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I’ve spent the last few weeks of December indulging in pies, cakes, candy, Christmas cookies and the occasional (?) cocktail.
Once the New Year begins, we all pledge to lose weight, cut down on our salt intake and vow to eat more sensibly. Over the years, Americans have become increasingly overweight and prone to heart disease, so it’s no wonder we annually commit ourselves to eating better.
So why do we always make New Year’s food resolutions and then give up? The first of the year is a good starting point and most of us truly believe that we can make theses changes. When a person really wants to change, it usually will happen, but for most of us, it’s probably more of an act that we go through, not a real commitment.
In addition to vowing to provide more healthy recipes for the coming year, I’ve listed a number of ways we all can help to improve our eating habits. The top priority should be to “savor” our food.
Shop at a farmers market
Shopping at your local farmers market is a healthy move for you, the environment and your local farmers. While most farmers markets are closed for the winter, when April rolls around, you’ll have your pick of fresh strawberries, leafy greens, sweet potatoes and fresh broccoli. Make this part of your weekly routine.
Cook more at home
One of the easiest ways to save a few bucks (and eat healthier) is to cook at home. Even though my wife and I eat at home about 95 percent of the time, I know many of you are on the go and don’t have the time. Many healthy dishes can be cooked in 30 minutes or less. Rachael Ray’s 30-minute meal cookbooks and TV series is a great place to start.
Plan your meals for the week ahead. Before grocery shopping, determine the recipes you want to make that week and the ingredients you’ll need. Try making dishes that use similar ingredients so you can purchase fewer items and cut your grocery costs, too.
Have a weekly indulgence
Instead of giving something up, why not allow yourself something special each week? It could be as simple as a piece of chocolate after sweeping the floor, a glass of wine with your Saturday evening meal or a bacon-laced cheeseburger on Sunday afternoon. The occasional indulgence, while good for your soul, will also keep you motivated to eat healthy, balanced meals because you won’t feel deprived.
Be more adventurous
Instead of the same old weekly meals, try cooking something different once a week. While shopping, pick up a few new ingredients for that “new” dish. Try different ethnic foods. One week have some empanadas or pierogies; next week have some stuffed grape leaves for an appetizer or maybe French crepes for dessert. Don’t be afraid to mess up. I certainly don’t. Not every meal has to be perfect. Be adventurous.
Eat more vegetables
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, nine to 10 daily servings of fruit and vegetables are recommended. The most recent data suggests that we eat barely half of that, and that includes French fries (yes, it is a vegetable). Get in the habit of eating locally grown fruits and veggies in season. They usually taste better, and if they taste better, you’ll probably eat more of them.
Eat more whole grains
Whole grains offer soluble fiber, which helps lower cholesterol, and insoluble fiber, which helps keep your digestive tracts on track. A popular whole grain is popcorn, which makes a great snack, as long as you restrict your amount of butter and salt. Whole grain bread products include: sliced bread, bagels, tortillas, English muffins, pita bread, dinner rolls or other buns.
Most starchy foods are also whole grain options. Some of the most common are: whole wheat or brown rice pasta, brown or wild rice, whole oats, whole wheat or whole grain cereals, whole wheat flour or rye flour, popcorn, whole wheat or whole grain crackers, bulgur (cracked wheat), buckwheat, millet and barley.
Eat more fish
Two servings of fish a week are recommended, preferably oily fish, high in omega-3 fatty acids. They help reduce the risk of heart attack. These fish/seafoods include: fresh tuna, salmon, herring, mackerel, Rainbow trout, shrimp and crab. Canned fish counts as well, but some brands of tuna may have the omega-3 oils removed during processing, so be sure to check the labels.
Eat less cheese
Cheese is a good source of calcium and potassium, but also contains a lot of saturated fat. I’ve tried the low-fat cheese, and it just doesn’t have any taste. But if you stick with cheeses like blue cheese or any of the aged cheeses, you’ll probably eat less and enjoy it more. At any rate, eat cheese in moderation and just learn how to enjoy it in smaller quantities.’
Savor your food
This is my top priority. Slow down. Many of us are just in too big a hurry, which is becoming so commonplace. Avoid eating breakfast/lunch at your desk at work. Instead, share more meals with friends. Studies have shown that a glass of heart-healthy red wine with dinner may be good for us, too.
Use a food thermometer.
It’s the only way to know if meat, poultry and fish are cooked safely. You can’t tell just by looking.
And finally, vow not to leave that pizza sitting out on the kitchen table or that “doggie” bag in the car overnight. Foods should not be left out for more than two hours at room temperature. When in doubt, throw it out.
Toasted Barley Risotto With Arugula, Asparagus And Lemon Zest
Risotto is usually made with rice, but in this recipe, barley is prepared in the same style. Toasting it first will really enhance its nutty flavor.
6 oz. asparagus, trimmed and cut into 3/4-inch pieces
1 cup pearl barley
1-1/2 Tbsps. butter
1/2 cup chopped onions
1-2 garlic cloves, minced
4 cups vegetable stock
1 cup canned diced tomatoes, drained
1/4 cup chopped arugula
1 tsp. lemon zest
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Add the asparagus to a pot of boiling, salted water and cook about 3 minutes, or until tender, Immediately place the asparagus in a bowl of ice cold water to stop the cooking process; set aside.
In a medium sauté pan, toast the barley over low heat for about 5 minutes; set aside. In the same pan, melt the butter. Add the onions and garlic and sauté until translucent. Add the toasted barley and stir to coat with butter. Add one cup warmed vegetable stock and increase heat slightly, stirring often. Add another cup of broth. Simmer, stir and repeat until you have added all the broth. The barley should be tender but still slightly firm.
Add the tomatoes, asparagus, arugula and lemon zest and mix well. Season with salt and pepper. Allow the mixture to sit for about 5 minutes. To serve, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Makes 2-4 servings.