Steezy Eats

 

Slow cooked pepper and lean beef ragu on a delicata squash boat
Slow cooked pepper and lean beef ragu on a delicata squash boat

A chef told me recently that his secret to plating food well is to stack the food, “the higher, the better!”  I thought about this last night when I used some baked delicata squash as the base for a slow-cooked veggie-beef ragu (Italian meat sauce).

Other possibilities were slicing the delicata squash (did you know that the peel is perfectly edible?) crosswise or lengthwise and fanning out the slices like a flower on the plate and placing some ragu near the fanned-out squash, or scooping out the insides and mashing them and creating a mound of squash, and then serving the ragu on top.  But I thought the “boat” idea was pretty steezy and that, my friend, is the sweet spot (especially at 5 pm on a weekday workday): stylish and easy.

Tips to boost the steez…

  • Make the squash and the ragu the night before and just reheat and assemble.
  • Make extra and freeze for a future meal.

Delicata Squash “Boats” 

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Slice delicata squash in half, lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds (I use a grapefruit spoon) and set aside to roast, if desired.

Pour homemade stock into a baking dish and place the squash halves, cut side down on the dish.

Bake for 20-25 minutes.

Optional: grated Asiago cheese with Rosemary and Olive Oil (I got mine from Trader Joe’s)

Bell Pepper and Beef Ragu: 

- 1 1/2  lbs. lean ground beef, frozen – substitute lean ground turkey or another protein

- 1 1/2 cups chicken stock – homemade, storebought, or vegetarian stock

- 12 garlic cloves, minced (my kids were playing with a garlic press and helped out with this part)

- 1 Tbsp Santa Maria spice blend – www.scottsfoodproducts.com – I get mine at our local A.J.’s Fine Foods

- 1 bag frozen bell pepper strips – I used the Melange a Trois from Trader Joe’s

- 1 cup chopped, frozen spinach (you could use more if you want)

Directions:

Add the first four ingredients to the slow cooker. Set to low for 4 hours or high for 2 hours.  (If the ground beef is already thawed and not frozen, then reduce the cooking time.)

Use a meat thermometer to check that the beef mixture reached 160 degrees.

Add the veggies and let it cook for another hour.

Serve. Or, chill quickly and refrigerate overnight and serve the next day.

This meal scores points for being high in protein, complex carbohydrates, fiber, potassium, vitamin C, and beta-carotene.

Leftovers: The Re-brand

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The superhero who saved dinner. Oh, and he also did a really great hike up Mt. Humphreys in July .

My husband refuses to eat leftovers. I refuse to cook a new dinner every night.

I’ve decided to refer to leftovers as “pre-prepped” food. It just sounds more culinarian and cool.  (Plus, reframing things is an important skill in parenting and in education; do a quick search on “constructivist theory” and you’ll see what I mean.)

Sometimes, meals that weren’t the best the first time around can even be improved a day or two later.  I definitely have my “off” nights in the kitchen.  And I don’t like to throw out food that just needs a little TLC…and some creativity.

Last Saturday night, we had driven up to Flagstaff for the weekend, and I had raided our pantry and refrigerator from our house in Phoenix for supplies.  I ended up bringing some broccoli that had turned bitter.

I couldn’t remember exactly how long it had been sitting in the refrigerator in our house – a couple of weeks, maybe?  I admit that I can go a little too far with my “use what you have” philosophy sometimes. Maybe the broccoli would have been better grated into broccoli-cheddar muffins or some other incarnation.

So I crossed my fingers and roasted the old broccoli, along with some decent carrots and some Aidell’s chicken sausage that I get at Costco. While the pasta boiled merrily away, I thought about what kind of herbs to add, and then completely forgot that I had been storing small containers of chopped fresh parsley in the freezer. My head wasn’t really in the game, as they say.

Dinner ended up being a blah one-dish meal:  pasta with the past-its-prime broccoli, and some roasted carrots and chicken sausage.

Well, we all sat around the dinner table trying to eat this blooper of a meal and be pleasant with each other.  (Brinner probably would have been a better option, but I was trying to use up the groceries that I had.)  Our oldest came up with the idea of drizzling hoisin sauce over his pasta to mask the bitter taste of the broccoli.  We all followed his lead.

