Healthy, Easy, Delicious Christmas “Baking”!

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Dark chocolate bark!

Dark chocolate bark!

Hi friends! I’ll admit something to you right now, I don’t really like to bake. As you know, I LOVE to cook, so it’s somewhat a conundrum that I don’t like to bake, but I don’t. I think it has something to do with the precision required to bake. I mean, you have to measure EVERYTHING because if you don’t, your cakes, cookies or breads will turn into flat, hard hockey pucks. When I cook I employ a more “free form” method, where I throw in a little of this and a little of that, depending on my mood and ingredient availability. You can’t do that with baking, which is one of the main reasons I don’t bake. Also, I don’t like to use sugar and I especially try not to eat sugar, and it seems that most baking is very sugar oriented. At Christmas time though I like to do a little baking with my girls. They like to do it and it’s a nice Christmas tradition, so I employ a method I like to call “faux baking” or “fake and bake”. It’s where I don’t actually do any traditional baking, but we manage to make something tasty and somewhat healthy, and have some fun in the process.

This year we made dark chocolate bark. It’s called bark because it resembles the bark of a tree, and it can be topped with any kind of toppings you’d like- there’s that free form thing that I enjoy so much. I used 60% dark chocolate which is a chocolate that is mostly cacao, therefore, it has less sugar than milk chocolate or other forms of dark chocolate with lower amounts of cacao. I don’t like to use more than 70% cacao because it is so bitter that it does not taste good to eat in my opinion. And remember dark chocolate contains lots of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals so eating this treat is actually protecting your body. It’s a dessert that is actually good for you- you can’t say that about too many other desserts! The toppings that we chose were coconut, chopped walnuts and pecans, and dried cherries, all healthy toppings too. The sky’s the limit as far as the toppings go, you can use peppermint candies, dried fruit of any kind, peanut butter, raisins, sliced almonds, etc etc etc. Just remember that the toppings should be healthy too so that you can keep the overall dessert healthy. You get the picture. Here are my step by step instructions for making the bark, it’s so easy you’ll be shocked!

First, chop the chocolate!

First, chop the chocolate!

1. I used 4 large bars of Ghirardelli dark chocolate with 60% cacao. The next step is to get someone to chop the chocolate into smallish pieces- Danielle was my somewhat willing volunteer for this endeavor. If you don’t want to chop, just break it into hunks and put it in a medium sized mixing bowl.

Next step is to melt the chocolate!

Next step is to melt the chocolate!

2. The next thing you need to do is to get the chocolate melted. There are two ways to do this. The harder way is to “temper” the chocolate by slowly melting it over a bowl of water heated to between 110-120 degrees. This prevents the chocolate from getting those whitish spots on it that you’ve probably seen on homemade chocolate baked goods. However, since this chocolate dish is covered with toppings you won’t notice the white spots so I say melt the chocolate in the microwave. Do this on low heat for 30 seconds at a time and stir in between times until it’s totally melted. Easy peasy!

The melted chocolate is then spread onto parchment paper.

The melted chocolate is then spread onto parchment paper.

3. Take a large piece of parchment paper and spread the chocolate with a rubber spatula to about 1/2 inch of thickness on it. I put a cutting board underneath it to hold the weight of the chocolate and enable me to move the chocolate to other areas of my kitchen.

Now add the toppings!

Now add the toppings!

4. Next is the fun part, adding the toppings! As I said we used coconut, chopped pecans and walnuts, and chopped dried cherries. Just add them right on top of the melted chocolate and put the entire thing into the fridge for an hour to cool and harden.

Voila! They couldn't wait to sample the finished product! :)

Voila! They couldn’t wait to sample the finished product! 🙂

5. The easy and fun finish to this dessert is to break up the bark into bite sized pieces and enjoy or share with friends and family. We sure had fun making this dessert- and eating it!

By the way, there is very little bark left in my house at this moment, it was consumed by my hungry college students! So that’s it, folks, an easy, healthy and delicious cheater Christmas dessert that looks like you spent hours on it. In reality, though it took probably 30 minutes from beginning to end, which left us with lots of time to spend watching one of my favorite Christmas movies, “Christmas Vacation”! Let me know if you have a “fake and bake” healthy Christmas dessert that you enjoy making. You should definitely make this one though, because eating it won’t weigh you down, and it’s super speedy to make. Making this bark recipe will help you live a life of vitality- with Valerie!

Healthy College Meals?!

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Unfortunately true more often than not!

Unfortunately true more often than not!

Now some of you may see this topic and think that it doesn’t apply to you. After all you’re well removed from your college years and your children are a few years from being there. I guarantee you have a niece/nephew, a friend’s child, or just know someone who’s in college right now, and they could use some guidance on how to eat healthily while there. You can be very helpful to them, and believe me they need it.

