Learn to Eat Smart
Eating smart just got a lot easier! Find a wealth of information on ways to incorporate healthy options on the Eat Smart Blog. Know what you're looking for? Try the search term box to look for specific topics that meet your needs.
Nothing says summer like vibrant, refreshing watermelon.
Nothing says summer like vibrant, refreshing watermelon: Outrageously colorful, yielding and sweet at the center and crisper and mild towards the rind, and packed with cooling, hydrating juice.
It’s hard to beat wedges of chilled melon fresh from the fridge, but watermelon’s generous size and seasonal abundance are compelling reasons to get creative with it. Experimenting with bold flavor combinations and an expanded roster of techniques and recipes can transform your summer eating.
Here are the basics on choosing and using watermelon, followed by a selection of creative recipes to expand your summer repertoire.
- Choose melons with deeply colored, unblemished skin. It’s fine if one side is paler than the rest; this indicates the part of the melon that rested on the ground while it was ripening on the vine.
- A fresh, lightly sweet aroma is a sign of ripe watermelon. When tapped, it should sound taut and hollow if ripe.
- Seedless varieties are popular in today’s market, but seeds are so easy to remove that you should let ripeness be your guide when selecting a melon.
- If you purchase a piece of a cut watermelon, look for firm, solid flesh with deep color and no cracks.
- Before storing or cutting whole watermelon, rinse the exterior well under cold running water.
- Whole watermelon will keep at room temperature 7 to 10 days. Once cut, watermelon is best eaten as soon as possible but can be refrigerated for 2 to 3 days.
- Watermelons flavor goes particularly well with lime, mint, basil, red onion, fresh cheeses, chiles, strawberries and neutral spirits such as vodka and light rum.
- Use watermelon in just about any recipe you would cantaloupe or honeydew, or try substituting it for other recipe with high-water vegetables like cucumber or tomatoes.
Watermelon consists of an awesome 90 percent water, so it’s no surprise that it makes an ideal base for drinks. Refreshing Watermelon Agua Fresca is light and delicious and packs pure summer flavor. Incredibly popular, gorgeously hued Watermelon Lemonade is terrific for a crowd; you can even make it do service through cocktail hour by adding a shot of vodka to each glass. And you can enjoy two of summer’s favorite fruits in these Strawberry Watermelon Coolers, packed with flavor and lightened by lots of ice and sparkling water.
Sides and Salads
Mix up your grilling routine with Grilled Watermelon with Olive Oil and Sea Salt; heat caramelizes the outside of the melon, resulting in a particularly complex flavor heightened by a hit of coarse salt. It makes a surprising side dish for spicy meats, as do Watermelon and Strawberry Salad with Chile Vinaigrette and Watermelon and Arugula Salad, both which are filled with fabulous seasonal flavors. Either salad makes an ideal dish for picnics or potlucks.
Watermelon shares the stage with a favorite summer catch, halibut, in Halibut with Watermelon Salsa, a brilliant recipe that uses watermelon both as a marinade and as a topping. Seafood is also the star in Shrimp, Watermelon and Goat Cheese Salad, an easy choice for cookouts. (This recipe also works wonderfully with boneless skinless chicken breast.) And healthful, awesomely colorful Black Bean, Corn and Watermelon Salsa will turn any simple grilled item from tofu to burgers to steaks into a celebration of watermelon.
Snacks and Desserts
Watermelon is the key to a bevy of satisfying, almost effortless summer treats. Watermelon Granita is one of the easiest, iciest refreshers around, perfect for an intermezzo between courses or as a light dessert. Grape and Watermelon Freezer Pops are a fabulous alternative to commercial popsicles and low in added sweetener.
…Don’t Forget the Rind!
Want the satisfaction of using all your melon? Try watermelon rind in this mildly flavored Strawberry-Watermelon Water with Basil, a terrific way to boost your water intake, or make a version of a southern favorite with the recipe for Pickled Watermelon Rind with Radishes.
Quinoa is a popular new grain, and it's healthy! We put quinoa to the taste test!
I’m not one to branch out and try new things. I like to stay in my comfort zone and not waste money on new things that I may not like. But, I haven’t been able to ignore this thing called Quinoa. It’s plastered all over Pinterest and Facebook, and the pictures look scrumptious! I thought, “hmm…I may as well give it a shot.”
First, I did my research, because I knew absolutely nothing about it. Here’s what I found out:
- It’s pronounced keen-wha.
- All of the experts say quinoa is packed with protein and full of nutrients like amino acids, iron, magnesium, vitamin E, potassium, and fiber.
- Quinoa comes in different colors. The most common is white, but there‘s also red and black.
