I am a lucky girl. I have a wonderful family, comfortable home, amazing friends and yet I struggle with the same pull for perfectionism as many of you.

Yet, my luckily life brings me harsh lessons at seemingly perfect times. This week I had the great fortune of meeting Glennon Doyle Melton, the refreshingly honest blogger behind Momastery.com. Glennon makes speaking from the heart seem effortless and comical and essentially sweet all at the same time. Thanks to my friend Laurie and an amazing (spontaneous) group of women, we formed a “book club” that allowed us to meet Glennon from the comfort of her closet…I mean, how could you NOT love this lady?

Book Club with Glennon

In the midst of our conversation about her book, it’s raw and revealing stories, and her underlying message of love I was struck by her pull to start a blog so that she could write about the truth…well, actually the “truthiest truths” as she calls them. Those messages that are at the heart of every one of us.

It was a slap to the face for me, because that is EXACTLY what I wanted to do with this blog – except with a health spin.

I have worked for years in health care, helping people to find wellness through better nutrition, physical fitness, and healthy ways of managing stress. Yet, it was the struggle and feeling of futility in the quest of many following fads diets and trendy programs that made me want to help people see the TRUTH of living well.

Lately, I have been in a state of apathy over my blog, not “feeling it” anymore because it didn’t feel like a reflection of what I wanted to do. It seemed too pretty, too perfect and that was certainly not the expectation of nor the pressure I wanted to add upon my readers. Thanks to Glennon, I have remembered my original pull to write!

So my lovely readers, I am going back to telling the truthiest truths about health. You will see some changes coming with the layout and hopefully the “flair” in which the information is presented. And in the spirit of truth, I’m going to be honest…I’m no techie, so this transition may take some time. Hang with me and I promise, I’ll help you find the truth about how you can live well – not perfect, but well.

And feel free to share what you want to see on this blog too. It’s intended for you, after all. Let’s get to the truth together!

 

How to Slim Down Your Super Bowl

 

Super Bowl is the second largest food event next to Thanksgiving, which can mean big time penalties when it comes to your diet.

Superbowl statistic

Yikes!  To make sure your pursuit of health isn’t sidelined by meaningless munchies, I have a few suggestions that will help you enjoy the big game without making a big mistake.

1. Eat off a plate

 

 

It might sound obvious, but the mindless eating we do while watching the game can mean major calories without you even realizing it. Eating out of a package or constantly picking at a buffet of appetizers means you have no concept of the amount of food you’ve consumed. Mindfully portioning food on a plate at least gives you a reasonable stopping point, if satiety isn’t registering.

 

2. Keep the main dishes in the kitchen

 

 

I know no one wants to miss a key play or a hilarious commercial, but the act of getting up to refill a plate will make you think about what you are doing before you go for seconds or thirds. Keep lighter options like that veggie tray that never gets finished, soy nuts or a bowl of popcorn in the TV room if you feel the need to have munchies available for your guests.

 

3. Think twice about your beverages

 

 

If you are drinking beer or other libations throughout the game, you can easily tack on hundreds of calories that will go straight to storage (your waist, hips, thighs…you get the point!). Choose to drink flavored water, dilute alcoholic drinks with sparkling water, or alternate alcoholic beverages with non-alcoholic calorie-free options.

 

4. Learn to pace or chew gum

 

 

When the score is close, the sheer suspense of who will win can lead to anxious eating. Instead, chew a piece of gum or pace – but don’t feed your face as a way of staying calm. It won’t help your team or your waistline.

 

5. Bring a lightened dish

 

 

If you are going to a Super Bowl party, offer to bring a dish to share. You don’t have to bring salad or Brussels sprouts. But you can swap traditional ingredients for lighter choices and no one will know the difference. This way, you have something you know you can eat. Here’s a great slow cooker recipe that is a real fan favorite. Serve with veggies to make it even healthier and to help cut the sodium. I have several other recipes that perfect for any football party, in case you are the host. Either way, be in control so you can enjoy the game and time with your friends.

 Spinach Artichoke Dip

Slow Cooker Light Spinach Artichoke Dip

1 10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach

1 14-ounce can artichoke hearts, chopped and drained

1 teaspoon (2 cloves) garlic, minced

1 8-ounce block Neufchatel cheese (or reduced fat cream cheese)

1 cup nonfat Greek yogurt, plain

½ cup grated parmesan cheese

1 1/2 cups shredded low fat mozzarella or Italian cheese blend

2-4 tablespoons water (based on how thin you like your dip)

 

Directions:

1. Add all ingredients to the slow cooker and place on high for 1 ½ hours.

Slow Cooker Ingredients

 

2. Stir well and keep on high for 30 minutes more before serving. Serve with homemade tortilla wedges or store bought tortilla chips and veggies for dipping.

