Recipes on My Radar: Healthier Desserts

I may be a dietitian, but I, too, have an active sweet tooth that needs to be tamed on a regular (if not daily) basis. Rather than deprive myself of treats entirely, or settle onto the couch with a nightly pint of Ben and Jerry’s, I try to make dessert recipes that feature healthy ingredients, like whole grains, fruit, and nuts, and are naturally sweetened as much as possible. That way, sweets aren’t a total nutritional loss.

These first two cookie recipes I’m sharing have tahini, which is a creamy paste of ground up sesame seeds (you might know it as the other ingredient in hummus, besides chickpeas). Nut butters and seeds are used in desserts all the time (peanut butter and chocolate, anyone?) so I thought I would get a little more creative with my tahini and give some whole grain cookies a nutrition boost. That being said, I don’t bake often. So the last recipe I’m leaving you with is the dessert I end up making at least once per week (#guilty). Curious? Read on!

Almond Butter Tahini Blueberry cookies

Almond Butter Blueberry Cookies from Green Kitchen Stories // These cookies certainly aren’t “light” or “low cal,” but they are filled with wholesome ingredients like nut butter, whole grains, and fruit. I subbed whole wheat flour for the buckwheat flour in this recipe, but kept everything else the same. The combination of blueberries and maple is reminiscent of a blueberry pancake, making these vegan cookies the perfect morning snack. It is a rare treat to feel nourished, rather than lousy, after eating a cookie (or two…) but these definitely do the trick!

Whole Grain Tahini Chocolate Chunk Cookies

Whole Wheat Tahini Dark Chocolate Chunk Cookies from Food Fanatic // These delightful chocolate chunk cookies aren’t quite as superfood-packed as the recipe above, but I highly recommend this creative, healthier take on my all-time favorite dessert. I subbed canola oil for vegetable oil, but followed the rest of this recipe to a T. If you’re looking for a way to sneak some whole grains into the cookie jar, then look no further!

Dark Chocolate Banana Oatmeal

Chocolate Banana Oatmeal (inspired by Chocolate Covered Katie) // There is no chocolate craving that this decadent porridge recipe can’t take care of. I know that not everyone is as oatmeal obsessed as I am, but this dish is a great gateway into the wonderful world of oats. When heated, the banana beautifully melts into the oatmeal, so all it takes is a good stir to get the sweetness to distribute evenly throughout (no other sweeteners are necessary). This recipe calls for 1 1/2 tablespoons of cocoa powder, but I use a HEAPING 2 tablespoons, in addition to some ground flaxseed and a generous splash of milk.

– Kelly

 

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My New Favorite Healthy Habit

I am happy to report that I’ve picked up a new healthy habit—one that’s been on my to-do list for quite some time now. For the past month or so, I’ve started brushing my teeth in the office bathroom after lunch.

3 Reasons to Brush Your Teeth After Lunch

This simple activity can have a surprisingly big impact on well-being. Here are three reasons why I’m smitten with the post-lunch brush:

  1. My mouth feels clean and minty. An obvious benefit, but enjoyable nonetheless! (This is particularly appreciated on days when I eat something garlicky or heavily spiced.)
  2. My teeth are healthier. All that extra brushing and flossing adds up – your dentist (and your gums) will thank you!
  3. I’m less prone to snacking. In the afternoon, when energy starts to wane, the vending machine / snack run / office cookies can be awfully tempting. But a fresh brush signals that meal time is over.

Really, the biggest obstacle to overcome was to actually bring a toothbrush, toothpaste, and floss to work (yes–I floss in there, too). Once I had it in my desk, it’s been easy to motivate myself to get up from the computer after lunch and step into the restroom for a quick brush. Additionally, there’s a certain novelty associated with brushing at the office, so it doesn’t seem like quite the tiresome chore as it does at home (at least not yet).

Do you brush your teeth at work?

