Sunday, July 10, 2011

Traveling This Summer?

For all you summer travelers out there, here are a few of my favorite travel observations (mostly centered around food, of course) from my own adventures so far this summer.   Feel free to add some of your own in comments.......

* When in Hawaii, drink the fresh juice.  Even if you don't like juice, just do it.  It's a whole different experience.  Guava, pineapple, papaya, mango - heaven on the lips.

* Flying coach?  Then pack food.  And lots of it.  I cannot stress this enough.  There is no free food when you are at the back of the plane, even on a 9-hour flight.  And guess what?  There's no guarantee they'll even have food.  Which is what happened to us on our 9-hour flight.  Five hours in, all they had left to eat was a paltry one granola bar per passenger.  And we still had four hours to go.  Like I said.  Pack lots of your own food or bite the bullet and fly first class.

* Yep, it's official.  Kids still want to eat burgers, fries, grilled cheese and chicken fingers no matter where you go.

* Looking for a good breakfast place?  Don't ask the concierge.  Ask the dude who parks your car.  All valets know the cheap, local and tasty establishments.  One guy in Hawaii told us about a blink-and-you'll-miss-it place that looked like the backside of a chicken coop.  But the breakfasts were stellar, there wasn't a tourist in site and we paid less than $20.

* Another breakfast tip: Avoid the open-air hotel buffet where the birds are swooping in and taking over the place - landing on your plate and pecking at your food.  If there's a "Please Do Not Feed The Birds" sign on the table, turn around and leave.

* Ditto for the "cute" squirrels and other general annoying wildlife that stalk you for your food and end up spreading disease while they are at it.

* If you pass a restaurant that says "Travel Magazine's Top Theme Park Restaurant in America", you might want to go ahead and check it out.  It's probably pretty good.

* The best place to stop when the kids are whining for a snack and you're looking for something quick, clean and dependable?  No, not McDonald's.  Starbucks.  They're on every street in any major city and they have a selection of decently healthy snacks for everyone.  Plus a pick-me-up for yourself.

* Starbucks is also great in a pinch at airports (remember packing the food for the airplane?) and for a quick, fairly inexpensive breakfast.

* Flying on Virgin is like you've been invited to fly with the cool people - what with the fresh flowers at check-in, the purple lights on board, cool music, 1970's safety video and an entertainment screen for every seat.  Plus, they have healthy and off-the-beaten-path food choices (when you run out of your packed food, of course).  You just order on your screen and hello!  Your food magically appears at your side.

* If you are ever in the San Francisco airport, check out Terminal 2.  They have an outstanding selection of food and restaurants - far above your typical airport food.  Locally-grown produce, organic options, upscale casual dining, chef-led restaurants, wine markets, you name it.

And finally, one of my favorite observations:

* If you are at a fresh seafood place and your menu details exactly when, how and  who caught the fish, you know it's going to be super special.   I''m not talking about ordering "Fresh wild salmon caught near Alaska." I'm talking about ordering "Oheo fish caught by Sammy Trajillo while trolling the waters near the towering sea cliffs of Molakai this morning."  Seriously.  It doesn't get any better than that.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Mom's Day Surprise

In honor of Mother's Day, my daughter (a budding journalist, writer, softball-playing, Harry Potter-reading, lego-loving, 8-year-old) interviewed me for the Dallas Morning News.  

They printed an excerpt, but here is the (yes, tape-recorded) transcript in its entirety:

“Can I interview you?” 

That was the question my 8-year-old daughter, Isabella, asked me the other day. 

Hmm, I thought.  Sure, why not?  After all, even though my kids and I are together practically 24/7, how well do they really know me?  And if you have ever met my daughter, you know that each day for her is a new opportunity to ask questions and seek out answers.

So we sat down together and with a recorder in hand, she began her carefully crafted questions (with a few thrown in from 4-year-old Zander, sitting nearby). 

Isabella: What are your favorite parts about being a mom?

Susan: [laughing] I have lots of favorite parts!  I get free belly laughs, lots of love, tons of kisses and big bear hugs every day from the two best people in the world. 

Isabella: Do you like raising children?

Susan: I love raising children.  It’s the hardest job I have ever had, but it is by far the most rewarding.  Seeing you and Zander change and grow every day is a wonderful thing to watch.  I love teaching you new things and sharing life experiences with you.

Isabella: What is your favorite book series?

Susan: I have rediscovered my love for the Harry Potter series, since you and I have been reading them together.

