Seasons 52: Diet-Friendly Fine Dining

Seasons 52

Grilled Alaska Wild Copper River Salmon with summer corn risotto, sugar snap peas, and toybox tomatoes

Imagine enjoying an Oak-grilled rack of lamb with Yukon Gold mashed potatoes and a summer vegetable ratatouille, all for the same amount of calories as a medium Strawberry Surf Rider Smoothie from Jamba Juice. At Seasons 52, that’s precisely what you’ll get.

Nestled into a corner at Houston’s vibrant City Centre, this new restaurant redefines healthy dining. The seasonally influenced menu inspires the restaurant’s name. Entrees change about four times a year, and vegetable sides change weekly. However, the most impressive part of the menu is that every item is 475 calories or less.

Seasons 52

Honey & Herb Roasted Chicken, spring vegetables, Yukon Gold mashed potatoes, roasted chicken jus

If you’re picturing cardboard diet food and rubbery tofu, think again. Instead, the healthy balance at Seasons 52 is achieved by shunning the embarrassingly large portions that have come to be standard and letting fresh, seasonal vegetables do the talking. These meals are hearty, satisfying, and downright delicious.

The whole roasted Branzino, a European seabass, is standout summer special. This beautifully presented dish has a delicate texture and a sinfully savory flavor. Another memorable dish was the honey & herb roasted chicken. Chefs could have taken the easy way out by serving a dry slab of boneless, skinless chicken breast atop an uninspired salad. Instead, this chicken is moist, rich, and downright flavorful, and served with a tantalizing array of seasonal vegetables. Additionally, while the trend of desserts in shot glasses feels exhausted at other establishments, at Seasons 52, it somehow feels special, and fits right in to the perfectly-portioned atmosphere.

Seasons 52

 

Oak-Grilled Filet Mignon, cremini mushrooms, steamed leaf spinach, mashed potatoes, red wine sauce

Seasons 52 has over 30 locations across the country including Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, Atlanta, Georgia, and Phoenix, Arizona. It first arrived in Houston at Westheimer, and it’s popularity spurred this second location at the City Centre shortly after.

While the classy, dimly lit interior lacks in personality (there is not a chalkboard, Edison lightbulb, or tattooed waiter to be found), the understated elegance is the perfect setting for a fine dining establishment. Unlike Ruggle’s on the Green, another popular City Centre eatery that emphasizes seasonality, the atmosphere at Seasons 52 is much more upscale and carries a noticeably higher price point.

That being said, you get what you pay for. And at Seasons 52, that means delicious, quality meals that leave you feeling nourished, rather than nauseous.

– Kelly

The Truth About Butter

butter

Image via BOJ

Leave it to science journalists to convince the public that butter and bacon are heart healthy foods. From the Wall Street Journal’s, Questionable Link Between Saturated Fat and Heart Disease, to Mark Bittman’s Butter is Back in the New York Times, several articles have been quick to sing the praises of artery-clogging saturated fat.

Their ammunition is a recent meta-analysis in the March issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine. This study is a review of previous studies that compares heart disease rates to fat intake. The authors found that when saturated fats are replaced with refined carbohydrates and added sugars, heart disease risk increases despite the low level of saturated fat. What this study failed to report is that when saturated fat is replaced with monounsaturated fat in the form of olive oil, nuts, or avocados, heart disease risk actually decreases.

Nowhere did the authors suggest that saturated fats are beneficial for health. So while butter may be dubbed the lesser of two evils (when compared to added sugars), the goal of healthful eating should be to find foods that are proven to actually nourish you and prevent disease. The gold standard of nutrition should not be to pick foods simply because they are “not as bad as” others. Additionally, the best way to assess nutrition and health is to look at the overall diet, rather than one nutrient at a time.

Was eating less butter and bacon the downfall of American health and nutrition? Definitely not. The real culprit, as the study points out, is the prevalence of sugar-laden processed foods. If you want to eat for health, choose a dietary pattern with decades of research behind it, such as the Mediterranean diet, that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, legumes, and healthy fats such as nuts and olive oil.

For more on the saturated fat debate, see these articles:

For some of my favorite heart-healthy recipes, see here:

Quinoa Salad with Dried Cranberries and Marcona Almonds

– Kelly

Voting for Nutrition: Find out Which Politicians are Supporting Healthy Food

Aligning my food choices with my priorities is one of my nearest and dearest causes, but voting with your fork can only get you so far. That’s why it’s important to elect representatives that will be champions of good food policy. To keep track of which elected officials are supporting nutrition programs, hunger alleviation, and responsible farming, it takes a score sheet. Luckily, Food Policy Action did the hard part for you.

