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Holiday Eating…low-calorie appetizers

Thanksgiving is right around the corner, literally. Every year it comes around the same time…yet we seem to be surprised and unprepared. The plan was to get into better shape and lose a few pounds before the holiday season…right? It’s not just about one particular day or meal… it’s the whole season, which is full of goodies and leftovers. Combine that with less than optimal weather for a majority of the U.S. (discouraging outdoor exercise) and the result is weight gain. Average holiday weight gain is 5 to 10 lbs. It’s no myth! It takes 3,500 calories beyond what your body requires for weight maintenance to gain 1 lb. That might sound like a lot but it’s not…Did you know that a full holiday meal, with appetizers, cocktails, a loaded main plate and dessert can weigh in at over 3,500 calories? Grab a couple of ounces of cheese and a handful of butter crackers and you’re taking in roughly 300 calories. Add two heavy-handed Scotch cocktails and 1/2 cup mixed nuts and you’re looking at up to 800 calories … and you haven’t sat down for that big meal yet. It might be a little late to change the whole meal or put in a special request with your favorite aunt … but you can be proactive. Bring or make low-calorie appetizers and swap out a cocktail for sparkling water with a fruit wedge. You’ll end up taking in fewer calories overall.

Appetizers – Low-calorie suggestions

Remember, appetizers are small ‘bites’ of food that are meant to tide you over until your meal. Of course, you can skip them altogether but you don’t have to do so. Weight-friendly options include, of course, raw veggies/fruits with light dip but will that entice a crowd? Keep in mind that the key to calorie control is portion control. If the flavors are bold and satisfying, you’ll be happy with less. How about grilled shrimp or scallop and cherry tomato skewers or grilled or roasted shiitake mushrooms with a soy dipping sauce? Buy a ready-made soy dipping sauce or create your own with a base of 2 parts (1/2 cup) low-sodium soy sauce to one part (1/4 cup) rice wine vinegar, minced garlic cloves and diced scallions (to your taste), a couple teaspoons of sugar and 1 teaspoon of sesame oil. This easy option offers tons of flavor but fewer than 100 calories per serving. Staying with the seafood theme…thin slices of smoked salmon on a platter topped with diced onion and capers…paired with wheat or rye crackers is healthy and low in calories.

A great crunch alternative to puff pastry is using layers of phyllo dough. It’s easier to work with than you think. You can set the sheets into mini muffin cups and fill them with everything from fruit compote to soft cheeses. Another idea is to whip up a light tasty filling for hollowed out sweet bell peppers made from light cream cheese, onion and chives. If you buy it ‘commercially prepared,’ this type of spread offers about 40 calories per tbsp. but you’ll get a huge burst of color and flavor in one little serving. Remember, they are appetizers…keep the calories ‘mini-sized.’

Refreshing, cool, hydrating summer snacks

Do you find that the summer heat takes a lot out of you? Shake things up by making fruit-based popsicles and slushies. They offer calories (as a snack), vitamins and minerals and the nutrient most essential for life (2nd only to oxygen)… water.

Kitchen Essentials: Blender and Popsicle Molds

Two essential kitchen accessories to ensure happy faces all summer include a high-powered blender and a set of popsicle molds. Make your own tasty, refreshing slushies and popsicles. There are many recipes available online. You can also make up your own recipes. Use what’s in season and think outside of the box. When it’s super-hot, you may not feel like eating. Irregular eating patterns can zap energy. For a fun pick-me-up, these treats can do the trick.

Suggested Recipes:

A few ideas to get you started: in a blender, whip up equal parts nonfat yogurt and frozen raspberries (about 1 cup of each). Add sugar or another sweetener to taste. Blend well, pour into molds and freeze. Love avocados? This neutral-flavored, creamy fruit makes great (saturated fat-free) ‘ice cream’ and ‘ice’ pops. Start by combining a 1/2 cup sugar and 1 cup water in a pot. Place on the stove top (medium heat), stirring occasionally until the mixture boils and the sugar dissolves completely in the water. Let cool to room temperature. In the meantime, scoop the flesh out of two medium-sized ripe avocados and put in a blender. Add the cooled sugar-water mixture. Add 2 TB fresh lime juice. Optional ingredients include fresh mint leaves and/or a splash of tequila (adults only!). Blend well at high-speed. Pour into popsicle molds. Freeze and enjoy. Each recipe makes 5-6 large popsicles.

Make yourself a hydrating, refreshing green slushy by combining, in a blender: 1 cup cucumber (peeled, seeded regular or ‘English’ cucumber), 2 cups honeydew melon chunks (that you’ve frozen), a dozen fresh mint leaves and 2 – 4 tbsp. fresh lime juice (to taste) as well as 1 – 2 tsp. honey. Blend well and serve in 2 tall glasses.

All three of the above recipes offer 100 to 200 calories per serving.

Beets nutrition information and benefits

Mighty Beets are Back…

Have you ever bought fresh beets? Beets are back ‘in-style’ and add much more to your plate than vivid color. If you have not heard about the health benefits of beets, keep reading…not a fan? Well, maybe that’s because you’ve never tried this hearty root vegetable FRESH. Try ’em the grown-up way (uncanned) and get ready to love a food you never thought you’d like. It’s easy to love fresh beets, and not just for their nutritional advantages. While we often think of beets having a reddish-purple hue, some varieties are white, golden-yellow or even rainbow colored. The sweet, buttery taste of beets reflects their high sugar content making them an important raw material for the production of refined sugar. In fact, they have the highest sugar content of all vegetables, yet are very low in calories.

Peak season for beets is June – October (when they are most tender) and are easy to prepare at home. Pass by blemished bulbs with wilted greens and look for healthier bulbs. You’ll find the prettiest beets at your local farmer’s market. By the way, don’t throw out those greens so fast! They are chock full of nutrients such as beta-carotene, vitamin C, iron and calcium. Greens can be sautéed in garlic and olive oil. Beets are rich in folate, potassium, magnesium and dietary fiber and contain powerful nutrient compounds that help protect against heart disease, birth defects and certain cancers, especially colon cancer.

Preparing Beets: Beet Recipe

Beets can be peeled, steamed, and eaten warm with butter as a delicacy; cooked, pickled, and eaten cold as a condiment; or peeled, shredded raw, and eaten as a salad. Pickled beets are a traditional food of the American South. It is also common in Australia for pickled beetroot to be consumed on a burger.

An increasingly popular preparation method is roasting beets. To roast beets, trim the greens away from the beets (leave about 1/4″), thoroughly clean beets with a veggie scrubber and place in a baking dish. Add 1/4″ of water to the dish. Cover. Place medium beets (4-6 oz) in the oven and roast for 40-45 minutes (a little less or more time for smaller and larger beets, respectively). They’re done when a knife easily penetrates the beet. Allow to cool in the baking dish. Cut away the ends and slip off the skins. Roasted beets are wonderful on their own or dressed with a vinaigrette, and they’ll keep, refrigerated, for 5 days in a covered bowl.

Approx Nutritional Information: 1 roasted beet: 44 calories; Total fat: < 0.5 g; cholesterol 0 mg; sodium 77 mg; Total carbohydrates 10.0 g; Dietary Fiber 2.0 g; Sugars 8.0 g; Protein 1.7 g.