Whole Grain Pasta: New Food for a New Year

New Pastas Pass the Taste Test

The new year is a good time to try new things–especially if they’re healthy and not hard at all.  Here’s a great idea from Lauren and Pete, recent Whole Kitchen participants:

The next time you’re buying pasta, STOP.  Instead of automatically grabbing the spaghetti or penne you always buy, take a few seconds to peruse labels and muster up some courage.  How about introducing your family to whole grain pastas, which have a lot more nutrients than traditional pastas.   There are lots of alternatives at the store these days, like those made with brown rice flour, and they easily pass the taste test, even when presented to picky eaters.

Pete is experimenting with the Barilla brand of whole grain pastas.  The company offers one that is 51% whole wheat, as well as the new Barilla PLUS® line, a multigrain pasta with ALA Omega-3.  The whole wheat option is “a little heavier and more chewy than plain white pasta,” said Pete, but it offers a healthy 6 grams of fiber. For a sauce, he “doctors up” Prego Heart Healthy sauce or uses the organic Cabernet Marinara sauce by Muir Glenn.

Barilla PLUS® is an interesting blend of semolina, lentils, chickpeas, flaxseed, barley, spelt and oats. It has almost twice the fiber of traditional pasta as well as 10 grams of protein.  Pete likes the Barilla PLUS® because it doesn’t seem as “heavy” as the whole wheat option.  In fact, most guests “don’t even notice the difference between Barilla PLUS® and normal plain pasta,” he discovered.

Lauren recently took the pasta challenge, experimenting with a pasta bar that had a couple new sauces alongside two or three different choices of pastas, just to prove there isn’t anything too out of the ordinary with pasta that has a little color or a slightly different texture.  Her “bar” turned out to be a good way to elicit comments and start a conversation about the benefits of eating complete grains and other types of flour.  She shares one additional piece of advice:  Be strategic and limit choices to healthy options. When white pasta is available, those looking for the familiar may gravitate to that choice. When it’s not an option, it won’t even be missed.  Remember how our taste buds can happily adapt to healthier foods.

Lauren's Pasta Bar

Pasta Fun! Lauren's Pasta Bar

Want more new for the new year?  Try our Whole Kitchen cooking classes and discover new flavors, new foods, new recipes, new ideas and a whole new way to get great, wholesome meals on the table, everyday.  Next session starts January 13.

Convenience Foods: Would You Buy a 4-Seat Sedan for a 5-Person Family?

Apples and OrangesMore about time, apples and oranges

What’ s the biggest barrier we face on the journey to healthful eating?  20 years as a healthy eating coach reveals the surprising answer, and it’s not that we can’t cook, don’t have the right recipes or need more gadgets.  No, that devil Time is what gets in our way.  “I don’t have time to cook healthy meals,” is an all too familiar refrain.

Convenience and fast food makers have responded by manufacturing food products requiring less and less preparation time, until we’ve come to believe meals can be made in NO time.  An earlier post busted this myth.  Comparing a fast food meal to a real food meal really can’t be done, it explained.  While cooking is indeed minimal for a frozen meal, drive through burger or box of mac ‘n cheese, the end result bears no resemblance to a real food meal which not only fills a hunger void, but also provide deep satisfaction and  essential nutritional value.  Comparing the two is like comparing apples and oranges.

Since writing that post, I thought of another way to explain this “apples and oranges” metaphor:  Imagine a couple with three children, in need of a vehicle.  At the car dealership, the salesman shows them a barely 4-person sedan, declaring it to be a perfect fit.  “As long as it runs, a car’s a car,” he quips.

The obvious shortcomings in his claim are no different than those of a manufacturer advertising that its frozen meals are the equivalent of real, Everyday Good Eating meals.  Sure, they may do the basic job of filling a hunger void, but just like the car that wouldn’t hold the 5th member of your family, a frozen meal misses a critical part of what it’s supposed to do:  nurture and nourish the body so we can work, play and enjoy good health.

It’s easy to tell if your meals aren’t fulfilling a critical part of what they’re supposed to do:  Indigestion, irritable bowel syndrome, sleep trouble, colds and flus, weight issues and skin problems aren’t random vindictiveness being meted out by the universe.  Instead, they are signals from the body that it’s not getting the nutrients it needs.

If you’re not enjoying good health, you can do something about it starting tonight.  Make a real foods meal.  Don’t know how?  Join a Whole Kitchen cooking class and learn how easy it is to make meals that don’t just fill a hunger hole, but also fill the need for nurture and nourishment.

Remember, we’re supposed to be healthy.

The next Whole Kitchen Cooking Classes begin Thursday, January 13 for 5 weeks at the Erie Community Center.  Find out more.

Holiday Survival: Reality Story

Surviving Holiday Potlucks When You Don’t Control the Agenda

Lauren visited her in-laws for Thanksgiving.  A participant in our Whole Kitchen cooking classes this fall, she was excited  to share some of the new vegetable dishes we had made.  Maybe the savory roasted squash dish instead of canned sweet potatoes topped with brown sugar and marshmallows? Or how about the “Braised Brussels Sprouts & Parsnips with Apples and Pecans?”