– Kelly

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Sneak Peek Inside an RD’s Pantry

Sneak Peek into an RD's pantry

There is a lot of mystique surrounding the dietitians pantry. Some assume that it’s only filled with neatly labeled jars of organic quinoa, heirloom beans, and chia seeds. Others suspect more of a Monica’s closet approach, envisioning a secret stash of Oreos and cheese puffs. Well, today I’m putting the questions to rest. Because above is a sneak peek inside my own pantry. (And no, it’s not staged!)

This isn’t where I keep all of my food (the refrigerator, freezer, and spice cabinet are also well stocked), but it should give you an idea of where I stand. Aside from a healthy variety of dried fruit, nuts, beans, and whole grains, one pantry aspect that I’m particularly proud of (and recommend to others) is the lack of processed snack foods. In fact, about the only thing that falls in that category is a box of whole wheat crackers (top right) that I once bought for a dinner party but never ended up opening.

Snack foods tend to disappear quickly because they often trigger mindless eating. In fact, despite the clean nutrition label, I purposely don’t buy KIND bars unless I have a hike, flight, road trip, or ski trip planned. They’re too good not to eat immediately, whether I’m hungry or not. When you keep good food in the house, you tend to eat good food. This means that my go-to dessert ends up being a bowl of oatmeal mixed with bananas and a generous heap of cocoa powder — and that’s only if I’m truly hungry enough to cook it up myself.

While contemplating the components of a healthy pantry (and by extension, a healthy refrigerator), I realized that a major plus for me is that I don’t keep ketchup in the house. Ketchup itself is no dietary villain (Reagan counted it as a vegetable, after all), but hear me out…

Ketchup pretty much only goes with junk food. We can pretend that we exclusively use it on oven-baked sweet potato fries and other lesser evils, but who are we kidding? It’s the frequent fast food take out routine that keeps the ketchup bottles running low. Ketchup is a French fry’s best friend, and it also pairs well with other artery-clogging, obesity-inducing foods, like cheeseburgers and chicken tenders. After all, you certainly would never dunk a salad in it.

When taking inventory of your pantry (or refrigerator), it helps to make note of your food patterns and which foods encourage healthy choices (or unhealthy choices). For me, that means watching out for ketchup, but for you, it might be something different (like barbecue sauce or chocolate syrup)!

Healthy choices often beget healthy choices. Foods like granola are already nutritious (albeit, often high calorie) options, but the pot sweetens when you pair this healthy whole grain snack with its equally healthy companions, Greek yogurt and fresh berries. Sure, granola packs a much bigger calorie punch than ketchup does, but which food do you picture as part of a healthy meal?

Similar comparisons can be made when you think of other high calorie, yet high nutrient foods, like extra virgin olive oil. In fact, I am reminded of a quote by Greek doctor and nutrition scientist Antonia Trichopoulou that my boss once shared with me:

“Olive oil makes the vegetables go down!”

What helps your vegetables go down? Do certain foods encourage you to make healthier choices when you keep them in the house? Share your secrets to a healthy pantry in the comments below.

- Kelly

P.S. For those wondering about my giant glass jar of rolled oats, I still have it! However, I keep it on the kitchen counter, rather than in the pantry.

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How to Determine Which Healthy Tools are Worth the Investment

If you want to train for a 5K, there’s an app for that. There’s also an app that shows you how many calories are in your favorite breakfast cereal, and one that can wake you up at the ideal point in your sleep cycle.

From apps, to personal trainers, to activity trackers, to nutrition counselors, there is no shortage of tools to help you live healthier. But among all of these choices, which ones are worth the money? And just as important, how do you determine which one is right for you?

Fitbit Fun

^^Counting steps with my FitBit

EXERCISE:

Follow along with me: On a scale of 1 to 10, rate your exercise regimen.

If you didn’t give yourself a 10 (I sure didn’t!), where do you have room to improve? What is stopping you from rating your exercise regimen as a 9 or 10? Finding where you have room to improve or where you need the most help will help you determine where your investment is best spent. Below are a few common barriers to exercise, as well as some tips and tools to help you overcome these barriers.

