hearth, eyes and even work to prevent some cancers.

Brussel Sprouts contain many antioxidant phytochemicals including sulfurophane which is found in research to aid the livers detoxifying actions and fight cancer cells in the body, especially linking to colon cancer. Another phytochemical group in brussel sprouts (isothiocyanates) has been linked to fighting bladder cancer. The vegetable is also a good source of Vitamins C, K and folate and even provides you with some omega-3!
Cranberries are a fruit that is very low in sugar. People may associate it as a sugary food because its often consumed as juice, dried & sweetened, or used as cranberry sauce (which means the addition of lots of sugar). A full cup of fresh cranberries contains more fiber than sugar (5g vs 4g)! The berries are bitter though so adding them to other dishes is a good way to balance flavors. Cranberries are rich in vitamins C, E, K, and the mineral manganese. These berries really pack in the phytochemicals though and contain flavonoids, flavonols, phenolic acids and proanthocyanidins. Some new research shows cranberries can protect from certain bacteria, inflammation, cardiovascular disease (1) and act against cancerous tumors (2).
Maple Syrup is a source of added sugar but can have some benefits if it is 100% pure and is used in moderation. it actually provides small amounts of calcium, iron, mangnesium & zinc. One study in 2010 found Canadian Maple Syrup to contain over 26 antioxidant compounds (3)!
Avocado oil is my go to when I am cooking. While olive oil has great flavor and a good fat profile, avocado oil actually has omega-3 and a higher smoke point making it better for cooking at medium to high temperatures.

1. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr 2009 Oct; 49(9):741-81. Phytochemicals of cranberries and cranberry products: characterization, potential health effects, and processing stability. Pappas E, Schaich KM.
2. Am Society for Nutr 2007. Cranberry and Its Phytochemicals: A review of In Vitro Anticancer Studies. Neto CC.
3. J Agric Food Chem 2011 Jul 27;59(14):7708-16. Further investigation into maple syrup yields 3 new lignans, a new phenylpropanoid, and 26 other phytochemicals. Li L, Seeram NP.