Losing weight has to be one of the most common New Year's resolutions. For most people that usually means resolving to eat differently, better. No more cheese fries! No more croissant breakfast sandwiches! Vegetables, fruit and grains instead of steak, beer and chips. But swearing off foods you love and trying to incorporate the ones you should like can backfire. No wonder it's your New Year's resolution every year — it doesn't always work.
I've heard that a lot from people throughout my more than 30 years as a health reporter. They turned to me for suggestions on how to eat a more healthy diet — what worked for me in my seemingly never-ending quest to lose weight and what experts recommended. The best advice, then and now, remains the same.
Set specific, achievable goals, changes that really fit your lifestyle and personality. And adopt just a few of them at a time. Instead of pledging to lose 100 pounds in the new year, tame your sweet tooth. Need a daily chocolate fix? Instead of eating several mini chocolate bars through out the day, have a few chocolate chips when the chocolate craving hits and schedule a slice of chocolate cake once or twice a month, so you don't feel deprived. Eat in restaurants every day? Reduce the number of those high-calorie and fast-food meals by resolving to pack a brown bag lunch once or twice a week and walk the mall for a half-hour. Be sure to wave at your friends in the restaurant as you pass by burning calories.
"You have to figure out what is a reasonable change that you can realistically maintain long-term," said Dianna Thomas, a registered dietitian for St. Anthony's Hospital and BayCare Health Systems. "Set measurable, small goals. That's how you get positive outcomes."
What's the best way to decide on your dietary goals for the new year? Start by taking stock of what and how much you eat now. For several days (a week would be ideal), keep a list of everything you eat, noting roughly what time you ate and what the portion size was. Your food diary may look something like this:
• Large latte (full fat or skim milk?) in the morning
• Fries and a burger (with cheese, bacon, mayo, avocado?) for lunch
• Chips and a soda from vending machine at work around 4 p.m.
• At home after work, 2 glasses of wine (about a cup, 8 ounce total)
• Nibbled on nuts and leftover pizza while getting dinner ready
• Leftover chicken (leg and thigh, with skin) and rice (about a cup) for dinner
• Ice cream (2 scoops, caramel sauce) before bed
Try to be accurate and honest, especially with portion sizes. The experience will produce a clearer picture of what and when you eat, areas where with a little thought and preparation you could make better choices and areas that need immediate attention, like that afternoon snack from the vending machine. It's clearly not enough to keep you from grazing while you put dinner together, so change that first. Bring peanut butter and wheat crackers to work; make snack bags of almonds or walnuts mixed with Craisins to eat in the car on the way home; don't drink alcohol while you cook or prep dinner. Those small changes alone can result in hundreds of calories saved and possibly a few pounds lost.
As Thomas recommends, make sure your changes are measurable and review them after a few weeks. Are they working for you; has anything improved? Do they fit your lifestyle, your schedule, your needs? Be prepared to make adjustments and to fine-tune your goals before giving up in frustration and abandoning them.
• Plan transportable meals and snacks you can make in advance.
• Eat breakfast. An energy bar with a skinny latte and fruit will work.
• Stop drinking or drink fewer sodas. Flavored carbonated water or iced herbal teas (unsweetened) may help you transition.
• Stop drinking or drink fewer "energy" and sport drinks, such as Gatorade, Red Bull, fruity punch and sweetened protein shakes.
• You don't have to eat three meals a day. You may need four or five smaller meals throughout the day. Divide your food and calories accordingly.
• Make an effort to eat at least one piece of fruit a day. Keep a bag of apples or a few bananas at work.
• Try to eat a salad or vegetables (not corn or potatoes) several times a week. Mark it on a calendar to keep track.
• Add beans to recipes whenever possible. If canned, look for lower sodium on label.
• Seek out foods made with whole grains. Pasta, bread, rolls, crackers. We know some taste like cardboard, but try to find a few that you like.
• Try a weight loss app. Thomas recommends Lose It!, Noom Coach and My Fitness Pal.
• Roast a small turkey breast, divide it into portions for the freezer and make sandwiches all week for less sodium than deli turkey.
• Give nut milks a try, like almond milk.
