5 Healthy Resolutions to Ring in the New Year

It’s that time of year again…

Ever since Sam was in kindergarten we’ve been making New Year’s resolutions a family affair.  I would carefully record everyone’s plans on paper and stuff them away in a manila envelope until the next year. Then we would look back on what we had hoped to accomplish–and see how we measured up.


This turned out to be more of a time capsule than a useful tool for actually meeting hoped for goals.  It’s been interesting–and often worth a laugh or two–to look back on what was important in our lives the year before, but we’re ready to crank it up this year. Take it to the next level.

We’re ready to try to accomplish something.

And if you and your loved ones want to be healthier, happier, and better looking (if it’s possible) than you currently are, here are a few resolutions that you could stick with–for life.

I can think of 5 to choose from that would make a big difference:

1.  Eliminate soda, sports drinks, flavored waters and juice.  Number one place to begin.  Did you know Americans consume twice the recommended amount of sugar?  And over half of that is from beverages.

2   Eat more fruits and vegetables.  The most nutrient dense foods.  Eat your daily requirement (5 or more, preferably more) for all the vitamins, minerals and fiber–filling you up without all the fat and calories.

3. Watch portion size.  Resolve to use a smaller plate at mealtimes and/or don’t go back for seconds.

4. Focus on real food.  Food that’s closest to its natural state without all the vitamins,  minerals and fiber stripped away in processing.  Try to eat a serving or more at every meal.

5. Replace white with whole grains.  Whole grains help you maintain a healthy weight, lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of lots of dietary diseases.  Replace one refined grain item at a time with a whole grain variety.

Making resolutions is a snap.  Keeping them is where the rubber meets the road. Willpower only ever took me so far…  Try these ideas to maximize your success.

  • Limit yourself.  Choose only one or two to keep your focus strong.
  • Keep them close.  Literally.  No more manila envelopes in drawers in this house.  I’m thinking about pinning our resolutions on the cork board next to the refrigerator.  Out of sight really is out of mind.

And check out the Healthy Children website for age appropriate nutrition resolutions suitable for younger members of the household.  Remember, our children learn from our example.  Trying counts and praise goes a long way towards reinforcing good habits.

Have a happy and healthy new year!


Friday Feature: Is It Spaghetti Or Is It Squash?

I bought a spaghetti squash at the market.  It sat on the counter for a couple of weeks, more as a fall decoration than a potential food item.  But then Thanksgiving came and went, and it was still there.  I figured it was do or die.  If I didn’t deal with the darn thing, I might end up throwing it over the bank in the backyard like I did with the one last year.

Using Carla Emery’s The Encyclopedia of Country Living as my guide, I found out just how ridiculously easy it is to create a delicious low-calorie replacement for angel hair pasta.

Step 1:  Throw the whole thing into a roasting pan and put into a hot 350 degree oven.  Prick the skin with a fork.  Bake for about 1 and a half hours or until a knife easily pierces the skin.

Hot out of the oven.

Hot out of the oven.

Step 2:  After it cools a bit (don’t want to burn your fingers), slice lengthwise and scrape out the seeds and the pulp.

ready to be seededStep 3:  Now the fun begins!  I used a large salad fork to literally rake out the “spaghetti” onto a plate.


Now you’re ready to dress it up for dinner…


  • Top with pasta sauce and freshly grated Parmesan cheese.
  • Stir in a little butter, salt, and pepper.
  • Pour on a little cream and stir in some  grated cheese.

Other suggestions include serving it with chili or in a casserole or stir-fry.  I like the idea of using it in place of lasagna noodles.

We had leftover squash which ended up in Jim’s vegetable soup the next day.  You can also cook and then freeze the “spaghetti” for use at a later date.

Lots of possibilities here!

I’ll be back the Monday after Christmas.  Have a Happy Holiday everyone!!!

5 Best Family Nutrition Blogs of 2012

I spent the entire morning yesterday in Powell’s Bookstore in downtown Portland.  They claim an entire city block.  The place is gargantuan.  I hunkered down in the cookbook aisle to drool over some really fabulous books.

But mostly I can’t afford to fly to Portland to read books in a bookstore–even for the opportunity to browse books at the in store espresso bar–so I often turn to the internet.  There are plenty of really terrific blogs out there that provide lots of cooking and nutritional information which can accessed right from home.

They inspire me to raise the bar on family nutrition and give me plenty to think about.  I chose 5 of them for my end of the year favorites list.

They were chosen because they are readable, fun and informative.  From small to large written by informed individuals, food lovers and parents–these are the ones I come back to time and again.