IT DOESN'T HAVE TO BE LIKE THIS!!!

IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE LIKE THIS!!!

I know from my four years on a college campus, and from the girls experiences, that eating in a healthy way is VERY difficult to do. However, it’s not impossible and I’m here to help you! Whether you’re in the dorm, a sorority or fraternity, or an apartment it is possible to make healthy choices that provide nutrition for your body to flourish while you’re there. The pictures that precede each section are taken by Jacqueline and Danielle from healthy meals they’ve had while at Purdue.

Protein, protein, protein!

Protein, protein, protein!

1. Always go for the protein- Now I know that protein is expensive which is why most college food choices are so carb heavy. The secret is to make choices that incorporate as much protein as possible. Here, Danielle had nachos, which are readily available on most college campuses. The key though, is that she had beans, chicken, bacon, cheese, and ground beef on them, all loaded with protein. She also had strawberry yogurt- another protein filled choice. She doesn’t like very many vegetables so instead she chose orange juice and added an Emergen-C packet to it for more vitamin C. Danielle has a gluten allergy so she has the additional challenge of trying to make healthy choices and avoid gluten. Very challenging endeavor on a college campus, believe me! If you live in an apartment, nachos are very easy and inexpensive to make and the clean up is a synch!

Salads are your friend! Baked potatoes too!

Salads are your friend! Baked potatoes too!

2. Veggies, veggies, veggies- If you have a choice, always choose the vegetables. This meal was Jacqueline’s, we knew that because it included vegetables, right? It includes half of a baked potato topped with chili, bacon bits, sour cream and green onions. She also has a spinach salad with eggs, chicken breast, sunflower seeds, and chick peas. Lots of protein and vegetables give you energy and make you feel full. She needs it with all of the cheer practices and morning workouts! Jacqueline lives in a sorority so unlike Danielle, who lives in a dorm and has the advantage of all the different dining courts on campus, Jac has a more limited set of options from which to choose. However, her sorority has many fresh and healthy meals so she has really enjoyed the food available. Apartment dwellers can utilize bagged salads for a quick meal. Also, the microwave is your best friend for quickly making a baked potato or reheating the leftovers from dinners out with your parents! 🙂

Brown rice!

Brown rice!

3. Whole grain carbs are a great choice- As I’ve said in past posts, carbs are essential for our diets. However, the problem with carbs is that all carbs are NOT created equal. College students eat too many empty carbs, and I say that from experience! Bread sticks, French fries, pizza, cheesy bread, cookies, soda pop, etc, etc, etc, are all examples of carbs that have little or no nutritional value. Not only that, but because they have very little fiber they do not fill you up and you’re hungry again a little while later. This is how the “freshman 15” is gained. Also, because of the lack of nutrients, this is not a healthy way to eat, and can lead to more frequent illnesses. What Danielle has on her plate is a chicken thigh, blackened Tilapia, brown rice, yogurt with strawberries, blueberries and honey, and water with a lime. I’m really glad that she chose brown rice because as a whole grain carbohydrate, it has fiber and nutrients which will fill her up and help her to be healthy. Other examples of whole grain carbs are WHOLE WHEAT bread and pasta, whole grain cereals, oatmeal, quinoa, couscous, popcorn, barley, wild rice, and bulgur to name a few.

Fish is outside the box for Danielle!

Fish is outside the box for Danielle!

4. Be flexible- To eat nutritiously you will have to be prepared to be a little more adventurous than you were when you lived at home. In the above plate, Danielle chose white fish, brown rice, stir fry veggies, yogurt with berries and water with lemon. She has only recently begun to eat fish, but because she knows she needs as much protein as possible she chose the fish and found that she really liked it. She also chose stir fry veggies which wouldn’t have been her first choice but she knows vegetables will give her nutrients and fill her up, and she does not want to fall victim to the freshman 15, so she made the healthy choice. She wants to keep looking good in that cheer uniform too! You may have to try new things, but you could find that you really like something you would’ve never tried!

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So those are my healthy college eating tips. It goes without saying that everything in moderation, from late night cheesy bread fests to alcohol, make sure you balance that with healthy eating and living. Oh, and the mom in me says to make sure you do your homework, wash your hands, and go to bed at a reasonable time! My college years were such a wonderful time of fun and hard work, and I wouldn’t trade my experiences for the world. I want everyone to enjoy this time in their lives because believe me it goes by so fast, and soon you’ll be old like me. However, if you can follow my tips you’ll be an old person who is living a life of vitality- like Valerie!