According to Food Policy Action,

“Our mission is to highlight the importance of food policy and to promote policies that support healthy diets, reduce hunger at home and abroad, improve food access and affordability, uphold the rights and dignity of food and farm workers, increase transparency, improve public health, reduce the risk of food-borne illness, support local and regional food systems, protect and maintain sustainable fisheries, treat farm animals humanely and reduce the environmental impact of farming and food production.”

Food Policy Action produces a scorecard on how each Senator and House member votes on various food issues.

Food Policy Action

 

You can search by state, zip code, or the name of the politician.

Food Policy Action

So far, the scores are all over the place. In the 2013 Food Policy Scorecard, 73 House members and 14 Senators scored a perfect 100%! That means that these 87 politicians consistently championed good food policies (including issues of nutrition, conservation, and hunger) EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. Unfortunately, there are also some failures. In 2013, 28 House members and 10 Senators scored a 0%, meaning they voted against policies that support food access, healthy diets, and local food systems.

Are your elected officials champions of good food? Find out here.

– Kelly

10 Best Instagram Accounts to Inspire Healthy Living (Part III)

You know how fast food commercials can leave you craving fries or a burger? This is the same idea, but in reverse. Scrolling though healthy, inspiring images on my Instagram feed makes me crave whole foods and trips to the farmers market. Below are some of my current favorites. Also, check out Part I and Part II of this series for more of my favorite accounts!

10 Best Instagram Accounts to Inspire Healthy Living

@thecrunchyradish Beautiful, healthy meals from an NYC-based Registered Dietitian

10 Best Instagram Accounts to Inspire Healthy Living

@aboutanja Tons of great farmers market shots

10 Best Instagram Accounts to Inspire Healthy Living

@dagmara_ch So many healthy meal ideas!

dicanelo

@dicanelo Bright colors and nutritious meals

10 Best Instagram Accounts to Inspire Healthy Living

@mindful_nutrition This one will definitely have you craving fruits and veggies

10 Best Instagram Accounts to Inspire Healthy Living

@livingthehealthychoice Someone that eats oatmeal as much as I do! So many healthy, inspiring meals here

10 Best Instagram Accounts to Inspire Healthy Living

@sweetgreen This salad chain is new to Boston, but I’m already obsessed

10 Best Instagram Accounts to Inspire Healthy Living

@feltbyheart You can’t scroll past this one without craving fruit

10 Best Instagram Accounts to Inspire Healthy Living

@fluxi A great mix of healthy meals and beautiful San Francisco

10 Best Instagram Accounts to Inspire Healthy Living

@lauren_a24 Colorful plant based meals from another Registered Dietitian

– Kelly

Not Your Average Vegetable Platter

Looking for a way to entice your guests (or yourself) to eat more vegetables? Here is a round-up of the most beautiful fruit and vegetable platters from around the web. And if you’re looking for healthy dips to compliment your fruit and veggie trays, check here.

Not Your Average Vegetable Platter

Arrange veggies and dips in various glassware. Image via Cocoa and Fig

Not Your Average Vegetable Platter

Serve dip in a hollowed-out head of lettuce. Click here for step-by-step instructions. Image via Eddie Ross

Not Your Average Vegetable Platter

Or try bell peppers! Image via Pinterest (original source unknown)

Not Your Average Vegetable Platter

Portion individual servings of vibrant veggies and hummus into stemware. Image via Pinterest (original source unknown)

Not Your Average Vegetable Platter

If you don’t have stemware, drinking glasses also work. Image via Add a Pinch

Not Your Average Fruit Tray

This concept also works for fruit. Image via Hostess with the Mostess

Not Your Average Vegetable Platter

Individual glasses of salad are a great way to offer guests tastes of produce. Image via My Baking Addiction

Not Your Average Vegetable Platter

“Salad on a Stick” is a kid-friendly take on this idea. Image via Sweet Potato Chronicles

Not Your Average Vegetable Platter

Bouquets of artichokes, ornamental kale, and brussels sprouts are a great way to dress up a fruit and vegetable display. Image via Project Wedding

Not Your Average Fruit Tray

Tiered platters work great to display individual cups of mixed fruit (or vegetables). Image via Pinterest (original source unknown)

– Kelly

 

Guilty Pleasures: An RD’s favorite packaged foods

For the most part, I pride myself on eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole foods, favoring ingredients that are local and organic. However, there are times when convenience takes over and I find myself at the mercy of processed foods. I try to look for packages that have some of the qualities I prioritize, but more often than not, I just end up following my taste buds. Below are my picks for my favorite packaged foods…

Guilty Pleasures: An RD's favorite packaged foods

Backcountry Bundle Trail Mix (Whole Foods Market): This trail mix is a delicious blend of almonds, pistachios, raisins, dried cranberries, and sour cherries. While it would probably be much less expensive to buy the ingredients from the bulk section and make my own, this delightful mix has absolutely everything I need in the perfect proportions. I like to keep a package in my desk drawer at work for when the afternoon slump hits. It also makes a great travel snack.