• Switch to whipped butter, whipped cream cheese, reduced fat sour cream and frozen yogurt instead of ice cream.
• Meats with the word "loin" and "round" are usually lower in calories and fat. Sirloin, tenderloin, eye of round. Choosing chicken or turkey sausage also saves some fat and calories.
• Turn off the TV while you eat. No phones, computers or tablets, either.
Irene's Favorite Bran Muffins
2 cups low-fat buttermilk,
2 cups bran flakes cereal (not with raisins)
2 cups whole wheat flour
2 ½ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon or allspice or both
⅛-¼ teaspoon nutmeg, optional
½ stick unsalted butter, melted
¾ cup light or dark brown sugar
¼ cup molasses
½ cup Egg Beaters
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup wheat bran
Optional: 1 cup raisins, chopped dried fruit or chopped nuts, which if added will increase calorie count
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place a paper liner in each cup of a 12-muffin tin and spray each liner with cooking spray. You'll need 18-20 liners.
Combine buttermilk with bran flakes in medium bowl and set aside to soften while you assemble remaining ingredients.
Stir together flour, baking soda, salt and spices in another medium bowl.
In another large bowl, whisk brown sugar, molasses and melted butter until well combined and smooth. Add Egg Beaters and vanilla extract. Beat by hand until very smooth.
Slowly add flour mixture and wheat bran, alternating with buttermilk mixture. Gently fold in the raisins or nuts, if using.
Portion batter into muffin pans with a 2-ounce ice cream or dough scoop. Transfer one pan at a time to oven.
Bake muffins 15 to 20 minutes. Rotate pan halfway through bake time. Start checking at 15 minutes with a wooden skewer. When done, it should come out mostly clean or with a few moist crumbs attached. If not ready, continue baking and check again after a minute or two. Don't over bake. (In my oven it takes 18 minutes.)
Muffins can be frozen (individually on a baking sheet) as soon as they cool and stored in zip-top bags in the freezer for a month. Nutrition information per muffin: 147 calories; 3g fat; 8mg cholesterol; 358mg sodium; .5g fiber.
Adapted from: I'm Just Here for More Food by Alton Brown (2004, Stewart, Tabori & Chang)
Super Quick Chili
2 cans stewed tomatoes
2 cans kidney beans, drained, rinsed (see note)
1 can corn, drained
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
1 jar picante sauce, mild or hot
½ teaspoon chili powder
2 teaspoons cumin powder
2 tablespoons dried oregano
⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper, optional
Combine all ingredients in a large saucepan and cook uncovered over medium heat until bubbly. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes. Serve.
Note: Use 1 can of kidney beans and 1 can of black beans for variety. If you like your chili more soupy, add a little low sodium chicken stock. Nutrition information per ½-cup serving: 289 calories; 2.5g fat; 0mg cholesterol; 1,000mg sodium; 16g fiber.
Source: Irene Maher, Tampa Bay Times
This salad can be served on greens as a healthy side dish, or stuffed inside whole grain pita bread for lunch. For dinner, pair it with avocado slices and/or cooked whole grain pasta for a meatless main course.
Brown Rice, Red Bean and Cucumber Salad
1 ½ cups cooked brown rice
1 cup lower sodium canned kidney beans, rinsed and drained
⅔ cup finely diced celery; about 2-3 stalks
⅓ cup finely diced onion; about half a small onion
½ cup chopped sweet red pepper; about half a large pepper
1 cup English cucumber (the long skinny ones wrapped in plastic), unpeeled; about 20, ⅛-inch rounds, cut into quarters
¼ cup, packed, cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
¼ teaspoon salt, optional or to taste
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper, optional or to taste
⅓-½ cup bottled low-calorie salad dressing
Juice of 1 lemon
Mix all ingredients together in a medium bowl. Chill or serve at room temperature over salad greens. Makes 6 servings.
Nutrition information per ⅔-cup serving: 145 calories; 3g fat; 0g cholesterol; 249mg sodium; 4.3g fiber.
Source: Irene Maher, Tampa Bay Times
I found this recipe years ago in a magazine and have updated it slightly. If you need more than 2 servings, multiply the ingredients accordingly. Keeping the calories low relies on using small baking potatoes of no more than 8 ounces each. If you aren't restricting sodium, use a small chicken bouillon cube to give the sauce a big flavor boost. You can use shrimp instead of chicken, or simply add more mushrooms or half a can of kidney beans for a meatless option.