Slow Cooker after cooking

Serves:  8

Nutrition Facts per Serving (for dip only):

Calories: 175 calories

Fat: 10 g (Saturated 6 g)

Protein: 1.25 g

Carbohydrate: 7 g

Fiber: 1.5 g

Sodium:  415 mg

 

Nutrient Analysis based on USDA database
photo credit: dharmabumx via photopin cc

Anniversary, New Year's, or Anniversary Gold Party

The Golden Globes last Sunday were a hilarious start to an awards season that brings out the best on the red carpet. While some of you want to just curl up on the couch to watch the action alone, it seems that more and more people are making it a group affair.

Awards parties can be a whole lotta fun, if you add a bit of Hollywood glam and of course an equally fabulous menu. For me, the idea of a Gold Party is the perfect fit for just such an occasion.

Setting the Stage

A Gold Party is all about adding a bit of sparkle. So the décor must match the name. Yet, staging a party of this kind doesn’t need to be difficult.

I like to start with the 3 essentials for any party:

  1. Basic white dishes to show off your delicious food
  2. Glassware including not just what you will serve drinks in, but also for floral arrangements/centerpieces, and pedestals to allow for a variety of height at your buffet table or food stations
  3. Paper and ribbon/fabric to go with the theme

Party Essentials

With these essentials, you can begin to create a base of decoration that will fit the theme and tell your guests they are in the right place for a party.

By all means, you can totally show off by making a few stand-out pieces like my framed menu below, or these stunning gold painted glasses and even gold-dotted shot glasses (perfect for the soup shooters below). To be honest, I tried to paint some Target dollar bin glasses myself, but it didn’t go as planned. I guess the key is to find the right paint that will adhere to glass…mental note!

Gold Menu Frame

Once you have the right gold paint, you can transform dollar store candle holders, add sparkle to the pillar part of a cake plate, or even decorate the underside of a glass dinner plate. Just make sure that you keep paint and edible surfaces separate. No one wants to contaminate their guests!

Tempting the Tastebuds

After I have a general idea of theme and décor, I go straight to planning the menu. The food and drink is after all one of the most memorable parts of any party.

For the Gold Party, I have planned a delectable menu with small bites that will please a variety of taste buds all while being figure-friendly.

  • Asparagus Soup Shooters  Personally, I think soup in festive shot glasses looks so chic and can be incredibly simple. The key is to make sure that the soup is creamy, yet smooth enough to sip from a glass. Test it yourself before you serve it to guests. Another bonus is that soup can be made ahead of time, so it is a real party stress-saver!

Asparagus soup shooters

  • Roasted Golden Beet, Pecan and Goat Cheese Salad Beets are nutritious and chic, but golden beets are just perfect with this theme – although if they aren’t available in your grocery or farmer’s market, you can go with regular beets too. They add heartiness to the salad while keeping it low-calorie. Adding a hint of crunchy pecans and tangy goat cheese creates an interesting pallet all nestled in a bed of beautiful greens.

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  • Shrimp and Avocado Cocktail Cups Shrimp cocktail is a classic hors d’oeuvres but can be trite if served in a standard presentation. Shake things up and allow your guests mobility with individual cups. It can also help to portion control the seafood, which can be a costly part of any party. The touch of avocado makes this appetizer unique and extra yummy. Fancy skewers add attention to detail that guests always notice and appreciate.

Individual shrimp cocktail with asparagus cups

 

  • Quinoa Cakes with Chive Cream – Who isn’t into quinoa these days? Serving this high-protein grain is a nice alternative for any vegetarian friends you have. It is filling without making you feel stuffed. For a truly vegan option, try substituting a soy yogurt or silken tofu for the sour cream. You can also try substituting the egg binder with tofu or pureed white beans – although I haven’t given this one a try so I don’t have the exact amounts. (Please come back and comment if you give the vegan edits a try or have other suggestions!)