Of course, there was a ton left over.  Today, I insisted on bringing it back home in the portable ice cooler and trying to serve it again tonight, in some re-mixed fashion.  Realizing how stubborn I was being, my husband got creative; he suggested that we pick out the broccoli and mix some Barilla tomato-basil marinara sauce out of the jar, shredded mozzarella cheese, and grated Parmesan cheese into the pasta-carrot-sausage mixture and bake it in the oven. I was willing to try it.

Abracadabra! Thirty minutes at 350 degrees – and dinner was saved – I mean, served! The savory, umami flavors from the tomato sauce and the Parmesan infused the rest of the pasta.  Dinner was a hit, thanks to my husband.

In fact, the baked pasta was so good that I’m looking forward to taking it for lunch tomorrow.   I love going to bed at night knowing I already have a pre-prepped lunch – and a husband with a secret talent for transforming something that was “meh” to “marvelous”!

 

The Juice Boost

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The more of something you have, the more you want. This holds true of so many things in life; the good, the bad…and the juicy.  Recently, I was interviewed on the national television show “The List” by Teresa Strasser about the benefits of drinking juices made from veggies, fruits, and herbs and how to approach starting a “juice cleanse” (restricting the diet to juice only). Click here to watch the segment.

I’m a huge fan of eating lots of plant foods, but drinking juices made from plant foods can deliver a load of vitamins and minerals, too. Juices based mainly on vegetables and herbs – and to lesser extent, fruit (which in the form of juice can contain more sugar than we need) – are wonderfully tasty, refreshing, and nutritious beverages.

I am a fan of including juices based mainly on veggies into a regular diet of solid foods. The flavors of a beet-ginger juice, or a carrot juice, or a juice made from fresh, leafy greens, can be unexpectedly, assertively delicious! People who don’t think they like vegetables frequently develop an affinity for them after becoming accustomed to them in the form of juice.

There is no biological need to go on a juice cleanse, but many people enjoy the temporary break from their regular eating habits, which are often excessive and unstructured. And it’s no wonder – just look at how our food environment is constantly promoting high-calorie, high-saturated fat, high-added sugar, high-sodium foods and our food culture that encourages overeating and eating in the absence of hunger!

That break, or re-set, can be just what some people need to re-program their eating habits to eat more plant foods, to pay attention to internal hunger cues, to become aware of internal fullness or satiety signals, to drink more liquids, and to enjoy the naturally intense and multi-dimensional flavors of vegetables, fruits, and herbs.

There are many groups of people who should not go on a juice cleanse, however. Anyone with a chronic health condition (e.g. diabetes, thyroid, renal), on a prescription medication (e.g. blood-thinner, statin), with a history of restrictive dieting, disordered eating, or eating disorders, or who is under stress, should not start a juice cleanse.

Generally, I do not recommend a diet that consists of exclusively juice for longer than a day or two because it will not meet people’s needs for protein, healthy unsaturated fats, and fiber without also going overboard on calories. Juices that incorporate protein in the form of yogurt, cow’s milk, and plant-based milks (maybe these are more accurately called smoothies) may meet nutritional needs, but it’s still best to think of juicing as a short-term regimen.

Stay focused on adding whole veggies, fruits, and herbs into your balanced diet, and enjoy juices as supplements to your healthy lifestyle!

 

 

Project Lunchbox

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When I was a kid in the 1980s, I looked forward to opening my lunchbox every weekday. My mom worked full-time, but she always took time to pack me a delicious lunch: a hearty sandwich on whole grain bread with roast beef, muenster cheese, Dijon mustard, and lettuce, a whole orange with the ends sliced off and the peel scored lightly with a knife (so that my little fingers could peel it easily), and some Sun Chips and a Kudos bar…the last two were probably not the healthiest things, but I sure did enjoy them!

These days, I’m packing a lot of lunchboxes because I have three kids who go to school and preschool, I also like to pack myself a lunch when I go to work.

Last week, I was on FOX10 News in Phoenix, on the “Arizona Morning” show with Andrea Robinson and Rick D’Amico, sharing some ideas for packing a lunchbox for kids.  You can click here to watch!

