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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Weight Watcher's Program

The Weight Watchers Program has been around for many decades and has been successful in helping people loose weight.  Why?  Because Weight Watchers doesn't promote a diet as much as a lifestyle change.  When you join Weight Watchers you get a plan that motivates you to eat smarter, move more, develop helpful habits and you receive support from others in weekly meetings.  The plan works on a point system where foods are assigned a point value based upon calories, fiber and fat content.  This helps you learn portion control without worrying about calories.  On this plan, you eat exactly what you want, no food is forbidden and you don't have to buy any Weight Watcher foods.  However, filling foods such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains are strongly encouraged which is mostly what you should be eating in the first place.

There are weekly meetings where participants receive motivatonal support from others.  The leader discusses topics such as emotional eating and ways to avoid overeating triggers.  The plan promotes exercise and keeping a daily diary of all food consumed.  Participants are taught to weigh and measure their food so that they learn better portion control.  This helps tremendously when eating in restaurants where portions tend to be oversized. 

Renee says that loosing weight is easy; keeping it off is the hard part.  People have to eat and be around food every day unlike an alcoholic or drug addict who can learn to avoid temptation.  People with a weight problem have to learn how to manage it. 

If you have been thinking of trying a weight loss program, you may want to check out Weight Watchers.  There is a special joining fee for a limited time so now is a good time to start. 

Answer to Anonymous who asked what I thought of Sarah Lee's Soft Family bread.  While I am no nutritionist, I think that bread is better than the Oroweat I buy.  It has more fiber and protein but does contain high fructose corn syrup.  You really have to pick the the lesser of the two evils.  If your family likes it, great.  Mine didn't really care for it so I buy the Oroweat.  Hope that helps.

I also hope everyone is ready for a winter storm.  We are bracing for whatever mother nature throws at us.  Interestingly, this storm is coming one day later than the terrible ice storm we had last year which knocked out power for many in this area for weeks.  I have gotten extra bread, milk, cheese and meat plus a fruit tray.  If I think I'm going to have extra kids over, I like to get a veggie or fruit tray.  They always devour it.  (During the last snow I had 11 kids at my house.  I barely survived.)

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A Life Changed For Better

This week I'm going to focus on the Weight Watchers program and share the story of a friend of mine.  I want to make the point that there are many programs and ways to loose weight that work.  The problem is finding a way to make healthy changes that last for a lifetime.  This blog has always been about living a healthy lifestyle, not just a quick fix for our problems.  Today I will share a story that many of you will be able to relate to and that may inspire you.

Renee struggled with her weight early on and starting in junior high, began dieting.  Her lack of activity and poor eating habits led to a steady rise in her weight and poor self-esteem.  Over 15 years, she tried every diet available, only to regain the weight later.  Finally she joined Weight Watchers, lost 45 pounds and became a Lifetime member.  Renee married and kept the weight off for about three years but once again, her weight began to creep up.  In the spring of 2002, Renee reached her lowest point.  Despite her loving, supportive husband and 7 year old son, Renee could think of nothing but her weight.  She finally realized she was digging herself an early grave and went back to Weight Watchers.  This time, she knew she'd have to exercise and truly commit to making her health a lifetime priority.

Renee had always hated to sweat and avoided exercise but decided to walk 1 mile three days a week.  She remembers thinking that she better take her cell phone in case she had a heart attack.  Gradually, Renee increased her walking to 3 miles, six days a week.  Slowly the weight was coming off and exercise was becoming more and more a part of Renee's life.  One day, Renee's husband showed her a brochure advertising a local marathon/half marathon.  He encouraged her to try it.  She was doubtful but with the help of a friend, Renee began to run and train.  In November of 2003, Renee ran her first half marathon, finishing 9th in her age division. 

Since then, Renee has continued to run and has run in several marathons and bettered her times.  Her weight is normal and her health greatly improved.  Renee went from doing nothing to doing more than she thought she was capapble of.  Renee says, "You can't change the past, but you can change today!"

I hope Renee's story will inspire you.  I admire her determination to take control of her life and make it better.  As long as I have known Renee, she has been healthy and fit; you would never know she still struggles every day with making healthy choices.  For her, Weight Watchers was part of the solution, along with exercise.  Thursday, I will explain more about the Weight Watchers program.  Renee says she still practices the Weight Watchers techniques for healthier eating.       

Friday, January 22, 2010

Eating Mindfully

I want to thank my readers for their kind comments.  I started this blog with the aim of providing health information, exercise and food tips in a low key, supportive manner.  I sincerely want to see people live better lives through better health habits. 

