Meatless Monday

If you had a weekend anything like mine, it was filled with three days of BBQ and a few beers.  Therefore, I was in much need of a meatless Monday to set me back on track.  Meatless meals can pack a great nutrition punch even without having a main protein.  Many shy away from a meatless meal for fear that they will not feel full or will miss out on essential nutrients.  However, it can be quite the opposite.  You can find protein packed foods without having to load your meal with meat.  High quality protein sources can be found in nuts (almonds, pistachios, peanuts, etc.) dairy (milk, cheese, and yogurt), grains (quinoa), eggs, and beans (black, lentils, pinto, etc.).

Protein is a macronutrient (the other two macronutrients are fat and carbohydrate).  These three groups are what contribute calories to our diets.  Protein is known for making us feel full and building muscle, but did you know that protein sources like nuts, seeds, eggs, and beans contain excellent sources of B vitamins, iron, vitamin E, and zinc?  These are all essential nutrients we need to maintain a healthy body.

Not only can meatless meals offer a great nutritious punch, they can also be easy on the checkbook.  Meat proteins can often carry a high price tag so making the simple substitute of a meatless meal once a week may save you a few bucks and while offering some great nutrition!

Spinach and Cherry Tomato with Quinoa

Serves 4


  • 3 TBSP Olive Oil (or canola oil) divided (1 TBSP, 2 TBSP)
  • ½ medium yellow onion, diced
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes halved
  • 4 cups raw spinach or kale (could also do a blend)
  • 1 cup quinoa
  • ¼ cup Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tsp basil
  • 1 tsp parsley
  • ½ tsp oregano
  • 1 tsp minced garlic (could also do 1.5 tsp garlic powder)
  • Salt and pepper to taste


In a medium cooking pot, measure two cups of water and mix in 1 cup of quiona.  Bring to a boil.  Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer about 15 minutes until water is absorbed.

Heat a saute pan over medium heat and add 1 TBSP of olive oil.  Add diced yellow onion to the oil, sauté until the onions appear translucent.  Then add cherry tomatoes, raw spinach and spices.  Stir frequently.  Cook down until spinach has shrunk to ½ its original size (about 5 minutes).  Add additional 2 TBSP of olive oil and heat over medium heat for about 1 minute. Add mixture to quiona. Mix thoroughly. Divide between four bowls and top with parmesan cheese.

Nutrition information: Calories: 352, Fat: 16 grams, Sodium: 172 mg, Carbohydrate: 40 grams, Dietary Fiber: 6 grams, Protein: 14 grams




Eat This, Not That? Eat That, Not This?

Eat this, not that?  Eat that, not this?  Well, which one is it?

Recently in the news, popular restaurant chains and food companies such as Panera Bread, Chipolte, McDonalds, Nestle, PepsiCo, Kraft, and Hershey (to name a few) have decided to modify some their menus and food offerings to meet their consumer demands. Panera, the most recent to be added to this list, has made plans to drop a long list of ingredients from their menu by 2016.  Some of these include artificial sweeteners and preservatives.

Consumers are starting to wise up and are really questioning what’s in their food and where it comes from.  Food companies are hearing this loud and clear.  You will notice a change in original Cheerios which will no longer contain GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms).    PepsiCo which will no longer be using aspartame in their Diet Pepsi, they will now be using sucralose to sweeten the fizzy drink.  The Original Blue Box, Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, will no longer use artificial colorings to get that distinct yellow color.  They will be using spices such as paprika and turmeric to get the signature look.  McDonalds has made a commitment to not sell any food items that contains chicken that has been treated with human antibiotics (which many of us probably had no idea they were doing anyway).  The list goes on and you can expect that list to continue to grow.

Kudos to them! Many times we find ourselves needing to grab a bite on the run and it is good to know that the places we have been going to for years are making changes for the better.

