Change Your Choices

Change Your Life…Tips for a healthier you

How to Survive the County Fair and other Summer Events!

When I was a kid, my brother and I would get to the fairgrounds very early each morning, feed and water our pigs and then head to the foot long hot dog stand.  Nothing says County Fair like a foot long hot dog and a quart of root beer for breakfast! Now that I am older and a little wiser, I might think twice about eating that, but there are a few better choices.  Well, not many! 

The Minnesota State Fair is super fun and I spent lots of time there every year.  They are famous for “anything on a stick” or “anything deep fried”.  Say yes to Walleye on a Stick, say no to deep fried Twinkies and Snickers bars.  The twinkie has 420 calories and 34 grams of fat while the Snickers are over 700 calories!!

Most fair food is not nutritious, but I did find soemthing that is low calorie.  A cone of Cotton Candy is about 100 calories and no fat. It also has less sugar than a can of soda.  I’m not saying  you should eat it everyday, but it is a very sensible choice, given the options.

Sno- Cones really surprised me.  What could be wrong with ice with some flavoring?  Well, most Sno-Cones contain a shocking 540 calories!! Wow- that’s more than a deep fried twinkie! If you must have a Sno-Cone, see if they have sugar free syrup or ask them to go light on it. Most syrups have 80-100 calories per ounce and approx 6 oz is the norm. 

Burger or Hot Dog?  Ah, the age old question- which is healthier?  To be honest, neither is a great option but if you do decide to have one, get it without cheese and eat only half the bun.  Order extra pickles and go with mustard instead of ketchup.  If you can find grilled chicken, enjoy that instead. 

I love Ice Cream!  The trouble is, most places don’t serve my Edy’s Half Fat Sugar Free Slow Churned.  They serve full fat sugar laden ice cream in a waffle cone that can be over 1,000 calories!  Instead, choose a pre-packaged novelty like a Dilly bar or Push Up.  They aren’t any healthier, but if you can’t control the craving, at least it is portion controlled.

What else?

Soft Pretzel- 340 calories, 2 g fat, lots of sodium
Funnel Cake (Elephant ear in some areas)- 760 calories, 44 g fat
Popcorn, no extra butter- 400 calories, 27 g fat
Caramel Apple- 300 calories, 1 g fat.  A regular apple has 53 calories.  I’m just sayin’…
Chocolate Covered Frozen banana- 240 calories, 4 g fat

As you can see, the calories can really add up.  If you feel you really need a day to let loose, go for it and don’t feel guilty.  Just be sure you get back into your healthy ways the next day.  Otherwise, plan ahead to have one special treat and stick to your guns.  Weight goes on a lot easier than it comes off! 

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Comfort Food- Tuna Noodle Casserole

Garrison Keillor mentioned Tuna Noodle Casserole on A Prairie Home Companion and it immediately took me back in time.  We weren’t big fish eaters in my house when I was growing up,  but we loved Tuna Noodle Casserole, or Hotdish , as it is known in Minnesota.  While this is a great comfort food, there are many ways to make this a healthy dish- much healthier than the original!  The major change in this recipe is sodium, I’m not using condensed soup and made a few other changes so this is a heart healthy dish.  Most of us don’t worry about sodium until a stroke or heart attack occurs so let’s start cutting back and making good choices now- before anything bad happens.

Modern Tuna Noodle Casserole

  • 6 oz Ronzoni Healthy Harvest Noodles
  • 1 tbsp butter or margarine
  • 1 medium onion, minced fine
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  • 3 tbsp flour
  • 1 3/4 cups no -sodium chicken broth
  • 1 cup 1% milk- I used unsweetened almond milk
  • 10 oz sliced fresh mushrooms
  • 1 cup frozen petite peas
  • 2 cans low-sodium tuna in water, drained
  • 4 oz sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
  • butter flavored cooking spray
  • 2 tbsp parmesan cheese
  • Panko breadcrumbs

Cook noodles in salted water until al dente, or slightly undercooked by 2 minutes. Set aside.