Today I want to talk about eating mindfully.  How many times do you rush through a meal, not really noticing what you are eating?  Do you find yourself grabbing a snack and scarfing it down, then looking for something else to eat?  We all are guilty of doing these things but these habits lead to overeating, plus not enjoying what we are eating in the first place.  If you spend 30 minutes cooking a meal, wouldn't it be nice if it took more than 5 minutes for your family to devour it? 

This weekend, plan at least one meal where you take the time to sit down as a family and truly enjoy the food.  When you eat more slowly, your body has more time to register fullness so you will eat less.  If you are eating at home, make the meal special in some way such as eating by candlelight.  As you eat, savor the texture and flavor of the food.  Spend time talking with your loved ones.  Throughout the rest of the week, try to remember to slow down and relish the food and drinks you consume.  Let's remember that food is for nourishment, not a cure all for boredom or anxiety.

Because some of you ask, I mention products sometimes I have tried and really like.  My new favorite peanut butter is Natural Jiff.  (I am addicted to peanuts and peanut butter.)  When compared to the Reduced Fat Jiff I used to buy, it has 16 grams of fat as opposed to 12 but much less sodium at 75 mg. compared to 250 mg.!  Natural Jiff also has one gram more of fiber and one less of sugar.  The best part is the taste - rich, smooth and creamy.
I have searched for a healthier lunch meat and have finally found one without added nitrates or nitrites, no artificial ingredients and which is minimally processed - Oscar Mayer Natural lunch meats.  The sodium content is lower than some and higher than others so it's not perfect.  The taste is very good.
My current bread of choice is Oroweat Soft Family breads, usually the honey wheat.  It has no high fructose corn syrup, artificial colors, flavors or preservatives.  It is not extremely high in fiber.  My family usually doesn't like whole wheat bread that is high in fiber as it is almost always dry and hard.  Maybe someday.........   
When trying to choose between different brands, I try to go for something that has the least "bad" ingredients but still delivers on taste, price and quality.

The February issue of Better Homes and Gardens has a big section on heart health.  You should pick up a copy.  Happy eating this weekend!    

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Cooking Classes

I had intended to talk about the Weight Watchers program this week but due to a death in the family, I didn't have time to do the research.  I hope to have that no later than next week.  Instead, I want to encourage those of you who have never cooked much or who feel your skills in the kitchen need improvement to take some cooking classes.  Cooking classes can be fun, even if you don't know anyone else in the class.  I took Italian cooking classes and not only did I have fun, I still use those recipes over 20 years later.  Taste of Home and Southern Living magazines do traveling cooking demostrations but those venues are too large to get much benefit.  Take a smaller class where you may even get to do some hands on work. 

Here in Jonesboro, Lindley Williams of Meals For Moms is offering cooking classes on January 21 and 28, and February 4 and 11.   She promises each dish is easy and quick and is featuring fish, shrimp, ham and pork tenderloin dishes.  Her phone number is 870-934-8881.  Lindley also cooks meals each week that you can pick up and reheat at home.  Her menu varies each week.  This is a nice solution for those nights when you have no time to cook but still want a nice, home cooked meal. 

I'm going to share two more recipes from my Italian cooking class.  The meatballs are very easy and if you prepare extra and freeze them like I often do, you have another meal.  You can add the meatballs to the sauce recipe I'm sharing, or, heavens forbid, to a store bought sauce.  You can also use leftover meatballs and sauce to make meatballs sandwiches like I am tonight.  Sunday I made a double batch of sauce and the meatballs.  Seven people ate that night and as I said, the leftovers will make sandwiches for 4 tonight.  I froze twelve meatballs to make swedish meatballs another day.  Cook once and get three meals.

Meatballs from Sandy Formica's class
2 lbs lean hamburger or ground turkey
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
4 slices stale bread, soaked in water (squeeze out excess before mixing)
2 tsp. salt or to taste
1 tsp. pepper or to taste
1/2 to 1 tsp. garlic powder

In a mixing bowl, combine all ingredients; it is easier to do with your hands.  With a spoon, scoop out golf balls sized amounts and roll into a ball shape in your hands.  Place meatballs in simmering sauce and cook 20 to 30 minutes.  Or, heat oven to 375, place meatballs on a lightly greased cookie sheet and bake for 2o to 30 minutes till lightly browned.  Then add to sauce or freeze.  This recipe can be easily cut in half too for smaller portions.