With all of this said, you must still proceed with caution…. Your burrito from Chipolte may not contain GMO’s or the Hershey bar you are going to grab may not contain high fructose corn syrup, BUT this does not mean that it is magically calorie or sugar free.  These products, although they are made with ingredients that you can feel a little better about, could still do a number on your health.  This has become tricky for many of us because these companies have done a great job of taking buzz words that we associate with good health and slap them on a product that may not actually be good for our health.  Non GMO, Gluten Free, and No Artificial Colors or Flavors, are just a few of these labels.   The rules of moderation do not get to be thrown out the window just because your favorite soda is now made with “real sugar”.  It is still soda.

Bottom line… Be cautious of the ingredients in the food you are eating, and keep them simple.  Proceed with caution when you see buzzwords like no artificial colors or sweeteners because those foods could still contain high amounts of unhealthy fats, sugars, etc.

Simple Substitute of the week:  Substitute one of your favorite snack foods that has a list of ingredients you cannot pronounce for a snack that has only ingredients you CAN pronounce.  Check out the recipe below for peanut butter dip!  It is one of my favorite when I am in a hurry. This quick snack that has simple real ingredients. It is loaded with calcium and protein and is sure to get you to your next meal.  You can feel good about the ingredients that go in it as well!  Keep moderation in mind. The recipe below is for one serving and is the perfect amount for a snack.  Pair this dip with an apple, a handful or strawberries or even a few pretzels.

Peanut Butter Dip (serves 1)


  • ¼ cup non-fat vanilla yogurt (or non-fat plain yogurt with vanilla extract added, about 1 tsp)
  • 1 TBSP Creamy all natural peanut butter
  • 1 tsp honey

Stir all ingredients together and enjoy!

Nutrients: 160 calories, 9 grams of Fat, 13 grams carb, 7.5 grams protein


Eating healthy and eating out, can they exist together…

As I sat in my third airport of the day, I reflected on the past two weeks of eating while traveling for work.  I am so used to being able to eat at home at least 5 nights a week.  My husband and I enjoy cooking and are able to most nights of the week.  With that said, the reality is that most Americans do not have that luxury.  Between jobs that make them travel, kids with after school activities, hectic home life, etc. most don’t have the ability to cook as often as I am used to. When you cook at home, you can be the judge of how much oil to add, how much salt goes in, and add as many veggies to the plate as you wish, but when you eat out and rely on someone else to do the cooking for you… it’s a different story.

If you are frequently (more than 3x per week) hitting the take out, sit down, slow food, fast food scene, you need to check out these simple substitutions below.  When you replace meals eaten at home with those that are eaten out, you could be losing important nutrients you need to stay healthy.  Of course, this can be avoided if you are smart about your choices.

It is crucial that you get nutrient dense foods while eating out (and at home).  Nutrient dense foods are those that that pack a lot of nutrients for a relatively low amount of calories (vegetables, fruit, low-fat milk, yogurt, and complex carbohydrates). It can be a challenge, but it can be done.  This past week I put myself to the challenge of eating EVERY. SINGLE. MEAL. OUT.  Eating out does not have to mean that your entire eating structure has to be thrown off.


I typically indulge when I eat a meal out because we typically don’t do it that often.  When we do go out, it is solely for the purpose to get something we do not make on a regular basis.  Well… this week I was eating out simply because there were no other options.  I kept these simple substitutions in mind when making my menu selections.

Breakfast:  This really is the most important meal of the day whether on the road or at home.  This is a crucial time to feed your body with the nutrition it needs to wake up your metabolism and get you through until lunch.  This is one if the easiest meals to find healthy options BUT can also be a meal loaded with tons of calories and added sugar that lacks essential nutrients.  A few tips to keep you on track at breakfast:

  • If your hotel offers breakfast, take advantage of it. Usually you will have fresh fruit, whole grain cereal, whole wheat toast, and oatmeal available.
  • If you are eating out it can be a little tricky, but do a little research about surrounding restaurants to find out what they have before you go. Most restaurants post their nutrition information online or at the restaurant upon request.
  • If nutrition information is not available, it is even more crucial to make smart choices. Try to get a serving of whole grains, fruit, and low-fat or fat free dairy.  Think to yourself how many calories does this offer and does it provide me with anything my body could use for good nutrition (calcium, fiber, vitamins and minerals)?
    • This could come in the form of a fruit and yogurt parfait, whole grain bagel with peanut butter, egg white sandwich, fresh fruit smoothie, etc.
  • BE CAREFUL. Some specialty coffees can have as many calories and grams of fat as a concrete from your favorite ice cream shop.  Try to stick with low-fat or fat free milk, ask for your favorite coffees “skinny”, or take it black and add in your own milk.

Lunch and dinner:  This can be more difficult than breakfast to find healthy options BUT it can be done.  Be careful that your hungry appetite does not get in the way of sound, smart choices.  Just like with breakfast, try to make some simple substitutes to stay on track.

  • Substitute grains for whole grains when available (whole wheat bun, whole wheat pasta, etc). This will help fill you up faster and they will stick with you longer through the afternoon and evening.
  • If you are able to sub the side of fries or chips with the vegetable of the day or fruit, DO IT. Fruits and vegetables are those nutrient dense foods that provide much needed nutrition.  French fries just add fat and calories.
  • Watch out for seemingly healthy options. Some salads have as much fat and calories as a Big Mac.  Try to scout out the menu and nutrition information before heading out OR check the menu for it when you get there.  If the information is not easily available, avoid dishes that contain key words like creamy, fried, smothered, mayo, etc.  These dishes typically are higher in fat and calories.
  • Watch the sauces. The sauces can easily add hundreds of calories and additional fat grams.  You can get the sauce on the side.  This way you can be the judge of how much goes on. The same goes for dressings.  Get them on the side so you can put on a minimal amount.  Look for dressings that are oil or vinegar base (like your vinaigrettes and Italian dressings).  Avoid cream base dressings (Caesar, Ranch, Blue Cheese, etc.)

Eating out regularly does not mean you have to completely throw off all hard work you have put into being healthy BUT it does take a little work and planning (and will power) just like at home.  Follow the above simple substitutes and you will not have to fear the restaurants the next time you have to hit the road.


Grocery Shopping Tips to Help Your New Year’s Resolution

Grocery Store E card

So, here we are midway through January.  Was it your New Year’s resolution to eat healthy and get in shape?  How about deciding to cook more at home?  Exercise more?  Kudos if it was your resolution to do this!  You are among many Americans that use the New Year to create a fresh start for your health.  You just had two weeks of indulgences (maybe more) and told yourself, after the first of the year… it starts.

Many of us come out of the gate strong with big ambitions.  You quickly cut out all of those sweet treats that were making regular appearances in your day and you blew the dust off that gym membership and are now a regular.  This is great!  However, one question to ask yourself is, “Are the behaviors I decided to make sustainable?”  It’s a story we hear all too often.  “I was doing well but life got in the way.” “I got busy, it was too hard.”  “It got to be too expensive.”  And the list goes on…  I would say that a majority of the time it’s not these excuses that stop us, but the fact that we took on too much at once and get discouraged.  Remember, this is a LIFESTYLE, not a resolution that should be coming around once a year.

One of the best ways to make sustainable changes is to set realistic small goals that can ultimately lead you to one larger goal.  I believe that we can make simple substitutes that will lead to sustainable resolutions so that when you are at New Year’s Eve 2015, you can look back on your year without regrets.

My first simple substitute of 2015!  Substitute the grocery list in your mind to one that is written out on paper (or smart phone)!  This can be a huge tool in staying on track with your New Year’s resolution to eat healthier.  Studies show that when you go in to the grocery store with a clear plan of what you are going to buy, you are less likely to grab things that are not on the list (that bag of Oreos that was on the discounted endcap).  Recent research conducted by Lizzy Pope, Registered Dietitian with the University of Vermont, found that, “After the holidays, shoppers spent $20 more on food each shopping trip and triple their amount of healthy food BUT still buy their same amount of unhealthy food.”  This can be avoided by going shopping with your list.  You can cut your grocery bill and keep some of the unnecessary food and calories out of your house.  Having a shopping list and plan for meals for the week can avoid trips to the vending machine for afternoon snack and the drive-thru for dinner (resulting in unwanted calories).  A balanced, healthy diet is all about convenience and what you have on hand.