Champagne Pear Vinaigrette with Gorgonzola (Trader Joe’s): I rarely ever go to Trader Joe’s, but this salad dressing is worth the trip alone. The ingredients certainly don’t have the organic, local, or minimalistic qualities that I typically look for in foods, but I absolutely love the sweet, creamy taste, and I can’t believe that it only has 45 calories per two tablespoon serving. In my book, anything that gets me to eat more vegetables is money well spent. Additionally, the presence of Gorgonzola in the dressing makes cheese, while still welcome, an unnecessary addition to the salad.

Butternut Squash Ravioli Lean Cuisine: Frozen entrees are a last resort, and I try not to rely too heavily on them. Nevertheless, it’s good to keep one in the back of the freezer. While this dish isn’t from one of the organic or natural brands, I feel better knowing that it is a vegetarian entree, and doesn’t feature too many industrialized animal products. I am also constantly surprised at my foodie self for genuinely enjoying this vegetable rich supper.

Chocolate Peppermint Stick Luna Bar: This is my pre-workout snack before my morning gym sessions. I also love to travel with these. While protein bars aren’t very natural or food-like, they can be a reliable source of nutrients when balanced, vegetable rich meals are out of the question.

Do you ever rely on packaged foods? Which ones are your favorite?

– Kelly

Homemade Date Paste: A Healthy, Natural Fruit Sweetener

DSC01590

As a dietitian, I try to keep my consumption of added sugars as low as possible. And I’m not just talking about table sugar here. I’m talking about brown sugar, agave, maple syrup, and yes, even honey. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 6 teaspoons of added sugars a day for adult women, and no more than 9 teaspoons for adult men. If you are looking to keep added sugars to a minimum, dates and mashed bananas become your best friend.

DSC01589

First, a little primer on dates. Dates are kind of like giant raisins, but much more sticky and much more sweet. They are about 20 calories each. I usually buy pitted medjool dates in the bulk section at whole foods (surprise, surprise). However, on a particularly desperate grocery outing,  I was able to find dates at the little international market next to my apartment building. Score!

Some of my favorite recipes call for chopped dates as a sweetener, but because the dates are chopped, I find that the sweetness doesn’t distribute evenly throughout the final product. This leaves me with unsweetened food with chunks of date… not quite what I was looking for. Plus, who wants to meticulously chop up a sticky fruit every morning? Not me! Which brings me to date paste.

DSC01588

Date paste is a simple idea really. Just soak dates overnight, blend the softened dates (I used a knock off Magic Bullet) with a bit of the soaking water, and voila… you have a sweetener that distributes much more evenly throughout. (For a more descriptive recipe, see here).

I usually substitute 1 tablespoon of date paste for every teaspoon of table sugar that I would have used. I mostly only use date paste in my morning oatmeal, but it also works great to sweeten muffins and other treats. 1 tablespoon of date paste has approximately 25 calories, 6g sugar, and 0.5g fiber. Compare that to the 16 calories, 4g of sugar, and 0g fiber in only 1 teaspoon of table sugar. Not bad!

Have you made date paste? What are your favorite healthy sweeteners?

– Kelly

Worried about arsenic in rice? Substitute one of these healthy grains!

In light of recent arsenic scares, the Consumers Union recommends no more than 1/4 cup rice (dry) two times per week for adults, and 1.25 times per week for children. (This recommendation applies both to brown rice and white rice.) Do you rely on rice as a dietary staple? If so, this is the perfect time to branch out and try other grains. Out of all of the grains available, I find that farro, barley, and quinoa are the most “rice-like” and work best as rice substitutes.

Ancient Grains

Farro: Farro is an ancient strain of wheat (meaning it’s not gluten-free, for any allergy folks out there) and the grains are a tad larger than rice. Farro has a chewy texture and nutty flavor, similar to brown rice, but turned up a few notches. Because of this unique flavor, farro works well as a stand alone side (fish served on a bed of farro, chicken with a side of farro, etc). Also, farro’s texture lends itself well to grain salads. It stays chewy when served cold, unlike rice, which becomes dry and stale. At the grocery store, look for whole farro (rather than pearled farro) to be sure you’re getting a whole grain.

Barley: Barley (wheat free, but not gluten free) is a bit smaller than rice. It has a neutral flavor, so it works great in mixed dishes (such as stir frys). It is also great in soup (think beef with barley!) and works well with beans. Like rice, it is best served warm. Look for whole barley or hulled barley at the grocery store. While pearled barley is more nutrient dense than a fully refined grain, it is not technically a whole grain because part of the bran has been removed.

