Flavor-Boosting Tricks Add Spark to Healthy Cooking By Kathleen M. Zelman, MPH, RD, LD

While doing some research for my blog this week, I came across this article that perfectly embodied everything I was going to write about! I don't think I could have written it anymore perfectly myself, so this week, I decided to take a little break from writing and share this informative article with you all.  It perfectly explains how layering flavors and using the right cooking techniques can not only make your food more flavorful, but also much healthier since it "slashes sodium, trims calories, and increases nutrient absorption."

If you want to learn how to cook healthy and flavorful meal preps, just click this link to read the article:


5 Flavor-Packed Meat Marinades

This month is all about boosting flavor for your meal preps! One of the best ways to ensure a lot of flavor is to marinate your meats! But store-bought marinades can be full of preservatives, dyes, and other questionable ingredients. That's why I think it's best to make your own marinades at home. I prefer to marinate my meats overnight to really lock in the flavor, but usually 2-3 hours will be sufficient. There is a really simple formula to follow when creating marinades, and you can get really creative with the flavor combination while sticking to the guidelines. Here is the secret formula I use when making most of my marinades:

¼ cup of fat  + 2 Tbsp acid  + 1-2 tsp flavor  + 1-2 tsp herbs (or 2nd flavor) + salt & pepper

Here are my top 5 marinates, using the formula above, to try out for your next meal prep session: 

Give these great recipes a try or experiment with different flavors to create your own marinade recipes! The flavor combinations are endless! If you enjoyed this blog, stay tuned for more flavor tips next week, and click the link below to subscribe. 

5 Tips For A More Flavorful Meal Prep

One of the biggest complaints I hear about meal prepping is that people don’t like the taste of reheated food. On top of that it’s boring to eat the same things over and over again, day after day. If this sounds familiar, then you’re doing it all wrong! There are some simple strategies that anyone can learn to make your meal prep taste great! There’s no reason to eat bland and tasteless food, even when it’s been in the fridge for several days. Here’s five of my top secrets for a flavorful meal prep that you’ll look forward to eating all week.

  1. Start with what’s in season - Fruits and veggies that are in-season and locally grown are bursting with flavor! If you normally buy all your produce from supermarkets, you really don’t know what you’re missing! Try buying your produce from the Visalia Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings, and you’ll definitely taste the difference. Produce from supermarkets are usually harvested early and chemically ripened, then shipped thousands of miles, sitting in boxes for days or even weeks before they make it to the grocery stores. This can make for some pretty bland veggies and tart fruits.

  2. Go heavy on the seasonings - When meals sit in the fridge for several days, they tend to lose their flavor quickly. There’s no getting around the fact that reheated leftovers just never taste the same as food that is freshly cooked. So I always recommend going a little heavier on the spices and seasonings for meal prepping than you normally would for a freshly cooked meal. Or, you can even wait to season your food until just before you eat it. I often add a little olive or avocado oil and himalayan salt or garlic to my meals just before consuming.

  3. Add fresh toppings to your meals -  This is my favorite tip, and it’s amazing the difference that a topping can make! After reheating your meal, try kicking up the flavor with some freshly squeezed lime juice, chopped herbs, guacamole, salsa, fresh grated cheese, or hot sauce. It can not only boost the flavor but add more texture and nutrition to your meals.

  4. Spice up your staples - Instead of cooking your rice and/or quinoa in water, try cooking it in a low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth. Or you can make tangy cilantro-lime rice, by adding fresh squeezed lime juice and chopped cilantro to your cooked brown rice. Instead of seasoning your meats right before you cook them, try marinating them overnight to really lock in the flavor. And don’t forget about your veggies! Try adding some lemon pepper seasoning to your steamed broccoli, or garlic salt on your green beans!

  5. Eat the rainbow - The more colors you have in your meal, the more flavor you will have, guaranteed! Adding a wide array of colors also ensures you are getting plenty of nutrients, along with lots of flavor and texture. Try making a simple black bean and corn salsa with chopped red and green bell peppers, purple onions, and cilantro to add on top of your meals or enjoy as a snack with tortilla chips!

If your meal prep is bland and boring, try out these easy tips to spice it up! Just by choosing the right produce, knowing how and when to season, and adding flavorful and fresh toppings, anyone can brighten up an otherwise dull meal. If you want to learn more about adding great flavor to your food, stay tuned for next week’s blog, and subscribe by clicking the link below.