A few grocery store shopping trips that can make you a master grocery shopper:

  • Get your list ready – Try to plan your week out and do not forget to think about your schedule. Do you have a meeting? Kids sporting event?  Plan for quick meals those nights to avoid last minute decisions to go out.
  • Shop on a full stomach – Try to hit the store right after a meal or snack to avoid making unnecessary purchases based on your hunger. I have a ½ gallon of ice cream in my freezer right now because I went shopping before lunch on Sunday.
  • Shop the perimeter – This is a huge tool! Think about the foods you find on the outside of the grocery store.  This is where you will find nutrient packed options (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and low-fat dairy) that are minimally processed.
  • Shop the sales – Eating healthy can be expensive, especially during the winter when produce is not as readily available in the area. Make sure to check out what is on sale and purchase that for the week.  Also, a good alternative during these cold winter months is to buy frozen fruits and vegetables.  Just make sure there are no added ingredients like sugar!

This one simple substitute can make a big difference in your goals for the New Year! Be sure to check in to Simple Substitutions as we substitute our way to healthier lifestyles.


Juicing: A Trend That Should Be Left In 2014

One of the biggest trending diets of 2014 was juice detoxes.  This is one of those trends that should be left in 2014.

If you were thinking about a juice detox to rid your body of all the “toxins” that you stuffed in your body over the past few weeks, you may want to think again. 

I want to start by saying that our bodies are pretty darn efficient of riding itself of any “toxins” via our liver and kidneys and are “detoxing” us all the time! 

With this said, many of us feel bloated and may even see some tighter fitting clothes after all those holiday cookies and an all liquid diet does not sound like a bad idea.  Juicing can provide a feeling of being “lighter” because you do not have the bulk feeling of food in your stomach.  However, before you hit the juice isle at the grocery store, let’s take a quick step back and look at what some of your favorite juices are made from.  Whether you choose orange juice or a blend of your favorite acai berries with pomegranate, most juices are predominately sugar (carbohydrate) and are lacking major nutrients such as protein.  Carbohydrate is the most readably available source of energy for our bodies and can wear off quickly, leaving us feeling hungry much sooner than meals and snacks that contain a combination of carbohydrate, protein, and fat.  This could lead to more calorie intake in your day. 

When you juice fruits and vegetables through your own juicer at home, or grab a pricey one off the shelf at the grocery store, you strip away the fiber that this awesome produce provides.  Also, when a juice diet is followed for an extended period of time, you can actually do more damage than good for yourself.  Since juice is lacking protein your body can LOSE muscle mass (which most of us are looking to gain). 

My recommendation if you want to get your bodies back on track (even before the first of the year) is to hit the basics.  Incorporate more WHOLE fruits and vegetables in to your day, you will get the great nutrients that they provide while keeping the fiber. Strive for lean protein, heart healthy fats (like avocado, almonds, and olive oils).  If you really want to drink your breakfast or your snack, my simple substitution would be to make a whole fruit and vegetable smoothie.  This way you keep all of the fiber and can add some great nutrition.  Check out the recipe below:

Serves 2


  • ½ cup frozen berries
  • 1 small banana
  • ¼ cup plain yogurt
  • ½ cup milk
  • 1 cup baby spinach

Combine all ingredients in blender and blend until smooth.

Strawberry banana spinach


Winter Warm Up!