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  • Sirloin Skewers with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce – For your Paleo friends, this appetizer is perfect – meat and veggies (ok, bell peppers are botanically a fruit) all in one dish. Serving the meat on skewers not only helps cut back on portions and your cost, but it also makes a “meaty” appetizer a little neater to eat.

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  • Lemon Tartlets with Rosemary Crust If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, you have probably noticed that I love mini desserts. I’m not afraid to serve them at parties or to partake in them because they are calorie-controlled bites that are the perfect amount of indulgence. No guilt needed! After the holidays, I’m about as sick of turkey as I am sweets, but lemon treats seem to be ideally appetizing. The addition of rosemary adds a savory and unexpected component that makes this one seem like pure elegance. Thanks to Happy Yolks for sharing this recipe combination. I love it as a part of this menu.

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  • Limoncello Sparklers and Simply Lemon Sparklers – A golden lemon drink not only fits with the theme beautifully, but complements that yummy dessert in a light and refreshing way. Offering the mocktail version is a nice alternative for guests who choose not to partake in the full octane version but still want to feel just as special. Actually, you should always have non-alcoholic options available and easily-accessible for guests who may feel reluctant to ask for something not displayed. Just a side note.

Limoncello and Lemon Sparklers

This Gold Party menu is yet another example of how you can entertain fabulously featuring a healthy menu that won’t leave your guests hungry!

Get This Party Started

Lastly, any good party has entertainment or an excuse for guests to mingle. Of course watching the awards show is part of the entertainment, but let’s face it that some of the lesser-known awards (I don’t mean to offend the winner of the international backup camera guy award.) can be cause for a little downtime during the show. So, have your guests list their pick for some of the top awards. You can have a board with guests’ names and their choice for main categories while you cheer on your favs.

Or you can have a separate kind of contest in which guests vote by their own secret ballot and you read “…and the winner is…” with a fancy envelop opening and trophy presentation (a must!). Even movie trivia can be a fun way to see how much your guests really know the nominated films and actors.

Turning the Gold Party concept into the hit Awards Viewing Party of the year is a piece of cake, without needing to serve one!

I’d love to hear what you think of these ideas. Leave a comment below to let me know if you are going to give a Gold Party a try! I’d love for you to share this with a friend or Pin it to your favorite Pinterest board. Better yet, send me a pic of your Gold Party and I’ll share it on my Facebook page!

Avocado Recipe

When you think of avocados, you might find that your mind goes straight to thoughts of guacamole and Cinco de Mayo. Yet avocados are much more versatile than the traditional Tex-Mex fare. Fortunately it seems that the world is beginning to wake up to all of the possibilities of avocados in the kitchen, but you might find it hard to think creatively about this intriguing fruit (yes, it’s a fruit).

The mild flavor of avocados pairs well with vegetables, beans, and just about any kind of meat, poultry or fish. For instance, if you froze leftover turkey from Thanksgiving, there is nothing better than a turkey, avocado and bacon Panini. Chopped avocado, tomato and onion are perfect when served over flank steak. And seafood is a natural pairing with avocados. I mean, fish tacos just wouldn’t be the same without their creamy goodness.  I especially like to work with Hass avocados because they are easy to find, very economical, and really easy to use in cooking.

Additionally, avocados can be used at any meal…even breakfast. Avocado is delicious sliced or spread on toasted whole grain bread and topped with a sunny-side up egg. Yum!

 Avocado on Toast with Fried Egg

But what I really love about avocados is their ability to serve as an alternative to butter, mayonnaise, and even oil. They are a nutritional powerhouse with nearly 20 vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients including potassium and vitamin C. Avocados contain carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin – a mouthful to say, but a real benefit to maintaining eye health as you age.

And most notably, avocados are a natural source of good fats, which can be a part of a heart-healthy diet and may help to reduce overall calories found in alternatives. Just what we all need this time of year! With all of the amazing benefits of avocado, how can you help but love one today?

This is why when I was asked about writing a promotional post about Hass avocados, I jumped at the chance. Any time I can promote something that I already believe in, it’s a no brainer that I spend some time spreading the word to you, my readers. The timing was perfect too, because I have been working on a post about appetizers for holiday parties and avocados are a stylish addition to any party menu.

When it comes to appetizers, you may have seen avocado deviled eggs on Pinterest recently, heard about seafood salad served in an avocado half, or possibly have tried an avocado, mango and shrimp skewer. All of these are completely yummy ideas. One appetizer that I have created pairing two hot food trends is my Avocado and Quinoa Endive Bites. I’m happy to share this simple recipe for your next party and hope that you’ll check back soon for more of my appetizer ideas.

