The gift that keeps on giving

Looking for the quintessential gift this holiday season? Well, you’re in luck as I have the perfect idea!

How about a well-stocked pantry? Hands down, a pantry full of all the good stuff is one of the best ways to maintain a healthy diet and prepare delicious meals for you and your family all year long. While it may take a little legwork, my guess is many of you already have the bones to begin with and all you need is a little organization to build a fantastic pantry!

For those of you starting from scratch, take your time investing in quality ingredients such as spices (which add layers of fantastic flavor without the added fat) and pick up a few things here and there like nuts or condiments as they go on sale throughout the year.

Here is a list of what I like to keep in my pantry:

Pasta, Rice, Grains & Legumes
pasta (whole-wheat, stock many varieties like penne, rotini, spaghetti, etc.)
brown rice
wheat berries
whole wheat couscous
steel cut oatmeal
dried lentils

Canned Goods
whole & crushed tomatoes (I stock San Marzano – aim for no or low sodium)
tomato paste
chicken & veggie stock (choose no or very low sodium)
light coconut milk
cannellini beans, chickpeas, black beans, red kidney beans (no salt added)
tuna (oil & water packed)

The Spice Rack
allspice, bay leaves, cayenne pepper, chili powder, chinese five-spice, cinnamon (ground & sticks), coriander, crushed red pepper, cumin, curry powder, dry mustard, garam masala, garlic powder, ground ginger, herbs de provence, kosher salt, nutmeg, onion powder, oregano, smoked paprika, peppercorns, pumpkin pie spice, thyme, turmeric

Oils, Vinegars & Condiments
extra virgin olive oil
canola oil
vinegar (balsamic, red & white wine, apple cider & rice wine)
low-fat mayo
dijon mustard
worsteshire sauce
kalamata olives
Asian ingredients: reduced sodium soy sauce, wasabi paste, pickled ginger, fish sauce, oyster sauce, chili-garlic paste, curry paste

granulated sugar
brown sugar
powdered sugar
vanilla extract
pure maple syrup
unsweetened cocoa powder
chocolate chips (semi-sweet & white)
rolled oats
AP flour
whole-wheat flour
pastry flour
baking soda
baking powder
plain dried breadcrumbs

Nuts, Seeds & Dried Fruits
pine nuts
sesame seeds
peanut butter
almond butter
dried fruit (apricots, cranberries, prunes, golden raisins, figs)

low-fat milk
low-fat plain greek yogurt
unsalted butter
Parmesan cheese
feta cheese
orange juice
dry white wine
Trader Joe’s steamed lentils
nutritional yeast

frozen veggies: edamame, spinach, artichoke, broccoli
frozen berries
low-fat frozen yogurt
protein: chicken breast, whole chicken, ground turkey breast
Trader Joe’s pre-cooked brown rice

Staples (other)
celery, carrots, parsley, onions, shallots, lemons, limes, garlic

What are some of your pantry mainstays?


Healthy Holiday Tips!

I’ll admit it, I love all the rich dishes and cut out cookies the holidays bring. In fact, I love them so much that I have to remind myself not to sabotage all the hard work I do throughout the year. While the temptations might seem endless (I’m talking about you peppermint bark & pumpkin pie), I’m positive a balance can be struck. This year, I have a game plan in place so I can indulge without the added bulge!

Workout. I know, I know … However, I refuse to go to hell in a hand basket this year and spend my winter break fitting back into my skinnies. Yoga is my mainstay and I enjoy my weekly run club, but, it’s easy to “oversleep” on the holiday or punt due to day after coma. While I’m not advocating a massive workout session, use this opportunity to take a walk with a loved one and enjoy the fall foliage or join a local turkey trot like this one. Not only will you feel better for it, that pumpkin pie will taste all the more sweet!

Eat a healthy snack. I already know I am going to be tempted to pile on an extra spoonful of my mother-in-law Mia’s fantastic mashed potatoes that are reserved specifically for Thanksgiving. Chances are good I’ll make a few fruit kebabs like these (minus the mini brownie, though I LOVE that idea) to throw in the car for my husband and I to snack on before dinner. If you don’t want to snack before dinner, a few tall glasses of cool H2O should do the trick!

Bring a healthy dish. If you’re worried that Thanksgiving dinner may be a bit too rich for you with all that butter and cream, bring a healthy dish with a bit of decadence like this acorn squash. I like that the author includes a savory option as well as a sugar & spice version. Your host will appreciate the contribution to the dinner table and you can feel good knowing you contributed a healthy touch to the day.