- Tired of rice? Substitute rice for quinoa.
- Quinoa must be soaked before cooking because of a natural coating that tastes bitter. Packaged quinoa from the grocery store probably doesn’t need to be soaked, but check the packaging first.
How to Cook and Serve Quinoa
Cooking quinoa is quick, easy, and similar to cooking rice. If your quinoa has not been pre-soaked, then soak 1 cup quinoa in 2 cups water for 5-10 minutes. Drain, rinse and pour the quinoa into a pot. Add 1 1/2 cups of water and a half teaspoon of salt. Bring it to a boil, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let sit for 5 minutes, covered. Fluff with a fork and serve.
Quinoa can be eaten on its own as a side dish, with a bit of butter or oil, salt, and pepper, or other seasonings. You can also make a breakfast dish by mixing your cooked quinoa with dried fruit, cinnamon, milk, and maple syrup or honey. I’ve read that you can serve quinoa with chili, stir-fries, beans, or curries. Quinoa is a good source of protein for vegetarians, and can be used as a main course in meat-free burgers, stews, or salads. Some people even bake with it! You can easily find a quinoa recipe on Pinterest or by doing a search on the Internet.
My Quinoa Experiment
Before I tried quinoa, I asked my health-nut friends about it. I wanted to know about the taste and texture. They told me it tastes nutty and reminds them of grits. They said the magic word – grits!
Rather than searching Pinterest for an elaborate recipe, I decided to take the simple route and purchase a box of quinoa and use the recipe on the box. You usually can’t go wrong with box recipes, right?
It didn’t take long to cook, and it smelled quite tasty. I couldn’t believe I was looking forward to trying it! This Southern girl likes her rice, but lima beans over quinoa wasn’t bad at all. My friends were right about the texture – it’s very close to grits. I’ll definitely cook quinoa again, and I encourage you to give it a shot, too.
Wildly Good CSAs
Linda Watson | 05/06/2016
Community Supported Agriculture is a great way to support local farmers.
I’ve long supported local farmers by shopping at farmers’ markets and choosing local at the grocery store, but joining a CSA took my support to a whole new level. CSA means food subscription group, even if it officially stands for Community Supported Agriculture. When you join a CSA program, you support a farm with a micro-loan, which helps pay for seeds, feeds, salaries, and more. In return, you get utterly fresh food direct from the farmer. You may share the risk and reward of farming, too, getting a smaller bunch of collards after a cold snap or bonus tomatoes during a peak harvest. Usually you pick up the week’s bounty at a certain time and place, but some CSAs deliver.
We’re lucky in the Carolinas to have a wide variety of CSAs. I joined Edible Earthscape’s CSA to research my book Fifty Weeks of Green. Jason and Haruka Oastis were running about the only winter CSA that was still taking members. I enjoyed it so much I joined again the next year with a friend.
Why I love belonging to a CSA:
- Plentiful, top-quality produce. Every week feels like Christmas as Jason opens the week’s box and describes each bundle before handing it to me to put in a cloth bag. Farmers tend to fill their CSA boxes first and then offer the rest for sale at the market. No worries about getting to the market too late for carrots or sugar snaps.
- Unusual and beautiful vegetables. Jason and Haruka started farming in Japan, so they grow taro roots, burdock, and a host of Asian greens. Sometimes their salad mix includes flowers.
- The weekly email. Learn what’s in each week’s share and mull over any choices. (Which salad green: arugula, mizuna, or wasabina?). Get recipes and farm news.
- Fewer decisions. My grocery list shrunk and menu planning was easier because I just cooked what I received. It nearly eliminated the label reading that can go with eating 10%-plus local diet.
- The parties! I love going to potlucks at the Edible Earthscapes and coming early to help plant. Some members host other potlucks. Most dishes include food from that week’s share. We go from being supporters to being friends.
Questions to ask before joining:
- Does this CSA offer food I will eat? Find out what will be in a typical box and, if possible, what variety is ahead for the season. Look for a selection that looks tasty and that you will actually cook. You can find CSAs for vegetables, fruit, flour, eggs, dairy, meat, fish, or a mix. Local should be a given, but look for other key words such as organic, pesticide-free, non-GMO, or pastured.
- When will it run? Most CSA sessions range from 8 to 30 weeks. Some farms run multiple sessions, so you could sign up for the spring, spend summer at the beach, and sign up again in the fall if you enjoyed being a member.
- How much food will you get? Some CSAs offer full shares or half shares. Wild Onion Farms offers a free-choice or market-style CSA, where you prepay an amount and use your credit within a year.