Quinoa: Quinoa is like the chambray shirt of ancient grains… it goes with everything! Even though quinoa is actually not very “rice-like” compared to farro and barley, this tiny, gluten free pseudograin can be substituted for rice in many recipes. Warm or cold, sweet or savory, quinoa can be whatever you want it be!

When experimenting with a new ingredient, it is often helpful to start with a recipe. Below are some recipe ideas to get you started:

What is your favorite grain to substitute for rice?

– Kelly

16 Healthy Halloween Snacks From Around The Web

Happy October, everyone!

Just because Halloween is one of the most diet-busting holidays on the calendar, doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for nutrition. So I scoured the web for the best healthy Halloween snacks, including fruit and veggie platters, as well as heartier fare. The snacks pictured below keep the Halloween spirit alive, without sacrificing nutrition. Enjoy!

witchbrooms

1) Witch brooms made from pretzels & string cheese, Image via Concinada con Catman

hallofruit

2) Banana ghosts and clementine pumpkins. I love this! Image via Pinterest, original source unknown

allrecipesappleteeth

3) Apple teeth with slivered almonds, via Allrecipes.com

vegskel

4) Veggie skeleton, image via feeding four little monkeys

spookyyogurt

5) Ghost inspired fruit & yogurt, image via Lisa Storms

smoothie

6) Jack-O-Lantern Smoothie, image via See Vanessa Craft. Note- for a healthy orange smoothie recipe, I recommend this carrot-apple-banana smoothie or this peach pie oatmeal smoothie.

carrothummus1

7) Hummus with carrot fingers. Image via Pinterest, original source unknown.

hummuscarrot2

8) Hummus with carrot & parsley pumpkins. Image via Parents.com

spider deviled eggs

9) Deviled eggs with olive spiders, image via Sunset

pumpkinegg

10) Pumpkin deviled eggs, image via Foodista

mummydip

11) Mummy dip with green veggies, image via hostess with the mostess

plumspider

12) Plum + grape spider, image via Kitchen Fun With My 3 Sons

pumpkindip

13) Adorable veggie platter presentation! Image via Pinterest, original source unknown

cck

14) Fruity Jack-O-Lanterns, image via Chocolate Covered Katie

easy

15) Easy Jack-O-Lantern Oranges, image via Under Construction blog

fruitcup

16) Fruit cup Jack-O-Lanterns, image via Pimp My Dinner

For more Halloween food inspiration (yes- there’s more!), see my Pinterest board. Wondering what dips to serve with fruit and veggie platters? See my picks for healthy dips here.

Happy Halloween!

– Kelly

Lentil Love

DSC01592

This post has been a long time coming. I seem to find myself talking about lentils more and more these days. In fact, I even did an in-depth commodity report on lentils for one of my gastronomy courses. Lentils are my favorite plant based protein source, not just because they are cheap and shelf stable, but because they are so gosh darn versatile! What else makes lentils so special?

  • Unlike other dried legumes, dried lentils DO NOT require an overnight soak. Simply bring lentils and water to a boil, then simmer for about 30 minutes.
  • Lentils have tons of protein! According to the USDA food and nutrient database, 1/2 cup of cooked lentils has 9g of protein and 115 calories. Compare that to 7.5g of protein and 114 calories for black beans, 7.5g of protein and 112 calories for red kidney beans, and 8.5g of protein and 95 calories for edamame (all for 1/2 cup cooked).

When I catch myself talking about lentils, I am often surprised at how few people I meet actually have experience cooking with them. People often ask me for lentil recipes, so below, I compiled of a list of my 3 favorites (all healthy, of course!). If you have visited me for an extended period of time, chances are, I have made at least one of these recipes for you. Note that I always buy green lentils, but I hope to experiment with red and black one day soon!

Simple Stuffed Sweet Potato with Lentils

1. Lentil Stuffed Sweet Potato: I created this recipe on a day that my cupboards were particularly bare, and it has since become one of my favorite meals. See here for the recipe.

photo-17

2. Lentil Chili: This recipe from Whole Foods Market is incredibly easy and versatile! I always add a can (or 2 ears) of corn for a little bit of sweetness. My finishing touch is a dollop of nonfat, plain Greek yogurt.

sloppy joe

3. Lentil Sloppy Joes: Image and Recipe from Edible Perspective. This vegan recipe from the Edible Perspective is so perfect, that I follow it exactly as it’s written every time. No additions or substitutions necessary. And did I mention that it’s made completely in the slow cooker? Too easy!

Have you caught lentil fever yet? What are some of your favorite lentil recipes?

– Kelly

P.S. I’m not the only one that’s gaga for lentils. Check out this NPR article to learn more about my favorite plant based protein.