See what you think.

Food For My Family     As a mother of four, home cook and photographer Shaina Olmanson knows something about feeding a family.  She features all kinds of nuggets: favorite recipes, of course, but also money-saving tips and time-saving secrets.  From indoor to outdoor, buying to growing–everything she shares is based on real food.  Check it out.

Fix Me A Snack     Cindy, a self-professed snack guru, has loads of fun creating healthy treats for her kids and passing along her ideas with plenty of snap and wit.  Her snack options include several categories: seasonal, personal favorites,10 minutes or less, and taste test (hands down my favorite). Plus she has 101 yogurt based snack ideas.  Beat that!

100 Days of Real Food     Lisa Leake details her family’s experience in cutting out processed foods.  And there’s plenty of support to help others do the same thing.  Besides lots of recipes and free meal plans, she’s not afraid to tackle controversial subjects and encourage meaningful dialogue.

Eating Rules     I wish Andrew Wilder was my next door neighbor.  I don’t know why…  I just like him.  His blog has great information on diet, nutrition and food.  It’s funny and smart.  There is lots of cool stuff here including Menu Mondays–his recommendations for healthier choices from lots of common chain restaurants.  What an inspiration!

Nutrition Over Easy     Monica Reinagel, presents intelligent, totally reasonable nutrition advice.  Plus she sings opera and has a great podcast, The Nutrition Diva.  As a licensed nutritionist, I trust what she has to say.

Care to share any of your favorites?

Friday Feature: Fennel

When I first encountered Fennel, it was like meeting someone at a party and discovering we didn’t speak the same language.  There was a little awkward smiling and nodding and then, with nothing left to say, we moved on.
The next year when Fennel came around again, I had the good fortune to have an interpreter at hand.  Eric, the grower at Taylor Mountain Gardens, who is a close friend of Fennel, made the formal introductions–and this time we clicked.
I have since discovered this odd-looking vegetable with its bulbous white root and frothy fern-like top to be quite a versatile addition to the dinner scene.  Eaten raw it has a slight licorice flavor and sweet crunchy bite.  For more information and lots of good recipes check the Mariquita Farm website.
Try if fresh in a salad.
Using the bulb, it makes a terrific slaw and is a nice addition to salad.  I ran this fennel over my mandoline slicer, which is a useful tool to finely shred or julienne vegetables, to make this green salad.
great with a citrus based vinegarette
Try it hot out of the oven.
This multi-purpose vegetable is also delicious cooked.  Here is my favorite recipe for roasting it adapted from a Martha Stewart recipe.
  • fennel bulbs
  • butter
  • coarse salt
  • grated Parmesan cheese
  • fresh ground pepper
  • sprigs of thyme

Preheat oven to 450 degrees

Chop off the fennel’s green top, and slice the bulb in half lengthways.

Boil for 10-15 minutes in salted water.

Pull from water with slotted spoon and drain on tea towel, cut side down.

Place in buttered baking dish, cut side up, and brush with melted butter.  Sprinkle top with coarse salt and enough Parmesan cheese to cover.  Grind on pepper.  Top with sprig of thyme.

Place in oven and bake for approximately 25 minutes until top is golden brown.

roasted to perfection
Fennel is also a good source of Niacin, Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Phosphorus and Copper, and a very good source of Dietary Fiber, Vitamin C, Folate, Potassium and Manganese.
Make a friend out of fennel and have a great weekend!



Make or Buy: Salad Dressing

Speaking of saving money…

We eat a lot of salad with dinner.  It seems to be one of those dinner staples.  Everything else changes or rotates–with the exception of salad.

Oh, to be sure, depending on what’s in season, the type of salad changes.  Greek salad and caprese salads are popular in late summer.  Grain salad with roasted vegetables is a nice change of pace in fall and winter.  But green salad is the mainstay.

But the way to make a green salad really enjoyable–even night after night–is great salad dressing.  And the best salad dressing will even save you money.  That’s because the only dressing worth eating is composed of mostly what you already have in your kitchen cupboards.

That’s the catch.  You have to make it.

But once you get into the habit of making it, you’ll never look back.

Especially when you can whip up a batch that will last all week and will taste better than anything you can buy.

Here’s my favorite vinaigrette dressing, adapted from a Martha Stewart recipe.


  • 1/4 cup vinegar, use your favorite
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • lots of fresh ground pepper
  • Pinch of sugar
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil (or more to taste if it’s too acidic for you)
  • clove of garlic, put through a garlic press

Place all ingredients into bottle/container and shake well.

