Cold weather comfort food

vegetable soup with bread

During the cold winter months, our natural inclination is to seek foods that will warm us and “comfort” us. Don’t let the shorter days and colder air temperatures drive you into hibernation mode! Fight the urge to stock up on simple carbohydrates by increasing fiber and nutrient density with more vegetables, fruits and whole grains. When making comforting soups and chilis, try these tips to pack on nutrition not pounds.

Substitute leaner protein

  • Use ground turkey or chicken breast instead of ground beef in chili recipes.
  • Use dried beans or lentils instead of meat to add low-fat protein and increase fiber, thereby increasing satiety.
  • Substitute leaner turkey-based products—like turkey Italian sausage, turkey pastrami, turkey pepperoni—in place of higher fat beef or pork versions.
  • Substitute shrimp or scallops in a soup or make a seafood gumbo instead of chili.

Fill in with lower-calorie ingredients

  • Cut the starchy ingredients in half (i.e, rice, noodles, potatoes) and double the low starch vegetables.
  • Serve a green salad with low-fat dressing as a first course to fill the stomach before getting to the more calorie dense foods.

Turn up the heat

  • Add a little spice to your recipes. Experiment with different seasonings to excite the taste buds and provide satisfaction without added calories. If you’re unsure of which spices to combine, there are many pre-made mixes from companies like Mrs. Dash and McCormick that do the work for you!

Try this hearty soup the next time you want a warm, comforting meal; it’s a favorite in my house and I hope it will become a favorite in yours too!

Lentil soup with sausage and kale


  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 pound turkey Italian sausage
  • 1 cup brown lentils
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 3 or 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped or grated
  • ½ pound Cremini mushrooms, cleaned and thinly sliced
  • 1 baking potato, peeled and diced
  • 2 sprigs rosemary, leaves removed and chopped
  • 3 or 4 sprigs thyme, leaves removed
  • ½ teaspoon pepper
  • ¼ cup tomato paste
  • 4 cups low-sodium chicken stock
  • 1 bunch kale, stems removed and discarded, leaves shredded


  1. Place a large soup pot over medium-high heat with 1 tablespoon olive oil.
  2. Remove sausage from casings and add to hot oil. Sauté sausage for 3 to 4 minutes, breaking it up into small pieces as it cooks and browns.
  3. While the sausage is browning, pour the lentils onto a light-colored plate and sift through looking for any small stones.
  4. To the browned sausage, add onion, garlic, mushrooms, potato, rosemary, thyme, pepper and tomato paste. Cook, stirring frequently, for 3-4 minutes.
  5. Add the stock and 2 cups of water. Turn the heat up to high and bring up to a bubble.
  6. Add the lentils and the kale. Stir until the kale wilts then turn the heat down to medium.
  7. Simmer 30 to 40 minutes, until the lentils are tender.


Makes 6 servings. (Serving size equals 1½ cups.)

Each serving counts as 1 protein, 1 starch and low starch vegetables.

Nutrition analysis per serving

Calories:  330

Fat:  8 g

Saturated Fat:  2 g

Trans Fat:  0 g

Cholesterol:  40 mg

Sodium:  520 mg

Carbohydrate:  41 g

Fiber:  7 g

Sugar:  6 g

Protein:  27 g

– Christine Licari, RDN, is a registered dietitian with the Beaumont Health Center’s Weight Control Center. The Beaumont Weight Control Center offers cooking demonstrations to the community. View a list of current demonstrations here.

Recipe adapted from Rachael Ray and

Thanksgiving Science!

Turkey wtih rosemary and olives in baking dish

Unaltered image. Ruocaled, Flickr. CC License.

Have you ever caught an episode of the television show “Good Eats,” starring Alton Brown? It was a Food Network show that incorporated science, humor and interesting facts with cooking. Believe it or not, this show is the reason why I decided to go into the food science field. It combined all my favorite elements of science with my other favorite thing: food!

Whenever I cook, I also think about the science behind it. It’s one of my favorite things to share with all of those around me, whether they’re willing to listen or not. My kids are my best audience and, like most kids, they’re little sponges and love sharing the new information they just learned. What a great opportunity to teach and make food fun.