Winter has officially started and on cold winter nights, there is nothing better (in my book) than a good cup of hot chocolate!  One of my favorite simple substitutes for this classic is to ditch the prepackaged mix and make your own.  It is super easy to do and uses items you most likely already have at home. Your homemade mix will have WAY less ingredients in it as well.  A standard package of hot chocolate mix can contain hydrogenated coconut oil, carrageenan, artificial flavoring, corn syrup, and the list goes on. Homemade hot chocolate is an excellent source of calcium, vitamin D, potassium, and protein when made with milk and will contain the great natural antioxidants found in cocoa.

Hot Chocolate pic

Serves 1


  • 1 cup (8 ounces) 1% or skim milk (could substitute soy or almond milk here)
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • Dash of salt

Directions: Mix sugar, cocoa mix, and salt together, set aside.   Warm milk (about 60-90 seconds in microwave), gradually mix the cocoa powder mixture in with the milk, stir in the vanilla last and enjoy!  If you are looking to add a little holiday “cheer”, you can add 1 oz of marshmallow vodka, vanilla vodka, or butterscotch schnapps (enjoy responsibly).

Stay tuned to simple substitutions after the holidays for healthy ways to start your new year.


To Buy or Not to Buy Organic Produce?

Organic.  It’s a word that gets thrown around but many don’t know what it exactly means.  The U.S. Agriculture Department, which oversees the U.S. National Organic Program, states, “Organic is a labeling term that indicates that the food or other agricultural product has been produced through approved methods that integrate cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity.” The certified-organic label is not an indicator of nutritional superiority.  (Washington Post)

Check out the full article from the Washington Post which delves in to the differences between organic and non-organic produce.

There is a list from The Environmental Working Group that ranks popular produce items from the highest containing pesticides to the lowest.  The list is broken out to the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen.  The produce was tested after it was thoroughly washed and these results are based on the remaining pesticides.  The complete list can be found at (

Dirty Dozen:

  • Apples
  • Strawberries
  • Grapes
  • Celery
  • Peaches
  • Spinach
  • Sweet Bell Peppers
  • Necterines (imported)
  • Cucumbers
  • Cherry Tomatoes
  • Snap Peas
  • Potatoes

Clean Fifteen

  • Avocados
  • Sweet Corn
  • Pineapple
  • Cabbage
  • Sweet Peas-Frozen
  • Onions
  • Asparagus
  • Kiwi
  • Egg Plant
  • Grapefruit
  • Cantaloupe
  • Cauliflower
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Mushrooms
  • Honeydew Melon

My take away:  Be sure that whether you are buying organic or conventional produce to thoroughly wash the produce under cool running water and dry with a clean paper towel.  This can help reduce the amount of pesticides on your conventional produce and make sure that your organic produce is properly cleaned.  I would also say it’s better for you to purchase conventional produce than no produce at all.  The risks associated with not consuming enough fruits and vegetables outweigh the risks of consuming produce that have been treated with pesticides.  If you can afford it, try to purchase the dirty dozen fruits and veggies organic.  Also, get to know your farmer.  Many farmers have organic practices but cannot afford (or choose not) to be labeled organic.  By getting to know your farmers, you can know more about the nutritious fruits and veggies you are consuming.

Bottom line:  Strive for your 5 a day of fruits and veggies.


Simple Substitutes for the Holiday Season

Dori Jpeg

With Thanksgiving behind us and the holiday season ahead of us, a lot of times we find ourselves faced with the battle of the holiday party.  Studies show that the average American gains 1-2 pounds during the holiday season.  This may not seem like a lot, but for many of us, those are extra pounds that we don’t lose after the season has come and gone.  Follow these simple substitutes to your usual holiday party routine.

