Eat Healthy! Choose Color!

5 Ways to Eat Healthier in 2018

I’ve talked before in my blog posts about the health journey that I have been on for at least the past 10 years – although I can remember being obsessed with eliminating fat or counting calories back in college and that was a few more than 10 years ago!  But, as I talk about here, I really started reading up on the specific health benefits of different foods about 10 or 11 years ago when I worked as a personal chef and was also trying to get pregnant and start a family.  It’s funny how the thought of growing a whole other human being inside your body will make you wake up and pay attention to what we put in (and on) our bodies and how that might affect the functioning of our bodies and what we pass on to our children. 


Now that we have three beautiful, healthy boys that are growing every day – and eating more food than I thought possible for such a tiny person – I am still hyper aware of what sort of food I am putting on our family table.  I will admit that it’s difficult to try and keep up with what is considered “healthy” these days and also frustrating to try and sift through all of the studies and articles to tease out what’s real and what is just a manufactured outcome based on the company or consortium that is funding the research.


My personal approach is to constantly read and learn as much as I can from various sources and then look for common themes – as long as those themes don’t feel sensationalized or more like a fad than a health recommendation.  Still, that’s easier said than done.  Take agave nectar for example.  When the boys were little and I was searching for a healthy birthday cake option, I remember learning about this new thing called agave that was a sugar substitute made from a plant that was proven to keep your blood sugar from spiking after you ate it.  It was even recommended to diabetics!  I thought this sounded great for my little wee ones because I felt safe giving them a birthday cake baked with agave in place of sugar and knowing that they wouldn’t get a big sugar spike and go crazy afterwards!  So, for years, I baked them birthday cakes made with raw agave nectar and felt good about it.   I, of course, used the “raw” form of the product thinking that raw is always better.  Well, it turns out that even the “raw” agave nectar is highly processed and not much better than eating high fructose corn syrup.  What?!


Unfortunately, I can’t go back and bake a different birthday cake for all of those past birthdays but I can choose to keep learning and growing and getting a little bit healthier with each little change that I make.  I’m not going to give up!


For 2018, I am working on looking at any meal or snack that I am eating or serving and trying to think of a way to make it even healthier.  (Whatever “healthy” means at that moment in time!) 


Here are 5 examples of how you can eat healthier this year:


1.  Whenever possible, serve it over a bed of salad greens. When you think about it, there’s not much that can’t be turned into a salad.  Breakfast foods are a bit difficult, I will admit.  But most snacks, lunches, or dinners could stand to have some greens added either under the other food or, at the very least, as a side salad with a homemade vinaigrette.  Most of my lunches consist of taking leftovers from dinner the night before and putting it on top of some sort of greens.  On pizza night, I love to toss some arugula with homemade balsamic vinaigrette and put the greens on top of the cooked pizza.  It may sound strange but it’s really yummy!


2. Flavor with herbs and spices. Any time you can add some fresh or dried herbs or spices to your meal, you will be greatly increasing the antioxidant power of the food.  Each individual herb and spice also comes with its own unique health benefits – from the antibacterial and antiviral properties of cinnamon to the anti-nausea effects of peppermint and ginger.  So, you can add extra flavor to your meal at the same time that you are making it healthier!


3. Replace refined sugars and reduce the amount of sweetener used in any recipe. As I’ve mentioned before, you can replace 100% of sugar in a recipe with natural sweeteners, such as honey or maple syrup.  (Just steer clear of the agave!)  Because these natural sweeteners are so concentrated, you can also reduce the amount of sweetener in a recipe by ¼ to ½ of the amount called for and still get the same sweet taste!


4. Choose color! The nutritional content of a food is tied directly to the intensity of its color.  Any time you have the choice between something with color and something without, always choose the more colorful option!  For example:

  • Choose brown rice over white rice
  • Choose wheat flour over white flour
  • Choose red onions over white onions
  • Choose sweet potatoes (or purple potatoes!) over white potatoes


5. My personal favorite – pick one thing that you currently buy in processed form and learn how to make it yourself – from scratch. 🙂  You could try making homemade granola or vanilla extract.  Or maybe something more exotic like kimchi or kombucha.  Whatever it is, try to start with all whole food ingredients and make your version as healthy as possible!




New Year's Chili with Brazilian Cheese Rolls

New Year’s Chili made with Christmas Ham

Happy New Year’s Eve!  I can hardly believe that our week of holiday vacation is coming to an end.  We’ve enjoyed six wonderful days of fun with our extended families, including more board games than we’ve probably played all year (except maybe during our week of summer family vacation!) and more food and drink than we should probably consume in a month!  And now we are relaxing with four days of downtime at home with just the five of us.  It feels like a good way to end one year and begin another. 