 Avocado Quinoa Bites on Endive

Avocado and Quinoa Endive Bites

1 Hass avocado

½ cup cooked quinoa

½ teaspoon sriracha (hot chili sauce)

Pinch of salt

12 endive leaves

¼ teaspoon smoked paprika

 

In a small bowl, mash the avocado with a fork. Add quinoa and stir well to combine. Add sriracha and salt. Using a melon baller, place one small scoop of avocado quinoa mixture on the center of an endive leaf. Arrange leaves on a plate and sprinkle with smoked paprika. This recipe makes 12 bites, but is easily multiplied for a larger party.

 

Sponsored Post Disclaimer:

Although I did receive financial compensation for writing this post, all views and opinions expressed on this blog are purely and entirely my own and based on my own unique experiences. For nutrition information on avocados, please be sure to visit the LoveOneToday.com website.

Essentially, what is written here is what I believe in my head and heart – money keeps the lights on, but doesn’t control these fingers. I like to share what I know and what works for me, my clients, and my family so that you can live the life you crave!

Pumpkin Pecan Ricotta Bake with Maple Syrup Drizzle

 

If you are looking for a light alternative to the usual Thanksgiving day desserts, I have the perfect solution for you. This unbelievable swap will not only save you big time in the calorie department, but you get to enjoy the flavors of BOTH pumpkin and pecan pies in each bite. It is also a complete cinch to make, which is exactly what you need on a day that involves an extreme amount of kitchen time already.

A Light Thanksgiving Dessert Alternative

Even the most novice cook can whip together this dessert in no time by simply mixing a few ingredients and baking. The ricotta cheese provides a light but creamy base for all of the traditional flavors you look forward to this time of year. The crunch of the pecans with a sweet finish of maple syrup remind you that this is dessert time.

 

Pumpkin Pecan Ricotta Bake with Maple Syrup Drizzle

Serves 2 (so feel free to multiply for a larger crowd)

¾ cup ricotta cheese, part skim

¼ cup canned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)

¼ tsp. pumpkin pie spice

¼ cup pecans, chopped

2 tsp. maple syrup

 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a bowl, add the ricotta cheese, canned pumpkin and pumpkin pie spice. Stir to combine. Spoon the mixture into individual ramekins (one for each serving)

Pumpkin and cheese mix in ramekins

Top with pecans and drizzle with maple syrup.

Drizzle with maple syrup

 

Ramekins with pecans

Place in the oven for 10 minutes and serve warm.

 

This dessert is only 250 calories compared to more than 400 calories for a slice of pumpkin pie with whipped cream and more than 500 calories for a slice of pecan pie with whipped cream! Who couldn’t help from shaving off 150-250 calories from your Thanksgiving day meal? Seriously, give this one a try. You might be surprised how one easy swap this Thanksgiving can leave you feeling really grateful. Happy Thanksgiving!

Simple Solutions for Halloween

Holidays can be stressful times and it all starts with Halloween. Just when you get the kids back in the routine of school – wabam! You have to coordinate parties, decorations and the dreaded costumes. Of course Halloween is a lot of fun and it can bring out the kid in all of us. Yet, the holiday means a lot of extra work.

So how do you manage to swing it all without breaking down? Follow these simple tips to save time, money and your sanity.

1. Streamline your decorations – Halloween is quickly becoming the second most decorated holiday next to Christmas. As soon as the binders and crayons are cleared from the store aisle, they are filled with pumpkins and ghosts. Decide it you want to go sweet and cute for your decor (what I did when my kids were young) or a bit more terrifying. We are going a bit darker with our decor this year, but I still don’t like the gore of severed limbs or hatchets. So, black crows, spiders and skulls will do it. I really like the punches of color too, so I went for the lime green and purple accents…with the occasional orange pumpkin, of course. I got almost all of our decorations from the dollar store (yep, not bad!) and JoAnn or Michael’s craft stores. The craft stores are a perfect place to get reusable pumpkins and fabric or ribbon. Look for the store coupons or I’ve found the apps awesome when you remember in line that you forgot your coupon at home!