5 Tips on How to Chill Your Summertime Meal Prepping

      The scorching temperatures that came along with this year’s Summer Solstice are here to stay for a while. As we’ve all discovered by now, there is just no more avoiding the heat at this point, so we all need to learn how to adapt to a cooler way a living. As the seasons change, so should our nutrition and eating habits. No one wants to stand over the stove or in front of a hot oven in these temperatures! So let’s ditch them altogether for now, and let me show you some easy and delicious ways to adapt your diet to help beat the heat.

  1. Switch to cold meals - This one may sound obvious but it’s the most logical thing to do in the summer. Our bodies crave cold refreshing meals when it’s blazing hot outside, and for good reason! You can easily switch your breakfast routine to a protein shake or overnight oats, a mason jar salad for lunch, and crisp turkey lettuce wraps for dinner. No cooking is required to make flavorful and nutritious meals. Here’s one of my favorite recipes for overnight oats:

2. Eat what’s in season - Summertime brings an abundance of seasonal fruits and veggies packed with nutrients and flavor that we should all take advantage of while it lasts! Stone fruits like apricots, peaches and cherries, juicy melons, sweet berries,  and crisp crunchy corn are always summertime treats that I look forward to. By eating what’s in season we’re ensuring that we’re feeding our bodies the most nutrient-dense foods available, not to mention saving some serious dollars. Often times these foods are in such abundance, farmers and grocery stores are practically giving them away! Here is a sweet seasonal fruit salad that makes a perfect side dish for Fourth of July:

3. Eat more raw fruits and veggies - In this heat it's imperative that we stay hydrated. Did you know that drinking liquids isn’t the only way to stay hydrated? Fresh raw fruits and vegetables contain an abundance of water. In fact, on average about 20% of our water intake comes from food! Try these ideas for portable and convenient summertime snacks:

4. Get the whole family involved - Summertime means school is out and the kids are home! Many people use this as an excuse why they don’t have time to meal prep, but you can use it to your advantage! Make meal prepping a family activity! Since many summer recipes require little to no cooking, there’s no danger of little fingers getting burned. You can even purchase child-safe knives that will cut produce, but not skin, for incredibly cheap (about $9 for a 3-pack on Amazon). Another easy method to getting the whole family involved is by creating an assembly line when putting together meals, and allowing each person to be in charge of adding one or two items to each meal. Letting the kids do some of the work saves time, teaches them valuable cooking skills and teamwork at a young age, creates family bonding time, and encourages them try foods they normally never would. When kids are involved in the process of making meals and snacks, it gives them a sense of pride and ownership, and they’re much more likely to eat the food, even if they don’t like it, just because they had a part in making it! Check out these fun kid-friendly meal and snack ideas:

5. Try steamable meals, or as I like to call them FreshPrep Meals - This method of meal prepping requires little to no cooking which makes it perfect for the summer time. FreshPrep meals are all raw ingredients that steam cook in your microwave (or oven) in just a few minutes. The only ingredients that require cooking are your carbs. You can throw in pre-cooked rice, quinoa, or partially cooked potatoes or sweet potatoes (or you can skip the carbs if you choose) Then add your favorite raw veggies, and your choice of seasoned raw meat. Fish and shrimp work well in the steam bags, but other cuts of meat like chicken or beef work better if cut into small or thin pieces. Then just seal up the bag and throw it in the fridge until you’re ready to eat it! Here is one of my favorite FreshPrep recipes:

     As you can see, meal prepping can easily be changed and adapted to suit the changing seasons. Many people find a routine they are comfortable with and stick to it day in and day out. And that’s great, don’t get me wrong! But it can get boring and tedious. But by taking advantage of what foods the season has to offer us, respecting the ever changing needs of our bodies in different temperatures, and trying new methods and strategies, we can become more adaptable and flexible in our health and fitness journey. I hope I’ve inspired you to try out some new ideas to make your summer a little more chill.

     If you enjoyed this blog, I’ll be back next week with a NEW theme for the new month! Stay tuned, and click the link below to subscribe! 

5 Tips to Beat the Heat - With Nutrition!

This week marks the first official week of summer, and with it comes scorching temperatures in the Valley. All that sun exposure can mean some serious damage to your skin, hair, and bodily functions if you’re not careful! However, there are some simple preventative methods you can take to keep yourself looking and feeling healthy all summer long! Here are 5 common summertime ailments and how to prevent them.   