Creamy Chicken Potatoes
2 baking potatoes, 8 ounces each, scrubbed well
4 ounces boneless, skinless chicken breast (tenders work well), cut into ½-inch pieces
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 cup finely sliced mushrooms
¼ cup yellow onion, finely diced
1 clove garlic, minced
½ cup sweet red pepper, small diced
2 ½ teaspoons flour
¾ cup fat free milk
¼ cup chicken stock, unsalted
Bake potatoes in microwave until done. Set aside, covered to keep warm.
Coat medium non-stick skillet with cooking spray. Place over medium-heat until hot. Add chicken and saute 6 minutes or until cooked through. Transfer chicken to small bowl and cover to keep warm. Heat olive oil in same skillet where chicken was cooked. Add mushrooms, onion, garlic and sweet red pepper. Saute vegetables over medium heat, scraping up any brown bits in bottom of pan. Cook for about 1-2 minutes but do not allow to brown. Stir flour into vegetables and cook for another minute. Gradually add milk and chicken stock, stirring constantly. Add chicken and any accumulated juices. Reduce heat to a low simmer, cover and cook for about 10 minutes until vegetables are soft and sauce is thickened. Taste sauce for seasoning and add salt and pepper if desired.
Slice potatoes lengthwise, fluff insides with a fork. Divide chicken mixture evenly between two potatoes. Serves 2. Nutrition information per serving: 352 calories; 5.5g fat; 34.5mg cholesterol; 136 mg sodium; 6.5g fiber.
Source: Irene Maher, Tampa Bay Times
I cut the original Cooking Light recipe in half and added a delicious blueberry sauce. Nutrition information is based on using unsalted butter, fat-free yogurt and an Eggland's Best egg. You can use a larger capacity tube pan and double the cake ingredients, but your slices will be larger and that will increase calories, etc.
Blueberry Pound Cake
1 cup sugar
2 ½ tablespoons unsalted butter or
stick margarine, softened
¼ cup (2 ounces) ⅓-less fat cream cheese, softened
1 large egg
1 large egg white
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1½ cups all-purpose flour, divided use
1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries (not thawed)
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup lemon, vanilla or plain low-fat yogurt
Zest from one lemon, optional
For the glaze:
½ cup sifted powdered sugar
1-4 teaspoons lemon juice (according to desired thickness)
Zest from one lemon, optional
For blueberry sauce:
3 cups frozen blueberries
½ cup sugar
1 cup water
2 tablespoons lemon juice
4 teaspoons cornstarch dissolved in 2 tablespoons cool water
Coat a 9- or 10-inch tube cake pan with cooking spray. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, beat sugar, butter and cream cheese at medium speed until well-blended. Add egg and egg white; beat well. Add vanilla extract.
Measure berries into a medium bowl and set aside.
Measure 1 ½ cups flour into another medium bowl. Remove 2 tablespoons flour and combine with berries. To remaining flour, add baking powder, baking soda and salt. Lightly whisk to combine.
With mixer on low speed, add dry ingredients to sugar and butter mixture alternately with yogurt. Mix just enough to combine all ingredients. Remove mixing bowl from stand mixer; scrape sides of bowl with spatula being sure to scrape bottom of bowl. Batter will be very thick.
Carefully fold in blueberries by hand. Dollop batter evenly into prepared pan. Give pan a whack on the counter to remove air bubbles.
Bake at 350 degrees. Start checking for doneness at 45 minutes. The cake is done when a skewer comes out clean or with just a few moist crumbs attached. (In my home oven, the cake was done in just under 50 minutes, but yours may take longer.)
Make the glaze: While cake bakes, make glaze by combining all ingredients in a small bowl. Use just enough lemon juice to reach a consistency that is similar to honey. (3 teaspoons was perfect for me.) Cover glaze with plastic wrap and set aside.
Make the blueberry sauce: Bring all ingredients to a boil in a medium saucepan. Reduce heat to a simmer, stir gently but constantly until sauce thickens, about 5-7 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside. If sauce thickens too much as it cools, thin with a few drops of lemon juice or water. Set aside to cool.