There were many favorite recipes that we made over the holiday break and I will try and share as many as I can in the weeks to come.  I’ll start today with a quick and easy recipe for Ham and Bean Chili that we made using leftover Christmas ham and would be a great family meal to share on New Year’s Day! 


We enjoyed a smoked ham – along with quinoa and kale stuffed acorn squash, riced cauliflower, corn casserole, cranberry-apple chutney, and homemade pumpkin pie – for our Christmas dinner.  What a feast!


Christmas Dinner


I ordered a 10-pound ham from our local butcher, Saylors and Co, to feed the 11 family members who would be gathering at our house on Christmas night.  I purposely bought a ham that was way too big so that we would have leftovers to use all week!  (And because I live in constant fear of not having enough food for people to eat!  It runs in the family.  The night before, on Christmas Eve, my mom made an entire extra pound of pasta for her Chicken Marsala dinner.  In our family, FOOD = LOVE and you can never serve up enough of either!)   Needless to say, we had lots of leftover ham.  So far, we’ve enjoyed it in egg omelets for breakfast, on salads and sandwiches for lunch, and even in a “quinoa surprise” dish that Joe created with all of the leftovers combined in one skillet!


Ham and Bean Chili with Brazilian Cheese Rolls


This recipe for Ham and Bean Chili is one other way you can use up any leftover ham in your fridge or freezer.  Because it is wintertime, we used frozen green bell peppers that I had chopped and frozen from our CSA back in the summer months.  We also used canned tomatoes this time around but we’ve made it before with farm fresh tomatoes, which always tastes better!  I like to purchase dried beans in bulk so I soaked the cannellini beans overnight the night before and cooked them in the morning.  Then we added them to the pot at the end of cooking, just as the recipe says.


Ham and Bean Chili with Brazilian Cheese Rolls


I am also including a second recipe for Brazilian Cheese Rolls that pairs amazingly well with this chili recipe!  I first tasted these type of cheese rolls at a Brazilian restaurant in Gaithersburg, MD, while having a girls’ weekend with my mom and sister and sister-in-law.  I had recently started trying to avoid gluten and was excited to find a “bread” product that was naturally gluten-free.  After returning home from our trip, I came across this recipe in the Savory magazine that our local grocery store gives away for free each month.  I made the rolls for our 6-year old’s birthday party, along with this chili recipe, and they were both a big hit! 


I hope that these recipes warm up your kitchen on one of these cold winter nights!  And we wish you and your family a very Happy New Year!


Ham and Bean Chili
  1. 1 cup sun-dried tomatoes, sliced
  2. 1 red onion, chopped
  3. 4 cloves garlic, minced
  4. 2 tablespoons oil
  5. 1 tablespoon chili powder
  6. 3 cups ham, chopped
  7. 2 cups green bell pepper, chopped
  8. 6 cups cannellini beans, soaked and cooked (or 3 15-oz cans)
  9. 4 cups tomatoes, diced (or 28-oz can)
  10. salt and pepper, to taste
  11. ¼ cup parsley, chopped
  1. Place the sliced sun-dried tomatoes in a bowl and cover with hot water. Set aside. (If the sun-dried tomatoes were packed in oil, use this oil for the next step in the recipe.)
  2. Heat your choice of oil (olive, avocado, or reserved sun-dried tomato oil) in a large pot over medium heat. Sauté the onion, garlic and chili powder for 5 minutes, or until the onion is softened.
  3. Add ham and pepper to the onion mixture and cook for another 5 minutes.
  4. If using canned beans, drain and rinse the beans. Drain the sun-dried tomatoes, reserving 1 cup of the soaking liquid. Add the diced tomatoes, sun-dried tomatoes and reserved liquid, and beans to the pan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, to taste, and stir in parsley.
  5. Serve with Brazilian Cheese Rolls. Enjoy!
  1. Makes: 6-8 servings
  2. If you don't have any leftover ham from a previous meal, you can order thick-cut ham from your deli and cut it into cubes.
Life From Scratch
Brazilian Cheese Rolls
  1. 1 egg
  2. 1/3 cup olive oil
  3. 2/3 cup milk
  4. 1 ½ cups tapioca flour
  5. ½ cup feta cheese
  6. 2 teaspoons salt
  1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  2. Add all ingredients to a blender and blend on low to combine. Scrape down the sides of the blender to combine and blend one more time to incorporate all ingredients.
  3. Grease a mini muffin tray with butter or olive oil. Divide batter among 24 muffin cavities and bake for 20 minutes, or until rolls rise and are firm to the touch. Serve warm. Enjoy!
  1. Makes: 24
  2. (from Feb/Mar 2017 issue of Savory magazine)
Life From Scratch