Melt the butter in a large deep skillet. Add onions and celery, cook on medium heat until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the flour and a pinch of salt and stir well, cooking an additional 2-3 minutes on medium-low heat

Preheat oven to 375°. Lightly spray 9 x 12 casserole with butter flavored cooking spray.

Slowly whisk in the chicken broth until well combined, increasing heat to medium and whisking well for 30 seconds, then add the milk and bring to a boil. When boiling, add  mushrooms and petite peas, adjust salt and pepper to taste and simmer on medium, mixing occasionally until it thickens (about 6-7 minutes). Add drained tuna, stirring another minute

Remove from heat and add 1 cup reduced fat sharp cheddar and mix well until it melts. Add the noodles to the sauce and mix well until evenly coated. Pour into casserole and top with parmesan cheese and breadcrumbs. Spray a little more cooking spray and top and bake for about 20 – 25 minutes. Place under the broiler a few minutes to get the crumbs crisp (careful not to burn). Sprinkle with black pepper but leave the salt shaker in the cupboard.

This makes a big pan of casserole but it warms up just fine if you have any leftovers.

What changes were made to this recipe?

First- no Cream of Anything soup.  Loads of sodium and it’s not needed

Second- Healthy Harvest Noodles instead of Creamettes.  Healthy Harvest scores a 91 which is way better than Creamettes at 23 as far as nutritional value.  Even your fussy eaters who “don’t like” brown pasta will like this.  If you haven’t tried Healthy Harvest or Barilla yet, you should.

Nutritionally, Healthy Harvest is way better than Creamettes.

A big game changer was using a no-sodium added broth.  It has 50 mg sodium per serving, the regular stuff has anywhere from 600-800mg per serving. Yikes!!

Tuna is another product that varies greatly in nutritional value.  I was surprised to see that some of the tuna in canola oil had a decent score but overall tuna in water scores higher.  No or low sodium tuna costs more but is worth it compared to the cost of a heart attack.  (spend more now to save more later!)

I also used Panko Japanese breadcrumbs for the topping.  I was thinking of using corn flake crumbs but Panko scored a bit higher at 24.  Not a super healthy ingredient, but darned tasty!  I did find the cost difference in these 2 identical products interesting.  I guess Emeril’s face on the box is worth $1.54.  NOT!  I bought Kikkoman.  Unless Emeril is coming to cook for me, I don’t need to pay him.

You might find this recipe a bit bland, but it’s supposed to be! Hotdishes can’t be too spicy, ya know.  Next time I make this I am going to add some garlic and maybe a few red pepper flakes just to jazz it up.

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Is there anything other than water?

We all know that we need to stay hydrated but there are very few options that are good for you.  I’m a big fan of Diet Pepsi but the more I read, the more I realize that there could be some long-term side effects.  I used to have 1 can a day, which isn’t  much, but I’m trying to eliminate it completely.  I have recently started drinking coffee, I find it really does give me more energy when I drink it before a workout but it isn’t my beverage of choice.

I have a few beers a week, usually Bud Light 55, but it’s not like I can sit around drinking beer all day!  I have been drinking lots and lots of water.  So much water that I really need to find an alternative.  I like water, but it gets boring.  There are thousands of choices in beverages, most of them full of sugar and calories.  Luckily, the Nu val system came to the rescue and I found a couple of awesome choices!

I have always felt that Vitamin Water is a bit of a scam because the ingredients in order are: filtered water and crystalline fructose (sugar).  One bottle is 250 calories. Ouch.

But- Vitamin Water has now come out with a flavored water that is naturally sweetened with stevia.  Zero Calories.  Nu Val score of 56- pretty much unheard of in the world of beverages.  Also,  the three I have tried taste great!  I especially like the lemonade and the orange flavor contains electrolytes so it’s refreshing after a sweaty workout. (also good if you have the flu and are losing fluids).

You need to be careful, the full sugar variety of Vitamin Water looks just like it so read the label.  Or just look for the Nu Val score if you are lucky enough to shop at a store that uses this system!