1. I don’t have time to exercise.

  • Build more activity into your daily routine. If you can’t bear to wake up any earlier for a pre-work run, or can’t seem to make room for a post-work gym session, then start making tweaks in your daily activities. Walk or bike whenever possible. Take the stairs, instead of the elevator. Make a habit of walking after meals. Also, look for pockets of time during your day to be active. When you step away from the desk for a lunchtime stroll (or even a lunchtime workout), you return with a renewed sense of energy and concentration.
  • Consider an activity tracker. Once you’ve started making small changes, such as taking the stairs rather than the elevator, or going on a walk around the block during the lunch hour, an activity tracker (such as a FitBit) can help you quantify these changes. Some companies are even seeing the value in these devices. When I worked at Boston College, employees formed walking teams and received Fitbits to compete for a number of prizes. Similarly, at Oscar, a tech-based NY and NJ health insurance company, employees are given a Misfit Flash activity tracker and can earn cash rewards when they meet their own personalized goals within the Oscar app.

2. I can’t motivate myself to exercise.

  • Sign up for a race. Rather than just exercising for the sake of exercising, signing up for a race (such as a 10K, a sprint triathlon, or an open water swim) will give you a specific goal to work towards. There are also apps and meetup groups that can help motivate you along the way.
  • Find a gym buddy. If you have trouble motivating yourself to go for a jog, convincing yourself to hit the gym is also going to be a struggle. But if you find a gym buddy that you can be accountable to, then a gym membership might actually pay off. If any of your friends or coworkers frequent a gym, consider joining them for classes or weight lifting sessions. Another tactic is to schedule regular activity dates with friends (such as yoga class, walking around the city, or going on a scenic jog), instead of (or perhaps in addition to) post work cocktails or weekend brunch. Additionally, some activity trackers (like the Fitbit) have challenges that allow you to compete against your friends to see who took the most steps or was the most active. Nothing like a little friendly competition to light the fire under you!
  • Join a team. Does your office have a basketball league? Do any of your college friends play softball or soccer? Joining a team is a great way to build accountability, since your teammates are counting on you to pull through. Teams also often meet for regular practices and games, meaning that you’ll have a workout automatically built in to your schedule.

3. I want to get more in shape, but I don’t know where to begin.

  • Start a race-training program. Having something specific to train for (such as a 5K) can help focus your efforts and make your desire to get in shape more quantifiable. It will also help get you in the habit of regular physical activity. From in-person meetup groups, to apps and online training regimens, there are a number of “couch to 5k” training programs to choose from.
  • Consider joining a gym with classes. Whether you opt for a yoga studio, a spinning studio, or a large gym with multiple options, classes are a great way to focus your exercise regimen. The instructors will lead you in the workout, which means that the hardest part is just showing up!
  • Enlist the help of a friend. We all have that friend that is incredibly in shape and enjoys touting the benefits of regular exercise. This is the person you need to share your desire to start working out with. They will likely have some great pointers and ideas for you, and may even invite you along to join them for a workout or two!

4. I’m fairly active, but I want to kick it up a notch.

  • Try a new activity. If you’re a regular runner, give swimming a try. If you’re a pro at spin class, mix it up with yoga. Finding a new activity to use different movements and muscle groups is a great way to challenge your body and get out of a workout rut.
  • Consider a personal trainer. If you find yourself going through the same motions at the gym each week, you might consider working with a trainer. A trainer will push you outside of your comfort zone, and challenge you to try new workouts that you might not have tried before.
  • Step it up with a race. Mastered the 5K? Give a 10K a shot. Enjoy running and biking casually? Challenge yourself to a sprint triathlon. Training for a race (especially a distance that is further than your normal route) is a great motivation to kick your training up a notch.

Lunch at Sweetgreen

^^ Quick healthy lunch at Sweetgreen

FOOD:

Follow along with me: On a scale of 1 to 10, rate how you feel about the healthfulness of your diet.