I use almost any occasion to talk about science, but what better time of the year to do this than Thanksgiving? With all the food we’re about to share with loved ones, and all the memories we’re about to make, we can take a moment to learn about a few things like why turkey makes us sleepy (does it?), the differences between sweet potatoes and yams, and how to cut onions without crying. I even have a link to a few experiments that you can do at home!

Turkey Talk. Many of us blame the turkey for our post-dinner drowsiness, but is the amino acid tryptophan really to blame? About Education has a newly updated article on the matter. It turns out that the food coma we experience is actually due to a combination of factors such as carbohydrate, fat and alcohol consumption (or overeating in general).

A Tear-Free Onion Experience. If you cook, you’re most likely all too familiar with the searing eye pain that comes with chopping onions. Why does this happen? Well, in short, those fumes that radiate from the onion actually contain a form of sulfur that, when in contact with the fluid of your eyes, combines to produce sulfuric acid! This article by Popular Science goes into more detail about this reaction, and you can find even more kitchen science within the article.

What steps can we take to prevent this reaction from happening? The author suggests chilling the whole onion for 30 minutes before cutting. An episode of “Good Eats” once taught me to cut onions next to the faucet with the water running so that the sulfur mixes with that water and not my eyes! It works!

Pass the Yams. Candied yams. Sweet potato pie. Can you tell the difference between a yam and a sweet potato? This article helps decipher the difference between the two tubers. If that isn’t helpful, check out this is useful flow chart.

Typically a sweet potato will have orange flesh when you cut it open. This also means, nutritionally speaking, that it contains over 100 times the amount of vitamin A than its white-fleshed counterpart, the yam! Aside from vitamin A, both are similar nutritionally and provide a good source of fiber.

Turkey Timers. Ever wonder how those little plastic sticks can tell you when a turkey is done? Did you know they are reusable? Read “How Pop-Up Turkey Timers Work”.

More Kitchen Science. If you’re interested in obtaining the perfectly cooked bird, creamiest mashed potatoes, or the flakiest crust, Popular Science offers a Turkey Day Chemistry in the Kitchen page.

Fall Leaves Falling. I also found an interesting podcast by Robert Krulwich, of NPR’s series “Radiolab” (my fave!). It explains why leaves fall from trees! Listen to it here. Maybe while you’re preparing (to eat) all that food?

Experimentation! I frequently visit Steve Spangler’s science blog for fun tricks and experiments for the kids. Here you can find an array of experiments, along with their videos. Keep guests of all ages entertained!

I hope you enjoyed the kitchen science I shared with you in this post. Maybe one of these topics will be brought up during your dinner discussion and you can share your newfound knowledge with those around you. Most importantly be sure to have fun, relax, savor the food and time with your loved ones, and be sure to make memories. If you want to see a Thanksgiving episode of “Good Eats”, you can find it here.

Happy Thanksgiving from my family to yours!

– Joohi Schrader, is a nutrition and food science major at Wayne State University, a mother of three amazing children, and a certified Square Foot Gardening instructor. She’s also a Parenting Program volunteer.

Healthy Meals on the Go

Mason jar of yogurt, granola and fruit

This is my Breakfast in a Jar. It’s healthy, delicious and easy to customize.

It’s back to school time again! For some of you that also means back to sports, dance, gymnastics, or any other extracurricular hobby that keeps your family busy all week. Sometimes it seems as if those activities are scheduled right in the middle meal time and rarely in between. That usually doesn’t leave much time for cooking a nice, hot, healthy meal. Fast food and take-out are the most convenient but aren’t very healthy, and certainly not easy on the pocketbook. Of course you could grab a snack on the way out, and come home to a crock pot meal or a casserole that needs to go in the oven. But wouldn’t it be nice if there was another way to enjoy a quick, healthy, even potentially hot meal while on the go?

Our family is always on the go. I’m in school full time. My husband works seven days a week with hours that result in me parenting alone most days. My oldest son has tutoring twice a week, my daughter has ballet, and all three kids play soccer with practices and games two or three days a week. We won’t even mention the amount of the dreaded “H” word we have every day. I can tell you that eating out is very tempting! And though many restaurants offer a variety of healthy options, the cost can really add up.

A couple years back I decided that I had enough things to worry about and that dinner shouldn’t be one of them. As a student I usually don’t have time to sit and eat, so I took my own personal routine of making my meals portable and did the same for our children. I got creative and came up with some meals (I like to call them “meal hacks”) for any time of the day that are quick, easy, healthy and delicious! These options save time, clean up and money, and have the added benefit of being healthier for you and your active and growing kids!

