Poolside Healthy Choices!

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Hi friends! Do any of you belong to a community, subdivision, or private pool? We do because we don’t have a pool at our house. The upside is that it has a outdoor cafe where food can be ordered, but that’s the downside too. It is very difficult to make healthy food choices when confronted with chicken strips (ours are the best ever, unfortunately), French fries, huge cheeseburgers, and all other manner of deliciously, dangerously high caloric food options. 

Luckily our pool also offers healthy items and whether you have a pool, have joined a pool, or don’t care about pools, I’ll still try to offer some advice to assist you in making good food choices this summer. 

First and most important is to avoid the fried food. No matter how good it looks, believe me it’s not good for you. The oil used to fry food is artery clogging, and the food, once fried has virtually no resemblance to the healthy chicken or potato it started out as. This may seem obvious but once you start smelling the fries it’s so tempting to give in and order them, but not only are they bad for you, they’re very high in calories too. Not good for the bathing suit look!

  
Second, choose the healthiest protein you can. A large double cheeseburger, while full of protein, is not a healthy option due to the amount of calories contained within. Some large cheeseburgers have over 1,000 calories. Definitely not the way to go. Instead, I choose a Cobb salad (no blue cheese because I don’t like it), with tons of protein (turkey, bacon, feta cheese, hard boiled egg) and vegetables (cucumber, tomatoes, lettuce) to fill me up and keep me satisfied. A super choice! Also, don’t top your healthy salad off with an unhealthy dressing (no ranch or blue cheese), I love vinaigrettes of all kinds- and if they make them fresh there it’s an even better option!

  
Third, avoid the processed carbs. Those bags of Doritos and Fritos are full of empty calories and zero nutrition. If you want something crunchy and salty go for air popped popcorn. A new brand I’m digging is Sexy Pop- many flavors and under 100 calories per bag- it’s incredible! The Brazilian coconut flavor is to die for- and all natural too!  Or pop your own and bring it with you. I always think popcorn is better the next day so you can pop it ahead and bag it up for later. 

Fourth, don’t eat the ice cream sandwiches, or Chaco tacos (it’s really a thing and it looks sooo good), or huge ice cream cones- avoid the sugar!  Sugar is the source of many illnesses and should be avoided at all costs. A small fruit salad would be a healthy substitute. And I’ve seen people make all fruit Popsicles at home- better than processed ones, but still should only be an occasional treat.

  
These are my poolside tips for healthy eating in the summertime. Make sure to enjoy yourself no matter what and let me know what you do to stay on your healthy food path in the summer. Making healthy food choices will help you live a life of vitality- with Valerie! 

Chocolate Caramel Popcorn- It’s Delicious, but is it Healthy?

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How can you turn this down?!!! I can't!

How can you turn this down?!!! I can’t!

Hi friends! So here’s my challenge, while I’m not a big sweets eater I must admit there are times when I long for a sweet treat. However, it’s pretty tough to find one that’s not full of sugar and other bad things, as well as highly caloric. If you’ve read my posts in the past you know that I LOVE popcorn, and I wanted to find an easy way to make a dessert that incorporates popcorn and nuts, which are another favorite of mine.

I started thinking about chocolate caramel popcorn, like the kind you get from Garrett’s and other popcorn stores, and I thought that really it’s a fairly healthy sweet treat because popcorn has so much fiber and the nuts have protein. However, popcorn shops usually coat the popcorn so heavily with the sugary ingredients that you can’t even see¬†white anymore, so I set out to find a recipe in which the sugary coatings are drizzled instead of completely coated onto the popcorn.

Besides being yummy it was a lot of fun to make, as you can see here!

Besides being yummy it was a lot of fun to make, as you can see here!

I meandered through the internet trying to find a recipe that had all of these things in them, and found quite a few for caramel/chocolate popcorn. I synthesized numerous recipes into one that I think is healthy, pretty easy and very delicious. Danielle and I had a lot of fun making it, and I know the fam had a ton of fun eating it. In fact, it went over so well I made a second batch two days later, which was immediately scarfed up. I’d like to share it with you now.

Pop the corn first!

Pop the corn first!

