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Our Spring 2016 FUEL Healthy Eating Program began this week.  Twenty members of our faculty, staff, and spouses are learning about an easy plate-based guide to eating.  Simply fill half of your plate with vegetables and/or fruits, one quarter with whole grains or potatoes, and one quarter with a lean protein source.  This simple eating style has been associated with improvements in nutrient intake, weight management, and health outcomes associated with chronic disease.

Sounds simple, right?

Most of our FUEL participants already know what they should eat.  The challenge is finding healthful foods that are quick, convenient, inexpensive, and tasty.

Much of our time in the FUEL class is spent exploring healthy meal ideas that can fulfill all of these things– even if you are inexperienced or not particularly fond of being in the kitchen.

Here are a few of my favorite gadgets that make healthy cooking a breeze:

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1) Nonstick Baking Mats

These mats are perfect for our favorite two ingredient Banana Oat Cookies.  They prevent food from sticking to your baking sheet and make clean up a breeze.  In a medium bowl, mash two ripe bananas with a potato masher or the back of a fork; stir in one cup of dry old fashioned or quick oats.  Place the baking mat on top of a baking sheet.  Drop little spoonfuls of the mixture onto the baking sheet about 1 inch apart.  Bake at 350 degrees F for about 15 minutes or until the bottoms are lightly golden.  For variety, stir your favorite toppings into the mixture before you bake.  Try mini chocolate chips, chopped dried dates, dried cherries, chopped nuts, or shredded coconut.  These cookies are great for dessert, snacks, or even breakfast.

 

 

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2) Ice Pop Makers

Craving a cool, sweet snack?  Ice pop makers are perfect for freezing leftover smoothies or blended fruit and yogurt.  One of our favorites is the Green Monster Smoothie that combines frozen pineapple, bananas, orange juice, and fresh spinach or kale.  Leftover smoothie can be poured into these molds to make Green Monster Popsicles.  Another favorite in our house is to blend plain yogurt with fresh or frozen fruit.  Add a little sweetener if desired but many fruits are sweet enough already.  Strawberry Banana Yogurt Popsicles (pictured above) can be made by blending fresh or frozen strawberries with ripe banana, plain non-fat or low-fat yogurt, and a little orange juice.  Experiment with other varieties such as frozen cherries, mango, blueberries, or peaches. Freeze the mixture in the molds and then let them thaw at room temperature for about 10-15 minutes before serving.

 

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3) Microwave Steamers

I am a huge fan of Birds Eye and Publix brand frozen vegetables and brown rice mixtures that can be microwaved right in the bag.  I frequently stock my freezer with those quick convenience items.  But how can you cook fresh vegetables and plain brown rice almost as easily?  Try one of the many varieties of microwave vegetable steamers and rice cookers that are available today.  Microwavable soup mugs are perfect for bringing leftover soup for lunch.  The Sistema microwavable soup mug pictured above has a steam vent lid to prevent splatters in the microwave and a handle for easy handling.  Needs some healthy soup ideas?  Check out or easy FUEL soup recipes or Soup and Salad board on Pinterest.

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4) Tofu Press

Okay, okay, before you wrinkle you nose at the thought of tofu, let’s look at this one a little closer.  Check out these interesting facts about tofu:

Did you know???

~ Tofu is made from soybeans and is a common staple in Asian countries.

~ Tofu is made the same way that cheese is made.  To make cheese, a coagulant is added to animal milk.  The curds (solids) are separated from the whey (liquids).  Then the solids are pressed into a block to make cheese.

To make tofu, a coagulant is added to soymilk.  Then the solids are pressed into a block to make tofu.  Tofu is essentially a plant-based version of cheese– but it is healthier for you.

~ Tofu is available in different forms such as silken (perfect for smoothies), firm, and extra firm (perfect for stir fries).  If you would like to lower your intake of genetically modified foods, simply look for “organic” tofu.  I like Trader Joe’s Organic Extra Firm tofu that is less than $2 per package.

~ Some of the myths about the dangers of tofu are simply not supported by research.  In the past, concerns were raised about the plant estrogens in soy foods.  Researchers now believe that the phytochemicals in soy foods either have no effect or slightly decrease the risk for breast and prostate cancer. Current research suggests that up to 1-3 servings a day of soy products can be a healthful addition to the diet. Check out some of the latest guidelines here.

~ Tofu is an excellent source of plant-based protein and calcium.  It contains little or no saturated fat, trans fats, and dietary cholesterol.

~ Soybeans are a vital part of sustainable and organic agriculture.  Farmers strategically plant legume plants like soybeans in crop rotations to help “fix the nitrogen” or replenish nutrients in the soil.  This reduces the need for synthetic fertilizers and pesticides that can be harmful to the environment.  So soybean products like tofu are good for the planet as well.

~ Tofu can taste great!  We have made recipes such as teriyaki tofu bites for our Study Day Recharge, OLLI vegan cooking classes, and FUEL classes.  A variety of tofu dishes are frequently offered in the Charles E. Daniel Dining Hall as well.  Folks are always pleasantly surprised when they give it a try.

 

So back to the tofu press…

I received this tofu press over a year ago and it has become a weekly staple ever since.  Even my husband, who was not particularly fond of tofu in the past, likes it prepared this way.  A tofu press presses some of the water out of water packed extra firm tofu.  This gives the tofu a meatier consistency that is a little closer to chicken.  It also allows the tofu to be able to soak up more sauce from your dish.

Our favorite tofu dishes are Teriyaki or BBQ Tofu.  Start with a package of extra firm tofu that is packed in water.  These are in the refrigerated section of the grocery store.  Remove the tofu from the water and place it in the tofu press for 5 minutes.  Set it over a plate with a rim or a shallow bowl to collect the water.  Then prepare it the same way that you would prepare chicken.  You can cut the tofu into desired shapes.  Saute them in a large skillet with a little bit of vegetable oil over medium high heat until lightly golden on both sides.  Then add a little bit of teriyaki or BBQ sauce (I like Trader Joe’s).  The tofu will soak up some of the sauce.  Then serve with brown rice or roasted potatoes, and a large serving of your favorite vegetables.  Leftover sliced tofu is also great layered on a whole grain sandwich with lettuce, tomato, cucumber, red onion, or avocado.

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5) Microwave Popcorn Maker

Popcorn is technically a whole grain and is a great source of fiber.  While there are many lighter varieties of microwave popcorn bags available on the market, it is cheaper and fresher to just pop your own kernels.  We have several of these microwave popcorn makers and use them frequently.  Simply add popcorn kernels to the container and microwave.  Eat it plain or with a dash of salt, garlic powder, and/ or other seasonings such as smoked paprika.  My favorite variety is to spray a little bit of olive oil or vegetable oil on the popped kernels and sprinkle it with grated Parmesan or nutritional yeast.

 

Healthy Eating… made easy.