Isabella:  I love them, too.  When can we start reading the 4th book?

Susan: Let’s watch the movie from the 3rd book first, then we’ll wait a bit to start reading the 4th.

Isabella:  [frowning] OK.  Do you enjoy being a dietitian?

Susan: Being a dietitian is awesome.  I get to help people live better lives by teaching them to eat healthier.  Plus it’s something I can share with my family.  It’s hugely satisfying for me and it’s something I want to do for a very long time.  I hope you and Zander will be lucky enough to follow your passion one day.

Isabella: I love art and animals.  Maybe I’ll be an artist or vet, or a dietitian!  What did you like doing when you were 8 years old?

Susan: I was in the third grade and had a best friend who lived two houses up.  We explored the neighborhood on our bikes, climbed trees, played hopscotch, jumped rope and spent all of our time outside.  I also loved visiting our family farm.  Lots of space to run wild.

Isabella: What is your favorite food?

Susan: Chocolate cupcakes, of course! And any kind of fresh berry.

Zander: [walking up] What is your favorite color?

Susan: Green.  Orange, purple and yellow are close seconds.

Zander: Do you like hugs and kisses?

Susan: [laughing] I love hugs and kisses, especially from you two. 

Zander: [yelling] No, just from me!  I like Star Wars.  Who are your favorite Star Wars characters?

Susan: Hmmm.  Princess Leia – she’s brave and holds her own among the men.  And Han Solo is swashbuckling and funny.

Isabella: Thank you, Zander.  Mom, what’s your favorite holiday?

Susan: Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Zander: [incredulous] Why do you like Thanksgiving?  There aren’t any presents.

Susan: Well, Thanksgiving centers around food – which I love!  And I get to make your favorite sweet potato casserole with the marshmallows on top.   Plus, there aren’t any presents you have to deal with – you’re focused on just spending time with family and friends.

Isabella:  What has being a mother taught you?

Susan: Wow, lots of things I actually never expected.  Unconditional love.  Patience.  The enormous amount of pride I feel for you.  To be in the moment.  To be a good role model.  To prioritize what’s really important. And how to accept the fact that nothing really ever stays the same. 

Isabella: Those are all of my questions.  Thank you for letting me interview you.  I love you.

Susan: [hugs Isabella] I love you, too.  And thank you for interviewing me – I enjoyed it!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Springtime Sensations

Spring has sprung and so has the fresh produce.  Seasonal fruits and vegetables are popping up all over local grocery stores and Farmers’ Markets. 

Do you find yourself aching for asparagus?  Sweet on strawberries?  Gung-ho for greens?  

Then seize the moment and sample the freshest this season has to offer.

I like to switch out my tried-and-true favorites every year and try something different - on my list this year: dandelion greens, fava beans, turnips (they make a great mashed potato addition), beets and cherries.  And with much of our Spring produce grown right here in Texas, fresh items are pretty easy to find.

Here’s a guide to a few of my top choices along with some favorite recipes.  Let me know if you have a favorite one and recipe.

Greens, greens and more greens
I’m talking spinach, arugula, chard, mustard and salad greens - early spring is greens season and if you haven’t warmed up to them yet, now is the time.  Not only are they delicious, but they also provide ample amounts of vitamins A and C, iron, fiber and bone-building calcium (which is great if you don’t consume much milk or cheese).

I love arugula; it is my favorite green.  Check out easy Arugula, Grape and Sunflower Seed Salad; or if you’re into the more pungent greens, try Gnocchi with Chard & White Beans – an easy, one-dish pasta for busy nights.

Those long, skinny asparagus spears are chock-full of folate (essential for the baby’s growth and development throughout pregnancy); they're also high in vitamins A, E and C (helps protect against cancer and heart disease).  One of my favorite recipes is Asparagus Salad With Beans & Feta – no need to cook the asparagus if you use young, thin stalks.

Broccoli Rabe
Broccoli rabe resembles little broccoli florets with big leaves.  But the flavor is sharper and more pronounced than broccoli.   It’s immensely popular in Italy and it is catching on here in America.  Rabe offers tons of nutrition – it’s high in vitamin K, which is essential for healthy bones, and is a good source of fiber and calcium.  Try out this trendy veggie in Broccoli Rabe and White Bean Soup (omit the cheese rind if you want; I usually do).