- What does it cost? Home cooking with local ingredients is wildly affordable compared to eating out, but the upfront cost of a CSA can take a bite out of your budget. You might pay $200, $500, or even $1000 depending on the type of food and length of the session.
- Where will you pick it up? Common choices include at farmers’ markets, restaurants that the farms supply, and even grocery stores or co-ops with a local focus. For busy people, paying a little extra for home delivery may be a good investment.
- How is the delivery handled? With some CSAs, you swap an empty box for a full one every week. With others, you bring your own box or bags. CSAs that offer highly perishable food may provide coolers and chill packs.
- Are any bonuses included? Will there be community events such as potlucks, farm tours, or farm work days? Harland’s Creek Farm offers a CSA cookbook and menu plans. Some CSAs offer cooking classes.
- What happens if you go on vacation or move? Some CSAs build in a few skipped weeks. In general, expect to have someone else pick up your box or to have it donated to a food bank. One year, I split a share a friend, which gave us flexibility.
When you join a CSA, you get fresh, local food while creating a stronger community and more resilient foodshed. I hope you will try supporting agriculture in your community in this direct and convenient way.
Get more great tips from Linda to help you eat well and wildly affordably at cookforgood.com. Her monthly newsletters are awesome or buy her fabulous book, Wildly Affordable Organic!
The Picky Eater's Healthy Grocery List
Anjali Shah | 05/05/2016
One of the most common questions I get asked is what to buy at the grocery store. I’ve found that having a list is SUPE...
One of the most common questions I get asked is what to buy at the grocery store. I’ve found that having a list is SUPER important when grocery shopping, because it helps me to stay focused and not be tempted by all of the unhealthy treats in the store!
I’ve also found that one of the biggest challenges to healthy cooking is not having the right ingredients on hand. Because by the time you’re ready to cook, you’re already hungry, you realize that your fridge is empty, and the last thing you want to do at that time is grocery shop.
But with a little bit of planning, and my handy, healthy grocery store list – you can just get what’s on the list and that’s it! Then you’ll have all of the ingredients you need to make any of my tasty, good-for-you recipes, and you won’t waste time wandering the grocery store aisles either. Stocking up on balanced, healthy foods is key to not being tempted to get takeout when those dinner-time-hunger-pangs come calling. And, since I use a lot of the same ingredients for most of my recipes, these items won’t ever go to waste.
5 Tips for Eating Mindfully
Being more mindful and intuitive can help us eat smarter.
I think about food a lot. Partly because it’s my job, partly because I have two growing boys and feel responsible for providing them with mostly wholesome meals (with an occasional treat). To succeed with the latter, I make a meal plan for the upcoming week considering our activities, what’s in my freezer, what’s languishing in the crisper or what we’re craving. I shop, prep, cook and clean. But I’ve realized I often spend meals standing up, multitasking while helping my kids with their own plates or starting the kitchen clean up. Recently I’ve started making an effort to devote time to thinking about what I’m eating as I am eating and engaging in my meal more than just consuming. Being more mindful and intuitive. Here are five tips to try.
- Eat When You’re Hungry
This sounds like common sense! (And it is, but that still doesn’t mean it’s easy to do.) Consider how hungry you really are before you reach for that snack or food on your plate instead of being guided by the clock. I try to drink water, sparkling water or fruit– or vegetable-infused water at my desk throughout the day not only to stay hydrated but to also keep those hunger pangs (disguised as thirst) at bay. I also keep snacks — a granola ball, dried fruit bar or piece of fruit — in my bag for when I do need to nosh if lunch feels far away.
- Take it Slow
Sometimes meals feel like a break between meetings or something to cram in before you run out the door in the morning instead of a chance to refuel your belly and recharge the brain. If you give yourself time to enjoy the meal, you will probably feel more satiated, registering that you enjoyed some yummy food (and if you’re lucky, some great company, too). While it may be tough to squeeze an extra ten minutes in your morning schedule, plan for breakfast so you don’t spend time cooking in the morning. Make these banana muffins on the weekend for weekday mornings, or stir together oats with milk and fruit the night before for a heat-and-eat breakfast the next day. For dinner, let the slow cooker do the work for you, so that you have time to sit and enjoy the meal instead of scrambling around cooking and cleaning after a long day. Check out our awesome collection of slow cooker recipes for ideas.