Forty-Five Minute Meat Sauce
2 15 oz. cans tomato sauce
1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 medium onion, sliced thin
1 1/2 tsp. oregano
1 tsp. basil
1 tsp. garlic powder
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. parsley
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
1 green pepper, cut into small pieces
2 cups mushrooms, sliced
1 lb. ground meat (leave out if making meatballs)

Saute onion, green pepper and mushrooms in olive oil 7 to 8 minutes.  Remove from pot and brown meat if not using meatballs.  Drain and rinse meat and return to pot.  Add the vegetable mixture and remaining ingredients.  Bring to a boil, cover and simmer 30 minutes.  Add meatballs before simmering.  Serve with your favorite pasta.  

You will never want Ragu again if you try this recipe.  It really isn't hard and doesn't take that much time.  If you've tried some of my recipes, let me know how they turned out.  Remember, we all have our share of cooking disasters, so don't be afraid to try (and try again).   

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Crockpots And Recipe Sources

As you know, if you have been reading my blog awhile, I believe healthier eating is achieved at home without relying on processed, packaged or fast foods.  I also believe it is cheaper in the long run to cook than to eat out frequently.  That is why I post quick, easy recipes in an effort to inspire those of you who really don't like to cook or who may not have much cooking experience.  Remember, grocery shopping, cooking and cleaning up the kitchen don't have to be done by one person all the time.  Even children can and should help out and certainly men and women should be able to prepare meals.

Where do I find the recipes that I use?  Some I created but most I've collected from a variety of sources.  Better Homes and Gardens and Southern Living are two of my favorite magazine sources for recipes.  They both feature light or healthy sections on cooking.  Taste of Home is another magazine devoted to recipes and cooking tips.  My favorite website is  That is my go to source whenever I'm looking for something different.  There are plenty of other good websites and magazines to check out.

Did you know that a crockpot isn't just for cheese dip?  A crockpot or slow cooker is one of the easiest ways to prepare a meal.  If you don't have one, I recommend you buy one.  My husband gave me a new one for Christmas (my family likes to give gifts that keep on giving) because my old one died in November.  It is a Hamilton Beach, 6 quart, programable slow cooker and I love it.  It has more options than my old one such as a warm setting and is super easy to use and clean.  I have two recipes to share, one I created and one that is so easy ANYONE could make it.

Cherried Chicken
2 1/2 to 3 lbs skinless chicken, legs or breasts
1 tsp. herb pepper seasoning like lemon pepper, (can be left out)
1 15 oz. can pitted dark sweet cherries, drained
1 12 oz. bottle chili sauce
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
Spray inside of slow cooker with cooking spray and place chicken in bottom.  Sprinkle with pepper.  Mix other ingredients in a small bowl and pour over chicken.  Cook on low 5 to 6 hours or high for 2 1/2 to 3 hours. 
I put this on the other morning before the kids left for school.  It took 15 minutes.  I did cook it longer, probably 7 hours and it was fine.  I served it over rice with green beans on the side.  Five ingredients - it doesn't get much easier! 

Slow Cooker Minute Steaks with Tomatoes and Carrots
4 to 6 minute steaks or cube steaks
1/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp. pepper
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. garlic powder
Mix flour and seasonings in a shallow bowl or pie plate.  Dredge minute steaks in flour mixture and brown in 1 to 2 Tbsp. olive or canola oil in a nonstick pan over medium heat.  Transfer steaks to a slow cooker lightly sprayed with cooking spray.
1 onion sliced thin
1 1/2 cups carrots, sliced in 1/4 inch chunks
1 can no salt added diced tomatoes with juice
1 1/2 tsp. basil
Pepper to taste
1/2 tsp. salt
Add sliced onion to pan and brown in remaining oil and drippings.  While onion cooks, slice carrots and sprinkle over meat in slow cooker.  Spread can of tomatoes evenly over carrots and meat.  Add onions when browned and sprinkle with spices.  Cook 6 to 7 hours on low heat or 4 hours on high heat.  Serve over mashed potatoes or rice. 
This is a recipe I created and one of my family's favorites.  Talk about comfort food!  The meat is inexpensive and just falls apart. 

Think how nice it would be to walk into your house after a day at work and smell your dinner, ready to eat!  I hope you will be inspired to try a slow cooker.  With everything in one pot, clean up is a snap too.  Happy cooking and have a good weekend. 

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Soups On!

