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Tuesday, May 31, 2011


I always try things before I recommend them and if possible, before I condemn them.  I recently wrote about the top 7 diet plans as ranked by Consumer Reports and commented that I knew very little about Slim Fast.  So I decided to give it a whirl and see if I lose any weight in the next two weeks while drinking those shakes.

As I said before, the plan seems aimed at people who want to lose a little weight, perhaps for a special occasion.  I couldn't find a promised amount of weight lost anywhere on the website but an article on Web MD about Slim Fast did mention 2 lbs. a week.  The plan requires you to eat the bars or drink the shakes twice a day in place of two meals.  You are also supposed to eat three healthy snacks every day such as fruit, vegetables, nuts or a Slim Fast bar.  Your last meal of the day should be 500 calories and consist of a lean protein, plenty of vegetables and a whole grain starch.  Of course you are supposed to exercise 30 minutes a day and drink lots of water.

Right away I found several things I approve of: the diet promotes exercise, eating fruits and vegetables and drinking water.  The shake took seconds to mix with 8 oz. of fat free milk (another plus, dairy is so good for you) and the chocolate tasted good.  (I get a chocolate fix.  Not sure if that is good or bad.)  I generally do exercise more than 30 minutes a day so that is easy but the drinking water part is difficult for me.  I'll have to work on that.  I also eat a variety of fruits and vegetables but keeping dinner to 500 calories will be hard.

I recorded my starting weight today at 131.6 so we will see where I am next Tuesday.  By the way, that weight was taken on home scales.  I usually weigh about 5 more pounds at the doctor's office.  I really don't like those scales so I weigh at home.

The canister of shake powder cost under $6 today at Kroger because it was on sale.  I didn't get any bars yet and to be honest, they don't appeal to me.  However, I'm trying to do this right so I will get some later today.  I got broccoli, squash, apples, bananas, and Brussels sprouts to eat for the next couple of days.  Tonight's dinner might not fall under 500 calories but the next two nights look better.  I'll load my plate with veggies each night just like the plan tells you to.

If you are interested in Slim Fast, be sure to check back next Tuesday for some results.  Also, don't forget that I write for the Jonesboro Occasions online magazine at under blogroll.  

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Trifle - A Lighter Dessert

Memorial Weekend is the official kick off for summer and that means parties and grilling.  Many people will head to the lake or have a cookout this weekend.  Since special occasions always call for dessert, I am sharing a recipe that will have everyone coming back for seconds but is lighter in calories than most.  This trifle is easy to assemble as no real cooking is involved so practically anyone could make it.  It makes quite a bit so it is good for a large crowd.

White Chocolate Angel Trifle
1 store bought Angel Food cake, cut into cubes
2 cups sliced strawberries
2 cups blueberries
2 cups sliced kiwi
2  4 oz. packages of white chocolate pudding
3 cups of skim milk
1 8 oz. tub of reduced fat Cool Whip

Hopefully you have a pretty trifle bowl or a large clear bowl with straight sides.  Make pudding according to package directions.  When done, stir in the Cool Whip.  Put a layer of 1/2 Angel Food cake in the bottom of the bowl.  Top with a layer of strawberries, blueberries and kiwi, using half the fruit.  Spread 1/2 the pudding on top of the fruit.  Add the rest of the cake, the rest of the fruit and spread the remaining pudding on top.  Decorate the top with some fruit if desired.  This dessert will be better if it sits in the refrigerator a few hours.

You can substitute other fruit if you like such as raspberries or blackberries.  I must mention that I am not a fan of Angel Food cake or Cool Whip but that I really enjoyed this dessert recently.  It was just right with the grilled chicken, baked beans and salad that was served.  I think you'll find it is just right for those hot summer days ahead.

Have a wonderful weekend and make the most of your time off.  Relax with friends and family, get some exercise and fresh air.  