Cool cake on wire rack for 10 minutes then turn out of pan to continue cooling on rack. When cool enough to handle, transfer cake to a serving plate.
Pour glaze into a snack-size zip-top bag. Snip a tiny hole in a corner and use it like a piping bag to drizzle all over and down the sides of the slightly warm cake.
To serve: Slice with a serrated knife. Serve each slice with 2 tablespoons blueberry sauce. A dab of some creamy whipped topping would also be wonderful, if your calories will allow — but that isn't included in my counts. Serves 16. Nutrition information per slice with glaze: 139 calories; 3g fat; 23mg cholesterol; 95mg sodium; .5g fiber. (2 tablespoons of blueberry sauce adds 40 calories and 3g fat to each serving.)
Source: Adapted from The Complete Cooking Light Cookbook (Oxmoor House, 2000)
This is a recipe adapted from one of my favorite baking blogs, Sally's Baking Addiction. She calls these muffins, but they're really cake. I made these with an Eggland's Best large egg, which is slightly lower in calories, fat and cholesterol than standard eggs.
Skinny Double Chocolate Chip Cupcakes
¾ cup pure solid packed pumpkin (canned, plain pumpkin; not pie filling)
½ cup white sugar
¼ cup agave syrup or honey (I prefer the mild flavor of agave)
1 large egg or 2 large egg whites
¾ cup vanilla or plain yogurt (fat-free used here)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
½ cup flour
½ cup whole wheat flour
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ cup mini chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a cupcake tin with paper liners and spray each paper liner well with cooking spray.
In a large bowl, combine pumpkin, sugar, agave, egg or egg whites, yogurt and vanilla extract. Whisk until well combined.
Place a sieve or wire mesh strainer over a medium bowl. Measure into the strainer the flours, coca powder, salt, baking soda and baking powder. Stir together. Gently add the dry ingredients to the wet pumpkin mixture. Stir until no streaks of flour remain. Gently fold in the chocolate chips. The batter will be thick.
Scoop batter with a 2-ounce ice cream or dough scoop and divide among the cupcake liners; batter should reach the top of the pan. Transfer pan to oven and bake at 425 degrees for 5 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees and (without opening the oven) continue baking for about 13 more minutes or until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean or with a few moist crumbs attached. If not done, check every 2 minutes.
Remove pan from oven and allow to cool for about 5 minutes, then turn out on a wire rack and cool completely. Frost when completely cool. Frosted cupcakes freeze well. Defrost in microwave on very low power or the frosting will melt all over the microwave.
Makes 16. Nutrition information per plain cupcake: 126 calories; 3g fat; 11mg cholesterol; 191mg sodium; 2.2g fiber. Nutrition information per cupcake with 1 ½ teaspoons chocolate frosting: 163.5 calories; 5.5g fat; 11mg cholesterol; 214mg sodium; 2.2g fiber. .
Source: Adapted from sallysbakingaddiction.com
This is really a multi-purpose ganache. I like to make it with a 4-ounce Ghirardelli semi-sweet chocolate bar. Lindt is another delicious choice. I don't recommend using chocolate chips here, although you may give it a try; I've had mixed results.
4 ounces semi-sweet chocolate bar, roughly chopped
4 tablespoons fat-free half and half
Few drops vanilla extract
Combine chopped chocolate, half and half, salt and vanilla in a small heavy bottomed saucepan. Put it on the lowest possible heat on your stove, stir occasionally until melted and smooth. You may use a double boiler if you prefer. Use a teaspoon and a half of ganache on each cupcake.
This ganache is good for frosting cakes, dolloping over frozen yogurt or chilling until firm, scooping and rolling into balls, which resemble chocolate truffles. Roll these truffle balls in cocoa, coconut or finely chopped nuts or sprinkles or cookie crumbs or whatever you like and serve in a candy dish.
Make enough to frost 16 standard size cupcakes with 1 ½ teaspoons ganache on each. Nutrition information per 1 ½-teaspoon serving: 37.5 calories; 2.5g fat; 0mg cholesterol; 23mg sodium; 0 fiber.
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