Perhaps you've had some time to clean out those cabinets and get organized, or maybe not.  I should tell everyone that I didn't do my whole kitchen in one day, I just tackled one area at a time.  I also want to mention that I didn't develop all these healthy habits over night.  I used to eat whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted.  As I saw my parents develop problems with heart disease and I learned more from my husband, my approach to eating, exercise and good health evolved.  Having children really spurred my desire to be more healthy and to raise healthy children.  So don't feel discouraged or that you can't possibly do the things I do.  Remember to try one thing at a time and adjust to it - baby steps!

That being said, let's talk about one of the quickest and easiest dinners you can make - soup!  We eat alot of soup in the fall and winter because it usually makes a large amount (leftovers for another meal!) and if it contains vegetables, it is a complete dinner.  I have several soup recipes that my family loves.  The vegetable beef soup I'm going to share has a ton of vegetables in it and makes more than enough to freeze for another day or to share with a friend.  It is also simple because you just dump most of the ingredients in the pot and let it simmer away.  Don't worry if you can't find a soup bone.

Vegetable Soup
3 lbs. stew meat                                            
1 soup bone
1Tbsp. chili powder
1 tsp. garlic powder
3 13 1/2 oz. cans tomato juice 
1 tsp. onion powder
4 13 1/2 oz. cans water 
2 Tbsp. Worchestershire sauce
1 onion chopped 
3 bay leaves
1/2 green pepper chopped
4 cups diced tomatoes
6 garlic cloves, minced
4 10 oz. packages frozen mixed vegetables
1 Tbsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
Combine all ingredients except diced tomatoes and frozen mixed vegetables in a large pot.  Bring to a boil, cover tightly and simmer for 2 to 3 hours or until the meat is tender.  Return to a rolling boil and add tomatoes and frozen vegetables.  Boil 5 minutes, uncovered.  Better the next day. 

I also want to share another favorite soup which is a bit unusual but loved by my family - Zydeco Soup.  It has several spices but goes together quickly. 

Zydeco Soup
2 stalks celery chopped
1/4 tsp. cloves
1 large onion chopped
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 green pepper chopped
1 15 oz. can black eyed peas, drained and rinsed
2 cloves garlic minced
1 14 oz. can hominy, drained and rinsed
2 Tbsp. olive oil 
1 14 oz. can diced tomatoes
6 oz. diced, cooked ham
 1 14 oz. can chicken broth
1 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. parsley
1/2 tsp. each of sugar, dry mustard, cumin, basil, oregano, thyme
1 Tbsp. molasses
Cook celery, onion, green pepper and garlic in olive oil over medium heat for 5 minutes.  Stir in ham and spices, then cook 5 minutes more, stirring.  Add black eyed peas, hominy, undrained tomatoes, broth and molasses.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer 30 minutes. 

These soups are great on cold winter nights.  Serve with your favorite bread and let someone else clean up the kitchen.  Thursday we will talk about another time saver - the crockpot.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Getting Organized - What To Have In Your Pantry

My, are things hopping around here today!  So far I have four extra kids with more on the way.  A little bit of snow and my home turns into Disney since we live on the best hills in an area of flat land.  I only hope the food holds out.

Tuesday I talked about cleaning out the freezer, pantry and refrigerator and grouping similar items so that you can find things quickly.  Getting rid of any "antique" food you may have also leads to safer eating.  Now, what do you need to have on hand so you can cook quick, easy meals?  Let's start with the freezer.  If you have a full size freezer, you are lucky because you can take advantage of specials on meat and other items plus freeze precooked meals for nights you are really busy.  If you only have a freezer/refrigerator combo, you will have to stock only a few basics.  I keep frozen ground turkey and cooked chopped chicken most of the time.  Catch chicken or other meat on sale and wrap it properly to avoid freezer burn.  Use meat in a timely fashion though.  I keep frozen corn, brocolli, green peas, sugar snap peas, okra, brussel sprouts, spinach, chopped green pepper and hash brown potatoes regularly.  These basics can be easily cooked for a side dish or added to soups and other dishes.  I rarely buy vegetables with a sauce or seasoning as they often have too much fat and salt.  I usually have frozen rolls and biscuits on hand too and some frozen fruit.  Yes, I even roughly alphabetize the vegetables in a row so I can find them quickly.  (I know what you are thinking.)  I don't buy many frozen meals.  Occasionally I pick up a Lean Cuisine for lunches and rarely do I buy frozen pizza, etc. 

My refrigerator always has milk and orange juice, eggs, cheese, butter, lunch meat, fruit and carrots.  I always have several kinds of jelly, low fat mayo, mustards, ketchup, soy sauce, Worchestershire sauce, jarred chopped garlic, salad dressing, lemon juice and pickles.  Usually there is yogurt, cottage cheese and some leftovers.  Sometimes I have bacon or a fresh vegetable I'm going to cook soon.