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Chilaquiles Casserole

I have written about Chilaquiles (chee-la-KEE-lays) before as it is one of my favorite Mexican foods so I was excited to see this recipe on WebMD and made it last night.  Couple things- it is really tasty and you will never miss the meat.  But- it is not really Chilaquiles, I would say it is more like a Mexican lasagna.  No matter what you call it, call it both delicious and healthy!  I changed the recipe somewhat and used Nu Val scores to make this even more nutritious.  For those who don’t know- Nu Val is a scoring system in which products are labeled from 1 (least nutritious) to 100 (most nutritious).  There are a couple of items in this recipe that could either be really bad or really good and you wouldn’t know unless you studied the labels – or- just use Nu Val and take out the guesswork! The Nu Val scores are in parentheses behind the item, see below for more in-depth info.

Chilaquiles Casserole

Servings: 10

Total Time: 45

Prep Time: 20

Recipe Ingredients:

1 tablespoon canola oil (24)

1 medium onion, diced (93)

1 medium zucchini, grated (99)

1 19-ounce can low-sodium black beans, rinsed (91)

1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained (42)

1 1/2 cups corn, frozen or fresh (91)

1 teaspoon ground cumin

12 corn tortillas, quartered (91)

1 19-ounce can mild red or green enchilada sauce (25)

1 1/4 cups shredded reduced-fat Cheddar cheese ( I used a Mexican blend,  same Nu Val score and cheaper!) (24)

I also added chopped garlic and chopped cilantro with the vegetables and hit it with some chili powder as well.

Recipe Steps:

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Lightly coat a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with cooking spray.
  2. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and cook, stirring often, until starting to brown, about 5 minutes. Stir in zucchini, beans, tomatoes, corn, cumin and salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are heated through, about 3 minutes.
  3. Scatter half the tortilla pieces in the pan. Top with half the vegetable mixture, half the enchilada sauce and half the cheese. Repeat with one more layer of tortillas, vegetables, sauce and cheese. Cover with foil.
  4. Bake the casserole for 15 minutes. Remove the foil and continue baking until the casserole is bubbling around the edges and the cheese is melted, about 10 minutes more

This is a quick and easy recipe and it makes a lot so the two of us will be eating this for a few days.  It actually tastes better as leftovers!

The only part of the nutritional info I feel comfortable about using is calories, which are approx. 240 in a serving.  I made some changes to to the original recipe that would change the info given on WebMD, my version will have less sodium, fat, and more fiber.  Overall, this is a darn healthy meal.

Let’s look at some choices you can make to eat healthier.

Black Beans are always a good choice.  High in fiber, low in calories.  But, once they are canned they can be quite high in sodium.  Let’s compare:

Regular canned black beans have a decent score of 55 but contain 400 mg of sodium.  Switching to no salt added raises the score to an awesome 91 and only 10 mg of sodium.  Look for reduced or no salt in everything you buy.  Your heart will thank you.

Tortillas were a real eye opener.  I prefer flour tortillas but corn tortillas score consistently higher.  I was so excited to find white corn tortillas with a score of 91!!!  The flour tortillas next to them on the shelf score a 2, which means a Snickers bar has more nutrition! This category has some extreme highs and extreme lows so shop smart. Also, the white corn tortillas are very similar to flour.  You really won’t notice a difference.

Wow- that is a HUGE difference in nutritional value!!

I had a big dilemma with the enchilada sauce because I prefer red and it seemed like it would work better with this recipe.  Nu Val was telling me that green was the wise choice but I went against it and bought red anyway.  The biggest difference I could see was that red has 1 g of saturated fat which would drive the score down.  It also has about 40 more calories per serving.

The scores are on the shelf tag. 50 for green, 25 for red. This is the only area that I did not go up in score.

This recipe called for diced tomatoes.  Do you know how many varieties of diced tomatoes are available?  A LOT!  I chose the kind with green chiles just to give a little more heat but you can use whatever you like.  Scores are pretty much the same except for low sodium which scores an 81.  You could also use plain tomato sauce (go for the low-sodium).