There’s tons of flexibility with vinaigrette.  Change up the type of vinegar or oil.  Add fresh herbs, Parmesan cheese, garlic or other ingredients and you will never tire of your salad dressing.

For a large family sized salad:


  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon mayonnaise
  • 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
  • lots of freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Place all ingredients into bottle/container and shake well.

Any container will do or you can buy one like this with easy measurement guidelines and instructions for several different dressings:

And the internet can provide you with endless variations on dressings to experiment with.  If you’ve ever whisked an egg white or shaken a can of whipping cream (whoops, another item to make at home!), you can certainly make salad dressing.  It’s simple, delicious, and easy on the wallet.  

Definitely make.  You won’t be disappointed. 

What are your favorite salad dressings?

Dealing with the Dinner Demon

True confessions.

I have a bad habit of buying more than we can eat in a week.  I throw out way more food than I should.  I end up running to the store at 4 in the afternoon for the missing ingredients in the recipe I’m making.

And it’s stressful work deciding what to have for dinner day by day.  When I ask Jim what he’d like, he tosses out ideas like “steak and lobster”  or “rack of lamb”.

He obviously doesn’t feel my pain.

We often end up having one of those emergency dinners I was talking about,  burritos or eggs.  Which is, of course, an emergency of my own making.

I’m tired of the uncertainty.  It’s time to face my demons and deal with the dinner dilemma.

I’m diving in…  I’m going to create a weekly plan and thereby save time, money, and aggravation.

I’m keeping  it simple and low-tech.  A piece of paper, and I’m good to go.  From my research, I’ve gleaned a few important tips:

  1. Start with dinners.  At our house, many of our other meals emerge, like a phoenix rising from the ashes, out our evening meal.  Breakfast burritos from leftover beans and rice, ham sandwiches from pork roasts for lunch.  You get the idea.
  2. Take stock of what you’ve got. I’ve checked out the contents of our cupboards and refrigerator.  Is there something I’m overlooking that has a best buy date that’s nearing expiration?  What about that head of week old cabbage in the crisper?
  3. Check the calendar.  Is there anything that might impact dinner plans?  Like the fact that Jim will be out of town Tuesday night for work.  That’s a good night for pizza since he’s not a big fan.  And Friday we’re going to see a Christmas play so we’ll probably grab a quick bite at a friend’s house.
  4. Write it down.  Choose where to begin.  I’m starting with 5 days. That seems doable.  I’ll pencil in breakfast and lunch as well.  Luckily it’s not in stone because there has to be room for flexibility.  It’s a framework for meals, not a life sentence.
  5. Make a grocery list.  Looking over the meals, I can see what I’ll need to get at the store(s).  The saving money part comes when I stick to the list.

Wish me luck.

Using up an old planning book from my teacher days.

Using up an old planning book from my teacher days.

Are you a planner?  What do you do to get dinner on the table night after night, keep money in your pocket and your sanity intact?

Friday Feature: Kefir

Eaten any Marmite or frog eggs lately?

Cindy at Fix Me a Snack likes to try out obscure and interesting foods with her children and post their experiences on her blog. It doesn’t necessarily make me want to run out and try it all, but it certainly makes for entertaining reading.

And it gave me an idea.

There are lots of good, unusual foods out there in the market that could, no, should be a little more mainstream.  Things I’ve tried or would like to try which could be introduced here on Table Talk.

The first one that comes to mind is currently in my refrigerator.  I have been hooked on the stuff over the past several months.

Ever heard of anyone with a kefir addiction?

Sam calls kefir “liquid yogurt”.

It’s made by fermenting milk with kefir grains, a mixture of yeast and bacteria which slightly sours the milk.  And it does taste a lot like a drinkable yogurt.

You can find it at most large stores and health food stores.  It often comes in sweetened fruit flavored varieties which are tasty but loaded with sugar.  I prefer the plain, unsweetened kind.  Buying it this way allows me to use it in all sorts of ways.

Here are 5 of my favorites:

  1. Smoothies.  Blend it up in place of yogurt in smoothies.  Sam likes his blended with frozen banana pieces, cocoa powder, maple syrup and a dash of vanilla.
  2. Over oatmeal.  I’ve making a lot of baked pumpkin oatmeal lately.  Instead of using milk, I pour thick, creamy kefir over the top and drizzle the whole thing with syrup.
  3. As a replacement for heavy cream.  It’s a bit tangier than cream I’ll admit, but it certainly has far less fat and calories.  Last night I made creamy pesto pasta, using equal part pesto and kefir.  Delicious.  I’ve also used in soups and casseroles.
  4. In salad dressing.  Use in place of yogurt or buttermilk in creamy salad dressings.
  5. Just drink it.  I have to admit I love it plain.  Sometimes I mix in a spoonful or two of the sweetener, Xyla, for a cool, very light and refreshing dessert.