If you didn’t give yourself a 10, where do you have room to improve? What is stopping you from rating your diet as a 9 or 10? Again, finding where you have room to improve will help you determine where your investment is best spent. Below are a few common barriers to healthy eating, as well as some tips and tools to help you overcome these barriers.

1. Making healthy choices is too complicated.

  • Don’t get bogged down in the details. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins (like fish and chicken), beans, and healthy fats (like olive oil, avocado, and nuts) are what you should be piling on your plate. Refined sweets (like candies, cupcakes, and ice cream), deep fried foods, soda, red meats, and ultra-processed junk food are what you should be cutting back on. The nutritional difference between kale and broccoli is nothing to lose sleep over. However, the difference between an apple and apple flavored fruit gummies is pretty significant. If you’re looking for guidance, David Katz’s book is a great place to start. Also, the Fooducate app is a wonderful tool to help you compare foods.

2. I don’t enjoy cooking or meal planning. I just want to grab something quick and easy.

  • Look for healthy shortcuts at the grocery store. Canned beans, dried fruit, frozen vegetables, and precut fruits and vegetables are all healthy shortcuts that make cooking (or meal prep) way easier. There are also a number of healthy meal delivery services that can make cooking easier.
  • Consider time saving appliances. Are smoothies your preferred way to get your greens in? Consider a high powered blender, such as a Vitamix (or the more budget-friendly, entry level Nutribullet). Blenders can be a great motivator to help you get more produce into your diet in one easy, drinkable snack. A slow cooker is another great investment if you prefer to spend your time away from the stove. Just fill it with veggies, beans, and spices in the morning, and come home to a healthy, simmering chili. You can find an abundance of slow cooker recipes in cookbooks or on the web (but you might have to comb through to find healthier, veggie-driven recipes).
  • When eating out, choose wisely. If you rely on take out for most of your meals, it helps to have a few go-to healthy menu items in mind–dishes that are loaded with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. Use the hot bar at your local Whole Foods to build a healthy meal with fish, veggies, and whole grains. Brave the line at Sweetgreen, (or a similar salad place like Chop’t). Burrito shops nearby (like Chipotle or Boloco)? Go for a whole grain bowl with beans, chicken, and a ton of veggies, but opt for guac instead of cheese and sour cream, and forgo the unnecessary tortilla.

3. I find myself snacking, even when I’m not hungry.

  • Try a diet tracking app. Logging a few meals with MyFitnessPal, Fooducate, or even the FitBit app is a great way to find patterns in your eating habits. Once patterns start to emerge, look for triggers, and ways to redirect those feelings. Do you always plop on the couch with a box of cereal when you get home? Get a glass of water instead, and try sitting somewhere else. These apps can also encourage positive eating habits, because you may be less likely to have that 10PM donut knowing that you have to record it.
  • Talk with a dietitian. A registered dietitian is a trained nutrition professional that will work with you to learn more about the root causes behind your eating choices, and create an individualized eating plan for you.
  • Read up on healthy eating. There are a number of books that offer practical tips for healthy eating. Some of my favorites include Disease Proof, by David Katz, Slim by Design, by Brian Wansink, French Kids Eat Everything, by Karen Le Billon, and Intuitive Eating, by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch.

Which tools do you use to stay healthy?

-Kelly

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Cutting Back on Deep Fried Foods

Oven Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Oven roasted brussels sprouts (seasoned here with lemon pepper) are one of my favorite savory snacks when I’m craving something warm and crispy

We all know that deep fried foods are far from health promoting, but just how often is too often to indulge? While a handful of French fries here and there won’t kill you, new research suggests that even once per week is frequent enough to warrant health risks.

In a recent study, researchers followed over 15,000 men for nearly a decade, studying their eating habits and medical conditions. Compared to those that ate fried food less than once per week, eating fried foods just 1-3 times per week increased heart failure risk by 23%. Additionally, those eating fried foods 4-6 times per week had a 26% increased risk for heart failure, and those eating fried foods at least 7 times per week (or at least once daily) had a 100% increased risk (compared to those indulging less than once per week).