One of many varieties of canned tomatoes, choose what you like but low-sodium is best.

I also had some non-fat Greek yogurt on hand so I dolloped a bit on top.  I don’t like Greek yogurt by itself, but I like it as sour cream.  And, with a Nu Val core of 93, it is much healthier than sour cream (23).

If you don’t have Nu Val available where you shop and want to make better choices, compare the labels.  I compare saturated/trans fat, sodium and sugar and choose the lowest.  Look at fiber and choose the highest.  That’s really simplified but it will get you on the right track.

Enjoy the Chilaquiles!

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Olive this Chicken!

If you don’t like olives, stop reading now.  You can learn to like many foods but I think olives are something you like or you don’t, there is just no getting used to it.  I happen to love olives in all forms so this recipe intrigued me.  I would never have put these ingredients together but somehow it worked.  The original recipe came from but I changed it a bit to suit my tastes and I have to say it was another hit!

Olive this Chicken


Olive or canola oil

2 tbls. minced garlic

1/4 to 1/2 cup lemon juice

1/2 tsp dried tarragon

4 boneless skinless chicken breasts

10 green olives sliced

10 black olives sliced

Feta Cheese

Preheat oven to 350.  Heat oil in oven proof pan on stove top.  Stir in garlic, lemon juice, and tarragon. Add the chicken breasts and cook until evenly browned, about 3-5 minutes per side.  Add olives.  Cover the pan and transfer to preheated oven, adding a bit more lemon juice if it seems dry.  Bake until juices run clear or your thermometer reads 165, about 20 minutes.  Remove from oven and top with  feta cheese.  Replace cover and let cheese soften.  Place chicken on plate and top with olive mixture.

A couple tips- I love Cavender’s Greek seasoning so I sprinkled some on the chicken as it was cooking on the stove top.  You can season with whatever you like but it will add to the already somewhat high sodium content (olives are salty!)  If you like, rinse the olives to get rid of a small amount of sodium.  If you like your chicken seared, just reverse the order, put the chicken in the hot oil first, then add the rest.

The nutrition facts are close but not exact.  The original recipe called for butter but not the feta cheese. I love feta and it adds some great flavor to this dish  but it has a lot of calories and saturated fat so use sparingly or omit.

Servings Per Recipe:                                4

Amount Per Serving

Calories:                                216

  • Total Fat: 11.2g
  • Cholesterol: 82mg
  • Sodium: 569mg
  • Total Carbs: 4.7g
  •     Dietary Fiber: 1.6g
  • Protein: 25.5g

This is not mine, I really need to rmember to take pictures. My olives were sliced and I topped it with feta. I also used both black and green olives, just for variety.


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Are You Insane?

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

                                                                             -attributed to Albert Einstein

This post is not about clinical insanity , it’s aobut the day to day things we do that are insane.

Some background:

I use my ipod every single day.  Every single day I wind the earbud wires the same way and put it in the holder.  Everytime I go to use the earbuds, the wires have somehow gotten all twisted and knotted so I waste time and get frustrated while I untangle.  This happens every day…day in and day out.  Guess what?  That’s insane!  For some reason I never thought to wind them in a different manner, I favored fussing about the untangling process each day.  I saw someone at the gym using a different technique and the light bulb went on!  I changed my ways  and am now saving myself time, and more importantly, frustration.  Maybe my headsets will last longer as well!

Do you have something that is bugging you?  A garbage bag that won’t stay in place?  A squeaky door?  Searching for keys?  A pet dish that is always in the way?

All of these are pretty simple to solve but we tend to prefer being annoyed than making a change.  I search through my purse for my office keys every day while juggling my coffee cup, lunchbag and laptop bag.   Well…how about keeping those keys in a side pocket for easy access?  Duh. Now I just need to remember to put them there, and even more challenging, remembering where I put them before I tear my purse apart!

What about the number on the scale or your clothing size? It’s stuck?  Or worse- going up?

