Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Eat Healthier, one bite at a time

After the food-laden holidays, January generally brings about the desire for healthier eating.  Yet most people eventually abandon their New Year’s resolutions. Research shows that only 12% achieve their set goals.  To ensure success, try establishing smaller, more attainable objectives.

Instead of completely revamping your diet, make minor changes to the foods you already prepare.  For example, find healthier substitutions for meats and high-fat dairy products since they are the primary sources of saturated fats.  With the prevalence of food allergies, there are now a variety of vegetarian and dairy-free products available in most regular grocery stores.  (For advice and help to remove dairy from your diet, visit Go Dairy Free and try the dairy-free challenge for a mere 10 days to see if you feel different, better, healthier.)

Here are some simple changes to make introducing a better diet more manageable:

  • When baking, substitute whole-wheat flour for up to half of the all-purpose flour called for in a recipe.
  • Use plain regular or Greek yogurt in place of mayonnaise or sour cream.  There are also dairy-free yogurts (soy-, rice-, or coconut-milk-based) that would work equally as well.  Great for chicken salad and in tacos!
  • Substitute lean ground turkey for ground beef.  This change results in no significant difference in the taste, texture, or consistency.
  • Make homemade salad dressing using olive oil, vinegar, and fresh herbs.  Not only is it money-saving, but it is also healthier; some bottled salad dressings contain added preservatives and excess fat.
  • Vegan cheese is a great alternative to regular cheese.  When substituted in recipes, there is almost no discernible flavor difference.  
  • When baking and cooking, choose an unsweetened, plain dairy-free milk alternative, such as soy, almond, or rice milk.  There is also a coconut milk beverage (lighter and thinner than full fat canned coconut milk), or use light canned coconut milk.  These “milks” can be replaced 1:1 for cow’s milk.  They can also be used to make “buttermilk,” using a small amount of vinegar or lemon juice to curdle the “milk.”
  • Mix your own fruit-flavored yogurt at home.  Buy a large container of vanilla yogurt (again, dairy-free versions work just as well); scoop out individual portions and add sugar-free fruit preserves or even fresh fruit.
  • For one meal each week, choose to eat meat-free or vegan.  (Bonus: Doing this reduces your carbon footprint more than if you were to eat/buy local 7 days a week!)  Visit Meatless Monday for more information on this movement.  Also, check out the quick, easy recipe below to get you started!

Northern Italian Soup

This healthy recipe can be easily prepared with ingredients normally kept in one’s winter pantry.  To make it truly vegetarian, be sure to use vegetable broth instead of chicken stock.  Please note that the listed herbs are dried, not fresh.


  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped, OR 1 T. dried, minced onion
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic (about 1 or 2 fresh cloves)
  • 1 (28 oz.) can diced or stewed tomatoes, undrained (OR 3 cups fresh tomatoes, roughly chopped, with their juice*)
  • 3 ½ cups chicken or vegetable broth (about 2-15 oz. cans)
  • 2 cans (about 15 oz. each) cannelloni or Great Northern beans, undrained
  • 2 tablespoons parsley
  • 1 teaspoon ground rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon basil
  • ½ teaspoon oregano
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper (or to taste**)
  • ½ t. salt, optional***
  • 1 cup (4 oz.) small pasta, uncooked (such as ditalini or mini shells)


  1. Heat oil in a soup pot over medium heat.
  2. Add fresh onion (if using) and garlic; sauté until veggies are soft but not yet brown.
  3. Stir in tomatoes, broth, beans, and seasonings, including dried onion (if using).
  4. Bring to boil; stir in pasta.  Reduce heat to low; simmer, covered, for 20 minutes or until pasta is tender, stirring occasionally.


*To easily chop fresh tomatoes, reserving their juice, first remove stem and core.  Then add them whole to a large liquid measuring cup; use kitchen shears held straight up and down to roughly chop them. Bonus: the amount needed can be seen right on the measuring cup as you chop!
**Reduce the amount of pepper if you are sensitive to spicy foods.  Feel free to add more pepper during cooking if you like your soup spicier.
***I omit the additional salt from this recipe when I make it. As most canned tomatoes, beans, and broth already contain salt, adding more to the soup can be too much.  Adjust to your taste preference.


This recipe is free of eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish.  To make it dairy-, wheat-, soy-, and/or gluten-free, carefully choose a broth with safe ingredients.  To make it wheat and/or gluten-free, use a gluten-free pasta (alternatively, you can omit the pasta altogether, increase the beans to 3 cans, and scale down the amount of broth).  Beans are naturally gluten-free, but canned ones can sometimes contain other non-GF ingredients (look for cans that list only beans, water, and salt as ingredients).  Always double-check ingredients, including cross-contamination risk based on your level of sensitivity and comfort.

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