  • Don’t skip breakfast or lunch. This year, make sure that you are eating meals to prevent overeating at parties.  Your meals should be loaded with nutritious foods like fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains. When you go long periods of time without eating, you can drive yourself to overeat at the party.  Think of your metabolism as a fire that you need to keep burning all day.  Just like feeding wood to a fire to keep it going, you need to feed yourself with nutritious foods to keep you going.  When you skip meals you are keeping logs off the fire.  You need to keep your metabolism going throughout the day by eating regular meals.
  • Make ½ your plate fruits and veggies. Most holiday parties will have a veggie or fruit tray (usually the last thing to go).  Try adding these to your plate along with some of your favorites to help bulk up your plate without bulking up your calories.  Fruits and vegetables also provide an excellent source fiber which can help make you feel full to avoid overeating.
  • Don’t skip the exercise. When we have extra things to do in the day, like holiday parties, it can be even harder to fit in a quick exercise.  That being said, these parties are all the more reason to get an exercise in, even for 20 minutes!  Every little bit helps.  20 minutes or vigorous exercise can help burn that extra cookie you threw in your mouth at the end of the night.
  • Watch the cocktails. Cocktails can be a downfall to our waistlines if we are not careful.   Many times we do not think of drinks having calories when in all actuality they can have more than the sweets sitting on the desert table. Eggnog can have upwards of 250 calories and 11 grams of fat.  If this is one of your favorites, watch the portion size.  Lighter holiday options could be 1 oz vodka with a splash of cranberry juice, a glass or red wine, or a light beer.

Have a great Holiday Season full of friends, family, good food, and good health.  Keep posted to Simple Substitutions for more tips to get you through the holiday season feeling better than ever and ready to take on the New Year. Cheers!


Does it Really Work Wednesday?

This is my very first Does it Really Work Wednesday where I find out if homemade brown bag popcorn really works!

Parmesan and cracked black pepper

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 teaspoon cracked black pepper (add more to taste)

Dark Chocolate with Crushed Almonds

  • 3 tablespoons dark chocolate chips melted
  • 3 tablespoons crushed almonds

Dark chocolate almond popcorn


  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder

Smokey Paprika

  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon cracked black pepper

Smokey Paprika

Cinnamon Sugar

  • spray popcorn with spray butter or about 2 teaspoons melted butter
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

The great thing about this recipe is that you are starting with a blank canvas.  Sample this with some of your favorite seasonings and flavors to find the perfect snack for you!


No-Bake Energy Bites

Something we are trying to do more of around our house is cutting out ingredients we cannot pronounce, when possible. One way we have done that is by simply substituting store bought granola bars with this super simple no-bake energy bite. It is really quick to make, it uses ingredients you most likely already have in your pantry, AND it is really tasty. This energy bite has ingredients you can pronounce and packs a good protein and fiber punch.

No-Bake Energy Bites


  • 1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats (naturally a whole grain)
  • 1 cup shredded coconut (optional)
  • ½ cup all natural peanut butter
  • ½ cup ground flax seed (found in the baking isle and is a good staple to have in the pantry)
  • ½ cup mini chocolate chips
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract


  • Stir all ingredients together in a medium bowl until thoroughly mixed.
  • Let the mixture sit in the fridge for half an hour.
  • Once chilled, roll in to whatever size balls you would like. (I use a small cookie scoop)
  • Store in airtight container for up to one week.

Recipe was adapted from

A few notes on the recipe:

  • Ground Flax Seed is one of my favorite items to have on hand.  It is loaded with heart healthy fats and fiber and can be added to your favorite recipes with out altering the flavor.  A few of my favorites are oatmeal, cereal, and smoothies.  It can be stored in the refrigerator to extend shelf life. Be sure that you purchase the GROUND flax seed as your body cannot absorb all the good nutrition it provides in the whole seed form.  You can grind your own using whole seed flax and a standard coffee grinder.
  • You will notice I list natural peanut butter.  I would recommend making the switch from your standard peanut butter to a natural peanut butter.  Your standard peanut butter contains the following ingredients  ROASTED PEANUTS AND SUGAR, CONTAINS 2% OR LESS OF: MOLASSES, FULLY HYDROGENATED VEGETABLE OILS (RAPESEED AND SOYBEAN), MONO AND DIGLYCERIDES, SALT. Natural peanut butter will just have peanuts and salt.  This is a simple substitution to cutting out ingredients you cannot pronounce.