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Black Bean Soup

Even though it is late spring, the weather has been pretty cool.  I haven't even gotten any flowers potted because the weather has been so unpredictable and unseasonable.  The temperatures haven't stopped my daughter Grace from swimming 4 to 6 every evening because that is what swimmers do.  Her coach did pull her out early one day because she was turning blue.  So it seemed like the perfect idea to make black bean soup last week with some leftover pork tenderloin.  You know how I like to use leftovers for another meal!

So I pulled this soup together with some pantry staples and it turned out very well.  It got high ratings on taste from the family and simplicity from me.  You could probably have this soup on the table in 20 minutes if you hustle.  I made cornbread to go with it so that took a bit longer.  Make the cornbread first and let it bake while you prepare the soup.

Black Bean Soup
3 cans black beans, drained and rinsed
1 can diced tomatoes
2 cups chicken broth
1 onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, sliced
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
1 to 2 cups chopped cooked pork
1/4 tsp. chipotle chili powder
1/4 tsp. black pepper
3 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. cilantro
1 tsp. cumin

Heat 2 to 3 Tbsp. olive oil in a large pot over medium high heat and saute the onions 2 minutes.  Add the celery and carrots and continue sauteing until all is lightly browned, about 5 minutes more.  Add the beans, tomatoes, broth, pork, and seasonings and heat to boiling.  Reduce heat and let simmer 10 minutes.  Add more water if the soup is too thick.  Done!

You could use leftover chicken or even some beef or just make it vegetarian.  You might also want to use a tad less chipotle powder as this was pretty spicy and hot.  Serve it over rice for another variation if you like or if you need to feed more people.  The leftovers were good for lunch the next day.

A holiday weekend is coming up and I will feature a "light" dessert on Thursday that would be perfect to serve at your cookout.  

Thursday, May 19, 2011

No Pain, No Gain

Remember this old saying - No Pain, No Gain?  I think that statement is true.  If you don't push yourself when you are exercising, you won't make any progress.  Now I don't mean you should ignore real pain and risk injuring yourself.  Time spent recuperating from an injury sets you back on your weight loss goals or your fitness level.  When you feel real pain while exercising, you should immediately stop and evaluate the extent of your injury.  If it really hurts to move or put weight on an area, you need to seek medical help.  Otherwise try rest, soak in a hot tub or use an ice pack and take Tylenol or ibuprofen for a couple of days.

However, if your walks resemble strolls through the mall, then you aren't working hard enough.  You need to work hard enough to break a sweat, raise your heart rate and become a little breathless at least, depending on what you are doing.  If your workout has become too easy, it's time for a change.  Try something new or get a new routine from a trainer.  I have seen people who "work out" not make any progress because they never really break a sweat.

Working your body hard has other benefits than just better fitness.  A good workout leaves you feeling relaxed and happy, at least until you get home to the kids.  I swear, five minutes with my kids can undo a whole hour of intense yoga!  Anyway, people who exercise regularly have more energy and sleep better.  Exercise helps fight chronic disease like high cholesterol and can even lead to a better sex life.  What else can I say to motivate you?  Oh, exercise can even be fun!  A hike with the family on a beautiful spring day or tennis with friends can fill an otherwise dull afternoon.

So step up your game!  Get moving and discover the benefits of exercise for yourself, especially if you've already done the sit on your butt routine.  Just remember to check with a physician before starting an exercise program if you are seriously out of shape or have a medical condition.  Also, start slow and increase your workouts gradually.  If you go out and injure yourself or become so sore you can't move the first day, you are doing more harm than good.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Teen Eating Habits Revisited

Lately the topic of what teens are eating keeps popping up at my house.  I feel I should comment on teens and their health again because the message isn't getting through.  As parents, we do need to let go and let our teens make some of their own choices.  It is our job to set a good example and help them make good choices along the way.  We have to accept some rebellion but try not to let a lunch of pizza, chips and french fries become the norm for your child.  And yes, that is exactly what kids eat at school along with Pop Tarts and cokes for a snack.