I suspect that most folks don’t have a deep fat fryer at home, which means that most of these fried foods are coming from restaurants. A donut here, a side of fries there–it all adds up rather quickly! After reflecting on my food habits over the past two weeks, I was shocked to realize that I, myself had fried foods on more than one occasion!

Last Thursday, I went out for sushi at Fin’s, and one of the rolls I shared was a shrimp tempura roll (tempura = fried). Plus, I even had a few bites of the fried ice cream for dessert. And the Sunday before that, while playing tour guide to my 18 year old brother Jack, we opted for a side of fries with our shared lobster roll at Island Creek Oyster Bar, and each got a fried oyster slider to start. Sushi and upscale seafood restaurants certainly aren’t regular affairs for me, but I was still disappointed to discover that fried foods pop up in my diet more often than I’d care to admit. Many of us consider these types of treats to be “special occasion” foods, without realizing just how many “special occasions” there seem to be!

As I mentioned before, a handful of fries every now and then isn’t anything to get worked up over. But this study serves as a great wake up call that “every now and then” is not the same thing as every week. Additionally, fried foods are a great target for nutrition goals, because there are often so many delicious alternatives.

Over the next few weeks, I’m challenging myself to cut the fried foods out of my diet (dietitians are human, too), and I’d love for you to join me! This really isn’t anything groundbreaking. For every deep fried food, there is virtually always a non-deep fried alternative. But I’d love to hear your comments. Is it harder than you thought? Easier? Any favorite substitutions? Do share!

- Kelly

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Croissant Class at Tatte

Tatte obsession

Those that know me (or follow along on Instagram) know that I am a huge fan of Tatte Bakery (evidence above). Aside from my monthly breakfast dates with Ashley at the Third Street location in Kendall Square, I also make frequent jaunts to the original Brookline location, which is all too conveniently located around the corner from my apartment.

Croissant Class at Tatte

My birthday was back in December, but this past weekend I had the opportunity to cash in on the ultimate birthday gift from my family: a croissant making class at Tatte bakery for Ashley and me. While I don’t have an overwhelming need to make croissants in my own home, this was the ultimate combination of my three loves: cooking, learning, and Tatte bakery. And to get to experience it with the friend that got me into baking in the first place (remember this recipe?) and who also loves Tatte made the deal even sweeter. No one would appreciate it more.

Tatte Bakery Class

Croissants are, of course, butter filled calorie bombs. This certainly wasn’t a healthy cooking class. In fact, there wasn’t a whole grain in sight. But nonetheless, I learned a lot about the technique behind this (very complex!) French pastry. Additionally, when my classmates and I got a visual of just how much butter goes into these flaky, pillowy delectables, we were abruptly reminded why croissants are considered a special treat, and not part of a daily routine.

Croissants from Tatte

The class itself, held at the Main Street location in Kendall Square, was about 3 hours long, with a short break in the middle. (Stumptown coffee was on the house!) Our instructor mixed up a dough and demonstrated the three stages of folds, but had various doughs ready in the fridge so that we didn’t have to wait around.

There was a lot of hands-on activity, as we each rolled out our own dough and got to shape our own dozen croissants with various fillings (almond, chocolate, and cream cheese) to bake and take home. Additionally, because a few people canceled last minute (the max number of participants is 12, although ours was an intimate class of 8), the instructor divvied up the leftover dough so that we could each bring some croissant dough home as well. Score!

Tatte Bakery Croissant Class

In addition to the popular croissant class, Tatte also offers classes on Brioche, Bread, Cookies, Tarts, and a few other holiday inspired treats. See here for the full class lineup, and to learn more about pricing and schedules.

– Kelly

P.S. Headed to Tatte? Get the muesli! It’s the most delicious way to start your day on a healthy note!