Halloween Mantel Before and AfterBy adding a few crows (dollar store) on Spanish moss (craft store) and a few other Halloween decorations, the mantel is transformed in a few minutes. The skeleton garland was another a dollar store purchase. I had to string together 3 smaller garlands, but still a deal. Be willing to thin out some of your regular decorative items to make room for holiday decorations without making your house look too cluttered. Focus on areas of your house that are visual focal points – the entry way, console tables, bookcases. Center decorations around a theme for continuity.

Don’t forget about the ease of using printables. The internet is full of printables these days. Search for any occasion and you can find the most adorably designed printables – some for free and some for a small fee. Here is one I found for Halloween from Fancy Designs that is free and is perfect in a simple black frame. Next to one of those reusable pumpkins from the craft store with some Spanish moss on a pillar, it is a super simple way to decorate a console table.

Halloween Printable

2. Go healthy with the food – I’ve said it before that I am a firm believer on feeding kids a healthy dinner before they head out the door for a night of sugar-rushed trick-or-treating. If you are hosting a party, these appetizer ideas are easy and delicious. I wanted to keep with the theme of purple and green but offer some healthy and quick options.

Halloween Menu

Making Eggplant pizzas involves little more than slicing eggplant, topping the slices with a drizzle of olive oil, a good marinara (from a jar is perfectly fine), shredded cheese and some dried basil and oregano. Put in the oven until the cheese melts and serve.

Eggplant Pizzas

For the Wonton Taco Bites, I use a lean ground turkey and Wildtree Taco Seasoning. This keeps the dish lean and gives awesome flavor without all of the unnatural ingredients of some other commercial taco seasoning mixes (high fructose corn syrup and excess sodium). Just add the seasoning as you are browning the meat.

Ground Turkey and Taco SeasoningTo make the wonton shells, I actually cut an eggroll wrapper in 4 squares or you can use the smaller wonton wrappers as they are sold. I used some foil to make a “U”-shaped form to lay the wrappers in and sprayed with a little cooking spray before popping in the oven for a quick browning. After a few minutes you have a crunchy shell that is only a few calories.

Making Wonton Taco Shells

Fill the shells with the seasoned, cooked turkey meat and top with lettuce, cheese, or in this case, and avocado sour cream which is perfect with the green theme. Sprinkle with fresh cilantro is you like.

Wonton Taco BitesThe Witches’ Fingers are just the ends of carrots cut and stuck in a bowl of dip. Simple! The more crooked the carrots, the better. Just wash the carrots well, but don’t peel. The beet chips and guacamole are store bought, so just serve in festive containers.

Easy Halloween Dips

The Avocado Risotto is made with Aborrio rice, just as you would make any risotto. Once cooked, add some mashed avocado and stir to combine. I like to add a mound of this creamy goodness on a crunchy leaf of endive lettuce with some chopped pistachio nuts, but variations are welcome. You can even add avocado to regular white rice. The rice can be made ahead of time to make life easier. Served along side a bowl of braised red cabbage, it is a perfect part of my purple and green Halloween fare!

Braised Cabbage and Avocado Risotto

3. Supplement your candy bowl with toys and trinkets – If you do ONE thing this Halloween to promote health, it should be to supplement your candy bowl with toys and trinkets. This will not only save you calories from eating the candy from your trick-or-treat bowl, but it will save you money, since leftover toys and trinkets can be packed away with your decorations and handed out again next year. Kids really love the option of toys and trinkets that they don’t get at every other house on the block.

So Halloween really can be easy, healthy and simplified with these 3 basic tips. I hope you enjoy the treat of Halloween and share your tips for staying healthy below. Happy Halloween!

 

 

Warm Roasted Vegetable Salad

 

Labor Day is the unofficial end of summer and the last weekend it seems mandatory to throw something on the grill. Backyard barbecues are in full swing, and you may be looking for the perfect menu to cap off the summer.

Labor Day Menu

For this 3-day weekend, I’m suggesting that you start with steak…yes, I said it. RED MEAT. Of course, there are some health risks if you consume too much red meat, but indulging every so often can fit perfectly fine within a healthy diet. The key is to eat red meat no more than once a week, keep your portions reasonable and choose a lean cut.

A reasonable portion is considered 3 ounces – like the size of a deck of cards. I know, I know…that seems TINY. Really, the protein shouldn’t take more than 1/4 of your plate.  Think of all the money (not just calories) you’ll save by reducing your portion! I often split a steak portion with my kids as a way of maintaining the right amount.