Remember if you overindulge one or even two days, it’s okay. Don’t beat  yourself up and don’t use your overindulgence as an excuse to fall of the wagon for the rest of the holiday season. Just get back to your healthy eating habits the following day and move forward. Feel like you need a jump start? Try replacing one or two meals with a healthy green smoothie. They’re incredibly filling and super nutritious!

Let the festivities commence!

The Importance of Breath

A yoga instructor once announced in class “Use your breath, it will tell you everything you need to know about what you need to know right now.” To this day, that inspiring instructor still remains one of my favorites for her light-hearted approach to yoga and meaningful sentiments she often brings to the mat.

Breath is vital. However, it’s so simple and clearly obvious that we often take our breath for granted. We can go for days without water and even weeks without food, but, without oxygen, we would cease to exist. Physiologically we breathe to supply the organs in our body the oxygen they need in order to function properly as well as a means to rid our bodies of wastes and toxins.

In yoga, ancient breathing techniques called Pranayama are used to maximize our universal life force. We use breath in yoga to cleanse our bodies of toxins as well as to clear and focus our minds, increasing awareness. When we use the breath to our advantage, a confused situation can often become quite clear.

I encourage you to use your breath; as whatever it is you’re searching for, will without a doubt, be right there waiting for you.

image credit

Nutritional Yeast

Though I am pretty adventurous when it comes to food, it took a bit for me to hop on board with the sadly named nutritional yeast.

A favorite amongst the vegan crowd, nutritional yeast can be added from everything to veggie stir fry and mashed potatoes to popcorn. Nutritional yeast is slightly tangy and adds a nutty/cheesy flavor to cooked dishes. While the cheese flavor is an added bonus, nutritional yeast is also a reliable source of vitamin B12. I like to add a heaping tablespoon to my favorite veggie, kale, and mix in a small amount of steamed brown rice. This meal to me is my updated version of the comforting cheesy rice and broccoli dish my grandmother made growing up.

Vitamin B12 naturally occurs in animal and dairy products, so practicing vegans and many vegetarians must supplement this vitamin through other means such as nutritional yeast or fortified cereals. Nutritional yeast can be found in the bulk food bins of your grocer or in the supplement section and comes in either flakes or powder. I like Bob’s. Make sure to purchase nutritional yeast, not brewer’s yeast, which does not contain vitamin B12.


Trick or Treat Tips!

Oh my … is it high season for candy or what?!

This year, I’ve proudly avoided the candy isle, but, with a neighborhood full of kiddos gearing up for trick or treating this weekend, I’ll need to make a shopping trip soon before Halloween is all but replaced by Christmas.

Each year (in addition to candy) I purchase a variety of spooky non-candy alternatives such as pencils, stickers, temporary tattoos and pretzels; which surprisingly, many children in my neighborhood respond to quite well, with some coming back to ask for more at the end of the night!

Here are some tips to get you through the highs and lows of the most sugary (and scary) night of the year:

Set the ground rules. Remind your child that no candy should be consumed until after you have had a chance to check it over at home. Take this opportunity to feed your child a snack, like a piece of fruit or healthy meal before heading out for the fun. If your child has a full tank, they will be much less tempted to dig into their candy hull early!

Be a role model for you children. I know all too well how tempting it can be to over indulge in these sweet treats. If your child observes you eating Halloween candy in moderation, they will surely follow your lead.

Out of sight out of mind. Rather than leaving out a community candy bowl or allowing your child to keep the candy in their room, take this opportunity to let your child pick a few pieces of their favorite candy for a sweet treat later in the week. Remember, candy is an occasional treat.

Send away the leftovers. This is a tough one, but worth it. Halloween is the beginning of the holiday blitz. Don’t let these treats weigh you down! Send em’ away!

Boo! Don’t get caught with your paw in the candy bowl!

Have a safe & happy Halloween!

Canary Melon

Today, we received a beautiful, bright yellow melon in our weekly CSA box from Riverdog Farm. Intrigued by this unusual piece of produce, I consulted the newsletter. “It’s a canary melon,” I announced to my husband who in return pointed to the sad face he had drawn on the melon. You see, we aren’t really a melon household. My husband Erik, since his early childhood has had an aversion to melon. Though I will give credit where credit is due. Recently while traveling, we were treated to a delicious plate of refreshing watermelon after our meal, and while he tried it, the look on his face said it all. We’ve decided melon is just not his thing.