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3 Myths About School Lunch

Providing children with healthy food is a smart investment in our nation’s future, so it’s astounding that there’s room for debate on this issue. As politicians and food giants attempt to roll back the substantial progress made in child nutrition over the past few years, it’s important to examine the strengths and weaknesses of the new school lunch regulations. See below for three of the biggest myths facing the school lunch program today, and to get the facts behind the myth:

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Stereotype American school lunch. image via Sweetgreen

Myth #1: Healthy Regulations are Causing Schools to Lose Money

Critics of the healthy guidelines argue that 50% of School Nutrition Association members expect to lose money this year. However, what doesn’t get reported is that a whopping 65% expected to lose money in 2010, two full years before the healthy regulations took effect. The school lunch program was already a sinking ship, and while the new regulations haven’t completely saved it, they do seem to be helping.

Additionally, Dana Woldow found that this oft-cited 50% statistic is based on shaky data, at best. According to Woldow, “Fewer than 400 district nutrition directors, representing less than 2% of the 25,074 members surveyed, or less than 1% of the total 55,000 membership of SNA, said they expect to operate their meal program in the red this school year.”

When school district food service programs lose money, it is often because of a decline in school lunch participation. However, school lunch participation among students who pay full price (and aren’t eligible for free or reduced priced meals) has been declining since 2007, long before the healthy regulations were implemented. Additionally, this decline has actually started to level off a bit after the 2012-2013 school year.

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Actual lunch served at DCPS: Herb Crusted Tilapia, Whole Wheat Roll, Local Collard Greens, Red Cabbage Cole Slaw, Fresh Banana & Milk  (image via CSPI)

Myth #2: Kids Won’t Eat the New Healthy Lunches

School lunch has been the butt of jokes long before Michelle Obama took to fixing it. And while we all know that washing down chips and candy with a soda is a terrible choice for growing children, especially in a nation plagued with diet-related chronic diseases, the media has been overly sympathetic to critics mourning these changes, as if highly addictive junk foods were actually worthy of defense.

A survey of 557 schools in a variety of school districts found that although many respondents (56%) agreed that students complained about the new lunches at first, most (70%) also agreed that students generally seem to like the new lunches now. This study also revealed a fairly balanced picture of school lunch participation. According to the researchers, “only 4.3% of respondents perceived that ‘‘a lot fewer’’ students were purchasing lunch, whereas 6.2% perceived that ‘‘a lot more’’ were purchasing lunch.”

Studies are also finding that kids aren’t throwing away as much food as critics lead us to believe. A new study evaluated hundreds of lunches in an urban low-income school district both before and after the policy changes. According to the study, students are wasting significantly less food than they were before the healthy regulations went into effect, as kids ate significantly more of their vegetables (from 46% consumption in 2012 to 64% in 2014), entrees (from 71% to 84%), as well as slightly more fruit (from 72% to 74%) and milk (from 54% to 57%). Similarly, a study from the Harvard School of Public Health found a 23% increase in fruit consumption and a 16% increase in vegetable consumption after the new school nutrition guidelines were introduced in 2012. Contrary to popular belief, the study did NOT find a corresponding increase in food waste.

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Actual lunch served at Provo Schools in Utah: Whole Wheat Spaghetti with Homemade Marinara (image via CSPI)

Myth #3: School Lunches Aren’t Nourishing

The school lunch program has been under the microscope for years now, but the truth is that the new school lunches are actually much healthier than home packed ones. In a recent study, researchers analyzed over 1,300 lunches at three schools in rural Virginia. They found that lunches brought from home had more sodium and fewer servings of fruit, vegetables, whole grains and milk. Nearly 90% of the lunches from home also had a sweetened beverage, snack chips and dessert in them. Additionally, while a vocal minority has rallied against the protein caps set for school lunch, packed lunches actually have significantly less protein (as well as less fiber, vitamin A, and calcium). And to top it all off, the study found that lunches from home were more expensive than the school lunch offering at the elementary school level (although not consistently for middle schoolers).

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Actual school lunch: Teriyaki Chicken Rice Bowl with brown rice, steamed fresh carrots, zucchini, yellow squash and Teriyaki chicken. Served with fresh local apple slices, whole grain roll, ice cold milk, an orange, and a fortune cookie. (Image via CSPI)

Want to learn more?