Breakfast Choices

Mornings are always a time when we need food to-go. If your kids are anything like mine, they have no urgency at all, so having a nice breakfast would make us even later than if we just grabbed a cereal bar and headed out the door. Here are a couple of breakfast ideas.

  • Breakfast in a Jar. I have this almost every morning and it’s really easy to customize. The basic ingredients are:

o     Plain Greek yogurt. Greek yogurt is made differently than regular yogurt and packs about 15–20g of protein (compared to 9g in regular). Buying plain eliminates the unnecessarily added sugars from the flavorings.

o     Granola. Its extra fiber helps lower the bad (LDL) cholesterol, control blood sugar levels, provides a dose of healthy omega-3 fats, and includes vitamins like thiamin and folate, minerals, and antioxidants. It also keeps the kids feeling full longer and “regular” in the potty department. You can make your own homemade granola, but there are also some healthy options at your grocery store (just be sure to check the labels).

o     Fruit. Berries are another great way to pack in some additional vitamins and nutrients.

o     Honey. Adding a little drizzle sweetens things up a bit.

  • Breakfast Smoothies. For a quick breakfast, blend some fruit (e.g., bananas, strawberries) with Kefir (pronounced “KEE-fer”). Kefir is like yogurt, but more liquid and drinkable. It also contains more probiotics and is a great source of calcium, phosphorus, B vitamins and protein.

Lunch/Dinner Choices

  • Pizza dough pockets. These take some time to make, but you can stuff them with your choice of hot or cold filling, then wrap it up with some foil and you’re good to go! Start with either homemade or pre-made dough. (Making your own dough provides the added benefit of having fewer preservatives and you controlling the ingredients. Here’s a good recipe. Next, stuff the dough and make your own version of a Hot Pocket – pizza; or chicken, cheese, and broccoli; or mini stromboli.
  • Hot dog bun meals. I’ve used hot pulled pork/beef/chicken that was made in the crock pot the day before. Egg/tuna/chicken salad also works great in a bun if you want something cold.
  • Pitas. Some options include:

o     Hummus with veggies and feta

o     Deli meat and cheese

o      Salads of all types work great

  • Whole wheat taco shells or wraps.

o     Fill with scrambled eggs, cheese, and ham.

o     Make quesadillas

o     Turn them into sandwiches like BLTs

Container Options

  • Mason jars. You’ll notice my breakfasts are all in a Mason jar. That’s because it’s my favorite container for meal travel. The jars fit perfectly in a car’s cup holders and clean up is simple. All you need to do is bring a spoon (plastic or reusable) and you’re good to go! Just remember to bring the lids and rings to seal the jars up when you’re finished so nothing left over spills out. Those also keep the smell to a minimum; think hot car + yogurt = not the freshest of scents! You can also use mason jars for things like soup, chili, pasta…the possibilities are endless.
  • Edible food containers wrapped in a foil pouch. These (e.g., buns, wraps, etc.) are easy, quick are also pretty self explanatory. Try to stick with whole wheat and/or whole grain items so you get all the nutrients that are lacking in the ones made with refined grains. Whole grain versions provide more energy, along with fiber, iron, B vitamins, and antioxidants that aren’t found in fruits and vegetables. You can read more about whole grains and their benefits at the Whole Grains Council.

Final Thoughts

  • Eating a variety of foods daily is an easy way to ensure your family is getting all the nutrients they need. Try to incorporate a variety of healthy lean meats, dairy, and fresh produce.
  • Some of these items might take a little preparation, but be creative and adventurous! You might start off with just a ham and cheese, but then add in a slice of tomato or onion next time, or try Muenster instead of cheddar. Maybe you’ll get crazy and throw in some fresh avocado slices into that BLT!
  • It’s really important to let the kids have fun, too! Sometimes when children feel they have a little more control over what they eat, they’re more likely to eat it.

Has anyone else made some great to-go type meals? If so, please share! I’d love to hear what’s worked for you!

– Joohi Schrader is a nutrition and food science major at Wayne State University, a mother of three amazing children, and a certified Square Foot Gardening instructor. She’s also a Parenting Program volunteer.


“Kefir Benefits: 12 Things to Know About This Yogurt-Type Food.”