Caramel Chocolate Popcorn

  • 5 cups popping corn popped with canola oil
  • 1/2 cup Karo syrup
  • 1/2 cup organic sugar
  • 1/2 cup any kind of nut butter
  • 6 oz dark chocolate
  • 1/2 cup cashews
  • 1/2 cup almonds
  • 1 teaspoon popcorn salt (or regular salt)
One of my favorite sights, sounds, smells- popcorn popping!

One of my favorite sights, sounds, smells- popcorn popping!

First, you need to pop your corn. I use my whirly pop, canola oil and good ole Orville Redenbacher popcorn. I’ve tried MANY other kinds of popping corn but it’s by far the best. I get the non gmo version now though so it makes me feel less guilty. After the popcorn is done, get two big trays, cover them with parchment paper, and spread the popcorn on the trays. Sprinkle the nuts on the tray with the popcorn.

Stirring the caramel!

Stirring the caramel!

Next, prepare the caramel. Put the Karo syrup and the sugar in a pot on the stove and bring it to a boil, and then turn down to simmer for TWO MINUTES (make sure to time it), stirring the ENTIRE time. Stir in the nut butter when it’s done and immediately pour over the popcorn.

This is my preferred chocolate- Ghirardelli 60% dark chocolate. It's so good, and good for you!

This is my preferred chocolate- Ghirardelli 60% dark chocolate. It’s so good, and good for you!

Then, melt the chocolate by breaking the big bar into small pieces and placing it in a big bowl. Put the big bowl over a smaller pot with 2 inches of water in it. Turn the heat onto medium and stir the chocolate until it is melted. This is called a double boiler method and I like it better than melting it in the microwave, as I think it changes the texture and taste of the chocolate. Pour the melted chocolate immediately over the popcorn and caramel mixture on the trays.

Danielle being an expert drizzler and Delilah keeping watch so nothing falls on the floor!

Danielle being an expert drizzler and Delilah keeping watch so nothing falls on the floor! ūüôā

Last, take your spatula and stir all the ingredients on the trays until they’re completely combined and then sprinkle the salt over the top of it all.

Voila! The finished product!

Voila! The finished product!

It is really so yummy, and at 140 calories per 1 and 1/2 cups you can indulge and still feel good that you haven’t totally derailed your healthy eating plan! Enjoy this with your family and friends, and let me know how you like it. Eating healthy desserts like this will help you live a life of vitality- with Valerie!

Baby it’s Cold Outside! Comfort in the CCCCCCCCOLD!!

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Brutally cold but I'm still smiling!

Brutally cold but I’m still smiling!

Yikes it’s cold here in the Midwest! By cold, I mean 8 degrees below zero cold- and that’s not wind chill, that’s actual temperature, my friends. That was the temperature when I awakened this morning, and had to take my dogs out on leash because my little dog runs through the invisible fence. His¬†wee paws froze after about 2 minutes and I had to bring him in to thaw before trying to take him out again so he could do his duty. That kind of cold is beyond description, you just have to experience it to¬†know what I mean.

My backyard right now! Yikes!

My backyard right now! Yikes!

It’s worse because my daughters, sister and niece are currently in Florida experiencing their¬†version of cold-¬†60 degrees, as I’m shivering here in Indiana. My house is pretty warm and cozy on a regular basis, but in this kind of cold even my house seems drafty and chilly. When it’s so disgustingly¬†frigid out, I need¬†peace more than ever, and I turn to my tried and true, sure fire ways to feel cozy and happy no matter what the temperature. In past posts, I mentioned ways I feel comforted when experiencing stress of any kind, reading my Kindle, listening to music, taking a bath, spending time spiritually, and a good meal/glass of wine. I thought today I’d share ways in which I help myself feel especially contented when it’s warm.

Jac and a light saber!

Jac and a light saber!

1. Watching a good movie– I love to watch movies when it’s cold out, or when I’m sad/stressed. My favorite movies to watch are the Star Wars series, and I admit I’m sort of a Star Wars freak. I have watched the series probably 50 times or more, and I never get tired of watching the movies. Something about the whole good versus evil thing, with good winning out just gets me every time.

Love me some Yoda!

Love me some Yoda!