- Savor that Treat
While we often have a big bowl of seasonal fruit and a steady supply of bananas that are great ways to end a meal, I’m a big believer in enjoying “treat” foods every once in a while. My go-to is chocolate-covered raisins or an easy chocolate chip bar cookie. I’ve learned that indulging in a small portion of cake, ice cream or even some salty chips can achieve something important for the food-obsessed: satisfy a craving. If you avoid a little ice cream (which is easy to dole out in small portions and then put the rest of the container away), you may overeat some other food, trying to compensate for that one taste you really want or need. And when you savor that taste, often that little portion is enough: a handful of chocolate-covered raisins is so sweet, I can enjoy it and not want any more sweets.
- Enjoy the Silence (of Your Device)
If you catch up on e-mails, read the newspaper (guilty!) or check out a blog while you’re eating lunch, you probably won’t remember lunch. And a review of studies on awareness while eating has shown that distracted eating (from TV or computers) likely causes us to eat a little more at that distracted meal and can result in increased calorie intakes at later meals or snacks. Instead of reading or watching TV during a solo meal, use the time to enjoy what you’re eating. Focus on flavors and textures of the dish or enjoy the view out the window. If it’s a family meal, engage in a conversation discussing the day, talking about certain dishes that are loved (or not!) at the table.
- GIY (Grow it Yourself)
Our little garden in the back yard has been the stealth mindfulness tool for me. I didn’t realize it, but growing even a miniscule part of our family’s food supply has made me consider our food more thoughtfully — from the care involved in growing an edible green to the prep of a just-picked pepper or the consistent watering of the tomatoes during summer. If a raised bed scares you (or you have no idea what that is), start small with container gardening for herbs. If you want to do more, check out this post on planning a garden. My kids like to help in all the tasks — especially the watering and harvesting. And then when we enjoy the garden pesto, we can all discuss the flavors and what else we want to do with the condiment. It connects me and my kids a little more at meal times, where I hope we’re making memories and not just barreling through our evening meal towards bath time.
- Eat When You’re Hungry
Juice Up Your Water!
Deanna Anderson | 03/22/2016
A few simple tricks can turn a plain glass of water into a tasty, refreshing beverage.
We all know that drinking water is important for, well, just about everything! Not only does it help with weight loss because it replaces the high calories in fruit drinks and sodas, but our bodies also need to be hydrated to stay healthy. Water is good for our complexion, maximizes muscle performance, helps balance our bodily fluids, aids in kidney health and function, and helps to maintain proper bowel functions.
Despite all these benefits, drinking more water and fewer sugary drinks is often easier said than done. A common complaint is “water has no flavor” or “I get tired of drinking just water!”
Luckily a few simple tricks can turn a plain glass of water into a refreshing, healthy beverage that not only tastes great but has added benefits for our bodies.
- Mint Leaves: Adding a few crushed mint leaves adds a light, refreshing zing (crushing them releases the oils for optimum flavor). Mint is also an excellent herb for easing an upset stomach.
- Citrus Fruits: Squeezing lemon, lime, grapefruit, or orange juices into water adds Vitamin C. Citrus fruits can also reduce the risks of strokes and cancer and improve eyesight. Slices of fruit can also be added to the water for added favor (don’t forget to eat the fruit when you’re done!).
- Herbal Tea: There are many wonderful herbal teas on the market. Teabags can be placed into a bottle of cold or Luke-warm water, and they will steep the same as in hot water. Herbal teas have a variety of benefits; look for one that suits your needs. .
- Lavender: Fresh lavender buds dropped in a water bottle not only adds a unique flavor but also has a soothing and calming effect that is perfect at the end of a long day.
- Other Fruits: Just about any fruit can be added to water such as raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, kiwi, and even a few vegetables like cucumbers. Berries carry anti-oxidants which help fight disease, and cucumbers have both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Adding natural flavors to water is a great way to increase your water intake. (Plus, an added benefit is that you will have plenty of leftover fruits or herbs on hand to add to wraps, salads, or other dishes!) Looking for more ideas? A search on the internet will yield even more flavor combinations, or you can have fun creating your own unique ways to juice up your water. Drink up!
Hannah Walters | 02/19/2016
Remember Chia Pets? Turns out chia seeds are good for much more than growing goofy chia pet hair!
Remember Chia Pets? (I was a big fan back in third grade.) Turns out chia seeds are good for much more than growing goofy chia pet hair!
Chia seeds, once a staple of Mayan and Aztec diets (cool, huh?), have re-emerged over the past decade as a popular health food. And for good reason. Just one tablespoon packs 3 grams of protein, 6 grams of fiber, and a healthy dose of omega-3 fatty acids—in only about 60 calories.