“Whole Grains 101.” The Whole Grains Council.

Family Fun via a Video Blog Series

Art for the Summer Field Trips video blog

This summer I decided to put out a series of video-recorded blog (vlog) posts. After taking a marketing class for published authors, I learned that people are more and more inclined to watch video clips to learn something new. So I jumped on the video bandwagon and started filming. You can grab a cup of coffee and take some notes while watching my short clips that inspire families to incorporate simple routines and rituals into their days to make a difference in the lives of their little ones. I hope you enjoy following along this summer!

– Maria Dismondy, mother of three, reading specialist, fitness instructor and bestselling children’s author living in Southeast Michigan.

Beaumont Cooking Demonstrations: Clean Eating

What is Clean Eating?

Clean eating is defined as consuming whole, natural foods that haven’t been processed. It is a lifestyle, not a diet.


Those who choose to eat clean may experience weight loss, increased energy levels, reduced disease risk, shinier hair, clearer skin, and an improved mental state.

Simple Guidelines for Success

  1. Eat small frequent meals 5–6 times per day to level blood sugar and prevent hunger.
  2. Include lean protein, complex carbohydrates and heart healthy fats in each meal choice.
  3. Avoid processed and/or refined foods (e.g., sugar, baked goods, candy, white flour, white rice, etc.).
  4. Avoid trans fats.
  5. Avoid sodas, high calorie juices and other drinks that give your body no nutritional value and lots of unnecessary (unwanted) calories.
  6. Avoid high calorie, non-nutritious foods like junk food.
  7. Drink at least 8 cups of water per day.
  8. Eat lots of plants. Eat food that is straight from nature (“as close to the way nature made it as possible”).
  9. Read nutrition labels for nutrition information and ingredients. If you can’t pronounce it, you probably shouldn’t put it in your body.

A Live Cooking Demonstration

The demonstration menu includes a kale and potato hash with poached egg topper, a Tuscan tuna melt, a chipotle chicken taco salad, and mocha banana ice cream.

  • When: May 13, 2014 from 6–7 p.m.
  • Where: The Beaumont Health Center, Royal Oak Demonstration Kitchen at 4949 Coolidge Hwy, Royal Oak, MI 48073.
  • How to Register: Sign up online or call (800) 633-7377.

– Mary Ligotti-Hitch, R.D., a registered dietitian with the Beaumont Health Center’s Weight Control Center

Heidi’s Hints: Time-Saving Meal Tricks

image credit: ilovebutter, Flickr

image credit: ilovebutter, Flickr

I hope you’ve been using the tips from last time, and you’ve been joyously saving money at the grocery store. Today I want to talk about something I find extremely valuable: time!

As parents, I think one of the biggest struggles we have when it comes to meals is time. Let’s face it: Finding the time to plan, prep and prepare a healthy meal can be quite a challenge. This means that many times the easiest and most accessible option is a drive thru, carry out, or some other fast option that’s costly and not necessarily very healthy. I’m not saying that these options should be avoided completely  (I know I’ve got a few favorite places for carryout when I feel like a night off!), but hopefully these time-saving tricks will make these nights more of an exception than the rule.

  • Organize your shopping list according to your grocery store’s layout. This may seem a little over the top, but I promise this will save a ton of time at the store. You’ll be less likely to forget an item when you have everything from one section grouped together on your list. You’ll also spend much less time wandering/searching for the items on your list. This especially valuable when shopping with kids. Have you ever tried to walk a 3-year-old from one end the grocery store to the other and back again because you forgot one item? Not recommended!
  • Plan your meals and shop once. On the day of your choosing (I like Mondays), plan out your menu for the upcoming week and make your list according to what you need for those meals. Don’t forget to check your freezer/pantry for ingredients that you already have. Once you have your list, go to the store with your list in hand and shop for the week. It may take a little extra time up front, but I guarantee that it will save time and money throughout the week.
  • Clean & cut veggies/fruit when you get home from the store. Prepping all your produce at once means it’s already ready for when you need it. It also saves time because you wash the prep materials (cutting boards, knives, etc.) once a week instead of everyday (5 minutes in clean up every day = 30 minutes extra every week). Store the prepped produce in plastic containers in your fridge. If you don’t use up all of your fruits or veggies before they are ready to go bad, toss the prepped produce in your freezer and pull it out when you need it.
  • Batch prep/cook and freeze. I recommend prepping a few (or many) meals ahead of time that you can store in your freezer for those nights when you don’t have time or simply just don’t feel like making a meal from scratch. Once a month, I prep 10 meals to keep in my freezer. This only takes me about 2 hours, once a month. (I don’t cook the meals and then freeze it because this takes too much time and I don’t think the quality of the food is as good the second time around). I prep my meals by seasoning my proteins before putting them in the freezer. I also make a few meals that can easily go into the slow cooker. (Talk about a time saver; I love that thing!) I’ll season some meat for tacos/fajitas, marinate a pork loin, make some type of burger, etc. These meals are prepped and waiting in the freezer. Then on Mondays when I plan our meals, I look in the freezer, pull out the meals I want to make that week, and add the few additional items that I need for serving the meals to my grocery list (e.g., taco shells and toppings, side items, etc.). Another tip: Starches such as rice and quinoa freeze well even after being cooked so if you’re cooking rice for one dinner, cook the whole box. It doesn’t take any more time to cook 4 cups of rice than 1 cup, and you’ll save yourself time the next time you need it.

