Monday, December 23, 2013

Seven Savvy Tips for Healthy Holiday Eating

As my husband and I made the long drive to Mississippi yesterday from Texas, we were discussing how we needed to make an effort to get some physical activity in amongst the casseroles, cocktails, and conversation that would be surrounding us this holiday season. Talking about this made me remember that I had written a newspaper article for my college newspaper during my nutrition internship days about tips for healthy holiday eating.  In the words of my sister, "I will plagiarize myself and share it with you below." 

      The Holidays are a time filled with joy and togetherness.  However, for many of us they are also filled with food, and lots of it.  I asked some of my friends and family if they usually found themselves eating more during the holidays than other times of the year, and unanimously they said yes .  Regrettably, even with my study and knowledge of nutrition and portion control, I often tend to eat more during the holidays than I do at other times of the year. 
         The food on our tables is in such abundance during the holiday season that one might think this was our last meal.  Especially in the South, the tradition of family, fellowship, and feasting is ever prevalent in our society.  So, it is very difficult for us to discipline ourselves when it comes to food because it is all many of us have ever known. 
         Fortunately, there are ways for us to avoid overeating and still find our stomachs full.  Plus, just think of how exciting it will be when the New Year rolls around to still be able to fit in those same pre-holiday season jeans.  Not only will we look good, we will feel good for being in control of our lifestyle.  Here are some tips for Healthy Holiday Eating that I hope you will use this holiday season:

1.  Remember that THIS IS NOT YOUR LAST MEAL.  With this being said, try not to skip meals.  When this happens, we tend to eat one or two huge meals that are so high in calories they overcompensate for the missed meal or two.  It is better to eat three small meals a day and have one or two small snacks instead of overindulging yourself in one huge meal. 

2.  Watch your portion sizes.  You can do this by only getting foods that you like, or even some that you don’t get to have at other times of the year.  Try to balance the portions.  For example, don’t have all meat and mashed potatoes.  Try to get ¼ of your plate to be meat, ¼ to be a starch, and the other ½ to be vegetables, cranberry sauce, fruit etc. 

3.  Chew your food slowly and make conversation at the table.  There is no rush to see who can finish first-even if you have five minutes to see the next football game kickoff!  Enjoy your time with your family.  Give thanks for your blessings, laugh, and conversate with one another during this special time of year.  It takes the body twenty minutes to feel full, so give yourself time to eat and enjoy the food.  If you do this, you will feel satiated and may not want seconds, or thirds, or fourths!

4.  Try not to focus on the food so much.  Food is an important part of the holidays, especially in our culture, but it is not the most important part.  Focus on family bonding, relaxing, giving, or whatever else is of importance to you this holiday season.  Play games, volunteer to help those less fortunate, or curl up with a nice book to relieve your stress.  Just try to avoid curling up with a book and a big slice of pumpkin pie! 

5.  Don’t snack all day on appetizers and still indulge in the main course and dessert.  Try to avoid snacking mindlessly, as in snacking out of habit or boredom, and then don’t overdo it on the main course, or on dessert.  There are always plenty of leftovers, so remember that it’s not a race to see who can eat the most food!

6.  Continue to exercise or move around during the holidays.  Whether it be cleaning the house or bundling up to take a nice walk through downtown, still try to be active and move about.  The holidays are a relaxing time, but can also be an active time that provides enjoyment too. 

7. Finally, don’t beat yourself up if you do happen to overindulge in the holiday foods.  Just motivate yourself to follow these tips and try and do better at one of the next holiday parties or gatherings because most of us will have several opportunities to do better. 

I hope this holiday season finds you well-rested and well-fed, just not over fed.  Keep in mind these tips and try and put them into practice at the many holiday parties and festivities that will be coming your way.  Don't worry if you don't get to try everything that first go-round-I am almost certain that there will be plenty of leftovers on most of our tables all the way into the New Year!

May your days be merry and bright this season,


Saturday, December 7, 2013

National Brownie Day-Spotlight on a Southern Chef

In honor of National Brownie Day (and I checked to make sure it wasn't like the girl scout brownies day), I decided to write this post.   