As for the kind of steak you choose, there are actually many lean cuts of beef that can be fewer calories than chicken – especially if you like to eat the skin on poultry. I found a great interactive website that allows you to look at the nutritional content of different kinds of beef. Look for the lean choices – they are less than 10 grams of fat per 3 ounce serving. Basically, anything with “loin” in the name (ex. Sirloin or tenderloin) is going to be lean. Personally, I like flank steak because I can slice it thin – which make me feel like I’m getting a much larger portion for my 3 ounces, and it is easy to use the leftovers in salads, sandwiches, or fajitas later in the week. Saves me a night of cooking!

While the meat is often the star of the show, I like to make sides that garner a little of the spotlight themselves. Since summer is wrapping up, farmers’ markets are teaming with the last of summer produce. Corn on the cob is unbelievable sweet and cheap right now, and it is perfect on the grill. But what really steals my attention at the markets is the incredibly sweet tomatoes. In fact I’m proud to say that I successful grew many of my own this year!

Garden tomatoes

We bought a cherry tomato plant that has produced more than expected. I purposely opted for small tomatoes, because I love being able to stop by the garden and pop ones of these jewels in my mouth – like candy! I’m trying to encourage my kids to do the same. Any who…these tomatoes are perfectly paired with some of the upcoming fall vegetables in my warm roasted vegetable salad.

Labor Day menu with recipe

I know you are thinking…but that’s not on the grill. You can certainly put all of this yumminess in a disposable pan and put the pan right on your grill too. But if your home is like mine, my husband likes to “man” the grill and I am usually making a few of the sides in the kitchen…running in and out of the house periodically, of course.

So roasting is a perfect way to cook in the kitchen without having to hover when I’d rather join in outdoor fun. Besides, I just LOVE what roasting does to vegetables. It brings out the natural sweetness and makes them just tender enough without being mushy so you get the perfect bite with every vegetable. The key is to cut all of your vegetables about the same size so they will cook evenly. I used tomatoes, carrots, onions, mushrooms and bell peppers – but this is a recipe that is totally open to personal preferences.

Cut Vegetables

You can put all of the veggies on the same pan (I like to use a silicone baking liner for easy clean up and I never have to worry about something sticking), drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. You can add other herbs too. I personally think chopped fresh rosemary is delish with roasted vegetables. Herbs or not, this dish is so flavorful and hearty that you forget it is actually good for you! Roast at 375 degrees for about 30 minutes, depending on the size of your vegetables. This recipe is substantial enough to match well with a steak, but flavorful enough to steal the show.

Veggies in roasting pan

Since I am completely in LOVE with berries of all kinds, I can’t help but round out my Labor Day meal by paying tribute to this summertime treasure. I like to serve a bowl of fresh berries with a little bit of whipped cream and lemon zest. The little touch of lemon is just enough freshness to make a basic bowl of berries seem gourmet! Your guests (or family) don’t have to know how simple it is.

Labor Day Menu

So get outside, fire up the grill and savor the goodness of this menu. I can’t wait to hear what you think!

How to Host a Seafood Boil

A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I threw a party that we’ve wanted to try for a very long time…a seafood boil!  This was one of the most fun parties we have ever thrown, so of course I have to share the details with you.

First off, a seafood boil or low-country boil (whatever you like to call it) is centered about a bubbling pot of spicy seafood goodness. Since we were inviting a lot of friends, we decided to boil prawns (ya know, the crazy large shrimp), mussels (these are inexpensive and look adorable in the boil, but be sure you weed out the bad ones), andouille sausage (for an extra kick of spice), and the classic red potatoes and corn cobs. You can certainly boil crab or lobster if your budget allows, but we found this menu was just right for our crowd.

boil menu

The key to a truly yummy boil is in the spices.  The Zatarain’s seafood boil mix is the way to go. If you can’t find it in your local grocery store, buy it online because it is the best!

Boil Seasoning

Since we were hosting a lot of friends and wanted to take advantage of beautiful weather, we took our party outside. We filled a turkey fryer pot with water and a couple of spice bags and got it boiling. The corn and the potatoes take the longest to cook, so you need to put those in first. After about 5-7 minutes, you can add the mussels and prawns. The beauty of this seafood choice is that the prawns turn pink when done and the mussels will open, so you know exactly when everything is good to go. Actually, the seafood only takes a couple of minutes to cook and the sausage just needs to be warmed, since it was already cooked… then it is straight to the table.