  1. Dry, parched hair - Too much sun exposure, saltwater, and chlorine from all that pool and beach time that comes with summer can seriously damage your hair. To keep your locks looking fresh make sure you’re eating a protein-rich diet, since hair follicles are made up of protein fibers called keratin. Also, eating foods rich in Vitamin B5 (sunflower seeds, salmon, and avocado), folic acid (leafy green veggies, citrus fruits, and beans), calcium (milk and yogurt), and zinc (meat and fish) can reduce hair loss, and even replace dull hair with shiny hair.

  2. Dry or damaged skin - All that sun, salt and chlorine can do even worse damage to your skin than your hair, whether it’s dry flaky skin, sunburns, or heat rashes. Again, the key component to healthy skin is a protein-rich diet. Make sure you’re eating enough lean meats, bean, legumes, nuts and seeds daily. Other foods to help keep your skin looking it’s best are antioxidant and vitamin C rich berries, like blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, and strawberries. Antioxidants protect your skin by fighting off, and limiting the production of free radicals which damage skin cells. And of course, make sure you’re drinking enough water to keep your skin hydrated. Which brings us to our next ailment...

  3. Dehydration - if you’ve ever suffered from heat stroke, you know it’s nothing to joke about. If you’re outdoors working up a sweat, it’s easy to do on accident if you forget to drink enough fluids. And no… sodas, beers and margaritas do not count! Stick to water, tea, natural juices, or even sports drinks if you’re really sweating a lot. Between 45-60 percent of the human body is made up of water, and even with slight dehydration you can experience fatigue, muscle cramps, nausea and headaches.  Severe dehydration can cause vomiting, vision problems, kidney and liver failure, and loss of consciousness. For men, an average of 16 cups of water a day from fluid and non-fluid sources (e.g. fruits and vegetables) is adequate; for women, an average of 11 cups.

  4. Muscle cramps - Too much beach volleyball and booze and the next thing you know you’re fighting back the tears, crouched down on the ground with a crippling calf cramp. Nasty muscle cramps are a common symptom of dehydration and overexertion. They often occur when we lose too much water and salt through our sweat, and causes an imbalance in electrolytes like sodium, calcium, and potassium. You can replenish these electrolytes with sports drinks that contain them or by eating potassium rich foods like bananas, raisins, potatoes and spinach.

  5. Food poisoning - Did you know that food poisoning is twice as common in the summertime than any other time of the year? This is because of several factors. Firstly because the bacteria that causes food poisoning thrives in warmer and more humid temperatures. Often times in the summer the cooking and food prep is done outdoors and away from refrigeration and hand washing sinks which can make the bacteria problem even worse. The CDC recommends preventing food poisoning by keeping foods refrigerated or in a cooler with ice. Foods left out in the heat for more than two hours are no longer safe to consume, and in temperatures over 90 degrees that time shortens to just one hour before it could be swarming with sickening bacteria that will have you hugging the toilet for hours or even days.

Summertime can be pretty rough on our fragile bodies, but with proper nutrition your road to recovery will be much shorter, or might even be avoided all together. By keeping your diet rich in protein, fruits and veggies, drinking adequate water, and keeping your foods at the proper temperatures, you’ll be able to enjoy your summer to it’s full capacity!

If you enjoyed this article, I’ll be back next week with 5 more tips!

5 Tips to Avoid Overindulging at Summer Festivities

    Summer vacation is upon us, and we all know what that means! Potlucks, pool parties, tailgates, weddings, cook-outs, festivals and carnivals, and the list goes on… Summer vacation can be almost as detrimental to our diets as the holiday season! Every weekend your slowly deteriorating will-power is tested to the max, and it can get pretty stressful for those who are serious about improving their health or have weight-loss goals. I’ll admit, I’ve flaked out on my family and friends more times than I care to admit, just because I didn’t want to deal with the stress of fighting my temptation to eat everything in sight, or giving into peer pressure to have one too many drinks. But it doesn’t have to be that way! I learned some very useful tips that I have made a part of my routine every time I go to a gathering or event where it’s bound to be junk food heaven, and I’m going to share them with you. Stick to these 5 tips, and you’ll be surprised how easy it is to say ‘no’ to overindulgence.