Here are a few tips from the show:

First, make sure to include foods with protein, foods with complex carbohydrates for energy, and a few types of plant foods. It’s important to keep meals balanced to help your child feel full and to provide enough energy to learn, play, grow, stay healthy, and feel good.

  • Protein suggestions: low-sodium turkey, beef, ham, low-fat cheeses, beans, hummus, tofu, nuts, seeds, edamame, quinoa, low-fat yogurt (remember the ice packs to keep food safe to eat). Include plant sources of protein for those healthy fats that your child needs.
  • Energy suggestions: whole grain bread, pita, crackers, pasta, rice, cereal. It’s ok to choose refined grain products occasionally, but aim for whole grains. Dairy foods and plant foods also contain complex carbohydrates – what a nutrition bargain!
  • Plant food suggestions: several different types of fresh veggies and fruits, dried fruits (raisins, apricots, cranberries!), pre-packaged fruit packed in 100% juice, nuts (if allowed due to allergies), and seeds.  Choosing plant foods in their whole form and with minimal processing insures that your child will get plenty of vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

 

We “eat with our eyes”, so consider how the food looks to a kid. Think about the colors, shapes, and textures of the food and try to include a variety. For example, a beige sandwich with pale yellow banana slices , white jicama sticks, and light brown pistachio nuts might be a little too monochromatic. Adding some blueberries, cherry tomatoes, edamame, orange carrot sticks, and dark brown almonds would turn the beige-fest into a party platter that any kid would want to dig into.

Dips and sauces can make all the difference, too. Including a small container of ranch dressing, dip made with Greek yogurt and herbs, hummus, salsa, or marinara sauce can often entice kids to eat veggies.

A bento box-style container certainly takes the guesswork out of portion sizes and encourages us to include a variety of different foods. But if you don’t have a bento box, that’s perfectly fine. I like to save take-out containers and re-use them as lunchboxes. Just arrange the food in the container attractively and use foods like carrot and celery sticks as barriers to separate other foods. Silicone cupcake liners and small plastic containers that you buy or that you save from restaurant take-out meals can be used to contain and separate items too. I like to use refillable silicone tubes to hold yogurt, and they can be re-used, which cuts down on waste.

Just because packing a lunchbox is a labor of love doesn’t mean that it has to take a lot of labor. Prep several lunches’ worth of food on Sundays and then once mid-week, and you’re good to go. While you’re at it, prep some lunch foods for yourself and then enjoy the feeling of opening a lunchbox and enjoying a delicious, healthy lunch packed by someone who loves you.

Happy Labor Day!

Summer News

I swear I haven’t been blog-fasting or social media-fasting on purpose, but I’m finally back in the game now.  Sometimes a woman just needs to catch her breath and remember her priorities. Mine happen to be three boys – four if you count my husband. The spring semester ended, but the summer semester is still in high gear. I’m teaching an online course for ASU in Nutrition and Health Communications that wraps up this week.

One of my favorite San Franciscans, Sarah Koszyk, interviewed me about my work in the spring for NutritionJobs.com.  This a great website for current and aspiring nutrition professionals! In the Career Resources section, click on the “Dietetic Career Spotlights” to read inspiring stories about dietitians on a variety of paths.

Back to grading papers! See you soon!

Leaning In…to a New Year

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Just another good night’s sleep

According to family lore, I never slept through the night until I was three. So this photo, which was taken of me at 6 AM the other day, doesn’t really surprise me. Payback is a…dirty diaper.

The benefit of having a pair of chubby toddler legs wrapped around one’s neck is that getting kicked in the face is not really an option. Suffocating, on the other hand, might be. 

I woke up to the sound of my husband’s chuckling and the flash of his iPhone in my face. I was instantly annoyed that a decent stretch of sleep had been interrupted because I had gone to bed at 1 AM, after working late and being up with our toddler, who had a cough and a fever. I decided to post the photo on Facebook and got 150 likes almost instantly. So, hey, this is just real life. No Photoshop here. 

At the hospital, Nov. 2013, ready to leave...
At the hospital, patient-mom selfie.