Boil Tools

Even with a large pot, it is great idea to cook in batches so you keep hot seafood coming! You’ll need a large scoop with holes to strain the food and literally, it goes straight on a table. Usually the table is covered in newspaper (but to me, there seems to be something unsanitary about this) or brown paper. Of course, I went with the brown paper, but I wanted to dress it up a bit. So, I made cute little stencils for the corners of the table…I didn’t want any of the food on the paint. Hey, attention to detail always tells your guests you care. And when they comment, you know it was worth it!

Seafood Stencils

Have plenty of condiments to go with the boil – fresh lemon, butter (all things in moderation, right?), more Old Bay seasoning, hot sauce and cocktail sauce.

Condiments

 

If you are hosting a smaller party, you can have all of your guests pull up a chair and eat straight from the table! For our party, this served as a buffet, so I did provide plates. However, there are no utensils for this one. Guests are peeling their own prawns and digging right in. It is really a lot of fun to see adults play with their food.

Seafood

Since it can get messy, I provided some wet towels but you can always have wet wipes or a roll of paper towels available too. This is meant to be a casual party!

Lemon Towels

If you have thought about hosting your own seafood boil, I hope this encourages you to take advantage of remaining warm weather days to get cooking. It is one party you won’t soon forget.

 A Fit 4th of July

 

Many of you have kicked off your holiday week and are planning your July 4th celebrations. I’ve got the perfect menu to help add some spark to your day without unwanted calories.

July 4th Menu

To start off the menu, a build-your-own burger bar…because who doesn’t love options? I like to serve lean turkey burgers, which can save you around 100 calories per burger. Instead of the traditional bun, I like opting for sandwich thins, which are only 100 calories each, or a portobello mushroom cap or lettuce leaves for those who like a healthy option or want to eat a burger open-face style. For the toppings, avocado is a nutrition-packed alternative to mayo and lettuce, tomato, or onions (raw or sauteed) are excellent toppers to help your guests feel full without feeling stuffed. Mustard of all kinds is perfect for added flavor too.

Build Your Own Burger Bar Toppings

As a side, skip the fat-laden potato salad that is only a food-borne illness waiting to happen in the summer sun and opt for sweet potato strings. You can cut potatoes into thin julienne strips, toss in a little olive oil, salt and pepper and bake until crispy and good. They are loaded with vitamin A, so you can feel good about this side dish, even if you need a little ketchup for dipping.

Fruit is a perfect side dish because the water content will help you feel full and refreshed on a hot day. Watermelon and blueberries are festive and healthy. You can skewer for kids, cut watermelon into stars, or add some starfruit for added fun. For a more unique side dish, add fresh mint and a light drizzle of honey.

A simple bucket or cooler of drinks is essential for any summertime party. You can have cut straws, flag pics, or create your own water bottle wrap – I got these from Amanda’s Parties to Go. (Does require a like on her FB page to download). Even if you are having an adult party, remember that you need plenty of non-alcoholic drinks for hot days and to help cut calories.

Don’t forget about the special touches that make your 4th party memorable. The sweet potato strings I serve in the paper cones and the July 4th sandwich pick and water bottle wraps are part of the free printables  Have extra flags, glow sticks and sparklers for your guests – although always use these safely! Use red, white and blue containers of all kinds for your food and decorations. Lawn games like horseshoes or water balloon toss for the kids are a fun way to pass the time until the fireworks at night.

Remember, celebrating doesn’t have to mean feeling guilty, stuffed or sick the next day. Celebrate your 4th in a way that shows YOUR independence! Enjoy.

Sensibly Celebrating Cinco de Mayo

This Mexican holiday which literally means “5th of May” is a celebration of Mexico’s freedom over France. The holiday manifests itself in the US in the way that so many themed celebrations do – through food. We celebrate the day by eating a bowl full of chips and salsa, maybe complimented with a refried bean burrito and side of rice all washed down with a sugar-laden margarita…Sounds like the makings of a pretty rough 6th of May!

I’m not suggesting that you give up on the celebration of our southerly neighbor’s freedom. Rather, I have some suggestions for a menu that will allow you to join in the celebration without regretting it later.

Mexican cooking, like many other culturally-influenced menus, consist of the good and the not-so-good. Here is a quick glance at what to eat and what to avoid.

The Good and Bad of Mexican Foods

When it comes to Cinco De Mayo celebrations, play up the healthiest forms of delicious Mexican cuisine!

Here is the menu that I recommend.

