Okay, I admit it. This holiday season was definitely not good for my waistline.
It usually isn’t, but it seems that this year’s diet was terribly bereft of vegetables and other good-for-you foods.
My excuse is all the baking I did. With pans and pans of date, nut and pumpkins breads, cookies, pies, most baked as gifts, with some remaining for us, then all the sweet, yummy food gifts given to us by friends and relatives, along with an unusually high number of special events and parties, my willpower was almost non-existent.
Now is the time of reckoning. A new year began Jan. 1, so what better time to get back into healthier eating, not to mention, back into walking or beginning yet again, some kind of exercise regimen.
I know I can do it, as I have done it before. It’s all a matter of persistence and getting myself motivated.
I suspect that I am not alone in this goal for the new year. I don’t call them resolutions anymore – somehow, setting a goal seems not quite as daunting. And if I fall off my new healthier plan, I don’t fail on resolutions, I just begin again toward my goal. Perhaps this is all excuses, but it does work.
One of the major ways to reduce calories and sugar is to think lower-fat, lower-sugar products.
Use skim milk in place of whole milk in cooking and drinking; replace half-and-half with whole or 2 percent milk in soups and chowders; replace half the sugar in a dessert with Splenda or some other non-caloric sweetener.
Serve lots of vegetables, brown rice instead of white rice, fewer white potatoes and more sweet potatoes, and less pasta.
Nutritional experts consider one serving of any of these starches as about half what we serve. Fill in the difference with a larger salad and lower-caloried dressing. We love breads of all kinds and some of my favorites to bake are popovers, cornbread, biscuits, and yeast breads. To eliminate them would sabotage efforts to change the way we eat, so they should become something special to prepare and eat, not regularly prepared.
Eat lots of fresh fruits for desserts, or a handful of non-salted nuts in place of some of the baked goods. Denying all these good things we are accustomed to could virtually eliminate our overall goal to change, just a bit, the way we eat. Broil fish, chicken, and beef, in place of frying.
And again, the nutritional experts say those portions should be smaller than we usually eat – about the size of a deck of cards.
Replace meat at least once a week with dried beans. Canned beans, well drained and rinsed to reduce the amount of salt used in canning them, provide lots of protein and fiber and very little fat. And besides, they go well in so many soups, as do barley and lentils.
Add herbs and spices in place of some of the fat in virtually all dishes. Serve low-fat cheese occasionally rather than the full-fat varieties. Use heart-healthy olive oil in place of other oils for sautéing and in dressings.
And one of my favorite bits of advice, since I’m a voracious chocolate lover, is to switch to dark chocolate. I think I can manage that. It means I still get to enjoy a piece every now and then so I won’t feel deprived.
So with all that in mind, here are a couple of tasty, yet filling recipes that helps reduce fat and sugar.
Although cucumbers are the most flavorful in season, they are available year around. And I use dill seed, gathered from my garden’s dill plants that have been dried, in place of the dill weed called for. Of course, fresh dill is also available in the supermarket. I freeze much of my parsley from the garden, too. That works well in most recipes, unless I decide to buy some of the fresh variety in the store.
Hearty Cucumber Salad (4 generous servings)
2 large cucumbers, peeled and sliced
one-half teaspoon salt
1 medium green pepper, chopped
3 green onions, sliced, or one-quarter cup chopped onion
1 tablespoons parsley, chopped
one-third cup white vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons olive oil
one-half teaspoon dill weed/seeds
1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
In a bowl, sprinkle prepared cucumbers with salt. Let stand for at least a half-hour. Pour off water and rinse well, then pat dry with a paper towel. Mix in the green pepper, parsley, and chopped onion. Combine the rest of the ingredients and pour over the cucumber mixture Cover and chill for at least four hours, or overnight. Top with halved tomatoes. Serve with broiled fish or chicken.
This bean dish can be served as a main dish, perhaps for the weekly meatless meal. It is very high in fiber, low in fat and full of nutrition. Add a green salad or some other vegetable to add more vitamins and bulk.
Warm Bean Salad (serves 4 as a main dish)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups slivered onions
1 or 2 large garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons dried oregano
one-quarter cup red wine vinegar
2 15-ounce cans red kidney or Great Northern beans, drained and rinsed
one-half teaspoon salt
one-half teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup chopped parsley
one-quarter cup green or black olives, halved
Heat olive oil in a large pot. Add chopped onions and garlic. Saute for 5 minutes or so. Stir in oregano, vinegar and beans. Cook over low heat until beans are warm. Remove from the stove and stir in salt and pepper, parsley, and olives. Serve warm.
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