The good thing is that I’ve infected my family with my Star Wars mania and they love Star Wars too. Jacqueline has a Han Solo frozen in carbonite phone case (watch the series for explanation), and the girls gifted me with a visit to the traveling Star Wars exhibition last year at the Indiana State Museum for Mother’s Day, and they enjoyed it almost as much as I did. My Honey gave me the light saber you see in the picture of Jac for Christmas this year, it is glass, and he chose the colors and sounds for it. What a guy! Anyway, watching any of the six Star Wars movies never fails to make me feel cozy and comforted, so whatever your favorite movies are- watch them with your family and you’ll feel all warm inside!

Cozying up with dogs should never be underrated!

Cozying up with dogs should never be underrated!

2. Dogs (or cats if that’s your preference)- My dogs have always comforted me in times of sadness. They’re also excellent at warming up my toes and lap by laying on me when I’m cold. Whenever my little guy, Chewie, sees a blanket come out on any member of our family, he comes running to share in the cuddle time. I can’t remember a time when they’ve failed to give me warmth and love. They give me so much more than I give them, and I love them so much!

A soft blanket made even better by my children's faces on it!

A soft blanket made even better by my children’s faces on it!

3. A cozy blanket– When my daughters went away to college, I had a blanket made for each of them with different pictures of family and friends on it, hoping that it would comfort them by laying under all of the loving people in their lives. I wanted them to feel like we were all holding them in a¬†warm embrace, even when they were far away from home. They both have told me that it is one of the best things they have at college, and it reminds them they are loved by lots of people. I had¬†them made on Walmart.com and they are relatively inexpensive, $60ish. It’s pretty easy to download the pictures and create the collage of photos. I paid a little extra for the larger blanket with the thicker fleece and felt it was well worth it. Imagine my surprise when my girls had a blanket made for me last year with pictures of the three of us on it, so that I would feel comforted when they both went away to college for the first time last fall! I love my blanket and use it almost every day. When they left to go on their trip to Florida, the first thing I did after coming home from dropping them off at the airport was lay on the couch under my blanket of our faces. It’s soooo¬†cozy and makes me happy to use it. I highly recommend having one made for your loved ones too! And have them make one for you!

Past Disney trip, modified with a few extra faces by my Honey!

Past Disney trip, modified with a few extra faces by my Honey!

4. Looking forward to a warm trip (or looking back fondly on a past one)- Another way I make myself feel better when it’s cold out or when I’m sad, is to either look forward to an upcoming warm trip or reminisce about a past one. I love to look at pictures from past trips we have taken, I can almost feel the sunshine jump out of the pictures and into my body!

Recent family trip to Key West- good times in a beautiful place!

Recent family trip to Key West- good times in a beautiful place!

I also love to plan future family trips to warm places. We are going to Florida over spring break, and it is such fun to spend time working out the details of our sunny trip to a warm location when it is so bleak and cold outside. It makes me feel like I’m there, at least for a short while.

Watching my girls cheer on my Boilers- happiness!

Watching my girls cheer on my Boilers- happiness!

5. Watching my favorite team (and my favorite cheerleaders)- Even before my daughters were cheerleaders I loved to watch my Boilers. We had season tickets to Purdue football for years when the girls were little, and went to many basketball games. We also liked watching the games on television when we couldn’t attend them. Now, it’s so much better when I can not only watch my Boilers, but I can watch my beloved daughters cheer for them too. It’s a definite win-win for me! I particularly love watching the NCAA basketball tournament in March. March Madness is so infectious, and jumping up and down to cheer on my team warms me up too! Go team go!

Well, that’s all I have time for today, Folks, but there are so many other things I love and that¬†bring me comfort.¬†They are¬†dark chocolate, cooking, exercise, popcorn, cookbooks, coffee, spicy food, and writing my blog! I couldn’t live without these, along with all the¬†others I mentioned above. They get me through bleak and cold times in my life, both outside and inside as well. I hope my list of favorites helps you and inspires you to surround yourself with love and serenity. You deserve it, my wonderful readers. It will help you lead 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! ūüôā

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!

Snacking for a Vital Life

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Eating healthy snacks is an important part of my daily diet. I say healthy because if I don’t chose the right kinds of things to snack on I could be adding needless calories and fat into my diet. Not to mention if I eat processed snacks, chemicals and preservatives are entering my body which can lead to cancer, heart disease and other illnesses I definitely want to avoid at all costs. So I stick to my fab five snacks that make me feel satisfied and keep me healthy.