These are just a few of the tricks that I use to save time. Next time, we’re talking about meal planning! Stay tuned. Questions? Recipes? Resources? Meal Planning Advice? Feel free to call me at (248) 259-9634.

– Heidi Wilson, Heidi’s Hints: Meal Planning Made Easy

Heidi’s Hints: Top 5 Money-Saving Meal Tips

Heidi Wilson with her husband Brent and children Grayson (3½) and Ellie (1½).

Heidi Wilson with her husband Brent and children Grayson (3½) and Ellie (1½).

Hi! I’m Heidi Wilson and my passion is helping families save time and money in the kitchen while making quick, easy and healthy meals. The goal for my blog posts is to help you escape dinnertime chaos so you can enjoy the awesome bonding opportunity that the family meal presents. I’m excited to give helpful tips and advice on how to make meal planning and prep simple and affordable, and will answer the daily question of “What’s for dinner??” I’ll also provide you with some tried and true recipes that are sure to become family favorites at your house. Don’t worry; I won’t be asking you to clip coupons, shop 12 different stores, or become a gourmet chef. Let’s face it: very few of us have the time or energy for all of that. If you do, that’s amazing! You’re definitely more organized than I am. Instead I’ll share you with the tips/tricks I use on a daily basis to make my life as a working mom of two a heck of a lot easier.

Now let’s get to those money-saving tips!

  1. Take inventory of your pantry and freezer. Most of us have much more food hidden in those two spots than we think. Start by working your recipes around the items you already have.
  2. Keep recipes to a short list of ingredients. Not only will this keep meal costs down, it will make your prep time much quicker and easier. You can get a lot of flavor from just a few ingredients when you use them the right way.
  3. Choose recipes that share ingredients. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has spent $5 on a specific spice for a recipe only to use a few tablespoons and then have it sit in my pantry for months. When planning your meals, choose recipes that share spices, marinades and oils, so you get the biggest bang for your buck from the groceries you purchase. I love to buy spice blends instead of individual spices. You get great flavor and only need to buy one ingredient!
  4. Stock up on sales. I’m not suggesting you buy out your grocery store when chicken goes on sale, but if you see something on sale that you would use on a regular basis buy extra and freeze it. Many things besides meat/seafood can be frozen without compromising texture/flavor: bread, cheese, vegetables (when using in a cooked preparation) and fruit (great for smoothies). I always season and marinate my meat and sometimes even veggies before freezing to add the most flavor.
  5. Have a meal plan and shop from a list. I’m sure this one doesn’t surprise anyone, but this is one of the single, most important things you can do to save money! Having a plan and shopping from a list will help keep you from all of those impulse buys once you get to the store. If you inventory your pantry/freezer and plan meals before going to the store, you’ll be pleasantly surprised that your grocery list is much shorter. It also means less money spent on things you don’t actually need. Bonus: Fewer trips and less time spent at the grocery store. Yay!

I hope you find these tips helpful and I’m looking forward to sharing more great tips/tricks in the weeks to come.

Questions? Recipes? Resources? Meal Planning Advice? Feel free to call me at (248) 259-9634.

– Heidi Wilson, Heidi’s Hints: Meal Planning Made Easy