  1. Eat a healthy snack/meal before you go - Possibly the easiest and most important rule is to NOT show up on an empty stomach! This is just asking for disaster. Choose a snack high in protein, healthy fats, and fiber as these digest slower and will keep your stomach full longer.

  2. Bring a healthy dish that you’ll enjoy eating - This way, even if there are no other healthy options available, at least you have the dish that you brought to keep you satisfied. Set the example, and be the one who raises the standards.

  3. Offer to host/organize the party yourself - This way you have control over most of the food options that will be served. It might be a little extra work, but it can be a very effective way to control your environment and keep it on the healthier end.

  4. Make it a game - Make an agreement with yourself that for every unhealthy choice you make, you must counter it with a healthy choice. For example, if you want another serving of pizza, you have to eat another serving of salad first. Or if you want another beer, you have to drink a full glass of water first. This is a great way to limit your poor choices and at the same time, make sure you’re feeding your body with nutritious foods. Chances are if you have to guzzle down a full glass of water to get that next beer, you probably won’t drink as much of it, or maybe even skip it all together.

  5. Don’t be too hard on yourself! - Realize it’s normal and OK to have fun and let loose once in awhile. By telling yourself that certain foods are ‘bad’ or ‘off-limits’ it puts unnecessary stress around your relationship with food, and will only make you want it more. Plus if you give in and eat those ‘bad’ foods, you’ll end up beating yourself up over it, and making yourself feel even worse. If you end up overindulging, don’t punish yourself! Just realize your mistake, accept it, and try to find a way not to repeat it again in the future.

The key is moderation. Limiting the amount of poor choices, while maximizing the amount of good choices. No one can be perfect, and who wants to be anyway? I don’t know about you, but life would be pretty dull without fatty, greasy, salty, sweet deliciousness once in awhile. So go ahead and enjoy your favorite foods, and don’t stress out about it too much. One bad day isn’t going to ruin your weight-loss goals. Just stick to these 5 tips to help you stay in ‘safe-zone’ at your next party or gathering. 

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5 Tips for Safe and Healthy Grilling

     With summer quickly approaching and temperatures rising, the thought of standing over a hot stove or heating up your house with the oven is becoming less and less appealing. During this time of the year, many people prefer to move most of their cooking outside to the barbecue to save on their rising energy bill and to enjoy the nice weather. But what you may not be aware of are the health risks associated with this type of cooking. Usually grilling means cooking over extremely high temperatures and open flames which can produce harmful carcinogenic chemicals like Heterocyclic Amines (HCA’s) and Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAH’s) that can be detrimental to our health if consumed frequently in large amounts. The longer and hotter foods are cooked the more HCA’s and PAH’s are produced. But there are safety precautions you can take to make grilling perfectly safe and healthy! Here’s 5 tips to always stick to when you’re using the grill:

  1. Choose your meat wisely - avoid highly processed meats, such as sausages and hot dogs, since these have a much stronger link to cancer than minimally processed cuts of meat such as steaks, chicken thighs, and fish filets. Also, choose leaner cuts with minimal fat, as fattier cuts drip more lipids into the grill causing greater PAH formation.

  2. Avoid sugary sauces and marinades - use herbs and spices instead to add flavor. Sweet sauces such as barbecue or teriyaki sauce can increase HCA production by 1.9 - 2.9 percent. If you must use these types of sauces, add them on at the very end so they are less likely to burn and char.

  3. Use acid-based marinades - using the right marinade can decrease HCA production by up to 99 percent! Include acidic juices in your marinade such as vinegar, apple cider vinegar, lemon juice, or lime juice.

  4. Use a lower temperature and don’t overcook your meat - by sticking to med-high temperatures between 375 - 450 degrees you’ll avoid charring the outside of the meat and allow for a more even doneness. Not to mention your meat will be juicier and more flavorful! Try cutting large pieces of meat into smaller pieces, flipping your meat often, and covering the grill with foil to reduce drips and flare ups.

  5. Include LOTS of fruits and vegetables - Fruits and veggies are packed with antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients which help protect our bodies against carcinogens. The more color the better. My favorite ways to grill veggies is to make shish-kabobs or foil packs with a variety of mixed veggies.

By sticking to these guidelines, your summer grilling can be safe, healthy and delicious! If you liked this blog, I’ll be back next week with more helpful tips about how to avoid overindulging at your summer festivities. 

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