I'm nuts for nuts!

I’m nuts for nuts!

1. Nuts- they’re one of my daily snacks and I can’t live without them. They fill me up because of the fiber and they have healthy monounsaturated fat that can reduce my risk of cardiovascular disease. Here’s another awesome thing about nuts- because the protein and fiber are relatively hard to digest, about 1/4 of the calories in nuts don’t get digested. That’s like free calories! And here’s the best thing, after eating a handful of nuts, according to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the next three percent of calories you ingest in 24 hours are indigestible. So say you consume another 1000 calories during the day, 30 of them won’t be ingested. That’s awesome, isn’t it? Nuts are my absolute favorite healthy snack!

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2. Bananas and peanut butter-I love this snack choice and actually eat this for breakfast quite often. Half a banana and a tablespoon of peanut butter has 140 calories and 4.5 grams of protein. Bananas are a nutritional power house being very high in vitamin B6 and high in vitamin C, manganese, potassium, dietary fiber, biotin and copper. Here’s the thing about peanut butter for me, I’ve tried to love all natural types of peanut butter and almond butter and I just don’t like it. I’ve probably tried 10 different brands, and the only one I like is Smart Balance. It tastes the most like the Skippy I grew up on. Experiment and see if you can find one you like. If you can’t find one and you have to eat your Skippy, as long as you carefully measure your tablespoon (because I tend to eat a huge spoonful if I don’t measure) and stick to it you should be fine.

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3. Tortilla chips and salsa- I probably eat this snack 4 or 5 times a week because I’m more of a salty and spicy food lover. As I mentioned in an earlier blog post I always make sure that I use gluten free, non gmo, organic tortilla chips and again watch your portion size. One serving, serving size varies according to which chips you eat, contains approximately 140 calories and 2 grams of fiber. The salsa is the real healthy star of this snack though. A cup of salsa, which sounds like a lot I know, provides 57% daily intake of vitamin C, 71% vitamin A, and 10 grams of fiber. I either make my own or in a pinch I use the Herdez medium salsa. I portion out a cup of salsa in a bowl, crumble the tortilla chips on top and eat it like gazpacho with a spoon. That way I’m filling up on the super healthy part which is the salsa, but still getting the salty crunch of the tortilla chips. It’s really good too!

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4. Apple and peanut butter- This is similar to the previously mentioned banana and peanut butter. Apples are one of the healthiest fruits around when consumed whole with the skin on. However, they are also one of the most pesticide laden of the fruits so I only eat organic apples. Apples have a good amount of fiber- 4 grams, they’re low calorie with only 95 calories for a medium apple, provide 17% US RDA of Vitamin C, have the highest amount of antioxidants of any fruit (which lowers your risk of heart disease), and have quercetin, which is an antioxidant that is thought to boost your workout endurance if an apple is eaten prior to a workout.

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5. Popcorn- I love popcorn as anyone who knows me can attest. It’s got fiber, 4 grams in 3 cups, but the best thing about it is the polyphenols in it. They exist in plant foods and help neutralize free radicals, which are the bad things that damage cells and contribute to rapid aging. Popcorn has more polyphenols than any other plant food including most fruits- impressive! I purchase organic popping corn in bulk from my local healthy food grocery store and it’s relatively inexpensive. Key to keeping popcorn healthy though is in the preparation. I NEVER eat microwave popcorn as I’ve heard enough bad things about it to scare me off, I always pop it on the stove with canola oil, which adds good heart healthy monounsaturated fat to popcorn. I never use flavored salts because they tend to have chemicals in them, I just use sea salt and sometimes add a little butter. I have this gadget my step mom got me years ago called a Whirly Pop that is a metal pot with a handle that turns the popcorn inside so it doesn’t burn the kernels. It makes me feel like a professional to use it so I use it all the time. I probably eat popcorn 3-4 times per week, and I love every bite of it. One cup has approximately 78 calories which makes it a low calorie snack. That makes me love popcorn even more if that is possible.

I hope this list of snacks helps give you some ideas when you’re hungry and need a quick, delicious and healthy snack.

Happy snacking!
Valerie