Chia seeds have a mild nutty flavor, but are fairly tasteless, which makes them a great addition to many popular meals or snacks. I often add them to smoothies, oatmeal, salads, granola, and baked goods (like muffins or quick breads). One of my favorite ways to use chia seeds is making chia seed pudding (chia seeds can absorb up to 10 times their weight in liquid, which makes them a great thickener). Chia seed pudding is quick, easy, and makes a unique breakfast, snack, or even healthy dessert option. If you Google chia seed pudding, you’ll be hit with thousands of interesting, yummy recipes, but the basic concept is to mix a quarter cup of chia seeds with one cup of liquid (usually milk or a milk alternative). Then you can add whatever flavors or extras you like. Let it thicken in the refrigerator for a few hours (overnight is best)…and voila! You have a delicious, simple pudding.
Below is one of my current favorite chia seed pudding recipes. How do you use chia seeds? Let us know on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest.
Creamy Coconut Orange Chia Seed Pudding
(Adapted from Simple Roots Wellness)
1 cup coconut milk
Juice of 2 oranges (~1/2 cup)
Zest of 1 orange
2 tbsp maple syrup or honey
¼ cup chia seeds*
Combine coconut milk, orange juice, zest, and maple syrup. Sprinkle in chia seeds and mix until well distributed. Pour into bowl with a lid, and refrigerate 4-5 hours (overnight is best). Sometimes I stir once in between to keep the pudding from clumping and to ensure the chia seeds remain distributed. When ready to eat, top with nuts, granola, coconut flakes, dried or fresh fruit, or any other goodies you enjoy.
*Not sure where to buy chia seeds? Trader Joes, Whole Foods Market, Wal-Mart and many other well-stocked supermarkets sell chia seeds. You can also buy them in bulk at Sam’s Club and Costco or through online retailers.
The Best Yogurts For Your Health: Greek or Regular?
Jayne Hurley | 02/12/2016
With so many options, how can you know which yogurts are the best yogurts?
The yogurt aisle isn’t what it used to be. In the last few years, greek yogurt has taken over a sizeable chunk of the refrigerator case, leaving non-greeks to compete for the remaining real estate.
Meanwhile, both greek and non-greek yogurts are branching out. Fat-free? Cream on top? You got ‘em. Fruit purée or fruit mousse? Yep. Lactose-free or no dairy at all? Got you covered. With so many options, how can you know which yogurts are the best yogurts?
What is yogurt?
Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus are two of the strains of bacteria that companies add to milk to make yogurt. Many brands also add other bacteria.
You can tell if the bacteria are alive if the label says something like “live cultures” or “active cultures.” It may or may not carry the National Yogurt Association’s “Live & Active Cultures” seal, which requires a yearly fee. Live cultures decline over time, so the sooner you eat your yogurt, the more live cultures you’ll get.
So far, the only clear benefit of yogurt cultures is their ability to change milk’s naturally occurring sugar (lactose) into lactic acid. So people with lactose intolerance should have less diarrhea, gas, or other symptoms when they eat yogurt.
Does yogurt help restore beneficial bacteria to the gut after a course of antibiotics or help treat yeast infections? No good studies have looked.
Which are the best yogurts?
The best yogurts should be a good source of protein and calcium without loading you down with saturated fat, added sugars, or possibly unsafe sweeteners.
Should you look for added vitamin D?
If you need D from yogurt to help you reach your daily target – 600 IU for adults up to age 70 and 800 IU for people over 70 – check the label. Vitamin D is listed as a percent of the Daily Value (400 IU). So a yogurt with 20% of the DV, for example, has 80 IU.
What is Greek yogurt?
Greek yogurts are made by straining ordinary yogurt. The straining removes some of the liquid whey and leaves more concentrated solids behind. That makes Greek yogurt thick and rich – even if they’re fat-free – and higher in protein (about 17 grams for a 6 oz. fat-free plain) than non-Greek yogurts (about 8 grams).
The only downside: by straining out calcium-rich whey, the Greek yogurts end up with less calcium (about 15 to 20 percent of a day’s worth) than the non-Greek yogurts (25 to 30 percent).
One note about sugars in yogurt: Companies don’t have to disclose on their Nutrition Facts labels how many grams of sugar they’ve added and how many are naturally occurring in their milk or fruit ingredients. So we recommend reading the labels carefully.
Our recommendations () are plain unsweetened yogurts. We’ve listed the criteria—maximums for calories and saturated fat and minimums for protein and calcium—at the beginning of each section. We disqualified products with artificial sweeteners. Within each section, yogurts are ranked from least to most calories, then least to most saturated fat, most to least protein, and most to least calcium.
And one last caveat regarding the best yogurts: Some items with yogurt included as an ingredient may not contain all that much in the way of actual yogurt. For instance, Post Honey Bunches of Oats Greek Honey Crunch has very little Greek yogurt in it.