  • This New York Times Magazine article from October 2014 explores the politics of the school lunch program, including the role of corporate lobbying.
  • This February 2015 report from the Union of Concerned Scientists quantifies obesity’s impact on healthcare costs, evaluates the effectiveness of the school lunch program (data was collected before the new guidelines were implemented), and identifies ways to strengthen the school nutrition program.
  • This webpage from the Center for Science in the Public Interest has plenty of infographics, factsheets, policy options, and resources for people trying to promote changes that support healthy lunches.

– Kelly

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Slow Cooker Red Beans and (Brown) Rice

Slow Cooker Red Beans and Rice

Having started my elementary school years at a Catholic school in Louisiana, there is something about the Lenten season that makes me crave Cajun foods. From steamy gumbo to crispy catfish, my mouth starts watering for these comforting, Creole morsels before the last bite of King Cake has been finished. Today I’m sharing a recipe for a meatless, budget-friendly (and diet-friendly) recipe that is perfect for Fridays during Lent, and just about everyday in between!

This Red Beans and (Brown) Rice dish requires a bit of prep work and advanced planning (the beans have to soak and boil briefly before you toss them into the slow cooker), but I can assure you that this recipe is still incredibly simple!

Now, you may be asking, why bother to boil the beans? After all, isn’t the point of a slow cooker to eliminate that pesky step?

Slow Cooker Red Beans and Brown Rice

Indeed, most dry beans can be tossed in a slow cooker and cook beautifully, but red kidney beans are a special case. Undercooked red beans contain a toxin, so you must boil them for at least 10 minutes before you put them in the slow cooker. Note: this is a prime example of why it’s important to get recipes from reputable sources that have been trained in food safety (such as yours truly)!

Once your beans have gotten a head start on the stove, the slow cooker will soften the beans and develop the flavors of the dish. The familiar southern aroma comes not only from the seasoning, but also from the onion, celery, and green bell peppers (the “Holy Trinity” of Cajun cuisine).

Rice is a namesake component of Red Beans and Rice, but feel free to get creative with your grain base. Personally, I think a combination of different whole grains (like barley, quinoa, and farro) would go really well with this recipe. In fact, I was planning to use barley (hulled, not pearled), but my local Whole Foods was out. This hearty, rib-sticking bowl is best served alongside a dark green vegetable, such as kale chips (like I used) or collard greens.

Slow Cooker Red Beans and Brown Rice 

Slow Cooker Red Beans and (Brown) Rice

adapted from MyRecipes.com

Serves 8

Ingredients

  • 1 pound dry red kidney beans
  • 6 cups low sodium vegetable broth
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 4 ribs of celery, chopped
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 2-3 tablespoons Cajun or Creole seasoning (I use 3 tbsp, but if cooking for young children, I recommend 2 tbsp)
  • Optional: 7 oz Andouille sausage, sliced (I didn’t use sausage in the recipe today, to keep it budget-friendly and Lent-friendly, but I have used it in the past and it was delicious!)
  • 2 cups uncooked brown rice (or other whole grains, such as barley, quinoa, or farro) for serving. This will make about 6 cups of cooked rice, which is enough for about eight ¾ cup servings.

Method

  1. Soak the dry beans in a pot of water for five hours. Then, drain the soaking water and add fresh water to the bean pot. Bring to a full boil, and boil for at least 10 minutes. NOTE: DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP. RED KIDNEY BEANS CAN BE TOXIC IF UNDERCOOKED.
  2. Drain the boiling water from the beans. Then add beans and all other ingredients (including sausage, if using) to a slightly oiled slow cooker.
  3. Cook on high for 6 hours. Then remove the lid and cook on high for an additional 30 minutes. This will help it thicken up a bit.
  4. Before serving, prepare rice (or other whole grains, if using) according to package instructions. Two cups of uncooked brown rice will yield about six cups of rice, which is enough for eight 3/4 cup servings. 
  5. Portion about ¾ cup red beans over about ¾ cup brown rice in a bowl.