My pantry always has several kinds of pasta and rice, dried beans, oatmeal, cereal, popcorn, crackers and bread.  I keep canned green beans, corn, diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, several soups, several kinds of beans like black and kidney beans, salmon or tuna, applesauce, and peanut butter.  There are different dried fruits like raisins, craisins and almonds, walnuts, peanuts and pecans.  I use lots of olive oil, cooking spray and canola oil, plus all-purpose flour, honey, pancake syrup, sugar and Bisquick.

As you can see, there are often several kids at my house so I try to keep a variety of snacks, some not as good as others.  I keep G-2 and Roaring Water and yes, some sodas.  I have granola bars, usually Fiber One, peanut butter crackers, pretzels, trailmix, etc.  If I know I'm having a group of kids in advance, I'll get a fruit or veggie tray and yes, they do eat it.  There is always fruit like apples or bananas and the cutie oranges are big right now with the kids.

You should be able to cook a fairly decent meal at any time with food you have on hand.  I promise, time taken to organize and stock your kitchen leads to less stress and worry about "what's for dinner?".  The best reward will be healthier meals when you eat at home and money saved. 

If the weather is bad where you are, get started on that kitchen this weekend!  See you next week.

Update on our friend that suffered the brain aneurysm:  he is now at a rehab center and doing really well.  He can eat regular food and is learning to walk again.  We are so thankful for his continued recovery.  His previous good health and physical condition has helped speed his recovery.          

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Start the New Year Right - Get Organized

Happy 2010!  I am back from my vacation and ready for the new year with a fresh new look for my blog.  A new year prompts us to start over, try new things, make a difference.  For any new readers, this blog is about making changes that lead to better health, thus a better life.  Sometimes I like to compare the human body with a car.  You take care of your car, changing the oil, using the correct gasoline, airing the tires and giving it a wash now and then.  If you don't take care of your car, it won't run well and you may find yourself stuck.  Your body is the same way.  If you don't take good care of yourself, bad things can happen.  Please remember that your doctor can't fix everything and that fixing what you broke may cost more than you bargained for.

This blog is also about what the cardiologist's family does to stay healthy and take care of our bodies.  We are not perfect, we don't always exercise as much as we should and we eat junk sometimes too.  We aim to get it right most of the time.  Hopefully, you will find some help and encouragement here.

You can't eat right if your refrigerator and pantry aren't well stocked.  Use the new year to motivate yourself to clean out your pantry, refrigerator and freezer, getting rid anything out of date.  I did this last fall as my sister found what she called "antique" food in my fridge.  If you have any questions as to whether a food is safe to eat, check out  This great website answers that question for any food you can imagine.  Throw out the old stuff and wipe down the cabinets and shelves.  Then organize what's left in a manner that helps you find what you need to cook more quickly.  In my refrigerator, meats and cheeses have separate spaces, fruits and vegetables go in the bottom bins, milk on one side, juice on the other.  The salad dressings, condiments and jellies are grouped together.  The leftovers go on two main shelves.  In my pantry, I group canned vegetables, fruits and soups separately.  Dried foods like beans, pasta, rice and cereal are grouped together as well.  My sister says I'm anal because my spices are alphabetized but I can find what I want without hunting for it.  All this saves me cooking time in the kitchen and I can tell when I'm out of something more easily.  As you know by now, my freezer is similarly organized.  I can't emphasize enough that being organized saves time and stress in meal preparation.

I also took the time this fall to go through the rest of my kitchen cabinets.  I got rid of old cooking utensils, pans and dishes that I no longer used, wiped everything out and reorganized a few things.  A local man sharpened all my knives and scissors.  I had more space when I was through, everything was clean and in good order. 

It helps to have a notepad handy in the kitchen for everyone to list items as they are used up.  Then, when you go shopping, you are less likely to forget something.  You can also scan your newly organized shelves as you prepare your shopping list as you can see when something is missing.  Thursday I will talk about some basic items every kitchen should have to prepare fast, healthy meals.  We got home from our trip last night about 4:00 p.m. and I was able to prepare the chicken and pasta dish recipe from an earlier blog with things I already had on hand.  No stress, no worries,  a healthy dinner was ready in about 25 minutes.

I hope you feel inspired to do a little organizing and cleaning.  Use the cold weather outside as further inspiration to stay inside and get something done.  See you Thursday!