So what’s been going on around here since last fall? Well, things got really eventful for a while. Our preschooler Felix (sleeping perpendicular to me, above) developed a severe case of pneumonia in early November. He had a weak, persistent cough and an on-again, off-again fever that spiked to 106 degrees twice. We visited the emergency room at Phoenix Children’s Hospital three times within one week. Antibiotics – IV, IM, and oral – didn’t work on him. Finally he was admitted to PCH with an excess buildup of fluid on his lung. Felix ended up staying there for a week, with a surgically inserted chest tube draining the fluid from his lung into a tank under his bed. Life came to a standstill while we shuffled work, caring for our other two kids, and any other obligations around. His immune system was fragile for weeks after we brought him home. After he picked up a case of croup, we decided to keep him quarantined until he was completely well again.

A flock of baby T-rexes welcomed Felix home
A flock of baby T-rexes welcomed Felix home

Felix had been on powerful antibiotics for several weeks, which stripped the beneficial gut flora from his colon. (Also, the poor kid’s teeth turned yellow as a result of the antibiotics. They’re finally back to normal now, three months later) Taking the probiotic Florastor definitely helped to restore his gut health and support his immune system. I’m all for yogurt and fermented foods, but in an acute case like this, the Florastor did the trick.

Our friends, family, and neighbors were immensely supportive during those two months when we were immersed in the pneumonia/recovery situation.

 

I also began working full-time. Last fall, after teaching college-level nutrition courses part-time for a few years, I decided it was time to “lean in” (thanks, Sheryl Sandberg). I’m now a faculty member in the Nutrition Program at the School of Nutrition and Health Promotion at Arizona Stage University. I’m teaching five nutrition courses this semester. I teach three courses in-person, and two online.

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Lehmann Brothers on New Year’s Eve

Juggling the five courses, with over 300 students, and our three kids has been challenging, But I really enjoy it. So far, things have been working out well. We have an amazing nanny and my husband’s parents help out with the kids. And I do miss the kids quite a bit when I teach one evening a week. But our reunions are happy and that’s what I like to focus on. I’m looking forward to spending time with them next week when we all have spring break together.

And nope, I still haven’t managed to get the kids out of the bed…

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Happy! Adrian, 19 months.

Restaurant Love: Calm Kids, Good Tips

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The national television news show “The List” asked me for tips on how to take young children out to a restaurant - without eliciting the stinkeye or getting kicked out, like the family in Katy, Texas…and I empathize, I really do. Sometimes it’s just a bad night for everyone.

I love going out to eat, but taking my three kids out can be challenging. Over the years, I’ve learned that three things continually save my hide.

1) Be prepared.  Advance planning is essential. With three kids aged 1, 4, and 7, I still have a few years left of doing pre-restaurant prep. From choosing a kid-friendly place, going early, calling ahead to check on the wait (correct answer for parents of toddlers: 5 minutes or less), to packing a restaurant survival kit with toys and snacks, a few minutes of strategizing can make a big difference. What not to bring: balls (too active), musical instruments (too noisy), and stuffed animals that could get dirty from spilled food and beverages.

By all means, bring the basics. Forgetting to bring a diaper bag to a restaurant is a sure sign to the universe that one is in need of some humbling.

This particular baby had recently started eating solids and was having unpredictable – umm, elimination patterns. So, of course, he produced a head-to-toe blowout diaper at the table. Fortunately, I was with one of my best friends, and we laughed for ten minutes straight because I was covered in baby poo. I had to “borrow” two cloth napkins from the restaurant: one to wipe the contents of the diaper off my pants and the other to wrap the baby’s body so that other diners wouldn’t lose their appetite watching us slink out.

2) Be a good role model. Our little monkeys will do as we do and not as we say. So, of course, it’s time to be on our best behavior. Save the diva/divo act for another day.

3) Be positive. This parenting jewel holds true in any situation, and particularly in public, where kids love to hear themselves praised for carrying out specific behaviors in front of other people. Use the presence of other diners and the waitstaff to your advantage. Tell other people that you’re so proud of your kids for staying seated, speaking quietly, trying that new Brussels sprouts dish on the menu and watch your kids glow from the positive energy.

Of course, if these tips don’t work, it’s probably a sign that a meltdown is imminent.  Ask for the check and some takeout boxes…and make plans to try again.

The art of eating out with kids takes practice. Hope to see you out soon!