Kids just want to fit in with their friends and not stand out in any way that makes them seem weird.  Those who are used to eating healthy foods to begin with will probably make the best choices.  Even though my son likes eat out with his friends at fast food restaurants, he chooses water over sodas a good bit of the time.  It's a small victory.  So how do you convince your stubborn teen to eat better?

First of all, keep healthy alternatives around the house.  Put a bowl of bananas on the table.  Keep yogurt and tea, milk or G-2s in the refrigerator.  Set out a veggie tray and dip or a bowl of grapes when friends are over.  Kids like to crack their own nuts like peanuts and pistachios.  Don't buy junk food and soda.  Offer to make your child a lunch to take to school.  Insist on family meals several times a week and serve plenty of vegetables.  Make sure you are setting a good example by eating wisely yourself.

If your child has a favorite athlete or is involved in a sport, point out that athletes need to eat very healthy meals to be in peak competitive shape.  Ask your child's coach to talk with the kids about nutrition.  An outsider can often make an impact when parents can't.

Involve your teens in meal preparation.  Since they are probably home before you are, let them make dinner a few times a month.  Buy the ingredients and leave the recipe on the counter.  Or let them plan the dinner menu as long as it's well balanced and has some healthy components.

Make sure they understand the consequences of eating a poor diet filled with fat and sugar.  They may enjoy watching Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution which will return to TV towards the end of May.  The Biggest Loser may inspire them to be healthy so they don't end up like the people on the show.

Basically, it's a matter of educating your children as they grow about healthy nutrition just as you teach them anything else.  I'm sure your children are the most precious thing in your life so safeguard their health until they are mature enough to do it themselves.          

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Consumer Reports Ranks Top Diets

You may have already seen this in the news: Consumer Reports Health just released their ranking of the 7 most popular diets and Jenny Craig came out on top by a wide margin.  The ranking is based on 3 areas: 1. adherence to U. S. government nutrition guidelines, 2. ability to produce weight loss in the short term as well as the long term, 3. cost and complexity of the diet plan.  Jenny Craig did well in part because the program takes the guesswork and stress out of meal preparations.  Dieters buy prepackaged meals and receive weekly counseling sessions.  The main drawback is cost as the prepackaged meals can cost several hundred dollars each month.  However, an impressive 92% stayed on the Jenny Craig program for 2 years and maintained an average weight loss of 8% of their original body weight.

I was surprised to see Slim Fast ranked number 2.  I knew nothing about the Slim Fast Diet beyond seeing the shakes and bars in the grocery store so I did a little research.  The website seems to promote Slim Fast as a plan to slim down quickly for a special occasion, not a plan for serious weight loss.  Slim Fast encourages you to eat 3 nutritious snacks a day; either a 100 calorie Slim Fast Bar, nuts, fruits or vegetables.  For breakfast and lunch, you drink a Slim Fast shake or eat a bar.  Dinner is limited to 500 calories and they provide recipes to help you stay in that calorie range.  Consumer Reports did say that the plan fails in that few people tend to stick with it for very long.  Personally, it wouldn't take long for me to get sick of drinking a shake or eating those bars twice a day.

Weight Watchers came in third, a big drawback being that the program is high in sodium.  The studies done seem to show that counseling or peer support groups contribute greatly to a program's success and that the best diet for anyone is the one they can stick with.  I also feel that a diet program should encourage exercise and teach healthy eating habits for a lifetime.  Many of us know all too well that you can't lose the weight just once if you don't change your ways for the better.

I personally think that Americans are going to have to relearn how to eat.  When you go to the grocery store, make sure you are buying plenty of "real" foods such as vegetables, fruits and fresh meats.  If your cart is filled with spaghettio's, chips, cookies, frozen pizzas, Hawaiian punch and more, there is no hope for your waistline.  I always say someone in the family has to cook and that doesn't mean putting Marie Calendar's in the oven.  Americans are going to have to eat out less to avoid high calorie, high sodium meals as well.