According to the nutrition facts on the back of the kefir we buy, it has a good amount of calcium, lots of protein and is loaded with probiotics.  I find it addictive (in a good way).

Do you use kefir?  Any more suggested uses for the rest of us?

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We have Clover brand kefir at our store.

Dinner Improv

And now, for the main eventpresenting the star of the show….

the tomatoes were from our garden, now frozen

Old vegetables?

Well, yes.  It was dinnertime–again.  It rears its ugly head, well, every night.  Once again, I was caught with my  apron off.  What to cook for dinner?

It was a dark and stormy night.  Why not soup?  Split pea soup to be exact.  We had some of those. There were even the remains of a hunk of ham from one of last week’s meals.

We’d had that ham as the featured entrée.  We had it the next day in ham sandwiches. One night we even snacked on it as an appetizer with good, homemade mustard.  Soup was its final incarnation.

Honestly, soup doesn’t have to be the end of the line, but it often is.  That’s why it’s a good improvisational, or throw together meal.

Tonight’s Split Pea Soup

  • carrots, diced
  • celery, diced
  • onion, diced
  • olive oil
  • vegetable or chicken broth, 4 cups or more if you like thinner soup
  • tomatoes, chopped
  • beet greens (or some other type of leafy green), chopped
  • ham, diced
  • salt to taste
  • fresh ground pepper
  • 1 cup split peas

I realize there are no measurements for anything except the split peas and broth. That’s why it’s improvisational.  I used everything on the plate above with the exception of the biggest tomato.  Use what you have.  You won’t need a lot.

Saute the first three ingredients in oil for about 10 minutes.

Add split peas and water or broth, tomatoes and ham.

Bring to boil.  Then cover and simmer on low for the first half hour.

Uncover and cook until the peas are creamy.  Season with salt and pepper to taste. Toss in chopped greens in the last half hour of cooking.  If you think you might get resistance to greens in the soup, chop it smaller so it’s less noticeable.  It works at my house…

Serve with crusty bread or grilled cheese sandwiches and sliced fruit.  Feel the love. You’re eating healthy, it tastes divine, and you’ve earned a merit badge for kitchen economy.  Bon appetite!

What will you improvise tonight?


Healthy Eating on a Budget

“Eat it up, wear it out, make it do, do without.”

These were words to live by in the 1930’s when being frugal was all about surviving in troubled economic times.  While things aren’t quite as perilous as they were during the Great Depression, this is good advice for anyone wanting to save a buck.

My grandmother bought flour and sugar in large sacks.  She turned the sacking into functional art, making hand painted tea towels and tablecloths.  Back then, buying in bulk was just what you did, and using up everything, including the packaging, was  part of being a good homemaker.

Now, it’s a smart way to save money.

This was one of the tips given in a class on eating healthy on a budget that I attended last week at the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op.

Buying in bulk.

You definitely get more for your money when you aren’t paying for packaging or advertising.

Many stores now have a bulk bin section.  This allows you to experiment with small quantities of more exotic or unusual foods because you can buy just what you plan to use and no more.  Some items are best purchased in smaller amounts for maximum freshness.  In my experience these include:

  • flours
  • oats
  • shelled nuts
  • cereals
  • soft grains
  • coffee/tea
  • spices

Be sure and compare the bulk item pricing with its packaged counterpart to make sure you’re getting a deal.

bulk bins at Angels Food Market

And keep an eye out for special sales on products you purchase on a regular basis. Some of these can be bought in large quantity or by the case.

  • rice
  • beans
  • pasta
  • canned tomatoes
  • tuna

When you bring it all home, consider storage.   The containers in the picture below are stacked three deep.  I prefer to use old canning jars, most of which I picked up at yard sales.

They have a tight seal to keep out bugs, and it makes it easy to see what I have and when I’ll need more.  I label them with contents and date by sticking a piece of scotch tape on the lid and writing on it with permanent marker.


Finally, consider your family size and how often you eat a particular food before you buy in large quantity.  I once bought a 10 lb. sack of wild rice for a Thanksgiving turkey stuffing.  I don’t even like wild rice.  After 5 years of storage, I finally had to courage to toss it to the birds.