Many of us will probably consume brownies at some point this holiday season.  For whatever reason, perhaps it is their simplicity to make coupled with their chewy goodness, brownies are always a popular treat for holiday parties and the like.  Despite their goodness, brownies tend to be "empty calories" (i.e. not much nutrient density per the calorie ratio).  So, I thought how awesome would it be to have a brownie that can provide us with the nutrients we need as well as the tastiness we love?

Now, I am by no means an expert recipe developer-knowing how much of this and that to substitute for certain items was never my strong suit.  But, I knew just the person to ask for this task.  Let me introduce you to Chef Miles McMath, the Director of Culinary Operations at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. Miles grew up hunting and fishing and learning the essentials of the south’s rich culinary traditions at an early age.  He was born and raised in rural Alabama with the experience of 
his family growing and gathering their own food. This led him to understand the basic principles and importance of food in everyday life that would set the stage for his career as a chef.  He attended school at Sullivan College in Louisville, Kentucky and began his professional career as a chef working in Louisville.  in Louisville. After leaving Louisville, McMath was Chef de Cuisine under Chef Gerard Thabuis of Grand Casino Inc., Gulfport, MS.  His success at Grand Casino led to his promotion within the Grand Casino Group to corporate research and development chef for all seven casinos owned by Grand Casino Inc. McMath spent just under three years fine tuning his craft in Tunica before opening his own restaurant, Timbeaux’s in Hernando, MS.  Following Timbeaux’s, he opened two more successful restaurants.  During his six years as Chef/Owner of these restaurants, Miles gained extensive experience as a chef and business manager. Miles taped over 100 cooking segments for local television show Mid South Living, where he appeared weekly for four years. He also appeared on the Food Network’s Simon Super Chefs Live and is a five time Gold Medal winner in National American Culinary Federation (ACF) competitions. 
Gingerbread House at St. Jude
    Today, Miles maintains a 60 raised bed garden at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. “St. Jude has given me the opportunity to incorporate all of my experiences into one for the benefit of the patients, families and employees at St. Jude,” he says. “We have a garden that produces everything from mushrooms, lettuce and asparagus, as well as compost from our kitchen and worm beds. We have a weekly Farmers Market that includes over 15 farmers and food artisans. We also have a traveling farmers market that stops by the kitchen twice a week to fill in areas that are lacking in our garden. Most of our vendors such as vegetable, pork, beef and honey are from areas that are within 100 miles of St. Jude. In the kitchen at the Kay Kafe, we produce over 2500 meals per day and all come from ingredients that we source tirelessly every day.”  There are over 16 different food concepts, a catering department, two satellite cafes and patient room service model that the culinary team at St. Jude operates daily. To McMath the biggest challenge of all is coming up with ways to influence children to eat when they don’t have an appetite and are far away from the comforts of home. He has created some unique ways of doing so, such as kids making and cooking their own pizzas, decorating their own cupcakes and numbers other hands-on cooking
activities. One of the big events of the year is when the Culinary department builds a gingerbread house that is large enough to provide a dining table for two guests.  He invites 25 local chefs and 100 patients to decorate gingerbread for the surrounding area of the house.  
 I was fortunate enough to see this masterpiece two years ago when I visited St. Jude's during the holiday season.  Miles is also married to my cousin Julie, so I have the pleasure of knowing the family-man side of him as well.   

So, I asked Miles to share what he calls his "smart" brownies recipe, which is listed at the end of the post.  Then, I had to ask him some questions about the brownies, as well as his thoughts on some other food-related topics:

Me: So, I know that you mentioned before that you made these brownies for your three kids without telling them what was in it and they went over very well with the kids-they didn't even know they had spinach in them, right? 
Miles:  Correct!  I was asked to come up with a healthy brownie at work.  Not necessarily low fat or low sugar, just healthier.  Chocolate can overpower a lot of flavors.  So I just kept testing different healthy addisitions and came up with this recipe.  I was asked to be on ABC’s “Everyday Health” with Jenna Morasca and Ethan Zohn.  They came to our house for the filming and we made healthy pizzas and I made the brownies.  The kids didn’t know and really liked them.  (Since these kids are my cousins, I asked them as well, and they told me how wonderful they were, and that they had no idea that they contained the spinach because otherwise they would not have tried them!)