If you want to read more on the Consumer Reports findings, simply google it or go to Good Morning America's website where they reported the story this morning.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Gyros - A Quick Lunch Or Dinner

Continuing on with my yogurt theme this week, I'm going to share a recipe for gyros, a classic Greek sandwich.  This sandwich makes a nice lunch or dinner especially paired with a Greek salad.  The sauce is made with Greek or regular plain yogurt, cucumber and dill.  Lamb or beef is the traditional meat used and I have cheated a bit by using Boar's Head Seasoned Roast Beef, sliced thin.

4 pieces pita bread cut in half
1 lb. deli roast beef
chopped lettuce
thinly sliced or chopped tomatoes
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
1 small cucumber chopped
2 tsp. dill
2 tsp. lemon juice
2 Tbsp. feta cheese.
Combine the yogurt, cucumber, dill, lemon juice and feta in a medium bowl and mix well.  Toast or heat pita bread.  Divide the roast beef among the pita halves, add lettuce and tomato.  Top each with a spoonful of the sauce.

Greek Salad
fresh lettuce
sliced red onion
black olives
chopped tomato
sliced cucumber
feta cheese
Combine the above ingredients in a bowl in the amount you need.  Make a dressing of the following.
6 Tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. oregano
pepper to taste
juice of one lemon
Whisk ingredients together and pour over salad.  Toss well to coat.

This meal would be great in the summer when you don't want to heat up the kitchen.  I am excited to announce that Kroger's is now carrying Boar's Head products.  If you haven't tried their deli meats and cheeses, you are in for a treat.  Boar's Head has several unique flavors but leaves out the chemical crap we don't need.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


Does your family eat yogurt?  If not, they certainly should be.  Yogurt is a delicious, nutritious powerhouse.  It is easy to carry, pack and eat in many different settings.  Yogurt can be used to make smoothies, parfaits, sauces, salad dressings and desserts.  Yogurt contains probiotics which are microorganisms such as bacteria and yeast.  Probiotics can improve intestinal function and maintain the lining of the intestines.  Probiotics may also help fight off diarrhea causing bacteria.  Buttermilk and Kefir are some other common foods that contain probiotics.

Greek yogurt has become all the rage in the last few years.  Here are the main differences between regular and Greek yogurt.  Greek yogurt is lower in carbohydrates, sodium, and sugar while higher in protein.  Regular yogurt is higher in calcium.  Greek yogurt is thicker and creamier than regular.  I prefer the Greek yogurt but my children like regular better since that is what they have always eaten.  Unfortunately, Greek yogurt is more expensive.

Not only do we eat yogurt straight out of the carton but we love smoothies and parfaits.  I even use non-fat plain yogurt as a substitute for sour cream in recipes because it tastes better than non-fat sour cream.  Smoothies made at home where you can control the sugar, fat and other ingredients are great for breakfast, lunch or a snack.  A yogurt parfait with fresh fruit and a sprinkling of graham cracker crumbs on top makes a light and nutritious dessert.  How often can you say your dessert is nutritious?

Some of our favorite smoothies have been featured in my blog already.  Try a smoothie made with frozen peaches, peanut butter, flax seed meal, buttermilk and Greek vanilla yogurt.  I seldom add any sugar to our smoothies but you can add a touch of honey if you need to or some orange juice.  I love the peanut butter pumpkin smoothie in my November 9, 2010 blog.  I like to add cinnamon for the taste and antioxidants it contains.  Wheat germ is another great addition for the extra zinc and other good for you things it contains.  You can cram so much nutrition into a smoothie and your kids won't even know they are eating something healthy!  I find a green salad and a small, 6 oz or so, smoothie for lunch keep me full for several hours.

So if yogurt isn't a regular part of your diet, make it one!