Are you still eating the same number of calories?  Have you added any exercise to your routine?  Do you wonder why nothing changes?

It’s time to stop the insanity!

Is this you?

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Today is National Potato Chip Day!

I love potato chips, I could eat chips all day long but I also know that they are full of fat and calories so I try to limit my consumption.   While some choices are better than others, don’t fool yourself into thinking that any commercially made chip is “healthy”.  If you must eat chips (and I must!) here are some of my favorites:

1-      Kettle Brand Baked Chips (Nu Val 26)- you will find these in the Natural Foods aisle. With 65 percent less fat than regular chips, 2 grams of fiber, 3 grams of fat, and only 120 calories, these are a best bet.  However, a serving is 1 oz (about 20 chips) so if you eat the whole bag you need to multiply everything by 5! These chips come in some great flavors but keep in mind that more flavor typically means more sodium.

2-      Michael Seasons Lightly Salted (Nu Val 28)- This product has the same basic nutrition info as Kettle Brand with 140 calories in a serving and is located in the Natural food aisle.

3-      Lay’s Kettle Cooked Chips Reduced Fat (Nu Val 25)- there are 20 more calories per serving than the Kettle brand but these are really good and are often on pink tag! Watch the Nu Val scores as they vary widely by flavor.

4- Special K Sea Salt Cracker Chips – these are a hybrid chip, kind of a cross between crackers and chips but 30 chips total 110 calories so I can get past the fact that it isn’t a real chip.  The texture is more  like Pringle’s or Baked Lays but they are quite crunchy and satisfying.  Count 30 into a bowl and eat them 1 at a time, much more satisfying than other 100 calorie treats.

My favorite potato chip is Hawaiian Kettle Style Sweet Maui Onion, they come in a giant bag at World Market.  At 140 calories per 15 chips, I save these as a special treat.  And there is no way I would stop at 15 chips, even if I counted them out and hid the bag!

Remember everything in moderation.  Today’s food choices=tomorrow’s body.

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Happy Birthday, Dad

This is what being a teacher for 30 years will do to a person!

Today would have been my dad’s 82nd  Birthday.  He died 3 years ago from complications of Parkinson’s, a disease that he struggled with for 20 years.  Watching him go from being a smart, compassionate, very funny vibrant man to a person who couldn’t walk, talk, or take care of himself was devastating and was a big part of my interest in doing what I can to be healthy until my last day on this earth.  As you can see from the pictures, he had a great love of life and was always making us laugh.  Not a day goes by that I don’t think of some funny thing he said or did. I sure wish we could have one last conversation.

Your mission for today: If you had 5 minutes left in your life and could talk to just one person…who would it be, what would you say, and why are you waiting?  

Happy Birthday, Dad.

Even big kids love Happy Joe's

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Spring Ahead!

Did you remember to spring ahead… If not, you were probably late for something today!  Look how much one hour can affect us:

> A study in the New England Journal of Medicine showed an 8 percent increase in motor vehicle accidents on the Monday following the time change. However, the extra hour of evening daylight in the spring may help prevent pedestrian fatalities. So, I guess you are better off walking than driving today, but then, walking is always better than driving when you have the option.

>Workplace accidents may be another side effect of the sleep loss from the one-hour time change. Accidents increase in frequency the Monday after the clocks move.  Researchers found a 5.7 percent increase in injuries and a 67.6 percent increase in work days lost to injuries so be extra careful on Monday.

>We are already sleep deprived and losing an hour does not help.  One tip- take a nap on Sunday.

>It is a well known fact that Monday is a big day for heart attacks, but recent studies show that there is an even greater increase in heart attacks the Monday after our clocks change. Click here for information on heart attack symptoms and warning signs.

So, in order to have a healthy Monday, you simply MUST take time for a nap today!

I recommend a couch or bed- it's safer!

Also- check  your smoke detector batteries and flip your mattress!