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Why Dietitians Outweigh Diet Plans

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The national television show “The List” invited me to pick the best commercial diet plan out there.

Out of these three options that I was given – Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers and Nutrisystem - Weight Watchers is my favorite…not because it’s the most popular, but because it’s the most flexible:

  1.  A dieter can start with their pre-packaged, portion-controlled food, or not.
  2. There are in-person and online options for group support, which can be an important factor in successful behavior change for a lot of people.
  3. Dieters can go online or use the Weight Watchers app to keep track of points (every food is assigned a point value).  Many people find the Weight Watchers point system to be easy to use to guide their food choices.

But here’s the skinny: all of the diet programs out there on the $61 billion commercial weight loss market are still pre-packaged plans. Many people benefit much more from a plan that’s customized specifically for them, especially if they have a history of dieting, food allergies, cravings, or any health concerns.

There’s an even better choice out there for healthy and permanent weight loss: working with a dietitian who can tailor a plan that meets an individual’s lifestyle needs. From cooking demos to grocery store tours, from meeting one-on-one in a client’s home or office, to meeting by Skype or phone, there are many ways that a dietitian can work with a client.

Diets are short-term. So think long-term…

With a dietitian’s coaching, anyone who wants to lose weight will be able to get back on track all by himself or herself.

To find a dietitian in your area, go to http://www.eatright.org and click on “Find a Dietitian”. You can enter your zip code and find an expert to coach you through healthy weight loss all the way to true wellness.

 

Think out of the (cereal) box #yodel

Peach muesli. Photo by Jessica Lehmann.
Peach muesli. Photo by Jessica Lehmann.

 

I wrote about our family’s latest hot-weather breakfast favorite for Raising Arizona Kids: homemade Swiss muesli. It’s so delicious, you’ll want to yodel from a mountaintop!

Check out this video of Jimmy Fallon and Brad Pitt yodeling to each other in New York! And who doesn’t love the yodeling of Julie Andrews in the Sound of Music?

Back to the recipe: this traditional Swiss cold breakfast of oats, milk, and fruit is simple for school-aged kids to make. Our preschooler enjoyed grating peaches (with my help) and choosing which toppings he wanted.

Muesli is a healthier, cheaper, customizable alternative to packaged cereals…it’s easy to vary the textures and flavors by using different combinations of nuts, seeds, and fruit. Feel free to experiment with the type of milk – soy, almond, rice, goat, hemp – and flavorings like fruit juices, vanilla, nutmeg, agave and maple syrup. For more protein, you could add plain yogurt or Greek yogurt.

For a gluten-free version, choose a reputable brand of oats like Bob’s Red Mill makes muesli an anxiety-free breakfast option. Fruit and milk are naturally gluten-free.

Click here for more of my breakfast ideas. Yodelay hee-hoo!

 

My First Blueberry

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I tasted a blueberry for the first time.

Well, technically I tried a wild, locally gathered blueberry for the first time at the farmers’ market in Harbor Springs, Michigan. The experience of eating a sweet, juicy, just-picked wild blueberry was so intense, I felt as though I had never eaten blueberries before. We ended up bringing home a quart of them.

Grocery-store blueberries, even organic ones, just can’t compare. Trader Joe’s sells frozen wild blueberries from Michigan, but they’re still a notch below the fresh variety.

One advantage of going to a farmers’ market is getting to try produce that’s in season, freshly plucked from the earth, and full of flavor. When I returned home with my family to the desert, I realized that there are still farmers’ markets that are open in our area, despite the oppressive summer heat. I felt compelled to write about these markets for Raising Arizona Kids magazine to encourage our readers to brave the heat and go early to the market. We may not have wild blueberries, but there is still plenty of seasonal produce available!

Here is a list of Arizona produce that’s in season this month:
Apples
Basil
Chiles
Corn
Cucumber
Grapes
Green Beans
Melons
Peaches
Pears
Pinto Beans
Plums
Potatoes
Pumpkin
Radishes
Summer Squash
Winter Squash (I know…it’s August…I’ll have to check into this one…)
Sweet Peppers
Tomatoes
Zucchini

(Source: https://students.asu.edu/files/AZ%20Seasonal%20Produce%20Calendar2.pdf. Accessed August 18, 2013)