Slow Cooker Red Beans and Brown Rice

Nutrition per serving (3/4 cup red beans over 3/4 cup brown rice, not including sausage): 390 calories, 2g fat (0g saturated fat), 18g protein, 76g carbohydrates (17g fiber, 3g sugar), 140mg sodium, 3% Vitamin A, 28% Vitamin C, 11% Calcium, 31% Iron

– Kelly

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My Favorite Healthier Menu Items Around Boston

Wondering how a registered dietitian navigates the Boston casual dining scene? When eating out, it helps to have a few go-to healthy menu items in mind–dishes that are loaded with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. See below for 5 of my current favorite nutritious menu options around town!

Healthy Menu Items in Boston: Museli from Tatte

Muesli from Tatte Bakery ($9 bowl pictured, or $6 cup): Unsweetened whipped Greek yogurt with fresh fruit, black sesame seeds, sliced almonds, pumpkin & sunflower seeds, oats, and a drizzle of honey

Healthy Menu Items in Boston: Grilled Veggie Whole Wheat Burrito from Annas Taqueria

Grilled Veggie Burrito from Anna’s Taqueria ($6.85): I choose the whole wheat tortilla (whole wheat is the first ingredient!) and fill it with black beans, pico de gallo, guacamole, lettuce, and grilled veggies (an impressive mix of bell peppers, broccoli, zucchini, corn, and green beans). That’s it. No meat, no cheese, no problem!

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Sweet Potato Sandwich from Crema Cafe ($6.95): Toasted whole grain bread filled with sweet potato, granny smith apple, hummus, sprouts, avocado, and sherry vinaigrette. Great for sharing!

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Salad from Sweetgreen (approx. $8.50-$10.50) I almost always go for the seasonal salads, but I also LOVE the Hummus Tahina and the Wild Child (with chickpeas)… and basically the whole menu!

Whole Wheat French Toast from The Paramount

Whole Wheat French Toast with Fruit from The Paramount Beacon Hill ($11): This is one of the few places that I have been able to find whole wheat French toast. Unfortunately, it was recently taken off the menu (to make room for new lunch specials), but the staff informed me that I will always be able to order it because they keep the whole wheat bread stocked for turkey sandwiches. So go ahead and ask for it, even if it’s not listed!

Do you know of any delicious, Boston area restaurant meals that are loaded with nourishing ingredients? Do tell! Also, for more of my food adventures, don’t forget to follow along on Instagram (@kellytoupsrd)!

– Kelly

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Citrus + Avocado: The Perfect Winter Salad Companions

Citrus, Avocado, & Radicchio salad

Few things are more satisfying than biting into a sweet, juicy fruit on a hot summer day, so many are surprised to learn that citrus is actually seasonal to winter. And given the general sparseness of produce this time of year, anything remotely fresh is certainly a welcome ingredient! Additionally, while creamy Mexican avocados are available steadily year-round, the California avocado crop actually arrives in February. Together, these ingredients can create some show-stopping winter salads.

I recently enjoyed my own spin on this dish–a citrus, avocado, and radicchio salad, drizzled lightly with olive oil and champagne vinegar, and finished with a sprinkle of salt and pepper (pictured above, inspired by Mark Bittman’s Kitchen Express). It was the perfect accompaniment to homemade black bean soup (also from Mark Bittman’s Kitchen Express).

After perusing the web, I came across several other variations of winter salads that incorporate both citrus and avocados. Check out the recipe round-up below!

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Kale, Avocado, Tangerine, and Sesame Salad from Joy the Baker

Grapefruit, Salmon, Avocado Salad

Grapefruit, Salmon, and Avocado Salad from Martha Stewart Living (from the new ‘Clean Slate’ cookbook)

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Pomegranate and Citrus Quinoa Salad from Diethood

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Kale Salad with Citrus, Avocado, and Feta from Two Peas and Their Pod

For more winter salad inspiration, check out my Fall & Winter Salads Pinterest Page. What’s your favorite winter salad combo?

– Kelly

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