Pork- It’s What’s for Dinner

I had some time to do a little cooking over the weekend so I dug into my saved file and pulled out one I have been meaning to try:

Guisado de Puerco con Tomatillos, also known as Pork Stew in Green Salsa.  I prefer that Spanish name as it makes it sound much more “gourmet” and more difficult than it actually is.The prep time is 25 mintues, cooking time is about an hour.

Most of you who are north of the border have probably not cooked with tomatillos, but they are a staple in Mexican cooking.  The fruit of the tomatillo (toe-ma-tee-oh)  is green and about the size of a large cherry tomato. The inside is white and meatier than a tomato. They are covered by a papery husk which may range from the pale green color of the fruit itself to a light grocery-bag brown. The husks are inedible and should be removed before use. (duh)

Tomatillos have no fat, no cholesterol, and no sodium. They are also a good source of iron, magnesium, phosphorus and copper, and a very good source of  fiber, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, Niacin, Potassium and Manganese. One tomatillo has just 11 calories!

The original recipe called for 3 pounds of pork shoulder roast, I switched this to 2 pounds of boneless pork loin chops to save some fat and calories.  Two pounds were plenty but add more if you are big meat eaters.  I also used low-sodium chicken broth instead of water to give it a bit more flavor.

Guisda de Puerco con Tomatillos (Pork Stew in Green Salsa)

1/2 cup all-purpose flour                     2 cups chopped fresh tomatillos

1 tsp salt                                             1 (7 oz) can green chiles, drained

1/2 tsp cumin                                      2 fresh jalapeno peppers, seeded and chopped (see note)

2 lbs. boneless pork loin chops,cubed         2 tsp. dried marjoram

2 tbl. olive oil, more if needed            1 cup low-sodium chicken broth (or water)

1 large onion, chopped                       3 cloves garlic, minced (see note)

1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1- Stir together the flour, salt, pepper, in a large bowl.  Place cubed pork into the mixture, stir well to coat the meat with seasoning.

2- Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy pan or Dutch oven over medium-high heat until the oil shimmers.  Place the meat into the hot pan in a single layer and pan-fry until the pork is brown on all sides.  Remove meat to a bowl.

3-Cook and stir the onion in the hot pan, adding oil if necessary.  Cook until the onion is beginning to brown.  Add the pork, garlic, tomatillos, chiles, marjoram, chopped cilantro, and broth.  Cover and simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally until the meat is tender, about 1 hour. Garnish with a dollop of fat free sour cream if desired.

Notes: I don’t like peeling and seeding jalapenos so I buy the 7 oz can instead.  My husband likes spicy hot food, I am more medium so I used 1/2 of the can and it was plenty spicy!   If you are not a fan- omit the jalapenos or cut back on the quantity.

I also don’t like peeling and dicing garlic so I by the diced garlic in a jar, usually found in the refrigerated produce section. I just dump in an amount that looks good.  (I love garlic so I know I won’t overdo it.)

A sprig of cilantro makes it look fancy!

Serving suggestion: This is a thick stew, I served it over brown rice (love the Uncle Ben’s 90 second pouch).  The two of us each had a hearty bowl for dinner, the same for lunch, and finished it off with a side salad for another lunch!  This stew is also thick enough to put in a tortilla.

The nutrition facts won’t be quite accurate because of the change in meat and adding broth instead of water, but this is close.  The calories and fat will be a bit lower in my version!

Amount Per Serving
Calories 346
Calories from Fat 145

% Daily Value *
Total Fat 16.1g 25 %
Saturated Fat 4.8g 24 %
Cholesterol 88mg 29 %
Sodium 904mg 36 %
Potassium 740mg 21 %
Total Carbohydrates 18g 6 %
Dietary Fiber 3.1g 13 %
Protein 32g 64 %
Sugars 5g
Vitamin A 17 %
Vitamin C 62 %
Calcium 7 %
Iron 30 %
Thiamin 99 %
Niacin 108 %
Vitamin B6 38 %
Magnesium 20 %
Folate 22 %

 Wow!  look at those percentages on the vitamins and minerals!
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