Me:  "In your role at St. Jude, as the director of Culinary Operations, you probably get a lot of special requests from children for snacks/meals.  How do you incorporate the concept of good nutrition into kid-pleasing items?"
Miles: "Give them a lot of choices and let them be in control.  If you tell a kid they are having kale, it doesn’t go over so well.  If you ask would the like kale, spinach or broccoli – they will choose one.  We also do a lot of hands on cooking with them.  That definitely works."  (Personally, I can attest to the fact that involving children in cooking increases the chances of them eating some of it.  Positive attitudes about the food being cooked can also help to make children more excited to try it.)

Me:  "Last question for you, as a chef as well as a lover of getting back to the essence of eating "real food", how do you promote this in your work, recipes, family life, etc?  What challenges do you face and what's your advice for those of us trying to do that in our own lives in overcoming the barriers?"
Miles:  "Simple, 'Eat Real Food' not food like substances.  Michael Pollan's Food Rules is really good.  Here are some of his quotes:
1. Avoid food products containing ingredients that a third-grader cannot pronounce.
2. Avoid foods you see advertised on television.
3. Eat only foods that will eventually rot.
4. It’s not food if it arrived through the window of your car.
5. Eat mostly plants, especially leaves.
6. Eat animals that have themselves eaten well.
7. The whiter the bread, the sooner you’ll be dead.
8. Have a glass of wine with dinner.
9. Stop eating before you’re full.
10. Eat when you are hungry, not when you are bored. If you’re not hungry enough to eat an apple, then you’re not hungry.
11. Don’t get your fuel from the same place your car does.
12. Do all your eating at a table.       
I have to laugh at some of these quotes, but I think Pollan makes some excellent points.  It was a pleasure interviewing Miles for this post, and I hope you will all try out these marvelous brownies, not only for National Brownie Day, but throughout this holiday season.  Bon Appetit! 


Makes 12 brownies.

  •  6 Tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 2 large farm eggs
  • 2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup Organic cane sugar
  • 1/2 cup Blueberry and Spinach Puree (recipe below)
  • 4 Tbsp. whole wheat flour
  • 2 Tbsp. flax meal
  • 1 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/4 cup rolled oats, ground in a food processor
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray only the bottom (not the sides) of a 9-inch square baking pan. Make the Blueberry and Spinach Puree first (recipe below). Set aside. Melt the butter and chocolate chips together in a double boiler or metal bowl over simmering water. Remove from heat and allow mixture to cool.
Meanwhile, in another bowl, stir together the eggs, vanilla, sugar and Puree. Combine this mixture with
the cooled chocolate mixture.
In a mixing bowl, stir together the flours, Flax Meal, cocoa powder, oats and salt. Add to the chocolate
mixture and mix (do not over mix, similar to mixing pancake batter). Mix in the chopped walnuts, if using, then pour the entire mixture in to the baking pan. Bake 25-30 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.
Allow to cool completely in the pan before cutting the brownies. Brownies will keep up to a week in the refrigerator, covered tightly.

Blueberry and Spinach Puree
Yields 1 cup

  • 1 ½ cups raw baby spinach
  • 3/4 cup fresh or frozen unsweetened blueberries
  • 1/2 tsp. lemon juice
  • 2-3 Tbsp. water

Wash and dry the spinach thoroughly (even if it's triple-washed, bagged spinach). Bring the spinach and water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Turn the heat down to low and allow to simmer 10 minutes.
Rinse and drain blueberries. Place blueberries, cooked spinach and lemon juice in the work bowl of a food processor or blender. Process on high until smooth, stopping occasionally if necessary to scrape the bowl.
Add the more water if necessary, to make a smooth puree.

-Courtesy of Miles. T. McMath
St. Jude Children's Research Hospital-