Despite her enthusiasm, the thought of change just didn’t appeal to her husband’s family, steeped in tradition, Texas style.  Family members had a lot of sentimental attachment to the dishes that appear on many holiday tables.  So instead of trying to recreate a menu that had been put on the table for the past 40 years, Lauren decided to weave in a healthier dish that could be the focus of her Thanksgiving meal.

Put in charge of the fruit salad, she replaced the traditional whipped cream concoction  with an interesting  combo of sliced apples and oranges, pomegranate seeds,  feta cheese and toasted pecans served over a bed of greens with a light citrus dressing.  With this salad and some turkey, Lauren had a healthy base for her meal.  She could then add in small portions of other  dishes, but didn’t have to rely on them for satisfaction and comfort.

Lesson learned:  With a little effort, it is possible to respect long-standing family tradition while blending in some new ideas, just by taking control of what we contribute to the meal.  And who knows?  In a few years, those new dishes could become the new favorites.

Read more about the Salad Survival trick, and put the 10-Step Survival Strategy to work for your next holiday potluck.

Holiday Dinners: The Salad Strategy

If you care about weight maintenance, holiday dinners are where your resolve gets tested.   Assuming there are any healthful options at all, it’s most likely a gloppy coleslaw, tray of cold raw vegetables with ranch dressing, or whatever other tasteless nod to nutrition a deli can concoct.

Theoretically, you could be virtuous and subsist on these rations, calmly ignoring the warm- out-of-the-oven cheese puffs, the bacon and cheese stuffed dates and the bread bowl with spinach dip that costs 1000 calories just to look at.  With competition like this, however, virtue is sure to take a back seat.

This is where survival strategies come in.  Only one person at a holiday party has your health as a priority:  You.  So You must have a strategy for successfully surviving holiday parties.

  • Maybe you just blow things off because you go to only one party a year.
  • Maybe you eat beforehand and go to the party for (just one) dessert.
  • Maybe you view the party as just a place to talk to friends, not an eating event.
  • Maybe you bring a dish that you’ll love to and can eat.

The last strategy is my usual M.O.  Here’s what I say to the host:  “Oh, I love to make salads, and I’ve got a great one for the holidays.  Could I bring one for you?”

Sure it takes time and money to make a colorful, tempting salad–especially when there’s a free, no-effort meal at the party.   But you would be feeding yourself anyway, why not make enough to share?  You’re sure to make a more fun and interesting salad–besides making friends with other party goers in the same boat.  Ready to give the Salad Strategy a try?

The 10-Step Salad Strategy for a Festive Holiday Salad

  1. The Dish Since salads are my party strategy, I bought two neat salad bowls that showcase them beautifully.
  2. The Greens Just walk right past the iceberg to thevibrant greens of romaine, green leaf, red leaf and butter lettuces.   Or make a spinach salad–or make a mixture of all.    Since lettuces are a cold weather crop, they are very tasty and sweet right now.
  3. Vegetables Skip the tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers.  They are out of season and won’t tastegood enough to satisfy.  Instead, add color and nutritional depth with shredded carrots, roasted beets, diagonally sliced celery, mushrooms, frozen petite green peas , corn perked up with a light sauteeing, and avocado.
  4. Fruits Nothing adds “festive” to a salad like fruit.  Deep red pomegranate seeds are the perfect holiday color.   Apples and pears are great local and seasonal options and become candy-like when roasted.  Good oranges are now in stores.  And in a hurry, don’t forget about dried fruits:  raisins, figs, dates, cherries, and cranberries .
    Pomegranates from California make a lusciously festive addition to a salad–and they are one of the few (if not only) fruits that are in season in December.  This picture comes courtesy of the Pomegranate Council, which has more great pomegranate salad recipes
  5. Cheeses bind a salad nicely with creaminess.  The code word is moderation, which is why I like high-impact varieties like Parmesan and feta:  lots of flavor in a small, low-calorie amount.
  6. Breads and Grains are unusual, but they add a satisfying, filling taste:  Try tossing in a little wild rice  or bulgar  or topping with whole grain croutons.
  7. The Dressing While homemade can be quite special, it’s fine to use ready made, as long as it’s free of additives, colorings, etc.
  8. Meats Most parties, thankfully, have some plain meat (turkey, a roast beef, a ham.)  I usually bank on this for a side or topper for my salad.
  9. Cost Hey, it’s the holidays–and your health.  Spend enough so you are ecstatic about eating that salad.
  10. Remember: No Free Lunch Eating well doesn’t come without effort.  But at the same time, effort always brings rewards, like the great feeling you’ll have when you survive a party without blowing your eating ideals.

Ready for more practical cooking skills, ideas and inspiration for a lifetime of healthful eating?  Healthy Eating Coach Mary Collette Rogers teaches hands-on classes to build confidence and comfort in the kitchen:   Next series begins January 13.

Join us!

(Also, read how one dedicated real foods eater put the salad strategy to good use for her Thanksgiving feast with the in-laws.)

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