Sweet Peas
Taste freshly shelled peas, and you’ll never go back to frozen again.  This late-Spring veggie is truly delectable – sweet and crunchy, that literally bursts in your mouth.  And a healthy burst, at that: peas are an excellent source of fiber and folate.  They are easy to shell and, if they are very young, you can just zip open the pod and eat them out of hand – no cooking required.
Peas can be added to anything: pastas, salads, omelets, risottos, whatever.  I like this simple Spring Pea Salad.  Perfect for a weekend lunch.

Fresh, ripe berries – strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries – seriously, can you get any better than that?  And nutritionally speaking, berries are standouts.  One cup of strawberries provides 100% vitamin C along with the cancer-fighting antioxidant lycopene.  Blue, black and raspberries are full of fiber and vitamin C and are some of the heart-healthiest fruits you can eat.

Try this Brunch Parfait recipe; it's divine.  I usually add blueberries or whatever I have on hand.  And the kids absolutely inhale it.

Texas mangoes typically come from Mexico this time of year.  Tropical, lush and fruity, eating a mango feels exotic and calls for a special recipe.  And the deep yellow color indicates a rich source of vitamin A (essential for healthy eyes and skin).  Mangoes are also high in fiber and heart-healthy potassium.

If you’ve been avoiding this yummy fruit because of its “difficult-to-cut” reputation, be afraid no longer - it’s actually quite easy.  Follow these steps, then check out this Grilled Shrimp and Mango Salad.  If you don’t want to grill outdoors, try an indoor stovetop grill.

Apricots start to make an appearance in the late Spring, but their peak season is short and sweet so take full advantage while you can.  It’s a velvety tasting fruit, with a beautiful yellow-rose hue.  And like mangoes, apricots are an excellent source of vitamin A and are full of fiber.  I actually never have cooked these little jewels – my family and I love to eat them fresh, right out of hand.

Is rhubarb a fruit or veggie?  The debate raged for years; even U.S. customs officials just guessed back in the 1940’s when they chose to classify it as a fruit.  After all, it was typically used that way – and still is today. Botanically speaking, however, rhubarb is really a vegetable.

Full of fiber, heart-healthy catechins and vitamin C, rhubarb is that long, red, stalky-looking thing you see in the produce section.  It looks kind of weird raw (and trust me, you do not want to attempt to eat that sour stalk), but when cooked, rhubarb turns out sweet, tender and flavorful – perfect in all sorts of pies, cobblers and sauces.  Check out or for easy, refreshing recipes.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Eat Your Rainbow

I spent the entire morning today teaching nutrition lessons at my son's preschool.  Which translates to four classes of four-year-olds in two hours.

The focus of my classes?  Eating a rainbow of fresh fruits and veggies every day.

We talked a bit about why we should eat fresh produce every day - what makes them so healthy for our bodies and how they are nature's perfect foods.  We also played a guessing game about the different colors of fruits and veggies - how all the colors are like a rainbow and how each provides a different benefit for our bodies.

But the most fun?  Each class taste-tested a sampling of fruits and veggies from every color of the rainbow:

Blue/purple: blackberries
Yellow: yellow bell pepper
Orange: orange tomatoes
Red: strawberries
White: cauliflower
Green: kiwi

Many kids had never tried a kiwi - and they loved it after tasting it.  Several had never tried bell peppers or cauliflower, either.  I loved watching them try new foods.  It was a hoot to see and hear responses.  Most of the kids did try everything; and naturally, not all of the choices were a hit.   But out of about 40 kids, at least 75% excitedly said they loved one of the foods that was new to them.


And the teachers provided lots of support by enforcing the "one-bite-rule" - try one bite and if you don't like it, politely spit it into your napkin.  And no "yucky" faces.

Ahhh, just like at my house.  What  a great joy to see teachers at my own son's preschool reinforcing my food values.

And even better?  Every class had one child who surprised the teacher by eating (and enjoying) every sample.  The teacher would whisper to me in awe, "She never brings anything like that for lunch.  I can't believe she ate all of those!"

My response?  Tell the parents all about it.  And hope that the next lunch will include a healthy, fresh fruit or vegetable that the child can really enjoy.

The morales of the day:  Keep exposing your kids to fresh fruits and veggies - and mix up the tried-and-true with some of the new every once in awhile.  Keep offering, at every meal.  You never know when the day might come when they pick it up, try it and actually like it.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Is Sea Salt Healthier?

Sea salt versus regular salt.  Which is healthier?

Sea salt is a hot topic right now.  People have inquired about it in my classes, it's all over my dietitian list serves, chefs are discussing it in interviews and food manufacturers are touting it.