So what does one do with said melon? I waited until he went back to work and wasted no time diving right into this (new to me) treat. Also, knowing this snack is packed full of goodness, I could indulge practically guilt free! Melons are low in calories (about 80 calories per quarter cup serving) and happen to be an excellent source of dietary fiber as well as vitamins A & C.

The canary melon (aka Spanish melon), named for its vibrant color, not the island, is an oval shaped melon that turns bright yellow when it is at its peak ripeness. The flesh is a rich creamy white framed by pale green edges, firm in texture, and deliciously sweet. A sure way to to knock out any of those midday sugar cravings! While some melons can be quite musky, I didn’t find this melon to be so in the slightest.

Act fast! If you’re at the market and happen to see one of these beauties, pick one up now as the season in Northern California is almost over. The melon, though delicious as is, would be wonderful topped with some low fat tangy Greek yogurt and a sprinkle of granola for breakfast.

Tip! Before cutting into a melon (or any produce for that matter), wash the rind well under hot water to prevent bacteria from contaminating the flesh as you slice through the rind.

If you are interested in knowing more about our CSA, Riverdog Farm, delivers high quality produce to multiple sites throughout the Bay Area. You can find out more about Riverdog Farm by clicking here.

Healthy Goal Setting

We all know making healthy food choices has a tremendous affect on our overall health. Eating healthy helps us manage our weight as well as reduces our risk for disease. Due to the increase in food related illness, educating the public with comprehensive nutritional information is now more vital than ever before. However, it’s not just what we eat that matters.

Food and fitness work synergistically. So often we separate food and fitness into their own categories. To maintain our health, we eat everyday, so why aren’t we exercising on most or all days of the week. Think about how good we would all feel if we were taking care of our bodies through proper nutrition and exercise. When we eat a balanced diet full of a wide variety of fruits and vegetables and engage in regular physical activity, we boost our mood and build self-confidence.

Therefore, I challenge you to set two healthy goals to finish out these last few months of the year healthy, strong, and confident!

Need some new ideas?

Increase your fruit and vegetable intake. You should aim for 3-4 cups every day.

Water? Hydration is so incredibly important. You should aim for 6-8 glasses each day (more if you exercise). Try adding a slice of lemon or your favorite fruit like raspberries or grapes to add a little flavor.

Eat Breakfast!

Get moving! You should aim for 60 minutes of physical activity everyday. Remember, it doesn’t all have to be at once. Take the stairs at the train station or park your car out a little further at the grocery store. Take a walk with your family after dinner.

Remember, small changes add up over time!!

What do you do to encourage others around you to make healthy choices?

Goddess Pose

I was very fortunate this past summer to have an incredibly free schedule which meant lots of yoga and freedom to move my body. Now that school is back in session, sitting for many hours a day has begun to take a toll on my body. Even though my school schedule affords me a good deal of flexibility, I still need a little extra stretch here and there to keep my muscles and joints feeling great!

Tip! Sitting for any length of time, creates undo stress on the body. Do your body a favor and set a reminder on your cell phone or work computer to get up and take a stretch every now and then. You’ll not only feel better, but, your body will thank you!

Lately, I’ve been exploring hip opening poses in my yoga practice. As individuals, we tend to hold our stresses within our hips, causing them to feel tight and uncomfortable. The goddess pose (or Utkata Konasana) gently helps to open our hips and chest, releasing muscle tension, and, as an added bonus, strengthens and tones the lower body. While hip openers can feel extremely challenging while holding them, they also provide us with a great sense of satisfaction upon completion.

Here’s how to do the goddess pose, which in English translates to fierce angle pose.

Stand with your feet roughly 3 feet apart and turned out toward the corners of your mat. Bend your elbows to shoulder height, palms facing forward. Gently exhale, look straight ahead and begin to squat, bending the knees over the toes. Begin to press your hips forward and the knees back. Drop your shoulders, sliding the shoulder blades down your back and together, keeping your arms active and engaged. Hold this pose for 3 to 5 good honest breaths. To move out of goddess, upon inhalation, straighten the legs, reach fingertips to the ceiling, and exhale arms to the side. Fierce, right!

What are some of your favorite hip opening exercises?

Photo Credit