1. Fish Taco Bar – Everyone loves a “bar” at a party because it lends itself to personal choice. Your guests have the option to build their fish tacos just the way they like them. Start with some beautifully seasoned white fish. Cod or tilapia can be inexpensive options to feed a crowd. You can have grilled shrimp available too. Most fish tacos come with shredded cabbage. The cabbage provides great crunch and texture, but I like mine softened slightly. Since many fish tacos also come with a sauce, I like to mix the sauce and shredded cabbage ahead of time and put in the refrigerator to marinate and soften a bit. This also helps decrease the amount of work you have just before guests arrive. I like a sauce that is a combination of good-for-you avocado and Greek yogurt, instead of sour cream. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. It passed the husband test in my house! Just be sure you have plain, not vanilla, flavored yogurt. Have fresh cilantro, tomatoes or pico de gallo, onion, and limes wedges available at the bar too. Don’t forget that fish tacos are just as yummy on whole wheat tortillas…I’m just saying!

2. Tex-Mex Rolls – Now, the purists might think I’m crazy with this one but it has become a family favorite in my house. Instead of a  filling wrapped in a tortilla, I use an egg roll wrapper. I know, it’s not authentic, but egg roll wrappers are less than 60 calories each and when lightly sprayed with oil and baked, they have a deliciously crispy exterior without having to pull out the fryer. For the filling, I use taco-seasoned shredded chicken (I prefer Wildtree Taco Seasoning – all organic and no high fructose corn syrup!), tomatoes, red bell peppers and onion, black beans, a touch of light shredded cheese, corn and cilantro. You can get the full recipe or play with your own combination. The rolls are a great size for parties. I serve with plain Greek yogurt (again, you have to give it a try) in case someone wants to dip, but they are delicious as is.

3. Guacamole and Pico de Gallo – What would Cinco de Mayo be without something to sink a tortilla chip in? Going with the healthiest of options, I like to have a bowl of guac and pico available. You can go with the standard bag of tortilla chips, or you can make your own. I’m not talking about making your own tortillas from scratch, although there is a good recipe for that on 100 Days of Real Food. I’ talking about toasting tortilla triangles in the oven to create your own chip. You can season with cumin or smoked paprika for a different twist and avoid all of the salt in regular chips. I’m always looking for a way to get in more veggies, so I also recommend having mini bell pepper scoopers (half of a mini pepper) and carrot chips available for dipping options too.

4. Light Margarita or Sangria Sparkler –  Here is where you can save big time on your Cinco calories! A regular frozen margarita at a restaurant can run 700-800 calories each! Opting for a lighter option, you can often stay under 200 calories for an equally festive beverage. My light margaritas are 3 oz. tequila, 2 oz. lime juice, 1 oz. orange liqueur (like triple sec or Cointreau). The secret is in the 2 oz. of “simple syrup” I add. Instead of making a simple syrup using sugar and water, I use Splenda and water. Depending on how sweet you like your drinks, I recommend 2 tablespoons of Splenda per 1/2 cup of water. If you don’t like artificial sweeteners, you could use a honey or agave nectar, but those will have calories and the Splenda syrup will not…after all we are drinking an alcoholic beverage. This isn’t a health food. Whatever you do, just say no to the rimmers! Garnish with a lime to save yourself the extra sugar and sodium that comes with a rimmed glass. You can also lighten up a traditional Sangria (albeit more Spanish than Mexican) by adding orange-flavored sparkling water. The point is to take it easy on the beverages entirely.

You can always add a Fiesta Bean Salad or Vegetable Quesadillas to the menu, but I think this is plenty to get everyone in the spirit without weighing them down.

No Cinco De Mayo celebration would be complete without a festive atmosphere. If you are looking to decorate for you Cinco Soriee, colorful is the name of the game. Whether you simply use colorful tissue paper to make a banner, colorful ribbon hanging at an entrance way, brightly-colored paper lanterns, or colorful (and mis-matched is perfect) dishes and fabrics lining a table, the more color the better!

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Mexican celebrations are also known for music, dancing and games. Don’t be afraid to get people moving. Have toy-filled pinatas for kids (note toys instead of candy) and games for adults too.

In the spirit of freedom, we should be celebrating good food, good friends, the ability to move and enjoy ourselves rather than loading up on a menu that will limit our freedom to be healthy.

Cheers to a happy and healthy Cinco De Mayo!

 

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