But I always know when a topic has truly hit mainstream when my Mother calls me up and asks me about it.  Which she did last week.

Part of the reason for sea salt's surge in popularity is due to food manufacturers.  Many are replacing regular salt in their products with sea salt, then claiming the products are now healthier or more "natural".  

Get this: in 2010, over 1300 products were introduced (or revamped) to contain sea salt.  And you can guarantee that all of them are taking advantage of the "naturally-sourced" and "less sodium" claims.

Sea salt is the new sugar.

But the question remains: Is it healthier?  And, could the use of sea salt decrease our currently high intake of sodium/salt thereby reducing our risk of high blood pressure and stroke?

Here is what we know:
Both sea salt and regular table salt have basically the same mineral make-up (part sodium and part chloride).  Sea salt has a courser grind (small clumps or chunks) while table salt is much finer.

Sea salt is actually dehydrated from sea water - and depending on the sea, the salt might contain a bit more trace minerals, but nothing that would affect its nutritional value.  This minimal processing however, might-possibly-slightly affect sea salt's taste a tiny bit.  Some people (particularly chefs and food manufacturers) claim that sea salt tastes slightly saltier than regular, although I have not found any concrete evidence. Texture and color variations are definitely affected, as well.

By contrast, table salt is mined from underground salt mines and is more heavily processed.  Table salt is void of any additional trace minerals and an additive is included to keep it from clumping.  Some regular salt brands also include iodine - an essential mineral that was once deficient in American diets.

Nutritionally teaspoon-to-teaspoon, sea salt (due to its courser nature) could have just a bit less sodium than regular table salt - about 35% sodium content to 37% in regular table salt.   Again, it depends on the sea source.

My thoughts: 
* The sodium difference per teaspoon is too minimal to truly make a difference in reducing high blood pressure or stroke risk - we are still consuming too much sodium - be it sea, kosher or regular salt.  We have to cut down across the board to make any progress in reducing our disease risk.

* If you do find a variance in taste and prefer sea saltby all means, use it when you cook at home - just use less.  If your recipe calls for 1/2 tsp of regular salt, use 1/4 or less of sea salt.

* Keep in mind that sea salt is more expensive than regular salt.

* Since 75% of our sodium intake comes from packaged, processed and restaurant food, we still need to read labels and choose products with 15% or less sodium per serving (10% is ideal).   And ask for your meals to be prepared without salt. 

* Don't be fooled by food manufacturers' or restaurants' claims of lower sodium.  

Unless the packaged products is labeled a "low-sodium" or "reduced sodium" food as qualified by the FDA (like Campbell's sea salt soups), chances are the sodium amounts are the same.  

Or even worse.  Wendy's has a new "sea salt" fry that actually has more sodium than the regular fry.  Choose a small sea salt version and you'll be getting 30% more sodium per order. is that helping anybody?


Thursday, February 17, 2011

Sweet on Sweet Potatoes

I think my four-year-old son might love sweet potatoes more than me.

Oh, I know he does love me.  He gives me kisses and is happy to see me when he wakes every morning.  He wants to play with me all the time and holds my hand while we read books.

But dinner last night made me stop and think.   Possibly - just possibly - he might love those potatoes a bit more.

Maybe it was the way he whooped with delight and did a little jig in the kitchen when I informed him sweet potatoes were on the menu.  Perhaps it was the way he rhapsodized about the taste while eating them.  Or the way he absolutely, unequivocally was not willing to share with another human being.  But the clincher?  When he proceeded to inhale three (yes, count them, three) potatoes.  And asked for more.

I understand why the child loves them so.  I do make a mean mashed potato, I must say - bake them whole in the oven, mash up the flesh and add just a touch of skim milk and a bunch of really good cinnamon.  No sugar, no butter, no cream.  Just sweet, delicious, rich and creamy potatoes.  

And they are really good.

Not to mention they are one of the healthiest veggies you can eat - low in calories and dense with nutrients.  Eat just one and you'll get two times the vitamin A you need and more fiber than a bowl of oatmeal.  You'll also get a good dose of potassium, folic acid and vitamin C.  And that deep, rich orange color?  It tells you that sweet potatoes are chock-full of beta-carotene, an antioxidant essential for healthy eyes, skin and immunity.

So, it's OK if he loves them.  Even a tiny bit more than me.

I mean, it could be worse.  He could be having a love affair with Skittles, Doritos or soda.  Which really wouldn't fly too well at my house.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

28 Ways to Love Your Heart

February is not only the month of love and valentines, but it's also Heart Healthy Month.  A time to remember your heart. 

Did you know your heart beats an average of 108,000 times per day.....and pumps about 2,000 gallons of blood through your body?  It does all of this quietly, day in and day out, without fail.

It’s a loyal organ; one you literally can’t live without.  

It's time to show it some love.  And to celebrate, I've listed 28 simple ways you can give back to your heart - by making it stronger, healthier and happier.  

1. Laugh every day.  Studies show that people who laugh less and view life pessimistically tend to have a greater risk for heart disease. 

2. Take a brisk 30-minute walk.  Not only is it simple exercise, but it lowers blood pressure and diabetes and heart disease risks.

3. Make a home-cooked meal.  Eating at home puts you in control of what you eat, how much and the preparation – three keys to a healthy diet.

4. Order salad dressing on the side.  Dressings are high in fat, salt and sugar; just one tablespoon adds almost 100 calories and 7 grams of fat to your healthy salad.

5. If you smoke, make today the day you quit. 

6. Switch to skim milk.  It has the same nutrition but without the fat and calories.  Hard to switch?  Start by mixing your milk with skim, gradually adding more skim each day.

7. Reach for water instead of soda.  Americans drink more than 50 gallons of soda per year – something your body doesn’t need or want. 

8. Switch to olive or canola oil for cooking instead of butter, shortenings, lard or margarine.  This switch lowers “bad” cholesterol and raises the ‘good”, keeping arteries clear of cholesterol build-up.

9. Try roasted, unsalted nuts; eat a handful for a snack, or sprinkle them on yogurt, fruit or pancakes. You’ll reduce your risk for blood clots, and increase heart-healthy vitamin E and fiber.

10. Swap meat for fish.  Cold-water fish like salmon, tuna, herring and sardines contain omega-3 fatty acids which lower “bad” fats in your blood.

11. Get your blood pressure checked regularly and keep track of it.  Women who decrease their blood pressure can reduce their heart disease risk by 40%.

12. Check your cholesterol, LDL, HDL and triglycerides yearly – all key markers for heart disease.

13. Use fresh herbs, salt-free spices and citrus zests instead of salt when cooking. Too much salt raises blood pressure which increases the risk for heart disease and stroke.

14. Check the nutrition facts labels on packaged foods; ditch any with a sodium Daily Value of 20% or more; look for brands with 15% or less per serving.

15. Switch to a whole grain bread (“whole” should be first on the ingredient list).  Whole grains are full of heart-healthy vitamins, minerals and fiber.

16. Dark chocolate.  A one-ounce piece of pure dark chocolate contains flavanols, which can reduce inflammation (a marker for heart disease). Look for cocoa content of 70% or higher.

17. Get your gums and teeth examined.  Gum disease doubles your risk of heart disease.

18.  Eat dessert – sometimes.  If you eat healthy most of the time, then allow yourself special treats now and again.  With no guilt.

19.  Rinse canned beans before eating.  Canned beans are full of fiber and protein, but contain too much salt.  By rinsing and draining, 50% of the sodium goes down the drain.

20. Select a new fruit or veggie to try every week to expand your taste buds.

21. Try the plate method.  Fill the top half of your plate with sauce-free veggies, and the bottom half with a protein on one side, a grain on the other.  You’ll automatically eat less and feel fuller.

22.  Survey your pantry – trash packaged foods with “partially hydrogenated oils” in the ingredient list.  These contain trans fats and spell trouble for your heart.

23. Eat a fruit or vegetable with every meal.  Carrots, broccoli, sweet potatoes, papaya, cantaloupe, berries…the list is endless.  And all are disease-fighting allies.

24.  If you’re overweight, losing just 10% of your weight can lower blood pressure, reduce your risk for diabetes and lower cholesterol levels.

25.  Take control of your diabetes.  Uncontrolled diabetes greatly increases your risk for all kinds of diseases.

26.  Sprinkle ground flaxseed on cereals, yogurt and salads – it helps keep blood cells from clumping to form clots.  Buy pre-ground seeds or grind whole ones yourself with a coffee grinder.

27.  Sleep well. Studies show getting 7 to 8 hours of quality sleep can reduce your risk of stroke, irregular heartbeats and heart attacks.

28.  Call up a friend or family member.  A strong network of friends and family can help you live a longer, healthier, happier life.